By Rick Segreda
"Sh-boom, sh-boom/ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta/Sh-boom, sh-boom."
While the diner jukebox was playing this old rhythm and blues nugget, Colin would shake his shoulders like Carmen Miranda at the " ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta" part. Theo forced a "humph" through his nose, a way to convey to Colin that he thought Colin was funny. That fact was, however, for Theo, he wasn't. Indeed, for him, Colin's campiness was grotesque, as well as embarrassing, since they were in public. Secretly, Theo wished Colin would stop, or better yet, wasn't even motivated to start. Better yet still, Theo wished Colin were better looking, younger, and that his shimmying shoulders were broader and squarer.
Nonetheless, Colin is Colin, and Theo is also lonely, and Colin, he feels, is the best he can do for now. Colin and Theo met at twelve-step group for gay men and lesbians who shop compulsively and never budget, to the point of chronic debt, like Gustave Flaubert's Emma Bovary. It is one of several twelve step groups they both attend, though not always jointly. They also go to Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, and Codependents Anonymous. Colin also goes to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and Artists Anonymous (for compulsive procrastinators) while Theo goes to Overeater's Anonymous and, occasionally, Alcoholics Anonymous, the local gay chapter. Not because he has a drinking problem, but in order to cruise the men.
That is because Colin has determined that he will only date men in recovery. However, last Tuesday's Gay AA meeting featured nothing more than three old and ungainly queens. One in particular also had an especially rancid and pungent body odor. Theo has spent the whole week trying to forget it. The memory of the that smell has actually been more effective than Overeater's Anonymous in curbing Theo's appetite for glazed carrot cake, but he is not grateful.
Regardless, the weekend was approaching, and Theo couldn't bear the thought of being alone again on Friday night. He wanted to relax knowing that he would have a set evening planned. He didn't want to go the usual, pre-recovery route of spending five lonely hours waiting for some guy to give him a second look at Billy's Tavern. All things considered, Colin was safest and sanest option. It was also his surest option, since Colin had been dropping hints for the past month that he wanted to date Theo. There were the lingering hugs he'd give him after meetings and the two times he left a message on Theo's machine where he spelled out his phone number, even though Theo already had Colin's number from three different recovery group phone lists.
Still, though Theo was relaxed, he was far from thrilled. Theo is 25, Colin is 37. Colin is modestly handsome, about a step and a half up from bland. When Theo first saw him, though, he thought he was three steps up. It was Theo's first Al-anon meeting, and Colin walked in wearing a baseball cap and jacket. Almost immediately, Theo began mentally undressing what he thought was this very masculine fellow. The fantasy died during the coffee and tea break when Colin admitted that he wore the cap and the jacket for the effect. In fact, he pointed out, he knew next to nothing baseball or any competitive sport and didn't care to.
Theo so resented Colin doing that that he left quickly after the hand holding, "wisdom to know the difference, keep coming back-it works" part, not saying goodbye to anyone. "Damn nellie faggot" Theo muttered to himself while driving back home.
Over the next few weeks, none of the few young and good-looking men at the gay versions of Theo's support groups ever noticed him. They didn't hug him, didn't shake his hand, they didn't even nod their heads as a way of saying hello. Theo was especially struck by one particular meeting which featured six lesbians and two men: Theo and an exceptionally handsome fellow who was Theo's same age, height, and weight. When it was his turn to share, this young man burst into tears, complaining about his lonely life and how he can't get a date because he is "so ugly!" Theo was taken aback, but also felt the thrill of opportunity; here was this beautiful, sexy guy who seemed desperate for anyone to prove that to him. Even though Theo was lankier than he wished he were, this fellow seemed so hard up that Theo was sure he'd be overjoyed to go out with him. After the meeting, as he walked over to introduce himself the young man abruptly left with one of the heavier lesbians, trading jokes, laughing with her as if all were right in the world, and his show of grief was just a that, a show, which it probably was.
So for Theo's goal, which was to have a boyfriend who spoke the common language of the twelve steps, thus, in his mind, be trustworthy and honest, Colin was the best he could do. After Theo got over his initial resentment, he discovered that Colin was quite friendly, and would listen sympathetically whenever Theo called him to "process," as they say in twelve-step literature. Still, Colin was far from Theo's most passionate sexual and romantic fantasies. But he was a lot closer than the last man Theo had sex with, a tall, thin 49 year old painter who smoked a great deal of hashish.
The waiter brought their coke refills. Theo watched Colin as he ate and weighed the pros and cons of going to bed with him tonight.
"Colin isn't campy all the time, only here and there," Theo thought to himself.
"On the other hand, one can't predict when Colin will gross me out the way he does in public. And then how will I feel about myself afterwards?"
Their young, muscular waiter came by again and asked if everything was all right. Theo quietly said yes as a painful anguish filled his heart. That tall, rugged waiter with the bright smile was the man for him. Holding hands later at night, walking on the beach, making love in a big house overlooking the Santa Cruz surf; Theo forgot about Colin and drifted into a reverie about what he wished his love life was like.
"Theo-are you okay? You seemed distracted."
"No, everything is, um, fine."
"That waiter is a hunk, isn't he?"
"Yes," Theo sighed.
Now he fully despised Colin. Approaching middle-age, HIV positive, an almost pear-shaped physique, never having made much of his life-he manages the plant department at the Scott's Valley K-Mart-Theo has yet to know if he ever had any visions, dreams, or passions in his life. From what he has shared with Theo, Colin seems to have frittered away most of his adult years in pursuit of petty sexual experiences; masturbating and cruising for hours in pornographic bookstores, loitering in public restrooms, trips to large cities like San Francisco spent largely in bars and bathhouses. Did he ever have a meaningful plan or goal in his life? Just a few years in the California Conservation Corps to avoid the draft, and from there an undistinguished life in the Bay Area. Theo couldn't finish his hamburger.
"I once did a straight hunk. Years ago when I was in the Conservation Corps. My best friend, Maggie, and me both had a crush on one of our fellow co-workers named Tim. He was STUNNING, blond, muscular-a total surfer stud. We decided to set a trap. Maggie would seduce him in the communal shower. Meanwhile, I'd walk in as if I had no idea. Maggie then would insist that if she and Tim were to continue, Tim would have to include me. I also brought along some pot, in order to loosen him up."
"And this scheme worked? You turned on a straight hunk onto gay sex?"
"Yes and no. I pretended to be into Maggie, and said to Tim that I was bi, and would he like to be experiment? He said no at first, but after a few tokes he agreed to let me go down on him. He didn't climax, though, and thenů"
Colin paused, ruefully. "Then Maggie and Tim really got it on, seriously. I got dressed and left. By the next morning they were deeply in love, and Maggie no longer had time for me."
Colin put down his fork and rested his face in the palm of his right hand.
At this point, Theo's on again, off again depression began to creep back into his night out. Rather than feeling any sympathy for Colin, this anecdote merely intensified his resentment, but now his resentment was a double-edged sword. A few hours before dinner, Theo had considered sex with Colin. Now Colin appeared to be such a pathetic loser for Theo that the idea of sex with him was repellant. But Theo's despair was that in three hours his own physical cravings would take over and it would happen anyway, no matter how much he knew he would regret it the morning after.
Colin asked the waiter for the check, then turned to Theo.
"What do you want to do now?"
"Take that waiter home make out like rabbits till the break of dawn."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
"So, Colin, did you ever find the great love of your life?"
Theo was both sincere and cynical in asking that.
"I used to think that I had several times. I fell in love with a lot of straight guys, but it was never reciprocated. Then there was Tom. When he was alive, I used to think he was 'it,' even after I found out he was cheating and had infected me with HIV."
"After that you still loved him?"
"I cheated at least thee times myself, though I was always safe. I rationalized that he really didn't mean me any harm, that he wasn't fully aware of the consequences of his actions."
"Rationalized? Sounds like 'denial.'"
"Oh, it was that, for sure. Looking back, I think I was more in love with the idea of love than really in love with Tom. I wanted that fantasy so badly."
There was a sudden shift in Theo's mood. The wistful sincerity of that particular remark touched Theo. Slumping against the red vinyl in his cubicle, Theo paused a moment to contemplate Colin's sad black eyes.
"Don't I know it. I can tell you how badly I've wanted it as well."
Otis Redding was on the jukebox now; "I've Been Loving You Too Long."
"It seems like a curse," said Theo. "Why does our Higher Power give us these longings and cravings that we can never fulfill?" "That's why we have a Higher Power, that's where ultimately we find love."
"Yeah. You're right. I suppose. But how come I never had a hard-on for God?"
They both laughed.
Theo remembered Colin's warmth, the many instances he had taken time to listen to his "problems" over the phone, all the reinforcement of twelve step principles; letting go and letting God, rigorous honesty, moral inventories, making amends. And he really wasn't all that bad looking.
Colin reached over and touched Theo's sleeve.
"We'd better leave. It's getting late."
They paid their bill, leaving a large tip for the waiter, headed outside and got into Colin's compact.
"Do you want to go back to my place?" asked Colin as he turned the ignition key.
It was a clear, warm, August night in Santa Cruz. The idea of going with Colin back to his house in nearby Capitola and spending the night having safe sex with him didn't seem all that dreadful.
But yet, for Theo, it just didn't seem enough or appropriate. He graciously declined the offer and asked to go home.
Colin dropped Theo off where he lived on East Cliff Drive. Theo asked Colin to get out so he could give him a hug.
"To our recovery," said Colin gently.
"To our recovery," replied Theo.
Colin got in his car and took off. Theo headed for the path down the cliff going towards the beach. The air was mellow with the scent of eucalyptus and sea salt. He sat down on the moist sand and contemplated the soft roar of the waves crashing. Yes, he still felt a little lonely this evening, but for now it wasn't all that bad.
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