Someone asked me recently if I'd ever slept with someone I disliked. I have. And here's why.
Several years ago, I had a friend who worked for one of the city's arts organizations. His group sponsored a competition for a short children's play. The winner was a young playwright from Milwaukee who'd primarily worked with new operas, up until that point. His winning piece turned out to be exciting for the actors and, unlike a lot of works from younger writers, wasn’t at all gimmicky or trite.
I'd been part of the committee that had decided on the winner. When my friend asked whether I might be able to put the guy up for the weekend, so the young playwright could attend the dress rehearsal and then the next night attend to the world premiere of his work, it wasn’t really so much of an inquiry into my preferences as it was a gentle warning that I’d have to straighten up the spare bedroom and put up with a house guest. I agreed only because my family was away for that week, and because I can easily be guilted into these sorts of things.
Then came the catch. Oh, BTW, said my friend via text message on the way home from the airport with the guest in tow. Just be warned he’s a little talkative.
Antonio the Playwright was very much a stereotype of the untidy intellectual. His clothes were grubby and wrinkled and looked as if they'd been chosen by his mother. A blind woman, judging by the mismatch of stripes and plaids. His shirt hung half-untucked from his Dockers, in an entirely unfashionable way that exposed a wide swatch of a lard-pale, furry, enormous belly. He had a goatee that was uneven, uncombed, and showered a little rain of flakes down his shirt whenever he stroked it as he talked.
And Jesus H. Christ. Talkative was the understatement of the century. Antonio had a yap that never stopped running. I never mind interesting talkative people. Big bores who are out to impress, though, never fail to flip that off my attention. All of Antonio's stories seemed to begin with the words, At the Milwaukee Opera Company. “At the Milwaukee Opera Company,” he’d intone in a voice that sounded like an experimental mating between Bea Arthur and a horny bullhorn, “which is one of the premiere opera companies in the world, we did a Tannhauser that still is remembered by opera aficionados world-wide as perhaps the definitive production of the last century. In fact, our Pilgrim’s Chorus was far superior to any of the recorded. . . .”
And it was about that point that my mind would go on about its merry business excitedly reviewing last week’s Project Runway. The only point at which I'd interject anything was if I was aware of an unusually long pause that bordered on the uncomfortable, at which point I'd interject,
But you know. I put up with it because frankly, he wasn’t my problem. My friend was the one who had to pick him up from the airport and put up with him all Wednesday while I was teaching; he didn't even get delivered to my place until after ten at night. My friend was the one who lugged him around like a leaden backpack all the next day to the dress rehearsal, and then took him sightseeing around the city while I enjoyed a bachelor-boy's Thursday night.
And then came Friday. My friend had some kind of meetings to attend and couldn't come to pick up Antonio until noon. When I expressed concern that I might actually have to, you know, be nice to the guy all by my very self for a good part of the morning, my friend pooh-poohed my fears. “He’s a heavy sleeper,” he reminded me. “You know how hard it was to wake him up yesterday. All you’ll have to do is run in there at eleven-thirty, kick him awake and shove him out the door at noon.” I must have looked dubious, because he added, “I swear to god.”
Yeah, whatever. It sounded too good to be true.
I tiptoed around all morning, so not to wake the sleeping bore. I didn't even shower until after ten-thirty. Dropping wet, I stepped out of the upstairs bathroom stark naked. My bedroom’s right next door. Antonio's was down the hallway and around a corner, out of sight. But there was our house guest standing out in the upstairs hallway, scratching his considerable belly. “Oh,” I said, composing myself while struggling with the eternal actor’s dilemma of what to do with my hands. I only had two of them, and yet there were so many spots I needed to cover, all of a sudden. “Good morning.”
He looked me up and down. “Well, hel-lo,” he said in his foghorn voice.
“Is there anything I can get you for breakfast?” I inquired coolly. Inwardly I was peeved. He was supposed to be sleeping for at least another forty-five minutes!
“I am great. Thank you for asking.”
“Fantastic. Well. . . .”
I excused myself and slipped into the bedroom, where I closed but didn’t latch the door as I raced to pull on some clothing. A few seconds later it pushed open again. I hope it might be the cat, but no. It was our guest standing there with the doorknob in his hand, staring at where I sat on the corner of the bed in my boxer briefs and socks.
“I liked you better the way you were before,” he said in a meaningful voice. I thought to myself, Oh, fuck. Here it comes. “You know, not to be too forward or crude . . . though I do know people who say I rarely escape being either. The opera world is, of course, rife with all kinds of low humor despite its associations with high art. At the Milwaukee Opera Company, we hosted a production of Macbeth in which I provided a translation and if I dare say, slight revision of that august text, that was groundbreaking in its production values in which our costume designer. . . .”
I felt a little mental hand desperately clawing for the attention switch in my brain. “I don’t mean to interrupt,” I said, totally meaning to interrupt, “But where’s the part where you’re crude and forward?”
He flushed a dark red and cleared his throat. “Our august director told me you were bi." I raised my eyebrows, since that wasn't news to me. "If that's true, I’d like to offer to service that cock of yours,” he said, almost quiet for the first time. “It looked really good, out there in the hall.”
And this is the part when I realized for the millionth time in my life how I’m really not always a nice person. I didn’t find Antonio attractive in any way, shape, or form—god knows—but even as a polite denial began rising to my lips, I realized that I was not only actually considering the offer, but that I was absolutely going to say yes.
Later on, post-first performance, my friend caught me out in the house after the bows were long over. “So,” he said after he pulled me aside. He kept his tone private and confidential, despite the fact that our guest was on the other side of the auditorium, schmoozing with the parents of the child actors, letting it be known he'd written the play. “I heard you banged Antonio to within an inch of his life, this morning.”
“Listen, mister,” I replied, thoroughly annoyed, not even bothering to lower my voice. “It was a hell of a lot easier than talking to him.” My friend let out a tremendous bark of laughter, then slapped his hand over his mouth. “Look. Fucking shut him up for a whole hour. Harvey Fierstein over there didn't have to say anything other than oh god, oh god, and all I had to do was finish it off at exactly a quarter to twelve, so there wouldn't be time for pillow talk before you had to pick him up. It's way easier to fuck than it is to be social.”
“Sh-sh-shhh-shhh!” he hissed through his fingers, more to himself than to me. Only after he got his laughter under control did he speak again. “Only you!”
“Yeah, well,” I muttered darkly. “You just wish you’d thought of it yourself.”