Tuesday, May 28, 2019

I pride myself on my honesty. I've always hated reading newspaper articles that say something like, "I had the worst experience the other day at a restaurant that shall remain nameless." I think, why shall it remain nameless? Aren't newspapers supposed to be informative? You don't see the front page saying, "There was a fire in a building downtown but we aren't ones to gossip." What's the problem? How can newspapers print photos of dudes arrested for drunkenness or women arrested for prostitution but spare the reputations of restaurants that let rats poo in their food?

So, I've always named names. I've talked about the desk clerk at the Chicago Hilton who, seeing two men checking into a room with a single bed, laughed and said, "Oh, that's got to be wrong! AWKWARD! I'll fix that right away!" Because, you, know, I really love going on vacation and getting to explain to new people that MEN CAN FUCK EACH OTHER TOO. Yes, I jump at the chance to detail, complete with line drawings, exactly what my husband and I do in bed while all the heteros standing behind us wonder what the hand gestures are for. Afterwards my face burns for days but in the back of my mind I think I could have gotten a little bit louder when I said, "AND THEN MY PENIS GOES THERE."

For this story, though, I'm not naming names. I'm not German so I don't actually know the celebrity involved, but her power and popularity are all over the internet. She is an actress and model, speaks four languages, has numerous college degrees, runs several charities, and has shelves full of trophies for all of the above. I picture her as a cross between Lady Di, Oprah, and Posh Spice. Her husband is famous for similar reasons but another one that maybe I should mention is that HE'S A BILLIONAIRE.

So you'll forgive the big gray blotch at the center of this story? Thanks.

We open with my boyfriend Dieter and I meeting on a street in New York. When you're 6'8" tall, you talk to other tall people you meet. We ask each other things like, "Did you ever eat eighteen meals daily for a year and a half to try to gain a pound?", or "Have you become convinced over the decades that short people really think the weather is different up here?", or "Have you ever gone outside with a short person and had curious people ask you to draw a diagram showing precisely how the two of you have sex?" I spotted Dieter, started with "Are you actually taller than me?" and then we were off.

He was tall and stocky and had more colors in his socks than I had in my closet. I was tall and thin and dressed entirely black. One common question we avoided was, "Where do you buy your clothes?"

We were so engrossed in chatting, though, that we didn't notice the crowd we attracted, the slowing cars, the curious birds circling overhead. We ignored the repeated clang of looky-loos walking into lampposts. We glanced over when we heard a car crash, but just for a second. We knew this was something special. Dieter also made it clear from the start: he was in New York on a business trip, and was going back to Germany in a week.

I've never had goals, aims, focus or concentration, but I had a tentative direction for my life. I was born in Los Angeles, then moved to San Francisco, and from there went to New York. After 15 years in New York -- and reading the menu at my local coffee house and seeing a ham-and-cheese sandwich was $18 -- I knew it was time to move on. But where do you go after New York? You can't exactly point the Subaru toward Bag O' Pretzels, Wyoming.

No, the answer was clear. You go to the tawdry, raw-edged, ungentrified, crazy gay Berlin.

Dieter and I met three more times that week. We ate five meals, caused two more accidents, and met eight hundred people who were neither meteorologists nor able to differentiate between tall old white guys and professional basketball players. I told Dieter about my tentative direction and he said he had friends who could rent me an apartment for 500 euros a month. It was as simple as that: no creative visualization, no praying, no writing my goal on a helium balloon and then watching it float off into the power lines. I booked three months for a trial run.

Of course, Dieter had to work in Germany, so I had plenty of time to myself. One day I'd just gotten a piece of cake and a cappuccino at Café Kalwil when a very handsome man approached my table. He was dark and swarthy, olive-toned with 5 o'clock shadow that could scrub lasagna pans clean. "I am going to Tom's Sauna across the street to have afternoon sex," he announced. "Would you like to join me?"

I glanced down at my cake to see if I could shove it in my mouth all at once, but then I remembered Dieter. I thanked the man and said no, adding a five-hundredth entry to my Why I Love Germany list. In puritanical America, gay sexual desire is tortured drama: this man would be sitting paralyzed at home, thinking, "Why do I have these needs? Why has God given me this burden?" Six months later he'd walk quickly past a gay bar thinking, "Okay, that was a good start. Next year I'll try to go inside."

In Germany? "I've got an erection and it's almost noon so I thought, hey, I've got a whole lunchtime to fuck."

He asked if I minded if he joined me. I announced that I was in love with a German man. He said eating cake doesn't involve nudity, even in Berlin, so I said okay.

He introduced himself as -- is it getting fuzzy in here? -- Wojo, and said he was in the entertainment business, though with his effusive personality he could have been onstage. Smart opinions alternated with outrageous stories, all punctuated by effusive hand gestures that made dogs nearby bark in surprise. We talked through two more pieces of cake. Sure, he might have reminded me a few times that Tom's was just across the street, but I stuck to my guns. He asked what I was doing that night and I said I was going to Prinzknecht, a popular leather/Levi's bar. He said maybe I'd see him there.

Wojo was at Prinzknecht when I got there, prompting pangs of unease in my head. I'd been in the country literally 96 hours so it was a little early to be getting drunk with strange men. Before I could say anything, though, he said, "Let me introduce you to my friends," and then he grabbed my hand and pulled. "This is Roman," he announced to the first bunch. "I met him this afternoon. He's moving here to be with his new boyfriend, so DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT HITTING ON HIM."

He repeated this conversation word for word with almost everyone in the bar. I've always been a softie for thoughtfulness so I was pretty much swooning here. Nobody was going to replace Dieter but it was nice to know I had a possibility for second place.

We drank and talked until the wee hours of the morning, when Wojo gave me his card and told me to call him sometime. I said goodbye knowing that I couldn't: I had no idea how to use a phone, and asking my boyfriend to call another man seemed weird, yes, even for Berlin.

The next Saturday, Dieter and I waited in line for tiramisu at the Winterfeldplatz market. I was looking at the produce stands, the flower stalls, and the Syrian ladies with copper pans full of bubbling vegetables when a loud voice shouted, "DON'T PRETEND YOU DON'T SEE ME!" Of course it was Wojo. We hugged and I introduced him to Dieter, who was visibly struggling to understand how I could have a very close, very handsome friend days after arriving in Berlin. When we ran into him two more times in the next two weeks, Dieter dubbed him my "other" boyfriend.

Dieter was playing it cool but I saw right through it. I know how men are: my last husband always maintained that he didn't have a jealous bone in his body. Then I found myself in London alone, in line to buy tickets for the opera, and a rather distinguished older gentleman struck up a conversation with me. Half an hour later I was on the phone with my husband.

"I've just met a Lord," I said. "He has a castle and a convertible Alfa and he wants to take me for a drive through the Cotswolds. You aren't jealous so that's cool, right?"

It took fourteen minutes before my husband could speak again. To succinctly summarize, (1) no, I couldn't go, (2) why on EARTH would I think I could go?, (3) it was absolutely preposterous to think I could go, (4) did I really think for even a MINUTE that it would be okay to go? and (5) sure, he said he didn't have a jealous bone in his body, but clearly everybody knows that's a lie, because -- duh?

Other-boyfriend tension still hung in the air when Dieter went to Hamburg for a week for work. We texted constantly but on the day of his return the messages abruptly stopped. There was nothing but a massive silence. I sat and ate cake with neither boyfriend as the distance between the world and me widened to the breaking point. My texts stopped going through, Face Time refused to connect, and when I punched numbers into my phone a recording snapped at me in German before I'd hear the dial tone again.

Germany transformed from my wonderful new home into a foreign country, as I faced the insecurity inherent in a new relationship. Part of me worried about Dieter, but part of me thought I'd been played and it was time to go back to my real home. I'd take a bite of cake then hit the buttons for FaceTime again. Tip tip tap, tip tip tap. Connecting, still connecting, clearly this is taking too long, connection failed.

Four hours later, when I was numb from sugar and fear, my telephone finally buzzed. It was Face Time, and in big letters it said DIETER's name. Thank God, I thought. He's okay. He's coming back. I hit the button to accept the call and a picture appeared, distorted by sharp lines of noise. It didn't look like him, I thought. In the days since I'd last seen him was it possible that he'd changed? I watched as the figure solidified and my confusion was replaced by disbelief.

It wasn't possible. In fact, it was entirely impossible.

But then I heard the loud voice and saw the hands flying and I knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt. "ROMAN," Wojo yelled. "DON'T WORRY! I TOLD DIETER WE DIDN'T HAVE SEX!"

My eyes moved back to the type over the tiny picture on the screen. Yes, it was my boyfriend's name. I glanced back at the image. Yes, it was definitely my other boyfriend.

Random images flashed through my head, all involving face masks, chloroform, handcuffs, chains encircling radiators, and words like, "IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU THEN NOBODY CAN!" And then in the tiny picture another hand grabbed the phone and I saw Dieter at the wheel of a car. "Hi Sweetie!" he said, without a care in the world. "Your other boyfriend is here with me. We'll be back in Berlin in two hours."

I stared at the two smiling faces before noticing a third in between them. In the back seat, a beautiful, well-dressed woman was staring at me with lines of worry forming on her face. She glanced from one smiling gay man to the other, then slowly slid forward in her seat and stared directly at me. "What the fuck is going on?" she asked.

I was the last person who could explain, so after getting Dieter's reassurance that everything was okay I hung up. That night he filled me in.

Germany is a wonderfully green country, but every time somebody exhales sharply, trees fall across railroad tracks and the whole place shuts down. In this case, a storm caused the TV, radio and internet to cease functioning, and also shut down the trains just as Dieter's was about to leave. He ran for a car rental stand and got the last car in Hamburg. While he was walking to the car, though, he heard somebody shout his name.

"It was your other boyfriend," he announced. "He was stranded too and needed to get back to Berlin. I said I'd take him if we split the bill, and he said okay. Then he said his friend had to come along too, and that's when he introduced me to [Lady Di/Oprah/Posh Spice]."

At this point, picture Dieter doing a little dance. Balance it with a little German masculinity and you can throw in some squealing, and maybe some shaking from the excitement of spending half a day in a car with a national icon. The story went on for hours as I realized this was the trial run for something he'd tell everyone he met for the rest of his life. "We agreed to split the cost three ways," he said, "and we got in the car and started off. Everywhere trees were down, blocking roads and.... "

In the end, the story took longer than the journey, but I felt nothing but relief. Life here was clearly going to be special, so once again I said yes to Germany. A week or two later the story got a postscript: the total bill for the car was 300 euros, he'd sent bills to the other two passengers, and everybody had paid up.