Having been informed by my physician that I’ve a vitamin D deficiency, I have been trying to take more sun. But, it’s the night I love. Tonight, the lightning bugs are painting glorious blasts and bursts of light in the backyard, it’s quite magic. I was sitting, watching, and came to mind my old life and a section of “Libertytown”, my un-published novel, inspired by my love of the energies of the night sky, and what one man in my life made of that love, did with that love, how he ruined me by knowing what it was I loved and how to use it against me. So, here, from “Libertytown”, some Moontan.
LIBERTYTOWN (an excerpt)
After the EVITA load-out, I’d, in essence, lost him. We’d talked on the phone just those four times but never had we discussed my touch, his explosion, as if none of it had ever happened, as if he hadn’t spent the summer coming on to me, as if none of the time or the sexual tension between us had been at all. During those calls he told me about his girlfriends and his drinking, but not in detail and always he had to go in a hurry.
When, three summers later, Vincent produced PIPPIN, despite my lack of dance ability and my enslavement to a full-time job at an insurance company that was draining the life out of me, he talked me into doing my Ben Vereen imitation as The Leading Player; which was, rather, something less African American and Fosse-esque than it was, say, the love-child of Liza Minnelli and Dick Van Dyke. There was no PIPPIN. I suggested Vincent call Tom. Vincent, ever eager to encourage a messy, trashy unrequited love affair, suggested I call Tom for him. And ask. I did. He said yes. This time we were both stars. We touched each other. A lot. We went for drinks. Even more. I watched him fix his car, that blue third generation model Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am with the black leather interior and the custom ordered gear shift he loved so much in which he‘d take me who he did not love so much for drives, too fast, and often drunk, but he would never let me be anything but passenger.
“No one’s ever touched my baby’s steering wheel and no one ever will Goddammit.”
I was drunk too. On the blue of the car and his eyes and that drink – Bloody Smurf Jizz with its Curacao and grenadine – he’d forced on me against my wishes our first night out together after his return, and there were nasty, leering remarks about its lurid name leading to nasty imprecatory threats about if I wanted jizz later I would drink this now and other, even fouler, crueler, indications that his feelings for me were warped into painful shapes of hate and love over which he had no control, over which he wanted control, about which lack of control he was furious and for which he blamed and wanted to punish me.
He played mix tapes he’d made and told me he was in love with Paula Abdul. He was going to marry her and they would sing duets together. He told me that. It sort of hurt my feelings. Which he knew. Which he meant to do. He looked at me and laughed. Then, he cried. “I shouldn’t,” he said, “drag you into this.” This being what he’d brought back from mysterious Miami jaunts where it seemed he’d danced with people for money and gone from a preference for Budweiser to colored drinks with exotic names and driving drunk and snorting coke and somehow changed his major to Law Enforcement and Music.
And somehow, I thought he loved me.
Tom, unlike my father, did not mind having his picture taken, but he was hesitant to have it taken with me. I have just one snapshot of the two of us taken at a PIPPIN cast party. My eyes look kohled, dark and sunken, the flesh around them bruised. I’m impossibly young and thin and my hair – which was long and crimped for the show – is badly tied back into a bush of a ponytail, but half escaped, untamed, a mess, I am a mess, in my usual baggy, long-sleeved black tee, ripped up jeans, clearly exhausted and drunken, and I am looking at Tom with something like pleading in my eyes, both of us have drinks in our hands as we always did when together – these were pink, that was the summer of pink Seabreezes at parties and blue Bloody Smurf Jizzes at bars and snorting coke in his car and beer for breakfast, and the arms which do not have drinks are around each other which explains the look of alarm in his eye as it meets the camera.
I remember that night, I remember that picture. Tom, unlike me, looked fresh, in a pressed white shirt, his just curly enough hair falling just so over his just perfect brow, there above those eyebrows which seemed always to be slightly arched, cocked in a “yeah, I look good, I know” sort of way. He would not leave the theatre without showering and “dressing it”, another of his Miami-flash jargon phrases, many of which were leering takes on every day acts; getting dressed became about gift wrapping one’s sexual assets, and like Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Tom would spend almost masturbatory sessions with himself in front of the mirror as he primped for his public, which, at the time, he still believed would include the entire world. In the picture he is gleaming that jaunty fratty smile of his, poised in his pose of belonging; he was not only meant to be wherever he was, but his being there made it the place where everyone else should want to be as well. I certainly did.
The party was being held at the home of Wolf, the wealthy older actor who’d played Charlemagne, another of Vincent’s finds. He’d stumbled into this new thespian world in the midst of his mid-life crisis, the results of which were a pierced ear, hip clothes, and endless rounds of free drinks and raucous parties at his huge, ranch-like estate for this new cohort of broke, devoted thespians he’d found with whom to share his second adolescence, a respite from a life he’d spent responsibly supporting his family by working too hard, too long, for too little joy building high end homes for middle-class families with pretensions of manor-ism on farmland purloined at fear-sale, rock bottom prices from families with whom he’d grown up, locals who had earned their livelihood for generations on the same plots of land which he purchased and on which he’d erect a dozen or so mini-mansions of ridiculous dimension behind brick walls with ornate gates on which were ormolued with the pretentious name the place had been given, and sell each for four or five times what he’d paid for the entire parcel of land. In this way this good man, Wolf, who loved his wife and children, who tried to do right by everyone with whom he dealt, who couldn’t sit still and didn’t believe in limitations, who was always red in the face and eager to backslap, had made a fortune, the benefits of which he now shared with the motley collection of malcontents, miscreants, and pseudo-Bohemian theatri-corps Vincent called his “company.”
Wolf, despite his wealth and success, remained brutally frank in his assessments of people and situations, a markedly rural trait based in a philosophy of “calling it like I see it” even when doing so might cause discomfort, or, especially then. That night, that last cast party, right before the photo of Tom and I had been taken, Wolf had forced two fresh sea breezes into our hands and called it as he’d seen it.
“So, you two – now the show’s over – gotta tell you – Parker, my man, I get what you’re into – that whole “gay thing” – and you know I never knew any of the gays til I started this showbiz thing – and I love you guys – I do – got no problem with it – so no offense – but Tom, my boy -”
And here I interject that the distinction between my having been labeled “man” and Tom “boy” started the twisting in my gut, that old familiar blood rushing to the face, tightening in the stomach, tightening of the chest sort of awareness that I am being misunderstood, exacerbated in this case by my own confusion about Tom and I.
“You don’t seem like the gay type, Tom. So, what’s the story here? Is this one of those show things?”
There was no answer I could give of which Tom would have approved, so I fell further into the twisted gut, held my breath, and gulped my drink.
“This ain’t no thing, Wolf. We’re just buddies. Everyone loves Oz, right?”
Both Wolf and Tom turned to me. Right. I ain’t no thing. My Leading Player performance was just the latest of my turns on stages in front of hundreds of people, audiences I could command. I had a gift, I could feel their eyes, their attention, and could play them, control their laughter, their gasps, their silences, their applause, their love; I knew what they were feeling and how to manipulate them. I had been doing it for years from the stage but had never learned to do it with the person standing next to me.
I smiled. Not like the Parker baby I’d been in the photo being changed by his father, not like the toddler in the Huckleberry Hound head, not with that effortless expression of joy, but instead with something practiced, forced, apologetic, less smile than acknowledgement of my surrender, my complicity in my own dismissal. A smile that fooled no one, not me, not Tom, and certainly not Wolf who would, later that night, louder, drunker, redder, and more telling it like it is, corner me to warn, “That boy – you know don’t you – that boy – watch yourself with him.”
Though we both were quite drunk, Tom didn’t want to stay in one of Wolf’s multiple guest rooms, nor did he want to go to my place where he’d been spending most of his nights. I suppose that either of those would have made me more than “ain’t no thing” and so, we drove. Or, rather, he drove.
“Where are we going, Tom?”
“I have a surprise for you.”
I was already surprised. Surprised he had denied me. Musical theatre was such a huge part of my frame of reference I kept singing Jesus’ lines from Superstar in my head; “Peter will deny me, three times will deny me…and that’s not all I see, one of you here dining, one of my twelve chosen will leave to betray me.”
I should have told him to take me home. He wouldn’t have listened. We didn’t ever do what I wanted. Or, rather, we did always what Tom wanted. Which, in truth, was what I wanted. I was training myself not to want.
He pulled finally, somewhere back country, caroming too fast across a rutted field into a secluded, woody copse and parked the car, turning it off and getting out. He went to the trunk and got a picnic basket – okay – it was a beer cooler – and a blanket which he spread over the hood of the car. He started to undress and was soon naked.
“Come on, Oz.”
I should have told him to take me home. But I didn’t listen to myself. He walked around to the passenger side and opened the door.
“Get out. Come on. Here’s a beer. Borrowed some from Wolf.”
Borrowed. Stole. Watch yourself with him. Will deny me.
That was all it took. His name. By speaking I had interrupted his scenario, and the drunker he was, the less well he reacted to lines not of his design. He came at me and started to scream. “Don’t fucking argue with me – this is like – a special moment – the kind of thing you want – you know? So just – shut the fuck up and – Jesus fucking Christ –“by which point I had started to cry. Ain’t no thing. Watch yourself with him.
I didn’t want to take off my clothes. I wasn’t sure of me. Despite the times we’d been together, despite what seemed his enthusiasm for my body, I wasn’t as beautiful as he was. I had felt in his debt since the first time we’d made love, which I can’t yet bring myself to share.
He lifted my shirt over my head. He undid my belt, my jeans, slid them down, taking my boxer briefs too. Gentle, again. His touch, as always, made it obvious he had won. It showed on me. He took off my shoes and socks, we stood there. Naked. He was smiling and flaccid, I, crying, erect.
“You got that whole vampire thing going on and won’t lay out with me during the day, so, I thought – you know – if I wanna be with you, I’d have to learn how to love getting a moontan.” I didn’t point out that he’d never actually asked me to lay out with him in daylight. He lifted me, there, in that thicket, a hidden grove, the two of us, undressed, onto the hood of his car, under the moon.
“This is my place. Nobody knows about it, Oz.”
“Except the other people you’ve brought here?”
“Mostly I come alone.”
The warm of the hood of his car through the blanket against the chill night air caused in me a synesthetic rush of daylight blue for me, the blue that smelled like line dried sheets but more-so, wrapping round me, drowning me with its unexpected intense flooding of all my senses, taking away my breath, the colors and heat and cold and smell and shock of Tom letting anyone sit on his precious car and the wanting and the waiting at war with the wanting not to want or wait all eliding into and through one another, all encompassing, exploding the careful universe of my should and oughts and including inside it all those other blues I’ve known and had imagined knowing and multiplying in intensity as if drug induced until the rush turned into some sort of deaf, blind, numbness from which I could not and did not want to escape.
We sat there, quiet, was this what I wanted love to be? The two of us, out of reach, hidden away? It was us, as I recovered my senses and stopped my weeping, as he drank beer after beer, the two of us looking at the stars, something like contentment, except that between us hung the echoing of his response to Wolf’s question.
I became lost in wondering why someone I loved, someone with whom I could happily ever after sit looking at stars, someone with whom I had made love for hours on end, of whom I knew every inch and who had discovered every inch of me and seemed, at least, to be happy doing so, how that someone could deny me the way he had and then think to invite me to moontan? How could he explode the way he had, love like a threat, and then come to me with such tenderness? He wasn’t looking at me, absently stroking my arm, playing with my fingers, my body had quieted and calmed.
“I thought you would like this.” He waited for my reply. I could hear the same night owls, the same crickets, that others speak of as beautiful, some comforting symphony of peaceful night, but for me, those were the taunts I’d been hearing all my life, all the nights I couldn’t sleep. A partial silence, like some slow torture of emptiness I’d learned to fill with all the unhappy I remembered or feared was yet to come. “Baby, Oz -”
“When you call me Oz – sometimes – I mean – mostly – it makes me feel – I don’t know – special – because you’re the only one. Ever. But then – sometimes – like now – it feels like somewhere inside you might be making fun of me – like – Wizard of Oz Dorothy. Judy Garland, you know? Friend of Dorothy, nelly faggot kind of thing.”
“I know what I said to Wolf upset you.”
“Oh, you mean, I’m no thing? As in, I’m nothing?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“It’s what you said.”
“I said I loved you too.”
“No, you said everyone loved me.”
“No, not really. See, everyone loving me implies you’re the same as everyone else – we’re the same as everyone else – and I’m pretty sure I’d remember if I was fucking anyone else, which I’m not, so, no, you saying you love me versus you saying everyone loves me – not the same thing at all. Unless – I mean, I guess it’s possible on the nights you haven’t been with me you’ve been fucking other people.”
“You know I go out with girls.”
“Not this summer you haven’t – not now – unless – oh fuck – wait – have you been – are you -”
“No. But I’m not around any and -”
“So, I’m just like some – I don’t know – fill in? What, am I a phase? An experiment? Because, that’s not what you are for me. So, like when you leave for school in a few weeks – jesus I’m an idiot – it’s going to be like the last time? Three summers ago? You’re just not going to take my calls and – Tom, could you just – please. Honestly. What is this?”
He wasn’t good with words. Or truth.
“Oz, you know the life I want to have.”
This was my cue to understand. This was what I did, had always done, for everyone; to fill in the blanks of their inability to say out loud why I was not enough, relieve them of the responsibility for hurting me, get out of the way and both take the blame for my displacement and forgive. I could not let one more person, one more time, sacrifice me to the altar of their fantasy life.
“I don’t fit there. I’m too complicated for that life you want?”
“Oz, if people knew about us…”
1989. Tiananmen Square. Colin Powell appointed the first black chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. Fourteen year old Drew Barrymore attempts suicide. Tom and I went to see Vampire’s Kiss which we hated, which he blamed on me and my vampire thing, and during the movie he moved my hand to his crotch in the nearly empty theatre and he came just about the time Nicolas Cage was eating a cockroach and something about that, Tom coming, cockroach – it was all surreal. And, Queen Elizabeth knighted Ronald Reagan who had taken four years and hundreds of thousands of infections before he mentioned AIDS out loud. AIDS. And the soundtrack of our life together was Tom’s obsessive playing of Paula Abdul songs while I, when alone, surreptitiously listened to Barbara Cook, Karen Akers, and all the Sondheim shows and I remember those things from that summer with Tom, those things in the air there in the middle of some woods in some field where we never went again.
“Oz, you know I love you. But, people can’t know.”
It was 1989. He was 21. I was 28. I remember as clearly as anything in my life those words. I remember knowing that as we sat on that car, his car, the car I could never drive no matter how drunk he’d get, that night, that moment, that life we had together which I could have only if I played by his rules, sitting there, thinking, it is still so clear to me, that Tom was gazing at the stars imagining making his way in the world that existed, a life in which he could be with Paula Abdul, a star, in which I would – at best – be a secret he kept, a place he visited, a supporting character, while I imagined a world entirely changed, just as I did as a child in the rooms of Libertytown when I would fantasize for hours, a magical, different world in which the fact that Tom and I had fallen in love would be seen as something beautiful, a celebration, we would be together, a life together in which nothing was secret.
“Oz, you gotta promise me you won’t ever tell people. Or, we can’t do this.”
I put it away. The telling. In a box inside. Taped closed. I never told. Until now.
He pulled me closer.
“You know…you’re the only man I do for free.”
It was 1989. I knew better. Should have known better. But, when he touched me and we would do again what was no thing to him and what I had learned to call happy, after which it would be dawn and we went to my place and we slept. Together. Wrapped. Entwined. He felt to me like the place I belonged. He still does.
That was fifteen years ago. When he wrapped. Around me. Which was twenty-seven years after my father wrapped. Around the pole. Which is ten seconds away from me now. Which no longer has the pylon which pierced through the blue of his eye, finishing the job the tent stake had begun.
All these dead men. Daddy turned into a story we never really told the truth about, not unlike the story I was for Tom, he was for me, he who never sang with Paula Abdul, he who turned into a policeman demoted to escorting the sort of funeral parade in which his casket was just driven. He for whom I was “just no thing” and with whom I could never hold hands in public, who asked only one oath from me, that I never tell. He whose funeral parade I watched from across the street because I could not attend. No one knew who we had been. I watched the line of cars, the cavalcade of death the likes of which he’d spent months leading, lights flashing, and he wasn’t in that car. This time he lay in a coffin. I met him when he was carrying a coffin. On a stage. In a show. Playing roles. He hit me.
All these men who disappeared from me drunken and needy and pretending to be someone and something else, secrets.
My family never spoke of my father’s drinking. We could not.
I never spoke of Tom. I could not.
That pole is right there. Ten seconds away. Calling me.