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  • "You look like a queen in a sailor's dream," he told me. I was serving mugs of beer at the Catalyst Bar and Grill. Stephen was older than I was by many years, but we were soul mates. What we had between us transcended age differences. I loved him.

    Stephen painted houses and got free rent by taking a management job at the Caribbean Hotel. I rented an efficiency apartment but I lived with Stephen. The Caribbean Hotel was a vanishing breed. In fact, I think some genius has now plowed it under to build gauche condos for those living the life of the rich and famous. When I lived there, the Caribbean was a grand old lady just beginning to show her age. She had a wide veranda with a circular driveway, white wicker furniture and ceiling fans to create air flow, a place to sit in the heat of the afternoon and sip ice cold lemonade. There were several rooms and several efficiencies.

    The cast of characters were as unique as the place. There was a gay couple who owned an antique store. These guys liked to dress me up like a Barbie doll in clothes from centuries past - I preferred the glam of the twenties flapper to the June Cleaver with pearls look of the fifties. We tried them all. There was Kyle who had a ferret he snuck in to the room. Stephen was mad when he found out. Since Kyle was clearly an animal lover, Stephen made him rescue three baby ducks in distress from the canal that ran by the hotel. There was Rhonda who was so good-natured that she suffered our frequent singing of the "Help Me Rhonda" song. She made many delicious vegetarian dishes and shared with all. There was the hooker, Yvonne. I didn't trust her - even though I helped her write Stephen a letter begging to be allowed to stay after he threatened to throw her out. I made her promise not to bring her men there anymore. There was Eddie, whom we nicknamed Clams Casino - he had a bit of a skin-crawling effect on both Stephen and I - but we wanted to keep the place full. He was removed after Stephen woke up one night to find him kissing his toes. There was Plain Steve, who repaired electronics. We used to sneak into his room and play his record player. In an odd way, we became a family.

    The Catalyst Bar was just three blocks away. I still think it's the best name for a bar that ever was. Although a little hole in the wall, serving beer and wine only, we were surrounded by fine dining establishments. When the evening shift was over, all the wait staff would come see me and unwind. If they had a good night, I had a great night. We had a jukebox and a bunch of red quarters. Red quarters were courtesy of the bar. The Catalyst was a happy place. Nobody fought or got out of control. Stephen would stay with me until I had the beer cooler restocked, then he would walk me home.

    In my memory, this time in my life has a golden aura. But like everything golden, it couldn't last forever. Stephen went back to Pennsylvania. He had a son who needed him. He took my heart with him. I loved him then and I love him now. I went back home and mourned my loss, then resumed school. Our family had disbanded. The Caribbean Hotel is gone.

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