Fancy Meeting You Here
I’ve been keeping the ringer off vibrate and on my phone the last few days. All of these different notifications have different sounds, so I’m trying to train myself to which ones might be more important (phone calls, texts) and which one’s just really aren’t (who cares what spam account is following me on Instagram now?).
It still startles me to have sonic vibrations pierce their way through the silence these days, the blips of interaction not muted and vibrating away in the mounds of fabric I smother communication devices in. I’ve chosen the softest tone to replace the vibration during waking hours, so soft today it got lost behind the music that played as I dried my hair, and parted it before it stiffens in dryness.
The rapid fire tones suggested a voicemail as I dried off.
….and seriously, who leaves voicemails? Like besides my mom? Yes, it’s Martin Luther King Day, the perfect kind of moment for my mother to use the memoriam of the most remembered Civil Rights icon to loop me into family drama. More reason it’s a good thing the call went to voicemail. More reason for the filtered engagement. More reason I in the recent past let the vibrations filter through blankets and paper pads.
I pick up the phone, the transcribed texts spelling one name wrong, the other right, and the squish of a stress ball reminding me of relationships suspended in limbo rushes to the top. Steve, and Mike, decided to be spontaneous for the day, and would like to do lunch during their daytrip down from Sacramento.
Another tactic that I have been using lately is culling the interaction spaces one creates on social media, and relying on the more traditional formats of communication that a few generations have relied on. If you want the more intimate details of what’s going on with me, you’re going to have to ask for them, there’s less of the emotive validation overshare, or I’d like to think of it that way. In that way, I’ve set up boundaries or blocks for certain people I hold in suspicion, out of relief, out of reserve. The ability for some to recite details of my life based on the filter of interaction they see streaming in front of their eyes feels like my manufactured reality consumed with no compensation.
To say it’s a bit of a test to see who actually bothers beyond the ease, to see how much of an imprint I’ve left with people has been an interesting exercise. To be honest this particular imprint isn’t surprising as there’s so many things left unsaid, undone.
The voicemail leads in with the typical bluster of someone that is a well versed politician via the rigors and arrogance that it takes to make it through law school. State your case, sell your goods all of a sudden get betrayed by the word “wondering” and the softer, mellower, fleece like affection creeps in, and creeps me out that the palpable to me is stated with the new love seated on the passenger side of this. Is Mike voluntarily on this ride?
“Give us a ring” stabs with the reality of this whole new practice of communication intimacy I said I want. “Why don’t people call me anymore?” I asked with a larger and larger volume over the last 2 years.
“Well, here you go, someone in the moment actually *called* you. Be careful what you ask for, the whole manifesting the universe around you bullshit” the split personality of me chides I don’t know which version of me. I’m sure the same shady part of me is equally the moralistic one as well.
It’s nearly 11:40 am and I haven’t uttered a word for the day, nevermind that I’ve been awake since 7:30 am. Coming off a cold, there’s all sorts of amphibians that’ll leap out of my throat as I think of trying. Of course I text back my response of my freedom, my suggestions of what to do all the while keeping the reserved distance.
I struggle with the Steve story in how I struggle with what is intimacy in general. The story I’ve told about him generally lays along the lines of in times where you might love the actual human in front of you in the actual moment, but nothing they actually do with their lives or who they practice to be or how they intend to live their lives appeals to you. 5 years ago, doing the door to door for his first campaign, I saw all the compromises that building intimacy with someone enamored by the political process would entail.
The times that I’ve interfaced with it in over 2 ½ years since he’s been with Mike confirmed all of my suspicions. The anthropologist of relationships I am though still wonders why there’s such a pull for partnership, especially coming from his direction, and how the more intensely I try to shore up the boundary, the more…well…
We set a meeting time for 4 pm-ish. This time shifts incrementally, cloudily shorter as he starts to complain about the “brunch” at SF MoMA. Then come the in-the-moment photos of the absurdity of candy chew sized chunks of fried chicken thighs arranged in a pine needle nest…followed by fictional future food looking tapioca cubes. “We’re going to want to eat real food” comes next, followed by pictures of cocktails, the ever slight suggestion that the stoic Minnesotan is loosening his collar and looking for something he’s already determined to be more real. The reality that I can’t sloth away this day nude underneath 4 blankets and read, that I should manufacture some kind of desire to put on clothes becomes readily apparent as clock time gives way to real time needs.
Ever the one to show off some level of covert supremacy, I start flinging through clothing to see what pairing of clothes show my class station in my 30’s, the slink of my waistline, and my preference to not give deference to seas of black, grey and gingham that consume urban landscapes like the Borg. The yellow striped top with 3 quarter sleeves? Too thin for this barely 50 degree bright day. The Red and white oxford shirt really says something really too overly patriotic on this somber day of a slain person that fought for more traction on this colonized soil. The blue jeans too snug to leave anything to the imagination point stay though. If I’m this object of affection for so long, I might as well show off why.
The way to keep warm gets chosen to be one of those red meets purple meets blue meets grey wool sweaters scored for three dollars to be paired with a maroon leather jacket to give all sorts of ski lodge meets the streets realness. I need to present the reason why I’m loyal to the town instead of forsaking it for some other lush pasture. It’s interesting how much time the manufacturing takes, as 1:30 quickly slides into a 2:30 phone call letting me know they’re already ready, as well, the other ideas for fulfilling their time are closed up in memoriam today as well.
“Can we pick you up?” and I deflect, again, wanting to not have the discussion of what it looks like to go from preened and prepared “Uptown” Oakland, to drive through two tent cities to get to my turn of the century bungalow I spend 54% of my day-job income to share with two strangers I really rather remain strangers with. I already don’t want Steve to know those intimate details, I could use the 10 minute walk over 10 blocks to clear my head and build in a bit of resistance. Why am I approaching what is directed as love from one direction like a war? Why do I feel the need to be armed and ready for a fight?
“He’s not going to give up until he ‘wins’ with you” a mutual friend said to me once. It only confirmed to me that I was an asset for him to claim at some point, something he could say would be a victory mark, that even in approval of his existence, he’d ‘win.’ In all of the love story fantasies that I do have, I don’t think in any of them I’ve ever wanted to be conquered, to be won. To submit, to throw away my own existence, to become property.
I didn’t want to delve into the dirty, nitty details of what property looks like where I’ve chosen to stay, where I’ve grown up, the land and the community I love, having cleaved clearer boundaries between what’s healthy for me and what’s been harmful to me. After we’ve hung up, I make the brisk walk. From Mead to zig-zag like frogger across San Pablo, across 26th, under the Grove-Shafter Freeway to walk into the living rooms of the tent subdivision that hunkers bravely between the dividing lines of prosperity and poverty. I always feel so invasive walking through people’s daily lives who have no privacy. I feel no place to ask the when, why and how did they end up here. I have no resources to help out, other than a kind smile and a good afternoon. I make it to Telegraph and have to stifle all of the emotions I feel on a normal walk between community, self-conservation and commerce.
I had been unsure if Luka’s Taproom was open today, and I knew, in the “nobody actually takes this day as a proper day of reflection” that Drake’s Dealership would be open. In the “white people that don’t ski are going to find a firepit or fireplace and chug alcohol on a day they don’t have to work anyways” kind of way. In the “I feel guilty for not marching and reclaiming The Lake because head cold, because I don’t want to take another sick day” realm.
Because I need those combination measly sick/pto days to go to Baltimore and Manhattan in a few months. Because I need a break from this constant processing of living in transitioning urban America I constantly do. Because going to the biggest urban area in the country is going to be a great help for me to shut that down, right? I’ve never necessarily gone on a linear path in life.
I rely again, on the flatness of texting to check in where they are as I arrive at Drake’s. They’ve parked at Luka’s a block and a half away. My awareness that Steve’s had leg surgery has me a little concerned, as I round the corner to peek down Broadway, I see them stand out in outlet mall wardrobe against the urban angst parade that’s Bay Area winter doldrums wear. I see Steve at a height I’ve never seen before, given he’s scooting along on a knee scooter at a locomotive pace so distinct from walking.
“I see you’ve gotten shorter in your age” I quip, the joke not exactly landing as we go in for a hug. I’d be remiss to say that there isn’t that flash of warm flesh, the person who tries so hard to show up, does show up. I can’t deny hearts for the heart of me, and I know that quip was the first salvo to protect myself from feeling anything towards him.
Let the wargames begin nonetheless, as I launch into deriding the potential expense of People’s Barbershop, and drag into my own “safe choice” of Drake’s, the old Dodge dealership that I never knew was a Dodge dealership, but I’m nonetheless imagining old Coronets and Polaras and Darts all over the joint where, like I suspected, there’s a sea of white people with German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Strollers that cost more than any car I’ve ever bought in tow. There’s nowhere to sit outside, but a little space inside. Of course, with the fire pits, it’s easy to take in the mid-afternoon sunshine in the barely 50 degree reality, which, realistically, is a lot less brutal than winter just about anywhere else save the converted oceanside desert of Los Angeles.
Drake’s also has a staircase and no ramp to access their courtyard, just a removable plank for such circumstances. In the competition I offer my hand to help Steve down, but of course, 9 or so weeks after the surgery he’s mastered maneuverability of these awkward moments where the old doesn’t accommodate the reality. You might have that reality burned into you, as he also lives in a turn-of-the century house. We all settle on not waiting for sunshine, recognizing that through glass we get plenty while sitting inside, so we make our way.
Drake’s has a huge, almost comical fireplace going full blast in Tahoe Ski Chalet fashion woefully out of place with the exposed steel truss ceiling and the “Service and Parts” label on the bricks over the kitchen. I’m sure once upon a time Torqueflite Pushbutton Automatic cables were stocked instead of sun dried tomatoes in the well of space soft radiating light beneath that sign. In terms of all new hip but not at all innovative as they want to believe venues, there’s too much of an aura of trying on all of your parents clothing, no matter how poorly they fit. Mike wants to sit *right next* to the fireplace. I’m already sweaty from my brisk walk, and the cooking with gas flames shooting 3 feet over fiberglass, I think, would make the immediate zone of tables nearby feel like a humidity free Sauna. Or Las Vegas. Same difference.
I begin to strip out of the layers of presentation I crafted shortly before. Off come my glasses, the beanie, the leather bomber jacket, and by the time I’m ready to lose the sweater to the loosely fitting t-shirt I finally let out a small complaint. So we move to the other end of the table as Mike launches into saying that he loves sitting fireside, and probably would have stuck it out for the experience. I respond by saying now I can put my face back on and feel comfortable.
I feel Mike has been sticking it out for the experience in more ways than one. I once posted on Facebook, while sitting through tedious interviews for a new Executive Director at my old job, that I didn’t get people that uprooted their lives to be with people they love, sacrificing their own identity. Mike commented, in seemingly a little bit ALL CAPS “sometimes it works out!”
And I get it, sometimes you do take those risks, sometimes you do hitch your dream to someone else’s ambitions. I don’t know if I can ever do that, if I can ever understand it. I can’t root for one without feeling rooted myself. I’ve built my adulthood on my own identity, that I don’t know if it’s clay like enough to be molded into a different art form that would soften to someone else’s desire to be a spotlighted work of art.
“Do you still do your car photography?” Steve launches the conversation with as we finally sit it some comfort. I still do, I still practice, but shield the work in exclusive zones either publicly or privately instead of making it the visual core of what I do. 5 years ago, our flirting with each other started with him tagging me in a photo he took of a neglected old LeSabre somewhere in Sacramento.
“Every time I see an old car, I want to take a picture of it and send it to you” he says.
It’s interesting to parse affection out of statements and desired actions such as these. The stifling of desire, the need to bond over former commonality of interest. Once upon a time Steve was a teenager with a 70’s Cadillac painted pink to match his outsized 6’4 250 frame. There’s a little of the same car nerd under all of the other images he makes himself or strives to be. Such expansive American swagger combined with impish individualized interests never quite leaves someone. Such expansive swagger still has its charms, such deeply hidden insecurities about sharing what’s important have a radiating beauty all its own.
I feel called into the spotlights, yet want to shy away from the particular heat they’re casting at this moment. It’s woefully uncomfortable to experience all of the subtle nuances of love not quite dead with the supposed love of someone’s life sitting, staring and beaming at you because they’ve been trained to love your existence as a default within the bounds of their own relationship. Perhaps it’s a glimpse for them to finally understand why they sit through it when it happens.
Deflection shields up I sort of ignore the confessed open door and say that I’ve strive to de-emphasize it in pursuit of DJing, which, realistically, has been the artistic path that actually pays off.
“It costs money to shoot photography on film, and its not yet recouped its costs. The Vinyl at least pays for itself.” I half snap, but cast with enough vinegar that you can’t help but marinate on the reality. Creativity costs, in so many ways, and it seems I’ve stolen any ability to have children not because of my queerness, but because I’ve birthed so many paths to color my world a little more vibrant.
“What are you shooting on?”
“Pentax” I say
“K1000…?” Steve interrupts
“I have my grandfather’s, and something a bit older. They just shift around from box to box, room to room, and I never use them. The Pentax just needs a new light meter battery. Next time I see you I should give them to you.” Steve tries to incorporate Mike into the conversation “You’ve seen them, right?”
“No..” Mike says
“You’ve moved them around…” Steve says
“Just because you’ve moved something doesn’t mean that you’ve consciously seen it” I say.
I’m ruffled at the next time I see you, because, in Steve’s mind, there’s already the victory that I’m in front of him, directly across the table, eye to eye. There’s already the guarantee that I’ll be back for another round, want to be involved again, in some sort of way. It seems the perfect time to double up on my offense and ask..
“Why don’t you use those cameras? Why aren’t you giving time to a potential interest. All it takes is a few rolls of film?”
“I don’t have the time” is the rebuttal of course.
“Why don’t you force yourself to give yourself time to practice?” I press back, a little heated because, after all, I already got my hands on my own cameras. “That’s how I got back into film photography myself, I ended up with my uncle’s old Pentax and just started.”
If photography was the bond that started this journey, I wondered why hadn’t Steve done his part to be his own, to fulfill his own need, and not vicariously foist the legacy of capturing a moment his ancestors took pride in onto someone else. He started to roll out the defenses, the two jobs, yes, the exhaustion, now dealing with recovery after leg surgery.
“You could pull a Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and get to learn all of your neighbors secrets!” I say with a wry smile. I know his home intimately enough. Well enough to know that all the upstairs bedrooms and landing leave for wonderful opportunities to look in on everyone else’s lives. Hidden by trees. You could probably get away without running the air condition in Alkali Flats in July the tree cover is so dense, yet yielding around that house.
“They’re actually quite boring….
….And needy. The came next door to tell me their unlocked bikes got stolen the day I came home from the hospital” flew out of his mouth. This transported me to the reality of why I never wanted this relation to go anywhere once he won his office seat.
I’m fully aware, still, of how I was hoping to tame Steve, to draw him away from that spotlight. Those lights of being the center of something blinding that blur where boundaries lie. You can’t see day or night and your brain and soul are burning to stay active and achieve. There’s no down time, no dark time, no huddling close, no sweat, no silence, no sex. I didn’t want to wait patiently on the outer rings of, or have to participate in having to shake hands, kiss babies, ride in parade floats and go to every godforsaken ribbon cutting under the sweltering sun of the Central Valley’s crowned jewel.
“This is our first time, other than going to Vegas for Thanksgiving, taking a break.” Mike says. “We can never plan ahead of Steve’s staff” Mike pauses with a momentarily small smile “I guess we just don’t plan ahead that much.”
I think this is the first time that I look up from my hard cider to actually see their faces, beyond the acknowledging of existences. It’s the look up that looks into the face you once felt lust slash love slash affection towards. The little features I see in Steve, particularly those pleading sandy eyes are still there, bright as ever surrounded in surprisingly warm skin for an Irish-ish meets Scandinavian dude from the Midwest.
There’s the dimples, now hidden under a brush of a super sandy, not quite blonde beard that matches the IPA he’s ordered for himself. He adjusts that hat, and because, Holiday weekend, his hair isn’t product’d into an exacting place under his baseball cap, but again, in the earth tones of his natural being, glows that mid afternoon wheatfield brown that always had me peg him as a fellow Virgo rising. But he makes far more sense as an early Capricorn moon rather than a late Sagittarius Moon. I’ve never asked for his birth time, I’ve always wanted to keep that part of me away from him too.
There’s the level of me that always feels part Endora, part Samantha. There are the very few that get both forms of my sitcom influenced duality. Steve decidedly gets Endora playing Samantha in the Which Witch Is Witch? Episode from Season One. There’s the beauty and tranquility in the chaos of the witch passing for mortal in suburbia that, pressed for time, brings her world weary all knowing mother into the proceedings to tag team for retail deals as a facsimile of herself.
I try not betray old interests and make sure that my eyes spend at least 35% of the time giving attention to the person I’m holding secondary in this situation. I see Mike’s vibrancy, all of the rosy apple cheeks that smile even when he’s not. I hear his BAWSTIN written all in the wind of each word he speaks. I wonder under all this show, so out of place in the moment, has this face held any long term heartbreak? These are the kinds of Gay Men that go through exactly 3 setbacks before settling into stable, suitable and according to what HRC tells us, satisfying boredom.
These are the kinds of men that order exactly what their partner is drinking, so it doesn’t surprise me, although I hadn’t paid attention to their ordering that held in Mike’s hand is the exact same IPA Steve ordered standing in harsh contrast to Mike’s actual being. He needed a cocktail, not something masquerading as masculine. He needed something with a stem to emphasize each turn of his attempts of connecting with a hurled “guuuurl lemme tell you.”
I had already heard from friends about how Mike talks about the new drapes they got. I’d be soon be regaled with tales about how the admittedly atrocious carpet was now gone, and how the original windows were now being restored. I think of those moments 5 years ago when I thought of what I would do with that house had I been willing to settle for it. In this moment I realize that I never actually liked that house that much, that I probably would have petitioned for a mid-Century rancher in Land Park at some point that we could make a joint start in, so I’d feel equally at home. There’s nowhere in that house that an Eames chair would look natural. There was nothing natural about a house quartered off into campaign quarters and living quarters either.
I have no clue how I look on the other side of the table, as I try to hold my back upright and regal, chest out and proud as I try to remain in control, be the Queen holding court. I quit chasing the rabbit of cameras back into the holes of Steve’s hands long enough for the salvo of “but how about YOU” to launch from our ambiguously libra gay duo in simultaneum.
I absolutely hate this question and always will. I’ve always divided people along it. Those who truly know me know how I’m doing, so there’s no need for this conversational shorthand. Under the press of desired intimacy however, it becomes a relentless battering ram or a deceptive Trojan horse, looking like a gallant gift of affection, but allowing the donor to usurp the power of the receptor. It’s by no joke that Trojans are condoms to me.
I launch into what is always the greatest defense, the troubling relationship with parents. I’m facing my father’s perpetually declining health. I’ve always given factual flatness about this bond, which, I guess, to those not warned in my ways, can come across as quite startling in that I can discuss quite frankly, without a hint of sorrow, staring decline and pain in the face. Steve entered my life two years after my dad’s heart attack, we kinda came to a standstill around the time of his first stroke. This whole lunch is happening about 6 weeks after the phonecall scheduling “the talk” about what to do when the time comes. The later half is what I reveal.
“Well that’s intense.” Steve says.
I just shrug “Well, it’s life. It is and then it isn’t.”
Steve continues to push on it though. I forget that there’s no longer his dad, and that’s been a while, and that’s a wound we’ve never actually brought up for discussion. Maybe in the stillbornness of an “us” his dad never got the chance to materialize. Maybe I wish I had the chance to, maybe I know, if I had the chance to do the taming I wanted to do, there’s so much about him I could have learned. There’s so much I actually don’t know about what’s formed Steve to be this 37 year old in front of me. The fact that I really don’t know other than the batted around hearsay about who he was before he was an adult makes me sad that I didn’t stick around to really find out.
“I’m just speaking from being through this, and if you ever need a place to take a break from it…”
The plea for me to open up, be heard on his terms is an intoxication I’m not unfamiliar with.
“…you know you always have a place.”
I’m pretty sure my face yields just about 3 stops from being stone because I’m trying to protect and hold myself through this reality as is, while offering a measure of vulnerability one’s requesting of me. “Well friends that have known me 30+ years say how much of a relief I’m gonna face when it’s done. Everyone knows my father is pure hell on wheels, and he’s where he is with his health because of his choices. I tried, I can’t try anymore.”
“But still” he tries his best olive branch.
“Let’s see as I go through this. I hear you, and I’m just living through it. It’s all that I can do really.”
As the appetizers arrive, I try to break it out of this rut, out of this intensity, but I don’t know where to go. Leave it to the happy homemaker at the table to center it back to the house, and the improvements, and the baking, and the snide reference that I made about Mike finally learning to use the Kitchen-Aid standing mixer they got as a Christmas gift to themselves 2 years ago. Mike asks if I’ve seen The Great British Baking Show and I demure that not having a television means I’m a little more strategic with my television consumption. Ignoring this, he launches torpedo #2, or casts what I think might be his first bait. I’m sure he’s nowhere near familiar with how much of a slippery fish I am.
“Well, we have this lesbian couple as friends. And we keep saying that we need to re-create an episode. But with alcohol. It’ll be a fun weekend of baking and you have to come”
Steve interjects “I’ll pour the drinks and be DJ”
“Laurence should be the DJ” Mike shoots back with a glare
“But I have my grandparents Nat King Cole LPs, and I’ve gotten the turntable restored. Those LPs are from 1952…” Steve trails off….
Round two, I wonder, what my next strategy will be. It would really help if I knew what battle I was fighting, what was the point of this war between individual pasts, a collective present and a desired future. I’m overwhelmed with all the set ups and manufacturing of an existence that, if not saddled with its own complex history, all of these sound like a grand time. It makes me wonder how as I read a new layer of Queer Theory, is there a way that I can queer whatever is going on in this very rote idealization of mainstream connection. Booze, and dessert inspired by Public Broadcasting from colonial England teaching us supportive challenge is the way to be.
If all flails and fails, there’s always a cocktail to soothe the pain away. It’s telling that Mike is ready for round two of an IPA, Steve asks for a glass of water to sober up for the 81 mile drive back, and I’m only a third of the way through my hard cider with my 10 block walk home ahead of me.
I had reminded them I was a lightweight.
Maybe I stay this light of weight to be able to fly away at any sign of distress I think to myself, already feeling the heady slosh of emotions and alcohol making the levee holding my emotional waters back a bit muddy and more prone to crumbling.
At this moment I’m starting to run with the reality that me graciously allowing for ambiguity in these moments is perhaps the cruellest aspect of my personality. To preserve social grace in moments to bank on trading on them at future points instead of giving clear yes and no answers is the prison I’ve built for myself in this relationship and so many others. Also, in these moments I’m glad that we’ve deflected away from discussing me, and my intimate life, and into some abstract idea of who I could be some random Saturday in some brigadoon’d future.
My desire to stay in the dream is snuffed out when the guns are directed at my dating life, and my “absence” on social media. I’ve already been clear enough so I ice skate over the break up, and how I tried to make that work over 3 ½ years, and dance around how difficult it is to love someone and yet also walk away and leave someone swimming in the tides of mental illness. In this dance this is where I realize I really can’t hear either of them anymore.
I’m recognizing that I’m dealing with the quiet roar of heartache. It’s like the sound of swimming in the waves of the Pacific, the quiet intensity of being pushed back to safe shore by something quite dangerous. I’m wondering if the heave forward in my chest is showing up as I confess some semblance of weakness, some sense of heartbreak, a trickle of failure underneath it all.
As I pause, come up for air, Mike comes right back into what LOGO programming has taught him to do.
“Girl, we’re friends here, go ahead and spill that tea.” he brays with all of the yassssss that makes me say noooo.
When did I set foot into an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race while my mind is sloshing around the chorus of Ruby Winters’s “In The Middle Of A Heartache?” If there’s any homos of color in the room, I’m pretty sure they’re glaring at all of us for being all sorts of wrong in this moment. The cruel grace continues because of course, at the core of things me and Mike are not friends, more likely witting rivals with our own respective corners in the anchor who has us at the same table’s heart.
I’m really happy to see the Chevre dish arrive and switch the dialogue back to the food and the restaurant for once, and back away from me, and casting the light back to Oakland. I’ve never been so ready for their dual pronged push to convince to move to Sacramento because I want to run away from my heart as fast as I can. I want to get to a battle I know how to fight well.
“Well, the alternative now is considering a smaller, micropolitan area. I’ve been thinking Eureka, Arcata. Isolated enough, but anchored by a University and with 70,000 people in the area.”
“Why not Grass Valley? there’s an Arts Scene there.” Steve throws out as a closer to Sacramento alternative.
“There’s fewer random white people driving around in F-350’s with gun racks and confederate flags in Humboldt compared to the Sierra Foothills, and you know that. I want to go somewhere where I don’t have to change how I present myself to the world.” I drag into the proceedings
“So Sacramento” he leads into
“We’ve had this talk already, and you know there’s more of the creative community I need in Portland, or I’m even willing to risk Los Angeles at this stage if I have a man willing enough to go there with me at this stage”
Mike surprises us both with the first glimmer that he hasn’t completely merged with Steve’s psyche and says “He’s right, Sacramento is….well, conservative, Steve.”
All I needed apparently to return to my prized circle was to get my replacement to use his own powers of deduction to agree with my assessment of life. “I mean, like, all of my relatives that openly voted for Trump live in Sacramento…”
(Of course this is an exaggeration. I’m sure the majority of them actually live in Houston).
“Where in Sacramento?” Steve says incredulously bemused
“Citrus Heights” I meekly say, knowing that the “That’s The Suburbs” statement is coming as soon as I say it. Of course it does, and I snark about the “blue” part of Sacramento being whatever parts that are still covered by trees.
“Well, wherever you end up, Portland…we’ll visit you. Eureka…okay, I guess we’d visit you after driving through all those damned Redwoods. Stay in Oakland and we’ll start visiting you at least quarterly. But really don’t give up on Sac.”
“I never gave Sac a chance, and I’m pretty sure any dude I’d date moving forward would look at me nuts if I suggested Sacramento. Stop trying to cast that spell, Steven.” I don’t interject Robert into it the same way he lorded over Laurence Joseph in the voicemail that started this war at 11:41 that morning.
With that last statement I wonder what unholy bargain am I making, how am I melting back into some sort of relationship with Steve by even meeting him on the battlefield like this. They now scarf down their Pizzas in full fledged late afternoon hunger, making sure to equally share their house special and the ’89, because, well, Libras. My slow metabolism still filled with Fritatta and Latkes I made at 9 am picks lightly at the flavorless figs and olives with the lack of bite of brine I chose for my Pizza. It reminds me of my latest crack that all fresh produce in January tastes like Iceberg Lettuce. I see Zach’s excited face screeching in response to that: “BLUE CHEESE DRESSING.” I smile to myself.
The grey fog of dwindling light starts to pull the energy out of the dining hall as they stack their trays and the hostess offers me a box for my half eaten Pizza that I’ll forget to take with me when we leave. Steve rolls himself to the Bathroom first, leaving me and Mike about 4 minutes to bond, but I’m too exhausted by the whole exchange to take a chance at authenticity at this stage. All I can offer are assuages that someday soon we’ll bake with that Kitchen-Aid he’s finally started to use.
As Steve sits, Mike gets up to go to the Bathroom. Steve says something of a sort about how he loves how buildings get repurposed and reused, and is astonished at this place where Polaras and Coronets and Darts once gathered under Steel Trusses. All I can do is smile, and look into those eyes and wonder what kind of dream they have, if they still dream at all of anything but the next step on the ladder.
Steve promptly goes in for the only topping he feels confident in; taking care of the bill that I have no clue costs, but knowing that a I didn’t necessarily have a $7 Cider nor a $15 Pizza nor shared appetizers around $10 each built into my budget plus a tip. “Broke boys can’t be choosy about how they’re taken care of” I say and I’m sure I crack a smile like Joan Holloway towards a client on any of the infinite seasons of Mad Men. Professional and personal, what’s the pleasure?
I turn down the ride home, because as before, I don’t want to discuss the realities of being Cinderfella returning to my wicked stepsisters of renting in West Oakland. I offer to walk them to their car, they said they wanted to buy spices, I implore them to plant them, and let them know of the spice shop by the lake. Steve has a new A3, a powder blue one to highlight its cleaner plug in Hybrid status to replace the darker blue one that was one of the millions of emissions cheating Diesel Volkswagen group vehicles. “It doesn’t have the range the last one had, and we can never get it to fully charge.”
That’s life ain’t it?
We hug, as homosexuals hug. I still feel Steve’s heat and heart. I remember, and I guess I still feel touched by how much, underneath that presentation as a politician, he’s such a teddy bear of a man despite it all. I tolerate the need to dispense a little of the love trained into Mike back to Mike himself, as this is a bargain he didn’t necessarily sign up for. I can love him for who he is and where he stands in the whole works.
I begin my walk home, and spot a ’64 Continental making a left turn. Black, massive and stylish, looking to make an escape, I think of myself as Elwood Engel’s greatest, most imitated creation. I think of how I’ve survived yet another battle.