This is Chapter 118 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out -- Part 4", the previous section.
The narrators are Ron Rosenblum and Brian Kinney.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: What happened. Pittsburgh, December 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.
Another fucking film festival. And all I really want to do is to go home.
It was nice seeing Ben Bruckner. He's a good guy, although I think a little of him goes a long way. He's a bit full of himself with all his Buddhist bullshit, but he's still hot. I've always thought so. I'm not sure why we never hooked up somewhere along the line, but it's probably just as well. He's HIV+ now and he's also in a relationship. Thank God I've managed to avoid that fucking trap all these years! Relationships. Yeah, like I could ever sustain one. I can't even stay interested in one guy for longer than an hour, which is just as well, I guess. That shit never works out. At least, it never has for me.
Ben's boyfriend, Michael, is pretty cute. Short and dark. Looks like someone Ben could pick up with one hand and put in his pocket! Maybe that's the attraction. Michael is a big comic book fan, from what I could glean from the conversation at dinner. A few years ago I would have scoffed at that shit, but it's hot in film right now. Doing a comic book picture doesn't interest me at all, but 'X-Men' was well done. And so was 'Batman.' I can see that Ben is interested in the sociological and homoerotic implications of comic books, while Michael seems mainly to be a case of arrested development. But I guess they don't have to talk all that much while they're in bed.
I don't like to talk much in bed, either. Of course, the kind of guys I fuck aren't exactly sterling conversationalists. Most hustlers aren't. Or aspiring actors. Or assistant directors looking to get ahead. Even when they want to talk, I usually shut them up right away. I don't need to hear the life story of some guy I never want to see again.
It's not like it was with someone else. No, that kid never stopped talking. About everything. He was interested in all kinds of things and he wanted to talk about them -- books, television, my little Macintosh computer, something he had read in the 'New York Times' earlier that day. Like he was starved for someone to listen to him, to really hear what he was saying. And I was all too willing to let him ramble on. I could just listen to him and stare at him for hours. Jack was smart. I know he was. Some of the things he said, the comments he made -- he was no vacuous street punk, that's for certain. And I'm not idealizing him, either! I know that some of my critics have accused me of romanticizing Jack and the other hustlers in 'Red Shirt,' but that's far from the truth. I never had to romanticize Jack and I still don't. I don't have to do anything -- except try to forget him. But that's impossible when I have to do these fucking film festivals and most of the questions are about Jack and about 'Red Shirt.' That's what they all want to know about. About what happened next. And that's the one thing that I can't tell them. Because there's nothing more to tell.
Maybe after the DVD of 'Red Shirt' is released and after I finish 'The Olympian' I won't have to keep revisiting the past. 'The Olympian' will be the beginning of a whole new phase of my career. I won't be on the fucking margins anymore. I won't have to make porn under ridiculous pseudonyms or sweat blood directing episodes of 'Diagnosis Murder' or working on straight-to-video gay market fluff for Navarro Videos. I'll be able to make REAL pictures. Jimmy Hardy and I already have a bunch of potential projects lined up. Our new production company, Castle in the Air Productions, which is being backed by Jimmy's favorite studio, Terra Nova, will have the momentum of having made 'The Olympian' behind it and we can produce the kind of honest, no-holds-barred films that the mainstream studios are too chicken shit to touch. Just like 'The Olympian' -- a truly ground-breaking film. Hollywood's first real gay romantic drama.
Yes, every time I consider that this project is finally going before the cameras I have to fucking pinch myself. This is, without question, the culmination of a dream. All I've worked towards for ten lousy years in Hollywood is finally going to pay off. I just have the feeling that everything is going my way now -- and it's about fucking time!
I pick up the phone and check my messages. Nothing important. Then I call Ivy back at my office in L.A. and get the latest word from Howie at the studio. Ross Preston has given a tentative commitment to play Bobby. He's not my first choice, but the studio loves the guy. He was just in a big hit for them last summer and he can do no wrong as far as Terra Nova Studio is concerned. So maybe he'll surprise everyone. He's good-looking enough for Bobby, that's for sure. But I don't know about the chemistry he has with Jimmy. Preston was good in the screen test we did, but Jimmy feels that he was holding back. No shit! There aren't a lot of straight boys who can walk in and play a gay love scene with 'America's Boy Next Door'! Talk about fucking around with your mind! But I'm sure it will all work out. It has to work out. It WILL work out -- I'll make sure it does. Because my entire goddamn life is riding on the success of 'The Olympian'!
I'm exhausted after all day at the Carnegie Mellon Gay/Lesbian/Transgendered/Whatever the Fuck Film Festival. It's about the fifth one I've been to this year. I've been to dozens of gay festivals over the years, showing my films, trying to build an audience, answering questions -- and they are almost always about 'Red Shirt.' No wonder I'm all talked out on the subject. But they are giving me an award here, so I have to smile and be gracious. Earlier this evening I had to go to that cocktail party for all the queer elite at Carnegie Mellon University, and then I think I had a little too much to drink at dinner with Ben and his boyfriend. A beer or one glass of wine is my limit -- I just can't handle drinking at all. My big self-indulgence is a joint every now and then, usually provided by Jimmy. He gets this stuff in Hawaii and it's potent shit, no kidding. It's funny -- one time about a year ago we were working on 'The Olympian' script at my house and Jimmy pulled out some of his Maui Wowie pot. I think I took about two hits of it and I was flying. Jimmy even wanted to 'act out' a few scenes from 'The Olympian' -- THAT is how stoned HE was! Right, me and Jimmy making out! There's one for 'Ripley's Believe It or Not'!
After I make my calls, I hang up my suit coat and take off my tie, trying to wind myself down. I think about turning on the television to see what's on, but before I can grab the remote the phone rings.
"Mr. Rosenblum?" says a voice.
"Yes? Who is this?"
"I... I have some material that Professor Bruckner has sent over from the university. For the film festival tomorrow."
"What kind of material?" I ask. Ben didn't say anything about this at dinner.
"Just... some stuff," says the voice. "I'll drop it off at your room, if you don't mind?"
I sigh. What the fuck. "Room 433," I say, and I hang up.
About three minutes later there's a knock on the door. Now I'm really wondering what Ben Bruckner is sending to me. I thought I had all the updated schedules and everything. But it must be something important or he wouldn't send it over at this hour. It's almost 11:00 and I have to be up at the crack of dawn to attend some breakfast meeting and then visit some dyke's class on Feminist Film Theory or some such shit -- whoopee. I open the door.
"Ron? Ron Rosenblum?" asks the voice from the phone.
There's a guy standing there. Tall. He's half in the shadows. Something cold and creepy moves up the back of my neck and I have a strong urge to slam the door and lock it quickly. But instead I say, "Yes, I'm Ron Rosenblum."
The guy steps forward. He isn't carrying anything in his hands. Now I'm sure that I'm about to be robbed. Or something.
I try to shut the door, but he pushes himself forward. "Ron! Don't close the door! Not yet!"
That voice. I've never heard it before -- and yet.... "What do you want? Because I'm going to call the fucking cops in exactly 2 seconds!"
"Just give me a minute! Please? Ron?" The person stands back from the door. "Then I'll take a hike. I promise. I'm not a mugger. Really, I'm not."
I should close the door, but I don't. I stare at the guy in the hallway. But I can't focus on him. I... I can't.... "Who the fuck are you?"
"My name is Brian Kinney. I live here in Pittsburgh. I know Ben Bruckner -- that's why I used his name. You had dinner with him and Michael tonight. Right? At the Orchid? The Thai restaurant in Shadyside? Mikey told me they were taking the visiting film director there."
"So? What's that to you?" I ask, backing away from the door. "What... are you looking for a job in the movies or something? Because I can't help you with that kind of shit."
"No," he says, and he looms in the doorway. Comes right up to me -- and I shrink back. If you've ever had the feeling that you are seeing a ghost, then you'll understand what I'm seeing. Or what I think I'm seeing. Which is something impossible. Just fucking impossible.
"Who are you?" I demand. "I don't know you!"
"I didn't know that you were in town until this evening, Ron. Not until just before I came over here. The name... Ron Rosenblum... I didn't make the connection. I... I should have realized, but I didn't. Those videos you made. And then that other thing... the documentary. 'Red Shirt.'" The guy pauses.
"What about it?" I whisper. I step back from the door and he walks right into my hotel room.
He stops and looks around -- and then he looks right at me. "Don't you know me, Ron? Not at all? I... I thought you would remember."
"Jack," I gasp, trying to breathe. "But you're dead."
"Yes," he says, matter of factly. "Jack IS dead. But I'm alive. I'm Brian." He smiles at me slightly. "I was always Brian, but I didn't want anyone in New York to know that. I thought if anyone knew my real name they might be able to find me later, so I never told anyone. Not even you, Ron."
Those eyes. Those green eyes looking right at me. "Jesus!" I say. I stumble backwards and sit down on the bed. My fucking head feels like it's about to explode.
"Are you okay?" The guy -- Brian -- says. I can feel him leaning over me, but I can't look up at him.
"Yes, just... just stand back," I tell him. "Get away from me."
"I'm sorry," he says, moving away. That's where I can look at him. From a safe distance. He's leaning against the desk, fidgeting with his hands. He's tall and thin. Dark hair cut stylishly short, but fuller, spikier in the front. He's wearing a black leather jacket and black 501's, with a white tee shirt under a dark blue shirt that's unbuttoned and untucked. He looks casual, but well-groomed. He's obviously not some kind of deadbeat, he's too well-kempt. And he doesn't look like a hustler, either -- the shirt and the leather jacket are good quality. The leather jacket might be Hugo Boss, but I can't tell for certain from where I'm sitting.
I stare at his clothes, his hands, his leather boots -- anything to avoid what I really want to look at, but can't bear to -- his face. Because looking at his face would tell me the truth. Tell me if this really is Jack. My Jack. If this really is the person I've been dreaming about for almost 14 long fucking years. The person I loved. The person I tried so hard find. The person I've thought was dead, gone, a myth -- lingering only in my own fading memory and in the frames of my documentary, 'Red Shirt.'
Because if Jack really is alive -- if he's really here, in this room -- then everything has changed in an instant. My life. My documentary. My career. The whole meaning of my existence has been altered somehow. Nothing will ever be the same again -- if it's true. If it isn't some kind of student prank. Or one of Jimmy's cruel practical jokes. Or a scam to extort money out of me. Or... or....
"Do you want me to go? Because I'll go, Ron... if that's what you want. I really didn't mean to stay very long," says that voice, breaking into my head like thunder. It's quiet and has a break in it, like a boy's voice. "I just wanted to see what... what you looked like after all these years. And how you were. And to tell you that I'm all right. That's all I wanted. I mean to upset you. That wasn't my intention."
I finally look directly at him. At Jack. At... Brian. This guy, who is a stranger. This guy who I know as well as I know myself. He looks sad somehow. Beautiful and sad. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
He smiles ruefully. "Here in the Pitts? Or here at this hotel?" He shrugs. "I told you -- I live in Pittsburgh. I'm actually from Pittsburgh. And after I left New York, I came back here. I was kind of a mess at first... but...." He shrugs again. "I managed. I went to Penn State on a full scholarship and now I work at an advertising agency, Ryder Associates. If things go the way I plan them to, I'll make partner next year."
"That's... just great," I say, stupidly. "Really great." How lame this conversation is. How ridiculously lame. But all the questions I want to ask this man -- this person -- Jack or Brian or whatever he calls himself -- just get caught in my throat. "And how did you find me again?"
He swallows. "A... a friend of mine saw your film tonight. 'Red Shirt.' And he came back and told me about it. He told me that he'd seen ME. I didn't believe him at first. I couldn't believe it. But then I looked at the program for the film festival. I saw your name -- and that's when I knew. That's when I had to come over here and see for myself."
"But you said that you know Ben Bruckner. If this other guy recognized you, then why didn't Ben Bruckner say something to you -- or to me?"
This man -- Jack -- shrugs. "I don't know the answer to that one. Maybe Ben just never put two and two together."
And then I remember that Ben mentioned that he'd missed tonight's screening because of a faculty meeting. And that he hadn't seen 'Red Shirt' in quite a number of years. It hasn't been readily available except when I take it to these film festivals because the rights have been tied up in legal wranglings ever since I grabbed the negative and took it away from my thesis advisor at NYU way back in 1988. So it IS possible that Ben didn't recognize this guy as Jack. Didn't make the connection between this tall, healthy, and obviously successful man and the dirty, beautiful, broken 16 year old boy in 'Red Shirt.' I'm certain that if I had passed this guy on the street in New York or out in Los Angeles I never would have noticed him.
But even as I think those words I know they are a lie. Because no gay man could pass this guy by and not take notice. Because he's gorgeous. And I have to admit to myself that when I walk the streets, especially when I'm by myself, I look for Jack in every guy who passes me. I always have. Sometimes I see something of Jack in the way a guy walks, or the way he turns his head, or laughs. Or a black leather jacket worn a certain way. The way this tall, beautiful man is wearing it -- like a fucking piece of armor. Yes, if I'd seen him across the street I would have run out into traffic to follow him. To find him. To find Jack....
"Well," says my visitor. "I guess I'll be going now, Ron. Mr. Rosenblum. I didn't actually get to see your film, but maybe another time...."
"There's a screening of 'Red Shirt' again tomorrow evening. And then I'm doing a Q and A afterwards," I say, quickly. Because now I don't want him to leave. "Why not come to the showing? As my guest. You don't have to do anything but be a spectator. I'd like to know what you think of my film. After all, you're in it and... and everything." I'm stumbling over my words like an idiot. "It's won a lot of awards over the years."
"Really? I'm surprised," he says, frowning. "Not that you aren't a great director or whatever, Ron, I'm sure you are... but it just seems bizarre. I mean, it was just you and that girl and the big Italian guy with the camera...."
"Marc Gerasi," I provide.
"Right," says Jack. Brian. I don't know what to call him. How to think about him. "Marc Gerasi. The Mafioso's son. It's just that your whole set-up seemed pretty low tech and low budget to me at the time. Not that I know fuck-all about movies. But you were only a student, Ron. I figured no one would ever see the thing -- if you ever even finished it. I guess that shows you how much I don't know about the movie business, huh?"
I have to smile. "It was a kind of fluke, really. 'Red Shirt' was in the right place at the right time, I suppose. But it's a good film," I tell him. "And one of the things that makes it good -- makes it great, actually -- is YOU, Jack."
"Brian," he says, not smiling. "The name 'Jack' gives me the creeps." He pauses. "It was my father's name. He's dead now. Not that it matters to anyone but me."
I remember him talking about his father. The man who beat him so severely he ran away from home. And ended up on the street, addicted and hustling. I remember Jack telling me that. And crying in the dark in bed. Something inside me lurches. I think it's my heart. "Why don't you take off your jacket... Brian?" I say. "I don't drink much, but there's a minibar here in the room, if you'd like a drink. Because I think I could use a double right now!"
And he laughs. It's the same fucking laugh I remember! Kind of high and giggly, not what you'd expect from such a tall, masculine man. "Yes, I could definitely use a drink." And he eases off his black leather jacket and sets it on the desk. My hands are literally shaking as I open the minibar and scrounge around for some glasses and bottles. They are those little sample bottles like you get on airplanes. Suddenly, Jack -- I mean, Brian -- is here, standing right next to me. He reaches past me and deftly takes a small bottle of Jim Beam, twisting off the cap and pouring it into a glass.
"Do you want... some ice?" I ask. My heart feels like it's about to stop, he's so fucking close to me.
"No thanks. When I drink water, I drink water. And when I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey!" He laughs again. "That's from 'The Quiet Man.' John Ford. But you know that, of course. You were always tutoring me on the movies, Ron. Because if the movie didn't have either Harrison Ford or Patrick Swayze in it, I sure was clueless."
"You were just a kid... Brian," I say, trying not to call him Jack.
He opens another little bottle and pours me a glass. "You don't mind scotch do you, Ron?"
"Not at all," I lie. I hate scotch. I hate all hard liquor. But he could be pouring me a fucking glass of cyanide and I'd drink it down without question.
"Cheers," he says, clinking his glass against mine and looking into my eyes. His eyes are as beautiful as I remember -- dark green and all flecked with gold. And that's when I know. He's mine. He is! He was mine in 1988 and he's mine today. That's why he's come here to me now. He's here to complete my life. To make it perfect. A perfect circle. My career began with Jack and with 'Red Shirt.' And now I'm making 'The Olympian,' my first mainstream Hollywood feature. And here is Jack again. All these years I've wondered why I was alone. Why the fuck I could never be happy. And now I know. I was waiting. Waiting for Jack to return to me. Waiting for... Brian. Yes, that's who he is now. Brian. Tall and beautiful. And perfect. It's Fate. Besheret, my mother would call it. The love that is meant to be. Right here. Right now. Right in front of me.
He bolts down the glass of Jim Beam and raises his eyebrows, smiling. I lift my glass and drink the scotch. It burns going down, but it's a clean burn. A purifying burn. And then I put down the glass and lean over and kiss him.
Continue on to Page 2 of "Key Card".