Wednesday night we go to our local Catholic Church. Rather than worrying about Father Joseph recognizing me from the time I slid down the drain pipe, I get the kids laughing when I describe those antics in more innocent terms. Instantly the kids ask why we were being foolish.
“’Cause we’re kids. Sometimes we get carried away, just like everyone here,” looking warily at Father Joseph who is not amused. “Our drummer and I were the only ones who dared use the pipe. Father Joseph caught everyone else.”
They all giggle.
“He let everyone go with a warning, except Dave got a personal session, as he is a parish member.”
One of the boys remarked, “I know him. He’s a cut up.”
“Not with Father Joseph on his case.”
Everyone laughs, even Father Frank.
“Are you a Catholic?”
Both Jack and I say yes.
“But sometimes it’s hard to be a good Catholic. When we’re wrong for sneaking in and fooling around on the roof, it’s easy to admit it. Father Joseph let us off with a warning.”
“Did he make you say ‘Hail Marys.””
“Just Dave.” Everyone laughs.
“Other times it’s hard to believe we are wrong for what we do. Then the Church cannot forgive us, saying we’re living in a state of sin. Is that right, Father Joseph?”
I want to make sure he’s drawn into our discussion.
“Yes, son. You must truly repent to be forgiven.”
“Jack and I were raised in the Church and believe we have Jesus in our hearts. But we are told that Jesus is ashamed of us for being sinners.”
“What did you do?”
“We love each other, as boyfriends.”
The kids are totally shocked. This is not what they expected to hear in Church. Many kids start to get angry. I sense the hate in their hearts. Some of the girls have that dreamy look, similar to young girls at our shows who innately trust older boys who are gay.
“It’s hard to understand why loving someone as Jesus loves us makes you a sinner. I try to think what Jesus thinks as I let another boy into my heart. Like our brains, our hearts tell us what is right and wrong. So I trust my heart when it tells me that it is right to love Jack.” He’s just staring at me, in a state of wonder.
“Maybe you are selfish and just want to believe it?” one of the boys states.
“I definitely am a doubting Thomas and over-think everything. But Jack just keeps loving me, hoping I’ll love him back.”
“What did you decide?”
“I didn’t decide. I just loved him back. Then I knew how right it is. My heart isn’t lying. There are people with evil in their hearts, but I know I don’t. I can sense the haters, people with hate in their hearts.”
I point to the boys, one after another. “I feel your hate for what I am saying. If you let me in your heart, as you have let Jesus in, you will know there is no conflict. Just try, while I tell you what’s been happening with the Baptist kids we meet.”
The boys look confused at my suggestion.
“Do you know how Baptists worship?
“Speaking in tongues.”
“Immune to rattler bites.”
“Does it sound like hokum?” I ask.
They all answer, “Yes.”
“Well, we went there two weeks ago because our bass player belongs and his girlfriend wanted to pray for us, as sinners. We rolled around and got freaked out by the tongues. Then a girl said she saw Jesus, as a spirit standing beside us as we spoke with the youth leader. She said he looks like a teenager.”
“Teen Jesus,” someone says.
“That’s where the Teen Jesus rumor started. I believe she was seeing our guitarist who was killed. I hold him as dear to me as I hold Jesus.”
“She saw a ghost?”
“No. She saw the love in my heart. It matched the love she had for Jesus and her dead mother.”
“Oh,” everyone says.
I turn to the first boy I had seen as a hater but don’t sense that now. “Do you feel that the love we both have for Jesus is enough for you to love me, even though I am gay?”
It’s too much for a kid. He sits down hard in his seat and tries to stop his eyes from tearing up. All the girls near him move closer and soon he feels safer.
“Does it mean I’m gay?”
“Your heart is telling you that it’s okay to love everyone, boy or girl, old or young. You let go of the hate. Now the easy part is finding someone who also doesn’t hate.”
He looks at all the faces surrounding him and smiles.
I go through the same routine with the other two boys who have softened their hate. They both feel the relief of banishing their hate. Two more boys are still feeling hate toward Jack and me.
“You two are not convinced. I ask you to honestly question the love you feel for Jesus. Try to believe he does not hate anyone, sinner or not. Try not to let the hate cause you to hate the people who love you, boy or girl.”
I look at both Father Joseph and Father Frank and feel their warmth toward me. I don’t think they fully accept my convoluted love theory, but maybe they hope it works for these kids.
“So, just one question, then I’ll tell you what we’re trying to do with youth groups. Who is Teen Jesus.”
“You are,” someone yells.
“I call myself Plastic Jesus, when someone tells me that.”
They all laugh.
“Your dead guitarist.”
“No, I hold him in my heart, right with Jesus, but he’s still the same boy I knew when we were boyfriends.”
“You have two boyfriends?”
“Jack’s my boyfriend. Jace is the love in my heart. Jack and I share that. We call Jace Casper now.”
“The Friendly Ghost.” And they all laugh.
“So who’s Teen Jesus?” I ask again.
Jack jumps up. “We all are. He has given us his love to grow up on. Lose the hate and don’t let the haters in.”
Everybody jumps up and cheers, even the doubting haters. Jack and I start ‘Amazing Grace,’
and everyone joins in.
Nice kids are so easy to lead astray. I hope I really haven’t.
The meeting breaks up. We’re surrounded by kids who want us to bless them, like we had the three boys.
“You don’t have to be in Church to offer each other a sign of peace, like after mass.”
Everyone is hugging. The three boys have the most girls hugging them and look totally satisfied with their spiritual conversion. Two boys keep hugging each other until someone tells them to get a room.
“Try the confessional,” I shout.
Looking for Father Frank, we hear him arguing with Father Joseph outside.
“True to your Franciscan vows, you sew doubt about our catechism in my youth group,” Father Joseph is upset. “Those boys turned it into a Baptist revival tent meeting.”
“You must let your heart answer the questions they ask.”
“Am I to dismiss the acts these children bring to confession as no longer a sin.”
“Do not judge an innocent heart.”
“Those two boys are not innocent children. I hear they also worship the occult.”
I walk up to them, “Invite us into your residence. We can continue your argument. We did not intend to disrupt your youth group. Did you feel the love there? I don’t feel you have a hateful heart, but it is hardened.”
He glares at me for being impertinent and interrupting his argument with Father Frank, who takes me by the elbow, “Best to depart. Maybe Father Joseph will invite you back next week.”
That seems doubtful.
As we walk to his car, Father Frank gives me his frank opinion of our performance.
“It was quite like a revival you ran. Even laying on of hands to throw out the devil.”
“I don’t suppose you want to hear about my conversation with the devil?”
Even Jack looks shocked.
“Only if you need confession.”
“I denied him. Do I need to confess that he appeared to me.”
“If that is an honest question, then no. But if you are baiting me, then maybe yes.”
I look at him and give the old bird a hug. “Now can we play at St Patrick’s in New York.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Maybe you should explain why you call yourselves ‘False Gods.’”
‘We are challenging all those who set themselves up as petty idols. They are the false gods.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“We’re low level Rock gods.”
“Oh, dear.” He hugs both Jack and me.
We walk back to our room. Jack, who has been quiet all night, is suddenly full of questions. Mainly he can’t believe I’m so enthralled with Jesus.
“I can’t explain why I feel so strongly that He is in my heart,” I answer.
“For those kids, all they want is to go back to the day of their First Communion, when they felt blessed with Jesus’s love.”
“You know I don’t try to freeze the moments when my life is peaking. It’s what’s next that intrigues me.”
“What is next for us.”
“You will be my Queen Titania for three nights.”
He and Casper worship her before we have sex each night.
We rehearse the play all week in the school auditorium. The seating allows little room for the kids to stand in front. If we put the kids on stage, people in their seats will be blocked from seeing the players. Finally we compromise with a split pit on both sides of the stage, which is quite wide. The kids are already divided into sibling factions – crew and players. Grant and Robby discuss how they’ll incite the different camps into flinging the white balls at each other as well as at the players. One of the girls on the crew suggests that the crew members should be attacked as well as the players. We want chaos but now are trying to control it. Good luck.
At school on Friday, I find Grant. We discuss his Doo Wop act. I don’t mention that they failed to show for church group.
“Y’all still wanna be part of the show?” I ask.
His eyes light up, “You kidding? For those guys, it’ll be the chance of a lifetime.”
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” and we hatch our plan.
“Make sure your boys really dress up and sit down front.”
“Oh, they have that covered. They plan to make the most of embarrassing me for being in a faggot play.”
“Does it really bother you?”
“Nope. They been tryin’ to dis me all my life. I don’t care.”
It’s finally Friday night. I set myself up in front of the stage with my mandolin and a small amp as everyone files in. It feels like a normal school assembly, except for all the parents there and the absence of the stoner kids, who are oblivious to us making an effort. As I strum an extended version of the overture, I think how different we’ve become since returning to class. Then I see Grant’s crew come down the aisle. Everyone is murmuring about how nice looking they are in matching dark suits, white shirts and bow ties. Before sitting down, they turn and bow to the crowd. I see the surprise on AP Spencer’s face while he watches their entrance. I hope he won’t stop the show if the mayhem gets out of control. The power of the petty bureaucrat. Mr. Clark comes out in front of the curtain and welcomes everyone with his Prologue. I finish my overture and start the march of the wooden soldiers
and the curtain draws back. The two pits erupt with fake snow balls going back and forth. When Puck appears and starts his dialogue, both pits direct their attacks on him. Grant appears and hands him two water balloons. Puck chases his main tormentors before landing square shots on one from each side. Puck restarts his entrance speech but the poor fairy had completely forgotten the lines, resulting in an avalanche of snow balls descending on him. While the Queen and King march in, a slew of kids run down the audience aisles. Puck tosses them snowballs. Grant jumps down and directs the kids in front to attack Puck. The play pretty much goes on without anyone watching it. When Thisby appears, all the kids started mocking him. The Hispanic kids yell ‘pendejo’ at him. As soon as he turns into a jackass, all the kids, even the ones who came down the aisles, sit down. Puck and Grant sit with them. When Puck starts flirting and harassing King Theseus, the black kids yell faggot at him. Grant stands in front of him to block the attack. At the end Grant and Puck walk off together, hand in hand. After a second’s silence all the kids burst into cheers and clapping. The adults barely move, totally confused about a different kind of Shakespeare.
Mr. Clark comes out and announces that the play is over and thanks everyone. I jump on stage and grab the mic.
“Wait. We have a surprise performance. Our play is of course a shortened version of the late, great Shakespeare’s original, so we don’t want you leaving wanting more.”
Grant, still in costume, and the four other Doo Wop crew come out and start humming their signature sound. They start with ‘Shu-Boom She-Boom,’
“Heart and Soul.
I lead Jack out, still in full makeup, and sang Dion’s ‘Why Must I be a Teenager in Love’ to him.
I take the mic and announce, ‘This is for my girlfriend, Tina,” and we sing ‘Up on the Roof’ to Jack.
AP Spencer has had enough and marches down to shut us off. I sing ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ to him. Everyone laughs and points at him.
Jack and I join the crew and we all sing ‘In the Still of the Night.’
We bow to great applause and exit stage left. I go to retrieve my mandolin and amp. When I get back, A P Spencer is reading the riot act to poor Mr. Clark.
“In all my years I have never seen a worse performance on this stage. I am cancelling tomorrow’s and Sunday’s shows. We have standards here.”
To my surprise, it is Jack who defends us, after A P Spencer refutes Robby and me, his nemeses.
“You are a little man with no cultural taste. Do you think Shakespeare put on plays with stiff players speaking barely memorized wooden lines? You don’t even comprehend that you were a main player tonight, with your boorish behavior, nasty remarks about ‘those blackies’ from Hialeah, and clownish attempts to exert control. If anyone should be shutdown, it is you. My father is on the school board. I know your contract comes up next year. If you stop our play, you will find yourself at a much different school. I hope it is Hialeah.”
Queen Titania proclaims him irrelevant. Just in time Mr. and Mrs. Stone come back stage with flowers for their Queen.
“Congratulations, Principal Spencer. The play comes alive again. I love the part when you threatened to shut them down and the kids bombard you with snowballs. Imagine, snowballs in Miami.”
AP Spencer is suddenly thrust into his obsequious role in front of the school board. He bows and kowtows, then curtesies and leaves.
“My boy, the Queen,” Mummy presents Jack with the flowers.
Jack beams, “Oh, pansies, my favorite.”
The whole cast bursts into applause, picking Jack up and carrying him through the curtain on stage. All the audience, still there, restart their applause. We forgot to have curtain calls, so everyone rushes out to more applause.
The next two nights go well. The kids in front learn to stay on their sides and not block the players from acting. The word is out that it is meant for kids. By Sunday it resembles a ‘Rocky Horror’ audience participation event. A P Spencer never returns.
My parents attend Saturday night, saying they wanted to wait until we’re over opening night jitters. I seat them with the Stones who explain all the nuances of the play’s chaos. My parents listen politely. I know they’re in the AP Spencer camp about well-organized performances. They seem to get along but obviously come from different worlds. They remain in the auditorium after we finish. When Jack and I come up to be with them, I’m relieved they are on a first name basis at least. All those years of Emily Post make the Stones comfortable with my parents’ rough and ready military manners. I overhear Mr. Stone speaking about me to Dad.
“You know, Burt, I must speak to you about Tim. My Jack is something of a hot-house flower with little preparation for many of the realities of life. He really isn’t ready to protect himself from the slings and arrows of the street. Tim has become something of a hero to him. It has made a world of difference in his attitude. He seems ready to conquer the world, much as Octavius did after Caesar’s assassination.”
“I was telling Susan how much better Tim’s attitude has been also. Jack seems good for him, as well.”
“Excellent. Perchance, they are made for each other. I must personally thank you for the many times Tim has stood up for Jack. It means the world to us.”
“Tim never has a problem standing up for his friends and what he believes in.”
“Please accept our invitation to come to Sunday dinner tomorrow, at one-ish, as long as the good priest finishes his homily promptly. I believe the boys shook up his youth group this week.”
“I’ve been surprised in Tim’s renewed interest in church. Last I heard he was attending a Baptist one.”
“Well, I hope I’m not spoiling a surprise, but I understand the boys all will be performing at St Patrick ‘s Cathedral on Park Avenue for Easter Sunday. They’ve promised me that the warlock drummer is under control now.”
“Too fascinated with the occult, I believe.”
“We certainly appreciate the invitation. Maybe the boys will let Susan and me know more of their plans.”
“Sorry to jump the gun about New York. It seems Miami may be too small a stage for our boys.”
“Or perhaps, they’ve gotten too big for their britches.”
They turn around to catch us standing there with huge grins on our faces. Jack runs into his father’s arms, while Dad puts me in an unyielding arm lock and tells me we’ll speak later. Barely escaping, we air kiss our moms and run back stage in time for Ganja with the home boys. Robby is peeved that his pot competitors are moving in on his territory. One hit and he’s in serious negotiations to become the local distributor. Mary is sitting with Flo and Edi, who welcome us.
“Do I need to bleach my hair to compete with this hussy?” Flo quips.
“Oh, that was Queen Titania. She’s a frigid bitch. You have no competition.”
They size each other and burst out laughing.
“Look at Edi,” I announce, “We have a special occasion coming up in honor of Jace.”
“My poor, baby,” Edi moans referring to Jace, not me. “Is it his birthday.
“Yes, his 16th. You know what that means?”
“He’ll be driving around in the Ghost Busters ambulance.”
Mary has been clued in. “Robby says Tim promised Jace an orgy for his birthday.”
“How can it be an orgy if just one person’s there,” then looking at Jack, “well, maybe two.”
“I told Jace that every boy gets an orgy when he turns 16, as a joke, and he believed me.”
“Well, that boy won’t be turning 16 unless its turning over in his grave.”
We all burst out laughing. Casper puts on a sad face, then twirls around on the stage.
“Well, we can get together and celebrate his birthday anyway.”
“That boy talk for having an orgy?”
“Well, there may be someone who might want to get over being a virgin.”
“I told you Edi and I are planning on virginal weddings.”
“Good luck with that,” Mary observes.
“I’m not talking about girls’ virginity.”
“Oh…” and everyone stares at Jack, who turns bright red.
“I’m gay,” he proclaims, “With no plans to change that.”
I can see the wheels turning in Forward Flo’s head, so we’ve set the idea in motion.
“When’s his birthday?” Mary asks.
“Well, you boys will be in church,” Flo kidded us.
“Probably not, when we told all the kids we’re gay, the priest almost had a stroke.”
“Called to Jesus,” Edi quips.
“What did the kids say?”
“The girls were fine about it but a lot of the boys got angry,” Jack explains. “Then Tim used his Teen Jesus talk to turn them away from hate.”
“I suppose you walked on water.”
“Tim’s the water boy,” Jack snaps back.
“So who’s Teen Jesus? I heard about it at church,” Edi asks.
“Long story, but it takes the hate out of the haters if they have Jesus in their hearts.”
“I always thought Jesus was gay. What thirty year old man runs around turning water into wine for his twelve man posse and isn’t gay?”
“Come to the youth center at Out & Proud and check out our 12-year-old girl posse.”
“I want some of that gay underwear for myself,” Flo snaps my waistband. I start getting hard. She looks at it and pushes Jack and me toward the boy’s room. “Go scandalize the school facilities for once.”
We don’t hesitate.