- At the Love Leather
Mr. Le looked up one morning from mending a vest at the Love Leather and saw a very good-looking Asian kid, his oldest grandson's age, maybe, seventeen at the most, staring quizzically at him from the sidewalk. When their eyes met across the glass pane the boy's ruddy cheeks turned a deeper shade of red and Mr. Le had to look away.
Behind him, Steven commented, "Ooh, a hotty! If he comes in—baby, hide the dildos! We'll have to shoo our twink for browsing too long." Then he offered his trademark baritone Lou Rawls guffaw, "Hahha-hah hahr hahr."
"Personally, Mr. Lee, I wouldn't touch him with a ten-inch pole, know what I'm saying? Not 'less I want to be somebody's bitch in the slammer in a hurry."
Mr. Le turned around. "Slammer? Shoe?" he asked, adjusting his glasses. "Sorry. I don't know this slammer and this shoe you say, Steven."
"Oh, honey, don't be. I'm sorry," Steven said, slower this time, and with mild exasperation. "Shoo—S-H-O-O, as in, 'chase out somebody.' As in 'shoo, you crazy sex pig, shoo, get off me!' Slammer is 'jail.' You know, 'prison,' like your re-ed camp? And a 'twink' is someone too young, under age, you know? Hairless, smooth, smells like milk? And 'being somebody's bitch in jail' means … oh, never you mind what it means."
An inveterate note-taker by habit, Mr. Le committed "slammer" and "shoo, S-H-O-O," to his growing vocabulary, to be written down later in his spiral notebook during lunch break. When he looked back out the window, the twink was gone.
He already knew "twink." And "dildos" he learned right away that first day when he asked Roger Briggs, the storeowner, about them. In a controlled tone, and as he intermittently cleared his throat, Roger Briggs told Mr. Le about their usage, including those with batteries. When Roger left, Steven thanked Mr. Le profusely. "That was simply precious," he said, laughing, clasping his hands as if in prayer. "You made RB squirm."
Roger Briggs, a big, tall man, with most of his blond hair thinned out and a beer belly, once served in the 101st Airborne Division in Nam. He remembered enough Vietnamese to say, "Let's love each other in the bathroom," [End Page 29]
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[End Page 30]
and, "How much for the entire night?" When Roger said the latter in Vietnamese Mr. Le inevitably laughed, though why exactly he couldn't say. Most likely, it was because Roger said it in a toneless accent, and it sounded almost as if someone wanted to buy the night itself.
Still, whenever he listened to Roger Briggs talk of wartime Vietnam, Mr. Le would often get the feeling that another Saigon had gone on right under his nose. Were there many Vietnamese homosexuals? And were they finding one another in the dark alleys and behind tall, protective flame trees?
Roger—who was once very handsome and fit when he roamed the Saigon boulevards at night, read entire biographies, and concealed hunger from furtive glances in the moonlight—said yes. "There are many versions of any one city," he said, his eyes dreamy with memories. There was another Saigon that Mr. Le didn't know, a Vietnam of hurried, desperate sex, of bite marks, bruised lips, clawed backs, and salty-sweat night and punch-in-the-mouth morning denials, and of unrequited love between fighting men that was just as painful as shrapnel wounds. Just as there was another version of San Francisco that Mr...