Men in Love
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by Harry Buschman
Parker lives in a small apartment on the second floor front of a brownstone on East 75th Street. He has a living room with a dining area, a kitchen alcove off to the side and a small bedroom. He never sleeps in the bedroom, his office is set up in there. At one end of his office he has a small efficient bathroom with a shower stall.
There’s a tiny window in the shower stall that overlooks the adjoining building, and if he stands on his toes he can see into six other shower stalls just like his. He feels secure in the privacy of his anonymity and anonymity is the ultimate privacy on the upper East Side. Few people know their neighbor, in fact, many people on the upper East Side do not even know themselves.
He does know Shawn, however. Shawn is a gay man and lives on the second floor rear with a very large white cat named Sebastian. When Shawn goes to Point-O-Woods in Suffolk County to visit his friend Emery, he leaves Sebastian with Parker. It is a sad fact of life that Shawn and Emery, although madly in love, live in separate spheres. Shawn is a production assistant for the Tonight show and Emery is the son of a vintner on Long Island’s East End. Their affection for each other is considerable but neither man will abandon his profession.
“He will not commit,” Shawn shook his head sadly, while stroking his cat. “You’d think, wouldn’t you, Parker, that he’d see it my way. Manhattan’s the only place to be, not some Godforsaken grape orchard out on the fucking end of Long Island?” He buried his head in his cat and sighed. The cat, in turn, looked at Parker helplessly, as though requesting assistance.
Parker, is a good listener, but probably not the best person to discuss such alliances with. Parker has his own problems. His girl friend, Sylvia, lives in Greenwich Village and works in an art gallery that features the work of recently dead artists. He’s been trying to get her to move Uptown with him but she says it’s too far from the Village and she would have to ride the subway to get to the gallery, she is also allergic to cat fur. Parker works Uptown; he writes copy for CNN news anchors, he can’t move Downtown with her – CNN is exactly one mile, the proper jogging distance from his apartment. Furthermore Sylvia has a roommate, a girl singer with the Bottom Line band, and that rules out Parker spending weekends at her place. Both Shawn and Parker are victims of similar frustrations, (except for the gender mix). Sebastian, the cat, has none of these problems, he’s been spayed, de-clawed and deodorized. Sebastian has adapted to his environment and his limitations far more smoothly than either Parker or Shawn.
The couple on the floor above Parker listen to Mahler night and day on their stereo. Parker feels that people who play Mahler on their phonographs should really live in buildings of their own. Mahler is too unwieldy for a brownstone, unless everyone who lives there loves him equally. Mahler is only endurable when shared by thousands of people, not by a couple in a small apartment. Angst of such cosmic proportions can be overwhelming as well as deafening. It can lead to nostalgic telephone calls and overeating in the middle of the night. Parker occasionally knocks on the ceiling with a broom handle but it goes unheard – it would take more than a broom handle to silence Mahler.
On Fridays during the summer, Parker gets home early from CNN. The staff gets the Op Ed page together by early afternoon, and by four o’clock everyone has established CNN’s opinion on everything. After a week of editorial opinions, everybody is sick of the world in the first place, and the big guns are warming up for the onslaught of political opinion on Sunday. When Parker gets back to his apartment he rounds up his dirty laundry and makes reservations for dinner with Sylvia, (they have already eaten in every French restaurant in Manhattan, and now they’re on the second lap).
On this particular Friday evening, Shawn knocked and Parker straightened up from his laundry, took a deep breath, and out-shouted Mahler, “Come in Shawn, it’s open.” Shawn walked in with Sebastian and two cans of tuna fish. In an hour Shawn would be on the Long Island Railroad headed east for his weekly tryst with Emery in Point-O-Woods which would result in a bitter argument and a long solitary ride back to the city again Sunday afternoon. Upstairs, the Frere Jacques movement of Mahler’s “Titan” joined in his discontent.
“Looks like the weather will be beautiful, Shawn. Don’t forget the sun block.”
Shawn would not let himself be shaken out of his doldrums ... “I don’t like to travel, it’s a thing with me.” He sat on the sofa in the middle of Parker’s dirty laundry and stroked his cat. “When I was a child my father took me on a business trip with him.” The cat, (who had heard this story many times) assumed a stoic attitude. “I guess he forgot I was with him ... he took off for the airport and left me back in the hotel.”
“How old were you?”
“Ten or so ... it was frightening.”
“That was twenty years ago, Shawn.”
He rocked the cat to and fro like a child. “It marked me ... really Parker, some things stay with you for life.” The cat tried to get away but Shawn had his fingers through its collar; it flashed Parker a look of helplessness. “When father got to the airport he discovered he had an extra ticket. Then it dawned on him. He never forgave himself of course, for the rest of his life he was overly agreeable to anything I did. I could do anything I wanted.” The cat, at this point struggled to free itself from Shawn’s arms and this time he let it spill out of his hands to the floor where it promptly disappeared under the sofa.
“What are you doing this weekend?” Shawn asked.
“Not much. Sheila and I have reservations at Marmitte this evening. Tomorrow? I don’t know. She has to be at the gallery in the afternoon.”
“Spending the night here?”
“Oh, I just mean – if you’re not going to be here I’ll leave Sebastian in my apartment. Except ... he can’t stand being alone, you know?”
There were cowbells and country dances in the Mahler Symphony No. 2. Parker wondered if this would be a good time to knock on the ceiling again, or to give Shawn an answer, if he had one. He did neither, the phone rang in his office.
The two men looked at each other and Parker walked to the phone. “I still have a few things to pack,” Shawn said. “I’ll stop by with the litter box before I leave.”
Parker knew it would be Sylvia, and he knew she’d only call if there was a problem about tonight. He took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
“Oh, Parks, I’ve got bad news.” There was a dead space. “... how’d you know it was me, Parks?”
“Oh, I don’t know – something in the Mahler upstairs. Do you know Das Lied von der Erde?”
“Are you all right, Parks?”
Sebastian came in, tail pointed straight up at Mahler on the floor above. He knew Parker’s office well – there was a warm shelf – a wide shelf just above the radiator, and if it wasn’t covered with papers and books, Sebastian had every intention of sacking out there for the evening.
“I’m just fine, Syl. Mahler is sounding off upstairs.”
“I called about tonight, Parks.”
Parker sat down at his desk, and at the same moment Sebastian reached the wide warm shelf, by way of the arm of Parker’s chair. “You can’t make it, right?”
“We’re putting up the Archipenko exhibit tonight. Oh, Parks ... it’s going to be beautiful. It’s a retrospective ... you know ... ?”
“Archie who ...?”
“Oh come now, Parks, you know who Archipenko is. The exhibit was supposed to be in Philadelphia, but they had a fire.” He could tell she was smoking while talking to him. She promised she would stop smoking.
“I’ll call the restaurant.”
“Don’t be mad, Parks. This has to be done, the opening is Sunday afternoon.” Sylvia paused and it sounded to Parker as though she had taken a final deep drag on her cigarette before stubbing it out in the large overfilled ash tray that sat on the night table by her bed. “Why don’t you come down for the press review tomorrow? It’s for the media, you should really be here. We can have dinner in the Village later.”
“I may have to work.”
“Why not? You’re working Saturday and Sunday.”
“That’s different, Parks ... Archipenko comes along once in a lifetime.” Another pause – an uncomfortable one.
“Everyone comes along once in a lifetime, Syl ... “ he wanted to add ‘including me,’ but it seemed a little much. “Maybe I’ll be there, Syl. Maybe not – let’s call it a definite maybe.” He hung up quietly and looked at Sebastian. His feet were curled under him and his head seemed to be sinking slowly into his body.
Upstairs, the double chorus and orchestra of Mahler’s eighth erupted in full vocal and instrumental splendor. It heralded the arrival of Shawn with Sebastian’s litter box.
“Well, I’m on my way, I’ll be back Sunday afternoon – they’re having their first pressing Sunday morning. It’ll be hell I’m sure.” He poked his head in Parker’s office and remarked, “Okay Parker? You look whipped.”
“Something like that. Have a nice weekend Shawn, Sebastian and I have a lot of Mahler to get through.”
The two men looked at each other with a touch of blank understanding, neither of them were optimistic about the coming weekend, and Mahler, upstairs, agonized over the past, present and future weekends of the world. Sebastian was the only one in the room who seemed to be content with things as they were – his shelf was warm enough – wide enough, and that was enough for him.
But the men clung to their masculine dream of formalized relationships, as though their loves should be conquered and submissive. They should be docile, domesticated and dominated, content to drop what they were doing and save their creativity for the bedroom.
Sebastian learned to live on canned tuna and a wide warm shelf.
©Harry Buschman 2004
The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.