Think Gay!"For a blog called 'Miss Hag.' you write very little about gay men and their beeotches!" -- Thought to Self.
When I first moved to the city, I worked out at a gym across the street from what I would eventually learn is the oldest gay bar in the city: Julius. The first time I went there, it was afternoon and I had just spent a painful hour battling a Stairmaster. I decided to reward myself with a post-workout cocktail and chose Julius for its proximity to the gym. I had often peered inside at the dark wood bar and the wagon wheel chandeliers and thought, "I should have a drink there."
After positioning myself on an empty wooden barstool, I ordered a glass of the house red. I lifted the glass to my parched lips and allowed a tiny sip of wine to sting my tongue. Looking up, I caught the bartender's eyes and realized that he might be waiting for me to approve the wine.
"This is great, thank you," I whispered politely.
"Great." He paused. "Excuse me, but, are you sure you're in the right place? Are you waiting for someone?"
His concern was genuine, like a kindly Samaritan assisting a lost little boy in the mall.
I stammered for an answer, wondering what he could possibly mean. To my left and right, stools spilled over with trim, handsome men. They had lightly greying hair cut short and neat. They all wore casual but impeccable clothing. They smoked cigarettes and carefully contained their ashes and butts into the glass trays provided on the bar. Their conversations were quiet discussions about politics, art and interesting social events.
Understanding dawned upon me and I smiled brightly back at the bartender and beamed, "Sir, this is like home to me!"
Fag hags are fashionable. Every good pop diva knows that. By the end of the last millennium, the gay male/straight female relationship became the hottest combo to hit primetime thanks to Will & Grace. As soon as homosexuality acquired a commercial value, everyone began to capitalize. An offshoot of this cultural trend is the highlighted relationship of fags and their hags. It is a simple and fulfilling relationship that has all the benefits of a traditional relationship minus most of the neurotic questioning. When Carrie Bradshaw met Stanford Blatch, it didn't take years of missed connections for them to realize it was true love. When I first met the man who would eventually become my homosexual life partner, I had no idea it would one day be so trendy. I was merely looking for a good friend.
I moved to the city to live with a gay man and ended up living with three. Six years later, we may have parted domiciles, but they remain the center of my social circle - my innermost realm. Through the years, I have acquired many men of the same persuasion. It is an easy and satisfying relationship to acquire. One subset of this faction of my life is the middle-aged male homosexual. My junior high therapist would probably say that I am filling a gap left empty by my erratically tempered and emotionally unavailable father. It never occurred to me that I would have difficulty with men because of our precarious relationship. Never knowing the formula to win his affection left me with a distorted view of male relations.
Flirtation was a simple power that I wielded easily. I understood that it was improper to exact such force over certain men such as teachers and fathers of my friends. I remember having meetings with my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Veit. He had a mustache and a deep, soft voice. He loved that I loved to read and encouraged me to push myself further in my literary adventures. I would stand next to his desk and shuffle back and forth from foot to foot trying desperately not to jump out of my skin. It embarrassed me to have a man pay such care and attention to me without provocation and I didn't know where to place his affections. They were completely non-sexual, but I didn't know how else to receive his attention.
Twenty years later, I have found what I wanted for so long with gay men. Completely unsexualized attention. Affection and kindness and intellectual nurturing that is not plied by my own whimsical coquetry.
The owner of the restaurant at which I have been employed off and on for about five years is a benevolent and socially active gay man. Florent Morellet is the premier Meatpacking District celebrity whose influence in the New York cultural scene is broad. He has been HIV-positive for almost two decades, a tan and vital man by any standard. His philanthropy attracts many people to the restaurant. Many of the daytime regulars at his Florent fit the prototype of a man I can truly love: intelligent, well-read, socially active, mature and gay. They are well-groomed, traveled, unpretentious and polite. I know what they like to drink and how they like their food prepared. When the restaurant swells to its busiest and fast-paced moments, I make sure to serve them first. To treat them as family.
Recently, I have been thinking of one of these men in particular, Larry Vrba. Larry has been a good friend to me since I started working at Florent and I look forward to seeing him on Saturday mornings. He greets me with a warm, strong hug and it always makes my job more bearable. Larry sits patiently at the counter and reads the paper: first the New York Times for the real news, and the Daily News for the trashy gossip and the comics. Sometimes, when it is quiet in the restaurant, I will review the headlines with him. When I first started getting to know him, I wanted so desperately to say something smart and important about the events of the world. I was like a child again trying to win the intellectual approval of a kindly teacher.
Larry always brings a small carton of soy milk for the chef to cook his steel-cut Irish oatmeal that he eats every week with walnuts, raisins and a small ramekin of brown sugar. Larry takes his coffee black. I bring him a glass of tomato juice and say, "You need some vitamin C this morning." He always responds, "You're good to me."
It is the kindest, most consistently pleasing relationship I have some days. When I left the city to spend a season in Key West, I sent a postcard to the restaurant and told someone to send Larry my love. In return, he sent me a homemade postcard. I tacked it up on one of the termite ridden Florida pine walls of my conch cottage.
People often remark how hard it must be to meet people in this bevy of eight million strangers. If you stay in one apartment for a while, you will start to recognize the same people: at the deli, at your favorite restaurant, selling scarves on the street. There are endless promises of potential friendship, and an equal number of dead ends. If you are lucky, you have a few close friends whom you are sure will always love you. And if you are really lucky, you may meet a few satellite souls, like Mr. Larry Vrba. People who know you in intimate ways and also not at all, and who keep you from feeling all alone.