Returning after a hiatus, we continue with more stories from my collection 24 Exposures, which was written around the turn of the century.
Myron had decided, sadly, that he just wasn’t marketable anymore. He’d passed the magic age of thirty, but unlike his luckier friends, he looked like he had. That, and, despite the gym, he’d developed a bit of a gut. Oh yeah, and thanks to his maternal grandfather, his hairline was inching ever backward. Still, for a long time, he’d been hopeful, still going to the same clubs, hanging out with the same people, cruising the same guys. He was handsome, his friends told him that. Only, now, instead of getting lucky all the time or even once a week or occasionally once a month, there was nothing. Nobody looked at him, nobody hit on him, nobody wanted him.
It had been one year, seven months and nineteen days since the last time he’d gotten laid — and even that one had been a last-call desperation parking lot mutual handjob, and nothing more. All right, fine, maybe his wild days were over. He’d try to live with that, but in the meantime, he’d also keep trying, keep playing the game, hanging out in Boys’ Town even though he’d long since stopped being one of the boys.
There was this kid on the dance floor tonight, somewhere between twenty-one and six-foot three. Blond, muscular, grinding away and having a great time. He was wearing black boots and a pair of tight leather shorts that laced up the sides, an unbroken line of tanned flesh showing behind the laces, and god, would Myron like to get some of that, slowly untie those things until the forces of nature and the sleeping monster inside couldn’t be contained anymore and pop, the shorts would fall to the floor and… and fat chance, Myron. He’d seen this kid before, and he was a total cock-tease, especially last Hallowe’en, when his costume had been a G-string and green body paint. And only two years ago, Myron would have walked over to him and said hello and maybe have had a chance.
He contemplated buying the boy a drink, trying that old approach, when Myron saw Roger strolling toward the dance floor. That tired old thing — the girl had to be fifty if she were a day, and that couldn’t have been real hair. An nobody’s teeth were that white. That sad queen was just fighting the truth, and she looked old. Myron hated Roger, but at least seeing that relic made Myron feel a bit younger.
And Roger walked right up to the boy, they kissed each other and, with one hand stuffed proprietarily down the back of those leather shorts, Roger led the kid off the dance floor and out of the bar and —
“Motherfucker,” Myron muttered to himself. It was the money. Of course it was the money. Roger was old and ugly and pretentious as hell, but he had cash. Wads of it. And Roger didn’t, and he really hated that bitch.
“Hi, My,” it was Michael, one of the only people in these places who’d talk to him anymore. Michael readily admitted that he was (gasp) forty-seven, his hairline had receded further than a speedfreak’s gums, he was at least thirty-pounds overweight, and yet Myron knew he scored all the time. True, he’d never actually seen Michael leave a bar with anyone, but on those few occasions when he ran into him in the street, he’d have some pretty young twink with him. And, Jesus, even the way he dressed — Michael looked like he shopped exclusively at the Big K. How the hell did he do it?
“Okay, what’s wrong?” Michael asked as he sat. Myron shrugged, nodded his head toward the dance floor.
“Why do I keep coming here?” Myron asked. “I haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting laid, but…”
“But, like everyone else, you keep doing the things that used to work. Yeah, I know. Getting older sucks ass.”
“Yeah, but you…” Myron gestured vaguely. They both knew what he meant.
Michael laughed, took a swig of his beer, shook his head. “Pathetic, isn’t it? I have to beat them off with a stick — pardon the expression — but I make you look like Ricky Martin.” Michael studied Myron a long moment, making him uncomfortable. Myron could tell he was considering something, dreaded what he knew was coming. Michael was going to tell him how he should improve himself, all the things he’d already tried to no avail. Go to the gym — failed. Minoxidil — he was one of the impervious ones. Botox, facelift — not without insurance, babe. Myron was ready for that boom to fall when Michael instead drained his beer, put cash on the bar and got up.
“Follow me, I’ll tell you my secret.”
“Gee, Michael, could you?”
“Call me Mike. And, yeah. Come on.”
Myron followed him out of the club, past the sweaty throng who didn’t notice them, out the doors into the cool and quiet air and up the crowded street. It was Saturday night, prime time, and they were everywhere, the callow objects of desire who had become unobtainable Holy Grails.
At the corner, some hot little skate punk was strolling by with his friends. He trotted over, gave Michael a big hug. “Mike! Call me, okay?” the kid gushed, hopeful. “You still have the number?”
“Sure do,” Mike said. The kid smiled and hurried back to his friends. Myron just gawked.
Michael — Mike — didn’t say anything as they walked the rest of the two blocks to the Greenery, went inside, got a quiet booth in the back and sat contemplating their menus. Myron didn’t want to push it and Mike said nothing but small talk until their meals had arrived.
“So…?” Myron finally asked as he dug into his Caesar salad.
“So,” Mike replied, “You used to get it pretty regularly, right?”
“All the time,” Myron said. “I couldn’t go into a club without getting hit on.”
“Yeah, me too. Then it stopped, and I couldn’t figure out why. I hadn’t changed, not that much. And it stopped for me forty pounds and a head of hair ago. It was like a neon sign popped up over my head. ‘Danger! Thirty! Danger!’”
“I never looked thirty…”
“You don’t look thirty. Anyway, these kids can smell it, they know. You were there, you remember. They have this perverse belief that they can walk into a bar, get lucky and find a boyfriend. They all want to get married, and most of them want to marry guys their own age. They don’t wake up to that bullshit until later. Until too late. By the time most of them hit our age, they’re either half of an old married couple, rich enough to buy it or just tired of the whole thing.”
“But you’re not tired of it.”
“Hell no. But you only get tired of the game when you start losing, and believe me, I’m still winning.”
“Right, which is why we’re here, isn’t it?”
Mike smiled, wiped fried chicken grease off his chin and put down his napkin. “Right,” he said. “The secret to winning at the game at this stage is to change the rules.”
He let the statement hang there, but Myron was clueless. Change the rules. Didn’t that mean paying for it? Or dating people who were — gack — their own age? Mike let Myron look puzzled for a moment, shoveled a lump of mashed potatoes into his mouth, swallowed. Then he leaned forward, spoke quietly.
“The big secret,” he said. “You want these boys all over you, there’s one thing you have to do.”
Silence, until Myron could take it no more. “What?” he demanded.
“Go back in the closet.”
Myron dropped his fork. “What?”
“You heard me. See, if you’re an old, desperate queen, nobody cares. But if you’re a challenge…”
“It’s exactly what they do to us, but in reverse. Get it? I guarantee, when you were twenty-five, you wouldn’t have looked twice at half the guys you want to jump on now. But they’re not interested in you, and that just makes you more interested in them. But… if they think you’re straight — “
“Whoa, hold on. That’s what you did?”
“Yep. So, all of a sudden, I’m not an easy lay. Like I said, I’m a challenge. There’s a huge hurdle they think they have to get over to get into my pants, and when they succeed, they think they’ve pulled a big coup. They’re suddenly more desirable, least they think so, because they’ve managed to get a piece of something that has no desire for them.”
“Pretending you’re straight…”
“More than pretending, Myron. You can’t just go around telling people you’re straight. That doesn’t work. And you can’t hang around in the bars all the time anymore. Only every so often, and you tell the boys it’s just when your wife is out of town — “
“Absolutely essential. No, you don’t have to get married. But you do have to create that illusion, or didn’t you notice?” Mike waggled his left hand, revealing the gold band on his ring finger. “It’s a little bit of an investment, naturally — half the closet full of ‘her’ clothes, tampons in the bathroom, that kind of stuff. But, believe me, it pays off.”
“This is insane.”
“I know it is, but it works. Hey, you think I like dressing like this?”
Myron studied him. Cheap blue dress shirt with a small rip in the sleeve, and he could see Mike’s T-shirt through the thin material. That, and he was wearing brown pants, heavy polyester, with a black belt. Mike stuck his foot out and Myron looked down. Brown loafers, white socks.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” Mike laughed. “I cringe when I get dressed in the morning, but sometimes you have to swallow your pride.”
“And you get laid a lot?”
“All the time. That kid we met in the street? He’s convinced I’m his special project, the confused bisexual who’s trying to come to terms with things but can’t. I always kick him out afterwards, get all nervous and guilty. But goddamn, he could suck a bowling ball through a garden hose.”
Myron laughed, disbelieving. And yet, he’d seen Mike around with plenty of hot ones. Could it really be so simple?
“So, how do I start?” Myron asked.
“Are you out at work?” Mike asked.
“Then step one is to find a new job. Something in a liberal office where people can be open, but where they don’t know you. And you live in this part of town?”
“Right up the street.”
Mike shook his head. “Rule number two. It’s okay to live in WeHo, but not this side of town. This is the gay ghetto. I mean, you could keep living here, but then you’d have to be seen with a living, breathing fake wife, which just complicates things. No, at the very least, you need to be east of Fairfax and south of Melrose, although a move to the Valley couldn’t hurt.”
“I’m just trying to help here.”
“It seems so… extreme.”
“Desperate times, desperate measures. Hey, if you don’t ever want to get laid again, fine…” Mike signaled for the check. Myron thought about what he’d said. It was just too much. Changing jobs, finding a new apartment, getting two new wardrobes. Or hanging out in the bars, the sad, drunken queen in the corner, never getting hit on, never meeting anyone, getting drunker and sadder and older and fatter and…
And fuck that. Maybe Mike was right. Myron had seen the evidence himself. Mike scored. A lot. And, by all rights, he shouldn’t have.
Mike studied Myron’s face as he signed the credit card slip. “You’re seriously considering it, aren’t you?”
“It’s so much, though.”
“But, believe me, it’s worth it.” Mike stood. “Just think about it. I know it’s a lot to get your head around right now, but you’ll appreciate it eventually.” He started for the door, Myron standing to follow. Mike stopped. “Oh, one other thing. Your name? Myron. It’s kind of… well, kind of gay. You have a middle name?”
“Ouch.” Mike thought about it a moment. “Ron. Try that on for size. Very butch-sounding. No straight man would ever willingly go by ‘Myron.’”
“Gee, thanks. I think.”
“Don’t mention it. Ron.”
Mike laughed, patted Myron on the shoulder and walked out. Myron just stood there, staring after him, not knowing what to do.
Roger and his twink came in the place and the owner greeted them, escorting them to the best table. Before they’d even sat down, Myron hustled out the door into the cold night air and walked the two blocks home, not looking at anybody.