Satellite Rules, Stranded Longings
The budget hotel’s blinky sign pulsed over its empty parking lot as the shuttle dropped Dave off; the buzz of electrical current skittering through neon matched the chronic hum in his head. This at least was a comfort, he thought. He was skeptical of the hotel’s advertised claim as centrally located, though it hulked very near to the confluence of three rivers, the locus of Milwaukee. Once inside the curation of dusty plastic flowers that was the lobby, flush, name-tagged Kimmy gave him a big “Hello! Welcome. Last name?” How did she summon cheer without narcotics, he wondered, as he pulled the credit card with the lowest balance. It had been a long day at the Convention Center.
Dave was in town for a Harley trade show because, through no agency of his own, he was a sales rep for their line of protective goggles and sunglasses. His cousin had done it for thirty years, until a heart attack knocked him off his bike. He focused on the good it afforded him. He helped make bikers a little safer. He’d gotten to know the shapes and sizes of their heads, and the curvature of their brows. It was a kind of intimacy, a way to care for others. He’d put on his tepid impression of a biker, and earnestly sell them on the products. Truth be told, he was a New York homosexual who liked his quiet, and whose preference for two-wheeled locomotion involved no motor, just a nice bell.
He’d make the annual trek to some American city with adequate convention facilities to meet with his accounts, the merchandise managers of dealerships in the Northeast. Most of the dealerships were run by aged-out boomers. It was the same with the sales force, all men in their sixties, clinging to misspent youths. At 47, Dave was the youngest rep on the national team, so he was welcomed as a shot of fresh blood, though not without raising some eyebrows. He spent the first day of the trade show maintaining the charade while checking out the few hot guys in attendance–mostly the grown sons of owners, who had taken up the family business. All day, he scoped these sturdy, well-fed young men, and how they filled their jeans. They’d occasionally catch him, and return the most oblivious smiles.
On a break at the coffee station, in a corner where no one could see his phone screen, Dave opened the app–one of several mobile platforms for male-on-male cruising. He wanted to see if anyone else at the show was stealth, like him. None of the sturdy sons were there. A few brown-skinned guys showed non-identifiable parts of themselves–probably waiters from the dining hall.
Once Dave got settled in his hotel room, the app started pinging. He happily noted several promising pings from not too far off. Living in New York City, he was accustomed to pings from close proximities. In the grid of prospects, some were in the same building, some next door. Others were on the next block, but in the back of the building, separated by only a hundred and some odd feet, two exterior walls, and a chasm of rear space. In Milwaukee, distances were measured in miles.
Dave would have gladly walked a few miles to break the strangeness and share pleasure with someone, or they could come to the hotel–if they could get past Kimmy. It said right there in the Bible in the nightstand, ‘love thy neighbor,’ and with the help of the satellite array encircling the Earth, transmitting location data into his pocket, that was the plan.
He checked out this guy only 1.4 miles away. The guy was smiling in his photo, that was a good sign. Dave did not appreciate scowlers. The smiler had dark hair and eyes, and a somewhat large forehead. Dave found him compelling in an otherworldly way, plus he had a sense of humor. His name was also Dave, and they joked about that. The Daves exchanged some photos, first candids, then more intimate shots, like a flip-book striptease. Other Dave looked squat and sturdy, although maybe there was some distortion going on in the mirror shots he sent? They complimented each other, and asked the ‘host or travel’ question, to which Other Dave specified that he’d prefer company. This suited Dave just fine, as it was a clear night, and he wanted to get out after a day spent in a forced-air environment.
Dave prepared to break out, take a well-planned urban hike, and love his neighbor. He mentally rehearsed a sequence of actions–getting Other Dave’s address, mapping the location, determining the best walking path, brushing his teeth, fixing his hair, changing out of his work shirt–when Other Dave messaged him: ‘So UR ok with me being dwarf?’ To which he added the bicep, mouse, and winking man emojis. He felt a flush of embarrassment, which was a weird thing to feel alone in a room. He checked Other Dave’s stats, and sure enough, his height was listed as 4’-9”, on the tall side for a dwarf, as Dave learned from the results of a hasty dive into search engines. An image flashed of a porn he once came across, a bull-like, street-tough dwarf fucking two full-sized girls. His mind searched for any prior interactions with dwarves, and came up blank.
Dave once hooked up with a guy with flippers for arms, a thalidomide baby. Flipper Man was handsome and owned a brownstone in Chelsea. Dave was surprised when he opened the door, since Flipper Man had not shared his circumstance with him. Right there on the stoop, he understood the photo cropping decisions Flipper Man had made. He imagined all the men in his situation who turned around and ran back down the steps, and right there decided he did not want to be one of them. Flipper Man had a serious expression. Dave gave him his ass because he couldn’t give him arms, riding him while holding on to his shoulders.
Dave hooked up with a Wolf Man in Boston, who’d lost an arm after a drunken motorcycle accident. They sat next to each other at an AA meeting, and afterwards made out in Wolf Man’s pickup. He had a sense-memory of the electrical discharge that ran up his arm when Wolf Man gently touched him with his mechanical claw prosthetic. Recalling these past encounters, Dave panicked. He shouldn’t sexualize Other Dave just because of his dwarfism, even if he sexualized everyone else, really. That would be exploitation–but then he remembered that he’d been attracted to Other Dave before he even knew. He found himself replying: ‘Yes I am cool.’
Dave took the anticipated steps in preparing to meet Other Dave. The path he’d mapped took him across the Menomonee River along 6th Street; its cable-stayed bridge hummed too. He walked past the vast museum, where he’d later spend a morning feigning interest, and into Walker’s Point. At .7 miles, a drunk stumbled out of a Mexican place called Conejito’s. The man cried incomprehensibly, and then stumbled over a bike rack. It broke the solitude of Dave’s Milwaukee night. He wondered if Other Dave was a furious rabbit.
The app showed smaller distances between active users as Dave advanced on the destination, leading him to surmise he was in something of a gay neighborhood. Other Dave lived on a block of working-class houses, outside of a looming factory complex with a clock tower. It was modest wooden structure with shabby asphalt roof tiles and a projecting front porch. The steps creaked under his feet, and Other Dave appeared at the window, smiling, even before he had a chance to knock. He must have been tracking his approach on the app.
“Hello Dave! Welcome to Milwaukee,” said Other Dave in full voice, and as they shook hands, he pulled Dave in for a hug. Their bodies touched now, after all those signals burning through mass and space, bounced from medium-earth orbit. He burnished his large forehead against Dave’s chest, which he found arousing, but once the hug was over, he didn’t know what to say or how to move.
Other Dave led Dave in, and invited him to sit on a full-sized recliner, while he sprawled on the low sofa, which was a standard size, but with the feet removed. They had a nice chat; Other Dave worked at that factory complex down the street. He was an engineer developing automation processes for manufacturing. Dave told him about his work among the bikers, and how that came to be. Other Dave explained how his interest in robotics emerged from trying to solve the problems of access in a full-sized world. Then he mentioned that he used to dance shirtless on a bar, pouring shots for straight crowds, to put himself through engineering school, and Dave got really aroused.
Dave was turned on by Other Dave’s compact musculature and the size of his forehead. His brow was broad and flat and perfect in its way, and he longed to touch it with his eyes closed, to snug it like a pair of extra large goggles. “You have kind eyes,” Other Dave told him. “They make me want to do bad things to you,” he said with a smirk. “Oh?” replied Dave. He was hoping the reply would come off as confident cheek, but he nearly gulped it down is it came up. Dave lowered his eyes and fidgeted.
Other Dave stood up and wordlessly led Dave into his bedroom, where Dave tried something he’d been thinking about: he got on his knees and nuzzled into Other Dave’s chest, just the way Other Dave did at the front door. Dave felt Other Dave’s arousal through his pants. They removed their shirts and Dave inhaled of Other Dave’s armpits, and licked a nipple. Dave admired Other Dave’s muscular arms, although he saw something baby-like about the proportions. With Dave kneeling before him, Other Dave silently took charge. The hum stopped.
Other Dave ordered Dave to undress with a stern look, then pushed him down into a cross-legged position. He reached back in time for some of his bar-top stripper moves, and gave Dave a slow striptease, to his briefs. He said while gyrating, “You know, Dave, if it weren’t for out-of-towners, I’d never get laid. The locals treat me like a pet.” Then he pushed his crotch into Dave’s face.
When they lay down together on Dave’s low bed. The height difference melted away, but not the power dynamic. Once they found each others’ triggers, Other Dave crawled on top of Dave and laid on him like a sinky pool raft. They stayed like that for a while, glued together, all difference fused away.
“We should grab dinner one night if you’re free,” said Other Dave as they dressed. Dave initially believed it was a sincere offer, before spasming with doubt. He mumbled something noncommittal, and returned to his hotel a different way, because he didn’t like to backtrack. The return walk took him right by the Confluence, where he entertained the notion that tonight a GPS satellite was passing right overhead. GPS was invented by the government for military and navigational purposes, and here he was applying it to his longing for intimacy. Currents of aggression, exploitation, and lust ran along the same channel, he mused. Is that source of the hum? he wondered. “That’s confluence,” he found himself saying aloud as he craned to face the moon.
After another airless day of sales rites in the Convention Center, Dave walked the trail along the banks of the Milwaukee River, crossing bridge after bridge. It was a warm evening, and the city’s waterways were buzzing with locals on leisurely outings in pleasure boats. The app came to life as he cut through various neighborhoods, mapping trajectories as men left their jobs and sought each other out.
Dave came to life too, breathing briny air and seeing new things, remembering fondly his encounter with Other Dave. At least his airless day had been a good one for sales. He hesitated to acknowledge his specific longings for tonight, but after last night, he wanted to stand head-to-head with a man, and not feel any awkwardness. He’d remember to review all stats that night.
“Yo ho Dave!” he made out from a terrace overlooking the trail. It was another rep–the one from Texas, large and loud– drinking a beer with the rep from Florida, who was pink and smiled all the time. “Come join us,” he yelled, as the two of them waved him up, and Dave smilingly joined their table at the riverfront brewpub. They exchanged war stories from the day– tales of difficult buyers and big sales that got away– over brats and pale ales. At a lull in the background clatter of the establishment, Dave’s colleagues heard the distinctive ping of the app coming from his phone, and their confused looks cut lines across the table. He was usually so careful to silence his phone around work colleagues.
He left them to their last round of ale, and checked in with the app. One of the pings seemed promising, although it was from 7 miles away. His screen name was Victor, also a good sign. Dave liked when users went by their names, not some invented handle boasting of prowess, or staking a claim on a sexual position. Victor reported that he was just finishing work and needed to travel.
Victor was 25, a tall, good-looking Latino. Dave had grown accustomed to attention from younger guys; he didn’t especially like being called ‘daddy,’ but was in the end grateful they called him anything. Victor hadn’t used the word. He appeared in his profile photo in a bright blue t-shirt, and the background is all glossy white brightness recognizable as an Apple store interior. Dave twitched with lust over the prospect of hooking up with a Genius.
Dave had a back catalog of delectable fantasies about ravaging those nerdy-hot tech guys he’d encountered in Apple stores. He couldn’t help messaging Victor: ‘Been an fan since the days of Mac Classic w/9” monochrome screen and 4 MB memory!’ That was when he first started hooking up with men, through the America Online chat rooms. Victor changed the subject. Perhaps that was an overshare, Dave thought, his confidence wavering. Victor explained to Dave his preference for older guys: ‘They r just nicer,’ he messaged. ‘Guys my age r mean selfish take yr pick’. Victor offered to meet him at his hotel in about an hour. He’d take the bus from Wauwatosa.
Victor arrived at the hotel after the long trip, the blue dash of his bus having lurched along with hundreds of faster dots. He was friendly and talkative, yet Dave detected an air of sadness. It was later than expected, and Dave struggled to keep alert for Victor’s chatter. “I actually prefer the late shift,” he said. “It’s when the wizards come. I learn a lot.” Dave struggled to follow along, and sensed that Victor talked about work so much to avoid other subjects. Victor launched into yet another work story– “This one bald wizard dude, you could almost see his brains through his skin”– when Dave pushed himself on him, kissing his open mouth and reaching around to cup his buttocks.
Dave was smitten with Victor’s smooth brown skin, his lean frame, his meaty ass. Victor whispered to Dave: “I’d like to stay the night, is that okay?” His voice trembled and Dave wondered why Victor felt safer with him, a stranger, than at home. Maybe he liked being in a random hotel room, where no one could track him. They had a romantic night, hours of kissing and grinding. As dawn light leaked between the vertical blinds, Victor lifted his legs for Dave, who fucked a stubborn nut out of him. Between the conversation and the slow-burning sex, they’d been up for hours, and Dave was completely spent. Even with a tired smile on Victor’s face, the dark brown dots of his eyes looked miles away, fixed on the Canadian shore of Lake Michigan. Dave had hoped to sex the sadness out of him, but had apparently failed. Victor slept nestled into him. After a few hours, the alarm sounded, and Dave dressed as silently as he could manage. He left Victor sleeping as he made his way towards his final day of capitalist frenzy.
Dave zombie walked through that morning. On his break, he ran over to the coffee bar to throw back a double espresso and check the app. He was scheduled to leave the next day, and that night he’d sleep, so there was really no reason; it had just become reflexive. Dave found a new guy who went by ‘Swingl’ just 51 feet away. Otherwise it was mostly the same array of faceless brown body parts. Swingl’s profile photo showed him on a motorcycle, geared up in leather, wearing a helmet and goggles. All Dave could make out was his nose, straight along the bridge, but swollen with cartilage. It looked powerful and a little sunburned. Just as Dave was about to scroll on to the next profile, Swingl hit him up: ‘Hey Dave,’ with an added tongue-sticking-out emoji.
Dave seized with anxiety. His first impulse was to block Swingl, but then what? He scanned the area in a 50 foot circumference, then 100 feet, then an even wider circle, but didn't see anyone who might be Swingl. He was scanning for that nose, for someone on his phone. It was the most alive he'd felt inside that coffin of a building.
‘Hi. Who's this?’ Dave replied, trying to sound cool.
‘Hows MKE meet any QTs?’ asked Swingl.
Dave didn’t know what to make of this. Was Swingl ignoring his question, or hadn’t he seen it before asking his own? This person obviously wanted something of him, even if it was the vicarious pleasure of hearing about his hook-ups. Maybe Swingl just wanted to taunt him. Knowing so little about him was unsettling, but knowing there was someone like him among the bikers was electric. Dave replied:
‘Been nice–want to hear about it? Have we met?’
‘Ok. What will you tell me about you?’
“Nah but yr name’s on yr shirt.’
There was a pause as Swingl’s replies caught up to Dave’s questions.
‘Hehe. I’ll show U under my 1-piece…’
It was a provocative offer. Dave texted a recap of his first night in Milwaukee, omitting the detail of Other Dave’s stature. It seemed too much to give away. How many gay dwarves could there be in Milwaukee? Swingl replied by sending another photo in the one-piece, but with the zipper down. It was cropped just above the mouth, showing Swingl’s full lips, thick stubble, and just a peek of his hairy body beyond the zipper.
Then he told Swingl about Victor, who was probably still sleeping. Dave offered some details about their sexual encounter. Swingl replied with an approving ‘mhhm’, followed by the tongue emoji. Swingl next sent Dave a photo of him with the one-piece pushed down. Dave made out a shoulder, a pec, and an ear in profile. It was enough to get Dave to delve into intimate details about Victor: his furry ass, his broad feet, his panther-like skull. He omitted the part about the sadness. Swingl in return sent Dave a short video file of him dropping the one-piece to the ground with his back to the camera and pulsing his juice cans. Dave did not know you could send videos over the app, and nearly swooned right there in the Wisconsin Convention Center, although the low airflow likely contributed to his response.
With that, Swingl and his files were gone. He must have blocked Dave. Dave lurched to the restroom and splashed water on his face. He spent the afternoon scanning the lumbering crowds for that nose: so many large bodies, like a beast herd raised for butchering. He was scanning the crowd when the rep from Texas approached him, and had to yell “Dave, yo ho Dave!” to get his attention. Dave felt the silos of his existence crumbling; yet it was liberating to imagine a life without stealth.
Dave decided to lay off the app on his last night, after this risky interaction. He took an aimless wander along the Riverwalk, then drifted off into the unknown, past brewery complexes and over train tracks. He came upon a farmer’s market. The vendors were closing up for the day, but at a cheesemonger’s table under a striped canopy, the goods were still out. The table was manned by two strapping young activist/farmers with full beards. They were so earnest about their organically fed animals and their small-batch approach. Dave sexualized the cheesemongers, too. He lamented that he found nothing in this life to be earnest about when he was their age, or even now. Those young men made things every day. He bought a little wheel of sheep’s milk cheese, which he was told was “buttery, with a salty finish.” He had no idea when he’d have occasion to eat it.
The next afternoon, following that museum tour, Dave made his way to the airport, with his branded backpack on this back, wheeling his branded rolling luggage through long corridors, carrying his artisan cheese in a brown bag. He recalled the perky museum guide from that afternoon’s tour with annoyance. After walking the group through the company’s technological advancements by the decade, she blabbed about how leveraged and recognizable the brand was, how it was in hundreds of product categories–outdoor furniture, golf clubs, phone cases. Then she said something Dave found most irksome: “Yet it still represents a spirit of rebellion to our customers!”
This public relations pablum made Dave want to zip out of the one-piece of his own skin and announce to the pack of big bodies obediently following Miss Perky that he’d been fucking men all over town. He didn’t care who knew anymore. He even hooked up with a dwarf! A brown-skinned Genius! And two cheesemongers! (Okay, that didn’t actually happen). In his internal fury, Dave interrupted her spiel, bursting out of complacent silence. To the guide: “I cross more lines than you can draw, Miss Perky.” To the other tour-goers: “One of your sons showed me his ass.” Back to Miss Perky: “How’s that for technological advancement? How’s that for rebellion?”
Dave relished his imagined rebellion as he trudged through the airport. The internal dialog muted the hum, the grinding of his luggage wheels against the terrazzo, and the metronomic swing of the bag of cheese. He managed to follow the arrows pointing towards his gate. It seemed like he was rolling through the same corridor on a loop, past the same black chairs, past the same digital screen, blinking the same departure data.
Then a sight in the distance knocked Dave back to consciousness: a Harley-clad posse boarding Delta flight 4445 to Detroit. Repeated on two young men talking to one another, and there once more, on an older man who surely must be their father, was that nose, large, straight, and ample. Just as they were handing their tickets to the gate agent, Dave yelled abruptly, something you really shouldn’t do in airports these days:
One of the young men, in a pair of sunglasses Dave sells, cocked his head in his direction, grinning, and gave him a biker salute, its trajectory arcing along the space frame and landing right in Dave’s throat, before disappearing into the jetway. Struck with a wave of self-consciousness for his outburst, he scanned the terminal for TSA agents. He sheepishly made his way to his gate and threw his luggage down on the carpet, as jet fumes spiked his senses. He didn’t even notice that his flight was listed as delayed. Any time he got someone next to him, he thought, the satellite would reassert its rule, stranding his longings deep in the exosphere. He opened the crumpled bag, and the tang of the cheese released, conjuring a vision of grass pastures dotted with ovine clouds. He took a bite, warm and runny, and waited for the promised finish.
Dale Corvino found his confessional voice recounting his kept boy youth at “Dean Johnson’s Reading for Filth.” Under a pseudonym, he blogged for rentboy.com (now shuttered by the Feds), appeared in Dan Savage’s podcast, and contributed to the anthology Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks. Under his government name, he’s written an account of his family's relationship to Marilyn Monroe for Salon, an appreciation of Blondie for ImageOutWrite, a short story for the journal Jonathan, and an essay on sex and technology for the Rumpus. He’s participated in live storytelling for RISK! and is the 2015 recipient of the Christopher Hewitt Award for Fiction.