Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Kiss & Tell

My first kiss took place in the Botanical Gardens of City Park, during Christmas time, surrounded by a galaxy of twinkling lights and my own movable atmosphere of Ralph Lauren Polo Green cologne, which I borrowed from my dad.

Her name was Kristen Dove, and she would grow up to be a lesbian of female prison guard or inmate caliber. But before that, before I kissed her, before high school, she was a small girl with a round face and eyes the size of coasters. On the bus ride to City Park, the other members of St. Andrew Catholic Youth Organization (SANYO) covered their mouths with their hands and whispered to one another about my plan to kiss her. When the girl behind me on the bus, a pretty dark-skinned girl with blunt bangs named Brynne, asked if it were true, I acted annoyed and told her to mind her business before turning around and congratulating myself on the piece of gossip I’d planted myself. I didn’t want an audience, but I wanted the attention. Plus, I wanted the information to reach Kristen so she wasn’t completely blindsided when I tried to stick my tongue in her mouth.

Like all first kisses, it crackled and flashed — burning open a tunnel in me through which I would later fall into the unforeseen lassitude of kissing and kisses yet to come. It was euphonic in the way that only a new experience can be, but this was symphony of new things. The sound of our collective spit churning from mouth to mouth. The feeling of another person’s lips against mine — compelling us into a tango of embraces and releases and an intimate dialogue without words. And then, there were the tastes of powdered sugar, and Sprite, and sweat, and insecurity, and plastic.

I used to keep journals when I was young, making entries occasionally and often haphazardly. I would also lie, which felt like disownership of my own life — causing me to eventually give up journaling all together. But on the night of my first kiss, I wrote about the flavors I tasted in Kristen’s mouth. Everything else surrounding the kiss; riding the Ferris wheel, fidgeting with my puka shell necklace, finding just the right spot in the garden; felt trivial to the story compared to the fact that the kiss had molested my senses. Sure, the scenery was beautiful, but the experience within was the only thing worth reporting.

Years later, I would kiss a girl whose mouth tasted like apple juice, crabmeat, and the honor roll. We dated for more than two years, and every so often, I’d pick up a new flavor like spearmint or suspicion, but the three base flavors were constant. After her, I mostly kissed members of the same sex, which offered a completely different internal experience and sometimes even boners.

The adolescent kiss is different from the adult kiss in one way: the expectations that motivate them. I used to kiss and expect only the simple spark that comes from kissing someone for the first time. Now, there are expectations of fulfillment, discovery, sex, compatibility, adventure, love, reassurance, gratification, envy, happiness, comfort, and sometimes, revenge. Even drunk kisses with strangers in nightclubs are fueled by the prospect of a short-term future, which may include sex within hours of the first kiss. These kisses all taste the same to me, though: cigarette smoke, lime, carelessness, cover charge, and whatever he's drinking.

The first time I kissed my exboyfriend, McBougie, we were standing in the doorway of his friend's apartment on his birthday in June of 2008. Because he towered over me, I had to raise myself onto my tiptoes before wrapping my arms around his neck and collapsing into his frame. There were hallways in that kiss. There were caves. There was solitude enough for the two of us. And here, I wanted to arrange furniture, and hang light fixtures, and nestle into a long life where we could be content and unbothered. He tasted like true love and doom. While we were dating, I kissed a political science major who tasted like amusement park pretzels and everything I hated about myself. After McBougie and I broke up, in-part due to my kiss with the political science major, I kissed a guy from Hitchcock, Texas whose kiss and dick tasted metallic all the time, even nine months after our first kiss.

I've kissed people and fallen through trap doors. I've choked on sea water. One time, I was kissing this guy who had a boyfriend with whom he'd been with for six years and I swear to God I tasted funeral-quality grief. Every time I kissed this guy who worked for CenturyLink, and heard "It's Not" by Aimee Mann. And just this weekend, I kissed a guy who had "Saint" tattooed across the side of his torso and I had the feeling I was boarding an airplane without saying goodbye to anyone.

On the ride home from City Park, I held Kristen's hand and stared out the window, watching New Orleans come and go. The following weekend, my SANYO group went to a Catholic youth conference where I witnessed other children speak in tongues and faint before the monstrance. On Monday morning, before first period, I went to the SANYO building where I resigned from my position as Vice President of the organization, citing religious differences with the charismatic movement.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Chase Ends

Chasing Austin - Part III

It’s just after midnight and the amateur strip contest is finally underway.

The first guy looks like Ben Foster with half-inch spaces between each tooth, and he’s dressed the way I assume someone from the Mid-West dresses. Persana Shoulders stands to his left in a red, sequined pillbox hat with a long peacock feather sticking out from the top and six-inch eyelashes — looking at him the way I look at Taco Bell. Fulfilling her role as the Effie Trinket of the New Orleans gay club circuit, Persana leads him by the hand to the front of the stage where she slaps him on the ass and commands him to dance. The music roars and he immediately wrenches his faded t-shirt over his head and chucks it onto the floor before tearing at his belt buckle. Then he lunges from foot to foot, grinning and bouncing, while the rest of us stare with our mouths open. He suddenly stomps his legs together and pulls his carpenter pants to his ankles. When he stands upright again, one of his balls pops out from around the band of his Hanes briefs and jiggles like car keys on one of those elastic, coiled key chains. I almost drop my drink in shock and John doubles at the waist in hysterical laughter, quickly snapping back up to finish the Vine video he’s been filming. Oblivious, the guy throws himself around the runway like one of those little kids you see at wedding receptions. Then, his song ends and everyone is disappointed. Persana relegates him to the upper platform where he will stand and wait while his competitors take the runway. He is followed by a professional go-go boy, a middle-aged Brazilian man, a barely legal black boy who clearly performs in drag based on his posing skills, a heterosexual construction worker, and a twink with the same haircut and facial composition as Julia Roberts in Hook, who I refer to as Twinkerbell for the rest of the night.

Persana introduces and fondles them, and they dance terribly, except for the go-go dancer and the out-of-drag black boy who are each bringing it, respectively. John and I leave before a winner is crowned — walking across the street to The Pub where we will sit for hours, together captivated by clips of musical performances edited together from famous movies and TV shows including: The Sound of Music, Glee, Beauty and the Beast, The Wiz, Chicago, Smash, Dreamgirls, Grey’s Anatomy, Cabaret, The Brady Bunch Movie, Behind the Candelabra, Rent, and Pitch Perfect. John returned home from his scouting trip to New York yesterday, which means it’s been 12 days since we left Austin. And speaking for both of us, what we're chasing has changed considerably.

In New York, John would FaceTime me throughout the day to show off rooftop views of Hell’s Kitchen or to consult on which shirt he should buy off the sale rack at H&M. He was on a seven-day mission to secure a job, or at least con his way into an interview before moving there permanently in August. I’d be sitting at my desk when my phone would ring and he’d appear on the bow of a ferry ripping across the Hudson River. We’d chat, hang up, and then text one another about what we were doing later that night. He would be headed to some party in Brooklyn and I would go over to that guy with the foot fetish’s house to cringe and maybe ejaculate somewhere. Later, I’d wipe my stomach with a damp washcloth and think, adventure is where you make it, I guess.

Even then, Austin seemed far-removed and trivial. I needed to finish writing the story for my blog, but so much had happened since, and I just wanted to write about other things. This guy I used to date sent me an invitation to connect on LinkedIn and I’m severely conflicted about how to handle it. Also, I recently had sex with a guy who demanded I call him “daddy” in bed, but who is only nine months older than me, which didn’t seem logical or fair in my opinion. The Austin experience spins away from me — no longer something from which I can draw lyrical prose about transformation and transcendence. Life is happening right now, and other things are molding me, and my best friend is leaving, and I’ll be fine, and I’ll go to Austin again, and I’ll see rooftop views of Hell’s Kitchen for myself. I’ll chase guys, and I’ll chase different versions of myself, and I’ll chase dreams of my own. And not every story will end neatly, or teach a lesson, or have a hero.

The guy on the bar stool next to me is rubbing my elbow with his and asking me what I do. I pretend like he's not there because he might not actually be there. On the TV screens above us, “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent is playing out. John turns to me and asks, “Do you think it would be funny to make shirts that say AIDS SHMAIDS?”

“What?!” I yell over the music. “H. Maids?”

“Yeah,” he says. “That’s funny, right?”

“I don’t get it,” I say. “What does the H. stand for? The name of the show is Devious Maids. Wouldn’t the shirt say D. Maids?”

“What?!” he says, “What the fuck is DEEM AIDS?”

“I can’t fucking hear you,” I say.

He shrugs and we both shotgun whatever’s in our plastic cups before dismounting our bar stools and leaving through the front door and into the sticky, Bourbon Street ether. On Royal, we find my Fiesta right where we left her. I take us down Canal and then to Tchoupitoulas before ascending the Crescent City Connection towards home. I flip my visor open to look at myself in the mirror and a cream-colored envelope floats down onto my lap. Inside the envelope is the card I bought at Whole Foods on the last morning in Austin. John was asleep and I snuck out to buy our hosts a bottle of wine, and while I was there, I bought a card with a black and white photograph of Hippie Hollow on the front and a blank interior. I didn't write a long, maudlin message in the card, just something short that'll make him cry. I meant to give it to him before he left the first time, but I'd forgotten. I stick it back into the visor and remind myself to give it to him before he leaves again. 

In the passenger’s seat, he’s snoring, and I’m lost in a river of memories that stretches across Texas and Louisiana before carving its way up the East Coast and emptying into the Hudson River.

Monday, July 15, 2013

All The Dicks In Hippie Hollow

Chasing Austin - Part II

In all honesty, we didn’t know Hippie Hollow was a nude park.

I pictured a clearing in the forest with a stream running through it; where teenage runaways weave crowns of wildflowers and carelessly flake out on their afternoon shifts at P. Terry’s burger stand. There would be blooming canopies under which the rushing water would cradle falling pine cones before sending them down and away from us. There might even be a rope swing. I’d have to convince John to take his shirt off, but in the end, he would. And we’d make friends with the unwashed, and we’d fall asleep on the grass, and we’d return to downtown Austin with our minds clear and our skin stinking of patchouli.

This is what I imagined as I steered my Ford Fiesta up and down the peaks and dips of the anaconda road that didn’t cut through the mountain, but instead, rolled with it. We scrambled and skid as the Fiesta struggled to find the appropriate gear, but we ignored the jolts and gawked at the spectacular views of Lake Travis and the rockscapes that framed it. It reminded me of the road from Wailea to Lahaina, which, for a moment, ignited a feeling of infinite happiness in me. The feeling was swiftly interrupted by the realization that I haven’t marveled at anything since Maui, which was actually kind of comforting because it reassured me that I hadn’t lost my ability to marvel, which is a great feeling in itself.

“Twelve dollars,” says the lady with the Tammy Faye mascara in the dinky, wooden toll booth. “Also, if you have alcohol, hide it. You’re not supposed to have alcohol, but as long as no one sees it, it’s fine with me. And don't take your clothes off in the parking lot. Wait until you’re in the park. And we close at nine.”

“Take our clothes off?!” I say, raising my voice.

“Twelve dollars?!” yells John, cutting me off.

She tells us that Hippie Hollow is, in fact, clothing optional. Then, she tells us that climbing down the rocks to the water is “at our own risk,” which is upsetting to me because a dangerous descent of jagged rocks was not in my wildflower and tire swing fantasy. There was also, now, the issue of the dicks.

The most penises I've seen in person at one time was in the locker room after wrestling practice. You'd think this would turn me on, but instead, it mortified me. I'd cup my 14-year-old genitals with both hands and focus on the floor, showering just long enough for my teammates to notice I wasn't a risk for ringworm or staff infection. It's discouraging to face a dick that's bigger than your own, but it's soul-crushing to face 30 superior dicks — each attached to a potential Andrew Christian model. Over time, I've learned to love my dick, but I still fear the crippling anxiety that can only come from seeing a bunch of other big wieners in one place. Which brings us back to Hippie Hollow.

On our way down to the shore, we pass a couple in their mid-thirties, a gentleman in his late seventies, and a gaggle of gays who look about our age all of whom are completely naked. I'm wearing sunglasses, but I wonder if the gays see me look down at their flopping dicks, so I turn to John to ask if he can see my eyes behind my shades. Before I can say anything, he whispers, "I'm taking off my sunglasses. I want them to know I'm impressed."

The water feels warm and clean, and the sun is withholding just enough for us to feel comfortable. To our right is an older black guy who's alone, and to our left is a young couple, lounging in beach chairs and reading. None of us greet one another and we mostly kept our eyes to ourselves. John has seen me naked a handful of times before, but he still acts bashful when I raise my body out of the water and ask him if he's heard from Austin yet. "Um. Yeah," he says. "We talked a little while ago." John hasn't mentioned Austin all day, and I know it's because he doesn't want to make it weird. Lucky for him, I'm finding modesty frivolous at the moment. "He and Harvey were fun," I say. "And Austin was totally into you. You should fuck him while you have the chance." I stop myself just short of saying "before you move to New York."

"Nah," he says. "The only thing I'm topping is the Empire State Building."

"That's funny," I say. "Write that down."

"My phone's under my underwear on that big rock," he says.

"Try to remember it," I say. "It'll make a good Facebook check-in when you're in the city."

We leave our underwear drying on the homebase rock and we walk together along the water's edge. We see nipples, we see ass, we see every shade of skin, and we sweat. We take a seat near the shore just as a rail-thin Italian boy drops his briefs in front of us. We giggle, we crane our necks to see other bodies, and we each make eye contact with the same naked gay guy. He is blond, but balding, and his butt is like two bubbles. Clouds rearrange themselves and a breeze barrels over us. I could live here, I think. What's another 300 miles between us?

"What time are we meeting Alyson?" asks John.

"Happy hour," I say. "But we're going straight there from here. I'm not changing underwear."

"Good," he says. "But we need to change before we go out. We're meeting Austin and his friend at The Handlebar, I think."

A few hours later, we'll be at The Handlebar, and I'll be happy. I'll meet a straight guy named Miles who works for an offshore fabrication company, but used to work for He'll tell me stories about filming guy-on-guy scenes in the actual BaitBus and I'll find them more compelling than the entire Twilight series of books and movies. Then, we'll go to an after party at Harvey's house and I'll mostly keep to myself. I'll be sitting outside with Austin, Harvey, John, and Austin's friend Casey when John will ask Casey, who's controlling the music, to play "99 Problems." Drunk and disoriented, I'll start rapping along with Jay-Z first to myself and then in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. People will cheer and John will turn to Austin saying, "That's my best friend!"

And I'll telepathically reassure him that I wouldn't trade him for all the dicks in Hippie Hollow.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Velvet Bullfighter

Chasing Austin - Part I

I’m scanning the black marker board behind the bar because I need to look at something besides gay Mexicans, and because I don’t have anything to say to John at the moment.

Scribbled across the board in florescent pinks and greens are the house specialty drinks. The Velvet Bullfighter costs seven dollars and 50 cents. The Fat Cobra is five dollars. I try to come up with faggier-sounding cocktail names and I’m stumped. They’ve done good work. John isn’t looking in my direction, either. So far, this road trip has been one of the greatest shared experiences of our friendship, but we’ve basically only had one another to talk to since we left Lafayette Wednesday afternoon and the need for some alone time is becoming necessary. Our annoyance is compounded by the Texas-size mass of truth between us: John is leaving for New York next month and this is probably the last time we'll be spending time together like this.

We decided Tuesday that we could cut our drive to Austin in half by spending the night in Houston. So, after work, I pick John up at his apartment, we take a few selfies, and we head west. We arrive at my exboyfriend’s house in the Museum District before sunset. Nick meets us in the driveway where he introduces us to his new boyfriend. I engage him and I begin drawing parallels between him and myself because we both have romantic history with the same person, and therefore, we must have some personality traits in common. After careful observation, I note that we are the same height. Other than that, we share nothing — besides a working knowledge of Nick’s thrust.

That night, we get drunk and I meet a guy named Reece. He talks like Drew Barrymore, or at least Kristen Wiig doing a Drew Barrymore impression. We go back to Nick’s place, and we take everyone else from F Bar with us. Outside the bathroom, I see Reece. In the bathroom, he talks about his car, and I ask if I can see it. In his car, he talks about his apartment, and I ask if I can see it.

I wake up in Reece’s apartment. He drives me home. John is moaning on the couch, so I head up to Nick’s room where he and his boyfriend are sitting on the bed, watching The Avengers. Nick says someone gave John ecstasy last night, which made him violently ill. We spend the entire day indoors and only go outside at twilight to watch the fireworks from the rooftop.

Crashed. Burned.
On the drive to Austin, I listen to the June 28 episode of This American Life while John sleeps. The program is about the American government’s unmanageable process of immigrating Iraqi allies into the U.S., and by the time John wakes up, I have my own opinion on the issue.

"Can you fucking believe this?" I ask, disgustedly. "Injustice for all, right?"

"I want jerky and I have to dump out eventually," says John, waking up. "Next exit?"

In Austin, we spend the day eating, shopping, and sweating. After dinner, we head home to get ready for the night. On 4th Street, there are three gay bars in a row: Oil Can Harry’s, Castro’s Warehouse, and Rain. Oil Can Harry’s is busted and so is the crowd, so we walk next door to Castro’s. Here, I scan the black marker board behind the bar because I need to look at something besides gay Mexicans, and because I don’t have anything to say to John at the moment. But still, I have everything to say to him. I'm about to tell him I'm glad we took this trip together and it's going to be painful to say goodbye. I don't want to have a full-blown moment, but I want to reach him in the way I can with our brotherly bond. I'm about to say something to him and then the only attractive guy in the bar walks over and stands to my left. John touches my arm and performs the international signal for "Cigarette?" We walk to the patio and I turn my head to see the hot guy staring back at me.

Outside, we smoke and develop a really impressive thread of passive aggressive comments about the patrons of Castro's Warehouse. I'm laughing at something John says when the hot guy steps onto the patio and begins walking in our direction. I'm immediately aware of the way I'm holding my cigarette — like Olivia Newton John at the end of Grease — so I impulsively flick it. It lands on a nearby bench where a beige-skinned man in a pink American Eagle polo and jeans with holes in the knees pick it up and takes a drag. "Fucking seriously," I whisper to myself, just as the hot guy enters my bubble. With him is a tall, skinny guy with glasses who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Bobby Jindal, or at least what I imagine young Bobby Jindal to look like.

"Can I bum a cigarette?" the hot guy asks.

"Yeah, yeah," I stammer, fumbling for John's Parliaments.

"Sorry to be those guys," says Young Bobby Jindal (YBJ). "But can I have one, too."

"No worries," I say. "It's our first night in Austin. Everyone seems super cool."

"Where are you from?" asks YBJ.

"New Orleans," says John. "We work in advertising."

"That's so cool," says the hot guy, inching closer to John.

"Yeah," I say, my voice loud and bombastic. "It's pretty sexy."

The hot guy bites his bottom lips and runs his right hand through John's hair. "Fuck," he says. "I love your hair. It's beautiful."

"I'm Ryan," I say, sticking out my hand awkwardly.

The hot guy pulls the cigarette from his mouth, looks into my eyes, blows a stream of smoke into the breeze, and says, "I'm Austin."

I smile with teeth, shake his hand, and then turn to YBJ who introduces himself as someone named Harvey. Austin turns back to John and wraps his arms around his lower back. He whispers something into his ear and John smiles coyly. I pretend like I don't see what's happening, and I ask Harvey what he does for a living. "Well, I'm working on my Masters in Sociology and Austin is a nutritionist," he says. Austin finally looks back at me and says, "Yeah I measure peoples' caloric intake and make recommendations and stuff."

"That's so weird," I say. "Caloric Intake used to be my drag name!"

No one laughs and I fucking hate them for it.

Later, our new friends will take us to Rain where I'll dance, and take shots, and try to keep Austin interested in me. Then, we'll all go back to Castro's where I'll shotgun one Velvet Bullfighter after another, and let Harvey breathe onto my neck, and try to leave on my own. I'll see John with his legs wrapped around Austin and I'll perform the international signal for "I'm bailing." Next, I'll wander down the street and try to hail a cab on my own. John will run up behind me and demand to come with me. I'll say, "Whatever." In the cab, the driver will laugh at his own jokes and I'll glare out the window. At home, we'll undress and flop onto the air mattress. Minutes will pass, and finally, I'll say into the darkness, "I wish you would've stayed."

And he won't say anything.