Some Strange Desire

by Ian McDonald


1   2   3   4

20 November, 9:15 P.M.

Vinyl Lionel’s law: Everyone is either someone’s pimp or someone’s prostitute.

By that definition, Vinyl Lionel is our pimp, though he would be quite scandalized to think that the word could be applied to himself.

Vinyl Lionel subscribes to the roller-and-tray school of cosmetics and wears a studded leather collar. Studs, in one form or another, characterize Vinyl Lionel’s personal style. Studded wristbands, studded peak to his black leather SS cap, studded motorbike boots pulled up over his zip-up PVC one-piece with studded thighs and shoulders.

I remember PVC from the Swinging Sixties. You sweated like shit in those boots and raincoats. Vinyl Lionel maintains they are trying to remix the Sixties for the Nineties. Vinyl Lionel should know about the Sixties. He has an old-age pensioner’s free bus pass, but he won’t show it to anyone. If the Nineties are anything like the Sixties, it will be that whatever is happening is always happening somewhere else. My memory of the Swinging Sixties is that they may have been swinging in the next street or the party next door, but never swinging in your street, at your party.

Strangefella’s is the kind of place where advertising copywriters and the editors of those instantly disposable street culture magazines like to convince people they party all night when in fact they are at home, in bed, exhausted by their workloads, every night by ten-thirty. If the Nineties are swinging, it is somewhere else than Strangefella’s. Vinyl Lionel has a customary pitch as far as the architecture will permit from the AV show and the white boys with the deeply serious haircuts doing things to record decks. He is always pleased to see me. The pleasure is mutual. When he has a couple of gin slings down him he can be a delightfully effervescent conversationalist.

“Darling heart, you’re looking especially radiant tonight!” He kisses me, on the cheek, not the mouth-to-mouth soul kiss of tesh meeting. He calls for cocktails. “Your mother is well, dismal suburbia notwithstanding?”

I reply that business is booming, and tell him about the pimp.

“I heard about that on News at Ten. That was you? A gangland killing, they said, made to look like an overdose.” He takes a Turkish from his silver cigarette case, taps it once, twice, three times. “That was a bit of a bloody risk, wasn’t it, dear heart?”

“He’d broken in. Credit him with some intelligence, he could have worked out something was going on.”

“Still, Orion darling, you could have left him to us. It’s our job to look after you, and yours to provide us with what we want. You people have a vicious streak a mile wide. One of your less endearing traits. Smoke?” I take the proffered cheroot.

“So, this new client.”

Vinyl Lionel examines his chrome-polished nails. “Well, there’s not a lot to say about him. Nice enough boy. You wouldn’t think to look at him, but then you never do, do you? Fat Willy recruited him, you know, the usual way.” He moistens a finger in his Singapore sling, draws a yin-yang symbol on the marble tabletop.

“How much does he know?”

“The bare minimum. He’ll talk the leg off you, dear heart. One of those confessional types. Well, fiddle-dee-dee, if that isn’t him now . . .” Vinyl Lionel waves flamboyantly, trying to attract the attention of the lost boy by the door, fidgeting and conspicuous in a chain-store-gent’s ready-made suit. “Oh God, I told him don’t dress up, Strangefella’s isn’t that kind of place, and what does he do? Well, don’t blame me if the gorillas bounce him.”

“Nerves, Lionel,” I say. “You were as bad the first time.”

“Bitch,” says Vinyl Lionel. He resents any overt reminder of his fall from youth and beauty while we remain changeless, ageless, ever-young. He beckons the young man between the tables and the smokes and the back-beat and the bass. “I’ll bet you fifty he drives a Ford.”

One bet I won’t be taking, Lionel. A Ford Sierra, metallic gray, F-registration, the odd rust spot. Something to do with metallic finishes, I always think. Garfield crucified upside-down on the back window. Open the glove compartment and cassettes fall out. Home bootlegs, all of them, apart from the mandatory copy of Graceland. Nothing more recent than three years ago.

He is nervous. I can smell it over his Heathrow duty-free aftershave. Nerves, and something I cannot quite place, but seems familiar. I do not much like being driven by someone who is so nervous. Gaily lit buses swing past headed down across the river South London way; girls in smogmasks, denim cut-offs over cycling shorts and ski-goggles weave past on clunking ATBs like the outriders of some totalitarian, body-fascist invasion. I light up a cheroot Vinyl Lionel gave me as a keepsake as we surge and stop, surge and stop along Shaftesbury Avenue. Lionel, the outrageous old ul-goi, was right. This one seems to want to talk but is afraid of me. I weave pheromones, draw him into a chemical web of confidence. On New Oxford Street, he opens.

“I cannot believe this is happening,” he says. “It’s incredible; that something so, so, huge, could have been secret for so long.”

“It has several thousand years of pedigree as a working relationship,” I say. “As long as there have been tesh, there have been ul-goi. And our mutual need for secrecy from the goi.”


“Humans.” I wave a lace-gloved hand at the rain-wet people huddling along Holborn. “Those. The ignorant mass.”

“And tesh?”

I draw a circle on the misted-up quarter-light, bisect it with a curving S-shape. Yin and yang. Male and female in one. From time before time the symbol of the tesh.

“And ul-goi?”

“Those who can only achieve sexual satisfaction with a tesh.”

The word seems to release him. He closes his eyes for a reckless moment, sighs. “It’s funny. No, it’s not funny, it’s tragic, it’s frightening. It’s only recently I’ve found where it started. When I was a kid I read this comic, the Eagle or the Lion or the Victor. There was one story, one scene, where this skindiver is trying to find out who’s been sabotaging North Sea drilling rigs and the bad guys catch him and tie him to the leg of the rig until his air runs out. That was where it started for me, with the guy in the rubber suit tied and helpless, with death inevitable. It was such an anticlimax when he got rescued in the next issue. I used to fantasize about wetsuits. I must have been Jacques Cousteau’s number one fan.” He laughs. Beneath folding umbrellas, girls in Sixties-revival PVC raincoats and Gerry-Anderson-puppet hairdos dart between the slowly grinding cars, giggling and swearing at the drivers.

“You don’t know what it is at that age. But it was a major motivation in my childhood: tight clothing. Superheroes, of course, were a real turn-on. I remember one, where the Mighty Thor was being turned into a tree. Jesus! I nearly creamed myself. I was addicted to downhill skiing. If there was ever anything in the Sunday color supplements about downhill skiing, or ballet, I would cut it out, sneak it up to my room and stare at it under the sheets by the light from my electric blanket switch.

“Jane Fonda was, like, the answer to my prayers. I used to borrow my sister’s leotard and tights and dress up, just to feel that head-to toeness. Sometimes . . . sometimes, when the evenings were dark, I’d pass on late-night shopping with the family so I could dress up, nip over the back fence onto our local sports field and walk about. Just walk about. It was good, but it wasn’t enough. There was something in there, in my head, that wanted something more but couldn’t tell me what it was.

“When I was about seventeen I discovered sex shops. The number of times I would just walk past because I never had the nerve to push that door and go in. Then one day I decided it couldn’t be any harder going in than just walking past. It was like Wonderland. I spent the fifty pounds I’d been saving in one pig-out. There was one magazine, Mr. S.M. . . . I’d never seen anything like it before, I didn’t know people could do that sort of thing to each other. Then, after I’d read them all twenty, fifty, a hundred times, I realized it wasn’t doing it anymore. I bought new mags, but they were the same: there were things going on in my head that were far, far more exciting than what was going on in those photographs. In my best fantasies, there were things like no one had ever thought of before.”

“This happens,” I say. They all think they are the only ones. They start so differently, men and women, back among the sand castles and Dinky toys and Cindy dolls of childhood; they think there cannot be anyone else like them. But already they are being drawn toward us, and each other. They realize that what excites frenzies of passion in others leaves them cold and uncomprehending, and everything falls apart: friends, lovers, jobs, careers, hopes, dreams, everything except the search for that something that will fulfill the fantasy in their heads. Can anyone be as tormented, as depraved, as they? I do not disillusion them: fantasies and confessions, and the small absolutions and justifications I can offer; these are treasures held close to the heart. Tell me your story, then, ul-goi boy in your best suit, and I will listen, for, though it is a story I have heard ten thousand times before, it is a story that deserves to be heard. You have had the courage that so many lack, the courage to reach for what you truly want.

For the homosexual, it is the image in the mirror.

For the transvestite, it is the flight from ugliness to imagined true beauty.

For the sado-masochist, it is the two-edged embrace of guilt.

For the bondage enthusiast, it is the relieved plummet from the burden of being adult into the helplessness of childhood.

For the rubber fetishist, it is the return to the total comforting enclosure of the womb.

For the ul-goi, it is the frustration of desiring to be what they are and what they are not simultaneously.

Where have all the fluorescent re-spray Volkswagen Beetles started to come from?

What is he saying now? About some 0898 sexline he used to dial called “Cycle Club Lust”; how he sat hanging on the line running up obscene bills waiting for the payoff that never came. How Telecom regulations compel them to use words like “penis” and “buttocks” and “breasts.” How can you get off on words like that? he says.

And I sense it again. A scent . . . Almost totally masked by my own pheromone patterns; that certain uncertainty. I know it. I know it . . . Tower cranes decked out with aircraft warning lights like Christmas decorations move through the upper air. Towers of London. Close to home now. I show him a place to park the car where it will be fairly safe. In this area, you do not buy car stereos, you merely rent them from the local pub. On the street, with his coat collar turned up against the drizzle, he looks desperately vulnerable and uncertain. The merest waft of pheromones is enough to firm that wavering resolution. Gentle musks carry him through the front door, past the rooms where we cater for the particular tastes of our goi clients, up the stairs and along the landing past Cassiopeia’s room, up another flight of stairs to the room at the top. The room where the ul-goi go.


This story copyright © 1993 by Ian McDonald. Used by permission. All rights reserved.