Monday, May 8, 2017

I'm Not Your Buddy


I’ve never liked the term “fuck buddy.” It’s crass, it sounds inappropriate, and it generally doesn’t feel like a label one adult should assign to another adult. But mostly, it bugs me because it feels like a misrepresentation of the relationship, at least in my limited experience.

A few years ago, on a weekly basis, I’d leave my office and go to the movies. Here, in the mid-morning weekday seclusion of AMC Westbank Palace 16, I’d work my way to the bottom of a large popcorn and feast on horror and sci-fi films. One morning, while leaving the day’s first screening of The Babadook, I crossed an attractive guy the lobby, who was also by himself. As we continued on, we both looked back at one other before he walked into his theatre and I walked out into the sunlight. Later that evening, I saw him again, thanks to Facebook’s creepy People You May Know algorithm. I friended him and we exchanged numbers. It happened that fast.

He was a litigation attorney with a gorgeous townhome in Mid-City. I liked him enough, but after the first date, there was a tangible unspoken understanding that neither thought the other was boyfriend material. But that didn’t stop us from regularly having sex. And almost instantly, we carved out a routine. The standard text and response; a brief, straight-to-the-point dialogue in two-word sentiments.

>What’s up?
>>Home, you?
>Out. Busy?
>>Working. Blah.
>Hang out?
>>Sure. C’mon.

When The Litigator came down to meet me, he never wore shoes, which only drew more attention to his calves, which were bulbous and meaty. He was a small guy, lean on top and muscular on the bottom. Part jockey, part swimmer, part rugger.

Even though I could [and have] navigate his home in a full blackout, The Litigator always led the way. We made the kind of vacant small talk that required no attention from either party. But it was part of our ritual and it had to be practiced.

Inside his room, I unbuttoned my shirt and scanned the bookshelf for new novels. Behold, the complete works of Brett Easton Ellis peppered with Palaniuk, Vonnegut — and obviously — Salinger. I’d swear he was the most boring straight white guy ever, if wasn’t already sleeping with him. I wondered if he stopped reading fiction after high school as I kicked off my shoes and stripped away my socks. “Want anything to drink?” he’d ask, switching on a lamp and turning down the TV. “I’m okay,” I’d say, fluffing a pillow and making myself comfortable.

We’ve been here before. We’ve run these exact lines and blocked this exact scene. We were rehearsing for a play we would never perform for an audience.

The sex, like the rest of our relationship, was scripted. We didn’t kiss on the mouth. We didn’t hold hands. We didn’t get creative. Three positions max. When we were ready, he would go before me. When I finished, I’d lay there with my chest rising and falling. 

Immediately following sex, there’s a brief moment of worldless, heavy breathing where both parties re-enter the present. I love this moment. No matter how wonderful, mediocre, or terrible the sex, you can always undercut the weight of reality with a dumb, offhanded comment. “Meh, C+” is a go-to favorite of mine.

If The Litigator were someone else, I might take this opportunity to make him laugh. But we didn’t really do that. So I’d pay him an arbitrary, meaningless compliment. “That was awesome.”

To fill the silence, we asked insipid questions without making eye contact. My podiatrist and I discuss weekend plans with exponentially more genuine interest than The Litigator and myself trying to cobble together something that passes for a conversation after sex. We shuffled around, picking up garments, turning them inside out, and wrestling them onto our bodies, respectively. Then, I’d head straight for the door, sometimes with shoes in-hand, sometimes with pants unbuttoned, but always with the disheveled urgency of someone leaving jail after a night in holding.

Finally, he would walk me to the front gate where we would have our final scene together. This part, for some inexplicable reason, was never scripted. We improvised, and inevitably, it was hasty and incoherent. “Talk to ya later!” with an awkward side hug. “Peace!” with a bro handshake, followed by an unnatural bro pat on the back. One time, I went in for a fist bump, but he went in for a side hug, so we tried to compromise with a high-five and both missed.

The Litigator moved to Chicago nearly six months ago, and we haven’t spoken since. Then yesterday, I saw a photo of him with another guy — standing on a beach in Cabo San Lucas — wearing matching Ray-Bans and matching H&M swim trunks. 

“Happy 5 years, baby!!!” the caption read. “You’ve always been the love of my life and I look forward to our infinite future together!!!”

I rolled my eyes and continued scrolling.

I’ve never liked the phrase “love of my life.” It’s cliché, it's maudlin, and it generally doesn’t feel like a label one adult should assign to another adult.

But mostly, it bugs me because it feels like a misrepresentation of the relationship.

At least in my limited experience.

Out Of Home


My flight from JFK to MSY got in around midnight.

It was delayed more than two and a half hours, with no explanation from Delta. Catching an Uber from the airport to the Lower Garden District would cost me $33 and some change. It sounded steep, until I remembered I don't really have anyone I can call for a ride, especially at this hour on a Monday.

The driver was listening to some satellite radio station that played instrumental versions of 80s and 90s pop songs. A lyricless, vaguely Tejano version of "Fast Car" drifted out the open windows and into the sticky, desperate-for-something-to-happen New Orleans night.

As we finally arrived at the edges of the Central Business District, I looked up from my phone and noticed something familiar.

It was a billboard. Your billboard.

I'd seen on your laptop screen about a month ago when you smoked me out in your apartment. You were working on a new campaign — designing a series of clever, headline-driven creative. It was entirely your concept, and apparently, your client loved it enough to buy ad space around the city. I was reaching for my phone to take a picture when something suddenly grabbed my attention.

On the other side of the highway, facing your billboard, was another billboard. And I recognized it immediately, because I wrote its headline. My billboard.

I could have screamed. And frankly, I'm not sure I didn't. I am always proud of you, but I felt especially proud in that moment.

Your billboard was advertising a locally beloved restaurant, while mine was announcing a new type of hot sauce.

The boards are digital, so they rotate in blink-and-you-miss-it intervals along with other ads. But for just a few moments, suspended high above the expressway that separates Downtown from Uptown, our work was displayed at the exact same time. Our work, together. In the wild.

We haven't spoken in more than a month.

But I think about you all the time.

I miss you.

I know you've been a little bummed out lately — feeling homesick and needing some time to recalibrate. I can't imagine what it's like for you. And I want you to know that you never have to think twice about calling me.

The billboards are running right now, but eventually, the buys will come to an end. As you know, ad placements (even for digital out-of-home boards) are costly and fleeting. Make a few meaningful impressions, and then go away. If you're lucky, you'll reach someone and inspire them to action. That's what we do for a living. It's how you and me pay our bills. It's funny how two people who consider themselves artists can make something impersonal, send it out the world, and then fully let go of it, at the whim of a media buy. It's counterintuitive to the way you and me are naturally hardwired.

Still, the billboards are really beautiful, especially at nighttime.

If you catch them before they stop running, shoot me a text.

It would be really nice to hear from you.

And If you need me, I'll be around.

I'm not going anywhere.

I Want To Believe


You told me it was the best you ever had.

Sometimes you would say it while sitting across from me on my bed, Indian-style, naked and out of breath.

Sometimes you'd say it just above a whisper, lying right next to me with our sides touching and your arm draped over my shoulders.

And sometimes you would say it during sex, just because you knew it would make me cum.

I always believed you.

Because I knew exactly why you felt that way.

And I want you to know that I felt that way, too.

I don't believe in religion.

I don't believe in mysticism.

I don't believe in witchcraft or healing crystals or Bigfoot.

But I believed in that crackling spark that happened in my core when we were together.

It made me feel awake.

One day, I'll wake up again.

space


Sometimes I leave work and head straight home, just to think about you.

Sure, you drift in and out of my consciousness during the day (almost every day, sometimes all day). But I typically keep you at arm's length until I can be alone in my apartment, locked behind my bedroom door.

I draw the curtains, undress to my underwear, and lay down in bed. Then, I close my eyes and turn my body away from the window, just so I can find you in the space where no one else can. About four feet of dark, empty space between the wall and me. That's our space.

This bed. This bed used to be our space, too. In fact, right here, right where I'm laying. This is where you slept. On the left side. On a plot of memory foam you claimed the first time you slept over. Overnight, my bed became our bed.

I live with a roommate in a small, third-floor apartment in the Lower Garden District with a balcony overlooking the skyline anchored by the Superdome. The view is worth the rent, but common space is limited. So my bedroom (and the bed that imposed on more than half the square footage) was our only sanctuary.

Here, on a weekday afternoon in October, we fucked for the first time. I won’t say we made love because that would come after — almost immediately after — when we fell in love. Weeks later, on a frigid December night, you wrapped me in your hulking arms and traced your nose along the crest of my neck. In the muted moonlight, I could see the tattoos winding and weaving across your hands and forearms. Here, for the first time, suspended in the moments before sleep, I felt myself loving you. It slid up from the foot of the bed and covered the both of us.

I inhale and I can smell you. Old Spice deodorant and menthol cigarettes. Then suddenly, my phone buzzes and I’m alone in the dark again. I twist and slap around until I touch vibrating glass. I absently click buttons until the buzzing stops, then softly lob the phone onto the floor.

Today is Wednesday, which means trivia night at Finn McCool’s. Also, Torres is playing at One Eyed Jacks in a few hours. I should probably text Kylie back. I’m not going to make happy hour at Tsunami.

I’ll make plans later. Maybe I’ll catch up on TV. Or do some writing or some laundry or both.

But right now, I just want to relive the moments when I first knew I loved you.

In the space where it was just you and me.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Jake


I've had your hair caught between my teeth all day.

It's a single, wiry hair lodged between my two front teeth — the size and texture of a price tag fastener.

Rest assured it's not from your crotch. It's from your beard, which I used to like [but now I hate].

Last night, when you called, I was almost asleep.

"Are you home?" you asked. I could barely hear you over the noises in the background. Girls and rap music. "Can I come over?" You sounded like me on a bad day, but I’d wanted to sleep with you since we matched on Tinder. "Sure," I said. "Come over." 

When you finally showed up, you were inexplicably wearing a Christmas sweater with red velvet sweatpants. But somehow, I still found you painfully attractive.

We made out, you said you couldn’t get hard, and then you excused yourself to the balcony for a smoke. 

Alone in my room, I grazed the tip of my tongue against the backs of my teeth and felt your hair between my lower central incisors.

When you returned, I suggested we reschedule for another time. "I’m not really feeling it tonight. Plus, you’re a lot drunker than I thought you were." You stared at me, vacantly. "But I Ubered here," you said. "I know," I sighed. "And I’ll pay for your Uber home. I’m sorry." There was a full half-minute of silence between us. Then finally, you said, "I hate the fact that you’re circumcised. Plus, you should do some squats."

I must’ve looked stunned, because I was.

I felt my mouth fall open and my eyebrows rise to mid-forehead.

Then, without saying a word, you pulled on your sweater, grabbed your keys and stormed out of the apartment — slamming the door behind you.

This morning, I am sitting at a café on Magazine called Mojo.

I am sipping a caramel latte from an oversized mug and watching a pair of red-haired women split a muffin.

And I am flicking my tongue against the single, springy hair that’s wedged between my teeth.

A ribbon wrapped around my finger — reminding me to get my flat ass to the gym later.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Life’s Work


My first relationship began when I was 15, and lasted more than three years. Kourtney was a whip-smart, plucky blond who was an objective catch. She pitched softball and earned the nickname “Rocket” for her cannon of an arm. She sang “Unbreak My Heart” at a school talent show and moved people to tears. She was valedictorian of her class, an honor she worked tirelessly towards every day I knew her. After dating for a year and a half, we lost our virginities to one another in my bedroom on a Saturday night while “Linger” by The Cranberries played in the background. When high school ended, we went to different colleges, but continued dating. I was standing on the balcony of my friend Matt’s dorm when Kourtney called and told me she’d met someone else. She hung up the phone, and I dropped to my knees and cried for a solid 30 minutes. I genuinely loved her, but I knew the end was inevitable. In my heart, I was gay (or at least bisexual) and I desperately needed to explore this uncultivated side of me. So the next day, in October 2006, I kissed a man for the very first time.

When summer came, I moved back to New Orleans from Lafayette and got a job waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant called Cuco’s. One night after closing, I went to a gay bar in the French Quarter with my friend Lesly. From the balcony above the dance floor, I noticed an incredibly cute boy in a blue polo who was fending off a shirtless dude in acid-washed jeans. I bolted down the stairs and pushed my way through the crowd to find him. “Do you need some help?” I yelled above the music. “Yes please,” he said. “Pretend to be my boyfriend.” Then three days later, I asked Chad to be my real-life boyfriend. Chad was the first guy with whom I had sex, and for me, nothing had ever felt more right. I was definitely gay, and truly in love with this person. But when Chad stopped taking his anti-depressants, he decided he didn’t want to be with me anymore. The week Chad dumped me, my parents and siblings were at the beach and I was home in New Orleans, being looked over by my godmother. She could tell I was devastated about something, so she phoned my mom and told her something was wrong. So my family cut their vacation abruptly short and drove back to New Orleans immediately. That night, I told them I was gay. It was my nineteenth birthday.

In the fall of 2007, I moved back to Lafayette and met a guy named Jason through mutual friends. Jason was working on his Master’s Degree at Texas A&M, which put 300 miles between us. Even though he was a few years my senior, Jason was a virgin, which surprised me because he was very good looking albeit woefully idiosyncratic. I can admit this now, but at the age of 19, I was not ready to be in an exclusive, long distance relationship with anyone. And over the course of several months, I cheated on Jason with a number of other guys. Then, Jason moved back to Lafayette in early June 2008 and I broke up with him almost instantly. I believed I couldn’t take the pressure of having my older, successful, loving boyfriend move to the town where I’d slept with other men behind his back. Of course, he found out about everything and it took years to earn back his trust and friendship. I’m proud to still have him in my life.

During that summer, my best friend Trey and I worked every freshman orientation. Trey was an orientation leader and I hosted pep rallies on behalf of the University Program Council. We had a weekly tradition of going out on the night of orientation to The Keg, a hotspot for underclassmen to get obliteration, and picking up freshly orientated homosexuals. One night, only days after I ended things with Jason, this guy walks through the door of The Keg and I turn to Trey and say, “That is, without a doubt, the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in my life. Too bad he’s straight.” Trey looks at me like I’m crazy. “He’s not straight,” he says bluntly. “He was in my group today. C’mon, I’ll introduce you.” His name was Barrett and we dated for three years.

Even though our relationship spanned a sizable chunk of time, I’m not going to say too much about him. We were a toxic pairing, and with him, I learned firsthand about the human capacity to hurt and be hurt. I also learned about our capacity to be so madly in love that you can’t think straight.

The day we broke up, I went to a going-out-of-business party at a downtown gay bar. It was here that I met Ronald Eyer, mere hours after my three-year relationship came to an end. Ronnie drove in from Lake Charles for our first date and we had sex before dinner. A few days later, I woke up to use the bathroom and felt an intense burning sensation emanating from the tip of my dick. I called Ronnie and screamed at him through tears. “I liked you a lot!” I yelled. “And you gave me an STD!” A trip to the ER revealed a simple UTI, so I immediately called Ronnie to apologize. He soon after dropped out of McNeese and moved out of his fraternity house — just to be with me, his first boyfriend, in Lafayette. Ronnie moved into a studio apartment near mine and I got him a job waiting tables with me at Johnny Carino’s, a casual Italian restaurant that served dishes like “Spicy Shrimp & Chicken” and “Sicilian Firesticks.” We worked together, ate every meal together, and had sex as often as possible. He was nothing like anyone I’d ever dated before — tan, rail-thin, simple, and country — but I loved his East Texas accent and the way he filtered the word through his infinite sense of wonder and amazement. It lasted eight months before his mother suggested he move back home. I was heartbroken when he told me, and demanded we break up immediately. So he left my apartment and then left for Hitchcock, Texas a couple days later. A week after that, I received an envelope in the mail with a Hitchcock return address. When I opened it, a silver ring slid out and fell into my palm. When I held it up to the light, I noticed that it was engraved with the words, “The First, The Last.” He was going to ask me to marry him.

In Ronnie’s wake, I finally started taking stock of my dating life. Since I was a sophomore in high school, I pretty much always had a partner. And in the pockets between boyfriends, I’d managed to continue casually dating and fucking. Ronnie was the nineteenth person with whom I’d had sex and my fervent opportunism didn’t suggest he’d be the last. But in terms of serious relationships, I felt like the first era was behind me. I started to see each relationship as an episode, with a definitive beginning and ending. Though Barrett and I would continue having sex after Ronnie left, he was still a character from an earlier season. A few years ago, when Jason and I spent an entire Saturday night walking the streets of New Orleans and snuggling on a bench overlooking the Mississippi, it felt like a guest starring role on a very special episode.

I started my blog, ExboyfriendMaterial.com, and wrote essays about where and how these relationships began and ended. I never saw the point in kicking anything into the long grass, so I kept everything. People think true beauty is in nuance, but sometimes, beauty is obvious. It’s a wide-angle shot of an endless landscape. So that’s the way I started seeing myself with other men; it was the moments in bed just before he wakes up and [at the exact same time], it was days folding into months, folding into years.

This morning, waking from a dream, I realized I am single. I’ve been single before, but the difference between then and now is the palpable intuition that something else is right around the corner — beckoning me into some new, doomed union. But I don’t feel that. I don’t feel anything at all.

While most people compartmentalize the past in years, I define personal history by my relationship status. Since Ronnie, I’ve had seven serious relationships: Kyle, Cody, Nick, Jacob, James, Andy, and Jeffrey. If you’ve been keeping track, that’s 12 boyfriends and one girlfriend — spanning 13 years. Each relationship can be spun into an infinite narrative and reduced to a single sentence. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m standing on the last period of an ellipsis. 

Half of me wonders who will love me next, but the other half thinks I’m being selfish. I’ve made love my life’s work, and I’m not unsatisfied with what I’ve got to show for it. I’ve got all these photographs and totems and memories. A bottomless ocean of memories in which I often find myself at night, when I’m alone in bed, sinking. Drowning.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Kidnapped And Taken Somewhere Familiar


My office closed between Christmas and New Years, so I flew to Seattle with my best friend Joey to escape the blistering South Louisiana winter. In the month leading up to our trip, I struck up a relationship with a skinny, tattooed aspiring rocker and gainfully employed stockboy named Pete.

We'd known each other for years, but finally started to take our potential seriously. He convinced me to open up and be vulnerable with him, so I became comfortable and sincere. I sent him pictures from the top of the Space Needle and Snapchats of Dim Sum from Chinatown. In pockets of downtime, we'd have long, meaningful discussions about our insecurities and how we liked to fuck.

Then, the day before I returned to New Orleans, he ghosted. No response for more than 36 hours until this: "Hey. Been really busy. My bad." Joey and I were having dinner at the Airport Marriott bar when he sent his apology text. I read it and reread it. Then I excused myself, marched directly to our room, and vomited — learning immediately that clam chowder tastes exactly the same on the way up.

A few hours earlier, Joey and I were sitting on the waterfront eating the chowder I'd later projectile against the back of the toilet bowl. "What's one thing you've learned?" asked Joey. "Like if you had once piece of wisdom to impart on the world, what would it be?" The breeze off the sound picked up, so I pulled the piping hot bowl around my nose and mouth. "I don't know anything," I said. "Except that everyone has conflicting desires and everyone is capable of anything." A guy and a girl walked by and together we ogled the guy's ass until he was out of sight. I don't remember asking Joey what he'd learned.

After wiping the toilet rim clean, I draw a bath — cranking the gauge to scalding hot. Then I put on the new Run The Jewels album and wedge in my earbuds. I slide down so the steaming water rises around my throat.

When I wake, there's no music because I've cycled through the entire album. I can hear the TV in the other room, which means Joey must've returned from the bar. I ruffle through the pile of towels on the floor and locate my phone. Then I text the words "fuck you" and swipe the thread clean. No evidence.

Everyone is capable of anything and that leaves hearts, even the strongest hearts, open to bruises and breaks. Even worse, your heart registers disappointment before the rest of you, which means it gets a double-barrel shotgun blast of anger and hopelessness. It doesn't matter how many times the muscle in my chest tears apart and mends itself back together, I can still find myself here. It's like being kidnapped and taken somewhere familiar.

I towel off and slip on a robe. Then I crawl into bed next to Joey and together we watch the lights flicker on and off in the buildings that cluster into the Seattle skyline.