A Politician And A Father


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Scene Title A Politician And A Father
Synopsis They say that the worst fear of every child is to grow up to be like their parents. If this were true, the Mayor and his son might not have fought.
Date March 27, 2009

Somewhere On Manhattan — The Bianco Household

The Bianco family home is understated and modern, tasteful and yet somehow grand. It's easy to see where Sonny got his ideas for his own condo. Or rather, he used the same decorator. So much of his life has been patterned after his father, or because of the will of his parents. The building where he bought his condo, the neighborhood and style of his clinic. Who he dates. Which designers he wears. Where he goes for parties. All of that has been dictated by the will of his father, or of the people surrounding him.

But lately he hasn't been acting the part of the prodigal son. His visits to the family home have been less frequent. He has barely made any appearances at high society functions. In fact, the only one he's been to in recent memory was a fundraiser for the Spread the Net campaign - to raise money to buy mosquito nets to protect people in the third world against malaria.

But even a more defiant Sonny can't refuse a direct call by his father to come for dinner. He sits in the den in a neat but, casual suit. There's a cup of coffee in a china cup on the table, but he's barely touched it. He leans forward on his knees and stares at the intricate pattern of the plush rug beneath his feet.

In general, Harry Bianco has no need for stealth. He's a big man, not only in stature but in status, and while trumpeteers and heralds are long since outmoded, the solid cadence of polished leather on the stone of the staircase landing is not. "Sonny! You showed up.

"Your mother was beginning to worry you didn't love her anymore." It isn't bellowing when Harry does it. No, it's a call to attention and a loving salutation rolled into one within the lingering stylization of his accent — 'Yuoh motha was beginnin' ta worryeh!' — accompanied by a large grin across the man's prominent features, enamel-white against olive skin.

They're dressed the same. It would make for a good photograph, the embrace that comes next, Harry's large arms around his boy's shoulders.

It's easy to tell where Sonny gets his accent and why he sounds more like a Brooklyn thug than a swarthy Italian gent. A man who sounded like he got spat up from Tuscany would never have won two back-to-back terms as the Mayor of New York. He stands when his father makes his way towards him and returns the embrace with a clap to the back.

"Hey dad. Sorry I haven't been by. I heard ma's thinking of lecturing again? Something about teaching at Columbia? Wondered how long it'd take before she missed talking chemicals." He twists his face into a small, wry grin.

Not to discredit their Tuscaninian cousins or anything. They owe plenty to their forefathers, Harry is sure. Ellis Island was a milestone for a legacy that stretches that goes far further than that, but some things, you have to do for yourself.

He leaves an arm hanging around Sonny's shoulders, and steers them toward the back of their home, away from the dining area and toward the liquor cabinet. "Yeah, maybe it'll give me a break. You know I don't get half the hype about this bioluminescence mumbo-jumbo she's been talking about. Jellyfish Christmas trees?

"I get there's some wider application to our rolling blackout problem, but when she starts talking synthesis and— I don't know. I just don't know. Your mother is a very strong personality." Harry's big-knuckled hand is moving a lot in front of him, articulating his ideas with the same audacious precision as that with which he speaks. 'Strong personality.' That's two decisive chops through the air.

"Anyway," he sighs. "How do you feel about spending a few nights next week at a Bomb support convention? Wrong time of year, I know I know," commemorations happen in November, "but the climate these days. New York needs to know there are Registered Evolved here healthy, and happy, and working."

His mother isn't the only strong personality in their household. It's easy to be ovewhelmed, and he has been in a lot of ways. "Bioluminescence is a big deal, dad. You're the one who keeps championing energy independence. It's even bigger than just the city. Research like mom's is important. Goes to show that investing directly in one, immediately practical area prevents breakthroughs in other fields that could help our problems."

Harry sometimes listens to him, sometimes bulldozes over his son. It all depends on the subject and his mood. He's a hybrid scientist and politican. Part his father, part his mother.

He inhales as the request is given. Charity. His Achilles heel. The warrior with a god for a dad and a sorceress for a mother. He grits his jaw. "Maybe. I'll have to look at my schedule."

Bioluminescence is a big deal, yes, okay, but Harry has had this repeated at him in various and multiple revisions and varying amounts of laymen's comprehensible terms too many times for him to feel like entering in a long and magnanimous statement of agreement right now. He just bobs his head and sighs. Yes yes. You sound just like your mother.

At Sonny's sharp intake of air, however, Harry swivels dark eyes toward his boy. A certain note of incredulity enters his voice.

"Your schedule?" he repeats. "Kid, I know the streets of New York are a scary place to be right now and the…" he defines the amorphous shape of whatever it is Salvatore does with his life before finding words to assign to it, "malaise of living outta the gossip column can't be cured by punching cops, but the city needs you.

"A'right? I need you. Tuesday's for the children, Wednesday's for the elderly. There's foie gras on the menu for that luncheon, and you can have the evening to do whatever you want. It would be a very good start to April."

Sonny puts a hand to his face and takes a few steps away from his father. He sets the other hand on his hip. "How about I start picking my own charities, uh? There's this orphanage on Staten Island for Evolved kids. People are riding you to do something about Staten, right? There's the trailer farm. There's those thirty five kids who killed themselves. New causes." He looks his father in the eye with as much strength as he can manage. "The bomb survivors get a lot of attention. They're not exactly an overlooked group. They got trust funds and everything. Medical care, support. All that."

He stops and lets his hands fall to his side. "I'm tired of foie gras, dad. I'm tired of luncheons."

Yes, but there is a complicated network of campaign supporters and expectations and other things that Sonny has rarely attempted to dignify with understanding. Oddly enough, it's Harry who's left feeling somewhat confused for the moment. The heavy set of his brow furrows for a moment. He lets his son move away. He moves himself toward the liquor cabinet, finds the scotch.

"Sonny," and how morbidly frustrating it must be, his name invoked in a voice gone autumnal with the best facsimile of fatherly patience that New York City's mayor can offer, "I do have a lot of people riding me for a lot of things.

"But think about this a second, okay? Bear with me. You're a twenty-nine year old, unmarried Evolved doctor." At least he didn't say, plastic surgeon. "What are the parents of the thirty five going to want to do with you? Or the Board of Education? What would you—" he points a finger from around the neck of the crystal bottle, "do on Staten Island? Or the trailer farm?

"I have to say, I'm relieved you're thinking about other charities. Your mother and I were beginning to worry. I know you started taking a lot of time off and your assistant says you've been under the weather. Just take it from someone who knows, a'right?" Glasses next, the delicate geometry cut into the base and striated walls. He offers his boy one. "You've gotta pick your battles."

It's not that Sonny hasn't tried to understand the complex web of politics that surrounds his father. As soon as he thinks he's got it figured out, the game changes. One day this counsellor is behind him, the next, they're directly opposed. Oh, but they're still friends and he's coming over for dinner. There's nothing clear-cut in the world of politics.

He takes the cut glass. He took his first drink as a legal adult from glasses just like these. Some expensive scotch. Most kids drink a Budweiser. "I'm just tired of being a talking head. A prop. I'm not making a difference showing up to any of these things. Why do they care if I'm at that conference? I'm sure they'd care in the trailer farm if I went down there with medical supplies and started helping." Sonny's tone betrays his frustration. He swallows a mouthful from the crystal tumbler. "I know I can do more than give keynote speeches and gladhand."

"Don't be ridiculous." Harsh words. Unwontedly harsh, perhaps even unexpected, but it's been a long time since Sonny actually said anything like 'I'm going to the trailer farm to perform optimistic medical procedures among disenfranchised angry residents who had a chopper crash and shoot-outs in their midst last month,' so you'll have to forgive him. Harry's not only a politican, but a father.

If he actually knew Sonny was doing exactly this, he'd probably say a lot more.

As it is, he assumes the boy had merely been being melodramatic, and Harry's glass is drained by the time Sonny's a mouthful into his own. "You need to go because you'll meet people. Network. Put some feelers out, talk to people who matter about something that matters. There's infrastructure here. There's something to be a part of.

"Find something to invest in, if you think transsexuals, Bomb victims and malaria aren't worth your time." Harry bites off the end of that sentence when he notices the harsh acid creeping into his voice. "One man never got anything done by himself."

"As I recall, you disapproved of me working with the transgendered until you found out it played well in the polls." Sonny doesn't mean to snap, but this conversation has been a long time coming. If his boyfriend can stand up to apocalyptic terrorists and Homeland Security, surely he can stand up to his father.

He drains the crystal glass and sets it aside with a pointed thunk. On a rich wood sideboard. The kind of thing you don't put glasses on without a coaster. A small measure of defiance. "I've been networking my whole life." And then a conceding sigh. "Maybe I'll pick a charity. Try to work for them and make a real difference. Instead of making an appearance at all these places."

Not the sideboard. Scowling in deep-hewn lines, Harry snatches up the glass. Both his eyes, two glasses, and the liquor cabinet's glinting crystal presentation glare at Sonny with miniature rainbows and coruscating molecular lattice. He's been a politician long enough that it shouldn't get to him, idle questions at his integrity, but it galls him from his son. Partly because his son. "Maybe you should be happy to know people have been wondering where you've been.

"Not just your mother and me. Not just your snide ex-girlfriends and people who ask me about my family just to be polite." Improper grammar. Occasionally, even the Mayor forgets. "I told everybody you'd be coming to dinner on Tuesday and lunch on Wednesday. There's enough of a pool of patrons over there for you to go fishing for charities in. I don't mind a little idealism or restlessness in the family, Sonny, but the situation in New York City is way too delicate for you to be disappearing on us now." Realizing that he's verging into dangerous territory— secret diaries slammed shut, shrieking stipulations of personal space, he stops with his jaw tight. "Look.

"There will be time for you to find your… jeu d'essence and rebellious phase later, all right?

"Do you understand? Please?" From the look on Harry's face, it isn't hard to tell: he doesn't like to have to take this tone with his only child. He feels that he has to.

Sonny's jaw hardens. It doesn't do much to lend strength to his face. He didn't inherit his father's commanding bone structure. "I've been putting off my rebellious phase for fifteen years. For your career. Dad, you know I respect you. You know I think this city needs you. But I need to do some things for me, not just because it helps your career."

He holds up a hand to forestall the protest he guesses is coming. "And before you say it, no, I don't want a career in politics. I know you say I should keep the door open. I'm a doctor, dad, I'm Evolved." And I like men. He almost says it. Almost. But it would be for the wrong reason. It would be to shock his father and end the argument. He has more respect for Harry than that. And those few words can't be returned once said. "I've been playing this game so long. It's smothering me. I need a break." He pulls in a sharp breath. "I'll go to the conference. But that's the last thing. At least for awhile."

Awhile could be like three days, and then they can argue some more, and he would win some more. Harry would be okay with that, except he has a feeling that awhile isn't going to be three days, and if he argues some more, he might not— there's a chance he wouldn't actually win that argument.

This surprises him, unpleasantly.

"This isn't a game," he says instead. Instead of letting it go. He frowns, lines graven around his mouth deepening practically to black in the half-light of the room. His eye shades toward the left, at something around Sonny's shoulder, but it's just a quaver-beat's distraction before he refocuses stubbornly. "This is New York City. You know I respect you too, Sonny, and I know you're right about those things. You're a doctor and Evolved — Registered, in fact.

"But how much of that would you be without me? Without New York? I'm not trying to go into some crazy old patriot's speech about what America's worth. You know what this family and this country mean to me. If you have a higher calling than that, I want to hear it. Right now. I want to help you, kiddo. I've always wanted to help you. Support you. I love you. Unfortunately, I'm listening to you, and I can't believe you're putting everything on the line for— what?

"A rebellious phase? Or is it thirty five kids?" Glass connects with glass in sharp ringing tones. "You talk about charity like it's a buffet table. You disappear from work for days. Beat up cops, mock everybody else's philanthropy, bring up some nonsense about working in a— a /trailer farm? And then you turn around and give me attitude for the decisions I make for the polls? You respect me one minute, you talk about sacrifice the next. You want to change for you, Staten Island, the transsexuals, what? What? Where the Hell have you been?

"Who do you think you are?" Harry tosses up his big hands, maddened by his surprise. His voice is loud, the stentorian avalanche of verbiage that he brings to conferences when the crush of critics and pointless, stinging darts of leading questions come for him like pernicious clouds of wasps. "Who are you?"

Sonny watches his father with the same quiet respect he's always given. But there's something more there now, something simmering. A bitten tongue. It's damn hard to fight against Harry Bianco. Especially when there's a big chunk of the argument he can't bring into it. That he's seen the people who are really fighting, has seen them make sacrifices, know they've died to protect the city, the country.

But he can't say any of that. Because it all comes from dating a terrorist. He fears that his father would quite literally have a heart attack if he knew what his son was up to. Literally. Despite his strength.

He lets all the words wash over him. He absorbs what's relevant and brushes off what he chalks up to Harry not knowing the whole story. When the mayor is finished, he stands straight, stands in front of the man he respects, the man who raised him. "I don't know, dad. That's the problem." He looks down, then back. "I don't know who I am because I've spent my whole life trying to please you."

Yeah, if Harry knew, he'd honestly, much rather prefer that whole bit about the kid being gay. That would be better. There would be an initial fit and he does ultimately want grandkids, mind you, but there's artificial insemination, adoption, and there's a lot of money around—

"I don't understand why you're lying to me. You're lying to me," Harry clarifies, a thick forefinger up to waylay further argument. "I'm offering to help you— use my resources, time, information, and all you do is turn this around and accuse me of, what, having high standards? What are you, thirteen years old? I—"

"Harry." They both know that woman's voice. Clear as a bell behind Sonny's back.

The man's lungs inflate, filling out the majestic lines of his suit, like a rooster temporarily quelled mid-crow. Ex-haaa-le. "I love you," the old man finishes in his indoors voice, his face stiff with unsuppressed sentiment.

"When have I ever disrespected you, dad? Ever? You think I'm lying to you now?" Well, maybe about his motivations, but not about what he wants to do. "Every time in my life that I've ever stood up to you, ever argued with you, I've always had a good reason."

Sonny prepares himself for another perfectly strung line of political rhetoric. But that mediating voice cuts through the tension between father and son. And like his father, the wind is removed from his lungs. He ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck, then turns to look towards the warm, intelligent face of Melinda Bianco. His gaze then slides back to his father. "Then let me make my own decisions for awhile, uh? I know by now what's going to hurt your career. Trust me not to do that. I can stay away from the cliffside without you holding my hand."

Harry sighs again, but at least this time it isn't a great explosive thing and framed with too many words that are inadequate vessels for the magnitude of his meaning. "I asked you what you've been doing," he says. "Where— it— it doesn't matter. It's a woman, isn't it? I bet it's a woman. Melinda, I told you— look, kiddo, I know that living dangerously has its…" more hand talking, "seductive qualities, but—"

"Harry." Melinda's eyes are reproving though her voice falls carefully neutral, calm and smooth as liquid against all the sparks and rough of her boys. "This isn't going anywhere." A different sort of woman would have said that's enough, and Harry Bianco wouldn't have married that woman. "And this is why we leave the scotch for after the meal, right? The fact that alcoholism is theoretically in our gene pool doesn't say anything good about your tolerance.

"Are you still staying for dinner?" She looks at Salvatore worriedly, her large, pale eyes mirroring the handsome shape of him back for him to see. That suit looks perfect on him, tailor-fit. Everything that Harry and Salvatore wear these days is, of course.

Sonny's father is turning away, frowning, his hands lacing behind his head.

Sonny can't bring himself to confirm or deny his father's deduction. It's like a woman, except it's a rough Italian boy who is never going to be his date to the Policeman's Ball. Fortunately the formidable Lady Bianco steps in to mediate.

He steps towards his mother and takes her hands in his. A kiss to each cheek follows. "I wouldn't miss your pie for the world, mama." Melinda may not cook much, but as a chemist, her desserts rival the top chefs. His hands squeeze hers gently. "Come on. I know how you hate to start too late."

He spares a glance backwards to his father. He seeks to catch Harry's eyes. The prodigal son is coming into his own. And if the father wants great things for the son, well, he's got to let him make his own mistakes.

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