ustxtxb_obs_2006_04_21_50_00030-00000_000.pdf

Page 3

by

AFTERWORD I BY JAMES E. MCWILLIAMS Brokeback Island And you actually think there are appropriate limits to abortion rights? . . . That some unborn lives are more valuable than others? . . . What about first trimester fetuses? . . . Vegetative geriatrics? . . . . Should health care be universalized? But what qualifies as “health care”? .. . . . .What do you think about executive power? What are your thoughts about . . . S cott and I were arguing. More often than not, we agreed. On several occa sions, though, we both spoke at once and, in our enthusiasm, refused to yield for several seconds, yammering at full tilt straight at each other. We addressed these weighty matters while riding in a rental car from the Savannah, Georgia airport to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where my parents own a second home. We turned into a nature preserve just after entering the island with the intention of seeing alligators. Walking among ancient swamps where Native Americans once built shell mounds, we somehow got around to the topic of Dick Cheney and agreed that the guy who told him, twice, to “go fuck yourself” during a New Orleans press conference was a paragon of American freedom. We also agreed that Richard Pryor, whose recent death had led to a resurgence of his brash routines, nailed race on the head harder than a dozen Black Studies departments and all their towering egos and chatterbox graduate students ever could. We planned this trip back in June. Now it was January, and the sky was clear blue and the temperature crisp, staying in the low 50s. There was no other point to our venture than talking. Simple as that. Talking was something Scott and I did as intuitively as bullfrogs croaking across a pond. We’d been going at it for over 12 years. It’s not that I can talk to Scott about anything because he’s an especially stable person. He’s such a hypochondriac that once, upon sustaining a racquetball shot to the forehead, he convinced himself that the swelling was a brain tumor. On another occasion, when we started grad school together in Baltimore, he was so distraught about leaving Texas that he grew a red shock of a beard and didn’t leave his apartment for nearly a semester. During his self-imposed hibernation I frequently brought him food and, every time, he answered the door wearing nothing but his boxer shorts and said, “leave me to suffer my fate alonehey thanks for the grub, dude.” So no, it wasn’t emotional stability that endeared me to Scott, but something far more necessary in a friend: Scott loves a good conversation. One need not be particularly stable to perfect this art. A lack of stability, in fact, probably helps. We returned to the car, having seen no wildlife more exciting than a few grackles, and moved on to discussions about the best periodicals and blogs, the legitimacy of affirmative action, the Puritanical implications of the V-chip, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. While things were clearly progressing conversationally, however, there was an underlying issue that we had yet to confront. It turns out that the premise of our trip had come under substantial outside scrutiny. Indeed, talking might have been what bound us. Talking might have been why we were here together. But talking was also the problem. Brokeback Mountain, the much-hyped movie about a couple of gay ranch hands had just hit the screens and more than a few people noticed that Scott and I were staying alone at my parents’ beach house on an island in South Carolina. Particularly eye-rais ing was that there was no apparent reason for us to be doing so. Our intimacy was, I’m the first to admit, completely by design. When we planned our trip we were insistent upon the requirement that nobody else join us becauseagain, quite selfishlywe didn’t want our conversations to be interrupted. As the date of our meeting approached, however, the Brokeback press intensified in direct proportion to the questions that began to badger us. Soon it became clear that loved ones on both sides had whipped themselves into the conviction that Scott and I were planning a “brokeback professors” tryst. “Tell me again,” my mom kept asking, CC why you are going on this trip, with another man, just the two you, no one else, by yourselves, all alone, to a beach house for God’s sakes, for a long weekend .. ?” When I explained that we were best friends and liked to talk, she looked at me like I had responded in Swahili and, like a White House reporter, rephrased the question. Scott was fielding his own line of questioning. “What academic conference was it that you and Jimmy will be attending in Charleston?” his stepfather kept asking. After explaining for the third time that it wasn’t a conference and that he wasn’t going to Charleston, Scott gave up and announced that we were on a panel at the annual meeting of APAthe “American Pontificators Association?’ Somehow this worked. But my mom wouldn’t be thrown off her scent. This is a woman whom when I lived under her roof pretty much hounded me as a closet addict of every bad habit known to teenagers. Like J. Edgar Hoover in his house dress, she searched my car for drugs, made me breath into her face every time I entered the house, diagnosed me with severe depression if I so much as slept past 9 a.m., and once made arrangements for 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 21, 2006