This is Part 2 of Chapter 38 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Antipasto -- Part I", the previous section.
Papagano's looks like a damn warehouse from the outside -- until you get right up to the door. Vic pulls up front and a uniformed guy steps forward.
"Just park the fucking thing, Vic!"
"No way. Valet parking all the way."
The doorman opens the door for me and helps me out of the car, like the Queen or an old woman with a bad hip. I'm not sure which is worse, but the attention is nice.
The inside of the restaurant is all weird shit. Things hanging from the ceiling, big glass and chrome panels sticking up here and there, mirrors all over the walls.
"Looks like a fucking space ship."
"It's modernistic," says Vic.
"I'd feel more comfortable with a few posters of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, like at Luigi's."
"This isn't that kind of Italian restaurant. You should have seen Fiore in New York. Or Tempo. This reminds me of those places. Fabulous style -- fabulous food."
Lindsay, Melanie, and Gus come in right behind us. Lindsay is dressed to kill in a blue satin number, hair up, and a diamond necklace and matching earrings. Melanie is wearing a plain black dress. She seems uncomfortable, but she looks just great -- very classy. Gus is dressed up, too, in a red tee-shirt and jacket.
The hostess, who looks like Sophia Loren, gives us the once-over. We aren't regulars, obviously. Vic steps up. "Kinney Party."
Sophia raises her painted eyebrows. "Ah! This way -- please."
"See," Vic says. "It's all who you know."
"Yeah," snipes Melanie. "Who'd ever have thought we'd admit to knowing Brian?"
Vic hoists up Gus and carries him, and we follow while Sophia sashays through the room. There's an area blocked off from the main room with those big glass panels and mirror things. We go around and there's a big table, with Brian sitting at the head like the fucking King of Pittsburgh. Miss Sophia can't stop being gracious now. Brian kisses me, kisses Gus, kisses Lindsay, even kisses Melanie. He probably would have kissed Vic, too, but Vic waves him off and hugs him instead.
Justin, of course, is already planted on Brian's right side, so Lindsay sits down on his other side, while Sophia gestures for a peon to bring the highchair for Gus.
Jennifer and Molly are already seated next to Justin. Jennifer has saved a place next to her for me, so I plop myself down.
"What do you think of this circus, Jen?"
"Papagano's has always been one of my favorites," she answers. Figures. Rich fucking WASPS!
Across the table I notice a blonde woman. She looks so familiar. Then I realize -- she's the one who came to the house for the mortgage. Brian's assistant at the ad agency.
"Hi, honey. Remember me?"
"Of course. Mrs. Novotny."
"Right." She smiles.
"Some deal, huh?"
"Brian never does anything halfway," she says, and she ought to know.
"That's for fucking sure!"
"How's the house?"
"Just great. Everything went fine."
"Good. I'm glad it worked out."
"What about you, hon? Keeping busy?"
"Busier than you'd think, Mrs. Novotny," she says, but doesn't go into detail. If Brian isn't working at Ryder, I wonder what she's doing? Working for someone else there? Yet, she's still taking care of Brian's shit.
Just then a couple come in and Cynthia greets them. From what the guy says to her and Brian I figure that this is Brian's boss, Ryder, and his wife. She has some big jewelry on that would blind a bat. They sit next to Cynthia and kind of look across the table at me like, 'what's that'? Then they see Jennifer and start making conversation with her. Well, screw you, Mr. and Mrs. Stuck-up Boss!
Ted and Emmett bounce in, with Michael and Ben right behind them.
"Hi, Hi!" Emmett strikes a pose so everyone can take in his new get-up. It's really colorful, which I like. But I notice Brian making a face and exchanging looks with Lindsay.
Michael leans down to give me a kiss. "Hey, Ma. What do you think?"
"I think I like the diner better."
"Me, too," Michael whispers. "But don't tell Brian that. He's really gone to a lot of trouble to make everything perfect."
"Right. I'll broadcast it! You little creep!" I say, fondly.
Brian indicates that Ben should take the other end seat. The two Alpha Males of the group -- that's what Vic calls them. Like a couple of fucking bookends. I'm glad they don't hate each other, like Brian and David did. Those two made poor Michael's life hell that year, squabbling over him like dogs over a bone. It's much better this way.
But one person is missing. Vic keeps looking around.
A couple of snooty-looking waiters make their way around, already pouring wine. They bring a fruit drink with lots of umbrellas and straws sticking out for Molly.
"Hey!" says Emmett. "I want one of THOSE!"
Mrs. Ryder looks around at him, frowning.
"We'll put an umbrella in your wine -- just for you," says Brian.
Vic tastes the wine. "This is the real stuff," he says in a low voice. "No choice of house red or house white here."
I take a slug. "What the hell? Tastes like plain old wine to me."
One of the snooty waiters hands me a menu. "Hey, Vic -- there are no prices in here. How am I supposed to know what to order?"
Brian hears me. "That's why! So you won't try to order the cheapest thing -- or the most expensive thing they have. Just order what you want."
"What the fuck!"
Vic pokes me. "Brian is the host -- he has the only menu with the prices."
"Well, excuse ME!"
I look over the selections. "Are you sure this is Italian food? I mean, what the hell is 'Nut-crusted Chilean Sea Bass with Asparagus and Balsamic Dressing'?
"Oh! It's marvelous," says Mrs. Boss, across the table. "I've had it here before. It's one of the chef's special creations."
"How the fuck did a Chilean Sea Bass get to Italy, I wanna know?"
"Swam?" says Emmett.
"And, boy, are his fins tired!" adds Ted.
"It's fusion cuisine," Jennifer tells me.
"Well, it sure as hell isn't any Italian I know -- and I've been Italian all my life! Where are the spaghetti and meatballs?"
"I'm with Debbie. Some of this fancy food is kind of intimidating," says Sunshine, bless him.
"Your dinner isn't supposed to eat YOU, you're supposed to eat IT -- so don't be intimidated." Brian gives him a little poke. "What happens if you go to another country and they serve you something you don't recognize? What will you do?"
"Pretend he's a member of a religious cult that eats only Hostess Cupcakes and drinks only A&W root beer?" Emmett pipes up.
"Why not? Brian belongs to an even stranger religious cult that eats only Twinkies."
"Shut UP, Teddy! His mother is here!" Emmett slaps Ted's hand, but I think the whole thing goes right over Jennifer's head anyway.
"I never go anywhere, so eating odd food in foreign countries is a moot point."
"You think," says Brian, smirking. Justin nudges him, but he won't say anything more. Those two are up to something. I hope.
Jennifer closes her menu. "I'm having the veal with artichokes in the Marsala and cream sauce."
"Oh! That's marvelous, too!" Mrs. Boss enthuses. She's obviously eaten her way through the entire menu and wants everyone to know it.
"And I think I'll have the scallops and saffron risotto," says Lindsay, closing her menu.
"And I'll have the same," adds Melanie.
Brian gives Mel a sassy look. "Why, Melanie. I thought you were such a stickler for fine old religious traditions? Like for Gus. But not for yourself, huh?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Scallops? Shellfish? That's NOT kosher, my dear!"
"Fuck you, Kinney," she says, softly.
"Since when are you such a big expert on what's kosher?"
He just smirks at her. He loves getting one up on Melanie.
Suddenly Vic stands up. Tim is here, finally. I turn and look at Brian. He's got that blank look on his face, like when he erases every bit of emotion off of it.
"Sorry, sorry -- I had a meeting with my supervisor. It ran late."
"You're right on time," lies Vic. He gazes at Tim in a way that makes me feel all mushy.
Brian stands up and walks over. Tim looks at him like he's not sure who it is. Then he realizes. Brian shakes his hand.
"I'm happy you could make it."
"Brian." Tim looks him up and down. "You're so tall. And so... so...." He just gapes at Brian.
And that's when it hits me. It's so fucking obvious! Why didn't Vic tell me this before? Brian and Tim! No, Brian and FATHER Tim! Holy Mary and Joseph! I'm glad Vic didn't tell me! No wonder Brian went to Los Angeles -- there really IS no one left in Pittsburgh he hasn't fucked! Except poor Michael.
The waiters come around and take the orders. I can't decide between the fettucine with lamb ragu or the mussels in white wine sauce. I end up ordering the osso buco. What the hell -- go with what you know.
They bring around the antipasto and by the time I finish sampling the fried calamari, the bruschetta, and the beef carpaccio I'm almost too full to want anything else. I said almost. Until they bring the main courses, that is. And more wine. And some kind of super garlic bread with goat cheese melted on top. And more wine with that. I think I'm getting a little smashed, but in a good way.
And the food gets inhaled like nobody's business. Mrs. Ryder comments on every dish, of course, sooo tastefully. But she bolts her grilled salmon and linguine down almost as fast as Justin. And for Molly I finally see a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
"Hey! That's what I was looking for!"
"Next time, Deb, you'll get the Children's Menu, too," says Brian. And I notice that even he seems to be eating something.
While they bring around dessert -- yes! more food! -- and coffee, Brian stands up. He's going to make a little speech, like a real host. Justin opens up a leather bag and takes out some presents, wrapped in red and gold and silver paper. Most of them are little things for Gus, who has been pretty good for a toddler.
But Brian also has presents for everyone else. Even Mrs. Boss. It's some little piece of expensive jewelry, but all she seems to care about is the box -- from some fancy store in Beverly Hills. Cynthia gets something from the same store, and so do Jennifer and Melanie. They all ooh and ah. Molly gets a Barbie doll dressed like Audrey Hepburn in 'Sabrina.' Vic oohs and ahs over that! Molly obviously has no clue who Audrey is, but she sure knows Barbie and she's delighted!
Justin has already opened his present and is passing it around. Some cartoon thing.
"That is really valuable," says Michael, holding it up.
"That little cartoon?"
"It's an original cel, Ma, from the animated feature. 'Yellow Submarine.' The Beatles. It's incredibly collectible!"
"If you say so, honey. Looks like paint on cardboard to me."
Lindsay opens a red envelope. First class tickets for her and Gus to go to L.A. to visit Brian. Lindsay is beaming, but Melanie doesn't look at all pleased. "And MY real gift is a week of peace and quiet," she growls.
"Which you sorely need," says Lindsay.
"Me! Me!" Emmett is bouncing in his seat. Justin hands him a flat package, which he rips open. "Oh. My. GOD!"
It's a photo, signed 'To Emmett, Love Barbra.'
"But she NEVER! Never, ever! How? Why?"
"I can't take credit. All I can say is that Ron must have some nude photos of Ms. Streisand hidden away somewhere and used them to blackmail her."
"Nude photos of Mr. Brolin, more like," adds Ted.
"That's another possibility," Brian admits. "My policy is -- don't ask, don't tell when it comes to Ron."
"I bet," I hear Sunshine mumble.
Poor Emmett is weeping now.
"If you don't stop that," says Brian. "I'll take that thing away and give it to Gus! Might as well start him out early."
"You will not!" snaps Melanie.
Brian sighs. "It may be too late. Remind me to tell you about the 'Hello Kitty' incident at the Big Q-Mart."
Emmett presses the photo to his breast. "I'm NEVER letting this out of my sight!"
Brian rolls his eyes.
Ted opens his envelope next. "Two tickets to the Met for the fall season?" He stares at Brian.
"For Cecilia Bartoli. IF she doesn't cancel. Again."
Ted is stunned. "This is phenomenal!"
"Not if she cancels, it isn't."
"And TWO tickets?"
"Well, Ted -- hope springs eternal, right?"
For once Ted doesn't have a snarky response. He just smiles at the tickets.
"Ben, I already delivered your stuff to you."
"Marty -- I'll see you Tuesday to go over that project we discussed."
"Looking forward to it."
"Mikey -- I couldn't think of anything to top Captain Astro...."
"That would be impossible."
"So, I didn't try. Instead, Justin suggested that you need internet access for the website for your store." He hands Michael an envelope. "Justin set it up -- full access for the next two years, everything you'll need."
"This is great! This will really get our mail order business going full-speed!" Michael gives Brian a big kiss. And this time there are no fucking surprises -- and no strings attached.
Brian comes around the table to Vic and me. "You've already given us ours, Brian. I can't thank you enough."
"You mean the mortgage thing?" he says in a low voice. "That was payment for past services." His eyes move over to rest on Tim. "I've owed that one a long time. But this is just for fun." He hands Vic another gold envelope.
"Round trip, first class, Liberty Air? To Los Angeles. And reservations for a suite at the Beverly Palms Hotel. For one week in November? Oh my God!!" cries Vic. "That's where Lucy and Ricky and Fred and Ethel stayed when Ricky was making 'Don Juan'!"
"I know. I double checked."
I'm speechless. "But why, Brian?"
"Why not? Don't you want to go to Knott's Berry Farm and Catalina Island and all those tourist hellholes?"
"Why November?" asks Michael. I'm wondering, too.
"Oh, I guess it's not obvious. November is when the film is scheduled to premiere."
"I'm going to a fucking movie premiere? In Hollywood?!"
"Yup. You'll have a limo and champagne and all the trappings. You can walk down the Red Carpet and be insulted by Joan Rivers. We'll even deck you out in a designer dress and borrowed diamonds. You, too, Vic -- if that's what you're into. All the stars do it. Anything for free. Movie people are the cheapest bastards on the fucking planet."
"I think I'm gonna faint!"
Vic pinches me. "You're not going to faint. You don't want to lose your wig here in Papagano's, do you?"
"I guess not." I put my hand to my head, to make certain it's secure, just in case.
The party begins to break up. Ryder and his wife and Cynthia head out, then Lindsay and Melanie, as Gus begins to get cranky. It is getting late. Molly yawns and Jennifer hugs me before she goes.
"Was it so terrible?"
Jennifer sighs. "I imagine that if Justin were my daughter I would be thrilled and think, 'what a great catch!' -- but...."
"It could be worse, you know, Jen? He could be living in some student slum or commune with a total scuzzy deadbeat. And he'd still be just as gay."
"I know, Debbie."
"And Brian is -- Brian. You either have to take him or leave him."
"I know that, too. But it's still hard."
Michael and Ben make plans to meet Emmett and Ted at Babylon, while Justin sees his mom and sister out to their car. Vic and Tim are finishing up their cappuccino, their heads together.
And Brian is sitting at the head of the table, alone. He's turning one more package over and over in his hands.
"We're going, honey."
"Huh? Oh, right. I'll see you on Memorial Day for the thing at Lindsay's."
I point to the package. "Save one for yourself?"
"This? No. Someone didn't show up for dinner."
I glance down the table and realize that there was one empty seat at the end, between Emmett and Ben. But I can't think of who was missing.
"Here, Deb. These will go with anything you wear to the premiere."
He kisses me and then walks to the front of the restaurant. The hostess and manager are all over him. I never saw a bill or a tip or anything. He must have taken care of everything ahead of time, out of sight of his guests. So smooth, that Brian Kinney. So slick.
Justin comes in from seeing Jen and Molly off and they go out together, Brian's arm around Justin's shoulders. To meet the boys at Babylon. Friday night is a big night. Vic and Tim scoop me up and lead me to the door. We wait for Valet Parking to bring the car around.
"What's that?" asks Tim.
"An extra present. Brian gave it to me. Someone didn't show," I shrug.
"Well, open it up!" says Vic.
I tear the silver paper. Another box from that fancy Beverly Hills store, but bigger than the others. I snap it open. It's a long strand of cultured pearls with a gold clasp.
"Those are beautiful."
It's Sophia Loren -- the hostess -- looking over my shoulder. "You dropped this." She puts a little card that was inside the wrapping into my hand. But not before she reads it, the nosy bitch. "Your son has excellent taste, Mrs. Kinney."
"But he's not...."
Sophia is already off, across the dining room.
I look at the card. It's addressed to his mother. With love -- from Brian.
Continue on to "Songs of Experience".
©Gaedhal, June 2002
Picture of Gale Harold from Showtime.
Send Gaedhal any comments, critiques, suggestions.
Updated June 29, 2002