I was supposed to be reading my Bible, but I’ve never done what I was supposed to do. Instead, I was reading The Shining, which was hidden in the dust cover for my Bible, and listening as Freddie Mercury asked why we couldn’t find anybody to love us. I wasn’t supposed to have my Walkman with me, either, but I snagged it, along with whatever tape was in it, when I ran back in the house at the last minute to use the bathroom. I was fortunate the tape was “Queen’s Greatest Hits” since it would have to last me an entire week. It was 1984, and I was on my way to church camp for the first time.
That week in June also marked my first time warehoused with a bunch of other boys (whenever I entertain a prison fantasy, I only have to think back to church camp to determine its origin). Twenty boys, 50 gallons of Polo cologne, a billion raging hormones, and one overweight, bucktoothed, nearsighted, poorly dressed, nerdy gay kid – church camp was Heaven.
I knew from the moment we arrived that, so long as I got Saved that week and offered my soul to Jesus when they asked all the sinners to come forward, then when I died and got in the express line past the gates, inside would be a plywood cabin in the Ozarks filled with boys that smelled good, wore Izod shirts and had feathered haircuts.
I got Saved on Tuesday. I had to make sure I got that out of the way, in case I fell off a cliff or something. It wasn’t official until I got baptized back in my hometown later that summer. (I had to wear white pants. In a hot tub. With my preacher. In front of God and everybody. Literally. Was I the only person who noticed the faux pas? To this day, I hope so, because that water was very warm.) I think a lot of people were surprised that a 12 year old could have committed so much sin, proving that, contrary to what I often believed, they couldn’t read my mind. They obviously didn’t know about the special sleepovers that had been going on for a year or so or what I thought about every time I saw a cute guy my age or a little older (not too old – like 17 – I mean, that was ANCIENT). But I knew what I’d been thinking and doing, and I knew that I was a very dirty little boy.
I was tickled pink to be surrounded by cute boys. Really cute boys. And they were kinda bad boys, in a Missouri Bootheel/Southern Baptist/14-year-old way. They cussed (I heard one say “hell”) and listened to Ozzy Osbourne – stuff I couldn’t imagine doing. At 12 years old, I wasn’t allowed to say “fart” – I had to say “poot” – and I couldn’t tell someone to shut up, no matter how mean they were.
God was tempting me, just like he had done to Jesus, only I was failing miserably. Every time one of them glanced at me, I’d start humming “Just As I Am” in an attempt to wash my mind of its sinful thoughts. And man, were those thoughts sinful. I knew exactly what I wanted to do those boys and what I wanted them to do to me and where I wanted us to do it and how many times I wanted us to do it and which outfits I wanted them to wear while we were doing it. I was even beginning to think about lighting schemes and background music (maybe a little Marvin Gaye – or Duran Duran).
We arrived at camp on Monday afternoon and after we unpacked, everyone just hung around the cabin, waiting for dinner and evening services. I had been forced to take a top bunk (challenging at the time, considering my low center of gravity), and I lay there, reading and listening to Queen. Really, though, I lusted. Committed a deadly sin. I knew I was going to have to get Saved really soon because if I fell off that cliff, then I was just going to keep falling.
The guys hung out, talked about girls and stuff (yawn), laughed, hit each other (a lot – they seemed to enjoy this), threw things at each other (another favorite pastime), and made fun of each other’s mothers, whom they referred to by their first names (I knew their mothers and also knew that none of them would find this the least bit amusing). They also took great pleasure in farting – I mean pooting – they pooted at each other, they pooted on each other, they pooted with each other and they tried to light each other’s poots. Apparently, poots were very cool. I stayed in my bunk, listening, watching and trying to hold my breath. I soon become bored and lost myself in my book.
I came back to the world when someone started poking me. It was the oldest of the boys, John (not his real name). He was laughing and so was everyone else. I took off my headphones.
“You were singing, man,” he explained. I suddenly realized I was lost not only in the novel but also in the music and was belting out “Bohemian Rhapsody” and, given the headphones, probably very loudly.
“Was I off-key?” I stammered.
Everyone laughed even harder. I feared that I sounded terrible, not realizing that it was totally uncool to sound anything.
“Do what?” Ray asked.
“I said, was I off-key?” I still didn’t get it. I was worried about my performance. I sat up on the bunk and looked down at him. I looked around at all the other guys and it hit me. I wasn’t fitting in. I wasn’t hitting anyone or throwing anything or talking about girls or pooting at anyone.
Everyone kept laughing. “No, man, you were right on key.” Ray turned to look at everyone else. “What the hell?”
I swallowed and scanned the eyes of everyone. I knew I had to do something. I had to be cool. This one, single time, I had to be cool.
“Then why do you give a fuck?”
I didn’t know where it came from. I had never said “fuck” (or “fart” or “shut up”) before in my life. I didn’t even know what it meant. I had no idea that it was exactly what I had been wanting to do and that “fuck” was, in fact, all I thought about. I heard my dad say it about me once (“What the fuck is wrong with him?”) and my mom almost fainted, so I knew it wasn’t just a bad word, it was a REALLY bad word. It just seemed like the wrong thing to do, so I did it (this has become a life-long philosophy).
Every single eye in the room tried to pop out of its socket, including my own.
“What’d you say?” Ray whispered.
I cleared my throat. “You heard me.” I would not dare repeat it.
Ray cocked his head at me and said, “I guess I don’t give a… care. I guess I don’t care. Queen’s cool.”
I nodded. “Yeah, they are.” I put my headphones back on and went back to my book, silently thanking God for helping me find the right thing to say, even if it was a REALLY bad word.
Even worse than “fart.”
Freddie Mercury died on November 24, 1991, 22 years ago today. Queen’s music has been the soundtrack to my life for 20 years. Today’s entry is just one of those scenes played against a Queen song and is in honor of Freddie.