“The Art of Seeing” by Michael Milton
I am going to write some things here which will (heaven forbid!) date me, though since I stopped coloring my hair, I guess all of the salt and pepper up top does the dating by itself.
To begin with, I don’t engage in sexting, nor do I visit on-line dating sites (no judgments here… I’m just sayin’…). I wonder, however, might I have been a regular on OKCupid if I was half my current age and had spent more of my life inside the computer bubble than outside of it? Who knows? Thus far, I have yet to wander far out into any of the varied cyberspace sexual souks provided by today’s technology.
“Really???” I hear you mutter, your response spiced with just a soupcon of disbelief.
“It’s TRUE!” I retort, somewhat defensively. “I’ve never been on Tinder, Grindr, E-Harmony, Match.com, or Twist-Her, Bruises or Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em!” (OK, I made the last 3 up. It’s endless fun! Try it.)
I will, however, confess to a bit of recent, sexual cyber-eavesdropping. Look, I’m 6’4, and on the subway ride from Manhattan into Brooklyn during evening rush hour, I can often look down at my scrunched up neighbor’s phone screen as he or she does their furtive best to study the picture (sometimes nearly naked picture) of their very momentary pixelated inamorata or (or ‘-orato.’)
(Suggestion–don’t do your erotic interfacing when We of the Tall Folk are amongst you).
I blush at the memory of some of what I’ve practically been FORCED to read off of phone screens while rumbling underground somewhere between Wall Street and Grand Army Plaza (the train empties out there, darn it.)
Many of my friends are, “connected,” to various results. One fellow I know goes online for an outlet for dirty talk but when the possibility for a face to face emerges, he drops the ball, so to speak. “They seem creepy,” he tells me; sort of the pot calling the kettle black.
“Isn’t the point to finally MEET someone in real time?” I ask, adding, “…It takes two to tango, buddy, and eventually you’ll need to be in the same room to dance.”
Most likely you sense I have concerns about our brave new cyber-fied world, and I do. Like the translation of innocent coca tea leafs into potent powdered cocaine, like healthy raw wheat ground up and transformed into nutritionally free bakers flour, like beets and cane stalks reconstituted into snowy, habit forming sugar, so do cyber hook ups strike me as overly refined and very addictive.
The rapidity with which huge numbers of people can be accepted or rejected with a screen swipe to the left or right is a scary piece of judgement-making. If old fashioned cruising on the street was the dating world’s poppy, Grindr is it’s opium.
What’s that great line from Mart Crowley’s play, BOYS IN THE BAND? “There’s one thing to be said about masturbation; you certainly don’t have to look your best.” Or BE your best. In fact, you can BE anything you want on-line, sitting in pajamas with a bowl of Fritos and self- representing as anything you think the other person wants. No fuss. No muss. No risk.
I have noticed when I am walking along the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights or through Prospect Park, that the kind of pre-device cruising of my sexual hey-day is no longer a “thing.” Some of you younger whipper snappers might even only think “cruising” is what a jet does when it reaches its pre-arranged altitude. If you are over 50—male or female– you probably remember the word and its directives somewhat differently.
Historically, cruising is an attempt to catch someone’s eye on the street, and then glancing back as they continue walking, hoping to take in the shape of a derriere or a nice pair of legs or– in an even more ambitious context–hope that he or she will look back at you, too. For all the morality shaming done on the topic of cruising (and it’s more active relationship to anonymous sex back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s,) there was inherently in the act, at least, real human presence.
You had to BE there, out of the apartment, dressed—perhaps wearing only leather chaps and a dog collar– but dressed nonetheless. When face to face, thousands of sub-conscious responses swirl up from our cerebral cortex. You have eye contact with someone. There are pheromones whirling about to be sniffed and decided upon.
There is the live sound of another’s voice. There is often conversation—asking about another’s astrological sign or what the other does for a living, if nothing else. My God, cruising suddenly sounds to me like a Sadie Hawkins Day square dance, when compared to the risk-free flimsiness of online hook ups.
I understand it is not particularly cool of me to be looking askance at technologies’ way into our pants and skirts. “Just another middle aged guy with his heels dug in to change.” If you are from the ocean of Baby Boomers, it’s hard not to see the ways in which our I-phones separate us from one another—and how they also, ironically, have the potential of bringing us closer together in some very meaningful ways. Technology burdens us with many such conundrums.
Walking in Crown Heights recently, I saw a majestic man on the other side of the street; think “Usher meets Idris Elba.” George Bush Sr. would have cruised him! Still, as I watched him proceed down the street, I noticed no one else who passed by were looking back to check him out. Perhaps they were frantically checking their hook up sites to see if Mr. Magnificent was advertising his presence in their range, finding out what he was into, if he was “single,” “straight,” “bi,” or simply registered under “…it’s complicated.”
HE’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!, I wanted to shout at a desperate-looking woman clicking madly away at her cellphone, perhaps only trying to locate her Uber car, but at this juncture, my imagination had taken me over completely.
It’s REAL life passing us by as we struggle to create some facsimile of it in the pixels and flutter of our electronic devices.
Look up once in a while. At the end of the day, it still take two to tango.
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