Ben Miller


Twice, I have given fake phone numbers to men I met in bars. The first must have been fifty. He bought me a drink; and, offended by how little I talked to him, took it back half-drunk. Ballsy. The second was a film director in Berlin. He was sweet and well-dressed; ever since, I’ve been looking in vain for a coat like his; square-shouldered cut, rich gray flannel.

I was twenty. We met in the bar I used to stop by to end my nights. It was nobody’s idea of clean, but fun enough in the dark. Most visible surfaces were covered in pink shag. Someone had done a half-assed job of gluing naked Barbies to the walls. Red and yellow bulbs swung from fraying wires. People fucked in the women’s bathroom. The bartender—obese, English, blue-eyeshadowed—started winking at me every time I showed up. I’d tell myself it was for a nightcap, but she knew.

Stefan—the director—had just come in from a film festival or award ceremony or something. They’d given him a gift bag which he held awkwardly in his left hand. We started talking. His film had lost. He must have been thirty, but his eyes were still soft around the edges. It was winter and cold enough that everyone had his coat on inside. We talked about movies; Fellini, Fassbinder, Sirk. I think the pretense to our leaving was that he was going outside for a smoke. As we walked, our breath made puffy clouds. We didn’t say much. We stood for a while on the willow-lined banks of the Landwehrkanal. A boat or two passed by, a few other figures advanced and retreated through the fog. We were drunk and holding hands.

Then we were in his bed, Hitchcock posters on the walls. I’d never kissed anyone with a full beard before, and was surprised by the softness and the scrape of it on my neck, my chest, my legs. He fucked me, which is unusual; often, I tense up, resist the loss of control.

We’d just finished, and he looked up at me, smiling.

“May I piss on you,” he asked.

I thought about it for a minute. On the one hand, I like to think of myself as someone who will try anything once. Then again, on the other hand, there is a line you cross.

He sighed and rolled away from me. I grabbed him and pulled him in, feeling his back against my chest, kissing his neck a little. “It’s okay,” I said, “I’m just not really there right now.  It was almost six and I was drunk and twenty and in a foreign country, not up to my usual standards.

We slept like that for a few hours. When I woke up, he was stretching on the floor in his boxer shorts. The light made the hairs on his legs glow, on his chest, the shadows of muscles danced underneath a thin layer of hair and fat. “Look at the time,” I said, suddenly conscious of my breath, my belly, the smell.

He looked up at me as I dressed, untangling my clothes from his. One of his socks and one of mine had clasped themselves together, and it took me an ungraceful moment to separate them. He laughed.

Then I was dressed, and he asked for my phone number. I quickly wrote a few random digits down, careful to separate them in the German manner and use the Berlin area code. I handed him the piece of paper, and he smiled at me. “I will call,” he said, and kissed me, and then I left.

It was snowing that day, light flakes, easy to brush off. I bought a coffee and a newspaper and walked home through a park full of laughing German children playing in the snow. A little boy, maybe five, in a red snowsuit, pointed up and laughed at me. Foam from the coffee had become stuck in my beard. I laughed, smiled at his mother, and wiped it off with my glove. Right then I almost turned around and went back, but I’d forgotten which apartment it was. I wasn’t going to ring all the bells, so I walked.


It came back to me now, a few years later, because I was talking to my friend Oliver at a party last night in Crown Heights. Michael Jackson was playing, everyone was dancing, we were sitting one out on the couch. The year before, he told me, he’d been in Turkey and met a South African guy in his forties who’d left everything behind, bought a Land Rover, and driven north. It had taken him five years to get to Turkey, driving days and sleeping nights on the roof of the truck. Now, we figured, based on drunkly estimated distances, he was probably in Iran. The destination was Beijing, and then he was going to sell the Land Rover and fly home and see what was left. The South African had given Oliver a ride for a few days, from Istanbul out to Cappadocia, where people lived in houses carved into the soft limestone cliffs.

After that, the conversation turned to Hitchcock blondes. We were talking about Tippi Hedren. “Didn’t she lose her career after she wouldn’t fuck Hitchcock?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s the thing with Hitchcock. Even if you aren’t into it, if he wants you, you gotta go for it.”

“I guess,” I said.

“No guessing,” he said. “You do it. You just reach out, grab on, and pull until you hear something. Otherwise, you’ll have regrets.”


Ben Miller writes short fiction, history and essays – and curates and directs classical performance – in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.