Welcome to the old normal: Gay life in Miami, post-plague

About a month ago I got the strangest instruction in three decades of going out: don’t move. Two weeks before the CDC lifted restrictions on what vaccinated adults could do unmasked in- and outdoors, the bar I visited in the Wynwood neighborhood functioned like a restaurant. You approached what looked like a hostess stand. You told them the number of people in your party. Then somebody escorted you to your table. That’s when I got the order.

Although the place was bustling, the staff had positioned the multicolored outdoor tables so far apart that they could also have filled the spaces between them with gator-filled moats. The bar inside, still closed to guests unless they needed the restroom, dispatched drinks ordered by phone through a tableside QR code. From what I observed you and your friends could stand around the picnic table or high top, but you couldn’t, say, visit other people, at least from what I observed.

But I hadn’t brought friends. On that uncharacteristically mild late April evening I had intended to get laid. I wanted no encumbrances: no banter, no concentrating on people with whom I couldn’t treat. Simmering with a yearlong malaise whose symptoms included restlessness followed by desperation — usually in those afternoons during Florida’s aborted lockdown in late spring 2020 — and three weeks past my full jab date, I was ready to, ahem, get nuts. Gramps, as evinced by these precautions and by hosting a Joe Biden inauguration party, was a safe space. My table was an atoll in a larger body dotted with people in discrete hormonal distress. The precautions, ah, they would be a problem. I could’ve gone down and across the street for a more radical mingling of bodies outdoors, sure, but only ten days after rescinding my own double mask policy I had limits. On my atoll I would stay.

I sipped a Negroni diluted with chipped ice. It’s hard remembering the music — the usual ’80s gruel or a deejay? I wanted to be spun right round (like a record, baby). I texted a few friends, lifting my head every twenty seconds to peer through the palm trees and darkness. In another time I might’ve felt creepy, a lech with a blood-colored cocktail who glowered at every dude in Chuck Taylors.  This was bullshit. I wouldn’t stay long.

Returning from a bathroom trip more about stretching legs, I spotted a sandy-haired dude in red corduroys examining a slice of pizza as if it were an iguana’s tail. The inevitable has fascinated me of late. “Fate” is a highfalutin term for the consonance between the scenarios we enter and the shit we can predict will happen because we know ourselves despite stalwart efforts to quash these truths, thus talking to a med school aspirant in his mid twenties who realized he made a gruesome mistake buying a slice of pizza seemed inevitable. We went straight for introductions. He did that polite wince many people do when they realize I take even background music seriously; I can see in their eyes an unexpected marshaling of haggard forces and also the possibility that they’re dealing with a dick. He was kinda cute; he though I was kinda cute too. This wasn’t the point. Meeting the chalkmarks of inevitability was.

“You’ll have to show me your vac card.”

With an eyebrow he’d turned into a caret, he pulled a folded plastic card from his wallet. A vac card. He showed it to me. Embarrassed, I patted his hand, told him to put it away. A long time ago an older friend said he’d reached a point living in the early ’90s plague years where he and potential hookups did exchange HIV test results.

Welcome to the old normal.

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