Bowling weekend is over. ‘Gator must be satisfied with total victory. Ames responded to his exhortations. Ames High is State and National Champs. His musical debut as rock drummer is a hit, with shows at the Pit, at Kappa Sig on Iowa State, and of course, back at the Hyland Street Clubhouse. With the help of the Regis High Knights, the deranged Baptists of Harlan County are run out of town. The only setback is no permanent return of John Boy Stone to his life in Ames. I accept that he is never going to be a country boy, no matter how hard he tries. Perhaps trying too hard to meet my desires robs him of his speech. I believe he isn’t faking it. I’m so proud that he faced down his haters and is all the stronger for it. I’ll go visit him in New York at the Dakota as often as I can.
Ames is boring, unless you think you’re a bowling star or a rock and roll hero. After the New Yorkers’ plane leaves, I rush to the Pizza Pit to start my Sunday night delivery shift. It’s always our busiest night of the week. I return a bit after seven o’clock to dinner, kept warm in the Hyland Street oven. I take my plate up to the third floor where ‘Gator and the twins nervously watch me for signs of nervous breakdown.
“I ain’t gettin’ all bothered ‘cause he’s gone,” I inform them. “We’s pledged to be together after we both graduate, even if it means Hahvahd.”
“Ya ain’t goin’ all teary like a girl?” ‘Gator mocks me.
“I’s still a’waitin,’” he complains.
“Good luck,” Amy softens the sarcasm her twin always dishes out.
I pull out my SG and start playing ‘Country Roads,’ as I feel I’m really home. I substitute Ames Iowa for West Virginia.
The twins join my singing with their pure high voices. ‘Gator shows he has real talent as we harmonize on a lower scale. Angie picks up her guitar, picking the notes like it is a banjo.
I next play Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ to confirm we cured John Boy’s speech loss.
‘Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence’
Songwriters: GORDON JENKINS, NAT SIMON
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group
Angie keeps picking the folk song’s single notes, as we all sing. All four of us, even ‘Gator, have tears of joy rolling down our cheeks. We end in a group hug. I look over at the stairs and see the moms hugging each other. What a family.
In bed that night, I promise ‘Gator not to say a word about all the tears – tough guy image hard to maintain. I promise to keep our secrets and keep him on track to be the monster of the gridiron next fall at Iowa State.
“Ya rilly goin’ ta Hahvahd next year?” he tries a decent East Coast twang.
“Who knows, ‘Gate? I’d as soon stay here, but I ain’t losin’ that boy agin. Too much work winning him back. I kinda threw Tommy to the wolves to prove maself to John Boy.”
“Ya sure knows how ta pick ‘em. I cain’t help but loves that Tom boy too.”
“Don’t be turnin’ gay jist ‘cause the twins ain’t givin’ it up.”
“Love and sex is two different things. Hell, I loves all them cows we milk every day.”
“Don’t be a’tellin’ John Boy. He ain’t getting’ near any o’ my milkers.”
I’m asleep before ‘Gator changes bedrooms.
My week falls back into its regular routine. I even make choir practice at First Baptist. There’s a bit of a tizzy over John Boy’s confrontation with the Harlan Baptist group. That church initiates a complaint that Ames Baptist is enabling a gay boy to subvert their children by singing with the Ames choir. The Ames pastor writes an impassioned defense of John Boy. He ‘witnessed’ the beauty of our voices as proof that gays can by inspired by God and proof that the salvation road is wide enough to accommodate the gays. I offer to stop performing with the twins at Baptist services. The pastor decides that silencing me is not in God’s plan. I feel so inspired.
My weekly session with Dr. Kam goes well. After sharing Dakota gossip (Paul McCartney has visited and is impressed with Julian’s improvement on the guitar), I’m able to recount the horrors of my truck stop prostitution and rape, in gory detail. I’m exhausted after the session. Helping Gator with the milking is calming and the regular pizza deliveries get me back in a good mood.
I’m not prepared for the message waiting for me at home: Helen called, desperate to talk with me about Joey. It seems like ages since I even thought about him. He is 22 now, which seems really old. I call her in Massachusetts.
“Hi, Helen,“ I feel more comfortable using her first name now that I’m 17. “Joey in trouble again?”
“Oh, Tim. I don’t know what to do or who to turn to. He’s in the hospital in LA.”
I instantly know what his condition is. Some things never change.
“He won’t let me go to him. It’s drugs again. I’m so worried.”
“He’s probably ashamed and also being stubborn.”
“You think so? I worry he hates me.”
“Oh, Helen. He knows you are always are on his side. You want me to go and be with him? “
“Would you? They said he almost died. His heart stopped. They had to resuscitate him.”
I remember that scene. “We need a plan to get him away from drugs.”
“Can you get him to come home, Timmy?”
All I could think was ‘where’s Timmy, Lassie,?’ I need to up my game here.
“I’ll go to LA this weekend and convince him he needs to get sober. The doctors will probably prescribe rehab but I think he needs to get away from the whole scene,” I formulate a plan. “And, Helen, please just call me Tim.”
“I’m sorry, Tim. I try to get it right, but I can’t ever seem to do the right things by you boys.”
“No big deal. All that’s important to Joey is that you will always love him. He knows that.”
“Thank you, Tim. You seem so mature. I guess you’re all grown up now.”
That may be Helen’s problem; a 17-year-old is hardly grown up. How to handle the OD of someone I really love may be above my maturity level.
“I’ll call you once I’m with Joey.”
“This affects both Mom and me. Helen in Dad’s sister. We spent every summer vacation there before we moved to Miami. Her son, Joey, is in the hospital in LA. She wants me to go there and bring him back to Massachusetts. I can do it this weekend and not miss school. I just need your permission.”
Molly is the first to respond. “Why can’t she do it?”
“He’s refusing to talk with her. I think he’s ashamed.”
“She’s his mom.”
“He’s 22. He has drug problems and is mortified. I can talk with him. We’re very close.” That is an understatement.
“You think you can rescue him. If he’s in the hospital, he must’ve OD’d.” Molly knows the score.
I already brought him back from the dead once, but I’m not about to relate that adventure.
“I visited there once. I know the people he stays with. They’ll be on my side in getting Joey clean.”
“Is this another side to your life we don’t know about, Andy?” Molly keeps up the interrogation.
“Who’s Tina?” the twins ask.
“She was my girlfriend, then. She was 14. The gangs were extorting ransom money from her family.”
“We snuck into their hideout while Joey and his friends fought with the gang members. We all escaped after we got Tito. It was two years ago.”
“You were only 15?”
“Yeah. But this isn’t about New York. Afterwards, I went to Hollywood and saw how Joey was living. I know I can help now. I just need your support. Then I just did it behind Dad and Susan’s backs. When I got back, Scott, my boyfriend then, was kicked out for being caught with his girlfriend.”
These details cause their mouths to drop.
“Dad told me you were sneaky then,” Mom finally says something.
“I’ve changed. That’s why I’m asking for permission now.” I’m losing patience. “Call Helen and confirm she needs the help only I can give.”
“We’ll do that and discuss it ourselves,” Molly decides. “Go to school as normal on Friday and if we agree, you can spend the weekend in Hollywood,” Molly remarks, then laughs. “That sounds so decadent.”
“Thanks, moms,” I jump up and hug them. I wink at ‘Gator and the twins. They look at me suspiciously, as well as with a degree of envy. And I thought bowling and fighting holy rollers is exciting.
The four of us go up to the third floor. Time for interrogation number two.
“Who’s Tina? And who’s Scott?” they all have to know.
“That’s not why you were locked up?” Angie sees my exploits in darker terms.
“That was last year. Tina dumped me for my friend Pete and Scott said he loved Lydia more than me. Just teen drama.”
“What about Flo?”
“I hadn’t met her yet.”
“And John Boy?”
We all laugh. They give up trying to trace my relationships, gay and straight.
Lying in bed, ‘Gator wants to know all about Hollywood. I spare no details, even the teepee in Doug Weston’s back yard. He’s aghast that I was part of a big orgy. I explain how breaking the same-age sex rule got me into trouble. I decide to call Doug and find out the details of Joey’s OD. ‘Gator insists he listen-in. We sneak downstairs.
“Hey, Doug. It’s Tim, Joey’s cousin. I need to find out what happened to him. His mom told me he’s in the hospital.”
“He’s okay. But how are you doing? We haven’t talked in ages.” Typical self-involved Hollywood attitude.
“I had to grow up. I’m 17 – probably too old for you.”
“You sell me short, young man. I remain besotted.”
“I’m probably coming out to try and get Joey to get away from the drugs.”
“Never doubt your charm, Tim. Are you ready to move here permanently?”
“I’ve applied to Harvard next year.”
“You have grown up.”
“Tell me what happened to Joey.”
“Nothing’s different. Still hooked on heroin. He OD’d. Old news.”
“Think he’s ready to go home? That’s what his mom wants.”
“That boy is too stubborn for me. Maybe you can charm him. He’s really a burnout now. Selling himself for less and less. But he never gives it away.”
“It scares me, Doug. I’ll do my best. I hope you’ll back me up.”
“Oh, I’ll love that.”
“I’ll call when I get in.”
‘Gator looks at me with his mouth wide open. “How old’s that guy?”
“Pretty old. He collects boys. You don’t wanna know.”
“Thanks, ‘Gate. You’re the best. But I knows how to protect maself.” I fall back into good ol’ boy mode.
“Anyway, who’ll milk the cows if’n I’s gone? Ol’ Bessie’ll miss me. Give her a kiss from me.”
“I’ll be kissin’ cows’ asses while y’alls kissin’ Hollywood stars.”
“Yeah, on the ass.”
“I’m off to kiss ass in the twins’ room.”
“Good luck on that one.”
Next morning at Aimless High, the twins tell everyone I’m going to Hollywood. They all wish me good luck, thinking it’s my big break. Even Mrs. McCarthy tells me she knows I’ll make it there. The moms come and collect me before final bell. My flight leaves at 2 pm. After a Denver layover, I land at LAX at 6 pm. The moms gave me several hundred dollars, warning I have to call them if any emergency happens. They only ‘sorta’ trust me. I use the cash to take a cab to Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. Joey looks terrible. His good looks are ruined by acne. He can’t weigh more than 130 pounds. He still is feisty as ever.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” is his first remark.
“Look who got dragged in by a mountain lion,” I laugh at him.
He expects sympathy but quickly grins that I’m not going all social worker on him.
“Yeah, You should see how the lion looks.”
I resist my urge to rush up and hug him, sitting on the edge of the bed instead.
“Did Doug call ya to say I’s OD’d, so ya’d rush out here to see him?”
“Naw. It was Helen. She wants me to bring ya back home to Massachusetts.”
“That ain’t happenin.’”
“Yeah, stubbornness is a family trait.”
“This ain’t ‘bout me. How ya gonna stop the drugs?”
“They got me goin’ ta rehab after I’m released.”
“How’s that work?”
“Thirty days on the County. I get out clean.”
“Get out where and how long will that last?”
“LA. Doug’ll take me back. He’s easy. A blow job every week for room and board.”
I don’t fault Doug for causing Joey’s problems, but he sure makes it easy.
“Helen wants you back. Even Andy Warhol says they miss ya in the City.”
“You talk with old Andy?”
“Movin’ in on my territory?”
“You left. Last time we were together was in the Grove – our lost weekend, two years ago.”
He looks quizzically at me. “My memory’s not so good now. That when I went to Miami?”
“Ya don’t remember David and Jill, the Jimmy Cliff movie, and having so much sex we got over each other?”
“Yeah. Every time we did it, you fell asleep. It was hot. Ya still a fag?”
“’Course, but I got girlfriends, too. My boyfriend’s rich. He lives at the Dakota on Central Park West.”
“He as old as Doug?”
“Naw. He’s my age. I don’t fuck around with anyone who’s not as young as I am.”
“Ya told Doug that yet?”
“Well. I’m here fer y’all, not him.”
He reaches out to me, his arm still hooked up to the intravenous drip. He looks scary. I slide up the bed and hold his hand. I know drug addiction is not contagious, but he makes me feel ill. I feel so sad. He was my first love. I moved past him and he’s five years older than me. I feel an overwhelming urge to call Dr. Kam for advice. We just sit there looking at each other.
“Ya best leave before this becomes a pity party,” he dismisses me.
“My life has been so great since we went to the City together. After I stopped being a jock, my friends started a band. I met Bruce Springsteen and played CBGB’s. My boyfriend, Jack, and I started homeless shelters for runaways. We opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got arrested after we got the fans to break down the gates. I hid out in the Everglades for four months and escaped to Iowa where Mom now lives. I got twin step-sisters my age. We started a new band, the Triplets. Jack came back from Switzerland. I went to stay with him in the City. We met John Lennon’s son, Julian, and started a band called Dakota. His dad played with us at our only gig. All ‘cos ya took me to the City in 1973. Hell, ya taught me to take risks ‘cos yer only young once. All ‘cos of you, Joey. I ain’t abandonin’ ya.”
“Visiting hours are over. You’d best go,” she orders.
“Sure,” I say and give Joey a deep French kiss. Who cares that he’s at Death’s Door.
“How ya getting around?” Joey asks. “Wanna use my bus pass. I ain’t goin’ nowheres.”
I nod. He climbs out of bed, his ass hanging out of the hospital johnny. He’s all skin and bones, not a bit of flesh, with his arms and legs as thin as pencils. His ass is nothing but loose skin. I shudder, take the bus pass, and leave.
I figure it’s too late to bother Dr. Kam. Time to go to the Troubadour and meet Doug. The hospital is at the eastern end of Hollywood and the club at the border of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The Sunset bus takes me across town. I’ll walk down Doheny to the club on Santa Monica Boulevard. I’m ready for the Nightlife.
Going by bus in LA is counter to the prevailing attitude that everyone has a car and no one walks in LA (or takes the bus).
Most bus patrons are minorities on their way to work, probably illegals as they avoid eye contact with everyone lest they be noticed. On the other hand, Blacks are not going to be deported, regardless of how their ancestors came to the U.S. Young black dudes roam the bus aisles as if they own them, which they do. Two dudes with ‘fros drop into the seats next to me, excited to find a hick from the sticks to ‘goof’ on. I’m more than willing to play a part in their social drama.
“Naw. Iowa,” I bravely reveal my innocence.
“Ya got a buck. I need a soda.”
“How ‘bout a juice,” I reach in my backpack and pull out one of the provisions Mom packed. “Take a hit. We kin share,” as I pop the top.
They both stare at me, incredulously. “I don’t want yer spit.”
“Then y’all take the first hit. I ain’t ‘fraids of a little spit.”
He tentatively takes the can and drinks a small amount. Then he elaborately spits it back into the can, handing it back to me.
“Not to yer likin’?” I ask.
“Ya said ya wanted some spit.”
“I said a little, not an ocean.”
They laugh. “Why ya in LA, Iowa?” one asks.
“My cousin’s in Hollywood-Pres. I come to get ‘im out.”
“Where ya goin’ now?”
“To his house in West Hollywood.”
“He’s a fag, huh?”
“More like a hustler.” I haven’t lied yet.
“Why. Ya interested?”
“Fuck, no, honky. I ain’t no fag.”
“Ya wanna go with us and get high?”
“Naw. I’s goin’ to a club. Probably git high there.”
“A gay club?”
“Naw. The Troubadour. It’s rock.”
“Ya like disco?”
“Jist KC and the Sunshine Band. They’s from Miami.”
“That’s cool. What’s ‘bout rap?”
“Like Grand Master Flash?”
“How ya knows ‘bout them in I-o-way?”
“Used ta live in Miami.”
“You’s a Southern boy. Don’t like Blacks, do ya?’
“I’s Southern but so’s my Black friends.”
“We’s from South-Central.”
“Sound Southern ta me.”
They both look at me. “Ya tryin’ to get over on us?”
“Naw, but y’ain’t getting’ over on me neither.”
They stand up. “Okay, white boy. Ya gonna give me that dollar?”
I handed him my juice. “Maybe ya kin sell this here can o’ spit fer a buck.”
They shake their heads, laugh and look for a better victim.
“How you get out of givin’ them two yer money?” one asks me.
“Is that what they wanted?” I innocently ask.
“We know you ain’t no hick from the sticks.”
“Yer wrong. I gots ta milk cows every mornin’. It’s jist I bin ta New York and ain’t ‘fraids o’ no one.”
“Ya wanna get high with us?”
“Naw. I’s goin’ to a club. Ever’one’s high there.”
“Naw, 17, but I know the owner.”
“Can ya gets us in?”
“I kin try.”
“Oh, that’s too fancy.”
They get off at Highland.
“See ya, I-o-way.
I see a bunch of similar kids hanging around the bus stop. They are checking out the cruisers in cars. I’m learning Hollywood street smarts quickly. Hollywood High is on the opposite corner. Past La Brea the hustlers are all female, or maybe some trannies as well. iHop seems to be the center of their scene, although there are many street walkers. By the time we get to the Sunset Strip I start to recognize landmarks from movies. A tall tower building advertises the Playboy Club. I see the railroad diner car from Annie Hall. Sunset turns west again at Tower Records, with the entire store front covered with blow-ups of album covers. I get excited when I see the Whiskey. I jump off the bus and go up to the ticket window.
“Come back, Sunday afternoon, kid. We let everyone in for locals only bands. We got Van Halen this weekend. They’re from Pasadena.”
I just want to think about the Doors, Jim Morrison and the Riot on Sunset Strip. It’s less exciting tonight, but I love the history.
I walk down Clark toward Santa Monica. It’s mostly residential until I get close. Instead of turning right toward Beverly Hills and the club, I mistakenly turn left. I’m drawn to a tough black-haired chick, dressed all in leather, like Pat Benatar and Suzie Quatro, smoking outside a commercial building, on the corner of Larrabee and Santa Monica .
She looks at me and laughs. “Not sure you can comment on style and dress, looking like a hayseed.”
“Hi, I’m Andy. Ya don’t likes my Love jeans. It’s what I wear when my band performs.”
“Cool. Chicks rock in LA. My first band, we had three chicks doing back-ups. My new band has two girls on bass.”
“I guess that’s some progress. Ya don’t like chicks. Are you gay?”
“Yeah, but I like chicks, especially if they rock out.”
“What’ya want? Style advice? Your Love jeans are pretty ragged.”
“Think I should wear leather?” I look her up and down.
“I ain’t cute enough?”
“Yer cute enough, but that look is way over-supplied in West Hollywood.”
I laugh. “I’m just visiting. You know how to get to the Troubadour?”
“Yer goin’ the wrong way. It’s about six blocks west. Here’s Jimmy’s card. Tell ‘em ya need a style update.”
“Thanks, Joan. Or should I say, Pat.”
“Get outta here.”
“I’m Tim, here to see Doug. He’s expecting me.”
The bouncer looks at his list without seeing my name. Over his shoulder, I see my friend Tony.
“Tony. Tony,” I yell.
He looks over, slightly bored, until he recognizes me. He runs over.
“Let him in. He’s with Doug.” The magic password.
“Yeah. I’m here to rescue Joey. He OD’d.”
“Not the first OD, except this time the medics came and hauled him away.”
“I just saw him in the hospital. They’re about to release him to drug rehab.”
“That never works.”
“Y’all sounds like ya seen it a’fore.”
“Hey, yer a country boy now?”
“Livin’ it up in I-o-way.”
“I’m mostly straight now – just got old boyfriends in New York and Florida. They both came for Christmas and blew my reputation in front of the whole school.”
“Didcha about die?”
“Naw, we gots in a big fight with the whole football team on New Year’s Eve. I knocked out two and put down three others ‘fore they decides they likes me.”
“You’re a trip. Ya gonna stay at Doug’s?”
“Hopes to. Is he here?”
“Later. I’ve moved up from the tee pee. I even get paid to work here at the club.”
“I ain’t lyin’ to you, but that’s personal.”
I punch him on the arm. We laugh. He leads me upstairs into Doug’s office. Tony sits behind the big desk where he spreads out his arms.
“Welcome to my domain,” and he laughs. “I’m in charge when Doug’s not here.”
“Yer shittin’ me?”
“Naw. I learned from your example and stopped putting Doug off by pretending I don’t like the sex.”
“Did he buy ya a car?”
“Naw. I earned enough here to pay for a beat-up Datsun. Don’t laugh. It’s perfect for city driving. I told Doug I didn’t want to be his boyfriend but his partner.”
“You own the club.”
“No way. I just want to work and pay my own way. What we do in bed is secret,” he winks.
“I find him really sweet, just a bit possessive.”
“Beer’s cool. Gotta a joint?”
“Hang on,” as he picks up the phone. Within moments a cocktail waitress arrives with a pitcher of beer.
She asks me for ID. As I sputter with some lame excuse, they break up, laughing at me. Tony walks out of the office, returning soon with a big fat joint. He lights it up and passes it to me. The last time I smoked was at the Dakota with Jack’s cousins. I instantly feel paralyzed, sitting on the couch, unable to move, with a big idiot grin on my face. Tony comes and sits with me as we hit the joint. He pretty much attacks me with serious kissing and a back massage. I’m too stoned to really respond. It’s total role reversal, but I don’t care. He enjoys coming on to me and finds it amusing that I’m so passive.
“The old Tim is no more,” he laments. I’m not about to relate all my adventures since that weekend in 1974. I’m just happy that he likes me. We’re two teens in Hollywood, looking for fun.
“I’m not used to getting this stoned anymore. How about this?” I pull his tee-shirt up, lick his nipples, undo his belt and pop his jeans’ buttons.
“Hang on,” as he jumps up and closes the office door. No longer paralyzed I tackle him when he turns around at the door. We roll around on the fluffy shag carpeting (shag is the right word for it and it does have some nice qualities), while I pull his jeans off his ass and grab his butt cheeks. We both look like idiots with stupid grins. Doug choses this moment to walk in on us. We don’t notice him until he makes a polite cough. We separate instantly. Seeing it’s him, we both start giggling.
“You’re molesting my boyfriend,” Doug accuses me. Tony must get a pass with him. “Last time you were here, he changed into the boy I love now.”
“He’s totally different, Doug. Now he’s a straight country boy from Iowa. I attacked him.”
“Oh, the shame of it,” Doug moans. “I have trained you to be a monster.”
“Naw. He still loves me,” Tony proclaims.
“Hey, I’m right here, in case you didn’t notice.”
We get up. Tony pulls up his jeans.
“Hi, Doug,” I announce with a goofy grin. “Tony says you’ve discovered him.”
He comes over and hugs me. “Welcome back. You still a big jock?”
“Naw. My old life ended once I returned from visiting you. Now I’m a rocker, although my bowling team was national high school champs this year.”
“A bowling jock?”
“Yeah. It started as a joke and it remained fun. I got the football team to join. It’s a co-ed sport.”
“Life in Iowa must seem tame.”
“We have rural Baptists tryin’ ta kill my boyfriend, after he almost died from snake bite in some crazy religious revival.”
“They got cowboys and Indians in Iowa?” Tony interjects.
“That’s what Julian Lennon wanted to know when I took my boyfriend to New York to be cured.”
“Yeah. We’re called ‘Dakota,’ where he and my boyfriend have apartments. Nina Bernstein is also in it. John Lennon just got up and played one song with us. Dakota’s pretty kaput now that I’m back to Ames. Julian and Nina now go to junior high.”
“Thanks, but we only play covers. It was just to have a party with the kids at St Patrick’s in New York. My real band is still working on our own set. We’re called ‘False Gods’ but we’ve broken up.”
Tony is barely listening, obviously bored, as I brag about my rock cred.
“Let’s have brunch tomorrow, so I can fill you in. I’m more interested in what’s happened with Tony’s life in Hollywood.”
“Yeah. I interrupted what I love – horny teenage boys going at it,” Doug agrees.
Tony perks up. Both of us go over to Doug and start molesting him.
“No three-ways in the office,” he declares. “You boys go out tonight. We’ll get brunch after a real session at the house in the morning.”
Doug winks. We run off to hit the scene.
“Has the club changed the type of bands that play here?” I ask Tony.
“Shit, no. Doug thinks we should be a showcase for old rock n roll acts, like his breakout shows for Elton John, years ago.”
“Yeah, it seems the same as last time. Borin’ bands and chicks tryin’ ta remember when they was hot.”
“Can we get in? I’m still under age.”
“If you know the bouncers, like I do.”
“Let’s go.” I stop worrying about Joey.