October 8th, 2022
I drove to the Tin Lizzie, Orange County’s divey gay bar, arriving at 9pm. I needed a break. I ordered an Old Fashioned (“is whiskey even good??” I thought) and sat outside, alone, watching. It’s the night I intended. Caleb, bald, in a leather jacket and skirt, walked up to me and complimented my AIDS walk shirt. I complimented his septum piercing. We chatted about nothing, and he got another drink, inviting his friend (friend? Yes, friend.) Trevor over to the table. The speaker blared next to us, a pop song about cuffing, and Caleb said, “isn’t this so heteronormative? Like, straight people get married and are cuffed to each other, chained like a prison.” I thought Caleb kind-of looked like Foucault. “This whole heteronormative institution: are the straights okay?” and Trevor agreed that it was pretty bleak. I asked Caleb and Trevor how many people they knew at this bar, because they claimed to be regulars, and I had never seen them before, and Caleb said, “one person at each table,” and went off to say hello to another group of people at another table. Trevor told me that he and Caleb had dated once. Caleb came back; I finished my drink, and we talked about pets.
“A dog sacrificed himself for me, once,” Caleb said. Trevor and I looked at Caleb. “I used to live in the countryside, on a three-acre plot of land, and there was corn. Corn! Corn! All around, there was a ton of corn, and there were these trees in the front. And I was digging a hole, kind-of in this hole, and the babysitter runs out and yells ‘WATCH OUT!!’ at me. And I turn and the dog sprinting straight towards me, and I ducked into the hole to avoid the dog and he slammed right into me and I went rolling. And the dog just stood there. A truck drove by and hit him. And that’s the story.
“But he just stood there. Like, the truck hit him, and he stood there, and all of a sudden all you can hear was screaming. The dog was down! So the babysitter called my mom,” and the music drowned Caleb out.
“We’re driving down the countryside road, which is like, 30 minutes from the nearest hospital. We’re going 100 and the cops pull behind us, sirens blaring, and my mom doesn’t care at all, she just keeps going, with the dog bleeding out in the back of the pickup. And the dog’s blood is running down those little grooves in the bed of the truck, so I reach down and touch the blood, because I’m curious.” Caleb pretends to dip his fingers down, running them along invisible grooves, “and the babysitter yelled at me! ‘NO!’ she said, and grabbed me and pulled me away.” The music blared loudly again. The dog did not make it. “Dramatic and traumatic,” Caleb called it. Trevor and I agreed that we both did not have stories like it, except that Trevor’s childhood dog died on his 24th birthday—his mom called, saying “Happy Birthday, by the way our dog passed away.”
Trevor mentioned that he had never been to Donkey D’s, a local gay bar, and I suggested that he go, so I got both Caleb and Trevor’s numbers and they left. I got back on Grindr. Nick asked me if I was feeling better, and I said “yeah.”
I drove for 35 minutes to Chino at 10:50 PM. When I turned off on the 71 North, a four-lane highway driving through rocky hills, I thought of being transported to a smaller town. The highway pulled off onto a two-lane road surrounded by trees, like an agricultural community. And it flowed into an industrial area, no life in sight. I pulled off to a little neighborhood of small houses.
I got to Nick’s place at 11:30. I parked a street over, and he texted me, “can you repark closer?” “Ok…” I said. And so he greeted me with a hug, telling me that one of his family members was asleep in the house, so we were alright to head to his bedroom. And so I walked the wooden stairs of his house in the dark, stumbling up from my attempt to be impossibly silent, until we got into his room, cast in a low purple light. I took my shoes off. “Make yourself comfortable,” he said, so I did. He asked me to move over on the bed and turned on Jackass 4 for a background show to watch.
He went down on me, and I thought, “I drove to Chino for this??” until I finished.
“Could you go for round two?” he asked, and I said, “give me a second,” so he asked, “what type of music do you like?”
“Well,” I said, “uh, I kind-of listen to a lot of ambient music, but also indie stuff. Stuff that helps me chill out a bit.” He replied, “like lo-fi?” and I said, “lo-fi hip hop radio 24 hours on loop,” which is a reference to a meme of a study-music Youtube video.
He said, “I like to listen to Top 100 music.” It was not a joke.
Jackass 4 played on his television screen, with naked men smashing each other’s’ testicles as a joke; with old men being forced into the street naked; with men playing games together without clothes on, and it turned me off entirely, so I spoke up. “It reminds me of Barbara Kruger’s piece, that has a bunch of men dancing or wrestling or fighting and says “You construct intricate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men.” Because some of what the men do in Jackass 4 is homoerotic, but we assume that all the men are straight, which is what makes the joke compelling. All the men are finding ways to place hands on each other, to see their friends naked, even if it requires some type of violence to make the gesture into a parody. So you have these people who are acting homoerotically, but relying on an implied heterosexuality to legitimate these acts as comedy or not-queer.”
“I do not understand,” he said. I thought I might try to explain it again, because it seemed simple to me, and this man was in bed with me was also in grad school, so I thought he should be able to think about this.
“So, in the show you have a bunch of straight men who are finding ways to be relatively intimate with each other, and in some cases, perform actions similar to a gay sensuality, but without understanding that these are queer actions—only jokes. And so, Barbara Kruger might say that the show constructs a ritual that allows straight men to touch the skin of other straight men, without the risk of homoeroticism or a queer reading of the actions. You know, there might be a queer desire that these men enact that can be passed off as straight.”
“I don’t really follow,” he said.
“What are you getting your graduate degree in?” I asked.
“Public Administration,” he said.
“Sounds tedious,” I said.
“Yeah, did you go to school?” he asked.
“Yeah, Cal State Long Beach,” I said.
“I have a friend that studies theology, but at a state school, where he feels like he can challenge his faith,” he said.
“Oh man, at some point his faith might just fall away. At least if he takes the challenges to his faith seriously and follows them their furthest extension. I guess that’s part of the faith journey though,” I said, but not really knowing what I was saying.
“Yeah, he wants to be a priest one day,” he said.
“Oh jeeze,” I said.
“Did you study theology?”
“No, well, religion more anthropologically or sociologically. And I was more interested in the philosophy of it, like what counts as a category of religion anyways—” which is a conversation I’ve memorized.
“Oh that’s cool,” he said.
And somewhere along the way, he mentioned that his sister is a cop, “but a good cop: she does not give tickets unless someone talks themself into one” and I thought about what would constitute a “good cop,” while he asked for a back massage, and I said, “I’m not good at massages but I’ll rub your back,” and he turned on his side. Then we switched. He gave me a good massage, and I thought about how nice it was, and how this man’s generosity would win me over if I could get rid of the feeling of a false generosity—that something was slightly misplaced the entire time; like an eroticism blindly unaware of its juxtaposition to Jackass 4, rolling out its nauseating scenes on the TV. And he asked for cuddles: “will you cuddle me? For fifteen minutes?” and something felt like a checklist, so mundane and ordered and I said, “ok I’ve got to go,” and he said, “can we switch positions for two more minutes?” and he snored and I said, “I’ve gotta go,” getting up, grabbing everything, saying, “see you later,” and walking fast to my car. The GPS estimate was 45 minutes (“fuck!” under my breath).
I guess I tried to appreciate the empty two-lane road, the feeling like Chino was a small town, until I hit the freeway and remembered the 15-minute rule: only meeting people 15 minutes away maximum, unless you’ve got a reason to cultivate an intentionality beyond 15 minutes (is this shallow? Gas is expensive. I do not know).