Chump Change

He means my Ralph Lauren Polo, of which I have four, and my mother bought it for me last Christmas. I wore it tonight because it’s the tightest shirt I own. I tell him my pimp bought it. He can’t tell if I’m joking.

Chump Change
Photo by Andrew Seaman / Unsplash

By Adam Piccin

The asphalt is wet and smells like rain and piss and I feel a little on edge, but the night is warm and I’m standing outside, trying to look fuckable. Trying to look reasonably priced. I had hoped, stupidly, that there’d be some older chicks around who might want me, because at least then I could get a real hard-on and it would be a good story later.

His car pulls up. It’s not a very nice car. My bones seem to shake but my tendons maintain an eerie calm. Window rolls down. He’s old, maybe fifty; maybe was, at some point, handsome. Bit of pudge. Balding, which disgusts me.

“Need a lift?”

I’m supposed to say yes. I’m trying to look like I’ve done this before. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I know that if I take a step back, say anything other than yes, that I’ll chicken out and have to call a cab and go home, defeated. He reaches out from the window and touches my chest, lightly. I feel like a product, and it hits me then that, in this moment, I am. I am putting myself up for sale, and his thin-skinned hand is on my chest and he opens his mousetrap mouth and his breath is hot.

“Who bought you that tight shirt?”

He means my Ralph Lauren Polo, of which I have four, and my mother bought it for me last Christmas. I wore it tonight because it’s the tightest shirt I own. I tell him my pimp bought it.

He can’t tell if I’m joking.

He drives well, even though at every stoplight he turns to me and tries to make eye contact, which I avoid. When he’s driving, he keeps his eyes on the road, but his hand is on my leg, and the longer the stretch is between each light, the higher he goes up my thigh. We hit the highway for a bit and he brushes the head of my cock through my jeans and my leg twitches, which he thinks is a good thing. His fingers are large, and my jeans are rough, expensive Japanese denim that I don’t wash to preserve their color and fit. He asks my name and I give him the name of a boy I knew a few years ago that I haven’t seen since.

He lives in a studio apartment. By the dinky little kitchenette, with crusty dishes and flat cans of beer, is a particle board desk, and at the desk is some other guy with a long red ponytail. He looks up but doesn't say anything. He is at a Smith-Corona portable typewriter, furiously striking each key like he wants it dead. One of his graying white socks has a hole in the heel, and he’s bouncing his knee in sync with the perpetual rhythm of the typing, the carriage return, the little bell. The powdery metallic smell of typewriter ribbon. There’s a lot of dust and secondhand textiles.

“Don’t mind Pete,” he says. Pete lights a joint.

“Sure,” I say. “Why would I?”

I am offered a drink. I know I should say no, because I’m alone in a part of town I don’t know very well with two strange men who are much larger than I am and the door is locked and I didn’t tell anyone where I am and I need a clear head.

I accept, and he hands me a fucking Zima.

“You fags are all the same,” I say, and that seems to get him going. Pete is clacking away, thick pot smell in the air. I drink while he tries to make conversation, and I almost feel bad for the guy because I’m really not giving it my all. Am I in school? Yeah. What do I study? Fuck, dude, I don’t even know. I tell him I’m studying politics. He tries to talk to me about politics, which I can’t handle. I tell him I used to study politics but now I study art. He asks about pieces I’m working on, and I tell him a performance art piece where I stand on a stage, and undress but for a bolo tie and white socks, and take a shit on the floor.

My stomach’s been firing since this morning, when I’d had breakfast with my girlfriend at the same diner we always go to. She’s beautiful, comes from money but isn’t weird about it. I come from money and I’m weird about it. She asked me if I’d ever thought about sleeping with someone else. I had asked her if she meant right then, at that moment, or generally, over the course of my whole life? She laughed around her toast and said, “Now, dummy.”

“Have you?” I asked.

“I’m the one asking the questions here,” she replied. The waitress set down the check and my girlfriend and I stared at each other until I reached for my wallet and she thanked me. I thought about her sleeping with someone else. I thought about sleeping with someone else. I thought about her long legs and my father’s company and the fags that go out in packs at night, sparkling and perfumed. The fags on the corners in leather. The girls on the corner who catch my eye.

I’m not even close to drunk. I’m near tipsy, but my nerves are so shot I can barely feel it.

He is less interested in conversation now that I am sitting on his couch, and the bed is beside it, and there is a coffee table with some coffee table books about war and design and a few issues of The New Yorker. My peripheral vision is fuzzy. How much money would it take for you to suck a dick? was a question we’d throw around at parties, all us college boys, all us big men on campus. And the answer is always not for a million dollars, man.

“Two fifty,” he says.

I wonder if that’s a lot for what we’re doing, and I wonder, more urgently, if it’s a lot because he wants me to do something really fucked. Enemas, S&M, erotic asphyxiation. Shit. Gerbils. I shoot back the last of my drink, metallic, sticky, citrus. I wonder what he’ll taste like.

“What do you do?” He undoes the top buttons of his shirt as he asks me this. His chest hair is wiry and gray.

This moment was always going to happen, and I signed up for it the minute I let this old fairy touch my shirt and tap the button up by my throat. It feels tacky. I am in this guy’s shitty apartment, and Pete is in the corner. I ask him what he’s working on and he says, “My manifesto.”

I turn to the guy, my john, I realize, thick slime in my throat, and I tell him, “I’ll do whatever you want.”

His sheets are grainy, like there’s sand or crumbs or something in them. I can feel mattress springs and crusty bits on the comforter, and Pete tears out the page and goes about cranking in the next. First my cock is in his mouth, which feels sort of good, but his large hands keep groping my chest and I keep looking over to Pete, who blandly adjusts himself in his khaki shorts and keeps typing. The manifesto continues and I struggle to keep my hard-on. I try to think of all the porn I’ve seen, all the girls I’ve fucked, or almost fucked. Thought about fucking to pass the time. Teachers, babysitters, the white trash girls in the corner of remedial math. I consider stilted dreams, half-lucid moments in my bullshit youth. I think again about those Girls Gone Wild.

The apartment felt bigger when I first got there. Now he presses me into the mattress and I sort of zone out. The air is suffocating, pot and sound and sniffling. His hands are all over me, moving my legs where he needs them. His doughy earlobes brush my cheek. The intimacy of it shocks me. It’s a new sensation for me, all of it, and I let it happen best I can.

He keeps saying, “I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry,” over and over. I don’t say anything. I don’t know if I could. I look at a framed print on the wall. I think it’s Botticelli. Creamy white bodies in dark rich woods, all having a much better time than I think I am. His wide flat chapped lips gumming at my collarbone. I have to clean out the fridge at some point this weekend but I’d rather not. All around the clamor of the metal keys, the bouncing leg, the great white fleshy body over mine, and a strain in the muscle of my thigh.

He comes at the ding of the margin bell. After the requisite panting and sighing, he gets up, naked, his ass is flat, and goes over to the IKEA dresser opposite the bed. He stands before the Botticelli print, my beacon, and rummages in the top drawer for a sock, from which he pulls a wad of cash. He peels off a few fifties and throws them on my sweat-damp chest. My nipples are sore. I zip up and get the fuck out of there, shirt in hand.

Spat out on the street, in front of his apartment. I get a cab and it costs me fifty bucks, including tip. The cabbie eyes me in the rearview mirror. His eyes have a rabid, suspicious quality. I wonder if he’s an undercover cop. I wonder if I’m about to be taken down to the station and booked for solicitation and prostitution.

“Long night?”

I grunt a response and watch the lights from the window, and it all looks liquid and very far away. I fall asleep with a lighter in my bed and when I wake up I have the imprint of it on my bare thigh.

In bed, coated in sweat, dehydrated, needing to piss. Ignoring a voicemail from my father. There are two hundred dollars folded in the back pocket of my jeans, which are rumpled on the floor from last night. My boxers are still in them, and I feel a little sick.

The light comes into my room. My apartment looks vast and cold and I’m not sure who I’m going to tell about last night. I’m not sure I will. There’s a strange power in a secret like that. I don’t look different in the mirror. I had hoped I’d look like a guy who’s maybe been around the block a few times, but I don’t. Only notable difference is the angry red hickey on my chest, which strikes me as juvenile and perverse. It’s like an adult talking baby-talk. Some arrested development. I hope my girlfriend sees it when I meet her later. What else do I need to do to have a life worth talking about? I have a new patch of acne on my chin. I need to wash my sheets.

I don’t show the bite to my girlfriend. She’s painting her nails on the hardwood floor, after I just get into her apartment. I stand in the doorway and she doesn’t ask me to sit down. She asks me what I got up to last night and I know she can smell it on me and I think about it, telling her, spilling my guts on her oriental rug and letting her deal with the next steps. I fucked a guy for money and her red typewriter is in the corner, collecting dust.

“I think we should break up,” I say.

She looks up, on her stomach, striped tube top stretching around her torso. “Oh?”

A look at the floor and I think about what I’ve done and why it matters, and what I’ll use the two hundred dollars on. I could take her out with it. I guess. Club sandwiches and burnt coffee and these same conversations.

“Or not,” I say. “Unless you want to.”

“I’m alright,” she smiles, and she’s pretty, and it’s brighter out than it’s been in a while.

I unplugged my answering machine before I left. Her room is tidy. “Close the door, I have to tell you something.”

adam piccin is a writer from massachusetts. your mother would find him charming.