Thursday, February 19, 2015


As the mild weather set in, Cosgrove and I pumped up our bicycle tires and went out tooling along the Central Park loop; hearing of this, Bentley wanted to join us. He had to rent some cockeyed old thing, but he rode without problems. It was a weekday, so the roadway was virtually ours, and we could roll in a threesome, conversing.

It was very democratic: each of us took a turn introducing some topic of personal interest, and the rest of us would chime in with reactions. I started, suggesting that we each express a wish. Mine was that Oxford University Press abandon its insistence on peer-reviewing book proposals, which has no purpose other than to humiliate authors. My old Oxford editor, Sheldon Meyer, said it humiliated editors, because he was a polymath who was perfectly capable of deciding whether or not to offer on a book without help from espontaneos.

Of course, my biking partners hadn't the slightest interest in the niceties of academic publishing. Let's get to the hot stuff.

Cosgrove announced a wish to be involved in a scandal which would be called Cosgrovegate. "Then" he declared, "I'll be in all the dictionaries."

"What kind of scandal?" Bentley asked.

"About medium size. With disapproving editorials and aggravation from the paparazzi."

Bentley's wish was to find a way to get Quentin to appreciate him instead of getting on his case when he spills things. "I need a place without worries, because so far I'm always in grievance, no matter where." After pedaling a bit, he asked me, "Do you know of somewhere that everyone is nice, with nothing but lovely events?"

"Westbury Music Fair?"

"He says I'm like a used car, always breaking down, and then I weep and he growls at me for being soft."

"Couldn't you move?" Cosgrove asked.

"Oh, I couldn't live with a stranger."

I was about to say that Quentin was one of the strangerest men I knew, when Bentley went on with "The first night I was here and moved in with him, he brought in a joint at bedtime for us to share. You wouldn't do that with someone you don't know."

"All right, you and he are from the same home town," I replied, as we zipped along the straightaway behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "But with the gap in your ages, it's not as if you would have been friends before."

"We were sitting next to each other on the edge of the bed," Bentley continued, holding to his scene. "And I tried to set up a nice social conversation, but he wouldn't talk. Then he said, 'Let me blow the smoke to you,' and he put his mouth on mine and kind of toked me. Kissing-like. Yes, and then I had to blow the smoke to him back, he said, till he pulled me around to sit in front of him and stubbed the joint down and we went back to kissing. And then he fucked me on my back, which is when he's nice to me. He stayed over in my bed, so I dreamed about holidays and candy and making some dinner dish that he would really like."

"How about chicken pot pie?" I asked, which was churlish of me. It didn't faze Bentley, anyway, because he had more story to tell: "I call him 'Daddy Kiss Goodnight' when he comes in with a joint. You've noticed how tall he is, so he just commands me, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Bentley was running in the middle of our little group, and Cosgrove and I fell a bit behind so we could share a look.

"I saw that," Bentley told us, as we moved into that stretch at the northeast corner of the loop, where you can really pick up speed. No talking. We raced along till we got to the shortcut to the West Side and turned in there, slowing down because there's always a cop car along this route. And there Bentley piped up again.

"We lie together in the darkness," he said. "We tell each other secrets. He says I'm fuck and pretty, and that's what counts. And he never breaks, no matter how tough it gets, with the betrayals of cheap friends and their gloomy personalities. Daddies never break, you know."

We swung back into the roadway to head south along the loop, and Cosgrove murmured, "Daddies never break," as if memorizing the meme for future use.

And then, calm as a Sunday morn in snowfall, Bentley said, "He's my daddy, you know. My mom was knocked up when they were still in junior high, and she wouldn't tell who the father was no matter how they threatened. Now she's with a character I can't stand, so I came here. Because if you have to suffer under fiendish authority, it might as well be your own personal daddy, even if he does try to make me eat carrot fish, which is all he ever cooks."

"Carrot fish?" Cosgrove asked.

"I'm not familiar with that species," I said.

"It's not a kind of fish," Bentley told us, with a sarcastic air. The barn doesn't dance at a barn dance, you silly. "It's fish with carrots alongside."
"I'm not clear on something," I announced, waiting to continue as a pack of Lance Armstrongs went past us like hurricanes in those crazy getups they wear. "You're saying Quentin is your father? Not 'daddy' as in Who's Your Daddy? but 'daddy' as in Flesh of My Flesh?"

Serenely pedaling on, Bentley said, "Go ahead and don't believe me. I knew nobody would."

Cosgrove finally got it. "Quentin is your parent? And he...has sex with you?"

"He says, 'Goin' to rough you up a little' as he moves me into place, but that's just his way. He's loving to be with me, just as daddy should, and when we sleep he holds me and I'm safe."

We pedaled along, each in his thoughts.

"So I really shouldn't complain about the way he treats me."

As we passed the water fountain, two kids were playing hide-and-seek with a little dog. He found them behind a tree and all three of them whooped it up and danced for joy.

"'Goin' to rough you up a little,'" Bentley repeated. "And then I'm safe."


You know these bad, or at least odd, marriages: they jes' keep rollin' along, like Ol' Man River. Sometimes we felt like a counseling service, as Quentin would show up with a bottle of scotch (Johnny Walker Red, so for all his jagged edges he was not without style), ostensibly to hang with Carlo but really to vent about Bentley. Or the boy himself would join us with a mac and cheese casserole, to prove that he could cook, after all. Okay, but don't put broccoli in your mac and cheese. They were pleasant evenings, all told, because for all his gruff intolerance Quentin was very different from the gays I knew, supplying a learning opportunity no writer wants to turn down. And Bentley was a sweetheart. However, one evening he pulled in with an overnight bag, asking to stay with us because Quentin was "after him."

"Of course," I said. "But this is the first place he'll look."

Dropping his bag and heaving himself onto the couch with a theatrical sigh, Bentley accepted a glass of sparkling and asked Cosgrove how his  screen play was coming along.

"I'm up to where a wonderful hunk is disguised as Santa Claus, meets the naughty Christmas elf, and stages a disciplinary intervention."

"Well," said Bentley, now that the social preliminaries had been executed, "Quentin threatened to take me across his knee."

"In boots and a cape?" Cosgrove asked.

Dennis Savage and Carlo came in just then, back from the latest James Bond movie and eager to analyze the gadgets and spoil the surprises. Realizing that he was in danger of losing control of the staging, Bentley cried, "Quentin's on the rampage!"

"In that case," said Cosgrove, "I may have to serve fashionable East Side snacks."

"We had popcorn," said Carlo.

"Yes, popcorn." This from me. "Why do you have to nosh at the movies? Why can't you just--"

"Won't anybody help in my hour of need?" Bentley wailed.

Everyone turned to him then, even Cosgrove's dog, Fleabiscuit, who was just about to teethe open his shoelaces, his favorite trick. Other dogs roll over and play dead; Fleabiscuit loosens your shoes. But that's gay life: even the dumb animals are gifted.

"I'm a poor little lad wandering the world," Bentley told us. "I crossed the country to find refuge with my daddy, and he just calls me 'Spazz' and says the coffee tastes like Adolf Hitler's gallstones." He looked straight on at us defiantly then. "Yes, he's my daddy, born and true. I always dreamed that he would come to get me, so I packed a suitcase to be ready at any moment, under my bed. He was to call to me and I would climb out the window with my suitcase. Well, he never came. I had to go find him and be special-close."

Boy, is there a lot of story in this kid? The rest of us just stood there, because what is there to say?

"Carlo will tell you," Bentley continued. "He will know of the famous mystery where my mom got pregnant, and who could it be? But everyone knew that they were totally. Quentin and my mom. I rehearsed it, dipping my hand under the bed to get my valise and jump into my daddy's arms. But he never came for me."

The playwright of life failed us here, because none of us knew our lines after that. But Cosgrove finally asked, "What was in your valise?"

"The facts of my existence, Cosgrove--because I know you'll understand, at least. Documents, photos, and Snickers bars, to appease the hunger for love. Souvenirs. Underpants. I prefer the whiteys, with a close fit. Then came my voyage. That was after Coach, which is how I knew that older guys like me. And in Pittsburgh, I recall, a TV newscaster took photos of me disguised as a cowboy, and I thought I'd go on the stage as the young hero who dies singing love songs, like in West Side Story. And then my daddy, who you have to be careful when you talk politics, especially after he was in Iraq. And when he gets mad I tell him how beautiful he is, and tells me to get on his cock and show respect. Not to mention we have to move a family in Brighton Beach, and I know I'll break something and get punished."

Then he stopped, and Dennis Savage took over.

"Dear heart," he began, with his famous irritating patience (well, it irritates me; everyone else thinks it's his best quality), "you just hit about nine basic gay fantasies. The only thing you left out is giving a Tony Award acceptance speech."

"Carlo," Bentley asked, "is he my daddy or isn't he?"

Carlo said nothing.

So Bentley got up, strode over to his valise--yes, he strode, no nonsense, now they'll see!--and rummaged through it till be pulled out a key chain attached to a silver amulet, cut through with a crooked line down its center, leaving just a half of the object. It looked like something out of an old Shubert Brothers operetta, the kind that got blasting reviews from Baltimore to Cleveland and folded in Albany. Bentley thrust it at us as if offering proof of something.

"This is half of our love," he announced. "And he has the other half, which just goes to show. My daddy gave it to me before he left, before I even packed the valise, which I was waiting all that time. Didn't he promise that one day we would join up and press the two pieces of the amulet together? But now he says it must be someone else and not him. Because he has no amulet. And he says he's not old enough to be a daddy. Oh no? 'Cause I counted it up, and if he was in eighth grade when I was born, he would be thirty-three now. Yes, and that's what he is."

He showed us his half of the amulet again.

"Thirty-three years of age," he concluded, "in the world of love!"

Then the buzzer rang.

"One other half of the amulet coming up," said Dennis Savage.