A Monster Tea Party

Without tea or even much dancing

The two-tiered ferry boat, the Carrie B., is docked on the north side of the New River, across from the Sea Monster Night Club (2 S. New River Dr., Fort Lauderdale). At 6 p.m. sharp on a lazy Sunday evening, the engine gurgles to life, and the paddleboat's big, red wheel starts to turn, churning up a frothy, brown cocktail of brackish water, development runoff, septic tank leakage, and boat sewage. The aftereffects of consuming said cocktail would not be released inhibitions or a hangover but salmonella, hepatitis A, and shigellosis.

Ahoy!

On deck, a group of 80 or so mostly gay men, who dropped $20 each to board the monthly, two-hour "Tea Cruise," rush the bar on the upper tier to redeem their drink ticket. DJ Ray Ray, a tall, broad-shouldered woman in a gray T-shirt and beige cap, starts her set as the boat pulls away from the dock.

A cool breeze sweeps across the group, which moves to the bow of the boat to take in the sights.

To your right, gentlemen, is the Broward County jail. And to your left, cranes jutting out of the near-complete and maniacally advertised River House loom menacingly overhead.

Carrie B. slips around a bend in the river, and the crowd cheers, startling a couple of breeders getting hot and heavy while leaning on their parked car above the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel. This puts everyone in a good mood.

Then, an exceptionally small, bald man in his early 50s, wearing flare jeans, squeezes between the railing and a group of three men lounging on a platform. One of the loungers, a 30-something with dark hair and eyes, rests his hand on the little chap's shoulder and initiates a conversation with, "You are so little and so cute."

"Hey!" the tiny one flips a shit. "You wouldn't say to a fat man who walks by, 'You're so fat. '"

"Yeah, but I like small guys," he replies, assuming that a statement of sexual predilection will excuse the insult. "You're so cute."

"It's still rude. We all know that men want to be big. And it's not easy to be small."

Tension lifts, and the short man introduces himself as Bruno. He informs us that he's a nuclear physicist who just sold out his share of a company.

We all become serious and afford him the respect to which successful people are accustomed.

"Now I'm working on my real estate license," he announces.

Everyone's laughing at Bruno now, but this time, he can't help but join in. Besides, trapped together on a boat, nobody wants to make enemies; that would be contrary to the purpose of squeezing that last bit of revelry in before the workweek arrives.

Tim Austin, manager of the 5-year-old Sea Monster, explains: "This is in the tradition of parties in San Francisco, Fire Island, and Provincetown. You know, it's tea at 4 o'clock, one more day for people to get together and party. It's always been a gay thing. People go from early tea to another party, and it's all done by 1, 2, or 3 in the morning, which is early in the gay world. If you look at the straight clubs across the river on a Sunday, it's a ghost town."

But on this day, things on the Carrie B. are rather more subdued than I had expected.

One older man in a flannel shirt and glasses complains, "It's not so good tonight. Usually, it's so packed that you can't walk across the deck."

Co-owner David Rogers explains that the low turnout is on account of the chilly weather and the absence of female co-owner Toni Verone, who usually promotes the cruise but wasn't there this week.

The chill group of 30-somethings drinks, chats, and, despite a few standouts, dances very little until drag queen Ricki Lee, dressed in tight black pants and a baggy shirt, twirls around the deck in a pair of heels for a couple of numbers. Then a few men hit the floor.

Sadly, the Carrie B. is already hurrying us back to the New River when the action begins. A short, white-haired, 80-year-old man in a red dinner jacket points to a lithe man in a gray silk shirt who is bouncing around the floor. "That's my lover of 30 years right there. He's 62 years old, and he's Brazilian."

I give the boy toy a go to Elvis Crespo's "Suavemente." We're spinning wildly, our arms tangled around each other and behind our necks. He moves so fast that I never quite unravel in the right position, and as one spin unwinds, I find myself nestled against the knee of a larger man in light jeans and a black button down. Several other dancers have taken to the floor. They are outnumbered, however, by onlookers who might have joined in had the boat not pulled up to the dock so soon.

Still, a slightly more intimate group heads back across the bridge to the club on the south side of the river, chatting about the dancers and fantasy real estate. Jello shots are passed out at the door of the Sea Monster, one each, as we file back into the club for a spot more tea.

 
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