Chapter 7: Hot Heads Explode, Part Two
Captain Hojax was our guide to the sun and fun. We’d parked Assauer’s car on the main drag, but several blocks south of the beach, and walked our way amongst the merrymakers north.
The Pacific Coast Highway – just a four-lane street in town – was blocked off to traffic and now the toughest little wheels pounding the pavement came from baby strollers.
There were lots of Gay couples with their kids, and seeing all the smiling tots riding their daddy’s shoulders made me reach out and take Gordon’s hand. The sky was azure; the water, a deep lapis; and everywhere palm trees and unapologetically red flowers greeted the fresh air and folks out for a good time.
From the beach, still about a quarter-mile up ahead of us, some live music of the salsa variety put extra pep in everyone’s step. The smell of fair food – deep fried, what else? – also wafted toasty and inviting from that direction.
“Remember the malt shop?” Hojax suddenly asked Assauer. The man was gesturing left, or to the ocean side of the street. A narrow storefront, made to look like tropical shack with a thatched roof, had a long line of patient folks waiting for ice cream treats.
“Sure do. Best banana shake I ever had.”
Hojax squeezed his shoulder for a second. “And I know how my little Ass-Hour loves his bananas.”
Me and Gordon chuckled; the captain was having such a good time, and so was my Exfreund.
At the next corner, young guys in shorts, no shirts at all – or skimpy, ‘muscle man’ tank tops – stood under the wrap-around awnings of a bar. All the windows were open and dance music spilled out onto the sidewalks to make the patrons bob sunglass-wearing heads.
“I remember that place,” Assauer said.
The logo on the building had a cartoon leviathan in blue with white letters on top spelling out: The Beached Whale.
“Gay bars,” Hojax explained, “used to be our Community centers, but now that LGBT folks are being priced out of their own enclaves, these watering holes have been drying up quicker than the Republican sense of decency. And that’s fast!”
“Well, on your first point,” singled out Assauer with a cynical edge, “I’m sure the abundance of hook-up and dating apps has nothing to do with the disappearance of these ‘Community centers.’”
‘Dieser Arsch,’ I thought, ‘can’t keep his mouth shut for one more afternoon?’
Hojax’s response was to grab and plant an aggressive kiss on my ex. That made Assauer giggle, little-girl fashion, and re-eased the mood again.
After the intersection with the bar, the street narrowed. The sidewalks were still passable, but two long rows of food trucks were parked along either curb. Canopies stuck out. They partially shaded standers-by, while tables and chairs were filled with folks enjoying their food.
The smells were incredible as we passed along one stall at a time: powder-sugar-sweet from funnel cakes, biting citrus from the limeade, smoky molasses from the barbecued ribs, and last but not least, deep-fried goldenness from treats as diverse as tempura asparagus to battered Mars Bars.
Near the end of the line, one truck appeared particularly busy, and the central shaded eating area had been replaced by a dozen folding tables shoved together to make one long one.
We had to proceed single file through this section with me in the lead. Near the end, an attractive middle-aged woman – with strawberry blond hair and a fearsome spring in her step – raised a bullhorn.
“Hear ye; hear ye. The corndog eating contest is about to begin. Plenty of room at the table. Haul up, haul up!”
Lowering her horn, she reached out to latch onto my arm. “How about you, handsome?” This was followed by a wink and a lip-lick as she assessed my bicep. “Want to join the fun? Prizes will be given.”
Hojax took command and my other arm. “Maybe next time. We’re on our way to the main stage.”
The others trudged past, but I turned as I went. The corndog lady was standing akimbo – bullhorn by her hipline – still licking her lips and eyeing me up and down.
In a couple more minutes, the good smells and bustle of the food truck area were behind us. We descended the steps onto the beach and headed towards the source of the salsa music.
Hundreds of people were fanned out like playing cards in front of a large stage. Colorfully dressed young couples were dancing on it, and a blue and white archway of balloons provided a gently swaying proscenium arch of sorts.
“Oh, shit….” Hojax stopped in his tracks.
“What…?” I asked, following his eyes over to an enormous banner. It said:
“The Neptune Line,
of the Laguna Beach
“Oh, no,” Gordon said, grabbing my arm, and apparently not listening to Hojax at all.
“It’s Lloyd’s company,” the captain said. “How could I have forgotten—”
“Never mind that,” Assauer clipped shortly, seeing what Gordon saw. “They’re here.”
And sure enough, at the bottom corner of the stage stood Lloyd, Trọng and Doris, scanning the crowd like they’d lost someone.
The three of us began to back away in slow motion, eyes locked forward, and then, we were spotted.
Trọng raised his arm and pointed right at me.
“Oh, Scheisse!” I turned, and we started running.
“Hojax?!” Assauer pleaded, wanting to know what happened.
“Lloyd texted me this morning, asking to come over to the house. I told him the truth, that I’d be out all day.”
“You could have told us they were in town!” Gordon called from up in front.
“He didn’t say he’d be here, so – sorry.”
At this point, we’d just gotten back on the sidewalk, and could look down over the beachgoers’ heads. The crazies were forcing their hot and heavy way through the crowd, and they knew where we were.
We ducked behind the food trucks, thinking it’d be quicker, but plastic piss booths lined the way and lots of people waiting in line slowed our progress.
Now we could hear Lloyd and Trọng shouting something like “stop thief” over the heads of people behind us, then suddenly we were in the clear again.
“In here!” Gordon shouted and took my hand.
We had to dive through the sidewalk crowd to get inside the Gay bar, but the interior of The Beached Whale was a sea of people as well.
Hojax stayed behind, saying something about “talking reason with them.”
We hankered down and tried to blend with the bar patrons.
Hojax was attempting to stop them, but Lloyd, Trọng and Doris stormed past him, the sea captain leading his little pack of lunies to the D.J. booth. While they headed to it in the center of the space, we inched our way along the front of the bar, back towards the open doors.
Lloyd scratched the record to a halt, and amid loud groans and screams from the guests, the strong man grabbed the mic.
Forcefully, he spoke straight to us, but it was clear not any one of the three had yet spotted us; they kept scanning the crowd. “Give me back the statue, Kohl, and all will be forgiven.”
‘Yeah, right,’ I thought. ‘As if….’
Doris took the microphone; her act was one of the dutiful, pissed-off wife. “Give back my husband’s bonds that you stole.”
‘The bitch, acting like we thieved what she took from him.’
Trọng grabbed the mic with genuine assertiveness and copped a ‘Oh, no she better don’t’ attitude. “And Gordon, you little shit twink, my Gucci gym bag better still be in trade-in condition. Okay?!”
We slipped out the door.
“There they are!" Trọng shouted.
We were on the move again, running behind people waiting for food-truck fare. I glanced back, and now The Three, plus Hojax, were hot on our tailbone.
When we got to the Corndog's Wife again, I latched onto her arm and pleaded, “Help! Those maniacs are after us!”
“Sure, sugar britches,” she said coolly.
We ran on, but I turned to watch her raise her bullhorn and command Trọng and Lloyd to sit down and eat a deep-fried footlong.
She blocked their way so effectively, the last I saw, Trọng was starting to climb on the contestants’ table to run down the center of it. Hope he didn’t slip on any mustard, hehe.
Now we were back where the chase started again: on the beach.
Assauer pointed, and we made our way to the far side of the stage, which was mostly hidden from view.
The music ended to warm applause, and we acted like we were there to play fangirls to the salsa dancers as they trooped gaily off stage.
The MC whooped it up, and more applause rang out. I peeked around the corner, but could not see the lunies or Hojax, much to my relief.
The announcer sangsong: “Welcome back to our live television broadcast. And now it’s time to hear from some random fairgoers.”
More clapping, and an organizer with a headset pushed the three of us on stage.
The sea breeze cooled my brow suddenly, and I could see me, Assauer and Gordon’s faces on the giant monitors spread out along the beach.
“So tell us,” the MC chirped, placing a hand on my boy’s shoulder, “are you enjoying the main stage so generously provided by the Neptune Line today?”
“Good, good.” He moved on to my ex. “And you….”
I tuned them out, for all of a sudden, I saw Lloyd, his wife and partner climbing the front steps of the stage.
I lurched for the microphone. It crackled and squealed in protest as I said much too loudly: “And here is the man of the hour himself.”
My elaborate hand gestures caused all the TV cameras to swing and zoom in on Lloyd. And he stopped in his tracks; Doris and Trọng pooled around him nervously.
I looked dead into the camera, seeing the sea captain’s face on the live-feed monitor behind his head. “We all owe so much to this man’s generosity. Without him, the world would be such a colorless place.”
A smattering of applause greeted that, and Lloyd took a step towards me.
“And so”—I wasn’t giving up the mic till we were free—“I owe a personal debt of thanks to him, to his lovely wife, and charming boyfriend….”
The crowd gasped. Time stood still. ‘Oops. I swear I didn’t mean to do that….’
The TV cameras zoomed right in on Lloyd’s face.
“Um,” I said, “I mean his charming partner, in life…Sang Trọng….”
To say all the eyes of the world were on the cryptic businessman would be an understatement; pin-drop silence aurora’d all around us. We waited to see what he’d do.
The man, not master of the situation, but in perfect control of himself, stood as still and dignified as his little gold statue. I could see him calculating his options, but then Lloyd glanced at Trọng and decided.
I surrendered the mic to the MC and stepped back.
The sea captain took Doris by the arm and strode self-assuredly to the center of the stage.
Once the microphone was in his hand, he said, “Good afternoon. Today, I stand before you with my lovely wife to announce that, yes, I am a Gay American—”
A flurry of reporters’ flashbulbs went off as the reporters themselves erupted into a pyroclastic flow of questions.
During this tumult, me, Gordon and Assauer slipped offstage again. As we made our way to the top of the steps, I could glimpse Doris’ face in the monitors. If I had to characterize her expression, I’d say she looked to be about the happiest woman on earth.
I waited for my companions to go down ahead of me, and just as I was about to walk down myself, the soon-to-be ex Mrs. Lloyd turned and blew me a sincere kiss. Truth was, I did not mean to out her husband. I really didn’t even think about it – but now that she’d come into a windfall, I hope she’ll be true to her word.
On the sand again, we rounded the corner of the stage, and Hojax was there. “Run now. I’ll take care of Lloyd and company and throw them off your tracks.”
We started to go, but Assauer went back and took the sad looking man by both cheeks, planting a genuinely affectionate kiss.
“Thanks, Hojax. Always an adventure with you, Captain.”
As we made our way back to my ex’s car and freedom, I thought again, maybe there really was more to the Assauer-Hojax relationship than my former boyfriend let on, maybe even to himself.