Fashion police maxim: if you don’t wear an article of clothing for two years, get rid of it. Bearing that in mind, I assiduously dredge up something from the bottom of my dresser now and then, no matter how hideous, worn out or ill-fitting, just so I won’t have to give it away. After the day’s wear, the article somehow burrows its way back to the bottom of the drawer without a fuss. Problem solved.
Like most true slobs, I have a reasonably diverse wardrobe, but feel no compunction to continuously draw water from that well. I could cite environmental concerns; laundering clothes dumps phosphates into our rivers and streams. Since I have no idea what a phosphate is, here’s the real reason: rising from an evening’s slumber, the first thing my crusty eyes encounter are the self-same, serviceable, comfortable clothes I wore the day before. Why not put them on again? They won’t mind, and neither will I.
Yesterday it was a pair of drawstring sweat-shorts. I got them at Sally’s¹
for a buck or two. They’re a bit short, and a bit tight. What the hell, it’s August in the Bronx. Combined with a standard wife beater, I was all set for an arduous of day of watering houseplants and smiling at funny kitten pictures that my not-very-close friends had posted on Facebook.²
My 13-year-old daughter eyed me suspiciously when I came downstairs.³
“What’s with the shorts?”
“Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“No offense, but you look kinda gay.”
I laughed heartily (because I’m a hearty guy) and walked to the hallway, to self-consciously look in the mirror. I had to admit—if I knotted the the tanktop at my belly button and wore a pair of flip-flops, the look would’ve been complete: very gay.
The whole gay thing is no big deal to me, but it was at one time. My first job out of college was at a medical publishing company in Greenwich Village. Aside from a diverse full-time staff, the company had a 24-hour print shop that attracted a lot of freelancers—local people from the surrounding area, comprised of artists, musicians and gays in general. It didn’t hurt that the two managers of the department were a gay man and woman.
|Never went as far with |
the outfits as Freddie Mercury…
It was a time when gays were coming out of the closet. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Freddie Mercury, George Michael in denial—I was fascinated by the glamorous gay lifestyle. Commuting from an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx, I had never been around openly homosexual people before. Of course there were closet types in our area while growing up. They got picked on, beat up and abused on a daily basis, enduring a veritable potpourri of vitriol and hatred spewed by the local intelligentsia: homo, fag, pansy, queer and the like. I wasn’t a part of that, preferring to insult and demean fat kids instead. Every cruel child has a specific genre they should stick to, and weight problems were my forte. Nice, huh?
Downtown though, gays could express themselves freely, showing themselves to be creative and intelligent, and more than anything else, a lot of fun to be with. They seemed to know where all the good parties or trendy clubs were, living in interesting parts of Manhattan or Brooklyn that I wasn’t familiar with. I wanted in.
Performers like Michael Jackson and Prince were always wearing makeup. I started experimenting, especially if I was going clubbing. For any man reading this, I have news for you: makeup doesn’t just work on women. I looked fucking great. I had no idea how to apply it, but my best friend’s girl did: she would apply a touch of mascara to my eyelashes, pencil in some eyeliner and add the slightest bit of blush. It made my hair look blacker, my gaze more intense, gave my gaunt cheekbones an angular look and hid any zits I had. I was sure men wearing makeup would eventually become mainstream, in the same way earrings are now.
Other days I went for an androgynous look. There was no dress code at my job. I’d wear colorful flowing shirts, baggy pants, ballet shoes or pirate boots, with big poofy scarves for a belt. There was a liberal company newspaper that came out once a month, inviting any and all comments, professional or not. I purposely made outrageous statements about a preference for latex or wanting to be licked head to toe. Predictably, a few gay men started hitting on me. Their advances made me vaguely uncomfortable, but I figured I could handle it.
I was mostly a post-punk though, into the Clash, Ramones and Chili Peppers. I owned a 1978 Honda 550 motorbike, with matching biker jacket and chains. I had spiky hair ala Sting; most of my clothes were black and torn.
Gregory Cole sat in the cubicle in front of me. He dressed impeccably every day in oxford shirts, pressed jeans and black loafers. With a strong, sharp nose and a conservative haircut graying at the temples, it was impossible to guess his age. He was very elegant, and most assuredly homosexual. I was jealous of his language skills; foreign phrases rolled off his tongue, perfect accents and inflections intact. If a European author neglected to send photo #36 of an atrophied testicle, I’d ask him to call the doctor for me. When Gregory planned on visiting Turkey, I asked him how his Turkish was. He dismissed the idea with a wave, saying, “No big deal. I’ll pick it up in a day or two.” We started having lunch together.
One day he invited me for a drink after work, with an editor named Suzanne. She had short hair, dressed like a man and had sexy photos of Cher plastered all over her cubicle. Walking towards the bars on Christopher Street, Gregory suggested we stop in somewhere for a cocktail. The place was sparsely populated with males chatting, but nothing really screamed gay bar. Gregory ordered the first of many Remy Martins, taken neat. Even after six drinks, he never slurred a syllable, had a hair out of place or lost his panache. I really liked him. He said the place was dead; we should try another bar further down the street, with a better happy hour.
We paused in front of a bar with no windows, called The Wicked Anvil or something.
“This place is a bit stronger,” warned Gregory. “If you feel uncomfortable we don’t have to stay.”
Stronger was a mild adjective. Men were wearing leather chaps, some with thick handlebar mustaches. Two guys at a table were in a clinch, sucking face with gusto. Shock must have read on my face, because Gregory immediately suggested we leave. I had no intention of leaving; I didn’t feel threatened, and wanted to see what this was all about. I was getting a glimpse into a secret world. We had a drink or two and left, without anyone approaching us. I was almost disappointed.
Back at work, there was a woman who intrigued me. Jean McPhee was a production editor with tri-colored hair and a few artsy tattoos on her wrist, rare for a woman at that time. She played bass in a band with Gordon Gano, of Violent Femmes renown. Nobody told me she was gay, figuring I already knew. She was 30, eight years my senior.
My entry-level job consisted of entering new manuscripts into an archaic DOS computer system. There were in and out boxes for manuscripts, with production assistants distributing them to the editors. I started specifically searching for her journals to enter, personally bringing the manuscripts to her desk when finished. Although I dropped them into her inbox with a loud thump, she never looked up at me. Nonplussed, I started writing little notes on the article photos. “Help me, Jean!” screamed neurons and protoplasm. I wasn’t going to be ignored.
|If you had to stare at these photos all day, |
you’d find this hilarious.
Mitochondria mutations successfully asked her to lunch; a nucleotide landed me our first date. Sharing sushi on Eighth Street, I guess she felt a need to set the record not-straight.
“You’re the first guy I’ve dated in eight years. I’ve only been with women since then.”
“Is that when you decided you were gay?”
“It wasn’t a decision..I always knew. I’ve always been attracted to women.”
“Then why are you here with me?”
“You got my attention. And you’re cute.”
Cute was very, very good. I was in, baby. I was sure her lesbian experiences were some experimental phase, something she could forget about now.
She met my parents the way most of my girlfriends did, getting caught in their house screwing. Jean had her own apartment in Fort Greene, but I wanted to show her the neighborhood I was from. My folks had their winter house in the Bronx and a summer cottage in nearby Lake Carmel. I lived at home all through college; being a commuter-loser, I needed a place to have sex with girls. It didn’t matter to me which house I used, just as long as my parents weren’t there. No matter how many times I asked when they were leaving, returning, coming back or whatever, they always managed to fucking catch me (or better said, catch me fucking).
It was about 11 am; we were on the front porch relaxing when the car pulled into the driveway. I had put fresh sheets on the bed; there was no need for panic.
“Mom, dad, this is Jean.”
My mom smiled faintly and cleared her throat.
“How do you do?”
Jean took the intrusion in stride, smiling broadly. “Really good, actually. I’ve just given up drinking, so I feel a lot better.”
This was not the salutation my mom was expecting. “Well, I suppose that’s a good thing.”
“My dad’s an alcoholic. I really don’t want to end up like him.”
I looked at Jean critically for the first time. She was wearing black leotards, leather short-shorts and Doc Marten paratrooper boots. With her tattoos and punk haircut, she wasn’t exactly the girl to bring home to mom. I made a lame excuse about Brooklyn traffic and high-tailed us out of there.
Jean wasn’t only direct with my mom; she was quite explicit when having sex.
“Fuck me on the table.”
“Fuck me on the fire escape.”
When we were in the act, as well. ”Fuck my brains out!”
Still relatively inexperienced, I never had a partner talk to me that way before. I very happily complied with her instructions, but couldn’t reply in kind. I just didn’t have it in me to talk dirty. She asked me once how I’d feel if she invited a girl to join us. Like the honest, naive idiot that I was, I told her that I’d probably get jealous watching her kiss another girl. It was my first shot at a threesome, and I passed. Still haven’t forgiven myself for that…
Otherwise, everything seemed to go great for about three months. We danced at underground clubs and ate vegetarian food; I went to all her gigs. One weekend I went upstate to hang with my friends, who I hadn’t seen in awhile. Monday morning at work Jean avoided me, and didn’t answer my phone calls later on. The next day was the same. Cornering her on Wednesday, she suggested we meet at the park after work. Something was up.
True to her style, she didn’t waste time with trivialities.
“I went to a flea market on Canal Street over the weekend. I was looking at tie-dyed shirts at some stall, and when I looked up, there she was.”
I looked at her blankly, uncomprehending.
“I met this girl and took her home. I was with her all weekend.”
I sat there dumbfounded by the “there she was” part, like she had found a hundred dollar bill under a Dead Head shirt. I tried to wrap my head around it, but Jean was still talking.
“I don’t want this to get ugly. I want to stay friends,” she said. When I made no reply, she repeated the phrase.
“I really don’t want this to get ugly.”
I didn’t understand this ‘ugly’ part, either. Maybe she was expecting me to lash out with some hateful metaphors about dykes. I was too hurt to say anything. It didn’t matter whether she’d slept with a man or a woman. It was the first time a lover had betrayed me.
|Don’t dump your lover on a park bench.|
Try to be more original.
She feigned an excuse about having band practice and made a beeline for the subway, leaving me sitting there like an idiot. Dumping me on a park bench was the lamest cliche ever. It should’ve been in a souvlaki shop while yogurt sauce dripped down my chin. I could’ve thrown a gyro at her or rubbed babaganoush in her pink, straw-like hair. Anything but this.
It was funny…she had told me she was still getting over her last relationship; her girlfriend had cheated on her. Maybe it was some kind of twisted revenge she was taking out on me instead. I saw her sneak out to lunch the next day with the head of the typesetting department, an outspoken lesbian with a reputation as a man-hater. They didn’t see me approaching.
“I mean, what was he expecting, anyway?” said the man-hater. The words rang in my ears as the elevator doors closed. I wasn’t expecting anything, least of all my girlfriend cheating on me. I moped around the office for weeks, keeping a low profile for once. Everyone in the office knew about our relationship. I tried to immerse myself in stamping and entering, which required the attention span of a flower pot. I eventually did notice a cute, new-wavy looking girl in Subscriptions, who seemed to be using the photocopier by my desk a lot. I asked her out to lunch. With yogurt sauce dripping down my chin, I learned she had a steady boyfriend. But Jean McPhee didn’t know that.
She magically appeared at my desk the next day. “Do you want to go see Robert Gordon with me on Friday night?” Robert Gordon was a rockabilly singer. I looked at her closely, surprised at the request. Although I heard every word perfectly, I made her ask again.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that,” I intoned innocently.
She repeated the question word for word, as if she’d been rehearsing it beforehand. Not once did she look me in the eye. I knew this was an attempt at reconciliation, but I wasn’t buying in. Not like this.
“I don’t think so,” was all I offered.
“Okay, fine,” she said with a stammer. I watched her stiffly walk away. She quit a short time after, moving to San Jose. The man-hater told me she was delivering pizzas at night to make ends meet; eventually I lost track of her.
The gay community didn’t hold quite as much allure for me after that. I was no longer interested in appearing androgynous, dropping hints about rubber products or watching men make out. In my heart I knew I was a straight guy, interested in dating straight girls. Although I really liked hanging out with Gregory, I stopped going to lunch with him. Maybe that was unfair to him, maybe not. I just knew I didn’t want to lead him down a path and hurt him later, like someone had done to me.
I may be angst-ridden about a lot of crap, but thankfully, sexual orientation isn’t on the list. I ain’t giving those shorts away, though…
¹Hipster or Cheapster code for the Salvation Army.²Silly anachronistic website for middle-aged people deluding themselves that they know the latest technology.³Ibid..Ibid…Ibid, said the frog.