Isn’t it brilliant, I mean, just brilliant, when you arrive in a city and everything, especially you, is fresh and new? People aren’t tired of your tired face. For once you’re the opportunity to be grasped. It’s like you’ve gone up seven divisions in the league of the eligible, even if you’re used to playing in the Conference. (Sorry, gratuitous football reference, like I know anything about football, even if I do enjoy it sometimes). If you stayed for more than a couple of weeks people would look at you and sigh, Him again? If you stayed for a season you’d become part of the wallpaper, as unnoticed as any wallflower. You’d be back in the Sunday morning division, where you play at home, where you belong.
But when you’re new in town, your iPad tinkles like wind chimes: Grindr in the UK, Atraf in Israel. And last Autumn I spent two happy and sociable weeks in Tel Aviv. Israel is a nation of handsome people: there’s a huge gene pool from all over the world mixed up together. It’s very outdoorsy, everyone’s always cycling or windsurfing. A large group line-dances on the beach every Saturday morning. Every dish you order comes with a bowl of mixed salad, even a cheese and ham croissant. Yes, there’s ham in Israel, and lots of seafood, equally unkosher. There’s two years of compulsory national service, plus an extra month in the reserves every year until they’re, I think, forty-five. They are fit. My chat-up line, which no one ever really rose to but I enjoyed saying anyway, was You must have been a colonel in the army, at least. Sometimes I’d change that to the even more glamorous wing-commander, but I enjoyed saying it more than they enjoyed hearing it. Israel is also a nation of serious people. I, on the other hand, was as giddy as a bridesmaid.
Before I get into the red meat of this post I must ask you to forgive me if it seems too boastful. I don’t mean to be. I mean to tell a story of how, even when you’re a plump, middle-aged man, maybe past his absolute finest, there is still more fun to be had than a stick can be shaken at. I had nine first dates in two weeks. I didn’t have nine second dates, but that’s ok, I haven’t had nine dates in London in the last year. Also, the photo at the top of this post isn’t anyone I met for a drink, but it is a surfer on the Tel Aviv beach. I was drawn to the brown of the man’s skin against the neon of his shorts. Of course.
On the third day of my holiday I’d met someone for an hour in the afternoon, but nothing interesting came of it, then gone on for dinner, returned to my hotel. My iPad pinged. It was someone called Gil. He wanted to meet me that night before he returned to Jerusalem for another week. In truth, Jerusalem is close enough to Tel Aviv for that not to matter. Anyway, it was after eleven. Hmm, I reminded myself, I am on holiday. I hailed a cab and went to meet Gil at the Evita, Tel Aviv’s finest gay bar. Even though Tel Aviv is half party, half hippy, and anyone can walk along the street holding anyone’s hand, it doesn’t have many gay bars. But the Evita is cool. I liked the Evita. It was nicer than many British gay bars but also the same as many British gay bars. It was roomy, there was a stage, a long bar, a youngish crowd and a terrace. I watched an Israeli drag queen lip-sync to Rihanna.
I bought a drink and found Gil. He looked fine to me. Fortyish. Bearing of a general. Fit. He looked me up and down and changed his mind. No one has ever been less interested in me. Still, he tried a little. We took our drinks to the terrace. We made small talk. He looked around. We started to chat to another person at the table. It was Alona’s first night out ever ever ever dressed as a woman. How brilliant, how brave of her. She was, as I’m sure you can imagine, nervous. I tried to put her at her ease but Gil was fascinated. He asked Alona too many questions, and far too many about her penis. I suggested that Gil and I move to another place, 500m away, called, of course, Meat. If you were writing a novel and had to invent a name for a gay club, the name you’d come up with would be Meat.
When I was thirty I would have loved Meat. It was loud, dark and full of excited, handsome young men. I’m not thirty and haven’t been for some years. Gil asked the barman to show him the label of the wine they had, see if it was good enough for him to drink. I kept my face poker straight. Etiquette is a delicate flower at all times, but I think it’s a universal rule that at a gay club called Meat you don’t examine the wine label like a sommelier. You drink a beer or water or neck some pills, maybe. I’d had thirty minutes of Gil not being able to look at me and I made a decision. Look, I said, it’s all good, thanks very much, lovely to meet you, have a nice evening, tara. I climbed the stairs into the fragrant night air and laughed out loud. Tarahhhhh!
Fate keeps on happening. I started back to the Evita. I was happy to be having my adventure and happier to have left Gil. I’m sure he was happy about it, too. I whistled a happy tune as I skipped along. I noticed a handsome young man walking towards Meat who looked at me for a second longer than strictly necessary. I winked, as is my wont. We stopped to say hi. Well, who knows how the world gets this sort of thing to happen, but I’d been chatting to him to on the iPad, on Atraf. We’d already arranged to meet a few days later. He turned out to be a bit of a dick, too, but it didn’t matter. I was having, what do you call it? I know – fun! I continued back to the Evita and fell back into conversation with Alona. We talked about work, about the city, about London. We were getting on. We didn’t talk about her penis. The prettiest lesbians I’ve ever seen asked us to join them. They translated for the handsome young man who was out with them. He likes you, they said he said, will you meet him on Tuesday? Excuse me for being a bit full of myself, hell, maybe we’d all had too much to drink, but I think Alona was giving me the glad eye, too. And that’s why I love (more) People.