But a week before Thanksgiving, his life takes a serious hit. After a hard-drinking, sex-filled night, Tim, the “golden boy,” arrives late to work. He suddenly finds himself fired without explanation. With three hundred dollars in his savings account, Tim wonders how he’ll even pay the rent.
As Tim comes to terms with his unemployment, he reminisces about his life and the circumstances that have brought him to this crucial crossroads. Everything in his life—his emotionally unstable upbringing, his service in the army during the troubled years of the Vietnam War, his affair with a high school girlfriend, his experiences at William and Mary during the JFK and LBJ years, his relocation to Manhattan in the 1970s, his first job in the world of advertising, and his adventures as a closeted gay man in the Stonewall Era Greenwich Village—contributed to both the downfall and redemption of Tim Halladay.
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THE SOUND OF ONE HORSE DANCING
By TOM BAKER
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Tom Baker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVirginia Woolf had trouble with her opening sentence. I was just waking up from a dream, squinting through the harsh morning daylight streaming in through the skylight. Without even looking at the clock, I knew I had overslept, and I would be late for work. Of all mornings to screw up!
My body was stiff from sleeping on the drafty floor all night. I propped myself up on my elbows to look at the young boy curled up next to me under the comforter, sleeping quietly like a cocker spaniel. He was as striking as I remembered him, with perfectly straight blond hair falling over his forehead and across his closed eyelids. His body next to mine was the only warmth in the apartment, and I hesitated to disturb him or the moment. His lightly sunburned skin looked wonderfully healthy and out of place in the cold November light of New York. By contrast, I looked pasty and washed out, having abandoned my rooftop tan in August when the heat, sooty air and humidity became an unwilling price to pay for a little color.
The temptation to slide up to my sleeping guest and pull the comforter over us, falling back into a luxurious sleep was overwhelming, but I might as well kiss off my career if I gave in. Dammit, I thought, why doesn't this happen on a weekend when I don't have to go to work.
I hesitated a few minutes, plotting out the recovery process. Brush teeth, take two aspirin, orange juice, coffee, go shower, shave and get dressed. Pulling it together had become a routine, but last night I'd gone overboard. It started with Ken, after work at the Roosevelt Grill. Usually we had two drinks before he caught his train home to Katonah, but last night we were both in the mood to unwind. We'd been working on a new business presentation for the last two weeks. Ken made the 9:05 after the fourth round of drinks and two bowls of peanuts. I'd lost any desire for food, but was just wasted enough to stop for another drink. I was at Julius', my neighborhood bar, at 9:30 on a week night ... where I met this beautiful blond boy, now lying next to me, on the floor. He'd been leaning next to the juke-box at the rear of the bar, peeling the label off his beer bottle with his thumb nail, looking down at the floor. I'd had enough to drink to approach him. He'd smiled and immediately warmed up. He was a student at a junior college in Florida, on his way home for the Thanksgiving holiday. He lived somewhere in upstate New York, but other than that I couldn't remember anything we talked about. Worst of all, I could not even remember his name.
Our clothes were scattered across the floor, and two half empty beers sat on the fireplace mantle, where we had left them the night before. A fresh gray mound of ash in the fireplace confirmed that I'd put on the Presto-Log, to complete the romantic setting. Records were out of their jackets on the floor by the stereo, but despite my efforts, it appeared the two of us just curled up and fallen asleep on the floor.
My head was throbbing as I slipped out from under the comforter and made my way through the galley kitchen into the bathroom to get a terrycloth robe. My naked body felt like a corpse in the cold apartment, and with no heat on, I wondered if the landlord had forgotten to pay the oil bill again. That would mean no hot water.
Hugging myself to warm up in the folds of the bathrobe, I stared into the bathroom mirror, letting the hot water tap run, just in case. I looked like a subway had run over me, eyes red and glossy, swollen up, puffy. I smelled stale alcohol on my breath as I stuck out my tongue, dry as sandpaper. A few more hours sleep and two aspirin would help, but there was no way I could call in sick today, not with a creative review at eleven o'clock. I knew some day my little Dorian Gray act was not going to work, but with any luck I might pull it off one more time today.
Icy water continued to pour out of the tap so maybe having to shave with cold water was enough punishment for the day, forget a shower! My body couldn't endure that much torture. This flat is what real estate ads referred to as a "brownstone apartment with Village Charm".
The teakettle whistled on the gas burner as I poured out two glasses of Tropicanna orange juice. My guest had wakened and rolled over on his stomach, stretching out. He yawned and beamed a sheepish smile at me as I curled down next to him with the glasses of juice.
"Oh ... hi," he said shyly, sitting up and pulling the comforter around him for cover.
"Here," offering him a glass of juice. "Medicine. I've got water on for coffee. It'll be ready in a few minutes. Sorry ... instant."
We sat on the floor, self-conscious in the brightness of the morning light, the spontaneity of the night before had evaporated. It was awkward waking up in my apartment with a stranger, especially when I couldn't remember what, or what didn't, happen.
The whistling teakettle hissed into a high-pitched shriek. I returned with two mugs of instant coffee and cuddled up next to him.
"So, how did a squeaky-clean kid like you end up at Julius' last night?" He smiled, a light sprinkle of freckles on his nose and flushed cheeks. He looked like the classic all-American kid. No wonder I'd pounced on him last night. He was so atypical of the people you would run into in New York bars.
He told me a friend of his that he went to high school with in Burlington, used to come down to the city on weekends and make the "rounds" in the Village. His friend told him about Julius', supposedly the oldest gay bar in New York, with all those cobwebs on the ceiling. It was a legendary hang-out for locals, a cross section of theatre and writer types. That's where his friend met Edward Albee. My boy had planned to stay over in the city on his way home for Thanksgiving, just to check out the Village. It was his first time in a New York bar although he confided that he had been to a couple of places in Fort Lauderdale. I suspected the high school friend who had turned him on to Julius' was more than that, but I didn't probe, and he offered no further details. At least the kid wasn't totally inexperienced, although our encounter last night would hardly broaden his horizons.
"What do you do?" he asked directly and unexpectedly. I looked at him, trying to detect a motive, before answering.
"I'm in advertising."
"Wow ... that must be really neat," he said enthusiastically.
"Well ... it has its moments." I explained that I was in account management. I was not one of the crazy guys who play basketball in the hallways of the agency, trying to come up with funny stuff that would become part of pop culture. Like "Plopp, plopp ... fizz, fizz;" "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" and "I've fallen and can't get up!"
It was getting really late, and I had to pull myself together if I had any hope of getting to the office.
"If I don't get moving," I said, "I'm going to be one of those statistics of out of work ad men. I've got a creative review at eleven, and if I move my ass now, I might just make it."
He looked sad and disappointed. I still didn't know his name.
"I'm going to call the office to let them know I'm still alive. You want to take a shower?" Then remembering there was no hot water. "That is, if you don't mind ice cold water. It's part of the charm of living in a landmark building."
"Thanks. I'll just use the bathroom."
"Sure ... just through the kitchen to the left."
"Thanks," he said politely, wrapping himself in the comforter, moving through the kitchen to the bathroom. His modesty was amusing and just added to his charm.
The clock on the nightstand next to the bed which hadn't been slept in read 9:05. If I hustled, I could be at my desk by ten, with enough time to be ready for an eleven o'clock meeting.
The phone seemed to ring forever, until finally Joyce picked up.
"Mr. Halladay's office."
"Hi, it's me," I said hurriedly.
"Humm?" she hummed, and I could see her smirking, filing her nails and thumbing through the latest issue of Cosmopolitan.
"I'm running a little late this morning ... will be in about ten." Pause, no response. "Any calls?"
"Silverman was by looking for you," she said, knowing I would be pissed. Arthur Silverman was the Executive Vice President of the agency. Th e big boss. He was on the Board of Directors and responsible for all client services. Shit, of all mornings to be late. What did he want? Since he never dropped by to chat. He was the "time-is-money" man.
"Call his office and tell Anna that I had an appointment out of the office this morning ... that I'll be there in an hour. Whatever ... just do it."
"Sure," Joyce said in a condescending tone. She was a very efficient secterary and never refused or balked at any assignment I gave her. But there was a deep social gap between us. I knew she resented all the perks associated with my job, like first class tickets to LA, and lunches at Lutece. Actually, I understood.
"Any other calls?" I asked.
"Martin Cohen didn't call or stop by?" I asked.
"I said there were no other messages," Joyce snapped, now sounding irritated. I think Joyce liked me, but she put up this pretense that everything she did for me was a nuisance or effort. She wasn't different from most of the other young women who worked at the agency as assistants. They came in with expectations that working at a big, high-profile, advertising agency would be a glamorous job, only to quickly learn it was mundane, unrewarding, consisting of stuff like Xeroxing, collating presentations, getting the mail, and answering phones.
"O.K. But if Martin Cohen calls, tell him I'd like to see him before the eleven o'clock review. See you in a little while." I hung up, disturbed I hadn't been in the office when Silverman came by: that was something he very rarely did. I usually had little contact with him, except for major presentations, until last June, when he called me to his office to inform me that the Board of Directors had elected me a vice-president of the agency, with a $2,000 year raise. He told me that I had a good future with the agency and as far as he could remember, I was "at twenty-eight," the youngest account executive to be made a company officer. Sure, there were quite a few guys in their twenties in the creative department who were vice-presidents, because they were hot shot art directors or copywriters who'd struck it big with a high profile campaign that had won all kinds of awards. But in the account group, the pace was pretty traditional: you paid your dues, from assistant account executive, to account executive, to account supervisor and up the ladder to management supervisor.
My new blond friend was standing in the living room fully clothed, folding the comforter.
"I better get going," he said awkwardly. Th en smiling, "I know you're in a hurry."
"Here ... let me give you my number," I said. "Call me when you're coming back to the city, and we can get together. I mean go to dinner or a movie or something."
I scratched my name and phone number on the pad I kept on the nightstand and handed it to him with a pencil. "Give me yours too, your address at school, in case I get to Florida this winter. I do get there once in a while to shoot commercials. I'll call you, and we can go out on my expense account."
He obliged, printing his name and post offi ce box address in neat block letters and handed it back to me. Bobby Longstreet, Ft. Lauderdale Junior College, P.O. Box 1455, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His name fit him perfectly.
"Thanks," I said. "And Bobby, really, give me a call when you're coming back to the city! I mean you're welcome to stay here, even though it's a little cramped."
He smiled at my invitation, and I was sure he was aware that I had forgotten his name from the night before, since this was the fi rst time I had called him Bobby. But even if he knew, he didn't say anything.
"Gee ... thanks. I'd like that. You've got a neat apartment." He put on his college athletic jacket and said, "I'd better get up to Grand Central where I checked my suitcase, before they give it away. It's in one of those twenty-four hour lockers, if I can remember which one," he laughed.
"O.K ... and have a good Thanksgiving with your family," giving him a playful hug as he disappeared down the stairway saying good-bye. Shutting the door, I knew I would probably never see this beautiful boy again. I'd keep his address for a while, folded up in my wallet. One day, when I was sorting out business receipts, I'd look at it and recall our cozy and uneventful night. Knowing that so much time had gone by with no contact, knowing that even if I had sent him a note, that he probably wouldn't remember who I was. Th en I'd throw his address away, with all the others I'd collected and never contacted. Only to replace them with new ones.
I put Bobby Longstreet out of my mind as I got out my new Paul Stuart pin-stripe suit, "the client-fucker suite," as the creative guys teased me. I grabbed my briefcase, still unopened from the night before when I'd tossed it on the sofa when I brought Bobby Longstreet home. I flew down the three flights of stairs to flag a cab luckily just crossing West Tenth Street.
The office was its usual bustle of activity, and no one seemed to notice as I stepped off the elevator, nodded to the receptionist and strode down the hallway to my office.
"Hi," I greeted Joyce who was drinking coffee in her cubicle. "Any more calls?"
"No. Just Silverman again. That it was important."
"Shit," I said throwing my trench coat and briefcase on the chair while looking over the papers on my desk to make sure I had everything ready for my eleven o'clock.
"Coffee?" Joyce asked.
"Yeah ... please," I said. For whatever reason she was being very nice this morning. No attitude. She must have seen that I was terribly hung-over and rattled.
Joyce brought me coffee, which I spilled on the file on my desk as I took it, my hand shaking. What a mess. I was dialing Martin Cohen's private number, but I was surprised to hear his secretary pick up, which meant he wasn't there.
"Just tell him I called and will catch up with him later. Have him call me. Thanks."
I knew he would show up in my office at some point, which he did frequently, always unannounced. This was not typical the way the creative director of the agency interacted with account people. I knew there were rumors.
I called Anna to tell her I was on the way up. She said Mr. Silverman wanted to see me. His timing sucked, but he wasn't the kind of person you said you couldn't make it.
I grabbed a yellow pad, straightened my tie, a last sip of coffee, again spilling more on my desk. I was a mess. I told Joyce that I would be up on the eleventh floor, executive row with the main conference room and private dining room. There were two butlers on call to get whatever you wanted. It was here two months ago that I hosted a lunch for the board of the Joffrey Ballet to sign us on as their agency. The tone was different from the rest of the agency. It was quiet. The secretaries on the eleventh floor had their own window offices.
I was gone less than fifteen minutes, although it seemed like hours. And thankfully Joyce was out to lunch when I returned, so I didn't have to face her.
Chapter TwoI shut the door behind me and stared out the wire mesh glass windows toward Second Avenue. It was a dreary gray November day, sort of raining but without enthusiasm, and not even cold: one of those typical, non-weather days in New York, where everything looks like a black and white movie. Depressing, I thought, if appropriate. Even my office looked particularly bleak despite the efforts I'd made to give it a "look." It was my first window office after five years with the agency, and I'd made the most of it. I kept the thin-slatted Venetian blinds raised as far as they would go to let in as much light as possible.
The door knob was cold and lifeless in my palm as I stood leaning against the door, gazing blankly out over the dismal setting, hoping that this gesture might shut out the sudden reality. But it was here and very real. Failure was a new feeling. From the start I'd been the fair-haired, wonder boy of the agency: the WASP from Fairfield County, prep-schooled, and ivy-leagued; the kid with more Paul Stuart suits than most of the Senior Vice Presidents; the kid who got out of a Lincoln limousine with about as much thought as most people did getting off a bus. As I stood alone in my office all this whole charisma was about to come shattering down. Not even the prospect of failure had been real, and I had begun to believe, I was actually that boy wonder everybody else thought I was.
Excerpted from THE SOUND OF ONE HORSE DANCING by TOM BAKER Copyright © 2010 by Tom Baker. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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