ScanThe Portland Mercury News and The Stranger have both published my essay about Al Parker!

There is a link to the full story below. Here is an excerpt:

The first time I saw him was on a giant screen at a bathhouse in the summer of 1984. Sitting on a carpeted banquette, with a only white towel wrapped around me, I watched him climb a tree to rescue a skydiver, tangled in a parachute. He and the skydiver had sex in the tree, of course. The room filled with men, transfixed by the screen. Their faces, illuminated by the flickering light, looked up in awe, as if they were watching a mother ship land.

“Who is that?” I asked the guy sitting near me.

“That’s Al Parker,” he whispered. “He’s a fucking legend.”

Everyone’s focus was on the tan, ripped, bearded man on the screen. With his dark piercing eyes, and chiseled features, he emanated this unapologetic, raw, sexual charisma that I hadn’t seen that modelled before, not in movies or television, and certainly not in Utah, where I’d grown up. The spell in the room broke when the credits rolled. The other guys in towels returned to wandering the bathhouse.

“I’d love to paint him,” I remember thinking.

It wasn’t hard to find Al Parker videos. In many stores, he had his own section. I studied him, his expressions, the way he moved, the way he made sucking cock a religious experience. Maybe I thought that because he reminded me of Jesus. I wanted to be like him. I stopped bleaching my hair and got a shorter cut. I tried growing a beard, but it made me look Amish.

Almost everyone in the public eye—celebrities, politicians, were still in the closet. Gay culture had just entered the nightmare of the AIDS crisis. Living in LA, I worked at the Pleasure Chest, a store that sold biker jackets, leather chaps, boots, hankies (which came with a pocket-sized foldout hanky code), paddles, tit clamps, magazines, and videos. It was a different world back then. Hanky codes and most porn magazines have faded out of existence along with the stores that sold them.

One day, I was holding a twenty-inch double dildo over my shoulder when I saw someone’s reflection in the glass case. “Can I help you?” I said.

I raised my head and it was him, Al Parker “Poppers and one of those cock rings,” he said.  His close-cropped beard revealed naturally rosy cheeks, and his tight jeans accentuated his crotch.

“Size?” I stammered.

“Large,” he said.

“Of course! I mean, coming right up,” I said, sounding like I was serving cheeseburgers. Maybe that’s how I remember it because later, after moving to San Francisco, I got to gaze into his dark, soulful eyes again, while waiting tables at a diner.

Orphan Andy’s was a classic greasy diner with two window tables, a row of booths, and a long counter. The tiffany lamps looked plastic and the fake potted plants looked thirsty. The jukebox played everything from Edith Piaf to the B-52s. Orphan Andy’s existed outside of time. Or in all eras at once. It filled up after the bars closed, sometimes with a line out the door. I worked the quiet afternoon shift. Regulars told me stories about the glory days—before the acronyms and dark diagnoses. Every Thursday, the gay paper was filled with pages of the faces of newly dead men. Ruby, a retired security guard abruptly announced one Thursday, “I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to know anymore—who died,” and slammed her paper down.

“I refuse to go another goddamned funeral,” said Gary, a 76-year-old leather man. “Just throw me over a fucking bridge.”

“Right now?” said Ruby.

“My ashes, you asshole!” Gary said.

Ruby cackled. “After you die old man, I’m not going to make any new friends. I refuse to watch another person wither.”

Grief hung over the city like smog. I hadn’t lost anyone close, but I grieved for how life had been—the smiles I used to get from men on the street, the lingering eye contact, the exchange of glances to the crotch. It was okay if didn’t lead to a hook-up, there was a connection, a mutual sense of “I see you,” a measure of validation. As men were dying, I’d come to feel invisible, like an out of focus extra on the set of someone else’s nightmare.

When the diner was slow, I’d watch the endless parade of strange and beautiful passersby. Sprinkled throughout were the walking sick: gaunt, frail, sallow-skinned men, unable to keep pace with the hurried throngs, sometimes escorted by a partner or caregiver, but mostly alone.

I got tested back in LA, but was too afraid get the results. I’d convinced myself that I was robustly healthy. I took vitamins and had a gym membership. Sometimes I even worked out.  I rarely got sick, except for that ear infection that put me in the emergency room, or those annoying night sweats, and that weird spot on my leg that I continually obsessed over.

In 1992, I turned away from a table of men who’d just placed drink orders. I froze when I realized that one of them was Al Parker. Just try to act normal, I told myself. Then I accidentally knocked down a tower of plastic glasses.

By the time their food was ready, I’d mustered enough courage to say, “Once I sold you a cock ring and a bottle of poppers.” He and his friends laughed.  Then Al Parker introduced himself by his real name—Drew.

Returning to the kitchen, I heard someone call “Shane! Come back Shane!”

Drew was holding up his empty glass for a refill.

“Come back Shane” became our running joke at Orphan Andy’s. When anyone else said it, I grimaced. But when Drew said it, I got goosebumps. He came to Orphan Andy’s often, though never alone. He was either with friends or his partner Keith, who had silver hair and serious crystal-blue eyes, like an Alaskan Husky.Scan

“Has anyone ever painted your portrait?” I asked Drew one day after taking his order.

He laughed. “Yes, as a matter of fact. Quite a few times.” I thought of him sucking dick in that tree. Then he said, “You want me to pose for you?”

In my shock, I didn’t know what to say. I’d never drawn from a live model before.

“I work from photographs,” I said, shyly. “I wondered if you had any pictures I could use, with your permission.”

He smiled and said, “Sure, I might have something,” and reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “Give me a call.”

Thunderstruck, I took his card.

Continue Reading in The Stranger

Continue Reading in Portland Mercury


If you don’t understand the humour of  “Shane! Come back,” this is what he was alluding to: