Authors: Rob Byrnes
The book—the book he once thought of as a career maker, an
award-winner—might as well be a work of fiction, for all it would
matter. His idea had bumped into reality and shattered. People
who swallowed words like “asexual” would never allow themselves
to be sexual beings. They could be leaders on arms control, the environment, war, peace, education, Social Security, Medicaid, health care, the pork barrel, the Brady Bill, NAFTA, and the nuances of
constitutional law—and, on occasion, they could even guide their
elected employers through a whole-scale defense of “traditional
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marriage,” trading a defense of their sexuality for votes—but they would never,
. . .
With a groan, Noah sank back into the train seat, trying to force
away his frustration, and thought,
Why is this so fucking hard?
It was a question directed equally at himself and his reluctant subjects.
When he was honest with himself, Noah Abraham recognized
that a strong streak of self-righteousness ran through him. He
blamed that equally on nature (especially those genes from his fa-
ther) and nurture (especially the upbringing by his father). When
he was honest with himself, Noah Abraham blamed a lot of things
on his father.
When he was dishonest with himself, he blamed his father even
He had been condemned to a life of openness and affluence.
From an objective standpoint, that easy life made The Project so
much more difficult for Noah. After all, if Noah was self-righteous, it was because his father had made life so easy. Maybe, just
if he had a bit more fear, he could somehow wrap his head around G.
C. and the men and women who lived like G. C.
He put the tape recorder back in his bag and stared out the win-
dow, contemplating the adversities he faced because, ironically, his life held almost no adversity. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a young man unsteadily returning down the swaying aisle from the
café car, flashing Noah a smile as he passed, which only served to remind him of yet another personal advantage. If it wasn’t enough
that he was confident, intelligent, politically conscious, healthy, blessed with family money, and openly and comfortably gay, he also suffered with another intolerable lack of adversity: the knowledge that most people considered him quite good looking.
Gay, rich, smart, and good looking. Curse upon curse upon
curse upon curse.
Noah didn’t think twice about his desirability. He knew better,
after almost fifteen years as an openly gay man. He knew he wasn’t considered traditionally “handsome”: that designation went to the
Adonises with the square jaws, broad shoulders, and height. But he was universally considered “cute,” and that was enough to guarantee him attention every time he wanted it, and often when he didn’t.
At five foot seven, he was on the slightly shorter side of male physi-W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T
ology, but even that seemed to work to his advantage. The rest of
the package—the olive complexion, deep brown eyes, full head of
wavy dark hair, trim frame, and even those dimples that lit up his face when he smiled—sealed the deal.
Over the years, Noah had not been the only person to speculate
that perhaps he had been adopted. After all, his parents were not
only taller, they were also not quite as “cute.” But that speculation was put to rest by old family photographs, with their evidence of his remarkable resemblance to his maternal grandfather. Noah, of
course, was disappointed, because if he had been adopted it would
have meant that there had been one tiny bit of adversity in his life.
But no. His family had even ruined
fantasy with those photographs. He was half Abraham and half Feldman, and he would
have to live with that burden.
He wanted to struggle, but couldn’t find anything to struggle
against . . . so he chose to struggle with himself. As well as those people who displeased him: the closeted completelashuels of Washing-
Noah noticed with a start that the young man who had smiled at
him moments earlier was now sitting in the row of seats across the aisle. He gave him a polite nod, turned up his iPod, and turned to look back out the window, watching the fields and swamps and
small villages of Maryland pass by.
At the moment Noah’s train was departing Philadelphia’s Thirtieth
Street Station, Bart Gustafson awoke, tangled in sheets. He looked around the room in confusion before remembering that he was
not at home in Southampton, but rather on a sleeper-sofa some-
where near Lincoln Center. He stretched, feeling an unfamiliar
stiffness in his back brought on by the thin mattress.
“Jon?!” he called out to his host as he staggered to the kitchen.
Jon wasn’t there, but the coffee maker was turned on and the urn
was half full. He poured a mug and sat, taking in the view of the
traffic backed up on West Sixty-Fifth Street.
He wasn’t disappointed that his host was out of the apartment.
He was a nice enough man, but he was also close friends with Bart’s employer . . . which meant that most of their conversation revolved 30
R o b B y r n e s
around his employer. Bart didn’t take many days off from his job,
though, and talking about his boss on a rare vacation day didn’t
serve his vacation purposes.
The previous night had been a case in point. After Bart arrived
back at the apartment—far too early, thanks to the unwanted at-
tention of the bartender at The Penthouse—Jon had kept him up
until after midnight reminiscing about “the old days.” While Bart
certainly appreciated the free place to crash while he was in Man-
hattan, he was beginning to wonder if it was worth it, since the point of his getaway was to
Okay, he thought, as he refilled his coffee mug, it was Wednes-
day, the second day of his brief vacation, and he was in Manhattan, which meant he could not—under any circumstance—spend the
day in front of the television. And, to the extent he could avoid it, he would also try not to talk about work or work-related people.
He drained his coffee and walked to the shower, determined to
make a vacation for himself.
“You shouldn’t have come.” Thus spoke Max Abraham.
Max shrugged. “Eh. So how’s life?”
“That’s not the big news here, is it?” Noah sat in the cold plastic chair next to his father’s bed. “How are you?”
Max raised one of his bushy eyebrows in his son’s direction. “My
life continues. All in all, I suppose that’s big news. It’s certainly
news. For me, at least.”
Noah smiled as he watched that bushy eyebrow hiked up on his
father’s forehead. For a moment, he wasn’t just Max Abraham, fa-
ther, but Max Abraham, New York City icon. In his frequent eager-
ness to be his own man, Noah sometimes forgot that he also
enjoyed his status as the son of one of New York’s most recogniz-
Max Abraham was one of the more flamboyant members of the
New York City legal community. For several decades, he had repre-
sented actors, captains of industry, mob figures, cardinals, and
politicians, and while it was true that his reputation for self-promotion exceeded that of his reputation for legal skills, he had managed to make untold millions of dollars in the process. Through pluck and
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nerve—and knowing when to call in the experts to shore himself
up—he had managed to become so well known that not only was
he a regular feature of the New York social scene, he was a recur-
ring character on
Saturday Night Live
known as “Famous Lawyer Abe Maxham.” Pure coincidence, the show’s producers claimed,
when Max threatened to sue. Pure coincidence . . . right down to those uncontrollable eyebrows.
Of course there had been no lawsuit. Max had bluffed, but
would have never followed through. The
Saturday Night Live
parody validated his status as an iconic New Yorker, a status Max valued
dearly. The lawsuit had been nothing more than a strategy to par-
ley the SNL caricature into a few additional mentions on Page Six.
It had worked—those things usually did—and even that morning
as he rested in his hospital bed, Max was strategizing on how best to publicize his heart attack without scaring off potential clients.
“You gave us quite a scare,” Noah said.
a scare?” Again, an eyebrow hoisted. “Let me tell you about scary, Noah. Scary is when you’re afraid your life might be
determined by whether or not those asshole Manhattan drivers will
get out of the way to let your ambulance up Third Avenue.
Noah laughed. His father had been guilty of many things over
the years—bad parent, worse husband—but his sense of humor al-
ways bought him forgiveness.
“And anyway,” Max continued, “with a little luck I’ll be out of
here in a few days.”
get out of here. This hospital cramps your style.”
In truth, he thought his father didn’t look so bad for a man who
had just suffered a heart attack and might undergo surgery. A bit
pale and drawn, but that was understandable. Looking at him, Noah
felt reassured that he would be around, making him crazy, for an-
other couple of decades.
Max leaned toward Noah. “So tell me how the book is going.”
“It’s not.” Noah let out a long sigh. “No one wants to talk. Not on the record. And when they
talk, it’s . . . it’s sad. Self-loathing jus-tifications for why they won’t come out, why they’d rather enable
the enemy than—”
“Stop right there.” Max punctuated his command with a sweep-
ing hand-gesture. “Who is the enemy?”
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“Anti-gay politicians. The ones they usually work for.”
Despite his recent heart attack, the argumentative lawyer in Max
began to take over.
Max was good, but—on this topic—Noah knew he was better.
He began ticking off legislation. “The Federal Marriage Amend-
ment. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Um . . . opposition to AIDS funding and information. Equating homosexuality with bestiality and pe-dophilia . . . Do I have to go on?”
“You have some good examples, Noah. And I’m not arguing
with you. But is everyone who supports ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ anti-gay?”
“Bill Clinton was anti-gay?”
“That was different. He was forced—”
“Yes!” Max rose from his prone position, and Noah could almost
see him in a suit and tie, gesturing to hold the attention of the jury, instead of lying in a pale blue hospital gown under an industrial-grade sheet. “Yes, Clinton was
. But he
. And in the process he both lost a battle
“If he didn’t, it would have been worse.”
“I’m not arguing with you against Clinton. Come on; you know
that I’m friends with Bill and Hillary. Love them! All I’m saying is that you might want to remember that in politics, as in life, the
palette has very little black and white, but a lot of shades of gray.”
“The world doesn’t look like that to me.”
He sighed. “You’re young.”
“Thirty-four. Almost thirty-five.”
“Young.” Max grabbed a glass of water from the bedside table,
drank, and continued. “Gays are the new Jews. I think you should
fight for equality, but I don’t think you should assume that everyone is going to get it, or that it’s going to be easy. Take it from a Jew born in the Holocaust era. To me, it’s insane to think that a lot of people didn’t ‘get it’ about Jews just a few generations ago. It’s better now . . . not perfect, but better. It will be better for you, too, but you have to realize that a lot of people—even a lot of
are going to have a learning curve.”
Noah shook his head. “It had better be a steep curve. Most of us
don’t want to wait, Dad.”
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“Ah . . .” Max closed his eyes and slumped back against the pil-
low. “The impatience of youth.”
“I’m thirty-four,” Noah reminded him. Again.
“Youth. You will learn.”
Despite the fact that he had rushed two hundred miles to his
bedside, Noah began to remember why they kept their distance
from each other. Max Abraham was the ultimate negotiator, always
willing to open with a compromise rather than stand on principle.
Noah Abraham was someone altogether different. The only conso-
lation, Noah thought, was that the negotiator and the idealist were mostly on the same side.
“How about,” Noah said, “we change the subject.”
His father smiled. “So I’m right?”
“Dad, I’m going to tell you that you’re right. You are one-hundred-percent correct. And do you know why I’m going to tell you that?”
“Because I just had a heart attack.”
“You are a very smart man.”
Max laughed. “Play to your advantages, then take the victory
and don’t look back.”
This time Noah laughed along with the fleshy, temporarily gray-
ish man with the bushy eyebrows and the salt-and-pepper hair who,
by some accident of biology, was his father. And he realized that