I spot a sturdy 40ish man with two of my top ten Hot Dude accessories: eyeglasses and a goatee. I sit down next to him on the long wooden bench and do what I do best, which is feign indifference.
He fills in the gap. "Hi," he says. "I am Orlando."
His voice is low and melodic, and without warning snow-white doves circle my head and butterflies drop pansies in my lap. "Orlando," I repeat in my head. It doesn't get much better than that -- a historical, romantic name borrowed from a Virginia Woolf novel. I look again at his eyeglasses and goatee and now he looks even hotter, his intelligence edged with a smoky foreign flair.
While I'm sucking in the details he gestures toward a shorter, thicker figure who slowly sidles into frame. "And this is my partner, Jeff."
Jeff. This is Jeff. The cheeping little birds around my head crash and die at my feet. Orlando sees my face fall and moves in for damage control. "We have an arrangement," he says. "We have been together forever, and we are realistic about our needs. In fact, we probably only see each other once a week."
That's reassuring, I think, though it's a bummer that this week's meeting has to happen while I'm around. But I look back at Orlando and Jeff vanishes from my brain.
"I am from the Dominican Republic," Orlando says. "Have you ever been there?"
I shake my head and mentally catalog more manly details. His hair is thick, his shoulders are broad, and his torso has an athletic V shape. I slide over until we are touching and I feel his wiry arm hair scratch mine. "It is such a beautiful place I know you will love it," he continues. "One day you must go and experience the tranquil life and the delicious food but most of all, the hospitality of the most wonderful people on earth."
I'm hooked. Absent-mindedly I send a hand to the bottom of his shorts to explore the hair on his legs. "I've always wanted to go there," I say, despite the fact that it's somewhere around Poland in my mental list of Places To Go. "How long have you been in America?"
"Fifteen years. And America is my home. But there is a hole in my heart that it can never fill."
I'm seconds away from offering to fill whatever he's got when Jeff walks up, grabs my hand, and places it on his rather undistinguished waistline. I'm at a loss: what is he expecting here? I thwart his hope of an appreciative rub in favor of the quick squeeze and drop that one gives an overripe avocado. With my hand back against Orlando I offer Jeff a smile that's just slightly tempered by the "Get the fuck away from me!" look shooting out of my eyes.
He gets the message and backs away with a hurt look. "I thought you had an arrangement," I say to Orlando.
"We do," he says. "We don't even live together. He lives in Poughkeepsie, and I live on the Upper West Side."
That seems like an odd sort of couple, I think -- if in fact you can be a couple in a situation like that. "And that's okay with both of you?" I ask. "When I have a partner, I want to go to sleep with him, and get up in the morning with him." This syndrome has been dubbed "The RomanHans Paradox" by the American Psychiatric Association, referring to anyone who wants to marry a rich, powerful businessman who'll also wake up next to them just slightly after noon.
"We like our space. We have a lot of different interests. We like our free time."
"Well, okay," I say, unconvinced. "I guess that could work."
We move even closer together as Orlando conspires to paint a romantic picture in my head. "In the Dominican Republic there is the most beautiful mountain you will ever see. It is covered with banana trees and twisting red vines, shaded by a verdant canopy in every shade of mottled green. Every once in a while you will spot a Golden Warbler, the most beautiful songbird. They say the first one lost his partner in a monsoon, and now all of his descendants repeat his song of eternal love tinged with unbearable heartache."
Tears are welling in my eyes when Jeff comes up and rubs his hand against my chest. This isn't the first time it's happened, since I regularly go to the gym, and there I'm a little flexible about my response. It's okay if lesser-attractive guys feel me up while talking about sets and reps, but when the focus turns to nipple I'm out.
Orlando sees my pique, notes the new action and shrugs. "Jeff is Cuban," he says. "Cubans are very determined."
I don't mind this reply: it's gentlemanly and understanding, whereas my first impulse would be to spray Jeff with a garden hose. I remove his hand and push it back to his side, whereupon he retreats. It doesn't help that he just moves a few steps away to resume staring at us, but that buys us enough freedom for our talk to resume.
"You must go to Punta Cana," Orlando continues, "where you ride on horseback across a white-sand beach edged by a forest of palm trees. At night you and your partner recline under a palm-thatched umbrella with tropical drinks to toast your love."
The ocean and candlelight are materializing in my head when once again Jeff feels left out. He moves in front of me and, without a word, starts rubbing his crotch against my knee. Though knees aren't one of the body's top fifty sensory organs, mine unmistakably identifies a mid-sized, rock-hard penis. I'm not sure why Jeff thinks this will win me over. It's the bar equivalent of an unsolicited dick pic. In this case, it's also like tossing all of your chips in the pot when you're holding a six and a two.
"No," I finally snap, like I'm talking to a particularly stupid Golden Retriever. "That's enough. I am not interested in you. I don't like you, I'm not attracted to you, and I don't like you touching me."
He backs away again, and suddenly it hits me: I've taken all I'm going to take. Yes, Orlando is hot. Hot and sexy and knee-deep in a marital mess. "This isn't going to work," I announce to Orlando. "I'm sorry. You seem like a really great guy."
He shrugs again, like this isn't the first time this has happened, and he understands. We share a sad, lingering kiss, with maybe a little goatee rub and Goodbye Hot Arm Hair grope thrown in. I spin on my heels and aim for the door when I catch Jeff's expression. It's sad. Disappointed. Upset. He clearly doesn't know what hit him, and all of a sudden it hits me: is Jeff really a consensual participant in this "arrangement"? Is he its instigator or its victim? And aren't I punishing him because of his looks? Aren't I being one of those shallow bar assholes that everybody complains about?
And how about that name, "Orlando"? I'll bet he wasn't even named after a Virginia Woolf novel: his parents probably fucked at Disney World.
I walk over to Jeff and put my arms around him. "I'm sorry," I say with heartfelt sincerity. "It was really good to meet you. You seem like a really nice guy." He looks up at me with puppy dog eyes, and when I move in to give him a farewell kiss, he jams his tongue in my mouth.