This is Chapter 5 of the "Queer Identities" series.
The narrators are Michael Novotny and Brian Kinney, and features Justin Taylor, Cynthia Llewellyn, Dr. David Cameron, Charley Bouley, Pat Swayze, Jared Brooks, Hank Cameron, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Taking care of business. Pittsburgh/Arizona, May 2003.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. This is for fun, not profit. Enjoy.
"You get up every morning
From your 'larm clock's warning
Take the 8:15 into the city.
There's a whistle up above
And people pushin', people shovin'
And the girls who try to look pretty.
And if your train's on time
You can get to work by nine
And start your slaving job to get your pay,
If you ever get annoyed,
Look at me I'm self-employed,
I love to work at nothing all day!
And I'll be...
Takin' care of business (every day),
Takin' care of business (every way),
I've been takin' care of business (it's all mine),
Takin' care of business and working overtime.
On Saturday afternoon David and I are sitting in the food court at the mall, waiting for Hank, when a woman comes up to our table.
"Michael?" she says. "I thought that was you!"
It takes me a moment to recognize her. "Cynthia?" Her blonde hair is much shorter than I remember and she's carrying two large shopping bags, which she drops by her feet.
"I haven't seen you for a while!" she says. "Wasn't it at Brian's party at Papagano's last May?"
"Probably," I reply. "You look great, Cynthia. I love your hair."
She laughs and fluffs it with her manicured fingers. "I'm still getting used to it short. But I really wanted a change." She holds out her hand to David. "Hi there! I'm Cynthia. I used to be Brian's assistant at Ryder Associates."
"Oh, sorry," I say. I'm still rotten at introductions and all that stuff. "This is my partner, David."
I can see the questions in Cynthia's eyes. She must know the story about what happened the first time I was with David. And the last time the two of us met, I was still with Ben.
"Hello, David." She shakes his hand. "You're the chiropractor, right? I've heard a lot about you."
"I bet you have," he says slowly. "Are you still working at Ryder?"
She rolls her eyes. "That's a long story! Short answer -- yes. But not for much longer. In fact, thanks to Brian, next week I'm going to New York to interview at some agencies there. But whatever happens I'll be moving to the Big Apple at the end of August because I'm getting married!"
"Married?" I'm surprised. I don't remember Cynthia having a boyfriend. But she's a pretty girl, so I guess it's not too weird that she'd get married.
"That's wonderful," David says. "Who's the lucky guy?"
"His name is Scott Judson and he's an actor," she gushes. She can't stop smiling as she's talking about him. "I met him in New York last fall on the set of a Woody Allen film when Brian was filming a fewscenes for a cameo. Scott plays John Cusack's best friend -- isn't that great? We started seeing each other and now we're getting married! How romantic is that?"
"Pretty damn romantic," David agrees. He glances at me and raises an eyebrow.
"So, like any bride-to-be, I'm shopping like mad. Which is crazy for someone about to lose her job! You know that Ryder was sold, right? I'm sure Brian must have mentioned it. That's why it's important for me to get a position in New York. That's where the acting jobs are, so that's where Scott has to be. Unless we go out to L.A., of course. But Scott's not quite ready to make that move yet. But he's SO talented that I'm sure Hollywood is in his future! The Woody film is coming out this fall and that should open the door to a lot of better roles!" The words are pouring out of Cynthia like a flood. I've never heard her talk so much before -- it's like someone wound her up and turned her on!
"Wait a sec," I interrupt. "Ryder was sold? When did this happen?"
"Just recently," Cynthia replies. "Marty Ryder sold out to the Vangard Agency. Brian must have forgotten to tell you about it before he left town. He's helping me get interviews by putting in a few good words with the big agencies. But I have a lot of faith in my portfolio. I worked my ass off at Ryder and I'm good." She tosses her head proudly. "Not as good as Brian was, naturally, but I learned as much as I could from the Master!"
"So," David asks, obviously trying to shift the conversation away from Brian. "When is the wedding?"
"August 2," she confirms. "I have SO much to do before then! My dress, the flowers, the caterer, the church -- so many details! And you'll never believe who is going to give me away? I mean, considering how he feels about marriage in general."
I blink. "Brian? Is Brian going to be in your wedding? For real?"
"For real! Isn't that wild?" Cynthia laughs again. She seems so happy. "Big Bad Brian is going to walk me down the aisle! There's no one else I'd rather have do it. Brian has done so much for me over the years. You know how difficult he can be, Michael, but he was also the best boss ever. I only hope I can find colleagues in New York who are as great to me as Brian has been." Suddenly she glances at her watch. "Oh, shit! I have to get going. My mother and I are meeting with the wedding planner at 3:00 and I have to pick her up. It was nice meeting you, David. And wonderful to see you again, Michael. Bye!"
And she's off across the food court like a blonde tornado.
"Wow," says David, as we watch her disappear. "Brian Kinney certainly has her snowed."
"What do you mean by that?" I'm used to David putting down Brian all the time, and I usually let it pass, but I have to call him on this one. "Cynthia worked closely with Brian every day when he was at Ryder. If anyone knows him, for good and bad, it's Cynthia. And she obviously likes and respects him or she wouldn't want him to be in her wedding! Not even Brian Kinney can fool someone every single fucking day -- especially a woman as sharp as Cynthia!"
David gives me a pitying look. "I thought you'd outgrown therole of Brian Kinney's biggest defender?"
"Brian is still my best friend!" I retort. "If that bothers you, I'm sorry! And I'm not defending him, I'm only telling you the truth. I know you don't like Brian, but that doesn't mean that no one likes him. Because a lot of people DO like Brian! Like Cynthia, for instance. And some people actually love him. Like Justin. And Lindsay. And -- yes! -- me! So I wish you'd get over it."
"I think you're the one who needs to get over it, Michael," he says sternly.
Jesus! I hate it when David starts pulling that 'Daddy' voice on me. It's bad enough when he uses it on Hank, but when he uses it on me, that makes me see red.
"I'm not your child, David!" I stand up. "So don't fucking treat me like one!"
"There's no need to make a scene." David glances around. "People are looking."
"So what? Let them look!" I pick up my empty cup of Diet Pepsi, walk over to the trash can, and shove it in. "Because I don't give a shit!" I begin walking across the food court. Not in any particular direction. Just away. Away from David.
"Michael!" David calls sharply. "Come back here!"
But I keep walking.
And I have no fucking idea where I'm going.
"Get in there, Kinney!" Charley Bouley, the head wrangler, screams. "Don't let that fucking steer get away from you!"
"I'm trying!" I yell back. One Longhorn, a big, ugly, red and white monster, has bolted from the herd -- and I'm supposed to get him back.
Charley seems to think I'm a real cowboy and not an actor who is only trying to look like a cowboy. And my horse, Trooper, doesn't seem to know I'm not a cowboy, either, because he roars after that steer like a fucking freight train.
"Go, Brian!" I hear Pat calling. "Cut that son of a bitch off at the pass!"
Trooper plunges through a tangle of brush and rocks, trying to head off the Longhorn. At this point I'm just trying to hang on and not fall off. But it's difficult, especially since my ass feels like hamburger after four straight hours in the saddle. And this is only the first full day we've been on the range with the cattle.
Who was it that decided it would be a good thing for me to become an actor? I guess that was me -- with a little nudge from Ron and Jimmy. Smart move, Kinney. You could be having a leisurely lunch with a client right now. Oops, it's Saturday. Well, you could be at the gym, working out -- and checking out the available talent. Then working up another good sweat in the steam room, followed by a shower to cool me down. Then over to Woody's to shoot some pool with Mikey. Back to the loft to chase Justin around a little. A couple hours dancing at Babylon. Then back home for a long, intense fuck session with Justin under the blue lights...
"Kinney! Wake up!" I hear Charley screaming again. "He's getting away from you! Let's see you burn some leather!"
The steer breaks out of the brush and onto open ground. Trooper stumbles over a tangle of loose sagebrush and I almost go flying forward over his neck. But then Trooper catches himself, I grab hold of his mane, and we're off across the desert after the steer.
He slows down, as if he's not certain where he's going. Charley has told us again and again that cattle are herd animals. They like to make a run for it every once in a while, but they are a little lost when they do. Which means that if I can get him turned and headed back to the herd, he'll probably go along with it. I fucking hope!
Trooper cuts in front of him, bringing the steer to a screeching halt. He's an ugly cuss, with two long, curving horns and a scar across his nose where another cow gashed him. Those horns aren't blunted. These Texas Longhorns are the real thing, just like they were back in the 1860's -- big and mean and dangerous. This herd was actually bred for the movies and they aren't quite as wild as they would have been way back when, but that doesn't mean they can't hurt you. They don't know this is a movie, after all. All they know is that some idiots on horses are chasing them and making a lot of noise -- and that doesn't make them very happy.
The steer stares at Trooper. The horse snorts. He's been trained not to be afraid of cattle. I haven't had the advantage of the same kind of training. But I urge Trooper forward. I have a coil of rope on my saddle horn, but I'm not about to try to rope this ugly brute. What would I do if I actually caught him? I take the lariat and wave it at him, slapping it against my leg. He backs up a step, then another step. Finally, he turns. Luckily, it's in the right direction.
Jared Brooks comes riding up. He's my stand-in and stunt double. He's about my height and build, but he's also ten years older. He also knows his way around a steer.
"Hey! Yah!" he yells at the beast. "Get on, butthead!" For a second I think he's talking to me! But then Jared grins at me. "I mean that bigger butthead! Yah, steer! Get up!"
I begin whooping, too, following Jared's lead. Between the two of us, we move the steer back towards the herd. He goes grudgingly -- but he goes. Jared lets me take the lead as we drive him along. When he sees the main herd, the steer meanders back with his pals, as calmly as a milk cow. The fucking bastard.
"Don't let those SOB's break out again!" Charley Bouley snaps. "We'll be chasing them all the fucking way to Mexico."
I feel like a fucking idiot for letting the steer get away in the first place.
Pat moves his horse up next to mine. "Don't mind Charley. You did good, Brian. The kid and Gar Greenough are still trying to get three head out of those rocks." He points to a bare hill covered with scrub. Rowan Conley and Charley's right-hand wrangler are up in that mess trying to get a trio of young steers down and back to the main herd. They aren't having any luck.
A few minutes later the craft services van pulls up. Thank God it's time for lunch!
I get off Trooper and my legs feel like rubber. No matter how used to riding you are, so many hours on horsebacktakes its toll. Pat and I hand our horses over to the wranglers and limp over to an outcropping of rocks to take a piss. It's amazing how the simplest things are a pleasure out here. Pissing feels great. Getting off that horse feels great. And smelling the greasy craft services food feels great, too.
The food van looks like an anachronism in this little corner of the 19th century, but it's a welcome anachronism. I've never been so happy to see a fucking ham sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a bottle of Gatorade in my entire life.
"Man, I'm going to hit that hot tub tonight," says Pat as we take our food over to a small tent that's been set up to give us a little shade while we eat.
"Sounds good." I take a swig of Gatorade. The thought of soaking in a hot tub seems like heaven on earth. I wonder if the guys would mind if Justin came along and took a soak with me? I don't see why they should -- as long as we don't get too carried away! "I think I'm going to need it, too. I work out every day and I'm in good shape, but my entire body feels like it's been put through a fucking Waring blender!"
"When you ride, you use muscles you don't ordinarily work," he points out. "I ride every day, but my back is still killing me!"
Talking to Pat is easy. He's the epitome of a laid-back guy. I consider telling him about the crush Mikey and I had on him after we saw 'Dirty Dancing,' but I don't want to freak him out. I still can't believe Michael actually sent him a fan letter back then. That took major balls on Michael's part! I think about the piles of my fan mail that Leslie deals with every day. I couldn't believe it the first time I saw her going through all those letters in the office. It was mind-numbing -- all those people writing to me! But that's part of her job -- sorting out the letters and sending 'autographed' pictures back to the writer. Pat and I will have to have a discussion about the whole fan thing one night. I'm sure he can give me some good advice about how to deal with it all.
"Tomorrow's Sunday and we only have camp for half the day, thank God!" Pat observes as he munches on his baloney sandwich. "I'm going back to my trailer tomorrow afternoon and sleep until Monday morning!"
"It's a bitch," I agree. "I'm out the second my head hits the pillow." I know Justin was disappointed that I fell asleep in the middle of his big romantic evening last night, but I couldn't help it. I couldn't have stayed awake even if he'd zapped me with a fucking taser!
"Get as much sleep as you can, when you can, Brian," Pat advises. "You ever been on a location shoot like this before?"
"No," I admit. "Nothing like this." 'The Olympian' was shot entirely in L.A., 'Hammersmith' in London, and the few scenes I did for the Woody Allen flick were at a gallery in New York. I never had to live in an RV in the middle of a desert or work like a fucking dog in the hot sun and dust -- and my part of the filming hasn't even started yet!
"It's a learning experience," says Pat. "It's also hard on your body. That's why I'm telling you to eat a lot, sleep a lot, and reserve your energy, because you're going to need every ounce of it. Remember that this is only Cowboy Camp -- we haven't even begun acting yet!"
"How the fuck does Clint do it?" I ask. "He's got to be 70!"
Pat grins. "He'll be 73 in a week. Don't spill it, but the wranglers and the crew are planning a surprise birthday party for him next Saturday."
"73? Jesus." I shake my head, trying to imagine myself in the middle of the desert, sitting on a fucking horse when I'm 73. In 2044! "I can't even conceive of it!"
"That's why they call him the Iron Man!" Pat stands up and stretches. "I'm getting myself another sandwich. Want one?"
Second helpings are like pussy -- something I only do once a decade. But the truth is that I'm still hungry. And we have the whole afternoon to chase around those fucking cows. "Yeah, I'd like another sandwich. And another bag of chips, too."
"That's my boy!" Pat laughs. "Craft services is your friend out here, Brian. When in doubt, eat something! Never forget that!"
"I won't," I vow. "I still have a fucking lot to learn." And I still can't get over that I'm learning it from the guy I used to jerk off to way back when.
"You're doing a great job, Brian," he says, patting me on the shoulder. "You'll do fine."
"Thanks," I say. And I really mean it.
I end up at the bus stop in front of the mall and get on the first bus that comes along. It's going downtown. From there I can take another bus up to Liberty Avenue. What I'll do when I get there, I have no fucking clue. Maybe I'll go over and hang out at the store for a while. Edwin is working today. I don't usually go to the store on Saturday anymore because David likes to save that day so we can do family things with Hank. I guess I can find something to do in the office to keep myself busy for the rest of the day. But eventually I'll have to go home and face things with David.
Because we have a lot of things to talk about.
Yeah, no kidding.
I haven't been on a bus in ages. I actually like riding the bus. You can watch the city go by. You can think without interruptions. When we were kids, Brian and I used to go all over Pittsburgh on the bus. He used to bitch and moan about not having a car -- in fact, the first thing he did with his first paycheck from Ryder was put a down payment on a used Camero -- but we got where we needed to go on the bus.
David just doesn't understand. He'll never understand. He thinks I'm still in love with Brian, but he's wrong. I admit that I was in love with him. In love for a long time -- probably since the first time I saw him. But it's different now. I still love Brian, but I'm not IN love with him. I love him because he's a part of my life. A part of ME. Like my arm or my leg. Like Ma or Uncle Vic. Like Captain Astro. Like being a queer. Something I can't just let go. Something I can't pretend isn't important to me. Vital to me.
The first time I ever saw Brian was at the end of Eighth Grade. That must have been around May of 1985. We wereboth 14. He's just been expelled from Our Lady, Queen of the Angels Middle School. One of the nuns had smelled alcohol on his breath, tried to drag him to the principal's office, and he called her a name you should never call a nun. Although Brian was a straight A student, he already had a lot black marks on his permanent record for stuff like skipping class, refusing to wear his uniform, and fighting, mainly with the school jocks, so cursing out a nun was the last straw. Being sent to public school was supposed to be Brian's punishment, but later he told me it was a relief not to have to deal with all the religious bullshit anymore.
I'll never forget that morning. This new kid walked into homeroom and looked around like he already owned the place. He was tall and his hair was golden brown. He was wearing a green polo shirt, stone-washed jeans that fit really tight, and Converse sneakers. He was so totally cool that I couldn't stop staring at him. The teacher told him to find a seat -- and he sat down right next to me! Thank God that seat was empty that day! I remember my heart pounding so loudly I thought everyone could hear it. I kept glancing at him as the teacher called the roll and made announcements. He caught me looking at him -- and he smiled at me. It was the first time Brian ever gave me that crooked, close-mouthed smirk I'd come to know so well.
At lunch time I didn't see the new kid in the cafeteria, so I went outside. I wasn't sure why I was looking for him, but I knew I wanted to see him, maybe even talk to him. But I didn't understand why. Not then. Not yet. I found Brian leaning against the building, smoking a cigarette.
"They don't allow smoking here," I told him. I was so nervous that he'd get caught and thrown out of school, and then I'd never see him again.
But Brian wasn't afraid at all. "So?" he shrugged. And then he took the cigarette out of his mouth and put it in mine. I could still feel the moisture and warmth from his lips on the filter tip. I'd never smoked a cigarette before in my life, but I knew right then and there that I would do anything Brian told me to do. Anything.
I coughed and choked while he laughed at me. His eyes were dark green. Then he put his arm around me and asked, "What's your name again?"
"Mikey," I sputtered. That's what Ma always called me. I blushed. "I mean -- Michael."
"Okay -- Mikey," he mocked. "I'm Brian. Wanna cut out for the rest of the afternoon?"
And that's how it started. I had my first cigarette with Brian. My first beer. My first bottle of whiskey. My first joint. My first hit of E. And I had my first wet dream about Brian. I never told him that, but I'm sure he wouldn't be surprised. He knew that I was in love with him from Day One. Yeah, Brian used that to his advantage. Yeah, sometimes the stuff he convinced me to do weren't always the best things for me. But he also got me through a lot of bad times. Helped me finish school. Fought off the bullies and queer-bashers. Took me to the doctor when I got VD. Never let me stop believing in myself. Never let me give up on my dreams.
And when I needed him to step back and let me try to have a real relationship with David, he did that, too. Even though he thought I was acting like a total shit. Even though he thought I was making a big fucking mistake.
That was the first time I was with David. Things didn't work out then, but Brian never rubbed it in. And when I started going out with Ben, Brian never stood in the way, although he had issues with Ben's positive status. I know Brian was afraid for me, but he wanted me to be happy even more.
But what the fuck does that mean? Happy?
I guess I don't know anymore.
The bus stops at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Barker Place and I get out. I always end up on Liberty Avenue. Back where I started.
But I have no idea where I'm going from here.
"That feels great." I close my eyes and lean back.
The water is warm, but not too warm. In fact it's perfect. Fucking perfect!
"You want me to turn up the jets?" asks Pat.
"No, it's fine for me." I turn to Justin. "Okay for you?"
He grins back at me. "I'm good."
"This is the best thing at the end of long day in the saddle," Pat adds. "The wranglers have their own tub over in their camp. And so does the crew. You put in a long, rough day, you really need this!"
It's interesting that the hierarchy of the studio remains in place even on location. The wranglers have their own camp down by the corral, so they can be closer to the animals at night. And the crew members also have their own little enclave, with their own shower facilities and hot tub. Then there are the lower level production people, like Justin's new pal, Avi, who are jumbled together in trailers holding four or five people. Then the head crew members for things like make-up and wardrobe, the assistant directors, then the cinematographer and his cameramen. And then the actors. And Dorian, of course. And then there's Clint. Usually on a set the director is the VIP of the VIP's, but on this set you can't get past the fact that Clint is Top Dog. Because he's Clint. The Iron Man, as Pat pointed out.
Needless to say, Clint has a trailer here on location, but he doesn't sleep in it. He's rented a luxury house in Tucson where he's living during the shoot and a limo brings him to the set every day and takes him back every night. That's real power. That's the privilege of a big star. But I'm actually pretty content with living in the trailer -- at least for now. We'll see how I feel in a month!
"I just put in a hot tub," I tell Pat. "We did a major remodeling of the house over the past few months. Redid the bedrooms and the living room. They were supposed to be finished May 1, but they're still working on the poolhouse."
"You're lucky it didn't take them a year!" Pat laughs. "I know a couple who bought a big house in Malibu and started remodeling it right before they got married. Now they have two kids and are divorced -- and the damn house still isn't finished!"
"I've read stories like that," says Justin. "Los Angeles is crazy!"
"That's for sure." I reach over and squeeze Justin's arm. I'd like to do more, but, contrary to popular belief, I do have some scruples! And I wouldn't do anything that would make Pat uncomfortable. He's used to gay men, but that doesn't mean he wants to watch them make out!
Justin's face is flushed from the heat of the tub. After we get out, we're going to have dinner with the crew. The catering tent is having a Saturday night cookout -- just burgers and hotdogs and chili, but it sounds good to me. And Justin looks good to me, too. I'm not planning to fall asleep early tonight. That's a guarantee.
"What?" asks Justin, looking at me. "Why are you smiling like that?"
"You'll find out, Sunshine," I say with an evil grin. "Later."
I thank Edwin for driving me home and get out of his car. I go slowly up the walkway and pause to take a deep breath before I open the front door and go inside.
Hank is lying on the living room floor, leafing through one of his school books. "Hey, Michael!" he says. He's really glad to see me. And, looking at him, I realize how much I care about him. How much I enjoy doing things with him -- reading comics, going to the mall, just hanging out. He really feels like my son. And I'd hate to lose that.
"Where's your dad?"
Hank frowns. He knows something is wrong. I feel sorry for the kid. He's had a lot of disruptions in his life. His parents' divorce. His dad coming out. David's partner, Mac, dying. His mother and stepfather breaking up. So watching me and David having trouble -- again! -- can't be a good thing for him.
His eyes follow me as I trudge up the staircase.
David is sorting out the laundry for tomorrow. He always does laundry on Sunday morning. It's part of his schedule. David is big on schedules. "Hello, Michael. It's almost time for dinner. I was wondering if you were going to join us."
"David, we need to talk."
"I know." He picks up a pair of black socks and puts it in the pile of darks. "I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. About a lot of things. But mainly about us."
I swallow. This is hard. So fucking hard! "I know."
"But after considering all of our options -- and after seeing Cynthia today, seeing how happy and excited she was, with her whole new life ahead of her -- I've come to a decision. About us. And our future."
I nod. "Our future. Right." Here it comes. The end of the line.
David turns and looks at me, his face very serious. But then he smiles. "I've decided that we should get married. This summer. Go up to Toronto, do the deed, then come back, have a big party, and invite all our friends. So, what do you say?"
What do I say? I have no fucking idea what to say! "I... I mean..." I can't continue.
But David puts his arms around me and hugs me tight. "I knew you'd say yes, Michael. We're going to be happy -- finally! You and me -- and Hank! Don't worry. I'll take care of everything! It's going to be wonderful!"
"Yeah," I whisper. What else can I say? What else can I do? "Wonderful."
I only hope he's right.
"If it were easy as fishin'
You could be a musician
If you could make sounds loud or mellow.
Get a second-hand guitar,
Chances are you'll go far
If you get in with the right bunch of fellows.
People see you having fun
Just a-lying in the sun,
Tell them that you like it this way.
It's the work that we avoid,
And we're all self-employed,
We love to work at nothing all day!
And we be...
Takin' care of business (every day),
Takin' care of business (every way),
We be been takin' care of business (it's all mine),
Takin' care of business and working overtime."
Continue on to "Interloper".
©Gaedhal, February 2007.
Posted February 11, 2007.