Doug tells me to clean up before going out. I go back to Joey’s room. He’s still not back. I guess it’s his normal routine. After showering, I check myself out in the mirror. The Indian war paint is slightly visible, making my eyes darker and bigger. I comb my white hair back. Because it’s so short, it sticks up except for short bangs in front. Compared to the other boys, I’m tall and muscular, although my waist is incredibly narrow compared to my broad shoulders. There’s a ridge of freckles across my nose and upper cheeks. The blue of my eyes is deeper than the blue in my jeans. My white tee contrasts with my dark tan. I feel like I’m glowing. Hollywood makes me see myself as others do. Taking my airline ticket, I return to Doug’s study to call the airline for my flight home. Calling Lydia, I reach her brother, Steve, who agrees to pick me up the next evening. I find Doug sitting outside by the pool, surrounded by his braves. Twilight is fading over the city, with the dull blue sky highlighted by the bronze gold sunset to the west. They look at me with hooded eyes. I feel they want me to be one of them, yet they know I’m just a visitor. Doug asks if I’m ready to go.
“What about the others,” I ask.
“You want to go out with these runaways? They have no manners.”
“Why not? Let’s just get pizza. I don’t want anything fancy.”
“Okay, okay” and all the boys jump up and run to the tee-pee for jeans and shoes.
“You’re crazy,” he notes but also laughs as they get ready. I know he’s enjoying me. He calls for a large cab. We all pile in and are on our way, Doug trying to clean the war paint off several boys, without much success. We stop at a fancy Italian restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, called Dan Tana’s. It’s my first pizza joint with a doorman and a Maitre’D. He leads Doug to a large corner booth, with the rest of us trailing behind. We’re poking each other with glee. This is no joint, with everyone except us dressed up in formal wear. The booth is perfect, far enough away from everyone that our noise and merriment bother no one. Salad, bread sticks, and pitchers of beer are brought, even though no one is near twenty-one. I try to learn everyone’s name, failing miserably. No one cares. Soon four large pizzas with various toppings appear. The beer flows as we barely keep the din below unacceptable levels. Several people come over to speak with Doug, who tries to rise above the scene we’ve created. Finally, the check is paid and the restaurant is relieved of our raucous group. The night is dark, lit by the headlights as cars stream by on Santa Monica Boulevard.
“You guys want to come to the club, huh?” Doug asks no one in particular. “But you’ve got to stay away from the bar.”
We all answer affirmatively at once. We walk the short distance to his club, where his name sits atop the Marquee. Security ushers our group in. Doug is instantly caught up in the business of running a nightclub. The tall boy with long brown hair puts his hand on my shoulder and leads me away from the group.
“You like girls?” he asks.
“Yeah, of course,” I answered nonchalantly, “almost as much as I like you.”
He grimaces, and then laughs. “Well, don’t talk too much about that. I’ve got a reputation that’s already suspect since I moved into the tee-pee.”
“Sure. I’m just kidding. Sex is sex.”
“The ladies here can be divided into two groups, those who give and those who get. See the ones standing by the stairs?” he points toward the back of the club, where a bouncer is guarding the stairs. “They’ll do anything to get upstairs. I’ll introduce you to the bouncer. Then the ladies will be all over you.”
“So they’re the ones who want to get.”
“You catch on quick.”
“What about that one sitting alone?”
“She’ll want you to buy her a drink.”
“Well, who’s a giver?”
“Check out that babe walking alone on the dance floor. She’s strutting her stuff, willing to go with whoever checks her out.”
“She’s pretty hot.”
“Well, go for it.”
“I dunno. It’s too complicated for me.”
“Com’n upstairs. It’s even more intense up there.”
We walk up to the bouncer, and Tony, the long dark-haired boy, introduces me as ‘with Doug,’ good for admittance. Upstairs, small tables are arranged by the balcony, with bleacher seats behind them. Just as we get there, a band is announced on stage. Tony and I sit in the bleacher seats. Then we’re hailed by several of the other boys around a table. We pull up chairs and watch the opening band’s first song. I remember my night at CBGB’s, thinking how different it is here, with everyone calmly watching the band. In New York, it was bedlam. The energy level is significantly lower in LA. I enjoy the show, watching the crowd move toward the stage. Instead of people wildly jumping and running about, here the band’s fans are slowly swaying to the music. Just a different kind of rock n roll, I figure.
I look into the office to the right of the bleachers, where Doug speaks to an older man. Leaving the boys’ table, I walk tentatively into the office. Doug motions me to sit, while he conducts business. The man is talking a mile a minute, while Doug listens and holds a phone to his head. He finally waves the man away, promising a future date for the man’s client. I’m not surprised to see the man peel off several bills, slap them on Doug’s desk, and walk out.
“The seamy side of rock n roll,” Doug comments to me.
“Is that how you make this club pay?” I ask.
“No, it’s the bar that pays the bills here. He just thinks he has to grease my palm in order to get his clients booked.”
“Does he have to.”
“No, but I’m not going to throw the money back at him. What do you think of my club.”
“Hey, I’m can use that expression myself.”
We laugh, and then he says, “I see you’re not that into the band tonight.”
“We’ll get away from here soon. I’ll get a driver and show you the rest of this tacky town. I think you should stay, but you’ve got to see more of Hollywood to make up your mind.”
I laugh, “You’re crazy.”
“Go back to the club. I’ll grab you when I’m ready. Ciao, baby,” he dismisses me.
The boys are gone. I peer over the balcony, checking out what they’re up to. I see two coming out of the Ladies, with an older guy, wiping their noses and making sure everyone knows they just did coke. Tony is seated at a table with the older woman, who is running her nails through his long hair. It amuses me to think he’s working so hard to be hetero when I know how much he likes getting fucked. Several guys are dancing with no one in particular in front of the band, while another guy is dancing with his own reflection in a full-length side mirror. All over the club, dozens of these little scenarios play out. The band on stage drones on, oblivious to the crowd around them. My fascination with the crowd prevents me from noticing an older man who comes up behind me. I jump when he runs his long fingernails along the exposed skin between my teeshirt and jeans.
“Whoa, what are you doing?” as I move away.
“You’re too delicious to be by yourself,” he comes on to me.
“He’s not by himself,” comes the response behind us. Doug hurries over to where I’m confronting him.
“Sorry, Doug, my mistake. He just looks too inviting.”
“Go invite yourself somewhere else.”
The guy takes off, without looking back.
“You ready to go?” Doug asks.
“Sure. Thanks. I guess I need a bodyguard?”
“Just your body needs guarding,” We laugh.
Outside, a limo is parked by the curb. The driver opens the back door. We enter its dark world. It feels cozy, like an overstuffed couch, just not cramped. The world outside is removed. Doug picks up the telephone and gives vague directions to the driver. We pull into the Saturday night traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard.
“West Hollywood is Boy’s Town, Tim. To be young and gay means to be here.” He gestures toward the street, where I see men walking arm in arm. Guys are kissing each other outside the bars that line the street. Single men loiter at the corners and look longingly at the tinted windows of the limo as we slowly drive by.
“If you see anyone attractive, we can stop to pick him up,” Doug offers.
“I think I’ve had enough group sex today,” I demur.
Doug again questions me about what I’ve done sexually, how I felt about it, and many personal questions about my feelings. He makes me feel important, but it isn’t comfortable. Perhaps because I’m leaving in the morning, he wants to know as much as possible now. It just feels forced. Finally, I turn to him, put my finger to my lips and kiss him to stop the questions. I expect we’ll get into it, but I sense his reluctance. Looking him in his eyes, I ask why he wants to talk so much.
“You’re so different from anyone I meet here. You don’t guard your feelings.”
“I barely understand what I’m feeling. How can I guard that?”
“Well, everyone else, including your cousin, trade their feelings for what they want.”
“And what’s that? What do they want?”
“Money, a place to stay, material things.”
“Kids sell themselves for a place to stay?”
“Sure. Most of them are runaways. The streets can get pretty tough.”
“I know Joey was pretty tough when he was on the streets.”
“Joey’ll survive, but he thinks the size of his dick is the price of admission to the good life.”
“This is the good life. How’d you make it?”
He looks amused with me. Then he tells me a long history of his life. Only once he came to Hollywood could he relax and enjoy what he’d gained. By the time he finishes, we’ve stopped on a secluded road in the hills overlooking Hollywood.
“Welcome to Mulholland Drive, site of the infamous Dead Man’s Curve.”
We get out, going over to the overlook. I lean into him, and he puts an arm around me. All the lights sparkle below, providing a panorama of all LA. The streets are lit in an incandescent yellow string, east to west, north to south. Whereas the bright sun during the day makes for a glaring landscape, the lit-up night makes LA seem luscious and ripe. Doug points out West Hollywood to the right. He dismisses the actual Hollywood, as ‘history.’ The action has moved west. I reflect that so had I. At this point he starts talking about me staying and all he’ll do for me.
“You are really going for me,” I note.
“More than for anyone else, ever.”
“But when I went for you in the limo, you backed off.”
“We’ll work that out once you decide to stay with me.”
I realize he wants to have me, like a possession. He complains that all the boys are crassly selling themselves, but it’s because he’s buying. How can I make this decision without knowing what he’s all about? He’s as old as Dad and wants me to live with him because I’m open and attractive. I’d been anxious to reward him for buying my airline ticket, which makes the impression that I’m selling myself too. I wonder how to say it, so he knows what I feel. There’s no way I’ll give up my life to be a rich guy’s boyfriend. It’s nothing to do with being gay, just to do with losing my friends, Scott, Tina, the whole part of my life where I’m growing up and finding out about myself. It’s an unfair decision he’s forcing me to make. Will I regret having said no when I’m older and want this life? If I tell him these feelings, it will only encourage him to keep me confused, so I’ll do what he wants. I take the kid’s way out. I put him off.
“I’ll think about it when I get back to Miami, Doug. There’s no way I can make sane decisions now. You’ve been great to me, so great. I’m just overwhelmed.”
He gives me a look that says he knows he’s lost. He walks back to the limo by himself, leaving me to follow. I worry that he’ll be sore and just dump me there. After a short silence in the limo, he turns on the charm again. It intrigues me to guess what demons make him live his life this way. I’m open to any type of sex he wants. He put me off unless I’m willing to become his possession. These thoughts, over the coming months, are the first glimmers of awareness of my own soul, its worth to me and to others.
We drive back to the house, with Doug pointing out landmarks and interesting stories about the Sunset Strip. At home, I follow him into his bedroom. He gives me another back rub and sucks me off. We both feel estranged from each other. I ‘m glad when I finally cum. I apologize for not being inspired. He laughs and confesses that many boys can hardly keep it up, let alone get off. We talk some more about my coming back. I’m sufficiently positive to keep him happy. I’m relieved to get back to Joey’s room. He still hasn’t returned. I get into the unmade bed, soon fast asleep.
Joey stumbles in some time in the middle of the night. When I open my eyes, I see him slumped over, on the edge of the bed. Sitting up, I can tell he’s incoherent.
”Joey, where ya been?”
“Out, man. I’m really out of it.”
I move beside him. He leans against my shoulder.
“Remember that scratching session we had back in Massachusetts? I sure could use another.”
I pull off his tee-shirt which is soaked in sweat and turn him onto his stomach. Using my nails, I run my fingers up and down his back. He reacts like a cat, moaning instead of purring. I sit on his butt and scratch his neck and ears, then through his long, dark hair. His body is supple and giving, responding to my touch. His skin hangs off a body devoid of muscles, so unlike Scott. I laugh at myself for comparing lovers. I work his arms, reaching out to run my nails the length of his limbs to his relaxed hands. I want to lie on top of him but pull back and regain my seat on his butt.
“You’re doing junk again, aren’t you?” I accuse him
“Yeah, ain’t it the shits.”
“You were so straight in New York.”
“There ain’t a straight bone in my body.”
“No, y’know. You were so together. You organized the whole rescue of Tito. Man, you were the hero.”
“Ain’t I your hero no more, Timmy?”
I lay down, this time beside him.
“Don’t stop,” he complains, so I continue to rub his back more like a massage. “You’re cool, Tim.”
“But, now I’ve gotta worry about you, Joey. It ain’t fair.” I pull him closer to me. We lay there hugging. Soon, I hear his breathing fall into an easy rhythm of sleep. Worrying I’ll have trouble falling asleep myself, I’m soon as gone as Joey. I dream confused episodes of New York, with everyone there chasing me, Scott, Lydia, Dad, Tina, Doug, the Indian braves from the teepee. Then Joey pulls up in the convertible. I jump in, but instead of escaping together, he turns me over to the pursuers. I awake, not knowing where I am. I look at Joey as I get my bearings. I realize he isn’t breathing. I shake him, but he doesn’t respond. I start giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and pound on his chest, as I’d learned in junior life saving class in Alaska. His cheeks go from grey to a normal pallor. He comes out of it.
“Hey, look at the boy scout,” he whispers.
“I thought you were dying.”
“No, man. I was dead. You brought me back. What a guy.”
It’s too much. Sitting on the edge of the bed, the tears are streaming down my cheeks. Joey just sits there, too out of it to even notice my distress. After a few moments, I get my breath back. He’s laying there, staring at the ceiling. I think he’s dead, but he just looks at me strangely when I grab his shoulder.
“I’m okay, man, just kinda out of it.”
“Joey, how can you be this way?” I sob.
“Hey, little man, it’s okay. I promise I won’t do it again. I just got carried away tonight. It’s that shot of whiskey from Doug’s bar when I got home. I’ll be more careful.”
“You mean so much to me, Joey. If you die I won’t be able to stand it.”
“Hey, I ain’t gonna die.”
I crawl into his bed, giving him a hug.
I sleep in starts and stops, waking up every few minutes to check on his breathing. Finally I stay asleep for a couple of hours. I get up at eight. Joey is so out of it, he won’t wake up. Doug’s door is closed, so I wander out to the teepee. The tall kid named Tony is sitting up, taking a hit from the pot pipe.
“Wanna a hit?” he offers.
“That’s okay. I don’t feel so hot this morning.”
“Doug too much for you last night?” He half-mocks me.
“Naw, it was pretty mild. It was Joey; he kept me up all night.”
“That dude’s too much; he parties full-time. How come you stay with him?”
“He’s my cousin. He got Doug to bring me out here.”
“Oh, I wondered why you’re such the special thang.”
I laugh, then take the pipe from him and take a hit.
“That’s better,” I exhale and sit beside him. “How’d you end up here?”
“I started coming to Hollywood last winter. I live in South Bay, but I hate it there. My folks are screwed. This hippie guy turned me on to Doug. He gave me the big rush at first, saying that I could come up here and stay as long as I wanted. Now, I’m just one of his braves. Yesterday was really crazy, man. Usually we just dance around and get naked. I can’t believe we all fucked each other. My butt’s still sore.”
“You don’t get fucked when you have sex?”
“I don’t think I’m really a fag, or that I really enjoy it. It’s like being a girl or something.”
“Yeah, or something.”
We laugh. “But what about you? You seem pretty young even though your body’s the best.”
“Maybe I’ll turn into a fag,” I say, giving him a sly look.
He moves closer and we smile.
“See, you’re so bold about it. I can’t even tell these other guys here what I think. All we talk about is girls and how studly we are. Then Doug comes out and takes his pick. He treats us like shit. If these other guys see us doing it, they’ll shun me. It’s screwed.”
“You need real friends. My friend Scott found out I had done it with Joey when I was fourteen; he told everyone on the swim team. We had it out. Then I saved him from being run over by a boat. We lay on the beach after it was over and realized we were best friends. Now he lives with me and we’re boyfriends, after he called me queer and everything.”
“Wow. Do you ever think you may have some kind of power over people?”
“You mean like Doug and his whip?”
“No. He’s just a fag. I mean everything just works out for you. You seem so cool.”
“That’s the weed talking,” I laugh. “Give me another hit.”
As I take a drag, another kid crawls over and sits beside us. He doesn’t say a word after I pass him the pipe, just looking at me with wide eyes.
“That’s Jimmy,” Tony explains. “He never talks except when he has to.”
I give him the hippie handshake. “Peace, brother.”
He smiles, takes another hit, and settles next to me, with his back to the wall.
Soon everybody is getting up. We make a circle with the pipe going around. Everybody, except Jimmy, talks about themselves a bit. It’s the first time anyone has opened up to the others. Most are runaway and/or throwaway kids. No one is younger than me; most are 17 or 18. They feel they’re still on the streets, even though Doug is providing a place to sleep. All expect to be eventually kicked out. When I ask, no one can remember anyone actually being told to leave. All the boys before them have gone off on their own. Their dream is to find a sugar daddy, who will buy them stuff, like a car. They’re amazed I have a boyfriend my own age. They don’t want their hometown friends to know what they do. Sex is something they do to survive; they hate it. Yesterday’s orgy makes them all uneasy because everyone screwed and was screwed. Their feelings are too mixed up for them to admit they liked it. Being straight is an image they must maintain at all cost. Sex is a job. It can’t be fun. When I tell them I have sex with girls and don’t know or care whether I’m straight or gay, they argue that you have to be exclusively one or the other. It makes them nervous they’re so close to being gay. If they enjoy it just once, it might blow the image they fight to maintain.
I look at them after each talks about their experiences, and say, “You know, we’re all so much more alike than different. I think the straight world sucks, especially if you have to work at it to belong. I’ve got an idea to test how gay each of us is, but you’ve got to agree to participate. Okay?”
They all look nervously at each other, so I continue, “It’s not a word test. We just see who gets turned on by each other. All we have to do is get naked and see who gets hard as we sit around in a circle.”
“Oh, a circle jerk.”
“No. You can’t jerk it. We’ll see who gets hard just thinking it’s going to happen.”
“Well, I guess I win,” says Tony, exposing his hard-on through his jeans. “Just talking about it and I’m ready.”
“Okay, let’s take it to the next step. Everybody get naked and Tony get in the middle.”
After looking at each other for a second, we all stand up, strip off our clothes, and get in a circle around Tony. Two other guys have hard-ons too, so I direct them into the middle, each kneeling with his back to the others.
“Okay, Tony, who do you want,” I ask, “since you’re the one who’s ready; it’s your choice.”
“That’s easy, I chose you.”
Everyone, including me, laughs.
I sit in front of him. “Okay, now you’ve got to make me hard.”
He look a bit uneasy. “But, how?”
“Well, you want me, so it’s up to you to get me to want you.”
“I ain’t gonna blow you.”
“Well, use your imagination.”
He smiles seductively at me. It’s all it takes for me. then pulls me closer to him and starts to rub my nipples, which instantly get hard. Soon my dick is lengthening as the blood rushes into it. Still kneeling in front of him, I feel it stiffen. As soon as my dick pokes up between my legs, a cheer goes up from all those watching us. Tony straightens up, clasps me around the waist, and pulls me into his arms. Soon both our dicks are bobbing and touching each other as if introducing themselves. The other two with hard-ons point out partners, who come forward and kneel in front of them. they stare at each other, looking into each other’s eyes and sharing the closeness. All three couples go at each other. Once done, Tony and I sit up. I hear a muffled sob from against the wall. Jimmy is sitting there, miserable in isolation. There are seven of us and he’s the guy out. It’s like not being picked for baseball. Dragging Tony with me, we crawl over next to him. He reaches out and the three of us hug.
“I didn’t get a hard-on,” he mumbles between his sobs.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t want to be loved,” I say, stroking his short black hair. He puts both arms around my neck and holds me tightly. We remain like that, with Tony’s arm around him also. I pull away, and looking straight into his dark eyes, I let out my feelings.
“You’re just as important as anyone else. Sex isn’t love, Jimmy. You need more love than all of us combined. Just let us know you need us, so we can give it.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard him talk,” Tony looks at Jimmy in wonder.
“That’s because he had to trust he could reach out to you guys. He needs you guys, all of you.”
The other couplings are done. They all gather in a circle around Jimmy. He beams from all the attention, with everyone putting their hands on him.
Doug stands in the doorway watching our little group. “You all look like a bunch of preschoolers.
We jump apart in surprise.
“You’ve got to get moving, Tim. I called a cab which will be here in five minutes,” he announces.
We come together for a final hug. As I walk away with Doug, I look back at them, with Jimmy surrounded by the others. There’s nothing brave about them. I should worry about Jimmy especially. It’s like walking away from my future.
I grab my clothes and hug the still sleeping Joey. Doug is being gracious, reminding me he wants me to return. He puts a roll of twenties in my hand, as I try thanking him. The reason I came was Tina’s problems in New York, but that seems far away now.
Soon I’m rolling down the Hollywood Hills toward the airport. The bright sunlight again makes things look garish. I think a lot about LA on the flight back to Miami. Everyone is so friendly, but I left feeling it’s been unreal, as if the whole weekend was a dream. New York is too real, dangerous and complicated. I hadn’t called Tina since leaving. She’s my girlfriend; I know for sure, but it isn’t like Scott and Lydia. It’s more like a commitment for the future. She’s only fourteen. I know she shouldn’t be having sex. Our connection is deeper. But it’s so vague; am I kidding myself about wanting a girlfriend? Why is everything about me so strange? Can’t I have a normal relationship? Is hoping that Scott and I can be normal a fantasy? Is my need for him a need to be normal? Am I a Doubting Thomas, who only thinks about such things when I’m not busy having a real life. I hardly thought about myself all weekend – three days of action and sex. The tee-pee and Doug with a whip is not me. I try to sleep but my dreams keep me from relaxing. I swear I’ll contact Tina, then straighten out everything with Scott and Lydia. I feel excluded because they’re a couple. Now that I accept it, I can work on making the three of us as close as Scott and I have been. I laugh when thinking how Scott will feel about letting her know about the two of us. Once all this is settled, I relax and sleep the last half of the flight.