Bart handed me his phone. His boyfriend Tyler was on the other end, anxious for his Broadway premiere later that night. “Professional counsel needed,” Bart proclaimed. “Hi Tyler, buddy,” I said to my nervous client—well, my boss’s nervous client. “Yes, I know every important person in the theatrical world will be there tonight, but you forget that you’re one of those people now, too. They aren’t there to critique you, they’re there to support you.” After the call, Bart asked if I could start giving Tyler relationship advice too. “Dating a 22-year-old actor is really goddamn tough,” he said. “He’s great, but I can only coddle so much.”
Joanie was my date and Peter attended with Bart. They found our row as I located Sam to check in and see if he needed anything. “Just a drink, Eddy,” Sam said. “Have you any booze? Oh wait, ha! Nevermind. I keep forgetting about your problem.” Unamused, I looked around for his always-apologizing boyfriend: “Where’s Jeff?” Sam gave me a scowl: “We’re through, not that it’s your business.” I sauntered back to my seat to find James Thurston—another client—flirting with Peter. I knew his efforts were futile, as Peter had been happily dating a charming young doctor for a few weeks. James departed, but not before telling Joanie he loved her music, making her blush. “That’s my best celebrity fan moment yet,” she said. “Including when Raven-Symoné tweeted at me.” As I sat down, I got a text from Sam: “But seriously, can you get me some wine?”
A few minutes before curtain, Bart pointed down the aisle. “Those are Tyler’s parents, and his sister Amelia.” He stood to introduce himself, then beckoned for my company. “I bet they’ll want to meet you, too,” he posited. Tyler was from Dallas, and his parents had a warm southern charm about them. “Mr. and Mrs. Weiland,” Bart started. “I’m Bart. It’s so wonderful to meet you.” They stared back blankly, clearly having no idea who Bart was or why he stopped shy of explanation. Behind them, his sister gave us a big “Stop what you’re doing!” expression, interjecting: “Mom and Dad, Bart is Tyler’s best friend.” Suddenly Bart understood. He was speechless, so I took the reins: “I’m Eddy. I’m on Tyler’s management team. But also a friend. Lovely meeting you all. Your son is so very talented, and a pleasure to represent.”
“It’s so appropriate that he’s playing Brutus,” Bart said aloud once Tyler made his appearance. Joanie wasn’t about to let Bart’s mood ruin the show, whispering: “You didn’t come out to your parents until last year, so shut up and shut the fuck up.” By intermission, Bart seemed more settled, even praising Tyler for his performance. “I have the most talented boyfriend in the whole world,” he proclaimed. From behind us, a voice: “And I have the most talented brother.” We whipped around to see Amelia there. “Listen, he hasn’t told them yet, Bart,” Tyler’s sister said. “Not about you, and not even about himself.” “Yeah, I got that,” Bart pouted. “But,” continued Amelia. “If it’s any consolation, he’s told me everything about you. Four or five times. And I wanted to thank you for being so great with him, and so patient with him.” Joanie chimed in: “This shit is even better than the play!”
The usual suspects were in attendance at the after party: agents, managers, publicists, casting directors, actors…and Simon. I hadn’t seen or spoken with him since I called off our romance, and he came over to say hello as I mingled with other industry folk. “Your kid Tyler is great,” he told me after a polite embrace. “Sam is lucky to have snagged that one. Tyler’s the guy dating Bart, right? Where’s Bart?” I looked around—Peter was handling himself just fine, Joanie had located some musician friends, Tyler was surrounded by fellow actors—aha, there he was, alone at the bar. I explained to Simon that Bart was a little upset he couldn’t act like Tyler’s boyfriend tonight. He also wasn’t one to make small talk at these types of receptions. “Well maybe a job offer will cheer him up,” Simon responded. “I need a new house director.”
Simon joined Bart at the bar—ordering him just-a-seltzer, of course—and I was finally able to get Tyler’s attention. He was with his agent, Eva. I knew her well, but she was confused when he called me Eric. I explained my dual-name situation to her. “Sam’s a real dick,” she replied. “You should come work for us—if you’ve ever thought about being an agent. We could give you some young clients.” “I don’t think I would stay with Sam if you left,” Tyler said. “Plus, right now he’s not putting me up for the new J.J. Abrams film since it interferes with my contract here.” “He’s not?” I said, shocked. “They’ve called me 100 times asking to get you on tape. Practically begging. The casting director is here. Let’s go find her.” I looked around, making sure Sam wasn’t watching. I knew this could get me in a heap of trouble.
Sam was right to be angry that I had scheduled Tyler a major audition without approval. He called me the day after the premiere, a Saturday: “I have a good relationship with the director of this play,” he explained. “And Tyler needs to understand that if he makes a commitment, he will stick to it. His professional reputation is mine to manage. Mine. He’s headlining the hottest Broadway show right now; isn’t that a good start to his career? I’m not so sure you’re ready to be a manager, especially if you’re going to disrespect my decisions and encourage this behavior.” Sam gave me my biggest vacation to date—three weeks’ paid leave, to see if he could get by without me.
Luckily, my leave overlapped a few Saturant shows that we had scheduled regionally. “Kansas” was enjoying a steady climb up the Adult Contemporary and Streaming Songs charts, and her sold-out shows in Boston and Providence were proof that word had spread. Joanie gave me a cut of each fee—which I hadn’t been taking until now—understanding that I might soon need the cushion, and that our relationship would have to continue in such a manner in order for me to stay involved. “You’re due this,” she said, giving me a generous 20 percent. “You’ve helped me get the fans. Maybe now you can help me get a boyfriend?” I found a one-night boyfriend for myself in Boston—a Harvard senior and vocal fan. I wanted to see how easily I could get him into bed after introducing him to Joanie. Pretty easily, it would turn out; I had quite the vocal fan that evening, too.
Sam sent me a text the morning our mini-tour arrived in DC: “What is the login to order office supplies?” That was the first I had heard from him in a week. I waited an hour to respond, to make it seem like I wasn’t desperately needing his attention, and so that he would spend the time waiting for and needing my reply. “Already found it,” he wrote back after I texted. Bart and Peter arrived in DC that same day. Bart was between jobs—he had accepted Simon’s offer to oversee operations at the Lower East Side venue (The Sweetener), which meant smaller but more prestigious shows. Usually a pessimist, he was suddenly full of encouraging professional advice: “Why don’t you just start your own management company? Tyler has said he would leave Sam. And you’ve got Joanie. With your contacts, I bet you could get others.”
Peter surprised us that night by bringing out Miss Walnut Creek. Even Bart was thrilled to have the towering mistress along for the evening—I credited that to his sudden security of having a boyfriend and worrying less about what cute guys might think. Joanie was the most delighted, offering a shout out during the show: “Hello hello to my tallest, most leggy and beautiful fan, Miss Walnut Creek. My queen, my dream. So confident you are. I feel as if you understand me best. Naturally, you stand taller and more poised above us all.” She waved to us as she began a new song, and Peter’s hand waved back, some three feet above the next tallest head. We took to the gay District bars that night, and we danced beneath our queen, our rock, our confident darling Peter.
Joanie and I escaped the group the next day, walking to the National Mall for old time’s sake: We had traveled there together on our 8th grade class trip. I still have a framed photograph in my bedroom of Joanie, Talia, and me smiling over the Potomac next to the Jefferson Memorial, looking pleasantly pubescent, with acne, braces, and baby fat each taking one of us victim. “Has it really been 15 years?” I asked. “We’re more than twice as old as we were back then,” Joanie added. She turned to me, grinning widely: “I don’t feel old, Eric. I feel very young. Like there’s so much more to come, like ten million good things could happen, each one an opportunity.” She squeezed my hand as if to transfer me that same assurance. We sat quietly for a moment, admiring the tranquility. Then, as we got up to leave, I took out my phone: “Let’s get a photo, and send Talia some love.”
We took a late train back to New York, and Joanie could tell my mind was racing. I had convinced myself that Sam would fire me—like when two people are the verge of a breakup and first decide to “take some time apart.” “Would that be the worst thing?” she asked. “You despise him.” “I don’t despise him,” I corrected her. “I owe him a lot. I despise what he has let himself become. People say he used to be nice. Besides, he has always trusted me, for the most part.” She shook her head. “I think he’s been robbing you of other opportunities, and a lot of money. And you know he won’t fire you; he couldn’t get by without you.” An hour later, a text from Sam: “Come get your things tomorrow. I’ll pay out two weeks and severance.”
I kept thinking about Sam’s tirade—him throwing his pint glass, shattering it plus the mirror as he screamed at me in front of Peter. Numerous guests heard and called for security and he had to be escorted out. He went quietly, even apologizing to me under his breath. I hadn’t meant to hurt or undermine him. “His rage just got to him,” Peter surmised at the time. “You know, we all want to explode sometimes, over every little thing. Maybe he just maxed out, on you.” He defended his theory a couple days later, once I had been let go: “Sam had to fire you, so it looked like you were at fault. If he kept you around, everyone at that party would think he was in the wrong, and Sam wouldn’t let that happen. But don’t worry, Eric. You’ll be fine, because people like you. You’re honest, and you work hard.”
“We all want to explode sometimes, over every little thing.” Peter’s excuse for Sam summarized most of my days in New York. Anybody who breaks that fundamental civil liberty—go about your day without impeding others—contributes to my ever-expanding impatience. Aimless walkers, subway-seat hoggers, bikers and taxi drivers who ignore traffic logic: in a given day, we are all tested dozens of times. Throw in a long commute, cruddy weather, tiring work hours, and a high cost of living, and it’s a surprise more of us don’t unleash our compressed rage on a regular basis. We’ve got a high tolerance for bullshit, plus a solid grasp on what is and what isn’t important. What is important: a strong, composed, protected mind.
How does one keep his mind guarded? The smartest practice is to treat everything functionally, with little attachment to trivial things like new restaurants, fashion trends, or celebrities. A manager must treat his high-profile clients like completely normal people, or else would be bad at his job. A good fashion designer cares less about wearing her remarkable gowns than she does about the quality and care and artfulness in creating them. Also, why should anyone wait an hour for a table at a crowded, flash-in-the-pan restaurant, when there are thousands of places he could get into immediately, with just as good of food and a quiet ambiance? Isn’t dinner about filling one’s stomach and enjoying the company of others? I think many New Yorkers lose track of what is important, what is functional versus what is frivolous.
My dad could sense that I was losing track of something—perhaps sleep more than anything—so he offered to fly me home for a week as I sorted out my next steps. “No reason you can’t be in Kansas while you make phone calls and write emails,” he pointed out. “Anyway, I think you could use some peace and quiet, and I wouldn’t mind having my best buddy home for a few days.” I agreed, so he booked a flight a couple weeks out. For a while now, I had been letting Joanie’s song “Kansas” keep me from missing home (plus we were both profiting off of the single), but I knew a visit to the landlocked state could keep me centered. I would get to see Talia, too, which guaranteed I would return to New York feeling relaxed, calmed, reassured.
I wanted to have a plan of attack for when I went home. The goal was obviously to clear my head and figure out how to get back into working with actors. I was open to more than just management, so I called Eva—the agent who said I could work for her team at Gersh Agency—to see how I might be an asset for them. “To be completely honest, I’m not so certain I could hire you right now,” she said. “We all know and love you, but we need to keep a good relationship with Sam since he and I share Tyler as a client. And, I think you should know that he’s been making calls about you, telling people not to hire you since you’ll just do the same to them.” Feeling slightly threatened and mostly annoyed, I buried my face in my palm: “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”
The next day, I walked into Sam’s private office, right past his new assistant Erica as she stammered and tried discouraging me. I closed his door behind me and blocked it with my foot as she aggressively tried to open it from the other side, screaming “Sam, I’m sorry, he just waltzed past me….” Sam and I stared quietly at each other for a moment, like a standoff. I went first: “What the hell is your problem? Are you so afraid of me that you have to sabotage my chances of getting a new job? You shouldn’t hire assistants if you don’t want them to learn how the business works. What harm will it cause you to see me succeed?” To which he smiled coyly, responding: “No harm at all. I’ll just take great pleasure in watching you fail. I created you, so you’re my mess to dispose of, Eddy. You embarrassed me in front of a lot of important people, and now I’m simply returning the favor.”
Peter was entertaining a job offer at Condé Nast and leveraging it into a promotion with his current publisher. Bart had just started his new gig managing Simon’s music venue, an obvious fit and hard-earned upgrade. I was thrilled for them, but my happiness was slightly clouded for obvious reasons. “Your luck will change, too, Eric,” said Bart over dinner as he read my silence. “At least you get unemployment and severance. And I bet a lot of people would hire you, regardless of what Sam says. Anyway, how long before you can start poaching his clients?” I thought for a second—I had never signed any papers. No non-competes, no nothing. “Eric,” said Peter upon learning this. “You could take everything from him.”
I consulted with a few experts about the likelihood of building my own client roster from some of the actors under Sam, and the consensus was that I could and should. I planned to go after just a couple of his actors—the ones I figured would trust me wholly, and only those few who felt a greater allegiance to me than to him. In the very least, I would get Tyler, who had promised to help recruit others once I had an official firm and could formally book him some auditions. What a blessing, to have a vote of confidence from someone who could easily land a headlining role in TV or film. I blame his youth for trusting me so blindly. “But will you be Eric, or Eddy?” he inquired. I really wasn’t sure.
One cold, rainy fall weekday, I woke for a run through Prospect Park. It’s calming to see the park so deeply blue, and running in the rain always feels empowering since few people even consider it. We all smile at one another—a rarity in New York—as if to say “Hey, I see you’re crazy too!” In high school, my soccer coach would make us practice whenever it rained, to condition us for the chance of a downfall on game day. There we were, sliding for the ball in the mud, our cleats filled with water, our mothers dreading the next laundry load. My junior year, we won the state title in the pouring rain in a 6-0 shutout. The wincing grin on my face in Prospect Park this morning recalled the day I hoisted that trophy over my head.
I feel most confident when I run. Any anguish is leveled, and only the most self-assured thoughts rise to my head. As I buckled past the fowl-dotted lake, I thought of Sam. I felt angry. I felt defensive but also assertive. I was a firefighter running into a burning building as others hurried out. I was a soccer player—the captain—who was responsible for his team’s success in a pivotal match. There, just in front of me, the ball. And 20 paces ahead, the goalie with no time to calculate my attack. I choked for air as I sprinted full speed up the final hill, my mind focused and impregnable to anything around me. To earn my livelihood here, I had worked hard, I had been nice to everyone, I had spent years managing my own reputation, all as an investment. The endorphins crested atop the hill and I, soaked with rain, felt taller and more confident than ever: I would rip Sam Goldstein into a million goddamn pieces.
It’s important for gay men in New York—and any place, I suppose—to stay civil with past lovers. We are experts at saving face, and we each feel a lifelong, intimate attachment to our ex-boyfriends and boys du jour. Our worlds overlap in ways that no heterosexual person could understand: when you can all have sex with each other, you have to manage your trail. We become friends with our hookups, we set up our friends with our exes, we refer our exes for jobs: “He found my prostate, thus I offer my full endorsement…or something.” Simon was the first person I called for help as I started anew. “Wow, one past flame asking me how to best steal clients from another past flame. Lucky for you, I’ve got some ideas, Sam is a terrible human, and I’m honored to help.”
“Stealing Sam’s clients” wasn’t my actual goal. I needed a client base, and naturally they would come from people who knew and trusted me. “Stealing Sam’s clients” would be my fun way of looking at it. The ones I was targeting had spent more time on the phone and getting casting directions from me than they ever had with Sam. Plus, I needed them to succeed in order for me to succeed, whereas Sam had settled into a comfortable rhythm with his major money makers like James Thurston. I knew of a few unsigned actors that I would pursue as well, hoping for a starting roster of at least 10 people, plus Joanie, of course. Simon helped with legal stuff as I handled the mum’s-the-word phone calls to agents and casting directors. Their collective feedback: “We’ve been waiting for this to happen. Let us know how we can help.”
“Eric. Buddy. Hi!” Dad picked me up at the Kansas City airport, taking my duffel and handing me a large coffee. “I got you a Starbucks,” he said, even though it wasn’t from Starbucks. (That’s how he refers to any kind of coffee.) We drove to Olathe with Billy Joel’s greatest hits playing in the background as I quizzed him about things like hunting, work, and even romance. He had been giving online dating a try: “Just one date the other night,” he said. “My first one since Mom.” I stared at him, anxiously awaiting his assessment. “She was friendly. Also a widow. It’s weird how there is a whole dating pool made up of people who have lost their better half. I think she wanted me to be like her husband. That’s unfair, don’t you think? Anyway, I sent her a nice text message the next day, but she never responded. Come to think of it, I’m guessing that was her landline.”
Dad likes to visit Mom together whenever I come home. “Carol, here’s your son. Here’s Eric. He’s making us proud. Doesn’t he make you proud, Carol? He’s off in the big city. But you’re there with him aren’t you? You’re keeping our boy safe, right? He’s meeting all these famous people, so you better keep him grounded. Keep his heart full and his head right. He’s still a good kid, don’t worry honey. Remember what we talked about last week? About his friend Joanie? He’s helping her with her music, so he’s being real generous. And he’s gonna land on his feet with a new job, just like what we’re praying for. We raised him good, Carol. You raised him good.” I stand back, because I’m in tears within minutes, realizing he does this each and every day.
When I landed in New York City for the first time, I had two voicemails. One from my mother, telling me she was excited for me and that she missed me already and that she was planning to visit soon. The next, from my father, telling me Mom had been in a pileup on the interstate and I needed to come back home. I accidentally deleted the first voicemail two years later, and I wept so hard, you’d have thought my mother had only just then died. These days, her death was more fact than feeling, as if having a dead parent was some milestone I had experienced and could talk about without much sadness. There was a week in late 2013 where I didn’t think of her until Wednesday afternoon—I went three whole days without thinking about my dead mother! I hated myself for considering that a good thing.
My father thought it was weird that I had dated Simon, since Dad was only a few years older than him. “Aren’t there plenty of hot guys your own age? What if he had become your boyfriend? What would he and I talk about? It’s like if I started dating a 30-year-old woman. Wouldn’t that be strange for you?” I had to explain to my dad that my dating preferences weren’t tailored to his norm: “Dad, I’ve dated older, I’ve dated younger. Some born in the 90s, some in the 50s. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn, with totally different emotional offerings. I think we gays have a good grasp on that. It’s kind of fun, really.” His response was terse and unexpected: “Eric, fine. OK. I get why it’s fun. I just wish you weren’t gay.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Dad said. “I’m happy for you and I don’t want you to change a thing about yourself. But do you sometimes wonder how your life would be different if you weren’t gay? Like, maybe you wouldn’t have felt compelled to leave Kansas. Maybe things here would have been good enough for you. I know it’s not the most appealing place to be a gay man. Or even a gay kid. But heck, you were a good gay kid here! Brave enough to come out at 16. Coming out wasn’t even cool in 2001! And now, being gay in Kansas still isn’t cool, and I wish you would just, I don’t know, stick it to the man again and be gay here. Or that you were never gay at all, so that maybe you could have just settled for what you had here, without feeling like you had to go searching for something else to make you happy. I lost you and Mom at the same time, and all I can seem to blame is distracted drivers and hot metropolitan homosexuals.”
I outlined for Dad my precise plans to start the management company, and assured him that I could get the clients I would need in order to pay the bills and build a sound reputation. “I’m excited for any young actor who gets you as a manager,” he said. “If anyone knows how to go from nothing to something, it’s Eric Condor!” I corrected him, stating that I would keep calling myself Eddy, just for business continuity. “This is probably your only chance to start clean,” he said. “So why not just wipe out any trace of Sam altogether? It sounds like you want some sort of comeuppance, but why not take the high road, be yourself, and kill him with kindness?”
“I’m getting fat,” Talia said, deflecting my compliment that she was looking great. As far as I could tell, she was precisely the same weight, though she claimed that her skin “felt loose.” Our visit was marred by the fact that she expected me to harshly judge every aspect of her new life, though she did all the judging herself. “I bought a TV finally, and I can’t believe I watch like 12 shows. How disgusting am I?” and “You’ll have to meet this guy I’ve been dating. He’s super sweet, but I don’t think I would have ever dated him in New York. He’s an 8 here, maybe like a 4 there.” I asked her why she kept shooting herself down. Her reply: “Because I’ve slipped a bit. Nobody here tells me I can do better, and I guess it’s my way of reminding myself that I can.”
The truth is, I was most certainly critiquing every aspect of Talia’s new life, just as she had expected me to. I hate that I bring home this air of superiority, just because I wear clothes that fit me, or that I consider two miles a walkable distance. On the opposite side of the coin, I tolerate having mice in my kitchen and pay twice as much money for a fraction of the space. Talia had been quick to dismiss the good things about New York when she moved, but now she was dismissing the good things about Kansas—or rather the good things about leaving New York. I wondered where we passed each other on the confidence spectrum, because she had forever been my example of a sound mind and intentional decisions.
We visited Talia’s younger sister Rachel, who was the mother of an infant and a 2-year old. Talia was grateful to be close to her family again, and it was wonderful seeing the two of them bonding as grown women. Rachel slipped into the bedroom to breastfeed her newborn daughter, so Talia and I entertained the toddler son while his father prepared lunch. Talia tried coloring a picture with him, directing him on how to draw the eyes and mouth of a man’s face. The kid just scribbled, laughing about nothing and expecting Talia to find him humorous as well. She turned to me: “The more time I spend with him, the less I want kids. Why would anyone volunteer for 25 years of raising children? Parenting is kind of like that old phrase about professors: ‘those who can’t do, teach.’ I moved home to be less selfish, but I would rather live my life than teach someone else how to live his.” Ah, the Talia I knew!
Talia was especially curious about Joanie. Talia said that Joanie hardly gave her the time of day on her recent visit home. It had felt like Saturant was visiting, not Joanie, as if she came into the visit looking for more reasons to hate the place. And now that Saturant’s critical-of-it-all EP “Kansas” was taking off (with a lead single written about that visit home), Joanie had her middle finger pointed sternly at everything here. “She sort of sold out her past to find success,” Talia said. “This place is who she is, and she can change and grow and distance herself from it, but foundationally, she can’t change a thing. I wish she would embrace that a little more. It leaves a bitter taste, you know?” She paused for a moment. “But I’m sad to be missing her big break. She has certainly worked hard for this spotlight.”
Overall, my time with Talia was a delight. For me, it felt as if I was dropping in for an inspection, with a checklist of items I wanted to scope out. I needed to see that everything was good for her, that her life was fruitful and her outlook positive. She had a long way to go on the outlook part, but between her new house and job and the proximity to her family, it was all heading the right direction, and she would certainly readjust to the world in which she was raised. As she introduced each aspect of her new life to me, I had to try very hard every time to act happy and excited. I was certainly happy for her, but it all seemed so plain, so not-for-me. As we hugged goodbye, it hurt to know that my direction was very different from hers, that this wasn’t a joke and that we had finally hit our fork in the road. I knew she felt it too.
My dad’s comments earlier that week got me thinking a lot about how my sexuality so strongly frames my comfort in certain places. I could block out maybe 80 percent of the United States as places that would leave me entirely miserable as a gay man (all thanks to the people who reside in each). I think Kansas City is mostly fine, but as I walked through downtown KC one night carrying a tote bag, two different women commented snarkily on my “purse.” The second one was about 200 lbs. overweight, and I regret that I quickly reminded her of “all that baggage you’re carrying around, butterball.” I’m such an ass hole, but at least it comes from being jaded and not from naïveté. I have only been called a faggot twice in New York, once by tourists and once by a Staten Island guido, but no trip home to Kansas is complete without a few such remarks. I’ve always known that Kansas and Missouri wouldn’t easily allow me to grow with my set of variables, so part of growing up meant counting down the days til I could run away forever. And, while I miss Dad and Talia, I have to side with Joanie on my general feelings toward this place: it doesn’t deserve my prolific and dynamic pursuit of happiness.
It wasn’t long before New York had me back to my aggressive self. “Sorry, cash only,” said the bagel shop clerk, as I held out my debit card. This is a very frequent occurrence around Brooklyn—rarely Manhattan, though—and it always sets me off. “WHY. Why cash only? That is so inconvenient for the customer.” She pointed to an ATM behind me. “No, I’m not going to pay a two-dollar fee so that I can buy a two-dollar bagel. Why don’t you just accept cards and charge a 50-cent fee or something? God damnit. Are you guys trying to avoid paying taxes or something?” She stared at me, annoyed: “Are you buying the bagel or not?” “No. I refuse to support your inconsiderate business practices.” “So, what am I supposed to do with the bagel?” she asked. “Throw it away, for all I fucking care.” She shoved the bagel at me: “Here, take it, ass hole. Put it in that trash hole you call your foul mouth.”
“Eric, what has gotten into you?” Peter asked, after I recounted the story about the bagel clerk. “These past couple months you’ve been so touch-and-go.” I didn’t have to think hard about what was getting under my skin: “There’s just so much up in the air right now. I feel unsettled not knowing how the pieces will fall into place, and how long it’ll take til I’m coasting with this.” I had one major thing going for me, though: Tyler had officially left Sam, and was signed with Fortalia Management. And on our first official day as manager and client, I put him on tape for the J.J. Abrams picture. “I have a lot of things resting on the shoulders of a rookie actor,” I said to Peter. “Thank God he’s beautiful, and thank God he’s sleeping with our best friend.”
Tyler’s departure from Sam wasn’t easy, of course. He got a few threats about career sabotage, then Tyler’s agents called Sam and said he had better dial it back, as they would gladly woo their other clients away from him. That’s when I started getting calls from him, too. First, a couple voicemails, one threatening physical harm, the next one apologizing, but still promising to end my career. I had never had a nasty breakup, but that’s precisely what this one felt like. I called Sam when I felt ready to talk. He mostly screamed at me, asked why I was after him like this, and said “I should choke you underwater,” at which point I laughed aloud, because it was kind of funny. Then I shared some news with him: “Sam. Tyler got the Abrams part! We start press next week.” Sam hung up, but his assistant Erica remained on the line. I could hear her breathing nervously. “Call Eva at Gersh if you want a better life,” I said before hanging up.
Within a week I had five clients: Joanie, Tyler, a commercial actress I also wooed away from Sam, plus two of Tyler’s unsigned college classmates I had wanted Sam to pickup. I had emails coming in from a few others since Tyler’s recent casting news had been announced, and suddenly I found myself busy making calls with publicists, agents, casting directors, and more. I grew tired of asking everyone to call me Eric-not-Eddy, but knew that in time it would all be an afterthought. The big hurdle right now was getting Tyler out of his stage contract, and luckily Simon and his lawyers kept close. Things with Simon felt better than ever; we had weekly lunches at his apartment so he could answer my millions of business questions, and to catch up on our convenient, no-strings-I-swear, casual sex.
Peter and his doctor beau Alex were getting rather serious of late. I knew Peter’s heart was guarded and afraid to open up to someone just yet, but Peter knew that Alex was a gem of a man, and that timing might not give him the chance to wait things out. One night, when Bart and I joined them for dinner, Alex got called in for a surgery and had to rush away. Bart and I stared at our darling Peter from across the booth, as he was completely lost in thought. “Peter, he’s perfect. You know that right?” said Bart, somewhat poorly timed. “And he’s crazy about you.” Peter said nothing as he stirred his decaf coffee slowly. I noticed he was wearing the watch his ex-boyfriend Dale had given him for their second anniversary. It was the same watch he had returned to Dale when they broke up.
A week later, Peter’s worries were realized: Alex had proposed becoming boyfriends. Peter did the most Peter thing possible and made a T-chart of pros and cons. “None of that matters,” I told him. “He can be a doctor, a dreamboat, our age, a gentleman, all of it. You’ve kept him around this long, which is well above average for any of us. You like him, right?” Then Bart said what he and I were both wondering: “Are you seeing Dale again?” Peter looked up at Bart, his eyes wide as if he had been accused of murder. “So what if I am?” he said defensively. “As if either of you can cast the first stone. Eric’s still sleeping with Simon.” “OK, stop pretending like you’re Jesus,” said Bart. “Also, Eric was never in love with Simon, and they dated for like five hours. At this point, seeing Dale is a habit. And as much as we all liked him, it’s officially a bad habit. So stop. And stop making a fool of poor, perfect Alex.”
It doesn’t take long for single, gay, active men to build a cadre of ex-lovers—one timers, short term, long term—, each of them contributing to his perspective. I imagine that over time, the volume of experiences and sanding-down of expectations and hang-ups gives us all a similar outlook. Everyone has a Jack, everyone has a Simon and a Yates, and each of us is someone else’s Jack, Simon, or Yates. This makes it very difficult for certain people to settle down, since the collection of men is always dynamic, exciting, and unpredictable. A lot of New Yorkers (not just gay men) always believe they can find a better option than the one they’re currently sampling, seeing as there are so many: “He’s really handsome and smart and talented, and the sex is incredible, but I don’t feel ambitious around him. So I’ll keep it casual.” Truthfully, I think it’s that we’re afraid to abandon the variety, the gamble, the ability to break someone’s heart with very few consequences.
Quinn. Four months in 2011. And a few more sleepovers in 2012. We met on Grindr, but told everyone we met through mutual friends (since it’s impossible to not have mutual friends here). For a good while, I thought we were headed to Title Town, but was underestimating the fact that he had just been dumped by his boyfriend of three years. I chalk it up as bad timing, but he had a new boyfriend a couple months after we ended things, which meant he probably just categorized me as a layover. His relationship lasted a year maybe, after which I revived my role as rebound. I felt pretty self-loathsome, but he smelled good, had a nice apartment, and the sex was B+, so I tolerated the psychological abuse.
Hector. A one-night stand in 2012. Mostly unremarkable but significant in that I kicked a beautiful Mexican man out of my bed on very good principle. I got home from a long day of work, was needing attention and just coming off two or three months of feeling asexual. (This happens at least once a year, which is good for productivity and bad for the ego.) I downloaded every hook-up app I could think of, prowling for any cute boy to take the bait. I had a couple leads, but Hector was first to propose transaction. He biked over from Carroll Gardens at midnight, tiptoed with me into my bedroom as Talia slept soundly, and refused to reciprocate anything, then had the temerity to propose a sleepover. He slept in Carroll Gardens that night.
Kevin and Kevin. Three weeks in 2010. Talia and Joanie were appalled, and Bart was pretty jealous. I met the Kevins at a charity dinner, and without realizing they were hitting on me, gave them my number after they said “It would be fun to hang out with you sometime at our apartment.” I thought that that was pretty harmless, but I got there and realized very suddenly that I was being courted, helping them keep things interesting in their relationship. Luckily, I had the hots for Kevin 1, so I swallowed my hesitation and went with it. Then when Kevin 2 asked if he could see me 1-on-1, I knew it was time to call it off. But first, a solo week with Kevin 1 when Kevin 2 was away for business.
Josh. Two months in 2012. We had the perfect New York meet cute: our delivery guy mixed up our food orders, and we both called in to report the mistake. Turns out we lived around the corner from each other, and the restaurant arranged for us to exchange meals in person. Josh was a year younger, totally settled into his job and life here, and made it clear from the start that he wanted a relationship. I was anxious that he laid it out there right away, and overlooked how easy it was for us to integrate one another into our everyday lives—he lived in my neighborhood AND our friends all got along AND our sexual chemistry was terrific. I told him I needed a couple more months to get to “boyfriend” status, and that I felt good about it and was being monogamous, but he pressured me to make up my mind then and there. I cut him loose, and am reminded of it every time I see him and his current boyfriend hand-in-hand around Prospect Heights.
Drew. Two weeks in 2012. Met on Grindr. Completely physical. He was probably the biggest meathead I’ll ever know, but he served one purpose to gay mankind and performed his duties perfectly. I still can’t believe I got him in my bed; a guy like him—no body fat, all muscle, shapely beard, piercing eyes and perfect smile—will usually ignore anyone unlike himself. When I need to feel proud, I go through my phone and look at scandalous pictures he sent me. It’s a reminder of my achievement. Also, Drew gave me scabies, which sucked a hell of a lot and turned me asexual for a few months. But, believe it or not, those little mites are the reason I met Peter, so I guess Drew served more than one purpose.
I met with Tyler’s publicists to discuss his upcoming press conference for the Abrams movie “Peril.” It was a psychological thriller about a young but brilliant scientist who is murdered by the government, but his brain is transferred into the body of a cage fighter who is injured and deemed brain dead. He wakes up in his new body, thirsty for revenge. Certainly a high-concept Hollywood idea, and getting lots of buzz because the studio was planning a Bourne-esque franchise and Tyler was a hot new face on the scene. He would be starring opposite a Victoria’s Secret Angel as well, and was anxious but excited to play her romantic interest, given the very intimate scenes that were in the script. “OK, so the gay thing,” said Mary, one of his publicists. “We have to hide it. Deny it to the public and the studio. Eric, you’re his friend and his manager. You talk to him about it. Make it disappear.”
Bart had never been happier than he was with Tyler. And Tyler, as young and in demand as he was, had no romantic distractions; he was tunnel-vision in love with my beefcake friend. Bart was always quick to remind me how grateful he felt for my introducing the two of them: “It’s easy to fall into a negative rhythm in New York,” he said. “Where you just think that you’ll be better off loving people peripherally. Gathering them and discarding them and merely experiencing the surface level while only sharing that of yourself. Thanks for giving me something more, Eric. I think about him day in, day out. I want nothing else. Noone else. Only Tyler.” And Tyler, not to be outdone, would drop his broad shoulders and blush his Paul Newman face whenever Bart would enter a room. Nobody ever did that for Bart before.
“You can’t ask Tyler to keep that a secret,” Joanie told me. “He has been plenty public with his sexuality until now, and besides, there’s a hierarchy to your relationships: you are Bart and Tyler’s friend before you are Tyler’s manager.” I wasn’t totally convinced, though: “Yes, Joanie, but he isn’t even out to his parents yet, and Broadway is far more isolated than Hollywood. So it’s not like he’s going to just come out to Entertainment Weekly without first tending to his own family.” “Let him make that decision, then,” Joanie advised. “It’s not your job to interfere with people’s private lives. Well, maybe it is. But let that bitch publicist do it. Screw her for thinking she can pawn it off on you. And shame on you for not having the courage to point her in the direction of hell.”
Tyler and I met for lunch the day before the press conference. He could hardly eat because he was so nervous to be introduced to the media on such a high platform. His casting had been announced, and since the studio was planning a franchise, bloggers and journalists were at Tyler’s door already. “Are they going to ask about my love life?” he asked. “I can’t have people knowing I’m gay. They might not come see the movie. They’d never believe a supermodel would date me. And I’d never get cast in this kind of role again.” He looked to me for confirmation of this, and so I shrugged, unsure of whether or not I agreed. But I shared his concern. Tyler wanted a high profile, which I always knew. And it was my job to get him there—and to get myself more clients like him. With that in my mind, we agreed on a decision.
I kept waiting for a love-life question during the conference. Sure, reporters were asking about more legitimate things like his preparations for the part, or his current experiences on Broadway and his excitement to break into Hollywood and work with Abrams. I imagined what it must be like to own the room from Tyler’s perspective: every word is documented, all body language analyzed, everyone is focused on your looks, your words, your presentation. I didn’t envy him for having that at 22, with things still so formative. I worried that he might be forever preserved as a 22-year old, as if his experiences from this point forward would be less genuine and all for show, forever cementing him in his current state. Suddenly, a very direct question from a reporter: “Mr. Weiland, rumor has it you’re gay. Do you think this will affect the box office?” My heart sank. The room went silent except for the clicks of a dozen cameras, each pointed at the youngest person in the room.
“Wow, I didn’t think I’d learn something about myself at my own press conference,” Tyler said jokingly into the mic. Everyone laughed, though it was palpably uncomfortable. “When you work on Broadway, you naturally have lots of female and gay friends. Almost all my best friends are gay, and I think life would be pretty good if I was too. But, don’t get me wrong, life is really damn good, I mean, I’m up here talking about this picture with you guys, so, I’m on cloud nine. And, I guess to answer your question, sir, I’ve been told that my, uhh, sexuality, if you will, is going to play a big part in the box office for this film.” His co-star took the reigns: “We’ll do our best to spice things up for you.” More laughter as they turned to one another and blushed. And from me, one big sigh of relief. He was every bit the terrific actor I needed him to be.
New York got a pre-holiday blanket of snow on the shortest day of the year. It was also the most beautiful morning of the year prior to any thawing and slushing, with everything quietly coated in half a foot of shiny powder. I was up early to go to the gym, and trudged slowly down the middle of the street since there was no traffic. Everything felt so symmetrical from the center of the road, as if the brownstones, trees, and parked cars were framing a photo for my own private, beautiful New York minute. I took out my phone to capture it, but the picture looked shitty by comparison. I pocketed the phone and stared in every direction, breathing long, cold breaths. I welcomed the breeze and relaxed my tense muscles. On the shortest day of the year, I felt a rare rush of calm, a minute of unwavering confidence and untold potential.
Joanie had been writing songs for another EP, and we were working with a lawyer to prepare her for meetings with labels. A few had shown interest and it felt like an obvious next move given the finite buzz and critical acclaim she had been riding the past couple months. We sat together in her living room one morning as she strummed her guitar and I looked over paperwork. “Eric, what kinds of people do you not trust? I am making a list for a song called ‘People I Trust More Than You.'” I thought for a second. “Parents who push strollers while they jog.” “Oooh, good one,” she said. “I’m definitely including that, maybe right before ‘weave snatchers.'” “Wow, I can’t wait to hear this song,” I smiled as my phone buzzed. It was a text from Sam—the first I had heard from my estranged boss in three weeks: he sent a photo of himself shirtless and smirking in the mirror…of Jack’s bathroom. And behind him, naked and silhouetted onto the shower curtain, the man who was my Kryptonite.
There wasn’t much I could do to retaliate. After all, this was Sam’s way of retaliating for my stealing his now-A-List client, and I would much rather have Tyler as a client than Jack as a bedfellow. I responded “Cool, have fun” to seem blasé about it, and since he would have felt sinister and victorious if I had left it unanswered. I hit “send” and within five seconds, my phone started ringing. It wasn’t Sam, though. It was James Thurston, Sam’s most acclaimed client: “Eddy—err, Eric, sorry, I keep forgetting—um, sorry for calling so close to the holidays, but I wanted to, uh, chat with you about something.” “What is it, James?” “I’ve been seeing the press for Tyler and I know you’re largely behind all that and I think it’s time for some business decisions from me. You know, some big moves. Are you accepting new clients?” Like a Christmas miracle, I had my Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated retaliation.
Dad came to New York for Christmas, to be with the “holiday orphans” as he put it. Peter was home in the Bay Area, but Joanie, Bart, and Tyler stayed back. Tyler was still closing out Julius Caesar, and his parents were licking their wounds upon news of his sexuality, so he was in no rush to visit Texas. Bart stayed in New York to be with Tyler, and his parents would be visiting the following week anyway. Lastly, Joanie figured it would be hypocritical to go to Kansas so soon given her critical (and critically acclaimed) single about our home state. Dad and I agreed that it would be more fun if he came to Brooklyn, so like Santa Claus, he brought gifts for all four of us, and I hosted a Christmas Eve feast. Dad popped a few bottles of “kids’ wine” (his word for “sparkling cider”) to celebrate “four very wonderful, inspiring young adults who create opportunities through love and support.” Here, here!
I took Dad to the Christmas showing of Julius Caesar, and we got to go backstage to Tyler’s dressing room. Dad said he felt “like a fancy prince” meeting everyone who was part of the production. He bought two CDs of the cast recording, too: one for him, and one for “this gal I’m seeing. Lynnette. I think this will win me some points.” We got supper at our favorite diner, Chelsea Square Restaurant, where we always eat when he visits. The Christmas crowd was older, but to me they all seemed like a bunch of orphans yet. I wondered where their families lived, or if everyone had moved away or passed on. Dad was on the same wavelength: “They’re like the New York version of me, yeah?” I saved the moment from turning sour: “No, because you’re here with me, and you’re a fancy prince.” Dad responded with a chuckle and “You smart ass.”
James Thurston wasted no time leaving Sam. He did the deed right after the holiday, and called me immediately to officially hire me as his manager. “Woof. Sam is not pleased. I would avoid him at all costs,” James advised. “I think he was more upset that you were getting me than he was about just losing me.” We spent a few minutes covering official business, and I agreed to schedule certain casting appointments for him the following week. His main goal was to land a television pilot this year. Getting one would be easy for him, but landing the right one would be tough, and that’s where I would be helpful. Dad was beside me during the entire phone call. After we hung up, he said: “You sounded so confident navigating all that. The nasty politics. Landing a Hollywood pilot. Booking appointments. Almost terrifyingly confident. I’m sure you’re a gentleman—at least I hope so—, but I wouldn’t want to be on your bad side.”
In midsummer 2012, I was sitting in my doctor’s office, scratching my ankles and arms anxiously as I waited for Brenda, the nurse, to call me in. We had spoken on the phone and she immediately diagnosed my symptoms as scabies. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she said. “It’s not an STD, though a lot of adults get it from a sex partner, so it’s kind of like… a sexually transmitted parasite. Totally different.” As I sat in the waiting room, she emerged from her office behind a tall, handsome, baby-faced man. “Eric, good to see you,” Brenda exclaimed. “Oh, gosh, do you know Peter here? He has scabies too! Maybe you both got it from the same guy!” Peter and I looked at each other, instantly bonded and together mortified. The man in the chair next to me moved over one spot.
After I left my appointment, I found Peter waiting outside the office. “Brenda isn’t the best with privacy, is she?” he joked. “No, yet I continue giving her my business,” I said in good humor. “Anyway, sounds like we’ve got a shared nightmare on our hands. Or, on our arms and legs.” “And stomach,” Peter added. “And back. And ass.” I grimaced for a second, before realizing I was in no place to judge. “Let’s go fill our prescriptions, then get a coffee?” I suggested. “Only if we’re quick,” he said. “I can’t take one more minute of this going untreated, so I need to hurry home and get a start on avoiding intimacy for the next few weeks as I purify. I feel revolting.” I’ve no better story for meeting a friend than this one, and I’ve met no better friend than darling Peter.
“Do you know how you got…scabies?” I asked Peter over coffee. I was whispering, embarrassed obviously. He shrugged: “Brenda assumes it was from a sexual partner. I’ve only had two recently. One is a guy I’ve been seeing for a couple months—Dale, this total sweetheart, potential boyfriend material. The other was a guy I hooked up with last month, complete meathead. Hottest guy I’ve had sex with, hands down. Let me show you a pic…” He took out his phone and sure enough, there was the guy I had been sleeping with as well. “Drew Rieger,” I said smiling. “I think I know where we both got these bugs.” I showed him photos of Drew on my own phone. “Unbelievable,” Peter said. “This town is too small. Send me that naked one, will you? For my memories.” Over the next weeks, we spoke everyday as we both got rid of our unwanted guests, growing too close to fall out of touch. How lucky that this town is so small.
Peter, Tyler, and I were out in the Village one Saturday while Bart worked a concert. Peter, who was wearing a full Miss Walnut Creek ensemble, had recently leveraged a job offer at Condé Nast for a promotion at his current publishing house. It was timed nicely with the departure of an associate publisher. At 30 years old, he was young for the role, and his boss routinely reminded him of his “dumb luck” that had him in such a senior position. “He can be an ass if he wants,” Peter said at the bar as he stirred his vodka tonic. “He’s 55, is still completely married to print, wears pleated pants, and questions why someone so young is creeping up on him. I’m getting paid real nice, too, so I’m happy to take his punches for the time being.” He paused. “But most days, I would really love to break his nose.” I imagined 7-feet-tall-in-heels Peter punching his boss in Miss Walnut Creek drag, all in the name of respect. I guessed it would be terrifying to be on the receiving end of that fury.
Tyler and Miss Walnut Creek were a couple drinks deep and doing this funny sing-along bit at the bar, when the bartender set three tequila shots in front of us. “You’ve all got a fan,” he said. I refused mine politely, as was my obvious custom. A voice from the other end of the bar yelled out to me: “Don’t you know it’s rude to turn down free drinks?” …Sam. “This town is too small,” I uttered as Tyler and I turned away from him. “Cowards,” he said sternly as he walked over. “Both of you. Traitors. Ingrates. Trying to tear me down, when I’m the very thing that built you up.” I could smell whiskey on his breath, and I knew it wasn’t worth trying to debate him on any accusations. I just wished he would disappear, forever.
Sam honed in on me: “You stole James Thurston, too. You took my calling cards, my best clients, you twat. And you—” he pointed at Tyler. “Biggest mistake of your career.” “What,” Tyler barked back. “You mean getting the lead in a blockbuster franchise?” People started to notice the commotion. “I’ll take my chances with Eric.” “Oh, right, it’s Eric now,” Sam wailed. “Seems you’ve got a healthy case of dissociation as you set my whole career up in flames.” Then, he got real close into my ear, to whisper: “You know, whenever I’m inside of Jack, I think of you and smile. Then he smiles back as he moans my name.” Just as I felt a swelling in my head—this intensity and pain and anger and sadness and heartbreak—a fist flew past my face and clocked Sam square between the eyes. And suddenly, Sam had a 7-foot drag queen atop him, punching him over and over and over and over and over.
Jack was a few blocks away when I called, so I asked him to meet me. I wanted to give him the chance to explain himself in person. “Please tell me why you’re at the police station?” he asked when he showed up. I told him what had happened at the bar, what had been happening with Sam this whole while, and how Jack had been used as a pawn in all of it. “Eric. I had no idea he was Sam. You talked about him all the time, but I never had a face with the name. And he told me his name was Evan. Yeah, we fooled around. Once. But we didn’t have sex. And I never would have touched him if I had known it was Sam.” “OK,” I said, slightly less alarmed. “But how did he know who you were? And that we had history?” Jack thought for a second: “It was coincidence at first. But he saw a photo of you on my desk. He asked about it, and I told him how important you were to me. He pressed me for details, so I told him that you and I still love each other.”
A recap of my history with Jack: we met on Scruff, a hookup app. But we set up a proper date. With dinner came a very charged conversation. Then, kissing outside the restaurant. A few more dates to the same tune—the slowest I had ever taken things. Then suddenly, we spent nearly every night together for two months. I lost interest in seeing other people pretty early on, and when I told him so, he only ever responded with “That’s so sweet of you.” But I stayed close, knowing he would one day reply that he also was turning off any distractions. From then on, a tango. If I retreated, he would want me back. I had been “the Jack” for other people, too, and for that I blamed the cadre of men I had collected over my years here. So, while I was confused by Jack’s tug-of-war with my heart, I knew the diagnosis. He was addicted to men, addicted to the dynamics, afraid of a settle.
We went around the corner to get milkshakes. Jack walked two paces ahead of me. We were both silent, and I studied his face. What I wouldn’t do to shake my thoughts of that face, just for peace of mind. Then I studied the rest of him, recalling everything that was underneath those clothes, remembering how I would fall asleep on his chest while listening to his heartbeat. Even after he retreated, when we saw one another less frequently, I would let his pulse send me to sleep, trying to synchronize myself with it, desperate to understand him better. I snapped out of my trance as he went to pay for the milkshakes, quickly throwing my cash on the counter to cover my own. “Babe, what was that all about?” he asked as we walked back to the precinct. “Jack. Please take that photo of me off your desk. Please don’t talk about me to the men you have over. And… please go home.”
Peter was finally released around 3 a.m. He had lost his wig, and his makeup was smeared. “Thanks for waiting,” he said. “I’m… sorry. I think everything caught up to me, including the tequila.” He looked lost in thought, and pretty ashamed. “You OK, Miss Walnut Creek? Or are you Peter right now?” I asked. “I can’t tell since you’re kind of a mashup of both of them.” “God, I can’t wait to see my mug shot,” he joked. “And yeah, I’m fine. Perfectly fine. I just feel bad that I did that to Sam. I hope he’s alright.” We caught our taxi back to Brooklyn, and I quickly fell asleep, leaning over onto Peter as he gazed quietly over the Manhattan bridge. His heart was racing, though I could feel it slow as I gripped his hand and closed my eyes.
Sam was quietly watching TV when I entered his hospital room the next afternoon. His eye was bruised, his nose broken. He glanced at me and immediately looked back to the television. “Well well well. One person comes to visit me, and it’s you. How lucky I am.” “Sam, I didn’t come to perpetuate whatever grudge you have. I’m sorry this happened. It shouldn’t have, and Peter was totally out of line. I also talked with Jack.” Sam sat there sheepishly, still pretending that he was focused on the TV. Then: “So what the hell are you here for? To torment me? I’m not pressing charges. And don’t you have all my best clients at this point? Are you here to pay my bills with all of the income you stole?” “No. Sam. I’m worried you’re ruining your own career by coming after me. I’m not going anywhere. So stop trying to mess with that. I’m not going to tell anyone this happened. Nor will Tyler. So just… stop. Please.” “Eddy. Please take your head out of your ass. Stop trying to make yourself a hero in this situation. And… please go home.”
I got a call from Tyler’s agent Eva a few hours later. “Is it true what happened with Sam?” she asked sternly. “Eric, you need to tell me about these kinds of things, especially when my client is involved. He could have been injured. Arrested. We don’t need this kind of press before the movie.” I agreed and apologized. I was always apologizing, it seemed. “Who else knows?” I asked. “Everyone. Everyone knows that he followed you out last night. That he’s been threatening you.” “Eva, that’s a bit of a stretch. I talked with him today at the hospital and—.” “Nobody’s going to work with him now,” she said. “Not in my office. Not at ICM, either. Our agents are telling his clients to bail on him. You may as well poach the rest of his roster. I’ve already snagged his assistant. Eric—Sam’s career is over.”
My guilt was still great—I couldn’t help it—, so I took some lilies to Sam’s office and left them outside the door that Monday morning, before he arrived. I knew that he would have a rough week ahead of him, and I certainly didn’t want him to know that the gesture was mine. Sam loved flowers—especially lilies—and I had inherited the adoration as well, stopping weekly at a corner store on Flatbush to take a bundle home. I never told him that he had influenced me in this way because it felt like it would give him some stupid, pointless victory. Even since our fallout, I would get my weekly replenishment. It was primarily out of habit, but also to remind me of Sam—of his teachings and of his threats, and of something so pure that a hardened heart could love.
“You’ll never shake that Catholic guilt, will you?” Joanie asked me at a recording session an hour later. “Stop pretending like you’re wearing some crown of thorns. Sam has his burdens, he can carry his cross. Besides, your burden right now is to get me an opening gig on someone’s tour. So, vamos, vamos!” Joanie had been getting a bit more aggressive with her requests of late, and rightfully: with a second EP approaching, interest from multiple labels, and hundreds of bloggers and critics kissing her feet, she was a few breaths away from the breaking point. I studied her quietly as she recorded a few lyrics. How confident she had grown in six short months. Not just as Saturant on stage, but as Joanie too. She trusted her gut, she stood taller, she dressed more simply, she spoke with conviction, she acted intentionally. Six months of positive reinforcement had given her a spine.
James and his husband Ken had me over for dinner to discuss a new pilot I had been helping negotiate. It was being produced by the CW, and for a veteran stage actor like James, it felt very young. He was closing on a lead villain role, encouraged largely by Ken to step out of his stuffy stage and BBC parts to pursue a new audience and network. Ken was a proponent of James leaving Sam for my guidance: “Eric, you’re a modern man. And we need modern dollars,” he said on multiple occasions. James confessed that they were hoping to start a family and buy a home in the West Village. Such burdens! Their priorities were as far from modern as I could imagine for myself in this city, but I was happy they saw me as a means to their end.
Alexa Gordon looks and dresses like a Middleton, and I knew when I signed her that she would do just fine for herself on Broadway. She was classically trained and still reeked of her Oxford roots. We had a couple options to explore: there was an offer for a lead part in an Off-Broadway play, but she was more focused on a supporting role under Chris Cooper in a buzzed-about Broadway bit. Alexa was going to have to gamble on the supporting part, though: timing would force her to reject the other offer before hearing anything. “You’re sure this is what you want?” I asked. “I think you need to take what you can get right now. You’re turning down silver and praying for gold.” “I’m in no hurry,” she said confidently. “I want to do roles that I want to do. I needn’t grab at the first thing I am offered. So… make some calls, darling Eric.” That confidence—and right out of the gate—would send her far. Also, the family money that allowed her this luxury.
In business, there’s a good result when you mix Midwest Nice with New York Forward: it’s a sincere curtness, no bullshit. I think that’s why Sam was largely threatened by my presence and ability to steal some clients from him. My gift was working the phones. You don’t need specialized training in talent management; it’s all from experience and interpersonal skills. When I called in to discuss Alexa’s audition with the casting director, he stopped me in my tracks: “No need today, Eric. Jessica Chastain took the part.” I could feel the stress building in my head, nervous that Alexa would be upset by something out of our control. Then, after a few more minutes, I had her all but signed away as an understudy. I phoned her agent and then we dialed her in: “It’s not gold, Eric, but that’s some brilliant silver lining. Thank you, let’s do it.” Phew. In a perfect world, my former boss would be proud of me.
At the end of my hectic work week, I received a vague text from Sam: “Can you come by my office? I have something to give you. Totally sincere, I swear.” I was just south of there, underground at the 23rd Street N/R subway, so I hiked back up past Madison Square Park to my former post. When I arrived, the door was ajar and the office completely dark. I turned on the lights and saw my old desk, bare except for an envelope and a vase of lilies. “Sam? Hello?” No reply. The lilies were wilting away. One petal had fallen onto the envelope, on which Sam had scribbled “Eddy. My Eddy.”