I didn’t see Marty after his big date until Tuesday. He was late for work, but I was sort of getting used to this with his frequent commutes to Cuspidor. That Tuesday, however, he looked terrible. I asked him what was going on but he walked away from me mumbling that he didn’t want to discuss it until after work. I instantly realized that he and Vince must have broken up. My heart sank, not because of his loss, for he had only been dating Vince for a few weeks, but because the big date had been so incredibly outstanding that it seemed like such a waste to know it wouldn’t be remembered in a positive way.
Jeffrey had to really pick up the slack during his short shift but that was the sort of thing he was good at. I began to get really irritated with Marty. I knew he was having a difficult time but it was, after all, only a short affair. He did deserve a little tolerance though; all of his time in the closet had left him really only dating for a total of less than two months of his life. It was unreasonable to expect him to behave like a mature, seasoned romantic. When he began to snap at the customers more than me, however, I had to relegate him to the dish pit for the remainder of the afternoon.
As I was wiping down the front counters, an SUV screeched to a stop in front of the bistro and an older city woman came marching in with her cell phone to her ear. I just didn’t have time for torturing her, so as she strutted by, cell phone to ear, hissing her order for some sort of skinny latte, I boldly interrupted her by exclaiming, “All we have is whole milk, lady!” She stopped in her tracks like she had hit a brick wall, actually folding her cell phone closed; a very serious gesture when exhibited by a true blue city slicker.
“What?” she exclaimed.
“Whole milk only, that’s all I have.”
“Whole milk!” she wailed at a ridiculous volume.
“Yes, whole milk. No skim, no soy, just whole milk.”
“How can you sell lattes without skim?” she demanded.
“I can’t sell lattes period, I’m sorry, that’s just not what this town is into.”
“So why do you even have an espresso machine?”
“It’s a long story. I don’t sell but ten lattes a week. Once every two or three weeks an SUV screeches in demanding organic coffee, soy, skim or beans pooped out by a cat. I would be better off throwing this machine out and I guess I really should.”
“But what if someone just wants a glass of skim milk?”
“It’s never come up.”
“Who in the world drinks WHOLE milk!” she wailed, once again at a horrific volume.
“The people of Humbug, that’s who, and I’m sure there are others as well because every grocery store I’ve ever been in seems to carry a lot more whole than skim.”
“Have these people NEVER heard of cholesterol?” she screeched.
“Probably not,” I said, “but most likely that’s because they’re much more active than city people.”
“Well,” she sneered, “once you’re over fifty you need to think about these things. Someone should tell them!”
“Lady, last fall I walked up the alley and ran into old men and women in their eighties and nineties, crawling around pulling carrots out of the garden by hand. It’s like the 1940’s around here and they’ve been doing exactly the same thing since the 1940’s. I bet they still fry their eggs in the fat left from frying their bacon. They’re hardier people and they likely burn all their LDL into HDL from all the hard work they do.”
To my chagrin, this city lady gave me a Humbug Huh – and she did it to the right. I couldn’t help but laugh and she just turned and left in disgust. I got to torture her after all and this new variation was quite fun. The odd part was that I couldn’t help but feeling that I had in some way stood up for Humbuggers. This left me with an icky feeling and I began to wonder if I wasn’t starting to become humbugged myself. I looked down and, to my relief, I wasn’t wearing my rubber boots. I wasn’t quite humbugged yet.
I couldn’t wait to close that day. I needed to talk to Marty and get him out of his funk because there was no way I was going to spend the rest of the week with some heart broken kid moping around. The negative aura that I carried around was plenty for my little bistro and it sure didn’t need to be amplified by his heartbreak. As we locked up I made Marty a vanilla latte, hoping that he would either appreciate the creamy beverage or, at very least, the gesture.
“Here you go,” I said, handing him the mug.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Now sit down,” I snapped.
“I told my family about Vince and they locked me out of the house.”
“What?” I exclaimed.
“They locked me out. I slept in my car on a grid road last night.”
“Back up here. You and Vince are still together?”
“Of course we’re together – you can’t break up after a date like that.”
“But your family didn’t know?”
“They thought I was in town with a girl.”
I had to really readjust. I was incredibly relieved that he was still with Vince but I hadn’t thought about his family. I hadn’t thought about the complications of him coming out, then going back in, then coming out again. A lot of families have difficulty adjusting when a child comes out of the closet but the dynamic involved with a revolving door on that closet was more than I could wrap my mind around in an instant. I needed some more information.
“Ok,” I proceeded, “so you came out when you told them about Daniel. Now you are sort of coming out again. The middle part is still very hard to understand. How did they not know that you were still gay – aside from your not knowing for a while yourself?”
“They knew I was still gay – or that I had ‘that lust’. We talked about it a lot in Mexico. I think that was why they took me with them.”
“So there WAS some sort of deprogramming down there?”
“No - not like you think. We just spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t just my parents – my aunt and uncle were there, and some of my younger cousins too. We did a lot of things together and it was really great. I helped one of my younger cousins learn to water ski and hung out with my uncle and dad on the beach. It was just so great to be a part of that.”
“Where does the whole ‘deny that lust and become a Catholic again’ part fit into it?”
“My parents and I had a long talk on the last night we were down there. They asked me a lot about what I enjoyed about the holiday. Then they told me that it was just that sort of bonding that was part of the sacrament of family. I could either man-up, get married and have children, or I could leave and never be a part of the family again.”
“So they overload you with great family bonding and then threaten to revoke it instantly if you don’t straighten out. Wow, that’s so damn loving of them.”
“What the fuck was I supposed to do?” he lamented.
“I don’t know. I guess you did what you had to do and you bought yourself some time. They were right though – it IS time for you to ‘man-up’.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have to put a roof over your own head. Whether you get your own place or live with Vince, there is really no reason for your parents to be involved in your sex life. Actually that’s kind of kinky now that I think about it. It’s time to grow up, Martin. It’s time for you to start living your own life.”
“But why can’t they accept me for who I am? Why can’t I be with Vince and still have them love me?”
“Because love is conditional, Martin” I replied.
“But they’re my parents! A parent’s love is supposed to be unconditional.”
“All love is conditional; and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn’t faced adversity.”
“But it’s not conditional for the people who are straight and happy to work in their dad’s store and live two blocks down from where they grew up and make grandchildren for their parents.”
“Oh, Marty. It’s conditional for them too. They just don’t know it because they happen to fit those conditions.”
That night the dining room didn’t echo with laughter.