10
Jan
06

Congrats to the Guy Outside the 99 Cent Store

I’d like to salute a complete stranger, who I’m willing to bet I’ll never see again in my life, for a small act of courage.

Walking out of a 99 cent store (We call them “dollar stores,” where I’m from, which I think rolls off the tongue much better, but that’s just my silly Midwestern opinion) in my neighborhood not long ago, a man tapped me on the arm and said something that I found very alarming.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m about to make a complete fool of myself. But I just had to tell you something. I think you’re really handsome. I don’t know if you’re gay or not, or if you’re with someone, or whatever, but I just had to tell you that.”

I sort of laughed and said, “Thanks.” I could think of nothing else to say.

He continued at a breathless pace: “See, I’m never in this part of town anymore, but I used to live here about eight years ago. I live in the West Village now, but I still come here to get my glasses, and while I was here to pick up a prescription, I stopped in here to get a couple of things …”

He had been standing at the counter, paying for his stuff, when I walked in. He looked me straight in the eyes and said in a very familiar way, “Hey, how’s it going?”

I had assumed that he knew me from somewhere and I couldn’t remember from where, so I nodded and pretended and gave him the old “Oh, fine. How are you?” It was apparent, however, standing outside in the corner with him, that he had just been flirting.

“Well, it was nice to meet you. And yes,” I said. “I am gay. And I’m flattered. Thanks.”

When I told Jeff about it at home later that night, the first thing he said was, “Ah, well, I notice you didn’t tell him you’re married.” Did it matter whether I told him or not? I didn’t want to explain too much or prolong the moment. Though I was flattered by his sentiment, I was also embarrassed by the attention. I took his hand and shook it.

“Well, take care,” I said. “Have a good night.” It seemed like I was blowing him off, but I couldn’t think of anything more graceful.

I ran the scene through my head over and over again, laughing quietly to myself for the two-block walk home. It struck me as a romantic yet hopeless gesture. Funny how often those two things are the same in certain contexts. I couldn’t believe it had just happened — out in public on the sidewalk. In my neighborhood. I felt kind of proud someone felt safe enough to do that in my neighborhood.

I feel a little silly, even conceited, to mention it. (Is it possible to tell these stories without seeming conceited?) Truly, looking at it objectively, I give him a lot of credit for stopping a stranger to say what he said. Not because I’m any kind of great catch, but because it took some nerve. We should always congratulate ourselves on these little victories against self-doubt. Lord knows, I never would have done it.

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