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Love, language and cigarettes

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JULY 03, 2019

The party was dead — etherized 19 stories above the west side of Manhattan. I couldn’t deny it. The hot tub wafted the nostril-burning stench of chlorine over the empty dance floor, and there was no one interesting to look at, let alone talk to. On the roof, we could look out, see the glittering skyline and ponder all of the incongruous and intertwined lives down below. But even that gets dull eventually.

I also couldn’t deny my unshakeable faith in New York City nightlife. I am an evangelist of sorts for all the glamorous, seedy, troublesome possibilities of the city after midnight. So, I withdrew the last $100 from my bank account and suggested we grab a pack of cigarettes to wait it out. If by midnight the party wasn’t a veritable Studio 54, I would eat my words and we’d get a good night’s rest.

On the street, it was dark and quiet and empty; heat radiated off the asphalt, and the air hung heavy with humidity. Occasionally, a car would lazily drive past.

“Can I get a pack of American Spirits?” I asked, sliding a $10 bill across the counter. “The blue one.”

“C’mon — this is New York City,” the cashier scoffed, not unkindly but with the accent and bravado of a true local. I sheepishly replaced the $10 with a $20.

Organic tobacco does not mean a safer cigarette, the little robin-blue box warned in bold black letters. I read it, mulling it over, then handed it to my date as we walked back. I don’t normally smoke, but turning my lungs one shade blacker was a small price to pay for spending a few more hours with her. She was beautiful, always is, but in the hazy glow of the city, she was particularly so.

I often describe things neutrally with qualifiers and footnotes and parentheticals. It’s never the “best dancing,” for instance — “it was fine dancing for that part of town, for that time of night, for that kind of mood.” But believe me — it’s easy to talk about her in superlatives. She’s the most beautiful or the most intelligent or the most stylish person. Ever.

She inspires reckless enthusiasm in language.

Sitting 19 floors above the city, sharing a cigarette with the most interesting girl to walk into any room, her golden hair flying as the breeze rolled off the Hudson River, her lips a mauve plummy red, I couldn’t help but think in superlatives. In love, you can’t think any other way.

The party resurrected (my saintly reward for never losing faith in New York), transfiguring into the type of event where people must be fucking in the bathroom stalls. The beautiful, chaotic, sweaty hedonism was overflowing, dripping onto the floor.

“Can I bum one?” someone would ask.

I’d turn to her and say, “How generous are we being tonight?” and we, like benevolent rulers, would extend our little pack of American Spirits.

We’d float to the dance floor, and when we’d overheat, to the roof and then back again. Repeat process. In the fast company of drag queens, club kids, shirtless gay men and rich tourists, 1 a.m. turned to 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.

The sun was rising over the East River when we finally got home. The businessmen were donning their ties, brewing their coffee, heading to the subways, and I was blissfully “in love.” But not with a lover, with a friend. So in love that it made me want to say “fuck romance” altogether.

What I’m talking about is platonic love, and if you ask me, we don’t talk about it enough.

Listen, I’m not unfamiliar with romance. I’ve done the deed. I’ve dated the Gregs, the Connors, the Alexes. I’ve tried, and I didn’t just dip my toe in — I flung myself headfirst. I’ve written about them in this very newspaper, but they’ve never inspired any grandiose language.

Romantic love burns bright and quick, like a gasoline explosion in a high-budget Hollywood flick, so hot it can make your eyes water. But it doesn’t last; it’s gone before you know it, leaving you empty. Platonic love is a slow, sustained burn with bright flashes of color, like throwing salts into a fire. By necessity or otherwise, I think queer people have always known this — the disruptive power of friendship and community and the false promise of romance. Traditional romance is heteronormative in that, for about as long as tradition has existed, it’s been straight and binary and kinda awful.

I’ve been trying to find a way to tell my friend what she means to me, because soon we’ll be separated by the Atlantic. Other people could say everything they want, cut open their hearts and just let it pour out. For me, it seems I am only capable of being vulnerable when I write.

So, this is for you, and this is what I dream: After we’ve run through lovers, artists and writers and musicians, we buy a little midcentury modern in Palm Springs. We’ll wear caftans and host parties and write books and lay out by the pool, growing old as friends. And we’ll share one last pack of American Spirits.

"Off the Beat" columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer's regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

JULY 03, 2019