When the Stars Come Out (3 page)

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
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“Yes, why should you be any different from everybody else?”

Chapter 1

I never set out to become an actor. It was something I fell

into. I suppose that’s understandable, since I grew up pretend-


The pretense began when I was just a child. My parents were

on the lower end of the lower-middle class, but they made it

clear that we were supposed to project a “certain image” to the

good families of Pittsburgh. They were to think my father was

hard working (he did most of his work on the edge of a stool in

the corner tavern); they were to think that my brother and I

were well mannered (we were hellions); and they were to think

that our family was “comfortable,” even though my parents were

constantly hounded by bill collectors.

But we all acted, and the good families of Pittsburgh believed

that we really were who we wanted them to think.

We were good actors. So good that sometimes we forgot that

we were just playing roles . . .

wo hours into his semi-drunken nap on the couch his phone

rang. Noah glanced at the clock on the VCR; it was almost mid-

night. The movie he had been watching was long over, and now

Freddy Krueger was menacing a teenage girl on the television screen.

He toyed with the idea of not answering, but then curiosity got

the better of him. Maybe, he thought, it was an interviewee, sudden-ly infused with gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered/two-spirited/

questioning/whatever-else-had-been-added-that-week pride, who

wanted to speak on the record. The sudden thought of an openly

gay homosexual in Washington filled Noah with hope.

But when he answered the phone, it was his stepmother’s voice

on the other end of the line.


“Tricia!” He was surprised to hear her voice, especially at that

late hour. He had no problems with her—they had always gotten

along just fine—but she
married to his father, which made her phone calls a bit suspect. That and the fact that, at thirty-eight, she was just four years older than Noah. The thought that if he were

straight she would be dating material had always creeped him out a little bit.

“Did I wake you?” she asked.

“No,” he lied, picking up the remote and muting the teenager’s


Tricia got right down to business. “It’s your father, Noah. I’m

afraid something has happened.”

“Is he all right?”

“Yes, yes!” she said, a forced cheeriness suddenly in her voice. “I don’t want you to worry, but I wanted you to know.”

“What’s wrong, Tricia?”

“He had a heart attack.”

“He had a . . .” The words wouldn’t come to him. “Is he okay?”

“He’ll be fine. The doctors say that it wasn’t all that bad.” She

paused. “It could have been much worse.” Another pause—with each

one, she was growing more honest—and she added, “They may



have to do a bypass. We’re still waiting to hear about that. But he’s alert and responsive.”

Another pause.

“And he sends you his love.”

Noah stiffened. If Tricia had never told him that his father sent

his love, he probably would have stayed in Washington, trolling

bars in the name of research. But in his thirty-four years, he could only remember his father aiming the L word in his direction on

four instances: his college graduation, the day his mother finally had the clarity of vision to leave his father, the night Noah cried when his first lover walked out, and one night when they sat all

night at the kitchen table as Max poured his heart out when his second divorce became final. There was a fifth time, too, Noah sud-

denly remembered, but Max had only said the L word because

Noah asked him point-blank, so he discounted it because he had

forced the issue.

Noah knew that his father loved him. He showed it in a variety of

ways. But where the words were concerned, he failed the verbal,

but aced the math. The Abrahams were like a family of starchy

WASPs, except that they were starchy Jews instead. Not Tricia, of

were by definition not Jewish. But the rest of them were starchy Jews . . . although about as devout as your average

Upper East Side Episcopalians.

So, Noah thought, if his father—the Episcopalian Jew; the Jew

Ordinary People—
told Tricia to tell him he loved him, there was a problem.


“I’m here. Now. But I’m leaving for New York”— he glanced at

his watch; it was too late to do anything that evening—“in the morning. First train.”

“That’s not necessary. He’s fine.”

“He’s not ‘fine,’” Noah said evenly. “I need to be home.”

“But your book . . .”

“It can wait.”

“Really, Noah, it’s—”

“I’ll call you from the train,” he said. “And please call me if anything changes overnight.”

She surrendered. “I’ll keep you posted.”


R o b B y r n e s

“One more thing,” Noah said, feeling incredibly brave. “Next

time you see him, tell him I love him.”

“All right.” She paused yet again. “All right. I will.”

After he hung up, Noah wondered if she paused because she

knew that he wasn’t all that good about using the L word himself.

And he wondered if she knew he was scared. And, Noah being

Noah, he wondered if she’d even bother to give his father the mes-


The night passed without the tragic phone call Noah half ex-

pected, although he slept fitfully through a string of unsettling, if unremembered, dreams.

By 6:10 AM, he was at Washington’s Union Station. He purchased

his Amtrak ticket, grabbed a cup of coffee, stopped at a newsstand to pick up a copy of
The Washington Post
and—since it arrived at the last minute—
The New York Times
, and boarded the 6:30 bound for New York City before he had a chance to sit down.

He gave up on the newspapers before the train reached Balti-

more. His mind was somewhere else. After a while, he took out the

notes for The Project and tried to make sense of them.

But they were making no sense. The only consistent theme was

evasiveness, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to glean insight from dozens of interviews when the subjects were going out

of their way to say as close to nothing as possible.

I am not a quitter
, he told himself once again, to which—after a moment of reconsideration—he appended,
But I’m getting pretty

damn pessimistic

His most recent pessimistic moment, the one leading to the up-

ended wastepaper basket the previous evening, had come as a re-

sult of his most recent interview. Earlier in the day, in response to an ad he had run in the
Washington Blade
, a press aide to a United States senator from Ohio had agreed to meet him at a tiny, not-very-popular bistro in Georgetown. The aide—Noah agreed to

refer to him as “G. C.,” which were not his real initials—was ner-

vous bordering on paranoid through their brief meeting, and only

agreed to be taped after Noah assured him the tape would, eventu-

ally, be destroyed.

Later, back at home in his third-floor walk-up apartment on P



Street that almost overlooked Dupont Circle, if you stretched out

the window and leaned to the right, Noah listened to that tape.

And he didn’t like what he heard. He had hoped that his immedi-

ate memory of the interview had been wrong, and that—once he

listened to the tape—he would discover that G. C. had provided

some useful information. But his memory was, regrettably, perfect.

G. C.: So when I realized I was attracted to other men, I

mean, exclusively, I became very, uh . . . I had a lot of


NOAH: “Realized”? Or “admitted”?

G. C.:

Oh, I never admitted it to anyone. Not at first.

NOAH: Did you admit it to yourself? I mean, were you in some

sort of self-denial? Or were you aware?

G. C.: Denial? Oh . . . I suppose that’s one way to look at it.

Yes, I suppose that’s the right term. Because I did real-

ize it before, back when, I dunno, when I was a

teenager, maybe. But I thought I could overcome it.

NOAH: But you couldn’t.

G. C.:

I couldn’t.

NOAH: And you tried?

G. C.:

[Nervous laughter]
Oh, yeah, I tried. But then I went to

work for Congress, and I, well . . . I guess you could say

that I didn’t have to try anymore, because I became


Noah stopped the tape recorder. “Completelashuel?” What the

hell was it he had said, or tried to say, under the relative quiet of that unpopular Georgetown bistro? He rewound the tape and listened again.

G. C.:

Well . . . I guess you could say that I didn’t have to try

anymore, because I became completelashuel.

Noah closed his eyes and concentrated. That’s what he had said.

“Completelashuel.” Complete . . . something? Complete lashuel? No, that didn’t make sense.
. . .
. . . a word that sounds like

“lashuel.” And goes with the word “complete.”

Complete . . .
. G. C. had become a complete asshole. That 26

R o b B y r n e s

would have almost made sense to Noah, given his work for a com-

plete asshole of a United States senator from Ohio, except this particular Mormon would never use a word like “asshole.”

Noah rewound the tape once again, the recorder playing a brief

, then hit the “PLAY” button. Again, G. C.’s midwestern drawl came to life, tinny through the small machine.

G. C.: I tried. But then I went to work for Congress, and I,

well . . . I guess you could say that I didn’t have to try

anymore, because I became completelashuel.

Noah tossed the tape recorder down on a lushly padded chair

and stared at it for a moment with contempt, as if the inanimate

object was the problem, not G. C.

And then, his frustration boiling over, he kicked the wastepaper

basket, sending those crumpled balls of paper scattering across the floor.

Even now, with twelve hours or so to put things in perspective,

he was no less frustrated. It was hopeless. It was useless. G. C. would forever be a completelashuel—whatever that meant, it couldn’t be

good—and there was nothing Noah could do about it, unless he

disobeyed the interviewee’s request—was it a request, or an order?

More an order, he thought—and followed up on their interview.

. Fuck. “Completelashuel” was starting to sound like a good word to describe this entire project. Nearly ninety

hours of taped interviews, most conducted in a low mumble mim-

icking G. C., hundreds of pieces of paper—from notebook pages to

cocktail napkins—with scrawls in his sober and not-so-sober hand-

writing, documenting the phenomenon of the gay aides to the

most powerful men in the United States of America, all justifying

their decision to stay in the closet. The only real revelation he had was that party and ideology didn’t matter in his decidedly unscien-tific survey. Noah may have been able to locate more gay Democratic aides than gay Republican aides, but they were closeted in what

seemed to be proportionate numbers. More than a third of a cen-

tury after Stonewall, career success for gay men—and a few lesbians—

in Washington, DC was still all about passing as straight. Or at least asexual.




Noah reached for his bag, stashed under his legs, and rifled

through it until he found the tape recorder. He searched the cas-

sette until he found the offending part of the interview and hit

PLAY and, yes, G. C. had obviously swallowed his words during the interview, fearful of being overheard. Finally, Noah heard him say that damn word, and closed his eyes in relief. “Completelashuel”

was, in fact, “completely” (and he started swallowing on the “y”)


Yeah, that made sense.

He wanted to celebrate his detective skills, but Noah was sud-

denly gripped by a feeling that warranted no celebration. The

whole project was useless.
The Project
was useless.

So G. C. had forced himself into asexuality. And he
couldn’t talk about it. Again, Noah stared down the tape recorder, blaming

it for the state of his world.

G. C. would never come out and tell his boss, the distinguished

gentleman from Ohio, that he was gay. G. C. would never even buy

Noah’s book, should it ever actually be written, for fear of possibly being seen buying it in a bookstore, or having an online order

tracked down, or having a guest see it in his home. Neither would

L. G., Dennis (the real name), Dennis (the pseudonym), West

Virginia Gary, Missouri Gary, Melissa E., Kay, the one-lettered K., or any of the others who had responded to his
ads or Craigslist solicitations.

Noah could document their existence, in an anonymous way,

but it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. They would always hide in the shadows, either furtively homosexual or, well,

And there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. His contri-

bution to the advancement of gay and lesbian rights would be as fu-tile as the insight he was not getting from his subjects.

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
9.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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