A friend of mine Richard calls. I met him online when I first arrived and we have this on again, but mostly off again sex thing.
It goes like this. We hookup every other week for a few months, then my calls stop being returned. When I do catch him on the phone, he’s cagey. Then a week or so later he tells me he has a new boyfriend, but that my friendship means a lot. He usually likes to point out here that we could have dated way back but that I didn’t want to. I don’t hear from him again until they’ve broken up and we do some fuck-me-back-to-life sex and start all over again.
Like the Cylons say on Battlestar Galactica, “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”
Despite it all, I do have a soft spot for him. So, it’s Richard’s birthday. He’s having a party and he really wants me to come. In LA, you see a lot of half filled tables for birthday dinners in restaurants. There’s nothing sadder.
After the many dating disasters of late, I’m not up for a room of gay men right now, but I said I would come and I keep my word. So I turn up at his host friend’s enormous house and am blown away to see a crowd of 70 people there. I find my friend, give him a gift and wish him happy birthday.
Then I’m thrown into the crowd. Of which there are a rather sizeable number of guys that kind of look like me, “gazelles” as my friend Fred would call them; tall, lean, sprightly, a little on the pretty side. We could make three boy bands and change out of the number I’m counting.
And when I watch a few and how they interact with Richie, they clearly have a very similar contract that I do. That in itself is no problem. But I do take umbridge that the Harem is quickly becoming the joke of the party, the joke that I’m on the wrong end of.
In the midst of this I’m chatting with a mate when my eyes fall on….
There is one of the most handsome men that I have seen in my entire life sitting at a table, eating. His presence registers not in my head or in my pants, but somewhere in my core. In all seriousness folks, I really actually felt some kind of shift in the universe.
My mate and I move over and stand intentionally, yet nonchalantly close. I’m preparing for him to deteriorate on approach, but he gets better and better. I’m actually nervous. Usually I can jump right in, on with the Australian accent and I’ll be chatting with someone in under 30 seconds. But I’m tongue-tied and feel myself going red.
Then He turns and looks at me. Oh no, I’m staring and I’m red. I’m the red, staring guy. This is bad…
Red, staring and confused.
Him: It is Karl right? Karl Dunn?
Me: Uh, yeah.
He jumps up out of his seat to shake my hand, face breaking into a broad smile. I feel His handshake in my solar plexus. The rest of the party could have been abducted by aliens at that point and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Him: I’m Mitch, you probably don’t remember me.
Is this a joke? Did someone put Him up to this? Did I suffer a bout of amnesia?
Me: No, I don’t. And I don’t know why, because you are not someone I’d forget.
Mitch: We met online a couple of years ago. I was the guy in Sacramento, we were going to meet, then you went to Berlin suddenly and I lost track of you…
It’s all coming back now. I remember chatting with this guy. He’s really funny and really smart. I don’t forget a face ever, but an online pic…? Well, it doesn’t matter now. My universe is officially rocked.
Sadness and happiness and all the emotions that lie on the sliding scale in between are very familiar to me. To all of us. But standing in front of Mitch, I feel something I’ve felt very seldom. A kind of dizzy elation; strange for the ecstasy of it, stranger still that an emotion so potent appeared unannounced, like a flash of lightning when there was no storm. I feel like I’ve touched the sun.
Me: Right! Mitch! Wow! Hi! Um, what brings you to LA?
Mitch: Well, I moved here to be with my boyfriend. We met online and….
Whatever he said after that, I don’t remember. All the sound kind of warps and dulls as I take a sucker punch and pang for some parallel universe where I don’t get offered a freelance gig in Berlin. Mitch and I start to drive back and forth to see each other. He moves from Sacramento to be with me, we live in a small apartment but don’t care, I wake up every morning and see him by my side and pinch myself. We have great fun, excellent travels, an abundance of adventures, passionate fights and giggling makeups. My friends and parents adore him and we are both better people for having met and joined a life together. 100% fantasy I know, but wow, I wish I’d had the chance to find out.
Maybe Stephen Hawkins can find a wormhole to this place. Because I feel like the earth just spun off its axis.
I actually have to excuse myself and go to the bathroom to take a couple of minutes. Am I going to cry? What the hell is wrong with me? I don’t even know this guy. And yet something tells me that I do. And that this is all wrong. Or has this city made me completely lose the plot and this is all in my head?
Then I remember something a taxi driver once said, “If someone else gets your cab, then it wasn’t your cab.” But people get out of cabs so maybe he will be free sometime and … no, that’d make me like Gwyneth Paltrow waiting three years for Brad Pitt to split up with whoever he was dating before her.
So with a splash of water and straightening of the shirt, I rejoin the party. I look for Mitch but a couple of the Harem have been ushered my way and introduced and now I have to talk to them. Apart from setting myself on fire, this is officially the last thing I feel like doing right now.
The conversation amongst the herd of gazelles naturally falls to, “How do you know Richard?” and the array of answers with their sub-textual jostling make me ill. Harem Boy 1 bats long eyelashes as he twirls the ice in his vodka cranberry, pinkie waving in the evening breeze.
Harem 1: Richard and I are good friends.
This is followed with a knowing smile, an arched eyebrow and a demure look down his straw. Harem Boy 2 takes his cue and ups the ante.
Harem 2: Richard and I used to work together, but now we’re really good friends.
An I-just-took-the-lead smile, a flip of the hair, a sip of the martini. I taste bile.
Harem 2: So, Kyle is it?
Harem 2: Oh, Cal, right. How do you know Richard?
I take a nano second to consider my answer, the fact that this is his birthday, that he can invite whoever he wants, that I am just a guest here and there is a role that I should play. Then I throw all that out the window.
Me: We fuck.
I deadpan, I don’t blink, I slug my beer. For the second time in the night, the party goes quiet around me. Only this time, it’s not in my imagination. My answer does have the desired effect; a crocodile has been put amongst the gazelles and the herd is definitely rattled.
But the last laugh is on me. While I was plotting my 14-year-old schoolgirl revenge, Mitch has come alongside and stood next to me. This I only notice when the herd calms itself and the “How do you know Richard?” question moves along to him.
He looks at me strangely, I feel enormously stupid.
Mitch: Richard’s my roommate.
My soul caves in. This is some seriously cruel work by the universe. Of course I had a hand in it, but c’mon … now I want to be abducted by aliens as the rest of the party goes on. Or maybe set myself on fire.
My performance overtook the Harem as the funniest thing of the night, and again I’m on the wrong end of the joke. So I finish my drink and decide to call it a night. Richard and I say goodbye and even though he says he’s not mad, I won’t hear from him for a while.
And finally, Mitch. There he is sitting on the countertop in the kitchen like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. You can look, but you can’t touch.
Mitch: Are you going?
Me: Yeah, I have to (insert lame excuse here) in the morning.
Mitch: Oh, ok.
He smiles. Then we kiss politely. And it’s just that mutually intentional moment too long.
Mitch: It was nice meeting you.
Me: It was nice meeting you too mate.
There is a moment here where we both unspokenly consider swapping numbers. But you have a boyfriend and I occasionally (although maybe not ever again) bonk your roommate. The best that can be hoped for is a frustrating coffee.
I smile but don’t want to, I leave but don’t want to, I drive back to Venice but don’t want to.