A Road Not Ridden

US287, North of Rawlins, Wyoming, 1997

In 1994, I started posting short stories on my personal Web site. Though the term was not yet coined, I published a blog as both a public personal diary and as a platform for my fiction. I wrote about being a loner; a queer biker living in the Western US on a motorcycle: each additional mile subsidized by writing C++ code, mathematical software, for the "Wall Street Quants".

US199, Cave Junction, Oregon, 1997

In fiction, I wrote environmental protest stories heavily influenced by my disdain for the timber and mining industries. They were tales suitable for gay porn magazines but in a setting of radical environmentalism; think "Monkey Wrench Gang", but Heyduke is queer.

About a year after starting my blog, a man in New York contacted me. He identified himself as a writing agent. He praised my story-telling skill and queried if I had any interest in writing professionally.

The question astonished me. Not readily extending trust, I jumped to thinking that this was the beginning of a scam. I told him I had no interest. While I declined his hook, we continued to corresponded for several years. He seemed to instantly react to everything that I posted: I had a fan. He suggested that if my work ever took me to New York City, I should call him.

In the latter half of the nineties, I spent four work weeks out of each year in New York City. On the last of those trips, I pulled out my Franklin Planner, found the agent's number and I called him. He invited me to his place and then out to dinner, telling me that the doorman would expect me.

I never altered my attire to work for the Wall Street suits, so I would not have even considered what I looked like when meeting the agent: Harley T-shirt, blue jeans, a black leather vest and steel toed boots. I walked from my hotel north of Times Square to a impressively tall apartment building on the South edge of Central Park. As I approached the entrance, two doormen physically blocked my path. I gave them my name and showed them my ID, they checked a list at a podium and then allowed me through the double doors.

Inside, a second level of security guarded the lobby. I gave my name and the name of my host. The desk clerk repeated my host's name as an incredulous question. He glared at me for a moment and then said, "one moment, —sir" and he disappeared to a backroom. A few silent moments later, he returned and gestured to an open elevator door saying, "the elevator will take you automatically". I stepped in, there were no floor selection buttons, the door closed and I started upward.

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The immaculate and sparsely furnished apartment was modestly sized, though huge for what I had seen pass for apartments in New York. With no visible kitchen, it looked as if no one actually lived there; I thought that odd. My host led me to a living room that commanded an amazing view of Central Park: a startlingly rectangular green Grand Canyon walled by cliffs with windows. I looked for only a moment at the compelling view because I didn't want to stand with my back to him, I turned and took a seat on the opposite side of a coffee table from my formal but friendly host. I concentrated on figuring out his game, what was the scam? At the time, I was too naive to have even considered that I might have just stepped into a sex thing, but that wasn't it.

He offered me wine or a cocktail and, as was my habit, I responded, "just water". He gave me something vaguely lemony with lots of unnecessary bubbles in it. There were nuts and other snacks on the coffee table between us. I felt that to be polite, I must eat a few, though I really didn't want them.

We exchanged some small talk about my flights to New York and my work as a software engineer for the big investment banks. However, he soon steered the conversion to my latest story, "Your last post, 'Pistol Jim and the Midnight Donkeys', that was real?"

I confirmed his suspicions that it was non-fiction, but confessed I took liberty with the timing and order of events.

US101, Ukiah, California, 1999

It felt futile to try to push conversation elsewhere, he doggedly kept returning to the topic of my writing for the rest of the evening, even through our meal at a restaurant. He prompted me to tell him stories and I obliged by telling him of coming out in '80s rural Montana, hopping freight trains on the Blackfeet reservation, Earth First! protest rallies, and the C++ programming language.

I became irritated that he would reveal nothing about himself or his experience. I began to think he'd just wanted me as an evenings' entertainment.

He proposed that I take a couple months and write speculative chapters of a novel. He flattered me. He tempted me. He expounded on my unique view of the modern world as a story that needed to be told. I should capitalize on it. I began to soften to the idea. He said I could be the queer Edward Abbey.

That shattered the spell. Comparing my meager writing with that of the author of Desert Solitaire and Down the River was absurd. I angrily dismissed his praise by saying I was an engineer, not a writer. Four weeks a year in NYC paid for eleven months of riding the bike on the mountain highways of the West. Why would I disrupt a perfect gig for something that could never offer even remotely as much money and freedom? He persisted, but by the end of the meal, he clearly showed disappointment.

I declined his offer of a town car back to my hotel. I walked away still wondering what the hell this guy was about. I never heard from him again.

I stopped writing.

Some thirty years later, I realize I had visited a tenant in New York City's billionaires row. Perhaps he really was a literary agent and he saw something in me that I did not. I've long lost his name, or any other contact information. I wonder why he did nothing to convince me of his own legitimacy.

Sadly, most of my writing from that era was lost in the great hard drive crash of '05.

Thinking back, perhaps I should have told him I would write when I was old, but I never planned to see the the twenty-first century. I figured I'd die suddenly on a highway or succumb to AIDS like so many of my acquaintances of that era did. I have always watched the horizon of my life ahead of me, but it never occurred to me that it would come at me as old age.

I'll never know what could have happened if I had decided to trust him. Perhaps I ought to write about it someday.

ID33, Rexburg, Idaho, 2007