This is Chapter 39 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Antipasto -- Part 2", the previous section.
Featuring Brian Kinney, Ron Rosenblum, Jane, Marc Gerasi, Stan, Nick, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Flashback to NYC, February 1988.
Author's Comments: This is the second chapter based on William Blake's series of poems that began with "Songs of Innocence."
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
"Where the fuck have you been?" Stan grabbed me by the collar and gave me a shake.
He'd been waiting for me on the corner, by the subway entrance. The minute he saw me, he was on me like a dog. I was fucking tired and cold and starting to get the jitters, so the last thing I needed was grief from Stan.
"They kept me all night. What was I supposed to do?"
"Here." I pulled the cash out of my jeans and handed it to Stan.
"Okay then." He counted it out. Stan wasn't that good at figuring things out, so I hoped he wouldn't notice that I'd kept back a twenty, which I had stashed in my sneaker. I held my breath.
"Hey, you spending money on them newspapers again?" He pointed to the 'Times' under my arm.
"I found it on the subway." I exhaled. He wasn't going to catch the difference.
"Well, don't be wasting cash on that shit, man."
"I like to know what's going on in the world. What if somebody actually wants to talk to me?"
"What the fuck for?"
"Some guys are kinky like that."
"Don't forget -- you got an appointment at 11:00. At the Chelsea."
"Not HIM again! Stan, he's creepy!"
"Never you mind. Who told you that you could pick and choose? Just do it."
He still hadn't let go of my collar. He half-dragged, half-guided me into Nick's and tossed me into a booth.
"Be careful! My side still hurts!"
"YOU be careful. Now, sit here real quiet, 'cause I got a guy coming in here...."
"I thought I could get some sleep before I have to go over the creep, Stan! I have to sleep sometime!"
"This guy is making a movie. I want him to talk to you."
I was immediately very wary. "I don't think so. I don't want my fucking face on the News at Ten!"
"He ain't from the news. He's some student making a movie. Nobody's ever gonna fuckin' see it. But he's handing out cash. To me. To Nick. Maybe you can get something off him. Give it a try. It'll be easier than pie for you. I can tell what he likes."
"Shit." I opened up my paper and waited. Stan went over to the counter to get some coffee. "Ah -- Stan?"
He stomped over to the booth. "Here." He tossed me a shiny little envelope. "And don't be doin' it in here and piss off Nick. Go into the fuckin' can."
My hands were starting to shake a little, so I didn't wait. I did about half the bag, just to take the edge off and numb my side. When I came back from the bathroom, I eased myself back into the booth and read my paper. With luck, Stan's movie man wouldn't show up and I could nod off for an hour or so in the booth before I had to go over to the Chelsea. I pictured the Chelsea guy and what he wanted and I shuddered. That's when I'd need the other half-bag for sure.
Not long after that the movie crew came trooping in. A woman and two guys. That was it. Talk about low budget.
The big Italian guy was a no go. Unless you wanted to get the shit kicked out of you. So, it was the other guy who was Stan's mark. Tall and thin, glasses. Intense. He seemed more like a teacher than a student. Smart-looking. Someone who would want to talk to you.
I kept reading my paper while they set up their shit.
Stan came over and bopped me in the head. "Now, listen up. You play along with this bunk and I'll make it worth your while."
"I got ways. Ain't Stan always good to you?"
"No, not really."
"Shut the fuck up and do what I say!"
He held on to my arm and pulled me over to the movie people. I looked them up and down and they looked me over. Can't say they acted too impressed. And it seemed funny to see them here in Nick's, like a glimpse into the straight world again. I wanted to yell, "Help!" -- but I couldn't get the words out.
So, instead, I took out a cigarette and stuck it in my mouth. It helps to have something to suck on. It stops you from saying things. Things that could get you into trouble. But Nick made me put it out. He said the smoke bothers his customers. What fucking customers? The whole place was nothing but a front.
"You think I could get some food over here, then? A pop? I need to suck on something. And a big straw. And some fries." I hadn't eaten since early the night before and I was starving.
The mark leaned over to me. "My name's Ron." He held out his hand. I guess I was supposed to shake it, so I did. That was different.
"Are you hungry? You look hungry."
Well, what the fuck did he think?
They dicked around with their equipment until they seemed to be ready. I wondered where the rest of the food was. I was running out of time until I had to make my way over to the Chelsea and the john from hell.
"Okay, I'm just going to ask you a few questions. Anything you don't want to answer, you can just say so." Unlike Stan, Ron had a low, soft voice. And he talked to me like a human being -- he didn't order me around. He looked me in the eye.
"Sure. Why not?"
He fumbled around with the microphone. I saw the woman roll her eyes behind his back. She was a bitch.
"All right. What's your name? You only need to give me your first name."
The standard question. Some guys want a certain name, a certain fantasy. Some guy they were hot for in high school. A kid in their building. Somebody in the movies. Matt or Tom or something like that. What this guy was after I wasn't sure yet.
"My name? What do you want my name to be?"
Ron let out a big sigh. "Let's try this again. What do they call you? Not what I want to call you, but whatever anyone calls you, okay?"
Okay, why not? "Jack."
"Okay then, Jack. How old are you?"
Careful. This could be a trap. Too young, too old -- it's a tough call. "How old do you want me to be?"
"Sixteen? Seventeen? Am I getting close?"
"Sure, close enough. You want to send me a birthday card?" If this was the way this whole thing was going to go, then why the fuck bother?
"When you were walking over here I noticed that you seem like you might have been in a fight. Did somebody hurt you?"
Nick brought over the food. I tried not to let them see how hungry I was, but it was impossible. Ron was watching me intently. A little too intently. He was fucking making me nervous. And the questions he was asking were making me nervous, too. Asking these kinds of questions was not what I was expecting. It was personal.
"Yeah, my old man didn't like the way I blew him, so he broke my fucking ribs. That the kind of stuff you're looking for?" Why don't these guys go somewhere else for their freak show?
He looked at his two friends. Almost like they were really concerned. Yeah, sure. "Would you like some aspirin or something? I can get you some around the corner."
Come on, mister! Where did you just come from? "Yeah, I've already got something I take. Something a little better than aspirin. I get that around the corner, too. You'd be shocked to know just what you can pick up on any street corner." Yeah, like me, for instance.
"Stop rolling for a minute," he said to the other man and he gestured to the woman to stop taping. "Listen, kid. Jack. If you aren't okay with this, just tell me. We'll go. But I think you might make a good interview subject. You're no dim bulb, like some of these kids. Let's face it, most of them are too far gone to even make a coherent statement."
"So what do you want with me?"
"Just an interview. A few good quotes. You're a sharp boy. You're aware of what's going on." He pointed to my newspaper. "You read the 'New York Times'? What are you doing here, Jack?"
"Everybody has to be somewhere... Ron."
"I can help you. You give me some good footage, I'll help you, too. Money? I can spot you a little behind Stan's back. You want me to contact someone for you? Help you get into a program someplace? Whatever you say. How about it? Deal?"
"Maybe. But Stan won't like me making a deal with anyone that he doesn't know about."
"Then he doesn't have to know, okay?"
"Okay." Why the fuck not? And so I talked. And they bought we some more food. And I talked some more. Until I looked at the clock and realized that I was late for the Chelsea. Then I booked out of there. I figured that was the last I would see of my movie crew.
But Ron kept coming back.
Kept filming. Kept asking questions.
Stan took off for a few days. Said he was 'laying low' -- which meant he was in trouble with somebody or else owed some money he didn't want to pay back. While he was gone the boys ran wild like a bunch of fucking monkeys. Carlos, one of Stan's sleazy pals, stopped by every day to hand out the bags -- Stan didn't want his meal-tickets to fly off somewhere else. I tried to stay away from Carlos. He seemed to think that taking over Stan's 'job' on a temporary basis also entitled him to certain privileges. No fucking way -- except when he managed to corner me in the squat. But those are the chances you take.
Without Stan around I was able to plump up my stash. Carlos knew less about business than even Stan did and that was good for me.
It was good for Ron, too, because he could film without Stan butting in. I acted as his helper, his guide. I showed him good places to film, set the kids up to talk -- the ones that could talk -- and even kind of directed them to do things that I knew would look good in his movie. The kids aren't usually very responsive, but they'll do all kinds of shit for a couple of bucks or some food or candy or a little extra dope. I also showed him where they could set up to show the cops hassling everybody, but letting the johns go. He got some good shots of those pigs. They always get off scot-free, while some 14-year-old gets dragged down to the Tombs.
I started to look forward to seeing Ron and his crew show up every morning.
He would talk to me. Ask me questions that had some kind of meaning, and say things more than just "How much?" or "How big is it?" or "Roll the fuck over."
Sometimes he'd pat me on the back or touch my arm and say, "Good job" or even "That's a good idea." He didn't make the mistake of assuming I was a moron. He also brought me the 'Times' and other newspapers and magazines. I guess he read them and then was through with them, but I appreciated it, him giving me what he didn't need anymore.
But I also caught his girlfriend, Jane, giving me the fish-eye. She didn't like me, didn't trust me. Maybe she thought I was a thief, looking to cop some of their equipment. Maybe she thought other things. But the more they filmed, the more she didn't want me around there.
"I know what your game is," she said one afternoon while Ron and Marc, the big cameraman, were setting up. "But you're barking up the wrong tree, kid. Ron doesn't have any money, so you aren't going to get very far sponging off him. Just because he's good-natured and generous with low-lifes like you." She gripped my arm with her long-nailed fingers. They were painted bright red.
"I'm not sponging off him. I'm not doing anything, so leave me alone!" I said, shaking her off me.
"He's living on handouts from his father and his grant money -- which is for his film. So don't even try it!"
"I haven't asked for any money. I've got my own money. So, fuck off." She was really beginning to bug me.
"Besides, why bother trying to hustle straight guys? It isn't worth it. You can't win there."
That's what SHE knew about that shit! "Are you kidding? Half of my clients are 'straight'! Right! There's no such thing as a 'straight' guy -- only ones who are horny. Deal with THAT! Bitch."
The way she looked at me -- she hated me. And I'd never done anything to her. Never done anything with her boyfriend. He was just nice to me, that's all. She was just pathetic.
"You really are a filthy thing. Crazy. And probably diseased, too," she practically spit at me.
She was the crazy one. "Look who's talking." I threw my cigarette on the ground and stamped on it, hard. "I'm not 'diseased' -- I'm always careful" -- when I'm allowed to be -- "So you don't know what the hell you are talking about." I started walking away.
"If you don't stay away from Ron, I'll call the cops. They'd probably have a field day with you. They wouldn't know what to begin to charge you with."
"Talk, talk, talk. I'm not interested in your crummy boyfriend. He's the one who keeps following ME around. Trying to film me. You tell HIM to lay off, okay?"
"I will. I certainly will."
After Stan found my stash of money I didn't know what the fuck to do. He gave me a good pounding, but I guess I was lucky he didn't cut me up like he threatened. I saw him take a slice out of a guy -- it wasn't too nice. Stan is a clown sometimes, but that doesn't mean he couldn't kill you if he wanted to.
I sat in Nick's nursing my aching side, when I looked up and there was Ron. It was weird because I was just thinking about him. About how he said that first time he talked to me that he would help me. And this was the time.
I had him meet me on the street and I led him back to Stan's squat. I got my clothes and all the dope I dared to take. It was quite a little pile that I figured would last me until I could decide what I was going to do.
Ron took me back to his apartment. I felt safe just walking into the building, getting into the elevator. It didn't seem like the kind of place where Stan would ever be able to find me, because if he found me this time I was sure he'd just kill me. But the apartment was high -- fifth floor -- and nobody could just climb in the window -- I think. And you had to ring a bell to get in. All that stuff.
The place was small, but secure-feeling. The living room and dining room and kitchen all kind of blended together and there was a real bathroom and bedroom -- small, but okay. The kind of place I thought I would have if I worked things right. A place that was just mine, where I didn't have to answer to anyone. Where I could lock the door and no one could get at me. Safe.
The second I saw the bathroom all I thought about was getting clean. Really clean. I gave Ron my clothes to wash and I stayed in that shower forever. The hot water and the soap that smelled like sandalwood and the shampoo that smelled green and wet were all too much. I soaped and stroked myself and stroked and soaped some more until I came with such force that I felt all wobbly. I let the water run down over me until it started to turn a little cool, then I got out and dried myself with a huge, soft towel.
I even shaved myself with Ron's razor and some of his lemony shaving cream. Everything he had smelled good and clean. I opened the cabinet and all the drawers, just touching and looking at things. Soap. Razor blades. Toothpaste. Little bottles of aspirin and vitamins. A new toothbrush wrapped in cellophane. I opened that and brushed my teeth, using a ton of the mint toothpaste, brushed until my gums bled a little. But it felt nice. My mouth was rid of all the things that had been in it. The people that had been in it. I swished some Listerine around and spit it out and finally felt uncontaminated.
I hung my toothbrush up on the holder next to Ron's and a tiny thrill went through me. I wanted to be in that bathroom every morning. To brush my teeth and wrap myself in a clean towel right there. And I went out into the apartment and sat at the table and I wanted to sit there every day, with my own cup and my own dish and eat my breakfast.
Ron put a bagel in front of me, toasted and buttered. I ate it and it tasted like smack feels going through you -- warm and sleepy and protected from the world. I looked around and realized that I wanted everything to be mine -- the little computer and all the books on the shelves and the TV set and the big pillows on the sofa. It was warm and light in there. And clean. And suddenly I was so tired. I wanted just to close my eyes and wake up there every single day. Because I knew I would be okay there.
I followed Ron into the little bedroom. He was looking for a blanket for me, but I saw the bed and knew I had to be in it. And I turned around and pulled him into it, too, before he had time to think. Before he had time to react. Because of all the things in the apartment that I wanted to have, I realized that I wanted him the most.
Continue on to "Mistake-Proof".
©Gaedhal, June 2002
Picture of Gale Harold from Paper Magazine.
Send Gaedhal any comments, critiques, suggestions.
Updated July 1, 2002