Sly Swanson returned to his office, and the steaming pile of voice mail messages that had built up in the past two hours. The blinking light on his phone had become, in the last few weeks, a grim and foreboding symbol for the quickly approaching demise of GayNet, which is why he had recently taking to deleting them without listening all the way through, or at all, in some cases. Each and every blink of that ambulance-siren red light on his phone stood for yet another bedraggled voice preparing to deliver some piece of tragic news. Fresh tragedy left just for Sly, right after the beep.
This news usually came in the form of new rating numbers that would put GayNet still further behind lackluster channels including MTV4, a throwaway network that only showed reality shows inspired by failed contestants that lost on other reality shows. As Sly knew, lower Nielson ratings meant it would be even harder for GayNet’s advertising division to sell television and web ads to the few advertisers they had to begin with. And when that happened, that meant less money for development and production. Which would mean less original programming to watch, and less viewers to watch it. This ultimately created a snake that was forever eating its own tail until it simply ate itself to death.
Another repeating tragedy in the recent weeks included being made aware of further budget cuts, which constantly forced Sly to put his already bare bones and unimpressive line-up of programming on the bloody chopping block. It cost money to produce shows, and if that money went away, so went the programming. Or another round of layoffs, that was always a fun message, usually spoken by the somber voice of a colleague, the sound of duct tape ripping in the background as they packed their desk and coffee mug into a cardboard box. One by one people were leaving, turning his floor into a ghost ship and him into the captain lashed to the helm.
Things were not always this dire.
When GayNet came to be, a year and a half ago, it was backed by a ton of investors hot to get into gay media and programming, and bitter that they had missed out on the opportunity to do so with Logo. The investors had read the rash of marketing books that came out, books that convincingly argued that gays and lesbians were the ultimate marketing target: a young, childless group of fashion and technology-obsessed 20- and 30-somethings that had money to burn. And so these investors poured a ton of money into the idea of GayNet. From that money came the iconic GayNet offices – the lobby that looked like it belonged in a luxury cruise ship (like the Titanic, Sly thought), each of the ten floors professionally designed to look more like luxury apartments than places where people did actual work. Three live-audience studios were included in the package deal, with all the best green screen technologies. The best high-end cameras to capture all of the action. Floors and floors of spacious, naturally lit sound and graphic production studios that would make CEOs of other television channels jealous of the guys who made GayNet’s on-screen promos.
And then there came the staff to fill those immaculate offices and floors and lobbies. Only the absolute best would do, demanded the angel investors. A hard-hitting HR department was cobbled together with only the best in the business of scouting for the best in the business. Sly was one of the high-profile hires for the station, coming, as he did, with a resume that followed a ladder of success that leaned against the entire cable lineup: NBC, ABC, Disney, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central. He had spent years at each, leaving his positions only when the next biggest station could afford him and seduce him to leave. A year ago, that station was GayNet.
Sly was ecstatic to come work at GayNet – first, of course, because he was a gay man, and therefore was excited and inspired to finally choose and grow programming that he felt personally attached to. Second because this would be his first experience at a brand new channel; he wasn’t jumping into a seat formerly occupied by someone else, forced to follow in their footsteps or dramatically change their failed course. No, he was coming on to create GayNet from the ground up.
From Day 1 on the job, Sly threw everything he had into the station. He tore through his Rolodex of producers he’d worked with previously in other positions, invited them to come and pitch to him the best of the best that they had to offer. And pitch they did. The first season of GayNet programming featured a full lineup of scripted and reality TV. Too bad no one wanted to watch any of it.
GayNet simply couldn’t meet the lofty expectations of its investors. They were impatient, and they were worried when immediate success wasn’t achieved. It didn’t matter what programming Sly created – the Nielsen numbers just weren’t rising. This was partly because so many cable providers in middle America refused to allow anything gay to grace the waves and wires around them. As for cities and states where GayNet was welcome with open arms, Logo had already hit their screens years ago. The gay community was happy to say “No thanks, we’ve got one of those already.” Plus, Logo was supported by the mega-corporation Viacom, which had endlessly deep pockets, even if they only gave dribs and drabs of it to the gay network. Viacom understood that something like a gay television channel might take some time to get its sea legs. The GayNet investors? Not so much.
And then, of course, the economy just happened to explode in a blast of guts and bones. The investors, many driven to the brink of poverty as their many projects and gambles ceased to exist, refused to embark on another round of contributions. New investors were only willing to give a pittance, if they gave anything at all. GayNet was abandoned to depend on its advertisers, which was not a good thing.
Then again, maybe it was none of these things that had condemned GayNet to its current sorry status. Maybe it was just that Sly Swanson was a loser and a failure, a total imposter who never should have been given this job to begin with. Entrusted to the keys to a potential kingdom, Sly had stumbled and tripped up the front stairs and torched the whole thing to the ground the second the owners left. Asleep at the wheel, he had driven GayNet into a flaming ditch. Sure, Sly Swanson could handle a network where he was taking control of the wheel after someone better than him had decided where it was all going. But when left to grow something on his own, Sly ended up killing it.
Was that bottle of Cuervo still in Sly’s desk drawer?
“How’d it go, Mr. Swanson?” A chipper, hopeful voice filled the darkened room and broke Sly’s trance, making him aware of the fact that he must have been staring at the infernal pulsing red voice mail light in silence for at least five minutes. The voice belonged to Sly’s assistant Erick Davenport, a slim 23-year-old with a long giraffe’s neck, a mop of choppy red hair, and a smattering of freckles on his wide and square football-player-jawed face.
Once upon a time, during the good times, Erick was Sly’s assistant. But now, thanks to the many budget cuts and layoffs that befell GayNet, Erick had become the executive assistant to him as well as the heads of PR, Advertising, and Interactive. All without a penny’s raise. While his responsibilities quadrupled, the expectations on Erick didn’t relax, either. And despite this stress and lack of respect, Erick was always walking the halls with a smile that shone through the darkness and depression that seemed to seep out of every office, corridor, and elevator like he was the beacon issuing forth out of the top of a lighthouse. Thank God for him.
Sly laughed and rubbed the corners of his eyes. “I don’t understand how those clowns ever got a meeting with all of us at once, let alone a meeting with any of us at all.” He opened the side drawer of his desk and confirmed, sadly, that the bottle of Cuervo was long gone. He wished he remembered having drank it.
Now Erick was standing fully in the doorway, dressed as always in a pair of slate-colored skin-tight slacks and a likewise-tight primary-colored button-down collared shirt. The American flag patterned ascot around Erick’s neck reminded Sly that the upcoming weekend was the 4th of July. He was in no mood for celebration. His husband Harold was already out at their second home in Montauk all the way out East on Long Island (a home, he had yet to tell Harold, they might not have much longer) stocking up on barbecue items and preparing for a phalanx of guests. The thought of smiling and entertaining all the media elite that would be taking the train out for the weekend made his head pound all the more. All Sly wanted to do was crawl under his desk and go to sleep, instructing Erick to wake him up once GayNet had either died its not-so-quiet death, or inexplicably come back to glorious life like a cable-age Lazarus.
“So… The show idea was no good?” Erick seemed concerned by this possibility.
In all honesty, the show idea WAS a good one. At first it didn’t seem like this was the case, but, since the meeting, Sly had been tossing and turning the concept around in his head. A half-hour reality program centered on the life of a bunch of gay college students in New York City. It could work. And the title Gay U was catchy, too. Sure, reality cameras were following kids around all over the place, whether those kids were 5-year-olds living in an abandoned ghost town, fending for themselves, or they just were teens who acted like they were 5 years old while running roughshod around Laguna Beach, Beverly Hills, and so on. But gay college freshmen? That had certainly not been done before. But could it really outdo Bravo and Logo? He wasn’t so sure.
“Actually the show idea was pretty good, which you wouldn’t think would be the case with that nut Beau running around the room like a lunatic.”
“He was acting like a lunatic?” Erick didn’t want to mention that, after seeing Beau, he had finally agreed to that date that Beau had first tried to entice him with in order to have the day’s meeting arranged. Crazy or not, Erick thought Beau looked like a younger George Clooney with bigger arms, or a baby John Stamos with fuller lips. He was the walking prototype for a future silver fox the likes of which Anderson Cooper wouldn’t be able to compare – hot now, he would no doubt only get better still with age.
“Yeah, spitting, frothing, like a rabid dog unleashed in the boardroom.”
Erick performed shock, complete with a tiny gasp, letting his eyes go wide, all while giving no clues to the arousal he was experiencing in his pants. If Beau was that crazy in a professional setting, maybe he’d be interested in coming back to Erick’s place and experimenting with his sling and harness… assuming Beau didn’t have a set of his own wherever he lived in Hell’s Kitchen. “That’s scary.”
“To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be hesitating on signing them if it weren’t for his hysterics in there.”
“Well, was it really that bad?”
“He made Hank Levine cry.”
Erick was even more intrigued. “He made him cry?”
“Yeah, Hank got up and ran out of the room.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true,” Sly said, now realizing that the entire meeting was beginning to feel like a dream he couldn’t shake from his memory. He found himself trying to recall every move that Beau made as he paced around the boardroom like a tiger waiting for feeding time. Trying to recall his outfit and those ridiculous slides. And that laser pointer he must have stolen from a ten-year-old on his way into the office. All so ridiculous. “I can’t believe it either, but it’s true. Hank got up and ran out. Have you seen him since?”
“No sir. He never came back to his office. I hope he comes back next week!”
Erick and Sly both doubled over with laughter, with Sly silently crediting Beau Joseph Reagan for giving them a collective moment of non-gloom. And now Sly was thinking to himself: Could Gay U work? Really, truly? Sure, they’d have to make sure that Beau was tied down, sedated, and kept as far away from the production as possible. But his partner, Carmine? That guy seemed more than levelheaded. The Italian was fully capable of serving as the face of the show for press junkets, interviews, comeback specials, regional expansions. He’d have to lose some weight, but they could work on that.
Gay U New York
Gay U Boston
Gay U DC
Gay U LA
Sly hadn’t felt this good in weeks. His brain was on fire – imagining opportunities, logos, taglines, hosts, programming schedules. He was creating establishing shots, picking the college they’d choose (FIT? NYU? SVA? Marymount?), imagining the names of the boys they’d turn into the next wave of gay celebrities. These were the things he was supposed to do in his position, but he had been too mired in depression and cobwebs for months. But now he was coming alive again. He was feeling powerful again. There was opportunity here, and promise. He wanted to get up and dance. Yes, Gay U. could indeed become reality. And, while he was a loon that needed an always-present entourage of at least seven different psychologists, Beau’s crazy idea just might work.
“Get me Crazy Beau’s number,” Sly told Erick. “That fucker’s unpredictable. Enough so to run by Logo and try to sell this to them on the spot. And they’d be crazy enough to buy it if we don’t first. Let’s nab this immediately.”
“Yes sir!” Erick said, exiting the office. He cleared the Manhunt account from his screen and searched for Beau’s number in his inbox. He drafted an email that he would send with his boss cc’d, but sent a text message to Beau first.
“Hey stud, I’ve got good news for you. Wanna meet up at your place? ☺”
Beau’s response came lightning-quick. “Wear something skimpy.”
“What do you mean you’re out!?”
Beau chased Carmine down Lexington Avenue, heaving to try and catch his breath while pushing through the crowds of people walking in all directions, flooding the sidewalk as they spilled out of the many closing office buildings, coming between him and his fleeing business partner. For someone who hadn’t set foot in a gym in years, Carmine was covering a lot of ground very quickly; maybe he’d been sneaking to the gym behind Beau’s back? Carmine weaved his way between people, turning to his side at times and stepping into the gutter at others, like a skilled waiter turning and burning with seven tables to serve, getting farther and farther away from Beau.
The early July evening had grown chilly and neither Carmine nor Beau had dressed appropriately, not wanting to be over-burdened with jackets and extra crap when they arrived at the offices. The street was wet from a recent, quiet rain that must have fallen sometime when they were inside, glimmering under the blinding lights of busy storefronts. Cabs honked and screeched, buses wheezed and revved up, all of their brake lights casting a crimson hue over hot dog carts and metal newsstands.
Beau himself had not felt this energized in months. The ride down the elevator to GayNet’s sparkling, high-ceilinged lobby felt like a victory lap after a homerun. The cold air that greeted him upon exiting the building provided an additional rush of adrenaline. King of the World was an understatement. He was master of the universe. As soon as he sat down after his half of the presentation, Beau had begun planning his night. To celebrate the inevitable victory, he would begin with a bar crawl through Hell’s Kitchen with his buds from the gayborhood, and would end with an open mind for anything and anywhere afterwards. If things went as they normally did, he would land in the bed of one of the two guys he was currently seeing (or on their hallway floor, if they were kinky and/or drunk enough) and wake up the next morning just in time for the inevitable call from GayNet’s programming and contract folks. He didn’t expect Carmine to join, but he was going to issue an invite regardless. He also didn’t exactly expect this.
Beau’s exciting evening plans had come to an abrupt halt, becoming instead an impromptu chase scene through New York City’s crowded, screaming streets. He picked up the pace and began breathing through his nose. Because every minute he chased Carmine was another minute less spent at one of the open bars, chugging down the ammonia-flavored well booze that the bars had to give away for free in order to get rid of it. One less minute of catching up on catty gossip and prowling the floor for someone cute. One less minute of post-drunk pizza.
Beau had found his partner’s silence odd on the elevator ride back down from the meeting. He had taken the executives’ breath away, practically ripping their lungs out of their chests with his bare hands, killing them where they sat, giving them a presentation they’d tweet about later – an event they’d never forget for as long as they lived. And then Carmine had taken the helm and delivered the particulars, which of course made Beau’s eyes glaze over. They were important particulars, the numbers and the synopsis of their world-changing reality show that would unseat Bravo and destroy Logo forever, and he trusted that Carmine had it covered. Aside from the wussy PR guy who fled the room like he was suddenly overcome with food poisoning, everything had gone without a hitch. So what, exactly, was the problem? Before Beau could ask Carmine what his deal was, his partner broke into a wobbly sprint across the lobby and blasted out through the revolving doors. So now he was sprinting, channeling his days in track back in college more than 8 years ago, closing the gap between them.
When Carmine realized he’d never outrun Beau, he abandoned the attempt and stopped in the center of the sidewalk, spinning around to face Beau once and for all. This sudden stop forced the pedestrian traffic to course around him like a stream around a boulder, soliciting a number of profane comments and angry sneers. “I mean I am done! We are done!
“Our company!” Carmine laughed, before doubling over into a snotty cough. “Yeah. The company. And us. All of it. I’m just done with it all.”
“Carby, come on.”
Carmine hated that nickname, a fact that he told Beau almost every time that the cocky, muscled asshole employed it. Carby was a reference to Carmine’s weakness for his favorite food group, carbohydrates, a mortal flaw that he blamed on his mother’s spectacular Italian cuisine that he was subjected to throughout his childhood (and on every visit to Florida where she was happily and actively retired a stone’s throw away from Walt Disney World.) Raised on a steady daily diet of pizza, lasagna, manicotti, ravioli, stuffed shells, napoleans, cannolis, and garlic bread, Carmine grew to desire only these things (or, in their absence, anything fried and filled with or covered in cheese). This diet, if “diet” was an accurate word for the way Carmine ate, caused him to grow to a 34-sized waist (and, to be honest, pushing 35 if he wasn’t careful) that often left him feeling like the ugliest gay man living in Chelsea. Beau would playfully call Carmine “Carby,” usually while patting his tummy or giving him a good boob squeeze as though it were an endearing link they shared – Carmine’s flabby parts versus his Adonis-esque muscles.
“FUCK YOU! Don’t EVER call me that ever again!”
Now it was Beau’s turn to be silent – something neither he nor Carmine were used to. They stood there, facing each other, Carmine still sniffling and coughing, Beau with his hands uncomfortably in his pockets, as New York City went right on being noisy and chaotic right around them.
“I’m sorry buddy. I thought you liked that name.”
“You’re lucky I don’t sue your ass for the shit you just pulled, you psychotic motherfucker!” Carmine saw his shirt had come out of his pants, and tried to jam it back in. Sweat stains peeked out from under his arms, his hair was matted to his head. He just wanted to strip out of his clothing and sit in an empty bathtub until his head stopped spinning.
Beau, despite his obliviousness to Carmine’s rage and embarrassment, wasn’t an idiot. He had expected some hysterics of this variety from his partner. This was the exact reason why he had slipped the slides into the deck and created the decoy for their pre-meeting review. Because Carmine was too traditional, too scared, too predictable. These were all good things, however, when one had to run a small agency, especially the financial part, which Beau happily entrusted to Carmine. But if Carmine had had his way, their presentation would have been standard, expected, unimaginative. The unimpressive showing would fit neatly into the mold of every other presentation that GayNet had seen that week, month, and year. A dog and pony show in a world packed with nothing but dogs and ponies. And it would then be forgotten. No way in hell that would happen, Beau had decided. This was the chance of a lifetime and Beau wouldn’t mediocre himself and his partner into corporate television oblivion. So Beau did what he did best: mixed shit up. Went out on a limb, and then attacked that limb with a battleaxe, lighting the resulting kindling on fire.
Beau wanted so badly to call Carmine out on his bullshit: this faux-shock, acting as though he had no idea that Beau might pull a surprise or two out of his never-ending bag of tricks. Theatrics and explosions were Beau’s trademark, they were as natural to him as his own breathing and blood circulation. But Beau had known his partner (and friend) long enough to realize that when he was this raw and wounded, any sort of attack would be deadly to their partnership and possibly even friendship. So instead Beau smiled, cracking a million-dollar grin that showed off his pearly whites.
“Come on. Let me take you out for a drink, Carmine. Tell you exactly why you should be thanking me right now. We can go to that place you like, what’s it called? Bond 45? I’ll buy you a chicken Parmesan too. Angel hair. Vodka sauce. We’ll ask for extra garlic bread and we’ll get the nicest red they’ve got in the place. Come on man, I was gonna go out and get fucked up tonight, but I’ll skip it for you.” He tried to pull Carmine out of the crowd and towards the street where they would hopefully find a cab to whisk them away to meatballs and an affordable cabernet.
“I don’t want a drink. I don’t want to eat,” lied Carmine, as he wanted nothing more than to bury his face in a bag of Sun Chips back at his apartment, washing down the fake cheesy accordions with vanilla vodka screwdrivers. “I want to go home, take a bath, and start searching Craigslist and Monster and Hot Jobs.”
Beau’s good will was failing him. “Oh will you relax?”
“Relax? Relax!?” Carmine was screaming now, frightening himself as throat dried out and went raw from his raised voice. “Do you have any idea what you just did in there?”
“You mean what we did,” Carmine corrected him proudly.
Now Carmine’s eyes were on fire, his face beet red. “No what YOU did. Jesus Christ, Beau. You need to see someone, and I need time away from you. Fuck, man. How am I going to pay my rent? Where am I going to find a job in this piss poor economy?”
Carmine broke down in tears, sobbing loudly, catching the cursory attention of curious passerby before they lost interest and made a run for a nearby subway entrance to catch the train home. Carmine was no longer embarrassed – that bit had come and gone an hour ago, coinciding with the second Beau clicked to his first slide. No, now Carmine was mortified. He was beyond adjectives and in the realm of verbs, like taking a bath with his toaster, or catching the next A-train by leaping in front of it. He felt like a vacuum had been attached to his stomach, another one to his head. He felt idiotic, ugly, even itchy, like bugs were crawling in his hair and down his back. First the scene in the conference room, then the ride down with President Sly Swanson who found the numbered buttons on the elevator car’s panel more interesting than either Carmine or Beau and didn’t say a single word to either of them as he got off on a different floor, and now this – an uncontrollable public display of emotion in front of a steady stream of complete and total strangers.
Carmine was in Hell, and it was only going to get worse. He’d need to find a job, and fast. He’d cancel their office rental, internet and phone service, and put a stop on their recent business card order at the printers around the corner from his apartment. Doing a quick rattling of numbers in his head he realized that with all of the business expenditures removed, he had enough money to live in this city for another month or two, tops. If he didn’t get a job by then, he’d have to figure something else out.
“Hey, Carby, hey,” Beau realized his slip and slapped a hand on his mouth, his eyes extremely apologetic. “Here, come with me.”
He took Carmine’s hand and pulled them both away from the crowd, off the sidewalk and closer to a building, beneath a scaffolding, dipping them into a damp darkness lit only by a single stray work light. This was the best privacy Beau could get right now, out of the sight lines of all of those pitying, judgmental New Yorkers who probably thought that Carmine was the nutzo, rather than the realizing that Beau was the actual crazy person, who now, of course, looked remarkably well-adjusted and level-headed.
“Listen, trust me here, okay? I got us this meeting, didn’t I?”
“No. I got this meeting,” Carmine sniffled
“Okay. You’re right. You did. But I got it moved up, right? And I got all of those other suits in there, didn’t I?”
This was true. One benefit of Beau’s incurable Attention Deficit Disorder (both diagnosed and targeted by numerous pills and potions and homeopathic remedies over the years, to no effect) was that he had the innate ability to drive anyone insane by never, ever leaving them alone – molesting them with a regularity that would make fiber pills jealous. Beau’s target this time was Erick, the poor twink executive assistant to Sly Swanson and at least three of the other people in the meeting that day. From the day Carmine landed the meeting a month ago, Beau began calling the skinny red head (they knew what Erick looked like because Beau found and added him on Facebook). Every day Carmine caught Beau on his phone flirting with Erick, tormenting him, offering him everything from a date to a blowjob to get the meeting bumped up earlier, and filled with more important people. In the end, Erick the GayNet executive assistant was able to wrangle the seven men and women, free up their busy schedules, and push the meeting ahead to this day. In exchange, and at his request, Beau agreed to never call him again.
“Yes, you did and then you ruined it.”
“Well, then can’t you just trust me?”
Carmine pushed his former friend into the marble wall of whatever building they had taken refuge beside, banging the back of his pretty head against a plaque that commemorated the life and death of some dead Manhattan millionaire. “I did trust you, Beau. When I left healthcare marketing and jumped into a completely new industry, with no experience in Television producing whatsoever, just because you said you had already sold this fucking show, I trusted you. When I stayed in that rental office with you after I found out you hadn’t sold anything, even though my old company kept asking me to come back, and everyone I knew warned me that this was the stupidest thing I’d ever do, I trusted you. When I put all of my fucking savings into this company, into OUR company, because you didn’t have any funds to contribute I trusted you.”
“So why stop now?” Beau tried to squirm out of Carmine’s grasp, but his friend’s grip was unbreakable.
“Because you are a selfish, over-dramatic, attention-hogging shit head. You are a liar and a complete and total psychopath. You gambled with my money, my job, my LIFE and then took a shit all over it in that boardroom just now. You made me look like a fucking nut, made us look like a fucking joke, and made the past 9 months a fucking waste of my fucking time and money!”
Beau seemed to be taking this in, his eyes turning to slits and his lips quivering. Carmine, shocked, wondered if maybe he had finally broken through the exterior shell of ego and sex to the emotional core of his cement-headed friend.
“You’re gonna feel really ridiculous when they call us and say that we got the go-ahead, Carby.”
Carmine didn’t have enough energy to laugh, to employ a drop of sarcasm or conjure up a witty dismissal of this asshole he’d once called his friend. He just had enough energy to leave. “Hopefully you’ll realize how stupid you were today when they don’t ever call you. And then maybe you’ll realize what you just threw away. I’d like you to not call me. Don’t write me. Don’t come near me, you understand?”
Carmine was shaking, tears running down his face in torrents. His grim visage frightened Beau, kicking his damage control into high gear. His friend just needed a few hours, a few days maybe. After that he’d call him or text him and then in a month this whole shit show would be behind them. Beau had completely forgotten about GayNet and the show they just pitched, he was already realizing what he had just done.
“Okay, Carmine. Okay. I’m gone. I’m sorry. Really, I am.”
“Bullshit you’re sorry. Spare me the spin. And fuck you, Beau.”
And then Carmine slapped Beau across the face. It was an epic moment for him – something he realized then, in that moment, that he must have been wanting to do for so many years. His spirits lifted as Beau’s stubbly cheek turned almost immediately red, and a single tear shot out of the eye closest to the site of impact, glimmering in the warm yellow work light. Now Beau was shocked. Now he was speechless. Now, maybe, he would have a slight understanding of what today had become for Carmine.
And then Carmine ran, blazing a path through the still-thick throng of Lexington Avenue professionals, pushing a man with a briefcase here, a woman with a frozen yogurt there. Leaving Beau and a squad of cursing New Yorkers behind, Carmine was smiling, riding high on his new freedom and the sudden chance of starting over again. Possibilities were everywhere, weren’t they? For someone with his experience and resume it wouldn’t be too hard to find a new job, even if his company had filled the position they so wanted him to take back. He’d find a way. He had to, because he had no idea what he’d do if he didn’t.
Carmine narrowly avoided being flattened by a speeding cross-town bus as he ran across the street, ignoring the blinking Don’t Walk sign, putting as much distance between himself and his former colleague and friend as he could. Manhattan Fortune smiled on him, materializing a free, on-duty yellow cab in the mass of unavailable ones. Carmine jumped into the back seat, and gave the driver directions to his apartment. The car smelled like French fries and Carmine’s stomach growled in response. He would be fine! Yes. He just needed to get some food. Get on the computer. Get a new job. It could happen. It WOULD happen. Guaranteed. Right?
Around 34th street at a red light, Carmine realized that he had no idea were he would go from here. At that moment his smile shattered into a million pieces – each shard was a warm and salty tear.
Beau Joseph Reagan punched each of the seven executives in the boardroom in the stomach. Hard. Not literally, but he might as well have. The victimized executives in question were the top decision makers of GayNet, a recently launched and severely suffering gay television channel, one that was often stuck in the tail end of cable lineups, usually between Home and Garden’s Spanish channel and one of those stations that plays country music interspersed with outdated factoids about the currently playing song’s artist.
Forks dropped on plates of unfinished risotto and mixed field green salads with a synchronized clang. Ice cubes in finely cut glasses filled with Coke Zero and Fresca ceased their clinking and commenced melting in silence. A stray blackberry on the long wooden conference table pinged a tinny cry for attention, yet not a single onlooker checked to who the alert belonged to. The only other sounds in the room, which now seemed more like a subterranean cavern or abandoned chapel than a cream-colored, expertly decorated Lexington Avenue high-rise meeting room, were the hum of the air conditioner and the nervous buzz of the projector.
The figurative punch, and source of the GayNet executives’ collective, dumbfounded shock was a single PowerPoint slide now standing before them in all of its horrifying glory like a streaker in front of a traffic jam. A slide that Beau had just transitioned to.
The first slide of his presentation.
One of the GayNet VIPs, President of Programming, Sly Swanson, a man who looked like Mr. Clean if he’d quit cleaning kitchens and bathrooms and instead spent his newfound free time eating Uncle Ben’s, dressed for this meeting a designer patterned hanky tucked into his jacket pocket, swallowed audibly; His chicken nugget of an Adam’s apple struggled to get past the tight starched collar of his pale blue button up shirt. He opened his mouth, but no words made it out alive.
The slide in question featured only two words: Fuck Bravo.
Two powerful, inappropriate, unprofessional words. The slide might as well have said “God is dead” or “Madonna is a Talentless Cunt,” such was the response (or non-response) of the agape onlookers. Including Carmine.
Carmine, Beau’s business partner, looked far worse than the rest of the men and women in the room. Because Carmine had no idea that this particular slide would be a part of their big, extremely important pitch presentation. The slide began, and, Carmine assumed, ended, as a joke Beau made one of the many late nights when they were assembling the hefty PowerPoint. They were maybe a little drunk on a bottle of cheap white wine from the liquor store down the street from their temporary office space when this occurred. When Beau typed those two words onto the screen, they both had a good, hard laugh. But then, instead of deleting it and returning to the task at hand, Beau said that he’d keep it in for a “Wow Moment” to create “Some Real Fucking Impact.” Carmine said, in no uncertain terms, that he would murder his business partner right there in the room, during the pitch, should the sacrilegious slide surface. Perhaps he should have held a knife to Beau’s throat while saying it.
Seconds dragged out into infinity as Beau tried to grasp how they had come to this perverse and pivotal moment in his career. But there was no sense to be made of this ridiculous moment. In the cab on the way from their cramped office, Beau and Carmine had walked through the presentation, slide by slide. Carmine had seen with his own two eyes that the space where the forbidden slide once existed had been tastefully replaced with some sort of soft-hitting business-y speak that discussed audience numbers, target viewer behaviors, Nielsen comparisons, popular Web video trends, and all those sorts of dry and unrelated facts that TV executives ate for brunch. In that cab there was no sight of the dastardly duo of words that took aim directly at the current King of reality television.
But there those same two words were, blown up to 1000 times their normal size, in a bold and vicious font that looked like it had been scratched into the projection screen by a tiger that had just finished clawing a deer to death. Carmine had never seen the font used to deliver the Fuck Bravo message, and he found it both garish and hideous; Beau must have gone out of his way to find, purchase, and use the font to really drive his point home.
A fake! His own partner had shown him a phony presentation in the cab, clicked through the stunt double file while the real deal lay hidden on Beau’s Mac desktop buried in some inconspicuously named folder. The depths of this corporate treachery went beyond words: it was the ultimate 9-to-5 backstab. No. That wasn’t a strong enough comparison. It wasn’t so much that Beau had come up from behind and stabbed Carmine; it was more like he had knifed him repetitively in the back, up one side, down the other, and then wrenched his spine out like the worst kind of fatality available to players of Mortal Kombat 4.
Two words. One slide. Zero ways to fix the inevitable shit show. This meeting would surely end promptly and in the next minute or so with the GayNet executives thanking Beau and Carmine for their time while measuring them carefully, making sure that the two of them were sane enough to receive rejection without resorting to violence, without needing a personal escort from the impeccably decorated GayNet corporate headquarters by large men with guns or batons.
Months and months of backbreaking work, painfully late nights that became even more painful early mornings, pointless networking events with overpriced well drinks, cold calls that ended before they began, pitch letters that cost a ton and ended up papering parakeet and hamster cages, pitch emails that languished forever in SPAM folders next to dick enlargement ads and links to videos of Russian women enjoying their days while their husbands were at work. And the then there were Google ads that ate away at Carmine’s initial investment click by click, the Facebook ads that looked like they were cobbled together by a 5-year-old in art class and yet cost more than the damn Google ones. The business meals. The TV conferences. Not just money, but so much time too. All of that had gone into getting Beau and Carmine to this point, and now so little would ruin it all.
Beau got up from his seat coolly, walked across the room past every silent executive and stood sentry right beside his rogue presentation slide, smartly avoiding the death gaze shooting out of Carmine’s eyes. Carmine, meanwhile, was trying to tally how many Tums and bottles of Pepto it would take him to ease the acidic churning in his stomach, and how many layers of clothing he had just sweat through, since his body just went and vomited every drop of perspiration inside it all at once.
“Fuck Bravo,” Beau said, smiling, pointing at the two words with a laser pointer that he produced from his pocket, abandoning the shovel he had been using to dig his and Carmine’s grave, and opting instead to finish the job with a crane. “Did you hear me? Fuck. Bravo.”
The executives nodded silently. One of the two women, a blonde and busty lipstick lesbian named Janet Fiore, the Director of Advertising, looked flush, and nodded like a grieving widow hearing the cost of her deceased husband’s funeral. Carmine couldn’t figure out where to look, being too ashamed and petrified to meet the gaze of any GayNet executive who might be looking his way for an explanation for his partner’s rampant unprofessionalism, and too furious and ill to meet Beau’s manic smile. So he let his eyes rest on the PowerPoint Slide.
When the slide changed, things only got worse. On this one were 6 more horrifying words:
Fuck Andy Cohen
Fuck Real Housewives
This slide came complete with a photo of a middle finger, a shot of the chief executive in charge of Bravo’s reality television’s smiling mug, and a Photoshopped creation depicting Dorothy’s iconic house from The Wizard of Oz falling on top of the full cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
Somebody gasped, but Carmine couldn’t turn away from what was quickly becoming the equivalent of a car wreck bursting into flames, taking adjacent traffic along with it.
“And Fuck everything that Bravo is about,” Beau added, gesticulating wildly with his laser toy, bouncing the red beam directly on the fake tits of one of the bimbo housewives. “Real Housewives? Please. It doesn’t matter where they set that hot mess parade, it’s always going to be the same tired, phony, predictable dramatics wherever the cameras go. Same shit, different dress designers. And Andy Cohen? He’s a one trick-turning pony that needs to be carted off to the glue factory ASAP. And yet, despite the shit Bravo peddles, they rule the reality world with their hack programming. America is scooping up the poop and eating it like a Whitman’s Sampler.”
Carmine wondered where he’d be able to vomit inconspicuously, considering both a fake potted plant in the back corner of the boardroom by the remaining cans of soda and wraps, or one of the floor to ceiling windows that lined the wall, assuming they were actually operable. If they weren’t, Carmine figured, he could always just take a running jump and swan dive into the jammed mid-day traffic twenty floors below.
Beau clicked to the next slide: Fuck Logo. He was now circling the conference room at a speedy clip, defying a single onlooker to meet his fiery glare.
“Fuck them all, folks. Oh, I’ll mention Logo all right. These guys are KILLING you. And why? What’s their secret weapon? The A-List? A collection of vapid queens who are more at home brunching and comparing cock sizes and anal depth than actually accomplishing anything in their lives. I wonder who came up with THAT idea… oh, that’s right! The creators of one of the stupid housewives shows! Talk about going out of your comfort zone. Talk about giving the gay community something to actually look up to, or giving the straight community something to compare us to. Isn’t it great that we can depend on America’s number one gay channel to peddle to its audience something truly evocative, substantive, innovative, and meaningful?”
The seven network executives remained completely silent, their eyes darting from the projection screen to Beau, back to the projection screen, and back to Beau again. And Beau, holding the remote that controlled their fates seemed to be enjoying every last drop of their attention. Carmine wondered if his partner had any idea what he was doing. How could he? How could any reasonable person who’d spent as many years as Beau did in the corporate world think this was acceptable? This was the behavior of a man experiencing a mental meltdown the likes of which drove factory employees to walk out on their lackluster jobs, only to come back with concealed firearms. How had Carmine worked with this man all these months, and known him all these years, without once realizing that a crazy man lay beneath the pore-free, boyish face?
Beau’s eyes were UFOs drawing closer to earth, his face gave rise to veins the size of spaghetti strands, his biceps bulging through his rolled up sleeves, beads of sweat rising on his hairy forearms. “Fucking unacceptable!” He screamed. “Trash! Pure, utter, and vile trash!”
Hank Levine, the mustachioed Director of GayNet’s PR department, rose out of his seat and exited the conference room in a blaze, muttering: “I can’t. I just can’t.” The door slammed behind him.
“Pussy,” Beau spat. “Typical PR coward.”
Carmine couldn’t hold back any longer. “I’m so sorry, everyone.” He then began stuttering. What could he even say?
“No, relax, Car. I got this,” Beau said with a tone that communicated don’t even think about it.
Carmine would have spoken up again, but fear held his dried out tongue. Who knew what Beau was capable of in this mood? Carmine wouldn’t put it past his psychotic partner to turn on him and punch him right in front of the rest of the room.
Here Beau took a breath and returned to the table to grab his bottle of water, chugging it and slamming it back down on the table. “Shall I continue?”
The others nodded.
“But,” Beau held up a his pointer finger and returned to the screen, advancing to his second to last slide, which featured Andy Cohen, the Housewives, the Bravo logo, and the Logo logo all assembled neatly behind a crosshairs. “But, my friends, this is also the harbinger of their upcoming downfall. It is the Achilles tendon we can slash as we hide behind a Dumpster as they walk past unawares. It’s the weak spot in their infrastructure where we can conceal our pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails, and detonate it at will. Their defining strength, friends, is in fact their biggest, rawest, most vulnerable weakness.”
“Now you may be wondering to yourself,” Beau continued, “what could these two nuts possibly offer to Hiroshima and Nagasaki these established channels and reality programs? What brilliant, innovative, audience-stealing game-changer do they have up their sleeves to unseat the kings and queens of Unreality Television?”
“Well, for that I am happy to turn the reigns over to my business partner, Carmine DiLorenzo!” With this statement, the rage in Beau’s eyes dyed down like someone had doused his inner fire with a bucket of water. Beau walked back across the room, past the uneaten lunches and the stunned executives, to where Carmine was slowly sinking into his seat. He slammed the remote on the table in front of Carmine, practically smashing both the table and the black piece of plastic into bits. Like a group of hostages, the GayNet executives slowly turned their befuddled attention until all of their beaten eyes were on Carmine.
“Take it away, partner,” Beau grinned, returning to his seat, reclining, and resting his feet on the table.
The last time I did this, I pretended I was the main character of the story. This time, I’m trying something different: transparency and honesty.
Welcome to the official website of “Gay U!” it’s a web novel that I began writing yesterday for National Novel Writing Month. I will be updating this site every day because NaNoWriMo demands that I write every single day.
This project will culminate in a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
What’s Gay U. about? No damn idea. Your guess is as good as mine. I cannot promise you what will come of this project, how appropriate or inappropriate it might be, or how good it will be.
I can promise you only this: it’ll be one hell of a chaotic ride. Hope you’ll join me!
Your humble author,
Justin R. Buchbinder