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Finding a Yes

Movement.  Trajectory.  Progress.  Designators about physical changes in spatial relationships.  Perhaps a cultural idiom.  At times a cultural obsession.  Almost always about movement but seldom a discussion about actual place.  Or being.  Or stability.

Or balance.  Because without balance, movement and progress become a episodic.  Short-lived.  Indistinguishable.

This is not an essay about the past though it attempts to examine balance in the present.

Four weeks ago it was Wayne’s birthday.  He was thirty-five when I met him.  I was ten years younger.  We palled around occasionally though our styles were quite different, in part a construct of age and income.  Mostly though because of of his desire for conspicuous consumption – all of which he could afford.  The Lincoln Mark VII was always cleaned and shined, housed in a heated garage attached to a large house that was perfectly nestled into a shallow valley in the foothills of Salt Lake City.  A Calder mobile hung in the foyer.  An Eames chair his throne.

We kidded one another always.  Like brothers.  He, laughing at frugality.  I, jibing at superficiality.  Though content in a friendship that managed to work.  A few years later he purchased the condo that I was renting and became my landlord.   It didn’t destroy our friendship like some had suggested it would.

He moved.  I moved.  I visited him in Atlanta.  Again in Denver years later – both times in homes large enough to house more than one family.  Years passed.  Perhaps a decade or two.  He’s been with Clark for at least that long.  Clark has no financial resources other than Wayne.  He told me as such.

I wrote to Wayne to wish him a happy birthday.  He’s good at responding.  Not so good at initiating.  It was a friendly, warm exchange about our settings.  He’s now in Texas.

A few days later I see that he’s in Santa Fe for his wedding.  He and Clark tied the knot.  I wonder how this could have happened, though with decades between us his trajectory was unseen by me.  His progress, though, changed I imagined by his mother’s death, of which I knew.

I felt left behind.  Not because Wayne had accomplished so much but because he had the prize – the new cultural demarkation of ‘spouse’ – something that I would have never expected of Wayne’s selfishness.

The only acquaintance I have in this city that is my age, precisely, is Kevin.   I wanted to discuss things with him.  I invited him to join me for a drink that Sunday night.  Probably a mistake – because Kevin only accepts invitations but doesn’t offer them.  Still, he always says yes and I wanted to hear a yes.  Though on this Sunday night two weeks ago he declined, offering instead a meet up the next day, which he later rescheduled to Tuesday, then revoked due to a nephew who popped into town.

That same weekend Robert called to cancel our two-week in advanced planned dinner because he’d forgotten about a party he’d been invited to that he didn’t want to attend but felt obligated.  Regardless of the reason, I’d figured it would happen.  Robert is half dependable.

Jim and I met a bit over a year ago.  Not undependable, but his four-hour daily commute exhausted him and rightfully so.  Though when he started working from home this summer he became more social.  It was noticeable, his lack of stress.  And in addition to Jim offering invites, he always says ‘yes’ to invitations.  I like this.

The level of communication increased.  He telling me about movies he was watching.  Titles I would have never encountered on my own.  Topics so remote and so broad.  Then our discussions of them after I’d watched.  The tangent discussions a result.  Flourishing.  Dynamic.  Nothing off limits.

Patrick resurfaced about this time as well.  Three years prior he’d sent a random message to me on Scruff suggesting that if I were to meet him out for a drink that night it could possibly change my life forever.  A bold assertion between strangers.  It was winter.  It was cold.  It was late.  It was my first night in Chicago.  I wasn’t about to leave the house, and certainly not for a random remark from a complete stranger to meet at a place I didn’t know.

As I got to know Patrick, and well before I was aware of his work, I grew fond of our opening line to most every interaction – “What are you reading?”  And we’d exchange quips about this title or that.  As I learned more about his work, our inquiries made perfect sense.

His perfect body, his sense of style, and his literary mind a most brilliant combination.  It was a coupon I enjoyed redeeming every couple of weeks.  Subtle.  Measured.  Refined.

It was a perfect contrast to Jim.  Bold.  Unchartered.  Esoteric.  He vacations in Iceland. Buys his clothing from Sweden.  He grew up in the corner of New Jersey that abuts Pennsylvania.  In a county where my friend Thomas was a life-time politician.  Thomas knows Jim’s family.  What are the chances.  I used to fly to Allentown to visit Thomas.  He’d visit me in New York.  Our plans to hang out in London together never materialized.  Thomas has kept an apartment in London for years, an attempt to avoid the press.

Jim wants to spend time in North Korea.  I’d go for sure.  No one else I know is as curious about that place as am I.  Alaska for dinner?  He’d be up for that.   We were comparing ticket prices.  Looking for hotels.

Nothing is off limits with Jim and it soon became the logical choice, assuming that I needed to make one.  All things considered, it seemed like a trajectory had formed – one that was rooted as far back as having met Thomas in Philadelphia at a dance on one random night in the mid 1990’s.

The only person I know who can understand the sheer scale of this as well as the nuances of it all is Manny, the man I was dating in Chicago prior to moving here.  He’s now in New York, all but homeless, and with whom I visited in July.

At some point the New York Times will write a story about Manny.  Not because of his accomplishments, but because there will be one million readers who will know immediately of the seemingly crazy man who paces rapidly along 9th Avenue carrying a black nylon messenger bag bursting with newspaper clippings and manila folders filled with nothing in particular, held in place on his shoulder by a the strap that should be replaced but isn’t because a large safety pin is a lesser-cost option.

Still, Manny somehow manages to find himself in the presence of the ultrarich, those that are so wealthy that they evade the press entirely, save for Mrs. Stevenson, but that’s only because Mr. Stevenson’s mistress suing the estate for a condo that he never purchased for her that she felt he should have.

All this while not even demanding free admission to the museums of New York, because he doesn’t demand, he just enters and bypasses the entire system.  He did the same thing in Chicago.  Manny defines moxie and not in a flattering manner.   Surprisingly he’s quite sympathetic – something few will experience from him.

But back to Chicago and the more recent…

Vacation planning.  Escape the winter for a bit.  Somewhere warm.  Most likely not.  Cold places are cheaper in the winter.  Fewer tourists, except Salt Lake City because it’s ski season.  But I’d like to see Laney, my former chiropractor that has helped me overcome what I thought was clinical depression.  Amazing what 50mg of zinc and vitamin D can do.

Or Helsinki – my favorite place to relax.  Having to struggle to understand the language means not having to focus on the chatter.  Its a background sound like the din of traffic.  And because Timo lives there and I’d like to get to know Timo more.

Timo and I  became instant friends four years ago when we discovered, within minutes of meeting, that he knows my friends Greg from Ohio and Esra from Istanbul, both of whom had lived in Pohjamaa, the plains region of Finland where I once lived.  Each of us having lived there ten years apart, and somehow, all of us knowing one another now and at one point the three of us sitting down for dinner in Columbus just five years ago.  Together Greg, Esra, Timo, and myself piece together a commonality that is distant yet tangible, and while we always marvel when we see photos of one with another, we’ve never all been in the same place at the same time.

Or do I wait to see if I can work in California this winter – which requires some of the pieces  go another year without being connected?

When I decided to do something different and make Thanksgiving something that might resemble what others take for normal I decided that Jim would be my guest.  It represented movement and progress along a trajectory that felt right.

It was not without risk because three weeks prior I’d approached the subject of dating with Jim because, to even a casual observer, it would seem as if thats what we had been doing.  He said he never knew, but how could he mistake a kiss on the cheek every time he dropped me off at home?  He admits, however, to not being good with social clues.  While he didn’t come right out with an answer, he didn’t stop doing what he’d been doing for some time, and that was engaging.  I took this as a reasonable sign that while perhaps taken off guard, it wasn’t off the table.

“And we can go to a movie after dinner!” he exclaimed.   Progress.  Offered as an invite brought about through movement, not through space, but through being in one place for awhile – the while a time span of a little over a year.

I called Manny in New York because I wanted to hold hands with Jim in the movie theater the way that Manny had with me when we went the movies on Christmas Eve in Toledo a few years back.  It was unexpected and charming and odd as it seemed for two men in their 40’s to be doing, I absolutely loved it.  And I knew that Jim would feel precisely the same way.

Several hundred words later, it is noted that Jim is dependable.  Or otherwise implied without having to use the word itself.  He was excited to have a kettle large enough to boil potatoes.  Even more excited to have a meat thermometer that could be used to ensure a week could go by without another food born illness.  One has to take it as a good sign when a man buys into a plan because he can provide a meat thermometer to his host.

And he arrived on time.

Ecstatic over the chocolate I had flown in from Finland.  Salivating over the mashed potatoes.  Then on the floor after dinner because a horizontal surface is best for digestion prior to two hours in a movie theater.

Some of the initial story line was missed because I was trying to find a way to position my arm so that I could reach for his hand.  But I did.  And he turned his head away from the screen for just a moment, looked at me, then clasped my hand in his.

Movement.  Trajectory.  Progress.  Success.  Not without angst. Not without planning.  But success none the less.

Last night we went to King Spa.  It was the perfect invite.  Washing away the week is so wonderful.  An opportunity to face a something better.  Fresher.  Cleaner.

Jon Anderson was there!  He’d just flown in from Oslo.  We chatted for a bit while in the hottest of tubs – pleasantries and inquiries from a narrow history when we worked together.   He commented on my like for the cold tub, a nod to our discussion for favoring northern climates. I took a nap on mat in a room with heated floors after.

On the way home Jim and I talked.  It turns out he’s seeing someone, of recent, in Cedar Rapids.  Which explains why he was mum about a sudden 4-day weekend last week to a place he’d never consider going otherwise.

A couple hours later he sent a message saying that he’d forgotten to tell me about a Werner Herzog film that he’s sure I’ll enjoy.

I’d have been happier with a yes this weekend but a Werner Herzog film will have to do.

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He chose to stand even though there were available seats in the middle of the car.  I’d been texting and didn’t notice when he boarded but he was now standing directly in front of me.

Content and relaxed, he faced outwards through the window of the door casually taking in the morning view.  A slender man.  Petite almost.  With a narrow waist and broad shoulders – across them a perfectly creased blue dress shirt.   The sleeves were rolled up over his elbows and even these had the appearance of being pressed.  The blue looked nice against his fair skin.

His receding chestnut colored hair, still damp, curled loosely across his head.  His beard, short and nicely trimmed, was slightly lighter and boarded on auburn.

An aged brown belt of uneven color and containing a few scuffs held up thick cotton khakis.  Sturdy.  Comfortable.  Not creased.  Neither the weight of the cotton nor the thick belt conflicted with his otherwise delicate features.

He repositioned himself as others boarded and when his back was to me I was able to again see just how broad his shoulders were.  I wondered if he might be a swimmer.  When he stood perpendicular to me, I could watch his eyes trace the structures as our train moved past them.

The beige suede wingtips  were fused to soles that were good for walking.  They were laced with cream-colored laces – a very subtle touch and perfectly appropriate.  His face and his expression did not give off the impression that he worked for this look.  Rather, his manner of dress was natural.  Casual.

At one point he turned and faced me and I noticed that his belt had worn to notches that indicated he’d been thicker around the waist at one time.  It was now on the last notch and wasn’t actually cinched, but hung just a bit.  Still, it made him complete and I wonder if it was a reminder to himself of just how far he’d come, both in terms of time and in terms of effort.  He’d had this belt for a while.

He didn’t bat an eye when it brushed against the top of his leg.  Gently moving from the fabric of his shorts to the skin just above the knee.  I watched it as it danced lightly across both surfaces.  

He boarded the train at the stop after I did and sat directly across from me.  No headphones.  No reading material save for the screen of his phone.  Uncharacteristic for a man of his age at this time of day.  Slender.  Plaid shorts.  A red v-neck t-shirt.  His tanned skin was the same color in all locations, including his head – which had been shaved a couple of days earlier.  He sat quietly with his thoughts.

At Belmont the train filled to standing room only.  A young man boarded caring a backpack.  Before grasping reaching up for the standee bar, he hoisted his backpack into place.  This action blocked my view of the seated man I’d been watching.  

When the train arrived at Fullerton the train filled even more.  The young man moved inwards and with that my view of the seated man returned.  The backpack now perched directly above the seated man’s lap.  As the train swayed to and fro the nylon straps of the young man’s backpack hung like tendrils over the seated man’s legs, fluttering as delicately as an aphid over a patch of clover.  

I looked at the face of the seated man expecting to see expressions of disapproval.  There were none.  The sensation, which could surely be felt, was either something he expected or something for which he longed.  An expression of bliss would have been inappropriate even if it had gone unseen.

It wasn’t until she put on her sun glasses that I noticed that she looked like Elizabeth Taylor.  Dark sweeping hair.  A long strand of pearls resting atop her cleavage, exposed by the deep cut neckline of her black blouse.

Prior to lowering the sun glasses over her eyes, she’d been applying her eye make up.  First eye liner.  Then mascara.  And finally eye shadow.   She monitored each application in the reflection of herself in the round mirror inside of a plastic compact which was held in her left hand.  This, during her morning commute while surrounded by strangers

The woman setting next to me is doing the same thing, though she’s no Elizabeth Taylor.  She was applying her make up when I got on the train. I try to read but I’m distracted by the proficiency that these two women have with their morning routine.

At Wilson a man boards the train.  His shoes are brown – the preferred color of shoes by men in Chicago.  His pants are a light grey plaid.   He’s wearing a dark grey vest, buttoned, over a crisp white shirt.  Everything that he’s wearing is perfectly in line for a inbound commute on the Red Line, except that each article of clothing is too large for his frame.

I look up at his face.  He’s young.  Not much over twenty and I try to determine where he’s going as well as what brought him to Chicago.

It’s evident that he’s not from here though I can’t pinpoint why, save for the oversized clothing.  His actions and lack of reactions indicate that he’s used to riding the L.  He holds on to the bar overhead with one hand and reads a book that’s held in the other.  The changes in the track that cause the train to sway do not disturb him.  He’s not eyeing the crowd.  He’s adept.  An indication that he’s been here for awhile.

The cap. The gait. The goatee and the shaved head. He has the appearance of Lenin. He removes his cap as he sits down. Beady eyes and writing in a spiral notebook. Furiously writing. Furrowed brow.

He wears no watch and no rings. His cuffs are unbuttoned but not rolled up. His clothing is not fitted but loose though not inappropriate for his frame and his brown shoes are in desperate need of a shine. I’m texting a friend in another state about this. He suggests that I approach him. I ask why. “Sheer curiosity I suppose”, he replies. I see no need.

His hands are wide. Thick. Veins struggle across the tops of them. While he writes with his right, in his left he holds a blue coffee tumbler. He unscrews the lid and takes occasional sips and glances around the car.

Now he’s reading a thick book though it’s title is hidden from my sight. I continue observing him and while he is aware of his surroundings he never once realizes that I’ve been watching him for the past ten minutes.

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