Monday, September 06, 2004

Chapter 1, Part 3

Usually, when Danny took his daily hike to the gym, he liked to focus on the reactions of passersby to his purposely provocative gym-gear; he reveled in the attention, the frisson of darting eyes devouring his beauty, the heat of sexual fantasies sparked in the minds of strangers. He enjoyed making eye-contact with the men (and occasional women) who ogled him, electrifying those who dared look into his face with a "shyly appreciative" smile that was carefully calculated for impact; if they didn't make eye contact, Danny took note of where their eyes did go, and would often touch himself there, as if merely adjusting his clothing or scratching an itch, just to see his audience's eyes bulge a little.

There were quicker routes to Danny's gym than right through the heart of the Castro District, he didn't have to run the gamut of windows full of lunchers in the numerous restaurants, or the inevitable clutch of bears outside of Starbucks, in order to cross the busy intersection at Eighteenth Street before tackling the short but strenous ascent up the lower slopes of Mount Sutro; besides, the gym had valet parking, so he could very easily drive there (and did, when the weather was foul).

But this daily parade through the epicenter of gay life fed his ego to bursting-point; though he never admitted such a thing to himself, nor did he even really understand the drive behind it, Danny was a glutton for approval — even if only from strangers, even if only for his shamelessly displayed body.

On that day, however, Danny barely glanced up from his PDA as he made his way through the crowded streets; those who did catch his eye when he looked around to see where he was, or to navigate through a dense crowd, received only a blank, preoccupied gaze instead of the usual heart-stopping smile.

Danny's PDA (a gift from the sweet and wealthy but odd-looking and socially inept young engineer who'd invented several of its components) was one of those needlessly complicated models that squeezed more features into one three-by-five-inch pad of titanium-colored plastic than anyone could possibly use; it had room for thousands of addresses and phone-numbers in its database, a comprehensive calendar that calculated holidays and moon cycles well into the next century, a cell-phone, a web-browser, a reference library and e-books, a digital camera, an MP3-player, a GPS receiver, and thirty-seven different games to help pass the time.

But all of those features were ignored as Danny strode through the teeming neighborhood, focused solely on the colorful virtual pages of the address-book, where he scrolled through name after name trying to decide which man would be the best bet to entertain him for the evening... at each new name, he would consider whether or not the person would be available (many of his daddies and fuck-buddies were peripatetic, with their careers as diplomats or porn-stars taking them all over the globe), and then whether or not he himself was in the mood to see that particular man.

But without knowing what he wanted for the evening, he couldn't narrow down his extensive list: did he want to be petted and fawned over, or did he want a hot fuck? Did he want to be squired to a glamorous event, or did he want to hang out somewhere fun? A dream of romance or a sleazy escapade? He was not only unable to decide what he wanted, he couldn't even come up with a counter-list of things he didn't want.

By the time Danny had given up on the idea of calling someone he already knew, he was straining up the vertiginous end of 20th Street, sweating slightly and breathing hard, with only five more nearly-vertical blocks before he reached the exclusive Burnett Gardens Health Spa just below the Twin Peaks Reservoir. He plugged in his earphones and loaded a favorite MP3 before he started running up the steep concrete stairs connecting 20th to upper Douglass Street, counting off his rising heart-rate while humming breathily to the first movement of Mozart's 25th Symphony.

Danny was glowing from exertion when he entered the vast glass atrium of the health club, his cheeks rosy and his skin dewed, his hair ruffled and his eyes bright; when bad weather forced him to drive to the gym, he had to do twenty minutes on a machine to equal the warm-up he got by just walking the uphill mile from his apartment.

The Burnett Gardens Health Spa, a glittering green-glass cube wedged into the steep hillside with dazzling views of the City, started life in the mid-80s, built on the site of an abandoned school by the legendary Parker Weintraub, a former physique model and brilliant entrepreneur, to capitalize on two new trends: the suddenly popular body-building machines of the trendy gyms, and the luxurious services of the spas being frequented by the self-indulgent new Yuppie class. Over the years, though, as the Yuppies aged or moved on, word got around town about Weintraub's practice of hiring only shatteringly beautiful men as trainers, masseurs, and gym staff; the health-club became dominated by wealthy matrons and well-to-do older gays who felt it necessary to temper their figure-keeping exertions with extensive pampering, and who liked a bit of eye-candy with their workouts.

Weintraub had built on a lavish scale, backed by the seemingly endless resources of a wealthy older friend, in a chilly but elegant high-tech style: three stories tall, with rooms enclosed by sliding etched glass panels, arranged in a U-shape with steel-railed galleries looking out over the glassed-in courtyard with its immense black-granite swimming pool and lofty tropical plants; the first floor was given over to the pool and hot tubs, saunas, changing-rooms, and juice-bar; the second floor was made up of studios for dance, aerobics, and weight-machines; and the third floor was devoted to the spa facilities, with serene little cubicles for massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, mud baths, parrafin baths, herb wraps, and all the latest holistic therapy treatments; wide spiral stairs of steel mesh and a pair of boxy glass elevators connected the galleries to each other and to the parking-garage beneath, but interior staircases and elevators allowed the modest or unsightly to get from one floor to another without being seen by the general populace in the atrium.

Danny never used those interior stairs: he was eye-candy. Wearing scant and slutty clothes to his workouts, sauntering up the atrium stairs in a towel and still wet from the shower on his way to the third floor for a massage, and giving the bored housewives and old queens something tasty to look at in the weight-rooms and exercise classes, these were the services for which Parker Weintraub waived the staggering membership and usage fees for the troop of really beautiful young men, like Danny, who had been recruited from other gyms to decorate the place and keep the moneyed patrons' imaginations busy.

Danny stopped off in the black-and-scarlet changing room to leave his things in a locker and refill his water-bottle out of the cooler, then dashed up the stairs to the second floor for his private Pilates lesson (though not completely private... the small exercise studio was as visible as a theatre box, and Danny's exertions often drew spectators). He was a few minutes early, so passed the time by starting his stretches, slowly folding himself in half and then returning upright, repeating the bend until he could lay the palms of his hands against the polished black floor. With his back to the glass wall, he peeked between his knees to see if anyone was watching, and was slightly disappointed that no one was. On his last bend, though, he saw his Pilates instructor's big bare feet padding into the studio.

"If you were a girl, I'd fuck you," João Bragança leered with his sexy Brazilian accent, slapping Danny on his upturned ass as he entered the little studio.

"You could close your eyes and pretend," Danny winked up at him.

"No, my friend, you are too beautiful for closed eyes, and your balls are too big for pretending away. Let's start our breathing, yes?"

As João moved around the studio, turning on the calming New Age music at the stereo, counting out the breathing rhythm, and guiding him through the slow and deceptively simple movements of the Pilates program, Danny's eyes drank in the trainer's powerfully sexual beauty... though João was dedicatedly heterosexual, there existed a certain attraction and a definite sexual tension between the two men that helped Danny keep himself on track with his training: he wouldn't miss a lesson for the world, it was far too pleasurable an experience. The auditory thrill of the smooth and exotically accented voice, and the cock-jolting electrical charge Danny felt every time João touched him to correct a posture or encourage a stretch, worked in concert with the trainer's gorgeous and deeply tanned physique, casually concealed in loose white linen beach pants, to keep Danny coming back twice a week, paying cash for private lessons, arriving punctually and drawing out the session as long as he could.

João appeared to be in his mid-thirties, his bronzed handsome face graced with sexy laugh-lines, his full-lipped mouth losing its youthful blush to a flexible and sardonic smile, his ink-black eyes eloquent of long experience; but it was the physique that drew Danny into Pilates to begin with... though the face seemed a well-preserved thirty-five, the body was distinctly twenty-one, watchworks-tight and dolphin-smooth, flowing elegantly up and down from the tiniest waist that ever graced a muscular man. The first time Danny saw João around the spa, he asked Parker Weintraub about him — and learned that he was in fact in his mid-forties and hurtling into middle age with that tiny waist and twenty-one-year-old physique. Danny signed up for Pilates that same day.

It was the first time Danny had really enjoyed exercise; though he dutifully performed his weight-training to keep his body sculpted, and spent his prescribed time on cardio machines and in aerobics classes to keep the fat off, and though he loved the rush of endorphines and the quite satisfying physical results of these exertions, it was all too much like work for him to really enjoy doing it. But Pilates was more like meditation, and Danny loved the stillness, the deliberate slowness of the motions, the measured breathing and the soothing music; and the results were exactly what he wanted, tightening his waist as if he had laced up a whalebone corset under his skin. After a session with João, Danny felt tall and strong, armored and powerful.

He usually felt horny, too, after forty-five minutes of watching João's drawstring pants slide ever lower on his deeply etched hips, observing the tiny wisps of soft black hair on his dramatically attenuated feet, getting whiffs of his natural musk mixed with a warm woody fragrance he used, soothed by the nubby velvet of that erotic voice. If only he weren't so strenuously straight, Danny thought. But if I fucked him, we'd use up the tension that I enjoy, and I'd stop coming.

"What are you doing tonight?" Danny asked as they entered the cool-down portion of their program, suddenly curious about the life João lived outside of the gym. Danny didn't really know very many straight men, none at all socially, and the prospect of an empty evening ahead inclined him to try something new.

"Now, stretch to the left... I am going to the hustler bar," he answered.

"Hustler bar?" Danny was incredulous... he had been absolutely certain João was straight, and that he didn't even date the rich women in the club, much less hustle the men, "I didn't know you swung that way."

"No, not like the boy hustlers, but like the Hustler magazine," João laughed, catching Danny's misconstruction, "I think I used the wrong word. The Hustler Club, it's a tittie-bar."

"Oh!" Danny was relieved, and then dismayed... as much as he might like to spend time with João, he wasn't prepared to go into a tittie-bar to do it: he was faintly frightened by women, and downright terrified by the idea of them nude.

"My girlfriend Mary is dancing tonight, and she wants me to see her work... now stand and stretch your arms up... so I go and watch. I like the tittie-bars, though. It's like being home in Rio. Now shake it out. What are you doing tonight, my friend?"

"I don't know yet," Danny replied after he'd shaken his arms and legs loose, "I'm kind of at a loss."

"Do gays have tittie-bars?" João asked as he took Danny's head in both hands and shook his neck loose, then grasped his shoulders and gently shook him all over... it was Danny's favorite part of the workout, so intimate yet so brisk, reminding him of when his nanny used to towel-dry his hair after a bath when he was little.

"Not that I know of," Danny replied distractedly, "but you've given me an idea. I'll see you on Tuesday, okay?"

"Have a good weekend, my friend," João hugged him warmly and went whistling off to his next appointment.

The words "hustler" and "tittie" had set off an unexpected train of thought in Danny's mind. As he headed off to his aerobics class, choosing a place near a mirror so as to be most visible to the rest of the room, and as he forced himself mechanically through the sweaty, slightly annoying paces as prescribed by the button-cute and abominably upbeat muscle-twink who taught the class, Danny's mind dwelt on that unexpected train.

Danny had been fascinated by the idea of hustlers since he'd read John Rechy's City of Night for a Queer Lit course in his freshman year; once bitten, he'd read every book and seen every film he could find that treated of the subject. Before he'd ever considered using his own sexuality for material gain, he had fantasized what it might be like to live on (or, even better, to rescue a wonderful and beautiful young man from) that particularly seedy fringe of society, that underlit nighttime stratum of urban life where roiling sexual ambiguities and epic doses of small-scale delusion reigned over a strictly separated caste system of trade, johns, and queens.

And although he knew lots of escorts and porn-stars who might have at one time or another passed through the hustler's life, they were reluctant to talk about it, and Danny never encountered any real denizens of that world. By the time he arrived in San Francisco, the highly visible street-cruising that he'd read about and seen in films had been cleaned up by officious authorities to such an extent that Danny began to wonder if that world had ever really existed.

On the other hand, there was one person he knew who was reputed to have contact with that world, an immense and florid old drag queen named Lady Titania Cunard but affectionately called "Aunt Tittie." She was the old-fashioned kind of drag queen, patently false and slightly ridiculous but imbued with genuine strength and dignity, fitted out in a towering red wig (like as not emblazoned with an enormous rhinestone tiara) over a featurelessly round but dramatically painted face, a perilously overweight six-foot frame draped in brilliantly beaded gowns and flowing chiffon robes, enormous feet puffy and painful in pointed stilleto shoes, great hammy hands blazing with huge glass rings and bright acrylic fingernails, screaming cheerfully in a sexless but raucous voice like a parrot's.

Danny met her at an AIDS fundraiser in a big circuit-club, one of the few places where the drag courts and Society gays might ever intersect. They'd become fast friends when Danny demonstrated knowledge of the origin of her nickname (from a Nöel Coward short story so obscure that each was convinced nobody else had ever read it). And since Aunt Tittie held court daily in a bar she owned on Market Street, not far from Danny's apartment, he began to use the convenient corner pub as a meeting-place for dates and so saw her at least once a week for cocktails.

Conversing over a pair of perfectly-mixed dry martinis, she would regale him with gossipy tales of scores of people he didn't know, recounting episodes of the drag queens and shopkeepers and fetishists who populated her strange world; but Aunt Tittie's most-aired gossip was her own hobby of collecting hustlers. It seemed that every week there was a new one, some trashy boy breaking her heart and dipping into her purse.

Danny never quite believed that the stories Aunt Tittie told were strictly true, though. They all seemed so fanciful, it almost seemed that Aunt Tittie took ordinary people she knew slightly and embroidered them into fantastical characters for the sole purpose of entertaining herself and her friends. The drag queens couldn't possibly do so many outrageous things during a single week, the shopkeepers couldn't possibly be so snappish with paying customers and stay in business, and the kinks of leathermen and bears and tranny-chasers couldn't possibly be so extreme without landing them in the psych-wards; and a queen of Aunt Tittie's advanced years couldn't possibly handle so many boys and still manage her extensive social calendar.

Still, these fabled creatures must be based on real-life models... and if anybody of Danny's acquaintance would know where to find a hustler bar in modern San Francisco, it would be Aunt Tittie. Danny debated, while showering in the first-floor changing-room (lingering unnecessarily over the soaping-up for the benefit of a small audience), whether to call Aunt Tittie at home and risk interrupting her during the sacrosanct ritual of making up for the evening, or if he should wait until five when she would be installed with her martini and stories at the end of her bar for Happy Hour. He was anxious to find out about the possible existence and location of a hustler bar, but decided by the end of his shower that it would be unwise to interrupt her at her makeup table, having done so once and been taken aback by her uncharacteristic brusqueness.