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The older men -- the "hunters," the bartenders call them -- gather at the third station of the bar, where it bends toward the door. The "point" offers the best view of the low balcony that runs in front of the bar, where a line of potential trophy boys are arrayed along a railing.
The hunters know a bar like the Alta Plaza is where they will have the best chance to bag a young boyfriend. It's their turf, and it's where they are comfortable. At a sex-driven dance club in SOMA, where everyone is good-looking and under 25, the elderly hunter is out of his element.
"If a 60-year-old went to the Badlands looking for a young stud, he'd just sit in the corner. It would be: 'Is he going to be a good lay? No.' " Krumtum says. "People could care less if he owned North America."
The sugar daddy knows the pretty boys hanging out at the Alta Plaza are at least available to date their elders. The boys are clean-cut and freshly scrubbed, dressed more casually than the hunter gentlemen -- who usually wear sport coats and slacks -- but preppier in style than others their age. Button-down polo shirts and chino pants are much in evidence.
"It's like they're ex-fraternity brothers who found out they were gay; it's not hustlerish or trailer-trash at all," Krumtum says. "And that's important. The gentleman needs someone he can be seen with ... can take to dinner and the ballet and show off. The kid has to have some sort of social grace; he can't be a blatant hustler."
The first move is reserved for the older man, who will send over a drink or walk up and introduce himself. The over-60 set still behaves with 1950s formality. The older men announce their names -- first and last -- and offer "pleased to meet you" handshakes. The etiquette is a little foreign to the just-21 newcomers, who often return these polite passes with tentative smiles, or a simple "Hi."
Small tables line the back wall; there, freshly paired couples can sit and talk over cocktails. A corporate VP who spent the day ruminating about derivatives and stock options now finds himself asking his young date trite questions such as, "So, what's your major?"
"Then the Jaguar or Mercedes he has parked outside gets mentioned -- usually within the first 10 minutes of the conversation," says Krumtum, who has overheard countless trophy pickups. "It's so funny, you have to laugh. They try so hard not to seem like pathetic, old men."
A Porsche Roadster drives slowly by the flagpole in front of the college, circling a young man wearing baggy jeans and a tight, white T-shirt over his sturdy build. Jay cannot react; he is trapped in conversation with one of his contemporaries from school. A student government officer, Jay hoped he could leave unnoticed today. But now his ride is here, and his schoolmate won't go away. Jay tries to ignore the Porsche, but it turns back a second time, and the driver starts to shoot impatient glances Jay's way. Then, the car stops and parks -- and Jay panics.
The 18-year-old freshman doesn't want anyone to know the 42-year-old man behind the wheel, who looks remarkably like Nick Nolte, is his boyfriend. So Jay tells his classmate that the man in the car is a co-worker of his mother's who has agreed to give him a ride home.
Trophy boys know that being adornment, or arm charms, is part of the payback for the gifts they receive from their older mates. But the public dating at fine restaurants and cocktail parties is all about running into the sugar daddy's friends, not the trophy boy's.
"My friends would flip if they found out I was dating someone over 24. They'd think I'm easy and have no taste," Jay says. "It's not a cool thing to them. It's really gross -- worse than dating a girl."
Away from their straight and gay friends, the trophy boys -- or twinks, as they like to call themselves -- share in a somewhat secret society. They network via the Internet and meet in person at father/son cocktail mixers. The "shindigs" or "social hours" are usually held the last Friday of the month, hosted by various sugar daddies in their Nob Hill homes. Twinks are encouraged to bring friends who are interested in being trophy boys, too. These social hours are subdued affairs, catering to the older men's tastes in classical music, cognac, and cigars.
"It's really posh; not like a raging party at all," Jay says. "I started eating liver pate on Melba toast since going to those things."
After everyone has been introduced, paired, or showed off, the party becomes more about the sugar daddies enjoying each other's company. The men take over the den; the bored twinks escape to the back porch, where they can be 19 again. Out there, it's cigarettes, beer, and lots of "girl talk." They gossip, swap war stories, and make fun of the men inside, joking about what it's like to have a boyfriend suffering from a midlife crisis or -- for big laughs -- impotence. They also brag about how well they're doing with the gifts.