“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.
The computer lab where I check my e-mail plays a loop of about ten songs. Usually Eminem’s “Mocking Bird”, Destiny’s Child’s “Soldier”, something by Mariah Carey (sometimes a new one, sometimes a classic...tonight it was “Emotions”), a 50 Cent track, and other assorted hip-pop. Tonight, I heard Aerosmith’s “Don't Want to Miss a Thing” seven times in there. Which is odd enough, but I’d heard the song on my way to work via someone else’s loud headphones, and then again at work, sandwiched between Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” and Nine Inch Nails’s “Only”. Why is BCN playing Aerosmith? I like it, but what the fuck? It doesn’t fit in the playlist.
And the song...in 1998, after my first boyfriend killed himself, after I tried to recuperate by fucking as many strange men as I could meet over The Internet, I got kidney stones. While I was recovering, out of my mind on Demoral, I’d accidentally bought a plane ticket for a strange gay kid in Georgia. And we ended up roommates and sort of lovers, and it had been a huge mess. The thing is, I don’t remember ordering him the plane ticket. I don’t remember the car trip home from the airport. Whether he smelled like cigarettes even then. Whether he smiled. I don’t remember the last thing he said when I put him on a bus back to North Carolina, a month later. But the day I woke up with a Demoral hangover, and a voicemail message reminding me to pick Elvis up at theairport, I heard the song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” six times between Hyannis and Boston.
I’m not complaining. Sure, it’s pretty bombastic as far as Aerosmith songs go. Yea, it’s by far their most popular song, without actually being one of their best. Still, I like it. It was a guilty pleasure in a summer of guilty pleasures, Elvis, definitely included. But the point is, the song. It was all over the radio that summer. So romantic, so winsome. I was on my way to pick up a complete stranger, a gay complete stranger, a gay complete stranger who was coming specifically to spend time with me, and this horrifically cheesy operatic rock ballad is playing all the time. It should have been our song. We should have been happy, and so in love we couldn’t bear to be apart, especially when the government asked him and my father to fly into space to blow up that meteor coming to destroy the Earth. But it didn’t work out that way. I ended up wanting to hurtle him into space dick first into the meteor. I was afraid his head may actually crack through it.
As soon as the relationship went bad, I stopped listening to the radio. I wasn’t weepy, or violently angry. I was just afraid that if I heard that stupid song that should have been ours, I would have to climb inside the radio, shake Steven Tyler by the frilly things that hung from his sleeves, and say “Love like that doesn’t exist you fucken asshole. And I know you didn’t write that song, but fuck you for singing it and making me believe that sort of love was out there waiting for me.”
By the time the summer ended, the song had completely faded off the playlists of the radio stations I listened to. Mr. Tyler must have known what the consequences of me hearing that song would be. So, for years, I’d banished that song to the part of my brain where Celine Dion and Meatloaf lyrics hibernated. And during those extremely rare times when I smoked a joint or drank to excess, I tried really hard to fry the cells in that particular section of my brain.
Tonight, the song is back with a vengance. During its seventh revolution at the computer lab, I look at the clock, and see it’s about time for me to go catch one of the last buses of the night. I put my notebooks in my bag, and my skin starts to bristle, in a good way. Air conditioner in Miami on an August day bristling. I have this smile, like I know the world loves me for a change. This can only lead to disappointment. I’m thinking of picking up some pizza on the way home for my new roommate. I don’t like her, and I’m fairly certain that she doesn’t like me, but pizza makes friends of almost everyone.
I’m on my way out of the lab when I hear the hottest, most intriguing voice in the world saying “Baby” in a way so sexy, I have to turn to see who God blessed with such a power of inflection, and it’s Ben.
Fuck home, fuck my roommates, I’m an asscat, and Ben’s voice is a can opener. I follow him to a trendy bar down the street called The Anorexic. It’s trendy in that horrid way. A room half-full of mismatched wannabe scenesters drinking their shitty beers and trying to look and talk cool. There’s a lot of people wearing argyle socks on their arms, in place of sleeves.
“Do you serve wine here?” Ben asks.
The bartender points to the wineglass sitting in front of another customer. “No, he brought that in from next door.”
“Is it any good?” Ben asks the guy with the wine glass in front of him.
“The white is ok.” The guy says. “But I wouldn’t drink the red.”
“I guess I’ll have the white then.”
“Sorry, this bar only has one wine glass.” The bartender says.
But his wisecrack is drowned out by the other wine drinker, who says “White wine at a bar? What are you, some kind of homosexual?”
“I’m the best kind of homosexual.” Ben replies.
“Can I take you home and take naked pictures of you?” The other wine drinker asks.
“Sorry,” Ben replies, tilting his head. “I’m gonna be famous soon. Naked pictures would be scandalous.” And he pays for his wine, and we move to the other side of the bar.
We’re about a minute and a half deep into a conversation about Ben’s impending New York trip when Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” clicks on the jukebox.
“¿w-t-f?” I sign. “¿song everywhere ― s-t-e-v-e-n t-y-l-e-r dead?” And I have to be careful, because I made a joke about Nell Carter’s death in 2003, and she had a fatal heart attack that very night. So I attempt to steer the conversation in another direction, but Ben is clearly the coxswain tonight, and he leads me down a different current of conversation, and soon we’re walking out of The Anorexic, headed to a better bar. A guy he knows and is attracted to, who isn’t me, is sitting at the corner table. While Ben and I discuss our various relationships with older men and younger men, his eyes keep darting toward this other guy.
“I don’t want to date an older man.” He says. “They’re always going to go on about achieving my potential. And I already have an internal voice saying that all the time. I don’t need another one.”
I want to say I would never go on and on about your potential. You’re an amazing artist, and sure if you worked a little harde....fuck. but I’m not quite that awkward, and I know his comment wasn’t about me. Maybe it’s the four rum and Cokes I had before I went to the computer lab, or perhaps the Soco and Cokes from the Anorexic, but I’m starting to get jealous of the way he’s looking at this other guy. I make some lame joke about the guy who offered to take naked pictures, and Ben says he needs to take new pictures for his LiveJournal page. “I’ll take your picture.” I say. “I’ll even make sure you keep all your clothes on.”
So we’re back at his house, me with his digital camera in my hand, taking picture after picture after picture. I hate the way I see a perfect shot, and the digital camera waits three seconds, thereby getting a completely different, never as good shot. Every picture is at the wrong angle, in the wrong light. “My face is too fat.” Ben says. “My forehead is gigantic. Like that Pixies song. Gigantic. Gigantic. My big big head.”
“Your head is not gigantic.” I say.
“It is. I’ve totally got that great big gay guy head, where it looks like the guy’s Godzilla sized head is in a battle with the rest of the body for supremacy, and the head is winning.”
“You do not. Your head is fine. It’s your jaw that’s too cleft for your face.” I’m being an asshole. His jaw is cute.
“I don’t want to be cute.” He says, as if I made the last comment out loud. “I want to be hot. My hair is too fuzzy duckling head. Look at it bounce. Why is my head so big?”
And I think, but do not say, because whenever I’m around you, I inflate it. “Your head’s not that big. It’s not like ten years from now I’m going to have to e-mail you from New Zealand, saying ‘Dear Ben, I was in the ocean taking pictures of a pod of dolphins, and somehow your face is in every frame.’”
“I’ll write back ‘Sorry, I’m in the Australian Bush.’”
I was going to say he was in Cleveland, but I let it slide.
“I’m beautiful in motion.” He says. “But I’m ugly in stills.”
“You’re not ugly. You’re hot.”
“Keep telling me that.” He says. “Eventually, I’ll believe it.”
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 you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful you’re beautiful and I know that you’re going to destroy me 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 you’re beautiful
“I’m tired.” He says. “We’ve taken how many pictures, and only five of them don’t suck. I’ll hate two of them by tomorrow morning.”
Rufus the Asscat hops on the bed. Ben grabs him into a super bearcat hug. “Oh, let’s take a couple of me and Asscat. I love when you’re holding onto a cat, and they know they’re trapped, so they just tense up and wait for you to let them go.” Ben says. “It’s like OW!!! Fucken cat!!! Hsssssssssssssssssssssssst.”
Rufus leaps from the bed and into the kitchen.
“Man, that’s deep.” He says, showing me his sliced finger.
“Hey, Asscat,” I shout at Rufus, who is peeking around the corner, “how would you like to be drumskin?”
“You know he’s thinking, how would you like to be a colander?, right?” Ben asks.
I laugh. My head falls onto Ben’s bed. We scan through the pictures I’ve been taking one more time. I never captured him quite right. He’s so beautiful, and these pictures of him are so pedestrian. I am the older man who wants him to live up to his fucken potential, as though potential were a goal and not a starting point.
I try and figure a way to work I love you into the conversation, but the playlist is high school memories and internet celebrity. Eventually, we wind into a discussion about exes, and he’s talking about his HIV positive ex, and I’m rambling about Ryan, and surely I love you would fit anywhere around here. But it doesn’t. It’s too cumbersome. It doesn’t match the decor. I love you is the perfect couch to sit on, but we’re decorating the kitchen. So I say “Dear Ben, I am in my subconscious, taking pictures of all the men I’ve ever loved, and somehow your face is in every frame.”
“Unrequited love is soooo eighth grade.” Ben says.
There is no preamble, no conversation about a friend who is in love with someone who doesn’t love them. There is only the way I’ve been looking at him, the way his name has infected my vocabulary. The way he couldn’t possibly love anyone like me.
“And I saw this totally hot guy on the way to work today. He was wearing these tight pink pants, so you know he was a total ‘mo. And he was obviously checking me out. Like eyefucking me and everything.” He fluffs his hair. “But then I totally like eye fucked him right back, and he kind of stared at his feet. I mean, what a fucken pussy, right? Whatever, he was totally too old for me anyway. He was like twenty-five or something.”
I am twenty-eight.
It’s another late night at Ben’s apartment complex. I’d been in the neighborhood, checking my e-mail at a computer lab down the street from his house, when I read a note in his Livejournal about how it was his birthday, and all he really wanted was a cigarette, but he didn’t feel like going down to the convenience store. So, even though it was one in the morning, I decided to stop at the 7-11, pick up a pack of Galouises and surprise him. He was surprised. So was his Dad, who had been asleep on the floor.
In order to let his father get back to sleep, Ben and I head up to the roof of his apartment complex, and listen to the Allston riffraff head from their various bars to their various dorms and apartments.
“Back when Ethan and I were totally in love,” he says, “we used to come up to the roof and piss on the people as they walked by.”
“How...romantic.” I say.
“We were doing a lot of speed, coke, and heroin at the time.”
“Ahhh.” is the only sound my mouth can wrap itself around.
“What did you do for fun when you were in college?” And I’m pretty sure there’s an implied back in the Dark Ages in his question.
“Well, my roommate and I were both Deaf Education majors, so we would go to fast food places, and one of us would pretend to be Deaf, and the other one would pretend to be an interpreter. And whenever the supposedly Deaf guy was watching the interpreter person, we’d act all nice together, but when the supposedly Deaf guy would turn away, to look for a place to sit, the non-Deaf guy would start to talk mad insulting shit about the Deaf one. We were kicked out of two Burger Kings and a Subway.”
“Oh my God, you know sign language?” He asks.
“I used to be near fluent in ASL.” I say.
“So teach me.”
It begins with the alphabet, and then expands to the swear words. I tell him how I used to confuse the sign breakfast with bitch and lesbian with lunch, how I used to sit in my non-ASL classes and sign the words slut and asshole at unsuspecting teachers. By three o’clock he can swear, spell, and knows important food signs like pizza, ice cream, and cookie. I consider this a small victory in my war against Ben’s body image issues. At four, I tell him how my roommate and I used to like to combine signs to create new words.
“Like what?” He asks.
I can’t think of a single one from college. So I start to run through my mental vocabulary list, trying to imagine signs that look alike. “Like asshole and cat.” I say.
I show him the sign for asshole, which looks like the universal sign for okay laid on its side, so that the o shape is on top, and the three fingers are parallel with the ground. Then I show him the sign for cat, which is the three middle fingers, held up to the face, and wiggled back and forth in the area where a cat has whiskers. “Now, if you take the sign for asshole, and hold it up to your face, and wiggle the lower three fingers like its the word cat, voila, you have a new word, asscat.”
“That’s brilliant.” He says. “And it so suits my cat.” And it does. His cat, which he named Rufus, after Rufus Wainwright, has the annoying habit of being extremely cuddly and then, without warning, clawing the blood out of whichever body part is closest to him. I have a friend who had a tryst with the cat’s famous meth-addicted namesake, apparently the two Rufuses had a lot in common.
“Do you remember any more?”
“How did you come up with the idea?” He asks.
"Well, oh! I remember another one. So, we were trying to come up with sign lyrics for a bunch of random rock songs. And one of the songs my roommate really liked was ‘Coma’ by Guns-n-Roses. But we couldn’t find a sign for coma anywhere, so we combined the signs for dead and asleep.” I show him the resulting sign.
I'd forgotten how fun it was to correct the limitations of languages. To create new words and ideas to express thoughts that you couldn’t do otherwise.
“I’ve got another one.” I say. “Take the sign for beautiful, only instead of making the bhand, make the v hand. Now you’ve got vapidorable. The perfect description for all those terminally dull, terminally beautiful people you’re so attracted to.”
“Booooo. Moving on. The sign for rainbow,” Ben says, “looks like it would fit with the sign for dead.”
And he’s right.
“Deadbow?” He asks.
I snicker. “If you start it near your crotch, it could be rainbortion.”
“Rainbortion? What the hell would that mean.”
“Well, a rainbow is the universal sign for fag…” I begin.
“Not the limp wrist?” Ben asks.
“That, too, but the sign for rainbow is more acceptable. So...so I guess rainbortion would be those times when you’re so disgusted by how stereotypically gay you feel, you want to rip the faggotry right out of you.”
“Wow.” He says. “I totally know what you’re talking about.”
But I suppose it could have another meaning. Forget the gay aspect. Rainbows are also used to symbolize happiness. Kids color them next to smiling suns and fluffy clouds. So maybe, maybe rainbortion is that moment when you’re ludicrously happy or content, but you know that feeling is about to be torn out of you, and all you’ll want to do is die.
It’s 8:00, and I’m in a bar. As usual. What’s unusual is that I’m waiting for someone specific. I know his name, what he looks like, how he smells. I already know that he’s often funny in person, that his voice, while not precisely soothing, won’t send merunning out to the pharmacy for earplugs. I’m prepared.
Who the fuck am I kidding? I’m a mess. My fingernails are chewed off, my bottom lip bears the indentation of my front teeth, and I’ve run my fingers through my hair so many times, clumps are falling out. God, I can’t go bald on my first real date in...thismillennium.
After the third Southern Comfort and Coke, I check my watch. I’m not wearing a watch. I never wear a watch. “What time is it?” I ask the bartender with laryngitis. She points to the massive clock on the wall behind her. It’s 9:04. Both my date and my friends who offered to act as moral support (and to keep me from going home with him on our first date) are over an hour late. And I’m, if not already drunk, getting there.
The women next to me have spent forty-five minutes talking about Harry Potter, about friends who have also read Harry Potter, and about shunning one of their mutual exes because he hasn’t read Harry Potter. I am about thirty seconds away from throwing my ice at them, and yelling It’s a children’s book. What the hell is wrong with you? when I see my date walk by the window, dressed in khakis and a blazer. I am wearing blue jeans and a Transformers t-shirt.
“Oh my God!” Ben says when I step outside. “I love the Transformers. I’m writing a webcomic about their sordid sexual proclivities. Oh,” he puts his Galouises in his mouth, and shakes my hand, “sorry I’m late. We had this call from a woman claiming to be her daughter, and it was so” I think he’s talking about his work, but my mind keeps looping the phrase Where’s Celeste? over and over. If my support network doesn’t show up, I’m liable to go home with him before we even order drinks. Well, before he even orders drinks.
“Adam!” someone shouts from across the street. It’s thank God Celeste. She’s with her boyfriend, Trick, and...I don’t remember her friend’s name. I think it’s Steve. Most of her friends are named Steve. There’s Steve the Bassist, Steve the Drummer, Anarchist Steve, Socialist Steve, Starbuck’s Steve, Steve Jackson, Irish Steve, and THE Steve. I know this isn’t THE Steve, but apart from that, I don’t have a clue. He might not even be a Steve. “Sorry, I’m late.” She says. “You remember Steve, right?”
“Of course.” I say. “And this is my friend, Ben. Ben, Steve. Steve, Ben. Ben, Trick. Trick, Ben. Celeste, Ben. Ben, Celeste.” Introductions make me dizzy.
Somebody Steve shakes his dreadlocks. “Adam and I were almost roommates.” Oh, that Steve. “But I ended up getting my own place. It’s much easier.”
“Well that’s not very socialist of you.” I say. Celeste, Trick, and Steve all laugh.
“Steve is a socialist.” Celeste explains. Ben laughs. Politely.
When we are all back inside, Ben takes off his blazer, revealing a wife beater. Now we look like a unit. Socialist Steve in his black jeans and Misfits hoodie, Celeste in her pink bunny shirt and skirt made of ties, Trick in jeans and a navy blue t-shirt, me, and Ben. If the waitress hadn’t seen me sitting at the bar for an hour and a half, we could have been a group of scenesters coming from an all ages emo show. Something free. I can tell, as she takes our drink order, that she’s calculating how much we’re likely to tip her.
Socialist Steve orders an obscure lager that I’ve never heard of. Celeste gets a hard cider. Trick gets a Guinness. Ben asks about a good ale. I forgo the Southern Comfort and Cokes for a Midori Sour. When the waitress puts it down in front of me, a couple of minutes later, Ben says “That’s the gayest drink I’ve ever seen.”
Celeste asks “Where’s the umbrella?”
And then Ben is bullet point talking at us. Celeste throwing in the occasional story which may or may not have anything to do with whatever it is Ben is talking about. Talk talk talk talk talk, meandering story, talk talk talk talk talk, meandering story, talk talk talk talk talk, Socialist Steve makes a dry remark about his beer, meandering story, talk talk “Mind if I try some?” Ben asks, reaching for my drink.
“Not at all. Here.”
He takes a large sip from my straw, swishes it like wine, and swallows. “Too fruity.”
In those two words, he’s summed up the reason why I’ve fallen out of crush with every fag I’ve known since I started dating.
When the food has been digested, and the check has been paid, the five of us head outside. Celeste gives me the Is It Okay For Us To Leave You Two Alone Eyebrow. I reply with the It Is Nod.
And we’re alone.
“I don’t think Steve paid enough to cover tip.” Ben says.
“I don’t think he paid enough to cover his beer.” I say. “I put in five extra bucks.”
“Me, too.” He says.
There’s about ten seconds of comfortable silence, and then Ben’s tongue turns Gatling gun again. “You know the French are so mad about the way George Bush is ruining this country, that they’re refusing to export Galouises here, which means I’m either going to have to quit smoking or find another brand. It sucks because I just started smoking Galouises a few months ago because my mom used to smoke them in high school and they’re incredibly smooth, and I just really like them. I don’t think I can go back to Marlboro Lites. It seems like every time I like something, it instantly disappears, like there’s some vast fucken conspiracy against me. Well, bring it on Universe, I can take it, I can find another brand of cigarettes that I’ll like even better. And"
And I should kiss him. That might just be the one thing that stops his nervous babbling. But I don’t. And I don’t care to analyze why.
“and I totally had fun and everything, and it was really nice to be on a date with someone who wasn’t just trying to get into my pants on the first date or anything. Like my last exboyfriend, who’s totally HIV positive. I’m not, by the way, I’ve been tested recently, and we haven’t had sex in over a year. But he is, and I think I want to ask him to marry me, because then I can just marry him and do the whole ‘til death do us part thing, and know that it won’t be that far away. Though, honestly, I’ll probably marry the first guy who asks me to.”
And before I can stop myself, the words “Will you…” leap off my tongue, and cartwheel over the tightrope of desperation that serves as the only common thread between us. I can’t marry Ben, I don’t even know his last name. “Will you―really?”
“You didn’t.” Celeste says, when I relay the story to her later. “That’s soooooo lame.”
“What about Dmitri?” she asks, referring to my most recent unavailable fuck interest.
“What about him? I’m not going to wait for some confused gay guy in Chicago who has had the same boyfriend since he was fourteen. That’s slow suicide.”
“But he’s a med student.” Celeste says. “Wouldn’t your mom be thrilled if you were marrying a nice, rich doctor?”
“Sure.” I say. “If I were a woman.” When my mother calls to ask how I’m doing, she always asks Do you have a new boyfriend or, her voice swells with hope, girlfriend? “I think she’d be content with me marrying a hair dresser, as long as the hair dresser has a vagina.”
She rolls her eyes. “So, the proposal thing. You only proposed…”
“I didn’t propose. I very nearly proposed.”
“Wev, dude. You only very nearly proposed because you were drunk, right?”
“How many drinks did you have?”
I tap the tips of my fingers. “I lost count at four.” The problem with mixed drinks is the problem with boys: the fruitier they are, the easier they go down, and eventually you lose track of how many you swallow. Not that either Ben or I did any going down or swallowing on the night I nearly almost proposed.
“Will I really what?” Ben asks.
“Marry the first guy who proposes.”
And I wait for him to ask if that’s a proposal, or if I’m kidding, or for him to say anything to end this awkward, depressing silence. “I don’t know.” He says, taking the last drag off his last cigarette. “Depends on the guy, I guess.”
“Well, I’d hope so.” And I throw in a fake laugh, that I hope sounds sincere.
“I should go.” He says. “I don't want to miss the last train.”
And I almost detain him just a long enough so we end up going back to my place to share either a great fuck, a huge mistake, or both. But I don’t.
Proposing Marriage To Strangers 101
Like most Introductory Courses, we begin with a thesis statement. By the end of this course, I expect you will be able to walk up to someone you barely know and tell them you love them. You will fall in love with a laugh, the way he makes eye contact with a squirrel and doesn’t even break it when he rests his hands on the small of your back, the way she makes the word “fuck” have three syllables. You will learn to say “I love you” before you know your betrothed’s name. You will learn to actually be in love before, and despite, all those wonderful imperfections that lead to annoyance, arguments, divorce, and, ultimately love. You will realize that while “no” means “no”, “you’re crazy” means “not yet, but soon”.
Week One, Forgetting the Complications of Previous Love Experience: During this class we will discuss why none of your past relationships were actually love. We will tear pages out of your photo albums, and smash all your When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, The English Patient, and all those other nonsensical “love” DVDs.
Week Two, Determining Your Type, Then Overcoming It: We will discuss your fetishes, and why they’re wrong. You will learn to forget about hair styles and skin types and how much money people make, and learn to only follow the exquisite twist of stomach and the tingle of hair.
Week Three, Dropping Pick Up Lines in Favor of Honesty: This is not a week to fuck with the professor. Listen, learn. Pick up lines only work on prissies and prostitutes.
Week Four, Field Trip to End All Field Trips: Bring a lunch or money to buy a lunch. You’ll all be blindfolded and dropped off at various parts of the city. The weather will be ideal for love. It may be snowing, or sunny, or raining cats and locusts. Whatever it will be will be perfect. You won’t know where you are. You will be lost and dizzy. This is what love feels like. While you’re pondering this (s)he will catch your ears, your eyes, your nose, your arms. You won’t need a diploma. The only degrees you’ll get are from the fever. Class difuckensmissed.
I have been between boyfriends now for more years than I can count on one hand. I wish this was a reference to the longest threesome in the world, but it's not. I haven't dated anyone this millennium. I've only been seriously interested in about four people. I've been amusedly interested in about a quarter million people.
There are certain types of people I could find attractive than I would never date: married or already dating men, serial killers, Clay Aiken fans, roommates, ex-gays, slam poets. In the seven years I've been actively slamming, I've been attracted to several poets, but never even considered dating one. Fucking one, maybe, but even that has repercussions. Do I really want a poet with an asterisk in their name reading poems about the size of my cock? Do I really want to spend a year making every audience member uncomfortable as I graphically detail the way Asterisk squeals when I slide my---No. Nobody wants to hear that (well, ok, maybe you sickos, but not a slam audience). So, I don't fuck or date poets. Never have. Sure, I slept with Steggy at least a dozen times, but we were both fully clothed and trapped in either hotel rooms, or other poets' guest bedrooms.
I don't fuck roommates because I've had enough drama with roommates as it is. And who wants to wake up with an eviction notice and a sword hovering over your midsection, your hot Gay roommate saying "It's either you or your cock. One of you needs to leave this house as soon as possible and never come back."? Maybe Steggy, but he'd just be role playing.
I don't fuck Clay Aiken fans because they have terrible taste in "music" and garish taste in performance art.
Serial killers just don't return my calls.
Married or dating men? No thanks. I prefer to alienate people with my personality, not adultery.
Dmitri and his boyfriend are coming into town in a few days to check out colleges. No, this is not the beginning of a "what should I do, he's dating, and I'm interested" blah blah blah post. He's dating someone, I'm over it. I'm just really grateful he's coming to town because I'm in a quandary.
I'm attracted to a slam poet. Not just any slam poet, a TERRIBLY BAD slam poet. And, it's worse. Not only is his writing mundane, he's incredibly annoying. He talks constantly about things he, apparently, knows nothing about. He refers to Livejournal as "leej". He treats being a part of an online community as real life, telling me about comments he made to some woman who tried to get into some snobby ratings community he's a part of. He's slept with and been dumped by Asterisk, and both have them have spent hours explaining why things didn't work out: because terribly bad slam poet is annoying. Some "fat, annoying kid" hit on him at a show, and HE GAVE HIM HIS NUMBER. He then played me the depressingly passive-aggressive voicemails that the "fat, annoying kid" left on his cellphone. All this, and I've only hung out with him once! Clearly, I should start avoiding him, fling rubber bands and Corona Light (which is the most redundantly named beer ever, and he drinks it) bottles at him when he takes the stage. I mean, the obvious solution is to stay as far away from his as possible. So I invited him to dinner tonight.
Will someone please kill me? At the very least, point at me in the streets and say "Bad homo, stop thinking with your dick!"?
Dmitri? Cheerio? Celeste? (On second thought, Celeste and Sir Trick are joining me on my not-date tonight, so I'd probably benefit from her NOT shouting "Bad homo, stop thinking with your dick" during the meal. Though it would amuse my favorite bartender.)
I desperately need someone's help. I just have this horrendous fear that he will be so annoying tonight that I'll have no choice but to take him home with me.