ernest!, unrelenting in his criticism, and unwilling to bend, had accused the company of using money instead of true action to try and dissuade others from the veracity of his accusations. In response, Lizzy Borden started sponsoring all sorts of events combating discrimination of every stripe, sending an army of employees and leaders to parrot scripted messages of support and decrying white privilege while marching in lockstep, in flawlessly tailored suits, with Social Justice Warriors. Ted Talks, conferences galas and balls were financially supported indiscriminately and with equal zeal.
This worked relatively well until Lizzie Borden ended up sponsoring a high-profile gala for an LGBTQ social justice organization, Community Advancement Coalition (CAC), nicknamed Caviar and Champagne for their penchant for throwing $1,000 per plate fundraisers. Having sponsored the gala, and purchasing a table for 10, she had discovered, to no one’s surprise but her own, that scraping the barrel of leadership she couldn’t come up with 10 people who weren’t racist, or homophobic, or who gave a shit, thus Brett, Nigel and I were pressed into service as the company’s gay emissaries. And that is how we found ourselves at the annual Community Advancement Coalition Gala.
We entered through the garish double doors of the venue, and after registering, walked down an “avenue” of live palm trees onto which, fantastically, orchid flowers had been grafted.
Beside me, Elvis, dressed in a paisley velvet dinner jacket with silk-stain labels, stopped at the top of the steps and surveyed the crowd below. Elvis is the sort of man who carries an umbrella even when the sky does not carry the threat of rain. I, on the other hand charge, unprepared, and unprotected, into the raging storm. Elvis is a man used to holding in his stomach, a man who does not breathe easy or deeply. “Shall we?” he asked, touching my arm.
I drew a deep breath against the collective attitude that came at us like a fast rising tide, and Elvis at my elbow, waded into the morass of aging A-list queens with their surgically tightened faces and “houseboys” in tow.
Brett arrived, perfectly coiffed, his pig’s face discreetly made up, leading a squadron of youngish bow tie wearing whiteboys all of whom displayed the unsettling whiteness and homogeneity of a Bain & Company consultant.
The gala itself was a fever dream, the overheated anteroom to some decadent playground, the password to which I did not know. Muscled bartenders in t-shirts so tight and shiny they appeared to be topless and oiled; dancers in body paint and sequins cavorted down the stairs and threaded their way through the crowd.
Strobe lights lit the dance floor on fire; the lights grew steadily until the dance floor became an inferno. At the edges of the stage, the dancers’ painted bodies in fluid ceaseless motion, like pagans in celebration. Abruptly, the lights went out, replaced by a stark white spotlight as two and a half ton of gray and black confetti rained down. As it settled, a phoenix, wings spread, erupted from the paper ash, rising to the ceiling where it spun dizzyingly. The throbbing drums and screaming horns, riding over a ceaseless baseline suddenly stopped. A spoken word artist who began to whisper into the microphone, presumably explaining the spectacle, was drowned out by the stunned reaction of the crowd.
The spoken word artist’s mumbling stopped as a committee of mad queens, dressed for tea at Windsor Castle, dashed onto the dance floor. They called Brett’s name as our company logo flashed with seizure-inducing rapidity on a screen that had been lowered from the s-ceiling, and which the phoenix, surely dizzy, clung to.
Nigel leaned over my shoulder. “Hi.”
I jumped, turned my head slightly in his direction while trying to keep an eye on the spectacle below. “Where have you been?”
“Oh! Hi Elvis,” Nigel said, noticing Elvis standing beside me. Then, to me, “I’ve been looking for you. But, alas, I was also trying to avoid Brett.”
I nodded, understanding. Brett has the annoying habit of being everywhere at once.
Words floated up from the dance floor below: “Please welcome to the stage Brett Butler, representative of tonight’s diamond sponsor,” and here he named the Corporatorium.
Nigel whistled. “How much did Lizzy Borden donate to them?”
“Good evening,” Brett boomed.
“Did you get a look at that contingent of clones he arrived with?”
“Wonder where he got them?”
“The Bain & Company collection available exclusively at Neiman Marcus,” I suggested.
“Can I get my colleagues to join me?” Brett yelled.
“Oops, gotta go hide,” Nigel said.
“I need to go,” Elvis said, squeezing my shoulder; even in a venue like this—surrounded by our own—he wouldn’t kiss me.
With both Elvis and Nigel gone, I was left alone with cartwheeling, hula-hooping dancers in body paint and glitter, and haughty queens interested only in each other; I took my frustrated desire, and standing at the bar, got slowly drunk on second-tier, watered down vodka.
Weary, but not sleepy, I slipped into bed. Elvis was already asleep, the dogs between us like the Berlin wall, and sex, like the Berlin wall, but a memory of a different place and time.
I rose. A flickering computer screen, in a dark room, my vaselined hand; release, relief short-lived, killed by the certain knowledge that desire would return tomorrow, like an eagle, to chew on my liver.
Copyright © 2018 Larry Benjamin
D I S C L A I M E R
The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.
Missed Season 2, Episode 1? Catch it here.
Missed Season 1? Catch up here.Read "500 Below," Season 2, Episode 3 here.