Metro Weekly

OutWrite 2018: Chicago by Phill Branch

By Phill Branch

I saw his personal ad in the back of Frontiers magazine.

Frontiers was my gateway to a world I didn’t quite have a grip. It was one of those magazines you see in the gay ghettos piled up in front of small boutiques and adult novelty shops; an unholy invitation. Shirtless white boys with perfect abs and perfect teeth mocked you from the cover pages. Still carrying the burden of being black and being “that way,” it took me a while to actually pick one up.

No one knew about me.

I don’t count the men I met at adult theaters or the football player from Grambling I met one random night in college or my adviser who seduced me with the assistance of an International Male catalogue. They didn’t count because no one else knew. I could always walk away.

The night I finally picked up a Frontiers magazine I was bored, unhappy, and horny — a cocktail for disaster. He lived in Norwalk. I didn’t even know where in the hell that was. I’d only been in Los Angeles a couple of months. I hadn’t been any further west than the Beverly Center, south of Venice, or east of La Brea.

I’d moved out here to be the next Spike Lee, but somehow I ended up answering phones at Levine/Schneider Public Relations instead.

I was alone and didn’t want to be. I was poor and didn’t want to be that either. I was gay…and didn’t know how to be. On top of all of that, I was going to miss Christmas back home in New Jersey. I think missing Christmas bothered me most of all.

I love Christmas. My family wasn’t especially religious. For us, Christmas was all about the gifts and spending time with family. As kids, my brother and I got everything we wanted. We’d open gifts, then hop into a cab over to my grandmother’s house where we’d open more gifts. It was always a magical time. Well, except for the one Christmas my dad left to get a tree and didn’t come back until after Christmas.

My first Christmas in L.A. was magical too…in a black magic sort of way. I thought I wanted to kill myself, but I took a passive aggressive approach to ending it all. I didn’t have insurance, so there were no prescription pills. I was late with rent and considered jumping from my tenth floor Park La Brea apartment window, but that was too dramatic, even for me. At some point during my downward spiral I realized that I didn’t want to kill myself. I really just wanted to punish myself for not having the life I was supposed to have.

I’d imagined I’d be engaged to my high school sweetheart, Dana. We had it all planned out. We were going to have three kids, two girls and a boy – Ebony, Essence, and Elijah. I don’t know why we went with names that began with “E.” I’m sure there was some reason that seemed profound in our teenage minds. Instead of engagements and kids, however, I found myself trying to face a life that was completely unrecognizable.

That first Christmas in L.A. was unlike anything I’d experienced – no snow, no yule log, no presents. People were wearing shorts for God’s sake. What kind of Christmas is that?

Since I decided against suicide, I went to the movies instead. I remember wearing a turtleneck and brown corduroy pants. I thought maybe it would make me feel like I was home if I dressed in winter clothes, despite the warm temperatures outside.

I ended up seeing Dumb and Dumber. That choice didn’t make things much better. On the way home, feeling completely lost, I picked up Frontiers.

When I got back to my apartment, I locked myself in the bedroom. I didn’t want one of my roommates to see what I was reading. I sat on the floor of my bare room and flipped to the back of the magazine. I’ve always gone to the back of the magazine first. It’s a habit I developed reading Jet magazine.

Jet printed a list of the top twenty songs and albums in the back of the magazine. I’ve always liked lists. I would read the “Top Twenty” lists first and then work my way back to the beginning.

Frontiers had ads for everything under the sun. I’d seen personal ads in mainstream newspapers before: “man seeks woman for walks on the beach and romantic dinners.” Frontiers was no walk on the beach.

“Hot guy in WeHo, with hot mouth looking to take big meat all day and night…anonymous only.”

I was disgusted by the vulgar ads and seemingly classless nature of the people who posted them, but I kept reading and then I found “him.”

He was tall, swimmers build and liked The Simpsons. He was a “blk,” “btm,” into “ff,” “ws,” and “k.” I didn’t know what any of that meant, but I figured it couldn’t be so bad.

I called him.

“Come over,” he said. He lived in Norwalk.

“It’s ten o’clock,” I said.

“I’ll pay for a cab and I won’t try anything; don’t want to be all alone on Christmas.”

I didn’t either.

I showered, got dressed, and left a note with his address and phone number on my bed, under my pillow. Even in my reckless abandon of meeting my faceless, nameless Norwalk date, I tried to be responsible. “If I am missing, I am in Norwalk at this address.”

I sprayed on some cologne and went downstairs into the waiting cab.

Fearing getting murdered by an anonymous man in a town I was unfamiliar with is how I began my dating life.

First published in 2012. For more information on Phill Branch, visit phillbranch.com.

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