I’m 12. My dad takes my brother and me to Miami for New Year’s after reading an article in our local newspaper about its refurbished hotels. All my dad wants to do is walk around and look at architectural details. All my brother wants to do is get away from us and smoke cigarettes. All I want to do is touch every single man we pass on the sidewalk.
Every night, my brother and I sneak out of our hotel room after my dad falls asleep. My brother walks around and smokes cigarettes and I walk around and try to make eye contact with all the men I envision myself touching during the day.
I follow one back into our hotel. I linger in the hallway outside of his room and listen to the sounds he makes getting undressed and taking a shower and getting into bed.
The next night, I wait in the lobby while my brother roams around on his own. My man comes in with another man. I follow them back to my man’s room and listen to them fucking. The other man calls my man “Rex.”
The day we’re leaving, I go to his room and steal the “Do No Disturb” tag from his doorknob. Whenever I masturbate, I lay it out on the carpet, between pictures of shirtless men I’ve cut out of magazines and JC Penney catalogs.
I’m 14. I’m at my friend Vlad’s house. I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with our late night skinny-dipping and increasingly insistent on his sleeping over at my house every night of the week. He is 15, but has the body of his father who has the body of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Vlad is taking a shower. Vlad’s parents are not home because they’re never home. I am coming in from his backyard for a glass of water.
He has a split-level ranch house, where the ground floor feels like the basement and there are bedrooms “downstairs” and a kitchen “upstairs.” What I see as the house’s inherent disorganization always feels related to why Vlad’s parents are never home and why the whole house smells like a dog.
I am going “upstairs” to the kitchen. Vlad is in the bathroom at the top of the stairs and halfway up the steps, I see through the slits of the bathroom’s air vent and see Vlad, standing naked in the shower.
I have skillfully averted my eyes from every opportunity to see Vlad’s naked body while skinny dipping, so it is the first time I have seen his penis. I have started to binge on internet porn and his penis and his body and the whole scenario of secretly watching him shower through an air vent feels like a familiar erotic narrative.
With great sadness, however, I realize that in the pornographic version of this scene, I would also look like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Vlad would invite me inside the bathroom to help him towel off.
I’m 21. I’m moving out of the bedroom I’ve been subletting from a gay couple on Bleecker Street and into a bedroom I’ll be subletting from two girls from my acting school in Stuy Town.
Both bedrooms are conveniently located and overpriced. But I’m trying to reel my life back from what I’ve dubbed the “Summer of Steve” (which was, in fact, about a year-and-a-half long). Part of the change seems to require more friends my own age and less gay men in my life, period.
I pack a suitcase until it’s bursting, take a cab to the new place, unpack, take another cab back with the empty suitcase and repeat. I work alone and it takes all day.
By noon, I realize the three indistinguishable brunette girls in the apartment across the alleyway on Bleecker have been replaced by three indistinguishable muscular, fratty boys. They walk around all day, wearing only underwear or towels around their waists.
In the afternoon, I watch a man walk into the kitchen naked and make himself toast and coffee. I take a photo of him through my kitchen window (see top left).
In the evening, I watch another man lay down in his bed. He is talking on his cell phone and vaguely masturbating through a pair of basketball shorts. I take a photo of him through my bedroom window (see top right).
I start to give serious thought to the conversation with the gay couple about asking to stay. I search for what I might tell the two girls in Stuy Town “fell through” or “came up” that has prevented me from moving in, aside from the Sean Cody video that has just moved in across the alleyway on Bleecker Street.
I throw the rest of my belongings in a garbage bag. I leave the empty suitcase in a trash can on the corner. I move in with the girls and away from the gays and pat myself on the back for getting the pictures.
I’m 18. I’m at a dance party called “Happy Valley” in a tutu and combat boots. This really hot guy with a big beard is dancing on a box above the dance floor in a pair of silver underwear.
I’m 19. A girlfriend is taking me out for a sympathy bar crawl. I’ve just been dumped. We’re a few steps out of my dorm and I see the guy that just dumped me. My girlfriend doesn’t believe me, but I fucking know it’s him. He’s getting into a cab with some other guy and I run up behind them and punch my ex in the shoulder, a little harder than anyone was expecting me to. He introduces me to his date for the evening: the guy I saw dancing in silver underwear at Happy Valley.
I’m 20. I go to a 12-Step meeting and the guy I saw dancing at Happy Valley in silver underwear is the speaker. He has a Brazilian accent and everything he says is really beautiful and he’s really beautiful. I ask him to be my sponsor and he says okay. He’s my sponsor for 9 months, until I leave the program. I tell him about seeing him on a date with the guy who dumped me, but never about seeing him dancing on a box in silver underwear.
(photo from koenhauser)
ONE Memory (I’m tired)
I’m in an acting class with the one member of the Stella Adler Conservatory’s staff who actually worked with Stella Adler. It’s the last week of the semester and we run out of stuff to do and we all ask for a Stella story, like she’s our famous grandma:
“Okay. Well. Stella’s directing two students on the stage. It’s the balcony scene from ‘Romeo & Juliet.’ And the actor is - well - he is one of our more obvious homosexuals. And the whole thing is just a disaster. She walks onto the stage and starts screaming and waving her cigarette around.
“She’s saying, ‘This scene is about heat! Hormones! The stage should be on fire with sex! And, honey, if the audience doesn’t even believe Romeo is a man, well…they may as well kill themselves! You’re prancing around like Audrey Hepburn and they’re gonna see you’ve got no interest in the girl from the back row. Get off the stage.’
“So, the boy and the girl sit down. And everyone is very quiet. And Stella just moves on to another scene. But the boy is obviously quite upset - trying not to cry, his shoulders are shaking.
“So she stops. She calls him back onto the stage and he’s just standing there, all sad and scared thinking she’s going to ream him out some more. And we’re all scared for him, of course.
“And Stella just says, ‘Pick me up.’ Very lightly like that. ‘Pick me up,’ she says. And he says, ‘What?’ And she turns to him and says, ‘Pick. Me. Up.’ Very serious.
“So he - very gently - lifts Stella into his arms. One arm under her knees and the other around her shoulder. Cradling this woman like a baby.
“And she looks to him and grabs his cheeks with both her hands and says, ‘See?’.
“And he says, ‘What?’.
“And she says, ‘See how strong you are?’”
I’m 20. I’m at a party on the Upper West Side. The apartment belongs to the grandmother of some kid from my acting school. I drink too much and dance with all the girls and wonder if the grandmother is dead. The guy I like isn’t there, so I start making out with this other guy.
I wake up to a light flicking on and off and the sounds of girls laughing. My head is underneath the covers and everything is pink and smells like mothballs and there is a penis in my mouth.
Suddenly, I have to throw up. I run out into the hall with the sheet over me like a pink satin ghost. Two girls are already in the bathroom throwing up into the bath tub, so I take the toilet. We’re all avoiding boys at the party and the bathroom floor is carpeted.
I’m 19. I’m at a restaurant with a guy who wants to take me to California with him and the Indian from the Village People. I’ve been having sex with the guy for about a month. He pays me $250 every time we have sex. He’s bought me a haircut and a suit and now he wants to take me to his house in Hollywood.
Tonight, I’ve learned that he is also pretty close with the Indian from the Village People and that the Indian from the Village People is Puerto Rican.
The guy I’m having sex with is talking to another friend at the bar and the Indian from the Village People starts in on me.
“I don’t trust you,” he says. “I don’t trust your intentions.”
I order another drink because I don’t know what to say and the guy I’m having sex with always picks up the tab.
“If you hurt him,” says the Indian from the Village People. He doesn’t finish the thought, just slams his fist down on the table and stalks out.
The guy I’m having sex with comes back to the table and asks what I said to the Indian from the Village People. I run into the restaurant bathroom and throw up.
I’m 18. I get drunk at a gay bar and sign up for a go-go dancing contest. There are 30 names on the clipboard, but only 4 guys are called up to dance.
The first guy pulls his underwear down. He has a really big dick, but he’s too drunk to stand up on the stage.
I go next. I close my eyes and dance like a girl in a rap video. Everyone starts yelling for me to take off my clothes. I get down to my underwear and sober up. I see everyone staring at me and I think they look bored. I get off the stage and I can’t find my belt..
Big Dick comes in 4th and I come in 3rd. The two guys who are making out on the bar in boxer shorts come in 2nd and 1st. Me and 4th place go into the bathroom and make out.
I tell him that we should’ve won. He tells me that he’s a porn star and the bar paid him to show up that night and he still came in last place. Then I go home and throw up.
I meet a guy online. I have school the next morning and it’s later than I said I’d keep my options open, but he lives close and wants to do all the things I’ve been picturing in my head all night.
He is handsome and intense and I’m glad I came over. We stay up late asking each other questions and giving honest answers and I fall asleep while he’s talking about the difference between being in a relationship as a top and as a bottom.
I wake up as the sun is rising and sort of remember him saying that he never gets to do what we just did in the relationship he’s in now, but he wants to have sex again and I soon forget. He makes me coffee while I’m in the shower and we kiss for a while at the door and plan to see each other soon.
The next day, I wake up to three texts from a number I don’t recognize:
Around midnight: “hey, my name’s jim, i’m mike’s bf. he says ur really hot. u should come over so we can all fool around :)”
Around 2 AM: “listen, i know u were here. i’m not stupid. i pay his phone bill. call me. it’s ok, i just wanna talk.”
Around 3 AM: “U EVER COME IN MY HOME AGAIN UR GONNA BE LEAVING WITH BROKEN LEGS”
I save the number to my contacts as “Jennifer Aniston.”
I fall hard for the wrong guy. He uses way too many drugs, way too often and every time I say goodbye, I think it could be the last. He’s a lot bigger than me and has about ten different cell phones. I save them to my contacts as “BenBear,” “BenBear2,” “BenBear3” and so on.
Whenever I want to see him, I call each one. Whenever he doesn’t pick up, I assume something has gone wrong and start to retread our whole fucked up relationship in my mind until he calls back.
The last time I see him before he gets arrested, he falls asleep after we have sex, face-down in the bed with his pants around his ankles. I take pictures of his body from every angle of the room with the camera on my phone.
Months after his arrest, I look at the pictures - lying in in bed or waiting underground for a subway train - and retread our whole fucked up relationship in my mind.
A year after his arrest, I get an upgrade on my cell phone. The guy in the store puts my old memory card in the new phone and tells me everything will transfer. My contacts are there and most of my photos, but the pictures of Ben are gone.
The guy in the store is really apologetic. I tell him it’s fine, that it was nothing too important. But I spend the whole way home looking for them in the new phone’s memory and retreading our whole fucked up relationship in my mind.
I realize before heading over that I don’t know his name and put him in my contacts as “Stud.”
He is unaffected and smart. His apartment is manly and lived-in. The sex feels relaxed and special and smart and lived-in. He leaves me in his apartment with his vaporizer to go buy beer and Chinese food. We watch a cheesy horror movie when he gets back and we have sex again before we go to sleep, sleepier and softer with the beer and food and pot and fatigue.
In the morning, we get egg sandwiches and coffee from a bodega on his block. We ride the same train for a while before he kisses me - in front of everyone - and steps off to go to work.
I go straight to my acting classes and a few girls notice I’m wearing the same clothes as the day before. I spend the whole day answering too many questions about what he’s like, why he’s different and smart and funny and special. They all coo and tell me to hold on to this one and that I deserve it.
I never see or hear from him again. I call him once and text a lot, until I finally give up. I joke about him being an asshole with the girls in my acting class, but a part of me still thinks he’s the nicest guy I’ve met in a while and no part of me thinks it’s funny.
I see him one day in a subway station. He’s getting off the train and I’m getting on. I watch him closely as he walks away. By the time the train pulls out of view, he still hasn’t changed his gait or given any indication that he’s seen anything he recognizes.
I pull out my journal and write a bad poem about New York feeling like a haunted house, starting all these memories that it’s too big and unwieldy to follow through on.
I step above ground at the next station and my phone buzzes with a text from “Stud”:
“was that u?”
I get a job bussing tables and making deliveries at a café in the Village. They play music I’ve never heard before and everyone steals PBR from the fridge and smokes pot in the walk-in freezer and when it’s time to close, we just walk around the restaurant with lit cigarettes hanging from of our mouths.
My second week, I make a delivery to a stodgy building of old ladies and dentist’s offices on Fifth Ave above Washington Square. The doorman shuffles me to the service entrance on the side of the building, like I’m a gypsy asking for change. The idea that I am unsightly or dangerous makes me feel like a man because not many things do.
I’m waiting for the building super to buzz me inside and a handsome man smiles at me from across the street. The door still isn’t opening and he walks over and he is less handsome, but still smiling.
“You live here?” he asks.
“Making a delivery,” I say.
“Where do you work?” he asks.
“Café on University,” I say. He is moving in close and I’m looking at the ground and the door buzzes. I smile over my shoulder as I step inside because it feels like the perfect ending.
An hour later, I deliver to a building two blocks east of the stodgy one on Fifth. The apartment door opens and it’s the guy who was handsome from across the street. I look down at his order: two muffins and a large coffee. $9.67. Just under the minimum, only sent out because the lunch rush is over.
“Come in,” he says with a smirk. It feels more like a command than an invitation.
“It’s $9.67,” I say from the threshold, pretending not to have heard.
He laughs and shakes his head, like I’m the one who’s being ridiculous. He gives me eleven bucks. I get back to the restaurant and write his name and address on the “WE DON’T DELIVER TO” dirty napkin tacked over the phone.
I’m making a delivery to an apartment on Varick Street. It’s summer and Manhattan feels like the inside of a toaster oven, but the restaurant is packed and our boss is hosting, so all the busboys are fighting over the deliveries. I’ve been working at the café for about a year and people ask me where things are and what night which trash cans go out.
The door opens and it’s a man in a pair of shorts with his shirt off. His body is chubby with muscle, but he looks like he’s been awake for several days. His left eye is purple and swollen shut.
He invites me inside for a glass of water, but I wait for it in the hall. He tells me he’s an author and hands me an autographed copy of his book when I say I don’t believe him. He tells me a bug bit him on the eye in Fire Island, but he’s talking too fast and I know it’s staph infection from when I used to be in Crystal Meth Anonymous.
$12.17 and he gives me a twenty and tells me to quit my job. We both laugh and I tell him he’s “a nice guy,” which isn’t exactly what I mean, but I don’t want to say much more than that. It seems to embarrass him and he looks uncomfortable when he says goodbye. A few years later, I read that he “died suddenly” in the apartment on Varick Street and I feel glad that I told him he was nice.
I’m working a morning shift and my boss has promoted me to work behind the counter and manage. I get to pick the music and kick hobos out of the bathroom and get yelled at when things are sloppy or awkward.
My customer crush, Giovanni, comes in with his newspaper. He only ever gets 9-grain toast and answers “How are you?” with his food order. Everyone else hates him because he always asks when his toast will be ready and asks for more butter than we’re supposed to put on the plate. But I think he is mysterious and beautiful and I always smile more than he ends up leaving in our tip jar.
One day, I decide to start a conversation. He smiles up at me from his newspaper, but his English is so broken that I need to nod for a while after he’s spoken and repeat it in my head for complete clauses and words I recognize. I bring extra butter so he doesn’t need to get up and I ask where he’s from.
“My mother, Brazil. Germany from my father.”
“So where did it happen?” I respond. “Brazil or Germany?”
I think I’m being sassy and fun, but his face is a question mark, repeating what I’ve said for words he can recognize. I tell him to enjoy his toast and go back behind the counter and start to join the rest of the counter in groans when we see him walk in with his newspaper.
Photo: Physique model, Tom Lauren (morphodite)
I’m bussing tables at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District. I hate my boss because she never tells me whether I’m closing until I’m closing and I hate my uniform because it’s 95 degrees outside. I’m resetting a table on the patio and a handsome man at the next table catches my eye. I smile and go over to say hello.
He’s from Brazil. He’s in New York to meet with clients, but my boss is shouting from the hostess stand and I can’t here what he says he does for a living. He’s a 50 year-old man in better physical shape than I am at 20. He looks dignified, like a prince getting married or a fashion designer at a cocktail party.
He writes his phone number, the name of his hotel and the number of his room on a business card. He says to come over when I’m off of work. I say it will be late and he says he will wait for me. I’m in the walk-in freezer getting olives for the bartender when he leaves, but I’m giddy through the rest of my shift.
I walk out with my tips at 1:30 in the morning. I reach in my pocket and the card isn’t there, because I was wearing my uniform when it happened. I run back inside and the laundry cart has already been rolled onto a truck.
I hook up with a guy on Manhunt. He’s a little bossy in bed, but he’s right around the corner from my apartment. He asks if we can go to dinner the next night and I say okay because I’m thinking about never having sex with him again anyways.
He takes me to a fancy restaurant with no sign on the door. The hostess says she doesn’t have tables, but she’s interrupted by a manager who seats us right away. My date asks the manager about how someone is and how her trip to somewhere went and something about something she’s doing this summer. He tells her we’ll have “some drinks” and “some appetizers” and then orders my entree for me.
He starts asking me questions about myself, but talks over all my answers about some trip to France he’s taking and some interview he’s doing for a magazine.
A waitress walks by with a tray of drinks and he stops her and asks if someone is in “the back” tonight. She says yes and he excuses himself because the someone’s birthday is this month and this someone is “a dear friend.” He keeps saying their first and last name, like I’m supposed to know who they are and confirms the growing suspicion that my date is a complete douche bag.
He doesn’t come back until after our appetizers arrive. He kisses me and says he’s having a really good time.
I’m getting a burger before I see my therapist in Chelsea. I look up and a man is looking at me through the window, smiling and waving. I don’t know who he is. He walks inside and introduces himself. He is Italian and speaks with a lisp. He’s in town from Rome for a conference about something having to do with foreign policy. I don’t understand, but I like him.
We meet for coffee after my appointment. I start talking about why I’m in therapy and I think I’m saying too much but he’s asking questions.
I say I’ve been acting like an idiot since I got to New York and I’ve hurt a lot of people. He says he’s impressed that I’m trying to resolve it. I say that I don’t think I deserve praise for not being an asshole.
He tells me the story of the Prodigal Son, how the older son who stayed home doesn’t think his brother’s return deserves a celebration.
“And the father tells him, ‘But you were here. You have had the life. But your brother was lost and now he is alive.’”
I don’t completely understand. His English is broken and I’m not sure if this is really the story of the Prodigal Son or not, but I feel like he is saying something very powerful that I need to hear. It starts snowing when he walks me home and we kiss under an awning and it feels like I’m doing something right for the first time in a long time.
(Painting: The Abduction of Ganymede (c. 1650) - Eustache Le Sueur)
I’m 20. I’m sitting in a Saturday night Crystal Meth Anonymous Meeting at the Gay & Lesbian Center on 13th Street. It’s my first week in the program and everyone is hovering around me like a flock of birds. Two men from the morning meeting I first attended flank me on either side. Someone with 10 years of sobriety is speaking about “hitting bottom” at the front of the room. They call it “qualifying.”
My ex-boyfriend, Mike, walks in late and finds a chair by the door. Mike broke up with me last year, but we still have sex sometimes and I still look at pictures of us on vacation on cry. He never drank. When I asked him why, he said he’d cut alcohol from his diet to get in better shape. He told me he tried smoking weed once in high school, but he didn’t like it. I try to catch his eye from across the room, but he avoids.
The speaker stops and we go around the room in a circle, saying our name and how much sober time we have.
“Hi,” Mike says. “My name’s Mike. I’m a crystal meth and cocaine addict and I’ve been sober for 10 months.”
The rest of the room says “Hi Mike” and I bury my face in my hands and start hyperventilating. The guys next to me start patting me on the back. They think I’m crying because I want drugs.
I run out of the room and sit on the stairs. An older man I haven’t met yet walks out and sits next to me and asks if I’m okay. I say the guy who just walked in is my ex-boyfriend.
“You used to date Mike?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Jesus,” he says with a shake of his head. ”She’s the craziest one here.”
I’m 20. I’m sitting in a diner with a bunch of men after a Saturday night CMA meeting. I’ve been in the program for about five months. I’m in the middle of the table, seated across from Harry, an older man I haven’t met yet. Everyone else knows him, but he’s been gone for a while and just came back that night with one day sober.
We just got our food. Harry’s staring at me. His eyes are still bloodshot and he’s only out to dinner because everyone dragged him, a point he’s made sure to emphasize between every glance at his phone.
“You were using crystal?” Harry asks me.
“Yeah,” I say.
“You got HIV?” he asks me. I stare at my plate. The waitress handed me someone else’s sandwich, but I stare at it.
“Umm, yes,” I say. “I do.”
“And how old are you?” he asks me. It’s starting to feel like an interrogation. The rest of the table goes quiet and starts to debate whether to intervene. Harry wasn’t allowed to speak at the meeting.
“I’m 20,” I say.
“Jesus fuckin’ christ!” Harry says with a pound of his fist on the table. He turns to his audience on either side and says, “You know this kid’s only 20 years-old?”
“Alright, Harry,” says Harry’s sponsor, looking up from his salad a few seats away. “Let the kid eat, alright?”
I’m 20. I’m walking down 23rd Street and see Jonathan walking a dog. We stop to talk for a few minutes and then he says he just moved in around the corner and asks if I want to see his place.
We’ve seen each other in a few meetings, but kept a respectful distance. Jonathan is the first guy I used with. He showed me how to light the pipe without burning it and how long to hold the smoke in my lungs. His internet persona was that of an aggressive top daddy.
I sit in his kitchen and watch him make a puree beet soup with a food processor. We eat the soup with slices of avocado and Perrier and he tells me about the renovation he’s planning for the foyer and the shelter where he adopted his dalmatian, Donna. I ask to use the bathroom and there are mango-scented air fresheners and a stack of Elle magazines on the back of the toilet.
I’m 17. I’ve just gotten the courage to tell my dad I’m gay, because now I have a boyfriend. He’s in college and has a car and we park behind Raymour & Flanigan and smoke cigarettes and make out. My AOL away messages shift from Fiona Apple to soul standards.
One night, he picks me up and we…
(Video: “Natural Gravity” by Legs Media)
I see an ad on craigslist for a catalog shoot. “VERY HIGH END!!! $800/day!!!! MANY CONNECTIONS TO FASHION INDUSTRY!!! NO EXPERIENCE NEC.!!!”
I call and speak to an older woman who is talking like a black-and-white movie and talking too fast: “Have you met with Madison? We’ve GOT to get you into see Madison! Do you know Madison? Have you seen her work? Madison would GAG over a face like yours!”
I meet her in a janky office building in Midtown. There is nothing on the walls and nothing on her desk but my pictures and a phone. She tells me the catalog shoot has already taken place, but she’d love to start sending me out on auditions and I’ll need some new headshots and can I pay her right now? She picks up her phone and starts talking before she’s pressed any buttons.
“Madison? I’ve got a face for you! You’ve GOT to see this boy’s face!”
I call in sick to work and go to an audition for an insurance commercial. They send me sides with a long, emotional monologue about giving my parents some peace of mind in an unstable world. I memorize it. I go to a Starbucks and repeat it in the bathroom mirror with people knocking on the door.
I get to the studio and there are four classmates of mine from acting school. None of us talk to each other. I close my eyes and mouth the monologue to myself, over and over, until my name is called.
Five people are sitting behind a table and no one looks up. A camera is pointed at me and everyone looks at my face on a TV screen six feet to my left.
“Alright, Steve, say your name into the camera. Now, smile for us. Big smile. Now, laugh. A little more. Alright, great. You’re all set. Thanks for stopping by.”
I see an ad on craigslist. “Must be comfortable with nudity. Dance background a plus. $100 for the day.” I meet a woman in a photo studio. She asks me to stand up and take off all my clothes. I’m standing in front of her naked and she asks me to sway my arms in slow-motion like they’re tentacles of a jellyfish. I get the part.
I come back the next week to a bigger studio. There is an Olympic-sized trampoline and a stunt coordinator and expensive cameras and massive lights. I strip nude and climb a ladder and swan dive and backflip and do whatever else they tell me from the top of the ladder onto the trampoline. I start jumping higher than I was told but I don’t care. I’m dripping with sweat and my balls are getting crushed underneath me and fabric of the trampoline is leaving waffle welts all over my hips and back.
Someone hands me a robe and we’re done. They bring in another girl in a bathrobe and she starts jumping. I give the assistant an address where she can send my check and get dressed.
I am back on the street and it all seems too simple. People walk by as though nothing has just happened. I am twenty minutes late for a shift at my restaurant but I don’t care. I look up to the studio from the street and feel an urge to go back upstairs, like maybe I’ve left something behind. I start walking toward my restaurant and I know I can’t stay in New York much longer.