Saturday, October 29, 2005

strangeness (and sex) in the city

Yesterday a woman sang lines from Meatloaf's "I would do anything for love (but I won't do that)" in the kitchen near my desk at TimeInc (I hope it was on some bad radio station she was listening to and not her iPod playlist). Maybe it signaled the start of the Halloween weekend and things going a bit to the strange. But not for me, it had already gotten weird way before that.

The day before I smelled the sweet scent of caramel everywhere I went. Or was it butterscotch? I thought perhaps this was one of those strange but oh so true symptoms of a brain tumor or a rare disease. You know how there are weird clues to run-of-the-mill illnesses, like you smell almonds when you have a heart attack or is that you smell apples when you have gangrene?

Anyway, I smelled it on the train. I smelled it in midtown and I smelled it uptown. But I had no one to ask if they smelled it too, Patricio had left that afternoon for Clemson for the weekend. I was tempted to stop a group of Barnard girls but what exactly do I ask? "Does it smell like burnt sugar to you? Is there an incredible scent of gooey sweetness, or is that just me?"

But, wait, it was already strange even earlier in the day. I took the day off to catch up on some writing assignments and on my way back a man joined me on the train and began to fondle me behind the cover of his briefcase. (Yes, I thought the train advances had stopped, but now I know it's just timing, or something). Later at the gym, a cute young student also made eyes until I followed him into the showers to soap up. Then yesterday at work a guy in the mailroom made me quite uncomfortable with his long, hard stares and walks to the men's restroom.

Do I have SLUT stencilled on my forehead or is it some Halloween full moon? Well, to confirm that I am indeed a slut, I answered my first "Men seeking Men" Craigslist (am I nerd for wanting to put an apostrophe in there?) ad to get an invite to a private sex party -- I mean after all that arousal and near action I needed something to ease my ache. So last night, (after hearing someone in the gym talking to his friend about how the entire city smelled like maple syrup yesterday -- see! I wasn't crazy!) I headed over to the party.

I wasn't going to write about this but after reading TrayB's Michael Musto interview and the mention that there's nothing sleazy left in the city to witness, I thought I'd refute that statement and add: there is plenty of sleaze, it just doesn't involve celebrity; instead, direct your attention to craigslist.

The party was in someone's real apartment and they apparently take place every Friday. I was handed a white garbage bag and told by a naked man in an apron to please put my clothes in there. Afterward he put a label with my name on the bag and stacked it in the closet. It was a morbid sight, a closet full of labeled bags, as if our bodies were chopped up and stored for later and added an unintended but gruesome detail to the halloween decorations and theatrical fog and strobe lights. There were probably about 50 guys in various states of undress being sucked, fucked and fondled. I walked through the two rooms, avoiding the fog machine and smirking at the ovesized, moving tarantula on the ceiling, to see who had also shown up to experience the pleasure pad.

In Spanish there is a word that P loves and that can't be translated into English well: autogestion (sorry Spanish readers, don't have the accents available). It means self-management or self organization and it's something that New Yorkers have always been famous for. As I walked amongst the little men, big men, black men, white men, husky men, slim men, asian men, I was impressed by the fact that a normal, sweet natured guy had decided to open up his place once a week for others to get their groove on. He had buckets of condoms and lube, spiked punch and paper towels. Even quick AIDS tests. It wasn't fancy but it was sweet. It renewed my faith in Americans. Who needs expensive, exclusive, obnoxious restaurants and bars? If the government restrains liberty, who's to say we can't find a loophole in the law and organize our own good times. Too often people feel helpless instead of empowered by their own imagination and possible answers to problems. Glitz and glamour? Sure, if you want. Or just forget it all, embrace the strangeness of the city, and do it yourself.

(addendum: after a full and lively day of interviewing a guy in Williamsburg, hanging with friends, meeting up with an old college friend -- Tharius -- I got on the train at 72nd. When I transferred at 96 a guy smiled, got on the train, talked and gave me his number and told me to come over tonight. I mean, there's something totally GOING ON that I don't understand!! -- I didn't go, I'm having a quiet night at home. Even I have limits. I think.)

Monday, October 24, 2005

proof

Thanks to TrayB, my first NY byline. Now there's actual proof (at least in writing).

Friday, October 21, 2005

en fuego

I sprang out of bed naked, thought it was the pingping of our doorbell, some sort of 6 a.m. emergency, grabbed clothes and went to check.

"What are you doing?" Patricio called. "It's just the heat."

Oh yeah. That sound that could be our doorbell or the pluck of a Japanese string instrument was just a new rattle to add to the hiss of the steam coming out of our radiators.

I thought we'd have a few weeks of cuddling under blankets now that summer suddenly disappeared and it was finally cool and comfortable in our apartment. No such luck.

Now the fans are on full blast to save us from the manmade heat that is piped into our room. No choice. Don't worry, it'll just take me a little while to get used to our nightime noises. In the meantime I rollover to get both sides roasted.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

at the end of edge(y)

Sincerity and authenticity are the new irony and edginess.

This was reaffirmed for me last night when I attended the Little Gray Book Lectures last night at Galapagos in Williamsburg.

I've wanted to go to one of these since I found out about them from JS Van Buskirk and attended her Info Demos in Atlanta. She was inspired to start something like the lecture series (although she'd never attended the original) that inspired me to rethink some of my creative aspirations.

So P and CC (of online comic fame) accompanied me to an event that I've been anticipating for nearly three years. Talk about high expectations.

But -- hype be damned -- it was great couple of hours. It had that mix of mirth and earnestness, reality and surreality that makes one of these evenings great to be a part of. But as John Hodgman continued his presentation (that included promoting his book and a discussion of hoboes and hobo literature) I felt strangely detached. It was all too tongue-in-cheek, all snark and thinly veiled insecurity masked as husky bravado. The other presentations by a Yale professor about the African roots of tango and an artist/musician dealing with her work on "accidental nostalgia" felt somehow more authentic, more packed with emotion and sincerity.

I first had this repellent feeling towards being "edgy" while working at CL. Our editor would want things to be edgy, snarky, witty, cool. Another editor and I were like, "Can't it just be written well without puns and one-liners and inside jokes?" I guess it's also my current approach to the McSweeney's set and trendy authors in general. Yeah, you may be able to manipulate a linear thought into some sort of puzzle of illogic, but often, especially these days, a sincere, honest attempt and talent is much more appreciated and honorable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

the first few months are the hardest

After several trains and a bus, a full day of work and meeting up to discuss potential writing gigs at an office in Chinatown, I made it over to Park Ave. for a show. TrayB had invited me to see Carol Channing and, no matter how tired and drained I felt, how could I pass up a chance to see a living legend?

So I show up at Feinstein's for Mrs. Channing's "The First 80 Years Are The Hardest." Get, ready, here's where we get the flashback.

This wasn't the first time I'd seen Carol Channing. Oh no. Back in high school, in Valdosta, Ga., our theater teacher Mrs. Eger packed us up for a weekend trip to Jacksonville, Fla. to see a revival of Hello, Dolly! at the Omni. Of course going to see the show was only half the reason for the trip. It was a way to get out of Valdosta. It was a chance to go shopping at a REAL mall with REAL stores like the GAP and Structure (see, do you not understand what it was like in the deep south? Oh, the hardships!) It was a way to spend time in a hotel room with my boyfriend Shane (a 28-year-old student teacher at the school who I'd recently begun to date). That's right. Carol Channing was my excuse to have surreptitious gay high school sex with a teacher.

Everything was lovely. We spent our time wandering the Landing along the St. John's River eating at exotic restaurant chains not found in our small town, trying on ways of dress that would be considered queer back home. That evening we went to the show.

Ms. Channing (she was unmarried at the time) was a riot. Everytime she came out on stage in her gown and big hat, the crowd would cheer and applaud, giving her a standing ovation. She would then wave, walk around the orchestra pit, waving and blowing kisses before she would then go back to the show. When she sang a standard, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" for example, more standing ovations, more prancing, "Oh you like that one?" she'd break character and ask. The show must have taken nearly 3 1/2 hours and included a dozen times standing and sitting and clapclapclap. You see now why I was never a big fan of musical theater?

Later, the seniors were told we'd been invited up to see the legend. Really, it was for Steven, Season and Jenna, the ones that planned to attend college and major in theater. The last great hope of our drama teacher. But I couldn't be left out without it looking strange, me, the less "serious" actor in the bunch, who was going to go and do English at a school without a theater major.

On the way up to Ms. Channing's hotel room we waited in the lobby and I said, "Oh my god. It's MC Hammer!"

And it was, it really was, he was just standing there about to check in to the hotel. "You mean Hammer. He's just Hammer now," Jenna said. Of course he was. All washed up, this was his first attempt to reinvent himself (this was 1994 and before reality shows and all that). Well Mrs. Eger decides if he's famous, she should go get his attention. So she walks over and tells him that we'd like to meet him. And he comes over and says he'll give us autographs although we didn't ask. And of course all we have is our Hello, Dolly! program for Ms. Channing to sign. So we let him sign that. Then we are whisked away to the room above.

After a bit, Ms. Channing comes out but we're told she can only stay a moment, she has a dental appt. that evening. There she is in a white robe, the largest woman I've ever seen in my life, a head and hands dismembered and huge in this robe. We wait for her to shake our hands (such big hands you have!) and say thank you for coming (what a big mouth you have!) and hand us a pre-signed program. And I just kept thinking: Carol Channing is a man!

Well, back to last night. Mrs. Channing comes out (you see she was just recently married two years ago to her junior high sweet heart) and she tells us stories and sings us songs. And somehow I'm no longer tired and drained. I'm laughing and clapping now. Not worried about how late it is, like all those years ago, so I will have time to sneak in some kissing with my illicit boyfriend. No, instead, this night, I'm left astonished that this woman is up there doing this at her age. And looking at her pantyline and brastrap and her old lady breasts and wondering: Maybe she really is a woman after all. A damn amazing woman. A fine old gal.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I try

I tell myself to stop thinking it. Sit still. Concentrate. It's an easy job. You're making money. It's not permanent. No, no. It's a temporary job, you idiot. But I can't help but be restless. Bored. Numbed. Tired.

It partially accounted for the mini-breakdown I had on Saturday night. That and being tired and having had a few beers. Where do these emotions come from? And why does having a stupid job that uses no talent, intellect or skill make me feel less than enough?

I have another interview for Wednesday. Repeat: you're good enough, you're smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thunder only happens when it's raining...

I was wet most of the day yesterday. But my soaked pants legs and squishy shoes weren't the worst of the problems: with so much rain, trains were flooded (as were neighborhoods) and everything was just a big ol mess. But I decided I couldn't let that keep me down (or inside) so I headed back out into the storm after work to catch The New Pornographers with Nikhil, Robin and gang at Webster Hall.

I've had their two albums since the summer but didn't really get familiar with them since I've been drowning in a deluge of music (one of those intrinsic ipod problems with so much music, so much choice, so little time -- discuss). So I figured this was a great opportunity to have some context and foster a connection to the music instead of some mp3s playin in the background.

Of course, it's a great set of musicians with one of my favorites singing vocals -- Neko Case. After wading through puddles to get some drinks near Union Square, then once again out into the rain to get to the hall, Dan Bejar and Destroyer tried to warm us up. Sadly it didn't help (too affected and whiney for my taste -- and I do enjoy a good whiney singer). But once Neko, Carl Newman and the rest of the Canadian hit list came out, that all changed.

I have to say, Neko was risking humiliation with her neon yellow prom vamp outfit (a probable Grand Ol Opry one-off with waist-bow and sleeve cape?) but as Robin pointed out: "With a voice like that, you can get away with an outfit like that." Oh yeah. We rollicked through the power pop, a moment for indie kids to have a good time without guilt for not standing still and looking mopey enough. But it was when drummer Kurt Dahle made a comment that Neko looked like Stevie Nicks and then started into Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," the band following suit and Neko singing right along. Why can a good cover be the best damn thing when you're cold and shivering and wondering why you came out in the rain after 8 hours of work? Just warms the heart, don't it?

Today is more rain. Tonight is Antony & the Johnsons for me but for anyone interested, TNP will be at Webster Hall tonight as well. Damn the rain, it's all worth it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

just my size

I have an interview tomorrow. My first, real live, in-person, could turn into a well-paying job interview. Tomorrow.

And since it's at the Columbia U. Business School, I was advised to wear a suit. Only thing, all two of my suits (from my old working at a school, needing to look dressy days) are down in storage in S Carolina. Why did I make the conscious decision to pack them up and leave them there? Who knows, but something tells me it's cuz, oh, I haven't worn a suit in like five years and wasn't expecting to be looking at jobs where I'd need one. Isn't the world supposed to be business casual these days?

So I started out on the quest to find a suit. Shopping is not something I'm particularly interested in or any good at. I prefer going with someone with an opinion and is bossy enough to tell me what looks good and what to buy. Like getting a haircut, it's a situation where I would love to hand over all the decisions to someone I trust and let them do whatever they wish. I know with some I have a reputation for being bossy, but let me tell ya: if you want to be my stylist, I'll let you push me around whenever you want. Just make me look good.

P is not the best of shopping companions. He has his own aesthetic and knows what he likes but couldn't give a damn what anyone else is wearing and gets fed up with having to slink through the racks of Filene's Basement just as fast I do. So, unlike him, I asked someone who seemed to know what they were doing to help speed up the painful struggle.

The sales associate, let's call him Rob, was probably in his late 40s, early 50s and he knew what he was doing. He started explaining to me about athletic cuts, wide shoulders (which I supposedly have) and button placement. Tailoring and the fact that I have a "swimmer's build" (flattery of course helps sell I'm sure) was making the search for a suit that much harder. See I'm really a 38S and wear 32" waist pants. Maybe the most popular, gay generic size every created. Only 6 or so suits actually fit my specfications and then we were dealing with pleated pants, weird colored pinstripes or $700 price tags (at a bargain place!).

Finally he got me to try on a black suit with purple pinstripes. Yes, it sounds horrible but, as stated earlier, I'm a salesman's dream since I can be talked into anything if I trust that you're not some scoundrel trying to get me to look bad. The suit did fit and looked nice and was cheap (less than $200) so off I went to the fitting rooms.

Rob pulled up my pants (seems I was wearing them too low), flattened out creases, rearranged pockets. I'm always impressed how some people have no problems touching another man's (or woman's) body, tugging and arranging without any embarrassment for the other's personal space. But still, I couldn't resist: "I look like an undertaker." A few more assurances, but nothing too pushy, and Rob left.

As soon as he did, "No," Patricio said. "No way."
I think we were both thinking it. I had somehow become Rob's son and he was pampering me like David did Arthur (the creepy guy who had a "thing" with Ruth) on "Six Feet Under." Maybe it's been too much of the show (we finished the final disc of season 4 a few days ago) or the fact that the suit really did make me look like a boy in man's clothing, but there was no way I could live with this look -- flattery and good handling be damned. So, I quickly changed, put the suit back and got out of there, but not before Rob gave me his card (with personal email) and the number to his personal tailor, "in case you need it."

We headed downtown to Century 21, a big ol' store filled everyday with people looking for a designer bargain -- hell, in other words. No luck. I was informed here as well that my size was the most popular size and when suits came in sometimes guys who couldn't even wear them snatched them up sight unseen because they knew someone would want it.

Finally we ended up at 59th and Lexington, or the corner of Zara/H&M/ Bloomingdale's/Banana Republic (opening soon). I check out the wares. See $800 suits, $1800 suits and then something that catches my eye: a nicely cut, charcoal gray suit at Zara. Now I'm familiar with the store; it's the Banana of Europe and there was one a block from our Barcelona flat. But did I think I'd buy a suit at one? No. But I did. It fit right, looked sharp and is versatile enough to be worn outside of funerals or really depressing weddings.

Now, if I get a follow-up interview who knows what I'll do. Maybe by then I can find one of those guys that all wear my size and see if they'll let me borrow their threads for a few hours. I mean, it couldn't hurt. Not as much as going through all that shopping again.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

homesick?

I meant to see En La Cuidad on several occasions. Set and shot in Barcelona, it's a wonderful film that got tons of attention in Spain and was widely praised by people I know and respect as a must-see. But it seemed like every time I picked it up at the video club near our house in BCN, I put it back down for some reason.

Well, I decided to put it on our netflix list and finally watch it. I guess I intended it as a reminder of the city. And it happened to arrive over the weekend that's nearly a two-month marker of when we left.

I never expected how much it would affect me.

It wasn't the major things like seeing restaurants, bars and places I know so well. It was the little things: drinking wine at lunch, seeing streets and places I haven't really thought about in the past two months, hearing familiar phrases and the besitos given to everyone.

That's the thing, I haven't felt like I missed Barcelona all that much. I still get updates from Guillem and Carlos and others but mostly I'm so enmeshed in my day-to-day affairs -- looking for a job, getting to work, figuring out how to make a life for us here that I haven't really been given a chance to reflect on what I left behind.

And so this movie suddenly slammed into me. By the time the characters all begin to break apart at the end, I felt like I was about to weep right along with them. I think I'm only now beginning to see some of the ways I've been shaped by the two years there. Listening to the banal conversations of the men and women in the office I've been at all week, talking to someone after an artist lecture earlier this week, I feel myself reacting in ways that are unfamiliar or odd. I feel myself separating from them and judging.

Now, I'm not gonna let myself romanticize the city (it has enough PR and marketing gurus to do that for itself), but I do admit that I miss it. That I took it for granted often while I was there (shame on me!) and I plan on returning at some point. I know it's not my city, that I wouldn't have been happy living there for a much longer period at this point in my life. But I must say, it's caught somewhere in my heart, in my imagination, wrapped up in places I didn't even expect and may not discover for even more time to come.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

come on, ride my train

The first time it happened, it seemed innocent enough. He sat across from me, caught my eye. A smile. A wink. A laugh. It seemed a bit hilarious to be sitting and flirting across from one another on the train. Exhilirating too. I got off at the next stop to board the express. But it so happened that at 42nd street we were faced with one another again and he waited for me, motioned for me to exit my train and exit onto the street with him. I didn't. I smiled. Shrugged. Went on with my plans and life and had a story to tell.

The next time was this past weekend. I heard this man's voice speaking in Spanish and looked up. Our eyes met. He stared and I didn't break away from his gaze. More people boarded the train and I gave up my seat to a mother and her daughter. He found me through the crowd, motioned for me to talk to him. I smiled and mouthed no. More people board, others exit. He motions more aggressively and at the next stop, when the crowd begins to move, I also push closer. We talk in Spanish (he's Peruvian) and English. He tells me his story, he asks for my number. He fondles my hand as he leaves and even calls me later.

Yesterday morning I was tired. My first day of temping with Time Warner; I was told to be at Human Resources at 8:30 so I leave my house at 7:45. It's only a few stops from 116th that this handsome man boards dressed in an immaculate suit. He stares at me, looks me up and down as if I'm a piece of furniture to be appraised. I ignore him as I read the paper. We're both standing, holding onto the bar, facing the window and two people in front of us. The train is crowded and he makes no attempt to hide his evaluation of me. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he inches closer. Several stops pass, each rock of the train, every jounce in the ride gets him that much closer as he stares at his target -- my leg. I begin to harden. It's one of those involuntary reactions -- that male gaze has just as much power on males. And then after the current stop he makes contact and rubs his knuckle into the head of my penis. I'm shocked. Intrigued. It's creepy and strange. And I'm screaming in my head. THIS IS FROTTAGE! MY FIRST REAL LIFE FROTTAGE! I mean I've read about it, joked often, but never thought it would happen to me. How have I been chosen? Is it something about the way I look at people on the train? This is the third time in less than a month that I've gotten such aggressive attention. But nothing like this. I'm paralyzed as he firmly but surreptisiously rubs me -- inches from the oblivious faces of the two passengers.

Then a female colleague recognizes him and he breaks the touch. He turns and strikes up a conversation and we're at 50th street. My stop. I'm out. Ready to start fresh on my first day of a new job. I walk towards Rockefeller Center, find my building across from Radio City Music Hall. Ah. Who needs caffeine to get you going in the morning?