These Things Happen
Richard KramerCredits / Dedication
U N B R I D L E D B O O K S
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Richard Kramer
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kramer, Richard, 1952–
These things happen / by Richard Kramer.
1. Heterosexual parents—Fiction. 2. Gay parents—Fiction. 3. Joint custody of
children—Fiction. 4. Families—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. 5. Life
change events—Fiction. 6. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Book Design by SH . CV
always the beautiful answer,
who asks a more beautiful question
who waited; who knew
These Things Happen1. Wesley
lot can happen in a day, sometimes. Not every day, of course. Most have one event, and that's if you're lucky.
Many have less, which seems especially true in our school, which is hard to get into and committed to serving the community but is also, as a rule, unthrilling. Maybe things pick up in eleventh grade, which is when Mr. Frechette, a teacher we like, says our brains have developed to the point where we can grasp irony, accept ambivalence, and acknowledge the death's head that lurks at the edge of all human endeavor. His exact words; I put them in my phone. We'll see, although I trust him. Mr. Frechette can get sour, but he's also pretty wise.
Maybe today's a preview of next year, then, because a lot has happened in it, even without the death's head. School's out. Theo and I are on our way to tae kwon do. Wherever you look, whoever and whatever you see seems glad to be a New Yorker, not just people but buildings, and pigeons, and signs. As for tae kwon do, we've been going since we were seven, and we're sixteen now, or will be. We're both excellent at it, which our
Marshall says isn't bragging if you really are and can truly own it. Theo's my best friend, and always has been. He says that's just because he's the only boy in my school who's not named Max or Jake, but that's not it at all (which he knows). It's simple. He bores easily. So do I. But we don't bore each other, and that's since in utero, practically, as our moms met in Lamaze class and got to be friends. He got his name because his mom wrote a book about the loser relatives of famous artists. Theo Van Gogh was Vincent Van Gogh's brother; Mrs. Rosen, Theo's mom, pronounces the name (I quote Theo here) "like she was choking on a
" Theo V.G. knew Vincent was the talented one and worked hard to make sure the world knew it, too. I admire that, and hope I would do the same, if I had a brother who was an insane depressed genius, which I don't. I'm an only child. He died, though, Theo Van Gogh, that is, chained to a wall and crazy due to the effects of syphilis, which was quite popular at the time. I asked Theo if he was worried that something like that might happen to him. "Are you being facetious?" he said. There was a time, not long ago, when we used to ask that after we pretty much said anything; we mostly just liked the word. He said he wasn't scared, especially. His mom just wanted him to sound special. But he saw my point. He always does, as I see his. And his are solid, I feel. I don't know what he thinks of mine, but one can only assume that he finds them solid, as well, because we hang out, text frequently, and dislike the same people.
Now that we're out and free I'd like to get right into the things that changed the day from ordinary to interesting. The first is that Theo was elected president of our grade, swept in on a sea of change, like Obama was, which always made me think of an ocean of dimes and nickels. I was his campaign manager and am proud to say we never went negative, although we could have against his opponent, Shannon Traube, who posted pictures of herself on Facebook giving out cookies her maid had baked to homeless guys, in boxes. Other things happened, too, historic ones, even. But even on a day like this you still need the stuff of an ordinary day, too. Maybe you need it more. So before I get into what took place as recently as lunchtime, we do what we do every day, without fail. We call it Facts. Just simple, like that. Because it's a simple thing, and one we've been doing since we were ten. We each are responsible for one Fact that the other guy wouldn't have known but would be in terested in, a fact that has no other purpose than to be a) cool and b) somewhat disturbing. One might guess, and one would be right, that Nazis tend to get overrepresented, not to mention the Japanese ( prisoner-of-war camps, not the economic miracle). But you have to work with what's out there. There are certain truths that are universally acknowledged, and you're a moron if you don't know them.
"Fact," I say.
"Awesome," says Theo, which is a word frowned upon in our school, especially by Mr. Frechette. He feels it should only be applied to Balanchine, whatever that is.
"The Nazis made it illegal for Jews to buy flowers."
"Fuck." He stops walking. He has tears in his eyes, and he's not a sentimental person. "That really depresses me."
"Dude," I say, "that's
"I know. It's still fucked, though."
"I promise: nothing to do with Germany for a week. So what's your Fact?"
"It's French." We both like maps, so I'm sure, pretty much, that he's doing what I am, which is seeing Europe, the map of it, that is, picturing Germany, France touching it, Belgium and Switzerland mixed in there in chunks, as with a Ben and Jerry's flavor.
"France," I say. "Good. France isn't Germany."
"No, Wesley," says Theo, "it's not." He punches my arm. I punch his. "Fact: at Versailles, they used to shit on the stairs."
"You mean the king and everyone?"
"I think it was more friends and family."
"I like that."
"Yeah," he says. "It's good. So now that we've done historic Facts—"
"We need to get into today's."
He means his acceptance speech, given today after he won the election. I helped him write parts of it, the future pledges material, in which he promised universal health care, sustainable snacks in vending machines, and an end to the settlements (our school likes us to pretend that we're real people). Then came the part I didn't help with. Theo put down his notes. He drank some water. Then he said, "I thank you for this mandate. I shall try to lead wisely, but not annoyingly. And now, in the spirit of full disclosure and governmental transparency, I would like to share with you that not only am I your new president but I am also, to be quite frank, a gay guy."
There were a couple gasps, but people seemed okay with it, pretty much, except for Jake Krantz, who has a rage coach, and shouted, "I
would have voted for you!" And Shannon had some doubts. "You're sure that wasn't just to get the gay vote?" she asked Theo, when it was over. "You're actually, truly gay?"
"Well, in the interests of clarity," he told her, "you're looking at the gay vote. Me. Which I did get, because I voted for myself. And let me add I did what I did
I won, which you might be aware is unusual in politics. I'm just saying. So keep that in mind."
"Oh, I will," she said. "Don't worry." She laughed in a way that I think was meant to sound chilling and sophisticated but wasn't, really. Then she turned to me. "So, are you?"
"Am I what?" I asked.
"Gay," she said. "Bi. Anything."
I didn't know what to say. No one had ever asked me anything like that. I mostly get asked things like have I finished T
, or am I really planning to wear
shirt, or would I like to go to the Frick on Sunday. But to have a person ask me what I
? I dealt with the question as best I could.
"Fuck you," I said, which is more or less where we left it.
"More later," said Shannon, going into a cupcake place.
So now here we are, and all that's behind us.
"I completely want to get into all that," Theo says, "about what I did and what happened. But first I have to ask you some things, if that's cool. They're really important."
I can pretty much guess what his questions might be and, of course, I know what mine are. Why didn't he tell me ahead of time that he was going to come out in his speech today? That's one. Or, for that matter, that he was gay? But enough. He should go first. The big day is really his.
"So," I say, "you want to ask me something."
"It's easy," he says. "What are old gay guys like?"
My guess was right.
"Seeing as how I'm surrounded by them," I say then. "And by old gay guys I take it you refer, obviously, to my dad and George."
My dad's gay, but wasn't always, and George is his partner. George was an actor once, but gave that up and now owns and runs a restaurant in the theater district, in a brownstone. He and my dad own the building, and we live on the top floor. I've been there the past two months, for this school term, so my dad and I can get to know each other as men, since the belief is I might soon become one.
"Like what do they talk about, for example?" Theo asks. "What kind of things come up in gay settings?"
I think of things. It's easy. I'm a magnet, it seems, for a hundred gay paper clips, flying at me and sticking. "There's so much."
"Well," I say, "benefits are a big topic."
"Like in health care, you mean?"
It's nice, for once, to be the Expert Guy on a subject, as we're usually Expert Guy on the same things. "Benefit
," I say, "to raise money, for various gay
. Like marriage, say, or suicide, or trannies. They like to talk about who's going to sit at whose table. George makes a lot of charts. And there's awards dinners, too. They talk about that."
"Awards for what?"
" Their courage, pretty much," I say. "And compassion."
"Is there cash involved?"
"Just plaques, usually. There's these plastic shapes, too, that are like symbolic of something. My dad has dozens." He probably has a hundred, but I don't want to brag. I'm proud of him. He's given his life to the general gay good, and he had a late start.
"Huh," Theo says. "Interesting. What else comes to mind?"
I realize, in this time with my dad and George, that I've been listening pretty closely. " Costa Rica has been big lately," I say.
"What about it?"
"Old gay guys go there. In groups, it seems. They talk about houses, and maids. George keeps a list on the refrigerator. They do that, old gay guys. They make lists on paper. They don't put things in their phones."
Theo grabs hold of this, like a
guy staring at a carpet fiber. " Costa Rica," he says. "What makes it gay and Nicaragua not? That's rhetorical. I'm interested, but it can wait. So what are some other subjects?"
"Well, there's food, obviously, with George's restaurant. Old or dead actresses. And they talk about Dutch things, like how streets got their names. It seems that to be an old gay guy in New York you have to really love it and know some Dutch facts. George is big on that, anyway."