Friday, May 27, 2005

Jungleland

New Years Eve, 1993 and I'd spent money I didn't really have in an attempt to provide an evening of seduction.

My partner of many years had taken to his bed; a combination of illness, depression, ennui and an overwhelming dependency on pharmaceuticals had driven him there many months before. I'd leave him to go to work in the morning, and find him still in bed when i got home hours later. The apartment would be dark and Nolan, our schnauzer, would be half crazed from lack of attention and walking. After a quick dog trot, I'd have a solo dinner, a drink or three and then crawl into the unmade bed next to Robert. Weekends were just extended versions of the same dreary schedule. We'd had a lot of rough times in the past years, but this was beginning to seem insurmountable.

The holidays came and went; we'd stopped celebrating them years before. But this year, something was driving me to shake our routine up. I spent what seemed to be an exorbitant amount on excellent champagne and some caviar, thinking I could set a trap to draw him out of his cave. I was only partially successful. He seemed to enjoy the treats until whatever medication he'd ingested combined explosively with the champagne and sent him running to the head, and then back to his bed.

I sat there alone, knowing that somewhere, something had finally broken deep within me.

I don't know what deus ex machina caused Robert to decide he needed to visit his family down south a week or so later. He hadn't been down there in a couple of years, and even more surprisingly, decided to leave me alone for my first solo weekend in over a decade. I knew immediately I sure as hell was not going to spend it on the sofa at home.

Ty's had been on Christopher St. for almost 20 years at that point. I hadn't been in the bar since the late 70's, when Robert and I basically stopped going out. As a teen I would circle around the block on foot just so I could look through the big plate glass windows at all the big men in their scary leather jackets. Like some sort of demented homing pigeon, I headed back there on Saturday night.

All in all, not much had changed. A few tables had been added and the jukebox and cigarette machine had been removed to make room for a fairly boisterous crowd. I got a drink and quickly found a spot by the door, in case I had to make a quick getaway. Was I nervous? Fuck yeah. This must have been fairly obvious to anyone looking at me, and lord knows, they were. I was wearing a tan L.L. Bean field coat, an old school Banana Republic chambray shirt (remember when everybody wore chambray?), jeans and Timberland boots. Great for tramping through the woods, but hardly a suitable gay bar get-up.

Within minutes a guy walked up to me to tell me how much better I'd look if I'd only smile. I thought of my long-dead chum Hubbell's favorite reply to this opener: "Thank you, I have other plans." I turned up the corners of my mouth, finished my drink and left. It seemed untenable after having been out of circulation for 19 years to have the first person hit on me with such a withered and ancient line.

Hmmm...what next?

Standing on Hudson Street, I thought What the Hell? got in a cab, heading up to The Spike. If I hadn't been in Ty's in a decade, I was sure it was damn near two decades since I'd set foot there. The bar had changed a great deal since I'd last been there. It had practically doubled in size. And it was full. I got a drink and started to walk the circuitous walk that bar required. I had a lot of memories of this place; some really happy, some really hot, a few bordering on the dramatic. It felt good to be out among men again.

I ordered another drink and found a column I could lean against. I looked up at the DJ booth, which was surrounded by shelves containing thousands of LP's. Even then they looked archaic. I was studying them when a man in a leather harness walked up to me and asked me why he'd never seen me before. Word poured out of me like a torrent as I fingered the leather strap digging into his shoulder. I explained that I hadn't been out in years, and why. I could see his eyes glazing over as I continued, and realized this probably was not the best opening gambit I could muster. Bless him, he told me that if he had me at home he wouldn't let me go out either. Then he gave me a kiss and walked away.

I smiled to myself and listened to the music. Strange, something I'd never thought I'd hear in a gay bar. A song from Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, of all things. The owner of the bar was up in the booth playing the epic 9:33 ballad that closes the album. An overwrought melange of gangsters, guns, guitars and tragic love, it has two wordless interludes that always took my breath away. If I ignored the lyrics and surfed the melody, I would be transported. Tonight was no exception. Soon, I was oblivious to the room and the men circling around it. I was totally engrossed in the music, pressed back against the column, drinking and staring off into the lights and space. As the song built to it's climax I heard:

In the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
Tonight
In Jungleland.

As the song ended the owner climbed down from the DJ booth, hugged me long and hard and welcomed me to his bar.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Bear? Who? Me?

It was my third time around in therapy.

The first time I went to discuss the fact that I was walking around angry all the time. I wound up discussing my non-relationship with my father for the next 2-1/2 years. The anger hasn't abated at all. I've just learned to channel it, mostly. I would spend 55 minutes every Thursday afternoon with Dan in his little office on leafy West 12th Street. As I would leave, I could see other people leaving their therapist's offices up and down the block, some crying, some in shock, some sailing along in seemingly great humor, elated after an excellent session. I'd get to experience that range of emotions myself in coming months.

The second time I went was because all my friends were dying. Considering the fact that my very best friend Barry had just recently died and it was he who had originally introduced me to Dan, this group of sessions didn't last very long. We'd sit in Dan's office and cry together. He would try to reassure me that straight people weren't treating me like some sort of diseased pariah. I put an end to that when I told him how the Chinese exchange student in my office had personalized his coffee mug with a Sharpie, printing the slogan: DO NOT USE! NO AIDS!! Dan couldn't make that into anything nicer or better.

The last time around was during my 38th year. I had developed the distinct impression that I was invisible. Or at least invisible to the general gay male public. The East Village sidewalks and walls were stencilled with Fags Against Facial Hair graffiti. I took this as a personal affront. The most popular bar in my neighborhood was BoyBar. I felt sure they wouldn't let me in there. No, the doorman would laugh and laugh and point me back out on to the mean St. Mark's streets. I hadn't been in a gay bar in years. Robert was retreating to his bed, and I would spend most weekends watching dozens of rental videos, drinking vodka and diet coke and generally being miserable. I'd see other guys running around in their natty shirts buttoned to the collar, wearing those black Nikes that gay guys wore then. Not only didn't I have the look, I couldn't even begin to figure it out. The only guys who looked at me seemed demented or insane. I figured that a portion of my life was over. I had crossed the line into middle age. This was the way it was going to be from now on. I felt unjustly condemned to a sad future of untucked Tommy Bahama shirts and ill-fitting jeans.

I explained all this to Richard, my new therapist, in his tiny Greenwich Village studio which doubled as his office. Richard listened patiently, and made little concerned clucking noises in empathy. When I was done he quietly stood up, went into his bedroom area and came back with some magazines, which he threw in my lap. I looked down and saw on one cover a large man who looked to be in his mid-fifties. He had a salt and pepper beard and wore a flannel shirt, unbuttoned to reveal his hirsute chest. Across the top of the magazine was the word BEAR.

Honestly, I was repelled.

I opened the magazine, and it was full of guys who seemed a lot like me. Or worse!! Was this porn? I thought not!

Richard gently explained that not only was I a bear, but a prime example of one, and as such, there was indeed quite a market out there for me, should I ever want to avail myself of it. This didn't make me one bit happier. I liked Colt Men, dammit! I was sure if Mr. Mike Betts ever met me, he'd spirit me off to his Southern California pool where we'd splash around and I'd get to live out a decade-old fantasy. (Has anyone seen this man lately? He works as an escort out of Chicago, I think, and that old magic has been completely eradicated by the ravages of time and hustling. Of course, given the opportunity, I would certainly entertain the thought of doing him just for old times sake, in much the way I would have fucked Cary Grant in his later years.)

Richard suggested I take the magazines home, to acclimate myself to my new identity, I guess. It didn't work. I showed them to Robert, who laughed long and loud, and had quite a few snide comments about my new therapist.

Later that night, alone and high, I slowly thumbed through the pages, looking for my future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Oh......

So, I'm sitting on a bench in the locker room at the gym.

I've just managed to do my 5 miles on the treadmill with a minimum of shin splint pain, which in itself is slightly miraculous. The new Garbage album "Bleed Like Me" is extremely inspirational for pushing myself; it's just the right speed. I'm completely drenched in sweat and enjoying the mild endorphin rush. I'm alone with the exception of a young man who seems to be pulling a collection of boxer shorts ornamented with cartoon characters out of his locker and getting dressed. Strangely enough, he keeps looking over at me.

Now, after all these years, I know I don't get cruised at the gym. Almost never! I could count the number of times that's happened. I had all these gym fantasies when I first started going. Mostly regarding friendly and helpful people. You know, camaradie! I think I can safely blame Edmund White for this bit of nonsense. Thank god I worked with Andre all those months, because without a trainer, I would have fled years ago. I suppose the fact that I'm probably 15-20 years older than EVERYONE at my gym might have something to do with this, but I'm willing to ignore this fact, most of the time.

Anyway, this young man finally says:
"Hey, you look familiar".
And I'm thinking he's seen me out at the Dugout or the Phoenix or even God forbid, the Eagle.

So he asks me my name and I tell him.

And he says:

"No, that's not it. I thought you were a friend of my parent's!"

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Midnight Oil

So I stayed up past 1:00 last night reading those very journals.

WHAT A TWIT I WAS!

Page after page details my latest obsessions as regards Ken, Dave, Richard, Richard, Richard, Bobby, Chris, Arthur, Dennis, Dennis, William, Robert, Robert, Dino, Lew, Lester, Frank, Joe and any number of nameless hunks of man flesh that passed through my 20 year old consciousness. I had to stop and concentrate to even figure out just who these people were who were causing me soooo much psychic pain. If there was ever a person who should have had his confessional singer/songwriter albums confiscated, it was me! And of course, my insights in my then-brand-new relationship with Robert were dead wrong. Mostly. At least I had the good sense even then to realize I was swimming in waters way over my head. Anyone with more sense and less desperation would have just swam for shore.

I put the journals away and went to bed. I guess I'll have another look in 10 years. Maybe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Ready, Steady...Go!

So, I'm feeling totally ambivalent about this.

And definitely behind the curve. Ask me why I'm doing this and I'm hard pressed for an answer. I'm thinking it might get me writing again. It's too bad this wasn't around when I was 20 and keeping journals. Or maybe not. It's always a mortifying experience to read the journals I kept in college. I don't remember where I found the black faux-leather ledgers with the fake red Moroccan trim, but I filled a few. Using a Schaefer cartridge fountain pen, if you please. Blue ink! It was years later that I graduated to Montblanc Blue/Black. Anyway, I was in love every single day with some new guy, all completely unsuitable, and all of this rendered in the most overblown yet austere prose imaginable. Sort of an ungodly combination of Joan Didion and Laura Nyro. I kept that journal for a couple of years; it basically details my return and departure from school, my first apartment, meeting Robert and the year that followed. I guess ages 19 through 21. I stopped writing basically when Robert moved in with me. I guess I didn't feel the need to document my post adolescent ruminations on men and dating anymore. Maybe tonight I'll grab 'em off the shelf and take a spin. It's always fun being reminded what a case I was and can still be. It's cringe-worthy noting I'm still capable of experiencing versions of those same emotions all these years later. Ah, well. Everything changes and nothing changes.