Bad Sex: Log Cabin Republican
An awkward night of across-the-aisle sex.
The only things that can lure me to the suburbs are sex and Dunkin' Donuts blueberry muffins, which come marbled with exquisite saturated fats like fine Kobe beef.
Sex is far less predictably appetizing, so when you're crossing the city line via surface transit for a questionable encounter with a stranger, you begin to wish you were heading muffinward instead. Nevertheless, this particular muggy June afternoon, I found myself on my way to the suburbs for the non-muffin reason, from Washington, D.C. to the cultural abyss of Rockville, Maryland. I surveyed my fellow bus passengers. Most of them gazed despondently out their windows like freshly convicted inmates being transported to a facility for long-term supervision.
I was twenty years old, and their despair inspired a smug twinge of superiority within me. Unlike them, I was being whisked toward adventure — and possible dismemberment — after being persuaded by a man in an America Online M4M chatroom to meet him "IRL" (in real life). Because this was 1998, my 2,400-baud modem hadn't allowed me to download his photograph onto my Gateway 2000 — all I knew was he was four years older than me and named Sean. I had written my own name on my bicep with a Sharpie in case my face was mutilated beyond recognition when they found my corpse suspended from a ceiling like in Silence of the Lambs.
The bus hissed to a halt across from a Blockbuster parking lot, and there was Sean, leaning on the hood of a sepia '81 Oldsmobile Delta like James Dean borrowing his grandpa's car. It was my favorite model of Oldsmobile, and the fact that he'd mentioned he owned one had played no small part in my decision to come out here, so I was relieved to find he was telling the truth. What's more, he was cute, with shaggy hair and a humanizing scorch of razor burn. He greeted me with a locked-elbow handshake while using his other hand to remove his sunglasses with a cartoonish Hollywood-agent sweep.
I was already eyeing the Dunkin' Donuts in the next parking lot over, but I knew Sean had made dinner reservations and I didn't want to be rude by buying a muffin for the ride to the restaurant.
"You like fish, right?" he said.
"Totally," I replied, thinking he meant the band. The massive hood of the car stretched out before us like a king-size bed as we soared down the interstate.
"I thought we could go to Legal Seafood," he said. "It's good."
I smiled and nodded enthusiastically, immediately deciding to order the most expensive item on the menu.
I rolled down my huge passenger window and adjusted the side mirror so I could watch the car's exterior as we drove; the retreating sun set the chrome fenders ablaze. I felt wonderfully reckless, braver than anyone I knew. Who else would agree to meet a stranger from the internet? I was Indiana Jones stepping out over the chasm and onto the invisible bridge, a practitioner of modern-day derring-do.
Our waitress glowered at my driver's license, then snatched my wine glass and brusquely walked away. I sat there asexually, like a child who'd just been caught cheating on a quiz. Sean ordered a glass of wine and I ordered a Sprite. He asked me some questions that were, if a bit bland, at least polite. I was used to lecherous guys who laced their questions with lewd innuendo, so the mild banality was refreshing.
In fact, everything about the blandness of this date — the corporate restaurant, the antiseptic shopping mall that housed the restaurant, Sean's nerdy demeanor — was strangely comforting. Living in the city, you almost don't realize how strenuous sociability is: the competitively witty banter, the desperately hip dating venues. I thought ahead to what Sean would be like in bed: quiet, orderly, very little foreplay.
Eventually, I remarked that because I was working for the local gay magazine in Washington, I would be manning a booth at next week's Gay Pride festival.
"So it's Gay Pride in D.C., huh?" Sean said with a snort, not looking up from his chowder.
"Yeah," I said. "Why? You want to go?"
"I don't think so."
"You should come. It's fun."
"Not my scene."
"No." He was still staring into his dish, and his pitch had dropped half an octave lower into an unnatural baritone. We munched on our fish and hoped that the waitress would stop by to snap the awkward spell.
Then Sean said this:
"It just seems really weird to me that gay people go around asking for things like acceptance and tolerance, and say stuff like, 'We're the same as straight people, so you shouldn't discriminate against us,' and then go and have parades in the middle of the city, and it's all pink floats carrying leather guys in chaps humping each other and flamey guys in rainbow Speedos simulating oral sex. I mean, gay people can't expect to ever be accepted into mainstream society if they do this stuff in public, and prance around like these screaming queens in front of families and kids and stuff."
"Right," I said automatically, trying to catch up. Had he referred to gay people as "they"? I was struck with the idea that Sean was straight and had simply been in the M4M chatroom looking for a buddy to get pan-roasted halibut with. Either way, this debate wasn't something I wanted to dive into, so I phrased a weak counterpoint designed to change the subject, and the conversation resumed its tepid civility.
After dinner, we went back to his place, a small house on a wooded street, where a large dog attacked me in the kitchen with a continuous stream of deafening, bloodthirsty barks. Sean made no move to restrain the animal, but simply said, "That's Andy." Andy bared his fangs and backed me into the refrigerator. A postcard from Italy jostled loose and fluttered to the floor.
We ended up in Sean's living room watching TV. When he turned it on, it was tuned to a channel I'd vaguely heard about: Fox News. He started to flip around. "Wait, go back," I said. On the screen, Ken Starr was holding a press conference. I'd been following the Monica Lewinsky story like an addict. It was the most riveting thing that had ever been broadcast. The last president to be impeached had been Andrew Jackson for illegally ousting the Secretary of War. Now we got to watch our current president be impeached for using an improvised sex toy. It was fantastic television.
"Ken Starr looks like a child molester," I said, settling onto the couch. Sean harrumphed in reply.
"Hmm?" I said.
"No, nothing," he said. "I'm just amazed by people who think Ken Starr is the bad guy in this. I mean, he's doing his job."
"Yeah, but is this really a good use of government resources?" I said. I wasn't particularly political at the time — to me, the Lewinsky thing was just a fun scandal — and it felt odd to be arguing about this.
"Don't you care if your president is immoral?" said Sean.
"No," I said. "They're all immoral, aren't they?"
"If he can lie to us about cheating on his wife, he's a liar and he should be impeached."
"I think that's crazy," I said, locating my political indignation. I'd never defended a politician. I'd voted for Clinton by reflex. But Sean's self-righteousness was too much. "Who the hell cares who sleeps with whom?"
"Everyone!" he said loudly.
A hush fell over the room. The only sound was Ken Starr grimly droning from a podium on the steps of a federal building. Sean and I were still right next to each other on the couch, which suddenly felt too close.
"Are you a Republican?" I asked.
"I'm registered independent," he replied.
"But who did you vote for?"
"I voted for Dole," he said defiantly.
"Wow. So you're Log Cabin?"
"Can we not talk about this?" he said. The phone rang and Andy erupted into another Cujo-esque yowling spasm. Sean went to answer the phone, speaking quietly out in the kitchen.
When he came back, he was calmer. We immediately began making out on the couch so we wouldn't have to speak. There was nothing that could neutralize the awkwardness at this point except deranged Republican-on-Democrat sex. It had become clear to me that Sean had what the literature calls "self-loathing issues." I imagined him trolling the AOL chatrooms, trying to lure guys to Rockville because he couldn't bring himself to go near a gay bar.
Soon we were in his bedroom. It was one of those rooms where the roof is the ceiling, slanted at a thirty-degree angle. I saw his computer, a Dell, sitting on a desk on the side of the room where the ceiling was lowest. I realized that while Sean was sitting at the computer, he must have to hunch over so his face was nearly touching the monitor. It made the image of him whacking off with his free hand in a private chatroom that much more depressing.
Our shirts came off. He was impossibly skinny. I could see his ribs through his chest hair. His pants came off. His kneecaps were roughly the size and shape of his hips. I'd never been with anyone with so little padding, and I was afraid I might hurt him if I tried to climb on top, so we squirmed side by side for a while like fish in a bucket. My arm was trapped under his torso and soon fell asleep.
"Your last name is Doo-ing?" he said, looking at my free arm.
"It's pronounced Doig — like foil or soil."
I moved my head toward his groin but he pulled me back up. I went for the nipple, but was again gently guided back to the kissing position. I decided I'd been wrong about the foreplay. I brought my hand up to his chest and felt nothing but rib cage. This was skinniness that suggested impending death.
Oh my God.
"Do you have AIDS?" I said, holding my breath.
"Uh uh no?" I said.
"Definitely, positively not."
I relaxed a bit and sort of rubbed his bony chest cavity. It felt like I was running
my hand across a picket fence.
That's when Sean said, "So I guess you've probably noticed I only have one pectoral muscle."
"What?" I said, sure that I'd heard wrong.
"One pec." He said it like, "So I guess you've probably noticed I reupholstered the couch."
"Does it gross you out?" he asked tentatively.
"Of course not," I said quickly, trying to make my gag reflex sound like a cough.
"You sure?" he said. "Some guys are freaked out by it."
"Not me!" I said way too enthusiastically.
I moved back a bit and looked. One side of his chest was skinny, but normal. The other side was perfectly flat, the skin stretched tight, like it wasn't his skin but a suit of human skin that he was wearing. Like in Silence of the Lambs. Whoa.
"It's fine," I said. I felt awful for finding it repulsive, but I just wasn't ready for it. Had he told me in advance and let me take a peek before we were on the verge of copulation, I might have dealt with it with more savoir-faire.
It dawned on me that this could very well be the reason Sean was a self-hating Republican who lived far from any sizable gay population — he'd probably received this same reaction many times before from guys who rejected him because of his missing pec. Maybe some had even laughed at him for it. I felt a surge of sympathy. But sympathy is a proven hard-on killer. There was no way this was going to happen, so I said the words I'm sure he was dreading.
"How 'bout we just cuddle?"
He smiled like I'd accidentally killed his dog with my car and he was trying to tell me it was okay. A smile-grimace. We settled into a spooning position, him behind me, his arm draped limply across my intact torso.
The next morning Sean dropped me at the Blockbuster parking lot. He didn't wait around for my bus to arrive. I watched his beautiful '81 Delta disappear down the street, as sturdy a car as they come. I didn't feel brave or reckless. I felt shallow, another twenty year old who thought his shit didn't stink, who couldn't handle life's little imperfections without freaking out. The ride back to the city would feel like a spineless retreat.
My bus wasn't due for another twenty minutes, so I walked into the Dunkin' Donuts in the next lot over.
"I'll have a blueberry muffin," I said to the cashier.
"Fresh out," she replied with a smile.