(Originally written November 30th, 2006)
I understand that sex and death go hand in hand, but I really didn’t think that there would be so much dick in Pompeii.
I’d arrived around 10am on a Wednesday morning in Pompeii, and in the off-season this means almost the entire site is yours. I was alone in the main forum area, staring at my guidebook when I heard a cough. And then another. And then quite a few more.
It was an older gentleman, probably mid-to-late 50s, dressed in a blazer and pants. He coughed one more time, then motioned his head at me before jerking it off to one side. Was he trying to drum up business for a tour? (I knew that in the busy months the area is fairly crawling with tour guides.) No, he didn’t look the part. Trying to motion me away from something that I shouldn’t be near? And then it hit me. He really just wanted to get into my pants.
I will admit to not normally being very good about A) cruising, or B) recognizing being cruised. I’ve gotten a bit better at noticing the latter over the last year or two, that sudden feeling the heat of another guy’s eyes as they go through the catch-your-gaze, flick-down-over-your-body, then-catch-your-eyes-again maneuver. More often than not, though, it escapes me, leading to people telling me ten minutes later about my general obliviousness. I’m also not too good at even trying to do the “casual glance” thing to show interest or merely appreciation of others. When getting off the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii, there were two guys—perhaps Austrian?—that I’d tried to meet eyes with. It wasn’t any sort of intent to try and pick them up, just an unspoken, “Hey, we’re on the same team and you’re both pretty cute” message. I’d totally struck out, though; they weren’t even looking in my direction, as if I was invisible.
On the other hand, it was impossible to ignore this guy. He’d started to gesture more blatantly for me to come on over. The look in his eyes, his posture… the intent was obvious. My response was to try and pretend that it wasn’t happening, and I walked up the street I was at the edge of, moving a full block away. His response? Moving parallel up the street he was on, appearing again. He continued to beckon me in a way that simultaneously said that this was to be covert even as it was more and more in the open towards me.
Now, when I’d told friends about this that evening (they were currently at the Vatican Museum, mailing postcards with the Holy See postmark and the words “I like boys” scrawled on them) their response was, “You had the chance to tell everyone that you had sex in Pompeii and turned it down?” So I feel that I should elaborate a bit at this point. First, let me state that I am not anti-older men. Almost every partner/boyfriend/(insert your favorite euphemism) I’ve had has been older; sometimes by just a couple of months, but with older ages differences as well. But with that in mind… this guy was just an old leathery yuck. Bad skin, really bad facial features, and just bad all around. To be honest, I doubt I could have performed even if I wanted to take the plunge just for the experience—the once-in-a-lifetime surroundings wouldn’t balance out the sheer turn-off that would’ve been in front of me.
Anyway, he’d appeared again, cutting off my proposed path to where the next spot on my self-guided tour of Pompeii was. So I shook my head a bit and waved goodbye, then took a few steps away from him, pretending to look intensely at the featureless ruin in front of me. His response? To take a few steps closer to me. Now at this point I suppose I should’ve just walked over and firmly told him no and called it a day. Instead, I panicked and headed in the opposite direction as fast as possible while still trying to look like I was casually walking. La de dah, here I am on a cheerful stroll through the ruins while pursued by a troll. Yes, very casual indeed.
By the time I lost him, I was so far off course that it took me a solid 20 minutes to figure out exactly where I was, and how to get back onto course. Even worse, by this point I had to pee very badly and the only toilet in the entire ruins was back in the area where my stalker was ambushing me. Still a little rattled and panicked, I did the only thing I could think of —I crept into a secluded part of the ruins, the back room of the ruined bakery, and peed at the base of one of the walls.
Yes, I felt bad. But this is how I see it. With so many stray dogs in Pompeii (even in November they were everywhere), the area is hardly a stranger to random urine discharges. And really, it was the creepy guy’s fault for chasing me away from the actual bathroom, I had no other choice. Besides, there was something oddly pleasing after that encounter about pulling my dick out of my pants in Pompeii and not having that creepy guy see it. So I peed, and glanced covertly back and forth to make sure no one else was around while the sun warmed any and all exposed skin in a way that was more gentle and pleasing than the coughing man could have ever been.
* * *
An hour later, I’m at the remnants of an ancient house of prostitution. Paintings, recently restored, adorn the top of each interior doorway to advertise just what you’ll find on the other side of the long-gone curtains. I am alone in the building, even as a security guard sits outside and stares daggers at me through the open entrance. Because of the restoration work, flashes are strictly forbidden inside, but I don’t mind. An artificial explosion of light seems somehow crass, and there is enough natural light that it’s not really needed.
As I take a picture of each painting, I am trying to analyze the offerings. Woman on top; doggy-style; a threesome. Even with the archaeologists’s hard work it is sometimes hard to make out all the details. Is that two men over one of the doors? I’m not entirely sure and peer closer. Suddenly a tour group bursts in, loud and boisterous, and the mood is shattered. I beat a hasty retreat, echoing the behavior of johns from two millennia ago, heading out the back door and fleeing down the alleyway.
* * *
The day has continued to heat up, and it’s an hour and a half later as I take my jacket off, carefully folding it up and placing it in my backpack. My arms revel in their freedom, flexing subconsciously in the sunlight. I continue to walk for a while, smiling and nodding at fellow visitors as I continue down Pompeii’s ruined streets. Eventually I feel that I’ve had enough; my feet are aching from hours on the uneven street surfaces, and even with my jacket off I feel like I’ve become a miniature sun myself, creating and exuding heat and radiance. I’m walking back down the street when I see the Austrians from before.
One of them—the cuter of the pair—is sitting on the curb while his companion stands next to him. Perhaps it’s because I am now a solar furnace but the one sitting on the curb can’t take his eyes off of me. They’re locked on my face, mostly, trying to meet my gaze that is cloaked behind the now-dark lenses of my glasses that have automatically shielded my eyes from the sun. Occasionally the Austrian’s gaze runs down my arms and chest, circles my crotch and legs, then moves back up. They’re both looking now, even as the sitting one slowly, deliberately stands.
I turn my head towards them as I walk by, making it clear that I see what they’re doing, and that I’m returning their gaze. Right before I pass them I let a brief smile cross my face. I take three, four, five steps and look back over my shoulder. They’re walking the opposite direction but are both looking back over their shoulders at me as well. I give them a genuine smile—sometimes it’s nice to be noticed—and then face forward, still heading for the exit.
* * *
I’m in the gift shop, killing a little bit of time until I can leave for the Circumvesuviana train back to Naples. There’s no one at the register and I browse the magnets on display idly, wondering what will adorn my kitchen back home outside of DC. Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly see him—the man in the blazer that tried to pick me up earlier today. He steps behind the counter where he clearly works as he watches me, and as I turn the magnet display I can feel his attention growing. All across the next panel of the display column are sex-themed magnets; mostly images from the prostitution house, but also fertility idols that focus on enormous stone erections. His attention is blistering as I weigh the various options. Finally I pluck up the one non-ribald magnet, an image of the town forum with Mount Vesuvius in the background.
I smile at him and say my first actual words to him. “Quanto costa?” His response of “Tre euros” is swift, and I hand him exact change and walk out the door, a trip to the sandwich stand next to the train station being preferable to killing time here.
Outside, it’s a gorgeous day. I hum idly to myself and begin my escape.