OUT AND ABOUT IN NEW YORK: Love muscle

I AM NOW officially bi. Not bisexual, I should add. No, this past few weeks I've been bi-coastal, bouncing from New York to LA and back like a bread roll in a food fight. Over here in media, moneyed, Wallpaper- reading gay circles it is considered something of an ideal existence, this business of having a foot in both camps. So as well as the Tribeca loft or the Chelsea pied-a-terre, you're supposed to have an equally sophisticated yet Lautner house perched in the hills above Hollywood - all wood and glass - or a stylishly Sixties apartment amidst the palms and concrete of Silverlake.

It can't be cheap doing the bi-coastal thing properly - it's beyond my reach - but it strikes me that the bigger challenge is getting your head round the different lifestyles. In urban Manhattan, it's kind of odd to have a car, in suburban LA you're lost - stranded like a fish out of water, practically disabled without one. Frankly, although I love the place, I feel more alien in LA than I've felt anywhere else in the States - even Vegas. My skin is too pale, my teeth are too dark. And my body? Well I need a new body.

If living in Manhattan was making me think I had to tone up, visiting Los Angeles makes this an urgent necessity. Back in London I used to look upon my paunch with a complacency bordering on fondness. I even had a name for it - my Joanie - as it closely resembles the kind of slight bulge one expects to see on a woman of a certain age. But in America it just won't do - on either Coast. Or rather I just won't do. Not for nothing is the stretch of Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, where I live, known as "the runway". Up and down, day after day, gay men built like Charles Atlas strut up and down the Avenue, checking each other out, and in this environment I just don't cut the mustard. OK, I can make bitchy remarks to myself about steroids, Lycra, and the absurdity of a six-foot six, built-like- a-brick-shit-house Muscle Mary walking a Chihuahua called Lucy, but it won't get me anywhere. And more to the point, it won't get me a love life - hell, it won't even get me cruised, let alone laid. I could spend hours putting together a look, I can cultivate my charm and try winning people over with hopefully endearing self-irony about my "Joanie", but until I bulge in the right kind of places I'm just going to be on the shelf, put to one side and gathering dust like an old Georgette Heyer novel in a charity shop: fine, and even quite popular in its day, but unlikely to get much attention in 1998. It's not, you understand, that I am desperate for a boyfriend or even a fling - I simply would like the option. I would like to feel attractive. As I reach my mid-thirties, I clearly need to give myself what a marketing man would call "added value". Oh dear. So it's hello gym! Good-bye French fries! Yes please! to protein bars and no ta! to a Bloody Mary, not too spicy.

I'm sorry, if there's anything more boring than a fitness regime - and I'm not sure there is - it might be listening to someone prattling on about one. What a bore! All I can say is, it had better work - please God - it had better work.

James Collard is the editor of New York's 'Out' magazine

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