Book Excerpt: ‘Ladies Who Lunch & Love’
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Chapter 1: Love & The City
Love is singularly the one thing we all pursue. We all have known it, and we all have lost it. It is ever-changing and ever so confusing. Love (and its beguiling ways) is what makes us tick. It is the foundation of life and the core of our existence. Anyone professing to completely understand love is a liar. So I’ll just say that I am its student. Whitney Houston was singing about it as I stepped in front of the mahogany floor-length mirror beside my matching bed. According to the song, she found out what she’d been missing, and it was love. Thankfully, just in time to be rescued, she discovered a lover who gave her good love. Good for her. For me, my love for the new leather blazer my parents sent would have to do for now. Love comes in many forms.
It was the occasion of my thirty-ninth birthday, and I’d screeched up to the edge of forty. Not sure what it is about the big 4-0 that perplexes the minds of men and women, but I was certainly not immune to its vexations. It is universally the age where you take full stock of everything you have done – and everything you have not. I was usually ecstatic about celebrating my special day, but the tolling bell made me less so.
Sure, there was plenty of love in my life. And yes, there was also a lot to be grateful for, and I am. I get to do what I love to do for a living. I also have a loving family rooted deeply in Chicago’s south side. A bevy of dear friends who have become family. Oh, and we can’t forget that one of the biggest loves of my life, New York City, is the place that I call home.
I was seven years old when I first visited the enormous metropolis that is New York, and I was instantly seduced. It felt so different from Chi-town. The smells, the rhythm of the city – intoxicating. From the moment my father opened the taxi door in front of my cousin’s apartment building in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan, I knew I had met my match. There was so much noise. So much going on. And the people! The people were all beautiful and dressed like in the movies. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere important to do important things. At seven years old, I knew this city would be my destiny. Don’t know how I knew, but I did.
With every subsequent visit, I grew more certain that no other city understood me quite like New York did. She was the one that made me feel normal, and so my love blossomed. As with any great lover, I knew that I had to make my move when the time was right, so I stayed just north of Chicago for college. At Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, I sharpened my wit, toughened my spirit, and for four years prepared to take on one of my biggest challenges. I wasn’t afraid. I was ready. And so, I accepted an offer from Time magazine and, six days after graduation, took the plunge. The short, anxiety-filled plane ride required two vodkas on ice to soothe the energy brewing inside. The memory of stepping out of LaGuardia Airport into the summer air and inhaling the uniqueness that is the city of big dreams and challenges remains fresh. The summertime smell of New York is overwhelming for most. For me, it is perfume. Still, when I finally arrived at the apartment building on the Upper West Side where I had rented a small room from an older friend, I began to cry. At that moment, it finally dawned on me that I had realized my dream. I had proposed to my lifelong lover, and she had said, “Yes.”
Now, as I walked in the brisk March air down Broadway to my birthday celebration, I smiled at the wonderful memories and big accomplishments. But, to be honest, New York and I had been through some rough times, too. She is the type of lover that can be abusive in a way that makes you like it. Makes you think the abuse is for your own good. And in many respects, she is right. Because eighteen years later, I was much wiser and stronger than I ever imagined I could be. She did that to me and required that of me. I had been broken down by her love and built up so many times that I believed that it was the way it was supposed to be.
Until today. As I peered over the cliff of middle age, I felt like something was missing. Or maybe what was missing had become more apparent. The uneasiness could stem from the major movie deal that fell through months ago. The work for a producer in New York is not a very deep well, and with the failure of that project my well had run dry. So I had made the decision to bite the bullet and leave. I was headed for the City of Angels, armed with the belief that the abundance of opportunities in show business there would re-surge my career and make things all right again.
The fact that I was leaving was a secret and I’d decided to make my big reveal tonight. Usually my birthdays are like a national holiday for me, a spectacle. But this year, I had surprised everyone by requesting an intimate cocktail and dinner situation with my dearest sister-friends and their partners. Sister-friends. I wish I could credit the term as an invention, but truthfully it was co-opted from the late and great Dr. Maya Angelou. It perfectly embodies the fullness of the relationship I have with five women who add sparkle and wonder to my life.
With each of them, the relationship is complex and simple at the same time, if that’s possible to understand. I definitely have a male energy with them all that is paternal, chauvinistic, and downright obstinate. They quietly like the masculine thing with me, especially when it comes to those gentlemanly graces I’ve taught them all to expect from all men. My sister-friends pause at doors when a man is around. That’s from me. My sister-friends expect a man to handle his responsibilities. Me. More importantly, my sister-friends expect the men in their lives to show up, be present, and be men. Yep, that’s me, too. OK, I’m probably taking a little more credit than I deserve, but since I’m telling the story, we’ll go with it.
Our closeness is partly attributed to the fact that sex is not a part of the equation. As a gay man, they are safe with me. Although I’ve been guilty of being an equal opportunity flirt, I’m not trying to sleep with them. Intimacy, yes. Sex, never. We cuddle. We hug and kiss. Not quite like brother and sister, but certainly not like lovers either. It’s just special and wonderful and freshly loving. And, not your (stereo)typical gay best friend relationship either. Number one: I hate to shop (although thanks to them I know way more about designers and fashion than I care to admit). Can’t do your hair or your makeup. I have never worn a pair of high heels. And please do not call me when the game is on (they ignore this all too often). No, these relationships fit no formula, and I like it like that. As much as I love New York, the real difficulty would be leaving them.
Just as I got sad contemplating how much I would miss them, a cat-sized rat ran in front of me, jumped his fat ass over a mountain of snow in a single bound and scurried down the sewer in the street. After letting out a shriek in stereo, I got over myself and picked up the pace. Love or not, it was time to get the hell out of New York.
Ladies Who Lunch & Love is available now on Amazon.com.