I did not mean to sodomize Dick Cheney.
I mean, I'm not even gay. Not that it matters. Because when, to my surprise, I bumped into himliterallyat the counter of Heimler's Guns and Ammo in Casper, something clicked. And I'm not talking about the safety on my Mauser.
You see, there's another side to "L'il Dickens," as the VP liked to refer to himself. Or, at least, a certain part of himself. En privado, he's tender. He's funny. He's pink. And he's a gun man, just like me.
But there I go, getting ahead of myself . . . See, I was in Wyoming to pick up some German pistols. Not, you know, that I'm some kind of Nazi gun freak. Not even close. I just like the workmanship. The craft. A taste, as it happens, shared by Mister Cheney.
"Schnellfeuerpistole," he smiled, eyes aglow as he surveyed my weapon.
"Model 1912," I smiled back. "Recoil, single action."
He held out his hand. I had yet to recognize him. In his black-and-red hunting cap, flaps down, he could have been any pudgy hunter. Some sneering Elmer Fudd. But his nails were beautiful. Buffed as a showroom Bentley. I slapped the gun in his palm, butt first. "Good heft," he said. His lips partedfleshy magenta outside, meat red within. "What are we looking at, 10 inches?"
The VP licked his lips and let out a trademark grunt.
"Mmm . . . barrel?"
"Pocket size. Nice."
"Looks can be deceiving." Our eyes met through his bifocals, and I felt a shiver. "Short bolt travel makes the rate of fire astronomical. But there's no control."
My new friend gave a little laugh that sounded like hug-hug-hug. "Believe it or not, I lose control myself."
Suddenly I had feelings I couldn't name. We'd drifted to the back of the storeno more than a counter, really, flanked by locked rows of guns on the wall and a signed photo of George Bush Jr. in his flight suit, helmet under his arm, eyes triumphant, basket presidentially padded. His Mission Accomplished moment.
At some point the owner, a scruffy fellow who looked like Wilford Brimley, had slung a Back-In-Ten sign in the window and disappeared. Maybe he'd been given a signal.
"Gee," I heard myself say, "you look a lot like "
"I am," he said, "but you can call me . . . Li'l Dickens."
He held open a door to the backroom. Which turned out to be more than that. I slowly took it in: sturdy mahogany desk and chairs, portrait of J. Edgar Hoover over the crackling fire, the shelves stacked with sheaves of documents, busts of Lincoln, Jefferson and Julius Caesar, and finally, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, the single bed in the corner with a rough green blanket tucked sharply under the mattress in military corners.
"Spartan," he growled. "A man in my position can't afford to be soft. We are, after all, at war."
"Wait. Is this the bunker?"
"Negative. The Veepeock is technically in the White House basement. Everybody knows it. That's the problem."
"Veepeock. I'm not sure I" He cut me off, clearly a fellow used to getting his way.
"VPEOC. White House terminology. Short for Vice Presidential Emergency Operations Center. You didn't think the bunker was in Washington, did you? That place is a cesspool."
"But shouldn't there be security? Surveillance? Cameras?"
"Sometimes you don't want anybody looking. Hug-hug-hug." He tapped the cot. "Come on over here, soldier."
"Okay." Jesus . . .
In spite of myself, I drifted toward him. The man had tremendous animal magnetism. A musky aura of power seemed to emanate from his scalp. But still... shouldn't there be pull-down wall maps? Advisers? Data banks? A red phone with a key in it, hotline to Moscow... or Baghdad? Or Crawford?
I had, I realized, conflated Cheney's love nest with the president's war room in Dr. Strangelove. But I wasn't hobnobbing with Peter Sellers. Instead, here I was, rubbing cheek to grizzled cheek with the real vice president, arguably the most powerful man in the free world. Freakish, but true. While I stood there, frozen with fear, he looked up and licked my face. I blanched.
"Did you just lick me?"
My breath, as they say, came in short pants. Cheney chuckled, ignoring my question, and swept his arm before him, indicating his little patch of heaven.
"I like a barracks feel. It's more . . . manly."
"But you didn't actually serve, did you? What was it, five deferments? You dropped out of Yale, then went to community college because of the draft. I heard your wife even had a baby nine months to the day after they ended the childless-married deferments."
His face reddened. A tiny wormlet of vein began to throb at his left temple. For one bad moment I thought he was either going to kill me or stroke out on the spot. Instead, he began to hug-chuckle all over again. "That Lynne. Bent her over the sink and slipped her the Dickens. Out came l'il Mary, right on time. My daughter's good people. Even if she is gay as Tallulah Bankhead's fanny."
With that, he gave me another smooch. I wanted to recoil. And yet . . . I couldn't fight it. There was no other way. I had to ask.
"Are you gay, Mister Vice President?"
"Me?" He leapt from the cot and ripped off his flannel with such ferocity I feared he might tear a ligament. "I had so many chicks in high school they used to call them Cheney-acs!"
Before this, I admit, I never knew the meaning of the word swoon. I couldn't help but stare at his tufted belly roll, his hairless chest andbe still my hearthis pacemaker. Yes and yes again!
Embedded under the skin over his left nipple was the outline of what looked like a pack of Luckies. He saw me ogling and beckoned.
"Figured you might."
Slowly, I raised my fingers to his subcutaneous square. "It's . . . it's so hard."
What can I say? He was overweight, and grunting, and no doubt capable of having me disappeared with a single phone call. But God, he was sexy. Soon my tentative touches turned to stroking, my stroking to outright caresses. Our eyes locked. The Veep parted his meaty lips.
With that, it was on. Lynne's hubby yanked off his belt, let his pants drop around the tops of his waders, and popped his thumbs under the elastic of his white undies, which rode so high on his belly they covered the button. "Big-girl panties!" he chortled.
Then the Veep turned, waggling his ample bottom, and dropped to his hands and knees beside the army cot. I wasn't sure how to react, but before I could, he grunted, stretched, and pulled out a monkey-head bong.
"Who does this remind you of?"
It's all a little foggy after that. Yes, he reached in my pants and chuckled that he'd found the weapon of mass destruction. Yes, he wanted me to duct-tape the cheeks of his buttocks. Yes, he wanted me to spank him and call his organ "Bunker Buster." The problem is, I've never really been that into grass. It always hits me harder than anybody else. And there are blank spots. Which is just as well, since, even now, my gorge rises at the very notion of anal sex with an aging fat man who voted against Martin Luther King Day.
After our "encounter," he stared off, and, to my surprise, began to recite, in that trademark Oval Officeadjacent growl, albeit a tad slurry after the high-grade government kush:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn, looking for an angry fix.
After meeting the vice president, touching his pacemaker and pounding him with a savagery that still makes me cringe, I did not think anything could surprise me. But hearing him, in postcoital splendor, recite Howl did just that. His passion was palpable. Or so it seemed . . . Maybe he was just trying to impress me. When I glanced over, he snarled from the side of his mouth. "Ginsberg's my favorite. Next to Whitman . . . hug-hug-hug."
After that, I passed out. I may have been behind the gun store for 20 minutes, or an entire day. When I came to, he was fully dressed, and clutching a shotgun.
"You know I have to kill you," he said.
It was hard to tell if he was serious. You think Cheney, you don't think joke. But the shotgun in his hand was not laughing.
"Harry Whittington? The guy you accidentally shot in the face? When you were quail hunting?"
By way of response, he thrust the muzzle toward my face and yelped. "BLAMMO!" It was the first time I saw him smile big. And I quickly wished he'd stop. That rictus grin was scarier than his persistent scowl.
"Quail's a front," he said, looming over me.
Herefinallywas the proverbial Dark Force of legend. He raised his shotgun and racked it.
"There was no hunting accident," he went on, talkingliterallyout of the side of his mouth. "I heard Harry was two-timing me. That bastard."
"You mean it was a lover's spat?"
So saying, he stared off again. That double barrel was still pointed my way. But my chunky love mate seemed to have withdrawn into himself. Indeed, to my amazement, he wiped away a tear. This was my chance.
I began to back away. One step. Two . . . three. My fingers grazed the knob. Got it! But, just as I prepared to make my escape, Dick Cheney lowered the gun, turned away, and, as if pulled by invisible heartstrings, moved to a closed door. Sighing audibly, he opened it. A closet!
Over his shoulder, I could see within, where a single flannel shirt hung on a hanger. "Harry . . . Harry . . . Harry," he wailed, but quietly, burying his face in the buckshot-riddled flannel.
I knew I should leave, but I was touched. We'd shared something, after all. Tenderly, Li'l Dickens rubbed the holey material on his face. Tenderly, he inhaled the must of lost desire. Here it was. Brokeback Neo-Con. I felt myself tearing up, though at the same time I was concerned about the nagging chafe on my man bag.
For another beat, I lingered. And then, I left him. The vice president the rest of the nation would never see. The burly, pink-thighed, sneering buffalo of love. I will never forget you, Li'l Dickens . . . I will never forget you!
Jerry Stahl's short story collection, Love Without, will be published by Open City in June.
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