It’s August 2007 and the Floridian summer heat felt unbearable as I carried box upon box of clothes into a U-Haul moving van.
“How many plaid shirts are necessary for one person to own?” Cory shouted while pilfering through the remaining boxes trying to snag some of last year’s looks.
I was not amused. Plaid was, and still is, my thing. I like to think that I had a hand in bringing plaid button down shirts to where they are today. “Don’t be mad you don’t own any plaid” I rhymed as I grabbed the last remaining box out of my room and onto the truck.
Cory was my roommate while I attended Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. It was a great school if you like a second-rate education, sports teams that barely make rank, and a mixed ratio of blacks, whites, and Latinos.
While in my last few months at high school I started figuring out where I wanted to go to continue my education and really let loose. Being a gay man in a private Catholic school my whole life, I needed somewhere I could fully come out to. All of my friends were either going to Florida State or the University of Florida. I chose not to go to FSU because I wanted to make new friends and I knew that wouldn’t happen with the bulk of my graduating class going there, and I chose not go to UF because I look horrible in orange.
I finally decided to attend FAU down in Boca Raton because no one I knew was going to be there. Also it was 45 minutes away from Miami: Gay Mecca. That’s where I did most of my praying. And by praying, I clearly mean being on my knees five times a day.
Once I knew FAU was a done deal, I started browsing Myspace for potential boys to entertain me on my first week without having any classes to occupy my free time. Yes, I said the word “Myspace”. Back in 2007 Facebook was barely known or used, and Myspace was just so damn easy. Thank you, Tom, for all you did. You helped me get laid almost every month. But once Facebook got around, it turned into every week.
Cory was one of the first people I messaged on the site in the Boca Raton area. He was tall, blonde, and with baby blue eyes. Well, according to his profile. I instantly fell in love. He was sweet, fun, encouraging, and lived only moments away from the dorm I would be living at for a year. So, I started brewing a summer romance so I would have a fun date the night I checked in.
I finally arrived in Boca on a Sunday afternoon, parents in tow. We had the usual welcome breakfast where I could mingle with the other new students, show my parents my dorm room, pick up my schedule and text books, and meet my roommate.
Oh, college roommates. “You’ll be friends for life” everyone always says. And I used to agree. I was looking very forward to meeting my roommate. The dorm I was assigned was a handicapped room: Huge big space with two beds and a private bathroom. All of the other rooms were small four bedrooms with two people living in each with one communal bathroom. That is eight people for one bathroom. Nuh uh. And me with my germophobia? I don’t think so. God was truly on my side when it came to room assignments. And for not getting killed when meeting boys off the internet at 3am. But that story is for later.
I am about to get off track for a minute with the whole roommate situation. When I first was accepted to FAU they sent me an email with my roommates name and information so I could see who I would be living with and possibly send a nice little note or muffin basket. I wrote the note. My mom sent the basket. The name was Rayshawn Jones.
“What kind of name is Rayshawn?!” I screamed to my mom when I opened the email. “It’s either Ray or Shawn. Not both. You can’t be greedy.” And with that I realized that my soon-to-be roommate, Mr. Jones, was a black man.
Now, where I grew up in Florida, we didn’t have many black people. And by ‘many’, I really mean none. Throughout my entire schooling I never had a black student in my class. We once had an exchange student from Panama and she was the most urban thing we had ever seen. I am not saying that this is the way to live life. It is just the way I did. As an ignorant, country music-listening, Fox News-watching, Catholic white boy. And now I would be living with an African American.
My parents thought this would be way too much of an adjustment so they made a few phone calls and I was reassigned. I think they might have told the Student Board that I was handicapped with special needs for the room transfer. And I was fine with that.
When my parents and I scoped out my dorm, the only thing missing was my new roommate. “He’s probably stuck in traffic. Or maybe he is coming tomorrow. Or maybe he is at Ikea picking up a bean bag chair for us!” I shouted with enthusiasm.
My parents took me out for a farewell dinner, which my mom cried throughout all five courses, and then dropped me back off at my dorm. Still all alone. With no fun chairs filled with beans, I plopped down on my enormously comfortable twin bed and logged onto Myspace. Cory was online and we began chatting about my move. He went to FAU also, but lived off campus. He was also an upperclassman. Boy, can I pick ‘em. He initially asked if I wanted to grab coffee the next morning but seeing that it was 9pm and I had nothing to do, I pushed for plans that were a little more urgent.
“Coffee sounds great! But I mean, I’m not doing anything. And you’re clearly online sitting at home bored. I guess I could come over and we could watch a movie.”
Cory reluctantly agreed and I was sitting on his couch in less than fifteen minutes. We watched YouTube videos, talked about our favorite movies and music, and he showed me his pet hamster. Yes. A hamster. That deserves one big deal breaker. At that moment when I held the tiny furry creature in my hands I knew that nothing more than friendship would ever happen between us.
And now two years later, he was helping me move my stuff onto a U-Haul from an apartment we shared. I moved in with Cory after my second semester at FAU. My roommate finally showed that October. Three months late. He was a Cuban millionaire named Danny who smoked cigars and drank whiskey instead of going to class. He would steal my money, wear my clothes, and hit on all of my girlfriends. He totally ruined my living on campus experience and I had to get out.
So Cory and I decided to move in together. At this time we were best friends and I thought living with him would be amazing. And it was. Probably the best year I have ever had. But, as you read in the beginning of this chapter, all good things must come to an end.
As I mentioned before, the FAU campus was pretty much on the beach and only a car ride away from Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Needless to say, I didn’t get anything done. I never went to class. I never did my homework. I spent all my money shopping for new clothes or splurging at expensive bars to get guys to notice me. While the guys noticed me, my teachers and bank didn’t.
In my two years at FAU I had managed to spend over 14,000 in cash and max out three $2,000 dollar credit cards. If this book does well perhaps I will write a follow up book giving advice to young adults on spending habits, cleverly titled “Paying for Your Consequences”.
As if the money situation wasn’t bad enough, my grades were atrocious. I wish I could blame bad teachers, or really tough, unfair assignments, but in all honesty, I never went to class. But can you blame me? The campus was 45 minutes away from Miami!
I had a slew of boys in the 305 and that city actually housed my first ever boyfriends. Yes, that statement is plural. The first guy to ever call me his “boyfriend” was named Will. Unlike any of my other boyfriends, we had met on MySpace a few months prior and he was attending the University of Miami. A few months in of living down South we agreed to meet. And I am not talking a drink or cup of coffee. I am talking about me driving down to Miami for the weekend, staying in his dorm, and going to a UM football game. Some first date, huh? I was psyched! I had never been to a football game – never really cared to – but it was all so exciting. Until we met.
Let’s just say for lack of any words at all, he was not my type. But we continued to date for three months. Why not? He lived 45 minutes away and had season tickets.
We broke up amicably. I was over at some kid’s house fooling around and he followed me there and waited until I was done and left and confronted me in the parking lot.
“But I loved you!” he screamed. After the suicide threats were over, I sat him down and told him that we weren’t a good match, but if he should ever have to miss a home game to let me know and I will be there in my green and orange memorabilia.
The January of that year Will and I were chatting on AOL Instant Messenger (remember that?!) and he was going on and on about his new boyfriend. Not at all jealous, I asked to see his picture and he sent me to his MySpace page.
“Yummy!” I screamed as a quickly added him as a friend behind Will’s back. He was so cute. What the hell was he doing with “I’m gonna jump Will”? Once added on MySpace, the messages started flowing and I quickly made him realize that I was the better prospect. He dumped Will for me and we went on 3 amazing dates. Only three. His name is Dan and I bring this story up because he will be in many stories throughout this book.
I am getting off track once again. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, failing out of college. I was placed on academic probation after my second year at FAU and was suspended from taking any classes for two semesters. That’s a whole year off from college. I couldn’t waste one year of my life lounging on the beach, drinking Corona’s and sleeping with a different Spanish boy every night. Wait. That actually sounds like the perfect life. Why was I moving again?
Oh yeah, my parents. When they found out I was suspended, they demanded I send out applications to every other school, university, and Army recruiter in Florida.
“You have to finish school and get an education!” My mom yelled with her Long Island accent coming out of every other word over the phone. “Do you want to end up like your brother, mowing Lawns in this heat, or your sister, divorced and slicing deli meats up in Babylon? No. I need my baby boy to be the bread winner of this family. And plus, it is a great tax write off to have a child in college”.
To a point she was right. I didn’t want to end up like either of my siblings. However I’m not sure that my sister’s ability to keep a marriage together really fit in her argument. That night I went online and filled out every college application I could get my hands on and used my mom’s MasterCard to cover the 50$ application fee.
Three weeks later, my lease to the apartment I shared with Cory was getting close to the end and I only had two options of where to move to next. The YMCA or back with my mom and dad in their retirement community. Clearly I would have chosen the YMCA. I just wasn’t a fan of the dancing while wearing an Indian Chief costume every day.
While searching for sugar daddies to take me in, I was also waiting to hear back from the four schools I had applied to. I would check the mailbox twice a day, calling FedEx at all hours of the night.
“Sir, I understand that it is four in the morning, but I am expecting a very important parcel from Stanford. Please, as soon as it gets in give me a call back”.
As you may have guessed Stanford was a no. As well as Florida State, University of Florida, University of North Florida, which I was kind of surprised about seeing as they let Joey, the token “special needs student” from our high school attend (he was also the mascot for a semester). The only school I had yet to hear from was the University of Central Florida located in the heart of Florida: Orlando.
“James! James! You got a big package!”
“Cory, please. I’m in no mood of turning this friendship to one with benefits, no matter how big my…Oh! It’s from UCF!”
I grabbed my scissors out of my bathroom drawer (for the pubic hair trimming I did once a month) and ran over to the package. Yes, I ran with scissors and I didn’t poke my eye out. Cory only had to wear a patch for a few weeks.
I peeled open the bright yellow envelope and pulled out a beautifully matted paper with the UCF logo on it. I held it to my face and began to read it out loud.
“Congratulations James Lane! You have been…deferred!”
Being deferred meant that they “could not accommodate me as a student for the fall term, but for me to reapply in the spring”.
I was now back at square one. No one wanted me. Boys or schools. I went to the local Ruby Tuesdays and drowned my sorrows with a Ruby Relaxer and the all you can eat salad bar. By the second drink and fourth plate of cottage cheese I realized that Orlando was the only opportunity I had left, even if I had no place to live, no job lined up, and a school that couldn’t accommodate me until January.
“Orlando won’t be so bad” I thought to myself. “I can use this time to start over and redefine myself in a new city where no one knows me!”
Packing my stuff was not easy, let me tell you. I had a lifetime, well, two years, of memories crammed into that tiny little apartment, and more clothes than I knew what to do with. I attempted to drop them off at the Goodwill store, but they wouldn’t take my ‘gently worn’ clothes.
“Sir, this Lacoste polo is from 2003. I’m sorry, but no one would ever buy this. And these, are these Adidas shoes? I don’t think we have room for this stuff. Perhaps you can try the Salvation Army”.
Heaven forbid the homeless in Boca Raton wear last season’s colors.
Speaking of clothes, I have a tiny problem with shopping and getting a credit card for every store possible. I can honestly say that I am the only homosexual (lesbians excluded) that has a Home Depot credit card. I signed up for it a few months ago because I didn’t have any cash on me to buy a can of spray paint for a school project. Now, that three dollar can has now cost me well over $42.
I was sad to leave Boca mostly because of Cory. Living with a gay man was by far the best experience of my life (thus far). I had never felt so much like myself. I didn’t have to hide anything or act differently or pretend to understand football. I knew that just down the hall someone was going through the same stuff, feeling the same emotions, had no idea what a field goal was, and wanted to have sex with the punk rock barista at Starbucks. Don’t tell Cory, but I beat him to it. I may have gotten herpes, but that doesn’t outweigh the free Frappuccino’s for a month.
Cory helped me through all of my boy problems, especially my first big league crush, Amos. Amos was by far the most intriguing person I have ever met in my life (thus far). Cory and him met via MySpace – that seems to be the trend – and when they met Cory was not in the least interested in him. So he gave him my phone number.
When we met, it was love at first sight. Well, for me that is. Amos did not like me. At all. I mean, we became good friends, but there was always this attraction between us that killed me. I tried desperately to make him like me, and he just would not concede with the idea. And, through Cory’s help I realized that Amos did not want me because he knew I wanted him. This is always the case, never wanting what is right outside your door…or bedroom window at 3am.
I never and still do not understand this “game” gay men play. “If you like someone, act like you don’t like them, and soon, they will like you.” Some of the worst advice ever given to me.
It is all about the chase. We all like the people who do not like us. It makes dating interesting. I mean, who wants to date someone that thinks the world of them? And that would do anything for them? Not me. Give me the guy who forgets our plans, never returns my phone calls, and pushes me off of him on New Year’s Eve when I try to give him a kiss!
So, back to the beginning of the story. It is the end of the summer and it is my time to leave South Florida. I closed the hatch on the Uhaul truck, turned around and faced my old apartment and tipped my hat like I was leaving the Waldorf Astoria in 1954.
I waved goodbye to the vibrant palm trees and admired their sway one last time. At this time I didn’t think Orlando would have such an array of the beautiful saplings Boca had. I quickly realized that palm trees, like Hispanics, are pretty prevalent throughout most of Florida.
I waved goodbye to the five Jewish ladies who did there powerwalk every afternoon in the middle of the road wearing matching neon pantsuits and visors.
“Estelle, Jodie, Gladys, Mabel, and Nora: Walk on!” I shouted while obeying the 5 mile an hour road sign.
I finally said goodbye to Manty, the property manager/repair man/lifeguard/shoulder to cry on. “I think I’ll miss you the most of all” I told him while fighting back tears.
After all my goodbyes, we were off on the road. Destination Orlando.
The drive was long, hot, and boring. I of course was forced to drive the Uhaul van with the no air conditioning and tape deck because it was all “my shit in the back” while Cory had the luxury of transporting my brand new Honda Civic fully equipped with a sunroof and mp3 player. Little did he know that once he helped me unload my stuff and drop off the Uhaul, he had no way of getting back home.
We arrived in Orlando in record speed, and I faked an ankle injury which led Cory to carry up my king size mattress by himself. My new roommate, Bryan, is a friend of mine from back home. We worked together slinging riblits at the local Applebee’s. You know. The one right there in the neighborhood.
When I decided on Orlando, I saw a post on Facebook that Bryan would need a roommate at about the same time I would be moving there so it worked out perfectly! I was thankful that someone I knew could move in with me so I wouldn’t have to go back on Craigslist. This time looking for roommates instead of glory holes.
So, the school issue was settled. And the housing issue was established. Now all I needed was a steady income. I already looked into escorting, and although I had the experience necessary, there was too much competition and I didn’t like my odds.
I found my first job when I was window shopping at the Millennia Mall. I spotted a J.Crew store and their winter line had just arrived which meant I had to go in and check out the walls filled with cashmere. I browsed through the racks of Nantucket red shorts, blue and white Oxford shirts, and tried on about eleven pairs of McAllister suede boots. I was in retail heaven.
When I finally reached the counter after fifteen minutes of shopping, the total bill I had accumulated was $434.25. I couldn’t afford that! I couldn’t even afford to get a lemonade with my sandwich at Chic-Fil-A.
Trying not to panic and show fear in my eyes when those numbers flashed on the screen, they were already neatly folding the six sweaters I just had to have, I noticed an application for the J.Crew Credit Card. “I could take all these gorgeous clothes home with me and not have to pay a dime until next month. I like that idea!”
I started filling out the application when guilt struck in. Don’t you hate that? I couldn’t possibly get another credit card. I was already $23,000 in debt as it was, and my credit score was down to two digits.
I folded the application and told the sales clerk I would have to put some things back. Suddenly guilt took a back seat to embarrassment.
The sales girl looked at my sympathetically. “I understand. If I didn’t work here, I wouldn’t be able to afford any of this.”
“Wait. What did you say?”
“I wouldn’t be able to afford any of this.”
“No, no. Before that.”
“I understand?” she asked, not sure where this was going.
“No, ya dumb broad. About working here. Do you get discounts on clothes for being an employee?”
I realize I shouldn’t have called her names, but I was just getting way too excited.
“Yeah. We get 25% off of new arrivals and 40% off of everything in the sale bin.”
The sale bin!? I could get 40% off of clothes already marked down to 50% off? I was having a sweater vest heart attack.
“Hm.” I thought to myself. “I need a job. I need new clothes to attract boys. I could work here, get amazing discounts, and make some money, all the while telling people they look fat in Orange!”
I grabbed an employment application ironically placed right next to the Credit Card ones – a nice bait and switch tactic – and filled it out on the spot. I gave it to the girl whose job I would be replacing within the next few days, paid in cash for my clothes, and treated myself to a Auntie Ann’s pretzel.
A few days later I was called in for an interview, and knowing how to dress and speak to middle aged women, I was hired on the spot.
The job was easy enough. Greet customers. Fold shirts. Make new window displays for the holiday season. The people that worked there were fabulous. They were so much better than my co-workers at my summer job at the local Dairy Queen. These people cared what they looked like and never showed up to work with sprinkles ironed into their polo shirts.
It was while working at this job that I met my first Orlando boy. He worked at the cosmetic counter at the Bloomingdales and was, well, everything you would expect from a department store cosmetologist.
One of my duties, since I was the only guy, was to take out the trash every afternoon. I saw this as a cigarette break. While outside in the designated area, he came up to me and bummed a smoke.
“You’re new. Aeropostale?
“J.Crew” I said in a snide and snotty way. ”And you?”
“Bloomies. Ya got a name?” His swift arrogance made me feel like we were shooting an old western movie.
“Ya, cowboy. The name’s James. But my friends call me Side Saddle. Yours?”
“Like the noodles?”
“No. Nothing like the noodles.”
And bam! We were making out behind the cardboard compressor at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Ramon and I made this a daily ritual of events, meeting up in the employee elevator, janitors closet, and the Victoria’s Secret storage room. He would bring me samples of Elizabeth Arden’s latest, and I would smuggle out bow ties and plaid leather key chains.
A few days before Christmas I was busy organizing Chino pants when my manager came up to me and asked to see me in her office. “A promotion? Already” I thought to myself. “Just go in, and be calm. And make sure you get a dental plan.”
“Please sit down, James.” I could never tell her mood because she crushed so much Prozac into her Starbucks coffee.
“So, what is this about? I sold a cardigan to a black lady today. Can you believe it?”
“No, I can’t, actually. But that’s not what this is about. Today I wanted to talk to you about loss prevention.”
I couldn’t believe it. They wanted to make me in charge of the loss prevention department. I would have authority. And possibly even a badge.
“Yes?” I complied, trying not to get ahead of myself.
“Do you know what loss prevention means?”
“Of course. And I think I could really tackle it. I know a lot about this and think I could really help out.”
“Well, I think you know a lot about it, too.” She responded as she took a long sip of a white mocha iced latte.
“Suddenly, I heard a voice coming from the phones speakers. “Mister Lane? This is Ted Newman and I am in charge of the loss prevention and theft for the J.Crew company.” A phone interview. I loved it. “And we have reason to believe that you…” Here it was. The job offer. “…Are stealing from the company.”
“I’ll take it.” I shouted into the phone. “Wait, what?”
“Do you know a man by the name of Ramon?”
“Yes, I do. But its pronounced Ramown. Not like the noodles.”
“Well, Ramown has brought it to our attention that you have been giving him money clips, ties, and even a few key chains kept for yourself. Do you know anything about this?”
Ugh. That dirty little scoundrel. He’s in with the feds. He tricked me. All those kisses. All those talks. All those sexual acts in the Sbarros break room.
Ted continued. “You do realize that what you are performing is a criminal offense.”
“But sir. It was just a hand job. I would never do anything more. I swear.”
“We have the police waiting outside of the office to escort you out. Your employment here as of today is terminated. Please gather your things.”
That day was my first walk of shame in Orlando. As I left the mall, I stopped in front of the Bloomingdales and stared for a minute at the black and white glossy tile floor. I thought to myself “Would Ramon even remember me? Would he find somebody from Banana Republic or Bath and Body Works to replace me with? Would he go home that night, put on his bow tie and remember the cardboard compressor?” I held back my tears as I walked out into the Orlando air.
Not only was I heartbroken, but I had to find a new job in the morning, explain to my parents what had happened, and on top of that, I had to give back the leather key chain!