I still can’t make the leaf on cappuccinos. I work at Pavement Coffeehouse in Boston as a barista, but I’m not exactly a natural. My arms always stick to the cups, and when I try to shake them off, the foam caves in on itself. Making other drinks is no easier; I get ink in the iced teas every time. Whenever a cute guy walks in, I instinctually change to my mating coloring (white with black stripes). I worry this is off-putting. There are not many octopuses in the greater Boston area.
My parents are deep-sea conservatives, so I was raised in a traditional household. My mother likes to point out that she met my father when she was only 1 year old. “Don’t you think it’s time you settled down?” she likes to ask. “If only you’d meet a nice hen and find a crevasse somewhere,” my father might add on. But I want to be a writer; I went to Kenyon, for Christ’s sake. There’s nothing waiting in a crevasse for a writer. For now I’m working day shifts at Pavement. I have submitted to the New York Times “Modern Love” column several times, but I have yet to hear back.
On Grindr, my bio says I’m a top from the Pacific, but I’m actually a bottom from the Atlantic. A friend told me about Grindr a couple months ago, and I’ve been “grinding” ever since. You sign up for an account, take a photo of yourself and then match with other gays nearby. I’ve received a respectable amount of messages. Today, for instance:
“i literally love davy jones,” from singlenearby.
“do you do tentacle stuff?” from otterboy172.
“are you into inking?” from slimedaddy6. I don’t know what “inking” is in this context, and I certainly don’t have the gall to Google it. Recently, I’ve been talking to a guy named Brian; he messaged me first. He thought it’d be fun to get dinner instead of hooking up, so we’re going to Legal Seafoods later tonight.
When I get home from work, Romero, my roommate, has left our apartment littered with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos bags and Four Loko cans. His friends are over, and I feel awkward calling him out in front of them. I lift a Cheetos bag with one suction cup, place it in the garbage and attempt to make eye contact with Romero. He stares at the coffee table. Romero is a little slow, I think.
“Isn’t Four Loko banned?” I ask. “How do you survive on this?”
“Dude. You haven’t even tried the gold flavor.”
This is true; I haven’t. “I think a guy might come over later tonight,” I blurt out. I have butterflies in my ink-sac. “Could you clean this up before then?”
Romero looks up from the coffee table. “My man is getting some. Huge!” Romero springs to his feet, pulls up his pants and offers a hand for the “bro-hug.”
More butterflies — I can never get this right. I wrap a clumsy tentacle around his hand and bump my head into his on accident. He is unfazed.
Later, as I experiment in the mirror with a French tuck of my floral button-down, Abba’s “Waterloo” starts playing from my phone. It’s my father calling. I let the phone go for a few seconds.
“Are you busy? Your mom said I should call you.” I can hear my mother scolding him in the background.
“Oh. Thanks. So, what’s new down there?” I go back to looking in the mirror.
“Well, we saw a shark earlier today. Looked like he was headed east. Oh, and the Goldmans are moving grottos; they said they wanted more natural light. Honestly, I’m fine living at 400 feet. Your mom thinks the shallows have better schools, but it’s so much quieter down here.”
“Oh right, yeah, wonderful family. The Goldmans, I mean.” I speak with my phone between my shoulder and my cheek. “Hey Dad, could I actually call you later? I have a dinner thing.”
I arrive at Legal Seafoods 15 minutes before the reservation. The waiter leads me to my table anyway. “We don’t get octopuses in here that often,” he says, laughing awkwardly.
“Oh.” I’m too nervous to be offended.
I stick and unstick a suction cup to the glass table, imagining what I might say to Brian. Yeah, I’ve submitted some work to Modern Love. He’d know what Modern Love is, right? I scan the menu, and after finding nothing of interest, I look up. God, there are a lot of old people here. One white-haired woman across the room is staring at me. I can’t break eye contact — Why me? Does she know I’m gay? Does she not like octopuses? Is it the French tuck? She turns her head back to her conversation. I sigh and click the home button on my phone: 7:32 p.m. Forty-two minutes have passed since I sat down. One notification from Grindr.
“show me what them tentacles do,” from slimedaddy6.
I sag in my chair, eat three rolls of bread and decide to walk home along the Charles. I try to distract myself with the view of the skyline, but I keep thinking of Brian — lying in bed with him, meeting his parents. I think of him thinking of me. I think of him reading my writing and being outraged that Modern Love wouldn’t take it. I think of jumping into the sea. I call my mother.
“So wonderful to hear your voice, sweetie.”
“Hey mom, I just went on a date.” I can hear her reiterating this to my father. They’re probably still eating dinner. He went on a date!
“Well, how was it? She wasn’t from the Pacific, was she?”
There’s a lump in my throat. I turn a shade of dark, dark purple.
“Honey, did I lose you?”