Part Six “Fine Clothes for Men”
Joey breathed in the world of San Francisco as he walked the rainbow streets of the Castro. He was sipping a hot cup of coffee he had bought from Andy’s and maintaining a leisurely stroll in the early evening. People and cars moved past like a living backdrop to his internalized thoughts. This was his first night in the city that he hadn’t wanted to die. He took a sip.
The quaint village-like neighborhood, the cold crisp air, and men hand-in-hand with other men was a tantalizing feeling. The very thing that made him strange and evil back home made him normal here. He took another sip of the bitter drink still unsure if he liked it.
The caffeine relaxed him, easing his anxieties, and allowed him to think. He pondered his situation. He was ‘loved’ because he was gay, or at least willing to ‘gay’ with Mike. He wasn’t attracted to Mike, though the sex felt good. Mike was into him, and it was creepy. He liked things about Joey that in Northbay would have been disgusting. Was this the love that he had so longed for? Was Mike going to be a twisted father to him?
Joey thought not. It was more like Mike had a need and Joey needed to be needed. It would soon cool down and Joey would need to figure out what to do next. He took another sip of his drink.
The cold air whipped his hair around as the crowd and cars moved past, and he found an odd comfort in the warmth of the Styrofoam cup and realized it was ever cooling too. It wasn’t going to last forever, the warmth would fade and the drink would be consumed, it was a moment to be had at best. Mike, and this whole world, was just like the coffee. What would he do when the cup was done?
Death was whispering in his ear, but Mike was right. He did feel better today than he did yesterday. There were truths that he wasn’t ready to deal with yet, things he’d rather die than face. He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to. Maybe he just needed time or strength to overcome them.
His dreams of graduating high school with his friends, going out to the lake, school dances, prom; kissing boys. His brain stopped him right there, it never would have worked even if he had stayed! He clenched up in anger, his yesterdays were black and burning, denied to him because he drank too much because he did something stupid and lost control.
This was his fault for not being strong enough. He began to fill with self-hate and tears, but as the tiny stings sparked in his eyes, he stopped. He tried to shove the memories aside, he wouldn’t cry about this anymore. Then, Mike’s words pulled him back. You work, you earn; no one can take that from you.
He took another sip of coffee. It was bitter, even with the copious amounts of cream and sugar he had put into it, but the caffeine was kicking in. His brain began to rev up.
He shuddered and paused his stride in the middle of the sidewalk no longer aware of the world around him. His thoughts jumped from his torrid memories to an unfolding life of unlikely potential and back again. Each joy smashed by past hate, then resurrected again, looping endlessly.
A loud car horn blared as Joey snapped from his deep red memories. A chubby man walked past with a tiny dog on a sequined leash and gave him a nod as if they knew each other. Then, a teen punk, with a tall blue Mohawk shoved by him, accidentally ripping the coffee from his hands. The punk said something that took a moment to process as he shrugged his arms in apathy and continued to wherever he was late to. None of the beverage had gotten on his clothes, but his drink was gone.
“C’est la vie”, Joey repeated.
Joey smiled at the world moving past him perfectly uncaring whether he was a victim or victor. His past was fucked up, he had some regrets, but it didn’t stop the cars in the street. He looked at his spilled cup, picked it up, and walked it to a public garbage can.
The address on Mike’s note ended up being a clothes shop on the lower Castro. It was a small affair tucked between two apartment buildings and had several hats in the window. Upon entering the shop, a thin man with pale skin and a bald head greeted him. The man was in his early fifties, clean-shaven, with his sleeves, rolled up, revealing exceptionally hairy arms. Joey asked for Baby and the man gave a warm smile.
“Oh, you must be the new boy,” the old man said in a sickly-sweet voice.
“Are you ‘Baby’?”.
“Yes, honey, yes I am,” Baby smiled.
Joey was confused as he had expected a woman and wasn’t used to effeminate men.
“Don’t worry little one, I’m not a client. No, no, old Baby’s not here to hawk or gawk at you. You’re here for fashion, not flavor—of course, the two aren’t dissimilar. You’re late, deary, did you take your time getting here?”
Joey nodded wide-eyed.
With equally wide eyes Baby leaned over and looked Joey in the face. Then with a bit of a skip, he trotted around the boy and told him not to move. A quick draw from his pocket and Baby whipped out a measuring tape. With agile old hands he put it to Joey’s crotch, and with a bump to the personals, stretched it to Joey’s feet.
“Hey!” Joey yelped in surprise.
“I need to know how long it is,” Baby smiled and stood back up, “The trouser leg of course.” He took a long hard glare at Joey and seemed to disapprove.
“What?” Joey said defensively.
“Mike is certainly in for trouble with you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Baby thinks you should be asking different questions. Like, why am I late, why am I a mess, and why, oh why am I even standing here in this nice man’s boutique!”, said the older man circling the boy.
“I don’t know.”
“Of course, you don’t, deary,” Baby said with a sigh and then as if to god, “They never do, why would they? You’re here for clothes, these rags just won’t do. They look like they came off the rack. Did they come off the rack, honey?”
“Oh, dear child. For a queen to wear from the rack, even one as young as you; it’s, it’s deplorable. Now listen, I have clothes, designer clothes, from all across the world. Mike says you need a new wardrobe and that’s what we are going to do for you, but we need a new look. Oh, yes, we need a new look for you. You’re a mess, you know that little one? You’re a complete and utter mess.”
“Hey, I paid good money for this jacket.”
“And he thinks it looks good! Oh, deary, he thinks it looks good!” Baby swooned, grabbed Joey, and walked him over to a large stand-up mirror, “Now, look at that outfit; what does it tell you about you?”
“That I’m cool, casual?”
“No, it says MTV and movies tell you who you are. You can’t live life being told what part to play, you have to go out and find the part that’s made for you. We aren’t like others, no, no, no. You and I, we are sisters; sister arteests. No more Macy’s for you! You don’t shop off the rack anymore!”
“How’d you know it was from Macy’s?”
“Oh my, we do have a ways to go,” Baby leaned over and pulled up firmly on Joey’s pants, “It’s gotta show honey, it has to show.”
Joey pulled his pants back down and replied, “It shows enough.”
“Honey, don’t you want the boys to look at you?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, most normal teenagers, even the straight ones, want to be adored. Honey, you have a fabulous smile and the most alluring eyes. Look at them; oh, beauty is wasted on the young! If I had those eyes, If only I had those eyes! Now, listen here, we’re going to put you all together. You have so much potential, and we just need to draw it out!”
“I think I can choose my own clothes, thank you very much,” clarified Joey.
“Now, now, it’s not like you didn’t waste sixty-five dollars or less on that get up to prove me right, but I do insist that even if you don’t like what I am saying; you must indulge your benefactor.”
“What does that mean, what’s a benefactor?”
“Honey, when a man offers to buy you let him spend.”
“Oh, that’s right, Mike is paying for this.”
“Mike has it bad for you. He has given me the roof.”
“A hundred dollars doesn’t seem like the roof,” Joey said as he pulled the check out.
“Baby thinks you need some glasses, you better look at that check again.”
Joey pulled it out and gulped at the number on it. Baby snatched the check and pointed out the thousand dollars written in the tiny box.
“Now, get down to your skivvies, Baby needs to know what you’re made of.”
“I don’t have any underpants,” Joey noted sadly.
“Oh, Deary, I’m an arteest, not a pedophile, we have some loaners,” said Baby as he walked to the back and came out opening a package of silk undergarments.
“Now remember; in the straight world, a girl goes about and searches high and low for a skirt that shows a little knee. Here we work a bit differently. You see, we aren’t trying to find a shirt that simply fits you, no, no, no. We’re trying to find things that show off what you have, a blouse, or trousers that says; ‘look at me, this is who I am. You won’t even need to tell them your favorite ice cream, when I am done with you, they’ll know everything. We are going to create a vision that says, ‘this is me; take it or leave it.’ And trust me, honey, when they see your curves they will definitely want to take it.”
“I want to look cool,” said Joey.
“Child, the last thing Baby’s going to do is make you look cool. Cool is for everybody else, but for a queen, we must turn it up. When I am done with you, you’re going to be so hot, you’ll burn fire.”
Joey gulped and began an hour-long process that Baby locked the door for. Baby didn’t follow the notion that clothes made the man, but rather that the clothes drew out what was hidden within. His process was the same for all the private clients and Joey was no exception. Once stripped down, with some loaner briefs, he started to build Joey up item by item. He tested fabric against skin and wanted to know how each felt.
Although crass, there was something kindly behind Baby’s sass. His eyes— his old eyes, filled with cataracts and hidden behind thick glasses—saw Joey as a canvas. There was a hidden potential that Baby believed he could draw out, and in the discovery create a masterwork.
As Joey reviewed his new look in the standing mirror, he could see the old man smiling, proud of what he had done. Joey toyed with the popped collar on his new white jacket and thought he looked a bit like one of the characters from a tv show called Miami Vice.
“Now, there are six shirts in there, and I will have a leather jacket for you in a week. You need to come back for that. Don’t wear that GI Joe coat, it’s embarrassing to all gays everywhere. Also, I have Denim trousers, oh, what are you kids calling them these days?”
“The pants, they’re supposed to be tight. When you get them don’t wear them low. Up, up, and away— you have to let them see what you have, honey. And don’t worry; size doesn’t matter when you have a cute face like yours. Oh, and yes, spandex is your friend. I have three pairs of it on order for you, and one of them is just the most fantastic breakaway. I will have your dance outfit ready then too, and I have the most fantastic theme in mind.”
“You like to dance don’t you?”
“I didn’t realize it needed a special outfit.”
Baby gave him a slightly confusing turn of his head and lowered his glasses. “You haven’t met the boys yet? Mike didn’t take you to mee them?”
Again, baby gave an unusual glare but made no statement.
“What am I supposed to do now?” asked Joey.
“If you have to ask an old queen what to do on a Friday night then you’re going to have to trade in your gay card.”
“I don’t have one,” Joey said with concern.
“Oh, deary. Go home and get dressed up, then show off your duds. Have a good time and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do; oh, but that does give you a lot to play with!”
“What is there to do around here?” asked Joey.
“You mean; who is there to do?”
Joey just looked pathetically confused and Baby gave a deep and heavy sigh before he continued.
“Well, there are a couple of shops out on Market, the kind of coffee houses that the beatnik crowd usually attends. Don’t wander off the Castro or you’ll come to a sad end. There’s a trail up on 16th, which leads to Corona Park, we call it Mount Olympus. It has a lovely view, but lots of hobos. Stay close to the rainbow flags and you’ll be fine. Find a party and develop a following. You must have an entourage, or no one will take you seriously. I can make you a fantastic illusion when you’re ready. Oh, it will be the finest dress money can buy.”
“I will never wear a dress.”
“Oh honey, you just haven’t found the right one yet,” Baby said with a bright smile.
Joey left the shop with an equally bright mood sticking to him. He had learned a few things today and he was pleased. He ran away to die, and in a sense he had. The kid he saw in the reflections wasn’t the same as he saw in the bus window on the way to the city.
He wasn’t the kind to smile, to be confident, or to wear outlandish colors, but the kid in the mirror was. He knew he needed one last thing to make his day perfect and headed straight to Andy’s to get another hit of caffeinated goodness.
As Joey moved into the distance Mike left the shadows of a nearby alleyway and rapped lightly on the door to ‘Fine clothes for men’. Baby answered and invited him in. Mike browsed about as Baby filled out a notebook with Joey’s information.
“No names,” said Mike.
“I never asked his name. You know I don’t touch the merchandise; these are just numbers for future orders.”
“I know Aaron, you’ve always been respectful of the family’s need for privacy.”
“Your father, now there was a man that knew how to dress,” Baby remembered as he set down his pen and closed his notebook.
“What did you think of him?”
“Your father?” Baby said with a grin and stood up and began to turn off the lights in the back of the shop.
Mike gave a direct and cutting glare.
“Are you sure about him? He seems a bit, how would you say; not like the others; naïve,” Baby said donning a fine coat.
“He looks like Diamond though, doesn’t he? You think a little bleach, a little of your razzle-dazzle.”
“Deary, looks are just the surface, scratch a little deeper before you rope this calf. Diamond hit me up for a bump before I could even speak. And Star, oh my, the child tried to sell me marijuana in front of the church. I think this little one’s a civilian as your father would say. You should finish your business with him and move on.”
“Don’t fall in love, he’s a waste of human life, just like the others. He is really fucked up, I think his dad or brother got in the cookie jar. He didn’t want to talk about it.”
“A normal child wouldn’t talk about it. I think he’s normal.”
“Well, if he wasn’t fucked up before, he will be now. We ain’t the best people to meet.”
“We?” asked Baby as he put away several hats from the window.
“You’re in as deep as me, and maybe you don’t ‘play’ anymore, but you used to, so don’t be pretentious,” said Mike.
“Condescending. You mean condescending. Baby’s never pretentious, but condescension is my native language,” he replied.
“He’s bat-shit crazy, Baby, I swear. He likes to drink, and he’s suicidal. He was dying when I met him, I saved him. I know we don’t like to rook the good kids, but he ain’t one. Besides, it will be just as easy as it was with Diamond,”
“Easy? I hope none of this is easy. I haven’t heard from him, have you? I know you liked him so,” asked Baby.
“Yeah, he’s fine, don’t worry about it. They are all fine, I’ll tell him you said ‘hi’ the next time he calls.”
The two men didn’t speak as Baby waited for more from Mike. The traffic walking by outside the shop bubbled like an urban creek. The quiet inside the shop soft and dull, ambient sounds absorbed by the materials, and yet echoing through them. A pause too long for baby to be settled by it, and he decided to move on.
“Mike, you have enough money you know. Sell the building, take Star and go somewhere,” Baby began and turned the sign on the door to ‘closed.
“Don’t start. I don’t intend to do this forever— just one more year and I’ll get out. As for Star, he’s worse than me. He’ll either buy me out, or turn me in, or both!”
“Oh, you Eye-talian men do love to take risks,” Baby said opening the door and holding it for Mike.
“You didn’t tell me what you thought of him,” asked Mike again.
“I did, and I like him. He deserves much better than you,” Baby smiled, shut the door, and locked it.
Joey is being undone and reborn one piece at a time. Baby sounds like he knows more than we do at this point. Is the tailor a friend or another predator? Diamond and Star? Sounds like some hippy names, but they were both into the drug scene, who are they, and will Joey be selling dope too? Will Joey escape before Mike’s plan is revealed? Is there a plan and would Joey even try to escape? All these answers and more in the next episode of Crybaby Queer: Under the pink sky.