This is Part 20.
Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Nowhere Man -- Part 19.
Features: Ron Rosenblum, Lowell, Lilith Rosenblum, Jack Kinney, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Ron has a very bad day. September 2000.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
Thursday, September 7, 2000:
Ron had been walking around in a daze for the past two days.
And now he was sitting in his office on campus, but he couldn't remember how he'd gotten there, or even how long he had been there.
Ron wasn't even certain exactly what day of the week it was. He thought it was Thursday. He checked the calendar on his desk, but it was still open on last Friday, so Ron felt like he was in some kind of time warp. What the hell difference did it make, anyway, what damn day it was? But he knew one thing for certain. Brian had been gone for two days. Two days! He couldn't believe it was only two days! It seemed that Brian had been gone forever! But he'd only left on Tuesday morning. So if this truly was Thursday... Only two days! And Ron wasn't certain when he'd be back. If ever.
"Professor? Professor Rosenblum?"
"Huh? What did you say?"
"I said, what about the syllabus? Have you come to a decision about the readings?"
Ron looked around. He was facing his two Teaching Assistants, Linda and Kat, and his Research Assistant, Lowell. They were having a meeting about his classes. Right. That was what was going on. The semester was beginning on Monday and he had a Senior Seminar and a Graduate Seminar to teach.
Actually, the TA's did most of the teaching. Ron set the syllabus and gave the lectures, while Linda and Kat conducted the discussions, graded the exams, and held office hours to help the students with any questions they had about the readings or the films. Ron rarely -- if ever -- had any direct contact with the students.
Which was a good thing, Ron thought, since he was an abysmal teacher. He was arrogant and dismissive and he knew it. He didn't care about the students, their petty bitching about their problems and their grades. He didn't care about teaching, really. Ron had important work to do -- important things to think about for his new documentary -- and 'teaching' these classes was just another interruption. Not that anyone complained. They wouldn't dare. They'd gone through too much trouble to get him to come there! And now they were doing all they could to make him stay! So no one would ever call him on the fact that he was simply a lousy teacher.
Unlike Brian. Who was a wonderful teacher. Dynamic. Actually gave a fuck how his students did in his classes. Learned their names. Talked to them for hours after class in his tiny, stuffy office. Spent even more hours reading their crummy essays and painstakingly commenting on them. How many evenings had Ron watched him, sitting on the sofa, the lapboard propped up on his knees, going over page after hopeless page of Freshman drivel? Too many evenings!
"Brian, why are you wasting time writing all that shit on those student papers? All they care about is the final grade. Put a grade on the things and get on with it!" Ron said, impatiently. He'd been watching Brian work his way through another set of essays, methodically marking them with his red gel ink pen, and it bugged him.
"But how will they improve their essays if I don't give them detailed comments?"
"Why do you care whether they improve or not? Just assess them and forget it! They aren't worth your time!"
"Of course they are worth my time. They're my students, after all. I thought I was supposed to be teaching them, Ron," Brian had said, looking at Ron with those golden-rimmed eyes that drilled right through the bullshit. "I thought that's what a teacher does."
"You take it too seriously, Brian! Spend more time on your book -- or your committee work. Remember -- there are no fucking students on the Tenure Committee! No one cares what THEY think. You are just wasting your time."
"I care," Brian said, quietly. "Even if no one else does." And he'd go back to reading the essays. Marking them. Doing things his own way.
But another voice brought Ron back to his office. Back to the disagreeable present.
"So, what readings do you want them to do, Professor Rosenblum?" Linda was insistent. She was a Ph. D. candidate in Film and Media Studies and she took her position as his Senior TA very seriously.
Fuck it, thought Ron. Let HER teach the course! She knew the material as well as he did. And she was a better teacher, too. Like Brian. She cared what the stupid students had to read. Whether the syllabus made sense. Who passed the exams and who didn't. She cared. Just like Brian did.
"Whatever readings you think, Linda. I don't give a damn. Put down whatever you want. Whatever movies you want to teach. What fucking difference does it make? None at all!" Ron tossed his notes on the desk for the assistants to deal with.
"But Ron...." Lowell began. Lowell had been trying to pin him down since Monday, but Ron was dodging his calls. And avoiding being alone with him. The last person he wanted intruding on his thoughts right now was Lowell. "Ron?"
"I'm going home," Ron said shortly, cutting him off. And Ron stood up and walked out, leaving Lowell and the two graduate students in his office, open mouthed.
"Is Brian still gone?" The voice on the phone was accusing. Disappointed. On the verge of angry. All those things that Ron was feeling about himself, he was projecting onto Lilith.
"Yes, Mama. He's in Pittsburgh. With his dad. Taking him to the doctor and doing family business. I've told you that three times! So stop harping on it already!" Ron was ready to slam the phone down and they weren't even arguing.
"Family business? THIS is his family, Ronnie. WE are Brian's family -- which is something even YOU shouldn't forget. Do you hear me, Ronald?"
"Jesus, they can hear you in Tampa, Mother," breathed Ron.
"What are you saying? Ronnie, what's the matter with you?" Now his mother's voice sounded concerned. "Something is going on up there and I want to know what it is!"
"Nothing. Nothing is going on!" Ron tried to temper his voice, but he couldn't. He couldn't hide his frustration.
"Well, I don't believe you, Ronnie. Now you tell me what is going on there. Where is my Brian?"
'MY Brian'! Shit! There she goes again. Taking Brian's side in this over his! His own mother! But Ron said nothing. He thought about hanging up on Lilith and pretending that they were accidentally disconnected, but he knew that she would never buy that one. Never. Lilith was like a bulldog who would never let it go until she had the whole story.
"Ronnie? Are you THERE?"
"I'm here, Mama."
"Ronnie," she said, her voice very still. "What have you done?"
"Why do you assume that it's something I did?" he exploded. "Why is it ME? Why isn't it BRIAN who is ever at fault? Huh?" Ron was stalking back and forth in his office at home, kicking books and papers that were piled on the floor out of his way. Brian never let all this shit collect everywhere. He was always moving the stuff out of Ron's way and putting it back where it belonged. Cleaning up the place. Ron's office was a fucking mess and the whole house was a disaster area! After only two days!
"Why do I assume?" answered Lilith Rosenblum. "Because I know YOU, Ronnie! I know what you've done to screw up in the past! Believe me, my darling, if Brian was only off visiting his poor father you wouldn't be in this state. You wouldn't be raging at ME on the phone, for one thing. THAT'S how I know! THAT'S why I assume!"
"What do you mean, 'screw up in the past,' Mama? What are you talking about?" Ron stopped pacing and stared straight ahead, his stomach clenching.
There was a silence on the other end, then a long sigh. "Brian's left, hasn't he? And I don't mean just to visit his father and mother in Pittsburgh. He's left YOU. Isn't that true?"
"I... I mean. He's just left for a while... to...." Ron was fumbling this whole thing badly. He wanted to tell his mother what was going on in his own way. To explain it all from the correct point of view. HIS point of view! But now....
"You didn't learn your lesson in Boston, Ronald?" said Lilith sharply. "Getting away with murder and then having Brian forgive you for it wasn't enough of a wake up call for you? You are such a smart boy, Ronnie -- and such a stupid, stupid man!"
"How... how do you know about THAT? About... that guy in Boston?" Ron was now shouting into the phone. "You CAN'T know that!"
"Ronnie, how many hours did I spend on the phone with Brian, begging him, pleading with him not to give up on you? And he was so devastated! Everyone is entitled to a mistake! One mistake, even if it IS a big, dumb one! Don't throw away your whole life, Brian, I told him. Ronnie loves you so much, I told him. More the fool me! Maybe I should have told him to get out THEN! Maybe he'd have a new life by now -- and you wouldn't be pacing around the house, yelling and bumping into things!"
"I'm NOT bumping into things!" cried Ron, bumping into his desk.
"So, I'm right. You HAVE been fooling around. And Brian found out. And now he's gone."
"I... I didn't mean for it to happen, Mama!"
"Then what DID you mean to happen, Ronnie? Did he walk in on you in your office, like the last time?"
"Did he tell you that?" Ron was sickened, picturing Brian detailing his crummy little infidelity with that student to his mother.
"No, I guessed!" Lilith sputtered. "Of course he told me! Well? Is that what happened? Did he catch you? Or was it something else? Did you actually do the decent, manly thing and tell him yourself that you've found someone else?"
"I haven't 'found anyone else'! I haven't! I wouldn't. And he... he heard about it at the faculty picnic. From some nosy, jealous bitch in my department! And then he... walked over to the chairman's tent and... saw us together. Me and my Research Assistant."
There was another long silence on the other end of the phone while Ron's mother took in this information. "So, humiliating him in the privacy of your office wasn't bad enough? This time you had to cheat on him in front of your entire department? In front of all your colleagues? At a faculty party?" Lilith laughed a bitter little laugh. "Well, Ronnie -- if you ever even SEE that boy again as long as you live, I'll be disappointed IN HIM! And I would tell him as much if I had his number there in Pittsburgh! I'd call him right up and TELL HIM!"
"Mother! For God's sake! You're MY mother. Not Brian's. Not HIS mother! You should be on MY side!" But as he said it, Ron had a flashback to Brian, just turned seventeen years old, sitting on the sofa in the house out on Long Island, watching television. And Lilith, sitting close beside him, running her long, manicured fingers through the boy's unruly chestnut hair and smiling. And Ron, always racing somewhere else. Never having the time to sit down for five minutes and talk to his mother. Never really wanting to take the time. Unlike a lonely, love-starved boy.
"I'm hanging up now, Ronnie. Because I don't want to talk to you anymore. I think I'll go and take a nice walk outside. Look at the ocean. Try to think about something else. Because I don't want to talk about this or think about this anymore! Because I can't even express what I'm thinking at this moment. I can't even...." Lilith's voice broke. And the line went dead.
"Mother!" But she was gone. Ron dialed her number again, but it just rang and rang until the answering machine picked up. Ron didn't bother to leave a message. Instead, he threw the phone across the room and against the far wall, smashing the framed movie poster that Brian had bought him for his birthday six years before. Orson Welles' 'The Lady From Shanghai.' The glass and the frame fell to the floor in pieces, just like the mirrors that shatter in that film's climactic scene. All those mirrors, broken. All that bad luck.
Damn it, thought Ron. It was the old man. He'd been hoping to get Joan Kinney. She was sympathetic to Ron and always had been. She was on HIS side because she understood what he'd done for Brian over the years. She was grateful for it. The father, on the other hand, was an old bastard who had been suspicious of Ron and his motives from the beginning.
"Hello, Mr. Kinney. Is... is Brian there?"
Jack Kinney snorted. "What's the matter, Ronnie? Lose track of the boy?"
"I just want to know if Brian is there. There's no answer at the motel. I've left messages, but it's useless. He won't call me back. And he has his cellphone turned off tonight."
"Gee, I wonder why that is, Ronnie?" The way the old man said 'Ronnie' made Ron's skin crawl.
"Just tell me if he's there." Ron paused. "Please?"
"No, he's not here." The old bastard was loving this. Just loving it.
"Shit," said Ron, quietly. Where could Brian be? Unless the old man was lying to him. "Could you tell me where he is? I mean, if you have any idea."
Jack coughed. It was a deep, unhealthy sounding cough. "Sure. I know where he is. I know where Brian is."
"Well? Are you going to tell me? Mr. Kinney?"
"He's out at a club. With some friends. He was there last night and he must have had a real good time, because he's there again tonight. Just between you and me and the lamppost -- I think he got lucky last night at that club!" Jack laughed. "And tomorrow he's going out to dinner, Ronnie. On a date." And the old man laughed again.
"A date? What do you mean?" Ron sat back, clutching the phone in his hand. "Is Brian out with Ben Bruckner? Mr. Kinney? Because you know that Ben is a nice guy and everything -- but he's HIV positive! You know that, don't you?" Ron felt like shouting, but he knew that old Kinney would just laugh even more at his panic.
"Sure, I know Ben. He's been over here. He's a good friend of Brian's. They had dinner together the other night. But that's not who he's going out with tomorrow night."
"Not Ben? Then who?"
"With my very distinguished and very good-looking doctor, that's who. And he's going out tonight with the guy he met last night at that club. And this fella must have made a BIG impression on Brian, because Brian went out today and bought a bunch of new clothes. Some sharp stuff to wear tonight at the club. He got a black leather jacket, too. A beauty. A real motorcycle jacket. He looks awfully good in it. Very tough." And the old man's voice had a nasty edge.
"Mr. Kinney...." Ron tried to interrupt.
"This guy must go for that tough look," the old man continued. "Of course, Brian looks good in whatever he wears, you know? I'm always telling him that the stuff he's been wearing is too boring. Dockers and button-down shirts? Please! He looks like a nerdy teacher!" Jack Kinney paused to cough again. "But Brian's a nice-looking fella. And he's only young once, right, Ronnie? I told Brian that he better go out and have some fun NOW, before it's too late. He's been kept locked in a little room for too long. He needs to get out and live a little. And I told him just that!"
"Mr. Kinney," said Ron, trying to control his voice. "You don't understand that Brian could get HURT out there! He doesn't realize that... that... he needs ME to... to...."
"Needs you to do what, Ron? To kick him in the teeth? To be your little go-fer? Well, forget that, Ron! Brian isn't some confused kid you can push around anymore! He tells me that you were screwing around on him? Is that true?"
"I... Mr. Kinney, you don't understand that...."
"I understand plenty, buddy! Don't bullshit a professional bullshitter, Ron, because I wrote the book! And you got the nerve to say it isn't 'safe' for Brian to get out and have a little fun? It doesn't sound like were thinking about being too 'safe' when you were out chasing some fresh tail -- or whatever you guys call it."
"Mr. Kinney, you aren't being at all fair. I would never in a million years expose... Brian to...." But Ron faltered. "I just want him to call me. To talk. That's all I want."
"You know what I think? I think you just screwed yourself out of something that you don't even know the value of. Maybe tomorrow, or next week, or next year you'll wake up and realize what you've done and how you've fucked yourself over -- pardon my French! -- but you'll realize it, eventually. And who knows? Maybe it will be too late then. Maybe Brian will hook up with my doctor. That guy is smart and rich and he's the head of Oncology here at St. Luke's. I bet HE wouldn't let Brian drive around in a junky old car, wearing lousy clothes from J.C. Penney's, while he treats himself to a new car, and a fancy new computer, and all the perks! But some guys just don't know what they have -- until it walks out the door!"
And Ron just stood there, gripping the phone in his hand, his mouth agape, as Jack Kinney hung up on him. It was getting to be a regular occurrence for Ron.
"What are YOU doing here?" said Ron, turning away from the front door.
"What is your problem, Ron?" said Lowell, pushing the screen door open and walking into the house. "I've been calling for the past two days! You don't answer the phone and you don't return my calls. And this afternoon in the office you wouldn't even LOOK at me! What is the matter with you?"
"Nothing! I've been busy," said Ron, trying not to look at the man who he'd been cheating on Brian with. But he couldn't look at him directly. Because then Ron would have to ask himself 'why'? And he didn't know the answer to that question -- if it even had an answer. 'Some guys don't know what they have until it walks out the door'! Jack Kinney had called it and then turned the knife on Ron right then and there!
"I was waiting for you to call ME after Brian took off, but you didn't! And now you act like you want to blow me off. What gives, Ron?"
"I said I'm too busy to talk to you right now, Lowell," Ron said, picking up some papers out of the mess that had collected on the dining room table. He pretended to look busy. "So why don't you go home?"
"I thought that once Brian was out of the way, I could come over!" Lowell whined. "Didn't you say that when he left to visit his parents that I could stay over here? I'm sick of fucking in your office, Ron!"
Ron cringed. He had originally said that to shut Lowell up. But now he was here, wanting Ron to make good on his promise. The picture of Lowell lying in the antique four-poster bed that Ron and Brian had bought in New Hampshire -- in the spot where Brian should be and was not! -- was almost too much for Ron to contemplate. Ron went to the screen door and opened it. "I think you should leave now, Lowell. I'm not in the mood."
"Oh, you aren't in the mood?" said Lowell, frowning. "Well, you were in the mood last week. And the week before THAT, Ron! And for most of the summer. So how come you aren't in the mood NOW?"
Lowell was walking around the living room, touching things, looking at things. The sofa. The wide-screen television set, with Ron's elaborate DVD and video set-up. Some of the framed movie posters that Ron collected, which Brian had hung on the wall when they first moved into the house a little over a year before. Lowell wandered over to Brian's desk, running his hands over his chair and his books acquisitively. Brian's dictionary. His dog-eared copy of John Rechy's 'City of Night.' His little pile of pens and paper clips.
"Get out, Lowell," Ron said, rudely. The sight of this guy, with his coarse little face and flabby ass, standing in the living room, touching Brian's things, made Ron feel sick. Yes, it was one thing to fuck Lowell on the couch in his office and quite another thing to have him here in the house. Or in the bed -- trying to take Brian's place. That's where Lowell thought he belonged. And the thought of that hit Ron in the gut stronger than any real punch. "Get out," Ron repeated.
Lowell's face contorted. "Now you want to get rid of me, huh, Ron? Make me LEAVE? What's next? Take away my assistantship? Is THAT the price Pretty Boy is putting on his return? Is it, Ron? Well, I'll SUE you -- and the whole fucking university!"
"Shut up, Lowell," shouted Ron. "I don't WANT to listen to you and I don't HAVE to listen to you! Why don't you just go home now?"
"Oh, you don't want to listen to me? You USED me, Ron, and YOU are SO fucked!" Lowell's face was red with righteous indignation. "Do you hear me? Because Brian isn't coming back. He's NOT stupid, Ron. I won't put up with your shit anymore -- and he won't either!"
Ron grabbed Lowell by the arm and dragged him to the door. "I think it's time for you to go. Now!"
Lowell balked at the door, but then gave it up and stalked out. He stood on the front porch and looked at Ron, his eyes hard. "Maybe I'm not the most desirable guy around, but even I don't need YOU, Ron! And Brian -- SHIT! You think Brian needs you? You are living in a dream world!"
"Shut the hell up, Lowell!"
"You know what, Ron? Even I'd give my eye-teeth to fuck him! He's gorgeous! He could have any guy on this campus! Any guy he wants! So why does he need you? My God! YOU are so fucked, Ron. SO fucked!" And Lowell laughed. It was nasty, mocking laugh, not unlike the one that had come out of Jack Kinney.
Lowell walked out to his car, yelling "You are so fucked!" the whole way, until he slammed the car door and drove away.
After Lowell was gone, Ron sat on the sofa in the living room for a long while, staring into space. Then he went to the cupboard and pulled out two videos. He hadn't taken them out and watched them in a long time. They were wrapped in a plastic bag and closed with a twist-tie.
Ron opened the plastic and looked at the video cassettes. One was a copy of the original cut of 'Street Boys,' his first documentary. His thesis film. The cut with all the scenes of Brian in it. The one Brian always called the 'good' version. The one Ron couldn't bring himself to show his advisor or his thesis committee. Because of what it showed about Brian. And about himself.
Ron put the tape in the machine and began watching the film. Impossible, thought Ron. It was still impossible to show it to anyone else. It was too raw, too revealing. Too real. But Brian was right. It WAS a good film. Even a great film. Maybe the best thing Ron had ever done. Or ever would do.
And much of the reason for that greatness was its subject. The edited 'Street Boys' was a decent documentary, but it lacked a focus. A compelling central character. And that's because Ron had removed that character. Cut him out of the film. Because when the time came for Ron to turn in the finished film, Brian was living with him. Belonged to HIM, and NOT to the film. Not any longer.
So, Ron had sat up with his editor -- and ex-girlfriend, Jane -- night after night and hacked out Brian's scenes, leaving in only a few glimpses. Little hints of a shadowy presence and bits of voice-over narrative, commenting in that soft, funny, sarcastic way that Brian had when he was younger. A voice that Ron rarely heard anymore. And now might never hear again.
When the video ended, Ron took it out and popped in the other cassette. This wasn't really a film. It was more like a series of filmed episodes. Very rough. Much rougher than anything in 'Street Boys,' either version. Because this film wasn't meant to be seen by anyone. Except Ron and Brian. Because it was just the two of them, back in the winter of 1988, fucking in every way that they knew how. It was hot -- and it was real. And they had watched it a lot over the years, for fun, or to get into the mood, or just to remind themselves. But not recently. Neither of them had the stomach for that anymore. To see what had been and what had been lost. Forever, probably.
Some people would probably call it kiddie porn. The more Ron thought about it, the more he even thought that what he had filmed back then might even be illegal. After all, Brian had only been sixteen at the time, but that hadn't stopped either of them. Nothing had stopped them back then. Nothing.
And Ron watched the images that still seemed so vivid, even twelve years later. Brian, who looked fragile as a fawn, with his long-lashed eyes and delicate face, but who had a will of steel and a desire to survive that surpassed anything Ron had ever experienced. Stan and the horrible New York winter and the dangers of the street couldn't break him down. No -- it took Ron and his obsessive 'love' to do that! To plant the seeds of self-doubt and anxiety in someone who had been so fearless. To cower someone who had been so brave.
And Ron watched until he could no longer see the screen or comprehend the figures on it. Because everything was dim, now, and growing dimmer. And he began to realize the magnitude of what he had destroyed. And the extent of what it would take for him to retrieve it.
Continue on to "Nowhere Man -- Part 21.
©Gaedhal, December 2002
Send Gaedhal any comments, critiques, suggestions. I welcome all of your comments on "Nowhere Man." Without your feedback I don't know if you are enjoying this series!
Posted December 15, 2002