IT RAINED on every first in my life: my baptism (so I’m told), starting kindergarten, beginning high school, opening night of my high school senior play, and my first day at college. With stars in my eyes to match the stars in the sky, I had flown from Pennsylvania to Colorado. My luggage was packed with more acting books than clothes, and my pockets were stuffed with food (courtesy of my mother) and cash (courtesy of my father).
After sitting through all-day orientation meetings in the college’s gymnasium, I purchased my textbooks in the college bookstore, then walked to my new home—in the rain.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, to my parents’ horror, my friends’ confusion, and my delight, I was a theater major. Since I was a walking calculator, my parents assumed I would become an accountant like the other men in my family. Since I won most of my high school competitions, my gymnastics coach and team members assumed I would be the next Mitch Gaylord (no pun intended). However, after starring in my senior play as the Frog in The Frog and the Toad (at least I got top billing), I had a terminal case of show business bug bite.
It was such a traumatic time for everyone in my life that finding out I was gay elicited this surprisingly uneventful response, “That’s nice, Johnny.”
As for the theater major issue, we’re Italian—we rant and rave into our pasta, then get over things quickly. So after seeing me play Stanley Kowalski (of the ripped T-shirt) in A Streetcar Named Desire at our local summer theater, everyone in the neighborhood proclaimed me the next John Travolta and wished me well in college.
The college was only fifteen years old, so it was modern in design. A tall iron gate opened to a winding road leading to the various academic buildings. Each building was circular, triangular, rectangular, or square, reminding me of a child’s play set. A small but well-kept lawn, sporting benches and lampposts, was stationed between each building.
I made my way to my room on the third floor of the men’s wing. It was the usual college dorm room—like a prison cell in double vision. The bed, bureau, bookshelf, closet, desk, and chair on one side of the room were replicated on the other. The window looked out onto enormous jagged mountains like a painted flat over a sky-blue cyclorama. (I told you I was a theater major.)
I dried off, quickly unpacked, then changed into jeans and my newly purchased college sweatshirt. Somewhat muscular from my high school gymnastics, I decided baggy clothes would help me fit in with what I assumed would be the skinny or overweight theater nerds. They’re the kids who spend all their time indoors listening to Broadway show tunes, talking about the true meaning of Sondheim’s lyrics, arguing if Rent, Les Mis, or Phantom is the best musical, and reading every play from William Shakespeare to Neil Simon.
Since my chestnut hair frizzed from the rain, I was happy my mother packed my blow dryer. As I got to work on my hair, I was surprised at how nervous I felt about attending my classes and auditioning for my first college production. Being shy by nature, I was also anxious about meeting my professors, the other theater majors, and of course my roommate.
As an Italian-American, I subscribed to my mother’s theory that if someone doesn’t want you to see something, he will hide it in a locked vault covered with cement. So I inadvertently took a quick look at my roommate’s things on the other side of the room. He was incredibly neat. Numerous theater textbooks and play scripts lined his bookshelf in alphabetical order. The bulletin board above his desk displayed artistically arranged programs from various comedy, drama, and musical college productions listing the same male lead in each show: “David Star”.
“Do you always look at other people’s things?”
I nearly got whiplash as he entered the room.
Stammering like a kid caught masturbating by his parents, I said, “I… w-was… ad-m-miring y-your… r-room.”
Though it was a fall September day, he took off his scarf (violet) and rested it on a tall coatrack, which held scarves in various colors like a department store window display. He was taller than me, with a chiseled, handsome face, and straight, shiny black hair, which fell down his thick neck. I admired his perfectly sculpted muscles, housed in a turquoise designer dress shirt. But what captivated me the most were his piercing crystal-blue eyes—and the enormous bulge in his skintight, beige designer pants.
As I went back to my side of the room, he placed the paper bag he carried onto his otherwise clear desk. After opening a bureau drawer, he removed a portable oven burner, cutting board, pan, and knife and rested them on top of his sparkling clean bureau. Next, he placed the pan on top of the burner. After emptying the contents of his bag onto his desk, he chopped, diced, seasoned, sautéed, and stirred ingredients in the pan.
Opening another dresser drawer, he pulled out a china plate with a delicate rose pattern. As if a chef in a gourmet restaurant, he plated his creation (chicken Florentine, new potatoes with thyme, and asparagus tips with shiitake mushrooms), added a parsley sprig, then rested it on top of his desk. He took a silk napkin and set of silverware from inside his desk drawer for his place setting. A wine bottle came out of his grocery bag. After using a corkscrew from his desk drawer to open the bottle, he retrieved a crystal wine glass from his dresser drawer and poured himself a glass of white wine.
Sitting at his desk and circling the wine in his glass, he asked, “Would you like a glass?”
My head was spinning from the delectable sights and scents, including David’s musk cologne. “At the orientation meeting today, they said it’s against college policy to have alcohol… or to cook in your dorm room.”
“Did they?” He laughed as if sharing a private joke with himself.
Noticing the time, I said, “I should get to the cafeteria for dinner.”
His clear blue eyes pierced through me. “Why?”
I scratched my head. “Because I’m hungry.” Looking at the meal ticket on my desk, I added, “And I have a meal plan.”
Taking another plate from his dresser drawer and placing half of the dinner onto it, he replied, “You don’t want to eat industrialfood with all those shouting children.”
He held up the plate, as if getting a pet dog to trust him.
After I took it, he opened his desk drawer and handed me a silk napkin and silverware set. “You sure you don’t want a glass of white wine?”
“No, thank you.”
He opened his desk drawer. “I have red… 1937. Or would you prefer fruit juice?”
Still holding the plate, napkin, and silverware, I said, “Juice is good.”
He opened another desk drawer, “Apple, orange, grape, or cranberry?”
After taking the bottle of juice, I put everything on my desk. Sitting behind it, I took a bite of the most delicious meal I had ever tasted. “This is amazing.”
Putting his napkin on his lap, he looked over at me and said, “It’s important for an actor to eat well. Our bodies are our instruments.” He added with a twinkle in his eyes, “And hopefully our fortunes one day.”
Stuffing my mouth with food, I asked between bites, “Where did you learn to cook like this?”
After smelling, rolling around in his mouth, then finally swallowing a sip of wine, he replied mysteriously, “People taught me.”
“This is better than the restaurant food in Philly.” I continued eating the mouthwatering dinner. “Are there any good restaurants here in town?”
“I haven’t walked into town yet.”
“Why would you walk?” He took his first bite of dinner and savored it in his mouth.
“I don’t have a car here.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to walk.”
“Is there a bus or something?”
He continued eating slowly, enjoying each delectable morsel. “When you look like us, you don’t have to walk.”
Finishing my dinner and wiping my mouth with the soft napkin, I asked, “You mean you hitchhike?”
“As actors we’re called on to play different roles. Hitchhiking is a great tool to study other people. Then we can use what we learn on stage.”
He put down his fork and wine glass. “What’s your name?”
He looked at me like a surgeon examining a tumor. “No, it’s not.”
“It’s Jonathan Bello.” He opened a bureau drawer, pulled out a bottle of hair gel, and tossed it to me. “You should gel your hair.” He opened his closet, revealing a multitude of color-coordinated shirts and slacks, and laid some on my bed. “And you can wear these.”
I looked at his perfectly pressed designer clothes. “Where did you get all these things?”
“They were gifts, mostly.”
“You must have some generous friends…. Sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“I’m David Star.” He took a bow.
Looking back at his play programs, I said, “You must have starred in every play at the college over the last three years.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“What happened to your last roommate?”
“He went to LA over the summer break and started auditioning. He got cast in a new TV sitcom. I hope it takes off. It’s called Cosby.”
“At the orientation session, they said freshmen are housed with other freshmen. How did I get a senior for a roommate?”
His eyes twinkled. “Just lucky I guess.”
“Do you think it was some kind of an administrative error or something?”
“Or something.” He added matter-of-factly, “I asked for a freshman roommate.”
David came over to my side of the room and picked up the class schedule on my desk. “Theater History I, Acting I, English Literature I, Creative Movement, Voice Production I, General Math I, and Health and Fitness.” He threw it down. “Those classes won’t help you get cast in a play.”
“What?” I stood and faced him. “I spent a lot of my… and my parents’ money on those classes. I want to learn how to be an actor.”
“You will, but you won’t learn anything about how to audition and get a role.”
“How do I learn that?”
“I’ll coach you before auditions for the upcoming play.” He lay on his bed. “And you can cut Health and Fitness. The professor never takes attendance. We can be workout partners in the gym. You have a nice frame, but you need to be cut to make it professionally. You won’t learn that in Health and Fitness.”
Feeling like I was on a rollercoaster, I said, “Why are you doing this for me?”
“Because you’re my roommate.”
Not knowing what else to say, I said, “Thanks.”
David smiled revealing straight white teeth. Then he took a (lemon-colored) scarf from his coatrack. “After I graduate, I’m going to New York to audition for theater, then to LA for film and television. We’ll talk about which is best for you.” He wrapped the scarf around his neck. “I have an appointment. Get some sleep, Jonathan. That’s important for an actor.”
He left the room and closed the door behind him. Lying back on my bed, I pondered the enigma called David Star, and fantasized about having an appointment with him.