Once upon a time in a kingdom called Manhattan, there lived a young man. He traveled from the west to seek his fame and fortune in the sparkling land. After five years, he had found neither. What he did find though, was a really cool job he enjoyed. It provided money to pay his bills, while still leaving enough for a life-style he’d now come to love–even more than his foolish dreams of fame. The only missing puzzle piece to total happiness would be a fantastic guy to share in his adventures.
The young man had no trouble meeting men. In this kingdom, in this era, the sidewalks were teeming with possibilities of every age, type and temperament. He managed to sample quite a variety of them. It had proved to be a delicious array, but none especially stood out as a potential candidate. The young man had grown comfortable living alone in this semi-paradise, but he was never lonely. He had more friends than free time to spend with them. And there was more to see and do here in this enchanted land than he would ever have years enough to experience it all.
Janet and Sissy were two of his best friends. They worked in a posh, posh hotel in the heart of The Kingdom. Hotel work schedules are oftentimes erratic. When Janet was on evenings, she’d phone the young man during those times it was quiet. They had some of their best conversations late nights, in between her duties. She and Sissy had befriended a fascinating collection of co-workers who came from all the continents of the globe. At times she might hand the phone to any one of them who passed through her office, instructing the puzzled foreigners “Say hello to my friend”. It was a silly game, yet nothing amused the young man more than playing along.
During one of those late night conversations, the phone was passed to someone with an exotic sounding name. He acted even more befuddled than the others, by Janet’s bizarre request to speak with some stranger on the other end of the line. The young man was instantly taken by the sound of his voice, and the intriguing accent with which it was flavored. But this particular fellow seemed uninterested in playing Janet’s game, passing the phone back to her after only a few polite exchanges.
“Is he gay?” the young man questioned his friend, while she adjusted the phone back over her ear.
Janet said she thought he might be, but she wasn’t certain. He was very sweet, very polite and mannerly, she told him. She thought he was either from Honduras or Colombia. “One of those countries. He is a real gentleman”, she pronounced finally.
The next time he saw her, the young man asked Sissy if she thought the guy at work with the exotic name was gay.
“I’d be boinking him myself if he wasn’t”, she answered without a pause. The young man grew even more interested.
Not too many weeks later, on an early summer Manhattan Sunday afternoon, the young man visited Janet at the hotel during her lunch break. They were meeting for a quick bite to eat. As they passed through the lobby, she noticed the exotic gentleman was on duty at the front desk. Although neither of them was dressed for the clientele milling about, still Janet marched them up through the chic little crowd to say hello.
The young man stopped to take it all in. The gentleman was poised at his station behind a gorgeous arrangement of expensive posies, looking uber-impeccable in his uniform jacket. On the lapel were these tiny colorful pins. When asked what they signified, he explained that they represented the languages he spoke.
“E-talian, Spon-ish, French and Eengleesh.”
The young man felt totally out of his league. But he didn’t mind, because the gentleman, amidst these stunning surroundings, was tantalizing just to look at. He was as handsome as a movie star–in the kind of movies you have to read the subtitles to understand. And Sissy’s gaydar had been spot-on. He studied him while Janet chatted away. Continental, the young man thought to himself–the walking, talking definition of the very word. Although he paid little, or next to no attention to him, somehow that didn’t matter.
As they began their goodbyes, the gentleman reached into the basket of flowers, carefully easing one out by its long stem. The young man’s heart began to leap in his breast. Then it quickly sank as he presented it to Janet with a flourish, bidding them both a good afternoon–much the same as he must have wished any of his chichi clientele.
Persistence was a quality the young man had been working on during his new life in The Kingdom. He somehow had to get the gentleman onto his own turf. Only then, if there was no chemistry, and the attraction remained one-sided, would he concede defeat. He coordinated a rendezvous through Janet and Sissy bringing all forces together. The girls had learned from a discussion at work that he loved to cook, and so did the young man. It was settled. They would prepare a dinner together at Janet’s, giving the young man a chance to win his favor. But it would be a feat for the three hotel workers to coordinate the same night off.
The two chefs prepared Spaghetti Carbonara. They drank wine and smoked grass, offering little snippets of their histories–just enough to whet the appetite. Having to cook necessitated they both spend part of the evening alone together in the kitchen. Those times they giggled a lot. The young man boldly, (after a little too much vino and way too many joints), delivered a sweet lingering kiss just before serving the pasta. By the time they said goodnight, he was certain they’d see one another again. The next move would have to be the gentleman’s, he decided.
* * * * *
It is a few weeks into full-on summer now, when the young man’s story continues. One of the special perks of The Kingdom of Manhattan, he learned, was the easy access to the only ocean he’d ever seen in his life. It was via a subway ride and then a bus. In under two hours time he could be lying bare-ass naked on his friendly nude beach. There he would spend his day romping in the waves with a unique collection of citizenry from The Kingdom. It was a sacred way for him to pass a Saturday or Sunday. He made the trip whenever the sun came out to play.
After yet another glorious day re-bronzing his lanky frame, he begrudgingly dressed, then trekked through the sand to begin the journey home. The line was long, but there was a fleet of buses rapidly filling one-by-one, to move the people on to the subway station. It was the end of the line for the train, so there would always be one waiting, with doors wide open. He boarded, choosing a seat on one of the long benches–far away from any screaming rug rats. He took out a book from his beach bag to help pass the boring but air-conditioned ride, and quickly immersed himself in its pages.
Once the train was filled to capacity, the doors were closed, AC cranked up, and they were moving. As he read, he had this feeling that someone nearby was staring at him–that creepy sensation. The long benches faced one another. He felt as if the surveillance was coming from the bench directly across from his. Covertly, his eyes moved up from the page to a pair of feet opposite him.
Now–bare feet are the norm on any beach, nude or clothed. But going barefoot on a subway is peculiarly rare. The cars were filthy, the floors often dangerous, and quite simply, it was never done. Panning his eyes up further, he saw before him a nearly nude beach refugee. The hairy-chested guy was clad in nothing but the briefest of black nylon speedos. On the beach, that might have been found to be provocative. On the subway, it read ‘street crazy’. The young man was afraid to look at his face, for fear eye contact might give this weirdo an invitation to conversation. He wouldn’t want to communicate to the collection of strangers in the train car, the impression he was in any way connected to this loony.
The young man, still a sympathetic do-gooder from the west, knew he had no choice but to answer his stare. And in doing so, he found something frightened, and not frightening, in the pair of gentle dark eyes looking back at him. The guy made a weak attempt at a teeny smile, using only the very corners of his full lips. It melted him instantly, so he returned the smile. In less than a heartbeat, the stranger was seated next to him.
“I’m so embarrassed. Some asshole stole all my stuff while I was in the water…my sandals, my wallet, my cut-offs. Everything.” His accent indicated he too must have originally hailed from west of The Kingdom.
“Oh, how awful!” the young man cried. “I have an extra T-shirt”, and he dug deep into his bag to fish it out. The guy began pouring out thank-yous for the small kindness like big sloppy kisses. The moment he pulled the shirt over his head, they were both put at ease. Then simultaneously the two locked eyes. They froze nose to nose on the seat they were sharing. There was this bond–an instant kinship struck between them–a camaraderie the young man was certain now everyone in the subway car had recognized.
They talked the entire train ride back to The Kingdom. The two shared biographies and all their pertinent information: neighborhoods, jobs, favorite places to eat, hang-outs. The no-longer-stranger asked if he would accompany him back to his apartment building. They’d find the Super and use his spare keys, then get on the phone with the police to report his stolen wallet and property. He wanted to reward the young man with dinner for his help. To spend more time with this guy seemed a generous reward. He was already captivated.
Once back in Manhattan and in the apartment, they drank cold beers out of the can while he made his calls. The midtown studio of this solid, burly man was tiny and warm and cozy, in an earthy sort of way. It reflected how he was on the inside–lovable and unaffected. During each little break in his phone conversations, every quiet moment or pause, he would gaze at the young man with a tenderness impossible to be faked, and impossible for the young man to fathom.
They never went out to dinner. Once he’d finished his phone calls, he motioned the young man to him. He wrapped him in a bear hug and kissed him. It wasn’t a faked movie kind of kiss. It was strong and hungry. The kind of kiss that can only lead to one thing. When they had exhausted one another, and the sun began its descent, they ordered Chinese from around the block. The young man left in a cab that night, worried it all might only be something he’d dreamed, dozing-off on his blanket on the beach under the hot afternoon sun.
He was awakened the following morning, Sunday–before noon–very early for the young man, by his ringing telephone.
“Do you have plans for today?” an alert and husky voice on the other end questioned. It was the guy from the beach. He imagined his craggy tan face lying there in his bed, sharing the pillow alongside him. The young man grinned himself awake, savoring the memory of the day before. Eyes barely open, he listened as he laid out plans for the two of them this day.
They met for brunch in his neighborhood. He said the Chinese take-out didn’t count as a meal. They talked incessantly, both men, all afternoon long. There wasn’t a nanosecond of dead air between them. He confessed what brought him to The Kingdom, unlike the young man, was neither career nor dream. It was to escape family. He chose to live the life he needed to live on his own. He’d found a place in his heart for this special land that allowed such freedom, but his passion lay in the outdoors. They compared stories of favorite beach days, and of the ocean they both had grown to worship.
As evening neared, he shared a secret. He’d recently taken most of his savings, and bought a few acres in Woodstock, New York–three hours outside The Kingdom. It had a shack of a cabin on it that he was fixing, electricity and a well for water, and trees–lots and lots of them. In a year’s time he hoped to have it winterized. He’d been spending his free time there, clearing some of the wood, domesticating the cabin, and ‘just breathing real air’. “I look around my property…it’s a great big ocean of green.” The young man warmed inside at the poetic Paul Bunyan, who’d begun softly knocking at his heart’s door. The upcoming weekend was the July Fourth holiday, and the woodsman had taken extra days off, to spend more time in Woodstock. He promised to call once he returned. The young man trusted he’d be a man of his word.
* * * * *
All day at work Monday, the young man struggled hourly not to pick-up the phone to wish him a good vacation. In truth, it would only be a lame excuse to hear his voice again. Back home in his own apartment, he was glad he’d overcome his desire to do anything that stupid. A lot could happen in a week. So much can fade in even less time. Besides, he had woefully neglected his friends all weekend long. He needed to catch them up on his mad subway tryst.
He phoned his best buddy Perry. They used to go bar-hopping together, until Perry landed his gorgeous German boyfriend. They were already searching for an apartment together. Perry was waiting for the young man’s call, he admitted, thinking his weekend disappearance was caused by the hotel gentleman finally asking him out on a real date. He was all ears about this woodsman, but was just sitting down to dinner with the boyfriend. He’d return his call to get the whole scoop once they’d eaten. The young man hung up, and walked to the kitchen, hoping to find something more than carrot sticks and celery in his own refrigerator.
No more than ten minutes passed before his phone rang. He skipped even saying hello. “That was quick. Did you chew before you swallowed?” There was a long dead silence. “Hello?”
A laugh on the other end, and definitely not Perry’s. Then, “Do I even want to know who you think this is?” It was the woodsman’s throaty voice.
The young man explained about Perry, at the same time feeling pleased that he might have been jealous–at least a tiny bit.Though he’d known him for less than three days, he detected in his tone a weighty reason for this call. He’d been raised to always look for the gloomy side of a situation. The woodsman stated he knew it might be coming out of left field, but he was extending an invitation to join him in his cabin the following Friday night for the long weekend.
“There’s no TV, or running water. But I’ve got a bike we can take into town to get food and ice and any stuff we need. I’d love to share it with you. I’ve never had company in the cabin before.”
The young man was without words. He was thrilled, and at the same moment made dumb by the proposal. They barely knew one another. This was an extremely intimate situation for two quasi-strangers. Excited and frightened, the young man’s heart was lodged in his throat. He begged for some technical snafu to crash the phone connection, buying himself time for an answer.
“You don’t have to tell me tonight”, the kind yet steady woodsman returned, assuring him. “I’m not leaving until Wednesday on the noon Trailways bus. Call me once you decide. “There was an evening bus Friday he could take. He could pick him up on his bike and ride the three miles to the cabin. The young man wanted to jump in a cab that instant just to kiss him. He thanked him, both for his invitation and his understanding.
He ran the two blocks to Sissy’s apartment, praying she’d be home to provide counsel. He needed input from someone in person, and pronto. Nearly out of oxygen, he managed to condense the entire weekend saga into about five minutes, which was a feat for the young man who loved to dramatize even the inconsequential. The woodsman’s invitation took only seconds.
“Are you fucking insane?” she shrieked, before he even got to tell her about the bicycle ride home from the bus. “He could be some wacko who kills gay guys! We won’t even know where to tell them to look for you. We’ll read about discovering your rotted carcass along with a dozen others in The National Enquirer, after the cops dig up half the woods in Woodstock!”
They got stoned, Sissy calmed down a little and then they called Janet at work. She was usually much more reasonable. She suggested taking plenty of time before deciding–maybe calling the woodsman to explain his natural hesitation. The young man felt better.
He met Perry for breakfast before work the following morning. “Well, at least you won’t have to worry about planning your July Fourth outfits. Or having to iron anything once you unpack.” He was all for the trip. One-hundred-percent. He did suggest asking for some sort of contact, maybe the number for the local police, in case there was an emergency while he was away. The young man knew he was lucky to have such good friends in The Kingdom.
He’d given himself until Tuesday evening. He wanted to be able to call the woodsman the minute he’d gotten home from work. His phone was ringing as he turned the key in the top lock. It could be him. Why does a ringing phone sound louder and more frantic from the other side of a locked door? He fumbled into his apartment, managing to pick up the phone on the fourth or fifth ring.
“Oh, I deedn’t know eef I wuud find you ahht home.” It was the gentleman, weeks after the Spaghetti Carbonara. He melted, hearing the music of his English over the wire. He’d given him up for dead. “I know thees iss short notiss, but I am wondering if you have plons for the holly-day thees weekend?”
The invitation made him go instantly numb. The gentleman explained he was good friends with his doctor, who had a little country house in Connecticut. The doctor’s boyfriend lived there full-time. They were throwing a weekend party with lots of old friends and good food, to christen a gorgeous new in ground pool they’d just installed. He was welcome to bring a guest with him. The gentleman had bartered with people at work to get the long weekend off, and rented a car last-minute. He only wished he’d been able to give the young man a little more notice.
“I have these tentative plans”, the young man replied, hoping to underplay his excitement over the woodsman’s invitation. “Let me check. Can I maybe get back to you tomorrow?” He hoped he wasn’t coming off as playing hard to get. He was never one for games when it came to the heart. The gentleman said that would be perfect. They chatted politely a little more, then said goodbyes.
The young man’s hand froze on the receiver once he’d hung up. Now there were decisions–not just A decision to make. As if one weren’t too much already. He couldn’t possibly put his friends through a second consult, nor himself for that matter. But he did, anyway. Perry, although he knew neither candidate, was pulling for the woodsman. He was partial to the rugged romantic scenario. Janet said she felt biased towards the gentleman, because she’d a hand in the matchmaking. However, she refused to take a stand. Sissy came in, not necessarily FOR the gentleman, but decidedly against the woodsman. She continued her disapproval, fearful of all that green wilderness and a stranger no one else had laid eyes upon.
Of course neither the gentleman nor the woodsman knew the other existed in the young man’s world. It would be so much easier, he thought, if these two Lochinvars knew they were both vying for the same heart. A duel could settle it easier. Then the young man would have no choice but to go off with the victor.
What purpose did The Fates have, the young man wondered, to toy so wickedly with him? He had asked to be sent one guy with whom he could share his life. Instead they had sent two. Each of them a perfect candidate in his own way. It was as if he were a contestant on a television game show, asked to choose between door number one or door number two. Behind one door was the refrigerator freezer combo. Behind the other, the all-expenses paid trip to Paradise. Of course he wanted Paradise. Wouldn’t everybody? But which door was Paradise behind? That was the predicament the universe had put him in.
The question was no longer how he would spend his July Fourth holiday. It was never as superficial as that. This decision he would make, the young man understood, would determine the very course his life would take. Was it door number one, or door number two? The telephone receiver, when he picked it up to dial, had never felt so heavy in the young man’s hand.