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Saturday, April 20, 2013

ASKING FOR A LIGHT (Apology for the cigarette)

It unfolded in the bright sunshine and the bluest of skies, and it still felt like loss. The guy had been sitting there, scruffy beard and snubbish intensity. Slight form lost under his baggy clothes. I turned back, I'd seen enough, and screwed up my eyes in the chilly glare of the morning sun. From the end of the road, another kid was swaggering towards us, little tight shoulders in silhouette. His rolling gait was coiled like a muscly dog. This neighborhood was busy changing, but for now it was still emphatically working class, and the teenage mutts here were all spleen and provocative stares, virile center of gravity, take that how you wish. I looked back over my shoulder and the bearded guy had got to his feet and was leaning against the bus stop, pulling on a cigarette. There it was again; he too seemed balanced nonchalantly on the energy between his hips. Blowing smoke rings. He looked different now, interesting. The pit bull boy rolled by me oblivious and I followed his back as it brushed against the smoke rings. Then he came to a halt. He pulled a cigarette pack from his jacket and extracted one carefully, with a delicate swish. He turned to the guy smoking and asked for a light. As he leaned in, in the blustery wind, two pairs of hands came up pressing in on the naked flame. They may have touched. They were still, together, for an exquisite moment, till the cigarette fired up and they separated again. The pitbull boy gave a gruff "thank you" and continued on his way, intimacy instantly forgotten.

I remember one of the most vivid, indelible images I'd seen of this cat-and-mouse life which seemed to categorise the gay experience, was a stark black and white photograph of a top-hatted Victorian gentleman, sinister and alluring under the yellow shadows of a street lamp, as a beautiful younger man leaned in. "Got a light?" To my eyes, learning fast, the image shimmered with dirty, intoxicating promise. Ten minutes ago, before writing this, I tried to google the image, being normally quite good at this, but I couldn't find it anywhere. In fact, I could hardly find anything at all. Interestingly, a whole smoking history is apparently being wiped from the net. I normally wouldn't worry - like I care? But in that moment of intimacy witnessed in bright sunlight, I saw myself, and I saw a history of impossible interactions and desires, and I thought, this too one day will be gone, and down we will scroll our tiny screens, ignoring requests to talk and look someone in the eye. And streets will become deserted and the promise of adventure will have been mapped out in binary.

The blue rings vanished in the air, tingling on the smoker's throat. I felt a twinge of jealousy.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I remember when I first saw 'Longtime Companion' at the movies. I hated it. I was in my very early twenties, idealistic and opinionated. I was living in Lisbon, in Europe, and I and my arty friends had tongues making nests in our cheeks. My friend hated the movie even more. I had never been to New York City, and this was not how I wanted to see it - this gilded ghetto cage of fading white moneyed faces, (so telling, the Fire Island scenes of the Pines house floating above the foliage, the real world blotted out and invisible below). This ain't no hip hop. This ain't no No Wave or even new wave. It was operatic dinner parties and hi energy fizzling out. Blacks and hispanics and rice queens were not invited to the last days of disco, even if they soundtracked it. "The Saint Disease" it was first called, and that is a history I came to understand through work and personal experience.

The fact it was about people dying, a tide of accumulating rot, swelling and gaining strength, rolling over the darkening sky on the beach was the most distasteful part. I failed to have a heart for this peculiar, more monied-than-thou ghetto, even as they died faster and more painfully than the rest of us outside of it.

The ghetto never died in New York. It did become more inclusive, these days all can rest there and go to high tea. The Pines, if anything, is more monied than ever. Aids never went away either - it took on different shapes, it became the perfect cross-dresser. I watched 'Longtime Companion' again last night and I forgave it, because there was nothing to forgive. These people did die, and it had to have been horrible. This is New York, and all the movie wanted to do was show them and honour them. They deserved to flicker across the silver screen, because now they are gone, all gone.