Rent Boy by Gary Indiana

BOMB 46 Winter 1994
046 Winter 1994

I made the mistake of going there early the other day, get this, I walk in, and I’m, like, the only hustler. Five middle-aged guys are all clanned together at one end of the bar snacking on these cheap appetizers. Like Rounds can’t afford anything besides a handful of celery sticks and KraftCheddar Cheese on a tasteful little cutting board. I thought of toothless sharks gnawing at something soft and decomposing in the ocean. They all have that awful john look, sad and disgusted with life but boy are they gonna party, party and then have a heart attack, all 45-65, glasses, clothes they wore to the office, none of them fat or awful but bleary, somehow, I mean they’ve all gone out of their way to look real prosperous and in control, so you’re supposed to think they’re millionaires, not in any way desperate, more like gentlemen connoisseurs of yummy muscled boy flesh who can take it or leave it, they all know the game backward and forward and when I march into the room there’s this immediate surge in the animation level, I go straight to the back-lounge but nobody’s there, no one in the restaurant, either, just a couple old polite drunks at the end of the bar near the piano and that clutch of geezers down the front so I pass time, I phone my answering machine, there’s a call from a regular, this lawyer, Chuck Vickers, wants to know can I fuck his brains out between three and four on Saturday afternoon, no problem, I amble back to the bar—how do you like that, “amble”—and plant my adorable high priced ass at a fussy distance from everybody else.

Age doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that Rounds has all kinds of strange pretensions about it and even the rent boys have to put on an act, like, “I’m not just a hustler, I’m a screenwriter,” “I’m not just a hustler, I also work for so and so designer as a model,” or you have to pretend you have all these famous friends, live at a great address, whatever. Fuck, man, nobody is “just a hustler.” It’s like everybody saw the same bogus movie about Park Avenue call girls and wants to live up to that corny bohunk vision of elegance the female escort services advertise on Channel 35: “Champagne, candlelight, the better things in life. We’ll help you find magic in the big city.” That’s why they’ve got that restaurant in Rounds, to complete this hokey fantasy that a date is much, much more than an old man rotating on a fresh dick for an hour. Not that a dick is that fresh by the time it gets to them, I mean like a dick they haven’t had before. None of the clients dresses with any type of individual flair. Which is how you can tell very few of them are really rich, there’s no personality. The johns in Rounds get very touchy about shit, they’re even more fucked up than the johns in Trix because they’ve got the money to pay $7.50 for a drink and they still don’t have Love. Or they’ve been chained for years to some antique-and-show-tune queen they’ve been foolish enough to grow old with. Some of them are married, kids, the whole thing. That can be a can of worms over dinner, too. You see much more appealing fashion statements in low rent joints like Cats. In Rounds they all try for that windswept, Martha’s Vineyard, early retiree look, even when they’re in Madison Avenue drag. You get the glen plaid shirts and the nylon windbreakers and the dock shoes or the suit, which in Rounds looks like Count Dracula time. The big barge pulling in to get serviced after a grueling day of kissing ass in an office, cubicle. And the johns love to talk. Some of them will talk your ear off all night and then say how nice it was meeting you, maybe another time, and if you score, lots of them invite you to eat there in the restaurant with them, more talk, of course sometimes you’re really hungry and it saves the cost of a meal, or the john turns out interesting, but everybody also gets a good look at what you’re gonna have to fuck after dinner, while you get a jumbo dose of the john’s life story. Or he wants every detail about yours. I think I’ve overheard a million john life stories and another million whore life stories and once you plow off the bullshit the john’s story’s always “I’m lonely” and the whore’s story’s always “I came from a dysfunctional family.” It’s comical how some of the hustlers work these old geezers for sympathy, they get a little choked up when they get to the part about “abusive parents.” The johns have heard it before but most of them cultivate that image of Daddy, understanding older man, it helps them I guess humanize the encounter. The whores I know all come from hideous families where you hear the story and you think, “What the fuck do people even think they’re doing, having kids?” I mean there’s so many kids that are just gonna be born into shit and grow up with no sense in their brains, this city’s crawling with them, I suppose you’d have to put Chip in that category but he’s never killed anybody as far as I know. Which for me is kind of a cut-off point. I understand why people kill other people but I’m just not into it.

What I’m getting to, I’m in Rounds, and right after the lights go down the place starts filling up with talent, some of it real talent, like this gorgeous blond mute kid with his friend who talks in sign language and sometimes interprets the johns for him, he’s not completely deaf but he has trouble, they say that kid fucks like a crazy condemned angel. The johns have to compensate for what he can’t hear by getting real imaginative with their tongues. They say there are guys who will spend a thousand dollars for the privilege of making him come, and I bet it’s worth it, he’s special. In comes Rooney, construction worker from Miami, not that tall but a great sarcastic face and a terrific body, supposedly his cock’s so large some customers just give up, but plenty of them find uses for it. I stay at the bar and naturally get a few geezers interested but, for some reason, tonight, I can’t keep up my end of the dialogue, they’re either too pathetic or too loosened up on alcohol. The rule of thumb in Rounds is never turn anybody down but I like to go in there when the savings account goes over $10,000 just so I can tell some of these creeps I’m not interested in their urgent sexual needs. Money makes money makes more money but what is money if you have to fuck everybody who asks you. Then Chip walks into the bar. With geezer, but one look and you just knew this geezer was somebody. I can’t explain because a lot of these johns look dignified but this guy looked embalmed. Not in a bad way, but kind of like Basil Rathbone or John Carradine, handsome skinny and over the hill, carrying himself as if nothing mattered in the world, certainly not this assortment of shabby people drawn together to kill or be killed, spiritually I mean, or anything else besides Chip, when he looked at Chip the geezer’s face which you could see the skull through got more amiable and indulgent, though not stupid, which is what most of the johns look like when they’re smiling at tricks, stupid. What are they smiling at? The fact that they know there will always be a museum of perfect boy bodies to worship at, and any item can be had for less than $200 an hour. Like a long long-distance phone call, really. What am I saying, it is a long-distance phone call. You phone your need for what you can’t have through the wiring of my body. I don’t mean you in the sense of you. But where does the call go.

Chip’s geezer carries a walking stick he doesn’t need and he’s got soft gray leather gloves that he’s taken off and holds in one withered palm. A full-length leather coat, belted, really smartly tailored, and a snap-brim black hat, round gold-rimmed glasses, he’s got these quick eyes, also a kind of snide way of looking over his shoulder at noises, the whole effect of this guy was pretty awesome. Chip, I could tell, was on his best manners, really talking with this guy, they went down the length of the bar and banged a sharp right into the restaurant, I saw them getting settled in a booth, first the john took off his coat and hat and Chip brought them out to the coat check like a perfect little gentlemen, though of course he had that smartass smirk on his face like he always does. At this point somebody’s playing an entire Barbra Streisand album on the jukebox, a really Wagnerian cover of “Sam You Made the Pants Too Long,” the old queens at the bar are shrieking along to it, I kind of intercept Chip out at the coat check and ask him who’s the john. Hey, Danny, he says, how’s it hanging, then his voice drops, not that anybody can hear us out in the foyer, especially over Simply Barbra and her enchanted adenoids. That guy isn’t just some trick, Chip says, all sincere-like. That guy is my ticket out of here.

He’s leaning against the dark mirrors on the wall, I can’t get out of my mind how pretty Chip looked in that lighting, he had on a black turtle-neck sweater that really set his face off, the black hair like some extremely rare Siberian fur. It was hard to put him together with that shitty room in the Martha Washington, he’d gone into some transformation mode, new gray corduroy slacks, sleek ankle boots, glossy haircut, I figured he was being kept by that geriatric number, and then he says, Guy wanted to check the place out, maybe have a party. Uh-huh. I’ve been like staying at his house, Chip says, looking around with that prickly nervous look you get a lot of in Rounds. Big place on Gramercy Park. He’s a doctor. Oh wow, I say. Gramercy Park. And with a physician. Big time. Yeah, well, funnily enough he’s taking an interest in me, Chip says, a little bit defensive I thought, or even hostile, like, “You never really took care of me,” but I said great, that’s great, Yeah, Chip says, you’re not gonna believe this but he doesn’t even want to sleep with me. I thought you said he wanted to party, I said. Yeah, but not like sex, just maybe meet some of the guys. He sees a lot of potential in me to like maybe work at his clinic in a regular job. Like as a paramedic or you know get into EMS or something. He feels kind of fatherly and protective towards me.

Well, that was new. I’ve known a lot of johns with fatherly protective feelings that kind of developed after a while, but never without some horny unfatherly feelings going on at the same time. When I started doing this I’d sometimes get attached to a John and think maybe I could go to them just for advice or to talk or whatever, have some regular human contact outside of the physical stuff, and, frankly, nothing doing. And once in a while a john might get fantasies about having a relationship, but let’s face it, they know you’re balling all these other people and maybe that’s a risk they’ll take when they’re driven to it but ordinarily they want a nice straight settled person who isn’t maybe bringing home a case of AIDS or whatever. And psychologically, too, it’s not much fun, is it. Of course this doctor of Chip’s is pretty elderly. Sometimes really old geezers get themselves off fondling or licking parts of your body or just watching you jerk off. Anyway, I’m not sure how wonderful it would be if you needed EMS and Chip showed up, this trick had to be pretty gone to get that scenario into his head.

Whatever the geezer’s scene was, I really couldn’t get into it. I don’t know if it was the leftover Christmas ornaments and shit or that awful feeling when you’ve been in one place way too long and there’s no mystery left about what the deal is, maybe it sounds strange but even in Rounds, sometimes, for a minute here and there, I can feel like something’s opening up and becoming possible, a little bit beyond what’s already happened to me, like the next trick’s going to shake something loose that’s frozen inside me, I can’t explain it, but anyway, I had to get out of there. I thought about calling you, telling you I had to talk to somebody, finally I did phone you from the pay phone on the corner all the hustlers use, but you had the machine on, natch, when I got home I found a letter from you in the mailbox I haven’t opened yet, and I was pissed off and sad and exhausted all at the same time. I’ve tried to break through with you and I know you’re just using me, filing these letters into a book, up above it all.

Gary Indiana is the author of Scar Tissue, Horse Crazy and Gone Tomorrow. Rent Boy will be out this winter from Serpent’s Tail.

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November again.

nobody checks their voicemails anymore not even detectives by Sasha Fletcher
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Jimmy, it’s your girl. The one at the desk whom you pay a living wage. This is what could be known as a wake-up call if we were the sort of people who relied upon others to remind us of our tasks.

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Everybody assumes I’m one or the other, at first. Sometimes it becomes a game, a mental tally of points in each column, trying to prove the original guess.

Originally published in

BOMB 46, Winter 1994

Featuring interviews with Haruki Murakami, Ileana Douglas, Dan Graham, Mike Leigh, Campbell McGrath, Dona Nelson, Tran Anh Hung, Julius Hemphill, Stephen Wright, Robert Schenkkan, and Lawrence Gipe.

Read the issue
046 Winter 1994