he man next door to us might possibly be El Cerrito’s oldest living homosexual. I wasn’t sure if he was a homo when we first moved in but I found out he was when I was checking the mail, out by the roses. They’re on the dividing line, between our driveways, and he was tending them.
“Hello, neighbor,” he said and winked.
We had a little getting-to-know-you conversation, he’s really chatty and he told me his name’s Ted. Ted asked me what I did and I told him that I’d just graduated from school and that I hate my job, I’m an assistant to an economist at Cal and I hate economics. It’s dry.
“And your roommate,” went Ted, “what’s she into?”
“The girl I live with, Charlie, isn’t my roommate,” I explained. She’s my girlfriend. We’re lesbians.” I waited for Ted’s reaction. There was none.
“Hmmm,” he mused. “The gays. They do have a big problem with AIDS nowadays, don’t they? It’s ‘cause they like to butt fuck.” Ted put added emphasis on butt fuck. “Myself,” he continued, “I don’t care much for it.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Mm-hmm,” he purred. “Too painful. I prefer sucking cock.”
That exchange began me and Ted’s friendship. Right now, I have a dearth of friends. It’s cause after graduating, a lot of mine moved away. They went to D.C., New York. LA. I have my girl, Charlie, and a few people who’re leftover, but it’s not like it was.
Some of the people in the Econ department are cool, they have “friend potential,” and I also have a part-time job, as an editorial assistant at a lesbo porn mag in the city. I’d thought I’d make friends with all the dykes there but I haven’t. First off, most of them are San Francisco scenesters. Second, I’m like one of the only non-white chicks in the office. There’s me, I’m Mexican, and then there’s a Filipina, Kathy, who works up in graphic design. Even though I was raised around them, I sometimes feel really out of context when I’m surrounded by nothing but whiteys.
Anyways, I visit Ted’s a lot. He’s a good storyteller and a good poet. He reads me his poems; he writes lots of them about trains cause they’re his favorite things. He originally hailed from Compton, he rode the streetcars down there when they used to have them and he also remembers what the town was like back when it was all white.
Lately, I’ve been getting these sharp pains in my lower back and when I go to Ted’s, he’s very maternal. He gets out his heating pad, lays it on the couch, and plugs it in. “Go ahead,” he tells me and gestures for me to lie down.
I do and ply him with questions, hoping he’ll tell me some lascivious stuff about picking up guys. I love to hear about fag sex. Especially when it’s raw, dirty, and done out in public places. Lucky for me, Ted’s very open about his sexual history and his current sex life and I’ve learned so much from him. He’s been “tricking” (as he says it) forever and it started when he sang in a boys’ choir in LA.
Ted’s not a modern gay at all. He’s not all loud and proud and queer like me. He’s subtle about it, that’s cause he’s from a generation when you had to be, and when he shares with me what it was like to be a homo back then, I feel like I’m listening to an elder passing on lore. He’s a sage and I’m his miserable disciple.
I say I’m miserable cause I’ve got OCD. I’m too lazy to go to a therapist and when my disease gets the better of me, it makes me depressed. Ted comes in handy then. He’s always good for a pick-me-up. He’ll regale me with monologues about cruising rest stops, stressing that the first step in a pick-up is eye contact. Till Ted, I’d always taken eye contact with girls for granted. We do it naturally, all the time, even in bathrooms. They’re friendly, convivial places for us but for guys, I guess they’re not at all. Ted also told me that to really show a guy he wants him, he jangles his keys or squeezes his balls.
“Ew,” my best friend Stan said when I told him about Ted’s ball squeezing. “Squeezing your balls. Who squeezes their balls?”
Stan was just being rhetorical but I answered, “Ted.”
It’s nuts how active Ted’s sex life is and he hits on Stan whenever he visits me. One time, he was cleaning his van and he saw us coming up the driveway and Ted did a weird little move to try to show off for my friend, a little pirouette or something, and Ted said, “Not the gait of a seventy-nine year old man, is it?” I’m sure he’s older than that.
Ted’s had some bad moments. He had this one trick he really liked cause his chest was so hairy but the guy turned out to want to be treated like a big baby. Ted’s not into big babies, infantilism, and the man wanted to be held and rocked and to call Ted “Momma.”
“He had such lovely chest hair,” Ted mused, “and oh how I loved tweaking his hard nipples but I couldn’t bring myself to diaper him.”
Another time, Ted got robbed. He picked up this guy at a roadside turnoff, a big fella; he claimed he was a Marine or some type of serviceman. Ted brought him back to his duplex and went to the bathroom, left the trick out in the living room. When he came back out, dude was trying to take his stereo. They got into a scuffle and Ted was clocked in the head and blacked out. When he woke up, the stereo, his wallet, and the hustler were gone.
Two months ago, Ted really upset me. I forgave him for it, though. I’d been crying all afternoon cause my brain wouldn’t quit looping and I went over to Ted’s cause Charlie wasn’t home. I rapped on the door and he yelled, “Just a moment! I’m nude!”
Ted finally opened the door wearing a bathrobe and slippers. “Come in, come in,” he said, smoothing his hair. It’s stark white, thin and he doesn’t really even need to comb it. However, Ted’s goatee is very full and he keeps it nicely trimmed and he’s got fleshy lips for an old man. He wears glasses too, thick horn rimmed ones he hasn’t updated since 1962 and when he’d told me about that trick robbing him, I’d wondered if they’d gotten knocked off in the struggle.
“Vera, I’m so happy to see you,” he said as he ushered me in.
I said, “Me, too.” I’d washed my face and put Visine in my eyes to get rid of the redness. Ted couldn’t tell I’d been crying. Or maybe, he could.
“I’ve just written a poem,” he said, “and I want you to listen.”
“Alright,” I agreed.
Ted went and yanked a piece of paper from his typewriter on the dining room table. He brought it back to the living room and sat in an armchair, gave a reading, his bare legs crossed like a lady’s. Ted’s poem was about a teenage mother riding a train during the Depression and I asked him if the poem was about a lady he saw on a train when he was young. Ted said yes.
We got to talking about women and babies, how I don’t want to have one but that if we do someday, Charlie will carry it. Ted told me about his mom, whom he referred to as “Mother,” and he also told me about his sister, whom he referred to as “Sister.” He explained Mother was dead and added, “Sister and I don’t speak much.”
“Why?” I asked.
“She’s uncomfortable about something that happened when we were very young. I must’ve been about twelve and Sister was ten. We were playing house. She was the wife. Of course, I was the husband. She was on the floor and I entered her. I entered Sister with my penis.” My stomach churned. “She’s never forgiven me for that.”
I felt like worms were crawling on me and Ted wanted me to hear another poem but I made an excuse to leave. When Charlie came home that night, I told her about what Ted had told me and we had a long talk about it, about what it meant. I asked Charlie if it’d be mean if I stopped talking to Ted for a while and she said no and I went ahead and gave him the silent treatment, had to cause whenever I saw him or thought of him I thought of “I entered Sister with my penis.”
It took about thirty Ted-less days for me to feel better and then, I realized, I really missed the guy. I saw him a few afternoons ago among the roses, pruning, wearing his faded gardening gloves. I thought, “Fuck it. Who cares if he’s a molester. He’s my friend.”
“Hi, Ted!” I announced. I walked to the mailbox, opened it.
Ted’s face instantly perked up and he beamed and said, “Hello there, Vera!” I lingered near the bushes, clutching some junk mail, talking to him for like twenty minutes, catching up, and Ted mentioned, “I’ve been working on a trilogy of poems. For your birthday, my dear. I know it’s coming soon. The big two-two.”
I entreated, “I’d like to hear them.”
“Well, I can’t read them to you yet, you little bitch,” he said, teasing. “That’d be spoiling the surprise!”
“That isn’t always such a bad thing,” I said and gave Ted a little smile.