As far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed watching men. I grew up on the sidelines of life, in the margins, and I became, at an early age, someone who likes to look. I learned to “read the room” very quickly when I was a child, and over time that’s turned into something I just do without thinking. I am someone who looks at everything – but mostly I look at human beings. I look at them the way an art lover would look at a painting, or a mechanic looks at a car. Men are my main focus. Don’t get me wrong, I look at women too, but I have a better understanding of what I’m looking at, so they’re less interesting. Men, on the other hand, are more exotic.
There’s a restaurant in NYC called Bar Pitti. It’s very good and usually quite busy. The staff is mostly men. Italian men. Italian men are some of my favorite men to watch, because even though they are intensely masculine, they are not afraid to embrace one another – to kiss and hug. To me, there is no better shot in the arm than seeing two men hug and kiss. It renews my faith in the human condition. It’s light and casual, but heartbreaking in its sincerity.
Many summers ago I was sitting on the bench in front of Pitti waiting for a table. My friends hadn’t arrived yet so I was alone, watching. There was a couple eating lunch at an outside table. The woman was smoking and eating at the same time, which I found admirable, and her date was telling her something that he did not ever stop telling her. I don’t think he stopped talking once, and she just kept alternating between her Marlboro Light and her Pappardelle Pitti, hanging on every word. There were two waiters standing on the sidewalk, smoking and tapping a soccer ball between them, seemingly not bothered by any of the tables that were supposedly waiting on, but which were actually waiting for them. I thought that was admirable, too.
I’ve watched men do any number of things. Read the paper, shave, gamble, work on cars, cross the street, shift gears… but one of my favorites is when I see a sort of ease between men.
On that day, a tiny white beat-up bread truck appeared out of nowhere, jumped the curb and came to an F1-worthy stop about 5 inches from my bench. I could hear the driver crank the emergency brake as he opened the door and hopped out. Tall, lean, jet-black hair, wearing all whites. He walked over to the waiters with a playful swagger that can only be possessed by a man. One of the waiters, without missing a beat, gained control of the soccer ball, yelled out a greeting, and embraced the bread man all in one motion. Cigarette still in hand, he cupped the back of the bread man’s head and gave him a kiss on his cheek. A big, giant, kiss. It was fantastic. It was so unguarded and genuine, and I watched them and thought aren’t humans fucking fantastic? Now, I see women kiss all the time. We kiss and tell each other we love each other. But I don’t often get to see men embrace. So when I do, it’s a moment. That image, from that day, has stayed with me. It’s like a man who grabs his wife’s hat because he needs a hat. He’s not thinking Oh I’m a man, I cant wear a woman’s hat or, by extension, I cant kiss this other man. He just does what feels natural.
When we are not self-conscious, we are at our best. When we are honest, we are at our best.
I’m always looking for those genuine moments. To be honest, I sometimes feel like so much of my life is superficial. Crafted, orchestrated, routine. And that’s my own fault, by own my creation. I’m not blaming anyone, nor am I asking you to feel sorry for me; that’s what being an adult is sometimes. But I crave those kinds of connections with people. It’s about a laugh, a look, a smoke, a joke… any little thing. And I look for them. I will never stop looking for them, because they are there, and they are the things that keep my faith in the human race alive.