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Provincetown, June 1994
"Going tricking?" Javitz asked earlier tonight, in that voice that knows the answers to its own questions.
I just laughed.
Tricking. Such an odd little twist of a word. As if I would take one of these boys home with me and rather than sex I'd pull a rabbit out of a hat. As if we'd get to my door and I'd refuse to let him inside, turning instead with a maniacal grin to say, "Tricked ya!"
As if tricks were the antithesis of treats and not what they are: the caramel on the apple, the cinnamon in the bun, the cotton candy on the stick. Tricks are how we treat ourselves. Not that all tricks are always so delectable: some of mine have been the proverbial rocks in Charlie Brown's paper bag. But most of them have been sweet: Hershey's Kisses. Milky Ways. Almond Boys.
Tonight, it's his nipples that bewitch me from across the room, little pink cones in relief against sweat-dappled copper skin. The boy I am watching moves in a rhythm that repudiates the beat on the dance floor. He wears a vest but no shirt, a grin but no smile.
Summer is a time of random magic such as this, of surprising spirits conjured up between the sheets of my bed in a room overlooking Provincetown harbor. Here, strangers' kisses expose souls to me. The uneven scar on one boy's abdomen, the crinkles at the corners of another's eyes reveal more truths than I could ever discover in a more consistent lover.
It is the last summer in which I am to be young.
"Hi," the boy says to me, stroking his firm stomach idly. Little beads of sweat leave shimmering trails down the smooth brown flat plain. He can't be more than twenty-three.
"I've seen you around," he says. "You work up here?"
"No," I say, which is a lie. Mystery helps in this town—especially when you're no longer twenty-three. "But you do," I say. "A houseboy or a waiter?" I ask, knowing the options for a boy his age.
"A houseboy," he says.
And so the script stays on course, except for the brief flutter of my eyelids at that precise moment, when I find the eye of a man across the dance floor. My breath catches, and I worry that the houseboy notices. But he doesn't—of course not: he's deep into character. Acknowledging my distraction would be akin to an actor on stage responding to the laughter of the audience in the middle of a scene. He carries on, as is proper. But I stumble, drawn by a man across the room, a man I don't know, a man I thought was someone else.
I know no one here.
"What's your name?" the boy is asking.
I turn to face him. "Jeff. And yours?"
We shake hands. Our eyes hold.
And so another one.
Loving strangers is a heady mix of romance and reality, the sordid and the sublime. I have returned this summer for that mist of sweat across a boy's bronzed back, for the magic that happens when the two of us marry eyes across a dance floor and become forever young.
"Can I still get away with it?" I asked Javitz before setting out tonight.
He laughed. "Maybe for another year."
Once, Javitz and I were lovers, when my skin was soft and unmarked like the boy Eduardo's. That was before the little pinched lines began creeping around my eyes like the marks my mother used to make in the crust of her apple pies. My lover, Lloyd, tells me I'm being absurd, that at thirty-two I still have many years left to play. But he should talk: he with his monthly dosage of minoxidil and the tweezers he leaves behind on the sink surrounded by a scattering of his bristly gray hairs.
"Will we ever get to a point where we don't care?" I asked him not long ago. "Will we ever welcome the gray, disregard the wrinkles, skip the gym, eat that extra piece of chocolate cake?"
It is both lovely and terrifying to imagine: Lloyd and I, bald and fat, in matching reclining chairs, watching Jeopardy! side by side, finally free of the tyranny of youth.
Once, we were the boys of the moment, angry young men marching through the streets in black leather jackets covered with crack-and-peel slogans: "Act Up! Fight Back! Get Used to It!" Javitz and his generation, a decade older, had smiled indulgently at us. "Ah, youth," they would sigh. But how quickly our energy dissipated, how quickly boys are replaced. The hair on my head thins out, while in my ears it sprouts cocky as crabgrass. My body might be pumped from an afternoon in the gym, but one hundred crunches a day can no longer dispel gravity's influence on my waist.
"And then what?" I asked Javitz, replying to his comment about getting away with it for another year.
"I'll see you at Spiritus," was all he said.
That he will still join me there takes courage. Javitz is a tall, striking man with long, curly black hair and intense dark eyes. Once, when we were lovers, I thought he was the most handsome man in the world. Today, Javitz is forty-seven—a terribly old age for me to contemplate ever being. He's well known in Provincetown and back home in Boston, too. "A leading activist," one newspaper account called him, "an icon of the gay community." He was one of the engineers of the state's gay rights law; he helped get gay issues into the public high school curricula; he helped found ACT UP. But in front of Spiritus, the late-night cruisy pizza joint on Commercial Street, it's his loss of muscle tone that stands him out from the crowd, the predictable result of years of antivirals: shapeless calves, spindly arms. And not long ago he witnessed what happened to one man—near fifty, almost bald—who dared to assume he could still come out and play.
"Did you smile at me?" this man had asked, standing on the steps of the pizza joint, behind a cluster of boys in backward baseball caps.
"Sure," I offered.
"Are you trying to pick me up?" he asked.
I was taken aback. "No," I told him.
"No," he echoed, darkening. "Of course not." He slumped, like a tire slashed.
A boy beside me began to giggle. "They're going to find him washed up on shore in the morning," he whispered.
Growing old is not for sissies, so they say. But sissies do get older. All of us sissies here tonight, with the hot juice of youth pulsing through our veins. Some of us are already well on our way. Some of us are going to die long before our times. What does it matter, Javitz says. Get old or get AIDS: the end result is the same. Especially here, in this place: this place of sculpted pectorals and shaven torsos, heads thick with hair and bodies jumping with T cells. But the first wrinkle, or the first purple blotch on your leg, and you must accept the exile, a banishment that we rarely question, dismissing any who try.
"How old are you?" Eduardo is asking me now, the inevitable question.
"How old do you think?" My inevitable answer.
"Twenty-eight?" Last year, it probably would've been twenty-six, but it's good enough; it's what I want to hear.
"Around there," I lie. "And you?"
"Twenty-two," Eduardo responds.
Who has ever been twenty-two? I ask myself. Not me. Not ever. If I ever was, I don't remember. It was all such a long time ago, in a world very far away. And every summer, a new crop is twenty- two, standing at the cusp of the dance floor as if they were the first ones ever here.
"Do you want to dance?" Eduardo asks suddenly, as if it had just occurred to him, as if it were not merely part of the script, the way things are.
My line: "Sure."
And so we dance, the prelude to the sex I know will come, predicting the choreography in my bedroom just a short time from now: back and forth, round and round, up and down. We're all one big writhing mass of human flesh out here under the lights: male flesh, young flesh, raw bodies and sweat, humping together, wet luminescent backs sliding against each other, nudging shoulders, hands massaging chests where hard stubble sprouts like rough new grass, all of us pushing, shoving, grinding, grunting. I'm reminded of the time the bar threw an underwear party last summer. I came on the dance floor: hands in my Calvin Kleins, hands fighting each other for a turn, hands, hands, hands without faces, and I came onto the floor to prove I still could.
"So what is it that you do?" Eduardo shouts over the music. Another inescapable question. My answer will distance us. I'm no houseboy, no clerk at the scrimshaw shop.
"I'm a writer," I say.
Whenever I tell boys that I am a writer, they always respond in the same way. They appear to believe that this is significant, that they should somehow be impressed. "What do you write about?" they always ask in response, as Eduardo does now, a ridiculous question, one for which there is no answer. So I always say, as I do now:
"Whatever I can."
Eduardo smiles. He knows he can go no further. He's in over his head.
Was from the start.
Boston, January 1995
When I was a boy, my mother told me a riddle that terrified me. It went something like this: A girl is put in a room with no windows and only one door. That door is locked from the outside. There is nothing in the room with the girl but a radiator. Later, when they open the door, the girl is gone. What happened to the girl?
The answer: the radiator.
The radi ate her.
That riddle has come back to me now as I sit here on the edge of Javitz's hospital bed. He's been here for more than three weeks, straight through Christmas, fighting off the pneumonia we thought was whipped back in November. The snow outside is battering the windows like a flock of suicidal gulls. It's one of Boston's infamous snowstorms, the kind that slick roads within instants, that drop eighteen inches of snow in an hour.
I'm sitting here now, remembering that damn riddle, how the presence of a clinking, clanking radiator in a room terrified me for years, and then Javitz asks me about Spiro Agnew.
"Is he still alive?" he asks, watching the TV that's hooked up on the wall. The woman on CNN with the Barbra Streisand cross-eyes is talking about a bust of Agnew being placed in the rotunda of the Capitol.
"I guess so," I say. "They're giving him an honor."
Javitz makes a sour face. "He was a crook. You don't remember. You're too young."
"I remember watching Nixon resign," I protest. I was twelve, on summer vacation between seventh and eighth grade. My mother remained a die-hard supporter right to the bitter end. We both cried watching the resignation on the little black-and-white TV in the kitchen while she peeled potatoes for supper.
"You don't remember all the terrible things Nixon and Agnew did. Nobody seems to anymore. Nixon would've been as bad as Reagan on gays and AIDS and all that stuff. Maybe worse."
"How could anybody have been worse than Reagan?" I ask.
Javitz closes his eyes. "Luise Rainer was," he says. Talking about politics wears him out fast these days. "Especially in The Good Earth. "
"I'll say," I laugh. "And they gave her two Oscars."
"Count 'em," he says.
"Two," we say in unison.
He takes a deep breath, eyes still closed. "We should do a Luise Rainer video festival this summer in Provincetown. What do you think?"
I consider it. Every summer for the last five years, Javitz, Lloyd, and I have rented a place in Provincetown, that little spit of sand at the end of Cape Cod farther away from the rest of the world than anywhere else. How we've managed to do this, I don't know—Javitz on his community-college faculty pay, Lloyd with his grad-school loans, me barely making enough income to pay taxes. But every year, each of us writes down on a slip of paper the top limit of what we can afford, and then we toss the slips together and add them up. Somehow this quirky little experiment in socialism has worked for us every time.
Once there, we rent old movies—our shared passion—and invite in the neighbors. A Dietrich night, a Cukor festival, a Liz Taylor cavalcade. But this year, with Javitz being sick, we haven't yet had a chance to find a place. Actually, I'm ambivalent about doing it again, after everything that happened last summer, but I decide not to bring that up now.
"All right," I concede. "But I can't imagine who'd come to see Luise Rainer."
"Round up your little boys," he says, and his smirk looks even more devious with his eyes closed. "We can tell them she was a great actress. They'll believe anything."
"Almost," I correct him, and of course it's Eduardo we both remember.
The snow blasts the windows again. Javitz is quiet for a while. Then he says, "I wonder if Mrs. Maxwell is dead."
"Who's Mrs. Maxwell?"
"My third-grade teacher. She probably is. She was old when I had her."
"Yeah," I agree, "she's probably dead."
This is Javitz's newest trick: thinking of someone for no apparent reason, someone we met briefly years ago or some friend of his I've never known, and wondering out loud if they're dead. Sometimes I know; sometimes I don't.
Javitz thinks about death a lot, ever since he decided to leave teaching after twenty-three years and go on disability. His T cells had dropped to below one hundred, dangerous news not so long ago, but who can say anymore? That's the thing these days: we know less than we ever thought. Javitz's friend Ernie has four—not forty, but four T cells—and he's been fine for over a year. Javitz's T's have actually been rising, so I don't know why he thinks so much about death. He isn't going to die, at least not soon. I sit here, thinking about little girls trapped in rooms with malevolent radiators waiting to gorge themselves on their flesh, and I know that yet again Javitz will come home, and that this time he'll be able to do a little less for himself than before. And then he'll get sick again and back here we'll come and then home again—just as it has been for the last ten years. The curse of the long-term survivor, Javitz calls it.
"Do you remember when we were at Hands Around the Capitol?" he asks. I nod. Of course I do. "I tricked with that guy. What was his name?"
"James," I tell him.
"Oh, yeah. Is he dead?"
"How would I know?"
"I was just wondering." He closes his eyes. "Ask Lloyd. Maybe he knows. He tricked with him, too."
And he might very well. Lloyd stays in touch with his tricks, even falls in love with them a little bit. I could never understand that—at least, not before last summer. It's a dangerous game, falling in love with tricks. They can break your heart in a whole different way than a lover can.
Lloyd was supposed to come with me here tonight to Beth Israel to see Javitz, but he got beeped at the last minute. He's a psychologist for a crisis program over at Mass General. Mom always wanted my sister to grow up and marry a doctor; I beat her to it. "Tell Javitz for me," Lloyd said on his way out the door, "he better not die or anything when I'm not there."
Lloyd loves Javitz in a way I can't: free of guilt, free of a history that lingers between us. I envy that love. What must it be like, I wonder, when there's nothing that hangs around in the back of your mind like dirty socks in a closet, their existence unseen but their presence always known?
And Javitz loves Lloyd in a way impossible for me: free of doubt, free of competition. We're basically the same age, Lloyd and I, and in the gym we play silly little games: who can press the most weight, whose pecs stand out better beneath a white T-shirt, who gets the most looks from the boys. Yet neither of us would admit to playing such games or the seriousness with which we play them.
"You're thinking about Lloyd and what he told you that Sunday morning last month," Javitz says.
"No, I'm not," I lie.
"Jeff, you've got to stop being so afraid."
I react. "I'm not the one preoccupied with death."
He gives me a look, eyes wide and eyebrows up. Maybe he's right: why else has my mother's riddle—that damned radiator with the steaming fangs—come back to haunt me?
"You and Lloyd have been together for six years, Jeff. It's all right to be going through this."
"We're not 'going through' anything," I snap.
Excerpted from The Men from the Boys by William J. Mann. Copyright © 1997 William J. Mann. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
I rated a 4 for gift giving because it all depends on who you're giving the book to. But, in general, this book is all about what it takes to make a relationship, losing your friends, the transition from 80s to the 90s, and being scared of being alone. It's about a changing character who anyone could relate to. I probably bought it most of all because of the sex scenes I spotted in it, but actually, what I got was a hell of a lot more than just rutting on a couple of pages. It taught me what AIDS does to people and their friends and families, that using a condom really is a life saver, and friends really are your family.
William J. Mann has this amazing author's voice that made me want to experience my own Boston romance, that made me want to be beside the characters and laugh along with them, that made me want to go to P-town for at least a vacation. It shows that being comfortable isn't always a good thing and change isn't always bad, that being in a relationship takes communication, commitment, and empathy. It has some of the most beautiful moments that will either have you crying or jumping out of your seat with a happy squeal.
I never wanted it to end.
I seriously recommend this book- for gays or anyone. It's insightful, it's heartbreaking, and it's truly a masterpiece. Enough said.
Posted April 13, 2005
Posted August 10, 2003
Mr, Mann, the author of this book understands at least one thing. There is more than one kind of gay man in the universe. This book covers most of them and their entangled lives. The vain, the young, the fat, the loud & proud, the preppy, the insecure and the cocky. This book gave me a new out look.It was an enjoyable read. Be forewarned: the character(s) the author may want you to feel the most for may be the one's you recognize as the one's you despise in your own life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 2, 2000
Mr, Mann, the author of this book understands at least one thing. There is more than one kind of gay man in the universe. This book covers most of them and their entangled lives. The vain, the young, the fat, the loud & proud, the preppy, the insecure and the cocky. This book didn't take me to a 'higher place' but all the same it was an enjoyable read. Be forewarned: the character(s) the author may want you to feel the most for may be the one's you recognize as the one's you despise in your own life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 29, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted October 5, 2010
No text was provided for this review.