Clock Ticking

I love open houses.

Scanning the web pages for an apartment my boyfriend can afford in a neighborhood he likes is pleasure for me.  Especially these days, with the added excitement of price reductions.  Look how long that thing has been on the market, I will say to him, they need another price reduction.  So when I saw a place in Chelsea he could swing, I was more excited than the circumstances really deserved.  And so off we went,  over to that hip neighborhood, now with a park and a bicycle path rather than piers and illicit sex, Chelsea, the neighborhood that was gay way back when I lived in New York, the neighborhood that's still gay, sort of.

The building wasn't bad.  Not bad at all really, even had a doorman.  We took the elevator, clean, reasonable, upstairs to the unit with the open house.  We walked in, the only ones there, looked around.  Wow, I thought, this place is pretty nice.  Renovated, good windows, great sun.  Hard to believe, I said to my boyfriend, I guess the market has really changed and you could afford a place now in Chelsea.

We spoke with the realtor.  He was breezy, as the realtors always are, great place he said.  Yeah, we said, asking a few questions.  We investigated all the closets, the bathroom, looked in the kitchen cabinets.  Its a great deal, he said.  Yeah, we answered.  There's one thing I need to tell you, he added as we waited, yes, just one thing.  The building is on a land lease and will be torn down in thirty years.  We paused.  "So," asked my boyfriend, a little puzzled I suppose, "so how much will you get for the place then?"

"Nothing," he said.  "It won't be worth anything."

I remember Chelsea in the old days.  That was about thirty years ago.  It was mostly Hispanic, bodegas on the corners, and gay.  That's how I remember it.  But not gay like it is today.  I mean, today there are gay bars and a couple of sex shops, and there are definitely gay boys on the street, but its no longer gay as in, well, like where the gays live.  You can't really say that about anyplace anymore.  I remember that the West Village, Christopher Street, Sheridan Square, moving slowly on up into Chelsea, I mean these were where the gays lived.  I don't imagine many young gay men rent apartments in Chelsea any longer after moving to New York, not at three thousand or so a month.  You find them in Williamsburg and you might find them in Astoria and any other of a number of neighborhoods, but I don't suppose there's any place you'd say, that's where the gays live.  Its all changed, its opened up, the old gay places have gotten expensive and maybe no one feels like they need to be all jammed in together.

But I don't know.  Walking around Chelsea, walking around the South End in Boston, even walking around the Castro in San Francisco, its not quite the same.  Something's been lost.  And I missed it.  But that was thirty years ago, that's a long time, things change.

And in another thirty years things will be different again.  I mean, the building you live in may be torn down.  Of course, if its that building in Chelsea with the nice apartment at the reasonable price, it won't be worth anything when it is torn down.  Nothing.  Its an odd concept, an odd wrinkle of some kind in this market economy of ours.  The clock is ticking on that place, better get it now while you still can.

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Reading in the Dark

"I honestly feel as though I have reported on far too many hate crimes in recent weeks...."

So writes a blogger from Bushwick, introducing us to the story of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and his brutal murder in Puerto Rico last week.  Its an odd thing to write, I mean, you might imagine another blogger out there writing that he honestly feels that he has reported on far too many politicians who want to become celebrities, or too many socialites who want to become real housewives.  I mean, you might imagine that.  But, here I am, late at night, reading, reading , reading and trying to absorb that the boy from Bushwick is realizing that, there he is, there in Bushwick, reporting on far too many hate crimes in recent weeks.

And my heart is broken.

Reading, reading, I read Towleroad, really who doesn't, and sometimes I am struck by the mix of news and music reviews and political shenanigans and the male models and there among it all, almost every day, is the photo of a man attacked on the upper east side of New York, and he's one of several, and then there is the lesbian attacked in her car in California, the day before, the bar raided in Fort Worth, or is it the bar in Atlanta.  I read these things, sandwiched in among the other items of our daily lives.  Sometimes I read them in the morning, but sometimes I read them late at night.  I read them but I don't let them go in too deep.  Mostly I don't let them go in too deep.

Because if I do I might start thinking about Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and what happened that night and what he was thinking about as it was happening and what kind of a man,a police official, really believes that someone with that lifestyle ought to know the risk he is taking.  Someone who is nineteen.  That the nineteen year old boy in Puerto Rico really should have known.

Late at night you can't always keep it from going in a little deep.  You can't help noticing that they've been reporting far too many hate crimes in recent weeks.  And I am honestly feeling how much hate there is in this world sometimes.  And how hard it can be to comprehend.

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I was about thirteen.  Everyone knows this story, it barely needs retelling, I know that, but its hard to forget.  I was standing among a group of three boys, we were down to three, the other ten or so were standing opposite us, looking at us.  I'd been in this situation before, I'd been down to three, three left in choosing the teams in gym class.  I don't even know what we were choosing teams for, might have been basketball, I think we were inside, but all I remember is we were down to three and then Rick, the captain of one of the groups standing opposite us, he said, "Paul."

That was it.  He said my name and my ordeal was ended.  Rick, he was my best friend, we spent a lot of time together, so he chose me.  He didn't let me be the last.  But it's funny you see, because he didn't pick me first.  He let me stand there for awhile, he let us get down to three.  I guess he wanted to make sure he had a winning team first, then he saved me.  I was glad the ordeal was over, at least mostly over because we still had to play the game, I was glad it was over, but still I'd been standing there when we were down to three and I couldn't have been sure, couldn't have been sure at all, that I wouldn't be the last.

And what's funny about that now, what's really peculiar about that, is that now, in middle age, I run  marathons.  I run twenty six miles and I don't really run slowly.  I mean, I'm not winning in my age group or anything, but I'm running pretty fast.  I'm a marathoner.  That counts as an athlete, doesn't it?

I don't have any sense of myself as an athlete.  I was one of the last kids to be chosen in gym class.  I might have been the last if I hadn't had certain social skills that allowed me to be friends with the smart jocks.  I had no sense of my physical self,  little sense of what my body could do.  I was skinny, I wasn't an athlete and I never even thought about running marathons.

Running was a part of my mid life crisis, it preceded my coming out, maybe it assisted it, I can't be sure. Running gave me a sense of my physical self.  A growing sense of my physical self as a gay man, as a gay middle aged man, a man coming out.  All around me I've met these gay men, these men in their forties, in their fifties, these gay men even in their sixties, and they have fit bodies, trim, muscular.  They go to the gym.  They run.  They take care of themselves.  They want to be attractive to each other.

I'm going to the gym a lot myself these days.  I'm building my body.  I plan on running my fourth marathon next year and I intend to get very strong before I undertake again the punishing marathon training.  I never thought I could do any of these things when I was young, I wasn't an athlete, it would have been ridiculous to think about, I was one of the last to be chosen.

Rick wasn't much of a best friend, I know that now.  He dumped me a year or so later because he said his buddies on the baseball team were more fun than I was.  I wasn't an athlete.  Or at least I thought I wasn't.

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I hadn't really been out for very long, it was all kind of new to me, and I told an old friend of mine, a gay man who lived on the other side of the country that I had been invited to an HRC dinner. "Do you know what the HRC is?" I asked him.

"Do I know what the HRC is?" he responded, "that's like asking a Catholic if he knows what the Vatican is.........."

I thought I got his point at the time, and off I went to that HRC dinner. It was a pretty damn good event, one thousand men in tuxedoes. That night led to other gatherings, a cocktail party in a hotel, a lovely affair in a downtown law firm. And then, one night, drinks on a balcony, a tower really, overlooking all of Provincetown. You could see the center of town, you could see the harbor, you could even make out Herring Cove Beach. Someone asked the president of the HRC, a smart man, a local boy done good, someone asked him a question.

"Why does the HRC support people like Senator D'Amato?"

That struck me as odd. I didn't know anything about the matter at the time, didn't know about D'Amato's outspoken support for gay rights legislation, only knew he was anti-choice and sat solidly on the right side of the aisle. "Our friends," said the HRC president to us, the summer sky behind him, "our friends need to know that we are there for them when it counts. No matter what." Made sense to me. That's how it works down in Washington.

It sort of made sense to me. At least, for a little while it did. I went to a few more cocktail parties, the talk was about marriage, all about marriage, and raising money, and making sure our friends were taken care of. I met a lot of smart and sincere people. It was comfortable at those gatherings, I was with my kind, well sort of I was, I mean they were gay and they were professional. And for a little while it all made sense to me.

But I remembered what my friend had told me. About being a Catholic and the Vatican and all. And I was raised Catholic and he knew that. And I have a few problems with the Vatican. I mean, when I considered myself a Catholic, those men in the Vatican purported to speak for me, but I grew to understand that they weren't really speaking for me, and what they were doing didn't make any sense to me.

And then I began to meet other gay men. Men who didn't go to HRC gatherings. Some of whom didn't give a damn about marriage. And my boyfriend gave me The Trouble with Normal to read. And then a little John Rechy, The Sexual Outlaw. And little by little I became less and less sure about what being gay meant, and how I fit in to it all, and who I wanted representing me.

In October of this year, there was a march on Washington. Barney Frank wasn't too happy about it. I don't think the HRC was, either. I read the announcement they put out just before the march, I guess they didn't tell people not to show up, but you might agree with me that their support was tepid.

I guess its not how its done down in Washington. At least, that's not how its done if you have power and access. Not how we protect our friends.

But I'm figuring it out that Human Rights aren't limited to getting gay people to a justice of the peace. Its taking me a while, but I'm figuring it out that my own conception of Human Rights probably means Senator D'Amato deserved to be knocked off. That HRC, its not the Vatican, that's for damn sure, but maybe it is time to come down from that tower in Provincetown. Maybe what's really happening is down there in the street, where things get a little messy, down among the drag queens and the kids. I'm not sure. I mean, I really like one thousand men in tuxedoes. I always will. But I'm beginning to wonder.

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If you'd asked me, I would've guessed he was in his late twenties, 27, I would have said, or 26. I would've told you he was lively and full of spirit and had a little edge to him. And he really knew how to cut hair. I would've told you he had a big career ahead of him.

I was calling to make an appointment, I needed a haircut, it was the middle of the day and I was busy. I checked my email as I waited for the receptionist to answer, "I need a hair cut," I said, "I need Dan to cut my hair."


I waited. "Something's happened," I heard, it was the whispered voice of the receptionist, her voice cracked, "Dan's been murderered."

We searched the newspaper for days. There was a notice the first day, an announcement on the radio, and then nothing. I got what little news I could get from Dan's colleagues at the shop, but the details were sketchy. A night out in a restaurant he hung out at across the street from the salon. Last call at a gay bar down the street and then a hookup with a man in another part of the city.

I grew frantic with the lack of news. I contacted a well known columnist for the largest paper in town, what's happening, why is this being ignored, where are the articles. Could the death of a young gay man, a night out with a hookup, is that just a footnote, is that not worth the media's attention, not worth the efforts of the police. The columnist did a little digging for me, got back to me, its not being ignored, its just difficult, there's no smoking gun here, its not clear what's taken place. Its muddy, we can't say what happened.

We wondered about a gay killer, cruising the bars, we wondered about a hookup gone terribly wrong, we wondered whether anyone cared.

Dan was only twenty. That really surprised me. But it explained a lot. It explained to me the relationship we had constructed, the young man cutting the older man's hair, his stories of partying with friends, one love here and another one gone, and it explained to me the way I felt listening to Dan, listening to him and offering a little advice. He told me about breaking up with a guy, whoa, Dan, I said, maybe there's another way to do it next time, and he told me about his new apartment in a neighborhood I wasn't comfortable with. I ride my bike back, he told me, I'm okay because I'm on my bike.

Dan was only twenty. I would've said he was 25, maybe, but he was really the age of one of my sons. A kid. And I worried a little about him. And I liked him a lot. And I always did what he told me to do with my hair.

"My haircutter was murdered," I told people. Yeah, Dan, that guy. It was a strange thing to say. And I'm reading the accounts of the investigation, so many months later, and I'm waiting for the trial, and I'm thinking about his family and his friends at the salon. I had no idea he was only twenty.

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It was the time in the service when everyone shakes hands, offers peace, I like that part, I get to say hello to the monks, the ones I know best I give a warm hug, a little break in the service, everyone smiles and loosens up a little.

I turned to the man standing next to me. I'd figured out it was his first time there by the way he stumbled a little through the liturgy. I offered him my hand and he gave me a polite handshake.

I turned to the row behind. There was a slender young man standing there, I'd never seen him before either. He was sitting among the monks. I reached out a hand to him.

He didn't take it.

He didn't take it, he looked at me for a brief moment and then placed his hands together, as if he were about to say namaste, which we don't say at the monastery. At least we don't say it when we are supposed to shake hands. I looked quickly around me and noticed everyone was placing their hands together.

Now there had been a little sign about not dipping bread into wine or some such thing in the narthex, but really, who dips their bread into the wine at the monastery? And it's true I hadn't appeared at Sunday services for a few weeks, but obviously there had been an announcement made that I'd never heard about. No more handshakes. And who knows what else.

He didn't take my hand, but for me it was if he had slapped me in the face. I spent the remainder of the service raging inside. He'd seemed like an innocent enough fellow, he was sitting among the monks, in fact it turned out he was going to be staying with them in the monastery for a year, but he didn't take my hand and I was angry. More angry than makes any sense.

Until I started to think about it. Shaking hands has been so socialized into me, so thoroughly inculcated in me, that I knew viscerally that I had been insulted. I'd been taught the rules, and you only reject a handshake as the most extreme social gesture. Athletes are forced to shake hands after grueling competition. The candidates shake hands after their ugly debates. And if the leader of the Israelis shakes the hand of the leader of the Palestinians, it is very big news indeed.

It got me thinking. Shaking hands is touching and touching is a sensitive issue in our world. Gay men touch each other. I've found that out. They touch each other more than straight men do, and I don't mean in the bedroom, but in a restaurant, on the street, even in church. They give each other hugs. And kisses on the cheek. They will sometimes touch another man's elbow to indicate they know what you are talking about. And I've grown to appreciate that kind of touching. There's liberation in it. And I'm appreciating liberation these days.

Now I realize the monastery means well and I know that slender young man meant well. I understand and appreciate the public heath concerns they are attempting to address. But it's kind of peculiar: people are shaking my hand at work and they are shaking my hand in restaurants, so why aren't they shaking my hand at church?

He didn't take my hand, but I'm getting over it. I had to. But when the gay men stop giving me kisses on the cheek, then I am really going to start worrying.

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It was a dark street, the street was rather empty, it was a dark neighborhood, a neighborhood that once had been a rough neighborhood, but I knew where I was, I couldn't get lost in this place. I knew which direction we were heading, I had a little bit of street smarts. We were on a dark street but we had come from somewhere very, very bright and we were on the way to the hotel. I was telling a story, I think it had something to do with the changes in this neighborhood, I was going on a little, telling my boyfriend about how this neighborhood had changed.

I heard those guys behind me but I didn't see them, there is no reason to turn your head to see everyone walking around, we were not in that kind of a place, but I heard those guys and I heard one of them telling another some sort of story and I heard how he used the word faggots in that story he was telling. I kept on telling my story, there was no need to pay attention to what everyone else on the street was talking about. I kept on telling my story but I began to sense that my boyfriend wasn't listening to my story any longer, and then he said, those guys, those guys behind us, they called us faggots.

It seemed preposterous to me, really, it was a dark street and we were just walking down the street, we weren't doing anything, we weren't holding hands, it was sort of preposterous, but then I heard him use that word again in the story he was telling his friends, faggots, and I felt my boyfriend tensing, walking faster, now my story was finished, there was no one to pay attention, finally I turned, turned my head to look behind me, but there was no one there.

We kept walking, we weren't talking very much, and little by little the street began to brighten, more people appeared on the sidewalk, men, there were men on the sidewalks, men with good haircuts, men who looked at us, we had walked down the same street, we hadn't taken any turns, but now the street was brighter and the men were very attractive and they were looking at us. Faggots, really, faggots all over the place, an easy place to walk, I'd say, but my boyfriend wasn't really any less tense. We were among faggots again, among our own kind, and it all seemed kind of preposterous to me but my boyfriend, he wasn't really any less tense.

I don't know about such things. When someone says faggot on the street I hear it but I don't for a second think they are talking about me. And yet there it was, the evidence was kind of clear, and over the next days I thought about this incident on the street, this incident which had so angered and upset my boyfriend, this incident which had very nearly passed me by. I just don't know about such things.

So far as I know no one has called me a faggot since I was about thirteen. They called me faggot then, and I didn't like it. I wasn't altogether sure what they meant when they called me faggot, but I knew it was a word to run far away from. And I spent several decades running from it. Not crossing my legs in a certain manner. Not ordering a cocktail, only a glass of scotch or red wine. Not getting my hair cut too short. Or wearing my shirt too tight.

My boyfriend, this incredible man, this handsome, sexy incredible man, he's always been a faggot. He knows a lot about such things. He knows so many things about so much that I don't know about and he's been very patient watching me learn my way. And he's been called a faggot in the street before and he's had worse happen to him and when he hears a guy in the street behind him talking about faggots when he's walking with his boyfriend he doesn't figure its someone else who is being discussed. And he walks faster. And he gets very angry.

I'm white and I'm educated and I have a professional career and I have children you would admire and I have a little money in my pocket and when people say things behind me that aren't very nice I don't suppose they are talking about me. I'm not thirteen anymore. I keep walking and I keep telling my story and if you tell me they are talking about me I may not believe you right away.

But, there I was, walking on that dark street with my incredible sexy boyfriend, not holding hands, and I have a good haircut, its cut short, and I wear my shirts slim fit the way I like them, and those guys were calling us faggots. I know they were. And I'm starting to learn about such things.

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