Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stepping Out, Part Two

I spent half the day visiting a castle outside of Vienna and the other half on a train to Munich.

I tried sleeping on the train, but with little success. After I arrived in Munich and found the hostel I decided that I was too tired to go out. And, I just didn't feel motivated. The encounter with Cesar the night before was in no way satisfying. I didn't want to repeat that experience ever again.

I spent two fun and relaxing days in Munich. The hostel I had chosen was a long subway ride from the city's center and none of the guides I checked listed any gay bars near the hostel. After my rather unsuccessful week of being out, I decided it was a sign that I should skip the whole idea in Munich. Maybe I would feel better in London. At least I wouldn't have to worry about a language barrier there.

The best way to do the long trip from Munich to London was on an overnight train. Otherwise a whole day was wasted. Also, spending a night on the train saved the cost of a night in a hostel. I left Munich on Thursday and after the train, a ferry, another train, and the Tube, I arrived in South Kensington at about 6pm on Friday.

I learned from guide books that South Kensington was a good place for a student traveller to find a decent, affordable room for the night. After my bad luck with the hostel curfews, I was ready for a change. I had no problem finding a room for two nights.

As soon as entered the room I was ready to leave again and explore; I had been sitting for nearly a day. I cleaned-up, dumped my backpack, and went for a long walk around South Kensington. While I was out I decided to try some curry at one of the neighborhood's many small Indian restuarants. It was excellent!

After a few hours of South Kensington I was ready to get to the center of London's nightlife in Soho. I took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus and worked my way toward Soho Square. London is one of the best cities on the planet and just to walk through it is heaven. After a while I realized that I didn't have to walk all the way to Soho to find a good club. I referred to Time Out, London's essential weekly magazine, and found that I was a short distance from a cluster of gay bars and discos.

I chose the club that appeared to be the most popular in the area. It was smallish, covered in flashing lights and had recognizable pop music wafting from its entrance. I paid to enter and once I moved inside I was surprised to see that the club was even smaller than I realized. Small but friendly, I would soon discover. After my experiences in Germany it was shocking to see guys actually speaking to each other. And unlike the bars I had been to in San Francisco, the conversations at this bar appeared to be casual and friendly and not so much about negotiating where to go to fuck.

As usual, I bought a beer and took a spot against a wall.

The club had two rooms, the first one had a bar, comfy chairs and couches and was well stocked with a variety of men. Down a short hall was a second room with a DJ and a dance floor. Except for the DJ, that room was empty. After about a half hour of people-watching I was approached by an attractive guy who looked to be in his mid-30s. He introduced himself as John and I was a little surprised that he was an American. We talked for a short time before another attractive guy of about the same age came and stood next to John. John introduced the guy as Matt, his partner. In the course of our conversation I learned that John and Matt lived in Fort Lauderdale and they came to Europe at least twice a year. London was one of their favorite places. I was glad to have someone to talk to so I told them about my travels and the bars I had been to in San Francisco, Hamburg, Berlin and Vienna. They told me more about themselves and before I knew it at least an hour had passed. Now the bar was quite crowded.

Ending a pause in our conversation John said, "It's nice to meet you. I know you'll have a great time in London. Matt and I are going to the back to dance now. Maybe we'll see you later."

As they turned away from me and toward the disco room, I realized just how disappointed I was not to have been asked to join them. I really enjoyed talking with them. Plus they were kind of hot together. How about a threesome John and Matt??

The front of the bar was getting too crowded for my taste so after a few minutes I followed John and Matt to the disco room. There were a few people dancing, including John and Matt, but it was still relatively empty. As usual, I stood against the wall and watched.

Eventually John and Matt stopped dancing and approached me. "See anyone you like?" John asked.

Um, you and Matt!

"There's a few good looking guys here. But I'm not really comfortable walking up to a stranger and starting a conversation."

John laughed and patted my shoulder. "Some day you'll be very comfortable!"

John and Matt bounced back and forth between me and the dance floor for a good hour or so. I was cruised a few times by much older men that did not interest me, but all the while I kept my eyes mostly on John. I was half-hoping that he would invite me to dance with them, or alone with him, but he never did.

At about 1:15 John again asked me if I had met anyone and I said no. Then he went back to Matt. Maybe I was wrong, but as I watched them talking it looked like they were discussing me. Could they be thinking about asking me to their room? Would I go if they asked?

I held my breath as they both walked toward me.

"Well, Cam. It was nice meeting you. I'm sure you'll have a great time in London, we always do."


Or not, as was the case.

I don't know if I would have gone if they had asked. I was not into sex for the sake of sex alone. But a threesome....yeah, I would have gone.

I actually think John wanted to ask me but Matt did not. John had always been more friendly to me than Matt had been. Whatever. At least I met some nice guys at a bar--for the first time.

The next day I toured the Tower of London and the British Museum, two of the many essential tourist destinations in London. Those two stops alone made for a very full day. Late in the afternoon I took the Tube to a few other places like St Paul's Cathedral, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Because it was August it didn't start to get dark until late. Once it did, I returned to South Kensington for another superb curry dinner and to change for my last night "out" in London.

Pleased with the bar from the previous night, I returned. Perhaps because it was a Saturday, the bar was already full when I arrived. Once again, I bought a beer and stood along the wall where I could people-watch.

I hadn't been there even 15 minutes before a somewhat short but sharply dressed guy in his late 40s or early 50s started to chat with me. I learned his name was Simon and that he had lived in London for many years. Simon had a sophistication about him that was intriguing. He was well-groomed and attractive but there was something about his manner that oozed well-educated. Yum. I liked him but I wished that he was younger. As in, couldn't you at least be younger than my father?

Before I had finished my beer Simon ordered us both a drink. I'm not sure what it was, other than a lot of vodka. I thanked him but said that I couldn't let him buy it; I would pay for it myself. "It's too late. Save your money!" Simon said.

I told Simon all about my travels and how I was coming to the end of my two week experiment with being out. As soon as he learned that this was my last night before heading to school in Oxford he said, "Then I must show you as much of London's night life as possible."

I didn't know what to say to that. So I just laughed and said, "I love London! It's a fantastic city."

"Let's have one more drink and begin our tour." Again Simon paid for my drink and would not accept any money. For the next hour or so we bar-hopped in the same general area of the bar where we had met. At each bar, Simon paid the cover and bought me a drink. Each time I protested, but he was very firm and would not accept any money from me.

After about five drinks in a little over two hours, I was feeling quite happy. And the more drunk I got, the more it seemed that Simon was in a rush to move on to the next bar. As the night wore on, I remembered less about each bar we visited and more about the spinning sidewalks and the crazed, dizzying cab rides between each location. Fortunately either Simon or I put an end to more alcohol for me somewhere along the way. The very last club we went to was an enormous wherehouse with loads of high catwalks and what seemed to be a thousand punkers dancing everywhere. I think Simon realized it was time to end the night when I could barely stumble out of the cab.

Whether Simon had less to drink or whether he had much better alcohol tolerance than me, I'm not sure, but in either case he was much less drunk than I was. In spite of my protests he insisted that I come back to his flat, and, he further offered that I could sleep on the couch, "if that was what I wanted."

The ride to his flat was a blur. As was getting into his flat. As was lying on his couch. In fact, the only vague recollection I have of the end of the night is Simon pleading with me to sleep with him, then offering me a massage, then a blow job. I was too drunk to be polite and comply. As much as I enjoyed spending the night with him, I could not get over his age. I was 20. Under no circumstances could I see myself enjoying any kind of sex with a 50 year old. Simon finally gave up and seem to accept the fact I was either too closeted, too much of a prude or too drunk to have sex with him.

The next morning when I awoke on the couch, Simon was not to be seen. His flat, however, was impressive. It was sleek, modern and very tastefully decorated. Much like Simon himself. As I began to reflect on the previous night I felt more and more embarrassed. I had no intention of getting that drunk. What an ass I must have been, practically passing out in the cab and stumbling around in bar after bar. Why did Simon even bother with me? He paid for all those clubs, all those drinks and all those cab rides and I wouldn't even let him blow me... I felt really low. At best, I felt like bad company for a perfect host.

Simon continued to be the perfect host. When I got up to use the bathroom, he came out of his room, fully dressed, looking as cultured as ever. He asked me if I felt ok, if I had slept well, what would I like for breakfast, would I like a bath? I told him that I didn't want to be any trouble, that I should go. Simon insisted that I stay. He would "immediately draw a bath for me and fix a traditional English breakfast while I washed." With such persistence and kindness, how could I refuse?

At breakfast Simon asked me about my plans for the day. I told him Covent Garden, Trafalger Square and Buckingham Palace. Then the train to Oxford. "A splendid day, then!"

I smiled and nodded politely. Then Simon shocked me. "Don't go to school. Stay here with me for as long as you like. I'll take care of everything you need. Stay with me."

Say what???

I couldn't have been more stunned.

Change everything in my life and be a kept boy for an Englishman I only met a few hours before?

I couldn't even think of what to say to answer. He had been a perfect gentleman the whole time, so, I could not be rude, but, honestly...not go to school??? Stay with him???

"Simon, you've been an awesome host. I had a great night---and I really feel bad that you wouldn't let me pay for myself---but I can't just change my life and not go to school."

He was silent for a minute, then said, "Quite right."

After breakfast Simon would not let me wash the dishes. "No, no! You have a lot to see today. No time for cleaning up!"

I was thankful for this cue that I could go. I was worried that saying goodbye was going to be awkward. "Simon. Again, thank you very much. It was the best night I've had in a long time. Although I wish I hadn't gotten so drunk."

He smiled nicely, then, ignoring my goodbye completely, said, "Here's my number. Please call me as soon you know when you'll be back in London."

"Oh....Thank you.... I will.... I'm not sure when that will be, but thank you."

"Can I have a hug and a peck as goodbye for now?"

"Of course!" I gave him the hug and peck he wanted. He was an attractive enough man...but I just wasn't drawn to him.

"Goodbye and thank you again!"

Finally alone outside his flat, I exhaled. I felt like I had been holding my breath for an hour.

I didn't want to linger outside. I quickly noted that his neighborhood was well-kept and elegant; this was a very expensive part of London. I consulted my street map, located the nearest Tube station, and headed straight for it. As I walked, I was still in shock. Stay with him????!

As soon as he had asked me to call him I knew I never would.

I spent the morning and early afternoon seeing more of London. By 3pm I was in Paddington Station, then on an express train to Oxford. My two weeks of freedom were about to end. I had no plans to be "out" once I was no longer travelling.

The school was three long blocks from the train station in Oxford. I had no trouble finding it, meeting the Head Master, and receiving my keys and instructions. I was one of the earliest arrivals because class was to begin on Tuesday and I was there before 6 on Sunday.

Once I got to my room I unloaded my backpack. Considering that I was going to be in England for more than three months, I really did not come with much. I had my whole room set-up in minutes.

Prior to my arrival I had only known a few basic facts about the school. I knew nothing about the other students, except there was one kid, David, who was a floormate the previous year that was also attending. Within the first week I learned a great deal more:

The school was quintessentially English, run by a married couple and their friend. In addition to the Head Master, his wife, and the Head Professor, there were a number of other professors who were contracted to teach at the school for a particular term. Many of the them were Oxford graduates, as was the Head Master, but the school was not one of the Oxford colleges. It turned out that the school catered almost exclusively to Americans, and even then, only a handful of certain schools.

The school itself was a large four-story building at the VERY center of Oxford. From the third floor dining room windows you looked down on Queen Street, one of the main shopping streets in Oxford. The building housed about 22 of the school's 55 students. The remainder lived in four different home-stay houses spread around the city. The school was very academic and the students it attracted were serious Anglophiles and, mostly, serious students. The focus of the school was mostly on English history and literature so most of the students were History or English majors.

About 44 of the students that Fall came from one of six feeder schools in the US. Two of those schools were in Northern California, but I didn't attend either. I went out-of-state for college.

Among the six feeder schools my college had sent the largest contingent of students, nine of the 55. Of the eight besides me, I knew David somewhat and two others slightly. Just knowing that David was going to be at the same school meant that I was not going to come out; word would have gotten back to my college in no time.

Perhaps because I had applied earlier than most, I was rewarded with one of the three single rooms in the main building; no communting to class from any of the home-stay houses scattered around town.

The single was a mixed blessing. Actually, it was great except that I had the room closest to the front door of the building. If someone rang the school's door buzzer and the Head Master or his wife were out, it was often me who answered it. And speaking of that damn buzzer....I had been in my room for about 15 minutes when the door buzzer rang. Another student, I figured. A minute later, the buzzer rang again. Why isn't the Head Master answering the door?

I popped out of my room and saw that the Head Master's office door was shut. Apparently he had left. So I hopped down the single set of stairs to open the front door. What I saw was a young girl with a bright smile, loaded down with three suitcases and a humongous wooden trunk. "Hi!!!! I'm Gabbie!" she said.

The girl was a bundle of energy but she was no match for the trunk that was as long as she was tall. Together we hauled it up the stairs. I explained to Gabbie that I had just arrived myself and that the Head Master must have stepped out. We chatted for a bit and she told me that she was from the Bay Area. This was something of a surprise when she told me. I expected to meet people from all over the world, not from my own backyard.

After a few more minutes of chat Gabbie said, "I'm off to find Mark, my friend from school who came with me. I don't know where he went! He left me at the bus station with all my stuff and this big trunk. I had to take a cab just to get here!"

Over the next two hours a few more students arrived, but I didn't have to answer the door again.

As I explored the school's building I ran into a few others students and we introduced ourselves. I had no idea when David was coming, but I never saw him that night. A small group of us eventually gathered and decided to head out to find a pub for some food and drinks.

We didn't drink that much but we had fun anyway.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, little did I know that Oxford was going to dramatically change my life.

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