At the Chain Male, they were showing Mommie Dearest
on a dozen monitors mounted overhead. All heads were tilted upward toward the screens.
Carlo thought, That's a lot of exposed white throats. I don't know whether to kiss them or throttle them.
The atmosphere in the Chain Male had not yet reached that toxic, electric time of night when it got dangerous to catch another man's eye. In the far corner near the stage where the drag queens performed on Sunday nights, club kids teased one another. Near the bar, buttoned-up Log Cabin Republicans were nursing their martinis and talking about real estate. Butch and forlorn blue-collar men were making steady progress on the liquor supply, while muscle boys preened in the mirror behind the bar. At the door, artsy, earnest activist types looked like they were going to cry and take their toys elsewhere, while a pocket of sporty lesbians laughed and were regarded with jealousy by sleek, professional lesbians in very bad pantsuits.
On the far side of the room, a familiar face bobbed, weaved, and disappeared. Carlo maneuvered this way and that for a better view. Spilled drinks, earnest curses, and deep pouts followed him. He had an impetuous, henpecking way of moving when he was excited that put everyone's drink in a three-foot radius in danger.
The familiar face belonged to Scarf-boy. Sporting that stubborn jaw and broad face that looked dumb in a hot, dirty-mechanic-in-a-jumpsuit way, he was muscling toward the bar. Skulking like a pedophile near a kiddie pool, Carlo lurched closer. Scarf-boy was surrounded by a tight circle of straight-looking friends who fended off gropes and leers like Secret Service agents at a political convention. Each of them was wearing a Donnie Brasco leather jacket, a buzz cut that was too short, and a nose that had obviously been broken before.
Carlo impulsively busted through the circle. “Hi, there!” he said. “Remember me?”
Scarf-boy gave him a blank, empty look, and Carlo immediately felt alone and cold. It was as if he were again in the middle of the room in sixth grade, with all the kids pointing at him and laughing and accusing him of being gay.
“Can I buy you a drink?” Carlo asked desperately. The offer did not sound hospitable. It sounded more like Carlo really wanted to know the limit of his physical capabilities and had no intention of actually going through with a purchase.
One of Scarf-boy's friends nodded pointedly at the round of fresh drinks they had just purchased. The rings on his fingers looked as if they would be very painful if ever they made contact with a face.
“Oh, never mind.” Carlo threw his hands up. “I was just on my way to join a monastery anyhow.”
Scarf-boy poked him in the chest. “You!” he shouted.
“You! Yes, you!”
Carlo looked over his shoulder, then back at Scarf-boy. “Me?”
Scarf-boy embraced him. He planted a big, squishy kiss on Carlo's cheek and crowed, “My hero!”
The flush on Carlo's face redoubled itself. Was Scarf-boy fucking with him?
“Um, are you sure you've got the right person?” Carlo asked. E? K? G? BLT? What drug is he high on?
“I'd know that voice anywhere!” Scarf-boy bellowed. “Vic! Joey! Stallone!”
His friends leaned close. Each had an expression on his face as if he expected Carlo to perform a miracle on the spot or perhaps break into a tap version of the theme from Fame.
“Check this out,” Scarf-boy said. “This is the guy.”
He held Carlo at arm's length and then hugged him again. Carlo felt as if he were on a secret reality TV video camera. At any moment, as soon as he did something sufficiently foolish, the producers would cut the tape, make him sign a ten-page release, and humiliate him in front of thirty million viewers.
“Say something,” Scarf-boy urged.
“Anything at all!”
On the screen above Carlo's head, Faye Dunaway was dressed up for a board meeting. Carlo spoke the inevitable next line just before Faye did: “Don't fuck with me, fellas. This ain't my first time at the rodeo.”
“That's it! I knew it. It's you!” Scarf-boy roared. He high-fived Vic, Joey, and Stallone, whose leather coats flapped around them like bat wings.
“That's Joan Crawford, actually,” Carlo rejoined. “Or Faye playing Joan, anyhow.”
is the guy I was telling you about. The fucking miracle worker. The guy who walked me through the minefields, was at my side every foot of the way.” He turned back to Carlo, gave him a snappy salute, and spun him around toward the bar. “You, my friend, I owe a drink.”
A light went on in the dim confines of Carlo's skull. “You're Mr. Gallagher!” he squealed.
“Of course I am.”
“I had no idea what you looked like!”
“You don't have little pics of us on your screen or anything? Or maybe my X-rays, from when I broke my arm. Or put my nose out of joint? Oh, whatever. What'll you have?”
Carlo desperately tried to recall a first name, while Gallagher explained to the bartender what a great guy Carlo was and how Carlo had brought him through 'Nam and back and how Carlo needed an extra-special drink. Or perhaps a line of drinks.
“Or maybe a blowjob,” the bartender suggested.
“Can you order that here?” Carlo asked.
At eleven o'clock, Joan Crawford said, “No...wire...hangers. What're wire hangers doing in this closet when I told you no wire hangers EVER?” and the staff of the Chain Male cut Mommie Dearest
short. The dancing opened with some old-school Gloria Gaynor, and Gallagher dragged Carlo toward the floor.
“I can't dance,” Carlo protested, fighting and twisting like a fish on a line. “Really. I mean it. I'm a danger to anyone in the same zip code.”
“Shut up,” Gallagher snapped. His feet skipped an inch above the dance floor, like a boxer in a ring. He corralled most of Carlo's major limbs and laughed good-heartedly at the occasional “Stayin' Alive” gesture that nearly coldcocked an adjacent club queen. Carlo felt giddy and a little drunk and bowled over with a crazy, dangerous puppy love that had frequently steered him wrong before.
At two o'clock, the lights went up over the dance floor. Before Carlo could fetch his coat-check stub from his pocket, Gallagher steered him into a nearby alcove. He gave Carlo a wild kiss on the mouth. His cold tongue tasted of gin on ice. Carlo let his hands drop to the ropes of muscle around Gallagher's spine, animal firm and untamed. Carlo tilted back his head. Gallagher kissed the spot where Carlo's jawbone met his ear, a magical spot that made Carlo dizzy and legless. He bodily lifted Carlo off the floor and propped him on the broken cocktail table that had been consigned to the alcove. He pressed Carlo back against a bulletin board littered with fliers about all the latest causes: gay marriage, supervirus, troubled youth, battered lovers. Dizzy and sick, Carlo could think of nothing else but kissing and being kissed.
Gallagher released him and tore a scrap of paper from a poster behind Carlo. He jotted down his number, thrust it into Carlo's hand, and vanished in the closing-time crowd.
Scott & Scott