“Where ya been, Trev?” my roommate Bill asks as I return to our dorm room around noon. “Out catting around with the frat boys?”
What he means is why did I not sleep in my bed for two nights in a row.
“Right,” he knows better than that. We have been living together for four months. I have yet to shock anyone with that kind of behavior.
“Want to eat?” I ask.
“Sure,” he decides.
Bill generally regards me as the dull son of a preacher man. Not that he is prone to risk taking and adventure seeking himself. We attend freshman mixers together. His futile attempts to set me up with the girl friends of his own prospects proves I need to ‘up my game,’ as he says. At least he has not asked me to find other accommodations due to a need for overnight ‘privacy.’ His ‘game’ is a work in progress. I am still a non-starter. Otherwise we are well matched and comfortable with each other. I invited him to Astoria for Thanksgiving. He proved a hit with my folks, happy that I have a friend. My joining the Phi Psi frat is a step in the right direction in Bill’s mind. I offer to sponsor him there. He is thinking it over. Hazing is ‘not his thing.’
“I was out scouting locations with a Hollywood movie crew. They agreed to film at the defunct frat next to Phi Psi. We’re all going to be extras. You need to join. Maybe you’ll get discovered,” I laugh.
“You’re already working for them?”
“Just helping them out. I took them to Dexter Lake in Springfield. They plan to film at that old bar out there.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Being famous and all. Acting like yer somethin’ yer not.”
We laugh. I do feel special, though. And Tim is so sexy. I feel myself getting hard. It feels like junior high all over again.
“You’ll havta share your makeup with me.”
“Now way, Jose.” Bill is from east of Spokane and grew up on a ranch. He never expresses opinionated feelings about anyone but is 100% straight prime western beef.
We have two classes together. He took class notes and has the assignments for me. I sigh and realize I am now back to earth. Just thinking about Tim perks me up.
“Yeah. I really like the Hollywood guys.”
“What’s the movie about?”
“I don’t know the plot, but it’s about a frat where all the guys are goofballs.”
“Just like Phi Psi.”
We laugh. He goes off while I try to catch up on my missed assignments. I finally realize I am not concentrating and close the books. Time to get hazed.
My fraternity brothers unmercifully raze me about my ‘friendship’ with Tim. They claim I have gone ‘movie star’ on them. Of course, they are falling all over themselves to snag roles as extras when the movie crew returns. I promise to put in a good word for them if they stop teasing me about Tim. I am surprised that no one calls me out for my full-on crush. I maintain that I am as anxious as everyone to be hired on, once the movie crew returns. I cannot help myself from smiling foolishly anytime we talk about the movie. I am unable to mask my glee every time Tim’s name comes up.
“Trevor’s got a crush,” becomes the standard jibe whenever I cannot help myself from grinning like an idiot. They all seem pleased that I am so happy. It flies in the face of my stereotyping frat boys as dedicated homophobes. I relax and no longer try to hide my feelings. I figure the truth is bound to come out. I am amazed that it does not bother me that they know I am gay. That is when realize I fully accept it myself. I know it will be another matter with my Baptist parents. My brother will be so pleased to be the good son for once. There is little doubt about his sexuality, given his choice of wanton girlfriends.
“You seem especially happy to be hazed today.”
“Just a happy pledge. Do I need to fake hating the crap you guys put us through?”
“Naw, but maybe I need to stop acting mean and get to know you better.”
“We saw a different you this weekend,” he goes on. “Now it is hard to treat you like a kid. Those Hollywood people really liked you.”
“My roommate, Bill, says I’m goin’ all Hollywood on him.”
“I never knew you played harmonica and sang before. Did you take lessons?”
“Just church choir.”
“No, Mr. Landis is straight and already married. Tim’s the music coordinator.”
“He is so young.”
“He’s my age, a freshman at Harvard.”
“Is that why you’re so tight.”
“We really hit it off. But he seems so much more worldly than me.”
“Too much time in the choir?”
“Tim was in church choir last year. His band also played Easter services in New York.”
“Now he’s in Hollywood. Did the serpent tempt him with the fruit of knowledge?”
“His boyfriend was killed by an abusive older brother. He’s so much more mature than me.”
“So, he is gay?”
“He’s super-gay, with boyfriends and girlfriends. He can’t stop loving just one person at a time.”
“That is so Hollywood. Are you being careful?”
“I don’t wanna pry,” Cameron admits, “but everyone noticed how taken you are with him.”
I blush, feeling Cameron is really being a good big brother.
“You think Tim will just forget about me?” I ask for his advice.
“I have no idea, but it doesn’t sound like he’s still a choir boy.”
“Calm down and take a breath,” Cameron advises. “He’ll be back next month. I’m no expert on gay boys. Maybe you should try having a girlfriend or go to the Gay Student Group or just pray about it. God, I’m awful at this.”
“No, Cameron. This is great. My real brother is an asshole. I’m glad you care.”
Tim asked if I will tell my fraternity brothers. I guess I am taking the go slow approach. I go over to the abandoned frat next door, reminiscing about being there with Tim. I take out my harmonica and blow the ‘Bobby McGee’ blues. Tim had sung his version of it, so I make up my own, rhapsodizing about being on the road with Tim. When I get to the line about needing just one more night with ‘Bobby’s body next to mine,’ the tears flow.
“He’s a goner,” my brothers have been listening to me. “Admit it.”
“Who’s Bobby?” someone asks.
“I don’t know. Janis Joplin?” Cameron suggests. “She died from an overdose.”
I realize he is covering up for me.
“Naw. I ain’t gonna hide it. I really like Tim,” I out myself.
“I think it’s cool. They’re both choir boys,” Cameron exposes me.
“Oh, the shame.”
Everyone breaks out laughing. They grab me and drag me back inside the House and force me to get drunk for the first time ever. They are perfect gentlemen, carrying me back to my dorm room. Bill is stunned that I am becoming such a reprobate. In the morning, he announces that ‘we have to talk.’ It is too much for me, but luckily, there’s a waste basket nearby to barf into. My reputation has taken a total turn for the worst. Bill shakes his head and tells me to go back to bed. Later he returns with crackers and ginger ale. I am already feeling better. At least getting drunk is nothing new for Cowboy Bill.
On Thursday, I am fine and attend my classes. Bill refrains from reminding me what a degenerate I have become. We sit silently together in class. I am given extra hazing chores at Phi Psi for having missed the previous day. My idiot/happy mood has returned. I am whistling while I work.
Cameron rushes into the kitchen, looking startled and gloomy.
“Sit down, Trevor,” Peter, the President, orders.
“What? I only missed one day and you guys got me drunk,” I become defensive, remaining on my feet.
Peter stands up and puts his hand on my shoulder. Cameron put a hand on the other side. The others just look away.
I wake up laying on a couch on the first floor, surrounded by everyone in the frat.
“Thank god. You’re awake,” Peter sounds distressed but relieved Iam conscious.
“What happened?” I’m groggy, unsure why everyone surrounds me.
Slowly I remember. The tears start. I am able to suppress the sobs. How could this happen? Tim is dead? It cannot be. He is so strong. He can do anything. He seemed accident-proof.
“That director, Landis, said to call him,” Peter relays the message. “He sounded pretty shook up himself. We’re all sorry, Trevor.”
It is so weird to me. All these straight guys treating me like I have lost my girlfriend. Then I throw up. They scatter.
Mr. Landis is so nice on the phone. He really loves Tim, just not the way I do. He even offers to pay my way to the funeral service which is in two days. I am too embarrassed to accept but promise to attend. He gives me the phone number to Tim’s roommates, Tony and Jimmy. I did not know he has roommates. I ask for Jake’s number as well. Mr. Landis has met Jake, who is composing the movie soundtrack, but does not have his phone number. I tell him we called him from the Rodeway Inn on Sunday night. He promises to check the bill. He is surprised I know about Jake. I really want to connect with Jake. We share the same love for Tim.
“Jake was with Tim when he died. They had gone to the beach together,” Mr. Landis says.
“The service will be at St. Viktor Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.”
“Wow,” I think it must be pretty fancy. I have to get permission from Dad to attend a Catholic church. I wonder if I could get him to lend me the airfare. That brings up the issue of coming out to him. I laugh, then sniffle, thinking how much Tim has affected me. He wants me to be open and proud. Without thinking it through, I dial home.
“Hi, Mom. I need to get Dad’s permission for something. Is he there?”
“You sound down. Is everything okay?”
“It’s been a tough day. I have to go to a funeral on Saturday.”
“Oh, honey. Is it one of your fraternity brothers? I’m so sorry.”
“He’s Catholic. I need Dad’s permission to attend their service.”
“I am sure he’ll agree. It’s not like it used to be when Baptists were not welcome.”
“Is he there?”
“I’ll put him on the line. Are you okay?”
“You are so kind, son. But don’t let your feelings get in the way of your studies.”
Dad comes on the line.
“What’s wrong, Trev. Mom looks upset.”
“My very best friend drowned yesterday. I loved him. I need to go to the funeral.”
“Of course, you do. Is it in Eugene?”
“The service is in LA. It’s a Catholic service.”
“Don’t worry about that. Catholics are more understanding now. But it’s so far away. Do you really have to go?”
“I really loved him. I have never felt that way before.” I actually say it.
“Well, son, I’m sure you really cared, but to go to LA may be too much.”
“Calm down. What about school?”
“It’s over the weekend. I’ll leave on Friday and be back for class on Monday. I’ll pay you back for the airfare.” The tears are flowing. I begin to gulp.
“Trevor. You know we cannot afford to send you flying around the country. You’ve never been impetuous. Is it really necessary?”
“I wouldn’t ask for anything if it wasn’t important. I really loved him, Dad. I can’t believe he’s dead.”
The folks are silent on their end of the line.
“Please,” I beg.
“I’ll speak with the Church deacons. You have been an important part of our youth ministry. I’ll ask them to contribute. But what about other expenses. LA is expensive. Hotels must be a fifty dollars.”
“His roommates are going to let me stay with them. It’s just the airfare I need.”
“I’ll let you know tomorrow. If they approve, I’ll book your flights. But I’m worried about you, son. Have you been attending church?”
“I’ll go to the campus ministry tonight. Thank you for supporting me, Dad. I’m doing well.”
“Of course. How’s Bill? Was he friends with this boy?”
“No. I knew him at the fraternity. Bill’s fine.”
“Give him our best. Call me tomorrow after class.”
“Yes, Dad. I love you both.”
“Yeah. Thanks. Dad’s getting the church to contribute my airfare. I’m still the good choirboy.’
We laugh. Cameron punches me on the arm again. I want to hug him but refrain.
Dad made my airline reservations for Friday. I call the number Tim gave me.
“What?” a gruff voice answers the phone.
“Are you Tony or Jimmy?” I tentatively ask.
“Who are they?”
“Tim’s roommates?” I nervously answer.
“Tim lives alone here, unless you count those gangbangers from LaMirada. And Tim’s dead, if you didn’t know.”
“I’m coming to the funeral. I live in Oregon.”
“Shit. I suppose you need to stay here.”
“Mr. Landis told me to call.”
“Who’s he?” The guy is all questions.
“Tim’s boss at the movie studio?”
“Oh, yeah. I suppose you need to be picked up at LAX.”
“Can you? I don’t have much money.”
“Join the crowd.” We both laugh. “My name’s Nicky. I live down the hall with my girlfriend.”
“Oh.” It seems important that I understand that he’s straight. Hollywood.
I give him my flight information. He agrees to pick me up outside Western Airlines baggage claim.
“Look for the Wreck. It’s a convertible.”
In a couple of hours, I’m standing at the curb, trying to find the Wreck. All the cars in LA are shiny and new. I have no trouble picking out the Wreck. I wave at the strange-looking couple driving it. They wear brightly colored clothes covered with buttons and other paraphernalia, including chains.
“You Trevor?” Nicky asks. I nod.
“Hi. I’m Alice. Jump in,” a dark-haired Hispanic girl moves over so I can ride in the front with them. It is good I have little money to steal. They look like gang members.
Welcome to LA.
Nicky drives me to the apartment. He drives like a maniac. His girlfriend squeals and holds onto him. I just shut my eyes and hold onto the door handle. The Wreck is a pre-1964 gas guzzler – not equipped with seat belts. Once I open my eyes, the two of them laugh at me.
“Country boy, huh?” Alice, Nicky’s girlfriend, observes. “First time in the city?”
“Nah. We drive up to Portland all the time.” Actually I had driven there only once and swore never to do it again. Already I’m upping my game, just like Bill had said, ‘going all Hollywood.” I laugh.
“Good. You’ve relaxed. Only way to see LA,” Alice comments.
“They’re just kids from the ‘burbs,” Alice argues.
“Well, they’re going back to the ‘burbs so old Country here has a place to say. I just need an excuse to kick ‘em out.” Nicky turns to me. “You are Tim’s new boyfriend, right?”
“No need to be ashamed. We knew Tim was a teenage faggot,” Alice comes to my rescue.
“Just look angry that they’re there. I’ll kick ‘em out. Least ya don’t look like a faggot, all girly and such.”
I shake my head. I had hoped to avoid Hollywood melodrama. What did I expect.
There were five of them sprawled on the floor and couch of a small apartment. Nicky rousts them. They just stare at me. I try to look tough. They finally give up and leave. The place is a mess. One guy with heavy makeup around his eyes, rushes around trying to pick up their garbage. Nicky pushes him out the door.
“Ready to eat?” he asks.
We drive to Top Taco. The counterman looks at me and I don’t have to pay.
“Now don’t be letting anyone take advantage of you, Country.” Top Jimmy advises. I guess I have a new name.
Nicky decides to give me a tour of the Sunset Strip and Hollywood Boulevard.
“Stay away from Santa Monica, unless ya got backup,” he advises.
“More gangsters like those you rousted from Tim’s room?”
“Oh,” I murmur, unsure if that’s worse than gang banging.
“You in a band, Nicky?” I ask.
They both laugh. “What about me?” Alice looks insulted. “No girls in bands up in Or-e-gone?”
“Heck. I love girl singers.” To prove my point, I pull out my harmonica and blew some Bobby McGee blues.
They laugh. “Just like Tim, ready to perform at the slightest encouragement,” Alice remarks.
“Don’t be getting’ all girly on us, faggot,” Nicky orders.
“Please stop callin’ me that. It ain’t a nice word,” I demand.
They look shocked.
“What do ya wanna be called?”
“Country’s okay.” At least it’s not a slur in my mind.
“Okay, Country. But you better learn some rock n roll blues, if ya want us to listen. Folk blues don’t cut it anymore.”
Nicky smiles and starts banging a beat on the Wreck’s dashboard. Alice wails the lyrics. A couple of kids come up and give us a hand. The store manager comes out and takes photos. I figure we’re in trouble.
“Just keepin’ it real?” Nicky asks. “Real People at Tower?”
The manager gives us a thumbs up and snaps our picture playing for three fans. It feels good to play with Nicky and Alice, much like we felt at the end of choir practices.
“Ya got other songs you play on that harp?” Nicky asks.
“Just gospel. I figure ya don’t much cotton to that.”
We walk around the corner to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, hanging out in front with an assorted bunch of rock misfits. I’d never heard of that night’s headlining band.
“My band used to play here but they pay so little, we boycott the Whiskey,” Nicky claims.
“What’s your band’s name?” I ask.
“The Weirdos. I’m the drummer, Country.”
“Okay, Weirdo,” I figured that’s worse than being Country. Who knew anyone would call themselves weirdos.
“I’m in the Bags,” Alice crows.
“Okay, Baglady,” I josh.
She gives me a stern look and punches my arm. I guess that makes us bro’s. “I guess we’re the Weird Country Bagladies,” I josh.
“We’ll perform later at Oki Dog?” Nicky decides.
I realize that Tim’s need to perform wherever and whenever is typical of Hollywood people. I just go with the flow.
We walk past the Roxy, where Mott, the Hopple, is playing that night. I heard of them. There are more people hanging out front and beside the club in a small parking lot. They’re dressed in tight flared jeans and bodyshirts, with six-inch heels and bouffant hairstyles. They all wear tons of makeup, guys as well as girls. Most have glitter in their hair.
I pull out my harmonica and start in on the Mott the Hopple hit, ‘All the Young Dudes.”
“Hey, that’s the song Tim always played for all the tricks at Oki Dog,” Alice notes.
I gulp and a stream of tears runs down my cheeks. Nicky punches me, and then starts pounding the beat on the Roxy walls. Alice jumps in singing the chorus. I catch my breath and continue blowing the glitter anthem.
‘Billy rapped all night about his suicide
How he’d kick it in the head when he was twenty-five
Don’t wanna stay alive when you’re twenty-five
All the young dudes
Carry the news
Carry the news
Now Jimmy looking sweet though he dresses like a queen
He can kick like a mule
It’s a real mean team
We can love
We can love’
Songwriters: DAVID BOWIE
© EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC, TINTORETTO MUSIC
Alice goes back to the beginning and we do the whole song again. The glitter kids surround us and cheer when we’re done. Nicky looks happy at the adulation but embarrassed that his fans seem so gay. An English guy with a bushy curly Afro and dark glasses comes up to us and compliments our harmonica arrangement.
“That’s ‘cause ol’ Country don’t play guitar,” Nicky explains.
“What’s your name?” Alice asks.
“Denny,” he says. We don’t believe him. He escorts us into the club, bypassing the front door. We go upstairs where the band is hanging out with business people. I steal matches that say ‘Rainbow Room, Top of the Rox.’ Nicky says we should sneak away, still nervous about being around so many glitter people.
“We’re younger than them,” I complain, not wanting to leave right away.
We’re met with boo’s and leave quickly. Nicky gives the room the middle finger. I get embarrassed but laugh that I already performed three times that night. My harmonica isn’t a decent substitute for electric guitar. My roommate Bill predicted it. I’m going ‘all Hollywood.’ I love it.
“Yeah. I almost forgot to miss Tim.”
“Well, this is what it was like with Tim. Always be ready to perform at the drop of a hat.”
“Not just sex, but every moment was an adventure,” then I sniff back my tears.
“Ah, Country. Don’t be sad. We’re havin’ too much fun for tears.” She wipes my tears away.
“Where next?” I ask.
“Let’s get the Wreck and drive to the Troubadour. I heard they’re organizing Tim’s wake for tomorrow.” Nicky decides. “We can hit Oki Dog afterward, so ya can satisfy your performance addiction.”
The Troubadour doorman doesn’t want to let us in, until a young guy comes over and asks how we knew Tim.
“I met him in Oregon last weekend.” It seems so long ago.
“You Trevor? I thought you were going to call us when you got in. How’dcha end up with these punks?”
“I called Tim’s phone number, looking for his roommates, Tony and Jimmy. Nicky answered. They picked me up at the airport. We’ve been cruising nonstop. We performed outside Tower, the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and the Rainbow Room.”
Another teen is listening. “Oh, no. He’s a Tim clone, come to haunt us.”
“We wanna go to the wake,” Nicky knows what he wants.
“The funeral’s at St Viktor tomorrow at one and we’re all coming back here to celebrate afterward. Tim’s body goes to the Saint Vibiana’s Cathedral downtown, where the Church has other plans for it.”
“Enough with the tears. Tim was crazy and always pulling stunts. He was lucky to live as long as he did. Now he’ll be remembered as a rock star without ever having to go through all the bullshit.”
I guess it makes sense. We don’t go into the Troubadour. I promise Tony and Jimmy to be at the funeral.
“You better. The movie people made us promise to get you there.”
I perk up, knowing I’ll see Mr. Landis and everyone there. Since the wake is at a night club, I suspect I’ll get more opportunities to blow my harmonica. Maybe I can write my and Tim’s story into ‘Bobby McGee.’ I decide I like being called ‘Country.’
“Oh, by the way. Ever’one calls me ‘Country’ here,” I tell Jimmy and Tony. Everyone laughs. This sure does not feel like any funeral I have ever been to.
Single guys start waving at me. I guess I’ve been staring. I’m too embarrassed to wave back. I remember I had promised to call Dad when I got in. It’s past midnight, too late to wake-up early-to-bed Baptists. Somehow it feels liberating to be violating their rules. My anti-conscience is laughing at me. Everything about Hollywood is a joke. I lay back and fall asleep against Alice’s shoulder.
When I wake up, we are parked at an outdoor hotdog stand. Boys about my age are standing at the curb, shirtless and wearing tight shorts, and waving at the cars slowly cruising by. My real conscience tells me I see an inner circle of Hell.
Nicky and Alice walk up, looking disappointed. Maybe normal straights aren’t welcome here. I laugh at the thought that these two punks are normal.
“Whatcha laughin’ about, Country? We just got told we couldn’t perform here tonight.”
“I was thinking that you two are too normal for here.”
They look at each other.
“He’s right,” Alice concludes. “Let’s go home.”
“Aw. We’re ‘sposed to climb the Hollywood sign next.”
“It’ll be there tomorrow. And look at Country. He’s done tuckered out.” She laughs.
Soon they leave me at Tim’s place. I guess it’s mine now. Nicky shows me how to set up the Murphy Bed, just another Hollywood surprise. Once they leave, I strip off and jump into the ripe sheets. Tim’s smell envelopes me. I cry myself to sleep. I dream he is holding me. I am so happy. In the morning, my briefs are filthy. I haven’t brought a change of clothes. I found some of Tim’s sexy underwear. Slipping them on, I feel so fulfilled. I almost have another accident. Maybe I’m learning better control.