(This post is a continuation of an entry from last week, and will itself be continued. I hope you'll grant me the indulgence of it being not explicitly sexual in content, as I'm trying to relate an incident that deserves more than just a cursory recalling.)
Earl was one of the least possessive men it has ever been my privilege to meet.
He liked to hear about the sexual encounters I had when I wasn’t with him. With only a couple of exceptions, I think I was willing to tell him just about everything I did. When I’d be over at his house after school during my mid-teens, or early in the evenings during the good-weather months, or when I was hanging out in his bed on a weekend, he’d inevitably ask me what other dick I’d taken in my spare time.
Earl would lie next to me between his plain white cotton sheets, stroking my hair and nodding, as he’d hear about my dusks in the Bryan Park picnic shelter with my legs up and eyes closed as man after man would take his turn at my hole. Or sometimes, when he wasn’t in the mood to fuck, he’d manipulate my hole with the middle three fingers of his left hand, while his right stroked my greased-up dick as he made me tell him in detail about the restrooms I’d cruised that week, and the strange dicks I’d gotten there. He wanted to know the peculiarities of every encounter—what the men said, how they made me feel, what was different about their dicks or their bodies, what I liked and didn’t like about them.
It was Earl who turned me into a storyteller about my sexual encounters; he derived great pleasure from hearing the narratives I recounted for him. Sometimes I’d even go out and do something creative or simply stupid because I knew he’d get a kick out of it.
One summer Saturday, for example, I went to the basement of the university library where my parents taught, which was not the epicenter of cruising on campus but managed at just about any time to provide a steady stream of horny students looking to unload with each other. Once in the center stall, I removed all my clothing, save for my sneakers, and stuffed it into a knapsack that I hung on the back of the stall door. Then I proceeded to stroke, cruise, suck dick, and take dick in my hole over the course of about four or five hours.
I got a huge kick out of the reactions of the men who’d discover the naked boy wearing only a ratty pair of white Adidas on the other side of the stall partition. My biggest excitement, though, came from knowing I’d be confiding it all to Earl within a few days. That I’d be watching his eyes widen and his cock swell as he heard how slutty I was. Sometimes, to some extent, the prospect of retelling my stories was what kept me having them.
In that respect, things weren’t all that different then, from now.
I remember telling Earl about the Bible-thumping man in a decidedly non-sexual context, though. That is, it’s true I was wearing nothing aside from the collar I’d don when I stepped into the house through the back door. I was naked. We might have had sex, or were going to have sex. But we weren’t actually fooling around when I told him the story of being picked up by the jowly man in the Cadillac who, after I gave him head, railed at me for leading him into temptation and delivering him unto evil. We were sitting in his den, a dark, wood-paneled room with a round braided rug on the knotty pine floor. The room always smelled vaguely of cigarette smoke and the acrid remnants of vanished joints. Earl and I were curled up on his sofa, trying to keep cool in the flow of his window air conditioning. I remember I had a big glass of Pepsi-Cola in my hands, and that it was leaving a damp and icy impression on my sternum as I told the story.
“You know that he's the one with the problem,” Earl told me, when I was done. “There’s a moment after a guy shoots—his body’s been stressed and exerted. His heartbeat’s slowing. The excitement’s over, and he knows it. That’s when men feel guilty, or bad about sex. Even though they’ll do anything to get it in the minutes before. All those resolutions some guys make to themselves in those moments seem real, but they’re just as false as what they’re telling themselves when their dicks are hard. You know that, right?”
I remember nodding. I’d experienced those blues many times during those few seconds immediately after orgasm. When I’d been younger, those had been the moments when I’d vow never to do what I’d been doing ever again, when I’d sworn off bad thoughts and bad deeds alike, only to have them come creeping back against within minutes. It was the nadir of the sexual cycle, the antithesis of the climax that arrived the moment my balls stopped pumping out the semen. And it lasted longer than any orgasm, too.
“Just don’t let him fuck with your head,” Earl said.
“Right. You should fuck with his,” Jim added. Jim was in the room. He sat on the floor, in roughly the same place that Topher and I had occupied during our enforced coupling in front of the other men at Earl’s parties. Jim had acquired for himself an Intellivision video game console of which he was extremely jealous. While we’d talked, Earl and I had been watching him play some kind of bleepy space game. I liked video games even more than the considerable amount I disliked Jim, and I would have been happy to have played with him if he’d ever asked.
He hadn’t. He kept the cartridges for the Intellivision in his garret of a room so that no one could turn on the console without his knowledge. I was pretty sure that Topher, his stoner favorite, was probably treated to several bleepy face-offs against him on the Intellivision, but whenever I was around, an offer was never on the table. I was an Atari 2600 owner myself, and tried to be smug in whatever superiority that afforded me, anyway.
“Don’t,” said Earl, in warning.
“No, he should totally fuck with that fat-ass piece of shit,” repeated Jim, not even looking up from his video game. The corner of his mouth clenched a lit cigarette from which ash drifted as he spoke. “It’s the only way to deal with those motherfuckers.”
“The boy’s not like that,” Earl said, sounding almost annoyed with his partner. Jim was considerably younger than Earl; he’d been not much older than I was at that time, when they’d originally met. Though over the years their relationship had settled into something that now I recognize as a constant display of barely-concealed hostility, in a way it was a relationship that worked for them both. Jim got a nice house to live in with all the amenities. His lousy part-time job pushing records at Peaches kept him in pot, porn magazines, tobacco, and Intellivision cartridges. Earl got someone to do his laundry, to keep the public rooms of the house clean, to throw together haphazard dinners, and to do (badly) all the wifely chores that many men of the nineteen-seventies still had no clue how to approach. “He’s not like you.”
“Well. I like that.” Jim’s game finished. He sat up, then quickly brushed the hot embers of his cigarette from his naked chest as they fell. “So you think this boy’s better than me?”
“Oh, Jesus.” As I said, Jim and Earl didn’t really have a good relationship. They were constantly at each other’s throats. “Different is not better. It’s different. Not better. Why do you have such a problem understanding that?”
I breathed shallowly and pretended I wasn’t there as they argued. “Oh, I understand, believe you me,” said Jim. His eyes already bulged slightly from his head. Arguing only made the effect more pronounced. “I understand more than you think.”
“If you did, you’d know it wasn’t a criticism. Of either of you. The boy’s guileless. And you’re—“
“Full of guile?” Jim sounded smug and affronted, both.
“—Twice his age and have a lifetime of experience that he doesn’t,” Earl finished, growing more angry. “He’s not capable of the type of insights you and I have.”
Jim caught my eye at that moment. He must have seen some spark of my surprise, or perhaps nascent resentment, at Earl’s words. I might have been only sixteen, but I thought I was remarkably insightful for my age. For a second, only a brief second, we were compatriots, both diminished by Earl’s words. “Well,” said Jim, capitalizing on it. “Perhaps you’re right.” He took a long final drag on his cigarette, then savagely stubbed it on in a makeshift ashtray made from a pickle jar top. “But if I were him, I’d be fucking with his head. I’d be spinning that pea brain of his around so fast. . . .”
Earl cleared his throat, no doubt preparing to shut down his partner. I was quicker, though. I opened my mouth and asked a single question. “How?”
Jim slowly reached for his pack of cigarettes. He withdrew another one, rolled it between his fingers, and stared straight at me. “If you want to know, I’ll tell you.”
It was the one and only time we were on the same side. That should have been warning enough.