Friday, July 23, 2021

Conversations with My Father: Summer Visit Edition

(I spent last week in Virginia with my dad. If you haven't heard, we drive each other crazy.)


My Dad: What’re you looking at on your phone?

Me: Twitter.

My Dad: Oh, you’re on the Tweeter?

Me: It’s Twitter.

My Dad: What do you twit about?

Me: On Twitter, one tweets about…oh, never mind.

My Dad: Are you into politics?

Me: No, I definitely don’t enjoy politics on Twitter.

My Dad: I thought the Tweeter was all about politics.

Me: No, I do gay Twitter.

My Dad: Gay…? Is that a whole different Tweeter?

Me: No. Who you choose to follow kind of determines what kind of content you see.

My Dad: What’s the gay Tweeter like?

Me: It’s mostly nude selfies…

My Dad: Oh, are you posting a nude selfie?

Me: Um, we’re sitting in a car in your doctor’s office parking lot. Am I nude?

My Dad: I don’t think so?

Me: You don’t think…? Well, did you see me take a selfie?

My Dad: No?

Me: Okay then.

My Dad: But you know I do have really, really bad eyesight.


---


My Dad (upon seeing me wearing a baseball cap): Are you wearing a baseball cap?

Me: Yep.

My Dad: Do you always wear baseball caps?

Me: Not always, but I wear them pretty often.

My Dad: Do you play baseball?

Me: They’re just to cover my head. Especially when my haircut grows out. I’m a lousy baseball player.

My Dad: I have a lot of baseball caps.

Me: Yes, I know. They’re littering your office.

My Dad: Do you want some of my baseball caps?

Me: GOD no.

My Dad: Well!

Me: I mean, no thank you.

My Dad: What’s wrong with my baseball caps?

Me: Well, for one thing, they’re all incredibly ugly.

My Dad: Well!

Me: Okay, let me put it this way. All your baseball caps either are emblazoned with the logos of various freight railroad lines…

My Dad: I will have you know that the railroads of the Eastern Shoreline directly contributed to the growth and development of the…

Me: And then the rest of them are gifts from your sister and they all have really obnoxious embroidered cats on them. I’m pretty sure one of them says I LOVES ME KITTY.

My Dad: You love cats.

Me: I do love cats but I do not want to proclaim that love to the world like a crazy cat person.

My Dad: So what’s on your hats?

Me: A couple of days ago I had on a Provincetown cap. Yesterday was our college…

My Dad: What’s on your hat now?

Me: Uh…it’s just a clothing logo.

My Dad (taking the cap and holding it a centimeter from his eyes): A clothing logo? It looks like…a baseball diamond.

Me: It’s supposed to be a pig. A...stylized...pig.

My Dad: A pig? What manufacturer of clothing has the logo of a pig?

Me: [mumbles]

My Dad: Come again?

Me (louder): NASTY PIG.

My Dad: So you won’t tell people you love cats, but you don’t mind telling people you love nasty pigs?

Me: That’s…pretty accurate, actually.

My Dad: And you wear a hat that tells everybody you like pigs.

Me: Yes, I do.

My Dad: And then other people who like pigs come up to you and say, ‘Hey, I like pigs too.’

Me: Depends on which bar I’m in.

My Dad: What?

Me: Nothing.


---


(On the penultimate day of my visit, my dad had an invitation from his old college roommate to visit, so I drove him to Williamsburg, where we both went to college.)

My dad: Were you seeing anyone in college? You mother and I never heard if you were seeing anyone.

Me: Mostly I just slept around.

My dad: Your mother and I were virgins until marriage.

Me (snorting): Not I.

My dad: I don’t know whether it was from choice or whether it was just the way things were back then.

Me: Well, ultimately, if you’re happy with how it turned out, it doesn’t matter.

My dad: Who were you sleeping around with? Not that roommate of yours, [he names my sophomore roommate]?

Me: No. He didn’t know he was gay then.

My dad: Not that other roommate of yours, [he names my junior roommate]?

Me: God no. He was a crazy conservative Christian closet case.

My dad: You knew how to pick them, I guess. Didn’t you have a boyfriend at all?

Me: I kind of had one my junior year, but what a dick.

My dad: He had a dick? Or he was a dick?

Me: He had a huge dick. And he definitely was a huge dick.

My dad: Why, what did he do to be a dick?

Me: The biggest thing was that if we were going anywhere together on campus, he would make me walk twenty feet behind him.

My dad: Why?

Me: I guess he just didn’t want thinking people we were together.

My dad: It wasn’t because he thought you were funny looking?

Me: OUCH.

My dad: I didn’t mean it like that.

Me: Jeez, whose side are you on?

My dad: I mean, maybe he thought it would look funny for two boys to be walking together. Like you said, maybe it was just the way things were back then.

Me: Guys walk together all the time. You walked with your old roommate this afternoon.

My dad: Why did you stay with him for a year then?

Me: You heard me say he had a big dick, right?

Friday, June 25, 2021

Some Low Person

In 1978, my ninth grade language arts teacher was Mr. Harris, a weedy little man in his late thirties, a British import who, every time he took his place at the head of the table in the media center where we met, smelled of mothballs and fear. Shoulder-length wisps the color of corn drooped from the sides and back of his head; his hairline began near the top of his skull. He seemed to aspire to be a Mr. Chips or a Miss Jean Brodie, molding and inspiring the parochial minds of youth who were as clay. We saw him something of a bore, and wondered how far a career could plummet, if this poor sod had been reduced to teaching AP Literature in a backwater Southern town to a dozen glassy-eyed fourteen-year olds.

Mr. Harris tried to excite us. He gave us copies of Romeo and Juliet and tried to make it sexy by stressing that the star-crossed lovers were our age, which only prompted the boys to look at the girls with speculation, and the girls to look at the boys with contempt, and failed to engender any enthusiasm for the material. Next up was the book of the musical West Side Story, which he envisioned as the hippest way to complement the poetry of the Bard for the unappreciative. The problem was that West Side Story was the musical of our parents’ youth, not ours; when I asked my mother and father if they had the cast album, they both recoiled and told me that under no circumstances would I ever be playing the strains of Bernstein on our hi-fi, because they’d heard quite enough of those songs on the radio when they were in high school and had no intention of ever listening to them again, thank you very much and goodbye.

After two weeks of trying to whip up interest in West Side Story without any success, Mr. Harris finally one day appeared pushing a heavy iron media cart weighed down with a fifty-pound, sixteen-inch television and a massive Betamax player. With great fanfare he dimmed the lights and promised us a treat. From a faux-leather briefcase so shabby we could see the particleboard at the corners underneath, he pulled a homemade videotape. There wasn’t one of us who didn’t expect to be watching the movie of West Side Story for the next couple of hours, as our teacher been rhapsodizing about it so often.

But no. What we watched was a home-taped television special in which “Half Breed” singer Cher announced that she would be performing West Side Story…and playing all the parts herself. We watched a quartet of Chers in dungarees and pompadours warbling about being a Jet all the way, and Cher in a varsity jacket wistfully singing “Something’s Coming,” and Cher in a pinafore seeing that pretty girl in the mirror there, and Cher with a sweat band around her head as Bernardo and in a scarlet dress as Anita. Altogether the segment was only fifteen minutes, but it was an awful lot of Cher, especially when the star’s only fan was Mr. Harris, who basked in the flickering light of the cathode ray tube and mouthed all the words along with his goddess.

No, we didn’t have much respect for Mr. Harris, but it was thanks to him that late in the spring semester I discovered the poetry of Walt Whitman. Mr. Harris loved Walt Whitman even more than he loved Cher in male drag singing the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. One hot afternoon, when the air was so thick and humid that the fans barely stirred it, Mr. Harris read aloud to his handful of drowsy AP teens:

I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for these states, I press with slow rude muscle  

I brace myself effectually, I listen to no entreaties, 

I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me.

I woke up. Never before had I heard a poet write so graphically about sex. The fact that someone had done so a hundred years ago astonished me. By this time in my life I was devoting a good portion of my free hours both hunting for sex and disguising from my parents the fact that I was doing it. In the tearooms and woods and along the riverside where men gathered in the shadows, I’d met hundreds of men who had pressed their rude muscles into me until they deposited what was within—and I’d enjoyed every painful moment of it.

Isolation from my peers was something I was used to. Not once during my school hours did I ever feel accepted within any of the school cliques. I had a handful of friends, but their companionship evaporated after the last bell. And as the only white kid in an otherwise all-black school, my skin color made it impossible to blend in. When from across the century Whitman, in the voice of Mr. Harris, cried, “O you shunned persons! I at least do not shun you/I come forthwith in your midst—I will be your poet,/I will be more to you than to any of the rest,” I felt as if someone who knew me was reaching across the centuries to join his hand with mine. Whitman and I were what he called cameradoes, separated by the years, but still kin.

We two boys together clinging,

One the other never leaving,

Up and down the roads going—North and South excursions making,

Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutching,

Armed and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,

No law less than ourselves owning.

I found an old paperback of Whitman’s poetry among my mother’s books. In an era before the VHS and porn tapes, before chat rooms or websites seething with sexual content, Whitman became my masturbatory material. He made me feel seen, and understood. Abstract as he sometimes could be, I reveled in the earthiest of his verses. I would touch myself as the poet made a catalogue of the masculine that I knew so well from experience:

Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,

Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone,

Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,

Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow never talked about man-balls and man-root, did he, now?

One day during our segment on Whitman, Mr. Harris read from a passage on my own I’d learned well: “I take for my love some prostitute—I pick out some low person for my dearest friend,/He shall be lawless, rude, illiterate—he shall be one condemned by others for deeds done.” I saw the other kids lift their heads from their doldrums. Whitman’s metaphors had eluded them to this point, but the word prostitute could be neither misunderstood nor ignored. Mr. Harris continued. “I will play a part…

But one of the other kids had started to snicker. “He,” said the boy.

Mr. Harris looked up, irritated at being interrupted. “What?”

One of the other freshmen, emboldened to giggle herself, tried to explain. “He picked up a prostitute? And the prostitute’s a guy?”

“Prostitutes are girls,” said someone else.

“Unless he was…you know,” said the first boy, smug in his deduction.

The rest of the class began to titter. I kept my expression neutral and my gaze fixed on the distance, desperate not to be noticed. “Unless he was what?” asked Mr. Harris, sitting up in his seat.

Our teacher’s sentence seemed more dare than question, but the boy didn’t back down. “Unless he was…you know.” With a lazy smile, he looked around the class for support. The girls were openly laughing behind cupped hands at this point, exchanging glances with each other as if they couldn’t believe this discussion was actually happening. Mr. Harris shook his head. “You know,” insisted the boy. “He had to be a…a homo.”

The word had been unleashed. Everyone started laughing hysterically. My chalky skin reddened as I attempted to maintain my still and untouchable expression. The secrets of the poet—of my camerado—lay exposed to scorn, undeniable in their pitiable perversity. What I loved the most in my discovery of Whitman, the very things to which I had pleasured myself as I basked in his verse, were what my peers most despised.

I couldn’t fight for the poet without giving myself away. But surely our teacher, an adult, allegedly an authority, could lay down the law to these scoffers. His obvious love of the poet would rise to the occasion: I was certain he would mount a furious and scathing defense that would not only squelch derision, but would give the class new respect for a man so honest and brazen about his desires..

My expectations were doomed to disappointment, however. “Walt Whitman was absolutely not a…a…homosexual.” Mr. Harris seemed appalled at even having to dignify such an idea with a response. The entire class burst into belly laughs at his discomfiture. “The very idea!” Surrounded by amusement on all sides, I watched with contempt as our teacher sputtered out a lame rebuttal of how Whitman’s imagery reflected his democratic idealism. My show-tune-mouthing, Cher-adoring, slow-rude-muscle-loving instructor—for I knew exactly what Mr. Harris was—had turned Judas on Walt Whitman. Mr. Harris continued to natter on, reducing Whitman’s vital earthiness to abstraction. In his mealy mouth, Whitman’s visceral and physical love for men diminished to a theoretical love for humanity itself; the poet’s same-sex desire he mitigated into a wan metaphor for patriotism.

Finally our teacher looked around the table in disgust. “The nineteenth century was not like today,” he scolded. “Men and women expressed themselves differently among each other. To insinuate that Whitman was…” Mr. Harris couldn’t even bring himself to say the word a second time. “This kind of thinking is beneath all of us.”

That was that. The next day Mr. Harris aborted any more study of Whitman and leaped forward to the next author in our syllabus, never mentioning him again. And I, who had lain awake late nights, reading poetry by the light of my bedside bulb in a hot bedroom and hearing Whitman speak to me in language I understood, as no poet had ever spoken to me before, now assimilated my teacher’s judgment as gospel, and began to doubt my own interpretations.

All throughout my academic career in the nineteen-seventies and eighties I heard similar judgments from other Mr. Harrises. Nineteenth-century stories of women loving women that to me seemed almost carnal in their invocations of attraction would be met with the response of, “Ah, but women’s friendships were expressed in a very different way, a century ago”—an argument historians were also making for even the racy twentieth-century letters between Eleanor Roosevelt and her bosom friend Lorena Hickok. When I was studying for my master’s degree, faculty would dismiss talk about Virginia Woolf’s queerness with, “Well, she was married, you know.” E. M. Forster’s unabashedly queer and romantic novel, Maurice, had only been published a decade before I began college, and the faculty obviously were struggling with how to reconcile it with their beloved Howard’s End and A Passage to India. As with Oscar Wilde, if pressed they would concede that yes, the author was almost certainly and regrettably homosexual…but that little peccadillo had nothing to do with the work.

Even when I was studying for a Ph.D., I managed to keep alive in my brain the dichotomy I’d absorbed in high school. I was adept in picking out the coded signs of queerness in writing—never mind the outright admiration of man-balls and man-root. I’m talking about the hidden signs, the overtones in conversation, the eroticism implied yet never consummated, the elements of exaggerated camp that all whispered to me the author’s disguised inclinations. At the same time, though, I toed the line and parroted what I’d been taught: none of those things mattered. The sexuality does not inform the work. The author isn’t talking about what you think he’s talking about: it’s all part of a grander and more bloodless metaphor.

I knew at heart these things to be untrue. For a deeply romantic or sexual man or woman, desire permeates everything they do—the choices they make, the words they use, the audiences to whom they conceal or expose themselves.

Yet automatically I continued as I’d been instructed.

Even though I haven’t taught literature since the nineties, and although I left higher education behind a good fifteen years ago, I’m annoyed to discover I still have Mr. Harris’ knee-jerk response hardwired in my brain. This is the season when I do a lot of reading; after I’m done tap-tapping away at a keyboard for the day, in the hot late afternoons and warm, breezy evenings I curl up outdoors on a lounge chair with an iced drink and a good book. And for the past few days, I’ve been immersed in a work of LGBT history that I bought a couple of years ago, but never got around until reading for now. The last couple of non-fiction works I’d picked up had been kind of turgid, so I was relieved to find this chronicle lively and intelligent; I’ve been savoring it all week.

The book starts with an assessment of Walt Whitman’s life. Although I laid down my volume of Whitman after Mr. Harris’ passive betrayal, and have only once read him since during a grad school seminar, it was easy to slip back into the poet’s rhythms and worldly imagery. The author of the volume wrote about Whitman’s private notebooks, in which he seemed to record his every sexual partner—all male—and revisited the eroticism of his poetry. I read it with both interest and a recognition that those images were as sensual as I’d thought they were forty years ago. Every new page reminded me of the hot spring when I was fourteen, and thrilling to a poet who seemed to anticipate I would stumble upon him one day.

Yet like an unwanted tic, my brain kept trying to diminish the queerness of the text. I thought: there’s no actual proof that those notebooks were records of sexual trysts, no matter how remarkably they resembled the trick lists I kept in my own teens. I thought: yes, those metaphors might sound like porn, but they’re representative of a larger ideal. I thought: the nineteenth century was a very different time…

Then I’d catch myself doing it, and I’d shake off the intruding admonition like an insect crawling across my skin.

The next chapter was on Mary Hallock Foote, an author and illustrator of the American West, whose torrid correspondence with another woman transcended the mildly romantic terms in which female friends addressed each other a hundred and seventy-five years ago, into something more recognizably sexual. And I automatically thought, reading about it: Well, women’s friendships were expressed a very different way, back then.

And once again, I’d catch myself in that involuntary academic twitch, and I’d hate myself for it.

I’m happy I live in an era in which these matters can be discussed—in which the letters of Foote exist to be studied, and in which Whitman’s notebooks are an open resource instead of a hidden dirty little secret. I’m glad to live in an era in which books can be written about the same-sex physical relationships of these authors, and how they fit into the ways our forerunners lived and loved.

What I dislike is that I grew up in a time when any discussion of queerness was dismissed outright, or reasoned away, or diminished to non-importance. It upsets me to realize that to some extent, while not believing them, I have absorbed enough of these homophobic erasures so that they pop into my brain unbidden, every time I encounter the evidence of same-sex desire from another era.

I don’t welcome these thoughts. I get annoyed every time I realize I’m thinking them. They’re a regrettable outgrowth of the snickers and giggles of my fellow students and the dismissive aspersions of my teachers, and of coming of age in an era when the notion of Pride was still novel to the LGBT community—and unimaginable to anyone outside it.

Those who came before us, whether they were artists or activists or laborers, weren’t mere abstractions. The poets of a hundred and fifty years ago, the writers who died in the World Wars, the thousands upon thousands of young men lost to AIDS—they’re not symbols. They were alive. They were real. They all made love, yearned to be touched. They developed rivalries, had noble visions, made bad choices along with the good. They understood their lives and their needs as well as any of us today. To assume otherwise is patronizing. Offensive, even. If we appreciate the genius of a poet whose words still resonate, we can also acknowledge that he had a weakness for young trade, or that his carnal metaphors may very well celebrate the joys of the flesh and not merely some transcendental ideal. If with one breath we admire a woman who dared to defy patriarchal restraints to become an independent illustrator or a cultural force of her own, how with the next can we condescend to dismiss her same-sex love letters, by implying she didn’t know what she was doing, or how they might look?

I consider myself lucky to escape much of the homophobic indoctrination that affected so many of my generation. No one totally evades the clutches of a society that renders entire populations into second-class citizens, however. Only recently have I begun to appreciate the extent to which being shunned has shaped my life. I was taken aback a couple of years ago when I confronted the realization that I’d deferred in my early twenties making any long-term decisions about my life, simply because I assumed with so many people dying around me from a plague the government refused to address, I wouldn’t have a future to live. Even now, I find myself trying to shrug off an involuntary tic left over from a decade that wouldn’t recognize the truths about a lauded poet, much less allow a queer fourteen-year-old boy to express his own.

One thing I know for sure is that fourteen-year-old me was a survivor. He might have seemed some low person in the face of authorities, but once their backs were turned, he would go his own way and discover the realities behind the bullshit. I don’t waste any time feeling sorry for that kid. He could look out for himself.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Jonah: Part 3

(You may find Part 1 and Part 2 of this essay by following the links.)



1977

Marie’s a little bit country. Donny’s a little bit rock and roll. She’s a little bit of Memphis and Nashville, while he claims to have a little bit of Motown in his soul. It must be a homeopathic, microscopic amount of Motown, I think, as I sit there on the sofa with my arms crossed, because Donny Osmond is the whitest white boy I’ve had to endure on the TV screen. We could be watching Wonder Woman right now. I love Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman—and I’d take her any day, fighting for our rights, in her satin tights, over the bland and corny musical medleys with which the Osmonds bludgeon us.

I don’t get a choice of what we watch when Jonah and I are together, though.

“This is nice,” he declares.

For the third Friday in a row I’m sitting on Jonah’s overstuffed blue sofa. During the musical segment of Donny and Marie, his hand has been patting time midway up my thigh. There’s a commercial break now, though, so it’s acceptable to speak.

I say nothing, though. Instead I continue staring at the small screen perched on the coffee table.

“Don’t you think this is nice?” he repeats. I have no doubt Jonah finds our domestic Friday evenings to his liking. He gets to relax in his home, to watch the TV shows he chooses, to be accompanied by the boy he’s decided to patronize. As if it’s Burger King, he gets to have it his way. Yes, I’m sure he thinks it’s nice.

I don’t, however. I understand he feels that an evening on the sofa watching the most vanilla brand of entertainment available is more suitable an option for me than running feral in the woods. What we’re doing right now, though—and especially the deed I’ll have to be execute sometime in the next few minutes—is the very opposite of nice.

No. I don’t think any of this evening is nice. I’m not in a good mood. But I curl the corners of my lips into a facsimile of a smile, and pretend to be a good boy. I’m rewarded with a squeeze above the knee. The cluster of ads ends. Donny’s back on the screen in a bell-bottomed jumpsuit, so all conversation must cease. Jonah has lowered the blinds on his front windows, but I stare at them, dream of the world outside this suburban foxhole, and wait for time to pass.

Another commercial break. This endless show is almost at an end. Jonah removes his hand from my thigh. Slowly, meaningfully, he settles deep into the cushions. Thirty seconds later, he shifts his weight and unbuckles his belt. He draws his pants and shorts to his knees. I don’t even have to look to know what position he’s assumed. Hands behind his head. Erection pointing to heaven. Legs spread as wide as they’ll go. Eyes resolutely closed.

He hasn’t said a word to frighten me, yet I’m shaking as silently I rise to my feet. When I remove my clothing, I leave it in a tidy pile upon the bare floor, terrified of making a mess. Everything from this point on is up to me; Jonah is just going to sit there, removed and seemingly comatose. I don’t want to find out what might happen if I make him wait too long.

Once I manage to lubricate myself enough to settle down on him easily, bringing him to a climax is usually a swift process. I’ve figured out he doesn’t like to be touched anywhere. I can’t grab on to him for balance as I straddle his legs, or hold his shoulders as I establish a rhythm with my narrow hips. He’ll shrug off my grip with a grimace if I try. I don’t talk. I don’t make contact with my hands. I don’t grunt with pleasure—mostly because I take none from this impersonal coupling. If anything, I have to bite my lip to cope with the pain of his girth when I hit bottom. I never harden, as I might with another man.

Instead I bounce up and down at a steady pace and make no sound. When his head sags back and his jaw loosens, I step up the gyrations a little. I know I’m close whenever he starts aspirating that single word over and over. Pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy…. I hate what I’m doing.Tears form in my eyes the faster I ride; the lump in my throat makes it difficult to swallow. I can’t look at Jonah when he gets close. I have to turn my head and stare at the TV as I pray for this obscenity to end. Since he’s lost in a world behind his tightly-shut eyelids, he doesn’t notice.

When he comes, I halt. There’s no sensuous grind of my hips to milk out the last drops of his deposit. I don’t ask him how it felt. I sit motionless until I feel the last of his pulsations, wait a beat, then hop off. Now it’s up to me to scurry like the sole stagehand changing scenes for a full-scale Broadway production. I run to the kitchen for paper towels, then back to the living room to sop up anything that’s spilled or spotted. I clean him up as best I can. Back to the kitchen to dispose of the soiled wipes, and to remove any traces of semen from my own exterior.

The entire time I’m scampering and cleaning, my anxiety peaks to heights I’ve only experienced when I’m alone with Jonah. Here I’m always racing to an unknown countdown, never once sure how closely I might be cutting it. I don’t even know the severity of the explosion, should I fail—or what form it might take.

Failure is something I don’t want to risk with him.

Finally I’m back to the living room to dress as quickly as I can, compose myself, and settle down on the sofa once more. It’s an effort to regulate my labored breathing. At least I try to silence the rasp I feel deep in my chest. The heart that thuds heavily there, however, I cannot command. Have I succeeded?

After what feels like an eternity, when I’m still, Jonah lowers his arms and lifts his hips. He tucks his shirt into his jeans and fastens his belt. I sense him turn his head and look in my direction, his bristle-brush mustache pulled to one side as he studies me.

But there’s nothing to see here. Save for a wad of paper towels hidden at the bottom of his kitchen waste bin, I’ve been scrupulous to hide all evidence of anything that might or might not have happened between us.

“How about some Rockford Files?” he asks, as he leans forward to turn the channel dial.

I nod. I hate The Rockford Files.



Liars often begin to believe their own fabrications. For months now, constant assurances to my parents have poured sweetly from my lips. I’ve told them I’m heading to study groups that never existed. I’ve made up after-school activities for clubs I never joined. I’ve made up friends to visit, rehearsals at which I needed to be present, events to attend…none of which were in the slightest true.

What am I really telling my mom and dad, with every glib tall tale? That I’m smarter than they, cleverer, completely independent and in control, simply because I am able to get away with a string of shabby deceptions. Nothing in prior months has proven wrong my burgeoning sense of slick superiority.

Lately, though, I haven’t been feeling so smart.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I shouldn’t be visiting Jonah, Friday nights. It’s not enjoyable. There’s no satisfaction in any of the acts I commit for him. I creep to his front door in the dark like a criminal, and slink away two hours later indelibly stained with shame and remorse. The entire time I’m sitting on his sofa, or obeying his unspoken commands with as much speed and silence as possible, I think to myself how wrong it feels.

Yet I keep returning. I feel too small and powerless to refuse. The next time I’ll do better, I resolve. Next time I’ll get it right.

Now I’m lying even to myself.


“I think I should go,” I mumble, during the show’s half-hour block of ads.

When Jonah checks his watch, it’s as if he suspects me of punching out on the clock too early. “Hey, okay,” he says.

I’m peeved by how reasonable he seems whenever he speaks. The first night he’d sat back and silently demanded my services, I’d glimpsed something menacing beneath this surface when I’d lingered too long atop him. I knew about icebergs—how something small floating atop still waters can hide a submerged danger that rips apart and sinks even a mighty ocean liner. There was a tension to Jonah that warned me how tightly-strung was this facade of good will.

“Next Friday, right? Promise? This is a lot better than…you know. You haven’t been there, have you?”

Every day I’ve wanted to hit the park where Jonah and I met. I’m missing Bryan Park’s parade of nighttime hunters. I yearn for the quiet camaraderie of the regulars. What happens if I sneak to the park on an off-night, however, and Jonah catches me there? Evasion is the foundation of this game I’ve been playing out of the sight of my parents and teachers. Not getting caught is winning; easy sex is first prize. I can’t even contemplate visiting the park without every instinct shouting to keep away, to avoid arousing Jonah’s suspicions. But I can shake my head with a clear conscience: I haven’t been to Bryan Park since the night we evaded the police patrol.

“Good.” His amity seems precariously balanced on my answer. For now, though, I’m safe. “That place is bad news,” he says, not for the first time. “Those men are deeply disturbed. They’re mental degenerates. You don’t want to be associated with that kind. You know.” The gesture only lasts a second, but he lifts his arm and lets his hand dangle at the wrist. “Right?”

I recognize the implication. I’m enraged. I already dislike being lectured in this tone, whether from Jonah or my parents or a teacher, when already I’ve adhered to every letter of their laws. On top of his condescension, though, Jonah’s hypocrisy galls me. I might be a liar, I might be a queer, a mental degenerate, but I’m not stupid. Jonah is as much of one of those limp-wristed fags in the park as any of the men he’s slandering. We both are.

I know better, though, than to risk steering toward the danger that sleeps beneath his placid waters. What’s one small concession to keep from arousing his ire? I let him have this little victory, just to keep the peace.

“Yeah,” I agree. “I don’t want to be a….” I trail off. Practiced liar though I am, I can’t say the word aloud. He knows what I mean.

“That’s right.” He sounds genuinely happy to hear my pledge. “You and me,” he says, thumping me mid-thigh. “That’s all either of us needs. Right?”


Jonah is not all I need. Bryan Park is not the only place to find it. As early as the week after the State Fair, I’ve returned to cruising substitute spots around the city I’ve found others like me. The main branch of the public library downtown might require a trip on a city bus, but once I’m out of the modernized fluorescent glare of the new stacks and into the quiet depths of its stone-walled original building, I can sidle into the basement men’s room. There the two stalls accommodate a discreet and steady flow of older men anxious to kneel on the tiles and slide their hips beneath the marble partition for my welcoming mouth. When I’m bored of the library, I can meander two blocks down Franklin to the Jefferson Hotel. The lobby restroom is spacious and quiet. Though it’s cruised by fewer men, it’s easier there for two (or more) to cram into a single stall.

When I don’t want to take the bus, all I need to do is hitch a ride with one of my parents to the university for a buffet of abundant sex. The Hibbs Building, where I’d taken my first anonymous cock the year before, has one of the cruisiest men’s rooms right outside the second-floor cafeteria. The second floor of the library also entertains a constant stream of faculty and students anxious to get off as quickly as possible in the three grimy stalls hidden behind two creaking doors. And of course there’s the ziggurat of pleasure, the Business Building, with its multiple stories of tearooms riddled, like Swiss cheese, with gloryholes.

Bryan Park might have been the easiest cruising spot within reach of my home, but it’s not the only park to play in. Twice in the last three weeks I’ve ignored my parents’ long-standing orders about not biking across Broad Street and into the Fan district, to navigate to Byrd Park. It’s a more dangerous ride along narrow streets that attract heavy traffic, but it’s worth the risk once again to walk in the dark beneath a canopy of stars and branches as I search for the glint of watchful eyes. Byrd Park doesn’t have the same compact cluster of action that its Northside neighbor attracts, but closer to the water men lean against trees, or puff on cigarettes along the river walk, hoping that someone might saunter by and linger a moment, before they both evaporate with the smoke into the wooded shadows.

I don’t have a curfew—why would a good boy with straight As, who never gets into trouble, need a curfew? But I fret my nighttime ventures down the Boulevard to Byrd Park push the limits of what even my lenient mom and dad find acceptable. Both times I’ve arrived back home after ten-thirty, panting from the four-mile bike ride, innocent apologies dripping from my lips (“Oh? I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was that late”). The backpack full of books I bear (which I’d left in the bushes on departure, to be claimed again on my return) provide a plausible alibi. My sterling reputation seals the deal. What else would a study-obsessed, Sunday-school-attending, social nobody like me possibly be doing on a Friday night?

My first venture to a tearoom after meeting Jonah feels like treachery. In the basement of the public library, as I hunch over my knees so I might observe the man sitting in the stall next to mine tap his toe, my heart jackhammers not entirely from excitement, but at the notion I’m somehow playing Judas to Jonah. I’ve forgotten him a few minutes later when the stranger fills my mouth with semen, though. When another pair of shiny loafers strides into the stall moments after that, I’m feeling next to no guilt when I raise the tip of my sneaker and initiate a tap.

I might have felt trepidation the first time I left my dad’s office with claims I intended to study in the university library, only to spend the next few hours manning the gloryholes in the Business Building. Yet every time the adjacent stall door opens to admit someone new, every time I beckon with my crooked index finger after I witness the unzipping of a man’s jeans, then lick my lips as I press them close to the round opening carved into the partition, the less disquiet about cheating on Jonah I feel.

This is what feels right to me—these brief amatory transactions between strangers. I need to hear the whisper of good boy in my ear from the bald and bespectacled man in a suit, deep in the plush recesses of the Hotel Jefferson men’s room. I long for the feel of a grateful caress as a nameless fellow wipes away the last traces of his excitement from my lips and cheek. I stiffen with desire when a bearded pair of lips presses against mine through an embouchure hacked into the particleboard separating toilets. When a thin man in his sixties lifts my shirt and runs trembling hands with appreciation and gratitude all over my skinny body by the banks of the James, even in the dark I know I am seen. I know I am wanted.

Betrayal becomes easy. Like lying, each act of sexual treason begets another. My first week cruising anywhere but the park has me looking over my shoulder, almost afraid Jonah might show up and catch me in the act. I’m annoyed by the restriction Jonah has set on me, but for some reason I accept it.

By week two, I’ve convinced myself I’m not doing anything wrong. Had Jonah said anything about not visiting other parks? Nope. Had he forbidden me from performing sexual acts for strangers in restrooms? He might not have had the imagination or experience to know he should…but he hadn’t, and therefore I wasn’t violating his request.

In private, Jonah should have been totally relaxed and open with me. With the door shut and the blinds drawn, he could have been the man he truly was, abandoning all pretense between us. There's no need for either of us to pretend we’re above the fray in which we’d met.

During this third Friday, though, the man has cast aspersions I can’t forget. Those men who had shown nothing but kindness and gratitude to me, mental degenerates? Those older sexual outlaws who’d educated me in whispers, out there in the dark woods, who’d taught me how to recognize the warning signs of those intruding on the innocent pleasures in which I and my brothers of the night indulged, bad men? The burly, bearded, muscular redneck who spends his Thursday evenings pressing me to his side, my narrow fingers curled in his paw, as he whispers the words of engagement to a thumb war—a pansy? As my dad would bellow during an Orioles game after a ref’s bad call, bullshit.

Bullshit. The adult word feels good on my tongue. I mouth it again and again that night, biking home. My hole aches on my father’s narrow bicycle seat, every bump causing a searing pang in my guts, because of Jonah’s bullshit. I’ve been frittering away good alibis the last three Friday nights for bullshit. I’ve wasted the last of the autumn’s good weather, all on bullshit.

For the past year I’ve been exploring the stuff of which I’m made. I’m trying to measure the size of me, my capability—I’m discovering that each new boldness makes me bigger. Stronger. By night, or in the seclusion of the spaces where men like me gather, I grow confident. Competent. Happy in myself. Away from the eyes of family I can shape and mold myself however I please. I feel grown up when I’m on my own, with my brethren. It’s the one time I get to make my own choices.

Not until this night do I realize how Jonah has been tamping the abundance of me into too small a mold. One sneer from Jonah, one limp and dangling wrist, one implied slur, is all it takes for me to remember that the whole of myself is much, much bigger than the tiny space in which he wants to wedge me.

So yes, I’m a liar. I’m deceitful. Maybe I’m a mental degenerate. It’s probably too late to turn back from a future as a confirmed faggot. Yet no matter how tough a road it proves, and no matter how long it takes, on this night I am grimly determined to make peace with those things, so I don’t end up a sad excuse of a man sitting in my living room at the age of thirty-five, watching Donny and Marie, eyes closed, pretending to be anything or anywhere else.

Jonah has made a mistake. His bullshit has made me angry. He hasn’t aroused a child’s tantrum that’s loud and furious as it plays out, yet quick to evaporate and even more swiftly forgotten. His insults have awoken my first mature rage, as deep and ugly as anything he himself might be harboring within.



It’s the Friday after Halloween. The warm weather is holding out. Since it’s November, the school custodians had turned off the air conditioning the week before, and we’d roasted in the classrooms all day. And here I am with that same t-shirt I’d sweat into earlier, wadded up and stuffed beneath my skull as a makeshift pillow. I’m lying atop a picnic table in Bryan Park after dark, and its splinters are digging into my back.

The park is seeing a busy night. The unseasonably warm autumn weather has prompted more men than usual to make the trek to the Henrico/Richmond border. Men cluster in small groups around the periphery of the shelter. I’d arrived shortly before seven. I’d left home making promises about not staying out too late, my backpack of books prepared for concealment behind my family’s apple tree, fully intending to bike over to Jonah’s house for a fourth miserable evening. Some perverse impulse, however, made me slant my bike onto Bryan Park drive rather than continue to the Lakeside neighborhood where I was expected.

It hadn’t been an easy decision. Sexual anticipation always hit my stomach with a punch as I approach the woods. Tonight, though, the impact is doubled, knowing I’m deliberately choosing not to show up at Jonah’s for another night of bland television and sex that makes me feel dirty and ashamed. I hadn’t forgotten my mantra of bullshit from the week before. I knew spending another evening at Jonah’s would be the same bullshit that had angered me the week before, followed by more prohibitions against the park. I knew going to Jonah’s place would be the wrong choice to make.

But I’m a punctual kid, proud of my promptness. I’m the child who nearly had a meltdown when once my mom was away and my dad accidentally let me oversleep. Even though he’d hand-delivered me to first grade only fifteen minutes late with apologies to the teacher, I felt his tardiness betrayed my personal flaws. I’m the good boy who’s never been late to a piano lesson, who’s always followed through with his commitments…and here I am, deliberately skipping out on a pre-arranged date to tramp around the very place forbidden to me.

I recognize this isn’t mere discourtesy. It’s active rebellion. And although the stress of it churns my guts more than I’d like on a night I intend to bottom for as long as I can hold out, this act of insurrection is deliberate and focused. It’s what I need right now.

One of the advantages to being so long gone from the scene, I find, is that I’m new meat once again. Almost immediately when I sit down on a bench, men with unzipped trousers head in my direction, already stroking their engorged cocks, to joust for my attention. I start with one in my hand and one in my mouth. Soon I feel someone coaxing me by the hips to stand; someone pulls down my pants. I’m still deep-throating the dick of a man in garage overalls when I feel a tug at my elastic waistband, and my briefs yanked down. Fingers probe my smooth crack. I groan when someone I can’t see begins sliding his spit-slick cock into my hole.

One dick sodomizes my mouth, another my ass. One of the two men inside me, or perhaps someone else, yanks savagely at my tits, making me yelp with erotic pain. There’s enough light from the quarter moon that when I force my eyes up, I can see the ferocious smirk on the garageman’s face. He’s loving having a sexy boy on his dick. Whoever is rabbiting away at me from behind finishes and pulls out; another cock rapidly replaces him. It’s thicker, larger. I gasp with an open mouth, prompting the stranger in the overalls to seize my jaw with one hand while he beats himself off with the other. Seed hits my face, spilling upward into my nostrils, dripping down my cheeks and chin. The man in the uniform pulls his dick back through his fly, zips, and leaves without a word.

The fellow with the large dick flips me onto the picnic table. I recognize him immediately. He’s a semi-regular, a slick married Son of the South with a drawl as thick as his meat. He always arrives in business attire, or as if he’s stopping by after a church social. “You like that sweet dick in your pussy, honey?” he asks, as he pounds away without mercy.

“Fuck it,” I beg. “Fuck it hard.”

I’m feeling no remorse about my decision. This is where I’m supposed to be. Right here is where I should always have been. There’s no place like Bryan Park after dark. Even as I float along on a tide of carnal bliss, touched by unknown hands and kissed by tobacco-scented mouths that never before have even so much as spoken to me, I make a promise to myself that I won’t ever again allow someone to run me off from this place.

How many cocks enter me during the next few minutes? I lose count. All I know is that I’m speared on a stranger’s log when my head dangles over the edge of the table and my eyes open. Upside down, through my glasses, I see him. Hands on his hips, toward the back. Still wearing a white shirt, though no tie. His curly hair is tousled. I can tell by the way his mustache has obscured his tightly-pressed lips that he’s enraged.

Our eyes meet.

Instinctively I want to pretend I didn’t see him, to shrink in on myself, to disappear. At least to be swallowed by the night, where I can hide.

Instead, though, I choose to fight for what’s mine. I elongate like a cat waking from a sunlit nap. My hips rise up; my legs stretch wide. My back arches. The makeshift pillow of my t-shirt falls to the cement as my shoulders scrape over the table’s edge, but I don’t feel pain. 

If I’ve been learning the measure of myself through boldness, in this moment I am swelling to a psychic size greater than I have ever felt. When I reach my own limits, I borrow from the recklessness of every man surrounding me. I gather energies from every hunter who has ever crept into this forbidden glade to drop his pants by the light of the moon. I draw strength from the confidence of all my accomplices gathered in these shadows tonight.

I become enormous. Taller than the State Fair Ferris wheel. I am the giant at the top of the beanstalk. I am Kong. As my revenge I could so easily clutch Jonah like Fay Wray in one of my colossal fists. What sadistic pleasure I would take in showing him what it’s like to squeezed, and squeezed, and diminished beyond endurance.

Instead, my revenge is sly. It’s cruel, and calculated.

All I have to is smile.

I speak volumes with that smile. Here I am, Jonah. In the park. Where you told me not to go. Are you watching me now?

So clearly do I broadcast my message that he staggers backwards, away from me, away from everyone. Someone joining the group mistakes him for one of us, and reaches questing fingers toward the crotch of Jonah’s jeans; Jonah recoils and shoves away the man’s hand with unexpected brutality.

I know I’m getting to him. His obvious discomfort goads me to new heights of arrogance. My smile becomes a sneer. Let Jonah gaze upon me, I think to myself. Let him see without blinking exactly why I prefer this twilight no-man’s land rather than the purgatory of his ugly, overstuffed blue sofa.

I choose this place, these men, I tell him through my unwavering scrutiny. My mouth parts slightly with pleasure, but no sound emerges. It feels, though, that in my sheer enormity I’m roaring my repudiation. I do not choose you.

Jonah hadn’t looked at me in weeks during our grim couplings. Now he cannot play dead. He’s seeing me splayed out on a grubby, weathered slab of wood, manhandled by one of the dozens of deeply disturbed men who’ve come out to exercise their perversions on a warm November evening. He’s seeing what his pet truly is: a queer taking anonymous dick. He’s witnessing a mere faggot mock his timidity.

I’ll just let Jonah wonder what gratifies me most—a stranger’s big cock, or the barbaric pleasure I derive in forcing him to observe how one mental degenerate fucks another. What’s he going to do? Fight these pansies off me? I don’t think so. Let him see the pride I take in the gratification I both give and receive.

“Jerk me.” I’m surprised my command sounds so authoritative, my voice so deep. The man fucking me immediately obeys, stroking my little dick at a rapid pace. I’m close. I lift my head and crane it around, so I can see Jonah more or less upright. The look of shock and pain on his face is so naked and unconcealed that for a moment I feel hesitant—but then that anger I’ve been carrying around flares up once more. Fuck that bullshit. I’m not the one who should be ashamed. “Harder,” I grunt, heaving my hips in rhythm with the man’s thrust. I’m going to force Jonah to watch my climax. “Jerk it harder.”

“I’m not close,” the strange top complains mildly.

“Keep fucking,” I demand, relishing the last word as I spit it out. He keeps fucking, just as I’ve ordered him, while I erupt. I am not shooting much, but the orgasm racks my body. My convulsions shudder the wood and steel of the table beneath me. My eyes close as I flop and spasm; my hole gapes, welcoming deeper within the cock invading me.

When I open my eyes again, and look at the upside-down crowd, he’s gone. Jonah has fled the park. Although I’m still panting with exertion, I know anyone looking at me right then sees an expression of triumph writ plain on my face.

This is the night that I get the measure of how much I’ve grown in the last year. I preen at the substantiality. I am the vanquisher. I’m the feral tomcat who’s pissed on his property to mark it as his own. I celebrate my victory by surrendering back to my brothers what I’ve borrowed—that boldness, the fearlessness, the pride in I am and what I can be—and gratefully dissolve once more into the mass of seething flesh determined to take pleasure where and while it can.



1981

My dad has such poor eyesight that to read, even wearing his prescription glasses, he needs to hold the paper up to his nose in order to make out what it says. To anyone else, it must look as if he’s pressing the page against his face. “Bedsheets, twin size. We got bedsheets, twin size. Study…lamp. We got a study lamp. Laundry…basket.”

“I have a little laundry basket at home,” I tell him, as I lean heavily on the metal cart between us.

We’re standing in the middle of Woolco on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a department store that’s seen much better days, but it’s close to home and we’re only looking for a few cheap housewares. The store’s air conditioning is barely working, which in the middle of August is making for a sticky shopping trip. “Mini…refrigerator…optional.” My dad lowers the paper and peers over the top. “Do you require an optional mini refrigerator for your dorm room?”

The college I’ll be attending in two weeks has sent to all incoming freshmen a list of dormitory essentials. I’m already beginning to doubt how much of what I apparently need we’ll be able to squeeze into our seventeen-year-old Dodge Dart, especially on top of the clothing and books and journals I’ll already be taking with me. The notion of strapping a mini-refrigerator onto the rattling old car and its bundles brings up visions of the Ozark Clampett family loadin’ up the truck and movin’ to Beverly…Hills, that is. “I don’t need a mini refrigerator….” I start to say.

But then I trail off, arrested by a glimpse of a face that passes by at the end of the aisle. There’s a memory, there. Is the man someone I’ve met in the tearooms? I mean, I could swing a proverbial cat in any public place and probably hit a half-dozen of those. Recollection tickles at the base of my brain, and I begin wandering in the direction of the check-out lines.

My father’s back to studying the list once more. “Towels,” he announces. “Hand, bath, washcloth.” Then, seeing that I’ve abandoned my station, he peers around to find me and calls my name.

“I’ll be just a second,” I tell him. “Stay there.”

The fellow I’m following has his back to me as he pushes a half-full cart toward the registers. His hair is auburn, slightly curly. He’s wearing a polyester-blend short-sleeved dress shirt. I know this man, I’m sure, but I can’t quite place where or when….

I make the connection when he joins someone standing by the first checkout. A pretty young woman of about thirty, plump, wearing a sun dress and practical heels, sets her celebrity magazine back onto the rack and puts her hand lightly on his arm. It’s when the stranger almost flinches away from her touch, before he remembers himself and gives the woman a quick peck on the cheek, that a name floats into my mind.

Jonah.

I should have recognized him immediately. That wavy hair, the bristle-brush mustache. Jonah was that asshole who’d made me feel badly about going to the park, all those years ago. His solidity has gone slightly soft over time. Silver threads glisten among his curls. The woman pulls back his cart so that he can step in front of it, to unload its contents on the checkout conveyor belt. There’s a swelling beneath her dress I hadn’t noticed before; she’s pregnant. And he’s wearing a ring on his finger.

I stand at the end of my aisle, putting pieces together, when Jonah says something to his wife. His eyes look at, then past her, catching mine. They linger a moment, without recognition. And I realize that for quite some time, I’ve been holding my breath.

I step back, out of sight. Has he really not recollected me? It’s true that four years has made me lankier and taller—I’d tower over Jonah if I approached him. I’m wearing contact lenses for which I’d been fitted a mere month before, as part of my college self-reinvention. My hair—well, I’ve had it trimmed above the ears, so it no longer hangs to my neckline as a canopy around my face—but I still think of it as hopeless. Maybe at seventeen I’ve achieved my goal of distancing myself from that awkward, stringy-haired, bespectacled thirteen-year-old kid.

My curiosity is too great. I look around the end of the aisle once more. Almost immediately, I catch Jonah’s eye once again. While he moves housewares from cart to counter, he’s staring past his pretty young pregnant wife to contemplate me. His face is without expression. If anything, he looks tired.

Maybe he recognizes me—maybe all he sees is a skinny kid, the type of boy of which he only permits himself to dream when he’s alone with his eyes tightly closed. It’s possible I’m projecting my own long-forgotten grudge against the man onto the blank slate of his dull eyes. Jonah seems defeated.

I’ve seen enough.

My dad barely acknowledges my return. “Shower caddy?” he asks, still peering at the dorm room list. “What in the world is a shower caddy?”

It’s been a four long years since I’ve thought about the night I triumphed over Jonah. Those powers I’d unleashed before him—of choice, of standing my ground—had felt so alien in my hands, so outsized and mammoth in proportion to how small I considered myself. Then that surge of potential I’d summoned before his eyes, when I lay naked beneath that quarter moon, had ebbed when he’d fled—but it hadn't dissolved. Merely receded.

As I feel it thrum anew once again, deep within, I realize how essential this power has become to my very being. That capability of determination, of picking my own way forward instead of settling for what’s safe and nice, is a weapon I first unsheathed against Jonah on a November night when I was thirteen, but also one I have wielded every day since. True, sometimes its cruel blade could bite. But in a world of raised fists and dangers sometimes more sensed than seen, I trust it to protect me.

I take the list from my father, relieving him of having to unspool its mysteries. “I think I’m ready.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Jonah: Part 2

1977

In Bryan Park, nights of the week have distinct flavors. Friday is the smorgasbord of different tastes, when men of all stripes venture into the park’s dark heart seeking anonymous sex to start the weekend. Sunday is for the hard-core, the hunters determined to get laid who don’t care that they have to get up early the next morning to start their work weeks, or who don’t have a job to get up for. Mondays are the quietest night for cruising, mostly attended by regulars who all know each other’s names—or at least the names we’re willing to make up and share among ourselves. It’s on Mondays that the fucking in the picnic shelter is at its most unhurried. Maybe it’s even the sweetest and most intimate, given the circumstances

And Thursdays. Thursdays can be fucking wild. For years, Thursdays have been the party night for Richmond’s working class. Starting in the mid-afternoons, the lots and picnic areas lining Bryan Park’s main drive begin filling with battered pickup trucks, back windows blocked by rebel flags. Tricked-out motorcycles roar into the front of the park, along with a chorus of Mustang engines. GTOs prowl the wandering route, emblazoned with Confederate bumper stickers. Summer Thursdays were a redneck Riviera in Bryan Park. The trees would echo with Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring from scores of car 8-tracks. Long-haired bikers drank beers from brown paper bags, while tattooed devils spat onto the ground puddles colored the shade of licorice, by a cheekful of Red Man. The cops would constantly circle the park’s main drive on Thursdays, breaking up fights, searching for alcohol on display, sniffing for the acrid scent of pot.

Late Thursday nights, after the cops cleared the park at dusk, some of the rednecks would linger on the side streets until it was quiet enough to go cruising. I loved the weekly hillbilly invasion. Some of the regulars would stay away on Thursdays, fearing trouble. Yet I’ve never experienced anything but desire from these strutting, surprisingly soft-hearted men. Their cruising techniques are clumsy—they’d simply drop their pants in the shelter and masturbate until someone like me would sidle over on his knees to take care of them. When they fucked, they didn’t bother with foreplay—they’d spit and they’d shove.

But the small number of good ol’ boys who make the migration from the front of the park to the back are kind to me, in their knockabout way. They’ll suggest I sip their beers or ply me with harder liquor, then only laugh with good nature when I decline the offer. One will make wagers on thumb-fights with me and deliberately lose. I suspect he does so for the sheer pleasure of holding my hand and slipping me his dollar bills. These rugged souls all tell me how pretty I am, how good I make them feel, which of course any attention-starved and horny eighth grader loves to hear. Some of them will sit with me, in their post-ejaculatory goodwill, with a crook of their arm around my neck, and whisper drunken endearments beneath the stars.

I like Thursday nights.

I like all the flavors of the week in the city park that’s a mere two miles from home. But a few days ago I’d promised Jonah I’d keep away from the cruising area until I saw him again. I’m desperately trying to stick to my word. I’ve been spending my early evenings at home, in my room, trying not to think about what I might be missing. I try to read my books and pound out stories on my manual typewriter. I make an LED light up from a labyrinth of wires in my electronics set and I listen to classical LPs on the stereo. I grind my constant teen erections into my mattress and try not to think about what I might be missing, during those long still-warm nights.

My parents, unaccustomed to having me underfoot in the hours before primetime TV, ask me if I’ve had a falling-out with my friends. They seem to accept a weak excuse about schoolwork. When I remind them that I’ve been invited to accompany my friend Adam and his family to the State Fair that upcoming Friday night, they nod, as if they’d forgotten something I’d never before told them.

I’ve become a virtuoso at lying. Sweet as I am, the fair-haired golden boy of my family, almost every word I’ve uttered to my parents over the last year has been heavy with calculated manipulation. The State Fair is a deception I’ve concocted to meet Jonah. It’s a rare enough event that my parents won’t expect me home early. My friend Adam Bogdanovich lives in a chaotic household with two professional parents and seven older brothers and sisters; I know from experience that my own folks consider the anarchy of the Bogdanovich household so extreme that they won’t expect minutiae of my itinerary. It’s unlikely that they’d ever telephone Adam’s parents. My parents never have—and there’s no way they can contact me at the fair.

Ever since I’d started hunting for sex in the park the year before, I’ve only encountered minor impediments in my visits. Bad weather, sometimes. Cold, during the winter months. Occasionally I did have a report I had to complete, or a nighttime band concert, or a play rehearsal run long, but it was unheard-of that I’d voluntarily keep away from my secret life for an entire seven days. As this week grinds on, I find abstaining more and more difficult. I jerk off plenty. Jonah hadn’t asked me to keep my hands off myself. After dark I abuse my pussy with my round-handled hairbrush, but its rigidity and sharp leading edge afford none of the pleasure of a man’s cock.


I don’t know how, but I’ve gotten through the week. I’ve somehow endured Friday’s school day, despite the mechanical wall clocks contorting each second into an eternity. I’ve rushed home from the school bus, I’ve walked the dog, I’ve taken a shower. Normally when my parents are still out teaching in the late afternoons, making the family meal is my responsibility. I’ve contrived a quick casserole from a box of Rice-a-Roni, a can of mushrooms, and a pound of ground beef. It sits in a dish in the nearly-cool oven, awaiting their arrival. Even as I rush to meet an adult for a night of sex that’s both illicit and illegal, I’m maintaining the fictional narrative of a good, responsible son.

Now I’m waiting nervously near a bus stop on Brook Road, halfway between my home and A. H. Robins. This is the spot that Jonah told me he’d pick me up tonight. Brook is my parents’ route home from the university; neither is due to make that drive for another hour, but I’m already weighing possible excuses on the off chance they catch me standing here. I feel guilty, somehow. Do I look guilty? Is my face flushed red? Do I have the posture and demeanor of someone up to no good? What am I going to do when he arrives? How am I supposed to act? Was I going to have to make small talk? Small talks mortifies me—I’m convinced what little I have to say is much, much too small for anyone older than myself.

Another, darker thought occurs to me. What am I going to do if he doesn’t arrive?

What if he’s late? What if he forgets, or reconsiders our…I don’t want to think of it as a date. He’s told me it’s not a date. Jonah has absolutely no way of contacting me if something happens with his schedule, though. Or if he changes his mind about me. I could be stuck standing here at the corner of Brook and Sherwood for hours. How long was it polite to wait around? I had no idea. After all week building up the night with the Bogdanoviches at the fair, how would I concede to my parents that the big event had fallen through?

I am taking a major risk with this evening. I’ve mastered the routines of my usual cruising spots—the ebb and flow of men through the trees at the parks I visit, the sounds of doors and footsteps in the tearooms with gloryholes, the warning alerts of intruders at the public library restrooms. In those domains I felt safe. Powerful, even. In control. Why was I even trying anything different?

What unnatural hold did Jonah have over me, anyway? Am I denying myself nighttime sex at the park just because he’d been momentarily kind in a moment of crisis? Was I taking risks to go home with him because he’d said I should—and as a kid, I obey because I do what adults tell me? Grown-ups are supposed to know better than I. Yet some nagging thought remains that maybe I shouldn’t be taking direction from someone likely to endanger the protective nest I’ve constructed for myself, twig by twig, from whitewashed fibs and soft soap, spun together by careful deceit.

I want to flee back home, but fear roots my feet. Fear of having to come up with new ways to deceive my parents for not meeting my friend Adam. Fear of not seeing what comes next. And, I suppose, a fear of…disappointing the man? In the end, none of it matters. One minute shy of the appointed time, I see a familiar truck turning at the traffic light, and heading in my direction. Curly chestnut hair. Broad shoulders. Red necktie. It’s him.

This is one of those last moments, I realize, that I still have the agency to decide in what direction the rest of the night will go. But the conclusion is already foregone. When the truck pulls to a stop in front of me and Jonah leans over with a nod to open the passenger door from the inside, I hop in. What am I going to do? Run away? And have him chase me down the street, calling my name through an open window? Hardly.

How do these things work? These...not-dates? I don’t know. I’m used to having sex in public places; I haven’t been climbing into other men’s cars yet. Not to drive anywhere, at least. Maybe I should follow his lead. Jonah hasn’t yet spoken, so I remain equally as silent. My eyes keep darting to the left, trying to scrutinize his expression. He’s got his left hand on the steering wheel. His right curls loosely on the seat beside his thigh. Should I reach out for him?

In the end, I do nothing. He doesn’t speak until we’re past the Seminary. “I worried you might not show up.”

I really want to say something jovial, something clever, but I’m so painfully shy that nothing comes out.

We drive on for a moment more until we reach a red light. This stretch of Brook Road is rarely busy. Once he’s looked around and made sure there aren’t any cars around us, he lifts his right hand from the seat and runs it through my long blond hair. “Hi,” he says.

I’m blushing furiously when I reply, “Hi.” My juvenile boner is tucked at an awkward angle in my pants that’s causing me actual pain. I’m terrified of shifting too obviously to relieve the discomfort, though. I’m hyperaware how silly it is, after this man has witnessed me taking anonymous cock in the near-darkness, to be worried about him seeing a sudden tent in my cords.

The light changes. He directs his attention once more to the road, but leaves his hand resting on my thigh. His fingers nestle close to my crotch, but they don’t explore. The warmth from him comforts me enough that when he turns west onto Laburnum, I venture a question. “Where do you live?”

“Lakeside,” he tells me. We’re going in the opposite direction of Lakeside, though. Lakeside is the area of Henrico County next to Bryan Park, where we’d met. Lakeside is the pretty little suburban area where I’d lived until my parents had moved us into our current home in the city. We definitely are not heading to Lakeside. As if I’d actually spoken my unasked question, he continues, “I thought you deserved a little bit of good old-fashioned fun for a change. So how about we hit the State Fair tonight? You and me? Is that okay?”

I’m a kid who overanalyzes everything, It doesn’t take much thought to sense the rebuke in his statement. For a change? Old-fashioned fun? As opposed to what, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah? At the same time, though, I’m pleased with how my falsehoods to my parents manifested an actual trip to the fair. It’s almost as if, minor details aside, I hadn’t lied at all.



I love the Virginia State Fair. I’d first been as a Cub Scout, when my troop had made yearly daytime visits for the 4-H livestock exhibits, with side trips to the exhibition tents, where gingham-laden picnic tables held an abundance of home-canned and baked goods. It wasn’t until I was older that I was able to discover the magic of the midway at night—and that was with my parents. Here I am for the very first time at the fair with someone who isn’t involved in scouting, who isn’t my parent, and (I hoped) who will be taking me home and making love to me later this night.

I haven’t come out with any money, even the ten-dollar bill my dad had given me for the trip with the Bogdanoviches—I haven’t really expected to need any. Jonah gallantly saves me from having to explain my lack of funds by paying for my entry without hesitation, although there is an awkward moment when he has to murmur and ascertain my age, to see whether or not I qualify for the ’12-and-under’ admission. But here we are, under the magical bulbs and neon of the midway, surrounded by the pleasant din of people enjoying themselves.

“You hungry?” Jonah asks. “I didn’t get dinner.” I haven’t eaten either; that casserole I’d made for my parents hadn’t tempted my nervously roiling stomach, earlier. Jonah quickly maneuvers us from booth to booth, accumulating a tray full of his favorites. An elephant ear. A cardboard tray of triangular corn chips covered with melted cheese, something I’ve never had before that’s called ‘nachos.’ A couple of Italian sausages smothered in aromatic peppers and onions. Two red-hots with mustard. Chocolate milkshakes. His adroit ordering saves me the embarrassment of having to choose. It’s a kindness for which I’m almost painfully grateful. Left to my own devices, I likely would have spent a half-hour visiting all the booths and obsessed over the prices before I chose the single, most inexpensive thing on the menus.

We consume the feast at a picnic table, sitting side by side. Ever now and again he’ll lean into me, ever so slightly. I don’t pull away. I like the feel of this man. His solidity. Every nudge reminds me that yes, this handsome man sits beside me, and yes, I am getting all his attention.

I shiver whenever he turns his head and smiles. Last week he’d claimed we wouldn’t be going on a date, but this very much feels like a date. The first date of my life, in fact. We are somewhere novel. We’re eating together. He’s paying. I feel as if I’m being squired to the fair by an unexpected knight. As much as I worry that every person who passes us casts their eyes our way and recognizes me as an immoral youth and him as a pederast, I like the novelty too much of being next to him, of feeling his warmth and focus, to care overmuch.

I’ve never had a buffet of junk food from the fair before. When I’d come here with the scouts, we’d eaten boxed lunches the den mothers had bought at Sally Bell, in the campgrounds close to the animal exhibits; my parents might have allowed me a corn dog on our visits, but otherwise thought the food prices prohibitive. Same with the midway rides—too much of a liability for a scout troop. Too expensive for frugal college professors.

Jonah thinks nothing, though, of buying a yard’s-length of midway tickets and letting me choose how to exhaust them. We’re tossed around by the Octopus, then nearly lose our dinners on the circular Avalanche. We chase each other in the house of mirrors, laughing hysterically every time we think we’ve caught up with the other only to bang hard into a shimmering reflection. In the haunted house ride, we sit in a tiny two-person car knee to knee, hip to hip.

“Don’t let your son fall out of the car, now,” says the bored ride operator, as we begin to vanish into the tunnel.

“I won’t,” promises Jonah with an easy smile. He puts his arm around my shoulder like a dad might. I’m glad the darkness hides my furious blushes.

Toward the end of the spool of tickets, we board the Ferris wheel. It doesn’t stand at a grand height—this is only the Virginia State Fair, after all. But I’ve never been on a Ferris wheel before. As we round the top, the brilliance of the midway below captivates me. I can see Laburnum, with its steady stream of headlamps, and the twinkling lights of the neighborhood beyond. Everything seems so beautiful, this high up.

I rest my arms flat on the car’s side, and rest my chin where my hands meet. As I gaze out upon the poetry of the lights and listen to the warring cacophony of music from all the nearby rides, I feel Jonah’s hand upon my back. It rests between my shoulder blades for a moment, then rubs a path up and down my spine. It’s the sweetest and most romantic a man has ever been with me, until that point. My history of dishonesty is paying off. I never want this moment to end.

But after five minutes, the ride begins to slow and stop as it lets off the old passengers and accepts new. We’re about halfway down when he leans close to me and murmurs in my ear, “How about the two of us go back to my place for a little bit?”

Abuzz with happiness, I nod. He smiles to himself, settles back in the set, and keeps his hand on my shoulder until the ride operator opens the cage to let us out. “You and your boy have a good night, sir,” he says.

Jonah keeps his touch on the small of my back as he steers me in the direction of the steps leading down to the dust and dirt of the midway. “We will,” he promises.


Jonah’s apartment is—well. It’s not what I expect. I’m not exactly acquainted with many apartments of single grown men. My dad’s college roommate Larry, the film critic, lives in a high-rise one-bedroom in D.C. filled with leather furniture and artsy photographs and books written by popular Jewish authors and, as I’d discovered during the overnight we’d spent there when my parents were invited to Carter’s inaugural ball, a stack of Playboys in the recesses of the coffee table. My dad’s former student, Marc, lived on the second floor of a brownstone in Philadelphia. When we’d visited him for the bicentennial the previous year, his grad school apartment had been a mess of thrift-store furniture, hippie beads hanging in the doorways, and bookshelves overflowing with textbooks.

Jonah lives in a townhouse close to the complex where my family had rented before my parents had bought their house. There’s a table acting as a desk, in one corner; atop it sit a lamp, a few bills, and a stack of issues of the Times-Dispatch. The walls are landlord-white, and free of adornment. The only other things in the living room are a blue country-style sofa that’s seen better days, and a low wooden coffee table. On the coffee table sits a twelve-inch color TV, which is currently playing The Rockford Files.

Jonah and I sit side by side on that blue sofa. He’s got his leg crossed with an ankle on his knee, and a finger on his chin as he thoughtfully appreciates the wry sleuthing of Jim Rockford. His other hand rests on my thigh.

I’m sitting there staring at the screen and wondering what is going on.

I’d left the fair in Jonah’s truck light-headed and giddy. Never in my life had one man paid such sustained attention to me—well, not since Mr. Goldberg, anyway. Not once, in the year I’d been sexually active, had a fellow spent more time with me than it took for him to empty his nuts into one of my holes, much less woo me with greasy food and views of Richmond’s Northside. This evening I expected to be spending in an actual bed, between actual sheets, like an actual adult. It was going to be special.

Then we’d arrived at his home, and parked out front, and walked inside. I’d looked around this barren apartment, which barely seemed occupied, much less lived-in. And now we sat on the sofa, watching TV.

I could have stayed home with my folks and watched TV.

During a commercial break he reaches over and swipes my unruly bangs from my eyes. “This is nice,” he says with a smile.

I make small murmurs of agreement. I still don’t know why I’m sitting here. The fair had been great, no doubt. But if he’d just let me go afterward, I could’ve gone home and still felt blissful. I could have been in the park for a good forty-five minutes, at this point. Anything would be better than sitting here through a show I disliked, with a man I liked very much, wondering what might happen next.

And when it might happen, if ever. At one point I take what I think is a surreptitious look at my Timex. “What time do you have to go?” he immediately asks.

“Um. Maybe ten,” I say. It’s slightly past nine-thirty now.

He says nothing. Nods. Keeps his eyes on the television, his hand firmly planted on my thigh. A minute passes. I’m on the verge of deciding that nothing is going to happen tonight when, during another commercial break, I feel a sudden coolness where his hand had rested. He pushes himself up against the back of the sofa and unbuckles his belt, then slides down his chinos around his knees. Eyes closed, he repeats the process with his white briefs. He doesn’t take off the necktie that’s been hanging, loosened, around his neck the entire night. He doesn’t unbutton his white dress shirt. Just the pants. Then he settles back down on the sofa and waits.

His eyes are still clamped shut. I’ve never see his cock before. It’s so hard that it stands out at an angle from his body and points savagely to heaven. His dick is wedge-shaped—thicker at the base than at the top—and pale white save for the deep red of his knob. He has one hand resting on the sofa’s arm, and the other outstretched along its back. He’s just…waiting.

I’m unsure what to do. I know what to do, but does he want it? I mean, he’s just sitting there, with his eyes closed. I’ve been waiting for this guy’s dick, though, not just for the duration of the date, but for weeks. I get down on my knees and surround it with my lips. He groans slightly to feel the warmth and wetness, but his hands remain on the sofa as if invisible straps restrain him.

It’s only been a year, but I’ve had enough practice to know how to suck. I take pride in being able to make even the most resistant men cum hard with my oral skills alone. I’ve begun to learn how to open wide to survive a savage throat-fucking from the biggest tools without gagging…and to sense when a man liked the sounds of a struggle, to enhance his pleasure with grunts and whimpers. I’m having a really difficult time reading Jonah, though. He’s cement-hard the entire time I’m sucking on him, that’s for sure. His precum leaves thick salty trails on the roof of my mouth.

He’s got to be enjoying himself, I know, but he’s not saying anything. He’s not reacting. Jonah just sits there with his eyes screwed up, working his mouth into silent words. It’s an expression that could be ecstasy…but it could equally likely be extreme pain. I’m feeling honestly lost. I’d imagined a night of romantic love making. Instead I’m trying to extract cues—any cues—on how to proceed. I stop, waiting for some kind of instruction. Grown-ups love telling me what to do.

Still he says nothing. For a moment I expect him to open his eyes, but he won’t. Some stubborn streak in me refuses to proceed without some kind of explanation of what he wants. At the same time, I’m realistic to recognize that I’m a mere kid in a strange man’s house, a good three miles’ walk from home, close to ten at night. Maybe I should just keep doing what worked earlier, and hope for the best.

In the short hiatus my mouth has taken from his cock, the man’s lips have worked themselves into sound. “Puh—“ he aspirates. “Puh—“

I wrap my hand around his dick and squeeze. “What can I do?” It’s a question I’ve asked many times before, in tones both coquettish and full of need. Now I’m desperate to decipher what this man wants.

Finally, in the softest possible sigh, he utters a word. “Pussy.” Even more quietly, he repeats the plea. “Pussy. Pussy. Pussy pussy pussy.”

All right. It’s a weird way to ask for hole. But in for a penny, in for a pound, as my mom often said. I shuck off my cords and my cotton sweater and kick my briefs onto the cold wood floor. When I climb up onto the sofa and dig my knees into the cushions on either side of his hips, I expect him to assist. All he does, though, is loll his head backward and breathe more heavily. Neither of his hands reaches for my hips, as I hope they might. His dick lunges up, though, slamming against my hole with both extreme force and uncanny aim. Does he really think that I’m going to be able to take that thick dick without lube? I have to lift myself up so he won’t spear me prematurely. I take a moment to spread my own spit on both my hole and, more importantly, the entire seven or more inches of his impaler.

Finally I start to settle down on the thing. His fingertips are digging into the upholstery the entire time I’m guiding him into me. It’s a struggle to relax my hole enough to accommodate his girth. His face is pointed to the ceiling. His eyes haven’t opened once, these past few minutes.

Honestly, I’m bothered by the way he won’t look at me. Week after week this man’s stares have pierced the nights as I’d copulated with strangers in the park. Here am I now, alone with him, in the safety of his own living room—and the man has seen more of James Garner in the last hour than he has of the real live boy sitting next to, or upon, him. I know he can tell I’ve undressed. But nothing. Not a single glance.

“Pussy,” he mutters. The only reason I can hear him is because I’ve pressed my palms against the sofa cushions as I begin milking his dick with my hole. My ear is close to his face; I’m sure my lanky hair brushes his lips as I sidle up and down. “Beautiful boy pussy. So tight. Such a tight pussy.” Over and over he murmurs similar words, most of them so inaudible they evaporate before leaving his mouth. “So tight. That pussy is so tight.”

His hips heave, drilling his dick deep into my guts. For the first time his hands loosen their grip on the sofa and sieze my shoulders so he can violently press me down on him. I’m a marshmallow squashed in his grip, thrust on his stick and held over the fire. His entire body shudders and shakes. I know he’s unloading in me. That thick cock stretches and contracts again and again as he fills me with his warm seed. His head rolls to one side, yet his mouth continues working.

Finally he subsides. I sit there, my own dick rigid, as I feel the cement resilience of the tool that’s just bred me begin to soften a little. I’m used to men basking in an afterglow at this point. It’s when they’re at their most open and tender. Even the roughnecks with the long beards and liquor on their breath whisper sweet nothings into my ear about what a good and pretty boy I am, after they’ve unloaded inside me. So I’m a little curious about what Jonah is repeating himself now.

I lower my ear close to his head. He’s saying something about…how hot it was to get off? That’s what it sounds like. He’s saying….

My blood turns cold when I finally realize he’s repeating only three words. They’re more threat than endearment. Get off me…get off me…get off me….”

I scramble to my feet. The Rockford Files is still playing on the TV. I know my hole is dripping on the floor, but there’s not much I can do about it now. It’s only the work of a few seconds to pull on my clothes and get my denim jacket back on. I’m almost afraid of his reaction at the sight of his semen all over the floor and the—oh god—the coffee table, too. So I run into the kitchen, hoping to find a dishcloth, and finally return with a napkin to mop things up.

He doesn’t move until I’ve returned from the kitchen a second time. He stands, pulls up his shorts and chinos around his still-hard cock, tucks in his dress shirt, then buckles the belt. Once fastened, he finally opens his eyes and runs his hands through his curls to adjust them. “How’re you doing on time?” he asks with a smile.

He’s behaving as if everything’s normal, but I’m feeling seriously adrift. Only moments before I was cowering at the peril implied in that nearly voiceless growl. That momentary shadow had vanished, though, leaving only Jonah the Nice Guy in its wake. He’s acting as if nothing at all had happened between us—as if all we’d done was spend the last few minutes finishing up The Rockford Files. “It’s about ten to ten,” I tell him. That entire sexual encounter had only taken fifteen minutes. Ten, if one included the clean-up time.

“Let me get you home, kid,” he says, grabbing his keys from the coffee table.

It’s a silent ride back to the spot on Brook Road where he’d picked me up. In the dark he feels emboldened to rest his hand on my thigh once more. From time to time, he’ll turn his head in my direction and bless me with one of those smiles. I don’t, however, bask in their glow as I might have earlier. “So come over next Friday,” he says as we pull close. “Maybe around seven. You know how to get to my place, right?”

I find myself nodding automatically, because I do indeed know how to get there. But that short ten-minute fuck has left me feeling dirty. Dirtier than all of the wild nights combined I’ve spent on my back taking cock after anonymous cock. I don’t have the words to express how or why, but there has been a great wrongness about this night. The last thing I should do is agree to repeat it.

At the same time, I find myself making excuses for Jonah. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe I’d done something to upset him. He’d been so nice to me the week before, escorting me from the park, away from the police, on his arm. He’d taken me to the State Fair and had bought me my first nachos and shown me the sights from the top of the ferris wheel. Didn’t I…owe him, somehow?

So in the end, I nod. “Okay,” I say, for no other good reason than he was an adult, and I always have been rewarded for agreeing with adults.

“And hey. We won’t be going to the park any more. Right?” I don’t know if I’m willing to commit to that. “It’s not a good place. Those men aren’t any good.”

He holds my gaze until I nod with concession to that demand, too.

“The park’s not for you. Hear?”

I hear. “Okay,” I say without enthusiasm.

“Atta boy.” He beams at me as he pulls the truck to the bus stop, and I clear my throat and stammer a goodnight before I jump out.

I don’t feel badly when I step from the truck. I’d gotten through the evening, both the highs and lows. As I turn the corner from Brook onto my parents’ street, the worse my mood becomes. My briefs must be an absolute mess; I’m going to have to do a quick end-run around my parents until I can slip into the shower, or at the very least, some fresh pajama bottoms. Despite a light sweater, I shiver whenever I remember being invisible before Jonah’s tightly-clenched eyes. I can’t forget that rictus of pain on his face as he mouths that terrible warning I never again want to hear.

Get off me. Get off me.

For more than a year I’d reveled in my own private garden of pleasures. Its gates were locked and barred to my family, my teachers, my peers, but opened freely to my footstep. I’d been nothing but proud of the pleasure I inspired there, of the secret knowledges I’d sought and mastered within its secluded walls. At the nakedness of others, and of myself, I’d rejoiced. Innocently, I thought I’d inhabit this Eden for a lifetime.

Tonight, though, the world I believed was wild and wonderful has drawn back its fist, and I have learned to fear its impact.

On the walk home, I slump down and stick to the shadows, as if frightened of being seen. For the first time, I know the remorse of biting into the serpent’s apple, and finding it rotten within.


(To be continued, again.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Jonah: Part 1

1977

The weather often remains warm in Virginia through Halloween. Even as the nights grow longer, and as dusk falls sooner, after dark the autumn temperatures linger in the upper sixties or sometimes more. This particular Southern summer is a stubborn party guest, still sprawled on the sofa long after the other visitors have scattered, stalling with sips of beer and commencing another yarn long after his hosts have expected him to clear out.

And while the temperatures remain mild, men will still venture to Bryan Park after dark.

The park closes at sunset. A groundskeeper chains off the main entrance with its stone archway, then drives along the azalea-lined roads to shoo any lingering stragglers or late-running barbecues. The lesser-used back drive doesn’t have a gate; it only winds to a remote picnic shelter in the woods, and to the restrooms beyond. It’s a quiet, secluded area where throughout the day solitary men men gather in pairs and small groups to exchange lingering glances before moving into the trees’ shade for privacy.

At the sky’s last glow, a police cruiser usually creeps down the back road through the woods and circles back again, though, to signal the day’s close. The men who venture into Bryan Park after dark know better than to drive their cars into forbidden territory after it’s been swept through. They park their vehicles at discreet distances from each other along the residential street at the park’s boundary, then duck among the trees and up the hill to the clearing nearest the restrooms. All the while they keep watch, lest they be seen by the park’s neighbors.

In the summers the pinewood shelter can be crowded with a score of men any night of the week. Twice that, often. As the numbers wane in September, though, Friday nights are the most reliable time to cruise after dark. The woods are dark by dinnertime then; a man might tell the wife he was going out for a beer with the guys from work, and swing by the park for an hour or two and no one would be the wiser.

The man standing at the mouth of the picnic shelter, for example. He’s obviously come straight from work to the park these last few Friday nights. Four weeks in a row he’s stood in the same place, leaning with his right forearm perched high against an iron beam support close to the table where I lay, his left hand thrust deep into his chinos. He’s a good-looking guy. Sturdy. Professional. Handsome, with his bristle-brush mustache and chestnut curls tamed and somewhat straightened with spray. Most of the men prowling in the darkness wear jeans and windbreakers, or have unbuttoned their shirts to expose expanses of flesh almost luminous in the shadows. This one fellow’s short-sleeved white dress shirt, however, is resolutely buttoned up. His slacks remain zipped. His only concession to the carnival of flesh taking place in the waning moon is to loosen his necktie ever so slightly, and to unbutton his collar.

He stands there, resting his weight on that column for long minutes, watching me.

I’m probably the quietest kid in my eighth grade class. In the daylight hours I sit behind my peers. I respond when my teachers ask something of me directly, but I don’t volunteer. As a tall kid, a skinny kid, a kid who’s not good at sports, a smart kid with straight A’s, I’m a target—so I keep my head down. I don’t draw attention. I don’t flaunt my talents. I live my days as invisibly as possible, attempting to convince my classmates I’m not a threat, while quietly reassuring the adults in my life that I don’t cause trouble or bring it home with me.

Once the sun sets, I show off.

I’m proud of how deeply I can throat an erect dick with my head hanging off the edge of a picnic table, underneath that shelter. When a stranger I barely can see presses his palms to either side of my rib cage on the splintery wood, shoves his cock into me, and tells me what a hot little fuck I am, I thrill to the praise. Men praise my smoothness, my skinny body, my age, the willingness of my holes, and I lap up the praise. I relish being desired. Men may come together like drops of mercury in pairs and trios and little clusters under the shelter’s peak, but when I join this unlit paradise, I am always the center of attention. I revel in the power.

Past summer’s peak, fewer shadows populate this section of the nighttime woods. I’d first seen the man with the necktie in the late summer, hanging back, watching men line up to use me. He’s an attractive fellow. I would have welcomed him inside me without question. But he’s always hung back, never unbuttoning, never unzipping, never stepping up to take a turn. I’m convinced he wants me. Every time a man defiles my ass, or fucks my throat, I can spy even in the dark the glitter of desire in Necktie’s eyes as they devour every act. He always hangs back. Watches. Stares.

Maybe he’s shy, I tell myself. Maybe he doesn’t like the idea of competition. Maybe he thinks I’ll reject him. Laughable, since there have been many times I’ve laid there, legs up while a stranger fucks me, and I’ve reached out a welcoming hand in Necktie’s direction in the hope that he’ll give in, abandon his post and let me taste him. On some level I understand I want him more, for not giving in. In this commonwealth of picnic tables and barbecue stands where I reign, I am unused to being refused.

The only time Necktie will divert his attention from me is when we congregants of the night hear the sounds of someone approaching. We’re all on alert, constantly, even as we fuck and suck and spill our seed into each other and onto the ground. None of us are supposed to be here. The trespassing alone could get us a ticket or worse, if the park’s neighbors were to be annoyed by too much traffic and were to call the cops. What we’re doing in the picnic shelter is much worse than trespassing, though. In Virginia, sodomy is punishable by incarceration. The police have ruined men’s lives in their sweeps of the city parks and the trails by the river. They rough up faggots; they release the names of the unfortunates to the papers. I’m barely in my mid-teens and I already know adult men who’ve lost jobs and wives and families after being caught cruising in public places. In 1977, no one rebounds with grace after the Times-Dispatch exposes them as an active homosexual.

So we heed any and all warning signs. At the sound of every shuffle of approaching feet through the leaves and pine needles, heads turn. Men hunting sex with other men might stumble in the dark through the brush of the woods, but cops would use flashlights. If we hear someone approaching, we stay alert for beams of white light piercing the tree trunks. Finding none, we absorb the newcomer into our grinding, seething midst and continue. Always we keep our heads turned toward the road running from the woods and shelter back out into the neighborhood. Only the police approach in a car after dark. If we see the sweep of a pair of headlights across the pond beyond the woods, we know it’s time to scatter.

I’d been taught the year before always to plan my exit strategies. I was not to use the road as a means of egress, of course; that was the surest way to be caught. In case of emergency, I was to vanish into the woods—yet not follow anyone directly into them, or more especially, out of them. Not only did pairs or small groups attract the eye in a way a solitary shadow would not, but I’m sure that most of the adults I’d met were leery of being seen with a kid barely in his mid-teens. Nor were any of us to make direct beelines to the street where most of the adults had parked their cars. There was always the possibility, men said, that the police might have other, less visible officers waiting streetside to catch rats as they scampered out of the woods.

In the year and a half I’d been a regular at the park, there had only been a handful of times I’d had to flee. I’d seen the twin headlights turning in our direction, reflected in Youngs Pond, and heard the simultaneous sounds of frustrated curses while belts were buckled in the gloom, followed by the quick steps of men dashing into the trees. The drive was a long one, so while speed was of the essence there was no need for immediate panic. I’d adjust my clothing and quickly pad behind the shelter where I’d left my bike, and take it deep into the woods. By the time the cops finally would circle around the clearing at the road’s terminus, we all would have melted away, obscured by night and shadow.

Some would wait in their hiding places, beyond the reach of the headlights, until the patrol car had gone on its way. Eventually the clearing would be alive again with barely-visible movement and soft, liquid sounds and sighs. Others less willing to their their chances would gradually work their way around the park’s perimeter and emerge on a side street, then take a rambling route back to their cars as if they’d been visiting someone in the neighborhood. I could go either way, depending on the time of night and whatever lie I’d told my parents. Kids of my generation were expected to be outdoors, engaged in unspecified and unsupervised wholesome activities, even in the dark, and especially in fair weather. My parents never worried that a good kid like myself could be doing anything unsavory. They were easily appeased with tales of ‘hanging out’ or studying on a school night, or playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends even until as late as ten on weekends.

But despite the dark, it’s still early on this evening in late September. My elbows are planted on a picnic table, my knees digging into its bench, corduroys bunched around my ankles. A redneck stabs away at my ass with rabbit-like thrusts. His hand presses down at the back of my head, nailing it to the wood; I can feel his wedding ring leaving a dent against my skull. His breath smells of beer. Necktie stands several yards away, forearm propped against the pillar, one hand in his pocket, his body relaxed at an angle as he watches the action. An older guy is giving sloppy head at the table next to me. I’m half-dazed from the fuck, relishing even this tiny dick as it pistons away at the entrance of my hole. How many loads have I taken so far in the forty-five minutes I’ve been here? Three? Four?

Light sweeps over my face. For a few seconds I can see everyone around me, faintly, as if by a slow flash of lightning. But those were headlights—a car is making its way around the pond and up the hill to the woods. Clusters of men disintegrate as individuals start scurrying in all directions. For a moment my redneck keeps his hold on my cranium, as if he’s considering finishing in the minute and a half it’ll take for the squad car to reach the shelter. After a moment he curses to himself and wrests out his dick. I hear him shuffle off into the darkness as he wrestles with his zipper.

I dress for the park with moments like this in mind. I have no belt on; my Converse are still on my feet. It’s but the work of a few seconds to yank up and button my cords and pull down my rugby shirt. I collide with an invisible someone in my haste to move deeper into the shadows. Then I feel a hand on my arm.

It’s the man with the necktie. “This way,” he says in a surprisingly deep drawl. He’s trying to lead me in a direction I don’t want, though. When I attempt to pull away, his grip tightens. “You really don’t want to be caught here, son.”

I know that. How many nights has he watched me, by now? He should realize I’m not naive about much. “My bike,” I explain, tugging my arm from his grasp.

He follows to where my bike leans against a slender elm behind the shelter. Even though I surrender my body to faceless strangers in this dark place, I’m not so trusting that I’m willing to risk someone walking off with my bicycle while my back is turned—or more accurately, while my back is planted on a grimy picnic table dozens of feet away. It’s my dad’s bike, anyway. My growth spurt upward means my legs have gotten too long for my old kid’s bike. For the last six months, I’ve used his. Every visit I fasten it to the same tree with a chain encased by candy-colored plastic. It’s fastened with a numerical dial lock. 1845, the code is. My mom has helpfully informed me that I’ll never forget the combination if I remember the year that Texas joined the union…but frankly, it’s easier to remember a simple four-digit number than to keep track of historical dates.

It’s always too dark to see the numbers. I’ve taken to rotating the last digit by one, just for moments like this. It’s enough to keep the chain locked, but easy to undo in the dark. Until tonight, anyway. The man in the necktie waits beside me while I fumble with the combination. His nervousness is almost palpable as he clears his throat and worriedly hums to himself. Why is he waiting for me? Doesn’t he know the risk he’s taking, being caught? Or being caught with a boy? Focus. I had to focus. Was it 1844 I’d picked tonight? Or 1846? I try to keep track of the rotations I’m making so that the numbers won’t move too far from how I’d originally left them. But the anxiety of the moment is making my fingers seem thick and wooden, and my heart’s beating loudly enough that I’m sure Necktie can hear it in the dark. I try again. And again.

There’s a coolness at my side. I realize that the man in the necktie has abandoned me. I don’t know why he’d waited around for a scrawny kid, to begin with. We’d never fucked. The only interest he’d ever shown was in watching me in action. I hadn’t been able to lure him over to join in at any point. Why should I have expected or wanted him to stick around and help out now? I was on my own, I guessed.

But what am I going to do? Maybe someone had messed with the lock, because I’m unable get it open by turning the last dial a single digit in either direction. I can’t stay here much longer to figure it out. The police car is nearly round the pond. I don’t have much time. My mind makes rapid calculations. Maybe I could hide in the woods and hope to collect the bike—my dad’s bike—after the police left. If they ever left. If they didn’t see and impound it. Perhaps I could walk home and come back tomorrow to collect the bike, if no one stole it.

I’m not loving any of my options. I fumble with the lock once more. Maybe I’m rotating the wrong number? If I spin the leftmost disc instead of the one at the right…. I am rewarded with a satisfying click! Breathing heavily, I wrap the insulated chain around my wrist and begin wheeling the bike into my planned route through the woods. The spokes click as they rotate.

Once more I feel a touch on my arm. “You get it?” whispers the man with the necktie. He hasn’t abandoned me after all. He’s been standing only a few feet away, though I’d lost him in the darkness. The noisy wheels make my answer redundant. “Let’s get going,” he suggests, just as the police car begins to pull through through the stretch of woods that leads to the shelter.

To my surprise, to cut down on the noise I’m making, he lifts my bicycle by the top tube with little effort, and begins striding in the direction I’d been intending to make my escape. We don’t speak until we’re at the bottom of the hill, well away from the picnic clearing. Even though we’re close to the turn in the road, the pines here have grown so thick that no one will see us. “Let’s wait here a minute,” he says. I hear him set down my bike on the soft carpet of needles.

As I wrap my fingers around the handlebars, my heart is thudding. I’m still thinking about the close call back there. I should do something so that in the future I can tell one side of the lock from the other in the dark. Electrical tape, maybe? A rubber band?

“You okay?” I feel his hand rest on my chest. It’s really the only way he can be certain I’m still next to him. His fingers lingers there, warm and steady. It takes a moment before I realize he can’t see me nodding in the pitch black, so I clear my throat and softly assure him I’m fine. “First time?”

First time running from the cops in the dark, I assume he means? Because I know for certain he’s seen enough of me in action to know I’m no virgin. “No sir,” covers both bases, though.

His hand has been on my chest during this entire brief conversation. I feel it move, stroke my chin, then coax my jaw upward. There’s a brief moment when I feel the warmth of him as he bends down, then his breath on my face. There’s no tongue in his kiss. Our lips connect, and then I feel desire blossom across my skin as gently he presses his mouth into my own. That’s as far as it goes for now—one chaste kiss, sweet and lingering. “Let’s be quiet.” His mustache gently abrades my ear as he sighs the suggestion up close. “Until we know the coast is clear.”

I’m shaky enough that I consider leaning against a tree. But he stands up straight, rests his hands on my shoulders, and allows me to lean into him. His sturdy frame supports me easily. Impulsively I wrap my arms around his middle. I’m grateful for his help and his concern, happy to be on the receiving end of his warmth. At the same time, I’m mortified at the sudden realization he might think I’m hugging him like a little kid. I am a little kid—and the close call of moments before has made me mournfully aware of that fact. In the dark, though, I’m accustomed to being confident and strong and desirable and in control. All the things, in short, a little kid can never be. When I make a move to loosen the hug, though, he pulls me in a little closer, and holds me still. Together we stand in silence, my arms around him, his resting on my spine, swaying slightly together. As moments pass, we open our senses to detect signs of life.

There are no wails of backup sirens, no protest cries of men being arrested. Just the scent of pine, the whistle of the wind among the needles, and a nose tickle of briquettes burning to embers from someone’s backyard, not too far away. After a moment or two, we hear a shuffle in the woods that’s too steady to be wildlife. A shadow passes by a dozen feet away, headed for the road. One of our fellow cruisers, making a break for it. Had he been one of the men fucking me? The redneck, even? It’s impossible to tell. We can hear when the crackle of pine beneath his feet gives way to footsteps across grass. Then, a few moments later, an engine ignition, followed by the slow, deliberate sounds of tires slowly pulling out onto the asphalt.

For another minute or two we stand in silence next to each other. Finally I feel him bend down. “Let’s move out, soldier,” he tells me. “Follow my lead. If we run into anybody, act like we’re just a dad and son heading home after a walk. Okay? Is that too weird? Can you do that?”

“Yeah,” I tell him. I’m glad he can’t see me right now. The huzz of his deep voice in my ear at such close proximity has caused a rash of shivers to erupt that starts at the base of my neck and radiates out over my skull and my shoulders. I’m flushing a deep red and I’m covered in gooseflesh. This man is really sticking his neck out for me, and I’m uncomfortably grateful for the gesture. He pats me on the shoulder and helps me wheel my bicycle out from the trees and onto the bumpy grass. We’ve made it to the far end of Bryan Park Drive, long beyond where cruisers park on any but the busiest of nights. Father and son, out for a walk.

We make casual conversation in soft tones as we head up the side street, then turn down the avenue running parallel to the park drive. The man’s name is Jonah. I tell him my own. He wants to know if I live nearby. Nearby enough that I can bike over, I say, leaving it vague. He wonders where my folks think I am, and seems to understand when I tell him they don’t worry as long as I’m home before my absence becomes suspicious. He asks what grade I’m in, and laughs abruptly—perhaps with regret for asking at all—when I supply the truth. I learn that he does something at A. H. Robins, the pharmaceutical company in my own neighborhood. We make small talk, dodge lawn sprinklers and dog walkers, and circle the sleepy neighborhood block on our circuit back to the park drive. At last we arrive at his truck.

The street is silent. Most, though not all, of the cruiser’s vehicles have vacated the street; the police have probably left by now. No doubt the picnic shelter is already echoing once more with sighs and soft sounds of pleasure. Jonah and I stand by his truck and regard each other in the dim porch light of a nearby home. To stand clothed before him face to face leaves me feeling shy in a way I’d never felt before, not even half-naked and violated with strange cock.

“I’d like to see you sometime,” he says. “Alone. Just you and me. Not any of those….” His hand gestures between the two of us, then up in the direction of the picnic shelter, making the point. “Is it tough for you to maybe get out for a couple of hours next week?” I’m feeling shy, and can’t stammer out a response. Yet the realization that he’s just as nervous as I, charms me.

We’re only a few feet away from each other. Not too close, not too far—just like dad and son. It’s dark enough on the oak-lined street, though, that my furious blushing must not be visible. It sounds like he’s asking me out on a date.

“It wouldn’t be, you know, a date or anything,” he continues, as if reading my mind. “Nothing weird.” Waves of pleasure still sweep over my body, despite the denial. In my cords, my little boner throbs. I twist against the frame of my bike to keep it from being seen. No matter what my age, I know better than most not only what men want, but the torturous leaps of logic they make to justify those desires. “Just, you know, you and me. I’ll make it nice,” he continues. “Real nice.”

I don’t want to display too much enthusiasm. There’s a big smile threatening to break loose across my face, but I rein it in. I nod, looking at his tasseled loafers. Then I nod again, this time meeting his eyes.

He seems relieved. We make a quick negotiation to meet the following Friday, shortly after dusk. Plenty of time for me to lay down an excuse with my parents to stay out. “And oh, hey,” he adds, right as he opens the truck door. “Are you going back up….” He looks across the street and up through the thicket of pine. His voice drops to a murmur. “Are you going back up there this week?” Before I can answer, he adds, “I don’t think you should. In fact, don’t.”

Since the moment he’d laid his hand on the door handle of his truck, I’ve actually been considering whether or not to return to the shelter after he leaves. I could probably get another load in me before I had to be home.

“Those guys up there…they’re not good guys,” he’s saying. “What they want is….” He grapples for words.

I’m genuinely confused. Wasn’t he, himself, one of those guys up there? Didn’t he want the same things they did?

He steps forward, closing the distance between us. Looks around, up at the houses, to make certain we’re unobserved. Then he reaches out and flicks something from my head with his fingertips. I’ve got some pine needles or debris tangled in my long hair. When that’s gone, he brushes the unruly bangs from my eyes. The intimacy of it, right there on the street—never mind the dark—both breaks down any remaining resistance I might have to his plea, as much as it alarms me. “Just don’t go up there this week. Okay?”

“Okay,” I say, willingly depriving myself of my wildness until I meet him again. “Yeah. Sure. Okay.”

“Promise?”

“Yeah. I promise.” Almost immediately I regret the words. I’m accustomed to my private wildness. I’m only able to endure invisibility by daylight because of the knowledge that my true self, my feral side, can prowl by night when I choose. No one has ever asked me to forego that freedom.

He’s getting into his truck, poking his head through the window to disarm me again with a smile. “Next Friday,” he says, starting the engine. Then he winks. “Don’t be late.”

I watch him drive off toward the Boulevard. A week, I tell myself. I can keep out of the park for a week. Maybe it would even be worth it.


(To be continued)