I call Aaron about a more in-depth visit to the Temple Emanu-el’s Jace’s Place. His father answers, concerned that the two boys had not come home. I explain that we are working on an infomercial project on the shelters. I promise to have the boys contact him. He is cool for a parent who’s 14 year-old son hasn’t come home overnight.
It’s a short walk to the Factory. The boys are easy to find. Assistant Blair casually explains that they stayed with him after finishing the developing of the Big Shot portraits. Andy is not in, probably sleeping in after our busy night. Aaron calls his dad and promises to come home. It’s a school day. We take the boys to eat. I’m livid that they may have been exploited.
“What were you thinking, staying out all night? That guy’s twice your age.”
“No big deal. We’re committed to each other. We don’t fool around,” Aaron defends their actions. “We figure our parents assume we’re at each other’s house.”
“We’ll come home with you and talk with your folks,” Jack suggests.
I feel way older than 17. At least being gay means I never have to be a full-time parent. It’s instructive to see these kids through parental eyes. They’re oblivious to the potential for abuse. We assume that taking homeless kids off the streets will protect them from abuse. It’s more complicated.
At Aaron’s, I sit with both sets of parents and tell them the story of Jack’s snake bites. My point is that we naively assumed the Baptist preacher had good intentions toward us. Jack almost died.
“We always believe what Jace tells us on who to trust,” Paul explains why they don’t worry about haters and exploiters.
“Molesters and abusers often think they have pure hearts. That preacher asked if Jack trusted Jesus to protect him. He thought because Jack is Catholic and gay, that he doesn’t have the true faith. It was like the devil tempting Adam and Eve. They wanted the snake to prove a miracle. Even the doctor told us to pray for his recovery. Jack’s parents had to air-evac him to a real hospital.
“I couldn’t talk for days,” Jack adds. “I felt stupid and guilty for trusting that preacher.”
Aaron’s father is confused. “So, the boys just believe their hearts can tell them who they can trust. This is the big city, boys. Half the people here are running some scam or another.”
“Their hearts tell them who is also open-hearted. It obviously isn’t fool-proof. Some judgment is required before you spend the night with a stranger.”
The boys look abashed and ashamed.
Paul tells us that they’re worried about abusers at Jace’s Place. Kids come from the streets with hearts closed to everyone. There are only other kids to open up to. There’s no counseling, just a place, supposedly safe. Once a kid has opened up to others, they form a bond to protect each other. New kids need to belong and share the mutual bond. Adults can never share that bond. The motives of the staff are suspect as there is no real reward for helping kids create a positive peer group.
“You’re worried that the adults at Jace’s Places are potential abusers?” I ask Paul.
“The only safeguard is that the kids themselves expose the abusers and make them leave. But that’s naïve. Most homeless kids are too embarrassed to tell anyone they’re being abused or bullied.”
“So, we get them off the streets but haven’t provided a safe place?”
“Each shelter is different. Staff involvement varies. Kids need to have someone to back them up if there’s abuse.”
“Wow. I feel like we failed them,” I admit. “Maybe the infomercial we’re working on needs to move past just getting the homeless kids off the street.”
I know I have to get Father Frank to be on top of things here in New York.
“Well, I’m only here for a few days. When Father Frank comes back from Miami, let’s all get together and make sure we stay on the right path.”
Aaron’s father is still a fan. “I was so pleased you chose my son to be a leader last Passover. Again you are enlisting him. You make me so proud of him. But he’s still on restriction for staying out all night.”
Aaron and Paul take us to the shelter where we speak individually with many kids who want to tell us what it’s like for them. Having been on the streets, they naturally are suspicious of adults. That blanket suspicion prevents them from sharing with staff any specific problems they encounter. A code of silence is allowing abuse to fester. I’m determined to root out abuse but have no plan to counter this code.
Jack wants me to stay longer than the time the moms allowed for me to be in New York. I’m reluctant to manipulate the moms. Instead, we agree he will spearhead the reforms and work with Andy on the portraits and multi-media exhibition about Jace’s Place. I’ll remain in constant contact from Iowa.
“Do you want to go back to Iowa with me? We can come back here eventually but I love my family too much to want to leave them now.”
He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. His eyes get wide. Jace tells me that Jack has regressed and needs me to take him home.
“We have to leave. I’ll call when Father Frank arrives. This has been instructive.”
“Is Jack alright?” Aaron senses something is wrong.
“He’s still not fully recovered. I need to take him home.”
Jack starts silently crying. The boys instantly embrace him. I see him relax.
We walk across Central Park, hand in hand. A photographer must have seen us, as we reappear on Page Six the next morning. Once we’re in the lobby, a younger boy and girl come up to us.
“Why are you holding hands?” the boy asks, with a marked North England accent
“Because we can,” I answer.
“That’s a rhyme,” he remarks.
“A rhyme in time rings true.”
“Are you a musician?” the girl asks
“What’s your names?” I ask.
“Nina, and this is Julian. His father is a famous musician.”
“Do you play, Julian?” I ask.
“I play drums. Paul McCartney is teaching me guitar.”
“My, you’re very lucky. I’m Andy and this is Jack. I taught him to play guitar. Our drummers are in Miami. Maybe we can jam sometime. I’d love to hear what Paul McCartney taught you.”
“How come he doesn’t talk?” Nina asks.
“He was bit by a snake. It makes him unable to talk, but he’s almost cured. Maybe if we all sing a song a Cappella, he’ll get his voice back.”
“What shall we sing?” Julian asks.
“How about the Beatles, since you know Paul. ‘A Little Help from My Friends?”
‘What would you do if I sang out of tune?’ I start.
‘Would you stand up and walk out on me?’ Julian sings in a voice that tells me his father is John Lennon.
‘Lend me your ears and I’ll try not to sing out of key,’ Nina sings a pure soprano.
‘Do you need anybody ?’ I sang
‘I need somebody to love,’ Julian
‘Could it be anybody,’ Nina
‘I want somebody to love,’ Jack has found his voice again, tears rolling down his cheeks.
‘Can it be anybody?’ I sing
‘I just need someone to love,’ Jack collapses into my arms.
– Joe Cocker
“Is he really sick?” Nina asks.
“At least he’s singing. It’s an improvement.”
“A snake bite causes him to stop talking? Is he daft?” Julian is blunt.
“No. We talk by sign language. Ask him something.”
“How did you get snake-bit in New York? Sure it wasn’t rat? Maybe it’s the plague?”
The boy is a wit. We both laugh. The kids relax, seeing Jack act normal.
“We live in Iowa. A nasty country preacher made Jack test his faith with a rattlesnake. The snake bit him three times, the father, son and holy ghost. It exposed us as Catholics. Jack would’ve died but he got air-evac’d home. The speech loss comes back because he subconsciously blames me for not protecting him.”
“What? Evil preachers? Do they also have Red Indians where you live?”
“They all got kicked out. It’s the redneck farmers who hate us for being gay.”
“I’m from Liverpool,” Julian states. “I know me place there. No snakes to keep me deef and dumb.”
“You guys are fun,” Jack speaks. I’m instantly relieved he’s talking again. He and I hug.
“Cured?” Nina asks.
“Completely, until my boyfriend is mean to me again.” Jack laughs.
“Come up to my room.” Julian offers.
“You sure Yoko won’t object?” I kid him.
“She’s not me mum. And I have me own flat.”
“Do come,” Nina pleads.
“We’ll go get our guitars. We’ll play and talk some more.”
“Meet us at 407 in 30 minutes.”
Mummy and Daddy are having afternoon cocktails as we walk in.
“Your cousins want to speak with you both.”
“That’s nice,” Jack answers, as we sit down, with matching Cheshire cat grins.
“You boys seem very chipper.”
“Oh, we are Mummy. We’re going to play with John Lennon’s son. You know, the Beatles.”
“I heard he lives at the Dakota. Will you be playing outside? It’s still winter. Wear your coat.”
“Mummy, I’ve been living in Iowa. This isn’t winter. It’s at least Spring. And, no, we’re not playing outside. We’re playing music together.”
“With the Beatles?”
“No. His son. He’s about eleven,”
“Well, don’t bother his mother. I hear she’s not so nice.”
“Ta,” Jack sings as we leave to get the guitars. We pick out two acoustics, the old fender Mustang and Jace’s SG. Before leaving we realize we look ridiculous loaded down with four guitars. We just take the acoustics.
We tell the parents we’re going to the Octopus’s Garden in case the cousins ask.
“You should be nicer to your cousins, Johnny.”
“They’re jerks. Andy took their portraits. He calls it “Wasted Youth’.”
“Andy Warhol painted their portraits?”
“No, he took Polaroids of them.”
“Oh,” they lose interest.
We bang on the door to 407. Then wait for several minutes until Nina comes to the door. She looks flustered.
“Been smoking pot or making out?”
She blushes. “Pot, we’re only 12. We don’t make out.”
“You should try it. It makes the time fly by.”
We walk in. The apartment is a typical kid’s room in shambles. A drum set and amps are in one corner. The opposite corner had several couches with a full ashtray and pot paraphernalia. The curtains are drawn, making the room feel like a dark cave.
“Should we get the electric guitars? We just brought acoustics.”
“Only if Junior B jumps on his drum kit.”
“We’ll bring them next time.”
“Wud ja be bothered if we talks like regular folk, ‘stead of this stilted schoolboy speech?”
“So we ’s gots ta treat ya like ‘blokes?” Julian starts taking the piss out on us.
Instead of setting up to play, they want to talk.
“Wanna hit?” Julian asks.
“Only if you can stand seeing us fag out on each other.”
They giggle and bring out the bong.
We are one hit wonders. Jack starts rubbing on me, moving behind me and slowly humping my back. The kids start laughing at us.
“Why were you so mean to Jack?” Nina asks.
“He stopped talking when I told him I was going back home to Iowa on Sunday. He has to stay here. We were kept apart last year when I got arrested.”
Jack has little interest in my explanation, working my back with his hands and rubbing a hard-on against my buttocks.
“Why were you arrested?” Julian is interested.
“Initially for drinking a beer at the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Miami. I got thrown in juvie because my dad said I was out of control.”
“How long were you locked up?”
“It was ‘sposed to be until I turn 18. Two of us escaped and lived in the Everglades all summer. My friend got an infected foot. At the hospital his asshole brother tried to turn him in. I took off after a fight and ended up at my mom’s in Iowa.”
“Why are you going back?”
“I promised the moms so I could come with Jack to New York. He was in a coma.”
“Oh. Let’s play guitars. Nina can sing.”
“You don’t play?” I ask her. “Not related to any musical geniuses?”
“I never learned. But my father’s Leonard Bernstein.”
“I can teach you to play in less than a minute. All you have to do is trust me.”
“Uncle Paul’s been teaching Jules for three years. You’ll do it in a minute?” she laughs.
“Jules is learning Paul’s music. That’s hard. I’ll just teach you to play your own music, what’s in your heart.”
Jack pipes up. “If you learn, we’ll put on a recital for my parents for their cocktail hour.”
“What should I try to play?”
“How about a song by your pops? Sing something from ‘Westside Story’?”
She picks the finale, ‘Somewhere’.
It’s easy. I feel she trusts me. Jace takes her hands and places them on the guitar, shaping the chords for her.
“Who is making me do this?”
“It is the spirit of rock n roll. It will help you realize you already know this song and can play it. Until you feel confidant, he’ll guide you. His name is Jace.”
We have their attention. Nina starts strumming the rhythm which she inherently knows.
All four of us sing along.
‘There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
© 1956, 1957 Amberson Holdings LLC and Stephen Sondheim. Copyright renewed.
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher.
“How did you do that?” Julian is thunderstruck. “Teach me, too.”
I sense he’s more skeptical than trusting.
“Okay. You first have to trust Jace to come into your heart. Since you don’t know him or us that well, you can trust Nina. She’ll open your heart to Jace for you. Sit with her. She’ll show you.”
He moves over and takes the guitar. She shapes his hands to the chords. They’re so cute, intently working the miracle together. He starts strumming. We came in with the lyrics. At first he’s furiously trying to understand how the notes are playing properly. Finally, he relaxes and lets the music flow. His Beatle Uncle Paul was teaching him notes before he felt the sounds in his head and heart. The two methods are in conflict. Realizing that he can stop over-thinking it and just play a song lets him be free. He’s twelve years old; what problems could he have?
“Okay,” Jack announces, “now we go play for Mummy and Daddy. It’s the cocktail hour – Showtime.”
Again we’re in hysterics.
“We’re too stoned to perform.”
“Stop worrying. We’ll just do it.”
Jules has at least five acoustic guitars. The four of us troop down to the Stone apartment.
“Hello, Mummy. I’m Julian Lennon and this is my friend Nina Bernstein. We’re here to entertain you. Hello, Mr. Stone.”
“How nice. We’ve missed Johnny’s impromptu performances since Tim left.”
“We’re doing ‘Somewhere there’s a Place for Us,’ from Westside Story.’ Nina’s father wrote the music.”
Jules strums a short prelude before all four of us came in on vocals.
We blend well, with Jules’ Liverpool accent making us sound like a Mersey Beat band, if not exactly Beatlesque. Jack’s dare to get the kids to play for his parents pays off.
“Can you do another?” Mummy asks.
“Play that new Wings song Paul taught you,” Nina tells Jules.
“Oh, it’s just a silly love song,” he smiles.
“Perfect,” Mummy ordered.
Jace and I are astounded, as we had thought of that title when we were first writing songs.
Jules confidently plays the intro, saying it’s a new song on the Wings album due out in March.
When we get to the ‘I love you’ chorus, Jules sings to Nina while I sing to Jack. Then we turn and sing to the Stones, ‘It isn’t silly at all.’
“How do you know the words. It hasn’t even come out?” Jules challenges us.
“We’ve always known someone would do this song,” I remain enigmatic. “Here’s the song we ripped off from your dad.” Jack and I sing ‘Love 2’ to each other. The kids create their own rhythm chords.
“I never feel this way.
Just happy full of play.
I wake up every day,
You’re by my side,
You reach and touch,
I say goodbye.
There’s no future,
But we have now.
We’re perfect for each other,
I never think of another.”
Can’t be love, but who can say
I know you’re here to stay?
There’s no future,
But we have now.
We can’t live by ourselves.
We need people that we love
We hate those who hate themselves
We know what they’re not made of.
Love, love, love
I need your love
I need your love
I need your love
I need you”
I kiss Jack. The kids giggle. The parents are slightly shocked.
“That’s our band’s song,” I told them.
“Pretty sappy,” Jules critiques.
“Not so old to be jaded?” I respond.
“Old enough to render Jack speechless when you’re mean.”
“You’ve been mean?” Mummy asks.
“I have to go back to Iowa. Jack wants me to stay.”
“Please stay,” both Jules and Nina nag like only kids can.
“And that’s what makes Jack stop talking?” Mr. Stone realizes.
“He likes to get his way. Sometimes I have to be mean. Not because I want to. It’s about growing up and knowing things can’t always be perfect.”
“So, Jack punishes you when he can’t get his way.”
“Oh, Daddy. I just got him back. I can’t lose him again. Let me go back to Iowa, too.”
“No,” argue the kids. “You’re our only friends.”
“Want to come to Iowa, too.”
“Ew. And get snake-bit? No thanks”
The Stones are too old for all this childish bickering. We are politely dismissed.
Nina and Jules come back to our bedroom. They don’t notice how much cleaner our room is compared to Jules’. We tell them stories from the Easter tour of the South.
“Is Iggy really tough and mean?”
“He’s a greaser who likes to dress up in leather and dog collars.”
“Miami sounds so cool, much nicer than Iowa.”
“Actually, Iowans are nice, as long as you fit in. They have barn parties.”
“A party in a barn?”
“No, not in but near an abandoned barn way out in the country where no one goes. Everyone puts their pickup trucks in a circle with the headlights on. You drink beer and smoke pot until the girls put out.”
“Ew,” Nina is not impressed.
“Unless you’re Andy. Then, you start crying and pass out.” Jack tells the truth.
“I’m Andy in Iowa. My twin sisters and I have another band, ‘The Triplets,’ Amy, Angie and Andy. Jace taught them to play just like he did for you today.”
“Are you going to show us how that trick works?” Jules is still perplexed by his own talent.
“It’s no trick. You let Jace into your heart. He finds your own music there. Then he helps you to play it. The only magic is your own music. He helps you find and play it.”
Still perplexed, Jules fail to think that a ghost is also magic.
We ask them to stay for dinner. Nina calls to let her parents know. Jules generally eats with her family; he doesn’t need to disturb his rock god parents. It gives me an idea for a new band song: ‘Son of False Gods.’ Mummy inform the staff and tells us that dinner is at 7 pm.
After we were seated and eating the soup course, Trent and Brett rush in from their Collegiate socializing.
“Who are these kids?” they look accusingly at Jack and me. Apparently the Stone’s good manners gene has not found the other side of the family
“They’re our friends. We invited them,” Jack doesn’t bother to introduce his cousins.
They sit down, slurp their soups. Then they looked around bored.
“We’re invited to Bitty’s Waldorf tea party on Saturday night. If you want to come, we can get you invited. It looks like we’ve made it to the ‘A’ list after being on Page Six of the Post.”
“That must be exciting,” I quip. Jack kicks me under the table. Jules and Nina burst out laughing.
“And who are you, again?” Trent interrogates them.
“They’re neighbors. We all entertained my parents while you were ‘A’ listing this afternoon.” Jack is still feisty from the bong hit hours earlier.
“Boys, remember my rule about leaving disputes out of the dining room. You can discuss these plans later. Tell us about your meetings today, Tim.” Apparently I have been too busy enjoying the back and forth without participating.
“We met with Marty and convinced him to share the film with Andy. We told Andy that Paul Morrissey is not the right director. Then we had to get Marty to want to work with an artist. He agreed, but getting someone from the Bronx to work with someone from the West Village is worse than arranging a truce in Israel.”
“Then we went to the Temple Emanu-el homeless shelter. We realize that there are serious flaws in the Jace’s Place model. We need Father Frank here. Can you call him?” Jack adds.
“He went back to Miami, frustrated about something. Sounds like there are issues to resolve.”
“He can’t do it from Miami.”
“What are you talking about?” Trent isn’t shy about exposing his cluelessness. The kids giggle, having followed our discussion.
“Tim and Johnny got the Church, Baptist and Jewish congregations to set up homeless shelters for kids on the street.”
“It’s important that we get them back on track before I leave. It’ll be good if Johnny is here to oversee the reforms. He still loses his voice occasionally. It’s singing with Jules and Nina that got it back today.
The kids beam.
“Can he come back to Iowa when he’s fully recovered?” I ask, worrying he’s going speechless again.
“It worries us, Tim,” Daddy speaks for the parental unit, “that Jack’s speech problems may be caused by fights you two are having. Iowa seemed delightful when we visited but we don’t want him relapsing.”
“You’ve always trusted me to protect him.”
“I’m not sure you can protect him from himself.”
“Well, maybe my Moms will let me come back here, if he’s still sick.”
“Let’s wait and see how things work out. You certainly are welcome anytime.”
“I have two mums, too,” Jules pipes up.
“Well, my moms live together.”
“Oh, my mums hate each other.”
“That’s much more normal, dear,” Mummy to the rescue.