The following is an excerpt from Chris Andoe's forthcoming book, House of Villadiva.
One early summer evening, pre-pandemic, I decided to stay home and clean while Kage went down to the corner.
I carried out the recycling and thought about how the decommissioned alley behind our house was like a country road in the middle of the city. It required mowing, but still had patches of busted concrete and asphalt in sections, gravel and dirt ruts in others. I had to hike down it to get to the dumpster on the main alley below, which was inconvenient but didn't bother me.
As I descended, I could hear laughter and Kage getting high pitched — as he was prone to do when excited — while telling a story on the Grey Fox patio, which was thoroughly obscured by a forest of bamboo and an ivy-covered crumbling brick wall.
Looking up I could see the illuminated penthouse atop the art deco South Side Tower a few blocks over. The penthouse was home to a leather daddy and his tribe, and featured a sprawling terrace. It was a goal of mine to see and write about it, but it had yet to happen. Looking down the main alley to our street I could see the steep steps leading to the charming cottage where the elderly previous owners of Grey Fox still resided. I met them at a block party, and even though they lived across the street from the bar and could see down into the patio from their porch, they hadn't been inside since they sold it many years earlier, and inquired about what it was like now.
There was such a village feel to this rolling corner of the neighborhood, which I dubbed "Grey Fox Hills." It sometimes felt everyone lived here, it was so dense with homosexuals, and there was a camaraderie. These were people who wanted to have fun. Tough, diverse personalities who weren't quick to frighten.
One night at the Grey Fox we were invited to the after party of a young guy who lived around the corner and had a framed tax form in his home proving he'd earned $80,000 one year showing his impressive penis online. He was a character and reminded me of an earlier incarnation of Rick, the former Melrose bad boy, in how jovial he was. He couldn't sit still.
The last Saturday of July 2020, a couple three blocks over posted a photo of their lovely backyard drenched in the golden evening sunlight with the caption, "Only missing friends."
After tossing that week's recycling in the dumpster I noticed the quiet. No music or laughter. COVID-19 had swept through and impacted many in our orbit, from Zeeke to the Abernathys — our favorite Grey Fox bartenders, and even the guy with the $80,000 penis.
I wondered when things would return to normal.
Chris Andoe is a St. Louis-based author and former editor of Out in STL, a sister publication of the RFT.
The premium Society Edition of House of Villadiva will be released on June 3 with all pre-sale profits benefiting Food Outreach. The black and white edition and ebook will be released on June 10.