Surprised and disappointed to discover that his potential sex buddy is an old man, a closeted married man from Connecticut takes advantage of the situation to find out what life is like inside New York's most fabled apartment building.
Published in The Circle, the website of Circle Magazine (Fall 2002). (This story is the basis for my one-act play, The Dakota, which in turn is the basis for my full-length play, Scenes From the Dakota.)
Earl Mumford stared out his window at the trees in the park, still grateful after all these years for his comfortable perch overlooking Central Park West. Despite the many changes in the world, some he found exhilarating, some infuriating, he could always take solace in the view, one barely altered through the decades. As he watched, he marveled at how quickly the setting sun plunged the park into night, especially at this time of year, when the long hot days seemed to collapse from exhaustion. Off in the distance, he saw the lights of the city come on, inaugurating a different view, one that had changed dramatically through the decades. Turning from the view with a sigh, he stopped to pick up a framed photo from the bookshelf by the window, lowering his glasses onto his nose to study it carefully. Pausing with the photo in mid-air, not sure what to do with it, he sighed again and put it back down. What next, he wondered?
Bored with the novel he was reading, he looked around the room, his face brightening when he remembered the computer, a desktop monstrosity he had reluctantly acquired six months earlier. Ignoring the damage the contraption had inflicted on the décor of his living room, he now loved nothing more than going on-line in search of conversation and adventure. His fingers knew what to do, taking him quickly to his favorite place, a special chat room. Exploring the profiles of all the visitors to the site, he settled on "HotConnecticutMan," sending him a short provocative message.
Having suffered through another slow week, Mark Mayfield was thrilled to receive the message. Now in his forties, Mark was pained by the way his looks were slipping. His wife didn’t notice, because she had her hands filled taking care of their three rambunctious children. All that mattered was that he came home to Stamford, Connecticut most nights and offered some relief with the kids. She never asked him about work or his other activities in the big city, so she had no idea of the transformation he underwent every day at lunchtime, when he reveled in the company of other members of his midtown gym, some of whose bodies he got to know as intimately as his wife’s. For years, he found his encounters in the steam room thrilling, dazzled by the beauty of some of the men he was able to attract. But eventually, as with so much else in his life, the magic dried up. Sometimes he found himself making passes at men he wouldn’t have even looked at a few years earlier.
All of this changed when AOL entered his life and he found that he was once again a hot commodity thanks to his facility as a writer. Slipping into the computer room to visit his favorite chat rooms whenever his wife wasn’t around, he made friends all across the country, often finding dozens of new e-mails waiting for him when he logged on. Sometimes he came across members of his gym on-line and made dates to get together in the steam room. If he didn’t like what showed up, he just didn’t identify himself. When he tired of this game, he started to hunt for men with apartments in the city convenient to his office, nurturing these relationships in cyberspace until they invited him over for lunchtime sex.
And so tonight, while his wife and children lay sleeping, Mark was happy to hit the jackpot once again. According to his AOL member profile, "BuffMan" was a thirty-five-year-old bodybuilder who lived in the Dakota on Central Park West. Although it wasn’t anywhere near his office, Mark seized the opportunity to see the inside of one of the country’s most historic and celebrated apartment buildings, flirting back and forth with the man until he wrangled an invitation out of him and agreed to come up during lunch one day the following week. With the date all set, Mark received regular e-mails describing all the things the man wanted to do to him when they got together. He worried that he might disappoint such an experienced sexual athlete, until the man modified his messages as their appointment approached.
On the eve of their scheduled rendezvous, Earl Mumford sent Mark a final cautionary e-mail, confessing that he might not be as handsome as he had led Mark to believe, hadn’t done any bodybuilding in years and, most tellingly, was 70 years old. He went on to tell Mark that he had lived with a man at the Dakota for 35 years until his death five years earlier and had never been with another man since then. He offered to cancel their date, alternatively suggesting that they get together just as friends and, if the spirit moved them, perhaps hold each other for a while. Determined to see the inside of such a landmark, Mark humored the man, reassuring him that he was looking forward to their meeting.
A dapper gentleman opened the apartment door after the uniformed doorman admitted Mark into the courtyard and directed him up to Earl’s apartment. Earl had an impressive full head of wavy white hair parted neatly on the side and, despite the summer heat, wore a burgundy sweater vest over a white shirt and striped necktie.
“Welcome to my humble abode, young man," he said, reaching out to shake Mark’s hand. “Come on in."
“Thank you, Mr. Mumford," Mark replied, treating his host like one of his old professors.
“Please, please, call me Earl," he insisted. “We’re very informal around here. You may even call me ‘BuffMan,’ if you prefer, ‘HotConnecticutMan.’" He chuckled at his own joke. Mark laughed back nervously, remembering the sexy man he had flirted with on the Internet as he inspected the distinguished gentleman enticing him into the apartment with a nod of the head and a wave of the arm. Glancing rapidly in all directions, Mark tried to take it all in as he was led down a long foyer and into the living room. He was surprised to find the apartment so shabby. Books lay in arbitrary piles, bric-a-brac spilled over all the shelves allotted to them, and flowers long past their prime filled vases scattered around the room. His image of the Dakota was of magnificent rooms in which Lauren Bacall and Leonard Bernstein held cocktail parties or Yoko Ono entertained cutting-edge artists in grand style. These rooms were hardly magnificent, looking more like ones you might find in any Upper West Side pre-war apartment. On closer inspection, however, this proved not to be the case, the ceilings higher, the windows larger, and the architectural details more plentiful than what you would find in other buildings. This was not your typical pre-war building after all. And the war it preceded was not World War Two, or even World War One—it was the Spanish-American War.
Sensing Mark’s bewilderment, Earl said, “I have to apologize for the chaos. I rarely have guests anymore, and I’m just not a very good housekeeper. Arthur used to chide me mercilessly, but I’d tell him to straighten things up himself if it meant that much to him. We were never able to keep a cleaning woman, because none of them were ever up to Arthur’s standards. So now here I am with neither a cleaning woman nor the ability to keep the place as neat as it should be."
“Who’s Arthur?" Mark asked, amused by Earl’s self-deprecatory tale.
“Arthur was my lover," he replied proudly. “What you’d call ‘my partner’ these days, I suppose. Of course, we just used to say ‘roommate’ back then. It sounded so collegial, as if we were all living in one big friendly dormitory."
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