Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Waugh by Bryan Washington




I am so sick today, yesterday as well, hence this today. Body of mine, please heal thy self.

Below is a great short story from The New Yorker a few issues back. Enjoy. Prey for me!


Waugh
by Bryan Washington

Poke lived in a one-bedroom with five boys and a window. The complex sat on Montrose, just across from St. Thomas. They rented it from a woman who couldn’t be bothered with a lease, or regular maintenance, or even a deposit; Rod had talked her down so that she wouldn’t raise the charges on them. Rod was the one who spent the least time fucking around. He was always out tricking. Most of them were. But, on the rare mornings Poke awoke on the fading carpet of the room, he could watch crowds from the chapel drifting up the block. The apartment was next to the Chevron on Richmond and the pharmacy on Yoakum, with the diner in between, and Poke would hover by the window, humming at the sink, willing the tap into something a little nicer.

Usually he was cleaning up from last night’s john. Poke tried to keep things local. It made life easier. Most guys were fine getting jerked off in their cars, or driving Poke and the other boys a block from the bars on Fairview—but others insisted that they had to be comfortable, and these were the ones who took Poke home with them.

Although, once, Poke ended up at Memorial Hermann. He’d been sucking off some doctor and the doctor was on call. The doc’s pager went off, and he wouldn’t leave Poke at his place, so he drove him to the hospital and stuck him in the waiting room. Poke sat beside a pair of bleached blondes waiting for painkillers, three bespectacled Mexican women, and some whiteboy with his head in a bandage. The whiteboy looked broken, and he slumped beside his girlfriend, but even through the gauze he was the only one who stared.

When Poke finally asked what’d happened to his face, the whiteboy’s girl grabbed her guy by the shoulders.

The whiteboy said he’d been cooking and he poked himself.

Poke smiled, but he didn’t laugh.

The other boys Poke lived with were fine: Scratch and Google and Knock and Nacho. They worked the same bars, the same apps, hustled the same set of clubs. They looked out for one another well enough—like when Google’d told Poke about dragging his heels, so he wouldn’t track shit from the street into a john’s house; or when Nacho’d advised, after staring for months, that Poke find himself a shirt that didn’t scream pato.

But it was Rod who’d given Poke his crew’s rules of engagement: don’t do anything you wouldn’t do twice; never, ever, ever double-wrap your rubbers; never give your government name, find some shit that’s cool on the ears, and when Poke told Rod that he didn’t really get that since his name was his name and it’s what he was called, Rod christened Poke as Poke.

That’s what got you a regular, Rod said. You established patterns. Patterns became routines. Routines meant a sure buck most days of the month, and that’s what kept the lights on.

When Poke asked Rod about his new name, he never got a straight answer. The dude always dodged him. But one day Google told him: it was because Poke was thicker than the rest of them. All of the other boys wore one another’s clothes, all Supreme and Adidas and Urban Outfitters and Gap, except for Poke, who Rod made solo purchases for.

Rod wasn’t their pimp, but you’d be a fool to tell him that. He took rent from the boys. He bought food from H-E-B. He kept the carpet decent. He scrapped with the whiteboys on Yoakum. He made the rounds at all the shelters for handouts, kept roaches from colonizing the kitchen, and, once, after Nacho’d asked who the fuck made him king, Rod broke his thumbs launching him into the wall.

Poke called a cab to drop them at the Urgent Care on Westheimer. Rod’s thumbs swelled like a pair of pale cucumbers. Nacho had a sprained ankle and three bruised ribs, and he wouldn’t step straight for the rest of the year. But Rod iced Nacho’s ribs. He brought pho from the noodle bar and menudo from the taqueria. And although Nacho still called him el pinche pendejo blanco, there was warmth in those words from there on out. Not respect or gratitude. Nothing akin to praise. Just acknowledgment. An acceptance of the way things were.

It took months for Poke to ask Rod why he’d done that. When Rod answered, it was like he’d been waiting for the question.

Because one day someone’s gonna kick the shit out of me. They’re gonna beat my fucking ass, he said, and then we’ll see what you do.

Rod kept tabs on all his boys, but he kept Poke a little closer. He’d have denied it if you’d asked him, but he felt for the kid—there was something in the way of kinship.

Poke had no history. He’d hit the streets straight out of the shelter. Rod hadn’t seen him swapping needles on Almeda, or huffing paint in Hyde Park. This made Poke, Rod figured, a true victim of circumstance. So Rod kept Poke in clean socks. And Rod told Poke which cabbies to dodge. And Rod snuck Poke into Minute Maid Park on an off night during the playoffs, a favor from an ex, and they walked from aisle to aisle palming the backs of every seat, mouthing the names of Astros who’d walked the field before them—Biggio, Oswalt, Peña, and Altuve—muttered like saints under their breath.

One night they sat in Katz’s huddled over a Reuben and a milkshake that Rod had insisted on despite the extra dollar. Most Thursdays found the boys on Fairview, waiting for the bars to leak their patrons into the morning. But Rod said he had news. Big news. And Poke’d learned not to sleep on an empty stomach.

They rarely ate out, and Poke thought maybe Rod had come into some money. It was about fucking time. Maybe he’d found them a bigger spot. Poke envisioned wood floors, painted walls, no rodents, but Rod only sighed, and shut his eyes, and told Poke that he was sick; he’d finally caught the bug.

The two boys eyed each other across the table. Rod with the lighter skin. Poke’s a little darker. Rod with the tapered fade, shaved to the neck, and Poke’s close-cropped, curly at the top. One a little older, the other a little shorter. Both of them brown in the eyes.

Poke took a long bite from his half of the sandwich. He asked if Rod was sure.
Sure enough, Rod said. The rapid looked sure. Nurse sounded fucking sure.

O.K., Poke said. So take another rapid.

That was the third.

They glanced at the diner door as it yawned open and a gaggle of drunks stumbled in from the cold. Poke blinked through the men, glancing at their ring fingers, wondering how much he could pull. Then he pinched himself.

Rod sipped their shake. He didn’t use the straw.

So find a fourth, Poke said, but his voice was cracking.

They didn’t know much, but they knew about H.I.V. They knew the way it hung over Montrose. They took their precautions. And then there was the rule, Rod’s rule—you got sick, you were gone. No questions. No exceptions. Your ass was on the street.

And yet, Poke thought.

There was froth all over Rod’s lips, strewn with half-chewed pastrami. Poke flicked the end of the straw against his nose.

Fuck, Rod said. What’s fucked is I don’t even know who it was. I can’t even tell you who threw that shit to me.

Poke wanted to say that he’d thrown it to himself—and that’s what didn’t compute. Not with all Rod’s yelling about safety. All the precautions he ran them through. All the grief he gave them. But those words dissolved on Poke’s tongue, and he shook his head instead, and he rubbed the nape of his neck with his palms.