Mike and Danny: Straight Crush
OK, so off to Kearney I went in my '57 Chevy (General Motors cars lasted longer in those days, and Mike, bless him, showed me how to keep it going, until it finally died on the road about two miles from the farm in a spell of spring tornado weather – walking those last two miles with my briefcase, I kept my eye on the sky, ready to dive for the ditch at the first sign of a funnel cloud), and I got a Camaro that Mike said would boost my sex appeal.
"I need that?" I asked him.
We'd found the car in the classifieds and driven over to Central City for a look. The guy selling it laughed like he knew what Mike was talking about.
"Yeah," he smirked, lowering his voice. "That back seat has seen some hardcore action, I'll tell ya."
Mike had already looked under the hood (how often have I stopped to admire his wrangler butt bent over the fender of some vehicle) and listened to the engine, while I sat inside at the wheel.
I looked up at him, standing there in his tee shirt and jeans, his Cat cap on the back of his head.
Hardcore? I'm thinking but not saying.
He grinned back at me and nodded, almost gleeful.
And sure enough, the day I bought it, he was waiting for me at the front gate, still in his work clothes, and he jumped in beside me while the car was still running.
"Let's go for a spin," he said, reaching over to clap his hand on my leg, like I might jump out of the car and leave him there.
So we drove into town where the sun sank behind the treetops as we had burgers and root beers at the A&W drive-in.
Then as dusk settled, we drove around town and finally headed out to the river and parked behind a thicket of willows with a view of the water.
Mike opened two cans of beer from a cold six-pack and handed one to me. Then he sighed, sinking back into his seat, one elbow in the open window, the other arm along the back of the seat, his legs spread wide. I knew this posture; it meant that he was as content as a man can be.
We said nothing for a long time, just listened to music on the radio, drank our beers and watched swallows careening in the air over the water, sucking down the bugs.
They'd just played a favorite of mine, Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," and Mike said out of the blue, "What are you thinking about?"
After a few minutes of relishing the pride of ownership, which amounted to enjoying a radio that actually worked and the snug feel of the bucket seat under my butt, my brain had pretty much shut down.
"Nothin'. What about you?" I said, my eyes still following the birds against the evening sky.
"I've been ready and waitin' for a while," he said.
"Waitin' for what?"
"Waitin' for you to make the first move. This is your car, isn't it?" When I looked at him it had gotten too dark to see the expression on his face.
"I didn't know there was a rule about that," I said.
"Where you're sitting. They called that the driver's seat."
I laughed and said, "Mike, is this whole thing some fantasy of yours?"
"Must be. I've had a boner so long my shorts are getting wet."
I reached over to him and felt between his legs where his erection pressed hard along his leg, the heat of it radiating through the denim.
"If a muscle car turns you on so much, why didn't you ever get one for yourself?"
"It's not the same thing when it's somebody else's," he said, bringing both of his hands down to cup mine over his crotch.
"OK," I said. "I just need an answer to one question."
"What's that?" he wanted to know, pressing himself into the palm of my hand.
"Just who am I in this fantasy?"
He laughed. "You're Danny. Who else would you be?" And with that, he pulled me closer to him, and before I knew it his face was against mine, and he was giving me one of his hungry kisses.
Did the back seat see any hardcore action that night? Well, all I can say is I'd rather do it in bed. But to whatever record of orgasms it could lay claim to (and we should have asked the previous owner for the runny tally), two more got added.
Meanwhile, the mosquitoes had a field day. The next morning I had bites all over my ass. That's the last time I do that.
That first year of teaching went by, and I wasn't very good. It probably looks easy, but even if you throw your heart and soul into it, you can see sometimes that you're just wasting everybody's time.
The ones sitting there with fixed smiles and eyes focused on you are no more glad to be there than the notebook doodlers and the jerk-offs in the back row daydreaming about beer, sex, and football.
The papers I read were what you'd expect from kids who grew up in small towns or on farms and ranches. An essay on the most interesting job they'd ever had produced a heartfelt two-pager by a candy striper, a sermonette about being a Sunday School teacher, and a brief discourse on castrating calves, complete with a paragraph on the rough and ready culinary arts required to cook "mountain oysters" in the branding fire.
This last one was by a tall, lanky ranch kid, Dayton, who wore stovepipe jeans, broke-down cowboy boots, and snap-front shirts with a pack of Marlboros in one pocket and a tin of Copenhagen in the other.
I'd see him arrive on campus in the mornings driving a beat-up pickup, sometimes with a stock rack – the paint job modified by years of hard use, sun, wind, and sand. The tailgate had been stove in and was held shut with baling wire. The back window was cracked, and on the gun rack in the cab, there always hung a clean shirt on a wire hanger.
The truck had Custer County plates, so I figured he'd come from some ranch around Broken Bow. Easy to spot in a crowd, he always wore his big cowboy hat, even while others yielded to collegiate fashion and tried more or less to blend in. "Country proud" one of my colleagues called it.
The boy seemed to be a cut above average in smarts – and I suppose he could have aspired to be a doctor or lawyer – but part of him would never pull up roots. Unlike me, ready to abandon any sign of my own humble origins, young Dayton was, in his way, loyal to his own.
If he ever became a lawyer – the likelihood of which was less than zero – he'd dress exactly as he did in my class and drive a second-hand pickup. Only his briefcase, I'm guessing, a gift from his mom bought with egg money (do ranch wives have chickens? I don't even know), the leather eventually looking as worn as the seat of his jeans.
Dayton was there in my first class, fall of 1969, sitting by himself on the aisle, his hat placed upside down in the seat beside him. I gave them all something to write that day – introducing themselves to me – and I stood, leaning against the wall watching them – sizing them up.
I'm not always right, but I get a hunch about most of them as they do this. And there was something about Dayton I noticed almost right away. Or more truthfully, I noticed it about myself. I was aware of how much I enjoyed seeing him in that chair, his concentration focused on the spot where his ballpoint pen met the surface of the paper he was writing on.
While his brain was busy finding words to give shape to his thoughts and while his eye-muscle coordination was monitoring the action of the fingers that held his pen, the rest of his body was clearly on standby, ready to spring into motion.
Standing there, I could take him all in, bent over his desk top, shirt collar pulled away from the nape of his sun-burned neck, his ears, the side of his throat, his forehead paler than the rest of his face, from a summer in the shadow of his hat brim.
And then there was the rest of him, lean in his shirt and jeans, his long legs open wide, pants cuffs pulled down over his boot tops. My eye traveled up the inseam of one leg to his belt buckle, a silver oval tucked into the folds of his shirt, and I found myself imagining the belly hair under it, and then the patch of thick, dark curls in his crotch, nesting the bulge of himself I could see between his legs, and extending without let up right on under him between his butt cheeks.
I quickly looked away to the others in the room – some of whom had already run out of ideas and were staring out the windows. I realized I was horny, yes, but at that moment I saw something about teaching I hadn't expected. You can, without warning, let yourself be seduced by your students.
Did I tell Mike about this? Sure. And he smiled, listening to me, like I was some newborn calf in the pasture, too bewildered to find a tit to suck on.
We were on the side porch on a crisp fall afternoon, tacking sheets of polyethylene over the screens with a staple gun. Mike's portable radio had been set on a windowsill, and we were listening to Lyle Bremser on KFAB doing the play-by-play for a Husker game.
"Do you ever think about another man that way?" I asked him.
"It happens," he said.
"Not anymore." He said this a little sadly.
He grinned then. "Maybe I know him too well."
This didn't really satisfy me. "You know me pretty well," I said.
He looked at me, the grin still set there unmoving under his mustache. "Yeah, I do, bud. What's your point?"
I wasn't sure I had one. The remark had just slipped out of me.
Mike reached over to me, touching my shoulder, and then put his hand against my cheek. I remember both the cold feel of his fingers on my face and the warmth of his eyes as he looked at me.
"You're my Danny. That's the difference between you and Don," he said. "And don't forget it." Then he went back to popping the staple gun into the plastic.
The radio went quiet for a moment. A pause in the game, while the refs brought out the chain to check for a first down. Lyle Bremser fell silent, and there was the distant sound of the pep band over the noise of the crowd.
"There's something I've been wanting to ask you," I said.
"Every time you talked me into going back to school – even taking that job in Chadron." I faltered there.
"Yeah?" he said, still stapling. Pop, pop, pop.
"I could have gone one of those times and never come back."
"I know that," he said.
"Well, didn't that bother you?"
"Yeah it did," he said. "But what else was there? Keep you from what you should be doing?" He put down the staple gun. "What you needed from me was a push, not somebody holding you back."
Listening to him, I knew I wasn't made out of that kind of grit. I just shook my head. "How did you make yourself do that?" I wanted to know.
"I just let it hurt," he said.
I half expected his "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," but he only repeated himself, turning back to his work. "I just let it hurt."
When that semester was over, it wasn't the end of Dayton. He'd somehow attached himself to me, showing up at my office without notice to talk about nothing in particular. He'd park himself in a chair, put his boots up on the edge of a wastebasket, and tell me he'd come by to "shoot the bull."
I'd never got anywhere near this familiar with any of my teachers. I didn't know what to do with him.
"What would you do if you found out your girlfriend was cheating on you?" he asked me one day. That was his kind of conversation opener.
"I'd drop the girlfriend," I said, thinking he was referring to some situation of his. I knew there was a girl here and there in the picture, but none of the details.
"You wouldn't shoot the guy?" he asked.
"Are we talking about somebody I know?" I asked, trying not to seem alarmed.
"No. Hypothetical." He said it like he'd just learned the word.
"I wouldn't shoot anybody."
He looked at me like it was a test question and he was weighing my answer.
"What would you do?" I asked him.
"Shoot somebody," he said, pulling a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket. "Maybe even myself." He gave me a sidelong look as he let that sink in.
I looked at him, as he pulled out a book of matches and popped a light with one hand. The top buttons of his flannel shirt were open, and his long legs stretched across the distance from his chair to the wastebasket, one boot hooked across the other.
I thought of him with a rifle and sensed he was capable of entertaining thoughts like this.
And the image of him suddenly dead swept through me, his handsome young body lifeless, his thoughts and his voice silenced, the hands callused from ranch work now still, and not least of all the sexual energy that radiated from him not just lost, but wasted.
I glanced downward at the thickness bunched together under his fly, and wondered what girlfriend had ever touched him there – or been touched by him. A girlfriend he would care enough for to speculate – even hypothetically – about infidelity.
He wore his jeans with a narrow cuff and he flicked a tip of ashes into it.
"Like I said," I told him. "I wouldn't shoot anybody."
I had befriended a guy on the psychology faculty. He was also a clinician, counseling students referred to him by the staff at the infirmary. Barry was from Winnipeg and had a Canadian's easy take on things. He and his wife had invited me to dinner early in my first semester, hoping I suppose to help a young, single guy feel at home in a mostly married faculty.
I never told Barry I was queer. If he sensed it, he never said so, but neither was there any of the usual talk of my prospects as an eligible bachelor. He accepted anything I revealed about myself at face value, and the rule seemed to be that if I didn't lie to him about anything, he wouldn't challenge me. What I didn't reveal to him was my own affair and not his business.
Barry knew Dayton, who was taking his Intro to Psych class. So when this conversation about infidelity came up, I walked over to Barry's building one day while his officemate was out, and I quickly told him the story.
Barry listened, leaning back in his swivel chair and studying me through his glasses with the gaze of an owl.
"What do you think," I said when I was done.
"There could be something there," he said. "But you ask me, I'd say the boy's got a straight crush on you."
"Straight crush," Barry said, winking. "You can figure that out."
What's the wink for, I want to say, but I let it go.
Barry was always playing games with me. We'd gone to a bar outside of town one day, the kind of place with Waylon Jennings on the juke box and some guys playing pool, and a drunk had taken exception to us, a couple of college teachers out of place in the social order, and started trying to pick a fight with us. Barry had leaned over to me, where we'd been sitting side by side at the bar, and said gleefully in a low voice, "Come on, we can take him."
"Yeah," I'd muttered back. "Maybe one of those truck drivers over there playing pool would hold our glasses for us."
So I continued to figure he'd made up the stuff about straight crushes to tease me in a way I didn't quite get. And Dayton kept hanging around, like I was his only friend. Which maybe I was . . .
Continued . . .