Hello all! Please welcome Michael Rodriguez from Santino Hassell’s Sutphin Boulevard!
Interviewer: Hi Michael—or do you prefer Mr. Rodriguez?
Michael: If you call me Mr. Rodriguez I’ll be reminded me of my students, so let’s go with Michael.
Interviewer: Okay! Michael. Are you enjoying your summer so far?
Michael: Yeah. It’s been low key, but I’ll be traveling with my friend Nunzio soon and I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a hard year and he’s been the only person keeping me sane. I moved back to Queens to take care of my mother but she passed away, and my little brother and I were completely unprepared. We don’t really have to talk about my mom, though. I’d rather not.
Interviewer: I understand completely. So, tell me about yourself?
Michael: I’m thirty-two, I’m Puerto Rican, and I was born and raised in New York City. I work at a high school in Brooklyn but I live in Queens. Up until my mom got sick, I was living in Manhattan which had always been my goal.
Interviewer: Any chance of you moving back?
Michael: Not sure. My salary hasn’t gone up in six years, but rent sure as hell has. Nunzio keeps suggesting I move in with him but that’s an awful idea. It would guarantee that I never have a functional relationship again. Every guy I’ve dated has been jealous of Nunzio. It would be ten times worse if we lived together.
Interviewer: Why are they jealous?
Michael: Have you seen him? He’s gorgeous.
Interviewer: I’m sure it doesn’t help that you also… work together? Is that right?
Michael: Yeah. We both applied to McCleary High School when it opened a few years ago. And we didn’t— *pauses, frowning* Look, we’re not co-dependent. We both liked the model of the school. It’s closely connected to a community center that does a lot of work with queer kids. Since we’re both gay, it appealed to us. The only other school like that in the city is Harvey Milk High School.
Interviewer: Ahhh. I see. Why did you both go into teaching?
Michael: *scowls* I feel like you think we’re really clingy with each other. We’re not. It’s not like that. *crossing his arms over his chest* We both grew up struggling financially and a city job provides security. Nunzio didn’t have role models growing up and he wants to be that for someone who may need it. And I’ve always wanted to teach. I love talking about history, and I love teaching young people to make connections between events so they can see why the world is the way it is. I could geek out about that all day long so I’ll stop there.
Interviewer: I love your passion. So, your childhood had a big impact. Can you tell me more about it?
Michael: Look, I’m not trying to have this be a big sob story. You know? Gay Latino teacher breaks through the barriers and overcomes his childhood struggles, etcetera. No thanks. My father was in and out of our lives, but my mom worked hard to buy us a house and my brother and I always had enough to eat.
Interviewer: How’s your relationship with your brother?
Michael: Raymond is a sixteen year-old boy trapped in the body of a twenty-four-year-old man. He’s smart but barely managed to graduate high school. You have no idea how frustrating it is for me to be a teacher who cannot even motivate his own brother. Nunzio has had more luck than me but all advice goes in one of Raymond’s ears and out the other.
Interviewer: Nunzio seems to be important to you and your family. When did you guys meet?
Michael: About twenty years ago? In junior high. It was the first day of seventh grade and we bonded by exchanging stories about our asshole dads. *smiles* You should have seen him back then. Skinny with all of this wild black hair and these super blue eyes. I’d never seen anyone so fucking pretty. Even now. He’s really something.
Interviewer: Mmhmm. When did you come out to each other as gay?
Michael: Nunzio told me that same year. We were watching this music video with Mary J. Blige and Method Man, and I was pretending to be into Mary J because pretending to like girls was a reflex even at thirteen. Anyway, Nunzio said he’d rather blow Method Man. I was like—whoah! It was really shocking to me because I was terrified of anyone finding out I was gay. I didn’t fess up to him until a while later.
Interviewer: And you never….?
Michael: Nope. We made out once in junior high but it never got any farther. It was weird.
Interviewer: But you’re so cuddly together.
Michael: So? He’s physically affectionate with everyone. I’m not, but I don’t mind him touching me. Just because we’re both gay doesn’t mean we have to be sleeping together. Not all gay guys are insatiable.
Interviewer: I’m so sorry. That’s not what I meant at all. But while we’re on the topic… why don’t you talk more about your past relationships?
Michael: It’s always a failure. Guys either get frustrated because I’m not out to my family or they’re jealous of Nunzio. My ex-boyfriend asked me to choose between them which shows how deluded he was. I would never choose anyone over Nunzio. I’d rather be single for the rest of my life.
Michael: Why do you keep saying that?
Interviewer: I’m not.
Michael: Uh huh. Listen, I have a phone call. Can we take five?
Interviewer: Is it Nunzio?
Interviewer: Mmhmm. Take your time.
Michael: *grumbles something inaudible and leaves the room*
© 2015 Santino Hassell.
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.
Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.
When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
Santino is a dedicated gamer, a former fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of queer fiction that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.