Authors: Michael Salvatore
For all my friends who are like family, and for all my family who are like friends
Four Years Ago
he greatest thing about being gay is that moment when you walk down the street holding your boyfriend’s hand and you
that you’re holding his hand. Gay becomes natural. You don’t think about it anymore, you don’t question it or celebrate it; it simply is who and what you are. That’s the way it was for me and Jack as we strolled down Sixth Avenue to do some Saturday afternoon shopping after a morning of kissing, fondling, and HGTV-watching while munching on bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. At that time Jack DiRenza had been my boyfriend for three years, my live-in boyfriend for one year, ten months, two weeks, and six days of that time. I’m not counting, I just have a really good memory.
“Hey, Stevie B.,” Jack asked in between sips of a Starbucks grande mocha Frappuccino. “Do we need a new butter warmer?”
“Does anyone need an
butter warmer?” I asked in between sips of my iced grande skim mocha, which is my summer Starbucks drink as opposed to my most favorite Starbucks drink, which is a Venti skim, extra-hot, light-whipped peppermint mocha that I drink from Labor Day to Memorial Day. All my friends know that I like my coffee to be like my boyfriend—consistent.
“Your birthday is coming up and I’m planning a surprise lobster dinner,” Jack said. “And what’s a lobster dinner without warm butter?”
“Sounds yummy,” I said. “But honey, the surprise lobster dinner is only a surprise if you don’t tell me about it.”
Jack smirked like a Catholic schoolboy on the verge of committing a venial sin and said, “I didn’t tell you what I’m going to do to you for dessert.”
Smiling like the happiest gay in the world I held on to my boyfriend’s perfectly calloused hand, sipped my Starbucks, and entered Bed, Bath & Behind to buy an unnecessary kitchen appliance. Because that’s what you do on a Saturday afternoon in Manhattan when you’re gay and in love. Who knew that exactly two weeks later my perfect boyfriend would kick me out of his apartment and his life with barely an explanation and force me to take up residence in the mad, mad, mad, mad world of the single gay man.
On that terrible night, while the rest of the gay world went out clubbing or stayed in snuggling, I slept on my best friend Flynn’s pull-out Jennifer Convertible trying to figure out how I could shoot my ex-boyfriend without winding up on Rikers Island. When thoughts of homo-cide had left my brain, I wondered how I had gone from being deliriously happy to devastatingly miserable in less than twenty-four hours. Four years later I still don’t have an answer. All I know is my name is Steven Bartholomew Ferrante and I am still a single gay man living in Manhattan. Welcome to my world.
he bed was enormous, a California king squeezed into a Chelsea queen’s apartment. Unfortunately the adjective attributed to the bed could not be used to describe Ely, the guy who lay asleep in the bed. Not only was Ely not enormous, he wasn’t large, biggish, or even the thicker side of medium. Ely was small. And I’m not referring to his height or personality, I’m strictly commenting on his penis. And by penis I mean cock. Though I don’t think a penis no larger than an adult male thumb should be called a cock. There is a hierarchical system in the gay world and nowhere is it stricter than below the waist.
As I watched Ely sleep, I was filled with a mixture of sadness and awe. When I first met him in the wee hours of the morning of this very day, I sensed he possessed an ebullience and intelligence that I had not encountered for the longest time. I truly thought, as I sipped on my fourth cosmopolitan, this one with a bashful hint of mango, that this man who stood before me was brimming with PRM—Potential Relationship Material. It was for that reason alone that I decided to ignore my no-sex-until-the-third-date rule, a rule that naturally would have been ignored if Ely was a Puerto Rican Male, a PRM of a totally different color and, of course, size, and accepted Ely’s invitation to go home with him. I got excited when he whispered in my ear during the cab ride to his apartment that he was a dominant top, and was borderline breathless when his key finally opened his door on the third try. Within moments and without any further conversation, I yanked Ely’s pants to his ankles, then I yanked his underwear to his pants, and then I realized that there would be no more yanking. The reason Ely calls himself a
top is that the only way his thumb/penis can enter an asshole is to threaten it with execution.
I don’t mean to convey that Ely’s penis was a deformity on a par with the Elephant Man; it just wasn’t an invitation. And let’s be honest, we all like to be invited places. So while little Ely lay in his big bed, I quickly got dressed, rearranged his refrigerator magnet letters to spell out THANK YOU, and fled quietly into the midafternoon October sunshine. The morning’s attempt at a fling would need to be flung from my memory and I only knew of one way to do it successfully. It was Starbucks time. If a Venti skim, extra-hot, light-whipped peppermint mocha couldn’t erase from my mind the vision of Ely’s tiny penis, sheathed in a condom imported from Japan, trying desperately to enter the, by comparison, overwhelmingly enormous cavity that was my asshole, then I was a doomed gay. Yet as I clasped the gunmetal handle of the Starbucks door, I knew being a doomed gay was better than having to call your cock a penis.
From the first lip-smacking sip of my Venti skim, extra-hot, light-whipped peppermint mocha I knew I would be triumphant and Ely would permanently be part of my past. The caffeine-cum-heroin flirted with my throat in areas that Ely never could. The escapade with Tiny Man was officially over and I had reclaimed my life, yet again. It was time to begin another chapter in the saga of Steven Bartholomew Ferrante, thirty-three-year-old, Italian-American, former Jersey-ite, single-yet-looking-really-really-hard, soap opera producer. Thus began Chapter 822—give or take.
I was in mid-performance of a Star-turn, which is a complete, yet nonchalant, 360-degree turn at a Starbucks condiment station to check out the customers—or as defined in the Starbucks employee manual, the guest list—when I heard my name being shrieked by either my friend Lindsay Wilde or my great-aunt Matilda Barziano. I could never tell the two sounds apart.
“Steven! You look like you spent the a.m. with a dick up your a-hole!”
I still couldn’t tell who it was, so I was forced to turn all the way around.
“Lindsay,” I said, only partially relieved. “You couldn’t be more wrong.”
“Really? Tell me. Tell me everything.”
An uncontrollable smile grew on Lindsay’s face, for he loved nothing more than to hear other people’s tragitales. And if the tragedy was sprinkled with a smattering of smut, his smile would grow even wider. Lindsay had been this way ever since I first met him on the set of
If Tomorrow Never Comes,
the long-running soap opera that I produce. It was 1994 and Lindsay had just lost his chance of winning a figure skating medal by coming in fourth at the Lillehammer Olympics. He had entered Norway as the three-time U.S. men’s national figure skating champion and left a bona fide loser. His devastation was only a few notches deeper than that of the American figure skating audience. And since roughly the entire American figure skating audience also watches American soap operas, my executive producer asked Lindsay to visit Wonderland, the fictional town of
If Tomorrow Never Comes
Soap Opera Digest
has acronymed us. It was on that day, after take sixty-seven, that Lindsay realized he had absolutely no talent as an actor. Well, he realized it after I told him. At first he was upset that a mere mortal like me would point out that a god like Lindsay could have a flaw, but then I told him that the star-crossed lovers on the show used to be lovers in real life until one gave the other genital herpes. We’ve been friends ever since.
Brimming with the joy another person’s tragedy would soon bring him, Lindsay flopped his bubble butt onto a chair and flipped the
New York Times
that was on top of the table (presumably left there by some Starbucks Sunday Regular as a table-saving device) onto the floor. He took a sip of his iced grande soy vanilla latte—Lindsay drank an iced grande soy vanilla latte all year long, iced because he said he was hot enough without help from fluid and vanilla because that’s how he liked to fuck—tossed an unruly lock of unnaturally blond hair from his unnaturally sun-tanned forehead and gazed at me with the steely determination that defined him as the former figure skating champion he was.
“What happened?” Lindsay demanded.
“I broke my rule,” I confessed.
“Which one? You have more rules than Dick Button.”
“My no-sex-until-the-third-date rule,” I mumbled, knowing full well the Wilde-wrath that was about to come.
“That rule is as outdated as Dick himself!” Lindsay growled at precisely the same time the Starbucks Sunday Regular came back to what he thought would be his saved table.
“I enjoy Mr. Button’s commentary,” said the Regular.
“And you probably rooted for Nancy Kerrigan!” Lindsay shouted back. “Now get the hell away from my table!”
I couldn’t really concentrate on the next few things Lindsay said as I was trying to steal glances at the handsome sort-of-Italian, could-be-black-Irish Starbucks Sunday Regular collecting his
New York Times
from the floor. However, I did hear Lindsay mention something about the genius of Tonya Harding never being fully understood by the elitist figure skating community or something of that ilk. And even though I thoroughly enjoy Lindsay’s outbursts, at this moment I was more interested in the crooked smile the
handsome Starbucks Sunday Regular beamed in my direction. But was he smiling because he was self-conscious after Lindsay’s public scolding, self-confident that Lindsay was a deranged former figure skater, or self-content that his feelings for me were real and had to be expressed in the form of a Jake Gyllen-haalesque shy, yet seductive, smile?
“Are you listening to me?” Lindsay said with an exasperated air.
“Of course,” I answered, startled out of my reverie.
“And you agree?”
“Yes,” I said slowly, stretching the word into four syllables since I was not at all sure what I had agreed to.
“Good,” Lindsay said. “Because I hate to think I’m the only one who feels Peggy Fleming should fly solo. It’s just not fair that Dick gets to commentate on the men’s
the ladies’ competitions, while Miss I-Reinvented-Modern-Day-Figure-Skating-
-Conquered-Breast-Cancer has to share the microphone with Mr. Button. Did Dick ever have his own TV special? I think not. And don’t even start me on Dick’s protégé, Peter Carruthers.”
“I like Peter. He’s hot.”
“You’re just like all the others. All you want to do is watch the pretty boys do figure eights in sparkly sequined costumes! Figure skating is hard work. My ass might look beautiful, but it’s covered with scars from years of practice.”
“As are the asses of every gay man in Chelsea,” I observed. “And before you go into a tirade over why you should have won the bronze in Lillehammer, lille man, don’t you want to hear about my night?”
“Do you know how frustrating it is to come in fourth?” Lindsay spat.
“Do you know how frustrating it is to hear that you came in fourth for the forty millionth time!” I spat back.
“They compound the misery by awarding you a pewter medal. Did you know that?”
“Yes, Lindsay, I know that,” I said. “You told me.”
“The fourth place loser gets a pewter piece of shit,” Lindsay continued, obviously ignoring me and transported back to the Olympics next to, but not on, the third podium. “Worst award I ever received for the most humiliating experience I ever lived through. I gave it to my mother.”
“Are you done reminiscing?”
“Yes. Thank you for listening. I can’t keep the bile inside all the time; it’s destructive.”
“That’s why I’m here,” I replied. “To collect the bile.”
“Now tell me, Steven,” Lindsay said, much more calmly now that the bile was released. “Why
you spend the a.m. with a dick up your a-hole?”
“Got socially acceptably drunk, went home with a PRM, took off his pants, and silently screamed for my mother to whisk me away from the horror that I saw inches in front of me.”
“What was he? Pre-op?” Lindsay asked.
“One testicle, lots of scar tissue?”
“No,” I said. “Toddler-penis.”
“Damn those ’roids!” Lindsay shouted as he slammed his fist onto the table. “I can deal with hair loss and acne-back, but toddler-penis is unforgivable. Steroidables should live at the gym and never leave!”
“He wasn’t on steroids. His affliction, as far as I could tell, was perfectly natural.”
Lindsay’s mocha-chocolate eyes grew two inches wider, which made him look as if I had just told him Starbucks had gone bankrupt and was selling its chain to Folgers.
“Then for crissakes why doesn’t he just do the steroids and at least have a conversation piece, a point of blame?”
“Who can understand these people?” I said. “The kicker is he said he was a top.”
“Of what? Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree? Why can’t gay men assess themselves the same way they do every other gay man who crosses their path? Small penis equals bottom. Big cock equals top. It’s simple, it’s math, the universal language,” Lindsay explained. “A deaf-mute from Ukraine understands, and I’m not being geographically random: the son of one of Oksana Baiul’s coaches was a deaf-mute
very well endowed. There was never a problem in the bedroom. If Nikolai could understand, why can’t a Chelsea boy?”
“Everybody wants to be what they’re not supposed to be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Steven? That I’m
supposed to be an Olympian? That my bare, chiseled chest was never meant to bear anything more than Olympic pewter?” Lindsay fumed.
“Loser boy! This isn’t about you.”
“Sorry. You know how I get when anyone mentions figure skating or the Olympics.”
“You’re the only one who
mentions figure skating or the Olympics!”
Lindsay stared at me for a moment as the truth settled into his heart, then his mind, then his voice: “It’s all I know!”
I allowed Lindsay several seconds of uninterrupted fake tears during which time I checked out the Starbucks Sunday Regular again and to my surprise he was checking me out too. Color me bashful as I felt my cheeks flush and my eyes dart away. I could see him smile at my involuntary response and so before I became a complete second grader in the midst of a schoolgirl crush, I focused on Lindsay and attempted to change the subject away from his Olympiphobia and toward a more manageable, non-blushable subject.
“Before you lapse into endless chanting of ‘Why me?’ let’s use this time productively and figure out what we’re going to do for Gus’s birthday. He’s going to be forty on the twelfth.”
Lindsay was instantaneously pulled out of his own misery by this news that he considered to be even more catastrophic.
“God, that’s sad. Officially forty-something and single and gay and living alone in the big, wormy apple that is the city. Why would anyone want to celebrate that?”
“Gus will be forty, not forty-something. He can’t be forty-something until next year, when something comes after the forty,” I explained. “And it’s not sad. He’s got the best apartment of us all in the Village, he made a mint on Wall Street before it went bust, and he’s got an accent.”
Lindsay pursed his lips, then formed a smile with only the right side of his mouth.
“But every night Gus goes to bed alone.”
“We all go to bed alone,” I retorted.
“But we’re years from being forty-something,” Lindsay cried. “We still have hope!”
He had me. I hate when Lindsay barks a truism, but sometimes amid all his rantings, non sequiturs, and sentences that start with the word
there exists a kernel of truth. And turning forty in a city, or at least a gay section of a city that worships youth, is an unfortunate happening. But as with all happenings in the gay section of any city, it was a happening that would be celebrated. So even though all Gus’s friends were glad that he was the one turning forty and not them, all Gus’s friends would gather together and throw him a celebration worthy of a happier happening. It made no difference that during the celebration all of us would be praying that when we turned forty we looked as good as, were as successful as, and had the financial portfolio of Gus Aldwych. To his face we would simply call him old.
“Whatever you do, I’m in,” Lindsay said, “but remember I have that Fox retrospective on the third and I need you all there for support. This could be very lucrative for me.”