Love in the Ramble: An Exclusive Excerpt From the Book ‘Accidental Warlocks’
Jeff Leavell, a frequent Hornet contributor on topics ranging from open relationships to life with HIV to the dangers of toxic masculinity, describes his first book Accidental Warlocks as “a fictionalized memoir that is only mostly true.”
Filled with stories of endless parties, anonymous sex, heroin use and the ultimate search for love, Accidental Warlocks tells the story of Jeff as he navigates New York City of the ’70s and ’80s. The book is out now, available for purchase on Amazon.
Below we present an exclusive excerpt from Accidental Warlocks:
Most of what I know about sex I learned cruising parks and public bathrooms. There is a kind of beauty to the anonymity of being inside a stranger or having them inside you, feeling them as they come, their arms tightening around you, the way their breath changes. There is an intimacy even in the most degrading moments.
As a teenager, I would spend weekends at my best friend’s place on Central Park West. We would spend Saturday mornings watching the Robyn Bird show. I would suck him off before going out to cruise the Rambles at Central Park. I can still see his dick, the shape of it, short but thick, stubby, the smell of sweat, the smell of him. I can still remember the way it slid perfectly down my throat. I remember teasing him, the way he would moan, telling me to go slow. Not too fast Jeff, not yet, I don’t want to cum yet.
The Rambles might be better referred to as an Island of Misfit Boys, a place where the straight jocks from my high school, the mean kids, my father and step mother, my brother and step sisters, none of them existed anymore. This place was just for me. A place where I could be whoever I wanted, feral and desperate, starving. A place where I could find relief, where I no longer had to pretend to be something I wasn’t. Even in the strange little lies I told about my age, my name, where I was from, who I was — even then I was more honest in that place than in most places I have ever been.
Once I followed a well-dressed white guy wearing a dark suit, and a black guy in jeans and a leather jacket across the bridge down a path and into the bushes. I stood, transfixed, as I watched the man in the suit drop to his knees before the black guy, the black guy unzipping and taking out his cock. Just as the black guy was letting out a loud gasp, I heard someone whistle from above me and say, “Hey, blondie, whatcha doin’?”
I looked up, and a dark-skinned Dominican kid with black, curly hair was sitting precariously on a tree branch, smiling at me. He dropped down next to me with a thud so loud it startled the two guys. They ran off.
“What the hell you doin’ out here watchin’ the faggots suck dick? You miss the bus back to New Jersey or somethin’?”
I was momentarily offended that he had just assumed I was from New Jersey, and I said, “What are you doing out here?”
He grinned — he had a sexy grin, big and wondrous—and he held up a pack of Marlboros. “Smokin’ cigarettes, man, and watchin’ the faggots suck each other off.” He held out a cigarette for me. “Want one?”
I took it. His name was Rafael, and his mom cleaned houses for people who lived in the mansion apartments of Central Park West.
“I’m pretty sure I’m a faggot too, you know? So, this seems like a good place to come and learn shit. See what the faggot life is all about.” He was skinny and wore a used army jacket a few sizes too big for him.
“You cold?” he asked, taking the jacket off. “You cold, you can wear it.”
“I’m not cold.”
It began to rain and Rafael jumped up, tossing the jacket over both our heads for protection. “Que quete conjo! Yo, you smoke weed? Wanta smoke a joint with me?” His hands moved fast, full of a lightening nervous energy, his feet always tapping, dancing back and forth, always moving. He laughed easily and smiled at everything I said, even when what I said didn’t warrant a smile.
“What’s your name?” he asked, passing me the joint.
He laughed; I wasn’t sure what was funny. “That’s a good name. ‘Jeff.’ A strong name.” He tapped his fingers on my chest. “I really like that name. Really, I do.”
“So, you learn any tricks out here?” I asked, stoned and full of courage.
“Yeah, man, of course I do. But not like I needed to. I already know tricks.” He smiled, his arm reaching around the back of my neck and pulling me into him. “You know what I mean?”
I was laughing almost uncontrollably now. “Naw, I got no idea what you mean.”
He pushed me away and stood tall. “Look, it’s serious business you gonna do some shit like this. You don’t just fuck a dude or some shit. You gotta treat him nice. That’s what matters, you know? The quality of the experience.” He winked. “You gotta tickle it a little before you go stickin’ it in.”
I wanted to turn away, to hide the pink blush flooding my face, but I knew it was too late by Rafael’s laughter.
“Pendejo!” He slapped me upside the head. “Look at you blushing and shit.” He leaned in and kissed me quick on the lips, his tongue brushing against the edges, gentle and yet forceful. “You are too cute.” He didn’t pull away, just stayed there, his forehead propped against mine, his lips brushing against mine, his fingers intertwining with mine. I can still remember how he smelled. Musky but not rank, like a guy who had been out all day and was now caught in the rain. Sexy. His breath was spicy, and he pulled me into him, kissing me again, deeper this time. “Goddamn,” he whispered into me, his breath making my mouth hot. “You gonna be comin’ back around here tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I can be here again tomorrow,” I said without thinking about how complicated that might actually be.
“Meet me here. At the rock. 3:30.” Then he looked at me, serious. “And don’t think I’m letting you stay here after I leave. We are gonna walk outta this park together, you get me, man?”
I smiled. Yeah. I got him.
He held my hand all the way out of the park, insisting I wear his jacket. Just before walking north up Central Park West, he kissed me on the cheek and said, “Okay, baby? Ima see you tomorrow, right?”
“At the rock. 3:30.”
His smile grew, his eyes blazing. He leaned in quick and kissed my lips, looking around after, making sure we hadn’t been seen. He punched me in the chest and was gone, running across the street, weaving around cars.
The next day I arrived at the rock a few minutes late. Rafael was already there waiting with a red rose, the kind you bought at corner bodegas for fifty cents, in his hand. He was wearing khaki pants and a blue, button-down oxford and scuffed black work boots. He smiled when he saw me, pushing black curls out of his eyes, and he handed me the rose.
“You got me a rose?” I asked, embarrassed.
“Fuck ya.” He kissed me quick, his lips so warm. “I wanted you to know you were special to me.” He looked around for a moment, men leaning against trees in predatory stances, watching us. “I was thinking maybe we could go downtown, you know? Check out a movie or get some ice cream or some shit. What you think?”
The sky was a dark grey, summer transitioning to autumn, a light rain beginning to fall. He took my hand in his. His skin was so hot, it almost burned.
“We can walk. Or take the train. Whatever you want, baby.”
I had never really been on a date with a guy before. No one had ever given me flowers. Or held my hand for as long as Raphael did, all the way from 72nd Street and Central Park West to Washington Square Park. He pointed out places his mom had worked, telling me about the lives he had seen when she would take him with her.
“You got no idea, baby, how crazy some people are. They do crazy shit, and they think they’re normal. This one woman won’t ever leave her house. I mean ever. I’m serious. She has people bring her food and groceries, and if she needs to see a doctor, they come to her. She’s afraid of everything. She’s afraid of dying so bad that she don’t know she’s already basically dead living like that. It’s fuckin’ insane. Think about that. All her windows are blacked out. She don’t even know there’s a world out there no more. Lives right there on 5th Avenue. Richest place in the world, and it don’t do her no good at all. I’m not shitting you. Crazy fuckin’ people out there.” He squeezed my hand. “They don’t know about life.” He leaned in, smelling me, his lips brushing up against my neck. “They don’t know about this.” He pulled me close and for the first time he really kissed me, deep, his mouth locked to mine, tongues searching and exploring. He smiled and pressed against me, and I could feel him grow hard. He reached around and grabbed my ass.
And then we were moving again, and he was talking on and on about things, anything, whatever happened to pop into his head at the moment, as if he were afraid that if he didn’t get it all out, he might not get another chance.
We ate falafel at a place on MacDougal and got ice cream from a vendor in Washington Square Park, sitting on stone benches and telling each other stories. I tried to tell him something important, talking about my life with my father and step-mother, about school and how I felt alone most of the time, with no one to talk to.
“I think that’s part of bein’ a faggot,” he said, grabbing on to my hand. “I think it ain’t easy, you know? These people, they don’t know us. Not like we know each other. The whole world is built for them. They don’t even know we are the way we are, you know? If they did…” His eyes became distant, losing focus. “My dad caught me once. With this kid I go to school with. It was nothin’, man. We were just jerkin’ off and shit. Harmless. Nothin’ like what I’ve done in that fuckin’ park. That son of a bitch beat the shit outta me. Seriously. I had to go to the hospital and get stitches. Whole time my older brother telling me that I’m breakin’ my father’s heart. Ruining the family. Get my shit together. Me sittin’ there bleedin’ with a broken arm, and it’s their hearts that are broken.”
I kissed him. The buildings around us lit bright in the fog that had settled over the city. I wrapped my arms around him, holding him as tight as I could, and I wished I could have kept us there frozen in time like that, in a world that never changed. Rafael laughed, biting my ear, kissing the lids of my closed eyes, nipping at my nose. We made out for what seemed like an eternity, except it wasn’t enough.
“I gotta go,” I said, hating myself the minute I spoke. “I gotta go home.”
“Where you live?” He had yet to let me go; his arms claimed me.
And then he pushed me away. “I fuckin’ knew it!” He laughed.
“Shut up.” I tackled him. We didn’t care who was watching, or that the pavement was still wet from the rain, or that we had no place to go, no place to be together. No real place to fuck.
He walked me to the PATH train at Christopher Street and asked me when he could see me again.
“Whenever,” I said. “It’s no big deal getting here.” “What about school?”
“Fuck school.” I smiled.
We spent a few more minutes making out and then made plans to meet again at our rock the following weekend.
I took the train back to Madison and walked up the hill to where my family lived in our large house like some isolated castle cut off from my world, the only world where I belonged, and locked myself in my bedroom, and cried.
Those years in Madison were lonely. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I had no idea how to speak to anyone, like a foreigner who had accidently walked into a distant land where the language and the customs were all different. People looked at me like I was a stranger. There were times when all I could do was scream, standing in the middle of the kitchen and yelling, trying to communicate something that was impossible to get across.
I remember terrible fights with my father where I just howled, wanting to rip at myself, pull myself apart, until nothing was left. I had dreams of setting the house on fire and disappearing, dreams where I found guns hidden under my pillow, and late at night I slipped into the rooms of my brother and stepsisters, into my parents’ room, killing them all, shooting them point blank in the face. Horrible dreams where I was taken into custody and locked into asylums for the criminally insane, forced to live with the guilt of who I was. A monster. A killer. I would wake screaming, alone in the basement bedroom on Woodland Road and think about killing myself, as if that was the only option left to me. I would lie awake at night, afraid that if I fell asleep I would kill them all with a knife from the kitchen and then wake from what I had done covered in blood, everyone dead.
Once, sitting on the edge of the pier off of Christopher Street, I told these things to Rafael, afraid he would think I was evil, monstrous, terrible. After I was done, he looked at me and I saw he was crying.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, wanting to run away.
“You are so beautiful.” He ran his fingers over my lips. “And you aren’t no fuckin’ killer. Fuck your family. Fuck everyone. Fuck this whole fuckin’ world.”
Raphael told me how his father had found some porn under his bed, how he had thrown his mattress across the room, ripped his posters from the walls, and shredded the journals where he wrote poetry.
“He came at me, you know? The guy came at me like he was gonna beat the shit outta me, but fuck that, you know? Seriously, fuck all of that. I ain’t no little kid no more. So I beat the shit outta him.”
I looked at him, stunned.
“My mom, she told me I couldn’t stay there, you know? That I couldn’t be their son. So I been movin’ around.”
Everything inside me hurt. I wanted to reach out, to hold him, to save him. I wanted to change the world. “Moving around? What does that mean?”
In a few days, it would be Halloween. The River was a dark and furious thing. Men were cruising the piers. Teenagers were smoking joints. A man in leather chaps, ass exposed, was making out with a skinny guy with bright pink fingernails. The West Side Highway roared behind us.
“My older brother, Carlos, he used to tell me there were mermaids in the water, you know? In the River.”
I looked at him. He was so beautiful in that moment. Golden. His eyes seemed to capture the light of the city, all the beauty and all the pain of the world reflected back at me.
“Yeah, you know, chicks who are half-fish?”
I laughed. “I know what mermaids are.”
He smiled at me. “Yeah, well, you know, for most of my life I believed him. I thought, fuckin’ New York City, man, of course there were mermaids livin’ in the River.” He lit a cigarette, the burning red lighting up his face. “But now I know it was all bullshit, you know? Ain’t no goddamned mermaids in the River. Not one magical fuckin’ thing in this goddamned city.”
We curled up together and fell asleep, holding each other tight against the cold and the wind. In the morning, we ate eggs and bacon at a diner on 7th Avenue and then he stood with me while I waited for my PATH train.
“Where you gonna go?” I asked.
“Around. You know. I’ll be good.”
“When can I see you again?”
He looked older, his eyes darker, his smile more restrained, less full of wonder. “Come up next Sunday. 2:30.”
“At the rock?”
“Yeah. At the rock.”
My train was pulling in. He kissed me, holding on to me for a moment. And then he let me go.
“I miss you,” he said, as the doors closed.
“I miss you too,” I said, the train pulling away so he couldn’t see the words as they left my mouth.
I knew that he wouldn’t be there, but I went anyway. I spent three hours on that rock before I gave up.