by Starsky Hutch 76
“Welcome back to Barry Regent Live,” the bespectacled host of the radio and television news show said into the TV camera. “If you’re just joining us, we’re talking today with former quarterback for the Metropolis Astros, sports hall-of-famer, and new host of Hollywood Tonight, Steve Lombard.”
“Thanks, Barry,” Steve said, leaning into the microphone on the bench in front of him. From his body language, it was obvious he was unused to having the microphone in front of him rather than hanging above him, unseen by the viewers.
“The big topic, today, is of course, your recent outing,” Barry Regent said. “Would you call it a blessing in disguise?”
“How do you mean?“
“Well, when you were straight, you were the sports guy. Not the lead anchor, even when Clark Kent left. Now that you’re out, you’ve got your own show with Lola Barnett.”
“There’s something you’ve gotta understand about me, Barry,” Steve said. “When other kids were learning their ABCs, my dad had me learning plays. Football was my life. When I couldn’t play anymore, I just wanted some way to still be a part of that life. I woulda coached pee-wee football, if that’s all I could’a done. I never thought of myself as playing second fiddle to Kent. I would’ve stayed in that position until I was too old and nearsighted to see the teleprompter if I could have.”
“But now that you’re out, life is still good, huh?” Barry asked.
“Well, if you mean the whole no longer living a lie thing, then I guess so. I still get the proposals in the fan mail, but now as often as not they’re from guys instead of girls. And now there’s the occasional death threat mixed in.”
Barry Regent’s eyes grew wide. “Death threats?”
“Yeah, but so far no one’s acted on it,” Steve said, waving it off. “Just gutless punks with too much time on their hands and no life. Cranks. I don’t take them seriously.”
“I hope you’re right,” Barry said. He looked off camera and said, “We have a caller. Maurice from San Francisco.”
“Hello, Steve,” a flamboyant voice said.
“How’s it going, Maurice?”
“Fabulous,” Maurice said. “I can’t believe I’m talking to you on the radio! I hope all my friends are listening. I just had a question I wanted to ask you.”
“Sure,” Steve said. “Fire away.”
“Fire away… heh-heh. You’re so macho. I love it. I just wanted to ask, why so long coming out? You were in the closet all through the ’70s when the bar scene was bigger than ever, all the bath houses were still open, and Fire Island was still wild. I mean, poor baby, you missed the best time to be gay!”
Steve gave a nervous laugh and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He looked over at Barry, who seemed to be doing his best not to laugh. He had a feeling this was just the sort of caller Regent had been hoping for.
“Well, uh, Morris…”
“Maurice, as I was explaining earlier, it wasn’t exactly in the best interests of my health at the time, considering the average offensive tackle was around three-hundred pounds or more. Coming out then wouldn’t have just been career suicide. It would’ve been just plain suicide.”
“What a shame. You know, I didn’t watch you before, because sports aren’t really my thing, but I plan to stay glued to my set on Thursdays at seven. You’re gorgeous, and I love you!”
“Thanks, Maurice. Take care of yourself,” Steve said.
“How about what that caller was saying?” Barry asked. “Do you feel like you’ve missed out?”
“Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little resentful for having to hide such a big part of myself for so long just to be able to do what I love to do. But the way I look at it is, at least I got to do it. There are a lot of people still in the closet who can’t even say that.”
“That’s a healthy way of looking at it,” Barry said. He looked off camera and said, “Brett, who says he knows you from high school.”
“Look at the big hero of the gay community,” the caller said sarcastically.
A look of dismay came over Steve’s face as he tried to place the voice. “Sorry?”
“You should be. Hypocrite. Liar.”
Steve’s jaw dropped in shock. “I–“
“Brett Cavanaugh. You don’t remember me? Maybe some of the other names you and your buddies gave me will help jog your memory. Faggot? Queer-bait? Sissy-boy? Any of those ring a bell?”
Steve rested his forehead in his hand as the caller continued. “You and your cronies made my life a living hell. You made me hate myself! You made me hate what I was! And now you sit there trying to pretend you’re this big icon of the gay community? How dare you!”
“How do you respond to that, Steve?” Barry asked.
“How can I respond? I mean, he’s right,” Steve said. “All I can do is say I’m sorry.”
“That’s not good enough!” the caller said angrily.
“No, it’s not,” Steve said. “But it’s the best I can do. I was just a stupid kid. A stupid, scared kid who was afraid everyone would find him out. Maybe I didn’t like what they were doing. Maybe I didn’t want to take part, but I knew I didn’t want them doing it to me.”
“That’s a pretty lame excuse,” the caller said.
“Yeah, I guess it does sound pretty lame,” Steve said. “Even lamer, because I was just as scared as you were, and I didn’t have the guts to do anything about it. I was scared of my dad, scared of the people I called my friends, my teammates, my coaches… scared of how my fans would react whenever the truth finally came out. I’ve spent my whole life reacting to fear. And it caused me to do a lot of stupid things and hurt a lot of people who didn’t deserve it. Maybe now that I can put some of the fear behind me, I can spend the rest of my life making up for it. I hope so, because I’ve got a lot to make up for.”
“Thanks for calling, Brett,” Barry said. “We’ll be back after these commercial messages.”
Steve leaned back in his chair, emotionally drained. He looked up at the clock and saw there was still another forty-five minutes to the show. As tiring as that sounded, he had a feeling it was nothing compared to what else the future had in store for him.