Tango in Manhattan
By Tom Hathaway
an ad designer in New York — I like it and am good at it.
I've always loved beauty and try to bring some of it into every
ad I design. But my love of beauty has a painful side to it because
I'm not beautiful myself. Not even pretty. There's a certain standard
of feminine attractiveness in our culture, and I don't match it.
has definitely damaged my relations with the opposite sex. Most
men don't pay any attention to me, and those who do usually use
me for a while until someone good looking comes along. Believe
me, it hurts to be dumped, makes it harder to take a risk next
model images I work with continually remind that I don't measure
up. I don't want to go into the details of why I'm not pretty,
but take my word for it. I'm not a hag or a freak, not even really
ugly. Just not 21st-century USA good looking. Actually I'd like
to drop the subject now.
before I do, I should tell you that my brother's not so great
finally, subject dropped.
turns out, though, that we're both pretty (there's that damn word
again) talented artistically. Zack is a sculptor, really good.
The whole family is artistic. Dad is a painter, actually more
a teacher of painting, at a college upstate. Mom (they're divorced
now) is a weaver.
brother finished his M.F.A. last year and figured he was ready
to take a run at the New York art world. He was broke of course,
like most artists, so I let him stay at my place. I don't consider
myself a real artist, but my brother is, and I liked the idea
of helping him.
slept on the fold-out couch in the living room and set up his
sculpture workshop in the kitchen. (Ninety-nine percent of New
Yorkers have to get used to living without enough space. The remaining
one percent own the buildings.)
enamels little pieces of copper with strange designs, then solders
them together into fantasy constructions, crosses between creatures
and machines. Small and spooky, quite powerful, they're visions
of a shrunken future. They make me think of humanity rendered
inhuman by genetic engineering and bionic implants. Zack likes
that interpretation but says they're just what he dreams about.
is no great hit with the ladies. As a man, though, the problem
is not so much looks as finances. The equivalent for a man to
being ugly is being poor. He says it happens a lot: A woman is
interested when he says he's a sculptor, then turns off when he
admits he's never sold anything. If he's not making money, he
must not be real. He's been hurt by that.
both of us are causalities of the love wars. We get along pretty
well as roommates. Instead of paying rent, he does the cooking
and cleaning. Some of my friends joke about me having a live-in
male maid, but I don't see it that way. It's just division of
labor. At first I had to put some pressure on him to get him to
raise his housekeeping standards above bachelor slob level, and
his culinary skills are still in the learn-by-doing stage, but
we've got a functioning living unit going here.
have been a few issues between us. I didn't like it when he wandered
around in his underpants. Now I realize I liked it a lot, but
didn't like the fact that I liked it. For some unfathomable reason
he didn't like my rinsed-out bloody underpants hanging from the
shower rod. But we found we could talk about those things without
it turning into a big deal. We changed our ways to please the
schlepping his art around to dealers and galleries, Zack managed
to get his first show, part of a group exhibit at a gallery in
Brooklyn. (Actually it's a bookstore that displays art, but it's
a start.) I was so proud of him. It did wonders for his self-confidence.
opening, or vernissage as they rather pretentiously called it,
turned into a great night, full of music and wine and interesting
folks. I heard lots of good comments about Zack's sculptures.
Some people, though, would say "How cute" when they
first noticed them, because the figures are little and toylike,
then look nervously away when they really saw them. Cute they
are not. Real art ain't cute.
sold three pieces that evening.
were still excited, riding a Big Apple success high, when we got
home. We drank some more wine, then smoked some grass. Totally
stoned, we turned up the music and tried to do the tango. It turned
out neither of us knew how to tango, but we thought it had something
to do with dancing with his leg between mine and making lots of
dips and glides. That was fun so we kept doing it with variations:
chin to chin, nose to nose, mouth to mouth. Dancing while kissing
was lots of fun, even though we giggled more than we kissed. It
seemed like we were the first people ever to try it. Then the
dancing became more like wiggle-rubbing together. Maybe because
we were breathing so loud, we didn't even notice when the music
stopped. By then his hands were inside my pants and my tongue
was in his ear.
did it right there on the couch without even folding it out. Fucking
my brother turned out to be what I'd always hoped sex would be
but never quite was before. We were so close, we understood each
other so well that mating was the most natural thing in the world.
the next couple of months we really got into it. It was like we
were kids again playing games. We'd never played doctor or fooled
around like that when we were little, maybe because I'm three
years older. Now we discovered we had a tremendous curiosity about
each other's bodies. All sorts of long-repressed urges came out,
and we gave into them with relief. I loved to playing bad big
sister who pulls down her little brother's pants. His little wee-wee
that I used to stare at with a mix of fascination and scornful
condescension was now a big hairy cock that filled me up and made
me groan. After uncovering it, I liked to get prayerfully down
on my knees, take it worshipfully in my mouth, and suck it reverently,
even as I was gagging as he rammed it down my throat while he
tied each other up, painted each other's naked bodies with lipstick,
smeared each other with chocolate syrup and licked it off, peed
on each other in the bathtub but didn't lick it off.
let it all hang out, the way artists need to — creative
regression. We tried everything. I didn't like him to put it in
my ass, though. That hurt too much.
got along great even when we weren't fiddling with each other.
It wasn't a romantic crush, more an intuitive knowing. Our new
wickedness was a tremendous turn-on, and at the same time our
underlying familiarity made us very patient with each other. We
didn't have any false expectations to be disappointed by. It was
so nice for both of us to be lusted for, especially by someone
we already loved.
Sunday morning we called down to the corner deli and ordered bagels
and lox to be sent up. Sometimes we liked to eat breakfast naked
in bed, then fuck afterwards. Lox was Zack's favorite because
he said it tasted like my pussy. I wish I could say the cream
cheese tasted like his come, but that was more like mushroom soup,
also a favorite.
when the doorbell rang we assumed it was the delivery man and
opened the door, only to see our father standing there —
couldn't tell him, Go away, come back later. The door to our bedroom
was open, showing a queen-sized bed that had obviously been slept
in by two people. Even more than that, the stricken expressions
on our faces gave us away as we stood there in our skimpy robes.
Dad knew us too well for us to be able to hide anything like that.
thought as a fellow artist he'd be cool about it. But he freaked
out, really turned vicious on us, called us all sorts of names
and said if we didn't stop this, move out, and not see each other
again, he'd disown us both. (As if he owned so much to dis us
with — we're not talking family fortune here, more like
a used Volvo and a mortgaged house.) His face was fuchsia and
bloated with rage as he made his ultimatum.
had left him five years ago for another man. Maybe that was why
he was so bitter and didn't want anyone else to be happy.
and I looked at each other. There wasn't any choice. We both pointed
to the door for dad to leave.
wish I could say Zack and I locked the door and enjoyed a sexy
naked breakfast in bed afterwards, but we just sat down on the
couch and cried. We knew this was an irreconcilable split from
dad, and we consoled each other like orphans, very glad to have
father's rejection was a bitter lesson for us, one we would rather
not have had to learn, but it brought us closer. It's hard to
find love in this world, and when you do, no one has the right
to try to destroy it.
and I are still together and we're damn sure going to stay that
Hathaway is the author of TABOO:
A MEMOIR, which is published by Dandelion Books and
serialized on Sliptongue (click HERE).
Tango in Manhattan
2009 by Tom Hathaway