“Picture Perfect”: A Love Story
From my short story collection, “Basic Butch,” available on amazon.com, “Picture Perfect” was inspired by two events in my life; a weekend romp in Ybor City (pronounced E-BOR), a minor but growing gay mecca in North Florida; and my participation in an unconventional photo shoot as part of a doctoral candidate’s dissertation. You’ll understand more what I’m talking about as you read my story, serialized for you all this week …
Except for the Sunshine Bridge that linked the mainland to St Pete’s and Tampa and was like driving over a roller coaster, it was a pretty smooth ride in from Jacksonville. Armed with his tablet and Samsung Galaxy and a list of potential Tampa area web dates Ralph had lined up while back in Jax – some had even given him their numbers to text them when he got in – he was confident he would have fun. He had also switched his home location from Jax to Tampa on the key sites to grab the Mr. Right Now guys while he was in town. Besides, Ybor Resort and Spa, the hotel he was staying at, had its own bath house built right in, and it was just across from the Eagle, Tampa’s leading leather/levi bar.
Hell, how could he not score?
Ralph had moved down to Jax just a few months after accepting that transfer as a claims adjuster for Network Health in Manhattan, a fart from Lodi, New Jersey where he grew up. It was either that or be out of a job at 42 in the middle of the Great Recession. And leaving it all behind – including NYC – was not that hard to do.
Over twenty years as an openly gay man had produced half a dozen Teflon romances and a running series of fuck buddies, while his dream man – a 5’ 6 furry in-shape clone of himself – seemed to elude him. Plus, the West Village, his stomping grounds as a leather/levi gay man, had morphed into a Disneyfied Condo Yuppie City. True, the Jax scene was pretty lame, but with the tight compact bod of his high school wrestling days which he kept up faithfully at the gym, the cherubic face of a choir boy, peach fuzz on his chest, abs and legs, and a nice, uncut 8 inch piece between his legs, Ralph continued to enjoy his little trysts. He expected no more – nor no less – this weekend.
Ybor City had once been home to the world’s largest cigar making industry back at the turn of the last century. It had fallen into decay after World War II when cigar manufacturing went from by hand to machine, but about twenty years ago, an artists colony emerged from the ruins and, with the infusion of tourist dollars, the old red brick and cobble-stone neighborhood was reborn as a visitors haven/entertainment center/gay mecca. Ralph liked the idea he could leave his car in the parking garage for the weekend and wander on foot aimlessly along its tight, cobblestone streets, much like in his old Village stomping days, something he missed in car-mania Jax where pedestrians were an endangered species.
Ybor Resort and Spa was a tired, whitewashed two story building but its inside belied its drab tenement exterior and Ralph was pleasantly impressed by its outside patio with its huge kidney shaped hot tub that reminded him of the courtyards of the Roman ruins he had seen in Italy on vacation. The floors of the corridor of hotel suites were inlaid with faded but intricate tile work as was his room, and the manager, a bald headed thirty-something guy, short and stocky and kinda cute, guided him up the wrought iron stairs at the end of the corridor to the bath house side of the place. Plastered all over the wall next to the staircase was that 70’s fantasy Tom of Finlandish poster art of beefy, furry men of a bygone era that Ralph envied he had been ten years too young to enjoy.
Having played the steam scene so many years in NYC, Ralph cut a deal with the guy to rent one of the claustrophobic cubicles upstairs for the weekend. Hell, if a guy he met was that hot, he could always bring him downstairs to his elegant digs. He called the four cell numbers he had with him, got voice mail on all of them, with auto-greetings that didn’t give him any idea whether he was dealing with a guy or a flake, and e’d the other three on whatever site they sat.
It was about 8 when he ventured out of his room after a nap to find the streets, virtually empty when he arrived that afternoon, teeming with date nighters, yuppies and a few guppies if he looked close enough. He was eating a slice of pizza he had grabbed at one of the local storefronts in the quaint city square when his cell phone rang. It was Gary, one of his web contacts, a six foot, four burly man from his pics, bearded, but young, who liked short tops. He sounded O.K., and could meet Ralph back at the resort in about an hour. Ralph gobbled down his pizza and headed back.
When nine turned into nine fifteen, Ralph called Gary’s cell but got voice mail. He could sense from the growing din outside his room that guys were coming in off the street for the bath house upstairs. It was getting to be Prime Time and Ralph needed it bad. At nine thirty, with Gary still MIA, he left a message for Gary to call him on his cell when he got here. That is if he was even coming.
Donned in one of his favorite slightly stretched old white Haines jockey underwear and black boots with white crew socks, Ralph ventured up the stair case to Room 202. As he walked briskly around the labyrinth of corridors, he saw little to get him hard. Even the young ones were, well, ordinary, but, hell, the night was young, right? He positioned himself on the concentration camp mattress and with his door flung wide open and his cock feeling the effects of 50 mgs. of the Blue Pill, he waited for his thrill of the night to walk right in.
Instead, Ralph lay there for almost half an hour until a cramp in his left calf forced him up. Just then his cell rang. It was Gary. He had just arrived – traffic, he claimed – and he was heading upstairs. Ralph was sure of one thing – Gary sounded drunk. Fortunately, he was able to find him first before he discovered Ralph’s room. Dressed in a baggy black T and loose jeans, he was heavier and older than his pic and without a beard, his face looked as bloated as the rest of him. If there was an anything Ralph couldn’t stomach it was a guy who had to get plastered to have sex with another man and he had no problem telling him that. Unflustered, Gary staggered back down the stairs to the courtyard below, and Ralph went back to his room and shut the door.
When he felt comfortable the coast was clear and seeing not much traffic on his side of the corridor, Ralph slipped downstairs to his laptop and checked his mail. There was only one message that had been posted on butchbobsbottomboys.com just a few minutes before by some guy with no pics and practically no info on his profile except that he was from Tampa. Ralph could tell by his message he had seen Ralph upstairs:
“Think you’re so hot marching around in your tighty whities and your butch boots. Well you aren’t, you little fuck.”
Ralph e’d him back: “It’s easy to dis somebody when you don’t have the balls to even post what you fucken look like? Afraid you’d sink the site?” Then he blocked him.
Ah, but there was still the Eagle right next door, right? Quickly, Ralph pulled off his underwear and slipped on his tight gray jeans (he never wore underwear under his levis when he went out for the night), threw on his favorite K-mart red tee that he had worn in high school, stuck a grin on his face, and trotted over to the bar.
He expected that with it being almost midnight and a Friday night, the place would be packed with some hotties but all he found were a few over 40 kind of ordinary looking guys with glasses dressed in Ralph Lauren polos and slacks, chitchatting with the shirtless bellied bartender. He bought a Bud Lite which he nursed until 12:30, when he reluctantly went back, stripped down, now with only a towel around his waist, and canvassed the bath house again.
A few fem-fatties and a scrawny, pock-marked black guy were sitting in the lounge area watching some porn on the big screen above. He ventured into the almost pitch black orgy room and could hear some sucking and moaning but was afraid what might decide to grab him. The sauna and steam room were deserted and the only other room with the door open contained an old guy on his stomach in the shadows, his prune butt facing the door.
Then he spotted them. Two forty-something guys, friends, lovers he wasn’t sure, tall, smooth and sinewy, with tight crews and a day’s growth on their tough faces, trotting with that typical butch strut down the opposite end of the corridor. Ralph stood his ground and kept his eyes fixed on them. But as they passed, there was no reaction, not even a side glance. Nor any reaction when, a few minutes later, as Ralph lay slovenly on his mattress, they passed his room twice.
Around 2, as he rambled back down to his suite, realizing his only sexual salvation was some laptop porn, Ralph wondered whether the weekend – and Ybor City – had all been one big fucken mistake.
Part II, Wednesday …