Author Topic: GAY X-MAN IN THE POLISH WHOREHOUSE  (Read 1536 times)

Offline x-man

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« on: February 22, 2020, 12:29:22 pm »
In spite of my title here and, well, the story itself, I see the events I tell as my first tentative steps toward political realism.  The time is the middle '70's.  It was the height of the Cold War.  I was sailing on ships of the Dutch Merchant Fleet, mostly in the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea.  I was gay and super-commie, and quite open about both.  My sexual orientation raised no eyebrows but my politics did.  My family was most certainly deep into the Red.  When Khrushchev fell from power in the USSR my mother wanted to get him for mayor of our town.

The ship I was then on was unexpectedly directed to Poland.  I was very excited.  I was going to get my first closeup look at a  real Marxist-Leninist workers' paradise.  I gushed excitedly to my shipmates how great it was going to be to see a land of social equality free of the corruption of the decadent West.  They, who had been there before, just rolled their eyes.

We were off to Stettin (Szczecin), a city on the western edge of Poland many kms away from the coast.  To reach it we had to sail from the Baltic Sea down  a long canal.  It was beautiful—storks, brown grassy fields, sombre cloudy skies, like a Rembrandt painting.  We tied up, got ship-shape, had supper, and prepared for liberty.  We had to take a bus to get into town.  It was explained to me that our busfare need not be money but cigarettes—if hand rolled with good Dutch tobacco, two, if tailor-made, one, which we tucked into the breast pocket of the driver.  This troubled me:  Why would a worker be willing to exchange his duty to the Collective for a cigarette or two?  We sat down.  I noticed the sky was grey, the buildings were grey, the passengers were grey.  No one was smiling.  We soon reached the Palace of Culture.  It was a hideously ugly neo-Stalinist grey concrete monstrosity.  The first floor was for sports, the second floor a family restaurant, lots of kids running around.  The third floor was a standard night-club, soft music, couples eating or hunched over their drinks talking earnestly.  In the lift, our first mate pressed “4.”  The lift doors opened to reveal a big room filled with men standing around with drinks, listening to '30's big band music on the jukebox and seemingly waiting.  Several women in very high heels, low cut blouses and high tight-fitting skirts walked amongst them.  We sat down and started drinking.  Very soon we were joined by women—the same number as we were.

We all talked for a bit, and then the entertainment began.  It was, I guess, Communist Poland's idea of a strip show.  Classical music.  The two performers a man in tuxedo and a woman in ballet costume.  His role was basically to hold her up as she clumsily pirouetted, from time time flinging parts of her costume into the crowd of watching men.  It was the most amazing piece of high camp I had ever witnessed, and I loved it.  I was laughing and looked around to see the reaction of the other men.  They weren't laughing, but taking it all very seriously.

I soon realized that wherever I went—over to the bar, just walking around—one of my comrades  was alongside me.  I was being shadowed.  Finally in the washroom I demanded to know of my shipmate standing at the next urinal exactly what was going.  He quite candidly told me that while they liked my enthusiasm, my propensity for getting into trouble was a problem--for example, he said, on our previous voyage when I tried to start a fight in an Oslo bar with some enormous, burly Norwegians in reindeer sweaters--one punch and I would have been dead, and all my shipmates dragged into it.  The Norwegians didn't take me seriously, but looked at my friends imploringly, as if to ask, “Who is this clown?  Get him out of here immediately!” which they did.  Anyway, this kind of thing coupled with my incredible naivete had led the captain to give specific orders that under no circumstances was I to be allowed to break loose and run free.  When I learned this I was at first irritated, but soon realized the captain's wisdom. 

The captain's fears make more sense when you know that his duties are more than just taking care of the ship. He also acts as a kind of low-level ambassador to smooth interactions with the host country and the Dutch government, and at the time those between the Netherlands and Poland were a little tense.  And in this particular case, he was not about to let some lunatic Canadian add to his problems.

Back at the table, the show was over and soon the guys paired off with their women and disappeared, leaving me with the last one.  I made it clear I was not interested in sex, but perhaps we could talk—maybe about Poland's economic relationship with other Warsaw Pact nations.  She said she was there to make money not conversation, and got up and walked away.  I looked around hoping to see some male equivalents of the women, but there were none.  I packed it in and made my way back to the port alone.

As I approached the ship I saw a Polish soldier with machine gun standing guard at the foot of the gangway.  He hadn't been there when we started out.  Why would there be a guard?  Why would a socialist happyland possibly need one?  Was he there to protect the ship, or to protect Poland from us?  And, I thought,  Ah ha!  Perhaps the night is still young.  I spoke to the soldier in Russian.  Why not?  Poland and the USSR were firm allies.  How better to demonstrate my solidarity with the Eastern Bloc proletarian struggle against the wicked West?  He understood me, but looked uneasy.  I didn't know the precise Russian words for what I had in mind, but soon got it across to him.  He seemed uncertain about how to respond.  The soldier guarding the ship tied up several metres away saw all this and walked over to see what was going on.  I couldn't understand the Polish, but my guard must have been saying something like “This guy is hitting on me and I don't know what to do.”  The second guard calmed him down and returned to the other ship.  My shipmates soon appeared, home from the Culture Palace.  They just stood there looking first at me, then at the soldier, finally at each other, and without a word climbed the gangway back onto the ship. 

By this time I suspected it wasn't going to happen.   Where did I go wrong?  Why didn't my vows of solidarity with the workers win his heart? All my fantasies about adding a Polish soldier to my slutty bucket-list of memorable achievements were to remain unfulfilled.  (“No, leave your uniform jacket on. And hold the machine gun—menacingly.  I'll be the innocent village lad.”  Since I was a bit older than he seemed to be, bearded, and somewhat bigger, this would have strained credulity, but hell, I'd sure give it my best shot.  Versatility is the spice of life.)  Well, not to be.  Back in my bunk ruefully reflecting on the night's events, it dawned on me that I would have had a much better chance if I had just flashed some Deutchmarks, of which I had many.  If workers could be bought with cigarettes, real money would have worked far better.

I began to realize that in spite of my political posturing I was just as decadent as anybody else.  And I liked it, although to my soldier I must have summed up exactly what the propaganda ministry had been warning him about.

« Last Edit: February 26, 2020, 03:59:39 am by x-man »
Happiness is the lasting pleasure of the mind grasping the intelligible order of reality.      --Leibniz