20 February 2009

The Cafe Orlin

After having lunch with Bruce, I met Dominick on Broadway, just above Houston. Together, we roamed through the Lower East Side and East Village, through streets were I lived, played, drank fought, got high, fucked and got fucked a lifetime ago.

The first time I roamed those neighborhoods alone was more than thrity years ago, before I knew Bruce--and before Dominick was born. Perhaps the only other streets in this world that seem as entangled within me as my arteries and veins are the ones around Dahill Road and Bay Parkway in Brooklyn, and the environs of Parc Montsouris, Ile de la Cite and Place de la Republique in Paris. I guess the block on which I've been living for six years are becoming part of my fabric, too, but that's another story.

Anyway, Dominick said he wanted to go to a restaurant near St. Mark's Place that he loves. He couldn't recall the name of it, he said, but he could take me to it.

Well, it turned out to be the Cafe Orlin. It's across the street from one of the Porto Rico stores, where I used to buy whole beans when I was still drinking coffee. And, about half a block away is Veselka, another favorite place to eat.

But having Dominick take me to the Cafe Orlin seemed like some sort of karmic twist. We were led to our table by a cute young waiter whom Dominick knows, and we were seated across from a woman who was probably a few years older than me and an intellectual of some sort. Later, Dominick said that, from the way she spoke, she seemed like she had an Ivy League, or some other sort of upper-class, background. I concurred with him; I had that sense even before she opened her mouth. She was talking about writing with a much younger Asian woman who gestured toward an Apple laptop propped between them on their table.

In my previous life, a woman like the young Asian accompanied me to the Cafe where we were all seated. And I accompanied two or three women who resembled, in various ways, the older woman who was talking about writing. Other times I went to the cafe in the company of other kinds of women. And yet another time I read my poetry there and woke up the next afternoon with yet another older woman--though not the one I was hoping to, or planning on, spending the night with.

All those times I went to the Cafe Orlin, I had a beard and wore my polo shirts or cable-knit sweaters with threadbare jeans or wrinkled chinos. As I did on what may well have been one of the strangest nights of my life.

Peggy, whom I met when I was working as a writer in residence in the city's schools, invited me and Bruce there for coffee. She brought a friend whose name I can't recall now--and, for that matter, I can scarcely even remember what she looked like.

One thing I do recall about that night was that it was just after I talked for the first time about my childhood sexual abuse. At the time, I made no connection between that revelation and being in the Cafe Orlin with Bruce, Peggy and the woman whose name is lost to me. However, I believe I revealed to Bruce the connection between the two, which I saw for the first time as I was talking to Bruce today.

Bruce and I both decided we wanted that woman. I have known him for nearly thirty years, and she was the only person who aroused our common interest. What I confessed today--before Dominick took me to that same cafe--was that the main reason I wanted her was the main reason I wanted any woman in a boy/girl relationship: I was clinging as desperately as I ever have to the idea of myself as a heterosexual man. In other words, I didn't want her so much because I found her attractive as that I wanted someone whose presence in my life would affirm me--to others, I told myself; but really to me, I knew full well--as a successful straight guy, and maybe even a bit of a stud.

On the other hand, I think Bruce wanted her because she was interesting and attractive and, well, because he is a straight (but, as they say, not narrow) man.

As it turned out, neither of us got the girl. It was probably just as well because, if I recall correctly, shortly thereafter Bruce met Carolyn, with whom he has a relationship to this day. And I continued my desultory sexual and amorous history that ended with Tammy breaking up with me for exactly the same reason we got together. That reason is, of course, the one that led me to my current life.

And it was one of the reasons why, years later, I was in that same cafe with Dominick. The waiter may not have been born yet the first time I had coffee there.