Battle Scars

Big John hustles on the streets of Montrose. He's been there since he was 13. For now, there's no plan B.

The homeowners sounded off on the issues of crime and litter, being careful to portray themselves as compassionate human beings who cared about more than just property values. They knew the agencies were well intentioned, they said, but they felt these organizations were offering temporary Band-Aids and not addressing the roots of the problem.

Everyone agreed that the Montrose was a great place to live and that Jesus was a nice guy.

Amid this hubbub about street culture, only one homeless youth was given the chance to speak. She talked about how hard her life was and emphatically said that not everyone chooses to live on the streets. She was invited to participate in the task force meetings that were to follow in the coming weeks, but it doesn't look like she ever showed up.

Big John demonstrates an age-old hand signal.
Daniel Kramer
Big John demonstrates an age-old hand signal.
Big John greets his kissing cousin. Don't ask.
Daniel Kramer
Big John greets his kissing cousin. Don't ask.

After interviewing a lot of the players in the debate, it became evident that no one really had anything new to say about street culture. I wanted a fresh take on the issues, so I bought cigarettes and sodas for a couple of 19-year-olds who were hanging out one Sunday afternoon on the side of Kroger.

"I don't like being on the streets," one of them told me. "I want to do something with my life."

"Some of us want to go to school," the other said. "Some of us want to get a house and be legit."

These were heartfelt words, to be sure, but they were also a tad boilerplate. I needed to find someone who had a unique perspective on all the changes the Montrose was facing.

I needed a male prostitute.

Finding someone who'll suck your dick for money is no problem. What's difficult is finding someone who'll talk to a reporter about it, especially when you're not offering any kind of monetary compensation.

I loitered around Avondale on a humid Saturday night. I was familiar with these streets; I just wasn't used to walking circles around them with no discernable purpose.

After fending off several offers for rides -- Mr. Black Buick Skylark, how many times do I have to tell you no? -- I walked up to a preppie-looking guy at Pacific and Hopkins and asked him if I could talk to him for a bit.

"What about?" he asked.

"You know," I said, "about hanging out on the corner, waiting to get picked up."

"That's about all there is to it," he said with a laugh. "I just hang out on the corner and someone comes and picks me up."

We got to talking, and I learned he was 27 years old and had been hooking down there since he was 20. He couldn't get into bars back then, he said, and he didn't know how else to come out, so the prostitution thing was a way for him to get laid and paid at the same time.

And just when the conversation was about to get good, up rolled a piece-of-shit Oldsmobile and off he went.

Perhaps I'd have better luck finding my prey in captivity, I thought. I'd heard the Houston Police Department had been doing a lot of pickups in the Montrose (a call to HPD confirmed more than 50 arrests for prostitution in July and August), so I hit up the county jail, where I found myself face-to-glass-to-face with the man who would inadvertently introduce me to Big John.

This guy said his street name was Stoney. He had short brown hair and dark blue eyes. On his wrist was the yellow bracelet used by guards to identify inmates as gay. (To keep the prisoners safe or something.)

Stoney had been arrested a couple of weeks before for hooking in the Montrose. He admitted he hustles and has trouble keeping his nose clean, but insisted his last arrest was the result of profiling. He had eyeballed the john as an undercover cop the minute he got in the car, he said.

"I took out my piece and told the cop to touch it," he said. "And he touched it and asked me how much it would cost for a blow job."

When Stoney told him to wait until they got back to the apartment, the cop popped out the cuffs and took him downtown.

This wasn't his first time in the can, he added. During one particularly unlucky week he had been dragged in four times for various minor offenses.

I knew he was getting out that Friday, so I asked if we could meet somewhere in the free world. He suggested a sketchy bar near South Beach, and we both agreed to show up in the early afternoon.

But when I went to the bar three days later, my new friend was nowhere to be found. The bartender, a skinny old guy who wouldn't look out of place in a Montgomery County dancehall, asked me if I needed anything.

"Um, I was just looking for a friend," I said, backing out of the joint.

And that's when I was followed out by a muscular man with a shaved head and icy blue eyes.

"Hey, man," he said to me in the parking lot. "Whatcha looking for?"

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