Buddy’s Story: Goodbye, Kitty

Buddy’s Story: Goodbye, Kitty

https://www.etsy.com/market/collectible_catOnce upon a time (2013), I started writing a story about a butch dyke named Buddy who leaves the small town they grew up in and heads to the big city.  I started the story during one NaNoWriMo and continued it a year later during the next one. This project has been sitting on my virtual shelf since 2014.

The other day I got a great suggestion from Mol, who said I should dust off the Buddy story and present it as a serial on this blog.  Great idea, I said, but I want to write a new beginning. So, several days and a lot of writing and editing later, I present ‘Goodbye, Kitty’.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We stood in the rain watching as they tore the Kitty down. Zuma was clutching my arm in a death grip; their frosted tips defying gravity even as they succumbed to it emotionally. The back wall came down first, exposing the hallway that led to the restrooms and many a fervent quickie. Next an interior wall that used to separate the public spaces from employees only areas. Little by little, the one-time center of lesbian social life in the city came crumbling down.

The backhoe was oddly delicate as it picked away at the cinder block and pulled down the roof. The drone of the machine got to me after a while and I put in my earbuds, queuing up a song list of favorite dance tunes, inspired by nights at the club. Zuma plucked one out and stuck it in their own ear which meant neither of us was spared the sounds of our favorite bar being demolished.

Zuma said something that I couldn’t hear through the combined noise.

“What?”

“It’s like a mechanical Godzilla.” They repeated, gesturing.

A mechanical Godzilla, tearing through the heart of the lesbian community, so we could have another trendy cafe/gelato/artisanal food place catering to the influx of people moving into the area. The Truck Stop, a divey gay bar, had fallen years ago, replaced by a clothing store catering to trust fund kids who wanted to look homeless, topped with apartments no one who worked in the area could afford. There were similar stories throughout the neighborhood; businesses that had formed the backbone of a thriving community of activists, queers and artists was losing the battle against rising rents. No one I knew when I first came to the area lived there any more, it was too expensive and it just wasn’t the same. The Velvet Kitty, started in a basement room in the 70s and moving to two other locations before settling at its final site, was one of the last of its kind. It was a lesbian bar, owned by butch-femme couple, Sid and Kate, offering drinks, dancing and community.  They were both tough as nails, not taking shit from anyone who tried to shut them down or harass their people.  Family, that’s what they always called us. Sid was a mountain of muscled flesh, and homophobes hoping to cause trouble were rightly terrified of her, but we all knew that inside she was one of the mushiest butches you ever met.  An average-sized person would disappear in one of her hugs.  Kate was everyone’s mother, always checking in to see that we were taking care of ourselves, and taking in more strays than a crazy cat lady.  

In a six or eight block area radiating out from this bar, there had once been five other bars catering to gay men or mixed crowds but in recent years, that group had dwindled until only the Velvet Kitty remained. We watched as newer businesses crept in like northwest moss, some welcome and some mocked for their trendiness.  City leaders celebrated the ‘progress’ and ‘new energy’ and tried to make gentrification sound like a good thing. They either couldn’t see or didn’t care that they were destroying what had made the area attractive and livable for decades. They’d murdered the soul of our community in the name of progress.

Not everyone stayed to the end, but I did. I’m stubborn that way sometimes. The Velvet Kitty was being reduced to rubble, and once I got there, I couldn’t leave until she was truly gone. I hadn’t planned to be there at all, but Zuma and Kay had insisted. Of course,  it was Kay who had bailed at the last minute. I stayed until it was done, sharing stories with the others who gathered. This had been The lesbian hotspot and more importantly,  had been a second home to many of us who had left our not-so-happy-ones-behind. For several years after I moved to the city, I’d spent the majority of my waking – and nonworking – time there; it was more comfortable and welcoming than any home I’d lived in.

With the roof off and the walls peeled away, it looked much smaller. It didn’t look like a place that could hold up to a hundred on two dance floors and innumerable more bodies tucked into odd corners. There wasn’t anything left of its personality, the important pieces had been given away or sold in the closing sale. I’d gotten one of the restroom signs, sporting a lady-shaped cat with long eyelashes and also one of the chairs, one I’d probably had my butt in thousands of times over the years. Proceeds of the sale went to help pay for Lady Kate’s expenses. She was moving to Arizona to be closer to her kids and grandkids. It was still hard to believe Sid had been gone over three years already.

Lady Kate was not at the demolition, which was not surprising. She’d been a mess of tears and melted eye make-up during the Closing Sale, which had turned into a wake, with regulars from over the years stopping in to get a little piece of the Kitty and say goodbye. I remember it looked different that day, like a movie set that had been done up to look like our bar. The lights were turned up too bright, giving the place a flat, lifeless look.  

The group of close to thirty in attendance at the start of the demolition dropped steadily until there were a half-dozen of us. Tommy was still there and so was someone he introduced as Martin. Martin looked really familiar and but I couldn’t place him in my memory. He solved that mystery by saying, “Buddy, it’s Mel, or used to be. The bartender?”  I blushed and stammered out an apology. I hadn’t been at the club much in the last few years and had clearly missed out on some important events in the lives of the Kitty crew.

“It’s ok, man, really. I stopped going to the Kitty when I transitioned. Didn’t seem right to take space there, you know?”

I nodded like I knew what he meant but didn’t really get it until later. Oh yeah, it was a lesbian bar and he’s a guy now. Sometimes it’s embarrassing how slow I am to get a clue. I was still getting used to the idea that this hot guy with the scruffy beard was the same person I’d had sex with in the staff room a few memorable times. I respected his choice not to take space after transition.  Sid and Kate had always made a point of hiring queer women to staff it, sometimes taking in those who’d been fired from other bars for not catering enough to straight male clientele. Though they might have been fine with Martin continuing to work there, I think his choice to leave showed a lot of respect for them and the Kitty tradition.

Over the course of several hours, we’d be joined by people stopping to pay their respects and share favorite memories before getting on with their day. Marci had stopped by before heading to the hospital to start her shift. I got melty when she gathered me into a hug; it had been years since I’d seen her last, but she still called me her ‘sweet young butch’.  She had a special place in my heart as the first femme in the city who paid that kind of attention to me. A couple of the other ex-employees spent some time shooting the shit with Martin before heading to work at other bars. The small group of us that remained were huddled under an awning across the street from the growing pile of debris, earning suspicious looks from the couple who owned the convenience store on the other side of the glass from us.

As the backhoes chewed up the last of the concrete foundation, we stamped the cold out of our feet and looked at each other, unsure what to do now that our vigil was over.

As if on cue, Zuma dug into their pocket and peered at their phone screen. “Kay’s down at Tornado, says there’s no one there yet and we should come and get the corner booth.”

I took a deep breath and blew it out. “Okay, it’s freezing, let’s do it.”

“I could use a drink, or 5” said Zuma.

“Yeah, I don’t need to see any more of this, she’s gone” said Martin. Tommy grunted in agreement.

I took one more look at the pile that used to be our haven against the world and started walking away, the rest trailing behind me like ducklings.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thank you, Mol, for the inspiration and editorial advice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *