I wake up much later than the alarm clock says I should. I sit up in the bed, the sheet falls away. I take in the room: decent sized, comfy queen bed, there is a vintage bike mounted up high on one wall. Maybe it’s not vintage maybe it’s just dusty? Anyway. There are books and comic books high on the other wall. The light through the window is high and hitting the floor, it’s almost noon here. There is no one else in the bed, I slept alone, but then a memory comes fast and sneakily: a perfect morning almost two years ago, not this bed, when I had flown in overnight and got under the covers. I kissed the back of his neck repeatedly; he made a soft, pleased murmur in his half-sleep every time I kissed it, his neck always got so so bristly in between haircuts. I shake my head, literally swat the memory away. Ugh, that again? And then another even more disorienting thought: Wait, where am I?
Oh. That’s right! I’m in New York. Okay, so it’s Pride weekend again. This is my third Gay Pride I’m attending this month, and two of them have been coincidences, including this one. When I went to New Mexico earlier this month it was to see my dad, and then I had a lovely time celebrating Portland’s Pride. A conservative coworker asked why I had attended so many Prides this year, and I replied without even thinking, “Because they’re more political. More is at stake.” A frown crossed her brow. “I hope none of them turn into protests.” “Oh, I honestly hope they do,” I replied, and walked away. I thought of getting a Black Lives Matter bumper sticker and finding her car in the parking garage. I’d be able to hear the pearls clutched all the way from my desk, I imagine.
I am always impressed with people who know any public transportation system by heart. I think this as I Google how to get into Manhattan from Crown Heights, where I am staying. “The 2/3 isn’t running” I have heard people exclaim with a mix of fascinated horror and anger like
cavemen, sorry, cavepersons who are seeing a comet for the first time. I go to refill my Metrocard. This machine isn’t taking bills right now…or debit and credit cards. What. Is. It. Taking. Then?
I turn on The Apps, the sweet little digital dating distractions, the gift that keeps on ghosting Once in a while there is a genuine connection, a pleasant conversation, but for the most part it is the guy whose Instagram is entirely selfies and videos of him dancing shirtless at clubs. He will not follow you back. This is an actual human that exists, lest you think I am making this up. Anyway, I did not visit here to find love. In person, the men on the streets of the city look at me with intense, unmasked desire or perhaps I owe them money or perhaps they are holding in gas? It is hard to tell the difference. New York Gays® are confusing.
There is a specific photo I want to take here. I have brought a hot dog costume all the way from Portland to take it if presented the opportunity. I shall be in the foreground, the hot dog. Behind me will be hot shirtless guys expressing lust and desire at me. And the caption? “Hey guys, my eyes are up here”. I tell this idea to anyone who will listen. They smile a wan, patronizing smile and offer up suggestions to where I might be able to find hot shirtless guys.
In the Village, I play dogshit hopscotch as I walk to my friend Cody. Cody is a new friend, and we are fans of each others’ creative eye. I have brought two dozen bright yellow balloons from Portland with me, because of course I did. I think back to the last 48 hours: First, the mission to find yellow balloons. I went to Dollar Tree. Walking up to the balloon display, my eyes widened at the unlikely sight of a Dollar Tree employee who was not a cashier, actually restocking the balloons. I cannot overstate how out of the ordinary this is.
She is seated on a stool, gathering plastic-wrapped packs of latex balloons out of the cardboard box at her feet. Her name is probably Mabel or Hazel but her friends call her Dot. I pause, look over her shoulder. Packs of red, packs of blue, packs of pink…no packs of yellow. I clear my throat, get my meekest, most passive Pacific Northwest face on: “Uh, excuse me?” She does not look up: “Uh huh?” “Do you have any packs of yellow balloons?” She looks at the display that I just looked at and confirms what I just saw. “No,” she says, finally looking up at me. We stare at each other for perhaps a second too long for comfort. She adds helpfully, “It looks like we’re sold out.” “Oh”, I respond. I smile, because people like to help people who smile, yes? Except it doesn’t work, a small frown crosses her face. Through my death-grin I stammer, “Do you have any in the back?” She looks back down at her cardboard box and resumes her work, she is tired, she is done with this smiling bearded idiot in front of her. “Oh, I wouldn’t have any idea what’s in the back.” I back slowly away. I get the balloons somewhere else.
Before my trip, I have another mad scramble to find a catsitter for Ned. If you don’t know by now, Ned is my cat. I took him to the vet recently to have his tooth looked at and a couple patches of missing fur. The tooth will have to come out soon. And the patches, well, they’re apparently from something he’s doing called fur mowing, which sounds adorable! The reality is horrifying: he cleans himself so thoroughly that he literally licks the fur right off his skin. Cats do this because they are perhaps stressed, and the vet helpfully gives me a pamphlet with the title “Is Your Cat Mentally Ill?” Like father like son I think, and suppress a giggle.
Apparently the thing to get is a calming pheromone, it’s like a Glade Plug-In except instead of treacly, cloying scents like “Vanilla Blossom” and “Mango Assault”, it emits pheromones that simulate the presence of Ned’s mama. Now, I never met his mom, and I don’t know what issues they had. I suppose I’ll find out when I plug it in…perhaps I’ll come home to his fur licked completely clean off his body save for a lion’s mane around his head, his large eyes darting back and forth. He’ll be expecting his mom to come flouncing around the corner any moment, a bottle of tequila in one paw, slurring her meows and asking her son if he has her lighter.
Anyway, back in Manhattan, I meet up with Cody and we have a fun time blowing up balloons on the High Line and taking photos and then I hit a wall because of the Xanax on the redeye flight the night before and I literally fall asleep in Union Square while Cody stays near and makes sure the dingos don’t steal my phone.
A little later, I realize that Colby Keller is here in town. For the straight people reading, Colby Keller is a porn star who does not like my writing. Well, to be more accurate, he thinks that I am not sex positive, which is true since I am terrified of sex. I message him and describe the hot dog photo to him: this will be even funnier, I think, because Colby is hot, and I shall be wearing a hot dog costume! Sadly, he is too busy working on a project.
I go out to a bar one night. I get there too late to meet up with my friends, they have moved on to someone’s house to eat before going to the club. I stay at the bar for awhile, try to strike up a conversation with a couple groups of people, get shot down. I see someone I am Facebook friends with, he nods and smiles and then goes in the other direction (I can’t exactly blame him). I leave, catch up with my friends, we head out to the club. It has a name like Chicken Head Dance, or Fish Bone Party, or Horse Meat Disco. There’s a catch: everyone has tickets for the evening already except me. I’m standing in line, this 40-something wearing a backpack with a hot dog costume in it, and it occurs to me that I do not belong there, these boys will not “get” my photo. I don’t even dance. So I leave. The next morning I wake up to a barrage of messages on the dating apps which all say the same thing: “I saw you last night and wanted to say hello, but I did not.”
I take my hot dog costume to the Pride parade that Sunday. Surely there will be hot shirtless guys here? In the parade staging area, there is a flag team who at first agrees to take the photo with me! But then it turns into something else entirely and they are clothed and holding their flags and not even looking at me and I am lying on the pavement in front of them and I think This is entirely not what I had in mind. It’s a thought I have a lot in my life. At this point I would just want to take any photo with the costume.
The next day I look down at Brooklyn as the plane takes off back to Portland. I still want to move here someday, I remind myself, but on my terms. In the meantime, I’ll just split my time between the cities- the flight attendant interrupts my thought as she asks if there’s anything I need. My eyes widen. “As a matter of fact,” I begin, “there is one thing.”
Top image by Cody Guilfoyle . Bottom image by Mike Schneider.