Queer Christmas: Mall Vacation

A mall without commerce is like a gay man at the holidays.

Photos by Dylan Byron

The train’s through Hunters Point and it’s a blur of December pink, maybe the last of that shade you’ll see before the U.S.A. on the other side. It’s hard to leave the boroughs if you don’t drive, and why would you want to? On the other hand, the Met’s a little lonely on Saturday nights without the usual retinue of: boyfriend, mother. The park looks dark through the glass, but the café’s not bad, actually, alone. First Eid, Second Eid, Christmas—the year goes fast in the Qatari-American household, though as a poet you know the real holiday is Midwinter Day. My phone was in a toilet in Greenpoint. Yes, he put it there. It was ours. Did the landlord see anything go out the window? And did I deserve it, wandering around 57th St. with my new boy-man-friend to come, maybe.

So, if you can’t operate a vehicle and like to shop at thrift stores, why take the Long Island Railroad (“the Railroad”) to have a friend drive you further out of the city to a nearly empty, soon-to-be-sold Long Island mall? Then as now the holidays are approaching and I’m thinking a mall without commerce is like a gay man at Christmas: there’s a function that isn’t being performed. It’s empty and you can talk about old boyfriends, new ones. How will we pay the rent? It’s new-planet warm and a pleasure to steal afternoon hours at PS1 instead of handling disconnection, but then there’s the lease.

You’re helpless, a passenger, the problem dissolves. Queer in a car. It’s good to know your old friend’s at the wheel, identically late 20s, a gay man alone by choice and am I alone, now? I mean, will I be? There are many bad things to say about the car, but a good thing is it’s not a place of business. Let me text that new friend a picture. Will the mall really be empty? Raymond Geuss thinks driving is a pathological dependence; he’s whispering at you, pedestrianize! What, like we’re the middle of Venice? Times Square Red, Times Square Blue…? Passenger-wise, I’m completely inessential to its function. The neurotic homosexual, if you can play that card, talking anxiously away: pure excess. There’s nothing I could get done here; we keep moving, I’m off the hook.

The Source is in Westbury. Fortunoff used to be the source, in a capitalist sense. It paid the bills, my old friend tells me. 1504 Old Country Rd, Westbury, NY 11590. Isn’t there a famous garden out here somewhere? Paula Deitz is fun smoking on the toilet. My—is it ex?—and I ran into her at a William Christie recital a Christmas ago. Sure, she had better seats. The garden, another space of private pleasure for these too-private times, straight away you think: leisure class, can we take it back like the library? A garden and a library, an ancient thought, right? No one wants to be that kind of fussy queen though you probably wouldn’t call me a populist either would you, exactly. Is the gay artist, writer any more eager than anyone else for neoliberal plaudits? Not the queer one. A leftist and not a populist? My friend, he’s the one who watches all that TV. “Consumption-like qualities.”

An empty public space is also a serene one. Christmas Tree, Carousel, there’s plenty to see and no line to see it. You know it’s a lot queerer than going to hear another period-instrument Messiah. Boy-choir: too many memories. STC5A, I guess he walked out of that come to think, click-clack down the narthex. And I was the one who bought him those shoes! Last April a Chinese manufacturing concern was reported to have purchased the Source, still “ghostly,” “mostly vacant” in local press I’m reading online now. Actually, on the darkest days of the year it’s a nice walk inside. Everything is free when no one’s selling anything. It’s oddly still for an hour out. Stille Nacht, hm hm hmm. Since it’s his parents’ car you could call it a free vacation, or almost.

“The Cheesecake Factory became the new Fortunoff.” Ever eaten with a pair of underweight homosexuals at a Cheesecake Factory? This was before they had one in Queens. From 2006 we were both vegans, mostly. What would we have, grilled cheese of course. Cheapest meal on the menu almost. Not that we could finish all that bread and fat, we were saving up the will for a walk though remaindered lawn furniture, or I was. How many hundreds of dollars would it cost us to sit outside together, and could we bring it to California? With what kind of vehicle?

In Junkspace (2001), Rem Koolhaas describes the pervasive no-space of disappearing architecture, but what if the generic were made irreducibly particular? Heterotopia, it’s not primarily what you’d think it sounds like but it could also be that. Originally, I read it for his class, my then-boyfriend’s, maybe still? The food/court oxymoron/paradox is even more acute when there’s no one there. Polluting to consume or produce, I’d prefer not to, the Bartleby way. You withdraw to create a space for a new possibility such as: another man. It’s an active refusal, when can we start? We’re putting the body back in.

After dinner, my friend took me to see the ornaments of Garden City. Oh, they were lovely. He knew better than I, he was about to lose a family house nearby. There were books in many boxes—he’s trying to get rid of stuff, a good goal to have. I could have Sarah Orne Jewett. Remember when Eileen Myles asked about Jewett at that bar in Long Island City, trying to remember who David Rattray was reading on his last days? The translator of Artaud? He came up with Lynne Tillman again later. Not a wreath out of place; we found it hard to see inside. What would they be doing, the people within? Language is indeed that frontier.

Some of you will know exactly that tiny moment of what it’s like to be gay at Christmas. Families we choose of childless men, you wouldn’t find us at Rockefeller Center but an abandoned mall outside the city? I mean it’s not like we all want to get gay married. How about we call it queer and not play ball? No shopping…pure bewilderment. It’s a vacation.