For people who cook better than me. For free cable and DVD special features. For the lights of the houses on the hills of San Francisco on a clear night. For the cities I have yet to see. For orchids. For the friends that drive me crazy. For folding chairs in fluorescent-lit church basements. For sodomy. For the need to create. For rooms of people united by music. For the ties that bind. For people who know stuff I don’t. For flannel pajamas. For haircuts. For scruff and rough edges. For my collection of little post-it’s my mother wrote on when she couldn’t talk anymore. For peeling fear like an onion. For dreams of flying. For fierce flaming queens. For big ol’ butch daddies. For the intersexed. For big surprises. For not caring about all that stupid shit. For knowing we’ll all be okay.
You can understand, can’t you, my protective streak? He’s the first man to ask me for that kind of help, the help to stay sober and therefore to stay alive. And maybe I take myself too seriously. Maybe I think I can do things that I can’t; that I can somehow keep someone alive through just my words. And maybe no matter what I say he will not survive, or he will just disappear quiet and slow. But I want to try; I want to hold him in the palm of my hand, and curl my fingers around him and protect him. And because you’re my friend I know you understand that.
I raise my leg as though I’d mark him like a dog does a tree. And you laugh, short and weak, because you don’t think it’s all that funny. But I make my point, don’t I?
You stand two feet from him, face-to-face. My friend you cast your glow across him, and from where I watch I can see what you are doing. My friend you are light and flame. Men are drawn to you as moths, their mindless flight drawn through your burn. Each week it seems you leave them quivering at your feet, wrapped in cooling wax, wings torn and scattered. My friend from where I stand I can see the trouble you breed, the men you leave behind. And you tell me you’re alone, while heaped around you are corpses of the men that have tried, one at a time, to kiss the flames rolling from your skin.
“Your sponsee and I are going to have coffee and go to a meeting,” you say.
“Great,” I reply, “as long as you don’t mack on him.”
You gasp as if wounded. “I wouldn’t mack on him,” you say. And then you pause while I wait for the lie to stop. “Besides, wouldn’t you want him to be with me, of anyone you know?”
My friend there are few things that I know for certain, and one of them is that you would be the last I’d want him to fuck.
“He doesn’t need to get with anyone right now,” I say.
“I’d take care of him,” you say, smiling.
Yeah, I think, you’d take care of him the way you took care of yourself 63 days ago, when you left a meeting and stuck a needle in your arm and saw, as you said, the face of the devil. You’d take care of him like you take care of all the other stupid moths.
“A lot of guys want to take care of him,” I say.
I don’t know sometimes what a friend should be. I don’t know how much to tell you; that I think you tear open the hearts of men, that I see more needles in your arm, that I don’t recognize you anymore because of the corpses piled around you. That if you touch him you’ll have one less friend.
I step from the shower and reach for the towel. The fogged mirror hides my face, but my body is reflected back at myself. I allow myself a moment of appraisal, turn to see my profile, and though I’m not entirely satisfied, I see the work I’ve done to shape myself into a man. The kind of man that could have his pick of love. I wish I could see that thin leaf on the freckled, sturdy shoulder. I’d trace the outline with my fingertip. I’d lick the edges of it, playing the man, promising nothing more than fun. I’d give him a taste of what I’d never let him keep. The sweetness that I would curl around a man containing more than drive or desire, a man containing mountain trails and dog hair and t-shirts worn thin at the seams. A man with rhythm and secrets unfolding at night, like loose diamonds spilling on black velvet, like the taste of comet tails dissolving on the tongue. A man I’d push against a restroom wall, his pulse thumping beneath my fingers. A man who cries, who takes hold of the stubborn ugly arms of a life lived full-throttle, who shakes it from the top of skyscrapers, making threats he’d definitely keep. A man slashing and burning. A man who offers me the joys that pile up within his heart.
Thin-leaf-tattoo man: you and the ones like you would never know what to do with me, today. That which has not destroyed me has made me stone and blood, has made me bold. I spit the fire, I burn the fear. St. James I am the halo, I am the horns. With them I will dress for the world; I will walk into battle. St. James I give you the shadow from my sword.
Mr. Latino Daddy, the one who asked for my number but most certainly has a husband, leaned close to me this morning as I rested between sets on the seated row, placed his hand on my shoulder, and apropos of nothing said “Maybe you can keep me warm some night.”
Mr. Latino Daddy, who everytime he talks to me touches my shoulder or pats my back, is already earning a spot in my all-time Trouble Hall of Fame, and I haven’t even kissed him yet. I am doomed, I tell you, doomed. Which makes it so appropriate that I have a ticket for Aimee Mann this week. Now there’s a chick who makes me look like a cheerleader on crack, by comparison.
The protagonist wakes again, the minutes ticking past him, in his room which the morning has unfortunately brightened. Though he had dozed several times past the alarm, sleep won’t take him again. He should have shut the blinds last night to spare himself the first sight of the morning light laying harsh across his nightstand, its dusty surface cluttered with keys and drinking glasses and the empty, balled-up bag of microwave popcorn that he had bought the night before. He turns his face to the pillow, closes his eyes again. He waits for something, some impulse or need, to rise up within him. He searches; job, gym, dog, sex. Coffee. But that would need making, would require three minutes of standing in the kitchen, an empty waiting. Because he knows that he’s empty, he can feel it. He can feel his soul, vacant and scrubbed to a sterilized shine. Could it be that quick, to lose what had filled him? As he lays there he remembers each encounter of the past week; the string of men, each followed by a tight knot of regret or revulsion. He knows this morning that each man had taken a little with him. Nothing rises within him, and he cannot raise himself. He considers the desk and the office and the copy machine waiting for him, considers calling in sick. But then a sigh, a jangle of thin metal tags somewhere to his left, his dog stirring, and within the protagonist duty kicks. Before he can think any further he throws off the covers, pulls himself from the bed. He glances, then looks away from the morning, from the green leaves shuddering outside his window in the wind that pours from the ocean across the city and over the crest of the hill behind his house.
In the shower he reaches over his shoulder with the soap and rubs it across his back, across the small sun tattooed there. In college he had known a man with a delicate green leaf tattooed in the same place, and though they had spent many long afternoons and warm Florida nights together, the protagonist had never asked the man about the leaf. As he turns under the shower’s spray he smiles a little at the memory of the man and that tattoo, and the man’s strong back, lightly freckled from the sun. Why a leaf? he wonders. Such a strange choice. And where’s the man now, and is he still the same? The protagonist smiles again because in some ways he himself has not changed. There are some things he still needs.
He reaches now for his toothbrush, spreads paste across the bristles, and holds it for a moment under the shower’s spray. He brushes reflexively, the brush circling and scrubbing his teeth in a pattern. He remembers the Porsche the man had driven, though it wasn’t his but rather his sister’s, a lesbian and a doctor who lived with her partner in Tampa. Her kitchen drawers had been stuffed with a disturbing amount of sample prescription painkillers. The man stayed with them in their spare bedroom, where he and the protagonist would fuck on the nights they were together, which the protagonist had felt were not often enough. The man had been in the middle of some life transition, unemployed and driving his sister’s Porsche everyday to the gym, to the bars, or to Sarasota where the protagonist lived, an hour away.
The protagonist rinses his mouth in the shower, over and over. He can see himself in the window of the house he had rented that year, his final year of college. The house itself was well-known by other students. They called it the Tree House, for it was built up above a garage; a wooden A-frame house surrounded by trees. He had loved that house. He can see himself standing before the picture window, looking down as the Porsche pulls into the driveway, the sunroof open, music pouring out. He sees the man’s shaved head in the twilight, sees him look up and smile at him, a smile his friends would later call cocky, but that made the protagonist’s pulse quicken. That was their first night. “If I had known your butt looked like that I would have been here three hours sooner,” the man had told him later as they lay in bed.
The protagonist rubs the steam off his steam-less shaving mirror. He examines his stubble, decides to let it grow a few more days. Maybe a change will help. He ducks his head under the shower and stands there for awhile. Isn’t it normal to attribute good characteristics to people simply because they’re beautiful? Or was there really something to the man, something more than his looks, something that made the protagonist come back, again and again? The water courses over his ears, down his shoulders. He searches for that something, back in those warm Gulf Coast nights, but he comes up empty. What he finds instead embarrasses him. Riding in his friend’s car on Bayshore, the protagonist complaining of love, the friend suddenly snapping, “He’s a player. Forget him.”
“How do you know?” the protagonist had asked.
His friend was silent, and then the protagonist knew, and though it hurt very much he let himself picture the two of them together. He felt trapped in that slow-moving car as they inched along the road, sick to his stomach.
Then at a beach in Tampa, where he had driven to meet the man. They sat together, facing the Gulf, the sun sliding lower in the distance. Around them were other men, some who were shaking out their towels, some who lingered in the dying light. The man watched them with that cocky smile. “That one’s cute,” he said, pointing. The protagonist had wanted to leave, had wanted the man to come with him. But the man said “Good night,” and the protagonist had walked away, back to his car. Turning once to see the man’s silhouette among the others. That should have been enough, that could have been the final image.
The man stopped calling. Months passed. Then one night he showed up at the Tree House. The protagonist cleared a space for the man on his bed, pushing his homework aside. The protagonist sat on the floor, looking up at him.
“What are you doing in Sarasota?” he asked the man,
“I met a boy. We’ve been hanging out, having some fun.”
The protagonist had looked down, picked at the nub of the carpet, run his fingertip over the diamond shapes, over and over.
“You like him?” he asked.
“We’re just having some fun. You know me.”
“Yeah. I know you.”
“What, do you miss me?”
The protagonist looked at the man, looked down again. He kept silent.
“You knew I didn’t want more.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“You want to fuck? We could fuck right here,” the man said, slapping the bed.
The protagonist had looked back at the man, and wanted it, wanted it very badly. The man’s skin, the tattoo on his shoulder. He wanted to run his finger over the leaf as the man held him. He laughed a little in spite of himself, though nothing felt funny. He didn’t know what to say to the man.
Instead the protagonist had followed the man to the door, had felt a sad thrill as the beautiful bastard kissed him, quick. The man flashed his smile, then turned and headed down the staircase, two steps at a time. The protagonist had walked quietly to the window, and watched the Porsche pull out of his driveway.
The protagonist steps from the shower and reaches for the towel. The fogged mirror hides his face, but his body is reflected back at him. He allows himself a moment of appraisal, turns to see his profile, and though he’s not entirely satisfied, he sees the work he’s done to shape himself into a man. The kind of man that could have his pick of love. He wishes he could see that thin leaf on the freckled, sturdy shoulder. He’d trace the outline with his fingertip. He’d lick the edges of it, playing the man, promising nothing more than fun.
Well, I will refrain from the usual sorry-it’s-been-so-long-since-I’ve-written line since you hear it from me all the time and by now it has earned an “automatic” status whenever you hear from me. As is my belated birthday greetings.
Your life seems so unreal to me, so very different than mine. Sailing around the world; isn’t that a fantasy? Who actually does that? Well, you. I love hearing about your adventures way over there. I’m so happy for you guys, living the way you want to live. I could learn a few lessons from that. Then again, mom taught me a lot about that, too. But I feel my exploits are so much tamer. I hope you are writing about your adventures; I mean more than the letters and e-mails home. Which, in their own right, are beautiful and hilarious. I can always immediately tell if Andrew is the one writing: terse, misspelled words. Your last one made me laugh out loud:
“Sept. 12 – Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain
So here we’ve come to where the rich people are. We are anchored off a private island – Esplamadora – that is just barely connected to the larger Formentera (though this the smallest of the Balearics) by a spit of land and some rocks. Here there are not just other sailboats (like us, some bigger, some smaller, but like us) but yachts; up ahead there is one the size of a hotel with $150,000 Italian wooden boats as their dinghies and a helicopter on deck. Next to us is one with a small “toy” submarine. Everyone, all the women anyway, is skinny of course and topless or often completely naked as this is an island with a reputation for nudity, and while nothing seems particularly odd about the naked people on the beach (A. and I did it ourselves after the mud baths but more on that in a minute). We can’t help to gawk and giggle when a naked person goes by in a dinghy, or on a windsurfer, or is setting anchor, or god forbid, asks us something. Just try giving directions to some German with his wiener schnitzel flopping about in the breeze, oh I completely lack that kind of maturity.”
So, let’s see. By now you’ve probably heard that the Republicans have officially taken over the country and slightly less than half the country’s population has slipped into a state of heavy denial just to keep living. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash and Minnesota elected Norm Coleman instead of Walter Mondale. I thought for sure the liberals would turn out in droves due to the special circumstances but apparently the Democrats made Wellstone’s memorial service into a huge Demo political rally which backfired enormously, drawing enraged Republicans to the voting booths instead. Wellstone was certainly one of the best we had, although I still hadn’t entirely forgiven him for upholding the “Defense of Marriage” act or whatever it was called; you know, the one that said marriage should only happen between a man and a woman. But his death just saddened me, and in the wake of that, these elections. San Francisco continues to vote way left on everything, which amuses the rest of the country. They like to make fun of us. At least there’s one city where I feel I have a little bit of political power. We also lost the World Series to the Angels and then the official U.S. Olympic City choice to New York. So it’s a little subdued around here.
Also the economy continues to suck big-time. A couple of weeks ago they laid off my boss here. I can’t remember if I told you about her or not, but she reminded me of you so much. Recently I was at her house for dinner and there was a picture on her fridge of her as a young girl, with her dog, that looked just like you at the age of eleven or so. It was uncanny. We worked really well together and it was a big sad shock to see her go. She was the best boss I’ve ever had. I’m sure one of the reasons I liked her so much was because she was a lot like you; very smart, funny, tough, generous. She might start her own business, and she keeps saying I’d be the first person she’d hire. She said I could essentially write my own job description. Heh. I told her that as long as I have to work a job that supports the writing, I’d rather work for her. So we’ll see.
How was Ibiza? Did you get your groove on? I have a CD of a DJ, Pete Tong, who spun (spinned?) there a couple of years ago. Apparently it is quite the clubland. I can’t quite picture you and Andrew “doing” Ibiza, but let me know if I’m wrong. I just picture you guys nursing one expensive drink on the sidelines, watching the silly glamorous people do the things they do.
No, I haven’t read Anna Karenina. But I’ll take a look at it on your advice. I did just finish “The Corrections” which I loved. So brutal and so well-written. Now I am reading “Mrs. Dalloway” which I’m finding takes some patience as she flits from one person’s consciousness to another, even if the characters are just passing each other on the street. I don’t know; is that Modernism at work? I really should have taken more lit classes in college.
I’m taking a (don’t laugh) memoir writing class through UC-Berkeley extension. I know, I know; I’m too young to write a memoir, but since I’ve been keeping the weblog everything I write has been non-fiction. Anyway, the class has been more helpful than I would have thought. Most of it is the obvious stuff that we know but forget; the show-don’t-tell stuff, etc. But it’s helpful to be reminded, and to get an outsider’s perspective on my work. After that six-year “block” it’s taken a lot of practice to get the muscles moving again.
I’ve been keeping the weblog for almost a year now, and it’s been such a strange, wonderful experience. I’ve met a lot of people through it, many who keep their own weblogs. I get email from readers in Norway and Australia, but most of my correspondence is with other Americans. Some of them are just plain amazing people; smart, funny, weird, etc. Their creativity pushes me to write better. I have at least one crush. I’ve met some locals too, and a couple from other cities. None of that I anticipated when I started the weblog. I don’t know what I anticipated. I didn’t know I’d have as many readers as I do, or that I’d hear from them so often. It’s wonderful but I do have to constantly remind myself that it’s my site, my writing, and to not let other’s expectations tell me what or how to write. It’s good practice. But the strangeness comes out of the candor I express there; I mean most of my close “real life” friends don’t read it, and yet it’s there that I think I am the most vulnerable. Which leads me to my next story:
Last month, about three weeks before I was to come out to visit him, my Dad had a dream about my mom. He dreamed they were going through papers together. The next morning, he doesn’t know why, he did an Internet search on her name. And guess what he found.
Yep. There it was; eleven months of my innermost thoughts, of my joys and tragedies, of my limited sexual escapades, of my rampant mental illnesses. He read every single word. Including the parts where I mention having HIV, something he didn’t know. Also where I talk about my long-standing resentment towards him, and about the “incident” of inappropriate behavior that I alluded to. So I come to work that morning and there’s an e-mail from him waiting for me, and like a rock my stomach fell. He was, in his own words, “devastated”. Wanted to know when I was going to tell him all that stuff. Wanted to know how I could put it out on the Internet. How to explain to him that it’s easier than telling someone face-to-face? Easier to imagine an anonymous reader than someone I know. Thus began an awkward series of e-mails between us. Talking about stuff we hadn’t discussed in 22 years. For the first time in my life I told him what I remembered, and what effect it had on me. In helped doing it through e-mail, I must admit. I could put on a more confident front and ask, after some hedging on his part, for the total truth. And eventually I got it. None of it felt very good at the time; it was like turning over a rock and seeing all the bugs scurry for cover. But it got us talking. And I still went out to DC (when the snipers were running around) and we had some good talks while I was there. He said he wouldn’t read the weblog anymore, that he went from knowing too little about me to knowing way too much. Imagine.
So I blame my mom. He dreamed about her and then found my site. And we ended up talking about stuff I had begun to think would never see the light of day again. So I picture her up there, orchestrating reconciliation. I guess she thought it was time he and I finally talked. I refer to it as my personal episode of “Bitch-Slapped by an Angel”.
I celebrated two years of sobriety last month. And that’s been another incredible journey. Too much to really go into here. By far the most harrowing thing that has happened to me lately is that two men within a week of my anniversary asked me to be their sponsor. So now I have two guys, both older than me, one with 60 days and the other with 90 days of sobriety, calling me everyday to talk about how to stay sober. Ha. I keep thinking they are going to FIND ME OUT.
I bought a Subaru Forester and think of our moms a lot whenever I drive it. I love it, and Louie loves it as we get to go to the beach more often and also because we don’t have to walk through 16th and Mission where all the homeless people walk and smell funny and make him very nervous. He’s so sensitive. I love it because I can get around more, I can buy more than one or two bags of groceries at a time, I can drive a car full of friends to concerts or dinner. Yes, I am contributing to global warming. But George W. Bush apparently has a plan to help with that: we discourage automakers from making cars that use alternative fuel sources and we drill in the Alaskan wilderness. Oh, and we bomb Iraq. Or something like that. I look forward to this new era.
I’m not dating anyone yet. It’s harder to meet men than I thought it would be, since I don’t go out much anymore. Not that bars are the place to meet men. I swear, I will not become another person whining about how hard it is to find a good man. Even if I have to repeat affirmations every morning in the mirror.
My health is great, my blood counts are great, no need to worry.
So I’m serious about visiting you, but I don’t know how to plan or even where to meet you since your schedule changes. I’d love it if you could give me a couple of options, because I don’t want to let the opportunity to see you and Andrew and whatever country you happened to be anchored near at the time pass me by. I hope you have a great visit with your Mom.
I love you guys.
As many of you know, when in doubt, make a list.
1. I cannot call myself a writer because last night when I was watching a movie and the power went out for 7 hours I got bored really fast.
2. I started reading “Mrs. Dalloway” by candlelight because next I want to re-read “The Hours” because the movie is coming out next month and because it has Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Nicole Kidman in it. Am I a twenty-first century fag or what?
3. Yes, I introduced myself to Mister Latino Daddy at the gym yesterday.
4. Yes, he asked me for my number.
5. Yes, he called me last night and gave me his WORK number.
6. We know what that means.
7. I still want to have wild monkey sex with him.
8. Aimee Mann in less than two weeks.
9. Tomorrow: a wild night of reckless dancing abandon with Aaron, his bf, and Kate. We’ll be the glamorous ones pulling up in my rockin’ Subaru. Mitsubishi and “Days Go By” will be eating their goddamned hearts out as we pop and lock down Harrison St.
10. George W. Bush calls every night, drunk and giddy from “sweeping the nation”, wants to know what I’m wearing. He overnights packages of burquas to me. They’re all inscribed “Don’t Mess With Texas”. I clean my toilet with them.
For Louie when he’s off-leash and walking by my side. For last night when the compulsive fever broke and I took him up to the top of the rock across the way and we looked out on the glittering city and I told Mom that I missed having her around. For the Studly Couple, the Tattooed Monk, Bearbait, and Handsome for being patient when I go away from them. For fall and the way it smells. For my new, cheap home in a beautiful, outrageously expensive city. For being able to walk on the beach after a ten-minute drive. For Remeron and Wellbutrin. For my health. For the HIV. For twelve little steps. For Cozy Shack rice pudding. For endolphins. For the last time I saw my mom. For the last time I saw my dad. For Jocko and the letters. For Jonno and limerence. For Aaron’s big fat heart. For Jimbo and s’mores. For Vince and compassion. For the Gadfly and his wit. For Richard and mystery. For Kurt and nakedness. For Jhames and the love. For Donald and the truth. For mister latino daddy who smiled again this morning on the leg press. For my Red Wing boots. For Paul Wellstone. For the times I can let it go. For sex. For kissing. For words. For the Glide Ensemble. For Bruce. For “Behavior”. For Michael Cunningham and Michael Chabon. For Mark Doty and Lynda Hull. For being a homo. For Aimee Mann and Tracy Thorn. For house music. For all the people I’ve met through dogpoet. For the Internet. For Hedwig. For warm nights and heat lightning. For Ski. For writing really embarrassing stories. For love when it comes my way again. For David Sedaris and the Rooster. For seeing Salif Keita in Berkeley and watching while he and his back-up singers pulled all sorts of people up on the stage where they all danced without irony. For the Berkeley pizza parlor that was closed last Friday because “we’re all going to be protesting the war”. For where I go when I dance. For driving at night with music. For teachers. For nurses. For laughing at the woman who says “The Language of Film is at Landmark Cinema” but secretly liking the pretension. For popcorn with butter. For matinees. For people who still vote. For people who still read. For people who still adopt from shelters. For Edmund White: “I learned to feel nostalgia for my own youth while I was living it.” For walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. For the Holocaust Museum. For Maus. For Jennie saying I have a book somewhere in me. For chest hair. For role models, not heroes. For my sponsees who seem to think I have something they want. For a spiritual awakening in a desert hotel. For underdogs. For the freaks and the losers. For wearing one’s mental illness in all its splendor. For sadness and unrequited love. For going so low. For surprises. For getting my heart broken. For my first paid acting gig. For plays and little theaters. For Ecstasy: it was fun while it lasted. For not needing it anymore. For growing up in the Midwest. For leaving Minneapolis. For ACT-Up and Queer Nation. For youthful drama and grown-up confidence. For sexual experimentation and lack of inhibition. For forests and rivers. For oceans. For the wrath of nature. For libraries and classrooms. For standing ovations. For rough drafts. For second chances.
There’s a certain amount of resignation to each encounter, the protagonist comes to find. Night after night a string of men he’d never date. But he lets them in, gives them glasses of ice water that they sip cautiously. They look out at the view of the city from his bedroom window. Sometimes he lights candles, a ridiculously romantic gesture, given the circumstances. Kind of Blue on the stereo. They don’t know where to set down their glasses; wood furniture everywhere. He places someone else’s memoir on the desk, a New York Times bestseller he had read recently on the plane. He sets his own glass on the book, gestures for the other man to do the same. Then a suspended moment as they come together with a kiss or an embrace that would suggest they know each other better than they really do. But the kissing is important; most of them are pretty good at it. The one or two who can’t kiss well are the ones most easily forgotten later. The protagonist finds kissing to be the key that opens the other doors. He finds it to be his drug of choice, he returns to it over and over during the sex because it takes him the furthest away from his body and the body of the man he’s with; a body usually softer than the man had claimed. But to dwell on that disappointment would be to see the situation clearly, and the protagonist doesn’t want to see it clearly. He wants it rose-colored or lit by smoke and mirrors. He wants it to be a murky mess of limbs, mouths, tongues, cocks. He finds that the softer they are, the less beautiful they are, the better they are in bed. He finds they know better, faster, what makes his pulse quicken. They talk to him the right way, call him “boy” or something that implies they’re in control, which they’re not. The protagonist is handsome, they say, they say he looks like his picture. They all call him sexy. The protagonist gives them what they want, and in doing so he gets what he wants. And with each passing minute, with each encounter he peels back the layers of hesitation and caution, the layers of shame or prudence, uncovering a hot little ball of lust and need. He lets them finger it, stab at it over and over as if by touching it they could extinguish it. But it never cools, never fades. As each encounter thrashes its way to closure, as they lay gasping and wet on the sheets he’ll have to wash again, the protagonist knows the need only grows and grows. They curl around him or throw a leg over his hip and he wonders how long he should wait before grabbing a towel. He looks over at the desk and sees the ice has melted in the glasses of water, and through them the pine tree outside the window is magnified; glasses of green calm. Almost always they leave within fifteen minutes, and with their departure comes relief.
For the last of his encounters the protagonist goes out. The man’s house is a ten-minute drive, and after five minutes the protagonist, as agreed, calls the man. “I’m on my way,” he says, breaking his own rule about cell phones and driving. “I’m at O’Farrell.”
“Great,” the man says.
They hang up. After five minutes the protagonist pulls up in front of the apartment building and, as the man had promised, finds a spot right away. The protagonist waits a minute in the car after killing the engine. He listens to a woman crooning sweet love over the stereo, looking out at the dark and quiet street. He keeps the man waiting a moment longer than necessary. He gets out, shuts the door, presses the lock button on his key set. The car beeps, lights flash and it falls silent, safe and empty behind him. At the building’s entrance he presses #3, as agreed. He sees the man’s last name printed on a white slip of paper next to the buzzer, but he promptly forgets it. The door buzzes, he pushes it open, closes it quietly behind him. He climbs the first set of stairs and, as agreed, goes through the door on the first landing. The building is silent. A phone rings somewhere behind one of the doors. At #3 he stops, leans his head toward the door, listening for a minute. If the phone ringing is in #3 he might wait longer. But there’s only silence and, as agreed, he turns the knob, slipping into the apartment. He stands in the living room, his pulse thundering. The hall stretches off to his left. The place is silent. As agreed he walks down the long hallway. His footsteps echo off the hardwood floors and he imagines the man waiting for him in the bedroom is listening with fear and trepidation; that the protagonist is not handsome, that he’s not who he claimed to be. The protagonist wonders the same and as he turns the corner into the dark bedroom for a moment he thinks no one is there but then, in the far corner, he spots the man standing, waiting in his underwear. Of course he is ten pounds heavier than in his pictures. The protagonist walks around the bed to where the man is standing. In those seven steps he reconciles the real man to the fantasy so that when he reaches the man the protagonist, as agreed, drops to his knees. Neither the man nor the protagonist meet each other’s eyes. The protagonist presses his palm against the man’s cock, which is soft. He pulls at the man’s waistband, drags the underwear down his legs. The protagonist doesn’t give himself time to think, he just takes the man in his mouth and after a moment or two the man moans above him. The cock hardens and it’s smaller than his own. Which makes it easier to make the man moan. It’s no great feat taking the entire thing, feeling it at the back of his throat. The man loves that. The protagonist, without the kissing, cannot escape his own body. He is aware of the carpet under his knees, aware that he’s still fully clothed. Aware of his hands that run over the man’s thighs, up, skimming quickly over the man’s stomach, finding the nipples and twisting them. Aware that his cocksucking skills have improved dramatically in the last couple of years. The man’s moans increase; his legs grow unsteady and he sits heavily on the edge of the mattress, the protagonist following. For a moment he releases the cock from his lips; he straightens so that his mouth reaches the man’s throat, where he plants a soft, quick kiss. He glances up and the man would only need to bend down slightly, a few inches, to kiss him. The man had said he liked kissing. But the man looks away, his hands laying flat on the protagonist’s shoulders. The protagonist returns to the task at hand. He returns to his efforts, the man’s moans the only reward he’ll be giving. The moans intensify, they grow louder and the man holds the protagonist’s head as he drives again and again into the mouth before him, the protagonist’s nostrils closing so that he can no longer breathe. The sounds are wet and frantic and the man thrusts forward two, three times and the sudden slick sweetness pours forth. The protagonist holds the cock still and though he doesn’t have to, he swallows. The moaning quiets, the man sits there breathing heavily. The protagonist lets the man’s cock fall from his mouth and he sits back on his heels. The man won’t meet his eyes. He points at a door; the bathroom’s through there. The protagonist closes the door behind him, flicks on the light, turns the faucet. He blows his nose into a Kleenex, splashes water over his face. He sips from his cupped palms. Back in the bedroom the man is dressing, though they had agreed to do more. The protagonist stands there in the dark bedroom as the man pulls his shirt over his head.
“Are we done?” the protagonist asks. The man laughs uneasily, gestures at himself, at the bed.
“Well, I, uh…” he says.
“Okay,” the protagonist replies. He walks past the man, out of the bedroom, down the hallway, with each step gaining speed. He feels the man following him from a distance. The protagonist laughs to himself, he says “Nice place” and the man goes “uh, thanks” and then the protagonist is at the front door, opening it quickly, yelling “see ya” behind him, the door punctuating the silence in the empty hallway. As he descends the stairs he hears a click as the man locks the door behind him.
The protagonist drives aimlessly through the dark streets. He pulls into the Safeway parking lot. He wanders the brutal fluorescent aisles. He looks at each person he passes, wonders if they can see it on him. He wonders how many of them have swallowed. He wonders how many of them have walked away, disappointed. He buys coffee and pudding and soymilk and microwave popcorn. At home he splits the popcorn with his dog while they watch James Bond on network television.