Friday, July 25, 2003

FROM THE ARCHIVES - "To Hardly Know Him Is To Know Him Well"

5/6/03 - Written as part of the "Letters to Crocker" series

Last night, talking to my friend Doug on the phone after THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, I told him the truth about why that trip to the dinner-and-movie event had become important to me. The reasons, which I thought were odd and potentially desperate, are actually quite human, Doug told me. Unfortunately, this is one situation I'm in that I cannot easily fix for myself. It's not a problem. It's just something that makes me a little sad.

When I found out in an article that the restaurant Commune was doing a night screening of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, I wanted someone else to see that it was going on. I wanted someone else to know how I felt about the movie. I wanted someone else to invite me to it.

But you can't wait for others to make your life happen. And you can't expect others to read your mind.

I made the reservations myself, a table-for-two in the hope that I'd be able to find some friend to go with me. Next best thing. If not, and I didn't really have a problem with this because this is eventually what happened, I went by myself, and I had a rather good time. I laughed at all the jokes in the movie that I usually laugh at. Eventually, hoping to accentuate the communal aspects of Commune, a group asked me to join them at the end of our shared, long table.

The waiter Charles was unnecessarily nice to me, asking me about the movie. He's 22 and said he guessed that his favorite old movie was STAR WARS.

"STAR WARS is old now?" I asked. "I guess it must be."

"It came out before I was born," Charles said. "How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?"

"26," I said. At least, I'm 26 until next month.

He asked me later in the movie what was going on. It was my favorite scene, the one where Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn are both drunk, dancing and arguing. Their words, all those words, eventually lead them to this searing kiss, even though he's in love with another woman and she's due to marry someone else within hours. Katharine Hepburn's character is so completely overwhelmed by champagne and by the idea that someone sees her as she wants to be seen - beautiful, passionate, vulnerable, smart and human - that she gets swept up in the moment.

I told Charles that he asked me right at the best part, when Jimmy Stewart proves himself to be the one that she should end up with.

"So she and Jimmy Stewart end up together?" Charles asked me.

"No," I said. "She picks Cary Grant because he's Cary Grant."

"Who is Cary Grant?" Charles asked me. "I'm not good with these movies."

I looked at him and said, "OK, we really need to talk."

Later, and this is beside the point because my night's not about the waiter, he asked me the location of my Barnes & Noble. I chuckled and said, "Mall of Georgia." And I got that moment that I always get when someone inside the Perimeter finds out that I'm not one of his brethren. His face kinda fell into a frown, and he said, "Oh, well, thanks for driving all the way down."

I went to dinner by myself. I had some wine by myself. And I watched one of my favorite movies. (OK, I'll go ahead and declare it my favorite movie. It's about time I made that choice, I guess.)

But you can't manufacture what I wanted from that evening. I wanted to be asked. I want someone else to know, without invitation or prompting, what my favorite movie is. I want someone, besides my mother, to walk through a store and say, "You know, I bet Benjie's like that."

How silly is this? Is it vain? Ungrateful? I'm not without the regard of friends and others. I realize that.

My friend CJ, who urged me to ask the notorious Mr. Princeton to PHILADELPHIA STORY and suggest other actual dates to Mr. Princeton even though Mr. Princeton says he's not at all gay, took me to see a sneak preview of A MIGHTY WIND a couple weeks ago, just because he thought it would be something that I'd like. He thought of me, and that made me feel good.

I told CJ how I felt about this PHILADELPHIA STORY thing, and he told me that it was fairly common to occasionally fret over something minor like that, which you still have no say in it. He told me he once remembered getting sick in high school, and he got annoyed when none of his closest friends called him to see if he was all right.

I had minor sinus trouble last week. My friend Steve, at the end of a phone call, told me that he hoped I'd feel better. And that courtesy meant something to me.

My friend Michael is there when I need him. My friend Kacoon gives me tons of tough love when I require it, and she gives me funny stories that make me laugh when I need some cheer. And you let me write these things to you.

A night featuring a nice risotto and my favorite movie, though, spark something else in me. And asking friends like you is different from what I wanted. And to ask instead of waiting to be asked, though not passive, is a concession from what I wanted.

The chef in the restaurant downstairs from my office was named Rodney. He was about 35, larger and African-American. He was more family-centric than I was. He has a boyfriend named Greg, who worked downstairs at the cafe, too, until Rodney had to fire him. He had a goatee, a moustache, cute eyes and a way of laughing at me. He wore baseball caps and sweatshirts almost every day. We'd talk about food, love, neuroses, art. This started months ago. Eventually, he would plan his meals around when I'd eat so we could sit together, though he denied that's what he was doing when I asked him. But, everyday like clockwork, we'd have lunch while he worked.

I don't quite know what I, as a goofy nerdy little gay white boy, became to him, but I became something to him. We didn't really have that much in common, but, because I could relax around him since he didn't seem to fit my type, he and I developed this completely unspoken, never-acted-on thing. I flirted with him because I could, because I knew it could never become anything at all. It just felt like it couldn't become anything, most of the time. He and Greg were still together, even though he had to fire Greg from the cafe. (I can't imagine that was comfortable for anyone.)

Once, Rodney asked me to an Etta James concert. So I told him to buy tickets, and I would go. But he didn't buy tickets. So we didn't go.

And he'd get my phone number from me, even though I knew he wouldn't call it. And he wouldn't call it. And we'd keep eating lunch everyday.

It was what it was.

A couple weeks ago, when I told him that I was "dangerous and scary" in all seriousness, Rodney started laughing out loud.

"What???" I said. "I'm completely serious."

"Sometimes, there are things that I wish I could just tell you," Rodney said.

"I know," I said.

"But I can't because ... it ... would ... just ...," his words trailed off.

"I know."

He left the cafe last week, transferring to another one. He got my number again before he left, and I laughed while I was giving it to him because he doesn't have to call me and I wouldn't know what to do if he did because then, if this makes sense, nothing becomes something.

I don't know how to date. I'm most attracted to people who are completely unavailable. I don't know what I want. If I got someone to date, I'd only date them for a little while before somehow ruining it or pushing them away. At this point in my life, I'd be bad for someone. I'd be scary and crazy, and people shouldn't laugh at me when I tell them this.

My therapist says that light sex and casual dating isn't in the cards for me. That's the price I paid somewhere.

Is arm's length the closest I'm ever going to get to someone? Is that the safest I feel? Do I push people away both consciously and subconsciously because I can't handle real affection right now?

People tell me that, sometimes, I'm hard to know and harder to like.

This is true.

I've been accused of overthinking everything in my life, of analyzing everything to a paranoid degree.

I do.

Understanding all that, is my evening out with THE PHILADELPHIA STORY important or indicative?

Yes, but not really.

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