Every year since 2009, during the holidays without fail I daydream about my Christmas present being your presence in some form — whether a surprise visit, a letter, an e-mail or even a tweet. Just this morning, I posted a privacy-protected Facebook status message that said, “I think that if you’re over 30, it’s time to stop using words like ‘illest’.” And yet here I am, embarking on a fifth holiday season in which my heart beats for an imaginary boyfriend to the tune of music from Glee.
Online dating is such a bummer, Linc. Gemini keeps encouraging me by reminding me that it’s a numbers game — the more I send out messages, the more chances I’ll get a reply. It’s a classic case of easier said than done. Maybe I can stretch myself to a limit of twenty, but when you’ve sent out thirty messages in a single week, and you’re in your umpteenth account of an umpteenth dating website — where, to your horror, you’re seeing some of the same guys over and over — it starts to take a toll. Also, lately Clara has been watching a lot of those crazy crime documentary shows on Netflix and the last thing that I want to end up as is the baseline for the notes of some Investigation Discovery producer, even though I keep trying to remind myself that these are only the most sensational cases and, by and large, most people are either harmless or indifferent. (Hopefully.)
RQ guy’s visit last month was a wakeup call. If I can’t have him — or you — then I certainly can find someone. Whereas online dating inspires the pointlessness of chasing after my own tail or hauling a boulder up a mountain, interacting with RQ guy and fanboying after you fills me with this ridiculous motivation/energy/excitement about meeting people, meeting guys. Not long after RQ guy left, I signed up for this gay men’s volunteer group. I’ve done two events with them and although I haven’t run into any prospects yet, that’s not (only) the point. The point is that I know what kind of guy I like and instead of trying to find him on an online dating website that is like hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack, I’m putting myself in situations that reflect who I am. I know how obvious that should be but whether it’s the lessons learned from age, experience, or arrested development, I finally see it so clearly: the man of my dreams is lurking somewhere in my love for helping others, for baseball and science and religion and… General Hospital?
When I was still regularly chatting with RQ guy, he kept pestering me about opening up accounts on Scruff and Grindr. (I get the feeling that he knew I was starting to like him and, in that subtle midwestern manner that makes deflection so charmingly easy like Sunday morning, he was trying to steer me toward other options.) The truth is that I am not a Scruff and Grindr kind of guy. The truth is also that I don’t think I am all that different from the kind of guy who has Scruff and Grindr accounts. The difference is that my exposure is all internal — right here. Instead of taking a selfie with just my junk concealed, I’m exposing matters of mind and heart. Even though I am much more comfortable with my body now than I have ever been, I don’t think I will ever become the kind of guy who bares all for a hookup website. In fact, I don’t even know if I am a hooking up kind of guy. I’ve done that once, and it was interesting, and I have not really had any desire to do it again.
You know, I still laugh when I think back to some of the text messages that RQ guy sent me over the summer, like when I was telling him how there are lots of things about sex that mystify or outright gross me out even though I can be pretty amorous. He texted me, “If you don’t like looking at dudes junk and if you think sex smells so bad, then what DO you like?” I was working at a temp assignment at the time, so I used work as an excuse to not answer him. He didn’t pester me about it again. So I guess we’re both pretty good at deflecting. (Also, I admired his correct usage of ‘if, then’ construction.)
I realize that I’ve remarked about this already but I am really curious/impressed by your media silence following the announcement of your re-signing. I know, of course, that you have a personal life and are entitled to engage in it outside of your very public career. But still. I’m a fanboy with a crush. A gay fanboy with a crush. On a straight guy. Anyway, it’s my prerogative to wonder about what you’re up to. Are you vacationing in Hawaii like in that one off-season I had read about in the news? Are you… married? (You know I was gonna ask.)
The other thing that always happens around this time of year is that I contemplate moving back to Maryland. I get absolutely nostalgic when I look at NBC 4 and Washington Post news articles about life back home. Pop and Ma aren’t getting any younger and I am not any closer to giving them grandchildren. I really want to spend more time with them even though I haven’t yet gotten myself together in all the ways that I want to get myself together — speaking of which, there’s this:
You know, it’s such a cliché. The single most important ingredient for success is to work your ass off. I don’t know how else to put it. Anything that is really worth spending your time on should be worth working your ass off and that should be for your job, for your family and for your health.
That’s from an interview I read on LinkedIn. Lisa Stone is a mover and shaker in the social media world. And when I read that part of her interview, I felt this clarity that’s as close to the clarity I had when I sat down to that Giants game back in 2009.
The thing is, I’m planning on taking 5 classes next semester. I barely survived three this semester. I have to be ultra-focused, Linc. I’m not good with managing distractions, especially when they are essential distractions like paying rent and buying food. But when I’m focused, I work miracles. (Self-congratulatory, I know.) Ideally, I want to lock myself in my old room back at home for the next three years and just breeze through the rest of my degree program. For now, though, I’m thinking of a more realistic way to fully commit myself to school: whether it’s finding a more conducive living situation here in San Francisco, or just (momentarily) folding up shop and going back to Pop and Ma.
It would be a shame. This past Sunday, I was busy with community stuff. I’d spent that morning giving a presentation in support of my church’s food pantry program, which is in danger of being cut. Later that afternoon, I helped that gay men’s volunteering group decorate the Christmas tree in City Hall. And then I topped off the day by going to church as I do every Sunday evening.
I do not say that as self-congratulation. I say it to bring home the point that I have ties here. I have spent most of my adult life feeling like a visitor to San Francisco. But the feeling is creeping up on me that if I moved back in with Pop and Ma, I would just be as homesick over there, too.
Spencer, Ray, and I are going on a road trip on Friday, after Thanksgiving, that we’ve been planning since the summer. For three days, I’m going to escape from real life with two of my best friends. Real life has lately been an endless series of full calendar entries. I looked ahead and I’m sad that I’m only going to be in church next month on the 6th, the 7th, and the 8th (and the 9th for a leadership meeting). I might try to make it on the 15th but that’s the weekend right before Clara’s wedding. I know I’ve written that she’s already married, but they actually never had a formal ceremony. This is the real thing. For the last few weeks, I’ve been in a whirlwind helping her this rather last-minute winter ceremony. And that’s the thing, Linc: I’ve got church and friends in San Francisco. Relationships. Ties. Roots. These things can’t be easily reconstructed elsewhere. Life is a tree. You can always plant one somewhere but it takes a long time before it becomes part of the land.
Spencer was just over for lunch. She didn’t eat much. She nibbled on a few bits of leftover meatloaf that Clara made last week. And when I offered Spencer some salad, she reacted in her usual manner, which is to scrunch up her angular face like she’s allergic to vegetables and nutrition in general.
Skinny and petite, men have mistaken Spencer for an easy get. In fact, her mettle rivals Klingons. Spencer is anything but docile. This girl has twisted my man boobs repeatedly since I was 21. Usually she’s not joking. Even I underestimate her ability to destroy. All I have to do is look at her and I’m lulled into a false sense of security. Usually my tit gets pinched because I’ve made a joke about her being older than me and therefore closer to turning forty. But humans are a visual species and anyone who doesn’t know Spencer the way I do will be drawn to her figure and visage as a docile Asian woman. Once, in my early twenties, I posted an online dating ad and I’d neglected to crop Spencer out of one of the photos that I attached. “Who’s the pretty girl?” someone had asked me in an e-mail that I bitterly vanquished.
Over lunch today, I took out my laptop and without preamble pulled up a photo that made Spencer’s jaw drop to such an opening that I made out the gnashed meat on her tongue.
Spencer bent her head steadily to the left and then slowly to the right, her neck suddenly long and flexible like rubber. Her eyes drooped in a daze between one side of the frame of the photo to the other.
"He just sent that to me the other day," I said, puncturing the silence. "Out of the blue."
It was RQ guy. In pants. Without a shirt.
His body, of course, was deliciously chiseled to such a degree that I allowed Spencer a few more minutes of justifiable mesmerization. But I couldn’t keep my amusement to myself and suddenly I giggled.
Spencer snapped her neck and head back into place and stared dumbly at me as she asked: “What?”
I pointed to my chest and made a circling motion at the center.
"This activity right here," I said through an unabashed giggle.
Spencer raised an eyebrow and then even a corner of her mouth until she was grinning. “The tuft of hair, you mean?”
"Yeah!" I practically gasped through my laughter. "He’s so… furry."
Suddenly, Spencer was falling at my side and then she was unintentionally grabbing my man boobs to keep from falling because she was so overcome by amusement.
"But he’s… hot," I admitted.
"He is hot, Joseph,” Spencer proclaimed adamantly, and then added: “And furry.”
We laughed some more.
Then I was sighing in that manner usually attributed to adolescent longing.
"Doesn’t he have a gorgeous smile?" I cooed.
"Oh God, Joseph," Spencer groaned.
But after a pause, she murmurred: “Yes.”
Just then, the speakers on the laptop played a chime.
"What’s that?" Spencer asked.
I hit ALT+TAB and brought up the source of the familiar tune. On Facebook, Selma had sent me an instant message asking: “wow he just sent that to you randomly?”
"Oh my God," Spencer laughed.
"yep," I typed to Selma. "haven’t heard from him in ages and suddenly he just sends it to me and says ‘here’."
Spencer said, aghast: “That’s all he said? ‘Here’?!”
On Facebook, Selma messaged back: “i think he enjoys the attention from you.”
"But I didn’t reply back to him or anything," I protested in writing to Selma as well as dictating to Spencer.
To which Spencer replied, “He probably assumed you’d love it. And you do, Joseph.”
She twisted my left nipple.
"OW!" I cried venomously.
But once the flaring had subsided, I said, “It’s hot.”
"I meant the weather. Global warming."
Spencer ignored me. “God, his arms, dude. They’re huge.”
"You know what they say about big arms."
Spencer reached for my other nipple but I swiped at her just in time.
Later, Livvie said to me of the photo: “Holy Lord.”
Mary said: “God damn.”
Selina: “I know I’m a lesbian but…” (And she trailed off.)
One of my girlfriends from my management class: “You been talking to this guy?!”
One of my girlfriends from the bookstore: “Holy shit, Joe. Nice.”
Charlie, one of my girlfriends from elementary school: “Is that your boyfriend?”
"No," I wrote back to her.
"Can he be my boyfriend?”
One of my girlfriends from church: “Ummmmm wow.”
One of my girlfriends from a temping gig I did recently: “Fuck yeah.”
By the way, Linc, thanks for making a donation to the folks back home.
"So are you going to keep this?" Spencer said, and then added quickly: "Wait a minute. I don’t want to know."
"You are disgusting," I hissed. But I was smirking as I said that.
"Of course, I’m only keeping that until Tim Lincecum gets a hold of my body and does things to it that violate the moral codes of at least half a dozen fundamentalist societies," I added.
The poet Leslie McGrath, who I befriended in 2009 and have considered a mentor ever since, today every so often continues to post Facebook status updates and news articles about the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. Sometimes her posting is short and simple such as: “Thinking of Haiti today,” with “today” being as recently as a few weeks ago. The selfish and detached – and human? – part of myself thinks to myself, She is still posting about Haiti? But the superhumanly empathic side of me that has reigned supreme all my life is keenly aware that there is no such thing as “still” thinking about Haiti. It’s hard for me to think of something of that magnitude as “old news” or any kind of news at all; rather, instead of news, it’s history – and even “history” fails to capture the gravity of such a monumental event in the course of human evolution.
I am not being self-congratulatory when I describe myself as “superhuman” for being empathic. Nor am I being theatric when I express my sentiment that the 2010 Haiti earthquake is an event so significant as to shape our history as a species. It’s easy to not think of Haiti anymore now that the headlines have moved onto other things. It’s human nature: out of sight, out of mind.
As for my empathy, it has often been a hindrance. At its most basic level, empathy functions to make me feel too much so that in fact I say and feel things that seem theatric even to the degree of appearing to act as a stereotypical gay person. (But hey, I don’t deny that I get crazed by the plot lines on General Hospital, or that I relish reading celebrity gossip. If that is stereotypically gay, then fine.) The biggest disadvantage with empathy is that it blurs the lines of human connection. Sometimes when I have related to the travails of another, I have led myself to believe that my understanding of that person is cosmic.
As with Leslie and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, I foresee myself thinking about Typhoon Haiyan for a very long time. Of course, the bias there is that I’m Filipino. But it’s not a very helpful bias. What can I do, Linc, but post Facebook messages about it and deplane the suffering passengers of my diverted heart into these never-to-be-sents? Here’s the horrible and most heinous fact: I have yet to donate money. For all my talk of Doctors Without Borders and NAFCO — two organizations for which I have advocated to everyone from you to my church community — the last donation that I made was a few weeks ago, and that was to the SPCA. (Every now and then, I make a small donation in memory of Sarka and one of her sisters, Zoe, both of whom I remember freshly even though they have been in doggy heaven for some time.) I also have this recurring monthly donation, also extremely modest, set up with my church but I have been thinking of pausing even that. This is a terrible position to be in. I am a 31-year old without even the resources to donate to causes that are globally worthy and personally meaningful.
Well… I had to take a break from writing just now after writing that last sentence, not just because of the wholly unsurprising existential self-pity, but also because my mind drifted off into random memories of Sarka, who I will always remember for being aloof to the point that there were times it seemed like she didn’t give a shit about me. And it never bothered me. Specifically, one of the small moments that I enjoyed most with her was when I’d try to get her attention, and she’d do this thing where she’d turn her snout to face opposite of me and then I’d make kissy noises with my mouth and the first moment she’d look my way I would kiss her on the cheek. Sarka was a big ol’ black lab and I would just wrap my arms around her in the moment she finally looked at me, and if you had walked in during one of those moments you would be witness to the comic sight of this big ol’ black lab sighing uncertainly at the unsolicited affection from the man who cares too much. Story of my life.
What does any of this have to do with RQ guy’s visit back in October? Plenty. The exact moment that it occurred to me that I may have intertwined/misinterpreted empathy for a deeper connection was when I set foot back in San Francisco the morning that I had breakfast with him and my ex-roommate. They were staying out in Oakland, where it was sunny and warm, and when I returned to San Francisco it was sunny but cooler, of course. But it wasn’t the weather by which I was stricken. Something else about San Francisco felt askew. As I walked downtown, moving through the crowds of tourists and people going to work, I knew that I was one of those people, too. I wasn’t a tourist but a resident, he of thirteen years, and headed to school — the campus is near the financial district — and I simply didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore.
What clarified this feeling of displacement wasn’t RQ guy himself. I think, Linc, that in that moment I set foot back in San Francisco, I also got over my crush on him. Over breakfast, he and my ex-roommate had talked a lot about their reason for being back in the Bay Area in the first place, which was to go on a hiking trip in Tahoe – yes, Linc, a hiking trip as in: wandering around the wilderness, pitching a tent in the middle of nowhere, living on the elements. For them, it was a reality but for me it was only a notion, and it was breathtaking. I thought to myself, I’ve been on this planet for 31 years. Why haven’t I ever done something like that?
The reason why this arc of never-to-be-sents is called “Four days in October” is because those are the number of days that I was afflicted by a bout of the sharpest existential angst to hit me up to that point. The fourth day was RQ guy’s last day in the Bay Area, and on the evening that he returned from his hiking trip, to my great surprise he still had enough energy to take a train to San Francisco and hang out with me. This sent me into a frenzy, as you might imagine. Hot guy friend coming to town! The girls were up in arms as well. Spencer was aghast when I asked her to come along. “Don’t you want to be alone with him?” she’d exclaimed.
I did… and didn’t. I knew that whatever was there was only one-way but that didn’t bother me as much as potentially ruining a visitor’s visit with my misplaced feelings. I ended up successfully making Spencer come along reasoning that it would be better if the outing were a “group thing”. We met RQ guy at the BART station in the Mission district, made light chit chat, and walked him over to Bi-Rite to try the ice cream icon of San Francisco. Over at the ice creamery, they have bench seating set up along the sidewalk and the sight of a line along the block and nearly every empty space filled on the benches with patrons and their ice cream even on a night with a chill in the air is not uncommon. RQ guy, whose Facebook postings had indicated a clear pattern establishing him as a foodie, seemed duly impressed by Bi-Rite ice cream. He also noted something unexpected that I had thought unexpected in myself as well.
“You seem quiet,” he said, taking up a spoonful of maple ice cream.
The reason why I was quiet in that particular moment was because his foot had brushed up against mine. Out of reactionary politeness, I immediately moved mine aside but my eyes were pressed to the ground and toward the short distance between our feet. The reason that I “seemed quiet” at all was because the whole time I had been trying very hard to restrain the wild person with whom he had regularly communicated in the months leading up to his visit. I have overwhelmed friendships deeper than whatever or nothing was between myself and RQ guy, Linc, and the results were never pretty. My early twenties is a graveyard of burned bridges. Besides, my philosophy and intention in that moment at Bi-Rite were both pure: I didn’t want to ruin the visit of someone who had only been to the San Francisco Bay Area twice in his life.
Spencer, who I’m afraid may have felt herself a third wheel, had finished her ice cream and excused herself to find a compost bin. In the moment that opened up, I attempted to open up as well.
“I am in awe that you went on such a cool trip,” I told RQ guy. “Just hearing about it makes me feel… inadequate.”
“What do you mean by ‘inadequate’?”
I could have taken the time to explain to him all the insecurities I felt as a person of my age who feels as if he has accomplished so little. Instead, my stupidly adolescent mind was still whizzing with the thought of our feet being so close together.
Eventually, I said to him: “I think I might be having a mid-life crisis.”
Theatric, I know. Shut up, Linc. But it was how I felt. And aren’t feelings facts?
RQ guy, however, was wholly unfazed. He’d ordered himself three flavors of ice cream and he seemed fixated on intently experiencing each one. Or perhaps he was bored and disappointed by my inability to converse adequately.
“Calm yourself,” he said, although his scolding was muffled by the spoon in his mouth. “First of all, you’re too young for a mid-life crisis. Second, instead of thinking of it as a crisis, why not think of it as a wakeup call?”
That was it, Linc. That was the light. You’re probably thinking that something so simple should have already occurred to me but in that moment it turns out that a simple reframing and rewording of my feelings was enough to change how I felt. No longer did I felt diminished by the spectacular lives of others, especially the life of RQ guy, for whom I still felt a pang of affection yet upon whom I also was now projecting less and less. Although in that same moment I wanted very badly to wrap my arm around his and plant my head against one of his enormous biceps, this time around it was because I was now a peer with the certainty that with his departure I would be a changed man.
The next day, he texted me just before he got on his plane. But I haven’t heard much from him since. At one point, such a drift in communication might have led me to feel that we had drifted apart. Instead, I felt lucky that our lives crossed, even if it was momentarily through a prolonged series of silly text messages and a singular moment of gourmet ice cream. From his departure I have been left to chart a new course for myself all at once fascinating and scary. This must be the way it feels to go on a hiking trip.
I would like to interrupt the regularly scheduled RQ guy narrative to bring you this never-to-be-sent which is directed more to one of my Tumblr friends than it is to you. (I’m sure you’re not offended since you — the real you — probably isn’t and likely never will read this anyway.) Said Tumblr friend has been an ex-pat living in Germany for… I don’t remember the number of years she says she’s lived there, but it seems like a lifetime. She hardly ever talks about her former American life and when she does I glean from her fleeting narratives a curious dissonance.
It occurs to me that other than a photo that I posted from London, I haven’t posted much evidence of my summer trip to Europe. I remember how when this Tumblr friend of mine found out about how I originally didn’t want to go to Europe — remember that? remember my adamant, and whiny, reluctance? — she gave me the ol’ tongue-lashing. She’d said things like It makes me sad that you’d pass up such a great opportunity and You should really think this through. Basically, like everyone else to whom I’d confided my reluctance about going to Europe, she thought I was being an idiot — and I was, though of course I wouldn’t be able to see that until I actually got there. And now, of course, I miss Europe like cray cray. (Wait, is “cray cray” still a thing? Because I kinda like saying it.)
So, here’s a photo with a funny story. First, the setting: this is in Paris somewhere very close to the Jardin des Tuileries. Now, the context: those pants that I’m wearing just came from that boutique I’m standing in front of. They were a surprise purchase, to say the least. In the months that preceded our trip, Ma kept emphasizing that Parisians were very stylish people and that we should try to dress up to their standards. I let Ma go on and on about what shoes she wanted to wear even though I was skeptical of her conviction because everything she was talking about sounded like stuff that TV and the movies depict of Paris but to me couldn’t possibly actually be Parisian. Come on, I thought — they can’t be that bad.
Everything changed on the day we were scheduled to go on a citywide bus trip that culminated in an evening visit to the Eiffel Tower. I was wearing the shirt that you see in this photo but it was paired with shorts — and drawstring beach shorts, no less! I remember once reading that Rick Steves recommended not wearing shorts when traveling through Europe because that was a very absurdly American and touristy thing to do. That very recommendation was thrown in my face when Pop, Ma, and I fell into the line for our bus tour and I noticed that all the guys were dressed either in collared shirts and slacks or, in some cases, outright suits. At first, I didn’t even think they were going on the bus tour. Maybe they were on their way to the opera?
They were all speaking English — with English accents.
"Excuse me," I said, politely breaking into one of the conversations.
Two towering men of at least fortysomething years tilted downward to regard me with bemused smiles. For some reason I got the feeling that I had stepped into Lord of the Rings.
"Quick question," I pressed ahead. "Are you guys going on the bus tour?"
"That’s right," one of the guys said.
"Really?" I said, taken aback to such a degree that I literally stepped back. "You guys look so nice."
"Thanks, mate," said the other, cheerily.
"What’s the occasion?"
The two guys stared at each other and then turned to me, bewildered. After a moment one of them finally proclaimed: “We’re in Paris, mate.”
In a panic, I scanned the vicinity for any sign of clothing shops. When I spotted the boutique in the photo, I told Ma that I had to step away from the line for a few minutes.
"Hurry back. I think we’re gonna board soon," Ma admonished, ever-vigilant about punctuality. We weren’t actually due to board for at least another half hour — more than enough time for me to replace my absurdly touristy American shorts.
In the boutique, I expected to be dismissed or treated indifferently. This was Paris, mate! Instead, the young clerk beamed at me as if he had been tending to an uneventful day of retail sales and I was the first legitimate prospect to visit all day.
"Parle-vous anglais?" I asked.
"Little bit," he said, to my dismay. Time was running out and I had to be very precise. I took a breath and pondered what I would say next.
"I need slacks," I began uncertainly.
The clerk echoed my uncertainty. “Slacks…?”
I sighed and thought some more. “Pants.”
The clerk hopped over to a display of jeans in bright tones of red and yellow — much too casual than what I had in mind. And then I saw a display of khakis: simple yet classy.
"Those," I said, pointing to the khakis and forcing a smile so that he wouldn’t think I was bossing him around.
"Ah. Yes. These are good. What size?"
Oh shit. European size!
"Um, I only know American size," I said, feeling my face go hot.
"American…" the clerk said, his voice falling with dismay.
I reminded myself that precision was the key.
"I’m fat," I blurted to him. For added effect, I dramatically brought out my arms and then circled them around my hips like moons orbiting a planet.
The clerk stared, wide-eyed. He returned the khakis he had retrieved and then snatched a new pair to offer me.
"Try this," he said. "It is European 45. Very big. Maybe it is equivalent."
I crossed my fingers without considering whether or not that was a gesture that translated into French culture. I gratefully took the khakis from him and dashed into the dressing room, which was really a glorified closet scrunched up against the stock room where boxes overflowed with garments seeping from recently shorn tops.
The pants were a disaster. I feared nearly tearing the fabric simply trying to fit in one of my legs. It wasn’t too long before I dashed back out to the tiny sales floor and I was so desperate that I didn’t care that I was only in my boxers.
The clerk had been organizing a display of lower shelf collar shirts when he looked up at me, hopeful at first and then hapless the next. He shook his head and I shook mine. And then he dug around in one of the shelves and pulled out another pair of khakis, quickly reading the tag on them before handing them to me.
"This is the largest size I have," he said. "You wish to try?"
In the dressing room, I slid into them with a precision that I had never experienced with American clothes. I had been used to wearing pants all my life that were a little to a lot baggy. The closest approximation that I had for these khakis was to call them skinny jeans — except that they were khakis, and rather than being “skinny,” they were… just right. The most fitting, if not perfect, size that neither too loose nor too constricting.
Back on the sales floor, I announced with relief to the clerk: “I’ll take it.”
"They are good?" he said excitedly.
I stuck my hands into the pockets. “They’re perfect.”
They were size 53 — enormous by European standards, and certainly a self-consciously large number for me. As for the cost, you don’t want to know.
Back home in America, I told this story to Spencer at a time when the span of weeks had created some distance between myself and the situation.
"So let me get this straight," Spencer had said over coffee at Mission Pie. “You freaked out because you were the only one in shorts so you decided to pay a bazillion Euros for new khakis? Only you would have a pants emergency while going on a tour of Paris. Only you, Joseph.”
In my defense, they weren’t a bazillion Euros. But the equivalent in American dollars was way more than I would ever have paid for pants, even the nicest dress slacks, stateside.
So that’s what happened in that photo. Hard to believe that that was taken in June, which doesn’t seem like such a long time ago and yet it does. Especially when I have endured the kind of week that has just passed and the kind of week that is about to unfold. When I find myself trapped in and blinded by the short-term and short-sighted hardships of everyday living, I find myself immediately clinging to anything that will bring me out of the funk long enough to get me going forward again: a childhood memory, a piece of writing from simpler times, zoning out to General Hospital, and…
There is an entire world of fanfic out there about you, Linc. I never really started to read that stuff until recently and only then it’s because I’m doing research for the paper I’m writing in my English class this semester. But in the baseball fanfic community, there’s a separation between fanfic and mainstream sports writing sites like Deadspin and probably this is why I have been mostly unaware of all the fanfic that exists about you. Mostly, though, I’ve never wanted to devolve into a creepy kind of never-to-be-senter.
In some cases those pseudonymous fanfics include pleas to not link their stories to any of the mainstream sports fandoms — or especially to the players written about so lustily, and longingly, in those fictions. Here I’ve been for the last four years writing these epistles with with some high-minded presumption that they could be a bridge between the longings of fanfic and the truths of the real world, and it turns out that according to the rules, the twain are not meant to meet.
Maybe I’ve done all of this wrong. If I liked you so much, then I should have just become a pseudonymous fanfic writer, not someone who willingly publicizes his unrequited love. And yet, it is what it is — and so I find myself lately, in moments of downtime, going into Google and typing your name.
I don’t do this often, Linc. I’ve been a fan for over four years but only now am I discovering the fanfic and only now have I been really moved to pull up Google image search results of you. These days, occasionally pulling up these photos of you is the closest I have to the magic of going to a regular season ballgame, of escaping to Europe.
I want so badly for life to make sense the way it does in my head. But life has a mind of its own — and as a religious man, I believe that God has plans of His own and I just have to deal with whatever He throws my way. Still, I piece together coincidences, expectations, and feelings like they’re part of an ongoing narrative, an invisible tapestry, some master plan with patterns and meaning, with a beginning and end. I am naïve, Linc. I’m grotesquely naïve.
This naïve person is the one staring into his eyes. And the person staring back is a stranger, someone upon whom I’ve projected longing and meaning and other selfish things – much as I have with you. Much as we all do with one another: casual sex, marriage, and even divorce are all the byproducts of selfish yearning that masqueraded as the consent of individual hearts.
RQ guy is here: it’s October, the day before Halloween, and the abstraction that has so far been a number on my cell phone and wild, private thoughts is here in the flesh and all to myself for the five minutes or so it will take for my ex-roommate to use the bathroom. It is an incredible moment, Linc. Of course, I won’t tell him that. He would probably think I’m silly – probably already does. I’m certain that he regards me as a curiosity of excessive sentimentality and an overthinker, and with equal certainty I know that the expectations between my side of the table and his are so different that our literal physicality is offset by a figurative yet no less cataclysmic chasm.
The questions that swirl through my head in this moment are themselves abstractions. They are whims and feelings much like the ones that I felt during all the text messages that led up to this meeting. Let me explain why I’m writing as if I have never met RQ guy before: technically, I haven’t. Some years ago, during one of my ex-roommate’s previous visits, she’d brought him with her. At that time, he was a new friend that she’d made in the place that she moved away to: Chicago, home to a president, a talk show host so powerful that she can plummet stocks, two professional baseball teams, and an unrivaled deep dish pizza. And like the city’s tired nickname, RQ guy had breezed in without solicitation. I was not happy that he was interloping on my reunion with my ex-roommate and friend.
That was then. Now here we are. Through Facebook, he’d re-introduced himself over the summer because of a tragedy that my ex-roommate had endured. And then we kept talking.
I cannot help but now in this moment think to myself that it is all some kind of a story: reconnecting with someone whom I had previously dismissed, messaging with him regularly and most times salaciously, and now sitting here in a cafe with him. But it’s a story that I’m only telling myself, isn’t it? Probably he just wants to finish the remains of the bagel sitting on a plate in front of him.
The things we’ve said to each other over Facebook and text messages have been at times hilarious, endearing and, yes, dirty. I feel good when he messages me, Linc. I feel so good that it feels like hearing from him is a drug. There are days when I wonder if I’m addicted – and if I really am an addict then what deficiencies have landed me in this predicament? Is there rehab for the perpetually lonely?
But I’m not really lonely. I don’t consider myself pathetic. Maybe you do. After all, writing unsent letters to a handsome, out of reach, and straight baseball player is a winning formula for canceling out whatever good I’ve done in my life. But I have accomplishments. You don’t spend thirteen years away from home without growing up a little. I have scraped together a life. And while I’ve done nothing especially heroic or noteworthy, building a life is an unsung achievement. Most people let broken relationships, burned bridges, and deferred dreams color their lives to such a degree that there can only be a single, irreparable reality.
I’m not lonely – and yet I am. In a minute or two, after RQ guy and I have traded the tired conversational flourishes of so much small talk and cinematic depictions of small talk, I will make a smart-ass remark about his hairline, even going so far as to say: “White guys tend to go bald faster.”
Out of context, it’s surely a racist remark – no one outside of this table will understand the dynamic between the upbringing of a Filipino raised in a black community and a white Midwesterner brought together by what the first believes as fate and the other in all probability considers vague coincidence. Anyway, I’m only here to meet him in person and nothing more. We are just being friendly. I get that and merely, authentically want to be hospitable. He doesn’t come to San Francisco all that often. Later, he and my ex-roommate will leave with some of their friends and go on a hike somewhere up in the wilderness of Tahoe. RQ guy, like my ex-roommate, is an outdoorsy type. You can see it in his build: kind of rugged, lean, his arms sculpted with little mounds of muscle, his chest broad and his cheeks smooth and boyish under manicured facial hair. He is an interesting collision of urbane, urban, and rustic – yes, something about him strikes me as urbane. Maybe it is his Midwestern politeness. (He is a Chicago transplant, from Kansas. Kansas! Who knew that they made ‘em gay over there?) He exudes a charm that is smooth and accommodating without seeming false and patronizing. A lot of men who aren’t Midwesterners, who are both gay and straight, struggle to strike that balance.
RQ guy takes my remark with the kind of shrug that I have pictured him making so many times when we’ve traded barbs by text. He even goes so far to tilt his hair toward me and says, “But my hairline isn’t receding.”
I keep to myself the comeback that I want to make about how his hairline to me resembles so much of what I’ve seen in white dudes who are on the road to the Hair Club.
Often in our messages he has sharply made fun of me for possessing the stereotype common to so many gay Asian men of liking white guys. The thought must have certainly crossed your mind at some point, Linc. Anyway, in this moment, at this café, the stereotype is naggingly true.
As RQ guy tilts his hair away from me and resumes our conversational gaze, I reach for his forearm resting on the table and skirt my fingers over his skin. I don’t mean for this to be a flirtatious gesture. I genuinely want to assure him of the words that I am about to speak: “I’m just teasing you, man.”
But then I pull back so quickly that I can’t even tell if his skin is soft or rugged. I do want to flirt, but I’m conscious that he is just visiting. And why on earth would I want to scare away a nice visitor to my nice city just because meeting him means more to me than it does to him?
Anyway, during our previous exchanges, he has sent a picture of – among other things – his poo. And often I have made remarks — both snide and salacious — about his penis. If nothing else, we have become what seems to be friends.
In another few minutes, my ex-roommate is back. She’s sliding her hands over the sides of her pants in that universal gesture of drying your hands when you’ve hastily rinsed them in the bathroom.