Main | Monday, February 28, 2005

Danny And The Fat Girl

I was crossing 23rd Street at 8th Avenue. The heart of Chelsea, the biggest gayborhood in NYC.

The pelting snow caused me to hold my head tilted down, so I'm not sure why I noticed that the approaching car wasn't slowing down for the red light. I stopped in the middle of the street just as its brakes locked, the car sliding forward and fully straddling the crosswalk.

When the car finally stopped, I found myself standing inches away from the driver's window. I stared at her for just a few seconds, didn't make a face, not really, I just let her know that I wasn't happy with her driving. I turned to my left and walked around the front of the vehicle, almost in the path of the 8th Avenue traffic.

And as I crossed the front of the car, I glanced at the overweight driver and her equally large passenger just in time to see the driver curl her lips and say, "Oh, get OVER it, FAGGOT!"

Perhaps the fact that I heard her at all had to do with the dampening effect that snow can have on city sounds, or maybe because it was late at night and there was less traffic noise, or maybe it was because I was looking directly at her and could read her lips. After she said it, she turned to her passenger and high-fived her, and they both giggled.

I seethed.

I was just about to step foot on the far curb when I spun around impulsively, strode over to the car and rapped very loudly on the passenger window.

"You're both FAT and ALONE.....and you ALWAYS WILL BE!!" I shouted.

The passenger shrank from the window and burst into tears, covering her face with her hands.

The driver shot me the bird and spun her wheels when the light changed. I stood there on the corner for a couple of minutes, feeling completely ashamed. What had come over me? Why did I respond so violently? Was it because they pegged me as gay, even in a swirling snowstorm? Maybe my red ski jacket was a bit, you know, much?

I should have felt triumphant, facing down my tormenters like that. Instead, I had a queasy feeling of deja vu. I walked for a few blocks, then it came to me....

Fort Lauderdale, 1985

I was part of a rowdy pack of clubbers who regularly found each other on the dance floors of Ft Lauderdale's hottest spots....Backstreet and The Copa.

In our group was a guy named Danny.

Danny was tall, 25 years old and perfectly average looking. However, he was convinced that he was ugly. He'd stand with us at the bar and gaze longingly at the beautiful go-go dancers or some handsome bartender and moan on and on about his appearance.

"Look at him! Just look at him! No wonder I'm alone, how could I compete with that? I could go to the gym for ten hours a day and I'd still have this face."

We'd all roll our eyes and pooh-pooh his self-assessment and say vague, reassuring things...but basically we'd just wish he'd shut the fuck up about it. He was NOT, as I said...ugly.

One night Danny and I were leaning over the second floor balcony at Backstreet, watching the crowd beneath us roil and swirl. Danny started in on his painfully familiar "nobody likes me" patter.

"All those guys down there, and not one for me."

I didn't say anything. I was completely over his whining.

"I need to find a really ugly place to live, somewhere I can finally stand out."

I looked at him, "Why don't you try a dyke bar? You'll stand out there."

I was only half-joking. Danny looked at me sadly, "You just don't know what it's like."

I said, "Do you see ME with anybody tonight? Everybody feels alone some of the time."

He shook his head, "You just don't get it. This is IT for me, this HERE" he said, indicating the dance floor. "This is the best it will be for me, looking down at the party...but not being part of it at all. It's just so fucking frustrating."

"Well, go on down there and dance by yourself. MAKE yourself part of it." I said.

"Oh, right. That's easy for YOU to say. What are you, like 20 years old?"

I knew that I was actually a few months older than Danny. The night he turned 25 he'd tortured us with self-pitying comments all night. I figured it was time for some payback.

And so I replied, "I'm 35."

Danny put his hand on his chest, "What? You're 35?"

I said, "Oh, yeah. 35. Just turned. Wanna see my ID?" and I made a motion of reaching for my wallet."

Danny's hands fell to his sides, "You are 35? I always thought you were younger than me. Really...35? And you look like THAT? And I'm 25 and I ...."

I shrugged and turned back to the rail. A few minutes later some friends grabbed me and pulled me down to the dance floor. I looked up to see Danny watching me.

A few weeks later I ran into a friend at the gym. He put his weights down when he saw me and rushed over.

"Did you hear about Dan?"

I said, "What? Dan? Dan who?"

"Dan, you know...Danny. He hangs out with us sometimes? Tall guy?"

"Oh, right. What about him?"

"Killed himself. His roommate said he came home from t-dance at Backstreet and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. I only heard about it last night at the bar. Everybody was talking about it."

I started to get dizzy. Was it possible that my little joke on Danny pushed him over the edge? Was I somehow responsible? Was I...the last straw? I put my street clothes back on and left the gym.

*******

I've thought about Danny from time to time over the years. Sometimes I've been able to convince myself that I had nothing to do with Danny's suicide. Clearly, the guy was severely depressed. But usually, I'd try to force myself not to think about him at all. It's not like we were ever anything more than casual bar acquaintances.

Hell, I never even knew his last name.

But the fat girl in the car...the passenger, I never knew her at all. And yet I saw her explode into instant weeping, after a few cruel well-aimed words from a stranger.

It feels sickenly familiar. I really hope I didn't just pull another Danny.

I suck sometimes, you know?

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