(Since Daron and I are in Barcelona until next week, this seemed like a good time to give you the glimpse of Jonathan I’ve been working on. This takes place in 1986. -ctan)
I jerked awake. I had fallen asleep while studying at the library. Damn this place for having these comfy chairs and a giant HVAC system that made a soothing hum in the background at all time, and college life in general for messing up my sleep schedule. I yawned, trying to remember where I was supposed to be. I had two books in my lap and my notebook had fallen on the floor.
I picked up my things and put them into my backpack. Right. Sunday night. There was a band at the Underground I wanted to see. I checked my watch. I had plenty of time to drop my stuff off before they would get started. I tried to straighten out the crick in my neck but the second I picked up my backpack it got worse… Definitely dropping the stuff off.
I made my way out of the Rockefeller Library while vowing not to ever study there again. That had been my second attempt in two years. Both times had ended the same way. The Rock, as the library was called, and I did not get along. They tell a story on the campus about the building’s nickname. It’s the John D. Rockefeller Library, because of who gave the money for it, and apparently when it was first built, Rockefeller objected to people referring to it as “The Rock,” so students instead began calling it “The John.” He couldn’t have known that the dividers of the toilet stalls would eventually be covered with Trotskyite and Chomskian screeds. Some of the best philosophy debates I ever read were written in ballpoint pen on the walls of the third floor men’s room.
I made my way to the dorm where I shared a suite with three friends. The reason I’d been trying to study at the library instead of in my own room (or even in our shared lounge) was that my roommate had his girlfriend over. They were in his bed. Obviously I wasn’t welcome in the room during that, but it got worse. If I was discovered sitting in the lounge studying just outside the door, his girlfriend would freak out. Seriously, the last time she gave herself such a panic attack that she barricaded herself in the bathroom, and then wouldn’t put out for weeks.
I wasn’t sure if she was that upset about her sex noises being heard, or if she was that self-conscious about inconveniencing me, or if I was a good excuse to hold out. I certainly wasn’t going to pry. Maybe she would get over it. Or maybe Scott deserved better. He was a good roommate and a good friend and I figured if he had an uphill struggle with her the least I could do was get out of the way.
I never brought a girl back to the room, of course.
I never brought a boy back, either. I always went to their place, their room, their off campus apartment, their car. The pool of gay men on campus who had single rooms was large enough that a small amount of dedicated cruising could usually do the trick (no pun intended). When it came to cruising, I had just turned 21 a month ago, which meant the No Name was also officially an option for me, though the truth of the matter was I’d been getting in there on a fake ID for a year already.
I stuck my head into the lounge. The door to our room was closed, and I listened carefully, trying to discern if the lovebirds were still in there or if they had gone out by now. I heard nothing. Hmm. Results inconclusive.
Doug, one of my other suitemates, came up the stairs then. “Sup, dawg,” he said. Doug was one of those preppy kids who tried to shed their preppy image by imitating what black musicians said on MTV. “Scott still at it?”
“Not sure. Can I leave my bag in your room?”
“Sure thing.” He unlocked his door. I plopped my backpack full of books inside the door, checked that my wallet was still in my pocket, and headed back down the stairs.
The autumn night was warm, the air smelled cool but wasn’t uncomfortable. The college green was damp with dew. I crossed on the concrete paths, staying off the grass so I wouldn’t get my shoes wet.
The Underground was still quiet. It was a cafe by day and student-run night club at night. The university subsidized operations there, so if a band played and no one showed up, it didn’t much matter. Well, maybe it mattered to the band. Every night was something different. Folk night, comedy open mic, and so on. Thursday nights were Funk Night, and when the weather was warm the dance party took place in the stone courtyard alongside the place with live drummers accompanying the R&B and techno. Saturday nights often had bands of mild reputation, while Sundays tended to be a hodge podge of local talent.
Tonight’s band were a local threesome. I’d seen the guitarist and bass player before here and there. They had been at the coffeehouse last week with a cellist and something had caught my attention about them. Guitar players are a dime a dozen, but I felt my ears were more discerning than most people’s, and I heard something worth listening to there. They’d said they’d be here, at the Underground, next, with their singer, so I’d made a note.
Maybe I’d write it up for the Brown Daily Herald. Or maybe I’d just see some good music.
I poked my head into the place. The guitarist was sitting on a milk crate, tuning. The only other person in evidence was the sound man, who was sitting behind the board at the back of the room reading a magazine. Even the bartender wasn’t visible.
Rather than stand around in the empty Underground waiting for things to start, I sat on the wall at the top of the courtyard and read a copy of the New Paper. I was trying to get them to let me write record reviews. So far, they had resisted hiring me.
I was halfway through Rudy Cheek’s column when the door to the Underground banged open and a tall, slender man with all his hair on the top of his head, the sides shaved, stalked out. I recognized him from the No Name, where I had seen him cruising a few times. I had never picked him up, though.
A much shorter man in a denim jacket went as far as the doorway, and leaned against it with crossed arms. His hair was brown and straight as a board, his bangs in need of trimming. The guitarist.
The tall one spun around to face him. “You just don’t understand!”
“What’s to understand?” The shorter man gave him a deadpan look and a shrug. “Roger, if there’s no one here, let’s look at it like a rehearsal.”
“It’s a complete fucking waste of time!” Roger, I surmised he was the singer, stamped his foot.
“You’d rather go home and work on your ear training?” The guitar player asked, his eyebrow expressing mild skepticism.
“I’d rather be anywhere but here staring at an empty floor!”
He checked his watch. “The show doesn’t even start for an hour. Come on. Brown students are never early.”
“I said no and that’s final.” Roger turned on his heel and came storming up the stairs past me.
I looked down into the courtyard and saw the guitarist hadn’t moved. Then he turned and went back inside, presumably to tell the bass player that their singer was blowing them off and that the gig was off.
Well, then. No reason to be here. I slid off the wall and discovered Roger had only gone as far as Faunce Arch and was looking back at me.
I looked steadily at him and his gaze grew more appraising. Good sign. I took a few careful steps toward him. He didn’t retreat so I walked close enough to talk to him, holding his gaze.
He issued a five-word invitation. “My place is five blocks.”
I gave a three-word reply. “Lead the way.”
We walked down to Thayer Street, then turned onto Angell. He led me to a big gray house, what had once been a large family home and had since been split into four or five student apartments. Once inside the foyer, he unlocked a set of glass-paneled doors into the front parlor. The room was still dominated by a grand-looking Italian-tiled fireplace, but the rest was furnished in typical student drab, with two mismatched folding chairs, two music stands, and a futon folded up on the floor to approximate the shape of a couch. A pile of milk crates next to the futon seemed to serve as part bookshelf, part laundry sorter.
He led me right past the fireplace into a small bedroom and then turned to me, biting his lip. “I have some hangups. I hope that’s all right.”
“What are they?”
“Are you okay if we don’t fuck? I’ll totally suck you, though.”
“Sucking’s fine,” I said. I was sure he had seen the same poster I had, glued to the wall in the men’s room at No Name, touting the non-existent transmission rate from oral sex. I had to wonder if it was simply too early to tell. It was hard to believe there was something magical in saliva that prevented transmission, but we as a community clung to what hope we could, I think. The thing to remember was that the virus wasn’t magical. It wasn’t arcane or sent from God. It was an organism and science would beat it. Eventually. So far science said sucking cock was fine. Go science.
“Sit on the bed. I’ll suck you first.” He stepped aside so I could sit on the end of the bed. The apartment appeared to only have the one bedroom and he left the door open, so I figured that meant he was the only resident of the place. I pushed my jeans and shorts down to my knees and sat down.
Roger pulled everything down to my ankles so he could get between my knees, and then cupped my balls in his long fingers. I was already halfway hard at that point. He had lush-looking lips and stared at my cock intently, breathing hard, as if psyching himself up. I imagined I could hear him saying to himself, okay, I can do this.
He started with some tentative licks at first and then unexpectedly took me to the hilt, working me with sudden, intense enthusiasm.
His goal seemed to be to get me to come as quickly as possible. That was fine with me. This bit of sex was an unexpected turn to the evening, a nice consolation for the change of plans. He was so energetic his technique was sloppy, but this wasn’t the Olympics and the score didn’t matter as much as crossing the finish line.
I was about to tell him I was on the verge of coming when he pulled back, and snarled like a jaguar, showing me all his teeth as he tugged on my cock with his hand until I squirted all over.
He ran to the the bathroom to wash his hand then, and I remembered what he had said about hangups. I couldn’t really get up to do the same, what with my pants around my ankles and my thighs spattered with spunk.
He came back with a handful of paper towels and wiped me off brusquely, like a diner waitress on a coffee spill.
“Do you want to be blown in return, Roger?” I asked.
If looks could kill. He gave me a look at would have frozen the heart of Cruella DeVille. “How do you know my name?”
“I heard your friend talking to you by the post office.”
“Nosy bitch,” he said, and stepped back, balling up the paper towels. “I’m done with you.”
He was clearly asking me to leave, but I still felt bad about things being so one-sided. “Are you sure? I’m happy to reciprocate.”
“I think you should go,” he said, and stood aside, giving me a clear view of the door.
I stood, pulled up my pants, redid my buckle, and walked out with as much dignity as I could muster. Hangups indeed.
From there I took a stroll up Thayer Street to see if In Your Ear was still open, but their windows were dark, and I made my way back to the end of the street. As I passed back through Faunce Arch toward my dorm, though, I could hear live music echoing off the bricks. It sounded like one of the african-style drummers who played on Thursday nights, but I could hear bass and guitar, too.
I looked down into the courtyard and saw three musicians standing in one corner, amps on milk crates, the drummer on a stool between the two instrumentalists, who were facing each other, jamming. Apparently after Roger’s flighty exit, the guitar player and bass player decided to make a gig for themselves. They were making a kind of dirty groove, and amazingly, I saw there were sixty or seventy students dancing on the flagstones.
I went down and joined them. The groove was slow and grinding, and people swayed and lifted their arms and rocked their hips. A few more, attracted by the noise like I had been, came down the stairs, too.
The band began to speed up, gradually increasing the tempo, imperceptibly at first, then more noticeably as the crowd picked up on it. Eventually they were rocking hard, heads nodding in time and looking at each other. I couldn’t tell which of them was in charge of their speed but I assumed it was the drummer. He was African American, wearing a worn-out looking Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt and floral print shorts. He lifted his hands from the drum suddenly clapping them over his head, and within a second or two the whole crowd was clapping, too. He returned to playing then, trying to keep the beat even, but the crowd ran away with it and they brought it to a close, the rhythmic clapping breaking into applause.
Just when it had died down enough that he could be heard, the guitar player broke into another riff, something that reminded me of the Chili Peppers, or maybe it was just the drummer’s shirt that made me think of that. No, I decided, it was a valid comparison, a hard-driving riff that set the tone, joined after a few bars by an almost hyperactive bass line. The drummer came in last after listening to another several bars, and off they went, jamming again.
I stayed through several songs, until I started to get thirsty, and then I went into the Underground to the bar to get some club soda.
Behind the bar was the guy I recognized as the student manager of the place, Stu.
“So what’s that all about?” I asked him. “I thought Funk Night was on Thursdays.”
He shrugged. “Their singer had to bail. Sore throat or something, but they convinced Gordon to get out his drum and jam with them.” He filled a plastic up with soda from the gun and set it on a napkin for me.
Well, he might have a sore throat now, but he didn’t before he left here, I thought. “There’s at least a hundred people out there dancing now.”
Stu shrugged again. “Maybe it worked out for the best, then.”
I took my drink outside and stood at the edge of the dancing mass of people, and revising my count upward to two hundred people. Well, I wasn’t going to get an article out of this, but it was fun, and I had a little sex, so it hadn’t been a total loss of an evening.
Watching the musicians, I changed my mind. The guitarist was in charge. They passed the solo around, each of them taking a turn, but it was clear to me now who was calling the shots. He looked like a freshman, skinny, barely shaving. I wondered if he was a Brown student or if he was at RIMCon. I thought about sticking around long enough to ask.
But I was starting to feel tired, library nap notwithstanding, and after I finished sucking down the drink, I decided to leave the party as I had found it, grooving along. I could hear the music almost all the way across the college green.