The night seemed pretty quiet on Collins Avenue, with all my friends gone. My new pickup techniques were not working as well with no friends around. I was leaning against the wall outside Nathan’s when a man asked me if I wanted a cigarette.
“I thought I was the one to ask for a smoke.”
He laughed, “ 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, and I am no runaway. I got plenty of money.”
“Yeah, how much?”
“Forget you man. You steal from your mama.”
“Yer right about that, kid.”
I turned 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.”
I made like he was going to hit me. I flinched, then walked into Nathan’s, a little too quickly. When he was gone, I didn’t feel like hanging out anymore. Then I ran 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 call’d Pong.”
The bus took us up Collins to the front of the Fountainbleu. Pete knew where to go and led me through the lobby, downstairs to a lounge. Several adults were watching two men seated across from each other, playing on a screen set into the table between them: ’Pong,’ electronic table tennis (ping-pong). There were several tables and soon we were playing. It was easy to catch on – you positioned a cursor to return your opponent’s serve of an electric dot. By twisting the control knobs at contact it added twists and speed to the dot. We played for hours. Pete ran out of quarters, and I spent ten dollars feeding the machine. It was the first, but not last time I spent all my money on video games. We had to walk back to South Beach. I kept thinking I saw that pimp. I told Pete about it. He laughed.
“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’d jump his ass and take his money. One time the guy got me ta get in his car. I was real 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, manl. 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 didn’t tell him about the guy in Battery Park. It felt okay to talk with him about this. I forgot 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 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 asked when we finally got back. So, I stayed up there.
When I went to check with my folks in the morning, they were peeved. My dad was supposed to be at work but had been looking for me since early in the morning. It was only nine o’clock, but I really caught it. When I asked for the Mertzes telephone number to ask about Pete and me going out with Dickie in his boat, they acted 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, and they 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 started to walk out on them.
“Not so fast, young man,” my dad piped in. “We’re moving out today. You’ve got to pack.”
“Well, thanks for letting me know.” I ignored them while packing. Sneaking out I ran up to Pete’s room to let him know what was up. We said goodbye. I asked him to not tell anyone about the things we had talked about that night, especially not Tina. He was cool and said neither of us wanted anyone to know about those things. He then gave me an awkward hug, saying he was impressed I wanted 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 got back to my room, everything was loaded into the car, and soon we were driving across the causeway again. I was still mad at my parents for putting down my friends. But, Joey had taught me to avoid confrontation with the parents. As soon as we got to the new house, I told them I was going out, without an explanation. I walked down Byrd Road and got on a Coral Gables bus for downtown Miami. In less than two hours I was back in South Beach. Pete laughed when he opened 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 looked up J Mertz in the phonebook. Sure enough, I had 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,” and we high-fived.
Dickie showed up as scheduled, looking exceptionally preppy in a Lacoste polo shirt, Topsiders, and Bermuda Shorts. Once we got on his boat, he established that he was captain. We lowly crew. Pete and I gladly obliged. The boat was a big Whaler – 20 feet – and had a fast engine. They sit flat on the water and really move. We rounded the south end of the Beach and were flying along in front of our hotel. It looked so small from the water. We kept going until we reached the Fountainbleu. I directed Dickie to take the Whaler into their dock. We tied up between two massive yachts. Our diminutive size compared to real yachts help bring Dickie down from his domineering self. We headed straight to the lounge with the Pong machines. I promptly spent another ten dollars. Dickie really enjoyed himself. He didn’t seem to need to see our supposed rooms at the Fountainbleu. He invited us back to Coral Gables to eat dinner at his house. Pete grinned from ear to ear. When we drove past our hotel, Pete pulled down his shorts and mooned the beach. Dickie was mortified but kept 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. Several of my uncles spend a lot of time with Bacardi. You could say they have a definite relationship.” We both almost cracked up.
“Dickie added, “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 were a friendship from hell. It was dark when we got back, but Dickie knew his way through the canals. It was like the horror movie, ‘Swamp Thing.’
Pete asked if there were alligators.
“Sure,” said Dickie , as we looked all around. “Right here on my polo shirt.”
When he finally docked at his house, Dickie made us help him clean up the boat; he was so anal about details. I called my Mom to let her know I’d be staying at the Mertzes for dinner. She was pleased I was there, and when I asked if Pete could stay over, she readily agreed. We had to dissemble a bit as Dickie thought we were still staying in South Beach. I set Dad to pick us up at nine. After eating we played regular ping-pong in his ‘Florida Room,’ a glassed-in porch. When it was dark, the night in Florida was warm and noisy with insect life. While they buzzed, I sat thinking how cool everything was working out. Maybe I’d really like Miami.
After Dad took us home, Pete sat on my bed while I put away my things. My room was upstairs in the back of the house. It was shaped like a tower with windows that looked toward the Ocean. A long corridor separated it from the front of the house where my parents’ and the guest bedrooms were. Pete said he was impressed. He had to share a bedroom with three brothers; he didn’t even have his own bed. Like Tina, the only time he was by himself was when he went up to the building’s roof. We immediately sang the Drifters’ ‘Up on the Roof.’
We ended up sitting in the biggest window overlooking the backyard. We were a study in contrasts; we both had shorts on, without shirts or shoes, with one leg dangling out the window. His dark skin and hair made him blend into the night. The light behind him cast a shadow that loomed larger than his physique. With no shirt, light brown hair, pale skin on a skinny body and lanky legs, the light reflected off me, so I appeared as a ghost and less than my physique warranted. We started to compare ourselves. My toes, feet, hands, and shoulders were all bigger than his were. Just as we stretched to compare hands, a bolt of lightning flashed. In surprise, our hands grasped each other. We laughed. Moving around so both our legs were out the window, we watched as the thunderstorm moved in from the bay to the east. Soon it started to pour torrents. Suddenly, Pete winked at me and slid completely out the window, rolling down the short roof, then falling to the ground, with a scream, then a splash and thud, followed by silence. I raced down the tower stairs and found him lying in a heap.
I shook him, “Pete, Pete, wake up.”
He looked up at me with innocent eyes, “Scared ya, pussy.”
I chased him around the yard, tackling him and rolling around on the wet grass. The rain was so warm, we just lay there wrestling and getting dirty. Afterwards we took a shower together.I gave him a pair of shorts to wear. When we went to bed, he snuggled up next to me and was instantly asleep. It was about midnight. I could smell him as he slept, a different smell from other people. All the beans and salsa he ate created his own special odor. I couldn’t go right to sleep. I realized he was used to sleeping with his brothers. I had slept with friends all the time growing up, but not snuggled as closely as we were now. We both had sex with older male cousins, but that was something they had started, not us. Sex was a dividing line between being a kid and being a teenager. I knew Pete would have sex with me. We had talked so easily about our experiences. It would be giving up being a kid, though. I liked having sex. I wasn’t about to give it up. I just couldn’t figure out what it would mean if we did it, how things might change between us. The girls I had done it with up North hadn’t thought one thing about doing it and saying goodbye. With Joey, I knew I loved him and hadn’t wanted to leave him. He had rejected me, or at least said he didn’t feel the same way. I really liked Pete. It would just complicate what was really simple. Maybe there was a middle ground where your feelings were strong enough to be friends, but not developed enough to have sex. All this thinking about sex had made me hard, which was the physical side to these thoughts and emotions. Pete rolled over and his butt wriggled next to my right hip.
All I had to do was roll in his directions and my hard dick would be in his ass. Now I really was hard. I couldn’t take advantage of someone who was asleep, no matter how much he may have been willing. I got out of bed and sat in the window again. I told myself I could beat-off to the thunderstorm, one stroke to every flash of lightning. But the storm was moving off. Soon it was five strokes to every flash and I was rubbing my balls between flashes. The head of my dick got so hard it turned in toward my belly, while the storm began to come back. I could see another storm coming in from the east. Soon the two storms merged, with lightening flashing all over. I stood 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 flew out the window. I spurted about six times, then collapsed on the window. Better than watering the flowerbed at Helen’s, I thought. I wondered if it was good fertilizer. As I slid back into bed, Pete snuggled up against me. My dick was soft, and I felt more comfortable. I put an arm around him and was soon asleep.
In the morning we called Dickie, who was game to take his boat out to the Beach again. I had Dad drop us at the Mertzes. Soon we were flying across Biscayne Bay. We docked again at the 5th Street marina. Dickie complained we had promised girls but ended up playing ‘Pong” all afternoon.
“You want to see girls, we’ll show you girls,” and we took him up to Collins Avenue by Nathan’s. Soon we were sitting with six Latinas, talking cool and checking it out. Dickie hardly said a word, which was good strategy. When a girl named Alicia asked me to talk to him for her, it reminded me of my situation with Tina. Dickie was definitely a white boy. I asked if he would take the girls by boat to Virginia Key. He laughed and said it was a nude beach, mostly for gays. The girls screamed and laughed. I could tell it was making him uncomfortable, so I took 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 class.”
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 got Pete, and all of us, including the girls, walked down to the marina. It was definitely hot, having all those girls wave and blow kisses as we tore out of there in Dickie’s Whaler.
“Man, look at her wiggle her ass,” noted Pete. “That’s one hot mama.”
Dickie looked less pained and more comfortable once we parked at the Fountainbleu. After I’d blown another ten bucks on ‘Pong,’ Dickie said he’d spring for lunch, which we ate right in the lounge, still playing the game.
“You know Dickie,” I decided 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 was being so honest.
“I was surprised the Company would pay for such a luxurious hotel. Why did you need to deceive me.”
“Oh, I thought you were sorta rich and wouldn’t hang out with us. I did 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 was alright. I just felt out of my element.”
“I want out of my element,” Pete joked.
It was cool. After leaving the Fountainbleu, Dickie drove Pete right to his hotel, once Pete agreed not to moon the beach. We all got out after Dickie beached the Whaler. I suggested we hang out on the pool deck where we could keep an eye on the boat. A whole new crowd was hanging out. It was like seeing my recent past as a bunch of Puerto Rican kids were dancing to Salsa and pushing each other into the pool. No white boys were with them, though. We had to split. I promised Pete that I’d call the next morning. Dickie drove the boat slowly back to the mainland. We cruised Viscaya Castle, which impressed me about the advantages of being rich. He took me on a tour of the Gables’ canals. All the mansions made his house seem small by comparison.
“Did I put you on the spot too much with all the New Yorkers?” I asked.
“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 in Miami Beach. Most people stay in their own neighborhood.”
“That’s what Pete said about New York, except their neighborhoods aren’t so nice.”
“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.”
“You sure you’re a jock. You sure smoke a lot.”
“Oh, I can lose these,” and I tossed the pack overboard.
“Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”
He asked if I wanted to stay for dinner again, but when I called Mom, she said she’d be right over to pick me up. We sat in his Florida room, mostly talking about girls. He thought that Alicia was asking him to sleep with her, that all those kids have sex earlier than his friends.
“Are you a virgin?” I asked.
“I like girls. I just don’t sleep with sluts.” he evasively answered.
“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 60s 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 laughed.
Mom had been speaking with Mrs. Mertz. They came out on the porch.
“Tim has to go, Dickie,” his mom said. “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 laughed some more.
I’d forgotten my own birthday. It turned out pretty well. When I got home, both Mom and Dad were ready with my favorite meal, steak of course, and a special cake. They noted they would have planned a party had they known I had so many new friends. Dad was particularly interested in my friend, Pete. Mr. Mertz had told him that Pete was related to the Bacardi family. I laughed and confessed how we’d created that impression on Dickie because he was such a snob. Pete’s family had a close relationship with bottles of Bacardi, not the family. They didn’t find my joke too amusing. Dad had obviously hoped for a business connection with the Bacardi’s. I learned that rich Puerto Ricans were more acceptable. Mom said they wanted to give me my present. I imagined packages of underwear. Dad took me into the garage. There was a new Raleigh ten-speed bike. What a relief. I hugged them and promised to be a better kid this year.
“That shouldn’t be hard,” Dad murmured.
Mom countered with, “We only want you to be happy.”
“I am happy, and I have the greatest parents. Miami is gonna to be fine.”
That night, as I sat in my window, I thought about all that happened since leaving Alaska. I was now fifteen. That didn’t mean I was any different. I sure was doing things I couldn’t imagine I’d do while still in Anchorage. Was I a sex maniac? Or, was I so irresistible that girls and guys couldn’t leave me alone? Did I want to be left alone? Could I even tell the difference between sex and love? Did I still love Joey? Yes, but my feelings were changing. I left the window and snuck downstairs, so the folks couldn’t hear me as I dialed Aunt Helen’s in New England. Her cheery voice answered 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 was truth to that.
“Is Joey there?”
“I think so. Hang on.”
“Hi, Timmy,” it was 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 blushed and got 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 – y’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 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 laughed.
“I know I kinda played you off, Tim, about your feelings and us. I guess all the drugs I do made my feelings 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 said 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,” and sitting alone in the closet, my dick was as hard as a rock and I wanted 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 sat there breathless. “Wow, you’re the greatest, Joey.”
I hung up and the tears started to flow and flow. I was so happy and sad and confused. I just stayed in the closet for half an hour, so my folks wouldn’t see me, messed up from thinking about it all.
Joey had his feelings under control; I sure didn’t. Sex was great, no doubt. But these mixed emotions made me feel old; there’s a downside to everything. People were coming up to me, willing to pay for it, but I didn’t need that . The whole question of homosexuality was unimportant. Obviously I liked guys as well as girls. I was not ashamed to admit it, at least to those who cared. I decided that my feelings for Joey were because he was older. I felt I could express them to him. He was a hustler, which I accepted, but I wanted him to accept me as I really was. He had gone further on the phone than I had expected, but then it’s easier when you’re fifteen hundred miles away.