Here’s my body, which I give over to you. Fashion it. Mold it. Shape it into whatever you want. My flesh is your flesh. Consume it. Let it give you strength. You have an appetite for a body like mine. I know this all too well. That’s why men like you pay me for sex, and I’m not ashamed to admit this. I’m good at it. I know what I’m doing. I can take command. Or, if you’d rather, if you’d like to be in control, I’m cool with that, too. I’m fine with whatever you want. As long as you pay and know that I absolutely do not spend the night and don’t kiss on the mouth.
A text message from one of my regulars comes through, a rich married dude named Greg.
Come fuck me, it reads. I’ll pay the usual.
I’m on the eastside and he’s in Santa Monica. Roadz says it’ll take me 55 minutes to cover the 18 miles to his house. I’m the little blue arrow sitting there at the intersection of Anderson and Fourth in Boyle Heights. He’s the green dot near the blue smudge with the faded gray words spelling out Pacific Ocean. Between us there’s an endless grid of streets and freeways, alleys and service roads. Some are yellow in spots, others throbbing bright red like arteries about to burst. The light turns green, and I go, zigzagging through traffic, speeding around slow-moving trucks and vans. I cut drivers off. They honk and give me the finger.
Fuck you. I’m hustling here. Gotta make the cash.
This is what I’m about.
His neighborhood is all wide lawns with lush green grass. Palm trees are lined up along the curbs, swaying in salt-scented air. The homes are decorated with talavera-tiled entryways and thick wooden doors with hinges that groan when they open. I park across from his two-story house. My cell buzzes as I get out of the car. Not another client this time. A text message from my father.
Can’t, I type back. Class.
The last time I saw my parents was at my grandfather’s funeral a few months ago. Since then, I’ve been avoiding them, keeping myself busy, partly because that whole business of death and dying is hard to confront, and also because shit’s always been tense with me and my dad. It started back in high school, right around the time he pressured me to get into sports. I tried out for the wrestling team, made it to junior varsity, but quit because the coach was an asshole and I didn’t see the point of getting kneed in the balls and pinned down to a smelly mat by another dude. He was disappointed, I knew. I tried telling him that my dreams weren’t his, that I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. He acted like he understood, but I could tell he was just saying that. Throw in Abuelo dying and the fact that my dad can’t help me pay for college, and there you go. Shit’s beyond strained.
Right now, though, I need to push all that out of my head.
Walking across the street, I try to act cool, like I belong. I’m in a pair of baggy jeans and a black tank top. Shaved head. Tattooed. In broad daylight. Anyone can see me. Here, I’m a suspicious-looking character. I rehearse in my head what I’ll say if a cop sees me:
I’m lost, officer.
My car stalled, officer.
No, I’m not carrying any weapons or drugs, officer.
Yes, you can search my car, officer.
I stroll up the driveway, all slow, natural. Once inside, I’m relieved. He’s in a dress shirt and tie when he answers. There’s stubble along his chin and jawline. He’s kept his graying hair short, buzzed close to his scalp along the sides and back. The walls of the hallway are cool to the touch. Pictures crowd the top of a side table: his daughter holding a baseball bat; his wife (Meredith or Miranda or Michaela, some white lady name like that) with her arms around an old woman wearing a big sun hat and too much jewelry; Greg crouching next to a black Labrador.
Walking past the bathroom, I hear a low, constant hiss coming from the toilet. A pair of lace curtains sway in the breeze. I smell the ocean, imagine boats bobbing along the water and try listening for the screech of seagulls drifting in the sky above. No time to get distracted by all that bullshit, though. I’m here on business and this is how it goes: You pay me first before anything. You pay or I fucking walk.
Greg knows the drill. From his wallet, he takes some bills and sets them on the nightstand next to the bed he shares with his wife. I undress and lie down, the blanket soft against my back, the pillows perfumed by the scent of dryer sheets. He unzips his slacks and pulls them down. He keeps his dress shirt and tie on. His garters’ metal clasps scratch my thighs. Instantly I’m hard. That’s how I work. It’s automatic. Like turning the power switch to on.
He straddles me, and we go at it.
Nothing like a quick fuck before heading out of town for a business conference, Greg admits. I nod, pretending to be interested.
“You should come with me,” he says, putting his briefs and pants back on. “A lot of horny businessmen away from their wives. You’d make a shitload of money. A hot Mexican guy like you would be popular.”
“It’s good.” I grab my wallet and keys and head for the door.
“I’ll message you when I’m back,” he says.
It turns them on when I act uninterested, when I make them beg for it.
Outside, I pull away from the curb just as Greg’s wife rolls up to their house and parks in the driveway. From the smudged rearview mirror of my car, I watch her unload some bags, then catch a glimpse of their little girl making a run for the front door I just passed through.
Back in the day, my grandfather was a badass luchador, a national celebrity in Mexico. This was in the 1970s. He fought as a tecnico under the name of Aguila Dorado. As a kid, I used to love going through boxes of his things—old clippings, posters advertising his fights, Polaroids of him standing in the middle of a crowded bar, arms extended out, muscles oiled and flexed, surrounded by women with billowy hair and too much makeup. Big-time Mexican magazines wrote articles. Their glossy pages were filled with pictures of Abuelo doing moves and flips in the ring, walking around a poor neighborhood where a handful of kids in ratty clothes and uncombed hair peered out from open windows and doorways, looking at him like he was a ghost or spirit in yellow spandex tights and a cape decked out with feathers and fake jewels. He wore his mask like a second skin, braided around the back of his skull by a series of thick laces. The gold borders outlining his eyes and mouth were thick, defined, and even though he was one of the good guys, the mask always made him look menacing and sinister to me.
In other pictures, he’s in the kitchen with my grandmother Elena, who died before I was born. She sports a polyester jacket with a wide collar, her hair in a bun, fake eyelashes fuzzy as moth wings. She’s holding a wooden spoon up to Abuelo’s mouth, and he stands beside her in a brown and orange checkered shirt, chains hanging from his thick neck, his lucha mask over his face because, like all luchadores, he kept his identity a secret from his fans. He even starred in films. They were on VHS tapes, so my dad had to dig out the old VCR from underneath a stack of boxes in our garage. The movies were full of cheesy plots and bad acting, but I was entertained by them, had bad dreams after I watched one involving him fighting a coven of evil witches with green faces and white eyes.
Even my father doesn’t know for sure why they left Mexico right before he was born and immigrated here to Los Angeles. After my grandmother died, Abuelo quit his job at the factory, signed a long-term lease for a shabby building, and started a gym on an industrial street lined with auto body shops and scrapyards. It became a place where people from all around Boyle Heights, East L.A., even some of the hardcore old school gangbangers from fucking Hazard and Ramona Gardens, came to pump iron and, of course, watch my abuelo duke it out with bad guy rudos inside the ring on weekends during the 1980s. His flips and acrobatics were legendary, I’m told. It was like he could fly through the air. He never stopped. His feet never touched the ground, I hear.
My father was a real troublemaker back in the day, partying, ditching class, getting wasted, and when he was in high school, Abuelo introduced him to lucha as a way to keep him out of trouble. Guess it worked, because my father ended up a badass luchador himself, took the name Aguila Dorado, Jr. in honor of Abuelo. Before I was old enough to remember, my father quit the lucha gig entirely and instead found a job at the same factory where Abuelo worked. My mom told me she used to ice his injuries after big bouts. She remembers bandages soaked in rubbing alcohol, the smell of ointments and oils wafting through the house on Saturday evenings. She remembers my father’s grunts, a litany of injuries she could list off the top of her head, even now: bruised ribs, torn tendons, sprained hamstrings, cracked fingers and wrists. Blood. There was always blood. He and Abuelo put their bodies through so much just to survive.
But lucha libre wasn’t my thing. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the tradition, but I could never see myself dressing up in spandex tights, a crazy mask over my face, doing flips and somersaults, getting my ribs cracked and nose broken, all for what? Get out of here with that bullshit. Another string of disappointments I dumped on my father. He’s pretty much abandoned hope that I’ll ever start training, that I’ll ever become a top-notch luchador like him.
So, the family tradition ends with me.
That’s just the way it is.
On the day my abuelo died, I found myself standing in the gym’s main entrance, near the counter they used as a concession stand. A woman fed chunks of frozen bananas and strawberries into a blender. The display case where Abuelo’s luchador uniform stood—draped over a mannequin and protected behind two flimsy glass doors—was to my right. The manager, Lalo, wasn’t anywhere around, and time was running out. Abuelo was in the hospital, dying. All I could think of was getting his mask, taking it to him, letting him see it one last time. I used my elbow to break the glass. Some of the shards clung to my skin and left abrasions that burned like little angry fires.
“Ay!” the woman making smoothies shouted. “What are you doing?”
But I grabbed it anyway and bolted for the door. In my car, I hauled ass out of the parking lot, flying down the freeway. At the hospital, he was small, wasted away, a tan smudge against the white sheets. Machines beeped all around him. Red numbers and green dots flashed off and on. How did he get so tiny? What happened to his body? Where did the muscles and tendons, the meat and the bones go?
I took the mask out of my pocket and raised it up. “Look, Abuelo. I brought you something.”
His eyes opened, but they stared up, past me and my father, past the ceiling of the hospital, and into something else, something only the dying can see. After, as the orderlies wheeled his body away, I made sure to take the mask. Despite its age, despite the wear and tear my abuelo put it through during the many years he fought, it still looked good. The white fabric was clean, unblemished. The thick gold border defining the eyes, nose, and mouth was still as menacing, still as mysterious as they appeared when I first saw it as a kid.
“Make sure you return that,” my father said once we were alone.
No hug from him. No tears. Just a long, drawn out sigh.
I remember thinking, Fuck that. This here’s mine. It’s a part of my history. I’m holding on to it. Abuelo would want that.
Right around the time we buried my grandfather, I found out I was in danger of being forced to drop out of college because I didn’t have the money to cover my tuition, which wasn’t a lot for some of the families of my classmates. But for me and my parents, it was a shit ton. Once the checks my dad was sending stopped arriving as frequently after his pay was cut at work, I took matters into my own hands. I spent weeks filling out job applications at the mall, at coffee shops, bookstores, anywhere. But nobody was fucking hiring.
I was bored one night. I’d had a couple of beers, smoked a joint, and was at my apartment listening to music. There was an app I started using called Papi for men looking to hook up with Latinos. I set up a profile, uploaded some pictures, and waited. Shortly afterward, I was driving to a house in Silverlake for my first hook up with a guy offering me money for sex. His name was Scott. He was wealthy but lonely. He was thin, with pale skin and sad, droopy eyes.
“My life’s too crowded right now to accommodate a partner,” he said, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “If I’m not in L.A., I’m in New York City or London or Paris. I need someone to call, someone for company while I’m here.”
The tone of his voice was somewhere between annoyance and fatigue. I thought maybe what Scott needed was a nap, not a fuck. I was about to get up and leave when he scooted close to me, caressed my biceps, and squeezed my thighs. We smoked some weed, then talked for about another hour before he led me to his bedroom; we undressed and went at it.
He called me a pro and said I needed to consider upping my price.
“For real?” I laughed.
“I’m serious.” He folded the bills and shoved them in the pocket of my shirt. “I know plenty of guys who’d pay top dollar for you.”
Hustling for sex turned out to be just like any other job, really. It was all about cultivating the customers you had, keeping them happy, and figuring out ways to grow the business. I developed a strong clientele base that included people like Greg and Scott. These became my regulars. I decided not to host, to keep that business away from my apartment. I didn’t want nosy neighbors complaining to the building manager about men stopping by at all hours. Last thing I needed was for people to think I was dealing drugs.
A few days after my hook up with Greg, a private message comes to my Papi inbox. White dude named Stefan. Asks if I’m down for some role-playing, says he’ll pay extra, so I write back and say, Let’s do this.
He wants me to pretend to be a gay hustler, so I’m standing there on the sidewalk along a dark stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, illuminated only by the headlights of passing cars. I’m leaning up against the wall of a building smoking cigarettes, sporting a white tank top, faded denim jeans, a pair of black boots, and a cap pulled down low, almost covering my eyes. I’m only there for a few minutes before another guy darts across the street toward me and asks to bum a smoke. Dude’s buff with a square chin and a rugged look to him. Sexy, I think. Dark brown hair. Skin slightly pocked with acne scars.
“You ain’t a fucking cop, are you?” He reaches out, his hand gliding over my chest and back. “You don’t got a wire on you?”
“No,” I assure him. “Just checking out the action.”
“What fucking action?” He exhales a ribbon of smoke and shakes his head. “Been here for, like, hours, man. And nothing.”
His name is Will and he says he fell on hard times when he hooked up with a guy who took him for everything six months after he moved to Hollywood to be an actor. “I’m far from home. No money. No skills or nothing. Had this dream of becoming the next Brad Pitt or whatever. Then I meet this guy who claims to be a talent agent. Has me pay him for headshots and acting classes up front, then leaves, and I never hear from the asshole again. Fucking cliché, man! So typical.”
He puts his cigarette in his mouth, balls both hands into fists, and stretches his arms out. There are letters tattooed across each knuckle and when he pushes them together, they spell cash only. “You won’t believe how many of these fuckers think they can write you a check or pay you with an iPhone or a car stereo. I can’t eat CDs. There are some real perverts out here.”
There was this one man, a nerd with glasses and bad breath who took him to a shitty motel. The guy had a buddy who wanted to join. A while later, this second guy showed up. He was blind.
“He fucking brought his seeing-eye dog with him, man,” Will shouts as a semi roars by, flicking his cigarette into the gutter. “And there I am getting gangbanged by a nerdy man with buck teeth and clammy hands and a blind man with a seeing-eye dog who just sits in the corner, looking up at me, wet nose and everything.”
A few minutes later, a car cruises up and parks by the curb. The window rolls down, and I recognize the dude Stefan from his Papi profile. He waves me over, but Will moves fast, approaches Stefan’s car. He leans his head inside, and they talk.
A few seconds later, he turns to me and shouts, “He wants your ass.”
Moving toward the car, we pass one another, and Will rams his shoulder into mine, nearly knocking me down.
“Watch it, bro,” I say.
“Been out here all fucking night,” he says. “All night.” Then he storms off toward the intersection, punching the air around him with those alphabet fists.
Stefan holds a wad of cash. “I’ve got a room down the street. Get that ass in here.”
I follow his orders, take the cash, and shove it in my pocket.
The hotel has banged up furniture and curtains dotted with cigarette burns. He uses bright red and green bungee cords to tie my arms and legs to the bedposts. From an oversized gym bag, the same color as my father’s, he pulls out whips, paddles, nipple clamps, lube, giant rubber dildos, and a fresh bottle of poppers. He unscrews the cap and forces me to inhale. My head gets light, my temples pulse, and my dick swells up, fat and plump and purple.
When we finish, Stefan dresses, grabs his keys and wallet, shoves everything back inside the gym bag, and leaves without saying anything. I stumble into the motel bathroom and rinse my mouth out with water from the sink, the taste of him—salty and pungent—still on my tongue. Outside, at the edge of the parking lot, I smoke a cigarette. On the sidewalk a few feet away, two hustlers stand near the bus stop. One wears a tank top decorated with green and white beads that glimmer from the neon lights of the donut shop on the corner. The other sports a pair of red spandex shorts, heavy boots, and a cotton hoodie zipped down, exposing his smooth, tan chest. Blue face masks cover their mouths and noses, the pleats of cloth stretching up and out with each breath they take. As I pass, the one in the sparkly tank top checks me out and says in a muffled voice, “Where you headed, papi?”
But I don’t answer; I’m too deep into my own thoughts, too far gone, my head still foggy from the poppers. Tonight, the air’s bone dry and dusty from the Santa Ana winds. The power lines lacing through the streets buzz and crack. There’s the aroma of burning embers. It settles into my skin, coats the palm trees along Santa Monica. Everything around me is all lit up, on the verge of catching fire. I wonder how it’ll all change us, who we’ll become once this burning finally stops.