Triptychs – Chapter 22
So Christmas happened the usual way, like a mostly-happy train wreck you can’t avoid. Lots of light and noise and sound, and you’re glad when it’s over.
Uncle Ryan and Aunt Laura came over Christmas Eve, and my Uncle Dennis was over both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; he’s divorced, it just kind of made sense. And the house was full of people and talking and warmth, and it was fun.
And I slept with the baseball bat real close; wishing we owned the place, instead of renting, wishing we could install an alarm system, at least . . . knowing it wasn’t going to happen. Knowing it probably wouldn’t help, if we did.
Still, my mom wasn’t obviously freaking out; I watched pretty carefully, she seemed calm. Maybe, I figured, my dad had stopped calling her, maybe he was off somewhere else, maybe he’d hooked up with some people with enough liquor to keep him happy for the holidays, at least . . . Maybe. I sure as fuck hoped so.
One good thing about my uncles coming by, was that I had a chance to go see Cole and his mom for a couple of hours. It was Christmas day; and his dad was visiting, the three of them always get together Thanksgiving and Christmas, one place or another; Berkeley or Santa Monica.
It was . . . tense.
See, Cole’s mom had finally started dating, last October – a guy she met all by herself, not through computer dating, or anything – and for some reason, for whatever reason, that seemed to really get to Cole’s dad. Even through they’d been divorced for all those years; even though he lived in Santa Monica.
I mean – how bizarre can people be?
So, it was kind of tense; Cole’s dad being sort of wound up and unhappy, Cole’s mom, Jeannine, being ironic about the whole thing – and she does ironic, REALLY well, it’s where Cole gets it from – and Cole being patient, and impartial, and really pretty adult, it was interesting to watch –
And he was glad I came by; really glad, I could tell.
And that was the best Christmas present I could have asked for.
But it also made me think about families, what Cole’d said about me not being he only one with a fucked-up family . . . and I still didn’t think there was much of a comparison, I mean just LOOK at my dad . . . But. I began to think, maybe he had a point - ?
So Christmas came, and went, and on Tuesday morning after Christmas, Noah and I went of our First Ever Date.
I was waiting for him outside when he drove up; sitting on the brick steps to our apartment, so he could see me when he came by. Bundled up against the cold. I’d already talked him through the how-to-get-here details on my cell, so I knew he was close.
Still. When this really sleek, low, powerful-looking gray car came gliding slowly up the street – I didn’t expect it to be him.
Until the gray car rolled to a stop in front of me, and a door opened, and a second later a curly-dark-haired head wearing a baseball cap poked up from behind the driver’s side.
“Trevor - ?” he went, a little uncertainly.
I was already standing up, coming down the steps. “Noah?” And then in a second, I was grinning big. “Noah! Dude! Welcome to Berkeley!”
He just beamed at me – typical Noah, expressing himself without words, more eloquently than I could do WITH words –
And then, slightly-awkward moment. The car between us; double-parked, and Noah trying not to look back at the oncoming traffic.
“Uhhh . . . ” from me. “Want to come inside, or anything - ?”
The ironic look on his face was priceless; and I puffed out a laugh. I mean, it’s Berkeley, you know? The street was solid with parked cars, on both sides. You don’t just casually park in Berkeley, any more than you do in downtown Manhattan.
“Next time, then,” he said, as I laughed; and he disappeared back inside the car as I opened the other door.
I wasn’t prepared for the rush; the rush I got, looking at Noah’s profile as he clicked his seatbelt, shyly not-looking-at-me; I could tell.
I mean – it was a RUSH, it was an emotional rush – fuck me, it was good to see him! – and it also had a physical side, as I remembered the touches we’d shared, the taste of his mouth, the smell of him . . .
Yeah. It was good to see him, and I’d been an idiot to think I was glad for some time away, and I was boned, fast.
And it all hit me at once, and it was maybe a little powerful and sort of confusing, so I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Grinning; of course. “Mmmmmm . . . ” from me. “It’s good to see you!”
Being Noah, of course, he blushed deep, and made a motion like he was going to turn and kiss me, but stopped when he looked in the rear-view mirror, and his eyes got a little wider.
Oops. I guess they don’t do double-parking, in Tracy; too subversive, or something. “It’s okay,” I went, trying not to laugh. “They’ll go around.”
“Okay,” he went; but he kept his eyes on the mirror, and his hand was already releasing the brake. He waited just a second; and then we were pulling away, slowly, with a kind of calm rumble from the engine. “Can you show me how to get on to the freeway - ?” A pause, as we turned the corner, the other car still behind us, I could see, then – “It’s good to see you, too.” Shyly.
This time I DID laugh, out loud; I couldn’t help it. “Tsk. Such a romantic!” And I reached over and squeezed his thigh, gently, just to show I didn’t mean it. “Yeah. Take the next right . . . ”
Eventually we got on I-80 westbound, which meant we had time to relax and talk, some; it’s always slow, stop-and-go traffic, always.
I couldn’t get over Noah’s car.
“This is YOURS - ?” from me, looking around. ‘Sleek’ described it; everything was sleek, and high-tech, and the windshield had this huge slope from front-to-back, and the front of the car sloped down almost as much . . . And every time Noah stepped on the gas, to move us forward a few feet, the engine rumbled and burbled with power.
“Yeah,” from Noah; his eyes on the road, but I could tell, he was happy at my tone. “Yeah. Well, it was my dad’s; but I bought it from him, when he got his new truck.” He shrugged, just a little. “It’s ten years old, now, and it’s got a whole lot of miles.”
“What is it, anyway?” I saw Noah give a quick, ironic flick of his eyes, and I saw the ‘CAMERO’ printed out in raised letters on the console. “Oh . . . ” I grinned. I’m terrible at cars; I mean, I’m from Berkeley, you know? All I could tell, it was sleek, and powerful, and low, and not at all like our F-150 . . . or Jeremy’s Mini Cooper, either. “Do you keep it at school - ?”
“No. No place to park. My dad takes care of it for me, he drives it sometimes.” I watched his face in profile, as he moved us gently forward. “I’ll let my brother drive it, next year, after he gets his license.”
I tried to imagine having a father, to buy a car from, to take care of a car for me – to take care of anything of mine – while I was away. I tried to imagine having a brother to share a car, with.
Well, that was easier. I let Cole drive the F-150, after all.
“Cool,” I said; looking out at the Emeryville mudflats, the skyline of San Francisco spearing up on the other side of the bay. “That’s cool.”
Finally, finally, we got to the part where westbound San Francisco traffic slips off from the clogged, southbound traffic, and we were speeding up, going almost-normal speed as we headed for the Bay Bridge –
And it occurred to me, that Noah wasn’t all that comfortable in traffic like this.
Actually, he was downright UN-comfortable; though he tried to hide it.
“Ummm . . . ” from me. “We can’t use this lane, it’s for FASTRAK only; you know, the radio transponder-things? You’ll get a fine, if we go through.”
“All right,” he went, calmly; holding the steering wheel tight, his eyes darting around left and right, his head looking straight ahead, not moving. “Can I get over to the right, can you see - ?”
I craned my neck around. We were at the Toll Plaza approaches, where four lanes pretty quickly transform into about twenty lanes . . . and it IS confusing, and kind of chaotic, cars are zooming around on all sides –
“Yeah. You’re clear.” I waited a second, and nothing happened, then – “Go!” as a blue BMW started charging up from behind –
Noah pressed the throttle, and the engine kind of burble-roared, and we snapped ahead and to the right like we’d been catapulted; “Jesus!” I said, I couldn’t help it.
“Sorry,” from Noah; still grimly concentrating on the road, steadying us in our new lane.
“No, that’s okay,” I went. I felt myself grinning, big. “Actually, that was COOL, that was way cool! Can we do it again - ?”
A glance from Noah, to see if I was making fun of him; I so totally wasn’t.
“I hope not,” he said, and then he shrugged, and half-smiled. “Sorry . . . You know, a lot of people where I come from won’t drive to San Francisco because of this. Because of the traffic, I mean.” Another half-shrug. “Including my dad; and he’s the best driver I know.”
“No sh – I mean, really?”
“Yeah, really. He says people drive like it’s a blood sport, there. Here, I mean.”
He should try the Nimitz, at rush hour instead, I didn’t say. “It’s not really that bad . . . I’ll talk you through it,” I went instead; and I just gently patted his thigh, again.
Through the toll booth; up, and up the sloping eastern side of the bridge, the part they’ve been working on replacing for most of my life, then through an island tunnel and out onto the western part of the bridge, with the cables and suspension towers and the incredible, soaring skyline of San Francisco, with Alcatraz off by itself to the right –
Noah missed it all; except maybe for glimpses, I guess. We kept up our navigator-and-pilot roles, me helping him change lanes, telling him when to start moving over for an exit coming up a few miles ahead, still . . .
We actually made a good team. It was comfortable; and he’s a good, careful, competent driver. And seeing the road, the traffic from his perspective, I had to admit – yeah. It IS intimidating, driving into San Francisco, if you’re not used to it.
And so, eventually, we wound up in the Castro.
It wasn’t my first choice.
I mean, my heart belongs in the Haight; that’s where people our age hang, like I’ve said; and it’s beautiful, and Golden Gate Park is right there, and it’s full of interesting people, creative people, weird people . . . it’s like another home, to me.
It’d occurred to me, maybe I was going to the Haight a little too often, lately; maybe I should get around a little more, see different parts of the city, hell, maybe get around to entirely different cities once in awhile, too . . .
Yeah. Total bullshit. I’m a hypocrite, and I know it.
It was Christmas break for San Francisco State too, which meant Erik and Jason were off, hanging around the city somewhere, maybe in the Haight. Probably in the Haight; they live there, after all. And I just, didn’t feel like running into either one of them. Not today.
Not that I was afraid to; I mean, I’d had exactly one text message from Erik since that last, disastrous fuck-date, and that’d been a fairly brief variation on, ‘Merry Christmas, I’ll call you soon’. I’d texted something even briefer, back.
The thing is – I just wanted a fun day with Noah, a fun day without any complications . . . A fun day. Alone, together.
In the end, it was Noah that decided it. He told me he’d never, ever been to the Castro before.
I mean, how could I resist - ?
“Okay,” from me, grinning as we looked around us. “THIS should be familiar. From pictures, anyway.”
“Yeah,” from Noah, quietly; his head swiveling, right, left, looking everywhere.
Castro and Market, one of the most famous, most-photographed intersections in the world. The big, red-and-blue, neon-lit marquee of the Castro Theater looming over everything, ‘CASTRO’ in big vertical letters. Duh. You Are Here.
A lot of other people were Here, too; on the brick sidewalk in front of the Diesel store that used to be a bank, and still looked it. Whole crowds of people jostling by, and the panhandlers and crazies who look out for tourists like us. It was time to move on.
“Want to explore, a little?” I asked Noah, sideways; looking down the street. And I caught a look back from him that pantomimed, ‘You think?’ so clearly, so ironically, that I laughed out loud.
The Castro district is actually a kind of valley; or maybe a bowl. Castro Street slopes down, gently, from Market Street to Eighteenth, just a block away; and rises up again real steep after that to Nineteenth and beyond, it turns into one of those San Francisco hills that you think you should lean against, rather than climb up.
Then, to the right, the south, Eighteenth slopes up, too, on the way to Diamond Heights; the only way ‘downhill’ in the Castro is where Eighteenth runs off to the left, north, towards the South of Market and the Valencia Street strip, which is a hugely-trendy, hip part of town, these days.
So, yeah, the Castro district is a kind of three-sided bowl, just a couple of blocks in any direction, surrounded by steep hills . . . and it’s not trendy. Not nearly.
I guess I shouldn’t be so down on it; it’s a neighborhood, you know - ? I guess, maybe, I’ve always been a little disappointed that this particular neighborhood, this queer mecca, isn’t just a little more . . . special. More beautiful, more creative, with younger people, I don’t know . . .
I think I was a little afraid of Noah being disappointed, himself.
I shouldn’t have been.
“Oops,” from me, again; as Noah stopped to look in another window, and I almost bumped into him. The mannequins – yeah, it was another trendy clothes store; clothes, and bars, seem to be the two big business on Castro Street itself – the male mannequins were posed like maybe they were having sex with each other, but somehow they managed to look bored at the same time. The clothes were uber-trendy, of the kind that nobody I knew wore; queer clubbing gear, for the really-committed, twenty-something set . . .
Well, no, there were some tourist things, too. Off to one side was a t-shirt printed with, ‘As Long As I’ve Got A Face, You’ve Got A Place To Sit!’. I laughed when I read it.
Noah, of course, blushed. Deep.
I grinned at him, as we started walking, slow, again. “I can’t remember for sure,” I went, after a second, “but I think that was a hardware store, for the filming of ‘Milk’. A hardware store, or maybe a record store . . . You know. Like, vinyl records.”
“Huh - ?” as we walked on, slow.
“They changed all the storefronts, for ‘Milk’. Well, on these two blocks, anyway. They changed them back to the way they looked in the Seventies.” I grinned, as we passed a bar, with people drinking cocktails by an open window. “It was actually pretty easy, they said; almost all the buildings are the same, and everything.” And they were, older, two-and-three story buildings . . . ‘Modest’ describes it all, pretty well.
“You were here? When they filmed it?”
“Uh-huh,” I went; as we got to a video store, and I stopped, to look at the display. On one side of the door were all the standard Hollywood releases, and movie posters . . . and on the other side were gay porno DVDs , cute, young, naked guys with improbably big muscles, in threesomes and foursomes, smiling fake-innocently . . . I thought about dragging Noah inside, just to give him the experience; then I walked on, slowly. “Yeah,” I went on. “I’ll never do a film like that, a big-budget studio film like that . . . but it’s still a film. You know?” I grinned over at him, briefly. “I couldn’t resist. I cut school four or five times just to come over here and watch. It was really cool, I learned a lot.”
“Yeah?” from Noah, as we crossed Eighteenth Street; and ‘Harvey’s’ bar was right there, coincidentally enough, it’s all decorated with GLBT memorabilia on the walls inside; we could see it, from where we were, standing on the sidewalk. It’s named for Harvey Milk, duh.
“Yeah,” I said. I grinned. “I learned how important it is to feed the crew; everybody at the shoot was just obsessed with the catering, it was all they talked about.”
A quick, ironic look from Noah.
“Well, maybe I learned a little more, about lighting, and set-up, and getting the right foot traffic for a street scene . . . you wouldn’t believe how many takes they did, just to get a few people walking in front of the Castro Theater! It took them all day, one of the days I was here, with a huge, huge crew!”
I really never will do film like that; I think it’s a dinosaur concept, I think small, independent, web-based video is the future, it’s so obvious. Even if ‘Milk’ turned out so well.
And I really want to be part it; the new video movement, the wave, the phenomenon. I mean, it’s inevitable, as the technology improves, the whole field is only going to be more inventive, more dazzling, more beautiful . . . it’s the perfect time to be involved in new media, and I just ached to get though school and get out in the field, filming, creating . . . maybe in partnership with Cole. Maybe; the way we’ve talked about . . .
“How about you - ?” from Noah, as we walked; and I was aware, he’d been watching my face, as we went along, slowly. “You were talking about some film projects of your own, in our Learning Group.” He looked down. “Do you have any projects, in mind - ?”
We were almost at Castro and Nineteenth by then; the little organic fruit store that marked the boundary of the Castro business district, anyway, uphill was all Victorian apartment buildings. I blinked a little; as we came to the crosswalk I steered us over to the left, so we could cross the street, and start back down the other side.
“Yeah,” I went, laughing. “Yeah, I’ve got some projects of my own.” We waited for a car to go by, then I led us across the street, fast, towards the Thai restaurant on the other side. “About nine, actually. Two or three I’ve got footage for, and they’re stalled . . . and, the rest. I mean, I really, really want to do them, and I swear I will, someday.”
I meant it; and I was kind of surprised, that I’d just blurted it out to Noah. I looked away, a little embarrassed.
“Mmmmm,” from Noah; neutrally. I looked over at him . . . and he was looking at me, with just the slightest trace of a smile, on his face. “ABOUT nine?”
I grinned at him. “Okay, nine, then. Serious projects, that I’ve actually done some work on; written down outlines, or started scripts, or started some shots, anyway. A couple I’ve actually started storyboarding, but. . . ” I shrugged. “Almost all my ideas would take a lot of time, and a lot of money, to do right. Way, way more time and money than I’ve actually got . . . ”
A sideways glance from Noah, that pantomimed sympathy, combined with curiosity.
“Well,” I went, as we started walking slowly down the block, side by side. “The one I’d really, REALLY like to do, is a short documentary about street kids, in the Haight; you know, the kids who hang out on Haight Street, who sleep in the Park, or crash at other people’s houses . . . You know. Their stories; who they are, where they came from, how they wound up on Haight . . . ”
“You mean, like interviews - ?” from Noah; as we passed a specialty pet-grooming shop, of all things.
“Yeah. Totally. People telling their own stories, in their own words, it’s so totally the way to do documentaries . . . ” I stopped a second, and groped for the words. “And it’s all so close, I swear, I can SEE the whole f- Uh, I can see the whole thing in my head; I know exactly how I’ll do it.” I smiled, and shook my head. “Someday.”
“Wouldn’t that mean talking to a lot of people - ?” from Noah, after a second’s hesitation. “I mean – getting them to talk to you? On camera - ?” His expression said, wouldn’t that be hard?
“Yeah. But I could do it; they’d talk to me. Will talk to me. I used to be one of them, a couple of years back.”
A second of silence from Noah, and I could just feel his Catholic-high-school background just blinking at the whole concept.
“No, it’s true,” I went, smiling-sideways at him. “I never exactly lived out on the street, like a lot of them do . . . but I spent a lot of nights with them, anyway. Nights when I didn’t have anywhere else to go.” I blinked, myself, remembering. “No, I know their world; I’ll get them to talk to me . . . ”
More silence; me remembering how close, how REALLY close I came to being one of the permanent-street-kids, during those bad times, when I was fifteen, sixteen . . .
And that memory, of the horrible things that used to happen back then, the bleak memory of what happened between me and my dad, of having no safe place to go home to . . . it’s why I’m going to make the film. Someday. I swear it.
I caught a quick motion, out of the corner of my eye, and I glanced up at Noah; but his head was down . . . and, weirdly, he looked a little embarrassed, and I thought I saw the beginning of a blush, on his face, and he didn’t look up . . .
Down the block to Eighteenth again, the Starbucks on Eighteenth to our right, where the bears hang out – and I stopped, dead still, as it hit me.
“Shit!” I went; then regretted it. Hanging out with Noah’s made me aware of what a mouth I’ve got on me, I’ve been trying to clean it up a little, lately.
Noah stopped too, and made his, what-is-it? face.
“We missed something,” I said. Then I had another thought, and grinned. “Back up the block; and, you’ve got to see it. C’mon – ”
‘Something’ was a small, bronze plaque set in the sidewalk in front of a tony little home-furnishings store, a store that otherwise looked like most of the other storefronts on Castro.
Put simply, it said that this was where Harvey Milk’s camera store had been. Which meant – as you’d know if you saw the new movie, or read anything at all about him – which meant, it was the epicenter for the whole gay rights, queer rights, LGBTQ-and-whatever-rights movement in San Francisco. Which meant, it was a Seriously Important Place; what Harvey and his friends had brainstormed, planned, argued about in that little store had deeply touched me and Cole and Jeremy and Erik and Jason, and, yeah, Noah . . . and millions of people, millions, around the world.
We gaped at it, for a couple of minutes; it was worth gaping at. And then, when we turned to head downhill again – I reached over, and took Noah’s left hand in my right one.
And of course, he flinched a little; automatically.
“Hey,” I went, softly. Grinning over at him, and he met my eyes, looking sideways. Me, feeling my pulse accelerating, feeling a little high, just at the whole situation. “We can do this here . . . of all places. If we want. I mean, we CAN . . . ” I kind of nodded back at the plaque.
His face went down behind the bill of his cap, fast; but looking sideways, I could see the solid flush spread over his cheeks –
But he didn’t pull his hand away. Actually, I felt his hand move a little, in mine, and then our fingers were interlaced, and we were holding each other’s hand tight, tight, as we headed back down the hill, the Castro Theater sign looming red and blue in front of us . . .
I took us to the Cafe Flore, for a late lunch. Well, I mean, I steered us to the Flore; we each paid for our own food.
Yeah; the same Cafe Flore where Brazilian Hugo had picked me up, two years before . . . and where Jeremy’d basically come to rescue me, after my dad had beat me up, before that . . .
No, the Cafe Flore in the Castro is one of my main places in San Francisco, it’s one of my main places in the world, and I won’t let a couple of dark patches spoil it.
Still. There were two particular tables, one outside, one inside . . . I made sure we didn’t sit at either of them.
In the end, I was really, really glad we went. The food was simple, and good; I mean, a cup of lentil soup is almost good by definition, right? But even better was the whole, glass-and-wood-and-tin-shack atmosphere, and the over-the-top Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling, and the straight-and-gay-and-trans, and everything-else clientele . . .
The two trendy barrista boys behind the coffee bar flirted with Noah and me really openly – did I mention, that we were pretty young, as people in the Castro go? – and Noah’s reactions were priceless; embarrassment, coupled with amazement, that guys could actually DO that, flirt so openly with other guys . . .
I didn’t have the heart to tell him, that the really flirty one of the barrista boys was straight, with a steady girlfriend out in the Richmond, and everything. Not that it really mattered; hey, flirting is fun, whoever you flirt with, right?
And then, at last, we were done, and standing out on the sidewalk outside the Flore, and it was only mid-ish afternoon . . . and I finally, finally had the chance to launch my Wicked Plan.