Chicago is a big city with 2,836,658 people and among them a big gay population, but there are ways to winnow down to smaller subsets, whether it be neighborhood or gym membership, favorite bar or a book club. Well, if you are a crystal methamphetamine addict, like I was, your world gets much smaller.
You know how in your office, restaurant, classroom, cast or whatever you call your work environment, there are social functions and at those functions there is always the person who just makes your skin crawl? They could be extremely popular with others, but for whatever reason if you are stuck alone with them your stomach turns? They are innocently sharing their opinion on why it is that Parks and Recreation never got the following it deserves, and opinion you completely agree with, but you want to disagree because they’re just the worst. They just rub you the wrong way. If they wear corduroys you find yourself muttering, “Ugh … corduroys.” That sort of person – a nemesis.
Enter Mark. He had bleached blond hair with purposeful black roots. He was very very very very very very TAN. Like a New Jersey housewife, Marlboro Menthol Light 100s-smoking, Anthrax-listening housewife tan. He had as small and thin eyebrows as a person could feasibly have (just a bit less than Myrna Loy and a bit more than Whoopi Goldberg).
We had met through a phone sex line, which was my pre-Internet, pre-Grindr choice for meeting like-minded, same-drug-using sex partners. Speaking of which, do you know what Grindr is? For those not in the know, it is an app where gay guys can hook up with each other based on proximity. This combines two of my favorite things: sex and laziness. Anyhow, my point is I have no problem with Grindr, but it is spelled, “G-R-I-N-D-R” It has no “E.” This part of the gay hookup app I cannot get behind (so to speak).
After a few traded messages on the phone sex line, he gave me his address and off I went.
He answered the door in sunglasses. He took them off and in a studied manner settled them on the bridge of his tanned nose a la Tom Cruise in Top Gun, or Tom Cruise in Risky Businessor Tom Cruise in Cocktail. He looked me up and down and, with a withering sigh, let me in. It was obvious to me that he was not interested in me, and I was not in the mood to spend my time with a store-bought tanned, hairless wonder for even more than a second.
So, we did drugs and had sex. You know … bird in the hand … the devil you know … We were there. We had drugs. Might as well. We were going to be up for a few days anyway, might as well spend it with someone who I increasingly couldn’t stand, right? We got on the phone sex lines. Seeing as we were both young and nimble, we thought maybe we could get someone else in, then we could maybe have someone there either one of us was interested in. Nope. It didn’t work, and it never would, every time Mark and I crossed paths. And our paths crossed again and again and again.
Three separate times after that, I would be on the phone sex line and find a guy who sounded perfect and then arrive at his place feeling like, “This place is familiar … why do I know this pla – oh … Shit!” But before I remembered, I would’ve already rung the buzzer. And there he would be. And every single time it was the same: an excruciatingly awkward cross between “Ha. Here we go again” and “Oh shit! You?”
Because not only were we not sexually attracted to each other, we also didn’t get along. He wanted to listen to club music, I wanted to listen to Joni Mitchell (which is a surefire way to be popular among the crystal meth using crowd, because you know how much drug users want to feel their feelings). He wanted to compare bronzers and I wanted to compare thoughts about the work of Amy Tan. He wanted to talk about clothes and new clubs and I wanted to punch him in the face.
We also met a couple of times out in the world. One time, I was hanging out with this drag queen who used to get me into VIP rooms of clubs and get me free drugs because she liked my Snoopy impression (I happen to do a very good Snoopy impression). We had just left a club, and we were getting into a cab when she said, “Honey, hold up, you have to meet my friend, Mark” and walking towards us came black roots and frosted tips, and this drag queen introduced us and we completely pretended that we had never met each other. We never talked about it. Never even had a wink of a moment of making the decision together. We just pretended we had never met. Like we were some secret high school quarterback/band geek relationship in an 80s movie.
And this was only one of several times we would be introduced. We were introduced at clubs, in a grocery store, at a bathhouse and once at the gay pride parade. We were both embarrassed about having been with the other so we just introduced ourselves over and over and over again. Every time we would see each other though, always the same face, “Oh shit! You?”
Then, I eventually got my shit together. I moved away from Chicago. I stopped being a drug addict. I left him and people like him behind forever.
About a year later, my straight friend, Joe and I were at the STD clinic for a routine check-up on the business. He went in to see the doctor, and I was left in the lobby. There was a video (maybe a DVD, I’m not sure. It was 2004 so you’d think a DVD, but it was a publicly funded STD clinic, so VHS it is). So, I was watching this videotape about meth and gay men, thinking, “Yes. Yes. Meth is bad. Anonymous sex. Yes, bad. HIV/ HEPC highly prevalent. Agreed.” As a former meth addict watching a documentary about meth addicts, it was sort of surreal. It was like what Erin Brockovich must’ve felt while watching <em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>Erin Brockovich. I am musing on this and watching the VHS when what sensation overcomes me but, “Oh shit … you?”
There he was. On the screen. A fake name, but unmistakably pencil-thin tweezed eyebrows. His hair was dark now, a blessing. And he was HIV-positive. He had HEP-C and I was thanking God that we hated each other, that intercourse was never an option. I was sitting there when I could have sworn he looked at me from the screen and rolled his eyes as if to say, “Oh shit! You?”
Steven Strafford is an author and actor whose show, Methtacular! will be seen in Chicago this fall! More information on the future of the show at www.methtacular.com. When not writing and performing about meth, Steven has been an actor in shows ranging from musicals to Shakespeare. He has been in big fancy shows and no-budget shows and everything in between. He loves all of it. He is getting married to Wade Elkins, and that makes him happier than anything else. Cookies also make him happy, as does the work of Fran Drescher.