I walked into Goodwill, in search of nothing in particular, and passing the counter I saw a cute young guy working there, with curly brown shaggy hair, and a neat beard. His beard wasn’t bushy, it looked new, like it was the first beard he’d ever grown, the hairs were long and neat instead of short and bushy. I usually don’t like beards, but I found this guy pretty attractive, and the beard was actually part of it, which was new for me. I realized that I was staring at him while walking. I looked away and kept on toward the back of the store, and the wall of books.
I started pondering the idea of recognizing other gay people out in the world. I usually feel like I can tell pretty well if a guy is gay or not (spoiler alert: I am wrong most of the time, so it’s less gay-dar and more of gay-hopefulness), and I was wondering how exactly people do that. At first I thought it was probably just a feeling, but the more thought about it the more I realized that it has to do with subtle things, like the way a guy speaks, the way he stands, his gestures. These are all of course stereotypes but generally speaking they do tend to be right. Some of my straight male friends who seem more “geeky” than they do “macho” are often mistaken for being gay. It’s kind of sad that a straight guy can’t just be a normal guy (that is to say, to act the way he would ordinarily do without butching it up to 11) without everyone immediately assuming he’s gay just because he’s acting less gender-specifically meatheaded.
I was actually thinking about this not because of the cute bearded guy working at Goodwill, but because of a shopper who was standing next to me, looking at books and announcing his feelings out loud. “Oh, hey, look at that one!” “Oh I’ve read this one.” “Ooh, I haven’t read this one…” I spoke to him briefly to ask what he was excited about, he was looking for a Dean Koontz book. I was not particularly impressed by this, but I just kind of smiled and went back to quietly scanning the shelf. This guy next to me, as it happened, had a really powerful smell. Like he’d been sweating for a while and didn’t have any deodorant on. The funny thing is, I noticed myself feeling weirdly turned on, not actively getting hard but just kind of mentally getting into a sexual mindset when I smelled it. Even though I didn’t find the smell attractive, the smell of sweat, particularly guy sweat, got my mind into a sexual mode. I sort of laughed at myself internally because I really didn’t find the guy attractive, nor did I find his taste in books or his incredibly strong smell attractive, but I’m hypersexual and this is just the way my body and mind reacts to things. Usually I can step outself of myself and mentally shake my head and “tsk tsk tsk,” but it still happens.
The books were mostly crap, although I did find a Barnes and Noble hardback edition of Wicked and Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire. I have both books, but I wasn’t going to pass up a $20 deluxe edition of the book for $1.50 in good condition. As I made my way back up the counter, I discovered that the cute bearded guy was talking to two people in front of him, a thin young guy with long hair, and a woman whose back was to me.
He was speaking, but he seemed to be reciting something. I got closer and found he was speaking poetry aloud. I can’t remember really what it was, only that it was very lyrical and talked about things like admiring beauty and enjoying quiet, I assumed it was probably Robert Frost. I don’t know much about poetry, but waxing on about nature sounded pretty Robert Frosty. I stood behind the other two people listening, and I found him really compelling.
He had a smooth, clean voice, and a pretty face, and there was something in his voice that sounded… I don’t know how to describe it exactly, I guess I can’t say he SOUNDED gay because firstly, what does that really MEAN anyway, and secondly he didn’t sound like a stereotype or lispy or anything, but he certainly sounded sensitive and artistic. And he was reciting poetry after all. He came to the end and the two people in front of me started heaping praise on him while I applauded happily, looking kind of goofy, and he said that he’d written that himself.
I came to the counter and set my book down.
Now you have to understand, this is what goes through my head in situations like this.
This guy is cute. He recites poetry aloud at work. He has the first beard I’ve ever liked. His voice is creamy and sumptuous and I want to hear more of it. He’s cute, his body is nice. He’s not overweight but he isn’t incredibly thin or built either, so he’s probably not out of my league. I don’t know if he’s gay, but if he IS gay, and if he IS my soulmate, and if he IS going to whisper his poetry into my ear while he cradles me in his arms at night, and if I AM going to fall madly in love with him and find fulfillment and love in my life, this is my ONLY opportunity to say anything to him.
There are people here. I can’t just ASK for his number. And what if he isn’t gay? I can’t just ASK if he’s gay, either.
Clock is ticking. I have to do SOMETHING, or else I’ll walk out of this Goodwill and wonder for the rest of my life if this pretty poet was my soulmate and I didn’t say anything.
So did what I always do: I said something blunt, probably off-putting, and maybe obnoxious.
I happily grinned and said quite loudly, “I’m very impressed! And VERY attracted to you now!”
He smiled and rang up my book, saying nothing else to me.
I don’t know if his kind but quiet response was to let me know he wasn’t gay, or that he wasn’t interested.
I started frantically trying to remember poetry. Did I know any poetry? I don’t like reading poetry. I should start reciting poetry aloud. THAT will get him. I’ll just start narrating some verses in a cool, smooth voice the same way he did, and he’ll respect me and be interested and give me his number and then before you know it his naked, warm body will be pressed against me, the long strands of his beard scratching against my neck as he whispers verses into my ear and his fingers work their way under my balls and…
Wait a second, I WRITE POETRY. And I write song lyrics! What are my song lyrics? Quick, think of something!
I’m not safe in the town square, even though the stoners always like me.
You should me his and he’ll show you mine, we’ll all fit together the way we were designed.
There’ll come a day when we won’t pretend and I’ll walk along these frozen streets with you.
I love my songs, but they were either inappropriate for the situation or not written in a way that would suit the situation. I sauntered out of the store, probing my mind for lyrics. I was ready to turn around and go back in there and start reciting poetry if I could think of something.
But I didn’t. And I got back in my car, feeling somewhat defeated, because even if cute bearded guy was gay, he probably wasn’t interested. I probably scared him off the same way I scare everyone off, by being shy on the inside and blunt on the outside, in a haphazard combination that makes me seem rude, or empty-headed, or just weird.
I suffer from an incredible loneliness, but I genuinely want to quell it, and I’m willing to do the work of putting myself out there and taking rejection if needed to find someone. But so often I just scare people away because I’m willing to say what I think. People are often put off by my bluntness, but I’m not trying to be shocking or offensive, I’m just trying to be honest. I can either say nothing, or say the truth, and I choose to say the truth.
It’s not that I have no sense of decorum, I do. But I also don’t think it should be rude to say what you’re feeling. And I WAS attracted to him. And if he were gay, he could see that as an opening.
But he didn’t say anything. I would not hear his poetry whispered into my ear. It was just me and my hardback Gregory Maguire book, and the knowledge that a few minutes after getting into my car I would come into the coffee shop, sit down with my laptop, and write down this story.