Sunday, March 14, 2010

My evening with Miss Ross

One hot July day, Richie and I drove to NYC from NJ, then got on the subway to take the C train to Central Park West.  It was sunny and warm and we were late as usual.  We knew we would get there after the concert had started, but we figured we would snake our way through the crowd and somehow get up close enough and be happy.  So, we got off the subway car and saw hordes of wet people rushing toward the train.  They looked like hungry wet rats scurrying toward the last piece of cheese.  We had to fight our way up the stairs of the 72nd St station.  We wanted out; it was suffocating.  Once we escaped, we found ourselves in front of the Dakota Building.  Looking up, we wondered if Yoko were watching the madness.

We could now see how dark the sky had gotten.  It was one of those summer storms that come out of nowhere with wind and clouds that open up and drop buckets of water.  Everyone was soaked through.  It put an end to the Diana Ross Central Park Concert.  

The rain had let up by the time we were outside and it was just coming down lightly.  We decided to take a walk into the park and see what remained.  It looked like 800,000 people had fled and left behind whatever they couldn't carry.  Blankets, clothing, coolers, children and so on.  We walked through the park, surveying the damage and destruction, then decided to take a look behind the stage and scaffolding that supported it.  Somewhere along the way I saw a green fabric patch on the ground, picked it up to see that it was a press pass for the concert.  We thought that would make a good souvenir and held on to it.  After viewing all of the devastation, we left.

Then we found out that Miss Ross was going to return the next day and start all over again. Richie could not get the day off from his summer job at Great Adventure, so I decided I would go it alone.  I didn't want to stand in a crowd of people and view from a distance so I decided I would put on a seersucker jacket and attach the press pass to it.  Since I knew the way to the backstage area, I figured I could just walk right in.  I decided to get there shortly before the concert.  I took the trail we had taken the day before that lead to the backstage entrance.  I saw security stopping people and checking for passes; I felt confident that I would be ushered right in.  As I passed a guard, I showed him my press pass and he stopped me, saying, "That's yesterday's pass; today's pass is blue." I had to think fast and quickly said, "Oh yeah, I left my blue pass on my desk and just grabbed this jacket I was wearing yesterday and ran out of the office.  Do you need me to go back and get it?  I'd hate to miss the opening of the concert."  He said "No problem; go ahead in."  I was surprised he let me in since I looked so young.  The most I could have been was a reporter for my high school newspaper.

But I was in.  I was up close.  I was excited and now in the backstage world of the concert.  I scouted around and saw that I was free to go anywhere I wanted.  The concert was about to begin so I decided I would climb on the scaffolding and sit at stage level on stage left.  I could see the crowd out in front and watched the whole concert from that position.  It felt like I was right on stage and since the scaffolding was slightly in front of the stage I had a perfect view.  I could see her sweat and her tears.  And her dresser kept walking right past me for every costume change.

After a couple of hours, the concert was over.  Miss Ross finally left the stage after singing to the exiting crowd and thanking the "men in blue."  I felt like an insider, so I decided to explore the backstage area.  There were a few tents set up.  One large one with food & drink and a lot of people inside.  I considered walking in to get something to eat but thought that if there were security at the entrance, I didn't want to be asked again for "today's pass" so I kept walking around and found myself in front of a trailer.  Suddenly, the trailer door opened and Miss Ross appeared in a flowing white gown. 

(At the 3:13 minute mark, you can see the trailer door where she came out to find me standing there.)

She was alone; no one was behind her and no one was waiting for her.  It was just Diana and Duane.  She saw me, smiled and put her hand out for me to take.  I helped her down the small steps in her big heels.  She then locked her arm through mine and we proceeded to the big tent.  I was her personal escort!  It seemed so natural, as if this were all planned and intended.  I told her how great the show was and what a fantastic job she did and how beautiful she looked.  She thanked me and as we approached the opening of the big tent, she took a deep breath, turned to me and said, "Here we go."  She squeezed my arm and the last thing I remember was seeing her get swallowed up into the crowd of people inside who were all waiting to get to her.

I stayed a while and had some food and drink.  It was all very exciting, and yet something was lacking, which would have made it the perfect experience: Richie wasn't there to share it with me.

On my way out of the tent, I passed someone I recognized and said "How ya doin', Mayor Koch?"

 "How'm I doin'?"

Friday, March 12, 2010

Jail bait.

I was really bored the summer of my fifteenth year (I don't really write like that but I wanted to, ya know, sound all literary n' shit) (OK, I don't write like that, either...but you knew that already) because everyone I knew seemed to have a boyfriend or girlfriend or a life of some sort.  Meanwhile, my main interests were: watching TV, writing poetry (I wrote good know, the kind that don't have to rhyme), playing with my Black Lab Tarzan, or some combination of the three (i.e., writing free verse poetry about Tarzan and me watching Brady Bunch reruns...and both having a crush on Greg).  I wasn't into sports, I was too young to drive and there didn't seem like anything else for a lonely gay teenager to do in suburban Freehold Township, NJ.

So, I turned to a life of crime.  (Does a week count as a "life"?)

There was actually no devious plan.  I just decided to take a bike ride down to Pathmark, which was the closest store that sold records, which were the only things I ever purchased.  It was after dark and the register in that section was closed, so I had to go buy my album at the regular supermarket checkout.  But then I innocently remembered that there was another record I'd forgotten to look for, so I went back to the record dept. and on a whim, decided to slip it into the bag with the other one.  I got a kind of a rush and thrill when I got outside to my bicycle.  I mean, I, Richie Cohen, honors student and eternal "good boy," had just done something bad.  I was like one of those mustachioed villains on Charlie's Angels.  Or better yet, like one of those tough bad-ass boys at school who smoked pot and talked back to teachers and got in fistfights.  I was one of those cool kids now.

Then again, the second record was a Diana Ross 12" disco single.  But nobody had to know that part.  For all they knew, it was Black Sabbath. And the first one was KISS!  (Actually, no, it was Supertramp's Breakfast in America.)

Oh wait, let me back up a bit.  I did get into a sort of fistfight in 4th grade with Richard Johnson.  You see, my father had been making my brother and me take karate lessons, which I really dreaded because they forced us to do push-ups on our knuckles, whereas I could barely do a normal push-up on my palms.  To me, it was just cruel torture in a room that smelled of stinky bare feet, when I would have much rather been in Coleen's dark, dank basement playing Secret Barbies.  But my father insisted it was important to learn self-defense, and I must admit it sure came in handy that day in class when Richard Johnson, who sat next to me, started a fight.  I remember how it began...I was bragging to him that I was a karate expert (with only 3 lessons and a white belt to my credit) so he started punching me, telling me to "prove it."  Well, the one thing I had learned really well was blocking.  I'm not even sure if that's the proper term (I tried googling but couldn't find it) but it's where you sort of flip your arm up at an angle to knock the other person's punching arm out of the way.  I loved that move, because it seemed so Wonder Womanly. 

 The Karate Kid

Anyway, Richard Johnson was punching at me and I was blocking and deflecting and knocking his arms out of the way.  These were not subtle moves, btw.  It was all big and theatrical and exaggerated.  So, of course, Mr. Haynes (our tough-guy former-military teacher) noticed and demanded, "Richard Johnson and Richie Cohen, what are you two doing?"  Richard Johnson did the smart thing and in his most innocent, Eddie Haskellesque voice, answered, "Nothing, Mr. Haynes!"  While I, in my quest to show everyone how tough and macho I was, loudly & proudly proclaimed, "We're FIGHTING!!"  And off we went to the principal's office.  Richard Johnson thought I was a real jerk to do that, but man, I was proud!  Richie Cohen was fighting with boys and being sent to the office!

And that pride stemmed from what had happened the year before.  My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Holitowsky, had sent a note home to my parents saying that she felt I needed psychiatric counseling because, at recess, I preferred to be on the swing set and seesaw with the girls instead of playing football and other aggressive games with the boys. Or, in other words, your son's a fag and needs to be cured.  (I never actually understood that thinking, because to me, a boy that prefers to be surrounded by girls as opposed to getting physical with other boys seems more straight than gay, no?)  But my father, to his credit, informed Mrs. Holitowsky that she was the one who needed counseling and that I was just fine as I was.  And I agreed.

Still, the following year, it sure felt good to be in a "fight" (even if it only involved a few blocked punches) and a few years later, to be a criminal for a couple of days.  It felt so...I don't know, kind of butch.
James Richie at Fifteen

Anyway, back to the record-taking tale.  It was so exciting to get away with it that I went back to Pathmark the next day and repeated the exact same scenario (buy a record, then go back to the music dept. and slip a second one into the bag).  At home, I already had all the albums and disco singles I wanted so I really just grabbed whatever was the nearest one in the bins.  It wasn't a matter of need or desire and I certainly had enough money saved to be able to buy them.  I really just wanted a thrill and since I wasn't interested in drinking or drugs or smoking (those health class films really had an effect on me and to this day, I still have no interest in any of the above), this was gonna be it.

The third day, I decided to see if I could get away with slipping two extra albums into the bag.  And the fourth day, I took three extra.  And the fifth day, I went for four.  But on the sixth day, it was the weekend and the hours were different, which meant the register in that music section was open, with a cashier and everything.  So I took the five extra albums over into a nearby aisle and did my bag slipping trick over there.

But when I exited the store to get on my bike, I was grabbed from behind by a big burly security guard (don't go there....this isn't porn!) and shoved into a tiny little brightly-lit cinder-block-walled room to be interrogated by somebody (manager? head of security? the janitor?  I had no idea...I was too terrified).  I do remember that I kept saying, "Isn't there just something I could sign?  Like, a promise never to enter the store again?  I feel like I've seen that on TV, on One Day at a Time or an After-School Special or something..."  But then the police arrived and they tossed my bike into the trunk of their squad car and took me to the jail, where my parents were called to come pick me up.

My parents arrived and I was shocked to see my mother with her hair in curlers (she was always styled and "camera-ready" in public).  My father was really pissed off, but not for the reason you'd think.  "Dummy!  If you're gonna do it, don't get caught!"  Hey, he was a self-described "juvenile delinquent" as a kid, so maybe he felt this was a rite of passage.

I had a hearing before the Juvenile Court a few weeks later, where my father put on a tour de force performance for my benefit.  It was sheer genius, but it took a bit of persuasion on his part to get me to go along with it, because I didn't like how it made me appear.  You see, he invented this imaginary gang of tough kids I'd supposedly been hanging out with and trying to impress, and how this whole thing was a dare on their part to see how tough I was.  It worked, and the judge admonished me not to bow to peer pressure (this is the part I hated...I have never in my life followed the pack!), and I bowed my head in solemn remorse and repentance (it was real; I didn't want to ever go through this again).  And my sentence was a fine of $100 to be paid to the charity of my choice.  Isn't that kind of cool?  I chose the American Cancer Society, in honor of my grandparents. 

And that was the end of my life week of crime.  I was still bored after that and desperately wanted a boyfriend, but I'd have to wait two years before I'd meet Duane.  That was a long two years, and poor Duane didn't know what hit him when he met me because I was really hungry!

 Hungry Richie eyes his prey.