Lights! Camera! Lesbian?

My girlfriend, Anaïs, is an actress. Recently, I had a

chance to see her on the big screen for the first time, in the French-made

short film No, Not Now , which

premiered at the Avignon–New York film festival here in New York.

Now don’t get the wrong idea. The Avignon–New York film

festival is a lot less pretentious and glittery than the big film

festivals-it’s a nuts-and-bolts affair, with few agents and publicists milling

around. Cannes or Sundance, it ain’t. The paparazzi are nonexistent. Mostly,

it’s just a lot of filmmakers meeting other filmmakers over wine in plastic

cups in the bowels of the Alliance Française on 60th Street.

But for me, it was a big deal. Anaïs, who is from France,

was making her movie debut-I, the ugly American, was going to stroll up the red

carpet that night as the boyfriend of the star. Immediately, I felt a special

kinship with other actress arm candy: Benjamin Bratt, a.k.a. Mr. Julia Roberts,

or Chris Robinson, a.k.a. Mr. Kate Hudson, or James Haven, a.k.a. Angelina

Jolie’s brother. I knew my job that night: look good, smile and bat away any

paramours trying to make a play for my lady. (Unless, of course, they worked

for William Morris or Mike Ovitz.)

When the big moment arrived, I knew exactly what to do. I

walked into the theater all handsome, dressed like a dream in my newly

dry-cleaned suit. I shook the appropriate hands, whispered the wittiest bons

mots.  It could have been Oscar night at

the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the way I was working the carpet. I took my seat

just as the lights dimmed. Oh: Did I mention that Anaïs looked great, too?

Finally, No, Not Now

began rolling. The opening scene of the film featured Anaïs in a café, reading.

Everyone at some point imagines what it would be like to sit in a theater and

see themselves in a movie. I haven’t had that experience, either, but I’m going

to guess that it’s quite different from what it’s like to see the object of

your personal affection up on the screen. There’s no way to prepare for it.

Anaïs looked like Anaïs-zilla. Movies, of course, morph

regular-sized people into gigantic Michelin Men, several stories high, and if

it’s someone you know up there, it’s truly unnerving. Whether they’re talking

or not, your eyes are immediately riveted to that familiar face, the one you’ve

spoken to a thousand  times. Any attempt

to follow the rest of the action is futile. Plot? Plot’s the last thing you’re

thinking about.

There’s something strangely personal and invasive about

it-watching Anaïs in that coffee shop, all I could think about was the nasty

fight we’d had the very day of the shoot. Could people in the audience tell?

Seeing her up there, it felt like the public airing of private dirty laundry.

Could people tell she’d been mad at me earlier that day?

A psychotherapist would call these feelings narcissistic.

I’d call it … well, you go see your loved one in a movie sometime, and then get

back to me.

It went on like this for a while: Anaïs up there on the

screen, me sitting there, worrying in the darkness. Then, later in the film,

something occurred that I really wasn’t prepared for.

The lesbian scene.

Anaïs and a strange female character-who had been hounding

her all though the film-back into a couch, kissing each other passionately.

Real kissing, too-tongue-down-the-throat stuff. I sank into my chair while the

two kept slurping. What seemed like 20 minutes lasted probably 20 seconds. I

began to pout and sweat. I thought to myself, “Hey, nobody told me …. “

Only then did I remember: A while ago, Anaïs told me how the

director of No, Not Now had

originally intended the story to be a love triangle involving two men and a

woman, but because of time and money, and the lack of any good male actors,

Anaïs was given the role intended for the man.

Freaking low-budget independent cinema. Something always has

to give.

A short while later, the credits rolled and the audience

clapped, and the next thing I knew, Anaïs was onstage with microphone in hand,

entertaining questions from the audience-the majority of which, sure enough,

centered on The Kiss: how it felt, how many takes were needed, etc. I wanted to

stand up and scream that there were boyfriends in the house and for everyone in

the audience to just keep it in their pants.

After the Q. and A., I found my way near the stage to

congratulate Anaïs amidst her now-growing “throng” of hangers-on. I offered my

flowers, then stood on the side with my hands in my pockets, gauging the

reactions of the audience. French audiences, in particular, usually keep a good

poker face at plays and movies, so it was difficult to tell if they were

laughing at the film or laughing at themselves … or laughing at me.

Dinner was at Kaplan’s, the deli next door. It wasn’t Toots

Shor or Carmine’s, and the guests at the table were hardly the Rat Pack, but it

still felt showbiz-like. Anaïs was the center of attention. I wolfed down my

stuffed cabbage and Dr. Brown’s and quipped to those just joining us that I was

going to be Anaïs’ “road ho.” This time, nobody laughed.

When our group enlarged from a throng to a full-fledged

entourage, we moved on to the Roger Smith Hotel for the film festival’s after-party.

People congratulated Anaïs, even congratulated me, but by then I wasn’t taking

compliments well; all I could do was wonder what Sapphic or lustful thoughts

each of these people had brewing in their minds. I no longer wanted to be in

this crowd. I wanted it to be like before we were famous, before all the

parties. I wanted it to be like the old days, when we snuck into parties and

stole champagne, and I was just the boyfriend and she was not yet a Star.

And then, without warning, it was over. By midnight, we were

back on our East Harlem block, with no doorman to welcome us, no camped-out

photographers, no early edition of The

Times with a review of the film

resting on the stoop. Trudging up three flights, we crammed into the small

apartment and stuck Anaïs’ flowers in the Pottery Barn wastebasket.

As we lay in bed, Anaïs

asked me how I thought the night went. I wanted to tell her what it was like to

sit there in the darkness and freak out, to look around a theater and wonder

what dirty little thoughts every member of the audience was having about this

woman in my life. But it was her night, not mine. She was the arm, I was the

arm candy. I told her it went great.

But yeah, I dreamed about that lesbian scene that night. Not

bad.