The daily serial fictional based on Chicago's Boystown neighborhood: Boystown series by Danny Bernardo

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1. Life, As A Tattoo

Charlie always swore that he'd move out of Boystown by the time he was thirty. The allure of living in the heart of the bustling thump-a thump-a of Chicago's gayborhood had drawn him in right out of undergrad, but something about living there past twenty-five always bothered him. It was sad in a way

1. Life, As A Tattoo
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Charlie always swore that he'd move out of Boystown by the time he was thirty. The allure of living in the heart of the bustling thump-a thump-a of Chicago's gayborhood had drawn him in right out of undergrad, but something about living there past twenty-five always bothered him. It was sad in a way, like a forty-something wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt. "I should've outgrown this by now," he'd insist to himself every year when his lease was up. The time for random hook-ups, future ex-boyfriends, and hopeless one night stands should stay firmly rooted in one's early twenties. But a wildly awesome night out with his friends or an especially sentimental and drunken Pride Parade would seal the deal for another lease term. And so it would go, year after year, until finally here he was, twenty-nine years old with an unforgotten oath lingering over the lease renewal slipped under the front door.

The decision seemed pretty obvious. His roommate Becka finally got the ring and was moving into Brad's high-rise in the Gold Coast. His other roommate David and his boyfriend David were migrating happily-ever-after to the land of semi-legal marital bliss known as Andersonville. Their intentions were declared to the landlord and there was Charlie's name, all by itself, on the lease renewal. Charlie was twenty-nine years old; he was a grown-up. It should be time for him to get a one-bedroom with office for half the price and twice the size in Lincoln Square. Or an affluently cozy studio in Old Town within walking distance from the high school he taught at. Yet for whatever reason, any option other than staying terrified him.

Usually in moments of moral crisis such as this, he'd break open a bottle of pinot grigio with Becka and David and talk it out until the bottle was empty enough for him to forget the problem in the first place. But their rooms long lay vacant and paid for until the end of the month. And his bar bestie Tristan's bias towards keeping Charlie's apartment in walking distance to couch crash post after-hours made him an unreliable confidante. "This decision," Charlie realized, "is best mulled over with a pint by myself, out at the bars." And so it followed, Charlie descended down the apartment steps, out the front door, to take on what the humid June evening on Halsted and Roscoe had to offer.

He quickly ruled out Roscoes. Once, he had run into a former student from his student-teaching days who wasn't there on a fake ID and the incident left him feeling positively ancient. Besides, Roscoes was only fun in a group and pretty sad by yourself. Hydrate was great for dancing, not contemplating over a drink. He didn't look pretty enough tonight for Minibar or fratty enough for Scarlet. There was some semi-famous drag queen in town at Spin and the drama of sequins and glitter was not conducive to navel gazing. No, tonight, it'd have to be his old standby Sidetrack. Maybe instead of a beer, he'd opt for a fruity vodka slushy on the roof deck.

As he waded his way through the mass of guys watching a Donna Summer tribute video, the svelte linebacker silhouette at the main bar stopped him dead in his tracks. The piercing blue eyes that met Charlie's own chocolaty hazels confirmed the identity of the Ultimate Heartbreaker: He Who Shall Not Be Named. Turning a complete about face, nearly trampling several innocent bystanders in the hasty retreat to the exit, Charlie could faintly but distinctly hear He Who Shall Not Be Named calling out to him. The potential salt on this perpetually open wound outweighed the pathetic three seconds of bliss he'd feel talking to him, Charlie decided. He needed to get lost and so he ducked into the dark, crowded dank that was Cocktail.

He pushed his way to the far end of the bar and quickly ordered a pint of Magic Hat #9 and a shot of Jameson. Downing both in less than five minutes, he made a quick assessment of the situation. Even in the dim lighting, he knew that no one here was his type. The sweaty go-go boys thrusting their bulging crotches for tips added to the general seediness of the situation. He reached into his pocket, ready to settle up when he saw that svelte linebacker silhouette pass the window, group of friends in tow. He sat back down and ordered another pint and shot. He looked down at his drinks, trying to stop himself from believing that those piercing blue eyes were still searching for him.

Pint. Shot.

The desperate group text to Becka, David, and Tristan that simply stated: "HWSNBN! Help!" went unanswered.

Pint. Shot.

The passive aggressive Facebook status update "FML" fell on deaf eyes. Except a "Like" from his mother. Awkward.

Pint. Shot.

Is this what he had to look forward to if he stayed in Boystown? Avoiding exes that break your heart, drowning your sorrows all alone, on the fast track to bitter?

Pint. Shot.

He looked around. "Ok, maybe it wasn't so bad," he thought as the latest shot of Jameson warmed his chest. Guys were smiling at him. The go-go boys were actually starting to get cute. Especially...

"Want a shot?" the Go-Go Boy had sidled up to Charlie so abruptly that Charlie almost knocked over his tray. Go-Go Boy gracefully regained his footing, revealing a garish phoenix tattoo on his right shoulder. If Charlie were on the other side of sober, he might've waxed poetic about the symbolism of Go-Go Boy's tattoo and his current metamorphic conundrum. Instead, he focused on Go-Go Boy's clumsy charm: the adorably crooked smile peeking out from underneath the camouflage makeup that matched his helmet and jockstrap. "Dollar a shot," Go-Go Boy offered again.

"Thanks, I'm drinking with the grown-ups," Charlie replied, hoping his earnestness came off more flirty than snarky.

"I don't blame you. This sugar water is piss." Go-Go Boy leaned in closer, giving Charlie a huge whiff of his Axe body spray. "For twenty dollars," he whispered, "I'll let you play with it."

"Is that tonight's special?"

"Only for really cute preppy guys who shouldn't be sitting by themselves on a Saturday night."

They locked eyes, playfully waiting for the other one to call the bluff with the seriousness of a Fortune 500 merger. Without breaking the gaze, Charlie pounded his pint, pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and held it to Go-Go Boy's face. Go-Go Boy smiled that crooked smile and guided Charlie's hand down to the jockstrap. Charlie tucked the bill under the strap as Go-Go Boy continued guiding the hand's voyage. Charlie must've gasped when he felt how big and thick it was because Go-Go Boy chuckled as Charlie stroked. And there they stood, in a crowded bar, eyes locked, Charlie giving some random guy a hand job. The bartender's lispy voice broke the moment. "Another round?"

"Jimmy!" called Go-Go Boy, his eyes never leaving Charlie's. "His next round's on me."

It was his phone vibrating that woke Charlie up. The next thing he realized was that he wasn't wearing any underwear. And the snoring guy to his left, face down, garish phoenix tattoo lit by the rising sun confirmed that he wasn't in his room. Through the morning haze of beer, whiskey, and sleep deprivation, he got flashes of hungry kisses, of hands and mouths groping, of fluids exchanged. Not his classiest moment, but a good time to be sure. If only he could remember most of it.

As quietly as he could, he fished his clothes out of the piles of laundry and fast food bags that swallowed the floor. Besides the mattress that he'd been asleep on, these seemed to be the room's only furnishings. He checked his wallet. Everything was still there. The cackling drag queens doing bumps at the coffee table betrayed any graceful exit Charlie was hoping to achieve. He was still putting on his shoes as he ran out the front door. And that was that, a Saturday night out in Boystown for Charlie.

The text that woke him up was from Becka: "HWSNBN?! WTF?!" He grinned to himself, thinking of the phone call recap of last night's events to Tristan. "You didn't black out," Tristan would say, "You time travelled." And as he did the walk of shame past Nookies, avoiding the knowing stares from the tables of brunchers, he thought about the future.

Charlie was twenty-nine years old. Before he knew it, ten years would fly by and he'd be thirty-nine. Almost forty. He'd probably have a mortgage and tenure. Maybe he'd be married. Maybe he'd be alone and the gay version of a crazy cat lady. He had to make a decision. Grown-ups do not have nights like this. Nights like this are almost unavoidable living in Boystown. If he moved, he'd have to say goodbye to random nights out, the thrill of possibility after every pint, the potential for the love of his life to be the next guy who grinds up on him on the dance floor. If he moved, he could count on sensible nights in, book clubs, and neighborhood associations. If he moved, it would be everything that he theoretically worked for all of his twenties: adulthood, being responsible. Being a grown-up.

An hour later, he'd posted his ad on Craigslist: SGM looking for roommates for a 3BR in the heart of Boystown.


Current Chapter
Vol 1.1 Life, As A Tattoo

Love this

by Jan247 on Tue. Aug 23, 2016

Love this First chapter

by Jan on Sun. Jun 19, 2016

I was only in Chicago for 24 hours at one time in my life...I was in boy's town for under eight of those hours. I wish I could have had more time there if for no other reason than to determine if this story was REALLY accurate or not. Now, at 33, I guess it's just a little late for me to move there. Still, I'm enjoying the story. Looking forward to reading more. :^)

by Brian Burke on Fri. Oct 25, 2013

Thanks so much Ace! Armistead Maupin is a huge inspiration to me. One of my favorite memories ever was finding the "real" Barbary Lane (Macondary Lane) on Russian Hill when I was 17. I went back to visit last year at Pride, after seeing the musical at ACT. Look forward to reading your thoughts as the series progresses

by that1guydannyb on Tue. Jul 24, 2012

Loving the series so far! Its kind of like "Tales Of The City" for the Obama era

by Ace on Tue. Jul 24, 2012

Haha aww Rick! 40 isn't ancient! (to those who know better.) Do check out Chapter 5: FOR RENT and let me know what you think of silver fox Steve. He's no Mrs. Madrigal, but I hope you like him!

by that1guydannyb on Mon. Jul 23, 2012

As someone way past the "ancient age of 40" it brought back a flood of memories of nights of debauchery that I am (sadly?) to old to enjoy anymore, from when Boystown was called New Town.

by RKarlin on Sun. Jul 22, 2012

Thanks so much Ryan! It was really important to me to make the "gayborhood" as much of a character as its inhabitants. Look forward to reading what you think as the series progresses!

by that1guydannyb on Tue. Jul 17, 2012

Boystown appears to be right on the mark! I love the concept of growing out of Boystown - I can relate. :-) And the bars, references ... it's all on the mark. Great work and I look forward to reading more.

by RyanOH on Tue. Jul 17, 2012

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