The homeless may have been called hippies in San Francisco but in LA they were still called bums. As the trans writer Jan Morris once said, L.A. is the can-do city, not at all into flower children like little San Francisco. They still called the cops on black FEDEX deliverymen in Beverly Hills: “Help, there is a black man in my front yard.” L.A. was special, a city of racist reactionaries disguised as cutting-edge progressives. If you called 911 back in Memphis at the sight of a black man, the police themselves would have shot you. Hippies sang songs and begged for money. In L.A., they robbed you by making faces. My first thought was they lacked talent. I went to Pershing Square to find pantomimists like the ones in Union Square up north. There were none. This was no doubt why L.A. produced Charles Bukowski while Frisco nurtured the likes of Allen Ginsberg. Different worlds. Bukowski was more my style. I became aware of my body and felt awkward. I didn’t like pigeons. I followed my mother’s advice and refused offers from strangers.
I stayed with the law firm. Silver’s death became a memory, my first case, one might say, something to laugh about. I was getting the hang of L.A., that’s the thing. L.A. This was at a time when the sky was the limit. Frank Gehry was just getting started. Gorky’s was my favorite diner in the heart of downtown. There was no Disney Hall.
I ate in Chinatown and kept an eye out for Jack Nicholson, but the turning point came the day I was taken to East L.A. to King’s Tacos, to try their pork belly burritos. The cook called me “amigo.” Nobody ever called me amigo back in Tennessee. That burrito, prepared in five minutes, was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten in my life Running away may not have solved anything, I’m not too sure, but I can’t imagine life having any meaning without flour tortillas.
And there was Cindy. She had been the liaison between my law firm and her mother. She was dating one of the guys in the office, or had been. “Dating?” Well, not sure about that. Whatever. I asked her about the stud VP, notorious for fucking the secretaries. “For all I know he’s fucking you, too.” These are words to remember. This bit of bile sat on my mind like a mustard stain on one of my brand-new dress shirts. Shit. Try getting that out. Yes, these were words spoken to me by a woman I once called a friend. She was the kind of woman – you’ve met them – who says things without thinking, or like a dog that defecates on her neighbor’s trimmed lawn. The same way, one imagines, Joan Crawford once took a hanger to her lovely daughter’s bare bottom, forgotten by her the moment of impact but remembered by daughter Christina for the rest of her life.
The tears did nothing for me. I had no sympathy, not then, and even less now. She thought then, in her prime, of bedding my employer and now missed desperately his warm embrace, imagined as in a fever that he was only fucking her, but knew in her heart that, if not his wife, anyone else would do.
How did such an attitude take shape? I wondered about this. A bright woman, well-educated, feminist, who once adored the likes of Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin. She was a mature, sensible woman shaped by her times, made to feel her worth measured by a bank account and a man. Oh, Cindy, I remember. My dear old friend, so distraught, so frustrated. Now she liked my boss, a horny attorney who bragged about putting women up against the wall in the office lav. She envied them. She was jealous. She drove an old English Rover sedan, giving herself bohemian airs, but I knew how much she preferred tooling around in the boss’s Maserati. She was on the lookout for a man with a Porsche. In college, she told me, she’d pack an overnight bag, hang out in the local bar hoping to be taken to a motel for the weekend. She said she deserved that. When you see yourself this way, as nothing more than a catch, it must burn not to be caught.
Those posters on her walls of Mick Jagger and Steve Biko weren’t just for decoration. They were fantasies, like a soldier’s poster of Betty Grable, hidden in the springs of a pal’s upper bunk. Cindy, who was a little chunky, liked to sleep with black tennis players, the more the merrier. Who can blame her? Different strokes for different folks, as we said to ourselves.
Cindy had a way of getting around and for a gag had accepted the position of personal assistant to an up and coming comedian who had suddenly gotten a huge break and was becoming a sensation. He liked to dress up as Mighty Mouse and sing. He became famous for being an idiot but gained glory for his uncanny impersonation of Elvis on the Johnny Carson show that had girls all over the country wetting themselves.
I hate star-fuckers. This clown in tights was of no interest to me. I’d heard of him and probably had seen him and may even have liked him, but I didn’t hang out on Santa Monica Boulevard to meet actors. I didn’t play billiards with the hope of spotting somebody famous. Not my style, but I accepted Cindy’s invitation to see the guy in Studio City at a serious public talk on American comedy. A panel discussion with some other TV personalities and a professor from USC had been assembled and she had scored tickets.
The professor was terribly serious, a funny guy in his own right, a man with a horse-like face and extraordinarily long eye brows.
“Woody Allen prefers grey skies, have you heard? We were taught to embrace the sun like Greek boys off to war, but our best comedians prefer it dark. WASPS are rarely funny; they need the sun to lighten up. Woody is one of a long line of comics, running back to Jerry Lewis and beyond, all the way to the Marx Brothers. They were self-exiled outsiders, these Jews, not foul-mouthed but certainly foul-tempered. Some were madmen, and most stayed angry.”
I perked up. I hadn’t heard TV stars being talked about in this way.
Another speaker took up the subject: “One can easily picture Milton Berle in “Waiting for Godot,” while Jack Lemmon will never be forgotten as James Tyrone. Our best comics are hard-nosed; they don’t have to carry a gun as Clint Eastwood and John Wayne do. Alan King plays a brilliant mafioso.”
For reasons I didn’t understand, this brought the house down.
The guy went on: “Woody plays the heavy in real life, fighting off women and usually winning. Woody’s one for big subjects like death. He eschews curse words and doesn’t ask actresses to strip, but as great as they are, the Jews are through. Hard times create comics and the Jews have it too easy now just like the rest of us.”
“Speak for yourself,” someone shouted out good-naturedly.
“Now it’s the blacks’ turn,” the professor jumped in. “They’re as excited by the sight of money as Groucho once was. One of Chris Rock’s greatest subjects is his hatred for his own rich children. They have nothing in common, he tells us, he and his spoiled brats. Being poor isn’t funny, but joking around helps one to survive.”
He was just getting started, but made a few more interesting remarks before things got repetitious and I started to nod out.
“Like Don Cheadle, the great Afro-American actor, I’d say Chris Rock could play a heavy. He makes audiences laugh out loud when he says “motherfucker” and I’d bet money he could say it another way and scare the shit out of Al Pacino. Many of our best Afro-American comedians would make great dramatic actors, take a look at James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier, or Denzel Washington.”
Finally, the organizer stepped up and said, “Where are the writers?” With that, Cindy and I crept out. I went on alone as I had to stop by the Galleria to check on security. Cindy caught a ride with a girlfriend.
Then I made the mistake of saying something to my cousin in Memphis, the now-deserted Southern town which offered tickets to Graceland at sleepy downtown intersections. I was a fool and still am. I told my cousin I knew Mighty Mouse and he started to foam at the mouth. Bud, who sported a baseball cap in reverse, decided to drive his green Pontiac all the way to California for a chance to meet Mighty in person. “The chance of a lifetime.” Once he knew that I knew a lady with Hollywood connections he couldn’t sleep. He had to meet Mighty, so I set it up. Or I should say Cindy did.
Cindy-Lou. (I’d given her a Southern tramp’s name,) That night we went to a restaurant off Beverly that served macrobiotic spinach to nuts. This guy, the impersonator of Elvis, was a fanatic when it came to food. He liked to eat alone and always sat in the same spot. Cindy knew where to find him and although she knew him well, she didn’t consider the fact that he wouldn’t want to be disturbed. In we walked. He looked up and went back to eating his tofu. He didn’t look up again. Instead, he seethed. He was in an instant rage. Cindy began to apologize. He didn’t complain. He said nothing. She whined. Then she introduced us. I smiled and felt miserable. My cousin didn’t notice. It was a great honor, he said, to meet a famous mouse. Could he have his autograph, could he try his tofu, could he sip from his cup? Yes, he would be thrilled to join him for dinner. “Can I get a menu?” What’s it like to be famous? “I just love Saturday Night Live.” When I finish kissing your ass, would you care to have your balls licked? I was mortified. Mighty seethed. Cindy blushed. I turned to stone and couldn’t move. I stopped breathing. My cousin gushed.
And, finally, we got out of there. We ran. Cindy was hysterical. She knew she had blown it. My cousin wanted to meet back again for breakfast. “Does he like tofu burritos?” Bud hadn’t noticed that Mighty was furious. Isn’t that marvelous? When I told him, and got Cindy to back me up, he denied it. “But he was so friendly. He was so courteous.” It was his impression that we had made his day. He’d certainly made his. It was the greatest day of his life. Now he wanted to go to Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica, in hope of finding Tom Cruise. “I’ll buy him a beer.”
What an end. I showed up as planned the following morning but the door to her place was locked. She had been leaving the door open for me so I could crawl into bed, but there was no reply. Cindy had stopped talking. She was no longer responding to my calls. I didn’t understand. I wanted to be understanding. I listened carefully for messages, those real and imagined. I even called her mother, thinking she might explain. After all, we too had once been friends or whatever it is the rich call it. I’d been dismissed.
Be polite, I said, keep quiet. Pretend nothing’s happened. Don’t make an ass of yourself. Pretend to be an English gentleman. But it’s odd to be dropped, I’ve got to admit, or was I being shunned?
No discussion, no explanation. Just a forceful ending, entirely one-sided. Shunning is stunning; it’s an aggressive act, an assertion, an imposition, a commanding position. “Shut up and go.” Say good-bye and don’t look back. I felt the boot on my neck. Thank you. It was harsh but direct. She stepped down harder and shouted, “Shut up. You’re as good as dead.” It is incredible how angry women talk. Men stand in awe.
Shunning is an act of cunning. It’s brutal and, above all, cold. I must have done something awful, something very wrong to be ignored. I said something or did something, I was not sure. “Wouldn’t you want to talk it over?”
Shunning is not withdrawing. It is not an act of defense. It is an attack. It is offensive. She expected me to disappear. But we had been friends; there had been kisses. Like sister and brother, united and connected. I knew her mother, knew her brother. Her mother was once my friend, I had thought, but in truth we were not. She had been my boss’ client and I had just been a gopher. I had a tendency to get above my station. I was known for taking liberties. This was true with Cindy, too. After all, she had kept me on to lick her pussy, not to bring my family along to gawk.
She was once gracious, thoughtful, and attentive. This harshness was quite new. Now she was very rigid, even frigid. This assertion of power seemed suddenly tonic: bracing, pompous, even gleeful. It was a betrayal. What a cunt. This was no friend of mine. I’d never have cut her off like this. Her mother wouldn’t have allowed it. Perhaps there was another person, a manipulator. Something tells me that the comedian gave her an ultimatum; yes, that’s what happened. Yes, he told her to eliminate me.
Must I be turned into a stranger?
Now that her mother was dead to me, she wanted to see it end. It was over. She was done. She wanted closure. The firm was no longer sending me to the house. Why did I hang around? I’d been nothing but demanding. She had in so many ways been obliging. I regretted not showing better judgment. I shouldn’t have accepted her invitations. I should have dumped her or kept it strictly sexual. For a while it had been beautiful. I would crawl into her bed and stick my head between her legs. We didn’t talk. I crawled right back out, without so much as a word. And then stupidly I had gone with her to the Ambassador Hotel for supper. She wanted to be fucked in the elevator. Big mistake. Too intimate. Too grand. And I remember kissing her which she hated. “Just fuck me,” she said, and I didn’t believe her.
It has been a pleasure knowing her. I respected her desire to stop talking. “I won’t contact the bitch.”
I was working security at the Galleria in Glendale. They had their own armed guards. I wasn’t one of them, but my boss knew the owners who wanted people in the building after hours. He hired a couple of law students whom his partners knew, and I was assigned to drive by every few hours to check on them. I went to the back door at three. I knocked and knocked. I had been there the night before at midnight and got no answer. The guys were sleeping. I could have broken in and shit on the floor. Vandalism was a major problem, inside and out. I finally roused one of the little fairies, all dressed up in rich-boy casual, the flouncy hair, curls down his back, looking a lot like a Russian poet. It is fascinating how the rich only know the rich. My boss wanted a couple of toughs and he got the children of a rich Jew, the sort of folks who give their kids BMWs for their birthdays. So, I was full of resentment. Fuck them.
Dump it all in a pile and let the masses go for it.
One could no longer find a good rye in downtown L.A., but one could get a decent cheeseburger in Shanghai. Corporate America reminded me of the USSR, with its long lines and empty shelves. “The plumber will be there some time next Tuesday.” Americans learn to wait. Just as well, as there’s nowhere to go. Starbuck’s will send a drone with a donut and a cup of coffee. The beans were handpicked by native virgins on the slopes of Hawaii’s last active volcano. It’s organic. The coffee and the donut will be $39.95.
When the sun came up, I left the Galleria and headed for breakfast. I always ate on Wilshire at Tops Diner. Diner coffee, a thing of the past. Good riddance. I much preferred espresso with hot milk but by then I was used to American coffee.
The firm sent me on a mission. I had to find a boy, the son of a prominent family from Indiana who had disappeared. He’d come to Hollywood wanting to be an actor, of course. He had even registered for classes at the Actor’s Studio in Hollywood, but had wound up walking Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. The parents found out because the boy had been arrested. No sooner had the parents gotten him out than he was back to hustling in another part of town.
Randall was a rent-boy living in a ramshackle apartment at the Champs Elyse Complex in downtown Torrance, a suburban town south of South Central which was predominantly Japanese. Toyota was down there along with Japanese grocers and tons of cute co-eds living off daddy’s corporate salary. No doubt he, Randall, had once been a dish but he was well past his prime. He wasn’t hard to find, or his place wasn’t. The landlord bought my story and let me in. His rooms were in disarray.
Today it was over 90 degrees in the shade. I couldn’t eat or drink as I sat in my Blazer. I parked behind the Jack-in-the-Box across the street and used binoculars. I figured on being there a while, but low and behold the kid showed before I died.
“My favorite customer is a finance minister with the Saudi government.”
We were sitting at the Jack-in-the-Box. We both ordered gigantic cups of Coke. Mine was so big that when I lifted it, I couldn’t see his face. It was a nice one, too. No moustache as in his mother’s last photo. He cut it off for his male clients. They seemed to be monied, but he appeared to be down on his luck.
“He lives in a high-rise in Century City and rides in a Mercedes Benz.”
He was describing his favorite client, a Middle Eastern bureaucrat who seemed to work out of the Saudi consulate. “When he crosses the city on business, his Filipino driver knows not to look in the back. I sit on his lap. He likes to pretend he is sleeping while I lick his balls. I carry his heavy suitcases. His back is as hairy as … a monkey’s.”
I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to say. They just wanted the kid located for now. Who knows? Maybe they were planning an intervention. I assumed he was a drug addict, otherwise he would have had more money.
“What’s he paying you?”
“I don’t know. You mean hourly? Don’t know. Sometimes a thousand dollars an hour, sometimes a thousand dollars for the week. I don’t ask. He picks me up, takes me back, gives me a thou. Sometimes it is a lot, sometimes, I feel cheated. He makes me stay the weekend. I’m there for two or three days. I always make a thousand.”
He didn’t look happy, whatever the hell that means. He was twenty-eight. I was twenty-four. He looked used; one might even say used up. I hoped his mother wouldn’t have to see him like this. I wondered if he ever looked himself in the eye.
“Many Saudis like to slap me around.”
“When he keeps me over the weekend. He makes me entertain his friends. Big men. Tough guys. They are taught not to like dicks. They’re angry if you’ve got one. They’d like me to be a girl. They fuck their nephews. I heard the desert is full of buried corpses of little boys with their pants pulled down. I believe that. I’ve got the bruises to prove it.”
“God disapproves, and the men know it.”
Every time I tried to speak, he cut me off. He wanted to do the talking.
“They’ll use you but will never admit it. You’d be surprised how many are alcoholics. They drive their cars at 90 miles per hour, out past Palm Springs, into the desert. Sometimes, the cars are totaled and so is everyone inside. They all bring boys. You can’t wear a seat belt while getting a blow job. Everyone goes out the window. They are found with sandy dicks in their mouths.”
It was difficult not to react.
“My father worked for the Shah of Iran, but that’s another story. One little secret: he loved Duran Duran.”
“That was years ago.”
“Yeah, before I was born. My dad’s Iranian. He had to flee.”
“Few Saudi men know how to clean their assholes. There’s no toilet paper over there. There’s not enough water to flush. Dollar bills scratch. The King has offered $1million to the inventor of soft money. Meanwhile, they use their left hands or my tongue.”
“Listen, Randall, let me take you out for dinner.”
“Nah, that’s all right.”
“We’ll go to Taylor’s, my favorite haunt. It’s the steakhouse Raymond Chandler used to like. They make a great Martini.”
“I’m not into Caucasian men.”
“Neither am I.”
It was a story of “improbable bliss” as my boss called it. He could be quite eloquent. He had a courtroom flair, I thought, especially when he was driving. From time to time, he would call me on the intercom and tell me to come right up. Then he’d order me to accompany him to his favorite deli, an old place at MacArthur Park run by a 90-year-old Jew who made the best sandwich for a thousand miles. I paid. I mean, I paid for myself. It was a $13 sandwich made in heaven. I almost died every time I bit into one of these gorgeous things made of rye bread, soft as a pillow, and pink pastrami absolutely the color of sex. The entire experience was orgasmic. I won’t go into what the Russian dressing tasted like.
The boy’s story was less appetizing perhaps, but was certainly titillating. I don’t know why I keep referring to him as a boy. I guess it is the trouble I have accepting that a man his age was still caught up in his line of work, which I most certainly did associate with youth.
Be that as it may, we were shown a booth. I admit as he spoke that I wondered about that “improbable bliss” to which Seidman referred. I thought (hoped?) at any moment Randall might slip beneath the table like a pretty secretary in an old Hollywood movie.
“Morsels, crumbs, leftovers: this reminds me of Capote. Sigmund Capote, that is, was my client in Santa Monica, a refugee from the day after tomorrow, a visitor from the future. I saw him every day back then. I was barely twenty. He named me Sonny. Capote did, not my father. My father called me a faggot. It sounds like a sad story, but actually those were the happiest days of my life. I’d spent my entire life looking for someone to hit me as hard as good old dad.”
“Try the Prime unless you’d like a steak.”
“Capote was tough all right, but not as tough as my father. He had one weakness. Capote cared what I thought. After he fucked me and whipped my ass, he asked me how it felt. When I said good, he cried. Capote was weak. My dad wasn’t. He never said boo.”
“Can I get you gentlemen something to drink?”
He needed time with the menu. He’d been talking so much he hadn’t had time to take a proper look. I ordered two Martinis just for fun. If they were good enough for Sam Spade, they were good enough for us. It was shaping up to be a $200 night.
“It was impossible to find a cold-hearted bastard like dad. He made me get the belt and thank him. I had to say, ‘Once more time, sir. Harder.’ If I didn’t, he gave me five. It was a game. When I said harder, he thanked me.”
I have no idea what my face was saying. I know I felt like crawling away on all fours. I did not like what I was hearing. It is amazing how feminine men sound when they speak about being abused. I noted this when some of the Catholic alter-boys were interviewed about their experiences with perverted priests.
He settled on a little coulotte steak, more expensive than the filet. Creamed spinach and another Martini. I figured on having to carry him to the car.
“All of this is by way of saying family is everything.”
I caught sight of the fellow across the table and realized suddenly that he must have once been quite delicate looking, handsome, perhaps even pretty. He looked Persian. What threw me was the red hair.
“Mom and dad, they were providers. Dad brought home the bacon. Mom kept house. He fucked her, then made me suck his dick. He wanted me to taste my mother. He was into sharing. Manly sharing, fucking the same chicks. I would look into his eyes and ask, ‘how’d I do this time, dad?’”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell the office I had found our client’s son. I didn’t know what they wanted him for but I felt in my bones he had little to offer. I sensed they had used him up. He was barely alive.
“And off I go then to my pal, the attaché. I’ll sit on his back stairs, strip off, throw all my things in the bag left just for me on his lower step. When he opens the door, I go right in, crawling on all fours. I always start with his toes and make my way up his legs. I work on his balls for hours. I love to lick his ass. In the end, I nap. I sleep on the kitchen floor. He feeds me cat food on a yellow tray. Next year, Sig promises it’ll be blue. When he calls out, ‘Sonny,’ I meow. As he comes down my throat, I purr.”
Randall had told me all about it. We met a few times down in Torrance. I made my reports, but as far as I knew nothing came of it. He had been serving a Hollywood producer, a guy with no name recognition among the general public but a big wig in Tinsel Town, a mover and a shaker who was married to a fading star and had a couple of spoiled daughters.
They met weekly in a seedy motel. Randall preferred big men, Mediterranean, dark-skinned, Middle Eastern.
“He answered the door in a dirty t-shirt and one white sock. He’d leave his 64-ounce Sprite on the bed stand. When he lay back, he propped himself against some pillows, grabbed his drink, and put the straw into his mouth. He looked over the top of the cup and said, ‘Suck that dick.’”
The story was read out in a deposition in the law office. His parents had come into town to retrieve his body. Randall had killed himself, evidently with some assistance as his body was found in a deep freezer in the basement of a crumby hotel down on Hill and Figueroa in downtown L.A. His father was a prominent businessman with quite a bit of dough. I figured this on account of the fact that he flew in on a private jet.
“’Suck it.’ Oh, boy, I did as I was told. Before stretching out, he’d slipped an oily
zucchini up his ass. I wondered if it might slip out. I hoped not. He’d left the bathroom light on but for the rest, the room was dark. The blinds were drawn and we were alone. We were not friends or anything like that. I just knew his name: Kirt.”
Randall had got himself into a drug habit that needed feeding. He required funds, a steady flow. I wasn’t sure if he found his own clients or was set up. Possibly there was as they say in Hollywood, “representation”. Perhaps there had been a pimp.
“’Suck that cock.’ Those words made me tremble. I wanted to sing. It was a perfect afternoon. I had had time to prepare. I’d taken pains: I remembered to remove my watch and the change in my pockets. I’d loosened my shirt and unbuttoned. I had room to breathe. The key was to do everything right so I wouldn’t have to think. I could relax. His cock slid in: down, down, down I went. But it wasn’t clean. A bit of a disappointment. It smelled of sweat and saliva. He’d already had someone over. I was his second. Perhaps he’d given his first some fries. Perhaps they were friends. I didn’t know. I was jealous that the other guy had had the chance to get there first.
“He’d tasted Kirt clean; he’d swallowed Kirt fresh. Now I was giving Kirt a second going over. I wondered if he could come twice. I was slightly miffed, possibly mortified. I thought Kirt belonged to me. Isn’t that ridiculous? I barely knew the guy but was sure I owned him. That was my first lesson as a male prostitute. Prostitutes don’t own things. There’s only a rental agreement, no contract. One needs to get serious.”
The reading of my reports upset Randal’s mother. I could see that. Both his parents struck me as distressed.
“‘You know where to find me.’ That’s all he ever said. From ‘Suck it’ to goodbye, there was nothing. He was silent. When he finally came, I moaned. He remained quiet. He didn’t speak. Everything I knew about him I read in the trades. I was dying for him to say how much he liked it. I wanted to be his friend. ‘The zucchini stays.’”
*If you missed it, you can catch Daylight Savings, Part 1 here: https://storgy.com/2020/09/16/daylight-savings-time-by-david-lohrey/
David Lohrey is from Memphis, Tennessee, a graduate of U.C. Berkeley. His plays have been produced in Switzerland, Canada, and Lithuania. His poems can be found at Expat Press, Cardiff Review, The Drunken Llama and Trouvaille Review. His fiction can be seen at Dodging the Rain, Storgy Magazine, Terror House Magazine, and Literally Stories. Three new anthologies in 2019 include David’s work: Universal Oneness (India), Passionate Penholders (Singapore), and Suicide, A Collection of Poetry and Prose (UK). David’s first collection of poetry, Machiavelli’s Backyard, was published in 2017 by Sudden Denouement Press (Houston). His newest collection, an anthology of prose and poetry, Bluff City, will appear this fall, published by Terror House Press. He lives in Tokyo.
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