I met Geoff Kueen for the first time in a meeting of his peers, after he had been rather unceremoniously dethroned from the language department he had built with his own hands by a university dean he had failed to suborn, in a sweater vest and Oxford shirt that were a desperate cry for a salary he must have to buy such things – to maintain a certain style of living in the land of trademark worshippers, where outside a dog a book is judged by its cover.
Because inside a dog it’s too dark to judge a book by its cover.
Look at me, the Ralph Lauren slim fit Oxford told us in not so many words, and never think this man could wear a polo.
There were tears in his eyes. The woman who had been placed summarily at the tiller of his ship of life’s work was droning on and on and on. She spoke of curriculum – of books – of semester goals – of one very bad teacher they knew only as Max, a confirmed pervert who invited prostitutes to departmental parties. Max was the only one who did not know the prostitutes were hookers. He referred to them as his nurses, and he needed them because he kept falling off his motorbike.
Max will not be invited to this year’s inaugural function, the new director said.
No one paid any attention to her. We all gaped in animal malice to see whether Geoff would lose his cool completely and break down like the son of a monkey we knew he was, should you exfoliate him at all with any kind of authority, dressing him down on the porch of your hacienda or from the flight deck of your aircraft carrier or reprimanding him for truly sloppy form with the champagne towel, or scrub him off with a really stiff sponge.
This was sixteen years ago now, I laugh, when Geoff’s boyfriend Yesman Chamoy was still weighing in at 125 kilos and could talk effortlessly for hours on any topic in English or Spanish, and drank for three – for five. Geoff and Cham would arrive, guests at a party of eight, with two bottles of wine. They drank the wine. Then they drank all of the beer in the refrigerator. Then they looked around.
The beer is gone, they would wine.
You looked at the ice tub of beer, in which had sat and bobbed a hundred and fifty chilled bottles of handcrafted, handpicked lagers and ales, and nodded.
It’s gone, you confirmed. Now what are you going to do?
Chamoy and Geoff Kueen would huddle up in a corner and confer in angry whispers about the situation.
‘You,’ we would hear. We would hear, ‘They,’ we would hear. When all of the better known pronouns were exhausted, cracking their necks like wrestlers, the heroes faced the crowd and attacked the cocktail fixings (vermouth, bitters, Cointreau, olive juice, maraschino cherries, simple syrups, horseradish splasher, Bloody Mary mix, and Mexican industrial salsas, both red and green), which they would down with a heavy sigh, in vodka.
After polishing off the last of your margarita mix, they found and drank the lone bottle of wine left in the apartment. To their perverted brains, you had hid it from them.
‘It, him, you, they,’ they spluttered.
This jewel of the Nile you had stuffed for decoration into that little niche above and to the right of your beaten-down china cabinet – in which of course lay not fine china, but only favorite books, show swords, and stacks of cards and accounts. Peering about the apartment with their weaseling little eyes, they had found it, they clapped, and took, and drank, and when they had their eyes rolled back in their heads and the leering began.
‘Oh Ge-oh-EOFF rey,’ exxxclaimed Yesman, ‘it is maharvelous.’
Geoff Kueen, sat cozy and red-faced in his chair, and knit Christmas sweater, suppressed a queasy smile and swallowed. He clearly was extremely pleased with himself.
The wine, if wine it was, sat in a very old layer of dust where it had been oxygenating for four and a half years because you had forgotten it was there. How the pair ever spotted it was beyond your ken – beyond both your Barbie and your Ken Doll. Wiping off the moist layer of grime, you looked into the bottle and could make out chunks like feldspar where the nubsy bits of dreg should be. There was a cockroach in there. The words Italin Wine were legible, handwritten, on the label.
Sure, go ahead, you guffawed, and before the words were out of your mouth your wine was in their peckers. It was in their mouths, down their throats, and bleating to get pushed out of the ends of their peckish, necky johnsons.
Get that bottle off of your penises, you thought, but in the event no one dared to judge Geoff Kueen or his Ken regarding their sexual preferences or practices, even when ludicrously drunken.
You had purchased the bottle without malice aforethought from the broken shell of a man – of a human being – who fell against a wall as you rounded a corner in downtown Merida just out of the Argentine butcher’s and eatery, and butchery.
‘Won some Italian wine?’ the wino farted, making the most common mistake of the Argentine, pulling the bottle from the paper bag. Straightening your wire rims, you saw that the man had clearly put the label on himself. Adjusting your necktie, you saw that the top was a screwtop that he had not got on straight.
‘No, please, Jesus, get that shit away from me,’ you did not cry, nearly dropping your grocery sack.
You said, ‘That’s not Italian wine, you drunken fool, give me that thing,’ because you let your curiosity got the better of you, you young sexy thang, because this man was not drunk, because he did not stink, because his eyes looked right at you and sized you up.
You stood your ground and said, ‘By golly, if this ain’t Italian wine.’
‘Says so on the label,’ sniffled the hobo. Too late in life for wine, it was not too late on that evening for him to score rubbing alcohol at eight pesos a dose, and a little third of Seven-Up, like a hip flask, he rubbed his hands.
‘What do you want for this shit,’ shouted Geoff Kueen, getting up abruptly and going to the bathroom – to the bathroom in the bathroom, all the guests and yourself, the host of hosts, exhaled.
‘Don’t mind Geoffrey,’ giggled Yesman Chamoy, picking up the microphone. ‘He’s just drunk.’
Staggering to his feet he shouted after Geoff Kueen, ‘GeoEOFFrey, you are DRUNK!’ and that was the truth and end of the matter, for us anyway.