I had the opportunity recently to spend an afternoon and evening with my friend Eeyore. Longer-term readers of my blog will realize that I am not myself a long-term resident of The Hundred Acre Wood, but am talking about an old, decades-old, old-old-old friend of mine who has a glum and dour disposition. He has a unique talent for making lemons out of lemonade; I’m not exaggerating much when I say his mere appearance at a Mardi Gras celebration could turn a happy festival into a mass suicide.
Going out with Eeyore these days is really not that different from going out by myself, much of the time. No sooner will we have arrived at a place than he’ll whip out his smartphone and absorb himself, for half-hours at a time, in the seemingly dozens of GPS sex apps that occupy his phone’s first screen. There’s Grindr and Scruff, of course, and Growlr, but then there are a good ten more of which I’ve never heard. Mind you, Eeyore will never actually hook up with any of the guys he sees on these apps. The last time I checked in with him, he hadn’t actually had sex in two decades. But that doesn’t keep him from dreaming about it . . . in public, surrounded by men in a gay bar, in the company of friends who take him out because they want to socialize with him and not with the back of his phone’s case.
So there we were, in a fairly quiet gay bar—just me, Eeyore, and Eeyore’s smartphone. I sipped my drink and watched his fingers move lovingly over the silicone-and-glass device. I looked away when he stroked it intimately, as it might a lover. “This one’s hot, huh?” he would occasional say, then show me a photo of a blue-haired, big-schnozzed twenty-four year old.
“Where’s he from?” I’d ask.
“He’s only thirty-six hundred miles away,” he’d sigh, and then lose himself in concentration for another half hour. I’d sit there, sipping and sipping, watching the gay men come and go while he’d hunch over and peck out conversations with ugly guys who lived just on the other side of the Urals.
A very long and silent forty-five minutes later, he nudged me to show me a profile on Grindr. “Oh god! This one’s less than two hundred and fifty feet away!” he said, using much the same strangled, ecstatic tones as might a happy pilgrim upon seeing the Virgin Mary pop her head into Lourdes.
“That’s because it’s the bartender,” I told him, nodding at the young guy at the room’s other side. The photo on the phone was of a twenty-five-year-old in shorts and hiking boots, his feet firmly planted on some rocky precipice. He had longer hair in his Grindr photo, but it was unmistakably the same guy in the jeans and the tee with the cut-off arms who was standing across the room. “If you actually looked up once in a while. . . .”
“Oh god, do you think? He’s so, so beautiful,” mooned Eeyore. I thought the kid was all right. Nothing too special. I wouldn’t have turned him down if he’d come on to me, but I wouldn’t have turned into a crushed-out schoolgirl over the kid, either.
“So go talk to him,” I suggested. I wouldn’t have minded being left alone for a few minutes. Hell, I’d been alone for the hour we’d been in the bar.
He recoiled. “I couldn’t do that,” he said, horrified at the thought. Eeyore is a good seven or eight years older than I, if I’ve not mentioned it; he behaves as if he’s thirty-seven or thirty-eight years younger. “Look at him,” he said, over and over again, cupping his smartphone as if it were a religious icon. He stared at the photo for long minutes, not seeming to realize that the real thing was standing not twenty feet from his downturned face. “Less than two hundred and fifty feet away!”
“Uh-huh,” I said, starting to grind my teeth.
For another half-hour I sat there with Eeyore, staring at the top of his bent head. “Let’s go get some dinner,” I finally suggested. Without complaint he agreed. We sucked down the rest of our drinks, collected our things, and were on the way to the front door when I realized that Eeyore had stopped in front of the bar.
“Hey,” he said. Then, louder, “HEY.”
There were two guys behind the bar that evening. One was the one from Grindr; the other was older and closer. They both stopped what they were doing to look at Eeyore.
“You ever been on a mountaintop?” Eeyore asked the younger bartender.
“What?” said the older one. “On a mountaintop?”
“I know what I’m asking!” said Eeyore. “You. You ever been on a mountaintop?”
“Hey,” I said, realizing he was a little more drunk than I realized. “Let’s go.”
“Why would I be on a mountaintop?” asked the older bartender, still not realizing he wasn’t the one being addressed. The younger bartender, in the meantime, seem to have finally realized what Eeyore was asking. He blinked and opened his mouth, then closed it again.
Eeyore caught the gesture. “Oh yeah,” he said, way too loudly and nastily. “He knows what I mean. You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’tcha, sweetheart? Standing there pretending like you don’t know—”
“We’re going,” I told him, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him out. Eeyore is a lot heavier than I, but I was a lot more sober, and had my balance. He tumbled out the door into the night. “What the fuck was that?” I wanted to know. He started to make excuses for his behavior, but I wasn’t having any of it. “That kid didn’t do anything to you,” I lectured. “There’s no need to be confrontational with him just because he’s on Grindr and you’re too afraid to go up and—“
“I can’t help it if I don’t know the etiquette of these situations!” he yelled at my back, then scurried to catch up with me.
“Just be nice,” I suggested. “Not weird.”
We went to dinner. Now, normally, when I go out with friends, I am the slow eater. Everyone else will have cleaned his plate and folded his napkin while I’m still rounding that final leg of my cheeseburger. By the time I’ve downed that last fry with small grunts of pleasure, they’re usually tapping their toes, avoiding my glance, and wondering when the entire ugly spectacle will finally come to an end. When I’m with Eeyore, however, he’s spending so much time staring at his phone and checking messages on Fuckr or Scrappr or whatever is the app du jour that I seem like a high-powered Hoover in comparison. I finished eating whatever the hell it was I’d ordered after twenty minutes; it took him a full hour and a half to consume a salad and a wedge of whole-grain bread.
But once he had some food in him he started to become the charming guy I’ve known he can be—at least when the waiter was around, anyway. The kid tending our table was a student who was outright adorable. Cute face, lithe little body, a smile that lit up our corner of the dank little restaurant. Whenever he was around, Eeyore would set down his phone, come to life, and elicit some new little bit of information about the boy. That’s how we discovered the kid was a senior in college who worked seven nights a week all summer to earn his tuition for the next year of school; he was majoring in business; he loved to surf and planned to move to San Diego with his girlfriend after he graduated. I started to relax, thinking that maybe my lecture about not being weird had sunk in a little.
The waiter enjoyed the interactions. It was a slow night, and he obviously enjoyed talking about himself. I’m sure he knew we were both gay, and even though he seemed pretty straight, he didn’t mind Eeyore’s none-too-subtle flirtation.
Then came the check. “Oh thank god,” Eeyore said, grabbing it. For a moment I thought the waiter had discounted our drinks or something. But no. “His full name’s on it. Gimme.” He pointed to the kid’s moniker under a generic computer-printed line about how happy he’d been to serve us. He grabbed his phone and started to tap at it.
I prised his fingers out of the folder and stuck my credit card in it. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Investigating,” he said, stabbing furiously at the glass. “Look,” he said, showing me the waiter’s Facebook profile. There was a photo of him with a surfboard, shirtless and looking good. Then another of him with a smiling girl. “I hate her,” Eeyore growled, looking at the other photos.
“Come on,” I said, feeling the old dread settle over me once again. “You’re being creepy.”
The cute waiter boy came over to collect the bill. He wore a big smile on his face. “Hey guys, thanks for being at my. . . .”
The smile faded when Eeyore thrust his smartphone into the kid’s face. “Who’s the girl?” he wanted to know. “She looks like a skank.”
“How did you . . . oh . . . you saw my name on the check,” said the waiter, all color fading from his face. “Then you . . . looked me up online. . . .”
“Yeah, he’s a regular Hardy Boy,” I said, trying to lighten the moment with a joke. The waiter walked away expressionlessly to cash out the bill. When he was out of earshot, I stared at Eeyore. “Asshole,” I said to him.
“What?” he asked, still looking at the boy’s photos.
“You had a nice rapport going with that kid. Then you fucked it up. Why the hell?”
“I don’t know the etiquette of. . . .”
“That is bullshit,” I told him. “You are nearly sixty years old. You’ve had half a century to learn by now that if you want to stalk someone online, do it in private. You don’t do it, then share the results of your stalking with your victim. You don’t put them on the spot like that. You don’t—“
But I was too mad by that point to be coherent for much longer. I’d had enough for that night.
I keep thinking about my anger from that evening, in a week where I’ve had several kinds of rudeness thrown my way by other guys. Each time something new and creative and shitty has happened, I keep wanting to put my hands on my hips and ask, What in the world were you thinking? to the guys. But I’m sure that I’d just get the reply of, What?! I don’t know the etiquette here. . . .!
Which is bullshit. We’re all adults. By now we should know to play nicely with each other. We’re not theoretical constructs that exist only thirty-six hundred miles away. We’re not nerveless imaginary beings on the other side of a layer of glass. We’re all real people, and if we’re wielding our dicks at each other, we should be mature enough to treat each other with a little respect.
We all know the etiquette here. We just have to understand that it’s up to every single one of us to apply it.