When Big Rob approaches to take our drink order, I’m immediately smitten. The last time I saw anyone sporting a kilt and a pair of topsiders with such panache was at a sorority party back in Charlottesville, Virginia, circa 1983. Of course, the coeds weren’t shirtless or model handsome like Big Rob. And I wasn’t the least bit tempted to sneak a peek beneath their tartans.
One of Rehoboth’s great summer pleasures is sipping a cocktail outside on the deck at Aqua Bar and Grill on Baltimore Avenue. I don’t know why, but a gin and tonic just tastes better when served by an attractive, half-dressed waiter. Tonight, the cocktail boys are in kilts. Last Sunday they wore wrestling singlets. Before that it was dog tags, aviator sunglasses, and towels – a Top Gun fantasy.
This is Big Rob’s first season serving drinks. During the day the tall Loyola University finance major is a lifeguard with the Rehoboth Beach Patrol. In fact, that’s how he found out about this gig. It’s no secret that lifeguards have often worked at Aqua throughout the years. The tips are good.
I ask if he gets a lot of propositions. Just once this entire summer, he says, laughing it off. Most of the patrons are very respectful when they find out he’s straight. He admits it took him awhile to get used to all the attention, but now he’s having a good time. He’s even comfortable rocking the deck clad only in a Speedo – his words, not mine.
The competition among the waiters on the deck is fierce, the free market in action. So, with a wink and a grin our perfect gentleman is off to attend to some other thirsty customers, moving through the crowd with the smooth efficiency of a freestyle swimmer. Did I mention he’s co-captain of his university swim team?
I’m admittedly a bit disappointed by the lack of shenanigans Big Rob has revealed tonight. But, I suppose that’s to be expected, given that all the Aqua cocktail boys are straight as an arrow this season. Bar owner Bill Shields also tends to run a tight ship.
‘Tis a far cry from the 70s in Atlantic City, laments one of my drinking companions, who just happened to work as a cocktail boy at the Hotel DeVille bar when he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course, that was back when Atlantic City was a major gay hotspot – more so than Rehoboth – before the gambling casinos came in and displaced all the gay bars and hotels.
Now we’re getting’ somewhere…
Unlike at Aqua, the cocktail boys in Atlantic City were full-fledged homos. Instead of lifeguarding, they frolicked on the beach in white speedos, slathering themselves with baby oil and iodine to get that perfect tan and to also hustle up tips at the bars where they worked at night in denim cut-offs and tank tops. Everyone had a moustache.
And they were most definitely propositioned. A lot. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to receive roses or even a giant bottle of Paco Rabanne cologne in addition to hefty tips from a smitten admirer. The French Canadian men were particularly romantic.
Our Ivy Leaguer tells of being talked into posing for nude photos, one of which later ended up in After Dark magazine. The proposition he remembers most fondly, though, came from the bawdy talking puppet known as Madame, a creation and alter ego of entertainer Wayland Flowers who used to haul her around with him to gay clubs. Wayland and Madame appeared on a variety of television shows back in the 60s and 70s before hitting it big with a Las Vegas gig and then a late night television program of their own.
I’m about to learn how wide Madame’s jaw could unhinge when Big Rob returns with another round of drinks. Inspired by the stories of Atlantic City and emboldened by the gin, I ask if he’d mind answering a personal question, one I know is on the mind of every red-blooded man in the bar tonight.
“Go for it,” he says.
“How’d you get the white spot on your chest?”
“From a burn,” he explains. “A buddy laid a quarter on me while I was sleeping on the beach.”
Imperfection is beauty and I tell him so.
When Big Rob departs, one of my drinking companions punches me in the arm. It’s not the question he wanted answered, but, hey, I’ve got some integrity. And besides, I tell him, if you want to know the answer, simply shake his hand. And don’t forget to tip.
Author’s note. Last night was Rob’s last night at Aqua. He really liked the story and said the tips definitely improved after it ran in LETTERS. He’s definitely returning next year to lifeguard and to serve drinks.