Hank the Tank

by Tom Houseman

Tyler sits across from me, holding a mozzarella stick up between two fingers. He’s not eating it, just picking the bread crumbs off and examining the exposed cheese.

“Are you going to actually eat that?” I ask.

We’re at the Mayflower Diner, which was everyone’s go-to late-night spot in high school, since it’s open 24/7. It’s past two in the morning. The only other person here is the waitress sitting at the bar, flipping through a magazine. This is the first time I’ve seen or spoken to Tyler since graduation night four years ago. I spent the day traveling, first crammed into a seat of an Amtrak train from Virginia, then shepherding Tyler onto the last bus out of Manhattan into New Jersey.

“I’m not hungry,” he says, refusing to look away from the exposed, coagulated mass of cheese that he’s in the process of flaying.

“You should eat,” I say. “You’ve lost weight.” Tyler’s always been skinny, but in the last four years he’s become skeletal, as if I could peel his skin off and see clean, dry bones underneath. His fine blonde hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and I can practically trace the contours of his skull.

“Thanks,” he answers, still not looking at me. “You’ve found it.”

Tyler’s always known how to poke at my insecurities, and the comment stings because he isn’t wrong either. I’ve spent the last six months eating too much junk food, drinking too much beer, not stepping foot inside a gym. I already feel like my muscles are dissolving and turning spongy, my six pack less and less defined every time I look in the mirror. Even my hair is expanding, what used to be a buzz cut now threatening to tickle my shoulders. It’s been freeing not having to worry about staying in shape for football, but also terrifying. For the last eight years, I’ve been a football player before anything else. I’ve been Hank the Tank. But I’m graduating from college in three months, which means no more football, maybe ever. I’m just Hank now.

My phone buzzes in my pocket.

“Is that your boyfriend?” Tyler asks.

I ignore the implication of the question. “It’s probably your mother, wondering why we aren’t there yet.”

Tyler’s mother called me this morning, telling me that Tyler had reached out to her, that he was ready to come home, which meant that he had finally burned through what was supposed to have been his college tuition money and run out of people willing to let him crash on their couch. She said that she would’ve picked him up herself but she had meetings all day, and there was nobody besides me that she trusted to keep him from running away again. I couldn’t tell her the real reason I didn’t want to do it, so I invented a paper I needed to finish as an excuse, but she wouldn’t let me get off the phone until I agreed. She said she would wire me money for train and bus tickets, plus an extra two-hundred dollars for expenses. It was money I couldn’t afford to pass up. An hour later, I was on a train to New York City.

I’d hoped that I could drop Tyler off at his house, then go home for the night and take the train back to school in the morning. But five miles before the bus reached his street, Tyler pressed the stop button and got off. I thought he was trying to run for it, but when I followed him, he was waiting for me. “The Mayflower’s like a half-mile walk from here. Let’s go.” I didn’t have a choice. We walked in silence.

He drops his fully de-breaded mozzarella stick back on the plate and picks up a fresh one. “Tell the Wicked Witch of West Orange that I’m not going home.”

“Then why the hell did you tell her you would?” I ask.

Before he can answer, the waitress comes over. She looks around fifty, with pink lipstick and long fake eyelashes. She puts a chocolate milkshake down in front of each of us.

“Anything else?” she asks.

Tyler smiles and says, “My friend Hank and I were wondering if you’ve ever dipped a mozzarella stick in a chocolate milkshake.”

She actually considers his question. “Fries,” she says, “but not mozzarella sticks.”

“Fascinating,” Tyler responds. “Because my good, good friend Hank was just saying how much he wants me to stick my mozzarella stick into his chocolate milkshake. We’ll let you know how it goes.”

My face explodes in crimson. If the waitress notices the double entendre, she doesn’t acknowledge it as she turns to walk away. “Why the hell did you do that?” I ask.

“I just wanted to see how you’d react,” he says. “Drink your milkshake,” He mimes deepthroating his straw.

“As soon as we’re done with our food,” I say, “I’m getting you in a taxi and taking you home.”




I was ten years old the first time Tyler touched my penis. He had seen it before, plenty of times. We’d been best friends since kindergarten; spend that much time around somebody and penis sightings are inevitable, in locker rooms at the pool or changing into our pajamas during sleepovers, before we knew enough to be ashamed of such close proximity to another boy’s nakedness. But those were passive occurrences, brief and incidental.

This was different. I was sleeping over at his house. His older brother, Charlie, had left for MIT a few weeks before, and we finally had full reign of the basement. It was enormous, carpeted from wall to wall, with the biggest TV I’d ever seen and every videogame console. His parents left us alone when we were down there, and we could do whatever we wanted, undisturbed for hours. I was jealous of how much freedom and privacy Tyler got. My bedroom was right next to my dad’s, and every step on the creaky wooden floors could be heard anywhere else in the house.

His mother came down to turn off the TV at 9pm, offering a perfunctory “Good night, boys,” and we waited fifteen minutes to make sure that we would be left alone for the night before Tyler got up to turn the lights back on and play videogames. Or rather, Tyler played and I watched. I didn’t mind. I didn’t have any videogames at home, so I wasn’t as good at the game as he was.

“Why do you keep doing that?” Tyler asked, looking at me from the corner of his eye as he searched for increasingly creative ways to force Mario to commit suicide. I’d been pulling my pajama top down, trying to stretch the fabric, and lifting my arms up over my head to see how much of my stomach showed.

“Everybody was staring at me in swimming today.” I had always been fat, which meant that swim class inevitably elicited a series of Free Willy and Baby Beluga jokes. Insecurities burned in my brain as I thrashed my way from one end of the pool to the other, swallowing mouthfuls of chlorinated water.

“At least you don’t get called shrimp and sissy and homo all the time,” Tyler said. Tyler was the shortest and skinniest kid in our class. We both got made fun of a lot, but at least I had the size to fight back when it happened. A few weeks before, Gerry Gatlin had grabbed Tyler’s juice box during lunch and squirted it in his face, and I’d shoved Gerry so hard he’d fallen backwards and almost cracked his head open.

“Being skinny’s better than being fat,” I said.

Tyler tossed his controller towards the TV and turned to look at me. “Take your clothes off,” he said. I hesitated, so he said, “I’ll go first,” and quickly shed his pajamas and underwear. His alabaster stomach sunk in on itself, and his penis hung limply over his scrotum. I reluctantly followed suit. My stomach bulged outward and I remember thinking that my shriveled member, with a pair of googly eyes, would have looked like a hairless Muppet.

He examined me carefully, but his gaze wasn’t cruel, more admiring. He stepped forward, and I could feel the warmth of his skin. “Do you want me to show you how to make it longer?” It took me a second to realize he was talking about my penis. “I read that when you tug on it, it gets longer.”

“Won’t that hurt?”

“Not if you do it right. I’ll show you.” He reached out and scooped up my penis. His hand was warm from holding the video game controller. He started tugging gently, and soon established a rhythm. Sure enough, it got bigger. I didn’t say anything. Neither did he. Just like with Mario, he played, and I watched.




I suck up the last dregs of my milkshake. “What have you been doing for the last year?” I ask.

“Living the dream,” Tyler says. “Just trying to make my momma proud.” He adds, almost smugly, “I was hooking up with Gerry Gatlin for a while.”

“Gerry Gatlin’s gay?” Gerry had gone to Columbia, and I’d assumed he had been hooking up with as many girls there as he had in high school.

“He sure sucks dick like he is.” He sees me tense up and he smiles. “What? You don’t want to hear about me getting head from Gerry?”

“I want to get you home,” I say. “Your mother’s worried about you.”

“Bullshit. She just doesn’t want anybody to find out she has a gay son.” For some reason, hearing him use that word makes me even more uncomfortable than hearing him talk about having sex with Gerry Gatlin. I’d never heard him call himself gay before.




Nobody at Lindbergh Prep was gay, as far as I knew, although there were enough rumors about Mr. Paulson, the photography teacher, that he earned the nickname “Mr. Polesmoker.” Homosexuality was an abstract concept, and ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ were just insults kids hurled at each other, words I made sure nobody ever called me.

Like any fat kid, I’d played on the offensive line in middle school, but I knew I wanted to tackle instead of block, and I was sick of the other kids on the team calling me lard-ass and mockingly imitating the sound of a trombone while I struggled to run laps. The summer after eighth grade, I went on a diet and convinced my dad to send me to a football camp for eight weeks. It was the first time since I could remember that Tyler and I spent the summer apart, but I lost fifty pounds and learned how to play linebacker, driving whoever had the ball into the ground so hard that they got up walking sideways. I made the varsity team my freshman year and quickly earned the nickname Hank the Tank. Nobody called me lard-ass anymore after that.

Tyler and I were still friends though, even though we didn’t hang out in school, since I spent all my time with the football players. But I still went over to his house on the weekends to do homework and play video games. Some of the other guys on the team made fun of Tyler when I mentioned him, or made fun of me for hanging out with him instead of partying with them. They called him “that little faggot,” until I told them to knock it off. But they didn’t mean it literally. Like I said, nobody at Lindbergh Prep was actually gay.

After the last game of my freshman season, a bunch of the other guys on the team invited me to a party. I told them I couldn’t go, that I had homework to do, and I went to Tyler’s instead. I don’t think he had any friends at school besides me, because he was small and awkward and spent all of his time studying in the library. He’d also started drinking while I was at football camp, and by the time school started he was getting drunk every weekend. I tried to make sure he didn’t overdo it and get sick.

I let myself in and went down to the basement. Tyler sat on the couch, watching tv and drinking a rum and Coke. There were open bottles on the table in front of him. “Hank the Tank! Hank the Tank!” he mockingly cheered. I laughed and poured myself a drink. We sat and drank in a comfortable silence.

“I made the conference all-freshman team,” I said after a little while. “Coach says I might be able to get a scholarship if I keep getting better.”

“I thought you wanted to go to MIT,” he said. Both of his parents had gone there, and his brother had just graduated, so it was preordained that that’s where he’d go, and we’d talked about going together.

“Yeah, maybe, but if I can get a scholarship, I won’t need to take out student loans.”

“MIT gives scholarships too.” He sounded hopeful, or maybe sad.

“The guys on the team are throwing a party tonight,” I said, trying to change the subject. “I might go to that later.” I knew Tyler didn’t care about football, and I couldn’t explain to him how much the sport meant to me. How much my new name, Hank the Tank, meant to me. We went back to watching TV in silence.

A minute later, I felt Tyler’s hand on my leg.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said.

I was drunk. I tried to focus on whatever we were watching while Tyler unbuttoned my pants.

“Do you have a six pack?” he asked. I nodded. “Take your shirt off.”

I was warm, so I took my shirt off, exposing the defined muscles of my chest and stomach. He fished my dick out of my boxers and started rubbing the head until I was hard, and then he started jerking me off, slowly at first, picking up speed. It felt good, better than when I did it to myself. I shut my eyes when I came, feeling my semen spill over his hands and onto my stomach. I went to the bathroom to clean myself off, and by the time I got back, Tyler was watching TV like nothing had happened.




I hang up my phone and put it back in my pocket. “The closest cab is half an hour away,” I tell him.

Tyler spins his straw in his glass, still three-quarters full of melting milkshake. “I’m not going,” he says.

I’m tired of his bullshit, of everything he’s put me through tonight. But mostly I’m just tired. “Why did you tell your mother you wanted to come home if you were just gonna pull this shit? Why did I take a train all the way from Virginia to get you?”

“Because I knew she’d call you,” he says, “and I wanted to see if you’d come.” I’m tempted to get up and leave, but I’m afraid that if Tyler never gets home his mother will make me give her back the two hundred dollars.

“Have you fucked any guys in college?” he asks.

“I’m not gay,” I tell him.

“Girls then.”

“I don’t want to have this conversation.”

“Why not?”

Because I don’t want to tell him that I haven’t fucked anybody. I’ve had opportunities, of course. I’m a college football player. Was a college football player. But the only time I ever brought a girl back to my dorm, I was too drunk to get hard.

“Because I’m exhausted,” I say. “I don’t want to play your stupid little game. I want to go back to school and never have to think about you ever again.”

“Then why’d you come at all?” he asks. “Did my mom bribe you?”

“I came because I was worried about you,” I say.

“Bullshit. She probably did bribe you, but that’s not why you came. You came because you don’t want to feel guilty anymore.”

My head feels like it’s about to split in half. “After what you did to me on graduation night, you think I have anything to feel guilty about? Every time I had to pick between you and something else, I picked you.” I’d spent almost every weekend in his basement doing homework. I have no idea how many parties I missed to hang out with him.

“Not every time,” he says.

“Jesus, is this still about MIT?”

“I never gave a shit about MIT. It’s about you and me. How many times did I jerk you off in high school?”

“Keep your voice down.” I look around for the waitress, afraid that she can hear us. She’s at the bar, facing away from us, absorbed in a magazine. I don’t know the answer to Tyler’s question. After we finished our homework we would play videogames or watch a movie, and Tyler would get drunk, and then he would snake his hand down my pants and jerk me off. It wasn’t something we talked about, before, during, or after. It was just something that happened.

“And how many times did you jerk me off?” he asks. I never jerked him off. That’s not how we did things. He never asked me to jerk him off, and I never volunteered.

“I never asked you to do that to me.”

“You didn’t have to,” he says. “Letting you live out your secret faggot fantasies was the price I had to pay to get you to tear yourself away from football.”

I want to throw myself across the table at him, hit him so hard I knock him unconscious. Nobody’s called me a faggot since eighth grade. I’m not a faggot, I’m a football player.

Was a football player. Soon all of that will be a memory, a bunch of pictures of me in a uniform and stories about the plays I made and the guys I tackled so hard they had to limp off the field and the crowds chanting my name. I won’t have anything.

I get my anger under control, and ask, “What’s your point?”

“My point is, if you want to be done with me so bad, return the favor for once. Jerk me off and we’ll call it even. You don’t even have to like it. You can prove to yourself that you’re not gay and get me rid of me all at once.”

I should get up and walk away and never look back. I don’t have anything to prove to Tyler. Lonely, nerdy, friendless Tyler, who relied on me for everything. I spent high school making sure he did his homework and watching him drink himself into a stupor. I felt like I was his babysitter, like it was my responsibility to keep him safe. If a few handjobs was how he thanked me for hanging out with him, then that was his choice. And if he’s spent the last four years doing that and more to Gerry Gatlin and every guy with a spare couch in New York City, fucking his way through Manhattan and Brooklyn, that was his choice too. I didn’t have anything to do with any of it.

The waitress comes over and takes our plates away. Tyler’s staring at me silently, waiting for an answer. If I do this, jerk him off and send him home, that’ll be the end of whatever fucked up version of a friendship we’ve had. But I’ve already come to terms with that. And if he wants to pretend that our friendship was always transactional, that it never meant anything more than that, then I can pretend too.




I thought I’d never see Tyler again after what happened on graduation night. I’d spent the ceremony looking around for him, but when they called us up one-by-one to receive our diplomas, they skipped his name entirely, and I started to get worried. One of the guys on the football team threw a graduation party, and I showed up, because I knew it was going to be the last time I’d see some of them. But I left early, despite the protests of a bunch of the guys and a few girls. I needed to figure out what had happened to Tyler before we went our separate ways.

I’d accepted a football scholarship from a Division II school in Virginia. MIT was a better school, but they hadn’t offered me any scholarship money, and I knew it would help my dad out if he didn’t have to help cover my tuition. But really, I wasn’t ready to give up football. I knew I’d never make it to the pros, but I couldn’t pass up on four more years of being a football player.

When I told Tyler, after I’d come back from cleaning the cum off of my stomach, he said he understood, and that he was only going to MIT because his parents would be mad if he went anywhere else. His grades had never been as good as mine, but his parents were alums and donated a bunch of money to the school, and they were going to pay his tuition for him. He made a joke and changed the subject, and I figured things would keep going the way they had been after that, but the next weekend, when I called him from a party I was at to say I was coming over, he told me he was busy. Instead, I went home and jerked off quietly in bed. We hardly saw each other anymore after that.

When I got to his house, there were two dozen people in the basement. Some of them I recognized from school, the stoners who hung out in the parking lot. I guessed that these were the people he’d become friends with since we’d stopped hanging out.

Music blasted from large speakers, thumping the walls and rattling my bones. Tyler sat in the corner, drinking, staring at nothing. “What are you doing here?” he slurred when he saw me. “Shouldn’t you be off partying with your bros and trying to score with some chick?” I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or mean.

“I was worried about you,” I said. “Where were you today?”

His eyes were bloodshot, and he reeked of rum. “I was politely asked not to attend.”

At first, I thought I’d misheard him over the music. “What?”

“I failed Calc and Spanish,” he shouted. “And then MIT withdrew my admission.” He sounded like he was bragging. “This isn’t a graduation party. It’s a surprise party. Surprise!”

“Holy shit,” I shouted back. “What are you gonna do?”

“Yeah, like you fucking care.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Forget about it.” He leaned in close to me. “Meet me in the bathroom.”

I looked around to make sure nobody had heard him. “There’s like twenty people here.”

“So?” He got up and left, and I stood there, awkwardly, hoping he was joking. I went and did shots with some people who gave me funny looks, probably because they weren’t used to hanging out with a football player. After half an hour, I was getting drunk, and Tyler still hadn’t come back. I went to look for him.

Music pounded through the bathroom walls. I closed the door behind me and locked it. Tyler watched me, resting his weight against the sink.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I told you.”

“What did your mother say?”

He laughed sharply. “She was less than thrilled. We’re gonna have a ‘long talk’ on Monday about ‘my future.’ Whatever, I know you don’t give a shit. Get your dick out.”

There was more that we needed to talk about, but I was drunk and mad at him for trying to make me feel guilty, and I didn’t want to have to think about anything, so I pulled my half-hard dick out and turned around. “I want to look at you,” he said. I ignored him. I came faster when he jerked me off this way. I braced myself against the door and felt him reach around and grab my dick, his hands warm and damp with sweat. He pressed up against me, his body so much smaller than mine. I shut my eyes, focusing on the sensation, how good it felt. After a few minutes, I told him I was close. Suddenly, he yanked on my dick as hard as he could, like he was trying to rip it off.

“Fuck,” I shouted. I spun around and shoved him backwards into the sink. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” He looked angry, crazy, and his forehead was slick with sweat. I thought he was going to say something, but instead he launched himself towards me, barreling into my stomach. I probably had fifty pounds on him, but I wasn’t expecting it, and I was drunk. I fell backwards and through the door. The carpet broke my fall, and Tyler landed on top of me. I pushed him off and stood up, my pants around my waist, my dick out, my head spinning. I looked around. Everyone was staring at us, their mouths open, their eyes wide.

“Is that Hank the Tank?” somebody whispered.

I stuffed my dick back into my pants and charged through the crowd, knocking people over, keeping my head down. I ran upstairs, outside, and got to my car. I’d promised my dad I would never drive drunk. That was the only time I ever broke that promise.

I didn’t see anybody from school before I left for summer football practice a week later, and I haven’t hung out with anyone from high school since. If Tyler ever officially came out as gay, or if word spread about what happened that night, I never heard about it.




The parking lot is almost empty, just a few cars that probably belong to the waitress and the kitchen staff. Tyler looks even thinner and paler under the yellow street lights.

“Behind the dumpster,” I tell him. “Quickly. The cab’ll be here soon.” I hope he’ll change his mind, that he’ll realize how stupid an idea this is, but he just follows me around the corner. This is all Tyler wants from me, to jerk him off, to prove something. I’m sick of it. I’m ready to be done.

There’s no view of the road. I tell him to take his dick out. He unbuttons his pants. This is the first time I’ve looked at his penis since that night when we were ten. It’s long and thin, and slightly crooked. “Turn around.” He silently turns so that he’s facing the wall, and I step up to him. I can feel how tense his whole body is. I rub the head of his penis with my thumb, then start to jerk him off, feeling him get hard. This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this to another guy, but it’s the same motion as when I jerk myself off. I stroke faster, and I feel myself getting hard against my jeans. I try to think of it like a competition, getting Tyler off as quickly as possible. I know how to compete.

I imagine myself on a football field, running full-speed into the opposing quarterback. I want to knock him off his feet and bury him into the ground. I want him stumbling and woozy when he gets up, or better yet, carted off the field. I want to hear the crowd cheering for me, chanting “Hank the Tank” in unison.

I’m never going to get that feeling again.

Tyler starts shaking. His dick gets bigger in my hand, and then he cums, and it’s like his whole body is cumming. Semen drips over my fingers. I wrap my left arm around his chest to keep him from falling over. We’re pressed so close we’re practically one person. He’s still shaking, and I think he’s still cumming, but then I realize he’s crying. I think he’s about to say something, so I squeeze him tighter, and we both stay silent. I can feel his heart beating. I know that if I pull my arm back that he’ll fall, but I can’t keep holding him like this much longer. I have to let him go. His cab will be here soon, and I don’t want the driver to see us like this.

Tom Houseman is an emerging writer from Chicago, currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia College. His fiction has been published in White Wall Review and Allium, and was long-listed for the First Pages Prize in 2021. He is currently querying a novel about an Evangelical talk-circuit celebrity trying to uncover the truth about her childhood kidnapping and miraculous escape. You can find him at www.tomhousemanwrites.com