Title: Eleven Photographs of Boys
Summary: After the events of 1985, he goes back and he catalogues the boys again. He will do so repeatedly, over the years. He still has too many questions.
Before reading this fic, I recommend a cursory wiki-ing of Amiri Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones, and Joe Dallesandro. And maybe you should look up Prop 6 and Anita Bryant, although if you saw Milk, you'll probably know what I'm on about.
Eleven Photographs of Boys
1951. A blond, about 17, blunt nosed, wearing red swim trunks.
Adrian's parents ask him to take a class in lifeguarding so that he can get a summer job. They are worried about him spending all his time alone with books. Although he's twelve, he's tall and strong enough to seem fourteen. He takes the class, gets the job. His boss is a high school senior who practices rescue holds with him until Adrian notices the questions in the older boy's eyes. He answers them with a twist of his hips. His boss stiffens in more ways then one, lets Adrian fall loosely into the water, and never practices with Adrian again.
Before the summer ends, Adrian strikes up a close friendship with a fellow youth lifeguard. They memorize poetry that they carry in saltwater stained paperbacks, the pages warped with moisture. They huddle together and speak in whispers. Adrian watches his former boss watch them. He is beginning to understand the questions that his boss's eyes were asking. They are questions, Adrian thinks, that he had forced his boss to ask, and his boss doesn't like that. People don't like questions.
He snaps a photo of his boss eventually. In it, the older boy is frozen against a sand dune, white enough to be a mountain of snow. His bathing suit is red, his genitals an obvious lump at the crotch. He has seen Adrian's camera. His expression is displeased.
He is seventeen years old. His name is Peter Vanderslice.
1954. A stoically handsome man approaching middle-age, feeding a fat housecat.
Adrian falls for his Latin teacher, an elegant British man more interested in his cat than any other aspect of life. Adrian's best friend sits next to him in class and studiously ignores Adrian's brutal efforts to catch the teacher's attention.
Adrian learns subtlety painfully. But he learns.
He catsits for the teacher during one vacation. When the teacher returns, there is his well-fed cat, but also his blond and tremulously brilliant student, glowing with an invitation. The teacher answers no before Adrian's mouth can form the words, but he lets his student photograph him, and he gives him a book on pederasty in ancient civilizations.
In the photograph, the teacher's shirt is coming open, but he is too concerned with bending down and feeding the cat to notice. Adrian's lense captures the curve of the teacher's leg in the spring evening's furious light. The teacher's skin is flushed. He is smiling at the camera, but the smile is frightened. Questions frighten people.
He is thirty-one years old. His name is Gregory Jameson.
1955. A Semitic-looking sixteen-year-old with too much gel in his hair, lying on a stained Superman bedsheet.
The first boy Adrian allows to touch him is his best friend. His friend told him of his homosexuality with agonizing slowness, years of Housman and Wilde and Forster, all tempered with Plato and Alexander the Great. All leading up to a disclosure which to his friend is shocking and to Adrian is a foregone conclusion. Adrian meets it with a well-considered kiss. It's the same best friend to whom he read poetry behind the lifeguard tower.
Adrian fucks him, then is fucked. They learn how best to touch each other. Adrian does it gravely, with great care and dedication. Like he does everything else.
When Adrian's father dies, his best friend gives him condolences with wet eyes and a wetter mouth. He is scandalized and frightened by Adrian's complacency. Adrian strokes his friend's back gently that night, then asks if he may photograph him.
It's the first nude photograph in Adrian's collection. The boy still has the bare remains of a seductive expression. His lower lip hangs loose in a Mae West pout. He lies on Adrian's bedsheets, their black ties from the funeral curled in the corner like strange worms. One of his hands is wrapped around the base of his cock, which is still slightly hard. Adrian's teeth marks are still bright pink on his friend's pale right shoulder.
He is sixteen years old. His name is Ralph Silverstein.
1956. An Arab teenager, naked against a filthy wall, holding an expensive watch.
They don't speak. It will be another year before Adrian learns the boy's language, and by then all he will have of the boy will be a photograph. When Adrian offers to pay for the first night the boy gives him, he receives a shake of the head and a smile. The boy is dark and compact, and he reminds Adrian of why he'd like to save the world. It contains aesthetic perfection like this. The boy sells Adrian a ball of hashish and nips his ear in wonderful ways. Adrian wears the boy's leftover soft robes and stays in his home a while, reading and writing and sometimes delving into the boy's soft blackness.
He photographs the boy partly out of habit and partly because he wants to know why he goes on preserving these flecks of beauty. The boy is naked in the picture, regarding one of Adrian's watches with an unaccountably peeved expression that Adrian doesn't have the language to ask him about. Perhaps the boy is angry with the whole construct of time. Adrian would understand that. He is angry with all varieties of clocks. Already he is aware with a dissatisfaction with life that is too deep to be a sexual one. Too deep to be the disgust with the modern era that he's always been somewhat ashamed to feel. It's something else.
He guesses that the boy is thirteen years old. Adrian never learns his name.
1958. Himself, in tunic and mask.
There's a small twist of irony to his mouth. He knows that photographing this is narcissistic to a mad extent, full of gods-defying hubris. But it's the first time he puts it all on. Armor that's light enough to wear well. Spirit gum under the mask. Rubber-soled shoes.
It's no aesthetic triumph, but he has better legs than Hollis Mason ever did. The ensemble becomes him. He's pleased.
He is nineteen years old. His name is Adrian Veidt, but it is around this time that people begin to think of him as only Veidt. Not Adrian.
1958, later. The Comedian lounging on a red velvet armchair.
He comes to apologize for "mistaking you for a criminal." Veidt gives him some brandy and looks intently at him until the Comedian asks what he wants. Veidt cocks his head and says, "Nothing." He expresses gratefulness for Blake's apology, says that perhaps he ought to telegraph his heroism more clearly. Blake nurses his brandy.
He can see that Blake is angry that Veidt does not take him by force, does not spit in his face and bend him over the desk. It's not that he thinks that's what Blake wants. But it's what Blake expects. People like their expectations to be correct.
A few years later, the night the Crimebusters fiasco, he will irritate Blake until the older man smacks his smug face. Then Veidt will grin and say again, "Is this what you did to Sally Jupiter?" (People don't like questions. Veidt learned this from a lifeguard when he was twelve.) The Comedian will bend Veidt over a desk, just as he'd once assumed Veidt would do to him. Veidt will purr and laugh and spend the night frustrating the Comedian's attempts at rape by consenting. At the end of it, he will show Blake the photograph he took of him way back in 1958.
It shows an angry man with no scar down the side of his face. He holds a cigar and a glass of brandy. He is staring at the camera as if the photographer holds something his subject wants very much.
He is thirty-six years old. His name is Edward Blake.
1959. A college boy with a guitar.
Veidt holds the sobbing boy with great compassion, kisses him briefly, gets his cock sucked into the bargain. It's February third, Buddy Holly is dead, and Veidt is comforting one of his mourners, a boy whose discretion and good looks have served him well in the past. On January seventh, Eisenhower recognized the communist government of Cuba as headed by Fidel Castro. Without asking, Veidt knows that the boy knows nothing about this. Nothing could be more important to this boy than music and sex. There isn't anything else. Just what's beautiful.
Veidt can't process this idea in any way but a question. (People don't like questions.) Is anything important but beauty?
On March seventeenth, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama will flee Tibet. On May twenty-eighth, the monkeys "Able" and "Baker" will become the first living beings to return safely from space. Adrian convinces the boy to dress as Buddy Holly, his gorgeous idol, and pose for a picture. The boy does, in his coke bottle glasses and tucked in bowling shirt.
He is twenty-two years old. His name is Matthew Jennings.
1962. Nite Owl, holding a beer, flashing a smile.
Veidt almost stops his habit of inviting his fellow masked adventurers to drink with him. Blake had assumed he was after sex -- he hadn't been initially, but Blake had put the idea into his head -- and Nelson assumed the same, which in his case was simple swell-headedness. Then Dan Dreiberg becomes the new Nite Owl, and the situation brightens. Veidt likes him immediately. He decides a party is in order.
Dan is the sweetest, freshest thing Veidt has come across since Veidt brand detergent. At the party, he tells the newest superhero so. Dreiberg blushes and compliments the imported Japanese beer that Veidt has served him. Veidt tells him it's no trouble, he didn't have to overextend himself. And then he goes over to speak with the very blue and very nude Jon Osterman, who fascinates him.
He never photographs Jon, nude or otherwise. What would be the point? One doesn't forget someone like that. On the other hand, it would be tragically easy to forget Dan, and so Veidt takes his picture without even asking, though he knows Dan would say yes.
It's nothing special. A man in an owl costume, glancing nervously around for someone he knows. The teeth exposed by his smile are white and seem somehow honest. Veidt never touches him. How could he?
He is twenty-five years old. His name is Daniel Dreiberg.
1965. A black man in an expensive bathrobe, glaring.
On February twenty-first, Malcolm X is assassinated. Veidt thinks of Nelson Gardner, the smug satisfaction he must be feeling. He talks to one of the innumerable black radicals to be found in Greenwich Village, takes home the smartest and the handsomest. Of course he is objectifying him. He is objectifying the world. The world is made of objects. After sex, he shares this observation with the radical, who is older than the boys Veidt usually takes home. But he is a poet. It makes him seem younger.
"No," the radical says, with surprising dignity for his half-dressed state, "The world is made of questions. You're like most white guys. Trained to be a fag."
Veidt takes a picture then and there, the radical frowning at him while dressed in Veidt's own cream-colored silk bathrobe. The radical is earnest. Perhaps even brilliant. His brilliance is beautiful, or his beauty is brilliant. Both qualities are worth saving. Is the world made of questions? Maybe only boys are.
The radical is twenty-three years old. His name is LeRoi Jones.
1975. A hustler in ripped jeans, lighting a cigarette in the hollow of his hand, outside of Studio 54.
This is the best part of unmasking. Veidt likes Studio 54, to his surprise, and not only for its publicity. A little decadence, what the hell. It's the seventies now, the public loves this stuff, and he isn't a hero anymore. David introduces him to an adorable young man with a cartoonish six-pack and long hair straight out of a Conan the Barbarian comic. Veidt looks at David skeptically for a moment, then laughs, and he and the young man -- an aging hustler -- end the discussion in Veidt's limousine.
The hustler asks about discretion. "No one suspects me," Veidt says quietly. "I seem too obviously queer to really be so." He concocts a smile. "It's all in the skintight costumes and the purple jackets. No one wants to be seen pointing out an easy and incorrect answer. It's better to keep my personal life a question."
"Sure, man," says the hustler. "And there are fantastic rumors. It's good to know you're not really fucking Raquel Welch."
"Joe," says Veidt, "There is a needlessly long list of people whom I'd rather fuck."
A tasteful fade to black. Veidt's driver pulls up in an alleyway, where the hustler lights a cigarette and Veidt takes a photograph. The cigarette lighter illuminates the hustler's Ken doll handsome face, and the curve of his collar where his shirt is fashionably left open. Veidt feels no need to photograph him naked. Why try to do better than Andy Warhol?
He is twenty-seven years old. His name is Joe Dallesandro.
1976. A coffee boy at Veidt Enterprises wearing a "NO ON 6" button.
Veidt teaches himself pinpoint accuracy with darts. One never knows what can come in useful.
He teaches it to himself by spending a full day throwing darts at a picture of Anita Bryant. It alarms Bubastis, but not quite enough to make him stop this very therapeutic activity. It is stupidity he hates, and death, and Anita represents both.
He photographs a coffee boy. There are important things he should be doing, there is a world that needs him. It is becoming clear just how much. Hate is hate is hate is hate, as Gertrude Stein would say, and all that violence in people is swelling and Veidt is sick of it.
The coffee boy is brunette and well-hung and full-lipped and heterosexual and confused by the flash of the camera.
He is twenty-four years old. His name is Jonas Harper.
As years go by, he moves the photographs from files to a computer. Don't think he is so sparing with his pornography. There are also photographs of him having sex with various boys, of various boys having sex with one another. There are excerpts from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Spring Awakening by Franz Weidkind, Maurice by EM Forster, and more. There is Greek classical art and there are different depictions of Saint Sebastian.
After the events of 1985, he goes back and he catalogues the boys again. He will do so repeatedly, over the years. He still has too many questions.
Joe Dallesandro becomes the owner of a hotel in Los Angeles.
In 1965, LeRoi Jones does indeed publish an essay in which he says white men are "trained to be fags." In 1966, he changes his name to Amiri Baraka. In 1984, he becomes a professor at Rutgers University.
The Arab boy Veidt met on his journey is never heard from again.
Peter Vanderslice, the junior lifeguard, moves to Iowa to get married. In 1967, he is beaten to death in his car by two policemen who know him to be actively bisexual.
Greg Jameson, the Latin teacher, dies of AIDS in 1987.
Matthew Jennings, the Buddy Holly fan, dies of AIDS in 1989.
Jonas Harper, the coffee boy, dies of AIDS in 1990.
It is too detrimental to Veidt's publicity to attend any of their funerals.
Ralph Silverstein, Adrian Veidt's childhood best friend, dies in Manhattan in 1985. He is a casualty of an extraterrestrial attack. No one asks questions.
- Eleven Photographs of Boys