I've lived in London, Upstate New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, always looking for something that felt like what I imagined "home" should feel like. (Answer: New Orleans.)
I've been the cool kid, the detested outcast, the studious bookish type, the drunken idiot, the Goth, the bad poet (during the aforementioned stage), the punk, the victim, the bully, the momma's boy, the philanderer, the philanderee, the loyal pillar, the mess of loose marbles, straight, bi and gay. (Answer: gay.)
So where do I see myself in ten years? If I cared to answer the invasive query, I'm certain of the answer's uncertainty. I'm right to say the answer will be wrong. You'll have better luck calling 29 black on a roulette wheel and hitting it, so why not just fuck right off to the casino and leave me alone with your tired, unimaginative questions? And good luck!
My prophetic utterances would never have been more wronger than if you had asked me on 17 June, 2003. I remember the day well. It was the one year anniversary of the breakup with my ex. Though I dumped him, it nearly murdered me to do so, and every one one of those 365 following days after I sadly had to oust him from my life, there was at least one point I'd have a sudden breakdown of tears. It happened like lightning. I could be out with friends, enjoying cocktails on the levee and the moonlight on the Mississippi, and I'd excuse myself, find a quiet corner, and cry for ten minutes. I guessed that was what love did to a person, and I failed to see its allure if this was the price one paid when it ended.
I remember thinking if someone had asked me on 17 June, 1993 where I'd be in ten years, my answer never would have been "Wandering around the French Quarter in New Orleans mourning the loss of a boyfriend whom I'd lost exactly one year prior." I mean, to start with, I was [ahem] "straight" in 1993.
That June evening in 2003 was Movie Night, a weekly thing at the (now-defunct) 735 Club in the French Quarter. My friend Cameron curated the event, mismatching a number of subjects for a wacky triple feature. That night it was The Muppets Take Manhattan, Meet the Feebles, and … funny, I don't remember the last one. I never made it that far, as this story will illustrate.
About half way through the second film, I got up to stretch my legs and take a quick walk around. I think my ass had fallen asleep from being in a chair so long. I walked outside and wandered to the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. There's a large gay bar there, The Pub, that showed the new episode of Queer as Folk every week. I had never seen the show, so popped in for a moment to watch a bit of it.
This drunk out-of-towner came over to slur and coo at me. I remember feeling lonely, sad and horny during my little walkabout, but mostly sad as I obsessed over this dismal anniversary of being alone.
The guy seemed fun. I took him back to the 735 Club to watch the remainder of Meet the Feebles, which is like the Muppets if Charles Bukowski wrote it and Paul Morrissey directed it. We sat on a round settee making out over the recumbent, sleeping form of my friend Genevieve who would occasionally wake up just long enough to see what was happening, grab my hand, place it on the guy's thigh, and conk back out.
Nature ran her course, the little tramp, and soon we were off to his room at the (now-defunct) Wyndham at Canal Place.
He told me his name was Ben, and I even managed to retain that information for awhile, bad as I am at remembering names. We had a good old-fashioned raunch-fest for a couple hours, and later, when he was in the shower and I was wandering aimlessly around the hotel room, I glanced at a pile of mail and saw it was all addressed to "George."
Really??? I thought with dismay and disgust. He gave me a FAKE CLUB NAME? Do people still DO that? REALLY?! (Answer: he went by his middle name, Ben, though was still George on the dotted line.)
Ben/George/Whoever asked me to stay the night — a strict no-no in the word of gay trick etiquette, but I enjoyed being with him so much that I said yes. It was that, or go home and reexamine the wormhole that sat where my heart used to be, alone with my cat.
I stayed the night. And in the morning, after more crimes against Leviticus, we went across the street to the (now-defunct) Rue de la Course café and just enjoyed each other's company and conversation. In the ephemeral world of gay tricking, this is pretty much unheard of, and we both knew it. And I think we both recognized the rarity of what was happening.
What if we end up together? I thought, terrified that the very act of thinking it would jinx it. I didn't dare to hope.
Ben went back to his home in Nashville; I went back to my little life bartending graveyard shifts at the (now-defunct) Hideout. But we kept in touch. No, that's not quite right; we did more than keep in touch. We kept our dialogue going as if we were still in the same room thanks to the miracle of the (now-defunct?) Microsoft IM and the amazing modern convenience of the (now-defunct?) ISDN internet connection I had at the time.
He worked from home. I had days off, so we had a lot of time to chat on IM. He was a professional gambler, which I thought was interesting and I grilled him on the minutia of his daily routine. He was satisfyingly forthcoming, telling a relative stranger perhaps more of the trade secrets than he should have, but I was voracious on the subject and demanded specifics.
A couple weeks later, The Hideout closed for good. I wasn't scheduled to work, but I happened to be wandering by and my boss Leila was on the balcony above the bar and spotted me in the crowd in the street. "Todd!" she called, "You're working tonight! This is it! We're closing!"
The Hideout, for those who weren't there, was legendary in the Lower Decatur punk rock dive bar scene, which suited me fine for the personality I inhabited at the time, and that last night out-rocked all previous evenings, which is really saying something. Though I wasn't at CBGB's on its closing night, I could still argue that our send-off was more raucous and stimulating and epic than theirs. (You can read about that night here.)
I was the last one out of The Hideout in the morning when the remaining booze and beer had been consumed or removed and the cash register taken away. Leila's husband Christopher actually had to install a padlock on the doors that had erstwhile remained open for 24 hours a day for the last seven or eight years. And I remember thinking as I followed everyone out the doors, I wish Ben could have been here. The thought was jarring. I had just spent the night with my closest, most beloved friends, and about 900 of my happy acquaintances, and here I was pining for a trick who lived in Tennessee.
Another jarring thought that morning as a small crowd gathered solemnly to watch the padlock being installed: I hadn't cried that night. For the first time in a year, my ex's absence hadn't affected me to that degree.
The Hideout closing was the end of an era, but it was also the end of my job. Though I didn't have much money saved, I felt I needed a break from the whirlwind of New Orleans before I dived into whatever Providence had lined up for me next.
Should I go to Europe? See friends in New York? See family out West? I thought. Or see Ben in Nashville? If staying the night at a trick's hotel was a no-no, and coffee the next morning was even more unheard of, flying to a trick's city where you knew no one else and staying at his house was complete anathema. Madness, I tell you. But I broached the subject with Ben on IM and his response was a resounding YES! AND HURRY!
I booked a flight. He picked me up from the airport and took me to his house. We spent a lot of time in bed. We spent even more time talking, each extending trembling tentacles of wonder and curiosity, ready for the whole thing to collapse at the first sign of flakiness, nefarious agenda, idiocy, psychosis, or whatever else one usually finds in the sleazy world of gay tricking. None of these signs became apparent.
I remember sitting alone on Ben's deck, smoking, looking at some nail heads that had worked themselves up and out by a few millimeters over time and thinking, I guess I'm in love. It was no more spectacular than that. Nary a firecracker exploded, nor angels broke into beguiling harmonies. I didn't dare tell him this yet. No quicker way to scare someone off that by telling him you love him, after all. So I found a hammer and smoothed out the errant nails in his deck instead and contemplated the peace in my heart with quiet gratitude.
The next few months were spent with him or me flying to or from Nashville or New Orleans, weepy farewell kisses at airports though we both knew we'd see each other within a week. Soon after, Ben moved to New Orleans; I drove the moving van from Tennessee. Though we were both optimistic about a possible future together, we were cautious and he didn't move in with me. Instead, he found a rental just around the corner from my house in the Garden District. We could see each other's balconies. I suggested we run a tin can and a string and call it a mobile phone.
And shortly after that move, we made the decidedly UN-cautious move and bought a house together in the Bywater.
I quit bartending and became a professional gambler.
We survived the strife and strain of Katrina together.
We bought another house in the French Quarter and remodeled it (more stressful than Katrina.)
And now it's ten years later. And I didn't see myself where I am, big surprise. And that guy who gave me a fake name at the Wyndham is asleep in our big bed with one or more of our pets. And we've survived now-defunct hotels, bars, clubs, cafés, and all the erosion of a decade. And though it's been a difficult ten years for me physically and emotionally and mentally, there was one thing in my life that was unwavering in its constancy and dependability, and that's the mutual love, care and respect that Ben and I have always shared. My world could feel like it's crumbling, as it often has in the last few years, but there's always Ben ready to stand by me.
In 2010 we were married on Cape Cod in Provincetown with two other couples we know from New Orleans, but really, we were kinda married that morning at Rue de la Course by the Wyndham sharing coffee and trying to fool ourselves that this wasn't happening because things that seem too good to be true are usually just that.
And if you asked me today, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" I'd roll my eyes and suggest some possibilities. I may be running a firewood business in Vermont. Or a New Orleans daiquiri stand in Sitges, Spain. Or an exotic cattery in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or you can just fuck off with your tired question because I have not a ghost of a clue where I'll be in ten years.
Except I do know. I know exactly where I'll be in ten years.
I'll be with my husBen.