Wednesday, October 26, 2011


During the early evenings of Virginia’s winter months, steel-blue light would filter through the slotted wooden blinds of the semi-circular hall in the state capitol building. It was a reminder of the chill outside, in that overheated chamber where we teenaged pages sat on a hard wooden bench, ready to be summoned. In our gray slacks, crisp white shirts, and blue blazers, we gazed at the little electrical call board embedded in the partition in front of us, waiting for one of the state senators to alert us with the flick of a switch and the blinking light that would follow. Whoever sat in the hot seat at the bench’s far end would jump to his feet and scamper to be of help. The rest of us would slide down and await our inevitable turn.

We’d been picked as pages because our parents knew people in the government, or knew people who knew people. In return for mornings scrambling to collate the day’s bills and amendments for the senators, and for the long afternoons sitting drowsily on the benches, waiting to be useful to someone while the government ground on at a glacier’s pace, we were able to skip three and a half months of school and have a substantial tick mark for our college resumes. All of us were scrubbed and perky and—by late seventies standards—briskly groomed.

 My mother was heavily involved in politics—she definitely knew people. Despite the fact I did nothing of any real note to obtain the position, all my teachers at school kept telling me what an honor it was that I got to work at the state capitol every day. Earl had seen me in my page jacket and declared me handsome, dressed. For the first time, I felt like I was doing something important, instead of biding time in a classroom. It was a fairly exciting prospect.

But it was boring. Oh good lord, were the long days ever boring. Grateful as I was from a release from the tenth grade and the Algebra II that accompanied it, having to sit in that echoing vast chamber, day after day, in that blazer and slacks, listening to old men ramble on and on about subjects in which I had no interest, made me want to rip off my clip-on tie and run away yelling. For all its tediousness, at least church only lasted an hour. In the senate, there was no telling when some of the more rancorous sessions might end, or whether Richmond's streetlights would have bloomed on against the night sky when the fat, ancient master of the pages finally decreed we could leave.

So sometimes, late in the afternoon or early in the evening, I would sit at the bench’s far end, praying for someone to flick their switch and interrupt the tedium. Or I would find myself alone on the hard wooden plank while all the other pages were off on our everyday errands.

And then the light from desk #14 would illuminate.

Senator #14 hailed from the western tip of Virginia, one of those municipalities that no one in the state’s population center really knew or ever intended to visit. He was a married man with no children. Mildly attractive. Masculine. The average age of the Virginia state senators was a hefty seventy, but #14, in his mid to late forties, was a comparative spring chicken. He was comparatively trouble-free, too. Other senators might buzz their lights at the slightest whim, instructing us to fetch their glasses, or tell their aides to call their wives, or to run down to the little sandwich shop and buy Pepto-Bismol. The only time #14 ever seemed to want anything, though, was when I was alone, or in the hot seat at the bench’s end.

“Sugar, would you get me a Mickey Mouse?” he’d ask most times, pressing a five-dollar bill into my hand. Sugar, of course, as well as honey, was one of those old Virginian forms of address used between all genders and ages. Neither was reserved exclusively for the young or the feminine.

The Mickey Mouse was an injection-created ice cream treat on a stick—chocolate ears and vanilla face with a strawberry pink nose at the center that looked vaguely like its namesake. Even my gleefully undiscriminating palate dismissed the Mickey Mouse as too juvenile to seriously consider eating, but if the senator wanted a Mickey Mouse, my job was to run downstairs, avoid tourists gawping at the marble-laden public areas, and duck into the tiny sandwich shop to grab a Mickey Mouse from the freezer.

I’d return to the upstairs chamber slightly out of breath, but trying to keep my faint huffs from disturbing the senate’s sanctity. He’d take the ice cream. When I’d proffer the three dollars plus change from his original bill, he’d inevitably reach out, close my fingers around the money, and cover my hand with his before giving it a firm squeeze. “Keep the change, sugar,” he’d say. “It’s yours.”

During the weeks after our occasional late-afternoon Mickey Mouse routine was firmly established, I’d sometimes find Senator #14 smiling at me from his seat on the semi-circle’s perimeter. Leaning back in his chair, playing with a pen, he’d give me conspiratorial glances during the long afternoons, seeming to say, This is as rough on me as it is on you, kid. Or, Jeez, can this guy go on and on, or what?

The Senator had the advantage of being seen only by the Lieutenant Governor, whoever was speaking, and a few factotums and pages at the front; I, however, had to keep a bland and disciplined expression for the benefit of all the senators, the spectators in the upper gallery, and the press at the tables directly in front. When he’d mug and secretly try to make me laugh or smile, I’d have to pretend not to see him.

Though of course I did.

I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t naively romantic about the workings of the state government, nor did I believe that the special attention I got from Senator #14 was because he saw some unique talent in me. The only aptitude of mine he’d witnessed was an ability to run fast and to distinguish between the Mickey Mouse bare and a Fudgesicle. I knew the probable reason a man of his age would pay that kind of attention to a boy of mine. Every time I’d see his attractive face looking my way, I’d feel a quickening in my pants.

But honestly, what didn’t give me erections, back then?

It was early in February, during a particularly protracted debate on a particularly dull topic, that I was alone on the bench. Light #14 blinked on. As usual, I trotted over to the man’s desk and knelt down so that I could hear his instructions. “Could you go to the printing office and request these?” He handed me a scribbled list of bills. “I was going to duck out for a few so I could review them. Maybe you could bring the packet up to my office?” The request was smooth, but it made my heart thud almost too loud to hear his next words. “Bring them directly to me. If you don't mind.”

I looked briefly into his eyes. They bored into mine.

At last, when some of the blood cleared from my head, I nodded and looked away. “Good boy,” he said, patting me on the shoulder.

It still felt as if my heart thudded in overdrive as I made my way out of the capitol building and across the street to the administrative high-rise where most of the representatives’ offices were. The printing office was in the basement; they were used to pages showing up with long lists of bills to be retrieved. While I waited, I sat in the chair there and thought about what I felt sure was going to happen, upstairs.

I could hope that his aides might be around. I could play dumb. I could duck out with a quick and convenient excuse, avoiding chit-chat with the senator.

I could say no. I’d always known that no was an option, that I had a say in the matter.

Bills in hand, I took the elevator to the senator’s floor. As I walked down the silent hallway I was even practicing my refusal, polite but firm, in case I had to arm myself with it.

“Well hey, sugar,” he said from behind his desk. In his unglamorous office, the lights were low, as if he didn’t want to dispel the gloom of the deep blue evening skies outside. He sat in his chair, slightly out of breath, as if he’d hurried to get there. His jacket was off; he’d removed his necktie. “Any problems getting those bills?” He added quickly—casually—“You can shut the door if you’d like.”

“No,” I said.  Just because I knew I could say the word to him, didn’t mean I wanted to.  “I mean, no, I didn’t have any problems getting the bills.”

It was the last no I said that evening.

I closed the door behind me, and listened to it latch. His trench coat, hung on a hook, still seemed to radiate cold from his trip across the street. “Well, good,” he said softly, rising to his feet after a long, long moment. He crossed the room. “I’m glad to hear it.”

The tips of his fingers were icy as he reached out with one hand to tilt my chin upward, very slightly. I didn't resist. Then, with the other, he tugged gently at my shirt collar, lifting up and off the abhorred clip-on tie. Both his hands fumbled with my top button, then the ones beneath. “That’s got to be a relief. Now, doesn't it?” he murmured, stepping back slightly to admire me once he'd opened my shirt.

I couldn’t deny that like most things that are inevitable, a relief is what it really was.


  1. That last line is astonishing, good Steed. True in many situations and circumstances. The ones that come most immediately to my mind - after imaginatively filling in the great caesura of your story's ending - are of those times when relief was also bound with grief and longing. A friend far away is caring for his husband, dying in end stage Alzheimer disease. I've walked as far as the living can with a beloved or a friend who went into the endless dark, and am offering him what help I can in enduring the coming months.

    Release and relief go hand in hand in many spheres.

  2. I have to tell you that the tedium you expressed in the first section of this post is a large reason why I avoided at all costs having a similar position. However, if I had gotten any inkling from pages I knew that something like that might have happened, I would possibly have jumped at the opportunity. Who am I kidding? I would definitely have done so. But I heard nothing, and my ass was already well preoccupied anyway.

    The writing of this post was great. I love that recently you have become more poetic, more unpindownable in your writing. It makes for a fun and enlightening read. Thanks.


  3. RedPhillip,

    You're a good man. Thank you once again for sharing yourself with me, and with my readers.

  4. Ace,

    Thank you. You know I appreciate your kind words.

  5. So, I'm guessing what happened next was that you reviewed the bills or something?

  6. Remember it was an honor to work in the state capitol and 'serve' the leaders of your state.

    Is it me or is being called sugar by older men kind of creepy?

    When I first saw #14 as the blog title, I was thinking you must have had a busy day at the rest stop

  7. I think there was a very similar ice cream in Germany, at least in the 1970s.

    My favourite image is perhaps the senator's office in the evening light. I admire your courage.

  8. Cyberi4a,

    As I said, where I grew up, it wasn't creepy at all. It was pretty common. And still is, to an extent. Even the senior who sold me a disposable razor at the CVS called me 'sugar' when I visited a couple of months ago.

  9. CB,

    Yes. If by 'bills' you mean 'my throat,' yes, absolutely.

  10. Countess,

    I think a response of 'Gee, you were dumb' would've been just as appropriate. :-) Thank you.

  11. Bastard!

    Oh, I understand the telling is likely all the better for stopping where you did, but still, you're a bastard.

  12. Kevin,

    You made an old bastard smile.

  13. Great writing, Rob. A boy's memoir -- reminded me, actually, of Edmund White's writing. Stopping where you did makes it even more intriguing. "Marky"

  14. Rob my friend,
    Every time i read you, your writing is more and more captivating. You have a way to say things that comes and get you and that we want to read more. Those must have been very long days on that bench waiting. I have good patience but i don't know if i could have done that. I don't like politics and avoid talking about it but love reading your post no matter what. Can't wait to read the rest of it my friend. You always amaze me.


  15. And there goes my pants... Thank god I don't read you at work!

  16. it's not JUST the fact that you're writing is arousing... it's also the fact that, as I read it, i feel a lump in my throat, pounding in my being there.

  17. A compelling aspect of this account is the enormous risk that the Senator from Dist. 14 was taking to attempt to seduce you. What if you had bolted out of there halfway through and told the police? Or the Times-Dispatch? Marriage, senate seat and career all gone in a stroke.

    But then from the cases of Gary Hart, Mark Foley, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Gary Condit, Jim McGreevey, Larry Craig, Bill Clinton and all the rest, we know that politicians' brains often fail them in this area. Or perhaps they think that, like Bill Clinton, they can more or less get away with it.

    I'm trying to figure out what led him to believe that you would keep the encounter confidential (well, at least for a few decades). Perhaps in your followup you'll share what happened after the buttons were opened.

  18. Re: "the enormous risk"

    Even as a very young man, I never really understood how people think that a meager lifetime of schooling and societal pressure can successfully overwhelm a couple of billion years of biology.

    We are the result of millions of generations of evolution telling us that the one that spreads their seed the furthest and fastest wins. That if you get your seed into that person before anyone else, you have the best chance. We have virtually nothing to say about most of the bio-chemical processes that make us function. It's a testament to greatness that we are able to exert the little control that we do over our reproductive imperatives.

    We are the winners. Our ancestors were the ones who were best at recognizing that a potential mating partner is in a receptive state. "Gaydar" is nothing more or less than a manifestation of a successful partner-selection survival trait.

  19. Marky,

    Thanks for that nice comment. It's an honor to be compared to White.

  20. Yves,

    You are always unfailingly kind. Thank you, friend!

  21. Pat,

    Your cautions make perfect sense. I'm not going to argue against them, because you're absolutely right. However, a hard dick often trumps good or perfect sense, even in higher offices than a podunk state senator in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    There's a certain code of honor in the American South that rests on the notion of being a gentleman. Gentlemen don't tell each other's secrets. I think he was relying upon that to protect him.

  22. Kevin,

    I agree with you—not only about the gaydar, but about how hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have shaped our responses in a way that a couple of centuries' worth of detritus that roughly forms the roots of our political correctness will do little to hamper.

  23. Ah, the hotness of the tale (yes, double entendre) sometimes lies in not spelling out the details. Splendid writing, as always! Thank you!

  24. I have two reactions to this.

    1. Damn this is good. Stopping there was perfect.

    2. Dammit! This was just getting good! Stopping there is just sadistic!

    Maybe we should have the good-fiction version (this one) and the porn version (where the Senatorial sex is explicitly related). No? Sigh.

    Very good work, sir.

  25. Man, your life is raunchier than a porno!
    How the fuck did you not end up in the adult industry?