I am becoming a dirty old man.
Since writing doesn’t pay the bills, I have to perform a different sort of writing to keep myself off the streets, an altogether different type, technically known as “coding”. In other (less long-winded) words, I work, as a developer, for a large software company based in North Carolina, and spend – as I am now – periodic two-week stints here at their campus, instead of at my home-office in Hollywood, CA. These trips sort of bifurcate my life into domains best described as gay-centrals on one hand, and baby factory on the other. Neer the twain shall meet.
In gay central, I spend a lot of time in West Hollywood, not necessarily living “the gay lifestyle” (this is just a friendly dig at a fellow columnist who dislikes that term), but certainly existing amidst a mostly gay milieu. For instance, I work on my laptop frequently at the big Starbucks opposite 24Hour Fitness. On such days, it’s not unusual for me to see, through the course of a few hours, fifty men beautiful enough to be models (in “normal” cities.)
Here in North Carolina, meanwhile, the walls and doors of many offices are plastered with baby pictures, every other vehicle is a mini-van, and lunch meetings with colleagues are on the suicidal verge of boredom. (When they’re not talking about their kids, they’re only left with sports and church.) I’ve worked for this company for twelve years. During that time, I don’t recall once meeting somebody on our campus that I could clearly identify as gay. Nor, for the most part, do I get the visual stimulus, here, of bodies beautiful (certainly not on campus.)
Maybe this explains why I got so excited last night. I was early for an appointment I had to drive to, so pulled over opposite a park, to catch up with some work. It was some sort of frizby-combo-golf-weird-game park, as near as I could make out, and playing the course were four college students, one of whom was shirtless, just wearing shorts, with a beautiful, compact, muscular build and the most engaging smile. You had the sense, as he walked around the course, that he was both completely aware of the homoeroticism implicit in his shirtlesness as well as extremely self-confident (though without being affected.) The body language on display in the group indicated that he was “the leader”. I’m not saying that any of the others were remotely affected by the proximity of his gorgeous bare chest, but it’s nice to fantasize.
I, however, was certainly affected. I fumbled with my bag to get out the point-and-shoot camera I always have with me, and shakily tried to line up a few shots without attracting their attention. I’m not at all sure why I was so flustered, since I see beautiful men every day back in gay-central. What is certain, however, is that I felt like a dirty old man, even if only in a self-amused ironic way.
(You can see the photos here, though I must excuse their poor quality by the evening light, the poor camera, and the distance from that camera of the object of my lust.)
I’ve long wondered how I’d feel when I reached the age of no longer having the kind of body others lusted at. If that sounds arrogant, let me follow with admitting that I went through most of my life without it, having grown up very skinny. Through my twenties, I detested my body so much, I’d call myself a death-head on a stick. When I saw men with the physique and confidence to bear their torsos in public, there was always a tinge of bitterness and envy mixed up in my admiration. It was only as I entered my late thirties, that my body got its act together, and, for an all to brief shining period, I enjoyed the attention I got when I had my shirt off. Now, at the age of forty-seven, that glow is fading (or, more frankly, has winked out), and, as I began to say, I wondered if – at this stage – the bitterness and envy would return.
It comes as a big surprise – to me at least – that there are good things about aging. You don’t take yourself so seriously; you care less (I mean that in the literal sense – as in “my care is less”; not as in “I couldn’t care less”) what others think about you; you have the wisdom to know when to pick your fights; you don’t get so bent out of shape at life’s injustices; and – this is the bigger surprise – you accept, with equanimity, that your looks aren’t what they were, and the sight of others – like the young man here in the park – who still inspire gasps when they’re shirtless, just brings to mind a tender mix of admiration and good memories. So, let’s here it for dirty old men!