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by Don Bapst
| ||The following is an excerpt from the opening of firstname.lastname@example.org, a collection of rather incriminating emails recovered from a company server at a leading fashion magazine in late 1999. The result is a contemporary "e-pistolary" novel in which high-speed technology and HIV are just two of the modern dangers the main players must contend with as they seek to define their gender and sexuality in the harsh and unforgiving social environment of the fashion world. |
| || Date: Tue, Aug 3, 1999 12:22 PM EDT |
Subj: Life in the Big Apple
Things have been crazy since I arrived. You know how great New York city is, so I dont have to tell you how cool it is to be here, but working at Liaisons has been really intense. I say "working," but most of the time I run around the office just wondering what it is that I'm supposed to be doing. Everyone seems appreciative enough. They're always saying stuff like, "You're so speedy, sweetie," after Ive done nothing but print out a blank letterhead or fax a memo.
Hopefully, I'll soon find a real position as a graphic designer at another publication not at Liaisons, since I'd like to get something without my father's help. But for now just observing the office from an assistant's perspective is a lesson in itself. It's so different from what we learned at school during all those design and layout classes. For one thing, editors don't stand around workshopping artists' work. They're always frantic, and sometimes it looks like they don't even take the time to care about what an image looks like as long as it gets into print on time. (God, I'd probably be fired for saying that!)
You'll notice that I'm writing to you from my hotmail account. That way I keep the "business separate from the personal," as my father has so often cautioned me to do. Of course, since he happens to be a close contact of the publisher of this magazine, there are a lot of people who seem to think that that's the only reason that I'm here in the first place. I mean no one has said anything to me, but I've seen a few smirks. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. In any case, there's not yet much opportunity for me to shine, since all I do is answer the occasional call or make photocopies for the assistant editors. I'm in this little cubicle that faces the printer and photocopy machine, and everyone passes through all the time to collect documents, so I always have to look busy. If someone comes up behind me suddenly, I just close my Netscape window and no one knows about these little messages to you.
But I've made things sound so dull! The real excitement here is watching all the models and fashion celebs pass through. The other day we had a leading designer here. I won't tell you who since the next issue's cover is supposed to be top secret, but I'll say this: think of your top ten favorites, then go to the top of that list. That's right, none other!
And then suddenly a model will just walk in and ask me where to find so-and-so. They're all so gorgeous! Well, especially the men. Yeah, I'm still finding myself attracted to men, now more than ever. My father says to give it time, I'm only 18, etc. He doesn't want me to have to suffer what he has, and that I should wait and be patient to allow myself time to really know my feelings. I think maybe things are just really different now than they were when he was my age. After all, he had to marry my mother just to keep up appearances. I can't help but think life is easier than in his day. All I have to do is look at all these models and designers running around me, speaking so openly about being gay. But my father assures me that they have trouble competing in what he says is a homophobic publishing industry yes, even the fashion side of it and for every one who has made it, there are dozens who were rejected because they are gay. But is that any reason for me to change who I am (if that is who I really am)?
The other day, I was facing my screen, typing a memo, when suddenly, this low voice was right behind me: "Can you tell me where I can find Jamie Dowling?" I nearly jumped out of my seat. When I turned around, there was the most handsome man I think I've ever seen. I stammered "Yes, sir, I'm Jamie Dowling, you must be here to see..." I couldn't even complete the sentence. I thought he was a model or designer come to see one of the editors. "I've come to measure your desk for the keyboard tray." And then he fell down to my feet and started drilling under my desk. Of course, if I'd stopped gazing into his eyes long enough to notice his janitors uniform, I would have known he wasn't a model. It seemed like everyone in the whole office looked up from their cubicles at me smiled as if they knew Id been lusting after him! I was so embarrassed I had to take my lunch at 11:30 just to circle the block for some air. Imagine my father's reaction if my first sexual experience was not only with a man but with a janitor in the same building where he has his offices!
What would I do without you to talk to, Sue? You're the only person that I've really been able to trust with all this! Come and visit New York as soon as you can. I know you're getting ready to go back to classes for your last year, but winter break won't be long and then you can explore the Big Apple with me!
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Date: Wed, Aug 4, 1999 10:12 AM EDT
New York is as fabulous as ever well, maybe a touch less than usual with you back in La La Land. I've been running around like a nut case trying to close the last issue. Chanel pulled an ad at the last minute because of some religious right group's demonstration in Cincinnati over their last campaign. Of course I sweet talked them back into position, but they ran something boring, not at all what they'd originally promised. No balls. Surprise.
But how dreadful of me to start off with business first thing! Surely you're not actually conducting any yourself in that horrid parody of a city? Between drinks at the poolside and long dinners on the patios of West Hollywood, just who have you been doing? I should know better than to send you on assignment to the celebrities. ;-)
I've been having my own adventure with this lovely Hispanic boy, Peter Marquez, a 20 year old intern who came to me fresh out of some journalism program in Chicago or god knows where. I've given him an elevated title, though he basically shuffles papers and runs minor errands. He's so serious and determined, however, that I'm afraid I'll have to get him something a bit more ambitious to keep him occupied. At some point you'll have to give me your review of him. I'm not worried about you nipping in his cookie jar, sweetie, because I know he's not your type, if you know what I mean. He's totally confused about his sexuality for starters, and so he likes to play tough guy. I've been obliging his curiosity as best I can, though I must say that those early morning sales meetings have become doubly tedious since I started conducting private training sessions until the wee hours, complete with all the usual vitamins: E, K, C... :-P
But that was just a little appetizer to my real news: I have a project that you won't be able to turn down. Do you remember that fiasco with Jonathan Banks back in March? Well, after he broke off our online business partnership without warning, he launched his own brokerage site (like we need another, one, for chrissakes) and proceeded to appear at cocktail parties with Richard Dowling, publisher of New York Information. Then Dowling had the nerve to take me aside after a tedious financial meeting last week to ask for my advice on his son.
"Jamie just graduated from design school," he said. "I want him to get right into the Internet. That's where the future of publishing lies, after all. But he's determined to stay in the print media. It's hard for me to convince him otherwise, especially since I've stayed in print myself. But I think I can land him a job at Banks' new upstart just to get his feet wet. In the meantime, wouldn't you have a little desk job he could fill for a couple of months just so he can see what he'll be getting himself into going towards the print world? I know he'll come to his senses once he's confronted with the harsh cuts in publishing."
Victor, you can imagine the ten shades of blue I turned before I was able to collect myself and respond, "Of course!"
So here's the deal: since little Jamie has started as a temp assistant in our office, everyone has noticed what a little queen he is, just like his father! He's obviously tormented by his adolescent desire. You'd think by the age of 18, he'd already have had sex a thousand times, but apparently, his father has kept him isolated in the countryside since his early teen years putting him through a high school seminary before sending him off to an intensive two year design program at some tech school in Maine or something. Dowling is always vague about the matter, but clearly his kid is experiencing culture shock in Manhattan.
Whenever a particularly hot male model is paraded through the office, it's always worth getting up from my chair for the spectacle. Poor little Jamie cranes his neck in an effort to get a glimpse, and if the model so much as glances at him, he nearly passes out!
I want you to come here at once, sweep the little baby off his feet, fuck his brains out till he begs for more, and convince him to reject Banks and his trashy website. And the plot thickens: Banks isn't just interested in hiring the young thing just for the fresh artistic perspective he'll contribute to the business. See, Dowling's son is a lovely angelic thing just dying to be had, and Banks can't stand to not be the first to have something or someone. Hes only cutting this deal with Dowling darling to get into the boys pants. Dumb daddy Dowling is so caught up in public image that all he can think of is keeping the kid out of the public eye, so hed rather the old troll gobbles him up in the dark then have him go wild in the clubs of New York as if any media would be interested in what the little brat does! Dowlings paranoia stems from the corporate sponsorship of the Republican-loving tobacco, financial, and retail companies that drive twenty-five percent of his publication and even more of Banks' site. He thinks they couldn't stand the scandal (i.e., aging homosexual financial publisher outed for having lead his innocent young son into a life of sin and decadence...). With Banks as Jamies boss, daddy figures, the kid will stand a better chance of keeping closeted, since Banks will be sure to protect his own image at all costs.
Though you and I both know theres little potential for a real scandal here, imagine how delightful it would be to watch those two old queens squirm as the little hothouse flower is exposed to the external elements! Once this kid is freed from his daddy's shelter, there's going to be no holding him back. And then someone might let it slip to those nasty sponsors that the son of the nation's leading business publisher is having homosexual sex with the nation's most famous models. Theyll at least pull an add or two. Ill see to it. Doesn't it sound like fun? Oh, say you'll come and help me, my dear.
When you get a glimpse of Jamie, you'll see this is no dreary chore I'm assigning you. And as if that weren't enticement enough, you can always count on the night of passion that I'll deliver to you upon completion of your little PR assignment.
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Date: Wed, Aug 4, 1999 12:45 PM EDT
Subj: Re: Re: Life in the Big Apple
If I have to go to one more cocktail function, I think I'm going to pass out. I'm always introduced to people as an assistant - or worse, as the son of Robert Dowling. I feel like such a child. No matter how hard I try to look the part, once I get into the middle of those people dropping names and showing off their wardrobes I feel like I've chosen my clothes at Kmart. There was a celebration last night at the Rialton for a designer's new collection. I was sitting in a corner trying to pretend I was waiting for someone who'd just stepped out for a second, and then I noticed two models looking over at me as they whispered to each other and laughed. I swear I heard one say, "Too young." Do you think they can tell I'm gay? I guess I can't help but blush when one of them looks over at me. Are they flirting? You once said that you thought I was very handsome. But do you think a professional model could think so? God, I don't know why I'd even ask you such a thing. I'm just so confused. I left the party last night around 11 p.m., just as it was getting started, because I thought Id better get to bed early to be up in time for work. I overheard a bunch of people laughing as I said goodnight to my father. I was mortified. How can they stay out all night and work the next day? I hope I'll learn how to make it in this scene.
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Date: Thu, Aug 5, 1999 6:30 AM PDT
Subj: Re: Proposition
You're adorable. I want you right this second, and I'd jet over to NY right away just to have you. I'd even finish up with your little protégé for dessert. But first I must take care of a big project of my own in Los Angeles.
Do you remember Christophe Tourvel, the French designer who started Habiller? His chain of prêt-à-porter boutiques in Southern California has been gaining immense popularity out here, so he's been really working the social circuit. I keep bumping into him at fundraisers, benefits and even at my gym where he's a regular. He's as straight as they come (married too), and no one has any incriminating dirt on him, not even the people who fabricate stories about everyone in town.
Strangely enough, whenever he sees me, he immediately falters, blushing ever so slightly. I gravitate to him immediately, pretending that I want to "practice" my French as we spot each other at the chest press or wherever. The language thing gives our conversations a sort of intimacy that's not otherwise possible in the lion's den of the LA scene. I always ask him lots of questions about his wife and family, then sort of sigh as I speak of my own sad single life. He tries to change the subject to business, so I compliment him shamelessly on the image of his stores. Surprisingly, his interest in his business has little to do with public appearance, and he shrugs the flattery off. He feels that he hasn't really done enough and wants to put more "passion" into his work. I told him I thought his stuff was very "passionate under its stark surface." He got himself so worked up telling me about his dreams that he didn't even notice my little jeux de mots.
The whole thing would be laughable were he not so sincere. His stores contribute 30% of profits to various charities, and he wants to add to that. Well, as you can imagine, my dear, it's not just for his charitable intentions that I find my curiosity tickled. He's also an incredibly beautiful man, though he's in his late thirties. He's got the most delicate, boyish features, and his eyes seem to melt when I lock into his stare.
I've never been so drawn to a mature man who's so fundamentally heterosexual -- I'm convinced he's truly straight because he has absolutely no shyness associating with gays in public, and he never brings up that he's married, though he never hides it when asked. Closet cases are never that comfortable and self-assured around gays.
Oh, did I mention that his wife (a banker) is eternally away on business in the Middle East? How convenient. He's crying out for me to take him, and though he doesn't even know it yet, I intend to oblige. But this is going to be a hard nut to crack because as far as I can tell, he's never had a true homo thought in his life until now. I'm thinking of this one as a special challenge. But I promise you that long before the end of the millennium I'll have his pants down and his ankles up in the air. He'll be begging me for it, as they all do.
See you, sweetie. Gotta' get back to that gym...
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Date: Sun, Aug 7, 1999 6:45 PM EDT
Subj: What are you thinking, my dear?
I had to reread your last email a couple of times just to be sure I hadn't hallucinated it. I left it in my inbox till the end of the day before I found the time to deal with the unfortunate reality of its existence. Christophe Tourvel? Are you out of your mind? I can't think of anyone more ordinary. And as for Habiller, that tired line of French dishrags for Californian housewives... I'm stunned that as an editor for my publication, you don't have even the modicum of taste required to see what kind of crap he's peddling.
But you're charmed by a foreign straight boy. That's what this is all about, after all, isn't it? You think that his supposedly incorrigible heterosexuality makes him something of a challenge. You say you just want to flip him over and have him, but your fascination with his charitable endeavors and his search for "passion" in his art have you giddier than a school girl. (If only a modest dose of passion were all it took to make something tolerable of his drab and horrid line!)
Do you really believe that there's a man in the fashion industry (if we grant Tourvel the benefit of the doubt for a moment and include Habiller in the world of fashion) who hasn't fucked another man at least once? You say that straight boys who are friendly with fags are certainly not gay themselves. True, that's often the case, but there are plenty of exceptions, especially among the French. I'm not saying he's a flaming queen or anything. If so, there'd be a lot more dirt on him, and you're right to say that no one has a thing on him. But isn't that almost suspicious in itself? After your description of him swooning at your every word, I'd say it's pretty arrogant of you to assume that you are the first to tread down that path with him. Do you think that you're so beautiful that you can just snap your fingers and convert heteros? (Next, we'll see you on "Cops" getting hauled in by the LAPD for trying to fuck an on-duty policeman!)
I'd say it's safe to assume that Monsieur Tourvel has had at least a few experiences with boys before you and that you're just rekindling his interest. Maybe he'll even use his "innocent" charm to win a spread in Liaisons while he's at it. In fact, he's probably quite experienced at using the old blushing straight Frenchman number on American editors to get them into his pants. And it doesn't require a huge stretch of the imagination to think that putting out may have had a lot to do with how he got to where he is in the first place (though it's widely known that his American wife's fortune is at least partly responsible). Anyway, what's the big charm in having a "real man" to yourself if he's a man kept by a business woman? You mention his striking looks. Please. You've been among the tan gym bodies of Hollywood for too long. Gaunt, frail Frenchmen are more common than circuit queens in the world at large. It won't be long and you'll have hundreds to choose from on your next trip to Paris. Tourvel would just disappear in the crowd in his own country with those beady little eyes, that fat nose and those pursed little lips. That's why he has to work the French thing over here. Come to your senses, my dear.
Meanwhile, while you chase a desperate fag frog around Hollywood, I am being serviced regularly by my Latin lover. Peter is insatiable and totally maintenance free, though I've begun to notice him hanging around the little Dowling's desk at the office. It's all under the pretext of exchanging computer tips with each other, but if their mice keep clicking with such frequency, my manly Marquez may just beat you to jeune Jamie. Oh well, you have your frail Frenchman to attend to, so I understand.
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Date: Tue, Aug 9, 1999 7:00 AM PDT
Subj: What are YOU thinking?
You're attacking Tourvel just to get at me and you know it. What's eating you, anyway? For starters, I never for a moment thought of Tourvel as a great designer of haute couture, and he doesn't seem to think of himself as one either. To think that he could be flirting with me for ad space in the magazine is absurd. You didn't even believe it yourself. For starters, it's not even his market. Anyway, you know that Tourvel is not the type to play such a transparent game, and that's precisely why you came up with that story because you knew it would tick me off. If I've taken such a strong interest in someone so seemingly unobtainable, it has got to be for a pretty good reason, my dear, so work with me on this one and just let me get my kicks.
I really want him, Terry. Unlike all the other old queens in Hollywood, he's done nothing to hide his age. He dresses and behaves like the man in his late thirties he is. When you're near him, you're not assaulted by a battery of fragrances, nor do you find his skin covered with a barrage of skin products. His eyebrows haven't been tweaked and tweezed, and his clothes are not cut specifically to show off a few over-worked pectoral muscles. Christophe is naturally masculine without the slightest touch of affectation. His skin is clean and smooth with just a hint of ruggedness. His gentle eyes are powerful yet tender. He is, in short, the type of man that every queen in Hollywood would love to have if not become. But seducing a straight man takes a great deal of time, I'm afraid. Well, I could probably get him to fuck me in a minute with the right lighting and champagne to set the stage, but I want this to be bigger. I want to really go the whole way and have him fall for me madly and deeply.
Last night there was a reception for the AIDS hotline. I caught him alone in the corner looking pensive. Hooking into his philosophical mood, I asked him, "Have you ever wondered if the people that you've surrounded yourself with, and the tasks you've undertaken were no longer those belonging to you?" He looked up a bit stunned, and I made sure to fix my stare into his. We were stuck like that for a second that must have seemed an eternity to him, then he pulled away and excused himself. I must say that it's very exciting to be flirting like this after so many years of random tricks.
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