Maricón (Part 2)
Editor’s note: This is the second of three installments. Read Part 1.
Then Jesus took Thomas aside and spoke three sayings to him in private. When Thomas returned to the company they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?”
“If I were to tell you even one of the things He spoke to me,” Thomas replied,“you would pick up these rocks and stone me, and then fire would blaze out of them and burn you.”
— The Gospel of Thomas
Pedro lived a few blocks west of Times Square—in Hell’s Kitchen—near the theater district, a gaudy place, where rich tourists and stage-struck kids flocked to the shows, and jazz artists played in the streets for loose change. I got to know the district well, developing a fondness for the interiors of all those run down, ornate theaters with grand chandeliers dangling from high deco ceilings, where another golden age of decadence had once been. On the busy streets I saw beautiful people going to plays, I saw the prostitutes who were selling themselves in the dark shadows.
His apartment was like a halfway house. Drag queens, drug dealers, actors and models and other misfits visited our apartment daily. I said little when they started camping it up, for the cruel tone of their banter frightened me. Acting like loud cartoon characters, they talked fast, just like the cast of characters in Boys in the Band. They made fun of my Texan accent, which I tried to tone down. Pedro cut their hair, advised them on their head shots and love affairs, and was forever buying and selling marijuana.
It was Hell’s Kitchen, late summer of 1978, and I remember Hell’s Kitchen as mean and dangerous. Pedro’s apartment was squeezed between a church and a basketball court, and there was a row of porn shops and strip clubs that catered to both gay and straight, loud and proud, without shame. I absorbed everything.
This is where I learned how to sneak in after the intermission without paying, learned how to find bargains in thrift shops, learned how to furnish an apartment with what you find on the street. This is where I found used records and books for dirt cheap, where I could grab a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, eat pizza by the slice for lunch, take out Chinese for dinner. We were always on the run. Running was a common feature of everyone’s life. Everyone was late for something, for work, for a doctor’s appointment, for a show, for a wedding, for a funeral. I learned that you could bump into people without saying you were sorry, you could say good morning without smiling. If you were polite, you would invite seedy types who would ask you for money. The city was crazy and I learned to take risks, to think fast and pretend that you didn’t see anything. Once in the subway I saw a bag lady pull down her pants and take a shit in a shopping bag. The passengers vacated the subway car without saying a word, without holding their nose, without even lifting their eyes from their newspapers. You pretended nothing happened. You never knew who was carrying a gun or a knife.
My first autumn in Pedro’s apartment was full of music. He loved the classic divas—Billie Holiday, Celia Cruz, and of course, the legendary Maria Callas. He took me to the Metropolitan Museum, where I was fascinated by the Egyptian art and the Greek sculpture, and walking through the autumnal Central Park with him felt magical. At the library, he suggested books that I should read. He taught me the pleasures of talking about ideas, an experience I never had back in Texas, where talk was considered cheap. As the weather got chilly, he gave me one of his woolen sweaters, got me a pair of boots for the winter.
Walking down the street, after work, seeing men and women, in couples or standing alone, waiting for a bus, eager to get home, I wondered if they knew that each of us is as boundless as the sea.
As the Indian summer turned into fall and then into winter, I spent more time indoors reading books that Pedro checked out at the library, and which he stacked in piles around the apartment but forgot to return. One late afternoon, when he was out, I found the plain manila folder where he kept his neatly typed out poetry. Feeling guilty, reading it without his permission, I was shocked by what I read.
I make love,
The way an older man does.
I touch what is ancient
In the boy beneath me.
Lord, may I get it right,
As the long night
Holds the desire
Of deserted stars.
May I be merciful to him
When none were merciful to me.
I have no needs left,
Except to give
What I did not get.
The man-boy beneath me
Who is Beauty
(I am the Beast)
Pleads for love
As all lovers must
And struggles to be free.
I debate the pain I give
With the pleasure I feel.
Am I Daddy?
I am no man’s daddy—
Should I give up
Before I get started?
The boy whispers.
Grief equals love,
Like a plastic cup
Filled with the ocean
I sink all the way down
I sat down and started to read it all over again. I wondered what was behind those words? Did he think of himself as an old man? Did he think what we were doing was wrong? Was I one of his boys that he used and cast aside? There was something in the words which caused me to want to rebel. I wondered who the lover was that Pedro described?
From outdoors, I heard the shouts of the boys playing basketball at the playground next door to our building. I envied them. Those straight kids were normal, not like me. I was doomed to be maricón.
That is what they shouted at us, taunting Pedro and I, as we walked by them. Maricón! I asked Pedro what that word meant. He said, “It means faggot.” I winced with pain, as if I had been spat upon. “Just ignore them. Don’t look at them. You will get us killed.” I wondered how he had gotten such a reputation, for what I most liked was that Pedro looked like a masculine man, not a faggot. But maybe I was wrong. What was it about us that people called us faggot? Had Pedro taken one of these hostile boys home? My imagination was filled with intruders, and I began to view him differently, from a distance. Maybe he was a bit effeminate. Maybe I was, too.
I was jealous of Pedro’s imaginary lovers and of his vaster sexual experience. Short poems, long poems, quirky poems, I read them in secret when he was out. I didn’t understand them. Poem after poem, sounding much alike, revealed the charms of some new image of his desire, even as he prayed for some kind of deliverance from his too, too solid flesh, which he had contempt for, that he wanted to leap out of. I put the poems back in order and left them the way I found them and never revealed that I had looked at them.
I became more curious. When Pedro left the apartment, I went through his desk and found his journals, which were loose and undated. That’s how I discovered the identity of that always young lover in Pedro’s poems. I was amused and saddened, for Pedro seemed to be always writing about himself. He was the betrayer and the betrayed, the rapist and the redeemer, the lost and the saved, a sex addict and a mystic.
I was jealous of his poems about God, too, for I had no art of my own to turn to, no instrument to play, no medium to express myself in, no method to relieve my suffering—except through sex. I was like a brute animal. I hadn’t learned how to feel my way through the invisible worlds that Pedro inhabited, but when I closed my eyes while fucking him I could travel to other worlds. Poets could do that without having sex, poets could do that with words alone.
Winter brought on Pedro’s nightmares. As the weather got colder, we were more often inside the tight apartment and started to feel claustrophobic. As I lay closer to Pedro, after he woke up, on those winter nights, the room too hot with the radiator clanking, he would be terrified by some phantom chasing him into a dark alley. Being deeply superstitious, Pedro lived in Purgatory, a world of shadows, of profound uncertainty, of mysterious signs from another world, which inspired his poems. After describing his troubled dreams to me, he would jot them down in a notebook next to our bed, and fashion them into one of his poems.
He would finally go back to sleep but I would be wide awake, musing upon the mystery of things, as I watched the all-suffering Madonna with the beautiful body of Jesus in her arms, the Pieta, by the votive candles flickering light on Pedro’s altar. I felt that Jesus was foreign to me, a stranger, too theatrical, slightly ridiculous, but then I would feel sad and forlorn without Him.
Then there was the day I discovered, in the back of a drawer, a video. I put it in the VCR and let it roll. It was a copy of one of those porn movies he had made, after he left the seminary. It was an early porn video, amateur, made in lurid color, by a swimming pool, a voice over with heavy breathing and silly dialogue. Pedro, barely eighteen, serviced two black guys, who treated him rough, gave it to him from both ends; the good old slave position, the double whammy. As I watched I felt jealous for him, for he was beautiful and did not know it, and I felt envious, for I felt also a desire to be used that way. I hated that I was aroused by submission/dominance action. I never told him about this.
Then came our first big fight. It happened shortly after that first brutal winter, after the holidays, after we had taken the Christmas tree down and put it on the street. It was when spring had just showed up early for a few days in the middle of March and started to invite the brilliant white blossoms to come out, and, after a few days of glory, they fluttered down to the dirty street.
The fight was about sex. I had kept secret the reading I had done behind his back but I felt an inner rage begin to brew in me that erupted suddenly out of nowhere. Pedro always insisted that we make love standing up in the shower or doggy style on the living room floor. After months of this routine, that chill afternoon, I let my preferences be known. I had opened the windows, to air the place out. Lustfully, like one of the studs who raped him in the video, I pulled him onto our tiny single bed, and with Callas singing a stirring aria in the background, I tried to remove his clothes.
“What are you doing?” He asked, annoyed.
“Let’s do it in bed,” I pleaded, “not in the kitchen or the toilet. Like normal people?”
“Because we aren’t normal people. And the bed is too small. Muy quapo, porque muy estupido— “
“This is America. Speak English.”
“I am a cocksucker,” he exaggerated his accent, “It’s hard to suck dick lying in this tiny bed. It gives me a crick in the neck. I would much rather do it in the shower or the kitchen where I can use my imagination. It’s sexier. I don’t like to have sex in this narrow bed. It makes me feel married. It makes me feel like I’m in a coffin, in a funeral parlor.”
I felt insulted.
“I want us to feel like we are married.”
He stood up, tossed my dirty clothes roughly into the laundry bag, with his nose up in the air. “I have work to do,” he said. “Didn’t your mother teach you how to clean up after yourself? You act like you were raised in a barn—”
“Stop talking like a faggot!” I blurted out, hurt and angry. “Leave my mother out of this—”
“Watch your mouth!” His face turned red. “I will speak the way I please. This is my house. Never tell me what to do.” He started to tidy up the bedroom, but with sharp gestures, tearing the protective fabric of our aura, letting the voices of the damned sweep in, the voices that declared that we were no good, that the world was a bad place. “This place is a mess!” he screamed.
“I’m not like you,” I shouted. I charged into the living room as if that was a place where I could escape from the fight but I knew what was going to happen was beyond my control. He followed right behind me, swung me around to face him. “I’m not a faggot. Those spicks—”
“Don’t use that word—”
“Don’t call me gringo!” I yelled back. “Maricon!” I shouted, my saliva sprayed in his face. “Those spicks who call us maricon. You defend them? Whore! Drag queen! Cock sucker! You let them talk like that and walk on by. And those clowns that come here and you do their hair and scream like a lot of old ladies. It’s a lie. It’s just an act you put on when they are around. They are a bunch of losers. Why have them here?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Maricón,” he snapped at me; the Puerto Rican came out in him, like a naked steel blade. “I am just like they are and so are you.” He reached down and grabbed his cock. “You been fucked by a hair dresser, baby, and you begged for more. What makes you imagine you are better than they are? Because you are from some barbecue pit stop in Texas? You are just like them.”
“I’m not a faggot.” I located the porn video I had found and put it into the slot and pressed play. The TV screen was filled with the images of Pedro being topped by two black guys.“You are the faggot, not me.”
“Give it up.” He turned off the video tape, sat down next to me on the couch, as I started to moan. “I can never be normal, nor can you.” I sank into the sofa and cried softly, like one of those heroines in a Puccini opera. “What is wrong with you? Why are you acting like a little bitch?”
“I saw you in that porn movie,“ I sobbed, “with the two niggers fucking you. I thought that is what you like—that is what you want. I am not like that. You are not like that—”
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry…” He put his arms around me. “Please forgive me. I don’t deserve you. I have such a bad temper. You are so good to me—” On his knees before me, he kissed my tear-stained cheeks, as if I were a school boy. It was too late for I had already entered another world, a world without Pedro. “You aren’t like them.” He tried to soothe me, for I was inconsolable. “You aren’t a faggot. If you were one of those faggots I wouldn’t love you the way I do. You are a handsome young man with a bright future ahead of you. You are perfectly normal. You will one day become an investment banker and make lots of money and take care of me in my old age.”
I knew he was lying. He didn’t believe what he said, nor did he believe in me or himself. He knew I was a loser, just like all the other faggots, just like him. My fantasy was shattered. Pedro wasn’t a real man, just a self-hating drama queen, like all the others. I wanted a man, not a queen. I felt betrayed.
Pedro got up off the floor and lit some sickly-sweet incense. I pushed Pedro towards the bedroom and, though he was stronger than I was, he let me dominate him. I unzipped his zipper, pulled down his pants, turned him around, slapped his ass. He knew I had to get even for being humiliated by him, for crying in front of him like a little bitch. He recognized the sign of my maturity. I was no longer his boy. If he wasn’t going to be the man then I would have to be. I fucked him hard from behind. The sheets got dirty.
He zipped up, casually, afterwards. “Are you hungry?” he asked, sweetly. “Go see a movie? Just like a normal couple from the suburbs?”
After the rough sex, we went out for Chinese food, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I had a great appetite and ate like a pig. As we walked by the boys playing basketball, they started to taunt us. I shot my finger at them. I shouted at them, “I don’t want to suck your dick but I think your friend does.” That did it. They grabbed a garbage can and threw it at us. Pedro ran up ahead and opened the front door of our apartment building, while I dodged the garbage they pelted at me. Safely inside the apartment, I laughed hysterically, but Pedro got moody, withdrawn, angered by what he thought was my reckless behavior. He said we could have gotten killed.
Soon, after that first fight with Pedro, a cynicism crept into my attitude. I started going to the gym, noticed other guys looking at me with a lust that became like a drug. Arousing that lust became my mission in life. I didn’t yet leave. I became acquainted with Peggy Lee’s song Is that all there is? and played it over and over until Pedro pitched a fit. I started to get pretty jaded, just like everyone else.
I began to go out, after work, visiting bars, meeting people my own age. Pedro accepted this with a kind of relief. I came home very late, took off my clothes and stumbled into bed, usually drunk, and was always forgiven for my trespasses. He became sweeter the more cynical I became. He knew, though I didn’t, that our love affair was not going to last forever.
The biggest challenge, of course, was the big A. We started using condoms but the epidemic was in full bloom, like some deadly exotic flower in a dark jungle. Then the New Age arrived. Suddenly, every whore wanted to be a healer. Crystal shops began to open on every street corner. Pedro went into a detox program.
He stopped drinking, stopped smoking dope. He took me to macrobiotic restaurants with ocean wave music playing softly in the background. He invited strange people over who were into the occult. They would sit in a circle in our living room, hold hands and chant, sounding much like the distress signal of a wounded whale.
Pedro dragged me to fiery ACT UP meetings. Larry Kramer yelled at us for not doing enough, the ex-Catholics plotted to invade the Vatican, and ugly men with no social skills asserted their rights to have sex with young boys.
When Pedro got arrested for staging a sit-in at St Patrick’s, I bailed him out of jail, but I was sick of the radical rhetoric, for in many ways I was a market driven, deeply conservative capitalist. I believed in honest work and self-reliance, hated the self-pity victim shit that they promoted, the boring identity politics. I didn’t believe that Silence = Death or that the government had any answers to our problems and I despised the pink triangle. I preferred silence to the petty squabbling that happened at ACT UP meetings and the blaming of the establishment for everything. Deeply disenchanted with the so called radical left, with its noble lost causes, I began to plan my getaway from Pedro’s fucked up world.
The day I told Pedro I was moving out he was not surprised. I told him I had never really indulged in the evils of back rooms and wild sex so why should I feel guilty like he did? I wanted to act out as all young gay men must, their deepest fantasy, before they turn into dust. He seemed relieved, for the tension between us was terrible. He told me to be careful.
I got my own place downtown, in the East Village, and decided to give it up to a lower power. From my roof, at dawn as the sun rose across the Manhattan skyline, having stayed up all night, I surveyed the entire sleepy neighborhood with a feeling of ownership. I had made it.
I had gotten out of Texas and I had a spectacular view of downtown and midtown. I had established myself in the only bohemian enclave left in the city. Most evenings I could be found in one of the dozen or so gay bars that had sprung up like weeds, in the East Village. At night, I brought home boys and took them to the roof to enjoy the impressive skyline, the Chrysler building, the Empire State. The World Trade Center shimmered and sparkled, always a perfect backdrop for sex. I was barely twenty-one.
I got a job in a restaurant at the World Trade Center, where I learned all about French service and how to set a table, fold a napkin, open a bottle of champagne, and make good money, while bullshitting with rich snobs. I quit that job and I went to massage school, got a license and, because I was cute, I got a lot of clients fairly easily. I created a life of my own. I liked touching men, hard muscle, melting in my hands. I liked the flow of energy between me and the relaxed, naked body on the table.
The years flew by, full of late nights, one-night stands. I turned twenty five, spent most summers working in Fire Island, giving massages to rich sugar daddies out in Cherry Grove, receiving big tips, making more money there than I made the rest of the year combined; and then somehow I turned thirty and found my first bit of gray. Live fast die young had been my plan, but it looked like I was getting older than I expected to. Maybe I was going to become an old man. This made me feel that I had somehow cheated death, but others were not so lucky. Pedro was not so lucky.
Continue to Part 3...