|Posted on 2004-11-12 03:14:48 by Denver|
On the DL
THURSDAY 8:50 AM
I am gauging my safety clearance for outracing cabs and black Lincoln town cars through the intersection of 54th and Park when something touches my back. A finger. It is Rachel.
"Good morning Mr. Latimer." she says, "Have you been doing yoga?" I am carrying my mat.
"No. I thought if I brought it to work I might convince you to come with
me at lunch."
"Are you going on that date tonight?"
"Well, you got that stuff in your hair. You know she doesn't like that."
" I just put a little- you are pretty observant. I can't get away with anything."
The phone rings. It's Cecile. I've been waiting for this call. I gave her the URL for my website yesterday. I had been delaying the inevitable. She read one of my stories and freaked out. The Puppetry of the Penis story. Or maybe a reference to internet dating. She suddenly realized she's going out with a internet dating penis puppeteer!
"Hey Denver. I just looked at your website. Interesting stories."
"One in particular."
"Yeah, I let my gay friend Silvio read it."
"What'd he think?"
"He thinks it is pretty unlikely that any straight guy would put himself in a position like that."
"Well, you imagine the guy's mouth over your you-know-what. I don't know Denver...you're scaring me.....
"Listen, Cecile, it's just a story. That guy is wrong. I've heard the same response from several gay men I've told that story to."
"Denver, I just don't think a straight man would have a gay man massage their naked body and touch their private parts. I hope you're being honest about where you fall on the gay/straight scale. I've been there before and I definitely don't have any interest in revisiting that kind of drama. Sorry for being so blunt, but this is a very important issue."
"I'm not sure if you read that story very closely. It's a story about a straight man who goes to a modeling job for which he has no other job experience to compare it with, and who slowly has all of his physical boundaries encroached upon. It's a horror story. I have never been dishonest with you. Would someone who has things to hide or is living dishonestly even write those things and put them up for other people to see?"
"Well, I've never had any reason to believe you're a dishonest person, so I guess there's no reason to disbelieve you. But remember, I was raised in a very homophobic country, and I doubt there's any straight Jamaican man who would put themselves through that kind of trauma with a gay man for sixty dollars. You're a lot more liberal than me, but with all those articles about gay men on the DL, I have to be careful. I have no interest in being with a bisexual or bi-curious man. Some girls are OK with that, but that's definitely not something I would ever be comfortable with. Anyway, that said...case closed."
As I put down the phone I think to my self-
Case closed? What the hell was the name of that case??!!
Questions begin to bubble to the surface. How am I ever going to have a serious discussion about sexuality with her? I don't expect I will ever be attracted to a man to the degree that James McGreevy was. But I don't want to live my life not being able to talk about the attractiveness of certain movie stars or a man sitting in a cafe. I don't even believe that most people aren't bi-curious. I think people are more and less repressed and trained to think and articulate themselves like NFL players in a locker room.
From: Latimer, Denver
Sent: Friday, 10:23 AM
To: Cook, Rachel
I want to take you somewhere during your lunch hour. Can you come?
From: Cook, Rachel
Sent: Friday, 10:24 AM
To: Latimer, Denver
Subject: RE: art
From: Latimer, Denver
Sent: Friday, 10:26 AM
To: Cook, Rachel
Subject: RE: art
i want to show you some art.
From: Cook, Rachel
Sent: Friday, 10:27 AM
To: Latimer, Denver
Subject: RE: art
what kind of art?
From: Latimer, Denver
Sent: Friday, 10:28 AM
To: Cook, Rachel
Subject: RE: art
neo-realist paintings and sculptures.
From: Cook, Rachel
Sent: Friday, 10:30 AM
To: Latimer, Denver
Subject: RE: art
what's that? send me a link of a neo-realist painting and/or sculpture
In other words, prove to me that contemporary art has function and form that is unthreatening and somehow familiar. I search the internet and find a couple of Picasso and Monet images with flowers and women and send these to her.
She does not respond.
She is either
1. Uncomfortable going out on her lunch hour to a gallery with me
2. Undecided whether she should spend a precious hour of her day surveying modern art of which she had little interest and may be irrelevant or in opposition to the Judeo Christian socio-historical narrative construction she is building
3. Curious about going with me but waiting for me to come over to her cubicle and press the issue. I can't pursue option three because if I am mistaken and it is option one then I will be creating an uncomfortable situation for her at work. I have to hope that she will bring it up again the following day. Well, I had put it out there. We had seen a great television episode the last time she had ventured outside these cubicle walls with me. I didn't expect her to realize that it had been the social adventure of that trip, the conversation and the walk we had together outside these cubicle walls that had been the real pleasure of that lunch hour.
I decide to call Elizabeth, my friend at the Cross Marketing Desk in M&A. She has Jamaican parents.
"What is this thing about the DL? There is a rash of news about men on
the DL. What is this? Some black thing I don't know about?"
"Denver, you haven't heard of this?"
"The DL? The down low? As in, "keep it quiet." Yeah. I've heard that phrase. But what does this have to do with men having gay sex?"
"It was a book by E Lynn Harris. He sold it on the streets. Black people are culturally very homophobic. Black women bought this book. It was about black men who were married to women and who cheated on them with other men. That's where the phrase comes from "the DL". A secret homosexual relationship."
"Yeah. This book was really popular in the black community. Now there are a whole wave of them."
"Hmmmm. Well, apparently Cecile was in a relationship with someone who was on the DL. And she suspects me of being in the same category."
"Yeah, ha ha. Really funny. We already have to deal with racial issues and now there's this sexual thing."
"Have you commensurated the relationship?"
"You mean, 'have we had sex?'"
"I didn't ask you to put it like that."
"Well, what did you mean? No. We haven't. We've had a.physical relationship."
"Oh, you're keeping her waiting. How tactful of you."
"No. I want to. But, I don't know, it just hasn't happened. Maybe it's for the best, with all of this suspicion. I don't know how you could have good sex. Plus, I don't know, she wants me to wear cologne."
"You don't wear cologne?"
"No. Where I come from, you'd be considered a pussy if you wore cologne."
"Oh I forgot you come from the backwoods."
"Yeah. I'm gonna wear some. But I just don't like being told what to smell like or how to fix my hair. I guess the smell thing is a black thing. Or East Coast. Cologne. Blech. In northern California we don't need to put on artificial layers of makeup and smell. We like the real thing."
"That's good for a sandwich. Not for a husband. I make mine put it on every morning. Just like his shoes and his shirt. Hey, I gotta take this call, good luck with that."
Rachel ignored my invitation to the art tour of 57th Street during our lunch hour. I am squinting at the landscape paintings in the Peter Findlay gallery, practicing a technique I learned from a friend - narrowing my eyes, blurring my vision, matching the painter's gaze, and trying to find the surface indicators in the narrative. I wanted her to be here so I could have a dialogue on the emotional temperature of the pieces. I wanted to see their impenetrability reflected in her eyes. This would have been a perfect opportunity for more discovery. My casting the trip as a jaunt to see neo-realist paintings and sculptures seemed somewhat inaccurate. This was more like a field trip to the zoo. Every species of fine art is on display and for sale. In the window case of the Prada store downstairs sits a pair of sparkling green slippers that would fit perfectly on her feet.
The past two hours had been excruciating; I had strode by her cubicle without stopping or even glancing in her direction. The frustration of incommunication seemed hardly worth the point I was trying to make- that she should reply honestly to my requests and appreciate that I was making a tremendous effort to understand her perspective and share my experience with her. What other secular co-worker would purchase and read a book refuting the evolution of species? Who else would take her to see her favorite sitcom at the museum of television and radio? Who else would invite her to see the greatest Maine landscape paintings in the world? And only a block away from her desk. Ultimately, it was her lack of curiosity that really bothered me. How could someone be so incurious about the world and yet still so attractive as a person? I didn't want to think of her as close-minded and incurious and ignorant yet these were the curse words I was throwing at her as I toured the Melissa Fineman furniture gallery on the third floor. I really wanted to confront her but I couldn't foresee the outcome of the conversation. I finally had to boil it down to my frustration with her not replying firmly to my offer. Even if she had said "I'm sorry Denver, I don't like art." Or "I'm sorry, I'm not comfortable touring an art gallery with you during our lunch hour." that would have been satisfactory. But now I was stuck with this feeling that she was ignoring me and hypocritically believing that she really did like art when in reality she was too lazy to even have the simplest engagement with it even if it meant having a guided tour a block away from her desk. I felt strongly that it was her religion that somehow precluded it. Thinking about the self-deception and ignorance in this woman that I treasured so much was anguishing.
There was no one in the gallery except myself and the desk attendant who wore too much black eye shadow and looked like an overripe banana. Rachel
probably didn't even consider a rug a piece of art. We could have talked-
about interior design. Except she was at her desk worrying about the lunch arrangements for her boss or complaining about the cost of a sandwich at the corner deli with the other secretaries.
"This is a rug. It's beautiful, isn't it? The patterns, the artist was creating-" I say, forgetting that I'm speaking only to her ghost.
"Excuse me?" the banana woman asks me.
"How much is this?" I ask.
I have been waiting at the front door of this tiny East Village theater for twenty minutes. The curtain is actually being delayed by her late arrival. Her sister had gone inside the theater with her boyfriend to save us seats. The director has come outside, noticed me holding three programs, and asked me how much longer he should wait.
"I think she just got off the subway so she should be just a couple of blocks away."
The total amount of time I've spent waiting for Cecile to show up on the first five dates has zoomed over the hour and a half mark. This does not include the minutes I've spent on the phone holding the line while she discussed jpeg attachments and focus group details with her advertising colleagues. I smell my wrist and inhale the odiferous amber oil coating my skin. Cecile has asked me to use cologne but no hair product. The show we are to see is called "Alphabet City" - three monologues based upon interviews with interesting denizens of the East Village. One of the actors, William, a Jamaican man, is friends with Cecile and her sister. At ten minutes past the hour Cecile arrives and we settle into our seats. The first monologue- the story of a female plumbing supply store owner- is absent of any significant dramatic action or revelation. The actress, if that's what she can be called, talks at the floor and sits on a high chair trying to remember her lines- I feel trapped in her private mental evaporation chamber. The next monologist is worse- a teenage actress who tries to portray a teenage artist who tried to make a film. The audience is supposed to find the character's struggles and insouciance sympathetic but this connection is snipped at the stem by the actress's lack of volume, timing, movement, emphasis, or storyline. The only saving grace of the performance evening is Cecile's friend William's laconic portrayal of the owner of CBGB'S rock club - though it's unclear why his life inspired a dramatic portrait whose chief dramatic highlight was a successful career transition from furniture mover to rock n roll entrepreneur. Unlike the two other monologists, William uses eye contact with the audience and shuffles around the stage with some rudimentary stage business. Mercifully, his piece is shorter than fifteen minutes. Cecile's friends wave their programs to cool off (there is no air conditioning, only the futile sweep of an overhead fan far overhead) and look very bored.
I put my hand on Cecile's thigh and gaze at her profile in the dim theatrical light. Her eyes are focused on the stage and betray no thought or emotion. She is alert, inscrutable, and basaltically beautiful. Her resting pulse is much higher than mine and I try to feel it in her legs which are exposed under a short skirt, smooth shaven and long. She is waiting for the next event to happen. This show was an obligation and she will spend no more time than necessary putting in her appearance, shaking hands afterwards, and leading us to the main event - dinner at a chic restaurant called Industry that she has heard good things about from someone who knows chic New York City restaurants.
Industry's dining room is closed for the summer and the group has to improvise. Eventually Cecile leads myself, her sister Katy, Katy's boyfriend Terrence, his best friend Phillip and her sister's friend Keisha, to Lucien, a French Bistro on First Avenue and First street. We eat escargot, bouillabaisse, sea bass, and rabbit while Katy teases Cecile about drinking too much wine and always arriving late for her appointments. Cecile eats off everyone's plate and offers positive affirmation about everyone's meal. She gulps her wine, finishing first, and unsuccessfully tries to get her sister to share her glass. Katy admonishes her older sister and turns to Terrence who is quiet and demure and has barely touched his jack and coke. Cecile smells it, concerned that he isn't partaking in the alcoholic consumption. Terrence is clean shaven and has a handsome nose and mouth- he is bald, dark skinned, and wears black rimmed bifocals and an untucked, loose fitting J Crew business shirt with blue and white stripes. Dinner seems at once uncomfortable and rushed as there is no pattern of conversation or subject of general interest that everyone can partake. I try to catch Terrence's gaze but he is uncomfortable and avoids eye contact. After the first few bites of dessert he begins searching for the waitress in order to get the check and end the meal. After the meal we gather on sidewalk and I grasp Cecile's hand.
"This place was good, wasn't it?" she asks me.
"Yeah. This is owned by the same guy who owns the Pink Pony."
"Where is that?"
"That's where we went on our first date."
"Oh." It registers on her face like the memory of a barely remembered acquaintance. We walk next to door to the 61 Bar and in the process we shed Keisha and Phillip who are off to more exciting Saturday night agendas. At the bar I notice I am the only white person in the crowd. People are dancing in the back room, along the sides of the front bar area. I buy Cecile a drink at the bar- a Hypnotic with pineapple juice. She takes a sip and is unhappy- too little alcohol, and tries to get the bartender to fix it. They tell her that they have run out of that liquor. Katy and Terrence buy a drink and stand silently at the bar's edge - waiting for the end of this social obligation so they can return home to Weehawken New Jersey where they have recently moved into a spacious one bedroom apartment. I still haven't exchanged one sentence with Terrence and feel I should rectify this but his body language and his focus tell me that it will be a forced, awkward encounter. It will also mean moving away from the physical undulation that I am enjoying while pressing Cecile's body between my hips and the bar. Cecile complains about her drink again and observes other women ordering Hypnotics. Terrence and Katy are bored, and they suffer through several more minutes of silence before they make their exit. Cecile and I are now free to dance and we slide along each other's torsos, bending and circling each other- Beyonce telling us that she's been so crazy in love.
Thirty minutes of twisting and coiling and the thought never leaves my mind that I am the only white man intimately entwined with a black woman in this bar. Cecile grabs my hand and leads me over to a table.
"This Nude Modeling story on your website," she begins, "it happened exactly the way you described it?"
"Well, I mean, basically."
"You let this man fondle you for forty-five minutes?"
"Well, he wasn't just fondling me the whole time. He was drawing me."
"Yeah, but you let him grope you and you didn't stop him. You let it go on. And then you said you imagined his mouth over your cock."
"Well, I mean, that's the story."
"Isn't that what happened?"
"I don't remember exactly what happened."
"I don't believe you."
"You don't believe me?"
"No. I don't. That was a traumatic experience right? Actually Denver, I don't believe that it was a 'horror story' like you said in your email."
"Oh really? What was it?"
"I don't know, but imagining his mouth over your cock is not a sign that it was horrifying to you."
"You're telling me how I experienced a story that I wrote. That's ridiculous. I'm the only one that knows what I experienced and I'm telling you it was horrifying. And the story is just that, a story. What I wrote in the story isn't necessarily what I experienced. That's why it's a story."
She looks at me silently in disbelief.
"I can't believe I have to defend my sexuality. This is crazy. I've never, NEVER had to do this with any woman I've ever dated."
"Well, how many of them have read this story?"
"I haven't dated anyone since I wrote that story."
"Denver, you let this man go further than any straight man I've ever known would do. A man in Jamaica would never have even let the guy touch him.
My sister's boyfriend went on a modeling job and they wanted him to take his shirt off and he was too uncomfortable to even do that."
"This was a nude modeling job! It wasn't a question of whether I should take off my clothes! I had never been on one of these jobs! I didn't know if the artist typically touched his models or not! I explained this to you already! Don't compare me to a homophobic Black man. That's not fair."
"I can't help it Denver. This is what it looks like to me. It's the culture I come from."
"Yeah? The culture where you come from is homophobic. So what does that have to do with me?"
"I just want to be with a man whose one hundred percent straight. One hundred percent my man."
"Yeah, you've told me this about twelve or fifteen times. And I've told you I was. You don't need to reiterate that point."
"That's just the way it is."
"That's just the way it is? That people are homophobic where you come from and you can't understand bisexuality or bicuriosity? What? I'm not allowed to say that a man is handsome? Or what are you saying?"
"I just think you allowed this man to encroach upon your boundaries way past what a straight man would do. And that's me. And you know where I'm coming from."
"Yeah, well, that's the just the way it is doesn't cut it with me. In the nineteen forties we wouldn't even be sitting in the same bar holding each other's hand. You wouldn't be allowed to sit on the front of the bus. and that's just the way it was. So are you saying that prejudice should just be allowed because that's just the way it is?"
"No. I'm just telling you what I want in a man."
"I guess I'm just missing the logic of your preference and your assumptions. This is really sad."
"Come on, let's dance."
And she pulls me on the dance floor. We hold each other close. I put my head on her shoulder because I cannot look at her right now. I feel the slow pleasure of her body melding with mine, but my mind is whirling at a tremendous speed pulsing with a red signal flashing danger.
A half hour later we are on the street, walking toward the West fourth street subway station in the west village. I want to get her on the F train back to Queens as soon as possible.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
"This is never going to work. This is our fifth date. Our relationship should be lifting off into the sky like a rocket. And it's not. It's going parallel to the surface of the earth. I feel like I'm going out with a detective."
"Yeah, a detective who is busy deducting whether or not I'm gay or going to cheat on her with a man."
"A detective would be looking for evidence."
"I've given you the evidence! Wouldn't someone who was trying to hide something about their sexuality be hiding the evidence? Would they be posting stories that cast doubt on them on the internet?"
"Denver, an army of gay men tell me one thing. And you tell me something different."
"yeah, well, I'm not gay. And you can't use anecdotal reference from STORIES that I write to deduce anything. And I don't appreciate having the honesty of my assertion about my sexuality questioned."
"Why did you let that guy kiss you?"
"Remember on our first date? You told me that guy Armando kissed you when you were drunk. And what did you do? What did you do?"
"I...I just didn't do anything."
"Uh huh. NOTHING. WHY did you let him kiss you? Why? WHY?"
She had connected two dots. What could I say? I'm a dangler? An observer? No.
"I was drunk. It wasn't. Anything."
"What was I supposed to do? Punch him in the face? He took me by surprise."
"Come on Denver, you didn't have to let him kiss you."
I was being romantically disqualified because I had drunkenly let a man kiss me on the mouth. This scenario hadn't occurred to me. There was a beautiful thirty two year old New York woman telling me this on the corner of fourth and Broadway. I put my head down and we walked in silence to the subway.
That night I have a dream. It is like many nightmares I've had - I am the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. It is 4th down and goal to go with five seconds left on the clock. I take the snap and drop back to pass. The rush is ferocious and my pocket collapses as linemen fall around me and I pump fake to my tight end as I roll towards the right hash mark and scan the coverage. Terrell Owens slants across the middle of the end zone, stiff arms a free safety and sends him crashing to the turf. I lose Owens in a tangle of gleaming jerseys under the goal post and then he flashes open in the deep right corner and waves at me for the ball and I pull the trigger. But my throw to him is a wobbler. The ball hangs in the air and seems to deflate in the stadium wind. As it traces the line to its target a moment becomes ticking seconds and the corner back springs forward and smashes the ball to the earth. The clock has expired. The crowd is silent. The game is over.
I wake up. Breathing is difficult. There is snot in my nose. The Republicans are coming to town on Monday.
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