By Aaron Hicklin
For a long time, Max says he felt as awkward in gay bars as he did in straight ones. “When I would walk out of bars, I would say to myself, ‘Jared, you don’t fit in anywhere.’ I felt strongly discriminated against because I was more interested in sports and I don’t talk like this” -- he raises his voice a few octaves -- “ ‘Oh my gawd.’ ” He knows it’s unfair to make generalizations, but hell, gay men often generalize about him. “Do you know how much it pisses me off when gay guys say, ‘You’re so butch’? Fuck you! I am who I am. I wouldn’t say, ‘You’re such a fucking Mary,’ you know?’ ”
It’s a touchy subject for Max, who once went by the AOL screen name Dichotomy for good reason. “I didn’t realize I could be Jared, who is into sports, who is gay, who is into Rush,” he says, referring to his favorite band. College, he recalls, was “two years of hellish depression, where the most pleasant thoughts of the day were what people were going to say about me at my funeral.” He listened to a lot of Rush. “They had a song called ‘Bravado,’ ” he recalls. “For me, that song was a secret weapon that kept me alive every day and said, ‘Fuck you,’ to the world.” (These days, references to the Canadian rock band are a staple of his ESPN show).
A three-and-a-half-week relationship with another guy was transformative, but not in the way Max had hoped. “At the time, he said, ‘Jared, I’m not about to deal with somebody else’s identity crisis,’ and my response was, ‘You cold son of a bitch, what kind of friend are you?’ ”
The rejection had a profound effect on Max, who needed solace but had no idea how to find it. “That’s a really scary place for a lot of kids who don’t have anyone to turn to,” he says. “The only person who knew they were gay is the person they were in a relationship with.” So Max came out to his mother. “More than anything, what I needed was a hug and her just to say, ‘It’s OK,’ and it wasn’t there.” He spent the night sleeping in the basement, feeling as alone as he could ever remember. The hug came the following day and has been there for him ever since.
Most of his family has moved to Florida, but Max still lives in New Jersey, a few miles from the town where he grew up. Pictures of his heroes, Bob Dylan and Rush’s Geddy Lee, decorate what he calls his “sports study.” There’s a photo of Max with Andy Rooney, another of him with Robert Plant and Elvis Costello. He points to a painting called The Last Breakfast that shows a group of breakfast cereal mascots sitting around a long Last Supper-ish table. “Very few people can name them all,” he says, then proceeds to do just that. “You’ve got Boo Berry, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, Cap’n Crunch, Tony the Tiger, Trix Rabbit, that’s Cornelius from Corn Flakes, Coco Monkey for Cocoa Puffs, the Lucky Charms leprechaun…” The list goes on. “I don’t want to offend anyone,” says Max. “I’m Jewish, but I’m not really religious.”
We walk into the dining room. “This is one room in the house that will remain more old-fashioned,” he says. “I just recently painted this wall here -- the steakhouse feel is what I’m going for.” He points to another wall. “This blue is New York Yankees blue. I have Minnesota Vikings purple, New York Yankees gray, New York Rangers red.”
There is, apparently, a paint company dedicated to replicating the colors of sports teams. In another room, Max says, “This wall used to be both Ohio State yellow and Tulane green; I recently changed it to this periwinkle that I love.” He has a theory that football games look better on TV if the color combinations of the team complement each other, and he blames the Minnesota Vikings’ purple strip for turning him into a fan at the age of five. “That’s probably a little gay, too,” he chuckles.