The Decade of Blind Dates


Excerpt One

Walter Eagleston, the country doctor–gardener–fireplace owner, responded a few weeks later. As I drove through the tame rolling spreads of central Connecticut to meet him, I recalled him saying, "You sound too good to be true." What did I say in that first note, that really herniated haiku of an introduction? Mostly omissions, I mused. My bony frame settled into the journey’s second hour. This being years before online immediacy, the aim was to sell the sizzle, not the steak. Walter’s "50s" morphed into sixty-two during our initial phone call. "Oh, I wrote that ages ago," he demurred. I bristled at the news. It was a stumble backward in our thrust and parry. Practically two decades older! Yet isn’t this what I wanted: a seasoned man of the world? At forty-five, I was no prime rib on the gay meat rack. ("Straight" Laced)

Excerpt Two

How could it fare any worse than my last blind date with Dr. Leo, the Harvard don whose classic text on Dante had been translated into twenty seven languages and whose contemporary coffee table, "an absolute marvel of minimalism," had been handmade sixty years ago by the celebrated Milanese cabinetmaker Silvestro So-and-so?

Leo was a first-generation Calabrian American who discovered, midway through college, that he was the lone heir to a palazzo and fortune on the coast of Tropea. He self published a tome that took off even prior to his earning a doctorate. "My vita is fifty-six pages," he pronounced during our first chat by phone. That should have warned me right there, but I proceeded blindly with plans to meet him, being a newcomer to such assignations.

Leo exclaimed, "Wait’ll you see my place on the Cape. Gorgeous beyond words, Pete."

I liked that, the inclusion of my name. It didn’t come up often in the parlance of trysting, I was learning.

"My architect Dominick doesn’t touch a place under two million. First, though, we’ll stay at my townhouse in Cambridge. My monk’s cell. I do work for a living!"

"You’re an accomplished man," I said. And I believed it. In fact, I felt a wave of inferiority similar to the pangs I bore at Cornell when it was dubbed "a cow college" by a Harvard friend. I’d get to prostrate myself at Mecca after all.

"I’ve bought a second bike for dates on the Cape, Pete. Set me back two grand." He ticked off the lesser bicycle brands to my deaf ear, my own last version having been a ’50s Schwinn. Even before I confronted the bald, toothy professor in the flesh, I knew this was a way station, a kick in the butt to propel myself to a larger playing field. "There has to be someone out there, Dad," urged my nineteen-year-old Julie, in college and in command of her social life, if not her grades. "Talented, fun. You’re pretty old—you’re forty something?—but you’re in fairly decent shape."

Leo’s penis resembled a fat toadstool—half head; that made it easier. But the coup de grace was the set of boxy chairs matching the Milanese coffee table: strap-in leather crucibles for measuring pain in a Harvard lab.

Excerpt Three

I put any thoughts on hold, my mind boggled, as Winston dumped the contents of a tote bag onto the bed. Various plastic gismos and tubes of lube. I clutched a pillow to my chest.

"I’ve heard of a cock ring, to keep a firm erection," I said. I felt at ease, absolved of responsibility, a bystander now in my own bed. "But these leather straps?"

"One slips under the balls, at the base, and this other up the rod, kind of a double harness." Winston beamed. "It’s called the Roman Gladiator. But the cock rings can come later. Let’s see … the nipple clamps." They were connected by a thin chain. To pull things taut for more tension? I wondered as Winston kept foraging through the pile. "The Ladyfinger probe is best for beginners." Winston sorted through the half-dozen rubbery hotdogs, one like stacked ping pong balls, another more penis-shaped like a dildo but only a half-inch thick.

I sobered. "You want me to be a bottom?"

Winston rolled into his mellow, this-is-your-captain-speaking mode. "We’re each of yin and yang, Peter. You have a bottom and a top. You’ve only discovered the one so far. There’s a whole world of sensual delight. These are toys!" (Voice Male)

Excerpt Four

It was Julie who urged me "to get with it" and come out via the computer world. "You’re not the only man your age wising up about his sexuality," she instructed me. "And Dad, I expect you to be remarried to a nice guy in a couple of years when you turn fifty. I could be married, having kids. You and Mom are so busy, who’s going to babysit?"

Excerpt Five

Drew had the unvarnished look of a lady the morning after: no makeup, and the frank, earthy aspect of an animal, confident of its place, squatting there in the wild. "I was impressed you could come back for second helpings," he said. "It’s hard to believe you’re forty-eight."

"I missed out as kid. Didn’t we all?"

"Boys’ schools in Britain? Please." He said this in the day’s first swishy note, which disoriented me. "Listen, I’m bursting with energy." Drew slapped the table. "Could I split some wood or whatever you do? Throw on some real jeans, a T-shirt. And work boots with thick socks. Yes!"

Soon we were plunged into yard work, of which I had tons, literally. Drew moved two cords of stacked firewood that blocked access to one side of the shed I was building. We ran Fred in nearby fields. We hauled wagonloads of kindling and logs from the woods to the yard. Drew played Frisbee with my dog Fred while I fixed a lunch of turkey gumbo, cider, and anadama bread. Not once more during this Saturday had I noticed a speck of nelly behavior; not a limp wrist, not a shortened, halted step. Drew was lean but with well-defined biceps and forearms, "from tennis and racquetball. It can be rugged. And sissies can be mean."

After lunch, Drew regaled me with escapades of his boyhood in Nice, Umbria, and the Cornwall coast. "I’d steal the headmaster’s notes for his opening remarks, him all red-faced and stammering and I stood—always had the balls to poke holes in pretension—and fired off questions about scheduling, course content, the library hours, until everyone’s roaring and I’m commander in chief."

He does have balls, I thought. I opened a tin of my molasses cookies and worked my way through my guest one layer at a time. What on earth is going on? Yes he was polished, but that was situated on the surface. The ash blond hair was fey but deceiving. In the space of less than a day, Drew had become a blond Cary Grant: the often affected manners were the playful bons mots allowed by a man quite self-assured, and ironically all the more masculine. Entirely sober, I spun like an endless roulette wheel, forestalling the outcome of win or lose. (Male Order Bride)

Excerpt Six

In fact at this moment, enjoying Arlene’s perfect little body, I was far removed from thinking of myself as homosexual. As so often in the company of a woman, I could slip right back to Dick and Jane. I did not feel aroused but totally enlivened in Arlene’s sassy presence. I drank in her forever-disheveled hair and the pleasure she obviously took from that, now and then revealing two inches of brassy Indonesian filigree as earrings. Every move she made—tucking lips into the frosty lemonade glass, flecking a long fingernail like a miniature baton; "get in tune with me, boys"—infused me with the opiate of my career as a he-cock. Prior to puberty, I’d fallen in love each year with the most beautiful girl in class. I got addicted to the male hetero swill of commandeering a forearm, holding open doors.

Excerpt Seven

"Even the weather here, Peter!" Jonathan rhapsodized. "Glorious, green, brilliant! What is Beantown but cloudy, gray, chilling? Like living in permafrost."

"But Boston is fabulous; Thai restaurants, Symphony Hall, lectures …"

"No, humanity is nature. I wished you hadn’t likened me to Mary Oliver. Compared to her, I’ve no excuse for being a poet." He was suddenly dejected.

I radiated with our deepening bond, having found my reflection at last. Jonathan was so winningly earnest. A nerd, of course; what self-respecting gay man is not?

"Come to bed, my friend," I said as might have Jesus to his flock, all serenity and sweetness. "I want to honor your suggestion for separate bedrooms, so leave your belongings in the guest room, but please sleep with me … (Emily Dick)

Excerpt Eight

It was incredible with men a few times, in my early forties, as I discovered an entirely new way to feel, touch, and relate without words. Like watching my children as infants, awestruck at trying to fathom their sensory exploration unencumbered as it was by reason, I had been on the threshold of repeating that very miracle. (Cocksure)

Excerpt Nine

Chaz slipped off the bed, his backside crafted to perfection. He tugged on the skimpiest strap of a black bikini. He really does get his things from International Male. As he stepped into the thong he faced me, smiling and lapping up the appreciation: he damn well earned every lick of it. Chaz tucked his "average" parts carefully into the pouch, his penis vertical and pointing to his navel. Barry said men did this to bolster their basket. In Chaz’s case, it could be cut off, and I wouldn’t give a hoot. His musculature was hardly a shell. He’s developed an obvious path in claiming a selfhood. And he’s not a simpleton; rather a simple, pure, trusting nature. The world is sour—hurrah for those who are sweet! (Game Cock)

Excerpt Ten

April in northern New England is not especially inviting while the rest of the nation celebrates with redbud and daffodils. I drove onto Warren’s windchilled flat land. Without a hint of greenery, hundreds of fruit trees stood arrow-straight, pruned of any frivolous suckers. They were like the queen’s Palace Guard: unsmiling, even smug, with the superiority of those capable of inhuman demands.

Warren stood rigid as his trees, in black boots and black jeans, a faded and slack black turtleneck, and a leather jacket cracked and blackened with age. His tight smile widened, but without showing teeth. Heaven help me. I mumbled a little prayer for strength as I braked the Saab to a halt. It was the thick, dark hair aiming every which way, self-shorn into irregular bangs, this last bit making him obscenely, unselfconsciously cute. (Calvinist-Inclined)

Excerpt Ten

Well then, what is it that drives two people to crave unions? If it’s just love and trust and mutual support, I have that with Barry. But to share the pleasures of the body with only one other soul: now we knock on the door of mystery.

Could I have that with Barry? Between us, that’s still a mystery. Shouldn’t sex be like traveling deep into a foreign country with no knowledge of the tongue, where one is sequestered and disrobed under a giant rhododendron in Bhutan, witnessed only by strange, white owls? Too much togetherness, verbal dissection, perpetual talk of money and children and illness, needn’t block escape into caverns of sexual license. As polar opposites, they should in fact enhance it.

Am I a sexaholic? I wondered while padding around my studio and toying with doing some watercolor sketches of Ted nude from memory. Me, a sex freak? Laughable. It’s not sex I’m obsessed with, it’s Ted. (Mr. Nice Guy)

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