School went by very quickly that day; it seemed as if everyone knew that I had no place to live. So very many people came forward and offered me a place to stay at their homes for a day here or a day there that I found myself overwhelmed several times during the day and hid in the bathroom. And even during this time I was being bullied in school.
Monday, May 24, 2021
The first thing I did was to make it over to the Albany bus depot three blocks away. There I used a payphone to call my friend Kerry. Thank God, it was early enough in the morning that she was still at home and she picked up on the first ring. After hearing my story she said, “I’m not sure you can stay at my house, but we can ask around.”
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
We walk silently back to our rooms. I have never seen Laroy so pissed off. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Laroy angry before. Every time we turn on the stairs to look back, Laroy just points with his finger to the top of the stairs and screams, “Move!”
In complete silence Tom and I go into our room, and Alex returns to his across the hall. “I am screwed,” I tell Tom. Tom just looks into space. “What the hell am I going to do?” I ask. Tom shakes his head. We both get ready for bed and this time we don’t leave our room.
I spend the whole night staring at the ceiling. I have nowhere to go in the morning. It is all over. Silently, I slide out of bed and pack my things. Tom rolls over and looks at me. Not a word passes between us. An hour before the staff arrives for the morning shift, I fall asleep. When I wake up, Tom is not in the room. I open the door and look out to see if I can spot him or Alex. Walking into the hallway I peer around the corner so I can look into the TV room. No one is in there either. I walk back into the hallway and lean over the banister. It’s a great way to see if anything is going on downstairs.
As usual, it is a beehive of activity. I listen closely and I can hear snippets of words. It sounds like the staff is in disbelief as to what went on last night. While I am eavesdropping, Donna appears directly under me. She just happens to glances up at that moment, and as she catches sight of me, she shakes her head in disgust. “I’ll be here when you get downstairs,” she says to me, walking into the office without a backward glance in my direction.
My brain is in full panic mode. What do I do now? My things are packed. I believe that they will stay true to their word and throw me out. I have seen it happen before. If you don’t like the rules here, you get asked to leave. Smoking weed is not only illegal, it is in strict violation of their policies.
It is time to face the music. I have taken the longest shower and dressed as slowly as possible. I can no longer put it off. To get out of the building, I have to walk past the office. Standing at the top of the landing, I take each step as if I am walking to the gallows. The steps squeak as I put my weight on them, betraying me and announcing my slow arrival. At the bottom of the stairs I see no one around. As I walk down the hallway to the main office, I can hear a gathering in the kitchen behind me.
I step into the office and there is no one there. I am alone. No Donna, no staff. Then I notice that someone has left my file on the table. I walk quickly over there and thumb through it. Everything that I have ever done in the shelter is clearly documented. The night I arrived by police escort, all the court dates, interactions with my family, and all the staff’s private notes are now sitting in a file right in front of me. I act without thinking and grab a Yellow Pages phone book. Placing it on the table over my file, I grab both the Yellow Pages and the file. My heart is racing as I turn out of the office and head to the stairs. Everyone is in the kitchen is still having a meeting over coffee.
Quickly, I head up the stairs and run into my bedroom. I can feel my pulse throbbing in my neck. Throwing my file into my bag, I zip it up and head back into the hall. I look both ways as I enter the hallway near Alex’s room. Once there, I go over to the window and throw open the sash. I duck my head and swing my legs out onto the fire escape. Grabbing my bag I pull myself out onto the landing and slide the window closed. Very quietly I take each step towards the ground. These metal stairs don’t betray me. Now sweat is starting to form on my brow. I wipe it off with the back of my hand. At the last step I jump to the ground, run around the back into the alley, and disappear.
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Thank God they never found anything. When he was done with his speech, he tipped his hat to Laroy and he and his partner walked back out into the night. “Tonight is your last night,” said Laroy. “Go back to your rooms. In the morning you have to leave.”
Saturday, May 8, 2021
I return to the Equinox shelter, and life returns to my “new normal.” Mornings are spent taking the bus to Stuyvesant Plaza, getting picked up and driven to school. Few people know what I am going through and I try to keep it that way. I have never been a very good student in school, and all this makes it even harder.
Two weeks pass in a blink of an eye. I am now standing out in a hallway at Child and Family Court in Albany, New York. My parents are at one end of the hall, and I’m standing alone by myself at the other end. Donna and the lawyer have gone in search of the women’s bathroom.
For the next several months I settle into life at the Equinox shelter. I rise early in the morning, eat, and take the city bus into Guilderland. The stop is located 45 minutes away at a strip mall called Stuyvesant Plaza. Once I arrive, Kerry meets me and drives me to school. Then she takes me back at the end of the day. Kerry does this day in and day out, never once asking for anything in return. I am happy and have very little stress in my life. I haven’t been fighting with anyone, and the constant battles with my mother seem to be in the past.
It is now the six-month mark. Jay T. Tucker and I are the only ones from the original group who are still living at Equinox. Donna, my social worker, has been trying to find me a permanent home, but it has not been as easy as you might think. According to them [the staff ??], I’m not a problem child, so it will be harder to place me. One solution that sounds good to Donna is Parsons Child and Family Center. Their main headquarters are located in Albany. One day Donna takes me over to look at their school and facilities. The main buildings are located just off New Scotland Avenue. As we climb out of Donna’s car she tells me that Parsons has group homes in both Albany and Saratoga, as well as an independent living center in Albany.
We are let into the building by security. There seem to be security guards posted everywhere. One guard walks us down long hallways that have locked doors on each end. There are more security guards posted in front of them. So far this does not seem like the kind of place where I want to be left, and I look at Donna. She seems to be as nervous as I am.
Then we are lead into the director’s office. The director is a large woman dressed in drab blue. I guess she thought that black might be too dowdy for this institution. She smiles at us and I sense that it is just for show, and she seems more uncomfortable doing it than we do seeing it. I feel that Donna and I might as well be Hansel and Gretel.
With a sweep of her hand, she motions for us to take a seat. Pulling out the chair, I look at the name plate on the desk. Her name is Margaret. She notices that I am reading her name plate and smiles again. My stomach drops. “I have read all the notes in his file,” she says, looking at Donna and leaning back in her chair. “I think that this might be the perfect place for him.”
Donna smiles and asks when a bed might be ready. Margaret reaches across the desk and opens a large black ledger book. She flips the pages furiously. “In about a month,” she says. Donna and Margaret discuss formalities. “Is he a ward of the state?” I hear her ask. “At this time he is, but we have registered to make him an emancipated minor, and luckily that hearing takes place in front of the judge in two weeks.”
Back in the kitchen, I can hear Donna’s booming voice calling my name. I quickly head down the hallway to the main office. “Have a seat,” she says, motioning with her hand. A lone chair has been set up for me. It looks as though I am about to be interrogated.
“I have to go through a couple of things with you,” she says, pulling a pen out of her hair, starting with what you can expect from us, and what we expect from you.” One of our first goals is to become a liaison between you and your parents. What can you tell us about them?” she asks, preparing to write. “Well once,” I say, my voice breaking, “my mom took me to a recruiting station to have me join the Army while my dad was at work.” “How old were you?” Donna asks, her eyes getting big. “Fourteen, I’d say.” She sighs and leans forward. “What happened?” “Well,” I say trying not to well up with tears, “first they said I was too young to enlist but they would wait, and then out of fear I bolted for the door.” Donna blows air out of her mouth and shakes her head. “Later I got grounded for trying to run.”
Donna is holding a legal pad, and she begins to tap it with the pen from her hair. “How is your relationship with them now?” “Not good,” I say. “Well, my Mom and I didn’t get along at all. She used to take me to a therapist when I was younger, but when they told her that she was the problem, she looked for another therapist.” “How many therapists have you seen?” Donna asks. “Oh, about six or seven.” Donna squints her eyes.
“What happened last night?” Donna asks, trying to change the subject. “Can we talk about that later?” I beg, as tears start to well up in my eyes again. “Of course,” she says. “I’m going to call your school today and we will figure out what we are going to do with you.” She smiles and I give her all the information on who she needs to call at my school. It seems like our interview is over for a moment and she picks up the phone to dial Information for the number atGuilderland High School.
Sitting in the chair, I am a little worried. We have started rehearsals for the school show. We are doing Brigadoon and I’ve landed the role of Harry Beaton. They gave me an understudy because it was pretty clear that I was going through something at home. I will be damned if he gets to do the part, but the show must go on.
I see that Donna is on hold with the school. Placing her hand over the receiver, she tells me to wait outside. I nod and walk into the hallway. The house seems empty and quiet now that everyone has gone to school. It looks like I will have the day off. I climb the stairs and head into the TV room. I am the only one home, so the TV is off. The rest of the staff is moving throughout the house. Everyone seems to be in the middle of projects. Lorraine is wearing yellow rubber gloves and carrying a toilet brush. She keeps pushing her glasses up with her forearm in between scrubbing. “Are you bored?” she asks, waving the brush at me. “Want to help clean the toilet?” “No thanks,” I say and continue down the hall.
I walk into the entryway that houses some of the bedrooms, and find a chair to sit in. Throwing my legs up, I lie down on my back and stare up at the tin ceiling. Pretty soon, I am out cold. It’s not long. I wake up about twenty minutes later to Donna calling my name. I sit up, and am still feeling groggy as I head back down the stairs.
“Well, I just got off the phone with your school; they are wondering how we can make this work.” Donna sighs, “Maybe we will have to send you to Albany High.” In my head I hear Christine’s comments about being not being raped in the bathroom making it a good day at Albany High. “I can make it work,” I say, the panic rising in my voice. “Okay,” Donna says, “well, let’s see what we can do.”
That night I call my friend Kerry. She has been worried about me and what happened. “It’s all over school that the police were at your house last night,” she tells me. The only plus is that Kerry knows my parents. It’s been hard because I’ve never been allowed to have friends over at the house, but Kerry would always pick me up in her car and drive me wherever I needed to go. It seems like I’ve always been in trouble and always grounded while living at home. In many ways Kerry is saving my life that day by offering to help out. The plan is that I will take a bus from Albany to Stuyvesant Plaza, and Kerry will meet me there and give me a ride to school.
The next day I tell Donna, and she thinks this is a great idea.
I look over at Jay T., who is still stuffing his face. “She’s a bitch,” he says through a mouth full of egg. Someone behind me asks, “Are you Geoff?” I turn around. Standing in the door is a large woman dressed all in black. Her hair is piled on top of her head, and she has glasses on a chain hanging around her neck.
When I wake up the next morning, Vinny is still snoring. Someone is walking through the house and banging on doors. I can hear a flurry of activity, including doors being opened and slammed. There is a lot of noise, but Vinny is sound asleep, still snoring away. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I slide out of bed, throw on my jeans, and slip out into the hallway.
Now, I’m not sure what a skull fuck is, but I can figure it out as Vinny takes a step closer to me while unbuckling his pants. I slide as far up to the top of the bed as I can get. “Scream and I’ll kill you,” Vinny says to me, a crooked smile crossing his face. I’m thinking as quick as I can, looking around the room for anything I might be able to use to stop him.
I follow quickly. Laroy is walking and talking. He’s giving me the history of the house as we go. “It has two additional stories to it,” Laroy tells me. One floor is for the youth who need to stay, and another floor is just for the staff. Climbing the staircase to the second floor, we pass the bathroom. “That’s one of four,” he adds. Slightly winded, Laroy pauses and places one hand on the railing. He coughs into his hand and waits to catch his breath.
“The first rule,” Laroy says, leaning forward on the desk, “is to never talk about Equinox while you live here. There are several at-risk teens who call this home. The second rule is to make sure that no one follows you to the door. We have had a lot of people try to break in to get to someone.” He stands up and walks over to the office door. “That’s why we have this.” Leaning over, he grabs a baseball bat. He swings it and hits an imaginary ball, watching it fly into the crowd, and then makes cheering noises. “Home run,” he says, and laughs. He walks back to the desk, using the bat as a cane. “Rule three: no drugs of any kind. You can smoke cigarettes, but no weed.” He continues, “I was in the Hells Angels and I know what weed smells like, so please don’t test my skills.” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down and giggles.
The cops proceeded to drive out of Guilderland and get onto the highway in the direction of Albany. “Are you okay?” one of the officers asks me. There is a mesh grate separating the front seat from the back. I just stare out the window into the night.
To say I was having problems with my home life was an understatement. I couldn’t continue to go on living with my parents. My mother and I were not getting along at all and then she would involve my father. Our fights had gotten out of control: Much like my Mom’s relationship with alcohol. The arguments, the quarrels, and the screaming had become so bad that one night my parents called the police and had me removed from their house. Its ‘1979 and I’m a sophomore in High School. It had been a living in Hell — a hell that I no longer wanted to live in and a hell that they didn’t want me to live in either.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
I hurry down the stairs hoping that there are still some customers left in the bar for me to wait on. I have spent way too much time with Bobby and I’m not making any money to pay my bills. The party in the bathroom has broken up and the door has been left wide open.
The cats are very interested in the sink filling with soap and water. I’m sure that some of them have never seen this before, so I understand the fascination factor. Picking up whatever resembles a dish, I drop it either into the sink or into the bag that’s headed for the garbage.“Um… When was the last time you ate?” “What are you writing, a book?” he screams at me. “Someday, I hope to,” I yell back at him, “but right now I’m just trying to solve a crime scene.” He cackles, followed by coughing up something and spitting it out. Thank God I’m not looking at him right now. “I get such a kick out of you,” he says. I imagine him wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
Walking into his room, I come around where he can see me. “I am going to buy you groceries and deliver them tomorrow before I come to work.” For just a moment I see a crack in his façade, but it only lasts a split second and then he is back again. “Are you after my goddamned money?” he screams. “Are you after my goddamned money?” He repeats this over and over. I wait for the tide to settle. “Yeah, I can see that you are living in the lap of luxury,” I say, my face barely moving. His hand shoots out and he reaches for his cigarettes. “Everyone is stealing from me,” he says, a tear forming in his eye. I do my best to ignore this behavior because I am not sure how to process it yet. I grab the lighter off the table and light his cigarette. It shakes between his trembling fingers.
I walk back into the kitchen and look for a pad of paper to write down what he would like me to pick up for him. ”Do you have a pad of paper lying around that I can use?” I don’t get an answer from the other room. “Hello?” I say again; still no answer. Walking back into the room, I find that he has fallen asleep, the cigarette burning in his hand.
I gently take it out of his hand and grind it in the ashtray. I see this as my getaway, and walking gently across the floor, I open the door and step out into the hallway.
His grip tightens on my wrist and I relax. Looking deep into his eyes I can see fear. It’s the type of fear that comes from slowly becoming helpless year after year. “What do you need me to do?” I ask. His eyes look around the room. “They are trying to kill me,” he says whispering. “Who’s trying to kill you?” I ask, reaching up to cover my nose with my free hand. His stench is overpowering.
“They are, the ones downstairs,” he yells, spraying spittle into the air. I lean back to avoid getting hit by the spray, but he has me in a death grip. “Oh, okay,” I say, not really sure if they are or he has lost his mind. Right now I’m thinking that it could be a little of both. “It will be okay,” I say. Reaching out with my free hand, I try to pry his fingers open, but he holds on. “They sell drugs down there,” he says whispering again. “Do you think?” I ask sarcastically. “Goddamned right they do,” he screams, throwing his head back and letting loose with a cackle. “I have an idea,” I say, slowly wrapping my hand around his hand, trying to pry up his fingers. “What do you say if you let me go, I walk out of here and never tell anyone what I saw?” “You ain’t going nowhere,” he screams shaking his head back and forth.
“I have another idea,” I say slowly. “What if I take that pillow out from behind your back, put it over your face and kill you?” With this said he cackles like a lunatic. “You got spunk!” he says, releasing my hand and laughing uncontrollably. “You don’t need help,” I say stepping back. “I do,” he screams facing me. “The only thing you need is a bath.” With this said I step back and walk into the kitchen. “That, and some Windex,” I add. “I can’t get off this bed,” he screams. I can hear him trying to flip over and face the kitchen.
I am standing in front of the sink looking for a sponge. Maybe I will help him out. What’s it like to be so helpless? I see a bottle of dish detergent that looks like it hasn’t been touched in a while and I grab it. Moving all the crap out of the way, I turn on the faucet and squeeze the soap into the sink. While it starts to fill up I walk back into the bedroom and open a window. “They sell drugs,” he says, craning his face toward me. “No foolin’?” I respond, struggling to pull back the drapes. “You think I’m old and crazy, you think I’m an idiot,” he says, following me with his eyes. “Right on both counts,” I say, picking up several overflowing ashtrays in the room and carrying them back into the kitchen. I can’t locate a garbage can so I make do with a bag half-filled with newspapers on the counter and empty the mound of butts into it.”
“They lie to me,” he says, the panic rising in his voice. “What do they tell you?” I ask. “They tell me I’m crazy.” I silently mouth the words “you are” to no one in particular. “Listen, I’m going to help you out a little at a time,” I say. “I am going to clean a little something every time I come up here.”
“No one visits me,” he quickly adds. Popping my head back into his room I ask, “Would you like me to visit you?” He nods his head and looks at me with sad eyes. “Ok, I will come and visit you whenever I get a chance, does that work?” He looks like he’s about to cry and nods his head up and down. “Good. It’s official,” I say and turn back into the kitchen.
The buzzer started to sound with alarming frequency. I was afraid there was a fire in his apartment and he needed help. Everyone at the bar was staring at the buzzer and when I glanced at Don he was shaking his head from side to side. Skip, who was bartending the other end of the bar, pointed at me, and then pointed towards the ceiling. His message was clear, and I was on my way.
Don immediately set up the tray with water, cigarettes, and empty Mason jars. My dinner of one lone banana lurched in my stomach. “Dead Man Walking,” I yelled out, crossing the floor with the tray. I got to the door, looked at Don, and was buzzed into the stairwell. Climbing the stairs, I passed an old man humping Stinky in the corner. Stinky looked at me, nodded, then glanced at his watch. It was clear that he charged by the hour.
Arriving at the second floor, there was the usual cocaine-fueled party happening in the bathroom. I could tell that it was packed to capacity and could hear a choir of voices all trying to hush each other. It’s hard to keep about ten men quiet while they are crammed in a tiny bathroom, putting blow up their noses.
Walking up the stairs tonight seemed like the longest passage of time to me. Allegedly, the man upstairs pressing the button, living in his own filth, was the owner of the bar. I never saw him outside of his room, but legend had it that he used to sit with Janis Joplin when she hung out at the bar back in the 1960s. I was told that he turned a blind eye to everything that went on downstairs as long as he got paid and was taken care of.
I didn’t want to go into his apartment tonight; that was clear to me and my brain. I didn’t want to have to feed him, or worse yet, clean up after him. Just the thought of it made me grab the banister and hold on for dear life. I let out a chuckle, because at this moment I was reminded of the movie The Sentinel, where Chris Sarandon is stroking the cat while Christina Raines gets let in on the plot line that she lives at the Gates of Hell and the demons are busting to be a part of the world. Every night, the owner trapped in his room is the guardian of the Gates of Hell; of that much I am convinced.
Arriving at his “Go Away” sign firmly attached to the door lets me know that I’m here. Well that, the smell of rotting human flesh, and the sounds of the cats. Grasping the knob and turning it in my hand, I use my hip to push open the door. The stench rolls over me in waves. It seems to have increased since my last visit.
Looking around at the sea of cats swarming me, I can see an unusually large number of Mason jars filled with yellow liquid. The sight and sound of the room makes my head swell. Quickly putting down the tray, I run to the sink and cough up my previously-digested banana.
I hear him in the other room. “Who’s here?” he yells and then begins screaming it over and over again. Wiping my mouth on the back of my hand, I call out, “It’s Geoff.” Without missing a beat he screams back, “What the fuck took you so long? I was ringing that bell for hours!!!” Popping my head into the bedroom, I see him lying on his side, facing away from me. He looks so fragile, like a baby bird. An old dirty piss, soiled, shit-stained-smoky baby bird, with a million cats, and questionable personal hygiene.
“Did you just barf in my sink?” he yells, while trying to roll over. “If you fucking messed up my house I will throw you out the window!” I figure that it would take a helluva lot of work to mess up this house, but the thought of cleaning the house with gasoline and a pack of matches needs to get pushed out of my mind.
He immediately starts with his list of demands. “Feed the cats, bring me my cigarettes, and hold that jar while I piss.” When he says this, he breaks into hysterical laughter; something seems to have tickled his fancy. Spittle flies everywhere.
Suddenly he stops laughing and tries to roll over onto his back to look at me. Once he has achieved that, he resumes screaming orders. “Don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open catching flies,” he yells. “Feed the goddamned cats!”
I walk back into the kitchen. Cats come running from everywhere to get fed. “Food is in the fucking cabinet,” he snarls. I reach towards the cabinet door. I pause and swallow hard. The handle has years of filth clinging to it. I grab and yank it open. Half of the contents avalanche onto the counter. “Don’t mess up my fucking house,” he screams. “Sorry, I’m just redecorating,” I say. This strikes him funny, and he cackles away. “You’re a goddamned comedian, a goddamned comedian,” he says.
I empty the contents of several cat food cans onto slightly used paper plates and put them wherever I see a cat. Then I grab one of the Mason jars, go to the fridge, and throw some ice into it. Walking back into the bedroom, I put it down next to him. “Tell Jerry I want to see the fucking receipts,” he says, trying to lean up on his elbows. I reach around him, grab the pillows, and help him sit up. “Are you trying to break my ribs?” he screams, inches from my face. “That’s it,” I yell. “I’m out of here!" “I can’t do this anymore, I’m done!” I start to stand, but quicker than a flash of light, his hand reaches out and grabs my wrist. His eyes lock onto mine.
“Please don’t leave me,” he begs.
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