GW Recaps–The Book of Joel: Prelude, Chapter One, Origin Story
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Next: Chapters 2, 3, 4
The Book of Joel Prelude
The quotes that frame the Prelude:
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, He wonders also about himself—that he cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past: however far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him.
C.S. Lewis, “For the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
The framing device for this story is quotes. Gabriel is the card/mystic person. Since this is Joel’s focus, quotes are used to reflect upon how the past and present may affect a person.
Nietzsche’s quote hits harder. Imagining the past as a chain…you run with it around your neck with it like a chained dog in a yard, and hit the end–with the rest of the world just out of reach, because your past will not let you go further. This is a problem that envelopes the characters in this story.
What Happens in the Prelude:
A New Jersey State government worker, Carson Smith, returns home from work with his mind on a case of corruption he’s uncovered. He suddenly realizes he’s not alone. A very tall and intimidating man in black has broken into Carson’s apartment and appears to have been waiting for him.
The large man threatens Carson, telling him to stop his investigations or the man will kill Carson in a very nasty way. However, after Carson agrees to stop, the man leaves. Carson, after some deliberation, decides to quit his job.
Meanwhile, in Wayne, New Jersey, Joel’s mother Gloria meets with a family friend, Larry Meese. Gloria tells Meese that she has found out her long estranged son is involved with the recent case of Don Mathers, serial killer. Joel had helped discover the victims and bring Mathers to arrest. Gloria is regretful of what happened in Joel’s past and wants to contact him. Larry Meese, a former police officer, advises caution, and says he’ll look into where Joel is now.
This is the first book that opens with other persons’ perspectives, rather than Gabriel’s. It’s meant to set up a feeling of people and events being set in motion. The prelude is short, but for those who are familiar with the first two books, Gloria’s appearance should be surprising. Joel has never expressed a desire to go back home. In fact, he never told anyone where he was from. Gabriel only recently figured out Joel was from the Paterson area in Two-Faced Woman (Wayne is a smaller town right next to Paterson). Gloria has spent a long time wondering what became of her son, once she addressed her most serious problem–alcoholism. Now, due to the events in Two-Faced Woman, she finds out her son is doing a great deal to be proud of. It inspires her to try to contact him.
Larry Meese, family friend, is as shocked at the news as is Gloria, but for different reasons. (We don’t know the reasons as yet). He is trying to control the situation by offering to find out more about Joel. He also attempts to control by tempering Gloria’s enthusiasm– “Joel…he did that terrible thing to you and Ken back when.” And also, to Gloria’s pointing out Gabriel’s accolades, “…I have to warn you, private investigators are sleazy…I wouldn’t think this New York PI is some kind of hero.”
Of course, Gabriel and Joel are heroes. We may realize Larry doesn’t know this, or has the typical police suspicion of private operatives. (But what is the terrible thing Joel did to his parents at 15?)
Note that Gloria is also concerned with her irascible husband being even more unreasonable than ever. Gloria does not have a pleasant life.
Abusive parents. Joel’s mother and father have something to answer for, regardless of what Joel supposedly did in his youth.
Cut his heart out with a spoon. The tall man’s threats to Carson Smith are not done for laughs, but the threats are very graphic. TV Tropes has a serious example, and I feel that this is another in how the man explains the effects of how Carson would just “just see the blood and brains bursting out of your mouth before you hit the sidewalk.”
Much enjoyment was had in research various incidents of government corruption in New Jersey. Every state has its unique components to what and how corruption develops. New Jersey’s stories always seem to be larger than life and lurid. What happens in this book would not be that far off from previous scandals.
Playlist: Elton John, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. I dedicate that one to Gloria, a terrible mother who is lost in her older years and trying to claw her way back to a son she abandoned. Gloria’s biggest problem will be confronting her own actions.
A photo of the Old Wayne neighborhood of Wayne, NJ, Joel’s hometown.
The quote that frames the chapter:
Bertrand Russell said, Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.
Bertrand Russell is a philosopher and ethicist I admire. In this quote is much of my own feeling–you can create your destiny to all extent possible, and you must recognize your responsibility in doing so.
This ties in with themes from the Two-Faced Woman about trying to change.
What Happens in Chapter One:
Larry Meese has tracked down where Joel now lives, in the Chinatown section of Manhattan. Using his contacts, he has been able to find out details about Joel’s past life. Meese wonders why Joel associates with Gabriel Ross, who seems to be an ‘egotistical troublemaker.’ Meese has a vague sense of wonder at Joel’s accomplishments, but also is angry that Joel’s father, Ken McFadden, threw Joel out, thereby ending the relationship Meese had with Joel.
Meese is able to see Joel on the street, and follows him to an art supply store and then a graphic novel store. Meese is simultaneously distressed by seeing Joel, and hopeful by Joel’s interest in the things Meese remembers from Joel’s youth. Meese definitely wants to have contact with Joel.
Joel is preparing to have an interview with a Herald-Standard culture reporter, Matt Chagall. Joel is extremely nervous at the prospect of talking about himself. But he handles the interview and photo session well…at least up until Chagall says he spoke to Joel’s mom. Joel is furious, and then wants to know what she said.
Gabriel messages Joel to have confidence in himself, and Joel’s mind ablaze, he dares to go back to the past through using a method he started in his youth–writing down his thoughts in a Moleskine notebook–in this instance, what he remembers about when he first met Gabriel.
Freaking out is the state here. First we have Larry Meese quietly freaking out from seeing Joel, his mind moving from cop-like just-the-facts to feelings that are strong but are not articulated. His wanting to meet Joel again is unsettling, as the feelings he has are unsettling.
Joel is freaking out from the last thing he perhaps expected, his mother re-surfacing in his life. He didn’t think, perhaps, that his participation in Gabriel’s cases, along with his burgeoning fame as an artist would get back to people who once knew him–people he had shut out of his existence. But poor Matt Chagall innocently (although naively) contacts Gloria, and here we are. Now Joel, who had just been trying to remain calm over revealing facts about his life (you know he went over and over those facts to ensure he didn’t say one word more than necessary) discovers he has no control over what happens in terms of others speaking of him or researching him. He can only control how he reacts to any such situations.
The way to react is to find something positive now, and deal with ramifications later–so he takes heart in Gabriel’s message and decides to bring out a new Moleskine notebook (the notebooks are the titular “books” of Joel) and write down what he feels and what he remembers.
Meese has some some Stalker type characteristics.
Isabella is determined to make Joel a success despite Joel’s brattish attitude towards promotional necessities like interviews.
Joel patronizes Forbidden Planet, a real bookstore in the Union Square section of Manhattan, that sells graphic novels and action figures.
Alex’s nasty streak. Ah yes, Alex has suggested to Matt that Matt ask about Joel’s profession before he became known as an artist. That profession was escorting, and is not publicly known. Joel knows Alex said that for spite because Gabriel left him (in Two-Faced Woman) to reunite with Joel. Alex seems to be still positive on Gabriel, despite the really bad break-up scene between them.
As Gabriel’s cases don’t end with the book, Gabriel has to deal with the continuing Don Mathers trial prep and its effects. We find out that the Woman’s Freedom Network has suffered negative publicity due to Don Mathers working there. The former legal director of the nonprofit, Seth Monroe, has moved to another nonprofit devoted to stopping human trafficking. Monroe had helped with the case in Two-Faced Woman, and is now trying to involve Gabriel in more trafficking cases.
Gabriel’s World still has a lot of what might be called obscure references. Blame a lot of reading and too many years watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.
“Joel has been in survival mode for so long that any other sense of being is similar to wearing a Japanese Noh mask between him and the world…” Noh is classic form of Japanese theater, and uses masks to represent archetypal images. As stated in this site, “…noh performers feel that the noh mask has a certain power inherent in it which makes it much more spiritual than a prop used to change one’s appearance.”
Joel’s mask is his protection, what he uses to charm Matt Chagall and Barry Mecca, the photographer. It’s the poor-kid-done-good mask/persona that Chagall is eager to write about, and then is shocked when Joel drops the mask and shows the turmoil within.
Playlist: Talk Talk, It’s My Life. Eighties songs are always welcome in Gabriel’s World. The song is Joel’s and really, is Joel speaking to himself. I’ve asked myself, how much do you commit yourself?/It’s my life, don’t you forget As Joel wavers between past and present, he has to figure out where his direction in life will ultimately be.
In his text message, Gabriel reminds Joel of what he said to Joel the night they met. That Joel’s work should be in the Winter Garden. This is an atrium in New York City, in the World Financial Center. Below is a photo of the atrium.
Origin Story/Gabriel and Joel
The quote that frames the chapter is:
Albert Camus, Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.
Invest yourself now, don’t want for something to happen. Joel does this when he meets Gabriel.
What Happens in the Origin Story:
We are in 2006. Joel is spending time sketching in a Goth bar patronized by college students and owned by a friend of his. He’s suddenly aware a man is asking the clubbers questions–and being roundly ignored. Joel is entranced by the man, who is also studying the art on the walls (which Joel created).
The man, Gabriel Ross, comes up and starts a conversation with him. Joel ends up helping with Gabriel’s locating a club regular who stole something from Gabriel’s client. Their conversation is flirtatious throughout. Gabriel also compliments Joel’s sketches, and asks if he can commission Joel to paint a mandala.
Although Joel refuses to give Gabriel contact information, he takes the job and Gabriel’s card and gets the painting done with utmost care. Joel goes to Gabriel’s apartment in the East Village to deliver it–and follow up on the feelings sparked between them. Gabriel asks Joel to dinner. Joel finds himself feeling safe with Gabriel, and going along with the slower seduction. When they return, Gabriel gives Joel a gift of a new book, and they share some of their life. Joel’s sharing does not deter Gabriel, who brings him in for a sensuous embrace.
Brilliantly uncertain, but hopeful. This is the first Gabriel’s World with substantive flashbacks. Since it’s Joel’s story, about reclaiming, recovering, and moving on from the past, flashbacks fit to fill in a character who tends to be a bit more mysterious. In The Hanged Man in particular, people have told me they were uncertain who Joel was and whether he was a maleficent character or not. Gabriel’s best friend Danny also has doubts. Now it’s time to understand Joel and his relationship with Gabriel.
Joel’s sharing of his past feels more like a confession to him (a vague allusion to Christian mythology, including Gabriel as Archangel, and Joel as prophet). Some people would be put off by a potential lover having been a sex worker, or being bisexual. Gabriel has learned in his own life how judging cuts people off from something good.
There’s a dichotomy between how casual Joel acts in the bar and Gabriel’s apartment, and the rush of feelings he has. Again, another Noh mask, that helps him feel safe and in control of a situation. Joel knows giving in to feelings is dangerous if the person of your affections is dangerous. But he’s at the tipping point here…about to let himself give in somewhat.
Love at First Sight. Never a question that the chemistry was there immediately, and that both Gabriel and Joel recognized this was different.
Joel and Gabriel both like graphic novels.
Gabriel mentions Archie’s propensity for catching mice. Archie is based in part on my own cat Veronica, who is a black and white butler-style, and who is also an extremely talented mouse hunter.
Krazy Kat is alluded to here–Gabriel gives Joel a copy of David Lloyd’s graphic novel Kickback with a Krazy Kat bookmark.
This is not mentioned in the story, but in fact Gabriel and Joel had run across each other before, a long time previous. It’s an interesting meeting, but there was no good place in the book for it. See below for that short piece.
Gustave Dore, mentioned briefly (“…the angels you’re drawing also look straight out of Doré.”) was a fantastic illustrator.
Playlist: Lifehouse, Hanging by a Moment. The slow start and build up in the chorus fits the crescendo of what they feel when they kiss for the first time.
Extra: Deleted Scene.
From Gabriel’s perspective, this would be a few months into the relationship, maybe six months. I include it because it’s not only about Gabriel finding out they had met–sort of–some years before, but when Gabriel realizes he loves Joel. And how difficult that is.
I take out one of the photo albums. “Look, I have real pictures and everything. I might even have Poloroids in here.”
“Only the baby pictures, sorry.”
Joel lies down next to me. “I’ll draw something. Like you are now, I mean.”
“Oh, God. Well, at least I can claim it’s art when it’s on the Internet.”
“It would be art. And it isn’t going online. So show me the pictures already.”
I flip through the pages with him for awhile.
“You were a cute kid.”
“Thanks. I’ll bet you were too.”
“Maybe. I don’t have any pictures, though. They didn’t let me pack before they threw me out…No, don’t get upset, I didn’t mean for you to get upset. It’s okay. I’m here now, right?”
“Yes, and that’s the best.” I stop and run my fingers through his hair.
“Go on. I want to see them all.”
“Okay. So, here’s some college years. I don’t know who Danny thought he was trying to look like with this pornstache, and I was just getting out of a Nirvana phase and trying to dress better.” I point to a photo of Danny and me on Houston Street.
Joel suddenly leans over and scrutinizes the photo intensely. “When was this?”
“I was 21 then…1995.”
“Yeah, it’s you. This is so wild–we met before, baby.”
“What? No way. I’d remember.”
He smiles, looking animated. “Yeah, really. You were wearing something similar. You were with Danny. I was 17 then. You went to CUNY, right?”
“It’s near a Pearl Paint. We almost ran into each other. I was trying to get away from someone and came around the corner, and nearly crashed into you.”
As he says it, the memory suddenly comes to me. I’m filled with shock and wonder. “Oh, my God. You were the kid.”
The Fall semester just beginning, and Danny and I hanging out after class near the Pearl Paint, where a lot of students shopped. We were looking in windows and talking, and suddenly this teenager rushes around the corner and does nearly crash into me. We stare at each other. He was clean-shaven then, and so young; but his eyes were as intense then as now. His eyes stopped me from even saying anything. He held my gaze as he backed into the store doorway, and walked back into the store. I watched him move down an aisle and stop. He stared at me through the window. It was so weird and intriguing I couldn’t help but lean against the plate glass store window and watch him. This was all for a few seconds. I was sorely tempted to go in. The way he looked at me made me smile at him.
“He’s jailbait, son.” Danny was being flip and I ignored his remark.
Then, another man came around the corner. Ridiculous dyed blond hair, tight shirt, muscles, blazing angry. I knew instantly this man was after the teenager. Muscle boy went for the door and I reached over and grab the handle, and opened the door against him.
“What the fuck?” The man turned his glare on me.
“Oh, sorry.” But I held the door still. He struggled against me.
“You trying to start something, motherfucker?!?”
I spoke to him quietly. “I can finish something, if you know what I mean.”
Muscle boys don’t know how to fight. He knew my tone was sincere. He cursed more under his breath. A customer came out then, and the man pushed his way inside.
“What the hell?”
I looked at Danny. “He’s after the kid.” I immediately headed for the back of the building.
“How do you know the kid didn’t do anything to deserve it,” Danny said behind me.
I went around the corner to the store’s other entrance. The muscle boy was stalking the alley, frustrated. The kid was nowhere to be seen. Muscles gave me the finger, and that made me smile again. Although I’m sorry I can’t talk to the kid. Maybe someday I’ll run into him again.
I must be saying this out loud. Joel’s looking delighted. “Yeah, it was you! That guy was Tyler. He was looking to kick my ass. I ripped him off.” He laughs at my expression. “That asshole was a pimp. I pretended I was going to hook up with him and took his money roll. Jesus, he was mad. He’s dead now.”
I shake my head. “Unbelievable.”
“Someone knifed him. Probably a kid he turned out. No loss. But you. I remember you holding that door. Holding him back. I would have loved to stay but I knew you were buying me time. I had to go.”
I regard him, thinking of those fleeting seconds we stared at each other through the glass. “I looked for you. I came back to the store to see if you would come back.”
“That’s sweet. What would you have done?” His tone implies something erotic, but I’m thinking differently.
“I wanted to know what your story was. I would have tried to help you. I would have…” I want to say I would have told my uncle, who would have done something. But saying that seems bad. Maybe that’s my own sense of frustration that I can’t go back in time and spare him pain.
As I’ve discovered with him, he reads my mind. “I’ve told you, don’t be upset. You can’t change things, and I’m okay. You don’t know what would have happened, so you can’t regret it. We’re what our experiences make us. I was a pretty punk kid for awhile, before I realized I couldn’t keep on that way. I would have probably rolled you.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. You could try, but you wouldn’t succeed.”
His look is wicked. “Oh, I could. I’d have you worn out in bed. You wouldn’t know if a bomb went off. I could back up a truck to this place.”
“That’s what you think.” I put my body over his. “I play possum real well, son. I catch you with your hand in my wallet and I’d flip you over my shoulder before you have the cash out. Then I’d hold you down like this.” Straddling him, I hold his wrists. “You know what I’d do then?”
“What?” His voice is softer, falling into the game.
“Lecture you. You’d wish I kicked your ass after one of my lectures. I learned from Dominic how to bore someone to tears with moral recriminations.”
I get him smiling again. I feel him move under me, and clearly looking at photographs is over.
“What would you have done if you talked to me then?”
“Turned you out. In a good way.” I lean down to nuzzle him.
“God, yes. Like I’m doing now.”
I feel him laughing underneath me.
“You don’t think so? It’s true. You’re already different. More open and relaxed.”
“You feel it.”
He doesn’t answer, but sighs and arches into my touch.
I love him.
It didn’t take long. I think he loves me too, but he won’t say it. I know it’s the ultimate risk, but wish he’d take the chance. For now I’m thinking I can live with just being 90 percent sure he loves me. Pretty sure I see it in his eyes beyond the physical attraction. Pretty sure I can feel the happiness and comfort in being with me when he sleeps. Pretty sure I can pick up on his delight when I look at him, compliment him, touch him.
He expresses it in extra intensity of his touch. He struggles under me to unbutton my jeans, get his hands next to my skin. “Let me have you…” The words come unconsciously. In a moment, our clothes are stripped off and our bare bodies touch. Warmth, breathing, hearts beating loud. Softness, softness of a kiss contrasting with the growing hardness between us. Ever more familiar, and exciting because of the anticipation.
He can’t say it. But he hangs on to me, his arms around my neck, long after the sex is over, after we should be exhausted and sleeping. He keeps his arms there tight as if trying to say it by osmosis. It should be enough.
Copyright 2016 Alex Fiano
Page updated 3/8/2016