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Erogenous zones: Sexshine at the afters

John Belknap

September 3rd, 2023

John Belknap sees the sun shimmer as it rises.

Summer starts off with a sickeningly sweet promise, and if you’re lucky, ends with a scorchingly sweet burn. This is a week all about those last days of a season defined by heat: sweaty yearnings, summer songs, ubiquitous slang, and every kind of feeling that could, if you think about it, qualify as heart burn. 

Our friend, the communist, left the afters before the sunshine started. Aww baby, she’s fine, said a friend’s tallish blonde boyfriend. I asked if she had left because she was fagged out. No, no, her phone died. A sexy boy let her borrow his charger while she browsed his copy of Pinko Magazine. She was charging right over there with your stuff. Then she went out to grab some Lights. 

Totally, I thought.

I think there’s a bodega across the street? shared another friend, Gavin, offering both direction and assistance in the form of a question. Gavin spoke softly. He came with an indissoluble smile that bloomed from the center of a dampened topsoil-colored beard. The beard was not quite black, not quite brown, but of earth’s color. Above his mound and blooming smile were eyes tricked-out by a flurry of eyelashes. His eyelashes moved, they swooshed.

Oh, right, I said, having just been to that bodega. I went to the bodega with our friend two hours ago. Gavin blinked twice, swoosh-swoosh, then looked around the roomy studio.

Earlier at the bodega, our friend had bought a pack of Lights and one for me, too. Plus, cookies, chips, and Gatorade. Colorful sweets in sagging packages vied for our mouths. Men shouted around us. Did we need papers? Shit man, I don’t know! There were a lot of interrogatives and exclamations, very few declarations. In moments like these I reminded myself that only a few years ago things were not always about reading between the text. We knew; we looted, we got paid by the State, and we ate. 

Our attention, though, was held by a bright-eyed boy with waves for hair, pouting lips, and big imagination. He waited beside us in line. We paid for those early morning goodies in cash and, once checked out, bounced out onto the street. The boy told me he was taking me through a city of lights to a zoo. A zoo? I asked. The Brooklyn Zoo, he corrected me, with semi-dramatic flair. Our friend offered him a Salt and Vinegar chip. He looked thrilled and moved with gratitude, a swift bow. My friend joked about the saltiness of chips and falling into place. It went over my head but the boy loved it. He chuckled and then dutifully chewed.

The three of us soon approached a friend’s art studio. It was in Williamsburg. A buzzer was pressed and it lit up wildfire red-orange. From inside the studio something trilled. A hundred toiling cicadas. The door unlocked and the boy jumped indoors, taking off and up the flight of stairs with schoolboyish self-assuredness. All I saw were his waves of hair, which welcomed me to the said “Zoo.”

Where was that boy now? And, our friend, the communist? 

The blonde boyfriend and Gavin parted ways, the latter going back into a corridor. The corridor led to a balcony that overlooked a private driveway. It was odd to have such privacy for one’s car in New York. But maybe not so much in a place like Williamsburg. Gavin opened the glass door and cozied up to a crowd of quiet boys and a woman. The woman exhaled Newport smoke, her black fingernails motioning. She told the boys stories of her past in California, Delaware, and Connecticut, and looked like she was juggling hot coal while burning through stories of her misery (much of which the boys already knew). The boys made her feel like there was nowhere else in the world but New York. Gavin, very endearingly, nodded along. Including someone as he does is a feat. 

Nearby in New York: our friend must be walking. I figured our friend had left for good, that she was done for the day. Unable to afford his gas and keep up with any more illusions, I pictured her walking to her rented home probably on the phone with a girlfriend. 

It was too bad she left but, whatever, things were heating up. Silent DJs at industry standard CDJs turned tables. From her to him back to her to them and all for us. Four or five sun-soaked girls sat close to an open, eastward facing window. They held up hand-mirrors and applied powders in shades of Columbian coffee and Italian cream. The girls used sticks and liners to shorten some facial features and elongate other ones. They perked up and padded each other’s cheeks. Some shook off sweat-induced residue from bobs and bangs and others dabbed on extra caffeine cream. Their skin shimmered like fish scales from the incoming sun.

Elsewhere, outdoors, I saw more rays of sunlight peeking through trees. The light passed over the girls dawning out by the window and pushed further into the art studio. I crawled over to get a better look at those trees pushing tortoiseshell sunglasses—a necessary accessory when feeling too hot or unwell—from a side table into my nose and ears. The sunglasses slipped right onto thanks to my wet hair.

The sun sprayed its hot stuff all over me. This was it: I opened up inside such natural space; the sun, with its profound silence and unremarkable smell, forced the misshapen contours of my shadow to swallow me whole and spit out another boy, a twin flame, he who broke silence with a grunt and smelled of beef tomato sauce. His puppy breath. The sun wasn’t much on its own. But once down to earth, the sun did its thing to my blood. Things got beefy and I sprung right up. So, too, did the boy with big imagination who was right beside me. He picked me up and placed me next to him. Get up boy, don’t you know there’s sun in charge of the world? He took the glasses off my nose and slid his hands down my spine to the hair on the surface of my lower back and bum.

Then, a bark. He pointed to a kennel of puppy dog boys. They had just arrived, unleashed and in fraternity. He joined them to play in front of strangers.   

Out on the tree-lined streets were strings of limp party lights and festival banners. The banners bridged bodegas to brownstones. Further off, dinosaur-sized buildings lay dormant. Fossilized. The buildings were ensconced in amber from early dawn light. The sky above the buildings cried baby blue. Cloudless. I heard little commotion from a neighborhood highway. The highway, like most people at this time of day, half-slept. It was 6:10 AM. 

I noticed linden trees and some Southern and Saucer magnolias. Morning wood, really, right here? They had flowers in all the color combos I liked: bright pink, magenta-maroon, and room temperature butter. Each pink-purplish flower washed into a creamy-white interior, swaying and laughing. I saw the flowers and I smelled them, too. Sweetness came from the linden trees’ early flowers. Inhaling: I have arrived. Behind the flowers wiggled the tree’s leaves. They jiggled in glossy swaths of greens. Exhaling: we are home

Why “we?” “‘We’: I’m not aware that the word is in use outside the family,” writes Matthieu Lindon in his book, Learning What Love Means. Love means many things for Lindon: the gift of staying and playing at a friend’s (Foucault’s!) apartment rent-free whenever he was out of town, the acts of service when caring individually for one another (keeping “singularity”) while group living (“sustaining originality”), the physical touch of a finger tracking a confidante’s inked words from a handwritten letter (I guess for us it would be pulling at a tattoo?), and, the quality time returned after quantifiable time lost to something strange, like suffering or sadism. Suffering, for the men and women in Lindon’s book, included passing through an epidemic.

“We” had been carried along into something like an epidemic. Something same-same but totally, I thought, different. 

Nowadays, “we” went back to “I”. Encouraged by deep looking and deep breathing, I considered deep listening. An impromptu DJ set continued going from Goth Jafar’s speakers. So, baby, come light me up, squealed Ariana Grande’s voice at three times normal speed and her pitch urgent, wildly high. She sounded like she was on a cocktail of helium and amphetamines, super eager, clearly, for the sun to do its thing. Early birdie in a hurry to catch us with earworms.

Grande kept ballooning and bouncing. And maybe I'll let you on it. Two boys' shirts came off and a third, someone with a ton of bubbling back acne, tied them together with his thick-as-rope arms. From Popeye over to Olive Oyl. A girl pulled up her black hair, straining under the sun then closed both her eyes. Her closed eyes revealed things. She wore a famous designer’s brand and the designer (tall, testestorned, and pretty still, he was an idealization of what an older teenage brother carries) watched her dance from across the room in his silhouette.

Several puppy dog boys tackled and tumbled onto one another and then onto someone's sandstone chest. Their black tank top broke. One boy spirited away. He slid himself over Olive Oyl, becoming a loose blazer for her to wear. She went to work on the studio’s made-up dancefloor.

Things were heating up. Sunshine trudged onwards, she touched us all not just through the open windows but also through the other windows. Pale pink sheets clung to those three windows. The sheets spread out to the perimeter of each window in a funny way like spat out Bubblicious bubblegum—globulous at its center yet frayed in taught strings at various places. A few twinks had spent an hour placing them there, chewing and blowing up the sheets and applying as needed. 

With both twinks’ hold, the sheets and windows danced and thudded along to the loud music. They were making out well with the arriving sunshine. Sunshine—she smiled at her freshly done friends who greeted her arrival with waves and undulations. I kissed the nearest person to me. When I pulled away, sweat dropped off my brow right onto the person’s gold breast. This your first New York gold rush? they wanted to know. I thought you were taking me to The Zoo? I said. They took my right hand and brought it near my expectation. 

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