’Is Your Husband Gay?’
There's nothing odd about my cousin Dieter coming up out of the blue with an array of what seem to be senseless questions. Indeed, you can rely on him to pretty much define the workings of his mind through the interrogations he's liable to subject the unwary.
The thing is, it works for him. I've seen Dieter approach girls with a big smile and a torrent of oddball queries ("Is magenta the new blue?" or "Does the health risk of eating swordfish outweigh the ethical hazard of eating tuna?") and end up strolling out arm in arm with a giggling fox on his arm in ten minutes or less.
So when Dieter phoned up the other day and inquired, "Do you think your husband might be gay?" I didn't really think about the strangeness of the question.
"Well, I have had my suspicions," I told him, rifling through heaps of paper on my desk in first, futile effort to track down and gather together any and all documentation I would need for my tax return.
Taxes. Jesus. I was vulnerable and jittery; my cousin seemed to sense this. The interrogation began.
"Do you ever find your wardrobe has been rifled or your dresses are mysteriously rumpled as though worn by someone else?" Dieter asked.
"Well... er... my sweater went missing," I confessed. "What do you mean, my dresses? I don't wear dresses."
"Yeah, but the question is, does he?"
"Does he ever... wear dresses? That's ludicrous, man. He barely even wears men's clothes, for Christ's sake." Was that the corner of a W2 peeking at me from beneath a tattered copy of Rumi's poetry? I made a frantic grab before the document could slither away and lose itself in the jumble.
Ah, Christ on a biscuit! It was a credit card bill, not a W2, and to judge from the statement balance I was going to have to choose between a minimum payment or a tax-evading flight bei Nacht und Nebel to Mexico.
Unless I hocked something for quick cash... like a kidney...
"So he does like women's clothes?" Dieter's voice piped up in my ear.
Hmn, or else I could hock one of his kidneys...
"No, he hates clothing in general!" I snarled, pouncing on what looked, in the half-light of its warren, like an itemizable receipt.
Dieter chirped on, "Ah, yeah, right, I recall being at you all's digs from time to time and catching an eyeful... Well, fair enough, I myself lounge about clad in nothing but my boxers, as and when."
"As and when what?" I demanded.
"Right now," Dieter said. "Okay, so, tell me this: if he caught you checking out a good looking man, what would he do?"
"He'd probably join me."
"Ah hah!" cried Dieter.
"Or else he'd snort and say something like, 'Figures you'd go for him.' We have very different types."
"Uh huh," Dieter said, and I could hear computer keys clacking from his end of the connection.
"What are you doing?" I asked, only now growing suspicious. Like I say, when you're dealing with Dieter, you tend--sometimes to your later dismay--to reserve judgment.
"What kind of movies does he like?" Dieter asked, ignoring my query. "Chick flicks?"
"Blood and gore spectaculars," I barked, getting aggravated both at my cousin and the three paper cuts I'd suffered in quick succession while trying to subdue a recalcitrant bank interest statement. Two dollars and sixteen cents. The IRA would surely need to know about that. "You know? Like the sci-fi-horror apocalypse-and-slasher film festival you two had last weekend?"
"Right, with the boxer shorts and the lounging on the couch," said Dieter. "But you never know, and hence the quiz."
"The 'Is Your Husband Gay' quiz. It's an online deal."
"Is that what this is all about?"
"'You're soaking in it,'" quothe Dieter.
"Great. Okay, Madge, I'm about to hang up." I caught sight of what may have been the quivering snout of a long-lost ledger, and prepared to pounce.
"No, no, this is important," Dieter blared, spoiling my aim. The ledger disappeared in a ruffle of sliding papers, books, CDs, envelopes, and a soiled pair of running shoes.
The seismic rumbles of the shifting mass subsided in time for me to hear my cousin add, "Sometimes you think you know a person, but sometimes..." His voice trailed off. "I just don't want you to get hurt."
"Well, let's say he's on the low down..."
"The phrase is 'down low.' And he doesn't need to be on the down low. He's already openly gay, you ditz."
"Can we be sure of anything in life without taking the proper quiz? Now," Dieter added briskly, "what about his friends and associates? Do they fit the lumberjack model... the NFL mode... would they be at home at a Tupperware party... or are they perhaps predominantly Judy Garland impersonators and Carson Kressley clones?"
"Are you making these questions up?"
"No, they're right here!" he bit back, indignantly. "Well, mostly. I may need to... clarify... once in a while."
"He doesn't do 'friends,'" I told Dieter. "His friends are my friends. My friends are a mix of gay and straight. Therefore, so are his."
"So he knows some gays but not lots."
"That you know about," Dieter went on, clacking at his keyboard some more. "We'd better add a few to the sum total just to be sure." Where he got this so-called sum total he didn't bother to explain. "How about other men in general?"
"What other men?" I asked, taking a closer look at the bank statement I'd found earlier and managed to hold on to. That fugitive's flight to Mexico was looking more like a ride on the back of a train.
"How does he behave around other men?" Dieter queried.
"He doesn't like them."
"Does he kiss them?"
"Not willingly. Then he complains about their breath."
"Uh huh. Very revealing..." Dieter muttered and clacked some more. "I should have a result in a minute..."
"Based on those measly few questions? Do you have enough data points to come to any conclusions? Have you ever even heard of 'the scientific method?'" I berated my cousin.
I was getting cranky. I needed peanut butter crackers. Which, from the state of my finances, might well turn into the dietary staple for 2009.
"Oh, there are lots more questions, but you don't need to trouble yourself. I can make educated guesses at the answers."
"Such as?" I challenged.
"His likely response if he were to see Kim Cattrall dressed in a hot red gown," Dieter said. "Not 'I'd do her.' And not 'Brings back memories of that slutty goegraphy teacher in ninth grade.' I'm thinking he'd be more, like, 'That sistah is fierce!'"
Which, actually, was true, I had to admit, though by now I was listening less to Dieter than to the fizz and buzz of the Pop Rocks I'd excavated from beneath an avalanche-ready mound of catalogues and magazines and popped into my mouth.
I didn't even know they still made Pop Rocks. Or did they? How long had it been since I had last seen the surface of my desk, anyway? My god, this copy of The New Yorker was dated March of 1994...
Dieter interrupted my reverie with a grim sounding pronouncement. "Dude, I have to tell you, man, this is very troubling."
"Let me guess: I married a gay man."
"My god, you already knew?" His scream nearly took the phone right out of my hand.
"Don't worry, there's help to be had. Professionals. Support groups. Oracles. Dame Edna."
"She's very wise and helpful. Have you seen her show?"
"You could write her for her pearls of compassion. 'Dear Dame Edna, this is my tale of woe... I married a gay man...'"
Later on, my husband listened with a cocked eyebrow to the story of my cockeyed cousin and the "gay husband" quiz.
"And how do I know," he said, leaning toward me with the lawyerly gleam in his eye that he learned from his attorney father, "that I didn't also marry a gay man?"
Well, I guess that's where trust comes into any relationship. As for what he'd have to say when I announced the inverse relationship of my tax bill to my bank balance... well, I may be poor in spirit, but I am gay in my heart. I'm sure that means that there's a Beatitude for me.