Archive for August, 2012

Sorry I still haven’t gotten around to the next chapter of “The Gathering Storm” and even sorrier that it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything new here. My Muse is a bit fickle the past few weeks…

Right Place, Wrong Style

Two aesthetic philosophies continued to duel in his mind even now, more than an hour after he had finally settled on his attire and grabbed the #36 CTA bus to make the rendezvous. He had made a decision, and still second-guessed himself.

His mother’s voice urging him to be bold and take chances and his father’s voice exhorting him not to stand out or make a spectacle of himself.

Maybe if I’d been a tougher guy growing up, and better able to stand up against bullies, Dad’s voice wouldn’t be so loud in my head right now, Sean thought. Queer, pussy, sissy, punk, bitch—so many names I’ve been called by peers and others that bore no relation to my given one.

But he’d stood up to his own father in the end, in some small way, Sean considered, because no one in the family or the neighborhood Sean had grown up in was ignorant of the fact Sean William Carter Sr. had been quite unhappy to see his son apply to a fashion design degree program at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago. That act simply cemented Sean Sr.’s notion of parental failure—and the loss of his son. All he saw in the choice was freakishness and “being different.” In Dad’s world, you didn’t go for different; you didn’t go for style.

You followed in your father’s footsteps.

And isn’t that why he gave me his name, in the end? Sean thought. To be like him and maybe even join the Chicago Fire Department where he still serves?

That his roommate and fellow bachelor of fine arts student Jack was one of the biggest queens he had ever met and stood strong in the face of challenge, adversity and threats was an irony that wasn’t lost on Sean as he sat nervously in the little pub waiting for the guy he was supposed to meet.

A man who wanted to wear a costume—or probably already did and simply wanted a better one.

A transhuman of unknown character and demeanor, except that he’d been the only one to answer Sean’s Craigslist ad offering free costume design and construction. The ad inspired by his mother’s voice. He’d wanted to stand out from the rest of his class in costume design for their final design project—what better way to do that, he had thought, than to design a few outfits for someone who was actually an active transhuman, whether they needed a costume to start their career or were in need of an upgrade.

There was a sharp tap on Sean’s shoulder—like a tiny hammerblow—and he turned to see someone wearing camouflage pants, Army boots and a gray hooded sweatshirt. The man pulled back the gray hood to reveal a ski mask-covered face and said, “Let’s take this outside and discuss what I need and what you’re worth,” the man said with a hard, cold edge in his voice.

Beside this simple and vaguely menacing attire, Sean suddenly felt that his choice of narrow-legged jeans, canvas boat shoes, a button-down long-sleeved white shirt and a dark burgundy linen vest made him all the more meek.

Also, as Sean got up from his bar stool and followed the man into the night, he realized—as he felt growing unease from the man’s voice and demeanor—that he’d never specified in the ad that the transhuman for whom he would do the free design work had to be a white hat or a justice-minded vigilante. He’d left it open for mercenaries and villains as well without even realizing it.

But still, he wanted a project with a perfect grade or as close to it as he could manage, and he followed the man outside.

* * *

Sean and the potential pro bono client who had yet to identify himself had been talking for nearly five minutes in the shadows about Sean’s skills and the other man’s costume needs when the stranger announced, very casually, “By the way, my name is Straight Edge, and I’m about to murder you, faggot.”

Sean was stunned into silence, part of him wondering if it was a bad joke, and the other part trying to figure out how to flee without being taken down from behind as he did so.

“Of course, it wouldn’t really be murder, no matter what the police say,” Straight Edge continued. “More like housecleaning. You fags spread disease and immoral behavior and you’re a cancer on society. Straight Edge is here to cut you out. You get to be the first.”

Sean finally picked up on the subtle emphasis the man was putting on the Straight in his name, and realized he was dealing with a homicidal homophobic person who, even if he wasn’t really transhuman, probably was well-equipped to end his life. He wondered with an inward shudder if the monicker also meant this man carried a straight razor or some other blade with which to slice and carve his flesh.

“Scared, faggot?” Straight Edge taunted him with a grin.

“I’m not gay,” Sean protested with a whiney edge in his voice, and it surprised him as he said the words that he was defensively asserting his heterosexuality rather than worrying about his life.

Old habits from grade school, middle school and high school die hard, I guess, Sean thought vaguely.

“No straight man goes to get a degree in fashion,” Straight Edge asserted.

“That’s not true at…at all,” Sean said weakly. “I’m just gu-good at it and I like it. I’ve got a girlfriend. She’s in the graphic arts program.”


“I’ve got pictures of her. Of us,” Sean said. “Right in my wallet,” he added, fumbling for it. “Together. Shit, we’re kissing in one of them.”

“Don’t try to save your life with that pathetic shit, faggot,” Straight Edge sneered.

“Look! Right here!” Sean said, thrusting out his open wallet. “Shit, take the money and credit cards if you want. I’m not gay!”

With a sense of humiliation, Sean realized he was not only pleading for his life like a coward but also trying to distance himself from homosexuals, even when Jack—not just his roommate but supposedly one of his best friends—was as gay as they came. From the pits of that shame, a tiny voice inside him, his own now and neither Mom nor Dad, told him he probably deserved to die.

As flustered now as he had been murderous before, Straight Edge took the wallet and flipped through the four photos in there.

“You think I’m going to fall for this? So you got some fag-hag woman to pose with you as cover,” Straight Edge said.

“What would I need photos in my wallet for to make people think I’m straight? How muh-muh-many gay guys do you think guh-get cornered by someone like you and need to convince the person they’re hetero…straight…c’mon! People don’t come up on gay people like that anymore…except you or whatever!”

Straight Edge looked back and forth from the wallet to the college student in front of him, squinting and grimacing.

“Well…you dress like a homo!” Straight Edge snapped.

“I’m sorry you don’t like my clothes; my girlfriend does and I like to keep getting laid,” Sean babbled, realizing he was still emphasizing his heterosexuality like a punk. A pussy. A loser.

Am I right to do whatever it takes to live, or am I even less of a man for my own little brand of homophobic behavior rising up in the face of a bully—no matter how murderous and psycho he is?

Some small bit of edge creeping into his voice, but not much, Sean blurted, “You’re just looking for an excuse to kill me, now, gay or not!”

Straight Edge paused, then smiled. “Maybe so. What of it?”

“Go to the Manhandler or the Jackhammer or hang around some other guh-gay bar if you wanna kill homos!” Sean said, and felt a little bile in his throat.

I’m trying to point him to gays to kill now just to save my life. What the fuck?

“If you’re not gay, how come you know the names of gay bars?” Straight Edge ventured.

“I don’t like jazz, but I know you go to the Green Mill if you want to listen to some and drink until 4 or 5 in the morning!” Sean keened. A part of him almost wailed I have a gay roommate until the rest of his brain screamed out, Tell him that and he’ll kill you for liking gays.

Heart pounding, Sean waited for the blow to fall, or a blade to cut him. Agonizing seconds looking into Straight Edge’s eyes desperately and cursing himself for his steadily mounting failures here in the dimly streetlights, in the shadow of a man who wanted to become a killer.

“Huh,” Straight Edge said. “I gotta be sure. OK. I gotta be sure before I kill someone. I can’t be killing straight guys. The world needs them. But you’d better fucking have kids. You’d better raise them to be fucking real men you little shit! Do you hear me?”

Ignoring the spittle peppering his face, Sean nodded and said, “I hear you. My dad’s a firefighter. I’m sorry I wasn’t like him. I’ll do better with my son. My sons.”

The wheedling tone in his voice as he made promises to a man he’d likely never see again that he’d do things he knew he probably wasn’t capable of seemed to kill little parts of him one by one, but Sean couldn’t seem to stop. “This isn’t the place to be trying to wipe out gays, and I’m not worth your time.”

Straight Edge nodded at that, and Sean didn’t care whether it meant solidarity between two hetero men or that Straight Edge found him too pathetic to kill. He simply watched the man walk off.

Then his heart froze when Straight Edge stopped and turned around.

“I still want those costumes,” he said. “It better be ready in two weeks. I’ll tell you where to leave it, and if there are any cops that come along with it, I’ll kill you, your girlfriend and all your goddamn teachers. No matter how straight all of you are. Hear me?”

“Yeah,” Sean said in a near whisper, then half-shouted, “Yeah! No problem!”

Finally, Straight Edge departed.

As his knees gave way and Sean slumped to the ground to weep, he knew there was no need for Straight edge worry. There would be no police. He had no good description to give them and worse, if he told them the story, everyone would know how much he had failed. How much he had given up. How he had turned his back on a whole group of people and then fingered them as better targets for Straight Edge. His roommate Jack would find out. His girlfriend Ellie. Everyone would know.

Even his homophobic father wouldn’t approve.

Sean wept for his lost dignity even as some small part of him reminded him he’d probably get an excellent grade in the class for originality and utility of design. Except that he’d never be able to submit Straight Edge’s costumes, or else when the man finally made the news, everyone would know Sean was tied to him. Straight Edge would probably even tell them Sean had pleaded for the man to troll around gay bars to save his own life.

I’ll be working my ass off to outfit a man who might kill Jack one day, and I’ll still have to come up with a project for class. My mom told me to stand out and take chances. Yeah, I’m stand-out, all right. Standing out and standing up for who I really am.

As a pussy. A punk. A bitch.