Joey’s Story by Tony Setteducate

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Issue XIII: Summer 2013

 

Nineteen
         Nineteen was a great year for Joey. It was the year his life changed. He had a new job with a prestigious decorator. Two nights a week he pursued his passion as an art student at The New School. But most important, he had developed into a man; a tall, handsome man with a shock of dark, curly hair, deep set eyes and a smile that could light up a room.
         Joey hadn’t always been this good-looking. In high school he was a little weakling, the kid the jocks would pick on. He was too short, too skinny, and too weak to make any of the athletic teams. Nor did he have the academics to join the intellectual groups. No, Joey was the odd kid, liked but not loved. Then his body began to change. He grew almost three inches taller. He joined a gym. He found new friends through work and his classes. He met a girl. Joey never had a girlfriend before. He often thought it would be nice to have a girlfriend. All the other guys had girlfriends.
         Audrey met Joey through a mutual friend. He didn’t pay much attention to her at first but Audrey wasn’t going to let that stop her. She charmed him with words, telling him how talented he was, how cute his smile was. He enjoyed the new found attention. One night while they were riding on the Staten Island ferry, going nowhere, just gazing up at the stars, she led him to a spot that was restricted to personnel only. It was dark. They sat on steps leading to the pilot’s cabin. They kissed. Audrey taught him how to french kiss. Hell, she stuck her tongue down his throat; put his hand under her blouse. Joey was aroused. He never felt this way with a girl before. It was a feeling he only experienced once before, at summer camp when he and Lance shared a tent one night. Joey always remembered that night. He often wondered about his feelings, too. Somehow that felt natural. With Audrey he felt excited but it wasn’t the same. It felt dangerous.
         Just then one of the crew came by and shined a flashlight on them. “Hey, you kids. You can’t be here. Move it!”
         They stood up. Joey tried to hide the bulge in his pants. Fortunately Audrey could not see how red his face was in the dark of the night.
         Audrey tucked in her blouse and straightened her skirt as she stood up, smiled at the crewman and walked on.

Life Drawing
          On Thursday evenings Joey looked forward to the life drawing class at The New School. Drawing wasn’t his forte, hell, he could hardly draw a straight line but it allowed him to tighten his discipline and pull in his abstract expressions. Tonight Joey found himself facing a male model, a nude. He felt flushness come over his face. Not that he had ever seen a man totally naked before. In high school he had to shower with the other boys after gym class. And then there was that time with Lance at summer camp. But they weren’t totally nude then; they were wearing pajamas as they fondled each other under the covers, holding each other until they were wet and breathless.
          Mickey was tall and lean, over six-feet tall with long, dark hair that brushed his angular shoulder blades and white skin, clinging to his chest in a way that allowed every rib to pop. The instructor emphasized that the class should pay special attention to the model’s bone structure. Joey was fascinated by the anatomy, keeping his eyes glued to Mickey as he welded a stick of charcoal over his drawing pad. No matter how much he tried, going through sheaves of drawing paper, he would not, could not allow himself to draw the crotch.
          After class he approached the model who was now wearing a robe that hung loosely over his taunt body. They spoke briefly and decided to meet for coffee at the shop around the corner in an hour.
          Mickey was so different from anyone Joey had met before. A real bohemian living in a run-down loft on a West Village street. He came to New York from somewhere on the West Coast looking to further his career in theatre. Nude modeling put food in his mouth. He didn’t mention how the rent was paid.
          Joey told Audrey about his mysterious new friend. He also told Audrey that he thought Mickey might be gay. This intrigued his girlfriend. They had been going together for nearly six months. Joey knew how she was intrigued by anyone who showed any signs of indifference to their normal group of friends.

Audrey
          That fall Audrey entered her senior year at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn. As hard as she tried, she never made the top tier amongst her classmates. Just a little too chubby, a bit too short, her hair too curly. Audrey was rejected by the cheerleaders, turned down for the lead in the school play and fell face down during volleyball tryouts. This year would be different. She had a boyfriend, an older guy who was handsome and artistic. Not that Joey could compete with any of the varsity jocks. Heck, he could barely throw a ball or know which end of a bat to swing.
          Of course, none of that mattered to Audrey. The important thing is that he was older, a graduate from another school, and he was studying art. Audrey never failed to mention that he was an artist, or that they had friends in the arts–bohemian friends who lived in Greenwich Village. She was referring to Mickey, the actor-com-model Joey met in his life drawing class. Ever since Joey introduced his girlfriend to his newfound friend they became good buddies. Joey wasn’t sure where this arrangement was going. Audrey and Mickey would chat several times a week on the telephone. He knew the relationship was platonic, Mickey is gay, but there was something strange going on and Joey couldn’t put his finger on it. Mickey was supposed to be his friend.
          Among her circle of friends that Joey had met – Judy and Les, Annette, Bobbie and Bob, Trudy and tall Sally; long, tall Sally they called her – there was one they all talked about, Phillip. Joey had never met Philip but he felt like he knew him. Everyone said Philip was gay. The whole school knew Philip was gay. That’s because Philip told everyone he was gay. “So why hadn’t he met Phillip,” he asked Audrey one day?

Philip
          Philip wasn’t the most popular boy in the senior class at Fort Hamilton High School but he was the most interesting and without doubt the most talked about. His weekend adventures continuously gave the gang more than enough gossip to fill the following week.
          Philip went to Greenwich Village and snuck into a bar. He was missing for two nights. His mother frantically rang up all of his school friends, the ones whose phone numbers she was allowed to have.
          Philip went to the Hamptons with an older couple, artists who taught him the joy of running nude through the weeds as the sun set over the trees and fireflies lit up the night sky. Then there was the time he hitched hiked out to Long Island where he met a man who invited him to spend the night on Fire Island. Philip recounted the excitement of a costume party he attended. Everyone, well mostly men, was dressed in togas. His host draped him in a bedroom sheet fasted with a gold rope around his waist. There was a DJ to keep the music blaring and guests were invited to drink from the big punchbowl. – more like a galvanized washtub – until at one point the togas were stripped away and they all ran nude to the beach and splashed in the surf.
          Audrey would listen to these tales of weekend debauchery as if they were the Canterbury Tales. She soaked in every word, carefully interpreting every nuance. Then she would recall them all to Joey. Joey, the man she adored. Joey who she once told her mother was the man she would marry.
          Joey would then tell Mickey what Audrey told him about Philip.
          “Could it be true?” he asked his friend.
          Mickey who lived in a tiny flat in Greenwich Village was so much worldlier, so he thought. Mickey didn’t grow up in Brooklyn. He had traveled. He lived on his own. Everyone else he knew – Audrey, Judy, Les, even Philip – still lived at home with their parents. But mostly what Joey wanted to know Mickey couldn’t tell him. “Was Philip really gay?”

Prom
          As the calendar shifts to the month of June high school seniors turn their thoughts to prom night. Audrey and Judy had been talking of nothing else for weeks. What to wear? White for Judy, pink for Audrey. They picked out their dresses over a month ago at Martin’s, the downtown department store; multi-tiered confections puffed up with a series of crinoline underskirts. Audrey insisted that Joey wear a white dinner jacket for the formal event, the last dance of their high school years.
          Joey had never been to a prom. He skipped his high school dance two years earlier. “Just too tacky,” he told everyone. But the real reason was that he didn’t have a date. Everyone he asked was busy or going with someone else. No one wanted to be seen with the class weakling. “If only they could see him now,” he thought to himself. Joey had grown almost two inches since high school and lost all that baby fat that no diet could melt away no matter how much he starved himself.
          The girls paid for the prom tickets but it was up to the guys, Joey and Les, Judy’s beau, to hire the limousine for the night and pick up the tab at the nightclub afterwards.
          On the night of the prom Joey arrived at Audrey’s house with a corsage of four pink orchids that traveled up her arm from the wrist to near the elbow. Two elastic wristbands, one at either end, kept it securely in place. Fortunately the night was warm because there was no way she could slip that arm through a coat sleeve. A shawl her mother had crocheted will have to suffice.
          The black Cadillac limousine drove them the three blocks to Judy’s house where she and Les greeted them with oohs and aahs. The girls kissed, the guys shook hands. Is this what adulthood is like, Joey thought? Then off they went to the grand ballroom of the Sherry Netherland Hotel for more oohs and aahs from fellow classmates before sitting down to a chicken dinner. That’s when Joey noticed the odd man seated to his right. He didn’t have a date.
          “Who goes to a prom without a date?” he inquired of Audrey.
          “The school wouldn’t let Philip bring his boyfriend and he didn’t want to miss prom,” she whispered back. “So I told him it was okay to join us. I didn’t think you would mind. Besides you wanted to meet Philip.”
          Joey shook Philip’s hand as he gently nudged his chair closer to Audrey.
          That night they went to Lou Walter’s club in Times Square after the prom was over. The Latin Quarter was up a flight of stairs on the second floor. The five of them sat at a long table facing the dance floor and sipped screwdrivers short on vodka. This was Joey’s third time at the nightclub so he knew what to order. The waiter never asked for a driver’s license. Philip kept smiling at Joey; his dark eyes seemed to sparkle in the dim lighting.
          Later they all drove back to Brooklyn in the limousine. The car pulled up to Judy’s house first and she and Les got out. It was nearly three in the morning when they arrived at Audrey’s place. Joey walked Audrey to her apartment. When he came out Philip was waiting.
          “Would you like to go for coffee?” he asked Joey.

Lenny’s Hideaway
          The week after prom Joey ran into Philip one evening while walking to the subway after work. At first glance he thought to cross to the opposite side of the street. The last time they were together, having coffee at The Corner Shack after taking Audrey home at three in the morning, Philip tried to proposition him, actually put his hand on his crotch. If Joey wasn’t so tired he would have punched him in the face. But he didn’t have the energy to make a fist. Besides, Joey always tried to avoid violence. He gently brushed Philip’s hand aside as he felt the bulge in his pants growing stronger.
          “Hey Stud,” shouted Philip before Joey could make his getaway. “What are you up to?”
          “Just on my way home,” he responded. “What are you doing in this part of the city?”
          “My boyfriend lives around the corner,” Philip told him. “I’m on my way to visit. Would you like to meet him?”
          “Uh, no, not now,” Joey said with a bit of hesitancy in his voice. A strange feeling came over him. He didn’t know much about Philip, didn’t know he had a boyfriend. So why was he feeling this sense of hurt, jealousy if you will?
          “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend. What’s his name?”
          “Christian, Christian Duncan Snow. Isn’t that a totally waspish name?”
          “Uh, I don’t know,” Joey murmured.
          “Tell you what, why don’t you come out with us on Saturday night and you can meet him? We’re going to this bar in Greenwich Village, Lenny’s Hideaway. You’ll like it.”
          Joey usually saw Audrey on Saturday evening. It was their standard date, but the thought of going to a village gay bar intrigued him. “I’ll let you know,” he said.
          “You still have my phone number?”
          “Yeah,” said Joey as he was on his way down the steps to the subway.
          Joey called Audrey that evening and begged off of their weekend date, telling her he had to study for upcoming exams.
          On Saturday he took the subway to Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village where he met up with Joey and Christopher on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street. Joey was startled at Christopher’s good looks; tall, at least six feet, maybe taller, with dirty blonde hair that fell across his forehead and bright blue eyes.
          “This must be a god,” he thought to himself.
         They walked half a block to an open doorway lit by a single bare bulb in the socket above and descended the staircase to the basement level. There in the dimly lit room was a jukebox against one wall and a row of small, square tables along the opposite side. At the back was a bar the width of the room. Theater posters hung on the brick walls.
         Joey looked around. He had never been to a place like this. “Audrey would love this,” he told Philip.
         They ordered a round of beers from the waiter as they stood by the jukebox listening to Ethel Merman belt out “I Had A Dream” from “Gypsy,” the hot Broadway musical Joey wished he had seen.
         Philip seemed to know most of the guys and kept introducing them to Joey. David, who was a few years older than Joey smiled at him, engaged him in conversation.
         “David, Joey’s straight,” shouted Philip over the barroom noise.
         Joey smiled as he gripped David’s hand and squeezed a little tighter. “Happiness is the ultimate risk,” Joey said to no one in particular.

 

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