This is Part 2 of Chapter 3 in this series, "Queer Theories".
Go back to "Queer Theory -- Part 1".
"You know that Ron never showed up for my seminar this afternoon." It was Angela, the Women's Studies prof who was one of the festival organizers. I could tell that she was pissed. She had wanted a certain Lesbian/Feminist/Postmodernist who made videos of plastic surgery, circumcisions, and other sexually-related operations and superimposed them on collages of political and religious figures such as George Bush, the Pope, and Jerry Falwall. This woman was also Angela's old college roommate and her ex-lover, so she was not happy that Ron had gotten the award and the focus of the festival.
"Strange. That's really not like Ron. He's always very dependable. I bet he got a call from California or something and forgot about the time."
"Well, my class was disappointed."
Yeah, Angie, I'm sure.
"Luckily, Sarai was able to offer some of her insights on the film industry and their treatment of gay, lesbian, and transgendered peoples. She also had some of her videos that she showed."
"I'm glad it worked out, Angela."
I walked over to the auditorium. A very light snow was falling and it was already getting quite dark, even though it was barely 5:00.
Ron was standing in a knot of well-wishers and, for once, he didn't look like he'd rather be somewhere else. In fact, he was laughing and joking around in a way that I had rarely seen. He was even -- could it be? -- flirting with one of my own students, Alan, a red-haired hunk who was writing his thesis on queer signification in the films of Clint Eastwood (with an emphasis on "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," of course).
"Ron, if I didn't know better I would say you were high," I said as we walked over to the side.
"Benjie, why would you say such a thing?" He laughed -- no, he giggled.
"Ron, you ARE high!"
"Just in a good mood, a reeeeally good mood."
"Have you been partying with the Queer Students for Normalization of Marijuana Coalition?"
"Point me to them and we shall see!" He slapped my arm. "Seems like a good turn-out tonight. I'm looking forward to the "Q & A" afterwards."
"Of course not! But it means this thing is over and I can get the Hell back to L.A." His eyes scanned the lobby, as if he were looking for someone.
"Are you coming in to watch the film this time?"
"No, I'm going to hang out in the lounge upstairs -- that's what I did yesterday -- and they'll come and get me when the screening ends and I'm 'on.' I thought Michael was coming tonight?"
"I think last night was enough academic stuff for him for this week. I've got the video -- thanks by the way -- and he can watch it at home. Maybe after we can go out for a drink."
"Ah -- I'll beg off. I've got to leave really early tomorrow and I have some things to take care of first."
"I thought you weren't leaving until around noon?"
"Right. Well, I'm busy tonight. We'll make it up next time, when you come out to the Coast for the premiere."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world."
The auditorium was already dark and the festival chair was introducing the film and announcing the "Q & A" to follow when I went in and looked for a seat. Leaning against the back wall under an EXIT sign was a shadowy, but unmistakable figure. Now what would Brian Kinney be doing at this screening? It was just not his kind of thing. The backroom at Babylon, yes, or the pool table at Woody's, yes, but not a queer film festival showing social problem documentaries. The only thing I could imagine was that he'd come over to see just what in this film had so freaked out his young boyfriend the day before. Or not his boyfriend, as Michael was always reminding me. Whatever he was.
I found a seat in the last row and the film rolled. I hadn't been watching for ten minutes before I knew exactly what had freaked out the kid the day before. I also thanked God that Michael had decided not to attend, because I would be dealing with his own reaction, which I didn't doubt would have been as severe as Justin's.
I looked over at the EXIT sign. There was no one standing there.
After about a half-hour I had to get out of there and clear my head. I thought of searching out Ron and asking him the million questions going through my brain, but I didn't want to talk to him until I'd had time to think myself. In the insular world of queer culture this was potentially a big thing. The rediscovery of "Jack" -- it would make a great story and a great chapter of my projected book. And it could potentially change the meaning of the entire film from that of a tragedy to something akin to an uplifting tale of survival. Because if ever there was a survivor it was Brian Kinney! His success spoke for itself, but the ramifications of this revelation had to impact his life in a big way. Plenty of people at the screenings knew Brian -- many probably knew him very, very well -- and the word would be all over the gay community in days. Not that Brian would care. But Michael would care. And his little boyfriend would care. And at that advertising agency where he worked -- if they knew they would certainly care.
I walked out of the auditorium and out of the building. I stood on the broad front step, behind one of the big pillars, out of the December wind, and craved a cigarette. Actually, this seemed a two cigarette ponder. A few moments later the door opened and someone else came out. It was Brian, in his long leather coat and long black scarf. He took out a cigarette and lit it. I thought about going over and bumming one from him. Asking him, "So, what do you think of the flick so far?" His smoke wafted over and I realized he was smoking a joint. I watched him puff on it, his face inscrutable.
The door opened again and another figure emerged. It was Ron. I started to go over to them, but stopped short as Ron leaned forward and put his arms around Brian. He took the joint out of his mouth and took a hit. Then kissed him, pushed him against the opposite pillar, devoured him. Brian began unbuttoning his long coat and they stepped back into the shadows. I watched for a while, like I was watching another film.
I'm not sure what bothered me so much. Certainly it couldn't be observing Brian. I'd seen him tricking enough times at Babylon. I'd tricked with him myself, although I didn't broadcast it -- especially to Michael. And Ron -- something seemed so wrong about it all. It was none of my business, really. Yet, I kept thinking about Michael's reaction. And I kept thinking about that young kid, who had been so shaken the day before. Who must have gone home and told his lover about the film that he'd seen and what he'd seen in it. And Brian must have gone directly over to the hotel last night and waited. In his black Jeep. For Michael and I to bring Ron to him.
I slipped around the pillar and down the side steps. I walked across the quad to my car and drove home in the lightly falling snow.
I was waiting for my office hours to begin around noon the next day when Michael called me from the store.
"My mom is ready to take Justin to the emergency room and have him sedated! She's called me fifteen times this morning! That goddamn Brian -- I'll kill him the next time I see him!"
"Calm down, Michael. What happened, exactly?"
"Apparently, he didn't come back to the loft last night. At all."
"And this is something that surprises anyone? That the stud of Liberty Avenue stays out all night?"
"No, Ben, you don't understand. Brian always comes home -- he never stays out all night with anyone. He never has. But especially since Justin has been living there." Michael took a couple of deep breaths. He really was upset. "I guess Justin woke up and realized that he never came home. He went to the diner for his morning shift and wanted to call the police and report Brian missing. Can you imagine that?"
"I guess he kept calling the loft and not getting an answer. Then he called his office and Cynthia, his administrative assistant, said that he hadn't shown up for work. So, of course, now both Justin AND my mom are freaking out. Brian never misses work, no matter how tired, hung-over, or fucked up he is. My Uncle Vic came by to pick them up and they drove over to the loft. The Jeep was there, so they started to feel a little better. Brian probably got very drunk and came in very late and was sleeping it off. But when they went up to the loft it was empty."
"Really." I wanted to stop Michael and say: don't tell me anymore. I already know. Because by then I already did know.
"Yeah -- his suitcase and suitbag were gone and he'd taken a bunch of his shit. I mean -- where would he go without telling anyone? What's it about?"
"He left the keys to his Jeep on the counter for Justin. He NEVER lets that kid drive the Jeep! What does that mean?"
"It doesn't make sense...."
"Michael, if you'll listen to me for one minute, please."
He fell silent.
"I know where Brian went. And I know why."
"YOU know? How would you know?"
"Because I saw them last night. At the screening."
"Saw them? Saw who? Who did you see?!"
"Brian -- and Ron. I think he's gone back to L.A. with Ron. At least, that would be my guess." The line was utterly quiet. "Michael, are you still there?"
"Yes." His voice was small and puzzled. "But why? He doesn't even know Ron!"
"But he does, Michael. He's known him for about thirteen, no, fourteen years."
"Impossible. I've known Brian all that time and I've never heard of Ron -- except from you. I know everyone Brian knows from that time. We were in school together then, for fuck's sake!"
"But not when he was in New York. Ron knows him from New York, Michael."
"What?" Michael paused a long time. "No one knows about that. No one. Not even Ted and Emmett. Or Justin. Only me and my mom and Vic. And his goddamn parents knew, I guess."
"And Ron, Michael. Ron was there. In New York. And now I know. And Justin knows -- ask him, if he's calm enough to tell you. And everyone who was at the screening last night and the day before knows. And everyone who sees the DVD when it comes out will know."
"I don't understand...."
"Because Ron's film -- his famous film, his award-winning film. It's all about Brian. He's in almost every frame. And when Justin saw it he must have raced home and told Brian. And we saw his Jeep parked at Ron's hotel last night. And I expect that they are both well on their way to the West Coast as we speak, since Ron's flight was due to leave Pittsburgh sometime around 11:00 a.m." And, I wanted to add, knowing the two of them, there's nothing you or anyone else can do about it.
It was right before Christmas and I was sitting in my office grading term papers when Ron finally returned my calls.
I'd left a string of messages at his office -- I didn't have his house number -- and he never got back to me. I knew he was in the middle of pre-production, but I was also sure that he was avoiding me. And, as far as I knew, Brian had yet to contact anyone back home. Michael had already gone through the Five Stages of Grief and seemed about ready to go through them a second time. And Justin -- the kid was living back in Michael's old room at his mom's house, so I heard every detail of his continuing drama, as well.
"Ben. Ron Rosenblum here. Did you get the material I sent you?" His voice was very business-like and abrupt, as if that might put me off.
"Yes, I got them by Fed Ex last week. Thanks. Should help me immensely with the background for the book."
"Glad to be of help. Let me know if you need anything else. My production assistant will make sure you get it." He was prepared to hang up on me already.
"Ron. Please. Just a minute of your time." He didn't answer, but he didn't disconnect either.
"Michael talked to Brian's office and they told him that he'd taken two weeks off work. It's over two weeks that you two have been gone. Maybe it's none of my business, but I have to ask if he's thinking of coming home."
"You're right, Ben, it is none of your business. I have no idea what he told his office, but he's made no plans that I know of to go back -- now or in the near future."
"But what about his job? Brian has a good job here and I'd hate to see him jeopardize it."
"You mean at that ad agency in Pittsburgh? I could make a call in two minutes and get him a job in the publicity department at the studio. He could be running the damned department in a year. All he has to do is say the word. So far, he hasn't said the word."
"Well, what is he doing out there, anyway?"
"What's he doing? Let me see." I could hear Ron moving around a room. "From what I can see he's laying out by the pool. Reading a magazine. "GQ," I think. Need any more reports?"
"And how long do you think Brian is going to be satisfied sitting on his ass all day by the pool, reading a magazine?"
"I don't know, Ben. I'm sure that when that day comes when he's sick of it, he'll let me know. In the meantime, he seems pretty satisfied. Maria and Carmel are just nuts about him."
"Who that hell are Maria and Carmel?"
"Maria is my cook and Carmel is her daughter -- she's the housekeeper. They pretty much wait on him hand and foot."
"Sounds ducky. And that's what he does all day? Get waited on like Cleopatra?"
"And goes shopping. And goes to parties with me. And out to dinner. Tonight we are going out with Jimmy Hardy and his wife. And I'm having a big Christmas Party for my production staff next week."
I was attempting to grasp it: Brian Kinney as Hollywood Wife. But it truly was beyond my comprehension. I doubted that Michael would buy it either. Or anyone else who knew him.
"Ron -- who is this person that you have there and what have you done with the real Brian?"
Ron laughed sharply. "Nothing at all, Benjie. Nothing at all."
"He hasn't called Michael -- or his... friend here in Pittsburgh...."
"Listen, Ben. He's hardly bound and gagged here. There's a huge door in the front of the house that leads to the outside world. It is unlocked. There are also telephones in almost every room and in the poolhouse, not to mention his cellphone, and phones in both the Merc and the Jag. If he doesn't want to make a call it certainly isn't for lack of opportunity."
"Please, Ron -- if you could just encourage him to contact someone here and tell them...." I paused. I didn't know what to say because I didn't know what it was Brian should be telling them. That he missed them? That he was coming back and all should be forgiven? Or that they'd never see him again -- and good riddance?
"I'll let him know you called, Ben," Ron said. But then he added, "But I'll also tell you now, he isn't coming back. Not if I have anything to do with it. And you can notify his little fan club back in Pittsburgh that if they want to see him again, they can see him in their dreams. Goodbye, Ben."
©Gaedhal, April 2002
Picture of Robert Gant and Gale Harold from Showtime 2002.
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Updated April 30, 2002