When Hunny 'You go, girl!' Van Horn, Albany's flaming-est working-class flamer, wins the state lottery's first billion-dollar payout, his chaotic life gets even messier. It's PI Don Strachey who's brought in to deal with the skeletons tumbling out of Hunny's non-closet, some violent. The eleventh Strachey novel is part mystery, part screwball comedy, and entirely serious in its exploration of the multiple ways of being gay in America.
The first time I laid eyes on Art Malanowski and Hunny Van Horn was the day Hunny won the first New York Lottery payout of one billion dollars.
Normally Timothy Callahan and I are settled in bed and ready to be cheered up by Jon Stewart at eleven, and then we try to stay awake for Colbert. But a colleague of Timmy's in Assemblyman Lipshutz's office phoned earlier and urged Timmy to catch the Channel 13 news at eleven. He said, "You've gotta see this to believe it," but refused to say what it was.
So we tuned in, and even before Hunny spoke, I said, "I do believe I detect what Johnny Carson used to call a hint of mint."
"And then Ed would guffaw and say, 'I'm not touching that one with a ten-foot pole!'"
"And Johnny would get that look, and say, 'Mmmnn, a ten-foot pole!'"
"And the audience would crack up."
I said, "Don't you miss those days?"
A female reporter looking fresh out of communications school was doing a live stand-up outside Art and Hunny's house on Moth Street in Albany's North End. With its tar-paper-shingled front porch and aluminum awnings on the two second-story windows, Art and Hunny's place looked a good deal less minty than Timmy's and my Crow Street townhouse, with its Albany Historical Society bronze plaque next to the front door and the discreet rainbow stickers on half the Toyotas and Subaru Outbacks parked legally up and down the block. But the house on the television screen was in the old working-class North End, where predictability was harder to come by.
Huntington Van Horn, the reporter was saying, was the man who had purchased the unprecedentedly lucky winning ticket at DeMaestri's Variety Store, two blocks down the street at the corner of Moth and Transformer. Hunny was sharing his spectacular winnings, the young woman said with a smile, with his "longtime partner," Art.
"It's good," Timmy said, "that Albany TV reporters no longer refer to people like these two guys as admitted homosexuals. Of course, by the looks of Hunny and Art, they would have a tough time denying it."
As the reporter went on to describe how the August twelfth drawing was the State Lottery's first Instant Warren - making some fortunate player a Warren Buffet-like billionaire overnight -the picture showed Hunny and Art earlier inside their house. They were leaping about and flapping their wrists, shrieking with joy, uncorking champagne bottles and exchanging air kisses with others in the room. One of the celebrants was a middle-aged black man with large breasts, a heavy beard and a single rhinestone-studded earring dangling from his left earlobe and extending down to just above his collarbone. On this spectacularly lucky day, could the sparklers have been actual diamonds? Also prominent in the party crowd were two identical, nicely sculpted Caucasian youths of about community college age on whose T-shirts were printed the words want some?
We soon saw more tape of lottery officials earlier in the evening exclaiming over the Instant Warren drawing, and reporting that ticket sales were the heaviest in the lottery's history, and going on about how beneficial the lottery was for state educational programs. Then we were back live with the reporter. She was up on the front porch now and moving determinedly past the porch swing and through the open front door to the scene of festive mayhem in the Malanowski-Van Horn living room.
It was a little hard to hear the reporter over the Village People's "In the Navy" blasting from somewhere outside camera range, but it was apparent that she was moving toward the man of the hour, who was now at the center of an undulating and somewhat disheveled all-male kick line. With their arms draped over one another's shoulders, the dancers were having trouble keeping their champagne in their glasses, and some of the bubbly splashed onto the well-groomed reporter as she approached Hunny.
He was a short stout man, about sixty, I guessed, with a frizz of gray-blond hair around a bare pate that glistened in the TV lights. Hunny's pale blue eyes were bright with merriment, and there were two smiles on his blocky face, a broad one of his own, and the other the scarlet imprint on his right cheek of an apparent congratulatory smooch from somebody who was wearing lipstick. Hunny had on dark jeans that looked brand new, a caftan-like lavender shirt and a blingy gold-colored amulet on a necklace that looked phallic but could have been a doggie treat or a cucumber from the damaged-farm-produce bin.
As the reporter closed in on Hunny, he spotted her moving toward him and broke away from the kick line and, in instant full Norma Desmond mode, came vamping at the camera, intoning tragically, "I am ready for my clooose-up, Channel 13!"
The room erupted in hilarity, and the reporter smiled agreeably, if maybe not quite getting the joke.
Riveted, Timmy said, "There we are. Our people. We're on TV. But I don't see Gore Vidal anywhere."
"Or Eleanor Roosevelt. I hope straight viewers don't get the wrong idea."
Now the reporter was yelling into Hunny's ear, "So how does it feel, Hunny? Being the state's first lottery billionaire?"
Grabbing the mike, Hunny shrieked into it, "Oh, girl! How do I feel? I feel like I just had a date with... oh, who's that hot number who almost won American Idol?"
Somebody in the room yelled, "Susan Boyle!" This brought down the house with cackles and groans.
"Listen, girl," Hunny said, "I have to tell you, I just feel like the luckiest old queen in Albany, that's how I feel. I would have been floating on air just to win a thousand dollars, which would have been really incredible. But to win a million dollars is just... it just doesn't seem real!"
"Billion!" several voices shouted out, and Hunny did a take and clutched his chest and faked a heart attack.
"God, I'm richer than Madonna," Hunny blurted out, recovering, and then was struck by another sudden thought and cried, "Oh, Madonna, honey, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that! Girl, nobody is richer than you are! If you're watching, I'm still your slave, and even if I'm almost a rich as you are now, I'll never be as fabulous as you are!"
This produced gales of laughter, as well of cries of "That's for sure!" and "Yes, you are! Yes, you are!"
Still mesmerized, Timmy said, "Oh my."
I shared his amazement. "This will go down in the annals of Albany television news."
As somebody passed Hunny a cigarette, and a hand with a lighter appeared from off-camera and lit it for him, the reporter asked, "What are your plans for your fantastic winnings, Hunny? And what about work from now on? Are you planning on keeping your job at BJ's Warehouse?"
Spraying smoke and droplets of champagne at the reporter, Hunny yelped, "Girl, are you kidding? I'll miss all my friends at BJ's. In fact, I'll probably give them each a million dollars when I kiss that freakin' zoo goodbye. But me get up and drive out there at six in the morning five or six days a week anymore? No, no, no, no, no, no, no!"
"So then," the reporter said, "are you planning on giving away a large portion of your newly acquired fortune?"
"Oh, sure," Hunny said. "Why not? There'll be plenty to go around. Art and I will probably have some work done on the house... "
"Yeah, like blow it up!" somebody yelled, and this produced more laughter.
"And Art was reminding me just the other day that we need four new tires on the Explorer... "
Now a man who had been part of the kick line was being nudged forward by other celebrants, and we recognized him from earlier in the report. The reporter said, "And here is somebody else who may have his own ideas about what you can do with your billion dollars. This is Hunny's partner, Arthur Malanowski. Art, please share your feelings with us on this momentous occasion."
A grinning long-faced man with a red nose and thinning straw-colored hair, Malanowski moved tipsily but spoke clearly in a fluty baritone. "Well, dearie, we are going to have to talk to an attorney, and I guess to an investment advisor. Right now, though, we're just going to party, party, party!"
"Art is the grown-up of the household," Hunny said cheerfully, waving his champagne glass at his sweetheart and sloshing a bit of its contents onto Art's green, blue, orange and yellow Hawaiian shirt. "But what I have to remind him of is that neither of us has to act like a grown-up ever again!"
"He's pulling your leg," Malanowski said chortling. "Hunny is basically levelheaded."
Somebody in the room started chanting, "No, he's not!" and others picked it up. "No, he's not! No, he's not... !"
Then they all cheered as Hunny said, "I'm gonna act just as grown-up as America's all-time favorite billionaire, which means wherever I go there's gonna be a Pontiac under everybody's seat from now on!"
Timmy said, "Uh oh."
Suddenly looking a little more sober, Malanowski said, "Hunny is well known for being generous, and I'm sure he will continue that. But in a kind of organized way. Maybe like Paul Newman. A foundation or whatever."
"Artie, luv, you are my Paul Newman," Hunny crooned, and planted a big wet kiss on Malanowski's cheek. "And I'm your Bea Arthur!"
"Hunny, Paul Newman wasn't married to Bea Arthur."
"Yes, he was!" Hunny insisted, and another chant broke out all around the room - "Yes, he was! Yes, he was!" - before trailing away into raucous laughter.
The TV reporter asked, "How long have you two been a couple? I get the impression it's been quite some time you've been together."
"Oh, girl!" Hunny sang out, waving his arm and flinging an inch of cigarette ash onto the reporter's blue jacket. "Arthur and I have been lovebirds since before you were even born. We're not actually legally married, what with the State of New York still futzing around on the subject of gay marriage. But the reality of the situation is, we are already so married - the way we depend on each other and all - that we could give a rat's ass what all those closet queen politicians do or don't do."
"But we would like to make it legal," Malanowski said. "Just to show that we're as good as anybody else."
"And to make sure you're in Hunny's will," somebody yelled, but this produced only scattered guffaws.
"Well," the reporter said gamely, "like a lot of married couples, you two do seem to have quite a bit in common."
"You bet we do," Hunny said. "For example, we both like having buckets of money drop out of nowhere all of a sudden, ha ha ha!"
Malanowski added, "You bet we both like money. After all," he sang, almost in tune, "mon-ey makes the world go 'round... the world go 'round... the world go 'round... "
There were cheers again, and Hunny added, "Money, yes, you bet, but don't forget boys! Boys, boys, boys!"
This led to more applause and then cries of "Bring on the boys! Where are the boys?"
Somebody yelled, "Put the twins on TV! Let's get a little of the twins!"
The large black man reappeared in a voluminous pink satin blouse, and this time he was guiding the two identical youths wearing want some? T-shirts into the center of the scene. Hunny welcomed them by wrapping his arms around them and bellowing, "Everybody meet Tyler and Schuyler. These are our pool boys! Aren't they adorable?"
The two comely lads stood looking goggle-eyed and twitchy, and plainly under the influence of a controlled substance.
The reporter was beginning to look uncomfortable now and glanced off to the side, maybe at her producer. She said to Hunny - and then immediately looked as if she wished she hadn't said it - "But you don't have a swimming pool, do you, Hunny?"
"The boys may have misplaced it. They're easily distracted," Hunny said, and this elicited a mixture of laughter and boos around the room. Tyler and Schuyler gawked into the camera.
"Anyway," Art said, "maybe we'll have a pool put in tomorrow. The Luntzes, up the street, have an aboveground pool, and we know there's room for one of those out back."
"We have to wait until we actually get our hands on the money," Hunny explained. "We've decided on the lump sum of a billion dollars instead of one billion, eight-hundred-seventy-two million spread out over twenty years. I mean, I could croak in three years and so could the freakin' state of New York."
"I understand," the reporter said, "that the Lottery Commission is actually paying out nearly two billion dollars so that even after taxes you will still end up with an entire billion dollars."
"Hey, does Warren Buffet pay his own taxes?" Hunny asked. "Not on your life."
"We're going to get the check on Friday," Art said. "They're going to present it to us on The Today Show. Isn't that fabulous? They probably don't remember that about ten years ago when we went down to hold up a sign on Hunny's birthday, he got arrested for mooning Al Roker."
"I wasn't arrested," Hunny insisted. "I was just locked in an office until the show was over. And anyway the security guard - one of the biggest queens I ever saw wearing a uniform - that big black ol' Miss Mary Mary Quite Contrary told me that Al thought it was pretty funny, and the problem was tight-assed Katie Couric."
Timmy said, "We have to put this on the calendar. Friday morning at seven."
"Maybe we should have a few people over."
The Channel 13 reporter didn't look as eager as Timmy and I were to witness this groundbreaking media event, and also she appeared to be receiving signals from somewhere to wind up the interview.
Before she could speak, though, the screen suddenly went black. A few seconds later one of the anchors on the studio news set appeared and said, "Well, it looks like we've lost Tiffany."
"Yes," said his female colleague, "But wasn't that fascinating?"
Looking unsure of how to respond - even this codger seemed to understand that hint of mint cracks were a thing of the past - the anchor simply nodded and moved on to the house fires and convenience store holdups that somebody at the TV station thought the people of New York State's capital region needed to know about.