“Levi—” Judy told him when he came into the store the next day, “You have got to do something about that Greg.”
Judy disliked “that Greg” tremendously, so only the heavens and the hells and the Purgatories and the gods on Mt. Olympus knew what had set her off this time.
“I brought you lunch!” Levi told her, his sing-song voice accompanied by a flash of the to-go bag from California Pizza Kitchen, as if by this offering he would be allowed to skip the latest installment of the never-ending daytime drama, Greg and Judy. In the last exciting installment, Judy had come into the store in the morning to find that Greg had failed to properly close out the third register the night before. Which meant that she had to call Corporate and let them know the sales were wrong and she had to reboot the entire system to get the correct totals. He dreaded hearing the latest.
“Do you have Instagram?” Judy asked him.
“Um. . .only so I can look at and make fun of people who use Instagram,” Levi explained.
“Well. . .”, she said, digging her phone out of her pocket and flicking to an app. “Look. . .at. . .this.”
She thrust her phone and—as it turned out—Greg’s crotch—in his face.
He cried, “What the what?” and shoved her phone away from his eyes. He looked about in a panic.
“There’s no customers,” Judy told him, flipping through images on her screen. “Look at these. . .picture after picture. There’s his ass. There’s his ass again. Oh, look—what a surprise, Levi: His ass!”
“Why are you looking at his Instagram?”, Levi asked, trying to gain some footing before the inevitable, “You have to fire him, Levi” came along.
“Why is he posting things like this on his Instagram?” she countered. “Anyone can see them, you know!”
“Oh, Jesus,” Levi groaned. “I’m not in the mood for this today.” Actually, he was rapid cycling like mad so he probably was in the mood for it a moment before and would be again a moment from now. “Come on, Judy—really! Please stop showing them to me.”
“You have to talk to him, Levi.”
“I can’t fire him over a personal photo on Instagram. Unless he says on his account where he works. Does he?”
“There are no photos of him at work, in uniform, nothing? I’m sure you’ve looked through it all?”
“No. But people can look him up!”
“Judy—it’s not my business. It’s not your business. As long as he doesn’t mention this business, he can jizz all over the internet. It’s not for us to judge.”
“I’m not telling you to fire him, Levi,” Judy explained. “I’m just asking you to talk to him. Look—I hate the lazy son-of-a-bitch. But those pictures are nasty. He needs to know you can’t be flashing your booty and your fruities all over the internet and not expect repercussions.”
“You can talk to him,” Levi reminded her. “It might help you two build a relationship.”
“Uh-uh,” Judy told him, “No way. You’re the gay one, Levi. This is your people.”
“Gay internet flashers. Insta-hos. It’s always you white dudes.”
He had to admit she was—for the most part—correct.
“So you have to tell him this is a bad decision on his part. You—” she said, “Have got to be Papa Gay.”
He hated being Papa Gay. It hadn’t been so long ago when he was still Young Innocent. He had even managed to lose his virginity multiple times over the years because he had played the Young Innocent part so well. (Plus, he had convinced himself that Mike Randolph in college hadn’t counted. Oomph, that was an unpleasant loss of his virginity, that third time was.)
But, nonetheless, here he was, being parental. Parental because non-gay parents seemingly and rarely understood how to impart important life lessons to their gay children—if they even realized that different life lessons may be needed, at all. Important life lessons like, “Don’t post nude photos of yourself all over the internet.” Greg at least, was listening and not disregarding Levi as having out-of-date morals. At least, not impolitely so.
“I’m just saying, you can do whatever you want. I’m not talking to you as your boss and this has nothing to do with your job. I just want you to understand that photos like that follow you. When you apply for a new job—”
“I’m happy here,” Greg reassured him.
“I mean, in the future. Suppose you decide to work in a bank or for Netflix or whoever. You’ll fill out a job application. That application will have your email address, your name, all that. And someone is going to run those bits of information and drag up all sorts of things from the internet, from social media. And I don’t think you want your future employer seeing a photo of you with a hard-on and a finger in your mouth.”
This was not all the type of talk he had in mind before it began. He thought it would be much more Robert Reed in “The Brady Bunch”, life lesson taught, heard, learned, and sappy music rising in the background. Fade to commercial break. Mister Brady certainly never talked to Peter about hard-ons.
“I was wearing underwear!” Greg protested.
“Well, here’s the other thing, Greg,” Papa Gay Brady continued, “Anyone can be an underwear model on Instagram. There are no qualifications. An underwear model is only a professional underwear model when they are paid to model in their underwear. Not someone who just snaps a photo with their phone and hashtags it ‘underwear model.’ And, here’s a trick: A friend of mine used to be a model. He also modeled underwear. For a paycheck and real true-to-life print campaigns. And underwear modeling is not explicit like what you’re posting.”
“It’s still underwear,” Greg said.
“Yes. But with bread,” Levi told him. “To ensure the photos aren’t explicit—”
“You mean no VPL?”
“Come again—I don’t know what that means. Veepee. . .”
“VPL. Visible Penis Line.”
“Um, yes. No VPL. To make sure the photos weren’t showing too much. . .VPL. . .the models would place slices of white bread down their briefs to. . .smooth it out and—”
“Cool! No VPL.” Levi noticed that Greg seemed to be thinking, “I need to pick up some Wonder Bread on the way home.”
“Um, yeah. Anyway. I don’t tell you this so you can take more photos, though,” Levi clarified. “I’m just saying you may regret someday posting those pictures because you are not an underwear model and the photos you’re posting are very explicit.”
“Yeah, but like everyone in WeHo does it.”
“So. . .” Levi countered, “What happens when you meet someone, someone not from West Hollywood, who doesn’t want everyone in the world to be able to see his boyfriend naked or undressed by flipping through Instagram?”
“Everyone does it,” Greg countered. “Even people who don’t live in WeHo. Like, I follow this one guy; he lives in Oxnard—”
“Not everyone does it,” Levi told him. “I never have. My last boyfriend was a cop; he definitely didn’t ever—”
“That hot guy? The cop you used to go to lunch with every now and then? You used to date?”
“Yes. We used to date. But that’s over.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Greg said, sincerely empathetic for a clueless Instaho.
“That’s no big deal. I’m dating someone else now,” Levi explained, dismissing the topic–and carefully avoiding mention that Damien had also (sort of) bared his ass for all the world to see in at least two of the movies Levi had seen him in. “Stunt ass,” Damien had explained of both tomes the Lanchester derriere had appeared to appear on-screen. But to anyone else, it had been Damien’s behind, not some body extra, whose ass was flashed on a forty-foot tall screen. Only someone, like Levi, who had seen Damien’s real ass up-close and quite personal (and quite pleasurably), would notice the difference. Damien’s real ass was much nicer than his stunt ass. “I planned it that way,” Damien had explained. “I got to pick the butt double.”
“But—” Levi continued, “What’s important is that you realize that you might meet someone someday that you really love. And he might not want someone who’s been that. . .out there. I mean, is what you’re getting now—the ‘likes’ and the comments—really worth risking a future? Whether that be a future career or a future boyfriend? I mean. . .how do you feel when you meet someone and you’ve already seen his goods on Grindr or whatever?”
“It is sort of strange. . .” Greg confessed. His head bobbed back and forth. “I get what you’re saying. It makes sense. I think I like the attention, though.”
“You’d get better attention with your clothes on. I assure you, the guys whose attention requires you to give up your privacy by posting almost-naked pictures of yourself on Instagram are not guys whose attention you want.”
Greg looked mournfully at his phone’s screen, scrolling through his as, his ass, his ass, his ass, his ass, his crotch, his ass, his ass, and his smiling face framed by his backwards tossed legs. “I’ll delete them. But what can I put on my Instagram if I don’t post those?”
“Um. . .I don’t really know. You could photograph your life. Hollywood. West Hollywood. Things you like to do,” Levi offered, “With your clothes on. . .”
With Papa Gay mission accomplished, and feeling better that a young gay man who worked for him was seeing the non-trashy side of the seductive West Hollywood life, he turned back to the paperwork on his desk.
“Phone call—” Judy announced as she traded places with Greg and barged into the stockroom. When she was alone with Levi, she asked, “Did American Porn Star understand? No more pink starfish pics?”
“He got it,” Levi said, taking the paper she was holding out to him.
His eyes widened at the name and number left for him to call.
“You looking for a new job, Levi?”
It was a message to call the Academy Museum. He had almost forgotten he had applied for a job there—except for every time he passed by Wilshire and Fairfax. Then he’d remember he had applied, hadn’t heard from them, assumed he had been rejected, and flipped the under-construction building the middle finger.
But now they were calling. And he wanted badly to be wanted by them.
That job would feel so much more legitimate than this. So much more dignified. And he could picture Damien proudly introducing him to Damien’s friends as, “This is Levi. He works for the Academy Museum.”
He told Judy to go do her job and sent her back to the salesfloor.
Alone in the stockroom, he took a deep breath and then returned the call from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.