By Johnny Ray Huston

“Infinity room.” That’s what I texted to A the first time I saw his pic.

“Lol my bathroom,” he texted back.

In the photo, he was wearing a hat that said TROPHY BOY, and a tank top pulled up to show off his chest and nipples, the curve of his hips, and a trace of his ass. Behind him, a mirror reflection of cream walls and floor tunneled into blackness, frame within frame.

His eyes were what drew me in. Pale skin, still boyish, heart-shaped face, features not yet hardened, he was growing into his handsomeness. Mouth closed, he could almost be expressionless, just another young narcissist looking for love through a still image of himself in a bathroom mirror. But his eyes, a little wild, a little mocking, said he’d done a lot and wanted more.

I took a cab up Mission to A’s place. It was night, his street was quiet and empty, his place near the end of the first block. The front door was hidden off to the right by a stairwell.

He let me in and we walked to the center of the room without saying anything. Mac Dre was playing on a cheap mini-laptop near the door. We kissed for a minute and then I got down on my knees and pulled down his sweats. He wasn’t very hairy, and he’d shaved his balls. His cock was long and uncut and curved downward like it was made for deep throating. It was fun to suck on.

He had a futon in the corner by the desk with the laptop, and we ended up there, him fucking me doggy with Yay Area rap playing in the background, then drilling me as I lay flatter on my stomach on the bed. After a few minutes, he groaned a little. I could feel his dick grow bigger as he came in me.

On my way back home, I glanced again at his photo. He was wearing earbuds connected to the phone he used to snap the pic, and leaning slightly into the camera. There was just the hint of an amused smile at the corners of his mouth.

That was the one and only time A fucked me.

It was the start of fall, and I’d just gotten back from a trip to New York, where the humid heat and change in surroundings had put me in a state of nonstop horniness. One night, I’d fucked a guy in a sex club and then restlessly overreached and wound up trapped in the high-rise Midtown apartment of a coked-out queen who worked for Obama. One day I posed for pics for a guy who specialized in black-and-white shots of guys jerking off. But I never got off satisfyingly.

It was almost as if all my pent-up lust from the trip had manifested in the form of A.

“Hey” was usually how he started our texting. The next time at his place, on a couch, he handed me his phone and I took pictures as I whipped his ass with a black belt and spanked it, all the while fucking him from behind. We switched to missionary, and when I’d stick my dick in deep, he’d open his mouth a little and quietly pant, maybe for effect? It was a little porn-like, yet he looked lost in whatever he was feeling.

Sometimes when I’d get home from A’s, he would text me, wanting me to come back and fuck him more. My sex drive could be intense and compulsive, but his was stronger, probably because he was half my age. As we schemed about the next time we’d get together, I let it slip that I was kind of sprung on him.

A wanted me to come over in a jock. When I got to his block, I stripped off my shirt and then my jeans and stuffed them into my bag and walked towards his place. The cool night air felt good.

He’d asked me to shave his ass and fuck him in the bathroom, so I did. As we were on our knees on the cold floor, me behind him, I shoved his head down into the toilet, like I knew he wanted. When I let go, he lifted his head and turned around and kissed me, spilling water into my mouth. Later, we fucked in front of the camera on his laptop, so some other older guy like me that he knew could watch.

As I got dressed, my eyes fell on A’s name on an envelope amongst papers scattered across his desk. A told me that a friend was going to stay at his place for the weekend while he was out of town. There was an affectionate note to her in Spanish next to the letter. Sitting down by the desk, A took a hit off his pipe. He said that the weed helped with HIV, kept him relaxed, and made it easier for him to digest the meds.

This was the most he’d talked. He told me about his job as a server, and how he wasn’t getting paid what he deserved, since in his view he was running the restaurant. And he talked about going to school in the East Bay, and how he was a few semesters from graduation. There was something permanently distracted about A’s tone of voice, almost dismissive about his own life, that was characteristic of someone young and very good looking but also intelligent and slightly shy. As much as any detail about what he was doing, I picked up on a certain sensitivity, mixed with cynicism about people.

I had a book in my bag, Flesh from the Straight to Hell anthologies edited by Boyd McDonald. The cover was my favorite in the series: red with a black-and-white title banner, and a pic of a Kennedy-esque guy sunbathing naked, peeking back over a shoulder wet with sweat, his smooth and hairy ass offered up like a gift. I knew A would like the stories, and by this time I felt he deserved the book.

“Thanks,” he said. Who knows how I looked to him or what he thought of me.

The kid had curly hair and glasses, and he wore a smartly tailored women’s jacket over jeans and a button-up shirt. He worked the register at a department store downtown and was going to college, or rather, it turned out, was taking one class on fashion. He was from a small town in the middle of California.

Before we first met, I entertained a faint hope that we might form a friendship. So many people had either been evicted from San Francisco in the past few years or said to hell with it and left. My best friends had to leave their place on South Van Ness when the landlord realized they weren’t on the lease and promptly tripled the rent. They lived a few doors down from the apartment that represents Cate Blanchett’s fall into abject economic ruin in that Woody Allen movie that got her an Oscar. She may as well have moved into their place.

As the kid and I walked by their old apartment I kept the story to myself. It was the third time we’d hung out and I’d decided it would be the last. He’d been late. I’d chosen a pizza place that made huge slices for five bucks. When he showed up, he excitedly told me about a fashion show he’d worked on as a dresser. The designer was Donna Karan. He had a school project about the style of a historical figure and had chosen Marie Antoinette. He wanted me to come over and watch the Sofia Coppola movie with him.

I’d started from a place of curiosity. How was a young gay guy without much money getting by in San Francisco these days? I’d hoped that the kid would reveal some creative obsession, or quirk of personality, or streak of rebellion, or wonder about the unfriendly expensive city he was trying to make home, but it wasn’t happening.

At 16th and Mission, a guy walked up and asked me for a light. I gave him one and we bullshitted for a minute. Afterward, the kid prattled about how “nice” I was, like he found it silly and amusing. I could feel a small flicker of irritation and even anger forming near the newly-sober numbness at my core. I started pondering which bus stop I’d jump off at so he wouldn’t know where I lived.

I looked up toward 16th Street and saw A. He was headed our way, dressed up, probably heading home after work. Our eyes met for a split second and then he walked past as the kid chattered in my ear. He got onto the next overly crowded Mission bus and I watched it go.

Later that night I was putting a show up in the gallery, photos of San Francisco. One artist had already covered an enormous wall with a family album of queer punk life in the Mission over a few decades. Facing the Mission shots, in grid patterns, a veteran photographer’s shots of SoMa during the latest real estate boom were next to a pair of series by a former student of hers, one of homeless encampments, the other tracing the landscape of the city’s edges. There were nightlife drag queen poses in another corner, and at the beginning and end, portraits of poets, arranged to suggest streams of art and gay life saying hello and goodbye to the city.

Zoning out, I’d lost track of time when A texted, around 2:30 am. I sent him a photo of the gallery’s filthy bathroom, thinking he might want to fuck there. “Come now. I’ll be waiting for you behind the diner,” he texted back. The diner was on Mission Street, an old restaurant across the street from a campus. It was kind of cold outside, the wet mid-fifties temperature so typical of San Francisco at night. I hailed a cab and got out a few blocks away.

When I reached the diner parking lot, I didn’t see A, so I kept walking to the back. There he was, standing next to a dumpster, wearing just a red jock strap and trainers. He got down on his knees, unzipped my jeans and started sucking my cock. I looked across the street. A student was walking into the campus, too far away to notice us. The familiar mist of night-into-morning was visible thanks to the streetlights.

A turned around and I started fucking him, both of us standing. The stink of the dumpster invaded my nose and kind of turned me off, but he looked fantastic naked outside at night. This was how he should be. The scene made me think of a few movies, O Fantasma and Trash Humpers. I doubt A knew about either of them, and he was the better for it. Sometimes what I’ve seen gets in between me and life.

Every once in a while A would jerk up, my dick still in his ass, to see if anyone was near. At one point we ducked down when a cop car drove by on Mission. After a few minutes we stopped. I walked directly behind A, down the sidewalk on his block, so I could look at him the whole time we headed back to his place. Once inside, I shoved him onto the couch and fucked him harder than I ever had until I came.

A had to move. He was pretty sure he’d have a place near Civic Center. A week or so later, I took a Tenderloin vacation, watching a friend’s hideaway on lower Hyde—an apartment in a “historic building” amid the chaos. Around there, the grid format of the cruising app was like a Hollywood Squares or Brady Bunch-credit-sequence of tweakers, dealers, porn stars, and working men. Sure enough, there was A, a thousand or so feet away.

Just like A, V was somewhere a couple of blocks from my bed. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years. I texted him and he responded in his usual gruff, perfunctory manner. After a few back-and-forth exchanges, once he realized I didn’t want to get high, he went silent.

Months went by with no sign of A, then out of the blue he texted me one night. In his new photo, he was looking a little more muscular, and wearing a wife-beater, faded blue jeans, and a black leather belt. His eyes in the photo were a bit harder to read—a bit harder, period. There were a few random bits of trash scattered around the dirt at his feet. He was standing in the mouth of a cave. I vaguely recognized it from cruising the beach years ago. It was a beautiful photo. I wondered what lucky guy took it.

As usual with A, he was hitting me up after midnight. I was horny but tired, the app state of being. A had moved again, and now he lived near Twin Peaks. There were some wooded areas right by his place, he said, or maybe we could fuck in the garage? He was more turned on by doing it outside. I wanted to, but it was winter. I could tell I wasn’t getting out of bed. I woke in the morning to a text he’d sent after I’d fallen asleep. “Hey.”

When I searched for pics of A online, all that came up were shots of grim-faced men in orange jumpsuits.

There was one photo of him. Wearing two hooded jackets, black under heavier brown-gray, he stared out at the lights of the San Francisco cityscape at night. Flash-exposed trees in the blurry foreground suggested Buena Vista Park more than Bernal Hill. His back was to the camera.

Johnny Ray Huston is a journalist who makes collage art and zines and collaborates on movies. For over a decade he was Arts and Entertainment Editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He has shown and published work through [2nd floor projects] and curated art shows and film screenings at Alley Cat Books, Artists’ Television Access, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. You can see him in Skye Thorstenson’s Tourist Trap (2010) and Morgies (2014) and Gary Fembot’s Mondo Bottomless (2006) and Scream of the Mandrake (2016).