Things to Aim For accurately summarizes this collection of work by Rodney Ross, all previously published by JMS Books and for the first time conjoined.
Whether it’s a Palm Springs Christmas Eve gathering gone awry, an embittered father harassing a vet tech to euthanize his dead son’s cat, or a circuit-party leftover heading to the Midwest for his disapproving father’s funeral and a sister with secrets, every character’s aspiration leads to something unexpected. They flail, they fail, they prevail in finding a measure of serenity and love. Contains the stories:
O, Christmas T(h)ree: Stanton and Clay’s Christmas Eve party becomes a series of threesomes: abandoned kittens, a vet keen on sharing their bed and a frantic couple with a little boy who rented the house from a fraudulent site. December 24th won’t be a silent night.
Smoking with Didi: Pete makes a reluctant trip to small-town Ohio for his father's funeral. There he's battered by flashbacks of an anxious adolescence and his late father’s rejection. His sister Didi has a few things she wants to get off her chest, but the surprise may be hers when Pete opens a floodgate of his own secrets.
The Old Man at My Door: A winter storm warning blankets the news stations before the blizzard itself. But at Renata’s farmhouse door, already flocked with snow, comes an unexpected knock: Albin Lawrence, an old man who grew up in the house. Renata’s caution yields to common sense as she welcomes him in for a tour. What danger, really, could a shaky man over eighty, who has only one arm, represent?
Bended Knee: When restaurateur Hugh Neumann rebukes Oliver Nicholas’s very public proposal to his boyfriend during a Valentine’s Day dinner, the diverted Cupid’s arrow strikes Hugh not in the heart, but in the ass. An unrelenting media storm of commentary begins to affect home life with his partner Dominick and forces Hugh to question their decade-long relationship.
Otis: An embittered old man’s Christmas Eve trip to the veterinarian with his late son’s cat Otis yields an unexpected lesson. As the snowfall mounts and city streets become impassable, is it too late for redemption?
EXCERPT FROM "Bended Knee"
Too late to make that night’s local broadcast, the labor pains of “the incident” began the next morning. It wasn’t the lead, but damn close.
“In a curious twist already reverberating in the gay/lesbian community, a local restaurant owner ejected a male couple after a public marriage proposal.”
Reverberating? Did this warrant a Richter scale? Because, minus media coverage, there wouldn’t have been a ripple.
“But this incident has people scratching their heads: the owner of Platte is a gay man, too, one notable in the GLBT community.”
I wasn’t going to get a break even in bad publicity. The anchor had mangled Platte as Pilates.
“I consider it a human rights violation. What the Supreme Court giveth, one mean-spirited person can still taketh away,” Argyle, my new antagonist, told reporter Roxanne Hess as he hugged himself.
From this interview I discovered three things: 1.) I’d suppressed freedom of expression. I was the Taliban. 2.) Argyle had a name. It was Oliver Nicholas. He was twenty-five. 3.) From the giveth and the taketh, Oliver clearly spoke fluent Shakespeare.
I myself was ambushed by Roxanne outside Platte when
I stepped out to see why a white van was idling curbside. In my cutaway, I looked bewildered, shifting around like I was on roller skates, with such bad rosacea it should be case studied. I was not my own best advocate, and it was why it was the one and only statement I would make to the media.
“This is a big misunderstanding,” I'd explained, sounding like I was being strangled. “The moment simply felt intrusive on other people’s experience. It was their Valentine’s Day, too.”
Roxanne was in a pool of white under a parking lot lamppost, as though touched by God’s fingertip.
“WLFX wasn’t allowed in Platte --” she mispronounced it Palate, which at least made more sense “-- but other diners we spoke to outside called it unfortunate.”
A customer I didn’t recognize but will never forget hurled an arrow Cupid had left behind.
“That this, what was his name, Hugh? fellow couldn’t indulge a romantic moment just seemed ... petty.”
“We weren’t troubled. Management overreacted,” Mrs. Millicent Carroll said.
Ouch. Her, I knew.
Roxanne even reached out for local expert comment. Somebody I had never heard of but whose style template was Johnny Weir incisively ventured that I was “a closet case study in internalized homophobia.”
Closeted? Dom’s gay bowling team called themselves
“Miss Brodie’s Girls.” And how do I disprove homophobia? Should I have sucked dick on-air?
By evening, the reverberations became seismic.
Other network affiliates were all over it. They unearthed file footage of other “incidents,” mostly in red states, where businesses had committed outrageous bias against gay customers. I didn’t quite refuse all further interviews. I, as reported, “didn’t return repeated messages for comment.”
CBS slyly grabbed an early morning exterior shot of Platte when the parking lot was empty, implying devastation. I expected a CGI tumbleweed to whoosh past and to hear the dubbed-in howl of a coyote. The story included interviews with customers coming out of Penelope’s. One woman in a headband, framed to include our offending signage, chirped, “I’m-straight-but-not-narrow.” It was a little too boastful. It’s like telling people you’re rich. You don’t have to.
NBC’s reportage contained a rare personal aside from the anchorman, who mentioned that “Wow, I’ve eaten at Platte.” (He came closest; he pronounced it Plate.)
ABC contacted the plaza’s management corporate base in Philadelphia, who offered that they “were remaining neutral in this important dialogue.”
Note to self: on next month’s rent check, draw a smiley face on the memo line.
The provenance of the photograph they flashed of me was puzzling. Then I remembered it was taken specifically for an annual report of our county’s AIDS Service Organization, when I chaired a fundraiser to help house those living with HIV/AIDS. A weird shadow had created a sizable gap between my front teeth. Or maybe the vindictive PR director of Positive Steps had blacked it out. I half expected a cartoon bubble with a blurp! sound effect and in it would read, “What, me worry?”