Upon returning home David hoped to maintain his momentum, but he knew the glow would last only a few days.
There was a letter under the door of his apartment. He expected another lecture from Gene but found instead a business letter announcing the apartment building’s sale and a rent increase of $120. David snorted with indignation. How dare they? The building had been family-owned, with the owners living only a few blocks away. If he locked himself out, a quick call brought them over in minutes to let him in. It was likely that a speculator bought the building because the letter said to send the rent to a realty office. David resolved to move.
He decided that the rent increase would be a godsend. This workaday and dull neighborhood had never brought him much joy. Every day he saw the same old man walk to the corner store to get his daily bag of groceries. Teenagers were out at all hours on weekends banging on their cars. He needed a change, a new space, and more exciting surroundings. Living in the Excelsior District had been lonely, tinged with the morbid.
In the last few days before his return to work, and Gene Gatzo, David toiled in his kitchen darkroom developing film from the trip. The pictures of the century plant seemed superb. His renditions of the play of sunlight and shadow on boulders were exactly as he’d planned. He marked the best frames on his contact sheets and put them aside.
The first thing he noticed at the office was that Gene was nowhere in sight. The ladies were busy with their desk work and didn’t seem to pay David any special attention, so evidently Gene hadn’t told anyone. Maybe everyone was giving him the silent treatment.
Trying to act casual, but finding himself with a slight Gatzo-like stutter, David asked The Jock where Gene was.
The Jock leaned back. “Yeah, Dave. You’ve been on vacation, haven’t you? You haven’t heard.”
The Jock paused to lend emphasis to his words. “You won’t believe this. Our friend got himself in a peck of trouble.”
David waited until The Jock returned with a clipping one of the office women had been keeping.
SHOT WITH OWN GUN
A Veteran’s Administration employee was shot with his own pistol last night as he returned to his downtown San Francisco hotel.
Eugene J. Gatzo, 26, a resident of the Hotel Astrid, 725 O’Farrell St., reported being accosted by four youths. According to the victim, the youths attempted to mug him, and when he drew his pistol, a fight for the weapon ensued. During the scuffle, the gun discharged and a bullet entered Gatzo’s leg. Police were unable to find the suspects or the weapon.
Gatzo is in stable condition at Kaiser Hospital.
David inquired about Gene’s condition.
“He’ll be OK–just went through his thigh muscle. He’ll have to walk with a crutch or cane for a while.”
“When’s he coming back?”
“A week or so. Are you going to see him in the hospital?”
“I guess I’d better.”
“I mean, you guys are pretty good friends, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yeah. We’ve done some things together.” David hoped The Jock didn’t think there was more to him and Gene than friendship, though The Jock was always making off-color remarks about coworkers. “I guess it’d be the right thing to go see him.”
The Jock leaned back in his chair and smiled. “What’d'ya do on your vacation?”
“I was in Arizona and New Mexico–then down in the desert near San Diego for awhile.”
The Jock pretended to raise a camera to his eyes and click off a shot. “Shutterbugging as usual?”
David detested that word. “I’m always taking pictures. You know me.”
The Jock described how he and Vince and one of the office women had gone to see Gene the day following the shooting. “He said some Asian kids did it. If you want my opinion, I don’t even think they were trying to rob him, they were just playing with him. He must’ve said something that ticked them off.”
“His having a gun was a mistake.”
“Yeah, right. Oh, say, I didn’t know he was staying at your place before he moved to the hotel.”
How much did The Jock know? “I told him he could stay there while I was on vacation. He kind of left things in a mess.”
“That’s funny, he said you were messy.”
With exceptional luck, David found an attractive, traditional Victorian flat just after the landlord posted the FOR RENT sign. This was an apartment with character, offering a tiny ornamental fireplace, high ceilings, rich woodwork, a slightly-sagging back porch where a darkroom could be installed, and a back yard with shade trees and garden possibilities. It was on Hancock Street near the gay Castro district of town, and it was only natural that the upstairs flat was occupied by a gay couple. David could barely afford it, having to pay first and last month’s rent and a deposit. He figured the only way to keep the place and still live decently would be to have a paying roommate.
When he moved in and began to repaint the interior during the wee hours of the night, he thought that a roommate might be just what he needed. It was time for him to draw out of his shell and get rid of lingering memories of Diane.
A week after he finished moving in, he ran an ad in the Bay Guardian asking for a female roommate. He received several calls from women, but none came to see the place. With his savings low he resorted to running an ad for roommates of either sex. Then the respondents were mostly men. David was reluctantly about to choose between three straight guys when he got a call from Jeanette, the woman he’d talked to at the Pacific Images party. Inviting him to an opening of a textile art display, she promised that the catering company she worked for would be supplying “beaucoup good food” and that he should attend if only for the feast.
David expressed interest, then went on to describe his new place.
“Do you need a roommate?”
“Yeah, why? Do you know someone who’s looking?”
“Am I glad I called. Let me put it this way. I’ve been living with Brian for two years. You met him, didn’t you?”
“I think so.”
“Well, to put it simply, we’re not getting along any more. He just gets in moods and closes off. I’ve decided to leave. It’s not working any more. So, I’m looking for a place. Can I come over and see what you’ve got?”
David fended off the male hopefuls for a few more days until the tall Jeanette could visit. David guessed her age as 24. She came on a Saturday afternoon with flashing eyes and big red lips like an excited kid. David showed her the two rooms set aside for a roommate and the rest of the long apartment, proud of the freshly-painted white walls. As he walked with her, he kept noticing her generous hips and bosom, and her blonde, bushy hair.
“Well, what do you think?”
“I really, really love it. It’s a great part of town and I’ve got friends nearby. So, in 20 words or less, David, I’d like to share this place with you. Say OK, OK?”
They sat down to talk business. Her finances were slim because she only worked part-time for the catering service. Her artistic efforts–the weaving–were only paying for the materials. “But I live very simply,” she said, as thought the right word from him would cascade a shower of lucky magic on her.
“Would Brian still be seeing you here?”
“I think we’ve split for good. He’s leaving for Idaho.”
As he’d done with the previous interested men, David explained that he was a TV. “You should know in advance.”
“Then you’re gay?”
“No, no. There are a lot of hetero TVs. But really, what I need to know is if my dressing up once in awhile would bother you.”
“I don’t know. How often do you do this?”
David tried to talk nonchalantly, as though they were talking about someone else. “Every month to go to a meeting up the street–we have a society for transvestites. Occasionally I dress up here at home so I can take pictures of myself.”
“This is really something. I’ve never known anyone into this. I guess it’d be OK.”
They went to see the two empty rooms again. David could see Jeanette’s eyes already deciding where things should go. Before she left, he promised to make up his mind soon about a roommate. He spied on her through the front window as she walked away, book bag slung over her shoulder. She’s nice, she’s into art and she doesn’t have a man.
He talked to one more woman about the apartment that afternoon, a photographer who’d noticed he listed a darkroom in his ad. A thin, driven women, she too fell in love with the flat and eyed the darkroom space. When he mentioned he was a TV she quickly made excuses and left.
After calling with the good news, David helped Jeanette move in, using the catering company’s van. It was true that she didn’t have much — her loom, a hunk of foam on the floor for a mattress, two suitcases of clothes and an aging VW bug. The little trinkets and mementos she brought seemed precious and religious. In many cases, she explained, they were gifts from other artists or admirers. Like David, she kept diaries.
That evening when he was cooking a simple meal for the two of them, and feeling brotherly, he found himself saying magnanimously that they should just stay roommates and not make any sexual overtures. She wholeheartedly agreed. They would be best friends, she said. Later at work David thought about how nice it would be to come home and have a woman in the house to talk to. They were both artists, he with his photography and her with her weaving. The arrangement could only be positive for them. On the other hand, there was always the chance she’d fall for him …
They walked up a trail from Muir Woods basin toward the top of Mt. Tam. It was a warm and sunny Sunday, the first chance they’d had to do something together outside. Jeanette seemed refreshed and sure of herself since the split from Brian. They were in a redwood grove and the light filtering down provided a relaxing tableau. She watched as David jumped to the far side of a stream. He crouched down and focused his camera on a miniature waterfall, totally absorbed.
Later she lay atop a large, flat rock in the sun. David joined her, stretching out and baring his chest. Their hands were only inches apart, and he wanted to touch her, but they just lay there basking, semi-sleeping, until a Boy Scout troop came up the trail.
Later, nearby, David took pictures of her standing in a shaft of sunlight with her eyes closed. She certainly wasn’t a Raquel Welch, but her confidence and natural sensuality was making his heart race. Why, he wondered, did he have to fall for every woman who came his way?
When her friend Rod came the next night David tried to act blasé. The unshaven man she introduced as a Berkeley poet seemed out of place against the stark, shiny hardwood floors of the flat. He seemed like a refugee from the streets — a bum, practically. Jeanette’s flushed and excited face said it all. David retreated to his darkroom rather than sit around straining to hear what they were doing in her room. He had decided to try for a show of his desert photographs and had begun making large black and white prints.
When he finished his work around midnight, Jeanette’s room at the front of the house was dark and quiet. There was just the sound of his print washer swooshing water methodically around soggy photographs. He hadn’t been able to remove Jeanette entirely from his mind. That scruffy man was up there, David was sure, sleeping with her in David’s own house! As he poured his used chemicals into storage bottles he remembered ruefully the time he’d stopped to pick up a good-looking woman hitchhiker when he’d had a car. After she negotiated a ride and started to get in, her boyfriend and a big white dog appeared from behind a bush and joined her.
Eventually David felt comfortable enough to try to call Gene at the hospital. After all, he would have to work with him again. Gene answered from his extension. He sounded older and a bit shaky.
“Say, Gene, this is David from work.”
There was a moment of silence. “Yeah?”
“I — I’m calling to see how you are. Sorry to hear about what happened.”
“Well, they say they’re going to r-release me by the weekend. I had some complications.” Gene went on to describe some of the nurses and orderlies on a first-name basis.
“Say, ah … I’d like to come by and say hello if that’s OK.”
Gene wasn’t enthusiastic but they set a time. An hour later he called back. “I-I thought it over. I-It couldn’t be good. I’d just get upset.”
He has some nerve. Getting hurt makes him think he’s a big shot. So Gene-boy doesn’t want to be upset.
On the other hand, maybe the shooting had in some way made Gene wiser. David pictured him lying in his hospital bed taking stock of his life.
Jeanette was out of the apartment working on the catering of an evening party. David was alone and wearing a filled-out bra while working in the darkroom. He hadn’t worn any of his women’s clothing yet in Jeanette’s presence because he thought it might compromise him. So he received a major jolt when he walked into the kitchen and saw her at the table munching carrots and reading. He had on a loose sweater and hoped that she hadn’t noticed. Breezing through as though in a hurry, David spoke as he looked through negative files in the next room.
“You’re back early.”
“They didn’t need me to serve. I just helped put the food together.”
“I suppose you would’ve like to work the longer hours.”
“No, not really, I was tired. Besides, I’ve made enough money this month. Gives me more time on the loom.” She resumed crunching carrots.
He wished that she’d go to her room so she’d be out of his hair. He could, of course, sneak off to the bedroom and take off the bra, but he didn’t want to hide in his own house. So he walked back into the kitchen with his contact sheet and negatives and sat down across from Jeanette. Her eyes went first to his face then to his chest.
She didn’t seem perturbed. “I thought that you just dressed up all the way. But you like to go around with just a bra on? If I have friends over it’d look kind of weird.”
“Well, I like to do this in private. I didn’t expect you to be here!” He caught himself before he became too apologetic. “Sometimes I wear panties under my trousers. Even to work. I’ve got quite a collection of pretty things.”
She didn’t indicate a burning desire to see them. “Why do you wear these things? I mean, to me they’re just things I wear every day. There’s no thrill to it. Sometimes wearing a bra all day can be pretty uncomfortable.”
David leaned back in his chair, cradling his breasts with his crossed arms, and looked out the window. Logically explaining it took the fun away. Putting things into words was like trying to make it into something wholesome. He continued anyway, comparing men’s underwear to women’s.
Jeannette giggled, then resumed her serene moon-Madonna face again. “Yes, but I wear these things every day, you know. They don’t move me like they seem to move you.”
“Well, it’s funny. Sometimes I just like to wear the stuff. Some other times I really get off on it. Fetishes, you know. I have some very hot masturbations wearing your sort of things.”
Jeanette blushed and looked away, rolling her eyes slightly and sighing as if to say, “How did I get myself into this?”
David hoped that he hadn’t killed his chances with these disclosures. On the other hand, even if they never made it, at least he was opening some freedom for himself. He wondered if he would ever be comfortable walking around the house totally dressed in her presence. He thought that he might try it, just to make a point. To show her that … he didn’t need her?
Jeanette left for work at five on a still-dark morning. David rose ten minutes after the front door closed and went to her room, listening for any sign of her unexpected return. He detected delightfully distinctive smells there — faint perfumes, a slight mustiness, body odor from her unmade bed, and the honey-like sweetness of cut flowers. When he went to her dresser and pulled out the top drawer, a new host of fragrances played upon his senses. What was it that women used to make their underwear so provocatively pungent?
David experienced a deja vu of the highest order, remembering similarly being in his parents’ room as a fifteen-year-old, violating his mother’s lingerie drawer, feeling the sensual nylon, satin and elastic of her private things.
Running his hands magically through Jeanette’s bras and panties was like touching parts of her. Another part of him calmly rated her level of taste, which was better than average. He would know — he’d been through many other women’s drawers in his time. Jeanette had some slinky red panties, low cut, and some black lace creations. David wondered which ones she wore for Rod.
After making a thorough reconnaissance of her closet — not as exciting as the drawer — he borrowed the sexiest things, along with a pair of her leather boots, and took them to his room. He undressed hastily and pulled on her tight black panties. Lying down, he put one of her boots between his legs so that the shiny heel protruded into him. He eventual orgasm was high up on the Richter Scale.
As he’d learned to do as a teenager, he replaced everything in its exact place before he left for work. He felt vaguely guilty. It was like having sex with her spirit, the spirit that stayed behind in hr clothing. Maybe I can’t deal with her. Maybe I’m just a ghost-fucker.
He had to tell The Jock at work eventually. Yes, I have a female roommate. No, we’re not lovers. Yes, she turns me on. No, I haven’t gone to bed with her. Well, I value the relationship and I don’t want to scare her away.
Barring his mother and sister, he’d never lived with a woman for the length of time he’d been with Jeanette. He’d never had to divide chores before. There were the all-important questions of who would do the dishes and take out the garbage, of who would pay the bills and who would sweep and vacuum. The volume level of the TV had to be negotiated. Would they share this meal or that? She taught him that it wasn’t nice to leave whiskers around the quaint old bathroom sink they shared, nor a ring around the four-footed bathtub.
The VA clerk began to consider his relationship a sixty per cent one. If her boyfriend, and she had taken on a new one since Rod, had her for an occasional evening or day, David had her for a much longer time. David grudgingly came around to respect the boundary between them.
He took many admiring photos of her. He told her several times that he loved her and this embarrassed her. Sometimes they talked about their plans. David admitted that he’d eventually like to get married ” … as crazy as that sounds.” She wanted to get married too, “but I’ve got some living to do first.”