As usual, he was slower developing film than he’d planned. When Diane Beckelmeyer arrived at seven, dressed more femininely than before, he was in the midst of developing the final rolls of film. Being used to performing his developing ritual alone, he apologized for being preoccupied.
“No problem,” said Diane, “I just want to know how my negs came out.” She smelled fresh and seemed perky to David, sluggish after watching the darkroom clock for several hours. Her body lightly touched his as he held up a strip of negatives to the ceiling light and they scanned the transparent frames. It was her film, not as evenly exposed as David liked, but there seemed to be a fair number of printable pictures on it. She seemed to like close-ups of faces.
He hung that roll of film in the drying cabinet, handling the wet strip delicately. “I can hardly wait for the contact print of that,” she said. As he brought her back a beer from the refrigerator he could see the thin straps of her brassiere through the back of her soft sweater.
The next roll was David’s and they made to look at that one together. To his instant horror, some of the pictures he’d taken of himself in drag were on the roll along with shots from the demonstration. His face heated to fever pitch and he made abruptly to put the roll in the drying cabinet. Diane casually stopped him and asked, “Who’d this?” — pointing to a negative of himself hiking up his dress to reveal a barter belt and nylons. Other nearby frames were equally incriminating.
He frantically hoped that she couldn’t make out his features beneath the wig. “A friend. You know, a friend? As you might suspect, I didn’t intend for you to see these.” He made a nervous laugh.
“My, my, a very sexy friend.” Diane smiled knowingly.
“Oh, we did it for fun. I’m not your cold-ass pornographer.” He managed to change the subject.
After the contact printing, with the prints hung up to dry, David showed her around his rooms. Just as he began to worry about having to make a play for her, she said she hadn’t eaten dinner yet — had he? David had, but said no. Could he make something?
“Is there a Chinese restaurant around here?”
He told her about Yee’s, two blocks down Mission Street. But she picked a different place on the way, the corner burger joint he’d always avoided. As they entered, teenagers and loud music jarred his senses. Diane happily settled into a booth and said the place reminded her of Philadelphia.
“Do you come in here much?” she asked.
“Once in a while,” he lied, squirming in his seat.
“Kids,” said Diane, “that’s where the real action is. I was photographing them back home.”
“Why’d you leave?”
“Divorce. Technically, separation. Wanted to get away from the scene of the crime, so to speak.” She laughed engagingly. “Go to the land of golden opportunity.” Her husband had been an assistant professor who’d dropped out in the sixties to try a variety of middling jobs without success. She, on the other hand, was making a go of photography. Finally she had left with her son.
David depreciated his possibilities as they sat eating deluxe burgers and shakes. They were alike only in that they were on the fringes of the underground newspaper scene. Still, he was drawn to her vitality and directness and realized that he was chasing her, that he wanted something in her.
He tried to suppress an involuntary yawn but she noticed and suggested they part company for the evening. “Do you want your negatives and stuff?” he asked, irked. “You do want to get some prints in to the Times, don’t you?”
They returned to the apartment, where she chose several shots for him to blow up. Afterwards, he walked her down to her vehicle, a venerable Land Rover, and squeezed her hand as a good-by. Then they both kissed lightly. Her lips seemed cool and warm, soft and sure, all at the same time.
The next morning David was ten minutes late to work, with several excuses on tap. Vince glanced up at him and asked if he felt OK.
David found a staggering accumulation of files on his desk. He fantasized taking half the dull-brown folders and soundlessly putting them back on Grasso’s desk. That would show him. David wondered why he was getting this treatment, as though Vince had evidence he hadn’t been sick. Maybe one of the other clerks had told on him. The tough part was that he had been in such a good mood before he arrived at his desk. The day of violence had made him feel alive again. That and the captivating Diane Beckelmeyer. Beckelmeyer would forever be a sexy name for him.
He told himself it wouldn’t do any good to protest. He would just work at his usual slow speed and not be pressured. He tried to breathe slowly through his nose to calm himself, as he’d read how to do somewhere. That’s it, he told himself, concentrate. Feel the air passing in through the nasal passages. Banish all thoughts from the slate of the mind. Damn! Why can’t I be a news photographer instead of wasting time here?
The first file belonged to a Mr. Sam Delgado.
Just before noon, Gatzo, who’d been sanctimoniously talking to the public on the phone most of the morning, came over and asked David out to lunch. They tried a new spot, an American-style cafeteria three blocks away where the lines weren’t very long. Gene asked him about the demonstration.
“Well … I shot some good stuff. The cops got a bit wild. Oh, and I met this woman photographer.”
Gene seemed excited for him.
“We just met, you know, nothing more. She’s really something. Has a son who I haven’t met. By the way, did you see the demonstration on TV?”
“Yeah, the protesters really provoked things. The news said they wouldn’t let anyone in the building for Christ’s sake.”
David bit his tongue, not wanting to get into politics with Gene, so he went on to describe the demonstration. At one point he made a gesture that he immediately rescinded, a gesture that was at once feminine and seductive. He checked Gene but the clerk hadn’t raised an eyebrow. David remembered times when he’d caught himself acting similarly with The Jock in the office.
Gatzo, his voice stumbling and head moving as if the cutting edge of his words, began talking about women. At an EST party over the weekend he’d met a woman in an early stage of multiple sclerosis where she was shaky. Somehow he’d managed to get rejected again, asking her to sleep with him fifteen minutes into their conversation. David pictured Gene as Goofy the Disney character, asking.
“What’s wrong with that?” Gene was demanding. “God, I was horny. I was trying to be v-v-very u-up-front with her.”
“You must be getting very frustrated, Mr. Gatzo.” David wondered if he really wanted to get involved with a loser. But something was drawing him in — the older brother complex?
“Yeah, I get so h-horny sometimes I think I could screw anything on two or four legs.”
“Pardon my directness, but have you thought of finding a hooker?”
“Not really. I got burned once while I was in the Air Force. I was all ready to come and I said something and s-s-stuttered and the stupid whore laughed. N-Needless to say, I lost it.” Gene shook his head and looked off to the side.
“Next time don’t talk — they said nonverbal experiences are richer.”
David looked at Gatzo as they ate, trying to see him as a woman would. Was there anything at all about him that women might like? There had to be a few out there who’d take on a difficult guy as a mission in life. On the other hand David wondered why he was assuming that Gatzo was hetero. It could be that Gatzo was attracted to him.
On the way back to work a rather androgynous human passed them on the sidewalk. “Female,” said David.
“Yeah, I guess so,” said Gatzo, still dwelling on his disappointments.
“The shoes, the hair and the Adam’s apple,” said David. “If you see a woman with a big Adam’s apple her name is Adam and not Eve.
“I’ve seen a few downtown,” offered Gatzo. “Oh, I saw one in Merrill’s Drugs a week ago. At least I’m pretty sure it was one.”
“A drag queen? How could you tell?”
“I don’t know. There was just t-too much funny about her. Her voice was too low and her face looked kind of coarse.”
They strode past the lobby guard and rode the elevator up to work along with a real woman David wanted to undress. Back in his cubicle, there were even more files on his desk. He wished he could go home and masturbate, or at least lay his head on his desk and sleep awhile.
Something happened later that bothered him to no end. He entered the men’s room at the same time as his boss. David quipped “The urge strikes again” as Vince allowed a grunt of agreement. David realized with a start that with only two usable urinals they would have to stand next to each other. They both unzipped, Vince with a strong, deliberate motion. After an appropriate interval David heard his boss pee against the porcelain. David pushed down against his bladder, waiting for at least a trickle. Sweating, he looked down to see only a small and wilting penis. Vince finished and zipped up.
“Guess I didn’t have to go,” said David. After Vince left, he peed generously and vowed to always pee in a stall in the future. His zipper seemed extremely conspicuous as he walked by Vince while returning to his desk.
After a stressful day at work, Natalie would come out of hiding again. Natalie could help him feel sexy and content. He could become sleek and exciting, even though there was no one around to appreciate him. Finally, Natalie could bring him to a pinnacle of pleasure. Then she all too quickly left. Sometimes when Natalie came out too much, even she couldn’t stop the blues.
David knocked on the door of a house in the Haight Ashbury district. It was near dusk and an advance coolness had settled down in the neighborhood of older stucco houses stacked together like books on a bookshelf. The houses all had upper and lower apartments above garages.
David knocked again and looked at the warm light filtering through the curtained window. Abruptly a child parted the curtain, looked at him intently, then went running, shouting “It’s a man, mommy.” Diane and a heavier, taller woman, introduced as Laura, shortly came to the door smiling.
“Hey!” he said, feeling debonair. The smells of good cooking reached his nose. He had come with an appetite.
As he entered, crayons, dolls and toys were everywhere. Only the kitchen seemed to be in order. He met Diane’s son Bobby and Laura’s two toddlers.
They all ate well around a big circular table before putting the children to bed. Then the three talked and smoked some pot. David nearly forgot to show Diane the latest copy of the Times with one photo of hers, two of his and predictably the staff photographer’s photo on the cover. Diane wanted to know all he could tell her about the Times, about Don the editor and office politics. David apologized for not being an insider.
He followed Diane and Laura into their living room to hear some new records. Wine and pot took their toll on him as he kept trying to be attentive. “Oh Jesus,” he finally said. “The shape I’m in, I’m going to totally conk out any minute. What time is it? Can I use your phone to call a cab?”
“You don’t mind if he sleeps here tonight, do you?” Diane asked Laura, the quieter of the two.
“No problem.” Her hair was shorter than Diane’s and fluffy, and she was more inclined to wear dresses.
He lay on the foreign-smelling sofa in the dark, under a comforter, listening to city sounds. After the pot, sleep came easily.
Later, he remembered reaching up to scratch his nose. He’d been dreaming about walking through woods and a leaf had just brushed his face. He woke and for a wild instant couldn’t remember where he was. Finally he recognized the front windows and the silhouettes of plants. Then he spied Diane trying to hide below the side of the sofa, wearing a shimmering nightgown and wielding a long peacock feather.
“So that was you!” he whispered, trying to grab her.
“Hey now,” she said, pushing him away. “I just came in to see if you were, well, sleeping.”
“Well, I was, you know.” He wondered why he was keeping up this tack of conversation.
“I thought if you were awake, we might, ah …” Diane let some of her long hair sweep across his face. “But if you’d rather go back to sleep –”
David regained his senses. “I thought you were just interested in newspapers and cameras.” Diane put her hand over his mouth and slid onto the old, uneven sofa with him.
The sensation of having her, David wrote later, was like entering a tropical flower.