A lot of people felt really terrible after Sam jumped in front of that train. Peter wished he hadn’t hit him. Simon worried that he had pulled the rug beneath Sam’s feet by helping me. Tyler and James—who both dropped Sam as a manager and came to me—felt responsible for his professional demise. His ex-boyfriend Jeff called me crying multiple times, regretting he had ended things on a sour note, and apologizing to me for the emotional grief it might cause. And then there was me. Sam wished upon me the burden of his death. He knew I would carry the weight of it on my shoulders, probably forever. Sam got the last laugh, really.
As one would expect, things were uncomfortable on the professional front. People started treating Sam like a victim—the same people who ran as far from him as possible when he most needed support. A couple of those individuals had the rashness to assign some blame to me. As if any blame needed to be targeted. As if I had pushed him in front of the train. I called each of my clients, talking with them directly about what had happened, what they were feeling, what I was feeling, making sure they still felt confident working with me. I asked that they communicate any uncertainties or concerns. They were all supportive, especially those who once worked with Sam. They were also each supportive of my taking the next week off, to disappear for a few days. Pilot season was coming up, and I needed to clear my head of all the grief and poisonous thoughts before a couple months of tireless work.
I only told Dad where I was headed, just so one person knew where to imagine me. Everyone guessed I was off to someplace tropical, what with it being the middle of winter and the expanse of a beach so helpful for peace of mind. Instead, I wanted to surround myself with just as many people and relax knowing I could remain completely anonymous, to feel alone and unnoticed the same way I loved to disappear into the crowds of my own city. I wanted a parallel existence, minus any familiarity. So I went to Chicago, where, until college, I had always imagined myself settling down. I rented a studio in Lincoln Park, and not two hours after I landed, a blizzard enveloped the entire city, trapping me indoors with a book and takeout. Dad texted: “I know I’m not supposed to bother you, but I saw there was a blizzard and are you doing fine?” “I’m OK,” I wrote back. “Just upset I didn’t pick Puerto Rico.”
The next day I went to a Bulls game, though I watched the athletic trainers more than I actually watched the game. I had been a big Bulls fan growing up, for no precise reason except that Michael Jordan had converted anyone my age to his temple. I had also wanted to be an athletic trainer for many years, and this was where I imagined myself being one. I had this whole life planned out: travel around with the Bulls, have my lawyer wife—which quickly changed to a lawyer husband—back in the city, close enough to my Kansas home but far enough that it always felt like an occasion to get there. At one moment I looked up, and there I was on the Kiss Cam, plus the woman next to me. Awkwardly, her girlfriend or wife was seated on the other side of her, but out of frame. They both laughed, and she leaned in to smooch me. Then, introductions. They were Reina and Maggie, two teachers from St. Louis. I was George, an athletic trainer from, uh… Milwaukee.
“What’s a cute guy like you doing at a basketball game all alone?” asked Maggie. “Oh, I’m here on business, thought I’d catch a game,” I said. “Always been a fan.” “What’s Milwaukee like? Probably lots of chunky people eating grilled cheese?” I laughed, and nodded, since I really had no idea what the city was like. “Do you have a girlfriend?” Reina prodded. I figured it made no difference to lie entirely, and so I seized the opportunity: “Yeah, a fiancé. Marrying in June. And we’re expecting, due in April. A girl.” It felt kind of thrilling to make all of this up, knowing it mattered for nothing. I loved having the clean slate for a brief moment. “Well shoot, we better celebrate!” Reina said as she summoned the beer guy. “Oh, no thanks,” I told her. “None for me.” “No beer for the man from Milwaukee?” she exclaimed. “No, but thank you.” I would spare the truth on that one; I guess it’s impossible to get a totally clean slate.
At lunch the following day, my waiter Theo got flirtatious since I was sitting alone. He wasn’t my type—a little too clean-cut and all-American—but it seemed harmless to banter with him. I gave him my phone number when he asked for it. I was still pretending to be named George, though now I was an ad director from Manhattan. When he brought back my receipt, he said “You didn’t have to lie about your name, Eric. It’s here on the credit card and receipt.” I blushed, apologized, and said it felt kind of hot to pretend with a stranger that I was somebody else. He came over after his shift, where he became my type (and less of a stranger) for two terrific hours. I mistook Theo for a bottom, so when he positioned himself otherwise, I was surprised and excited to let him take control. Our eyes locked intensely as he laid atop me, and there, with a man who knew only my name, my contentment and trust were anything but pretend.
There was no time to rest when I returned to New York, because Joanie and I were quickly summoned to Los Angeles to meet with Windish, a big agency that we had been entertaining. Others were interested, but we knew from the start that Taryn Thomsen at Windish was the agent we most wanted, as she had always been a vocal fan and laid out the best growth plan for Saturant. If things were to go as promised, Joanie would be signed to the label of her choice shortly thereafter, fresh on the tails of her second EP launching. Windish booked us in first class, and it was the one time I had ever flown up front. “This is where we belong,” Joanie said, as she sipped a mimosa. I looked around. It felt like a waste of space and money, and nobody else in our section seemed very pleasant or relatable.
Like most things that had happened for Joanie since her Saturant rebrand, our meeting with Taryn at Windish Agency progressed quickly. After just two hours, we had covered every base: touring, finding a label, and making an LP. Taryn eased Joanie’s concerns about losing any creative freedom, too: “You’re a singer-songwriter,” she said. “Your artistry is your angle. You should feel free to evolve, push buttons, say whatever you want. We’ll be sure you’re nobody’s puppet.” I could tell Joanie felt very secure, very confident, which in turn calmed me. We got our lawyer on the phone, and by meeting’s end, a contract was being drafted. “Don’t let me screw this up,” Joanie said as she hugged me in the lobby. Funny, because I had no idea what I was doing—all this music talk—and I was worried I was the one who would screw things up.
Taryn helped us book a sold-out show while we were in town. It was further validation that we were past due for signing with a label. A lot of industry execs turned up, and I collected more business cards and friends than any other three-hour window of my life. After the show, I noticed Joanie getting especially cozy with a handsome, bearded fellow. She summoned me over. “This is my manager, Eric Condor. Eric, meet Dixon Reid. He’s with Glassnote, in New York actually.” Glassnote Records was one of two labels that we really wanted (the other being Republic). “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Reid. Joanie, can I have one moment with you?” We stepped aside for privacy. “OK, he’s cute, and I know you’re in a dry spell. Just… don’t let him influence our decision.” “You mean my decision,” she responded. I crouched low to be eye level with her: “Look me in the eyes and tell me I don’t have your best interests in mind.” She couldn’t respond, so I cracked a smile. “Now go get laid.”
I had lunch alone with Taryn the next day, and asked her what she knew about Joanie’s new crush, Dixon. “I’ve worked with him on a couple clients,” she said. “He’s a charming guy, Eric. And not stingy in negotiations. Don’t worry too much about Joanie’s feelings. There are enough stakeholders here that we’ll all get out just fine.” That was a relief. Taryn was also sure that a label could help us book Saturant as an opener for some other big act by spring, which she said would be the real mainstream launching point. “I assume you’ll be with her on tour, since she’s your only client?” “Oh, no, I’m not able,” I said. “I manage actors, too, and usually have to take meetings in New York. I’ll attend the northeast shows, of course.” Taryn looked a little disappointed, as if she questioned my dedication.
The blogs picked up that we had signed with Windish, so I leveraged the press by also announcing Saturant’s second EP, which further magnified the buzz. Taryn phoned me that afternoon saying that we had been offered a cush spot at South by Southwest, which overlapped the March 17 EP release. I wanted to buy a lottery ticket, I was feeling so lucky. Instead, I scheduled a few meetings with casting agents in LA, in order to get a bi-coastal jump on my pilot-season ass kissing. Then, I opened Grindr back at my hotel, landing a 21-year-old Israeli film student. Per feeling lucky, I got myself another jump. Or two.
My casting meetings the next day reminded me that I was about to get very very busy with work. Pilot season is when most of the year’s television casting takes place, or at least the major parts on all the big new shows. Not everything is guaranteed to get picked up, but there’s money involved just for booking a part, and then they film the pilot to see how the network responds. There are all sorts of strategies for landing your clients where they want. One year with Sam, we had a pregnant client who wanted to land a bad pilot, so that she could get paid out without any concern of longterm work. As a manager, though, I would be spending the next couple months telling casting directors why my clients were so obviously right for each and every part. I had six clients who would be pursuing pilots, including James Thurston. That alone was manageable, but I also had Joanie, Tyler, and Alexa to look after. So it hit me: I needed an assistant.
I hadn’t seen my friend Mads for a while, so she suggested we meet for a StarCycle class. She had a guest pass for me, which was requisite since I was above paying a lot of money for something I could do for free at my own gym. “Oh, but it’s nothing like a spin class,” she promised. It was exactly like a spin class, only the lights were dim, and the instructor told us 50 times that we were all “beautiful, inspiring people,” and everyone spent ten minutes doing this weird head-banging thing which was supposed to be transformative but made me worried that I might slip a disc. Afterwards, Mads hurried away to a brunch, so I moseyed toward the subway. Then, a tap on my shoulder: “Hey, was that your first class?” I turned to find a very handsome and sweaty man. “You looked a little out of place,” he said. “I felt the same way. Like, how silly is it that people can’t get the same high from a run in the park?” His face, beautiful. His rationale, inspiring. My heart, racing.
His name was Omar. We routed ourselves to a bagel joint—likely the only StarCycle riders who followed their class in such a way. The girl in front of us ordered a scooped bagel with cream cheese, and I knew I adored Omar when he turned to me and rolled his eyes: “Yeah, because there’s no guilt-free meal like a gutted-out bagel filled with fat.” We sat to eat and I watched him inhale the largest chicken sandwich I had ever seen (which I weirdly found sexy). “I can’t believe I didn’t notice you in class,” I said. “It would have been so nice to not feel alone, like the only one who understood the joke.” “I was behind you, which meant I had the best seat in the house,” he said. It’s like he couldn’t say or do anything wrong. “Tell me where you live,” I commanded. “Prospect Heights,” he replied. I choked on my bagel; as a single Brooklyner, proximity was my fantasy. “Me too,” I said. His eyes widened, as did his smile.
Omar and I took the 2 train back to Brooklyn. I wanted to take him home, but I also felt like this could be something bigger than a hookup. “Let’s see each other this week,” I said. “I was going to suggest the same,” he responded. “How’s Thursday?” Joanie had a concert that night, but I had a few extra tickets, so I proposed that he come see her show. “Wait, you manage Saturant?” he said. “She’s like, the hottest thing right now. My company is trying to sign her.” “No kidding. Which label?” “Republic. Wait, have we spoken on the phone? We totally have. Eric Condor, right? I’m Omar Hasani.” I laughed, and couldn’t believe the coincidence. Then, I immediately realized the conflict at hand: Republic was one of two labels we were considering. The other was Glassnote, where Joanie’s new lover Dixon worked.
In a flash, Omar felt off limits since he worked for Republic. “If we’re in business talks, we should probably, you know, keep things professional for a while, since we’re both so rational. I wouldn’t want this to influence any of our decisions.” Omar understood, but asked if he could still attend the show with some other execs from his office. “Please, yes, please come. I’ll introduce your crew to Joanie after the show, and we’ll all meet next week to discuss your offer. And…you’re OK if I play down my connection to you, right? I don’t want Joanie being suspicious.” “Suspicious of what?” Omar said. “We haven’t done anything but eat bagels together.” That’s when I realized I had followed him up to his apartment. He pulled off my jacket, then his. He walked me to the bathroom and turned on the shower.
The Saturant concert was the place to be that Thursday night, and Joanie delivered another terrific performance. She debuted new music off her next EP and gave both Republic and Glassnote even more to fawn over. We were expecting to pick a label in the next couple weeks, so I made sure that Joanie got face time with both teams after the show. Glassnote was easy, since her almost-boyfriend-seriously-they-were-moving-fast Dixon was part of that team. I studied the two of them as everyone mingled, and they played it nice and coy, not making it obvious to anyone that they were practically nesting. I had to play it equally cool around Omar when we chatted with the Republic team, perhaps making it too obvious when I purposefully mispronounced his last name as I introduced him to Joanie. I got an eye roll from him, and later a text that said “You’re cute, but a bad actor. Let’s make this happen.” I thought he meant signing with Republic, but maybe he also meant “let’s make the two of us happen.”
Joanie invited me to dinner at her apartment the following night. It was just four of us: Joanie, Dixon, Mads, and me. I was unfairly trying to dislike Dixon, but it was impossible: he was perfect in every single way. He cooked a roast, refused any help cleaning up, asked Mads and me all kinds of thoughtful questions, and was quite the intellectual conversationalist. On top of all that, he and Joanie seemed crazy about one another, and she didn’t need to ask me aside how much I liked him, because it was obvious: the guy was unparalleled. If I hadn’t been falling for Omar, I’d have asked Dixon to write up a contract for Saturant on the spot.
The day I met Omar, I excitedly told Bart and Peter about him. They responded with indifference. To be fair, we had all repeatedly fallen in love on first meeting, and it rarely failed to crash and burn. “What kind of attention does he require?” Peter asked. This was our way of saying “What kind of persona does he show on social media, and does it make him totally off-putting?” I had, of course, already searched for Omar on Instagram, and found nothing. “That’s like a jackpot!” said Bart. “He’s got a nameless account, if he even has an account at all.” In other words, it meant he doesn’t solicit feedback from total strangers for duck-faced selfies or suggestive, shirtless, “candid” bedtime shots. “He acts his age,” said Peter. “So he can stay.” Bart chimed in: “Meanwhile, my juvenile boyfriend is still acting his age.” He displayed Tyler’s somewhat smutty—and very public—Instagram account. It reeked of youth, of needing intervention.
One thing Sam never did with his clients was supervise their social media accounts, which I thought was a big oversight. I got in a sparring match with Tyler over his own shirtlessness that was smeared across his Instagram. “Every other person is doing it,” he said. “Plus, I’ve worked hard for this body, and I like when people remind me that I look good.” “But you know you look good,” I told him. “Why are you building a foundation of validation from total strangers, and, to be quite frank, creepy perverts?” I showed him a few examples of comments. One said “ohhh, yah, wish u were in dallas so i culd lick lick lick that mmmmhmm.” Another: “damn boyy, makin this hunny wanna slurp.” It was hard to keep a straight face after reading those: “Why is it that you invite this into your life?”
Tyler thought Bart would side with him, but the truth was, Bart was half the reason I got so adamant with Tyler about his online presence in the first place. He had called me one afternoon, furious after Tyler posted a photo of himself wrapped in bedsheets. The caption said “waking up alone. want to make me breakfast?” “I was in the kitchen, making him breakfast,” Bart exclaimed. “And he doesn’t understand why this is an issue.” A couple pop-culture blogs had picked it up, and even worse, the tumblr-sphere. So I pounced on Tyler: “You will not be taken seriously as an actor if this is your fallback. You’ve got a good role, and it’s supposed to be your first real impression for people. Do you think the studio wants this kind of buzz around you? Don’t you think the people who see you as a piece of meat will have a hard time taking you seriously as a dramatic actor? How do you WANT people to perceive you? Fix it. Now.”
My friends and I are very skeptical of social media anymore, because so often we know the real story that counters what someone is telling the world. When you work in film or theater and know the basics of character development, you know that each person has three dimensions: how he views himself, how others view him, and how he THINKS others view him. It is these three things that formulate an individual’s point of view and shape his behavior. Social media is creating a fourth dimension: how we WANT people to view us, and it blurs the first three dimensions. The sad truth is that it works, it fools people. You can send an optimistic status update or post a perfectly juxtaposed image, only to get heaps of support and validation from your friends and followers, earning positive reinforcement for something that may not be authentic. But there, just cropped out of frame, or filtered away, or tucked between your words, is the stuff you would never share. It’s that which we don’t want validation for—the ugly side of that fourth dimension—, and no fake social currency will obscure it from the depths of one’s own mind.
Aside from knowing that Tyler wasn’t ready to tell his followers that he had a boyfriend, Bart’s main frustration was that Tyler didn’t seem to appreciate the encouragement that he, Bart, was providing: “I compliment him almost daily about his fitness progress, and Lord knows how much I have to pamper him when we rehearse his lines. And yet, nothing in return but a simple ‘Thanks,’ as if to say ‘Yeah, I know. You’re stating the obvious.'” I reminded Bart that this was a common complaint from people who dated actors. “Sure, but actors should be good at giving compliments, right?” Bart replied. “Or at least giving fake ones, since they hear them enough. Why won’t he compliment me the same way? I’m in great shape, I can hold court with him no problem. Maybe he’s so used to all of those disgusting Instagram catcalls that mine feel too plain and obvious? I’m not about to tell him ‘damn boyy, makin this hunny wanna slurp.’ I’m not.”
The honeymoon was over for Tyler and Bart, but everything was fine in the grand scheme. Bart was patient but more vocal with his requests of his boyfriend, which only echoed my own. Gradually, in place of Tyler’s somewhat desperate selfies were photos of cast readings from the film set, or shots of his hairdresser’s dog, or a sunset run on the pier with Bart in the frame: “Jogging and talking life with my best friend Bart,” it said. Every client presents a unique set of problems, and this had simply been one of Tyler Weiland’s. It was my job to notice progress, and to validate each of them accordingly. Even if it was as mundane as a supportive comment on an Instagram photo: “Jealous you went on a run in this brisk weather. Beautiful night though, and also jealous of your company. I love both of you guys!” Terribly, in fact.
With pilot season in full swing, the phone was ringing nonstop. I had a few clients pursuing shows, and it entailed sending them out on numerous casting calls each week. This was like boot camp for some of the fresh faces, seeing as they would be rejected 20 times before that first callback—even some of the vets would face that as the TV networks bulked their lineup. With the added commotion, I rented a small office space in Fort Greene and hired my very first assistant. His name was William, and I let him keep it that way. And, like when I started out with Sam, William knew not one thing about the business. Of everyone I interviewed, his manners were best, and his gestures most sincere (he was from Wisconsin, after all). I’m not sure why I responded to that over the work experience that others would have provided. He reminded me of a kid who got a shot a few years back, and who was calling the shots now.
William’s first couple weeks were frustrating yet promising. I had to explain ev-er-y-thing, though he rarely needed anything repeated. He was stellar on the phones, and I got numerous compliments about him from clients, agents, and casting directors alike. “Someone’s a proud papa,” said Peter at dinner, after I spent a good ten minutes boasting about William’s progress. “I just feel like he’s going to save my sanity,” I replied. The next day, William’s girlfriend Mara came by to say hello. “I’ve never seen William this happy since we moved to the city,” she said. “He says he found his ‘career job.'” “Mara, stop,” William blushed. “You don’t need to kiss his ass.” Mara turned back to me: “I know it’s early, but I owe you many thanks. It is a terrific pleasure to meet you.”
“Sorry for Mara’s weird gratitude speech yesterday,” William said the following morning. “I thought it was so cute,” I replied. “I really appreciated it. She’s too sweet. And, it’s good to know you’re happy so far. I intend to keep it that way. I’m very happy with your work as well.” “Thanks,” he said, blushing more. “I took a lot of heat for quitting advertising, and for taking a pay cut. My parents were mad. Even her parents were mad. Everyone thinks I’m just grabbing at straws since I hated my last couple jobs, but I feel like I finally found something worth investing in. And Mara’s been the only supportive one.” “Thank God your girlfriend is the supportive one, right? Wouldn’t do much good if it was the bodega guy instead.” That got a small chuckle from him. “And, screw advertising,” I added. “Everyone in advertising in this town is miserable. Who wants to say New York made them miserable? I love this place too much to ever risk hating her.”
While most of my clients were running around to casting calls, two of the rookies were happily under contract. Tyler was a couple weeks into filming “Peril,” and he gushed daily about the shoot, which was his first film (not to mention a blockbuster starring role). I was already getting calls about him doing more films, though we were going to be picky. As for my other rookie: Alexa Gordon texted me to say that Jessica Chastain had come down with mono. While I was sad for Ms. Chastain, it meant Alexa would graduate from understudy and make her Broadway debut. I got a ticket to that night’s show. Before the performance, everyone grumbled that the A-lister was ill. After curtain, their consensus: Alexa Gordon was going to be a star.
I met Simon at his apartment before our routine let’s-catch-up dinner, which was preceded by some routine let’s-really-catch-up sex. Over Italian, we both shared our ongoing hurt for Sam’s death, and I told him about Omar. “I’m hoping for good things,” I said. “Shoot,” he replied. “Sounds like I might lose this privilege of your intimate company soon.” “Nobody’s rushing into anything,” I said. “He’s gotta earn it first.” “What’s ‘it’ that he’s got to earn?” Simon asked. I thought for a second: “Assurance. And, I totally realize it’s two ways. I’d be turned off if he wanted to just throw himself at me, too. I hope he’s out dining with his ex-lover right now also.” “Be careful what you wish for,” Simon advised. “Just… be careful.”
An actor of James Thurston’s prestige doesn’t have to take whichever random pilot comes his way. Instead, his agent and I would send him scripts we liked, knowing that he wanted something that would last a few seasons. Unfortunately, the CW show we were sure of bagging had folded. We were searching for new options, and he liked a hospital drama from NBC. I called the casting director and expressed interest, and she said they would only consider him if he auditioned. James declined: “They know what I’m capable of,” he said. “Audition?! That’s so disrespectful to me. Do they want their show to get picked up or not?” “James, we’ve got more options, but please let the record show that you cut that last one loose,” I said. “From now on, you’ll do what’s needed.” James jumped in: “Need I remind you of my numerous honors and—” That’s when I hung up. This one needed re-conditioning.
It seemed that Glassnote and Republic were going to make us similar offers. Bart was the first to realize my predicament with Dixon and Omar at their respective labels. “There’s only one right answer,” he said. “Let Joanie decide.” “But she’ll pick Dixon, for the same reason I’ll pick Omar.” “OK, maybe so,” Bart replied. “Then let her agent decide. After all, you can claim ignorance and defer to the agent’s expertise.” It did seem like the least controversial way out of this. I called Joanie’s agent Taryn and let her know she had the lead, which she took a little offensively (I guess she figured it was obvious). Lastly, I called Omar. I told him all of the additional things he would need to offer Joanie in order to get a definite “yes.” He said it would require buttering up some big execs, but that he thought it was all feasible since she was gaining so much steam. I didn’t feel bad for leveraging my connection. Relationships aside, it meant that our careers would benefit from the obvious decision.
“Eric, Republic can get me an opening on Lorde’s entire tour,” Joanie said over the phone the next day. I could hear her voice crack, then the levee broke. Her sobs said that she couldn’t believe the position she was in. “How can I turn that down? And they said that they could get her on my album, plus I could get a feature on Eddie Vedder’s new album. They said he’s a fan. Eddie Vedder is a fan! And—all that plus an LP by late June, and a campaign for my new EP.” “And what about Glassnote?” I asked. Joanie hesitated: “An LP by January. An opening show for Mumford & Sons in Salt Lake City.” She trailed off. Glassnote’s offer was even less than Dixon had suggested. “Eric… Taryn says I should go with Republic. And it seems obvious. But what about Dixon?” “You’ve worked hard for this, Joanie. Throw this one hurdle in your way with Dixon, and I’m sure you two will work hard to get past it just fine.” This was far easier than I had imagined.
Omar sent me a bouquet of lilies the next day: “Thanks for the help, xO,” said the note. I thought things turned out well, ultimately. Joanie got a sensational deal—artistically and financially—, plus a great signing bonus. It’s as if Glassnote never had the ammo to begin with, and as if my meeting Omar was supposed to happen just to elevate Joanie to her rightful platform. “I had to fight to get her all of that,” Omar told me. “But I think she is gonna be huge. I know she is. It’s a win across the board. And, although it goes without saying, I did it for you.” That was both flattering and a gut punch, because I’d hate for Joanie to know I was in bed with Republic like this. Also, this wasn’t a win for Joanie and Dixon: he was so embarrassed by the offer his team put together, to the point of not wanting to see Joanie for a few days. He did, however, send her a bouquet of roses, and an apology: “What’s best for you is best for us. Forgive me, my love.”
Joanie and I went to Republic with Taryn the next day, making official their signing Saturant to the label. I mostly listened and let Taryn handle everything, trying to absorb as much music lingo as I could. It was one of those truly surreal moments, seeing one of my lifelong best friends autograph papers that validated years and years of rejection, persistence, and hard work. Republic seemed thrilled to have Joanie aboard, and best of all, Omar was there cheering the most. “We’ve got you in a South-By showcase in Austin in a few weeks, right off your EP release,” he told her. “Press announcement goes out this afternoon for all of this.” He kept looking at me, smiling. And Joanie noticed: “That Omar guy likes you, I think,” she said after the meeting. “You should ask him out. We could both date music guys, how cute would that be?” Given her blessing, I felt like an evil genius, with only the best intentions.
“Would you gamble my relationship for your own benefit?” Bart asked me soon thereafter. “Seeing as my boyfriend’s career is in your hands, I think it’s justified that I ask.” He was right to call me out, but I wasn’t about to tell him that his boyfriend Tyler once contemplated dumping him, and that I had talked some sense into the kid. “Eric, can I be blunt?” he said. I nodded, yielding to whatever criticism I was about to receive. “You’re a sociopath sometimes. You did all that because you have a crush on Omar. Yet you aren’t even committed to him. You’re still sleeping around. So if it wasn’t for him, and it wasn’t foremost for Joanie, then what was the point?” “She got an incredible deal, Bart. Better than she would have without the side talk.” “You never had that foresight,” he snapped back. “You got lucky. You’re a shitty friend.”
I wasn’t always a shitty friend. Or even a shitty person. I had a reliable moral compass for most of my life, and I still relied on it now and then. But there were a few notable slip-ups in the last couple years, after the compounding days of my New York eat-or-be-eaten outlook had finally altered my operating functions. Bart wasn’t one to preach about morality, but he had known me long enough to understand how and when I had changed. The thing was, I didn’t know if I wanted to change back. Every single day, I do what makes the most sense on that day, in each moment. Add those infinite moments together and that’s what has shaped my decisions and motivators. If the result is that I am a callous man, then I need to be a confident callous man, since each decision along the way is or was the right one to make. Being a good friend has to sometimes—though hopefully rarely—take the backseat.
I went in for a routine health screening with my nurse Brenda. “Eric, how’s Peter this week?” she asked mid-blood draw. “Fine I think,” I said as I winced and looked the other direction. “Why do you ask?” “He called for a Zoloft prescription two weeks ago, and I also referred him to a therapist. You know, since he got laid off, and the whole thing about your boss dying and him getting arrested. Your life is so crazy! Oops, I drew two vials too much. I was distracted, sorry.” She was terrible at the whole patient privacy thing—and maybe the nursing thing too—, but I was grateful that Brenda tipped me off. I didn’t want Peter to go this alone, nor did I want to approach him without Bart, so I called my bearded buddy first.
Work had been so hectic for me lately, and Omar was a welcome distraction in my free time. The same went for Bart: his nighttime work schedule had him sleeping at odd hours, plus he was trying to fit in time with his even busier boyfriend. We both cleared our schedules that night for Peter, and I invited my two best friends over for pizza. That’s when Bart and I told Peter that we had heard about his being laid off. It took darling Peter a minute to find his words: “Classic Brenda,” he said. “Who needs Facebook? I should just start using her to disseminate all of my life updates.” He paused again. “Sorry I didn’t tell you guys. You’ve both been so tunnel vision lately, and it seemed rude to bring you both down with my silly distractions.” He was too ashamed to make eye contact and fought for each word, seeming very defeated.
“Eric, I didn’t want you to blame yourself for any of this either. I’m being hard enough on myself for what happened to Sam, and I know it’s weighing on you.” Peter was being very careful with his words, though it seemed he had rehearsed this a few times. “My boss finally got his wish—they gave him budget cuts and so he took out middle management. Or rather, just me. I got good severance, at least. So I’ve been laying low. I just have no idea what to do next. Maybe jump ship from publishing too, you know? I don’t really like that it exists almost wholly in New York. Maybe I don’t even want to be here my whole life. I should do something more universal, more adaptable.” I understood him there; I really felt like New York and LA were my two options with talent management. “Stick with us, Petey, please,” Bart said. “We’re your best friends, the best support system. Take your time and find new footing here. Yeah?” Now, no words from Peter. He hadn’t rehearsed this part.
The evening ended on the cliffhanger of Peter contemplating an exit from New York. I didn’t take him too seriously; after all, this was his first real disruption in a while, aside from a breakup the year prior. “This is the only time I’ve hated New York,” he texted both of us before bed. Bart texted back: “Think of it as a relationship, you and NYC. It’s your first big fight, and you can’t jump ship. You’ve got to iron it out, add complexity to the relationship.” Then I chimed in: “And remind yourself what you love most about this place, and why it’s worth the worry.” Then, darling Peter texted a photo of the three of us. It was from the photobooth at Brooks Brothers near Union Square. We had all been shopping for ties in late 2012 and popped into the booth for some goofy photos. “This is what I love most about New York,” Peter wrote. “Thank you, boys.”
I called Talia the next morning, wanting her two cents on everything. She was no stranger to hating and loving New York. “Poor Peter,” she said. “He’s in a fight that he will probably win, but he will lose it if he allows himself to.” “Well, it’s not like we move here with the intention of staying forever, right?” I asked. “Of course not,” Talia replied. “We go there to prove something to ourselves. We all came from nice nests, and abandoned that security to feel bigger and taller. Maybe he’s hit his ceiling. I suspect his ego is just deflated, though. Let’s assume it will pass. I regret every day that it never passed for me.” As we spoke, I stared out the window at the snow, rain, and slush. I prayed to God—a lifeline I rarely ever took—for sun and high spirits, if only for darling Peter.
Peter took a page out of my unemployment book, flying home to see his family and to clear his head and hopefully miss everything here in the meanwhile. I got a text from him on Day 2: “Miss Walnut Creek is not enjoying her homecoming tour. Overbearing Chinese mother won’t shut up about finding a new job. Gonna stay in the city for a couple days.” That made me nervous, because Peter loved San Francisco more than he loved putting on a pair of heels—and he had plenty of high school and college friends who could validate his presence there. “Operation smother darling Peter is in full effect,” I texted to Bart. “Time to play some major defense.”
Client payouts were coming in. Finally, finally, I had financial breathing room. I was paying William a competitive salary, renting the small office space and my own apartment, and trying to build up my savings account to a somewhat respectable amount—I dreamt of it being five figures, and laughed at the thought of achieving this as I rounded 30. How far off it had felt since moving here. And finally, finally, I felt like an actual adult, like what I always thought I would feel at 25, and what a lot of my 30-year-old friends would have to wait another 10 years to feel. I was perfectly happy without money for many years, but how nice to finally get a taste of graduation, of security and good fortune.
On the other end of the money spectrum, a jobless Peter was feeling the pinch. “I’ve got a decent cushion,” he assured me. “But it’s not like I’m in a hurry to burn through it. Trying to live off unemployment money really sucks, and it’s killing my dating life.” “Just say you’re a publishing consultant or something,” I told him. “Fake it. Everyone else is stretching the truth, too. I once dated a guy who said he was a merchandiser at Macy’s, and it took me four dates and two penetrations to realize he just kept the Herald Square bedding stocked.” Peter laughed: “And I bet you wouldn’t have dated him upfront if you knew he was a retail cashier,” he posited. “Totally false,” I said. “You’ll recall that others took a chance on me when I was less presentable on paper…and in real life.” “Yeah right, I can’t fathom you bringing some retail pup to the premiere of a J.J. Abrams movie. Status is important to everyone here, which is why I feel like shit.”
Until recently, I had only just gotten by in New York. Any raise I received got me something small: a couple guilt-free taxis home at 3am, slightly higher payments on my credit card, or keeping up with any rent increases. A raise doesn’t make you richer, it makes you less desperate. I’ve always seen New York as a game where I’m competing with wealthy people like Simon. Not for jobs, but for housing and quality of life. My incremental steps ahead were never steps ahead at all; they only meant I was falling behind less rapidly than I was the day prior, because the richest people—paired with the sheer volume of all the city’s residents—kept driving up the cost of living. I could always swap my solo apartment in Prospect Heights for a shared bedroom in Bushwick if I truly wanted to save money. But a fruitful, gratifying life for most New Yorkers has little to do with how well you save money. Instead, it’s got everything to do with how smartly and you spend it.
I wondered what would change most quickly now that I had some extra income. I didn’t want to upgrade my wardrobe or hire a personal trainer or go to a trendier barbershop. Instead, I fantasized about all the conveniences I would start using—things like grocery deliveries, laundry drop-offs, and (yet again) more frequent late-night taxis. All of these would make my life easier and just… save time. That’s how I saw it: I could spend money to save time. No more picking up my take-out food at 11pm; I would pay for delivery fees. I would abandon the piece-of-shit R train and take a hiked-fare Uber if it meant getting home without stress or strain. I wouldn’t miss the two-hour shifts at Laundry City as I waited for my clothes to wash and dry; I would hire that out, too. Instead of dollar signs in my eyes, I had little hourglasses, and I could see them turning over to give me added hours in each week—for sleeping or television or reading or scratching my butt. It all seemed like a victorious, lavish upgrade, and money smartly spent.
Bart and Tyler were discussing moving in together in April. Bart was spending most of his evenings at Tyler’s Chelsea apartment (where Tyler lived alone), and it made sense to consolidate. Peter and I were sad that he would likely leave Brooklyn for the city, and Bart himself was especially torn: “Life is so good here. I wish Tyler could move to Brooklyn, and so does he, but his call times for work are so early or they wrap so late, you know? And I get out of work so late. It just… seems smart to live closer to it all. And to save time lost on commuting to see each other. God, six months ago I’d have laughed if you told me I’d ever be in this predicament.” Then, under his breath: “It’s really just about money, to try and get ahead of my debt, maybe save some pennies so I don’t have to rely on my 22-year-old sugar daddy in other departments.”
For my entire life, the idea of investing money seemed like an obvious measure, yet it was a foreign language. If I knew how to gamble my extra dollars for guaranteed returns, I would certainly do so. My major hurdle was the often-said “you need to have money to make money,” which didn’t exactly apply to me. “Don’t worry, Eric,” Dad told me. “Mom and I put some away, and I’m still saving more. You’ll get it after I die.” I felt bad that Dad automatically assigned his earnings to benefit me and not him. I asked him to instead just teach me how to invest. “I’d be honored, buddy. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re getting my money one day. I don’t need it.” In a weird way, I felt like my father had crossed some sort of line: of course I would inherit his earnings when he was gone. But it felt like charity how he phrased it, as if I didn’t need to be aggressive and responsible, because I had some sort of safety net for any fall. I blocked it from my mind: no cushions below me, only concrete.
Pilot season was ending, and James Thurston was still without a contract. “Eric, I came to you because you made it very clear that we could land something.” “Yes, and that requires a little humility on your behalf,” I said. “You’ve either got an issue with the way a role is written, or you want more money, or you refuse to audition and assume they’ll hand you the part.” His response was cowardly: “Sam always got me out of auditions.” I snapped: “Well your career will end up just like his if you don’t get with the program.” That was an equally awful thing to say, and we both paused for a few moments. “James, this isn’t your first lap around the track. We’ll be fine, even if we come up empty handed without some cruddy TBS pilot.” We hung up, and I turned to Joanie, who was sitting beside me in the airport terminal. We were Austin-bound for South by Southwest. “Trouble in TV Land?” she asked. I let out an exasperated sigh: “Please never expect royal treatment, Joanie. Because you won’t get it from me.”
This was a big week for Joanie: she was playing a hyped-up set at SXSW to help launch her second EP. We teased it online with the lead single “People I Trust More Than You,” a cheeky but brooding breakup song that gave her a little synth-pop crossover appeal. Her new publicist Claire had arranged more than a dozen interviews in Austin, and we would announce her supporting the Lorde tour with Billboard to cap the week. My poor assistant William was manning the office all by himself back in New York, forwarding endless calls and emails and messages about Joanie and my actor clients alike. It was good trial-by-fire exposure for him, though it kept me somewhat distracted from the action right in front of me. “Eric. Eric!” Joanie elbowed me during a business dinner as I was lost in my email inbox. Then, a hushed aside: “You could probably afford to learn a few things about music. Pay attention.”
Omar and a few Republic people joined us in Austin the day the Saturant EP dropped. Omar lied to his travel coordinator and said he would be staying with friends, but really he was with me in my hotel room. This was awkward when we ran into Dixon and Joanie in the lobby—Dixon and Omar knew one another, and Dixon recoiled a bit when Omar said “We’re so excited to rep your girlfriend. She’s our next superstar, I know it.” Poor Joanie was especially in the middle of it all, excited by this speak but sensitive to the fact that Dixon’s label had tried signing her, too. As Omar and I left, we heard Dixon say to her under his breath: “Don’t you think they got cozy really fast?” Then, Omar to me: “I feel kind of bad for him, don’t you? I hear his role at Glassnote has been in flux and they needed him to land this deal. We stopped him from signing his own girlfriend…!”
The release show for Saturant’s EP “Fade to Gray” was one of the festival’s centerpiece draws. Half of Williamsburg must have flown down to Austin as I recognized every third person from her other shows, and Brooklyn’s gay bars. I also saw a few celebrities—Penn Badgley, Greta Gerwig, Mo Rocca, Liv Tyler, and that unimpressed gymnast from the 2012 Olympics, though she seemed to be enjoying herself quite a bit, erupting in cheers as Joanie sang “Kansas.” I noticed Dixon in the crowd, mingling with a few friends. Since Omar wasn’t with me, I waved and started inching that way. He subtly shook his head and then cold-shouldered me as Joanie sang the first few lines of her new single: “My loser high school boyfriend who cheated on me // The man with binoculars outside my rearview // A very pregnant woman in a very liquor store // Just a few of the people I trust more than you.”
I got a call from my client Alexa the next day: she had been upgraded from understudy to lead in her Broadway play. Lucky for her, Jessica Chastain was leaving to pursue new projects. Alexa was dropping her agent and wanted me to handle all negotiations, which were happening that day. It was the same day as Joanie’s big press push in Austin, and since her publicist and agent seemed to have everything under control, I politely excused myself so that I could help Alexa. At least Joanie understood: “Eric, do what you have to do. I know you need to prioritize certain things on certain days. We’ll be fine.” Alexa was so giddy on the phone, and I regret that I couldn’t be fully excited in that moment. I really just wanted to be with Joanie to show my support. Not as a manager, but as her best friend.
We toasted champagne and seltzer that night to celebrate the big week. The new Saturant single was charting on a few pop and indie lists, and the Lorde tour announcement gave us a huge impression. “Saturant is a household name by summer,” Taryn predicted, as Joanie blushed from flattery and alcohol both. I was chatting with a producer by the bar, watching Omar from across the room and smiling. Then I overheard a conversation beside me between two clearly-Los-Angeleno gays: “There’s Omar. The Republic guy I told you about.” “Oh, right. He’s hot, for sure. When are you two going out?” “Tomorrow night. He said he has friends in town tonight, but tomorrow he’s gonna stay at my hotel.” I rolled my eyes—tonight was my last night in Austin. I was evidently Omar’s “friends in town.”
Just as I still thought of Sam at every turn, I also kept Jack top of mind—which is why my heart was guarded. My former lover had left two major impressions on me: first, he proved what I could feel toward another human being. He unlocked in me that standard of passion I had read about or seen in films, and which I now expected my next significant mate to exceed. As such, he also gave me a fear of committing myself to anyone who could raise the bar as high or higher, because what a letdown it was to have such a large space evacuated and hollowed. That void would be hard to replace with one person, so in theory it seemed safer—for the heart and mind—to replace with quantity.
Since meeting Omar, I had been with three other men. There was Simon, of course, with his cautionary tales despite still inviting me over. I averaged one night a week with him, even updating him routinely on my relationship with Omar. We were both fully aware that our shacking would stop at any exclusivity agreement with O. Then there were two others—via Tinder and Scruff—which I justified as “contrast to Omar” just to assure myself that I found my steadiest man most attractive. I proceeded this way fully assuming Omar was doing the same. I had evidence, after all, and most curious to me was that I wasn’t jealous of his outside pursuits; I knew I liked him more than anyone else—far more—but it felt really empowering that we kept coming back to one another after each and every distraction. To me, that felt like the healthiest foundation for eventual exclusivity.
I had a difficult time articulating the benefits of my situation to everyone, even Bart and Peter. My friends all seemed pro-Omar (Bart even called himself “promar”), and I gathered that they all felt like I was stuck in some repressed sexual state, that I had intimacy issues carrying over from my distrust of Jack. My Skype catch-up with Talia went down this path: her perspective was tainted by the fact that she was now in a very serious relationship in Kansas, inching daily toward the life her parents always imagined for her. She even sounded more like her mother each day, practically quoting the words she used to hate hearing: “You’re almost 30, Eric. So why are you acting like you’re 22? Do you want a life alone or not? Stop thinking with your penis.” Though, to be fair, Talia’s mother never once accused Talia of thinking with her penis.
This whole situation did have me wondering what lasting effects Jack might have on me. Could Omar—or anyone else, really—still sneak in, help me turn off distractions, and build something significant? Or was this the beginning of my permanent self expectations for dating? I Carrie Bradshawed on the idea for a few weeks, landing on the fact that this was all circumstantial to the recent events in my life. Each meeting with Omar was, effectively, just as passionate as any I had had with Jack. The void was filling, and I suspected our exclusivity discussion was somewhat near. I would happily commit myself to him, too. However, since that discussion had yet to occur, I wanted to fit in as many extracurricular pursuits as I could in the meantime.
I opened Scruff one night while walking home from Fort Greene. There, a message from a cute 30-something couple: “Hey stud. Hosting here. Unlocked our photos for you.” I thumbed through their album, excited at the idea of being with both handsome men. I took the bait, and rerouted myself to their place. They had a cute brownstone apartment, though I’d have expected the double income to permit slightly nicer bedsheets and curtains. I realized quickly that one of them wanted me there more than the other. During our post-coital tea dialogue, I asked how long they had been open. “About seven years now, out of our eight together,” said the taller one, Miguel (who had been less interested in me). “But we only play together,” said Alan, the shorter and beefier. “That way we’re always on the same page.” It hadn’t seemed that way.
Omar texted me that night, asking me to stay over. I showered very thoroughly to remove any remnants of Miguel and Alan. I felt cheap and dishonest as I trekked to his apartment, knowing he would want intimacy and I had just expended it all onto two strangers. I covered by ordering Indian food and picking it up en route. “I’m starving,” I told him as I settled in. “Let’s eat now. Oh, but should we fool around before we get full—or maybe we do it in the morning?” Omar smiled: “Food now, sex tomorrow,” he said. I thought to myself “You’re such a genius” as he grabbed plates and silverware. I stepped into the restroom to wash up, looking at my reflection as I finished. That’s when reality sank in: I really hated myself in that moment.
With his lease expiring a few days later, Bart moved his things into Tyler’s apartment over the weekend. They were braving the next step, and Brooklyn was losing one of its best guys to the mad island. You’d have thought he was moving out of the country by our behavior: before the afternoon move, we shared one final workout on Flatbush, one last bagel on Vanderbilt, one more stroll down Eastern Parkway into Grand Army Plaza and upon Prospect Park. “Barty, it’s all still here, whenever you need it,” Tyler told him. “I don’t understand why you’re so nostalgic moving just five miles away.” After we packed up his things and said our tearful goodbye, I walked very slowly down Park Place, looking at each earth-tone row house and soaking up the silence. I hated whichever future version of myself would decide to leave this behind.
Most days, I was in a Brooklyn holding pattern: I would walk half a mile between my home in Prospect Heights and my office in Fort Greene. I sometimes avoided Manhattan for a week at a time, breaking only for business lunches or an overnight at Simon’s. Now with Bart in Manhattan, Peter and I would likely find ourselves taking frequent social commutes. “It sucks he had to move to Chelsea specifically,” Peter commented on one such Q-train ride into the city. “Do you think he’ll turn tacky and wear really ugly jeans and eat at Cafeteria or Elmo?” We both laughed at the thought of him assimilating to the 8th Avenue scene. However, our jokes of Bart changing were soon turned to genuine concern: we arrived at his apartment and he greeted us at the door, freshly shaven. “Why. The hell. Would you shave. Your beard?” Peter shrieked. “Your beautiful. Perfect. Beard…!”
“The move just felt like the right time to change things up,” Bart said. “You know, like how some women dye their hair or cut it really short after a breakup. Or like how Joanie did the same thing when she became Saturant. Transitions are good for these types of things. Plus, I can’t stand one more New York summer with a nest on my face. The rest of me gets sweaty enough.” My shock was mostly for show, but Peter seemed genuinely angry: “Some of us can hardly grow four dots of stubble and yet you’ve got this gift, and you just…throw it away.” Bart laughed: “I didn’t know our friendship was so conditional. I guess Manhattan has really changed me.” He excused himself to the restroom, and Peter threw me a disgusted look as he mouthed the words “What the hell?” Then Bart, from the bathroom: “I can hear you, baby face.”
There was one more noticeable difference following Bart’s move: He was spending more time with Tyler’s friends. The film shoot was wrapping for an expedient summer turnaround, and Tyler was freed up to see all of his college pals who had migrated to the city for their own shot at acting. “I have to admit, I feel like I am aging backwards,” said Bart. “Not only am I surrounded by 50-year-old Chelsea men who act 22, I’m surrounded by 22-year-old boys and girls who act 22.” I noticed Tyler would tag along less frequently with all three of us, too, which Bart chalked up to “Just him embracing being young, and maybe keeping a slightly bigger professional separation between client and manager. But don’t worry, he still loves you.” Yeah, enough to promise all of his punk friends that I would manage them. His recent distance was probably a result of my rejecting every goddamn one of them.
Manhattan was a happier place for me for the time being. Back home in Brooklyn, it seemed like everyone was licking their wounds—myself included. I was still seeing Omar, but with slight reservations given his hesitation to my exclusivity proposal. I didn’t mind the freedom to still hook up with other men at my free will, but by no means was it a victory for our union. Peter was buckled down on his expenses (“Thank God my two best friends are sober! I’m going dry for a while, too.”) and Joanie was feeling pressured by Dixon’s request to move in with her after just a couple months. “It’s a good thing I really love him,” she said. “He’s got this way about him, I just can’t say ‘no’ to anything he suggests.” Her tiny studio would be so cramped with both of them there; she had me feeling very grateful for my unattached status.
“Someone’s been spending lots of time in Manhattan lately,” Simon said at one of our overnight hangouts. “Yes, but it’s an empowered decision,” I responded defiantly. I certainly wouldn’t admit to him that Manhattan was finally charming me. “You’re as much of a borough snob as I am,” he would always say; I was happy to avoid any more of that conversation for the evening. Our night was instead taking an adventurous turn after He proposed inviting a third person—to be determined by Grindr—to join us. I kind of like the idea, so we opened the app and started browsing. We were courting a prospect, but then the guy ruined the mood: “Can I sleep over after? Since I live in Jersey City,” he asked. Simon and I looked at each other. I turned off my phone; it would be just the two of us tonight. Not because of the proposed sleepover, either. I mean, Jersey City? No.
Facebook was kind enough to alert me of Jack’s updated relationship status one Sunday morning: In a Relationship with Rob Finnegan. Through my occasional cyber stalkings, I had noticed the two of them hanging out, suspecting it was a more-than-friends thing, and now I had proof. Rob was handsome, though it looked like he should have had braces but never did, or that he shopped exclusively from J. Crew Factory. Generic, if you ask me. But otherwise he seemed fine. Well, actually, he looked a lot like me, with worse teeth and a lessened sense of individualism. I “liked” the status update just so Jack knew I knew. So he would think “Oh, the person who recently rejected me is noticing my consolation prize.”
Just two minutes after my acknowledgment, Jack messaged me: “Ha, I figured you would see that I changed my relationship status. Hope you’re well, and that you’re sharing your company with some sweet and very lucky man.” I contemplated, then replied: “All is well, thanks. Yeah, seeing a great guy. Works in music too. Rob looks cute. How’d you meet?” “OK Cupid,” he typed. “I really wanted a boyfriend after we ended things. Was sad it didn’t work with us, but Rob is really awesome. So funny, and smart. He does cancer research.” I didn’t actually care to know this much about Rob—though he sounded like a catch—, but mostly felt an odd satisfaction about Jack disclosing it all to me. The messaging app told me he was typing something, and I watched the notification come and go, as if he was drafting it but then deleting it, over and over. Then finally: “Maybe I’ll get to see you around, Eric. I’ve changed, I hope you know that.”
I went out with Omar and his friends, making a conscious effort to intertwine our lives and perhaps finally pin him down. It seemed like the best way to “work on the relationship” seeing as we had both expressed interest in growing it. This was the first time I was meeting his closest buddies Nathan and Raj—his idea to do so—and they were very inclusive all evening. Their trio was getting a little tipsy, and I asked Omar to slow down since I knew it would save me the pain of watching after him. Three beers later, he sprawled backwards across my lap in our cab home. He started mumbling something as he fell asleep: “Isn’t Eric nice? He’s nice.” It was cute. I chuckled: “Yeah, Eric’s a nice guy. Do you want to be his boyfriend?” He smirked: “Maybe. He’s nice. And I like having sex with him. But I like having sex with you more.” My ears perked. “Who, me?” “Yes you, Nathan. Silly. Like before dinner tonight. Silly Nathan.”
“How many chances do I give him?” I practically yelled at Peter over breakfast. “He’s clearly sleeping around. And so am I, but half the reason I’m still doing it is because I know he’s doing it, and I’m not about to cuckold myself like I did with Jack.” “Well, maybe it’s time to give him an ultimatum?” Peter said. Omar was away for work, and Peter proposed bringing it up upon his return. “For your peace of mind, if nothing else,” he added. “Honestly, it sounds like you’d be fine without him. Which is a good sign, I think. You were crazy about him, but you gave it time and energy and kept dating other guys and you’re slowly arriving at the conclusion that he may not be ready. No need to chase him then, right? I don’t think he’s going to change for you.” Maybe he wouldn’t, but I knew someone who would. Someone who had, in fact.
Jack opened his door slowly, the same adorable way he always had when we dated. There was the familiar, slow creaking noise, and he peeked his face through the opening, raising one eyebrow as if to say “I’ve been expecting you, my concubine.” He seemed different, though, once I was inside. Nervous, even. “I never thought you’d come back here,” he said. “Me either, Jack.” We talked for a few minutes, about work, about family, and about his boyfriend Rob. After the topic had simmered, I pinned him on the bed, looked him in the eyes, and asked him if Rob was a top or a bottom. Jack stared back, panicked and thrilled. “He’s a bottom,” Jack said. “Then I hope he won’t mind what I’m about to do,” I replied.
“Cheating on someone who has committed himself to you,” I said to Jack as we dressed. “You haven’t changed at all. You were never loyal to me either, although, to be fair, you never promised to be.” Jack sat on the bed quietly. I could tell he was very upset with himself once the coital high was gone. “Why would you say that? You’re the one who contacted me. This meant a lot to me, and now suddenly it feels like it was for nothing but to risk my relationship. Maybe I haven’t changed, Eric. But you’ve changed a lot. Only not in a good way.”
“I wrote a new song for the LP! One of my favorites yet,” Joanie texted me. It was always exciting to hear Joanie’s new stuff, but since she rarely boasted about her own songwriting, I knew this one must be special. She called it “Off Script” and posited that it could be a lead single, should Republic agree. “It’s about things not going to plan, trusting your gut when the wind changes. Kind of aligns with my outlook these days, since all this seems to have happened out of nowhere, whereas I used to try and plot everything to the last detail,” she added. “I recorded a lil demo, too. Remind me to send it to you.” Then, the next morning, another text: “Dixon was fired from Glassnote. 😦 “
The speculation was true: Dixon had been in hot water at Glassnote, and he wasn’t generating enough new business to justify staying around. A lot had been riding on him securing Saturant for their roster, which of course fell through after Omar and Republic came in with a much more impressive offer. Dixon’s boss had been as brash to say “If you can’t even land your own girlfriend, then I think it’s time for us to part ways.” Now he was grabbing at air, emailing every reliable music contact he had in this town. He even emailed Omar, who in turn promised to cast a net, to try and help. “It’s the least I can do, right?” Omar texted. (He was still away for business, further delaying my ultimatum proposition.) “I kind of feel like we broke the camel’s back here. I’ll see what I can do.”
Peter was still looking for work, too. Bart was able to give him some bartending shifts during concerts—and paid him in cash, to avoid compromising any unemployment benefits—but the career search was coming up dry. “I feel like I have asked everyone for help already, without seeming too desperate,” Peter said. “Yet I’m definitely desperate. The big problem is that I’d probably say ‘yes’ to the first half-decent offer anyone gives me, and in any industry. It’s all just as well, isn’t it, when you don’t care what it is you do, so long as you stay afloat and preserve all the happy parts of your life? I actually kind of envy Dixon’s position right now; he’s forcing himself to look within the music industry, needing to justify the foundation he’s built. And maybe that’s an easier existence. I certainly feel opposite about a life in publishing. I hate that having a secure and linear future feels so dictated by a career decision I made in my early 20s.”
I woke up on April 15 to texts from all my best friends: “Happy Jackie Robinson Joins the Majors Day!” said Bart. “Happy 103rd Anniversary of the Titanic Sinking!” said Peter. Then Talia: “Sad 150th Anniversary of Lincoln Dying. Womp womp.” And Joanie’s turn: “Happy Birthday Emmas Watson and Thompson!!” I sat up in bed, laughing at them all. It was my 30th birthday, and for some odd reason this had become their tradition each year—to wish me a happy day without ever saying “Happy Birthday.” I chuckled again as I re-read each one, wondering how the hell I ended up here, in this Prospect Heights garden studio, with this as my reality, self-employed and with the best friends I had ever known. Nothing at 30 was what I imagined it would be during those first 29 years. Yet here I was: Confident. Evolved. Happy when I allowed myself. A few minutes later, I got a call from Dad: “I always knew you’d turn out OK, Eric. All part of your mom’s and my plan. Happy birthday, Bub.”
Omar was acting dodgy and I sensed our demise was imminent. However, that charmer Simon ventured to Prospect Heights so we could eat at my favorite restaurant for my birthday. We retired to my apartment, which I realized was the first time we had ever done so in our eight months of whatever-this-was. That alone got him the dessert he wanted, and it also meant I got to take him out for bagels the next morning. He departed for the city thereafter, and I worked only half the day. I wondered what was holding me from committing myself to Simon, when here I was spending so much time wasting energy and emotion on Omar, my Jack 2.0. The more I thought about it, Simon was my idea of a Man: intentional, vocal, transparent. What I saw was what I got, and I couldn’t find that in anyone my age. I had a lot of my own maturing to do, but Simon was the definite standard, and perhaps the best gift I got in my 30th year of life.
I was walking through Greenwich Village on Saturday and remembered that I hadn’t yet heard Joanie’s new song. I texted her: “Send me a demo of ‘Off Script,’ already. The suspense is killing me!” Then my phone rang—Joanie was calling. She wanted to meet up, so she came into the city since I was going to Tyler and Bart’s apartment soon. We met in Washington Square Park, and she looked ethereal with her slicked-back hair and leather jacket as she walked towards my bench. She was quick with her news: Dixon had been hired at Red Light Management—thanks to an introduction and endorsement Omar provided—and would be taking on new clients as a manager. With her agent Taryn’s encouragement, Joanie would be leaving me and joining Dixon’s roster. I said nothing. I couldn’t even look at her. I imagine she looked just as celestial as she disappeared into the concrete framework, taking with her all the color from my world.