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.

I told him I was looking for Stoney, whom I'd met in the can. He told me his name was Big John.

John knew Stoney, he said, and he also knew about profiling. One day he was walking down Pacific when he saw a cop standing next to a patrol wagon across the way. The cop waved him over, he said.

"Well, hell, I just went across the street. This is a fucking officer of the goddamn law. What do you do? Go the other way?"

Big John prefers to work his hustle indoors…
Daniel Kramer
Big John prefers to work his hustle indoors…
…but sometimes a conversation is just a 
Daniel Kramer
…but sometimes a conversation is just a conversation.

The cop cited him for jaywalking and threw his ass in the wagon. After a night in the tank, he was given two options by the judge: Either plead guilty and get time served, or go sit back down and wait for trial. John went the guilty route.

"I'll take you to Stoney," he told me, and off we went down Fairview, the start of a zigzag journey through the Montrose.

A couple of blocks later, John pointed to two guys walking down the street. "There he is."

"Man, he sure looks different in street clothes," I said, but then I realized he wasn't looking any more familiar as I drew near.

"Stoney, this guy's looking for you," John said, and I put out my hand and grasped the palm of someone who was definitely not the guy I had talked to in jail.

"You Stoney?" I asked.

"Yeah," the guy said.

"There must be some kind of a mistake or something," I said. "The Stoney I'm looking for is a dude whose real name is Shane."

"That dude ain't Stoney," I was told. "You got played, man."

Shit, I thought. Back to square one.

As John and I headed back to where my truck was parked, he asked me once again what I was looking for.

"Basically, I'm just looking for a male prostitute who'll tell me about his life and who'll talk about how the area has changed over the years," I said. "You know, shit like that."

"You got a pad and a pen?" he asked.

"I got this recorder," I said.

"All right," he said. "Let's do it."

Big John's been hanging out in the Montrose since he was 13 years old. He's now 37, but looks younger and tells his johns whatever they want to hear.

He doesn't have much to say about his father, except that his old man bolted when he found out John's mom had a terminal illness. After his mother passed, John moved in with his grandparents, although he spent most of his time hanging out at a stepbrother's place in Avondale.

"I started getting my eyes full," he says.

It was in those early years that John made a name for himself on the streets.

"There used to be this guy, man, he would cruise around keeping his passenger window open just a little bit," he says. "He'd see guys walking down the sidewalk and he'd pull over by them and try to talk to them and he would have a $100 bill lying in his seat. And that was the enticement. He'd never roll down his window any more, and he'd never open his door to let them in. He was always popping his lock, you know, whacking his tallywacker."

So one afternoon the guy pulls up next to John and starts chatting and patting. John tells the guy he can't hear him, and down goes the window a little bit more. John says he still can't hear him and walks back to the sidewalk. The guy pulls up and pulls over, and down goes the window even more.

"He rolls down his window, and that fucker is more than halfway down, right, so I lean over," he says, "and I grabbed that $100 bill, man."

Like a young King Arthur yanking the sword from the stone, Big John had done the unthinkable: He had snatched the C-note from the perv's seat.

The next year he found out one of his cousins had been dating a transsexual. Even though John had met her many times, he had had no idea she was packing -- "The bitch was fine" -- until the moment when he visited them both in jail and discovered "she was on the same fucking floor as him."

It was then that John started exploring his gay side. (He's technically bisexual.) This was the early to mid-'80s, and the Montrose was a wild place. People on motorcycles roared down Westheimer, running red lights and stopping for trannies. The gay clubs were hopping, even though the specter of the AIDS crisis was looming.

There were several places where all ages could go, and John often found himself at QT's, the Game Room and the Chicken Coop. It wasn't long before he was picked up by a sugar daddy, a fellow by the name of Bobby who lived with two other chickenhawks.

"They all had this fucking bad-ass goddamn house," says John, "and they all had different preferences for their indulgences."

Bobby always treated him right, says John, and the Montrose was pretty much a peaceful place, save for the occasional lovers' quarrel.

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