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My Way, Your Way
Parker lives in a small apartment on the second floor front of a brownstone on
East 75th Street. He has a living room with a dining area, a kitchen alcove off
to the side and a small bedroom. He never sleeps in the bedroom, his office is
set up in there. At one end of his office he has a small efficient bathroom with
a shower stall.
There's a tiny window in the shower stall that overlooks the adjoining building,
and from it he can see into six other shower stalls just like his. He feels
secure in the privacy of his anonymity and anonymity is everything on the upper
East Side. Few people know their neighbor, in fact, many people on the upper
East Side do not even know themselves.
He does know Shawn, however. Shawn is a gay man and lives on the second floor
rear with a very large white cat named Sebastian. When Shawn goes to
Point-O-Woods in Suffolk County to visit his friend Emery, he leaves Sebastian
with Parker. It is a sad fact of life that Shawn and Emery, although madly in
love, live in separate spheres. Shawn is a producer's assistant for the Tonight
show and Emery is the son of a vintner on Long Island's East End. Their
affection for each other is considerable but neither man will abandon his
personal life style.
"He will not commit," Shawn shook his head sadly, while stroking his cat. "You'd
think, wouldn't you, Parker, that he'd see it my way. Manhattan's the only place
to be, not some Godforsaken winery out in fucking Long Island?" He buried his
head in his cat and sighed. The cat, in turn, looked at Parker helplessly, as
though requesting assistance.
Parker, is a good listener, but probably not the best person to discuss such
alliances with. Parker has his own problems. His girl friend, Sylvia, lives in
Greenwich Village and works in an art gallery that features the work of recently
dead artists. He's been trying to get her to move Uptown with him but she says
it's too far from the Village and she would have to ride the subway to get to
the gallery, she is also allergic to cat fur. Parker works Uptown; he writes
copy for CNN news anchors, he can't move Downtown with her -- CNN is exactly one
mile, the proper jogging distance from his apartment. Furthermore Sylvia has a
roommate, a girl singer with the Bottom Line band, and that rules out Parker
spending weekends at her place. Both Shawn and Parker are beset with similar
frustrations, (except for the gender mix). Sebastian, the cat, has none of these
problems, he's been spayed and de-clawed. Sebastian has adapted to his
environment and his limitations far more smoothly than Parker or Shawn have.
The couple on the floor above Parker play Mahler night and day on their stereo.
Parker feels that people who play Mahler on their phonographs should really live
in buildings of their own. Mahler is too cumbersome for a brownstone, unless
everyone who lives there loves him equally. Mahler is only endurable when shared
by thousands of people, not by a couple in a small apartment. Angst of such
cosmic proportions can be overwhelming as well as deafening. It can lead to
nostalgic telephone calls and overeating in the middle of the night. Parker
occasionally knocks on the ceiling with a broom handle but it goes unheard --
Mahler wins hands down.
On Fridays during the summer, Parker gets home early from CNN. The staff gets
the Op Ed page together by early afternoon, and by four o'clock everyone has
established his opinion on everything. After a week of editorial opinions,
everybody is sick of the world in the first place, and the big guns are warming
up for the onslaught of opinion on Sunday. When Parker gets back to his
apartment he rounds up his dirty laundry and makes reservations for dinner with
Sylvia, (they have eaten in every French restaurant in Manhattan, and they're on
the second lap).
On this particular Friday evening, Shawn knocked and Parker straightened up from
his laundry, took a deep breath, and out-shouted Mahler, "Come in Shawn, it's
open." Shawn walked in with Sebastian and two cans of tuna fish. In an hour
Shawn would be on the Long Island Railroad headed east for his weekly tryst with
Emery in Point-O-Woods which would result in a bitter argument and a long
solitary ride back to the city again. Upstairs, the Frere Jaques movement of
Mahler's 1st joined in his discontent.
"Looks like the weather will be beautiful, Shawn. Don't forget the sun block."
Shawn would not let himself be shaken out of his doldrums ... "I don't like to
travel, it's a thing with me." He sat on the sofa in the middle of Parker's
dirty laundry and stroked his cat. "When I was a child my father took me on a
business trip with him." The cat, (who had heard this story many times) assumed
a stoic attitude. "I guess he forgot I was with him ... he took off for the
airport and left me back in the hotel."
"How old were you?"
"Ten or so ... it was frightening."
"That was twenty years ago, Shawn."
He rocked the cat to and fro like a child. "It marked me ... really Parker, some
things stay with you for life." The cat tried to get away but Shawn had his
fingers through its collar - it flashed Parker a look of helplessness. "When
father got to the airport he discovered he had an extra ticket. Then it dawned
on him. He never forgave himself of course -- for the rest of his life he was
overly agreeable to anything I did. I could do anything I wanted." The cat, at
this point struggled to free itself from Shawn's arms and this time he let it
spill out of his hands to the floor where it promptly disappeared under the
"What are you doing this weekend?" Shawn asked.
"Not much. Sheila and I have reservations at Marmitte this evening. Tomorrow? I
don't know. She has to be at the gallery in the afternoon."
"Spending the night here?"
"Oh, I just mean -- if you're not going to be here I'll leave Sebastian in my
apartment. Except ... he can't stand being alone, you know?"
There were cowbells and country dances in the Mahler Symphony No. 2. Parker
wondered if this would be a good time to knock on the ceiling again, or to give
Shawn an answer, if he had one. He did neither, the phone rang in his office.
The two men looked at each other and Parker walked to the phone. "I still have a
few things to pack," Shawn said. "I'll stop by with the litter box before I
Parker knew it would be Sylvia, and he knew she'd only call if there was a
problem about tonight. He took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
"Oh, Parks, I've got bad news." There was a dead space. "... how'd you know it
was me, Parks?"
"Oh, I don't know -- something in the Mahler upstairs. Do you know Das Lied von
"Are you all right, Parks?"
Sebastian came in, tail pointed straight up at Mahler. He knew Parker's office
well -- there was a warm shelf -- a wide shelf just above the radiator, and if
it wasn't covered with papers and books, Sebastian had every intention of
sacking out there for the evening.
"I'm just fine, Syl. Mahler is sounding off upstairs."
"I called about tonight, Parks."
Parker sat down at his desk, and at the same moment Sebastian reached the wide
warm shelf, by way of the arm of Parker's chair. "You can't make it, right?"
"We're putting up the Archipenko exhibit tonight. Oh, Parks ... it's going to be
beautiful. It's a retrospective ... you know ... ?"
"Archie who ...?"
"Oh come now, Parks, you know who Archipenko is. The exhibit was supposed to be
in Philadelphia, but they had a fire." He could tell she was smoking while
talking to him. She promised she would stop smoking.
"I'll call the restaurant."
"Don't be mad, Parks. This has to be done, the opening is Sunday afternoon."
Sylvia paused and it sounded to Parker as though she had taken a final deep drag
on her cigarette before stubbing it out in the large overfilled ash tray that
sat on the night table by her bed. "Why don't you come down for the press review
tomorrow? It's for the media, you should really be here. We can have dinner in
the Village later."
"I may have to work."
"Why not? You're working Saturday and Sunday."
"That's different, Parks ... Archipenko comes along once in a lifetime." Another
pause -- an uncomfortable one.
"Everyone comes along once in a lifetime, Syl ... " he wanted to add 'including
me,' but it seemed a little much. "Maybe I'll be there, Syl. Maybe not -- let's
call it a definite maybe." He hung up quietly and looked at Sebastian. His feet
were curled under him and his head seemed to be sinking slowly into his body.
Upstairs, the double chorus and orchestra of Mahler's eighth erupted in full
vocal and instrumental splendor. It heralded the arrival of Shawn with
Sebastian's litter box.
"Well, I'm on my way, I'll be back Sunday afternoon -- they're having their
first pressing Sunday morning. It'll be hell I'm sure." He poked his head in
Parker's office and remarked, "Okay Parker? You look whipped."
"Something like that. Have a nice weekend Shawn, Sebastian and I have a lot of
Mahler to get through."
The two men looked at each other with a touch of blank understanding, neither of
them were optimistic about the coming weekend, and Mahler, upstairs, agonized
over his own past, present and future weekends. Sebastian was the only one in
the rom who seemed to be content - his shelf was warm enough - wide enough, and
that was enough for him.
But the men clung to their masculine dream of formalized relationships, as
though their loves should be conquered and submissive. They should be docile,
domesticated and dominated, content to drop what they were doing and save their
creativity for the bedroom.
Sebastian learned to live on canned tuna and a wide warm shelf.
©Harry Buschman 2004
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