It took more than twenty-three years for me to finally stand on a beach and see the ocean for the first time – Jones Beach on Long Island, summer of 1973. A few months earlier I was forced to take a full-time job in a fabric and wallpaper showroom to earn enough just to keep my head above water. I’d worked for the same company back in Ohio summers while going to University, slaving in their warehouse. One day, as I was killing time before an audition on the upper east side where NYC life had previously never taken me, I happened to find myself at the Design and Decoration Building – or the D and D as it was more often referred to. Remembering this was home to my summer job’s largest showroom, I thought I’d drop in for a visit, never realizing I would end up spending more time at this address my first four years in The City than I would in all the apartments I inhabited during the same time period. In fact, it had been a client from this very showroom, an older gentleman, (at least 40), who took me on a picnic date to the ocean that very first time.
Walking into the reception area of the showroom was quite an impressive sight. There was a gigantic round glass table in the center, surrounded by expensive English armchairs where designers were leafing through the latest decorating magazines while waiting for their fabric samples. At a mahogany desk sat an attractive young woman who processed the sample orders as well as screened incoming clients. All the showrooms on the eighteen floors of the building were open only to the trade. Their customers, (even though they were paying the bills), would not be admitted unless accompanied by their designers or architects. Stopping at the desk on my visit this day, I explained to the pretty girl my history with the company and she insisted I meet the Showroom Manager. She pressed one of the lighted intercom buttons on the dial telephone and quietly explained who I was and asked did she want to come out to meet me. I heard this abrasive voice squawking annoyingly out of the receiver, while at the same time the real life version was loudly grating from behind us through an open office door at the far end of the showroom. It was clear she did not need the Bell System to make herself heard – possibly for blocks. “Give me a minute. I’m coming out”, she screeched. I could hardly wait to see what this harpie must look like.
Out through her office door she gushed, attempting a Loretta Young entrance, but she halted midway to get out a hearty and lengthy smoker’s cough, covering her hacking with a manicured fist to her matching red-painted lips. A small, overly thin woman, she was smartly attired in a tailored dress, wide belt cincturing her tiny waist with a coordinating fringed shawl swaddled about her. She extended her hand immediately to me, before she was even within reach, introducing herself. Her name sounded totally made-up (yet it was real). For purposes of this story, I shall dub her Meg Juneau. “But please, just call me Meg”, as she opened her mouth into a forced and quite obviously faked toothy smile. Her make-up was perfectly applied and although I would have to say she was not at all attractive, her face was pleasant looking but certainly did not fit with either her voice or her abrasive manner. She insisted I come into her office to chat – about what or why I had no earthly idea. I was so regretting making my spontaneous visit and now worrying that my Ohio-ness would betray the thin veneer of hip New York actor that I had cloaked my own self in; it takes a phony to spot another one.
She closed the double doors behind us and bade me sit in a chair directly opposite her oversized throne behind the desk. The moment she had taken her place, she lit up a Marlboro, offering me one then picked up the phone instructing “Janice-sweetie” to hold all her calls. She asked when I’d come to New York so I started in on the saga of my move to The City and my theatrical desires, the two of us puffing away like the tobacco sluts we both were. “You remind me of my brother!”, Meg shrieked in an un-sisterly fashion. It was hard to imagine this sort of person could even have family. What the hell was she up to, I wondered? As the conversation progressed, it became clear she was of the understanding that I had come looking for a job. I was quick to get that notion out of her head. “Noooo, I came to New York to act, not work in the interior design business”, I chuckled in clarification for the aggressive shrew. Good lord, the more time I spent with this woman, the more it grew evident her entire aura was fingernails on a chalkboard. I needed to find a graceful way out and pronto.
She assured me that just like her brother, I would quickly learn show business was too tough and that I always had something to fall back on here. She demanded we keep in touch. Luckily I still didn’t have a phone, so I gave her my address and smoothly worked my way to the other side of those closed double doors. Meg walked me to the reception area and I said goodbye to the pretty girl at the desk, who smiled warmly and gave me a look that roughly translated: do you believe this lunatic we work for?
Swiftly exiting down the hallway to the bank of elevators and freedom, I wanted to lose myself in the crowd and get back to the real world. As I carefully studied the dozens of people waiting, it was clear that it would be impossible to lose myself, because I was the only fish out of water. There were women dressed as smartly as Meg Juneau and meticulously clad gay men in either custom tailored suits or crisp, open collared dress shirts with expensive sweaters draped artistically about their shoulders and every one of them wearing gorgeous shoes and boots the likes of which I had only seen before on TV stars or in fashion magazines. Taking it all in I smirked, exiting the elevator into the too opulent lobby, swimming now amidst a sea of these clones and realizing that the pushy woman upstairs truly was mad to think a guy like me could ever pull off the Tony Award winning acting job it would take to fit in with this crowd.
No more than a week later she began her postal assault on my mail box. It was a handwritten note or a card, boldly penned in tall and sweeping cursive flourishes at least once a week. Meg Juneau had found a way to capture her brash obnoxity even in the written form. They were brief missives: “In the area soon? Let’s do lunch.” or “Talked to some of your old buddies in Ohio. They miss you loads.”. If it were longer than a few sentences, she signed off “Fondly, Meg”. I got more mail from my crazed stalker than I did from family back home. The final post came on a black day of devastating disappointment from an ego-shattering audition experience. It was my rock bottom, all time lowest of low moment and her oversized scrawl stung even harder. The long legal envelope contained only her business card with two two-word sentences written over the face of it: “Hungry yet? Call me.” It was as though, aside from being this brusque barracuda, she was also a witch who knew precisely when to tempt me with her poison apple. I was on the phone to her the next morning.
My initial job was running the sample department. The guy who was there was being squeezed out by my hiring, making my first two weeks (until the poor schmuck stormed out the door in a post coffee break rage) an uncomfortable hell. It was pure Meg Juneau management style and I was a fool to not see what little regard she had for human beings, but I had been desperate and hungry. In six months, if I stuck to it, I would go ‘out on the floor’ as a salesman. Aside from Her Megnificence, or Miss Juneau as we were forced to call her, the others in the office were a fun and friendly group. On the floor, we were only allowed to refer to one another as Mister or Miss, NEVER FIRST NAMES, just as our phone number was always to be given out as ELdorado-5 and not 3-5-5. The two gay men who were full-time sales staff were a bit stodgy and stiff but quite likeable and easy to get along with and the Office Manager/Operator, Janice-sweetie, truly was a sweet and crazy New York movie character. But I immediately bonded with that pretty girl at the reception desk whose name was Miss Randazzo, a petite and dark Sicilian-American beauty not quite five feet tall, perfectly proportioned and sexily curvy, with wonderfully coiffed raven hair and always dressed to kill. She lived at home and paid no rent, so her salary went to dynamite outfits and higher than high, stylish come-fuck-me-pumps.
Teresa Randazzo, or Tree as everyone called her, was my joy and salvation in the place. She confessed from day one she had purposely called Meg out to meet me because she wanted “a fun fag” (which was only endearing when pronounced in her acute Brooklyn-ese) to play with at work. Her favorite word was outrageous and she strove to make everything in her world as outrageous as possible. Soon after my starting there, her boyfriend Ronnie, a high school sweetheart who lived in his parents’ basement on the next street over in their Flatbush neighborhood, had taken her to see the film DEEP THROAT, and Tree was never ever the same. She was a good Catholic girl who hadn’t even been on a date with any guy other than Ronnie, but she so longed to be a sleazy slut. It was her one aspiration. She used to sign the pink, ‘While You Were Out’ slips for our phone messages as “Her Deepness”
She was mystified by a gay man’s lifestyle and I tried to explain to her my fledgling Manhattan life was faltering at best, yet she was keenly interested in every detail. Tree wanted to see me get laid – more so than me at times. Nothing in her life was too private to discuss and I found myself sharing intimacies with her, surprising myself at the candor we were able to enjoy. She was a true girlfriend, as so many gay men might often refer to their closest gay male friends. Tree was always looking for guys my type for me and heaven help them if they walked through the glass showroom doors. She would buzz my intercom and say under her breath: “Ohhhh…..moy…..Gawd! If you don’t blow this one, I will!”
The Monday morning after my Jones Beach date with my Daddy-man she was all ears and quizzed me on every detail. I was talking more about the beach and sun, the sand and the surf than I was about the guy. She suggested I go back but alone next time. I would have loved to, but it was an expensive day, as you needed to take the railroad out to Freeport and then a private bus. I was on a tight budget which meant I couldn’t eat that day and possibly even the next if I had to part with that much money. She told me about a beach near her house called Riis Park that was only a subway and short bus ride away that we could do for 70 cents each way. “Plus”, she wide-eyedly added, “there’s an outrageous section at the end where everybawdy gets naked!” I was just getting over the excitement of a day’s entertainment for under $1.50, but the naked thing had me totally fascinated. Since I was a kid and heard talk of nude beaches in exotic locations, I always dreamed of being amidst dozens of totally naked men romping freely under a hot sun, penises akimbo. Weather permitting, we would go the following Saturday, just the two of us. We were both ticking off the hours all week-long.
We met at the bus stop for the second leg of the journey. This huge long line of all types, sizes and shapes with coolers, beach umbrellas, chairs, ghetto blasters and various food stuffs snaked along the avenue. Surveying the single file crowd of the great unwashed, there weren’t many I would care to see in swim suits, let alone out of them. What do you expect for 70 cents I had to ask myself. Tree was super charged for the morning in a teeny halter top and miniscule short shorts. She was greatly chagrined when I admitted having a swimsuit under my cut-offs. I confessed being a bit self-conscious at the thought of getting naked even in front of her, let alone a beach full of people. Her advice was simply to “chill”. We loaded into the next available bus and off we went to Riis.
This beach was the antithesis of my previous week’s. At Jones, the beach goes on for miles and so wide you could easily find a spot that afforded some privacy and feel as though you had truly escaped The City. At Riis, it was as though every occupant of Manhattan had evacuated and was washed ashore here in The Rockaways. It was people-upon-people, their blankets, towels and mats joined together like some crazy quilt spread from one end of the beach to the other and ending right at the water’s edge with no room to spare. “Good that we’re early”, Tree stated, scanning the beach, “thaz still room in the naked section”, pointing to the far end to our left, still quasi masked in morning haze. We trucked along barefooted in the edge of the surf so as not to disturb sunbathers, hearing blasts of disco, salsa, blues and soul, accompanied by a melange of languages and accents. Approaching the section of great interest to us both, I knew we’d arrived when happening upon an amazon of a woman, tall but not fat with ginormous jugs and a tiny snippet of a bikini bottom not quite covering her pubes. “We ahh he-ya” Tree sang out. We walked a little further and arranged ourselves equidistantly between Ms. Treble D’s and the very end of the beach.
I was nervous, looking about with downcast eyes, noting there were already about a dozen guys both straight and gay totally nude with their cocks in various states from shrunken nothingness to full-blown and ready for launch. It was a curious frame of mind I found myself in: intrigued and captivated, apprehensive and shy, curious and hesitant, glad I was there with Tree and wishing I were on my own. Once situated, she took her top off as she took off her coat every morning when coming into the office – totally unphased. Just like always, she began a running commentary on the people around us, candidly and loudly as though either they were stone deaf or she were in some sound proofed chamber. “Look at the size of the cock on that kid will ya’ just.” or “She really should trim huh snaatch if she’s gonna wu-awk around like that”. I just sat back in my speedo enjoying her observations, sensing they were taking the edge off things for me. I’d wished I was stoned because that would have made it much easier.
“Let’s go in the waddah!” she loudly begged, jumping up to her feet and pulling at my arm as she did. I hesitated because I was finally getting comfortable checking out the men and their penises. It was a fascination I had always had, even as a young boy, studying a guy and wondering what his dick might look like – if it matched the rest of him. The last time I was able to play this game was in phys ed class my freshman year at University. This was even better than that. Tree continued to pull me up from the blanket, saying something about not to worry, the cocks will still be there when we come back. Once on my feet she trumpeted “Come on, let’s go naked and unashamed” and yanked down her bottoms, throwing them over her head. Grabbing me by the hand and pulling us towards the water I stopped, let go of her hand and whipped off my speedos while she screamed “OUTrageous” at the top of her lungs. At this point, half the beach had to have locked onto us as we laughed running full speed into the surf. We stopped to catch our breath and I really looked at Tree in all her beautiful nakedness. I said something about never being able to look at her in the showroom again after seeing her twat and she made a comment about my little ass. We had a fabulous day together at Riis Park.
Life in the showroom went on for two summers more, though it took only about a week before we could look at one another again and not see our bare assed selves. In less than six months from my hiring I did become a salesman and by that point Tree was now joined to my hip. We were Meg’s blessings and curse: adored by our clients, bringing in tons of sales between us, but totally unwilling to put up with her phony bullshit anymore. Together we revelled in defying her to the death. I quit three years later and she called me at my new jobs for weeks, begging me to return. I was impelled to insult her personally before the pesty bitch would let go of my leg. Tree eventually broke up with Ronnie and married some guy who treated her not so very nicely and they were divorced in a couple of years time. I lost touch with her once she too quit Miss Juneau’s House of Pain. For decades later I suffered reoccurring nightmares that Meg was my new boss at a current job and I would try to tell her off, but found myself mute.
But I did remain extremely faithful to Riis Park, going nearly every Saturday and Sunday while it was open during the season. It took a thunderstorm to keep me home. I went with Tree one more time, after she’d met her husband. She only went topless and her outrageousness seemed tempered once he’d put the rock on her finger. Most of my visits I made alone. I felt freer to enjoy myself and was able to savor being nude as well as to relish the sight of my fellow naked men. Even though over my years of Riis Beach days I did meet a couple of guys who ended up in my bed, or I in theirs, it really wasn’t a sexual experience. It taught me to find, develop then appreciate my sensuality. It was real-time pornography and although on a busy, hot summer’s day our bodies were often no more than an easy reach away, it was our minds that were working each other over. And that sex we were delighting in, as we lay back in the sand, taking it all in, was often times better than anything we might do between the sheets any night of the week.