"Is it only cause you're lonely
They have blamed you
For that Mona Lisa
Strangeness in your smile
Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Have been brought
To your doorstep...
They just lie there...
And they die there...
Are you warm,
Are you real,
Or just a cold and lonely,
Lovely work of art?"
Mona Lisa Jay Livingston
Ever since he was very young "eyes on the prize" was Keith Charles' mantra.
The prize wasn't a hot piece of ass. It wasn't dignity, equal rights and 3 squares a day for all god's children black, white, queer, straight, great and small. For Keith the prize was his own acute sense of personal integrity that no man but he could define, a standard of character that was considered borderline messianic by those who knew him really well.
There was a streak of unforgiving in him that was Old Testament in its rigidity. He refused to allow for a period of adjustment, burned many bridges, and hurt his family dearly when he first came out in his early twenties, just in college. He turned his back on life-long friends from whom he perceived even a trace of disapproval. He refused to speak to the closest members of his family when they would not unequivocally rebuke their deeply-held religious beliefs - though they all explained that their beliefs did not change their love for him.. He didn't care. In those days he couldn't, wouldn't contextualize who he was with the circumstances under which he was surrounded.
For me or against me, he thought. And if you're not for me, then - fuck you.
But even the most zealous ideologues get tuckered out by their own fury, if they live long enough. Playing Angry Gay Black Man (not always in that order) became exhausting and lonely. No man was willing to live up to Keith's inflexible standard of behaving as a political revolutionary in word, deed, attire, stance, eating habits, reading habits, public discourse, private conversation, shopping, walking, driving, dancing, fucking, renting a video at Blockbuster. In other words, during that period of his life, Keith was very nice to lookat, and could even be an attentive, versatile lover. But he was no fun. In fact, after a month or so most men found him to be a bitter pill.
Getting laid was never a problem. Loving and being loved - problem.
Maturity and therapy diluted his anger and fuzzed his ideology, though he never lost his eye on the prize. He tucked it away like buried treasure or a shameful demon, and tried to make it stay there so he could fall in love, be among his family, renew old friendships, and find a steady, paying job with a pension and health plan.
But there was an even bigger problem that he was barely aware of - for all his speechifying to the contrary, Keith Charles was a sucker for closet cases. Maybe it was deep-seated, unresolved feelings of self-doubt, even fear, though not about being a man, or a black man, or a gay black man - but just trying to be a sane, caring human in a fucked-up, inherently unfair world poisoned by illogical hatred and horrible luck. Maybe he projected his own insecurities on those closet caseshe encountered who managed to escape his wrath, even during the Krakatoa years. Maybe, sub-consciously, he felt an umbilical empathy with them.
Take David Fisher for example. Keith would never have made a play for him if he didn't believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was gay. But it was patently obvious during their phone conversation that Son of Fisher wasn't sure what was going on, and tried to play along - okay, it's a business call, okay, it's a flirtation, while remaining non-committal, and genuinely confused. But definitely not out. Keith anticipated that he would be forced to unwrap the uptight, buttoned- down mortician one layer at a time until there was nothing left but skin on skin, and even then Son of Fisher would lie there impassively, hands at his side, while Keith wetted him with his tongue, and twisted and marked his pale skin with the force of his embrace, and made him come with such clarity that he would wonder if he done died and gone to heaven. And then, in the morning, Son of Fisher would thank Keith for rescuing him, for setting him free, for showing him the true light of day, and Keith would feel like a hero, might even fall in love, until later, when he would have to suppress inexpressible rage, because Son of Fisher had gone back to his "normal" life. His "straight" life. And would never again think about the pounding he got from Officer Charles, ex-sexual revolutionary, now just another lonely guy.
What Keith told himself, as he waited in his civilian clothes in the China Seas restaurant on North Highland off Hollywood Boulevard, was that the REAL reason, the ONLY reason, he was giving Son of Fisher a tumble was strictly for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bang a walking, talking, Saks Fifth Avenue (though slightly frayed at the cuffs) suit wearing, formaldehyde-reeking, freak show.
Just a notch in the old bed-post. An anecdote for the next meeting of the Gay Police Officers and Firefighters Association: yeah, that's right, an UNDERTAKER, a corpse jockey, a stiff-sticker, a ghoul, a Scooby-Do cartoon character. Permanent frown lines embedded between the eyebrows. A smile so hard you could hammer nails with it. An ass so tight you could break a finger trying to loosen it up.
A cardboard cut-out. With sad green eyes. Who cried at funerals. And somehow managed to fall into spider-webs. Who was so flustered by Keith's sudden gesture of tenderness that, for one tiny moment, both men's humanity was laid bare for the angels to take note of.
Keith had forgotten about that. The sudden memory of his gentle encounter with David made him feel uneasy.
He glanced around the restaurant dining room as the waiters began to close up for the night. He was a regular customer who often called in a last minute take-out order. They were used to letting him in after closing time, and didn't mind at all, especially when he showed up in full police uniform.
Keith had posted himself by the front door, which now sported a "closed" sign, so that he could let Son of Fisher. If he showed up. It wasn't the first time that day Keith had considered the possibility that his date would stand him up. But it was the first time that he became aware of just how much he hoped he wouldn't.
Keith glanced back towards the kitchen, where he could see that his food was already being packed into take-out containers. He looked at his watch for the millionth time: 11:15.
He just wanted to fuck the guy. He didn't want to know the story behind the sad green eyes, or why he was crying, or why, when Keith touched his cheek, he looked like he might melt into his arms, which, if he had, Keith would have held him, would have dropped down on his haunches and cradled Son of Fisher like he was Christ fallen from the cross, if that's what it would have taken to penetrate the lonely, phony, Mona Lisa, desperately sad smile.
If he didn't show up, he didn't show up. Keith would eat the Chinese food, stow the left-overs in the fridge, let them harden there as an unequivocal reminder of another missed opportunity for something that might make a difference in his existence. Bring back some of that old fire.
continue to part 6