Authors: P-P Hartnett
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The barboy had skin still tanned from weeks on a beach all by himself. Ivory toenails, perfect fingernails, prepared for compliments. A handsome, sharply groomed, gym-trained young man who gave off a whiff of âthe game'. Very
Village was one of those Soho faggot bars that went to town pretending to be laid-back in a New Age kind of way. Lots of varnished wood, stainless steel and lighting you wouldn't notice. Very Amsterdam. The colour scheme was suited to a multi-ethnic reception class.
I had spent the past two weeks decorating my flat, and was feeling fragile. Painting the walls therapeutic colours, Clearly Pink in the bedroom, bathroom and hall, Sweet Apricot in the living-room and kitchen, had ground me downâeven though the paint spread with a lovely thickness. Ray had been there to help the last time.
My hands were dried out, there was Polyfilla under the nails and deep in the cuticles. I was exhausted but knew that every last job had been done and when I returned with fruit from Berwick Street I'd soak in the bath before working on my body. It was a comfort to be wearing clean clothes, even though they were Ray's. I fancied a drink, but when the barboy cocked his ear to my mouth I asked for a peppermint tea. A tea-bag was flung into a stained stainless steel teapot desperately needing an overnight soak in bleach.
It was shortly after four, the place had only just opened for business. The music was on low. Without it, the only sound would have been the swallowing of adam's apples and the creaking of necks as heads swivelled in synchrony, following the progress of anything TBH. Village: an unlikely place to have met a
An anonymous sexual compulsive in search of a fresh face, a new bodyâsome magical quality to feel completeâfixed his sad eyes on me. In hopeful anticipation, he sat up, leaning slightly forward like a proud little boy on his potty, smiling my way as I fixed on the surely-bad-for-business state of the teaspoon slung alongside my cup. The state of anticipation he was trapped in was exhausting the poor soul. He'd perfected that wanna-suck-you-right-this-minute look with years of practice, it was flashing across his forehead more garishly than the neon of Ginza.
As Madonna finished singing about the mystery of life he removed his glasses gingerly, from one ear at a time, staring hard at me. Gently massaging the sore and reddened hollows at the side of his nose, he began to gobble up every curve in my boil-washed Levi's.
I looked away. I wasn't happy with my reflection in the perfect silver disc, a downward-looking me. The special-offer sticker had left a smudge on the case. The CD failed to fill me with the excitement of vinyl; the cover photo of Morrissey seemed so small and there was no shiny new smell. Replacing my record collection was proving a costly process.
The distraction failed. When I looked up he was still staring, glass in hand, tapping a tired foot along to simple thudding computer pop courtesy of The Pet Shop Boys. I prayed he'd soon be hovering up and down Old Compton Street, in and out of pubs and bookshops, stumbling on his way to the attractions of toilets, car parks, cemeteries, cellars, saunas and places of wild natural beauty all in the name of a bit of fun; seeking the mirage of an orgasm.
If he had a job I'm sure there was a pattern to his excessive absenteeism. Fridays: starting the fun early. Mondays: recovering, home alone in Wembley Park or Stockwell feeling ugly, disgusting and unlovable. A headache after so much amyl and the bother of Canesten applications to that lengthy foreskin rubbed raw. The boot-licking, piss-drinking, finger-frigging, tit-tweaking, love-biting, arse-licking, shit-stabbing, mother-fucking, spunk-loving, ball-busting, cock-sucking, fist-fucking, lip-smacking, thirst-quenching, cool-living, ever-giving useless man.
I could have been wrong about him. Could have been wrong about the barboy on the beach all by himself and the occasional vocational calling of his colleaguesâI tend to think the worst of people. I'm full of simpleton assumptions, that's just the way the good Lord made me. Often cruel, cold and lacking in humanity. (“Sneery, superior gay men are probably my least favourite type,” a features editor once exhaled at me over a light-box, “even if they are really very nice people underneath.”) Maybe he was just killing time, awaiting the approaching hour of his second Twelve Step meeting of the day.
A delivery of free papers created a little movement in the place. To avoid further eye contact I made for them, then moved into an alcove beyond his line of vision.
The Pink Paper, Capital Gay, Boyz
and something I hadn't seen before called
kept my eyes busy as the peppermint tea cooled.
Avoiding the obituaries in
I made for the back to have my usual laugh at the small ads. Week after week so many people offered themselves up for grabs with their unique selling points. All human life was there, held in those pages, trying to shrug off the stigma of inadequacy and failure. The straw-grabbing opportunities had always held an odd sort of fascination for me. Ever since flicking through my elder sister's copy of
at the age of thirteen I'd been struck by the touches of poignancy, humour and revealing hints at life's drama. Week by week those puzzle pieces filled my teenage head with images and mystery that went on to direct and, in a way, destroy my life.
The abbreviations, once obscure, had become almost universally accepted, as if the vernacular had been absorbed through osmosis. Once contact ads were the exclusive domain of the sexual fringe, the suicidal and homicidal, but times had changed. Now, people who would never have dreamed of responding to ads did so regularly. Everyone has read them at some time or other.
Videos, massage, coffee
Â â¦ in Camden Town. Young, slim, smooth, professional? Write today. Simon. Box 79.79
Amputee? Couple seek
amputee friends. Nothing heavy. You probably wouldn't normally reply to ads. How about now? ALA. Box 81.53
has only one partner, 35 yo, hairy chested, fit. Into lycra, jocks, pillow fights and more. Shirtless photo helps. No fats, fems or Maria Callas fans. Box 73.49
seeks fit, slim, straight-acting guys up to 30 to score with. Do you secretly enjoy getting muddy in football shorts? Playing on swamp-like pitches essential. Non-scene preferred. London only. Box 87.58
RUA Big Boy?
Me, gorgeous looks, smooth muscular body, 25. You: WE, active. Size guarantees reply. Box 83.48
stationed over here. Do you want a discreet friend (30s) on South Coast? (Non smoker. Black/white.) Photo. Box 78.41
Millionaire wanted, 50+,
by Dale. (Tall, passive, 19 yo.) Straightlooking + acting. GSOH, loving, loyal and gorgeous for eternal 1-1. Box 83.55
Formal reprimand available
from youngish authority figure. Appropriate dress: smart business suit, tie, white shirt. Inexperienced welcome. Discretion assured. ALAWP. Norwich. Box 80.90
Until that moment I'd never thought of answering a personal ad, never mind placing one. Maybe it was because the week's selection was so dull that I was almost prompted to say aloud:
I could do better than that!
This set me thinking. It would be intriguing to see the replies, what people said and how they said it. I was curious to see the stationery, the photographs, the handwritingÂ â¦ the spelling even. I wanted to see their fantasies. I wasn't searching for loveâI'd stopped being boyfriend-orientated with a jolt three years back. Definitely free from that shackle of hope. I was in the mood for some good, dirty, voyeuristic fun. That's all.
Although familiar with the ads, I'd never looked into the mechanics of it all. I hadn't realised it was so cheap to advertise; just three pounds for a box number open for a month, and up to twenty words, every word thereafter costing fifty pence. The arrangement was more or less the same in
The Pink Paper
Link Up. Boyz
was way ahead of the rest on categorisation: âOne to One, Pen Pals, Professional Men, Boots and Braces, Locker Room, Leather, Firm Hand, DIY' and several other sections to sadden many a mother. At that time of instability in my life it was free to advertise in
maximum thirty words. People responding to bait laid paid one pound fifty to reply to a single ad, or five pounds for four. Scanning the pages, absorbing the ads in a new way, the ball began to roll.