Authors: Felice Picano
Tags: #Fiction, #Gay, #Gay Men, #Domestic Fiction, #AIDS (Disease), #Cousins, #Medical, #Aids & Hiv
"Suck my six-inch wedgies!" Patrick said, then turned to me and Marcy. "So, now, how is it again that you two kids know each other?"
"Kindergarten Brownie troop," Luis said.
"We used to work in the same office in the late sixties," Marcy said, distracted enough to drop another queen on the deck.
"As textbook editors," I said.
dreary place! We didn't really know each other then," I added. "Marcy was much above me in position."
Quietly, I picked up the queen. That meant three of them.
"Banana oil!" Marcy declared. "But it's true we didn't know each other. Rog hung around with the smart set. He was straight then."
"Our little Rogina? Straight? Hush your mouf, girl," Luis joshed. He picked up, looked at the card, and discarded, filled with ennui. "Better yet, wash it out!"
"With Nair!" Patrick added, taking his turn, which left a six of clubs, which I was sure Marcy needed. Would she notice?
"Well, he was always with these two very hot girls," Marcy defended herself, "so naturally I thought he was straight. Everyone thought so!"
"Including himself," I admitted. She hadn't taken the six, too bad for her. "Marce, whatever happened to my supervisor there?" I asked, partly to keep her distracted. "What was his name? Kovacs?"
Marcy almost dropped her cards. "You mean you don't know?" Her lovely, guileless brown eyes were huge now. "You're going to die!" she said, her voice rising. "Just die, when you hear!"
"Spit it out, girl!" Luis demanded. "Don't hesitate!" He'd picked up, looked, and discarded in one movement, almost automatically.
Marcy looked like the teenager she'd once been as she began to dish. "Kovacs was slipped LSD at some weekend party or other in I think '71, and he went completely gaga. I don't mean he freaked out. In fact, he didn't. He returned to work, and then little by little people began to notice changes. Tom McQuill, remember him? Well, Tom
he walked into the men's john one day and caught Kovacs in—I love it!— pink silk undies."
"Whooo-whoo!" Luis and Patrick intoned together.
"Then we began to notice him wearing makeup. First it was only a touch of rouge. Then eyeliner. Well, he went on vacation, and when he returned, he wasn't Frank anymore, he was—"
"Fran-cine!" we all shouted.
Her face fell. "You knew?"
"Guessed," I said. "And?"
Marcy was no longer so forthcoming. She was studying her cards.
She'd noticed the six she'd failed to pick up before. I saw her lips make the word "Shit!" as she began to shift around the cards in her hand.
"And? Did he go all the way? Get the operation? Snip-snip!"
"I guess. I left to go work at the Book Club and lost track of him." She looked in front of her. "Whose turn is it?"
"Yours!" we all said at once.
"It's spectacular dish," I declared, tapping her wrist with my folded-up hand. "Simply spectacular!"
Marcy looked at me slyly, then winked. Then she picked up a card from the deck that she could use, and cheerfully dropped another three-card straight on the table. "Were you alone out west? Or did you take Matt?"
"Matt took him!" Luis said.
"It's true," I admitted. "
flew him out for a shoot: cover, full spread inside with a fold-out centerfold. I just tagged along. Then I managed to get Harte to agree to the interviews with the writers, so I'd be able to pay a few bills and not feel like a complete hooker."
"Matt's the one who earns all the money," Patrick said.
"Matt's the one who gets all the attention," Luis said.
"No!" loyal Marcy protested.
"It's true, Marce. I could commit murder in a crowd standing next to Matt, and there wouldn't be a single witness. That's how little they see me."
"Poor Roger!" she cooed, "I think you're handsome. Don't you guys?"
"Too old for me," Luis said, sneering.
"Too young for me," Patrick said, scowling.
"He's just right for me!" Marcy laughed and half hugged me. "But I thought Matt was a poet. A serious poet."
"Well, he's that too!" I admitted, with a groan. "And therein lies... the nub of it, my dear!" I affected a British accent so as to avoid having to discuss anything else concerning Matt, who had chosen for the past month to stay out at the Pines during the week, while I returned to town.
Marcy took my hint. She usually did. "Who else did you meet out west?"
meet Patricia Nell Warren!" Patrick said and sulked.
"Patrick may be pretty," Luis said to Marcy, "but he has the literary taste of a housewife. I've tried to learn him, Lord knows, I've tried!"
"Samuel Steward in San Francisco," I said. "He was interesting." "Who?"
"Phil Andros! Well, that's the name he wrote under. Before that, in the thirties and forties he was palsy with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. in Paris, when he was a mere youth. He's going to write about them."
"Speaking of dykes, Marcy," Patrick said, "did Rog tell you about the new dyke who's come to work for the magazine?"
"Marcy knows her," I warned.
"Marcy recommended her. to Harte," Marcy said, "and God help Marcy if she doesn't work out."
"She seems okay," I said, noncommittally. After all, Sydelle Auslander had been at the magazine only a few weeks. And in that time she'd made an "interesting" impression: thin, nervous, elegant, attractive in that gaunt way that modern dancers have; aware that she was new and even that she was out of place, yet determined not to let that deter her; all too conscious but ironical about it too, which was sort of endearing.
"I don't get it." Patrick had to, as usual, say the obvious. "What's a lezzie doing at a men's magazine?"
"The idea," I said, "is that Harte would like it if
weren't only a men's magazine, but a magazine for
gays and lesbians."
"You're kidding, right? With all that male flesh in it?"
"I'm just repeating what Harte told me."
"You mean you're repeating what Mr. Millions told Harte," Patrick said, using his and Luis's pet satirical name for the money man behind our publisher, known by other names in the city, including "cheapest faggot breathing."
"Luis?" I said, reminding him. "Go! Will you!"
turn!" Luis said.
"Really?" I'd gotten lost in the conversation. What did my hand need? Rather, what
my hand need!
"Wake up!" Patrick tapped my forehead with the flyswatter.
"Try to use that on the flying variety of pests!" Marcy directed him.
"Sorry!" I apologized and went to the deck and picked up another queen. That would go onto the straight. And the three queens. And the three sixes. And the king would fit on Patrick's flush and... Gee, I might be developing something. Cautiously I dropped a low three, Luis didn't seem interested in picking it up. Hmmn! How amusing!
"I also met Isherwood. He was the nicest."
"Tell her about Phil Andros's tattoo," Patrick said.
"I will not! You know, Marce, Isherwood is about seventy-five these days, and ill."
know who he is?" Patrick asked.
"Christ, Pat! She's editor in chief of a university press!"
"I've got to do it!" Luis suddenly declared with utter Cuban passion, apropos of what, none of us could guess.
"He's picking up all the cards!" Patrick shouted with the intuition of a lover.
"If I don't, I'll die of boredom!" Luis said and picked up all but two we'd discarded. "I hate waiting around." He promptly set to work arranging the cards as a hand.
"Don Bachardy is Isherwood's lover," I continued to Marcy. "A fine artist. Well, he phoned and said he'd drive and pick me up because I might not be able to find my way to their house. They live in Pacific Palisades. Which is way down by the ocean."
Luis said, "to be confused with Pacific Heights in San Fancisco."
, Luis," Patrick nudged.
"He never did pronounce it, even when he was living there," I said, which necessitated explaining to Marcy that that was how Luis and I knew each other. "He was a bartender. A friend of my friend Calvin Ritchie. Did I ever tell you about Calvin?"
"Miss Ritchie the Mad?" Luis tried the name on her.
"This was before you opened the catering firm?" Marcy asked.
"We opened it there and I moved it here," Luis said, still arranging his many cards. "When I broke up with my partner."
Marcy turned to me. "Wasn't that when you met Matt, Rog?"
She knew something was up and, like a trained hunting dog, she was going to flush it out no matter what.
"When and where," I admitted.
"Romance! Romance! Must be something in the air out there," she mused.
"Either that or it might be that one is easily blinded by the fog," Patrick said. "God knows, Luis was certainly befogged by his partner."
"What was I talking about before?" I quickly asked, in case the question came up of whether I myself had been befogged in San Francisco.
"You were talking about Isherwood!" Patrick reminded me.
"Right! So Bachardy arrives in this like basic gray Ford sedan. And as I'm getting into the front seat, I hear someone say hello from the back. And there's Isherwood, all laid out on some sort of foam cushion, with pillows galore. With that childlike little head and face and that short-cropped hair. Can you picture it, Marce? He looked like a little boy with a cold who'd managed to talk his parents into going along for the ride."
"Was he a good interview?"
"Not bad. But the best part was off the record. Although he did say he was planning to write about it someday. Seems that in the late thirties, he was an interpreter and something of a go-between for the bosses of several Hollywood studios and the German émigré writers who'd escaped Hitler. All of them Jewish, mind you, but as different as they could be from each other, Isherwood said. The writers were highly educated. Cultured. Snobby. Very European. And except for Thomas Mann, who had this huge international reputation, they were broke. The film producers and studio heads, on the other hand, were first- and second-generation immigrants from dirt-poor families. Even the Yiddish they spoke was lower class...."
"So, Marcy," Patrick said, obviously bored and unsubtly changing the subject, "you going to be at the Pines for the big party?"
"Well, I don't know..." She looked at me.
"It's going to be fabulous!" Patrick said. "We're all doing thirties and forties movie stars. The party will be in a place designed like the Mocambo nightclub. And guess what it's called?"
"She'll never guess," Luis said.
"'Jungle Red'!" Patrick said.
"Like the nail polish from
"You see, Mr. Smarty Pants!" Patrick said. "She knows what's important!"
important?" Luis asked rhetorically.
"Shoes! Hair! And skin care!" the rest of us shouted.
"I'm not going to have skin if these mosquitoes don't stop," Marcy declared.
"I still want to know what this dykelet is going to be doing at
," Luis said.
"She's not that young," I said. "Maybe... thirty?"
"At least," Marcy admitted. "And she's been around a bit, doing all kinds of different work. She was a law clerk. And a social worker. Worked for local newspapers in White Plains, Scarsdale, Albany."
"And danced?" I asked.
"Still does. Like many of us, she wanted to be a real dancer. "
"'Everything is beautiful at the ballet.'"
At that moment, I picked up the fourth queen in the deck and proceeded to lay out three sixes, a queen high run in diamonds, my queen trio, and a low flush. I turned over the last card. "Rummy!" I said, casually, showing my empty hand.
Luis screamed. He was still holding about a dozen cards. "You can't
that. You didn't knock."
"I can and I am. I don't have to knock."
"Nurse! Oh, nurse!" Patrick called out, pretending to faint. "A Reg-is-ter-ed Nurse is re-quir-ed im-med-iate-ly!"
"Marce, add seventy-five points to my score," I said, enjoying their pain. "I believe I win."
"I'm stuck with hundreds of minus points," Luis groaned. "I'm doomed! Doomed, I tell you!"
Patrick was already counting how much he'd have to subtract.
"Good thing I melded those aces," Marcy said, nearly inaudible amid all the breast beating. The rest of her cards were low points.
Naturally, Matt chose that very moment to come home.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in," he said, shaking the big umbrella outside the back screen door and folding it up.
"We hope," Luis said, "the cat remembered something to eat!"
"I did, I did." Matt produced a brown paper bag and set it on the counter. "C'mon in," he urged someone.
Because of the dark, I couldn't make out who was behind Matt until they'd both stepped into the light. I was paying more attention to
Matt, whose voice sounded a lot cheerier than it had when he'd gone out earlier in the day. But then, that was the reason he'd gone out in the first place: to get away from me, which lately equaled his being cheered up.
"Who is it?" Patrick asked. Then, "Is that...? It is! Look, kids! It's Alistair Dodge!"
The rain abated by nightfall. It was merely a loud, irregular dripping off the edges of the blue-and-white canvas protecting the outdoor dining area of the Blue Whale. The candles in their squat, white-netted, carmine glasses upon the oversized wooden table suddenly burned higher and brighter in that way they do just before they gutter into darkness. Around us, the decking steamed gently, as though we were in the middle of the third act of some singspiel where mystical enchantments are about to be unveiled. Beyond the fogged glare emanating from beneath the sodden canopy, beyond the definiteness of the thin white railing, a mist had rapidly gathered to float atop the black and silky boat-slip waters. Transforming the topmast lamps of the yachts and yawls and ketches parked opposite into a carnival dazzle. Curiously filtering the outdoor
lights of the sprawling house behind through screw pine saplings and monkey puzzle trees. Metamorphosing what had been a simple walkway into a half-shut sideshow.