“I propose a toast,” Jose suggested as I turned to grab my blue windbreaker from the Gap. “To the good times here in New York—and may there be more in Vieques. You know you are welcome to come down anytime. Bring your friend, what’s his name…”
“Jamal,“ Stephen reminded him, although I was certain that Jose remembered my new lover’s name for Jamal and I attended a dinner party on the roof of 60 Perry Street on Gay Pride Day the prior summer. Jamal and Jose didn’t hit it off as both are breeds of ethnic men who are not ‘gay’ in the sense of attitude, nor are they all the way out of their psychological closets—mere mothballs in what in reality is not a closet but a cellar of love.
“How dare you set me up like this,” Jamal scolded as we exited the A train at West 4th Street that day, emerging in broad daylight in the midst of half-converted transsexuals wearing swimsuits. And of course there had to be a pack of lesbians on motorcycles waving to us that day! “You brought me down here to the Village today on purpose. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not a queer. All I need is for someone from the Stuy to spot me in this crowd. Holy fuck,” he moaned as a float from the radio station 103.5 passed by—filled with at least fifty steroid infused sissies wearing g-strings and dancing to Donna Summer.
“We’re not going to be around all these people. We’ll be on a roof with just my cousin and his friend, Jose. He’s Puerto Rican. You’ll like him. Listen—we have to go to this little dinner party. Stephen just hooked me up with a part time job that’s off the books and we really need the money, you know.” I dragged Jamal across Seventh Avenue like shimp through tarter sauce, avoiding the crowds gathered near Christopher Street.
Jamal spent the entire afternoon fuming at the intimate gathering, refusing to carry on with his social responsibilities and get acquainted with my cousin and his lover. Poor Stephen slaved over a small propane grill in the hot sun all afternoon, upset over the fact that no one was talking.
“He hates us, don’t he?” Stephen whispered to me as I assisted in basting jumbo shrimp from the Gourmet Garage. He made his own marinade from pineapple, maraschino cherries and fresh cilantro that day.
“Jamal’s pissed because it’s gay pride day. That’s all. He thinks I’m trying to out him…”
“Jose was just the same when we met. You remember.”
“He sure was, but he still listens to that God awful Salsa music, don’t he?”
I knew for certain that Jamal would never feel comfortable enough to visit them on the tiny little island in the Caribbean to which they were moving.
“Yes, may there be many more good times,” I said, interrupting Jose’s toast to prevent him from rattling on in another emotioal sermon over coctails that he had become known for after accepting his identity, coming out, and turning into a drunken chatty Kathy with a Spanish accent.
We tipped our glasses as if in a sword fight and downed the red wine, savoring the sweet bitterness of being middle aged and almost married.
My front tooth hit the glass—the tooth that I cracked when I was playing the clarinet at the age of seventeen. I caught the piece of bonding in the back of my mouth, carefully spitting it unto my hand. I placed the imitation chunk of tooth in the inside pocket of my jacket, not bothering to smile as I said good night to them. I had broken off that same section of tooth numerous times throughout my life and knew that I could glue it back on with Super Glue until I saw a dentist.
“I’ll see you one more time before you leave,” I said to Jose. “Stephen and I are going to work for Tom on Tuesday night.”
“Don’t forget the garlic press,” Stephen said.
“Oh thanks. I think I’ll skip on the wicker basket though. Don’t want to have to explain what it is to Jamal.”
I placed the utensil in my back pocket and headed towards A train in the rain, running my tongue across my fractured front tooth, wondering if it made me look butch.