Book Excerpts That Don't Suck: American Voyeur

Today's comes from New York Times Magazine writer and Deadspin contributor Benoit Denizet-Lewis, author of American Voyeur. These are slices from his "Regular Guys" piece, which should be educational for most of you. Chat with him at 1 p.m.

The book is a collection of his previously published writing, exploring everything from frat culture to extreme-sports athletes to the suicide of two young brothers in New Hampshire. The excerpt:

On a warm, breezy day in late May, thirty member of Regular Guys — a San Francisco social group for self-described "masculine" gay men — are warming up for a game of softball in Golden Gate Park. As they take batting practice and shag fly balls, it quickly becomes clear that few of these men (most are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s) were members of their high school's jock elite.

The group's director of sports activities and master barbecuer, Chris Sorensen, explains the kinds of athletes who make up Regular Guys: "A lot of them were picked on in high school, and now that they are older and successful and go to the gym to get all buff, they think they're athletes. But if you throw them a real fastball, they pee themselves. So, we play softball. It's less scary."

Sorensen is 27 and, arguably, the most regular of the Regular Guys. He is overweight. He smokes. He drinks beer. He eats big slabs of beef and makes beef/sausage jokes. When he is tired or bored or feeling silly, he rolls around in the grass like a dog and plays dead. When he barbecues, he holds the slab of beef in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other. He calls people "pussies." He reads sports magazines and says things like, "Yeah, I read ESPN magazine. Sports Illustrated's for fags."

Sorensen joined Regular Guys a year ago and has quickly improved the group's athletic activities. He organizes monthly football games, softball games, and trips to the batting cages. Today, he's firmly in charge of the softball game, barking out instructions and threatening to castrate those who goof off.

"Come on, ladies," he says. "Let's get with it!"

Eric Sweigard, a 34-year-old Catholic boy from Nebraska who is often mistaken for a New York City Jew ("It's my wonderful attitude," he suspects), steps up to the plate. Sweigard may be short (5-foot-5), but what he lacks in size he makes up for in obnoxiousness. In high school, when Sweigard says he wasn't shoplifting for school supplies or setting things on fire, he played on the wrestling and golf teams. He always knew he was different ("I was smarter and funnier than the other guys, so I guess that should have been a clue," he says), but it wasn't until much later that it dawned on him that he might be gay.

Sweigard waves the bat back and forth, waiting for Sorensen to lob a pitch. Just as Sorensen starts his motion, a Regular Guy in the outfield yells, "Hit it, munchkin!" to which Sweigard responds by waving the bat toward him and yelling "You fuck! You little bitch!"

Sorensen finds the exchange so funny that he stops midmotion. "Throw the ball, jerky," Sweigard yells. Laughing, Sorensen lobs a pitch. Sweigard takes a mighty rip, nailing the ball over the head of the smack-talker in the outfield. "Yeah, chase it you fuck! Run!"

Sorensen lobs another pitch, which Sweigard smacks about a foot away from Sorensen's head. "Yeah, you laughing now, baby?" Sweigard says.

"You did not just call me baby," Sorensen says in mock exasperation.

"Yes I did, sweetie," Sweigard says. "You got a problem with that?"

Grinning, Sorensen dramatically throws his glove on the ground and begins a full-frontal assault. Sweigard, the high school wrestler, stands his ground. Sorensen bowls into him. They fall over. They roll around. They curse. The bigger Sorensen pins Sweigard by the legs, causing Sweigard's butt to see the light of day.

Mark Terrell, a 34-year-old Regular Guy from Oakland, points excitedly toward Sweigard's butt: "Hold him there and we'll all take turns!"

* * *

Regular Guys founder Mike Schaefer is having problems getting some. He admits this early during a night in San Francisco, right about the time Barry Bonds takes a called third strike on the inside corner. Bonds looks aghast. Schaefer, seated in the right field bleachers and holding a Coke and two hot dogs, says he wouldn't mind having a date sometime this decade. Preferably, with a regular guy.

Schaefer likes regular guys. He likes them so much, in fact, that he started a group just for them. He named it and he built it, not entirely sure that anyone would come. He put an ad in a local paper. He rented out a room to hold meetings. And, lo and behold, they came! Regular guys from the city and the suburbs, all hoping they weren't the only regular guys in the Bay Area. They couldn't be, could they?

His mind wandering from the baseball game before him, Schaefer tells me what his dream regular guy would look like. First and foremost, he would be both tall and built. Schaeffer wants natural, God-given mass, the kind that gets produced with some regularity on farms in Nebraska. Schaefer wants big arms, big shoulders, big hands (with big, veiny fingers), big thighs, a big neck, and big feet. And on all of these things, he wants lots of hair.

When this ideal regular guy came upon a game of baseball or football, he would know exactly what to say and do. If the ball were thrown toward him, he would not run away shrieking. He would wait for it knowingly, and then he would catch it with jockish, perfunctory ease. He would play with the ball for a moment, and, then, when he was good and ready, he would throw it back, high into the air, and it would land pretty much where it was supposed to land. This is called "throwing the ball like a man," as opposed to "throwing the ball like a fag." "Not that there's anything wrong with that," Schaefer jokes.

Schaefer can joke about that, because he's a fag, too. And still, in this city that's never short on fags, Schaefer — 45 and counting — is having problems finding one who would like to settle down with him and raise some regular kids. This could have something to do with the fact that Schaefer is (in his own words) not a beautiful man. He is short and pudgy and has an oddly shaped head. While most human heads are squares or rectangles, Schaefer's is wider at the cheeks than it is at both the crown and the jaw. It is also unusually long, with most of the surface space concentrated between the eyes and the chin. On top of it all is a tightly trimmed crew cut.

On this night, Schaefer wears tight jeans, an orange T-shirt, and a black and orange Giants jacket. He doesn't talk much, except to make light of his dating woes and to confess that he prefers going to Oakland Athletics' games, because their roster is packed with lots of big, beefy guys with goatees.

A few days later, Schaefer e-mails me with a link to a Web site that he finds quite funny. Straightacting.com, he says, is the place to test just how "masculine" you really are. He suggests I take the quiz and let him know how I fare.

I sense that I am off to a non-masculine start when I admit to enjoying "receiving flowers" on Question 1, but I hope to make up for it on Question 2, when I answer that I do not enjoy "being tickled."

For Question 3, I shamefully admit to occasionally using the word "pee-pee," but I am feeling masculine again on Question 7, when I answer that my apartment has "less than two candles." (Is it gay of me to want to correct the site's grammar? It should be fewer than two candles.)

Question 9 goes right to the heart of my sex life, asking if I prefer top, bottom, versatile, or cuddling. Since multiple answers are encouraged, I check all four and move on. For Question 11, I categorically deny having ever purchased "any article of clothing or accessories for myself from a woman's department store."

When I'm done, I click the results button and learn that on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being "The Ultimate in Straight Acting" and 10 being "Queen Status," I am a 3, which is to say I am "Mostly Straight Acting." For those of us at this level of masculinity, we lead, according to the results, "A normal everyday life, and it's 'no questions asked,' as people assume you are straight. Every once and a while a very aware person might notice something that causes them to think 'fem,' but it's a fleeting thought because you turn around and surprise them with more masculine traits."

Relieved (and amused) to know that I can pass for straight, I check my e-mail again a few hours later. Schaefer — who, incidentally, does not like the expression "straight-acting" — writes to tell me that he is also a 3, a level he deems fairly accurate. "I had to admit to owning Donna Summer's Greatest Hits," he says. Sweigard e-mails me to say he is a 2. "I do like musical theatre, in theory," he writes. "And I'm neat."

* * *

It is 6 p.m. on a Sunday night, and the Regular Guys are hungry. Standing in the lobby of a local mall, five Regular Guys have two hours to kill before enjoying a screening of Gladiator.

Right now, though, the Regular Guys need to eat. "Should we go to the food court or the sports bar?" Schaefer asks.

"Oh, I'm flexible," says 30-year-old Regular Guy Joe Delehanty from San Francisco.

"Yeah, we've heard!" Schaefer says.

The Regular Guys decide on the food court. Delehanty orders chicken strips and fries off a children's menu, then goes on to explain what makes a movie a Regular Guys movie. "There's gotta be death, destruction, real guy stuff," he says. "Someone's gotta die. Lotsa guns. Or it's gotta be a sports movie." In the past months, the Regular Guys have seen Fight Club, Mission to Mars, Any Given Sunday, and End of Days.

Delehanty excuses himself to go to the bathroom, after which the conversation turns slightly more serious. Everyone at the table is intrigued by Meyer's job at a company that creates brand names and logos, and the Regular Guys wonder about alternate names for Regular Guys.

"The Assholes," Delehanty says, having returned from the bathroom and forgotten to zip up his pants. "We could call each other The Assholes. That would be about right."

Meyer points to Delehanty's zipper: "Um, that much action in the bathroom?"

After a brief discussion about past bathroom sexual experiences, talk turns to the best city gyms. Delehanty fondly tells the group about the YMCA in Atlanta, where he used to live. "There are plenty of gyms with back-room action, but this one, I swear, it doubled as a bathhouse for 'straight' guys," he says, playing with his fries."

The gym story leads to a debate about bisexuality and sexual labeling, and Delehanty listens in amazement as one Regular Guy mentions that he still likes girls, and another offers a graphic re-enactment of a past experience eating out a woman. "OK, I just lost my appetite!" Delehanty says. "Call me a big old queen, but I don't have any bisexual tendencies whatsoever. None at all."

Meyer raises his arms in mock victory. "And women the world over are celebrating! They're dancing in the streets!"