Pee-Shy: A Memoir

An Excerpt from Pee-Shy by Frank Spinelli, M.D.

First printed: January, 2014

I arranged to meet Chad at a bar on Ninth Avenue called Kanvas. That Saturday night I arrived early and selected a seat up front so I could watch him walk in. I purposely picked a straight bar so that there would be no distractions. The last guy I’d gone on a date with had a serious case of gay attention deficit disorder. His name was Brett. We met on Fire Island after I resuscitated him from a GHB overdose. As we carried him to the ambulance, he woke up and stared right into my eyes. “You’re beautiful,” he said, before passing out again. Two weeks later, Brett called after he tracked me down through a mutual friend and asked me on a date. I knew rule number one of medicine was to never date your patients, but I reasoned that Brett was simply showing me his appreciation for saving his life.

We met at an Italian restaurant on Eighth Avenue. Before we were even seated, Brett called the server and ordered a gin and tonic. I asked for the same even though I hated gin. Brett then proceeded to talk and talk until our drinks arrived. Within ten minutes, I realized that this was the worst idea I had ever had because Brett kept staring over my shoulder. I watched as his pinpoint pupils followed each passerby until they were out of sight, and then his head shot back like an old-fashioned typewriter only to latch on to someone new who was probably more beautiful than me.

Glancing at my phone at Kanvas now, I noticed Chad still had ten minutes. Outside, the sun was setting, and the air was heavy with moisture. The windows to the bar were wide open, and tables were set up along the sidewalk with people enjoying drinks in the light of the early evening. I sat there at the bar wondering whether I’d worn enough deodorant and anxiously sipping watered-down vodka and cranberry from a straw.

Just after eight p.m., a cab pulled up at the corner, and a tall, athletic man stepped out. When he turned around, I saw that it was Chad. He looked exactly like his pictures, yet in the dim light of the August sun his eyes appeared even bluer than in his photographs. My heart quickened. Before Chad entered the lounge, he checked the address against a folded piece of paper he was carrying, and I took the opportunity to swig the rest of my cocktail. Then he walked into the bar, and we looked straight at each other and smiled.

“Chad?” I said, standing up and reaching out my hand.

He nodded. “Hi, nice to meet you.”

I sat down immediately because I was intimidated by his height. At nearly six foot, he was five inches taller than me. Chad apologized for being late and went into the details. While he spoke, I felt drops of sweat sliding down my back. The bar suddenly seemed very crowded, and I could feel the heat radiating from my body like steam. Then I remembered why I hated blind dates. Of course, it had nothing to do with Chad. He seemed perfect. The reason why I stopped going on dates was because of my own crippling insecurities, which always found a way to manifest themselves at the most inopportune times.

Then, without warning, I felt a tingling sensation in my bladder. I had to pee. Unfortunately, I knew the men’s room at Kanvas had two urinals and only one stall. The bar was unusually crowded, and Chad had just arrived. There was no way I was going to attempt to urinate under these conditions. To distract myself, I remembered Eric’s first rule of acting: always maintain eye contact. The trick was to stare at one eye in order to give the appearance of being focused. This helped me, because I was also flustered by how handsome Chad was. His smile was perfect: straight, white, and tartar free. With his buzzed hair, I imagined him sitting in a lifeguard chair, wearing aviator sunglasses with a whistle around his neck and rubbing suntan lotion on his body. “Do you come here often?” Chad looked around the bar.

"Locker Room" by NATHAN VINCENT | 2011, Lion Brand Yarn over Styrofoam and Wood Structure, 113 x 209 x 190

“Not really,” I replied. Just then, a group of girls gathered directly behind me at the bar. Their shrill laughter sent shock waves through my body directly toward my bladder, almost to the point that I thought I might pee my pants if another one erupted into hysterics. “It’s really loud in here. Do you mind if we go somewhere else?” I asked.

“You read my mind,” he said. “Let’s go.”

I sighed with relief.

Outside, the sky was orange and purple. It was still quite humid, and the streets were busy with people. Since I had to pee badly, I quickly scanned the neighborhood. Across the street there was a new Austrian restaurant, Klee. I had been there a few weeks ago and remembered they had a private restroom. I suggested we sit at the bar and have appetizers. Chad agreed.

Klee’s décor reminded me of a lounge at a ski resort, with dark wood walls and a white tiled bar. Soft music played in the background, and the lighting was warm and dim. It was a refreshing change of atmosphere from Kanvas. Once we were settled at the bar, I excused myself to use the restroom.

“What would you like to drink?” he asked as I hurried off.

I was slightly tipsy by then, so I asked Chad to order me a cosmo, though I knew that even gay men considered it a girly drink.

Live a little. What do you care? He lives in Boston.

The restroom at Klee was exactly as I remembered: a single-occupancy toilet. Plus, there was a bolt lock on the door, not some cheap hook. I hated restrooms where only some tiny latch inserted into a little metal loop and anyone with the strength of a toddler could burst through. A good restaurant, in my opinion, should have a private bathroom with a proper lock. That’s just common courtesy.

Once inside, I began the ritual: I unbuttoned my pants and pulled them down to my ankles. Then I began chanting, “Olga Koniahin, Olga Koniahin.” When no urine came, I reached out my hand and pressed it up against the door, even though it was sturdy. This relaxed me. Meanwhile, I continued to chant, but still no urine. Beads of sweat collected on my forehead. I kept imagining Chad waiting for me at the bar, wondering what was taking so long. My chanting quickened. “Olga Koniahin, Olga Koniahin, Olga Koniahin.” Years of experience taught me that there was a small window of opportunity before this escalated into a full-blown panic attack. I had to urinate now, so with my free hand, I began to twist my nipple, gently first, then harder, tighter, until I felt a surge of electricity shoot down from my nipple to the tip of my penis. All at once, like magic, a switch flipped and the urine flowed.

When I returned, Chad was waiting. His smile didn’t fade the entire night.

“Here’s your cosmopolitan,” he said, sliding the pink drink over to me.

“Thank you. I know what you’re thinking. He’s gay and drinks cosmos. How cliché?”

“I drink cosmos all the time. Besides, being gay means you don’t have to apologize for liking them.”

“Good answer, Chad,” I said, motioning for the bartender. “Do you eat carbs?”

He laughed. “Of course.”

“Good, because they’re known for their pizza here. I hope you like bacon?”

Chad made a yummy sound. “I love bacon.”

Now I noticed Chad was drinking wine. “Are you a wine person?”

“I like white wine. I know red wine is better for you because it contains tannins, which are good for your heart, but I find red wine stains my teeth. Would you like to try it?”

“What did you swallow, a wine encyclopedia before you came out tonight?” I joked as I sipped from Chad’s glass. An immediate wave of relief washed over me once I tasted the alcohol. I felt relaxed, realizing Chad wasn’t crazy, or at least he hadn’t shown me that side of himself just yet.

“Do you taste the buttery notes?” he asked. I shook my head. He laughed. “Don’t feel bad, neither do I. I’m just repeating what the bartender told me.”

“What is a buttery note anyway?”

“I’m not quite sure, but this wine tastes delicious.” While Chad spoke, I felt myself leaning in toward him. Our legs were inches apart on bar stools. As the conversation went on, I lightly brushed my knee up against his. He continued, “I’ve been single for a while now. I actually don’t mind being alone, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship if the right guy came around.” Unlike the other men I’d dated recently, Chad seemed unpretentious, and his honesty was endearing. When the bartender approached us for refills, I placed my hand over my glass. I asked for water.

Our server arrived with our pizza and set down two small white plates. “This looks delicious,” said Chad, serving each of us a slice. Throughout the rest of the evening, we carried on as though we’d been friends for years, but this false sense of security was short-lived: we’d soon paid the bill and left the restaurant.

Walking home, I remembered that Chad didn’t live in Manhattan, and that made saying good night even more difficult. Before we reached my apartment, I quickly ran through a mental checklist of all the reasons why I shouldn’t date Chad:

I would have to commute up to Boston every other weekend to see him.

I’d worry he was cheating on me if we were apart for long stretches of time.

I’d just started my own practice and needed to be in New York.

I won’t move to Boston!

By the time we arrived at my building, I still hadn’t persuaded myself why I shouldn’t date this single, smart, handsome doctor. Anyone with an IQ above fifty would have jumped at the opportunity or left the right man for the wrong reasons. Yet I was not like everyone else. In the past, I’d often dated the wrong man, so how could I tell when a good one came along? In the end, I kissed Chad in front of my building in a dark corner where even the doorman couldn’t see us. Chad smiled and said good-bye. I rushed upstairs to my apartment and burst through the terrace door. Leaning over the rail as far as I could, I watched Chad walk back to Tenth Avenue and hail a taxi. Standing there as it pulled away, I wondered whether I’d ever see him again.

Chad returned to Boston that Monday. We e-mailed each other sporadically, but I never offered to visit him. Several weeks later, he wrote to ask whether I was interested in going on another date. My actions must have been confusing. In an e-mail, I wrote: “I’m sorry. It’s just that I can’t begin a long-distance relationship right now.” I hesitated briefly, remembering those blue eyes, that perfect, beautiful smile, and his easygoing nature, but in the end, I bit my lip and pressed Send.