In a reaction to me holing myself up in my apartment for practically days at a time, I have been experimenting with trying to get more out of my conversations when I encounter actual human beings.
I Googled up some decent conversation rules to use in social situations, they are rooted in the idea that you should be attempting to learn something about the other person rather than just talk about yourself. This involves asking open ended questions, not getting bogged down with details, being succinct and above all, not just saying anything that flies into your head.
A few days later, over cheese and prosciutto at my friend Gauthier's Christmas party in Brooklyn, I met Sarah and Ted, two friends who bonded over their love of Sufjan Stevens, they were small talk-y in a way that made you feel like you were that third guest on the end of a talk show couch: an audience to someone else's conversation. If you asked a question, Sarah would answer by turning to Ted to remind him of an old experience the two them had shared and Ted would make very declarative statements that were on-topic but were only uttered for their entertainment value.
The next evening, I was returning from a showing of The Last Jedi and got home to find a flood in my apartment - a leak really, in four places, mostly streaming through the light fixture into my kitchen. I cleaned it up, spoke to the Super, and then went up to my neighbor to see if he was involved. My upstairs neighbor, who I've only spoken to a couple of times, has the energy of a nervous spy. Like, if I were to suddenly realize I was living in a simulated reality or a Truman Show-like reality show universe, my neighbor would be one of those people who's only there to monitor me. For some reason, he refuses to open his door during our chat - I imagine it's because I will see all the monitors and screens he has to use to watch me through the many hidden cameras in my apartment. He stammers, "Oh, I left the water running but I turned it off -- " but then quickly backtracks as if he's implicating himself, "There's a leak? W-where-where is the leak exactly?" He's apologetic but inquisitive, as if him 'leaving the water running' and my leak were two unrelated events. I try to be clear. Brief. Ask direct questions but, frazzled from mopping up water and talking through a door, I cannot pull it together.
The next day I'm at the Genius bar at the Apple store waiting for someone to tell me that my iMac is dead beyond repair. I am early, I sit and wait and notice that a half dozen of the guys working on the floor have good arms - as if they were doing dumbbells curls in the back room before their shift. "An Apple a day..." I think to myself. There's also a customer who looks just like Christopher Reeve - but with a better body. One of those older guys (late 40's-early 50's) who has managed to keep it pretty tight, full head of hair - like 6'3" or 4", I watch his tricep flex and retract as he leans over the table, shifting his weight.
My "Genius", a generic Apple Store employee with normal arms, asks me how I am doing. I throw out my usual response: "Fine, thank you" and then I sit in the awkward silence before returning the sentiment. "Amazing Day. All that and a bag of potato chips." He says enthusiastically.
This is one of those moments that I don't really want to have a conversation. I just want to know what's wrong with my computer. So, I listen carefully to him pontificate's on my options - which are pretty grim as far as I am concerned. When he begins to veer into techno-speak that I don't understand, I cut him off with my facial expressions. When he asks a question, I respond quickly with as few words as possible. I ask a follow-up question for every one of his statements and then provide a summation for clarification.
After a week or two of attempting to connect and either following the rules for the first few minutes and then spiraling out into old habits just sitting an interviewing someone because they never think to say "And how about you?" I decide that every conversation should be like making a trip to the Genius Bar: just a detached, technical encounter that is decide-ly finite.
Well, without busted computer, of course.
I remember first seeing the movie Trick (1999) when it was fresh off of the independent film circuit and thinking it was a breath of fresh air. With its familiar character dynamics and story structure it is, in many ways, the first gay romantic comedy. It has all the trappings of your standard chick flick where two disparate people meet and fall for each other, but it manages to apply it to modern gay culture in a very authentic way.
The movie was the directorial debut Jim Fall (The Lizzie McGuire Movie), and it features Gabriel & Mark. Gabriel (Christian Campbell) is a nascent musical composer and Mark (J.P. Pitoc), a mysterious go-go boy. Over the course of one evening they meet and decide to hook up, but one lives far out in Brooklyn and the other has lost access to the studio apartment he shares with his straight roommate. These sort of geographic roadblocks to entertaining at home are very real problems when you are young and struggling in a city like New York.
It is a movie about casual sex between two strangers done in a very non-judgmental way. The modern version would be called Grindr and would begin with a miscommunication over which person was supposed to "host". In its 90-minute running time, it manages to squeeze in a broad, and only mildly dated, swath of relatable moments for a gay audience: leaving your straight friends to leer at go-go dancers in a seedy bar, tolerating a boundaryless fag hag friend (painfully portrayed by Tori Spelling), self-consciously dancing shirtless in a club and, the ultimate fantasy in the New York City hookup scene, a chance encounter on the subway.
Upon my first viewings, I truly considered it a movie for "us", it was a DVD that was on the shelf in every one of my gay friends apartments but seemingly unknown in the heterosexual world. I remember trying to show it off to my crew of close straight friends one evening... they were unimpressed. "Why are all the straight people in this movie so kooky?" My roommate asked playfully. "You mean, like the way gay people are usually portrayed in mainstream films?" I retorted.
Its overall sincerity and charm trumps all of the performances - no one is going to blow you away with their acting. Campbell is unsure and innocent, Pitoc, sexy and quiet, Spelling; shrill. But it does capture a lovely moment of being gay in 90's NYC, when you and your off-off Broadway performer friends ACTUALLY went to Cozy Soup & Burger. It also features a brilliantly uncomfortable scene where drag queen Miss Coco Peru corners one of the protagonists in a men's room and poignantly spins a web of doubt and deception.
Of course, the real star of this movie is Pitoc's body. After spending many a night in the big city carefully analyzing the torsos of go-go dancers, I can say authoritatively that he really was the perfect specimen to play this role. The character of Mark is the textbook fantasy hookup of any unsure average gay Joe; a physically desirable, sexually experienced man of few words who actually has a lot of heart. In the future, there will be a special line of boytoy robots sculpted in Pitoc's image from this movie. It was really disappointing to see that he was not this fit in any of the things he's been in since - even when he played a Chippendales dancer.
In the alternate reality where this movie takes place IRL, I do not believe for one moment that Mark and Gabriel went the distance. In the fictional sequel, they are not married and living in Connecticut with 2.5 springer spaniels and interviewing surrogates. However, by the end of the movie you believe, as much as you would with any mainstream rom-com at least, in the power of their happy ending, even if it was just for that one evening.
This past summer, I was happy that I made it to the Tom of Finland show at Artist's Space in SoHo. I love looking at an artist's originals; seeing the ink lines and the corrected errors really reminds you that an artist you worship and admire is a human being. They made mistakes just like you mistakes. It's truly another level of inspiration. The exhibit continued to their bookstore further downtown, where they filled an entire room with Tom's reference images. Thousands of clippings that he had glued down to sheets of paper, some augmented with a pencil eraser and pen to include jodhpurs or an extra large bulge, or both jodhpurs and an extra large bulge.