This is Part 1 of Chapter 55 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Pillow Talk", the previous chapter.
The narrator is Justin Taylor, and features Ron Rosenblum, Lindsay Peterson, Brian Kinney, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Ron and Justin have a conversation and Ron invites Justin to watch a video. Los Angeles. June 2002.
Author's Comment: This is the full chapter of the previous teaser excerpt of "Moviola."Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
On Thursday morning I wake up bruised and sore, my neck aching from lying on the ground in the far backyard. I also find little bits of grass and leaves in odd places. Sometime before dawn Brian nudged me and I dragged myself back to the poolhouse and fell into the bed. When the alarm goes off it isn't a happy sound.
I come out to breakfast and Lindsay and Ron are sitting at the table on the deck next to the pool. They are having breakfast like some married couple. She is pouring juice for him and he's teasing her and it's really making me sick to my stomach. They see me coming. Lindsay smiles and Ron actually says, "Good morning, Justin!" in this smug, ringing voice. I don't like the sound of my name in his mouth. They both seem to have gotten a good night's sleep.
Usually I like a big breakfast, but I only take some juice and the toast. Lindsay bugs me about it, trying to get me to have some of her eggs or some melon. No thanks.
I see Ron looking at me. I don't know why he's acting so self-satisfied this morning. Maybe because of that horse they bought yesterday or because Patrick Swayze complimented him or something. Brian says he's getting all kinds of offers to direct some really big stars, like Clint Eastwood. This is what he's been working for so long, Brian says. The dream come true.
I don't like it when Brian starts talking like that. He was starting to say things like that last night. Things that make it seem that he and Ron are getting along much better. TOO much better. Brian was being nice to him at the track, but I thought it was because all those other people were around. And he was being nice to me, too. I can't figure it out.
Diane says that Brian is 'conflicted' about things. 'About what?' I want to scream. 'About how bad he's been treated out here? About how sick and tired he was?' But now that he's got his health back and his spark back, they all seem to forget the way it was. Even Brian seems to be forgetting it a little.
Watching Ron smile and charm Lindsay is bad enough, but when he's 'nice' to me -- that makes my blood go all cold. It's like I'm no longer any threat to him, so he doesn't even have to be nasty to me. The winner can afford to be a nice guy to the loser, right?
Except -- I'm not giving up this fight. No fucking way!
When Brian finally appears, he's subdued. Like he's hungover, but I know for sure that he wasn't drinking at all last night. It's weird. Ron pulls out the chair next to his and makes Brian sit in it. He does. He hardly even looks at me -- except that when I stand up to go get dressed, he touches my arm as I walk by. Just that. One little touch. I don't know what it means at all.
Ron has arranged for me to visit some animation studios today. It's something I've really been looking forward to. If only I didn't feel so awful! The studio limo picks me up at 9:00 and takes me to three different places. At each studio there is a man waiting to escort me around, introduce me to some of the animators, show me the projects they are working on, and offer me an internship for next summer -- if I'm interested. Of course I'm interested! I forget about my aching neck. I'm fucking ecstatic!
I realize again what a powerful guy Ron is. He's made a few calls on very short notice and now these people are bending over backward to accommodate me. To impress ME. To offer me all kinds of special deals, like internships. At each place I tell them that I'm definitely interested, but that I have to see what the situation will be a year form now. They take down my address and e-mail and promise to keep in touch and keep me informed. One man who shows me around asks me to send some sample drawings, maybe even slides of my work. He questions me seriously about my aspirations and my real interest in computer animation. I realize that THIS is the place I want to be at if I really do come out to L.A. next summer. This man is taking me seriously as an artist and potential animator and not just indulging some punk kid who is connected to an influential director.
On Thursday night we go out to dinner to some fancy place in Beverly Hills. It's Ron's treat and he and Lindsay are all chatty and like on a date, while Brian and I sit there. Brian seems amused by the whole thing. I watch him looking at Ron, trying to understand what he's thinking. Trying to understand everything!
And then he touches my leg under the table and I'm all flipped around once more!
All these people keep stopping by the table. Some are famous people. That woman who was at the photo shoot -- the one with the big glasses who is writing the article -- is there and she's talking to Lindsay and Ron and Brian like she's just having a conversation with them. But she's writing things down in her head. This is part of her article. She practically pats me on the head like a good dog.
Ron asks me all kinds of questions about the animation studios. They were so great to me that I almost forget how much I don't want to be friendly to him. But he did arrange it all. Now I am all 'conflicted' -- just like Diane said. I have the urge to call her when we get back to the house. I know that she's on my side here. She's my ally against Ron. But there's no answer at her place and I don't leave a message.
Thursday night I wait in the poolhouse, playing on the computer. It gets late. Then later. Then even later.
Brian never comes.
On Friday Brian and Lindsay go out shopping with Gus -- and Carmel, too. There is no way that Carmel is going to be left behind when they have the baby out. Brian kind of gives Carmel evil-eye looks when she pays too much attention to Gus, and Carmel gives HIM weird looks back. I think they have this love/hate thing going on, with all the love centered on who gets to monopolize Gus. Lindsay just stands back and looks amused. Ron's face is, as usual, unreadable.
I decide to take advantage of this free afternoon to use the pool. And it's a great pool -- big and tiled with fancy Mexican designs. I'm not that great a swimmer (although next to Brian I look like Greg Louganis!), but I enjoy paddling. There's the floating lounge-chair that I play around with. It has a built-in pillow and drink-holder. Brian and I have talked about other kinds of playing with this chair. I picture Brian lying in it, drifting aimlessly back and forth, with a big vodka martini stuck in the drink-holder. I picture a lot of those other things happening, too, but I put them out of my mind. It's too dangerous with Ron and the ladies lurking around all the time.
I've been swimming for about twenty minutes when Ron comes out and sits in the shade of the house. He has a large ice tea and a larger pile of scripts. Brian says he's 'selecting' his next project. Maybe it will take him on location to South America or Afghanistan for the next five years. That would be the perfect project, in my humble opinion.
The yappy little dog is with him, running back and forth between the pool and the chair, barking and growling at me. It amazes me that Brian has been here over six months without strangling that annoying little mutt -- after less than a week I'm ready to do him in.
Finally, Ron snaps his fingers and points under the chair and Armani goes underneath and curls up. But I know he is watching me, waiting to nip at my feet the next time I get out of the pool and walk too near the chair.
I know Ron is watching me, too, under his dark glasses, and that creeps me out.
He seems to be going through the scripts very methodically, but I know he wants me to know that he is looking at me. Staring at me as I splash around. Glaring at me. I can feel it.
I think he knows -- like he must know everything that goes on in his dark, cool house. Knows that Brian is coming to the poolhouse. Knows everything we are doing in there, almost like he is in there, too. The thought makes my stomach flip-flop.
I get out of the pool and begin drying myself off.
I stop and turn around.
"Come over here."
I don't want to go near him. I don't want to talk to him, but I can't think of a reason not to go over there. He IS my host, after all. And Brian would kick me if I just blew him off or was rude.
So, I go over.
"Sit down a minute."
Rather than pull over another chair and have to look him in the eye, I spread my towel and sit on the cement next to him. Armani comes out from under the lounge chair and sniffs me, wagging his tail. Maybe he isn't so bad after all. I scratch his head a little and he makes happy snuffling sounds.
"Funny that you and Lindsay have different last names."
Okay. So Ron really knows. I can deal with it. "Yeah. Funny."
"Why are you pretending to be her brother?"
I take a deep breath. "I never said that. Everyone just assumed...."
"And you and Lindsay -- and Brian -- let them assume it."
"What difference does it make?"
"None at all. As long as you don't think I'm as naive as everyone else. As Jimmy, especially."
"I would never think that... Ron." Just saying his name out loud gives me a strange and deadly thrill.
"Good. Because you are obviously very caring with Gus. You make a decent pretend-nanny or uncle or whatever the fuck you are supposed to be."
"I've been taking care of Gus almost since he was born," I say proudly. "That's no lie."
"I imagine you have. You would have plenty of opportunities to take care of Brian's son -- I mean, since you were living at the loft... And I assume you are still living there? That the whole 'Mikey Incident' was either short-lived or another of Brian's misapprehensions?"
"It never happened."
"How did you guess?"
"You don't think I recognized your voice?"
"That was ONE time! I only answered the phone that one morning...."
"I said, don't make the mistake of thinking I'm in the dark. I'm not. Brian thinks he's so cagey, but he's like glass. I can always see right through him. You're even easier, because you don't have his defenses. But I knew the minute you were in the same room together. You two might as well be wearing signs."
"Shit." I pull the end of the towel up over myself. I suddenly feel exposed, like Ron really can see right through me. Like he's seen everything, at every moment, since I've been in L. A. Like he's been watching us, every time.
"What do you think I'm going to do, Justin? Throw you out into the street like some villain in a Victorian melodrama?"
"I... I don't know. What ARE you going to do?"
"Why, nothing, of course." His voice is perfectly even.
Now I turn and look right at him. He takes off his sunglasses and gazes at me with icy dark blue eyes. They give me a chill much more than if he had starting screaming and yelling at me. I wish he would scream and yell -- I could at least respond to that.
"Nothing. Brian's in the best mood he's been in for ages. His health is better since he returned from Pittsburgh, although I hate to admit it. And he's no longer out prowling the clubs and God knows where else until all hours. And he's not drinking and taking drugs -- at least to excess. So, why would I want to do anything to fuck that up?"
"But," I search his face. "Aren't you jealous? Don't you... hate me?" Like I hate YOU, I think.
"Yes, I'm jealous. Yes, I'd like to pick you up and throw your rotten little ass over the hedge into the next county. But I don't have that luxury." He puts his sunglasses back on, veiling his eyes, and stares in the direction of the pool. "I could give you a fairly long list of all the people Brian has fucked around with since he's been out here. And I mean just the ones I know personally, or know of. The ones even he doesn't know would fill another long list, I'm sure. But I imagine that none of this is news to you." He turns his head toward me. "Some might say he was cheating. A lousy, cheating bitch. I know my dear Carmel thinks that, even when she's being nice to Brian. The 'puto' -- that's one of the names she has for him. It isn't a very nice name."
I nod. Carmel also gives me a creepy feeling. I know she watches me.
"But you can't really call it cheating when someone has never said he wouldn't. Never gave even the slightest indication that he wouldn't nail anything and everything that moved, any chance he got."
And I understand perfectly. I only wish I didn't. I get another creepy feeling when I realize that I'm beginning to understand Ron. To empathize with him. Against Brian. I have to be careful here. So fucking careful....
"I think it's safe to say that Brian doesn't represent anything like an average man. Or even an average queer. He's one of a kind, and that makes him valuable. Irreplaceable. What gives him his charisma, his fascination. He's a law unto himself and I've come to terms with that. Have you?"
And I remember all the times I've wanted Brian to be 'normal' -- whatever that means. To be a 'normal' boyfriend. To do 'predictable' things and make the kinds of gestures I've seen in movies. The kind of movies Ron makes. Those 'You've Got Gay Mail' videos Brian used to make so much fun of. So, Ron wanted that, too. Maybe still wants it. Wants Brian to be that, just like I want it. But knows he can't do that. Be that. Or is afraid to be that person. And Ron is terrified. I can smell the fear radiating off him. Like I'm afraid most of the time. For the same reason.
I think of all the expensive presents. The clothes, the watches. The Mustang. The vacations in Hawaii. This house. 'The Olympian' -- what was that if not a kind of gift? So, why do they all feel like bribes when Ron gives them? It's not as if Brian puts much stock in those things. And yet -- here we are. In Los Angeles. Not in Pittsburgh. Not in the loft, where we belong. And I'm sitting here -- with Ron.
And yet -- Brian is wearing that little heart on the gold chain. I feel it dangling against me in the dark in the poolhouse. And I saw it when he took off his tee-shirt at the photo shoot. He wore it in all the pictures. Gus even put it in his mouth while Brian was holding him. What does it all mean?
"I don't know, Ron. How does anyone 'come to terms' with Brian? He's like a runaway horse -- I usually just hang on and hope I don't fall off!" Sometimes, literally, I want to add. I want him to picture it.
But Ron only smiles. "You don't understand our relationship at all, do you?"
I cringe when he says it. Finally. Those magic words -- their relationship. The great mystery. What the fuck is it all about?
I know Lindsay doesn't understand. She sometimes refers to Ron as 'The Evil One' -- only half-joking. And Michael can barely say his name, only 'THAT Ron,' as if he's not fully human, but a thing. He and Ben had a huge argument about this one night at Woody's. Ben is Ron's friend and was his friend before he knew Michael or any of us, and he'll always defend him. Saying he's a fucking genius and we don't understand him and all that. Michael gets furious. And yet -- Ben knows him better than we do. There must be something to him -- Brian isn't brainwashed or hypnotized. But what the fuck is it?
Ben says it's all about the past. That place I can never know.
"No, I don't understand, Ron. And neither do any of Brian's friends in Pittsburgh."
"Fuck them. Do you think I give a damn what THEY think about us?"
I shudder as he says 'us.'
"No, but Brian might. He does come home. He came for two weeks in May, He'll keep coming back. I sure of that. And again and again. It's still his real home. And people there matter to him. Michael...."
Ron makes a face. He see Michael as a big threat.
"And Deb and Vic. They are like family. Lindsay and Gus -- they ARE his family and will always he a part of Brian's life, no matter what. Lindsay is committed to living and teaching in Pittsburgh. Her partner is, too. It's home for all of them."
"And what about YOU? Are you so committed to 'The Pitts' as well, Justin?"
I have to think for a minute. What is Ron really getting at? What is he trying to tell me? Or trying to find out? I decide to go for the truth.
"No, I'm not committed to The Pitts. I want to finish school. Get my degree. That's important to me. That's my short-term goal. And I want to use my art in my work -- whatever that turns out to be. But..." I swallow hard and look straight at Ron's opaque eyes. "I'll go wherever Brian goes. Whether it's Pittsburgh or L.A. or up the Amazon. As far as I'm concerned, I'm free and clear and have no other attachments -- except Brian. Whenever he needs me or wants me -- I'm available. Day or night. And he knows that. I think he even counts on it." Right. Top THAT, Ron.
"Pretty certain of yourself, aren't you? I mean, for someone who has accomplished nothing beyond having a big ass and blond hair?"
I bite my tongue. Bastard. "To be honest -- yes. I've already been through a lot of shit you can't even imagine. My father rejected me. I was harassed at school. Almost killed. Almost crippled. Almost had a breakdown more than once. But the one constant has always been Brian. And it always will be. Because I'll make sure of it."
Ron moves his mouth around. I can tell he's pissed. "You've known him, what? Less than two years? What's NOTHING! And you're a kid. A determined kid, but, nevertheless, a kid. And you'll bounce right back on that ass of yours. After Brian goes. And he will go and keep going, no matter what you do. And some day he'll make an interesting dinner party anecdote. You can tell your little boyfriend and all your other friends about how you fucked a movie star. They'll all be impressed, I'm certain."
I stare at him. Then I laugh! Right out loud! "Brian would just love to hear himself reduced to an 'anecdote'! That's the funniest thing you've said all day, Ron!"
He squirms around on the lounge chair. I don't think this conversation is going the way he expected. I think he was sure he could intimidate me. Maybe even make me cry and run away. Instead -- I'm laughing at him! He doesn't like it one bit.
"How old were you when you met Brian?"
"Seventeen. But I was no dumb twink. I knew exactly what I was looking for. And I found it on the first try."
Ron turns his head towards me. "Then we have more in common than you know."
"Huh?" What does he mean? I can't think of anyone in the world I have less in common with than Ron Rosenblum!
"Brian was sixteen when I first met him. Consider that."
I do. I picture him, using a couple of photos of him and Michael in high school. But picturing him with Ron at that age is impossible. I block it from my mind.
"Sixteen years old when I made 'Red Shirt.'"
That jolts me. I'd forgotten. That I CAN picture. What started it all. The whole nightmare. That fucking film festival! I wish I'd never gone, never told Brian what I'd seen. Because I KNEW he would go. Knew he wouldn't be able to resist seeing Ron. I KNEW it that night. That horrible night.
I try to close out the images from the film. Of a damaged and dirty boy. Full of bravado and heroin. Haunted-eyed. Sick. Shaking in the cold, dim winter light. I want to erase that picture of Brian and replace it with the smiling one, his arm around Mikey on a summer day.
"Maybe you would have had to be there to understand. Maybe ALL of his friends should have been there. But they weren't. None of them. Only I was there. Only I know. Only Brian knows. No one else wants to."
But I DO want to know! "I'd like to understand. Anything that would help me understand Brian better -- even if it involves YOU -- I want to know about."
Now Ron smiles. It's a chilly smile. He's a chilly guy for such a warm and sunny place as L.A. I feel like a big cloud is passing overhead, blocking the light. Maybe it's the New York coming through in Ron.
And Brian tends to have that gloomy streak himself. That's why he likes cheerful people around him. Like me. Michael. Lindsay. Even Emmett. We pull him out of himself and out of his melancholy. I imagine that being around Ron too much would drive him deeper into it. I think of the way he was when he came to Pittsburgh in May. Like he was buried so deep in depression that he couldn't eat. How he slept constantly the first couple of days. The look on his face. I can't fucking believe that Ron thinks he's GOOD for Brian!
"You'll be in this position some day, you know."
"What do you mean?"
"You'll be still young and Brian will be my age. The 'old man' -- putting a damper on you. Hindering you. He'll be ME -- possessive and desperate to hang on, while you get more and more anxious to shake him off, but for the guilt you feel for what you owe him. For what he's given you and done for you. And the resentment will come to a place just like this -- and Brian will be trying to come to terms with your obnoxious little lover. Fighting that losing battle...."
"That's such shit!"
"Is it? Or a mirror into the future. Into how YOU will hurt him. How YOU will destroy him one day, after you've used him up...."
"But that won't happen with me. For me, Brian will always be young and beautiful. But not to you. Not for much longer. Except in the movies...."
"Why are you saying this? Why are you doing this?"
"I'm just telling you a story, Justin. Just telling a story. That's what I do -- tell stories." Ron suddenly stands up. "Perhaps I can help you understand, at least a little, just what is what."
He walks up towards the house. He stops, as if he wants he to follow.
I get up, slowly. I'm not sure about this. The little dog trots along with me.
I follow Ron down the hall and into his office. I've never been in here before. The door is always closed and I'm afraid to snoop too much. I know the Mexican ladies -- Carmel and her mom -- are spying on me and reporting back to Ron.
Ron goes to a large cabinet and opens it up. Inside are rows and rows of video tapes. His films. There are a pile of them. On the bottom shelf he pulls out a box full of flat metal cans. Film cans.
"These are the reels I shot for 'Red Shirt.' I had them in storage for years. I never could look at them. It was too hard."
I feel a twinge of guilt and pity when he says this.
"But when Jimmy's production company decided to clear the rights and release 'Red Shirt' on DVD, I had to go through this stuff. To look at the footage again for the first time since Jane and I edited it together."
"Who is Jane?"
"My girlfriend. Another film student. She's a producer in television down in Florida now."
"Your girlfriend? But you're gay!"
"I wasn't when I started filming. I WAS when I finished."
"Justin, I thought you said you saw the film. At Carnegie Mellon?"
"I did -- but it was hard to concentrate once I saw... after I realized...."
Brian. Jack. I mean, Brian.
"Then you know the answer to your question."
"Oh." Oh! I need to process all this.
"Anyway, while I was going through the reels I found this." He pulls out a can labeled only 'Jack 88.' "The second I saw it I knew what it was. I couldn't believe it was here. I thought Jane had destroyed it."
"What is it?" I move closer.
"More footage. But not for my documentary. Not meant for any film. I hid it away for a while. But after I found Brian again, I took it out and got out my old moviola and edited it into this."
Ron puts the can down and takes out a regular video cassette. It's labeled 'Jack 1988 -- NYC.'
"Home movies?" I admit I am missing Ron's whole point.
"Yes. Home movies, of a sort. Very special home movies." He's taken off his sunglasses inside and he looks at me piercingly.
"Oh, my God...." Does he really mean...? Were they really...? "Ron -- are these porno movies? Of Brian? When he was sixteen?"
He smiles, coolly. "Not just Brian."
Oh. No. 'Gross!' I want to say -- but I can't. I'm fascinated. Before I realize what I'm doing, I reach for the cassette. My fingers touch his and I feel an electric charge go through me.
"Has Brian seen this?" I turn it over and over in my hands.
The answer surprises me. "No. He doesn't know about it."
"Doesn't know? How could he not know? If he did it...?"
"That doesn't mean he remembers doing it. Or that he thinks the film survived. He's never mentioned it. And I haven't discussed it with him."
"Then why are you telling me about it?"
"Because I'd like to know if you want to watch it. With me."
All I can do is stare at him. "You're fucking kidding!" But I see by his face that he's not.
Ron puts the box of film cans back into the cabinet. "These are going back into storage at the Film Archives. But I'm keeping this." He takes the video cassette out of my hands and places it on his desk. "Any time you want to watch it -- it's right here. I'll be waiting."
"But what about Brian?"
"What about him?"
"Are you going to tell him?"
"No. Are you?"
I can't answer that. I can't think now.
"Eventually," Ron says. "I'll tell him. Show it to him. When the time is right -- for him."
Ron sits down at his big desk. It's a beautiful desk. Dark, shiny wood, the edges smooth and ornately carved. The cassette sits there, like a time bomb, and I can't stop staring at it, waiting for it to go off. But nothing happens.
"But for you, Justin, the time is whenever YOU say so. Whenever you want to look. To see. All you have to do is come to me and ask. We'll sit right here. In my office. And we'll watch the film together. I think that will be very revealing, don't you, Justin? Then we will see what we will see. Just the two of us. And it may make all the difference in the world."
Continue on to "Moviola -- Part 2", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, June/July 2002
Send Gaedhal any comments, critiques, suggestions.
Updated July 12, 2002.