Stands a Boxer
by Andrew Sarewitz
Sometime in the early 1980’s, before being razed by the ticking bomb of AIDS bleeding my community, I had a number of black-eye rendezvous while on the search for romantic compatibility. Being a gay man in my twenties during that era, there was no considering marriage or having children. But there was an inherited desire, at least in my case, to find the lifeline of a partner to grow old with. On the way, some adventures were explored where I behaved as if I was indestructible. I write this somewhat defensively: I would never allow myself to get into these situations now. Maybe that’s true, but it’s a flimsy excuse.
Back when Greenwich Village was the center of the gay social world, I regulared a bar called Uncle Charlies’ Downtown. Now there’s a beer and burger joint in its place. UCDT was the first city gay bar with street front, floor-to-ceiling windows, evolved beyond the nondescript and shadowed entrances that had trademarked a history of gay establishments. We were no longer hiding, let alone apologizing for who we were. Uncle Charlie’s was practically a Yuppie hangout, with men donning Armani suits at after-work happy hours, and evening crowds with hordes of men dressed in tight polo shirts, blue jeans and sockless Topsiders. It’s where I eventually met the man I fell in love with. That story has already been written.
The bar had three open areas with video screens, bleacher-like benches and of course, money making stations with continuously flowing alcohol, served by beautiful male employees. Past the angular, three sided front bar built like a wooden peninsula, was a mirrored room, one step higher than the main floor. At the lip separating the two rooms, men would stand as if part of a chorus line audition: posing and on display. You had a less obstructed view of the sea of bodies standing by the front bar and filling the space beyond and out to the entryway. But I also think being two feet above the crowd created an intimidation factor for anyone who considered approaching a stranger to whom they were attracted. For someone who swears my insecurities practically froze my daring, I spent a hell of a lot of time on the edge of that stage. Years later, someone I barely knew told me he thought I was a stuck up bitch because of the attitude I projected when standing there.
One weekend night while cruising through the estuaries connecting each room, I saw a very cute young man, about 25 years old. He was wearing a standard white u-neck tee shirt and blue jeans, holding a beer in his right hand and the collar of a baseball jacket in the other. He was pale white, blonde and not terribly tall, with some residual blemishes on his cheeks, big upper arms, a muscular chest, and a slight paunch, in the days before six pack abs and body-art defined sexy. He went for me right away and started talking. My tendency was to play a long game of eye contact and wordless flirtation. The pain of delaying an approach, often to the point of losing to a rival, was an inexplicably masochistic emotion I reveled in. Not this time.
The bartenders knew me, and the vodka pours had been heavy. Relatively quickly he asked me to come home with him. When he said he lived in Weehawken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River, I countered and asked him to come back to my place in Chelsea. Having pets that needed attention, he was insistent we go to his apartment. These were the years before locations like Brooklyn were considered a safe and trendy extension to Manhattan. We who were lucky enough to live on the properties between the East and Hudson Rivers held it as an elite offense to travel off our island. I lived north of 14th Street: to die-hard Greenwich Village residents, even that was unpatriotic.
When he told me he had been a professional boxer, I was unbearably seduced. A fighter was attracted to me? A pro-boxer was gay? Hooked, I gave in without much convincing. He told me we would have to catch a bus from Port Authority in order to get to Weehawken. I wasn’t then and still am not a fan of New York’s Port Authority. Even with gentrification burgeoning like a virus through the boroughs of the city, Port Authority remains a graceless territory. And back then, I also considered it to be dangerous. I can’t tell you the hour, but it was well past midnight. On the cab from Greenwich Village to West 41st Street, the boxer told me he liked going in to Port Authority during the graveyard stretch. As a small, blond, white boy, he knew he was a target. As a professional boxer, he was not permitted to throw a punch unless someone laid a hand on him first. And that’s what he was looking for. A fight.
The overt racist implications alone should have told me to get the fuck out of the cab and go home. I won’t defend myself. I was young and stupid, not to mention charmed that a boxer actually chose me.
When we got there, the sidewalk in front of Port Authority was a tide of addicts, low-end drug dealers, homeless men and women, and city urchins that scared the crap out of me. Having lived in NYC since 1977, not much frightened me.
As it turned out, the commuter buses to New Jersey had stopped running for the night. We had to catch a yellow cab to take us through the Lincoln Tunnel and up the access road to the cliff town built on the Jersey side of the Hudson shore. Before we even got to the tunnel’s entrance ramp, I had pulled out my wallet to pay for the taxi. I was shaking but relieved that we wouldn’t be walking through Port Authority in the predawn hours. Now, decades gone by, I don’t remember being scared that I might get beaten up. I was afraid of what the boxer wanted to provoke. Men with blades thinking he was a tourist or an out-of-his-element mark, and then his beating the shit out of someone for the thrill of it.
When we got close to his apartment, he asked the driver to let us out. The boxer wanted me to see the view of the city skyline from the cliff, which was spectacular. Then we walked to his rental a few blocks in. My adrenaline was pulsing on overdrive. I can’t explain it coherently, but part of my in-the-moment assessment believed I might not get out of this night alive. Still, I stayed.
The boxer lived on the first floor of a large, well kept wooden house that had been sectioned into apartment units. He had many pets which included a Doberman Pinscher, two cats and a full grown boa constrictor, who fed on live white mice. He also had an enormous, vertical fish tank that held, among other things, red bellied piranhas. It’s not legal to own them in New York or New Jersey. After introducing them to me, he lowered a closed fist into the aquarium to see if he could pull away before a piranha would latch onto this hand.
He poured us drinks over ice in water glasses and within ten minutes, I realized he had drugged me. I was hallucinating. The few times I have taken hallucinogens, I hated the experience. But this was a lovely trip. The fish tank became an exaggerated black-light violet. All colors seemed to be rich and heightened like in David LaChapelle photographs. Still in the back of my mind, I was waiting for him to pull out a knife.
After spending time on his couch with the snake slithering between his torso and my leather coat, he led me into his bedroom and undressed me. Then he removed his shirt and pants, appropriately wearing cotton boxers. Smooth, white upper body, round biceps, big legs. He pulled me onto the bed. I was expecting he was going to pin me down, rough me up, maybe violently rape then kill me. Instead, he gently kissed me and initiated sex that was closer to a high-schooler experimenting with another boy. I don’t remember if I ever nodded off, but he fell asleep as I held him, like a child finding safety in a parent’s arms.
In the morning, I pulled on my jeans and discovered my wallet was missing. I searched the crevices of the living room couch with no success. When I mentioned my wallet was gone, the boxer reacted defensively. But I don’t believe he was the thief. I think in my fevered nervousness in the cab, I had dropped it. Whomever the culprit, I was now stuck on the far side of the Hudson River in a maniac’s house with no money to get home.
I can’t say if it’s still in service, but at the time, there was a free shuttle bus that traveled through Weehawken and the neighboring waterfront town of Hoboken. The boxer walked me to the main road at the edge of the cliff, where I caught the shuttle. Once on board, I didn’t look back. Traveling the length of Hoboken, the bus came to its final stop at Hudson Place, where the PATH Station lives and I could catch a train bound for Manhattan.
I have done some perilous things in my lifetime, especially when I was young. Many I chalk up to the properties of American naïveté and the youth-fueled arrogance of believing I was immune to danger.
As I stepped onto the shuttle bus, penniless but unharmed, I was numb. I stared silent and shell shocked at the unfamiliar passing landscape. I thought, someone or something must have been looking out for me. As I entered the PATH station, I was aware I would have to jump the turnstiles to get on the train, risking getting a ticket or being detained or arrested. I indiscriminately walked up to one of the multitude of meters, ready to vault over the waist-high revolving poles. I looked down at the monitor that displays how much of the fare had been inserted. Expecting to see all zeros, I saw in green highlights that the fare was paid in full. I walked through the turnstile and into the fluorescent gateway leading me to the comforting sound of a commuting crowd.
I never saw the boxer again. I don’t know if I would have recognized him if I had. But I recognized luck. And suspending a lifetime of disbelief, I fervently thanked my guardian angel for getting me home safely and for a sign sent from Heaven making me a believer. It simply read “PAID.”
About the Author
Andrew has published several nonfiction short stories (See list below). His play, “Madame Andrèe” received 2 Honorable Mentions in 2018: Writers Digest Competition and New Works of Merit Contest as well as winning the honor of opening the series Stage to Screen in San Jose, CA, Summer of 2019. Mr. Sarewitz also has authored numerous historical and critical artist essays with a primary focus on twentieth century non-conformist art from Russia.
From the Editor
Andrew has another piece published with us- check it out here!