The online ad reads: "I am a 25 year old military boy recently discharged. I find myself in a bit of a financial bind due to the economy. I am 5'9", 165 muscular and buff. Dirty blond hair, blue eyes. I am looking for older gentlemen who are looking for a Massage or role play."
"You could say that was a one time thing," Jimmy* says when I ask about it, looking down to examine an invisible speck suddenly needing scratched off the back of his hand. "We could say that," I reply, "But it wouldn't actually be true, right?" Jimmy locks my gaze for a moment, drawing a quick breath before deflating into a long exhale, pulling his UNLV baseball cap down over his face with one hand while rubbing the back of his neck with the other. His head slowly rolls back and forth in a subconscious answer to my question, but I wait patiently for the thought to finally form words on his lips: "No. It wasn't just a one-time thing," he admits quietly.
Waiting late in the evening to meet Jimmy under the transcendently bright Freemont Street canopy, I'd had no idea what to expect. Watching him walk towards me with a big goofy smile on his face, I realized that I definitely had not expected him to appear so young, so small, so vulnerable, so innocent, so completely normal. With finely-boned features and a frenetic energy, he reminded me of a pixie dressed up as a typical American frat boy--baggy plaid Bermuda shorts, T-shirt, Nikes, backward baseball cap.
I'd discovered Jimmy's ad while trawling the Las Vegas Craigslist looking for a story, punching in search terms like unemployed, laid off, recession, and economy. It took me a full day--with one email, three phone calls, and at least a dozen text messages--to convince Jimmy to meet me for a drink, so I wasn't inclined to accept only what he "could say" about his life.
If I'd settled for the fictional version Jimmy initially proffered, we could have wrapped things up within an hour. I would have gotten a full night sleep, ready to rise early and write a piece recounting what he had told me. Instead, Jimmy and I talked until morning. Or rather, he talked while I mostly listened, having finally set aside my notebook somewhere around 2 or 3 am.
From a very early age, Jimmy developed the habit of fabricating aspects of his life, though not because he possesses a deceitful or cunning nature. No, he learned to shroud himself with a protective swath of fiction so he could avoid painful prying questions and stares of pity the reality of his life would elicit from outsiders.
Jimmy's mother, unable to afford his care, gave him up when he was three years old. He spent the next fifteen years living in a succession of more than two dozen foster homes. One set of parents adopted him when he was eight, but then gave him up again a few years later. The foster parents whose name he now bears wanted to adopt him during his teen years, but Jimmy would not agree. He had already suffered the rejection of his biological parents and one set of adoptive parents, and refused to give anyone a chance to do it again.
Jimmy joined the Navy straight out of high school, training to become a GSM--gas system turbine technician-mechanical--and serving two deployments in Iraq, one on the USS Yorktown as it fired the first missiles of the 2003 invasion.
Contrary to what his ad suggests, Jimmy left the military three years ago. Initially holding close the only geography that had ever felt like a home to him, Jimmy worked a variety of disposable jobs around Virginia Beach, VA until meeting a man he calls his "mentor." The wealthy real estate investor hired Jimmy as a personal assistant in 2008, taking him first to live in New Orleans for a few months, and then on to southern California.
When I ask if his relationship with the mentor had been something more than professional, he responds with an exaggerated gagging for an emphatic "no." The mentor believed Jimmy had a talent for sales, and wanted to teach him how to succeed in commercial real estate. That kind of opportunity could have guided Jimmy to a successful career, if it hadn't happened at a time when the real estate market was careening down a slope to rock bottom. Jimmy and his mentor parted ways earlier this year when his mentor "left California because the economy was shitty."
After his mentor left, Jimmy didn't know anyone in California. He recognized that even long-time residents couldn't find employment in the current economic environment, so he decided to move, imagining Las Vegas to be "the city of endless possibilities" and "the city of individuality," where people can be just as weird or outlandish as they wish, without fearing the ridicule or judgment of others.