His name was Jay and whenever I hear the name, it reminds me of this boy. The name Jay, to me, has a singular meaning. It means Jay Bauer. We were twelve when we met. I don’t recall exactly how we met. He probably came up to me and said “Hi”, and that was that. Those kinds of things happen when you’re twelve years old.
He took me to his house. It was very close to mine. Only ten or twelve houses away, and it was relatively big, much like mine. Our neighborhood contained nice, large colonial houses. A comfortable upper middle class neighborhood, with trees, sidewalks and mailmen that knew you by name. My mother didn’t work, something I didn’t think strange or uncommon at the time. Nobody else I knew had working mothers either, with one exception – “Frankie” Bailey, the mother of one of my closest friends. She was a judge.
The interesting, and at once, disagreeable feature of Jay’s house, (and I should have realized it at the time, – a feature indicative of its inhabitants), was the color. It was flesh-colored. The exact same color as Silly Putty, aged Silly Sutty, a redhead’s forearm. Nothing but flesh. I have to confess that my best friend, Arnie never knew about my afternoons with Jay. Perhaps for the same reason I visited that flesh-colored house- it felt wrong, risky and strange. It was. The house and color had aged poorly. I could see there had been no lengthy, strenuous Saturday afternoons spent painting the trim, readjusting the lopsided brown, (perfect color), shutters, or even mowing or caring for the crab grass infested scraggly lawn.
It wasn’t as if twelve-year-old Jay belonged to a family of bikers or drug dealers. His father was a prominent and well-known man in our small town. Mr. Bauer owned the first and largest car dealership in town. I had seen Mr. Bauer around town a few times, and could never see the connection between father and son. Charlie Bauer was about sixty or sixty five and one must assume that twelve or thirteen years ago, an “accident”, as some call it, had struck, and Jay was the result. I prefer to look at it now as a cruel and sick joke played by the gods. “Accidents” can be dealt with – this was bigger than that. A human being. There was no resemblance between Jay and his father, in either visage or mannerism.
Charlie Bauer was nervous, twitchy, skinny and red-faced from too much booze. He had close-cropped hair, and both he and Jay dressed as if they didn’t care. (Their only similarity.)
Jay was reticent, very soft-spoken, deliberate in all his moves and only changed his demeanor when challenged or excited. Jay’s hair was long for a boy and shone like satin. I suppose at that age one depends on parental diligence to keep appearance in check, and in that department his mother and father were severely lacking.
His eyes were large, expressive, soft and brown. His skin was fair and without one blemish. He spoke quietly and with a great deal of conviction, almost pleading. But his temper was short. A secret trait. Once, in his room, I disagreed with one of his assertions and his large, round doe eyes became slits, his body stiffened and I was afraid of what he might do.
The first time I saw his house was after school one day. He caught up to me walking home from the bus stop and asked if I’d like to come over.
“We can have a big snack. Anything you want”.
Now, my kind and warm-hearted mother could never have been accused of neglecting her children, but when it came to “snacks, anything you want”, there was not much of a selection in my house. Perhaps Jay instinctively knew this. I had to investigate. I believe I was the first kid on the block to make celery and peanut butter a “snack”. A show of resourcefulness that to this day I can still see in myself. I agreed to visit Jay’s house and couldn’t wait to see what “anything you want” meant.
We entered directly into the kitchen. What a mess. Not just the remaining pots and pans of a busy, eager cook devising some special, extravagant meal. Breakfast plates still sat on the table. Last night’s fried something was still in the pan, atop the stove. Flies buzzed, the sink dripped onto the small mountain of encrusted plates. The counter was strewn with an assortment of boxes, neglected from being stowed away in the cabinets two feet above. The smell was a mixture of cigarettes, old food, unemptied garbage and later I would reason, liquor. The thought of a snack actually vanished from my mind until Jay reached up to a cupboard, flung open the door and displayed a variety of snacks one could only find on the well-stocked shelves of Seven Eleven.
There were Cheese Doodles, Devil Dogs, Fritos, chips, candy, gum, Cracker Jacks, cake-type goodies, huge boxes and bags of brightly colored tasties. I chose the convenient, individual size bag of Fritos for myself. Jay took the same.
“Let’s go upstairs”, he said. “I’ll show you my room”.
“Alright”, I said, a little worried at what I may find up there, but I was confident that it couldn’t be too different from that of any red-blooded, twelve year old American boy.
We walked into the darkened living room, (all the shades were pulled.) The room buzzed and flickered with the emanations of some television soap opera.
“Mom, this is Geoffrey”, Jay said, as we entered the room, which, though strewn with only a few dirty dishes and glasses, was in as much need of attention as the kitchen.
I almost didn’t notice her at first, for she blended so well into the darkness of the room and she wore a flesh-colored bathrobe that I suppose was at one time pink. She was smoking. She had a drink in her hand and was swirling the ice cubes around.
“Hi”, she said.
“I’m going to show Geoffrey my room”, Jay replied. Before I had a chance to strike up any lively conversation, we walked through the room. Being the polite, friendly boy I was, I turned just as we were mounting the stairs, waved at her and said, “Bye”.
As we were padding up the stairs it occurred to me that I hadn’t thanked Jay’s mother for the Fritos I was so obviously eating in front of her. Next time, I figured. At the top of the stairs we turned right and went about four feet down a small hall to the bedroom door. I could see a crack of light seeping from beneath his door that told me Jay didn’t keep his shades down all day. There was some design on his bedroom door that I couldn’t quite make out, for the hall was pitch dark. He stood there for a moment without opening the door. I didn’t know what he was going to do. I suppose he must have felt as some people do just before unveiling to untrained eyes the treasures and rare beauties of a life devoted to collecting. He was pausing for effect and was carefully preparing himself to witness my reaction as he revealed his room to me. His eyes were riveted on me.
As the door slowly opened and was lit from his windows, I noticed the design was a swastika. At twelve years old, I wasn’t quite sure what the insignia meant, but I knew it wasn’t good. As the room revealed itself to me I observed that Jay was neat, ordered and meticulous, albeit cluttered. Just about every available space in the room was filled. On the walls were posters; German soldiers, Nazis, Adolf Hitler, another swastika banner and some wild-looking rock group.
There were pin-ups from Playboy and at my age, it was the pin-ups that held my attention the longest. On his enormous large desk were displays; helmets, hats, bayonets, guns and army survival gear.
“From a Nazi Officer”, Jay proudly said, presenting one of the hats to me with deference. I looked at it, acknowledged its existence and Jay placed it on his head, stiffened up, raised his arm high and said, “Hail Hitler”.
The hat didn’t quite fit; it was too large. He smiled and moved to the helmets, picking one up and hefting it, fondling it as he spoke.
“This one came off a dead German soldier; an infantryman. My father killed the guy”. His gaze held my eyes. I looked away. He showed me the bayonets; short deadly-looking daggers, and the guns. He was especially proud of the Luger. He pointed it at me, pulled the trigger and laughed.
He moved to the closet and opened the doors. The walls were nearly covered with pin-ups. There were also about ten assorted odd, lethal-looking devices, hanging on nails in the door.
“Num chucks”, he said, as he grabbed these sticks-on-a chain. “They use these in hand to hand combat in Japan. They can kill somebody”.
“What’s that?” I asked pointing to a steel ball that had spikes allover it, attached with rope to a stick.
“That’s a mace”, he said, carefully hanging up the num chucks and pulling down the weapon.
“The knights of King Arthur’s days fought with this. They hit you over the head”, he said, smiling as he leapt at me, feigning attack. I held the mace, and felt its deadly weight.
I ran my fingers across its fanglike points and handed it back to Jay to hang up. I glanced up to the closet’s top shelf and noticed several stacks of magazines.
“What are those?” I asked, knowing the answer. He took down about ten of the magazines and tossed them onto his bed.
“Naked girl magazines”, he said, but he was presently surveying his other less friendly possessions, searching his mind for something else to show and tell.
He picked up the longest bayonet and brought it over to the bed where I sat. He began fervently describing to me how the bayonet was used in hand-to-hand combat in the war.
Not quite interested in his discourse, but not wanting to seem rude or unappreciative, I held my finger on the page I was viewing, looked up and asked, “Did your father kill a soldier with that too?”
How stupid he must have thought me for not discerning the difference between a German bayonet and an American one.
He became angry, insulted. He closed the magazine. I kept my finger there.
“No”, he blared at me and stood up, the bayonet under his close scrutiny. “This is a German bayonet. A Nazi bayonet”. He pondered for a moment, simmering down.
“Do you know Hitler?” he asked, with a glow in his eyes.
“No”, I answered, but sure I would soon find out.
“He was great. He ruled Europe. He created the Nazis. Hail Hitler”, he said, as he turned to the opposite wall, faced the huge swastika and poster of Hitler. I was becoming tired of the stimuli this boy was so energetically throwing my way and wished to be home, with all these magazines, in my room, alone.
I offered up a polite and abundant “Thank you” for all he had given and shown me, “But”, I said, I had to be off; my mother would worry about where I was. He was about to object, but he was perceptive and knew too well the type of family to which I must return; and most assuredly, my mother would worry if I were not home within a prescribed hour.
As it was, she had been worried sick about me. How foolish I felt for neglecting to call and tell her where I was.
Jay would come up to me almost every day, asking me over his house. Most days I would make excuses; evoking some previous made promise or obligation. He always understood, but seemed disappointed and looked at me woefully with those doe eyes. Some days, when I tired of excuses, I would enjoy those snacks and visit his room just to see him smile, but I often regretted it when his smile turned to a scornful grimace at some slight I made or some misunderstanding between us.
I knew he was different and strange. Perhaps that is why I was compelled to know him, to know why and to experience the other side for a little while.
Jay visited my house a few times. One day, we were in my room. I sat on my bed, Charlie McCarthy on my lap, my right hand up Charlie’s back, pulling the string that operated my ventriloquist doll’s mouth.
“Hey, how ‘ya doin’?” Charlie asked Jay. No response. Jay stared out the window. “Whatcha’ lookin’ at, Jay?” Charlie pressed for an answer.
“Oh, ah, yeah, pretty good”, Jay said, turning his attention to the doll and me for a moment. The front door of our house opened downstairs. “Hi, honey, whatya’ doing up there?” came my mother’s friendly inquiry, as she mounted the steps to add visuals to my answer. She opened my bedroom door, and peered in, instantly turning her feigned cordiality in Jay’s direction.
“Jay’s visiting, Mom. I’m showing him Charlie”.
“Jay’s going to have to go home. I told you I don’t want anyone here when I’m gone. I’m sorry Jay”. As Jay slid past my mother, she seemed to throw the words at him.
“Maybe Jay’s mother allows friends over when she’s not home, but that’s my rule. Bye Jay”.
Slam went the door. Flop went Charlie McCarthy onto my bed. I propped him up into a sitting position, keeping my eyes from my mother’s. She closed my door.
Jay didn’t visit again. He knew, as many years later I was able to understand; there was no rule in our house that couldn’t be broken, but my mother knew Jay was not my friend. He was a malady I needed to rid myself of, like it or not, understand it or not.
I did not see Jay again for three years, except to now and then spot him in school or walking down the street, alone.
I was changing. Adolescence brought forth feelings and desires I had never imagined. Girls took up much of my attention; watching them, being afraid of them, and just plain being very interested in everything they said and did. Adolescence also freed me up a little from the demands of my parents. Who cared what they said or wanted, I would reason. I’m growing up and I want to have some fun.
Jay had been given a motorcycle and an A.T.C., (all terrain cycle) from his father and a few kids in the neighborhood were over his house, riding his toys. I decided it was time to join in. Jay took me for a ride on his A.T.C., (he didn’t trust me on his motorcycle).
The powerful-looking machine purred like a giant cat. Jay’s body was poised, tense as he sat atop it and looked at me. His eyes didn’t glow like they once had, but they shown with a hard, intense gaze. I got on behind him. With a loud click he engaged the first gear and I almost snapped my back as we took off, my arms grasping ahead of me for something to hold.
One arm found his shoulder, the other a small bar at the back of the machine. This was his release. This was his way of giving back all that hard energy and pain he had stored up for so long. We flew down the street for about a quarter mile and then left the ground as we entered a steep, downward sloping woods path. Twigs slapped my face and went by way too fast.
I wanted to push myself off, but common sense and fear of broken bones kept me aboard. The narrow path leveled out and I believe he actually sped up as we approached and bounced over humps in the farmer’s field. I felt no security from wrapping my hands across his shoulders. He was not someone I wanted to touch.
A few weeks while later, Jay showed up at my house at ten thirty at night. Perhaps he thought the rules at my house had now changed, but to me, his visit was a total surprise. It had been weeks since he gave me a ride on the ATC.
“What is that boy doing walking around the streets at this hour?” my mother wanted to know.
“I don’t know”, I answered, with an edge, but I did know. He had come to get me stoned. He knew what I was about at that impressionable age. “Sure”, I would say, when my parents were away, and leave it at that. “Your mother and father go out do dinner a lot”. “Yeah, dad makes good bucks”. “My folks are getting a divorse”, Jay told me. My eyes popped. A real broken home, I thought, right here, in the neighborhood.
Another time he knocked at the door at a late hour as usual. I answered, figuring by the time that it had to be him. My parents were home, so I leaned out the door, keeping my voice down. He was already stoned and smelled of pot.
“You wanna’ make five dollars?” he asked.
“Sure”, I answered, always the opportunist. He was wearing a strange, large ring that he displayed to me by holding his balled fist up to my face. The ring was black, with etches of dragons and skulls on it and strange writing that I could not decypher. I suppose it was a wax stamp, once used for sealing letters in medieval times.
“Let me burn you with this”. He grinned, his eyes glowing.
“I’ll heat it up with my lighter, and burn you anywhere and I’ll give you five dollars”. He lit the lighter with his other hand. I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. How silly, absurd, sick, I thought.
“It won’t hurt for long”. He was pleading. “I’ll give you ten dollars”.
“Ten dollars? I’m sorry Jay, but I don’t want to be burned, anywhere.”
“Ok”, he demurred. He thought. “Wanna come outside? I’ll get you stoned”.
“No, thanks. I have, ah …homework. It’s too late. My parents are home”. He understood. I hated that look of dejection in his eyes. “Bye”, he said.
“Bye”. I closed the door, cursing my politeness, thankful for my wisdom.
The kids in the neighborhood knew about Jay’s toys and when his father died and left him money the kids would visit, feeding off his loneliness for a few spins on the toys, or a few puffs of his marijuana.
I was out walking one night and happened by Jay’s house. There were a few kids milling around in the street in front of his house. These were my brother’s friends. They were murmuring. I approached, moving quite close undetected and I gathered that they were conspiring to pull a stunt on Jay.
“Hey, what’s up, you guys?” I asked.
“Shhh”, a couple of the guys said. “Jay’s supposed to meet Kieth over at his mailbox at ten o-clock. We’re gonna watch”.
“What’s Kieth gonna do?”
“Watch, you’ll see”.
“What time is it?” “About ten now. Get over here with us”. We all took our positions behind a huge, tall pine tree, and at exactly ten o-clock, Jay exited his house and walked stiffly to his mailbox. Kieth, who was among us, left his hiding spot and sauntered across the street to the mailbox.
There was a pause as Kieth sized up Jay. Kieth was about four inches taller than Jay, forty pounds heavier and well known in the neighborhood for bravery when it came to a fistfight. He easily intimidated others.
“Go get three hundred dollars from your mother and bring it out here. I’ll tell your mother you’re dealing drugs and beat the shit out of you if you’re not back in fifteen minutes”.
Jay stood still for a moment. The air was heavy, like there had recently been an electrical fire. Kieth moved toward Jay and Jay was off like a shot, back toward his house. As he disappeared through the front door, Kieth turned toward we onlookers and grinned as he walked across the street.
I turned to Sean, a close friend of mine, who knew Kieth better than I and asked, “Is he kidding? Is he really gonna’ do that?”
“Yeah, Kieth doesn’t kid around like that”, Sean said. Geez, I thought, what the heck? Why are they picking on Jay? We all smoked pot, and talked about what might happen in the next few minutes.
Then the front door opened and Jay appeared. He hadn’t used his fifteen minutes.. He turned to the street. We took our observation places and Kieth sauntered back across the street to the mailbox.
“Got the money?” he asked, ready to strike. Jay offered a hand, full of money. Kieth grabbed it and swung his right fist around, connecting with Jay’s cheek, sending him to the ground. Jay made no noise; just lay there. Kieth strode off, away from us, down the road. Jay brought his hand to his cheek and rolled over on his back. I watched him for a moment, then turned and left, taking the long way home. I had some things to think about.
After witnessing the humiliation that Jay went through on that warm summer night, I felt an uneasy detachment toward him whenever I would see him. I felt guilty.
Guilty that I had not done the right thing, or somehow consoled this boy and let him know that I was sorry for him, very sorry for him. I felt closeness to him, for he had turned to me several times over the years and I had listened.
Jay got heavily into drugs. I guess that happens now and then when parents are non-existent and one is so easily obsessed with the bizarre. I never saw him with girls.
One rainy night, about seven years later, Jay was at home by himself. His mother was out with some boy friend. Now twenty three years old, he wasn’t working, and he’d been in and out of all sorts of low paying, low skilled jobs. I was out walking and found myself caught in a drizzle as I passed his house. I knew where to find his bedroom and saw that his light was on.
I kept on walking. I could picture what must have occurred that night.
Inside, he was sprawled out on his bed. He had begun drinking at about two thirty that aftternoon and had fallen asleep at about six o-clock. He was just waking up and felt like a lift. He propped himself up on one elbow, and surveyed his room. Nothing had changed. A few torture devices had been added to his collection through the years, but all were still carefully displayed on his walls, his closet door and his huge desk.
He turned to his poster of Hitler, rose from his bed, and stood in front of Adolf.
“Hail Hitler”, he said, raising his right hand stiffly forward at an angle.
He moved to his desk and removed a vial of cocaine. The perfect cure for a hang over. He poured out a generous dose and pulled the powder into one long line, took his silver tube and snorted the entire line in one blast. Now he was awake.
The drug rippled through Jay’s nasal nerve endings, his greatest arteries and shot directly into the behavioral center of his brain. He knew what the effect would be. He laid his elbows on his desk took in the rush and loved it. He felt like more.
More fun. More bad. More drugs.
He reverently slid open the drawer in front of him and pulled out two hits of acid, studied them, glistening on the prints of his finger for a moment and brought them to the tip of his tongue. He lapped them up.
Now he would enjoy his night. He turned and smiled at Adolf.
He poured out another generous portion of cocaine and snorted that up. This would make the acid work faster. His heart raced. Thunder struck. It began to pour. After drinking two beers and smoking another joint, when he waved his hand across his face the tips of his fingers left trails. If he turned his head fast it would take the room about three seconds to catch up. The walls began to pulsate. Adolf was grinning, even blushing. He must be on a rush, like me, Jay thought.
Those pulsating walls began to compress and the only thought, an insistent urge, told Jay to get out, to get out of the house. All those colorful, moving, twinkling posters were giving him a bad rush.
Outside, the sensual rain wrapped him in its tinkling soft, cool, droplets and he got in his car. The sound of the rain on the car’s roof was hypnotic. An hour went by while Jay watched the rain stream down his windshield, by his face, down his window, and it was wild seeing how the neighbor’s back porch light looked through all that glistening rain.
The car had been running all this time. Maybe someone would notice and call the cops.
Time to go, explore, hit the road.
He was about three miles down the road and remembered the car had windshield wipers. He turned them on. What a friendly noise. The wiper motor. Back and forth. Back and forth. They were there to let him see! The town was dead. No one around. No strip joints. No parties.
But, the car was safe, warm, dry. He drove by Bauer Ford. He wanted to stop in and see his father. He wanted to stop in, walk right up to him and knock his lights out. “You’re the one that made me this way!” he shrieked as he sped past the dealership and onto the highway. He could see his father at his tenth birthday.
So proud, so happy, so drunk. His mother was there too. His father became angry. It was another birthday. Maybe the sixteenth. His right hand came around. “So many things. So many things to say to you. Never said. You are to blame”.
Then Adolf was there. Jay smiled. Grinned.
“Hail Hitler”, he coughed. “Hail Hitler”, Adolf replied. Jay looked down to make sure the seat belt was off. All set. Route eighty-four East. No traffic. He brought the car up to 100. No shimmy. 120. Steady.
The bridge was a mile away. 30 seconds. “Hail Hitler”. His right leg was tense, the accelerator squashed. The pylon was exposed. No guardrails. Four feet thick. Reinforced concrete. 100 feet away. Between the headlights. Black. Silence.
I heard about the details of Jay’s death while I was away at college. Since then, I’ve driven by the house a few times, stopped by and reminisced.
I’ll never forget those doe eyes.