Boys Town

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In the Realm of the Senses by Lucy Grealy
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When I got to Provincetown, I put my bags down at my friend’s house, and rode a bike into town past everyone’s front yard gardens in full bloom. It was the recent intense August before our apocalyptic fall: clear and bright and blue. I drove down Commercial Street, the main street, and the first person I recognized was an actor friend, Bennet, who introduced me to his new boyfriend, Jeff. They both wore tight white tank tops. They had just become boyfriends and were very breathy with each other. We went to Jeff’s place — a little rental off of Commercial Street, sat on old couches and listened to Melanie C. They were on Ecstasy, eyes wide, jaws grinding. Jeff made a long pot pipe out of tin foil, and Bennet darted into the other room and came back with a Ziploc bag filled at the bottom seam with little orange balls, like mini-Skittles: Marinol, THC pills. He gave me five, I smoked some pot off the pipe, and sunk into the couch, which soon became part of my backside. Then Jeff led us all into the bedroom and we sucked each other off in a circle.


In the morning I lay there as they slept, between them on the dirty bed in a wood paneled room. I figured I had not been there twelve hours yet and already I was involved in a complicated threeway.


This is not uncommon here in Provincetown, the gay Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at the poetic curved end of Cape Cod. You come here and become part of some tangled series of affairs within minutes. It’s why some people call it Problemstown. Here men walk about in vacation mode, tanned and drunk and driven to get their rocks off before they leave.


The connected lines between gay guys are always very intricate — you have sex with a guy you meet and then discover he had or is having sex with someone you know and on and on until you are looking at a dizzying net of lines, like those on a leaf. Here the net is a little easier to perceive. Since they’re in a small town, guys can’t rely on the ruthless invisibility available in cities — where men have the ability to escape after one night stands to their apartments, saying “I’ll call you!” Here, in Provincetown, gay guys are almost damned to treat each other differently. Desire flies around like a breeze. Ptown is like no place I have ever been, so sexually charged yet neighborly, erotic yet touristy. It’s like Pleasantville with butt sex.


Ride your bike around for a week, and you will have made enough friends that you will be saying hi almost every few yards. Hello, Ben the swimsuit-store owner with the inch-long nipples! Hello, drag queens with shaved eyebrows, little clavicles and moon-pale skin dodging the sun! Hi, scrubby kid giving me henna tattoos!


Homosex is the mainstream here. Seeing a heterosexual couple holding hands is strange. Along with your old-time taffy and lobster shops, there are stores with rainbow merchandise, magical womyn shops, a sex shop, a store called Gay Mart, and countless bed and breakfasts catering to gays with incomes.


But beyond the rainbow-colored boutique surface, Ptown remains a candyland for the horny homosexual. It has a candy cane forest: the long reedy grasses in the tidal basin where men wind their way through wet pathways for spontaneous orgies. There is a gumdrop valley: the dunes of Herring Cove, where men amble around on pathways and jerk each other off. And there is definitely a molasses swamp: the Dick Dock, the dark underside of a hotel patio, active only at night.


Of course there is a downside to this Shangri-La. Leave it to my gay brothers to push themselves and party too hard. People take Ecstasy, Special K, GHB or all three and lose control of their bodily functions. Last summer I saw three people have seizures on the street. After a simple week here, the headless hedonism can begin to make you feel like nothing is real.





Herring Cove, the main beach in Provincetown, has lumpy dunes with twisty pathways. Gay guys have claimed a stretch of sand for themselves, far off away from the families and lesbians with their coolers. To get there you have to bike a half a mile out of town, and then cross another half a mile, though a beautiful tidal basin full of sea lavender and crabs. The water rolls in at high tide, and sometimes you have to wade through it, until you reach the high dunes, where late in the day, men crouch in the grottoes surrounded by bushes and fiddle with themselves and/or each other. I have tried my hand at cruising the dunes, but I have a hard time signaling correctly.


Occasionally, if you walk on the beach, far enough to the left where it is mostly nude, you will see men lying on towels in a 69 pose, or crouched down, or simply humping right there, performing for anyone walking by.


A couple of older gay guys have a white tent set up this year. Every day I have seen them this week, they have been sucking each other off or fucking right there next to their tent. I swear I have never seen them stop. They look like Animal Planet footage of wild baboons without any social codes of shame or conduct. They are like some sort of nasty and marvelous monument to the obsessive bravery and tenaciousness of gay sex. Next to the tent, they planted a blue-and-black-striped flag with a bear paw print on it. This means they are into SM and are “bears” — hairy, older men who are usually chubby and proud of it.


I am at the far end of the cove. The sun is strong, the water is bracing. The birds are cawing in small groups. I just got deliriously stoned and everything feels loosely placed. Arlen comes up to me, an undeniably cute guy with a monobrow. He is strolling down the beach until he sees me, and comes up with beach glass in his hand.


“The water is intense today,” he says. He is uncannily interested in things that I am: he’s read Language poetry, he loves country music. He takes a piece of beach glass and presses it into my belly button. He looks at me deeply. “I want someone to fuck my B-hole,” he says, looking out over the water, to which I have to reply, “I’ll do it,” because I think that this is the Brave New World of up-front desire. He quickly changes the subject, “Wow . . . look at that rainbow flag out on that boat.”


He lies on my red sheet. Clouds come in and it starts to lightly rain. By five, everyone on the beach has gone except us, and I pull the sheet over us and we kiss, fondle and then come. Then he goes away, saying he has to go home and meditate, so I walk back alone.


“Hey! Want to see the sex tree?” says a long-haired yoga-bodied guy I meet walking back through the basin. He is older, with a lean muscular body and a long face.


We walk through the flat basin up a hill, and on the way he invites me to an art installation performance he is doing at someone’s house. He will be making genital prints using natural dyes made out of beet juice and blueberries. We talk about how magical Provincetown is. “It’s because it’s built on a spiral,” he says with that assured New Age intent, “and spirals are rare in our world, and always carry a lot of energy.”


We reach the sex tree — a low beach tree with strong gnarled branches and an umbrella of leaves overhead, making a little private shelter. The sand, well worn around the base, has a few balled-up tissues here and there. “I like to do this!” my new friend says, and climbs the tree, hitching his knees and feet between two branches like a gymnast, hanging upside down. “It’s really good for sucking dicks,” he says, “especially those which are upturned. Those guys really enjoy it.”


Back in town, I see Joey, who makes me stutter. We say hello but don’t chat long. I was completely in love with him last year — a hot carpenter with a shaved head. I went to his place and he showed me his antique stripping tools he kept in a cedar chest under his bed, and then we screwed and he looked at me with yearning sorrowful eyes, telling me he wanted to take me on a boat to show me secluded places in Ptown no one ever sees.


Joey is a “townie,” one of the cool, mellow guys who live here year round. Last year when we had our two-week affair, he lived in this beautifully ramshackle row of connected shacks on the beach, each lit with a different colored bulb, blue, red, green. His was the middle shack. The guys to his left were a quiet, sexy couple who barely said hello to me, and rarely made public appearances, driving their beaten up car out of town for privacy.


They, like the bears, renounce the bubble-headed party aspect of contemporary gay life. They live in beautiful houses, tend gardens, love and linger like Anne Tyler characters. They are “over it.” Their desire matches their lives, which makes them more attractive to everyone else and they sort of know it.


Joey inspired me, for two weeks, to consider turning away from my New York ambitions and complicated social life and think about moving here and tending a garden, writing some kind of beautiful concentrated poetry about wildflowers and focusing on one person: him. But then he didn’t call me back the rest of the time I was there. And then later I found out he was also sleeping with my friends, John and Seth, and two other guys at the same time. I was heartbroken at first, but then I realized everything here is loosely placed, and not just because I am stoned. I really can’t ask for anything when there are swirling set-ups of men happening around me every minute.


I know this all sounds so extremely, stupidly heightened. But you have to understand that this is what it is like. You don’t have a moment to focus on one guy before there are other guys between you, jockeying for attention, or getting together with your guy. You have to be very relaxed about sex and what it means or you will go insane. Nothing holds here, and that’s fine — it’s a kind of beauty.






I‘m driving my bike around and meet this very friendly man named Frank with blond hair and a great body. He tells me how he just broke up with someone but they are still going to be friends. He really loves him but realized it would be wrong because they have differing opinions about drugs, so they had to break up. They met here two weeks ago. It’s hard for Frank to find people compatible with him. “I take Propecia and Prozac, and both really fool with your sexual drive so I have to find someone who fits my chemical makeup.” I say goodbye to him.


I run into Bennet’s boyfriend, Jeff. We go eat at a trashy but delicious surf ‘n turf diner off the main street. His eyes glow blue through his tan. In line he presses his crotch into me, and then I put my arm around him and kiss him. I see a fourteen-year-old girl glancing at us but it doesn’t bother me; in fact, for once in my life, I don’t feel like I am making some sort of political statement when I show affection. I feel so normal and safe and, compared to the humping bears, kind of conventional.


Jeff tells me to come to the party tonight for Naked Boys Singing, the slick, popular gay revue that Bennet is appearing in. Bennet performs the only serious song — a ballad to a man who appears at the window across from him called “Send for Me.” Bennet looks out over the audience, focusing on an imagined object, singing with conviction. It’s the cheesiest thing I have ever seen, but he is filling it with emotion and pulls it off impressively. Of course I am totally hot for him, too, so I am biased.


But I blow off the party and go by myself to the A House — a club and bar that has been there forever. Bennet and Jeff are there; they skipped the party too. Bennet is all drugged out on X, surrounded by three New York girlfriends of his that are visiting. Bennet motions me over, and I crouch at his knee. “I know I am fucked up but I really really really really had a great time with you the other night,” he says.


Of course I have to believe that people on drugs are opened enough to say what they feel — because I wanted to believe Bennet when he said that he had fun with me and Jeff the other night. And I think Arlen, even though it was a quickie, believed in what he was doing under that red sheet. And perhaps even Joey meant what he said last year.


We all go back to Jeff’s place and snort some Special K. Bennet falls into the classic “K hole” losing all bodily functions and passing out. Everyone else decides to go out some more. I am on my bike and weave down the street, but then something happens with my sense of direction and I lose the group.


I make it to Spiritus, the late-night pizza place where everyone in town converges after the bars close. Arlen is there, arm around some new wide-eyed guy, and he is pointing out the constellations. “See? There’s Casseopeia, and if you follow that arced set of stars, that’s the hem of her tunic, and then you find Orion’s sword . . . ”


In a Special K swirl, I have to sit down — I can’t tell who is giving me attention and who just wants to make sure I am looking. Sex and salesmanship are so interwoven here, I can’t figure out what anyone really wants, including me, as I sit and smile at all the guys. And here we are, after all, on Commercial Street.


Can you actually find love here? I have to think so, because that’s what love is in America: a maze of manipulations that you have to pay for, trying to satisfy a weird emotional yearning we don’t understand at all. And I can pretend I’m just visiting, but I’m a part of it, too: full of ambitious, advertised, unaffordable desires, always hoping for something cheap and real.



Mike Albo and Nerve.com