Gary and Tony
GARY AND TONY pulled up to unit B-116 in their red Saab 9-3 convertible. Gary, the driver, removed his sunglasses to get a better look. He’d seen plenty of storage lockers before, who hadn’t, but he’d never seen anything as big as the unit he was looking at now.
“My God, what are you hiding in there? The Pacific naval fleet?”
“Ha. You’ll see. I love this place,” Tony said as he climbed out of his seat. “There’s nothing quite like rooting through your old… stuff.”
Just back from Hawaii, this being the autumn of 2008, eleven years a couple, Gary and Tony were sporting honeymoon tans, having partaken in San Francisco’s welcoming same-sex marriage ceremonies. Tony suggested they pay a quick visit to his storage unit to pick up a lamp he was dying to take back to their condo - to symbolize the bridge they were building from the old to the new. The whole marriage business had struck a sentimental chord with him and suddenly everything had to be circular and connected and traditional. Gary knew of the lamp in question and wasn’t thrilled about the idea of mixing mid-century modern with middle American monotone in their trendy Lake Merritt condo – but while it was their honeymoon.
As Tony fumbled with the locks, rambling on about this chair or that chair, his old posters and bicycles, the preternaturally calm Gary felt his scrotum tighten as the balance of their relationship shifted like the boxes he imagined would spill out and crush the hood of his car. Maybe because he was so strict, his opinion so respected, and for the fact that Tony seemed so complicit and happy, he’d forgotten what a slob his other half was. When his partner popped the second lock, and turned to give him the thumbs up, Gary steeled himself for the unveiling of a mother lode of vulgar middle-class Americana. When Tony peeled the protesting door up its lime encrusted runners, it was as if he were peeling off stubborn layers of denial, opening Gary’s eyes to the ugly facts that were repressed and kept hidden by his neoplasticism, the messy details obscured by the slim vertical lines and the true horizontal planes of their very modern condo. But as every fussy designer knows, behind every De Stijl there’s a Pollock just waiting to fuck up the arrangement.
“Wow,” Tony said as the dust settled. “It’s just like I left it. You always worry that some creep has robbed you, or rifled through your stuff. Gary?” He spun around and found his partner slumped against the hood of the car. “Gary, you look flush.”
“Oh,” he wheezed. “It’s nothing, Tony. I wasn’t expecting the - cough, cough - dust.”
“Here.” Tony pulled a yellow, floral patterned recliner by the footrest out into the doorway of the unit, upending a box full of rusty kitchen utensils and his Grandfather’s ashtray collection onto the concrete floor. “Sit here.” He tapped the greasy headrest. “You’re probably exhausted from the flight.”
Gary eyed the frayed armrest, spilling cotton batting speckled with dark granules, like coffee grains or fleas. “No. Really. I’m OK. It’s just the… dust.”
“Ok suit yourself, wimp.” Tony turned back to his treasures, which to be fair to Gary, looked like someone had backed up a double-wide trailer, opened it like a sardine can and tipped out the contents. “This is great. It feels like coming home.”
When Gary looked up he saw his spouse disappear behind a rusty, very un-retro Whirlpool refrigerator plastered with a baseball schedule from 1996, a haphazard array of poetry magnets, holiday post cards from family and friends, and a yellowing school paper drawing of a Thanksgiving turkey signed to Uncle Tony from his nephew Harvey. Moments later he emerged from the opposite side of the unit, wading through boxes and a forest of kitchen chair legs stabbing every-which-way wearing a scuffed up high school football helmet. “Hut one, Hut two. Arrghhhhh...” Tony launched a deflated pigskin missile at his partner, who flinched as the flaccid ball bounced off his hip.
“Jesus. What’s gotten into you?”
“I haven’t seen this stuff in ages. I just want to take it all home. Here, look.” He leaned across a pile of water-stained books, and extended a shoebox to Gary. “Football cards.”
“Ehhhh.” An opaque halo encroached Gary’s field of vision and his thoughts were squozen through a cake icicng funnel. “Football cards. Great.” He slumped against some Florentine dressers hoisted straight out of a Levitz liquidation sale and let a handful of cards slip through his fingers. “Gosh – they all had mustaches,” he said holding a single card aloft.
“Ed Podolak. Running Back. Kansas City Chiefs. Tough as nails.”
“If you say so.” Gary dropped the card and set the box on a coffee table made of finely polished particleboard. “I keep forgetting what a jock you used to be.”
“Used to be? I can still kick your ass at tennis.”
“You know what I mean.” Gary examined a plaque with a clock mounted in the belly of a stuffed largemouth bass. It was too cheap to be considered kitschy. Along the wall, on top of a set of metal shelving, he noticed a set of ceramic whiskey decanters, each in the likeness of a comedian from the 60’s and 70’s. He’d never seen such a load of crap. Amongst his friends, Gary was known as an expert judge of style. Conversant in everything from movies to Muzak he was quick to voice his certainties on all manner of cultural minutiae - and when he held forth, his audience was expected to listen. He also considered himself a good judge of character, and as Tony agreed with everything he said, he’d seemed the perfect partner. But this marriage thing had unleashed a different Tony, a reckless if more confident Tony, an uber-Tony, an un-toni Tony. Gary was eyeing a Soupy Sales decanter while his partner picked and stumbled his way towards him, carrying a tattered lamp.
“Aren’t those cool?," gary said, nodding at the decanters. "I inherited them after my dad checked himself into Alcoholics Anonymous. They said he needed to ditch anything even remotely associated with booze.” He reached to the shelf and plucked a facsimile of Flip Wilson. “I was thinking they’d look good on the bookshelf in the living room. Gary? Gary!”
His partner was blacked out on the pavement.
Gary sat in a Knoll armchair, wrapped in a blanket, having drained his third martini of the morning before it even had a chance to break a sweat. He stared listlessly beyond the balcony, over LakeMerritt toward the MormonTemple, poised aggravatingly amongst the Oakland hills. Tony’s beloved lamp sat atop an end table and his reupholstered recliner mocked him from across the room – at least he’d been convinced to finish it in a mid-century period fabric. The decanters never did make it to the bookcase as Tony had hoped, but he’d negotiated a place for them behind the frosted glass windows of the kitchen pantry. Speaking of Tony…
Gary listened to the ring of the ascending elevator door as it opened, followed by the familiar working of keys in the front door locks. His partner was returning from an early morning fishing outing with his once estranged brother. Funny how marriage had a way of binding up the old family ties.
“You’re early,” said Gary as he poured himself another drink.
“Oh, shit, shit. Gary my God, have you heard the news?” Tony threw his fishing tackle into the hall corner under a Philippe Starck coat rack that a friend had given them as a wedding present. He was clearly beside himself and may have even been crying.
“Don’t tell me - the Warriors played the Harlem Globetrotters and actually managed to win – ba-da-boom, ba-da-bing,” he said tossing an olive into his mouth.
“No, dammit. The California Supreme Court rescinded all Gay Marriage licenses.” He threw himself tearfully at Gary’s feet. “It isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” He sobbed into the woolen blanket on Gary’s lap. “This is awful. We’re not married Gary. It’s like we never really were.”
“Aw, screw them Tony.” Gary smoothed Tony's hair and hugged him to his lap. He looked across the lake at the ivory Mormon temple. “It'll be all right,” he sighed. The room wouldn't have looked any nicer without the easy chair.
About the author
Peter Allison is the author of the novel Lockyer Self Storage, 2011, Ninth & Broad Press for sale on Lulu.