We arrive at St Patrick’s as the previous service is just letting out. Casper had been exultant at Abyssinian Baptist. At St Patrick’s, he seems quite subdued, hanging on to me. He ignores all the goings on around us.
“What’s up?” I sign.
“I love you so much,” he signs back. We smile together.
Hippie and I sit beside the organist, with good sight lines to the pews. Jack waves to me, seated between his parents. Mom and Dad look at me with proud smiles. Jenna waves, sitting with Michael, between the Antonio’s and the Lombardi’s.
I start softly playing the intro to ‘Wish You were Here.” Cardinal Cook, followed by priests and then altar boys come out of the sacristy. The new English Mass is sprinkled with latin phrases to appease the older worshipers. Casper has been sitting with me. When I get up and joined my parents for Communion, he floats above the altar, resting on the outstretched arms of the crucified Jesus sculpture. He never takes his eyes off me. After the benediction, Hippie gets up and begins singing ‘Amazing Grace.”
I play my usual guitar part. The organist does the bass part, so Hippie is free to sing soaring notes. The Church is as silent as a meadow under snow. The Easter sunlight shines on the crucifix with Casper bathing in its golden glow. As the priest signals, “Offer a sign of peace,” Casper looks directly at me, projecting a beam of reflected golden light toward me. Wispy tears are running down his cheeks which fly into the air, gold-colored, not the usual blue. They spread out over the congregation and fall on the parishioners who are greeting each other. The whole cathedral was bathed in golden light.
“Go in peace,” the priest intones. I start the Pink Floyd ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond,’
staring at Casper’s golden image. He begins to fade as if his wispy self was being absorbed by the crucifix. He stretches out his arms to me, smiling and reassuring my heart that he isn’t leaving me there. As predicted, many of the kids from the youth group gather around me. Casper signs, “protect them.” He’s almost completely absorbed. My tears can’t stop as I start singing,
“Remember when you were young
You shine like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond
Now there’s a look in your eyes
Like (gold tears) in the sky”
I have to stop singing but am able to continue the guitar solo. Finally I’m able to sing again,
“Shine on you crazy diamond
You were caught on the cross fire
Of childhood and stardom
Blown on the steel breeze
Come on you target for faraway laughter
Come on you stranger
You legend, you martyr and shine”
Again I stop singing but still play the guitar part. I know in my heart I’m losing him again. “No,” my heart tells me. “I am forever here. We’re always together.”
“You reached for the secret too soon
You cried for the moon
Shine on you crazy diamond
Threatened by shadows at night
And exposed in the light
Shine on you crazy diamond”
The kids around start to gasp, looking up at the crucifix. Sparkling bright tears are leaking from the crucified Christ’s eyes. Girls starts kneeling and praying. The congregants, still in the church, turn around and see all the kids praying. The priests greeting the departing parishioners stop talking. No one wants to disturb me and the praying kids. Hippie starts playing the bass notes, adding gloom to the moment.
“Well, you wore out your welcome
With random precision
Rode on the steel breeze
Come on you raver, you seer of visions
Come on you painter
You piper, you prisoner and shine”
My heart tells me to play soaring, ecstatic notes, to overcome the gloom. The golden light now emanates from the crucifix. It explodes in a bright flash and goes out. The tears of diamond sparkle continue. I have lost him. My heart keeps me playing until the end of the song. I play slower and slower, tailing off to only reverb. I collapse against Hippie, who holds me, as I sob. Jack comes rushing up.
“Gone. He’s absorbed by the crucifix,” I sob. Jack holds me, while Michael and Mike Sr. lean over me.
“It’s okay, Tim. He wants it this way. Now it’s up to you to keep his memory alive,” Michael tries to console me.
“He’s in my heart. He can talk to us now.”
“Me, too,” Jack confirms. Michael nods.
“I can hear him,” one of the kids says.
Aaron, the Jewish boy, said, “He says to accept each other as we accept Jesus.”
All the kids are hugging, even the doubters and deniers. Jack smiles at me.
“It’s a miracle, Tim. You’ll be a saint one day. I’m in love with a saint,” he crows. As always, it’s all about him.
Father Frank brings Cardinal Cook over. The kids are in awe. The Cardinal tells a priest to gather all the kids in the meeting room. He leads me and Father Frank to an office on the other side of the sacristy. Father Frank has me relate the whole Jace saga. How he was abused and murdered over Christmas. How the Teen Jesus legend grew. How thousands came to his memorial at Viscaya. Our belief that he inspired the band to keep going. The youth groups and sidewalk preaching. Our mission to stop the abuse. Our rock n roll shows as well as the hymn playing. Leading up to the service today. How the Pink Floyd songs I played were chosen the day we got together.
“He said goodbye to me at the end of Easter Mass,” I say and start to tear up.
“How did he communicate with you?”
“I hold him in my heart. He answers my questions.”
“Can you communicate now?”
“He just tells me that I have to trust my heart to know what’s right.”
“Like you hold Jesus since your confirmation?”
“Yes, Cardinal. That’s why the Teen Jesus rumors started after Jace was murdered.”
Cardinal Cook turns to Father Frank, “I know what I saw. The kids either saw the same or we’re all under mass hypnosis. Martin Scorsese filmed the whole service. Instead of wondering if we have a miracle here, let’s put our efforts in getting out this message Tim here is saying. Stop the abuse of children.”
“Michael Antonio has told Marty that the boys want the film to be the start of building runaway shelters, to call them Jace’s Place.”
“And the Franciscans can run them, I assume.”
They both laugh.
Father Frank looks at me. “You look horrible. Are you okay, Tim?”
“Not really. It’s like when he died all over again. I need to be with the others.”
Cardinal Cook says, “We have to do interviews with everyone. Why don’t you go be with your parents? I understand your dad saved you from Jace’s murderer.”
“He is the hero of it all.”
“Be with him, and go with God, son.”
“Thank you, Cardinal.” I wonder if I should kiss his ring. Father Frank walks me back to the main entrance where my parents are waiting.
Susan runs over and hugs me. I must look a mess. Every time I think I have lost Jace again, I hear an inner voice say, “No. I’m right here.”
The three of us walk back to the Waldorf. It’s only three blocks. We sit in the lobby.
“Do you want to lie down, Tim?” Susan asks. “We were so proud of you, especially when you walked with us for Communion in your white suit.”
Dad looks upset. “Why do I think this is some plot you’re pulling on the Church?”
“Dad, I can’t explain it all, but for months I’ve believed that Jace was with me all the time. I was able to go on after that horrible scene in the front yard. You were my hero then. You still are. I wouldn’t play some trick that would embarrass you and Mom. I don’t know what I believe except that Jace suffered incredibly. The few months we had together has affected thousands of people. Today is his tribute, a parable to Jesus’s death and resurrection. What it all means will eventually come out. Wait and see.”
“Where did you find such faith. You never were religious.”
“I’d say it was Jace, but really I am this person because you are an incredible father.”
His look makes me remember he is intrinsically a skeptic. My heart tells me to hug him. He actually hugs me back. My heart says, “See.”
Jack runs into the Waldorf lobby and straight to me.
“He’s really gone?”
“What we have in our hearts is a memory to hold on to.”
“Oh, Tim. I’m so sorry. Were we ignoring him lately? Why did he leave?” The tears are streaming down both our cheeks.
“He knew it was time.”
“How can you be so strong?”
“My dad has always made me fearless and brave.”
Jack looks at my dad, with tears in his eyes, “I love your son. That’s the bravest thing I can say.”
Dad is not comfortable with that declaration. Susan grabs him in a hug. “Bert, you are an amazing father. These boys love you.” She turns to Jack, “We love Tim so much. We know he loves you, too.”
Jack falls into my arms. I hold him tightly so I won’t collapse.
The Stones come in and sit with my parents, watching over us as we totally fall apart.
“Go upstairs, boys, and get some sleep,” Mummy suggests in a kind voice. Turning to my parents, “We need a drink.”
They go to the bar. We crawl into the bed in Jack’s unused bedroom. I can’t think about sex. I feel so guilty that we have slowly pushed Casper out of our sex lives. He never complained, which makes it worse.
“Do you think it can ever be like it was with Casper?”
“It already was changing. Maybe we’ll never have sex again.”
Jack looks bereft. His head is telling him we’re to blame for losing Casper.
“No, Jack. Listen to your heart. We now share him. It’s as if he loves us even more by leaving us.”
Jack laugh. “What if we had grown up but he stayed 15?”
“We would have beaten him into submission.”
“He would have loved that.”
We fall asleep in each other’s arms, dreaming about abusing poor Casper.
Michael comes in from the adjoining suite, waking us up gently.
“Hey,” I say. “What’s up, butt fuck?”
“It’s a real zoo out there. The press heard that something happened at Easter Mass. All the kooks and space cases are demanding to know what.”
“Well, you know, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Jace is gone. The Church has its miracle with the tears of tiny diamonds. I guess that makes you a saint.”
“What. Why do you guys say that? I’m just the guitar player.”
“So far, no one’s hit upon the gay angle.”
“That won’t be a happy moment for the Church.”
“Can’t we just casually waltz out of the City?”
“I wish. Dad says Father Frank is the only one Cardinal Cook is listening to. The Cardinal wants to study us before making any statements.
“We don’t want statements. We want runaway shelters. Jace’s Place.”
“Generally it takes 50 years to verify a miracle. So, if you go into the priesthood, you’ll be made a saint when you’re 66.”
“I’ll die of boredom.”
“Even better. Then you’ll be a martyred saint.”
“Let’s get off Park Avenue and go to the Chelsea. Everyone here wants to control us.”
“Good idea. You want me to get a limo.”
“Fuck, no. I want to take the subway. I wanna see Max.”
“Okay. Okay. I was only suggesting. You better get out of the white suits. People will think you’re selling ice cream.”
We laugh. Jack wakes up.
“Get up. We’re blowing this place.”
“Did someone say blow jobs?”
“You never let up. No wonder Jace abandoned you.”
“Don’t say that,” Jack actually has tears in his eyes.
We get into a mild pillow fight to get him out of bed. Jack lends me clothes, so I wouldn’t have to see my parents. It feels good to be ‘sneakin’ around.’
I call Hippie and Grant to tell them to meet us in the lobby.
“What’s up?” Grant asks when they come down.
“You heard about the St Patrick’s incident.”
“Whatcha do, Tim? Moon the priests?”
“Teen Jesus came out and diamond tears flowed from the crucifix on the altar.”
“Whoa. Cool. You Catholics get all the jewels. Baptists just get Bar-B-Que.”
“See all those people outside. They’re the press, waiting to skewer us for heresy.”
“Well, just ask Teen Jesus to walk on water for them.”
We laugh. “This is serious, we gotta walk out of here without letting them know.”
“Com’n. I know a back way out. Where are we going?” Grant has the solution.
‘The Chelsea. We still have our rooms there.”
“I wondered where you was hiding them redneck boys in your band.”
“They got ahold of some smack on Thursday and haven’t recovered yet.”
“You wanna come with?’
“Sure. I wanna see how the other half lives. Stayin’ on Park Avenue is distortin’ my values.”
“Well, don’t be too shocked.”
Grant leads us out the back through the loading dock. We catch the Subway at 51st and Lexington. In no time we are at the Chelsea.
“Hey, the gang’s all here,” Iggy sits up in his bed. Robby looks grumpily at us.
“We got problems,” I tell them.
“I knew you couldn’t pull off the gigs without us,” Robby crows.
“You have no idea. We’ve got the Church and the press after us. We’re hiding out here.”
“Let’s blow this town. It sucks,” Robby complains. “I’m bored. I can’t even get high anymore.”
“Where’s Max?” I ask.
There was a weak ‘woof’ from under Robby’s bed. We look and see Max with his muzzle in Robby’s bag, having passed out after eating the remainder of our stash.
“Bad dog,” Grant barks at him. Max scurries into the corner, with his paw over one eye. He can’t stand up properly.
“This place is a detox center.”
“Have no fear, there’s always joints here,” and Grant pulls out a spliff from behind his ear.
With no better plan, we all toke up and chill. Robby is miraculously cured. Michael goes to call his dad to let him know where we had disappeared to. Jack pulls me into the other room, locks the door, and massively horny, begs me to fuck him. Too much Church does that to us. I ride him doggie, lap, and missionary style, until he cums three times. Finally I fuck his slimy abs until I go over the edge and spurt over his head and onto his face. He licks the sperm like it’s ice cream. Sitting on the bed, we talk about missing Casper, ending up crying. Post-coital depression.
We walk into the other room, where everyone looks as depressed as we are.
“Did it help?” Michael jokes.
“Not enough. We miss Casper too much. It’s not the same without him.”
“What’s next,” Michael asks.
“The last thing he said was to protect the kids. We need to meet with the youth group and figure out how to deal with the Church. That Cardinal wants to lock us up and make me their martyr.”
Hippie speaks up for the first time, “Make the Church open Jace’s Place in Manhattan. We’ll take the youth group to Times Square and bring the runaways there to the Church.”
We are stunned that he is so direct. He’s right. We have to own the Jace’s Place project.
I have Jack call Father Frank to set up an 8 o’clock meeting with the youth group and Cardinal Cook at St Patrick’s. Grant calls Dr. Proctor at Abyssinian Baptist, who agrees to attend with their youth leader Rev. Butts. It feels right to take charge of the situation.
We go to Times Square to devise a plan of action. Sitting inside Howard Johnson’s, eating fried clams and fries, is déjà vu all over again for me. We sit near the window and watch the scene unfolding in the early evening. I recognize the street hustlers, pimping for each other as drivers stop and shop the boys and girls hanging out. We need to know who the pimps are as opposed to the tricks they are controlling. It is all street action. Finished with the fried clams, we spread out along Broadway and 7th Avenue. The street kids are suspicious of our motives, used to the sea of exploitation where they are just trying to survive. We ask why they ran away and where they are staying. If a church offers shelter, will they go there? We count over 100 kids who are homeless. Having Max with us helps as everyone responds to his wagging tail. Soon the pimps are in our face, demanding to know why we are bothering their ‘friends.’ We just move along and don’t challenge them. We walk toward Park Avenue, past Rockefeller Center. We are tourists for once, taking in the sights. Soon we’re at St Patrick’s, greeted by Father Frank.
“Where have you been? You just disappeared.”
“We had to get away from all the hoopla and get our heads on straight.”
“Cardinal Cook wasn’t finished interviewing you about what happened at Mass.”
“I get the impression he will never be finished trying to figure it out,” I answer. “What’s important is how we proceed from here. Jace told me what to do before he left us. His final words were ‘protect the kids.’”
“I’ll bet you have a plan.”
“Yup. We’ll take the youth group to Times Square to sweep up all the homeless and runaway kids who are being exploited there. We’ll bring them here and find beds for them. We want to set up a shelter and call it Jace’s Place. Dr Proctor and Rev. Butts from Abyssinian Baptist will be here soon. They’ll do the same in Harlem.”
“This is happening tonight?”
“If we delay, we’ll lose the impact and momentum of what happened at Mass.”
“Catholics and Baptists working together?”
“That’s why we have to start now, There are too many reasons why it won’t work. We have to make it work right from the start.”
“Good luck. Let’s go see Cardinal Cook now.”
Father Frank ushers all of us into the Cardinal’s office. The two preachers from Harlem are already there. They know each other well and are enjoying coffee and joking while they wait for us.”
“Tim, is this your next project, ending the Reformation of the 16th Century?” Cardinal Cook jokes.
“Looks like y’all have made progress on that one without me.”
“Here is my suggestion for tonight. Ever since Jace was murdered our mission has been to stop the abuse of kids. We want to create beds at each church to get the homeless and runaway kids off the streets. The entire youth group, with adult supervision will go to Times Square. We’ll offer a safe place for the more than 100 kids we counted there this evening. Kids trust each other. Will you provide a safe place for them – a sanctuary?”
There is total silence until Cardinal Cook responds.
“You bring them here. We will protect them. The Franciscans will supervise the outreach and the running of the shelters. I need to know that none of our kids will be put in harm’s way. I will personally call Police Superintendent Codd to make sure there is a police presence to guarantee safety for them. This will start tonight.”
Reverend Butts responds for the Baptists, “We will organize our youth choir to be on our streets in Harlem to find at risk youth, to provide shelter there.”
“Let’s go tell the kids,” I order.
The adults go to the phones to coordinate the support we need. The whole band, including the Jacettes and of course Max, walk downstairs to the youth meeting room. A big cheer goes up when we walk in. The kids surrounded us, wanting to touch our hands or hug us. We’re truly False Gods.
“Please sit down. We have a big project for all of us to start tonight. We’ll answer a few questions before telling you what’s going to happen.”
“Why did they keep us here all day? Did something bad happen?”
“You were part of a spiritual event that the priests are trying to understand. Did any of you see the spirit at the crucifix before the tears came from Jesus’ eyes?” I ask.
“Yes,” many answer.
“Was that Teen Jesus?” someone asks.
“The Church is figuring it all out. Just keep faith in the Jesus that you hold in your hearts. The spirit you saw is a parable of the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. Our guitarist Jace was murdered at Christmas. We have kept his spirit visible until today when the Mass celebrated the Resurrection. He leaves us with a message, ‘protect the kids.’”
“We need protection from what?”
“It’s the abused kids who need our help. Tonight we’re going to Times Square and bring back the homeless and runaway kids who have to survive there. The Church will shelter them. The Abyssinian Baptist Church will be doing the same thing in Harlem.”
“Times Square is scary.”
“There will be priests with us to make sure no one is hurt. We will organize into teams of six to approach the kids in Times Square. You must stay together to protect each other. Is Aaron here?”
A meek yes answers me.
“Come up and choose the five other members of your team.”
Next I point to the big kid who was so skeptical on Saturday. He comes up and choses the girl who chose him on Saturday, plus four others. I pick the biggest kids to be team leaders. No one is left out.
By now, it is ten pm. Several parents have come to pick up their kids. Once they learn of the planned mission to Times Square, they vociferously object to their kids going to there. The priests that Father Frank recruited explain that it is a supervised visit. It is the kids who beg their parents to let them participate that turns the tide for most. Only three kids are taken home.
Aaron comes up to me with his father.
“My son is too shy to say thanks for making him a leader. He’s had a hard time feeling welcome here . His best friend convinced him to join the group this year, even though we’re Jewish.”
“Did you choose your friend to be in your group?” I ask Aaron.
“Yup,” and another kid comes up to us.
“Hi, Tim. I’m Paul,” as he puts out a hand.
“You guys stay together and be safe tonight,” I tell them. They look at each other and nod to me.
“The Cardinal has called Superintendent Codd to make sure there’s extra police presence there,” I tell Aaron’s dad to reassure him.
“We’re so confused by Aaron’s desire to be in a Catholic youth group. We feel he is rejecting his own faith.”
“I don’t differentiate between faiths. I was instantly impressed with Aaron yesterday because his heart is so pure. He isn’t searching for a new faith. His heart needs to be loved.”
“Those boys have loved each other all their lives,” the dad acknowledges.
“Does he go to temple?”
“Yes. His Bar Mitzvah was last year.”
“Well, we got the Catholics and Baptists to agree to this project. Maybe including a Jewish temple will be a similar success.”
“I can see why Aaron likes you so much.”
“It’s mutual. It’s easy when kids are trusting. It will be a challenge with the runaways. They don’t trust anyone, especially themselves.”
“If you can make it work here, you can make it work anywhere.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
Father Frank comes in with about fifteen Franciscan brothers. I explain how we have divided the kids into 10 small groups. Each group will have an assigned brother and the remaining brothers will coordinate the groups. It’s imperative that everyone stay in contact with each other.
“Every street kid who accepts our help will be taken to a collection point at 44th and Broadway. A Brother will decide when to have a team take the street kids to the Cathedral at 51st and 5th Avenue. There will always be a brother with every group.”
The kids are fired up. The brothers look worried. As we walk from the Cathedral, it is an impressive crowd. A police cruiser shows up and escorts us to Times Square. The groups fan out and start speaking with individual street kids. Max is a big hit, as always. The ones wanting shelter start to trickle in. The first group leaves for the Cathedral. Once the kids invade the pickup zone where the X-rated theaters are located, there are more runaways. I notice a man shepherding a group of 8 girls away from the zone. I alert a police cruiser that he is a pimp. They detain him on a morals charge. I escort the girls back to the collection point. The police begin stopping any adult with a group of under-age street kids. We have a rush of kids seeking shelter. After an hour, the total is approaching 80 kids. Times Square is deserted except for the panhandlers and drunken bums. We call it a night and walk everyone back to St Patrick’s. Each team leader confirms that all their team members are accounted for. The remaining teams in transit to the cathedral are picked up as we walk.
Cardinal Cook is at the entrance. He takes me downstairs where cots are set up in the meeting room. Many of the kids are already asleep. They look so sad, even in sleep. It is the first night of Jace’s Place.
We go back to the entrance where the youth group parents are picking up their kids. Aaron and his friend Paul come over, just to hang out with me and Jack until his dad comes for them. They are too shy to talk.
Cardinal Cook is standing with me.
“You don’t hesitate to jump in, do you?”
“I grew up in the military. We learn to stand up for each other.”
“I hear you’ve recruited our Jewish boy to start Jace’s Place at his temple.”
When I hear him use Jace’s name, I start to tear up. It overwhelms me that Jace’s Place is really happening. Cardinal Cook puts his arm around my shoulder. I gulp back the tears and answer his question. “Yup. It’s a non-sectarian project.”
“You gonna stick around and set up all the services these kids will need?”
“I think Father Frank had better do all that. School starts in about 8 hours for me.”
“No more good life at the Waldorf?”
“We’ve been staying at the Chelsea. It’s more our style.”
“Even Jack Stone?”
“He enjoys slumming it.” We both laugh.
“I hear you were instrumental in desegregating your high school.”
I point out Grant and tell the Cardinal how we wanted him to be in ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream.’ The school made no provision to bus him home after rehearsal.”
“The whole school walked out?”
“You gonna tell me what happened at Mass today?”
“You have to come to your own conclusions. For me, I held him so tightly in my heart since he died, that his spirit couldn’t leave me. The crucifix tears are the crazy diamonds in the Pink Floyd song I did. It would be nice if I could have a single diamond tear. I had to let him go.”
He just smiles. “Let’s stay in touch.”
Jack comes over. “Can we stay at the Waldorf tonight. I really like that bed.”
“And I just told the Cardinal that you like slumming at the Chelsea.”
He hugs me and whispered in my ear what he’ll do for me.
Aaron and Paul are watching our interaction. They come over when we’re done hugging.
“Are you guys gay?” he asks.
“What gave us away?” Jack asks back.
They look at us, then turn to each other and hug.
“You shouldn’t be recruiting here,” Jack warns me.
The boys just grin.
I find a pen and write out my home address and phone number.
“You want to keep in touch? I think I know what you’re going through.”
“Nobody knows,” Aaron states. ‘Not even my dad.”
“He probably knows but wants you to tell him know when you’re ready.”
“Just remember Jace is in your heart, too. He loved me like Jack does now. Everything that happened started when he realized I really loved him. Before then, he didn’t believe anyone ever would.”
“We already know we love each other.”
“Then you’re way ahead. Keep each other in your hearts. Others will see it and learn to trust you so that they will share their hearts with you. Don’t let the haters get to you. The Jace in your heart will tell you who you can trust.”
“Sometimes I feel my heart is going to burst,” Paul says.
“That’s how it gets bigger. There will be more and more room for others. It’s just a muscle.
The two of them flex for us. They seem a bit scrawny. They’re 13. Aaron’s dad shows up, getting a big hug. Paul hugs him also, to his surprise.
“Well, it’s been quite a day, hasn’t it?”