His smile was predatory. 
“Anything else in that?” 
His expression exaggerated the wrinkles of his tanned face. He had thick, dark eyebrows over small, blue eyes and a receding hairline, partially disguised by being shaved. His clothes were intentionally worn and tight to show the lean physique beneath; the fit body contradicted the age that showed on his face. He had no belt and the top button of his jeans was left undone. I couldn’t see them, but I was sure he had leather boots on his feet. 
While I took in my observations, his eyes stayed fixed on mine. It had always seemed that men were easier to read than women. Women were far more evasive with their intentions. His eyes told me that flirting was his favorite part of the job. Listening to him speak, I imagined I could hear years of reckless passion that had left dents and scratches in his voice, but underneath, it seemed a resilient hope had survived. It was possible that it was his ability to control the alcohol content of people’s drinks that had boosted his confidence. 
	Personally, I’d never really been into the whole “alcohol” thing. I’d always thought that getting drunk was something the popular kids did. Even though I secretly wanted to be one of them, in the way that every unpopular kid wants to be part of the “in” crowd, I spent my life avoiding their habits and I felt it hypocritical to participate in anything I associated with those who had rejected me on a daily basis. I knew it was a silly paradox to pretend that I didn’t care what they thought, and then to let it affect my decisions through life. It did, however, make me feel like an individual who was somehow above mainstream thinking.	
“That’s all, sir,” I replied with a smile. 
The man left and came back with a frosty beer-mug filled to the top with milk. Some of it had overflowed and frozen to the side.
	“So, being a good boy tonight?” He asked, exposing a mouth of perfectly straight, yellowing teeth.
	“Always.” I winked, and looked up and down the bar to see if anyone had mistaken my playfulness for actual interest. 
He paused for a moment. I watched him watching me; his eyes scanned over my arms, neck, and chest, and lingered on my dog tags which were prominently displayed on the outside of my shirt.	
“Let me know if you need a refill, or anything else.” The edges of his grin sharpened and he winked again before moving to another customer, who had been waiting longer than I had. I picked up my drink. The warmth of my hand melted the frost on the mug’s cold handle and the water dripped down the inside of my palm. In order to make the dangerously full mug more manageable, I took a few swallows of milk and then licked the thick residue off my lips. Bars usually kept whole milk for mixing creamy cocktails; the texture was silkier and the swallow more satisfying. Also, there was something that was decadent about drinking milk in its more natural state. 
I took another drink and eyeballed the bar for a dark place from which I could people-watch. This would not prove difficult; in this bar, dark places were in abundance. The shadows of this bar seemed like a half-formed crowd all on their own, shifting nearer and nearer to the dim bulbs, flirtatiously occluding more intimate meetings, and providing constant companionship to those who drank alone. I chose a spot not far from the pool table and settled in. Using a few napkins, I wiped the half-frozen trails of milk from the bitterly cold mug until it was completely dry. Placing a napkin down on a ledge, I set the mug down, lifted it back up, and inspected it for a ring or other sign of wetness. When I saw that there were none, I knew I had successfully relieved the surface of any unwanted moisture or spillage that might leave my hands distractingly sticky.  
	The whole place seemed to move slowly to the rhythm of the deep bass throbbing out of the speakers, a sound that embraced the shadowy corners and disappeared into the black walls. Looking around, I surveyed the crowd that peopled the bar that night. Most of them were older men; they shaved their heads to disguise their true age. A few took a slightly different approach and wore baseball caps. I’d been in here before, but was pleased not to recognize anyone. Big city bars were always full of fresh faces and there was a certain relief in not having a prior connection to anyone there. Here, in the presence of strangers, I could be whomever I wanted without the consequence seeing them again or seeming out of character. 
	In the few years I’d been going out to clubs, I’d noticed that gay bars were divided in two by age and where there should have been a link, there was instead a chasm carved by disease. An entire generation was missing. Those who had lived through the seventies and survived the eighties were increasingly detached from the younger, lazier, and more flamboyant generation that was now exiting their closets in high school. I felt this divide separated bars into two generic categories: the new, brightly lit, pop-music filled video-bars with colored walls trimmed in brushed-metal, and the darker, seedier, older bars that clung to the nostalgia of an era predating the Stonewall Riots. I gravitated toward the second type, the type that typically frightened away guys my age with their shadowy corners, trough style urinals, and black walls decorated with chains and Thomas of Finland prints.
	The Detour was one of these places and I was at home here. There was an honesty I appreciated about it. I guess to me, this place seemed to “get it.” I reveled in their lack of pretension and blunt honesty about sex — but mostly, I felt comfortable in the rugged, frank, and masculine social environment and the company of the aggressive men it attracted. 
I overcompensated in order to fit in. I was overtly blunt to the point of rudeness. I was especially harsh with anyone I didn’t want to talk to. I was equally forward with anyone whose attention I had interest in catching. I felt like a jungle animal fending off threats and stalking my prey. It was animalistic, natural, and satisfying. 
	Strolling into the Detour that night, I was hoping to track down a bartender I’d once met. Nation was a memory, one I very much wanted to relive. I could still see the thick vein in the side of his scruffy neck, his barbaric forehead, his exaggerated jaw, and the stupid way he grinned at me. Bartenders were one of my many weaknesses. They always knew just how to play me; usually they just let me give away too much.
I have long believed that people slowly conformed to the aesthetic of their names. An Amanda tended to grow up to be soft, talkative, and caring; a Derek, on the other hand, was most often daring, cocky, and experimental. Personally, I’d never felt much like a Brad, but was lucky not to have been named after a vegetable or a car. Today’s name pool seemed diluted with an uncountable number of bizarre names that permanently brand children with their parents’ starvation for individuality.
Nation was a perfect example of someone who had grown into the coolness of his name. He was defiant and oozed a commanding sexuality that dared me to explore him. He did not strut — men like him did not need to — but heads turned to stare at him nevertheless and he cut a swathe through a crowd. 
He was not there. Either he wasn’t working that night or he didn’t work there anymore at all. My eyes wandered the bar and I took small sips of my milk to try to make it last as long as I could. 
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man come up near me. I pretended to be engrossed in a game of pool between two men with shaved heads and leather chaps. A silence ensued while I stayed slightly turned away from him frantically scanning for interesting details to distract myself with. I was amused with the cliché costumes of the men who were playing. This was the stereotypical image that everyone expected to find in a place like this. In fact, I would bet that many people thought all gay men looked like these two all the time, lounging around watching TV in a pair of leather pants, or cooking dinner in a harness and armbands. Straight men were all thought to be lazy beer-drinkers who watched football all day. From the time I’d spent in gay bars and the Marine barracks, I wasn’t sure either side was entirely wrong about the other. 
My unfortunate fidgeting caused me to swallow the last of my milk. I looked down at the empty bottom of the glass still thick with a white residue that pooled in a ring. Turning further away from whoever was next to me, I set the empty glass down and then leaned forward toward the pool players. 
After several minutes, he still hadn’t said anything. I could only assume that my strategy was working.  It was a game for sure, but I detested men with no self-confidence. Both my father and my drill instructors had put it the same way; how could anyone take a man at his word if he didn’t have any respect for himself?  
As time passed, the number of balls on the table shrank but the score seemed to be even. Mostly, the balls bounced off the rails instead of sinking out of sight into the pockets. Not that pool was something I was any good at, but it seemed a single game between these two could go on for hours. Just as I started to favor the player with smoother skin and a pin-up girl tattooed on his forearm; the man who’d been next to me walked away. 
I took the opportunity to give him a good once over while he wasn’t looking. From behind, I could see that his hair was short, light brown, and well groomed. He walked with an exaggerated, almost awkward gait, but it was the fact that he was dressed in shorts and a clean, pressed polo shirt that made him stick out like a sore thumb.
	Unlike this man, I had intentionally dressed to be noticed. I’d pulled on a tight white undershirt emblazoned with an iron-on eagle, globe, and anchor with USMC printed beneath it in bold capitol letters, all of which was squarely centered over my left pectoral muscle. My legs, lean from years of running in formation and calisthenics, were covered with faded blue denim. My combat boots were spit-shined and crisply reflected the colored lights that blinked and pulsed in the dark bar. 
The pride I had in my appearance was also apparent in every other detail of my uniform. It was a uniform that I had been wearing since I’d stood in the middle of the night on that fateful pair of yellow footprints at MCRD San Diego four years ago. I could still hear the silent confusion of young men scuffling, and drill instructors shouting, as we were herded off white buses and then forced to stand, blankly staring for what seemed like hours. I could smell the stale air of the receiving barracks where I’d stripped off my civies, packed them into a box, and was forced to stare off at the wall while they were carried away somewhere. I had been glad to be rid of them; I had equated them with everything wrong with me I was there to fix.
The balls on the table collided with a loud smack. My eyes wandered back to the pool game. 
	I hadn’t seen the bartender approach. “This is for you.” He set down another frosty mug of white that seemed to glow in the darkness. The milk inside rocked back and forth but did not spill over the edge.
“Really? Thanks.” 
It wasn’t uncommon for anonymous men to buy me drinks. Through trial and error I’d figured out that it was best not to ask who’d paid and just drink. But I’d always end up playing the game in my head and look around to see who might have paid to keep my glass full. 
Shooting me another devilish grin, he leaned across me inappropriately closely, to pick up my empty glass. As he reached, his eyes never broke with mine. Even in the low light, I could see his blue irises had small stains of brown near the pupils, and the whites revealed small irritated veins. I could smell his cologne, faded from a long night at work, and mixed with traces of body odor. After retrieving my glass, he turned away and casually walked back to the bar. 
Picking up my glass, I took another drink of the cool liquid. I’m not sure why I found milk so satisfying, maybe it was because its opaqueness made more substantial than other translucent beverages or maybe it was some Freudian reference to my mother; either way each swallow was pleasant. My mouth was coated with the sweet taste of the milk that changed, as it warmed on my tongue, to a mellower flavor that lingered until I took another crisp, refreshing drink and started the cycle over again. 
After waiting a few minutes, I started my game. There were a number of guys glancing in my direction, — predictable since I had dressed specifically to turn heads. Any one of them could have been my anonymous opponent. Still, their brief looks or lingering stares were obstacles trying to block me from reaching my goal. My freshly cut high-and-tight was also quite popular among the patrons of the establishment, and they’d probably have still been looking at me even without my skin-hugging attire. The man in the polo shirt started to make his way over to where I was again. When I accidentally made eye contact, I immediately looked away and back at the other game the men were playing in front of me. I felt stupid for having done so, like I’d done something wrong, a foul that endangered my chances of winning. 
The pieces fit that he was the one who bought me the drink. I let the image of his face sit in my mind to consider if I found him attractive. It had been a day since he’d last shaved. He had a strong jaw and small eyes that peered through the dark. His skin was tanned, his neck was strong, and the hair on his head had only receded slightly. His expression seemed sure with no traces of self-consciousness. He was definitely my type. I clenched my teeth together to keep from smiling. 
	“I’m Ron,” he said with a deep, refreshingly masculine voice, and extended his hand.
	I looked him up and down purposefully. Upon closer inspection I could see his clothes were not just clean but brand new, with small creases where they had been folded. He had meaty forearms that ended in durable but manicured hands with strong thick fingers. 
“Brad.” I resisted the urge to use my last name. First, because of sports and then the military, I’d exclusively gone by it for the past several years. In fact, I’d rarely actually ever heard my first name since I’d been a high school freshman and it felt weird to speak it aloud again. 
Letting my smaller longer fingers enter the grasp of his; our grips tightened down on one another. His handshake was very firm and our hands fit perfectly together; we were both experienced hand-shakers. The skin of his hands was tough, but not callused, soft, but not sweaty. I’d gotten my firm handshake first from my parents making me practice it and then from the long, congratulatory lines at swim meets and later from promotion and award ceremonies. 
	“Marine Corps, huh?” He asked.
I smiled. I could tell he had been drinking, but he seemed to be holding it well.
“The real deal. But, I just got out actually.” I purposely licked my lips and grinned out of the right corner of my mouth. Looking around the bar, I took a survey of who was watching us. Ron was definitely my type, but there was always the chance there was someone else even more appealing that I might prefer. Balancing back and forth between his feet, Ron seemed excited but calm. The anticipation of sex was always more thrilling than the act itself, which was already on the high end of my thrill scale. He took a drink from his cocktail. I think it was the only time I’d ever seen someone other than myself drinking something other than beer in a bar like Detour. 
“That’s great.” This time Ron was the one who checked the room. “Let’s get out of here.” 
His words were more command than suggestion. As it was an order I simply obeyed. I’d told my friends before — if they ever wanted me to do something, they were better off just to tell me to do it than to ask me if I wanted to.
“Good to go.”	 I drank down the rest of my milk, wiped my mouth, and threw the napkin into a nearby trashcan as I followed him to the door.
We pushed aside the heavy rubber flaps that kept the weather outside while the door was propped open. Outside, we stood in the cold fog of the San Francisco night. The misty cloud suspended in the air hazed the lights and numbed the city like Novocaine. All six lanes of Market Street were vacant except for a few cabs parked along the opposite side in front of another club. Music pulsed out into the air, and was swallowed up by the gloom. I could see skinny figures dancing on the balcony of the bar and tiny sparkling dots from the dance lights inside.
One of the cabs made an illegal U-turn around the wide median and pulled up in front of us. Ron opened the door and climbed inside, leaving it open for me. An almost nauseatingly sweet blend of air fresheners emanated from the plastic crown glued to the dashboard. When I looked out the smudged windows, my mind became fixated and I felt a need to get some glass cleaner so I could watch the buildings pass by without the distraction of looking through drunken handprints. 
“What’s your name?” Ron leaned forward and asked.
“Excuse me, sir?” The cab driver was startled that a passenger was saying anything other than directions.
“What’s your name, buddy?”
“It’s George, sir.”
“You’re a good man, George.” Ron sat back against the seat. The warbling of his voice, and the unrestrained way he spoke indicated that he was drunker than I had realized. Ron gave him an address on Knob Hill. 
San Francisco was divided in to a myriad of districts with appealing names. I was unfamiliar with the actual locations of most of them but I’d been here often enough to know my basic way around. 
I’d first come to San Francisco nervous and excited that I would find this gay Mecca where everything was OK and nobody cared. My image of San Francisco was one of rainbow painted curbs, daily parades, bohemian coffee houses on every corner, and a gay population so numerous they held position of power that held open every possibly opportunity. What I had found was a gay ghetto where heterophobia was as prevalent as homophobia was anywhere else.
“You got kids, George?” Ron continued.
“Pardon, sir?”
“I said, do you have kids?” Ron’s voice carried a tone distinctly signaling that while he was being personal with the driver, Ron would be steering the conversation.
“Yes, sir, three. Star, Karma, and Passion.” I smiled as he listed these names, which proved the point I had made to myself earlier about the absurd titles that his children would have to endure for their entire life. 
“Good man.”
Ron continued to extract information from the driver about his family and history, never revealing anything about himself; strictly following a question and answer format and always in that same forceful tone. I’m sure George went along with it because it was different, and at least was better than driving strangers around in silence.
George’s children were by two different women and he had hinted jokingly that there might be more beyond his knowledge. He had moved into the city from Oakland and gotten twice married and twice divorced. I didn’t understand why Ron was interested, so I just listened. George had never gone to college but he had acquired his GED. It seemed stereotypical; all of it, like he’d picked up a status sheet for black, middle-aged men and signed up for whatever was at the top of each list.
Ron had been looking out the window while he interrogated the driver. I put my hand on his knee and worked my way up his muscular hairy leg and half way up his shorts. Ron’s reaction was that of a child who’d just been given a free chocolate bar. His skin tightened and he sat up a bit straighter. I could see the muscles in his jaw clench as he eyeballed the driver in the rear view as if he were afraid the driver might “figure us out.” I knew George had us figured out ever since he picked us up together outside a gay bar in the Castro. 
The cab slowed and I reached for my wallet. Ron pulled a small wrinkled wad of cash from where it had been stuffed into his front pocket and passed one bill up to the driver. “Take good care of Star, Karma, and Passion.” I was a bit surprised that in his state he had remembered these names, which I had forgotten almost as soon as I’d heard them. 
We stood under a long green awning that hung over an iron-gated front door. The neighborhood was high on a hill near downtown. The shrubs were well manicured, and there was no garbage in the gutters of the street. 
We walked up to the gate and Ron fumbled for keys. After a short search that yielded nothing, he looked up at me. At first I thought maybe he expected that I had the keys, but then a sly grin crept over his face while he gawked at me. I raised an eyebrow and took a step towards him to encourage whatever mischievous thoughts he had brewing in his head.
We were interrupted when a well-dressed couple approached the door laughing and talking in voices that echoed down the empty city streets. The woman noticed us first, and she stopped babbling immediately. Her grip on the man’s arm tightened visibly pursed in a grimace of obvious distaste. Mid-laugh, the man noticed us. After a brief look of surprise and a slight move in which he placed himself between the woman and us, as though to shield her from our gayness, they both suddenly found the ground quite interesting. They moved to the door, guarding it as the man put in his key and held the door open as the woman scooted through. Ron attempted to follow them.
“I can’t let you in!” the woman proclaimed and started pushing on the gate to close it.
“I live here.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t let you in.” 
The man looked at Ron and his expression changed as if he recognized him. He put his hand on the woman’s shoulder to get her attention and interfere. The woman was looking out with cold eyes and firm lips and she did not yield and shut the gate virtually in Ron’s face. They disappeared into the building and it was quiet again on the sidewalk.
Ron looked up at me, puzzled. 
“I live here,” he stated. “Ronny!” he shouted out into the night. “Ronny! I live here.”
I stood silent and amused. Ron brandished a cellular phone from his pocket and began to look at it as if trying to remember what to dial. He then looked up at the door. 
“Get in here!” he shouted again. There was a change in his voice when he was shouting. When he was shouting his name, the intonation went up at the end in a unique way. He was clearly mimicking someone from his past. I assumed it was his father’s voice that was echoing out down the orderly streets of neighborhood. He paused for a moment, looked up, and walked over to the directory on the building. He began pushing buttons with a finger extended from the same hand in which he still held the cell phone. He was squinting at the numbers like they were in microprint.
“Hello?” A voice came crackling over the intercom.
“It’s Ron. I…”
“Did you forget your keys again, sir? I’ll be right out, sir.” 
Ron continued to stare at the directory as a man appeared behind the gates to the building.
“Ronny! Get in here! Ronny!” He still had the same upward intonation at the end of his name.
“Have you been waiting long, sir?” The man seemed very concerned, and ignored Ron’s drunken belligerence.
“They didn’t let me in!” Ron talked at the ground instead of looking at the man next to him.
“Who, sir?”
“The… the… the couple.”
“The couple on nine, sir?” 
“They shut the door in my face.”
“I’ll be sure to mention something to them in the morning, sir.” The man ushered us into the building and rang for the elevator. Ron had put his hands back into his pockets and appeared to be searching for his keys again. He looked up suddenly at me, surprised and elated at my presence. I smiled back, wondering if he’d forgotten who I was. 
The elevator doors opened revealing a small space with mirrored walls held up by an ornate, twisting golden framework. We entered and stood in the back of the little gilded room. The man climbed in, pressed the button, and the three of us headed up. I noticed that he had pushed the button for the penthouse.
When we reached the top, the man stood to the side and waved us to exit first. Ron stood in front of the door and put his hand in his pocket yet again looking for the key that wasn’t there last time. I was very close to laughing at the sight of him digging so deep into his pocket as if his keys still might be in there hiding in some corner of his shorts he had not checked yet. The man, who I assumed was the building manager, and to whom I was aware I had not been introduced, produced a large ring with dozens of keys fastened to it.
The man unlocked the door; Ron entered, and headed down the hallway toward the only door. With the click of a switch, light too bright for any room but a bathroom poured out the open door and lit up the hallway. I turned around to the building manager. 
“Thank you very much, sir.”
“Don’t mention it. Call me if you need anything, sir.” 
I nodded and shut the door.
I used the sound of Ron’s urinating as a timer to check out my surroundings. The apartment disappeared around both corners and contained several white rooms with wide doorways opening into even more spacious rooms — all void of furniture. 
When I heard my timer stop and the toilet flush I quickly repositioned myself back by the door. Ron emerged from the bathroom and stood in the light of the doorway. I walked down the hallway toward him at a deliberately slow pace. 
I would have complimented him by saying something like “nice place,” but the fact was obvious that his living conditions, while bare of art, tables, couches, or even a chair, were beyond nice. I came up close and loomed over him wearing what I knew to be a cocky grin. I was considerably taller than him, and he had to tilt his head far back to look at me. Looking up put him off balance, which he compensated for by grabbing me by the arm and neck pulling me down to kiss him. His kiss had the same forcefulness with which he spoke.
His lips were hard; he pushed them into mine with the force of his whole head. His tight hard lips barely opened and his body tightened. He kissed like man who still didn’t know it was okay, and that God wasn’t going to punish him for it. We stood for a moment in the hall, his hands almost painfully squeezing my arm and neck, and pressing those hard closed lips against my soft, relaxed mouth until he broke the embrace to breathe. 
We moved into the bedroom in the middle of a long stumbling kiss. We broke to breathe and started to laugh as we wrestled out of our clothes. Neither of us could seem to strip fast enough. With my eyes now open, I saw that the bed was the sole piece of furniture in the room and was, of course, unmade. There was a tall pile of clothes on the floor against the wall and an open closet that revealed stacks of clothing all wrapped in drycleaner’s plastic.
Ron’s chest was strong and his body well built. He was short with round muscular shoulders and a wide neck. His chest was hairy and his legs were thick, giving his entire form a well-proportioned, masculine look. He walked toward me naked, grabbed the back of my neck to kiss me, and then pushed me down onto the bed. 
Almost immediately, he reached for a bottle of lube on the windowsill above the bed. Holding it in one hand he squeezed some out onto himself.
“Hey, stud, shouldn’t we grab a condom?” I said.
Ron looked at me with a puzzled look that bordered on being offended. 
“Aren’t you clean?”
The question was pointed; even if I had an unfavorable answer it would not have been an option to give. “Of course.”
Ron smiled and came at me to kiss me again. Here we were, facing each other from across the gay age-divide. 
Sugar-baby Bridge, Chapter 1