When the careworn, emaciated man in the powder-blue long-sleeved button-down shirt drifted in through the courtroom doors, not many took note. For all anyone knew, he was just another junkie who had stolen or trespassed or sold drugs or gotten ratted out by some other junkie.
Aside from a reporter, nobody seemed to suspect this man might be a beloved San Franciscan gay porn icon with a 10-inch cock nicknamed Monster and a line of dildos created in its likeness. This guy now looked like a withered character in a Tim Burton film, nothing like the wiry blond stud who twice took home the highest honor in gay porn, the GAYVN Performer of the Year. It was conceivable that this wasn't the man at all.
He settled in the second-to-last row of the courtroom, took a long, slow breath, and gazed at the floor.
The reporter approached. "Are you Michael Brandon?"
The man's distressed blue eyes flicked up and he nodded.
"Do you mind if I sit?"
In fact, at that very moment, Michael Brandon was very much in need of someone to sit with. In June, a confidential police informant had reported that Brandon was selling crystal meth while motel surfing, or moving from place to place under aliases to avoid attention. The police found him and arrested him soon after; he was charged with three felonies for selling meth, speed, and Ecstasy.
It was like a remake of a bad movie. Though Brandon had been on top of his game for the past eight years, he had spent most of the '90s in Orange County, addicted to crystal meth. From those days, he had two felony convictions from two separate arrests. He had spent more than three years in state prison, and had no interest in going back.
"I'm scared," he whispered. He was shaking.
Brandon admitted he had also been trembling earlier that morning when he tried to inject meth into his arm. Now he was afraid somebody would recognize how messed up he was, and that police would take him into custody. That would mean no more meth for a really long time. It would also mean that his boyfriend, Marcos Monzon — who was on his way to the courthouse — would see him in cuffs. Their four-year anniversary, which they hadn't yet celebrated, was the day before.
Brandon clasped his hands in his lap, revealing a fingernail on his left hand hanging from the nail bed by a thin fiber. Apparently he smashed it in a motel door — not surprising, considering his current lifestyle.
For most of the past year, Brandon said he had spent much of his time in motels and on the streets, injecting himself with meth and getting involved in drug deals. When this hearing was over, he expected to go directly to a motel to shoot up. It's not something he's proud of, but he can't manage to stop yet. He seemed to be in disbelief that it had come to this.
In the '90s club scene, particularly the gay club scene, crystal meth was considered glamorous, and its dangers were somewhat unknown. For many, it held the promise of hot, long-lasting, intimate sex; plenty in the gay porn industry partook of the drug in their off time. Early this decade, it finally became clear that meth was highly addictive and could suck away years of people's lives, devastating minds and bodies. Enchantment with the drug was replaced with revulsion, and the state of California and San Francisco's Department of Health began funding public awareness campaigns such as "Hot Sex Without Crystal? Hell Yes!"
Michael Brandon knows that ad campaign well — he was its spokesman. After his initial recovery, he became a powerful and prominent example of how meth could be beaten, and he spoke often about his desire to save others from the despair and darkness he had known. But even with eight years in recovery, a luminous career in porn, and the adoration of those who knew him, Michael Brandon couldn't save himself.
After Superior Court Judge Gail Dekreon calls his name, Brandon's demeanor and movements change. His self-pity and fear disappear behind a quick and confident step, perhaps meant to suggest that he's doing just fine. His lawyer, Stephen Rosen, barely makes eye contact with him, then turns to the judge and requests a continuance. Brandon shifts his weight back and forth, unsuccessfully tries to smooth the wrinkles in his shirt, and clasps his hands behind his back, as if they're already in cuffs.
He seems to be holding his breath, and finally Judge Dekreon nods. The next court date will be Friday, September 26, at 2:30 p.m. "You can sleep in," she tells Brandon with a smile.
In the back of the courtroom, the recently arrived Monzon smiles, too.
As they exit the courthouse into the warming August morning, Brandon and Monzon are walking hand in hand. They decide to grab some food at the McDonald's next door, and invite the reporter along.
By the time Brandon has ordered Southern-style chicken biscuits and chosen a rickety, isolated table at the back of the restaurant, his relief at retaining his freedom seems to have given way to self-criticism. He stares at the wobbling table, then says with a smirk, "I can relate." He picks uninterestedly at his food, mulling over whether he wants to be part of a newspaper story that would reveal the uncomfortable details of his relapse, but which could also help others more fully understand the dangers of meth.
All the while, one of Brandon's cellphones — he has two, apparently — is buzzing with text messages. If this disturbs Monzon, it doesn't show on his boyishly handsome, lightly freckled face. Speaking in a lightning-fast Hispanic accent about his partner's weeks-at-a-time disappearances, be betrays no emotion. After a few months, he says, he simply got used to it. "I'm standing by him," he says softly.
At the end of the meal, Brandon gazes at the floor, and rocks his upper body back and forth. His brow is pinched in a way that suggests he is thinking hard. Suddenly his posture goes rigid and his expression turns stoic. "I'll do it," he says. "I'll do the story."