Sugar Daddy Issues

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Photos: Juliette Laura

In jeans and a brown corduroy blazer, a look I hoped was saying I’m-young-and-I-love-to-be-young-but-ask-me-for-my-thoughts-on-fracking, I was coasting on the airs of youth into a cocktail hour at a Boston restaurant. I was seeing Fran Lebowitz, herself the Grand Discipliner of Wet-Behind-Ears Naiveté, speak later that night at a theater next door and this pre-show reception was being held for all those who bought a VIP ticket. I bought a VIP ticket.

“Umm,” I said, doing some alcohol percentage versus drink cost equations in my head as a waiter stared into my averted eyes. “I’ll take the pinot—pinot noir. That sounds good.”

“Twelve dollars,” he said. “Cash only.”

Considering Ms. Lebowitz hasn’t published a book since the Iranian hostage crisis, I was surprised so many people had doled out the money to see her before the show. If my teenaged self hadn’t just so happened to be watching Letterman one Friday night with my parents, I might have never known who she was. But no sooner had she sulked on stage with her fried hair and Marlboro-ed voice than I fell in goyish, goyish love. She was brilliant, Jewish, warm as a glacier, and spoke directly to the sentiments that warranted my fourth grade teacher to call home and say I was a “pessimistic influence on her classroom.”

Most everyone in attendance were coupled upon arrival. Newton’s finest men and women in Barefoot Contessa button-ups. Yentas catching up on sons- and daughters-in-law. Gen Xers wearing clogs and unthwarted gray hair. One anthropomorphized copy of the New Yorker after the other. Having gone to the movies alone before without wanting to Lisbon Sister my wrists, I was aware going into the evening I’d probably spend it solo—anticipating, correctly, a room full of academic types who vote universally Democrat but prove to be colder than any conservative I’ve met in real life.

“I would say they’re probably six months from getting engaged,” said the wife from one couple, adjusting her pashmina scarf, to the wife from another. “And then the wedding another twelve months from there. We’re so looking forward to it. She’s very good for our Joshy.”

All the tables had been moved to the perimeter of the room for a mingle-conducive environment. Remembering to unbutton my blazer, I took a seat at one of the vacant four-tops just as Fran Lebowitz walked into the room. I’m a hopeless starfucker, always have been and—given that my mother almost got arrested while begging for a photo with John Mayer in 2005—likely always will be. Letting the most eager among us get their moment with her first, I sat back and bided my time with the cost-of-most-bottles-I-buy glass of wine, content in watching adults adult.

I’ve been chasing a sense of maturity all my life, the need to be respected by all the older people I respect a complex for me from the natal jump. I’m the youngest sibling. My dad was 40 when I was born. The Turner Classic Movies channel was played every time my Aunt Patti babysat me. Etcetera, etcetera. That thrill of being the youngest person in the room, it hasn’t just been a constant for me, it’s a kink—attracting me to older friends, Anderson Cooper, and a meet-and-greet with a cultural critic born under President Truman.

“Such a dilettante, you are,” a middle-aged drag queen once told me, after I made it explicitly clear that I understood her reference to A Woman Under the Influence.

Though briefly assuaged by the free finger food, the 7:30 start time of the staged discussion was creeping ever closer. I crossed my arms in my seat, my plate of lightly dressed greens already empty, my moments of opportunity continuing to be snatched by people in Warby Parkers grabbing Fran by the elbow to introduce her to the theater’s most “generous donors.” Perfecting when and how I’d incorporate self-aware eye rolls into “So, I know the last thing New York needs is another wide-eyed homosexual but I’m looking to move there next year,” I noticed someone in my peripherals coming towards me.

“Such a nice evening.”

A dead ringer for that octogenarian who stars in the eHarmony commercials, this stranger was standing right beside me at that point. Silver-haired, crock-pot bellied, and wearing a rainbow bow tie, he was smiling in a gift shop clerk kind of way. Double-taking over my shoulder to make sure he was, indeed, talking to me, I hearkened despite myself to my job-in-hospitality-informed-warmth, looked up at him and smiled.

“Yeah, totally,” I responded, questioning whether standing up would send the signal I was here to make friends with anyone other than the Vanity Fair contributor ten feet away from us. “She’s so small. I envisioned her, like, Bea Arthur tall, you know? Have you seen her speak before?”

“I’m Ted,” he said, whether or not he heard me remaining a mystery.

“Brian,” I responded, extending my hand, standing up, and re-buttoning my blazer.

He was staring at me with the same awed confusion that always spread across my parents’ faces during the rare occasions in high school that I brought a friend home. Amazed, perplexed, encouraged—their weary hearts healed by the sight of someone so often miserable proving to be so unexpectedly outgoing. Unsure whether I was more stressed by Ted’s barely-there responses or that Fran was moving closer toward the door, I did what I always do when desperately wanting to disengage from a conversation—asked more questions.

“It seems like they have a lot of great events here,” I said, feeling sadder than ever about the empty drink in my hand. “This is my first time coming to this theater. My first time coming to Watertown!”

“Oh, girl,” he said, flashing a shattered-piano-keys grin. “You are young.”

I’d gone to my dentist a few weeks before and nearly sucked on his latex-gloved fingers in gratitude after being told my gum recession was extreme for someone “so young.” As multitude-containing as it may be, feeling younger strikes just as much a chord with me as seeming older. It took crying to “Hand In My Pocket” on my birthday and asking for anti-wrinkle eye cream for Christmas this past year for me to even realize that, all this time, it wasn’t just the company of those older than me that I found so attractive. It was the confirmation that, in their eyes, I was green.

“I’m a member here,” he continued. “I buy two tickets to every show. And it’s just me at home now so I’m always looking for someone to join me. Someone as adorable as you, if I’m lucky.”

“You know,” I huminahed. “I, uh, I always say that I don’t take nearly enough advantage of what’s going on in this city.”

“Join me sometime,” he said, reaching into his breast pocket and taking out a pen. “What are you doing Thursday? I’ve got two tickets to the BSO.”

I was halfway through telling him I didn’t have any paper when he guided my gaze towards the inscription on the pen. In gold Helvetica: Ted’s first and last name, email address, and phone number.

“Quite the business card.”

“Not for business, not these,” he replied. “Just pleasure.”

If I knew Morse Code, I would have beeped. I’d already tried excusing myself to the bar for a second drink, hoping he’d take the hint I wasn’t in the market for my own J. Howard Marshall. He followed me there, bought it for me, and proved me wrong. Any and all declarations of disinterest seemed to go right over his head—my crossed arms, the pained facial expression of a fame-hungry writer-aspirant missing his chance to personally speak with one of his most cherished pedestal-dwellers. An obliviousness that might have had something to do with me staying put beside him, listening, politely, as he began telling me about his partner of 33-and-a-half years who died a decade ago.

“Oh, that’s so special,” I mustered, as he painted me a tableau of his husband’s final day, terminally ill on their bed surrounded by four beloved poodles, leaving me feeling the same way that Adam Sandler movies always do—sad. “That you were able to see him to the end. That’s…that’s love.”

“It would have been nice to speak with Fran tonight,” Ted said, perhaps seeing it in my own eyes that she’d left the room. “But it was even nicer to talk to you.”

When the reality of postgrad life first began to rear its ugly head, I created an account on Seeking Arrangements. It’s like a more desperate but less sad Match.com, dependent on your own personal definitions of those terms. It’s an air-quotes dating site where wealthy middle-aged daddies get linked up with cash-poor millennial babies. I had a friend who’d gotten a few free dinners and flight tickets out of it and figured it was an altogether simple way of combatting Sallie Mae when she finally came knocking on my savings account’s door.

I had a few admirers but never went through meeting up with any of them. On a shallow level, these daddies were less of the Jon Hamm-variety than they were of the John Rhys Davies-stock. But more than that, the idea of providing my company, my whatever, in exchange for gifts or cash or vacations in the Antilles didn’t sit as well with me as I would have thought. I’ve stolen Clif Bars from Stop & Shop because they’ve been out of my budget in recent weeks but still I don’t know if I’d be able to go through with a sought-out arrangement. Not because I’d feel bad for myself and not because I’ve necessarily got any shame for the oldest-in-the-world game. I wouldn’t be able to do it because I’d feel bad for them.

“It’s been nice talking to you too, Ted,” I said.

One of the perks of purchasing a ticket to this “meet”-and-greet was a guaranteed seat within the first few rows. An incentive that hadn’t slipped my mind during the course of my chat with fellow-VIP Ted. As we headed towards the theater, he asked me where my seat was, slipping out his ticket to compare. A12 for me. A13 for him. Checking the rafters for hidden cameras and looking behind my shoulder for Ashton Kutcher in a trucker hat, I nodded my head, smiled, and accepted my karmic retribution for pretending to be Jewish upon moving to New Hampshire in the eighth grade.

“I’m so excited,” I said, settling down into a front-row-center seat.

“How excited?” Ted growled, squeezing my thigh.

The lights went down just as soon as he gym teacher-ed my femur so, fortunately, for Ted’s sake, he didn’t see the look of conflicted-gross-out spread across my face. Emceed by a local news personality, Fran was introduced, brought to the stage, and for the next two-or-so hours shat on just about everything. She talked about work (“I write so slowly I could do it in my own blood and be just fine”) and Hillary Clinton (“I never used to like her but, now, I love her”) and millennials (“It’s always the generation right after yours that you can’t stand so, to me, 20-somethings are fine. It’s the people 15 years younger than me that I’ve always hated.”) I asked from the audience, during the Q&A, whether or not she’s talkative with her cab drivers. In short, “No.”

I’ve sung into Madonna’s microphone, counted Patti Smith’s upper lip hairs as she signed my copy of M Train, and freaked Andy Cohen the fuck out with the rapidity of my beating heart while leaning against him for a photo. In essence, some disappointingly coarse hair texture is really all that’s keeping me from using my grown-out locks to wash the feet of those I adore. Watching Fran Lebowitz wax acerbic from the front row should have been another one of these shameless pilgrimages for me. But, as Ted tapped his leg next to mine, that particular thrill of watching someone be so assuredly themselves didn’t feel as good as usual.

Joining the gradual cattle-procession out of the theater, Ted turned to me and asked, “Ever ride on a motorcycle?”

Pussy-footed and equilibrium-challenged enough as a child to avoid learning how to ride a bike, I have, shockingly, never ridden a motorcycle. Accurately hazarding a guess that Ted had arrived that evening via Harley midlife Davidson, I tried, with all I had, to deny his offer to give me a ride home.

“This jacket is more mid-season than winter,” I said, all emotionally-accommodating hand gesticulations and brow furrows. “I run cold, honestly, I’d freeze. And I have this thing with noise. But thank you. That’s nice of you, really.”

“I have a second windbreaker and a set of gloves,” he smiled, finding some morsel of yes among all my no’s. “My face and arms are off limits but holding on anywhere else is fair game. I’ll keep you warm.”

After letting him adjust the strap on my helmet, I threw my leg over the back of his motorcycle. Giving him directions to a different part of my neighborhood than where I call home, I told myself that I was just being polite. Giving him some company, a certain kind of attention, he might not have had in years. Keeping my tongue lodged into the back of my throat in fear of biting it off if we hit a bump, I prayed, literally prayed, that those two glasses of wine I saw him drink hadn’t impaired him the way a shot of tequila did my Nana at my sister’s sweet sixteen.

“Not so fast,” I shrilled from inside my helmet, debating whether vehicular manslaughter via MBTA bus or SVU-esque homicide would be preferred at this point.

“Oh, girl,”  he said. “This isn’t fast.”

Driving in a vehicle that behooves touching the pavement with a long enough reach has something of an effect on how slowly time seems to go by. It’s hardly a ten minute trip between Watertown and Allston, their borders basically touching, but whether it was my stomach-wrenching fear of losing a limb or an exhaust pipe burning a hole through my chelsea boots, it dragged. While running cold wasn’t a lie, I felt warmer than expected in the jacket and his voice was easier to hear above the wind than Thelma & Louise shrieking in a convertible had always made me presume.

“I doubt it’s still open,” said Ted, as we pulled onto Commonwealth Avenue and into Allston. “But there was a bar around here, I don’t even remember its name.”

“Uh huh,” I said, trying to gauge whether or not he was asking me out for another drink and, if so, how I could convince him I was sober despite the booze he’d seen me guzzle three hours earlier.

“The company I was working for at the time hosted its Christmas party at this bar I’m thinking of,” he continued. “And there was this man, this beautiful, beautiful blond boy, a coworker of mine, just about as old as me, who I always…I always presumed. And we were all there and it was fun but, eventually, with some liquid courage, I took him aside and asked him if he’d like to take a ride on my motorcycle.”

We were stopped at a light. Harry’s bar and the Tedeschi’s were on my left, the street I take down to Trader Joe’s on my right, the T barreling down its aboveground tracks in front of us. The familiar stretch of a city I’ve called my own belonging, for now, to someone else. All I experienced of Ted, his back facing me, was his voice, the sideview mirrors revealing nothing but my own face cast in brakelight red.

“I took him back home to my apartment. And I shared my first kiss with a man that night. My first anything with a man that night. And my entire life, my whole world, just exploded. This was way before your time and it was all so different. It was the first time I ever even realized I could live my life as a gay man. That it was even an option for me. Thirty-three and a half years, we shared together. And I was able to see him to the very end.”

Ted pulled his bike over to the curb, arriving to the street I told him I lived on. A one-way that I knew he wouldn’t be able to drive down, giving me the chance to part ways with him before walking to my actual apartment. Standing up and swinging my leg backwards over the motorcycle, I walked onto the curb as he cut the engine. More than at any other point of the night, I didn’t know what it was I should have said. I wanted to apologize that I hadn’t listened to him more intently, more heartfully, and I wanted to apologize for listening to him at all. In an attempt to not hurt his feelings, I knew—however I would respond to what he was about to say—I’d do just that.

“Thank you, Ted,” I said, as he unstrapped the helmet I tried, in vain, to undo myself. “For giving me a ride home, that was really very sweet. And for sharing so much with me. Your husband—he must have been a very lucky man.”

Ted grabbed my waist and pulled me in towards him and I didn’t push away. He didn’t exactly hug me, rather leaning his own torso back—looking at me, again, with that sort of disbelieving awe. He might have just shared his motorcycle with a blond boy fifty years his junior but I knew it wasn’t me that he was seeing. It wasn’t me who he wanted to go to the symphony with and take to his Cape house and share that second ticket to life with. And as he kissed me on the cheek before I turned my head and let him kiss me on the lips, I think I felt old enough to understand that.

5 thoughts on “Sugar Daddy Issues

  1. The litany of emotions I experienced with this writing… just wonderful, BT. Your insight and the talent to express it for the rest of us to experience. I’m truly grateful.

    Like

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