Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 2 • Summer 2002 • Fiction

Tainted Love

Matthew Bernstein Sycamore

Scott, Erica, and I are laughing at all the fashion magazines. We're getting ready to make propaganda and we need some cheesy pictures, but nothing's cheesy enough. I'm complaining that they don't have Teen People, or wait, I don't even see People, and where's Exercise for Men Only? The woman behind the counter leans over and says this is not a library. I say, honey, I know, we're buying these magazines already, and I hold up the stack: Vogue, Glamour, and YM.

I go back to looking at the magazines. People we know keep coming into the store so this is fun. Andre wants to know what we're doing, the boy with the big teeth who's a barker at -- where is he a barker? -- anyway, he's on break and he's going to the Vault for a cocktail, but I don't want cocktails 'cause I've got propaganda to make. The woman leans over again and says THIS IS NOT A LIBRARY. She's got some European accent that's probably fake, and I'm sure I've heard her say the same thing before, but my adrenaline rush is up and I'm getting annoyed. I say we're looking through the magazines to decide which ones to buy, okay?

My vision's getting blurry from the tension and the boy with the teeth stops momentarily in the door and I swear there's a freeze-frame for a minute and then someone -- who is it? -- says we'd rather you leave. It's all the straight, middle-aged Cape-Cod-for-life women (plus the younger fake European) lined up at the counter like they're uniting against the enemy, and Scott and I are fuming, Erica looks like she's not used to confrontation. I say, first I have to spit. Scott says, you mean shit. And we're laughing. I say, I'll be back with a brick, then I throw the magazines on the shelf and I think the women are laughing, too, like we're so disgusting they can't do anything but laugh.

We get outside, what was that about? We don't have a clue. Was it because we were being queeny in a fucking gay resort town? But dammit, now how are we going to make the propaganda? Erica says maybe it's time for a cocktail. Earlier I'd said no cocktails for me, but that was earlier, before we got kicked out of the magazine store. I go to the magazine store several times a week. Erica goes there several times a day. And Scott, who doesn't even live in this town, has been to the magazine store at least ten times this summer.

The point is that Erica's right, it's cocktail time, and we slide into The Vault and yes, there's the cocktail, but no barker, though there is that boy David from San Francisco and his friends. He says he has a lot of ex-boyfriends so I figure that's what both of his friends are. Then I realize it. He looks exactly like one of my San Francisco roommates' boyfriends from way back. I can't even remember the roommate's name, but the boyfriend was named Randy. David says Randy, that's one of my ex-boyfriends. Wait -- now I get it -- Randy was my ex-roommate, not my ex-roommate's ex-boyfriend, or boyfriend at the time, but now ex-boyfriend, of which there's only one.

But wait, there's a subplot going on. Actually, the conversation with David is the subplot; the plot is that Erica's getting shade from all over the place. She's dressed like a sailor, looks perfect in the leather cruise bar, but right when we get there, the doorman says, you can come in, but you've got to move to the front once the bar gets crowded. Like it's some privilege to hang out in this dark dirty dump. Actually, it is a privilege, because it almost feels like a big-city bar, plus it's the only place in town with porn -- and the only place where sex goes on. They're getting around quite a few loopholes.

The management seems to think that Erica's the loophole, though, the bartender repeats what the doorman said, and just when I'm done with my second cocktail -- feeling frisky -- the bartender comes back to tell us now's the time. To move to the front, that is, smile smile, he's telling Erica, you know, guys cruise back there. So there it is: first we get kicked out of the magazine store because I'm a loud queen and then we get kicked out of the leather bar because Erica's a dyke.

Needless to say, when we get out of that bar, we are not loving this town. Erica says this is the worst night of her life, which sounds a bit extreme to me, but maybe she hasn't had that many bad nights. We figure we're going to have to go to the straight bars if the gay ones won't have us. Next thing we know, Erica says, we're going to get kicked out of the Vixen because the dykes think Scott's too butch. We go over to the Governor Bradford to check out PJ's karaoke show. This drunk old Cape Codder is doing a jig and reel to some song, just smiling, all red-faced like he's never left this bar. PJ spots us right away, puts on that Radiohead song "Freak" -- is that what it's called? -- anyway it's a good song, I wouldn't know it was Radiohead except it says so on the screen.

PJ does the whole song with her eyes closed, silver eyeliner looking fearless and the wig's all ratty tonight, which is the way I like it. She's got that song down -- all emotional and serious -- and the crowd doesn't know how to take it. Usually she's just telling them they smell like poop. I scream for her and then two straight guys are doing some gay song like they're camping it up -- time to go -- blowing PJ kisses, we run right out of there.

Look across the street and no way, there's Meg-O at the Old Colony -- we're really gonna do the straight bars tonight. We go in and Meg-O introduces us to her Irish friends who are loving me, they point a video camera my way and tell me to say something to Ireland. I don't know what to say, but I say something, then I say I need another cocktail, and I'm over to the bar.

The bartender gives me my Stoli-on-the-rocks in a shooter glass; I say what are you doing? She's not amused, but you'd think that in a straight bar that looks like the inside of a rusted oil can, you'd get strong drinks. I go into the bathroom and it smells like piss from the turn of the century, I bring Erica and Scott back and say this is where the backroom should be, the Vault's got nothing on this place.

We run out after I kiss Meg-O goodbye, she's one of my favorites in this horrible town. Well, it's Wednesday so okay we're off to the Vixen. I wasn't gonna go, but now I've had cocktails... so of course I'm going. Sharon's at the door -- hel-lo -- or is it hel-LO? Anyway we're inside and they're playing fucking YMCA -- just after I told Scott the music would be okay. Okay, so really it's about the crowd -- all the crazy townies and seasonal workers getting smashed and dancing like freaks, that's fun -- right?

I get into it, but not for YMCA. I wouldn't dance to that song if I was on sixteen grams of crystal, four vials of K and a year's supply of Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Motrin. But, needless to say, the Motrin dealer's not here, so I go to the bar for a drink and there's David, he beat us to the place (told him to go, of course). We're talking and, whoops, there's Electric Avenue -- that's one of the standards that I actually like.

David says no way is he dancing to -- I can't remember who sings that song or who he thinks sings that song -- but anyway no way is he dancing. I'm dancing, crazy and shaking my ass, and soon enough, there's four pounds of sweat pouring down my face, but then the next song's some unbearable disco monstrosity, so I just pretend I'm dancing to Danny Tenaglia late-night at Vinyl. I get centered and then I just go with it, swinging back and forth, shaking my hips and grooving like this is some kind of slow hard house. Pretty soon our crew is there -- Sylvia's grinding against me and her hair is swinging back and forth, Leslie and I are making faces at each other, Erica grabs me and we're fucking -- I fucking love the Vixen on a Wednesday, dancing with all the women in the house because the fags are too scared or maybe there's too much or not enough or too much of not enough or just too much not enough -- there -- with the boys, but then I think why the fuck not? I'm shaking with Christina and I grab some boy over, I have to grab him to get him over, and then he gives me some weird sex look -- I don't want to sleep with him, just dance. Luckily Sylvia grabs me -- saved by Sylvia.

Dance a little with Scott, hope he doesn't think I'm this crazy because of the liquor because honey I'm this crazy no matter fucking what. Then I remember he knows that. The music's getting worse and worse and Erica brings over another cocktail, then the cocktail's on the bar and I'm bending over for Erica, Sylvia pulls me over and we're getting it on, then shit, it's last call.

I go back to the bar, finish my cocktail so I can get another, but wait a second, it's "Tainted Love," no fucking way I'm SCREAMING and Scott's smiling and Erica's jumping and then I'm flying, singing that song or at least all the words I know. Trying to do runway -- running into people who are in the way -- and making faces, and I get to the back, back to the front, there's Erica and oh no it's over.

Lights are coming on and I'm high from all the sweat, drunk, too, of course, and we're heading out. We say our goodbyes and then we're on our way to Spiritus. I'm singing "Tainted Love" and Erica's stumbling a bit, Scott looks tired. We get to Spiritus and we're screaming as usual, I'm rubbing Erica's head and there's PJ. We take our seats and watch all the action. Erica and I are telling the story of how we got kicked out of the magazine store and The Vault.

I'm screaming IT WAS ALL ABOUT TAINTED LOVE and Erica's yelling Mattilda Mattilda, then Sylvia's there too, grinding and we're all singing tainted lo-ove, I want to... run away-ay... dah dah dah. "Tainted Love" just saved the night, that's what I say. This cute muscley boy looks back at me and says I want some. I think of following him -- he is HOT, ass jumping out of white jeans -- but I'm having fun with the Spiritus-until-dawn crowd, so I guess I'm not leaving. Then, of course, I'm obsessing about it and the guy's gone. Something weird's going on tonight and I'm getting cruised all over, but as usual I don't act on any of it, just keep singing "Tainted Love" because that's what it's all about -- I scream FORGET ABOUT ASSIMILATION, IT'S ALL ABOUT TAINTED LOVE.

It's one of those nights so I go and buy a whole vegan pizza. The music inside is better than the music at the Vixen -- some seventies funk and I'm doing a bit of runway, no shirt on, of course, after all that sweat. We all squeeze into the photo booth: Erica, PJ, Scott and me -- can't decide which background to get, wish they had a real photo booth, but oh well just the stickers. Say cheese...

The pictures are scandalous and we're back outside, it's kind of raining and everyone starts to disperse, except for the die-hards with umbrellas, and the rest of us just laughing in the street. Spiritus is the best thing about Provincetown. There's Page, I kiss her hello, and she says, where's your skirt? I've worn a skirt one time this summer, but Page is obsessed with it. She's looking extra-fierce tonight, with the blond afro, tight jeans and a half-shirt, red glitter over her eyes she's got that realness-with-a-twist thing going on, like I could pass but I'm going to turn it out anyway.

The pizza's ready and by this time it's raining hard out. Erica's disappeared, so Scott, PJ, and I crowd under the awning at Dirty White Boy to eat the pizza. I run over to Jen for a hug and a photo op, so by the time I get back to the pizza it's half gone. Oh well -- the fucking tomato sauce gives me gas anyway. This chubby guy with bleached hair from New York wants drugs, and then he wants me, too, I think, but I don't think I'm in the mood.

Someone's after PJ too, it's the guy who's always showing off his legs from kayaking -- freak-and-a-half -- tonight he's got cognac in a plastic cup that PJ's sipping at. The pizza's gone and Scott's fading, we get ready head back. There's Michael Soldier and we're all in the rain together. Feels kind of good though I'm dehydrated. We're walking along and who knows what started it, but pretty soon PJ and Michael are rolling in the grass in front of one of the offices. Screaming you fucking bitch cunt -- decking each other until I guess PJ's won and we're all laughing.

Pass the Boatslip and there's Colin all coked out of course, hi darling. Then the cops come by -- we heard you were making a little noise -- us? We're almost at Franklin, and then somehow the boy who was after me is making out with Michael Soldier. Bye, girls.

Oh no, there's Celebrity, luckily she's not wooing us into a k-hole, instead she's jumping into her van. The rain's getting a little -- wet -- we get to PJ's -- bye, dear. Then we speed up and by the time we're at my house we're pretty wet. I tell Scott that she sure got the grand tour tonight, and she lays down on the sofa, wet clothes and all. I strip and head to the shower.

When I get out of the shower, Scott's passed out on the sofa. I squeeze a lemon in a glass of water and drink it. Know I'm not going to be able to sleep because I'm still drunk, so I get dressed again and head out. Somehow it's 3:30 already, guess I'll go to the dock because there's nowhere else to go, though I doubt anyone will be out in the rain. By this time it's kind of pouring, but I'm having fun with the hooded sweatshirt and the plastic jacket -- left the umbrella at home because I'd just lose it. I get to Commercial and up ahead there's someone -- no fucking way, it's PJ out of drag and into her big red chenille sweater, rainbow flip-flops. I scream, bitch, turn around, she looks back and says, shh, people will think we're queens. Then we're laughing all the way to the Dick Dock, underneath the fence but nope -- not a soul. I'm laughing and PJ looks confused and then we're back on Commercial. Some guy's walking up the street in shorts with no shoes, he says come upstairs and see my lights, I've got great lights. I say how 'bout drugs, but no drugs. I start walking toward the guy's apartment and PJ says what are you doing? I say let's go see the lights. It's all the excitement we're gonna get. We go inside and great, he's got lots of lights. Disco ball on the ceiling and then colored lights all over, he says, aren't they cool, I say sure. I'm ready to go, but PJ's collapsed on the easy chair. The guy says, are you horny? can I suck you're dick? -- I say, no thanks, but can I get some water? He comes back with two glasses of water and he's grabbing his dick, asking you're gay right? I say, no kidding, and PJ's looking dazed. I'm wondering why this one weird light with a crystal base isn't on, but then somehow the guy's got PJ's dick out, he says, can I suck on it? and she nods. Then he's sucking PJ's dick, and PJ's making these weird faces -- a cross between a duck and a sad baby. I can't decide whether PJ's not into it at all or whether she's just uncomfortable because I'm there, so I try not to watch. Though then the guy's holding PJ's dick and saying look at this, this is a nice big dick -- have you sucked this dick? I say no, PJ's making this oh-no face and then the guy's sucking again. I say take it all -- take it all, and I kind of want to push his head down, but mostly I'm just laughing. Then something happens and PJ zips up her pants, and says I'm ready to go. So we're on our way, the guy wants us to stop by the Gifford House some time -- okay -- and then back into the rain. Now it's kind of cold. PJ says, you saw my wiener, and we're both laughing. She says, I hate sex. I say, you don't have to have sex with people you're not into. She says, I don't even know what I'm into anymore, I just hate sex. I say, do you want a hug, and she nods her head yes -- it's funny, even when she doesn't have on make-up, she moves her face like she does. Then I'm hugging PJ in the rain and we're walking home again.

Matthew Bernstein Sycamore is the editor of Tricks and Treats: Sex Workers Write About Their Clients, and the forthcoming Dangerous Families: Queer Writing Beyond Recovery. His writing has appeared in Best American Erotica 2001; Best American Gay Fiction 3; Best Gay Erotica 2000, 2001, 2002; Blithe House Quarterly, and numerous other publications.

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