Thursday, April 10, 2008

Okay, the public has spoken. Obviously, you want more stories of embarrassment and humiliation from my past. Who am I to turn you down?

In the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, I was drinking a lot. Not to ease trauma brought on by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers... it's just what I do. One night, while I was, uh, 'enjoying myself' at a watering hold in Hell's Kitchen, I met a man. Let's call him (reaches for telephone book and jabs a finger)...


Uh, no, let's call him John. Which, for all I knew by noon the next day, could have really been his name.

John and I hit it off and so, a short time later, we ended up grabbing a cab for his place just off Seventh Avenue in the West Village. Which is when things started getting strange.

Manhattan had a very different, unsettling feel in the days and weeks after 9-11. I had left town for a week on Fire Island on September 9; when I returned, it was to an almost recognizable city. Concrete barriers and military patrols were everywhere... roadblocks and street closures common... and, of course, over everything hung that haze, and a vague smell that reminded me of burning rubber. Those were the elements of the Manhattan night when John and I walked out of the bar.

At first, I didn't think anything of going to his place in the Village, but as the cab travelled down Seventh Avenue, I realized that I hadn't been south of Penn Station since the attacks. And now I was going to witness some of the reality that I had managed, through the miracle of television, to keep emotionally distant.

The cab dropped us off at West 14th Street, the border of the frozen zone for nonessential vehicles. South of 14th Street, the streets were empty, so John and I began our walk to his apartment near Christopher Street, on the way passing St. Vincent's Hospital, which had been turned into an impromptu bulletin board with hundreds of posters seeking the missing, lit in the darkness by dozens of flicking candles.

"You okay?" he asked, and his voice seemed to echo in the silent streets.

"Yeah," I said. "It's just so overwhelming."

"No, I asked because you're weaving."


I didn't get to see much of John's studio apartment when we finally arrived. In fact, I don't think we even bothered with the light switch. It was straight to the bed and pull off clothing and wrestle around and...

You know what? This time, I'm not going to censor the adult part of the narrative. I am going to give you every little detail.

And here is every little detail: I passed out fell asleep. Before the real exciting stuff even started. Don't you hate when that happens?

You know that bright light you're supposed to see when you (a) die, or (b) get abducted by aliens, just before the anal probe? Well, the next morning I opened my eyes and everything -- everything -- blinded me. The sun spilled through the windows, making every surface of the room glare. The fact that everything -- bed, sheets, walls, furniture -- was white didn't help.

"Ugh," I moaned and closed my eyelids. I wanted to call out my host's name, but the process of forgetting was already well underway, so I had to settle for, "What time is it?"

No answer.

I gathered my courage and willed my eyes to open again. When my left one finally obeyed, I realized I was alone in the room. For that matter, I seemed to be alone in the apartment.


Yes, I was definitely alone. He had brought me home and eventually abandoned me.

I walked to the bathroom -- a white bathroom, of course, with white fixtures and white towels and a white shower curtain -- to throw some water on my face. Since I was alone, I also decided to snoop in the medicine cabinet, hoping to find a clue to his name. Or at least some aspirin.

The mirrored door to the cabinet opened, revealing row after row of tiny shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bottles, all bearing the same label and neatly aligned. Nothing else; just shampoo, conditioner, and lotion.

I returned to the main room and opened a closet. As I expected, it was empty. So was the nightstand drawer.

At that point, I had two immediate thoughts:

(1) What the fuck? and,

(2) I have a feeling I'm not supposed to be in here, so I'd better get the hell out before someone catches me.

I was dressed and out within four minutes, and began my trek back up the eerily deserted Seventh Avenue. As I walked, I wondered how someone could just vanish like that... vanish as if he had never existed.

Passing St. Vincent's -- past the posters that had stopped advertising hope and now memorialized loss -- I recognized that some vanishings are worse than others.