Friday, August 7, 2015

The Sad, Sordid Tale of Bruce Halloran-10

: The waning afternoon sun has all but abandoned the Tupperman house in Old Metairie. Cloaked beneath two old cypresses, the first floor parlor is almost dark, save for the white light reflecting off the painted barn door outside. Still, there was enough light to see. In a beige chair sits Phil Tupperman, caught in the path of the light. Opposite him in the shadows is Bruce Halloran, sipping tea and waiting for some revelations. At last, Phil begins.

“I came here during spring break of 1985 and decided right then. The day I graduate I was going to leave Kansas City forever and live here. Which is exactly what I did. I graduated that morning and by that afternoon I was on a bus out of town. Three busses and 27 hours later I was here with a single suitcase, $500 in graduation money, and an edict from my parents never to come back. For the first time in my life I was completely alone. I realize now...that’s what attracted him to me. Gary Pitts. Gary Pitts, isn’t that funny? With anyone else it would have been just Gary, or Pitts. Or bastard. But with him it was always both names said like one, Garypitts. Like a condition. I’m sorry, I can’t come in to work today, I have a terrible case of Garypitts--”
“Phil. Stay focused.”
“Sorry,” Phil says automatically. “Sorry. Where was I? I was the flavor of the month that summer, I suppose. It was all new to me and I wanted to do everything. And for a few months, I did. And I kept running into this guy Gary Pitts, sometimes two, three times a night. But he was kind of nice to me, bought me lots of drinks. He was funny, always had a joke and a smoke, if you know what I mean. And he kept telling me how much he wanted me. Everytime we met he was trying to get me into bed. And...I admit it. It was flattering. I was right out of Kansas City, where the gayest thing in town was the Mayor’s wife’s wig. Do you know what it was like to live in Kansas City, Missouri in the mid 80s? If you didn’t have a job with Hallmark, a house, and a wife by the time you were 25, you were either a failure or a fruit. And either way, people would shun you. And the gay guys in the underground bar scene weren’t the kind of guys I wanted to be around. They were just like every other guy in Kansas City, except when they were in the bars they became screaming nellie queens. I didn’t want that.”
Bruce leans forward and takes another long sip of now-formerly iced tea, the cubes of ice long ago dissolved. Pitts was himself a screaming queen when he was Sara Joy. Phil looks like he’s getting lost in his reveries again, so Bruce clears his throat pointedly.
“Oh!” mutters Phil, brought back from the garden path. “Like I said, it was flattering. But then I met Jeremy.”
“Other Guy,” Halloran mumbles under his breath unconsciously. Phil hears this, and looks up.
“Excuse me? What did you say?”
Momentarily startled into realizing he was using his outside voice, Halloran tries to recover.
“What? No...what? Sorry, cube? Yes. Could I trouble you for another ice cube. The others mel--never mind.”
Phil’s dull green eyes seem to flirt with the idea of analyzing this, but choose instead to carry on as if nothing has happened.
“I met Jeremy. Mr. Jeremy Tollivar Youngblood of Biloxi and New Orleans.
Internally, Bruce snickers as he repeats the name. Jeremy Tollivar Youngblood?!? Are you kidding me? Oh dear Lord, who’s writing this dreck?? In his mind Pitts imagines a large cartoon of a man, somewhere between Tom Dover and Roger Ramjet.  Phil continues on.
“I’ll never forget it. No matter how much they tried to make me do it, I still remember. We first met in Mid-City, at a place called China Imperial. Arguably the second or third best Chinese restaurant in town. But what set the place apart was it was the only place in town to get decent rumaki. Do you know what rumaki is, Mr. Halloran?”
“Yeah,” Bruce says, thinking back to those days. “Yeah, I remember China Imperial because they had rumaki...friend of mine used to love the place.”
He decided it was best not to mention that the friend was Sara Joy. Why put up another fence? Tupperman perks up.
“So, you know,” Phil bleats, out of a sense of commonality. “You remember. That’s nice. I haven’t talked about any of this for so long. It’s good to tell this to someone who remembers...who…”
Phil trails off. Halloran is about to snap him back on-track, but he does it on his own.
“It was late May of ‘87. I’d been in town for about two years. I remember that there was still a lot of World’s Fair stuff around, three years after the fact. Seems like everybody I knew back then had at least one room painted with the blue, gold, and white World’s Fair colors...back on track, Phil, I know...I can’t remember why I was in Mid-City that day. I was living at 4043 Ulloa then. Making a trek into Mid-City required somebody with a car or bus fare and a lot of extra time. Somebody had to have gotten me down there for some reason. I remember I wound up by myself at China Imperial, picking up a to-go order. I was kind of surprised when I walked in. The place was in a strip mall on Carrollton, and didn’t look like much from the outside. But when you went in, there was this--”
Bruce finishes the sentence in unison.
“--big red and gold lacquered archway!”
“--yes! With all the carved animals,” Bruce laughs.
“--and it was painted to look like it had ebony inlays, but you knew it was whatever paint they had left over at the TG&Y a few doors down!!” Phil fairly gushes with laughter over 27 year old dish. It’s the first real human emotion Halloran has seen out of him since they met.
Phil continues to giggle as he tries to get himself back on track. The laughter will prove to be very beneficial to his focus. But at the moment it’s a hindrance.
“So…*giggle*...stop it. So. There I am picking up a couple of orders of sweet and sour chicken when I realize I don’t have enough cash. I thought I had a $20 in there that didn’t exist.”
Halloran sneers a bit, knowing instantly where the money went. Sara Joy was famous for lifting exactly $20 from his and many other people’s wallets whenever he could. He thought it was fun to hear about his friend’s coming up short. Again, not the right time to broadcast this information.
“And as I’m tearing apart my wallet trying to come up with money that isn’t there, this man comes up out of nowhere and drops a $50 on the counter. And...I’ll never forget this...he says aloud, ‘ gave me the money tonight, remember? You handed me this fifty and told me “take care of everything.” Remember?’” Phil hangs his head for a moment. “A total stranger being concerned that I would be embarrassed in public. I don’t remember where I left the food, but I remember every moment we spent together afterwards. We went back to his apartment, half of a double shotgun somewhere in Mid-City. I don’t remember the street but I’d recognize the house if I saw it again. We sat up all night talking. About...everything. Politics. We both hated it. Art. We both liked Degas, Magritte, and William Singer Sargent. Books. We both loved the Bridge to Terebithia growing up. Restaurants. We both adored Restaurant Johnathan. We connected on every level. And...and we kissed. Slowly at first, then as the night went on it got more heated. By dawn we...well…”
A wave of demureness washes over Phil. It’s the kind of shame Bruce saw so often growing up. Without thinking, he blurts out,
“You were screwin’, I get it. Good for you. Go on.”
Phil’s addled demeanor is shaken into immediate concern at Halloran’s outburst. But it has the desired effect. Phil pushes past the years of guilt and continues on, trying to remember it as it all happened. Before the therapy.
“Uhhhmm...uh, well...yes. Yes. We ended bed. And it was...the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. It wasn’t like it had been in Kansas City. Grabbing a quickie in the barn only when you were certain that no one was home to see your shame...seeing movies you hate the first weekend so you know when everybody’s glued to the best part. Then you can time your meet up with another closet case and get off as quickly as possible. ‘Walking the dog’ at all hours, praying that some drunken redneck will make you an offer you can’t refuse...yeah. Things were different in New Orleans. Until I met Jeremy, I didn’t know how good life could be.”
Halloran finds himself taken with Tupperman’s story. He thought his generation of gays were the last who had to hide themselves away like that. But in his mind, it is only as effective as the plot of a Shirley Temple film. Bruce has never had any of the existential angst that this guy endured. But, he’s not entirely without sympathy. Before he has to say anything supportive, Phil goes on.
“From then on, everything becomes a blur for me. I don’t recall how everything happened in order. But I still remember that I found a job in Mid-City at a tamale place. I was seeing both Jeremy and Gary every day. And I was...I...I was...I remember...I was falling in love with Jeremy. No. Not just falling in love...I was giving myself to him...because I wanted to.”
Phil’s dull green eyes sparkle for a moment, and a huge tear traces its way down his sullen cheek. It disappears inside the confines of the copious lip-brow, which soaks up the moisture like a miniature rainforest. He forges on.
“...but I didn’t want to hurt Gary. He had been so sweet and kind to me. I never wanted to hurt him. Then the ‘do at Charlene’s happened. The only reason I was there was because Jeremy had a neighbor who was into the Lesbian Avengers. He said...he said we would go to show face for a half an hour, then we would sneak off into the Quarter. Because he had a surprise for me…”
Halloran knows the stink of Pitts as well as he knows his own. And he’s smelling it now. Careful not to incite anything, he says softly,
“I...I understand. What happened next?”
Phil swallows hard. He’s run these events over and over in his mind for decades. Every time he comes back here, he finds the same grief and regret. Still, he pushes on.
“...I got a call from Gary just before I was heading out to the rally. He told me to meet him over at the Smokey Mary. I didn’t want to go, but I thought I owed it to him to tell him...I was in love with Jeremy. When I got there, I remember he hustled me outside before I could even say hello to anyone, and made me pose for some pictures. He kept saying he wanted to remember this day. I guess he meant it more than I thought.” Phil licks his lips without thinking, and continues on like nothing has happened.
“Next thing I know I’m having drinks poured down my throat and a bottle of poppers shoved up my nose. I remember we wound up upstairs I’m not certain what happened but I remember seeing Gary with a big guy I knew only as Daddy in the cage, and some other guy pawing all over me. I found my clothes and ran downstairs to meet Jeremy across Elysian Fields. By that was already dark and the rally was going on... I got across the road, Gary Pitts had caught up with me. I never did figure out how he got into his clothes so quickly. In the middle of the crowd he grabbed me, turned me around and slurred ‘Ah love ya, baby!’ and held me into a soul kiss I couldn’t get away from. When I finally broke free I turned,,,I...I turned to...see Jeremy. Wearing the most pained look I’ve ever seen.”
He stops to wipe away the tears before they can stream down the old familiar furrows on his face.
“...I...I had Gary Pitts all over me. And he wouldn’t let go of me, no matter how hard I tried to push him away. An...and then...J-Jeremy was...gone.” Phil takes a deep breath, holding onto it for a moment before he exhales. “I tore myself away from Gary Pitts and took off after Jeremy up Elysian Fields. I ended up walking every street in the Marigny until dawn, looking for his car...I...I never found it. I couldn’t find…”
Halloran drains his glass with one final slurp, comparing what Phil’s saying with what he was able to get out of Pitts’ drunken ramblings. He feels a touch of familiarity with what Phil’s undergone at the hands of Sara Joy. He’s seen it many times before. He remembers his mantra at such times; as long as it’s not me, I’m fine with it. But now it was affecting him. His time, his effort, his energy. Left again to clean up your messes, Bruce mutters in his mind. If you weren’t already dead, I’d--
“Mr. Halloran?” Phil asks with earnest concern.
Halloran snaps to, replying,
“Yeah! Yeah...go on.”
“After I finally got back to my apartment...I fell into bed, totally exhausted. I don’t remember how long I slept, but it was dark again when I woke up. The first thing I did when I got awake was call Jeremy. I got his answering machine. I must have left 20 messages the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that, and that, and that, and that. For nearly a month I tried to call him. I was at his apartment in the Quarter every morning and night, trying to catch him...trying to explain to him and tell him...I loved him. I never got the chance.”
Tupperman takes a moment to swallow hard and compose himself as Halloran realizes he has to pee after all that tea. Standing, he says,
“Sorry, Phil. But where’s your bathroom?”
Somewhat surprised at the interruption, Phil can only point in the general direction of the hallway. Halloran takes advantage of the silence to mutter a quick “thanks,” as he trots down the carpeted hallway. He guesses correctly and enters the second doorway on the left to find a classic 60s pink tiled bathroom with the stereotypical white toilet with black seat and lid.
Class, thinks Bruce as he lifts the seat, unzips his fly and allows nature to take it’s course. Taking advantage of the solitude, Bruce gazes around the room with interest. This house couldn’t have had any major work since the 70s. The parlor looks like Aunt Bee’s if the old gal was on coke, and what’s going on with this bathroom? Any moment Jan Brady is gonna come out of the shower and club me to death with her retainer. Still, there’s something to be said for the kitsch factor. Finding himself at the end, Halloran adjusts himself and makes himself a little more presentable in the medicine cabinet mirror over the sink. Somebody back then knew how to work people into buying a bathroom like this. With all the pink in the room, anybody standing in front of the mirror is going to be bathed in so much colored light they won’t have any other choice but to look spectacular. Recomposed, Halloran makes his way back into the parlor. Phil is right where he was before, just waiting for someone to push “play.” Bruce notices that there’s a fresh pot of iced tea, new ice cubes in his glass, and a plate of Lorna Doone’s on the coffee table.
That’s nice, he thinks absently to himself as he pours another glass of tea while mugging the cookie plate. Once settled, Phil asks,
“Where was I?”
Shoving two cookies into his mouth, he says crummily,
“You didn’t get the chance to tell Jeremy you loved him.”
“Oh yes, “ Phil says, hanging his head a bit. “Well...afterwards I was so...upset, I turned to Gary Pitts. And at first, it was what I needed. He got my mind off Jeremy for a while. We started making the rounds at the bars every night. It did the job. I was drunk every night in a different place with Gary Pitts...and a lot of other guys. After a month or so, I ended up moving in. Had to sell off all my stuff because there wasn’t any room, but I didn’t mind. I still didn’t have much. But you can only drink your troubles away so long before they come back. And they did a couple of months later. I woke up one morning and all I could feel...was sadness. It got so bad I lost my job. I just couldn’t get up and go. I tried to turn to Gary Pitts, trying to get him to listen to me. But he wouldn’t. He kept telling me I was interfering with his busy bar schedule.”
Halloran looks up. It’s a phrase he remembers from Sara Joy’s notes. Verbatim.
“Gradually,” Phil continues, unaware of Halloran’s jolt of recognition. “We started drifting apart. He started going out earlier, and eventually stopped coming back until 1 or 2 in the morning, and usually with somebody else. Which would lead to a fight, and him threatening to throw me out if I didn’t get my shit together...said he didn’t want an emotional cripple around. So, I finally heard it enough that I...I decided he was right…”
Phil bites his upper lip hard enough to draw blood. Reaching for a napkin, Halloran becomes very uncomfortable. He can’t stand the sight of blood, anybody’s. He decides to try and finish this another day, rising as he says,
“Look, maybe we should continue this tomorrow or--”
“You wanted to know the facts, didn’t you?” Phil demands. Frozen in his tracks by the severity of Phil’s voice, he slowly descends back into his chair. Phil finishes wiping his lip, and takes a reassuring breath before sitting down once more.
“...I...I made the decision to do it. I have to own that. Gary Pitts hadn’t come back between work and the bars again, so I had plenty of time. I started with vodka, full bottle. I was a cheap drunk, so I figured it would numb me enough for the second part. And an hour or so did. Brand new bottle of Windex. I bought it earlier that day at the Time Saver. The last thing I remember was thinking how easily it went thing I knew I was waking up in Charity with a tube down my throat, hooked up to machines, and completely alone. It scared me so badly I passed out again. After that…” Phil trails off, his face furrowed and worrisome.
Bruce asks not ungently, “The therapy?”
Phil’s eyes flash up at Halloran’s, then retreat into consideration for a moment. Clearing his throat and licking his thin lips, he manages to go on.
“N-not right away,” he sighs, passing his hand over his face as if to wipe away the past. “For the first several days all I could do was lay in the bed, surrounded by curtains. The tubes kept me in place. After a while they finally removed the tubes and told me what happened. I had been dropped off by a cab driver outside the emergency room door. They also said they found my wallet with $500 in it, all in hundreds, but no ID. I gave them Gary Pitts’ number and told them to call him, I lived with him. They came back later and told me the people at that residence had never heard of me. That’s when they asked if I was a prostitute. And if I was gay. Did I have a pimp, was I poisoned by a trick, they kept pestering me with all these questions. And I shut down. I started saying ‘yes’ to everything they asked me just to get them to go away. Except one. They asked me if I had any family. My mother and father told me as I was leaving to move to New Orleans to never speak to them again or to come back to Kansas City to embarrass them in front of their friends. So I told them ‘no’... There were all these papers to be signed, one after another...the next thing I knew I was on the fourth floor. Somehow, in all the paperwork I had given the state power of attorney and committed myself to the mental ward at Charity. I was theirs. For almost four years. I was placed in a group of six other gay guys. We were the test group for a new, experimental therapy designed to cure homosexuality...they called it therapy. For me, it was torture”...This Is My New Orleans.

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