An Apartment, A Job, A Video, A Date

“You don’t look 40” he says. He leans so close to me I can feel his lips brush against my earlobe as he speaks.

“Thanks,” I say. “I feel 40.”

“What?” He asks.

“I said, I feel 40.” I say again, more loudly so he can hear me over the throbbing bass of club music, of clipped conversations and clinking bottles.

He is young looking himself, and short like I am. Thin with a porn-star mustache and icy blue eyes that somehow manage to look sly and surprised simultaneously.

He is wearing studded gloves that match his studded belt, and is exponentially cooler than I am. I am flattered that he has sought me out. That he is talking to me at all. So much so, I manage not to roll my eyes when he starts to ask about my astrological sign.

This is my first time at a bar in a very long time. The bar is small and cramped, and made smaller by its target demographic of burly bears. I sip a gin and tonic, and my head is already swimming with just one very strong drink. My eyes dart around the room at the collected men with their collected beards, the ubiquitous flannel of lumbersexuals, screens flashing pornographic images of random men with ridiculous endowments. My friends are scattered, caught up in conversations of their own.

I really do feel 40 and wish that I was back in my tiny apartment, curled up in my bed with a book and a mug of hot chocolate. But, having recently acquired a job and an apartment in quick succession, I am in a celebratory mood. Having a cute guy approach me and compliment me is just icing on an already delectable cake.

We don’t exchange numbers, we exchange Facebook contact information before I shove my way through the crowded bar and stumble drunkenly home.

The best thing that can be said about my new apartment is that it is remarkably easy to stumble drunkenly home to. Aside from the incredibly convenient location, there isn’t much to recommend it. The building was built in the late sixties, mod, and mustard yellow, and nothing has been replaced since then. The carpet that lines the main hallway was lifted straight from The Shining, and always has a different unpleasant odor wafting through it. My bathtub is salmon colored, and all of the appliances and fixtures could stand to be replaced. But, despite being tiny and overpriced, it’s mine. A space of my own that I can hole up and brood in.

Every time I move across the country, I end up buying the same furniture all over again. My apartment looks like a page ripped from an IKEA catalog.

When you live alone, you can watch the shows you want to watch.

You can walk around naked.

You can make spaghetti at midnight if you feel like it. Naked.

You can arrange the furniture the way you want.

You can sleep in the middle of the bed.

You can find yourself rolling over in the early morning, reaching for someone who isn’t there.

As time passes, C and I talk less and less. At first we text constantly and talk on the phone for hours. Then we mostly just text, and that sporadically. As I settle into the same neighborhood I used to live in when we first met, go to the same gym, spend time with the same friends in the same places…it sometimes feels as if the past seven years never really happened. That I never left. That I never loved someone, and he never loved me, and we never lived in cities all across the country. And then I wonder, what was the point of it all?

Because my new job is the best paying job that I’ve ever had, which, admittedly, isn’t saying that much, I rationalize buying a new computer and oversized monitor.

While attempting to transfer my music via the hard drive that C and I shared, I realize that it’s not just copying music, it’s transferring all of the files. I scramble to cancel it, and as I’m going through the new files that have been added to my computer on accident, I come across a video that looks like porn, so of course I watch it.

It takes me a moment to realize that one of the men in the video is C. I watch with detached fascination while he has sex with a man who isn’t me. The video is nearly 14 minutes long and I watch every second. I turn up the volume so that I can hear every word, every grunt, every gasp, and every moan. The man he is with is…extremely well equipped. Impossible not to compare the sex they had with the sex we had. Did he enjoy it more than he enjoyed sex with me? Did I ever make him moan and writhe the way that that man had? Had I ever really satisfied him? And if I had, would he not have wanted an open relationship?

Was the video filmed while we were together?

I masturbate to the video anyway.

I look through the information on the video for a date, but there isn’t a date from when it was filmed, just when it was uploaded to the hard drive. I look for clues in the video itself. He looks so young, I assume it must be from before we’d met. He’s wearing rose quartz earrings. Are they the ones I bought him for his birthday the year we met, or are they the ones he’d had before that he’d lost that prompted me to get them in the first place? Does it even matter?

The video is all I can think of. I lay in bed above the blankets staring at the ceiling, wondering why I hadn’t been enough. Why he needed to be with other people. Why, when I announced I was moving to Seattle…he hadn’t asked me to stay.

One Friday, my friend Nathan asks me to be his date. He’s recently divorced, which is terrible for him, but great for me, because it means I get his ex’s ticket to see Bob the Drag Queen at the Egyptian Theater.

Nathan and I met about 10 years ago, when I lived in Seattle the first time around. We’d gone out for drinks once, and had shared an awkward, tongueless kiss on his beige couch with his small dog jumping over us. I’d gone to a Super Bowl party at his place, and had watched the same small dog lick all of the food on his coffee table, unseen by his drunk, obnoxious friends. He’d borrowed a book and had never returned it.

We recently reconnected, commiserating over our failed romances. Talking over coffee, and later, over ramen.

I meet him for drinks before the show at a bar down the street from the theater. He is there with his boss, a co-worker, and the president of the company. I do not remind him of the book he stole from me. They all talk about office things while I quietly observe them, drinking a too sweet cocktail. When I arrive, they are all wiping off red lipstick that they’d worn for a photo-op I was thankfully absent for. They’re very nice and funny, and when we leave to go to another bar, his boss pays for our drinks.

At the show, they have VIP tickets, and we do not, but because there are empty seats, we go down and sit with them in the VIP section. His boss is hammered and frequently yells back at Bob while he’s performing his set. At one point Bob calls her up on stage. When the show is over, we get our picture taken with Bob, and she takes off her shirt in the middle of the theater to change into a t-shirt from the show. She then has a serious, yet drunken, heart to heart with Bob about the importance of a woman of color being in the audience in a sea of white faces. She is Korean. Bob is gracious.

The president of the company is drunk as well, and feels Nathan and I up, his arms around each of our shoulders while we’re waiting in line.

Afterward we go to another bar and get late night macaroni and cheese. The president pays the bill. Nathan hugs me goodbye, and I walk home alone, full and content.

I text C about the video. I don’t call him.

He tells me that it was from at least a year before we were together. I feel relieved, but only partially. I know that there were other men on other occasions during the years that we were open. Impossible not to wonder about all the ones I didn’t see. The ones for whom there is no video evidence.

It seems like all gay men now ascribe to open relationships.  Intellectually I get it.  I can convince myself that men are evolved to spread their seed. That being with only one person isn’t realistic, or possibly even healthy. I wish that I wasn’t jealous or insecure. That I didn’t hold on to an outdated irrational idea of romance that has never really existed.

Instead I may be the last monogamous man in Seattle.

One evening I hang out with my friend Eric. We half-watch a terrible movie. He tells me about having gone out to a bar the night before. The fetish theme. The harness he wore.

“A really cute guy told me he couldn’t believe I was 40.” He says.

“Oh yeah?” I ask.

“Then he asked me about my astrological sign.”

I smile. I’m starting to feel that coming back to Seattle was the right thing to do. That I have an opportunity to reset my life. That this time around I can make different decisions. Better ones. Because, at the age of 40, I’m finally beginning to understand what I want, and what I don’t.

 

A Room of One’s Own

Before she rented us the room, Satyama asked us our astrological signs. Uncertainly I answered, “Cancer?” While Carlos confidently said, “Sagittarius.”  Apparently this answer was satisfactory because she smiled and nodded, and said “I’m an Aries, so we’ll get along fine.” Carlos and I smiled too, eager to appease her.   Having unsuccessfully attempted to rent two apartments in Manhattan, we were desperate enough to agree with nearly anything, including paying $1,000 a month to rent a room in the cheaper, but slightly less desirable borough of Brooklyn.

“This is a meat-free kitchen,” she said to us as she gave us a brief tour of the apartment. I try to imagine what my mother back in Iola, Texas would think about me renting a room from an older, African American, lesbian vegetarian, but find it impossible to do so. New York in general is far beyond her ability to comprehend. It’s all I can do not to trip over my own jaw 99% of the time.

We agree to her terms, though not without some reservations on my part. It makes me uneasy that we didn’t sign anything, so that if anything goes wrong, we have no recourse, and she has our $2,000, first and last month’s rent. It makes me uneasy that she seems very particular about the cleanliness of the bathroom and kitchen to the point where I don’t feel comfortable venturing into either. Carlos doesn’t seem to share my concern, so I put on a brave front, for his sake.

Carlos believes in staying positive and optimistic, because what you put out into the universe is what you get back from it. While I like this thought, and try my best to think in terms of the affirmative, my pessimistic (nihilistic) nature can’t help formulating a Plan B.  A “What will we do if she kicks us out and doesn’t give our money back?” A “What happens if I can’t get a job before the three months we’ve agreed to sublet the room is up?”  I try not to think about it, but in the back of my mind, I’m somewhat comforted to know that I have enough funds on my emergency credit card for a ticket back to Texas, if need be.

For now, we have two more months, at least, with a roof over our heads. The room itself is big, and bright, and comes furnished with a a small bed, that, though springy, is better than the floor I’ve become accustomed to sleeping on. There is a window that lets in a cool breeze, and harbors a view of the Manhattan skyline that is enviable. We have a door that shuts, and for the first time in over a month we have something I’d taken for granted in Seattle, privacy. We’re only a couple of subway stops away from Manhattan, and centrally located so that we’re close to everything. A few blocks away there is a park and a farmer’s market.

The building itself is a tall, brick one in a historic district full of beautiful, old buildings.  The streets are tree-lined and full of families with strollers. The building has a security guard on staff at all times, so I feel safe. The building itself is very quiet, but the same can’t be said for the street below. In the place we left, out in Queens, all we could hear, most of the time, was the sound of the ocean, of water and waves, occasionally broken by the shrill screeching of the woman next door. Now we hear sirens, people yelling, dogs barking. City sounds.

“We’re going to have to get used to it.” Carlos says, and I agree.

We’ve only been there a couple of days, and things are working out as well as can be expected. It’s a three bedroom apartment, but the other tenant, a gay man in his late twenties, has been absent since we’ve been there, and our host, is scarcely seen. She said when we rented the place that she’s very private, and even her friends rarely visit her. She mostly stays in her rooms which are closed off, with only the faint smell of incense indicating a richer life beyond the curtained walls.

For the most part we stay out until it’s time to unwind and go to bed.

“We didn’t come to New York to stay inside!” Carlos says. Instead we explore the neighborhood. Last night we walked across the Manhattan bridge (that has a better view than it’s more famous Brooklyn cousin) and walked down to Hell’s Kitchen where we had dinner at a trendy eatery called Vynl. The restaurant had four bathrooms, each dedicated to a famous musician, Elvis, Dolly Parten, Cher, and for reasons unknown, Nelly. Rather than use the bathroom in our apartment, I utilized the “Dolly” bathroom and took a picture of the Dolly mosaic inside as “9 to 5” played overhead. When the check came I checked my own anxiety that we’re just hemorrhaging money.

Today Carlos is at work, and, because I didn’t feel comfortable in the room without him, I came along too. I walk through Battery Park where women push babies on strollers, and shirtless men throw a football back and forth, and joggers heave, red faced and breathless on the path as they pass me. I get an unnecessary ice cream and pretend, for the moment, that I’m only on vacation, that tomorrow I’ll go back to work, to a real life. Maybe Carlos is right, and if I keep thinking that tomorrow I’m going to get  a job, and that the two of us will get an apartment of our own in the city, then maybe it will become true.

For now I’m content to enjoy the unaccustomed sunshine, an unnecessary ice cream, and a room of our own.