Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Light Of Darkness

It has happened of late that I have fallen into the acquaintance of Ben Roussel. I have also been reading the Autobiography of Mark Twain, so if my syntax shifts wildly in tone for no reason you’ll know why. Ben added me on Facebook some time ago and even though I didn’t know him personally, I did add him to my modest friend archive. It was during a period when, for instance, if the editor of a national gay magazine who I heretofore had never met added me, I would accept their friendship. I believed that by doing so I wasn’t just being dumped into some vast repository of their own ego but instead was building the kind of good will that would lead to articles about me that would further my career. None such articles materialized and it has happened of late that I have started to delete all of those people. But not Ben Roussel.

Some months ago when I escaped the glass terrarium I work in and headed to one of’s happy hour parties, I was finally introduced to him in person. Naturally, in my warm and welcoming way, I cornered him on the stool where he had been shackled to pass out raffle tickets and demanded to know why he had the audacity to add me, the quintessence of the perfect stranger, on Facebook. Ben told me that he liked my writing and I seemed like the kind of person he would want to know. Never let it be said that I can’t be flattered instantly out of my most deeply held core beliefs no matter how weak the tea is that’s being served.

It turned out that neither adding me on Facebook nor engaging in thirty minutes of wonderfully harsh banter fomented the kind of friendship one would have expected from two parties interested in such an arrangement, and I didn’t see Ben again until the occasion of New Year’s Eve. Ben was the weekend guest of Bradford Shellhammer, who had invited him and me and so many others to the dignified century old country home of marginally older gays, who seemed to know none of us yet quibbled not at the crowd of fresh playthings in their midst. And yet, ever as winter of 2011 has rolled brutally on, our friendship has been as absent as the sun.

Tonight I saw him at Adam Sank’s apartment, where a select cluster of us squeezed into the place with a birthday cake and about fifty gallons of liquor to help put him out of his fifth decade misery. Ben seemed shorter to me now, but it might have been all this pining for a grand friendship that never happened dragging him back down to size. In fact he was the perfect height for me to rest my elbow on his shoulder when I grew weary, which was frequently. I don’t do well in rooms full of strangers and getting older has only made it more trying. Where once I was anxious, now I feel nothing but the firm belief that I would be better off almost anywhere else.

I did try to talk to other people. Of course I made my most concerted effort in the direction of Adam’s neighbor, naturally a blond slice of Mormon goodness named Ward. Ward! This was hack writing at its best so I couldn’t resist. Blond men in Manhattan are as rare as Faberge eggs, so as such they are man candy everybody wants. Ward left quickly and then I ended up talking to a therapist. I had a feeling it would come to this, but I didn’t think it would happen at a party that wasn’t my own intervention.

As I often do, if I suspect I have a sympathetic ear, I will dive headfirst into the deep end of who knows what and leave nothing for the swim back. In this case, a discussion with Ben about the IBM machine that beat Ken Jennings on Jeopardy devolved in front of the therapist into my theory that in our rapidly approaching old age we will be kept company in nursing homes by nostalgia computers. Instead of watching TV or wondering when the grandkids are next to visit, we will sit enrapt talking to a computer that shares our personal history arc to such a degree that it will replace all other entertainment. I thought I was on to something, but at a certain point, I got the distinct feeling that the therapist was mocking me. This prompted me to create a diversion for escape by excusing myself to arrange the traditional birthday cake singing and serving ritual. It was very effective. Although later he happened again upon me, this time eating his way up the middle of the cake to maximize his jelly and frosting intake while minimizing his cake consumption. When I said he had “eviscerated” the cake, he replied “that’s a good word.” The silent “for you” at the end was a crushing blow, even if it was all in my mind. I started to make my good-byes with no undo haste.

I should have just stuck with Ben all night. In fact it never for a moment occurred to me that I was monopolizing his time and keeping him from talking to other people. In this regard, I think he is like me. He doesn’t like talking to people either, but we seem to like talking to each other. All the more reason for us to be friends. And it has been three meetings now, even if tonight he did not remember the first, or even much about the second. The defenses are back up on my ego, fallow since he complimented my writing so many months ago, but I am unbowed. We will be friends.

After the party, I wandered down the street to Vlada to see Matt Kugelman bartend. There are so many unlikely things in that sentence; I don’t even know where to begin. Matt is a wonderful friend, though the stinging winds of winter and my own laziness have kept us far apart. The chasm narrowed briefly as I watched him juggle glasses and enamored customers in a white muscle tee behind the bar. When he said he wanted to hang out soon, amid a sweet symphony of knowing smiles and high fives, I knew that we would.

Where Matt is like finding the light in the darkness, Ben is more like seeing what is there in the dark once your eyes have become accustomed to the absence of light. Saying good night to Ben I said, “I hope I run into you again soon.” Then pantomiming a steering wheel, I finished, “with my car.” Ben laughed heartily, filled with schadenfreude. The same laugh I gave him when he told a truly appalling joke about being sodomized with a dozen thorny roses. This is someone who shares my sense of humor and I am having a hard time lately thinking of something more important in life.

But what stuck with me most was when he replied at one point: “I’m not relevant.” I declared in that moment that from now on, this was the exit line to get out of all of those pesky conversations I never want to have. True, I voluntarily get myself into most of them, be it with blonds named Ward and snarky therapists, and especially when at a party I overhear a stranger decry how impersonal Facebook is now and I am forced to interrupt them with a reminder that Facebook was never personal. Adding Ben as a friend wasn’t personal when it happened and while it is more personal now, the experience that is Facebook still isn’t personal. Not like real friendship.

I hope Ben and I will be friends. We are dark alike and there is a comfort in knowing even when you are in the dark that you’re not alone in there. And sometimes there is light there too. But that’s not relevant.


Norma said...

Some things are worth the wait.

Norma said...

Some things are worth the wait. Like your blog. And I did enjoy your somewhat Twain-ian cadence.

Anonymous said...

Your brilliance is the light in my darkness....yea that's as deep as I get for a Sunday LOL. Art in words.


Anonymous said...

"marginally older"--heh

Billy said...

first time reading, enjoyed reading your blogs,
Orlando, Fl