A queen who had lost most of his bright red hair sat on a plastic chair on the balcony at Aleli by the Sea and permitted his beer belly, covered with freckles, to rest comfortably on his pale white legs. Bradley and I huddled in a corner on two chairs of our own, under two coconut trees and a third shrub with large green leaves.
“Don’t light that,” I snapped. “There’s someone over there and the smoke may bother him.”
“Shut up. He’s asleep,” my husband barked while taking a lighter from my cargo shorts.
The foliage above Bradley and I blocked out harmful rays of an almost unbearable tropical sun. The queen, who obviously had spent too many summers on Fire Island without any SPF protection, sat in the bright rays, paralyzed from what was obviously too much partying.
The guest house sits high above the ground on a foundation of concrete. Rather than there being a cellar, the trees grow right on the balcony of the seaside cottage. Their roots find earth in the sand- filled foundation of the villa.
It was our second time staying at the tiny hotel. On our first trip there, on my 37th birthday, we had the patio to ourselves. None of the other guests seemed to want to hang out on the deck when we first stayed there. The beach out front does not look safe to swim in. A sign on a white painted concrete rail warns guests to “swim at your own risk” and of “dangerous undercurrents”.
The guest house has a ladder that can be lowered and lifted with a cranking device and a large wire that attaches to the foot of the steps. Owners of the guest house refused to lower the steps on our first trip there, explaining that too many beach goers come up the stairs and ask to use the restroom. On this trip however, they lowered the steps and gave us instant access to the emerald green waters, perhaps because it was the low season and the beaches during the weekday were practically empty.
Aleli is next door to the Atlantic Beach Hotel– a former hot spot among gay vacationers. Ocean Park is no longer the West Hollywood of the Caribbean. A once thriving gay party hot-spot has vanished. There are very few hotel guests or locals who hang out at the Atlantic Beach Hotel in 2007. What is left is only a handful of male hustlers who sometimes manage to sneak out of sight of police on horses and four-wheel all terrain vehicles to get sucked off by older men for prices starting as low as $10. Very few swimmers fill the water in front of the Aleli. There are large rocks just a few feet into the warm, tempting waters. For those with hidden fears of shark bites, the jagged rocks are terrifying when trying to take a dip to cool off from sunbathing. The waters are a little safer in front of the Atlantic Beach Hotel. Anyone staying at Aleli can simply walk up a few yards and enjoy all the pleasures of a swimming hole filled with soft sand at the place where large waves crash onto the shore.
Bradley and I love the empty beaches of San Juan. We go there to get away from Brooklyn– his hometown. It’s hard for him to be openly gay living near his family. Bradley knows nothing of places like P-Town and Fire Island, where almost everyone is gay. The gay ghost town of San Juan is perfect for my husband though. “It’s not too gay,” he says. It’s not over the top with drag queen performers and sex parties. It’s just enough to keep him comfortable in his hidden sexuality.
“Those days are gone,” I said to my lover. “This place was once the shit,” I explained. “Just look at all these big hotels, casinos and condos going up. The straights came in and cleaned it up, just like they do every place else that gay men help to create. There were once so many hot men out here, you would never believe this is the same place,” I said as we watched a heavy-set latina woman play with here two children in the sand.
Bradley asked me to make him a drink. We purchased a pint of dark rum and a bottle of Coke and kept it cool in the stainless steel refrigerator in the kitchen of the guest house. The plastic chair stuck to my back as I stood up. The scraping sound of plastic on the cement patio startled the queen. He awoke from his slumber.
“Ask him if he wants a drink,” Bradley suggested although he was close enough to the stranger to be heard.
“That’s very kind of you,” the queen said while squinting at me as I strutted by, trying to suck in my belly.
By the time I had mixed up three cordials and made it back outside, Bradley had introduced himself to the almost bald red-head who also happened to be from New York. He was a teacher of the deaf. He taught sign language in a school in Harlem.
“I just got here today,” I overheard him say. “I was in P-Town for a week and just decided to come down here. Isn’t this place cool?” He asked.
“Yes, the prices are great and you have everything you need right here,” Bradley said while turning to grab the cocktails.”
“This is my friend Charles. Charles, this is David.”
“Hi! It’s nice to meet you. I hope I didn’t make this too strong.”
“I doubt that,” the queen chuckled. “You guys would love P-Town,” David insisted. “Have you ever been there before?” He asked.
“My sister lives in Providence,” Bradley answered, not realizing that David was referring to Provincetown, not Providence, R.I.. The gay mecca is not the same town where his sister lives. David didn’t bother trying to explain the geographic differences to my closeted lover, nor did I.
“My time there was so fabulous. There were so many nude sunbathers. Why don’t they swim in the nude here?” David asked.
“I don’t know. Puerto Rico enacted no smoking laws similar to what we have in New York City,” Bradley said, angrily. “What the fuck? Why bother going out if we can’t smoke? The entire free world seems to be on lock-down now because of the war. Everything is so fucked- up. Anything we do is illegal and expensive,” my lover remarked while lighting up an American Spirt menthol cigarette.
“I get four weeks vacation a year,” the red headed stranger explained. “I decided this year, I’m taking all of my vacation at once. School’s out and I’m a lot like a teacher with three free months a year, although I do have to work some in the summer with a few kids.”
“You said you teach sign language to children. That’s wonderful. Bradley and I also work in social services,” I explained.
“We’re all in the human service industry in New York City, it seems,” David said while rattling the ice in his plastic cup, as if to hint that he would like a re-fill on the rum and Coke I had made for him. I was so happy that my lover had reached out to another gay, white man and sparked casual conversation. I instinctively grabbed the empty cups and ran back to the kitchen, just like I do in Brooklyn when Bradley needs something and when he’s just too tired to get off of the couch.
I poured lots of the Baccardi in the two cups this time. I was on vacation too and sure as hell wasn’t going to spend my evening in San Juan playing fetch all evening for two chatty Cathy’s. By the time I had returned to the patio, the stranger was already briefing Bradley on the night life in P-Town.
“It’s really fabulous there. The drag shows are great. Miss Understood is a friend of mine. She’s a drag performer who actually has become a woman and she’s huge in P-Town. She showed me her sex change one time.”
I nearly spilled the cocktails as I sat one in front of David on a small, round, plastic table and the other in my lover’s hand. Bradley surprised me. He seemed to be fully knowledgeable of the trans-gender community and the ordeals that men go through when shedding their penises for pussies.
“What did it look like?” I asked, pretending to be interested in what the old queen was talking about.
“It was black and blue, a horrible sight, it was. I asked my friend how it got that way. We all know how it got that way.”
“What do you mean?” Bradley asked.
“You know. It was all beat up– black and blue. Poor thing had her operation and didn’t wait two weeks likes she was ordered and went out and got fucked just a day after the surgery.
I gasped. Bradley laughed loudly. Waves crashed on the shore. Far off in the distance, on the horizon of emerald water, lightening lit up the sky, although turquoise patches of sky were still visible to the west.
“Miss Understood told me she tells those guys who ask her what happened to her vagina that she ‘fell off a horse’.”
I quickly changed the subject– “So, did you get laid in P-Town?” I asked.
“Yes, I did. I saw seventy-five cocks while there. You would never believe it– all the young gay men were showing me their dicks simply because I asked them to show it to me. You would be surprised at how many gay men will show you their dicks if you only ask,” David laughed, knowing that the gay ‘twinks’ only felt sorry for him. “This vacation is such a good thing for me. Just going swimming next to all those young and gorgeous young men was so therapeutic for me. I suffer from anxiety problems,” the stranger explained. “I get lots of precious pills to help me though.”
I wondered what in his life could be causing him so much inner-turmoil. How stressing can it be to work with children who cannot speak unless they learn, from people like David, how to use their hands to express words? I was tempted to share that I too hate being out of my element, lost in a world of newness and confusion, but I let him go on without explaining that I too suffer from what some call mental illness and anxiety disorders.
“Just getting on a plane is absolute hell for me,” David expressed. “I know this sounds strange, but I’m a huge Miss Universe follower. I go to the pageant each year.”
Bradley laughed. “Do you mean you actually go in person to watch the crowning of Miss Universe?”
“Yes, I’ve been all over the world. It’s so much more than what we see on television. The entire competition lasts for several days. They even go through a test-run of the pageant where they practice crowning someone. Those girls go through so much to win that title. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m obsessed with it. Bradley said he thought his love for Miss Universe was so cool. “Which shows have you been to?” He asked.
“All of them. Even the one in Columbia, but that’s when traveling started to get to me. Something strange happened to me on one of my trips that causes me to be so paranoid when I travel.”
“What do you mean?” I asked while looking at Bradley, almost wanting to burst out in laughter.
“I checked out of my hotel at check-out time– 11 a.m. and took my bags to the airport. My flight wasn’t until 7 p.m., so I decided to head back to one of the beaches where all the trade hangs out, figuring I was going to get the most of my time in South America. They checked in my bags at the counter, my hands were free and I had several more hours to watch the gorgeous Latin men.”
“Hell, I’d do the same thing,” Bradley responded.
“When I arrived back at the airport, security pulled me aside and told me that I would have to come with them to a hospital for an x-ray of my digestive system.”
“Did they think you had drugs on you?” I asked.
“That must have been the reason, but as you know, I suffer from anxiety problems and that incident really sent me over the edge. Even though they gave me a new plane ticket home and a $25 meal ticket, there was something very unsettling about undergoing that x-ray. I felt so violated even though I knew all the time that I did not have drugs inside of me.”
Suddenly, I remembered my paranoia during my Schizophrenic break and realized that if something similar had happened to me in South America, I would have been out of my mind. Without speaking, using an informal form of sign language, I pointed at David’s cup and asked if he wanted a re-fill. Of course he did. One did not have to speak in hands to know that, so I headed back to the kitchen to get him some more Jesus juice.
Read Full Post »