Art by Kevin Tobin
The Puerto Rican boy wearing a tank top was tall and muscled, but his face with its prominent cheekbones had something vulnerable about it. It was one of those faces that you don’t miss in a dark hole of a bar like this, because the color of the skin and the fixity of his large eyes seemed to detach from the crowd of people like something phosphorescent. Yes, it was a face surging from another dimension, slightly incandescent with suffering. It was, to tell the truth, a brutal face, and at the same time, it was a masochistic-looking face, like that of a saint.
For more than an hour I’d been studying him in his red tank top, his enormous shoulders expanding each time that he bent over the pool table. It was obvious that he was aware of my gaze, but he did not look back a single time. Instead, he performed a ballet intended specifically for me, which consisted of steps and turns that were perfectly executed, between the bar and the pool table, as well as different methods of bending over the table, accompanied by extensions of his long and muscled arms each struck he struck a ball with the cue stick.
After a while, I went to the men’s room and was startled to see a couple who were doing cocaine. One was a man of around forty, and the other was a hustler of about twenty. In front of the urinal, the hustler had taken out his prick, which was hard, and the man was bending over it. With great speed and precision, the man tipped out a line of cocaine along the length of the hard dick, and then consumed it with a single snort.
Only seconds later, the Puerto Rican came in. He gave sign of wanting to talk with me, although I would have spoken to him regardless, but I was somewhat discombobulated by the scene I’d just witnessed, and before I could find my voice, the Puerto Rican had already pissed and left.
I followed him to the bar where the two of us took our respective places. He started another game of pool, and I began to watch him exactly as I had before. Soon I became convinced that he wanted to speak to me as much as I to him but that there was some barrier preventing it. Like the bodies of two lovers who have been separated, our bodies took on a look of deprivation. He was still avoiding my gaze, but it was becoming obvious that he was becoming more and more irritated by the fact that I wasn’t coming up to him. His body betrayed tiny spasms of nervousness that seemed to stem from his impatience about our drama. As for me, I was just as frustrated by the situation, but something was holding me back and I remained incapable of coming over to him.
Slowly, several others were beginning to notice our game, and they began to study us. The fact that they were intensified our excitement, and the Puerto Rican, who was wearing rather tight trousers, began to get an erection; but aside from that, there was no change in his behavior. He kept playing pool without looking at me.
When the situation was nearly unbearable, I decided to order him a drink. I gave the waiter specific orders. The Puerto Rican could have whatever he wanted to drink. The price wasn’t important, and as the waiter served it, he was to indicate discreetly that it was from me.
The waiter did exactly as I asked. I watched as he handed a very expensive drink to the Puerto Rican. I think it was an Ice Tea, the kind composed of several different liquors. The Puerto Rican took hold of the glass and raised it in the air. For the first time, he looked at me with a somewhat flirtatious smile.
At that moment, all the lights went on. Two cops came rushing into the bar. At first I thought it had something to do with the couple I’d seen in the men’s room taking cocaine, but the cops had stopped on either side of the Puerto Rican. Rapidly, they slipped a pair of handcuffs on him. Then they led him roughly from the bar while everyone watched. The bar fell completely silent, as the luminous, paling, and impassive face of the Puerto Rican, looking more and more handsome, framed by the two cops and their smug expressions, moved farther and farther away from his expensive drink.
Bruce Benderson is a novelist, essayist and translator whose most well-known book, The Romanian: Story of an Obsession, was awarded the prestigious Prix de Flore in its French edition. Other publications include the essay collection Sex and Isolation, the novels Pacific Agony and User, and the story collection Pretending to Say No. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Libération and many other American and French publications. He regularly translates books from the French.
Kevin Tobin's (b.1989, London, Ontario) lurid paintings explore primal aspects of the body as an inherently amoral, animalistic machine optimized for pleasure and violence. Tobin frequently uses the image of a bat as an ambiguously benevolent or malevolent sentient force. He often utilizes medical photography and painterly abstraction to collapse interior and exterior anatomies, and circumvent the didactic politics of identity in the service of making figurative painting mysterious again. His exhibitions include Lubov, NY (solo); Salon 94, NY; The Pit, LA; Fragment Gallery, Moscow; and 68 Projects, Berlin. Tobin lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.