With that in mind, I decided to check out the youth program at Center on Halsted. I debated for a while whether or not I'm getting too old for this type of thing, but figured it would be a simple trip now that I live in the city and that I had nothing to lose.
But things are always more interesting in Boystown.
When I arrived at Center, the receptionist was busy on the phone, so I waited at the counter browsing through a stack of free pamphlets. I was there for barely a minute when I heard a scratchy voice beside me say, "Hello, what are you up to over here?"
I turned around and an old man was smiling at me. He had a bush of frizzy white hair and a beard to match. At first I wondered if he might be another staff member filling in for the front desk, but when I looked for reassurance the receptionist was still on the phone, oblivious to my predicament. No, I was on my own with this one.
Being the polite (and rather cowardly) person I am, I looked back at the old man and said, "Oh, I'm new to the area. I'm just checking things out."
"Really? Where are you from?"
"Uh...the west suburbs."
"Oh, that's pretty far out there."
"Uh, yeah, but...now I'm here for school." (You may be wondering why, despite my better interests, I have not stopped the conversation. I really couldn't say.)
"Oh really? Where is it you go to school?"
(Crap.) "Um, in the south loop."
He nodded thoughtfully. "Hm. It's a beautiful day outside, isn't it?"
"Yes. Yes, it is. That's why I made it out here, actually."
"Well, would you like to have a seat and chat for a bit?"
By this time, I decided the old man did not, in all likelihood, work for the Center. "Actually, I'm here for the youth program," I said, "and I think it's starting soon. Thanks though."
He seemed to take this well enough - at least, he never stopped smiling. He shook my hand, said "Nice meeting you," and left. I breathed a sigh of relief.
It occurred to me afterward that this man was Shylock from The Merchant of Venice:
By this time the receptionist - a rather handsome older man with gentle features - was off the phone. I asked about the group. "You need to go through orientation for that," was his reply. "You can come back Wednesday."
One would think such useful information would be on the Center's website. Womp, womp.
The day was still warm and sunnt after I left the Center so I decided to take a stroll through Boystown and people-watch. I went about two blocks before I saw the cutest guy heading towards me. He seemed right about my age (a welcome sight), and wore gym shorts and a t-shirt under which I could tell he had a runner's body. He also sported just the right amount of facial hair in the form of a neat, well-kept goatee (very sexy if you can pull it off!).
When he was a few feet away, I summoned all my nerve and gave him with a smile.
And then the impossible happened. This cute, cute guy stopped in his tracks, looked me straight in the eye, and said: "Hey, could you help me with something?"
Yes, of course. Anything.
"Could you answer a few questions for me? I'm doing a survey for my church down the street."
Womp, womp, womp.
He asked me things like how important spirituality is to me, what websites I visit the most, what the last book I read more than once was. I answered him as if we were flirting: Very, Facebook, Homer's Odyssey. It couldn't hurt to try.
The final question he asked was if I'd like his group to pray about something for me. I almost said, "Yeah, my love life. You've proven I need it."
After Sexy Church Boy left, I decided to call it a day. I walked another few blocks to the next bus stop and waited for the #8. Unfortunately, I soon learned that street corners in Boystown are very conspicuous spots to be standing.
A very handsome older man came walking down the street. He was at least two heads taller than me with a broad, muscular chest and a very chiseled jaw dusted with golden stubble. (He also had a really nice butt.)
As he walked past, I stole a glance at him out of curiosity. I'll admit it: I wondered if those stories were true, about men who walk around Boystown, picking up guys through mere exchange of glances. (Can you see how I set myself up for trouble?)
Bad, bad idea: the moment I looked up, he was doing one of those over-the-shoulder glances - at me. Crap. I panicked for a second and pretended I was looking down the street for a bus, but the connection had already been made: he thought I was making an exaggerated motion to look at him.
I immediately froze and stared at my feet, but from the corner of my eye I watched him walk away. He looked back at me three or four more times, and actually stood for a minute at the street corner, feigning nonchalance, in case I were to follow. My Boystown myth had been confirmed.
On a side note, I think gay men live their lives in peripheral. Whether it's checking out the straight guy in class, or looking at that rival you pretend not to know but secretly resent for being cuter than you, or stealing looks at potential sexual predators - it's all in the peripheral.
I have to say I'm amused by what can happen in a single hour in Boystown. That's why I like the neighborhood on a nice day: there's such an open atmosphere, and so many characters walking around. Even if the soundtrack goes "Womp, womp" every few minutes.