Scavengers, dregs, runaways, the dispossessed, rentboys, punters — these were the patrons of the Golden Lion in Soho. There were two gay pubs, the Brief Encounter and the Compton Arms, but sometimes I preferred to be around broken old queers and the parasites that preyed on them. This was a place where I was comfortable. I fitted in.
Most proper gays wouldn’t go to the Golden Lion, so it seemed like an ideal place to meet Love. I didn’t want to bump into anyone I knew, because I wanted to give him my full attention and have him all to myself. It had an upstairs area where, midweek at least, you could usually find a place to sit down and they left the windows open so that it wasn’t so smoky. Also, being from California, I thought it might interest Love culturally. The place could be a bit daunting if you weren’t familiar with it, so I arrived about ten minutes early to secure seats, get him a drink, and welcome him when he came in.
At the bar I squeezed in beside a homeless Mohawk I knew vaguely, who was working a red-faced and bloated punter known as King Charles. I’d watched Charles before and knew his routine. It was impossible to get cash out of him, although he would happily pay for drinks for as long as you spoke to him. The boys used him to get a bit drunk, then worked the pub for other, more giving “cash points,” as they called the punters. I ordered a diet cola for Love and a pint of Guinness for myself, with a large vodka chaser, and downed the vodka in one, hoping it would relax me. Love’s good looks intimidated me. I found a snug corner upstairs, got out my book, and tried to read, but soon realized how stupid it was to attempt this in a pub.
Fortunately Love was early. In such surroundings he had the look of a brand-new Ferrari in a scrap yard, not the kind of thing I’d normally go for but he wore it well. Desire instantly outweighed my insecurities. After working as a rentboy for so many years, it was surprising that testosterone still rose to the occasion enough to influence my judgment. The welcome I gave Love was warm, masculine. Americans seemed to like my Englishness, so I used words like mate and cheers. He was charmed that I had a drink waiting for him.
I sipped my Guinness. Love fiddled with his glass. The bar was noisy enough, but the worst thing was a new song called “Like a Prayer” that repeated and repeated on the jukebox.
Finally Love said, “This song is awesome!”
“I figured,” I said. “You’ve mouthed every word, each time it plays.”
“Don’t you like Madonna? I’m a big fan.”
My date’s sex appeal instantly dropped.
“I’m not fussed either way,” I said. “But I’m surprised she’s still popular.”
“I think she’s going to be huge.”
“It’s hard to keep the weight off as you get older.”
We fell silent again. The noise around us emphasized this and made me feel that if I said something it should be important. Naturally everything I’d wanted to say felt important, because it would be about us and might lead to a kiss. At this point I didn’t give a fuck about full-on sex. I just wanted Love to want me to kiss him. It was such a simple desire, but so complicated to orchestrate.
I shifted in my seat, leaned on one elbow then the other, then sat back so he could see my crotch, all the while looking for a pose that might make the kiss happen. I knew one thing for sure: Madonna wasn’t going to get in the way. Luckily my vodka had begun to affect me, and my confidence expanded.
“Apparently Madonna thinks you’re hot shit,” I said.
“Stop it!” he said, softening.
“Love, Love, Love, Love,” I said. “You’re definitely as advertised.”
I paused. “No, you’re much more.”
“You’re full of compliments,” he said, clearly not minding. It was distracting talking to him, because he was so good to look at. I found myself trying to work out what exactly made his face so appealing, in the same way others have done with Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Was it the proportions? I stopped being pretentious and marked it down to pheromones.
“But don’t you think she’s got a great voice?” Love said.
“I think she sounds like a teenage pig.”
“That’s crazy,” he said. “Can I quote you on that?”
“I can’t imagine anybody ever being interested in anything I have to say, but go ahead.”
“Did you read that somewhere?”
“In a book,” I said.
“What was it called?”
“What page?” He seemed slightly irritated, but at least we were interacting.
“One thousand nine hundred and eighty-nine.”
“Nineteen eighty-nine,” he said, suppressing a smile. “That was almost funny. Was it a good book?” So he liked our conversation enough to go on talking.
“I’m still reading it. In fact I can’t put it down. I read it every day.”
“Is it easy to follow?”
“Mostly, although it can be unpredictable. Amazing characters turn up out of nowhere, and occasionally they’re too beautiful to be true.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Love, disarmed. “I’m reading one like that too. I don’t want it to end.”
“It’s okay with this one, because it’s actually a prequel. So there’s already another that follows.”
I watched his lovely Adam’s apple rise and fall on his stubbly neck as he drank his diet cola.
“Yeah, but sequels are never as good as the first one.”
“Ordinarily that’s true,” I said, having fun with the metaphor.
“But allegedly this one is great.”
Love leaned forward as though he was keenly interested in a serious debate.
“Really?” he said.
“Well, no, not really. Actually it’s a bit sad.”
“What a sweet thing to say.”
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