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Chumming the water

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OCTOBER 12, 2018

At 10 p.m., sitting in one of four mustard-yellow lounge chairs in my living room, I open Grindr. A little green circle pops up at the bottom corner of my profile, indicating that I am online. I had released the bait, chummed the waters, so to speak, and patiently waited for the proverbial sharks.

The first one. Keith, 48, looks a bit like Jim Carrey in “The Mask.” “Handsome Pic. What’s Up?” I imagine Keith says “what’s up” like a middle-aged man in crisis, trying desperately to be cool.

My straight friends have a hard time distinguishing among gay hookup apps, and I can’t entirely blame them. There is no equivalent in the mainstream heterosexual world, no forum in which intentions are so explicit. So let me explain. Grindr is for sex. If you’re looking for something else on Grindr, you’re either naive or stupid. Perhaps both. Grindr lets you, no, encourages you, to list your height, your weight, your race, your preferred sexual position, your HIV status and a litany of other descriptors. It turns its users into sexual commodities, shelf items to be picked through, sorted and ultimately purchased. Profiles are listed by proximity, down to the foot. “I like to penis,” age 46, 423 feet away.

If Tinder is coy and indirect, then Grindr is overt and ostentatious. I can appreciate Grindr for this. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It doesn’t hide pure sexual desire behind the decorum of dating. Grindr is Freud’s unfiltered id.

An unnamed profile: “Hey. How’s your night going. Looking?” He was cute, dark curly hair, an inoffensive mustache that read cool not douchey, mid-20s, the kind of person I don’t mind getting attention from — a rarity on this app. But I wasn’t “looking” that night, a shortened euphemism for looking to hook up. I was there for the sideshow, the voyeuristic pleasure of watching people on the hunt. I wanted the occasional distraction while I stayed up late, writing.

New message from Defiant Joe: “Hi my name is Joe. I own a porn company in Oakland. I’m looking for guys. I though (sic) I would see if you where (sic) interested? Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.” Defiant Joe definitely doesn’t own a porn company. I wondered if this had worked on other people.

“I wanna suck,” no profile picture, no age, asks me what I’m doing and sends a picture of his naked body, cropped at the shoulders and just above the knee. The only thing I thought was that his skin hadn’t seen the sun in a while.

Thirty minutes later, Defiant Joe is back. “If not interested please block me so I don’t contact you again. If your (sic) not sure if your (sic) interested reply back ‘not sure.’ ” I am tempted to play along. Yes, Joe, I would love to make porn in your basement. Doesn’t sound sketchy at all. Tell me what sort of salary options you have. Benefits? Insurance? 401(k)? This is not what I say. I say nothing.

I approach midnight, and the number of unsolicited dick pics now stored in my messages is approaching fever pitch. I guess there is something about the medium that emboldens its users to ask for exactly what they want. I am also guilty of this app-specific personality. On Grindr, I’m confident, self-assured, I toy with men because I can. In real life, I’m introverted, demure, unreadable.

My phone buzzes: “Someone just tapped you.” A “tap” is like a Facebook poke, with very different connotations. His profile photo is obviously a blurry picture of Timothée Chalamet. I pity the unsuspecting person who hasn’t seen “Call Me by Your Name” who will get caught up in the catfishing scheme. I set my phone down, return to my computer. The night grows colder, later, more delirious. I check the clock, and it’s 1 a.m.

A new message interrupts my focus, or rather my lack of it. It’s Defiant Joe. “I’m just checking to see if my offer interested? Please let me know. If you’re not interested please be courteous and reply back with ‘no thanks.’ Thank you.” The later it got, the more dropping out of school and pursuing porn seemed like a viable option. Then I remembered — Defiant Joe definitely doesn’t own a porn company.

At 2 a.m., “NSA looking for now,” 4 miles away, 54, took the bait. “Hey hru vers bottom here into younger.” I am not going to explain to straight readers what a vers bottom is. I was confused why someone was looking for sex so late on a weeknight. I decided this called for a response: “Neat. Please don’t talk to me.”

I quit at 4 a.m. or around then. I remember the sky was beginning to lighten in a pre-dawn glow, and for some reason, I was still getting new messages. I go to sleep impressed by the way virtual anonymity in this virtual world has given rise to such direct and idiosyncratic communication. A powerful space where queer men can be unabashedly sexual.

In the morning, as I dress for work, pull on my jeans, stare at my open closet, I have a new message from Defiant Joe. “You’re not interested, so I’m going to block you to make sure I don’t bother you in the future.”

He never did.

Josh Perkins writes the Friday column on the absurd realities of modern communication. Contact him at [email protected] .

OCTOBER 12, 2018