It was Monday, early evening, and I arrived to the address I had visited just two nights ago, though I had to write down directions to it again to find it. My first visit was booze-soaked, and I wouldn’t have found the place again by memory even if someone had paid me a hearty sum of cash.
It was a rundown Victorian in North Portland, the set of stairs to the front door in major disrepair. As I climbed them, sober this time, I was amazed that I hadn’t fallen through while stumbling up these same stairs in my intoxicated state on Saturday night.
When I reached the door, it was open just a crack. I knocked tentatively which caused the door to open slightly, creaking loudly as it moved forward.
“UP HERE,” yelled the voice from somewhere in the house, I couldn’t tell exactly from where.
I walked into the front hallway.
“…hello?” I questioned to the voice I did not recognize.
“Dale isn’t back yet, get up here, I need your help.” The voice was coming from the steep staircase just ahead.
Because I’m an idiot who clearly hasn’t seen enough episodes of Criminal Minds or Law & Order: SVU to instill in me that this could be the prequel to my murder, I walked down the hall and climbed yet another set of stairs which were in similar shape to the ones outside. The was light dim, and the air was visibly heavy with cigarette smoke.
As I neared the top of the staircase, through the haze I could see a man sitting at a makeshift desk, fashioned with cinderblocks and an old door, possibly one that had been installed in this house a century before or more. It was populated with several overly full ashtrays, a coffee-stained mug with the Oregon state flag on it, and various electronics including but not limited to six older model computer monitors stacked two by two.
And on each of the monitors was a different webcam feed, all of which featured young men in various states of undress.
The desk’s occupant was thin with short black hair, he was wearing a blue, plaid, button-down shirt, and he seemed twitchy and agitated.
“Come here, I need your help taking a picture. Steve…Rick…one of the men I’m talking to anyway, needs a picture of me with no shirt on and smoking. He’s in a hurry.”
He shoved a camera into my face, and I reluctantly took it, wondering what kind of weird fucking scene I had just walked into. He snuffed out his old cigarette, removed his shirt and immediately lit another cigarette and posed. His left nipple was pierced, and he had a small tattoo of what may have been a lover’s name, but it was scraped out and scarred over. Apparently that relationship hadn’t ended well.
“Take the picture. This is how I’m posing.”
I pointed the camera and snapped the picture.
“Take a few more,” he ordered, as he began to pose in a manner that reminded me of how I might have posed as a 6 year old when my mother told me to “model for the camera”. Except for the whole “intensely smoking a cigarette” thing.
I took a few more pictures, because I’m in a strange house with a strange, possibly gay, definitely angry man, so why not.
He snatched the camera back from my hands and paced back and forth in the small alcove that held his fortress in which he cruised pornographic gay chat rooms. He started to review my handiwork, deleting some of the shots right away.
“Oh fuck, this is terrible, I look rancid. Ok this isn’t bad. What the hell…why is this blurry? Ugh, ok…this one is useable….yeah, thanks, thanks.”
He turned his back to me, removed his pants, and sat down to his computer to hastily upload “the winning picture” for Steve or Rick or whomever to view.
“You can wait for Dale downstairs,” he said, his back turned to me as he furiously typed away to one of the young men who he had waiting for his attention.
I guess my services are no longer needed…
I headed back down the stairs, noticed a dining room table in a room to my left, and sat in one of the chairs to wait for Dale.
This was before WiFi was a thing, and I didn’t make a habit of carrying a book or a notepad with me, so I was left alone with my thoughts. I hoped that Dale wouldn’t be too long, though I was questioning my decision to stop back by to hang out with him. Before the other night, I didn’t really have much to say to the guy as he was just some goof I knew from the chat room, and, I think I had been around him one other time at a party in North Portland which ultimately found him passed out in a bathtub, prompting some of the still conscious folks to, naturally, cover him in the shaving cream we found on the ledge of the tub he was in.
But Saturday was fun – weird, but fun – and he was a sweet enough guy, so sure, yeah, I’ll come hang out and have dinner.