LIFE IN THE ART DISTRICT


On my way back to Arizona, I lived in Houston for a year.
My uncle owned a block of townhouses in Montrose, so he let me live in one the empty townhouses to keep the repossessors away. My job was to cook for the household. That covered my rent; other than that I was on my own.

Montrose is an old neighborhood in Houston, going back to the turn of the century. A lot of major art galleries are located there, and all the heavy street action. It was the kind of neighborhood where you could pretty much count on being offered a ride if you just started walking in the direction you wanted to go. You probably wouldn’t get very far, but you’d make your cab fare.

Right around the corner from us on one side was a major art gallery. On the other corner was a flop house where anywhere from ten to thirty guys lived. They sort of floated in and out, depending on how good the “houseboy” jobs were running. Almost all of them were kids who were officially listed as runaways. The truth is that they were kicked out of their homes for being gay. So they made a living doing what they knew how to do. It was a way of embracing their reality. Most of these kids had nowhere to go, and their families didn’t want them, so they helped each other as best they could. There were some really sweet guys there, holding on to their humanity the best they could until they could find a way out.

One or two did make it out. I knew one guy who made it out because an older man took him in, shared his resources and loved him. He cleaned him up and taught him how to dress and speak and act. In other words, he was a father to him.
Those who didn’t make it out usually disappeared after a while.

I’m told that there are almost no street hustlers left, that it’s not possible to earn a living that way any more. I guess the internet fills the need. But I know that there are still kids getting kicked out of their homes because mom and dad can’t handle a gay son or daughter. I gotta wonder, Where do they go?

Ever since I knew him, Uncle Les always had a cute “houseboy” working for him, and it was usually a different one each time I saw him. Scott was the houseboy du jour when I arrived. We became friends. He taught me how to navigate the neighborhood, and he introduced me to the flophouse, his home away from home. My God, I was so naive. I’m still naive, but I was way naive then. I think I reminded him of his lost innocence.

Scotty and I developed a complicated relationship. He was a master of sexual politics. He worked for my uncle, who didn’t mind him having a boyfriend on the side, as long as Unc’ got his needs met. This setup was guaranteed to make the boyfriend jealous. Well, when Scott needed to put his boyfriend Manuel back in line, he would come hang out with me. Manuel couldn’t do too much to me, because I was the Bossman’s kin. And I didn’t care because I liked the attention from Scott in a big way.

Scott was a little fellow, at least to me, maybe 160 pounds and trim. He had bangs in front that made him look very “Leave it to Beaver”. He also had this slight gap between his front teeth that I found irresistible. I always wanted to call him “Chip”, or “Beav”, but he wouldn’t let me.

He would come over in the evening and stay for a few hours just to make Manuel nervous. We never did anything more than make out a little, and sort of cozy up to each other, but he was so sweet and urgent. He told me he was faithful to Manuel, “in his heart”.

One night I was walking down to the circle K around the corner, and a couple of policemen were bracing Scott. I could see Scott was getting ready to take a ride downtown. I’d seen a homeless man dropped out of a moving police vehicle, and I didn’t want to take the chance of that happening to Scott. Even if he did make it all the way downtown, the holding cells at the police station are really bad news. Some people don’t come out in the morning. Street people get treated bad in Houston. So I did what you never do in Houston. I just walked up to the police and asked them what was going on. I guess I got away with it because I looked like a citizen and surprised them, because they let Scott go with me.

Scott was so grateful that I stuck up for him that he set me up a few times with his buds who lived in the house around the corner. I think they decided that they would take care of me, because I took care of one of theirs. I liked the arrangement, and got to know that house rather well.

Scott left when my Uncle got tired of him and got a new houseboy, who picked a fight with him and threw him out on the street with two broken front teeth.

I saw Scott a little later, and he didn’t look so good. The tooth was starting to go black, and his posture looked like he was still sore from the beating he took. I gave him some money to go to the dentist, but I doubt he went. I suspect he spent the money on “painkillers”. To tell the truth, I think he just quit caring. He really believed he had found his ticket out. Instead, he wound up back on the street after getting beat up pretty badly.That’ll take the starch out of a fellow for good.
I wish I could have done more. Even if I could have, I don’t know if he would have let me. He had his pride, you see.

It wasn’t too long after that I left Montrose. The neighborhood lost it’s charm for me. I lost all respect for my uncle.

I hope Scotty made it. He had his flaws, but he had a loving heart.

Photo by Dale Bolivar

Be loved,

DEL

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6 Responses to “LIFE IN THE ART DISTRICT”

  1. Scott Says:

    No one notices the twilight boys, those who exist outside of normal society. I think you and I could compare notes on this subject. 🙂 Wonderful story. That would make an excellent novel.

    Two nights ago Jim & I watched Twist. Have you seen it? Your story reminded me of those boys.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. Kalvin Says:

    What a sad story. Hopefully things turned out all right, and it is a wonder what kids do today.

  3. tornwordo Says:

    I hope he made it too. Such a story and I’m wondering now what is happening to the kids getting kicked out these days now that working the streets is out of fashion.

  4. Em Says:

    I appreciate the way you write things like this. You are honest and you write with love. Stories like this are hard to read, but I think they are important. I knew a guy who got off the streets. I knew lots of guys who got thrown out of their families. I wish it didn’t happen.

  5. Enemy of the Republic Says:

    I’ve seen this and once I experienced this. I too, will hope that things turn out all right. Most people who are viewed as “bad” aren’t bad at all: they do bad things. There is a big difference. You seem to understand this–I wish more people would share this view.

  6. El Güero Says:

    I’ve known lots of guys like the ones you describe, but in Latin America instead of Montrose. It’s a hard, sad, short life for most of them.

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