[© Thea Nishimori, 2010]
It was Ford Truck Month, as Mike Rowe announced daily on the TV, and since my ancient van had just given out, I was truck shopping. As an interior designer, I need something that can carry large pieces of furniture and is – first and foremost – dependable. I’d heard a lot of good things about the Ford Super Duty series from some of the contractors I worked with, so here I was. The dealer’s lot was hardly as crowded as the commercials showed, though, which wasn’t surprising in this recession.
Thankfully, I’d been getting a lot of work from people who had older homes and wanted to update them rather than buy new, since there was no way their old ones would sell for what they were worth. The increase in my bank account balance meant that – for the first time ever! – I was going to buy a brand-new vehicle. My steady business success almost made up for the rest of my sucky life, and right now I was on a shopping high – nothing could get me down!
I had just walked around a nice green truck when another one, in a beautiful dark blue, caught my eye. Instantly I could see myself driving in it, with armoires and sofas and rolled-up rugs all tied down in the back. The blue was a pearl-mica midnight, so it glimmered as though a million tiny stars were in its velvety depths. It was love at first sight! I was drawn to it like a magnet to a lodestone, oblivious to anything else for the moment.
Perhaps that was why I didn’t see the massive guy who stepped out from between My Truck and the one next to it in time to avoid the collision. In my defense, though, he was moving rather quickly when I ran into his arm, nose-first, and bounced back onto the ground with an undignified yelp. It was probably a good thing that I did, though, or he might not have noticed me and squashed me underfoot like a bug.
“You all right?” he said, peering down into my face.
“I… I’ll live,” I gasped, scrambling to get up. A large hand grabbed my arm as another one roughly hauled me up onto my feet by the back of my sweater, leaving me slightly disoriented. I brushed myself off (all five-foot-four of me) to regain my composure.
“Hey, don’t I know you?” he asked, squinting as though he were nearsighted. For the briefest fraction of a second, I wondered if he were hitting on me, but of course Reality kicked me in the butt before I had a chance to entertain the idea. No such luck, of course – the guy was wearing a wedding band. I could see it as he scratched his chin thoughtfully.
“Um…” He did look familiar. Big arms, denoting a life of manual labor, and naturally tanned skin under a plaid flannel shirt. “Are you a contractor?” I guessed. Elementary, my dear Watson.
“Yeah! I’ve been working up on Myer Hill for Fred Thornton, at that new subdivision.”
“Oh, Fred! Yeah, I’ve done a couple of his houses this summer.”
“Oh, right, you’re the interior decorator!” he said, snapping his fingers as he remembered.
“Designer. Mike Stevenson,” I corrected him mildly, offering my right hand. He took it in his big meaty one and gave it a firm shake.
“Joe Adams. I do carpentry and some plumbing.”
“Well, nice to run into you – literally,” I smiled, trying to ignore my still-stinging butt and bruised dignity.
“Yeah! So, buying a truck, huh?”
Okay, maybe that wasn’t the brightest comment, seeing as how we were both at a truck dealership, but neither was my response.
“Yeah. You, too?”
“Yeah. My lease is almost up.”
“Oh, you lease? How do you like that?”
We talked for a few minutes on the pros and cons of leasing, even though I had my heart already set on buying, but it gave me a chance to get a good look at him. He was probably a couple years older than me, I guessed about forty or so, with a grown-out buzz cut that he obviously didn’t fuss over. He was wearing a flannel shirt over a plain t-shirt, and I could see a small tear in the flannel shirt, as well as a couple of stains. I wondered if his wife had given up on mending his clothes because there would be a new tear or stain in it the next day, anyway.
As we talked, my neck started to ache, since I had to look up at him – he had to be six-foot-six if he was an inch! Built like a football player, too. I was lucky I hadn’t broken any bones running into him!
“So what options you looking for?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at the nearest row of trucks.
“That one!” I declared, pointing to the midnight blue one. “I don’t know anything about cars, or trucks for that matter, but I like that one!”
He laughed heartily, and I swear the sound shook the ground around us.
“It’s a nice-lookin’ one, but does it have everything you need?”
“Good question,” I admitted, going over to inspect it more closely. “It has running boards – that’s a necessity – and it has Sync! Cool!”
About that time a salesman finally got out to our corner of the lot, with an ingratiating grin plastered on his face.
“Can I help you gentlemen?”
“Yeah – what all options does this one come with?” Joe asked, and I was grateful that he was taking charge of this discussion. It turned out that the truck I had fallen for (literally!) was a F250 XL with a V8 engine, 4-wheel-drive, 8-foot bed with sprayed-on liner, and audio controls built right into the steering wheel. There was a tailgate step, too – a little fold-away step to help you get in and out of the truck bed – that would be extremely handy for me. The price was a bit staggering, but once the salesman broke it down into the down payment and monthly payments, I knew I could handle it.
“Would you like to take it for a test drive?” the guy asked me.
“Yeah!” I said, eager to get behind the wheel of this beauty.
While the salesman went to grab the key, Joe grinned amiably and asked, “Mind if I ride along? I’m thinking of gettin’ one of these, too.”
“Of course! I mean, of course I don’t mind,” I clarified. Then a thought occurred to me. “Were you looking at this one, too?”
“Sorta, but I wanna get a stripped-down one. I don’t need all the fancy bells-‘n’-whistles,” he said, to my relief.
“Oh, good! ‘Cuz I’d sure hate to have to arm-wrestle you for it,” I confessed, eliciting another one of his earth-shaking guffaws which, while somewhat intimidating, still had the effect of making me feel jolly, too.
I took it out for a spin on the highway, then pulled into a car pool lot to switch places. Joe pointed out different things about the engine as he drove it back, most of which went over my head, but confirmed my first impression of him – that is, that he was regular guy, definitely hetero (more’s the pity), and a nice, easy-going guy to boot. Just the sort of man I need, I thought to myself with a silent sigh, but of course, I always fell for the impossible ones. The one time I thought I’d succeeded in getting a good man, it turned out I’d been duped. But anyway, I tried not to think about the negative stuff, and allowed myself to float on the natural high of shopping.
When we got back to the lot and Joe asked the salesman if he had a more bare-bones version of the same truck, the guy could hardly hide his disappointment, but when I told him that I definitely wanted this one, and he realized that we were each buying a truck, he was on cloud nine right next to me. I also realized, a bit belatedly, that the salesman had thought the two of us were together. The fact that he could’ve seen us as a couple tickled me pink – although I tried very hard not to let it show, for Joe’s sake, since he was rather mortified to be mistaken for a gay guy, even though he tried hard not to let it show, either.
We parted with a friendly “See you ’round,” which was probably true, since I’d worked on Fred Thornton’s new-build houses on more than one occasion, and the old guy seemed to like my style of interior design. After filling out what seemed like an endless mountain of paperwork, the salesman finally gave me the key, and I drove my new truck off the lot, grinning like a fool.
There were only three gay bars in town, and I was determined to never, ever set foot in one of them again – even if terrorists attacked the nation with biological warfare and that was the only place to get safe drinking water. So, when I actually had the time to kick back and relax, I went to one of the other two: Going Out or Close to the Bone. Going Out usually had live jazz and easy listening bands on the weekends, whereas Close to the Bone was a fast-paced mixture of house, techno, and trance. Lately I’d been leaning more towards jazz.
I was quietly sipping my strawberry daiquiri at a table towards the back one night, exhausted from scraping wallpaper off of the walls of a dining room. You heard me right, scraping, because the stupid stuff was so old that it wouldn’t peel off, even with an industrial-strength steamer! I had no idea what sort of glue they’d used, but the ugly floral pattern was bound and determined to stay on the wall, even after I’d ripped it to shreds, so every last inch of it had to be scraped off with a putty knife. My arms and shoulders were sore, threatening to get stiff by morning. My assistant, Rick, had also been groaning by the time we’d left the house, hoping that his wife would rub his neck for him. I, alas, had no such partner to beg for a back rub.
I was so tired that I hadn’t noticed a guy sauntering up to my table.
“Hey,” he said to get my attention. It worked, but was definitely not the wittiest opening line. “Can I sit here?” he asked, but before he’d gotten all the words out of his mouth, he’d slumped into the booth with me.
“Apparently,” I replied, somewhat irritated at his misuse of “can” for “may,” but so many people don’t know the difference anymore that I hardly have the right to be indignant.
“I seen you around lately,” he went on, sliding closer to me. A whiff of his breath nearly knocked me over. “You don’t go home with nobody, do you? All by your lonesome?”
“Your talent for observation is astounding,” I said, my sarcasm so understated that he completely missed it.
“You wanna come back to my place?” he asked, which – while coming straight to the point with an admirable economy of time and effort – was hardly about to win him any awards in the art of seduction.
“I’m sorry, I’m very tired,” I answered, not wanting to sink to his level by being blunt or impolite. “I had a very hard day at work, and just want to crash once I’ve finished my drink.”
“Aww, poor baby,” he crooned, brazenly putting his arm around my shoulders – my very sore, already-beginning-to-get-stiff shoulders. “I’ll help you forget all about it!”
For a brief moment I wondered if it might be worth it, just to avoid going home to my empty house, but at that moment the guy burped without even attempting to hide it.
“No, thank you,” I said, politely but firmly. “I really just want to slee-”
I couldn’t finish my sentence because he startled me by putting his other hand on my thigh.
“I know you’re tired, baby,” he said, leaning in even closer as I tried to scooch away from him on the vinyl seat. “You don’t have to do a thing! I’ll take care of everything, baby…”
Right, so he just wanted a warm body to fuck! I pushed his hand away as I said, somewhat louder this time, “I’m sorry, but no! I’m not interested!”
“Aww, that’s what they all say,” he persisted, and – despite my best efforts – his hand made its way up to my crotch and grabbed my family jewels through my jeans! “You know you wanna piece of me!”
When he squeezed my privates and tried to kiss me, I lost it.
“Let go of me, you slimeball! ‘No’ means ‘no’! And I am not your ‘baby’!”
I pushed him away, and was so infuriated that I sloshed what was left of my drink into his face. He gasped in surprise, giving me the chance to extricate myself from him, but as I stomped out of the bar I suddenly realized that things had gotten very quiet. Just my luck – the band must have come to the end of their set.
“Stupid, crazy bitch!” the guy shouted after me. “They told me to stay away from you! You’re a fuckin’ crazy bitch and a lousy piece of shit!”
With a sinking feeling, I realized that I’d just been mortally embarrassed in one of the two remaining gay bars in town, leaving my options very limited indeed.
Much as I would like to forget and bury the past, it keeps coming back to haunt me, so I suppose I should explain why I am now known, in the gay community at large, as a “crazy bitch,” and why I have vowed to never darken the doorstep of at least one of the few hangouts for people of my orientation.
It all started out when my Gramma died, eight years ago already. She’d raised me in place of my loser mother and was all the family I’d ever had, so I just couldn’t break her heart by coming out and telling her that I was gay, and would never sire any great-grandchildren for her. I’d been in a daze after she’d passed, throwing myself into work, and when I didn’t have enough work to keep me occupied, I’d remodeled my own house – the one she had left to me. It took me almost ten months after she was gone to realize that I was free to come out now, and go (very nervously) to one of the three gay establishments, Cocktales.
That was where I’d met Brandon. He was slim, with long legs like a hosiery model, and devilishly handsome. I couldn’t believe my good luck when (about the fourth time I’d sneaked in there) he asked me to dance. I was on cloud nine when he kept dancing and talking to me – about work, about music, about anything at all – and before I knew it, I’d fallen head over heels for him. He was so charming that even though it was my first time that night, I wasn’t afraid of making love with him at all, and afterwards he fell asleep holding me like I was the most precious thing in the world to him. I was so happy I thought I would literally burst!
We started going out, and soon I was calling him several times a day (which, in retrospect, was very clingy of me, but he didn’t seem to mind), and before long it was just a given that he’d come to my place after work, where I’d be waiting with some of Gramma’s best recipes cooked up. After only a month or so, we both decided that it was pointless for him to keep his apartment, since he slept at my place all the time, anyway, so I made some room in my closets and he moved in. His friends came over for parties, and when we were home alone, we had amazing sex. Life seemed perfect.
A few years into our blissful cohabitation, I decided to go to a weekend seminar for interior design, where I thought I could pick up some new trends and ideas. Brandon said he needed to stay in town to finish up some business (he was a paralegal), so I went, a little sadly, by myself. Unfortunately, the seminar workshops were boring, and there was really nothing said that I hadn’t heard already, so – after sitting though several tedious sessions – I decided to go home a day early and surprise Brandon. You can probably guess what happened, and yes, it was a huge mistake: I was the one in for a surprise.
It might not have been so bad if I hadn’t stopped by the store to pick up groceries on my way home. As it was, I had a bag full of tomatoes, other vegetables, and a carton of eggs in my arms when I followed the sounds I was hearing, in disbelief, to our bedroom – my bedroom, in my house – where Brandon was fucking a young college boy in the middle of the day. Even though they were both taller and heavier than me, I somehow managed (in a haze of fury, which I still can’t remember much of) to chase them out of my house, the college boy buck naked and Brandon wearing only a condom.
They retreated to the boy’s car, which I proceeded to pelt with the eggs, tomatoes, and rest of the produce, breaking a headlight or two in the process. The neighbors called the police, who refused to ticket the guilty pair for indecent exposure, but calmed me down enough to let them retrieve their clothes. I boxed up the rest of Brandon’s belongings that day and set them out on the curb while the locksmith changed all of my locks. I haven’t seen Brandon since, with no regrets.
The part that infuriates me, though, is that he went around telling his friends and anybody else who’d listen that I went postal on him, throwing him out for no reason – conveniently omitting the fact that he had cheated on me in my own house! But he’d taken photos of the pelted car, which was evidence enough to convict me in the sight of a jury of my own peers (or at least, in their public opinion), so I’ve been labeled a “crazy bitch” and become persona non grata at Cocktales ever since.