He loves sexual innuendos and risqué conversation. He never ties his shoes. He hates smiling for cameras. He never, ever pays retail. His multicultural tongue speaks with several accents and languages. He subsists on the diet of a poor sorority girl experimenting with vegetarianism. He lives in a world of magic and make-believe.
I first meet him through my fiancé at a barbecue. Within minutes of introduction, he leans toward me (away from his boyfriend) and winks. “So, would you like to make out?” I decline, but later happily oblige him with a hug.
* * *
Over the next six months, we become friends; he tests me with prank call voices, perverse interrogations, and frequent offers to look at his “abs.” When standing next to each other, I notice he lifts on his toes to make himself taller than me. He makes passes at my fiancé, his friend—he moves his protruding tongue uncomfortably close to her face and coyly inquires, “Am I making you jealous?” He acts like a sexually charged, crude toddler; too juvenile for some, much too adult for others. Amidst the lewd commentary, childish banter, and impromptu sing-a-longs, he gushes with stories. I discover a kind and endearing friend, and a self-made millionaire, hiding beneath silly grade school humor. 
* * *
Lisa and I drive over to his latest real estate venture on Saturday, a small upper level condo in south Denver. Ghastly white rectangles float on rancid, tobacco stained walls where paintings once hung. “Ooh, I just hate smokers,” he grumbles. He outlines basic renovation plans for us—painting, fixture replacement, tile work—drawing imaginary lines in the air with a pointed finger and his best slide whistle impersonation.
I request an interview. He squeals with delight and bounces on the Marlboro yellowed carpet, dusty smoke curls in sliding glass light. His spurts of excitement, however, quickly dry into a suave, glossy paper catalog pose: statuesque with hands on hips, nodding, one eyebrow slightly raised. I expect photographic bulb flashes at any moment.
“You know, if you don’t use my name, I’ll tell you everything.” He cocks his head toward my fiancé and asks, “Does he know about Jimmy?”
Lately, I try to anticipate his double entendres, so I ricochet my own quick, twisted wit back to him.
I gape and exclaim, “Oh, isn’t that like a John?”
His smile closes, drawing stern expressionless drapes over his face.
I feel faint, choking on my own foot. Innate anxiety returns from hours of therapy and whirls worried thoughts inside me. I stammer, “You know, like a… uh, client of some sort?”
“What are you saying? You may have crossed a line there, with what you are insinuating.” He stares furiously at the ground, shaking his head, occasionally shooting disappointed glares toward me. “You’re lucky, I am almost offended.”
I am only joking, but his tight lipped scowl now terrifies me; it marks the first time our volley of crude remarks actually seems to strike a nerve.
“Well, let me see you naked and I’ll forgive you.” The corners of his lips pull back, revealing teeth, and the actor returns. Is he pretending? Staring, waiting, he sticks his neck out, hunches, and extends both arms, palms up. “Well? Jimmy is a condom, duh!” He rolls his eyes, and recites rap lyrics: “The J—the I—the M, M, Y—uh oh, I need a body bag.”
“I don’t even like rap!” he chuckles. He pulls his right foot out of an unlaced black leather boot, and pushes its heel against his inner thigh. As a teetering stork, he erupts into gargantuan tales; without a notepad, I squint and try to hold on to his words. Only brief, vivid fragments remain:
“See, from a very young age, older men have appreciated my company.”
“Did I tell you about the time I was robbed at gunpoint?”
“And of course there was the time, well, you can’t write about this, but….”
“Did you know I used to export dry goods and chemical defense weapons to Central America?”
“I’ve had more elective cosmetic surgery than any other man in the United States.”
And yes, he has a history with the escort industry.
He invites us to his mother’s house the next day—she’s on holiday in Mexico—for movies and more questions. I draw a brief sigh of relief, and humbly accept the invitation.
Are things strained between us now? Did I really cross a line? Later, I beg my fiancé for insight. “Oh, I think he was joking, he just wanted to figure out if I already told you.” It seems he fooled me again.
* * *
On Sunday, we arrive at his mother’s house, late afternoon. On the exterior, the home appears modest next to its overstated neighbors in this wealthy section of Glendale. Within the unassuming brick structure, immaculate wood and marble surfaces, leather furniture, stainless steel appliances, and vibrant hand-blown glass fixtures merge into an American palace. My nostrils flare with the piercing aroma of money. I steady myself against a wall with one hand, untying my shoe with the other. Is the wall warm, or am I sweating?
We bound downstairs to the home theater—projection screen, amplified walls, and two rows of black leather recliner couches arranged stadium-style. We take our seats among several other guests, and catch the end of About Schmidt. Watching from the front row, Jack Nicholson’s face sprawls across the screen, oozes grotesquely from his neck. The crowd mumbles disgust when Kathy Bates disrobes. I cannot help but admire her honesty and courageous self acceptance. Every character seems too real to love. By the end of the film, I need to go to the bathroom.
The marble tile rests tepid beneath the worn-thin heels of my white cotton socks. Its warmth feels artificial and unnerving. I remember, from an earlier tour of the home, that beneath its sheetrock skin a vast vascular system of coils silently heats the house. I sneak glimpses from the corner of my eye for the rest of the evening, searching for other bizarre characteristics of this warm-blooded, architectural mammal.
We take an intermission. A future business partner of his boyfriend—an out-of-town acquaintance—joins our cheerful group for the evening. I pass my first draft of the interview to my friend for his review; he reads, amused by literary effort focused on his life, but soon shoots an alarmed look in my direction. He hands the text to Lisa and whispers in her ear.
“He wants to know if this word is spelled correctly,” she says to me, pointing at the word escort near the bottom of the page. She looks at me, widens her eyes and flashes her pupils toward him. Standing behind his boyfriend’s guest, he raises on the tips of his toes, shoves the pointing finger of one hand in the guest’s direction and the other across his puckered mouth. Later he explains, “I don’t care, but my boyfriend doesn’t want his business associates to know about that.”
My plans for a frank interview, destroyed by this need for a diligently manicured impression, cram into two brief questions at the end of the night:
I ask, “The events of your life have been, well, so fantastic, so amazing that they seem hard to believe. What do you say to others who don’t believe you? Do you care if others believe your stories?”
He tilts his head, squints one eye, and replies, “They should believe me. Everything I say is true.”
His boyfriend in the background guffaws and interjects, “Don’t believe a word. Of course, he’s worth a million dollars and he’s only twenty seven years old, so he’s doing something right.” 
“Ahem, one-point-three million,” he retorts. But who’s counting, the audience asks. He continues, “Of course, everything I say does have an intended effect that I anticipate before I say it.”
Additional side conversation and jokes about his honesty interrupt our talk, but he finally returns for a third answer.
“And yes, I do care, very much, that others should believe me.”
* * *
I spend the following week struggling with the issue of honesty. Is he telling the truth? Should I omit details at his request? He openly confesses self alteration for cosmetic, comedic, and dramatic effect; reality churns through his truth factory. How do you trust a man with five nose jobs?
On Monday night, I watch the film version of John Guare’s screenplay Six Degrees of Separation, in which a homosexual prostitute pretends to be Sidney Poitier’s son to gain the affection and acceptance of wealthy strangers. In the end, Guare’s main character so completely transforms himself that he believes in his own reconstructed reality. Can truth change, or is it a pristine, unalterable, diamond engraved proclamation?
Besides, do I always tell the truth? I mastered the art of lying early in life to gain attention, deflect confrontation, and protect myself from reality’s more miserable aspects. I say yes when I want to say no. I pretend all the time. Perhaps my nagging doubt emerges from a reflection of his actions within my own dishonest soul.
I muddle through a conversation about literary honesty late on Tuesday afternoon. I express my lingering disgust with other writers’ casual dismissal of the truth. Someone reminds me of Carl Jung’s perspective: “Truth, if it exists, is a concert of many voices.” I agree heartily. Perhaps, unlike my colleagues and my friend, I have underestimated the multiplicity of truth. I do believe my friend, for his truth exists as much as mine.
Are truth and honesty even related? Sigmund Freud would consider my friend considerably more honest than most human beings, regardless of conscious truth. Solipsism, perverse juvenile sexuality, imaginative reality—these are the benchmarks of an unrepressed, open, honest mind. Don’t we all wish to be liberated, to be adored? Truth may not exist, but honesty can. Perhaps we who deny our selfish, lustful selves live in true dishonesty.
On Thursday, I catch a few minutes of Lawrence of Arabia. The film follows the improbable adventures of L.E. Lawrence. Peter O’Toole plays the stubborn young stubborn young English lieutenant who chooses his own destiny. As this rule-breaking Moses/Christ/Mohamed figure, he defies Islamic predetermination, disproves that “all is written.”
* * *
The following Sunday, we meet once again at his mother’s house for lunch. When we arrive, I start to explain my intentions—my interrogation of truth—and he interrupts, “Before you ask any questions, I have to explain. Sometimes I say things in such a way that they seem outlandish, for dramatic effect. For example, when I talk about my old company in Central America, I like to say that I used to export dry goods and chemical defense weapons. It was CS military teargas, which I sold mostly to the police department, but if I say chemical defense weapons it sounds better.” He draws a tiny, unthreatening black cylinder from his pocket and shows it to me. “Just like that, only now I think they use pepper spray instead.”
“Why do you exaggerate?”
“It makes me different than everyone else.” He pauses intensely, a prolonged unordinary silence. “Plus it’s more fun that way.”
“I asked you before, but again, what do you say to others who don’t believe you?”
“The little people should believe me,” he claps and giggles. “You should write that down, ooh and those who don’t are loser goofs.” He turns to my fiancé and another friend (quietly conversing across the room) and asks, “Am I offending you for being so honest?” When their heads sway with indifference, he continues, “I like who I am. I think I am great. Why? Because I am extremely intelligent, I’m good at what I do, which is everything, and I’ve never failed at anything I tried. That’s why I am so successful.”
He creates an extensive list of talents, from singing and dancing to toilet and ceiling fan installation. He receives major business offers from merely tagging along on corporate trips to Mexico with his boyfriend. He tackles auto repair and teaches acting to children and adults.
He elaborates a thoughtful memory of a thankful grandmother amazed with the emerging confidence of her youngest granddaughter under his tutelage. He adds, “Acting is becoming the person that everyone notices.”
“Do you think the way you believe in yourself causes your success?”
“Okay, I believe,” he pauses for breath, “anybody can do anything with patience and hard work. If it’s been done, you can do it. That’s how I talk to myself. If I want to do something, if I really believe, if I’m patient and I really do the work, I can do everything.”
Guare’s protagonist reminds us, “Freud says there’s no such thing as luck, only what you make.”
I continue, “I’ve heard about your belief in magic. Could you explain this more?”
“Okay, see, I believe that the Earth is a living being and everything is a part of it. Just like we are made up of billions of cells, and they are not separate but part of me. Just like our blood cells, we are all one. I am one with you, and you are one with me. Now, what if I want something? If I am the Earth, why would I say ‘no’ to me?” I ask him to repeat himself as I scribble his words. “If I—am the Earth—why should I—say ‘no’ to me? So, if I push my life toward positivity, then only positive things will come to me.”
“A concert of many voices,” I murmur quietly.
He clarifies, “So, if someone thinks of you negatively, it affects you.”
He bases his life upon the prestidigitation of positive energy, a sleight of spirit actively creating the truth he desires. He molds reality to his own desires, but recognizes the karmic nature of living amongst others. For him, the six degrees of separation form an infinite web of interconnection, in which every minute movement affects himself and others around him.
“Also, there have been studies about praying. Well, I don’t really pray, but I do a lot of wishing. I believe if you wish for a thing, and you are a good person, things will become true.” He clarifies, however, the necessity of perseverance. “I know I don’t believe in God, but I still love to say ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Did I tell you that at one time I worked five jobs at once?” He lists them: he was, at the same time, an escort, a loan officer, a real estate investor, a landlord (for himself and his mother), and a developer.
He continues, “If everybody else is doing things a certain way, and you do the same, expect ordinary results. If things aren’t working, try something new!”
I agree and exchange other quotes along the same vein of thought. We manipulate, reorganize truth until it finally works, and it makes us happy. “The surest sign of insanity is someone who tries the same thing again and again, but expects different results,” I reply.
“Have you always been this way?” I ask.
“Well, sort of… my mother used to ask me to wrap Christmas presents and mine would always turn out the most beautiful. I always wanted to impress her. She was just like a movie star, and all of her friends were so beautiful and like movie stars, but they always treated her like the real star. Her friends thought I was cute, because I was a little kid, but my mother was the star. So I had to learn to be the star.”
In Lawrence of Arabia, after the hero rescues an abandoned man from the vast desert, Sherif Ali of the Kharish declares, “Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it.”
“When I was a kid, I remember singing in front of the mirror and I sucked. I remember dancing in front of the mirror and I sucked. It took patience, I wanted to be perfect so badly that I kept practicing,” he says, in a somber tone. He jumps onto his knees, facing me, excited and clapping. “Ooh, but did I tell you about the time I was scammed by a modeling agency? That’s a story about magic!
“When I was thirteen, there was this modeling agency—you know the type that always has those open modeling calls but really only want to sell you their classes—well I wanted to take one of their classes, but it was $795 dollars, and I needed another $300 to sign up. I always volunteered to help my mother clean her real estate properties, and she would give me a few dollars for helping out, five or ten, but I still needed more. So, I needed the $300 but I signed up anyway, and I never do that sort of thing. I don’t like to buy things if I don’t have the money. Anyway, I would go to BINGO with my grandmother and she would always give me one dollar to play with. I usually would buy two fifty cent pickles, but this time I decided to buy a one dollar card and I won exactly $300 dollars!
“There was another time when I needed money for a real estate assessment, but I didn’t have it. I think it was $856 I needed. Usually I would get $250 for escorting, but this was back when I only charged $125.” His eyes glittered as he explained how, simply by magic, one jimmy paid, to the dollar, exactly how much he needed. “He paid the $856 plus my $125, it’s just weird.
“Part of my reality, part of who I am—I only want to let positive things into my life. I want perfection, and I will only get it if I’m positive.”
After a captivating monologue about his imaginary college thesis, Guare’s hero claims, “The imagination, that’s God’s gift to make the act of self examination bearable.”
He describes a “what if” game he plays with himself while strolling the street. It’s an odd, cognitive experiment in which he imagines himself stuck in another’s paradigm. He conjectures stratagems to fix their lives, and as a bonus, any plastic surgery that would enhance their looks.
“Who you are is not what you’re born with, but what you make of it. I think I could make it starting out as any one of those people I see. I sold flowers on the street corner when I was just a kid, here in Denver. If my millionaire relatives would have seen me, they would have been disgusted, but I wanted to get started and make something of myself. And I told you, I made my money completely on my own. I told you the story about my father trying to buy me a car, right?” He pushes himself up, wrings his hands, and adjusts his position on the couch.
“Wanna know something negative about me? Well, something not perfect?” he asks. I greedily nod yes. “I’m a cheap ass motherfucker. Most millionaires are cheap ass motherfuckers—you should write that down. Other people want to live a certain way, do certain things. I want things that are memorable. Living this way made me who I am, and I am happy. I wouldn’t want to screw up my situation for things that don’t matter.”
“Speaking of memorable, how do you want to be remembered?” I ask him.
“I don’t think about that stuff. It sounds like I’m about to die. It’s not dying that I mind so much, but I don’t like the thought of leaving people I love without me.”
He did express, however, a small fear of others rummaging through his belongings after death, and his desire to eliminate the trivial and menial from his life. I can testify to this. I’ve seen his barren cupboards, but I assumed they were part of his frugal minimalism.
“If someone finds something that was mine after I die, they will know it meant something to me.” The gears of the truth factory squeak and grind.
“Okay, how about a single encounter?” I ask. “How would you like someone to think of you after one meeting?”
“What a nice guy, how intelligent, how talented…” His hand flaps back and forth with each point; his voice carries an altered, mellifluous tone. “I like having fans. All of my friends are my fans.”
As a friend, I twitch slightly at the new label. But, what are friends, if anything, but fans?
“Do you have any friends who are not fans?”
“Yes, one. He stuck with me through a rough time in my life, but I don’t like to think about those times anymore.”
“Why is he not a fan?”
“He doesn’t—believe in the magic that is me. Either he’s jealous, or he believes I am just a human being.”
“What do you mean, just a human being?”
“I think he thinks I am just an ordinary human being, but that’s not true, correct?”
I lift my eyes from furious scrawling to make contact with his. He peers at me and closes his mouth tight, lips pouting. I reply, “Um, I don’t know…what he thinks, I mean. I don’t think you are.”
His lips part slightly and stretch into a quiet grin.
“Do you have any role models or inspirations?”
“My mother, but my main role model is me. My mother has made me, helped me, become who I am.” He briefly mentions lesser gods of particular arenas—Trump, Spielberg—but returns quickly to himself. “When I was in Central America, the economy collapsed and the prices dropped. I stood outside the store, on the street, and sold things myself.” He holds up an invisible item in one hand, and waves the other hand in a summoning gesture. He stares over my shoulder, shouting prices and a sales pitch to an unseen customer. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
“We’re almost finished. If you could be just one thing, and were forced to give up all your other pursuits, what would you be?
“Whatever is financially secure.”
“What if money were not an issue, you were guaranteed security and success?”
He groans and smiles, “Ugh, that’s a tough one. I think rock star. Or pop star. You know, a rock-pop star. Or any kind of star, really, but a super star. Not just an ordinary star. Yes, I would be a mega, super star.”
Our interview ends. He wraps up with a subtle tribute to the full spectrum of his truth. “Good or bad, I have no regrets. Everything that happened made me who I am. No regrets—I like that. It’s a nice way to wrap things up. You should end it there.”
“I agree,” I quietly reply.
 I didn’t actually acknowledge myself as a friend during the first draft, attempting to distance myself for effect. Upon review, he scolded me and insisted I deliberate the truthful details of our becoming very good friends.
 After observation, I realize my wisecrack more accurate than he initially claims; he used the name as an alias while escorting, but also refers to all former escort clientele as “Jimmy.”
 According to close friends, his actual age is 37. As the story goes, an error at the DMV while renewing his driver’s license shaved off ten years, and he’s consistently maintained the story since. His true age, at this point, is entirely unknown.
 Weeks later, I googled the term “CS teargas” and uncovered its ban in over 70 countries. Also known as “super tear gas” by the United States military, it contains orthochlorabenzalmalonitrile, and extensive documentation confirms its deadly potential. I also discovered that the United States continues its use, but mixes 7% capsicum oil (pepper spray) for that added “kick.”
 I heard this story a week ago, on a break between films. He had saved $200 toward purchasing a car when his father intervened and offered, in exchange for the money he already earned, the keys and title to the car of his choice. He refused, and insisted on earning the money himself.