By Cory D. Byrom
I fell in love with Ben the second time I saw him. He was a tour guide for Classic New York, one of those double-decker bus tours that takes you all over Manhattan, pointing out locations both historically and culturally notable. I thought it was a quirky job to have in this day and age, but Ben was wonderful at it. He welcomed every guest as they climbed onto the bus, asking my parents where they were visiting from and insisting that what a coincidence he had an aunt who lived in Marietta, Georgia, too! When I stepped up as they moved to their seats, he shook my hand and looked so deeply into my eyes that my ears started ringing. Had I been alone, or with friends, I would’ve sat right by him and made it my mission to have his number before the tour ended. But some things you just don’t do with your parents around, and for me, flirting is one of them, no matter how hot the tour-bus guide is.
The tour itself was fine, about what you’d expect. Ben pointed out all of the major monuments and delivered tidbits of trivia for the tourists to chew on as the bus lumbered through traffic. He pointed out the Egg Building at the Empire State Plaza. He showed us streets corners and storefronts seen in Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Big, and When Harry Met Sally. All the great tourist stuff.
As the tour ended and we departed, I had a sudden urge to press my phone number into his palm, but I didn’t have a pen or anything to write my number on, and before I had time to consider my options, my parents and I were standing on the street, my father wondering if we should take a cab back to Tom’s Restaurant to sit in a booth where Seinfeld ate. He was disappointed when I told him they only used the exterior.
The smart thing to do would’ve been to forget about Ben, but of course that’s not what I did. Instead, a week later I called Classic New York.
“I went on one of your tours just the other day, and I tell you, our guide, Ben I think his name was? Boy, he was really great. There was one bit of info he mentioned about the Chrysler Building that I found so interesting at the time, and danged if I can remember what it was now. I was wondering if I could get his contact info so I could pick his brain a little.” They told me that if I stopped by their office I could get a pamphlet that featured the information from the tour, and that they couldn’t give out the guides’ personal info anyway. Of course they couldn’t. So I went ahead and bought a ticket for another tour.
And it was during this second time ascending the stairs, shaking Ben’s hand, and having him once again look not at me but into me, that I fell in love with him. I told him I’d taken the tour a week earlier with my parents. “No shit?” I liked that he cursed on the job. “Who’s with you this time?”
“Oh, no one,” I admitted, feeling a little silly and obvious. “It’s just me this time.”
I pulled myself together and turned on the charm, flirting casually at first, then sneaking in more personal conversation during the down times of the tour. And I came prepared, with my number already written on a card. When I tried to give it to him towards the end of the tour, he said, “Thank you, but I’m really not interested in that sort of thing right now.”
I feigned offense and asked what “that sort of thing” was and what kind of guy did he take me for anyway.
He smiled. “You’re sweet, but trust me. It’s too complicated. I just can’t.”
I told him I understood but maybe we could grab coffee, very low-commitment, and we could each explain ourselves and then decide once and for all which of us was in fact the most complicated. It was a very playful pitch. By now the tour was ending and people were shuffling to their feet. He took the card, wrote his number on the back, and handed it back to me.
“Take my number instead. It’s easier for me,” he said. I worried that he was brushing me off with a fake number, but when I called the next day, he answered and we agreed to meet for coffee. He told me where to find him. Low-commitment. I was already in love.
I did find him. He was sitting at a table, coffee already in front of him, looking around sheepishly as if he wasn’t sure who to expect. He seemed to barely notice me approaching, but once I re-introduced myself, he was all nervous charm. As we got to know each other, it turned out that he was right about that complicated thing. He was more complicated than I could’ve imagined.
Ben explained that he suffered from prosopagnosia, more commonly known as face blindness. He could sit and study my face all day long (and believe me, I would’ve let him) and still not be able to recognize me if I walked up to him on the street. Picking someone out of a crowd was impossible. You know the phrase “He couldn’t see the forest for the trees?” Well, Ben couldn’t see the trees for the forest. People were one big forest to him. Simply put, he couldn’t recognize a person, regardless of how well he knew them.
“So, you see, having a relationship is just too complicated for me. I’m not ready for it right now,” he said, and I thought I could sense disappointment in his voice, like maybe he wanted to give it a try anyway. But maybe not.
“Who said anything about a relationship,” I said. “We’re just playing.”
“Just playing,” he echoed. Later that evening he kissed me for the first time. Even later still I gave him a blowjob in the back of a cab. It definitely had the structure of “just playing.”
We tried to come up with creative ways to make it easier for him to recognize me. I wore the same pair of blue Adidas every time we met. I offered to get a unique haircut, but there are only so many options for guys, and I couldn’t pull off suddenly going punk just so he could recognize me by my mohawk. I told him maybe I could get a tattoo in a recognizable location, but he pointed out that that wasn’t exactly a move someone “just playing” would do, and anyway, he thought tattoos were kind of trashy. So mostly we stuck to identifying clothing, like the blue Adidas.
Our just playing continued for a couple of weeks. It was a whirlwind of public makeouts, semi-public blowjobs, and late night hook-ups. It was during the third week that I finally saw him completely undressed and discovered the 3 tattoos on his chest and back. “I thought you said tattoos were trashy,” I said. He hesitated before explaining that he thought it was crazy that I would’ve offered to get a tattoo for him when we were supposed to be “just playing”. It freaked him out a little, so he’d added the trashy part to make sure I didn’t go too far. I think we both knew I’d already gone way too far.
“Are we still just playing?” I asked him. A smirk faded into a look of slight annoyance and he said, “I am,” and it stung.
Things started falling apart after that. I was finding it harder to hide my real feelings, and he was getting more and more selfish and careless in his treatment of what I perceived to be our relationship. There were times when he seemed disappointed to see me once I made it clear that it was, in fact, me. He finally told me he was tired of just playing with me. I was tired of just playing too, but we didn’t mean it in the same way. He told me I should stop calling him. He told me I could stop wearing my blue Adidas. I left them in his apartment and walked home barefoot.
It’s been two months since I fell in love with Ben. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken the Classic New York bus tour. I don’t shake his hand when I get on the bus, and I avoid eye contact. Before I went back to the tour, I got a new haircut. I grew out a goatee, too, and sometimes I even wear fake glasses. I know it doesn’t matter, because he won’t recognize me anyway- he can’t recognize me- but as long as it’s a game of dress-up, it’s easier to convince myself that I’m “just playing.”