How Do You Spell That Again?


Debbie looked up in surprise to see the boys coming into the Liberty Diner from their night at Babylon much earlier than usual – and much more quietly. She signaled to Kiki that she would take care of this group and sauntered over to their large booth, cracking her gum as she slapped the menus down. She picked up Ted’s arm and stared pointedly at the expensive watch on his wrist. He didn’t even resist, though Michael did utter a token, “Ma!”

“Must have been a slow night, for you boys to come dragging in here at barely 9:30! Why, I remember when you wouldn’t even head out until ten! What’s wrong? A recall on trojans at the Big Q?”

Debbie laughed heartily at her own joke. Ben and Emmett smiled, since the problem didn’t affect them, not directly, but Brian was decidedly unamused and glaring at Ted. Justin put a pacifying hand on his cranky partner’s thigh and took it upon himself to explain.

“Ted hired a new employee for Babylon today,” Justin explained. “A singer.”

“So, what’s so wrong about that?” Debbie demanded of Brian. “Ted has a good ear – better than you and Michael, that’s for sure! So, what’s his...or, and what type of song does he...or she...sing?” Debbie paused. “I guess my first question should be, did you hire a guy or a girl or someone in between?”

That question caused Justin to start giggling and Michael and Emmett to groan in sympathy with Ted, who put his head down on the table and covered his face with his arms. Even kind-hearted Ben’s lips were twitching with amusement, however, when Brian, in a very syrupy sweet voice asked, “Yes, Theodore, tell us, is the new employee of Babylon Incorporated a boy singer or a girl singer?”

“You know I don’t know,” came the strangled answer.

Debbie blinked. “How the hell can you not know?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to find out,” Brian muttered.

“Now be fair, Brian,” Justin interjected. “None of us can tell whether Ivana Johnson is a guy dressed like a girl or a girl who looks like a guy dressed like a girl or....”

“Yes, Sunshine, we understand the permutations of the situation.” Brian kissed Justin. “But none of us interviewed Ivana Johnson and reviewed her...or his...paperwork...which is the job of Theodore or at least was the job of....” Brian paused in his indictment of poor Ted as Debbie had sat down heavily in one of the chairs and had buried her face in her apron. All the guys could see her shaking shoulders.

“Ma! Are you okay?” Michael leaned over and started patting her back.

“Debbie, are you all right?” Ben poured her a glass of water and passed it to Michael to offer to her.

Justin looked like he was about to call 911, his face was so worried but Emmett knew Debbie’s many moods – he’d lived with her for quite a while after all, and taught the woman fellatio. This was a sound he’d heard frequently then – the sound of Debbie when she actually was trying to muffle her laugh. He yanked her apron away and the guys could all see her mascara stained cheeks as she tried to catch her breath through her remaining giggles.

“Deb – cut it out,” Brian grumbled. “I’m on the verge of firing Schmidt here, show a little sympathy.”

“The person’s name is...the name is...” She dissolved into giggles again.

Brian looked to Ben as the most sensible person at the table. “Do you know what’s got her going? What’s so funny about Ivana Johnson!”

In his exasperation, Brian’s voice had gotten a little loud toward the end of his query. Which no doubt was why a passing bear dressed in red leather and pink lace in honor of Valentine’s Day being just a few days away, bent down and said, “You wanna johnson, beautiful, you can have mine. Ten inches just waiting for you.”

Brian looked appalled. The guys lost it as badly as Debbie, all except Justin, that is. He leaned over Brian’s lap and said, in his meanest voice, “Back off, buster, this beautiful guy is taken.”

The bear shrugged and went on his way. It took a while, but eventually, the gang settled down – although every time one of them looked at Brian’s glowering face it would set off another round of giggles – and finally, Debbie asked, “So, you have this Ivana,” she paused and with an obvious effort, composed herself to go on, “Johnson, and somehow you don’t know if he’s a he, or a she, or she’s a ...well, you know. Is that the dilemma?”

“It’s even more muddled,” Brian growled. “The twat CFO doesn’t use computerized forms, he has people fill in a handwritten form, so he has this new employee fill out the form and accepts it in very lovely cursive handwriting that looks like it came from fucking Sister Mary Frances at St. Boniface, but I’ll be damned if anyone can tell if it says Ivan A. Johnson or Ivana Johnson.”

“You’ll be damned if you refer to nuns that disrespectfully,” Debbie said, cracking a spoon over his knuckles in a manner he found very reminiscent of Sister Mary Frances.

“I wonder if the next of kin is a sister, Ah needa Johnson,” Emmett whispered to Justin, who buried his face in Brian’s shoulder to muffle his laughter.

“Well, does it really make such a big difference?” Ben asked. “You’re supposed to be gender neutral in hiring practices, aren’t you?”

“You’d be surprised how gender specific you need to be in order to be gender neutral,” Ted said glumly. “I need to make sure the insurance is appropriate. If she or he is transgendered, I want to be sure to be politically correct and explain the employee health benefits in an appropriately neutral fashion, which, just take my word for it, is easier to do if you know whether you’re talking to someone who might need hormone therapy or maternity leave.”

“But in these days of adoption....” Ben started to argue but Brian cut him off.

“He just should have found out, okay? To save me from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Is this some six foot tall, broad-shouldered female, or a guy in drag? If I get winked at....”

“You’ll be reacting the same way – disinterested,” Justin told him, pinching his thigh – hard.

“Of course,” Brian agreed, “but I need to know if I should be totally grossed out too.”

“Which he would be only if Ivana is a girl,” Michael explained to Ben who was ready to be offended for the possibly transgendered or transsexual.

The guys eventually ordered and ate their usual snack without reaching any resolution of the problem – although Justin did convince Brian not to fire Ted just yet. Debbie suggested they invite the new “girl” to Sunday dinner – as a special Valentine’s Day treat for the new employee – and Debbie assured them she’d be able to get to the bottom she put the time dessert was served. Not willing to have an employee with respect to whom he had to avoid all personal pronouns, and not really wanting to fire Ted, Brian agreed.

“But you have to invite,” Brian ordered. Then he turned to Ben triumphantly. “And that’s why I need to know!”

“Can’t you just ask?” Justin suggested reasonably.

All of the other men, all older and wiser than he – at least in some matters – looked at him horrified.

“No!” they said in unison.

Seeing his mystified expression, Emmett explained, “If Ivan is really an Ivana from birth – then we’d have one really angry six foot tall woman on our hands and no gay man wants that!”

Justin thought about it for a second and then nodded fervently. Best to leave it to Debbie.


Valentine’s Day dinner at Debbie’s was a big success – in most ways. Lindsay and Mel were there with the children, and Mel and Brian managed not to argue more than once an hour. Ted had filled them in on his problem. Thus, Lindsay had tried, in her usual, “of course I want to help a friend” form of nosiness, to glean as much information as she could from Ivana. But the singer had proved to be adept at turning away inquiries that were deemed too intrusive and managed to get Lindsay to talk about herself – a favorite topic.

Carl Horvath, retired detective and devoted partner to Debbie, simply watched fondly as she tried one transparent ploy after another to get Ivana to reveal a gender.

“Ah, Valentine’s Day, I still remember the first Valentine I got from a boy. Red with white doily from the five and dime on Third Street. How about you, dear?”

“No, I can’t say that I remember that one, Debbie, describe it a little more for me. What did it say inside?”

Or, “Valentine’s Day just isn’t Valentine’s Day for me without a big box of chocolates – but then, I say chocolates are required every month – especially at that time of the month. Don’t you agree Ivana?”

“For me, the time of the month for chocolates, love, is any day that ends in a ‘y’ isn’t that true for everyone?”

Even, with some desperation, “My absolute favorite movie for a romantic Valentine’s Day movie is ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and of course, then I have to watch, ‘An Affair to Remember.’ I have such a thing for Cary Grant but Carl, he loves Deborah Kerr. Do you have a favorite movie, Ivana?”

Smiling sweetly, Ivana answered, “ET.”

Debbie’s face fell but Justin at least began an animated conversation about ET and from there they moved on to the use of CGI in Avatar. Hating to see his Deb so discouraged, Carl decided to put an end to the charade, which his keen eye told him “Ivana” was enjoying a little too much, at the expense of his love and his friends.

“So,” Carl said, “we’re going to have a bit of a celebrity coming to town, I understand. The lady contacted me as head of security for Babylon, Brian, as she wants to throw a big bash there next week. Maybe Ivana can perform?”

“Who is it?” Brian asked, his expression curious. It was odd for such a request to come to Carl first.

“Lorena Bobbitt.”

Without missing a beat, all the men in the room crossed their legs.

Including Ivan.

“Gotcha,” Carl thought, with a small smile. He couldn’t wait to get Debbie into the kitchen and tell her. It would be one more small Valentine’s Day present – in addition to her new Blu-Ray copies of “An Affair to Remember” and “Sleepless in Seattle” and a five pound, heart-shaped box of chocolates.

He didn’t think he’d need to tell Brian. That sharp-eyed ad man had already noted the crossed legs of his new singer and was smirking in satisfaction. Carl caught his eye and Brian raised his scotch glass to him and mouthed, “Thanks.” Then, Brian turned to Ivana and asked, “So, Ivana, how do you spell that again? Do you prefer on the company paperwork that we use Ivan A. or Ivana? Which is your legal name?”

Ivan blinked, and wondered how his handsome boss had figured things out suddenly. Or had he known all along and been waiting for Ivan to come, well, straight with him? Sitting up and uncrossing his legs, Ivan answered, “Ivana is just a stage name, sir. I enjoy cross-dressing but I haven’t changed my name from Ivan, so as I filled out on the forms for Ted, it’s Ivan A. For Anton.”

“That’s what I thought,” Brian said, leaning back and putting his arm around Justin. “But I like to make sure my employees are happy.”

Ted rolled his eyes...but not until he made sure he was not in Brian’s line of sight. Why ruin a nice Valentine’s Day by getting fired after all?

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