He rode the subway with semen in his underwear. It slowly dripped down the edge of his thighs as he read the Post, the gift of some unknown rider before him. He thought back to last night, the shy OSHA government worker so excited to bed a good looking, young (emphasis on young) man on a Wednesday evening. The sex was forgettable, but he was more than a little drunk by the time they left the bar. He rarely performed at his best when alcohol was involved. He couldn’t really remember what happened after they got to the OSHA guy’s home. They talked for a short, uncomfortable time; the guy hesitant and worried his young trophy-trick might bolt at any time.
An awkward reference to a beautiful balcony view implied that a visit upstairs was imminent. “Can we meet again,” the worker, attractive for his age but slightly soft, slightly overweight, asked him gently before he left. He considered it. The guy had a nice place, a nice piece, and he wasn’t a freak. “Yeah, sure, I go to Reggie’s during the week, Monday or Tuesday mostly,” he replied, hoping he sounded sincere.
He didn’t remember much about his father; he was gone by the time he entered the fifth grade. Gone to one of the prisons in Florence; a town full of prisons. He often wondered if he gave off a “vibe” that said, “please be a father figure to me, I don’t have one.” He wasn’t sure he even liked older men, they always saw him as something to toy with, to entice, to bed and then forget. He did have feelings after all, although he seemed to spend a lot of time trying to blunt them with drugs and alcohol.
He reached Rosslyn Metro station just as an altercation was breaking out by the exit turnstile. He knew this would make him late to work but he didn’t care. Other people’s problems, especially strangers, made his problems seem less significant, less overwhelming. A black teenager (in Michael Jackson gear) was yelling at a frightened old geezer for bumping into him, forcing him to drop his boom box. The old guy looked like he was one day away from an oxygen tank, the kind his granny had used back in Phoenix. Nobody else, not a single Metro traveler, got involved. Everyone was heads down over it.
He grabbed a coke and barreled up the escalator, the longest one in the world he was pretty sure. He’d be late - Corker, his boss, would yell at him, threaten to fire him (like he did last week) and then, red-faced in anger, he’d mop the floors and baseboards. The old ones occasionally shit on the floor; sometimes they would even manage to get it on the walls. He hoped he’d be dead before that happened to him. If you were to ask him how he felt about the residents of the home, he’d probably say that about half of them were decent people, the rest were assholes, intent on making his life miserable.
Mrs. Fundy, in B-213, complained to Corker about him last week. “He stares at me, takes my money when he thinks I’m not looking, but I’m always looking! I don’t trust boys like him. He’s stupid too,” she complained. Corker, so pathetic in his sweaty off-white shirt and clip-on tie, apologized profusely. He was a real suck-up. Corker had a mean wife and a funny looking kid, he had to work. He had to grovel if it meant keeping his shitty manager job. This was one of those times he was glad he was gay. No kids, no wife, no problems.
A dust storm blew through Phoenix the day his granny died. The sky was a singular shade of ochre, from Glendale to Chandler. Sensitive people lost their minds on days like these; on that day thirteen people would die on I-17, the sand forcing them to embrace in twisted shards of metal and glass. The ambulance was late getting her to the hospital; the storm had stopped all traffic on Indian School.
Later, the tall doctor had told him and his sister that she wouldn’t have made it anyway, her heart was too damaged. Afterwards, they sat in the shabby hospital lobby for twenty minutes, too broken to leave. That night, they bought some coke from a shady dealer on Van Buren, burying their grief in white powder.
He left Phoenix three months later, leaving his sister alone.
How he ended up in DC was a mystery. He bought a bus pass with the little money his granny left him. The Greyhound took him to places he’d never seen -- Dallas, Jackson, Atlanta, Charlotte, Norfolk and then, finally, DC. He planned to go further - he always wanted to see New York City - but his money ran out by the time he saw the Virginia coast. He had to say goodbye, for now at least, to that dream.
The DC terminal was gritty, even for Greyhound. He cautiously stepped over discarded syringes, the plastic tubes tinted with blood, as he made his way down New York Avenue. He thought this was a little funny and sad, both at the same time. He wasn’t sure where he would end up.
In April, his sister and her boyfriend drove through DC on their way to New England. The boyfriend played soccer at ASU but grew up in Boston. He liked the boyfriend but was hesitant to admit it. They drove a dusty old station wagon with Massachusetts plates through the city, he spoke to them about the monuments and museums they passed.
Each night they took him to restaurants he had only seen from the outside. He hadn’t eaten this well for some time. On the last morning of their visit, she sent the boyfriend out to buy gas and groceries. She wanted to talk to him. “You look so tired, and you’re thin, really thin. You need to eat more. Do you need any money?” He was too proud to take her money. She looked so sad when they pulled away from his shabby apartment building.
He had been tired then, still was. Last week, after a bath, he noticed some red spots on his neck and upper back. He thought again about all of this as he walked home from a summer party (an orgy really) near Rock Creek Park. The early sun illuminated the humidity rolling off the verdant foliage, creating a magical effect.
As he crossed the Calvert Street Bridge, he thought he’d visit the free clinic and find out what was wrong. Just as soon as summer was over, and all this beauty was gone.