“You’re not a cop, right?” Mike was skeptical of me. When I was 17 I wore my hair short; I presented myself with a stern, borderline aggressive attitude that seems present in many officers, though I can think of none who are 17.
“No … no. Not a cop.” I laughed at the idea of it. At the time I thought of joining the military, but police work seemed far removed from anything I wanted involvement in.
“I’m only asking because a friend in Florida got caught shooting an underage kid.” I hated when Mike said the word “shoot”. I disliked it when he used it in his email to me on Myspace, “Hey! I was just looking through your page and you are a very good looking guy! I’d really like to shoot you! When are you free?” The word, phrased like that, sent me so far off my center that I decided to carry a knife with me to the shoot; it was the first time I had ever carried a weapon with me.
“Ok, leave your car here. I’ll drive there.” We met in a strip mall ShopRite parking lot, my idea. If anything about Mike was weird to me I could cut loose and get lost in one of the stores or make my way back up north.
“Where’re we going?” The creepy needle was starting to bounce.
“A park nearby. You can drive if you want, but there’s usually limited parking. People fish in the lake.”
“Ok.” I got into his SUV up a dirt road that led to a small parking lot; he was right, there was only one spot open. Looking down beyond the tree line, I could see a lake with small boats dotting the water, lines cast out as fishermen sat thinking or sleeping as the day began to end.
Mike led us down into the trees and began snapping shots. I had no idea what to do, how to act. I was stiff, I looked nervous. Shit, I was. I sat on some broken branches, stood with a hand in my pocket, and made other artificial poses while he told me how good I was doing with one eye closed and the other working the lens. I knew I wasn’t, but whatever.
We shot a few more times before Mike took me into NYC to meet with a business partner of his: Yarvis. Yarvis was partial owner of a model agency down town; we met up with him as he was walking across the street. He got into the backseat of the SUV and immediately glowed at me.
“Turn around so Yarvis can see you.”
“Oh my god, Mike, he’s beautiful.”
“I TOLD you. Didn’t I tell you?” Mike smiled at me. I didn’t smile back; found the entire exchange weird. Didn’t have my knife this time; I was cast far out from center and feeling like a worm on the hook of any one of those boat lines from the lake.
“I want to show him to Andrew. Can you drive us to my place?” More people ogle me. Yay.
Yarvis had a very animated phone call with Andrew; his partner in business and pleasure.
“Yes. YES. He’s beautiful. Oh god, Andrew, you have to see him. I’m bringing him to you right now. You’re going to love this kid. We’re on our way now.”
We made our way up a few flights of stairs and into Yarvis’ and Andrew’s apartment. Andrew sat at their kitchen table as we entered and I was introduced. Andrew seemed less than satisfied with my looks.
“I don’t know.” He said to Yarvis.
“Can we have a minute?” He looked to Mike and me before getting out of his seat and taking Yarvis to a room down the hall.
“They really like you!” Mike was certain this was going well. I wasn’t so persuaded. I liked Andrew more than Yarvis; I liked that he was up front with his disappointment in my appearance. Don’t worry, Andrew, I don’t see it either.
They came out of the room, Yarvis was smiling.
“I want you to come to this address tomorrow morning at 9. Shit. Wait. You’re still in school, right? Ugh. Just quit!” He half joked. “Can you come on Saturday? 9 AM?” Yarvis handed me a large piece of plastic:
You Wish You Knew.
Under was the address: 1499 Lafayette St. The large plastic was actually 3 different layers of transparent plastic: one was just the sun, the next the sea and a guy laying out, the next the elitist text.
“Sure. I can be there for 9 on Saturday.” I said as little as possible. Andrew sat back at the table straight faced. Yarvis beamed. Mike contained some of it. I looked mostly like Andrew.
– – – – –
A few nights before I was scheduled to go to F@, Mike called me.
“I have somebody who wants to meet you. I’m coming up north to pick you up. You HAVE to come. I won’t tell you who it is, I don’t want to scare you. I’m coming now.” His voice was energetic, optimistic. The conversation was so cryptic I barely got a word in, I had no idea what was going on. Mike made his way to me, I got into his SUV, and before I knew it he was pointing at a large building in New York.
“That building. 5th floor. The door’s open. Just go in and meet with him. I’ll wait here.” Though the skeptic in me never really trusted Mike, I was nervous without him by my side. I had no idea what was up the 5 flights of steps; no clue who I was meeting, what they looked like, nothing. I wish I knew.
There was piano music coming from the opened door when I reached the floor. When I walked inside to the kitchen, an Asian woman dressed head to toe in black stared confusedly at me. She was talking to another woman who turned to me, gave a quick glance, and immediately resumed conversation with the woman. Men about my age walked around shirtless with hor d’oeuvres; they all looked at me as Andrew had in his apartment, how I looked at myself.
One of the servers came up to me, “Baked brie, sir?”
“No thank you. I’m supposed to be meeting somebody here …”
“He’s in the living room. That way.” He pointed with his head to a room off to the left and walked towards a different group of talking fashionistas offering his brie.
I was cautious. I was cursing out Mike in my mind. Each step pumped more blood to my brain, made it throb with a force that almost brought me back down the steps and into the NYC night.
In the living room there were shelves of books everywhere. An expensive looking oxblood rug laid in the center of the room, and a man sat in a chair surrounded by shirtless boys. It looked like a weird painting of royalty. Some of the boys stood, some knelt in front of his majesty. He didn’t speak to any of them; just kept mechanically plucking something from a bowl, unwrapping it, and popping it into his mouth.
I made my way closer to him.
“Hi. Uh … Mike said to come meet you?”
He was silent and straight faced through his shoulder length blond hair. He didn’t move at all. He took another piece from the bowl, a Tootsie-Roll, and popped it into his mouth. His face moved up and down me, prodding me with his eyes. He motioned with his hand and I turned around. Stood that way for a few seconds and turned back to him.
“You can go now.”
I walked back through the kitchen, past the funeral-ready woman, and hustled down the stairs. Mike’s car was idling outside, another car pulled close to his; I jumped into the passenger’s seat.
“Can I get your number? Let’s meet up sometime?” The guy in the other car did and we took off. I think Mike got more out of this meeting than I did.
“Well? How’d it go?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t really say anything.”
“Yeah, he never really does. You did great! Did he say if he’d call you?”
“He didn’t say anything.”
Mike drove us back to New Jersey, still optimistic and beaming; maybe it had more to do with his getting a number.
I still have no idea who that man was.