Chapter 4 Back in Albany New York Part s 1 –32
Back in Albany New York Part 1
I started dancing when I was five. My sister took tap class at Jack Ferrara School of Dance in Rotterdam, New York. I used to stand on a hard plastic chair and press my face against the glass window that separated the dancers from the waiting room. I would have to jockey for the best position among the throngs of waiting parents. I was too young to be left at home, so I went and watched. Jack’s school was in a strip mall right next to a laundry mat. My mom would bring large towels or blankets that didn’t fit in our home machines and do them at the laundromat while we waited.
One day I followed my sister into the room and started class with her. My mother ran in, grabbed my hand and dragged me out. It was the teacher who asked me to come back in. My mother reluctantly, let me go. That was it. My parents were more okay with my choice of dance as long as I was tapping. That was a masculine form of dance. Our fights started early when I decided I wanted to take ballet. “What will the neighbors think?” my mother asked me one day. I thought, “What are the neighbors thinking right now?” when everyone in the neighborhood is playing football or basketball, and I’m playing house with my sister and her friends.
We would put on an old Eartha Kitt album to use as background music, and I would pretend to be mean Mrs. Johnson — a made-up fictitious neighbor complete with drag — and wreck my sister’s tea parties. I knew what the neighbors were saying, because most of the time they said it to my face. The best names that I would be called on a daily basis were Fagot, Queer, and Cupcake. Once, when I was eleven, I had a neighbor ask me to perform fellatio on him. He drove a Trans AM and lived with his aunt and uncle. I was well aware of what the neighbors had to say. I think my parents thought that if I took ballet, I would become gay. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t gay. I’m pretty clear that dance had nothing to do with it.
In high school I met one teacher who would influence my life. She was an English teacher who used to be a dancer. She took me under her wing and molded me. We could take daily classes with her in ballet, jazz, and modern dance. Here is where I was first introduced to Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Alvin Ailey. I was shown video after video of the greatest dancers in the world.
She would take me to master classes around the state, where I was introduced to many people in the dance world. I worked so hard and practiced every day. I never told my parents what I was up to. I would sneak out of the house to take local ballet classes. Being a boy in the dance world had its benefits, and I could take free classes. At one of these master classes I met the owner of a studio in Albany who took an interest in me. I was told to look her up whenever I was in Albany, and I could take class with her company.
Back in Albany New York Part 2
I am sitting in the same van that we took on our day out in Saratoga, except this time I am being driven back to Albany. A space suddenly opened in the independent living section of the Parson Child and Family Center group home.
I am told that this means I will be living in an apartment directly above the group home and that they will be keeping an eye on me and helping me if I ever need anything. I am also going to have a roommate who is part of the program and we will share a bedroom. I will be taught skills on a weekly basis that are designed to help me to move into my own apartment. I will be given a weekly check in the amount of $135.00. This will be used to buy groceries.
I am being driven here by my good friend “Counselor Dave” who volunteered to do it. It seems things didn’t go so well when the cops were unable to find the large amounts of marijuana that they were promised. So now Dave has been given the crappy jobs to do. Truth be told, I think that he wanted to see me gone and if driving me was the best way to do it, then so be it.
The group home is located on New Scotland Avenue in a very residential neighborhood. They feel that this is the best way to make sure that the kids are safe and can be brought up in the most normal way possible.
As we pull across the sidewalk into the driveway a blond- hair kid on a Schwinn bike, comes flying from the back of the house right into the street. A blond hippie looking girl is standing on the porch. I can hear her yell “Roger” after the kid, he peddles away maniacally. She raises her hand and waves at Dave.
Dave returns her wave and I watch her walk down the front steps of the house. Her arms are folded across her chest, her blond hair is in two ratty braids and her sweater is hanging off her shoulders. “We’re here!” Dave gleefully yells while looking at me in the rear view mirror.
The blond woman comes around to my side of the van and with one pull, yanks the door open. It slides easily on its track. “Hi, I’m Marci,” she says extending her hand. On closer inspection I see that she is wear overalls and Birkenstock sandals. I am immediately reminded of Peppermint Patty from Peanuts.
She just starts to ramble as she helps me out of the van. “How was the trip?” “Is this your suitcase?” “Are you nervous?” “Is this your first time at this group home?” In between my answers she uses the words “Cool Cool.” She now reminds me more of Janice from the Muppet Show.
Marci grabs my suitcase and begins to drag it across the gravel driveway. “She is in non stop talking mode the entire time.” Dave follows behind us. I can in Dave’s eyes that he has dealt with Marci before and that staying silent is best.
My suitcase bumps up the four stairs to the porch. Marci seems winded. I don’t know if it was dragging my suitcase or her constant talking. “Were almost there” she says looking over her shoulder at the house.
The house is two levels and is painted an olive green. One of the house numbers has recently been replaced and doesn’t match the other two numbers in color and style. The porch has a slight squeak and a distinctive sag towards the middle, which causes us to lean to the left at a slight angle. There are two doors framed in dark wood in front of me but at complete opposite ends of the porch. “The Lady or the Tiger,” my brain whispers.
Marci drags my suitcase across the porch to the door on the left. Reaching out, she turns the handle and pushes the door inwards. I hear a bell jangle and she drags my suitcase into a foyer. There is another steep staircase in front of us. John Cafferty’s “On the Dark Side,” is being blasted from the top of the stairs.
Back in Albany New York Part 3
Marci leads the way up the stairs, I’m in the middle and Dave follows up the rear. I am now more positive than ever that he wants to drop me and leave. He seems nervous and keeps looking at his watch. I can’t remember if he left the car running.
As we get closer to the top of the stairs the banister opens up and creates a landing. My eyes now clear the landing and the smell of unwashed filth flicks my nose. “On the Dark Side” is now on its third repeat. As we walk into the landing I can see someone with their back to me. He is standing over the stereo slowly listing from side to side. He wears dirty white Keds. His jeans are slightly belled at the bottom; they meet a sweater vest covering a bright orange colored print. The back of his long greasy hair brushes the collar of the shirt and I can hear him mumbling the lyrics along with the record. He nervously pushes his hair behind his ears.
“Jonathan!” Marci screams over his music. Jonathan’s head bobs up like he had just nodded off and he begins to turn in my direction. “Huh?” he’s says as he turns around. It’s more like a slow pan of a camera on the late movie. He lurches forward and turns clumsily. It is like watching a George Romero Zombie smelling fresh blood.
When he finally turns around it’s like meeting a George Romero Zombie. He is slightly hunchbacked and weighing in at 120 pounds. He is filthy. Filthy hair, filthy clothes and a quick look around tells me it’s a filthy house.
“Huh?” he repeats lurching forward. I gag on the smell. “No way in motherfucking hell am I going to live here!” I say out loud and I take a step back. Dave is there to catch me with his hand and push me back into the game. I step right in front of Jonathan whose eyes are squinty from being heavily medicated.
He opens his mouth begins to tell me about John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. How it’s his favorite, where they have played and who are the members in the band. His words become a drone and I am again hit with a new smell of armpits, onions and something I would now describe as dead squirrel.
The needle comes of the record and mechanically starts again. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band start another chorus of “On the Dark Side.”
It is now very clear why Dave wants out. I want out. Marci wants out. This lumbering, drugged up stinky zombie is to be my new roommate. I am going to share not only an apartment but a bathroom and a bedroom with him.
I begin to shake. Marci and Dave are stepping away from me. She is saying things like “I’m sure you’ll get along famously” and “paperwork” and “I’ll be right downstairs. By the time she is done Dave is out the door and I can hear the van come to life.
The last view I have is Marci pulling the door closed. I then hear the jingle of the bell attached to the door. My mind asks me a question it didn’t ask the first time. “Why is there a bell on the door?”
Back in Albany New York Part 4
I turn around and Jonathan is standing there facing me. He smiles and I can see his breakfast is still in his teeth. “Do you want to see more of my albums?” he asks, turning on one heel and heading back to the record player. The smell that the breeze causes is enough to make me gag. “How the fuck am I ever going to live here?” I think to myself.
Jonathan reaches over and pulls out a Saturday Night Fever Album and opens the double cover. I watch as he slides the record out of the album and then out of the white paper sleeve that houses it. He holds it as if he is an archeologist holding the first copy of the bible.
“John Travolta starred in this movie with soundtrack mostly by the Bee Gees.” He turns around to look at me to see if I am listening. I am listening but I am also looking for the escape hatch. He smiles again and a piece of breakfast from his teeth falls onto his shirt.
Jonathan places the record gingerly on the stereo pulling the arm across to hold it in place. I can hear the mechanical click of the stereo and the sound of the record dropping onto the turntable. Staying Alive immediately blasts from the speakers. Jonathan raises both hands like a gypsy in a trance and begins snapping his fingers and swaying nowhere in time to the music.
“Oh you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man no time to talk,” Jonathan sings out slightly after the Bee Gees version. He is now in full ecstasy and rocking back and forth. I am still scanning the place for a way out.
“Jonathan,” I say but there is no reaction, he is lost in his own world. “Jonathan!” I scream and it seems to snap him out of his disco trance. “Huh?” he says snapping open his eyes. “Would you like to show me around?” “Huh?’ he says again. “Show me around?” I repeat.
Jonathan looks around the room as if he is seeing it for the first time and it makes him teeter off his feet. “Huh?” he says and his eyes change. It is clear that no one has ever asked Jonathan for anything. “Oh, oh,” he manages to squeak out and then spins on his heel. The room we are standing in clearly is the living room, dining room, kitchen and home to Jonathan’s stereo. Jonathan quickly walks over to the sink and opens the cabinet directly above it. “This is where we store the dishes.” He is pleased with what he is showing me and does it with a flourish. He then loses his train of thought and I can see his eyes searching his head for what he was just talking about.
“Where’s the bathroom?” I quickly ask jolting him back into the moment. “Bathroom, bathroom,” he repeats until the word triggers the picture in his mind. “Oh yeah,” he says spinning on his heel and walking towards the bedroom. “Through there,” he points.
Walking into the bedroom I see a bed immediately to my right and a dresser directly across from it. I take three more steps and there is another bed and dresser. This bed however gives off the familiar smell associated with Jonathan. If that clue wasn’t enough, the grimy sheets on the unmade bed are a dead giveaway.
Past this is the bathroom. The door creaks open and the yellow light illuminates a room all decorated in pink tile. Or should I say pink tile with a film of grunge over the top of it? I lock the door and walk to the toilet. I open the lid with my foot. “Yup, grunge everywhere,” I say out loud to myself.
After relieving myself I turn to the medicine cabinet and yank it open. Pill bottles line every inch of space. I grab the closest bottle and read what’s in it. It seems that Jonathan is kept in line by taking lithium. The more bottles I look through the clearer it becomes that he is doped to the tits. There is medication in here that I have never heard of.
I close the cabinet after I make sure that it looks like I have never been in there. Turning around I see a door with three deadbolts holding it closed.
Back in Albany New York Part 5
I immediately begin to turn the locks on the door. As each lock clacks into place I begin to grow more and more excited. I have my hand on the third lock when I realize that someone is standing right behind me
“We’re not supposed to ever unlock that door, never ever,” says Jonathan, causing me to jump out of my skin. “How did you get in here?” I stammer. “We’re not allowed to have a lock on the bathroom door,” he says, spittle forming in the corner of his mouth. I look at him and can feel that my eyes are wide. “Come to think of it I don’t remember locking the bathroom door,” I think to myself. How long has Jonathan been standing there and how does he think it’s okay to come into the bathroom while I’m in there?
“What’s behind the door?” I ask. “Not supposed to open it,” Jonathan quickly responds. “Aren’t you curious?” I ask. “Not supposed to open it,” Jonathan says again. I can tell that he is getting slightly agitated. “No?” I ask, clicking back the last lock. “Not supposed to open it,” Jonathan adds, growing more agitated. He is an over-medicated zombie, so this must really be making him nuts. I am enjoying seeing where our boundaries are and just how much I can get away with.
“No?” I ask, grabbing the handle. Now Jonathan goes ballistic “Not supposed to open it!” he screams. Just like in every good horror movie the door opens with a horrifying squeak. Jonathan immediately stops talking and looks at me. “Aren’t you excited?” I ask. Jonathan just stares at me as if I have opened Pandora ’s Box.
I stick my head through the door and realize that I am upstairs in the group home. It is clear that this door is supposed to keep the group home kids out of the Independent Living section.
I walk into the hall and somewhere I can hear muffled talking. I walk further down the hall. There are three bedrooms upstairs and at the end of the hall is a staircase. The talking is coming from downstairs.
I look back up the hall and see that Jonathan has not come out of the bathroom.
Slowly I walk down the first three steps. The talking gets louder but it sounds like it is somewhere else in the house. It sounds as if someone is on the phone because I only hear one side of the conversation. I walk down slowly several more steps and peer around the corner. My head is in the kitchen and through the next doorway I see a large woman with her back to me, one hand on her hip and the phone pressed to her ear.
Quietly, I turn around and start to head back up the stairs and down the hallway. I step back into my bathroom but the thought that Jonathan might close the door and lock me out flashes through my head.
I close and lock the door to the hallway and walk back into my apartment.
Jonathan is standing there in a Lithium haze and seems to have fallen asleep again in mid thought. As I shout his name he teeters out of his haze and looks at me. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he says his lips smacking together while he tries to form his thoughts. “And you’re not going to tell anyone,” I say pointing a finger into his face.
Back in Albany New York Part 6
Time passes quickly at the group home in the Independent Living Wing. Jonathan is sad and tragic and reminds me of a little bug that got sprayed with Raid. He sort of flounders through life on his back and I’m never sure if he’s breathing.
One unnerving habit he has is his nighttime routine of sleepwalking. Every night like clockwork I find him standing next to my bed staring at me. The first through the tenth time it happened it scared the living shit out of me. It’s no less scary now but I’m more used to it.
Being in Independent Living means that they will start helping me to become more independent and finally live on my own. That’s the main plan. I receive a weekly check that is to be used to buy groceries and cigarettes. Well, they never said cigarettes but I assumed.
I have helped Jonathan a lot in the past couple of weeks. I see it as tough love but really I got sick of the filth and the smell. I made him finally clean up his shit and take daily showers. Showers that I time him in, twenty minutes is the minimum he has to stay in there. After the first time he showered, he was just as dirty coming out as going in. I realized that he was just standing in there nowhere near the water, waiting me out. So I put him back in and for the next several showers, I scrubbed him.
It’s clear and a little sad to me that no one ever taught him the importance of this. The first day I watched in horror when he removed his clothes to get ready for bed. His white underpants were a color I have never seen in nature before. He liked to go to bed at around 7:30pm.
After closing my eyes and asking God to take my life while I was sleeping I dozed off. Several hours later when I woke up, Jonathan was standing by my bed staring at me. After screaming “What the fuck?” and jumping up to defend myself I realized that he was sound asleep.
It was the fact that God didn’t kill me in my sleep and how much Jonathan broke my heart when I just looked at him that made me really want to try to help him out.
I spent a lot of days trying to get a job. That was one of the “laws” that I had to follow living at Parsons Group Home. I was supposed to get a job. Can I tell you how hard it is to get a job when you live at a group home? I had one set of clothes and no skills.
The only job I could get was at McDonalds. The first two weeks I was in a tiny room near the fryers watching training videos. My money was wearing down and I was forced to wait for a paycheck. By the third week I got to work on the floor sweeping and mopping. I was so hungry that when I would take out the garbage I would hide by the dumpster and eat out of the bags.
I could tell by the looks I got returning into the store that everyone knew what I was doing. They also had a video camera above the dumpster, so everyone had seen what I did on the little monitors in the back of the store. I was humiliated and starving. No one would speak to me.
After I was fired for being caught eating out of the dumpster for the third time I was also told that I needed to return to school. I was told that his time I would be going to Albany High but I was terrified to even enter the building. The first day I stood outside and walked home after the first bell rang.
Every day at 4pm I would sit in the bathroom and press my ear to the door that separated me from the group home. I could hear the kids talking to each other. We were also under strict orders to never talk to anyone that we saw who lived in the group home.
I was so alone and had no one that I could talk to. One day while I was sitting in the bathroom, I reached out at 4:05 and opened the door.
Back in Albany New York Part 7
You know that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy steps through the door and the world is in Technicolor? Well, this was nothing like it, except that I got the same shocked looks from the people on the other side of the door that the Munchkins gave Dorothy.
Three boys had the bedrooms at the top of the hall. I immediately came face-to-face with a kid lifting weights in the hallway. His mouth was hanging open and his barbells were in mid-curl. He was frozen in this pose when we came face-to-face.
“Holy shit! Who the fuck are you?” he says, staring at me. “My name is Geoff and I live here,” I say, looking up and down the hallway. “You live with that freak?” he says looking behind me into the bathroom. “Yeah, I live with that freak,” I say, defeated. ‘My name is Tony and we’re not supposed to talk to anyone in Independent Living.” “That’s okay, you don’t see me,” I say to Tony. “Cool,” he responds.
Tony is about 14 years old, with a shock of blond hair hanging over one eye. He is built like a brick shithouse. It’s clear that his therapy is lifting weights.
The door to the first room is yanked open and a skinny version of Tony walks into the hall. His name is Roger and he is much more wiry than Tony and clearly never lifted a weight. With a cigarette dangling from his lips, he jerks his head in my direction. “Who the fuck are you?” Roger asks. I repeat my story and he asks if I live with stinky, jerking his head in the direction of my bathroom. “We’re working on that,” I respond.
The last of the boys walks down the hallway attracted to the noise. He is much shorter and naturally built like a brick shithouse. His hair is longer and touches his shoulders. He is wearing a bikini bathing suit that is way too small. It is very clear that God has blessed him with other talents. It is also clear that’s the reason he is wearing the suit.
His name is Leo, and I am immediately reminded of Tarzan. My mind wanders a little as he walks down the hallway towards me.
Leo walks right up to me, stands half a foot away and smiles. He’s got this down to a science and I believe that this is his skill.
Roger, Tony, Leo, and I talk for about fifteen minutes before a woman’s voice calls to them from downstairs. I recognize the voice as the women from the phone. She is telling them that food is ready. Everyone pauses and looks in the direction of the voice.
Leo puts one finger to his lips telling me to be quiet. Roger and Tony immediately head towards the stairs. Tony looks back and says, “Dude we never saw you,” before he heads down the stairs.
Leo, smile still on his face leans in close to me. “I will be on this side of the door, and if you need me or I want to come in, I will knock like this.” He proceeds to knock “Shave and a haircut” He smiles and pauses. I respond with “two bits.”
Leo spins on his heel and slowly walks down the hallway. He stops turns around and smiles. I slowly back into the bathroom.
Back in Albany New York Part 8
Life started moving pretty smoothly once I had a routine. I found it very hard to make friends in Albany High School. I was entering 12th grade, and everyone in that grade had been friends for a very long time. There were so many cliques in the school and the horrible division between the races was something I had never experienced in my life before.
I made a whole group of friends one day when I left through the rear door of the school and literally smashed into the stoners. There was a group of them standing around being yelled at by one of the principals of the school. Someone had ripped a large textbook in half, and the principal was trying to get to the end of the story. I walked outside and one of the kids in the group pointed at me and said, “He did it.”
I don’t know why, but I agreed with him and told the principal that I had done it. The principal reached over, took my by the arm, and dragged me back inside the building. On the way to his office, he confided in me that he knew I’d had nothing to do with the ripping of that book and that I could leave, but through the front door this time. I’m sure that he knew all the kids in the school and he could tell that I was new.
The next day I went out through the back door of the school again and ran right into the stoners’ clique. “Hey,” yelled one of them. He was super tall, with red frizzy hair that shot out in all directions. “You’re the kid that took the blame for the book yesterday.” They all stopped talking and slowly surrounded me. I couldn’t see his eyes because he was wearing mirrored sunglasses. Then I looked around and realized that everyone was wearing mirrored sunglasses. It was a strange and surreal experience to see myself reflected in everyone’s glasses. I wondered if I was going to be elected their king.
“Dude, you are so cool,” said another guy. He was very short, with blond hair and a ’70s handlebar moustache. I was asked to hang out with them and sit on the curb. One of the girls in the group had long hair and started every sentence in her husky voice with the word, “man.”
“Man, I got totally wasted last night and woke up in my clothes.” She then reached in her bag and, pulled out a bottle of Southern Comfort covered with brown paper. After she drank she held the bottle out to me. “Man, you want a drink?” “No thanks,” I said. She then reached in her bag again and pulled out a joint. “Man, you want some?” she asked, holding it out to me. The whole group looked at me.
Two hours later I became conscious and found myself lying with the whole group on the football field. My new friends were showing me a great time and shared many of their life stories. I found out their names: Jon, Mike, Kenny, Rich, Myla, Steve, Anna, and Amy. Myla was the girl who started everything with the word “man.” She was also a huge Janis Joplin fan and modeled her life after her. I didn’t have the heart to remind her that Janis had died young.
“Man, you are so cool,” Myla said, reaching over and grabbing my arm. “We’re having a party tonight in my room,” she told me, and reaching into her bag, pulled out a piece of paper to write down her address. “Man, make sure you go around the side of the house and knock on the basement window. I’ll open it and you can crawl in.”
Everyone started to pick themselves up off the ground, and as a group started to walk home. It was a week night. Could I really go to a party on a week night?
Back in Albany New York Part 9
Jonathan addressed me like a wife who is being left for the evening. “Well, what am I supposed to do tonight while you’re gone?” he asks me. “Listen to your records, I guess,” I answer, sweeping by him and into the bedroom. “I won’t be gone that long.”
Jonathan follows. “Can I come?” he asks, his voice taking on a high squeaky pitch as he narrows his eyes. To me he looks like a ferret.
“Jonathan, how can I take you when I just met these people?” “How do you know that you will like them?” Jonathan teeters on his feet as his brain lurches back into gear. “Please?” he says, bugging out his eyes. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” I say, grabbing my keys and heading down the front stairs. What I hear next is a fully fledged temper tantrum being thrown. “Can’t stop,” I think, pulling the door closed.
As I hit the sidewalk I turn back to look at the house. Jonathan is standing in the window watching me walk up the block. All we need is a crash of lightning to make this scene even better. “God damn, he can get so creepy sometimes.” I speak this out loud. An old lady with a wind chime collection watches me as I pass her house.
The directions that Myla has given me take me down New Scotland Road and into a development that looks like I am suddenly in suburbia. So many houses have no porch lights on, but I can see many families sitting around in their houses. They are being reflected by the light of the TV. It strikes me every now and then that I will never have that again. In some respects I welcome this. Living at home was no picnic.
I find the house that is supposed to be Myla’s. I walk around to the side of the house. It is completely dark. Somewhere in the back of the house I can see that lights are on and that someone is home. As I get closer I can make out a low glow from one of the basement windows. Getting down on my hands and knees, I press my face to the window.
I can see a group of people lying all around the room. The music coming out is of course supplied by Janis Joplin. This is the right place. I push the window open and swing my legs through. I start to lower myself into Myla’s room.
Suddenly a window opens above me. “Who the fuck is out there?” a voice screams. “I have a shotgun and I will blow your fucking head off.” This makes me crawl quicker through the window. Hands grab my legs and guide them to a place to stand.
“Hey man,” Myla says, as I turn around “You made it!” I am standing on her dresser and I get a bird’s eye view of the room. “Jesus, someone opened the window upstairs and screamed that she had a gun.” I tell Myla as I climb off her dresser. “Man, that’s just Bernice, my mother. Don’t pay any attention, she’s fucking crazy.”
As I climb off the dresser the smell of weed hits me full in the face.
Back in Albany New York Part 10
Now on the floor, I try to see through the dim lighting. There is a mass of people on the bed as well as people all over the room.
No one is moving or really talking. There is a low murmur and I can’t make out too many words. There is also a thick haze of marijuana in the air.
“Man, would you like a hit?” Myla says, as she reaches into the pile of people on the bed and pulls back a bong. I don’t have to think twice, but I do remember what happened earlier when I woke up out on the field. Myla holds the lighter to the bowl as I inhale.
The record player drops a new record onto the turntable and “Message of Love” by The Pretenders blasts from the speakers. It is a new song to me. I have never really discovered The Pretenders and I make her play the song over and over. Myla finds this hysterical and starts the song over again the minute it ends.
By the tenth playing, Myla joins me in my reckless dancing. I am jumping up and down and Myla joins me with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and a bottle of Southern Comfort nestled in a paper bag. I assume that this is the way Janis drank it.
Myla swings her head so that her hair flies around. The cigarette never leaves her mouth and the ashes fall to the floor. She is clearly being taken somewhere else by the music. Her head gets thrown back and forth caught in ecstasy. Someone slowly gets off the floor and walks over to the record player, pulling the needle off the record.
Myla and I fall down on the floor laughing. It is as if the music has been holding us up. Music by Crosby, Stills, and Nash is now on the turntable. I can hear a distant and rhythmic rapping that sounds like it’s coming from the other room.
“Shit, man,” Myla says, opening her bedroom door and walking through into the next room. I can now hear the pounding much louder. The light goes on in the next room. Someone is yelling through the door at the top of the stairs. “Turn down that goddamned music,” the voice screams . I assume this is Myla’s mother. “Shut the fuck up, old lady,” Myla yells back at the door.
No one in the room seems concerned, and actually snicker as the yelling continues between the two of them. “Get those hippies out of my house,” Myla’s mother screams. “There is no one here, you crazy old fuck!” Myla screams back. “I’ll call the police, I can smell drugs,”
Myla’s mother begins to kick the locked door. People stand up and head to the dresser. One by one they climb to the top and slide out through the basement window. As the screaming fight continues, a hand reaches out and pulls me towards the dresser. “Time to go,” whispers the skinny girl with big glasses and a baggy army jacket. The guy with her reminds me of the comedian Gallagher. He has big black curly hair, a Grateful Dead tie-dyed tee shirt and a mustache that he swirls between his first finger and his thumb.
I climb out the window with them. From the yard we can hear Myla’s mother screaming even louder. “Happens every time,” says Gallagher’s look-alike. He puts his hand out and introduces himself as Brad, and the girl with the glasses as Amy, by a nod of his head. She flashes me a peace sign. “Want to join us?” Brad asks. “We are going back to my house to play Dungeons and Dragons and watch the sun rise.” I look at Amy who is about 17 years old. The street light coming from the front of the house lets me see Brad’s face clearer. He is in his mid-to-late 30s. “”What is Dungeons and Dragons?” I ask.
Hours later I am bored out of my mind lying in Brad’s loft as the dumbest game I have ever witnessed is being played by eight people.
“You rolled a three so my dwarf can throw a power spell,” says Brad.
The game goes until the sun comes up. I feel like I am at Nerdapalooza. Thank god it’s over and I can bid my new friends goodbye and head back to my house. Brad lives in a loft on Lark Street so it takes me about 45 minutes to get home to New Scotland Avenue. I am exhausted and wonder how I am ever going to go to school and make it through the day.
As I am clomping up the stairs, my head clears the landing. The house looks as if we have been ransacked. Things have been tipped over and thrown around the room.
Back in Albany New York Part 11
Jonathan is nowhere to be found but the entire house has been ransacked.
Everything I own has been thrown all over the house. I walk around seeing the damage and I am totally in shock. “What the fuck happened?” I yell out loud to no one. Suddenly there is pounding on the door in the bathroom that connects to the group home.
I run over to the door and throw back all the locks. I yank open the door and find Leo standing there. He is wearing a tiny little bathing suit that leaves no room for imagination. “Is that freak still here?” Leo asks pushing past me. “I heard him making a huge fuss and then I heard him throwing shit around.”
Leo looks around the corner into the bedroom before he continues to walk in. “Did that freak do this?” Leo asks, looking at the mess. “I don’t know, I think he did. I wasn’t here,” I say.
Walking over to my bed Leo looks up at me. “Is this your bed?” he asks. “It is.” I tell him. Leo pulls down the comforter and the sheets, climbs into my bed and slides off his bathing suit, letting it dangle before it hits the floor. A giant smile crosses his face. “Nice bed,” Leo says. “It’s just missing one thing,” he says, reaching out his hand. I don’t have to be asked twice.
Two hours after Leo leaves I realize that he has taken a few dollars off the dresser, “Worth every penny.” I think with a smile.
There is clearly no way that I am going to get to school today and I have a lot of shit to clean up. I start to pick up the house and stand the furniture back up. Anything that I find of Jonathan’s I put right back on his bed. His pile grows higher and higher. It takes me hours to straighten up the house.
Around 4:00 p.m. I hear the front door open and the sounds of someone slowly come clomping up the stairs. Moments later, Jonathan’s face comes into focus. He is standing just below the landing and he is looking around the room to find me. Our eyes meet and he quickly looks away.
“Hey!” I scream as he tries to turn around to get out of there. “Huh?” he says looking quickly back up. “Get the fuck up here!” I scream. Sheepishly he climbs the stairs.
“Did you do this?” I ask, pointing around the room. “No,” he says looking back down on the floor. It is clear that he has done this because he refuses to look into my eyes.
Back in Albany New York Part 12
Jonathan never admits to the mess he’s made and can’t seem to come to terms with what he has done. He avoids the topic every time it comes up. He looks at the floor and shifts his weight from leg to leg. It is more than clear to me that he has done it, but I can’t get him to say it.
I feel like living with Jonathan is taking a toll on me. I feel alone and helpless from having an emotional cripple looking to me for strength. I need to find somewhere to fit in. Nights are the worst when I am alone with him.
I find the Gay and Lesbian Community Center located just off Lark Street, in a bizarre and slummy looking building. I climb the stairs and find the lobby peppered with old men. They look at me as if I am a piece of candy and one by one slowly make their way over to hover near me.
‘Sit here, honey,” a voice calls out to me. I turn to see where the voice came from. The old men slowly move closer to me and some even bump into me. I am reminded of geriatric sharks, slowly swimming in on their prey. I don’t have to be asked twice, and walk briskly across the room.
I am a nervous wreck, and plunk myself down on a seat in front of a sign telling me that I am at the welcome desk. Behind the desk is a curious-looking man. He is the one who called me over to sit. He is about 6′ 5″ and gangly, with bulging eyes and buck teeth. His legs don’t really fit under the desk and they pop out on the sides. He throws his hand out to me. “Hey, honey, I’m Bill,” he says, giving me just a couple of his fingers to shake.
One of the sharks brushes up against me and hisses, “You have a sweet ass.” Bill rises up and yells out, “Move on Pops, before I throw you out on the street.” The old shark shuffles on and the rest hover back. I am clearly 60 years younger than this crowd.
“What brings you in here?” Bill asks. “I am here to find myself,” I say. “Good luck,” he says, “I’m still looking.”
Several hours later Bill and I have become good friends. Several people have walked in who are more my age and Bill introduces everyone to me. One of the people I meet is Andy. He has sparkling eyes, an amazing smile, and is clearly fascinated with his own accomplishments. Andy is a performer and grew up in the area. In the first five minutes, he has told me that he has a brother, a mother, and a lot of family money.
Andy tells me about an upcoming audition for Annie Get Your Gun at the Four Seasons Dinner Theatre. The theatre is located on Washington Avenue Extension and it will be hard to get to because I don’t have a car. Andy helps me map out my route. It’s clear that I can catch a bus that brings me close to the theatre but I will have to walk home every night.
“I can pick you up and drive you to the theatre for the audition,” Andy says, sliding one hand onto my leg and leaning in really close. Bill reaches across the desk and yells out “3-foot rule,” while pushing Andy back. Bill winks and mouths the words “He’s cute!”
The next several days I see a lot of Andy. Leo sees a lot of me the minute Andy leaves, and Jonathan continues to throw temper tantrums. Andy comes to the group home so that there are no secrets between us. He is a little worried after meeting Jonathan, who glowers at him the whole time he’s there. I do neglect to tell Andy about Leo. I’m not sure how that would go.
On the day of the audition, Andy shows up early. He is excited and has a gift for me. I close my eyes and when I open them he has placed a cage with two white mice in it. “Surprise,” he says. “I have named them Mickey and Judy.” “They will take care of you when I can’t.” I look in and Judy looks up at me with her pink eyes.
I place the cage next to my bed and hug Andy. For some reason I pull him closer and hope this moment never ends.
Back in Albany New York Part 13
The theatre is a dinner theatre located in the back of a four star hotel, hence the name “The Four Seasons Dinner Theatre.” It is run by a married couple named Mimi and Barry. Barry owns several jewelry stores and Mimi had her own television show in the ’70s titled “Coffee Break with Mimi.” Tonight they are looking to cast Man of La Mancha, Annie Get your Gun, and The Sound of Music.
Later, after I got the job we would rename all these titles as “Mimi of La Mancha,” “Mimi Get your Gun,” and “The Sound of Mimi’s Daughter”. Every show either starred Mimi or someone in Mimi’s family. But tonight I was dancing and learning the choreography to be one of the horses in La Mancha.
Andy was sort of a big star in the dinner theatre circuit and on the way in, he said his hellos to everyone in the waiting area. He even sat through my audition and beamed with pride. The director was named Dick, and oh, was that telling. He was an effeminate large blustering walrus of a man. His face and nose had been wrecked by alcohol and tonight he clearly was a “little off” the wagon. I could actually smell it coming from him.
“Lift your legs higher when you prance,” blusters Dick the walrus, waving the back of his hand in my direction. Mimi and Barry are sitting behind the directors table for casting as well. Barry keeps winking at me when Mimi’s not looking. I’m hoping that it’s a nervous tick.
At the end of the audition, Mimi stands from behind the table and asks for everyone to be silent for a moment. Clearing her throat, she sounds like a parrot that lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. To be precise, I would place her on 75th Street between Broadway and West End.
Mimi’s thick Noo Yawk accent hurts my ears. It is the accent everyone does when they are making fun of New Yorkers. “Thank you for coming out,” she says, folding her hands in front of her. “I saw a lot of talent and it is going to take a couple of days to put the casts together. You will hear from us in about four days.” “If you don’t hear from us, don’t call us,” interjects the walrus.
Mimi smiles and her eyes crinkle, then she goes on to tell us her entire resume, how she and Barry met and that she was raised by a black maid. It was a lot of information and I wasn’t really sure where she was heading. I look around and people are taking notes as she speaks. It is clear that this bunch wants to work and will hang on Mimi’s every word.
At the end of the night Andy is ready to take me back to the group home. Before I get into the car, he walks over and with the key and unlocks my door. As I turn to thank him he grabs me and kisses me. As he pulls back he looks into my eyes and says, “I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.” To most people this would be the most wonderful thing to hear. Somehow this terrifies me to the depths of my soul.
Andy pulls out of the parking lot and turns onto Washington Avenue Extension. I look out my window for most of the trip home. Every time I look at Andy he is staring lovingly at me. His eyes glance every now and then at the road. I should feel warm and safe, but instead I feel the mounting dread that I am too young to think about spending the rest of my life with Andy.
As Andy pulls in front of the house, he turns the car off and leans across the front seat to kiss me. He pulls his face back, “Can I come in?” he asks. “Of course,” I tell him, hoping that he can’t see the lies I feel that I am going to tell him in the future. He reaches out and grabs my hand. “You’ll get the job,” he tells me, completely misreading my hesitancy.
We walk across the sidewalk and into the house. We silently try to climb the stairs hoping that we don’t wake Jonathan. At the top of the stairs, Andy reaches out and flicks on the light. I gasp when I see that Jonathan was sitting in the dark waiting for us to get home.
“Mickey and Judy got out of their cage while you were gone and I don’t know where they are,” Jonathan says without missing a beat. There is not a moment of sadness in his voice. I also realize that he refuses to look into my eyes.
Back in Albany New York Part 14
Mickey and Judy are nowhere to be found. Every day they are gone, Jonathan comes up with new scenarios of how it must have happened. “Maybe, they were so skinny they could have slipped through the bars,” he says, summoning tears to his eyes. This creates an image of Bambi. I imagine that I am a hunter and plan to shoot his mother.
I am not speaking to him and I’m making that perfectly clear. I enter a room he’s in and announce in a booming voice, “Thank god, this room is empty!” Jonathan either stands in front of me or leans into my sight and clears his throat in the hopes that I will notice him when I say this.
I know that he did it. I know it in my soul. I don’t know why but I know he did something. I had two friends in a cage and I left them in his trust and he killed them. I don’t need a confession or a body. I want to kill him.
Jonathan mopes around the apartment constantly trying to get my attention. I walk out onto the sun porch, pulling the door shut behind me, and light up a cigarette. I turn my back to the door but I can feel his eyes on me. Ten minutes later I hear the bell ring as he walks out onto the street. The bell tells me the “monster has left.” He glances up to the porch when he hits the sidewalk. I blow my smoke and watch it drift to heaven, ignoring him.
I know. Crazy to mourn over two little white mice that weren’t there that long. It is the story of my life: here briefly, then gone. I finish my cigarette and flick it through the air. It lands on the sidewalk. Turning around and walking into the apartment, I realize I am truly and finally alone.
That night when Jonathan gets home he takes out sticky mouse traps he bought so he could help get Mickey and Judy back. I am back to sort of talking to him. Every now and then I tell him that I think I can see him. In the following weeks, I discover that I no longer want to leave my house and am having a hard time going to school.
One day, the house phone rings. Jonathan and I look at each other as the phone rings again. I’m not sure who would be calling. I get a little worried because I have run out of food and money and in the past couple of days I have had to sneak downstairs to steal food out of the group home refrigerator. Did I get caught? Do they really have the secret camera I always imagine them to have?
On the third ring Jonathan jumps up and runs across the room to answer it. Clutching the receiver he crams it to his ear. “Hullo?” he says, all slack jaw. He looks at me and begins to answer whoever is on the phone. “Yes, no, huh?, huh?, what?, what?” He then lifts the phone, walks it into the bedroom, and closes the door. The cord is stretched across the room. “Ohhhh, a secret,” I think. Who would be calling Jonathan?
A short time later I am sitting in a chair in the living room when Jonathan comes out of the bedroom. He walks up to me and hands me a piece of paper. “Someone named Mimi called you.” I take the paper out of his hand and stare at him. His movements are slow and deliberate as if he is walking under water.
“When did she call?” I ask Jonathan. “Oh that was her on the phone,” he says, yawning and falling asleep. He is standing in front of me and his head slides to his chest. His legs bend and he starts to slink to the floor. As if a miracle has happened he suddenly becomes reanimated and stumbles back to the bedroom. He moves like a junkie during a heroin nod. I stare after him and have to close my mouth. “What the fuck just happened?” I silently ask myself.
Several days later I call Mimi back and accept a job in the chorus of Annie Get Your Gun. I don’t ask who was cast as the horse in Man of La Mancha, sounds like sour grapes. Jonathan asks if he can go to rehearsal with me. I don’t answer him and walk away. I am back to pretending that he’s dead.
Andy is ecstatic and buys me a dozen roses and takes me to the mall. At the end of the day Andy takes me to a pet store and buys me a white rat that I name Crawford … after Joan.
Back in Albany New York Part 15
Crawford is beautiful and smart. She has white fur and beautiful pink eyes. I let her wander around the apartment out of her cage but only when I am there. In four days she already knows her name and comes to me when she is called.
When I take a shower, Crawford enters the bathroom, climbs up on the tub and pushes her way behind the curtain to be with me. The first time this happens she scared me, but now I look forward to it. She dances around my feet and plays as the water falls on us.
I can actually watch Crawford think. Her little nose twitches while she comes up with solutions on how to climb the furniture in the apartment. Nothing seems to be slowing her down and she will jump from counter to table and back. I run through the apartment and she follows me.
When Leo comes to visit, Crawford will climb my pants and rest on my shoulder. There she leans in to Leo’s face and he kisses her. Jonathan, on the other hand, is not allowed to look, touch, or talk about Crawford. I hope that Crawford has friends named Willard and Ben who will come and eat Jonathan but until then, he is to stay away.
Jonathan whines that I don’t let him touch Crawford and he asks me “Why?” all the time. “Where are Mickey and Judy?” I snap back. This quiets him right away every time he asks and then he sulks back into the bedroom with his head hanging down.
Lately when Leo gets ushered out the back door, Andy gets ushered in the front. I no longer feel alone, I have two men and one white rat to look after me and one monster to keep at bay.
Rehearsals are in full swing, we rehearse at night and during the days on the weekend. The director is usually in a foul mood, smells of last night’s liquor, cigarettes, and a lifetime of regret. When I look over at him I see the walrus from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, except with bloodshot eyes and a snarl on his face.
I meet my lifelong friend Liz during rehearsals. She is a no-nonsense Italian girl with a wicked sense of humor and a quick wink of the eye that tells you she is on your side. She laughs off anything that the walrus says to her.
Tonight we are learning the tap break to “I Got the Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night”. It sounds like a herd of buffalo running for their lives. The choreographer has upped the choreography from the well-used “box step” and “grapevine” to steps that are seriously tough. “Flap, flap, flap, ball change, triple time step, fall off log, step dig, step dig, arms to Mimi.” We do what he yells; the herd stampedes left, right, left, turn in and extend our arms towards Mimi.
Mimi screams out, “Jesus Christ, what the hell was that?” Shading her eyes from the working stage lights, Mimi screams out into the house, “Dick, do I have to do that?” she says, pointing towards us. We are all breathing rapidly because it is the ninth time in a row that we have run this number.
The walrus has drifted off to sleep with his head on his hand. When Mimi’s voice pierces his slumber he slides off his hand, snapping his head up. “What is it Mim?” he says shortening her name by one letter. “Dick, I mean come, on this is baloney. My tits are jumping up and down and who’s going to listen to my taps?” Mimi shoots back. “Make it a bit,” yells the walrus.
So far he has let Mimi make everything a bit. What this means is that she will make it up or mug to the audience or win them over with her charm. Mimi is in her 50s and Annie Oakley is sixteen years old during this show. Blur your eyes, we all do it for the paycheck.
Liz has lent me a tee shirt tonight because I forgot mine. It is for a towing company called Glenville Wrecking. It is probably the manliest thing I am wearing besides my jazz pants and tap shoes. “Dick?” Mimi screams again. “Can the kids take a break?” “Yes, yes,” blusters the walrus, dismissing us with a wave of the back of his hand.
I walk to the front of the stage and hop off. “Jesus,” snarls the walrus. “You mince like a little faggot,” he says to me as I pass.
Back in Albany New York Part 16
I choose to ignore the statements from the walrus. I look back in his direction as I dig through my bag for a Marlboro Light. He is still looking at me. His look tells me that he wants to do sick and horrible things of a sexual nature to me. I am completely repulsed and vow to let things take its course, no need to create anything extra for my plate right now.
He is clearly a sick man with a drinking problem. He catches my eye and makes a look of disgust before quickly looking away.
Liz and I head out through the kitchen and into the back parking lot. It’s time for a smoke break. There is already a group of cast members puffing on cigarettes while still wearing their tap shoes. They continue working on the number.
Liz grabs my arm and pulls me to the side of the building. “Let’s get away and take a break.” I light up a cigarette and drag deep into my lungs. I offer one to Liz who shakes her head. “No thanks,” she says offering nothing more.
Liz slides down against the wall until she reaches the ground. “I’m wiped,” she says looking back up at me. I blow the smoke into the air. It has been a long night and Mimi has stopped us every minute she gets a chance. Don’t get me wrong, I am starting to adore her but she wastes so much time on her insecurities. People start to roll their eyes at each other.
“I never knew how tired you could get from doing a box step and the grapevine,” Liz says, shifting her gaze to the parking lot. “How are you doing?” she asks, not looking at me. “I’m okay,” I say. “Did you ever find Mickey and Judy?” she asks. “Not yet,” I say looking away from her. “I’m sure they are okay,” she says.
I suddenly have an idea. “Would you like to come for dinner next weekend?” I ask. “To your house?” Liz asks shifting her gaze back to me. “Yeah, I can only make one thing. I hope you like macaroni and cheese?” I figure I can boil a bag of peas as well. “It’s a date,” Liz says, reaching out her hand so I can help her off the ground.
The rest of the rehearsal goes about the same, Mimi stopping the flow every five minutes and the walrus snarling and drifting off to sleep. Every time I look at him, he snarls. Even when I think he’s asleep, he lifts his head to snarl at people.
After rehearsal Liz drives me home. She pulls up in front of the house. Looking up, I can see that there are no lights on. Liz follows my eyes. “You gonna be okay?” she asks. I nod my head and thank her for the ride. She waits until I get to the doorstep before driving off.
I quietly climb the stairs, hoping not to wake Jonathan. He actually was wearing “feetie” pajamas the other day. I guess too many people have thought about pushing him. They made a bizarre scraping noise as he walked.
Climbing the stairs it’s as quiet as a church. I can hear Crawford in her cage getting excited that I’m home. As I walk into the bedroom she begins to throw herself at the bars. I reach my hand in and pull her out, she wants to nuzzle. By the light of the bathroom, I can see Jonathan asleep.
Back in Albany New York Part 17
I carry Crawford into the bathroom with me. She seems nervous and edgy and keeps pressing her body into me. She is extremely active and can’t seem to stop moving. I try to put her on the counter but she wants nothing to do with that and climbs right back up my arm.
I get ready for bed and let her sit on my shoulder. As I walk back into the bedroom I lean over to open her cage and she wants nothing to do with going back in there, so I climb into bed with her and throw the covers over us. Crawford rolls into a ball and pushes herself into my chest.
The next morning I wake up and Jonathan has already left. I didn’t hear him get up and leave. I lean up on my elbows and Crawford immediately climbs up onto my chest and pushes her nose to my mouth. I kiss her on the head and hug her little body. I place her onto my shoulder and head into the kitchen.
I need to be in school today, I have missed too much and I received a warning from Parsons Child and Family Center. I am supposed to be in school or I jeopardize my living situation. My situation is not so good but it’s better than living on the street, so I need to remember that. I quickly make coffee and breakfast. I run into the shower where Crawford follows me and plays under the water.
School is hell and Albany High needs to have a metal detector. Security officers line the hallway and students are randomly frisked. Well, in reality none of the white kids get frisked which really pisses me off and I walk into the frisking line to prove a point. Security tells me to get out of the line or risk getting dragged to the principal’s office.
The day drags on and on and I find myself in the parking lot smoking weed with Myla, Rich, and Michael. Actually Myla drinks out of a paper bag as well. “Man, Janis was so misunderstood,” says Myla, handing the joint to me and raising her bag to the sky. “She didn’t go to school and got to live her dream.” I look at Rich who silently shakes his head. Janis is dead as far as I know and I believe that she died from a heroin overdose. I’m not really sure why Myla wants to emulate her. It’s clear that she is in a dark place.
Myla’s parents are out of town this weekend and she is planning a huge party. So this weekend I have Myla and next weekend Liz is coming for dinner. My dance card is filling up.
For the next couple of days it is school and rehearsal. We work on the opening number entitled “Colonel Buffalo Bill”. It is a huge opening number filled with enough box steps in every direction, not to mention swaying and pulsing in place. Mimi is not at rehearsal tonight so the walrus is extra cruel to the cast.
When he wants your attention he claps his hand twice after he says what he thinks is your name. His direction consists of him telling you how many steps to take and then the exact way to say your line. Liz reminds me under her breath that she is going to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. I ask her if she can’t learn everything she needs from the walrus. She responds by rolling her eyes.
Liz drives me home from rehearsal again. I bid her, “Good Night,” and open the front door. I wave to Liz as she drives away.
I can hear Jonathan yelling at someone upstairs. I quietly climb the stairs and peer over the landing. Jonathan walks out of the bedroom and walks to the sink. He is still muttering something about someone not being a friend. I quickly climb the stairs. Jonathan turns around and is completely surprised to see me.
“Who are you yelling at?” I ask him.
Back in Albany New York Part 18
Jonathan jumps a foot in the air and whips around to face me.
“I … I … I was talking to myself,” Jonathan quickly states, his eyes shifting from me to the bedroom. I take a step towards the bedroom and Jonathan takes a step away from me.
Slowly walking forward, I don’t take my eyes off of him as I walk into the bedroom. Crawford sees me from her cage and begins to frantically jump up and down. Her little hands grab the bars of her cage as she tries to get to me. I open her door and place my hand out. She immediately climbs onto my hand and runs up my arm.
Crawford perches on my shoulder and stands up, her little hands frantically pawing at my face. If she could climb onto my head right now, she would.
I turn to face Jonathan. “What’s wrong with Crawford?” I ask.
“She, she, she doesn’t like me,” he says pointing at Crawford as a little bit of spittle forms on his lips.
“She doesn’t like you?” I ask, my voice rising a little too loud.
“I want to be her friend but she doesn’t like me,” his eyes look at the floor.
I take a step towards Jonathan at the same time he takes a step back. “She’s a rat Jonathan, how do you know that she doesn’t like you?”
“Because, because …,” he stammers.
I take another step. If he hurt this animal I will take his head and crush it like a walnut. This is a fact that I suddenly mention out loud to Jonathan.
Tears well up in his eyes and he begins to blubber. Spit bounces off his lips and the tears come in torrents. “I went to her cage and put my hand in but she tried to bite me.” He pushes the snot from his nose with the back of his hand and wipes it on his cheek.
“She hates me and I just want to be friends with her.”
“Jonathan, you don’t touch her, her cage and the area within ten feet of her should remain free of you.” I begin screaming and walking towards him, my finger begins to jab my point home to his chest.
Crawford is trying to stand on my shoulder. I have never seen terror in an animal that I am seeing in Crawford as I walk towards Jonathan. Jonathan stumbles back with each poke.
Someone from the group home begins to knock rapidly on the hallway door to the bathroom. “We’re not finished,” I say to Jonathan as I walk into the bathroom. I unlock the door to the group home to find Leo standing in the hall.
“I can hear you through the wall, would you like me to kill the freak?” Leo asks looking around me. Crawford jumps onto Leo in an attempt to get out of the apartment.
“I think I am ready to do it myself,” I say, as Leo leans in to hand Crawford back to me. His eyes pause on mine and he quickly kisses me.
“My hero is here, he was listening through the wall and he’s here.” I think to myself.
Leo takes a step into the bathroom and Jonathan pokes his head into the bedroom. Seeing Leo, Jonathan quickly pulls back. Like the superhero he is, Leo pushes past me and grabs Jonathan by the front of his shirt and begins to throttle him.
In between throttles, Leo issues the following statement.
“You … will … not … bother … Crawford … or … Geoff …and … if … I … have to come … back here, I will.”
Leo throws Jonathan to the floor where he begins sobbing worse than he was before. For good measure Leo takes his foot and places it on Jonathan’s back, smooshing him to the floor. He sobs uncontrollably.
“Freak,” Leo yells down to him before heading back to me. He stops at Jonathan’s bed, grabs the blankets and walks back over to him. “Tonight, you sleep in the living room.” He throws the covers over Jonathan, walks back into the bedroom and slams the door.
“If you need me, call me,” Leo says, leaning in for another kiss.
Back in Albany New York Part 19
I arrive at Myla’s party. Its eight o’clock Saturday night and Myla’s parents are out of town. This time I can walk through the front door to get into the house, instead of climbing through the bedroom window.
Myla’s parents left around 4:00 p.m. complete with instructions for her to not have a party. Moments later Myla was on the phone and people started arriving at 4:15. By the time I get there the party is in full swing.
The walls of the living room are sweating. People are everywhere. I can hear Myla screaming somewhere in the house “Man, I told you the only room in the house off limits is my parents’ room and you’re fucking in here?”
Two half-dressed people stumble out of Myla’s parents’ room with their clothes in their hands. Myla has her ever-present bottle in her hand; tonight there is no bag to hide it. Myla slams her parents’ bedroom door and lifts the bottle to her lips.
She turns and sees me. “Man, you made it!” she throws her arms around my neck and starts to dance to Jefferson Airplane that’s playing on the stereo. She is already drunker than I have ever seen her.
After two more songs, I am done dancing for the moment. Myla is turning around and around with her arms stretched out. It’s a couple of more spins and she crashes over the coffee table, sending drinks, ashtrays, and people scattering.
I reach down and grab Myla’s arm. “Man, these fucking shoes need to come off!” Myla screams, looking up into my face. She holds my arm with one hand and with the other removes her shoes. Myla throws her shoes over her shoulder without looking. I watch people in the crowd duck them as they wiz by.
Myla begins to drag me by the elbow through the house introducing me to everyone that’s there. It’s the first time I have ever been upstairs and I put the family photos that are displayed to the people I believe are her parents.
The house is pretty big with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, and family room. The décor screams 1970s, with macramé wall hangings and string art proudly displayed. There is also a pool in the backyard, it full of drunk and screaming hippies perfecting their cannon balls.
An old lady with a beer in her hand is fast asleep and her head is resting on her chest. “She’s the neighbor my Mom asked to watch the house to make sure that I didn’t have a party,” Myla says, lowering her voice to a whisper. I think to myself, “If the drunken screaming hippies are not waking her, I don’t think Myla needs to whisper.” “Also, if you’re going to eat the brownies,” Myla whispers to me, “just eat one, she had four.”
Several hours later, Rich stumbles up to me and asks me if I will take a trip with him to go meet Sleestak. Sleestak is his drug dealer that everyone buys from. He can get you anything and tonight Rich wants to pick up LSD. His real name is Gary and he was named after the Sleestaks from the Saturday morning show Land of the Lost.
I climb into the car with Rich behind the wheel. We thought nothing of drinking and driving back then. Rich is having a problem getting his keys into the ignition. Turns out that we are going to meet Sleestak in a graveyard and someone needs to sit in the car. Little did I know that Rich wanted to sit in the car and have me deal with Sleestak. Rich gets the car started and on the drive over he explains that Sleestak loves to hit on him. It turns out that Sleestak loves to hit on everyone and anyone.
Back in Albany New York Part 20
The entrance to the cemetery is up a huge hill. Rich turns off the headlights so the cops won’t see us drive in. “Sleestak always deals in the cemetery, he thinks its quieter and there are two exits just in case,” explains Rich as he squints into the dark over the steering wheel, trying to stay on the path.
Now, I don’t like cemeteries because they contain ghosts and zombies. I don’t care if you don’t believe in them, but I do. I lean over and lock the door and roll the window up. I lean behind Rich and lock his door as well. I don’t need a zombie dragging him out to get to me. Rich laughs and shakes his head.
We pull to a stop where I can see a mausoleum at the top of a short hill. Rich turns the car off. “Sleestak is just behind the mausoleum.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out an envelope of cash and hands it to me. “Why are you giving me this?” I ask. “I need you to meet Sleestak so I can send you in the future.” He responds “And by the way don’t ever call him Sleestak, he’ll freak.” “Great safety tip,” I mumble.
On my list of things I never want to do, this is at the very top. I unlock the door and Rich grabs my arm. “He’s going to give you a sheet of LSD. Make sure that you don’t handle it or sweat on it.” Now I have never seen LSD or tried LSD. I have watched tons of movies from the ’60s and ’70s. I am well aware that LSD makes you freak out and jump out of windows.
I climb out of the car and start my mantra “Zombies aren’t real, zombies aren’t real.” Rich leans over and locks my door, and then he leans back and puts his feet up on the dash. “Who can take a nap in a cemetery?” I ask myself.
Every step towards the mausoleum is like walking in deep mud. I am having a hard time getting my legs to move. I am sure that I see things moving in the dark, I am ready to run if I have to. As I get closer I can see someone standing on the side with their leg resting on the building. “Please let this be Sleestak … I mean Gary,” I say swallowing hard.
“Who are you?” whispers a voice from the dark figure. I force myself not to shit my pants. “I … I, I’m Geoff,” I say, extending my hand. “Please don’t be gross or freakishly hideous,” I silently pray to myself. “Where’s Rich?” the voice whispers again. “He’s asleep in the car,” I say, swallowing dryness in my mouth.
The shadow takes a step into the moonlight. He’s not hideous but I understand where he got the name Sleestak. Big bug eyes, glasses, feathered blonde hair, long skinny neck, and tons of gold chains. I immediately stick my hand with the envelope out to him. “Are you in a hurry?” Sleestak asks. “I’m not one to hang out in a cemetery,” I say, trying not to cry.
Sleestak motions me to follow him behind the mausoleum. Once there he leans down and opens a briefcase. Wearing gloves, he takes out a full sheet of LSD.
Back in Albany New York Part 21
I remember Rich’s words about not touching the page of LSD. “Wow,” I say not really knowing what else to say. “Do you have something I can put that in?” I ask.
He takes out a cellophane envelope, folds the paper in half, slides it in and hands it to me. As he does, he leans in close. “You have a nice mouth,” he says, reminding me of the hillbilly from the film Deliverance. I lean back as his lips try to press mine. “What the fuck?” my brain screams out. The words that come out are, “Thanks.”
I start to walk away and he grabs my elbow. “I said thanks,” I reminded him. He holds his hand out and motions for the envelope with money. “Oh, this?” I laugh, holding it out to him. With one hand he grabs the envelope; with the other hand he grabs my wrist.
“Is Rich in the car?” Sleestak asks taking a step towards me. “Yes, and he is waiting for me,” I say, taking a step back. “I bet he’s asleep.” With this said he slides one hand behind my back and pulls me in. I am not sure what is going on, but feet don’t fail me now!
I place one hand on his chest and shove him back; he stumbles, hits the ground and looks up at me. A smile crosses his face. “Want to play rough?” he says and slowly pushes himself back up to standing. The second thing on the list of things I never want to do is get raped in a graveyard. The first thing on the list is of things I never want to do is to go to a graveyard at night. Zombie sighting has slipped to number three.
I turn and run. No questions asked, I just run. Sleestak is right behind me. I don’t ask why he is chasing me, I just run. I am running for my life in a graveyard with a drug-dealing rapist hot on my heels.
I can see the grave markers by the light of the moon. The grass is slippery and just like in every horror movie I’ve ever seen, I keep slipping and falling in the grass. All I need is some hands to pop out of the grave and grab my wrist or ankle to make this night complete.
I can see the car about 100 feet in front of me. Rich has his feet on the dashboard, his head against the window and the dome light is on. His back is to me because the car is pointed to drive out.
“Start the car!” I scream, “Start the car!” Rich doesn’t move. I zig-zag throught the graveyard. Rich doesn’t hear me. I am running for my life. At least that’s what my brain is telling me. Sleestak is still behind me.
I slide in the grass past the car; I bring my hand down on the hood with a “BANG!” Rich jumps and hits the horn. “Start the car,” I scream as I run to the right. “What the fuck?” Rich screams, turning the ignition. The car roars to life. I zig left, Sleestak skids on the grass.
I circle back and head toward the car. Sleestak slows down as I run for the car. I grab the handle and realize that Rich has locked the door. I freak out as he reaches across the seat.
Sleestak waves to Rich, Rich waves back. I pull the door open, leap in, slam it, and scream “Drive!” in Rich’s face. Rich laughs and begins to drive down the path between headstones. He pulls up next to Sleestak and puts his hand out the window. Sleestak grabs it and shakes it. “What’s up Rich?” Sleestak asks. “Not much man?” he responds. Sleestak winks at me and says, “See you soon.” Rich drives slowly out of the graveyard. “How did it go?” he asks. I just look at him. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to him.”
Hours later I’m talking to the cops that someone called. I’m standing on the roof with Myla, listening to “Jesus Christ Superstar” and throwing fried chicken into the pool. When the cops ask me what I’m doing, I look at them and think, “Isn’t it obvious?”
Back in Albany New York Part 22
The party goes on through Sunday. It is about 12 hours later and I have been buzzing around the house. Everyone thinks their thoughts right now are mind blowing. People are bursting into tears, hugging each other or swirling their cigarettes and watching the trail of light while they talk.
So many people tonight start their statements with, “Have you ever realized … ” and then they talk about entire universes living on their finger tips. Brad is at this party and they are discussing Dungeons and Dragons once again. “No man, an Ork has little power over a fairy.” I stand up and wander away from them.
Myla has three guys at the party who live in Rochester, New York. One of them is named Rick. He is blond, dirty, and model gorgeous. People hang on his every word. He is sitting in the middle of Myla’s bedroom holding court. His philosophies are a little too much for me. That and the fact that he keeps saying things like, “I completely understand you, man,” as a response to what people say when they talk about their life. His statements make me think of mind control.
For some reason, we are having a love-in. Rick started it and now people are lying around listening to this fool. He tries to get girls to make out after he gets their shirts off. I stand up and stumble out of the bedroom. It’s not my scene, either.
Rick follows right behind me. “Geoff, can I talk to you?” he asks. “Whatever,” I respond. “Why don’t you like me? I like you,” he says, leaning in close. “I’m onto your game, man,” I say, leaning back from him. “Why the hell is everyone looking to make out with me?” I think to myself. “I’ll make you want me,” Rick says, and heads back into the bedroom.
I head back upstairs and into the backyard where people are floating in the pool. It is either really late at night or early in the morning. I read the clock, but it doesn’t really make sense to me.
I find Myla lying on a deck chair with a blanket wrapped around her. She motions me over to sit in front of her. I do and she warps her arms around me. “Man, I am so happy you are with us.” It is one of the first families I feel that I have. They make me feel like I belong.
I lie on the lawn chair, smoking cigarettes with Myla for hours. I try to close my eyes and my brain swirls with beautiful colors. By Sunday afternoon I head home. I am dirty, tired, and buzzing. My skin feels electric to the touch. Everyone headed out at the same time so we could all make sure we got home.
I climb the stairs and it is too quiet. Jonathan is not home. I head into the bedroom and look in Crawford’s cage. She is lying under shredded newspaper. I open the cage reach in and take her out.
She is ecstatic to see me. I hold her close to my face. “I’m sorry I’m so late, baby girl,” I say to her and she leans in for a kiss. I run one hand down her back. When I get to her tail I realize it is covered in dry blood and it looks like she is missing the tip of her tail.
Back in Albany New York Part 23
I waste no time in contacting my social worker and explain what’s going on and that I think Jonathan did something to Crawford. My social worker tells me to call the vet and that he will pay for me to take Crawford there. He also tells me that he will stop by later to talk with me and to see how Crawford is doing.
I am in full panic mode. Crawford seems slightly panicked and wants me to hold her as close as possible. The nearest vet is a block away and I wrap her in a tiny blanket and head out. I can hear the bell tinkle as the door slaps closed.
The vet is nice but explains that she knows of a rat expert that I should contact in the future. Crawford is hesitant to have someone look at her and will not stop squirming. The vet believes that Crawford might have gotten her tail caught in the cage door and that it got ripped. My theory has a whole different tilt to it. It involves Jonathan hurting her.
The vet cleans the wound and explains that if she wraps it Crawford will just pull the dressing off. My social worker true to his word has called and taken care of the bill for me. The vet writes down the number of the rat specialist for me and hands it to me over the counter.
Now I have to head home and wait for Jonathan to show up. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I am still in slight panic mode. The first person I need to find though, is Leo. Leo will know what to do.
I carry Crawford into the bathroom and open the door to the group home hallway. I look out and can see Leo is in his room. He’s wearing a tiny Speedo and smoking a cigar. “Leo,” I hiss, so no one downstairs in the group home can hear me.
Leo immediately hears me and turns in my direction. He is standing in the doorway of his room, cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth. The Speedo is packed and bursting at the seams. I feel a quick tug on my heart as he walks towards me.
Leo’s reaction to my story is not a good one. He vows to kill Jonathan. I beg with him to wait until we find out what happens. Leo’s plan is to sit and wait in the living room and wait for him to get home.
What a strange little family we are turning into, Me, Tarzan, and my rat. I can’t explain. It’s one of the first times in my life that I feel completely protected and I bask in it. I’m aware that Leo is capable of killing Jonathan and as great as that sounds right now, I’m not going to let that happen.
When we hear the key turn in the door downstairs, I sit in the chair facing the landing. Leo has stepped back into the shadows near the porch. Jonathan’s familiar stomp/drag way of walking makes my stomach lurch. My heart races when he turns on the overhead light. Jonathan reaches the landing and looks up into my eyes.
Back in Albany New York Part 24
Jonathan’s mouth drops open and he begins to silently mouth words. Then in an instant, it happens. Jonathan takes one more step up the stairs and Leo pounces on him like a wild animal.
Jonathan is almost to the top of the landing when Leo flies over the railing and tackles him. His face bounces off the top step. Leo is quick to his feet and drags Jonathan up the rest of the steps. Jonathan’s face and arms bounce helplessly over the last remaining stairs.
Leo tosses Jonathan into the living room where he slides across the floor and slams into the stove. Jonathan is making guttural sounds and spit hangs in a long string from his mouth.
“Do you ever listen to anything that I tell you to do freak?” screams Leo as he approaches Jonathan and grabs him by the back of the head. Leo leans in close and their eyes meet. I can see the fear in Jonathan’s eyes. Leo pushes him back down to the floor and places his foot on the back of his neck.
Jonathan begins to gurgle. He is no longer making words with his mouth, but sounds that come from deep within. He is crying and trying to push himself back up to standing. Leo grabs the back of Jonathan’s shirt and begins to drag him back to the staircase.
Leo gathers speed and slides Jonathan over the top step. Jonathan is airborne for a brief moment before he lands face first on the stairs. I can hear him hit every step on the way down to the front door. Leo is right behind him. The bell tinkles as Leo drags him out the front door.
I run to the front window just in time to see Leo dragging Jonathan across New Scotland Avenue and up a side street. Jonathan looks like an overgrown puppet that can’t get his footing, he is flopping all over the place.
An hour later, Leo arrives at my front door without a scratch on him. He is still wearing the tiny Speedo and smoking a cigar. His shoulder length hair is held away from his face by a leather string. Pieces of hair hang in front of his eyes.
He reaches towards me and takes my hand where he leads me to the bedroom. “You shouldn’t be seeing him anytime soon.” Leo whispers into my ear as he pushes me down onto the bed. Once again my superhero has saved and protected me.
“Did you even ask him if he did it?” I ask. “That freak is guilty as hell, no need to ask.” Leo pauses on each word as he leans in close to me. “Is he dead?” I ask slowly laying back on the bed. “Not yet,” Leo sighs as he turns off the lights.
At six o’clock in the morning I can hear someone opening the front door. I reach my arm out and realize that Leo has left my bed. This must be Jonathan coming into the house. I can hear the slow “Clomp, clomp,” of Jonathan’s feet as he walks up the stairs.
Swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I place them on the floor and crack open the bedroom door. I can see Jonathan clearly. His face and hair are matted with blood, what’s left of his clothing is a torn mess. His long sleeve shirt is missing its sleeves and he has no shoes on.
Jonathan is quietly sobbing to himself.
“Are you okay?” I ask, sticking my head into the living room. “He … he … he … tied me to a tree in the woods,” sobs Jonathan. The tears are released in choking sobs. I put out my hand and place it on his back. He flinches as if he’s in a great deal of pain.
I slowly steer him back to the bathroom. On the way I begin to peel whatever’s left of his clothing from his body. I sit him down on the closed toilet seat. He is sobbing with great heaving sighs. I reach down and turn the knob on the tub. Once the temperature of the water is warm and the bath is full, I undress Jonathan and help him climb into the tub.
Back in Albany New York Part 25
Jonathan is covered with bruises from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. There doesn’t seem to be any space on his skin that isn’t bruised. His underwear is stained and has spots of blood in it. It looks as if Leo has literally beaten the shit out of him.
I am still so angry and want nothing more than to have Jonathan suffer for what he has done. Jonathan keeps blubbering and sobbing. “Do you have any idea why Leo beat you?” I ask Jonathan. He nods his head up and down. A long piece of drool begins to form on his lip and heads for the bath tub.
“I, I, I … want to be her friend and she doesn’t like me,” Jonathan blubbers. “Are you talking about Crawford?” I ask. Jonathan nods his head up and down again. “How did her tail get cut?” I ask. Jonathan turns his head towards the wall and begins to rock back and forth.
“If you hurt her, I’ll kill you myself,” I say, lowering my voice. Jonathan’s sobs get louder and louder. “I tried to take her out and her tail got caught in the door.” “So you cut it off?” I snap at him. He nods his head “no”. “It got stuck in the door; it got stuck in the door,” he keeps repeating, until it’s a whisper.
Jonathan rests his chin on his chest and hugs his knees to his chest. I can’t stand the sight of him anymore, so I stand and walk out of the bedroom. I am going to make sure that Crawford will never be in danger again. I don’t know how I am going to make that happen but if I have to carry her around with me at all times I will.
I need to get out of the house and clear my head. I reach into Crawford’s cage and take her out. I am wearing a pair of overalls and I place her in my front pocket. Crawford immediately crawls into a ball. I head down the stairs and out the door.
Days later Jonathan’s bruises are still healing. His lip is split and his eyes are swollen and slightly purple. He seems to be having problems walking. Jonathan’s social worker has asked him what happened, but Leo let him know that if he talks, the next time he will be dead for real.
I am a little afraid that Leo will do it. Leo told me that he spent time in Juvenile Hall before he was transferred to Parsons. I have been keeping my distance from both Leo and Jonathan. Crawford, on the other hand, doesn’t leave my side. I even bring her to rehearsal in my bag. Everyone in the chorus knows that I have her with me. I am afraid that if Mimi finds out, it will be the end of Crawford at rehearsals.
We are literally days away from opening. At rehearsals, the director is telling Mimi how “genius” she is. Mimi reminds me of Irene Ryan’s “Granny” on The Beverley Hillbillies, right down to the walk. Her voice is more Fran Dresher from The Nanny.
The cast cringes and looks at each other during the run of “Anything you can do, I can do better,” when Mimi gets to the “Anything you can sing I can sing higher” verse. It’s clear to us that Frank Butler will win this battle for the first time.
Later during rehearsal I am called over by the walrus. “It has been brought to my attention that there is a rodent in your bag.” “Who told you?” I ask. “That is not important, what is important is that animals are not allowed in rehearsal.” I gently protest, “But Mimi has her dog with her at all times!” “You are not Mimi, lose the rat or lose your job, it’s that simple.” He dismisses me with a wave of his hand.
I walk over to my bag and place it on my shoulder. I can feel Crawford move. I am happy that rehearsal is done. Liz is waiting for me by the front door of the hotel. “What did he want?” she asks. “Nothing,” I mutter. We walk out to the car together.
“Are we still on for dinner this weekend?” Liz asks. “Of course we are!” I say. I know how to make one thing and that’s macaroni and cheese. I figure I will make a salad and boil a can of peas. For dessert I will take pudding and graham crackers and mix them together and top them off with frosting.
“Is Jonathan going to be there?” Liz asks, pulling out of the parking lot. “Unfortunately, he lives there.” I say.
Back in Albany New York Part 26
The main goal of Independent Living is to teach the kids in program how to live on their own. We are taught about budgeting, money, goals, shopping, bills, and cleaning. I am also am taken on weekly trips with a counselor to look for an apartment. The counselor uses these trips to teach me about how to move out. She tells me this as she crosses her fingers and pulls out of the driveway.
Independent Living is supposed to be a temporary place, six months being the longest you are allowed to stay there. Jonathan has been part of the program for five years and will not be going anywhere soon. “There is no place for him,” the counselor mumbles under her breath.
One of the first apartments I am taken to is in the basement of a funeral home. The room is literally right across from the embalming room. Even though I am a big fan of ghosts and scary places, this place is way too much for me. “The upside,” the funeral director points out to me, is that, “Albany High is directly across the street.” I ask if I will ever see a body coming or going. The funeral director ignores this question and leads me to a look at a shared bathroom down the hall. My counselor looks at me, smiles, and gives me thumbs up. I shake my head to say, “No way in Hell.”
We thank the funeral director on our way out the door. My counselor has two more apartments to show me. The first one is literally in an apartment complex referred to as “The Projects.” We walk down the hallway past several doors where loud televisions blare The Price is Right and every other door has either a crying baby or a loud argument going on behind it.
My counselor is clutching her purse to her chest. She has a smile frozen on her face, but in her eyes I see sheer panic. After five minutes of knocking on one apartment door, there is the sound of six or seven bolts and chains being unlocked. The final sound before the door is yanked open is comes from the moving of a long bar that braces the door when its shut.
The door gets dragged open and a small little man is standing there. He is dressed head to toe in traditional African garb. With no smile on his face and not a word, he motions for us to come in. My counselor looks at me and it’s clear that she doesn’t want to enter but has to decide between running down the hall screaming back to the car, or teaching me about independent living.
I try my best to avoid an awkward moment by putting my hand out. “Hi, I’m Geoff,” I say. He nods his head and motions for me to follow him. I am then taken on a tour of this man’s house. He doesn’t say a word or let his face change the whole time we are there.
In the living room there are glass museum cases filled with African statues, masks, and artifacts. On the wall is a zebra skin. It’s beautiful to look at but there would be no place for me to put my stuff. My counselor is still clutching her purse to her chest while she sits on the edge of his couch. Sweat is forming on her upper lip. “It’s nice here,” she stammers, while looking around. The man never says anything. He just continues to open doors and point. The room that is to be mine, if I like, is gigantic. It has white shag carpeting, white walls, white ceilings, and four windows. It is beautiful. I call my counselor to come look at the room. She yells back from the living room that she’s fine.
Back in Albany New York Part 27
My counselor tells the man, “We’ll think about it,” as she pushes me out the door. He nods and closes the door behind us. She hurries down the hallway, clutching her purse to her chest. More screaming comes from behind closed doors and something crashes against a door at the end of the hall.
The hair on my counselor’s head is a fuzzy blond mess. Her oversized round glasses have slid halfway down her nose. She is rummaging through her pocketbook, pulling things out and laying them on the seat of the car. She looks like a frustrated owl searching for car keys. “If we don’t find you a place, I am going to be in a lot of trouble,” she mumbles, suddenly confiding in me.
She finds her keys, starts the car and drives across the grass to get to the road. We don’t speak as she drives back to the group home. I open my door when she stops the car in our driveway. “Don’t worry, something will happen,” she says with a sigh. I’m not sure if she is talking to me or to herself. The bell tinkles as I walk into the house.
I feel as if I have failed and nobody wants me again. I climb the stairs, and there, standing at the top, is Jonathan. He has a big smile on his face and a tie around his neck. He has been working on tying a tie all day. It’s still a little lopsided and longer in the back but I say, “Wow, you look great!” His eyes light up and a giggle escapes from his lips. He claps his hands together and shuffles back into the bedroom to practice some more.
I poke my head into the bedroom and Crawford immediately starts making noise. I walk over to the cage, open it, and take her out. She climbs to my shoulder and starts to clean herself. Crawford stands up and places her front paws on the top of my head. As I slide down into the overstuffed easy chair, she shifts to my knee. I close my eyes and Crawford snuggles up to me.
The weekend comes fast and I have prepared macaroni and cheese for Liz for dinner. It’s literally the only thing that I know how to make. I empty a can of peas to boil into a pot on the stove. The apartment is spotless. Jonathan has worked really hard to clean. He has also taken a shower, shaved, and is working on tying his tie again.
Liz should be here any minute. I can hear Jonathan getting frustrated in the other room. He is now either talking to himself or to Crawford. There’s a knock at the door. Jonathan comes out of the bedroom. “Did you hear that?” he keeps repeating “Did you hear that?” I tell him I heard it as walk down the steps to the door. I pull back the curtain and see Liz standing there. She gives me a wave and the bell jangles as I open the door.
Liz is dressed for a night on the town. She looks amazing. She hugs me and climbs the stairs. “Nice place,” she says. I can tell that she is just being nice as she looks around, her hands on her hips. Jonathan is standing there, ready to about to bust out of his skin.
“Liz, this is Jonathan,” I say. Liz reaches out her hand and Jonathan covers his mouth with one hand to stifle a little giggle. His eyes are wide as saucers. It’s clear that he has never been this close to a girl before. He is a giggling nervous wreck.
I motion to the table and Jonathan runs around to pull the chair out for Liz. She smiles, thanks him, and slides into the chair. A smile crosses his face and he runs around to pull out my chair. “Thank you,” I say. Liz keeps the smile on her face.
Jonathan slides into his chair. He is very happy and can barely control his glee. I have bought a bottle of wine for the occasion and I pour three glasses. I propose a toast, we raise our glasses, and then Jonathan suddenly asks me if the zit he shaved off his face an hour ago is still bleeding.
Back in Albany New York Part 28
The dinner with Liz slowly slid into the crapper after that. Jonathan tried his hardest to impress her but failed at every corner. Jonathan had never really been in the presence of a woman before and not one so beautiful. Liz was lovely, gracious, and would never make anyone feel uncomfortable. At one point Jonathan sent the pitcher of water to the floor, but not before it soaked the entire table.
“Thank you for a lovely evening,” Liz said, as she hugged me on her way out the door. Jonathan, with a large grin, stood midway up the stairs and waved at Liz. She waved back and smiled. It was clear that Jonathan was smitten by her. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, leaning in to give me a kiss on the cheek.
I closed the door and Jonathan began to giggle again. “Wow, she’s beautiful.” Jonathan blurts out. “You’re too old for her,” I respond, not really knowing how old he is, but hoping to nip this in the bud.
He sighs, and I can see the stars in his eyes. I knew that Liz would let him down gently if he ever approached the topic. With a new bounce in his step, Jonathan walks over to the stereo and puts “Saturday Night Fever” on the turntable. I’m wiped and I still have to hand scrub the pots and pans that I used to prepare dinner.
“Maybe Crawford would like macaroni and cheese,” Jonathan says, thinking out loud. He is dancing to The Bee Gee’s with his hands high in the air. He looks like he is being forced to dance at gunpoint, but loving every minute of it.
“Crawford is not going to eat macaroni and cheese,” I tell him. “Oh yeah,” he responds, “Crawford doesn’t like any food I give her.” I don’t give the comment much thought at that moment, but I do wonder what he has tried to feed her that she doesn’t like.
“Night on Disco Mountain” begins playing and Jonathan is swaying back and forth to the music. This has become a plot out of a crazy horror movie. I wonder what penance I need to pay for in this life. This is just getting weird.
I finish the dishes, kick off my shoes and fall asleep on the bed. Hours later, now it’s dark, I stand and begin to strip out of my clothes. Crawford is wiggling her nose and pushing her newspaper towards me. I slide my t-shirt over my head and step into my pajama bottoms. “Do you think we can ever be friends again?” Jonathan asks me from the darkened room.
Back in Albany New York Part 29
The immediate answer in my mind to Jonathan’s question is, “No way in hell.” That’s at least what my first thought was. I never said it out loud.
“Maybe someday we can, but for right now why don’t you go to sleep?” I say to him as I slide into bed. “She sure is pretty,” Jonathan sighs again. I can hear him roll onto his side. “Goodnight,” he says and immediately starts snoring.
“I hate him. I hate him so much. Jonathan is stupid and disgusting. He follows me around like a sick puppy, needing constant attention. He’s dirty and sloppy and has a constant weird smell,” thoughts keep running through my head. I get angrier thinking about everything that has happened since I got here.
I should have stopped Leo from beating Jonathan and tying him to a tree, but something in me is happy to hear Leo’s stories about him pounding Jonathan. I am no better than any of the bullies that I encountered in my life but somehow, I take perverse glee in Jonathan’s suffering. Is it because it’s not me?
I feel protected by Leo. I feel that he has protected me from Jonathan and from this world I’m living in. It’s true that deep inside he is a wild animal who strikes and someday could turn on me. I let my rage start to grow as I think about how I got here. I try to think about my rage and how it bubbles to the top and spills over. I certainly am no saint. Lying in the dark I begin to reflect.
My thoughts turn to my mother. God, I hate her. I hate her so much. The rage I feel towards her is all-consuming. According to the pictures in the family album, things started out well enough. It was when I was about age seven, that there was a change. Mom was always nervous and edgy. She lived by a set of rules that made little sense. If you questioned her rules you would find yourself punished. If you questioned anything that was said to you, you would find yourself punished.
Bad words would get your mouth washed out with soap. You could be made to sit with a bar of soap in your mouth for as long as 30 minutes. Finally, when you were drooling foam that burned your throat, she would remove the bar. I came to loath Irish Spring. My mother is mentally ill. There is nothing more to this thought. She medicates it with alcohol as most people did back then.
My father was always absent. He traveled a lot for work. Whenever he was out of town, my mother would strike, and it would always be worse than when he was there.
It was a pattern that repeated itself for years. It would start in the morning as I sat at the breakfast table. Mom would wander into the room, cigarette dangling out of her lips, Kleenex poking out of a sleeve in her bathrobe. Hungover, she was always looking to pick a fight. Alcoholics still scare me to this day. There is no reasoning to anything that they do.
My parents had spoken of divorce on several occasions. We kids always thought that they were going to split. We were sat down and they asked us who we would like to live with in the future. We chose our father, which made my mother ballistic. She announced that the question was nothing more than a popularity contest and stormed out of the room. That was my mother’s usual cry.
The problem was that my father took his vows seriously. I remember a fight so bad one time between the two of them. Mom was screaming, Dad was leaving and we kids were crying. My father made it as far as the front steps with my younger sister hanging on his leg. There he sat, thinking about what a hell he was living in and decided that he had promised for better and for worse. It was at this moment that his world changed. He placed the blinders on his eyes and never looked back.
My mother’s mother was mentally ill and I wondered when did we first notice as kids that something was off with her? Was it the time that my sister had to sit a doll at the Thanksgiving table so there wouldn’t be thirteen people sitting there? Was it the piles and piles of articles, clippings, and cartoons that she cut out of newspapers and slid between the pages of scrapbooks placed in the bathroom in stacks? Was it her love above all others of her cat applicably named Miss Cat? Could it have been her constantly putting my mother down while praising my uncle? Was it her taking to darkened rooms when she didn’t feel well, or the multiple pictures of Jesus Christ she placed around the house? My favorite thing she did was to ignore us and my mother, pretending we weren’t there. She would hold the cat close and talk about how much she loved her.
Back in Albany New York Part 30
My mother would tell stories of how her mother was rich for a while as a little girl. Mom would drag out pictures of her mother standing next to her mother, my great-grandmother. In every photo she looked beautiful, her hair done up and a fur coat draped over her shoulders. I never saw a picture of her father. When I asked my mom about this, she would roll her eyes and say, “Who do you think is taking the picture?”
My grandmother would look at these pictures of her childhood and mist up. We all knew that her father died in the great influenza epidemic of 1918, leaving her and her mother penniless. Whenever her father was mentioned, my grandmother would drift off into her own world, cover her mouth with the back of her hand, and a girlish giggle would leave her mouth. She was always seven years old in her mind.
My mother’s father was my grandmother’s second husband. The first wife was never mentioned. It was a scandal to be the second wife of a divorced man in those days. We were told to never ask my grandparents about that story, ever, period. If it even looked as if you were approaching a similar story in the presence of my grandparents, my mother would shoot you down with a look.
My grandfather was a very handsome and strong man. He had raised his family in Syracuse, New York. They had survived the Great Depression, so everything in their house was reused. Use a paper towel, hang it out to dry. Want a potato chip? Then unwrap the rubber bands from the bag! Found mold in the cheese? Cut it out!
It was a fascinating house of rules and secrets. If you travelled too far with your questions though, you might get a pinch that twists skin and leaves a bruise from Mom or Grandma.
My mother was very close to her parents and saw them a lot. Christmas wasn’t Christmas if we didn’t wait at the top of the stairs for Grandpa to come out of the bathroom. Hours would pass after he went in. We would try to push each other in there after he would emerge.
Mom was always being put down by my grandmother, either over the phone, or in person. Nothing she did could ever rise to her level if it was done by my mother. When my grandparents returned home after visiting us, my mother would slide into a funk. She would take daily naps for hours, opening her door to scream at us. She would have her pre-cocktail in the middle of the afternoon and more at 5:00 p.m.
The biggest threat to me was always “Wait until your father gets home!” If she was really mad at me, she would call him at work. Mom tended to embellish stories, so when Dad arrived home he would be furious as hell and ready to kill. I remember beatings with a belt so bad that I would black out.
I also learned at a very early age to feel nothing. I would shut down and not feel pain, not feel emotions, just not feel anything. This would make them crazy and my mom would stand at the door and egg my father on to beat me again.
Sometimes I would enter a black hole where I would come out of it and not remember much of anything that had just happened. My mom’s rules were just that, her rules. She was a completely different person when my father wasn’t home and when he arrived, she would play the victim in the house.
Once, my mother had so embellished a story to my Grandfather, that he grabbed me around the throat and began to strangle me. He was so angry, he didn’t realize that I couldn’t breathe as he repeatedly banged my head on the wall. When he let me slide to the floor, I could see my mom standing in the hall with a smirk on her face. Then she reached over and shut my bedroom door.
Back in Albany New York Part 31
Annie Get your Gun was close to opening, so every night I was at rehearsal. The stage was a series of platforms attached to each other, which stood about three feet off the floor. During the dance of “Sun in the Morning, Moon at Night,” the stampeding of the herds was amplified to a deafening thud. It was clear that we were all tapping our own version of the show.
A rumor ran through the cast. It had Mimi and the actor playing Frank Butler romantically linked. The actor playing Frank would wink anytime anyone in the chorus would ask him about the affair. There was a lot of grumbling about it from many in the cast, because Mimi’s husband was the producer. I figured it was none of my business, and I stayed clear. I already had the walrus up my ass at every turn.
I adored Mimi and her husband Barry. They would go out of their way to ask if I needed anything and if everything was okay. When the walrus would get to be too much, I would excuse myself and go to the bathroom. In the stall next to me I could hear the man playing Charlie putting away the booze. He would sneak in there as often as I did, but to drink. If you were near him on stage you were forced to hold your breath, because if you didn’t, the fumes would kill you.
I had to get back on stage. We were working out all the problems in our Indian number. One of the classic numbers in this show is a racist little ditty sung by Sitting Bull. It’s called “I’m an Indian, Too.” In this number Annie is being made an Indian by Sitting Bull. Mimi and Sitting Bull danced around each other while the chorus donned “orange face” and joined in.
Sitting Bull was about 250 pounds, with curly blonde hair and a heavy Brooklyn accent. The color of his skin was nightly changed to a deep brownish orange. He was dressed in a tunic and a giant headdress topped off his look. The actor playing Sitting Bull was blind as a bat. He didn’t have contact lenses and he was forced to not wear his glasses on stage. As a solution, the cast would walk him in the right direction during the whole show and for his special number. When it came time for his big dance break, he would stand center stage while Mimi danced around him and squawked “I’m an Indian too, a Sioux ooh, ooh, a Sioux,” in her nasally New Yawk accent.
The walrus called me over and leaned in close to me. I could smell stale booze and cigarettes. I stared into his bloodshot eyes. “I’m sure that no one in the Sioux nation minced around like you do,” he hissed at me. Shocked, I just smiled and walked away. We were four days from the official opening and I wanted to scream, “Fuck you,” and quit. Instead I headed back to the bathroom.
The actor playing Charlie was in there again. He finished hiking up his pants and headed over to the sink to wash his hands. “Jesus kid,” he slurred, “you’re in here more than I am.” I nodded and briskly slid into a stall.
When I came out of the stall, Barry was standing there. “Is everything alright?” he asked me placing a hand on my shoulder. I was trying to just keep it together at that moment, when I burst into sobbing. I blurted the whole story out about how the walrus would say the nastiest things to me. Barry was shocked to say the least. He handed me a Kleenex and promised me that something would be done. An hour later, Mimi pulled me off to the side and had me repeat the entire story I had told Barry.
“Don’t worry honey,” Mimi said to me. “It will all be all right.” She patted my hand and went right back to rehearsal.
That night when I got home, Jonathan had a million questions for me. “What was Liz wearing? Did she look pretty tonight? Did she ask about me?” He was literally in my way every step I took. “Did she have fun at dinner? Does she want to come back?” He was jumping out of his skin.
“Jonathan, give me a moment,” I said, as I pushed past him, dropping my bags and heading into the bathroom. He continued to ask me questions through the closed bathroom door. I turned on the water to drown him out.
Back in Albany New York Part 32
Annie Get Your Gun opened and the reviewers hated it. They ripped everything apart. Mimi was a little long in the tooth to play Annie. It was pointed out that Annie in real life starts the story at age 16 and Mimi had added 40 years to that number.
Anything that could go wrong during the opening week went wrong. People dropped lines, forgot cues, and had dance steps blow out their ears. Someone in the lobby was overhead to say, “My dog would have howled all the way through that show.” Mimi was repeatedly compared to Lucille Ball in Wildcat.
I was having a blast and so was the rest of the cast. Who cared if the leads would go up on their lines and speak directly to the audience? Or forget their lyrics, look at each other and burst into laughter? The audiences for the most part loved it, loved us, and loved when something went wrong. There were so many times Mimi would ad-lib and I would have to bite the insides of my mouth to keep from laughing. She was hysterical and had great comic timing. So she veered from the book a little bit …
After the first night the cast party was held at Mimi and Barry’s house in Albany. The house was a huge mansion with several bedrooms, bathrooms, a baby grand piano, and a swimming pool. We all brought our suits and if you didn’t you got thrown in anyway. Everyone was in the pool at least once that night.
Barry and Mimi were lovely and warm and made everyone feel so welcome in their home. Barry would pull me aside periodically at the party and check if everything was alright. I assured him that, “Everything was fine”. “Let me know if that changes,” he said, with a wink.
The bar was stocked and there was food everywhere. The music was pumping, and local celebrities were flooding through the door. I noticed that the walrus was leaning on the baby grand, surrounded by smiling faces. Everyone was singing. Every now and then he would get his arm jostled and his drink would jump. Several times I saw him trying to catch the liquid with his mouth as it spilled to the floor. He would snarl, grumble, and lean down to put his lips to the glass and someone would hit his arm again.
He would also reach out and swat the air with one hand, as if he was hitting someone. It was quite comical. I stayed my distance and was at least 20 feet away from him for most of the night. It wasn’t until I let down my guard that he caught me by the elbow and pulled me to sit down next to him on the couch in the living room.
“You miserable little faggot,” he snarled an inch away from my face. “Who the fuck are you to tell Mimi and Barry what I said to you? Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know how many shows I have directed? I will ruin your career, you mincing little faggot!”
His voice got louder and louder until everyone was listening to him. There was no music, nothing but the sound of his voice and the sound of his drink hitting the floor.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked again, as he took his finger and poked me in the chest. “You are a little shit and I am highly regarded in this town!” He poked me again. Barry rushed across the room, grabbed his arm, and helped him to standing. “Hey, why don’t you come with me?” Barry asked him, and pulled him towards the doorway in the living room. His drink slopped all the way out and onto the floor. “All of you, all of you!” he shouted, pointing around the crowd as Barry removed him from the room.
The music started up again as if nothing happened. “Sorry honey, he’s bombed, and he’s got a problem,” Mimi said, while hustling me to the bar. The party went late into the night. That night I got home and the house was eerily quiet. There was no music and no sound as I climbed the stairs. I couldn’t hear the familiar sounds of Jonathan snoring. I walked into the bedroom and could make out Jonathan’s bed in the light from the window, he was not home.
I dropped my bag and turned on the overhead light. I sat on the bed and looked at Crawford’s cage. Crawford lay on her side. Her fur was matted and soaked with blood. Her little mouth was gasping for air as her paws grasped at the air. She had several puncture marks covering her body. Lying on the floor was a pair of blood covered scissors.