Authors: Stephen Greco
“Well . . . OK,” said Tyler, pretending to pout. He took a sip of his drink and surveyed the crowd. “Oh, there's Mandy,” he said suddenly, grabbing Peter's hand. “Come with me.”
In fact, Peter had lots of affection for Tyler and was not unresponsive to the boy's feelings for him. But even more important than his well-publicized scruplesâwhich were, in fact, newly minted, dating to the time when his agency was sold to the conglomerateâPeter was lonely, he was looking for love. He had increasingly little inclination toward hookups with cuties, friendships with benefits, even harmless, romantic flings intended to go nowhere. Not that the light sexual recreation that had become a vernacular for Tyler's generation wasn't entertaining; it
. It was just that Peter was looking for a mate, hard-core, and Tyler, he knew, was not.
Jonathan called the next day to say he was starting treatmentâa bout of chemo, followed by radiation. It would take a few weeks, and then he and the doctors would see where things were at. The survival rate for his scenario was not good, Jonathan said. Fewer than a third of patients were still alive after five years.
“OKâa third,” said Peter, with optimism in his voice.
odds,” countered Jonathan. “But there it is.”
“The idea is to keep it from going to places like the lungs and the brain, which it apparently wants to do.”
“So we're going to nuke the hell out of it.”
“And I'm also thinking of taking another stepâsort of drastic.”
The words chilled Peter.
“Now, Jonny . . . ,” he said.
“What?!” said Jonathan.
“We should talk, if you're even
about doing something like that. . . .”
“Something like . . . ? Oh, sorry! I didn't mean suicide! Darling! I meant hire a hustler. That's a kind of therapy, tooâsex without all the . . . you know.”
“Oh.” Peter snorted. “You mentioned hustlers the other day. Now that's something I never knew about you, Jonathan.”
“Never done it before. Never had to, never thought about it. But suddenly, I thought, âHey, it's a kind of massage. One step I can take for my own well-being, especially now.' ”
“Can you recommend anyone?”
The moment he said it, Peter was afraid his emphasis had sounded judgmental.
“I mean, no,” he continued. “I don't happen to . . . know anybody.”
“Don't worry, I'll figure it out,” he said.
Peter had never paid for sex, though he had nothing against it. He had often wondered, in fact, whether his continuing quest for love wasn't simply a parody of what might be a more seemly pursuit for a single, older gay man of his station, paying for companionship. Yet what kind of boys did that, and what happened to them? Questions of purpose, not payment, had always proved a solvent to this kind of sexual interest, for Peter. A young guy he'd known years before, Adam, a strikingly handsome photographer's assistant who lived mysteriously above his means, was always jetting off for long weekends with unnamed friends and coming home with expensive gifts like a gold Rolex and the first PowerBook Peter ever saw. Peter had a little crush on the guy until one day when Adam broke a lunch date to keep “an appointment that just came up” with a well-known publishing mogul who was said to be secretly gay. Adam later confessed it was a sex thing. He said he'd met a member of the so-called Velvet Mafia at a fancy party the year before; that led to introductions and more invitations and his current role as a favored plaything of three or four gay big shots.
The stories Adam told were amazing: penises large and small; sexual tastes infantile and brutal; affections that were lovely and nasty at the same time. But the drugs, he said, were always the best, and anyway the job was better than cater-waitering for helping make ends meet.
Peter liked Adam's intelligence and affabilityâqualities that were clearly as important to a successful rent boy as looks and prowessâbut he was never again attracted to the guy, sexually. He found it odd that Adam was never interested in advice on parlaying his lofty contacts into career advancement in photographyâwhich raised the question of what Adam wanted his career, ultimately, to be. In the end, it was drugs that ended the party. Adam crashed and burned and went home to his family in the Midwest. After rehab he found a boyfriend, put on some weight, and started shooting for a local newspaper.
That day, Peter was having lunch with Laura, to talk business. The restaurant was a fancy Italian place near the office, where the company had an account. Peter thought the place too self-important and rarely went there. The tables were too large and too far apart. Laura, as usual, was in an eye-catching suitâthis one of black-and-white stripes.
“Hi, hon,” she chimed, as Peter slid onto the banquette with her.
“Looking smart, as always, Laura.”
“You're always so sweet,” she said. “Don't you
this place? I told the waiter to let Jackie know we're here.” The restaurant's chef, whose name was Jacqueline, was a rising star in the New York food world. Laura always referred to celebrities by their first names, whether she knew them well or not.
She was around Peter's ageâoverweight, with dyed blond hair that was limp and overprocessed. Though witty and connected, she wasn't particularly pleasant to be around, because of a bitter edge that seemed to come through the brittle laugh she ended half her sentences withâthe result, apparently, of a determination to remain vivacious. She'd never married and had terrible luck with boyfriends. She'd said no in college to a guy who became a software billionaire; then there was a criminal lawyer who drank and made scenes, a real estate guy who cheated with bimbos, and a personal trainer who wanted money to launch a line of workout gear. Peter knew all this because Laura confessed such stuff freely and had done so since the day they met. But she was smart and high up the ladder on the business side, and Peter respected her for that.
“And you look great,” Laura said, with a laugh.
Peter knew he looked a bit deflated. In truth, he was hungover. He hadn't gotten home from Rico's until around three.
“A friend is going through chemo,” said Peter. “You know.”
“Acupuncture,” she said.
“Well . . .”
“No, I'm telling you,” continued Laura. “That's the thing. It helps the body counteract all those toxins.”
“I know the best guy in New York.”
There was no real conversing with Lauraâonly listening, reacting, then eventually finding a way to cut it off. Lunch would last ninety minutes. Peter had prepared himself for that, in the interest of business. The only variable was whether or not the two of them would walk back to the office together. In that case, there would be squiring to doâdoors to be opened, attention to be paid while negotiating crowded sidewalks at a painfully slow pace.
Acupuncture led to Laura's manicurist, who wanted to study acupuncture, which led to Laura's current exercise routine and diet, and then to northern Italian cuisine, which somehow led to Bronze Age migrations from Asia to Europeâall of which led to Henderson McCaw.
“Talk to him,” said Laura. “He's really very charming.”
“I couldn't. I simply couldn't be in the same room with . . . that face.”
“Oh, now, don't be so gay.” Laura felt she could make remarks like that, since she was such a good friend of the gays.
“He's clearly not our only prospect, is he?” said Peter.
“No,” said Laura, “but he's one of the biggest. This could be a hundred million in billings, over the next five years. Lookâwhat's the problem? Talk to the guy.”
“He's really smart. He really knows who he is and what he's doing. And, Peter, you can't deny he's onto something, cultural.”
“I cannot deny that.”
“And that's where the new business is. And you like that kind of challenge, don't you? And frankly, Peter, we need you to play ball on this. We didn't acquire the agency because of its cute name. We have numbers to meetânumbers we all agreed on.”
“I know. It's just . . .”
“Look, you're not a new business guy, honâyou're not. You're creative, and you're the best, full stop. So you go and do creative, and let me bring in the new business. See how easy that is?”
She laughed in a way that was once probably meant to be flirty. Just then Peter heard the
of his iPhoneâa new text.
u in the office?
It was Tyler.
Gimme a sec,
said Peter, typing a reply.
back in 20
need to run triumf by u b4 sending
“They're lost without me,” said Peter, smiling.
sure. will come and find u,
were n farmers mart
Peter tucked away the phone. Tyler and the team he had put together for the vodka proposal were gathered in a little community-square-ish corner of the atrium, where fresh produce and homemade soups and baked goods were available each day.
“Triumf,” said Peter.
“Your boys?” said Laura.
“Wellâboys and girls. We're an equal opportunity shop, as you well know, darling.”
“Are you? Just be careful with the boy toys.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Relax. You know I'm your best friend. But this kind of thing, it can blow up in your faceâthat's all I'm saying. Some clients might not be so comfortable with it.”
“There's nothing to blow up, Laura. I'm a saint. God knows, my sex life is a barren wasteland. My kids are saints, and they're all hugely talented. And we're going to keep making tons of money.”
“Good! That's what I like to hear!”
Later, as they walked back to the office, Peter kept wondering what, if anything, was in back of Laura's crack. Knowing her, it could have been some concern about women in advertising and the enduring glass ceiling. More likely, it was a reservation about something she thought was standing in the way of a juicy new client.
Or something that actually
standing in the way,
“Vodka cran, please, twist of lime.” Tip.
“You have any scotch? How about bourbon? OK, rocksâmake it a double.” Tip.
“Hi, there! Can I get three white wines, please? Noâfour. Waitâno, three. Sorry.” Tip.
“Do you have beer? Any Belgian beer? Miller is all you have?” No tip.
“Hey, what's in the rum thing? Is it any good? OK, can I get two of them?” Tip.
For almost three hours Will had been on his feet behind the bar at a large and lavish party in West Chelsea. A leading style magazine was launching its fattest-ever December issue, and fifteen hundred people had come to celebrate in a mammoth, multispace photography studio that occupied a full floor of a former factory building. The building featured two elevators as large as some New York apartments, built especially for trucks, which once were hauled up to loading docks on every floor. The elevators were now used chiefly to carry guests, by the score, up to events like this.
The entire studio was whiteâfloors, walls, ceilingsâand the dÃ©cor of the party capitalized on this with a winter wonderland theme. Suspended above the crowd's heads were thousands of tree branches that had been painted white and dipped in iridescent sparkles. Positioned strategically throughout the space were six open bars, each thirty feet long and manned by four bartenders with as many barbacks; the bars were draped in sparkly white fabric and preset with a ridge of glassware, lined up in neat ranks. There were two DJsâone for the main space, a central area that the loading dock opened into, and another in the big room at the far end of the floor.
The crowd was the usual thing for this kind of eventâeditors, associate editors, and assistant editors, with assorted designers, stylists, and photography types, plus people from fashion, beauty, music, and art, and a sprinkling of modishly dressed venerables of both genders, who'd clearly been upping the city's festivity quotient for a long, long time. A few film and music stars were said to be attending, but Will was too busy to care about that. He was working his butt off, dressed in a tight white T-shirt emblazoned with a special graphic incorporating the magazine's name and the logo of the rum brand being used in a special cocktail they were serving, the Winter Wind: rum with mango juice, mint, ginger, and sugar.
“The special, please. Oh, no, waitâdo you have wine?” Tip.
“I said no iceâsorry.” No tip.
“Ketel One? Stoli? Christâwhaddya got?” Tip.
“Excuse me, where are the bathrooms?” No tip.
“Vodka and soda, please. Maybe some lemon.” Tip.
Will had rushed to the party from his temping gig at a downtown law firm. He'd devoted a full day, already, to standard office labor, and was exhausted, but the party gig was a good one, for an event company that used him often, and he hadn't wanted to say no. Besides, he needed the money. The three other guys he was working with at his barâall of whom could have stepped out of the pages of
magazineâhe'd hardly talked to beforehand, as they changed clothes and set up; and now that things were busy there was barely time to utter a word, unless it was about the supply of ice or mango juice. Even Brent, a really nice guy he'd worked with before, at other gigs, with whom he'd bantered a bit as they were setting up glasses, now was concentrating only on the guests. And of course, Brent's tip jar was loaded.
Will was getting some good tips, too, but he found it harder to work for them than Brent did, with fast service, flirty smiles, and witty exchanges. In fact, despite its supposed glamour, the entire partyâhis tenth or twelfth such gig since coming to New Yorkâwas hell, and being there reminded Will just how dissatisfied he was with the catering/bartending lifestyle. Scrambling hard for subsistence living was now officially charmless. His periodic searches on craigslist and Mediabistro for editing and writing jobs had not turned up as many leads as Will had expected, and none of those he did spot had led to an interview. Was there some other way to go about it?