The cold wind gnawing at our contorted faces finally relents. Our cheeks relax and the door to his fortress slams behind us. My eyes adjust to the lush red terrain of the lobby’s floral carpet while gold light thaws all traces of the indigo West Village sky.
All these years in the city and I can’t remember seeing a carpeted lobby that wasn’t in a theatre I paid to go to or a hotel guys paid me to show up at. We follow the flat red garden up the stairs. He’s leading with my hand clasped in his and I can’t help but watch his body shake under the black slacks. I’m used to guys in suits, but I see myself having fun with this one for a change. He’s younger than my other clients. Maybe even younger than me.
He effortlessly brings his long brass key through the slot of the mahogany door. After the fancy lobby, I’d expected a penthouse or something. Even though it’s only one room, the grandeur makes it intimidating. It seems to tower over us. And yet he’s almost apologetic as he turns turns to face me.
“It’s smaller than I’d like, but I’ve tried to make it home.”
“No, It’s…” I lose my words and look around. The room is a relic. I jump as the ancient, lacquered wood of the floor creaks in protest against my steps. Still, I go further into his lair, hiding my glances over the knicknacks and ephemera strewn across the space, but curiosity prevails as usual. Old movie posters—”Of Human Bondage,” “Salome,” “Morocco,” “His Girl Friday.” One hangs proudly above a dresser with silver octopus bookends, tentacles outstretched, flanking tattered texts: Maurice. The Well of Loneliness. Other Voices, Other Rooms. The City and The Pillar. Giovanni’s Room. My eyes are on a marble bust when he catches me staring at it.
“It’s Alexander the Great, He was gay too, y’know. Well. Bisexual.”
“You’ve got quite a…collection.” Normally, this is when the guy starts unzipping his fly or cupping my junk, but instead he reaches for his nightstand. Somehow, I only just notice the majestic gramophone resting on top, horn blossoming beside the bed as though you could water it—metallic but fertile, even golder under golden light. He assigns a record and expertly places the needle. The LP whirrs and a man’s voice starts to croon.
He’s my guy,
I don’t care what he does,
Cause he’s my guy.
I guess he always was.
I don’t think he tries.
I’m confused. The record, the song, the singer are all from fifty years ago at least. “Men could sing about men like this on record?” He doesn’t laugh at my pun.
“This one’s special. Mail order only. From the gay rags.” He sheds his tweed blazer and unlatches his suspenders. At least he’s not wearing a fucking fedora.
“Who’s the singer?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you played it,” I insist with as much playfulness as i can muster to mask my genuine curiosity.
“Nobody does. He had to do it anonymously.”
I can’t tell yet whether this dude is Oscar Wilde or Jeffrey Dahmer and I hate that that turns me on.
But once in a while,
He’ll kiss me and smile
And I can see me in his eyes.
Oh, he’s my guy.
I know he’ll always be.
I take refuge in the smiling and nodding I’ve gotten so used to in this line of work, putting my hands firmly on his broad shoulders before cascading them down to the small of his back. “So…wanna get started, stud?”
He glances downward then pipes up timidly: “I’d sort of hoped we’d just talk. Or at least talk before we…”
Oh god, he’s one of those, I think through a smile, despite feeling my eyes deaden. Johns always try to do this. They try to be the savior to the hustler. I’ve gotten so good at spotting fake altruism. They don’t do it out of genuine concern cause, deep down, they know I’ve got my shit together. No. They try to save me ‘cause they want to be special to me. To be special at all. That’s one satisfaction I can’t give them. Not for all the money in the world.
He reaches for a decanter half full of amber liquor. The starbursts etched into the glass bottle seem to reach for him too.
“Would you care for some bourbon?”
The booze presumptiously sloshing into the crystal tumbler tips the scales in his favor. “Sure.”
And I will try
To keep him lovin’ me
However he wants me,
I’m his until I die,
For nobody knows better than I
That he’s my guy.
I take a cautious sip and ask the most unoriginal New York question I can muster. “So…What do you do?”
“I’m a secretary.”
I try my damndest to stifle a derisive snicker. “You don’t look like a secretary.”
“I’m skilled at pretense, I guess. Are you trying—are you an actor?” His eyes are melancholy.
I’m sure as hell acting unaffected. “It’s what I’m studying at the moment.”
“Study it closely.”
I detest unsolicited advice. “Thanks.” I take a bolder swig of bourbon. “You seem too young to be like…this.”
“Well…to be honest…it’s kind of like watching a puppy in a top hat and a monocle,” I confess with the assurance of his money safely in the pocket of my jeans.
“I feel good here.” He doesn’t sound triumphant. The gramophone wails and I think he fights the urge to do the same when he collapses onto the bed. I’m sitting at his desk amidst a sea of papers. He isn’t inviting me. He doesn’t know what to say. He only laughs in protest against an impenetrable pain I know he’ll never let me see. Not for any comfort of the present. Not for all the money in the world.