THE HEART OF OSKAR PRINZ
For the fourth time, Will circled round and walked back along Old Compton Street. The afternoon was getting darker, and fewer people were around. He got to the door of the well-lit bookshop he had selected, steeled himself and, feeling giddy, entered. A staircase with a small and discreet neon sign indicating XXXX Videos led downwards. He had gone too far now, there was no retreat. He descended the stairs, trying not to clump too hard as he went.
At the bottom a smell of damp carpet assailed him. Once his eyes adjusted, he made out five or six people browsing the DVD shelves in the sequence of cellar rooms. All were male, of course, as his mind registered. No one looked directly at anyone else. A bored young man sitting at the till glanced at Will incuriously, then back to a book he was reading. None of the others showed any interest at all.
Will breathed again and scanned the shelves full of tits and bums, searching for the section he knew must be there somewhere. He moved to the back of the cellar, where with a rising pulse he found the shelves he was looking for. Pale, naked boys and buff, muscled men stared out at him from the plastic.
He had followed his libido this far. Now where to start his hunt? His heart was thumping and his adrenalin level was high, making him feel he might faint. Did he have the coolness to check out the shelves systematically? He was unsettled by the sight of a middle-aged man perusing the same section a bit further along The gentleman was as old as his dad, and dressed perfectly respectably. Snap out of it, he told himself. Browsing gay porn did not make you a criminal, it just made you feel like one.
Will focused on the covers. He did not find them arousing. Most of the kids were his age. The British ones looked like losers, while a lot of the Eurotwinks seemed as though they could do with a good meal. He didn’t fancy watching any of them getting their rocks off on his DVD player. The muscle studs appeared a bit more promising, especially the one who had most of his hand up another guy’s arse. But even that seemed somewhat artificial.
The critical part of his brain began functioning at that point, as – to his annoyance – it always did in moments of crisis. What was he on about: ‘artificial’? How could sex before cameras be anything other than artificial? Hard-core porn is not exactly high art, is it? Back to the shelves.
Then, with a surge of arousal, it happened. The face caught him: a naked boy, smiling at the camera, kneeling sideways to the left, his fantastic bum resting on his heels. His body was lightly and evenly tanned, but it was his face that arrested Will. It was utterly gorgeous. A soft smile played around the wide mouth. Straight, blond hair had fallen into laughing, blue eyes. The cheeks were full and boyish, although their owner was a grown man. Christ, his libido screamed, what a total dream babe!
Will took the box from the shelf. The title said Falkefilm’s Rothenian Boys 7. The thumbnail pictures on the back showed a variety of pairs of good-looking lads in the act, including the cover boy. He glanced at the price: £39.99.
Will gritted his teeth and thought about the precarious state of his bank account. Then Cover Boy smiled gloriously up at him and all thoughts of economy left him, burned away in the flame of ersatz passion. He had planned on getting two or three DVDs from this first anxious expedition into the heart of the Vice Capital of Britain, but he wanted this one … had to have this one.
He looked around and made his way to the counter. The youth at the till stared blankly at him. Probably the look was calculated to be noncommittal, but Will still felt he was being eyed up. He gazed coolly back at the bloke, maybe only a year older than he. Yup, I’m gay, he said to the bloke in his head, so hate me. Then he thought perhaps he’d better say something aloud. ‘Er … this one please.’
The till-keeper grunted. Will swiped his card through the machine and tapped in his PIN number. The bloke put his purchase in a plain bag. Naturally, thought Will. Who’d walk through London with SOHO PORN EMPORIUM on the side of his carrier bag? Well, some people might, he admitted, but not he. Amused by the idea, he smiled and murmured, ‘Cheers.’ Seeing the startled expression on the other’s face, Will reflected that he was standing there as a self-proclaimed gay man and had just smiled broadly at another man, who might not perhaps have viewed it as simply a friendly and human gesture. Get used to the fact of being different, he told himself. He climbed the stairs fast.
He ambled back down towards Charing Cross Road, feeling weird. Although he was not out to his parents or friends, he knew well enough what he was. But for the moment, walking Old Compton Street, he was an openly gay guy in the heart of London’s gay village. He had a bag containing gay porn and an issue of Gay Universe. He passed a bar and stared inside, seeing a number of what he imagined were young gay and lesbian couples sitting round. If only he were with someone who could give him the confidence to go in and take a seat. But he was shy and nervous, so he moved on till he came to a Starbucks, where he got himself a mint-chip Frappuccino as compensation.
Will sat in one of the squashy chairs and did something courageous for him. He took out the gay mag he had bravely bought at Paddington. Trying not to look to see if people were noticing it, he opened the magazine up and began reading the contents page. He felt as though he was making the first steps towards being truly himself, so just opening the mag was, for him, an exciting experience. The contents ran: HIV; the campaign for the Rainbow flag; hospices; the gay scene in the Czech Republic (dismal), Belarus (positively homophobic) and Rothenia (opening up). He blundered into pages filled with eye candy, none showing any crucial information, and rushed past them in case any theoretical person watching him thought he was just perving. The classified-ads section was dense and looked as though it would repay some concentrated study.
Then a familiar figure caught his eye. Dark, thick hair, black eyes, crimson lips, a perfect brown face organised like a Pre-Raphaelite angel; it was the gay supermodel, Matthew White, mostly naked in a full-page advert for a well-known male fragrance. Will checked out the magnificent physique, draped over a balcony in Milan or Nice or somewhere like that, and felt the usual longing ache. This was the face that had haunted his student years. He had a scrapbook filled with Matt White pictures, and a Matt White poster pinned inside his wardrobe door. He had wanked off to fantasies of the man almost for as long as he had wanked. Those were the images that had made him realise he was gay.
He knew everything about Matt White: his favourite colour, where he grew up, his family, his long-term boyfriend, his university career. And if you had perused his scrapbook, you would have found that Will had gone somewhat beyond the celeb mags in his devotion to his idol. Like the saddest of teen groupies, he had discovered where Matt White lived in London and had walked up the road to look half longingly at the house (empty at the time). He had sneaked into a public lecture the man had given in Oxford and seen him in the flesh, for Will knew what most Matt fans didn’t care about, that he was a serious scholar as well as one of the world’s favourite male faces. Will had recorded copies of his Channel 4 documentaries.
Will felt there was a real personal connection with his idol, as extreme fans always do, although in his case there was some justification. He had read history in the same department as Matt White had, although three years later. He had studied under some of the same teachers, and even talked breathlessly to people who had known the man. And if you gathered from this that Will was an obsessive, you would not be too far wrong.
Will sighed and took a deep breath. His adventure into his own sexuality had gone off alright. He was sitting in London, reading Gay Universe, and no one was even watching or caring. He had bought hardcore gay porn, and no one had rung his mum to tell her. The world was a lot more indifferent than he had imagined.
The street outside was dimming towards evening when Will checked his watch. It was Saturday and his preferred train left from Paddington in only an hour. He carefully packed away his mag and, as he did, caught a glimpse of his DVD purchase. Cover Boy smiled up at him enigmatically. For the moment – and perhaps it was none too soon in Will’s life – Matthew White was forgotten. Time to go home. And once home, there was a whole new source of sexual dynamic to get used to.