My pal Joey: the hustler I’ll never forget

Photo is not Joey.

Hollywood. Summer of 1982. Our first summer in LA — me and my ’76, green Oldsmobile Omega. I was 20 years old, a college kid on summer vacation, working in the Valley, writing and producing promos for a couple of fledgling cable networks.

Money to burn. Time to spend. Young men (like me) to befriend.

I knew where to go, figured that out long before I stepped foot in the Golden State.

While in high school in Indianapolis, I learned that something called chicken hawks roamed the streets of Hollywood, looking for boys around my age. So said a magazine I came across. Later, I came to learn that others called these magazines “the rags.” At that time, I called them my link to human interface with people just like me, specifically young people just like me.

Cue the Jackson Browne song, “On the Boulevard…”

The magazine called them hustlers. I called them my peers.

The young men hung out on the streets of Hollywood, often at a certain establishment on Sunset Boulevard. Usually, their social interactions with older men involved some sort of financial transaction.

“Down at the Golden Cup, they set the young ones up,” sang Jackson Browne, further confirmation there were golden boys in those California hills. The rest was details, as far as this lonely lad was concerned.

What mattered most: finding a place where young guys just like me were open to being intimate with young guys just like me.

So while unable to find much comfort in my closeted collegiate world, naturally I found my way to those young men, though never at the Gold Cup. (I didn’t have to stand next to that particular tree to see the other trees in the forest.)

Cue the Bob Seger song, “Hollywood Nights…”

Cut to me on a hot summer day in 1982, driving west on Melrose Boulevard. I spot Joey, walking west on Melrose Boulevard, strutting down the sidewalk shirtless with his shirt in his hands, his massive, blond, bodybuilder body on full display. He swelled with confidence and life — a bounce to his step, a bounce to his pecs. Was he interacting with other drivers, reacting to their whistles, putting on a show?

Extremely muscular bodybuilders were a much rarer species circa that time in American culture. This was only the second time I had ever laid eyes on what today is fairly common place sight: big, buff muscle dudes who are muscle-magazine muscular.

Joey was good looking and had a very, very muscular body.

“Touch my dick,” he said immediately upon entering my car. What? To prove I’m not a cop, he informed me. If that’s all it takes.

The green Olds Omega sped off, westward.

Gregarious. Masculine. Funny! Friendly. Authentic. Entertaining. Easy to get along with. Charisma. Looks. Hair. Personality. Hard, muscled body beyond belief. Was I dreaming?

If I was dreaming, I dreamed of us hanging out, getting to know one another, having a bite to eat, talking sports, watching the Lakers on TV, being intimate, and since he didn’t have a place to stay, staying the night together in a motel room, compliments the horny and lonely 20-year-old black college student being well compensated at his summer job.

Joey was in my life for, what was it, a week, maybe two?

There was our first (and only) night together — quite a long night at a motel on Sunset. It was everything I wanted from an encounter with a peer, although he wasn’t so much of a peer, because, shocker!, he was all of 26 years old!

Upon further reveal, his face looked older, too, a little weathered and baggy under the eyes. Or was that from his addiction, the one that prompted him to leave our room (frequently) in search of a fix? At least he was open and courteous about it.

Joey was open about everything, including his bisexuality.

“If I want to walk down the street holding hands with a man and somebody says something, I’ll beat the shit out of them,” he declared. It was the first time I’d ever heard another young man own his homo or bisexuality and threaten to defend it.

Joey was unashamed about who he was. Perhaps that’s what made him an open book, and to me, a goodhearted soul — a goodhearted soul who’d had it rough, growing up in the mean streets of Toronto. (Who knew?!)

Born in chaos and disorder, he followed suit. Begat a daughter back home but fled Canada to avoid the law for some infraction.

In our motel room, he showed me his Canadian drivers license. Not because I asked but because he wanted to show me that, yes, indeed, his real name was Joe, but he didn’t mind at all, me calling him Joey (because I’ve always loved the name Joey).

“Gimme some of dat,” said Joey after eating my ass, sounding all black. It’s a line I borrowed for a romantic, foot-rub scene in my fourth novel, Walt Loves the Bearcat.

After our long night together, I ran into him at least one other time. He was walking on Sunset with two other children of the Hollywood night, a male-female couple. Nomads. American gypsies.

The sore on Joey’s inner forearm (from using needles) had grown and was now an infected mini crater. He had not called me for help, despite the fact I had told him to.

Joey was in dire straits, so was the couple with him. Was he throwing up? Were they having withdrawal symptoms? I gave them a ride and gave Joey some money and food — in exchange for his promise to visit a free clinic ASAP and call on me for support. He promised and the addiction-weary trio continued on their way, their few belongings in what were essentially knapsacks.

Joey disappeared from my life.

A couple of years later, I met someone who described meeting a hustler just like Joey, with all of Joey’s charm, personality and demographics. According to him, Joey was set to be released from jail in a few days (after being arrested for peeing in the bushes), and had decided to cut his losses and leave Los Angeles promptly upon his release. His departure point: the freeway on-ramp adjacent to the jailhouse.

Leaving, not on a jet plane but with a thumb out!

We made some sort of agreement to intercept Joey and provide support. I even dreamed of helping Joey make a fresh start, us living together, him working construction while I finished school.

But the plan to make contact went awry and more than likely, Joey was released from jail and …

That was the end of my palling around with Joey, but to be sure, he made a positive impact on my life.

Joey was a muscle god. He may has well have been on Mount Olympus when I first laid eyes on him on Melrose Boulevard. And yet he was the “nicest human being,” as they say, nicest to me, anyway.

Joey was a ray of sunshine and hope.

Obviously, to some, Joey was a law breaker, a drug addict, a deadbeat dad, a prostitute, a violent person, possibly an abusive boyfriend or husband, as well as a fugitive.

That being said, in the short time he was in my life, Joey was someone with whom I could relax, relate to, and be myself: out of the closet, sexual, turned on by another man — mind, body and soul — and turned on by the chemistry between us, chemistry that was not manufactured, not paid for, not scripted, not disingenuous.

All of which was not normal for me at the time. Still isn’t, which is why my memories of my pal, Joey, are extra special.