The Best Ball in Town

I once took an aerobics class from a sexy, wildly popular instructor who doubled as a model for the company I was employed with at the time. It hadn’t been my intention to take his class; I’d always considered aerobics a white girl’s pastime. But one day the thumping music drew me to watch from the sidelines, and, on a whim, I stepped into the crowd of bouncing women for a spontaneous try-out.

I was instantly hooked. Michael (not his real name) played contagious, backbone-slipping tunes, from back-in-the-day to current. I’d always loved dancing, and his class gave me a safe outlet for getting my groove on without having to fend off the crude advances that happened in night clubs.

The irresistible music and hip, bad-ass dance sequences were reason enough for me to become a loyal follower. That Michael was potently magnetic was icing on the cake, a delicious twist that set in motion all sorts of naughty fantasies as we all busted our moves in cardio synchrony.

Michael was tall and perfectly proportioned, his form cut as if chiseled from a chunk of ebony. He wore vividly colored shorts and jerseys — deep reds, blues, purples — that set off his smooth, jet black skin. His big, white smile flashed as we all caught the beat together, his sweat beading on his forehead and pouring down his face and neck, soaking his tank tops and splashing us with long, musky rivulets as we took our unison turns.

Michael not only epitomized the paragon of Black Male Virility in the way white men envy with self-flagellating awe; he was also just plain, damn good fun.

When I began noticing his stares, I figured it was because I was his only African-American charge. You know: the Instant Black Camaraderie thing. Then he began cutting me private smiles. He’d funk-step his way alongside me and we’d fall into a frenetic groove together, trading knowing grins, a sistah and brotha working it out while the white girls looked jealously on. On the occasions I missed class, the next time I showed up he’d possessively wonder where I’d been, as if I’d broken an implicit promise between us.

His ardent attention took me by surprise. He was so stunningly gorgeous — and so in demand by more women than a fool could shake a stick at — that I tried not to take his overtures too seriously. And, anyway, a Seattle Black man as fine as that was probably just doing White Girls Only, right? Even if Michael was interested in me, I didn’t want to fight through his fan club to figure it out.

Still, over time, his sweat, our groove, and my fantasies coaxed me into testing the waters. “We should go to a movie, sometime,” I ventured. He just smiled. Wanting to make sure I wasn’t letting a potentially hot fling slip through my fingers, I floated another balloon or two.

But he never committed to a date, not even something as innocuous as coffee. Meanwhile, his flock continued to swarm him. Judging from their familiar banter and body language, they obviously had out-of-class relationships with him. Their access befuddled me — until I observed a pattern: the women who got Michael’s personal time were also his clients. He was their personal trainer.

Okay, I reflected, I suppose someone who is self-employed has to be shrewd about building his client base. And maybe such an arrangement was also born of efficiency: any one person — especially a local celebrity like Michael — has time for only so many relationships. Someone as relentlessly sought after as he was needed to manage his social calendar.

But then I began hearing stories. Michael was gay — well, more or less. He was living with an older man of means who gladly took care of him. In the meantime, Michael did whatever he wanted. He took a decidedly nonpartisan approach to his relationships, dating whomever. He readily became involved with his clients — for the right price. Those who paid more got more of his time. As one African American acquaintance of his put it: “Girl, please. You got to pay to be with Michael.”

He kept his mystique high by fanning titillating rumors about him, including one about being remarkably well hung. To erase any doubt (and likely to drum up more business), he pulled himself out at a party once and indisputably proved the point. (Admittedly, at the time I was sorry I had missed it.)

I’d never known a dyed-in-the-wool mercenary. Did Michael have any genuine friends? Did he have lovers off the clock? Did he reserve authentic sexual contact for men and just make women pay? Was he capable of having authentic relationships with anyone? Or had he bartered himself for so long that he’d lost the ability to navigate his way through deeper, interior emotions?

Although Michael’s ruthless utilitarianism didn’t jibe with my world, the unabashed skill with which he exploited his looks and charisma fascinated me. I had no interest in having that kind of relationship; still, I envied his pluck.

I’ve known other men like Michael whose good looks, allure and easy likability let them get away with breaches the rest of us wouldn’t dare: carrying on with a girlfriend’s sister; shacking up jobless and rent-free with the latest infatuated lover; crashing restaurant dinner parties with a mega-watt smile and empty wallet.

As a woman, I’d always wished for such lenience and license on a matter of principle, even if the practice goes against my grain. Even now, I can’t help wondering what it would be like to wield such cachet. Is it as tantalizing as it seems? Or does the mutual exploitation gradually wear one down over the course of a lifetime?

Then again, to someone like Michael, those questions are probably irrelevant. He’s undoubtedly having the best ball in town.

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