24 December 2006

A Gay Christmas Carol (Part 1- At the club on Christmas Eve)

There is no doubt that Ebenezer Scrooge was gay; that must be distinctly understood, or else nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

After all, if the audience is not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s father is dead before the play begins, there is nothing remarkable about his taking a stroll at night upon his own ramparts… any more than there would be anything remarkable about a gentleman with a wife and family fumbling in a dark room.

Gentle reader, close your eyes– I’m sure you all know how to finding your own way around in the dark- and imagine somewhere that is familiar to you: a gay venue teeming with interesting and handsome… what, have I lost you already?

Very well, in that case, let’s imagine we’re in a busy gay venue that contains a few moderately attractive men, lively as any other weekend night, even though it is Christmas Eve. Imagine there is an excessively handsome barman with his white shirt dangling below his waist (for he boasts no great-coat) who indicates that the bar closes in a twinkling, urging you to depart. And at the end of a nearby lane, several departing customers are playing blind man's buff, going at it as hard as they can pelt, several times in honour of its being Christmas Eve (trust me, gentle reader: these delightful expressions are all taken from the original) with some running off home to their own families afterwards.

Once upon a time, on a night just like this, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge dismounted from his bar stool and departed from the bar as usual... which of course means that he didn’t leave alone. Mr Scrooge was accompanied by an attractive man that he’d only just met, who was several years younger and no longer capable of standing upright after having tried (and failed) to drink as many cocktails as Mr Ebenezer Scrooge himself.

Few readers will be surprised to hear that the central character of our story- who is a typical gay man at some point in his life- had immaculate hair and looked quite fabulous, considerably younger than his accumulated years. He kept himself well, as they say, with a little help (perhaps from a surgeon nipping at his nose and tucking a little Botox to soften creases in his cheek?) while regular sessions at the gym stiffened his gait considerably.

Of course, some people might say that it was the cold within that had somehow frozen his features, for Ebenezer Scrooge was what a lot of people (whether straight or un-straight) consider to be an absolutely despicable cuent.

What does that word mean, I hear you ask?

Well, ‘cuent’ is a word used to avoid interception by internet filters that block inappropriate terms of reference: you will understand if one explains that ‘cuent’ refers to someone who is a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner, a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.

Suffice to say that Ebenezer Scrooge carried his own low temperature around with him. He was cold enough to ice his own drinks, and his heart didn't thaw one degree at Christmas.

Despite- or perhaps because of- all that has been said, Ebenezer Scrooge was a popular man… on the gay scene. Always with a frosty rime in his head- ‘Frozen’ by Madonna was a particular favourite - Ebenezer always had something amusingly cutting to say. He spoke out shrewdly without regard for other people’s feelings, and in a voice best described as grating. Always he laughed at other peoples expense, and never did he trouble himself to give anything back to the world around him or to help those who need. Regardless of how excessive drinking turned his eyes red, he was considered to be desirable company, and such was his charm that anyone new on the gay scene inevitably made his acquaintance.

Because of Ebenezer’s unusual name, he was called a lot of other things: some terms slipped out by mistake, some were whispered behind his back, while others were said… in circumstances that were not so polite.

‘E-zer’, ‘Easy’, ‘Screwed’… and on more than one occasion, someone had shouted ‘Screw YOU!’ in his direction after an unpleasant exchange.

But it was all the same to Ebenezer, since all that mattered was that he was still considered attractive, and never had to worry about getting picked up.

Whatever time of the year, Scrooge had needs to fulfil… hot, burning needs, gentle reader. Out he went in search of trade, regardless of the weather: external heat and cold had little influence upon him, for no warmth could warm and no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him: the heaviest rain, snow, hail and sleet, could boast advantage over him in only one respect, that they often "went down" handsomely, which Scrooge never did.

Ebenezer Scrooge had a broad circle of acquaintances, but it must be said that he had no true friends. Strangers often stopped him in the street to say with gladsome looks, to whisper "When will you come to visit me?" but no one who knew him did so without a motive of their own. Of course there was a reason for this deficiency: with Ebenezer, it was all about giving or getting pleasure, never about anything else. Politeness, conversation for the sake of it, the welfare of the community around him, the gentle support of a true friend, respect for other people’s feelings… none of this interested him. He invested all of his time in the pursuit of pleasure, nothing whatsoever in activities that might reap the rewards of true love or friendship.

Beggars never implored Ebenezer to give a little money, sensing his distain at the sight of their appearance: no little children asked him for directions, knowing only too well what he’d suggest: even blind men's dogs appeared to know what his intentions were as he eyed their master, so whenever the dogs saw him coming they would tug owners into doorways and up alleyways to safety… or not, as the case may be.

But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked, to edge his way along the crowded paths of life, fulfilling his sexual appetite yet warning all human sympathy to keep its distance. He was secretive, self-contained and solitary as an oyster; his own trusted confidant, his own greatest admirer, his own favourite thing in the world, and no one entertained him as he entertained himself. He needed other people for one reason only… and you’ve already guessed what that was, gentle reader.

Of all the good days in the year, it was Christmas Eve when Ebenezer Scrooge returned to his home on a cold, bleak, biting winter’s evening. In the city, clocks had only just struck midnight, but it was quite dark already and candles were flaring in the windows, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. Fog poured in at every chink and keyhole, so dense that the houses were mere phantoms, and to see the dingy cloud drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought one was in a dark steam room. Strangers passed on the street, wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. Suddenly, a cheerful voice cried out; "A merry Christmas to you, uncle!"

It was Scrooge's nephew, who came out of the fog so quickly that there was no way to avoid meeting him.

"Bah! Humbug!" said Scrooge.

Assumed that his uncle was clearing his throat, there stood Scrooge's nephew with a warm smile, waiting for a reply. A little tipsy after a night of relentless drinking, Scrooge found himself noticing something that he’d never noticed before about his brother’s son; how his nephew had grown to be handsome in a ruddy, rugged sort of way, with eyes that sparkled with rapid walking in the fog and frost, so that that he was all in a glow.

"What reason have you to look so merry?" said Scrooge. “Divorced, have you? Last I heard, you were married to a slag who had screwed every rich man in the neighbourhood before she met you, still screwing most of them behind your back.”

“I’m still with Heather, Uncle,” was his nephew’s response.

“What’s that smile for, then? Glad to have bumped into someone who can offer a little distraction? Hoping that I’d invite you back for a nice warm little-”

“Thanks for the invitation, but you made that same offer last Christmas, Uncle. Besides, I really can’t stop, because I’m on my way back home.”

“Going home… well, in that case, I don’t see what you have to look so cheerful about,” Scrooge grimaced. “You’re married to a slag and you’re poor."

"Come, Uncle Scrooge, if that had anything to do with happiness, shouldn’t you be asking what right you have to be morose?" returned the nephew. “You’re single and rich enough!”

Having no better answer ready, Scrooge said "Bah!" again, and followed it up with "Humbug."

"Don't be like that!" said the nephew. “It’s Christmas Eve!”

"Christmas! How can I not be miserable when I live in such a world of fools as this?" Scrooge returned. "There’s nothing wrong with mindless consumerism, but the queues at this time of year… and then there’s dreadful tinny music, all of it ridiculously cheery, with children shrieking everywhere. As far as I’m concerned, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be buried with a stake of holly through his heart!"

“Aren’t you going to celebrate?”

“Certainly, as I celebrate every other day of the year,” he said, nodding at the young man draped over his shoulder. “Shagging this man until he ble-”

"Uncle!" pleaded the nephew.

“Celebrate in your own way and let me celebrate in mine,” Scrooge growled. “For all the good it does you!"

"There are many things from which I derive good at Christmas,” said his nephew. “I have always thought of Christmas time - apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that - as a good time.”

"I’ll show you a good time, if you want-”

“Uncle, I meant ‘good’ as in kind, forgiving, charitable, and pleasant. After all, it’s the only time in the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their hearts freely, and to think of other people as fellow-passengers on life’s journey, not another race of other creatures. And that is why, although it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that Christmas has done me good, and will continue do me good!"

"What utter bullshit!" said Scrooge. "Have you considered a career in politics?"

"Don't be like that, uncle.”

Open their hearts? That’s corny enough to be the title of a Madonna song! The only difference I notice around me at this time of year is that everyone gets rat-arsed drunk, which means they’re more willing to open their legs… or their arses.”

“Uncle, I do wish that you’d talk about something else! You’re so crude, and there is really more to life than-”

“Enjoying lots of good sex and living the high life? Like what, exactly?”

“Like love… family.”

“I think I’m going to be sick!” said the young man leaning on Scrooge’s shoulder.

“Me too,” Scrooge replied.

“Why don’t you try and do something a little different this Christmas, Uncle?” said his nephew. “Why not come dine with us tomorrow?"

Scrooge hesitated, realising that he had been at so many Christmas parties that he hadn’t gone to the supermarket all week. With all decent restaurants closed, what exactly did he have in the fridge? But he quickly imagined himself spending hours sitting at a table with his nephew and Heather, listening to them talk about what school their delightful children attend…

“Are there going to be any other single men there?” he enquired. “Gay men, in particular?”

“No, it’s a family occasion, just Heather and the kids-”

“Then I’m not interested,” Scrooge grunted.

"But why?" cried his nephew.

"Why? Why did you get married?" said Scrooge.

"Because I fell in love with a kind beautiful woman."

"Because you fell in love… with a woman!" growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas.

"Uncle, I hope you’re not trying to suggest that Heather is to blame for the distance between us.”

“Certainly not! Heather’s incapable of keeping distance between men… and herself!”

“You never came to see me before I got married,” said his nephew. “Why give it as a reason for not coming now that I have a family of my own?"

"Family,” said Scrooge pensively. “How old are your boys again?"

"Ten, seven, and four. But what’s that got to do with anything?"

"Nothing, until they’re older," Scrooge mumbled. “Look, I can’t stand around here all night: this fellow’s going to lose consciousness if I don’t get a move on.”

"Uncle, I am sorry to find you so… look, just remember that you are always welcome in our home for a nice quiet family meal if you should change your mind. Have a Merry Christmas!"

Shortly afterwards, a work colleague of Scrooge bestowed greetings of the season as he passed by.

"There's another fellow," muttered Scrooge to his companion. "Dull as dishwater with an underpaid dead end job and a slag of a wife that tried it on with everyone at the Christmas party- even me! And there he goes wishing me a happy Christmas. It’ll be a lot happier that their own miserable Christmas, that’s for sure. If they’re happy with their life, then I’m… I’m a raving lunatic."

On Scrooge walked, approaching a young boy who was gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, who stooped down at a keyhole to sing a Christmas carol: upon discovering who approached, the boy fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.

Scrooge continued on his journey, and before he had gone far he was approached by two other gentlemen; portly but pleasant to behold, who took their hats off and bowed to him.

"Merry Christmas to you, sir! How kind of you to help that poor young gentleman home. Still far to many drinking drivers on the roads, and not enough taxis. By the way, a few of us in the neighbourhood decided to make a last minute collection for the homeless shelter-”

“There’s a homeless shelter in the neighbourhood?” said Scrooge indignantly. “Since when? Do you have any idea how this news will affect property value?”

“It’s not in this area, sir, but we’re neighbours after all, so we’re endeavouring to raise a fund to buy them a little food and drink, not to mention some means of warmth. At this time of year, want is keenly felt-”

“Tell me about it!” Scrooge remarked.

“… and abundance rejoices.”

“Let’s hope that he’s abundant,” said Scrooge, with a nod to his companion, who seemed to have passed out on his shoulder. “And as for warmth, I’ve got enough to go around if you’re in need of a little.”

The gentleman didn’t seem to follow. Scrooge was about to be more specific, but he found a can rattling under his nose.

“Sir, I hope that on a night like this, you would consider a generous donation?”

"I can think of better reasons for putting a hand in a man's pocket!" he said stiffly.

"Remember it is the festive season," said the gentleman. "Won’t you spare a thought for those who suffer greatly at the present time."

“Suffering in what way, exactly?”

“From poverty!”

"Why are they suffering? That’s what I want to know! Are there no jobs going at Tesco? No prisons to get them off the streets?" demanded Scrooge.

"I wish I could say they were not," returned the gentleman. “But there are not enough jobs, and prison is not the way to deal with the problems facing our society; immigration, social inequality… we’re talking about thousands who are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands in want of common comforts-“

“Like what, exactly? Are we talking no foie gras entrĂ©e? Or nothing in the fridge at all?”

"Nothing at all! These people have nothing whatsoever! But you can give a little something right now, to help change someone’s life forever, or perhaps sign up for a regular donation if you wish?"

"Let me tell you what I wish," Scrooge replied. "I wish to get home as quickly as possible, before this young man passes out. He’s going to have more than a little something to entertain him, let me assure you... and if he really is a virgin as he was saying back in the bar, then it’s an experience that most certainly will change his life. Don’t let it be said that I don’t give anything back to the community… I’m giving pleasure every night of the year, helping people get a load off… onto my chest. But I have no intention of giving you anything to put in that cheap collection box that you keep making that nasty rattling sound with. Go away! I can't afford to make idle people merry: I pay taxes to support charitable establishments like the NHS. Let those who are badly off go there!"

"Many can't go there, sir: many would rather die."

"I don’t blame them! But if they would rather die, then they had better do it quickly and quietly as possible; there’s a surplus in the heterosexual population, in case you hadn’t noticed."

"But sir, you might find yourself in dire need yourself one day," observed the gentleman.

"I am in dire need… right this minute," Scrooge returned. "If you’re suggesting that I might ever find myself homeless- which is highly unlikely- let me assure you that I’ll have no problem persuading a different man gets to bring me to his home every night! In the meantime, gentlemen, I have enough to concern myself with finding a man without interfering with other people's business. Good night!"

Seeing that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen allowed Scrooge to pass.

Fog and darkness continued to thicken, and the cold became intense. Brightness from the shops, where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as Scrooge passed. The ancient tower of a church became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds. Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold!

At the corner of the main street, labourers repaired the gas-pipes and had lighted a fire around which a group gathered, warming hands before the blaze in rapture. Scrooge noticed that several of those men looked bored, and were obviously in desperate need… of a little entertainment, a little warmth. With a winking eye, he let them know they’d be welcome to call if they wanted to warm up later before heading home.

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