A Conversation With Carlton

by Rick Beck

Part 2

While I was first coming out in Washington DC, certain truths became self evident. Gay men weren't what they seemed to be.

Ordinary gay guys, the kind you met in bars, were not that truthful about who they were, when they came to town to mingle with men like them.

What I didn't know, but soon found out, it was dangerous for someone to let you know who he really was, where he lived or worked, because when push came to shove, and it came out that he was gay, he could be fired, evicted, and in some cases, be told to leave the family home, for the sin of being gay in America.

Adopting assumed identities is how a gay man protected himself.

Hypothetically, you could meet a guy, date him, and go to your place for mad passionate sex, and when he left, you had no idea who he really was. In a town where everyone I met seemed to be looking for love, that wasn't a recipe for a solid trusting relationship, but it is the way it was. You took your secret to town with you, and you faded back into your life, once you went home. No one was any the wiser.

No one was who he seemed to be. It was distracting. I wanted to be friends with guys like me, if I knew who they were. It was a sad way to live, but it explain why so many gay men were lonely. They couldn't risk being outed.

Hiding from the truth had to be a little like being smothered. The fear of being found out was certainly oppressive. How did gay men expect to succeed in this hyper competitive nation?

Gay men needed to pretend, because society demanded it, if you knew what was good for you. It couldn't be good for anyone. The message was clear. If you stay in the closet, we won't attack you.

While I learned the ways of gay men through experience, I realized that the same men who were lying about who they were, when they went to town, were lying about who they were, when they went home too. How could anyone make that work?

I suppose, I wasn't anxious to rush into a gay life. I was coming out, and I was taking my time. I'd moved in with Big Mike, because he asked me to move into town with him. Living with Duncan, in an apartment big enough for one, was no great shakes. I moved into an even smaller place with Mike, but his place was the right place for a young man who was just learning how to fly solo.

The circle was nearby. It was a crossroads of sorts. You might meet anyone there. Down P Street was Georgetown. Up 17th Street was northwest DC and Chevy Chase. Down 17th Street were Pennsylvania Ave., the White House, the Mall with monuments and museums, and Capitol Hill.

I would walk to all those places, while living on 19th Street, but the circle was the biggest attraction on most days. On the day I met Johnny, I came in from work, changed my clothes, and before three, I was dodging traffic to get into my refuge. I picked an appealing spot, where I sat on the well kept lawn.

Johnny might have already been sitting in the circle, or he may have come in and sat down a short distance from me. When I saw him, he was listening to a couple of guys playing guitars and singing.

I was listening too. It was about the time musicians began showing up in the afternoon. I caught sight of Johnny, and he noticed that I noticed him.

Johnny had that attitude that came with hustlers. In reality, Johnny was quite ordinary. It's what he told me, once he'd moved closer to where I was sitting. It was difficult to see him hustling anyone, but he said he was a hustler, and I took him at his word.

Johnny told me about his big plans. He'd score big and go to California. It was hardly original, but my curiosity about how he intended to do it got the best of me.

Things in life, especially when you're new at living, seem to happen in stages. I moved in with Duncan, because Chris was unhappy about a trick he brought home, who wanted to get to know me better. Chris wanted to know me a lot less, and I moved.

Rather than just telling me to get out, Chris said, 'I have a friend, Duncan. He's looking for someone to share the rent. I've decided I don't need someone to share the rent after all.'

I moved to Duncan's. He was, to say the least, difficult.

Big Mike came to Duncan's to do his paperwork on some days. He introduced himself, once he found me there. Mike worked on computers, and after working a half day, he came to Duncan's to write his reports. He was usually there for over an hour at a time.

One day, as I sat watching him write, he turned around to say, 'I'm getting a place in D C. It's close to everywhere. I don't like living alone. Want to move into town with me?'

I did. I suppose none of what followed would have happened, if Chris hadn't gotten pissed at me, and if Duncan wasn't a butt head, or if Mike did his paperwork at someone else's pad.

In a weird way, I was almost sure I was following a path laid out for me by the time I moved in with Mike by mid October that year. I suppose, none of the rest of the story would have happened, had things not unfolded the way they did.

That sequence of events led me to Johnny D, and Johnny led me on one of the most significant journey's of my life. This story isn't about Johnny. It couldn't have happened without him, because going to New York City was his idea. Why I took him to New York City, I can't say, but I did. That trip altered my life and how I saw myself.

Before the idea of going to New York City came up, I needed to get to know more about Johnny. I went with him to the Brass Rail, and the Eagle, two of the bars where hustlers were welcome. Johnny knew most of the hustlers, and if I was with him, I got introduced.

I never saw Johnny ply his trade, but by the second time we saw each other, he had things he wanted to leave at the apartment. After that, when I drove home from work, Johnny was waiting for me.

Johnny became a companion of sorts, whether or not I wanted one. I'd moved into town to meet men like me, but so far, I'd only met Johnny, and he'd have to do for now. I was curious about him.

Mike had no objections to Johnny hanging around the apartment. On most days, I was only there to change my clothes when I came in from work and to sleep. If I wasn't there very much, Mike was there even less. There were days, when he didn't go out at all, but on most days, he left for work after I did, and he came home after dark.

The more the merrier, was Mike's philosophy. Over the years, people came and went from places we shared. Some came, stayed a few nights, and moved on. Others, like Johnny, came and stayed. The nice thing was, it was laid back, and since Johnny started making it a point to be waiting there for me, once I came home from work, he was with me a lot in those days.

For Mike, as long as Johnny wasn't obnoxious, and he didn't smell, it was fine if he wanted to spend some time with us. I'm sure that Mike liked Johnny, at first, and sensing this, Johnny was on his best behavior, when Mike was around. I'd already told Mike that Johnny hustled.

When Mike and Johnny were in the apartment together, and I was there to change clothes or hit the shower, they'd be talking while I was doing whatever I was there to do, and Johnny told Mike more about himself than he ever told me, but he was sure he had me in his hip pocket. He hadn't figured out that I was using him to learn about hustlers. He didn't think I knew he was using me to get around.

So, after being out one night, and coming back to the apartment with me, Johnny asked to stay for the first time. We'd known each other for about two weeks. Johnny and I slept on the same piece of four inch deep foam rubber. We both fit on it without being in physical contact with each other. Mike slept on a similar piece of foam rubber.

We slept in the living room, because the only bedroom was our storage area. It was about the size of a walk in closet in nicer apartments, but as storage, we could fit everything we had there. By the time Johnny started staying-over, he had begun to add his belongings to the tiny bedroom.

When Mike came in and caught Johnny and I in the apartment at dinner time, he asked us to go to eat with him. I imagined Mike was in his thirties. He went to work in a suit and tie, and at times he traveled for the company he worked for. Having been a computer specialist, while in the navy, he was way ahead of most people, when it came to knowing how a computer worked, and how to fix one, long before computers were in every home and office.

Each time we went out, Johnny asked me to stop here, there, or somewhere. Each time we made one of those stops, Johnny came back with a pair of shoes, jeans, a shirts, or some random item that ended up at the apartment. I wondered if it was his stuff.

The idea he'd one day disappear with the things Mike and I kept at the apartment occurred to me, but besides some clothes, and electric razors, there was nothing of value there.

After a week of friendship with Johnny, he had more clothes at the apartment than Mike or me. I didn't ask Johnny if the stuff he was collecting was his, because the clothes fit him. I didn't want to insult the boy, but if he was going to steal clothes, I figured he'd steal them from someone the same size as he was.

Johnny and I weren't romantically involved at any time. I can't say if he and Mike might have taken a roll in the hay, and it was none of my business. He was like the furniture. He was just there, and he never had much to say..

Big Mike had no objection to Johnny. They seemed to get along fine. I never saw any indication that they were romantically involved. At that time, it was the three of us coming and going. Johnny didn't have a key, and so he only came in, when one of us came home.

The apartment was perfect for one small person, or three fellows, who were mostly coming and going, or who came to the apartment to sleep, or change clothes. It wasn't the kind of place where you invited your friends over to chat. With Dupont Circle close by, that's where we went to hang out.

I met other hustlers through Johnny. The introductions were brief affairs. Hustlers didn't act like they really wanted to know anyone. If it wasn't about business, an introduction was a waste of time.

"Rick, Dusty. Dusty, Rick. Rick lives up on 19th Street."

"Oh,' was a common reply, after Johnny introduced me to one of his hustler friends.

If I was with Johnny, and he ran across a fellow traveler, he introduced us. After that, they'd put their heads together and talk shop, I guess. I usually wasn't included in their conversation, but if I ran into a hustler I'd been introduced to, they usually remembered I was with Johnny, and some of them would speak to me. Long after Johnny left the scene, I was able to engage one of those hustlers in conversation for the price of a beer. Once I bought one a beer, he was friendly, and that meant I was OK. I learned a lot that way.

Showing a sexual interest in a hustler was never a good idea. If you acted like you were indifferent to them, they knew that they couldn't hustle you, and that's the sexual kind of hustle. Getting beers or burgers out of you wasn't out of the question, but I didn't buy one a burger or a beer, if I didn't want to.

It was a dance I learned in time, but I had to waltz first. Once I bought a beer for a hustler, later on, as in the next time I saw him, a few of them would buy me a beer, before I could buy them one. I didn't know what this meant, but I liked knowing hustlers. What that said about me, I don't know.

Like most people, every hustler was different. Some were so full of piss and vinegar, they were almost comical, and they were always hustling. Others were low key, and they never acted like they were working. Most were as unsure of themselves as everyone else. They hustled because they could, or because they needed to hustle. I found the easiest to get along with, and I stuck with them in some bars.

No one ever confused me for a hustler, even if birds of a feather do flock together. Well, maybe someone thought that for a few minutes, but we cleared it up right away. I'll get to that part of this story a little later on. For now, I was still with Johnny, learning what he had to teach me, but my fascination with him did not run deep.

Guys who sold themselves like a good pastrami or fine prosciutto, were immaculately clean, well-dressed, and they acted like someone refined gentlemen wouldn't mind being seen with. These told stories that were worth listening to, but they didn't spend a lot of time in bars.

A gentlemen I met through one of those high dollar hustlers told me, 'It's all in the packaging. I can take a twenty dollar hustler off the meat rack, dress him in expensive clothes, show him how to stand. I set him out in front of one of the most expensive hotels, and he'll make five hundred bucks on a slow night. Packaging is everything. If they keep their mouths shut, no one will know they came right off the meat rack. The problem is, they don't last long. Someone comes along and he takes the hustler of his dreams back to where he came from. Which proves, you can take a hustler off the meat rack, but you can't take the meat rack out of the hustler.'''

It wasn't what they did that fascinated me. It was how they came to be doing what they did that made the best stories.

Most gay men, and few hustlers could admit they were gay, had a story to tell. Johnny was the doorway to a lot of hustlers' tales, but Johnny never told me his story, and I never asked. Early on, Johnny became a means to an end. I didn't think I liked him.

As long as we ran around together, I never knew anything about him, except what he told me when he introduced himself and told me his profession. Johnny was a hustler. There was nothing else to him. There had to be a reason I continued letting him hang around, but I hadn't discovered it yet. I knew, ii was leading somewhere I wanted to go.

A few weeks before I met Johnny, and a few weeks after moving in with Mike on 19th Street, was when Mike and I took the trip to New York City. it's pace, and the many sides of the city, attracted me.

Once I'd been to New York, and after I met Johnny, I talked about New York City. I intended to go back on my own, if I got an opportunity. I was twenty-two, and I'd only been there once.

It was a couple of weeks after Mike took me to New York, that I met Johnny. I guess I talked about that trip to Johnny, telling him about the street fairs. It didn't occur to me that Johnny might have an idea about going to New York City himself.

Johnny, in his usual subtle style, had an idea.

"Why don't we go to New York. I'd like to hustle on 42nd Street."

Of course he would.

"You've got a car, don't you?" Johnny asked.

"You mean the Pontiac convertible I drive you around in?"

"That's the one," he said.

I had been smitten enough by New York City, I was ready to go again. I'd heard about 42nd Street, and Mike drove by the theaters where hustlers went to get picked up, pointing it out to me.

I knew about 42nd Street, but I didn't know how I knew. Seeing it was exciting, like seeing Times Square, and Broadway were exciting. I knew about these iconic places, when I hardly knew anything.

"Why don't we go to New York City over Thanksgiving? Your day off is Wednesday, and we can drive up early Wednesday, and come back Thursday. I could make some big bucks in New York City."

It wasn't as bizarre as it sounded. I was looking for a reason to get back to New York. You can only see so much in an evening, and I wanted to see more. It was an easy drive.

You went north for two hundred miles, and then, the city appeared on the horizon. You followed the signs to the Lincoln tunnel. Once you came out of the tunnel, there was a parking garage with a subway station nearby. You could get anywhere in the city from there.

The idea of Johnny making money was interesting. Johnny never had any money. If we were out together, and I wanted to eat, I knew I'd be buying his food. He never offered to pay, and I never asked him to pony up. I understood the relationship, even if I didn't understand him, or where he came off. I knew it would be short-lived, and it wasn't like I ate at the Hay-Adams.

Because it was the day before Thanksgiving, traffic wouldn't pick up until after we reached the city, and after we got there, we could figure out where we wanted to go.

We were on our way north shortly after the morning rush ended in DC. We'd be in the city by early afternoon, if we made no detours.

It was a shirt sleeve kind of a day, and we were parked and walking the streets of New York City by three.

I knew Broadway was close by where we parked, because Mike and I walked there in about ten minutes. It was the perfect place to start, even though I didn't quite know what Johnny had in mind yet.

As we walked, he took note of the streets, which seemed odd at first.

I was excited by being on the street in one of the world's major cities, and walking, after a long drive, always invigorated me. I was wide eyed and bushy tailed. I asked Johnny his plan.

"Well, Johnny, what's your plan? You wanted to come here."

"I want to find 42nd Street. There are theaters there, where hustlers go to get picked up. I figure I can score a lot of bread tonight, if I play my cards right," he said with a cocky confidence..

"I wondered why you wore those too tight jeans. Now I know. I think we are a few blocks from 42nd Street. Mike and I drove by it, before we went to the street fairs. I'm sure it's that way."

I pointed.

"Yes, that's what I figured, too," he said.

"I'll walk over there with you. I want to see where big time hustlers go to ply their trade."

It was surprising how close 42nd Street was to Times Square, which was the center of activity in the city. Maybe that's why it was there. People, who wanted to partake of the merchandise, didn't have far to go, after they went to Broadway..

The theater marquees lined both sides of the street. I didn't need to look to see if it was 42nd Street. It obviously was. At a little before five, Johnny stood staring at the street he'd dreamed about, while in Louisville or Cleveland, or where ever he came from.

We walked down one side of the street and back up the other side. There were already a couple of boys posing between the marquees. One, a tall skinny drink of water, who had terminal acne, had a salami, or something of a similar size, running down the inside of his right leg.

I had to look twice to see if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. The outline of the dickhead, gave me confidence I was. I'd just never seen it in quite that quantity before.

Johnny didn't look at the other hustlers. He wasn't interested in what they had to offer. I didn't want to buy one, but I sure would have loved to give that hunk of meat a squeeze, to see if it was real or not. The tall drink of water noticed me looking, and he smiled.

I'd been caught looking at the merchandise. My face turned red.

"Doesn't look like much is going on," I said, looking over my shoulder at the boy with all that meat. I had a feeling he wouldn't be standing there for long.

"It's early. It'll get dark soon, and the street will fill up with cars. The drivers will be looking for a date, and here I am," he boasted.

"Don't tell me, you're the apple of their eye," I said sarcastically.

"Not me, what I got," Johnny said, grabbing his crotch.

"You come up a little short, when you're competing with a guy who has a foot long dong," I said.

"You see his face. He looks like he was in an ax fight, and he was the one who had no ax," Johnny said.

"I didn't think the face was all that important to someone with more meat than the law allows," I said.

"You got to look nice, if you want to make out, dude. I look nice and I got plenty to offer. You don't need to be King Kong in the dick department to attract attention," he said.

I didn't know if he believed that or not. With my limited knowledge, I'd accept he knew more about hustling than I did, and I still wanted to know if what that kid had in his pants was real.

Inquiring minds would like to know.

I wondered if Johnny's reference to King Kong had to do with our location, or was it the only thought he had when it came to big.

"Look," Johnny said. "We can walk back to the avenue together. Maybe go into that Ripley's museum, or something like that, but when I come back, it'll be business, you see. You can't stand close to me. You can't cramp my style. We aren't a couple and no one in their right mind will go for two of us. I mean, once I go to work. You need to get lost."

With that boy's salami on my mind, I felt sure that Johnny was full of bologna.

"You don't need to worry," I said. "I'll give you plenty of room. I wouldn't want to cramp your style, dude."

"You'll need to go at least two theaters away from where I'm working. Maybe you should go eat. I'm sure, after I'm picked up, a meal will be part of the deal," Johnny explained.

"Don't worry. I'm starved. I'll be on my way, shortly after you punch-in. You know where the car is. We can set a time to meet, but if you're out on a date, I'll wait at the car. I won't leave you."

"That sounds good. After midnight, I'm sure. Once the theaters let out, the traffic is mostly cops, running off hustlers," he said.

Once again, I deferred to Johnny's knowledge on the subject. My knowledge of what the police did in New York City was limited.

"I'll be with the car after midnight, OK?"

"You're OK," he said. "And you have a car, and you've never gone for my meat. I appreciate that, dude. I'm a businessman first, and I don't just give freebees, you know?"

I did know. Thank heavens for small favors.

"I can imagine," I said, thinking Johnny had lost his appeal. He talked too damn much, and he only talked about himself. He was either narcissistic or he was so insecure, he needed to pump himself up, whenever he opened his mouth.

Looking at Johnny, I didn't see the appeal. I suppose he might look good to someone who liked hustlers, but he was a bit fleshy, and he had ordinary looks. Even wearing super tight jeans, he didn't have a lot to work with.

I was looking forward to getting away from him, as we walked toward 42nd Street. I'd leave him there and maybe go find a place to eat, but no matter what kind of place it was, it had no chance of winning my praise, after my experience at the street fairs.

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