"Can't you find a personal trainer to do this? I hear Carlos Leon is looking for work," said Adam, helping me out of the cab.
"Ever heard of sperm bank?" said Sloba.
"We are the sperm bank," said Joey.
"Are we gonna get to do a little practice lending?" asked Curtis, giggling.
Adam's a textbook yuppie, wolfishly handsome, with some help from an East Side plastic surgeon; works in the film business; age 29. Joey's a software engineer from Queens who looks a bit crazy, with a shaved head and great big dark eyes (35). Curtis is a dreadlocked writer, a teddy bear who favors fuzzy sweaters (26). And Sloba's the Serb, and exceedingly proud of it; looks like a European film director, which is what he is (43). All of them smoke a lot, except Adam.
They were a motley group, but they would have to do. I looked them up and down and thought, these weren't the guys I was supposed to have had a child with, not the stars of my so-called romantic life. But then, you couldn't really invite, say, Al Pacino (Michael) to your Baby Dinner, though you could invite Robert Duvall (Tommy).
"Listen, if I do it, are you gonna take out an insurance policy?" Joey said anxiously. "'Cause I can't afford to raise a kid alone if you die. I think the policy should be at least $3 million."
"Now, there's an icebreaker," said Adam.
"This isn't a Hitchcock movie," laughed Curtis.
"Hmmm, not a bad idea," said Sloba, the director, making a mental notation.
We went inside.
The other four bounders were already at the bar, drinking. And so it always was at Bayard's, a former gentlemen's club (est. 1914) with a distinctly back-room feel.
"They say Mr. Bayard was a bit of a swordsman," the bartender was saying (his name is Max, and he resembles Larry of the Three Stooges).
"Well, that's appropriate for tonight," said James, downing a whiskey.
"'We're having a baby,'" sang Rick, kissing me on the cheek.
"Congratulations!" said João, the Brazilian, who was always a bit out of it.
"Wassup, baby?" said Kamal.
James is a journalist, silver-haired and obsessed with Elvis, so much so his voice has taken on an Elvisian tone (he's 51). Rick's an impeccable art dealer who brings to mind the young (pre-gargantuan) Orson Welles (35). João's a producer for Brazilian television and telegraphs "George Hamilton" (38). And Kamal's one of those beautiful New Yorkers of several extractions; a club kid and party promoter (24).
My dating history looked like the Marx Brothers' visit to the U.N. Introductions went awkwardly round. I'd also brought along my cousin Lisa, so in case I didn't get any offers she could keep me from throwing myself in front of a bus.
"How'd you meet all these guys?" asked Lisa, looking alarmed.
"Elevator," "college," "work," "party," "bar," "nightclub," said James, Rick, Curtis, Adam, Joey, and Kamal.
"Destiny," said Sloba, smiling.
And João reminded me of how he'd looked over my shoulder at the cash register in a deli one night in order to read the information off my driver's license -- and then tried to convince me he was psychic.
"You believed me," said João.
All the men seemed to find this very funny indeed and said they would have to "try that."
Max -- the bartender, who doubled as our waiter for the evening -- escorted us upstairs to our room. At Bayard's, you can reserve a room of your own to hash out such problems as whether the biological continuum you're traveling on is going to end with you.
The table was set elegantly for ten. I sat at one end, Lisa at the other, four men on each side.
"It's like Agatha Christie," said James. "Not a whodunit, but a who's-gonna-do-it."
"If I do it," said Joey, "can we take the baby to visit my parents? Then they have to stop thinking I'm gay."
"It's amazing how little we seem to have in common," Adam said dryly.
"What?" said Rick, raising an eyebrow. "We're all schmoes."
I admitted to being the biggest schmo of all and thanked them for coming. "None of you would be here unless I thought you were really swell," blah blah blah.
There was a pregnant pause, and I wondered how to proceed. I suddenly felt as if I were having a particularly Freudian dream. I'd had a dream once, in college, actually, that all my old boyfriends met to try and figure out why I'd been unable to sustain a relationship longer than about the time it took to walk across campus. Finally a wiry law student I'd dated named Paul (a marathon runner who lisped like Sylvester the Cat) threw up his hands and said, "It'th really too bad, you know, because you'd make an ex-thellent mother!" For which I gave him a kiss.
James grimaced. "Nance, like, what are you gonna tell this kid? Who's Daddy?" He asked. I hadn't ironed that one out yet: "Daddy is a friend of mine?"
It seemed like the best thing to do now was to find out how my guests felt about becoming fathers. None of them had children, either -- except for James, who was divorced and had already told me he wanted more. What were they all waiting for?
I decided to start with Rick, since I'd known him the longest.
"Rick, what do you want?"
"I want the jumbo shrimp," said Rick.
"So am I," said Rick, making a check on his menu.
Rick, to my mind, was an ideal candidate: He was intelligent, he was kind, and he could remember things like what to call the carved saints sitting above cathedral doors ("tympanum" -- I had to look it up). He was also gay, which I thought put us in a uniquely symbiotic position.
We'd never had sex, but we did have a rather steamy night once snuggling in his parents' house in Connecticut, both wearing pairs of his white Brooks Brothers pajamas. And he'd told me once that, when it came to having children, he'd consider "an arrangement."
But now he said, shaking his head, "It's just too messy in my opinion. I've known gay couples who've gotten into situations with women -- usually lesbian women -- and someone always ends up getting hurt.
"Frankly, I don't know what I'm gonna do. Guys can have children until much later in life than women can, so generally we think we have a lot more time to start worrying. Maybe when I'm 75, and biotechnology has reached its height, I'll impregnate a 20-year-old boy and we'll have a beautiful family together. Or I'll clone myself and then carry it to term -- "
"Maybe you could just fuck yourself," James said, laughing.
"I'm too much of a pessimist to hope for that," said Rick.
"Oh, I guess we're not in Donna Reed Land anymore," I moaned.
"Did Donna Reed ever exist?" Rick said. "That crap was shoved down people's throats for years and years, and as far as I'm concerned, fuck the Cleavers."