Perry Brass, the famed author, born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, left home at the age of seventeen, after spending a year in a freshman dorm at the University of Georgia, where he received death threats for being suspected of being gay. He has just finished a memoir of his ensuing adventures, and allowed LustSpiel to publish a preview of the text, i.e., the third chapter, which relates his exploits in Los Angeles. Here’s the first part (there are two more). The year is 1965.
Lost Angeles, they called it.
It was surely a great place to get lost.
I had no trouble getting rides. This ultra-cute, barefoot surfer dude, a year older, with sun-streaked hair and genuine “surfer knobs”—thick fleshy bumps on his shins from surfboard riding—stopped. And he told me what to look out for in LA. “The cops. They’re murder. They’ll pick you up for jaywalking. And the queers! They’ll try to pick you up just waiting for a bus, like. You need wheels of your own. That means you’ll need to pick yourself up some coins, know what I mean?”
I didn’t. But he winked at me, and I kind of got an idea.
I arrived around sunset in scorching downtown LA, a place part skid-row, part-zoo. My first night I spent at a Christian mission for low-life geezers, then got released into the dawn with no clue what to do next…till I realized that the surfer dude had a point: it was helpful that I was seventeen and had become quite comely in the California sun—blue-eyed, trim from outdoor work, curly hair bleached honey-golden, clad in tight jeans and T-shirt. Yes, men buzzed around me like flies.
That evening I hit a particularly buzzy point close to the downtown YMCA.
“What are you out for?” a man about thirty-two in a Corvette asked me.
Shy as I was, I got tongue-tied, and couldn’t even open my mouth.
“Why don’t you get in?” he persisted.
I did. He offered me a cigarette. I didn’t smoke, but decided this would make me seem a little less green than I was.
He hit the gas, and asked:
“So? Is this going to be business or pleasure?”
I just shrugged.
He smiled. “You are new at this, ain’t you?
He drove us to a family restaurant and bought me dinner, hamburgers, French fries, Coke. I gobbled up everything—at seventeen you are always hungry. We got back into his car, and he asked me where I wanted to go. I had no idea, so he took me up to Mulholland Drive. The view from up there was gorgeous; endless twinkling lights like fireflies rolling over the hills and valleys. I realized that deep-down this guy was probably as shy as I was, but I didn’t know to break either his ice or my own. He drove me back to the Y and handed me a five-dollar bill.
“There’s something about you,” he said ponderously. “You seem too nice a guy to take advantage of,”—and then drove off.
I had been lucky so far during this whole adventure—compliments of my Southern manners and my drawl, perhaps. Unlike most hustlers—including kid hustlers—I didn’t come off as tough. And his money was more than enough for a room for a night at the Y. The place lived up to its reputation—older men propositioning me in the communal shower, haha. I ignored them, though. I had enough money for the room for another night.
Next morning, I walked back into downtown LA—past the Greyhound Bus station and beyond it to Pershing Square (notorious for its street preachers and the male sex-market). Some dudes were out in the square already, open for business in their standard-issue hustler uniform of tight jeans and white T’s. Cops came in to poke around, glare, then leave. I got hungry and explored the side streets filled with greasy-spoon restaurants. All I could afford was a doughnut and coffee.
I had just finished a doughnut outside when this guy walked up to me and started talking, as if we had known each other for years. He was in his mid-thirties, short, muscular, endowed with a thick neck and bleached platinum-blond hair that did not go with his face, not at all.
“I know,” he said smiling. “This hair is whore-able, isn’t it? I look like a whore, but it was for the last show I was doing. Ever heard of Kismet?”
I had. It was a musical based on The Arabian Nights; I had already seen the Technicolor movie with Howard Keel. Kismet also meant “destiny,” and suddenly it felt like he—his name was Blake—was a part of that. He was a professional opera-quality singer, from a good family in Miami, horribly down on his luck—but then, so much of downtown LA was horribly down on its luck: refugees from nowhere drawn to this steaming hole of hard-core Christian missions, greasy restaurants, all-night movie houses, and hustler bars.
Blake—I was taken with him; I loved classical music and he was . . . geeze, a real singer of opera! I’d never met one. He had been disgorged by a bus from Miami, and since then had been up all night on the streets, living off coffee and cigarettes. He had no place to stay. Well, I had nothing to lose. I snuck him back into my Y room—no easy feat rushing past a sturdy guard who turned his head. Blake was dying for a shower, so we showered, then made love in my room. Like real love, as in, “Wow! This is what it feels like.” I had never had that before, genuine, fantastic physical sex. Like something magical. His body was both hard and kind of pulpy—a genuine working man’s body, even though he was an artist.
He confessed to me. “You make me feel like I’m seventeen, too.”
I didn’t know what he meant; I was still the inhibited kid from the South. I felt funny about sucking his cock even, and couldn’t imagine letting him fuck me. In fact, all we did was the sort of nervous, shy sex you have as a schoolboy; still, it was amazing.
I asked him how he’d been making money.
By hustling, he told me: “LA is filled with queens who’ll pay for it. If they’ll pay somebody like me, imagine what they’ll pay you?”
I didn’t want to imagine. But what else was I going to do? I had no money, no real education or family—when you come out strange by sixteen as I had, “family” is beside the point; it’s not there anymore, except as a haunting memory. I had always been outside the family: the sissy nephew, the queer cousin, the disappointing son. There was no way I could ask my kin for a moment of help.
Blake and I spent the night together. Next morning, I put my stuff in a 25-cent locker at the Greyhound depot where Blake had his. I was dead broke again, with just enough money for coffee and breakfast rolls for the two of us. We went back to Pershing Square where I scored several times that afternoon. Older men (a joke: "older" meant twenty-six maybe, or thirty) would pick me up and take me back to one of the numerous “trick hotels” in the area with rooms for four dollars. There they would blow me, or I would jerk them off. Since I was a teen “trade” hustler and very fresh meat, I wasn’t expected to do more.
Evening approached, and I met up with Blake back at the Square; we got a room together. I felt safe with him; I needed somebody—and Blake was cultivated, artistic, and not nearly as phony as most of the people I met, although his story of operatic stardom back in Miami or Chicago never made much sense.
We kept going like this for several days. One problem with easy money is that you don’t keep it. Despite an array of johns, we were always broke. I tried ManPower jobs, and worked for a day in a factory that bottled ketchup (I hated the smell of the place). Next, I got a job cleaning a Japanese restaurant, but it wasn’t meant to last (Blake was sure that the owner, a Japanese man, simply wanted to be seen downtown on the streets with me). “You’re young and handsome,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to be seen with you?”
Those sun-filled days seemed to last forever: hanging out in Pershing Square with its quick, easy sex trade (Blake got paid more than I did, because he would do everything), and us going to all night movies, eating cheap, greasy food, and taking the long, picturesque bus ride out to Will Rogers State Park, the famed gay beach in Santa Monica.
All of this was good. With Blake I had some protection—thin as it was—from the sinister world around me.
That was, until one day in Pershing Square I met Rodney.