A few Sundays later, I was at Atlantic-Barclays in Brooklyn waiting for the N train into the city. My bag was packed for an overnight at Simon’s, and I was baking in the underground oven as three R trains passed before an N finally arrived. “Piece-of-shit R train,” I muttered every time one clamored by. The R train runs super local, inching its way through Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens; the sluggishness makes it worthless to most. However, I would have just hopped aboard to avoid standing and waiting on the platform, but the train was undergoing longterm Hurricane Sandy recovery. This prevented it from traveling between Brooklyn and Manhattan, haunting commuters and bi-borough gay lovers alike.

“Why didn’t you just take a cab?” Simon asked as I dumped my bag on the floor and parked myself in front of his air vent—central air, in a New York apartment, how fantastic! “Because I can’t spend $30 on something I can do for free just as easily.” (I was two days from payday thus scraping the barrel…$22.23 in checking.) Simon stared at me disdainfully: “Seems worth it to me—you look miserable,” he said. I had already reminded him a hundred times about the disparity in the relationship: “That’s two hours of work, Simon. Let’s eat, shall we?” Then we went to dinner, and he paid—with no fight from me— since it cost $200. I would have been fine boiling pasta at home.

After meeting Simon at the Saturant show, Peter and Bart had differing impressions of him. Simon picked Bart’s brain about how to handle an inattentive floor manager at his LES venue and Bart all but begged him for a job. Peter, who worked in publishing, was hard-pressed to find much professional common ground with Simon, but had still hoped to make a good first impression since he knew it was important to me. Until, of course, Simon asked Peter if he was “the drag queen one.” “Yep,” grumbled Peter. “I’m the drag queen one. Not Eric’s best friend or anything. Just…the drag queen one.”

I had better luck meeting Simon’s friends. He doesn’t spend a concentrated amount of time with any particular group of people, but I went to dinner with some guys he had known for 25 years—”Since before you knew your alphabets, kiddo,” one reminded me. I could tell Simon was nervous to introduce me, mostly because of the age difference. But I held my own. I had a moment alone with his friend Charlie, a dentist and born-and-raised New Yorker. “Simon has always dated young prospects like you, Eric. But that’s all they ever are. Just prospects. Just dumb kids. It’s good to finally hear him say that he feels confident about someone. He sees a lot of potential in you.”

As well as it went with Simon’s friends, our are-we-or-aren’t-we relationship was feeling more aren’t-we of late. Whenever I invited him to do something with my friends, he would decline. But if I didn’t invite him, he would feel hurt and ignored. I was expected to attend any event or dinner with him, however, and had to navigate conversations about timeshares and summer homes and colonoscopies. We bumped into Sam and his boyfriend Jeff at one fundraiser, and confessed to dating each other. Sam found it hilarious, which was mostly a relief. “How are my sloppy seconds?” he asked, once Simon was out of earshot. “Has he ever done that thing to you, where he takes his thumb…” Jeff mouthed “Sorry!” from behind Sam, ever embarrassed.

“You won’t even come to my neighborhood, see where I live, and let me take you to my favorite places,” I argued to Simon after dinner one night. “Eric, Prospect Heights is not on the way to anything. Everything is here in Manhattan, it’s central. It just makes sense that we do things in the city. Is your place even big enough for two people?” I gave him a cold stare. “You’ll get over this crush you have on Brooklyn,” he said confidently, not realizing he was criticizing the very place that gave me my bearings and adulthood. “People who live in Brooklyn need contrast from Manhattan, as if they aren’t cut out for the fast, honest tempo of things. But people in Manhattan only need one thing—this…frenetic harmony—and I see in you the potential to be on my wavelength soon. You won’t always be this dependent on, I dunno, whatever it is you think is so charming.”

I walked to the subway knowing I had done both of us a favor. I was a good many paces behind Simon, if even on the same path. My attraction to him was perfectly reasonable: he is a handsome, (mostly) charming man whose lifestyle I would happily emulate. But more than anything, I wanted the 20 years between me and that lifestyle, presented to me one milestone at a time—but I also wanted to remain open to the possibility of leaving this all behind. I was finally starting to understand what Talia felt when she left New York: that our standards here are so dangerously self-deprecating. I’m sure that Talia felt as bad for me living here as I did for her living in Kansas. And who could blame her? I was the one waiting for an N train back to Brooklyn for 20 minutes, pitying myself as two piece-of-shit R trains clamored by.

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