Mise en Scene: NYC¹
Number One: Where there is a one-in-three chance that the guy wants to hit me over the head and steal my valuables.
INTERIOR: HOTEL ROOM. Scene opens as Lance picks up the ringing phone. “Hello,” he says, clearly and distinctly, assuming it is Choire calling to confirm the time of their whatever it is they will end up doing. Instead, he hears a click and the line goes dead. One eyebrow (the right, most likely) rises in a stern arch as he replaces the receiver and goes into the bathroom to blow his nose.
TEN MINUTES LATER. The phone rings again. “Hello,” he states, his voice slightly hoarse from the cold he feels he is ‘coming down with.’ “Hello,” states a Latin-sounding male voice on the other end, “is this Lance?” “Yes,” he answers, truthfully. “Hello,” the man says again, “My name is Pedro. I am a guest in this hotel. I saw you checking in last night and overheard your name and room number. I was wondering if you would like to meet me.”
The eyebrow again, though for a different reason. Nothing rings true in anything that the man has said. Lance does not recall ever stating his name aloud during check-in, he merely handed his credit card over and everything was already arranged. Also, there was no one else in the lobby except the huge black man also being checked in who was upset that he did not have a suite as promised. “Uh,” he says.
“I know this is very odd, isn’t it?” Lance agrees silently, because the man continues. “I have never done this before, but when I saw you I thought you were very handsome. I will understand if you don’t want to meet me.” Lance swallows, his brain firing only partially for some reason, and his body suddenly flush and warm from fear and wonder. “I have plans this evening,” he replies, “but call me tomorrow if you like.” Why he says this rather than, “You are lying to me and I am somewhat frightened that you already know my name, my room number, and that I am gay,” he does not precisely know, but assumes it is because he is still of the opinion that anyone who finds him physically appealing is someone he wants to meet.
“May I have your cell number?” “No,” he says, “call me back in my room.” (I am not so enamored of the possibility of sex that I am ready to give a stranger even more personal information than he already has, he thinks quickly.) “All right,” says the Latin voice. The line goes dead.
Dramatically, Lance actually stares at the phone handset as if it has been the culprit of of this action all on its own. The phone wants a date, and he stares at it before realizing what he has to do immediately. ‘Leslie,’ he thinks, ‘will know how to handle this. Leslie,’ he thinks, ‘knows everything.’
He hears her voice and feels more at ease after the unusual and somewhat frightening other phone conversation. He explains what has just happened (much as it has been explained to you) and she says, “It is one of three things: He is an employee of the hotel masquerading as a guest because he could be fired and knows this, but is desperate to meet you because you push the right buttons; He is a guest of the hotel but also married and wants a tryst with another man so his wife doesn’t find out; He saw when you walked in with your Marc Jacob leather jacket and Prada boots and D&G silk turtleneck that you are like a man of means and wants to hit you over the head and steal your valuables.” “What,” Lance asks, “should I do?”
“If there is a 33% chance that you will be hit over the head, you turn the guy down flat. Frankly, it’s too weird and too unusual to take that kind of chance.” ‘Exactly,’ thinks Lance, ‘I knew she would make it all logical and simple.’
INTERIOR: SMALL APARTMENT IN THE EAST VILLAGE. Scene opens as Lance shakes off his jacket and sits at a long table covered with the detritus of living: books, mail (opened and unopened), a computer, two dishes (one clean), a scarf. CHOIRE sits at the end of the table opening the laptop to work or something, at any rate his face will be uplit by the glow of the screen. Lance sits, or slouches, in another chair trying to appear simultaneously sexy and nonchalant for Choire’s benefit. Choire’s attention is otherwise engaged, though Lance doesn’t seem to notice.
“Some strange guy called me in my hotel room and propositioned me,” he states overtly and without preamble. “Leslie believes he wants to hit me over the head and steal my valuables.”
Choire looks up, suddenly intently interested. “What did he say, this man who called?” Lance relates the story again, much in the same way that he told it to Leslie and in the manner that you have read previously. Choire lights a cigarette and blows the smoke across the table’s landscape. “You absolutely have to agree to meet him. Even if he hits you on the head, it’s a great story and needs an ending.” He smiles, in the way that he does, with his whole face. “Philo will absolutely love this!”
INTERIOR: HOTEL ROOM. The next day, Lance has been out shopping. A bag from Barneys and a big brown bag from Bloomingdale’s are at the foot of the bed. A new microfibre jacket by Samsonite (60% off) and a silk shirt that shimmers blue-green with brown roses and French cuffs (Ted Baker, 40% off at Bloomie’s) are arrayed on a chair. The TV is on, HBO is showing a movie featuring Mel Gibson.
The phone rings. Lance pauses a moment to reflect on the 33% Chance and answers. Pedro says, “Good morning Lance, how are you?” “I think,” he says honestly, “I am getting a cold. I don’t feel 100% today.” “Did you want to go out?”
Lance takes charge of the negotiations. “Look, you’re going to have to be honest with me. You are not a guest of the hotel, I hardly think they’ll give out my room number to just anyone and you couldn’t have heard my name when I checked in, I never said it out loud.”
There is a long pause. Mel Gibson shoots someone dead, it looks like Lucy Liu. She is playing a dominatrix, again. Asian type-casting. “Okay,” says Pedro, “I was on the front desk when you checked in. I wanted to help you out but I was helping the other guy and Linda checked you in. I thought you were really hot, the glasses you were wearing and that red shirt. I checked your profile after you left and saw you were from San Francisco, and you’re here during the holidays alone, and from what you were wearing, especially those tight jeans, I took a chance. I could get fired for this but I really wanted to meet you.”
It all comes out in a single breath. “Okay,” Lance says, more than a little complimented that a guy would put his job on the line just for the chance of a brief encounter. “But I don’t think I want to do anything but lie here, I’m really not feeling well.”
“I could go get you some medicine and bring it up to your room!” Pedro’s answer is fast, the guy is quick on his feet. But Lance thinks, hmm, in my room? No, that’s still too fast. “Tell you what,” he counters, “I’ll meet you in the lobby and we can go to the drugstore together. Is it close?” “A couple of blocks,” answers Pedro. “Okay, give me 20 minutes.”
INTERIOR: HOTEL LOBBY. The space is packed with people checking out. It is stiflingly hot, New York City enjoying an unseasonable bout of weather in the 50’s but the hotel’s environmentals insisting that it is 32 outside and wants everyone to feel toasty warm. Lance exits the elevator and spots a man standing in front of the revolving door, his hands clasped before him, an obvious look of worry on his face. His features are dark, Latin American, with close-cropped hair. He is dressed stylishly but conservatively. “Are you Pedro?”
“Yes,” he answers, then quickly leads Lance outside and around the corner. “The drugstore is just down 7th. Duane Reade. They’ll have anything you want.” Lance is taller than Pedro, and they walk quickly and with purpose. Lance has to keep up, and they enter the drugstore as Pedro says, “What you need is chicken soup. Have you eaten?” Lance shakes his head, reaching for the package of Alka Seltzer Cold Plus. “You need some food. I know where there’s a good deli, very good chicken soup. Authentic!”
Lance considers the offer, still not quite sure if he trusts the man. Still, it is early in the day and lunch is a safe date, no promises, no compensation. “Okay,” he says, and they exit onto 7th and hail a cab.
INTERIOR: YELLOW CAB. They sit at opposite ends of the back seat, headed for 2nd Avenue Deli. “Do you do this often,” asks Lance, “pick up men at your hotel?” Pedro smiles, displaying something between playfulness and guilt on his features. “No, you’re the first. I haven’t been working there long. I spoke to my friend Bill about you, going on and on about how handsome you were, and he said I should just take the chance or I would have to live with regret.” “Do you think you’ll do it again?” Pedro looks out the window for a moment of personal reflection. “Maybe. It depends on how this goes, I guess.”
INTERIOR: 2ND AVENUE DELI. They are seated almost immediately in a window table, Lance with his back to the street. A small silver dish of assorted pickles sits on the table between them, and the waiter brings them a bowl of slaw as he takes their order. Lance gets the Motzah soup, Pedro the broth without the Motzah. They each get a half sandwich as well. The waiter, an old man, stooped and surly, brings their soups and makes it at eth table, adding small pitchers of broth to the soup ‘contents,’ which Lance finds fascinating and silly. They share noncommital conversation about where they live, the labels they are wearing (Pedro: Gucci, Hugo Boss; Lance: Diesel, Zegna.) and what Christmas was like. Lance notices that Pedro has extremely long eyelashes.
EXTERIOR: 2ND AVENUE DELI. Pedro asks, “Well, what do you want to do now? Want to see a movie?” Lance thinks for a minute, knowing he should be back in bed (alone) getting past the coming cold before it gets worse, but instead, feeling some sense of obligation, he says, “Sure.” “Anything in particular?” Lance remembers seeing ‘Cold Mountain’ at the Ziegfeld near his hotel and says that, or ‘Big Fish.’ Pedro suggests Cold Mountain because he knows “the perfect place to see it.” They hail another cab and head back uptown.
INTERIOR: MOVIE THEATRE. “Here’s why I like this theatre so much,” explains Pedro as he raises the arm between their seats and moves closer in. His hand rests on Lance’s thigh in the semi-darkness and his head feels warm and fits well in the crook of Lance’s shoulder.
As the theatre darkens for the ads and coming attractions, Pedro’s hand crawls upwards. Lance discovers his own hand accidentally mirroring Pedro’s actions, his body warming from the ministrations of Pedro’s touch along his leg as well as the vaguely exhibitionist quality of their initial groping. The theatre is far from filled, but Lance is aware of the three women two seats away from Pedro, and the couple in the seats directly behind them, and the two guys sitting a row down and half-a-dozen seats over.
It’s dirty and it’s naughty and it’s two men making out in public and Lance gets seriously turned on. The lights dim fully, the movie starts, Civil War heroes are being slaughtered, mothers tortured, their sons killed before their eyes, men run through with swords and Lance has a raging hard-on.
Read Part Two
January 5, 2004