By Joshua Ryan
Back at the House, the atmosphere seemed to be changing.
Everybody noticed it — things were different. Cicero was snapping at everyone, at least everyone whose existence he noticed. Sacky complained about “these constant ALTERATIONS in my menus” that were made by Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Thomasen. Marky complained about being rousted “in the middle of the night” — meaning his jerk-off time after dinner and Sacky’s kitchen wine — and having to drive Mr. H and Mr. T to the Parrot Lounge and wait in the car till they “came out with something or other,” a something that spent the night in their bed and was returned to obscurity the next morning, “after stinkin up my car.” Then it all stopped, as suddenly as it started. The Misters decided to try something else.
Late one afternoon, right before dinner, a new workie arrived in the back of a truck and was hauled out of its cage and led to the barracks. Its name was Jody, and it was a very cute young man, or had been before it got put in a workie suit. Clearly, it had done service in some other venue besides Hamilton Farms: there was fuzz on its head, and it still had eyebrows. But it had big brown eyes and a nice slender body. This was no field hand. Wherever it had been, it had been given easy treatment. To its body, anyway. The brain might be different. Its eyes were scared — very scared. Which is normal, when you’ve just been shipped somewhere in a cage. Cicero stood in the door of the barracks and told Nob to “take off its hair and move it up to the House. That’s where it’s gonna live.”
He didn’t seem happy. Live in the House? Like Cicero himself? Who was this dude? The sign on his chest said he was JODY, AT YOUR SERVICE, but he looked like another dude to me.
Nob and Cicero went around the corner and had a private chat, and I had a talk with the newbie. “Hey,” I said. “Your name didn’t use to be Dylan, did it?”
“Yeah,” he said. “That was a long time ago…. Sorry, I don’t recognize you.” I thought he was gonna cry. He’d been processed when I was, and then he’d been sold somewhere, and now he’d been sold again.
“I met you in Processing,” I said.
He shrugged. And Nob returned. “Cmon,” he said. “You gotta lose that hair.” He took him to the shower shack to apply the Slick It Off. When Jody came back, he’d be bald, and he’d stay that way. But he didn’t come back. After the shower, Nob took him straight to the House. Before the boss came back, the rest of us had already decided what Jody was gonna be doin up there. Not that there shouldn’t be a discussion.
“So,” a workie called Blue said, “guess they’re tired a rentin. Now they’re gonna buy.”
“Guess so,” Nob said. “Cicero’s got him now.”
“Givin the new product a little taste test?” Blue suggested.
“Doubt it,” Nob said. “Cicero don’t wanta start bunkin with the Grounds crew.”
“I’m feelin jealous,” a guy named Wick said. “If they’re so bored, why didn’t they choose one of US?”
Everybody groaned, like nobody would have enjoyed living up in the House, if it meant servicing the two older gents. But if there was an application to get that job, everybody would have turned one in.
Marky came in from the garage, and he had a workie called Flip with him. They’d seen Jody on his way to the House.
“I wonder how much they paid for that little number,” Blue said.
“Probly not much,” Flip said. “Guess it’s been used. And old Ham’s such a tightwad. That’s why we’re always so short-handed here. Won’t buy a new workie to save his neck.”
“Wonder who he sold to buy that one?” Blue asked.
“Nobody,” Nob replied. “Don’t like to sell. Although he oughta sell you!”
“Yeah?” Blue said, and they went back and forth. Then Wick said, “The guy keeps everything he gets. Look at last Christmas, when he gave us that beer. Fuckin six-pack! For the whole barracks! Ya know…”
“Yeah,” Marky explained, “but you’re not countin the Christmas food. Or the stuff we get from Sacky. OK, OK! I know! The guy is cheap. But he’s a collector. Once he’s got somethin, he hangs onto it. Unless it’s stocks or somethin like that. He’s buyin and sellin that shit all day. Dude, I’ve seen it. Soon as he gets in the car, he’s on the phone. Buy this, sell that. But that’s just investments. We’re his PROPERTY, dude. We’re actual STUFF.”
He hadn’t wanted to go there, and he stopped for a second, while the horror of being a workie washed over us all.
“Like I say, Jody’s his PROPERTY, dude. He might send him back here. He might send him down to the fields. He might…. ”
“He might do a lotta things!” Blue said. “You saw that Jody dude.”
“As I was sayin,” Marky went on. “As I was SAYIN, he might do LOTSA THINGS, but he won’t sell him off. He’s part of the collection, just like the rest of us.”
The thought came to me: I’m glad Ace won’t be sold! Even if I never see him again. Even if he has another fuck buddy by now. Which he probably has. And I don’t! After losing him.
That night when I was laying in my bunk, I started laughing. Laughing at myself for thinking that Mike and Jerry were ever gonna let me out. I was the junior house servant, and that was all. I was part of the collection, and that’s the way I’d stay.
It was a bad night. A few days later, I got paddled, but that wasn’t so bad. And it had nothing to do with Mike and Jerry. It’s just something that happens when you’re a workie. One of the guys that came to pick up the garbage dropped a pack of cigarettes on the grounds, and I picked it up and started smoking it, without sharing with the other workies. I don’t know why I did it. Like I said, I’d never smoked until I put on my workie suit. Maybe it was because those smokes were wealth. For a few minutes I felt like I was back in my beautiful house with my beautiful clothes and my beautiful life. For a few minutes I had something to consume!
But only a few. On the third cigarette I got sick, and Nob found me that way, puking beside the dumpsters. So he made me clean it up and took me back to the barracks, and when the other workies came in, he had me bend over in front of them, and he paddled me. “For smoking.” Then he distributed the rest of the cigs. Justice was satisfied, and even I got a token smoke. Nobody brought it up again. Everybody else had been paddled for something, at some time before, and I knew that everybody else had consumed something he was supposed to share. Next day, I was back eating coq and drinking Sacky’s cooking wine. He was happy to share whatever he could with the top set of barracks, as long as it didn’t visibly inflate the grocery bill. It was OK if we got drunk every night. Which I tried to do. It’s good when things stay the same all the time.
Especially when everything seemed to be restless — including Jerry and Mike. They used to keep to themselves. They didn’t entertain. Maybe one or two guests — that was it. If they wanted a party they went to somebody else’s house, and Marky drove them home. But now they were changing. They were looking for things to do.
“It’s NOT a Thanksgiving party,” Sacky said. “So what IS it? It’s a party, and it’s on fuckin Thanksgiving Day! And it’s like, ALL day! Season’s too late for the pool, but they want drinks on the terrace. With fuckin patio heaters! Tacky! And THIRTY people! All rich fuckin faggots! I can hear it now — ‘OUR cook would NEVER do it THAT way! And the SERVICE! Their workie is simply incompetent.’ But I CAN’T cook and serve at the same time. And Punt can’t serve thirty people himself. I need help! Besides Boy Jody, of course. He’ll be too busy gettin ogled and stroked!”
Of course, I had to be one of the servers. It was inevitable. Everything had to go from bad to worse. How was I gonna turn up at that party without being recognized? Unless life as a field hand had changed me so much …. Like I said, the last thing I wanted any of the other workies to know was that I was Mr. Thomasen’s ex. But if I wasn’t outed, it would be a miracle.
So now I was finally seeing how completely fucked it had been to want to get close to the House. If I’d been locked in a workie barn a mile from all the French food and the poster of the Eiffel Tower and the possibility of someday crawling out of my workie suit, I would have been safe. But now … what?
I didn’t know how fast the worst would happen. As soon as I walked out on the terrace carrying a tray of drinks, I heard Billy Rubin’s voice, and I knew it was all over for me. “There he is!” he shrieked. “The workie of the hour!” He swished quickly across the pavement, boyfriend in tow. “In his new look! Darling, that style is YOU! I’m sorry to SAY it — when you were with Mike, I always thought your dress was a little on the, shall we say, unduly SHOWY side? But no one will say that about you NOW!”
No question — Jerry or Mike had clued him in. They didn’t want any time to be wasted before my identity was revealed. I was in the House so I could be shamed and humiliated. This was their new way of using me. Right away, of course, there was a circle of fags around me. I knew them all. They all looked like I used to look. And they were all laughing at me. “I LOVE a man in uniform!” “Those eyebrows! Or LACK thereof! VERY fashionable!”
“But look at his NAME!” Billy said. They all crowded in so they could stare at “Butch” stamped on my chest. “Fuck, dude!” somebody’s boyfriend said to somebody else’s boyfriend, “that’s his fuckin NAME! I mean, did you ever meet anybody named BUTCH?”
I stood frozen, holding my tray. I tried looking over the heads of the mob, at my comrades, the other servants. They were standing by themselves, saying things to each other, trying to figure it out. I was a workie. But these guests obviously knew me. What did that mean? I saw Cicero rush over to Jerry and Mike. They waved him off. But they kept watching what happened to me.
I did my best to stand at attention, staring forward. Then a guy stepped into my field of view. He was a tall, young, pretty guy. A guy I’d always thought maybe I was in love with. A guy that stayed after a party and told me the story of his life, and cried, and I put my arms around him. His name was Greg Addison. Greg came forward with a sweater looped around his neck, exactly the way you see it in the movies, and he said, “Great look, dude. But let’s see the hairstyle.” Then he pulled off my cap.
“Whoa!” “Fuck!” “He’s bald!” “God damn!” “He’s TOTALLY bald!”
That’s what the crowd said. Greg didn’t say anything. He smiled and twirled my cap on one finger. I couldn’t do anything; I was holding my tray with both hands, and I didn’t want to drop it. Besides, I was a workie. I had no right to object. Then he put the cap back on my head. A little crooked, but it was back, and my naked skull wasn’t showing anymore. For a moment, nobody said anything. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cicero coming towards me, with a look on his face that said I was neglecting my duty. I saw a paddle in my future. “May I offer you a drink?” I said to Greg. “Sir?”
“Sure,” he said. “Butch!” And picked a cocktail off my tray.
Then they all had to do it. They all had to get a drink from the tray held out by their former friend. “Nice wardrobe,” somebody said. “Except that Halloween isn’t for another year.” “What’s its name?” a late-comer asked. “I thought they said ‘Bitch’!” “You’re close!” somebody answered. I remembered that guy. Yeah, I’d been a bitch to him.
Eventually almost everybody had said almost everything they could think of and had taken all the selfies they wanted, standing next to me as I silently held my tray. That’s when Cicero sidled up to me and reminded me to go to the kitchen and fetch more drinks. When I came back out he had another order: “Don’t just stand in one place, boy — go through the crowd.” I heard myself saying, “Sir, may I offer you a drink, sir?” “Sir, may I offer you a drink, sir?” Some of the guests just took a drink and went back to their chat. They’d had enough of me. But there were always a few that wanted to be funny. “What’s this, workie juice?” “Love that shirt. Where can I get one, Carson? Oh, I forgot. You aren’t Carson anymore. Your name is Bitch. I mean Butch.” Or just groped me and said, “I always wanted to do that.”
When everybody was drunk enough, Mike clanged a knife on a glass. The guests quieted down and the workies stood respectfully on the side while Jerry welcomed his guests. He said he was happy to have so many dear friends in his home. He noted that the turkey would be served in an hour or so. “That’s all the traditional stuff, gentlemen — no prayers today! (Big laugh.) But to make up for that (more laughs), you can keep looking at Jody. He’s next to the stairway. Over and out. (Applause.)”
I’d noticed people drifting over there, and now I knew why. When I got a chance, I went to the door and looked. Yeah, there was the new dude, the former Dylan, standing like I was, offering drinks. The difference was, he knew he didn’t need to stand at attention. He was bending and bobbing in whatever way the touches of the guests inspired him. And smiling all the time.
OK. Made sense. I guess I’d been like that, a thousand years ago, when I was Mike’s new trophy boy. Only I didn’t have to wear a clown suit, and I didn’t have my name inked on my shirt, and I didn’t have to be pawed over because I was a workie. I also had beautiful hair and a mouth for the best wines and cuisine. So there were a few differences. I tried to feel sorry for the kid, but he looked too happy. He looked like he thought he was the top of the heap.
Right after then, Cicero told us he was cutting down on the liquor. Jody had had enough. And a lot of the guests had had enough. So I wouldn’t be needed to pass any more drinks. I hung out in the kitchen, watching the other waiters picking up their food trays and waiting for my own tray to come up. Not that I was looking forward to going back into that bitches’ den! But there was something going on — nobody was handing me a tray. The atmosphere in the kitchen was tense. Nobody was talking to me. Nobody was looking at me. It was because they’d found out that Mike was my former lover.
So why was I in the House? They didn’t know. Maybe it was some kind of strange costume drama. Maybe it was some kind of weird S and M. They didn’t know. But they knew it was weird. And why wouldn’t a weird dude be a snitch? When it got to the point of Punt “accidentally” stepping on my foot, and Sacky “accidentally” telling me to move a plate that turned out to be too hot to touch, Cicero showed up again and said that Mr. Meyers was taking me back to my barracks. Which happened. In silence. I was locked in, alone, waiting for whatever was gonna happen to me.
It must have been way after midnight when all the workies came back. I looked up from the table where I’d fallen asleep with my head on the cold plastic “cloth,” and there they were, all the workies in the barracks, looking at me with their arms crossed over their chests. Sacky and Punt and Marky and a couple of others from the head barracks came along too. The whole jury was assembled.
“We need to talk,” Nob said. “Spill it.”
The kangaroo court was in session. I remembered Ace’s threat to kill me. These dudes could kill me tonight. They probably wouldn’t, because they were all such faggots. But maybe that was worse. They’d figure out how to do it slowly.
So I sat on the wooden crate and I told it all. As far as I knew it. Life with Mike. Problems with Our Relationship. The challenge. The bet. My stupidity. My life at the Farms. All the zero, nothing things that had happened between Mike and Jerry and me in the past few months. I testified from the crate while the workies stood at a distance and looked at me.
“Is that it?” Nob said.
“That’s it,” I said.
“OK,” he said to the others. “Any questions?”
“If all that shit is true,” a workie named Buck said, “why didn’t you tell anybody?”
“I was ashamed. And I thought you might …kill me. Because you’d think I was a snitch. Or I could get stuff for you that I can’t. But actually … I’m not important enough to kill.”
“No you’re not,” Sacky said. “But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have an accident.”
“Dude,” Buck asked, “why in the hell did you sign that contract?”
“I told you,” I said. “I was angry. I was showing off. I was totally STUPID. But I’m not the only one who signed a contract.” I knew that most of them were volunteers.
Nobody said anything for a while. Then Marky said, “OK. They don’t like him. I mean, dude, they really hate him. I mean, if he was a snitch or somethin, why would they let all that shit happen to him?” Fuck, Marky, I didn’t like you before, but right now I’d like to fuckin kiss you.
“Well,” Sacky said, “I gotta get some sleep. I HATED that party.” Surprise — it turned out that everybody else had hated the party too.
So they stopped. I was allowed to live.
To be continued …