It was a tempestuous spring evening; the sky was dark with ominous flashes of neon white lighting, apocalyptic, rolling thunder and cascading sheets of warm rain. When the lights darkened in the auditorium of Newburgh Free Academy, a tidal wave roar of applause and cheering swept over the footlights to backstage. Anthony, startled, reeling, spun around into his teacher, Miss Laura M. – his hands on her breasts to break the fall. They quickly broke apart as the curtain went up on the The1966 NFA Faculty Follies.
It was the fall of 1966. Anthony was a high school senior, sort of a loner, dark, Italian, and dark in mood not unlike Goethe’s Werther which he was reading that semester. He had been elected vice-president of the student club, the Jay Tees, since no one else really wanted to work with Brad Reynolds who headed up a jock clique in it. The Jay Tees had needed a fund raising idea for their annual scholarship fund. Anthony came up with the idea of holding a “Miss Touchdown” contest. Students would donate a dollar to buy a vote to crown the prettiest girl the winner who would be revealed during half-time during the big Thanksgiving football game between the Newburgh’s ‘Goldbacks ‘and rival city, Poughkeepsie’s “Pioneers”.
Brad Reynolds, the self important, poppy-cock big guy of the Jay Tees and quarter back on the NFA “Goldbacks” laughed that such a butch idea came from the ‘queer’. No one called him ‘queer’ to his face but Anthony sensed that everyone knew from Brad’s constant insinuations. Of course it didn’t help that he had blown Brad one drunken night behind the goal post after a game, Brad intimated and pushed Anthony down on his knees. “Suck it” he said gruffly. And Anthony did. Brad moaning and smug thought he was the one in control. But it was Anthony who got him drunk, lured him out to the field, and played the ‘queer”. So who was in control?
The contest was a great success although Anthony didn’t get to see “Miss Touchdown” be crowned and ride around the football field in an open convertible Cadillac. His parents insisted on leaving early that morning for Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn at his grandmothers.
However Anthony could not stop thinking about Brad, both sexually and with a great sense of fear. Brad was holding it over Anthony’s head. “I am gonna call your mother and tell her what you do”, he threatened when he wanted another blow-job. And every time the phone rang at home, Anthony would jump to answer; afraid it might be Brad. The sense of danger mixed with the thrill of sex was a potent aphrodisiac.
Anthony went to confession the very next day after the goal post incident. He waited till Father Lombardy’s confessional was empty. Father Lombardy was the Italian speaking priest of the parish and Anthony hoped he would not understand him when he told him his dark sins. “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been one week since my last confession. I cursed five times, was mean to my mother twice, had three impure thoughts and did one bad act.” “One bada act?” “Shit”, Anthony thought, he understood. “Whata ya mean?” “Well I sort of touched another guy.” “Ah. Did he touch you back?” “No Father.” “Ah” – silence – “Ten Our Fathers, five Hail Marys and one Glory Be.
Anthony ran out of the confessional box, knelt down at the main altar where the Sacred Heart of Jesus stared down on him and said his penance quickly. Only the old lady, Penny Anny was in the church as she always was, mumbling some prayers in Italian. He put in a quarter in the poor box, lit a candle and left. He got on his bike and resolved to sin no more. Anthony was going to Cathedral College in New York City that September after graduating from high school to study to be a priest. In an act of supreme self delusion, he eased his conscience by thinking that sex with a man didn’t violate his future vow of celibacy.
With the flush of victory, the Jay Tees December decided to do hold another fund raiser in the spring. Many ideas were bandied about: a dance, an auto gymkhana, a roller skating party, a hootenanny and a car wash. Anthony was basking in the bittersweet glow of “Miss Touchdown” and feeling a bit cocky. Unlike the other seniors who were out drinking this past Saturday night, Anthony had stayed at home and watched the popular, TV variety show Hollywood Palace.
“Let’s do a Teachers Talent Show! We all would love to see the teachers make asses out of themselves. We can have it in the auditorium, charge admission. It will be great. I’ll direct it!” Everyone was surprised at this idea and excited by the possibilities. Everyone except Brad who was feeling jealous of all the adulation Anthony was getting. He stood up and looked down on Anthony seated on a cafeteria metal chair. “How the hell are you gonna get them to do it. It will never happen.” A murmur of agreement slowly bubbled up from his buddies.
Anthony stood up. “Well, I can make it happen,” he brazenly tossed back at Brad. All waited for his response to this bold challenge to his leadership. “Well smarty pants, well let’s see if you can make it happen. You have till the next meeting. If not, we are doing my idea of the gymkhana. Put your money where your mouth is.” He touched his crotch and snickered and they all group laughed at the inside joke. Anthony did not reply but quickly left when the meeting was over.
Miss Laura M. was the new substitute teacher at NFA. She had moved from Dayton right after her fiancé had broken off their engagement. She had met John in the Theatre Department at Ohio State. They had just performed together in “Look Back in Anger” when he told her he was leaving to find himself and be an actor in New York City. In late August, she drove all the way from Dayton to Newburgh in her pink and cream, Rambler with only her clothes, books and her still to be finished theses on the poetry of Keats. Gamine, pretty in a boyish way, her smile betrayed her inner loneliness of being away from her family and the loss of John who she had loved with a deep pure love.
She was Anthony’s substitute English teacher when his regular teacher took a sudden leave of absence. Being new to teaching, she glowed with a naive enthusiasm especially when she talked about Keats or when she acted out the parts in Shakespeare’s plays – Rosalind in As You Like It or Viola in Twelfth Night. In a few weeks, Anthony was emboldened to show her the poetry he had written, poems of adolescent bleak despair, longing and loneliness. She was impressed and understanding and even read one of them out load to the class. Brad guffawed under his breath, assuming they were about him.
Anthony had known when he came up with his Hollywood Palace idea for the talent show that Laura would be teacher and ambassador to the faculty to make his idea a reality. Laura thought it was a brilliant idea and a way to ingratiate herself to her new colleagues. At the next faculty meeting, much to her and his surprise they all thought it would great fun. It would be held in April. Laura would direct and Anthony would act as “coordinator” between the Jay Tees and the teachers. Instead of The Teacher’s Talent Show, Anthony came up with calling it – The Faculty Follies.
At January’s meeting, Brad was none too happy when Anthony announced it was a go. When he mentioned that Miss Laura M. was the teacher and would direct, he smirked; “That bitch, I bet I could fuck her, no problem.” Then Brad gave him that look. Anthony had to do penance again that night.
Anthony was now spending his homeroom and lunch times in the Faculty Room planning the show. He got to know all the teachers and was becoming a bit of a pet. Sometimes after school, working on the show with Laura, their conversations would drift to movies, books, music and life. She told him about her fiancée and didn’t understand why he had to leave to find himself without her. He told her about his wanting to be a priest and wanting to be a director. He even told her all about the bullying he suffered from Brad. He admitted he was still virgin and had to remain so to be ready for seminary. She questioned his logic on this, asking him wouldn’t it be better to find out now about sex before it was too late. They became fast friends, “two lost souls on the highway of life” like he remembered handsome, Tab Hunter singing to Gwen Vernon in the movie Damn Yankees. It would get so late, he sometimes missed the school bus and she had to drive him home.
Two months whizzed by and the big day arrived. Anthony had brought flowers for Laura for opening night. Even though there was a torrential rain storm going on, it was completely sold out. Backstage was chaos. It was a typical high school back stage: no wings or fly space. Brad who decided he was going to give the curtain speech thanking all the students, faculty and friends for coming and announce the amount of money raised for the scholarship. He was nowhere to be found.
Anthony had written and assembled most of the show from old vaudeville routines and TV skits. These comic olios highlighted the teachers who had real talent: a black music combo called the “Jazzmen’; a folk song duet – the “Mossy Stones”; and a Dixieland group – ‘Wee Three’. There were two main segments. “Wild Nell – the Pet of the Plains”, a spoof of silent movie westerns and the finale set in a Greenwich Village coffee house with all of the teachers dressed as beatniks in berets, sporting Van Dycks, and smoking “cigarettes.” Anthony passed out the fake reefers and all the cast sang Bob Dylans’ “Rainy Day Woman.” The entire audience sang along.
“Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good,
They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would.
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home.
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.”
The curtain calls had just started when Brad stumbled in, wet from the rain storm and having had a few too many beers. He staggered over to Anthony, loudly called him “sister boy” and grabbed the bouquet out of his hands. He lurched onto the stage careened into Laura and pushed the flowers on her. He started to slip from his wet shoes as Anthony grabbed him and held up him, putting his arm around him like two buddies. Avoiding embarrassment, Brad managed to make the thank-yous and announce that $1,000 was raised. As the curtain fell, he pushed Anthony aside and ran off.
The Faculty Follies was a great success. The principal himself, Mr. Fowler came back stage and thanked them all. A cast party for the teachers had been arranged at the Pine Tree Tavern. Anthony was elated while still shook up by what happened on stage. Laura too was shaken and said she wanted to skip the party. She suggested they go to her place for a cup of tea.
It was a short ride through the waning storm. He had never been to her house and was very curious how it would be decorated. It was a simple one bedroom apartment tastefully done. They were both soaked from the rain and Laura suggested she put their clothes in the dryer. Hesitantly he went to the bathroom and tossed his clothes back out into the living room. She handed him through the door a plain white robe to wear. She put the kettle on and the LP of Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights.”
They sat together on the couch, both in robes silently listening to “A Taste of Honey.” “Anthony, it was very brave of you tonight how you handled that bully. No matter what he says about you, be proud o f who are.” She reached over and held his hand. “Oh, I almost forgot. I have a surprise for you!” She dug around in her purse and handed him a small silver cardboard box tied with blue ribbon; the kind of box a set of earrings would come in. He untied the bow, took off the lid and pulled the tissue paper back. “Oh Laura, it’s a, a, a cigarette…,” he stuttered. “No silly, it’s a joint! I thought after our show it would be a perfect present. If there is one person I know who should get high, it’s you.”
He held it in his hand, turned it over and over and took a whiff of it. She pulled a lighter out of that purse and lit the joint. “Just take a puff, but inhale it and keep in down.” He did and of course, he coughed and of course they both laughed. It was good to laugh. They exchanged puffs back and forth. As “Love Potion #9” was playing, they both became quiet listening to Alpert’s fine trumpet styling. He looked down and quickly closed his knees and pulled the robe over to hide his growing embarrassment.
She took his hand and silently led him to her bedroom. She lay down him down on the sun yellow chenille bedspread with white trim, dimmed the lights and lit some candles. He stared at the ceiling as she controlled the situation, setting up the scene. “Anthony, close your eyes and be quiet. Don’t think about anything.” She took off her robe and gently started to caress him all over but never kissing. She moved down his body and he could feel her breathe on his hardness. He kept his eyes closed and surrendered himself to the moment, listening to the rain and the distant music from the next room. She took off her robe and lowered herself slowly till had taken him in. He was amazed how warm and moist it felt. Catching the rhythm of the music, Laura glided up and down as Anthony rose up in counterpoint to the beat. She whispered, “Tony, Tony” till he moaned in pleasure, “Laura”. The rain was coming down hard now and splashing up against the window panes.
The record player arm lifted up at the end of the LP and moved back to its resting place. They were both startled by the whistling of the kettle. She grabbed her robe and ran to the kitchen. He quickly put on his robe and sat on the edge of the bed. She brought them both back a cup of tea. They stirred and stirred their brew not daring to look at each other from opposite sides of the bed. After a brief while she said, “Anthony, I didn’t want to tell you till now but I am moving to New York City. John called me last week and says he wants me to come live with him. He has a small place in the Village.” He sipped his hot tea and almost burnt his tongue. “I understand Laura; I can’t w-w-wait to get out of Newburgh myself. I hope things work out for you and John. And about tonight…” She shh-ed him before he could go on and she kissed him lightly on the mouth and held his face in her hands. “Years from now, I will always think fondly about tonight. I hope you will too.” He didn’t know what to say. “Oh I will” was his only response. A few more sips of tea. “Maybe we can meet up in the city when I am in school. The three of us can all go to a Broadway show together!” She didn’t respond but laughed gently. Their clothes were dry now. They got dressed and she drove him home. The rain had stopped to a drizzle and the wet streets of Newburgh seemed to glow a bit.
She dropped him off at this house and he gave her a quick peck on the cheek before she pulled away. As he was about to go down the driveway, he noticed a strange car parked in front of his neighbor’s house. All of a sudden, the overhead light inside went on and Brad looked over and gestured to join him on the front seat as he unlocked the passenger side door and kicked it open. Anthony stood there for a long moment, then walked over, closed the car door, gave a confident wave “goodbye.” Brad stepped on the gas and sped away. Anthony ran up the driveway into his house and turned off the front porch lights and went to bed. The rain had stopped. The phone never rang.
That Saturday after the show he went to confession. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been two weeks since my last confession. I cursed three times, hit by brother once and did one bad act.” “Ah, with thata boy again?” Anthony smiled and said, “No Father with a woman.” He then thought he heard Father Lombardy whisper “Deo Gratias.” But what he really said was “One ‘Glory Be’ and say an Act of Contrition.”
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”
In June, Sharon Kish, the Senior Class President asked Anthony to direct the ‘Senior Class Night’ show – “What a Day for a Daydream.” It was another great success. He graduated that June and was awarded a PTA Scholarship for outstanding contribution to the school. Anthony entered Cathedral College in New York City that September of 1966 to study for the priesthood, saw his first Broadway Show and grew up to be a director and homosexual. Brad Reynolds went off to Vietnam and got married and had three kids and still lives in Newburgh. Anthony never saw Laura again.
“Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone.
They’ll stone you when you are walking home.
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave.
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.”