big boys

By Rick Segreda

Jerry had the volume on his television on low; he was watching Night Owl Movie Classics. It was a 1947 Columbia movie entitled Love's Full Price, starring Susan Hayward.

Hayward is supposed to be Claire Everson, a small town girl with daydreams of having both a career and a glamorous lover. But when we first meet her she seems to have already "made" it, but not very happily. She stares out passively at the Chicago skyline from her high-rise. In twenty-four hours, we find out, she will have to decide whether or not she will marry James Mason or William Holden.

Will she, won't she? Jerry loved these dilemmas, especially with actors as charismatic as Mason and Holden.

This is how the movie begins, with Hayward at the window. She tells us her dilemma in voiceover, then the flashbacks take over. We see Hayward on the bus to Chicago, chatting with another girl about the big plans she has for life, a life different from the drab life in the small town she grew up in. Hayward gets off the bus and is awed by the big city. She hits the streets for work and is discouraged. She is ready to head back home before she literally bumps into James Mason's wealthy industrialist. Mason is rushing off to meet with the governor of Illinois when he collides with Hayward in a hallway after she has failed yet another job interview. Hayward and Mason apologize profusely to each other, and Mason, smitten by Hayward's beauty, tells his secretary to delay his meeting with the governor while he asks Hayward who she is and what she does. She mentions she has a certificate in accounting. Mason offers her work. She hesitates, conveying to Mason that she won't be bought, but he insists he will not put any unprofessional conditionals on her work. She accepts.

Mason proves to be a dynamic, charismatic employer. Despite her outward show of indifference, Hayward starts to fall for him.

Meanwhile, William Holden has been looking into Mason's business dealings with local mobsters. Along the way he pursues Hayward for any information he can get. However, though Holden acts tough around her, in reality he falls hard for Hayward, as we find out when he gets drunk one night and spills his guts to a fellow reporter played by Dan Duryea.

Mason proposes marriage, but Hayward wants a day to think it through. She goes to her best girlfriend, played by Eve Arden, and confesses she loves both Holden and Mason. This brings the movie up to where it started.

Jerry's heart was thumping away in suspense.

The commercial break arrived.

Jerry tiptoed across the hallway to the bathroom. While urinating he kept thinking about William Holden in this movie, and how he acted all hardboiled and worldly, yet every now and then revealing a softer side. It comes across in the drinking scene. Suddenly he became vulnerable. Jerry liked that. He even thought one day he'd meet a guy like that, perhaps in few more years when he would be old enough to leave home and be free to live life with the total freedom he longed for.

He flushed the toilet and headed back towards his room. Where he was confronted by his older, six-foot tall, muscle-building, iron-cross tattooed, brother blocking the entrance.

"Mom says you're not supposed to be watching TV this late," Joe said in a cynical, mock authoritative voice.

"Joe, get out of my way," said Jerry.

Joe burst out laughing, then nasally mimicked and mocked Jerry: "Get out of my way!"

"I mean it!"

"I meeean it!" repeated Joe, this time with a girlish whine.

"Why do you have to be such a pain?"

"And what are you going to do about it?" said Joe with a grin.

At 17 he had vandalized school during finals week, sneaking into the kitchen after hours and severing the main freezer's coils, ruining 2,000 dollars worth of lunchmeat and frozen vegetables and filling the entire high school with an untoward stench, somewhere between garbage and sewage. Classes were cancelled for two days just to air out the building. Joe had already been under suspicion for previous vandalism, so it wasn't too difficult to identify him, especially after the principal blackmailed his girlfriend into turning him in. He was expelled, sentenced to time in juvenile hall, and 2,100 hours of community service.

"Stop it, will you! Let me go back to my room," Jerry said.

Joe's 30-day stint in juvenile hall went by all to quickly for Jerry, though he was grateful Joe wasn't forcibly buttfucked, which is what he heard happens there. However, with Joe back, he would routinely ask his mom how many more service hours Joe had to finish before he was out of the house, but she never really kept track. "I can't believe how much he looks like his father," she often said, wistfully.

"What if I don't let you?"

Jerry said nothing.

"I said 'what if I don't let you?'"

Jerry looked down at the floor, not wanting to yield just yet, but not wanting to take Joe on either.

"I said 'what if I don't let you?' Tell me, little brother, what are you going to do?"

Jerry sulked.

"Oh come on, Jerry. You're not afraid of me, now, are you? Tough guy like you..."

Joe poked his index finger into Jerry's skinny chest, then leaned forward and tried to grab Jerry's narrow wrist, but Jerry flinched.

"I hear you got your ass kicked on the playground last week. You didn't even fight back. I am not surprised. You know what everybody says? Huh? Don't you?"

Jerry maintained his silence.

"They say you're this teenage boy who watches old movie soap operas at two in the morning..."

Jerry stood his ground.

"At least that's what they should say about you!"

A swelling of violins could be heard coming out of Jerry's room; the movie started up again.

" Violins? Oh! Oh! It's your movie. Violins! Jerry, come on! Where's your handkerchief?"

Jerry ran downstairs, sat on a couch, and sulked.

"What's a matter, Jerry?," Joe yelled down the staircase.

"Don't you want to watch the soap opera? You don't want to lose out on the plot, now, Jerry?"

"Oh, I get it," Joe said, laughing, "you'd rather watch a basketball game on the sports channel."

"Joe, shut up!" Jerry yelled back.

They could get away yelling, since their mom was spending the night with her boyfriend.

But he wanted to see how the movie turned out. After waiting for some time when he thought Joe might be sleeping he carefully tiptoed back up the stairs and into his room.

Susan Hayward was in close-up, wiping away tears of joy. "The End" appeared, followed by the closing credits:

Claire Everson.......Susan Hayward

Ted Rogers.............William Holden

Calvin Mallory....James Mason

A Columbia Picture


By the order of the billing-Holden over Mason-Jerry figured Hayward wound up with Holden. Due to Joe, however, he really wouldn't know what happened.

A TV announcer came on. "Tune in next Tuesday when Night Owl Movie Classics will present Lana Turner and Van Heflin in..."

Jerry reached over and abruptly turned off the set. "Dammit fucking bastard jerk Joe" fumed Jerry in a low voice. He then pushed his face into a pillow and screamed. He looked at his clock. 2:30 a.m. It was too late and Jerry was too angry to get a good night's sleep. In five hours he'd have to get up, take a shower, make breakfast and a bag lunch, then patiently sit through seven hours of a high school "education" for which he felt no affinity, no purpose, and no meaning.

He looked up again at his bedside alarm clock. 2:42a.m. He closed his eyes and counted 100 backwards then looked again. 2:49 a.m.

This was going to be a long, tedious night. Fearing the lack of sleep would make the next day drag on as well, he reached for his cigarettes, his favorite relaxant, apart from his Mom's valium. With his fingernails he cut into the cellophane of a pack of Marlboro's he stole from the supermarket, lit a stick, and meditated on the smoke rings he blew towards the ceiling. By his fourth stick Jerry began to feel not as angry, calmer. He put the cigarette out and closed his eyes.

He started to dream.

Jerry was sipping a cup of coffee in Susan Hayward's kitchen as she paced the floor, cigarette in hand.

"He's an hour late!"

"I'm always waiting," replied Jerry.

"But he's William Holden, for Christ's sake!,"Hayward said, angrily.

"He's never here when you need him,"Jerry said, sadly.

Susan Hayward gave him a look of awkward annoyance; Jerry felt self-conscious.

"I'll brew more coffee, Miss Hayward, if you like?"


Jerry reached over and shut off the ringing timepiece by his bed. 7:30 a.m. Time for his morning ritual. Before pulling his stiff body out from under the sheets, he shut his eyes tight and imagined the last five years of his life was all a long, extended bad dream. Maybe, he imagined, when he opened his eyes in the next few minutes it would be that time in his from the ages of seven to ten years old again. That's when his parents, living apart since Jerry's birth, got back together. In his warm memories of this time, his dad would be sleeping next to his mom in their bedroom. His dog, Curly would be barking, eager to play. Joe would have been up early in the garage, in a good mood, repairing old bicycles. It would be like that Robert Browning poem he learned about all being right with the world.

In this reverie about his paradise lost he looked forward to school. At ten his parents were sending him to a private school for "artistically" gifted children where he was very popular.

Shortly after his eleventh birthday, Jerry's life went upside down. One night when his dad came home late and told his sons --in a matter of fact manner -- though he was divorcing their mom, they were "big boys." As Jerry's dad put it, being a "big boy" meant they really didn't really need to have a father at home anymore. Jerry and Joe cried, even though Joe in fact had a different father, but never knew him since he abandoned Joe's mother after he impregnated her while she was in high school. But after he died while serving in the Navy, Joe's mother spoke of him the way the Puerto Rican mothers speak about La Santa Virgen.

Within a week Jerry's dad was out of the house. A month later he moved across the country to live with his pregnant girlfriend, a fashion model and aspiring actress, in Los Angeles.

Initially Jerry hoped, even with his father gone, life at home would somehow go on as usual. He pretended everything was all right.

His big mistake: six months after his father left, he confessed to his mom he still missed him. His mother, out on the porch sipping a glass of Bourbon, put the drink down, walked over to Jerry, slapped him hard on the right side of his face. With a terse bitterness in her voice she told Jerry that if he missed his father so much he could go leave immediately to be with him and "that whore." Jerry knew it wasn't an option, since his dad's girlfriend made it clear she did not want his sons living with her, and Jerry's dad himself said that nothing could interfere with his duty and responsibility to raise his "new" family. The next day Jerry's mom thew away his oil paintings and art supplies, and took him out of the special private school he attended, claiming private school had only been her ex-husband's idea, and enrolled him in the local public school, which Jerry hated. She threatened to ground Jerry if he complained about her actions, or talked about his father. She told him that she was "no longer putting up with shit from men." She also sold Joe's guitar, which his dad gave him. Joe blamed Jerry for that.

And then there was puberty. It did not go for Jerry the way his fifth grade biology teacher said it would. He was bewildered by his feelings towards other boys, and found himself evolving from outgoing and talkative to "shy." Yet was careful to conceal all feelings, and all fears and worries from his mom, whom he still loved, no matter what. Indeed, more than any violence to him, he feared that his own problems might push her to hurting herself. He couldn't risk losing both parents.

But the biggest change was with Joe. He started to run with a new crowd, who introduced him to pot and methamphetamines. In no time Joe let Jerry know he and Jerry, though brothers, were no longer "friends," and he, Joe, was as different from Jerry as two boys could be.

Jerry kept his eyes shut. Maybe just this one time all of the last five years would simply have been a long, drawn out nightmare. The moment he finished his nostalgic meditation and opened his eyes, he hoped, it would all be gone.

No luck. There was the egg-yolk yellow and Navy blue striped wallpaper his mom picked out for Jerry's room. The same bed as the night before, the same alarm clock telling him it was 7:47 a.m. and reminding him he would be late unless he moved fast.

Yet he was tired; the grogginess felt as if there were a lead weight in his forehead. Jerry swung his legs over, and stood-up. He looked out the window and it looked dark enough to pass for night.

Jerry rushed through his shower, and, grabbing his erection, quickly masturbated, ejaculating in less than a minute while he fantasized about his first period instructor, the school's swimming coach, whom he had a crush on.

After getting dressed he sprinted into the kitchen and gulped down a glass milk and a handful of Oreo cookies.

He was twenty yards away from the house when he stopped and realized he left without his English lit book. Feeling very agitated as well as being very tired, Jerry quickly ran back inside and to his room. Coming back down the stairs he saw Joe, looking very alone, almost weak, stretched out on the living room couch. His face was pale, his pupils dilated. Jerry figured he'd been using pot again. But it was strange to see Joe awake this early.

"You know what happened?" asked Joe, sleepily.

"What are you talking about?"

"You left your door open; I heard the TV. I didn't know if you were coming back, so I went to turn it off.

Anyway, the movie was on and I watched it. The girl agrees to marry the rich guy, but she gets cold feet the morning of the wedding and catches the bus back to her small town home. The rich guy and the reporter both follow her, but the reporter gets there first, and the rich guy gives up when he sees the reporter and her are meant for each other. So he promises to give all this money to charity, quit doing business with the mob, and leaves. Then I heard you coming up the steps, so I went to my room."

Joe then sighed, closed his eyes, rolled over and went back to sleep.

Jerry felt put on the spot, not by Joe, but by God or Karma or fate, to say something. Joe was not acting like Joe...well he was acting, for the moment, like the Joe he used to know, but Jerry couldn't figure it out. Maybe, one day, when he was free to live life on his own terms it would all make sense. Right now he was going to be late, he didn't want to miss the bus. He turned and ran outside, faster than even he -- Jerry -- was accustomed to.


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