I’ve been waving at a man a few blocks up from my home all summer. I pass by on my late afternoon runs; there he sits, on a porch swing; we’ve developed a rapport of sorts; he calls himself the mayor of my neighborhood, which reminds me that only gay men call themselves the mayors of places. His name is Ed. He is gay, I found out today. I came onto the porch while he was reading. We had discussed before—as I passed by running—calling out—what he reads: not Harper’s, or The New Yorker or The London Review of Books, titles I suggested like an ass. “Do you read Good?” I would call out, at a race clip, and he would say, “What!” He reads about sports from the papers, and some of the business inserts. I came on the porch today because I had not seen him for three or so weeks and I thought it would be polite to converse with him, sitting across on a rocker. He was of course stoned out of his mind. “The Atlantic,” he said triumphantly, “on my iPad!” I didn’t say I hate The Atlantic, but I really fucking do.
I discovered his life is baffling him. He’s over sixty. He’s invited a 26-year-old straight friend to live with him, a “very handsome man, just a real specimen of the type—the type of ambitious young guy that likes to—likes to fuck girls—I guess—and is strong and silent.” So it ended up being an hour interview wherein I listened to this stranger process his debilitating sexual anguish regards an oblivious love object. “I’ve already promised him—if he’ll take care of me when I’m sick, he can have the house when I die.” I asked, “Are you sick and dying?” He said, “No—no—I just—I just watched basically my own dad die last year and it reminded me I am all alone. I’ve got no one. So—so if he wants the house, it’s his.” There were a lot of twists and turns. His speech was maybe rehearsed in his own head, had a kind of logic, or chronology, that satisfied revealing particulars. He admitted, for instance, masturbating along to the rhythmic pleasure-cries of whomever his housemate was banging: “I just think—you know—what has that got to look like, the way he works on women? I told him, ‘Bud, you gotta install a camera or something, let me in on the action.’ But of course those kinds of comments really freak him out.” I nodded. Nicholas told me not to interact with people in the neighborhood, especially old men. But I like it. I found him repulsive but I think only for his indiscretion, not his desires. Or, the way desire had warped him into a confession. It was soothing. It was like finding a perfect, real specimen of another type, albeit a depressive type, a real black hole of longing whose mass tempts you into orbit. After the hour I was obsessively, anxiously picking at my arms—and I excused myself to shower. “Well. I am sweaty and itchy.” I sped off.
When I went to look at page proofs this morning, the sales rep greeted me again like an uncle. The booklet looks great. The graduate school is happy. We shook on it. Then he invited me on a tour of the press. He said, “Let me give you the nickel tour.” —I think meaning the tour you’re given for paying a nickel, or a tour that’s time-cheap; quick. He introduced me to the woman who oversees the production side of my booklet, and he repeated the bit about the tour only with a slip of the tongue. He said: “Well, I thought I’d let Evan in on the show, take him on a nipple tour.” He ticked his head for a beat and said, “Nickel tour.”