How do you know when a boy’s for sale?
If you’re not in a rent-boy bar, not even in a gay bar? If you’re in another, friendly but rather macho country where “authoritative” local gay bloggers have written that you can’t just pick up any trashy boy off the street or in any dive and pay him for sex? I read those sites and, what could I do, I trusted those writers. Maybe Argentine boys are different, I thought. A lot different than Czechs, then, ty vole.
I thought that until I came to Buenos Aires, that is, and experienced it for myself.
So here’s how you know for sure: After everyone else leaves the room, and if the boy takes his shirt off and dribbles red wine on his chest, and laughs and throws his head back, with eyes closed as you whorl it around on his hot, browned skin with your thumb, lick it off, then kiss his neck, just as hot. His laugh like the short bark of a very happy dog. Then you know.
But that was several hours, many beers, several shots, a couple stunted, confused attempts at conversation later. I knew rather earlier and certainly long before the boy knew himself he was going to give his body over to me, for money, and maybe for the fun of it.
“There’s a Rick if I ever saw one, ” my British hostel-mate Bryan said, as we sat at a huge, circular booth, peeling black vinyl and shedding cigarette ash, in the trashiest dive I know of in the San Telmo barrio of Buenos Aires, La puerta roja, or The Red Door. We were watching the tough lads play pool. There’s no sign on the street, just a red door. You just have to know where it is, if you’re a cool kid. Porteños tell me that Red Door was better not so long ago, when there weren’t so many tourists. Yes, they say that to my face.
“Yup, heeeeeee’s a trashy one,” my Irish lass, Martina slurred, taking a long sip from a tiny little straw, drinking who-knows-what weak cocktail. Martina had had a bad night so far. She’d discovered that the Dutch guy she was involved with was two-timing her with a local. Everyone else in town knew. We just assumed she did, too, and didn’t mind. That last fact was what irked her the most I think: That we thought she was “that kind of girl.”
“Size queen?” I’d asked, trying to make her laugh. She did, but still slapped me, hard, on the shoulder.
“Well, he does have a big one,” she admitted. Another sip and a loopy eye-roll.
The boy we’d all spotted had been working the pool tables for well over an hour, and droppin’ them all in. He was shortish, skin a deep, toasty brown, rather indigenous looking with a flat, un-European nose. His upper and lower lips were dusky-deep purply brown, both equally full, and curling back ever-so slightly at their edges. I couldn’t stop looking at his lips. White-boy lips creep me out. In this country, this boy’s lips are about as far from white-boy lips as you could get.
He wore what I would call, if I were in Prague, Yellow-Market Clothes. Wherever he bought them, I’m sure they were made in China, too, and at least 50% poly. His red sleeveless tee showed off his biceps. They bulged out nicely when he took the cue to his chest, and made his decisions: Flexed, not in a gym-bunny way, but in a natural, I’m just-a-regular-boy-with-nice-biceps kind of way. In his ballcap, and his jnco knock-off jeans-shorts, he looked about 19, but a very serious hustler who never smiled while I observed him. And never noticed me at all.
“Oh, god! How I missed your filthy gay talk!” Martina said as she toasted me, for maybe the fifth time with the same cocktail, while at the same moment trying to wrap both arms around me in a big, messy, Irish-girl hug.
I don’t remember what it was I said to elicit such lovely praise, but it probably happened when I saw the boy lift his shirt to wipe his brow with the ragged hem. I could see his all then: One small nipple; smooth, brown skin, a bit soft around the waist, and with a tiny wisp of happy trail. I must have said something about that particular feature to Martina, since it’s one of my favorites. And whatever sentence I said probably contained the words “lick,” “tongue,” and maybe, “pubes” or “cum.”
Use your imagination, I guess. Martina did.
The bar closed. We were asked to, please, finish up our drinks and cigs, and leave. It was around 5 in the morning. Or maybe 6. The boy had lost his games of pool, at some point, and had been loitering in our room, across from us, drinkless and alone, but still keeping an eye toward the bad-boy room. At one point, I thought he had noticed me. I certainly was making it very clear that I had noticed him. But, he only gave me a brief look, if in fact, it was a look specifically in my direction at all.
Martina was the most drunk of our lot. Still, she got tired of my fruitless, incessant ogling of the loner in the sleeveless tee and took things into her own capable hands: As we all lined up to exit La puerta roja, Martina slipped over to where the boy was standing, a bit to the back, where he was hoping for some last-minute… what? Who knows? No one else was paying the least bit of attention to him, which is, of course, the perfect moment to pounce. Putting her face up next to his, she chatted him up a bit and invited him over.
He didn’t have a clue, I could tell.
A pretty Irish girl, who spoke so-so Spanish, had asked this Boy From the Provinces to come along with us lunatic, backpackin’ foreigners to wherever it was we were going, and then she abandoned him, off to the toilet, or for one last cocktail. I can’t remember now. The boy looked over at Bryan, first in line, who laughed but ignored him, then at the cute Belgian guy who was with us. He was way-too involved with, and way too close to, the vivacious Argentine gal, who had somehow become part of our group in the last couple hours, to even recognize what had been happening; and then he looked over at me as I pushed past everyone else, met my eye, shrugged and smiled, shyly.
So I spoke, and asked him if he wanted to come along with us. He said, I don’t have any money. (So much for my pool-shark fantasy.) I said, no problem, I will buy you a couple beers. He said, Okay, but still looked confused: Where was the cute girl? Who are you people? Am I still going to get laid? None of which he said aloud, but all of which I guessed he was asking himself in his head.
I had an answer for that last question, but it would take a couple hours to answer it properly.
For whatever reason, Palermo is one of the few places to go if you’ve been kicked out of clubs in San Telmo. If you’re a newb anyway. The bars in Plaza Serrano served American Budweiser beer 24 hours a day, more or less, to at least as many locals as they did tourists. So yeah, culturally, it’s a mixed (douche)bag of questionable taste, and often annoying, if still picturesque. But what are 24-hour party people gonna do?
From La puerta roja we took a cab to Palermo. In the cab, we jabbered, but the Misiones Boy didn’t speak at all. The precocious Argy girl asked me, as soon as we got out of the cab on Plaza Serrano: “What’s he doing here?”
“He’s with me,” I said, clapping a hand on his shoulder and leading him to the nearest open bar. Boys show a great deal of affection to other boys here, so your gaydar has to be especially precise. It’s not the holding-hands and sitting-in-laps homosociality of Arab countries, but in Argentina, there’s a lot of grab-ass, hugging, back-slapping and man-kissing. So, M-Boy was none the wiser, despite the fact that I kept hold of him until we sat ourselves down in the bar and ordered our beers. I put him right up next to me, in the extra chair, knees banging.
But, he still looked confused. Who could blame him? We were all speaking English, even the Argentine girl, even the Belgian boy, and M-Boy clearly did not. He would not order when the server asked us for ours, so I bought him a beer, which is what he had been drinking at Red Door. He crinkled his brow in surprise, but toasted and thanked me when he got it. Martina, by this time, had decided to completely leave me to it. Who knows what M-Boy was thinking?
The conversation turned around sexuality, of course, as it almost always does when I am involved. A prime question was: Have you kissed a member of the same-sex? The girls at the table had, and so had the cutie-patootie barmaid, who laughed and waved her hand around incredulously when asked, as if to say, What girl hasn’t?
The other boys at our table had not. Not even super-gay positive Bryan, who is as culturally gay as I am, which is not saying as much as you might think. But there ya’ go. If M-Boy had been able to understand the question, if the snooty Argentine girl who was with us had been willing to translate for him, what would he have answered? If I know him at all, by now, he wouldn’t have answered directly. He would have thrown his head back and opened his mouth wide in a silent laugh and smiled, squeezing his eyes shut, not in denial, but in canny postponement.
It got late, or early, depending on the perspective. The sun was coming up over the low eaves and the bars and the trees of Palermo.
The Belgian boy wanted to fuck the Argentine girl and I guess the Argentine girl had acquiesced. I would have. Clearly they were both ready to call it a night. Martina wanted to drink some more. Bryan, as usual, was up for anything.
I wanted to see what would happen if I got the boy from Misiones in my flat.
I suggested we hit my place and kill the two bottles of wine I’d set aside for a special occasion. I didn’t say that in Spanish – I’m not sure I could have at that point. So, when we crossed Thames Street on the way, I asked The Misiones Boy where he was sleeping.
“No sé,” he said.
He didn’t know.
I had suspected he was homeless, not because of the way he looked or smelled, which was fine – no, there is a peculiar sense of aloneness you acquire and maybe only other, or other previously, homeless people will notice it, and I did – and had asked him where he was from and what he was doing in Buenos Aires. So, his shrug sealed the deal for me.
I had a flat. A cute boy I was really, really attracted to was sleeping rough on the streets.
En la calle.
Let’s go, then.
It’s vague, the transition from a room full of wine, me, Bryan and Martina and M-Boy to a room full of just me, M-Boy and the last bottle. But, I remember when he took off his shirt, rightly claiming it was hot, and spilled the rest of the red wine on his chest. Laughing, laughing.
Before he committed, he tip-toed into the bedroom where Martina and Bryan were sleeping, claiming to want to wake the “female” up to fuck her. (That was the first English word I’d heard him utter since we’d met.) Despite my telling him not to do it and freaking out when he did, he still came back quickly, with the by-now familiar barking laugh. I realize, from this perspective, months later, that this fruitless bravado should have told me that the walls had already fallen, but he had been trying to make a good show of it.
I have no idea how we made it to the bed. But, there was no talk of money before we did. Yet, suddenly, his hands on me and my arms around him, money became a very important subject.
“Mo-nay,” he said, his second English word.
How much, he asked, and I echoed, in Spanish.
Too much negotiation kills erections, as I’m sure any straight man in similar transaction can attest to, as well.
He named a price. Too much for an unknown quantity, I thought, but was past that sort of argument.
I said, OK, but you must do this and this and this and you must kiss me.
M-Boy tisked. Maybe he clucked, too. Sounding like something he had learned from his grandmother. A sound I was to hear a lot over the next few weeks. He wasn’t stumbling over the this or the this or even the that. It was the kissing he said he had a problem with.
I said, “No besos; no dinero.”
I have said that in Prague; I have said that in Romania; I have said that in Hungary; I will always say that.
No kissing; no money.
Straight boys, for nothing except the experience, have kissed me, with pleasure and with abandon. Who are you to draw that line?
I wondered how to translate that into castellano…
M-Boy agreed, more or less, and I have a hard time remembering the specifics of what we did after that was settled. There are walls in situations like this, but, they always have doors, or if not, rough holes to shimmy through. So, I was not surprised when, in the middle of a hot make-out moment, hard-ons bumping, Marcelo pulled back from me, both hands on my shoulders, looked into my face, lips wide and dripping spit, panting and surprised.
After several seconds of that, he gawped, licked his lips and dove back into me, tongue-first, like it was the last kiss he would ever give. To me, anyway.
And it pretty much was, come to think of it.
Living with a formerly homeless boy involves tolerating the television being on as long as he’s awake, and often when he’s not. After living on the streets, sometimes in constant movement or sometimes doing absolutely nothing and always trying to keep warm, or cool, or not so bored or a little bit fed — well, it’s not surprising that someone like Marcelo would want to do nothing but take his shirt off, put his hands behind the pillow and watch crappy Argentine soaps or poorly dubbed American cartoons.
From my vantage point in the loft where my MacBook was, I didn’t mind so much. The view was pretty sweet.
He also slept a lot. That’s another common behavior I remember from my days in Prague. My boys could sleep until their skin was a deeply etched tomography of the bedsheets. And then they could get up and disappear for days at a time.
Marcelo didn’t seem to want to disappear. After a week of having him around — sexy fucker though he was — I was getting more than a little tired of him. I would have had sex with him all day long if he’d been up for it. Or if he shopped, cooked or did the dishes, I could have seen reasons to keep him around. But he didn’t do anything, and the grab-ass got old.
He did expect him and me to haul out for a beer bust every night. I found that charming, of course, especially since he wouldn’t just ask me for money but rather insisted to the point of begging that I come with him. I did a couple of times but at that point in my new life I had very little money left and had no real plan to start making any. The lease would soon be up on the charming apartment I’d rented, and despite the occasional tug of nostalgia for my old reckless and lewd Czech life, I didn’t want to end up homeless on the streets of Buenos Aires. Not even with Marcelo. I’d taken a look around, as I always do in a new place, assessing the ease of sleeping rough, scrounging for food and avoiding cops, and although the latter seemed easy, the other two not so much.
Besides, I was over all that. I wanted a new start. I wanted a job, an income, a project that didn’t involve freeloading rent boys. I know! You’re shocked, disbelieving. But I worked my usual magic to make that happen and it did. But, it required a series of tiny steps and the first one was resisting the temptations of Marcelo’s smooth skin and fat lips.
I eventually got rid of him by claiming I had to go back to the States, never to return. He took that well enough, but on his way out, he asked me for money and I refused. Give a boy like Marcelo money at every goodbye and there will inevitably be many expensive goodbyes. It was hard, but I refused. I also went back into the flat to look around and make sure he hadn’t left anything. That’s an old trick — making sure there’s some reason to ring the doorbell again. No doubt he didn’t quite believe I was leaving for good.
And yup, on the other side of the pullout sofa there was his raggedy old backpack full of whatever clothes he’d moved in with. I picked it up, walked back to the door and gave it to him. He smiled and said, “Nos vemos,” and shook my hand like a very cool boy in need of nothing or no one.
Two years later, I write this:
After one of his long nights out alone drinking somewhere without me, Marcelo had come back to his bed in my flat. Usually, he slept in the pull-out sofa downstairs. I slept in the loft. I’d been avoiding sleeping with him because I didn’t want to fork over money just for a little lovin.’ And whenever when we were in bed together, that’s what happened.
Marcelo wasn’t having it that night.
As he pulled his shirt up over his head, jumped onto the bed and slid under the 50/50 comforter, he looked up at me, cap still low on his forehead and said in Spanish, “You’re sleeping up there?”
I don’t know what made me come down and slip in beside him. Maybe it was because I was feeling lonely. Maybe it was because I heard something similar in his voice.
“Ricky!” he said.
I came when called.
I dug my left arm underneath his pillow and quickly he grabbed my other wrist and yanked it over to rest on his cool, brown belly.
He shifted his butt back into my crotch and wiggled. I laughed and hugged him from behind. With eyes closed and a self-conscious grin on his lips, he asked, “Que quieres?”
What do you want?
“Nada,” I said, and kissed his neck and then his cheek and then, stretching, the side of his mouth. He clucked and tossed his head.
“Nada?” he teased, and paused.
Then he turned over. exhaling hard, and pulled me into him. Sour beer sweetened his breath, better than a kiss.
“Bueno…entonces…te quiero,” he said, lowering his voice.
I want you.
And that one didn’t cost me a thing.