Tom Slack lived alone in a big brownstone on Wayne Street. We watched him walk by our front window every evening at precisely 6 p.m. With two dogs on a leash pulling him along, the designer of costumes for Disney and other major picture producers would often stop in front of our first floor apartment to permit his dogs, Top and Bottom to urinate upon the cast iron gate that protected our dwelling from the foot traffic of Jersey City.
Our landlord Martin Chicchino informed my partner Anthony and me that Tom had lost two lovers to AIDS. “It was a wild party house next door for many years,” Martin shared, “The threesome lived next door in perfect harmony until the plague took them all but Tom.”
“Why do you suppose he lived?” I asked.
“Who knows,” Martin responded, “the disease is funny like that. It seems to pick and choose.”
Tom seemed depressed, always taking his time walking his dogs, rarely raising his head from a downward tilt. Anthony often made fun of Tom’s little legs—“There’s the old queen with dogs again. I should flash him and give him something to look at.”
“Get away from the window. Leave him alone,” I scolded.
On the 4th of July we hosted a party in our back yard. We invited everyone Anthony knew—which almost every regular from the gay bar, the Monster, and the black sissy with a ponytail tied in a pink ribbon, James Miller. I baked three apple pies and we gained permission from Martin to use his gas grill, upon which, I seared several chopped up chickens that had been boiled in water for ten minutes then soaked overnight in a pot with seasonings and sauce.
On my way to purchase ice from a corner deli, I ran into Tom sitting outside on his steps—
“Hey, we’re having a party. Care to join us?”
Tom accepted the invitation and arrived fifteen minutes later with several expensive bottles of wine which were gone in less than an hour. James was very curious as to who the neighbor was, and upon hearing Tom owned a brownstone next door, developed a crush on the Jewish man with short legs.
After all firecrackers being thrown by neighborhood kids had gone up in smoke, and nearly all the guests had left the party, we sat outside under Martin’s deck with Tom and his dogs. The shy little man opened up about his two lovers who had died and had left him not only a fortune, but a company that all three had built together.
“So why do you think you survived?” I asked boldly; the wine had made its way to my head and erased all sense of respect for others. James quickly grabbed the last full bottle of wine as Tom looked down and pondered. James filled up a large red plastic cup, drank half of it, and quickly took what was left of the wine from the Slack estate.
“I thought red wine didn’t go good with chicken,” I noted to James.
“That’s a white superstition,” James responded, giggling and flirting shamelessly with Tom.
“There’s a logical reason why I survived, yet you will never see this in writing on a condom wrapper: AIDS was spread so easily because gay men douched,” Tom expressed. Again, his head seem to drop as he sadly remembered his fallen partners.
“What do you mean? Like a woman?”
Tom looked at me in disbelief, James rolled his eyes and my lover, Anthony patted me on my back. Anthony explained to Tom that I was an ignorant hillbilly which was why he was so in love with me after so many years. Anthony, when realizing all the good wine was gone suggested to Tom that he should consider entering an interracial relationship.
Shy Tom didn’t say a word.
“I would love to see your collection wine in your cellar,” James said to Tom.
The two left the party together. Just two weeks later, James moved in next door and every evening at 6, a pair of white legs and a pair of black legs could be seen walking by the front window, both bottoms being pulled along by the dogs, Top and Bottom.