I gotta tell you about Thomas.
I’ve mentioned him briefly before, but never really shared my adventures with him during our brief time working together. This would be when I was with Linens ‘n Things and working in Texas opening stores for them in…’93-94?
Goddamn, I’m old.
Actually, the whole 11 month stint in Houston was an exercise is confliction – Chrisism.
On the one hand, I was doing something professionally exciting, making new friends and living with family. All good things.
On the other hand, I was a gay boy in fucking Houston. Also, humidity. Mostly, the biggest strike against the experience was living in a red state as a gay person.
Professionally, Thomas was definitely one of the top co-workers I met during that almost-year. The other was my boss, who had married someone whose surname was the same as her given name, so let that clue you into the personality that I called “boss”.
It was fun. Every damn day.
Thomas was from Mississippi. He and his boyfriend – John – had moved to Houston for John’s continuing education and then work.
Yeah. The only two gay guys in Mississippi met and fell in love and moved to Houston to – wait for it – “get away from the small-mindedness back home”.
And one of them is a fucking doctor.
Even worse, a hot, gay nerd kind of doctor, too.
My relationship life is rubbish.
On the upshot, Thomas was pretty, pretty, pretty naive. They were an unlikely pairing and the three of us fit pretty well together socially.
John, the brains.
Me, the partier.
Thomas, the heart.
I usually had to set aside my feelings that John was hitting on me when we were tobether, I convinced myself that his sex-rays were just misfiring because of his limited exposure to other options. I mean gays! Other gays.
He was probably hitting on me, I know. But c’mon, that would definitely not have worked with me and my rulesy self.
So, set it aside, I did.
Plus, Thomas was a not-to-be-missed personality. My time in Texas would have been worse without him to work with every day.
He was just so pure and sincere. Partnered with his naïveté, this was a better set up than anything Lucille Ball could have come up with.
It was gold.
He came into work one morning and I – innocently – asked him how his night was. Really, I shoulda known…
“Well, it was great, actually. John took me to dinner at this Lebanese restaurant.”
“Ew.” Picky eater, here. “How was it?” As John walks in with coffee for Thomas, grinning like a maniac.
Thomas explains that he’s just telling me about dinner the prior night. John just looks at me and smiles. I’m thinking, what the hell, right? I know something is up but I’m not sure what I should be girding my proverbial loins for.
“It was good. Really good, actually! And it was nice, lots of people…which surprised me.”
“Why?”, I ask, although I’m not sure how I feel about Lebanese cuisine, personally. I mean, I’d had Egyptian food while traveling. I assume – I’m sure this is low-grade racist of me – that it’s somewhat similar, but I wouldn’t want to eat it every night. I’m not sure I’d pass a Mexican food restaurant for it here in the States.
Check that…I totally wouldn’t.
John is very busy smiling in another direction.
“Well, I just couldn’t believe that there were that many Lebanese women in Houston!”
At this point, John practically has coffee spraying from his mouth as he cracks up. Thomas gets more and more exacerbated and my mental gears are shifting furiously trying to catch up.
“That’s all he’s been doing since I told him that last night! He just keeps laughing every time I bring it up!”
Finally, my Thomas-to-English dictionary translates the scenario for me and I start chuckling empathetically.
Thomas continues to sputter his frustrations, John is on the verge of passing out. I explain to sweet, innocent Thomas the difference between Lebanese people and Lesbian women. Understanding dawns and he starts laughing while turning red with chagrin.
“I wondered why there were so many men there! I just figured they were their dads or – I dunno – coworkers, maybe?”
At this point, I’m actually trying to get John to stop laughing so hard. He’s doing that chuckle-chuckle-deep breath-hoo type of thing you do when you’re coming out of a laughing fit.
“They sure seemed nicer to us than I figured lesbians would be to, y’know…a couple of gay guys.” And John is off to the races again.
I walk away.
He filled every week with stories and anecdotes like that.
I’m sure you missed the story about Barbara Bush, Sr shopping at my LNT…well, Thomas was there on the day that my cashier told Babs that she’d take a bullet for her. I could feel Thomas’ snort of disbelief as he strolled away from that. I’m pretty sure that was one of the rare occasions he – as if he thought things like this, I’m totally projecting – felt like there was a bigger rube in the room than him.
I couldn’t agree more.
Ok…one more. Probably my favorite Thomas story.
Being a very fey southern man always added a bit of color to Thomas’ storytelling. But usually his anecdotes could easily stand alone.
Imagine if you will, though, this story about beauty pageants in the thickest, lispiest southern drawl you can mentally muster.
Thomas had told me that he’d spent the prior evening on the phone with a gal pal from back home, chatting while watching the Miss America Pageant. My eye roll prompted a defensive diatribe about how pageants are a cultural way of life in the south. Like the Super Bowl in the rest of the country.
Leading him to tell me his favorite pageant story. I think it was a Miss Mississippi Pageant, but I could be wrong. I for sure don’t remember the contestant’s name, so I’m gonna call her Miss Mason-Dixon Line.
“There was a whole group of us, gathered around the TV. There were snacks, people sprawling on the furniture and all over the floor. I was sitting cross-legged by my best friend and the last contestant was up in the Q&A segment.”
He pauses to tell us how critical this portion of the competition is…it’s like 30% of the overall score, he tells us, wrists and hands flying.
“Miss Mason-Dixon Line gets the question about how she’s going to contribute to making the world a better place after her reign, should she win.”
MMDL: Well, having completed my degree in TV and VCR Repair from the Sally Struthers Corespondence College”
Me: Wait. Hold, please. What?!?
Me, still: You’re kidding me. This is an actual person talking?
“Shush. That’s not even the best part!”, he says and I’m relieved that he seems to know the ridiculousness of what he’s telling me.
MMDL: I plan to continue my education by attending the local veterinary college so that I can help the farmers and children in my hometown. I am Miss Mason-Dixon Line.
“I was just speechless”, Thomas says, “All I could do was clap and turn to my best friend and say”, and he’s slow-clapping for us as he literally turns his head to his invisible best friend and says, “She’s good.”
I still can’t talk. If I wasn’t laughing, I’m sure my mouth was silently opening and closing as I tried to process what I’d just heard. “Did she mean she was going to practice veterinary medicine on the children of her hometown?!?”
“Of course. I mean, not, like…surgeries or anything. Probably just vaccinations and stuff.”
“And stuff. Sure.” And once again, I find that I’m walking slowly away from Thomas. He follows me, trying to sell me on the nobility of the answer. I’m only half listening, but stop and turn to him to ask, “Did she win?”
“Oh, who can remember? They all blend together!”