Updated: Jan 30, 2020
My New Year began with usual plans slowly crumbling to pieces.
For the past several December 31sts, a small posse of my single gay friends has gathered at an unassuming West Village restaurant to ring in another year with sub-par "New American" food and room-temperature sparkling wine. The company has always outshined the environment (FOX news somehow ended up on the flat-screen TV one year, eliciting an uproarious revolt by customers, which I found comforting.)
But this year, the group disbanded, leaving me ensconced in my apartment, two blocks from Times Square but with little desire to don a diaper and spend 12 hours corralled with strangers. So I defrosted a steak, scanned my liquor collection for suitable libations, poured myself a spiced rum and diet Coke (not my first, second or third choice but sometimes you've got to work with what you've got), and made a delightful dinner for one.
I had received a text earlier in the week from a friend who lives around the block for a late-start gathering to ring in the new decade. Rick and I share a lot in common. Our love of theater, food and Asian men.
At a recent non-date (that's when you start to hang out with someone who you've previously gone out with, but now you're "friends" even though you still want to sleep with him), my drinking buddy asked me if I was a Rice Queen. I thought about it. Yes. But because we're in the early stages of navigating gay platonomy, I resisted the urge to dive down the rabbit hole of how that might be offensive to those who I'm attracted to or even myself.
I recently wrote about the historical complexities of African-American interracial relationships, currently being explored on Broadway in Jeremy O. Harris's explosive Slave Play. For some time, I've been pondering what it means to be drawn to someone with an entirely different life experience based on the color of his skin. But what that color affords or denies based on our country's longstanding puritanical values and us vs. them mentality, has been amplified since the 2016 election.
I like smooth skin. I like partners around my size. If you're over six-feet-tall, I feel like I'm tangled in a mass of limbs from which I'll never escape. I like a "tight" build — someone who naturally looks like he could compete on the men's Olympic gymnastics team. I am none of these things. I also love to learn about family culinary traditions beyond my Midwestern upbringing. Maybe I have a food fetish.
I am firmly grounded in middle age. I am pale, hairy (and bald — go figure), simultaneously thin and paunchy, which confounds me every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I can still snap a good selfie, but it takes a while, and I'm better at setting up the shot if I'm wearing my glasses, except I don't want my glasses in the photo, which means using a timer and trying to duplicate the pose after removing them. Don't get me started on the lighting.
Rick's boyfriend, Danny, is a super smart and opinionated Filipino doctor. I assumed the party would tap into that demographic, and I was correct. Fellow med school alums weaved their way throughout his 2nd-floor walk-up, along with a handful of us starving-artist-but-good-for-conversation types. And then Albert walked in.
Boasting a huge smile and bloodshot eyes from overexertion, drugs, or allergies, Albert captivated the room. Both men and women gravitated toward him as he spun tales of attending an ayahuasca ceremony in a Brooklyn yoga studio, or in slightly more hushed tones shared his love for New York City's sex party scene.
I own the fact that I'm a lazy top — in two words clarifying my preferred position and also acknowledging that I'm of the age where my doctor recently recommended that I carry Saltines if I feel lightheaded. The idea of a sexy party (or orgy as we used to call them back in the day) sounds utterly exhausting.
I was on vacation last year in Key West with an old college friend, and we spent several nights at Island House, a men-only, clothing-optional resort. While I loved the body-positive energy and dirt-cheap happy hour, I got queasy when it came to eating nachos buck naked at four in the afternoon. As Valerie Cherish says in The Comeback, "I don't want to see that."
As the midnight hour approached and Rick's small apartment heated up with the energy of a quickly approaching new decade, I felt Albert's hand gently press into the small of my back. Everything happens for a reason, I thought. Maybe my plans fell through so I could be at this party and meet this slightly off-kilter but deeply sensual stranger so he can open my eyes to the world of sex-positivity.
"Can I squeeze by you to get to the cheese?"
Albert, like myself, had discovered the well-curated imported cheese selection that Rick had picked up from COSTCO. He wasn't interested in me. He wanted a hunk of a different variety: Cabot clothbound cheddar.
The clock struck midnight. By night's end, I had mixed vodka, cava and bourbon. My first day of the new year was a foggy hangover, not unlike many that have come before. I texted Albert.
"Hey! Want to grab coffee or a cocktail this weekend?"
As soon as I hit SEND I thought the exclamation but was a bit too enthusiastic. But it's 2020 — there's no turning back now.