Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I love Berlin, there's no doubt about it. It's totally unlike New York. Prices are low, people are friendly, and there are folks excited by things other than cash. It's the latter that brings me and Dieter, the German Guy Who's Taller Than Me, to Folsom Europe on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Folsom is a "fetish" festival that started in San Francisco and spread to New York and Berlin. It's a guaranteed good time because the well-cultivated scary vibe surrounding it has thus far scared off all the bachelorette parties that plague our bars like herpes sores.

BACHELORETTE #1: Ohmigod, Cynthia, look -- there's a man in a puppy mask!

BACHELORETTE #2: Ohmigod, Charlotte, look -- those aren't Snausages!

I find myself trying to figure out what about this festival is uniquely Berlin. It's not the dozens of puppies, the sad trend I first spotted in New York months ago. It's stupid: basically it's submission in a leather dog mask. You scamper around and wait for your master to either spank you or give you treats. I tell Dieter's friend Herbert I don't think it's remotely sexy. Call me crazy but I've never gotten an erection looking at a big dog's ass.

"What about the tails?" he asks. "Do you know how they stay in place?"

I don't care if Burt Reynolds is holding them on, it's not getting a rise out of me.

Herbert points out the rings some guys have tattooed around their forearms, some as high up as their elbows. "It means they're into fist-fucking, and it shows how far they've gone," he explains.

That's kind of Berlin, I decide. The trend hasn't yet hit the U.S. but I should not be the guy who starts it. At least my tattoo would be cheap, since it'd be just below the second knuckle on my index finger.

The streets are jammed with hunky men in leather and vinyl yet one area is oddly clear. We investigate and find a mostly-naked man in a wheelbarrow -- I will tell this story to Germans later and no one will have the faintest clue what a wheelbarrow is -- holding a cardboard signs that says PISSOIR.

Isn't that French? I wonder. I decide since the cardboard is only three feet across the man couldn't fit the German word, which is PENILFREEFLOWINPLATZ. The man looks lonely, dry and dejected, so the liberal crowd is feeling guilty and muttering excuses.

MAN #1: I can't! I'm pee-shy.

MAN #2: I just went two minutes ago.

MAN #3: Look at this crowd! I'm a grower, not a shower.

Finally a young butch number steps up to the plate. The crowd presses forward to watch as he unbuttons his fly and whips it out.

This is really Berlin, I think, as I await the forbidden act. Pure decadent Berlin.

Just as the first splash nears its target, though, a man bursts out of the crowd and throws himself between the yellow flow and Wheelbarrow Guy. The crowd gasps: it's like a really gay version of Saving Private Ryan. The urine flies at the newcomer's face and hits it. It's close range so water ricochets everywhere and the receiver's face distorts both from the impetus of his sudden movement and the pressure of the golden stream. Still, the giant smile he's wearing tells us everything we need to know.

The man in the wheelbarrow isn't smiling quite as much.

I walk away and reconsider my judgment. No, that was all New York, I decide as a wayward puppy licks at my boots. It looks like you're finally going to get what you want and somebody shows out of nowhere to take it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

I'm too empathetic, that's a fact. Sad stories that other people find mildly depressing completely disable me. I'm overly sensitive, and I feel too deeply. I recognize the hardships and struggles that others face and often find that they paralyze me. I know I could applaud someone's strength in facing deprivation, but instead I find myself overwhelmed with pity and the sense that no matter how hard these brave folks struggle these are unending battles that they will eventually lose.

The first time I walked into Dieter's apartment I took one glance around and felt tears sting in my eyes. The sadness hit me like a ton of bricks. Was that a ... fake flower arrangement on the sideboard? A hanging rattan lamp? And there on the Bombay Company coffee table, was that a Tom Bianchi photo book?

My head spun so fast I expected kids to ask me for rides. I ran into the kitchen. "I ... I need a drink!" I sputtered to a mystified Dieter. I threw open a cabinet and froze in horror at its contents. Ferrer Roche candy, peach-flavored green tea bags, and a kitchen timer shaped like a goose. My body tried to register its shock but the guttural cry froze in my throat. What kind of person could live like this? I wondered. What godforsaken melange of horrific taste and disposable income could drive them to buy these things?

I concentrated on my happy place. This isn't so bad, I thought, and then my eyes settled on a painting of a naked male torso with highlights lavishly brushed in gold.

I ran for the foyer as a clueless Dieter followed. "So, how do you like the place?" he asked.

The immediate response in my head was, "Ohmigod, you poor, poor thing!" but aloud I said "It's terrific! It is really, really great!" And it was, I recognized. Not his apartment: folks from Ethiopia would have said, "You know what? We'll just live in this pile of mud, thanks." But his courage. His bravery. His strength in the face of such a paralyzing disability. I was privileged to live in a world with Vermeers and Manets and didn't realize that to some gay men it's not really art unless there's a penis in it.

I pulled his body close to mine, throwing my arms tight around him. We hugged as I mentally applauded him for his bravery. We kissed, then kissed some more. The affection turned to desire as shirts were slipped off and pants unbuttoned. Seconds away from abandoning all thoughts to pleasure I noticed one side of his underwear was green, one side was blue, and the middle was orange.

"Oh HELL no," I said aloud as I grabbed my shirt and stormed out. I blindly staggered down the darkened street repeating: No. No. No. NO! I mean sure, I had vast reservoirs of empathy and compassion, but at some point even Doctors Without Borders are going to say, "Oh, I have just fucking had enough."

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I am in Berlin for a month to spend some time with The Guy Who Is Taller Than Me. A security scare at Frankfurt cancelled my connection to Berlin, so I had to take a five-hour train ride to arrive here late last night. My luggage, however, is at some airport.

I go to the supermarket to replace toiletries. Toothbrush, check. Toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo. No contact lens solution? I ask a clerk.

No, she says. For that you must go to the apotheke.

I find an apotheke, which is a sort of curated drug store, and find contact lens solution. By my calculations I'm about a third of the way to getting presentable. No combs? I ask another clerk.

No, she says. Her English is not as good as the last. I must go to a very specialized store, she says, but she doesn't know the word in English and there are none around here anyway. She looks me straight in the eye, eager to convey the idea. You know, she says, it's that odd kind of establishment that sells soap.