As so often happens, yesterday I heard a song from the late 70's/early 80's which swooped down, picked me up, and all but bodily threw me back in time to my early days in Los Angeles, and in a heartbeat I was in the Canyon Club, dancing with my friend Larry Couch.
It's kind of a convoluted story, so if you'd just as soon skip it, I'll understand, but I feel like telling it, and it demonstrates the light-years our society’s attitudes have advanced in a relatively short time.
Los Angeles, when I moved there in 1968, was a vastly different city for gays and lesbians. We had our own bars and restaurants, but they were subject to frequent, random, and unprovoked harassment under the cold, beady eyes of our rabidly homophobic police chief. The routine (and often mass) arrest of gays for various trumped up charges--most often "lewd and lascivious conduct" was a lucrative source of income for the city and did not end until a gay man was beaten to death by the police in a routine bar raid.
One of the things gays were forbidden to do was to touch while dancing. I don't mean "grope" or "fondle"...I mean touch. We were allowed to disco (only in our own bars, of course), but slow dancing, where we actually held our partner, would result in arrest. As a result I and several of my friends joined the Canyon Club...a members-only club located 15 or so miles from my home, high up in a remote and rugged canyon, and reached only by a narrow, winding road. That more people were not killed coming down from the club after Last Call was a miracle.
The club was owned by a former L.A. policeman confined to a wheelchair for some reason, who disliked gays but overlooked his prejudice because of the money he made from us. It was a large, sprawling place with a couple of bar areas, a huge dance floor, and a swimming pool open only during the day on weekends. You entered the club through a small vestibule, where you showed your membership at the desk, and were then buzzed through a locked door into the club itself.
As part of the police department's equal-opportunity discrimination policy, not even the Canyon Club was safe from occasional harassment, but because the owner was an ex-cop, it was more for show than anything else. Whenever the police would arrive, the person at the reception desk would press a button which flashed a red light throughout the interior of the club. Immediately, dancing gay and lesbian couples would switch partners with their opposite-sex counterparts, and by the time the police meandered through the door to look around, all they saw was men dancing with women. I somehow suspect they were not fooled, but they had done their duty in letting the faggots and dykes know who had the power. 'Ya gotta let those queers and perverts know who's boss, 'ya know.
But the Canyon Club, whatever its inconveniences, was a safe place for us to go, and to be able to actually touch one another while dancing. I am a lousy dancer, and always avoid it whenever possible, but I would try it at the Canyon Club, especially with my friend Larry Couch, who always let me lead. I always had a crush on Larry, but because his partner, Arnold, was also my close friend, holding him while dancing was about as close as I could hope to get.
I'm not quite sure whatever happened to the Canyon Club--I believe it closed when the owner died, but I still have fond memories of it and the warm California nights I spent there, and the friends who still hold a special place in my heart. I've sadly lost touch with most of my once-close L.A. friends, though I kept in touch with both Arnold and Larry after they broke up and I moved from Los Angeles, and still hear from Arnold from time to time. Larry died of a heart attack three or four years ago, and I miss him. What I wouldn't give for one more slow dance at the Canyon Club.
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