Richard's cell rings at eight, and it's Chris asking to talk to me. "I'm not here," I whisper. Richard relays the message, and I think about what a disaster it would be if I tried to get Chris involved in this cartoon fag terrorism thing. He's probably already thinking about getting rid of the TV we stole for him, terrified that he'll get arrested somehow. Richard turns the phone off and falls back asleep.
I lay there and think about Chris. His contacts at the newspaper would be good to have, for publicity, but his guilty conscience would do us in. I took him with me to church, six months ago, on a day when the topic was "the problem of homosexual indoctrination." We stayed in the parking lot, and I slit every tire on every car. Chris gave his own sermon, to me, on the unhealthiness of anger.
I gave him a stack of fliers for a roadside assistance service. It was run by a man who funded anti gay marriage commercials on TV, and in the newspapers. The slogan at the top of his flier was "Let us help." One went in the windshield of every slashed car.
Chris didn't appreciate the beauty of turning our enemies against one another. "They aren't our enemies," he said on the subway ride home. "They're human beings, just like you and me."
"I think they'd disagree about the 'you and me' part," I said.
No, Chris isn't going to get involved in this. Richard is asleep beside me, and I climb out of the bed as softly as I can. Slitting a few tires and inciting a few angry phone calls is nothing compared to what these people deserve. I'm tired of the moral high ground. We've already got more than our share of Gandhis in "the movement". We need a General Patton.
No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor bastard die for HIS country.
My underpants are hanging from the bathroom doorknob, still damp from the shower. My hair's probably standing at all angles because I fell asleep with it wet. In the morning light I feel all riled up. I want to run down to the lobby of the building and out into the street. Instead I lean over Richard's sleeping body and kiss his cheek. He looks so peaceful. I should reach under the blankets and wake him up properly, but I don't.
I take his phone and head for the balcony.
I should have written down Mrs. Hubert's telephone number yesterday. If anyone in the straight world is capable of understanding, it's going to be the frustrated housewife, isn't it? I hate that I feel the need to try and explain. Do people even work that way? Can you just understand there is no difference and everything's alright again? I find a phone book.
A man answers.
"Hello?" he says. His voice is dark and quiet, and I have it all right there in my head. I want to say "Love and sex are separate things, sir. Don't you feel trapped sometimes by the guilt enforced monogamy of your marriage?"
I open my mouth, but fail to say "When you lie down with your wife one night, the third Wednesday of the month or whatever you sex schedule is like in fifteen years, and you realize that the drugs have stopped working, are you going to regret not being able to fuck your wife anymore, or are you going to regret not sticking it where you wanted when you still hand the chance? Regret is an ugly thing."
Instead I stand there listening to him breathe, and he hangs up the phone. I'll try again around noon. I call the number Michelle wrote on a napkin for me, and it rings and rings and nobody answers. I check the number and dial again.
"What?" she says. Her voice is muffled, but it's definitely Michelle.
"Hey," I say, "did I wake you?"
"No, we were just getting up. We're going to have some breakfast and then head down to try and find some masks." In the background I hear Alex saying "Is that them? Hey! DEATH TO THE CARTOON HETEROSEXUAL PARADIGM." And I laugh because I totally forgot about our war-cry. Michelle continues, unfazed. "You and Richard are going to get the books? Do you want to meet around six tonight?" Alex is still yelling in the background, "DEATH TO THE CARTOON HERTEROSEXUAL PARADIGM. SMASH THE STRAIGHT CARTOON STATE."
"Yeah," I say. I'm glad Michelle is involved. She's got a good head on her shoulders. The way she laid into those high school boys with her knees and elbows was like a graceful lesbian Thai fighter, and she acted without a second thought. She has her reservations, but she isn't going to let that keep her from taking part.
"Alright, well. We'll give you a call on Richard's cell when we've got our disguises. Alex thinks we should shoplift the masks, so that nobody can put our faces to a Wonder Woman and Velma costume when the police start following up leads."
"That's a good plan," I say. "She's shoplifted before?"
"My understanding," Michelle says, "is that she's an old pro." Alex laughs on the other end of the phone. "MICKEY MOUSE IS A CLOSET CASE. MINNIE IS HIS BEARD. OUT OF THE CLOSET AND INTO THE STREETS OF THE MAGIC KINGDOM YOU CHICKENSHIT MOUSE FAGGOT."
"I'll talk to you tonight then," I say, and I hang up. Alex is pretty great too. Enthusiastic, anyway. We went for drinks after the party, and she wouldn't let Richard off the hook for backing down. He said "It just wasn't right. It felt too much like rape," and Alex pointed out that he got his ass kicked anyway.
Richard wouldn't go through with it and Alex tried to talk him into it right there. The blindfolded boy heard her whispering and started yelling for his friends. Michelle and I showed up just after they did.
In retrospect the nonconsensual nature of the thing does make me uncomfortable. I got so wrapped up in the idea of turning the boy's gender expectations up on their head that... well, fuck it. I'm glad Richard didn't do it, and I told him so.
Now I'm sitting on the balcony and watching as the city moves with morning energy. Richard wants to pay for this elementary school action we have planned, out of his own pocket, and I want to steal the money. I want to break into another hetero's house and take something we can sell, but he's got it in his head that the money behind these children's books should be clean money, should be pure somehow. We fought about it, last night.
I gave in. We both have different ways of doing things, and if I'm honest with myself I have to admit that his way is more noble in this case. He'll feel good about spending some of his money on these books for children instead of on pornography and me. Also, giving in on this is my way of telling him he was right about the blow job thing, with the blindfolded high school kid.
Richard wakes up and I hustle him out the door without breakfast. "We'll eat out," I say, and we climb into the car. The first bookstore we go to is in the city, a big chain outlet. We need at least thirty copies of the book and a chain's the only place we're likely to find that kind of stock, but it still makes me uncomfortable.
There's a line up to the in-store coffee shop, and we start looking around for a children's book with gay enough pictures. There's two books in the whole store, and Richard doesn't like them.
"This book doesn't even say the kid's uncle is gay. He's just got his hand around the guy's shoulder, and the little girl is saying 'I love you anyway, uncle Jeff!'. It could be a children's book about coming to terms with an uncle who has a shoulder fetish. I don't think we're going to find anything here." I nod, but I've caught the eye of a clerk two isles over. He's tall and blonde and his glasses are prissy as heck. I wink.
"What we need," I say to Richard, "Is a book called something like 'Grandpa's gay! Maybe I should be, too.' But I don't think those make it past the editors very often, do they?" The clerk is closer now, and he nods his head toward the bathroom. I nod back and Richard looks over his shoulder to see what I'm nodding at. "I'll just be a minute," I say, and he shrugs and picks up another book to flip through.
In the bathroom I pull off the clerk's uniform shirt and put it on over my own t-shirt. He's got a nice chest, and he shaves it. It doesn't matter to me, really, but I certainly don't mind. He has the key to the bathroom, and he locks us in, so we don't have to squeeze into a stall. I push him back against the door and my finger presses the bumps around his nipple. He goes straight for my belt, a gentleman.
While he sucks me I'm running my hand through his hair and I'm doing this fake voice the whole time, "Good afternoon, is there anything I can help you find today?" and "Good evening sir, did you know about our storewide sale today? Everything is ten percent off. Also, we do blowjobs. Would you like a blowjob?" I pause, and let out a small moan of encouragement. "We're very good at it," I say. He has to stop a couple of times because he's laughing too hard.
We exchange numbers, and I give him a kiss on the cheek. Richard's waiting outside, and he watches the guy walk past without any emotion at all, sizing him up. "There's nothing here," he says, and we get back in the car.
"I don't think we're going to find what we need," I say in the car.
"What about my brother?" Richard says. "He's a pretty good cartoonist. Couldn't we get him to illustrate fifteen or twenty pages for us? We could print up our own books, about anything we want. 'Grandpa's gay! Maybe I should be, too!' and that way we can control the message completely."
It's not a bad idea.
"You'll write it?" I say, and Richard is nodding. "Yeah, or we can all write it tonight." He smiles and turns back to face the road. "So, the problem with those big chain bookstores is the service, I find," he says, and I'm already rolling my eyes.
When we meet up with Michelle and Alex, Alex has her hair chopped off and she's wearing a sweater vest over top of a button up shirt. Her angular face looks much more boyish, framed by the hair, and my reaction to her facial tattoos is more visceral than I'm comfortable with. She takes Richard's hand and leads him off into the back room of Michelle's apartment. Michelle brings out some tea for us to drink, and we sit down.
"I talked her out of binding herself up with ace bandages," Michelle says, nodding her head the way Richard and Alex have gone. "She's decided to start self identifying as a gay man, and she wanted to bind her breasts for when Richard got here." I'm smiling, and Michelle shakes her head. "I told her that I would introduce her to some real drag kings I know, and they'd show her how to do it properly. I don't want her to hurt herself."
The way Michelle seems to have taken Alex under her wing verifies my initial feelings about her, I think. She is smart and queer and awesome. If I weren't gay, or she weren't a woman, I might consider attempting to ensnare her in the ugly web of a monogamous relationship. Instead I'll just be glad she's a part of our "super hero team".
"We couldn't find any good books," I say, "but Richard's brother is willing to illustrate one for us. Richard will pay the printing costs, and this way we'll have complete control over the end result. We won't have to be sneaking watered down garbage onto the shelves. I think that'd defeat the whole purpose."
"We'll write it ourselves?" Michelle grins. "That sounds awesome." She pulls a bag out from under the coffee table, and shows me the masks, Bert and Ernie and Velma and Wonder-Woman. They're cheesy and plastic and perfect. I feel the way bank robbers must feel before they go out on that last job that ends up getting them all killed. That is to say, optimistic.
When Alex and Richard come back, they're holding hands and Richard is avoiding my eyes. Alex tells me they're boyfriends, "but it's not monogamous or anything like that," she says. "Neither of us are that naive." It's cute that she makes a little announcement of it. Sorry, not "she", "he". Now I'm going to get my pronouns confused. It's cute that Alex makes a little announcement of it. I like him.
"That's awesome," I say, and Richard looks to see if I'm being sarcastic. I meet his eyes and smile. "We ought to get that book written tonight," I say. "We can drop off the text to your brother in the morning. We don't need this to be a work of art, or subtle. We want something fun, that kids will really enjoy, and something politically effective."
"The gay grandpa idea's a good one," Richard says, and he and Alex sit down. Alex crosses his legs, like a gay man might, and I grin. "My grandpa's gay, maybe I should be too!" he explains to Michelle and Alex. Michelle nods, but leans forward.
"That's alright, but it's so detached. All those children's books are detached like that. We want something in the first person, you know? About a boy who likes to play with dolls, and who wants to be Christina Aguilara when he grows up, not Clint Eastwood." Richard looks pained.
"I wanted to be Clint Eastwood when I grew up," he says.
"You are," I assure him, and Alex laughs. He snakes his arm around behind Richard's back. "That's good, though," I say to Michelle. "Something smart, too, not condescending. Something like 'Last year, when I turned eight, my mommy bought me a big bag of army men. She knows that I don't condone the patriotic ideal of might makes right, but more importantly she knows how much those single tone uniforms bother me. I made it perfectly clear that all I wanted for my birthday was a day at the spa.' Or something fun like that?"
"Daddy found my doll collection and threw it out with the trash," Michelle says, "And he got so mad when I asked him whether his anger at my eschewal of traditional gender roles was based on his repressed homosexual urges." Richard is grinning, and he picks up the pen off the table.
"That's good," he says, writing it down.
"Are we writing this about being gay, or being transgendered?" Alex asks, and Michelle shakes her head. Alex leans back in his chair, and Richard takes his hand. He, he, he. I have to get the pronoun down properly, so that I use it without thinking. Alex'll appreciate that, I think.
"Queer," Michelle says. "We can have an older sister who comes out of the closet, maybe! And she wants to be an astronaut, and get married to her lady friend on the moon! And all the neighborhood kids decide they want to be gay astronauts too." Richard writes furiously, and already I can picture the drawings, simple and elegant and fun. I wish I'd had a book like this. This is what publishers should be putting out. Fun and silly and positive.
Fuck Dr. Seuss.