In the Amtrak Southwest Chief dining car


En route from California at Christmas Todd and I were seated in the diner across from a young couple. He wore a snug gray sweater-type shirt that showed off the curves of his biceps and pecs–and he was muscular to the extent that no word short of voluptuous did him justice. Todd and I each knew what the other was thinking: how do I keep from staring at him. Even the points of his nipples showed in bas relief under the stretched material. As though things weren’t astounding enough, he took off his knit cap and revealed a blond mop of hair. Ah, me. One tried, occasionally, to meet her eyes, but mostly one sat staring stupidly at her husband. Having such a trophy, surely she was used to it. She was cute, in glasses and long hair, but not voluptuous; he was the Marilyn Monroe of this couple.

Tonight was to be her turn to sleep in the upper, but she didn’t know how she’d do, with the berth so close to the ceiling. “I’m a little claustrophobic,” she said. Todd and I agreed that one could feel pinned in, although neither of us were bothered. One suspected her husband would be in the upper again tonight and pictured his broad shoulders and mountain ranges of muscles on the narrow shelf of a berth. We mentioned being more bothered, in the upper, by the vent blowing on you all night and that we carried duct tape to cover it and, in fact, had boarded a train to find that the room’s occupant before us had done the same.

“Yeah, that vent blew on my butt all night long,” her husband said, which caused a pause in conversation while our side of the table pictured it.

After dinner I told Todd I was reminded of the movie Big Business (Tomlin and Middler, about twin sisters separated from birth, remember?), of the scene where the muscled young country-bumpkin boyfriend of the sister from the sticks naively shares a hotel room with the mogul sister’s business manager and his lover, and the two gay men are agape at their guest. A significant difference in the dynamic of a gay couple versus a straight couple is that the former are apt to both have their heads turned by the same people, which leads to a certain comradery about eyeballing.

Bless the younger generations, with so many sweet, straight guys who muscle up and aren’t the least bit homophobic and can smile at the effect they have on avuncular and grandfatherly gay men. I hope you slept well, my young man. May she keep you barefoot and shirtless.

(The photo above is from a Union Pacific ad in National Geographic magazine.)

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