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
“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 –
“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
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
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.
“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.
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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.