I couldn’t find a boyfriend, so all I could do was eat – mostly strawberry ice cream glacé, my own invention. I made it by pouring ruby port wine very slowly over ice cream so that it froze a little. A small drizzle created an elegant glassine crust, though I often ended up with something more akin to a Slushie as I’m exceedingly fond of wine. A bowl or two of the aforementioned magically allowed me to forget – if only temporarily – the crushing absence of boyfriend following me around like a malevolent void.
One morning my alarm snatched me from the arms of a particularly delicious dream-boyfriend and I decided to break my no-booze-before-sunset rule by enjoying a bowl of the aforementioned for breakfast. I was drinking strong black coffee too, so my mind began doing backflips and loop-de-loops even as I slid into the soft, pink, painless cocoon of inebriation. I felt so good I put on a record and sang along – So what difference does it maaaaake? Then I had to stop because the lady next door started banging on the wall. I didn’t let this unconscionable infringement of my personal liberty upset me since it was time to leave for work anyway.
Getting to work meant trudging half-a-mile up the gravelly side of the highway to an ocean-side hamlet and aspiring tourist trap by the name of Saint Dymphna. I used to drive, but I’d lost my license three years previously. I’m actually a better driver once I’ve steadied my nerves with a few drinks, but try telling that to the killjoys of the California Highway Patrol. Normally I resented the extra half hour walking added to my commute, but that morning I felt too good to care. A delicate ocean mist kept the temperature mild, the air smelled pine-y fresh, and sunshine fell on my body like warm honey – a favorite, if unexplored, sexual fantasy.
The first part of my shift, waiting tables at the Sandpiper Cafe, passed painlessly thanks to the aforementioned pink cocoon, but by mid-afternoon I felt even more wretched than usual. The retirees with their unquenchable thirst for iced tea, the road-tripping families with their demonically bratty children, the college boys I dared not look in the eye because they were so damn sexy, all of them worked my nerves. I desperately needed a nap – and a job that didn’t involve quite so much repetitive groveling. A few discreetly pilfered glasses of rosé helped me endure until quittin’-time, but the prospect of my long trek home had me longing for death… and not just my death. I craved death for my slave-driving manager and boring coworkers, the penny-pinching under-tippers at the Sandpiper, my acoustically over-sensitive neighbors, my miserly parents, everyone I’d gone to school with, the California Highway Patrol, the Internal Revenue Service, all politicians and titans of industry…
“Spare a dollar?”
I glanced down at the sidewalk to see who’d interrupted my misanthropic ponderings and beheld a young man, maybe twenty or twenty-two, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk in front of a wine bar. His hairless, sun-browned body was so lean you could see every muscle (the exact opposite of my own hairy marshmallow physique) and he would have been perfect if not for some serious acne scarring on his cheeks. My loins stirred, my nerves prickled, and – I’m fairly sure – my eyes bugged. Then came the familiar panic. Everyone’s pretty tolerant around here, but there are still straight boys who’ll call you faggot and want to punch your face if they catch you ogling. Then I took a closer look at the kid and un-panicked. His long, sandy-blond hair was braided into a pair of pigtails and he wore a tangle of necklaces supporting a dharma wheel, a green ceramic pot leaf, and a crystal. Clearly a peace-mongering hippie.
I usually ignored requests for money – I can only afford groceries, booze, and rent by shuffling my obscene debt load between several nearly maxed out credit cards – but the boy had me mesmerized. I pulled a mass of tips from my pocket and handed over a dollar bill, then another, and then another. The boy flashed a smile, revealing small, ferret-like teeth, and said, “Thanks.” He lifted a tiny, pink origami crane out of his lap and held it out. “For you.”
“Thanks,” I said, taking the crane. “I’m Dwayne,” I added, unable to help myself.
“I’m Truthstar,” said the boy, flashing a guileless smile.
He chortled good-naturedly. “Yeah, you got it.”
“Cool name,” I heard myself say, though I was thinking the exact opposite.
Truthstar’s lapis lazuli eyes, which had been focused right on me, defocused. “Well. See you around.”
Trudging homeward I experienced a nauseating wave of self-reproach. What kind of fool was I? The sort of forty-two-year-old man who drools over guys half his age, that’s what kind. And how loser-y to be walking home with a crushing hangover headache! Perhaps starting the day with strawberry ice cream glacé hadn’t been such a brilliant idea. Perhaps I was the world’s biggest loser. Perhaps it was time to suck it up and sober up, take night classes to become a dental assistant, web designer, or CPA. Then I could move to some city, find a boyfriend, adopt a couple wiener dogs, and live in a nice apartment full of Ikea furniture. I could picture this glorious future in my mind – could see the boyfriend, the dog, the apartment – but somehow I couldn’t see myself in the picture.
Back at my apartment I collapsed on my bed for my usual post-work nap, but couldn’t sleep for thinking about Truthstar. What a guy like me could do with a kid like that! I hadn’t had sex in four years and my libido was getting antsy.
I – WANT – SEX! it commanded.
“But libido, nobody wants me! I’m a fat, ugly old queen and a pauper to boot.”
MUST – GET – SEX!! countered my libido.
“I live in the middle of nowhere and I don’t have a car,” I explained.
SEX – SEX – SEX!!! roared my libido.
Of course I hadn’t always been a pitiful celibate. Throughout my twenties and thirties I’d often made the ninety-minute drive down the coast to the gay bars in Guerneville. Even back then, before I fell in love with strawberry ice cream glacé, I was chunky. Still, I was popular enough. I had my share. But… as the rosy bloom of youth faded from my cheeks, I started becoming a bit invisible. Then a lot invisible. I’d sit around with my back-slapping buddies drinking myself happy and ogling boys, but the hookups and dates became fewer and fewer. As sex disappeared from my life, I replaced it with cocktails (as one does), which led to that unseemly business with the California Highway Patrol.
For the first few months of my carlessness I stayed home and caught up on my internet browsing. There are a lot of pretty, pretty boys on the internet. Then I started catching rides to Guerneville with Kyle and Zack, the polyamorous bear couple who run Cakeaters Bakery, next door to the Sandpiper. Driving down the coast they were good fun, joking and gossiping like real party boys, but at the bar they became terse businesslike as their eyes scanned the crowd for someone to drag home for a three-way. If they scored a date, their jolly demeanor returned for the ride home. If not, they’d stare morosely out the window or snipe at each other.
One night after striking out they lured me to home their house with the promise of a nightcap, then pounced on me. I was feeling horn-dogish so, despite misgivings, I tried to get into it. Tried and tried. I blamed my sexual dysfunction on the demon alcohol, but in truth the guys were just too old and hefty. My sexual equipment only becomes operational for waifs. Being men of the world we all tacitly agreed to forget the incident, but I still quit riding with them and determined to find romance in the modern fashion with phone apps and dating websites.
Disaster. As a youth, I’d made up for not being sexy or successful with bubbling vivacity. Unfortunately, bubbling vivacity doesn’t translate well onto the internet. I did my best, but the guys who hit on me were always either senior citizens or super-freaks. The former just didn’t flip my switch; the latter were incredibly flakey. They’d show up three hours late, or on drugs, or not at all, or – this was the worst – they’d show up and lose interest on seeing me in the flesh. It was obvious why. I was by that point, as one rude young man put it before fleeing my door, “Hella blubbery.” After that little humiliation I swore off men. Once I’d resigned myself to spinsterhood, my life became quiet. “Drama free,” I told myself, as if that were a good thing.
But the day my eyes chanced fall on Truthstar, my libido would not be denied. I spent two hours trolling for dates on Adam4Adam, Grindr, and Scruff… without luck. In desperation I phoned Kyle and Zack to suggest a trip to Guerneville, but they were busy redesigning their pumpkin empanadas. Defeated and demoralized, I spent the rump of my evening alternating between strawberry ice cream glacé, self-love, and season four of American Horror Story, none of which satisfied.
The next few days I took to wandering around Saint Dymphna after work. I saw the spare-changing girl with an angry pig tattooed on her neck, the boy who walked around wearing socks but no shoes, and the guy who talked to his dog like it was a child (That’s a postbox, Scout, that’s how humans mail letters), but I didn’t see Truthstar. This wasn’t too surprising. The dozen or so scruffy, wayward youths who loitered around town appeared and disappeared at irregular intervals. I tried to put Truthstar out of my mind, but he had a way of popping into my fantasies unbidden and doing the most wonderful things.
Several weeks later, I was just leaving work when a police car pulled up to the curb several yards in front of me. A cop leaned out of the window and exchanged words I couldn’t make out with Truthstar, who was sitting slumped against the front of Cakeaters beside a giant, grubby backpack. Truthstar said something back to the cop, then stood and hoisted the backpack onto his thin shoulders. He was wearing a sleeveless tie-dye tee shirt that hung loose on his lean torso, cut-off denim short shorts revealing long, deeply tanned and moderately hairy legs, and muddy hiking boots with thick socks. I hadn’t realized it at our first meeting, but he was at least six feet tall (being only five-five myself, I always notice other guys’ height) and slender enough to look weedy. I half expected the backpack to topple him over. As the cop glared, Truthstar sauntered down the street with an indolent slowness that seemed like a rebuke not only to the cop, but all of Western Civilization with its manic pace and neurotic uptightness. As the police car drove off I quickened my step to catch up my quarry. When I finally did, I found myself struck dumb because the only words echoing around my brain were “I love you.”
Truthstar turned to me, his pretty face contorted with grievance, and said, “I just got evicted from what is supposed to be a public sidewalk.”
“That sucks,” I said, hoping the “sucks” didn’t make me sound like I was trying too hard to be hip and young. Nothing’s more ridiculous than wrinkly middle-aged men aping juveniles.
“If I were black he probably would’ve shot me. Because of my white privilege I just get told to ‘move along.’”
Without forethought I asked, “Where are you move-alonging to?” Miraculously this came out like a perfectly natural question rather than a pick-up line.
“I’ve been staying with an old buddy over on Birchwood, but his girlfriend’s giving him grief about my being around so much, so…” His voice trailed off.
“I’m heading back to my place. Want to come over and hang out?” I wanted to kill myself. Surely I’d moved too quickly and scared him off. And did kids still say, “hang out,” or had it gone the way of “groovy” and “gag me with a spoon”?
“Where do you live?”
That Truthstar hadn’t recoiled in horror filled me with hope. “Just south of town. Like, a twenty minute walk.”
“You don’t have a car?”
“No,” I said, fabricating quickly. “You know, the environment and all.”
“That is so cool! Most people around here just slap a ‘Save The Earth’ bumper-sticker on their gas-guzzler and leave it at that.” Truthstar looked right at me and smiled.
I panicked. Could the boy detect my roiling excitement? Could he tell I was gay? Was he gay? Were his legs not the most beautiful legs that had ever strode God’s Green Earth? Had he noticed me staring at his legs? I hadn’t spoken in twenty seconds. I had to say something, preferably something environmental. But what?
“Oh, I recycle and everything.”
Truthstar kicked a small rock off the sidewalk. “Actually, nothing any of us do as individuals will make any difference as long as governments set policy based on the needs of corporations instead of people.”
I nodded vigorously. “Right.”
“Kropotkin says that humanity will eventually get rid of private property and competition to embrace the ideals of mutual aid and cooperation, but I wonder if we’re going to do it fast enough to save the planet.”
The name sounded familiar. “Is he the guy who ran for lieutenant governor on the Green Party?”
“Nineteenth-century Russian anarchist,” said Truthstar without condescension. “Prince Peter Kroptokin.”
“He was an anarchist and a prince? Is that even allowed?”
Truthstar smiled at my quip. “He wasn’t a Romanoff, so his title was mostly just a formality, and anyway he didn’t like people to use it.”
I hate politics and If I’d been with a friend I might’ve made a joke about “Crack-pot-kin.” Instead, I just switched subjects.
“So are you from around here?
“I was down in the Emerald Triangle for the harvest, then I went to visit a friend up in Eureka. Now I’m heading down to Oakland where my buddy Pete is setting up an intentional community based on Kropotkinism.”
“But you grew up where?”
Truthstar giggled. “Grown up? Ya got ya boy Peter Pan right here, yo!”
We walked in silence after that, but it didn’t seem to bother Truthstar. Eventually I felt calm enough to pry some more. “So your friend in Eureka…?”
“Kind of a girlfriend,” said Truthstar. “Though not really ‘cause I’m Free Love all the way.”
My heart sank at the mention of a girl friend, but the Free Love business sounded promising. “Don’t want to get tied down, eh?”
“I have a lot of love to give,” said Truthstar with a silly, randy little grin. Then his brow knit. “What’s it like being gay in a small town like this? The hetero-normative atmosphere must be totally oppressive.”
It didn’t shock me Truthstar had clocked me as gay – I have one of those voices – but “hetero-normative” took me by surprise. I hadn’t taken him for a college boy. “Well, yeah. A lot of people, guys especially, get locked into their role as heterosexuals.”
Truthstar nodded. “Sure. It’s a privileged identity.”
“They’re afraid to express the homoerotic desires that everyone has. I mean… we’re all bisexual, right?”
“We’re all divine sparks of cosmic consciousness operating meat-machines on a blue marble spinning through an infinite universe,” said Truthstar. He looked heavenward. “Fuck!”
Then I felt it too. Raindrops. “’Fraid I didn’t bring an umbrella.”
“I got a poncho in my backpack, but it’s way at the bottom. Let’s just hurry. It’s only a drizzle.”
We quickened our step so that Truthstar was puffing mildly and I felt like I having a heart attack. Then, just as my grimy tan stucco two-story apartment building came into view, the sky let loose. “That’s my place, run for it!” I hollered. We both ran, Truthstar so bent under his backpack he looked like an ant hauling a giant crumb. By the time we’d scurried under the building’s narrow awning we were both drenched. This felt lucky to the point of miraculous. I well knew (from back when porn movies still had plots) that wet clothes are more conducive to gay sex with random straight boys than anything except possibly pizza delivery or swimming pools. Trudging up the exterior cement staircase I was already rehearsing the obvious lines in my head. “Let’s get you out of those wet clothes!”
We burst into my apartment and I flipped on the overhead lights. Truthstar shut the door, wriggled out of his backpack, and looked around. I live in one room with a kitchenette, but it’s fabulously decorated with mid-century modernist kitsch: boomerang coffee table, orange swag lamp, queen-sized bed covered by an op art bedspread, purple butterfly chair, and not one but three Margaret Keane prints of big-eyed waifs adorning the electric orange walls. Ignoring these treasures, Truthstar beelined for my vintage stereo console.
“Whoa! That is freaking awesome! Does it work?”
Truthstar went over and lovingly ran his hand along the console’s dark wooden surface. “This must be from, like, the nineteen sixties.” He opened the console’s center door and saw my records. “Oh my God, I love vinyl. Can I put something on?”
“Sure,” I said. “But first wouldn’t you like to get out of those wet clothes.”
Ignoring me, Truthstar fell to his knees and flipped through albums, reading aloud as he did. “The Human League. Echo & The Bunnymen. Culture Club. Adam & The Ants. The Smiths. Who are these people?”
“I collect album from the 1980s,” I said, not mentioning that I’d also collected the albums in the 1980s. “Have you really never heard of The Smiths?”
“Well, I think maybe,” said Truthstar. “What should I put on?”
“Try the Smiths. Perfect rainy day music.”
Truthstar reverently removed the disc from its cover and placed it on the stereo. As Morrissey crooned “Reel Around The Fountain” he cocked his head and closed his eyes like a serious aficionado before delivering his verdict. “Interesting.”
I re-popped the question, “Wouldn’t you like to get out of those wet clothes?” This time it came out like a corny line of movie dialogue. I expected Truthstar to laugh in my face, but instead he looked down at himself and nodded.
“Yeah, I better. Actually, could I take a shower? It’s been a couple of days…”
The mental image of water streaming down Truthstar’s lean, naked body hit me like three slugs of whiskey. “Of course.” I pointed to the bathroom. Truthstar picked up his backpack and went in. Following him inside felt intrusive, but I did. “There’s shampoo and body wash there,” I pointed to the plainly obvious items on the side of the tub, “and if you need aspirin or, uh, anything else, the medicine cabinet is there.” I pointed to the completely obvious medicine cabinet.
“Gotcha,” said Truthstar. His rigid posture implied he was impatient for me to go.
“Would you…” What to say next? “Uh… how about I fix us some snacks?”
“Absolutely,” said Truthstar. “Thanks.”
I left the bathroom and changed out of my own wet clothes into an oversized tee shirt (to hide my paunch) and a pair of gym shorts (to look athletic). Then I went into my kitchenette and downed a shot of bourbon. Thus fortified, I prepared two bowls of Strawberry Ice Cream Glacé, set them on the coffee table, and draped myself over the couch in a casual, dude-ly position. Then I waited. And waited. As five minutes became ten, I put the ice creams in the freezer so it wouldn’t melt. As ten became fifteen, I flipped the record. As fifteen became twenty, I considered knocking on the bathroom and asking if everything was OK. Would that seem creepy? Before I could decide, the shower stopped. I pulled the bowls from the freezer, set them back on the coffee table, and resumed my casual position on my sofa.
What would Truthstar imagine I’d been doing all this time? I picked up the Barbara Stanwyck bio I’d been reading from coffee table and tried to look engrossed. A minute passed, but still no Truthstar. Another minute. What was he doing in there? If it was something sexy I wanted to see. I stood with the intention of peeking through the keyhole, but suddenly felt repulsed by my own lechery. I sat back down and picked up my book just as a damp Truthstar emerged from the bathroom.
I looked up with an un-lecherous smile. “Hey there. All clean?”
“Yup. Thanks.” Truthstar now wore jeans and an oversized long-sleeved plaid shirt, but his feet were quite bare and as beautiful as any feet I’d ever seen. The boy could’ve been a foot model, if such things exist.
“Fixed us a little something,” I said, gesturing to the Strawberry Ice Cream Glacé, which I didn’t name for fear of sounding un-sexily bourgeois.
Truthstar plopped down on the sofa next to me, put his beautiful bare feet up on the coffee table (had he been raised in a barn?) and picked up a bowl. “What the hell is it?” Without waiting for an answer he took a bite. “Ugh!” He put his bowl down. “Sorry, don’t think I can eat it. I’m a little hypoglycemic.”
“No worries,” I said, whisking our bowls into the kitchenette and stashing them in the freezer. I inventoried my cupboard. “Do you like Mac ‘n’ Cheese? Tomato soup?”
“Both would be excellent. And if you happen to have any sandwich fixings….”
“Sure thing.” While I assembled our snacks Truthstar pulled out his phone and began texting. Was he one of those kids who can’t stop fiddling with his phone? Who paid his bill? Who was he texting? When I brought the food in, Truthstar put his feet on the floor and assumed a civilized position for dining. He did slurp his soup a little, but only a little. I sat beside him and we ate in silence, both of us staring at the wet, green world outside my window. There’s nothing more melancholy than eating soup alone in the rain, but a second person makes it cozy.
When Truthstar finished he leaned back with a big, relaxed smile. “Thanks, that was awesome.” Then he leaned forward and peered at the framed photos on the wall directly across from him. “Is that one on the left your mom? You look just like her.”
I laughed. “That’s me.” He was looking at a shot from a few years ago when I’d gone down to SF Pride dressed as 1970s Cher in a satin-y dress with a plunging neckline and suede thigh boots.
Truthstar looked genuinely interested. “Oh, are you gender-fluid?”
The answer was no, but in case Truthstar found gender-fluidity sexy I opted for ambiguity. “Well, that depends how you define the term.”
“The whole binary gender system is so medieval,” said Truthstar. “Just an invention of patriarchy. Male… female… what does any of that shit even mean?”
I nodded in agreement. “Nothing. It’s all nonsense. Male, female, straight, gay… we’re all just animals with animal thoughts and animal needs.”
Truthstar turned from the photo so that he faced me. His eyes were the frosty blue of arctic glaciers. “I was gonna hitch down to Oakland this afternoon, but it’s getting late, and what with the rain… D’you suppose maybe I could crash on your couch tonight and take off tomorrow?”
“No problem whatsoever,” I said. “But you don’t need to stay on this lumpy old sofa. I’ve got a queen-size bed…”
Truthstar examined my face with a quizzical expression that turned slowly into resigned disappointment. “Yeah, well, if that’s part of the deal, I guess that’s cool. We can get it over with right now if you want.” He plumped himself onto my bed, sitting at an angle so he wasn’t facing me, and started unbuttoning his shirt. The forlorn look on his face dampened my ardor a bit, but as his shirt fell to the floor, the sight of his taut, golden young torso rekindled my animal passion. While he shimmied out of his pants and dingy underwear I flipped off the overhead lights, lowered the window shade, and turned on the blue Christmas lights I’d strung along my ceiling for mood lighting. Then I gazed down with reverence at the blue-tinted body splayed out on my bed – a porn star, a mysterious drifter, a brave rebel, a wild animal, a Greek God.
I sat on the bed gently and lifted my hand with the intention of running it across Truthstar’s perfectly formed chest. Then I froze. I willed my hand to land on him, but it refused. My conscience was in open revolt against the whole proceeding.
You’re taking advantage of him. He won’t enjoy your pawing. To him you’re just a lecherous old geezer.
“I won’t hurt him,” I told my conscience. “He might even enjoy it… at least little.”
Probably not, replied my conscience. And even if he did, forcing someone into sex he doesn’t really want is still sort of rape-y.
“I’m not forcing him.”
Maybe you’re not. But circumstances are.
“We’ll just see about that!”
I spoke aloud to Truthstar. “You’re very, very beautiful, and I’d do my best to make you feel wonderful, but if you’d rather we didn’t… I mean, no pressure…”
Truthstar sat up and smiled with a warmth that enveloped my soul like an electric blanket. “I think maybe I’m not in the mood.” He leaned over and kissed my cheek, then started putting his clothes back on.
An awkward moment of silence followed during which I felt terribly noble and absolutely miserable. I expected Truthstar to leave, a prospect that filled me with dread. Another lonely night would be insufferable after such a close brush with human intimacy. Once he’d dressed, though, Truthstar plopped himself back onto the sofa with a clear intent to stay put. “Do you get Netflix?”
At Truthstar’s suggestion we watched a long documentary about environmental degradation in the Amazon. When my friends and I watch movies we chime in with witty commentary and sexual innuendo, but Truthstar remained seriously mute throughout. Bored and frustrated, I consumed both bowls of Strawberry Ice Cream Glacé and a bottle of Merlot. Instead of a pink cocoon, however, the booze plunged me into a blue funk. Truthstar’s days were filled with the freedom and adventure on the open road while I spent mine chained to a dull routine of exhausting and humiliating wage slavery. Where had I gone wrong? What could I do about it?
Around midnight, Truthstar dropped off to sleep. Then he began snoring like a chain saw. Unendurable. I only refrained from smothering him with a pillow because I could still feel his kiss, soft as rose petals, on my left cheek. I think he really meant that kiss. Knowing sleep wouldn’t come naturally I popped a couple of pills and quickly drifted into a narcotized slumber. When my alarm beeped me awake the next morning I leapt out of bed immediately instead of lying under the covers groaning for ten minutes as usual. Truthstar wasn’t on the couch. I checked bathroom. Nope. Then I saw a note on the coffee table. In chicken-scratch handwriting it read, “Thanks for letting me crash here. Take care! Truthstar.”
“You’re welcome,” I said aloud to no one at all.
About the Author: Alvin Orloff is three novels: I Married an Earthling, Gutter Boys, and Why Aren’t You Smiling? He is currently working on a memoir about the impact of the AIDS crisis on shiftless no-account queer club kids during the 1980s & ‘90s.