A few years ago I met a man who shall forever be remembered in the pages of my diary as Mr Hard-on.
It was a Friday night in November and I was taking a shower at the Metro-Central Y. It was late and there weren’t many people about. There was another guy on the far side of the room, also naked, also taking a shower, but I couldn’t have told you much about him beyond the fact that he was white, muscled and in his late 20s. I didn’t look at him and he didn’t look at me. There was no cruising, no sexual tension, no lingering looks.
But a minute later this same gay walked up to me outside the showers, where I was drying off, gave me a very big smile, opened his towel and showed me his fully erect cock.
Not a partial stiffy. Not one of those semiturgid affairs where the guy is obviously trying to work up some interest, but a full-on erection. Very full, if you know what I mean.
I was surprised and a little nonplussed. What exactly did he expect me to do, drop to my knees right there?
For those of you not in the know, the locker and shower rooms at the Y are very open and very public. The tiles are white, the lights are bright and there is never not somebody around. Solo stimulation is common but public displays of affection are problematic.
So I didn’t quite know what to do. More to the point, I didn’t understand where this had come from. As I say, there’d been no cruising beforehand and I wondered how he got up enough interest to mount such a vigorous display.
Later I realized that the suddenness was a big part of what made the event attractive. It was pure grace, something out of nowhere. It was kind of like one of those late baroque paintings where a bug-eyed prophet scans storm-tossed skies looking for revelation and the clouds suddenly part to reveal a new reality.
At the time I was just plain puzzled by the abruptness of his enthusiasm. We talked a bit, he gave me his phone number and I saw him on several subsequent occasions but nothing ever came of it.
But at this point in time I would like to say how grateful I was and am to Mr Hard-on for his enterprise and attention. It came at a tough time in my life and, while it might seem like a minor event to some, just another bit of urban weirdness, it was definitely major to me because it really did seem like a sign from the gods and it gave me the courage to make some significant changes in my life.
People talk about “gods” appearing in their life and most of the time we dismiss it as a literary convention. But in this case it really did seem as if some ancient pagan god had stepped into the shower room and given me a signal. One minute I was outside the loop of life, the next I was back in it.
I was reminded of this because something similar happened just recently. A man I’d barely noticed at the Y walked up to me out of the blue and touched my naked ass then stood there and grinned.
Again nothing happened and again that was part of the charm of the thing. It was exciting without being enervating. In a world where most things require work, effort and planning — everything from relationships to careers —these small moments of sexual grace are unearned tokens of an otherworldly joy.
I’m not talking about cruising or cocktail party flirtation. That’s something else again. The essence of these encounters is their arbitrary abruptness. Like flights of lightning they pick you up and for one brief moment sweep you out of yourself.
I doubt most straights would understand this story. I once tried to explain Mr Hard-on to a group of straight women, and they nodded sagely but I’m not sure they really understood. Why would they? Such a pointed display of interest could easily be misinterpreted as abuse or assault. Few women, I think, would welcome a Mr Hard-on. There’s a name for people like him and they’re usually wearing raincoats.
But for me, of course, it was yet another demonstration of the joys of gay life. How often do you get such a touchingly tactile demonstration of interest?
This kind of talk speaks to our need to have sex mean something outside and beyond itself, which may or may not be wrong-headed. But there’s no doubt these small moments of sexual grace are one the things gay life does best. Charming, exciting and free, they’re a chance to step outside yourself and see life from another less inhibited angle.