Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Repeat Wednesday: Lying in the Sun

It seems like every time I go on vacation I have to explain my sexuality to somebody, and it’s starting to piss me off. It starts when I make hotel reservations. “We don’t have a fitness center,” the clerk says, “but we have a lovely garden. I’m sure your wife will appreciate that.”

A friend and I want to go to one of those debauched, all-inclusive resorts, to lie in the sun and have sex with total strangers. “Sandals is a great couples resort,” the travel agent chirps, “but it’s not much fun for single men!”

I’m in Boston and need to see leather, so I tell a cabdriver to take me to the Eagle. “You don’t you wanna go there, bub,” he advises, in a seemingly-helpful tone. “That bar’s for gay guys.”

By far the worst was at a hotel in the south of France. A paramour and I were celebrating our two-month anniversary, so I’d booked us a suite at a converted convent. Behind the desk was a tiny old woman in a threadbare black robe who looked like she’d been abandoned by the last inhabitants. She pulled up our reservation, her hands shaking like a chilly chihuahua. “But someone has made une erreur,” she said. “You are two men, but you have zee room with one bed only! I will change for you at once.”

Mark and I froze like snowmen as tension crackled in the air. Now, call me crazy, but I’d happily have gone with separate beds. They’d probably be big enough for two, and we could always push them together. I’d rather sleep in the bathtub, in fact, than explain homosexuality to some dried apple of a woman who’d given her life to Jesus. Mark, however, wasn’t going to let it slide. He’d bore her to death discussing everything from prepubescent gender identification to courtship rituals among the Chippewa before he’d cave in. In three and a half hours, I predicted, she’d be swinging from the rafters by her rosary.

He stepped up to the counter like a speaker headed for a podium. “We asked for one bed when we made the reservation,” he said, “and it wasn’t a mistake. You see, the common assumption that everyone is heterosexual is a political rather than a biological tenet, and the truth is -- “

His words veered into a yelp as my foot thwacked the back of his knee. I pulled him into a huddle where I mimed “tiny” and “nun” and, well, everything short of “I’m trapped in a box!” He exhaled hard and backed away and I approached the desk. “See, I was in the Army,” I said, “stationed in Korea. There was a shortage of beds, so everybody had to share. For nine years I slept in tight quarters with other men, and I got so used to it that now I can’t sleep alone.”

“Oh, le pauvre!” the woman gasped, looking like Macaulay Culkin at age one hundred ninety. “I am so sorry!”

“It’s not that bad,” I said defensively. “I mean, we do that ‘Those aren’t pillows!’ routine at least once a night.”

We got the room we wanted but even before we left the lobby Mark was yelling at me. “Coward! Why did you always have to lie? How are things ever going to change if everyone keeps dodging the truth?”

“I’m on vacation,” I protested. “I didn’t drag us here just so we could explain to Sister Bertrille that we like to touch each others’ willies.”

He smacked the button for the elevator. “So what was your excuse yesterday?”

He had a point there. I told my landlord it was fine to drop by unexpectedly, told my mom I had to hang up because a football game was on TV, and told Mark I thought it really was room odorizer when I bought it.

It took an hour or two for the argument to dissipate, but like all lies it kept coming back to haunt us, always in that Tiny Nun form. We ventured to the fitness center for a quick workout, and there she was cleaning the equipment. “Messieurs,” she twinkled, admiring our physiques, “how zee ladies must sigh over you!”

Mark glared at her. “As Alfred Kinsey discovered in the 1950s, approximately ten percent of the male population would similarly sigh over -- “

I was afraid Tiny Nun was going to grab a dumbbell and pound herself out of her misery so I jumped in. “Next to saving the whales,” I barked, “that’s our goal in life!”

We’d gone eight hours without speaking when I suggested marking our anniversary with champagne. Mark cracked a smile, but it vanished when the skinny figure appeared at our door. “Do we celebrate?” she sang, Dom Perignon in her bony claw.

“We most certainly do,” Mark snapped in his frostiest tone. “We celebrate that despite the patriarchal intolerance of same-sex, transgendered, and bi relationships -- “

Tiny Nun glanced frantically at our open windows but sensed they weren’t high enough to do any real damage. I hollered over him. “We celebrate a wonderful city, a wonderful hotel, and a WONDERFUL FRIENDSHIP!” I screamed.

The little woman vanished like fog, leaving lukewarm champagne and the shards of our relationship behind. “You know what?” Mark said after swigging his glass in one gulp. “I don’t think this is going to work.”

“I know,” I said, “I know. I’m a great guy, but you’re not ready for a relationship.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m ready for a relationship. Just not with a liar like you.”

I thought about protesting but he just might have nailed me. The more I thought about it, though, the madder I got. Sure, I lied occasionally -- but always for a good cause. I tried to make people feel better. I tried to spare their feelings, so they didn’t have to dwell on how stupid they were. Did that make me evil? Did that damn me to an eternity of singlehood? By the time our bottle ran dry I’d convinced myself: I wasn’t the James Gandolfini in this relationship.

After two more days passed without a word we wandered out to the hotel terrace for coffee before the flight home. We nearly jumped out of our seats when the Catholic Freddy Krueger materialized with a basket of pastries. “Still eet eez only zee two of you?” she quizzed, eyebrows springing up like McDonalds’ arches. I watched as she scanned the grounds expectantly, as if at any moment Catherine Deneuve and Jacqueline Bisset were going to burst in wearing big floppy hats and give both of us wet French kisses. And I decided I’d had enough.

Mark fired up again, using words like “ontology” and “taxonomy” and “fin-de-siecle,” but Tiny Nun had a butter knife and she looked like she could use it. I picked up a breadstick in my right hand, a bagel in my left, and pointed the former at the latter. “Babe,” I said, “I’m only going to explain this once.”

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