John Bargeman's life has been changed forever, but not by any cataclysmic or
beatific event. What happened was that five gay men barged into the 25-year-old
Hamilton Park man's apartment one morning in early July to give him a makeover
in preparation for his marriage proposal to Tina Bakhtamian, 31, his live-in
girlfriend of two years.

The entire transformation - captured on tape for the wildly popular "Queer Eye
for the Straight Guy" reality television series on Bravo - changed his life in
a variety of ways, Bargeman said in an interview at his Erie Street apartment
last week.

Not only did it succeed in earning him an affirmative response from the woman
he loves, but it also opened some doors on his way to building a career as a
screen actor.


An audition was scheduled last week with casting executives at NBC, parent
company to the Bravo TV network that developed and now carries the "Queer Eye"
series. After having worked with an acting coach, Bargeman was getting ready to
read 10 pages of dialogue, putting some last touches on his performance and
detailing his delivery of the material.

"Queer Eye" debuted in prime time last month and became wildly popular. The
show picks one heterosexual socially-inept or culturally-inept man who is
preparing for some life event. The "Fab Five" come to the rescue, with Carson
Kressley offering fashion advice, Ted Allen refining the straight guy's
Epicurean tastes, Jai Rodriguez injecting a little culture into the straight
guy's life, Thom Felicia providing interior design suggestions, and Jersey City
resident Kyan Douglas giving grooming tips.

Titled "He's a Little Bit Country," the show featuring Bargeman focused on
revamping his cowboy appearance with a bit of cosmopolitan flair so that he
could impress city-slicker girlfriend Bakhtamian, a Queens native who works as
an executive assistant at New York University. Needless to say to any
English-speaking person with a television, the transformation was successful.


They're here, they're queer...



Bargeman never believed he would get to this point in his career from appearing
once on a one-hour reality television series. But it was just that one hour -
which initially aired July 29 on Bravo TV and then again on NBC during
primetime on Aug. 14 - that launched Bargeman into the national spotlight and
instantly secured fame for the five men now collectively known as the "Fab
Five."

Bargeman said he first heard about the show from an ad on www.craigslist.com.

Almost two months after the national broadcast of the ordeal, Bargeman said the
experience has had a lasting impact.

"It's changed life a lot," Bargeman said, "just in my appearance alone. I pay
more attention to what I put on in the morning and how I take care of myself. I
have a lot more respect for myself than I used to, you know? And a lot more
confidence. I don't think I would've thought about it unless these guys came
into my life and did it for me."

Having gone through adolescence rather awkwardly in the small Virginian town of
Poquoson, Bargeman said he tried everything to make himself look better. But
the culture in his hometown - an oceanfront community on the lower Chesapeake
Bay with approximately 12,000 people spread across almost 16 square miles -
wasn't very conducive to the hip, urban style commonly championed by big-city
types.

"[Poquoson] is a dinky town," Bargeman said. "It was a small town. We had one
traffic light until two years ago, when we got two more. I'm a small-town boy."


His lack of access to any and all things cool was further compounded by his
family's strong and no-nonsense emphasis on hard work. Grandfather E.W. Scott
Berry, 74, a military man who Bargeman describes as the most significant
influence in life, sent Bargeman at the tender age of 8 to U.S. Navy SEAL Cadet
Corps at the nearby naval base in Norfolk, Va. Bargeman also worked as a
volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician.

"I was a geek in high school," Bargeman said. "I had big bifocal glasses. I had
braces. My fashion statement was K-Mart. Not to say K-Mart doesn't have
anything nice, but I tried everything I could to change the way I looked."

Although Bargeman said he was never exposed to the queer touch that the men in
the "Fab Five" personify, it didn't bother him to be doted on so aggressively
the day of his makeover. If anything, he said, the experience shattered
stereotypes and gave him a deeper understanding of homosexuals.

"One thing's for a fact: I have more respect for gay people now than I ever did
in my whole entire life," Bargeman said. "Coming from a small town in Virginia,
I was never mixed into different kinds of cultures and different ways of
living. My town is Hickville, [it's] country. I love it, but I just wanted to
broaden my horizons."

He no longer shaves against the grain. He realizes the inherent value of
moisturizer. He now successfully achieves that perfectly unkempt hairstyle that
movie stars commonly sport. Bargeman even now plans to get facials, manicures
and pedicures every six weeks. The one thing he won't give up, however, is his
signature dark tan needle pointed-toe boots.



Satisfying his dream



Bargeman, like many others before him, came to New York City to make it big. He
hoped to break his way into the glitzy world of acting, and his mind was set on
that goal when he snuck out of his house at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of his
20th birthday. Equipped with a bag and the $27K he had saved up over the years,
he got on a bus and made the 12-hour trip to Manhattan, where he had no local
family members, acquaintances or connections.

After discovering how expensive staying in New York can be, Bargeman managed to
reach the far more affordable hotel rates in northern New Jersey. He lived in a
Wayne hotel for three months, then moved into the Lincoln Park family home of
Michael Hillpot, a friend he met while staying in Wayne. The head of the
Hillpot household took Bargeman in graciously.

The wheels of fate were then put into motion. For two years, Bargeman worked
for Eltech Inc., the elder Hillpot's elevator repair company. It was on the job
that he met Bakhtamian, who was at the time working for public relations firm
BTNR. After dating for some time, they moved in together.

Bakhtamian was living in an apartment near the Grove Street PATH station when
Bargeman first moved in. For work, Bargeman took various odd jobs while
simultaneously building his modeling portfolio.

Represented by an agent in Milan, Bargeman has been featured in advertisements
for Dasani bottled water and other products.

Although his modeling resume is impressive for someone with no professional
training, acting gigs still eluded him. He scored a few jobs as an "extra" on
shows like HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Sex and the City," but speaking
parts were hard to come by. He said he hopes the exposure he garnered from his
"Queer Eye" time will give him more leverage in angling for roles.



Neighborhood fixture



Until the time when Bargeman is a regular face on television, however, he says
he'll live the rest of his life the way he did before his queer makeover.

The aspiring actor can be seen walking around various sections of Downtown, not
only in his Hamilton Park neighborhood but elsewhere in Harsimus Cove and near
the Grove Street PATH station. A regular at Basic coffee shop at Eighth and
Erie streets, Bargeman also frequents Hamilton Park Ale House at Ninth Street
and Jersey Avenue. In fact, Bargeman said he and Jersey City resident Kyan
Douglas - the "Fab Five's" grooming guru - had lunch at Hamilton Park Ale House
a few weeks ago.

In addition, Bargeman regularly sings karaoke every Wednesday and Sunday night
at Downtown watering hole P.J. Ryan's, a bar favored by police officers and
other city employees.

His time in Jersey City has been a good one, and Bargeman said he has no
intention of leaving his neighborhood if - or when, rather - he hits the big
time.

"I never thought I'd be living in Jersey City, but let me tell you: I love it
around this Hamilton Park area," Bargeman said. "I actually never thought that
Jersey City could be as nice as this. I'm not moving. I don't feel like moving.
I'm going to stay here. I like the community here."

And the community, apparently, likes him. Bargeman can be seen striking up
conversations with various strangers on his travels Downtown, some of whom
presumably recognize him from his "Queer Eye" experience. Recently, residents
walking their dogs at night passed him in the street and waved. One resident
passed him as she was walking down Eighth Street and audibly remarked how he
bore a striking resemblance to actor Tom Cruise.

"It's funny, but I get checked out a lot by gay guys now and I feel more
comfortable," Bargeman said. "It makes me feel good. It might sound weird
coming from a straight guy, but if gay guys are checking you out, then you know
you're good looking, you know?"

Bargeman says he likes greeting people, acquaintances and complete strangers
alike, because he doesn't want to be consumed by the insular and sometimes
snobby entertainment industry culture.

"There's more to me than just, 'Oh, there's the guy on the TV screen,' "
Bargeman said.