There is no way this will come off sounding anything except the height of conceit, but here goes anyway. I miss being cruised.
From The Urban Dictionary: “cruise – to search (as in public places) for a sexual partner.” It was one of my very favorite pastimes and something that, even when off the market, provided amusement and titillation beyond compare. Come on. Which of us doesn’t enjoy being looked at longingly, as a delightful object of some stranger’s lust? Alas, those days are long gone for the likes of me.
Often it served as merely a game to amplify the ego, or a means to flex my lascivious wings. In NYC it was a way of life for many guys–the ones I used to call full-time or professional fags. I learned to keep my own cruising in check, yet always on the ready in a second, should the situation present itself. One never cruised in the obvious places, like bars, saunas, or discos. There, you were already on the hunt simply by showing up. Cruising was done in those unexpected situations, while immersed in a seemingly straight world. For me it became an enticing exercise in arousal.
In my early teens I spent many a Saturday alone in downtown Cleveland playing independent grown-up me. I’d have just enough money for bus fare back and forth, plus a dollar or two for amusement. I discovered a Jewish deli right off Public Square where the bus left me off, and this wondrous thing called a bagel. The guy behind the counter was Alvie. He’d ask me if I wanted cream cheese, and taught me that just a little of it was referred to as a ‘schmeer’. As long as I asked for my schmeer, which cost an extra ten or fifteen cents, he’d tuck half a kosher pickle into a fold in the white paper wrapped around my bagel. Then I was off to the Cleveland Public Library, where my day’s entertainment was totally gratis.
It was cathedral-like, this grand edifice that took up nearly a city block. Inside everything was slathered in marble–floors, walls, staircases and railings. The city’s monument to knowledge had high, vaulted, ornate ceilings, which wore exquisite glass and lead lighting fixtures like elegant dangling earrings. It was a worship space for me, because it housed treasures that didn’t exist anywhere in my suburban world. Oh, we had our own library in West Buttfok, but it was just a place with lots of books. The Cleveland Public Library had become my temple.
Way upstairs was a room devoted to recorded literature spoken by great voices. Donning headphones like those worn by the guys who attempted to land the Hindenburg, I would spend my special Saturdays listening to the poetry of Frost and Poe read by black and white television greats. There were Shakespeare plays with unknown British voices, and classic American theatre by many of the same actors who performed them on Broadway. All the while I covertly nibbled my bagel behind the record album’s cover, making it last the whole afternoon.
Downstairs in the bowels of the building were the public restrooms. Like everything else in the library they were to scale, tall-ceilinged and grandiose. The sign M-E-N, painted on the textured glass of its heavy door was intimidating to the boy who opened it each time, just before boarding my bus for the trip back home. There were always several of THEM inside, looking for all the world as though they were taking care of business. Intuitively this boy smelled a danger not masked by the heavy scent of deodorizer.
There was a long bank of maybe ten or more mammoth porcelain urinals, standing like up-ended skinny bathtubs. Each was ensconced in a set of white marble pillars. They’d been designed to afford privacy to even the tallest of men. Usually stationed at the farthest point from the entrance would be a few guys whose heads would turn in unison the moment they heard the door creak. Often they shuffled their feet closer towards the drains when I entered. That echo still rings in my ears. I’d take my place at the urinal nearest the door. I felt even shorter and smaller than my scrawny five foot frame. If I positioned myself too close, there was this fear I might fall in.
As I unzipped, my eyes dropped to the floor. Even with no knowledge of the ancient monastic practice of ‘custody of the eyes’, I knew to keep my gaze downward, too intimidated to look anywhere near THEM. Learning the meaning of pee-shy firsthand here, my time inside the lavatory was interminable. On those visits when I bravely did hazard a glance, I’d shudder. And a steely look back from any one of THEM caused a shock to run down my spine. I was just a young boy, having no idea what all this meant. No, I was a young boy knowing exactly what it meant. I dared not return the secret stare for fear of being sucked into the vortex of desire.
I came to discover, a decade later, that cruising was desire incarnate–the raging sensation of lust made manifest through the eyes. It was a powerful force one learned to use on his own, without a Master’s guidance. In New York, it happened in The Village frequently, and in my Chelsea gayborhood regularly. In those upper Eastside Bloomingdale’s blocks where I worked for many years, it happened constantly. I walked the pavement up and down Third Avenue, enjoying the fabulously attractive men as though it were my own private runway show.
The percentage of the hundreds of guys I cruised who cruised back was maybe one-third. And the number of those I ended up exchanging phone numbers with was miniscule. That wasn’t the point of cruising for me. It was the recognition that somebody I found tempting felt the same about me. A man I longed to see naked, wrapped only in the sheets of my bed, had that identical image of me reflected in his returned glance. Had we only been searching for sexual partners, there were plenty of places to find that anytime of the day or night all over Manhattan. This was a delicious game of testosterone cat and mouse we were playing.
Tucked lovingly in my cruising memory-bank is one brilliant summer afternoon in the late 1970s. My boss has sent me on a series of errands. I’m crossing Third Avenue on my way back to the office. It is pleasantly hot, and most people have long finished their light lunches, washed down with white wine spritzers. My small group of pedestrians walking west, passes our opposing group moving east. Midway, his roving eyes connect with mine. As I look deeply into his enticing stare I recognize a familiar face. Once we pass one another closely, it hits me how I know him. I walk to the other side, turning quickly to see if he’s stopped. Sure enough, he grins back at me from the opposite curb. I am numb with disbelief..
I don’t know-him, know him. He’d visited my home once a week throughout much of my adolescent and teenage life–via our TV set. In the beginning he was a cop, then either a lawyer or detective. Eventually he totally changed careers in his major starring role. That was when I secretly fell in love with his handsomeness. Sandy blonde hair and a perfectly smooth body–no matter the character he was smart, sensitive and caring. And now the WALK sign is pulsating, and he’s coming back my way, flashing his Hollywood pearly whites. I think I might pass out.
“Hey, some afternoon, huh?” His face is so close to mine I can almost see his pores. His skin is tan and perfect. His suit is designer expensive. He’s still looking into my eyes, and I can’t stop drinking-in the beautiful guy.
“You’re Blank Blank.” I say his name like I’m telling him something he doesn’t know.
He giggles in a kind of very manly way. Were he not looking me over so thoroughly, I might think he was totally straight. “Where are you off to this afternoon?” He continues to talk through his sexy smile that I can’t believe is directed at me.
I let him know I’m on my way back to work. He cannot possibly be trying to pick me up, I tell myself–the same boy he gave boners to in my West Buttfok bed all those years before. “Where are you going?”, I playfully question him back, amazed at my own coolness.
He tells me he has a meeting with some people for a film project. As a forty-something-year-old, he’s now graduated to TV movies. “I’ve got some time. Do you have a place nearby?”
HOLY SHIT I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I’M HEARING. Naturally I softly blurt out something ridiculously stupid like…”I can’t believe you’re interested in me.”
He comes back with, (the smile turning into a dirty grin)… “You better believe it”. Then he calls me ‘Buddy’. I remember this, because it almost spoils the mood–our entire encounter . It sounds so 1950s, and so dated. Suddenly he’s coming off movie-script macho. But it sort of turns me on at the same time. After all, it is Blank Blank who is coming on to me.
Taking charge I say, “My apartment’s downtown. Is your hotel nearby?”
He confesses his wife is there. I don’t feel one bit sorry for her–that her husband’s off cruising guys on Third Avenue. Especially since I’m the guy he’s looking to bed. “Sorry we couldn’t make this work”, he says. The smile is still there, though diminishing.
Now I am the one still peering into his movie-blue eyes, wishing I could make out with him right there on the sidewalk. I am so erotically charged, I would shoot my wad if he so much as loosened his impeccable shirt collar and tie. I don’t want this scene to ever end.
He extends his hand and I take it at once, clasping tightly around it. As we shake gently, he apologizes that it wasn’t going to happen for us. I would give anything to see him this close to me and totally naked. Just before I release my grip, his other hand pulls them both towards him, and momentarily I brush his tight gut. “Take care” he whispers close to my ear.
I watch him cross to the other side, but of course, he never turns around.
I started out making a point, before becoming lost in my foolish reverie–that being–my cruising days are over. It’s easy to pass it off as simply another facet of the aging process, or a byproduct of a diminishing libido. That’s just too facile. I still look at guys everyday. Perhaps the rather lackluster area in which I live doesn’t afford those same opportunities I once enjoyed. All the same, cruising had served to wake up something inside me that affirmed I was alive and connected to a life-force. It supplied me with a source of energy and a sense that I was part of something greater. That’s what I miss, I guess. That, and being cruised.