I think it was The Clash. Yeah, I think that was the band that opened the door.
“I’m so bored/With the/USA!”
But it could have easily been Yo La Tengo, or Nick Drake, or even Los Rah-moan-aiz, said in that castellano way.
I fell out when he first pronounced it like that: “Do you like Los Rah-moan-aiz?” He realized it was a stupid question immediately, and then he laughed when, for about 3 seconds, I didn’t know who he was talking about.
“I saw the Ramones a few times,” I said, further impressing him and augmenting my cred. “Loudest shows ever. Other than the Butthole Surfers.”
His eyes widened.
“Oh man, I wish I could have seen them,” he said.
Ignacio, or Nacho as his friends called him, when they weren’t calling him pitocorto, spoke in near-perfect colloquial English. I could have been conversing with some punk-rock kid from the States.
But no, Nacho worked at reception in a San Telmo hostel, the first place I ever stayed in Buenos Aires, and the first place I ever made porteño friends. We’d started talking because of the music he’d been playing, very fucking loudly, at reception — mostly punk rock and garage. Also, I’d noticed that he looked at me, in the eyes, with a kind of friendly expectation, that none of the other receptionists did, that none of the gay guys did that I’d cruised on Santa Fe or in the few Buenos Aires gay bars I’d taken my chances on since I’d been here.
Shared mix-tapes followed. I wonder how many friendships have started because of that kind of labor of love? (I’d met one of my best dyke-friends-for-life when she saw I had a copy of Sonic Youth’s Sister prominently displayed next to my turntable.) He endeared himself to me even further by telling me he’d been playing Tortoise’s TNT twice every morning when he got up. Just like I often did.
“Amazing!” he’d said. “Beautiful!”
How could I not fall for him?
Nacho introduced me to a bunch of Spanish-singing bands I’d never heard of, most importantly the trashy garage band, Los Peyotes. The first time we saw them together, we spent most of the time near the front, arms around each other and passing a liter bottle of Quilmes between us. He eventually sucked down the backwash, and laughed, looking at me sideways and knowing what I was thinking.
Occasionally, Nacho would translate the beer-slurred lyrics that had me frowning in confusion. Nacho’s scruffy cheek right up next to mine, he shouted, “That fat bastard is hilarious!” referring to the band’s lead singer,.
I’ve never thought of myself as a chaser of straight boys. I’ve known gay guys who were and called themselves that, but I looked at it as kind of pathetic, as well as unnecessary and counter-productive. In my experience, I never had to chase them. We either eased into intimacy naturally, bonding over shared affinities — sometimes sex or something like it happened, but usually not — or they chased me.
One night on the hostel’s terrace during one of Nacho’s many smoking and beer-drinking breaks from work, and after divulging, once again, our common feelings of being irredeemable misfits — we’d known each other about two months at that point — Nacho took a long swig from his bottle and said, with embarrassed sincerity on his face, that he’d been thinking a lot about our friendship.
“A lot,” he repeated. “You’re… good for me,” he added.
I didn’t know what to say except the truth: “I’ve been thinking about it… us, a lot, too.”
I was floored. I’d never had anyone say such a thing to me. Not straight men, not gay men, not anyone. It was direct and expressed a rare vulnerability that may have been hard for him to say. But what, exactly, was happening?
We left it at that, and Nacho went downstairs to finish his shift.
Later that night, I went out with a group of backpackers I’d befriended, mostly Brits, half of them women, and since everyone loved Nacho, we asked him to come along.
Red Door, or La puerta roja, back in the day, used to be a lot of fun. Now it’s gotten a bit douchebaggy. It had always been easy to meet people, to flirt with guys, even to pick them up. Bi-curious dudes weren’t the dominant demographic, but they were definitely part of the mix.
This particular night, a sassy London gal was feeling frisky and mischievous. Somehow the whole group of us had gotten onto the subject of same-sex kissing. All the girls admitted they’d kissed a girl, and more or less liked it. None of the straight dudes said they had ever kissed a boy, but then, they never do. Nacho demurred, with a laugh.
I said I didn’t know what the big deal was. Humans were lovely and I’d kissed plenty of girls. Sassy Gal said, “Why don’t you kiss me?”
So I did. Not a peck, not a smooch, but rather a full-on snog with tongue.
And guess what? It was nice. The sky didn’t fall, and my basic sexual orientation remained more or less the same.
Then she said, with a huge, wicked grin, “Why don’t you kiss Nacho?”
Now, I’d already fielded questions from interested parties at the hostel — which was everyone — about Nacho’s orientation, and specifically about the significance of the amount of time we were spending together to the exclusion of everyone else.
I always said what I believed — that Nacho was straight, as far as I knew. In fact, he was often a standards-less horndog in pursuit of several of the young girls who stayed at the hostel., and more often than not, he scored. But, since I was The Only Gay In the Hostel at the time, and Nacho and I seemed joined at the hip, I could understand the questions. As a cute blond American girl once told me, after she’d fucked him: “He seemed straight, I guess. But you guys seem pretty, uh… tight.”
People have eyes; people wonder; people talk.
So, when I turned to him to see if he’d do it, he cocked his head, produced a big, toothy smile and invited me in.
It was a nice kiss and he was pretty good at it. Nacho was usually unshaven but I like that, and wear my razor burns with pride. “I’ve been kissing a man, yo!” We both laughed afterward and toasted each other.
Five minutes later, we were at it again, this time with a swig of beer each to exchange boca a boca, with no prompting from anyone else, Our arms were around each other and we were oblivious to those around us and where we were.
Our little group behind us hooted and hollered and woo-hooed with enthusiasm, but that was the only embarrassing part.
Things changed subtly between us after that and uncharacteristically, I didn’t want to talk about it.
“Man, it was just affection!” Nacho said at one point, after commenting that I was more quiet than usual. It had already become one of those friendships when you know what the other person was thinking and how to complete their sentences. We were again on the roof, figuring out what to do and where to go after he got off work.
I thought it was mostly affection, too — I hadn’t gotten a hard-on, after all — but I was also worried. Had we taken it too far? Had we not taken it far enough? How would be conduct our friendship now? Could I kiss him whenever I wanted to now? Would he want to?
On a drunken night out in Palermo, he ended up in my flat, just him, on the pretense that it was too late to make his way home. He was down on himself, as usual, worried because he hadn’t had a girlfriend in so long and that he’d been neglecting his art — he was a talented comic artist and caricaturist.
“I feel ugly, man,” he said.
It hurts when someone you care about feels that way, especially when you look at them, and only when you look at them, the world makes sense.
“You’re not ugly,” I said, and what else could I say? To be honest, I wouldn’t call him my physical type — pleasantly hairy but too skinny and bit too white. But hey, that’s not the kind of beauty he was talking about.
As we finished the last bottle of Malbec, he took off his shirt and put his hands in his pockets, looking like a little boy.
“Where do I sleep? he asked.
I had a twin-sized bed up in the flat’s loft but there was a full-size one off in the main bedroom. My flatmate at the time was visiting the States.
“In there,” I said, always the gentleman, and showed him the room. “It’s a much better bed.”
He went in, got in bed and I climbed the stairs.
For the next 20 minutes, the flat was stupidly quiet. There were no sounds of sleeping, no sounds at all except the low hum of the air conditioner.
The room was full of thoughts, though. I wondered, Have I just missed my chance and was that chance one I really wanted to take? I was lonely, too, but I knew how sex could change things unpredictably. But I’d caught his signals; he probably thought I hadn’t.
But then there was the sound of a single step on the ladder to my loft, and then a pause. Then several small steps – the tiny ringing of bare feet on metal. My heart beating, I raised my head and saw him standing two rungs down and looking through the railing.
The light of my MacBook was on so I could see his face — tired, expectant and a little sad.
“I can’t sleep,” he said.
I answered by throwing open my blanket and patting the mattress.
When he slid into bed next to me, I wrapped one arm around him and pulled him in. He hiked one leg over my thigh and ducked his head to nuzzle into my shoulder.
Both in our underwear, the air between us was hot. Our breaths, sighed a slow, irregular pant.
“You could have had this whenever you wanted,” I whispered in my huskiest voice, not even sure it was true. But it fit the small drama unfolding.
“I know,” he said, and scooted closer.
“Dumbass,” I said, and bit his earlobe, not too hard, but hard enough.