Byron Yang is this classically handsome guy who works out at my gym. The type of guy who would make any person pause on the street and ask “Who is that?” or “What wouldn’t I do for a piece of that ass?” He has this chiseled-out jaw and these amazing blown-out pecs and this super cute dimple that shows up when he smiles. And he also has a tail.
My friends pointed it out when we first saw him at the gym. “But did you see that bulge?”
They weren’t talking about his crotch. The bulge really was impressive. His ass already looked great from doing about 500 squats a day, and then there was this added bonus straining against the seat of his khakis.
I decided right then that I was going to go for it. Sure, I had been hurt so many times before by the parade of meatheads I had met while working out. But Byron seemed like he would be safe. Loyal. One of those nice, docile guys. The kind you could bring home to your mother and who would offer to help load the dishwasher.
We started dating after I asked him to spot me on some deadlifts. I was wearing a push up sports bra that said “OVER HERE,” one word over each tit. I had set my blonde hair in rollers the night before so that it looked really flowy like a mermaid’s. I let my hand “accidentally” brush the ridge of his tail when he bent over to grab his water bottle. He got the hint.
On our first date we went to Nobu and I told him why don’t we order a dozen oyster shooters. His tail started thumping against the metal of the chair when he looked up at me and slyly asked if I knew what an aphrodisiac was. It kind of took off predictably from there. Turns out, Byron is an excellent lover. He always makes sure I come first. And the stereotypes about Asian men are just not true. I’m not sure if there are stereotypes about men with tails, but let’s just say that Byron doesn’t need to compensate for anything outside the bedroom.
He reveals to me early on in our relationship that he was ridiculed for his tail at school. They would bark at him. Joke that if he got a bad grade his parents would cut him up into chop suey. They called him “DM,” short for “dog meat.” Kids are truly horrible. Once they jammed his tail into a locker during gym class and that’s where his teacher found him. Naked and afraid. Howling like a wounded animal.
Byron asks me if I’ve ever dated someone “like him” before. I tell him I’ve dated plenty of Asian men. Know how to behave respectfully around their families. Always take my shoes off at the front door. I even know what gweilo means.
“No, I don’t mean that,” he says. “Have you ever dated a guy with a tail before?”
And he just looks up at me with these expectant eyes like he’s about to cry, or he’s waiting for me to kick him in the gut. I take his tail by the base and started licking it up and down and say, “Does it look like I’ve dated someone with a tail before?” He looks pretty pleased.
Some people are grossed out by the tail when I tell them about it, saying he must be a freak in bed. I know to keep that from Byron. He’s really sensitive to the fact that people make assumptions just because he’s prehensile from behind. But there’s no way around it. It really just looks like a second dick. A penis is just about the funniest looking thing in the world. Now imagine it glued to someone’s butt. It’s this hairless thing that sort of hangs there when it’s not engaged. It’s not intimidating at all once you expect it to be there. Sometimes I stare at it when Byron snores beside me and it just looks so forlorn. A part of me takes pleasure in knowing that what may be daunting to some, I have tamed.
Boy is he a philanderer though. I mean, women practically throw themselves at him, and he’s only human. I start noticing his absences when we stop working out together. He would come back late, all fresh and showered, and say he had gone for a quick midnight sesh. Twenty laps, fifty reps, five million squats, or whatever. Then I find a smudge of lipstick on his tail and it stinks of patchouli at the tip. He says it must have been from me, but I tell him I don’t wear vampy red lipstick or smell like goddamn a hippie.
I rail at him. Throw the Vitamix against the wall. Tell him he’s worthless. Good for nothing. That he’s not even fit to go into the chop suey. That his dick is small and his tail is a fucking horror show. He says you’re so beautiful, the best thing that ever happened to me, please please please don’t leave. I make him get on his hands and knees. Then crawl, I command. Lick my feet. Beg for it like the animal that you are. Fucking dog meat. Fucking Pekingese Sharpei Shih Tzu motherfucker.
He’s crying at this point, if you can believe it. His edges have gone out of him like someone’s finally told him he can unflex. His tail has retracted to a stub, tucked mournfully between his legs. Stop, please, he begs. I grab a rolled up newspaper and raise it on high and all of a sudden he throws up his head so I can see the veins running up and down his throat. Oh boy, is he howling to the fucking moon.
They call the drink the “Cowboy Breakfast” on account of the bourbon and espresso, emulsified egg white, and slurry of bacon-infused maple syrup. And there’s a vegetal tang to it that they add. Something like beet juice.
Donny introduced it to me maybe a little over five years ago, back when cocktails were still a novelty for me. You can’t miss the diner. It’s a classic mid century modern in chrome and seafoam green that really makes the saguaros pop. Bright red booths and warm spherical bulbs that go up in the evening when the sky turns purple. There’s one booth in particular that I always sit in that gives me a good view of the road and the dirt outside. So I can see his busted old Lincoln roll up whenever he’s running late to meet me.
When we first met at a party on Fourth Avenue, I had been with someone else. My breath was thick with jungle juice when I confided in him that I had plans to get out of Tucson. Donny said, as he always does, that he was born in the desert and that he was gonna die in the desert. Then he claimed to know the best Sonoran food in town and that’s how the night ended at El Guero Canelo with a burrito the size of my head and him saying I can’t believe you grew up here and have never had authentic Sonoran food until now. I don’t even remember the name of the guy I had been with.
Donny has all these opinions about music and the “scene.” How it really is the best because all the crust punks that had been too edgy for LA came out here to let it thrash. How I’m probably too young to know what punk—real punk—was like. His band broke up last year and had never been close to making it big anyway, but he did spend that one summer in Paris on a mini tour. I wasn’t asked to come. He came back svelter, stinking of clove cigarettes, and full of all these new views on free love and ménages à trois. He told me I should really start to experiment with women. I tried for a bit but, truthfully, I didn’t speak to him for about half a year after that.
He imagines himself to be this lone ranger even though he’s half Korean and nearing his mid-50s, overweight and basically a hoarder. All the cowboys I ever saw on television were white, rugged, cut, lived off the land. Donny doesn’t even know how to change a tire. His dad left when he was a baby and his mom never had to learn to drive in Seoul so that’s that. Though he is a loner in a broad sense. He’s not really friends with men. He’s not friends with anyone, really. Except me.
All said, he thinks the drink is pretentious and that I’m so bourgeois for liking it, but that’s the thing about Donny. He’s a narcissist who gets off on molding you in his own image before shitting all over your dreams and sucking the joy out of everything you love. He’ll say you’re gorgeous and then you find another woman’s underwear in your laundry a week after he housesat for you while you were on the other side of town helping your mom get her swamp cooler fixed.
They serve the “Cowboy Breakfast” in this clever cast iron mug with one of those huge ice cubes. The kind that is far too big to fit in your mouth, but instead melts slow, sloughing off its layers in thin, glacial sheets. When I take a sip, it comes to me that the next time I see Donny I’ll sidle up to him and say, “Howdy pardner,” but he’ll probably say something about how the Lone Ranger’s depiction of Tonto was super racist and how can you even joke about perpetuating an awful stereotype like that when you know the Tohono O’odam were run off these lands.
If You Can’t Say Something Nice
It first happens when I am eight. Watching Bambi in my reindeer socks over Christmas break. Something stirs when Thumper jumps into view—leaping off the screen and straight into my heart. I had always preferred the “funny” characters, making nunchucks out of toilet paper rolls and dressing up as Michelangelo instead of Raphael every Halloween. But it is more than just jokes when it comes to Thumper. It is that cherubic face. That buxom tuft of fur. Those large tympanic feet. Those eyes. Those eyes! Those big brown eyes.
My brother gets his fix on the internet when our mom gets a computer for the family room. I catch him staring at tumescent women with tubular breasts doing unspeakable things when he thinks he’s alone. But the computer means nothing to me. I make my way through our VHS collection of the Disney cannon, caring not for Cinderella’s feet. Robin Hood turns out to be a fount of material. Maid Marian’s dresses aren’t hiding anything. I look up the definition for “vixen” and boy do my fantasies go off after that. Wrapped up in Ursula’s eels. The daddy I never had, I find in Baloo. I get excited hearing the whir of the tape speeding forward to my favorite scenes, warming from the friction of acetate on the rotor.
My brother gets grounded when my mom figures out what a “Search history” is. “Why can’t you be more like your brother!” she screams as she rips the computer from the wall. He’s still smarting from the scolding when we’re on the bus to school the next day and the boys are all talking shit about the fetishes they’ve collected. He says, “None of you will guess what my brother is into,” when I wallop him square in the jaw. I don’t need a public reckoning to understand that no one is going to share my tastes.
But the shame is enough. I try to forget about Thumper, go to college, meet a nice girl who eats crudité in quick, mincing bites. One year, I take her back to my mom’s for Thanksgiving and I have an idea to find the tapes. Everyone gets upset when I turn over the basement looking for them, upending little league trophies and karate chopping through stacks of National Geographics. Eventually, it comes out that they probably got sold in a garage sale years before. I don’t touch my dinner. My brother calls me something mean as he cracks open another Miller High Life.
The girl and I decide to get married, have kids, share each other’s hopes and fears. Our favorite thing to do is go ice skating on frozen rivers where I show them how to use their asses as skates. The kids really have a blast with that, clutching their toes as they sail over that smooth, cold glass.
Eventually my mom is dead and my brother never calls and I’ve been married to my wife for what feels like a thousand years. It’s Christmas and our children’s children are downstairs watching cartoons in their festive socks. I’ve done it. Built a warren of my own. Carved out a hole in the ground that can withstand even the most frigid Minnetonka winters. But that’s when my wife turns to me and says, truthfully dear, I’ve always thought something was missing in our relationship. Like the passion just never took hold.
She starts to choke down tiny, heaving sobs. I take her wrinkled face with both hands and gaze upon her. A series of mini strokes last summer left her irises walleyed. She went wide at the hips after childbirth and has taken more recently to wearing a large furry coat indoors to fend off her chills.
I ask her where this is coming from, wiping away the tears, saying please don’t cry, telling her to open her eyes, as I always do when I am about to make love, so I can see them. Get lost in them. The reason I chose her all those years ago. For those eyes. Those eyes! Those big brown eyes.