This is Part 4.
Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Nowhere Man -- Part 3.
Features Brian Kinney, Ron Rosenblum, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian is confronted with reality. 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.
Monday, September 4, 2000. Labor Day:
Brian was trying to pack a few things for his trip to Pittsburgh tomorrow, before they left for the Labor Day party at the house of the Chairman of the Media Studies Department, when the phone rang. Brian picked it up in the bedroom. It was Lilith, Ron's mother, calling from Florida.
"Hello, sweetheart," Mrs. Rosenblum said.
"Hi, Mom," said Brian, sorting out pairs of socks. He tucked the phone between his ear and his shoulder and tried to balance the phone, talking, and packing at the same time.
"I just wanted to find out what you boys were up to. I know you have today off."
"Classes haven't started here yet, Mom. Next Monday."
"Oh, I thought they'd already begun. Are you doing anything today? I'm going to a party over at the Jewish Senior Center. Miriam Stein is picking me up."
"Is she that lady you went on the cruise with?" Brian shook out one of his Van Heusen shirts and folded it.
"Yes -- we had such a good time! But three days out to the Bahamas and back was enough. I don't think I'd like one of those around the world cruise things! The boat gets boring after a while. All they do is feed you the whole time!"
"That's what some people like, Mom -- open buffet twenty-four hours a day."
"You know, Brian -- they had another boat there at the same time as ours. Nothing but beautiful men -- if you know what I mean?"
"Yes, Mom. I've heard of all-gay cruise ships before."
"It looked like they were having a lot more fun on their boat than we were having on ours, let me tell you!"
"I'm sure they were." Brian could imagine. And Lilith would have probably had a much better time with all the guys than hanging out with Miriam Stein.
"You and Ron should go on one of those. If you are having a problem with money, I'd be glad to pay for it."
"Mom, that won't be necessary. I'm sure Ron would NOT have a good time stuck on a ship with a bunch of party queens!" Right, thought Brian. Ron doesn't drink very much and he doesn't dance and the thought that Brian might do any of those things would drive him nuts. Not to mention that from what Brian had heard about those cruises, it was a wall-to-wall orgy from port to port. Ron would never let Brian out of the cabin!
"When was the last time you two took a vacation?"
Brian stopped packing and tried to think. "We went to Provincetown for a week two summers ago."
"All you do is work! That's not a good thing, sweetheart. I should shake that son of mine! He's a workaholic, just like his father! I don't want to see Ron dropping over from a heart attack before his time like Max did just because he didn't know how to stop and smell the roses."
Brian tried to picture Ron actually stopping and smelling some roses -- but it was too far-fetched. "You try telling him to slow down. He's already started on a new project and he's totally obsessed with it. What can you do? It's his career."
Lilith made a clucking noise on the phone. "There's more to life than those films! He'll be sorry one day when he realizes life is passing him by!"
Sure, thought Brian, for Ron his films ARE his life. Everything else is secondary. EVERYONE else is secondary. "Like I said -- he's very busy right now."
"Brian -- sweetheart -- you sound so down in the dumps. What's the matter?"
"Oh, I have to drive to Pittsburgh tomorrow. I have to take my father to a new doctor."
"Oh, dear. Is your dad much worse?"
"I don't know. But it's lung cancer, so it can't be very good. I guess that's what they are trying to find out. And he wants me to go with him for some reason."
"Because you're his son, that's why! What better person?"
Brian laughed bitterly. "Just about anyone. Especially since my old man doesn't even like me."
"Now that is not true at all! I'm sure he loves you! What father doesn't love his son?"
Come ON, Lilith! thought Brian. You've been on the edges of the Kinney Family Soap Opera for over a decade now. You know what Jack Kinney is and what he thinks. Don't start romanticizing him just because he's dying! "Sure, Mom. Whatever you say."
"Oh, I hate to hear you sound like this, Brian! This is breaking my heart!"
"Please, don't worry about me, Mom. I'm fine." Right. I'm dandy, Lilith. Just dandy. "Just a minute and I'll get Ron."
Brian put down the phone and went down the hall to Ron's office. "It's your mother on the line."
Ron sighed. "Okay, I'll pick it up. Oh, by the way -- don't forget to call and cancel my dentist appointment before you leave tomorrow morning. I've got another meeting that same day. I forgot to do it Friday. I'll just forget again while you're gone."
Brian made a mental note to cancel the appointment. It was ridiculous that Ron couldn't remember such mundane things as a dentist appointment when he was so anal about everything else. But it was easier to just do it than have an argument about it.
Brian went back in the bedroom and packed a few more things. Then he tried to decide what to wear to this faculty party. It was Labor Day and a picnic -- supposedly -- so Brian wished he could just wear his jeans and a tee shirt. That's what he felt the most comfortable in.
Out of the bottom drawer Brian took out a black sleeveless tee shirt that he'd bought at the mall earlier in the summer. He held it up, and then put it on. A wifebeater, the kids called it. He'd worn it to the gym a few times and also around the yard when he was doing things like mowing the lawn or washing the cars. Brian liked the way it looked on him, the way it showed off his arms and dipped down low on his chest. He knew it was shallow to be vain, but what was wrong with wanting to look hot occasionally? He undid the top button of his 501's and looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was getting shaggy. He tossed his head around and fingered his hair back a little, playing with the part.
"What ARE you doing?" Ron was standing in the doorway, watching him, smiling.
"Nothing, huh? Looks like you're getting ready to go cruising -- and not the one my mother was thinking of." Ron came over and began running his hands up and down Brian's arms. Ron apparently liked the black tee shirt, too.
"Did she tell you she wants to send us on some all-queer boat ride to the Bahamas?"
"Yes, she mentioned it. Over my dead body!" Ron was smelling Brian's hair. It smelled like the green tea shampoo he used.
"She mentioned THAT, too. She's afraid you're going to have a heart attack if you don't take a five minute break once in a while."
"I'm planning to take a five minute break right now," said Ron, unhooking the rest of the buttons on Brian's 501's and sliding them down.
"I thought you said we couldn't be late for that picnic?" Brian sighed, while he pulled off the black tee shirt. "Because it was your Chairman's big bash?"
"Fuck the picnic. And fuck the Chairman. Because they will have to wait while I fuck YOU!"
As Ron was taking off his clothes, Brian flashed on the horrible Lowell, his blunt, ugly face and shapeless body. No, Ron loved Beauty -- it was an aesthetic thing with him. Getting the perfect shot, the perfect picture -- the perfect face. Lowell was just another perk, like the title and the fancy office. He was there, why not take him? It had been the same way with the kid in Boston. A power thing. A control thing. Fucking the Research Assistant, the Teaching Assistant, the grad student -- it was just another way to demonstrate your power over them. Show them -- literally -- who's boss. And to show Brian who was the boss, too.
"Ron," started Brian, thinking of the box of condoms sitting unopened in the bathroom drawer. "I...." But then in his mind he heard the questions and the accusations. The weeks of even more paranoid checking up on him. Ron might not even let him go to Pittsburgh to take his father to the doctor.
Brian closed his eyes and prayed that he was wrong about Ron and Lowell. Or that Lowell was smarter than he was and insisted on being safe. Or that he was too unattractive to fuck around all that much. Or even that Ron thought about reality for once and insisted on it himself -- if not for Brian's sake, then for his own.
Ron and Brian were an hour and forty-five minutes late for the Labor Day Picnic, but it didn't matter. These faculty functions were always open-ended affairs, with people coming and going, a buffet table that was always filled, an open bar.
Brian stared at the bar, wishing he had a drink. A REAL fucking drink. Jim Beam -- that's what his old man used to drink, shot after shot. Brian wondered if he had the nerve to go over to the bar and get one and bolt it down before Ron was any the wiser.
But he'd smell it on Brian. Booze stunk. Ron would smell it and taste it, because he was sure to want another round of fucking later tonight, especially since Brian would be gone for four or five days. And especially if the party went well. If they treated him like a star. He'd be basking in that and would expect the same treatment from Brian tonight.
Ron had let Brian wear his black tee shirt. That surprised him. He'd thought Ron would say it was too trashy, or even too faggy. Ron was sensitive about such things. Image was everything to him. But Ron was in a good mood after their afternoon screw and let Brian wear it. Brian liked the way he looked in the black wifebeater. Liked the way he felt in it, too. And he didn't care if some of the men at the picnic were turning up their noses at him. All the women were going out of their way to tell him how much THEY liked it. Maybe some of them liked it TOO much -- a couple of them felt up his biceps a bit aggressively -- but that was all right. They knew the score. They didn't push the issue.
Brian got a hot dog -- it WAS a picnic, after all -- and a plastic cup of lemonade and found a quiet place to sit. There were folding chairs set up all over the backyard and he took one under a tree. Maybe he could just doze off for a while and when he woke up it would be time to go. And he'd still have time this evening to work on his article. Another summer would be gone and it was back to the grind next week. And on the road to Pittsburgh tomorrow....
"You must be the wife?"
Brian looked up to see a tall, thin woman in glasses peering down at him. She had classic features -- she must have been striking when she was younger -- but they were stretched too tightly over her face and the lines on her forehead were etched in a permanent frown.
"Excuse me?" Brian said, taken aback.
"I mean the wife of Golden Boy! Our Perkins Chair in Bullshit? Professor Rosenblum, who else?" The woman was also more than a little intoxicated.
"And you are?"
"Millie. Millicent Douglas. Professor in Media Studies, along with your husband, who right now is kissing the ass of our departmental chair so fervently that YOU ought to get jealous. I am Film Theory and Feminist Films. Not that you give a shit."
"Nice to meet you." Brian put down his paper plate and extended his hand. The woman ignored it.
"So, tell me the truth. Is he going to last out the year -- or will he be gone with the wind before Spring Semester even begins? Because I wanna know! I think that we, the Media Studies peasants, have a right to know!"
"I don't know what you mean," said Brian, knowing exactly what she meant. Knowing that this woman could see Ron heading out the door and off to Los Angeles as clearly as Brian could.
"Come on -- you can't be THAT dumb! So don't play on the stereotype."
"What stereotype is that?" said Brian, coolly.
"You tell me," the woman responded. "Is there a faggot equivalent of the Dumb Blonde? Because I don't think you are it -- no matter what some people say. Sure, you're beautiful, baby. But I read your article on 'Cruising' -- that Pacino movie? -- in 'CineAction.' I thought you were right on the money about it. So I know you aren't stupid."
"I didn't know I was supposed to BE stupid," Brian replied, squirming in his folding chair. "I guess I'm too busy teaching my classes to listen to a bunch of faculty gossip. And writing my articles. Like the 'Cruising' piece. And like my Warhol essay in 'Cinema Journal.' Or the piece on John Rechy that I should be at home working on right this minute instead of sitting here listening to a bunch of insults! I get enough of those in my own department."
"Touché, baby," she said. To Brian's dismay, the woman pulled a chair up next to his. "So, tell me a story. Is the Golden Boy even half as shitty at home as he is in the office? I mean, he sucks up to the Chairman and the Dean and all the fucking big deals, but he's Attila the Queer to most of us in the trenches. Do you know that I had to give up my office because HE wanted it? And he got them to put in new furniture and a carpet and fuck-all. I couldn't even get them to fix my broken file cabinet! And I've been here for fifteen goddamn years!"
"Sorry about that." What did the woman want Brian to do? Tell Ron to give the office back?
"And I lost my Senior Seminar in Independent Films because they gave it to your fucking husband! And guess what? The TA's do ALL the work! I think old Ron just shows up to turn on the video player!"
"Ron is a filmmaker, not just an academic," Brian said, feeling the need to defend his partner from this obviously bitter female.
"Maybe so. They ALL are playing up to Mr. Ron because of his Academy Award thing. I say he must have blown someone really big to get that film into contention. Or maybe he had someone ELSE do it for him? Someone MUCH prettier? You know what I mean, baby?"
Brian felt himself turning red, but he held steady. The last thing he needed to do was rise to this woman's drunken ramblings.
"But I'm still curious about something," she continued. "I say Ronnie's even MORE shitty at home than he is in the department. Others would say that he must be nice SOMEWHERE, right? Because he must be nice to SOMEONE, right?"
"You know, I don't have a clue what you're talking about, Ms. Douglas."
"Millie, for fucksake! You don't have a clue? Hey, you're the one who has to put up with him! Or is he nice to you? You're such a cutie, maybe he IS nice to you. Is he, honey?"
"I don't think that's any of your business!" Brian said. Millie was leaning on Brian so heavily that his cup of lemonade was starting to tilt. He set it down in the grass to save it from disaster.
"Oh, my. Not a good answer, baby. If it was good news, you'd say, 'Certainly, ma'am! He's a fucking PRINCE and don't you forget it! He treats ME like fucking CINDERELLA at the ball!'" Millie was soused, but Brian got the sinking feeling that she knew exactly what she was talking about. "But I can see that he's rotten to you just like he is to everyone else. And you are SO pretty, too. He must be a real idiot!"
"Excuse me, but you're talking about my partner, if you don't mind," Brian said, trying to convince himself.
"Hey, if YOU don't mind him, then that's YOUR business. But you should know about what he's up to, shouldn't you? You've seen that goofy Research Assistant? He's an ass, too! They deserve each other. I'm just saying, baby!"
Brian's stomach sank straight into the ground. It was bad enough that he thought Ron was cheating on him with the loathsome Lowell, but to know that it was common knowledge in Ron's department made Brian feel like two cents. Leave it to some drunken female to pull the rug out from under him -- or reveal the man behind the curtain as just another humbug.
Brian looked over to the area under a small tent where the host of the party, the Chairman of Media Studies, was holding court. He couldn't see Ron. Hadn't seen him since shortly after they'd gotten there. He stood up.
"Where are you going?" mumbled Millie. "Why not have a little drink with me? I could tell you all the dirt about EVERYBODY in Media Studies! Everybody in the English Department, too! You'd like that. I could tell you stuff about YOUR Chairman that would curl your pretty hair, baby!"
"Sure. Great," said Brian. He started walking over to the tent. He saw the Chairman presiding over the festivities. He had a highball glass in his hand. Brian recognized a few other members of Ron's department. They all looked up at him as he stood at the entrance of the tent.
"Oh oh," said one of them, glancing at Brian and turning away quickly. Brian looked beyond him and saw Ron sitting on a folding chair at the back of the tent, a glass of sherry in one hand, his other hand on Lowell's flabby ass, stroking it. Lowell was standing next to him, leaning down, grinning like a fool.
Brian just stood, watching them for a minute or two until Ron looked up and saw him. He started, almost dropping his drink. Lowell jumped back, too, as if he'd been stung. It wasn't so much what they were actually doing, it was the context. Brian immediately understood that everyone in the tent knew what was going on. And Ron and Lowell couldn't have acted more guilty if Brian had walked in on Lowell blowing him. Just like the guy in Boston. That was a picture Brian would never erase from his mind.
Jesus, Ron, thought Brian. What did you expect, really? I'm right here! I'm right outside! Did you think I couldn't SEE you? That I wouldn't see you? Or don't you give a damn? Doesn't it even matter anymore? Why did you insist that I come, anyway? Why not just let me stay home and preserve my fucking illusions?
"Oops," he heard one of the other professors say behind him. "Someone's busted." And a couple of people laughed.
And that was the worse part. It was bad enough for Brian's fragile ego to be humiliated in is own heart, but to have it so public. To be laughed at so openly. That he couldn't handle. That was the last straw.
Brian turned around and began the long walk home.
Go on to "Nowhere Man -- Part 5.
©Gaedhal, October 2002
Posted October 19, 2002