Monday, July 14, 2014
My Favorite Uncle excerpt by Marshall Thornton
In My Favorite Uncle by Marshall Thornton, Martin Dixon’s carefully constructed peaceful life is turned upside down when his super Christian eighteen year-old nephew Carter shows up unexpectedly on his doorstep and announces that he’s gay, Martin’s first impulse is to send him back to his parents. But when he discovers that Carter has been in a mental hospital to cure his gay-ness he realizes he’s stuck with the boy. Unfortunately, the two get on each other’s nerves, each driving the other to distraction. Independently, they each arrive at the same conclusion. The other would be much less annoying if he only had…a boyfriend.
My Favorite Uncle
Wilde City Press (June 25, 2014)
Martin Dixon was secretly in love with Jax Hammer. Deeply, profoundly in love despite the fact that they had never met, that Jax Hammer was not his real name, and that Martin was double the boy’s age. Theirs was a relationship of the new millennium. Fully digital.
The entertainment center loomed against one wall in Martin’s TV room-slash-office. After closing the mini-blinds and the drapes, setting the TV to a non-neighbor-offending volume and placing a tube of Vaseline, a box of Kleenex, and the remote on the pull-out sofa that no one ever pulled out, he was finally ready to open the secret compartment in the bottom shelf of his entertainment center.
In the compartment were four Jax Hammer DVDs: A Brief History of Gangbangs, Howard’s End (in which Jax starred as Howard), Ifs and Butts, and the football-themed End Zone. Martin chose Ifs and Butts because it co-starred Jax’s real life boyfriend Rydar King. It also contained Martin’s all-time favorite porno moment in chapter sixteen: spread-eagled on a brown leather sofa, Jax looked up dreamily at Rydar. About to orgasm, he mouthed the words “I love you,” or maybe it was “I love your dick.” Martin wasn’t entirely sure. But he leaned toward “I love you” because a genuine smile spread across Rydar’s face, and Martin didn’t think Rydar would be too impressed by someone loving his dick. He was a porno star, after all.
Martin had seen the moment fifty—okay sixty—times but it seemed completely real each time. The models slipped out of the performance of sex and into the reality of sex, and the idea that it was real was what fascinated Martin.
DVD into the player and pulling his pants down to
his ankles, Martin waited impatiently through the warnings and the threats of
prosecution. When he got to the main menu, he started the movie and began
skipping through. The moment happened at 1:36:14, but Martin liked to start
about ten minutes earlier just at the point where Jax Hammer—
The phone rang. Martin debated whether or not to answer. He did have an anticipatory hard-on and a dollop of Vaseline spread all over his left hand. What he didn’t have was caller ID. He had no idea who was on the other end, and it might be important. It might be an emergency. Though he couldn’t think what kind of emergency. Martin was certain he’d eliminated all the drama from his life, which really should have removed emergencies with it. He figured it was nothing, but he wouldn’t know for sure if he didn’t answer, and the possibility that it was more than nothing would haunt him like a bad debt.
He really did need to sign up for caller ID.
“Martin? What are you doing?” It was Ricky. Though he cared deeply about his best friend, his hard-on immediately fled.
“Nothing,” Martin lied.
“Great, I’m at Marix. You should pop over for a drink.” Ricky worked as first assistant to film producer and wunderkind, Winnie Collier. Collier’s career started when she coerced a writer into a free option on a script about two forty-year-old cops going undercover as skateboarders and then sold it for seven figures. The film never got made, but that was blamed on the writer; Winnie got a production deal, an office, and two assistants to torture. Ricky spent a great deal of time at Marix.
“I can’t pop over. I’m thirty-four miles away. In case you haven’t noticed, there are no good freeways from Long Beach to West Hollywood,” Martin complained. “A trip like that has to be planned a week in advance.”
“Please. You have to come,” he paused tentatively. “There’s someone I want you to meet. Someone you might like.”
A chill ran up and down Martin’s spine. “In that case, ‘no’ just turned into ‘absolutely not.’”
“Irving. His name is Irving, and he reads scripts for Winnie. I’ve been wanting you to meet him for ages.”
“At least let me tell you about him,” Ricky insisted. “He’s about your age—”
“Our age,” Martin corrected.
“Don’t be bitchy.”
“Is he cute?” Martin found the only enjoyment he got out of fix-ups was getting his friends to lie.
“He’s so sweet.”
Shit, Martin thought, he’s trying to fix me up with a guy who isn’t even cute enough to lie about.
“Was he ever cute at any point during his life?” Martin asked.
“Everyone’s cute when they’re a baby,” Ricky pointed out. “Irving is responsible and stable. Aren’t you always telling me I should go out with someone stable?”
“Yes. You should go out with someone responsible and stable. I, on the other hand, am not looking for a boyfriend—responsible, stable, or otherwise. No matter how cute he was as a baby.”
“I’m just trying to be nice,” Ricky insisted. “You know, it’s been forever. You really need to get over…” He stopped, and the thirty-four miles of air between them could have been cut with a knife.
“I really need to get over what?” Martin asked.
“I have to go,” Ricky squeaked.
After they hung up, Martin struggled to get back in the mood for Jax Hammer. Of course, he knew what Ricky thought he should get over, but he refused to think about it. He didn’t need to think about it. Ricky was wrong. He was over that particular thing. Person. Whatever. Martin clenched his jaw and grimly turned Ifs and Butts back on. He told himself to stop thinking about Ricky and concentrate on the movie. He’d actually watched the movie all the way through once and remembered the plot as having something to do with questioning your sexuality, hence the ifs. Of course, none of the models wondered for long, which supplied the butts.
Rydar pushed Jax onto the leather sofa and grabbed hold of his ankles. Jax had a thin, over-ribbed chest, dangling arms, a thatch of pubic hair and the most amazing blue eyes. He was totally retro. He could have stepped right out of the seventies. He looked the way guys looked before Nautilis was invented.
Perhaps Jax’s seventies look was what appealed to Martin. Of course, he remembered the seventies. All too well, in fact. Martin would be fifty in four hundred and thirty-seven days, and that reality was beginning to wear on him, like Chinese water torture or coastal erosion.
Martin’s interest in the movie returned. Rydar pumped, Jax squirmed happily, and Martin added another dollop of Vaseline to his palm.
“YOU NEVER SPEND ANY TIME WITH ME!”
Martin paused the
DVD and stared at the ceiling. They were at it
again. When Martin moved into the El Cordova more than a decade ago, he thought
he’d be blissfully happy in the 1920s Spanish revival building. What he hadn’t
realized was that more attention had been paid to the landscaping in the
courtyard than to the insulation in the walls and ceiling.
“I’M SPENDING TIME WITH YOU RIGHT
ARE NOT! YOU’RE GETTING READY FOR WORK!
THAT IS NOT SPENDING TIME WITH ME!”
“STOP SCREAMING LIKE A GIRL!” This was mild for The Asshole. Martin wondered if he wasn’t feeling well.
The Asshole was the ‘friend’ of Martin’s upstairs neighbor, Jimmy. He was a decade younger and fat enough to bring to mind the word ‘stampede’ every time he walked to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Martin never managed to learn the Asshole’s name because he didn’t speak to Jimmy, who Martin thought was something of an asshole himself. In his sixties and partially deaf, Jimmy came from some vague middle Eastern country. In the days after 9/11, he went door to door in the building and explained that he was not a Muslim, which convinced everyone in the building he was. Except Martin. Jimmy’s deafness meant that he’d heard every word the guy said for nearly two years. If he was praying half a dozen times a day, Martin would have noticed.
GET OUT OF MY WAY. I’M TRYING TO GET DRESSED. FUCKING MORON!” Ah, Martin thought,
that was much more like The Asshole. He’s feeling just fine.
This, of course, is what Ricky thought he was missing. Someone to get in the way. Someone to scream and call him names. Someone to ruin his life. Martin was resolutely single. So single, in fact, he’d even managed to avoid the annoyance of a pet, despite the offers his neighbors and acquaintances made of kittens and stray dogs. At first, he’d just been honest and said ‘no’ outright. But after he’d had to change hairdressers when he was pressed to take “my dear friend’s darling cockapoo. Charlie died of AIDS, and Snowball is homeless. I thought you’d be perfect.”
“You thought I’d be perfect to spend my time picking up the droppings of your dead friend’s yappy hairball?”
“Apparently not,” the young man said, proceeding to give Martin the worst haircut he’d ever had. After that, Martin told people he was deathly allergic.
Martin heard footsteps and what sounded like a scuffle. “SO HELP ME, I’M GONNA BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF YOU IF YOU
Martin got up and shouted out the window, “
AND I’M GONNA CALL THE COPS IF YOU DON’T
KNOCK IT OFF!”
Jimmy and The Asshole hated it when Martin called the police. Martin was pretty sure they’d be quiet now, so he tried to focus on Ifs and Butts again. He ran the
DVD back a minute or so. Rydar pushed Jax onto the
leather sofa and grabbed hold of his ankles. Jax threw his head from side to
side in ecstasy. Practically folded in half, Jax looked up at Rydar. Their eyes
locked. Jax licked his lips. Jax moaned. Jax was about to say it, in another
few seconds he’d say, he’d say the thing Martin wanted him—
Martin’s doorbell rang, and he jumped off the sofa as though someone had just walked into the room, narrowly avoiding being tripped by his own pants.
“Shit,” he said as he put the
DVD on pause, leaving Jax and Rydar hanging on the
verge. He grumpily pulled his pants up. Was the Asshole coming down to
apologize for being such an asshole? Unlikely. It was probably a Jehovah’s
Witness. They liked to canvass this neighborhood for some reason. If it was a
Jehovah’s Witness, Martin decided he’d finally go ahead and tell them that
there was no soliciting in the building. He hoped they’d get offended at the
idea that they might be selling God door to door because, well, that’s exactly
what they were doing. And he wanted the opportunity to tell them so at least
once in his life.
Martin shoved his Vaseline covered hand into a pocket and opened the door to find himself looking at, not a Jehovah’s Witness, but a teenager wearing a purple Harvest Crusade t-shirt. The t-shirt might have lead Martin to believe he was about to be witnessed to, except that it was incredibly dirty and the boy inside it had a bad sunburn and a patchy stubble on his chin. The boy also had Martin’s own sandy hair and dark chocolate eyes. With a half-hearted smile, the boy said, “Hi, Uncle Martin.”
“Carter? Are you Carter?”
The boy nodded. Martin smiled stiffly and tried to figure out what was happening. Carter was his born-again Christian brother’s oldest child. He belonged in Arizona going to church four times a week, but instead he was here, dirty and unshaven at Martin’s door. Martin didn’t like the possibilities occurring to him. “So, what brings you by?”
“Oh. Of course.” Immediately, Martin regretted saying ‘of course.’ He should have acted surprised. People are flattered if you act surprised when they come out, something Martin thought was stupid and vaguely homophobic but—
“You know, I didn’t mean you act or that you seem…I didn’t know you were gay until...I just put two and two together and got gay, right now, as we’re speaking…” Martin trailed off and stood staring at the kid.
Not that Carter was doing much of anything. He wasn’t smiling sweetly, he wasn’t imploring Martin with his eyes, he wasn’t begging for Martin’s help. He also wasn’t going away. Shit. Martin was going to have to invite him in.
“Could you excuse me a moment?”
Martin dashed into the TV room-slash-office, snatched up the remote and hit the stop button. Jax Hammer and Rydar King instantly disappeared. He shoved the tube of Vaseline between the cushions of the pullout and, after a quick cleanup job on his hand, put the Kleenex box on his desk. It probably wasn’t a big deal, after all, the kid just came out to him. But he’d rather his relationship with Jax Hammer remain private.
When Martin got back to the living room, Carter had come inside uninvited and stood in the middle of the room between the sofa and the coffee table, staring at the mock fireplace. Martin had no idea what to say to the kid, so he said, “It doesn’t work. Originally, this kind of fireplace was gas, but they’re not well ventilated so they have this tendency to, you know, kill people. Carbon monoxide or something like that.”
Carter stared blankly at Martin.
“It’s bad when people die at home.” Why did he say that? What did it even mean? Why couldn’t he think of something normal to say to this kid? “Gosh, when was the last time we saw each other?”
“Grandpa Dixon’s funeral.”
“And how old were you then?”
“Eleven. Yeah. You were cute...” Martin considered for a moment. “Wait, I didn’t see you at Grandma Dixon’s funeral? You would have been almost thirteen?”
“Bible camp. Already paid for.”
“Oh, okay.” Martin thought back to his father’s funeral. He remembered Carter as a skinny, underdeveloped brat with an over-developed sense of Christian entitlement. Apparently, puberty had changed a few things.
“So, how did you get here?”
“That’s really dangerous. You know, you shouldn’t…” Martin stopped. It was not his job to tell this kid not to hitchhike. “Anyway, I guess we need to find you some place to stay.”
Carter looked at his torn sneakers and shook his head. “I, um, can’t stay here?”
“Oh…” Martin felt nauseated. “I’m sure we can come up with other options.” He scrambled to think of somewhere he could send the kid. Youth hostel? Homeless center? Freeway underpass? He sighed heavily and gave up. “I guess you don’t have any luggage?”
Carter shook his head.
Holy fuck, thought Martin. His hitchhiking, penniless, possession-less nephew must have been tossed out of his parents’ home and now intends to live here. Here! With me! What a disaster! Okay, okay. Martin told himself to calm down. Big deal. The kid would stay for a day or two, then Martin would figure out somewhere else he could go. Like back with his parents.
“Can I take a shower?” Carter asked.
“I’ll get you a towel.”
While his nephew took a shower, Martin continued to fret. He wasn’t good at relatives. His grandparents, reportedly awful people, had shown some consideration and died while he was in grade school. He hadn’t laid eyes on an aunt or an uncle since he was fifteen, and his parents, who had been much more interested in each other than in either of their children, had died within a year of each other.
After his parents died, his brother had seemed to expect they were going to have some kind of relationship, but since Martin had almost nothing to say to the born again-Republican sports fanatic, their bond faded. Now they didn’t even exchange Christmas cards. It was almost as though Martin didn’t have relatives, which was quite pleasant in many ways. But suddenly, he did have relatives. He had a nephew. A Carter.
Not knowing what else to do, Martin made tea. He wanted a glass of wine, but he’d feel like he had to offer one to Carter, which would have been illegal. Right? Stopping cold in his tracks, he tried to remember how old Carter was. Not old enough to drink, certainly. Somewhere in his late teens. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. Wait, he was eleven at Martin’s father’s funeral and twelve at his mother’s which made him around eighteen. Maybe not eighteen. Maybe seventeen. Not only was Carter a relative, he was a teenage relative. And Martin had let him in.
Carter looked better when finally came out of the bathroom, even though he swam in the ancient 501s and t-shirt that Martin had given him. He did seem grateful for the tea and chocolate cookies Martin had set out on the oak dining table that took up half the small living room. Although he knew the question was dangerous, Martin felt compelled to ask it. “Did you want to call your parents and let them know where you are?”
“No,” Carter said simply.
“I’m sure they’re worried.”
“You do something in the movies, right?”
“I proofread captioning for the deaf.”
“Oh.” Carter clearly expected something more glamorous, something that required attending televised award shows and thinking up acceptance speeches.
“I thought you lived in Hollywood?” the boy asked.
“A long time ago. I’ve been down here in Long Beach about twelve years.”
Why are they talking about me? Martin wondered. Why weren’t they talking about what was really going on here?
“I guess you had a fight with your parents?”
“Kind of? Is that teenager for ‘yes?’”
Carter shrugged, and they fell into an uneasy silence.
“I’m going to have some wine,” Martin announced and ran off to the kitchen. God, this was worse than internet dating, something Martin had given up because of the incredible awkwardness of talking to strangers. You’d think it would be easy since you knew nothing about them, but it was harder than talking to someone you knew everything about.
Martin was halfway through his glass of wine before he got back to the living room. Carter smiled as he sat down. The kid had a great smile, Martin thought, stunning even. You could really mess people up with a smile like that.
“I’m sorry what?” Martin asked, having missed what Carter just said.
“I said, you’re really old.”
“I’m old? Are you trying to be rude?” Martin wasn’t sure because it sounded as though there was a touch of pride in his nephew’s voice.
“No, it’s just...don’t most gay men die before they’re forty?”
“Who told you that?” Martin gulped down the rest of his wine. He should have brought the bottle.
“That’s what they said at The Renewal Center,” Carter explained. “They had statistics.”
“The what center?”
“The Renewal Center. It’s this special part of Willowbrook Psychiatric Hospital. My parents sent me there for therapy. I only stayed a week and a half. They had to let me go when I turned eighteen. Two days ago.”
“Oh. Happy birthday.” Great. The kid’s been in a mental hospital. Martin almost couldn’t breathe. How could this be happening to him? The kid was nuts. “So, why were you in a mental hospital?”
“I’m gay,” Carter said.
“Yeah, I know, but that—” Martin tumbled, like a suitcase falling down a flight of stairs. “Your parents put you in a mental hospital to have you ‘un-gayed?’”
“That’s not what they call it.”
“What do they call it?”
All Martin could think of to say was, “Ouch.” Well, sexual reorientation did sound painful. Apparently, it was the right thing to say because Carter nodded his head and said, “Yeah.”
Wait a minute, Martin thought, this can’t be true. His brother, Paul, was completely reasonable in many ways. Wasn’t he? Actually, Martin barely knew him. They hadn’t lived in the same state for almost thirty years, and when they did see each other or talk on the phone, they carefully avoided discussing politics and religion, and had never once talked about Martin’s sexuality. Maybe he was the kind of person who would do that to his own child.
No, Carter was probably lying. He’s probably really crazy. Telling Martin that he’d been in a Christian psych ward where they convert gay people was the perfect way to get Martin to help him. Martin would have no choice.
Calm down, he told himself. The kid had just walked in the door. He had no reason to assume he was a gay version of The Bad Seed. In all likelihood, he was just a kid in trouble. “Would you like to see a therapist? I mean, I’ll pay for it, of course.”
“No, I’m good,” Carter said, as though Martin had just offered him another cup of tea or an unappealing cookie.
“Okay.” Martin was relieved. He hadn’t actually intended to offer to pay for something as expensive as therapy. He didn’t intend to pay for anything. He just had to remember not to offer. Not offering to pay for things made it easier to not actually pay for them.
“So, tell me about being in a psychiatric hospital. What’s that like?” A therapist would ask a question like that. Martin was tempted to start calculating his savings.
“Um, could we talk about that another time? I’m kind of tired. I haven’t had much sleep in the last few days.”
It was only seven o’clock, but Martin jumped up and the two of them went into Martin’s TV room-slash-office. Martin hoped he could find the double size sheets he’d bought with the sofa. As he yanked the cushions off the sofa, the tube of Vaseline flew onto the floor. Both Carter and Martin stared at it for a moment, then Martin blushed, snatching it up. “I have dry skin.”
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