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Tom’s Diner

The Times had a decent article about Sunday’s march, which is mostly a blur to me now of signs, crowds, skin, costumes, cops, heat, and noise. Unlike the jubilant nature of the anti-war marches I had attended in San Francisco, the mood of this march felt cautious, which is to be expected, considering what New York has been through. Or maybe I’m just projecting again, viewing the crowds around me with the watchful hesitation I felt all morning.

When we reached Madison Square Garden, site of the GOP Convention, protesters pushed themselves up against the barricades surrounding the building, chanting and waving their signs at the scores of police clad in riot gear. Helicopters hovered overhead, the chop of their propellers echoing down off the buildings lining Seventh Avenue. One man, thin, sweat running down his pale face, pushed his way to the front of the crowd and began yelling at the cops there; “Officers have been killed in Iraq! You should be joining us! You should be JOINING US!” He was a moment from snapping; everyone, including the other protesters, watched him warily. Everyone lingered, drawn cautiously to the most obvious point of conflict. Before we had reached the site, the avenue had been packed, shoulder to shoulder with protesters, but beyond the next corner the crowds thinned out. It was as though everyone there both wanted and feared for something to happen. I couldn’t look away from the cops and the plastic cords bunched together, hanging from their belts. I watched for signs that they might push into the crowd. I had been arrested at a protest once, many years ago in high school during the Contra War. I had been clubbed in the stomach and thrown in the back of a truck with one of those plastic cords wrapped tight around my wrists, and I didn’t care to relive the futility of that experience.

Every since then I’ve had mixed feelings about protests. I’m not always convinced that being at one matters in the grand scheme, and I have to set aside the ridicule and irreverence that rises within me when surrounded by crowds of idealists, waving their signs and chanting, “The people, united, will never be defeated!” But I don’t buy that anymore, and every time I hear it I question the chanters’ grip on reality. But the same urge that drove me to New York drives me to protests; not wanting to wonder “what if I had gone?” and instead, going and seeing for myself, and if nothing else being counted as one more body. Below the derision, there is still a spark of admiration I feel for the idealists and their tireless efforts, so different from my own defensive apathy.

Later, after a restless nap I dressed and walked down to a video/music/book store on Broadway called Kim’s, where I wanted to sign up for a rental membership. And I wandered around the store and downstairs through their aisles of dvd’s, waiting for someone to come back to the membership counter but nobody ever did. I smiled a bit at the categories under which the store had organized the CD’s. There were the typical Jazz, Hip Hop, and Electronica sections, but the rock/pop section was divided between “Establishment”; musicians who had signed contracts before 1990, and “Indie”; musicians who had signed after. Several shelves in the dvd section were reserved for the Criterion Collection (“For Connoisseurs of Fine Cinema”). The categories were both hilarious and somehow comforting to me, after so many years of wandering the obnoxiously bright aisles of Blockbuster.

Nobody ever came back to the membership counter, and the signs posted there were written precisely for keeping newbies like myself from pestering the employees at the main counter. My human interaction quota had been passed long before at the march, so I left, consoling myself with the fact that my dvd’s from Netflix would be arriving soon. I stopped back at the apartment for my laptop, and gave in to the eclair that was calling my name from the Hungarian Pastry Shop. I sat at a table back in the dimly-lit recesses and drank coffee cut with milk. I have yet to go anywhere in New York where they offer cream freely; milk seems to be the staple, but that’s probably better for me, considering the spectacular pastry that I devoured slowly, each delicate bite melting on my tongue. I’d take a bite and push the plate away, read a bit more of the script a friend had emailed me, then take another bite. I ate the whole thing in this way, stretching it out over an hour as couples and friends chatted together at the surrounding tables.

From time to time I’d glance up, startled to see a giant calico cat walking casually around the tables, hopping up on a chair and soliciting pets from a young woman sitting with her laptop. She lowered the screen a bit to murmur across the table at the cat, who sat with her eyes blinking slowly on the seat of the chair. Did you know that virtually all calico cats are female? I didn’t know that until I worked at the animal shelter for awhile. Next to the cat, at the young woman’s table, a man sat with his own laptop, his back to me. I could see his screen, and a snatch of writing visible from several feet away, the words in giant font read “The effects of globalization changes our…”

I stuffed a dollar in their tip jar on my way out, and it was dusk and the enormous cathedral at the end of my street rose up, its walls glowing dimly in the receding light.

And later I sat on a bench under the canopy of trees lining Riverside Drive as the sun slipped lower in the sky, talking on my cell to friends back in California, who told me my voice sounded good, that I sounded happy. And the evening was warm and it was summer and I sat in my t-shirt and jeans, the headband of my baseball cap damp with sweat, and a woman with an elderly collie shuffled by, and the collie gave me a sideways look, a look that said, “I have secrets that nobody will ever know.” And the woman smiled down at me because, like most dog owners, she liked that I paid attention to her collie. And when I hung up the phone I got to my feet and wandered back up 112th St, the lights of the apartments lit up and the air still and warm. And I was reluctant to unlock the door to my building and climb the stairs to my desk, where I sat and wrote this without thinking too much about it, since sometimes that’s the only way I can get things done.


I’ve lived in New York for two weeks, barely enough time for first impressions. But the conversations I’ve had with the people I’ve met, some fellow bloggers, some Columbia students in other programs, have each lasted for hours. Yesterday a retired blogger met up with me for lunch at Tom’s Diner, which is, from what I’ve been told, both the exterior of the Seinfeld restaurant and the inspiration for the Suzanne Vega tune. I don’t recommend their food. But later we grabbed coffee across the street and sat at a table outside on Broadway and W 113th, under the scaffolding that surrounded the building. And as we talked the rain broke through the heat and fell in waves across the sidewalk, and we were outside but dry, and this made me happy.

I’m sitting now in the Reading Room at the Public Library on 42nd St, cool air washing over me, the ceiling above me painted with rose-tinged clouds. Orientation for the writing program begins tomorrow and lasts two days, and then classes start on Tuesday, just after Labor Day. I’m anxious to get started, to have the focus and the access to the school’s facilities. But I’m glad that I arrived when I did, in time to get settled, in time to see brief snatches of the city before school work takes over. Something tells me that I will look back on these two weeks with fondness, the weeks I spent in New York with each day free, taking the subway, buying things for the apartment to make it my home, meeting people and having conversations that lasted for hours, each of them a tiny spark guiding me through the city.

Dispatch of Grump

I was going to write about how the shine faded a bit on my twelve-day love affair with New York today, and how even though I paid off all my debts two-and-a-half years ago the mistakes I made before I got sober are still haunting my credit report, and therefore Citibank is now treating me like an irresponsible twelve-year old, and how Verizon made me pay a ridiculously high deposit just so that I could have the privilege of signing a two-year contract for one of their dumb cell phones, and that the cell phone reception in my apartment still sucks so I had to get a landline which I didn’t want because I’m going to be a poor grad student and how the grocery stores in my neighborhood are overpriced and how for some reason all my friends are operating under the impression that Columbia is paying for everything, including my apartment, which is funny except when I have to correct them with the truth, and how the neighborhood is full of fresh-faced undergraduates and their parents milling about, getting in the way and how the West End pub was packed with business school students (I’m guessing business school from the clothes and haircuts, though that’s small of me) and how it’s hot and sticky and the Republicans are in town and everyone’s mildly freaked out and how my stepsister is getting married in a month and I’ve never owned a suit in my life and I don’t know where to grow up and get one and join society but I decided not to because it was boring to say all that. Much less for you to read it.

And honestly everything will be better once I can find a good barber to compulsively harass visit every two weeks and once I get my student ID at orientation next Wednesday which will let me use the gym. And the library. But at the moment the gym is my priority. A good haircut and a good workout are the cheapest, most reliable forms of therapy I know. And then I can go to the library and read or something. Maybe even write, since that is what I’m supposed to be doing here.

So in the meantime I made some sugar-free chocolate fudge pudding with a dollop of Cool Whip and I turned on the Blue Room and tried to chill out.

But I’m still taking recommendations for barbers.

Okay, I thought about it some more.

I’m living in New York. I’m going to a good school on a scholarship. Nevermind what I said.

Except that the grocery stores still kinda suck.

Low Blood Sugar, NYC, 2004

I saw my first New York cockroach on the corner of West 73rd and Amsterdam. This was better than seeing one, say, in my kitchen.

I saw my first New York rat clambering over the tracks of the 110th Street station, late at night. Followed a couple minutes later by my first New York mouse. (They’re much smaller).

The next day a water main broke on my street. The 1/9 trains still ran, but slowed to a crawl through the 110th Street station. I stood on the platform and watched a river of muddy water, swirling with tiny oil slicks, flow over those same tracks towards downtown. The construction crew tore up the entire southbound lanes of Broadway at 112th to replace the water main. They worked all day and all night under high-wattage movie set-style lights. People stood along the edge and watched them work. In the morning the construction workers were gone; the street paved over.

At Gray’s Papaya I saw a cop wearing a yarmulke.

I bought a seagrass rug for my apartment and now it smells like someone dumped a five pound bag of catnip all over my floor. I’m hoping that the smell will fade.

Rob very generously drove me out to the Ikea in Patterson, New Jersey, where I bought a couple hundred dollars worth of housewares, the least essential being these ice cube trays that I had to own:

We of course had to eat at Ikea’s cafeteria, though we skipped the meatballs and talked over chicken breasts at a window overlooking the highway. It was a little like eating at an airport, but cheaper.

Then last night I watched my Fight Club dvd so that I could see all of Edward Norton’s Ikea furniture (“what kind of dining set defines me as a person?”) blown out from his highrise apartment onto the sidewalk below. Just for some perspective.

Another very generous friend bought me an Airport Express station from the Apple store as a housewarming present, and I have been deliriously happy with it, hooking up my ethernet, speakers, and printer to it so that I can access all of them wirelessly. It gave me a profound sense of satisfaction, for example, to sit at my desk and print out a letter across the room. I’d tell you who this generous friend was but then you’d ask him for an Express station, too, and that would be obnoxious of you.

Saw some damn hot men at my first Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting. And therefore stayed sober another day.

And today I ventured down to the world-famous Strand “Eight Miles of Books” Bookstore. I was on a mission, armed with the syllabus of one of the four classes I am taking this semester: “The Short Novel”. Good thing they’re short, because I’m supposed to read twelve of them. Twelve novels in one semester, and that’s just one of my classes.

The Strand, which sells new, used, and rare books, is large, dark, and rather confusing, especially if you’re on a mission. Some of the fiction was alphabetized by author, some of it wasn’t. Some novels were piled on tables marked “Special Discount”, or were in groups like the “Modern Library” editions. Everywhere you looked, in fact, books were piled in precarious arrangements. Even the landing on the stairs to the basement was piled with books (photography books; they had the Peter Hujar book that I own for sale). Walking through the Strand took a certain amount of tact and dexterity. There simply isn’t enough room for everyone and the aisles are narrow. So if you’re even remotely polite, you must constantly shuffle from one side of the aisle to the other, letting others pass by while you scan the towering bookcases for the titles in question.

Nearly every store in this city that I’ve been to is the same; the grocery stores in my neighborhood, for example, have aisles that are too narrow for more than one shopping cart at a time. They have these cute little carts which I’ve only seen used in other cities by children; you know, the kind they push around after their parents, with signs that read “I’m Shopping, Too!”

In the end I found five of the twelve short novels, not too bad for an hour’s work, and all of them half-priced. If I were really cheap, or smart, I’d just go to the library. But then I’d miss a venerable city institution like the Strand. I even bought a t-shirt since it was only seven bucks. And I’ll be dorky and wear it here in the city and everyone will know that I’m from out of town. Jennie says the Strand is owned by the mafia, which explains why they can afford to have eight miles of books in the Village.

For those of you curious about my reading list, here it is. I’ve actually not read any of them. Yet.

Taras Bulba by Gogol
Hadji Murad by Tolstoy
Daisy Miller by Henry James
The Life and Death of Harriet Frean by May Sinclair
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
The Old Maid by Edith Wharton
Turbott Wolfe by William Plomer
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka


On impulse I decided last week to see the top of the Empire State Building. Joe Gallagher, who used to live here, told me “The first thing you have to do when you get to New York is go to the top of the Empire State Building and look for your apartment.” He was adamant about this and has nice blue eyes so I promised him that I would.

That afternoon the sky was a little overcast but I didn’t think much about it at the time, since I was trying to be spontaneous. I followed the signs to the basement, where I stood in line under bright fluorescent lights as my blood sugar plummeted. In my effort to be spontaneous I had skipped breakfast. So the minutes ticked by as I shuffled along in line with the tourists, while all around us young people tried to pitch the rented audio tour, their voices droning through memorized speeches, mimicking enthusiasm for their product. One boy actually said that we would “see more with the audio tour”. I puzzled over that one but my mental faculties were becoming more compromised with each passing moment, so I gave up.

That morning an angry zit had sprung up on the back of my neck, causing me additional stress. I was sure that the young couple behind me in line were poking each other with their elbows and whispering “ewwwwwww.”

After an hour in line I finally made it up to the ticket counter, where I paid twelve dollars just to get to the observation deck. The woman took my money, punched out a ticket, and then stamped it with something and gave it back to me. As I turned away towards the elevators I glanced down at the ticket. In black ink there was a smiley face, except that it was frowning, and next to it the words “Zero Visibility”.

I couldn’t see my apartment through the clouds. After the ticket counter it took another half an hour or so through more lines and two separate elevator rides to reach the top, and by then I had severe tunnel vision. I stood on the deck, my hands gripping the iron safety bars for support, and peered over the edge. My balls tightened and I fought the urge to look away. A pigeon, it wings flapping, landed on the ledge on the other side of the bars, and for some reason this terrified me. For a moment I was the pigeon, mere inches from an 86-floor-drop. I kept forcing myself to stare down at the faraway streets, toy taxicabs streaming uptown, and imagined what it would be like to fall from such a height. At that moment I would have preferred death by any other means. My testicles kept jumping around nervously and I turned around and took the elevator back down. Being spontaneous is not something I do wisely, or well.

I stumbled out to Fifth Avenue, where the lunchtime crowds were pouring from every direction. I walked in a daze past dozens of restaurants and deli’s until I came to rest before a sidewalk vendor, who sold me the worst falafel sandwich ever. I took a seat under the trees outside the New York Public Library, spilling hot sauce all over my jeans when I unwrapped the sandwich. Between the sauce and the view from the Empire State, my crotch hadn’t seen this much action in, well, awhile. It left a large, dark stain which I blotted ineffectually with paper napkins.

I had asked for a Coke and wound up with a grape soda, and I sipped this as my jeans slowly dried, and the taste reminded me of when I was a boy, biking alone to the nearby Como Zoo in Minnesota, where I would buy corn dogs and grape soda with my allowance, walking alone to see the strangely-named, pungent-smelling wombat curled asleep in the sun that stretched over his small concrete enclosure.

Twenty years had passed but I was still that boy, wandering alone, exploring places, sitting with his lunch and watching the people stream past, chatting together, the warm afternoon sun on their bare arms. I waited quietly for my mind to clear and my jeans to dry, and then I climbed the steps into the beautiful library, making my way to the Reading Room, which I had never seen, where I took a seat at one of the long tables.

The tables, with their low, gleaming lamps, were full of people working quietly on laptops or flipping idly through newspapers. One woman at my table closed her eyes as the man next to her scanned a fold-out map of the city, his lips pressed together. Distant sounds of a concert in Bryant Park echoed throughout the enormous hall, punctuated by whispers and the rustling of paper. I sat there for a half an hour, till my blood temperature came even with the room around me. I left, somewhat reluctantly.

Hmmm….Empire State Building: $12. New York Public Library: Free. I learned a valuable lesson that day.

But the most important lesson about New York, which I’m still learning, is that you need to eat first.

They Never Stop

You could argue that drinking a Diet Coke with a slize of pizza this size is a lost cause. But every little bit helps.

Besides, I’m doing it for your benefit, to provide a sense of scale to the monstrosities they sell at Koronet Pizza, a neighborhood joint a mere two blocks from my new apartment. I’m in so much fucking trouble. I have eaten more falafel sandwiches, Gray’s Papaya hotdogs, and pizza slices in one week than I’ve consumed in one year. And all this without a current gym membership. And don’t get me started on the mocha eclairs around the other corner at the Hungarian Pastry Shop. I slip into daydreams about the eclairs.

Until I moved into W 112th St I could pretend that I was eating like this because I was couch-surfing. But now I’ve been here two days and my only excuse is that the avocados on my kitchen counter aren’t ripe enough yet to make a nice salad.

But I think the real reason I’m eating like this is because I can. Unlike my lovely San Francisco apartment, tucked away on a hill, my new apartment is in the city that never sleeps. I am around the corner from, well, nearly everything one could want; pizza parlours, deli’s, banks, bookstores, mediocre grocery stores, the 1/9 train, a hospital, a post office, an Ivy League campus, an enormous cathedral, 24 hour drug stores, bars, coffee shops, newstands, a farmer’s market, sidewalk vendors, a public library, hair salons, an art supply store, dozens of restaurants, Riverside Park, hardware stores, and various construction sites where some of the most beautiful men in the world work.

But one must make compromises. My first night in my new home, one of the construction crews began putting up scaffolding on the building next door, right outside my window, at around 6 pm. At eight pm I called Jennie.

“What time do they stop?” I asked her.

“They never stop.”

I thought she was kidding. But she wasn’t. At around midnight I went around the corner to the 24 hour drug store and bought ear plugs. Around one-thirty in the morning, when I was finally ready to take a break from unpacking and get some sleep, the workers were gone. Since then it’s been quiet. But I’m holding on to the ear plugs, for when the other shoe drops.

The worst part about eating all those slices of pizza, though, is that Louie’s not here to eat the crusts.

Air, Conditioned

I was unlocking the front door to my apartment building when I noticed a sign stuck to the door with electrical tape: “Air Conditioner for Sale: I am leaving New York today. $100”. When I got up to my apartment I dumped my bag from University Housewares (dish drainer, silverware bin, citrus cleaner; “I Love NY” was printed on the bag) on my bare floor, and called the number.

“Yeah, I’m right outside, I just put it in my truck”.

Went outside. Cute bald-headed, brown-skinned straight boy, just graduated from the Social Work program and about to move to Ethiopia to work for Unicef. He held the door for me as I carried the AC back to my apartment and plugged it in. I talked him down a bit to the cash I had in my wallet, and we shook hands and wished each other well. I think the humidity and the perspiration on his upper lip made him cuter.

So I don’t know what everyone’s talking about. Delivering stuff in New York is a breeze.

First Post, NYC

I’m sitting on the floor of my new apartment on West 112th St. My stuff won’t get here for a few more days and until then I am staying with Jennie. I can see a sliver of 112th from my window, otherwise my view is mainly of the other apartments around. But it’s my own place, the hardwood floors have been polished, the ethernet connection is working, and the doorways to the hall and the kitchen are carved into strange arabesque shapes. The rain has finally stopped, and the sun broke through the cloud cover as I said goodbye to Jeff and Sam, who are in town for a few days, outside the Starbucks on Broadway. I had a moment of dislocation, or is it displacement, earlier when I realized that the restaurant at the end of my street is the restaurant on Seinfeld. Or the exterior, anyway. I have that strange Seinfeld jingle going through my head. Otherwise the only sound is a chorus of air conditioners from the surrounding buildings. Unfortunately I do not yet have an air conditioner, I will have to figure out where to get one. So my shirt is sticking against my back where I am leaning against the wall, typing these words, inhaling the scent of fresh paint and sweat. I don’t think it’s too early yet to say that I love it here; or maybe love isn’t the right word. Just that strange feeling of arriving someplace I’ve been working towards for so long. Which is not to say that there won’t be bad days. Just that I won’t have to keep wondering “what if I had moved to New York?”

p.s. Jennie says I can’t call myself a New Yorker until I’ve had to call the plumber after 3 a.m.

Farewell to All That

My flight to New York leaves in less than twelve hours. I sold my car this morning to my co-worker and her partner; the Subaru has driven off with the lesbians, and all is as it should be.

I’m home, wiped out. Some sober friends threw me a little going away party at an apartment on Castro Street overlooking the city, and I only cried like once. I know myself; I get caught up in the details and I put off the waterworks for the actual moment of departure. I feel sorry for whomever gets to sit next to me on the plane tomorrow morning.

I’m still in checklist mode. I intended to write a couple of lists; one for the things I won’t miss about San Francisco, and one for the things I will. But the “things I won’t miss” list was kind of boring, with bullet points like “cold summer nights”, “no thunderstorms”, and “The Governator”.

Instead, I’ll give you a quote from Pauline Kael:

“San Francisco is like Ireland. If you want to do something, you’ve got to get out.”

That’s just my experience, and I’m partly to blame. I have not in any way taken full advantage of this city. But for me living here, especially in the years since I got sober, was like growing up in a nice, warm, incubator. And now I’m ready to get out.

But here’s what I will miss; I’m sure I will think of more later. My apologies if I’ve left anyone off the list. I’m a little distracted.

What I Will Miss about San Francisco:

– Wade aka Bearbait
– Brian, though he moved to Los Angeles of all places
– Jamie (what does become a legend most? You, lady, you!)
– local bloggers, especially Jeff, James, JillRamanVince, and Aaron
– my big brother Joe
– and my other big brother Karl
– my lovely, cheap apartment
– my roommate
– our free washer and dryer
– the Saturday morning meeting and some of those insane alcoholics
– the New York scramble at It’s Delectable before the Saturday morning meeting, and seeing Kelley walk in every week with her bottle of french vanilla creamer
– the lights of the houses on the hills
– the fog rolling in on summer evenings
– driving up Roosevelt Way at night with the windows down
– walking down the hill to the Castro, but not back up
– driving home through the wide, empty Avenues after seeing a movie alone at the Balboa
– the view of St. Ignatius from Buena Vista West
– the sound and smell of fog dripping from the eucalyptus trees on my street
– Gold’s on Brannan at noon
– the barbeque chicken at Cordon Bleu next to the Lumiere Theater
– Tuesday evenings at Cafe Flore
– all the guys from Kaliyuga Arts, though I will see some of them in New York
– the Sunday afternoon beer bust at the Eagle, even though I haven’t been in four years
– David Harness and Ruben Mancias spinning at the End Up, even though I haven’t been in four years
– the disproportionate percentage of my sexual partners who’ve done porn
– Trader Joe’s
– Peet’s Coffee
– Books, Inc, Booksmith, and Browser Books
– fresh produce
– those few sweet months when I thought I was in love. With a space monkey who never landed.

– last but certainly not least: my boy Louie. I’ve written twelve pages about my decision to let him stay here with my ex, his other daddy, who’s also moving into my apartment. But until I get that written, the short answer is that his quality of life will be better here, across the street from a dog park, with his other daddy and my roommate, who love him. And like some other things on this list, I’m trying not to think about it too much.

Pour le soldat atomique, si je suis qu’il veut.

“Do not allow yourself to be confused in your aloneness by the something within you that wishes to be released from it. This very wish, if you will calmly and deliberately use it as a tool, will help to expand your solitude into far distant realms. People have, with the help of so many conventions, resolved everything the easy way, on the easiest side of easy. But it is clear that we must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance. We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us. It is good to be lonely, for being alone is not easy. The fact that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it…

…Love is a high inducement for individuals to ripen, to strive to mature in the inner self, to manifest maturity in the outer world, to become that manifestation for the sake of another. This is a great, demanding task; it calls one to expand one’s horizons greatly.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet”


“Alice: Oh, Gertrude, we had wonderful adventures. Remember during the war, we were caught in the snow and I was sure we were on the wrong road, and I wanted to turn back? But you said, ‘Never mind. Right or wrong, it is the road we are on, and we are continuing on it.’
Gertrude: And we did. That is what we did.
Alice: Yes, we continued.
Gertrude: We always continued. We do still. We shall. We always shall.”

-Win Wells, “Gertude Stein and a Companion”

The Gays on TV

I have this completely irrational fear that I will be turned over to the Fab Five. Some well-meaning friend will call the producers of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and report me. They will descend upon my apartment and I will cower in the hallway with a queasy smile on my face as they rummage through my bathroom and bedroom closet. Shrieks will arise as they discover that I am lacking in moisturizer, pre-shaving balm, and a basic black suit. All of my flannel shirts will be thrown into a pile on top of my blue plaid comforter as the food guy searches hopelessly for lemon-fused olive oil in my kitchen. The culture guy, lacking anything better to do with his time, will cluck his tongue over my Bruce Springsteen CD’s. The interior decorator will stand in one place, mulling over possible “themes” for the bedroom. I will be the first gay guy on the show, and it will be merciless.

One would think that with two gay parents, I would have turned out a little more queer. But they weren’t so queer themselves. My father bought his clothes from Sears. My mother couldn’t fix a car and she was a better decorator than my father. Neither of them could cook anything that didn’t come in a box.

When a friend of mine and I emerged from Tower Records last year we compared purchases. I bought Springsteen, he bought Cher. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that the expiration date on my gay membership card was long past. Over the last few years, friends have referred to me as being “masculine”, and they’ve informed me that my infrequent attempts at campy humor disturbed this image. I’ve never thought of myself as all that masculine. I always wished as a child that I would turn out that way. Although I’ve never been accused of having effeminate qualities, my own self-image was of a very scrawny, oversensitive, artistic boy. The scrawniness I dealt with at the gym. The sensitivity may not be immediately apparent in person, nor is my tortured inner poet. My masculinity (I can’t even write the word without wanting to put quotation marks around it) is more of an external skin.

My queer sensibility is all on the inside. I may not know how to dress up very well, but I sure can cry during Oprah. My feelings get hurt easily and I could be accused of “processing” my emotions frequently. My writing is very “personal”. I don’t watch sports. I lean towards women writers, singers (Bruce excluded), and politicians. I understand Eleanor more than Franklin Roosevelt. I prefer making love versus fucking, and one partner versus many.

The most effeminate man I know collects vintage Cadillacs, drives a motorcycle, and spends his weekends jumping out of airplanes. Gays and lesbians have that masculine/feminine balance more developed than heterosexuals. I get irritated by all those commercials riffing on the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” concept. Where the men are hapless creatures who can’t cook or clean but who just love love love their sports. Women, on the other hand, all love shoes. All of them. They get weak-kneed even thinking about shopping. They’re forever twirling about with enormous shopping bags clutched in their hot little hands, beaming in near-orgiastic delight. I know that I shouldn’t expect much social insight from commercials, but I can’t help but feel a little transcendent in comparison. I at least do my own laundry.

I’ve been thinking about this balance ever since coming across a quote from the Dalai Lama: …homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact. I guess in my ignorance of world religions I expected a little more from Buddhism. To be fair the Dalai Lama opposes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, but I don’t think that any major religion is going to come rushing to our defense any time soon.

The Vatican recently issued a strongly-worded 12 page document outlining its stance on homosexuality and marriage: There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family, the document said, asserting repeatedly that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law.

Eager to join the party, President Bush recently declared at a White House news conference: I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we’ve got lawyers looking at the best way to do that. Never mind that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed while Clinton was in office, Bush would like to amend the actual Constitution in order to protect the future from the moral bankruptcy of the queer “agenda”.

Meanwhile there are gay people all over television and entire shelves devoted to gay magazines and major corporations all too happy to market to a community with abundant disposable income. It takes a healthy amount of denial, or maybe just displacement, to be walking around gay in this country.

People who view same-sex unions as unnatural aren’t inherently evil. They honestly believe that their views are informed and correct, just as we do. They believe that they are protecting an American tradition from desecration.

This word, “unnatural”, is nearly ubiquitous in these debates. I can’t speak for all gay people, but for me sleeping with a hot guy is the most natural thing in the world. There isn’t much thought involved; the chemical attraction, the physiological reactions; all of it seems perfectly natural. As the saying goes, “A hard-on never lies.”

It’s hard to be patient while so many people are still hung up on this idea of homosexuality being a choice. I personally don’t know anyone who’s ever chosen to be gay, at least nobody that’s stuck with it longer than two years out of college. If anybody out there has actually chosen to be gay, by all means I’d love to hear your story.

Of course, there are the people who understand that it’s not a choice, but who still believe that homosexual sex is wrong. “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. They use words like “tolerance”, but they don’t want you to have sex. They get to have all the sex they want, but you can’t. It’s all very convenient for them.

Whether it was God or Nature, I turned out gay. I do believe, considering my family background, that there is a biological element at work. But it will take a lot of research to understand why I turned out gay, for example, and my brother turned out straight. If it was God, I don’t believe that He would make me a homosexual just so I could go my entire life with blue balls, while everyone else fucks like bunnies.

This insistence on natural vs. unnatural behavior is a spectacular failure of imagination on the part of religious and political leaders. Homosexuality is anything but unnatural. If they would just take that extra little step and ask why, why are there so many queers? My own personal belief is that gays and lesbians are either God’s or Nature’s attempt at a little population control. The problem isn’t that we use our sex organs for non-reproductive sex, the problem is that more people don’t. The world could use a little more birth control.

All of these polls asking Americans their opinions on same-sex marriage annoy me as much as the polls asking what everyone thinks of Britney’s new look. People are asked their opinion way more often then necessary. It’s another opiate for the masses: corporations like AOL and CNN conducting useless polls to make people feel involved. It’s a type of armchair activism that is about as influential as your opinion on Terminator 3. Until someone asks me if I think straight people should have the right to marry, I don’t care much what anyone else says. I wasn’t celebrating in the streets when the Supreme Court ruled that I could fuck another guy. I’ve been doing that for years. I understand the broader historical and political significances of the ruling, but frankly I don’t care if people tolerate or approve or condone my “lifestyle”. I’m a white gay man living in San Francisco, and I take full advantage of those privileges.

I’m beginning to understand those first colonists that made “Don’t Tread on Me” their flag and motto. Americans are getting pretty damn good at telling other people how to live their lives. Witness our recent foreign policy. Witness daytime talk shows. Witness the explosion of moronic polls, the influx of make-over shows. People actually volunteer to be on television shows where other people vote on their potential suitors.

Maybe the only hope for people who still believe that homosexuality is unnatural is to become best friends with a queer or two. But as long as guys like me leave small town America to live in more cosmopolitan cities, this will be a slim hope. So perhaps it really is up to television. I’m not holding my breath, but perhaps a few more Will and Graces, a few more Fab Fives will break down those walls, one chip at a time. I understand the arguments comparing such programs to the black minstrel shows; it’s our version of the shuck and jive, make ‘em laugh, look at the funny homosexual, mom! Personally I feel that camp’s humor isn’t performed for heterosexuals. It’s a short hand among queers and enlightened heterosexuals, open for other people’s amusement, but not acted out for their benefit.

What I find most revealing about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is that the exterior transformation of each straight guy is often part of a more important goal: to get the guy to pay a little more attention to his girl. To step a little outside of himself in order to make her feel special. Maybe it’s that masculine/feminine balance. Maybe it’s a little easier for us to understand what a woman wants. Maybe we have something to teach the rest of the world. And it’s for that reason that I believe I will never appear on the show. I may not have a decent black suit, but I’m a hopeless romantic, and I already know how to give love away.