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Aaron Jason

Ryan's Boys

A First Timer gets into my VW Bug, and Iím all, Damn, boy is greener than a traffic light, no more than eighteen or nineteen, and I recognize him from high school last year. Anyway, his name is Adam, and I remember me and my girlfriends knew fine when we saw it. And he still looks good: a body tight from running track, thick black bangs that hang into his lashes, eyes like green candy. So he gives me the I-canít-believe-youíre-a-girl double take. Fine, fine, whatever, just get in, we gotta schedule.

I get that look from First Timers. Then theyíll be all, You Ryan?, and I go, Yeah, Iím Ryan and no Iím not a drag queen, just a plain old white girl from the Avenues, and dontcha remember Ryanís Hope?

But Iím not even gonna bother with the Ryanís Hope line ícause I know this oneís too young. And Iím kinda shocked that I know him from school.

So I drive and he goes, But youíre a girl.

Typical. So to break the ice I go, Well, if you are, none of us is getting paid tonight.

He sits frozen still, eyes dead ahead, hands in his lap like in church or a job interview or something. Sometimes a First Timer acts the total opposite: legs all over the place, thumbs hooked in pockets, frontiní like a pro. But I can totally tell thatís how he thinks a hustler acts. Got My Own Private Idaho written all over him. But not this guy.

He doesnít recognize me. Thatís fine. Since Iím, like, three years younger. I ask him his name, and he says, Evan, and I go, No, your real name. And he throws me this look like I accused him of eating dead babies or something. So I front my been-in-this-business-a-lot-longer-than-you-babe expression. He stares out the side window, pouts, and says Adam. Funny how my boys hate forking over their real names, frontiní all Rumpelstiltskin and shit.

Mineís really Ryan, I say, so donít trip.

He grunts and plays with a button on his blazer. A blazer! Just like a First Timer to dress up. Button-downs, wrinkleless pants, aftershave and hair gunk, and I always feel like a mom driving her son to his first day at school. Of course, after a coupla tricks itís haggard jeans and nasty T-shirts, and sometimes Iím all, Damn, bathe at least that day, my God. This is business.

Anyway, he still stares. Silent.

I can tell that itís gonna take more than an icepick to break this one, so I flip on the country. I secretly love country, but my boys hate the stuffóthough a few really like Patsy Cline for some reason. Anyway, I tell all the First Timers to change it and theyíll be all, No, no, this is fine. Total lies, right? But I mean, once you know some sixteen-year-old girl from San Francisco is all into Johnny Cash and shit, ya gotta say something, right? I make them talk any way I can to tell them what to expect on their first nights. Lance at the agency doesnít tell them much, but my experienced boys dish the shit pretty good about the regular johns, so I know plenty. Lance is nice and all, but heís got hella tonsa boys working for him and thinks theyíre all experienced or he wouldnít hire them. But a lot have never done this before. So if they blow their first callsóand I mean "blow" in a bad wayóthatís it.

But Adam insists he likes country and sounds real sincere. And the fact heís from my high school bonds him to me like that. So I turn Reba down a notch and ask, Why is it that they call girls hookers, but they call guys hustlers?

Thatís always my first question. I honestly donít know the answer or even if itís true, but it sounds good, right?

But I guess it throws him, ícause he turns to me and says, Whatta ya mean?

So I say, Well, it ainít hard and fast, just something I noticed.

Hmmm, he goes, I donít know, Ryan, why?

Itís not a riddle, I say, thought maybe you knew or if you figure it out lemme know.

Yeah, sure, he goes.

So tonightís call is way south. Palo Alto. In San Francisco, my boys take cabs or the bus; I only drive the long distances. On the Palo Alto off-ramp I tell him all about tonightís john:

Adam, heís a fat sumo wrestler-lookiní Filipino with, like, these freaky-formed legs, so he hobbles around on crutches and lies on the floor while you service him. Real picky but totally nice. Tell him the story of your life, and thatíll kill time. He likes that. Then bite his nipples and neck a lot. Donít think about his belly or legs.

Adam grunts.

I pull up to the apartment and by now Adamís sweat sours the cologne. Gotta tell him cologneís a no-no. Later. I say Iíll wait here since heís my only drop tonight. He grunts OK, gets out, goes in.

Lance always sends this Filipino guy the new boys as, like, a screening process. It sucks, but whatcha gonna do, right?

I reach under my seat for the Evian water and set it on the dash, then fish out the little package of Kleenex from my purse and put it on the edge of the passenger seat and remind myself to bag more moist towelettes next time Iím at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Itís hard thinking of Adam, so time for country. Yeah, I mean, I kinda understand why my friends and all donít like those lassos and spurs and bars and shit. I donít even think I liked it all that much the first couple times, but it kinda grew on me, you know? Or maybe I just convinced myself it did. Anyway, each song tells a little story. I donít really wanna be in them, but itís nice having them in my car. Anyway, I flip on k. d. lang singing about black coffee and cigarettes. Iím feeling mighty lonesome, havenít slept a wink. I love songs about cigarettes and coffee even though Iím not a smoker or coffee drinker. Out the window of my dark, empty car, I watch the sky: lots of clouds bright from the city lights and maybe the moon. Clouds clouds clouds, the skyís frontiní all these clouds like the stars donít exist or nothing. But I wish theyíd just fall right through. Canít wish for a falling star when you need one to make the wish in the first place, right? Clouds but no rain? Waiting for a First Timer seems to go easier when it rains. A nice distraction. But nothing. If only my friends knew: hustling and country music. Like thatíll be the day. Iím talking to the shadows, one oíclock till four. And Lord, how slow the moments go . . .

 

 

I mean, I never go into detail with my friends about exactly what I do. Like theyíd understand, or really care enough to ask. Not that Iím better than my friends or nothing but I like my boysí company more. Rather spend a Friday or Saturday night with them than kickiní at some kegger where the jocks get drunk and stupid and shit, and me and my girlfriends spent the whole evening getting all fine just so we can dodge spitballs and beer-wet quarters. Come on. And then my girlfriends act all banjie like theyíre from the ghetto, and talk shit about the guys or what a bitch she is or whatever. Whatever is right.

A night with my boys is different. They talk about boyfriends who do or donít know about the hustling, or their families that donít know where they are, or the painting or writing they do (I even have a poem written on a Post-It gummed to my dash), or they just sing along to Reba or Patsy or Shania with me. Once oneía my boys gave me advice on, like, blow jobs which totally grossed me out, but I mean, God, he should know, right? So I filed the info away and secretly was thankful.

 

 

So finally Adam comes out from the Filipinoís. Hands stuffed in pockets like all First Timers. They never wanna touch nothing for a while. He gets in, the Kleenex falls between the seats and the car fills with silence and that sweaty sex stink like fresh sourdough or raw milk a minute from going bad.

You OK? I ask.

Fine, he goes.

And of course I know itís not fine. My boys canít front lies with me. Even if the john liked it. I mean, especially this funny legs guy. But better they get the worst first, right? Keep telling yourself that, Ryan. And what about the new boys that start on nights I donít drive? I work almost every night so I can be there for all First Timers.

So me and Adam get on the freeway. I let him relax before talking. I mean, yeah, I kinda grill people sometimes, I know. But never now. He ignores the bottled water and stares out the window trying to hypnotize himself by the road reflectors lit bright orange from my headlights.

You OK? I ask again.

Yeah, he goes.

I know it ainít easy, I say.

Letís not talk about it, he snaps.

OK OK, chill outta my face, just making talk.

And then heís all quiet as the reflectors and silence hypnotize him.

You know, I go, itís easier the more you do it.

And heís like, Yeah, sure.

So I push, Now I ainít schooling ya or nothiní ícause I know this shit can make you feel raw and all, but next time donít think about how fat or old or gross they are, or how sketchy it all seems. Think money. Money. Keep telling yourself that. Totally lose yourself in nothingness like at the dentist or something.

But how do you know? he whispers.

Trust me, Adam, it works. You donít have my job and not pick up a tip or two.

But he says nothing more, just stares at the orange reflectors as they zing by one by one by one by one, a steady stream with no beginning or end that you care about, watches slowly, gives himself over to the orange, and I accelerate to get us home fast, shift lanes, drive by Braille over the reflectors . . . ka-kunk ka-kunk ka-kunk . . . whatever I can to distract him . . .

 

 

You probably think, Damn, whatís her mom think about this and all. Donít trip. I mean, it was her job in the first place. When Lance started the Boys4Men Escort Agency, Mom drove to the way-out calls: Marin, the Peninsula, the East Bay. But six months ago on my sixteenth birthday, she finished nursing school and started working nights. My sweet sixteen gifts were keys to her Bug and a job.

Our little two-bedroom home out in the Avenues was decorated for my birthday, black and orange streamers left over from her Halloween party, some pink Happy Anniversary balloons. Mom ordered a pizza and decorated a Safeway cake with a little tube of decorating frosting. So while she put the last touches on the cake, I sat at our folding card table in the kitchen, picked olives off the rest of the pizza, drank a Rolling Rock. Itís chill, ya know, drinking beer with Mom, and she donít even trip as long as Iím not drunk or nothing. She had to leave soon for work, and my friends were coming to celebrate, and I felt something missing. I often do.

So she carried the cake over to the table, sang "Happy Birthday" as I washed an olive down with Rolling Rock. The cake said happy birthday ryan in stiff blue letters that looked and tasted like hair gel. But the cake was good for store-bought.

In her nurseís whites she kissed me, then left me with the Safeway cake and the Rolling Rocks.

So I waited for my friends and realized there was something missing. There were, like, no candles on the cake. I wondered if we had any, but could you wish upon a cake already cut into? I told myself maybe my friends would bring some, although I knew they wouldnít.

 

 

So itís been, like, six months since my first night with Adam, and I recently asked Lance about him, and he told me how heís, like, the most requested model in the agency. Funny how Lance calls them models . . . like this was fashion or something. Anyway, Lance says thereís a dozen or so regulars in the City who request him. Damn, moving on up.

But tonight Evanís got a call up in Marin. I pick him up and Iím all, This ainít my Evan. First, his head is shaved, and his body is ripped. When did he have twelve hours a day at the gym with so many regulars? And even though itís, like, zero below freezing, he wears this practically invisible tank top and some haggard olí jeans. And Iím like, If it werenít for your big steroid neck, Iíd almost be impressed. He climbs into the backseat like Iím a chauffeur bitch or something, and slouches out all fly and shit.

Hey kiddo, he goes. And to myself Iím all, This better not go where I think. He shifts all over making it obvious my Bug ainít big enough for his big bodyówell, of course, itís a Bug, you fool. And he stretches forward and jacks the radio real loud to some hip hop shit, leans back, and thumps the bass on his knee.

Howís it going? I ask.

Oh, itís great, he says, Iíve been so busy. . . . And he carries on about a lot of I donít know what. Hanging with a filmmaker, and Iím like, Sure, I know what kind those are, but I say nothing. And he kicks it with some other guy at a modeling agency, and Iím like to myself, according to Lance, you already are a model . . . and he blah blah blahs on and on about a lot of sketchy shit, and Iím all keep it cool, Ryan, keep it cool, but heís just working my nerves so finally real sharp I go, You need to hang it up!

Whatta ya mean? he says all taken aback.

And I go, I asked you how you were doing and youíre inventiní all this totally lowlife tanjie shit. I know what kinda films youíre making, and unless this is L. A. or New York, I donít know about that modeling agency.

What the hell do you know? he goes.

Just be careful, thatís all. Thereís a lot of sketchy shit out there. Donít want nothing bad to happen to oneía my boys.

Your boys? he laughs. Listen to you, what do you know?

So I go, You graduated two years ago and know it all, right?

You just drive us around and you act like some wise old woman. This is your after-school job, kiddo. Some game. Iíve talked to the other guys. You really crack us up.

You donít know shit, I go real quiet.

What, you think we need you?

And to myself Iím all, And what do you know, how to suck dick for cash? So the rest of the way up to Marin is total silence, and I drive quick and think if we get rear-ended, since the engine is in the back, heís the first to go.

As I wait for him I think maybe itís my fault. Maybe it was my advice. I mean, I tell my First Timers to forget. Think money. Think nothing. So the whole scene donít fuck íem up. But not lose themselves totally . . . like Adam, Evan, whatever. And I donít think this is some game, do I? I read the Post-It poem on my dash that oneía my boys wrote:

Ryan drives us round at nite

Destinations outta site

Never meets the guys we blow

Drops us off and off we go.

 

 

OK, so heís no Johnny Cash, but at least he wrote it. For me. And I read it over and over and over even though I know the handwriting by heart.

Evan comes out of the house, climbs in the back, and we start home. The countryís loud enough to prevent talking. He reaches forward, but I block the radio with my hand. Donít even fuck with me now.

Hey, he shouts, I wasnít gonna change it, I just wanted to say something.

So I twist it down and wonder if this is an apology.

You know what? he asks.

Hmm.

I was thinking about that riddle you tell us?

What riddle?

The one about why guys are hustlers and girls hookers?

It wasnít a riddle, I say real quiet, still feeling raw.

I think I know why, he goes, because just look at me, Iím hustling and bustling all over, and not just hooking people in on some street corner.

And to myself Iím like, Damn, hella genius. Whatever. Drive, just drive, and the car feels emptierín usual.

 

 

Today is my seventeenth birthday and I fake sick. No work, no school, no nothing for a week now. The day after my last night with Adam when he convinced himself he was Evan, I lost the mood to work, and because Lance at the agency and Mom are friends, I play sick so no one thinks nothingís up. The past week has been nice. Mom sleeps all day so she doesnít play nurse. I watch The Price Is Right, then fake sleep till she leaves. She comes into my room, presses her knuckle against my forehead, checks the empty barf bucket I put out for show, sets a glass of water or flat ginger ale on my nightstand, goes off to work. Then I play my country.

But today I get a card from my father like I always get around my birthday. He skipped out when I was seven. To Arizona. But I donít trip ícause I havenít seen him since and hardly miss him. At least, I keep telling myself that. Anyway, he sends one card every Decemberósometimes a birthday card, sometimes a Christmas one, and always with a crisp hundred. I used to be like, Damn, a hundred bucks! But now I can make that in a night with three calls. Instead of wowing! over its sharpness and the crinkly sound it makes like I used to do, I fold the card around it, drop it over the edge of the bed to the floor. Lands in the barf bucket.

 

 

OK. I could only fake sick for so long before Mom knows somethingís up, right? So Iím all better a week after my birthday. I miss my boys. And this little house gets so dark and lonely at night. Noneía my friends visited or hardly called.

So Lance has this first drop, but his phones are ringing like shit and he hangs up before telling me where the trick lives. I pick up the hustler, a new guy Jesse who lives, like, a block from me. Damn, first someone from my school, then this guy just around the corner. Whoís next: my friends? Or Mom? Me? Yeah, right. Anyway, itís totally cloudy the way I wish Decembers should be, even though once again the clouds block the stars, but itís supposed to rain, and Iím like, wish it had rained that first night with Evanówhen he was Adam. Maybe that would have made things different.

So Jesseís real thin, but not sickly thin, just skinny like an elf with this straight blonde hair he pulls behind his ear, and a big boyish nose. He does all the expected First Timer stuff: shocked by me, ignores Tammy Wynette, sits perfectly still. And totally underage, itís so obvious. We drive, and I ainít in the mood for my whole act: no real name or radio test. No Ryanís Hope. They should know what theyíre getting themselves into, right? Even if all they know is from the movies. Iím not their mother.

So he gives me the Palo Alto guyís address, the one with the funny legs, and Iím like, Oh, thatís great. As we drive to the freeway, his nerves shake the Bug all over. OK, so Iíll smalltalk.

So, why you doing this? I go.

The money I guess, he says.

Whatís wrong with a day job? I ask.

I need some quick cash for school, and then Iíll get a real part-time job.

And to myself Iím all, Yeah, right, heard this one a hundred times before. But he sounds sincere about it, so I go, Isnít this a real job?

And he says, Yeah, but you know what I mean.

Why you think they call girls hookers and guys hustlers? I ask.

His forehead crinkles. Then he goes, You always see those women in the Tenderloin smiling and waving, and they seem in control, like they can pick out who theyíre gonna go with. But weíre taken where you drive us, like mail order or something. But, I guess, but . . . oh, I guess I really donít know. Why do you think, Ryan?

Which throws me because noneía my boys never asked me that like they really meant it, like they really thought I knew. But Jesse does, wants me to tell him. Needs me to.

And then it starts hella pouring, like the skyís dropping millions of rocky stars on my thin metal roof.

And weíre quiet, I donít got no answer, and start thinking about the sky and the clouds and the rain and how itís like sometimes the stars donít exist, but I hear them now. And I think how Adam doesnít really exist no more, and hope he hears himself like I hear the stars. And I hear him now: you really crack us up . . . you think we need you.

Wow, Jesse goes, sounding like Evan for a sec, this rain means earthquake weather because it was so hot out today, huh?

And he goes on about an earthquake and hearing lotsa dogs barking and all the birds flying today, and thereís something in his voice that sounds like he really wishes for one or something to keep him from tonight, but he stops talking and stares out the side window at the thick hopeful drops dropping down down down, then out the windshield where my tiny wipers beat off the rain hitting so hard like itís trying to muscle its way into my little Bug. So I wing a sharp turn, cut off someone who honks, and soar up onto the Bay Bridge, head east instead of south.

Hey, Jesse says, this isnít the way to Palo Alto.

And real quiet I go, Oh damn.

Where are we going, Ryan? he asks, not frantic or trippiní or nothing.

And we just fly faster and faster and faster.

 

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