Archive for Gay rights

Serialization: Why My Dad Hates Ice Cream (5)

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åChapter Eleven
     When I came back downstairs Claire was waiting for me in the

front hall.  I guess she didn’t want to make a solo appearance.  We

walked out to the kitchen, which smelled of baked beans and onions,

through the sun room and out the back door into our yard.
      The six adults were all seated around a big round table that

I recognized as belonging to our neighbor, Charlie Halleck.

Knowing old man Halleck, I’d have bet anything he wouldn’t have

loaned it to dad if he had known what kinds of people would be

eating at it.  Off to the right a teeange boy and girl were playing

a lethargic game of badminton across the net that Arch must have

hastily put up earlier in the day.
     As Claire and I walked across the lawn to the table, I felt a

sudden rush of anxiety.  I recognized Dad’s co©counsel, Lawrence

Fishbine Berger, because Archie had done some real estate work with

him in the past.  And I recognized Dorothy Berger, his wife, who

had been to dinner at our house a couple of years ago.  By process

of elimination the third, and youngest, male at the table had to be

Dennis J. Lustig.
     My first impression of Denny Lustig was that he had to be

related to the actor Tom Cruise, who had just burst upon the movie

scene with a sexy little comedy called “Risky Business.”  Cruise

had played a teen who, left alone at home for the weekend, turned

his house into a brothel for two days.  Naturally, Mom had objected

to my seeing it, but I had managed to catch it at the Lawrence Park

Shopping Center on a Saturday afternoon anyway.‘’3[1]0*†(†(∞

‘å     Every girl I knew, who had managed to see the picture despite

her parents’ protests, was in love with Cruise, and for that reason

every guy who, like me, had slipped in to see it, hated him.  And

Lustig was just about as good looking as the famous young actor.
     Lustig looked particularly appealing, placed as he was between

Archie and Larry Berger.  If ever there was a Laurel and Hardy of

the law, my Dad and his sometime co©counsel were that duo.  As big

and round and fat as the old man was (and pretty much still is,

despite the ice cream aversion), Berger was as thin and stooped and

stringy.  If Lustig was the Tom Cruise of the case, Berger was the

Walter Matthau.  But I’m probably getting you confused with all my

movie allusions.  Suffice it to say that, if and when they ever

entered a Bucks County courtroom, the client ©©© even though he was

under an HIV death sentence ©©© was going to look dazzling in

contrast to his two attorneys.
    As Claire and I came into the backyard from the sun room we had

let the screen door slam behind us.  Everybody at the table had

looked up at once, and Archie lumbered to his feet, knocking his

molded plastic lawn chair over behind him.  He looked beleaguered

and the blue barbeque apron he wore was smeared with drying red

sauce and sundry other, unidentifiable food products.
    “Hey, kids, glad you finally made it,” he said in what I

recognized as phony©jovial tones.  The stress Archie was enduring

was hidden just below a very thin layer of congeniality.

    “Ned… Claire… I’m sure you remember Mr. and Mrs. Berger.”‘’40*†(†(∞

‘å     “Hi.”
Claire and I smiled insincere, forced little smiles at the Bergers.

Mr. Berger, slumped back in his molded plastic chair… one of a

dozen Dad had purchased en masse from an end©of©summer sidewalk

sale at the Manoa Shopping Center last August and then left stacked

in the backyard all winter to turn from white to a cruddy©looking

shade of gray… lethargically waved the hand that wasn’t holding

his scotch on the rocks. “Hi, kids.  Great to see you two again.”

Yeh, sure.
    Mrs. Berger, by contrast, leaned forward so that her cleavage

became clearly visible to my pubescent stare.  Two very thin

shoulder straps, which seemed to be little more than bits of twine,

held up her dress, which barely contained her ample bosum.  She

flashed a big smile at us, revealing a mouthful of braces.  By 1985

middle©aged orthodontic work had become all the rage and Mrs. B.

obviously was right on the cutting edge of the trend.  Her big

smile compressed her eyes down to two slits and some of her

heavily©applied sky©blue eyeshadow cracked and flaked.
    “Oh, my, you two have gotten so big.  Claire you’re quite the

woman.  Your father reminded me before you got her that you’re

almost Gwenny’s age.”
    Turning round in her chair, so that I now got to study her

bare, freckled right shoulder and back, she shouted as if her

daughter were two or three backyards away.  “Gwenny, get over here‘Ä%50*†(†(∞

and meet the McAdoo children.  You too, Justin.  Put those racquets

down and come here.” 
    The Berger offspring appeared to be no more enthusiastic about

this close encounter of the teenage kind than Claire and I were.

But we went through the motions of shaking hands and getting

acquainted.  Then Archie, still standing uneasily throughout this

ritual completed the introductions.
   “Claire… Ned, this is Mr. Lustig.”
    Claire smiled at Dennis Lustig.  Being a girl she could get

away with not shaking his hand.  But I was a boy,,, a young man…

of 16.   I leaned across the table and proffered my limp right hand

to Mr. HIV himself.  Lustig practically leaped to his feet and took

my flaccid paw in his own strong right hand and pumped it

enthusiastically.  My arm undulated like a length of linguine.
     “Ned!  What a pleasure.  Your father tells me you’re now part

of the Lustig litigation team,” he bubbled.  “If you’re anything

like your heroic father, I’m just thrilled to welcome you onboard

our Starship Enterprise.”
     I found it disconcerting the way he stared right into my eyes,

his own a mix of mischievousness and a probing quality, as if over

time he had developed the habit of trying to ascertain what the

people he met really thought about him.  The other disturbing

quality about his eyes was their color… a sort of violet that

seemed at once beautiful in a feminine way and quite unnatural.‘#60*†(†(∞

‘å    “Uh, yuh… I’m pleased to meet you too.”  But of course quite

the opposite was true, and I knew Lustig could see that in my eyes

and feel it in my ‘dead fish’ handshake.
     I pulled back my hand and suppressed the urge to wipe the palm

on my pants leg.  Lustig’s eyes held onto mine for another long

second or two, the obvious amusement in them very disconcerting to

     “And this,” my Dad chimed back in, “is Marsha Milhouse, the

executive director of the Pennsylvania AIDS Law Project, which is

co©counseling Dennie’s case with us.”
     For the first time I noticed the woman sitting to Archie’s

left at the picnic table.  Her hair was brown and cut almost

boyishly short.  Her face was round and full, her body a bit

chunky, maybe even muscular… for a woman, that is.  She smiled,

stood up and shook my hand far more firmly than even Lustig hand

done.  (And his handshake had been pretty firm for a f… I stopped

myself from thinking that word.  That word was for Big Will Hadden

and his fascist father, not for Archie McAdoo’s son.)
     Milhouse also held out her hand to Claire, who took it and

shook it awkwardly.
     “Ned,” said Milhouse, turning her attention back to me and

still standing up, “your father tells me that you’ll be helping

prepare our case for trial this summer.”
     “Uh, yeh, right,” I said somewhat uncertainly. ‘#70*†(†(∞

‘å     “”That’s right, Marsh,” Archie added.  “As Denny so aptly put

it, young Ned, my son and heir, is officially a part of the crew of

the Starship Enterprise.”
     With that, the old man bent over, hoisted his bottle of

Budweiser from the table and toasted me with it. 
     “Welcome aboard, lad,” said Larry Berger, taking a long pull

at his glass of scotch.
     “Here, here,” said ‘Marsh’ Milhouse, picking up her own beer

bottle and taking a swig from it.
     Lustig and Mrs. Berger each picked up some kind of a foamy

pink drink that they had in front of them, gave a little toast in

my direction and took little sips that left flecks of pink foam on

their upper lips.
    Licking off the foam, Lustig added, “I adore your dacquerys,

    I noted furtively out of the corner of my left eye that Mom,

who had remained silent through this whole get©acquainted ritual,

didn’t pick up her drink… a Diet Coke, if I knew my Mother… to

toast my being beamed onboard the Lustig spaceship.  Whatever

planet I was bound for with my Dad and his “team”, Mom was not

making the voyage either in person or in spirit.
     By the time the little ritual was completed the Berger kids

had managed to finish their badminton game and swagger over to the

picnic table.  Archie and Mrs. Berger handled the introductions

among us kids.  ‘Ä%80*†(†(∞

‘å     “The food won’t be ready for another half hour,” added Archie.

“Why don’t the four of you go listen to some tapes in the family

room and get to know each other better?  I’ll give you a shout when

the chow is coming off the grill.”
     The four of us looked at each other a little uncertainly and

shrugged in acceptance of Dad’s suggestion.
     As we turned to head inside, Lustig was on his feet, the eyes

still sparkling their violet mischief.  “I love music,” he

proclaimed.  “Does anybody mind if I tag along?”


‘åôChapter Twelve
     The first few minutes down in the family room were a little

awkward.  The room was pleasantly cool, the old couch and chairs

the most comfortable furniture in the whole house.  Dennis Lustig

had refilled his dacquery glass before leaving the backyard.  The

rest of us got cans of soda from the refrigerator at the foot of

the basement stairs.  The awkwardness began to fade from the room

as we discovered that we all shared a liking for Lou Reed.
     I put the tape on the stereo and soon Lou was half singing,

half speaking, “take a walk on the wild side.”  When Reed reached

the line in the song that says, “he shaved his legs and then he was

a she… take a walk on the wild side,” Lustig, who was sitting

alone in a chair diagonally to the left of the couch where Jasaon

Berger and I were sprawled, looked at us with those weird but

appealing eyes of his and said,
   “He’s gay, you know.”
   There was a moment of awkward silence and surprise. 
   Finally, a second before all the earlier awkwardness could fall

on us like a wet blanket, I responded.
    “Who?  the guy in the song?  Obviously.”  I tried to sound

     “Well, sure, him too,” replied Lustig.  “I meant Lou Reed.”
     Jason apparently had recovered from his initial surprise,

shared I’m sure by all four of us kids, that Dennis Lustig would be

so up front about a subject that was still pretty much taboo in

‘burbs the likes of Havertown.‘’:[1]0*†(†(∞

‘å     “How can you possibly know that?” Larry’s rather pudgy son and

heir asked in a challenging tone of voice. ” I never heard that he

     Lustig flashed Berger the Younger a condescending smirk. 
“Trust me, my dear,” he almost purred, “I make it my business to

know the queens who are making their marks.”
     This deliberate gender switching had a titillating effect on

me, though it clearly made Jason uncomfortable and more defensive.

Claire and Gwen were flipping through Claire’s albums and tapes,

close by one of the stereo’s two speakers.  If they had heard this

dialog they never let on.
     “So √
ƒ do you know?” Jason pressed, crossing his legs and

holding his Diet Coke can with both hands in his lap.
     “How do I know?” Lustig replied in even, velvet tones.  “Well,

young Jason,” he continued after a delicate sip of his daquery,

“first, I would be quite certain of it ©©© even if I didn’t know

Lou personally ©©© merely by his voice, his clothes, his lyrics,

his phrasing… Dear God, it all says, ‘I’m queer as a three dollar

bill and proud of it, darlings.'”
     Of course, it was the parenthetical that had hooked us.
     “You know Lou Reed?” Jason and I seemed to ask simultaneously.

Our duet caught the girls’ attention, and all eyes turned to Dennis

Lustig, who seemed to bask in our gazes as if they were eight

spotlights turned on him.  For the first time I discovered how much

Dad’s pro bono client loved the limelight.

‘åô     For the next ten minutes, Lustig held his little audience in

the palm of his hand, as he described the gay scene in New York and

in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  He told us about the weird behavior and

kinky clothes that were part of “Cruising” in Greenwich Village,

which Al Pacino had dramatized in a scandalous film none of us had

been permitted by our parents to see (although Jason chimed in with

a slightly aggressive assertion that he and a friend had managed to

slip in to see it at a local mall multiplex theater).
     Lou Reed liked to perform in a black t©shirt and a leather,

billed cap that evoked Marlon Brando and motorcycle gangs.  Pacino

had been pictured on the movie posters in such a leather jacket and

cap, the jacket decorated with chains.  I now could picture Dennis

Lustig doffing his restaurant manager’s blue blazer and striped tie

and exchanging them for Reed’s black t©shirt and Pacino’s black cap

and shiny leather motrocycle jacket.  I saw him jingling in his

chains around my mental image of Greenwich Village.  
     Denny… we were all to call him Denny… had a knack for

making eye contact and of speaking in a hypnotic, conspiratorial

purr that kept even a teen’s short attention span in his firm

grasp.  The sense of being given a glimpse of not an “R” but, yes,

an “X” rated movie, and a documentary at that, insured our rapt

attention as he painted verbal images of cowboy bars and wild

parties.  Weaving through all the images were Lou Reed, “queer as

a three dollar bill,” and Denny himself.
     Even Jason had left off challenging Denny’s verasity after the

first five minutes of detailed descriptions, including how Lou‘'<[1]0*†(†(∞

Reed’s creative energy flooded through the front door when he

entered one of the Washington Square watering holes he and Denny

both frequented, announcing his arrival before anyone inside

actually spotted him.  Denny was the smiling, hissing serpent,

feeding us forbidden fruit and we loved it.
    Before we had quite had our fill, Archie shouted from the top

of the basement stairs, “Hey, you guys, dinner’s ready.  Come and

get it  before I eat it all myself.”  With Pop that might be no

idle threat.
    Claire turned off the tape and we all headed upstairs and out

to the backyard.  I was the last to leave the family room, turning

off the lights, as Mom had trained Claire and me to do.  As I

started up the stairs I saw that Denny was waiting at the top.
     As I climbed to where my head was about level with his chest

he put his right hand on my left shoulder and said,
     “You found all that pretty exciting, didn’t you, Ned?”
     My reaction was automatic.  I brushed his hand from my

     “Hey, relax,” said Denny in his most soothing voice.  “I can

tell you’re not cut out to be a sister.  I’m just pleased to see

that the new member of my trial team isn’t homophobic.  I can see

you appreciate the validity of alternative life styles.  That’s

all.”  He stayed where he was, forcing me to brush past him. 

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