After a five-month stint as an unpaid “gardening intern” at the Tennessee trans sex cult compound outside Smithville, after a month or so helping my sister catch painted buntings for science in the ruralest part of backwoods South Carolina, and, finally, after a month’s worth of dogsitting, also for my sister, in beautiful coastal Wilmington, NC, I went back to New York. Forrest, Hannah and Zibby picked me up in Baby Scribbla, Forrest’s antique Mercedes Benz – his first, to my knowledge, but certainly not last. The car couldn’t shift into fifth and so we skirted the Interstate wherever possible and traveled instead up the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped at all the scenic overlooks and weird backcountry convenience stores where Humpty Dumpty-looking fellers in overalls sold hunks of random meat, VHS tapes and white paper bushel bags of the most exquisite peaches you’ve ever tasted. The scenic overlooks were my favorite because inevitably after we’d pulled over and gotten out to check the view, a giant tour bus would arrive. A hundred fat fanny-packed tourists would pile out, gazing out over the majestic mountains and valleys through the screens of their iPads, snapping a hundred photos no one would ever see before piling back on the bus the way they came, never once stopping to actually look at anything. Forrest and I cracked each other up doing impressions of the iPad people while Hannah and Zibby sat on Baby Scribbla’s hood strumming a ukulele and wailing out folk tunes.
Back in Brooklyn, I crashed at Alex’s apartment ‘till I wore out my welcome with the roommates, then at Mel’s on the couch ‘till I wore out my welcome with the roommates there, too. Finally, I gave in and got some jobs, one at Choice Greene, a snooty Pratt-area cheese shop run by a horrible Frenchman and his snobby wife, and one at the Evolution Store in Soho. Evolution was where all the crusty queers worked at the time hawking butterflies, crystals, fossils and human skulls for Bill, the owner, who looked and acted exactly like a skull, and who wore a skull hoodie every day I saw him: a skull in a skull shop wearing a skull shirt. Jared Leto came in and bought a skull one time. You can only buy a skull in New York State if you’re a medical professional with a license number, so he had his mother—who’s a registered nurse—fill out the paperwork for him. Leto was super friendly, by the way, one of the nicest celebs who came in. Johnny Depp? Charming. Kelly Ripa? Vivacious. Anne Hathaway? Total bitch. Just joking, she was nice, too. Actually, the only really bad customer I remember was this woman who tried to return a do-it-yourself anatomical plastic model of a human heart she’d bought for her toddler. The item wasn’t designed for kids and she was mad because she thought it was when she bought it, so she wanted to return it, but she didn’t even bring the whole model back, or the box it came in, just random plastic pieces of it in her purse. We told her there were no refunds anyway and she got really mad. As she was yelling and screaming at us, her toddler, who she had left by the store’s entrance, started lifting $30 ostrich eggs over its head and smashing them on the floor. It was like the child was her little id, the physical manifestation of her Karenistic caterwauling.
I feel bad for NYC kids sometimes. Lately, when I’ve visited the city, I’m struck by how miserable everybody looks. When you go on the subway it’s like all these people are stuck in some horrible video game they can’t escape from, and they don’t even know why they’re playing. And their kids are precocious and preternaturally gifted at everything and speak like angry, sad grown-ups, because angry, sad grown-up is the only language they’ve ever heard spoken. The lady didn’t pay for any of the smashed ostrich eggs, by the way. She backed out of the store shaking her fist at us, and vowing to “write a letter to the company.” “What company?” said Amanda, the assistant manager. We all shrugged. “This company, I guess,” said Eric.
Eric got me the job at Evolution. How to describe our relationship? We were way closer than friends, but while we never had sex, we jacked off together once or twice while watching pre-AIDS French porno movies we found out about from Dennis Cooper books, and we cuddled and slept together. Just sleeping though, no sex, like I said. It was almost like we were bros, straight friends, but also kids, like how every straight guy has a story about how when he was a kid his friend tried to get him to touch his penis, except you know half those stories actually involved something more mutual, something so many of us guys—straight or gay or closeted or whatever—are afraid to vocalize still, even now in 2021. Why is that?
Eric and I hung out at work every day and got drunk together every night. We’d drink from a Jameson bottle in a brown paper bag as we walked to the Boiler Room to play pool. Sometimes we’d hook up with guys we met at the bars—separately—, but I always wound up back in his bed, his arms wrapped tightly around me, both of us snoring and sweating out whiskey and tobacco sweat into the stained white sheets. In the mornings he would boil eggs and pork buns to take to work and we’d ride our bikes over one of the bridgesI don’t even remember which one – and by the time we got to work we’d be disgusting and sweaty, just like all the other employees. One day Bill got fed up with how gross we all were and made us change into Evolution Store skull T-shirts and spray ourselves with horrible deodorant. I’m actually mortified to think how rarely I changed my socks in those days. I do remember one time they got so crusty it actually hurt to wear them and I had to race to American Apparel before work to spend $17 on a new pair, and I was so upset I’d spent so much money on one pair of fucking stripey socks. And now those socks are gone, and American Apparel’s gone, and what was I even so upset about? P.S. My feet smell way better now than they did, in case anyone’s wondering.
Eric was there for me when shit hit the fan with Ben, he was there when I got thrown out of the Cock for throwing my drink at Ben after Ben called me a faggot. Actually he got thrown out of the Cock right after I did as he tried to hit Ben after I threw my drink at Ben after Ben called me a faggot. I don’t know if I was ever there for him in quite the same way as he was for me. I wasn’t really there for anybody in those days, not even myself. We got into a huge fight about something when we were drunk. The fight might have been about anything. I don’t remember any of it, just that it happened. Our relationship was the kind that had to burn out. One of those ticking time bombs, you know? We were both Libras, both blonde, both with those blue eyes, crazy blue eyes like Australian shepherds have. There was no way it could’ve lasted more than a few months. We were too close. You can’t get that close to someone, it’s like Icarus flying too close to the Sun, but the Sun is each other, but also just your reflection, and you crash into it, you crash through it, and burn each other up, and cut each other up with the pieces of glass the broken mirror left behind.
I saw Eric once or twice after that but it was like the spell was broken. Our rapport was stunted, it was like he was a different person, or maybe I was, or we both were. Like we’d collectively been one person before, and then painfully separated, a double-yolked egg split down the middle during boiling, too hot to touch, too cracked to re-cohere. After I’d lived in Chicago a couple of weeks, I woke up one morning to Eric standing at the door to my bedroom. He was visiting my roommate Ector, who he used to date. We ate pizza puffs and went to see Star Trek in the AMC River East 21, my favorite multiplex in town. It was fine. The movie, the pizza puff. Eric. It was all fine. But it wasn’t the same.
Last I heard, he’d been traveling around the country alone and had run out of money while staying at a motel in the desert somewhere, and the motel had hired him to be its handyman or maintenance guy or something in exchange for rent on a room. When I heard that at first I thought it sounded so sad, but upon recent reassessment I’ve decided it sounds like something very close to living the dream. I’m planning on going back to school to become a plumber soon. What kind of a guy can’t fix a toilet, you know? Maybe once I’ve graduated I’ll go looking for Eric at his desert motel. Maybe we’ll fix toilets together for an afternoon and share a beer and a smoke and reminisce about the good old days. Maybe we’ll make some better days yet, better than the ones that came before. Maybe the best is yet to come. Maybe.