I wrote on the plane home from Chicago, thoughts pouring onto paper, no backspace key, no time to edit. Thoughts still fresh, unfiltered by time, unaffected by my friends. There is a desire to edit them now, to cleanse them for you, for me. But that has never been my style so here, as written on that pad, part 1 of my plane trip home.
It’s a Hard
Part 1 – The Facts
I had told myself I would not yet again write a post or letter on the plane from Chicago: one titled “From 35,000 Feet” seemed enough for a lifetime. Yet I find myself again pen in hand scrawling away. Last time it was a letter to Carrie: This time it is for everyone and at the same time for no one but me.
Much was made of this trip – iconic before I ever left for the airport. Much was debated – well maybe debate is not the word for an uprising by so many, all saying “Do Not Go.”
I thought this morning of that outpouring and why I ignored it. Strangely for a philanderer I am a man of my word and my word I did give. That included my word to Carrie to try to move forward, to try to allow her to grieve and grow, to try to answer that gnawing question of what Nate wants because without that there can be no true forward progress. As I sit here preparing to write of my weekend, I realize they are sister questions: what does Nate want and who Nate is.
The trip was never about sex – there are gay men in New York, there is the internet and I already have a regular squeeze. To those who want a bone I will say yes, I had sex in Chicago, yes I enjoyed it and no, in and of itself it was probably not worth the price. The trip was always cultural – stepping into another world, seeing how it felt – the size, the fabric. My friend was kinder than he could have imagined – I found myself at a veritable smorgasbord of gay life.
Saturday was our day out, a nine hour journey through “gay” Chicago. Boystown – Mecca to some, but a quiet Saturday afternoon to me, stores selling every imaginable item with a rainbow stamped on it. I could have as easily been with Carrie passing through the West Village.
Then onto main event number one: Chi-Town Square Dancing. Jerry had signed on and this was week one for the beginners. It seems this is a nationwide group – gay square dancing. Upstairs in the Church, maybe twenty beginners, a matching number of veterans, five and ten year pins blazing: All gay. It is a club to dance, but it is also a club – a social outlet, an afternoon out.
Now I need to digress for a moment. Nate does not do clubs, and if he did it would be a club based on a deeply held interest. But for an afternoon I put aside that bias, I pay my $7 and I dance, follow the directions, and remember my left and my right. If only following right was so easy the rest of the time.
As I dance, as I mingle, my eyes dart from person to person. Am I one of them, would I want to be their friends, if I lived in Chicago would I go back next week. The answers are not that hard. To a great degree this is a lonely hearts club and I do not feel any connection. Some of the guys are sort of cute, many do nothing for me.
So I dance, I dosado and at the end of my first true entrée to gay culture, well we do love our hugs. A few minutes to stroll around the North Side and on to our final destination for the evening: an epiphany party, the official end to the holiday season, a fitting name for my journey.
Things get both clearer and murkier here. A nicely appointed apartment, a gay couple – Ted and Mark: I am told that Ted has been married once, a daughter judging from the pictures and now, Mark. Other couples arrive – gay couples I assume. Some red wine, people – men – mill about chatting in small groups.
Now at the square dance there was little doubt, a gay event: one did not need highly tuned gaydar to connect the dots. But here things are different. If someone walked up to me and said the wives were in the next room, a veritable knitting circle, I would have accepted that without batting an eye. Well maybe a few seemed gayer than others, but the overwhelming impression was, excuse the word, normal. It was a gathering of men who happen to be gay as opposed to a gay gathering. A gathering of men where if asked what I do the answer would be “accountant”, not “men”, a gathering of peers.
Now about the only area where Nate does worse than clubs are gatherings of strangers. A bar, well that is the ultimate gathering of strangers and my discomfort in that environment should be legendary by now. A party of strangers is normally next on that list. Can you spell “wall flower.”
I surprise myself – I have a few conversations. I wonder if it is the novelty factor, the mysterious out of towner with a thick foreign accent, or as foreign as New York can be in Chicago. Maybe it is the liberation of knowing I will never see these people again.
Maybe it is that they are gay, my usual fears of not being “man enough” suspended among fellow travelers. This is of course the wild card entry, the one requiring thought, not writing. A few hours, a few conversation, and time to head back to Jerry’s.
There is more from the plane, dots to connect, emotions to share, but transcribing is hard and facing what comes next is even harder. Tomorrow is another day.