Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
I have awkward carries. You’re supposed to lift trays above your head, support dishes on one arm, and hold utensils in the other. Whenever I start a new job waiting tables, people think I must be inept. I rest trays on my shoulder, juxtapose dishes so they always look like they’re about to succumb to gravity’s kiss. But they never do. I’ve never broken a plate, or dropped a dish full of food. I’ve lost a couple of mugs, but mostly because they came straight from a hot dishwasher, and then some idiot filled them up with ice and handed them to me, and the bottom fell out. Sometimes, I was even the idiot in question.
Tonight, my second night back at Kookaburra Canyon, several of the rookies asked if I needed help, because they thought I was on the brink of dropping everything. I’d just smile, and walk out into the dining room.
The weight of my life is distributed unevenly. I’ve got financial burdens lined up one arm, my failure to deal with my housing situation on the other. An urgent e-mail from my mother’s boyfriend is wrapped a little too tightly around my neck. I’ve got Ben dangling from one of my fingers. Celeste’s suggestion that I’m too focused on Ben is balanced precariously on my head. Surely, something has got to give.
As I walk out of the dining room, arms full of lamb and mashed potatoes, my boss (also a Ben) shouts “Sack smack!” and lunges for my testicles. I’ve missed working for a twelve year old. When I walk back into the kitchen, he yells, “Catch!” and throws a full pitcher of water at me, which I somehow catch. When he laughs and turns around, I kick an empty mug rack on wheels at him. It hits him in the shins and nearly knocks him over.
He knows I’m waiting for a call about my mother. That I don’t know if I’m overreacting to the boyfriend’s e-mail. So he’s fucking with me to keep me in good spirits, and it’s working. Everyone around me is yelling at each other and complaining to me “What’s the fucken deal? Salads are taking forever tonight. They’ve fucked up every order that’s gone through the kitchen tonight.” Not mine. The actual work part of my night was flawless. I didn’t make as much as I’d have liked, but it was nice out, and there was a Red Sox/Yankees game, so I didn’t expect it to be busy.
When the rookie server who’s been there three months tells me I’m not carrying things properly, and I’m taking too much time at the soda machine, and maybe I’m a little rusty at serving, I calmly turn and say, “While you’re back here complaining about how hectic things are, and trying to tell me what I’m doing wrong, I’m back here filling the ice machine, filling the bread oven, getting fresh mugs, and all my tables are happy, and I’m happy, so really, who should be telling who how to do their job?”
And at ten, I call Ben and ask him if he’d like me to bring any food home. And then I think home? Ben’s apartment, while it is where I’ve spent most of my time for the past month, isn’t my home. This is followed by Fuck, what am I doing? We’re not dating or sleeping together, yet I’m at his house almost every night, using his computer, keeping him up late talking, and slowly turning his asscat against him. And, let’s not forget, confessing how much I love him and how much it hurts that he doesn’t love me back.
As soon as I’m done with work, I grab my bag full of his food, and get on the subway. At his stop, I get off, buy him a pack of cigarettes, and something to drink. It’s 12:30. He is awake long enough for me to get in the door, but then immediately passes out. As I write a lengthy e-mail to my mom’s boyfriend, he sits bolt upright and says “Some day my hair won’t beehive when I lay down.” And then promptly rolls over and passes out again. How could I not love him?
I, unrealistically, expect everything in my life will work itself out shortly. I have a date tomorrow night with an emo musician who isn’t Ben. Despite the scheduler forgetting to put me on the schedule at Kookaburra Canyon, I’ve picked up every shift I could possibly work. Zuzu got my five month overdue check for the last school gig I did without the “Cash first, THEN performance” rule that I’ve had to institute, since every college and high school in the country seems to think it’s okay to keep poets waiting years and years for their checks, because hey, we all know poets are all rich beyond peoples’ wildest fantasies. Shit, Billy Collins owns half the state of Tennessee, and Bill Gates keeps calling Sharon Olds to ask her how she manages to handle her finances so well. If she can’t tell him, I will. The trick is to line one arm with dollar coins, and the other with hundred dollar bills folded into origami butterflies. Fold your stocks and bonds into the folds of your shirt. Stuff your assets down the back of your pants, and keep your debts resting on your shoes. It’s a hell of a way to carry yourself through rough times
“This is totally driving me crazy.” Ben says. And he launches into this story about some art opening he went to a few months ago. “I’m minding my own business, when this” and he shudders “fat kid, like Wisconsin fat, corners me. And I’m tripping balls, and his huge chins are all like jiggling while he talks. And eventually I gave him my phone number just so he would go away. It’s so gross.” He fluffs his hair. “I think I’m reasonably attractive,” You’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’rebeautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful “and I would never just go up to some stranger and force my presence on them until they gave me their phonenumber in an act of self-preservation. As if he even had a chance, he’s sooooo fat, and gross.”
“You used to be fat.” I say. I’ve seen the pictures of Ben as a kid, as overweight in junior high and early high school as I was.
“Fuck you. I was never fat like this kid. And the point is, I’m not fat now, so why would this guy think he had even a remote chance with me. If I was trapped on a desert island with him and no food and nothing to do, I would make him turn away from me when I masturbated. I don’t get all these people who think I would even bother with them. Anyway, he called me today. He hasn’t called in like weeks. Like, back before I met you, he called me a bunch of times in one night. And the messages went from normal what are you up to chit-chat to well, I guess you don’t care about me you self-righteous prick in the course of like four hours. And, yea, I really don’t give a shit about him. And I probably wouldn’t have called him back anyway, but certainly not after that barrage of messages. So, today he calls and wants me to apologize for breaking his heart. Breaking His Heart? Ugh. I’m so tired of all these men who say that I’ve broken their hearts. I’m completely up front with people. I’m a rock. It’s not my fault that people keepslamming their hearts against me."
He is a rock. Last week, I felt like waves crashing over him. “You know I love you, right.”
His eyes go cold. “We are not talking about this right now.”
“Look, I’m not letting myself be in love or lust or like with anyone right now. I mean, spending time with you is awesome and everything, but no. We are never a yes. Always no. You and me? No. Friends.” And he steers our conversation to safer shores. How he’s going to New York in a couple of days with Lisabelle to procure some acid. How he really likes Celeste, and wants to hang out with her more.
“I was looking through one of my ex’s Myspace accounts.” He says. “And he said There is no option for ‘I don’t care’ in relationship status, and then he listed his sexual orientation as straight. Apparently, there was no option for fucken liar in sexual orientation. I should be flattered. I’m the only guy he’s ever been with. But when we were making out one time he said I want you to fuck me, and then come on my face. I can see a straight guy getting drunk and maybe asking his gay friend to blow him, but asking to get fucked and have a guy come on your face is pretty much an exclusively gay thing.”
Then he says Labor Day pussy drink extra pillow pigeon. Sign language van seatrelationship Galouises.
I don’t hear more than one word in any sentence he says. I am sitting on the van seat. Asscat is scratching at my leg, but I don’t have the energy to pet him or wave him away. I just sit there and watch Ben pretend I never told him how I felt. I listen to him turn the conversation toward his HIV positive ex. How much he still cares for him. How he’d have unprotected sex with him, so that the two of them could share the experience of dying together. A funny anecdote about what happened to him at work the other day. He just keeps talking at me and talking at me like I’m capable of listening or comprehending.
And I realize, I’ve never been on his playlist. I am an unrequited eyefuck poppy seed zombie. Bombastic proposal of anorexic analogies. You’re beautiful. Never a yes. Always no. Beautiful. Never. Rainbortion. Language. I’m maybe not rebuilding but wrecked. Maybe van seat. Maybe fat kid. Maybe vapid. “I think seventeen is a perfect age” Too old for him anyway. Too bombastic. Too pussy drink. Too stem thick. Never too. Never positive. Never you’re. Never beautiful.
There must be maggots under my skin. It looks like I’m still breathing.
“It’s weird.” Celeste says, when we meet for breakfast the next day. “Ever since you started hanging out with Ben, you don’t write about anything else. I mean, you mention me, and a couple of other people from time to time, but it’s always in relation to a story about Ben. It’s like he’s the only thing that matters to you.”
I don’t know quite how to respond to that statement, so I don’t.
I’ve had this feeling with disturbing frequency recently. This need to speak, but lack of proper words to use. Rainbortion. Rainbortion. Rainbortion.
There was Fledge first. Then Noj. Then Chris, who turned out to be an online persona of a twisted pedophile. Then Andy. Then Saint. Then Ryan. Never Elvis. Then Liam. Then The Notebook. Then my almost mutual infatuation partner, David. Then nothing for years. Then Dmitri. Then Ben. I can’t say for sure if any of it was love. I never pursued Fledge. Noj was terrified and far away. Chris wasn’t real. Andy scared me. SAINT was straight. Ryan died before things could get complicated. Liam was straight. The Notebook was too young. David was terrified of what our relationship would do to him. Nothing was too easy. Dmitri had a boyfriend. Ben? No, I stillhaven’t figured out what’s going on there. Celeste asks me about our “relationship question mark”, inflection is too subtle, she has to spell out the interrogative nature of our friendship/living arrangement/whatever it is. We discuss we and ours, but, if he has his way, he’ll be leaving the city too soon enough.
Fuck all if I know if this is love. If I understood love, I wouldn’t be a writer or a waiter or a useless fucken philosopher, I’d be a God. I don’t know what Ben is thinking. Why he invited me to live here. Why his voice makes my neck crack. There is no logical reason why the way he describes the way he loves someone who isn’t me, doesn’t put me off. I now find the word “Boo” sexy (though not in that Snoop Dog, Usher/Alicia Keys way). His ugly duckling scowl gives me swan bumps.
I could give a class on how people can fall into what they think is love. How wonderful it feels. But just because I could teach it, doesn’t mean I’ve learned enough of it tounderstand it. I don’t think the average high school math teacher really knows why the Quadratic Equation works. They don’t need to understand why, as long as theyunderstand how. I know that the first time I saw Ben, I thought “He’s kind of cute, but so annoying.” I didn’t want to get to know him. I didn’t mean to invite him out to dinner that first night. My mouth worked faster than my brain. Thank God. Thank mouth. I don’t know when I started thinking “Wow, he is fucked up in the most wonderful ways. I think I could love him.” I’m not sure why the thought of him leaving makes my lips twitch. I wonder what this laugh is between us that makes my heart seize.
I love him. No, not in that sappy I’m so in love with him way, and no, not in that lustful he is so hot, I want to fuck him way, and not even in the friendly way that I love Celeste, and Zuzu, and Wiz, and D. This is a weird love, even for me. It’s mostly that I enjoy spending time with him. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s a good listener with a good singing voice, he’s talented at what he does, but he is flawed in ways that are frankly none of anyone’s business unless he decides to tell them. So it’s a friend love. But God I want to kiss, protect, defend, and hold him. And it’s not because he has magnificent hair (though he does), and it’s not because he has an amazing ass (he doesn’t), and it’s not because his body is stunning (and I wish he could appreciate that it is), or even because...I don’t know why it is, it just is.
There’s a not in my stomach that I can’t undo. I can’t drink it away or even drink it nearer.
Two days after I move in, the egg hatches. The next day, the mother pigeon flies into the closed window and dies. The day after that, I come home from work to an oddly jubilant Ben. Oddly jubilant, even for him. “You’ve got to see this.” He says. And opens up the window.
The baby pigeon looks to be in sorry shape. Its eyes are open and empty. Its mouth is open. It looks completely dead, except for the rise and fall of its chest. “Doesn’t it look like it’s still alive?” Ben asks.
“It is.” I reply. “Look at its chest.”
“That’s what I’m trying to show you.” He says. “Those are maggots moving around under its skin.”
I shudder. “That doesn’t gross you out?”
“Not at all.” And he sits back down at his computer.
I walk over to him, put my hand over the top his head and start wriggling my fingers through his hair. “It doesn’t even freak you out now, when there are maggots crawling in your hair?”
He brushes my hand away. “The only thing about that sensation that creeps me out, is that it's your hands that are causing it.”
The day I move into Ben’s apartment, we notice a mother pigeon on his balcony, sitting on an egg. “It’s a sign.” Ben says.
“Oh, baby,” I say, “are you saying you want to have children together? I’m all for the experience, but you should know, I’m not properly equipped to conceive.”
I can’t explain how much I love that sound.
“What the fuck?” I scream.
And Ben peeks his head out from the kitchen. “What’s wrong?”
“You know that crazy bitch who’s moving into the room down the hall from me?”
“Yea.” he says, fluffing his hair, “I don’t like her.”
“She put an ad on Craigslist saying my room is for rent.”
“Are you sure it’s not for the room downstairs. I mean, if you don’t like her, maybe that Becky chick doesn’t like her either. It’s probably just a misunderstanding.”
I reread the ad. “No. There’s no misunderstanding. The headline is Shitty Roommate Must Go, and there’s fucken pictures of my room, with all my stuff in it."
“I’ll just finish making the tea then.”
I call Celeste, and start verge of tear bitching about this crazy situation, and how I can’t afford to put a deposit on a new place to live, and...and she says she’ll be over to Ben’s as soon as she can, in order to help me come up with new ideas about where I might move.
“You could stay here.” Ben says, and hands me a cup of tea.
“As long as you don’t mind sleeping on the van seat.”
I sip the tea. It’s wretched.
“Oh, I forgot to mix it with the orange juice. Want some?”
I decline. I’ve never liked orange juice.
“Suit yourself.” And he lights up a Galouises.
“Where’d you get that?” I ask. “I thought you told me that the convenience stores nearby were officially out of them, what with the whole French not exporting them here anymore.”
“Yea, but I keep finding stores with a couple packs left. I should just stop smoking them, but it’s like that exboyfriend who’s no good for you, who calls every once in a while, and you can’t help but invite him over and fuck him.”
“You are now, officially, the King of Analogies.”
He smiles. I get the chills.
“I kind of ground up the stems, so the tea is a little...thick. Next time I think I’ll leave the stems out.” Saying the tea was a little thick was like saying Don King was a little unscrupulous. A tad wordy. I use a spoon to chew the first half of the tea, chasing it with lemonade. The second half, I down as quickly as possible, but not as quickly as Ben does. “Is it hitting you yet?” He asks, his eyes: a cat watching a nuclear explosion.
“I don’t know.” We head up to his roof to smoke, and watch the sun consume the city around us. A hot guy comes up and starts doing tai chi in front of us. This is the best high ever. My phone rings. It’s Celeste. She'’s downstairs waiting to be let in. While I go downstairs, Ben grinds up another batch of tea.
“Your eyes.” She says. “Have you been crying? You looked positively wrecked.”
But I’m not wrecked. I’m rebuilding.
When I was sixteen, I made a bet with my mother. I would not be caught smoking, drinking, or doing drugs between the time the bet was placed, and my twenty-firstbirthday. If I succeeded, she’d buy me my first used car.
Years later, I learned that the actual bet wasn’t that I wouldn’t get caught, but that I wouldn’t do any of those things. But by the time my mother passed this revelation on to me, I was already on my second car, and was in no financial position to reimburse her for the first one.
I have a very competitive nature. Not only was I fixated on winning the bet, but I also gauged my rate of drinking, smoking, and doing drugs against the rates of my friends. I figured, if I was smoking, drinking, and doing drugs less often than my friends, then I wouldn’t get caught, I would win my car, and I would have the satisfaction of being a better person.
While I did have a brief addiction to cigarettes when I was twenty-one, I generally only smoke a cigarette or two every six months, when I’m exceptionally stressed. I drink socially, and until I started spending time with Ben, I had been decidedly antisocial. I’ve also held true to my ideal of drug usage. I don’t pay for them. Ever. This way, I don’t run the risk of becoming addicted to them. I do drugs on a purely peer pressure basis. For the most part, I only smoke pot. And again, not very often. Apart from pot, and a few cups of mushroom tea when I lived in Burlington, Vermont, I’ve only ever done one drug, mescaline. I was sixteen, and my high school roommate (thank you, boarding school education), JBob, had bought some from another student. He’d never done it before, I’d certainly never done it before, so we decided we’d do it together, and invited our friend Matt to hang out with us so that we wouldn’t do anything stupider than the sort of things we usually did when we were together.
About an hour after we took it, we weren’t feeling anything. Neither of us had ever been buzzed from any of the pot we smoked, so we decided that our experiment with mescaline was a failure, and decided we would go into town and watch a movie. As luck would have it, there was a brand new movie out that all three of us (me, JBob, and Matt) wanted to see: Natural Born Killers.
Well, the mescaline kicked in at some point during the movie. I don’t know when. I don’t know what I hallucinated and what was actually in that fucked up movie. All I know is, I haven’t been able to watch the movie since. I also haven’t touched mescaline since.
“Have you ever done speed?” Ben asks. It’s Labor Day, and we’ve just finished an extra large pizza, a bottle of Jack Daniels, two liters of Coke, and four hours of watching the Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston reality show.
“Never.” I say.
“You’ve got to try it.” He says. “I got so much writing done when I was on speed. I mean, it was all terrible, but I used to get sooooo much accomplished. You’d love it. I mean, I’ve always been hyper. My mom used to say I was like a kid on speed, but the truth is I totally was a kid on speed.” Ben kicks his voice up an octave. “Look at my Lego castle. I used 2,458 pieces. The princess sleeps in this room. See the way the drawbridge works…” and he is talking a mile a second, and I am laughing too hard to keep up, because it isn’t that he was a kid on speed when he was a kid, he’s a kid on speed now, just without the actual speed...or the kiddiness.
He talks like this all the way to the bus stop, during the entire trip to his house, and most of the way to the grocery store where we are, for some reason, buying a coffee grinder, lemon juice, lemonade, apples, nectarines, and bananas.
“I haven’t had bananas in ages.” I say, setting him up for a gay joke.
“Why not?” He asks.
“I don’t know. I like them, but I mostly have apples when I’m feeling healthy. Apples are my favorite fruit.”
Ben smiles. “I thought I was your favorite fruit.”
When a cute guy walks by him in the cereal aisle, Ben’s eyes and body follow the cute guy to the left. I push his left shoulder and he turns to the right, toward me. “I wonder if that’s an instinct?” He asks of his newly discovered navigation control.
“I don’t know. But there are other portions of your body I’d like to press to find out what happens.”
He shakes his head. “Booooo.” And then, “Have you ever done opium?”
“No.” I’ve always been leery of opium. All those terrible TV spots tell you that marijuana is a gateway drug, but they never mention which drugs it opens the gate to. Opium, from all the Burroughs I’ve read, is the gateway drug to heroin. And while I have no fear of needles in doctors’ offices, I have no desire to start sticking them into my arm, taint, or spine on a regular basis. Plus, I’ve never been turned on by young Arab boys, or shooting a loved one in the face.
“It’s a really mellow high.” He says. “It’s like the anti-speed. Of course, it makes you really nauseous and shit, but that’s totally okay because when you do opium, you do opium with your friends, and puking is like conversation when everyone’s high.”
“I don’t think vomit is a language I want to speak.”
“You’ll love it.” He says. And on the way back from the grocery store, we stop at a florist, where we buy a dozen dried poppies.
While Ben grinds the poppies in his newly acquired coffee grinder, I check my e-mail. Note from my mom’s boyfriend letting me know that my mother may have cancer, porn spam, invitation to a lesbian wedding, Viagra spam, and an e-mail from Celeste:
Dude, my roommate was going through Craigslist looking for an apartment
for his new girlfriend, when he found this ad. Isn't that your room?
When I wake up, Ben is in the shower singing Nelly Furtado’s “Turn Out The Lights”. Nelly Furtado? I should be cringing. But it sounds sooooo...sooooo...sooooo right. I take a look around the room. In an ideal world, I am looking around the room from his bed. I reek of sex and alcohol, and probably his precious Galouises. In reality, I am looking around the room from the van seat he uses as a couch. He ripped it out of some van he was touring in back when he was in a band.
“Why haven’t you slept with him yet?” Celeste asks, a few hours later, when we’re at work. “Trick thinks it's because you’re both tops. I think it’s because you're a huge pussy."
She might be right. There really isn’t a good reason why I haven’t attempted to make a move with Ben, apart from the fact that I have the self-esteem of a slug in a salt factory, or a slut in a slit factory. No matter what I try to tell myself, I’m obviously enamored with him. I drop his name in conversations more often that I use the word the. So I decide that tonight, I’m going to make my move. It’s been two weeks since the first date. I think he’s hot, funny, a talented singer, hot, appropriately mean, hot, he has fuzzy duckling hair, and he’s extremely hot.
I invite Ben to The Lizard Lounge. It’s like romantic or something, our second week anniversary, and we’re going to have drinks at the bar where we had our first date. After the fourth Captain and Coke, Ben writes Pussy Drink on a napkin, and sticks it to my sweating glass. I laugh, not just because I think it’s funny, but because this is the least pussy drink I’ve had in a month. It didn’t even come with an umbrella. I make sure the next drink I order is a Midori Sour. “Now this,” I tell him, tapping the cherry toward the bottom of the glass with my straw, “is a pussy drink.”
He sneers a smile at me. “Pussy.”
I don’t know if we’re flirting. I don’t think so.
“Do you want to come back to my place tonight?” I ask, hoping it doesn’t sound like a weird come on line.
He raises an eyebrow.
“I just mean, we always go over to your house. I live much closer. We can stay until the bar closes. And tomorrow’s Arbor Day or some shit.”
“Labor Day.” he says.
“Yea, Labor Day. I assume you don’t have to work.”
“I never work Mondays anyway.” He says. And then, “Sure, I’ll come over.”
So we continue to drink. And drink. And drink. And then it’s last call. And we’re drinking.
“Do you have any more alcohol at your house?” He asks.
“Homeward ho!” He says. It takes me a few seconds to determine whether or not there was a comma between those two words.
About ten minutes into the walk, Ben says “So, I’ve been reading the stories you’ve been writing about me in your journal, and”
I wait for him to finish the sentence. There are several things Ben is good at. One of them is finishing sentences.
He doesn’t finish the sentence. He says “Does this hill ever fucken end? My God. I hate this hill. I’m gonna break my damn ankle. I want to date a guy who would feel so bad about my ankle that he’d carry me all the way back to his house. And he’s got to talk cool, too. I’m modeling the way I talk after the characters from Dennis Cooper’s books. I love how LA they talk. I want to speak in soundbites that don’t sound too forced. Like a famous person. I’m going to be famous, so I should talk like it.”
“It’s not too much further.” I say. Relative to what, I’m not sure. “And if I wasn’t so drunk, I’d totally carry you up this hill.” Really, I would have. But it wasn’t that much further.
“I was kidding.” He says.
We are at the house. And for some drunk reason we start talking about vaguely sexual things and exes and “I could really use a margarita. Want one?” I ask.
“Sure. Don’t make mine too strong, though.”
Intoxication being the subject of the week, we start talking about poor Courtney Love, which reminds me of the Robot Chicken episode that has an American Idol spoof called Zombie Idol, where dead rock stars come back from the grave to compete. A claymation Ving Rhames, straight out of DawnoftheDead, pulls out his rifle and starts shooting, only to have the rifle snatched by Zombie Kurt Cobain, who turns the rifle around and shoots himself in the head.
“That show is awesome.” Ben says. “I’ve only seen one episode, but it ruled. It had Optimus Prime and he totally had colon cancer, and at the end of the skit he turned into a coffin with the Transformers logo. I love that show. My friends...no one told me about that show for like six months. And that show was made for me. I told my friends that they failed at friendship for not telling me about it sooner.”
“So do I get bonus points for bringing it up” And before he can answer, “It’s on in like 10 minutes!” Naturally, it is the one episode he’s already seen. But we’re drunk, and Robot Chicken is funny no matter how many times you see it.
But by the end of the episode, Ben is passed out in his chair. I wake him up. “Why don’t you go upstairs? I have some writing to do. You can crash on my bed.”
“Are you sure that’s okay?” He asks when we get upstairs. He spread eagles across my bed before I can even answer.
Since there is no more room for me on my bed, I debate rolling him to a side, throwing my arms around him and going to sleep. It’s not a sexual move, but it’s a move. It’s progress. I would be making progress.
Instead, I take the only pillow that’s not resting under his head, toss it on the floor, and lay down. I spend hours watching him sleep, before I finally drift into the edge of unconsciousness. Just as I sense the last rational thought slip from mind, I hear Ben bolt up in bed, and say “Brain surgery. That’s what he needs.” And then he rolls over, and goes back to sleep. My Zombie Idol.
“I tend to dominate.” Ben says. He has been doing most of the talking (I’d say three and a half blocks worth), since we left the coffeehouse where I work. “I have to tell my friends that it’s okay to talk over me. I know I can be kind of domineering. And it’s not just in conversation.” His point is that we’ve been walking aimlessly around Boston, but he looked so purposeful that I hadn’t questioned that he knew where he was going. “Where should we go?”
In the other direction. We backtrack two blocks, talking about the cow he had as a kid. And then we’re in a liquor store, which seems like not just a good idea, but possibly the best id that’s ever been eaed. “Do you like Miller High Life?” He asks. And, then, immediately “Wait, you don’t like beer, do you?”
“No, but I’ll drink it.” Because I need to get drunk.
“Fuck that. Let’s get something we’ll both like.” So it is that we end up with a four pack of tiny margaritas, walking back to his place, talking about old jobs and bad music. I am enamored of Ben in a way that I haven’t been enamored before. He’s hot, and smart, and funny, and we’re so in tune that we both have written love poems/songs based on a phrase from a book that most people have never read. I should really want to fuck him senseless or climb into his bed and melt around him. And it’s not that those feeling aren’t there, it’s that they’re superseded by the desire to talk and listen to him. My inner whore must hate me.
It’s not long before the margaritas are gone. It occurs to me that I didn’t really eatanything, and drinking on an empty stomach can occasionally lead to bad judgment, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. And we’re talking about Lord knows what, and then “There'’s this guy I stalk on Tuesday nights. He hangs out at The Anorexic. We should go.” So he gets dressed, and I lament my lack of foresight. It’s jeans and my “God Bless America” t-shirt for me. The Anorexic is empty (which is truer than metaphor), so we decide to go to another bar down the street. Also pretty much empty. So we play video trivia. He, drinking High Life, me downing Southern Comfort and Cokes.
“Hey, I think that guy down there tuned my piano. He’s kind of hot, and he’s in this really cool band―”
“And I went to high school with him. Jack?” And it’s Jack Marple, who lived across the hall from me my sophomore year. We shoot shit about performance venues, and his band, and the irrepressible Ben dominates the conversation, and kicks me when I mention that we only came out tonight so that he could stalk someone at The Anorexic.
Soon the bar is closed, and Ben and I head back to The Anorexic, which is open foranother hour or so. The stalkee isn’t there. In fact, there aren’t many people there. We’re both buzzed and talking about publishing and music, and I love his opinions and the sound of his voice, and I might be vaguely dizzy. Soon, I am following him back to his house because both the bus and the subway have stopped running, and I am way far away from home, and I think...hope...I left my backpack at his place.
I did. “Do you mind if I play you some of my music?” He asks.
Mind? Ben’s music turns me almost fanboy. Some of the lyrics make me feel the way I feel about Billy Collins poetry: I shouldn’t like them, they should be cliché, but they’re not, so I do. And I’m not the sort of person who thinks someone is talented because I like them. When someone sucks, they suck, even if they’re hot and I want to sleep with them. Even if they’re just a really good friend. Ben doesn’t suck. Is, in fact, hugely talented. “Your music makes it hurt to be alone.” I say.
And I am drunk, so I’m sure I’m not explaining myself properly. When I hear his love songs, and even some of his not love songs, I want to run my fingers through someone’s hair, put my hand on their face and kiss them for hours. His is the kind of music you should hear with someone. And, technically, I’m with him. But even if he weren’t using his hands to play his instruments, running my fingers through his hair or kissing him are not options. Ok, they are options, they’re just bad ones. Not now. Not when both of us are so jaded about love and gay men. Not when I’m three Soco and Cokes and twomargaritas over an empty stomach. Not. Not. Not.
There’s a not in my stomach that I can’t undo.