The night seems pretty quiet on Collins Avenue, with all my friends gone. My new pickup technique is not working as well with no friends around. I’m leaning against the wall outside Nathan’s when a man asks me if I want a cigarette.
“I thought I was the one to ask for a smoke.”
He laughs, “ How old are you, kid?”
“Seriously? You’re gonna get busted for cruisin’ this area at your age.”
“Busted for what?”
“For bein’ a runaway tryin’ to sell his ass.”
“Is that what you think?”
“It’s not what I think that counts, just the vice squad. But I can tell ya how to make some real money.”
“Yeah, goin’ down some alley for five minutes.”
“Don’t be a wise ass, you little shit. With my contacts, I’ll set ya up right. You’ll make a hundred bucks.”
“And you’ll keep the rest. No thanks. I am no runaway. I got plenty of money.”
“Yeah, how much?”
“Forget you man. You’d steal from your mama.”
“Yer right about that, kid.”
I turn to walk into Nathan’s.
“Hey, don’t walk away from me.”
“Get lost, creep. I don’t need a pimp.”
“When you do, you know where to find me.”
“Yeah, under a stone.”
He makes like he’s going to hit me. I flinch, then walk into Nathan’s, a little too quickly. When he’s gone, I don’t feel like hanging out anymore. Then I run into Pete, one of my Puerto Rican friends.
“You still here, man?”
“Yeah. I got another week. Com’n, check it out; they got dis new game at the Fountainbleu. Ya gotta see it. We’ll take the bus.”
“What kinda game?”
“It’s electric, on a tiny TV screen. It’s called Pong.”
The bus takes us up Collins to the front of the Fountainbleu. Pete knows where to go and leads me through the lobby, downstairs to a lounge. Several adults are watching two men sitting across from each other, playing on a small screen set into the table between them: ’Pong,’ electronic table tennis (ping-pong). There are several tables and soon we’re playing. It’s easy to catch on – you position a cursor to return your opponent’s serve of an electronic dot. By twirling the control knobs at contact it adds twists and speed to the dot. We play for hours. Pete runs out of quarters. I spend ten dollars feeding the machine. It’s the first but not last time I spend all my money on video games. We have to walk back to South Beach. I keep thinking I see that pimp. I tell Pete about it. He laughs.
“You don’t want a hundred bucks, man?”
“Hey, them pimps is all over da Bronx. They get the girls ta do anything for dem by gettin’ em hooked on drugs. Ya see gurls like Tina, 13, 14, lookin’ like they’s old, really old.”
“But, gettin’ guys our age, too?”
“Sure, whatever da johns will pay for, man. He’d have ya bendin’ over for sum fat, cigar-chompin’ Cuban. He said a hundred bucks, I would’nt do it for under a thousand. Hell, you couldn’t pay me ‘nuff, man.”
“You got that right, man.”
“I did have a cousin, who’s a maricon, man. He gave me head when I was ten.”
“Ten. How’d ya get off?”
“I guess I’m a stud, man. He got caught. I couldn’t see him no more.”
“I did it with my cousin, too, man. It was okay, just different from girls.”
“The guys used ta make me stand on da corner, when I tried to join their gang. It was in fifth grade. I was ‘sposed ta get the fag to follow me down the alley fer sex, then they jump his ass and take his money. One time the guy gets me ta get in his car. I was so stupid. The homeboys took off afta us in dair cahr. They caught us before he got to the Bruckna. It was too much for me, man. My dad found out I was tryin’ ta join a gang and beat my ass.”
“I guess you’re lucky. I seen my cousin go off in a car in Times Square and come back with two hundred bucks.” I tell him about the guy in Battery Park. It feels okay to talk with him about this. I forget about the pimp.
“I saw the house we’re gonna live in and met this white boy in Coral Gables. He was a big snob, private school, a boat, and everything.”
“Sounds cool. Is he gonna let you drive da boat? Can I come?”
“Man, he wouldn’t even let me touch any of his things.”
“See if he’ll take us out on the boat tomorra.”
“Yeah, that’ll be cool.”
“Why don’t you stay in my room tonight?” Pete asks when we finally get back. So, I stay up there.
When I go to check with my folks in the morning, they are peeved. My dad is supposed to be at work but has been looking for me since early in the morning. It is only nine o’clock, but I really catch it. When I ask for the Mertzes telephone number to ask about Pete and me going out with Dickie in his boat, they act all snobby.
“You’ll never make a good impression here, if you drag those Mexican friends of yours around with you.”
“They’re not Mexicans, Mom. They’re New Yorkers. They just come from Puerto Rico.”
“Really? Great. I’m sure there’s a difference.”
“They’re just kids. Why are you so uptight about this? You never judged my friends before.”
“I just see you getting out of hand.”
“Well, let me know when I do something really wrong,” and I start to walk out on them.
“Not so fast, young man,” my dad pipes up. “We’re moving out today. You’ve got to pack.”
“Well, thanks for letting me know.” I ignore them while packing. Sneaking out I run up to Pete’s room to let him know what was up. We say goodbye. I ask him to not tell anyone about the things we talked about that night, especially not Tina. He is cool and says neither of us want anyone to know about those things. He then gave me an awkward hug, saying he’s impressed I want to keep in contact with him and the group of ‘Spics.’
“You’re my friends, not ‘Spics.’”
“That’s what we like about you, Huerto.”
By the time I get back to my room, everything is loaded into the car. Soon we were driving across the causeway again. I’m still mad at my parents for putting down my friends. Joey taught me to avoid confrontation with the parents. As soon as we get to the new house, I tell them I’m going out, without an explanation. I walk down Byrd Road and get on a Coral Gables bus for downtown Miami. In less than two hours I’m back in South Beach. Pete laughs when he opens the door.
“I thought you were history, man.”
“Not while there’s public transportation. Let’s see if we can get that white boy to bring his boat out here.”
I look up J Mertz in the phonebook. Sure enough, I have Dickie on the line in a flash.
“Dickie, my man. It’s Tim from yesterday. I’m lounging by the pool here and thought you might like to drive your speedboat over and enjoy the young ladies hereabouts…Of course, we can find Miami Beach Marina; …. It’s over on the bay side by 5th Street?…See you in an hour.”
I hung up. “Alright. We got a ride,” as we high-five.
Dickie shows up as scheduled, looking exceptionally preppy in a Lacoste polo shirt, Topsiders, and Bermuda Shorts. Once we get on his boat, he establishes that he is the captain. We lowly crew, Pete and I, gladly oblige. The boat is a big Whaler – 20 feet – and has a fast engine. Whalers sit flat on the water and can really move. We round the south end of the Beach, flying along in front of our hotel. It looks so small from the water. We keep going until we reach the Fountainbleu. I direct Dickie to take the Whaler into their dock. We tie up between two massive yachts. Our diminutive size versus real yachts helps temper Dickie’s domineering self. We head straight to the lounge with the Pong machines. I promptly spend another ten dollars. Dickie really enjoys himself. He doesn’t need to see our supposed rooms at the Fountainbleu and invites us back to Coral Gables to eat dinner at his house. Pete grins from ear to ear. When we drive past our hotel, Pete pulls down his shorts and moons the beach. Dickie is mortified but keeps a stiff upper lip.
“I say, Pete,“ he asked, “you’re from Puerto Rico. I know the Bacardi family. They have a place in Coral Gables.”
“Actually, man, I live in New York. Getting my education, you know. Several of my uncles spend a lot of time with Bacardi. You could say they have a definite relationship.” We both almost crack up.
Dickie adds, “I’ve been to the City several times. A wonderful place for an education.”
“I’m going back to the Islands once I have my degree. You know, to help my people.”
“Wonderful, old man.”
Pete and Dickie are a friendship from hell. It’s dark when we get back, but Dickie knows his way through the canals. It’s like the horror movie, ‘Swamp Thing.’
Pete asks if there are alligators.
“Sure,” said Dickie, as we look all around. “Right here on my polo shirt.”
When he finally docks at his house, Dickie makes us help him clean up the boat; he’s so anal about details. I call Mom to let her know I’m be staying at the Mertzes for dinner. She is pleased I’m there. When I ask if Pete can stay over, she readily agrees. We have to dissemble a bit as Dickie thinks we are still staying in South Beach. Dad will pick us up at nine. After eating, we play regular ping-pong in his ‘Florida Room,’ a glassed-in porch. When it’s dark, the night in Florida is warm and noisy with insect life. While they buzz, I sit thinking how cool everything is working out. Maybe I’ll really like Miami.
After Dad gets us home, Pete sits on my bed while I put away my things. My room is upstairs in the back of the house. It is shaped like a tower with windows that look toward the Ocean. A long corridor separates it from the front of the house where my parents’ and the guest bedrooms are. Pete says he’s impressed. He has to share a bedroom with three brothers; he doesn’t even have his own bed. Like Tina, the only time he’s by himself is when he goes up on the building’s roof. We immediately sing the Drifters’ ‘Up on the Roof.’
We end up sitting in the big window overlooking the backyard. We’re a study in contrasts; we both have shorts on, no shirts or shoes, with a leg dangling out the window. His dark skin and hair make him blend into the night. The light behind him casts a shadow that looms larger than his physique. With no shirt, light brown hair, pale skin on a skinny body and lanky legs, the light reflects off me. I appear as a ghost, less than my physique warrants. We start to compare ourselves. My toes, feet, hands, and shoulders are all bigger than his. Just as we stretch to compare hands, a bolt of lightning flashes. In surprise, our hands clutch each other. We laugh. Moving around so both our legs are out the window, we watch the thunderstorm roll in from the bay to the east. Soon it starts to pour torrents. Suddenly, Pete winks at me and slides completely out the window, rolling down the short roof, falling to the ground, with a scream, then a splash and a thud, followed by silence. I race down the tower stairs and find him lying in a heap.
I shake him, “Pete, Pete, wake up.”
He looks up at me with innocent eyes, “Scared ya, pussy.”
I chase him around the yard, tackling him and rolling around on the wet grass. The rain is so warm. We lay there wrestling and getting dirty. Afterwards we take a shower together. I give him a pair of shorts to wear. When we go to bed, he snuggles up next to me and is instantly asleep. It’s about midnight. I can smell him as he sleeps, a different smell from other people. All the beans and salsa he eats must create his own ethnic odor. I can’t go right to sleep. I realize he is used to sleeping with his brothers. I slept with friends all the time growing up, but not snuggled as closely as we are now. We both have had sex with older male cousins, but that’s something they started, not us. Sex is a dividing line between being a kid and being a teenager. I know Pete will have sex with me. We talk so easily about our experiences. But it’s like giving up being a kid. I like having sex. I’m not about to give it up. I just can’t figure out what it means if we do it, how things might change between us. The girls I did it with up North didn’t think anything about doing it and just saying goodbye. With Joey, I know I love him and didn’t wanted to leave him. He rejected me, or at least said he didn’t feel the same way. I really like Pete. It would just complicate what is really simple. Maybe there is a middle ground where your feelings are strong enough to be friends, but not enough to have sex. All this thinking about sex makes me hard, which is the physical side to these thoughts and emotions. Pete rolls over and his butt wiggles next to my right hip.
All I have to do is roll in his directions. My hard dick will be against his ass. Now I really am hard. I can’t take advantage of someone who’s asleep, no matter how much he may be willing. I get out of bed and sit in the window again. I tell myself I can beat-off to the thunderstorm, one stroke for every flash of lightning. But the storm is moving off. Soon it is five strokes to every flash and I rub my balls between flashes. The head of my dick gets so hard it turns in toward my belly, while the storm begins to come back. I can see another storm coming in from the east. Soon the two storms merge, with lightening flashing all over. I stand up, furiously beating my dick, lit up by the flashes and pre-cum dripping from the enlarged slit of my dick. Leaning against the windowsill, I thrust my hips forward as the first spurt of jism flies out the window. I spurt about six times, then collapse on the window. Better than watering the flowerbed at Helen’s. I wonder if it’s good fertilizer. As I slide back into bed, Pete snuggles up against me. My dick is soft, and I feel more comfortable. I put an arm around him and soon go to sleep.
In the morning we call Dickie, who is game to take his boat out to the Beach again. I have Dad drop us at the Mertzes. Soon we are flying across Biscayne Bay. We dock again at the 5th Street marina. Dickie complains we had promised girls but ended up playing ‘Pong” all afternoon.
“You want to see girls, we’ll show you girls,” and we take him up to Collins Avenue by Nathan’s. Soon we are sitting with six Latinas, talking cool and checking them out. Dickie hardly says a word, which is good strategy. When a girl named Alicia asks me to talk to him for her, it reminds me of my situation with Tina. Dickie is definitely a white boy. I ask if he’ll take the girls by boat to Virginia Key. He laughs and says it’s a nude beach, mostly for gays. The girls scream and laugh. I can tell he is uncomfortable, so I take him aside.
“You know, Alicia likes you. She told me. Why don’t you check it out?”
“What do you mean ‘check it out?’ You know, Tim, you sound a lot like these street kids.”
“Aren’t you having fun?”
“Sure, but get serious. I can’t like someone from a different economic level.”
Whoa. Culture shock here. Better be careful.
“It’s cool, man. We’re only here on a lark. If you’re not interested, just say so. No need for an elaborate economic excuse. Why don’t we go play ‘Pong?’”
I get Pete, and all of us, including the girls, walk to the marina. It is definitely hot, having all these girls wave and blow kisses as we tear out of there in Dickie’s Whaler.
“Man, look at her wiggle her ass,” notes Pete. “That’s one hot mama.”
Dickie looks less pained and more comfortable once we park at the Fountainbleu. After I blow another ten bucks on ‘Pong,’ Dickie says he’ll spring for lunch, which we eat right in the lounge, still playing the game.
“You know Dickie,” I decide to confess, “my folks and Pete’s aren’t really staying here. We were at one of the smaller hotels, where we met the girls.” I don’t know why I’m being so honest.
“I was surprised the Company would pay for such a luxurious hotel. Why did you need to deceive me.”
“Oh, I think you’re sorta rich and wouldn’t otherwise want to hang out with us. I do like that you came over here. I know you’re having a good time, even if you didn’t hit it off with Alicia.”
“She’s alright. I just feel out of my element.”
“I want out of my element,” Pete jokes.
It’s cool. After leaving the Fountainbleu, Dickie drives Pete right to his hotel, once Pete agrees not to moon the beach. We all get out after Dickie beaches the Whaler. I suggest we hang out on the pool deck where we can keep an eye on the boat. A whole new crowd is hanging out. It’s like seeing my recent past as a bunch of Puerto Rican kids are dancing to Salsa and pushing each other into the pool. No white boys with them, though. We have to split. I promise Pete that I’ll call the next morning. Dickie drives the boat slowly back to the mainland. We take a tour of the Gables’ canals. We cruise Viscaya Castle, which impresses me about the advantages of being rich. All the mansions make his house seem small by comparison.
“Did I put you on the spot too much with all the New Yorkers?” I ask.
“A little bit. I know you think I’m a rich snob compared to your friends, but it’s different over here. I’ve never spent so much time at the Beach. Most people stay in their own neighborhood.”
“That’s what Pete says about New Yorkers, except their neighborhoods aren’t so swell.”
“You’re a nice kid, Tim, pretty easy to have fun with. I hope you find the right crowd here in the Gables. Rich people are different from your friends. They aren’t so trusting and are afraid of being used.”
“You seem to get along fine.”
“I’m not rich, Tim. Our dads probably make the same amount of money. I’m talking rich, like they don’t work for their money. They say it’s cleaner than way.”
“I think I’ll check out the swim team at the university. It should keep me busy. And, clean.”
“For a jock, you sure smoke a lot.”
“Oh, I can lose these,” and I toss the pack overboard.
“Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”
He asks if I want to stay for dinner again. When I call Mom, she says she’ll be right over to pick me up. We sit in his Florida room, mostly talking about girls. He thinks Alicia was asking him to sleep with her, that all those kids have sex earlier than his friends.
“Are you a virgin?” I ask.
“I like girls. I just don’t sleep with sluts.” he evasively answers.
“Do you think a girl’s a slut for sleeping with you?”
“What would you call it?”
“Free love? Man, you guys seem to have missed the 60’s down here. Haven’t you heard about civil rights and hippies?”
”I suppose you smoke dope, too.”
“What kind of dope?”
“Pot. What else can ‘dope’ mean?”
“In New York, dope is heroin.”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re talking about heroin on my porch. What’s it like?”
“Are you crazy? I don’t do that. Man, you’ve led a sheltered life. You have everything but know nothing.”
“All I know is if I don’t get into a good college, I won’t have anything in life.”
“Does that mean that all kids who don’t go to good colleges will have wasted lives, are worthless people?”
“They have to settle for less.”
“Well, I’m not settling for something my parents have decided is what I need. Even if it means being poor, I want it to be my life, success or not.”
“Spoken like a true hippie,” And we both laugh.
Mom has been speaking with Mrs. Mertz. They come out on the porch.
“Tim has to go, Dickie,” his mom says. “It’s his fifteenth birthday today. They’re celebrating at home.”
“Oh yeah. I’d forgotten how young you are.”
“Well, I guess I’ll never be as old as you,” and we laugh some more.
I’d forgotten my own birthday. It turns out pretty well. When I get home, both Mom and Dad are ready with my favorite meal, steak of course, and a special cake. They note they would have planned a party had they known I have so many new friends. Dad is particularly interested in my friend, Pete. Mr. Mertz told him that Pete is related to the Bacardi family. I laugh and confess how we’d created that impression with Dickie because he’s such a snob. Pete’s family has a close relationship with bottles of Bacardi, not the family. They don’t find my joke too amusing. Dad obviously hoped for a business connection with the Bacardi’s. I learned that rich Puerto Ricans are more acceptable. Mom says they want to give me my present. I imagine packages of underwear. Dad takes me into the garage. There is a new Raleigh ten-speed bike. What a relief. I hug them and promise to be a better kid this year.
“That shouldn’t be hard,” Dad murmurs.
Mom countered with, “We only want you to be happy.”
“I am happy, and I have the greatest parents. Miami is gonna to be the best.”
That night, as I sit in my window, I think about all that happened since leaving Alaska. I’m now fifteen. That doesn’t mean I’m any different. I’m sure doing things I couldn’t imagine I’d do while still in Anchorage. Am I a sex maniac? Or, am I so irresistible that girls and guys can’t leave me alone? Do I want to be left alone? Can I even tell the difference between sex and love? Do I still love Joey? Yes, but my feelings are changing. I leave the window and sneak downstairs, so the folks can’t hear me as I dial Aunt Helen’s in New England. Her cheery voice answers on the second ring.
“Helen, it’s Timmy in Florida. How’s it going? It’s my birthday today.”
“Tim, we miss you. Happy birthday, Now, let me see, are you sixteen?”
“Nope, just fifteen. Another year before I drive.”
“You’re growing up too fast.” There is truth to that.
“Is Joey there?”
“I think so. Hang on.”
“Hi, Timmy,” it’s Jeff. “How’s it in Florida? Seen any alligators yet?”
“Just one. He was driving a Boston Whaler.”
“Wow… Oh, you’re lying. Hey, you should have been here when Dad and Joey got in this big fight.”
“Your dad hit him?”
“No, but he’s going to take away his VW. They were yelling and …ooops, here he comes.”
“Get off the phone, squirt. I’m talkin’ with my main man.. what’s up, butt fuck?”
“Same-o, same-o, homo.”
“Man, do I need to talk to you. My old man’s going gonzo on me.”
“Jeff said he’s going to take the Bug.”
“He can’t. It’s in my name. I paid for it, well, sort of. He just wants me outta here. Look, I’m gonna take the phone into the closet so they can’t hear.”
“That’s where I’m at.”
After a pause, “Man, is it good to talk to you.”
I blush and get all warm. “Me, too, Joey.”
“So, how’s the new place.”
“Fine. I having all sorts of adventures. You instilled the spirit in me.”
“Cosmic, man. My life sucks. As soon as I get enough bread, I’m splitting.”
“Come on down here, y’all.”
“Maybe for vacation. I’m going to do a movie in New York for this guy – ya know, a porno.”
“Oh no, the porno king.”
“Don’t tell anybody about this.”
“I’m sure Helen would be happy for you. Hey, it’s my birthday, man. That’s why I called.”
“Well, congrats. I don’t wanna know how old you are. It’s too depressing. I’m over the hill at nineteen.”
“You’re crazy. You live in the fast lane and can’t slow down. I met a Puerto Rican chick who lives in the Bronx. I hung out with their whole gang in Miami Beach.”
“Still hung up on the City, huh?”
“Actually, I’m still hung up on you, man. You were so great to me this year.”
“Just keepin’ it in the family, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, vice is nice but incest is best.” We both laugh.
“I know I kinda played you off, Tim, about your feelings and us. I guess all the drugs I do made me feel dead at the time. I do miss you.”
“Yeah, you’re a great kid, dude. Just don’t try to grow up too fast, like me. All those things you saw in the City may be too much. I hope you don’t think I fucked you up.”
“As I remember, I was the one who fucked you.”
“Right again. Now I see why you’re in love with me. It’s just my body.”
“It’s more than that, man. You’re not the only one I fucked, but you’re the one I love.” There I say it.
“You’re breaking Sweet Jane’s heart. Can’t you slack off on the love thing? It’s hard on me. My instinct is to shut you down. Not because of you, but ‘cause it’s really hard for me to have those feelings. What we have is good, but leave it at that.”
“But I miss you, man.” Sitting alone in the closet, my dick is as hard as a rock and I want to cry.
“Listen, kid. I used to be a real fuck to you, then this year I totally let you into my shit-ass life. You’re over-reacting, but believe me, I do love you. As much as I can. We’ll just work on it. After I do that movie, I’ll fly down and visit. Just don’t tell your folks. It’s all too complicated. Okay, I said it, I love you, you little shit.”
I sit there breathless. “Wow, you’re the greatest, Joey.”
I hang up and the tears start to flow and flow. I’m so happy and sad and confused. I just stay in the closet for half an hour, so my folks won’t see me, messed up from thinking about it all.
Joey has his feelings under control; I sure don’t. Sex is great, no doubt. But these mixed emotions make me feel old; there’s a downside to everything. People are coming up to me, willing to pay for it, but I don’t need that. The whole question of homosexuality is unimportant. Obviously I like guys as well as girls. I’m not ashamed to admit it, at least to those who care. I decide that my feelings for Joey are because he’s older. I feel I can express them to him. He’s a hustler, which I accept, but I want him to accept me as I really am. He went further on the phone than I expected, but then it’s easier when you’re fifteen hundred miles away.