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Dating at bars and parties | Allen’s diary

The gay writer/artist/performer pursues everything from intellect to the inane in his bar and party hops.

Photograph: Christopher Kitahara
Allen at Big Chicks

Bar/club hopper Allen, 32, Albany Park, gay

“I sprang out of the closet and landed on a bar stool,” Allen says of coming out more than ten years ago. Today, he still enjoys meeting men at bars—not to mention at thrift stores and on the CTA. A shared cab ride home? “Winning.”

December 16 The week went by drowsily, and I think this night was more about my interest in drink than hopes of male adventure. A really good straight girlfriend had never seen male dancers outside of bachelorette parties and earnest documentaries on Southeast Asia. She had the money to spend; I had places and faces. There is a special relationship between you and your favorite dancer. Their work is to convince you that you are the only one; your work is to convince yourself you are the only one. To @mosphere in Andersonville we went. We met a group of friendly middle-aged men clucking like hens. I was being appreciated but my girlfriend got all the compliments. Boo!

December 17 Buzzed and adopted by two friends, I found myself too drunk too early at Berlin. I met an older gentleman—we’ll call him Dancefloor Daddy—who smiled at me at the end of the bar. I had to read his lips over the loud dance music. He was handsome and I could see his excitement at finding a directionless and enthusiastic youth (I look much younger than I am, so naturally I played my part with relish). On the dance floor he led, which is always strange because it feminizes me so quickly; also, the music was inappropriate for mid-century chivalry. I avoided kisses and, though excited by the promise of better credit, found it patronizing when he asked, “Do you need somebody to pay for the drinks and watch you flirt but keep the tab open?” I thought this was presumptuous, oppressive and a little insulting. Nothing much after that. I tried to speak to a sweet face and got hissed at. A perfect night.

December 21 I met a friend at Big Chicks and we spent our time staring at a very lovely-faced goth man. We lost sight of him as he moved toward the dance floor. We purchased a pitcher, because there is nothing like a messy pitcher to start conversation. Because my sense of boundaries was lost somewhere in middle school, I pick up pitchers that are not mine or share them, as if low prices and multiplication have never destroyed budgets or led to blackout romances. My friend and I agreed upon the same two guys. I took the intellectual and he took the street prophet. We exchanged numbers. My guy did that wonderful thing of placing his hand on my side. He received a call Friday morning.

December 23 Right before Christmas a group of friends and I always do something for someone else: We donate and volunteer or just plain up the cash value of sidewalk charity for the city’s homeless. Attending holiday parties of worthy causes is a way to add a little socialiting to the tree lighting. Tonight, at a dance company’s fund-raising party, I ran into an actor whom I had met once before. He was genuine with a big smile—good energy and a real career on the stage. Intense conversation and the enthusiasm of our friends led us to each other. A brand new man for a brand new year?

December 27 Scavenging for vintage at the thrift store, magic happens one hanger at a time. Scavenging for men happens one electric gaze at a time. At the Village Discount Outlet in Albany Park, I spotted a man making a greedy pile of sweaters in his cart and walking to the sole mirror in the central aisle. Putting on and taking off sweaters lifts undershirts and exposes skin. For an exhibitionist, it’s an easy peekaboo and also completely practical. And so he lifted his arms and pulled hard to get around his shoulders, negotiating rising boxers with finesse. I was inspired to shop sweaters, too. At the mirror we danced. His sweater, then mine: an erotic show of waists, compliments and stilted jokes. He invited me out that night. I wore a smart blazer and a sturdy jersey hoodie, and we headed to an art opening for a childhood acquaintance of his. By the time we arrived, the cheap wine and PBRs were flowing and the after-party was brewing. In someone’s highly designed apartment, we made out like preteens.

December 30 Friends are in town and friends of friends are in town. Somebody’s new jazz band was playing at the Green Mill. We sat close to the bar. I started a whisper campaign with a rascal who is a graduate student in gender studies. Sexual ambiguity goes down well with murky cocktails. I missed chord changes and rhythmic counterpoint, but I do remember that his mom was a dancer and his siblings are rivals for family glory. We leave one another with a charged close-mouthed kiss.

December 31 For New Year’s Eve, I dressed myself like a melancholy count: a cape draped from my left shoulder, a Col. Sanders string tie with a silk mantilla veil, shiny patent-leather church shoes, black tuxedo shirt, black blazer, mascara and eyeliner. I texted something cute to an old friend and hoped he got it. He was charmed…lol. This friend has been a sentimental stand-in for a lack of serious lover on New Year’s Eves, birthdays, Valentine’s Days. On those kinds of nights, if we each are in a relationship with someone else, we send a message to each other about how nice it is that we both have moved on. If we are both alone, we profess love in the most unattractive way possible: drunkenly, desperately and unconvincingly. But we make it funny.

I forgot I couldn’t party-hop by cab because everyone in Chicago was going two places on each side of the midnight countdown. So after midnight, I went to the bus headed east down Chicago Avenue. On it, a rally of Chicago’s nightlife, from crying babies to crying drunks, short skirts and long faces. Pressed up against an unknown fellow reveler, we shared whiffs of designer gum and designer cologne. He complimented my getup; I complimented his boots. I looked at his feet because if I looked straight in his face we would have been taken into the gravity of a kiss. It was my stop so the flirtation stopped. Missed connections on the first day of the year.

The thrift-store man and I still call each other on whims; nothing has come out of it but fun. That’s good enough for now. After all, I am a person who very much enjoys myself by myself, and to me going out is anthropological: It’s about talking and seeing people, and searching for ourselves. We are like bowerbirds collecting pieces here and there so finally we can make a home, no matter how strange the material we build with.

Want to date Allen? E-mail allenm@tocpersonals.com.