“I want you to cum on my shirt”, he says to me. We’re standing in the backyard of a little house on the edge of MacLaren Park, along with a hundred other men.
“Yeah, right,” I say.
“No, really. I’m going to wear it to Folsom tomorrow.”
Is he kidding? I look over his shoulder as Luke, the hunky fireman, lifts the lid on the barbeque and a cloud of sweet-smelling smoke lifts skyward. Luke, like myself and nearly every other man here, has a buzzed head and facial scruff. It’s a little humbling to realize that I look like everyone else here. It’s also a little humbling when everyone asks me if I’m from out of town.
“No, I live here.”
“Then how come we’ve never seen you before?”
Because I’ve spent more time in AA meetings than at the Eagle Beer Bust in the last three years, I want to say. But it’s too many words and there’re too many men crowded into this backyard. The back of my knees are pressed against an empty lawn chair; there’s no further retreat available. I just shrug my shoulders, hoping that maybe I’ll come across as mysterious. There’s only so many times when you can be considered new meat.
Mark is waiting for an answer, and I can’t quite think of anything to say. “What color is it?” I ask dumbly.
“What color is what?” Mark says.
“Black. And it’s a tank top.”
“I don’t believe you.”
He turns to Armando, his boyfriend. “Give me the car keys.”
Mark slips away through the crowd. Armando lifts his red plastic cup of beer and leers pleasantly at me while guzzling it down. Armando, upon meeting me for the first time about a half hour ago, gave me an open-mouthed kiss. “He does that to everyone,” Jeff had said. At the moment Jeff seems to be watching the ground with a half-smile, doing his best to avoid all eye contact. Just to torture him I secretly decide to defer to him on the matter of the tank top. After all, they’re his friends. I look past him and watch a bearish-type guy slide naked into the hot tub.
“C’mon,” Armando says, picking up where his boyfriend left off.
“You’re serious,” Jeff says.
“Hell yes. C’mon.”
Armando turns his focus to me. “C’mon, please cum on his shirt.”
I shake my head. Damn, I blush easily.
“Uh, no thanks.”
“C’mon, what will it take, I’ll help you out.”
I look at the ground, shaking my head at each request.
Mark’s back. He holds a black tank top folded up in his hand. For some reason the sight of the shirt makes it all real, and I laugh in spite of myself.
“Armando and I already came on it, but we need a lot more.” He says as he unfolds the shirt.
Accepting Jeff’s invitation to the pre-Folsom barbeque (or “boy-be-que” as the E-vite called it) meant issuing myself a challenge. I was spending too much time alone, and a party with lots of hot men would be a welcome distraction. But parties always guarantee one thing: extroverts will show up.
Surveys indicate that 2/3 to 3/4 of the world’s population are extroverts. As a simple definition, extroverts are people who feel energized by being around other people. Introverts, on the other hand, feel energized by being alone. Their “batteries” get recharged during times of quiet and introspection.
These numbers seem low to me, perhaps because extroverts seem to take up more space in the world, and because many of them like to talk. A lot. My friend Prometheus is a fellow introvert, and one of our favorite activities is to make fun of extroverts behind their backs. Especially those I like to call “rabid extroverts”. All sorts of people can fall under this category. There is no scientific method to labeling someone a rabid extrovert, it’s a self-confirming diagnosis: look for them, and you’ll find them.
These are the people who will walk up to you at a bar while you are minding your own business and tell you to “Smile!!” These are the people who select John Phillip Sousa marches as their cell phone ringer, and who set the volume on “high”. These are the people who will answer such cell phones during a live performance of Shakespeare. These are the people who will walk late into an AA meeting, as the speaker is sharing their story, clomping across the hardwood floor in their boots, crossing right in front of the speaker in order to claim that last empty seat in the front row. Then they will remain standing as they take off their coat. When they finally settle into their chair they’ll ignore the speaker, preferring to look around the room for their friends, making cute little waving gestures and smiling, thinking that as long as they stage whisper “Hi there!”, they’re still being polite. Not that anyone I know ever does this.
These are the people who will corner you at a party and pepper you with questions, interrupting as you try to provide a thoughtful answer so that they can tell you THEIR thoughts on the matter. They’re also the ones looking over your shoulder the entire conversation, scanning the party for more attractive people. These are the people who tell you that you make them nervous because “you’re so quiet all the time!!” These are the people who willingly become infomercial hosts, the kind of men and women who look like they bent over their sink and snorted up a big fat line of meth as they were blow-drying their hair that morning.
Because extroverts are the majority, many of them are under the mistaken impression that there is something “wrong” with introverts, that the way to cure an introvert is to thrust him into social situations. Speaking for my fellow introverts, I implore you to leave us the fuck alone. Really.
It’s possible that some of these people aren’t really extroverts, they’re just rude. But personally speaking, it’s far more satisfying to label them rabid extroverts, for the smug sense of superiority it provides. Making fun of extroverts should be an introvert’s privilege, as payment for living in an extroverted world. Besides, it can’t hurt them. They’re not the type to care about the thoughts going through my head as they choose a seat next to me in an otherwise empty movie theater.
All smugness aside, it’s not always easy being an introvert. I’m constantly running a daily balance sheet of alone time versus social time. Being an introvert means saying “no” to a lot of opportunities. It also means the party is frequently over for me long before it’s over for anyone else. This can be problematic when you have extroverted friends, or if your husband is an extrovert, for example. Your need to go home and chill often takes a backseat to other people’s needs, if only to save yourself from the reputation of being a wet blanket.
And then there’s always that fear; the fear of missing something. I felt it all weekend in Palm Springs, where I went with my sponsee Jay for the AA conference. I didn’t go down there expecting another spiritual awakening. I felt my expectations were pretty realistic; I’d spend some quality time with Jay, I’d hit the workshops and get some sun out by the pool. So it was disappointing to realize that I was still the insecure wreck that arrived there last year.
That first afternoon I sat on the edge of the pool, my ankles and feet several shades paler below the surface of the water. It was 110 degrees. I watched as the men arrived, each one seemingly better looking than the last. Or that was the impression: my eyes gliding past the more average bodies, resting longingly on the beautiful, coveting their physical surface. It wasn’t so much a sexual longing as it was a comparison game. Me versus them, and through my own skewed calculations I always came up short. Despite countless hours at the gym, my inner six pack refused to show up for the weekend.
There’s something decadent about Palm Springs. I’m not sure if anyone there actually has a job, or if they just golf and drink juice all day. I felt like a dissolute celebrity, tooling around the city in Jay’s convertible BMW. We’d put the top down and drive the long, flat roads between the conference and the little desert bungalow where we were staying. The morning light hitting the mountains, just beyond our touch. They were all dust and rocks.
Those were my favorite moments, when it was just Jay and I, away from the conference and the hotel. Sometimes at night he’d ask me to drive. I’d shift from second to third gear, feeling the rumble of the engine coursing through the car and up my spine. That was when I loved the desert best; the blood-warm night, the colors of the city’s lights rich against the dark sky, the brilliance of the constellations overhead. Jay in the passenger seat, head tilted back. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him watch the moon, as the palm trees slid past us. I liked him for that. I liked our quiet conversations, and the comfortable silence between us. I liked seeing so much of myself in him, all of those same fears; of the hotel and the men. I liked watching him play with the fear, as he talked to strangers by the side of the pool. I even liked the way some of the men would lean in towards him, and the strange mix of jealousy and pride I’d feel. I liked how he’d come to me, when he’d had enough, and ask if I was ready to leave.
I could think of nothing but sex all weekend. All that heat, all those men, the pool and the swimsuits and the hotel, each room a possibility. Back at the bungalow we had our own pool and hot tub. The fence surrounding the yard was just high enough that no one could see in. When Jay went to bed I’d dive into the pool, leaving my swimsuit on the lounge chair. I missed having a boyfriend.
Maybe it was sex. I was bothered, constantly, by the idea that I might be missing out. And that may be the price of introversion; the fear of missing out, the inability to live fully in the public sphere. Maybe that’s the price of being the eternal observer, forever watching from edge of the crowd. Surely there are extroverted writers; surely there are some that are the life of the party. But I am not one of them. My place of comfort is on the sidelines. And that weekend both Jay and I preferred to go home early each night, leaving the hotel and all of those possibilities.
Maybe I’m not a true introvert. Maybe introverts aren’t supposed to wonder if they are missing out. Maybe they’re less conflicted, less torn between opposite desires: the desire for new experience, and the desire to be alone. But I am conflicted. And so it was that Folsom Street Fair came along, stirring up within me both desire and dread.
My experience as a gay man in San Francisco is that Folsom Street Fair is like a tractor beam. Or a giant black hole. You can feel the swirling vortex of South of Market pulling you in. Everyone is either going or pointedly NOT going; everyone is defining themselves against Folsom. They love it. They hate it. They wouldn’t miss it for the world. They’re escaping out of town. They’re there all day. They’re just going for an hour or two. They’re over it. They can’t take the crowds. They want to meet new people. They just want to get laid. They’re tired of those half-naked freaks. It’s their favorite day of the year. Few gay men in San Francisco have no opinion on the subject; it would seem that Folsom demands an answer from each of us.
I was incredibly distracted the entire week before the Fair. I could feel it in the air, the tension and the energy, as more and more people arrived in the city, intent on having fun. Suddenly everyone had boots and a buzzcut. The gym was packed every day, and all week I overheard conversations about the circuit parties and the private sex clubs and the dungeons and I’d walk past the bars where everyone was spilling out onto the sidewalk and it all made me nervous.
I remembered the nine months I bartended, down in the heart of the Folsom district. I remembered working during the fair, and the $1000 I made in tips that day. I remembered the energy and the sleaze and the drugs I took. There would be nothing new for me at the fair. I would only get tired and cranky, pushed up against a half million people crammed into five square blocks. Most of them wearing leather. I didn’t want the sleaze and the fucking, the anonymous sex with guys from out of town.
Or maybe I did. Why the conflict, why was I so distracted all week? Maybe I do want all that. Maybe I want to let loose. Maybe, every now and then, I want to stop observing. Maybe I want to stop being so damn cautious. Maybe I want the sleaze and the fucking and the beckoning figure of potential.
Oh, who am I kidding? I don’t really want that. I don’t want some stranger calling me “boy”. Or even “Daddy”, for that matter. I don’t want to give my number to some guy who’s leaving town the next morning, back to his boyfriend. I don’t want to walk around a bathhouse in a towel. I want the heat and the dirty talk and the role-playing and the coils of rope and leather armbands. I just want it with someone special, someone so mesmerized by my beauty and raw sexual prowess that he is incapable of leaving my bed, much less the city.
But I’ll keep dipping my toe in the tepid, steamy pools of life experience. I’ll push myself a little further. I’ll pretend, now and then, to be an extrovert.
Yeah, I wanted to cum on his shirt. I wanted to defy all expectations. I wanted to leave my mark on a guy who’d walk around Folsom, even if I ended up staying home. I wanted to picture him in that crazy shirt while I did my laundry.
But in the end I said no. “Where am I going to do this?” I asked.
“In the bathroom.”
“No way. There’s a line of 25 guys for the bathroom. I’m pee shy; you can only imagine how long it would take me.”
“Aw, come on.”
“This is so crazy. I’m gonna write about this,” I said.
They groaned. “Yeah, you’ll write about it, but you won’t do it!”
They said it, much better than I ever could.