Naturally the first thing I did after dragging my shit up four stories to my walk-up was turn on Grindr. Reward myself. Out of habit. Gave me something to do as I unpacked. It’s just how you meet people these days - there’s no shame in it. The place I came from, you’d be lucky if the first hundred guys were within a hundred miles of you. Now they were feet away. Literally. All of them. Kids in a candy store. Both Charlie and the chocolate factory. Bushwick was an overflowing cornucopia of homosexuality and I a pilgrim sitting down to feast after a lifetime of persecution. You’d be amazed how much you can glean from a Grindr profile. The pithy (or, more often, unmusically dirty) headline, the about section with what you’re looking for or what you care about or just the lyrics to a song you sometimes listen to. They can take you half the way there. The real meat is the linked Instagrams and Tumblrs. The whole big gay world with access to their whole lives. The tension between wanting to be known and hiding in the shadows. That was the primary conflict of the homosexual’s life. It still plays itself out, just smaller stakes. “Oh no, my co-worker saw my half-naked selfie!” All these gays dream of being famous, great artists, it’s how they compensate for the disappointment, not being able to hand their mothers a screaming ball of flesh. They think some rando on Grindr is going to get them there. Or else they just like to boast about lives they fool themselves into thinking fabulous. He was no exception.
It wasn’t love at first sight. There was no absurd West Side Story bullshit. No moment. One day unemployed I wandered deep into Bed-Stuy amid the brownstones and blossoming trees and there he was. His Grindr thumbnail before me. His eyes, the beautiful lines of his face. I think he was shirtless. A Ramones poster on his bedroom wall. I wanna be your boyfriend. I starred him so I could stay with him wherever he wandered. Others came later: the full-length shirtless torso I noticed while sneaking peeks in a bar and literally ran home to jerk off to, the horizontal lying in bed selfie the only time I saw him smile, reclining on a beaten up fainting couch smoking and dreaming, on a rooftop in Brooklyn somewhere on the Fourth of July fireworks over the Hudson. I should have saved screenshots but I didn’t have the foresight. The glow of a fading sun over his shoulder. Clearly his friends were photographers. They probably flocked to him. No one is that gorgeous. Except him. He was a pretty boy. There was no denying it. A pretty boy among pretty boys, whom I loved. Of course I found all different types of men attractive, but pretty boys held a riveting fascination for me. They were one of the perks of being gay, one of the wonders of the world. Pure beauty. David is a pretty boy. And you don’t think Michelangelo was riveted by him? Obsessed with every cobblestone he traversed, pursuing him down obscure Florentine alleyways? Homosexuals—yes, like Michelangelo—are the only ones who can appreciate such rare creatures. Women can’t help it—it’s hardwired into their biology. They need a big, hairy, muscle-bound ape who can protect them from saber-toothed tigers and feed their babies and fertilize their dwindling stock of eggs. But homosexuals, free from the constraints of evolution, are free to appreciate the beauty of these boys, at least those of use with properly cultivated taste. It’s an appreciation I often find hard to disguise—or avert my eyes. I worked for a short time as an intern, for a fading gay trying to scrape together a New York living off get rich quick schemes. It was truly the lowest form of unpaid labor, failing to reclaim junk from expired storage bins. He was a queen of ’80s Chelsea with a pate of gray. We sat in Starbucks discussing his latest huckster scheme when he caught me staring. “I’m sorry, I just have to ask, are you gay?” he broke out in an overly dramatized whisper, storage bins gladly discarded. “Yeah.” “What’s your type?” he pursued, hoping desperately in his heart of hearts I would say “daddies” but knowing this wasn’t the case. I didn’t how to answer. I was young and green and as far as I was concerned a dick was a dick. I had yet to be fully initiated into gay life, with its categorizations tribes. “My roommate accuses me of liking pretty boys.” “OM f-ing G that’s what you were just staring at. I’m into them too and I’m so lucky cause younger guys are totally into me. I’ve got this twenty-six year old I’m texting bee-tee-dubs. No big deal.” Little did he know the pretty boy who caught my eye in Astor Place was nothing compared to my Grindr boy. Somehow I always got the impression he was uncomfortable with his pretty boy status (though many a queer would have gone to the crossroads for those very looks). He wanted to be masc. He had a big fat tattoo right on his arm. Not a sleeve—it sat up on his shoulder. It was hard to tell what it was, even after obsessive scrutinization of his Instagram and Facebook (which I discovered through an astounding feat of graph search stalking). It looked like a broken heart, like the sick rose offered the Beast by the beautiful enchantress, which bloomed until his twenty-first year but had since begun to wilt and bleed behind a cylinder of glass. It was melancholy. Befitting a pouty-lipped pretty boy poet. He liked tattoos, he talked about them constantly. For several months his Grindr headline read, “Big tats.” I imagined he made guys send him pics of their ink instead of their dicks. His Insta was full of surreptitious pics of hot tatted up guys on the train. #subwaycrush. They moved him the way he moved me.
Honestly his body was pretty unimportant. Not irrelevant, but unimportant. I was in love with the old man he would become. He was a poet. I felt like a silly girl. Butterflies and summer days. But there was no point in being a Romantic. My people never got songs of innocence. We skipped right to infant sorrow and the poison tree. Little boy lost. We were Melancholics. Even the naive unbroken amongst us pick it up, it seeps into their brain streams by osmosis and trickles through the black keyhole in the souls. He was no exception. His poetry was all melancholy laced with drug-fueled binges and anilingus. Clubs and bars and booze and boys. Long interminable winters of angst-filled butt fucking punctuated by fleeting tank top summers. The blatantness, the unabashedness of sex that can only come from beautiful people. They have no idea what it is to cover up the ugliness of an unattractive body, to watch a lover remove your shirt and recoil in disgust at his own drunken desperation. Trying to escape my envy of his poetry and the body that bequeathed it, allowed him to listen to Miles Davis and lie on a fainting couch in a garret and smoke cigarettes and dream up verses about all the beautiful boys he had fucked. A poet has to take every chance he can get. Otherwise no one will see a damn thing until the collected poems, five years after death. He read radicals: Jean Genet and Frank O’Hara and other people you aren’t allowed to see in school. Books kept from being classics by people who lacked independence of thought. He would Instagram a line or two—he still reads physical books! I swoon!—and post them in sepia-toned filters. Walden. 1977. How many people bothered to stop read amid the shirtless selfies? I lingered in radical little Bushwick bookstores waiting for my clothes to dry but never saw him. The chance encounter that would set our inevitable romance ablaze never materialized. Tyger Tyger was his favorite poem. This one I knew, had cut my teeth on. Freshman year. Though I detested poetry, held it inferior to the ‘great novels.’ Hadn’t come to see it as the purest distillation of human genius—alongside, perhaps, music in the hands of Mozart or Beethoven. When the stars threw down their spears, and watered heaven with their tears, did he smile his work to see? Blake was the pinnacle, the last supper of any would-be poet. Even in his radical queerness, even in verse about cum-covered condoms, he was wise enough not to discard this crazy-eyed prophet, artist enough to disregard the jibes of fallow hipster poets, false beatniks, who asked askance, “R u a poetry what do you call it, connoisseur?” He was a visual artist too—like Blake!—and filled his tumblr with vintage gay porn stars Photoshopped into the poet’s illustrations of the Inferno. It was genius. A gallery downtown was doing a show. He was making things happen—what every Patti Smith wannabe in this city dreams he could do.
An idea from some far off fantastical dream. No epiphany, just smoldering inspiration that one morning on the subway platform I was aware of. I almost cried. It arrived so complete, so perfect in its elegance I never once questioned its genius. Us together years later lying in bed him stroking my shoulder gently me concealing this secret simmering. A vision of Hell tattooed on my shoulder: Dante and Virgil passing through the gates, the wide river before them, flaming hills and tortured souls, Dante exclaiming at the inscription overhead. I would always be willing to go down, to start at the bottom, to endure whatever suffering was my lot before I could enjoy my Beatrice and the divinity of his love. I didn’t want to be one of those art school kids who got some stupid symbol or thudding saying inked into their skin just to be edgy and fit in. I wanted inspiration, a fully formed idea that arrived demanding to alter my pigment. This was it. No more would I sheepishly stand aside when drunkenly in bars others revealed their torsos or rolled up their sleeves. Six months and $725 later it was done. It was beautiful, even if it did cost a whole month’s rent and set my eyes watering in pain. It was worth it. The reward would be boundless and infinite. I would have given up more, hurt myself much worse. I yearned for tank top weather to arrive, when I would be casually sitting in the backyard of everyone’s favorite homosexual Williamsburg watering hole and he would see me and smile and we would strike up a fiery intellectual conversation full of double entendre and we would kiss and fuck and cuddle and Instagram pictures of each other shirtless being goofy so that everyone would know. But the moment never came. I received plenty of compliments. Every day, every place I went. People loved the tattoo, they were astounded by it. On the fucking train. Bearded weirdos came up to me reciting Allen Ginsberg. I took to wearing long-sleeved shirts around heterosexuals just so they would leave me alone.
And then, one night, an Instagram from God. He was at my favorite bar. Not seven blocks from my apartment. I didn’t even need the #BarWorth to guide me in the right direction; I recognized the arrangement of bottles on the shelf behind his selfie. But the #drinkingalone made my heart swoon. This was my chance! The perfect, innocent encounter I had dreamed up and schemed up over many lonely months, the moment I had waited my entire New York life for. I suffocated through the thick August air down the sidewalks of Bushwick. There he was at the bar looking beautiful. So. Fucking. Beautiful. And alone. A boy like that isn’t used to being alone, even one with poetry inside him. He was sandwiched between some fat queen and an aging hipstress trying hard with her eyes to dismiss the Disclosure track playing as something her stupid Minnesota high school friends now refer to with exclamation points on Facebook. I needed that seat. I had to sit on his right. Outside, ducking back and forth across the window, pretending to be shy waiting for a friend I didn’t want to enter without. He was already drunk. He would leave soon. And I would have wasted my one shot at a life people want to read about. Fucking leave you fatish generic Midwestern bitch. No one thinks you’re cool because you have a vintage jean jacket and round f-ing sunglasses. Finally she got up to leave with her girlfriends—a girl like that is nowhere near cool enough to drink alone. I rushed in, saddled up to the empty stool. He glanced up when my body moved into his peripheral but his attention returned to his half empty can.
“Narragansett and a shot of whiskey.”
I feel his dick in my hand, the perfect symmetry of his penis, the one American boy allowed to keep his fucking beautiful uncut cock. He appreciates me, my talent, my depth of vision. My genius would happily burn alone in a tower if all it did was guide him safely in to shore every night. And the books that would be written about us. The myth. Decades of culture and mayhem and art flash before me unspooling from this moment, the navel of my existence, my gateway.
“Is that the Inferno? William Blake?”
“Fucking love him.”
“Yeah me too.”
In the bar hipsters come and go. Talking of Oscar Wilde and the Ramones. O hail Michelangelo. Each of us curls his lips around his can of beer and rubs his muzzle in the bubbly fumes. But he is tired and drunk. He flings a few bills from his back pocket down onto the bar. “See you around.”
Curran Boomer is a Hudson Valley native who now lives in Brooklyn after a brief stint at the University of Chicago. He works in digital marketing and spends his free time drinking in local bars and making unfulfilled resolutions to explore New York City.