By Jason John Bartholomew
“…the ones that you will teach it to..and those you learned it from. You are part; part of the human heart.” — Once On This Island.
Their house is beautiful. (Spring 1991, Northport Long Island.) It’s in a nice neighborhood. Two stories with a finished rec room in the basement. A golden lab named Morgan. Ten years a couple, out to their families. He is a radiologist with his own practice. The other a graphic designer at a major firm in the city. Bougie? I don’t know what that means yet. I’m 21 going on 15.
There is a wine selection. And good beer in bottles. A little pot. Dinner soon. “So, Jason, where you from…” Something affected and trying way too hard answers. No one seems to notice. My date, and our hosts’ friend, puts his arm around me and says something saucy with that wide grin and Brazilian accent. The indirect lighting makes us all beautiful. Appropriate dinner music, Celine Dion maybe, whispers into every room in the house, romantic and lush, though the hardwired, in-wall Bose system.
Dining room. Candles. Cloth napkins. A lot of hardware. Don’t panic, start out, work in. I read that somewhere. GQ? A salad with a homemade vinaigrette and no iceberg. Maybe a gin and tonic. Tipsy. In heaven. Heaven is a million miles away from that trailer back in East Texas and 20,000 leagues over my head socially. But they are so nice. And genuine. They inquire. A graphic designer and doctor? Shit. This ain’t any queers I ever met or sucked off in the dark in the park. I’ve never met a doctor before. We didn’t even have a family doctor growing up. So I’m putting on airs and trying best I can not to be cheap, trailer trash. I always was an affected little queen.
Salads cleared. Fresh plates. Oh la la. I think I’m doing ok; they seem to like me. And everybody loves my date and he’s gregarious enough for two and exotic.
Main course now being served. “I hope no one is allergic to lobster.” And there it is. Light reddish, on my plate. Fully armored. I’m horrified. Now all the extra unexplained hardware is being used all around me. Clinking and cracking. Laughter and …I don’t really know what, really. I want to cry. I have no idea how to eat this rich person’s lobster. I didn’t want to be trailer trash tonight, in front of these educated, upscale people. In front of this beautiful Brazilian.
“You don’t like lobster, Jason. There are other things in the refrigerator.”
Now, the miracle. For the first time in a self-conscious situation in my socially awkward life, out of nowhere, I’m laughing at myself and saying, “I have no idea how to do this.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” “You’ve never had lobster?” Overhead lights on dimmers getting brighter. “Oh, it’s easy, here. I’ll show you.” A chair being pulled around the table and up close. “You must have been mortified.” Laughter. “I’m so sorry. I should have thought of that. I had never had lobster either growing up. We probably have a lot in common, our growing up and stuff.” Ok, What you do, is take this nutcracker thingy and to get the met out of the claws.…”
More laughter. Conversation. The ice truly cracked. Learning to eat lobster. More important; learning to navigate. Learning my way away from that fucking trailer, not just running. Earning. Learning. Touching. Meeting. Laughing at myself. Being honest. Making friends good I would have for years.
Those friends, that couple, take me gay camping, teach me to downhill ski, roller blade, cleaning my ass out proper, and pick me up from the first dentist appointment I had since kindergarten, finance my first computer, help me make my first alone apartment habitable, and oh yeah, got me my first graphic job and taught me the software so I could fucking support myself for all the years that followed. That’s to say nothing of saving my dumb, prone-to-homeless ass countless times. And of course, they see me through the in evitable break up with the Brazilian.
And that’s just one story of the friendships and community that have allowed me to grow and survive and become the worldly wise fuckup I am today.
Oh child, you don’t understand. You are truly alone in this big, bad wolf world. And I have a debt to pay forward. Know my place? Hush now. Where is your place? That’s the pressing question.
July 4, 2017