New Yorkers have a way of pitying those people who choose to move away. “Can’t hack it in the big city, eh?” As if the person is giving up, too defeated to live and die for the hustle. I didn’t feel this pity toward Talia when she announced she was quitting her successful casting career and moving home to Kansas City. “I’ve got so much potential I can’t use here,” she said. “I’m over being stifled by the cost, by the rat race. I want a house, and a family, and quiet.” I felt disillusioned. She was once indefatigable. And now, quite logically, Kansas made more sense.
Talia waited until our lease was done to uproot herself. Leases, like subway delays, take people hostage here. This left me a clean break to get a new roommate on the lease or to find my own place. I opted for the latter. I had just negotiated a raise at work, and knew that in a year or two, finding an affordable studio in Prospect Heights would be impossible. And without question, I had to stay in Prospect Heights. I owed my sanity to these brownstones, to the park, to the best-of-both-worlds feeling one gets from living in residential Brooklyn.
Our landlord owned a few other buildings in the neighborhood, and fortunately had a garden studio available on Underhill just two blocks away. She even cut me a deal on the place since we had good rapport from my four years as her tenant. It still meant I nearly doubled my rent, but I would finally have my own place. “Wow, Eric, I’ll pay a third of that on my mortgage each month in Overland Park,” Talia reminded me. My response: “Don’t be that person who suddenly convinces herself she was never happy here. Just be happy for me.”
Talia was surprised and overwhelmed that nearly 50 people attended her farewell party in Park Slope, having been certain that a central Brooklyn location would keep things small and more personable. But that’s just it—Talia was personable, and people were sad to see her go. There were a few big time casting directors and agents—her boss even teared up upon saying goodbye. That was what confused me: her life here was set. She was on one of the biggest platforms in the world and stepped off of it. She made New York look easy, and walking away even easier.
We spent Talia’s last full day together. A morning jog in Prospect Park. Then bagels on Vanderbilt. Then we boxed up our lives while sipping seltzer, sent her things on a moving truck and pushed mine into the living room. I would rent a pickup truck the next day to move myself around the corner. The big task of the day was painting the walls white. Each stroke felt like one more memory we were clearing away. Picnics in the park. 4 a.m. taxis. Stories of shameless hookups with cute boys. Talia finally broke down, with half a blue wall to go.
I called a car for Talia early the next morning. Our goodbye stretched out for 10 minutes as the driver waited patiently. “You’re the only reason I stayed as long as I did,” she said. “You’re the only reason I came in the first place,” I replied. I hugged goodbye the person who got me my job, who spent four years as my roommate, who introduced me to my first boyfriend, and who helped me through my mother’s death. “Will you miss me?” she asked. Honestly, I just wanted her to be gone already.
New Yorkers are assholes. If you aren’t one when you arrive, you become one to survive. Or else you move away, because you’re too sweet and too levelheaded to tolerate all of the assholes. I quickly moved my stuff into the new studio, called up Bart and Peter, and made plans for a night out in East Village. Talia texted me that evening: “At my new home. Can’t believe it’s real. Miss you.” I didn’t text her back til the next morning, because I kind of pitied her. She had all the potential in the world, and she failed to use it.
I’m always hurrying to work. Nobody knows I’m late—it’s just my boss Sam and me. He’s in by noon, when our LA counterparts start their day. But I’ve got to cover phones, emails, and scheduling for our actors from the start of the New York morning. I’m a master of the snooze button, and am just never eager to turn on my work alter ego, Eddy. Sam already had an assistant named Eric whom he hated, so he had me go by my middle name—Edmond—and then Hollywooded it. He seems to like me—as Eddy, of course—enough to keep me for three years. It’s the longest relationship either of us has had.
Our actor clients are mostly high maintenance. They’re all insecure, no matter how successful, needing constant fluffing and reassurance, which is a large part of my job. “The casting director looooved you” or “I think they went in a different direction, but they said you were easily the best” or “I think this Broadway role was revived for you.” On this particular day, I had to reschedule one actress’s auditions because she had “morning voice” and didn’t want to sound raspy on tape. I called each director, found afternoon time slots—apologizing profusely—then called her back. “Everyone is so happy to give your voice the time it needs.”
Sam came in around 1, a bit later than usual. “Get Marissa on the fucking phone, now,” he said, without any “Hello” or “How are you”. I handed him his drink—a grande skinny latte, extra foam, splenda stirred in by me, not by the barista—and dialed Marissa, one of our better known clients who was the lead on a cable network cop show. We had heard rumors she was switching managers, so Sam was playing defense. “Hi Marissa, it’s Eddy. I’m well thanks, how are you?” From Sam’s office: “Stop with the fucking Midwest manners and send her through to me.”
Marissa and Sam were on the phone for an hour. She did have new representation lined up, despite Sam plucking her out of college and getting her more than two dozen roles in TV and film. Chances are, the new guy had better contacts or was a better negotiator—she wouldn’t say. Sam was madder than I’ve ever seen him. I shared some good news about another client who had been picked up as a series regular on his show. “Eddy, not now. Jesus. You know—if you had made her feel more desired here, then this might have never happened.”
There is a 15-minute window each day where I sneak away for food. It’s around 3, when LA is out on lunch meetings. It’s Sam’s least favorite part of the day because it means he’s on phones and doing scheduling, both of which he put behind him after his assistant days. I spend each lunch break crossing Madison Square Park, going to a simple cafeteria-style place nearby where there is a cheap buffet. Even if I bring my own food, I take the 15 minutes, mostly to remind Sam that he needs me. He’s always nicer when I get back.
I moved to NYC thinking I’d work in film production, but a series of events derailed things for two years, and then Talia heard about Sam’s opening and referred me. It’s a good gig, and I’ve proven skilled at preventing and putting out fires, understanding people’s priorities and needs and personal politics. I think I’ll be a great talent manager but just hope I don’t end up like Sam—he’s good at it but seems miserable. And his temper shifts constantly: “Have a good night, Eddy. Another awesome day from you. Best assistant I’ve ever had,” he said as he left at 6. He always ends the day with positive reinforcement. I’ll still work another three hours to coincide with LA, telling myself that it’ll pay off soon.
I get to be Eric from the hours of 9pm and 9am, shedding Eddy as I leave the office. Despite being perpetually exhausted, I walk through a calm, brightly lit Manhattan for 30 minutes before getting on the subway, and then go right to my gym in Park Slope to work out before it closes at 11. I have to stop any hurrying, to see my city slowed down and to hear its soundtrack of traffic and conversation, before sweating away the day’s stress with a soundtrack of Top 40. This routine clears my head and reminds me that I am in control of my own well-being. I have to end each day with this positive reinforcement.
“Thanks for coming, guys. As always.” Joanie hugged Bart and me before her opening set. Bart chuckled in response: “Well, I work here, so you shouldn’t thank me.” Really, though, it was Bart who often booked Joanie, despite her band’s mediocrity. It wasn’t hard to support her—she was good enough to be something big. Her voice has this folksy sincerity, this heartbreaking earnestness. But for some reason, she wasn’t taking off, despite years of trying, and a Berklee degree to boot. Thankfully, Bart could keep booking her, to the venue owner’s chagrin.
The audience filled up toward the end of her set, the people arriving for the main act. Joanie, who went by her full name (Joanie George) on stage, always picked up a new fan or two, but never saw things snowball. In the cab on the way home, she broke out into sobs. “I’m sorry to be your charity friend. You don’t have to keep coming. I should just give up.” Given her talent, her focus, and her lack of any applicable work skills, I assured her that she wasn’t wasting anyone’s time, especially not her own.
I got an email from Joanie the next day, asking about how I juggled my work persona, Eddy, with my actual self. My reply was a bit heavy: while I would like to just have one identity, being Eddy gave me a dissociative disorder, which allowed me to do things that I didn’t feel Eric would do. Mostly, Eddy had thicker skin and was a better bullshitter. He was a businessman, born and raised in New York. I worried that parts of Eric were falling away—certain Midwest charms—but Eddy was responsible for Eric’s well-being, if not also threatening to absorb it entirely. So ultimately, a balancing act.
My doorbell rang at 8am that Saturday. I spoke groggily into the intercom: “Go away, Witnesses of Jehovah.” Then, another ring. “What? Who is it?!” Joanie’s voice responded: “Eric, it’s me.” I buzzed her in. She looked drastically different: Her once long, auburn hair was now bobbed and bottle blonde. Despite the morning hour, she looked ready for a night out, with dark eye shadow and a short black cocktail dress. I still saw Joanie in there, except she seemed ten years older. Suddenly, her email inquiry made sense. “And who are you?” I asked, matter-of-fact. “Saturant,” she replied, smiling with confidence. “Okay…okay,” I said, keeping eyes locked, nodding in support.
“Joanie wants you to manage her? She’s fucking crazy.” Bart was skeptical, and assumed that I agreed with him. “Bart, she’s good enough. You know she is.” He wasn’t having it: “Is this some phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes metaphor? It looks desperate. What’s her big plan? Her band still sucks. And do you know the first thing about managing musicians? It’s a helluva lot different from actors.” “Maybe,” I replied. “But isn’t she just acting anyway? It’s a character. And I’m good enough at my job that I could learn the rules for music.” Bart didn’t buy it. I’m not so sure I bought it either.
Sam was surprisingly supportive when I asked for his blessing—I would manage Joanie in what little free time I had. He said I would have to start my own side project, and that he wasn’t going to stop me from helping my friend, especially since her work wouldn’t conflict with our clients’. “Just be mindful of the friendship,” he advised. “These things rarely end well.” He asked for a copy of her music. I sent him two songs she had recorded acoustically. He called me into his office after listening to them. “You’ve got gold here, Eddy. Let me know where I can help.”
I met Joanie at a rehearsal in Clinton Hill later that night. She was ecstatic that I would help her, and I was equally ecstatic that she trusted me. I wasn’t thrilled, however, that aside from her Saturant transformation, everything else was the same. Moments into the first number, I cut the group off: “The band needs to go.” Obviously, the band was none too pleased. “‘Scuse me bro?” said the drummer. “But who the fuck are you?” Joanie turned to me: “Is that Eddy in there?” “The band is gone,” I said, knowing this was what Sam would have done, too. The bassist spit in my face as they exited.
This wasn’t the first time Jack had canceled our evening plans. He needed a night alone, which I understood. I often did, too, though I hated knowing that our once promising romance was slowly wilting away. We were averaging one night a week together lately, but only ever on my prompting. We took a rain check for the upcoming weekend, where we would surely have incredible sex, conversation, food, and sex again. Our relationship—whatever it was—was intoxicating, passionate, but not without frustrations. I had told him multiple times that I wanted to be his boyfriend. And the dance worked like this: the more affection I showed, the less he reciprocated.
I met up with Bart and Peter for dinner in Crown Heights instead of seeing Jack, a nice consolation to be with my best friends. Peter had just been dumped by his boyfriend, kicked out of the apartment they shared. He moved to be closer to the two of us, which made for many frequent dinners together. We chatted briefly about Jack. I made excuses for him. Bart’s phone buzzed—he got a message on Scruff, his preferred hook-up app for its more hirsute users. He used a photo of his torso on his profile—to stay somewhat anonymous—and had just received an invitation from a pouty-faced Jack, asking him over for anonymous sex.
“Do you want to run with this?” Bart asked, as my stomach churned. I did. I did want to run with it. Bart handed over his phone. Peter was more cautionary: “He’s not your boyfriend, just remember. Don’t make this harder on yourself.” Jack had no idea he had propositioned one of my best friends. I flirted a bit with him through the app, which prompted him to send a picture of his crotch. I laughed in disbelief. “He told me three months ago he was seeing me and only me. Yet he’s on here, not-so-secretively using a photo of his face. And now his junk.”
Jack requested a face photo, so I screenshot some other guy on the app and sent it to him. Then I got him to give me his address—yep, that was certainly his address—and told him I was on my way over. At this point, Bart and Peter were having their own conversation about Bart’s recent fling, and I finally returned his phone. They stared at me silently, as I pouted and flattened my pinto beans into a mush. “Eric. Sorry.” Bart put his hand on my thigh. Then I texted Jack from my own phone, asking him how his night was going. No response.
I confronted Jack about his Scruff profile that weekend, saying that a few friends had seen him online. “You’re embarrassing me, as I go around telling people we’re exclusive.” “We aren’t boyfriends,” he said, echoing Peter’s sentiment. “Right,” I responded. “But three months ago we agreed to only date one another, so I guess I thought we were on our way to being boyfriends.” His retort: “I’m not going on dates with anyone else. I’m not looking for dates on Scruff.” He said it like it made perfect sense, like I was in the wrong. “Now, Eric, let’s go to bed and I’ll make you feel better.” It felt wrong to oblige—rather, when I obliged.
After two hours together in his bed, Jack spent the evening unknowingly reminding me why I was holding out for him: he made dinner at his apartment in East Village, surprised me with tickets to a concert, and then laid me down once more when we got home—fully clothed, but with German chocolate cake in tow. I thought it was one big blanket apology, until he rolled over on his side and said “I can’t believe it’s been six months. Happy anniversary, babe.” I choked on a piece of cake, thinking it was a joke. But he was completely serious, adding: “I really love every second with you.” Finally, a change.
I made breakfast the next morning while Jack showered. His phone buzzed beside the stove, and I saw a text from someone named Kev Scruff: “Hey handsome. We still good for noon?” Then, another buzz: “Craving you.” When Jack was finished, I asked if he wanted to see a movie. “Yes, let’s,” as he checked his phone. “Oh, wait… I forgot, I’m seeing a friend this afternoon. Maybe sometime this week?” I left his apartment at 11:45, but I didn’t leave the building—I sat on the stairs one floor up. At 11:58, a text from Jack: “Always the best time with you. xo.” At 12:01, I peered around the corner to see a stranger knocking at his door. Short. Muscled. Like a running back. Like a punch to the gut.
“Please please please introduce me to James Thurston,” Peter begged as our cab pulled up outside the premiere party. James Thurston was one of Sam’s clients—he had two Tonys, an Oscar nomination, and movie star sex appeal—and we had just seen the opening of his new Broadway play. His husband Ken was a big playwright, making them quite the power couple. “I brought you because I figured you wouldn’t be star struck,” I said. “But not because I’m your best friend?” he joked. “OK, that too,” I replied. Coincidentally, James cornered me at the party later: “Who’s your friend? An introduction, please?”
Peter and James spent most of the evening chatting, and their flirtation got a few people talking, especially after Ken joined the conversation and started touching the small of Peter’s back every few minutes. “Eddy, should I be worried about your friend?” Sam asked. “I can’t have a PR situation, and those two faggots aren’t smart enough to avoid it themselves.” Sam’s boyfriend Jeff mouthed “Sorry” following the slur—he was always apologizing for Sam. “He’s fine,” I assured Sam. Mostly, I was happy that Peter was getting the attention he deserved—his broken heart needed healing, and I figured some A-list affection might boost his confidence.
I cozied up at the bar for a seltzer, tired of shaking hands and talking small. These receptions were a necessary part of the job, and I had to drop Sam’s name whenever I could, especially around actors. Turning my back on it allowed me to be Eric-not-Eddy for a few minutes. An older man parked himself on the stool next to me, asking if he could buy me another. “It’s just a seltzer,” I responded. He flagged down the bartender. “Just a seltzer. And for me, an old-fashioned.” He turned to me: “But I’m not old-fashioned. Don’t get the wrong idea.”
He was the show’s producer. I knew his name—Simon Stephens—since he had called the office numerous times during development. He had this thick Scottish accent like Sean Connery, and I had pictured him as such. He was more of a Roger Moore in person, which still had me blubbering like an idiot. “So you’re the famous Eddy?” he asked, giddy. “I never knew you were so handsome. Telephones do you few favors.” “Oh, so my phone voice isn’t sexy?” I laughed. “Not really,” he said, bluntly. “It’s stunted….It’s…frustrated.” We locked eyes as I stirred my drink, frustrated that we were in a public place.
“I assume you’re single,” said Simon. “Since my hand has been on your thigh for five minutes and you haven’t moved it.” Ha—so it was. At this point, we had covered where we grew up, upcoming travels, and after I revealed my real name, spent a good 15 minutes ragging on Sam (Simon wasn’t a fan… most people weren’t.). We finished our drinks and he squeezed my inner thigh as he stood to leave. “No doubt you have my number on file?” He pecked my cheek and left. I turned to locate Peter, catching his eye as he flirted in one corner with James and Ken. I threw him a thumbs up and an “Is everything fine?” expression. Everything was fine, though my heart was racing.
“Eddy, where have you been?” Sam quizzed me as the room thinned. Thankfully he hadn’t seen Simon and me flirting. “I’ve been here. Was chatting at the—” “Whatever,” Sam said, cutting me off. “Listen, I’ve got a noon meeting with Connie at ICM tomorrow, so I’m just going to work from home all morning. You got things covered? Who am I kidding? Of course you do. Thanks bitch.” His boyfriend Jeff mouthed “Sorry!” as they both skirted away drunkenly. I left alone since Peter was about to get doubly lucky. I passed Simon on my way out, and we made plans for a noon lunch.
I caught the 2 train back home. As I popped in my earbuds for the journey, a breathless Peter saddled up beside me. “Hey Eric, trying to ditch me?” “Oh, hi. Sorry—I thought you would go home with James and Ken,” I said. “They asked me to,” he replied. “But they probably do that all the time since they can get away with it. No thank you.” We rode the rest of the way without a word, and I could tell he was upset. When we emerged onto Eastern Parkway—with the Brooklyn Museum as our dramatically lit backdrop—Peter broke the silence: “I’m not over Dale,” he said of his recent ex. “And because of that I lost out on an Oscar-nominated threesome.” That got a good laugh from me—and from darling Peter, too.
It’s funny how quickly things unfold. I went to a premiere party and met Simon, the charming producer. I asked him to lunch and found out he owned a music venue in Lower East Side. He had a headliner in two weeks without an opener. I had a new—no, re-newed— performer in need of an audience. He had three glasses of wine at just after noon. He agreed to let Saturant play, without even hearing a beat of her music. And then he paid for lunch. “I can tell you’ve got it in you,” he said. “I trust she’ll be great.”
“Are you sure we’re ready for a show just yet?” Joanie asked at rehearsal. “I’m not so certain I can do a gig unless I recycle some of my old music.” I replied: “Reusing music wouldn’t be the worst thing. It’s good material and…pardon the honesty but I’m not so convinced that people will remember it.” She flipped me off lovingly: “Pardon THIS, dick head. Besides—what about the drummer?” She was referring to the fact that we had recruited two of her former classmates as keyboardist and bassist, but nobody yet on drums. “I’ve got someone in mind,” I lied, trying to keep her calm. “We’ll be just fine.” Note to self: find a drummer—fast.
I got dinner with my friend Mads the next night, and things unfolded quickly again. I told her about Joanie’s new project and how I was helping out. “My colleague’s boyfriend is a freelance drummer,” she said as she beckoned for more cabernet. “I don’t think musicians refer to themselves as freelancers,” I remarked. “But I’d love to call him in.” The next day, he joined rehearsal, looking and sounding perfect for the part. It was obvious that Joanie felt confident with her three teammates. Her posture had this prowess to it; I couldn’t wait for the crowd to see her in this new light, but was mostly just proud of her measurable progress. I wish I could have said the same for myself, because after rehearsal, Jack spent the night. My getting over him wasn’t unfolding very quickly.
When Jack wanted to fool around the next morning, I was in no such mood. My mind kept thinking of Simon, and each time Jack would kiss me, I just imagined how Simon’s were better. More sincere. It was relieving, knowing I was capable of detaching from Jack when he was not 100% attached to me. Over breakfast we prepared him for a job interview, and I conducted it in my underwear to make him feel better, but also to flaunt myself without giving him any reward. He made a dumb joke about it being a “blow job interview” and grabbed at my butt. It was kind of cute, so I gave in.
Joanie and I were walking through SoHo the day of her show, elbowing our way past every idiot ever. “Look at all these jackasses,” Joanie remarked. “It’s like they’re in character, trying to be discovered or something. Taking themselves so seriously. How does anyone else take them seriously?” I gave Joanie a real disapproving stare, pointing out her skintight, acid wash overalls, saying “I take you seriously, don’t I?” “Please,” Joanie replied. “I’m the biggest offender here. That’s why I’m 29 and virtually starting over. Who wants to start anything over at 29? I want to warn these jackasses not to turn out like me.”
Saturant’s first show was better than all of Joanie George’s shows combined. Simon had strategically not announced her as an opener, and so the crowd filled up thinking they would see the headliner at 9, which is when Saturant took the stage. She sold 22 CDs that night—we made 25 wondering who would possibly buy a CD these days—but since her stuff wasn’t online yet, people paid in person. Joanie was bewildered: “Eric, half of these songs are the ones I performed before. This is outrageous!” It was good to see her finally feeling validated. “I’ll bet she sells out the venue next time,” Simon predicted. “As a headliner. These people talk.”
“I’ve got you a car out front,” Simon told me after the show. “Except it’s going to my house, and I’ll be in it.” His eyes begged for the company as he looked at me intently, adding: “You don’t need to sleep with me to get what you want, since it seems I’ve given you that already.” I was a bit put off that he would say anything like that. “I’m coming over because I want to come over,” I said, pinning him against a wall. “And tonight is when you’re going to give me what I want.” We had terrific sex, made terrific because I thought of Jack the entire time.
I always need to be moving forward, in the literal sense. Rather, I get anxious standing still. If I miss a train, nothing is more painful than helplessly waiting for the next one to arrive. I prefer walking 30 minutes someplace if it means not standing on a subway platform for 10 minutes—even if the subway would still get me there faster. I don’t feel like there is any destination so important in New York that I need to get there quickly. Instead, I just need to get there on my own accord, fully controlling when I start and when I stop. Control—that’s what we like here.
To get by in the city, you really must embrace the fundamental civil liberty: do whatever the hell gets you through the day, so long as it doesn’t impede others from getting through their day. Everyone has an odd respect for the proselytizing nutjob on the morning commute who feels compelled to chant Bible verses—you let her do her thing and turn up the music in your headphones. Similarly, whenever I’m coy with someone, I get nervous about holding hands on the sidewalk, or walking slowly side by side—both are major hindrances to pedestrians needing to pass. My puppy love shouldn’t cause someone to miss his train.
In this manner of self-awareness, New Yorkers look out for one another. They’ve got great peripheral vision, and the best ones step aside when somebody is steamrolling past them. One night I got stuck on a Gramercy sidewalk behind a rotund Midwestern couple, clearly visiting town—we know it when we see it. They easily heard my approaching footsteps but never yielded, so I stepped off the curb and breezed by them. “How rude!” the woman exclaimed. “Why not just say ‘excuse me?'” Had I bothered to acknowledge her, my (now rehearsed) answer would have been: “I’m being polite by not bothering you. You were being rude by not moving for me.” This is also why I walk terribly fast: if I move quicker than everyone else, I will always be honoring that fundamental civil liberty.
If you want to truly understand the rhythm of New York, go to Grand Central Station at rush hour. You’ll see hundreds of people weaving, side-stepping, anticipating at such a high pace, but never running into one another. Cooler yet is two packs of pedestrians, crossing the street toward each other when the light turns green. They merge into one, everyone communicating with subtle eye contact or body signals, then the mass separates again, nobody having crashed. I am proud to be part of this rhythm, and try to never disrupt the synergy—I hate knowing that my existence might send some other being bouncing slightly off of his or her intended course, or that I am actually a variable to one’s success and another’s failure.
Affecting someone negatively—this is the fear I had knowing that I was helping Joanie with her career, and about calling the shots the way Sam has to. It’s easy to take direction, harder to give it when it involves telling someone to turn left, or to stop, or to move faster. You control that person’s liberty. You set the rhythm. In talent management, if your plan fails, it might mean he or she can’t make rent or pay loans or has to go back to waiting tables, and it certainly discredits your future directives. I hope I will always be Midwestern in this way—aware that I am capable of hurting someone.
I was losing ground on preserving this sympathy—or at least on being able to please everyone. Firing Joanie’s former band mates was a good example: they were in the way of her success, and I knew she needed to drop them. I saw them as faulty instruments, not as two men who needed to support themselves and who ran in the same social circles as Joanie. She informed me that her core group of friends—which included these two men—had stopped inviting her to dinners and parties, and had ceased coming to her shows. My demand robbed her of her best friends. She told me so casually, as if she got over it pretty quickly. I mulled on it for a week, wishing I could make things right for her, if only to feel better about myself.
More and more, I was finding myself making commands. At work, Sam was trusting me to coordinate major meetings for his mid-level clients without him being on the call. For Simon’s birthday I ordered a carrot cake, but the bakery wrote “Happy Birthday Simmon” in icing, and I refused to accept it, even when they offered it for free. A year ago, I would have found it hilarious and paid full price, error included. Peter was going through it at work, too—he had fired a publishing assistant and knew she would have to move home to Milwaukee. She left his office in tears, and he closed the door behind her, before weeping into his Brooks Brothers pocket square.
After her debut, Joanie took me to a fancy dinner in Brooklyn Heights. We were celebrating a few key placements I had pursued—Billboard called Saturant an artist to watch, and Idolator did an interview with her. I was getting a miniature lesson in music PR (along with the trial-by-fire management I was employing), and it was starting to take a small toll on my work with Sam. He wasn’t entirely pleased, either, especially after he caught me making phone calls from the office when he had his door closed. For the first time, however, I got a glimpse of opportunity outside of Sam’s reign, and was surprised to discover how much he had taught me.
It was easy for me to promote Saturant, since I had been friends with Joanie for nearly 20 years and knew she had both the talent and drive. How wonderful that I was in a position to help her, and that she continued to trust my judgment. She had already recorded a couple singles, but Simon got us a free studio session for an EP, and so we began rehearsing songs for her first big launch. Joanie was extremely anxious that the EP would flop, despite things working out quite rapidly in the last few months. “I’m past due for a fuck-up,” she said. But truthfully, 29 years in the making, she was well past due for a payout.
I convinced Joanie to go home to Kansas City for a long weekend. We had the five songs picked out for the studio session, but I wanted her to relax for a few days before we poured everything into the recordings. So, she went to see her parents and sisters in the suburbs, visited her grandmother in the nursing home, and was Talia’s first houseguest. She returned somewhat shaken—her family had no idea about Saturant, which seemed impossible to me given how quickly word spreads in one’s own circles. But sure enough, Joanie went home, was asked no questions about her livelihood, got unsolicited feedback on her “albino boy” haircut, went to church—for “novelty and nostalgia”—and never once mentioned Saturant.
Joanie’s absence gave me time to focus on my actual job. I had some atoning to do, and Sam had just signed a hot new triple threat out of Carnegie Mellon and was submitting the kid for a few leading roles. This guy was just 22 and looked like a 5’9” Hercules, and the attention he was getting out of the gate had other managers terribly jealous of Sam. Every other call I got was to see if Tyler Weiland could audition—walk-on roles, small movie parts, Off-Broadway plays—but Sam was lobbying for a golden nugget: a musical adaptation of “Julius Caesar.”
When Tyler signed on to play Brutus, I phoned my dad to tell him the good news. Dad owns a small insurance agency in Olathe, KS, and since being widowed, has been running marathons and brewing his own wheat beer. He is glad to hear when I find potential love, or that work is going my way; he even spent a couple hours researching Tyler after we signed him. I updated Dad about Joanie’s recent fortune as Saturant—”Her parents must be so proud of her,” he said before I explained otherwise—then he recounted his last hunting trip, where he got a big deer and made jerky for his employees. We average three calls a week, which never feels like enough.
I met with Joanie and her band for her recording session a couple weeks after she had returned from Kansas. We put down the five tracks in a day-long session, and then before wrapping, she asked if she could record one last song, “just to try something.” Her band was caught off guard, but this song only required the keyboard, which she played herself. It was called “Kansas” and was without question the best song I had heard from her: “You raised me up like prairie grains // But after harvest only dust remains // I am not in Kansas evermore.”
“Kansas” was Saturant’s lead single off her EP of the same title, and after NY Mag likened her to Lykke Li and Zola Jesus, I knew we were set. We tripled her booking fee, and sold out three shows in coming months—the first would be at Bart’s venue, followed by Providence and DC. Joanie called me crying, ever grateful for the pushing and prodding, though I assured her it was her talent that got us here. My dad called me, too—he learned how to set up Google alerts and had read a couple reviews, even downloaded the EP himself. Joanie celebrated in her circles, I celebrated in mine—a fancy dinner with Simon, plus a night out in Williamsburg with Bart and Peter. There were two parents in Kansas who should have been celebrating their daughter’s success as well, but knew nothing of it. I worried how hurt they would be when they heard about that particular song, and I worried more how little Joanie would care.
Bart and I went out in East Village one Saturday. Having just deleted his various dating and hookup apps, he was hell-bent on meeting a guy in person. I was his proverbial wingman, though he was really just counting on me to deliver someone to him: “You’ll probably know a dozen people at the bar, so maybe you can introduce me to the cute ones? Except none of those Broadway gays. I can’t stand those queens.” As if on cue, a tall, lanky mess of a drag queen sauntered over. “I can barely stand in these shoes, much less walk.” It was Peter, who must have been seven feet tall between the red heels and Dolly Parton hair.
“Your makeup is terrible,” Bart said bluntly, examining Peter’s first attempt at contouring. “Are you going to a costume party or something?” Peter wasn’t having the criticism: “Are you worried you won’t get laid with Miss Walnut Creek hovering over your shoulder?” I spit out my seltzer, wheezing. “Is that your name? Miss Walnut Creek?” “Sure as fuck is,” Peter responded, adjusting his stuffed halter top. Peter was from Walnut Creek, near San Francisco. “Good call,” I said, patting him on the butt. “And, you know, those Chinese-Scandinavian cheek bones of yours take the blush quite well.”
Miss Walnut Creek was a hit. It didn’t matter that her makeup looked like finger paint—she was taking photos with everyone in the joint. Bart was still a little put out: “Is everybody going to change personas overnight? Are you going to be Miss Walnut Creek’s manager now, too?” He downed his ginger beer and ordered another, just as I noticed my friend Damien walk in with the most handsome Middle Eastern man. “How about him?” I nudged Bart and pointed to the bearded beefcake. “I know his friend, let’s go chat.” Bart trailed nervously behind as we squeezed our way through the bar.
Peter was busy entertaining strangers while Bart and I mingled with Damien and his friend Yusef. Damien and I had met at a New Years party a few winters ago, and we inevitably run into one another every few months. He knew what was up when Bart and I came over, and seemed intent on helping make magic happen. Yusef was new to the city from Turkey, studying fashion design at Parson’s. He was polite and charming, though clearly more interested in his phone than he was Bart. “I think he’s on Grindr,” Bart whispered to me. “I keep seeing him open it and smiling as he texts someone. I should have never deleted my apps!”
Yusef clearly signed on the dotted line with somebody, as he kissed each of us goodbye and hurried away for his hookup. Damien left thereafter, and Bart scanned the room, disappointed. “This is harder than it’s supposed to be. I’ve probably chatted with half of these guys through my fucking iPhone, yet we’re too afraid to interact in person. Or at least I am when I’m sober.” I slurped the melting ice from the bottom of my drink, and didn’t have much to add—I agreed entirely. Then Peter pranced over: “I’ve got to go. I’ve been grinding this Turkish delight named Yusef, and he’s heading to my apartment so I need to get a cab and shower, fast.” Bart could only laugh: “In drag or not, at least he’s getting over his ex.”
Bart and I were four paces out of the bar when we ran into Jack on the street. I was heading to Simon’s, so Bart took the immediate cue to catch a cab home. “Goooood luck,” he uttered as he climbed into the taxi. “Haven’t heard from you in a couple weeks,” Jack said. “It’s a little experiment,” I replied. “Because I haven’t heard from you either, and I’m tired of being the sole instigator.” He invited me over to his place, which was just up the street. “I’ve been seeing someone,” I told him. He wasn’t expecting this news, as evidenced by his stammering search for a response.
I finally got Jack to crack open, only now I didn’t need him to. “But—you told me I was the only one you were seeing,” he said. “I thought we had a good thing?” “You never gave me the reassurance I wanted, Jack, even when I asked you for it.” I was surprised that he reacted so defensively. Whatever modern twist on relationships and intimacy Jack possessed, I had still been his key holder. My phone began to buzz in my pocket—it was most certainly Simon, wondering what was taking so long. How nice that he noticed when I wasn’t around.
My phone’s alarm went off one late September morning, reminding me to call home. It was the 5-year anniversary of my mother’s car accident, and I knew my dad needed to hear from me, just as I needed to hear his voice. The call always starts the same once he picks up: “Eric. Buddy. Happy anniversary.” He says this because the day my mother died was also the day I moved to New York. I dropped most of my bags into my crappy Bushwick sublet, quit the production job I hadn’t even started (but for which I had moved), and for the next month was back in Kansas with my dear old man, spending every minute together with barely a word between us. “It still counts,” he says of my technical move that day. “You’ve got the rent check to prove it.”
Talia and Joanie came home for the funeral, and texted, called, or emailed every day thereafter making sure I was coming back to New York. Talia assured me she could get me another production job, but I said I would take anything to get on my feet. Joanie had a friend who worked at a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, and he gave me a decent bar back job five nights a week. I liked my coworkers, probably because I had no other gay friends to compare them against. They introduced me to numerous drugs—cocaine was my staple—, and I drank myself senseless every night. Per the schedule, I rarely saw Joanie and Talia, who frequently checked in to see how I was coping with my loss.
I batted away any job interviews that Talia arranged, certain I would get a bartending shift soon. I did, however, go on a date she coordinated with her casting director friend Yates, to whom she pitched me as “a great video journalist making ends meet until a decent production job comes around.” That description was three months expired, really. Nowadays, I wonder what Yates was thinking when we became boyfriends. I was broke. I was living in a windowless bedroom in some beatup Bushwick warehouse. I was always drunk or high or asleep at 2 in the afternoon—and showed zero signs of rebounding. His friends certainly despised me. “He’s Yates’s numb piece of ass,” I once overhead them say.
My relationship with Yates lasted only three months. I think fate gave me a boyfriend just to make me endure being dumped: “I really thought you had potential, Eric. I still do. But I’ve earned every right to not hold your hand as you unravel this knot…this whole ‘figuring out your shit’ thing. I need to date someone who’s earned his way here, who’s got this out of his system. Also, please please please stop shaving your chest.” I called my dad that night and told him everything, from alcoholism to drug abuse to breakup. He suggested joining a support group, even searched online and found one exclusively for gay men. He sent me an email with a link to their site: “You might consider this place. I love you, but you’re embarrassing your mother to lie helplessly and wastefully in her wake.”
Dad’s expressed disappointment was my fulcrum moment. I traded the bar for a cafe in Cobble Hill and worked daytime hours. The support group met twice weekly, and suddenly I was friends with men of all ages, each of us sharing the same obstacle and desire to overcome it. One of the guys was Bart. He was beardless at the time, 50 pounds heavier and far less cynical than now. Bart had been drinking generously since his college fraternity days, and it only accelerated after he moved to New York. It’s weird to have met my best friend near rock bottom, but our foundation is quite strong, seeing as we embarked on the upward climb together.
Talia and Joanie’s lease was up in Greenpoint, and Talia got the blessing to find a place with me. She did all the groundwork and within a week we signed for the apartment in Prospect Heights. My dad lent me the broker’s fee, moving expenses, and deposit. I had enough for first and last month’s dues and paid him back within a year, thanks to the stabilized rent at the time. Talia came home one day to tell me about a talent manager who needed an assistant: “He’s an ass hole, but I think he’s desperate so your lack of experience may not matter. It could be the best place for you to begin.” I started with Sam two weeks later. Ever grateful, I hoped it was one of the last favors I would need from Talia.
From the very beginning, the job with Sam was torturous. I had to adopt my new name (Eddy) plus condition myself to the long hours, mediocre pay, and Sam’s flip-a-quarter personality. But Talia, knowing I was slowly adjusting, would call me each day at the office, pretending to schedule a casting appointment, and ask: “Are you better off today than you were yesterday?” The answer was yes, every single time. And now, four years later, I wish I could call up Yates—though he married a German banker, moved to Berlin, and fell off the grid—to tell him that I had earned my way here, that all of those increasingly better days had piled on top of one another and I turned out OK. Also, that my chest hair was pleasantly unruly. Oddly enough, I felt really proud of that.
The boys gathered for a sunny Saturday picnic in Prospect Park. It was an Instagram-ready kind of afternoon, with hundreds of other New Yorkers surrounding us: dog owners, Frisbee throwers, sunbathers. I got a text from Tyler Weiland—the new actor we were representing—asking what I was up to, followed by: “Sorry, maybe it’s weird to ask my boss’s assistant, but I don’t really have friends here yet.” Funny, because every casting director in town wanted to be his best friend. Funnier yet, I couldn’t peel him away from a doe-eyed Bart all afternoon.
“Bart’s suddenly into the Broadway type, eh?” Peter remarked as we trekked to the restroom. “Think this kid needs buttering? Bart isn’t one to fuel an ego.” Having sent “this kid” Tyler out on a hundred calls, I knew he was lower maintenance than anyone else on our acting roster. “He’s fine,” I said. “Confident, real gracious. And how’s Yusef with the—sorry, how did you describe his ass?” Peter grinned: “A fuzzy magic lamp.” “Ha! Make any wishes?” “God, my wish already came true, I could rub it forever,” he said. “And he’s good. Great, actually. Doesn’t want a relationship, doesn’t want to top. How’s Simon? You said he was coming?” Simon had promised to join, but canceled with a text: “BK just too far today, bub. Errands aplenty, sorry. xx”
As evening neared, I got a text from Simon inviting me for dinner and a sleepover. I was feeling bitter that he deemed Prospect Park too far for a picnic—just a 20-minute subway ride, and a chance to meet my best friends—so I immediately turned to Peter, Bart, and Tyler: “You guys want to cook dinner at my place?” I invited a few others from the neighborhood—Mads and Joanie and a nice couple from upstairs. Then, I texted Simon: “Having friends over here. Come? I’ll take you for brunch in the morning.” I knew his response before it arrived, and instead had a perfectly lovely evening not socially coddling a man 20 years my senior.
When Saturday’s final minutes crept away, I got a text telling me that Jack was in the neighborhood and “just seeing if I could say hi in 20 mins.” My gut said no, but I felt confident enough in my decision to break things off with him, so I feigned exhaustion and sent everyone on their way. Bart and Tyler were last to leave—together, totally smitten—and soon after, Jack was in my living room, calling me “furball” and looking handsome like he does, apologizing for “never listening, never ever listening.” “I thought you just wanted to say hello, Jack,” I said. He finally made eye contact instead of speaking to the floor: “Every morning of every day.” Woof. If his line had been better, I might have given in.
I am very grateful for my sobriety, which is especially useful for making sound emotional decisions at 1 a.m. on Sunday mornings, a prime hour when others would fall victim to lessened judgment. I sent Jack home to Alphabet City, despite every urge in my body to suck the melodrama from the air, straight from his mouth, with me atop him on the kitchen floor. Instead, I sat on the cold tiles, ate half a jar of chunky peanut butter, and watched two mice scurry back and forth from my cupboard to my stove. They were frequent nighttime visitors, and since my food was safely stored, their presence never bothered me. The half-full jar of peanut butter was my own companion, joined by the half-empty flask of vodka at its side.
The shame I felt on Sunday morning was crippling. All of the support I had been shown, the promises I had made, for nothing. For stupid Jack. I stayed in bed til noon, hung over and angry. Going against every principle of my recovery program, I had tucked away that “emergencies-only” beverage for more than three years, even from Talia when we shared an apartment, and had refrained from using it so many times. I kept it to feel empowered knowing how close it was, and how easily I could resist temptation. I threw the flask into a trash bin once I finally went outside. My biggest fear was falling back to a place where I needed welfare from anyone, especially those who had worked so hard to make me strong. I would tell nobody of this.
Simon and I met for dinner in Chelsea, and he ordered two appetizers, three sides, two entrees, and dessert, all to share. Despite my best acting, he knew I was upset about him bailing on our Saturday plans. He said he got nervous to meet my friends, worried they might judge him for being so old. “You didn’t even give them a chance to like you,” I said. “And instead they saw me disappointed, which didn’t help your cause.” “OK, so let’s atone, Eric. I can have them over for dinner this week. I’ll even invite a few of my friends.” It all seemed too convenient for him—not having to downgrade to my level. When the check arrived, I insisted we split it, despite his assumption that he was solely responsible.
In five years of trying, Joanie George never sold out a show, nor could she have headlined a 900-person concert hall. After just three months, Saturant accomplished both at the same time. The “Kansas” music video had been released a few weeks prior, which gave us added press as tickets went on sale. The gig was at Williamsburg Sound, where Bart managed the floor, and now he was no longer critical of her re-branding. “I’ve never seen this buzz for someone so new. I can’t believe this is for Joanie, after all this time. How soon can we book her again?” “I love where your head’s at,” I said. “But let’s just wait and see how she does tonight.” I wasn’t totally convinced that she would impress.
Backstage, Joanie was nauseous. Nervous. I had to remind her that all of these people liked her music. They trusted her talent and as such, she should trust it too. “You’re only adding to the pressure,” she said. “This is all some wild accident. I’m just waiting for them to realize I’m a fake, so that I can go back to sucking at music. I was so good at sucking at music!” The stage manager gave us a 30-minute warning, and in a flash, she snapped into character, her confidence fully restored. She joined her band and they toasted vodka, with Joanie—no, Saturant—coaching: “The audience trusts us, and so we should all trust ourselves. Let’s do this!”
I went out into the crowd to watch the show, meeting Peter, Tyler, and Mads off to one side. Simon texted that he would arrive soon…”damn traffic getting over the bridge,” he cited for his tardiness.Then, I heard Sam’s voice: “Hey Eddy. Packed house, way to go.” And there he was: my boss, at a concert for my client. He noticed Tyler—one of his clients—and looked confused, saying a bit defensively that he hadn’t realized the two of us were “mixing business and pleasure.” I assured him it was just as friends, that Tyler was dating one of my best friends. “Bad for business, Eddy,” he said, slurping his vodka soda. “Bad. For. Business.”
Tyler seemed uncomfortable with Sam around—the two of them got on just fine, but Sam was a great manager, and not a great person. “He won’t let me publicly come out of the closet,” Tyler whispered to me. “He says I have crossover appeal and that that would kill any chances.” I was surprised to learn this—after all, Sam’s client James Thurston was very much out to the world. “Yes, but James only plays gay characters, or hoity toity villains,” said Tyler, adding: “I think Sam kind of has a point, don’t you?” There was no agreeing or disagreeing necessary. The whole topic was just miserable.
The crowd erupted in cheers as Saturant took the stage. Joanie looked bashful and bewildered by all of the support. Mads and Peter couldn’t contain themselves—that was our Joanie! We all hugged, tears of pride welling in our eyes. Then, Sam, lingering behind us, soured the moment for me: “What is Simon Stephens doing here? Probably trying to buy the place? Blech.” I realized I might now have to tell Sam that Simon and I were dating, which would probably cue another “bad for business” finger waving. As Simon neared us, Sam made things even more uncomfortable: “Jesus, he’s coming this way. He’s the one-night stand I can’t escape.”
Thankfully, Sam skirted away so as to avoid Simon, allowing me to avoid an explanation to him. Simon, however, wasn’t off the hook. I immediately confronted him, shouting over the music: “Why wouldn’t you tell me that you once slept with Sam?!” I could tell he was surprised with this being my “Hello” for the evening, and he could tell I was hurt. “You never would have given me a chance if I had,” he said. “Right?” I nodded, my eyes widening: “No, of course not.” “Precisely,” Simon said. “So it seems like I made the right choice. Of course I was going to tell you soon, but too early and it would have tainted your impression of me. Now, can we please watch the show?” He gripped my hand in his. My whole body relaxed, as the sound of Joanie’s voice calmed each muscle, each nerve. I nodded to Simon, smiling, squeezing his hand back.
Saturant gave her crowd a secondhand high, everyone mellowed and tingly by the end of her encore. “We’ll be booking her again soon,” promised Bart. “Very soon.” Simon said he would also be after her for more shows at his venue, and we toasted champagne and seltzer backstage as Joanie spoke to reporters and bloggers. We hailed a few cabs to get us home, with a plan to continue celebrating well into the morning. The gang all filed into the first two taxis, then Simon and I hopped into a third car. “West Village,” he said, as if that had been the plan all the long. “No no, Prospect Heights,” I corrected him. Without hesitation, Simon shouted up to the driver: “We’ll be making two stops.”
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.”