The trailer of the upcoming Disney origin story of Cruella brought back a random, wonderfully adventurous South Korean romance that hasn’t crossed my mind in decades. If I was to ever write a memoir, I would like to include this fantastic moment in my life.
Waaaaay back, around 1987, I was a Sergeant in the USMC. This was a time before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and being gay in the military was still a criminal offense, and the thought of being outed was terrifying.
Even still, it seemed like every remote US Military base in the world at that time had a secret, underground gay bar somewhere in the vicinity. Don’t ask me how I found them.. but somehow I did. When I was stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina, there was The Paddock Club an amazing club hidden behind a Harley Davidson shop, an hour away from the base in Greenville. I spent every weekend there for years.
But this story begins when I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan at Marine Corps Base Camp Foster. Not too far away from Camp Foster was Kadena Air Force Base. Outside of Kadena Airbase Gate 2 was a massive neighborhood of hundreds of nightclubs, strip bars, and tacky novelty shops. ‘Gate 2 Street‘ is where the US military from bases all over Okinawa came to party. Hiding in plain site in the midst of this throng of clubbing options was Club Manhattan. There were other NYC themed clubs on that street for some reason: Big Apple Club, New York New York, Club Broadway are the ones that I can remember. But Club Manhattan had something different. In a back corner on the second floor was where the gays gathered. Thousands of revelers entering the club and partying there all night had no idea that this was our secret little gay oasis.
I was introduced to the music of The Smiths at Club Manhattan, and the style of alternative rock was perfect for our group to go out on the floor and wildly dance together, waving our arms and occasionally slam dancing, and nothing looked suspicious. But really, most of the time we just sat in a group and talked over the loud music.
I think back, and our little secret group only had about 15 or 20 regular members, but during the time I spent at Club Manhattan, I met so many gay military personnel from bases all over the world. Somehow, through the underground gay info network, when they arrived in Okinawa, they knew to go to Club Manhattan to meet the other gays.
On my second year in Okinawa, I planned to take my first vacation to Tokyo, and on the way to Tokyo, I was going to stop at Osan Air Base in in South Korea. So I asked my friends what club I should go to in Osan, and they told me (though 30+ years later, I’ll need regressive hypnosis to recall that information now).
So I went to Osan, and on my first night I went to that bar. It didn’t look like anything was happening and I was about to leave when I saw him. A familiar face that I had seen mingling in our group at Club Manhattan for one night, but he was so incredibly good-looking that I was too shy to even say hello at the time. But I was on vacation and not shy at the moment, so I said HELLO.
Over the next four days, Corey DeVille and I had a travel affair that puts most travel romance movies to shame. Corey took me on a fantastic road trip and a whirlwind tour of Seoul, and all of these years later all I remember of that capital city is the drop-dead-gorgeous hunk that was by my side.
Once or twice I sang a few lines from the 101 Dalmatians song Cruella DeVille, but replaced Cruella with Corey.
“Corey DeVille, Corey DeVille
If He doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will.
He’s like a spider waiting for a… kill.
Look out for Corey DeVille.”
He didn’t get it.
He didn’t understand how this was related to a Disney Classic.
It was his only flaw.
Here is a link to a story I wrote about serving in the US Military Courts and processing gay ‘crime.’