JOHN THE BEGINNER
John, 18, hated his face. If his nose were smaller, his eyes a different brown, his bottom lip pouty … As a kid he’d been punched in the mouth and looked great for a couple of weeks.
Six years ago punk rock had focused his life. John liked the way punk romanticized death, and its fashions made pretty good camouflage. He dyed his hair blue-black, wore torn T-shirts, smeared his eyes with mascara, and stared at the floors of his school like they were movie screens.
He’d never felt more comfortable with himself.
One afternoon a sophomore named George Miles took a seat in John’s bedroom and tried not to blink. He’d looked cute, maybe even a little too cute, across the school cafeteria but one-on-one he twitched and trembled so much he made John think of a badly tuned hologram. John tried to draw but George was already ruined without his help.
“I’ll take a Polaroid,” he thought, “in case I become a photographer.” Reaching for the camera, he happened to notice the bed. No film.
“Listen, I’ve got another idea,” he said. In bed George shut his eyes, went limp, and kind of squeaked, all of which were okay with John.
He’d only had sex a couple of times, once standing up in a toilet stall, the other time with a guy about fifty who’d done all the work while he held his ass open.
With George as a prop, he tried out a bunch of positions he’d seen in a porno film. He made a lot of mistakes, like it took him forever to get his cock hard enough to slip inside George’s ass, but if George noticed or cared, it didn’t show.
“Huh?” That was George’s voice.
John was about to say, “I didn’t say anything,” when come spurted into his mouth.
“Jesus, George,” he choked, “couldn’t you warn me or something?
I was figuring something important out. Shit.”
To keep from causing a scene he turned his back and sulked. Propped up against the far wall was the portrait of George side by side with a sketch of a previous subject.
Even damaged, George’s looked better. John scrambled out of bed, grabbed his sketchpad and started comparing the portrait with every other one he’d finished.
“Hey,” he muttered, “I’ve got an idea. Get dressed.”
As soon as they’d scaled the wall, John and George fucked in some bushes.
The punk watched for a while, then he kicked them until they quit. All three collapsed on the steps of the house, dusty and spent as ghosts.
John tried to tell them the story of how he’d discovered the place, but after a few minutes George strolled inside and started tapping the walls for possible secret compartments.
The punk seemed more interested in the graffiti left over from earlier trespassers. He ran around scrawling the best on the backs of his hands with the tip of a burnt wooden match.
The punk got his belt off, stripped naked, and threw himself onto a mattress that someone had left in one corner years back.
“Hurt me,” he yelled in a hoarse voice.
“Fuck me up and I’ll never forget you. I really fucking love violence. I want to tell all my friends what we did so they’ll hate me or call me a fag or whatever, but fuck them. I’m not a poser like they are. I want to do everything so when I die they’ll say I lived and tell bad jokes about me but who cares. I like getting crazy and you seem okay. Anyway, why not?”
He leaned back a few inches, spooked by the power of what he was doing.
He tried to remember the name of the famous artist who’d shot himself and crawled across broken glass in his Jockey shorts. He couldn’t.
This seemed more original anyway. Doing horrible things to yourself was just me-generation angst shit from the seventies.
A bleeding punk kid was so much more horrific and ridiculous and sort of moving…
The following month’s only highlight occurred on a Thursday. John had been keeping his eye on one particular freshman all year.
The guy had a cherubic face. It was meticulous, as though conceived by computer, but in every other way he was a shambles. He talked out loud to himself, walked around in what seemed like a hypnotic trance, claimed that he was a pop star, et cetera.
David always had the unnerving effect that George usually did during sex, or that that punk had had when John was biting him up.
John was so agitated he couldn’t start to piss. Even from inches away, David was one of those guys who were so cute their skin looked like plastic or candy.
He was oblivious to John and spent their precious few seconds together babbling to the wall behind the urinal about how somebody was following him.
It was all John could do not to interrupt, not that he’d know what to say. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to draw David, fuck him, beat him up or fall in love with him.
“George,” he said, “something is obviously bothering you. Not just today but in general. So what is it?”
George’s head jerked. “Oh, umm …” His eyes flicked all over the room. “Everything,” he mumbled.
John asked again then wished he hadn’t because George’s head gave a last shake or two and dropped back on the chair like he’d been shot.
“I’m just completely fucked up,” he whispered. “I don’t have any real friends and I can’t do my homework at all anymore. Sometimes I wish I was dead. Nothing makes sense like my mother has cancer and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me when she dies. It’s nice to see you but I’m so alone all the time….”
George went on like that for an hour, despite having made every point he was going to make in the first thirty seconds.
Words didn’t seem that appropriate until they’d dressed, reached the front door and promised to phone.
“I hope you understand,” John added suddenly, “that I’m a much better artist than I am a person.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” George said.
He rested his hand on the doorknob.
“I mean I’ve decided to make art my life,” John said, “and if I’m going to do that I can’t let myself deal with why you’re fucked up. My work’s my mirror, like that professor said. I’m weird enough as it is without figuring out why I’m so weird, if you know what I mean.”
George nodded, turned the knob. “You mean I scare you?” he asked. “No, I mean I can’t see you again.”
George started trembling.