This story begins in Nebraska. Possibly even Pittsburgh. It starts when I was still in the closet, secretly looking at porn of men with other men, wishing both that this desire could go away, while also magically being allowed to be one of them. To this latter wish, and from all the insecurities I felt about myself, the men I liked to look at were capital-M Men: broad shoulders, beards, hairy chests, deep voices. I liked my men the way Americans liked their cars: big and stupid.

The biggest of these men was like a drug, a rush of endorphins every time I came across him. His name was Mack. Well: his “name” “was” Mack, and his vids (held on his website, usually involved slenderer and less hairy men worshipping parts of his body over the course of 45 minutes. Often he would selfishly fuck them, using them for his pleasure, which of course gave them their pleasures. Once he let a younger guy fuck him, and I found him to be an uninspired bottom.

Mack was a dom, was the thing, and when I put myself into the fantasy his videos created, I didn’t imagine myself submitting to him, so much as standing next to him. Being the kind of man that he’d consider a peer, a teammate, a brother. I imagined somehow getting access as much to Mack’s esteem as to his body.

Mack was a map to a land I never felt I could travel to, much less be a citizen of. Then I came out. Then, in 2013, we moved to San Francisco.

We knew only a few people when N & I moved here, and most of them were other gay men. San Francisco still has the highest per-capita gay population in the country, after all. I remember a night in our first couple months here, out at drinks or dinner with another gay couple who’d been living in SF for three years, and N & I pelted them with questions about what we could expect, where the best X was, and so on.

“Do you guys ever see any celebrities walking around?” I asked. “Or is it not that big of a city?”

They looked at each other, and one of them shrugged and said, “Porn stars, mostly. Half the studios are here and the rest of down in L.A.”

Makes sense, I thought. Gay men don’t just live here, they work here.

“Oh and Danny Glover,” the other guy said. “He lives in the neighborhood. I’ve seen him at the gym a couple times.”

Months passed. We settled in to the city. I found a barber at a shop on Market Street, down where the Castro starts to blend into the Upper Mission/Mid-Market area. When I had first visited San Francisco, on a campus interview, I went on an afternoon pilgrimage to the Castro, and I noted with excitement all the barber shops. My choices in getting a haircut all my life had been Aromatic Salon For Ladies, or Barbershop With Loud Sports On TV. The barbershop I chose had pics of all its barbers on its website, and many of them had the capital-M Manly look I’d for years given total value to.

One sunny afternoon, I’d just left the barbershop with a crisp haircut, and I walked up Market to the bus stop. At the intersection, I had to wait to get the walk sign, and Market being what it is, with three different streets crossing at each intersection, the cars on the street in front of me were stopped, too. The car right in front had its windows down, and the first thing I noticed in that entire busy visual field was the weight and thickness of the driver’s beard.

He looked like Mack. And then I saw the license plate: MACKSF. (He was always very good at branding.) It was him, in the flesh. He was real. I felt the same sudden transport as when I see in the living world any celebrity I only know from screens, but this one felt different. Usually it’s a mild dissonance of 2-D becoming 3-D. That afternoon, that dissonance was matched with a kind of harmony. I had, on some small but real level, “made it.” So Mack didn’t even notice me looking at him from the corner. Maybe he wasn’t about to welcome me into his friendship. But what Mack had always represented—untroubled living with one’s homosexuality—was, it seemed, now mine. If I wanted it.

It lasted seconds, that feeling, then the light changed and he drove off. I watched him go, noting the MACKSF plate on the back of his car. N always wondered at how I notice license plates of cars and not the model of the car itself, so I checked to see what kind of car he was driving. It was not big and stupid, I noticed, but a brick red Hyundai Sonata.

It was the exact same car my mother drove.