Licked in Brooklyn

A165 lickedIn

Written by Andrew Ramer. Andrew Ramer, an experienced Jewrotica writer, is an ordained maggid (sacred storyteller) and the author of numerous books and articles including Queering the Text: Biblical, Medieval, and Modern Jewish Stories. He has just completed a lyrical, apocalyptic story-cycle, When People Still Lived on the Earth, about how we destroyed this lovely planet, and what happened to us afterwards, in heaven.

For more writing by Andrew, check out Lecha Dodi, Ritual Observance and How I Wrote For Unexpected Intimacy.

Rated RAlbert Kaufman’s father died of colon cancer and he considered that a possibility. His mother died of heart failure, but that didn’t seem as likely, since he took after his father’s family. He traveled a lot and wondered if he might die in a plane crash. Although Albert and his older brother Edward had been bar mitzvah-ed, he hadn’t been to shul in years and considered himself an atheist. But when his plane was taxiing down the runway and later, when the captain turned on the seatbelt sign in preparation for landing, Albert would whisper over and over, “I commend my soul to Thee.” He didn’t know where those words came from. Perhaps from his best childhood friend Nancy, who lived next door, the last of nine children in a large Irish Catholic family. Saying them made Albert feel better, or at least prepared. And they must have worked, for he did not die in a plane crash.

It was at the height of the AIDS epidemic so Albert knew that a bed can be even more dangerous than an airplane. When he and Daniel Moskowitz broke up after a year and a half, Albert found himself unable to have sex with anyone else. His breathing stopped and his erection vanished the moment he found himself touching another man. Masturbation became his only sexual outlet, enhanced from time to time by having phone sex. Doing it made him feel connected to other men without the risk of infection, and from a sociological perspective he found it fascinating. (Albert was not a sociologist – although he minored in it in college – but a dentist who gave lectures on advanced orthodontic techniques to dental schools all over the US and Canada.)

In addition to getting off, what fascinated Albert about phone sex was the way it honed his instincts. Just from hearing another man say “Hi” or “Hey” he could tell if they were going to connect. One night, talking to a hot aggressive rumbly-voiced man named Ray, Albert had the best orgasm of his life, way better than any he had with Dan. For several days he thought about going up to meet Ray, who had mentioned after they came that he worked in a shoe store on Madison and 54th Street. But in the end Albert was afraid to spoil the magic and never went.

Dan, a hot post-yeshiva boy newly shorn of beard who had also taken to trimming his pubic hair, was the last in a series of failed relationships in Albert’s life. Not trusting himself to pick a good partner, and being in his own strange private way a deeply spiritual man, Albert started praying to God to send someone to him. He didn’t pray in a formal way, but from time to time he would stop, close his eyes, and talk to God as if they were talking on the phone, telling him what was going on in his life and what he was looking for.

On the Tuesday morning he was walking in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, several blocks from his apartment, Albert was admiring the roses and water lilies on that glorious spring day. After an hour of walking he had to relieve his bladder. Standing next to him at the urinals was a short skinny man who pulled out the longest floppy cock that Albert had ever seen, and began to wave it in Albert’s direction. Albert was intrigued, and once he would have reached over to grab it, but he didn’t think that this was the Hand of God at work in his life, so he turned away and finished pissing.

Albert left the men’s room and went walking in the rock garden, then he stretched out on the grass beneath the cherry trees. He was beginning to regret his decision and went back to the men’s room, but the lanky floppy man wasn’t there. So he headed home to work on the speech he was giving in two weeks, for a dental conference in Cleveland, on new techniques for making plastic retainers. He was rehearsing the speech in his mind as he walked. Two blocks from his apartment he passed a young man going in the opposite direction. The man was short and red and hot, wearing baggy jeans and a baggy white tee shirt. As they passed their eyes connected, for just a moment too long, but Albert wasn’t sure if the fellow was queer. (He was practicing saying queer to himself. The word “gay” seemed headed toward obsolescence, just as “homosexual” had done twenty years before.) Albert looked back over his shoulder just as the younger man looked back over his. This happened two more times as they kept walking. By then they were on opposite ends of the block and the cute red-haired man looked back once more and then turned the corner.

Albert sighed when the other man vanished behind the limestone building, a Catholic old age home called the Madonna Residence. He crossed the street, continuing home, when he remembered something from his youth: the capacity to prowl. Once Albert had been an excellent prowler, before Paranoia sank its teeth in him. So he backtracked all the way to the far corner. Just as he approached it the other man stuck his head out and smiled a most delicious smile.

Albert the dentist introduced himself to Brad the wonderfully compact red-headed dancer. Each asked the other where he was going. Brad said, “Back to the city.” Albert said, “Home to work on a speech.” Brad offered to walk Albert home and within five minutes they were naked in Albert’s bed, their faces locked together. Part of Albert said, “We shouldn’t be kissing. You can’t get AIDS from it but you can get hepatitis or oral herpes.” However Albert loved to kiss and hadn’t kissed anyone since Dan. So he and Brad were kissing furiously, kissing and licking each other all over. But Brad was licking Albert and sucking on him in places that Albert would not lick or suck on without a long conversation about safe sex and a copy of Brad’s most recent blood work. Albert had taken the HIV test before he met Dan, after he heard that two of his former lovers had died. The test came back negative. But Albert knew that 17% of heterosexual women who use condoms as their only means of birth control get pregnant. He knew that a virus is smaller than a sperm. And although he knew that he was negative he suspected that there might be other causal factors, perhaps other as-yet-unknown viruses, that contributed to the development of AIDS. Since there was a chance that he was carrying one of those unknown viruses, he did not believe in having oral or anal sex anymore, even with a condom. And he was thinking about all of these things as he and Brad were kissing and licking. But he was thinking about them less and less.

In addition to being a fine dancer, Brad was a consummate kisser. In the twenty odd years since he’d come out Albert had kissed a lot of men, especially in those first years when he was still prowling. But none of them had the tongue control that Brad had, a lewd wet animal slurping that was gradually making all of Albert’s body shine with his saliva, as he licked and chewed him from head to toe, once, twice, and then a third time. Gradually, awash in Brad’s lascivious ministrations, Albert’s moaning got louder and louder. He felt as if Brad had pushed him over the edge of Niagara Falls with his tongue. Albert was delirious, his arms and legs flailing on the bedspread. He was thrown into an abyss of pleasure, lost in ecstatic passion, and without ejaculating Albert exploded out of his body in every direction.

His last words, half-heard by Brad, who was inhaling Albert’s left nipple between his lips while his tongue danced pagan circles around it, were, “Thank you, Mary.” Then Albert was very still. Younger than Albert by almost twenty years, Brad had grown up in a generation of men who do not call each other “she,” or “Mary.” Raised in a Conservative Jewish home on Long Island, he’d noticed the mezuzah at the door when they went in and was confused that Albert had called on the Virgin, especially as he’d never yet met an Albert who wasn’t Jewish. But then he remembered that older gay men sometimes did that, called other gay men Mary, and he assumed that Albert was thanking him for the pleasure he had given him. He sat up, about to say back, “It was my pleasure.” Only Albert was very very still. Fortunately Brad had put himself through dance school working as a hospital orderly, so he leaned down and listened for Albert’s heart, felt for his pulse. There was nothing.

This was not how Brad had hoped to spend the afternoon, and if Albert had been thinking, he would never have died like that, leaving a strange man in his bed. Brad considered slipping out of the apartment. No one had seen them come in. But being a decent fellow, the grandson of a noted rabbi, he got up, got dressed, pulled all of Albert’s clothes back on, and called 911. It took them twenty minutes to get there. Then he called Gary to tell him what had happened. Gary was relieved. They had an open relationship, so that wasn’t the problem. But being the kind of Jewish boy he was, when Brad didn’t get in time for dinner, Gary was frantic, sure that he was dead in the street. So his relief (Brad was fine) was mingled with horror – that someone else was actually dead. But Brad assured him that he was fine, was waiting for the police, and shouldn’t be home too late.

In a state of shock when he got off the phone with Gary, Brad realized that he didn’t even know Albert’s last name. Nervous, with Albert lying on the bed behind him, awkwardly redressed in what he’d been wearing when they met, Brad went through a stack of papers on his desk and found his electric bill. “Albert Kaufman.” So strange, to learn his name that way, after what had just happened. But he comforted himself by recalling a string of men.

When they finally got there, Brad had to explain everything to the ambulance people, and then again to the cops when they came. Afraid that he might get lost in any story he made up, Brad told them the exact truth. One of the officers wrote everything down as the paramedics wrapped up Albert’s body and carried him out. They took down all of Brad’s contact information and finally let him go. “These things happen,” one of the officers said to him, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder. Brad smiled at her, thanked her, and she escorted him out of the building.

All the way home in the subway Brad was trembling. He was in tears when he arrived, but at first Gary was afraid to hold him. After all, in the Jewish tradition, a dead body defiles. But then he remembered that he was a gay man, defiled already, and pulled Brad into his lap, where he sobbed himself into some degree of calm. Then he told Gary the entire story, including the last thing Albert had said to him, to anyone, and they talked about how funny older gay men were, never realizing that Albert hadn’t been talking to Brad when he said his last words, “Thank you, Mary.” In Albert’s last moment of pure ecstasy, although he was Jewish, Albert was thanking the Madonna for arranging his encounter with Brad in front of her residence.

The autopsy ruled out foul play, not that the coroner expected it. Brad’s story was too true to be discounted. But he did expect to find evidence of heart failure or stroke and was surprised that there was none, or anything else pathological to account for Albert’s sudden demise. “Licked to death” was not in the coroner’s vocabulary. He listed Albert’s death as: “Natural Causes,” which Albert would have turned into a joke about the consequences of unnatural acts.

A week after the funeral, which Brad and Gary attended, Albert’s brother Edward was cleaning out his apartment. On his desk he came upon the speech that Albert was rehearsing when he met Brad. A colleague of Albert’s read it at the conference in Cleveland. It revolutionized the technique for making plastic retainers.

THE END

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