I'm wondering if I slept in the same bed as one of the three tenors. On my trip to England I stayed in the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath where the trio of fuller-figured warblers recently entertained the throng with their exquisite windpipes.
I believe Mick Jagger once stayed at the hotel too and probably hundreds of other notables over the years.
I was back in England to attend my daughter's wedding. Lucy Anna Marie had finally settled down after years of much riotous partying and all the complications that go with it. She had chosen Ed, a charming young man with a wicked sense of humor; as I walked her down the aisle (it was a non-religious ceremony in a hotel), I gave my daughter away to her future husband who was wearing a false moustache. The ushers were wearing fro-wigs.
Later, at the reception, I photographed my daughter also wearing a fake mustache. It suited her. She'd make a great drag king.
And so it was a very light-hearted affair, but it's true what they say, you can't go home again. I felt very out of place in the city where I grew up; every street brought back memories of some embarrassing incident.
The little cottage where I sat with three friends preparing to smoke hashish, when one of us spotted the police outside, and we had to eat a bar of dope the size of a Twix very fast. We then discovered the police weren't outside at all, it was just paranoia, and we spent the next 12 hours in a catatonic stupor.
And where are those three friends now? God only knows. I haven't seen them for years. But that's why you can't go home again.
The streets of your hometown are too crowded; crowded with ghosts and memories.
Another e.mail from Bart Lombard
Ceasar Vera …
'On my second visit to Alfie's, I struck up a conversation with this group of two girls and a guy and after I told them the whole story about finding Alfie's and all, they suggested I follow them to another bar they knew called Le Pub. What a great place that was ...
'My first time going in Le Pub, the place was jam packed. The doorman—who I later found out was the owner Dan Riley—was trying to make a pass at me. At the time I was flattered, only to learn later that was just his way of saying hello to the boys. I visited Le Pub a number of times, and then I had this crazy idea that I should move to Chicago. But what would I do? Where would I live?
'Not a problem. As I quickly learned there were many good men willing to give a place to stay to a youngster from the Hoosier land. As for money, well, enter Ceasar. She was the Mother Hen of that time, taking under her wings all those looking for an escape from their past and an exciting new life in the big city. She quickly got me a job as a cocktail waiter at Le Pub.
'After a brief time renting out a spare room of a Le Pub customer, Ceasar invited me to the annual Big Joe/Little Joe (El Jardin's) annual picnic somewhere near Wisconsin. It was on that trip that she introduced me to Vern Mershon (Touche), her roommate, who became my first long-term lover (four years) and life-time friend.
'Vern was 31 at the time, I had just turned 21, and he really didn't take a liking to me at first. Ceasar let me stay at their Ashland Ave. house. It was occupied by Ceasar, Vern, Ray, cousin Albert, and dog Bakala, and I simply wore Vern down until he agreed to become my partner. Persistence paid off.
'The next few years rolled by and I followed Ceasar through many jobs, from Alfie's, Le Pub to The Brownstone. It was at The Brownstone that Ceasar, the manager, gave me my first chance to bartend and that started my 10-year love affair as a bar wench at various drinking holes in Chicago. My working relationship with Ceasar ended after LePub burned and their employees were brought in to take over the bartender positions (including mine) at The Brownstone. However, we remained best friends even after Vern and I moved to our own apartment and throughout the following years.
'But the one imbedded memory of Ceasar would be that wherever Ceasar landed, you could count on her famous hearty howl (deep, but girlish) and a Sunday brunch like no other —topped off by a roasted pig. I remember those Sunday pig brunches at The Brownstone, as I had the job of picking up the cooked piglet every week on Chicago's West Side. Ceaser also brought in a host of local cabaret singers at The Brownstone, including Esther Hanna and the then-rising-talent, Pudgy.
'Ceasar brought in this musical talent, I believe, because she was such a terrible singer herself and never got the words right to any song she sang out loud or lip-synced. When Ceasar would perform at one of the many Tavern Guild charity events she headlined, the audience wouldn't mind that she didn't know the words to her trademark song, 'Can You Read My Mind' from Superman. They simply were charmed, like we all were, at being in the company of this wonderful, funny, loving, campy but caring Pilipino drag queen we knew as Ceasar.
'It was many years later that I got Ceasar a job as the manager of Halsted's for Dr. Steve Rempas. Her stint there didn't last very long, as neither did the bar. But there wasn't a bar manager or owner who, throughout those years, wouldn't try to offer her a guest spot, job or management/ownership position, because where Ceasar went, money followed. There were others that had that effect on the bar nightlife: Tyrone, Bobby Lee, Phil, Renee, Harry, Vern, Mother Carol, Michael K, Pepe and Arthur, Joanne Decory, Robbie Crystal, Feathers and Steve Allman and some others at that time.
'Unfortunately for Ceaser, like many of her fellow headliners, there were one too many simply looking to make a buck off her mystique until her popularity waned and the dollars dried up.
'The last time I saw Ceasar was at Illinois Masonic hospital that 1991 weekend that Vern died. We didn't talk much that day, but it was clear to both of us that not only had our dear Vern passed away, but our collective moment in the famed Chicago nightlife had passed too. But what a time it was.
'I haven't seen or talked to Ceasar since.'
If you have memories to share, contact Sukie at Windy City Times, voicemail at (773) 871-7610. He collects memories and interviews over the phone, in person, or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org