Rust On the Razor
1Scott trudged into the bedroom, nodded at me, then plodded to the closet, slowly took off his suit coat, and began carefully undoing his tie. Each fold of blue silk took its own meticulous movement to unravel. He draped it carefully on his tie rack.No question that his meeting had gone poorly.The more enraged he becomes, the more painstaking his movements. If an opposing batter fears a fastball in his ear, he need only time the lengthening seconds between Scott's pitches. Many a surprised batter had flinched from the following curveball that gently drifted over the outside corner of the plate. Scott might be furious, but he kept control of himself. Then again, a few well-prepared players had found themselves sprawled on their asses in the batter's box.Scott pulled his white shirt out of his pants, unbuttoned it, and let it hang open over the soft blond down on his chest. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and leaned over to unlace his shoes."I'm exhausted," he said. It was only eleven A.M.We'd talked most of the night before. He'd gotten up at six to be at a breakfast meeting with his agent, his lawyer,and the lawyers from Physically Fit Sportswear, the clothes of champions."What happened?" I asked."I watched them attempt to pick apart my life. They canceled all the contracts."He placed the shoes next to each other under a corner of the bed and then draped one black sock over each one."They can do that?""They did it."Rumors about Scott's sexual orientation had swirled for months in the tawdry gossip papers. Then, several weeks ago, we had insisted that an attack on us be reported as a hate crime against gay people. The news percolated through the athletic grapevine, but sports reporters in the major papers had hesitated to write about it.Scott's being gay became national headlines last week, after a speech by Albert Hollis at the Southern Christians for Jesus, Morality, and the Family convention. The Reverend Hollis, from Scott's hometown in Georgia, had chosen to use him as an example of immorality. Without specifically stating Scott was gay, he'd dragged Scott's name through a mire of innuendo. The tabloid press went nuts, with enormous lurid headlines, and ugly rumors flooded through the mainstream press. Other preachers took up the throb of viciousness. Then a friendly journalist in Atlanta called Scott with the rumor that Hollis planned to release a negative video about Scott. Several days of investigation confirmed that Hollis had put together a hatchet job. One of the tamer sections showed clips of my lover autographing baseballs for kids, while a voice-over talked about gay people trying to recruit little children.Three days ago, Scott had called a press conference to publicly announce his sexual orientation. A sensation followed and still continued. Unfortunately, at practice the morning of the announcement, he'd pulled a groin musclewhile running wind sprints in the outfield. He had been X-rayed, examined, and placed on the fifteen-day disabled list. Scott had gone ahead with the press conference.The team decided silence equals safety and said nothing. Officially they didn't have to take a stand, and with Scott out of action, they felt they could delay dealing with the issue of his sexuality. Now, rumors of an imminent trade or involuntary retirement swirled throughout the baseball world.Most of his teammates with half a brain had figured out he was gay a long time ago. Those who were friends and important to Scott knew and accepted the two of us. At the major-league level, with the high degree of ability demanded of players today, there was little time or inclination for massive prejudice. His close friends on the team called and offered support. Many others said nothing. A few of them made comments distancing themselves.On the sports radio call-in shows, the idiots monopolized the phone lines, with everything from snickers to outright slander. Usually the hosts cut off the outright threats. I feared for Scott's safety. All it would take was one crazy.His toughest moment would come after his muscle healed: pitching in front of thousands of possibly hostile fans."Are you going to fight them about canceling the contract ?""I don't know."I wanted him to say something Churchillian, or I was willing to say it for him--anything that would rally the world to his cause. Something on the order of "We'll fight in every courtroom, carry our cause to the highest level, fight on the beaches and the hedgerows, stand and not be beaten." I'd had to face being openly gay and a teacher, so I could understand a great deal of what he was goingthrough. Nevertheless, it was his career and his world in the middle of total upheaval. I couldn't demand a heroic response from him. I would love him and support him no matter what decision he made. I kept silent.Scott stood up and winced."How painful is it today?""Bad as ever."As a kid I'd been secretly titillated when I'd read that an athlete had pulled a groin muscle. I hadn't known exactly what it meant, but I knew it involved something "down there," that was secret, forbidden, and not to be talked about, and, for a little gay kid, therefore enticing and alluring."I'll massage it," I said.Early in our relationship I'd taken several classes in massage and muscle-relaxing techniques. Because of his profession, he was prone to strains and tiredness. Besides, I enjoyed touching his body, and if it helped him and gave him pleasure at the same time, why not? We'd taken some of the courses together, so if I pulled a muscle while working out he could reciprocate.He hung his pants on a hanger, and then lay on his back on the bed. I knelt next to him and placed my fingertips on his upper thigh. We talked as I began to knead, rub, and massage."What'd they say?" I asked."That I am an immoral person and not a good example to the youth of America.""Well, I knew that."He didn't smile. "They didn't.""They actually said you were immoral?""Direct quote." His body stiffened for a moment as I hit a particularly sore spot. He held his breath, then let it out slowly. A moment later I resumed my ministrations."Your lawyers must have said something.""At great length. Made no difference. The bad guys are calling a press conference this afternoon to announce the deal is off." Scott had a ten-million-dollar endorsement deal with Physically Fit, one of the largest sports advertisers in the country."We'll have to cut back on chocolate this year," I said.Still no smile."I've made safe investments over the years," he said. "We're not going to have to eat gruel and live on the streets, but this pisses me off." He growled deep in his throat. "And the team lawyer just sat there with his finger up his butt and a fatuous smile on his face.""He was there?""Absolutely. Somebody from the commissioner's office, too. He talked for over half an hour about 'the best interests of baseball' and about possible danger to me physically.""I think about that, too. I'm petrified about the next time you pitch.""Maybe I won't have to face that. When I'm better, the team, the baseball commissioner, and whoever else wants to butt their nose into somebody else's business have to make a decision.""Don't they have to honor your contract?""They'll probably have to pay me. I don't think that was ever the problem. It's my being openly gay and a baseball player that's the big problem."I massaged and rubbed him for a while. He shut his eyes. I felt his muscles begin to unknot."Did my parents call?" he murmured a few minutes later."Not yet."In the past few days the only person from his family who had called was his sister Mary. She offered support and encouragement. His parents had known he was gay forseveral years now and had come to Chicago once and met me. But "acceptance" was too positive a word to use for their feelings about his being gay. They had been pleasant when they were here, but Scott had not been home in many years. He used to visit them once a year, without me, but those forays home had tailed off and then stopped altogether. We had not been invited as a couple, and Mary had told us that several of their siblings had let it be known that if Scott came with a lover for a holiday, they would not. We'd invited his mom, dad, and all his brothers and sisters up to Chicago many times, but except for the one visit, his parents had not returned. Mary, her husband, and their kids visited every other year. Scott seldom said anything, but I knew the distance from his family hurt him. Still, he refused to go without me to the family home in Georgia."We could go to my high-school reunion now," he said."You're not serious?""I guess I'm not. But I think it would be great for both of us to be dressed up in tuxes and walk arm in arm into my old high school."We'd debated extensively about going to his high-school reunion. Each year in Brinard, Georgia, they invited all the graduates back for one big party. Each year's class tried to organize some kind of theme booth or game in the gym or had a special party or get-together. We'd never gone.This time Scott's class wanted to do a baseball theme booth. The organizers had sent numerous requests to Scott to get him to attend. My feelings about the trip were mixed. Strutting in proudly in the midst of some small-minded, small-town cretins sounded like in-your-face-fun; but marching in the middle of thousands of people in a gay pride parade in a big city is very much different from being openly gay in East Nowhere, Georgia. Since the reunionwas usually during the baseball season, we'd never had to make a final decision."I hope you're not serious," I said. "You really think we'd be safe? Look at those murders in Mississippi. With every man, woman, and child on the planet reading about you in the headlines, every nut within hundreds of miles will be on the prowl. I don't mean to sound ignorant, and I know you're from there and you know those people, but frankly I wouldn't want to be caught in rural Georgia after dark with the whole countryside knowing we're gay." Visions of Deliverance danced in my head. No gay man I knew wanted to be known as gay and in rural Georgia after sunset. That may be prejudiced, but everyone I'd talked to up north felt that way."You've said that before, and it's not like that. Besides, every nut in the whole country will be on the alert, not just in the South. I'll be in danger everywhere, and so will you. That's the part I regret. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you.""Don't worry about--"The phone rang. I picked it up, said hello, listened for a minute, and then handed it to Scott. "Ted Koppel for you."He sat up abruptly. "Are you kidding?"I put my hand over the receiver. "Sounds like Ted to me, although we don't talk often.""Give me that." He put the phone to his ear. "Yeah," he grumbled. Then, "Yes, sir, Mr. Koppel." Pause. "Ted."I wondered how many people talked to Ted Koppel for the first time sitting on their bed wearing only their briefs.They spoke for a few minutes. I lay on my side, head propped on my fist. "That's not acceptable," Scott said. He listened. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be difficult, and I'm not making demands. If you don't want me, that's all right, but I won't be on with anybody from the right wing. I know it'syour show, but I won't appear with the stupid, the bigoted, or the ignorant. I won't debate my life or my rights with Nazis."He listened for several minutes. I watched his chest rise and fall. The noontime light through the floor-to-ceiling windows made the golden down on his chest and legs shimmer. "Okay, that sounds fine. I appreciate your understanding." Moments later he hung up."That was Ted Koppel," he said."Ted stopped calling me. I don't know why.""He wants you on with me.""Do what?""I said I'd talk to you about it.""What do you want?""For all of this to go away." He lay back down. "I hate every minute of this. Pitching in the World Series was not as much pressure as this."I gently stroked his chest hair. "You're the first major-league sports star to come out while still active.""I don't feel brave and noble. I'm more frightened than anything else.""We'll get through it together."His nod held no certainty."Did you know Koppel was trying to get hold of you?" I asked."Biff and the lawyers have been handling all the calls from the talk shows. They've been negotiating." Biff was Scott's agent. "This morning Biff said he thought a couple of them were in the final stages of agreement. I told him it was okay to give them the new number. I think I want to do this one, and I'd like you to be there with me.""Okay," I said. Normally, I'd have been thrilled out of my mind to be on Nightline, but under these circumstances I wasn't sure how excited I was.The phone rang again."If it's the President, I'm busy," Scott said. He leaned back and shut his eyes.I picked up the phone, said hello, listened for a few seconds, and then said, "I'm sorry, he's busy."I dodged before Scott could whack me upside the head. It was my oldest brother calling to get an update on the latest happenings. My parents, brothers, and sister had all called saying they would do anything they could to help. I spoke with my brother for a few minutes. Told him the Nightline gig was pretty likely. I hung up and a second later the phone rang again."Throw the damn thing across the room," Scott said.I listened for a moment to the soft-voiced drawl at the other end of the line.I tapped Scott with the phone. "It's your mom. I think something's wrong."He sat up and took the phone. "Mama?"He listened for several minutes. "When? ... Is Nathan or Mary there? ... I'm on my way ... . Don't worry ... . I love you." He hung up."What's wrong?""Mama was calling from the hospital. Daddy's had a heart attack. They don't know if he's going to live. I have to go home.""What can I do?"He hesitated. "Will you come with? I'll need you. If the worst happens or if he gets better, I'd like you to be there.""Of course I'll come with."Beastly hot and ghastly humid midwestern summers had never driven me mad with desire to go someplace even more hot and humid. It was mid-June, and we were heading for Georgia and possibly a funeral. Losing a parent, no matter how old you were or what other stressesyou're under, takes total precedence in one's life and emotions. Ted Koppel and a budding career on the talk-show circuit could wait. Scott had asked me to come with. He needed me. I would go with him.RUST ON THE RAZOR. Copyright © 1996 by Mark Richard Zubro. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Mark Richard Zubro is the author of numerous mysteries, including the Lambda Literary Award-winning A Simple Suburban Murder and, most recently, Here Comes the Corpse. He is a teacher and lives in Mokena, Illinois.