James Buchanan

Selling Their Childhood

The nights are cold on the prairie in America’s heartland. Especially if you earn your high hustling in front of the Trailways bus station in Omaha, Nebraska. My bud and I are sitting on cold slate steps that lead up to fingerprint smeared glass doors at the front of the station. The cigarettes we smoke are cheap, made of dry tobacco that burns your throat each time you take a drag. Bugler, Top, Lucky Strike, Old Gold; for a couple of bucks there isn’t anything better that’ll take the taste of the job out of the back of your throat.

It’s about four in the morning and the perverts are using the last cold breath of darkness to find some action before they corral themselves back into their wives’ beds out in the suburbs. They come stalking quietly into the city, the whites of their eyes, wolf-like, staring out among the dashboard lights of their middle-class cars. I see them looking around, looking for a young body to use, but when their eyes fall on me I get the same disinterested look they give their wives.

“Not now,” the queers say to their wives, sons and daughters as they leave their homes.

“When?” ask their wives wondering if it’s their post-childbirth breasts and hips sending their husbands out into the cold. If they only knew the truth there would be more than a few house-of-cards falling out in the motionless suburbs.

But for me these suburban fathers no longer see me as the “boy” I once was. It’s gotten harder to hustle up some money since I turned sixteen. There is hair growing in my ass and armpits. The perverts who pick us up are mostly into boys, and once you no longer meet their visual needs they leave you alone. They drive by — circling vulturine-like — looking through me for a new kid to mess with.

Even the guys who I once considered to be my regulars no longer “swing by.” I used to count on them because to me they were safe; they wouldn’t hurt my body and they didn’t try and play games with my head. I could walk away, back into my world, clean.

“What color are you?” my bud asks me.

“I don’t know. Black and blue I guess. What are you?”

“Have you ever seen a rose in a puddle? Like after a parade or a prom or wedding or something like that downtown?” he say.


“Well anyway, when it sits in the water the petals peel off it and are slowly carried away from the stem by the water. In the middle is the stem just sort of half floating in the brown muddy water with the blood red petals hovering around it. That’s my color – the stem.”

“Stem brown?”

“No, bright, healthy green.”

“Sounds like you’ve been hanging out with that guy in the green Jetta too much. He can’t just do his business. Always has to talk all the time,” I say.

“He ain’t so bad.”

“Yeah? Well listen up, he’s a middle-class pervert in his wife’s car and you think he respects you. Not likely. He’s out here because he knows in his little suburban community they’d burn down his house and string him up if they found out he liked to watch boys play with themselves, or whatever it is he’s into.”

“Yeah… Got a smoke?” my bud says, looking away from me.

The sun should start to rise soon and with it another load of exhausted bus riders; bleary eyed and bitching and looking at the latest hole they’ve landed in. Bus stations are always in the middle of the loneliest, darkest, dirtiest parts of towns. Used to be everybody took the bus because it was the only game in town, but now it’s just a way for poor white trash to get from place to place. Even black folks don’t ride the bus anymore. They drive or don’t go at all.

Sitting here I’ve seen it all, night after night; losers dragging their tired asses from job to job saying the same things to each other over and over — “Going to meet my brother in Tulsa. He got me a job” — “I got a buddy in Denver who’s gonna hook me up.” Me and my bud sit here listening, feeling glad we don’t have to ride on that goddamn bus.

We are where we need to be, sitting here waiting until one of the lonely suburban tumbleweeds circling the bus station gets desperate enough to pay me to take my clothes off so he can stare at my ass and jerk off. When he’s done he’ll go home to the wife and kids, and I’ll get high. That’s what I mean by walking away clean. My bud who is sitting next to me on this lonely step has certainly been deflowered by what we do for a few bucks, but to remain the same pure green rose stem floating in shit he’s got to tell that guy in the green Jetta to piss off. This is business, nothing emotional, nothing more than a job for cash money.

The smokes are harsh, but I’ve never known a cigarette to taste bad. Especially at this hour of the morning; pre-dawn butt, some sort of power out here in the prairie that makes everything seem okay as long as I’ve got a smoke. Across the street Sammy, a tall, lean white kid, is leaning against a street lamp trying to look cool. He’s no older than we are, but he’s from Omaha and has connections, actually relatives who deal. He comes down here about this time and waits for whoever scored a trick to get out of a car and be looking for a place to spend his cash. Coke, crack, pot, meth, smack, whatever you want he’s got a little bit of it that might get you high for a while.

The drugs suck and the work can hurt, but we’re a hell of a lot better off than some of the other kids around here. The other night me and my bud saw a Mexican kid get busted a little ways down the street. He’d been sniffing paint and was all messed up. Didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. There was green day-glow paint all over his face, no shirt, pants hangin’ down, and his dick sticking out pissing every couple of steps. The cops didn’t want to throw him in their car so they called an ambulance to come haul him away, but when those guys showed up they didn’t want anything to do with him either. They started yelling at each other while that poor bastard lay in the street pissing in the air, his urine splashing on his face, day-glow paint all over him, laughing, and crying out in his slow Mexican accent “who’s gonna take me now, who’s gonna take me now.”

He looks old, but he isn’t. My bud says he knows him. I didn’t have to hear what happened to him. Same old story, grew up a little bit, perverts didn’t want him anymore, didn’t have the brains left from getting high to work, still needed to get high, so there he was with two cops and two ambulance guys arguing over who was going to have to clean up the disgusting pile he had turned into.

My bud hands me back my pack of smokes. I take one out and light it. “Same old assholes cruisin’ tonight, probably ain’t gonna get any scratch,” I say.

“Yeah. Could be worse,” he answers.

“How so?”

“We could be out of smokes.”

“No. At least we won’t suffer,” I say, looking out across the street into the night. It’s quiet except for an occasional car passing by with one of the predators peering out.

“I don’t wanna die,” says my bud, pulling his knees up to his chin.

“You won’t. Remember you’re some sort of rose stem,” I say, looking at his ratty jeans and torn high-tops.

“That’s my color,” he whispers, hugging his vulnerable little body. “The color of fallen blood-red petals lying next to a bare, green stem in a puddle.”

“Very complex,” I say.

“Yeah. I’m not simple. It’s my special quality. I can’t be figured out. Go ahead and try,” he says.

“You’re a white-trash-runaway, whoring yourself out so the least you can do with your life is stay high.”

“What else?” he asks.

“What do you mean ‘what else?’. There is nothing else. That’s it.”

“Nah, I’m more than that. I’m a green stem whose red petals float around it in a small urban pool of water. I have depth,” he says, tossing his smoke into the street.

I don’t like listening to my bud when he’s talking like this. There is more to him, but it’s fading. Maybe when he was a baby he was a rose, but then life came along.

“Sammy’s walkin’ away. He must know what we already know,” I say.

“What’s that?”

“We ain’t gonna get anything tonight.”

Sammy usually stays until the 5 a.m. bus shows up. Sometimes those people are so bored they’ll risk buying drugs off some kid at a bus station. It’s pretty stupid of them to try because there’s no way Sammy’ll give them what they’re looking for. He has two stashes. The shit he gives us, and the stuff that isn’t anything, which he sells to the idiots off the bus he knows he’ll never see again.

Last week he came out of the station laughing about two college kids he had just ripped off. They wanted some hash and acid so he sold them a couple of grams of incense and a couple of pieces of plain blotter paper. A long bus ride will make a person try just about anything to make it go by.

I watched him walk around the corner. I hope he doesn’t leave. I’ve been sitting on a couple of bucks to get a nickel bag of smack so me and my bud can mellow out later. I don’t usually buy that shit because it’s the best way to grab hold of an awfully big habit. I’ve seen a guy die from shootin’ it. He turned blue, puked up some white shit, turned white, and fell over with the needle still stickin’ out of his arm. That was it. I don’t want any part of that, but I like the way it makes me feel, just one thought at a time instead of everything rushing into my head all at once, like it does now.

A couple of cars I recognize slowly pass by, looking to see if there is anything they want, but all they see is us sitting here smoking. They’re looking for something different; something fresher and younger than us. I feel like an old hag who can’t even pick up a goddamn sailor.

“I wish Sammy hadn’t left,” I say. “Me too,” says my bud quietly. “Makes me feel like we’re not going to get anything tonight,” I say.

“Pretty boring just sittin’ here, maybe something’ll be on the bus,” offers my bud, slowly rocking back and forth.

“Doubt it,” I answer and threw my cigarette out into the street. I don’t know what we expect to find from night to night. It’s pretty much the same thing over and over. It’s just Omaha, home of nothing. At first it was a good place to hustle. Seemed like an endless parade of freaks coming in from the prairie looking for some kid to give them a little shine. But now that I’ve been here awhile it’s just the same old repressed middle-aged men who could never admit to their families, neighbors and fellow insurance salesmen that not only are they queer, but they like to watch naked prepubescent boys do all kinds of weird things while they jerk-off, or worse.

“Here comes the bus,” I say.

“I do have depth you know,” my bud says.

“Yeah, for a fourteen-year-old kid you’re as deep as it gets. You’re the stem of a rose.”

“I’m more than that even. Much more,” he says with his head still resting on his knees.

The bus hums by and pulls into the station. The brakes squeal as it stops and its door hisses open. The sound of shoes scraping on linoleum becomes louder. My bud and I just stare forward. The doors behind us open, disturbing the stillness of the cold, predawn air.

We don’t have to look; the same people, only different, coming out into the sharp air of the prairie looking out at the night sky of Omaha. All of them smoke. There are no health nuts on a bus. Health nuts take the plane, or drive themselves. Even those who don’t normally smoke will smoke on a bus and will accept it as part of the inconvenience of riding on the cheapest fare for a cross country ticket. Lighters snap to life and matches scratch into flame. We can smell the butane and sulfur and then the tobacco.

Two guys with long hair and fancy leather sandals sit down next to us and pull out expensive hand-rolled, all-natural cigarettes and light them. We continue to look forward as dawn starts to glow in the distance. The tall buildings stand like giants facing out into the prairie. Around their feet are a few street lights and an occasional body stepping out into or away from the coming morning. Past the dark watchtowers of the prairie a slit of gold sunlight bordered by bright, rose-red light reflects off the few clouds that are out over the horizon. An eyelid of darkness peels back slowly, revealing the first sight of morning.

“Got a smoke?” I ask one of the fancy hippie boys.

“Huh?” he says, half in a state of torpor from the bus.

“I says, can I have one of your fancy smokes? I’ve always wanted to try one of those.”

“Sure, here.”

“What are these Djakarta’s?” I ask, looking at my bud. “They look like those cigarettes that the guy who drove the blue Mercedes used to smoke.”

“Smell like it anyway,” he says back.

One of the two guys hands me a cigarette without looking at me and starts talking to his friend about how pretty dawn over the prairie can be.

I put the cigarette in my mouth and lean my head toward the one who gave it to me. I’m not going to say anything, but it’s rude of him to not offer me a light.

He looks over. “Here.” He says almost perturbed as he flicks his lighter.

“Thanks… Nice tastin’ girly smoke.”

He puts his lighter back in his pocket without even lookin’ at me. To him I’m just some ratty looking piece of white-trash ruining the purity and solemness of his sunrise.

“Hey you wanna see somethin’?” I yell in his ear.


“I says, you wanna see somethin’?”

“Hey little guy, I gave you a smoke, piss off.”

“See the guy in that car drivin’ by?”


“He’ll pay you twenty bucks if you take your clothes off and let him cut your hair.”

He looked at my hair.

“Why would I do that?” he asks.

“You rich?” I ask him.


“You wanna get high?” I ask.

“Yeah, but not so bad that I’d let some freak shave my head,” he says laughing.

“See that guy in the green Jetta over there?”


“He’ll pay you fifty bucks if you take your clothes off and do sit-ups for him.”

He looks at me, laughing. “What’ll I get if I just blow him?”

“He doesn’t want that shit. He can hire a whore, or get his wife back in the suburbs to do that. If he gets caught with me blowin’ him they’ll charge him with molestation. What he wants is to see some kid’s dick. You think you could do that for money?”

“No,” he answers a little surprised.

“You think you’re better than me?”

“I don’t have to show it to anybody to get high,” he answers.

“You think you’re better than me?” I ask again.

He and his friend stand up and start to walk away.

“Then why won’t you look at me? Why won’t you even talk to me?” I shout, looking out across the street at Sammy, who had just come back to see if there were any customers. Sammy’s such a chicken shit because he’ll just stand over there trying to look tough like he’s some kind of big money, big city dealer; the kind that expects to shoot it out in a drive-by any minute. He’s really just a bored redneck with a big ego and a big habit for coke. These two guys would probably buy off him just because they think he’d blow their brains out if they didn’t. I’d bet anything these two go to some prissy little college back East and to them this is all some big adventure. Right now they’re probably trying to convince each other that I’m full of crap. Either that or they’re adding this little “incident” to their list of things to tell the girls back at school.

“Look there he goes again,” I yell to the college wanna-be hippies as the same green Jetta drives by. It’s the same guy that’s got my bud thinking he’s more than just a boy-whore selling away his childhood for a cheap high. Look at the poor little bastard sitting with his chin resting on his knees, wishing his life was more than it really is. It’s 5 am, for Christ’s sake, in Omaha. This is his life and his future is the same as the paint sniffer. Just a matter of time before he lets the wrong guy pick him up or his habit burns him and he can no longer think of stupid, pithy little things to say like, “I’m the color of a stem lying in a puddle surrounded by blood-red petals.” Keep on wishin’ little brother, but right now you’re that stem watching what was ever beautiful about you be carried away by that asshole in the green Jetta. He probably sends his kids to the same college these two wanna-be hippies are from. They’ll grow up to become their fathers while you’ll become a pathetic urinating piece of trash, floating through the prairie like some sort of wounded sage brush.

This job won’t hurt you if you don’t let it inside. No matter what they say, none of these guys is ever gong to do anything more than drop you off on a street corner with a couple of bucks and when your older like me they won’t stop the car for you anymore. Best to be able to walk away clean; you may sell them what they want, but don’t let them take anything from you.

“You think I’m lying?” I yell to the two naïve sandal wearers. “See that guy in the white minivan? He beat the snot out of me last night because I asks him what his wife thought of his nocturnal predatory habits!”

The two college boys look at me with disgust for what I am. I am the gutter trash they never talk about while they get high with their self-indulgent girlfriends; riding each other with a sense of hubris that they — tucked away in their college world — know better. The peace they feel as they slide in and out of each other is the providence of innocents who believe that the world is theirs to inherit. They argue among themselves what is best for the world, but when they see the flesh of my world they turn from it.

Look at them ignoring us as they smoke their expensive cigarettes. They don’t see the battle before them, just the door back to the bus and back to school.

“You know,” I yell at them, “it could have been your dad that was out here paying me last night. It could have been him spending some of your college money, watching me. Did he ever watch you? Did he ever beat you?”

“Listen little brother,” says the one who gave me the cigarette, “don’t push it with me, I’m not the enemy,” and they both turn away.

I am not their brother. When they see my blackened eye and cracked, swollen lips from another beating, from another father figure, the ugliness is all they see and feel. I know what I am, but who I am is so much more then that. I left my father, they only fight with theirs. My choice is to be here letting the dads of those two deluded hippies jerk off while I lie in some hotel room or the back of a minivan naked, playing a game that satisfies the old man’s predatory needs. When he is done he pays me and goes back home to his warm house, his wife, and his sons.

When I am done I go looking for Sammy and my bud.

James Buchanan is a freelance writer living in Newmarket, New Hampshire. His nonfiction work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines and he is currently working on a book on the politics of the Internet to be published by The MIT Press. His fiction has been published online at The Square Table and Another Sun. He can be reached at orchard-65@comcast.net.



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