Michael made friends easily. Scott lived just down the street from the school. He was a little older than us, a high school dropout who still lived in an apartment with his divorced mother. His father had left them at ease, and Scott wasn’t going to waste his time working when he couldn’t imagine how he would spend the funds already at his disposal. Scott’s apartment on Fifty-Seventh Street was a convenient place to hang out on days when we closed classes and the weather kept us from wandering Central Park. I loved school and rarely cut, but there were days when I just couldn’t cope with a math exam or when Mr. Ginsburg was away and a sweet substitute who loved to be surrounded by child artists introduced themselves and told us how lucky we were to be gifted. Anyway, Michael saw Scott a lot more than me, and in my absence, they had both come up with a plan.
I had barely walked through Scott’s door when Michael ripped off my jacket and pointed behind me, “Joey is waiting for you in the guest room.
Michael took a half-smoked joint out of Scott’s mouth and stuffed it into mine.
“You know Joey. My friend from Gravesend. The one we went to for pizza with back then.
“Oh, that’s right,” I said, having no memory of this boy.
“It’s time. And it will be good for you. You can’t sit around waiting for someone to magically appear. That’s not how the world works. You want something to happen , you realize it. And Joey volunteered.
I still had no idea what he was talking about. “Suck,” he said. I realized he was referring to the fridge in my mouth. I took a long, deep drag. He took the joint and ordered: “Come on! He is waiting.
Finally, the fog lifted. . .
“Have fun and make me proud” were Michael’s last words as I entered the room.
Joey was lying on the bed, already naked, and smiling as he shook his head back and forth and said “hello.”
He was pretty adorable, I have to admit. A very different type of Italian boy from the one I had grown up with: his body was almost beardless and his head was a mass of golden curls. And his penis. . . I’d seen penises all my life: in my house, in the locker room at the Sunset Park pool, in the JCH pool when everyone was swimming naked on men’s nights. But I had never seen uncircumcised ones before, except in statues and paintings. Even the pornstars were circumcised, which made me stop wondering if they were all Jewish.
Joey reached out and pulled me to him. It was a small bed. It was a big deal. He kissed me tenderly, guiding me, and when we were done, I rushed out of the apartment as quickly as I could, heading back to Brooklyn by subway. Since it was Friday night, my mom and dad volunteered to pick me up from the station to save me the walk of the elevated train. They’d be out anyway, bringing my Uncle Paul home after dinner. Uncle Paul has been coming to our weekly Sabbath dinners for decades. My grandfather’s brother was a postman whose wife went crazy shortly after their honeymoon. He had come home from work one night to find her under their bed screaming. Their apartment windows overlooked the elevated train tracks, and family folklore said that it was people looking out of her bedroom window as they passed that drove her crazy. I guess that’s a good reason, though hundreds of thousands more, in cities around the world, have endured passing trains without becoming Ophelia.