GW Recaps–The Book of Joel: Grace, Chapter Seven, Eight
The Book of Joel — Grace
The quote that frames the chapter is:
Robert Louis Stevenson: Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.
RLS is one of my favorites for being an exquisite wordsmith, and a creative mind who took a city and turned it into a person (Jekyll & Hyde). He wrote for children, he wrote for horror-lovers. One of the first books my mom bought for me was a book of his poems. This quote is positive. You have may had an absolute shit harvest before, but you can still plant the seeds of something good to come. By his time with Grace, Joel learns how to do that.
What Happens in Grace:
This picks up in 1993 shortly after Joel has arrived in New York. He’s on a bench in the West Village, feeling despondent. A young woman in the park is watching him. He falls asleep and wakes up with the young woman now next to him. She sees he’s been beaten. Joel tells her a mixture of truth and obfuscation, but mostly truth about what happened to him. The young woman, Grace, who is Trans, takes Joel with her to find a place to sleep for the night.
They bond during this time, and become inseparable as time goes on. Under Grace’s experience, Joel learns more about surviving in the streets. Grace occasionally hustles, and Joel wants to do the same, but Grace is reluctant to let him. Their relationship becomes intimate, and they are fiercely protective of each other.
While Grace is away trying to find hormones, Joel is tempted to speak to a man, Art, who says Joel can make real money being a nude model. Joel is suspicious but follows Art to a shady apartment building. But before Art can get Joel in the apartment, Grace runs in and calls for Joel to leave. Art takes out a knife and fights her. Joel jumps in the fight, and he and Grace beat the man down.
Outside, Grace tells Joel that Art is known for luring young men into sexual slavery. Joel is feeling hurt, but Grace lets him know the point is they take care of each other.
Survival plus. Joel has survived, but he’s learned about people who say they’re going to help and instead take advantage. Originally, this section had the encounter with Pastor Tim, but was edited for flow. The encounter with the not-so-good pastor is below. One of the most important aspects is that Joel’s notebook survived.
“It’s not them, it’s you.” I wish I could implant this in the brains of every person who’s been thrown out, abandoned, abused, for who they are–to start the process of not feeling like the lowest, most worthless person to be born. It’s not you, it what people project upon you because they are worthless.
Random Points: Street smarts. Grace has them, Joel has to learn from her to use them for himself. Street smarts means understanding how life works at the grittiest level…it also means learning who not to trust. Eventually Joel becomes a Satisfied Street Rat later on in life, taking pride in his ability to survive.
The Winter Garden pops up again. Grace feels much the same way as Gabriel about Joel’s facility in art.
A couple things mentioned in Two-Faced Woman. Joel had told Danny that he had been beat up several times. The encounter with the nasty group in the city is the first.
Joel had also mentioned Grace to Gabriel in TFW, and how Grace saved him from the trafficker.
Joel learns to like Djarum clove cigarettes from Grace.
In TFW, Joel mentions having learned how to handle a knife from a crazy kid who hung out in Times Square. We catch a glimpse of that kid, Orest. The knife skills Joel learned from Orest he used on the would-be assassin in TFW.
Trivia: The problem Grace describes of LGBTQ+ kids being beat up in regular shelters while those in charge ignored the abuse was a real thing.
Playlist: Sting, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
I could be lost inside their lies without a trace
But every time I close my eyes I see your face
This song came out in 1993, the year of this chapter. Grace is the first person Joel manages to have faith in, the first one he feels has his back. He wants to take care of her, but has to trust that she will take care of him until he’s able.
Extra: What happened with Pastor Sal. This was too long to include in the book. See the extra scene below.
The Book of Joel Chapter Seven
The quote that frames the chapter is:
William Shakespeare, What is past is prologue.
It’s a positive concept for one’s past to be prologue, because prologue implies a much more interesting story to come.
What Happens in Chapter Seven:
Gabriel begins speculating about what Ken McFadden might be doing regards to financial fraud, figuring it’s connected to his state government position. Otherwise, Gabriel and Joel are back feeling their domesticity.
One morning Gabriel receives a text from Zest. Zest says he’s left a burner phone outside Gabriel’s door to communicate. Zest says the job Gabriel is on following Comstock needs to be dropped. He’s telling Gabriel to do him a favor.
Gabriel and Joel think about what this may mean. They decide Alex should be warned for his own safety. They set up a situation outside the Herald-Standard’s building to get Alex out, and then Gabriel tells him he should back off his story.
Gabriel and Danny go to Joel’s loft where Isabella and Chris are loading some of Joel’s works into her SUV to take to a private show–for Churchill. Gabriel is a little nonplussed at that, but he can’t go with Joel, as he’s helping Gloria by being with her as she meets with Ken.
Back at Gabriel’s apartment later in the evening, Joel returns with Isabella. She has a few ribald remarks that irritate Gabriel, particularly about Churchill. And she says that Joel has another showing in London he has to leave for soon. Joel says Churchill wants to hire Gabriel for a job. Isabella’s possessive behavior with Joel, and his sudden leaving for London leads Gabriel to be snarky with him after she leaves. Gabriel and Joel then get into an intense back and forth over past lovers, and Joel’s feelings…as well as what he isn’t telling Gabriel. Joel finally admits Jan left him more than a few belongs–more like 11 million dollars. Clearing the air helps them both.
While Joel is in London, Gabriel begins Churchill’s job. Gabriel is about to leave to pick up Joel from the airport, when Ken calls. He says he wants to talk to Gabriel about his situation, and not tell Joel or Gloria. He wants to see Gabriel right away. Gabriel is suspicious, but figures he has to check this out. He leaves a message for Joel and leaves for New Jersey, setting himself up with a recording device.
Ken tells Meese, and another man, Cody, that Gabriel is on his way. They are in Ken’s house. Cody, a very tall and intimidating man, is playing with two large knives. Ken thinks he’s setting up Gabriel to be killed, making it look like Gabriel attacked him. Meese and Cody are actually going to kill Gabriel and Ken, solving two problems. Cody has a ‘thing’ where his kills have to bloody. Meese believes he’s protecting Joel, and Joel will appreciate this later. While Ken is angry, he’s starting to have doubts.
Gabriel arrives at the house as Joel calls. Joel is worried about what is going on. He sees Dell spying on him from across the street. Gabriel leaves his phone on while going to the house. Ken lets him in, and immediately puts Gabriel on guard. Resisting Ken’s attempts to get him to go further than the hall, Gabriel breaks Ken down, who warns him to leave. But then Cody is suddenly behind Gabriel, and tries to cut him. Cody chases Gabriel though the house, and when Ken tries to stop Cody, Cody takes Ken’s shotgun and shoots him. Then someone knocks Gabriel out, as Dell pounds on the door demanding to be let in.
Meese tells Cody to leave, and then puts the shotgun in Gabriel’s hands before slipping out the house.
Everything has suddenly been thrown into chaos. When one fire seems to be put out, another arises. Zest shows up–not a good omen. Gabriel and Joel handle the implications by warning Alex to back off his whistleblower story. Then, the fire of jealousy and holding back arise between the two lovers. Gabriel allows some insight into his past, and Joel allows some knowledge of what his inheritance is. Hashing out their feelings works for them, to start anew. But now, events kick into place even more deadly. Meese has conned Ken into trying to con Gabriel. It doesn’t work, and Gabriel’s just barely able to make it through alive. But he can’t walk away. The chaos now begins in earnest.
To go back to the man who’s quote frames the chapter, a Shakespearean drama has conflicted heroes in difficult situations, and often a harsh change in circumstances–and someone getting killed. Betrayal and sexual intrigue plays a pretty strong part as well. We’ve got all that here. But some Shakespearean comedic elements are here too: lovers and their conflicts, disputes and twists, and always dry humor.
Random Points: Ken McFadden fell victim to a double cross, Meese’s Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Meese lied to Ken 17 years ago and nearly destroyed Joel’s life, now he lies to Ken again and literally destroys Ken’s life.
Also, Cody’s Bloodlust. He has to be extra-good at killing, since he needs to try to work in the kill being as gory as possible.
This is just my thing I like, but I feel you have a real relationship when you’re co-pet parenting. Hence, Gabriel telling Archie to “Ask his other Dad.” Joel loves that, the little things that mean they’re a family.
Back at my apartment, he spent time on my bed during the evening going through a few pictures of his own. Joel has a few pictures of Grace he hasn’t looked at in years. But having opened up his past, he can safely take out the pictures again.
Gabriel and Joel get a little real with each other. Joel is blasé about having once (or a few times) been intimate with Isabella. Gabriel is more reluctant to discuss his teen dalliance with Danny, and his one-time hook-up with Veronica. Note that Joel does have some feelings for Veronica beyond friendship. But ultimately, Gabriel does explain what happened with him and Danny. Joel is trying to make a point that being jealous of either person isn’t sensible.
Paranoia: But I know of too many stories, stories Kent Varney had given me, of journalists who had been on to a story and suddenly turned up dead in car accidents or by ‘self-inflicted’ gunshot. Always with the wrong hand or shot twice—sending a message.
Mr. Zest is back. Zest is one of my favorite characters. I’m glad he’s in our world again. Gabriel isn’t glad, of course. He’s righteously pissed off, as demonstrated by his pounding the shit out of that burner phone.
Joel’s searching for his knives. As mentioned before, he started carrying a knife for protection again in Two-Faced Woman.
The trip to London for the art recordings is part of the set-up Isabella started in Two-Faced Woman.
Gabriel mentions his uncle’s college boxing (see below). Gabriel has often taken advantage of the serious training Dom put him through.
Trivia: The information on how corruption works on New Jersey is accurate, and just scratches the surface.
“I can do that thing in Aliens, with Bishop and Hudson.” In the movie, Lance Henriksen (Bishop) holds down Bill Paxton’s (Hudson) hand with his and rapidly moves the knife back and forth between their fingers.
Golden Gloves is the name of official (and sometimes unofficial) amateur boxing events. At 5’10 and around 160 lbs, Gabriel’s uncle Dominic would have been Middleweight division.
The Bark River Bravo III. A nice tiger-stripe handle for Cody. And, a khukuri:
Playlist: Adele, Set Fire to the Rain. This song has a great ominous tone and apparent reference to a breaking relationship.
‘Cause there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew,
All the things you’d say,
They were never true, never true
Certainly so…no matter how much lovers may feel they are open, there are sides unknown. But it is also about any sort of betrayal, where the fire overwhelms everything else because of who the betrayer is. One person can be so bad, his actions can act as a fire in the rain, so to speak. Meese is one of those persons.
Extra: What happened with Pastor Sal
November 7, 1993
Gansevoort Street 4:49 pm
Joel feels the blood throbbing in his head. The pain comes in stages. It goes back and forth in his body, front to back, top to bottom. From his jaw to his legs. The cold has been absorbed into the asphalt, and that cold is transferred into his body. He starts shivering uncontrollably.
Gradually he forces himself up on his knees. In front of him, he sees his own blood splattered in drops. It’s running from his nose and mouth. One of his teeth, broken, lies in the blood. Joel touches the side of his mouth and flinches.
Once up, he can look around the alley, and check that they haven’t come back, that they aren’t waiting to do this again. People randomly pass by the alley on Gansevoort Street, but do not notice him. The sky is turning dark blue with dusk. The dusk is cover enough for him to leave. He has to leave.
His backpack is on the ground. Nothing is in it but his notebook. They didn’t take his notebook.
He has no idea where to go. A hospital will ask questions he can’t answer. Maybe he’ll just stop hurting in a few hours, if he can rest somewhere without being bothered.
Joel makes his way to a McDonald’s, to clean his face. When they had him on the ground, they shoved his face so hard into the asphalt the black rubbed off on him.
When he urinates, he sees blood, which terrifies him.
He goes out again, and sits on the steps of a nearby building. Maybe he’s dying, bleeding inside. He’s never felt so alone, so stupid.
“Hey, there, what happened to you?”
An older man, in his forties, dressed in plain shirt and slacks, is smiling gently down at Joel.
“Did you fall down? Are you okay?”
Joel doesn’t answer.
“I’m not here to hassle you. I work up at the church on MacDougal. I’m Pastor Sal. I know enough kids to tell when someone’s been beat-up. Who did it, son?”
Joel shakes his head.
“Okay, doesn’t matter. Can I help? You on the street?”
Remaining silent, Joel looks him over. Pastor Sal is not bothered by that.
“Our kitchen is closed, but luckily, I’ve been hiding some leftovers just in case…of something. I think God’s had me on the lookout, maybe for you. I know you’re hungry if you’re on the street. If you want to, you’re welcome to a nice meal and the use of the bathroom. If you want to talk, we’ll talk, if not, you can leave.”
Joel, not having money or train fare, and in too much pain to walk far, decides to chance it.
Pastor Sal seems very mild mannered. White, rather thin, lanky brown hair, glasses. He has a soothing voice, as a pastor probably should. He keeps slow to not outpace Joel. The church, Community of Faith, is in an old stone building that needs renovation. It’s small, about two stories and a basement. The inside is pale green walls, 50-year old pews, worn carpeting, and rooms that have the scent of old dreams and unfiltered cigarettes.
Pastor Sal retrieves a lot of food from the church kitchen and places it on a table in the small dining area. The slightly wobbly table is bracketed by ornate book shelves holding encyclopedias, religious texts, and anthologies. One volunteer is cleaning up the area, but otherwise the church is quiet.
The prospect of eating makes Joel forget about his injuries until he uses the bathroom.
Pastor Sal sees his distress when he comes out. As he begins to swab and bandage where Joel’s been hit, he tells him, “You were kidney-punched. It hurts like the dickens, and it makes you have blood in your urine. But it’s okay. It’ll clear up in a couple days, nothing serious.”
He takes Joel to his office on the ground floor and gives him a couple of ibuprofen. “What happened to you? What’s your name?”
“Joel…I was looking for some places to hang out. My parents…I don’t want to talk about it. But these kids I ran into, they said they knew where people like me could go.” He stops, abruptly.
Pastor Sal smiles. “It’s okay. People like you. Are you gay, Joel? Or transsexual?”
“I’m not transsexual. I don’t know if I’m gay. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“No problem. I’m not judging. Whether you’re gay or bi, these kids told you they knew where you could go. And you’ve figured out probably, not many places for LGBT kids in town.”
“I went with them. They took a short cut through an alley, and stopped and surrounded me. They asked if I had money. They started beating me, calling me names. They took everything off me.”
Pastor Sal starts gets up and looks out his window, which oversees MacDougal. The window is crisscrossed with black bars and foggy glass. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. You’re safe right now. And if you go to the bathroom upstairs, there’s a little shower. May not be much soap, but it’ll help to have hot water.” He points the way, then sits at his black metal desk and starts writing something.
Joel finds peace in the cubby hole shower for a few minutes. He still hurts, but he’s recovering. Whatever natural ability that was triggered in him to take control of himself and not give in enables him to gather himself. He survived. He can continue to survive. He’s out of the house, and he can figure out what to do.
He senses someone near, but only sees that Pastor Sal has left him a towel on the thick ceramic rack next to the shower. Joel dresses and goes downstairs back to the office.
Pastor Sal greets him with a smile. “You look so much better. We need to figure out how to help you. How old are you, Joel?”
“Eighteen,” he says.
“I doubt that. I’m not out to get you. Well, I could call in some favors to get you a bed in a shelter. It’s a strange experience but you can handle it. I’m just worried you’ll look like a target or run into one of those kids.”
“I can just go now.”
“Hold on…I don’t usually do this, but…under the circumstances, I could stay here tonight, and you can have the couch.” He gestures to a blue velveteen couch in the office, which is incongruous with the other furniture. “Just to give you a chance.”
Joel can’t help but be a little unnerved by the offer.
Sal adds, “Before I try to get you in a shelter, I want to make sure those kids aren’t there. We can talk about it tomorrow. Maybe you can help out here.”
“I’m not religious.”
“You don’t have to be. That’s my department.” Sal laughs and gets up to close the blinds on the windows. He then looks down the hall from the doorway. “Time to call it a night.”
He goes back to sit next to Joel on the sofa. “So, you can just crash here then. Of course…”
Sal takes off his glasses and puts them on the desk. “We could always try another arrangement too…back at my place.” And he puts his hand on Joel’s leg.
At first, Joel freezes. Sal slides his hand back and forth gently.
For a moment, one part of Joel suggests why not, see what you can get out of him.
The other part is enraged. He jumps up and starts to run out the room. Pastor Sal tries to stop him. “Joel, wait. I didn’t mean anything…”
Sal tries to hold on to him, to drag him back.
Despite the pain Joel is feeling, he has enough adrenaline to drive his fist into the man’s face, as had been done to him. Sal falls to the floor, suddenly afraid.
Joel realizes the situation turned. Sal was not expecting him to act out. When Sal tries to get up, Joel takes a step toward him.
“Don’t hurt me,” Sal whispers.
The anger rises in Joel again. But he doesn’t want to beat this man. He’s angry, but doesn’t know what to do. The part of him in that anger leans over Sal, rifling his pockets, taking the man’s wallet. Then he runs out.
Strangely, Sal calls out “Come back…” from the other room. Not in anger, but as if he’ll miss Joel. That makes Joel run harder.
Copyright 2016 Alex Fiano
Page updated 3/14/2016