© by The Lavender Quill, 2003
Warning: the following story contains graphic descriptions of male/male sex between consenting adults. If that sort of thing bothers you, or you are a minor, or it is illegal for you to read this type of content under the laws of your area, dont read any further.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual people or events is purely coincidental.
Two days later I received an email from Vishal.
I have a computer with a couple of special additions. One is a Braille keyboard that slides under the front of the regular keyboard. I can touch type just like anyone else on the regular keyboard, and the Braille pad allows me to read text on the screen. For the most part, I really dont need a screen at all, but it is helpful if someone else, like Vishal, is visiting or helping me with homework. Another addition is voice software. Sometimes Braille is tedious and laborious, and the voice software will read the text on the screen to me in a computer voice, either over my speakers or headphones.
This all works great for text, but of course is useless for image files. The Internet is frustrating to me. There is so much information out there, but as time goes on, and more and more people design more sophisticated websites with vectored image links and graphical interfaces, I can access less and less of it. It was much simpler when I was a kid, and most of it was plain text. On the plus side, I cant see any of the banner ads that everyone complains about.
I opened Vishals email:
Subject: [FWD] Hey Vishal
My dear friend Benjamin,
I talked to Gary on the phone for hours last
night. There is most definitely spark there.
Were going out on Friday.
But you dont want to hear about my love life
(well, perhaps you do). Anyway, here is an
opportunity for you to put a spark in your,
shall we say, lackluster love life.
Lance emailed me, asking about you. Im forwarding
the message to you. I think he likes you. Deal
with it as it pleases you.
>Subject: Hey Vishal
>Nice 2 meet u and your friend for coffee. I
>enjoyed talking 2 u both. I wanted 2 thank
>Benjamin, too, but I didnt think 2 grab his
>contact info when u rushed off. You think
>u could give me his phone # or email? Can he
>C U on my cam-chat sometime.
I pondered it for a minute. I was mildly annoyed by Vishals email. I thought I had made it clear to him that I wasnt really interested in dating. He doesnt make a big deal about it, but he never completely lets it go either. He jokes that it is his duty to fix me up with a guy. I politely try to tell him it is none of his damned business. He just seems incapable of understanding that Im not all like him when it comes to dating. I sighed. I was not really angry with him. I just wished hed leave it alone.
Subject: Re: [FWD] Hey Vishal
Thank you ever so for acting like the busybody
aunt that I never had -- not! I will, of course,
give this all the consideration that I always give
to your not-so-subtle hints about dating, which is
to say none.
Im glad you are doing more with Gary besides
buying coffee. I want a detailed report after your
I read what Id written. I hoped it would get him to lay off me about dating, without sounding too snide. I decided it was okay, and sent it off.
I thought about whether or not to write Lance. My first inclination was to delete it and forget about him. But I realized that was at least partly a reaction to my annoyance with Vishals presumptions. Really, Lance had been nice to talk to, and hadnt done any of the little things that people do to annoy me. It would be rude to ignore his email.
Besides, he did have a great voice. If nothing else, I wanted to hear that deep bass voice again.
Subject: Re: [FWD] Hey Vishal
It was nice meeting you too. Im sorry you and Vishal
didnt seem to hit it off.
Yes, I can read email. My computer has a Braille board
and voice software that can read text out loud. It
doesnt work with images or anything graphical. So I
can read your email, but I cant see anything on your
web cam site, which is too bad, from what Vishal
My voicing software cant read most acronyms and
slang, though, so if you write me back, please use
complete words or common contractions.
Call me if you want. I dont have a regular phone,
just my cellular. Leave a VOICE message if Im in class
(not TEXT message). The stupid service helpfully
includes free text messaging, which I cant read, and
I cant turn off.
I included my cellular phone number, and sent that email off too.
Off course as soon as I did, I immediately regretted it. I mean, what if he actually wrote back? Or called? Yes, I wanted to hear his voice again, but then what? I really did not know much about him. Sure, he seemed nice enough at Starbucks, but the only other thing I knew about him was that he had a nice ass, at least according to Vishal. And what do I care if he has a nice ass? Its not like Im ever going to see it. Pretty much anybody else on campus could see it, if they were inclined to look up his website. He was practically a porn star.
Later that evening I was woken up by the tiny speaker sound of Beethoven. I had been reading a painfully boring music history text. Some common textbooks from basic classes are published in Braille form, but it isnt a cheap process to print a Braille version of a textbook, and it is rare to find less common upper level textbooks in Braille. The simplest solution is to email the publisher, explain the dilemma, and ask them to email me a text file, which I can then read on my computer. Once they verify my disability with the university, making sure Im not just a sighted student trying to cheat them out of the price of a textbook, they send me the file. Sometimes I use the voice software and listen to it, but this textbook was more boring than most, and I was retaining almost nothing by listening to it. So I had switched to Brailleing it instead. It is slower, but I have to concentrate more, instead of just passively listening, so I actually manage to retain some of it. Nevertheless, after a few hours of this my fingers had dropped to my lap and my chin dropped to my chest, and I was out.
So it took a moment for my groggy mind to engage and realize that Beethoven was my cellular phone beckoning, and another moment for me to get my groggy body to comply with the commands my mind was sending it. Then the frantic groping around for the phone, which I could hear was somewhere on the left side of the desk. Miraculously, I still managed to get to it before it went over to voice mail.
Hlo, I croaked. I must have been asleep for a while, because my voice was scratchy. My neck hurt too. Youd think that after almost three years of college Id have learned not to fall asleep in front of my computer, but the lesson has yet to sink in.
Hi. This is, um, Lance.
I smiled. I had recognized the voice about half way through his sentence. I cleared my throat.
Did I wake you up or something? he asked. Sorry. I can call some other time.
Its okay, I said. I just fell asleep reading a very stimulating assignment for music history.
I rested the phone in the crook of my neck and flipped open the crystal of my watch. I felt the dial and discovered it was almost eleven oclock at night. Kind of late to be calling, I thought.
Whats up? I asked, brilliant conversationalist that I am.
Sorry I called so late. I just figured youd turn your phone off if you were goin to sleep. I got your email, and I was getting tired of being on the computer so, you know, I thought Id just call. Im sort of a late night kind of guy. I figured if you werent Id just leave you a message.
Its okay, I repeated. Really. Im usually a late night kind of guy too. I craned my neck, and it cracked audibly. I should thank you. If you hadnt woken me up, Id probably have slept like that most of the night, and then Id probably need a neck brace or something in the morning.
He laughed. I decided I liked his deep laugh almost as much as I liked his voice.
So, did you just now get my email? I asked.
No. I got it earlier, but Ive had my cam on for the last couple hours, and I was chatting online. I just got off a while ago.
Got off in more ways than one, Ill bet. Im not usually that blunt, but I couldnt resist.
He laughed. Yeah, well, thats what they pay to see.
Really? Vishal didnt tell me you had a pay site.
What did he tell you about me?
Not much. He only told me about you like an hour before we met you at Starbucks. He said you had a web cam, that hed been chatting with you on line for a while, and you had a cute ass.
He laughed again. Yeah, its my best asset.
Oh, ha, ha.
I was starting to get uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was going. I realized this was ridiculous, since I was the one who made the crack about getting off and brought up the subject of his ass. I have this bad habit, though. Im uncomfortable talking about sex, so whenever it comes up, I make jokes about it.
Sorry, bad joke, he said. I just really called to say hi. Im glad you emailed me back. I had a good time with you guys, and I liked talking to you. And I was wondering if youd, um, like to go out sometime, and, you know, do something?
Shit! I sighed. This was exactly why I regretted sending him the email. He was asking for a date, and I was not interested in a date. I thought about what to say. Oddly, he had sounded nervous asking, which I thought was strange for a guy that jacks off in front of a web cam for the entire world to see. Provided they paid, I guess.
Look, Lance, you seem like a nice guy and all, but I dont really date. I enjoyed having coffee with you too, but I need to tell you that you shouldnt really expect much more than that from me.
It doesnt need to be a date, he said hastily. I mean, I dont know. I dont mean to be too forward. But I just liked talking to you, and I dont really meet that many guys I want to talk to.
Oh, come on, I said, obviously skeptical.
Really. I mean, I talk to guys all the time on line, but like I said before, most of them are not anybody I seriously want to know, and mostly its just silly sex shit anyway. And when I meet someone here in college, they usually get kind of weirded out about the web cam. You didnt seem too freaked out by it.
Maybe Id be freaked out by it if I could see it, I quipped.
Oh. He sounded defeated.
I was kidding, I said. It doesnt freak me out. Although you have to admit it seems a little odd.
Sure, I guess. But really, its just a job. Lots of people have weird jobs. Its a whole lot more fun than flipping burgers at McDonalds.
I rolled my chair over to the little refrigerator next to my desk while he was talking. I felt around inside and found a can of Coke, my last one.
I suppose thats true, I conceded.
So, do you want to get together sometime, and do something? Not a date, he laughed.
I almost said no. But he sounded so much more innocent than I expected him to be. I guess if I didnt want people to judge me because of my blindness, I shouldnt have preconceived notions of what a guy with a web cam should be like. Plus, I really couldnt say no to that voice. An idea popped into my head.
Sure, I said. You wanna go grocery shopping with me?
The way he asked, I could tell that grocery shopping was the farthest thing from his mind, completely out of the blue.
Yeah. You know. Like walking up and down the aisles buying food and shit. Grocery shopping.
Duh. I know what it is.
I could almost hear the ironic smile he probably had on his face. I laughed.
When do you want to go? he asked.
How about right now?
Sure, I said. The Safeway just off campus is open twenty-four hours. I always go late at night. No crowds.
Uh, okay. Where do you want to meet?
You decide. Either my dorm or at the store.
Which dorm are you in? he asked.
Gerald Hall. Can you meet me out front in, oh, fifteen minutes?
Um, better make it twenty minutes. I, uh, gotta get dressed first.
I busted up laughing, and we hung up.
I felt around my refrigerator. I had realized it was fairly empty when I got my coke, but I hadnt taken a thorough inventory. Not that I keep all that much in there, since I eat most meals at the cafeteria. I made a mental list of what I wanted, basically soft drinks and munchies. Then I grabbed my pack and a light jacket, and headed down to the lobby. I walked outside and waited for Lance, who showed up a few minutes later.
Hey Benjamin. Its me, Lance.
I grinned slightly. Yes, I know. Your voice is very distinctive. Easy to recognize. And very sexy, I didnt add, not wanting to go where that would likely lead.
Oh, okay, cool. I never thought of that. So, um, you wanna ride. I drove over.
No. Id rather walk, if thats okay.
I loathe cars. Well, that isnt entirely true. There are two kinds of people: people with cars, and people without cars. People With Cars can go wherever they want whenever they want. And they can get there much faster than those of us without. People With Cars live life at an entirely different pace than those without. Those without must either walk or rely on busses or other forms of public transportation. We must walk to a bus stop which may or may not be convenient to where we live, and then wait for a bus, which takes two or three times as long to get where you want to go as a car as it winds along a circuitous route, stopping every few blocks, to eventually deposit you at another stop which may or may not be convenient to your destination. I can occasionally bum a ride from someone with a car, but I cannot rely on the charity of others all the time. I cannot return the favor, and if I asked all the time, I would soon find myself with no friends. Even when I do ask for a ride, I am still at the mercy of People With Cars to take me when it is convenient for their schedule, which is not always convenient for mine.
Furthermore, I cant see cars. It has become obvious to me that this city, and indeed most west coast cities that have grown up in the last hundred years, are designed with the automobile foremost in mind. Roads seemingly take up as much room as the buildings they surround. And all those cars require places to park, so buildings are interspaced by vast areas of asphalt, spreading them out, and increasing the distance that I must walk.
I can hear cars well enough as they whiz by. Mostly we grudgingly coexist, cars and me, so long as they stay on the road and I stay on the sidewalk. But intersections and crosswalks are always a crapshoot for me. At intersections, the sidewalk and road become one, and Im forced to venture into territory claimed by cars. Theres that whole thing about knowing when I can go.
I can pretty much tell when the lights change. I can hear traffic stop in one direction and start moving in the other. Usually it is safe for me to cross then, but not always. Sometimes I get fooled at intersections with left turn lights, when it sounds like the cars are going the same direction as I want to walk and then cross over, sometimes in front of me so close I can feel the heat emanating from their engines. Sometimes People With Cars forget that crosswalks are for People Without Cars, and I frequently have to navigate around a car that has stopped in the middle of the crosswalk instead of behind it.
It irks me that I have to rely on People With Cars to see me, since I cant see them. Mostly that works, but not always. Some times, drivers are making a right turn from a stoplight. They look left to see if a car is coming, but dont always look to see if someone is in the crosswalk. This is all assuming, of course, that they are sober enough to see in the first place. Ive nearly been hit a number of times, and know of several other blind people who have been hit. Usually just bruises or a broken bone or two, but one lost her spleen, and spent a month in the hospital with other assorted internal injuries.
So if this all sounds like I am a little bitter and jealous of People With Cars, and fearful of the thousands of pounds of metal they regularly propel down the streets, well, then I confess that it is probably so.
The grocery store is not all that far of a walk, and after nearly three years, I am quite familiar with the intersections and obstacles between my dorm and the store. This late at night, there are way fewer People With Cars out, although the percentage of them who are driving while impaired is higher, so really, I suppose, it only gives me the illusion that it is safer. Nevertheless, I decided I would wait for another time to ask for a ride; some time when I really need it. Plus, I didnt want to feel beholden to Lance, who I really didnt know all that well yet.
I gripped the handle of my cane and released the rest of it. I gave it a little shake so that the bungee chord could pop all the sections together.
Uh, Ive never actually walked somewhere with a blind person, said Lance. What do you want me to do?
Well, that actually scored a couple of points. It annoys me to no end when strangers walk up to me and grab my elbow and directing me, helping me along when I have no need or desire for their help.
Its easiest for me if you walk on my left, I said. Just leave your elbow where I can reach it, so I know where you are, if you dont mind.
Listening to the light traffic, I oriented myself in the direction I wanted to go, and heard Lance step to my left. We started out and there was an awkward few moments while we adjusted to each others paceI walk slower than most people, a habit developed over years of bashing my shins into objects that I miss with the cane, and tripping over cracks or foreign objects on the sidewalks. I lightly rested my left hand on his right forearm. This walk was familiar to me, so I didnt need him to direct me, but since I cant see him, and cant always hear him, physical contact is really the only way I can keep in close proximity to him.
It was a slightly cool, but otherwise a nice night. We walked for a few minutes in silence. I almost didnt need his arm; I could clearly hear his footsteps as he walked.
What are you wearing? I asked.
Uh, just jeans and an OSU sweatshirt.
No. I mean on your feet. What kind of shoes?
Oh, he laughed. Cowboy boots.
Ah, thats what I hear. They must have some kind of hard sole or something. I can hear them clunk when you walk.
He laughed again. Yeah. The heels are wood.
So are you a cowboy then?
I asked it in a lighthearted way, but I was curious. Oregon is divided by the Cascade Mountains. West of the Cascades are the larger, more progressive cities: Portland, Salem, Medford, and the towns all along the Pacific coast. East of the Cascades is like a different world; mostly flat plains that are largely ranch and farm land. I wondered if Lance was a farm boy.
Well, I was a little bit, I guess, said Lance. I dont really think of myself as a cowboy, but thats how I got in here. No way could I afford college, so I got an equestrian scholarship.
Yeah. Equestrian. Like riding horses. Im gonna get an agriculture degree.
I know what it means, I said. I was just a little surprised. It didnt fit with what I imagined a guy with a web cam was like.
Some people who ride horses do have an IQ over fifty, you know, he said in an exaggerated southern drawl.
I laughed. And you are living proof. Where are you from, cowboy?
Actually, Im from Texas.
No shit? An out-of-stater. I could detect a slight accent, but I would never have guessed Texas.
I try not to be too obvious. People around here seem to think the thicker my accent, the dumber I am.
We both chuckled a little, and then walked in silence for a minute.
You walk kind of funny with your cane, said Lance. Not like Ive seen blind people usually.
You mean like this? I asked. I began to sweep my cane back and forth in front of me in a large arc, like a treasure hunter with a metal detector, tapping conspicuously at the end of each arc.
I went back to my normal subdued caning.
I almost never do that, I said. It makes me feel like a dork. Maybe its a little like your accent; I try not to be too obvious. Besides, Ive walked to this store like a million times. I almost dont need the cane at all. Mostly it lets other people know I cant see them so they get out of the way.
So you know where we are then?
Yeah. Were walking past Goldblooms Pizza. I can smell it. Then theres the used bookstore, then that little art shop, then the sushi place. Im walking on the right side because I know that there are a bunch of those steel newspaper boxes on the left side in front of the book store.
Wow, youre right. I never notice stuff like that.
You would if you walked into one. They dont move much.
Ouch. I suppose not.
I entertained Lance by pointing out every parking meter, utility pole, and newspaper box along the route. At least at night I dont have to deal with sidewalk signs the stores put out, or café tables in front of coffee shops.
I never realized sidewalks are so crowded, said Lance. Does all that shit piss you off?
Sometimes a little bit, but not usually. I just take it slow, and Im fine.
We arrived at the store, and I got Lance to push a cart while I continued to tag on his arm.
How do you grocery shop? asked Lance. Dont tell me youve memorized where everything in the store is.
I laughed. No. I sort of know the general layout, but they move stuff around all the time, especially the junk they put on the ends of the isles.
Hi Ben, said one of the cashiers.
Hi Donny, I said. Id recognized his voice. I turned back to Lance. Im a regular here, and most of the long term night staff people recognize me. If I come in on by myself, one of them takes me around the store getting the stuff I need. Sometimes I have to wait if theyre busy. Thats another reason I usually come late at night.
Sounds like you got the routine down.
Yep. I sort of feel guilty making them help me every time I come in, so I try to know exactly what I want so I can get through quick. I gave him a nudge. So lets start with soda. Should be second row from the far end.
He walked me over. Are you a Pepsi guy or a Coke guy? he asked.
Im a whichever is on sale guy. I cant tell the difference. Could you grab me a twelve-pack of whichever is cheaper?
I heard him pull one off the shelf and put it in the cart. Chips should be on the next isle that way, I said. We made our way around the store, grabbing a few more items, and then pushed the cart up to Donny, the cashier.
Sixteen forty-seven, announced Donny when he finished adding it up. I fished a handful of bills out of my pocket and set it on the counter. I took out a coin pouch and felt around for the forty-seven cents. Donny took the bills he needed and handed the rest back to me.
Lance carried the twelve-pack, and we put everything else in my pack. When we were walking back Lance asked, How do you know if he took the right amount of money?
You mean Donny?
I dont. I can feel the difference between different coins, but all the paper currency feels the same. I just have to trust him not to rip me off.
That sucks. Do people rip you off very often?
No, not usually. But it does happen sometimes. I always know how much should be in my pocket. Later, Ill ask Vishal or some other friend to verify it for me. Every now and then Ill find out that someone has short-changed me or taken a twenty instead of a ten or something.
That is really fucked up.
Dont worry about it. Sometimes people feel sorry for me, and I find out that I have more money than Im supposed to. Its sort of the reverse of ripping me off. They give me a ten instead of a five for change. So it all works out.
Does it bother you to be at the mercy of people like that?
Sometimes. But Ive learned to be pragmatic about it. Unless I can convince the government to print bills of different sizes, or bills that feel different from each other, I dont really have much choice. Its just something Ive learned to live with.
I realized that Id been doing almost all the talking since he met me in front of my dorm. That was strange, because Im usually pretty quiet. But Lance seemed easy to talk to, and was genuinely curious about me. Curious in a serious way, not the casual curiosity or pity that most people have about me and my blindness. Much like Vishal when I first met him, I realized. I smiled inwardly, thinking that this might be the beginning of a new friendship.
Enough about me and the daily drama that is my life, I said. It cant be nearly as exciting as having web cam. Whats it like to have a world famous ass, Lance?
He laughed, and I did too. He didnt say anything for a minute.
Well, for starters, my name isnt really Lance. Lance is, I guess youd call it a stage name. My real name is Larry.
(To be continued.)
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Other work by The Lavender Quill can be found on the web at <http://lavenderquill.tripod.com/>.