I came across this rather startling photograph this morning as I was riding the subway on my way to one of those pre-dawn job-site meetings in midtown, and it served to jog my memory about an incident that occurred this past weekend.
There I was, late Sunday afternoon, at my usual post near the jukebox at the Dugout. The bar started off fairly quiet, as it does these days, and it was a while before some of the gentlemen I usual socialize with arrived. I'd been to the gym for the first time in almost three weeks earlier in the day, and was beginning to feel that old, familiar soreness returning to several long neglected muscle groups. I had tugged on an old t-shirt which served to hide a myriad of sins.
I had been expecting a fairly quiet evening, and in the absence of my friends, thought for a moment that I might spend the night by myself, speaking with no one. Though this has actually happened on occasion, it did not come to pass. The usual suspects poured in, followed by a fairly large brigade of tourists and the like, many of whom had taken in the Gay Expo that had been held all weekend. Soon the intermingled crowds were enjoying that warm and fuzzy Sunday afternoon beer buzz and checking each other out. Trips to the men's room and the bar were utilized for general scouting purposes and preliminary flirtation tactics.
Midway through the evening, a rather handsome, bearded and burly redheaded gentleman appeared across the room from us. One of our number mentioned that he had just jacked-off the previous day to said redhead's picture on one of the many meat and greet sites that exist expressly for that purpose and more. We marvelled at the synchronicity of it all. He was pretty awesome, I must say.
Now, for the most part, redheads hate me. It's a fact. I must represent something evil to them, because they seem to shun me in droves. No one has quite made the sign of the cross at me, but you get the idea. And yes, I think red hair and red beards are beautiful. Of course. They've been mostly unobtainable. At least until recently.
At some point in the evening, after a few beers had kicked in, this man grabbed me on my way back from the bar. He was my height, which I sometimes find disconcerting, and we were able to look directly into each other's eyes. I was a bit awestruck in the presence of all that red. After a bit of small talk about his tourist status and the fun he'd had at the Expo, he managed to get his hand up under my shirt. I was okay with this, and silently glad I'd done all those crunches that afternoon at the gym. He pulled me close to him, managing to lift my t-shirt up over my midriff area. I smiled and pulled it back down. Just as quickly he worked the shirt back up, and attempted to pull it off me. I stopped him, and he looked at me quizzically. I pulled the shirt back down and flashed a steely little smile.
"C'mon", he said, "let's take our shirts off and rub bellies".
I explained that I don't take my shirt off in bars anymore, and watched his eyes glazed over and his attention drifted elsewhere.
So, there you have it. Mark's fashion tip for middle-aged men: Even if all the youngsters have stripped down, exposing acres of flesh and fur, you might want to consider leaving your shirt on. Now, for the record, I am not ashamed of my body. In fact, I rather like it. I'm hard and soft and furry in places that some guys seem to like. As I've said before, I have my fans.
At this age, I'm just not all that comfortable hanging out in public shirtless, and I think a variety of people are breathing sighs of relief as we speak, just to know that. Just like Mr. Stallone up there. Not that I'm comparing my body to his, in any way, shape or form. But muscle looks very different when you age, as does skin tone and quality. Quite simply, it's all a matter of blood flow to the skin's surface, which diminishes vastly as one ages. What was once a rosy glow now appears red and blotchy.
Now, you may be able to view me shirtless in some of the following venues:
Sur la Plage
On my terrace, taking the sun
In the locker room at the gym
In my bedroom
Lounging around your apartment, apres sex.Nora Ephron writes that one of her "great life regrets" is "not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go right this minute, put on a bikini. Don't take it off until you're 34."
She's quite right. I should have removed my shirt in 1974 and left it off for the next twenty years. Who knew?
Now, can we please talk about what Sly Stallone has done to his face?