Grindr for Seniors
Alexander threw a funeral banquet to mourn the loss of his virility. Half-naked young men wearing black slippers embroidered with glass tears served all-black food—cuttlefish ink pasta, sushi with black rice in black seaweed wraps, and salmon balls coated in black sesame seeds. The bar featured near-black malbecs and black liqueurs. Guests solemnly paid their respects at an ornate Catholic prie-dieu. The coffin was naturally closed. The mirrors were draped with white crepe.
Alexander fluttered his hand as if it was a white silk handkerchief of surrender. In his distinctive grand piano tone of voice, he cried, “Darling, come join the ancients. Take your place.”
I knew the ancients from prior rodeos. Nearly every man among them was a former altar boy, though none had darkened a pew in decades, except alumni of ACT-UP and then for purposes other than prayer. On account of the pandemic, I hadn’t seen them in two years. They’d aged ten. With sun-blasted faces and layers of foundation, they were tired pillows that needed fluffing, uniformly clad in orthopedics or running shoes. We all made kissing noises, and I made tsk-tsking noises and begged to know whatever happened to the Gucci loafers we all used to be light in?
The ancients showered me with black mission figs, but Alexander—a former seminarian who should have been the Pope, who had a knack for saying the things the rest of us didn’t dare put into words—explained that I’d hit the nail on the head. The true reflection of our antiquity wasn’t decaying bodies, but that we now willingly adopted clothing we wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing in our youth and seriously entertained ideas we wouldn’t ever have thought ourselves capable of thinking.
“Speaking of which, how many of you walking enlarged prostates noticed the location of the nearest men’s room before you noticed the half-naked boys?” he asked.
Groans and guffaws were followed by fingers raised for the servers to bring additional cocktails. I pretended a healthy leering interest in a delectable Italian with cuttlefish-ink eyes and a booty to die for. He looked through me as if I was already dead.
The ancients observed that I wouldn’t know what to do with the young man if I ever got him and, besides, wasn’t it past my bedtime? I assured them I had very distinct ambitions for Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes, but it was undeniable that the world had more gravity and less oxygen every year I remained on the planet. Taking a restorative sip from my black anise, I added, “Besides, he’s not my type.”
“What’s your type,” teased an ancient, “an afternoon nap?”
Displeased that the focus had shifted from him—it was his virility, after all, that was being mourned—Alexander asked, “What else might we throw on this funeral pyre, ladies?”
We ancients made offerings of all that seemed past us: love, dreams, fortune, invention, innocence, and the terror of the first plague, the one before the pandemic.
One of the ancients set his hand on Alexander’s skinny forearm, and in a low consoling tone, asked, “In all seriousness, how did your virility die? Was it the pandemic?”
“Ailing for years,” Alexander admitted. “Flickering like an Edison bulb loose in its socket. And then one day, POOF! Just like that, I found myself with the sex drive of one of my grandmother’s lavender sachets.”
“You tried ….?”
“Viagra, Cialis, you name it. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get hard. It’s that I didn’t care whether I did or not.”
The ancients murmured sympathy and drew closer as if for warmth on a cold night, but Alexander’s good cheer was undiminished. He had always welcomed with affection whatever fate sent.
“Ancients,” he prompted, “this is when you say nice things about the dearly departed.”
A few of us offered personal testimonies and remembrances, which seemed to satisfy Alexander, who said he had no reason to doubt the taste or testimony of such a venerable and hoary assembly.
Another round of black drinks followed. We drank with purpose. We retold 1980s-era legends. We studiously avoided unlucky reference to those who had surrendered not only virility but their actual lives during the first plague or this new one. Death and guilt were sensitive subjects around which only Alexander had the real panache to dance.
Personally, I drank to be released from others’ banality, their petty demands, and the more insistent requirements of a failing body. I drank for the fuzziness of it, the ill-defined lines, the ridiculous idea I might yet dunk a basketball before I died. Bladder full, I stumbled to the men’s room and wavered like a candle flame over the open urinal. Like every other thing about age, my righteous outrage at getting old had softened, except the haunting fear that the first pandemic’s dead would come back to take from me what was rightly theirs, which they couldn’t allow me to keep. My thoughts ran to friends afflicted by the first plague before it became survivable—how they cried out for reprieve, even as they lived large and then eventually shat themselves in a small bed nursed by lesbians and straight women while birth families kept at a distance. In those days, death had relentlessly interrogated us with the awful questions: Who are you? What kind of person are you? Alexander could never have thrown a party back then that made light of our own casualties.
An exceedingly virile stream of piss emanating from the next stall startled me from this dark reverie. The sound was splashing and joyful and exuberant. Piss-play had never particularly turned me on, but this welcome reprieve reminded of skinny dipping with Alexander in the pulsing fountains of the Place de la Concorde on the long-ago night when we’d accidentally fucked.
Be like Alexander, I thought. Welcome with affection what fate afforded. The door of the neighboring stall had been left ajar. Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes was pissing merrily. I slipped into the stall. Imagining handling the young man’s ball sack would be like handling a toad—dry, cool, and wrinkly—I reached around, driven not by desire, but to prove mine wasn’t one of the corpses that needed to be laid out and infused with frankincense and myrrh and other funeral aromatics before it started to smell sour.
Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes yelped. He twisted sharply. His left elbow made contact with my left eye. I dropped to the tile as if a prize fighter had taken me out.
Any person who hasn’t been elbowed in the eye by a much younger man with a booty to die for knows nothing of life. Complete and obliterating surprise coupled with an utter lack of control gave way to a flash of light that turned to a flash of pain. I was instantly rejuvenated. I never wanted to die. It was no poke up the ass, but at my age, I had to take what fate afforded.
The fluorescent lights screamed. Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes muttered, “Oh, shit. Oh shit. Sorry, dude.” I pressed my battered face into the cool, urine-splashed tiles for comfort. The ancients were summoned. Someone muttered, homophobe.
Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes indignantly pointed out that he was gay and by definition couldn’t be a homophobe. He said, “The old creep surprised me. He got, well, handsy.” It was clear Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes wasn’t really sorry, though he hoped it wouldn’t spoil my night.
“Or reduce your tip,” Alexander chimed.
Knowing his audience, Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes said, “Your friend already reduced my tip.” He held his index and thumb very close to indicate shrinkage I alone could induce.
The ancients roared.
Alexander boomed, “Well played, young man.” He gave Cuttlefish-Ink Eyes a hundred dollars for his troubles. “It’s all fun and games until one of the guests gets KO’d for helping himself to one of the help.”
The party had been waning, but my buffoonery put pacemakers and defibrillators into overdrive. To let the festivities die was to let ourselves die.
Someone mumbled something about the baths, and with a hoot, we summoned an Uber fleet. Of course, gay bathhouses had decades since closed during the first plague, so the Russian baths were our only choice. Newly reopened after the pandemic, they were small and tired and cryptlike and made us want to lower our voices, and this among people who had a strong aversion to silence like vampires to light. Giggling, masked, we gathered in our own corner of a lukewarm pool. We traded insults and memories of how we’d once been immortals. We let the staff whip our backsides with branches, but there was no sting. My eye swelled in the heat. Little glasses of vodka warmed untouched. The stench of sulphur and cleaning products suffused us.
A furious babushka of our own vintage kicked us out when someone set out chocolate bark and black velvet cake scrounged from the party on the edge of the pool. She screamed about rats and the city’s inspectional services division and how the oppressive pandemic-era rules had ruined her. Not all the New Balances had been fully pulled over the ancients’ veiny heels before she slammed the door on us and said in Russian, never come back or perhaps a curse far more foul.
Gasping with excitement, Alexander and I threw ourselves into an Uber. Alexander tenderly touched the swelling around my eye.
“It’s almost like you stood up for me,” Alexander said, “my knight in shining armor.”
“Are you flirting with me?”
He laughed uproariously. “Virility is dead, remember?”
“Long live virility,” I said sourly. I hopped out in front of my apartment without inviting him in. The hardest bit of vanity to surrender to age was the draw of night. It had always given me a special warmth of distinction to be awake when others slept, as if I was the only one left alive, long before the once-a-week sex with my now-deceased partner became once a month, replaced by desultory viewing of online porn that felt obligatory as Sunday Mass.
The next morning, my body ached as if I’d been beaten like hammered metal. The twinge in my lower back, bruises I didn’t remember acquiring, head thick as a sodden Bible—I was so fully alive, I’d need a fistful of Ibuprofen to feel blessedly dead again.
I texted Alexander: How’s the corpse?
He claimed he’d gotten laid after he left me. Only when you give something up does it come back to you. I was contemplating how this trite aphorism seemed far too serious in a Nothing-Gold-Can-Stay-Ponyboy sort of way to have come from Alexander’s bitter tongue, when he added, They now have a Grindr exclusively for seniors? You shd try it.
I reminded him I was basically a monk, if a handsy one. I typed: I don’t remember what laid even means. Getting poked by an elbow is the most action I’ve had in God knows how long.
The phone rang immediately.
“We can be monks together!” Alexander cried. He imagined exterminating our mortal coils in mortifications and prayer, pushing each other to greater abasements, forgetting that conversion was the end and goal, and considering only the delights of pain.
“You know, I missed you,” I exclaimed breathlessly. “I love you.”
Some of us never caught the first plague, so I suppose out of a sense of Catholic guilt and justice, we always suspect death lurks for us right around the corner, and that we deserve it, so my gratitude and affection toward Alexander were like stubbing my toe—surprising and delighting me that I was, after all, against the odds, still alive.
Scott Pomfret is author of Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir; Hot Sauce: A Novel; the Q Guide to Wine and Cocktails, and dozens of short stories published in, among other venues, Ecotone, The Short Story (UK), Post Road, New Orleans Review, Fiction International, and Fourteen Hills. Scott writes from the cramped confines of his Provincetown beach shack, which he shares with his partner of twenty years. He is currently at work on a queer Know-Nothing novel set in antebellum New Orleans.