Cruising, or: A Map to the Next World, or: A Map to the World Past

by Michael Abraham

It was in the midst of thinking about my own childhood and friendships, of thinking about faith and magic and the End of the World and the World to Come, in the midst of reflecting quite deeply on these things, which for me are so profoundly interwoven, so profoundly interwoven because, in the tapestry they make together, there is, glimmering, the idea of what love is and means, the sense I have of amory, of life’s affectionate trajectory and the purpose of affection in the trajectory of life—it was in the midst of reflecting on these these things and of writing about them over and over that I met a man we’ll call Khalid. 

I was in Tribeca, playing pool with the friend I once liked to call Shakti in my writing. She had to run off to a dinner, and so I was left on my own with a beautiful summer night thrumming around me. O, it was perfect. It was deep purple and eighty degrees with a strange chill in the breeze—everything New York in August is supposed to be. I was two blocks from the train to my house, but how could I go home on such a night? So, I decided I would walk north from Tribeca to the Christopher Street pier. This pier is a mightily historical place, both for me personally and for queer history itself. It was on this and the surrounding piers that voguing was invented by unhoused Black and Brown queer youth in between turning tricks, as they dance battled to pass the night. It was on this and the surrounding piers that so much of the twentieth century gay and trans lifeworld of sex and friendship existed. It was also on this pier that I first discovered myself as a queer man. I had been gay long before the discovery of course; I came out at fourteen. But I was not queer until I was nineteen. I was taking a class my second semester of freshman year at NYU, taught by Tamuira Reid, in the writing of creative nonfiction and immersive journalism. For our final projects, we had to pick something to immersively research, something to involve ourselves in, and then write a long-form lyrical essay about it. Having recently been exposed to Elegance Bratton’s then-unreleased film, Pier Kids, which follows the lives of three unhoused queer youth as they secure housing, I decided what I would write about were just these people, the unhoused youth of color who make the Christopher Street pier their nightly home. Looking back, I can see how voyeuristic and naïve this was. But I didn’t want to meet the pier kids to gawk at them. I had a sense, a sense merely, that they knew something, many things, about the kind of people we are, them and me, that I did not yet know.

The essay I ended up writing about the pier kids was called “Pilgrims,” which was a reference to our dual pilgrimage to Christopher. I only met them once. I went to the pier every night at 4 am for weeks, and finally I saw a group of teens and early twenty-somethings hanging out and voguing and laughing uproariously. This is what I wrote of my interaction with them when I was nineteen: 

They pass you by like river about stone. No, that’s not it. They pass through you like a school of fish through a gray and tattered net. The boy who sashayed so well stops beside you. “Hey dude, you got an extra cigarette?” You half-smile. You nod. You pass it over, and for a second you meet his eyes. They’re big, brown saucers. They’re filled with light and ache.

Or maybe they’re mirrors, and this is you making the meaning, defining the space between two things. Maybe, instead, you are filled with light and ache, and he is filled with the street. This isn’t your street. You’ve made it yours; you’ve rented a piece of it. But you’ll never own it. The Queens of Christopher, in their cheap wigs and their expensive pumps, are the real proprietors. The sex shops, the bars, the crystal shop, the accessory stores, the Path trains, cafes: all of it, leased from the kids that haunt this strip of red brick and asphalt, that have found something here you cannot name. They probably cannot name it either, and that’s okay—we’ll call it Christopher, and leave it at that.

It sounds pretty. But, in reality, I was scared shitless. I was not scared of the pier kids; I was scared before them. I felt very small and very silly in their presence. They were glamorous and charismatic in the highest sense, the sense of spirituality; they were brave and powerful and beautiful, and, though they had been dispossessed by a cruel world, by bigoted parents and failing social safety nets and systemic racism, they were sashaying to one another’s delight down the street in the blue-black of predawn, and I discovered that I had been right indeed: they knew something, many things, I did not know about being the kind of subjects that we, both of us, are in this, the world we inhabit. Though I failed to cut through my fear of my own inadequacy and get to know them that night, I resolved in that moment that I would discover my own sense, my own flavor and shape, of what it is that they knew. I, too, would become queer. It was the first time I made a commitment to a future version of myself, and it happened in this place so soaked with history, this street that twinkles with the past and its treasured store of triumph and of pain. 

So, anyway, I walked to the Christopher Street pier on that perfect August evening. It was about 8:30. I took in the Jersey skyline and turned around to admire Manhattan. I drank in the music, caught snatches of conversation. I went to Rockbar, the bear bar that caps Christopher, for two mezcal and sodas. And then I walked a ways, plopped down on a stoop, and opened Grindr to find a random man to fuck. That’s when he walked by. 

“Oh, hey, you’re cute,” he called out and then kept on walking.

“Oh, hey, you’re cute, too,” I called back.

He turned around and locked eyes with me. And then it happened. He grinned. Sometimes, very infrequently, the world stops spinning for you; everything goes still. That’s how it felt when he grinned while holding my gaze tight as a wrench. I have seen that grin many times since, and it never fails to put a grin on my own face. It is an absolutely beautiful grin, and it is a grin, not a smile. It is warm and sweet and entirely guileless. I wish you could see it. 

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Michael,” I responded. “What’s yours?” 

Now, historically, I have been bad at flirting. But something about the grin, something about the perfect, purple night, something about being so newly divorced and out on the town—each of these things gave me a silver of the tongue, a purr of the voice, a tilt of the head that dripped with sex. I surprised myself mightily when I heard myself, when I witnessed my own affect.


“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Brooklyn,” he said.

“Me too. Are you going home?” 

He shrugged his shoulders, still grinning. “I don’t want to.” 

“Well, I don’t either,” I responded. I let a second lapse, and then: “Since you don’t want to go home, and I don’t want to go home, how about we buy a joint from this smoke shop and take a walk?”

O, the grin widened. “Sure,” he said.

So, I went into the smoke shop with him trailing behind and bought a pre-rolled joint and a pack of cigarettes. We lit up the joint and each lit up one of the cigarettes and began to walk in the direction from which we had both come, back to the piers. He stood a head and a half taller than me and was dressed much nicer, very fashionably. He was terribly tipsy, and I was more or less sober, but we made fine conversation anyway. We talked of things people talk about in New York on a chance meeting: how long we’ve been in the city—he, a couple months, and me, nine years—what we do for work—him, nothing right now, and me, teaching college and bartending—where we are from—he, Jersey, and me, Seattle. It was an electric conversation despite its mundanity: there was something hovering between us, some sense of possibility.

We made it to the Christopher Street pier and turned north, walking the trail that runs along the Hudson River Highway. Eventually, we found a bench in between one pier and the next. We sat down, put the joint out, and began to make out like we were teenagers. No, actually, not like teenagers—we made out like two adults who had surrendered their care for propriety entirely. We ran our hands down the length of each other’s bodies; we clutched and gasped; we showered each other in little kisses. It got rather obscene fairly quickly, and there were people walking by, so I took us to a wooded area, where we interlaced our legs and touched each other freely and kissed like the world was ending, which, for me, it was in a sense: the End of the World means the beginning of the World to Come, and, here, with a man I had just met, I felt myself sweep away the last shards of the lifeworld that had shattered when I left my marriage four months before. Here, in this consequential place in queer history, I also felt, thrumming like a beat, the memory of the World we have left behind. In the days before the internet and the legalization of sodomy and Neil Patrick Harris, this was how gay men met: they cruised one another in gay neighborhoods like the West Village and then gave their hearts to one another through their mouths and their hands while in the grass, under the safe cover of the trees. 

Eventually, I suggested we go back to my house, and we did. There, we had sex properly. Only, it wasn’t like the sex I am used to with strangers, which is so direct and to the point. It was full to the brim with giggling and cuddling and being giant, beautiful personalities. He jumped on top of me and nibbled my back and pretended to be a dinosaur. We waxed endlessly about the gorgeousness of the other. We gazed long and hard at each other, and there was, ever-present, that fabulous, enchanting grin of his.

The next morning, as I walked him to the train, I tried to take his phone number. This is where things get complicated. Khalid explained that he didn’t have a phone number, and he didn’t have a phone number because he had been living unhoused on the streets of Jersey for the last two years and had only recently, in the past month or two, found a place to stay through an organization that houses HIV+ queer people without homes. Somehow, I wasn’t shocked. I can’t explain why, but I took this information in like someone would take in a comment about the weather. It was just the way of things. Looking back, I think I was so enamored of him that I truly didn’t care what his circumstances were. I just wanted to see him again. He took my number, and we pinkie promised that he would call and that I would pick up when he did. And then I left him, with a kiss and a tight embrace, at the train, certain I’d seen the last of Khalid.

But I hadn’t. Two nights later, at 12:30 AM, he called from a Link NYC, the free, wi-fi kiosks that have replaced pay phones. 


“Who is this?” 


“Oh my god, hi!”

“Are you at home and free? Can I come by?” 

My heart soared. I gave him instructions to the train station nearest my house, and he said he’d borrow a phone and call when he got there. An hour later, he did, and I donned my slides to go gather him up, my precious bundle, and take him home.

The sex was even sillier and goofier and hotter than the first time. But it isn’t so much the sex I remember from that night. It’s the weeping. He wept to me for hours, about two years spent on the street and slamming meth and the cruelty of addicts to one another. I just listened. After it was over, we held each other a long time, and eventually the night passed over into morning.

We continued this way for a week or two, him appearing out of nowhere and me casting aside whatever I was doing to drink in the pleasure of his company. And then, out of a desire to give him a fighting chance, to give him access to social services and the ability to get a job, and against the advice of everyone in my life besides my friend, Jody, I put him on my phone plan. He broke down in tears in the T-Mobile store. That night, we went out dancing, and it was as though we two were made to groove together. We drank, and we danced, and then we got fried chicken and fell into bed too exhausted to fuck.

Here it was for a brief moment. Here was the World Past and the World to Come colliding in the space of our entangled bodies. Here was some cruising fantasy straight out of a 1980s gay novel come to life in the decidedly unfantastic early 2020s, pointing a way forward, whispering emphatically about a World where a transient and drug addicted Black man and a white Ivy League PhD candidate could be lovers without all the stuff, the stuff that the World is made of, that builds up its barriers and makes up its History—that we could love without all that in the way. And for a moment in time, a single, precious moment in time, we did. 

We had a few more lovely nights and lazy mornings, but you know how this story ends already. Eventually, Khalid disappeared because that World in which we were playing about is not this World, not yet. Our last phone call gave me reason to believe he slammed again, or at least smoked, something he’d been trying, since meeting me, so hard not to do. I don’t know what became of the phone. I pleaded for five days in voicemails and text messages for him to let me know he was alright. I heard nothing, and eventually, with twenty-four hour’s warning, I cut the line and swallowed the loss.

When I saw Jody, the friend who had supported this most wholeheartedly all along, the next day, at the bar where we both hold a second job, she looked at me kindly and shrugged in the most compassionate way. “He came out of the blue,” she said, “and then he went back into the blue.”


Khalid was not the love of my life, as the man I married and then left was not the love of my life, and as the ex-lover into whom I tried so briefly to pour all that madness and love after leaving was not the love of my life. Meeting Khalid, however, cemented a lesson about love that was inchoately hovering in each of those earlier relationships—indeed, in every relationship I’ve ever had with a man whom I’ve loved and left or lost. That is, I learned that life is a tempestuous and temporary experiment in the act of loving, that it is the snap of the night on a stoop in the West Village, the impossible eruption of possibility when someone’s grin breaks your heart. This, this amory, is the secret at the heart of the World: things yearn toward each other. It is imperfect, love is; it is broken, and it breaks in turn. But, o, it is so very essential. 

Amory does not last. It lasts only the space of a night or a few years or a lifetime or the lifespan of humantime on Earth. So soon, the world will pass into naught and us with it, and amory will be gone from the universe. This is why we must revel in it now, why we must give ourselves over to it wholly and completely, why we must cruise and marry and fuck and adore our friends and lovers—and damn the consequences. 

Each of us has an amory, is an amory—is a whole history of loving and being loved. The World itself is a whole History of it, of desire and loss and disappointment and ecstatic union. Loving builds a bridge between iterations of the World; it folds Time up and makes it strange and nonlinear; it connects us to who we have been and who we are becoming and who we were once, many lives ago. 


Break your hearts, my loves. That is the story and the wisdom I have to tell. Break open your hearts.