Pop took a sip of Chardonnay, and thanked mom. "With respect," he began, "I don't intend to get bogged down in an unwinable argument. I'm also not here to justify my thoughts or feelings. They're my thoughts and feelings, and I'm quite happy with them. I wasn't always, of course, but I am now."
"What do you mean, you weren't always?"
"There was a time when I felt inadequate… a stranger amongst other people… an oddball."
"With respect," Andy said, sarcastically, "you still are."
"Quite right, Andy."
"And you're happy with that?"
"Are you happy being who you are?"
"Of course I am! I have nothing to be ashamed of!"
"I'm glad to hear it. So that makes two of us."
"You seem to be missing the point, Ned. I'm normal. I don't have an unnatural attraction to boys."
"I see. So your attraction to boys is a natural one?"
"What the fuck are you implying?"
"I don't suppose this bottle of Chardonnay has a twin somewhere close by?"
"I'll get it," I offered, "but don't talk about me 'til I get back!" Rather than open the bottle in the kitchen, I grabbed the opener, and raced back to the barbecue table. "Did I miss anything?"
"I'm not sure you should be listening to this conversation, Daniel," mom suggested. "Perhaps you'd better go to your room... or take a swim, or something."
"Mom! Will you please stop treating me like a child? How am I supposed to learn stuff if I don't participate?"
"You still haven't answered my question," Andy demanded, and took the heat off me while I corked the bottle, then poured Pop another glass of wine.
"Andy, if you were to describe Daniel, in full, would your description contain references to his physical beauty?"
"That's a ridiculous question?"
"Is it?" Pop swirled the golden liquid around in the glass, put his nose to it, drank a little, then rolled it around in his mouth for a few moments before swallowing. "Unwooded, I'd say." He spent some time studying the contents of the glass. "Delicious balance of rich, yet soft, fruit flavors… obviously vintaged to allow fermentation to complete dryness, and a crisp, clean finish. Or should I have described this wine as a damn fine drop? Would you describe Daniel as a damn fine boy?"
"Of course, I would!"
"And would you leave it at that?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that we all appreciate beauty, including Daniel's, but some of us -- and I include you in that group -- feel that our recognition of male beauty is unnatural, a blot on our sense of masculinity, and that it should be suppressed, or denied. Do you appreciate Daniel's beauty?"
"I'm not sexually attracted to him, if that's what you mean."
"That wasn't my question."
"You seem to be missing the point, Ned, or perhaps you're playing some silly game. My job as a parent is to protect my son from people like you. Are you a parent?"
"Then you couldn't possibly understand where Nancy and I are coming from."
"Oh? But you can understand where I'm coming from?"
"Of course, we can! People like you are a danger to children."
"You seem to know an awful lot about me."
"So you admit it?"
"That I'm a danger to Daniel? That depends on your perspective. If you consider me to be dangerous because the lad feels comfortable about telling me things that he wouldn't tell you, then I'm dangerous... at least, from your point of view."
"There's nothing that Daniel can't tell me or his mother. Nothing. You're playing with his mind, that's what you're doing. You're getting him to tell you things that he doesn't really mean… you're manipulating his susceptibility. At his age, he's very impressionable, and receptive to depraved ideas like yours."
"Promoting the idea that it's OK for men to be sexually attracted to boys."
"Pop never said anything like that!"
"Stay out of this conversation, Daniel," Andy insisted. "You're too young to understand the implications of forming a friendship with this… this... pedophile."
"Well, before this conversation degenerates any further, I'd better be going." Pop swallowed the last of the wine from his glass, and stood. "Thank you for the lunch, and…"
"Please, Ned," mom interrupted, "stay a little longer… and have another glass."
"You're appealing to my better nature, Nancy," he smiled. "OK, one more glass."
"We seem to have missed an important point here," mom continued, then turned her attention to me. "Daniel, are you sexually attracted to Pop?"
My jaw practically hit the table. "What? Are you serious?" I glanced at the old man. "No offence, Pop."
"Then what is your attraction to Pop?"
"He's cool. He's kinda crazy, but he's cool. I can be myself, and he understands. It's like I can have an older dude to talk to about stuff."
"What's wrong with me or your mother?" Andy asked.
"Nothing… I love you both. You know that already. But Pop is kinda different. I can goof off with him… and it's fun to tease him, and get him all flustered."
"Yeah… y'know, like I do with Kyle when he grabs a rag and we play tug-o-war… and he growls and makes like he's mad at me, but we're just having fun. I know that Kyle would never bite me, just like I know that Pop would never… well, never do stuff that was wrong."
"Would you?" mom asked, looking at Pop.
"Harm your son? My God! Never in a million years. But, again, it’s a matter of perspective. As his newly acquired confidant, I may advise him, or tell him things, that could be contrary to what you, as parents, might advise or tell him. I can only draw from my own experience, and offer my own opinions."
"That's my point," Andy interjected, stabbing the table with his finger for added emphasis. "You're not a parent, so you can't possibly understand how a parent feels when the child is adversely affected by outside influences."
"Outside influences? Are you suggesting that Daniel never leaves the house? That radio, TV, newspapers, the internet, etcetera, should be confiscated?"
"According to your reasoning," Andy said, still stabbing the table, "we should sit back and let Daniel do whatever he wants."
"He will, anyway. If not now, later. Granted, I'm not a parent, but I do understand that there's a limit to what a parent can do to influence and guide the child. Once the child reaches a stage in life where it begins to make its own decisions, and form its own conclusions, the parent has no option but to allow the child to test its wings. If you, as a parent, have done your job properly, the child should be able to make sound judgements in life."
"Your glass is empty, Pop," I smiled as I took the bottle and prepared to pour more wine.
"I really must be going."
"Not just yet."
"You're forgetting something," Andy added as he moved his glass toward the bottle so that I could pour him another drink, "Daniel is at a critical stage in life… he's impressionable… and we don't want him being manipulated or coerced into forming ideas that will be harmful to him."
"Of course not. But what is manipulation or coercion? It is not my intention to either manipulate or coerce. If there are aspects of my character that influence Daniel, then it is Daniel who chooses to be influenced. When we met, he saw in me something that he liked or admired or whatever. I have no idea of what he saw in me. I tend to keep to myself. Nevertheless, he recognized something in me that was attractive. And I must tell you that I was not only surprised, but honored. Yes, honored. I'd never considered myself to be particularly attractive, as a person, to anybody, and especially not to a marvellous young man like Daniel. If I were a sculptor instead of a writer, I would gladly chisel an image of Daniel from stone, and place it on a pedestal, because it's on a pedestal that I believe he belongs."
"Ah, hah!" Andy cried. "So that's your problem! I knew it had to be something weird."
"Weird?" mom asked. "I don't see what's weird about it. I think my son belongs on a pedestal."
"Bullshit," Andy retorted. "His feet belong on the ground, just like everybody else's. Ned is giving your son grandiose ideas. And if he continues to listen to Ned's bullshit, his head will be in the clouds. He'll be living in a world of fantasy instead of the real world."
"Yes," Pop said after taking another sip of Chardonnay. "The real world. That's the one we all live in, then come home to our TVs to escape from."
"And what's your version of the real world?"
"Mine? Well, a bottle of chilled Chardonnay is an absolute must... then a computer, and a room full of pedestals waiting for the appropriate heroes to stand upon."
"Heroes? You really are crazy! You need a fucking shrink! Take a good look at the boy sitting next to you. He's a boy. An ordinary boy. OK, he's special to us because he's our son, but to everybody else, he's just an ordinary boy. All this pedestal bullshit only serves one purpose… to inflate his ego, and to give him a false impression of himself. Do you have any idea of the damage you're doing to this kid? He's gonna spend the rest of his life swanning around with a head full of helium like he's some superstar. His feet belong on the ground… not on some ridiculous pedestal!"
"Do you adore your wife?"
"What's that got to do with it?"
"Just wondering. Anyway, I'd better go."
"Can I say something?" I asked. "What's wrong with a pedestal? It's not like Pop puts me there for the whole world to see. I'm smart enough to know that it's a pedestal that I climb on just for him… not for anybody else… well, I guess some of my buds put me on a pedestal… but those pedestals aren't for anyone else to see, either. You know what I mean? It's like the pedestal is invisible, but not to the person who puts me there. And I'm not that dumb that I don't know that most people would think that I'm just an ordinary teen. But I don't wanna be ordinary. I wanna be special. So I make friends with dudes who think I'm special. What's so bad about that? Am I the only person at this table who wants to be special? Huh? And lemme tell you something else. I'm not the only one who's on a pedestal." I glanced at Pop. "You're on one, too, although you'd probably fall off 'cause you drink too much wine. Hey, everybody here is on a pedestal. So what's the biggie? I don’t get it."
"I think you do," Pop smiled. "It's natural to elevate a person's stature when we like them, or love them. And it's also natural to be protective of them if you think that they're in some kind of danger, which is precisely why Andy and Nancy were suspicious of me. I would have acted in exactly the same way if I were them."
Andy placed his glass on the table, then offered his hand to Pop. "I think I've misjudged you, Ned."
"Call me Pop," he smiled as he shook Andy's hand.
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Diary Part 140