[Excerpt from tape recordings made by Dean Seagrave in his car, as he hunts down his ex-boyfriend, Pablo Orega, in Los Angeles, on 24 June 1996.]
OK, I’M OUT OF HERE. OH, MAN. I THINK I BLEW IT. Let me get out of here. Fuck. I don’t think they’d dare call the cops though. I’m probably OK.
Hold on. Let me make sure I’m getting out of here. What the fuck street is this? Romaine? What’s this up here? It must be Highland. Fuck. OK, I’m running the light. Fuck it.
That wasn’t smart. But I guess I’m OK. Shit, I’ve still got a hard-on. I think I’m insane.
Man, I’m still shaken. I really thought it was him. That poor guy. I think I scared the fuck out of him.
So OK. So I go in the door and there’s a window. I have to show ID and all that, which is fucked. Because of course they’ve got my name now. But I really can’t see them calling the cops. They’ve already been hassled. I mean, these sex places are kind of controversial. Even though they’ve sprung up all over now. And gotten progressively bolder in their gay-rag ads. Instead of being the guilty secret they were a few years ago. Now they’re almost proudly proclaiming: Yes, we spread HIV through multi-partner cocksucking and unprotected buttfucking. Won’t you please join us on our fabulous death boat, the SS Jonestown. Special college boy discount rates. Just show us your uninfected buns and student ID.
Of course, if you say anything, if you point out that these places are mass-suicide parlors, they call you sex-negative. Which no self-respecting PC queer wants to be. And the health department, the liberal supervisors who are all taking fag money – nobody gives a shit or does anything. They’re probably thinking: Fuck, we give up. If those fags want to kill themselves, why should we try and stop them? You know what? They’ve got a point.
Anyway, I show the guy at the window my license. And I can see him noting the birth date, then checking me out, making this judgment call. That OK, I may be thirty-eight, but I don’t look that old. Or I won’t anyway under a twenty-watt red light bulb. Because it turns out that most of the guys inside are young. In their twenties. The new sex-positive nineties sero-conversion set.
So I got my card, all that, he buzzes me in. It’s very dark, of course. My geriatric eyes need time to adjust. So the first thing I notice is the music and the smell. The music is the US song, “One.” Which I really like, but it’s a strange kind of moody, grief-riddled, heavily Aids-coded song, which seems like a very bleak comment on this scene. Like this incredibly moving, re-humanizing, de-objectifying comment. But I get the feeling I’m the only one who’s taking it that way.
It’s this labyrinthine place. Guys wandering around through the plywood cubicles and corridors. Glory holes everywhere. Smell of piss and stale come. Some guy back in one urine-scented booth, hunched in the shadows, squatting on a toilet that doesn’t work. He’s emaciated, like he’s got maybe three T-cells left, and he sticks out his tongue. I don’t think he wants to blow me. I think he wants me to piss in his mouth. Last call.
Another guy, with a honey-blond beard, is kind of listlessly jerking off in a barred, jail-like cubicle. Like Vincent Van Gogh on crystal. So fried, he’s kind of talking to himself. Like muttering sex talk to himself. He worries me. Like I half-expect him to flash a straight-razor or something. Cut off his ear. Or his dick or something. He looks just like the Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life. Except the more fitting title is Lust for Death.
The whole place reminds me of the old Basic Plumbing. Which got to be so mean I quit going there way before Aids, just because of the attitudes, the evil, callous way guys treated each other. So I’m having all these flashbacks about things I haven’t seen or felt since 1981.
I mean, it’s crowded but nobody’s really doing that much. Just walking around, like bored rats in a maze. Like the bigger the selection, the pickier people get. So there’s this air of frustration. This sense of of judgment, of tense restraint. It doesn’t seem very warm-hearted. That’s the term that LA Weekly moron used in his PC propaganda piece a while back. “Unlike the sex clubs of yesteryear, the new sexual anarchy is warm-hearted – ” Something like that. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems about as joyful as Buchenwald.
I see one guy with a goatee, which makes me quake for a second. Till I notice the hair on his forearms, which Pablo doesn’t have. So I make the rounds a few times, feel a few looks of interest, which is cheaply reassuring. I finally see some action. Three or four guys around another guy, who’s down on his knees. But it feels disembodied for some reason. Like the first time I ever went to a bath house, in the early seventies. Even though there were other times, later, when the same scene, say at the beach, might have turned me on. Like I’d get a hard-on and join the crowd. But this doesn’t thrill me. It’s like looking at a porno photo that no longer turns you on.
Speaking of porno, that’s my next stop. The room that’s like a lounge with a TV monitor showing a tape. But I don’t stay there long. This tape’s completely insane. It’s like four or five guys in this intense frenetic scene. Like this rough sex scene where they’re yelling abuse. “Suck his cock, you cock-hungry pig.” But that’s not what bothers me. It’s the pitch the film’s maintaining. The frantic, borderline hysteria. Like some abject fiend on the edge of coming. Except it never stops. There’s just this sense of frantic violence that goes on and on. And the sound’s also fucked up for some reason, distorting. So you these garbled yells of: “Suck on it! Choke on it, you pig!” And it seems very clear that sex is not enough, that they don’t want to fuck, they want to fucking kill each other. So you’re starting to feel: Why don’t they just cut the shit and do it! Forget about their dicks, whip out a goddamn machete. Let’s see some fucking blood! That’s what you want!
So I have to get out of there. I feel like this tape is ridiculing me. Turning what I feel, what for me is very serious, into a cheap porn conceit. As if the culture, the gay consumerist culture, wants to defuse and neutralize me.
So I kind of stumble down the corridor, feeling panicked, even paranoid. Like everyone sees me as some floridly short-circuiting, pathetic loser who isn’t cold enough to function in this scene. Like I should be stuck in the dumpster out back like a broken, discarded replicant. So I duck into one of the cubicles, just to get away from all the eyes.
It’s like a stall with a door on a spring. So I hook the door and try to collect myself. And I can smell marijuana smoke in the air, which I’ve smelled since I came in and that reminds me of this joint I lifted at Reese’s. Guess I haven’t mentioned that until now. Not especially proud of it. But there was a box on the coffee table, filled with maybe two dozen joints. Didn’t think Reese would miss one. I thought it might help bring me down from the speed, when I needed to do that. I stuck it in my pocket a second before Stan came in.
Now feels like that time to bring myself down some, so I fire up the joint in the cubicle. And it’s odd. This other strange song starts to play. I mean, strange for the setting. That Frente! acoustic version of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” which is one of my two favourite New Order songs. I mean, it was weird the first time I heard the Frente! version, since Ive been singing that song to myself for years. My own acoustic version in the car, in the shower, idly walking around the house. I like the chorus especially [sings] where you get down on your knees and pray . . .
Which is maybe what I should be doing now. Praying. If I knew who to pray to or what, but I don’t anymore.
And so for a while I was gone. I mean, the dope was good, very good, and for a while I was lost in the sad lost world of that song. Like I could write a whole novel, a Proustian novel, about everything that went through my mind in those three minutes.
But then the son was over and there was nothing for a moment. And that’s when I heard these two guys talking in the next cubicle. Like having this conversation after sex. And I reel because this one guy is saying, “So my friend John goes: ‘I don’t know why you keep attracting these guys who always get obsessed with you.’ And I go, ‘John, it’s because I have a kind of sexual magnetism that I can’t turn off – ‘ “
So it’s him. It has to be him. It’s his voice, his phrasing, it’s him.
Except I’m buzzed now, from the dope, so how can I be sure my mind isn’t playing tricks? That’s when I notices the peephole. I turn down the light in my cubicle, and crouch down and look through the peep hole. Meanwhile the other guy’s talking, all very low-key, about his boring job as a claims adjuster or something. So I look through the peep hole and there they are on a small cot. I can’t see a lot at first in the weak yellow light. Their crotches mostly. They’ve taken their clothes off. You can see their limp dicks, their hands holding cigarettes, as they go on talking. But I’m sure it’s him.
“I’m working on this paper now. It’s really been exhausting me,” he says. Playing grad student on study break.
Then he reaches over to stub out his cigarette and I see his mustache and goatee. I see his Auschwitz buzz cut, as predicted. So I have no further doubt that it’s him.
The other guy gets up, pulls on his pants, says he has to take a leak.
Pablo says, “So you’re going back on Tuesday?” Like the guy’s from out of town. Like Pablo wants to spend some more time with him. So I know I have to act now, before the guy comes back and they leave together.
I don’t have time to think, or to savor the anticipation. Which is somewhat disappointing, that the moment is coming so fast. I take out the Glock, hold it under my T-shirt as I step out. I press the door to his cubicle. It’s unlatched. I enter, pulling out the gun. He jumps as I say, “Don’t make a fucking sound.”
That’s when I see all the hair on his chest and stomach and I know it’s not Pablo. I still don’t want to believe it though. I was so sure. I keep looking at his face, as though his body could be lying. Like he’s grown hair on his chest to fool me, to fuck with my head. Which is crazy, I know. But my mind really wants to be right.
Finally, I have to admit it though. It’s not his face either. This guy’s nose is too long, his cheeks too sunken. So I say, “Look, sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
So that’s when I leave. And then this strange thing happens. Except it’s not so strange, which is why I’m very concerned now. But as I step outside, into the bracing night air, I suddenly get an erection. Like for no apparent reason. Except I think at first it’s maybe some weird form of relief. Like I’ve been in this hellhole of death, this stinking, suffocating prison, and now I’m busting free, embracing the fresh night air and life or something. I don’t want to admit yet what’s really going on. It’s too horrendous.
But I’m admitting it now. Because I’ve still got a hard-on. It’s been a half hour now and it still hasn’t gone down. I can’t wait any longer. The stakes are too high. It’s the hemp that did it. My doctor warns you about that. It can cause this kind of side-effect. Smoking dope when you’re taking Desyrel. I thought about it at Reese’s when I lifted the joint. I guess I just didn’t believe it. Or maybe I was thinking, when I smoked in the sex club . . . Maybe I was thinking, if I’m really honest, that as foul as the place was, if I got a killer hard-on, I might just – who knows? – get all this sucked out of my system. But I’m in trouble now. I’m in deep shit, I can tell. It’s a different kind of hard-on. I mean, it’s a great hard-on. Like an extra-hard hard-on. But the problem is this. I’m not thinking about sex. And I can tell I could think about anything – Pat Boone, Rush Limbaugh naked, Nancy Reagan’s twat – and I would not lose this erection.
Which may sound funny. Or like a highly desirable state. Boy, you could fuck all night, ha ha. But here’s the thing. If I don’t do something now, this could permanently damage me. Make me permanently impotent. Which is really no joke at all. That’s why I’m closing in on Cedars [Sinai Hospital] right now.
* * *
OK, I’m back. It’s about eleven. A lot’s been going on. I’m moving, as you can tell. I feel OK now. Levelled out. Just did some more speed. I kind of had to. They hit me up with something at Cedar’s. Valium or something. They could tell I was tweaked. But right now I feel perfect. Wired out but not frantic. In control.
Which is good. I feel like this is it. I’m closing in. It’s going to happen. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.
So I go into Emergency. Which for starts is painfully bright. And I’ve got my T-shirt out and all that. But it’s not completely covering my crotch. So I’m very self-conscious. Like some teenage kid with a boner who has to share in front of class.
The waiting room’s not crowded, fortunately. Just this elderly Jewish couple. I kind of walk to the window half-turned away from them. The guy at the window turns out to be the problem. This icky young queen who reminds me of Calvin. Calvin pre-Aids. So he asks me what the problem is and I tell him I’ve got an erection.
He says, “We should all be so lucky.”
And I say, “No, look, this isn’t a joke. I’m taking Desyrel, this anti-depressant, and this is one of the side-effects. It gives you a permanent erection and if you don’t do something about it, it can physically damage your penis.”
I realize this old Jewish couple can hear me. And this queen is kind of smiling. And I’m starting to feel like no one’s going to believe me. Like no one here is going to know what I’m talking about.
“How long have you had it?” the guy asks.
“I don’t know. Forty-five minutes.”
“You mean, constantly?”
He’s looking at me like he thinks I’m a nut case. Or like if the Jewish couple weren’t there in the waiting room, he’d ask me to show him.
I say, “Look, this is serious. I need to see a doctor immediately.”
So he finally takes my Blue Cross card and all that. Then he says, “Why don’t you have a seat, Mr Seagrave? It’ll be a few minutes.”
So I say, “Look, man. You’re not getting it. I know this sounds silly or something, compared to gun shot victims and people having heart attacks. But it’s a very real thing! If I’m not treated, damage will result. I’ll be impotent, man! Don’t you get it? Maybe you don’t give a shit, but it’s my fucking life! I want to see a doctor and I want to see him now!”
So he goes and talks to someone, and this nurse comes and gets me. She leads me back into one of the examining places and I have to tell her all over again what’s going on. Then finally the doctor comes over, this young Jewish guy who I recognize immediately from a local news show. Like he’s this doctor who always does the medical reports. So I explain for a third time what’s going on and he wants to see. But this nurse is still there, and I know she’s a nurse, but I say, “Do you think she could step out? I’m shy, OK?”
So she does, and I show the doctor my boner, which is totally huge and dark red. I mean, the color freaks me out, it’s so dark, like all the blood in my dick is clotting or something.
And the doctor says: “Are you sure you weren’t just stimulated?”
And I almost say: No I was just at this truly vile sex club that if anything had the opposite effect. But I decide not to mention that, in case he’s homophobic or something. But I’m already getting terrified, since I can tell that he doesn’t know anything about this. He’s got this expression like he’s thinking: This is a puzzler.
I say, “Look, I knew this could happen. If you smoke marijuana. My doctor gave me that warning. I just didn’t take it that seriously. But I know there are drugs you can give me that will counteract the effect.”
I didn’t want to say anything more. Because I knew, I remembered this conversation with my doctor that seemed like a joke at the time, that if the drugs didn’t work they had to a surgery. Cut the blood vessels or something. Which will also result in permanent impotence. That’s part of why I don’t want this guy to know I’m gay. He might say, “Sorry, Bud. Only one way to deal with this.”
But this guy just looks baffled. Then he goes and uses the phone. Which seems to take forever. Getting through to some other doctor. I can see him from the examining room. At one point he laughs into the phone. And I’m thinking: Man, chat it up some other time, dude. This is fucking serious, you asshole!
Finally he comes and gives me a shot of something. As he does it, he says, “If this doesn’t work, we may have to perform surgery. Which could leave you impotent.”
I say, “Oh, man. My girlfriend will shit.”
Not taking any chances, since I’m kind of at his mercy.
Then he says, “Your pupils are dilated. What else have you taken tonight?”
So I tell him I did a couple of lines of crank, since I was working on a project. That’s when he calls for the Valium shot.
Then it’s like this waiting game. This big suspense scene. Like if it’s going to work, it should work within minutes. So the doctor’s there and so is the nurse. And other people are kind of watching from further back. Like everyone in the ER know what’s going on.
I’m just sitting on the table at this point. My pants are up, my shirt’s covering my crotch, so everybody’s watching my face, like I’m supposed to tell them if there’s any change.
I’m really thinking if this doesn’t work, I’m going to kill myself. Since I can’t see living if I can’t fuck.
The tension gets unbelievable. Not that I care a lot, since I’m kind of peaking on Valium. But on another level, I still know what’s at stake. The doctor keeps looking at his watch. I half expect him to say at any moment, “We tried. Call surgery.”
But finally, I say, “OK, I feel something. It’s going down. Yeah, it is.”
The doctor wants to see it again, so I make him draw the curtain. Like I don’t need an audience watching me lose my erection.
And it’s OK. It’s going down. Way down. Until my dick’s so shriveled up it looks like it was dipped in ice water. At which point I get panicked. I say, “Look, this isn’t permanent – “
He says, “No, no. You’ll be fine in a day or two. But you should definitely avoid re-stimulation.”
Re-stimulation? Like he still thinks I was probably fucking.
Anyway, that was it. They wanted me to stay there and rest for an hour or so, just to be sure. They didn’t try to have me admitted, like I thought they might. But I left after about forty minutes, because I suddenly realized where Pablo will be tonight, it suddenly hit me. I’m almost certain I’m right this time. And it’s been a long day. I just want to find him and kill him and get it over with, so I can go somewhere and get a good night’s sleep.
James Robert Baker (1946-1997) was an American author of sharply satirical, predominantly gay-themed transgressional fiction. A novelist and short story writer, Baker’s work has achieved cult status in the years since his death.