I met Bill at the Westbury Bar at the corner of 15th and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on a Friday evening, July 3rd, 1964. At the time I lived in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, 45 miles west of Philadelphia and Bill lived in Pennsauken, New Jersey, 7 ½ miles east of Philadelphia. The Westbury Bar in Philadelphia was a centrally located gay bar in the area where gay men from the tri state area could meet and socialize.
The night of July 3rd wasn’t the first time I saw my future life partner. Approximately two months before I was at the Westbury Bar with my two good friends Ron and Ed. I was in the Army with Ron and I had known Ed from my high school days in Downingtown, PA. Visiting the Westbury Bar on the weekends was our treat. On a weekend night which I don’t remember the exact date, Bill sent a complimentary drink over to me via the bartender Jerry. Jerry placed a drink in front of me and pointed to a black haired older gentleman (“older” being 35 years to my 22 years) across the bar. I look across the bar and see the smiling face of the very popular man who I had seen in the bar before and who I wasn’t particularly attracted to because:
1) He wasn’t my “type.” My “type” being someone more my own age and not quite as popular as Bill was with the local bar patrons.
2) I didn’t want to be another notch of the bedpost of the local lothario as Bill appeared to be in this bar.
I nodded to Bill across the bar to acknowledge that I received the drink he sent but did nothing else. On subsequent visits to the Westbury over the following two months, Bill often sent drinks over my way and I didn’t take the bait. In fact, my friends Ed, Ron and I used to joke about Bill’s pathetic attempt to pick me up with a few drinks. And yet, Bill persisted in sending drinks over to me whenever he saw me in the bar.
On a Friday night a few months later, July 3rd, 1964, I was in the bar by myself. Again, Bill saw me (I always stood at the same corner of the bar, Bill usually was with his many friends next to the Skeet ball machine) and had Jerry the bartender send another drink my way, compliments of him. Ironically, I was more attracted to Jerry the bartender than I was to Bill but that is another story for another blog posting.
This night when Jerry placed the gin and tonic in front of me and, with a smile, indicated that my secret admirer Bill had sent the drink I decided to thank Bill in person. I had lost count of the drinks he had sent to me but at least I could thank him. If nothing else, I am polite. My Great Aunt Grace taught me many years ago to always say “Thank You” when someone showed me a kindness. Plus, I also felt a little guilty about making fun of Bill with my friends when he had sent me drinks over on my previous visits to the Westbury Bar. By no accounts did I have any plans on going any further with Bill. I certainly did not intend to get picked up by him.
So I left my comfortable corner of the bar and walk around to where Bill is standing by himself at the other side of the bar and, approaching him, I said “Thank you for the drinks.” I don't remember exactly what Bill said but seeing him up close and hearing him talk (a nice, deep, masculine voice) I discovered he was not who I thought he was from seeing him across the bar with all his friends yucking it up and having a good time. This was a nice guy! He wasn’t the stereotypical, shallow, gay accented guy or the arrogant, heavy pressure dirty old man type predator type who usually frequented gay bars of the Sixties. Bill was a nice guy who I felt comfortable with immediately. Instead of just thanking him for the drinks he had sent over the past few months and returning to my perch on the corner of the bar, I found myself enjoying a conversation with this pleasant man.
I don’t remember how long we talked but when it came time to leave Bill asked me if I would like to go back to his place in New Jersey. I told him that I didn’t have a way back home because I took the bus down to Philadelphia from Coatesville (I was staying at the YMCA – yes – this was prior to the Village People and “The YMCA” - I was a naïve back then as I am now unfortunately.) Bill offered to take me back to my apartment back in Coatesville in time for me to go back to work. I took him up on his offer and left the Westbury Bar with him to go to his car and spend the night at his apartment in New Jersey. We had a lot to talk about and the bar was closing.
After that first weekend (Bill returned me to my apartment on Sunday), we spent every weekend together. Bill would pick me up at my apartment in Coatesville, PA and drive me to his apartment in Pennsauken, NJ and we would spend the weekend together. We would go on trips, sometimes we would just go to the local farmer’s market. I liked to cook so I would experiment with different recipes with Bill. Eventually I invited my friends Ron and Ed over to meet Bill and we had many dinners together.
Towards the end of the year I decided that I wanted to work and live in Philadelphia (my friend Ron worked at a major bank in Philadelphia and they had an opening in his department.) Bill asked me to move in with him. I turned him down. While I enjoyed his company, I was only 22 years old and I knew I had a lot of wild oats to sow. I didn’t want to be tied down. Bill assured me that if I moved in with him he wouldn’t “tie me down.” I took Bill at his word and, after I got a job at the bank in Philadelphia, I moved in with Bill in February of 1965. We’ve been living together ever since.
Of course our story doesn’t end here but this is how it started, 45 years ago today. I am one very lucky guy to have met Bill. There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that I realize how just how fortunate I am. While the road hasn’t always been smooth over the years, I do know that I met my soul mate that summer July night in 1964. Our one wish before we leave our existence on this earth is to make our partnership equal in the eyes of the law of this country. We want to get married. Happy anniversary Bill. I love you.