Several weeks after I start working at Armani, some of the Milan-based executives come to New York to check on the progress of the U.S. empire. They are busy in daily meetings with Martina, in photo sessions, and with the press, and I am at their beck and call. I order cars and limousines for them, fetch their lunch, make reservations, and pick up tickets for Broadway shows. They are staying at the Carlyle Hotel, and some of them want videos of foreign filmsJacques Tati, Luis Buñuel, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, and Jean Cocteauas well as gay porn. I am sent in search of the newest releases, with titles like Sizing Up and Like a Horse, or anything else of my choosing. I don't question any of the requests, just take the cash and do the errands, never return the change, and always forget the receipts. I am sent on all kinds of what I call "homo missions": picking up macho military clothing at Kaufman's Army & Navy Store on 42nd Street, camouflage shorts and nylon vests and all kinds of undergear, jocks, bikinis, and thongs at stores on Christopher Street. This logically proceeds to being asked to track down and assemble "young men." One of the executives is interested in meeting a model we had used on a recent shoot, and I'm asked to arrange it with his agency. I am naïve, but I know this isn't a legitimate go-see. One of the executives asks me if I will find other "types" of models for them, and I take this to mean nonlegit typesescorts and hustlers. I find these guys in all different places, mostly through advertisements in the New York Native and in the theaters. I meet Scott, a tall, well-built, muscular guy with short black hair and green eyes, at the Gaiety Theater in Times Square, after his performance. He's impressive.
Handsome, with a great jawline and a hard body. They'll like him. I tell him that there are a couple of business executives in town looking for escorts after his last show at 10:30 p.m. and that they'll pay him $200 an hour. I also tell him they have tons of money and plenty of time. It sounds good to him. I give him one of the executives' names and the address and phone number of his room at the hotel. He thanks me. I can barely imagine what's going on at 76th and Madison, but it is very busy, and the reports are never too alarming. Nothing wilder than a lot of exhibitionism, posing, and jerking off. I make arrangements to pay these boys between $200 and $500 each; sometimes they head up there a few at a time (as many as nine or ten for orgies). Most of them want to be models or actors, some lawyers and doctors, but settle for being escorts, strippers, or the most coveted positionporn stars. These boys of the adult-film business, hard to find in New York, command higher fees. One of the best known is Brent Cummings, a huge blond bisexual with enormous shoulders and a powerful chest and arms, who is handsome in a dim-witted sort of way. Brent is twenty-five and brand-new to the big city. He performs at the Follies, a triple-X all-male theater on Seventh Avenue that features live shows and adult male films. He becomes a favorite of the Armani group.
Soon I become friendly with these working boys. Most of our contact is on the phone, but sometimes we'll meet for a drink just to talk. Jason is a twenty-three-year-old med student at NYU, strong-looking and healthy, with blond hair, bright blue eyes, and a great smile. Once as we're standing outside the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel a middle-aged man dressed in a beautifully tailored suit approaches us and asks if we'd like to join him for drinks in the bar. Jason nods at me. "Sure, we'd love to," he says, and we follow the man into the smoky bar. We find a table, and he introduces himself as Henry Alton. He shakes Jason's hand and then mine. "Andy," I say. When the waiter comes, Henry orders three shots of Jack Daniel's for the group. He leans back and takes a deep breath. "So, boys, tell me a little about your lives in New York, won't you?" Jason tells him he's a medical student, and I tell him I work for a well-known fashion house. He seems equally impressed by both, which I find amusing. The waiter returns with our shots, and at the count of three we down the awful-tasting whiskey. "It's good medicine," says Henry. "I'll get us another." He signals the waiter. "Now tell us a little about yourself," Jason says. "I'm just a real estate investor from St. Louis and I get to New York as often as I can to enjoy the finer things: the museums, the theaters, the restaurants, the shopping, and the men." "Yeah, there's some good shopping here," Jason says. I try to hold back my laughter. We all drink our second shot of whiskey. "Boys, would you be interested in coming back to my hotel room at the Waldorf for a little romp?" he asks. "The both of us?" I ask. He nods. "$350 for two hours, plus a tip," he says. "I think that's a bit low. How about $500?" asks Jason. Henry excuses himself to go to the bathroom. We order another round of drinks and are really getting drunk. It seems like the bar is closing, and Henry hasn't come back yet. "I have a strong feeling that Henry isn't coming back," says Jason; "I don't think he liked that we turned down his offer." The waiter comes to the table and hands us the check. It's for $85.
Around the beginning of December, a strange combination of extreme anxiety and depression takes over me. My moods are unpredictable from day to day. Sometimes I feel fantastic for weeks, then I take a dive. Allison urges me to get professional help, and I start seeing Dr. Myron Levitt, a psychiatrist on the Upper East Side. He has paternal qualities that I likehe's gentle and caringbut he speaks in a monotone that practically hypnotizes me. I am under extreme stress, because of the failure of the film project and my financial situation. I have tremendous amounts of energy, which I don't know how to channel or control. I create compulsive lists of errands, possible job leads, people to call, things to buy, and doctor's appointments. I get nothing done. There is too much swirling around in my headI can't contain it all in my brain.
As usual, I'm early for my 9:00 a.m. appointment with Dr. Levitt, so I stop to pick up a bagel and chocolate milk at the corner deli. I'm sitting in his waiting room staring at a horrifying piece of art hanging on the walla black-and-white abstract image that looks like an anorexic's severed arms, folded. The print is slipping down into the mat. I want to mention it to him, but I keep it to myself. The waiting room is furnished with "contemporary" pieces from the seventies: a brown knotty couch, a chrome arched lamp, glass-and-chrome end tables, and two wooden chairs with cushions. Nothing matches. I'm not comfortable here. It isn't clean enough for me. I have to work out my issues in a clean environment. I don't understand what's causing how I feel every day I wake up, whether it's anxiety or depression, and I feel like they need to operate on me. I don't want to open myself up and get infected by his psychoanalysis in this shabby office and die on his fake Oriental rug. I'd prefer to be lying naked, covered by just a sheet, on a steel table in a big white room with a white ceramic floor and bright lights, talking to my psychiatrist. The door to his office opens. "Come in," says Dr. Levitt. I sit in my assigned seat, the tan leather-and-chrome couch, in my customary positionmy legs spread-eagle, leaning backward. I'm still drinking my chocolate milk. Dr. Levitt sits about five feet away from me, notebook in hand. He smiles, remains silent, and looks at me to begin the session. It's a contest between psychiatrist and patient. I stare blankly at him, but after about thirty seconds I start laughing. Patient loses. Dr. Levitt doesn't laugh. He doesn't laugh because he doesn't know what's so funny and because he has no sense of humor. There is another silence. To ease the tension, I give in quickly and tell him that I have nothing new to talk about and that I'm just as anxious and depressed as I was the week before. His therapy obviously isn't working. Or I'm not working at my therapy. As I speak, he looks down at his pad, takes notes, and mumbles, which annoys me because I'm not sure that he's really listening or that what he's writing on that pad is even about me. Then he looks up, leans forward, and asks me, "Andy, how do you feel today?" I pull my legs together, sit up straight, clasp my hands, and think about this one. I'm insulted because he knows the answer, but I give him a response anyway. "Like the fucking pressure in my head is building up and is going to explode any minute," I tell him. He presses me further. "And what exactly does that feel like?" he asks. I refuse to answer and slump back into my original spread-eagle position. He takes a sip of his coffee and waits for my response. This session is never going to end. He attempts to bring our focus back to the issues we've been discussing over the last few weeks. "Is your relationship with Allison in any way like your relationship with your mother or sister?" he asks me. "Sometimes," I say. "But I don't feel like talking about that now." He wants me to update him on my financial problems and career plans. But to me this is missing the point; I'm not seeing him to problem-solve. I'm suffering and I'm withholding information and am not very open about the derailment that is really going on in my daily life. I've lost my golden-boy self-image, and I'm not about to admit it with this simpleton. And more important, I'm not able to articulate the intensity of what's going on inside my brain anyway. So I just sit on the tan couch staring at the ugly brown and blue rug hoping he will magically help me understand the pressure I'm feeling. I take a tissue from the table in front of me and pretend to blow my nose; I try to throw it in the garbage can but miss, so I have to go pick it up. I look at my watch. "You have more time," Dr. Levitt says. The next thing I know he's talking to me about narcissistic personality disorder. "Can we save that for next week?" I ask him. "Fine, it's your time," he responds in an easy manner, which makes me feel rather guilty. I stand up and walk out of his office, passing by his next patient, a frightened-looking girl in her midtwenties, and a woman I take to be her mother, anxiously awaiting their appointment.
The third week in December, Brent Cummings is appearing at the Follies, and he wants me to come see him there. I stand at the top of the steps leading down to the entrance and, as usual when I'm at a porn show, I look around nervously before I descend. I take one step down. It's like I'm putting my foot into an icy-cold swimming pool. It's too late to stopanybody might be watching. Like friends of my parents or an old high school English teacher going to see a Broadway show. The walls going down the steps are covered with photographs of bare-chested boys and men, and I wonder if they're the same guys inside getting ready to go onstage. Sitting in the ticket booth is a man I can barely make out but who looks like Mr. Wizard from my chemistry set. Superimposed on the glass over his forehead is a sign that reads Admission $6. I smile and give him my most masculine "Hey."
"You here for an audition?" he asks. "Yeah," I respond without the slightest hesitation. He signals me to walk through the turnstile. I am in a dark vestibule.
"What's your name?" he asks.
"Eric. Eric Colter," I say. Not a bit of thought. Where did that name come from? He shakes my hand and I smile. His name is Jerry. My name is Eric. Inside the dark theater I can see about fifteen men bathed in light from the screen on which two skinny young blond kids are in a sixty-nine position. There's no way either could be older than sixteen. This is not a turn-on for me. I'm a little nervous now, a bit afraid. Something about this place repulses me. It's musty and smoky and not very clean. Jerry asks me if I've danced before, and I tell him that I have, just not in New York. San Francisco. And Montreal. He calls over a well-built young guy and introduces him to me as Justin. Justin is an all-American hunk. Tall, broad-shouldered, dark complexion, bright green eyes, not quite good-looking enough to be a model, and he's just wearing a towel wrapped around his waist.
"My real name is Joe, but they like Justin better. It sounds more porn-star-like," he says. This leads me to believe Jerry's name might not be Jerry either. But what does Jerry have to hide? Justin is posing in front of a mirror. It's funny I chose a first and last name. Almost as if I intend to have a serious career in porn. Justin tells me he's from West Virginia. He leads me back to the locker room, a dingy gray-painted space with exposed wires, bad overhead lighting, and a few benches. He sits down on a bench, his abs not moving an inch.
"Have you ever done this before?" he asks.
"Does it look like I haven't?" I say. I take off my sweater. I'm just wearing a T-shirt underneath. Justin kind of looks me over.
"There are six shows each day. The lineup switches every Monday. It's a much better place to work than the Gaiety. The clientele is more upscale and has a lot more cash to burn." He starts oiling up his chest and arms. "Better tips and better private shows," he explains.
I'm not sure what Justin's talking about. He tells me it's really easy. "They announce your name, put on some music, you walk onstage fully dressed and then strip down to your underwear or jock, dance around the audience a little, and then come offstage and get a hard-on." He makes it sound like such a normal thing to do. "Then the music starts up again and you go back and work the crowd. Guys in the audience will fondle you and tip you and put dollar bills in your socks. You've got to work the crowd to get the privates. At the end there's a grand finale, and all seven guys come out hard for the audience. Kind of like a chorus line. There's always lots of applause."
"Sounds easy enough. $10 a show plus tips and privates," I say. "And you can really get up to $50 for a private on the premises?" I ask.
"Yeah, a jerk-off thing. There's a narrow hallway in the back for that. Or you can do something outside for whatever you can negotiate," he tells me.
"I like to negotiate."
Justin tells me there's a star of the show, a guy named Brent Cummings, who has just appeared in a new porn film. I pretend I don't know him.
"And he's bi, too. Are you bi?" he asks.
"I guess so," I say.
"Well, are you into pussy?"
"Yeah, totally. I've got a girlfriend uptown," I tell him.
"You should bring her down here one night. Maybe we could all bang her." He throws his head back and laughs.
The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and the rest of the guys are coming into the locker room, most of them eating their dinner. Something is making me nauseous. Maybe it's the sight of those two skanky teenagers outside on the screen combined with the smell of fried chicken in the locker room. Those boys could never dance at a place like thisthey'd be heckled and booed. In walks the star of the show, Brent Cummings. He's a strapping Adonis with a handshake like none I've ever felt. (The only person I've met with a handshake that even comes close is Bill Clinton, as I discovered years later when I met him at a fund-raiser.)
"So, you came down to see me? Gonna audition tonight?" Brent asks me. He speaks in a dull monotone voice like Dr. Levitt and seems bored with having to perform tonight. Jerry pops his head in and tells me I go on last, which gives me a chance to watch the show from backstage and get a feel for it. Brent is fixing his streaked-blond hair in the broken mirror on the wall. He's wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I watch the whole group of guys do their routine before Brent is announced. I'm fascinated by what they'll do onstagehow far they'll go and what they think turns the audience on. Some of them will satisfy a customer's ass fetish by bending over and touching their toes; others will thrust their cocks right into a customer's mouth for a few dollar bills. Others will even jack off the customer, right there in the audience, if he is willing. There are no boundaries in the basement of the Follies.
Brent takes the stage, and the audience cheers. The theater is filled with his fans. They've all seen his movies: the one where he fucks a cheerleader on a bench press and the one where three guys on a diving board take turns sucking his cock. He struts his stuff awkwardly, with a kind of Vegas-style stride, taking off his shirt first and then stepping out of his jeans to reveal a pair of white briefs. He turns his back to the audience, spreads his legs, and pulls his briefs down a bit in the back, revealing a tan line. Then he turns around and shows a little bit of blond pubic hair. He really doesn't dance, he just touches himself and tugs at himself a little. But it doesn't matter. He grabs his cock and makes a mock grimace, to the audience's delight. I can do that. He comes backstage and gets undressed, his cock already hard. He oils up his chest and his thighs and asks me to do his back, butt, and legs. He strides back onstage and the audience claps and whistles. He stands with his back to them, then turns around, covering his cock with his hands. From where I'm standing, I see the red spotlights bounce off his chest. He walks into the audience and pulls his hands away, and guys from both sides of the aisle start grabbing for his cock and his ass as he moves from shadow to shadow to collect tips, all the time stroking his big dick. This is going to be a hard act to follow.
The announcer introduces the final act: Eric Colter. I have no connection to the name. I do kind of a silly jog out onto the stage. The lights are practically blinding me, and I can't see the crowd. I'm wondering how many people in the audience recognize me. I dance to the musicMadonna's "Like a Virgin"the best I can. I must look like an idiot. I take off my shirt, then my jeans. This is the first time I've stripped except when I've done it alone in my studio in front of the mirror. It feels like a visit to the doctor. The air is cold from the air-conditioning, and it's smoky. Bad combination. Freezing smoke. Offstage. Dip three fingers into the communal lube. Start stroking my cock. Thinking about Allison's tits and Brent fucking her from behind, and all of a sudden I realize I have a huge hard-on. Easy. Next song. Madonna again. "Lucky Star." Clapping from the audience when I get back onstage. I'm walking around bare-assed in a basement in Times Square. Men are shoving dollar bills into my socks. I feel totally nakedI am totally nakedbut pretend I'm just in the locker room at my gym and it's over pretty quickly. Now it's time for the grand finale. Backstage Brent and I stroke each other's cocks until they're fully hard and we're ready. He doesn't look at me or say anything. We all walk out togetherseven guys with hard-onsdancing poorly to the music on the bad sound system. We collect some more tips, get dressed, then mingle with the customers. A sweet-looking Chinese man offers me $50 to go in the back hallway and jerk me off. He smiles at me and flashes two gold teeth and some cash. I'm feeling totally pathetic for being in this darkened room. I pull my jeans down, and he starts jerking me off. I just want it to be over with quickly. He whispers words that I can't understand. I can just pick up "good."
It takes about five minutes for me to come. Justin is walking out with two men, taking them back to his hotel room. Brent is already starting with a second customer. Slow night for privates. Jerry tells me I was fantastic and we'll talk after the next show about working me into the schedule. Brent and I go back to his room at the Fulton Hotel on West 46th Street. He tells me that I can borrow his room if I need to use it for a customer. It's $50 a night, and sparse. Bed, dresser, TV, ceiling fan. He's got the bathroom neatly organized: baby oil, hair gel, shaving cream. He tells me I can hang out with him until the last show. He's going to take a shower. I see him take off his shirt and jeans. I'm watching the news. He walks out of the shower dripping and dries himself off in front of me. I'm starstruck. And jealous. I want people to love me the way they love and admire him. He flexes his thighs for me and laughs. Says he's going to add it to his routine. Turns around and tightens his smooth butt.
Excerpted from Electro-Boy by Andy Behrman. Copyright © 2002 by Andy Behrman. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.