Alex in the City

By Rick Segreda

Alex got on the Conrail Harlem-Hudson going down to Manhattan, a volume of American Film Classics in his left hand, a paper lunch bag in his right. There was a double-feature today, uptown at the 59th Street Playhouse; two John Ford westerns, Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine. The train took off at 11:04 and would arrive at 1:00. Alex strategized his time. He would read the chapter on westerns on the train, take the Lexington Avenue Express to 59th street, walk over to Central Park, eat his lunch, buy this week's Village Voice, then go watch the films.

Alex loved movies; when he was younger he would stay up all night watching movies on his parent's used black-and-white console. He especially liked horror and science fiction, much to the embarrassment of his father, a high-school English teacher. "When I was your age I read; historical novels and science texts!," his father would tell him. "And I played sports as well." Alex started on the book but couldn't focus. He didn't get all the terminology: "auteur,""montage,""mise-en-scene." Alex felt guilty for not grasping what he was trying to read and angry that the book didn't help him--it had no index. He decided to eat his lunch. "This book is totally useless now," Alex muttered to himself. "This book weighs five pounds and I'll have to lug it all over the city for a day."

It took Alex five minutes to eat his turkey and mustard sandwich. It was a little dry, but the apple juice he had made it go down faster. That left him with twenty minutes to kill on the train before it made it into the city. He leafed through the book again, but there were not too many pictures, so he stopped. Alex looked out the window, at the houses and trees speeding by. He started to daydream. He imagined himself the subject of a New Yorker profile, being interviewed in the cocktail lounge of the Algonquin Hotel.

The view was no longer houses and trees, but charred and abandoned buildings. The train stopped at 125th street; Harlem. A tall black men in his twenties got on and sat down next to Alex. Alex felt uneasy, but then noticed that the tall black man wore eyeglasses and carried an expensive looking briefcase, so he relaxed. One more stop and he'd be there. The train pulled into mid-town Manhattan. Alex was riding in the last train car, so to avoid being slowed down by the crowd of departing passengers he ran out to the other side of the platform and sprinted around them towards the station exit. He dashed towards the subway platforms and got on the Lexington Avenue Express. He felt lucky; he didn't have to wait on line to buy a subway token and made it into a car just as the doors were sliding shut .

Alex sat down. The subway started to chug forward. Running through Grand Central Station made him sweat. He pulled his copy of American Film Classics from his armpit. It was moist. Alex wondered if the pages would be all warped when it dried, and whether the library would fine him for it.

"Are you a film student?"

Alex looked up. A blond-haired man in his thirties stood over him, hanging on to a strap as the subway car bobbed and weaved.

"Excuse me?"

"I saw you looking at that book on film classics with this real serious expression on your face. I thought, hmm, must be a film student."

"I'm really into film. Film art and all that."

"What school do you go to?"

"Scarsdale High."

"Oh, you're in high-school. I thought you were older. I meant college." The blond-heired man stared into his eyes, then glanced at his body. Alex felt a tingly rush of energy sweep through him. He stayed back. Slightly bald,not too tall, about five-foot-seven, the blond haired man were a suede vest over a Bob Marley tee shirt. In the back pages of his older brother's underground newspapers Alex used to read about the "cruising" scene in New York. Having sex had been a major pre-occupation with him since he started to go through puberty two summers ago. The fact that he wanted sex with men didn't disturb him. He didn't get along with anyone in the ninth grade, so this made him feel unique and special in a subversive way. Last fall his voice changed and he went through a growth spurt leaving him at five-foot-ten. Now at fourteen-and-a-half he rejoiced at a chance to get laid before anyone else his age. The blond-haired man started up the conversation again.

"How old are you?"

"Eighteen. I'm a senior."

"Oh. Okay. Great! You must be planning to enter college this fall."

"I've been accepted into N.Y.U."

"I used to go there. I was in their graduate program, but I dropped out.. The place was too academic, and I'm a real creative, avant-garde type." Feeling put on the defensive, Alex paused before responding, and thought of a way to get around the subject.

"I may not go. It's only that they offered me a full scholarship, but then so did U.C.L.A."

"California! Go for it."

The subway stopped at the 5lst avenue exit. Sane people left and a few seats became available. The blond-haired man sat dawn next to Alex.

"What are you doing today?"

"I'm catching up on sane John Ford westerns at the 59th Street Playhouse."

"You're pulling my leg. I see. A joke."

"No, I'm going to a revival house uptown, and they're showing two westerns."

"If that's what you're into, hey, whatever turns you on."

"This book claims that Hollywood movies are really great art, that John Ford's westerns can be compared to Homer."

"That's crazy. Art cannot be commercial and still be art."

As with N.Y.U., this wasn't worth defending.

"I've seen them already, so maybe I'll just scrap it."

"Would you like to come over to my place. I live alone, in my studio on West 86th street. We can talk about movies, and film school programs. By the way, my name is Howard." -

The studio had a heavy, stuffy smell. It was small with a greasy kitchenette. There were a few canvas paintings laid up against one wall and a pile of books up against another. There was a queen sized mattress with a rumpled comforter on a hardwood floor. There were no tables and no chairs. Howard handed Alex a 7-Up from his fridge.

"So, Alex. Besides movies, what else are you into?"

"Stuff f . "

"Hmmph. Okay. "

Howard opened a cabinet door and brought out a small plastic bottle.

"I got sane rush if you're into it. And sane pot, though it's only a roach."

Drugs made Alex nervous, even though he knew it was supposed to be cool. He thought of his older, hippie brother, who had been in and out of drug rehab clinics for five years. He thought about his father getting drunk and smashing his car into a divider along route 95. Howard noticed Alex's cautious expression.

"You look worried."

"I'm all right."

Howard turned around, snorted sane of his rush, put it away and laid down on the mattress with Alex. He ran his hand up Alex's tee shirt, to his chest, then down past his stomach to his crotch. Alex looked away towards the stacks of books; books on Ingmar Bergman and·Federico Fellini, art history books, novels by French writers in the original french, and philosophical texts.

"Who's your favourite philosopher?"

Howard reached over and kissed Alex on the mouth before replying.

"D.H. Lawrence, because he believed in fucking a lot." Having someone else's tongue in his mouth felt unnatural, not pleasurable to Alex. Furthermore, Howard's breath reminded him of stale baloney. "But I have to do this," Alex thought to himself. He focused on what he liked about Howard; his blond hair, his large biceps. When it was over, though, all he could notice was Howard's bad breath, his flabby middle and his short, skinny legs. And he looked closer to forty now.

"You're not too experienced, are you?"

"I mean, well, I've had..."

"I was like you when I was your age. I'd pick-up some older guy, lie back, and let him do all the work."

Alex quickly put on his clothes, checked his wallet and finished the 7-Up.

"Look, it's almost three and my girlfriend is coming over soon, so let me walk you downstairs."

Alex wondered if the girlfriend was as homely as Howard.

American Film Classics firmly secured in his left armpit, Alex sprinted for the 68th Street subway to 59th street. My Darlinq Clementine was almost finished, but he didn't care. He stopped at the candy machine and bought a Snicker's bar and a packet of Wrigley's spearmint. The Snicker's bar was to make him feel a little better and the spearmint was to kill the taste of Howard's spit in his mouth. "Maybe I ought to get a Hershey bar, too," he thought to himself as he sat down to watch the movie.


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