Short story: A men’s room in a park late at night. The sociologist watches.
Content warning: sex, public sex, alcoholism, violence & threats of violence, age gap
by Joe Shetina
The sociologist stood with his notepad in the corner of the men’s room and waited for the action to start up again. Outside, the park lay still and quiet. Abandoned playground equipment, wood chips, and rusted water fountains dotted the black landscape. In here, the room was stuffy and empty and smelled of sweat and piss. The floor was covered in grime and emissions that could have been weeks old. No action for at least a half-hour. It was a slow night.
With a squeak, the door swung open.
He was an unassuming man in his early 40s; slight hairline recession over the temples. He looked the part with his long trench coat. He was nervous. The kind of guy who’d say he’s never done this before even though he is suspiciously savvy to how it all works.
He offered a curt nod to the sociologist. The sociologist nodded back, a friendly ’I’m just here to watch’ kind of nod. The man got the message. Voyeurs were common. They had just as much to lose in being there as any of the guys who did anything, so there wasn’t much harm in their hanging around.
With nothing else to do, the man sidled up to the urinal and dropped trou.
Just as piss started hitting the porcelain, the door swung open again. A second man, about 25, stepped in. Blondish brown hair, a little scruff over his chin and jaw, and cheeky smirk on his face. He nodded to the sociologist who nodded the same polite nod he gave the first man. ‘I’m just here to watch.’
“I’ll be done in a minute,” said the first man. His stream had yet to peter out.
“Yeah, yeah, take your time,” said the second man. He threw a smile at the sociologist.
“Just occupy yourself a little bit,” said the first man, “I’m gonna be a minute.”
“Yeah, no, that’s fine.”
The sociologist scratched a few notes on his pad. The second man still smiled at him. Blue eyes sparkling with cheeky invitation. He pretended not to notice.
The door swung open again. A third man walked — shambled — in. He wore a flannel jacket, a handlebar mustache, and a scowl. It wasn’t clear whether he was there to fight or fuck. Either might have suited him fine.
He didn’t acknowledge the sociologist.
“Kneel,” he said to the second man.
The second man turned to him. He had about six inches on the third man, but lacked his bulk.
“Kneel,” the third man repeated, “Kneel, dog.”
The second man did as he was told. His knees met the grimy floor. From this view, the sociologist could only imagine his face. How it must look as it came down level with the groin, scruffy and eyes sparkling, lips cleaving toward the ear in that cheeky grin.
“Good dog,” the third man said. He patted the second man’s head with an unexpected tenderness. A small burning in the sociologist’s stomach. Jealousy.
It wasn’t until the third man unzipped his jeans that the first man, just finishing, realized he had been poached.
“Hey, he’s mine.”
The first man turned around. His dick was hanging out of his pants. A droplet or two of piss rolled off the head and hit his shoes.
“Snooze, you lose,” the third man replied.
“Come on, man, this isn’t fair.”
“You wait your turn,” the third man was growing angrier. It was clear now how drunk he was.
“I saw him first, though.”
“You wait your turn.”
The two glared at one another. There was silence except for the scratching of the sociologist. The second man remained on his knees, expecting to be claimed by the winner. The first man, unassuming as he may have looked when he walked in, wasn’t going quietly.
“I saw him first, though.”
With a flash of fury, the third man leapt, fist flying, and tumbled toward the first man. He misjudged the distance and came crashing down with as much fury. His body slammed against the stained men’s room floor. His face came to rest inches from a piss spot under a nearby urinal. The sociologist craned his neck to see just how close — and continued taking his notes.
The third man lay unconscious. The second man stood to greet the first man.
“I know you, don’t I?”
“You know me?” The first man asked, his dick still hanging from his open trousers.
“I think so.”
He asked again: “You know me?”
“Maybe,” the second man said.
“Maybe…” the first man repeated.
The sociologist furiously copied the exchange. The pen scratches made the first man flinch.
“I know your wife,” the second man said.
The first man’s face flushed with relief.
“We’re in the same cardio class.”
“Oh, yeah, at the — ”
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Who? Oh! Yes, she is,” the first man said, “At least, I think so.”
The first man closed the distance between them. He became softer.
“Sorry, for a second I…”
“You thought you knew me from somewhere else?”
“No, no,” the first man said. For a married man who spent so much time in men’s rooms, he was a poor liar.
“Do you want me to suck you?”
“Absolutely,” the first man was face to face with the second man now. His hands went traveling. One on the young man’s chest and the other made its way unceremoniously to his ass and gave it a squeeze.
Throughout the pawing, the second man invariably let his eyes drift to the watchful sociologist. Watching him watching. There was a spark of conspiracy in his expression. ‘Watch this,’ it seemed to say.
“I do know you from somewhere else, though…”
“Oh?” the first man mumbled against the skin of the second man’s neck.
“Honors English 3,” the second man said, “You made us read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. That book changed my life. You made me want to be a teacher.”
The first man stopped his nuzzling.
“You… Were you a student of mine?”
The second man nodded. The first man stood upright again.
“You’re a teacher?”
“No, but you made me want to be,” the second man said, “Does your wife know about you?”
A creeping shudder traveled up the first man’s body. He had lost his nerve with his erection.
“My wife knows a lot of things about me.”
“Not too much, though, right?”
The first man sighed as if disappointed. He backed away and lurched upward when his heels tapped against the third man’s limp, unconscious body.
“I thought you wanted this,” the second man followed him as he squirmed his way toward the door.
“I don’t anymore. You’re too… you’re real now. I don’t want to fuck you if you’re real.”
He stepped out of the men’s room and back into his life. The second man approached the third man on the ground, gave him a gentle push with his foot. Still out cold. Only then did he talk to the sociologist.
“What about you? What’s your story?”
The sociologist gazed at him. The firm and healthy v of his jaw cast a downward shadow over the throat where the man’s mouth had been. He looked as if he had been marked there.
“I’m just here to watch.”
The second man wasn’t deterred.
“Married, not married?”
“Will it make it easier for you to speak to me if I’m married?”
“Sure,” he said with a shrug.
“Then, yes,” the sociologist said, “I’m married.”
“You’re just here to watch.”
The second man smirked again, then teasing, craned his neck and looked at him like he might a child, “Fascinated? By me?”
“I don’t know why.”
“Why do you come here?”
The second man scoffed and repeated, “I don’t know why,” but it wasn’t clear if he was answering the question or just repeating himself.
“You don’t know why?”
“I mean… I guess I come because…” he started, “You know, I don’t know why.”
“What about you? Are you married?”
“No,” the second man said.
“Did you ever have a girlfriend?”
“I had friends I was close to, but no. No girlfriends.”
“Why do you come here?”
“I want to be touched, I guess,” the second man said. “I don’t know why.”
“Do you…” he began to ask, “Do you like the men who touch you here?”
“Sometimes,” he answered. Then, “Not really… Sometimes. They’re okay sometimes.”
The sociologist had stopped taking notes. When he noticed, he started again. Scribbles. Nonsense. But it kept him from meeting the young man’s eyes too much. If he looked too long, he started to feel…
“You want to be touched…” he said, trying to ignore the young man’s intense gaze.
“Yes,” the second man breathed.
The sociologist wrote the word as he said it.
“Should I tell you more?”
The second man moved closer. His words dripped with seduction. The sociologist kept scribbling.
“Sometimes I come in here and I feel like a piece of meat and that’s very okay with me and I know it shouldn’t be.”
He drifted across the men’s room floor. Stepped over the third man. The sociologist made another note. The word “MEAT.”
“Do you… like feeling like a piece of meat?”
“Yes,” the second man said, “Sometimes. But then there are men who make me feel like I’m actually being seen.”
“Do you like to be seen?”
“Sometimes,” the man said, “It depends. I like to be seen by someone who deserves to see me.”
“How do you know?”
“That’s the thing though you don’t know until he touches you and it’s either like ‘Oh fuck this is real’ or ‘Oh fuck I made a big mistake’ and it’s all in how he touches you.”
“How does it feel, though?”
“I don’t know. It just feels how it feels.”
“Why do you do it? Why leave it up to chance?”
“Because even when they touch me and I think I’ve made a mistake it’s usually over really quickly.”
“I see,” the sociologist said. He made a note.
“I think you see me.”
The sociologist noted this. “Do you?”
“I do,” the second man said.
“Or maybe you don’t. I don’t know. I won’t know until you touch me.”
The second man edged closer.
“I see,” the sociologist said. He made another note.
“Do you want to… You know?”
The second man stared him down. His fingers drifted downward and fiddled with his belt buckle.
“I’m sorry,” the sociologist said, “I’m just here to watch.”
They stared at each other for a long time. The third man began snoring. His hot breath made the piss puddle near his head tremble.
“Believe me,” said the sociologist, “I wish I could.”
“You seem… free.”
“I’m not,” the second man snorted.
The sociologist felt his cheeks burn.
“No, that was stupid. Of course you’re not free.”
“Then what am I?”
The sociologist’s eyes drifted down to his notes. The word ‘MEAT’ stared back at him. When he looked up again, the second man was unbuttoning his shirt. He made slow, agonizing work of it.
“That man called you a dog. Told you to kneel. And you just did. Why?”
The second man said nothing. He finished unbuttoning the shirt, but didn’t slip it off. His pale, flat stomach suggested he had missed a meal or two. The tuft of hair over his sternum was just enough to bury your face in.
“Why did you let him do that?”
“Why did you?”
“I told you,” the sociologist said, “I’m just here to watch.”
The third man shot a breath out of his throat with such explosive power he stirred awake. He rolled onto his side. Through his slack, swollen lips, he began to slur his way through a Leonard Cohen song.
The second man slipped his shirt from his body. His shoulders and ribs made hills and valleys in his form. The tight, pale sheath of skin over it stretched to its breaking point as he maneuvered out of the shirt. He massaged it into a ball in his hands and tossed it to the sociologist. It draped itself over his notepad. A sleeve dangled over, grazing his knee. The sociologist held the shirt in his own hand. It was worn, thinning in some places, but heavy with musk. The sociologist brought the ball of shirt to his face and lost himself in the bittersweet odor. It hit like cheap liquor — the initial, eye-watering burn followed by the swimming euphoria. He drank it in with his breath. Then, he tore himself away from it and scratched a note onto his pad.
When he looked up from his notes, the second man had gone. Slipped away into the night. He left the shirt behind like a playful entity in a ghost story.
The third man sat up. Confused at where he was, but too drunk to truly be startled. He scanned the room, noted the sociologist, then came to a shaky standing position, unzipped, and hugged the urinal. The trickling sound filled the room.
The sociologist made a note and waited for the action to start up again.