At first you might notice his blonde hair.
Today it is freshly cut, from just a few blocks down the street, stylized with a few well placed spikes. The blonde spikes highlight the red mutton chops that have finally come into their own after a hesitant start a few weeks ago. Then you might notice his mouth, which is wide, and lined with expressive curves which lead to his eyes. Eyes, that I consider, lost on his youth. I have told him more than once to look me up in five years. I am curious as to what those eyes might say then. For now, they are still learning.
I am reminded again, by the uncertainty of his general presence that he is young. He is young in a way, that only someone older, like myself, can understand what I mean. It's pretentious and full of labels, something he hates in particular, but it's true. If I tell him that, then he might get offended, and whip out some derivative about how age doesn't matter. But it does. I am always are of his youth. There is a part of me that wonders what it would have been like to explore my identity when I still the had the naivety and ambiguity of self-proclaimed innocence around me. Would it have been as messy as now? Or have the years given me the temperance to understand and dare I say it, a bit of patience with myself. With that said, I don't envy the journey his messy youth is about to take him on, but I wish I could reach out and with a wand, wave a few good wishes his way. Here's your glass slipper, be careful at the ball, don't be a pumpkin, and all sorts of other nonsense. But I don't, and instead I distract myself with the menu which is just as fascinating as the company.
We are sitting down at Enzo's Caffe Itailano on Alberta St. I walked by the place before, disregarding it as a sandwich shop, as it is tucked in, and blends in with the rainy street day. Usually by this point in my walk, I have committed to a sorbet at Salt and Straw just a few blocks down. The place feels forgotten. The kind of place you wander into after a morning of walking museums, or staring at art. The kind that lets the mind rest after wandering. I wouldn't go there with a group of people. I would not want to experience this place in a crowd. I think it is meant quiet conversation, the kind of conversation us has, complicated, quirky, and full of awkward pauses.
It is simple inside, with a few small tables, a lit counter displaying (as I would discover later, the desserts) and a wall of fine wines. The waiter is... tall, dark, and handsome, and we giggle, falling over ourselves to ask ridiculous questions about the menu, delighting in his thick accent. My friend takes his suggestion, Pesto Penne with mushrooms, and after some debate, as the goat was out, I order the Braciola Di Masseria- rolled beef seasoned with garlic, parsley, and spices. Then we are quiet for a few. The place is small enough that any seat feels close to the window, and I watch the rain spatter on the parade of bearded, striped, dark haired, skirt wearing, small dog carrying, oddness that sprinkles and skips it's way down Alberta Street. I am waiting for my friend to talk.
He thinks before he speaks, something of an oddity in my head, but I have learned over the last month or so to give him space and time, and wait it out. Not everything needs to be said right away? I can tell he has a lot on his mind. When he thinks he gathers into himself and becomes smaller, totally ignoring everything around him. A talent I suppose that he picked up while living in various crowded, social communities. Currently he lives with about five other roommates I think. One is enough for me. He has just gotten back recently from a week long retreat with the Radical Faerie group, a spiritual group of gay men that focuses on being with each other and expressing themselves without restraint. I have hovered on the fringes of the movement ever since I came out. Parts of it intrigue me, but usually I keep a distance. However, he is glowing from it, and I remark upon this, which induces a small frown, and then a smile. Without overstating it, it is complicated to come into one's own, and he is doing just that. Since I have known him for the last four months or so, I have seen that shell, crack, shift, blend, and repeat. It is a familiar pattern to me. Both of us are afraid of the permanence of change, of not wanting to be the person we become. So we spend time comforting each other and indulging our insecurities, exposing our changes for what they are, and ignoring the reality we both face, none of this is permanent, especially not us. That uncertainty fuels our pauses which as the conversation takes a frank, and private turn, our dishes arrive.
While I am trying to be a good friend and listen, I can't because the meal is a bright firecracker of a surprise in my mouth. Without meaning to insult, and breaking his thought process, I can't wait to share, so I dice up some of the meat and insist he try it. It's pleasant without being overstated, and the flavors subtle enough to not readily identify anything, but complex enough to stop the discussion. How does one describe food? Argh, it looses something in the translation, let's just say that it gave me enough time to carefully tread the conversation at that point.
Usually, I have the added advantage that when I take my clothes off, I can't see, and so I get to the know the person I am with, blind. Their nakedness instead of being a visual, becomes sensory and helps eliminate that first few awkward moments when you are not sure about what you want, or you wonder how he got that mark. It gives me permission to let go and be in the moment. So boys if you are reading this, get my glasses off... Anyway, this conversation was like that, and we were both taking off our proverbial clothes, not sure if this was the right sort of intimacy we would be okay with. It wasn't flirting. It wasn't foreplay. It wasn't sadness either, but a willingness to admit something that we both had wondered about and struggled with. I wanted to take my glasses off, and let the conversation feel itself out. But.
He is as fragile as me. Maybe that is the attraction we share. Maybe that is what makes us friends, that we seem to ignore the fragility and toss each other's ideas around about sexuality, dependence, love, compassion, and identity ignoring the shattering of the glass around us. As if on cue, conveniently, the chef, stops by, interrupting our careful navigation of each other, and we can both breath a sigh of relief, awkwardness averted. Outside the reincarnation of Pan is negotiating with our waiter, while holding a bunch of random daises, lilies, and ferns. After an argument that I wish had subtitles. He wins and the flowers come inside.
The moment has changed, and shifted, and we casually recover and once again I am grateful for someone to share these insecurities with. He just needs someone to listen and not see the visage he gives off. He is still cute though and I don't let him forget it. Compliments flow freely between us, who doesn't need a verbal hug or two?
I am instructed by our waiter to look at the desserts in the case. I settle on this decadent chocolate pudding thingy, with fresh cut strawberries and topped with a few spearmint leaves. It is of course, awesome. We share, because we can, and I know I shouldn't eat it, but if you are going to commit a crime, then this is worth it. This is seduction. Less awkward, and safe territory for both of us. Time speeds up, glasses are emptied, and the dessert is finished. He suggest we go. I am reluctant to leave the moment, but before the wallpaper can curl and age, we go.
As we leave, you might notice, the way we walk, the almost too-close, but the never quite touching. You might notice the white in my beard announcing the differences in our age. You might. But then again, if you listen close, you might notice the familiarity of our words. We will be a never was, but I am okay with that, for there is a better version of us out there that we are still discovering, and that is worth the silent, awkward forays into our personality, the comfortable dramatic sighs, and the once-in-awhile wistful might-have-beens.
Dine with me!
In 2012, due to an inflammation in my intestine, I started the Paleo Diet. This means basically, no grains, no dairy, no processed sugar, a few odds and ends like no white potatoes, no popcorn, and keep the caffeine to a minimum- a 90/ 10 diet. Months later, I feel the best I have felt in years. In 2013, I am setting out to prove that, Yes, I can eat out in Portland and enjoy the life of a foodie. The rules are simple like the diet. I will eat my way from A - Z, and I must walk or use an alternative mode of transportation to get there. Join me. Stay Healthy. Eat Well.