Eden was launched by the design house of Cacharel in 1994. Its release was accompanied by a lavish party in an airport hangar in France in which nude teenage models were hired to be part of the scenery on a fake tropic island. The scent itself is a sweet green concoction, beginning as a canned fruit salad and evolving into a pungent, decadent patchouli musk. Throughout the scent’s progression it becomes ever stronger, almost suffocating, creating a humid, sweaty greenhouse atmosphere around the wearer. It lasts on skin interminably.
Driving home Jon remembers it’s there right nearby, right down the street. Emboldened by liquor and a recent viewing of a documentary on pre-AIDS urban gay hedonism he says to himself Why Not. He performs a quick U-turn fifty feet from his house and heads toward Lennox Avenue. It’s somewhere on Lennox Avenue but he can’t remember if it’s close to the highway or on the opposite end. After some confusion he spots it, a three-story brown box with only an underlit sign a foot high reading 4608 to identify it. There are two small parking lots on either side of it and the entrance faces away from the street. He fails to notice that there are only four or five cars parked outside.
Stumbling and smiling to himself and clutching his wallet to make sure it’s there, he walks up the zig-zagging wooden handicap ramp to the double door. A cacophony of bathroom and pool smells-- chlorine, industrial-strength air fresheners, shit, sweat, and ammoniac urine- blows onto his face from an air-conditioning vent. He is in a small, white, linoleum-floored room with a desk and glass partition on one side and a locked door on the other. He approaches the partition.
Hello how’re you doing tonight?
Fine. How can I help you?
Oh, I’d like to get in. I don’t exactly know what to do.
OK, you’ll need a valid ID. There’s the list of admission prices. It depends on what you want.
The haggard boy behind the partition points to a ballpark-style menu of options with varying prices. Jon spots one that says STUDENT: $10.
He hands over the money and his ID and the boy files them away in a box. He is given a towel and a key through a hole in the partition and the double doors are unlocked with a loud beep. Inside the smell is stronger and the room vibrates from pulsating, far-off Hi-NRG disco that is coming from the floors above and below. The bruise of fluorescent light near the entrance fades into a watery red-black after several yards. He sees an assortment of unoccupied exercise machines in one corner, a square section of lockers nearby, and a glass-walled room with a large television casting a sleazy blue glow on some empty couches. There is a stairwell from which the red light emanates. There isn’t a human in sight except for the boy behind the counter. The room has the abandoned feel of a department store after closing.
After finding the locker that matches the number on his key--it is on the very bottom row, so he has to crouch on the floor to access it--he undresses totally, laughing out loud at the absurdity of the situation, telling himself he’s doing it for anthropological purposes like an undercover journalist, not just because he wants to fuck the first warm male body he sees. He wads up his shirt and shorts and stuffs them into the locker, retaining only his cigarettes and lighter. The towel is not quite large enough to stay around his waist so he has to hold it up with one hand.
A short pig-like man in a tank top carrying a stack of towels abruptly passes by. He is fully clothed so he must work here.
Hey, um, can you help me out?
So what do you do here? Jon laughs.
What do you mean? The pig makes his impatience known. The pool’s out there, there are private rooms upstairs and down below. I don’t know what else you need to know. He waddles off with a sigh and enters the area behind the desk.
Up, up the stairs to the second floor. The disco gets louder, the stairs thump harder. Cigarettes, lighter, and key in one hand, towel clutched to his waist in the other, it is not easy walking up two flights. At the top all is totally red and before him are a serious of numbered rooms stretching thirty feet to the left and right. The walls stop a yard short of the ceiling. He turns left and walks to the end and around the corner. More rooms, more numbers, more flimsy thin walls. He takes the first left down another cramped hallway and then right. After this he doesn’t think about which way he is turning. He is savoring the surreal atmosphere and the feeling of endlessness about the place. Cartoonish female voices, sped-up to an ominous distortion and bolstered with pounding, shattering bass and icy electronics, act as an advertisement for the drugs he wishes he had. His mouth is parched and his throat keeps sticking to itself, causing him to gag. Occasionally he will pass small fluorescent-lit corners like condensed doctor’s office waiting rooms with two chairs and a small table on which sits a bowl of condoms. It might just be one corner that he passes multiple times, he can’t tell. He looks up at the end of this particularly dark stretch of doors and sees blue light leaking from one that is slightly ajar. Padding toward it he sees a small television, a bald man, and a pair of legs. Some tinny pre-recorded moaning registers under the disco. Frightened, he heads back in the direction of the stairwell.
He is in a large Jacuzzi with another pig-like man. This one has an upturned nose and wide, flaring nostrils. He looks like the other one in a previous evolutionary state. His chest and shoulders have recently been shaved and poking out of the skin are thick black bristles.
So where’re you from? Jon tries to sound casual and seductive and makes an effort not to slur. He is aware of his erection underneath the bubbling water. He gets his cigarette wet and the lit half breaks off and falls in.
I’m from out of town.
Have you ever been to a place like this?
No. I’m from out of town.
The pig is not interested and exits the Jacuzzi with a splash. He retrieves his towel and disappears inside.
On a couch in the TV room sits a bearded man in a towel. His body is taut and wiry. His feet are resting on the coffee table, next to a stack of magazines. He is staring intently at the news program on the television, black blocky closed captioning running underneath the female reporter.
Can you believe they’re doing that? The whole system is so backwards. America is fucked.
The man is the first person in the bathhouse that speaks without being spoken to. Jon finds him instantly attractive and moves from his isolated chair to the couch. He props his feet next to the man’s, on top of the magazines.
Oh I know.
Any idiot knows that doing that will just increase the deficit. Any idiot knows that. Me, I’d just let it run its course. I’d just let it run its course and then we’d be back on our feet. It’ll heal itself. As it is the system just fucks over the people like me, the people like you and me. Well I don’t know anything about you but it certainly fucks me over. Twenty-five years I’ve been dealing with this, no, more like thirty years-- I forget how old I am. They keep interfering and the deficit’s just gonna get bigger, and you’re gonna be paying for it. I’ll be dead but you’ll be paying for it.
Oh I know. Jon slides his foot up the man’s firm leg and pokes at the hot, tightly closed thighs. This requires some awkward positioning on the couch. The man continues talking, seemingly unaware. Jon doesn’t hear a word he says but attempts to pry open the hot thighs with his big toe. Eventually they give and he brushes against something hairy and gelatinous. The man scoots down further away to the opposite end of the couch and continues his speech.
Down the stairwell to the bottom floor. It looks like the second floor but the walls are splattered with day-glo paint. The rooms on this floor are arranged in a square around a large open space in which hang various chains and stirrups and harnesses. All are unoccupied. Surveying the scene, Jon notices an open door across the way. Not cracked accidentally, totally open. As he approaches it, his testicles shrink up close to his body. He sees a prone, naked figure lying face-down on a cot. On the small table next to the cot are a pair of glasses, a box of tissues, and a wallet. There is a towel crumpled on the floor.
Hi, he tries, tentative now.
The figure doesn’t turn over.
How’s it goin?
After a pause Jon says, I want to fuck you.
Surprised that it was that easy, he crouches onto the bed and gets astride the man and turns him over gently. The man has a full head of black hair and looks to be of Latino descent. Jon cannot easily ascertain his age. In the darkness he can see a pair of hollow black eyes and a thin-lipped wet mouth, slightly ajar. Jon presses his weight on top of the man and inhales his scent. Around the neck is a powdery, faded barbershop odor that reminds him of his father. His head travels to the armpits and he presses his nose in the damp, straight hair, savoring the stale cumin ripeness. At the navel he inserts a stiffened tongue and licks a trail down to a nest of wiry fur. He presses his nose under the man’s limp penis but does not place it in his mouth. The scent of the man’s genitals mirrors the armpit but is amplified, enhanced.
I won’t do it without a condom.
Well then go get one, the man says, annoyed.
Jon hurries out of the room to one of the condensed corner doctor’s office waiting rooms and scoops a couple of condoms out of the bowl. He is still fully erect.
Back in the room he kneels at the end of the bed and spreads the man’s legs. He opens the condom wrapper with trembling hands and extracts the greasy object inside. The harsh, medicinal smell of latex bursts into the air. Examining the condom, he momentarily doubts that he’s putting it on the right way. He slides it over his penis and presses it to the base. The man hands him a greasy bottle of lubricant, which makes a loud ketchup fart when he squeezes it. Jon coats his penis and squeezes a stream down the man’s furry crevice. The legs are lifted over his shoulders and he presses on the sphincter. It gives with surprising ease, and he is inside. The man releases a high, child-like moan and a sharp, musty odor fills the space.
No, noo, noo no. Yes. Noo, no-oh, no-oh, nooo, aw yeah, noooo.
What’s that you’re wearing? You smell great. Jon is sitting at the foot of the bed. The familiar guilt that floods his head at the precise moment he orgasms is making him feel clammy and nauseous. His mouth is drier than ever, and he wants a tall glass of ice water and another cigarette and the safety of his own bed.
Old Spice. With an insinuating tone, the man asks, And what’s that you’re wearing?
This? Oh, it’s called Eden. Cacharel. I just got it the other day.
Well, uh, thanks for a good time. Jon mechanically kisses the man’s cheek.
The next day he throws the nearly-full bottle of Eden in the trash can.