“Montgomery Boys” by Jonathan Harper from Daydreamers (Lethe Press, 2015).
This volume will be released in March. I was given an advanced reader copy by the publisher.
* Due to a couple of errors in the planning of these reviews, the final count will be 367. Also, the final story in this collection, “The Bloated Woman,” was already reviewed here as part of the Lethe Press anthology The Touch of the Sea. See Short Stories 365/259.
Bruce spends much of his free time in an establishment called Montgomery’s, ogling the reedy boys who dance on the bar, bring drinks to the patrons, and regale them with grandiose future plans. It’s all bullshit, of course, as are many interactions with service industry professionals. If they like you they may say so, but if they don’t, they’ll pretend they do. It’s their job. How can you tell the difference?
We’re told that Bruce is nearly sixty and slightly resembles Santa Claus. Also, that he “no longer fantasized about sleeping with (the dancers).” But it’s not always about sex, is it? For some people, the turn on is exerting power over someone else. Bruce is revealed to be selfish and predatory. We discover this through his interactions with a co-worker, Sally, who’s a serial adulterer. They’re like a pair of sharks, eyeing the young men in their respective pools.
Lenny, the newest and also oldest of the dancers, doesn’t know any of this, of course. He comes across as aloof and haughty, annoyed by his need to work at Montgomery’s, but you also get the sense that he’s blocking out a lot.
Lenny rang true to me, but to be sure I re-read sections of Assuming the Position: a memoir of hustling by Rick Whitaker. Although this story is an examination of Bruce, not Lenny, consider:
I felt arrogant, as if my services were too valuable to give away, which was a wonderfully empowering state of mind…The arrogance eventually became a psychological burden, an unwanted defense. But at the time it felt pretty good. I was beholden to no one—that’s how I felt. I couldn’t be rejected because I wasn’t available, except for a price too high for the guys in that place to afford.
What Lenny doesn’t realize is that playing seriously hard-to-get only makes him that much more attractive to someone like Bruce, that much more of a “catch”.
Once again, there is no neat and tidy ending. It’s all open to interpretation.