Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DADDIES DON'T BREAK--PART TWO

 A TALE  FOR GROWNUPS ONLY








Quentin and Bentley were an uncomfortable fit, the young man trying to promote himself and the older man shooting him down. But there's always a subtext, isn't there? Bentley wasn't just some kid subletting a room in the apartment of some guy from his home town; the pair were engaged in a psychological transaction.


They hid it. For instance, they would show up for our dinners separately, as if they weren't aware of each other's schedule, Quentin storming in for another episode of The World at War while Bentley would let Cosgrove show off our apartment's points of interest.


One time, Quentin arrived when Cosgrove was working on his latest project, a screenplay. Any sort of writing intrigued Quentin, who intended, some day, to collect his and his comrades' war stories.


"And, of course," Cosgrove was saying, "one hit movie and you're fixed for life."


"Need a snappy title," Quentin told him. "What'll you call it?"


"Croctopus Meets Gladiator With Zombies. It's trending."


"That's a lot of words," Quentin replied.


"Or," Cosgrove went on, "I may just call it Bring Me the Rest of Alfredo Garcia."


After a moment, Quentin, addressing me, said, "I've got one of those at home, too." He then settled down to watch democracy battle fascism, and Bentley finally showed up, a half hour late, as usual. Cosgrove entertained him with an exhibition of my various Meccano building sets. The main one is a huge red box that my father brought back from France, with an elaborate instruction manual (in French) and two tiers of parts. I was eight or nine years old at the time, and of course the application of a construction toy, my involuntary membership in the Boy Scouts, and the subscription to Popular Mechanics were meant as homophobic "reparative" therapy avant la lettre. Fools! The Meccano set didn't make me straight: on the contrary, it nurtured the gay creative streak in me. Anyway, what did you think would happen when you took me to musicals? Before the first intermission of Saratoga, I was struck gay, never to return.


But I digress with pleasantry. These dinners always went well, because neither Quentin nor Bentley was kitchen-ready, and home cooking contented them. Dennis Savage was taking Cosgrove through the world of cuisine, and by this time we were past the meat-loaf stage and into elaborate constructions involving pastry caverns and shallots. (This is generally known among the restaurateur class as "boy food," since most of the sous-chefs are gay.) Bentley was telling us about his new job--there were always new ones because he kept getting fired from the old ones--and Quentin would lecture him on reliability. Bentley would fire back with an assortment of homilies. He had a big heart. He would spread his wings. He will show the world.


And Quentin would rag on him. "The boy [which is how he always referred to Bentley] can't even remember his house keys. He goes out without money."


"But my devotion is true," Bentley would reply--or some other meaningless statement.


Yet sometimes, when they left of an evening, Quentin would guide Bentley out the door with a hand on his back, not roughly and not neutrally, either. Tenderly. And once  Cosgrove assembled a doggy bag of lemon veg for Bentley, and, as he had forgot it (of course) and he and Quentin had only just departed, I took it into the hall and found them in front of the elevators staring at each other, Quentin stroking Bentley's hair, the two of them utterly gone from the world in contemplation of some deep, unspoken bond.


                                               **********************


It was spring soon enough, and the street fairs started up along the avenues. You never knew where they would strike, and one Sunday Carlo, Quentin and his eternal toothpicks, and I, strolling through the town, happened upon a fair on Madison and aimlessly browsed through the kiosks. Here they offered bedding or socks, there you found the colorful posters California fruit yards paste on their boxes. As we wandered here and there, Quentin kept up a running critique of Bentley.


"Everything I ask," he was saying, "it's like trying to pacify Mosul. Simplest things, even."


"He's young," Carlo observed. "Still finding his way along."


"He's a screw-up. I ask him to get a dinner ready. Anything. Easy. Well, it's like he can't make tuna sandwich with a tomato slice, like in the stores. So hard? Or put him on a job." Quentin idly pawed through a sampling of goofy T-shirts. "The simplest run you could imagine, hauling from East Thirties to West Sixties, less than half a truckload. S'called a 'basic': bed, table, chairs, TV. A box of papers and stuffed animals. One was a weird elephant, and the boy suddenly offers to buy it. Yeah, buy a part of the haul, right in front of me."


"It doesn't hurt to ask, does it?" I asked.


Exasperated, Quentin said, "It's not professional. You don't get involved in the inventory. You haul it." But Quentin was being distracted by a cute blond guy inspecting a used-CDs boutique. "So now we got a stuffed elephant sitting on the..."


And with that, Quentin took off in the blond's direction. In the time-honored etiquette of the gay encounter of the third kind--contact--he took up a position right next to the blond and started lobbing stares at him.


"I don't get that relationship at all," I told Carlo, as we watched Quentin working the opportunity. "Bentley is like paper that Quentin keeps tearing up." Carlo questioningly held up against his torso a T: white with two horizontal red stripes at the center.


"Nifty," I told him, but he dropped it back in the stacks. "And, anyway, are they just housemates in Brooklyn, or is there...more?"


Carlo smiled. "There's a lot more."


Meanwhile, Quentin had engaged the blond in conversation, the blond apparently very happy to make Quentin's acquaintance.


"He's always snorking about Bentley," I went on. "Or always snorking, period. I know you and Quentin have some profound backstory, and he's a devastato, no question."


Indeed, the blond was not only conversing with Quentin but touching him, auditioning his structure right through his clothing. I should probably add that Quentin was in a mesh-T under a Navy blue sports jacket over white beachcomber shorts, an odd look that he carried off very well. Folks were watching.


"What's snorking?" asked Carlo, as we enjoyed the scene over at the CD stand.


"Criticizing and complaining at once. It's more creative than snarking. Like 'The boy is so dumb they had to burn down the schoolhouse to get him out of the sixth grade.' Snork."


"Buy us out on sale!" the CD vendor was shouting. "If we don't bank I'll have to give up my children!"


"He snorks," Carlo echoed, trying it out. "But he's solid and determined. He's the sort who'll truly take care of you if necessary, come to that. And look how he sleeks out that blond boy there."


We looked.


"He's got that daddy thing, with authority and such. Young guys like a man who can explain their dreams to them. They like his eyes, that purple in your life all of a sudden. And he's a vet, so he's got command. He's ramrod straight and tall, and that's daddy, right?"


A cop reprimanded a straight couple recklessly sliding through on skates as the CD vendor called out, "We love them, but we can't keep them! Buy and save!" The blond kid wrote in a little notebook, tore out the page, and gave it to Quentin, who shook the blond's hand and sauntered back to us as the blond stood there watching him.


"Funny thing," Carlo went on, "was old Quentin was crazy for skirt back home. He knocked a girl up when they were still in eighth grade or the like." Quentin was about fifteen feet away, and Carlo added, "No more, now."


"We'll give up our children!" the CD vendor cried, greatly enjoying himself. "Buy Peggy Lee, buy those Rolling Stones! Our children are calling to us!"


                                                     TO BE CONTINUED