Tuesday, December 21, 2010

COMMON GROUND "The Toilet Seat" - Part 1

Nicholas felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He took it out and looked at the Caller ID. He was hoping it was Spencer calling to tell him they had reservations at Stephanie’s on Newbury for tonight. It wasn't. The Caller ID showed that it was his roommate, Miller.


"Hey, where are you?" Miller sounded a bit agitated on the other end of the phone.

"I'm on my way home, why? (beat) “Is something wrong? You sound weird."

"I'm fine. Something's up with Max. He just called and wants us to meet him at McKenna's. I'm here already. Can you meet us?"

"Sure. I'm on Tremont already. I'll hop in a cab and meet you there in a few minutes."

"Great. I'll see you in a few," said Miller, relieved that Nicholas was going to join him for whatever Max had to tell them.

"Hey," Nicholas stopped Miller from hanging up. "Is he alright?"

"I don't really know," Miller responded. "He sounded upset. He wouldn't tell me anything. He just said that he wanted to talk to both of us in person."

"Okay. I'll see ya there."

They both hung up their phones. Nicholas stepped to the curb and put his hand up to hail a cab. Miller, already at McKenna's, motioned for the waitress so he could order a drink.

McKenna's is a local spot that Miller, Nicholas and Max have been patronizing since their college years. They’d been out of college for four years now and had first discovered the place during their junior year. It was kind of a hole-in-the-wall; dimly lit and made even darker by the paneled walls. It didn’t hold that many people, and it was always crowded, but there always seemed to be room for the three of them when they showed up. The place served great burgers, a wide selection of beers and made a fantastic margarita.

Miller was thinking about the night they’d happened upon the place. They had just ended a study session and were looking for somewhere to have a drink. After all those Urban Legends they needed to chill and get their minds out of Spookville and back to reality. An adult beverage seemed like the perfect antidote to their Pop-Rocks-in-Coke overload. They saw the green neon light that spelled out the name McKenna’s and decided to push the battered wooden door open. They walked into an evening of $1 margaritas and cemented a friendship stronger than the story of the bloody hook on the car door handle. They would continue their love affair with McKenna’s and margaritas every Wednesday night until they graduated.

"Hi, Jillian," Miller said to the waitress as she approached his table. After all the Wednesday night's the three of them had spent in McKenna's, they were on a first name basis with most of the staff. Jillian was their favorite. They always tried to get into her section.

"Hi, Miller." She looked at him a little confused as she set a bowl of fried pickle chips down on his table. "I'm going out on a limb here, but is this going to be a table for 3?"

"I don't know whether to smile or hang my head in shame, but the answer is yes. Nicholas and Max should be here any minute." He did go ahead with the smile. He saw Nicholas walk into the restaurant as he did so. "Actually, there's Nicholas right now. Nicholas." Miller said as he motioned to get Nicholas's attention.

Nicholas waved as he made his way across the room to the table doing his best to avoid hitting people with his two shopping bags.

"I was so hoping when you called that you were Spencer telling me he had gotten us reservations at Stephanie’s on Newbury, but alas it wasn't.” He put his bags down. “Hey." Miller stood up and the two of them greeted one another with a hug. "Hi, Jillian." Nicholas said as he sat down.

"Hi, Nick." Jillian was just as cute as she could be. She had curly brown hair and great big smile that would put the grouchiest person at ease. She was an aspiring actress. Nicholas didn't mind that she called him Nick. It made them seem like old friends. Of course his old friends called him Nicholas, but he didn’t mind her shortened version.

"I think I'm going to go ahead and order a round of margaritas for the table." Miller was chomping at the bit to get a drink in his body.

"And some water,” added Nicholas. The most conservative of the three of them was already looking to prevent the next morning's hangover.

"Great. I'll be right back."

The two of them watched Jillian and her perky demeanor walk to the bar then Nicholas turned to Miller.

“Okay, so what’s up?” Nicholas asked as he started to eat the fried dill pickle chips. “I tried to call Max after we hung up, but it just went to voicemail.” He put another couple of pickle chips into his mouth. Nicholas is a nervous eater. Sometimes he forgets that he used to be a fat child.

“I really don’t know.” Miller responded as he watched the nervous ritual beginning. “He didn’t tell me any more than I told you.”

“Well.” Nicholas paused for thought. “He could have gotten fired or he could be quitting his job.” Pause for a couple of pickle chips. “You don’t think that he and Meghan might be moving do you?”

Meghan is Max’s wife. He’s been married about three years. Max met her while attending BU, so Miller and Nicholas have known her for a long time as well.

“Every time I’ve talked to her lately she seems unhappy here,” Nicholas continued while turning to look for Jillian and the drink he didn’t realize he needed.

“Well, he’s not always happy here either, but I can’t really see him leaving.” Miller joined the look out for their missing drinks. Then he spotted something he didn’t expect, or want, to see. “Great!” His face melted to the floor with an eye roll.

“What,” asked Nicholas picking up another pickle chip, looking at it before putting it in his mouth and then thinking better of it and putting it back in the bowl.

“Remember that guy that I hooked up with last week?”

Nicholas searched his brain for the right answer.

“The one that was trying to turn me on while I was on the phone with my mom?” Miller waited for the light to click on in Nicholas’s memory but the curtains behind that window remained dark. “Mr. Softie?”

Nicholas audibly gasped as the story came flooding back to him. A grin threatened to consume his whole face. “Uh huh,” he said, leaning forward, unable to contain his laughter. “Is he here?”

“He just walked in.”

Nicholas started turning in his seat to try and figure out who it was.

“Don’t turn around.” Miller was not really as incensed as he was acting. Nicholas sat back in the chair, trying in vain to remove the grin from his face. He couldn’t help indulging in the fact that this man was right behind him and that it was making Miller completely uncomfortable. Of course he didn’t really want Miller to be uncomfortable, but when friends are as close as the two of them, it becomes quite amusing to watch the other squirm.

“I never wanted to see him again, let alone say hello.” Miller was shaking his head in frustration. He pulled his Dolce & Gabbana shades out of his Marc Jacobs bag and put them on. Of course his incognito move did nothing but draw attention to him. “You know, he was completely as ease with his inabilities. Said he’d email me when he left like I had had a great time.” The light that Miller had been waiting to switch on in Nicholas’s head just went off in his own.

“He never saw you.” (beat) “Act like you’re my date.” Miller reached his hand to Nicholas. Nicholas stared at Miller’s hand blankly. “Hold my hand.” Miller said in a tone that fairly screamed don’t be an idiot, help me.

Max had arrived at McKenna’s unbeknownst to either of his two best friends. He spotted them from the “wait to be seated” stand and motioned to an approaching waitress that he was meeting people. He reached the table as Nicholas was taking Miller’s hand into his own.

“Is there something you two want to tell me?” Max said as he sat down at the table.

Miller jumped at the sound of the familiar voice coming from a body he hadn’t seen approach. He removed the sunglasses and put them inside their case and back in his bag.

“Nothing other than our margaritas are here,” said Miller, removing his hand from Nicholas’s as Jillian approached the table with her tray full of salty, wet, key lime pie-colored drinks.

“Here you go guys,” Jillian said as she put a glass in front of each of them. She also left menus at the fourth, unused spot at the table.

“Thanks, Jillian,” Max and Miller said at the same time. The only difference was Max winked at her as he said it. He was always flirting. Whether he knew it or not or cared, Miller had seen the wink. He rolled his eyes and smirked a little – mostly to himself – but didn’t miss a beat.

“Water,” said Nicholas. She acknowledged his request with a raised hand as she walked toward the bar. “How hard is it to remember water?”

“Margarita’s. Nice.” Miller looked at his glass as if it contained the elixir of life. “Here’s to you and here’s to me and if we ever disagree.” They clink their glasses together in the old college toast and begin to drink.

Miller and Nicholas are in the middle of a long draw on the golden-green liquid when Max flatly says, “I’m getting a divorce.” Before Miller and Nicholas even have a moment to finish swallowing, let alone react to his statement he continues with, “We are eating, aren’t we?”

The reaction to hearing the words that came out of Max’s mouth resulted in two drained margarita glasses being put down on the table.

“Well, I guess there’s no question about whether we have another round,” Miller said as he motioned to Jillian for another round.

“Was there ever a question?” Max responded to Miller’s statement.

“I have a question,” Nicholas said. “Divorced? What happened? You’ve only been married for three years.

There they were, three best friends, completely unique, sitting at a table in the restaurant they’d been coming to for years. Miller Reid, the aspiring writer managing a bookstore, wearing his trendy boots and requisite blue shirt to make his eyes pop; Nicholas Brown, the discontent travel agent flirting with grad school, in Banana Republic khakis and a J Crew button down; Max Peters, the personal trainer, conservative and fit in his Seven jeans and Timberlands. Two of them were shocked and one of them surprised. To an outsider they would appear to have nothing in common. That’s because an outsider isn’t looking past the packaging. They are judging the book by its cover. They can’t see that on the inside the three share a deep affection, fierce loyalty and overwhelming protection for each other.

“It can’t seem that out of the blue to you guys,” said Nicholas.

“It sort of is,” replied Miller, stunned that Max would think he or Nicholas would have seen a divorce in Max’s future. “I mean Nicholas was just saying that Meghan has seemed unhappy a lot lately, but come on.”

The delay in Max’s response was too long for Nicholas. “Max?”

Before Max could answer either of them Jillian was standing at their table with their second round of margaritas. Max downed his first so that he would be on the same playing field of inebriation as Miller and Nicholas. Nicholas had gone back to eating the pickles, now cold and soggy.

“Water.” Nicholas projected to Jillian’s back. He turned to Miller, prepared for a snarky comment, but it was Max who spoke.

“Okay, look. We have been having problems. I haven’t really talked to anyone about it but our therapist.”

“Therapist?” Nicholas shouted in a loud whisper then covering his mouth looked around to make sure he hadn’t aroused the curiously of diners at a nearby table.

“You and Meghan are in therapy?” asked Miller.

“We’re in therapy.” (beat) “C’mon guys, it’s not such a crazy concept. Couples do it all the time to try and save their marriages.”

Miller reacted to “Save their marriages” in shocked disbelief. He took a long drink from his second margarita.

“Save your marriage?” Miller questioned, his voice building in intensity. “Save your marriage. Let me get this straight.” Max started to say something, but Miller held up his hand, index finger extended. Max stopped before forming a word. “We’re your two best friends in the world and somehow you manage to keep from both of us that your marriage needs saving.” He took a deep breath and exhaled the words, “Oh My God.”

“Miller,” Nicholas said his tone part chastisement and part calming.

“I’m Sorry, Nicholas,” he said with a remorseful voice. “I’m sorry, Max, but you getting a divorce kinda breaks my heart.”

Max took a drink from his second margarita.

“It’s the toilet seat.” He said those words just as flat and free of inflection as when he’d said “I’m getting a divorce.”

No one had a chance to react because Jillian chose that moment to bring the water to the table.

“Do you guys want food?” Jillian asked in a perky voice waitresses, who want to be actresses but are working for your tips, use as she placed the glasses of water on the table.

All three of them broke from their intense moment of conversation to look at her. No one spoke for an awkward second until Nicholas interrupted the silence.

“Shots!” he said with the enthusiasm of someone with distraction on his mind.

“Tequila shots?” asked Jillian a little confused and a little concerned.

“It won’t clash with the margarita,” said Miller as he finished the rest of his second glass followed closely by Nicholas and Max.

As a befuddled Jillian walked away, Miller and Nicholas assumed a position of interrogation as they sat, arms crossed, staring at Max, waiting for answers.

“Oh, is it time for the third degree?” said Max as he realized he was being stared at.

As if someone watching their situation wanted to give Miller and Nicholas the blinding light that goes along with their interrogation pose, the lights in McKenna’s became alarmingly bright. Everyone in the restaurant reacted to the invasion of privacy as the light brightened every dust-filled corner.

“Now I need the sunglasses,” Miller said as he squinted.

“Sorry,” yelled Jillian from the other side of the bar. She had accidentally turned the dimmer up instead of down. As the lights dimmed to that intimate setting that everyone in a hole-in-the-wall bar really likes, Nicholas picked up his menu.

“Now I can’t even see what’s on this menu,” he said as he reached for the candle in the middle of the table. “It’s not as if I really need to look at it. I mean we’ve ordered here a hundred times.” He paused as if searching. “I think I’m gonna have…an explanation about the toilet.” The clever one had spoken and now closed his menu. “What about you, Miller?”

“I’ll have the same,” said the sarcastic one. “Max?”

“Do you know how lucky you are; the two of you living together?” Miller and Nicholas looked at each other then back to Max as they waited for him to expound upon his observation. “You never have to worry about it. If you want it up, you put it up. If you want it down, you put it down. Every time you go there’s a 50/50 chance it’s gonna be right. It’s like the lottery with better odds.”

“Hell, I sit most of the time anyway,” said Miller with the verve of someone teetering on the edge of a buzz. Max nodded at him as if to say, “I can see that.” Nicholas was aghast.

“Lazy,” said Nicholas upon hearing of Miller’s sitting for the first time.

“And?” retorted Miller.

“Shots,” said Jillian as she put her tray down on their food-empty table. Miller squinted at her and was just about to ask her how she picked her moments to revisit their table, but Max caught him off guard.

“Hooray,” said Max like a child. “Keep ‘em’ comin’ he said in an aside to Jillian.

“Okay boys,” said Jillian as she placed a shot glass in front of each of them. “Lick it, slam it, suck it.”

“Every last drop,” said Miller, his mind completely in the gutter.

“Trash,” said Nicholas as if he was seeing a whole new side to his friend.

“Ladies,” said Max, using a word that he knew would get their attention.

They both turned to him. He had his shot glass in the air. Miller and Nicholas raised theirs to meet his and clinked the glasses. They licked the salt, slammed the tequila and placed the lime in their mouths as quickly as possible. Nicholas grimaced, Miller shook his head and made and audible “phew” sound while Max said, “That’ll cure it.” They slammed the shot glasses down on the table as if to signify their manhood at having taken a shot.

“Can we get back to the toilet seat?” said Nicholas.

“Let me just say something here,” Miller started, then stopped. “Whew I am already drunk.”

The three of them started to laugh – loud. The caring about the other diners didn’t factor into this outburst. This one was already under the influence.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Year in 100 Words

What an amazing year I’ve had. I moved into a spacious, beautiful apartment in Astoria, bought some new furniture, cultivated relationships that had been on the periphery of my life, added important essays and fiction to the mix on my blog. I got new dishes, cookware, mixing bowls and started cooking. I bought a Christmas tree and a painting. I was inducted into the Local 751 Ticketsellers and Treasurers union. I took two trips to locales that had been on my list for years. I continue to be blessed with an amazing job, beautiful friends and a wonderful family. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 14

The lights suddenly flickered. The record stopped playing; Bing’s voice slow motioned to a stop. Silence filled the room. The air went still. It was eerie; a lack a noise one could feel. All the energy had evaporated. The air was heavy, unmoving. The lights somehow seemed brighter now than before the flicker. Jack watched as Genevieve’s body became tense. She was trance-like, staring off into space. Her focus was intense as if she was hearing something that the rest of them could not hear.

"It's time, Jack," she spoke in a sad voice, shaded with anticipation.

"Time for what, Miss Genevieve?" asked Jack, puzzled by her words and tone.

"For the real story, the last story, the honest truth."

Jack sat there looking at her. He didn't look at Henry or Kevin. He only stared at her. He had always thought she was honest. He was compelled to ask her what she could possibly mean.

“The truth? The last story? Wh-what does that mean?” he stammered over the words.

"I had been making that light go on and off for weeks. It took all the energy I could amass. No one ever paid attention until you saw it. You were so curious. That's what I was hoping for - someone's curiosity to get the better of them and win out over their fear and make them come inside. I needed someone to find me."

"I'm sorry you were so lonely, Miss Genevieve. I wish, more than you know, that I had known you were here." Jack replied.

Henry and Kevin were on the periphery of the situation. They weren't part of it. This was a conversation between Genevieve and Jack. They were just there. Not intruders, but not participants.

"You don't understand, Jack." She rose from the chair. It was the first time she had been out of the chair for one of their story sessions since the first time Jack had seen her at the window. She walked toward a door through an opening that led into a hallway. Her slow, controlled steps made her appear to be gliding. The door had always been visible, but closed. She opened the door and motioned for him to come to her.

At the doorway, Jack peered inside. He saw what appeared to be a withered body slumped over to the right in a chair, wearing the same peach-colored robe Genevieve always wore. He looked at Genevieve, standing next to him, his face twisted in confusion. The light struck something on the floor and it shimmered. The shimmer pulled Jack’s focus. It was Genevieve's ring. It was lying on the floor just below the right hand of the body. It had fallen off as the body slowly decomposed. Jack looked at Genevieve. He looked at her face then he looked down at her right hand. He saw the ring on her finger. He didn't understand. He started to speak, but she cut him off.

"I'm sorry if this frightens you and I'm sorry that you're confused, but I needed you, Jack.” She looked tormented. “You were the one who saw the light; the one who could see me." Her words were colored with anguish.

"See you? What do you mean?"

"Look closely, Jack," she suggested.

He looked at the body in the room. His breathing became faster and shallower.

"What are you saying?" his voice twisted with fear and anger. "Is that you in there? Are you saying you're-"

"Dead, Jack.” She paused. “I'm dead." The moment’s hesitation before she said the words "I'm dead" made their impact that much more devastating.

Jack backed out of the doorway without taking his eyes off of her. He felt as frightened as he had the night she was behind him at the window. He bumped into her chair as he backed further into the living room. Hitting the chair made him turn to see where he was. He caught sight of Henry and Kevin. Henry's face was blank with shock and Kevin's contorted in terror.

"I couldn't move on until someone found me. I was trapped here and restless. You were the person who saw the light. You were the person who came inside. You were the person who listened. You made it irresistible for me to leave.” She reached out to him. He leaned away from her. “No one had paid me that much attention in years.” She dropped her arm to her side. “I indulged myself for a few days. Forgive my selfishness.

"I left Hollywood 30 years ago, Jack. I have no children. My family is dead. Billy and Lana are dead. Tippi has had nothing to do with me for decades. I didn't make many friends, Jack. I worked. When parts were no longer being offered to me in Hollywood, I moved here to Astoralyn. I left everything I knew and locked myself in this house. I've been reclusive ever since. No one knows I'm here. No one knows I've died.

The clutter down stairs and the over stuffed apartment suddenly all made sense to Jack. It was everything she owned in her life. The pictures were all of her in various stages of her career. There were no pictures of family and no pictures were recent.

Jack felt sick to his stomach. Henry got up from the sofa followed by Kevin. The two of them started slowly toward the door. Henry never took his eyes from Genevieve even as he spoke to Jack.

"Come on, Jack. Let's get out of here." Henry was now standing at the door. Kevin had already exited the room in front of Henry. Jack could hear the sound of him running down the stairs, although he heard it as if he were under water. The same with Henry’s voice; it was distorted.

"Come on, Jack." Henry repeated at the door, anxious to get out of the room and down the stairs himself.

Jack barely heard himself say, "No."

"Jack," Henry yelled his name this time.

"I'm not going." Jack found his voice.

"Jack, come on bro. I don't want to leave you here," pleaded Henry.

"Just go." He didn't mean to but he yelled at Henry.

Henry stared at Jack for a moment before making the decision to leave his friend in the room with Genevieve. Jack held his eyes on Genevieve even as he heard the front door to 327 slam.

"Please don't be frightened anymore, Jack. I'm not going to hurt you. I know you don't understand any of this."

She began to cry. Jack watched her wondering how any of this was possible? How she could be alive, but not. How was she in the room? How was she able to cry?

"You see me, Jack. You – and your friends because of you – see me the way I looked the night I died. I was wearing this robe, sitting in my bedroom, listening to Bing Crosby on the record player. That's the reason the music is always playing when you come into the apartment. That's the reason for the robe. Things are as they were that night. I had a stroke, Jack, just like my mother." She looked at him with the saddest eyes. They were pleading with him for understanding. Her eyes were doing all the work. Even in death she was an actress.

"I wish I could wrap my mind around the fact that I've been listening to and talking to a dead woman for almost a week. How am I supposed to come to terms with that? Why couldn't you have just let me see the body the first night I was up here? Seeing a dead body would have been less traumatic than this. You have seeped into my life. I now have to figure out how to let you go."

"I've seeped into your life?” she was astonished at the statement, but understood it completely. “Yes, I suppose I have. Is that really such a bad thing, Jack?"

He didn't answer her.

"I hope you will always remember me and the stories I told you of my life. They were important stories chosen specifically. They were about family and dreams and friendship and love and about being true to yourself."

Jack's breathing returned to near normal, but he said nothing to her.

"Follow your dreams, Jack. Chase them if you have too until you catch them and make them real. Love yourself, Jack and don't be afraid to be who you are. Keep your friendship with Henry and Kevin alive and strong; friendships are a precious thing.”

Jack couldn’t help but think she was referring to her own of friendship with Tippi.

“When you leave here today read the verse in the Bible on the table downstairs. Read it again if you’ve already read it. We are no longer strangers and you showed me nothing but kindness. For that, I thank you, Jack.”

Her tears had stopped, but her breath quickened with a sharp intake.

"You have to go now, Jack." She stared at him intently as if to sear his image into her brain. "I think I'm frightened." She said the words with a breathy whisper.

Jack started to go to her, but she shook her head and motioned toward the door.

He did what he always did when he reached the door; he turned around to say goodbye. But she was gone. The room dissolved from the bright wash of pink to a lifeless gray before his eyes. It was cinematic – Technicolor gone awry. He looked around the room. Everything was old and dusty. Nothing looked as it had mere seconds ago. Her spirit was gone – from the house and the earth. It was that moment that the smell of death – the stench – hit his nostrils.

He willed himself to start running down the stairs. He just wanted to get away – away from her, the house, the junk, all of it. He ran past the table at the bottom of the stairs that held the Bible. He stopped and heard her words in his head, ‘When you leave here today read the verse in the Bible on the table downstairs.’ No matter how crazy this situation was, he enjoyed Genevieve and he had nothing to lose by reading the verse. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. She had quickly become more of a familiar than a stranger. She was a friend he looked forward to seeing. He wondered if she was indeed an angel. He started to cry wondering if he’d been kind enough.

It was as he walked beyond the front gate of 327 that he realized he was crying. He walked over to the curb and vomited. His knees went weak. He had to place his right hand on the bumper of the car parked in front of Genevieve’s house to keep from falling down as his knees buckled under him. His emotions had knotted his insides with pain. When he felt he could stand again, he did so without looking at the house; he looked toward home and began to walk, tears streaming down his face.

Henry and Kevin had not waited for him. He was alone. It was fitting, for he had been alone the first time he’d entered the house and now he was alone the last time he would exit the house. This was his journey. His friends had simply been witnesses to the dance.

His walk home was through the blurred haze of his tears. He was on autopilot. He didn’t even realize that he was at Henry’s house until Henry opened the door to see who had knocked. Jack stood there looking at Henry. Henry didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t even find the words to ask Jack into his house. His heart broke as he saw Jack’s face streaming with tears, eyes revealing pain.

“Jack, I-”

Jack stepped forward and kissed Henry gently on the lips. Henry pushed him away. The push was a jolt of reality. Jack looked at Henry. What he had just done was ricocheting through his brain. He realized that by kissing Henry, he might have lost his best friend. He hadn’t meant to do it. He wasn’t thinking. The tears were rushing down his face. He backed away before turning to run to his own house.

He ran straight to his room. There was no one home so he didn’t bother to shut his door. He sat on the edge of his bed trying to process what had just happened. Genevieve turned out to be a spirit desperate for someone to set her free. How could that be? He had just kissed Henry and dreaded the consequences. What was I thinking? He got up from the bed and took the picture of him, Henry and Kevin from the entertainment center as well as a copy of Before Tomorrow Ends. He took them both with him as he sat back on the bed. Tears fell on the images as he cried for the loss he was feeling.

Genevieve had told him to be true to himself. Shock was the only reason he would have gone to Henry’s and kissed him. His brain was firing on all pistons now and he was miserable. If he had been thinking even remotely about what he was doing he never would have done it. He would have continued to be true to himself and his feelings behind the door of his room.

He felt the eyes of another person looking at him. He looked up and was startled to see Henry standing in his doorway. He was not going to shy away from Henry; he was going to face him like a man. He searched Henry’s eyes, his face, for any sign of anger as he walked into the room and toward him.

Henry stood in front of Jack and stared down into his eyes. Jack could tell that he was treading lightly. They were in a situation that was new for both of them. Henry put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack started to cry again. In the comforting presence of his best friend he felt safe enough to let go. Henry stepped forward and Jack hugged him around the waist. Henry didn’t back away. He hugged back. Then he did something that surprised them both; he pulled Jack’s head out of the hug, lifted his chin so they were looking at each other, bent down and returned the kiss.

It was Jack who moved away this time.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Isn’t this what you want?” Henry responded.

“I don’t know.” Jack was confused. He did want to kiss Henry; he had for a while. “You like girls.”

“You’re confused. I can see it on your face,” said Henry. “I’ve been afraid to tell you how I felt, Jack. I’m guessing you’ve been afraid too.”

Jack nodded his head, affirming Henry’s statement.

“The girls are what I’m supposed to do, not what I want to do. I’m attracted to girls, I’m just more attracted to…you.”

Henry leaned down to kiss Jack again. This time Jack didn’t push him away he embraced him. The kiss was at first awkward, but then gentle and passionate, their embrace strong. They hadn’t even begun to process the emotions they were feeling when Jack heard his mom come inside the house and yell to him that she was home.

The two of them ended their embrace. Jack wiped his tears and went out to greet his mom. Henry waited for him to return.

“I have to call 911," said Jack as he walked back into his bedroom. "I have to let someone know that Miss Genevieve is in 327.”

“What are you gonna say?” asked Henry.

Jack shrugged his shoulders “That there’s a bad smell coming from 327 Chesterfield Road. They’ll have to send someone to check it out won’t they?”

“I guess. I don’t know,” replied Henry.

“That’s all I can do. I can’t really say that I was inside the house and found a body otherwise I’m telling them that I broke in.” Jack’s voice was hoarse from crying. The evening had taken an emotional toll on him.

Jack reached for his backpack to get his BlackBerry®. Before dialing 911 he looked at Henry. Henry smiled his suave, crooked smile. Jack kissed Henry again then called the number.

When they heard the unmistakable siren of an ambulance drive past their street, Jack and Henry snuck out of the bedroom window in order to watch the scene. They crossed the street and slowly walked toward 327. As they approached they saw the black body bag being taken out of the house. Jack’s breath caught in his throat. Henry knew Jack’s heart was breaking. He took Jack’s hand in his own. They watched as the bag was loaded into the ambulance. Jack jumped when the doors were slammed shut. He couldn’t bear to move from the spot until the ambulance drove away and turned out of view onto another street.

Henry held Jack’s hand until they reached the bedroom window.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Henry letting go of Jack’s hand.

“Good night,” said Jack.

“Good night.”

Thursday – the morning after. Jack felt as if he had had an incredible dream. Then he remembered the truth; it hadn’t been a dream.

As he walked to school by himself that day he stopped in front of 327 and looked up at the house. He knew its secrets. The past week was a memory he would cherish and never take for granted. The gnarled tree had shed its leaves; they covered the sidewalk in a blanket of golden brown. The EMT’s had left the front gate slightly ajar after taking Genevieve away the night before. He latched it, pausing briefly to look at the middle window on the second floor.


There was nothing out of the ordinary between Jack and Henry that day at school. It was business as usual. There was, however, a gleam in Henry’s eye every time he looked at Jack. The kiss had not been a dream either. The two of them had not talked about it yet, nor had they told Kevin. They would tell Kevin though, and they would talk about Genevieve again. Right now, however, it was just after 3pm on Thursday afternoon and the three of them were walking home.

“Hey,” said Kevin. “I saw that blond chick in the hall again today.”

“Really,” replied Jack. “So she does exist.”

Henry chuckled at Jack’s sarcasm.

“Yep. And this time she actually smiled at me.”

Henry and Jack stole a glance at each other behind Kevin’s back then Henry lit a cigarette and inhaled.

“She smiled huh?” he said, exhaling the smoke. “Maybe next time you’ll get her name.”

“Maybe,” replied Kevin with a shrug and a smile as the three of them turned onto Westshire Street.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 13

“I was not one to attend many Hollywood parties,” Genevieve started. “Don’t misunderstand. I was invited to a great deal of them. I think the most exciting part was being invited, not the party itself. I was just a little self-conscious and less self-assured than I needed to be. I was never truly comfortable wrapped in the glamour of a night full of champagne and caviar. Beautiful people, draped in gorgeous clothes standing around a sparkling pool were enough to make me break out into hives. No, I enjoyed the invitations much more than I enjoyed actually attending.

“There was a party of note that I attended in Beverly Hills one summer evening that changed my life. I met the man that I would eventually marry. I also met two women that became fixtures in my life - one for a season and one for a lifetime.

“The party of which I speak took place almost two years after my arrival in Hollywood. I had played small roles in three films by that time. The studio was still molding me, but the leading lady roles I desired had yet to come. There was a protocol to when you could be handed the meaty roles. I was just biding my time. I wasn’t unhappy. I was working. I was in Hollywood chasing my dream and living comfortably. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I had enough to allow me peace of mind.

“As I said, this particular party was held in Beverly Hills. I had not been to Beverly Hills at this point. As nervous as I was about the party, I was equally excited to see some of the mansions. I was just as star struck as any tourist might be upon a first visit. The studio was very keen on their players being photographed together anywhere that press photographers might be. A party full of beautiful people - Hollywood people - was just that kind of place. They would be waiting outside the gate for a chance to photograph the car as it drove by. If the circumstances were exactly right the flash bulb would illuminate the interior of the car and show who was inside. There was also the hope that if it was you, you might find yourself featured in the pages of Photoplay or Modern Screen. Any press was not good press in those days, but good press made people hungry for more of you.

“I arrived at the home of Mr. Goetz on the arm of Thomas Van Alden. He was a song and dance player at the time. He was very good looking. He had been hand picked for me by Mr. Goetz. Tommy and I were friends. We had known each other for about a year. We would have lunch together when we were both on the lot. The thing about Tommy was he was a homosexual. I knew it and so did the studio. In those days it was such taboo to be a homosexual. So in order to keep Tommy’s reputation from spreading to the gossip columns, the studio worked very hard to keep his personal life private and his public life adorned with beautiful women. I didn’t feel beautiful enough to be one of those women, but I liked Tommy an awful lot, so it was definitely more pleasure than work to attend a party on his arm. His popularity as a rising star didn’t hurt things for me either. It was good publicity for me to be photographed with him.

"I had been loaned a gorgeous ice blue gown by the studio. I felt like a princess while wearing it. It had a kind of draping at the top of the bodice and that draping carried over to the cap sleeves.” As Genevieve described the top of the dress she brought a hand up to her chest as if to feel the folds of the draping. She moved her hand gently to her shoulder as she mentioned the sleeves. “The bodice was very form fitting and belted at the waist.” She touched the place where the buckle would have been before placing her hands back in her lap. “The bottom part of the dress was full skirted down to mid calf. It was one of Mr. Christian Dior’s “cocktail dresses.” We used to call them “late afternoon” dresses, but this was just a little more formal so the designers of the time had to come up with a new name for it – naturally. Mr. Goetz had also personally secured me a pair of diamond drop earrings from Harry Winston.” She was so deep in that memory that Jack expected her to get up from her chair and walk around the room as if the party was still going on. When she realized she had stopped talking she looked at the three of them. “I doubt any of you care about that much detail of a dress, but it was beautiful. I had plenty of other beautiful dresses that I actually owned, but there was something special about that one.

“Walking into that party was like walking into a fairytale. It was the grandest house I had ever seen, let alone been inside. At this point in my career I still lived in an apartment. This was a palatial mansion with marble floors and a grand staircase.” She wanted them to be able to visualize what she was describing, but doubted that any of them had seen anything that magnificent. She then had an idea. If any of the three boys had been looking closely they would have seen the spark of it change the expression on her face. “It was like Norma Desmond’s mansion in Sunset Boulevard.” She lost herself in thought. “Gloria Swanson. What an actress. I wish I had known her.” She realized she had wondered down a side street in her thought and quickly made a u-turn to get back on track with her story. “You must recognize the title Sunset Boulevard, Jack?”

Jack nodded his head in response to her question.

“Then you have an idea of what I’m talking about. There were chandeliers and velvet curtains. There were vases full of fresh flowers everywhere. It was magnificent, overflowing with enchantment. Walking through an archway into another room transported one to another place. Each room was grandly decorated and felt like what I imagined a royal palace must look like, but we were just regular people, not royalty. I was afraid to touch anything. I couldn’t imagine the expense if I broke something. A borrowed dress, borrowed diamonds and a house full of expensive things certainly didn’t help to calm my nerves. I can recall it today as if I was inside of it only yesterday. I think the memory has always stayed with me because it was my first glimpse from the inside of true Hollywood glamour and wealth. I was envious of it all and I had the drive inside of me to work hard and achieve it myself. That was part of my,” she took a breath while searching for the correct word, “problem, if you will. I was uncomfortable at the parties because I was happier working than attending a party as myself. I enjoyed the work; the ability to hide behind the mask of the character I was playing. At a party I had to be myself. The more I worked and lost myself in a character, no matter how small the role, the more anxiety I felt just being myself. That anxiety never subsided and it’s the main reason I left Hollywood.

“I’m getting ahead of myself. Forgive me. Let me return to the scene of this party.”

As she sat there looking at the three boys hanging on her every word she realized that an apology was not necessary. They were a captive audience – her captive audience. They were there to listen to her, to share in a moment of her life. She smiled, swaying a little to the music, until Henry shifted on the sofa and his movement shifted her focus to the present.

“Tommy left me alone fairly soon after we entered the main room. He spotted a man with whom he had once had a love affair and dashed across the room to say hello. Life for a homosexual back then was different than it is today. It was a love gripped by secret.” Jack felt the insecurity of his feelings for Henry rise in his chest. He lowered his eyes from Genevieve to his hands nestled in his lap. He didn’t know if it was fear or shame that caused him to do it. “It’s a shame really,” Genevieve continued. “My homosexual friends were the kindest, sweetest men I’ve ever known.” Jack returned his gaze to her eyes.

“Once inside, there were no photographers so Tommy and I didn’t have to stay together. We just needed to leave together. Any other woman of my age would have found that moment of freedom exhilarating – working the room unfettered by the arm of a man. I was not one of those women. I made my way to a waiter and took a glass of champagne from his silver tray. I was hoping it would calm me down, but also afraid of drinking it too fast. Being intoxicated and nervous was not a place I wanted to find myself.

“I walked across the room and through a set of French doors and into a setting that took my breath away. It was the most gorgeous pool and grounds I had ever seen. Granted, I hadn’t seen much growing up in Paradise Falls, but still. I was in awe. The water in the pool was crystal clear. The reflection of the blue bottom making the water seem as if it too was blue. Isn’t it amazing how reflection tricks us into seeing something we want to see or believe we’re seeing? Anyway, There were pillars holding up arches at the far end of the pool. That’s where the bar was placed. There were palm trees all around the property, but especially around the pool area. The twilight sky was a lovely fade of pink to purple. There was a slight breeze blowing. I remember it because I was afraid it would undo my hair. I was just standing, marveling at the setting, astonished that I was actually standing in it – more astonished that I’d been invited to stand in it – when a man approached me. He said, ‘I noticed your glass was empty. Would you like another glass of champagne?' I turned to look at him. He was so handsome. He had dark hair and ice blue eyes. Yes, ice blue like my dress, but piercing in their intensity. I felt my face get hot. I must have been blushing three shades of red. He smiled at me; his perfect white teeth offset by his sun-bronzed skin. He was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. He introduced himself as Billy Rogers. He was a director and slightly older than I was. He was so charming. I should have been a little more wary of him than I was, but he put me at ease. I agreed to that glass of champagne and by the end of the evening I had agreed to go on an actual date with him.” The boys watched her excitement grow. Jack leaned in as if to absorb her energy. “I’m jumping ahead again.”

“We sat on a couple of chairs off to the side of the pool where we could actually talk without too many people around us. I was sipping my champagne, but before I knew it, my glass was empty and he was motioning for a waiter to bring us two more glasses. We must have sat there for two hours. I was getting tired and really wanted to go home. We stood up in preparation to leave when I heard someone call his name. We both turned. It was a beautiful blond woman about my age waving and walking toward him. When she reached us she greeted Billy with a kiss on each cheek. She seemed so full of life and energy. She was the opposite me. She was that vivacious girl who could work the room while I stood against the wall wishing. Billy introduced her to me. That woman was Tippi Hedren. That was before she starred in The Birds of course.” She gave a nod to Kevin. He smiled back at her and nodded at her acknowledgment.

“Tip and I, that’s what I called her, Tip. Tip and I got along famously for a while. Even as I began to date Billy, it seemed what he and I had in common to talk about was Tip. She and I became fast friends where as Billy and I was a slow development. She was our icebreaker. It’s funny that he introduced us, but she was what always eased us into a conversation. I would tell him about our shopping sprees or afternoon teas. Sometimes Tip and I would go to the same audition. We never felt in competition with each other. We were just two girl friends at the same place at the same time for the same job. I think those were the stories Billy enjoyed the most.

“Tippi was a very good friend of mine – for a while.” The words “for a while” were tinged with sadness. Jack hoped for an explanation of the sadness.

“Things changed when she met Peter Griffith. I didn’t like him. It was a trust issue really. I had no reason not to, but I didn’t trust him. I had been raised to trust people until they gave me a reason not to, but with him I just felt in my bones that he was no good for Tip. I guess I thought our friendship was strong enough that I could tell her how I felt. It wasn’t. She loved him and what I said to her about him really hurt her feelings. She never forgave me and I lost the first real friend I ever had in Hollywood. I tried for a couple of years to get her take my calls or see me, but she wouldn’t. She and Peter divorced before she even made The Birds. She never reached out to me after the divorce. Maybe she was embarrassed. I don’t know. Missing her in my life got easier until one day the missing was almost nonexistent. Almost.”

“I forgot to tell you about Lana Turner.” She shook her head in disbelief at her own forgetfulness.

“As I was preparing to leave Mr. Goetz’s party I was searching for him and for Tommy. I wanted to thank Mr. Goetz for inviting me to his party and I wanted to tell Tommy I was ready to leave. I found Mr. Goetz first. He was talking to a blond woman. There were a lot of blonds in those days.” She said this very matter-of-factly as a comic with a dry sense of humor might say the punch line to his joke. “As I approached, he saw me, called out my name and motioned me into their conversation. The woman quickly turned to look at me. She was beautiful. Older than I and very glamorous. She had dazzling green eyes and full red lips. She was statuesque. I was, of course, at a loss for words. What kind of actress did I think I was going to be when I couldn’t talk to people? Oh well, I turned out to be a pretty good one if I do say so myself.” She smiled at the three of them. “Back to Lana. Mr. Goetz introduced us. He told her about the things I had been a part of at the studio. She seemed genuinely interested and thought I was delightful. You know I never did find Tommy. After meeting Lana I forgot to continue my search for him. When I went outside to get our car to take me home, he had left a note for me. It turns out that he and his ex left early. I guess you could say that I was the last thing on his mind that evening.

“You can imagine my surprise when Mr. Goetz called me the next day to say that Lana had requested that I screen test for a part in her next film The Bad and the Beautiful directed by Vincent Minnelli. I was over the moon. I did screen test for that film, but Mr. Minnelli wanted to go with a different actress for the role. That didn’t change anything for Lana though. She became a mentor to me. She and I didn’t do things together like Tip and I had, but she was always there if I needed to talk. She would listen and give advice. I adored her and she me.

“One of the best things that Lana ever did for me was introduce me to Douglas Sirk. Oh I thought he was a brilliant director. I loved his use of color and shadows. The saturation of vibrant colors in his films was kaleidoscopic for the eye. All those rich colors and textures from fabric to paint was a visual pastiche. His use of mirrors was so exciting. I love reflection shots in a film. I wanted to be part of one of his pictures. After the time that Lana had introduced us, there were three pictures he directed that I was perfect for. Well, perfect in my own mind. He didn’t see it that way I guess. I tested for him for the role of Kay Scott in All That Heaven Allows to no avail. Gloria Talbott got that role. I tested for him again for the role of vixen Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind. He gave that part to Dorothy Malone. I must admit she was perfect in the role. He liked me though because he kept asking me to come back and test for him. Imitation of Life was the third time I tested for him. Lana was actually starring in the film. It was for the role of Sarah Jane, a very light skinned black woman passing as white. Lana lobbied for him to cast me, but he felt that Susanna Kohner was a better fit for the role. I never took any of it personally and Lana didn’t take my not being cast as a personal affront against my skills. She had seen me work. She knew I was talented. It just wasn’t the right part at the right time. I did finally get my chance to work with Douglas. It was the picture he was directing after Imitation of Life. It was called A Complicated Endeavor. I was the supporting lead. I was playing one of two wealthy sisters who ran away from home to try and live life without their family’s money. The funny thing is the production ran out of money. It’s hard to believe that anything like that can happen, but it did. I think the studio just didn’t really care that much for the picture so they didn’t try to save it. We never finished it. My brief opportunity of working with Douglas turned out to be my last. He was so disenchanted with the studio and the film industry in America at the time, that he left the United States and filmmaking. Most of the world doesn’t remember how good he was.” She looked at Jack. “I bet you do, Jack. Do you know how good he was?”

“My favorite things about his movies are the exact same things you mentioned that you love. No one else was using his techniques. He was one-of-a-kind.” Jack’s confidence in his choice of words was apparent by the approving look he received from Genevieve. Jack was always one to be passionate about something that he truly loved and enjoyed. Old movies were something he was easily passionate about.

Genevieve looked down at her hands delicately perched in her lap. She looked at her right hand and knew exactly where to take her story.

“I should tell you that I married Billy. I loved him so. He proposed to me at Harry’s. I had told him the story of eating there my first night in Hollywood. He thought it would be the perfect, sentimental place to ask for my hand. He was right. You’ll remember, I hope, that I saw Joan Crawford there on that first night.” They all nodded their heads yes. “Well, on the night Billy proposed Elizabeth Taylor was there. She was already a star by this time and she knew Billy. She strolled right over to our table to say hello. He introduced me as his fiancé. He hadn’t even asked me yet. I was completely caught off guard. He pulled the ring out at that moment. Elizabeth was so delighted by the inspired proposal that she motioned for the waiter to bring a bottle of the restaurant’s best champagne – on her. Billy was a wonderful man – exciting, spontaneous and never dull. He was my first lover.” She bluntly said the words without a second thought. It wasn’t until she noticed the look of surprise on the boys faces that she realized she might have embarrassed them.

“Did I embarrass you?” Genevieve asked.

“No ma’am,” Kevin answered. It was odd that the least talkative of the three of them was the only one to answer. Jack and Henry were just shaking their heads.

“Good. I should mind my manners though.” The twinkle in her eye was the same as you might expect from Santa Claus. There was no malice and no disrespect, just pure enjoyment.

“We lived happily for a few years, but things did start to sour for us. I was working a lot and that kept me away from home. He was not working as often and that made him antsy. He needed to work. He was kind of a workaholic. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He always had time for me and for us, but he needed to have a project. When one project was ending he needed to be part way into the next project.

He was approached about directing a film called The Key of Passage. The studio was also interested in me starring in the film. I think that’s the reason they approached him to direct it. I think they thought if he was directing I would be more willing to star in it. It was a bad script and turned out to be a forgettable film. The notices for me were good. The critics praised me for rising above my bad material. The notices for the film were bad and the blame was totally placed on him as the director. Neither of us should have chosen the project, but we did. The failure of the film put a strain on our marriage. We probably shouldn’t have worked together, but we did and we couldn’t go back to before. Our marriage never fully recovered. He wasn’t getting as many offers to direct as I was getting to act. We went through a period of separation and then decided it best if we divorced. It was a very difficult time for us, me especially. I couldn’t believe I was divorcing the man I now know was the love of my life. Again, I can’t go back to before. After our divorce was finalized an amazing thing happened. We became friends – good friends. It took both of us by surprise. That’s the reason I still wear this ring.” She held up her right hand to show the ring. It was the same ring Jack had noticed the first night he met her when she was holding the curtain to the side.

“The marriage that is signified may have ended, but the friendship that the ending begat was too important. The ring wasn’t tainted with bad memories. It became a symbol of undying love between two people better as friends than partners. I just moved it over to my right hand. It’s still a beautiful ring. What girl doesn’t want to wear diamonds?”

Jack sat there thinking about Genevieve and all the stories she had told them so far. She was smart, funny, a little sarcastic and always honest. She was more than just a lonely old lady; she was a former actress who had many stories to tell. She just needed somebody who would listen and he was glad to be one of those people.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving at Chez Coco

I’ll start with Wednesday night. Thanksgiving eve. My plan was to spend the night at my friend Michael’s apartment so that I could get up the next morning and make monkey bread. You may know it as pull-apart bread. It seemed like the perfect, decadent, overly sweet goodness to have for breakfast on the morning of a holiday – a holiday that is all about eating. Well, not really all about eating, I mean it’s about being thankful and taking the time to acknowledge what you’re thankful for, but then it’s about eating.

So, with work over for the day by 8:30pm, I took my list out of my backpack and headed to Food Emporium. It was crowded, but not as crowded as I expected it to be on the eve of Thanksgiving. I don't really shop for groceries at Food Emporium any more since I moved from Manhattan to Astoria Therefore my lack of knowledge of the store’s layout became apparent when it came to finding the necessities on my list that happen to be non-necessities in my everyday life. Some things I knew exactly where to find, but I had to search for vinegar and oil and Hershey’s cocoa. Then there was the matter of the buttermilk and the Karo syrup. The buttermilk was an ingredient in my red velvet cake recipe and the Karo syrup was needed for the butter cream frosting. So I'm standing in front of the milk products and all I'm seeing is Lite Buttermilk with 1/3 less fat or some amount of less fat. I was thinking to myself, this is red velvet cake; it's decadent and deserving of all the fat that buttermilk has to offer. I did make a quick phone call to my friend Neal, from whom I had gotten the recipe, to ask about the "less fat" buttermilk. There was no answer so I just made the decision myself. I didn’t buy it. Now on to the Karo syrup. I needed Light Karo syrup. I found the aisle with the cake mixes, flour, sugar, spices, syrup etc. This is where the crowd was. Seriously, one just had to park a buggy and walk because there were so many people in that aisle looking for baking soda, sugar and spices etc. that walking was nearly impossible. I found the cinnamon, baking soda, flour and sugar that I needed. I was happily surprised to find the syrup also on that aisle. Unfortunately all they had was Lite Karo syrup. Really, I thought, only Lite Karo syrup? Had the pecan pie lovers hoarded all of the Light Karo? First the buttermilk now the syrup! I'm all about the healthy eating, but some things just beg for the full-fat, full-bodied ingredients. Frustrated I exited the aisle and found myself standing in front of a Thanksgiving staples end cap. There on the second shelf was one bottle of Light Karo syrup. It was slightly to front of the shelf as if to say, "Here I am Michael; I've been waiting for you."

I boarded the R train to Queens with three bags full of ingredients. I still had to go to my apartment, repack the supplies into my Urban Luggage bag (green is the way), pack pajamas and clothes for the next day then walk to Michael's house. It was a time consuming amount of things to do, but I was working at warp speed. I might have been dillying a little, but I was not dallying at all.

I got home and filled my Gladware with the measured amounts of flour, sugar and cinnamon that I would need to prepare the next day's sweet delights. I thought it would be better to compartmentalize and consolidate than to take the full bags of flour and sugar. There was no need to carry the extra weight to Michael's and I was ahead of the game for measuring out the dry goods the next day.

I managed to get out my door slightly before 10pm. It’s a 20-minute walk to Michael's. Even with the extra weight I was anticipating a 10:30pm arrival. I was prepared for a long evening as he thought it best that I bake the cake that night. I had to stop at the grocery store on the way to his house and buy the buttermilk. Imagine the look on my face when all I found at C Town was the same 1/3 less fat buttermilk I had not purchased at Food Emporium. I just thought screw it! I'm not going to another grocery store for a little more fat. I didn’t mention that I also needed to buy some vanilla extract. I purposefully didn’t buy it at Food Emporium, as I knew I had a bottle at my house. Much to my surprise I found my vanilla extract had dried up. I had only had it 5 years. Who knew? Obviously, not this guy.

I did arrive at Michael's around 10:30pm. It wasn't before, but it was shortly after. It was cold that night, but with the coat and the scarf and the walking and the extra baggage, I was sweating by the time I got there. I was so glad to shed my coat and top-layer shirt.

Michael had spent the day preparing everything he needed to in order to make Thanksgiving Day as smooth as possible. We weren't planning to eat until 7pm with a guest arrival time at 5pm. That meant the turkey didn't have to be put in the oven until 2pm. You know what that meant for me? I didn't have to make the cake that night. I uncorked a bottle of wine, threw on my pj's and parked myself on the sofa to watch Modern Family and let the wine relax my tension away.

Thanksgiving Day morning I was up by 8:30am. I went to the kitchen to start making the monkey bread. First thing on the agenda – preheat the oven to 350°. Then I started cutting the first of three tubes of 10 Pillsbury® buttermilk biscuits into quarters. After the first tube was quartered, I sprayed Pam®, with flour for baking, into my bundt pan and then started shaking the biscuit pieces in the sugar/cinnamon mixture I had prepared the night before. I couldn’t help but feel like the little girl in the commercial for Shake ‘N Bake; “It’s Shake ‘N Bake, and I helped.” With my southern roots, I had no problem sounding just as southern as she did, probably even more as I tend to find humor in an over-exaggerated southern accent. Skip to all three tubes quartered, shaken and waiting patiently in the bundt pan for a caramel brown sauce to smother them with sugary goodness. I just had to make it – two sticks of real butter, ½ cup of brown sugar and ½ cup of the remaining sugar/cinnamon mixture heated over low heat until bubbling brown. I poured it over the biscuit pieces and placed the pan into the over. Only 30 minutes to go until breakfast sweet enough to rot your teeth would be ready.

How to pass the time? Watch the parade.

Yes, it was time for a Thanksgiving Day tradition – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I’ve watched it for more than 20 years. I can remember times at my parents’ house watching it while sitting in the living room floor cutting up apples or grapes or bananas for mom’s fruit salad. I also have the best memory of all. It involves my mom, sister and packages of craisins flying through the air.

In November of 1997, my mom and sister came to NYC for the first time. I had moved here in May of that year so it was my first Thanksgiving in NYC and the perfect excuse for their visit. It was only natural that we go to the parade. We arrived on the parade route about 6:30am that morning. We already had to fight for a place to see. We ended up on the corner of Broadway and 34th, right where the parade made it’s finally turn after stopping in Herald Square. We were blocked part of the time by a woman in a red hat. I can’t tell you how happy we all three were when she left. The funniest memory of that day comes at my mom’s expense. There were people walking the parade route that year throwing airplane snack size packages of craisins. Well, wouldn’t you know one of them would have to hit mom, square in the face. We still laugh about it to this day. We also wondered that year about the people dressed as a clown or slice of pizza or piece of cake. We imagined what it must have been like to tell their family that they were going to be in the parade dressed as a slice of pizza or wedge of cheese. On Thanksgiving morning 2010 while talking to my mom, I told her what I was in the parade this year. I used the most downtrodden voice I could when I told her I was carrying a pumpkin and waving. My sister was a slice of pizza and my nephew Dylan, not even a thought in our heads in 1997, was craisins. Yes, the craisins live on! Mom had yet to decide what she was in the 2010 parade when we spoke that morning.

The timer went off alerting us that the monkey bread had spent the required time in the over and was now ready for us to behold it in all it brown, glistening, ooey-gooey glory. I dumped it onto a cake platter and removed the bundt pan. It was beautiful and it was ooey-gooey. I’m not sure if I had never made it with real butter before or what the difference was, but the coating looked like caramel and as it cooled while running down the side, it just froze mid drip. It was amazing; so rich, so warm, so sweet. Add the cup of coffee I was enjoying along with the parade and you’ve got a Thanksgiving Day morning that got off to the right start.

When the parade ended at noon, I had two hours, in which to make my first-ever red velvet cake from scratch, before Michael had to put the turkey in the oven to bake. I found myself in the kitchen staring at the ingredients. I was intimidated. I don’t know why. I think I’ve always thought red velvet cake was difficult to make and that everything had to be done perfectly or it would be ruined. I decided the best thing for me to do was to jump in and get started. I must admit that I was shocked at how much oil went into the batter of this cake – 1¼ cup. I just let myself be in the moment. I’d wanted to make this cake for about 5 years and I was finally doing it. One thing I had to remember is that it should be fun. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. Failure is not an option. I wanted the cake to be amazing and was freaking myself out about it. Honestly, it’s just ingredients, blended together, placed in a pan and baked. It’s not like I was removing someone’s liver.

Because I made the monkey bread that morning, and it required a bundt pan, I decided, at Michael’s suggestion, to make the red velvet cake in the bundt pan. It was a beautiful, shimmering shade of red. I must confess that I licked the beaters. Is there anything better than licking the beaters? Only eating the cake, in my opinion. Anyway, the batter tasted amazing. I could only hope the finished product tasted as good. On that thought it occurred to me that unless I burned the cake, it had to taste good. It could only taste like the baked version of the wet batter I had licked off of those beaters. Relax Michael, I had to tell myself.

Once it was in the oven, the hardest part was over. I poured myself a glass of wine. It was noon! The smell of cake filled the air as I waited for the timer to beep and alert me to check the progress. Back to the intimidation. I found myself whispering as I opened the oven door to look at it. What was this a soufflé? No! It was merely a cake. Intimidation be gone. It was baking and it was fine. It took longer because of the thickness of the cake due to the bundt pan, but I checked it every five minutes for about 50 minutes and when it was done, the toothpick was clean.

Twenty minutes into the cooling time of the cake I started making the frosting. I like butter cream frosting for red velvet cake. It’s much richer and more elegant on such a gorgeous cake than the easier, and in my opinion, cheaper, cream cheese frosting. I will admit that I was a bit confused by the fact that the frosting recipe I was using did not call for butter. Call me crazy, but I would think butter cream frosting would have butter in it. I got the recipe from a reliable source and chose to not question it any further and just combine the ingredients of the recipe and hope for the best.

I learned two things about frosting. I had no idea what “soft ball stage” was. Michael had to Google it. Turns out that sugar syrup dropped into cold water will form a soft, flexible ball. That’s the first thing I learned, as I had to cook the sugar concoction until it did that. The second thing I learned was that I had merely made white icing. It was perfect for drizzling over my red velvet cake, but it tasted like marshmallow cream and hardened as it cooled. My mom is sending me her butter cream recipe for next time.

The drizzled cake reminded me of a candy cane. There was nothing wrong with the frosting either. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it worked. The cake was very moist and the crunchy texture of the hardened icing was a nice compliment.

I can actually say I was proud of myself for both of my sweet creations on Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful that I didn’t burn either one. I’m thankful that I tried something new.

The friends arrived at Michael’s apartment; the wine flowed, the food was eaten, laughs were laughed over dinner and during games of Celebrity and Apples to Apples. Michael’s table was gorgeous. It was his grandmother’s. He also has her china. He wanted to host Thanksgiving dinner at his house this year to use the china and the table that had once belonged to such an important person in his life. I know about that importance in my own life. I think she would have been proud. The day was lovely and joyful. The only thing missing was Tynan, who thankfully joined us twice that day via Skype.

While I’m being thankful I want to take the opportunity to say that it is a wonderful thing to have people in this world that you can be with on special holidays when you can’t be with your family. Those people become your family. For much of my life, being a theatre performer, I wasn’t home for Thanksgiving Day. Now, working in an NYC theatre box office, our business not only don’t close for holidays, we add more performances during the week. So I am thankful to have people to laugh with, eat with, share with, cry with and drink wine with.

I am truly blessed everyday of my life. I have a wonderful family, beautiful friends, good health, a great job, an amazing home and a red velvet cake recipe that will now become part of my baking repertoire.

Thanksgiving at Chez Coco

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 12

After the dishes were washed and placed in the drainer Jack started down the hall to his room. He suddenly remembered that Henry's shirt was in the dryer. Shut behind the door of his bedroom watching the movie, none of them heard the buzzer alert them that the shirt was dry. Jack turned around and walked back to the utility room to get the shirt.

He couldn't resist lifting it to his face and taking a deep inhale. He pulled the shirt away disappointed. It smelled like dryer not Henry.

He took the shirt to his room and put it in his backpack so he wouldn’t forget to take it school tomorrow and give it to Henry. He got undressed and climbed into bed. As he lay there in the dark he had to resist the urge to get up, get the shirt and hold it to his chest like a child clutching a security blanket. He didn't need it for security; it was a substitute for Henry.

Wednesday. When Jack awoke from a restless night's sleep he immediately remembered dreaming about Genevieve. It wasn't like the first time he dreamed about her. He wasn't playing out scenes with her. This time he could see her in a very bright room. They weren't talking. In fact he didn't remember there being any sound. She was just there and he was watching her. He didn't even know if she was aware of his presence. He figured the dream was a combination of having watched her movie the night before and remembering how bright her living room is usually lit.

He got up and stumbled down the hall. Walking the half-awake walk of someone not ready to commit to the morning.

Post shower and breakfast, he headed out the door for school. He was running later than usual so he was surprised to see Henry and Kevin barely at the end of their street. He ran to catch up with them.

"Hey guys, wait up," he yelled at them.

Henry and Kevin stopped at the sound of Jack’s voice and turned to watch him running to meet them.

"What's up?" said Henry.

"School," replied Jack with little enthusiasm.

"Word!" Replied Henry.

Kevin had done little more than grunt, as he was the least morning-enthusiastic of the three of them.

"I hope today doesn't drag by," said Jack. His tone was that of someone dreading the present because the future was all he could think about.

"Why would it be any different than any other day?" asked Henry.

"Because going to Miss Genevieve’s is something I'm really excited about doing and it has nothing to do with school. School is just something I have to get through today. It’s a means to an end to get to what I really want. It's like the tootsie roll center of the tootsie roll pop; what you really want is the tootsie roll, but you gotta get through the hard candy coating to get to it."

"Wow, that was a lot of description for this early in the morning," said Henry a little overwhelmed, processing everything Jack had just said.

"Sorry." Jack took his ability to be intellectual, no matter the hour, in stride. "Hey, I brought you your shirt." He took his backpack off, opened it and took out Henry’s shirt.

Henry was confused about what shirt Jack was talking about, then he remembered that he had worn Jack's shirt home last night. He recalled catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror in his bedroom as he started to take it off. He stopped and checked himself out in the shirt. He liked it. It was a nice shirt. He had always thought Jack had good taste.

"Sorry I forget to give it to you last night. I didn't hear the dryer buzzer, so I didn’t remember it was in there."

"No problem," said Henry as he took the shirt from Jack. "I didn't bring yours. I can drop it by your house later or I can bring it to school tomorrow."

They were playing their roles perfectly this morning. It was very Jack to remember Henry’s shirt and very Henry to be suave, aloof and forgetful.

"Whatever's easier. It's not like I don't know where you live."


The day did drag on just as Jack had feared. Every class seemed to take two hours instead of one. Interestingly enough it was the study period that flew by; the hour he wished would have lasted longer to give him more time to complete his homework. Somehow he managed to get it all finished. He wasn't sure about Henry or Kevin. He couldn't really worry about the two of them and their homework though. He was ready for this school day to be over. He was ready to be sitting on Genevieve's sofa enraptured by whatever exciting story about her life she might tell next.

Finally the bell rang. As he walked out the front doors of the school he saw Henry and Kevin already outside. He ran down the steps and straight into their conversation.

"I just don't understand why, that's all," said Kevin.

"Why what?" said Jack.

Henry and Kevin turned to look at Jack who seemed to have materialized out of thin air.

"Where did you come from?" asked Kevin.

"I saw you guys from the top of the steps and ran down to meet you. I just ran up. So what conversation did I interrupt?"

"It was a geometry conversation. I hate proofs and I was telling Henry that I don't understand why we have to learn them."

"I told him they were to challenge him," said Henry. "Kev, you just gotta open your mind and let the math flow through."

Jack looked at Henry for a reason behind his Zen-like statement.

“Are you high?” he asked half serious; his eyes squinted, questioning. He then looked at Kevin for a reaction. Henry half-heartedly gave Jack an offended look and Kevin snorted a laugh at the two of them.

"So, are you guys ready to go? I've been looking forward to Miss Genevieve's all day," said Jack. His excitement was only slightly contained.

"Yeah. I've been looking forward to it myself," said Henry.

"Then let's get moving instead of standing here giving ridiculous explanations for proofs." Jack gave Henry a smirk that oozed with sarcasm.

As they walked toward Genevieve's Jack took in the scenery around him for the first time this season. He loved fall and there were trees in their neighborhood exploding with yellow leaves. None were brighter than the large gnarled tree in front of Genevieve's house. Its roots were firmly planted in her sloping front yard, but its reach was expansive. To the east its branches covered the sidewalk to the west they shaded her entire side yard. It was beautiful to behold. The afternoon sun’s illumination made it seem like it was glowing with a million yellow lights.

Through the gate, up the front steps, across the porch, through the door, past the Bible, up the stairs – they were in familiar territory now. It had only been a few days since they'd first stepped inside 327, but they no longer feared it's dark corners or creaky, rotten stairs. They knew their way around. Standing outside the second floor door now, Jack knocked and they waited for the voice that would gain them entrance.

“Come in, Jack.” There was no question that the voice was that of Genevieve.

Jack opened the door and the three of them walked into her living room.

“How did you know it was me?” asked Jack.

“No one else visits me,” replied Genevieve.

She was sitting in the same chair as each time before. She was wearing the peach-colored robe just like the time before and the time before that. Bing Crosby was again playing on the record player. Jack wondered how many of the peach-colored robes she owned or if it was the same one over and over. He also wondered what she did all day that kept her from getting dressed. He didn’t dwell on the answers to those questions, as they really were not that important.

The Hear, See and Speak No Evil monkeys took their places on the sofa.

"Do any of you know of Lana Turner or Tippi Hedren?" Genevieve asked as she looked at each of them individually.

It took Henry and Kevin a split second to look at Jack. Genevieve followed their lead with wide-eyed anticipation.

Jack felt the rush of heat to his face and knew it had turned red. There was no reason to be embarrassed, but he felt put-on-the-spot. He knew the answer though, so he laughed a little at his friends and then looked at Genevieve. "Yes, I know who Lana Turner is - she starred in Peyton Place and Imitation of Love among other things."

"Imitation of Love figures into my story, as does Lana Turner. What about Tippi? Have any of you heard of Ms. Hedren?"

No one was more surprised than Kevin himself when he blurted out, “Birds! She was in The Birds.”

Genevieve looked at him with surprise and gave him a congratulatory nod.

“Well Jack, it looks like you’re not the only person here who has an interest in classic films. Kevin must enjoy the suspenseful more than the melodramatic.”

They each sat back on the sofa anticipating another chapter in the life of Genevieve Malloy. Her stories were entertaining. It made sense because entertainment was her business. She was saturated with it like a vermouth-soaked olive in a gin martini. She was a movie star and the unlikeliest diversion for all three of them.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Monday, November 15, 2010

Surfacing (Emotions to the top)

Sometimes I think I feel too much. Recently, I've been feeling it all. My emotions have been running so high over the past few days; like a car running hot, check engine light glowing red.

It all started with Tuesday night's episode of Glee. The episode found Kurt, the gay character, at the end of his bullied rope. I can't imagine how it must feel to be the only "out" gay person in the school, office or town. I also can't imagine what it must be like to be forcefully pushed into a locker every day. I realize this is just a character on a television show, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen to someone somewhere on any given day of the week. The turning point for Kurt was finding the courage to confront the bully.

In case you don't watch Glee, let me set the scene for you. The beefy football player walks by Kurt - who is standing in the hallway reading a text that says "courage" - knocks the phone out of his hand then shoves him into the locker. That shove was the breaking point for Kurt.

KURT: Hey! (running after the bully; enters the locker room) I am talking to you.
Bully: The girls locker room's next door.
KURT: What is your problem?
Bully: 'Scuse me?
KURT: What are you so scared of?
Bully: Besides you sneakin' in here to peek at my junk?
KURT: Oh yeah, every straight guy's nightmare that all us gays are secretly out to molest and convert you. Well, guess what ham hock, you're not my type.
Bully: That right?
KURT: Yeah! I don't do the chubby boys who sweat too much and are gonna to be bald by the time they're 30.
Bully: (bringing his fist toward Kurt's head) Do not push me Hummel.
KURT: (looking at the fist) You gonna hit me? Do it!
Bully: (slamming his locker) Don't push me.
KURT: Hit me, 'cause it's not gonna change who I am. You can't punch the gay out of me any more that I can punch the ignoramus out of you.
Bully: (screaming) Then get outta my face!
KURT: You are nothing but a scared little boy who can't handle how extraordinarily ordinary you are.
(The bully kisses Kurt. Pulls away. Goes in for another kiss. Kurt pushes him away. The bully hits the lockers - confusion, pain and frustration writ across his face. Kurt is in shock)

I was alternately scared and exhilarated by the confrontation. Fear is a terrible thing. I still live with it in some instances to this day. What I was not prepared for was the kiss. The big, beefy football player was just acting out. He's confused about his own sexual feelings. So instead of figuring them out, he chooses to bully the only kid in school who might be able to help him cope. Fear is a bitch, man!

Let's move on to Wednesday night. It was the annual CMA Awards telecast. Any of you that read my facebook status that night know that I wasn't happy. All day long I had been looking forward to a glass of wine and performances from some of my favorite country artists. Well, Time Warner Cable was, of course, a digital glitchfest that night. I was angry. I was actually cursing TWC, but I continued to watch. I was determined to hear what I could hear and see who won what.

There were two performances, and a win, that proved important to me. Performance 1: "Hello World" by Lady Antebellum. From the first moment I heard the song on their album it moved me. Their performance on the CMA telecast let me know that they had released the song as a single. Performance 2: "If I Were A Boy" by Reba. Who but Reba could cover a song by Beyonce and actually make it work. I know there are people out there who thought the performance sucked, but for me, Reba's trademark voice gave the song a distinctly country feel. She fills everything she sings with emotion and this song was no exception. For me, the song crosses boundaries because I'm sure there are women, of all ages, in this world, for whom the sentiment speaks volumes. The win that holds significance for me: Miranda Lambert, CMA Album of the Year for "Revolution." She also won CMA Female Vocalist of the Year.

You might be wondering what the CMA Awards have to do with my emotional breakdown. Well, here it is. I bought Miranda Lambert's album. It is so good. It is country to the core. She has crafted and recorded some wonderful country songs. Songs that are bursting with emotion. The sentimental favorite for me is "The House That Built Me." It's about revisiting the house where she grew up. She tells the woman who lives there now about the that room in which she learned to play guitar, that the hand prints in the concrete steps are hers and that her favorite pet is buried under the oak tree in the yard. The story is tear inducing in and of itself, but what got me even more was that she just wanted to touch the place and try to remember who she was and where she's from. I've spent a lot of time running away from the small town where I grew up. I know that I can't live there, but that place, and that house, is the place where the basis for who I am was learned. It's important. It matters. I have to embrace it. When the song came on my ipod, I was at the gym. I had to keep myself from crying. I love a song that I can instantly connect to like that.

The Lady Antebellum song made me question if there is a video. There is. It is so emotional that I was heaving at my desk. At one point I was crying so hard that I lifted my hand as if to testify in church. The tears started as sadness, then turned to joy. The string section on the song evokes the emotion every time I listen to it.

In case you were wondering, I bought Reba's new album too. She never fails me.

Now, let's move on to Monday, November 15th, the sixth anniversary of my Grandmother's death. I had forgotten that it was this day. When I opened my computer, my icalendar alerted me with a pop up.

She battled cancer for four years. I was sitting in the airport waiting to bored a 6am flight home to see her. I called my Mom while I was waiting just to see how things were going. I could tell when she answered her phone that something was wrong. She couldn't talk. From her breathing she sounded as if she was running. She asked if she could call me back. It turned out that Mom was running. She was running to my Grandmother's room. The phone call I received just minutes later was from my sister telling me that my Grandmother was gone. I went to an angry place. The anger was because I could have flown home Friday or Monday. I chose Monday because of work issues. I didn't get to say goodbye. Of course, that is more about me than her, but I loved her so. I was the first grandchild; the only one for almost 8 years. My relationship with her was unlike that of any of my other grandparents. From what I understand, she had an attitude shift after I was born. A situation, full of sadness and embarrassment for her, changed to one of love. I never doubted for a minute that she loved me. I wish I could have had more time with her, but not at the expense of her living in pain. I wish she could have known me as I am now; the person who has grown so much in the past six years.

I didn't cry at the airport. When we boarded the plane, I sat in the last row. I had the entire flight to Nashville, TN, to brood about what had happened; to ponder how my life had changed. I slept a little. I listened to my ipod a little. When "It Feels Like Today" by Rascal Flatts came on, the tears began to flow. I cried for my Grandmother's pain and that she had died. I cried for my Mom's loss. I cried for my loss. To this day whenever I hear that song I'm on that plane.

It's no wonder my emotions have been running so high for the past six days. I wonder if subconsciously I knew the anniversary of my Grandmother's death was approaching. I wonder if that's why the music that touched me, touched me? My emotions are living on the surface like a raw nerve.

Happiness is also an emotion. I am happy that Kurt stood up to his bully. I am happy for the new music that graces my ears. I am also happy for the relationship that developed the day of my Grandmother's funeral between my sister, me and three of our cousins, Casey, Leah and Whit. We became more than just cousins that day; we became friends.

"It's okay now."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 11

By the time 8pm rolled around Henry was at Jack's house in the kitchen watching him open bags of microwave popcorn.

"Is that kettle corn or movie theater butter?" asked Henry.

"It's kettle corn, my favorite," replied Jack.

"Cool, that kind is my favorite too," Henry said as he lifted a glass of water to his mouth then promptly spilled it down the front of his shirt.


"What?" asked Jack as he turned around to see Henry jumping up from the table and heading toward the counter for the dish towel that was hanging on the cabinet door. "What happened?"

"You gave me a dribble glass and then missed the joke when I spilled the water down the front of my shirt."

"You dumb ass, we don't have any dribble glasses. You just missed your mouth." Jack couldn't help but laugh at Henry as he watched him dab his shirt with the dish towel. "What were you doing?"

"Not paying attention I guess," Henry responded with more laughter to his voice than annoyance.

Jack rolled his eyes at Henry. "Just take your shirt off and I'll throw it in the dryer. You can wear one of mine while it dries."

Jack hesitated before heading to his room to get Henry a shirt. He knew he shouldn't wait around for Henry to take his shirt off, but he couldn't help himself. The problem was there was no reason for him to hesitate. He became aware that Henry too was hesitating. He felt his face go red. Was it possible that Henry had silently noted that Jack had run into his arms? Was it possible that Henry was paranoid now? Could he know that Jack had feelings for him? Shit thought Jack as he abruptly left the room. He knew he had to get a shirt and walk back into the kitchen acting like nothing was out of the ordinary. He would act clueless like Kevin.

After he found his favorite blue shirt he quickly took it into the kitchen for Henry.

“Where is Kevin?" he said as he gave Henry the shirt and tried to inconspicuously drink in every inch of his chest. He turned away hoping it was nonchalant and natural instead of obvious like he felt.

Henry stood there for a second holding the shirt before he put it on. "Hopefully he's doing his homework. We were talking about that in the yard after you went home."

"I was standing on my front porch watching you guys talk. I didn't mean to stare, I was just so curious. You guys looked a little intense."

"It's okay, I probably would have told you anyway," said Henry. "Kev was upset about me having straight A's. He said he was trying to be like me, you know – easy going, blowing everything off, cool rider. I just told him he should be himself. Do what he wants to do. He's got this complex that I will only be his friend if he acts like me."

"Really, he thinks that's the only reason we're all friends?"

"Yeah. I told him I liked him for him, not for who he thinks I want him to be." Henry walked to the cabinet, got another glass and filled it with water.

Jack emptied the popped bag of popcorn into a bowl and then put another into the microwave.

"He's just insecure that's all," said Henry after taking a spill-free drink of water. "He sees you as smart and popular and he sees me as easy going and popular and he sees himself as popular only by association."

Jack was leaning into the corner of the counter watching Henry as he talked about the conversation with Kevin. He felt proud of him. That's the only way he could describe it. He was proud of the way Henry had handled the situation with Kevin's fragile ego.

The microwave dinged, signaling the end of popping for the second bag of popcorn. Jack turned toward the cabinet to get a second bowl, but Henry was standing there with a bowl in his hand. Jack was surprised and the look he gave Henry said as much. As he took the bowl from Henry, his pinky finger grazed Henry's hand. His senses were already heightened from Henry's naked chest. He turned quickly and placed the bowl down on the counter too forcefully.

"Thanks," he managed to say trying to cover up the fumbling noise.

"You're welcome," replied Henry as if nothing was out-of-the-ordinary with the bowl exchange.

They heard the door opening in the utility room off the kitchen. It was Kevin.

"Hey, Jack, it's Kevin. You guys here?"

"Yeah, we're in the kitchen," Jack said as he started toward the utility room.

"Don't mention the homework conversation okay. I don't wanna embarrass Kevin." Henry spoke sincerely.

"I won't," Jack said without missing a step. "What took you so long, Kev? The popcorn's gonna get cold."

"Yuck," Kevin crinkled his face. "I hate cold popcorn. Am I that late?"

"No. I'm just giving you shit," Jack punched Kevin's shoulder. "Seriously, where were you?"

"Homework dude. It's a bitch." Kevin gave Henry a tentative smile after he said the words. Henry smiled back and gave a slight nod to Kevin.

"Did you get done?" asked Henry.


"Good,” interjected Jack as if he wanted to change the subject. “No homework talk tonight. Tonight we watch Miss Genevieve. You two grab the bowls of popcorn and I'll get the beanbags. Meet you in my room."

"Good going, bro," Henry said as he squeezed the top of Kevin's shoulder.
"Get the popcorn." Kevin knew what Henry was doing. He gave Henry a look that included a slight smile to let him know he accepted the advice from earlier and appreciated the support. "I'm gonna see what's in the fridge that's good for mixing."

“Well alright,” Henry said nodding his head in approval.

Kevin searched the refrigerator as Henry grabbed the two bowls of popcorn and headed down the hall to Jack’s room. The room was empty. He put the popcorn bowls down on Jack’s bed and walked over to the entertainment center. He started to look through Jack’s DVD’s, but caught sight of a framed picture of Jack, Kevin and himself on the top shelf. He picked it up and looked at it. They had gone camping last summer in the woods not too far from where they live. They had had such a good time. Henry was remembering the moment leading up to the taking of the picture. The three of them had been sitting around the campfire smoking cigarettes and drinking beer that Kevin had lifted from his parents’ refrigerator in the garage. They were so relaxed. They had just been talking and laughing. There wasn’t a care in the world. As close to home as they actually were, they felt like they were in an isolated forest miles away from anyone who knew them. During a moment of serene quiet, Kevin farted so loud that it shocked them all. They started to laugh and couldn’t stop. Then the smell hit them. It was obnoxious. It smelled like what they imagined a corpse would smell like. That led to more laughter. They doubled-over, laughing so hard that Henry remembered his abs hurting the next morning. When the laughter was under control enough to allow them to breathe again, Jack had pulled out his Blackberry® and long-armed a picture of the three of them.

“That was my favorite moment of that whole camping trip.” Jack had walked into the room while Henry was lost in the memory. Henry jumped at the sound of his voice and inhaled sharply. As he turned toward Jack’s voice, he exhaled and laughed a little at being startled. Jack was standing there, holding the beanbags, smiling at him.

“That fart was pretty rancid though,” said Jack as he threw the beanbags onto the floor between the bed and the entertainment center.

“It was pretty rancid. I don’t know what Kevin had eaten that day, but it smelled like something died inside of him.” The two of them were laughing when Kevin walked into the room with three glasses of ginger ale, one about to fall from his grasp.

“What’s so funny?” asked Kevin as he walked to Jack’s dresser to put them down before he dropped the stray.

Henry held up the picture for Kevin to see. Kevin started to laugh along with his friends.

“Man, that was the most rancid fart,” Kevin said through his laughter. Henry and Jack looked at each other when Kevin said ‘rancid’ and laughed even harder. “I seriously thought for a second that I might have shit my pants.”

That moment of laughter transported the three of them right back to the woods. There might has well have been a campfire in the bedroom. When at last they each managed to draw breath again, they stood up straight and smiled at each other – lingering shoulder shakes of laughter still visible. Kevin was the first, this time, to lift a fisted, out-stretched arm toward his friends. The other two made their way toward Kevin to explode-the-finger-fist-bump.

Kevin turned toward the dresser to retrieve two glasses and hand them to his friends.

“What’d you find?” asked Henry.

“Ginger ale,” replied Kevin.

The three of them took a drink. Kevin was no fool when it came to mixing drinks. He knew as soon as he saw the ginger ale in the refrigerator that it was the perfect mixer for the whiskey he had put into his dad’s flask. The other two seemed to agree with his choice. Kevin gave them a yeah I know smirk and plopped down on one of the beanbags.

“So, what’re we gonna watch?”

“We have two choices,” Jack said as he crossed the room to the entertainment center and started fumbling through the DVD’s. He hadn’t actually gotten out the ones that starred Genevieve like he had planned so he was going to have to look through the stacks. He didn’t think it would be too difficult to find them as they were relatively new and he hadn’t had a chance to watch them yet. This proved to be the wrong thought. As it happens most of the time, the two he was looking for ended up being near the bottom of the third stack of DVD’s. He realized he must have messed them up the day he was searching for the one that helped him confirm why he recognized Genevieve’s face.

“Here they are,” he said as he turned toward his two friends. They were sitting on the beanbags; heads slumped, tongues hanging out. They looked like they had fainted or died. It was part of the little joke they played on each other when something, or someone, took to long. They called it “dead man…”

“Really?” said Jack with sarcastic disbelief. “It didn’t take me that long to find them.”

Henry and Kevin stayed as frozen as possible where they sat.

“All right, we’re done here,” said Jack as he sat on the floor facing the two of them.

Kevin started to laugh. “Dead man on a beanbag.”

Henry joined Kevin in laughing. Jack just sat on the floor rolling his eyes and shaking his head. He couldn’t help but smile though. These were his best friends and “dead man” was one of their jokes. It might be stupid, just like laughing so hard you can’t breath because of the smell of a fart, but it was something they did and he loved it.

“So here are the two choices,” Jack said as he held up the two DVD’s. “We can watch The Setting Sun of Yesterday about a wartime nurse on her deathbed, recalling the soldier she loved and lost during World War 1. Or we can watch Spark of Denial about a daughter returning home to reconnect with her estranged family only to try and steal the family business.”

He sat there looking at Henry and Kevin waiting for them to make a decision. He wanted to play “dead man with DVD’s” it was taking them so long.

“Okay, so The Setting Sun of Yesterday is from 1965. It’s the movie she did right after winning her Oscar®. She plays the nurse, obviously. It’s probably gonna have some war scenes.” He threw war scenes part in because he thought it might help the testosterone-laden room make a choice.

“She plays the returning daughter in Spark of Denial. It’s from 1967. It sounds like it might be a little more melodramatic than the other one. Although,” a thought had just occurred to him, “they’re probably both melodramatic.”

“I say we watch Spark of Denial.” Henry said nonchalantly. Jack was surprised. He was certain after the mention of war scenes that Henry would choose The Setting Sun of Yesterday.

“That’s fine with me,” said Kevin, ever the follower in Henry’s footsteps.


Jack got up from the floor and placed the DVD into the player, closed the carriage then pressed play. He then made his way to his bed and grabbed his two pillows. He threw them on the floor between the beanbags as the orchestra started playing the main title for the opening credits. He settled himself on the pillows between his two friends and focused on the screen. Every time he watched an old film he thought about how the credits were presented at the beginning instead of at the end like they are in today’s movies.

Henry and Kevin were each holding bowls of popcorn. Jack chose to eat out of the bowl Henry was holding. He thought to himself that he should share out of both bowls, but then decided that it was just popcorn. Henry was sitting on his right and he was right handed after all. Paranoia be gone.

About halfway through the movie there was a close-up on Genevieve’s face. Her character’s father had just discovered that her character was trying to steal the family business. The look on her face was loathing. She was filled with so much hate for him, yet she had been so sweet in his presence leading up to the moment of discovery. Her façade had cracked. The sweetness turned to the sting of vinegar. Even though she was seething with anger at her father, she had but one single tear fall from her left eye and roll down her cheek. The scene left Jack breathless. He turned to look and Henry and Kevin. Both had ceased eating popcorn and were staring, riveted by her.

Jack turned back to the screen, a feeling a pure joy and happiness that his two best friends not only wanted to watch an old film with him, but they were actually enjoying it. He was smart enough to know that it was mostly because they had met Genevieve, but it didn’t matter. He was sitting in his room, sharing popcorn with Henry, drinking a drink made by Kevin. This was a moment that he wished he could long-arm a video instead of just a photo.

When the movie was over the three of them sat there for a moment. Henry was the first to stand up. Jack looked up at Henry, but Kevin kept watching the screen like he was processing a thought.

“That moment of realization by her father, played across her face like…I don’t know,” said Kevin.

“Stoic anger,” said Jack. “She was like…an incensed volcano, ready to blow, but everything stayed below the surface except for that one tear. That was the release. It was her anger, her despair, her embarrassment.

“It was a cool movie, Jack,” said Henry. “Thanks for letting us come over to watch it.”

“Anytime guys. I’m just glad you wanted to watch it.”

“I’d be up for watching the other one too,” said Henry. “I may not be a movie buff like you or as into classic movies, but now that we’ve met Miss Genevieve, I’d really like to watch it. It’s kinda cool to see how movies used to be.”

“Anytime.” Jack responded to Henry then quickly included Kevin. “The three of us can watch the other one whenever you want. You in Kev?”

“Sure. I’d watch the other one.”

“Cool, let’s do it,” said Henry as he started out of the room with the two popcorn bowls in hand.

The three of them walked to the kitchen. Henry placed the two bowls in the sink and Kevin the glasses. Jack knew he would have to wash them before his mother got home from the class she takes on Tuesday nights.

“So listen, are you two up for a visit with Miss Genevieve tomorrow? I’m just kinda antsy to get back to her story.”

“I’m in,” replied Henry as he stood at the door nodding his head.

“Yeah, me too,” answered Kevin.

“Then let’s try to get as much homework done tomorrow during our study hour as possible so we don’t have to worry about it after we get home. Agreed?

“Agreed,” said Henry and Kevin in unison.

“Okay, so I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

“Later Jack,” said Henry.

“Thanks again for the movie,” said Kevin.

“Thank you for the whiskey,” replied Jack.

After closing the door behind his friends, Jack watched them cross the street and walk toward their respective houses. He lingered a little bit longer on Henry. He was standing in the dark with no one to catch him so he indulged himself. When Henry was inside his own house Jack walked to the sink and began to wash the dishes.

©2010 Michael Rohrer