It's as if this is how it was always meant to be, only with marinara on the side. There's the clink-clank of unmatched dinner plates against the spotty forks of mass digestion, some green plastic vines on the wall collecting dust and skin detritus, jaundiced carnations browning in their dingy vases half-full of yesterday's water, limp tomatoes and old ladies with tomato faces bruised into permanent frowns. That unforgiving 5 p.m. resignation bends its way through the Curry Ford Road exhaust huff and somewhere behind some bar, agitation is being pumped into plastic cups through a tap. The New Jersey Turnpike, with its bodies bound in trunks, can't be far off. This is where we've ended up.
"We look ridiculous," I smokestack and sigh as we stand there waiting, waiting, waiting for a waitress. "We do not look cute."
Taylor and I have somehow managed a Bergen Town Center back-to-school moment of wardrobe miscalculation, one that's plopped us into our late 30s in matching black fedoras and black shirts with red things attached and out of a gangster movie by way of a Panic at the Disco breakdown. Worse still, he's holding a baby and I'm holding a diaper bag … and frowning.
"I'm glad we bought this thing," I steam some more in the direction of the baby's head. "I mean, how else would we have this wonderful gay-dad moment at an Italian restaurant? We don't look suspicious at all."
"I didn't eat on purpose," Taylor is hungry. "Four," he turns it into a porn movie.
This is our new game, see, and it's way better than our previous "boyfriend game" (wherein we stood all girlfriend-close to hot guys in public and acted impatient, like we wanted to go home and we hated their friends). The porn game, in which any mildly risqué utterance is appended with a sequel number, honoring the porn tradition of endless serials, doesn't require hot guys. Just us and a slight grasp of numbers, which is both sad and ironic at the same time. Our collective tragedy is hard to swallow. Six.
Oh, and about that baby — it's not really ours. In fact, nothing is as it seems: It's all a fantastic illusion. Our old college friend Jen is home from her European traveling circus carnie lifestyle extravaganza, and in the time since she last made an appearance she has spawned a wonder infant. Accordingly, a magician's explosion of secondhand family values and, cough, maturity has landed us in a family-style Italian restaurant named Lido's with a group of friends who like to eat and talk. Things fade in and things fade out, while Taylor and I keep up our gangster guises — I'm "Billy the Knose with a ‘K'" and he's "Fat Taylor" — for no apparent reason (Percocet!). This is a bad movie starring bad actors: gangster porn.
"I think you should have the manicotti," Taylor fats.
"Three," I suck.
We are just buying time. This scene isn't ours at all; it can't be. At some moment very soon this dirty diner backdrop will lift to reveal sparse open spaces with twinkling lights, beams of fluorescent futurism and dry ice. All of this costuming and simulated eating and graphic numbering was not for nothing, after all; it's far worse than that. We are gay men of a certain age, and noting that we are wearing fedoras in Florida, there can only be one explanation, one elegiac plonk of a sequencer key, one glorious pop duo that could explain this all away. Tonight is the Pet Shop Boys concert, and we are the Pet Shop Boys.
"I'm so sick of all this Sept. 11 bullshit!" I hop in my car and shake off the Jersey food theme for something even less tasteful.
"I was thinking the same thing this morning … on Facebook," Taylor follows.
"I mean, the only Twin Towers I give a goddamn about today are Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe!" I'm not sure what I'm saying anymore. "And that smell of burning bodies? That's European platinum, bitches!"
"Yeah!" This scene is even worse.
But not worse than Downtown Disney, a sort of shadow-box diorama of shuffling consumerism all pointed at some great ascension that never comes. To wit, there is a hot air balloon that always has ropes tied to it, and a morbid reminder of what happens if you actually do fly too high in the form of a Princess Diana museum. Outside our destination, the House of Blues, an endless line of gay wraps and wraps to places unknown.
"It's going to be a long time before we can get in there," Taylor deflates a little.
It isn't long at all, really, and once we do sardine ourselves into an inconspicuous pink pocket near the front of the stage, there will be no more bad acting, no more pathetic scripting, no more us doing and saying regrettable things with porn numbers. There's just them, some dry ice and sparkly distractions projected onto a crumbling display of white cardboard boxes.
The hits come rolling out as the scene deconstructs itself box by box, song by song, and what starts with a bouncing euphoria lulls itself into a funereal singalong procession, all culminating in the "that was when I ruled the world" Coldplay coda of "Viva la Vida" and an "It's a Sin" explosion of mirrored confetti. I wish my life were mirrored confetti. My life is mirrored confetti? My life is over.
"Who would have ever thought?" I glance over at Taylor's beaming tears during the death march of "Being Boring" ("We had too much time to find for ourselves …"). "It's just you and me, still."
Ridiculous, blubbering and exactly how we were meant to be.
"How much do you neeeeeeed?" we howl through the "West End Girls" encore in unison.