There’s something about the California episodes of I Love Lucy that really appeal to the homo male’s mind. It’s possibly because, like Lucy Ricardo herself, every gay man is desperately seeking the spotlight, to be a star, as it were. Thirty-two year old Sawyer, with pale freckled skin and light blonde hair, did not see himself that way–though he did frequently work as an extra, picking up jobs at random when the thought occurred to him to work at all. Which it did about once every two weeks when he checked his credit card statement. But in the in-between lulls (not that being an extra on the set of a worthless project that would never land you a speaking part and therefore the coveted SAG card wasn’t a constant lull in and of itself), he found himself, like so many gays unable to control their sex urges–their need to leave the only inseminating mark they could in an asshole or on someone’s lint-filled hardwood floor–wanting to fill the void. And also like so many gays that knew better than to try to fill this void via the internet, he was wont to using Grindr, still somehow the classic go-to like Tinder for straights who also knew better than to attempt finding anything other than pain on there (though clearly straights don’t know that much better if they’re still attempting to be straight in the twenty-first century).
And lo and behold, one lazy Sunday afternoon holed up in his Astoria abode, Sawyer simply couldn’t resist a little look-see at the old app (after rubbing one out, naturally). Always going by their distance as opposed to their aesthetic (like food delivery, he wanted his fucks fast and convenient), Sawyer saw that there was someone interested in “Lucille Ball” and “jacking off together” just 652 feet away. Perfect, Sawyer thought. Now I can watch TV without being by myself and masturbate without being by myself. Because there is no bigger crime on this Earth than doing something alone. Maybe even more so when you’re a gay man and to walk the streets or exist at all requires numbers to validate and fortify your presence to the heteronormative status quo. Even so, Sawyer strutted the 652 feet to Anatoly’s house fearlessly, because in Astoria everyone is either gay or Greek (maybe that’s sort of the same thing though, you know, since ancient Greeks invented the whole homo thing).
Anatoly was somewhere around thirty-one, though his profile claimed thirty-seven. He was trying to coast on a bear sort of aesthetic with his beard. Sawyer didn’t mind. About the blatant lie or the beard. However, the fact that he was even younger than expected made it all the stranger that he had a Lucille Ball/I Love Lucy obsession. Like, did the show only just arrive in Siberia or something (that was where he was actually from)? Truth be told, it wouldn’t surprise Sawyer if that was the case. And right when he was let into the apartment, where Anatoly lived alone thanks to a job as a computer programmer at [insert name of bland company here], the opening notes to the I Love Lucy theme were beginning, setting the stage for the episode entitled “In Palm Springs,” in which, incidentally, gay boy dreamboat (though, of course, back then, just “dreamboat”) Rock Hudson makes a cameo to prove a point about forgiving your loved one all of his flaws. Which is essentially the antithesis of any gay man’s perspective–at least from a visual standpoint. And as Sawyer was ushered in with a vodka soda as though to overly insist on getting him to consume whatever Kool-Aid this was, he found himself wishing he could live even half as sophisticated of a life as Anatoly–pathetic though it was, it was still more glamorous than Sawyer’s, who discovered himself to be increasingly sympathetic toward Andrew Cunanan in terms of how dangerously covetous he was getting in New York. It seemed every gay man had a better life than him, meaning a life populated with more impressive material. And as a gay who had moved to the city precisely because of his desire to prove to everyone back in Colorado just how superior he was, he couldn’t exactly feel vindicated telling people he was an extra living in squalor, but at least it was a squalor that his three other roommates rarely came home to inhabit. He would be a lonely pig in shit were it not for Grindr, a brief window into seeing how the other half lives (in this case referring to richer instead of poorer people).
Anatoly eased his way onto the couch, letting out a thunderous moan of relief, as though his back was endlessly eased by the sudden support of the cushion. With eighteen episodes spread over the middle of season four and beginning of season five, it was clear that Anatoly had gotten pretty far along in the L.A. narrative to have reached “In Palm Springs.” Well, clear to anyone who was psychotically gay. Sawyer could be described as such. Anatoly was just Siberian, which exempt him from everything in terms of reasons why he was psychotic.
As the premise of the episode was laid out in the first ten minutes (the first acts of teleplays were actually an entire ten minutes back in the day, when people had the attention spans of humans instead of gnats), that of being annoyed by certain personal habits (Ricky tapping his fingers all the time, Lucy stirring her coffee absently, Ethel chewing too loudly and Fred jangling the change in his pocket–penny pinchers always have extra dough, after all), Sawyer could see Anatoly unzipping his pants out of the corner of his eye.
Though he knew from the outset that this was the plan, he was hoping that Anatoly might hold off just a little bit longer on getting to the sexual portion of the program (no pun intended). But one supposes something about Lucy’s red hair in black and white was like a toreador signaling to a bull. Or maybe it was Ricky sitting on his own two hands to keep himself from tapping that did it. Something about that kind of repression of true desire appealing to a male Siberian lover of penis like Anatoly.
“See, this is why it’s better to be a gay man in New York. No risk of monogamy, no risk of getting annoyed by a significant other’s habits. Unless that habit is to spread your HIV,” he giggled to himself as he caressed his exposed uncircumcised appendage and started making the up and down motions to get things started, turning his head to face Sawyer for a brief moment as though to say, “What are you waiting for? Whip out your fucking dick!” So he did. And though he wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about bringing his faint erection to an end with Vivian Vance in the frame, he did it with the hope that like Rock Hudson, he could convince Anatoly that his own habit of wanting to have penetrative sex was worthwhile.
Alas, Anatoly was superhuman and sustained his stiffness as the episode concluded. It was almost unnerving to see him continue to beat it like he was churning butter (just as Lucy and Ethel tried to do in the episode called “Pioneer Women”). Nonetheless, Sawyer attempted to be a good sport by maintaining the image of a nude Rock Hudson in his mind so as to give rise to his penis once again for the first five minutes of the subsequent episode, “Dancing Star,” fittingly with Van “Johnson” as the cameo appearance this time. But oh, how bored Sawyer was becoming with touching only himself. He finally got up to go to the bathroom, text a few friends for advice and then went to the kitchen to pour another drink. Guzzling it down, in turn, made his erection go down, which Anatoly immediately noticed. He looked genuinely disappointed at the revelation that Sawyer wasn’t feeling as turned on by I Love Lucy as he was. But then, what gay boy under seventy could possibly find sexual resonance with this show? It was all so bizarre, even for Sawyer, who was accustomed to behavior as anathema as having shit flung in his face upon first entering someone’s apartment.
After finally finishing not his second, but third vodka soda, Sawyer found the courage to scream, “Can you, like, stop masturbating now?!” This was also after roughly two more L.A. episodes punctuated by Anatoly’s ceaseless rubbing.
As though to mirror the exact plot of “In Palm Springs,” Sawyer could endure Anatoly’s vexing habit of masturbating ad nauseum no longer. He had to leave. And he would never be able to watch any episode of I Love Lucy quite the same. Not that it was a show that often came up in common parlance. At least not outside of Palm Springs or Astoria.