I set up an online dating profile. Online dating is the worst thing for an alcoholic, or for anyone with a compulsive personality. I am burning out the refresh button on my computer and my ass is putting down taproots into the sofa. Somebody should have warned me. I have had cocaine benders that put less stress on my schedule.
I answer questions such as Are clams alive? and If you turn a left-handed glove inside out, which hand does it fit on? and In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be sort of exciting?
Yes. Right. And most definitely.
I get the first glimmers that something is wrong with me when it comes to male attention; no one should get so overstimulated because some dude from Staten Island emailed a hello and a smiley face. But I do; I am worked up, and I get up in the middle of the night to see who liked me while I was sleeping.
And that’s how I meet Handsome.
He is singularly the best looking guy I’ve ever gone out with, so beautiful that I feel there should be a flourish of cornets when he walks into the room. He is so good looking that when I saw him for the first time, I involuntarily snorted, like a bull. He knocked the air out of me with his face.
I had been obsessing for hours about what the correct thing to do is when you first meet someone you know from online. Is it a hug (too presumptuous?), a handshake (ugh, formal), or a wave (shows lack of commitment)? I solve the problem by bringing two green juices so that my hands will be full. But it is awkward and awful, just like I knew it would be, and there is an attempt at a hug that is just clumsy and bad, and I try to go through the door at the same moment as him and it just generally sucks.
I had been feeling utterly nauseated for the preceding 24 hours, a feeling that only intensifies as I sit across from him. He is so good looking it makes me angry—the same feeling you get when you look at an adorable puppy and want to squish it.
We go to the sticky little movie theater in my neighborhood to see a horror movie; we both are fans of horror, and he is a horror writer, so I think I have selected well, but it all starts to go pear-shaped as soon as we walk in to the theater. There are two transgender women in line in front of us, and I strike up a conversation with them while Handsome is getting us some waters; when he comes back, he brings a miasma of homophobia with him. Nothing is said, but I scent it immediately.
In the movie theater, Sunnyside does not fail to embarrass me as usual. The guy behind us chats on his cellphone and yells out directives to the “niggas” onscreen, and the theater bristles with adult-sized misbehaving children. Between the green juice, the coffee, and the water, I have to get up to pee about a hundred times. I guess the movie is pretty scary, that’s what everyone else who saw it keeps saying, but my amygdala is still wholly focused on date-related anxiety. I occupy my seat uneasily, my system bucking out adrenaline and cortisol, my body leaning toward him like a lodestone towards true north.
He is patient and uncomplaining, which impresses me, and I offer to buy him a beer afterward as a reward for being so chill with the bad behavior of my neighbors. We go next door to a bar called the Gaslight, which has a low-ceilinged, heavily-mortared look that calls to mind bomb shelters or dungeons. Despite the fact that I cycled through the worst of my alcoholism in this neighborhood, I never really drank in bars around here. I preferred the pint of cheap vodka in a paper bag, consumed in the back of a Burger King. This was my drinking: pure class.
There is a table waiting for us in a discreet back corner, and as soon as we sat down, he leans his gorgeous face in close and kisses me. We proceed to kiss and talk—mostly kiss, kissing is great for awkward pauses while you try to think of something to say—for the next two hours. Around us, people get drunker and sloppier. I watch a man carry three cocktails and lose so much it looks like he is carrying a booze-loaded sieve. Three girls, one of whom I had heard trying to puke up her own feet in the bathroom just minutes ago (yes, my bladder was still stress-reactive), dance around our table like witches, and one girl sticks her long and pointy tongue out at Handsome. She brings it in close, scaring the shit out of us, and then we roar with laughter.
“Hey, you want to take our profiles down?” he asks me. I could barely feel my lips; my chin and the tip of my nose are rubbed raw from stubble. In the mirrors behind us, I look wild-eyed and cracked-out from the attention.
Fuck it. “Let’s take ‘em down,” I agree, mentally composing the texts I will send to the other dates I had scheduled for the week. We have known one another for exactly four hours.
We roll out at about one, and Handsome checks the schedule to see when the next bus is due: 1:55am. It is one. I can’t leave him to wander the cold and lonely streets. So I take him back to my house and have sex with him, my first new partner in a decade. Handsome is a lot less intimidating with his clothes off—he has thick body hair that grows toward the midline, running like a seam down his body to his earnest but child-sized penis. His hands are tiny and soft, like a Japanese girl’s, and the body hair weirdly silky, like fur. The experience is sweet, if not exactly fulfilling. We hang out for a couple of weeks, while I pack for South America. Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. Handsome had been to Macchu Pichuu (fuck that spelling) not long ago; in fact, the ruins behind him in his profile picture had been the inducement to write him back when he messaged me.
I try not to think of Sketch. The last time I had seen him, I had found a trove of condoms, and prophylactics were not our jam, so I just assumed he had like eleven other girlfriends and resolved to stop going around his apartment once and for all. For all his strangerness, Handsome wants to call me his girlfriend and keeps stopping himself, obviously and awkwardly, from saying that he loves him. He always walks me to the bus, and waits with me until the bus arrives, and texts me after the bus pulls away. Best pretend boyfriend ever.
He is a sort of exciting nuclear war. His apartment in Ridgewood is apocalyptic, a crime scene, the place where romance goes to be sex-strangled with a pair of nylons. I am offered giant man flip-flops as a buffer against the filthiness of the floor. There is a mattress and a box spring on the floor, like a hideout for gangsters, and no other furniture, just stacks of file folders covered in dust. The only nod to aesthetics are the frou-frou curtains, still there from when this was his mother’s apartment. I feel like asking him if he’d ever brought home women who lived. But I don’t; I know I’m just passing through.