Swamped

By House, Tom | Chicago Review, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Swamped


House, Tom, Chicago Review


I see the door fly open in the dance floor mirror: a flash of brightness and Morgan, the prep cook next door; another second he's leaning over the left end of the bar there where all the employees hang out, yelling, "Danny! Danny!" But at the moment I'm busy making eyes at a blond across the way, little yum-yum with a chiseled face; you can see it whenever he leans into one of the columns of pink light to say something in his buddy's ear (buddy's middle-aged, gray, got a sweater draped over his shoulders, the whole thing); I've seen them here before, just standing or dancing or eating in the restaurant, Daddy and his Little Boy. But tonight's the first night I ever really lookedlooked at Boy; earlier, while I was passing by to turn the heat up, I got a pretty good view, and he looked right back at me, a real stare, slightly frightened, but lingering and eager, and then I could almost bet they were together.

"Morgan, do we like this one?" I ask, motioning with my head, more in a gesture of camaraderie; Morgan's got this thing where he thinks we're attracted to the same blonds. Then he gets upset if they end up talking to me instead of him, which is nine times out of ten because he's so extremely shy and can't even bring himself to raise an eyebrow at anyone, let alone. Not that he'd ever do anything anyway; I don't think he's actually gone to Miami since his lover Larry died five years ago, and to the best of my knowledge he still hasn't been tested, or refuses to for some philosophical reason, even though for a long while they hadn't been using protection, and I think in the back of our minds now we're all just kind of waiting for his cheekbones to start to show. Well, most of the time it's in the back of our minds, except for those occasions when he nicks a finger while he's slicing a tomato or the smoked mozzarella for a raclette-he has a terrible habit of doing that-and then it's all at the front of our minds again for however long it takes whomever to cover up the cut with gauze and tape and slip another of those little latex finger-condoms over the works. But honestly, I don't know where he ever got the idea I have a thing for blonds-I mean, I do, but no more than for guys of any other hair color. Anyway, so I bring it up lightly.

"Oh," he says, squinting across the bar a little distracted, little derailed-like; then a humoring half-smile waves across his red, finnosed face, "I was wondering about that." "He's beyond blond," I say, grabbing at the shoulder of his flannel shirt, "he's towheaded, a little Bamm-Bamm." Morgan nods; we both ogle; it does look extremely light, the hair, in the pink glow. "The one I like's next door," he says-which I guess is what he came running in to tell me. "Oh, who?" Tall guy, he says; dark hair, jean jacket. I flip up the counter; "Hold the fort," I say, "bet I can find him"-all tongue-in-cheek, mind you; to me it's a game: see if I can spot Morgan's little love interest out of a room of what? thirty, forty people this time of night? Then again I feel like everything I ever say in this place is ironic, that I'm only pretending to say in a very silly way what I am: this isn't really me saying this, my real self knows better. But it's like you leave all right behavior behind when you walk through the gate; suddenly you start gossiping and saying she and looking after people's asses; I think the actual sound of my voice may even change-it jumps up a couple notes, reverses pitch or something, and Jeez! freezing cold outside, so I dash across the little "courtyard," you want to call it that, seven paces from door to door, and the first people I see are Billy and Dominick and Joel standing in a little circle where the piano's kept in the summer, and while I'm pecking their cheeks hello, rubbing their arms, whatever-I especially rub Billy's, he looks terrible, maybe a week or two away from another hospitalization; "How you doin'?" I ask, "Oh, hangin' in there," he says-I spot him to the left of the coffee station; it's easy to do: he is pretty tall, maybe sixthree, not to mention he's the only decent-looking guy in the joint (and by the way I use that word intentionally, The Backwoods is a joint-just this big, leftover shell from the '70s; I bet even Bob Healy, its original owner, would never have guessed it would have carried on so long after the party), and then, too, he's the only one wearing a jean jacket in January. …

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