Cher Public

BASTA: Press your luck

Chapter Three of the continuing saga of Evan Ingersoll, opera-loving bar-back.

The call came on a Tuesday, just as Jerold Offerman was leaving Lincoln Center. He’d spent the day readying the Algonquin Opera orchestra for the year’s season blockbuster, a high-profile, high-stakes revival of Lucia, and things weren’t going well with the glass harmonica. 

Goddamn historical accuracy, he thought to himself, as a chauffeur and two PAs wrestled him from his wheelchair and struggled to shoehorn his ample, legless body into a limo. What I’d pay for a fucking mouth organ right now.

“Maestro?” said assistant Laura-whatever. “Susan’s calling. Want me to take it?”

“No just hand it over.” Exhaling deeply, he extended a puffy hand, and grabbed the cell.

“Hello? Hell—”

“Jerry… It’s Susan…” His publicist’s voice seemed to retreat, as though it were running away from her words.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” She paused. “So, uh, we gotta talk.”

“We’re talking, Susan.”

“Yeah… we certainly are. Listen, I need to ask you a favor. Where are you right now?”

“I’m leaving the A.O. Why?”

“Well can you call me back when you get back to your place?”

“I suppose I can. Why, what’s going on.”

“Oh, it’s just. I don’t know. I don’t know if we should talk about it right now, to be honest. This is new terrain for me…”

“Susan, what the fuck is going on.”

His chauffeur flinched.

“Listen, perhaps we can discuss this more freely when you get home? There’s trouble. I guess The Times knows about your possible suspension.”

“What?” Jerold was surprised, impressed even, at how even-tempered and serene he was sounding. “I thought you said this would all blow over, Susan?”

“Well, it hasn’t. I don’t think it’s going away this time. Sam Schmidt is already asking for 30 minutes.”

“You can tell that Austrian midget I’ll give him 30 when he gives me back the three hours he grabbed at that bullshit panel at the Morgan last year. Nope. Fuck Schmidt. Fuck his interviews. And fuck that Gasparini’s Queer Itinerancies scratch-n-sniff book of his. I’ll talk to him when Lucia is out.”

“Jerry.” Susan’s voice turned palliative. “This’ll be fine if we handle it right. But I’m not sure there’s a choice here. I think we have to talk to the Times.”

Suzy.” Jerold’s voice turned sour. “There’s. No. Story. Here. I’ll say it again: Carlos at the A.O. assured me those claims are bunk and they know it. No response. He promised.”

“Oh my god.”

“Yes.”

“Oh my god,” Susan stuttered. “Is that what Carlos told you?”

“Hmph.”

“Jerry. They might suspend you.”

“What on earth—“

“Listen, I just got off the phone with Tanisha from Press, and what she said surprised me. She said people are really talking this time. People actually believe what they’re hearing about those men and that night at the Fruits de Mer—”

“—Oh that is such…” Jerold couldn’t conjure the right expletive.

“No one’s going to let this go. Carlos just talked to the board. You’re not supposed to know this, but he says he’s… deliberating.”

“DELIBERATING?!?” Jerold exploded.

“Jerry, honey, listen. I’m already on it. I’ve got the optics all laid out. When you get home, you and I are gonna get back on the phone, brew ourselves a nice pot of Ceylon, and start rehearsing for Sam Schmidt.”

* * *

Hours later, at the Onassis Hall recital of Liberace-lookalike Piotr Beczala, two queens were apprising each other of their progress.

“So here’s a new one,” whispered Jesus Halévy to Evan Ingersoll. “Locations-based app. I’m still on. Beard, 5’11, young face, nothing annoying in his tagline. Perfect rear.”

Beczala was working his way through the Dichterliebe from behind a music stand.

“We meet up at Washington Square Park to check the vibe and grab coffee. Nice guy, aspiring anesthesiologist, new to the city. I’m pleased; he seems into it… We change our minds and decide to get to know each other back at my place.”

A woman a row ahead twisted to shush them. Evan giggled delightedly.

“We reach the subway at West 4th. I get through the turnstile and turn around to watch him pull out his subway card. He swipes once. Swipes twice. Swipes thrice. Then retracts his card, and just… walks away.” Jesus sighed dolefully as the house brightened for intermission. “I mean can you believe that? I couldn’t. Worst date of my life.”

“Im wunderschönen Monat Goodbye?”

“Im wunderschönen Monat Kill Yourself,” Jesus sobbed. “I’ve deactivated.”

“Oh come now, you’ve had worse. Remember that optometrist from Ipanema?”

“The one who smiled when I couldn’t see?”

“The one and only,” muttered Evan, digging through his coat for some chapstick.

“So what’s going on with you?” asked Jesus, running a dainty hand through his half-Jewish hair. “Sorry I couldn’t chat earlier. How’s slumming it at Aura?”

Evan turned to his best friend. “Oh, a yawn a minute. But get this. BASTA is actually going through with the whole gay rancher thing later this season, Bison Don’t Cry. I met the set designer last night at the bar.”

“You did!”

“I did. Bonkers but interesting. He told me that they’re already casting for cowboy supernumeraries, and I’ve ‘got the look.’ Auditions start next week at some garage in Astoria. Wait: is ‘audition’ even the right word when we’re talking extras?”

“Cattle call for Bison,” quipped Jesus. “I like it.”

“Well? Do you think I should go?”

“I think you shall. And when you go, be on the lookout for my friend Vanessa Spoleto. She just joined BASTA’s choreography team. She’s awful, just a rancid human being. You’ll probably love her.”

“And what do you suppose I bring to this sort of thing?”

“Bring yourself! And I dunno, wear something that says ‘cowboy,’ maybe?”

“Thank god I held onto my spurs from the BRÜT party,” said Evan.

“Thank god for that,” said Jesus. “I lost a saddle to one of my riders.”

Illustration by Ben A. Cohen

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