Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I lose track of my age all the time. Or at least I lose track of TED's age. TED, of course, is an Internet construct, but the differences between me-TED and me-just me are not profound. And TED not infrequently shows up in my offline life, since it's the name I have used to arrange many of my encounters of a horizontal nature. This quasi-double identity has never presented much of a problem, in part because many of these encounters are a one-off, but also because I have grown accustomed to hearing myself called TED by the people who know me in a primarily horizontal context.

There is one gentleman in particular who phones or texts me with some regularity, and his usual spiel begins, "Hey, TED. I'm in the city, and I thought I might stop by and say hello." He always refers to horizontal quality time as "saying hello": he has since the very first time we met. (As euphemisms go, HQT is infinitely superior to "say hello.") His meaning was relatively clear, but part of me wanted to say, "You're coming all the way out here just to say hello? Don't you want to fuck?" But I suppose politeness and gentility are very important to him (politeness is important to me, too), and I have noticed that there is sometimes a correlation between politeness before HQT and depravity during it, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, this particular gentleman doesn't know my real name, and it's unlikely that he ever will. I think (I have not done the math) that in most cases where there's a repeat offender, I let him know my real name, but the two minutes of polite post-coital conversation that I regularly have with this guy are entirely indicative of a desire on his part to be genteel: he has no real interest in who I am. Besides, he lives in Northern Virginia, and by my reckoning, a gay man living in NoVA is only a click or two away from being GOProud. I suppose that it's wrong, or at least a little sad, to be so dismissive of someone who is so eager (on occasion) to see me and who (more importantly) kisses well, but there it is. There is a reasonable probability that at some point during the next few months I will be asked to move an existing relationship to an exclusive level, and if that's the case, I won't have any regrets saying goodbye to Mr. NoVA. Would that I could say that about all of my horizontal acquaintance, but I suppose I'll cross those bridges if and when I have to.

The keeping-track-of-my-age question is really mostly important in the context of TED because the only people who give a rat's ass about my age are folk on the Internet who want to meet me for nefarious purposes, and for the most part, these people want, or at least expect, to be lied to. In that vein, a few years back, I quipped to my then-partner that for Internet purposes, I was going to be forty-three for the next few years, until such time as my birth certificate would indicate that I was fifty, at which point I would leap frog directly to fifty-five, where I intended to stay, presumably until death.

I mention this mainly as the background that explains why when V. (formerly b&c, the aforementioned then-partner) emailed me a couple of months back to ask who* he should invite to my fiftieth birthday party, he also asked me how old I intended to be. I sent him some names, but I told him I'd have to get back to him on my age. I'm still working on that

It hadn't occurred to me that V., or anybody, would be throwing me a party, but it was very nice of him, and I found -- after he'd told me it was happening -- that I was rather looking forward to it. My birthday (which, to my everlasting pique, I share with Ronald Reagan: we differ by exactly half a century; also, I'm still breathing) falls right on the cusp of when tax season usually starts to kick into a higher gear, so I typically celebrate it by buying myself something nice and cashing a small check from my mother.

Mom had asked me, a couple of weeks prior to my birthday, whether I was worried about turning fifty. She said that my father had had a very difficult time with fifty. This puzzled me: my father never seemed to have much difficulty accepting the inevitable. Besides, it's just fifty. It's my impression that forty is typically the more difficult milestone (some would say thirty in the gay community, but at thirty I was still in fairly deep denial), and I don't recall any angst at forty, so why should fifty bother me? Nothing really happens when you turn fifty except that you start getting pestered to join AARP (which is, I suppose, a bit of a knock to people who bother to open their junk mail), and you can put more money in your 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan.** And I suppose that there's a somewhat ominous medical procedure that your doctor recommends merely by virtue of your age, but I've found that it's better not to mention that somewhat ominous medical procedure, unless you want people to go on -- at great length and in an inappropriate amount of detail and in a manner that's meant to be reassuring but is not -- about that procedure. And you do not want this.

The party itself was a lot of fun, though a bit of a blur. I had about twelve ounces of wine upon arrival, and -- loath though I am to admit it -- twelve ounces of wine pretty much ensures that I'm going to be pleasantly drunk for several hours. And when I say "pleasantly drunk," I mean drunk enough that when someone presents me with a rainbow-glitter top hat and a purple feather boa, I don them with good humor, but not so drunk that I don't remember to insist that someone take a picture of it with my iPhone. That way, no one feels the need to capture elsewhere that particular ridiculous outfit, and I maintain control over the image. As it happens, the glitter top hat (in jewel tones) is a pretty good look for me. That guy kept telling me how good it looked on me. For days afterward he mentioned it.

I had asked V. to invite that guy to the party because it seemed like we had been dating long enough for him to meet some of my friends. This was a matter of some trepidation for me, not his meeting my friends, but I was not thrilled about explaining to V. that I'm dating someone in a manner that may not be entirely casual, and I wasn't sure how that guy would feel about being invited. But V. wasn't the least bit troubled, and that guy loves a party. That guy, in fact, appears to love any party: this is not something we have in common. But we did both have a great time at my fiftieth, and my friends all liked him, of course.

(In fact, one of them liked him so much that he asked that guy out, probably -- I am giving him the benefit of the doubt here -- because he didn't realize that I and that guy were dating. That guy went, not realizing that he'd been on a date until he was recounting the evening to me, and I said, "Dude. You were on a date." A month later, that guy is still not quite ready to concede the point, arguing -- rightly -- that going on a date with the man in question would be like going out with a certain public television children's television host who is known for make believe. Of course, a lot of people really like cardigans: I don't judge. I am highly amused by the entire incident. To my shame, I am not above whistling "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" at inappropriate moments, which never fails to elicit, "It was not a date.")

I've had about six weeks now to get used to the notion of fifty, but I am still unable to ascribe any particular meaning, let alone dread, to it. I think for a lot of men, the forties are typically a period of great struggle and the fifties are more a period of stability and acceptance, but I've always been pretty good about acceptance, and stability is always an illusion, albeit a pleasant one. I do feel qualitatively and significantly different (and better) than I did a year ago, in a number of ways, but this has nothing to do with fifty, and everything to do with the death of my father. As awful as that was, getting through it has opened me up in ways that I could not have anticipated. It is a useful coincidence that his death occurred a few months before I hit fifty.

I still haven't figured out what to do about TED's age, though. Fifty is a nice, round number, and it's easy to remember, but there's a certain hunger and disreputability to the mid- to late-forties that is much more useful for the purposes of TED. I don't think I'm quite ready to give that up, but it may be only a matter of time.

*I have elected not to use "whom" here. I am not up to arguing about it.

**Fifty also presents some horizontal opportunities with the sort of, often young, person who will only date people fifty or over, but, apparently, I do not look sufficiently fifty for this sort of person. Alas. I am starting to get some flecks of gray in my hair, and I'm very happy about that, though more for aesthetic than horizontal reasons. I have always wanted to be salt and pepper.