Every time I see the Astor Place cube sculpture, I make a mental note to search online and see if it’s some sort of conceptual or political statement, but then I always forget to look it up. The explanation probably wouldn’t tell me why teenage vagrants are always hanging out around this square globe on its diagonal axis, spinning out of control. And for some reason there are always forks and knives stuck in the ground there, probably not symbolic but I don’t get it.
“Was that Asian guy cruising you?” my cousin Landon asks.
I shake my head, wondering if I’m supposed to think the kid’s too young to know what that means, to be that perceptive, or if he’s trying to impress me. I’m already impressed by his biker jacket and physically impossible hairstyle. The jacket looks like Schott or maybe Junya Watanabe, if he makes children’s wear.
As I turn onto St. Mark’s, there’s a guy eating blue Peeps, holding a huge box of them, which would be strange even if it weren’t September.
The Peeps guy makes me laugh and I can tell Landon is annoyed I haven’t answered his question. I can empathize, but teaching my cousin about romantic cues isn’t really at the top of my list of priorities. I want to at least finish my lab report first, but I can’t even do that because I’m trapped in this role of downtown tour guide all afternoon.
“I wasn’t even paying attention.”
Landon squints at me, indicating that I sounded less convincing than even I had thought. Everything seems destined to turn back to sexualization. For sixteen months I was determined to prove teenage male minds aren’t just focused on sex, take an anti-essentialist stand, but lately, it’s a different story. Last time I walked through Chelsea the stares were more daddy than father, in public I notice details that hadn’t stood out before, and assholes at school talk about horrifying online shit that suddenly doesn’t sound so horrifying to me.
Here I’m living out one stage of some sort of sexuality crisis, not about identity but about realization, or maybe participation, with my younger cousin. Next he’ll be asking if we can check out Christopher Street, bondage gear and European twink porn in shop windows.
We walk past McDonald’s and a punk rock club, the one with an ATM in front of it that I’ve never seen anyone use. It’s across from that Japanese market where I used to get green tea mochi all the time. My parents reminisce about renting videos from some place down the block that closed decades ago, a legendary store where the clerks were assholes unless you had good taste, and of course my parents always had good taste, at least in their opinion.
“Do you want food?” I ask. Falafel, Belgian fries, unremarkable pizza, haven’t been to the Japanese store in a while but I feel noncommittal.
“I’m not that hungry. Can we go in there?” pointing to St. Mark’s Bookshop.
Inside, I remember there’s a book I want to find, my English teacher Mr. Sampson mentioned it when we read Beowulf and it sounds interesting. Landon goes off to the art section, exactly where I discovered Mapplethorpe. Those giant dicks are more intimidating than hot, and for a while after I saw them I imagined every black guy on the street having a perfect body and enormous porn star cock. Maysa would kill me if I told her that, even though she knows I dislike stereotypes almost as much as she does. They’re just hard to burn out of your mind, sometimes.
Mapplethorpe makes me think of Larry Clark, the exhibit at the International Center of Photography, even Maysa wouldn’t go so I went alone. There were a few strange glances but most people didn’t react, and now I wonder what the looks meant. Like now, I’m leafing through The Accursed Share and a grad student type with hip glasses and unhip clothes, am I in his way or is he trying to make eye contact, what’s on the agenda, I don’t know if I want to know. But a year ago I wouldn’t even have cared.
There’s a new reality TV show following New York City prep school kids. We’ve already been warned by the head of the school that if anyone participates in something like that, there will be personal and community consequences, can’t you please think of our reputation. So the preview makes me feel judgmental, see the kids as fame whores exploiting themselves to make us all look bad. Of course there’s some flaming boy in slightly too-tight clothes and scarves, what is it with prep school gays and their scarves. I read about how handkerchiefs used to signal all kinds of weird sexual fetishes so maybe it’s a newer version of that, but there isn’t really anyone I feel comfortable asking.
Gay symbolism takes me back to last year’s English class, which sucked by the way. The Catcher in the Rye and endless handouts on symbolism: when Holden’s hat was facing forward versus backwards it meant some deep bullshit.
I raised my hand and said, “So sometimes he feels like being the pitcher and other times he’s a catcher.”
Mr. Hansen nodded. I looked around the room and nobody got it but me. All these self-appointed experts on every activity the internet claims is real and this, which is actually real, goes straight over their heads, or not so straight over their heads.
Subway politics are also sexual politics. Today I was riding downtown in afternoon rush hour, on one of those trains so crowded you’re sure someone is giving or getting an STD, or head, when even I’m not thin enough but it’s too late because you wind up getting thrust inside the car. Leaving Chambers Street, the car lurches and I’m practically on top of some guy, probably in his mid twenties. I notice his socks, everything else nondescript but the fashionable socks, navy Fair Isle with green, purple, and light blue woven in.
Physical positioning is always awkward on the subway. A lot of people stick to the traditional Statue of Liberty approach and it’s armpits thrust to the world, but I don’t like that one so I grab the metal part attached to the seats. My hand looks too pale and I should have clipped my nails last night. The guy in the socks is chubby but dressed strategically for his weight, too old but not predatory. He’s neither ugly nor attractive but I’m frustrated that he won’t acknowledge me. I want to know whether he’s doing so on purpose or not.
Right before I get off the train, I cough and take out my phone but his eyes stay downward. There’s a message from Maysa, the only teenager in the world who still uses voicemail. She’s wondering if I might see Dylan, and if so can I ask him if he likes her, we’re in high school but we don’t have to act like it, right …
My parents decide it’s family night. Dad cooks and halfway through the risotto they’re both ranting about entitlement. The city’s a playground for recent college graduates with cushy jobs, recreating Greekworld, fraternity row gentrification, always a new form of gentrification. Two glasses of wine and all they can talk about is how historical neighbourhoods are being ruined by entitled Millennials.
They always sound like they’re arguing even though they agree on everything political, but maybe that’s what makes them uncomfortable. We should hire a twenty-five-year-old heteronormative chauvinist to spice up our Thanksgiving, except we’re visiting Landon’s family in Atherton, California. Maybe he can take me shopping in San Francisco.
“You’re hardly unentitled,” Mom says to Dad. “I bet you could get us into Rao’s by the end of the week if you wanted to.”
“There are about a million restaurants I would rather go to.”
I roll my eyes and listen to them hash out their guilt. It’s the same at school, just last week some of the upperclassmen went off on the sophomore girls: You’re so superficial, all you care about is who made your shoes and bag, take your family’s private jet and fuck off to Monte Carlo.
We’re all supposed to feel guilty for being rich, proud of being gay, ashamed of being white. We’re all watching as the city slowly dies, and when it does we’ll just move closer to the outlet mall, Westchester here we come.
“You haven’t touched the risotto,” Dad says. “It’s one of Thomas’s recipes.”
He’s on a first-name basis with all the local Michelin chefs. The wine cellar is plastered with signed tasting menus going back decades, even the days when Chez Panisse was still considered edgy, although I don’t really understand what that means. When we visited Berkeley my parents said, Don’t apply here for undergrad, only for grad school. The same rule applies to NYU.
The risotto looks like abstract art, drops of translucent black liquid among the bits of the special rice my dad gets from that Italian market near Madison Square Park.
“What is this?”
“Black garlic fluid gel,” explaining the science behind it, transitioning away from the subject of entitlement, but they’re still talking at me.
At advising we sit in a circle and discuss the situation in the Middle East. We’re encouraged to use “I feel” statements. Jasper tries to bullshit an analogy between Israeli-Palestine relations, or a lack thereof, and bullying at school. What bullying do we have aside from privilege shaming and maybe slut shaming, plus those aren’t necessarily evil to begin with, not if done tactfully.
“I feel like diplomacy will just fuck things up even worse.” This is Adil, who’s been grimacing all day, breaking in new raw denim.
“Is that language really necessary?”
He shrugs, which is how I feel, rather be in a class where we were actually learning something.
At lunch the Queer Straight Alliance girls descend upon our table, including Emily, the president, announcing that it’s not too late to join, there will be cupcakes.
“Cupcakes are so far beyond played out, they’re not even postironically cool anymore,” Maysa says. “Anyway, I believe that bridges should be built together, not by fiat.”
“What does it have to do with cars?”
Maysa rolls her eyes at me, we’re way too whatever for these upperclassmen. “I’m all for anti-essentialism but I’m already too busy,” I say. I really don’t want to join but I’m trying to be nice, because why not.
“At least come to the dance,” Emily says.
She looks back at me as she walks away. I can tell she wants to try harder to convince me, her goal is apparently to be the ringleader of all the gay boys at school. I imagine her with a chair and a whip, bondage twinks cowering on their knees, someone else’s fetish.
“They’re so arty,” Maysa says. “So cosmopolitan.”
I’m not sure why she’s angry, maybe they’ve been talking about her pencil skirts behind her back again. Anyway, I think they look good.
“At least they changed it from GSA.”
“At least, at least, at least. Fuck it.”
The warning bell saves me from having to console her, which wouldn’t work anyway. It’s finally time for English, the one class I look forward to.
On Rosh Hashanah the LIRR to Post Washington is insane, commuters mixed with Jews headed for New Year’s parties in Great Neck and Manhasset. Someone ahead of me on the train has a challah, which reminds me of that Jewish bakery in the East Village. I’ve never been inside, but it seems even more foreign than Queens Chinatown.
The woman next to me is wearing too much lipstick and loudly talking business on her phone, complaining about clients. I can’t tell what her job is but it sounds boring. Bankers and lawyers, consultants at think tanks, my parents went to Tokyo last year and talked about the salarymen, thirteen-hour workdays and then getting wasted, drunk karaoke. They forced my dad to sing, something from the eighties, all that stuff sounds the same to me.
Not surprisingly, there’s a major exodus at Great Neck including phone woman, and only a handful of people are left when we pull into Port Washington, end of the line. Even though the station’s downtown, Main Street is almost rural compared to my neighbourhood, but I feel the same way about parts of Brooklyn.
Erin’s waving and yelling my name from the window of a white Range Rover. As I get into the back seat with my overnight bag, I notice the technology inside the vehicle is almost futuristic enough for a spaceship.
“New car?” I ask.
“When did we get it?”
They’re not sure whether it was Monday or Tuesday.
The Wertheims live in Sands Point, the same area Fitzgerald called West Egg in Gatsby, or was it East Egg. I imagine my current English teacher, Mr. Sampson, staring in disappointment, expectations never met. I wonder what’s he’s doing tonight. Maysa asked him in the hall and he just said he had dinner reservations. Usually he says he’s staying home, reading the encyclopedia. Once he said he had concert tickets and some of the upperclassmen tried to stalk him, split into groups and went to a handful of venues, but they won’t admit it.
“Dinner reservations” doesn’t sound like a secret code or anything, but after he said it Maysa winked at me. For her, the answer was just more confirmation that he’s gay, although she says she doesn’t care. I also say I don’t care, but I don’t know if that’s really true. We tell ourselves that it doesn’t make a difference but the whole who is and who isn’t conversation still happens all the time.
Erin’s mom turns up the volume when a song she likes comes on. Lately she’s been listening to old-school rap music, before that it was some specific type of techno. “Is the seat warm enough?” Erin asks, turning to roll her eyes at me, cool mom victim syndrome. “You can customize the temperature.”
She gestures at a control panel but after the long week and train ride I’m not in the mood to figure out how it works.
Perfect, what is it with employees at every shop in New York, food places and clothing stores, everything is perfect these days. The shirt is perfect, paying with Visa is perfect, emailed receipt, also perfect. Every choice at a restaurant, every muffin and scone, every espresso drink.
We’re reading David Foster Wallace and his thesis is something about being lied to, politicians and advertisements claim that every need can be met, but they know it’s a lie. Do we know it’s a lie, that’s the question Mr. S asked.
Maysa said it depends on the definition of lie, that promises don’t really matter anymore. We’re beyond that, beyond irony and honesty. He nodded and said, Just like online contracts, a box with terms and conditions comes up and we click yes, I agree, yes, perfect, wonderful. Yes, you can have my firstborn, yes, I would love to be a subject of intrusive medical testing, yes, please send me an orphan from a dispossessed society.
At school we constantly hear how we need to give back, to serve, make a difference in the world instead of just lazily exploiting our families’ money. We build houses in the Dominican Republic and donate food to villages in Bangladesh, we sign petitions and everything’s green and sustainable and the word “service” is used a million times. But I’m still skeptical.
On the way home from the subway, a homeless man asks me for a dollar so he can go to Taco Bell, and instinctively I say I don’t have any cash and keep walking. I’m not lying, but it probably doesn’t matter.
“Wait,” he says, and for some reason I do. We make eye contact and he says that he’s gay, too.
My instant reaction is, So fucking what, why should that make me any more or less compassionate.
The next day I mention it to Maysa and she says, Probably he was trying to hit on you. I hadn’t even considered that, a black man three times my age, appearance-wise about as far from Mapplethorpe models as you can get.
Now I worry that every time I get asked for cash, I’ll think there’s a sexual element, at least if it’s a male panhandler. I should see if someone from National Honor Society knows how to donate to the homeless indirectly, but I think they only speak in buzzwords like teamwork, perseverance, citizenship, unity.
This feels pessimistic, but maybe at the core we’re all cynics. At least we make perfect, or perfectly selfish, decisions when it comes to shopping and service is a major part of our lives.
I wonder whether the Urban Outfitters by Lincoln Center is going to do one of those specials, additional half off everything on sale. I swear they had that deal last year at this time.
Apparently today’s the day you need to ask somebody to Homecoming. It’s like there was a memo sent to everyone but me, either that or I repressed the whole concept of school dances.
Tommy’s walking around with a white T-shirt that says homecoming in Sharpie letters with yes or no check boxes. Yes is checked, but I think whoever he asked should’ve agreed to go but also should have written bad song lyrics about teenage romance all over the shirt.
After second period Eric yells out, “He’s gonna ask her,” and everyone flocks to the hall except for me.
Maysa’s away at some music thing so I have to imagine her going on a tirade about heteronormativity, boys asking girls, boys going with girls, take a stand. Of course she’ll still go to the dance, but only with a group of friends. I wonder if she feels pressure to get a date and just won’t admit it, like me.
“What’s the theme this year?” Mr. S asks. It’s two minutes before class but most of us are already in our spots.
“A Night at the Opera,” somebody answers.
“I assume this is not a Marx Brothers-inspired choice.”
The class exchanges glances, another reference nobody gets.
“Don’t tell me it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
And then some girl inevitably says: Oh my God I love Phantom, I saw it in London and then on the same vacation we went to the real opera house in Paris. I roll my eyes and hope that Mr. S wants to do the same but is too polite.
“Did you go to high school dances?” I ask him.
The whole class wants details, pictures, stories, but the bell rings and it’s back to the Caribbean with DFW, not to be confused with the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, as we were instructed last week.
Erin’s Jew Friends, as she refers to them, are mostly busy with their own families, but all the Steins are there, and so is Erin’s friend Juliet Kaplan. The two younger Steins go to Schreiber High School, and we joke about the danger and scandal of public school but Schreiber is about as ghetto as Murray Hill, the one in Manhattan.
There’s no actual religious element to the party, we just have to make an appearance with the adults and then we can hang out in the basement. Even though I’ve spent tons of time there, a basement is still sort of a novelty. Erin’s is completely different from the rest of her house, which is filled with ultramodern art and furniture, sort of like a more intense version of our apartment. The basement is less formal, an upscale Ikea style if that exists, and equipped with every possible amusement, air hockey and ping pong and lots of videogames.
“I’m so glad we don’t have brisket,” Juliet says. “It must have appealed to our people after eating only matzo for so long, but Jesus Christ.”
The food is really good, we all compliment it but Erin brushes us off and says her parents have caterer friends.
“You should have us over for Christmas,” Erin says. “We can start a Jew-Christian alliance.”
She knows my family isn’t really Christian, maybe in theory, but my parents are angry atheists. They do buy a small tree every year and we open presents on Christmas Day, but that’s about it. Other kids say I’m weird for not thinking Christmas is the best day ever, but it hasn’t ever been a big deal, especially with only three people.
In sixth grade we learned the rule of three. Things always come in threes, famous people dying, symbols in literature, magi, but I realize now that I don’t know why it matters, why should I care, why it is significant. In Mr. S’s class it’s about saying something, and the rule of three doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.
“You seem distracted tonight.”
Erin’s right, but I deny it, telling her everything’s fine, a casual lie. “This was a crazy week.”
Everyone nods, honest or not. We talk about music and movies, hear adults roaring upstairs. Erin goes to ask what’s so funny, and it turns out that Mr. Stein passed out Viagra samples with dessert, parents making boner jokes.
This inspires Juliet to mention her history teacher, Ms. Goldstein, who apparently told her class a story involving snorting cocaine off a hard dick. I guess Ms. Goldstein had a wild youth in the seventies or eighties.
“You’re supposed to call the doctor if your erection doesn’t go away after four hours,” Danny Stein says.
The word “erection” seems formal, but it’s always hard to decide what terms to use when you’re talking to people you don’t know that well.
“Can you imagine?” He looks at me and squints, we both laugh, and I see Juliet raise her eyebrows and mumble something to Erin, but I can’t hear what she says.
That night, in one of the guest bedrooms, my thoughts keep me awake. I wonder whether there was hidden meaning in the squint, a male homosocial inside joke I don’t quite get, or something more.
I wonder what Juliet said. I wonder if I’m supposed to be turned on by a cute boy talking about erections in my friend’s basement. Danny’s older brother Jake is gay, he interned in Washington, D.C., over the summer and is now a sophomore at Columbia. Erin told me her parents think that Danny’s also gay, increased odds with genetics and everything.
Over the summer I decided that I was going to use “queer” instead but I can’t quite get into the habit, especially in speech but even in my head. If we’re all queer I don’t know why we even need a word. Actually, I sort of know but it’s hard to articulate.
Maysa says her music friends pretend to be gay, queer, whatever, because they think it’s the only socially acceptable choice. They say they’re attracted to the person, not the gender. I can hear her mocking tone, her sneer, saying, “It’s the person, not the gender” in an angry, sarcastic way. If she’s as confident as she sounds, I’m sort of jealous, or at least I think I should be.
Landon and I have been exchanging music over email. He’s obsessed with this Finnish record label, and everything sounds like fucked-up people roaming the forest with homemade electronic instruments. It’s interesting but they aren’t really songs, not in the way I’m used to. He’s already heard of most of the music I send him, no surprise there.
One night I get an email from him asking if fisting is really what it sounds like and how is it physically possible. I wonder if he’s searched for images or video, and I have this moment of protectiveness that reminds me of Holden Caulfield’s attitude toward his sister.
That book keeps creeping into my mind even though I didn’t like it that much. All the whining got old and the point was clear enough the first time out of fifty or however many beyond that.
I respond with a link to a Foucault blog. I’m not sure if it’s more or less inappropriate than anything else would’ve been.
At school kids throw around bizarre sexual terminology all the time. I remember last year Ali asked our health teacher if he knew what a rimjob was. Mr. Becker made some comment about car tires, which was either the funniest thing he’s ever said intentionally or just evidence of his stupidity. I’m betting on the latter.
We hear about rainbow kisses and Roman showers and shit sex, not only one kind but multiple variations. The concepts are worse than any image or video I’ve seen, but what I’ve seen is bad enough. By the time he’s my age, Landon will probably be desensitized to all of that and more.
And yet I still can’t resist making a fist and staring at it from various angles. My hands aren’t large by any means but the idea that my fist or anyone’s could go all the way up, I don’t even want to finish the thought. Could it ever feel clean again, and that’s still a lot easier than imagining the person on the other end.
The next day at school, I’m walking down the hallway and I overhear some guy in my class ask his friend, “Do you have a loose butthole?”
And then they “fight” or fight or flirt or “flirt” and it’s gross and stupid but I’m kind of jealous in a way I’m pretty uncomfortable with.
Erin goes to Schreiber homecoming with Danny Stein, just as friends, and after the dance everybody takes limos to the West Village for stand-up comedy shows. They don’t get back home until the middle of the night. She’s still a zombie at school on Monday, the week of our own dance. I’m still not sure whether I should go.
“The comedy was not funny at all,” she says. We’re walking to gym, where it’s the archery unit, better than swimming at least.
We talk about other shit that’s supposed to be funny but isn’t, which leads us to Waiting for Guffman, something we both think is actually funny.
Jarren overhears me say, “I hate you and I hate your ass face!”
“What the fuck is that?”
We explain we’re quoting a movie, and he grunts and speeds up, soon far ahead of us.
Even though it’s not particularly warm, Jarren and, it turns out, half the guys in gym are wearing tank tops. A lot of them aren’t people I imagine even owning tanks, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised after seeing the amount of them at Urban Outfitters. There’s something confronting about armpit hair, but maybe that’s just me.
I ask Erin if she approves of this fashion trend. “Yeah, it totally turns me on,” she says and yawns. “What about you?”
“Maybe I should start wearing them.”
She raises her eyebrows in horror, but I’m sure she knows the world isn’t going to be seeing my bony arms in the near future.
After we get instructions and equipment, Erin and I head over to a target, gym partners. We talk about what the ultimate awful Homecoming dance and date would be, because maybe we’ll have a better chance of hitting the bullseye if we imagine it’s something or someone truly horrific.
Bad stand-up comedians, dates with horrible breath, DJs who play lame wedding and bat mitzvah music like that fucking “Love Shack” song and, worse, “YMCA.” Seriously, if that’s what gay people are supposed to listen to, that and ABBA, I just don’t get it.
“Dumb jocks in tank tops,” Erin said. “That almost rhymes. Sorry.”
I forgive her, but it doesn’t help her aim.
After DFW’s essay about the Caribbean cruise, we read the one about the fair. Aside from Chicago, I’ve never been to the Midwest. The Illinois State Fair sounds ridiculous, not exactly fun but the kind of thing you do so you can talk about it afterwards, anthropology.
We also learn related words: anthropocentrism, sympathetic meat-eaters trying to comfort a sick pig. There’s also anthropophagy, the juniors are talking about serial killers as social monsters, Ed Gein and the guy from Silence of the Lambs. Buffalo Bill seems gay, but I don’t know if that’s supposed to make him better or worse.
CVS already has Halloween candy, it’s back to school in early July, Halloween by Labor Day, and Christmas way before Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll dress up as an anthropocentric anthropophagus anthropologist, only would that make me a cannibal who studies people or an anthropologist who eats his subjects, in my head there seems to be a distinction but I’m not sure.
I buy a pith helmet on the internet. It looks like every safari master costume you’ve ever seen, and it’s cheaper than I would have expected.
The helmet doesn’t arrive in time for the dance, but I decide to pretend I’m wearing it, to be an outsider studying a foreign culture. Even though it’s my culture too, the kids in the hallway still look transformed, wearing clothes I’ve never seen them in and looking, well, a whole range of things, from probably drunk to uncomfortable. Jarren’s wearing a bright green tuxedo, like some sort of superhero cartoon pimp. I like that description, I feel like it’s something DFW would’ve written. Mr. S always suggests having a séance in class when questions like that come up, what would the author think, when the author’s dead.
Our group of five, Maysa has named us the Alternateens, takes the subway to the dance. When I ask her what it means that we’re alternative, she laughs and says, “We’re challenging the distinction between the subaltern and the altern.” I assume this has to do with something her brother, who goes to Wesleyan, taught her. Their family is strangely close, or just strange, or both.
The dance is in Midtown, West Side, the building looks like nothing special but Homecoming turns out to be on the top floor, with amazing views. It’s the kind of place where I imagine my parents would go for big events, and actually I’ve seen photos of them at similar ballrooms.
There’s a swan ice sculpture and people are taking pictures of themselves licking and kissing it. One of the chaperones shoos them away but two minutes later some guy makes this sexual thrusting gesture toward the swan, it’s one of the seniors who’s always surrounded by a group of worshippers even though he doesn’t seem particularly cool, actually he seems pretty awful.
“This is so white,” Maysa says, glaring at kids dancing to some R&B song I don’t recognize. I hope it’s not creepy to watch people dance, but I don’t know how you’re supposed to dance at events like this, so like a good anthropologist I need to observe before I jump in, if I jump in.
We wind up occupying a table outside the dance floor, an endless conversation about how everyone’s trying to be edgy, what it means to be edgy. Tasha arrives late with a guy in drag, he doesn’t go to school with us but he immediately loves our conversation, laughing extra hard at my comments.
Eventually we drift into another familiar topic, A to Z of porn titles, which always starts with Ass You Like It, one extra letter to the Shakespeare play we read last year and all hated. Mr. Hansen raved about the wonderful music and memorable lines, especially that one female character, Rosalind I think.
Somewhere around M we get tired of the game and everyone drifts onto the dance floor, and the next morning I wake up and realize I was dancing in front of the whole school and I don’t know if I can dance, it was fun at the time but now I feel like I probably embarrassed myself, and even if other people did, too, it’s still frustrating.
I replay the event in my mind. There was one of those stupid circles when people go in the middle one at a time and show off their best moves, or whatever. I wouldn’t do it, but Maysa pulled up her opera gloves and imitated robot moves. Later, a group of kids did the Electric Slide from gym class. At the end there was a lot of slow dancing, which is really swaying more than dancing. Maysa said she could tell the guy in the dress, I can’t even remember his name, was aroused, she felt it against her leg. Now I wonder if I didn’t notice that but should have. By then we were in a Town Car that dropped me off and then her, the driver was annoyed by the two stops but we tipped him extra.
While kids were staying up all night, having sex, maybe even in hotel rooms, probably going to stand-up like the Long Islanders, I was in my own bed, where I am now, wondering whether I learned anything profound about our subculture, our community. I think the answer is no, but maybe I’ll have a massive revelation next week.
When I was eleven, my grandparents took me to Massachusetts the week before school started. We drove from Boston over the terrifying bridge that leads to the Cape, where we stayed at some place in Chatham. I was obsessed with the hot tub. I’d always wanted one at home, my parents have one in their bathroom but I was never allowed to use it.
We went on a whale watch and took the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and I think it was the whale watch that left from Provincetown. I was old enough to detect some of the gay stuff there, I mean when there are gift stores selling shirts that say “Nobody Knows I’m Gay” you’d have to be a fucking idiot not to know, but I definitely didn’t comprehend the full extent of it.
I remember my grandmother continually telling me she knew I’d love Provincetown and that it was my kind of place, and another time at her house when she said something like, “You really have a lot of female friends.”
I would never mention any of this to her and I should probably be grateful but it’s hard not to be embarrassed. What is it with all the shame lately, maybe all the talk about pride is backfiring. Then again, if there’s a reason to feel shame, to be embarrassed, why fight it.
Assuming I’m right about Provincetown, the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard was from Hyannis, where the Kennedy compound is. I wanted to see that more than whales, but the whales were cool at the time.
I remember being mesmerized by the giant wake, standing at the back of the boat and just watching that, taking photos of it. Some guy around my age, probably a little older, came up to me and started a conversation. He mentioned he was in a gang. He was about as non-threatening as possible and I’m sure he was lying, even at the time I could tell, but he said he’d shot but not killed someone and that he always carried a knife. Now, I wonder whether he was trying to impress me, a pathological liar, or what. It’s also funny that a few years ago I was willing to talk to people in that sort of circumstance. Today I’d probably want to run, or at least say or do anything to end the conversation.
Mopey teen angst isolation, wallflower, I should probably start writing bad poetry in my own blood, but I’m too squeamish about that kind of thing. The blood, not the poetry. Actually, both, now that I think about it.
Jacob Gelfand is a teacher and writer living in Minneapolis. His past work ranges from concert reviews for MTV’s website to a chapter in a book on international environmental law. “Peepshow” is his first published short story.