Nearly four years ago, I decided to quit drinking.
I won’t bore you with the details, but they involve a citation for urinating in public, stomach ulcers, and apology fatigue. Don’t worry! I’m fine! While this has been one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life, it is not without its share of concessions. For one, it’s really hard to make new friends.
For me, it has always been important to feel connected to the queer community. To be surrounded by my brothers, sisters, siblings, and cousins. It’s an othered brotherhood. An otheredhood.
I used to have friendships like that, but they mostly revolved around tipsy nights out. In the last few years, they all but slowed down to a crawl and sputtered out. I’ve come to peace with the loss and realized that it’s okay that a change of circumstance created an inhospitable environment for certain relationships. I’ve never felt healthier, and I settled into a routine that I protect like a fortress.
William* first reached out to me on Instagram. He messaged me asking for a painting, which I sometimes do, for funsies. I usually just take those funds and spend an entire weekend going hogwild on a spending spree for me and my dog, Orson: ordering delivery, renting movies, sharing bananas, taking him to the pet store to pick out all the toys he wants. I only had two brief meetings with William. One of which was to discuss the project over coffee, and the other was to give it back to him. We met at a local coffee shop that makes pastries with cardamon where cinnamon is supposed to go. (They’re not the same, people!!!!!!!!!)
While the interactions were brief, totaling no more than half an hour combined, I felt a distinctly unfamiliar sensation. Perhaps more accurately, it was familiar but forgotten: “was this a friend in the making?” Will was kind, witty, and, as far as I could tell, he thought I was funny. Those are the three tentpoles of which all alliances in my life are formed. Apparently, I was not alone because, by the end of it, he left me with an invitation. “If you’re not doing anything this weekend, my partner, Bert*, and my friends, Oscar and Elmo*, go watch Drag Race at The Slippery Pickle* on Friday if you want to come.”
I felt my life flash before my own eyes. Most Friday nights, I stay in. It’s partially because I’m a homebody, and the rest because I’m reclusive. Would agreeing to this mean that I set myself up for being groggy on Saturday morning when I like to wake up early and craft? Then, of course, I had to wonder — is it going to be a problem that I’m going to a bar? There’s this saying meant to dissuade non-drinkers from hanging out in bars: “if you sit in a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.” I’d already worked so hard to grow my hair out.
My synapses all fired at once, and I answered instinctively.
“Sure, that sounds fun!”
I do like watching Drag Race, and watching at a bar could feel the way straight people do watching football games.
Friday morning, I texted Will to let him know that I received Harry Style’s new nail polishes! [Full review here!] I asked if I should bring the polish so I could paint everyone’s nails. He responded, “Maybe not!” He thought the fumes might be too strong. I spent the next 20-minutes calling myself stupid, out loud.
After work, I finally started getting ready. I was halfway done with steaming the wrinkles out of my blouse when Will texted me— “Hey we’re here! We saved you a seat. :)” They were already there and I still hadn’t decided what color contacts I was going to wear! I shot back a “Be there circa 7:30!” Circa. Who says that?
The look I put together could best be described as “Hello Mr. Gay.” It was a blue button-down over a white tank top, finished with a thin gold chain. My jeans were insignificant. I wore Birkenstocks. It was a Hello Mr. outfit. A plant gay ensemble. But, I was already running late and had to go. I told Orson I loved him, he wished me luck, and I ran out the door.
When I arrived, The Slippery Pickle was packed and very dark as I scanned for the group. I only had ever seen the front of William. How was I supposed to know what the back looked like? Being in a bar again was weird. I’ve been to bars since I’ve stopped drinking, but not really gay bars. Brooklyn gay bars have such a specific atmosphere and smell—like mildew, tequila something or other, and Santal 33. It took me back for a moment. I took careful measured breaths.
I did an inventory of the crowd and made note of how the queer Brooklyn community styles themselves these days. (With mullets, mostly.) Making out the outline of William, I placed my hand on his shoulder and said my hellos. Bert couldn’t make it, but I met Oscar and Elmo, who greeted me like this wasn’t the first time that we’d met. Oscar was beautiful like life hadn’t yet worn him down. Elmo had a quiet, but profound intelligence about him. William looked like a fashion model.
I had a downright lovely time. I was so glued to Drag Race on the screen that it helped distract from the fact that I was completely out of my element. No haircuts for me. (Just a tall seltzer.) We talked about our jobs, volleyball, Elizabeth Holmes, Elizabeth Holmes’ voice, my dog, Canada, Aubrey O’Day, Aubrey Plaza, DJing, my newsletter, companionship, fear of intimacy, and the Nintendo DS. I even got to play wingman, briefly.
While we stood outside for some fresh air, someone took one look at my footwear and said “not the socks and sandals.” Unrelated to the previous sentence, I told them I was going to head out. I had to let Orson out, and I was excited to cuddle with him.
On my way home, I went by a deli to grab a sandwich. I ordered a sausage and egg on a roll. Ketchup, pepper, toasted. When I opened it up to scarf down on my walk home, I realized that not only did they forget ketchup, but it was not a roll. It was in fact an onion bagel. In between bites of this criminally savory sandwich, I laughed about it to myself. I thought about how I could tell my new group of friends how odd of a substitution that was to make. I wondered if they’d laugh at the tale of the brazen sandwich artist working the 10 p.m. shift at The Bagel Wizard*. “Of course, they’d laugh,” I thought. I’m a riot.
*Names and details have been changed.