Tim and Peteby James Robert Baker
Baker's groundbreaking novel of simmering rage and justifiable violence follows combative ex-lovers Tim and Pete, thrown together on a bizarre trek from Laguna Beach, Calif., to Los Angeles. Sarcastic, satiric, violent, and exhilarating, Tim & Pete is a fiercely imagined, boldly realized vision of the cultural war raging in the hearts of the disenfranchised and in the streets of America.
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I WAS having a dream about Pete. We were at his oldplace in Venice Beach, in the bright, messy living room.We were arguing, the way we had toward the end in reallife. But this time I was living there with Pete, I'd movedinto his bungalow, and even though we were both angry,I could tell we still loved each other. And suddenly westopped arguing, and there were tears in Pete's eyes, andthe next thing I knew we were making out in this horrendous,cathartic waykissing deeply, which we'd neverdone in real life. But this was a dream so we didn't haveto think about saliva.
Then we were naked in the bedroom, the sun streamingin through the palm bushes outside the high, dirty windows.We were rolling around on the mattress on the floor,on the white sheets. My orange cat was sleeping at the footof the bed. I saw the line of black hair on Pete's whitestomach. Felt his smooth, warm back, his hard cock againstmine. When we kissed now, it sent a surge of bliss backthrough my brain like an amphetamine rush and I thoughtI was going to come. I groaned, Oh, Pete, and he groaned,Oh, Tim, and
I opened my eyes and saw a little pink sphincter wherePete's mouth should've been.
"Goddamn it, Jefty. Will you please get your fuckingbutthole out of my face?"
I pushed the wiry tomcat off my pillow. He yowled ashe hit the hardwood floor. Yowled again.
I looked at the digital clock: 8:59. I had a few moreminutes. I rolled over, watched the blades of sunlightexpandacross the white walls, across the colorful 1950s travelposter ("Fly to Mexico by Clipper"), as the breeze puffedthe white window shades. Listened to the waves crack againstthe shore three blocks below. Wished I could go back intothe dream. Back to the rush of making out with Pete.
Except I shouldn't still be having dreams like this,thoughts like this, a year after Pete and I had broken up.I should be past all this by now. A year, I'd wasted an entirefucking year. I thought about Pete's bungalow on Cabrilloas it was in real life. A family of rednecks was living therenow. The last time I'd driven by I'd seen the fat whitetrashmama sunning her legs on the porch.
Jefty climbed back up on the bed, started clawing thepillow. "Knock it off," I told him. "You rip up my RalphLauren sheets, I'm shipping your ass to the research lab."I stroked the cat and thought about the mornings when heused to wake up Pete. When Pete and I would sit up inbed and drink coffee and talk, wired and loose, talking aboutall sorts of things, making up stories.
"On the Road," Pete said once. "You know who's who.We're driving cross-country."
"Across the Mojave," I said. "It's hot in the '46 Ford"
"So we peel off our T-shirts."
"Right. Your sweaty torso knocks my breath out," I said."I idolize you. I want you so bad I can taste it. But I getincredibly flustered."
"Suddenly we see the Flying Wing," Pete said.
"The Flying Wing. Swooping down over the purplemountains. Swooping down right at us! It scrapes the topof the Ford. I screech to halt! We're so shaken"
"that we start kissing," I said.
"And sucking each other's cocks and fucking and everything."
"Families in other cars flash past, screaming when theysee us, moms keening in horror."
"But we don't care, we don't stop!"
"We come laughing, exploding, jiz flying everywhere!"
Another time we were surfers, like the two clean-cutbuddies in Endless Summer.
"We drive down to Baja in 1965," Pete said.
"We ride a bunch of waves at a deserted beach. But aswe come up out of the water, there's a gang of raunchyMexican outlaws waiting."
"With their uncut dicks hanging out," Pete said.
"Right. And they strip us and tie us up back-to-back."
"And in spite of ourselves we both get hard-ons," Petesaid.
"Right. But the leader, who's really pretty cool andextra-appealing, like Pablo, deliberately leaves the ropesloose"
"So just at the point where they're about to whip ourgringo faces with their raunchy uncut dicks," Pete said,"we escape."
"And run along the beach"
"For miles and miles, till we come to a village"
I couldn't remember what happened then. What differencedid it make? Why was I even thinking about this? Igot out of bed to stop it.
I went into the bathroom, aimed my hard-on into theshower, took a leak against the white tiles. Went on to thekitchen, fed Jefty, grabbed the coffeepot and a mug, andcame back to the bedroom. Watched MTV for a while,drinking coffee. Eric Clapton, Soundgarden, the Jesus andMary Chain's "Reverence"until it reminded me of oneof Pete's songs. Chris Isaaks briefly on VH-1, "Don't MakeMe Dream About You"too close to home. CNN: a windsweptGeorge Bush addressing a crowd, an azure sea behindhim. Thought of "the giggle factor," Bush's admissionin '87 that there was still a "giggle factor" in the administrationconcerning AIDS. Imagined cutting off BarbaraBush's head with a chain saw, setting it on a stake. I'dgiggle at that. On American Movie Classics: Ramona. LorettaYoung, gorgeous, ruby-lipped, right-wing. An insipidDon Ameche. The color looked grimy.
I snapped up the window shade. It was already warm,the sky a clear blue over the Pacific, except for the brownband of smog just above the horizon. What Todd wouldcall Gidget weather, and I should be getting into a Gidgetmood. I sang a few bars of the Sandra Dee movie themesong, but instead of amusing me, it sickened me. The pastwas all used up. I imagined Gidget in a hospital bed, coveredwith KS lesions. "Moondoggie, why? I didn't do anythingwrong...."
In the shower I thought about the times Pete and I hadstood there under the water, how he'd looked in the hardmorning light, his blue eyes, his beard shadow, his amazingpale skin. How even at his worst, even at his grungiest,long after I'd realized he wasn't physically perfect, he'dnever failed to completely put me away.
Once I'd mentioned something to Todd about Pete andme taking a shower together, and he'd said, "How sweet.I'll bet you hold hands at movies, too."
"Only at Arnold Schwarzenegger films," I'd said. "You'rejust jealous, Toddbecause you and Phil are like a coupleof grizzled old desert dykes who haven't bumped pussiessince 1953." He'd laughed.
I wished Todd were in town this weekend. We mighthave gone to dinner and a movie tonight. But he'd goneback to New York for an ACT UP conference. In the lastyear he'd become increasingly involved in the L.A. chapterof the group. His own health was fine, although, like me,he was a hard-core refusenik when it came to taking thetest. He'd lost a number of friends though, more than Ihad. But then Todd had always had more friends to lose.I'd given money to ACT UP, but resisted direct involvement,put off by all the bickering and in-fighting I'd seenat the meetings I'd gone to.
Todd and I had been friends for twelve years, sinceUCLA, where he'd been an art student while I was workingon my graduate degree at the film school. He'd helped mea lot after the breakup with Pete. If it hadn't been for Todd,I might have done something truly extreme. Sometimes itwas tempting to think of Todd as a role model in terms ofrelationships. He and Phil had been together ten years.They weren't monogamous though. Both had "safe adventures"on the side. I didn't have a moral problem withthatit wasn't any of my business anywaybut I knewthat kind of arrangement would make me crazy. Pete andI had been monogamous, for as long as it had lasted. Neitherone of us had wanted to be with anyone else for the entiresix months.
I might have done something with Gregory this afternoon,but he was going mountain-biking with a guy he hada hopeless crush on. "Why do I keep doing this?" he'd say."Falling for these guys who just want to be friends." "Idon't know, Gregory," I'd tell him. "You must be gettingsomething out of it." "I suppose," he'd say abjectly. Gregorytook the test every six months. He was always negative,which was not a big surprise. He'd been celibate formore than four years.
Drying off, I talked to Jefty. "What am I doing? Whydid I ever agree to go out with this guy? I feel like BlancheDu Bois going out with Mitch."
I got out my knapsack and packed a beach towel, sunblock,and City of Quartz, Mike Davis's refreshingly leftistview of L.A., parts of which I'd been rereading since theriots. "If I'm not back by seven," I told Jefty, "you'll knowDirk Bogarde's been transformed into Jason Patric."
That's a bit harsh, I suppose, and unfair to Dirk Bogarde,who despite his better-known creepy portrayals began hisscreen life as a juicy pretty boy. And I don't really want totrash Victor, in spite of what happened. He's not an evilperson really, just an odd-duck British queen who'd slippedoff the screen of a 1960s Joseph Losey film and ended upwith Mum in southern California. Not bad-looking, I guess,by many people's standards, but he just didn't do it for me.His tan was far too deep, burnt-in and leathery. He worerings, a gold bracelet on his bronzed wrist, and cologne. Ihave a serious aversion to cologne, at least on guys I'mgoing out with. His smile wasn't all that pleasant either, abit carnivorous, like a Hollywood agent's. And his teethwere yellow even though he didn't smoke. And sometimeshe did have bad breath.
I had no trouble relating to Victor casually, as I had forseveral years. He was a writer of coffee-table movie books,and he'd come into the film archives every so often on aresearch matter, and if I wasn't busy, we'd talk. I enjoyeddiscussing films and Hollywood history with Victor, despiteour radically different enthusiasms, and although I'd sensedearly on that he might be attracted to me, I felt that issuehad been subtly resolved years ago, the perimeters of ouracquaintanceship by now well established. That's probablywhy he took me by surprise when he stopped in on Wednesdayto check some facts in our Lubitsch file.
"So what are your plans for this Memorial Day weekend?"he said casually on his way to the door.
"Nothing special," I said. "Just going to take it easy.Catch up on my reading."
"And go to the beach, I'll bet." He had a voice like RobertMorley's. "You live near the beach, don't you?"
"Yes. I enjoy the ocean aesthetically. But I'm not reallyinto spending a lot of time sitting on the"
"You're pale though." He interrupted a lot. "Haven'tbeen getting much sun, have you? Cooped up in here,watching Kiss the Blood Off My Hands all day."
"Well, I know you don't care for film noir, but"
"Say, I've got an idea. I've got to go down to Laguna onSaturday. Told a friend I'd look after his condo. Just a fewblocks from the beach. What do you say?"
"Well, I don't know. Saturday"
"Oh, come on. It'll be fun. The gay beach, I mean. Doyou know it?"
"No, I've never actually gone to the gay beach at Laguna"
"Well, then, that settles it. You've got to come. TheseOrange County boys! Surfers for days! Let me give you myaddress. Why haven't we ever socialized?"
"I don't know."
I could have backed out later, of course, but I wouldhave felt a little crummy if I had. I thought of Victor as anessentially lonely asexual forty-year-old mother's boystarved for friendship and conversation, and I didn't seewhat harm it could do to go to the beach with him once,on a date, if that's what it was. And of course it was. Adate. A word I hated because it reminded me of tense,grim heterosexual high school ordeals. Corsages, sweatypalms, the waxy taste of lipstick on a church-sponsoredhayride. A good-night kiss for Cindi under the bug light,then a pit stop at the Lido, where Ray, the married projectionist,would suck me off between reel changes. Homeby midnight; how was your date, dear? Fine, Mom.
My recent grim dating experiences made me nostalgicfor the old days of living a lie, the word, the concept, havingmade a depressing comeback in AIDS-era gay life. I couldusually avoid it until New Year's Eve, but to be alone thenwas too pathetic, right? Not really. What's worse is to haveto kiss Sidney at midnight; that spoiled 1989. I'd spent thenext New Year's Eve fending off Roland: "But you can'tsay no. It's New Year's." Think again, Ro. I'd brought in1991 with Pete. We'd stayed in, watched cassettes, andfucked our brains out. This New Year's Eve I'd gone to aparty with Todd and Phil, where some guy in a SILENCIO =MUERTE T-shirt looked so much like Pete that I felt as if Iwere stuck in a queer remake of Vertigo.
Pete never used the word date except ironically, as inhis song "Date Night at Dachau." Easy to imagine howVictor would react to that song title, without even caringto hear the song. "Oh, dear. If that's a joke, it's in dreadfullypoor taste." There'd be no way of explaining that it was ajoke and therefore also completely serious.
When Pete and I broke up, it was very bad for a while.Initially I got the flu, which I was certain at first was AIDS,and after I got over that I was emotionally twisted, alternatelydespairing and enraged, for the next two months.That passed. Life continued and I thought I was over him.Then, at about six months, it got bad againthis is mypattern. I started thinking about Pete again all the time forno apparent reason except that I still missed him so muchI'd lie in bed at night and groan. One night, watchingTrouble in Mind on cassette, I lost it. At the end of thefilm, where Kris Kristofferson drives off alone with nothingbut his tenderest fantasies, while Marianne Faithfull singsan ineffably wrenching song of lost love, I started sobbing.I wanted to pick up the phone so bad. But I knew that wascrazy, wildly inappropriate, and way too late, and I calledTodd instead, and he told me to "let go of Pete, stop wallowing,turn the page." I was certain to meet someone else,Todd said, someone who'd make me look back to Pete andwonder how I'd been so upset about something so trivialand obviously "sex-based." In the meantime, Todd suggested,I might feel better if I went out and got laid.
"Fuck him out of my system, you mean?"
That's your solution to everything, I'd thought. I'd said,"No, I'll wait."
The period of retro-longing at six months passed, too. Istarted going out again, though not with anyone who didn'tbore the shit out of me. But that was okay. I had my work,which I could get into as deeply as I wanted, and I had myfriends, like Todd and Gregory. I knew I'd meet someoneagain eventually. I was "smart, witty, boyishly appealing,"Todd reminded me. I was thirty-eight, though I could passeasily for thirty-five, which was good since that's how oldI said I was. I wasn't discouraged. My life was not at allbad. I was healthy for one thing, and these days that's alot. I'd learned some "important lessons" from what hadhappened with Pete that I could apply to my next relationship,whenever that was "supposed to happen," asGregory put it. "The truth is, you just don't meet meaningfulpeople every day," he'd say. No, but I didn't thinkI could wait four years. I'd waited much longer than thatbefore I met Pete. If something didn't happen soon, I wasafraid there might be a major explosion of inevitably soul-destroying"safe sleaze" (Todd's term).
* * *
I went out to my car, a restored metallic blue 1968 Camaroconvertible. No point in putting the top down. Victorwould want to drive. I waved to the crazy straight guy wholived alone in the house across the street. At night I sometimessaw him pacing in his living room, talking to himself.He ignored me this morning as he clipped his ivy. I droveoff down the eucalyptus-lined street, making a left at ChannelRoad in Santa Monica Canyon. I remembered Pete oncetelling someone that I lived at the corner of "IsherwoodCourt and Don Bachardy Lane." (In fact, the Isherwood/Bachardy house was on the far side of the canyon.) At thetop of the hill, I took a left on San Vicente.
I understood why I was thinking about Pete again now.We'd spent the previous Memorial Day weekend together,which I still thought of as our last good time, before everythingturned to shit, though I knew Pete wouldn't agree.For him, things started turning to shit much sooner thanthey did for me. He'd seemed irritable and preoccupiedthat weekend. But then he'd quit smoking only two weeksbefore, right after we'd come back from France, so I'd triednot to take his mood personally. (In retrospect, it was obviousthat he'd quit smoking as a passive-aggressive distancingdevice, since he'd known I wasn't ready to quitmyself. Of course, he'd insisted that he didn't mind that Icontinued to smoke. He'd only asked that I not do it whenwe were together.)
Driving into Brentwood, the Lightning Seed's "Pure"came on the radio, a catchy techno-pop song I'd listenedto obsessively on my Walkman in France before Pete joinedme, a two-week period filled with quietly elated anticipation.I recalled the hyperromantic exhilaration I'd feltwatching Pete walk in across the windswept tarmac at theNice airport. That image still set off a buzz in my stomach,but I wasn't alarmed. These were only stray memories, lastyear's snapshots evoked by last year's pop song, not a truereturn of longing. And the dreamthat was painfuly obvious.I always dreamed about things that were never goingto happen. Like kissing Pete again, making love with himuntil we were both punchy, living with him. But it wastherapeutic to have that sort of dream, to have a final workingout of the subconscious residue of desire. A psychichousecleaning.
More than anything it was a kind of wistful feeling I hadtoward Pete now, a sense that in spite of how badly it hadended, and no matter who I met in the near future, Petewould always be one of the half dozen or so great loves ofmy life.
I was aware that he'd moved to Laguna Beach. At leastthat's what I'd heard several months before. Todd followedthe local music scene much more closely than I did. "Yeah,Drunken Boat broke up," he'd said last winter. "Pete'ssupposedly moved down to Laguna, fed up with L.A."
But Laguna Beach is a sizable community. The chancesof a fluke encounter were remote. And one place I knew Iwouldn't see Pete was at the gay beach. He hated sittingon the beach even more than I did. And I certainly wasn'tgoing to look him up. I wasn't that much of a masochist.
I met Victor at his mother's prim white colonial housein Brentwood. We got into his new silver Jaguar convertiblewith its V-12 engine and I could tell it was going to be along day.
"Do you mind ff I smoke?" I said as we got on the freeway.
"As a matter of fact ..."
He pointed like a fussy teacher to the no-smoking decalabove the ashtray. I stuck the cigarette back in the pack.
"I didn't know you smoked."
"I don't that much really. Just at certain times."
"Oh? What are those?"
While I masturbate. No, edit that. He might think I'mbeing flirtatious. "Oh, you know. While waterskiing. Atfunerals."
"Oh, dear. I thought perhaps you meant after a goodbout of sex."
"No, no, not at all."
The top was down. It was hot now, hot and dry, a mildSanta Ana wind, what Pete would call a Raymond Chandlercondition. Victor shoved in a cassette. Barry Manilow, hisgreatest hits, volume one. "Mandy." I looked around forthe barf bag.
"Did you see him at the Greek?" Victor said.
"No, I missed that."
"Oh, did you ever! He was absolutely incredible!"
"Yeah, I guess he's quite a showman."
"Say, know who's coming up in August? Liza Minnelli.Just got the tickets. Interested?"
I'd rather eat smegma. "Well, that's a ways off. Whydon't we see."
"Sure. No pressure. I'll remind you."
It took over an hour to get there, while Barry sang thesongs that made the whole world car sick. Laguna Beachwas jammed because of the holiday and the heat, so parkingcould have been a problem. But Victor used his friend'scard to enter the subterranean garage of the Villa Marbellacondo building, and from there we walked down to thebeach.
We spread out our towels and I took off my T-shirt andkhakis while Victor took off his white tennis shirt and shorts.He was wearing skimpy navy blue Speedo's while I worea pair of baggy 1940s swim trunks with a kitsch tropicaldesign.
"Say, those are great," he said. "I like a little mystery."
He leaned back in his beach chair and adjusted his cockin his Speedo's. "But I say, if you've got it, flaunt it." Hesmiled. "Not that I'm all that obsessed with size. Cutenessdefinitely gets points, too." He winked.
I wanted to go home.
But I smeared on some sunblock lotion.
"Say, you are pale."
"Yeah, I burn easily."
"I like your skin though. And your physique in general.Do you work out?"
"Not really. I go out on my bike occasionally."
"I should do something, I suppose. What I'd give for anice set of pecs."
Victor's dark, hairless body was as thin as a pharaoh's.
For the most part the beach was packed with what I'llcall mainstream homosexuals. Smooth, tanned, muscleboys in pastel bikinis, with virtually no body hair and meanReagan-era faces: West Hollywood south. There were a fewsilver-haired disco survivorsa guy who looked like JeffChandler off to the right. Groups of super-young queerclones here and there. I like goatees actually. My firstboyfriend, Robbie, had one twenty years ago. The BronskiBeat remake of "Don't Leave Me This Way" was waftingfrom somebody's boom box, a song I can't hear withoutthinking of Diane Keaton under the strobe light in Lookingfor Mr. Goodbar, being repeatedly stabbed.
"So, taken the test?" Victor said.
"The HIV test. Taken it?"
I squinted at Victor, his eyes closed, his shiny face tothe sun.
"No, actually, I haven't. I've thought about it. I've comeclose a few times. But"
"I was petrified," he said. "I didn't sleep for three nights.To be very candid, I feared the worst, considering some ofthe things I used to do. I was quite the party girl in myday, believe it or not. At one time, I absolutely lived at thebaths."
"But you're negative?"
"Praise the Lord and pass the penis."
I cringed. "You're lucky."
"I'm something. God, when I think of the things I usedto do. With absolute strangers, without a second thought.I don't want to burn your ears though. I can tell you're theconservative type."
This has sometimes been a problem for me. I look fairlyconventional, I guess: prepped-out, short, parted hair,glasses. I feel more comfortable when I'm inconspicuous.I don't trust fashion trends. Part of this may be a WASPlegacy, a fear of looking ridiculous: "Here comes Tim, withlast spring's buzz cut. What a dork!" But I'm notconservative.
"What I mean is," Victor said, "I'm sure you're all right.You haven't been sleeping around. I'm sure in your casethe test would be just a formality."
I nearly laughed. He didn't know anything about me,not a thing. And he wasn't going to find out anything now.
"I've been careful," I said. Like all but celibate for sixyears before Pete.
"Well, that's all you can be."
"I'll bet you've been more cautious," I said, "since youfound out you were negative."
He shrugged. "Same as before. I have certain rules. Nocome in the mouth and always wear a Rubber Johnny.That's the British term for condom, you know."
"Yeah, I think I've heard that."
"So that's where I stand. What about you?"
What if I tell him I've got a symptom? Diarrhea? Swollenglands? No, that's too sick. "I'm all for safe sex," I said. Aslong as it's not between me and you.
Eventually, I steered the conversation to Victor's favoritesubject, musicals, and he burned up some energy gushingabout Barbra and Judy and Vera-Ellen, until around three,when I said, "You know, I'm getting a little worried. I thinkI missed a few spots with this sunblock."
"Wellwe certainly don't want you to look back on thisday with any regret. Let's head back to the condo."
This place depressed me. Twenty years ago it would havebeen flocked wallpaper and chandeliers. Now it was designerSanta Fewhich was of course already shockinglypassé. On the coffee table, Architectural Digest, VanityFair (which Pete called Vanity Queer), andNational Review?Like a Jew with Mein Kampf on display.
Excerpted from TIM AND PETE by James Robert Baker. Copyright © 1993 by JAMES ROBERT BAKER. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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