Saturday night. Ten miles and several tax brackets away, I went and attended a little dinner party thrown by my friend “Hank” and his boyfriend “Randy.” Unlike most of my friends who lived hand to mouth at best, Hank, at the not ripe at all age of 19, found himself living the good life. You see, Hank’s amour Randy is twenty-some odd years older than him and had already carved himself out a nice existence that included 38 acres of land and a breathtaking dome house in the middle of it. And though they professed love for each other and pop culture by way of Aaliyah dictated that age is nothing but a number, skepticism always followed the relationship.
“It’s like some twisted Hemingway novel,” a friend of mine said to me once when I told them about the pair. “The Old Man and the Semen.”
And if their age difference wasn’t cause for suspicion, my semi-intimate knowledge of Randy didn’t help matters. You see, some months ago when I was trolling around Gay.com, Randy propositioned me for sex. Well maybe propositioned isn’t the right word but sending someone an e-mail with a picture of your penis in my book counts at least as flirtation.
“How is it?” a mutual friend of Hank’s asked me about Randy’s nether regions.
“Well there is a reason why they sometimes to refer to that area as junk,” I replied.
Now e-mails with penis-picture attachments would make for awkward dinners but what made thickened the plot was that Hank and Randy were in the second year of their relationship when Randy got randy and started making passes at me. I even told Hank as much when we first met each other.
His reaction was not one that I had expected. Instead of anger towards me or Randy or any kind of normal reaction, Hank just shrugged his shoulders. He had just come back from all-expenses paid trip through Europe with Randy and had just gotten a new car out of the relationship. It seemed that the love of money and the security it brought outweighed most other concerns.
That evening at the dome house, Hank, Randy, and myself feasted on grilled steak, salad, and painful pauses in conversation. As they winked at each other and played footsie under the table, I remembered a thing Hank had told me when we had gone out to Culver’s for dinner after an afternoon helping him browse for porn at Left of Center in Hudson.
“I like older guys because they appreciate me more,” he told me. “I mean, they are just so grateful for some young guy to be interested in them that they do all of this nice stuff for you.”
I was still thinking of this comment when Randy decided to make a little toast.
“I just want to say that I’ve never been happier than I’ve been with Hank for the past two years and I’ve never wanted for anything,” he beamed as he leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“He didn’t really say that did he?” my friend Gavin wrote to me after I told him about my evening at the dome house.
“Oh yes he did,” I replied. “Hank is staring at me and I’m staring at Randy during this little thing and I keep thinking I need more booze to get through this.”
“I don’t know why they are together,” Gavin typed back.
“I don’t know either,” I wrote. “I mean Hank seems to have some affection for Randy and even if he didn’t a nice car and a nicer home could tide one over.”
“Yeah, that most have been one awkward dinner,” he typed to me with a smiley face.
“Especially when you’re eating dinner on the table that the old man had told me he’d fuck me on if I ever came over,” I wrote.
After talking to Gavin, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about love, money, and all of those investments we make in life, both monetary and emotional. There was a whole NBC show founded on the idea that one had to make the choice between either love or money, like they were two mutually exclusive ideas. And there are always snickers when an older gay gentleman takes up with a younger lad because the popular belief is that the younger guy is only in it for the money, sacrificing a life of hot same generational letter sex for financial security. Not to sound too Carrie Bradshaw, but I couldn’t help but wonder: what are the costs for a long term relationship?
A few weeks after being at the dome house, I found myself coming to the end of one of my longest lasting relationships: the one with my laptop. I got it my freshmen year and it has been with me through everything: papers, exams, instant messages, drunken e-mails, heterosexuality. So imagine my surprise when I went to turn on my computer like I did every morning and it failed to work.
“You might have to get a new computer,” Gavin advised me.
“I can’t get a new computer,” I decried. “It’s my baby. That would be technological infanticide.”
So as my computer sat at death’s door, I decided to do some browsing for a new one. I had forgotten how pricey they could be and without a sugar daddy in sight, I would have to shoulder the burden. The thought of having to throw down a thousand dollars for a computer did not sit right with me so I decided I need to go somewhere to think out this decision. Somewhere calming, somewhere peaceful, somewhere healing, somewhere like the Gay ‘90s.
Sunday night. Agatha, Duran, Agatha’s cousin Lucy, Alex, and I all piled into Agatha’s grey VW and went to the 90s. I was still in mourning over both the death of my computer and the fact I would be financially six feet under after the purchase of a new one.
Alex kept reaching over and patting my head, much to my disliking. You see, Alex and I have always had a very volatile relationship. Sometimes it’s up and sometimes it’s lower than some stocks on Wall Street. Over the course of the summer I had done an internal audit of sorts of my relationship with Alex and determined that when it came to my feelings, he was bleeding me dry.
At the 90s, I shelled out money for expensive drinks like somebody who didn’t have a new computer to buy and sulked like somebody who did as the foursome of Agatha, Duran, Lucy, and Alex went out onto the dance floor in the Retro Room. It was basic math really. Friends should always go in even numbers to places because one always manages to get left out. So I sipped my drink and looked around the dance floor for somebody to dance with, when a guy, an older gent came up to me and looked me up and down in that way only lecherous men can.
“So how much?” he asked me.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“How much?” he asked again, pointing down at my shirt.
I looked down. I had forgotten I had worn my pink Guess shirt that had “For Rent” spray painted across it.
“Trust me,” I sighed, “you couldn’t afford my prices.”
After a couple hours of partying, we left the 90s and went back to Lucy’s lovely place in St. Paul. Alex and I ended up sitting outside, smoking cigarettes. I was drunk and so was he, which obviously meant it was a prime time to discuss our friendship. And he did it in his always tactful, respectful, least-drama-inducing manner.
“What’s with the attitude because you’re acting like a bitch,” he said to me. “I’ve never done anything to you; I’ve never dogged you out.”
As he ranted, my internal audit thing went into overdrive. I added up all of the times of hurt and anger and disappointment we had caused each other. And yes, he had helped me at a crucial point in my life but I had to think that I had done stuff for him as well. It was like I was being emotionally loan-sharked. Because of his one important good deed, I would forever be in debt to him so at that moment I decided that it was best that I returned my investment, our friendship, back to him and declare our relationship bankrupt.
As I stood up, he yelled at me, “You owe me an explanation.”
I turned back to him. “I don’t owe you shit anymore.”
With that, I walked into Lucy’s house and maybe walked out of emotions pit relationship.
A week later, I was still without a computer but had at least ordered a new one from Dell.com. It was going to cost me a thousand dollars but I realized that the cost was worth it to start my new relationship with a new computer.
I went back to thinking about Hank and Randy. Maybe I had judged the relationship too quickly, been too fast to say it was all about money. Maybe they really did love each other. In their relationship, love and money were together as opposed to opposite forces.
So even though I was without a computer and for the moment Alex, I couldn’t help but think that if I could somehow manage to get enough money for a computer eventually I will save up enough courage to find myself the right man.
That’s the thing about relationships and finances. Sometimes they’re cheap, sometimes they are pricey, but the best ones are always worth the price you pay.
10 Points For Realness, Part 1
When you’ve spent a summer dealing with reality of all kinds whether it be work or dating or just the expansive and fucked-up thing called life, sometimes a person just has to have a brief respite from it. Ancient man took up cave drawing, the Renaissance man went to the theatre, and this modern man turned towards a modern diversion: reality television. Who needs to think about the Russian or my mother’s diabetes or the possible dissolution of a two-year long friendship when there are more important issues like if Stephen is going to end up with either LC or Kristin on Laguna Beach or who is going to be fired first on Martha Stewart’s edition of The Apprentice or can Nehemiah and Rachel come to some sort of respectful understanding on the Real World: Austin. If reality shows are a guilty pleasure, the Krispy Kreme donuts of network and cable programming, I decided that this indeed was the time to gorge.
With my summer job over and a week before classes began, I resolved to pig out on both my mother’s home cooking and a marathon of Being Bobby Brown. After three hours and six episodes, I learned that my mother’s diabetes was not stopping her from making desserts for the rest of the family and that what Bobby and Whitney Houston lacked in lucidity they more than up with in their ability to the give the viewer a sense of at-least-I’m-not-that-screwed-up bliss. It was a feeling that I, slumped on a faux-denim couch in the basement of my mother’s condo, desperately needed like Bobby and Whitney needed a hit.
After my eyes stared to glaze over at the antics of Bobby and Whitney and the documentation of the events that would come to form their daughter’s therapy sessions in the future, I crawled into bed. Without the television to distract me, I was left with only my thoughts and I thought about my tiff with Alex. Our friendship, I determined, was not unlike the run of a television show. The first year of it had been original and fun and with this spontaneous energy and the moronic naiveté about how this impact things. The second years of the friendship, like most reality shows, was not as good as the first year, suffered from a lack of interest, and set up the third year of it as the make or break time for the franchise or in our case the friendship. Maybe I had cancelled our friendship too early or maybe I had gotten out before it turned into an Anna Nicole Smith Show train wreck.
Two days later in La Crosse, I was able to tear myself away from the antics of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List to see my friend Jeremy. He was a high school friend of mine that lived around the corner of the house and was always good for the lowdown on the activities of our former high school comrades while also offering me someone to go on walks with around the neighborhood late at night.
“Are we going to make the usual rounds Sir?” I sighed, semi-bored and exhaling smoke.
“We could,” he said, “Or I could drive us around in my brand new car!”
With Rod Roddy enthusiasm and some Bob Barker Beauties hand gesturing, Danny motioned me to his new car that he had bought a few weeks prior. We christened it with a first smoke in it and ended up driving all around La Crosse. I stared out the car as Gavin DeGraw played out on the radio, singing “Chariot.” I watched the lights of the cars in front, all coming in from Onalaska into La Crosse. It felt like one of those thoughtful montages on TV where there is some weighty narration supposed to be put over it but instead my reality was merely silence between Danny and I with Mr. DeGraw murmuring in the background.
We ended up at the golf course that was right besides the bluff. As we walked around in the dark, I saw the American flag light up on top of the bluff and the lights of the town twinkling in those highly romanticized ways highly romantic writers choose to see them.
“So you plan on seeing the Scot?” Jeremy asked me as he stalked off into the darkness with me trailing behind him, only able to find him by way of the smell of his cigarette.
“I’m not that big of a glutton for punishment,” I retorted, lighting my cigarette. “Besides I think he’s in the Cities or something so unless he plans on stopping through when I’m there, I can safely say that I’m not going to see him.”
There was an awkward pause.
“Okay,” I sighed, “I realize that on some level he’ll be a figure in my life. And trust me, the thought of that is not comforting in the least. The fact that I’ve lost my best friend Alex because of some unexplainable, internal dislike of him yet somehow I’m forever going to like the Scot is ten times of fucked-up.”
Danny laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know Alex but I know that the other one sounds like a world class d-bag.”
A few nights later I was safely back in River Falls in my old dorm room in the building I had lived in for the past four years. After unpacking and some dinner, I watched a few episodes of Laguna Beach but became distracted by something outside of my window.
“It’s like a Laguna Beach bomb exploded on our campus,” I said to my friend “Kelly” as we sat at a booth at the newly reopened Ground Zero.
It was your usual bar mix: a few townies here and there playing pool, some metrosexuals sizing up one and another’s message shirts, high percentage slutty college girls adjusting their skirts as they trotted around the circular bar area. It was like central casting for the Real World.
“Last year, maybe a few hotties here and there but now they are everywhere,” I continued.
“I can’t stand that show,” Kelly sneered.
“Well admittedly it would be a better show if they cut down all of those uncomfortable silences but then it would only be like five minutes,” I replied.
“And that’s a bad thing?” she snickered. “So what exactly happened with you and Alex?”
“We fought and that’s all there is to that,” I sighed. “But no matter, I’ve decided to just start
over with some things now that I have him and the Scot out of my life.” There was a slight pause in conversation. “Is it sad that I miss having my computer because I can’t talk to the Rugby Player?”
“I’m not going to lie,” she said with a smirk, “just a little.”
“You know what I say to that,” I replied smiling a bit. “I say boo to that. Boo and hiss to that.”
Speaking of booing and hissing, a group of us were booing and hissing my friend “Brad” and his interest in some 19-year-old girl.
“She’s got such a tight ass,” he shouted with glee. “I could fuck that shit right.”
“Such a wordsmith Brad,” I interjected, stirring around my UV lemonade drink.
“She’s a virgin so you know that shit is tight,” he boasted.
It’s in these moments at the bars that I wish I could have one of those censorship bleeps over things.
“Yeah Brad,” I sighed, “she’s a virgin, Pam Anderson’s tits are real, and Paris Hilton didn’t know she was being videotaped.”
After bar close, I ended up by myself and walked around downtown River Falls. It was cool outside, the air whipping around me as I crossed the street. I looked down the street. The lights were flashing and the streets were empty aside from the last few stragglers from the bars.
As I have learned from a mini-Cold Case Files marathon on A&E, criminals often times return to the scene of a crime. The same can be said about people still coping with the end of a relationship, whether romantic or platonic. I found myself pulled back to the places where Alex and I had hung out together. I stared at his old apartment. I thought back to hiking up those carpeted steps to his little place over a bar. I thought of the time he called me for a sleepover and how I had pulled on my jeans over my Pillsbury Doughboy pajamas and how we had watched bad movies on HBO. I took a deep breath and walked back to the dorm silently.
When you’re in a funk and there is surprisingly no reality television to cheer up, the second best thing is to talk with a friend who is living a wildly more fabulous reality than your own. That’s what I did the next day when I talked to my friend Gavin, the homo not the singer.
“So there are like six guys that are interested in dating me,” he told me.
Gavin, always looking to move on to bigger and better things, was in the midst of his own sexual version of house hunting or more appropriately homo hunting.
“You know what I say to that?” I replied. “I say boo to that. Boo and hiss to that.”
“Jealous,” he said with his usual sense of self-deprecation. “One guy is named Reian.”
“That has to be the faggiest spelling of a name ever,” I laughed.
“Well yeah but once you look past that he’s really pretty hot,” Gavin exclaimed.
While Gavin was moving on with his pursuits in love, I found myself moving on to another bar reopening. This time it was The Library and unlike the library on campus, this one was packed with students even though most of the reading was limited to drink names and the subjects studied were limited to deviant behavior and anatomy.
That night, I partied a lot like Landon or Trishelle from the Real World without the fear of
sexually transmitted diseases. One little, two little, three little UV lemonades followed by a liter UV lemonade and a vodka Collins. Although it wasn’t watching people bitch each other out in confessionals or eating worms on national television, I was still trying to avoid my reality as usual. The Scot, Alex, The Rugby Player, they were all in my head at the moment so much so that I didn’t pay attention at first when I heard it.
“Hey there,” he said.
And just like that, I came face to face with my reality.
10 Points For Realness, Part 2
"Leave me the fuck alone," I yelled as I stormed out of Library, drunk and walking the wrong direction away.
"Would you just wait for one second?" he asked me, the sound of his cowboy boots hitting the pavement behind echoing in my ear. "We need to talk," he said to me as I stopped on the corner in front of the Corner bar.
"What do you want to talk about Alex?" I grimaced, stamping my foot on the ground for added emphasis.
"All of a sudden you’ve just formed this hatred towards me and I don’t understand," Alex said to me. "Can you just explain it to me?"
"I just don’t like you anymore," I spat at him before turning around.
As I walked off from Alex, winding my way through the residential streets with him trailing closely behind me, I realized that we were doing one of the most popular reality television show conventions: the drunken verbal argument on the street. If my years of watching the Real World have taught me anything, it’s that people in their twenties for some reason think that at high points of alcohol consumption is the precise moment to have a heart-to-heart about the issues that are bothering both parties. And though we didn’t have a camera crew following us, we did have a small audience of few couples walking across the street from us, alternating between making out and staring at us.
We kept up the fighting, me swearing belligerently while Alex refused to leave me alone. Every corner I turned, every street I crossed, every internal thought I was having, Alex was right there with his fashionable white newsboy cap placed on top of his dyed black locks. Just like network programming, reality was inescapable.
"You want me to tell you what I think of you," I said, pausing for a moment. "You are no different to me than the Scot."
There was a long pause in the conversation.
"I was there for you when you were just coming out and have helped you and you have the nerve to compare me to a guy you can’t even say the real name?!" he yelled at me furiously. "I have never dogged you out ever!"
Right then, as my friend Andie would say, my bitch chord was pulled.
"Never dogged me out?" I hissed back at me. "In between all of those moments of saving me, you’ve shit all over our friendship. You’ve done and said things to me that would cause most sane people to have walked away from you a long time ago but instead I am standing right here with you because you won’t leave me alone."
I jogged off away from him and ended up crossing the street back to my dorm with him right behind. It was now two in the morning. Most of the lights were dim in people’s dorm rooms, their shades pulled as Alex and I walked past and continued to scream, giving people a show whether or not they wanted it.
"Would you just stop for one fucking second," he asked me again and I did. I turned around and stared at him, at the face that once made me light up when I saw it. I looked at his shining his eyes, his chiseled features and how they looked less than normal, the stress of our reality having chipped away some of their sheen.
"What?" I said.
"I just want to know why you have such a problem with people caring for you?" he asked me, his voice breaking just a little as the question came out.
I stormed away from Alex without answering and turned to see him stomping off into the distance. I came into my dorm room and plopped down on my bed. As much I as I had derided Bobby and Whitney, Anna Nicole, maybe I was the real train wreck, a train wreck of screwed-up feelings and expectations of my relationships. And as I pondered this, the phone rang.
"Can you meet me outside?" Alex whispered.
This was the moment. I could hang up the phone, pop in a season of The Simple Life, and avoid him like I had tried to do since the Gay 90s or I could meet him outside and settle things.
"So what do you want to talk about?" I said to him as I saw him standing behind the building, having changed into my pajamas first.
"I just want to say something and I don’t want you to interrupt," Alex said, leaning up against the railing. "I don’t know what’s going on with us but if you hated me so much why did you help me out of my apartment to my new one. You could’ve said no and if you really hated me you would have hung up that phone immediately. But you didn’t. I know I haven’t been around and when I am I get a little focus-of-attention hungry. But you have to admit, you’re the same way. And what makes you so angry is that I can call you on your shit better than anybody else and you can call me on my shit better than anybody else. And we’ve been through too much for this to end. I have auditions for Rocky Horror Picture Show and I’m so stressed out by it because it’s the biggest role I could get. And I just want to know that you’re going to come to it and support me in it."
As the tears welled up in his eyes, I leaned in and hugged him. I had been so caught up in my own reality that I had completely missed his.
"There is nothing more that I want to do is be there opening night and cheering you on at
curtain call," I told Alex as I hugged him. "I’ve just been so stressed with graduation stuff. Maybe we just need a break, just have some time apart so we can get the stresses dealt with first so we won’t take it out on each other."
"Okay," he said.
A week later, I was listening to the twinkling strains of the beginning of "California," the theme song of the show The O.C. I decided that I had indulged enough in reality shows and decided to get back to the more fun world of scripted television. Besides, mocking E-Mischa-ted Barton’s attempts at emoting is much more fun than any of Kristin’s non-sequiturs on the narration of Laguna Beach.
And speaking of actors, I gave Alex a call.
"Congratulations on getting the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter," I said to him. "And I’ll see you this weekend at Duran’s 21st birthday party thing."
A few hours later, Alex called me back.
"I tried calling you but you weren’t there," Alex sighed. "And I just knew you were going to find out before I could tell you."
"I was at the Student Voice office so I could get my schedule and sign some papers," I replied.
"Oh yeah, your column starts soon doesn’t it?" he replied.
"Next week," I said. "I just wanted to tell I’m so proud of you and I’ll see you this weekend right."
And as we talked to another, sharing our realities of work and school and friends and horrendously busy schedules, I knew that things were not quite the ways they were before and probably would never be. Yet, I could get a sense that our relationship, through a bit of retooling and some renewed interest, wouldn’t be cancelled after all.