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Friday, September 3, 2010

The Thunderbolt


I’m currently writing yet another draft of a new novel, “Corbin Milk” (for a description of the first one see “Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010), and I thought I’d post a segment of it and see what you think—email me at dglswhaley@aol.com with any comments or suggestions. The novel concerns the adventures of a gay CIA agent, a good-looking and very smart bodybuilder named Corbin Milk, for whom the CIA finds the most interesting uses. I got the idea for writing this novel while reading an article in The Advocate, the news magazine of the gay community. The article concerned an anonymous Army captain who was riding slowly through the streets of Bagdad on a tank during the liberation of that city when he locked eyes with a handsome Iraqi man standing on the street. Though it could have gotten them both in major trouble with their respective communities, the two men had a great times thereafter on a number of occasions. Surely, I thought, the CIA would see possibilities in the fact that gay sex is very far off the radar in a heterosexual world. In that world men and women are constantly aware of sexual tensions between two straight people, no matter what the setting—even in church, for example. But that world is more or less blind to similar gay encounters.

The excerpt below explains how Corbin Milk first fell in love with a man named George Yancy, another major character in the novel. This meeting is loosely based on the beginning of the actual romance between my good friends Wayne and Ted, who have now been together for over 25 years. As far as I know, neither of them is a CIA agent.

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It all started in the summer of the previous year when Corbin was invited by friends to go with them to a Fourth of July picnic and party at the Virginia residence of George Yancy and his partner Denny Weeks. This lovely home was situated outside of D.C., and boasted a four acre yard fronting on the river. Almost two hundred people, most of them gay men, were having a very good time eating, drinking, and getting ready for the evening fireworks, both physical and pyrotechnic, when Corbin and his friends arrived. They were given beers and invited to share in the camaraderie.

An hour or so later Corbin became separated from his friends as he journeyed through the large home in search of a bathroom. This task accomplished, he stood looking around. The entire house was resplendent in the sort of magnificent taste that gay men (but not, to his dismay, Corbin himself) stereotypically possessed, and the kitchen, which was next to the bathroom Corbin had found, caused him to pause in amazement when he peered in. It was gigantic and filled with the sort of appliances and gadgets that TV chefs routinely employed when creating their trademark masterpieces. A catering staff of men and women, all dressed in white aprons, were working with great precision: making food, cleaning up, carrying things to other parts of the grounds, but getting through it all with a good humored attitude that showed they’d done this often before and took pride in their work. One of their number, a blond twenty year old kid stopped what he was doing when he spotted Corbin, and then grinned at him broadly.

“Where’s your beer, handsome?” he asked. When Corbin shrugged to indicate he didn’t have one, the kid pulled a bottle from the refrigerator and handed it to him, saying, “Here’s part of the private stash—meant for the beer snobs who turn up their noses at the swill in the outside coolers.” He sniffed dismissively in the direction of the offending coolers.

“Beer snobs?” asked Corbin, taking the beer and examining its elegant label. “I don’t qualify for that.” It was a brand he’d never heard of, apparently foreign. It had a pleasant mellow taste when he took an experimental sip.

The kid winked at him. “Guys as good looking as you qualify for everything. Want a date for later?”

Corbin laughed, raised the beer in a “thank you” salute, and passed back into the party proper without responding directly to the invitation. The kid was cute, but not the mesomorph sort of behemoth that made Corbin’s head swivel. Of course, there were some mesomorphs at the party, but, like most of the guests, they all seemed too loud and liquored up to be appealing. Perhaps when sober . . .

He was engrossed in that thought when a man passing by noticed his beer and said, “Ah, a connoisseur! Been looking through the fridge?” He was an appealing thin man in his 30s, about Corbin’s height, with a broad smile and dark features.

Corbin laughed. “I passed by the kitchen and one of the staff handed it to me by way of a come-on.”

“Well, enjoy,” the man said, giving Corbin a careful look-over. “I’m Denny Weeks.” He extended his hand.

“Oh,” Corbin replied, as they shook, “you’re one of our hosts! I’m Corbin Milk, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Milk, eh? Any relation to Harvey?”

Harvey Milk, a former San Francisco Supervisor, was a martyr in the early gay rights movement, shot down at City Hall by a homophobe in 1978.

“No,” Corbin replied. “I wish. I came today with Alex Wright and Stew Anderson and their gang.”

Denny smiled. “Don’t know either of them, but that’s true of most of the guys here. The party sort of spiraled out of control this year. George goes a little nuts when he gets to sending out invitations.”

“George is your partner?”

“Yes,” Denny replied, and, turning, added, “and here he comes. I’ll introduce you.”

It was a life-altering moment, the sort of sudden recognition of overwhelming attraction that Italians call the “thunderbolt,” that Emile de Becque sings of in “Some Enchanted Evening,” and that a famous pair of young star-crossed lovers experienced at a dance in Verona. George Yancy was a little man, also in his thirties (and thus older than Corbin), with a nearly invisible mustache and coal black, neatly groomed hair. The most startling thing about him was his eyes, which couldn’t seem to settle on a color, being black or brown or grey or green depending on the angle of the light. It made him look quite mysterious. Since he was on an errand, his manner was hurried, but Denny grabbed his arm to stop him as he passed. George was not Corbin’s traditional type at all, but that suddenly meant nothing. Corbin felt a pull, a tie to George so strong it almost hurt. He felt dizzy looking at him.

“Not now, Denny,” George told his partner. “The chocolate fountain has clogged up.”

“George, George,” Denny protested. “Stop and smell the company. This interesting man is named Corbin Milk.”

George glanced up, prepared to shake a hand, make excuses, and then dash off to deal with the malfunctioning fountain, but now he too froze, hand extended, sharply inhaling a gasp of air. Corbin knew without question that this man was experiencing the same devastating blow that had just felled Corbin. Passion? Love? Love at first sight? Wasn’t that just a silly expression? Could there possibly be this strong and quick a recognition of the rightness of two strangers?

Concerned, Denny put his face closed to George’s. “Are you okay, George?” he asked.

George said nothing, but continued to stare at Corbin as if mesmerized. And Corbin too was overwhelmed, feeling a weakness never experienced before. Good heavens—might he actually faint? Corbin Milk faint! He shook himself vigorously in an attempt to regain control.

“George?” Denny pressed again. “You’re worrying me!”

Now George came back to life. He looked blankly at Denny, risked a glance back at Corbin, and then blushed a red so dark that he looked like a plague victim.

“I need to sit down,” he told his partner. “Could you look into the fountain for me, or get one of the staff to tend to it?” He turned, spied a sofa behind him, and dropped onto it with Denny still holding onto his arm.

“You look awful. Hank Lowell is a doctor. I’ll be right back.” He looked at Corbin. “Stay with him, please.”

Corbin nodded. Oh, yes. He was going to do that. Stay with him. Denny pushed his way through the crowd, and Corbin slowly sat down next to George. They looked at each other.

“What just happened?” George asked in a low voice, as if worried about being overheard.

Corbin, used to being in charge and on top of situations, could only stare back in bewilderment. He wasn’t sure he could talk.

Sitting up straighter, George tried to shake his reaction off. “You must think me a weak sister, behaving like this. I’m so sorry.” But when he looked into Corbin’s light grey eyes he saw a truth there that scared him anew. For the longest period, neither said anything, neither sure what to say. Could this be any more awkward?

Finally, George smiled. “You do talk, don’t you?” he asked.

Corbin gave a short laugh. “Too much, I’m told.”

“Tell me your name again,” George asked, and when Corbin did so, George said it out loud, memorizing. Then he added, “I don’t know how to phrase this, but we need to figure out what’s going on here. Do you know?”

Corbin shook his head. “Not a clue,” he replied. “But you’re right. We can’t just walk away whistling.”

George shuddered slightly. “Damn it to hell,” he muttered. “Wrong time, wrong place . . . .” He trailed off.

“Wrong man?” Corbin finished for him.

They paused and looked at each other. Corbin felt his heart kick into gallop.

“Not that,” George replied. “The opposite problem.”

Corbin suddenly stood, and George, after a brief hesitation, did the same.

“I think I need to go home,” Corbin said, looking around as if he weren’t sure what continent he was on.

“Give me your phone number before you go,” George said, sounding as if this were very important to him.

Corbin shook his head. “You . . . you” was all he could manage. He meant to say that George was, in effect, a married man, but he was still reeling from the thunderbolt and the words stumbled over each other.

“What?” George said, now worried about Corbin’s confusion. Didn’t he recognize how urgent it was to settle this right now?

“Goodbye,” Corbin said, and darted through the crowd in the living room before George could react. He plunged along the patio and searched through the guests until he found Enrico Thomas, the driver of the van he’d arrived in. He took Enrico’s arm and leaned in close to the man. “Something’s come up, and I’ve got to go now. Don’t worry about me. I’ll see you later.” And, brushing off Enrico’s questions, he walked quickly to the parking lot, and then through it. He almost ran down the driveway, and, reaching the highway, stopped to consider his next move. How to get home? After a moment he pulled out his cell phone and started the process of summoning a taxi.

Both men lay awake that night, eyes wide open, sleep impossible. Both were happy and sad at once. Each knew what had happened, but had no idea how to handle it.

George, after searching the party for Corbin, and becoming distressed when he couldn’t find him, spent the next half hour asking guests if they knew Corbin Milk. Finally he came upon the group that answered yes, and through them discovered the big man’s phone number. But then, having acquired it, paused to think. “Damn, damn, damn!” he muttered. “Here’s a twist on the usual fairy tale—tiny prince searches for a Cinderella with a size 14 shoe!”

George loved Denny. Of course he did. They’d been together for nearly three years, and even if things were rocky now and again (okay, a lot), they were committed to each other and this relationship. He mustn’t do anything to jeopardize that. Plus, Corbin Milk, undoubtedly a gorgeous man, was not the kind of romantic figure that attracted George in the first place. He was a lunk—already known to be inarticulate, probably unaware and uncaring about the things that were dear to George: the arts, food, culture, philosophy, good books, deep conversations, a relationship with God. What in hell had come over him to feel such attraction to a man like that? It was madness.

Corbin was in even worse shape. He’d experienced love before, but not requited love, and certainly nothing of this frightening intensity. Every fiber in his being yearned for George Yancy, and every ounce of common sense told him it was a big mistake to pursue that urge. Even if the man felt exactly as he did, George was already taken, and Corbin had no desire to be an on-the-side menu item. Plus, there was no time for romance. His job with the CIA was taking him all over the world, keeping him away from his apartment in D.C. for months at a time. And George Yancy, though a strangely attractive man, was not the sort of physical presence that had captivated Corbin in the past. The man wouldn’t care about the lure of adventure, the mystique of intrigue and outwitting one’s opponents, physical challenges and danger, sports, rigorous exercise, and fancy automobiles. It was madness.

All the same, came a Saturday morning two weeks later when the phone rang and Corbin picked it up, somehow knowing (how could that be?) it was George. When he heard his voice, Corbin’s heart jumped into his throat and threatened to choke off his ability to speak.

“Corbin, it’s George.”

“I know. Hello, George.”

“I’ve been doing some reading. This sort of thing actually happens. It has to do with pheromones and other chemical reactions. Or maybe God or psychic connections or previous lives, or something.”

“God? Previous lives?” Corbin didn’t like the sound of that. He was an atheist and had no truck with the supernatural.

“OK. I don’t know how it happens,” George confessed. “But it’s real! It’s been documented. Tell me you didn’t feel it when we first saw each other.”

A silence.

“I thought so,” George said. “Let’s just talk for a few minutes and see if we can get our bearings here. Tell me about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do for a living? How old are you?”

So they exchanged this sort of information. Corbin told him as much truth as he could: that he was 28, a native Californian, a graduate of UCLA with a degree in international relations, he spoke fluent Russian, and (the lie) that he worked for an import/export business in D.C. In turn, George explained that he was 34, from Ohio originally, a computer specialist with Glassworld, a collector of fine crystal, and someone who loved all the arts.

“And Denny Weeks? Do you love him too?” Corbin asked.

That question produced another silence while George thought about his answer. “We’ve been together almost three years. He’s great.”

“Do you love him?” The repeated question was almost accusatory.

“Yes. No. Well, it’s complicated. On one level it’s perfect, and on another we often fight like pit bulls and end up not talking for days. I don’t know how to answer you.”

Corbin ran a hand through the bristles of his crew cut, and then gave a soft sigh.

“I do know what to say,” he told George. “We have to cut this off before it explodes all over both of us, or . . . the three of us. Denny appears to be a nice man. I can’t get involved with whatever is going on between you two.”

Another pause, and then George sighed and said, “You’re right. You’re right. But it tears me in two to think we’ll not see each other again. This attraction is like a physical force that drives all common sense from my mind and compels me to go to you, to call you, to touch you. Oh, Lord, I shouldn’t have said that! Thinking about touching you, I just broke out in a sweat! What’s happening to me? I’m not like this at all. A giggling schoolgirl!”

“Goodbye, George. Don’t call again.”

“Okay, okay,” George agreed hurriedly, determined to hang up, embarrassed by the things he’d said, sorry he’d called.

“But,” Corbin added, and then thought how to phrase his next words.

“What? You said ‘but’.”

“If you and Denny ever do break up, then let me know. I’m not urging that, you understand, but if it happens . . . .”

“Yes, yes. I do understand.”

And with that the call ended, and they didn’t speak again until they were standing in the lobby of the Rakoom Hilton sixteen months later.




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"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013

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