In college, a friend who had just come out as gay was telling a few of us that he liked penis a lot. This meant a lot for him to say—we were 18, 19—but we were having a laugh about it. Another friend joked, “what if you met someone whose arm was like penis skin?” We laughed to tears at the thought of someone with an erect penis for an arm.
The gay friend talks about the kind of men he wants to date like he’s planning a shopping spree. Beginning with a whole mood board about the celebrities he finds attractive, he classifies body type and personality and specific facial features. Those details feel special to him so they feel special to us. Someone describes Jason Segel as having a unique “worry in his brow.” I like that phrasing.
A college roommate teaches me the word zaftig to describe a voluptuous woman “designed just to be fucked.” My best friend tells me I have a constellation of moles on my face and calls it my Little Dipper. I learn the phrase “lantern jawed” from someone with a big underbite, and his best friend counterpoints by describing his own face as having no jaw line, a paper lantern. I don’t know what an almond-shaped eye is supposed to look like. Someone has skin I can only describe as alabaster until I find alabaster and think “ew.”
There’s always a love scene in action movies and cop dramas when a woman asks about the origins of scars on the body. There are other movies about people with scars who never explain them and critics love the discretion. I tell someone they have a hell of a sunburn on their face and they tell me it’s a birthmark. I feel terrible, but he says “I get that a lot.” I withhold compliments about a boyfriend’s dark skin until I tell his best friend how beautiful I think his skin is and the friend says “you should tell (him). He’s so self-conscious about it.” I don’t.
Women’s skincare products are packaged to look more and more like medication and less like makeup, which is how I remembered alabaster tubs of lotion and tonics in perfume bottles from the bathroom counters of older women when I was growing up.
I threaten to draw people from memory because the results are absurdly funny. I get frustrated with how poorly photographs convey people, until the photos are so blurry and so abstract they’re finally perfect. Smart phones changed everything. I regret not having photographs of some people, until I am grateful I have no proof they mattered so much to me.
I narrate a fantasy to myself, focusing on a completely imagined body, always fully clothed, and am finally satisfied. I try not to deconstruct where the fantasy comes from, what it’s supposed to symbolize, because if I can rationalize inappropriate feelings, I can rationalize appropriate ones. I focus on my mood, or I will devolve into creating a logic that we are the same person—not connected through intercourse or emotional kinship but drafted from the same sequence of desires for the same duration of the history of the universe that led to our individual existences. Such a convergence is not just theoretically impossible, it is physiologically grotesque, and psychologically depressing, actually.
I’m into this new style of catcalling, if I can call it that, of strangers on the street, mostly men, simply stating: you look very nice. It’s not how it was done “back in the day” let me tellya. There’s a guy who picks up valuable trash in my neighborhood, and he passes me as I sit alone on my stoop staring at a cloud that looks like a bouche bée. He looks at me and says like I’ve just come out of rehab: you look great! Really!
It must be obvious to everybody that I am brimming with desire. If you ever saw me you’d notice it too.
The portraits of Alvin Baltrop are exquisite, and I highly recommend this folio. Baltrop, a war veteran, frequented the ruins of the Manhattan piers in the 1970s and took these portraits that look almost like optical illusions, like the clandestine affairs he sought. The Piers (ArtBook DAP, 2015)