“I see you are leaving the portrait of the great ass behind,” I remarked to my cousin, admiring a framed black and white photograph still hanging on the exposed brick wall above the fireplace.
I remembered when Stephen first moved into the Perry Street apartment, years before Jose came into the picture, when the piece of art was first unveiled at a housewarming. Stephen purchased what I considered a work of soft pornography from a street vendor on Greenwich Avenue. He insisted that although the muscular, blonde model, sprawled face down on a bed under an open window was nude that the portrait was similar to shots done by Herb Ritz and that there was artistic symbolism captured in the photograph, for a breeze was blowing the curtains and it was daylight outside the window.
“He looks so relaxed—very modern if I do say so myself— so ready to be taken,” Stephen remarked at the party in 1990 when his taste in home décor was unleashed for the first time. Having lived with a butch lesbian on MacDougal Street during his first five years in New York, my cousin was not granted the opportunity to expose his gay decorating skills. Stephen worked as a cashier at a tiny store in Times Square known as the Tie Rack then, and his income and decorating budget was modest. He was forced to settle for the minimalistic approach when designing his new home and the photograph was just $25.
Below the photograph of the blushing buttocks sitting on the fireplace mantle was Stephen’s only knickknack at the time—an unpainted ceramic hand bought for $10 from a craft shop on Sixth Avenue. The pale white hand was reminiscent of Michelango’s fresco of Adam reaching for God.
““It costs too much to ship that photo to Vieques so we’re leaving it for our new tenant,” Stephen explained. Hey, why don’t you take it?” Stephen suggested.
“What happened to the hand?”
“Oh—we couldn’t leave that here. We shipped it.”
“Oh, no thanks,” I said. “I still have that ugly painting of James Taylor that Joan McElroy asked me to keep for her when she moved to Jamaica. They eyes in that painting have followed me for a decade now and I’m tired of looking at it. All I need is for that ass to hover over me as I grow old and never get any.”
“Honey,” Jose said, speaking to Stephen, “Let’s give Charlie the little basket in the bathroom.”
“Ah, yes,” Stephen said as he stood up, still holding his glass of wine. He disappeared into the apartment’s tiny kitchen and adjacent bathroom which I often described as a ‘camper-like’ for one could shit, shower and shave at the same time and fry eggs on the two burner stove in the closet-like kitchen if one had a spatula two feet long. Stephen returned to the empty living room with a small wicker basket overflowing with every form of lubrication known to modern gay man—KY Jelly, warming liquids, condoms in every color except black, and of course, a big bottle of Jack Off Joe, a water-based lubricant that the manufacturer claimed was as “stimulating as a cup of coffee.”
“Now this is art,” I said, accepting the treasure. “What? No dental dams?”
Jose, laughed in his typical Puerto Rican hyena howl and slapped my back hard, as if it were a plump ass.