That afternoon premiered like some show.
I played a broken boy who was lonely and bored and blond.
After twelve seasons, each day felt like another repeat. All my scenes were the same.
But, once again, cameras began churning.
Footballers crashed, pantry to porch. Launching blows, they tackled and broke through the windowpane. A spritz of crystal crumbs gouged their faces.
And we began scoffing.
"Steroids are wicked gross," I said. "Nasty!"
Bundles of thread were safety-pinned to my cut-offs. I was twisting, tying, braiding, binding.
"Fuckin' A!" Sherrie grumbled. She thrust her two middle fingers at the School Break Special. "All these shows are fake. They aint real, Butch. They aint like us."
Sherrie was my second cousin, and most days we'd watch Sally Jessie or Jem or Dance Party U.S.A.
"TV's so queer," she said.
Knotting the last rung of color, I smiled at perfect black and blue zigzags. "This bracelet's done," I told her.
"Who ya gonna give it to?"
"Where am I gonna put it? Already got thirteen," she said. "Just keep it."
"Can't give myself a friendship bracelet. That's retarded."
Sherrie poked at her new spiral permanent. Bunching the kinks, she locked them with an orange banana-clip. "I gotta get home."
"Kids Incorporated's on in ten minutes. Don'tcha wanna stay and watch?"
"Can't. Homework. Fuckin' fractions."
"Eighth grade's hard, huh?"
"It rots. Two more years and then you'll see."
I snatched a dusty white Sweetheart from the candy dish. It read, "MARRY ME." Slipping the Necco in, I nursed noisily.
"Alright," Sherrie said, "Have fun with What's-His-Face tonight."
Soon, the lights paled to death.
There was only darkness.
Chomping on my chalky heart, I waited for the next scene.
Monsters were growling, grinning, snarling, spinning.
Predator ripped through black slush and mire. Bawling, the beast rumbled, rocketing near. As he shot toward heaven, fat dollops of sludge drizzled down over us.
And the crowd jolted.
Foxboro Stadium was thumping like an earthquake. (The booms, the t-shirts, the kids. The swearing and hooting. The gasoline, the pretzels. And high-fives. The clapping, the howling. The mad dads too.)
But I watched Milo Morgan. I stared at the heart-shaped, violet bruise that shone on his bicep. The boy drooped, hunched. He was sucking up another Slush Puppie.
"Cool...huh?" Milo said, catching my gaze.
"Black Jack's the best! That one rules!"
Since summer, Milo had lived two floors above me and we'd sometimes watch Alf or Batman or Dukes of Hazzard.
"I think The Crusher's comin' up!" he told me.
Suddenly, one truck cart wheeled, toppling twice and, soon, sparks burst from beneath his jutting fangs.
And the flocks froze.
"Holy shit!" Milo cackled.
In an instant, plumes arose. Black swirls soared, choking the stars, crowding the crescent moon.
"HEY!" he yelped. "Let's go take a piss!"
"Um...I don't gotta go right now."
"I do! Don't be gay. Just come on!"
A Friendship Band
"That guy's fuckin' dead!" Milo whooped. "Wipe outs are the best!"
Wrenching down my Jockeys, I began to pee and a dim, murky drivel seeped over the seat.
"This is my third truck show, ya know," he called out.
"Yeah. Just wait till the finale."
I could hear his voice swell, bouncing between cinder block slabs.
The cuss-covered door squeaked behind me. Instantly, I spun round, squirting my stonewashed leg.
And I saw him.
Milo was smirking at me.
For six long seconds, I couldn't budge. My eyes were locked on the curves of his smug smile.
"What are you doin'?" I finally asked.
"Nothin' Just messin' around."
"No," he sneered. "I aint movin'."
Gushing with grins, Milo bent over and flicked my dark magenta head. It hurt.
"Yours is way fatter than mine," he told me.
I quickly tucked myself away then kicked the silver knob. Toilet froth blasted as butts and cups bobbled about.
"We should get back," I said.
"Yeah. In a sec."
"We're missin' the show."
He scuffed closer. He pinched my best bracelet. "So...uh...what's this thing anyway?'
"A friendship band."
"I make 'em all the time."
Slowly, Milo slid his pointer between my wrist and the purple strap. "Looks kinda...girly."
"No sir. It's cool. It's the oldest one I got. The thickest too."
But the bathroom door whooshed open. Cackling crowds of men charged through.
"I'll go out first," Milo said. "Meet me by the Pepsi machine."
It was dark.
Milo hauled me beneath the booming bleachers. Hand in hand, we tripped through shadows and neon ribbons of light.
"These are the shitty nosebleeds," he told me.
"Where are we going?" I griped.
Above us, work boots were beating, bumping, pounding, pumping.
"Look," he grinned. "I wanna show you somethin'."
With a crooked smirk, Milo reached down and shed the beat T. Every lump of his muscle bulged through caramel skin.
"Why...why'd ya do that for?" I asked.
He stroked the butterscotch bumps. "See. These new muscles started comin' out. It's cause of all my sit-ups. Aint they cool?"
Inside me, jitters twitched, snapping like pistons.
"If ya want...ya can feel 'em," he smiled.
"Go ahead. I don't care."
I was colored in crimson. Fighting fidgets, I began to paw Milo's nubs. My shaky palms steered breast to bellybutton.
"Aint I hard?"
"Hey," he snickered, "got a triple dare for ya. Will ya do it?"
"We're gonna get in trouble."
"Don't be a gaylord."
I glanced away. I thought of Dallas. I thought about Falcon Crest.
Milo said, "I triple dare you...to french me."
And he began kissing.
Milo pecked and puckered and bit. With long laps, he licked my pimpled chin and two goopy streams of dribble stretched between us.
"Don't I feel good, Butch?"
My penis grew. It curved against my thigh, swelling solid.
"Kissing's cool," he told me.
Our scene faded and I felt numb, washed in electric waves of thrill.
I could see new scripts. (The gazes, the rubs, the smiles. The laughing and hand-holding. The sleepovers, the walks. And twilight. The giggling and making out. The close-ups too.)
Scooping through my chest, I dug out soldiers and Snorks and Smurfs. At the bottom, a heap of flyers lay, pig-piled.
I had only saved my favorites. (The Jockeys, the French cuts, the red bikinis. The Caldor guys, the K-Mart guys, The Lechmere guys. And bumpy muscles. The thongs and the Hanes. Polka-dotted silk ones too.)
Thumbing to each dog-eared page, I fanned them across my bed so I could see all the pretty men. They smiled. They gawked at me.
And I spat a bubbly brown phlegm gob in my hand.
I began pulling, gasping, tweaking, rasping.
After twelve quick strokes, it began to leak over my leg.
"Put it iiiiin."
Once Ma mixed her second Bay Breeze, I edged down the hall. In silence, I hid and watched.
Faggots began flashing on our fingerprinted screen. It was a news show called, 'AIDS In The U.S.A.'
I could see everything. (The vials, the doctors, the swim trunks. The towels and dancing. The hand-flicking and the sneezing. The mothers and bodies. The shorts, the lights, the powder.)
One fruit cried, "Thought I had the flu...but it never went away. This is terrible. This is awful."
Red-faced, I sunk backwards.
"Serves ya right," Ma snapped. "Fuckin' fudge packers."
That next morning began like an episode.
But, I just couldn't act as my character. I couldn't lie or pretend or fake-laugh.
Still, we plodded through another scene.
Star beams bounced off his links. Hurdling, B.A. cut through Malibu's sparkling midnight surf. As machine guns sputtered, he dove behind a range of rock.
And I began hacking.
Bed-headed, I watched an old A-Team.
I could feel the scorching fevers that flared beneath my skin. Flames burned and blazed (like bonfires, like hot pins).
"Poor little guy," Ma said. "Ya look like death. Better rest and take it easy."
"Ya think...maybe...I could getta Happy Meal for lunch?"
"Butch...no," she hissed. "Have some crackers or bologna or something."
She placed three grape Chewables by the set. "Take these. And drink some Coke too. Least ya had a good time at the truck show last night. I told ya it would be fun. See...ya need to be friends with boys too. Boys gotta play with boys. So...call that nice kid from upstairs. Tell him 'thank you.'"
My face sloped into a jumbo smile.
"You twerp! Got a couple days off! Lucky duck!"
Sherrie sat, legs like a pretzel. She had just begun making another band. Her ponytails of pink and orange thread were taped to the TV tray.
"I'm sick," I whined. "For real!"
Her eyeballs plunked back. "Yah, right. Faker!"
I tiptoed over to the medicine drawer. It was packed with bottles and Band Aids and Kotex. Sifting, I snatched out a fistful of Cherry Ludens.
"Hey...ya wanna snack?" I called out. "We got Fruit Roll-Ups."
"Can't! Remember? My diet?" Sherrie poked a pouch of blubber hanging from her hip. "Mom wants me to lose ten more pounds. If I don't, she said she'd put me on those Deal-A-Meal cards."
I fake-frowned, stripped a drop and tossed it in. Quickly, the candied sweetness bled over my tongue.
Sherrie asked, "So...did ya have fun with What's-His-Name?"
Since that special Sunday, I'd wanted to talk about Milo. I had wanted to tell her everything.
"Know what?" I said. "Somethin' happened."
"Um...I had my first kiss."
"Thought you already did! What about Shannon B.?"
And I began to wish and wish.
"Okay...see...a couple nights ago...at the Monster Truck Show..."
"Well...like...Milo kissed me."
Sherrie squinted. Blinkless, her lips curled. "You kissed a boy?"
"Well...he kissed me. It was a dare."
"That's nasty Butch! GROSS!"
Sherrie kicked on her crimson Reeboks. "That's why you're so sick."
"You kissed him and now...you got the dick disease. You got AIDS."
"That's what happens to boys that mess with other boys. They end up being big fairies and fudge packers. And they all die."
Right then, I thought I might burst (like a bomb, like a firecracker).
"THAT AINT TRUE!"
I had memorized every single word.
Patting cowlicks, I reached for one last pocket of air.
Cameras rushed in.
I knew his number by heart.
Curling up like a capital G, I sucked back the goo. It filled my throat and packed my mouth. With a gulp, sweet snot slowly crept down.
And his line ticked.
"Who's this?" Milo huffed.
"It's Butch. From downstairs?"
"Oh. Hey. What's up?"
"Nothin'. Whatcha doin'?"
"Dumbbells. Push ups. I'm just workin' out," he groaned.
I swabbed my drippy nose with an electric blanket. I told him, "Stayed home from school today. I'm wicked sick."
"That sucks ass."
"Yeah. Just got into a fight with my dumb cousin too."
"Girls blow," he said.
Twice, I glanced at Facts Of Life giggling on mute.
"Can I ask ya somethin'?"
"And promise ya won't laugh?"
"Well...ya think...ya think I could be famous? Someday? Like Ricky Schroeder, maybe?"
"Sure. You could be a star too."
"Cause...ya know...life seems kinda like some sort of TV show anyway. Feels like I'm actin' all the time. Does that sound queer?"
Smoothing golden tufts of downy, I grinned. "Nope. That don't sound queer."
He began whispering, "Ya think I'm...good lookin'? Good lookin' enough to be on the tube?"
"Ya think I'm hot?" he asked.
Again, my penis began to bloat. It peeked out. It pushed through my front flap.
I was the only one being taped.
Sherrie hadn't come to the set in four days. Like everyone else, she hated queers and faggots and gaylords.
No one wanted to see a fairy on TV.
But I felt different from all the others. (No dresses, no gerbils, no rainbows. And no glitter. No flags or chaps. No triangles. And no high heels. No make up. No confetti. And no moustache.)
I knew I was a fag too.
But I knew I was still me.
I waited outside Honey Farms, cradling a new Teen Machine, and I flipped past pinups and glossy centerfold pullouts. Each star was batting, beaming, laughing, leaning.
But then, I saw her.
Sherrie bopped toward me with long sassy strides. She clutched her Walkman. She grooved. She lip-synced.
"Oh...hi," my cousin said. She panted and pried the phones from her head.
"Whatcha doin'?" I asked.
"Nothin'. Fuckin' exercisin'."
For thirty two seconds, we shifted around, blowing sighs.
I could only watch the bare traffic that crawled by us. I prayed and I prayed.
"So...um...ya think you're gonna come by soon?" I finally asked.
"Don't count on it."
"Sherrie...this aint no big deal. I'm still me."
She tapped her speckled jelly shoes. "Butch...now..."
"Now, I'm a faggot. But really, I'm the same old me. And ya know what? Milo's wicked cool. He's awesome..."
"What? You think you're gonna marry him or something?"
Twirling my blond ducktail, I smiled. "Maybe we will get married. One day."
"You can't! Gaylords can't get married. And gaylords can't have no kids."
"I can if I want!"
"Look," she said, snaking her hips, "We aint friends no more. 'Cause I don't wanna die. And you got it. You do, Butch. That's why you're still sick. Duuuuuh. If you don't believe me, ask your doctor."
But I did believe her.
Tiny puddles of pain flushed in my eyes. Right then, I hated Sherrie (more than Dad, more than the devil).
She shrugged. "I'm sorry."
"LOOK! JUST PLEASE DON'T TELL ANYONE I GOT IT!"
So Much More
Bulbs blared, cooking my skin.
And I was frightened of being cancelled.
I wanted other things. (The face, the clothes, the premieres. New stories. The earrings and longer hair. The money, the fans, the limo rides. The mansion. And parties too.)
I wanted so much more. (The Emmy, the cool friends. The interviews. The diamond ring, the big wedding, and the husband. Puppies. The straight teeth and baby boys. The dinners, the pictures. The valentines. And the Oscar, too.)
A Little Bit Funny
With a wet face, she jerked up the dial and beats began surging from her peach plastic box. As DJ scissored, she thrust about.
And I bit down.
A raspberry Ring Pop was locked between my molars. Cracking its sugary diamond, I watched another Full House.
"BUTCH! BUTCH! Turn off the fuckin' set!"
Ma boomed in, ruby with rage. Her arms gripped around a stack of my weekend flyers. "Why ya got all these Sunday ads for? Found 'em in your old toy box."
Quickly, I tried to think of good lies.
"Ya must've saved 'em for some reason," she said.
Ma shook her peppery bob. "Just tell me. Why ya got 'em'?"
"Throw 'em away, Butch. All of 'em. Ya keep stuff like this...somebody'll think you're a little bit funny."
Another scene was set to begin.
But I hadn't rehearsed. I wasn't sure how to play.
Quaking, I hid from the lens.
Milo's first friendship bracelet curled around my fourth finger (like an emerald band, like a diamond ring.) I tugged it tight, squeezing the skin scarlet.
Behind his door, Max Headroom droned. The tube buzzed and beeped.
And I knocked hard.
For sixteen seconds, I listened.
"Milo? Milo? I can hear ya. I know you're there. I need to talk to ya...about some stuff."
There was no answer.
I began to grow dizzy from my dick disease, and I could feel it driving, sweeping through me.
"Ya don't have to come out if ya don't want to, but I gotta tell ya somethin'. I think...I know that we're sick. We're very sick. With AIDS. We...have it. But it's gonna to be okay. It will. 'Cause we can do it together. We can do it. I'll take care of you...you'll take care of me. Like...we don't have to be like everyone else. We can be...together. And maybe one day..."
But his door swung open.
Milo was sneering. He stood, bareback, in only briefs.
"I AINT SICK!" he shouted. "I AINT GOT THAT!"
"No. Ya do. And I do too. We're fags."
"I ain't no queer!"
"Listen..." I said, holding out his bracelet. "I made this for you."
Milo pinched my left ear. He twisted twice. "SHUT UP!"
Sobbing, I caved to the damp hallway carpet.
"You're a FUCKING BITCH!" he screamed. "Be quiet. GO HOME!"
He slammed the door, cussed five times and, in seconds, his TV shot up all the way.
I could feel my innards split. They began to bust (like a grenade, like an M-80).
"BUT I GOT IT FROM YOU!"
I Got The Cure
I knew that there would be a big finale. (No Christmas, no high school, no wardrobe. No vacations and no friends. No summer, no stories. No birthdays, no sundaes. And no Sherrie.)
I knew that soon, my life would be over. (No Ma, no laughter. No graduation, no semi-formals, no happiness, no yearbooks. And no pictures, no dreams. No debuts. No cliff-hangers. And no Milo. )
"Hello there, Butch," Dr. Magnum said with sideway smiles.
I sat in red Fruit Of The Looms. My legs were criss-crossed.
"Jeez. Can't believe how much you've grown. Looks like ya started to get some big boy muscles."
As always, crops of silver hair reached out from beneath his collar and cuffs.
"How's school?" he asked.
I didn't smile. I couldn't.
Dr. Magnum slid a drawer open. Scratching his buckled brow, he pulled out an instant Polaroid camera.
"Listen," I said. "I know what's wrong with me. And I have to tell ya."
"I'm sick...with the flu. But it aint really the flu."
He sat on the spinning, squealing chair.
"See...I kissed a boy...and now...I got AIDS."
My doctor broke with a cackle, and he clapped once.
"It's true. It's true!" I said.
"Well, I betcha didn't know...but I'm a lot like you." Dr. Magnum said. "See...I've kissed boys too. Lotsa boys. Really, all kinds of boys kiss boys. Nothin' to be ashamed of. Just gotta keep quiet about it."
As fat tears ballooned in my eyes, I pushed down the moaning. I tried to hold back.
"But...see...I just wanna be...all these things."
"Oh yeah?" he said, gliding closer.
"I don't wanna be like all those other faggots," I blubbered. "I wanna be more famous. And I wanna be rich. I wanna be cool. And I wanna be married. I wanna be skinny. I wanna baby too."
He cupped his smirking mouth. "Well...you have to be what you are. You can't change things."
My face gleamed with grief while whimpers began to squeak free. "PLUS, I'M DYING!"
"Look, Butchie, I'm your doctor and I'm gonna make sure you're okay."
"Really. I got the cure."
"And I'll live?"
"Yep. I promise. And we don't even have to tell your Mother about it." Dr. Magnum aimed his camera. "So...take off those shorts and let me have a good look."
Everything was hushed.
I slid up my briefs and rubbed away leftover tears.
Still clad in latex mitts, Dr. Magnum tightened his holiday necktie. He said, "Don't forget to give the nurse a sample."
"What do you mean?" I whispered.
"A sample. Of your urine."
"Oh. My pee?"
My oily bottom still burned. It still ached.
Suddenly, Dr. Magnum began to grin. "Hey...you wanna Dum Dum?" he asked, pulling out one pink pop.
"Aw...come on, Butchie."
"I don't want one."
"Just because you suck on it...doesn't mean you're really a Dum Dum."