“William likes horror films, too,” Lou informs me, one Sunday afternoon in August after mass.
“Nice! We should hang out!”
William, who has the soft, handsome looks of some teen sex comedy hero, is visiting Lou for a few days before beginning college at SUNY Buffalo. In fact, he is just one of many attractive young men who have visited Lou, ever the youth loving pied piper, over the years since he has arrived at St Patrick’s. I never question this virile form of loyalty, though. More than anything, I feel a familial sense of pride. Lou, who is so popular, is like our family uncle & he, seemingly, loves us more than any of these affection hungry intruders from parishes long past. So, I always provide the guys who arrive for quick intervals of time with a bit of brotherly compassion. A benediction, as it were, from the one who is truly favored.
Almost by accident, we pick the perfect evening to gather. Fright Night, which I saw in theaters the summer before, is debuting on HBO and I am eager to revisit it. William hasn’t seen it, so I happily recount to him, while drinking our pre-movie fest sodas in the rectory kitchen, about watching it with a small group of kids from a theater troupe I had joined the year previously. Every time Jonathan Stark’s Billy, the vampire-villain’s slavishly devoted sidekick appeared, we would gleefully shout out “Gay! Gay!” at the screen! Since that evening, though, I have secretly wondered about the authenticity of those outbursts. What if the Billy character wasn’t gay? He could have just been extremely devoted to his master. I had seen the slavish way the nuns had reacted around priests all my life…some almost trembling with devotion when they walked into room…and there was surely nothing sexual there…or so I hoped. The thought of a shaven headed, wrinkle skinned ghoul flagellating herself over love for an unreachable colleague a la Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils, one bizarre cult film that my father actually heartily encouraged me to watch (in Lou’s living room, nonetheless, as it came on during one of their late night talk-a-thons) due to its literary and historical references, was simply too much for me to imagine.
Besides, if there was going to be homosexuality portrayed on the screen, why couldn’t it be straightforward? The Billy-Jerry relationship was cloistered in secrecy and innuendo and sadistic power plays – another coupling, if that was even what it was, that made something secret and shameful out of being gay. I would have actually much preferred Charley, the tentative, moonstruck hero, and Ed, his socially awkward best buddy, being the leading couple as opposed to Charley and Amy, the no bullshit lass who, ultimately, became the object of desire for both central male characters. As if to make up for this affront, Ricky, a member of the acting group, and I parked in the alley behind that movie theater, post-viewing, and passionately made out. Once or twice, we had to duck below the swinging orb-like glow of police lights – an adventurous thrill. My grandfather was the postmaster of Dunkirk, the small town where we would gather to rehearse and often perform for civic groups, and the thought of his reputation taking a hit due to the discovery of my deviant midnight lip locking seemed both horrifying and recklessly thrilling all at once. The fact that the handsome, raven haired Ricky, a confirmed bisexual who was already the father of two-year-old twin boys, exuded a devil-may-care, new wave James Dean vibe only heightened the power of those moments.
But that all seemed very long ago and despite my outward enthusiasms, I pulsed with the nervous energy that accompanies one leaving home for the very first time. College was just days away and I was distracted, seemingly filing that long ago sexual energy away for some true love that I knew was just waiting around the corner in Chicago. I could picture him now – some rippling, dexterous athlete running down the corridors of my dorm, tossing a football, thoughtlessly, in the air…our eyes would latch…and… Or maybe we would even meet cute like Frannie and Kirk on As The World Turns, an accidental collision turning from a rude and caustic energy to an undeniable connection.
Back in the present, though, I am curious about William’s decision to commute to college from home. “Don’t you want to escape from your parents a bit?” I ask as Jerry whirls the dazed Amy around the dance floor, attempting to seduce her away from the frenzied, (wrongfully) love struck Charlie.
“Maybe by my junior year. This is more convenient now…and with my job and school, it seems like I’ll barely see my parents.”
This reasoning baffles me. My every aching, straining move since middle school has been to escape my present circumstances. I have been keen to cut through the strangling vines of my familial cords with a vibrant incisiveness and establish myself someplace, far away, in a world of freedom and creativity. The lure of this imagined plane has been so compelling that even the thought of failing my Regents Exams – which would have put a definitive damper on my aspirations – couldn’t interrupt my dreamy, cobble stoned wanderings. Even when studying in those last days of high school, I could barely concentrate, preferring to listen to the haunting strains of Suzanne Vega’s debut album…imagining the lyrical processes that went into writing a song like Marlene on the Wall. Which of Ms. Dietrich’s films had inspired Vega, I wondered.
Maybe William was questioning his choices, as well, and that was the reason he has come to visit Lou…to get advice and support. I can’t comprehend why anyone would really want to remain at home when the whole world glistened with adventure, with opportunities almost too precious to behold.
The credits roll and the next movie is announced. Ninja 3: The Domination. I am a little disappointed. I have no interest in some chop ‘em, sock ‘em Bruce Lee rip-off.
“Oh, wow. This one is really awesome. Have you seen it?”
“No. Have you?”
“Yeah. It’s this crazy demonic possession horror flick meets action-karate mish-mash. It’s wild. You’re going to love it!”
I have a feeling I will. I am also slightly jealous. It bothers me that I have never even heard of this movie while William has had full knowledge of its sure to be never fading awesomeness. Lucinda Dickey, who I’ve also never heard of for some reason – another sorrowful occurrence, plays a telephone line woman-aerobics instructor, bringing all the wonders of the multi-hyphenate to life in one role. She, indeed, is also possessed by the evil spirit of a ninja warrior – leading to floating, wind machine influenced, Linda Blair circa Exorcist 2 light shows. As the mayhem enfolds, William and I settle back into the comfortable space of two acquaintances connected by one powerful force. It’s as if the rhythm of Lou’s slumber-built breathing, coming from somewhere up in the rafters of the second floor, binds us. We will, surely, never see each other again, but both on the cusp of new beginnings and bound by the patronage of such an unusual force, we seem united and a brotherly contentment washes over us. We hug, with hearty back slaps, after the credits roll and I drive home, dreamily imagining, that in mere weeks I will no longer be this shimmering, barely formed mortal gliding, dreamily, down country roads. I will no longer be this person who merely passes the time away with a stranger, waiting for the revolution to begin. It will have already started —- in Chicago!
Impulsively, I drive back to the rectory the next morning. I want to drop off a couple magazines featuring coverage on Fright Night for William. I am possession hungry, but feeling the weight of my upcoming departure, I decided, after settling into bed last night, that I would shed some of the fat of my media works in commemoration of one of my final evenings in my hometown. It’s a hit and run moment. I pass the magazines quickly off to William, wish him well and start to head for the door. As I turn to go, though, I sense the flicker of Lou’s hand moving under the table… and I see a tension enter William’s frame as he flips through an article in a year-old issue of Fangoria. I am stunned into immobility for a moment. In a reverse sense of egoism, I had always assumed that I was the only one that Lou fondled in such a manner. For the first time, I consider that might not be the case. It’s a haunting thought.
But I am on a forward rushing trajectory, ultimately. I have no time to ruminate on the unknown, on relationships other than my own. I have college boyfriends to obtain and future stardom to initiate. The door to the rectory, with that oasis of wonder gleaming far beyond it, is looming before me. I regain my momentum. Without a glance back, I move on.
Note: (My first horror movie buddy was a priest named Lou Hendricks. Several years ago, Hendricks was named by the Western New York Catholic diocese as one of their most unrepentant predators in the ’70s and ’80s. Thus, I grew up watching monster movies with a monster – a man who was like an uncle to our family. Over the next few months, I will be sharing some of my stories from that period of time.)
This is my favorite piece so far in your autobiographical series. I love the way you’ve weaved movie mentions into your narrative so many times, yet without feeling the least bit forced. Your descriptions are also so lush I feel very much an eye-witness to your childhood.