I even wrote a journal entry about my lovely experience:
I was visiting New York for the second time in my life. He insisted to see me off at the airport, and I pretended to oblige him (but in truth I liked his warmth near me). We sat close on the train as the stations passed us. He crossed his leg and taking off his sandal I put my hand on his foot. “I promised I’d do this”. His foot was strong and callused, and I pressed its shape into my hand. I was carrying the stupidest of white hats because if I didn’t it would have gotten crushed inside my suitcase. “Maybe I can fly out and see you”. He seemed so interested in me at the time. I told him it would be a wonderful surprise if he did.
I felt a sort of adult liberation while boarding that flight. I had set off on this haphazard adventure and by no merit of mine a sort of magical veneer had washed over it almost as if I had been completely entitled. The airplane was filled with young men in black suits. Mormons. A blonde, portly boy sat next to me as he popped a Jolly Rancher into his mouth. “It’s my first time going to New York, I’m doing my mission there!” I don’t know if they are taught ease of conversation, but for the hour and a half or so the flight took this young portly blonde boy engaged me in such a way I almost didn’t mind his perfunctory invitation to join the Mormon faith. I shook his hand and never saw him again.
“I can’t wait to see you!!!!” read the text from Alex. I’d found Alex Katz on Couchsurfing.org, I guess my starting point for planning my trip out east (and making it financially feasible). I’d secured two nights with Alex who lived a mere block from Central Park just off Columbus Circle on West 54th. I had considered myself lucky given the extreme competition to have hosts accept your surfing requests in Manhattan. I had done my best to be extremely charming to him, and somewhere in the back of my mind I found it easy to lie to myself that he hadn’t agreed because he was physically attracted to me. The cab ride to his building was a little over $50 with tip. His doorman rang him on the 23rd floor while I waited by the entrance counter, still holding that white hat in my hand. “You can go ahead now”.
I stepped through Alex’s apartment door. If I could pick a single detail to create a first impression it was the manic perfection. It was such a small space, but everything was obsessively ordered. Everything was edited. Everything was exact. To add anything into this space would have been to destroy it. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
“Would you like something to drink?”
“Water would be fine, thank you!”
I stood by my suitcase holding his glass of water in the middle of his small beige living room. Alex smiled from ear to ear as he kind of just contemplated me. He was 62, small in frame and very fit. His hair was completely gray and he wore rimless eyeglasses. I put the white hat on top of my suitcase, which I had wedged behind his cream sofa (for the time being it seemed to be the best place to almost hide it). Alex offered to walk with me in the city for a bit. “Would you like to use the restroom first?” He took the glass from my hands, walking into the kitchen and washed it. He dried it and put it back in the cupboard with the rest of the water glasses. There was nothing out of place even for an instant. His bathroom was just as offensively meticulous as the rest of his apartment. Everything gleaned. Everything was new, and even if things weren’t new inside that bathroom none had any warmth or the complacency of having been used. I washed my hands and spent a minute wiping off the droplets inside the granite sink bowl.
As we walked and Alex acted as my tour guide he made the gentlest gestures in putting his hands on my shoulder and my arms. It’s actually hazy to recall in hindsight how I felt about his gradual increase in physicality with me. I suppose it is a duplicitous reaction. He put his hand on my shoulder and I eased into it, but at the same time there was gnawing worry under the back of my scalp. You really do know. You do know he is communicating a sexual urge, and you think you can balance the pleasure of being desired with the necessary discipline to stop him if he ever went too far. Even then there is doubt (doubt that you would stop him even if he did go too far). The weather was humorously perfect on that June 1st. As we passed Lincoln Square Alex jested it was I who had brought the warm balmy winds that day. As we walked towards the pier a small glint on the ground caught my eye (as it would, seeing as how I am constantly more preoccupied with what is on the ground than eye level). As far as I could make out it was a fragment of a thin gold chain with an almost matchstick shaped piece attached to the end. As we walked I played with it, and shaped it into a small fishing hook form. “You can see all the way to the Cloisters on a clear day from here”. The weather had somehow turned uncomfortably warm, perhaps because we were closer to the water. For a minute I tuned out Alex and instead thought of Him, sitting next to me on that train, his callused foot in my hand.
Alex and I made our way to Central Park and lay on the grass. He talked, and he talked, but I kept slipping away in my mind. A clandestine beer seller passed us, offering Heineken in a hushed tone so as to not arouse conspicuousness. “Now if only the gin and tonic guy passed us by” – I said in an offhand, almost muted tone. “Oooh, you like gin and tonic do you?” I really can’t remember exactly how he phrased it, but for some reason this made him rather curious. “We’ll have to get you drunk then!” I thought it was almost cavalier of him to say this considering his gentle advances towards me, but I thought nothing of it. Go right ahead, Alex.
We went to dinner later that evening, and afterwards stopped at a small market to buy limes and tonic water. Making me a gin and tonic seemed like a fun project for him, and I was curious as to why. We arrived back at his apartment and I changed into some clothes to sleep, a pair of shorts and a hooded top. Alex was busy in the kitchen while I changed. He brought me a tall glass with a slice of lime inside. “Oh ho ho, you made this strong didn’t you!” - I jested with him. In reality the drink was a bit strong, but nothing out of the ordinary. Alex and I sat on the couch as we talked about various subjects. I told Alex about my struggle to get accepted into a graduate program in studio art, and he told me about his work in Academia (in a field which I can’t really remember).
His artwork revolved around squares, all of it. All of it did except one piece, which hung directly across from us. It was a small painting with violent encaustic. It was the one piece of expressive violence in his entire apartment. I stared at this painting as he kept on talking about his work with scholarship programs. I stared at this piece as he fumbled with the music player on his shelf. I stared at this piece as he edged closer to me and put his hand on my knee. It’s really quite peculiar, the feeling you get when you are drugged. It feels as though there is molasses inside your brain. A clear molasses that lets you see everything, but delays your motor responses. Your thoughts go through it, thick and encasing. So I just stared at this painting, this very violent painting in every color you can imagine as his hand went up from my knee to my thigh. I spilled a bit of my drink on his couch, and clear as the stain was I was completely mortified. He assured me it was fine, but I knew it wasn’t. It wasn’t fine. He led me to his bedroom and I lay on his bed on my side. He went off to the kitchen where I heard the running of sink water and the clinking of glasses. He was cleaning. He would not return to the bedroom until that kitchen returned to its meticulous state. He returned, and he undressed me.