This is Chapter 34 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Later", the previous chapter.
The narrator is Ben Bruckner, and features Brian Kinney.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian stops by to see Ben in his office at Carnegie Mellon University. May 2002.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
May is a Hell of a time when you are an academic. Final projects. Exams. Conferences. Grading. I basically live in my office. I've thought of inviting Michael to come over and see me -- since I haven't seen that much of him lately due to our divergent schedules. But I don't indulge myself. I keep seeing him at the end of the day as my reward for getting all my shit done.
I've also been struggling with my book on Ron Rosenblum. It's really a bit of a side project, since it isn't strictly within my academic parameters. But I think it's an important study of an important gay filmmaker. Plus, Ron has been more than generous with material, especially getting me hard-to-find videos and clearing people to talk to me, etc. And if 'The Olympian' is the critical success I think it will be -- box office success for a queer romance is much, much iffier, but that's just reality -- then my book will be all the more significant.
I just wish I felt better about Ron and everything that's happened recently. And by that I mean Brian.
It always comes down to Brian, doesn't it?
He's a subject I no longer broach with Michael. The pain he is in over Brian's 'abandonment' is palpable. We may have a relationship, but Brian's place in Michael's life is something I have to accept. And I do, even when I feel twinges of jealousy over it. I understand very well how Michael's conflicted feelings for his best friend contributed to destroying his relationship with David Cameron. Cameron obviously couldn't deal with Brian and all he represents in Michael's mind and heart. I am determined that I won't make that same mistake.
I'm reading Frank Browning classic book on queer life in the 1990's, 'The Culture of Desire,' when I look up and see someone at my door. Since it's my open office hours and students drop by all the time, I motion him in -- and then stop.
"For chrisake! Brian!" I jump up and offer him my hand. He shakes it firmly. His hand feels hot and dry. That little electric spark that is always in any touch of Brian's is still there. I take my hand back quickly. A little too quickly, perhaps.
"Ben. Not disturbing you, I hope?"
"Michael told me you were in town. I didn't expect to see you over here."
"I'm sure Michael had plenty to say about my reappearance."
"Nothing except to say he saw you at the loft."
"He's extremely pissed at me. And I don't blame him."
We stand there awkwardly for a few moments. I don't want to tell him just how upset Michael was Monday night. I don't like to think about it myself because I hate to see Michael in any pain. But Brian looks like he's full of enough apprehension to cover all of us.
"You're just in time for office hours. Have a paper you want to discuss with me?"
Brian smiles that little mystical smile. "As a matter of fact...."
He reaches into a leather bag and pulls out a parcel wrapped in brown paper.
"From your good buddy Ron."
'Well!" I drop back into my chair and begin to open it, eagerly. Then I look up. "Oh, sorry. Have a seat?"
"Sure. Why not?"
He eases his long body into my 'student' chair -- I have the only decent chair at my own desk -- and looks around.
"I think I expected something a bit more -- I don't know -- tweedy and oriental rug-ish for a professor's office."
I have to laugh at that. "Then head over to the offices of the administration. For a professor -- an assistant professor, by the way -- this is pretty much standard accommodations."
He takes in the second-hand furniture and dingy walls, covered with queer-oriented posters. A large one-sheet for 'Some Like It Hot.' Another of Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde and Jude Law as Bosie. Quentin Crisp. Batman and Robin (Michael gave me that one). Bette Davis in 'All About Eve.' Anthony Perkins in 'Psycho.'
"This office looks more like Ron's than you'd think. All these movie posters."
I laugh. "The difference is that Ron's posters are rare originals, framed and carefully displayed. Mine are cheap knock-offs, unrolled and stuck up on the wall with thumbtacks."
He shrugs. "Well, I can't tell the fucking difference. A poster is a poster. I never really understood this 'collecting' thing. Mikey's always been into it. Saving shit. Putting it into plastic. Storing it in boxes. Ron's the same way. Stuff in cabinets and under glass. Protect it from the sun, from the heat, from the dust."
I look at Brian a little differently. A collection, huh? How much does Brian feel he's part of that collection? I never thought of that before, but it makes sense. Perfect sense, unfortunately for Brian.
"I think you see objects as things to be of use, rather than as objects of a larger cultural milieu. Objects that represent the zeitgeist, certain cultural memories and aspirations to a group of people have value in themselves and not merely for their utility."
Now, Brian laughs. "Ben -- to me a comic book is a fucking comic book. You read it. You enjoy it. You throw it away. A movie is just a fucking movie. You make it. You watch it. You forget about it. End of story."
"That's a very pragmatic approach, Brian. I'm glad you aren't on the hiring committee here."
"No offense intended, Ben. I understand as well as the next guy the importance of interpreting images. Like in advertising. Literature. Art. It's all the same. Explication. Meaning. Effect."
"You should come in and lecture to my class."
"Why not? I might be needed a new gig pretty soon. Especially after this flick comes out and people get a load of my 'acting' ability. I doubt that the offers will be rolling in," he says bitterly.
I regard him closely for the first time. He looks exhausted. Restless. I'm betting that he needs a cigarette, but the campus has a strict no smoking policy. All he'd have to do is light up in here and -- wham! -- ten secretaries and a janitor would be on him like a shot. And not in a way Brian would enjoy, either.
He looks up at my posters again. I suddenly have a prescient moment. I picture a large poster for 'The Olympian' -- an original, this time, autographed by the director and the star -- hanging on the wall right behind his head.
"Now, that is NOT what I've been hearing."
Brian cocks his head. "You've been hearing things? What kind of things?"
"Remember -- I'm writing about this picture. Among other things. I've seen some outtakes. Talked to people in the Industry. Been in touch with Ron...."
"Ask Ron and you'll start to think this flick is the second coming of 'Gone With the Wind' and "The Godfather' all rolled into one." Brian reaches into his bag and starts flipping through some papers. "Believe me -- this thing is one step up from a stroke film. Except with one big star. And a lot of little nobodies."
"Of which I'm the nobodiest."
I have to smile at his characterization. "Some may disagree with you, Brian."
"No, really. This thing is a fucking vanity project from A to B. A chance for Jimmy to 'make a statement.' For Ron to act like a bigshot. For the studio to say, 'Hey! Look how progressive we are!' -- Only don't talk too much about what the thing is actually about. Homophobia. Hate crimes. Politics. Sex. Hypocrisy. Death. Nope. The demographic of young males that rule the film universe might think it's 'icky.'"
"Sounds like the shoot wasn't exactly a walk in the park for you."
He suddenly stands up. He's wearing his usual off-work clothes -- jeans, boots, a red tee-shirt,
leather jacket -- but he looks different. Not the sleek and confident Brian. The tiger on the prowl. The strutter with the cynical smirk. He's angry. And scared for some reason. He starts pacing around my office like his nerves are on fire. And it's not a big office, so he strikes me as a caged tiger looking for an escape.
I try to reconcile what I'm seeing with the self-assured creature I last saw at the film festival. The stud that I tricked with in Miami. The best friend who Michael is still obsessed with after all these years. The center of the universe of a small group of people -- a family of sorts -- that I am now a part of. But that center looks to be disintegrating before my eyes.
"Brian, why don't you sit down for a minute and relax?"
He stares at me like I'm unbalanced. "Relax, Ben? I AM relaxed! This is me, relaxed!"
He spins around and knocks a pile of books off my low shelf. I stand up and take a hold of him. For a second I think he's going to take a poke at me.
"Brian! Brian...." He seems to shake it off and sinks back down into the crummy college surplus chair.
"Sorry. I think I need to eat something. It must be my fucking blood sugar level."
I sit in my chair and lean over to him. "What the fuck is going on out in California, Brian?"
He shakes his head.
"Brian, tell me. I promise I won't say anything to Michael. To Ron. To anyone. But something is the matter. I know I can't call myself a good friend of yours, but what the fuck? Sometimes your best friend in the world is NOT the right person to confide in. Depending on what is wrong."
He shrugs his leather jacket off his shoulders and I see just how thin he is. And not heavy training thin. Not running thin. Sick thin. I get a bad feeling.
"Brian -- are you sick? Tell me. If anyone would understand, it would be me."
He smiles very slightly. "No, not that. Not that. I've dodged that bullet -- so far. Although...." He almost says something else, but changes his mind. "No, the bullet I haven't dodged is that I'm losing my fucking mind out there. If they had set out from the beginning to bring me down, they couldn't have done a better, more complete job. All in the name of MOVIE! All for Ron's fucking 'dream project.' Jimmy's next Oscar. And Brian will be sending his congratulations from the locked ward at the Spencer Pavilion in Beverly Hills."
"The Spencer Pavilion? Isn't that the fancy clinic where all the stars go to rehab?"
"Can be. I think Keith Richards used to have his blood changed there, too. And Marilyn Monroe probably went for her abortions and Rock Hudson for his bouts of clap. It's exclusive all right."
"I think you can avoid those fates, Brian," I say.
"You think so? Well, it's too late, because I've already been IN! I'm a member of the club. They only let me out because certain people made a fuss. Oh, and they needed a body to finish the picture. Mine qualified."
I don't know what to say. But as I look at him I believe it. Every word. Yet, I've been in touch with either Ron or his office almost every week since the film began shooting and nothing like this has ever been mentioned. Not even hinted at. The set was closed down a few days due to illness -- Brian's illness, I remember -- but that was all. Brian's illness? Brian's fucking breakdown! It must have been. And I am seeing the result sitting in front of me.
"I really need to talk to Mikey before I leave this town again. I know I've been an asshole -- and our 'reunion' didn't exactly occur under the best circumstances...."
"Michael walked in on you and Justin." I just state the facts.
"Well, what the fuck did he expect? He just let himself in! Please. It isn't as if it's something he hasn't seen before." Brian ran his hand through his shaggy hair. "I know I should have kept in touch with him. Called him from out there. But I fucking could not! It would have defeated the whole purpose!"
"And what purpose was that, Brian?" I ask, quietly. But he doesn't answer. He just keeps shaking his head.
There's a knock on my door and one of my students pokes his head in. This guy is a hunk and a half -- and he knows it. He's also smart, out, and a real lothario on campus.
"Hey, Professor Bruckner."
"Alan. Did you bring your paper?"
"Yeah. Got it right here." He steps in the office and then sees Brian. He does a double-take worthy of Jack Lemmon as he looks Brian up and down. Alan considers himself the star-stud of my 'Queer Images in the Media' classes. He took the intro last fall and is now doing an independent study with me to get his paper on Clint Eastwood ready for a conference he's attending out in San Diego. Brian has definitely caught his interest. Even at a seeming low point in his spirits, Brian has no problem attracting all the beauties. Once more, I feel a twinge of envy.
"I better get my ass out of here, Ben." Brian stands up.
"I'm sure I'll see you again while you're in town. Maybe dinner with Michael and me?"
"If he can stomach me."
"That should be no problem at all. He's just a little... vulnerable right now. He'll come around. Where you are concerned, he'll always come around."
"I know. That's his fucking curse." He looks over at my student, who is still standing in the doorway, gaping at him.
"Oh, Alan. This is my friend Brian. I may have mentioned him. He's just finished making a film out in Hollywood. Based on 'The Olympian' -- remember?"
"Sure! Definitely! That's a radical book, man!" He shakes Brian's hand and can't seem to stop shaking it. "Are you playing Bobby? Unbelievable, man! Unbelievable!"
"Yeah. It was a pretty... unbelievable experience." Brian throws his leather jacket over his arm and picks up his leather bag. "I'll call you, Ben. And if you could talk to Mikey. Just.... oh, fuck it."
"I will, Brian. We'll all get together."
He looks around the room. "Could you tell me the time? I don't have a watch and I have to pick up Justin after his class over at PIFA. He didn't want to go in today and I told him that I was fucking paying for him to GO to classes and not skip them."
"It's almost 3:00."
"Then I'd better run. Nice to meet you...." He nods absently to my student.
And Brian goes out. Alan never takes his eyes off him.
"Here's the paper, Dr. Bruckner. I gotta run, too."
"I thought we were going to talk?"
"Maybe tomorrow. I just remembered something I have to do. Bye."
He speeds out of there without looking back. And I have no doubt that he's on his way to catch up to Brian. Some things never change. This is one detail of the day I'll refrain from telling Michael.
I sit down and begin going over Alan's paper, "Queer Signification and Clint Eastwood in 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.'"
But a few minutes later there's another little knock on the door.
"Alan. Come in."
He enters and flops down in the student chair that Brian so recently vacated. He looks alternately pissed and mystified.
"Back already? That was quick."
Alan grimaces at me. "You mocking me, Dr. Bruckner?"
"No, actually. I'm rather curious."
"You see, I've known Brian for a few years and... I didn't expect you to come back. At least quite this soon."
"He blew me off! Do you believe it?" Alan deems himself irresistible. It's his main character trait. And he's usually right.
"Frankly? No. But then Brian's changed a lot since I last saw him."
"I've been hearing about that guy ever since I came to Pittsburgh and started grad school here. I used to see him at Babylon and could never get his attention in the crowd. But, shit -- I thought this was my golden opportunity! And that movie coming out and all! I mean, shit!"
"So, what happened, Alan?" I try to keep from smiling.
"He just looked at me and said, 'I think you need to get a new hobby.'"
Now I laugh out loud.
"It isn't funny, professor. Nobody blows ME off like that!" Alan looks petulant.
"Well, considering he's on his way to pick up the guy he's been living with for over a year and a half, it shouldn't be such a surprise."
Alan curls his lip. "You mean that kid he used to hang out with? That scrawny twink? That never stopped him before. Ever!" Alan just keeps mumbling and shaking his head. "Maybe it's this shirt. Can't be ME -- no way."
"Alan." He looks up. "Forget it. I think your time to have a crack at Brian has come and gone."
"We'll see, professor. We'll see."
"If you say so, Alan. Now let's take a look at Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in love, shall we?"
"Radical, Dr. Bruckner. Radical."
Continue on to Chapter 35 "Sugar Daddy II -- part 1".
©Gaedhal, June 2002
Picture of Gale Harold from Zap2It.com.
Updated June 21, 2002