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.

 

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Porn

Having some time to myself one evening, I settle down in front of my computer with a box of tissue for a little “Lance alone” time.  I pull up my favorite website and click on a link for amateur submissions to see what’s new.

The site allows people to upload their own videos for the viewing pleasure of others.  I click on an intriguing video and start watching.  It starts off promising.  A man in a black, leather harness is sprawled on his back on a brown, leather ottoman.  Legs akimbo.  Jock-strapped.  A black mask over his face with a zipper where his mouth should be.

He has a lithe, sexy body, and I’m excited by the expectation of what’s about to happen. As I watch the man brandish a formidable dildo and proceed to insert it into his anus, I think to myself, “My friend John has an ottoman like that.”

I lean forward in my chair, squinting.  Come to think of it, John also has a bearskin rug just like the one in the video.  The dildo is now plunging deeply into the man’s gaping hole, and he’s writhing and moaning, and I realize in horror that it is my friend John.

Weireded out, I close the video immediately.  Okay.  Fine.  I watch the entire thing out of morbid curiosity.   Twice.  When it ends, I wonder how I’ll be able to sit down at brunch with him without turning crimson and avoiding eye contact.   When he does my taxes for me next year, how can I go over my receipts without wondering, is he wearing a butt plug right now?

Would that John were the first of my friends that I’d stumbled upon in this manner.  Alas, he is not.  In my surfing, I’ve come across pictures of other friends naked, or engaged in various acts of debauchery.  I’ve seen men I recognize from the gym.  From work.  At least two baristas from the coffee shop I frequent.  Porn is ubiquitous, and in an age of webcams, fast internet, and cellphones, I guess such unwanted exposure is inevitable.

Walking down the streets of the city, explicit images advertising bands, and clubs, and DJs are plastered to every telephone pole and building.  Clubs are wallpapered with pornography, and totally nude strippers shake their money makers at bored patrons who have already seen it all.  Porn was exciting because it was fantasy.  It existed largely in the imagination.  But now porn is finding its way into reality.  Diluted.  Diminished.  Nothing seems taboo.

During a recent, round of passionate, hot, sweaty monkey sex with my main squeeze, we were going at it when he suddenly punched my pecs with his fists, the way we’d seen people in porn do it.  We both realized that he was imitating pornography, and the absurdity of it made us giggle.

But I wonder, has all of this availability of porn had a negative effect on us?  Is there some need to live up to the skill and measurements of the men on the screen?  Will it become impossible to divorce fantasy from reality, or are they now completely intertwined?  In the age of the internet, does something exist if it isn’t documented on the web for all to see?

In reality, sex is messy, and frequently awkward.  But also visceral in a way that fantasy can never be.  I for one am content to let the fantasy remain a fantasy, and embrace reality, not despite its flaws, but because of them.  Because the unexpectedness of reality is what makes it exciting.

“What do you want to do tonight?”  I ask when he comes over.

“Let’s play with your video camera.”  He suggests.

I think about fantasy.  Reality.  Role playing.  Fetishes.  The exploitive nature of images. The insecurities of measuring up to the genetically gifted men who daily grace my computer screen.  I see his beautiful, expectant face, and say, “Well, maybe just for our own personal viewing pleasure.”