Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Life of an Artist

Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the U.S.A.
Bruce Springsteen

I left the apartment one morning, headed to work wearing an outrageous skintight black outfit. Neighbors in the neighborhood stared, mumbled shit about me, strangers stared on the subway I stared back. As I was unlocking the rolling gates at the store a school bus filled with young girls stopped at the intersection, a red light, the girls erupted into a screaming frenzy, we love you! I waved and smiled they continued screaming as the bus drove away.

The posters for Springsteen’s upcoming album were plastered everywhere, the shot was of his butt in tight jeans with a red handkerchief dangling out of the back pocket, his slim torso covered in a white t-shirt, there were no words, just that image. I thought that the promotion was for something gay, it was not, his album was released months later, I never liked the music.

Making steady full-time income I was finally able to take a trip home to see mom. The flights were cheap made through some travel agent with a dingy office in midtown. My family was very excited about my return, I was glad to be seeing everyone and the landscape that I missed. Mom was still living in the trailer with my brother Leo and my sister Charlotte, she had given birth to a baby boy. Something in her had changed, we would not be taking acid and hitting the after hours club winning third prize at the dance contest.

Having spent nearly two years in the city I was exhausted, what stories should I tell and to whom? My other sister Guadalupe drove up from Vegas with her husband David, she had to see me, there were many expectations, our first reunion after my time away. It was a good quick trip filled with parties, lots of love and a ride to the mountains. My sister convinced mom that I was on the right track based upon the fact that indeed I wanted to go back to NYC. I did.

Back in New York work was going well, but the manager Maureen was not doing a great job, she’d sit in the basement office all day, no one was sure what she was doing, something was up. The big boss came by and had a private talk with me, he asked about the way the store was being run, if I knew how to do the books, no, I haven’t ben trained to do anything but sell. Maureen was fired and Patty took over the position, we were going to have fun while working our asses off.

I called Jason remembering how his face glowed on the night that we met and we scheduled a date. He agreed to pick me up at work after closing time. The staff was very excited about my prospective new romance, I was not known for my sexual exploits, was a romantic, everyone just wanted me to get laid. After they had all left I had some time to compose myself then I sat atop the check out counter and waited. There was something different about this guy, something special and I was very excited about the new prospect.

He was at the store’s glass door wearing green corduroy pants with a red corduroy shirt topped off with a yellow and black jacket. We walked and talked and walked for nearly thirty blocks. It was dark out, our bodies brushing up against each other, we ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe on 59th street, it was one of the hottest places in the city. We ate burgers, drank Rolling Rock beer and flirted. Billy Idol’s music played loud, real loud, it was not a great place for quiet conversation but I wasn’t dancing by myself anymore.

We walked to the subway after dinner, we were young, we were single, we were definitely attracted to each other. I pushed him against the railing at Columbus Circle and began kissing him hard, quite a display of gay affection for the time and place. He kissed me back with equal heat, kissing my neck, holding onto me tight. You smell good, he says, Van Cleef, the only cologne I wear.

From what I had experienced this is the part of the story where the guy would take me home and fuck me. Jason did not, he had to work early the next day, I had to work too we agreed to see each other again. I took the subway home feeling like something wonderful had happened. I couldn’t wait to tell Emile every detail. That was December 21st, 1983.

Patty was going on vacation, the Bahamas, a girl’s trip, she asked me to take care of her cat and her apartment, it would require me sleeping at her place, a much needed break from Emile and Hamlet. Jason and I went out a second time, before dinner I invited him over, we sat there shyly with a bottle of Freixenet opened and bubbling between us. We started making out, again I was the aggressor, it was hot, I was horny. I pulled his sweater off, clawing at him, practically undressing him, he still would not relent, insisted that we go out for dinner.

He had just gotten over a bout of hepatitis, had been laid out for a month, was just getting back on his feet. The only STD that I had had was a case of gonorrhea that I caught from Mark. Mark did the windows at Bergdorf’s, was of Mexican ancestry, born and raised in Texas. He fucked my mouth hard till he came down my throat, I was not adept at blowjobs and that was not the way to learn. The cum lodged in my throat and just stayed there, I couldn’t sleep that night feeling like I was choking. I did see him again at the Ice Palace, he explained everything, he had hooked up with some ex during a trip home, he later was told that maybe he should see a doctor, no need to apologize honey, you should move though, you’re blocking my view.

It was a strange time when asking about one’s HIV status could be a deal breaker, you’d take your chance, maybe you would use a rubber, maybe not. People thought that tears, sweat and kissing, could pass the disease, the facts were not conclusive, still being determined, the fear was great. People stopped having sex or abandoned caution as our community continued to be ravaged.

Jason worked for Bill Blass, in the fabric department, his co-worker was Tony, an older real Italian guy from Queens. They worked in the production area, the back of the house, hidden from the ladies who lunched, the ones that adored Blass. Those that worked on the carpet, as it was known, were different, better, wiser and paid more. Jason had potential and lots of it, I knew it, I could feel it, I could inspire him, we’d make a good match and he was a gentleman. It was obvious that I was not good at being a slut, no matter how I tried, my numbers didn’t even add up.

He had an ex, Moses, they split up a year or so before we met. They had been lovers for years since meeting in L.A. when still teenagers. Their break up was not pretty. They met when they had lots of money. Moses cut hair, Jason had his own business, was a sewing contractor with his own factory. They spent lavishly, Jason drove a Rolls Royce, it all sounded so glamorous. Moses, was from Guatemala, he was shacking up with a woman at the time, a mutual friend of theirs, a doctor’s daughter, Cheryl. She had money, they eventually got married.

Jason was Jewish, when he told his mom that he had met a guy named Max, she asked excitedly, is he Jewish, is he a doctor, a lawyer? Jason’s father had been a successful fashion designer during the fifties and sixties when fashion designers in L.A. were a hot commodity. He was raised in Beverly Hills, the lap of luxury, at least in appearance. His father stylized everything, his wife Ruth, Jason’s mom, was trained to portray a very particular type woman, the perfect hostess, the clotheshorse, the best of everything. The kids, Jason and his two sisters, Judy and Joanne, were raised accordingly but were treated like window dressing. My dad used me as a prop when he was a community organizer. In that respect we found common ground, otherwise our backgrounds could not have been more different.

His father came out of the closet when Jason was a teenager, already had a lover, a wealthy dentist. Then he became abusive and cruel, was determined to ruin everyone’s lives and separate the kid’s from each other. The clothing business fell apart, Jason and his mom went from the big house to a small apartment, she developed ulcers, Jason became a glam rocker, his father would send condolence cards announcing his death.

Maybe I was just holding it all in, but I was a mess on the inside. Sure I was good looking, knew which fork to use, could hold my own and impress diverse company, but I was just some kid from nowhere America with a lurid history, my past that I was escaping but one that would haunt me for years. It was that history that made me who I was, and I would never deny any of it or try to be something that I was not. I had nothing but my dreams and nothing to my name but those money orders that I had been accumulating in order to move out from Emile’s place.

I was looking for a place to rent, went to the gay roommate’s service, it was all word of mouth and footwork, you always told people that you met that you were either looking for an apartment or a job. I plowed through the back pages of the Village Voice and then came across something, a furnished place, midtown, $500 a month. The owner travelled all of the time, was never there, just wanted someone reliable to take care of his stunning apartment. I wouldn’t need much to move in and could certainly afford the place. It fell through though and I was back where I started.

Jason lived on Columbus and 101st, he was living with some good friends, a straight couple, in a pre-war apartment, one of those rambling places, cheap, rent controlled, one and a half baths. The couple, Jeanine and Robert were old friends of his, they took him in after the break-up with Moses. She was a singer that performed in a trio, 1940s cabaret style, they even had an album that was well known. Robert worked in the movies and T.V. as a writer, it was all so Woody Allen, so very New York City.

He took me to their place one night after dinner, introductions, everyone knew what was going on between us, they gave us space while cheering us along, there was nothing that was private. I knew what was going to happen, Jason knew, we began to make out. His bedroom was what would have been the dining room, his big bed and a dresser, those huge closets, the half of a bathroom where hoping that he’d eat my butt I would clean my asshole with alcohol.

We made love, it was deep and passionate, we were very compatible and his dick was just right. He fucked me and made sure that I came. He agreed to visit Brooklyn, met Emile and Hamlet, everything was flowing, and he actually came to Brooklyn! It was still a time when most people would not. He laid with me on the towels that I still slept on, and he began to suck my dick, no one ever had sucked my dick. Jason had a trick, it worked and worked very well.

We were in love, were an item, everyone heard about it, mom knew all of the details, I spared her nothing, he’s Jewish? Mom had decided to move to Las Vegas to be nearer to her twin sister. Mom, my sister, her baby, and my younger brother all packed up and split, that was the final vestige of home that I knew, there would be nothing to return to. Mom eventually got screwed on the sale and got nothing but more regrets.

Jason and I became immersed in each other’s lives. His hang out was Alfonzo’s, a bar and restaurant in midtown, it was a few doors down from the Algonquin. He wasn’t supposed to be drinking, the hepatitis thing, I should have stopped then. I met his friends, I was as charming as I could be. So what do you do, where do you live? Everyone asked the same questions, it was like the how to barely get to know anyone while living in the city guide.

Jason had a friend, Eddie, we all hung out together, we became very close. I was still young and naïve but convinced everyone that I was going to be a great artist, that I would write the next great American novel, a creative force to be reckoned with. Jason had plans to go away, a vacation to see his family in L.A. He would only be away for a week, he insisted that Eddie keep an eye on me.  

Jason went home with love in his eyes his family was not thrilled about the new match, another Catholic Latino? I went out with Eddie one night, drinks, one too many, and then another. While I was obviously husband hunting I was confused about what was expected from a gay relationship. I was convinced that you would find a lover and then fuck around. Monogamy was a rare thing, the idea of marriage was something that hardly crossed our minds, everyone was supposed to be in an open relationship. 

Eddie and I were fucked up, he called a car service that took us to his place in Queens. We had been making out, it was wrong, it was nasty. We got to his apartment and continued with the seduction, making out more till our pants were down. He pulled out his long and thin pencil dick. I was so drunk that I threw up in his bathroom then told him to call me a car, you pay for it and you never tell Jason anything.

Jason returned from California and my sense of balance was restored, he didn’t need to know about Eddie and me, it wasn’t like we actually had sex. His stay at Jeanine and Robert’s place was meant to be temporary, we were in the same boat. We continued dating, going out for dinner, drinking and having plenty of sex. I was still shy even though he was fucking me like a dog, but it was always in the dark.

While Jason had been laid out sick, living on the tenth floor of that massive apartment building, he would just lay there and look out of the windows, he discovered an exhibitionist neighbor, everybody had one. I was at his place one night, sent him out to pick up Chinese food and buy weed from the doorman. I laid on his bed and waited, within minutes the exhibitionist was jacking off, I jacked off too. It was fast, it was thrilling, exposing myself to any number of other innocent viewers, it was something that I was compelled to do, I had no way of controlling the urge.

We went out one night, my treat, the new fancy restaurant on Christopher Street at the Bailey House. Greenwich Village was being transformed, gentrified, people died, suddenly there were vacancies. The dinner bill came to $75, steak and champagne, I gave the waiter a hundred dollar bill, keep the change. It was then that we decided that we should move in together, we’d begin looking for a place to live together immediately.

Jason was much more discrete while I was ready to take anything, I just wanted to live in the city with my new husband. We tried the papers, looking at the ads in the Voice and the Times, then we got a broker, saw many places within our price range, he wasn’t making much more money than I at the time. One day Jason called, he saw an apartment, he had met the owners, told me to come and look at it after work.

The apartment was in a brownstone on 6th Street between 1st and Avenue A, the parlor floor. The building was originally designed with a matching brownstone next to it for long dead Astor brides when the area was considered rural. The owners, Ken and Julie, lived on the ground and top floors, renting out the other two. The apartment was spectacular, the ceilings were 14 feet high, there was a working fireplace, wonderful wallpaper, crown moldings from an 1880s restoration, a loft bed, a huge walk-in closet and a spare room off of the long kitchen lined with windows over looking the backyard, I could use that as a studio! It was a thousand bucks a month.

We liked Ken immediately, he liked us too, Julie was stiff and cool, she left most of the process to her husband. They gave us some time alone to think about it. This wasn’t some tiny place, some basement dungeon, this was an apartment that we could call home, make our own history, somewhere that we could live comfortably. We signed the lease, we would be living in the East Village, it was 1984.