My hot water had been shut off for three months. Showers now consisted of standing naked in the tub and splashing microwaved cups of water onto the dirtiest parts of my body.
I emptied two Big Gulp containers over my head, soaped up, and washed off with a splash from a Les Miserables souvenir mug. When I stepped out of the tub I noticed that individual wisps of my pubic hair were now longer than my actual penis. Without a proper trim, I would have no chance of making decent money today.
I shuffled to the sink, grabbed some scissors and stood on my tippy toes so that hair would fall into the sink rather than the floor. But I wasn’t tall enough. Trimmed pubes collected all over the tiles. However, after a few careful clips, I was left with a nice dandelion-like shape.
The creases of my arms were spotted with needle-gouges, some scabbing over, so I filled them in with Sandstorm shade cover-up from a plastic sample container, carefully blending. I tousled my hair with pomade and took one last look in the mirror.
Now, I was camera ready.
It was time to go to work.
“With some time and creativity, I could alter my setting and therefore the experience. Add a canopy to the bed, for instance, and I became a young prince. With some books on the bed and a pencil behind my ear, I was a student in need of money for school. I doubted anyone really noticed, but it mattered to me.”
On my mother’s last birthday I was living in a car and didn’t even call her. This year I was going to make it up to her. I was going to buy her something nice, something thoughtful. That’s why I was up so early in the morning.
I went into my bedroom and pushed all of the dirty clothes off my bed until the mattress was bare—no sheets, no pillows—and then I surveyed the bedroom. When I had an extra moment I liked to add a bit of atmosphere. Today’s aesthetic would have to be “squat-house chic.” With some time and creativity, I could alter my setting and therefore the experience. Add a canopy to the bed, for instance, and I became a young prince. With some books on the bed and a pencil behind my ear, I was a student in need of money for school. I doubted anyone really noticed, but it mattered to me. I guess you can leave the theater, but the theater never leaves you.
I logged on to Camboyz.com. A pop-up alerted me that there were hundreds of sexy gay singles in my zip code.
Under the username “SidLicious,” I clicked: “Start A New Room.”
I opened up the photo app on the computer. My reflection popped up and I watched myself as I waited for my guests to arrive. For now, it was just me, good old Sid Licious, by his lonesome.
Maybe it was too early make any money. I was always worrying about whether it was too early. When you first signed up for Camboyz, you received an automated “Welcome” email from the site’s founder and CEO that signed off: “Remember boys, it’s never too early, or too late!” This only made me worry more.
Unlike me, visitors had a choice whether or not they wanted to be seen. If so, they would pop up on the bottom of the screen in little video boxes as they entered the room, but those who opted to be seen were few and far between. For these people it was less about watching someone and more about knowing someone was watching them.
My chat room remained empty. This was bad. I needed at least a hundred dollars to get through the day and buy a present for my mom.
Camboyz paid a paltry rate-per-minute but boyz could also get tips. So-called “Coins” were $5 and $10 donations that visitors could give by clicking a button on their screen. When I first started, I expected these would just rain down on me, but I quickly realized that Coins were hard to get. Today, however, they were my only hope.
My computer beeped.
-Hey whats up?
-Hey, how are you doing?
This was going to be an easy customer. I was learning the types, and the ones who asked “how are you doing” like that were chatters. These people still had some degree of real-world courtesy left. If I kept him for close to half an hour, I’d probably make enough to be able to buy a decent gift for my mom. The chatter called himself 2bYung.
I thought for a moment about what to say in order to keep him around.
-Good, I was just reading …
-Oh yeah? What were you reading?
I came up with my character Sid Licious on the fly when I first signed up for Camboyz. I modeled him after Jackson Agnew’s character in the movie “Blame.” The poster for the movie was even up on the wall behind my bed. Like Jackson’s character, Sid was a sly, super handsome rebel, though naïve and pure of heart.
What would Sid be reading? Sartre? Batman? Boy’s Life?
-Where did you get a Playboy?
-I steal them from my dad’s closet.
-I bet you weren’t doing much reading at all ;)
-I like the pictures too, lol.
There was no video box on the bottom of the screen.
-You don’t want me to see you?
-I don’t have a cam
He was lying. Everybody had a webcam.
-So you like girls?
-What do you like about them?
-I dunno, b00bs n’ stuff.
-Do you only like girls?
-I guess, I dunno.
-Have you ever done anything with a guy? When no one else was around?
-I been fishing with my uncle. Is that what you mean?
Stupid answers. Seeming straight, young, and dumb were all key to making money on this site.
Also key was stalling.
-Hey do you want to hear a monologue?
Scattered across my apartment floor were printed pages from a play called “Donut Hole” written and directed by Jackson Agnew, my all-time favorite actor. He was the reason I wanted to act in the first place. In grade school, I would fake sick to stay home and watch his movies all day. People never really took Jackson seriously as an actor, and eventually he disappeared from the spotlight. A lot of people didn’t know that in later years, he had attempted to produce and direct a play that he’d written. Donut Hole had a short run and some okay reviews in small newspapers. People didn’t really take his writing too seriously. I figured that was just because most people weren’t big on second chances. My monologue from Donut Hole was nearly memorized.
-You’re an actor?
-Yeah … are you ready for this?
-How about a little later, first I want to know more about you.
-You have sex with girls?
I swear the guys on these sites loved to be called “dude.” The one time I got a $25 Coin I called the guy “dude” the whole time.
-Whats that like for you?
-It’s cool … but sometimes …
Most guys would have been firing off nasty requests by now, but this chatter was on the hook. I could see coins in my future. I could already hear the ding, ding sound the computer made when they were deposited. If I played 2bYung properly, I could make enough for mom and maybe even a little for me.
As I was typing, another name popped up suddenly, along with a video box. It was a small square with poor resolution and it featured a fat man’s chest and a belly with hair plunging all the way down to his groin. He was holding up his belly while stroking his dick. He was working hard to make sure his dick was visible. It was small, thick and actually fairly limp—weird-enough-looking to make an impression. The way he was mechanically groping himself, it looked more like he was milking an udder.
-SHO ME YOUR CHEST! LICK YOUR NIPPLE.
I wanted to ignore this new guy. He seemed hostile and I wanted his blurry misshapen penis off my computer screen before it was burned into my brain forever. Still, a second guy meant more cash and a better gift for my mom. I didn’t acknowledge this new guy though: instead, I responded to the chatter, to 2bYung.
- Sometimes girls sometimes don’t really know what they’re doing, ya know?
I was proud of this answer. It wasn’t too overt but it was perfectly titillating to a guy like this chatter. At least I thought so.
The chatter wasn’t responding. I was dumbfounded. I was certain I had him. Mr. Caps spoke up again.
-TAKE OFF YOUR SHIRT OR I’M FINIDNG ANOTHER BOY.
The chatter was still in the room. I could see his name, but he’d stopped answering. Either he was embarrassed or he was just letting Mr. Caps call the shots, letting him say the things that he was too polite to say, even anonymously.
-Whatever you say bro.
I peeled off my dirty grey thermal, sneaking a quick whiff of my pits as I tossed it in the corner of the room.
-YOUR OUT OF FRAME, FIX YOUR CAM!
I grabbed the top of my computer and tilted it a bit so that my belly was showing. Down in the box, the guy had stopped milking his dick. His hand was now floating above his penis, fingers flailing like he was attempting some kind of dick magic trick. Then, stringy saliva came dripping into his hand and he went back to work.
With a flick of my thumb, I popped open the top button of my jeans. I had moves.
-YA GOOD. YOU’RE A DIRTY, DIRTY BOY. LICK YOUR NIPPLE NOW.
I stretched my nipple up toward my mouth and flicked it with my tongue, feeling a flash of pride that I was able to reach. I wondered how many men could do that. Slowly I snapped open the rest of my button fly and the guy started to hoot, steadily jerking away.
Then I stopped. Things were moving too fast. I needed to rack up enough time to earn a decent amount of cash for my mom’s gift and I felt like this guy was rushing to finish, so I used an old trick.
-Oh shit!! My dad’s coming downstairs. Don’t say anything.
I threw a sheet over the computer and went into the living room to pick up some of the drug mess that had been piling up. It was worse than I remembered: empty bags, burnt spoons, needles, and mangled q-tips spilled over into the more prosaic mess of dented soda cans and balled-up paper towels. There wasn’t any trace of the wood floor below. How had I let it get this bad?
I slammed a door and shouted things like “This is my room! Keep out!” to keep the narrative going as I tossed a few things into the trash bag. I knew I only had a few minutes before they’d give up and switch to a free site instead.
There was a rustling noise and then a rodent that looked too big to be a mouse yet too small to be a rat burst out of a garbage pile and raced across the floor. It jumped over a pile of discarded needles and disappeared into the wall before I could get a good look. Startled by the sight, I gave up on cleaning.
When I came back to the computer, Caps was still jerking—a slow, irritated jerk— waiting for me to return.
-Oh Shit, that was close, I woulda been in sooo much trouble.
-SHOW YOUR COCK NOW!!!
I peeled off my bottoms, not taking the time to look seductive, flopping out of my long johns.
Angling myself so that my dick was prominently featured, I stood nude in front of the screen. My hands rested on my hips. I arranged my face into a challenging sneer. What now big boy?
- NOW STICK YOUR FINGER UP YOUR ASS YOU DIRTY LITTLE BOY.
I actually had a rule about keeping ass stuff off the table, telling myself it would somehow ruin my future acting career.
-Sorry dude, not today.
-GRAB YOUR COCK!
Hands still on my hips, I began to sway, gaining speed and rhythm. I reached for the track pad on my laptop and clicked on some music. I continued flopping to a techno pop song from the 80s. The music played and I danced. It was Sunday and the streets were quiet. At home men were masturbating. The day had just begun.
Down in the video box Caps was leaning into the screen, captivated. I pictured a ticker of my earnings racking up in my head as the session neared the half hour mark.
I smiled because I knew I’d worked hard for my mom’s gift, that I had the gumption and resourcefulness to make it happen.
Midway through the techno song I looked down at the box and saw the guy freeze. Urgently, he grabbed one of the decorative pillows that he was sitting on and covered his crotch with it. He hugged the pillow. His head rested in the crease for a moment. Then he looked up as if noticing me for the first time. I grinned and waved. He swatted his laptop closed.
At the top corner of my screen the time blinked: 1:32 p.m. I had just over an hour to get dressed, get a gift, and meet my parents.
Struggling back into a pair of pants, there was another beep. It was a message from the chatter.
-Are you still there?
-Sorry buddy, I’ve got baseball practice. Look for me tomorrow.
-I gave you a coin.
I logged off too quickly to even thank the chatter for his donation. When I checked my account balance in the members/revenues section of Camboyz though … sure enough, I’d gotten a $10 Coin. All together I’d earned a cool hundred and fifty bucks from the chatter and Caps combined. I clicked for the funds to be transferred to my bank account.
Still nude, I emptied three bags of heroin into a spoon and fixed up a shot while scanning the room for my underwear. There was a faint “pop” sound as the needle sunk into a vein. My eyes closed and my skin tingled. I took out my cell phone and opened up the clock app. The numbers blurred. Three bags of heroin meant I should put three-hours on the timer. The plan was to see a Broadway show followed by a nice dinner to celebrate my mom’s birthday. For 180 minutes, I would be the best possible version of myself.
I threw on clothes and combed my hair, transitioning from Sid Licious to a version of me who appeared to make better decisions, and then I hopped on the train to Times Square.
It was a quarter after two when I got off the train. I only had 15 minutes until curtain and no gift. About ten blocks uptown there were some boutiques where I could buy my mom a decent scarf or a pair of gloves, but there was no way I’d make it back in time. In the immediate area, the only option was a drugstore.
I walked through the revolving doors of CVS already feeling like I wasn’t living up to the character I was playing. All of this would have been easier via webcam.
Inside, everything reeked of cheap. I ran past a spinning white rack full of self-help books and kept running. Up and down the aisles, my sneakers squealed against the tile floor. Other shoppers looked at me like I was liable to do something they’d have to worry about. I wondered if maybe I hadn’t microwaved enough water or applied enough cover up.
At the gift aisle, I skidded to a stop, panting. Towering over me were cards for every conceivable occasion. Every “Happy Birthday Mom” card had rhinestones and glitter or cartoon hippopotami making jokes, all of them either too gaudy or too silly for my mother. Beside them, an entire wall was populated by stuffed bears. The diversity of this colony was staggering. There were black bears, white bears, pink bears, red bears, plush bears, and bears with different bear hobbies. How could people possibly do this for each of their loved ones every single year? I settled on a small, white bear. My mother, one of the toughest prosecutors in New Jersey, was pretty much the last person who would enjoy this gift.
I’d settled on a card and a bear when I spotted something interesting in the next aisle. It was a digital picture frame that you could plug into your computer and load whatever photos you wanted to rotate across the screen.
Now this was something that I could actually see on my mother’s desk. I imagined plugging it into my computer and loading it with my best photos—having some control over the way she thought of me—her clients complimenting her handsome, tech-savvy son. But in reality my computer was filled almost exclusively with selfies that I took for my Camboyz profile. Only a handful even included my face.
I kept searching, dragging around the little white bear like a hostage.
When I looked at my phone, I saw that I had ten minutes to get to the theater. I imagined having to be sneaked into the play by an usher, stepping on people’s bags and toes while my mom telepathically expressed to me that I’d ruined her birthday. I was starting to sweat. I closed my eyes and tried to think of what my mom would like. The first thing that came to mind was her bathroom. There was a brand of soap she liked.
I spotted a whole stockpile of it on sale, plus a brand new liquid formula. I grabbed as much as I could hold. It had been weeks since I’d had a real shower and I yearned for the one in my parents’ bathroom. It was a large, modern glass box that trapped steam like a misty fortress. It had three showerheads that diverted the water to hit nearly every spot on your body. The water was preciously, impossibly hot. It was a shower that you could step into as one person, and step out as another.
So I bought soap.
I threw all the soap into a bag with a Georgia O’Keefe flower on the side. And I got the bear too.
Walking out of the drugstore I had six minutes until curtain.
“I was ‘fitting in’ here. I wasn’t too far gone. If I could make this work, then I felt confident that I could get my acting career back on track. I only needed the right person to hear my monologue. It was just too good. With all that in place, the drug stuff would work itself out. I was confident of that.”
After running for seven blocks, I arrived at the theater glistening. Wearing a herringbone sport jacket over my hoodie with my hair combed neatly to the side, I looked, at the very least, unsuspicious. I spotted my mother outside the box office and leaned down to hug her. She seemed smaller than she had on her last birthday. This made me feel sad for her. I felt deeply sad about this for the duration of the hug. I imagined her waking up and realizing that she was shorter. Age is just a stalker that follows you around, picking away the things you like about yourself, one at time. I let go of her and shook my dad’s hand, trying to hide the gift bag behind my back.
My father asked us to wait a second before going inside while he returned a phone call. I also removed my phone and checked my email. For a moment the whole family was staring at our phones. We were all together for the first time in three months.
Together we walked into the theater and down in the first row mezzanine. I envisioned myself falling backward, landing splat in the middle of the orchestra, impaled on a cello, bleeding onto tubas and violins. What a dramatic tragedy that would be. But I’d feel terrible about this because I’d been such a shit over the years. I hadn’t given them nearly enough good to remember me by. Also, my death would surely ruin my mother’s birthday.
I grasped the rail in front of me, inching along behind my parents. We finally got to A211–A214, where a man and woman were storing their jackets and shopping bags. We asked them to move their things and they huffed and puffed, slowly rearranging their coats and bags. The old man had a torso much like the man who had jerked off in front of me all morning. I wondered if there was a chance that he was the same man who typed in all caps, but this seemed like an unlikely coincidence.
For an hour and a half, a flamboyant, overweight actor pretended to be a bumbling President of the United States. The old man behind us asked his wife to repeat the punch line to every joke because of his hard hearing. My mom would glance over at me after each joke to see if I was laughing and when I noticed, I laughed.
I clasped my phone tightly as the timer counted down the seconds. Give or take a few minutes, I’d be on my way to chills by the time the alarm ran out. Just holding it in my hand and looking at the screen from time to time was comforting.
Things were working out. My mother seemed happy, convinced.
During intermission, I headed for the bathroom.
As I waited on line, I shoved my fists into my jacket pockets and rocked back and forth on my heels. Around me, people discussed the play. I looked at one of them and nodded and he nodded back. I was “fitting in” here. I wasn’t too far gone. If I could make this work, then I felt confident that I could get my acting career back on track. I only needed the right person to hear my monologue. It was just too good. With all that in place, the drug stuff would work itself out. I was confident of that.
When I reached the men’s room, I balked. There were only two urinals right next to each other, with no dividers. An old man with dark spots all over his skin had his white briefs and chinos down below his knees, his belt clanging against the tiled floor. His naked ass was only inches away. It felt like work all over again.
I took my place next to the old man, whipped it out and stared at the eggshell tiles on the ceiling. Before I was even halfway done, I noticed that the man next to me was acting strangely, loudly sucking air in through his teeth. I tried to ignore him, to go on about my business, but soon his head was turned toward me. He glared directly at me, gawking almost. Holding my ground, I stared right back, finishing what I was there to do. My skin tightened as I screwed my face up at him but he just kept staring back, unfazed, like he had some sort of agenda. I was ready to start screaming if he didn’t just come out with whatever was on his mind.
But then he did.
“Son,” he said. “I can smell you from here. You need to wash up.”
Embarrassed, I murmured, “What?”
“Your crotch smells!” His shaky hand came fumbling down on the wet metal flusher. “Wash yourself!”
The old man reached down to pick up his pants and fastened his belt. I just stayed there, unable to move.
I thought about the rest of my cash and how it would be gone as soon as I got home. I thought about how I had no hot water; how I wouldn’t be able to wash myself. Having hot water running through my apartment again was so far-fetched, so unlikely to happen anytime soon, that it seemed like a dream. For a moment, everything all felt so insurmountable. The old man left and I stayed there staring at the pink urinal cake, wishing that I had a better gift for my mom as the house lights dimmed, even here in the bathroom, to let me know the show was about to start again.Excerpted from the novel Getting Off, published by Instar Books