Cher Public

BASTA: Call me by your game

Or maybe—he knew it!—it was his crazed admiration for Renée Fleming that drove the boys away.

It was already nearly two in the morning, late for a work night, and Nixon Ben Mahmoud was ashamed to find himself shedding real tears. 

He never cried, he whimpered from the corner of his bed. Wasn’t supposed to. He just felt so rejected. He’d just come, for chrissakes; he was still fucking naked.

And then, there it went again: his brain, detonating with questions.

How could the familiar furnishings of a Chelsea apartment feel so suddenly indifferent, unwelcoming? Why all this loneliness, with a lover right there? Would he ever feel close to another man again? What was the use of bicep cultivation, if an arm couldn’t hold down a man? Or was the holding problem related instead, he wondered, to his other parts?

Could it be about his busy schedule as the Architecture Museum’s new deputy director of development? Or maybe—he knew it!—it was his crazed admiration for Renée Fleming that drove the boys away…?

Nixon’s gaze moved searchingly, from lamp to rug to gold picture frame to bedspread to corner dumbbells, landing on his prized record collection. His boyfriend was at a loss.

“Baby, maybe we could work this out,” Angus offered. “I mean, I guess I don’t have to take the job right away.”

“Don’t you?” Nixon snapped back. “You said they wanted you in L.A. next week.”

“They do. But who can predict the future? I might hate it. Maybe by March I’ll be back in New York.”

Angus relaxed his arm behind his head. He always looked so tidy after sex, tucked between the sheets. Nixon couldn’t stand it.

“Don’t bother. God, you really know just how to twist the knife, Angus.”

“Baby. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know when to tell you? How to tell you—hell, if I even had to tell you. I mean, I might not accept the offer.”

“Seems to me your mind’s already made up,” said Nixon curtly, burying his face in his hands. “And who could blame you. It’s the Getty. Who am I to stand in your way.”

“Well, if you’re not willing to try…”

“Try? Try what? Might we revisit what happened the last time you were in L.A.? A week into a month of long-distance, and you’re asking to open things up. No, not again, Angus. I’m not up for that kind of torture.”

“That was a year ago, Nixon.”

Nixon started crying once more. The display looked awkward to Angus. As he watched his partner’s brawn collapse, he now wanted to leave more than ever.

“Nixon? Nixon. Please stop.”

“I can’t, Angus. I think this is it. We’re over.”

“Well, we can always play it by ear, right?” Angus remembered Bidding for Buildings, the silent auction fundraiser Nixon had organized for the coming spring. “Maybe we could see each other there and reevaluate?”

“Please don’t dangle the carrot. You know I’ll just wait for you until then.”

“Or you’ll do another opera. Weren’t you telling me about BASTA just the other day? The most handsome supernumerary. I’ll fly in to see you.”

“Please don’t patronize me, and I’m not your baby. If you leave, there’s nothing I’d want less than to see or talk to you ever again.”

From Nixon’s first-floor apartment, they could hear the distant rumble of the subway rolling in. Late as usual.

 

Samuel Schmidt was wrapping an obituary the following morning when his boss turned up at his desk.

“Sam!” Peter Fox, culture editor for the Metro Times, slapped his star arts reporter on the back. “What you working on now?”

“Oh, it’s that Leslie Dragoon obit, still,” Sam sighed. “But almost done with it.”

“Yikes. What a horrendous story, right?” Earlier that week, in an incident worthy of the Darwin Awards, NYU’s renowned Chinese opera scholar-in-residence had been found at home impaled on a dizi flute. He’d apparently tripped on his blow-up doll.

“Awful. And surprisingly hard to get a flattering quote from his colleagues, I must say. No one cared for him much.”

“Well, keep on it…” Peter shrugged.

“So how’d the Jerold Offerman interview go?”

“Hasn’t happened yet,” Sam replied. “His management is stalling. But they promised we’d have him on the phone by the end of the day.”

“That’s very good! Wanna rehearse?”

“Oh, no need. I think I’ll mostly be asking about that night Maestro Offerman spent at the Fruits de Mer in 2011. The two boys from the Boca Young Artist summer program allege that he bought them Caipirinhas and then invited them to his hotel room for an all-night session of Hungry Hungry Hippos. They were just teenagers at the time.”

“How quaint.”

“I wish I could say the incident was isolated. But get this. I just got an email from another kid, suggesting an intense session of Boggle in Montenegro in the early Eighties…”

“Jesus. What’s next, Mystery Date? What’s Algonquin Opera got to say?”

“Spoke to the general manager yesterday. Alberti sounded awful. You know they have that Lucia reboot on the horizon and Kaufmann’s already out. They really can’t afford to lose their conductor as well.”

“So they’ll ignore—”

“Actually, Alberti says they might not this time. Looks like Offerman’s facing a probable suspension.”

“So Mr. Carlos Alberti is finally caving.” Peter was authentically shocked. “I can’t believe it.”

“Nor can I,” Sam admitted. “You know, it’s strange: for years I’d assumed the rumors I’d heard about Offerman were like some weird joke. There was never any corroborable story, no punishment, no consequences, no reason to believe anything was up with the guy except that he was like this great symbol of eminence for both the Algonquin and the Cleveland Orchestra. The best mentor a singer or rising conductor could ask for. Now it’s looking more and more like his indiscretions were an open secret all along.”

“Oy.”

“So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like to ask Offerman when we talk. I’m honestly not even sure he knows what’s going on yet.”

“Well, whatever you do, I’d be sure to get him on the record about Carlos,” said Peter. “That man’s got skeletons in his closet.”

The editor stooped to retrieve a pen from the floor.

“And Twister too, I bet.”

Illustration by Ben A. Cohen

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