I moved back to New York two weeks ago after being away for many years. I lived here through most of the 80s and 90s. I left in 1998, and in the last 12 years I've lived in San Francisco, Austin, Nashville, southern Utah, and for two years on the road in a camper. I returned for two reasons: one, a musical I wrote is doing very well here and I was tired of participating in its success from a distance, and, two, I had my heart badly broken in Austin last summer and I needed to get away from a town where everything reminded me of the man I loved and lost.
I landed here just in time for the gorgeous fall weather that New Yorkers dream about all summer. I hope you'll indulge me a periodic chronicle of what it's like to be a 40-something, single, homosexual man finding his way in contemporary gay New York.
I got hit in the head with a chair last night! The first thing I thought after it happened was, "Now that's why I moved back to New York!"
I had a date last night. A man I met and chatted and exchanged numbers with at the Eagle last weekend, a handsome man, a painter, asked me over for "dinner and drinks." I left my job at the prop shop in Greenpoint at 5, came back to T's (where I'm staying) to shower and change. It would have been easier not to come all the way up to Inwood and then back downtown but I needed a few moments to relax and get my second wind. The new job, getting up at 6 a.m., walking everywhere again ... I was dog-tired.
He lives in a little apartment in Chelsea filled with his paintings. He made cocktails with ginger vodka and lemon juice. They were potent and I had two of them before dinner, which was beautiful and delicious: a chicken breast broiled with New Mexico chili, a baked sweet potato, spinach with lemon and capers, Israeli cous-cous. We smoked some pot.
I hadn't noticed the night I met him the deep creases at the sides of his mouth which could have been age but more likely were the result of HIV drugs because he also, and I hadn't noticed this before either, had the tell-tale distended stomach and lack of ass. I won't say I didn't have a slight reaction of, if not fear, apprehension, which, of course, is completely irrational because even if you were going to have risky sex (and you usually have the choice not to) you're much less likely to contract HIV from someone who is on long-term anti-viral drugs than from someone who is not. But who ever said we were rational creatures?
At any rate, he was charming and eccentric, gracious, sweet, and the vodka and marijuana... After dinner, we had amazing sex -- if the quality of sex is measured by the intensity of physical sensation and I question more and more whether that is the best metric; my experience with M showed me that the whole sex-is-better-when-you-love-someone line may not be just propaganda -- the sex of experts, a kind of sex completely without mystery that only people who've been around the block so many times there's nothing to discover can have. It was hot because we knew exactly how to make it hot.
But then it was over.
He said, "I hope you can stay," and I said I wanted to wake up at home which meant I didn't want to sleep with him.
It was only 11 when I left, and I was in the neighborhood, still a little drunk and high and craving a beer, so I stopped at the Eagle. Usually the Eagle is sort of all about horniness but I was a little spent so I went up to the roof and sat looking I imagined aloof and handsome. Maybe not too aloof because within a few minutes a very cute bearded man, young I thought, sat next to me saying, "There wasn't anyone sitting here, was there?" I said, "Not that I know of."
I tried to steal glances at him, sitting there right beside me, but I wasn't at all sure if he'd sat there because he wanted to sit next to me or sat there just because it was a place to sit. Is he shy? Should I say something? Or should I pretend I don't even notice him and thereby avoid humiliation? (Despite my feeling that I might look attractive, I always believe that anyone who I think is handsome is almost by definition handsomer than me. I'm not even sure what that means, but it's true.) He lit a cigarette. He said something about the porn playing on a TV over the bar. I think he said it was mesmerizing. I said, "They usually play really good porn here, but tonight it's kind of bad." Which it was. But it was a TV screen and impossible not to look at. Then I said, "But I guess everyone has their own particular taste when it comes to porn." And he said, "You just said a true thing," or something like that. He had a strong Australian accent and used a lot of idiomatic expressions I couldn't make out. I think he called the bathroom the "dunney."
We sat and talked and got drunker and drunker till almost closing time (which in New York I'd like to mention is way too late). He's a solicitor taking some time off to grow a beard and travel. He's more or less backpacking with a buddy. They're staying somewhere on the Upper West Side sharing a single bed to save money. We talked about traveling, the places we'd been. He was small with a bright disarming smile, black hair and eyes, and I told him I thought he was very handsome and he said, "Likewise," which could have meant that he too thought he was handsome, but I don't think that's what he meant.
Several times he said things that, because I was drunk I can't recall today, made me think he was insightful and sensitive and emotionally self-aware.
I was glad that I'd just had sex because, though I wanted to touch him and I did put my hand on his leg a couple times, I didn't feel that intense urgency to go somewhere and fuck that usually backgrounds these types of encounters. I told him I'd like to see him again and he took my number. He texted me so I would have his, but it's an Australian number and it came through as a regular phone call, not text. When I heard last call I said I had to go. I asked him if I could kiss him. I don't remember if he said yes or nodded or if I just kissed him without waiting for an answer.
On the street outside, I texted him saying I'd enjoyed hanging out and looked forward to seeing him again. I'm doubtful I'll hear from him, but who knows.
Around the corner on 10th Avenue, I stopped for a slice. There was something happening on the sidewalk in front of the pizza place, a big group of people shouting and looking agitated but I didn't think much of it since at 4 in the morning on 10th Avenue there's nothing unusual about that sort of behavior. I made my way through the crowd and was headed for the counter as a couple guys and a woman came running from the back of the restaurant toward the front door. On the way, one of them picked up a chair, one of those sturdy but light aluminum chairs, and lifted it over his head. As he ran past me, it banged the side of my head hard enough to hurt but I was drunk enough to be more amused and intrigued than scared or angry. I sat down at a table and watched the chaotic running around and shouting, someone saying over and over, "Chill! There are cops outside!" until finally they did chill, and I got up and ordered my slice and walked to the train at 34th Street. Miraculously, the A train came within minutes -- sometimes late at night you have to wait forfuckingever -- and I was home in bed by 5.
I have a slight headache today and a bit of a knot on the side of my head and I can't stop smiling.