Pin it


I have a dreadful fascination for James, a husky, depressed nineteen year old with skin the color of tobacco.
    James has a fixation for his dead father, who taught him to shoot heroin when he was twelve and whom he watched die from an overdose three years later. He shoots dope just like Dad did, and he’s proud of being able to handle a higher dose.
    James refers to his addiction as “my wife” and to me as the only friend he’s ever had. A month after I met him, I decided he needed a methadone program to save his life. After a major hassle getting him I.D., I took him to a for-profit clinic in Midtown. I sat in the clinic reading, while James doubled over in spasms of withdrawal until they gave him a little paper cup of purple liquid to drink. The plan, after that, was that he would pick up his clothes and move in with me. But the methadone made James even higher than the dope did, and he fell asleep somewhere in a park for a day and a half.

One thing that makes James comfortable having sex with me is that I remind him of the older guys he encountered in jail.

    My father was dying of heart failure in upstate New York, so I left town without finding out exactly where James had nodded out. The death of my father shortly after and the sleep of James are permanently superimposed in my mind.
    My thoughts of James are full of delicious sensations though I’ve never seen him take a bath. I doubt he gets to take a shower more than once a week or so, but I’ve never noticed an unpleasant odor coming from him. His smooth skin is often clammy and of so fine a grain that it reminds me of latex coated with sea water. His armpits, each with a tiny clump of coarse black hair, smell like honey, though there is a slight staleness that makes me start licking and biting.
    Under James’s coarse, shiny pubic hair is a large, torpedo-shaped penis of a liverish color. His balls are surprisingly full and hearty for someone his age, for I’ve noticed that many adolescents have testes that are small, hung high and extremely sensitive to handling. One thing that makes James comfortable having sex with me is that I remind him of the older guys he encountered in jail. This is merely a reference to my dumpy, middle-aged body and to the fact that to him I seem to conduct myself with a certain amount of authority.
    More often than not, when we meet by chance in a Midtown bar, he is sweaty and shaking. The assumption at such times is that I will “help him.” It never seems like the optimum moment to stop being an enabler. One would have to be a better philosopher than I to see the larger purpose in not rescuing him from the cramps, vomiting and diarrhea that take hold of him in the sleazy washroom.
    Reverse peristalsis has become an established part of James’s heroin-infused digestion. We can be anywhere with the music playing and the quips flying, a surly smile gashing his handsome adolescent face when — oops! — James spins quickly to the side, grabs an empty glass and vomits into it, coming back refreshed.
     Despite these constant exudations, James’s body and even his breath never lose their pleasant odor.
    After returning from my father’s funeral, I went to our Midtown bar, carrying my suitcase. My intention was to see if James would appear so that I could immediately take him home. Eventually he strolled into the bar, but in much worse shape than I’d imagined. His face was wan, and his tank top was covered with bloodstains. I’d assumed that he’d continue with the methadone, for which I’d made a week’s advance payment. Instead, he’d gone back to shooting after only two days. With logic typical of the addict, James blamed me for not being there when he finally came to, for leaving him homeless in the winter cold. He said I’d broken a promise about letting him move in with me and that he’d had to spend four nights in the park.


    As we talked his mouth became sullen in the bar’s shadowy mirror. His scowls leapt at me in white-toothed flashes from the mirror’s muddy water. His butch clarinet of a voice honked rude answers to my prying questions. Because James didn’t like the schoolmarmish tone of my voice, when I tried to touch him, his meaty forearm convulsed. It jerked back to strike me but caught itself just in time.
    He hoisted my suitcase, and we walked down the block to a hotel frequented by hookers and drag queens. I studied his arm’s recent puncture mark with its ragged collar of purple. James said he’d stayed at the hotel last night on the basis of a deposit and could only redeem his clothes or watch or wallet by paying the balance.
    So he went upstairs, and I forked out the sixty-four dollars. Then he came down holding a few worthless clothes, followed by a slim young gay guy in new clothes and blond hair cut in a longish style that looked provincial. This made it clear that I hadn’t paid just for James but for his friend as well, who kept the room for another night.
    I told James he might as well spend the night at the hotel. When he eagerly agreed, I said I hoped that “you two faggots” would sleep well in each other’s arms. His blunt hands clenched into fists and began swinging. They made wet smacking sounds against my cheek and temple and screeched across my teeth like fingernails across a blackboard. The blond shrieked, “No, James!” as I stumbled toward the exit stairs. But James followed and swung one more time, making me tumble down all six steps.
    I picked myself up and he pursued me into the street, after which the blond came running and managed to drag him back inside.
    My lip was only slightly cut, but my calf suddenly inflated, sections turning a hideous purple. I began a fast hop toward the corner, fearful he would reappear. Then he came toward me holding my suitcase, one arm spread in a gesture of supplication. His coat was shedding stuffing in the places where I had wrenched it. His pale face was furrowed and suctioned by sobs.
    The blond was trying to tug him away from me by the hem of his coat, but James put down the suitcase and wept into his hands. Neon from the lingerie sexshop infused the drop of blood on his knuckle with extra color. This made him look like a statue of a religious prophet transfigured by an awful revelation. Drag queens on their way to a club picked daintily around him. The blond decided to settle for the free room and went back inside.
    We fell into a cab. My calf throbbed but my mind didn’t dwell on the beating I’d provoked. Anyone who knows street people knows never to challenge their image. People from James’s world own nothing but the strength or appeal of their bodies, which must always be represented as decent and of value to society.
    What shrieked in my thoughts was the realization that James hadn’t bothered to ask how my father was. So I told him he had died. James exploded into girlish tears again, burying his wet face in my armpit. His bruised hands clutched my sleeve, staining it with blood. As his temple pressed against my neck, I felt his pulse racing, and his body oozed sweat. We headed for East 113th Street, where he could put a stop to his withdrawal.
    The cab driver refused to wait. Cursing, I climbed out and sat on my suitcase, perched against a store window. My ankle had inflated so much that the pressure of my pant leg smarted. I rolled it up and removed the shoe and sock. Junkies passed by with only a sideways glance at the chubby white guy with the dark bladder for a calf. There I sat, propped on an Eddie Bauer suitcase in the middle of an East Harlem copping block.
    At my apartment, James cooked up the dope. I lay on the bed with my leg raised, balancing a load of ice cubes in a twisted towel. Though the pain began to freeze away, the leg had become macabre. Concussed blood had swelled into so dense a pool that the skin seemed thin and ready to burst.

His cock in my throat was like an electrode that seeped some of this slurred desire.

    James grazed the leg with a kiss. The spike was still hanging from his arm by a pinch of skin. When his nervous system catapulted into the rush, he pulled out the spike and spilled out of his clothes, then onto the bed. I rolled on top of him, and he began to devour my face with his wet, cushiony lips. His mouth gaped open, and our tongues began to wrestle. I let my bad leg hang over the edge of the bed for fear of placing pressure on it.
    Those who have had sex with junkies know about their hypersensitivity. They compensate for dulled nerves with a taste for meticulous pleasure. James’s flesh pricked alive to contact like an arm that has lost circulation and is suddenly massaged. As I gnawed his nipples, I imagined the sparks shooting through him like hot sand. His head felt welded to mine as I yanked at a handful of his short, kinky hair. When his arms fell above his head, I licked his armpits with the flat of my tongue. His dick hardened against my belly. It was the “dope stick” phenomenon: the penis engorges more slowly than when the body isn’t high; but once the blood is there, it’s stuck. It allows for endless stimulation, and orgasm builds slowly. The waves increase and break like the proverbial multiple female’s.
    His cock in my throat was like an electrode that seeped some of this slurred desire. Then it rushed into me so I, as well, felt I was becoming high. On and on I worked with the game of feeling and desensitization, leaving behind the thought of my hurt leg. James’s necro-withdrawals were erased by sudden surges of feeling. My hands, mouth, and weight trampled his body in a simulacrum of his earlier battering of me. He began to groan.
    Street people have topsy-turvy personae. His voice, which was usually a growl, had become a thin, womanly moan. There were hulks with long prison records who’d lurched into my bed and somersaulted into the passive role in much the same way. It all had a certain logic as the thrust of machismo broke through the membrane to its subconscious opposite. The piercer became the pierced.
    He hopped off the bed and posed before the mirror, separating his ass with callused hands. His cock wasn’t hard, but his haunches undulated. I fucked James for the first time, though we’d fantasized about it before. But we had never thought I’d be one-legged. All I could do was lie on my back while James slipped on a condom and sat on it. Then I pumped my pelvis upward as my calves hung over the bed.
    Like a switch flicked to off, both of us popped into unconsciousness. I jerked awake a couple of hours later, around dawn. My leg throbbed as if blasted by a blowtorch. He stayed passed out beside me, his breath fast and shallow in the junky’s accelerated R.E.M. sleep.
    With the light, my anger ignited. I saw myself limp to the closet in search of a baseball bat to smash the sleeping body until every bone was broken.
    But I hadn’t even gone home with James — though I had been beaten up. The second part of this tale is a fantasy. James had gone to bed in the hotel with his blond faggot; I’d hopped to my cab in cowardice. I spent the night alone in anger and shock with handfuls of ibuprofen. The next morning I went back to find my suitcase.
    The fantasy is a symptom of what I wish I was, something more masochistic that is larger and more open. But even then, I’d need a James who’d want to come back to me, who would know how to transform into a pious model of remorse after viciously wielding his fists. 


©2003 Bruce Benderson and

the Sex & Drugs issue  
SubURBAN Photography by Robert Petrie
One, Two by Ian Spiegelman
Lucy & Rachel by Lisa Carver

Romancing the Stoner by Ondine Galsworth
/personal essay/

Clean by James Frey
/personal essay/

Sexy Dancer by Erin Cressida Wilson & Sean San Jose
Dirty by Daphne Gottlieb
I Did It for Science: Drugs by Grant Stoddard
The Night Visitor by David Amsden
/personal essay/
Tweak by Nicolas Sheff
James by Bruce Benderson
Dirty and Sober by Em & Lo
Amanita Virosa by Jenny Boully
A Life of Substance by Richard Hell
7 Days to Better Sex Through Recreational Drug Use by Carrie Hill Wilner
Slippy for President by Steve Almond

Bruce Benderson is the author of two books of fiction about the street life of old Times Square as well as the book-length essay Toward the New Degeneracy (Edgewise) and a monograph entitled James Bidgood (Taschen) on the creator of the film Pink Narcissus. His novels, essays and journalism are widely published here and in France. He’s currently finishing a long erotic memoir about an experience in Romania, a project that began with an assignment from