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The Love Beads
by Jerry Guarino

Joey jogged in from warm-ups to meet with the coach, his Beatles haircut bobbing in the breeze. His high school girlfriend Linda smiled as he came to the sideline. Parents and students started chanting for their undefeated varsity soccer team.

“Hey” said Linda, proudly standing there, still in her blue plaid Catholic school uniform, knee socks and blue and white shoes.

“Hi sweetheart” said Joey; he touched the tiny red and white beaded necklace she had given him, matching his school colors and soccer uniform. Nearby, Joey caught a glimpse of his father, who often made time to come to his games.

In 1969, it was common to see boys wearing beads. But his father was from another generation and thought the necklace was feminine, or queer as they called it in the 50s. “Take those off,” he said to Joey.

Joey was puzzled and a little embarrassed. He quietly came back. “What for? Coach has no problem with this.”

But his old-school father wasn’t arguing. “Take them off.” Joey knew any more talk would draw attention from the others, so he pulled them off and threw them to his father. Seething, he returned to the field to start the game.

Linda saw this and frowned. Joey had promised to wear it during the game, displaying his affections in public. He looked back at her with an apologetic wave of the hand. “After the game” he said.

“OK” Linda said, still puzzled but supportive.

His father left after the game, giving Joey time to explain to Linda. “I’m sorry. My dad doesn’t understand. Where can I get another one?”

Linda, relieved now, gave him a hug. “For my star winger. I’ll make you one tonight.”

Joey kissed her; seeing this, his Latino teammates gave out some mock hoots in Spanish. “I’ll pick you up at 7:00,” Joey said, and then jogged back to the locker room, punching his friend in the arm. “Who else is going to get you the ball Jorge?” They laughed as they left the field, still hearing the cheers from the crowd.

At dinner, his father ignored the earlier incident. Not wanting to get into this in front of his mother, Joey avoided the subject too, but his glare made it clear to his father what his feelings were. “Did you win today Joey?” said his mom.

“Yeah, 3 nothing; I had two assists. Dad was there.”

His mom smiled. “My star player, following in his Dad’s footsteps?” But his father was an all-state football player and now grossly overweight.

Joey forced a smile. “Something like that, I guess. I’m going to the movies with Linda” as he brought his empty plate to the kitchen and took off.

Linda bounced into Joey’s car, a 1969 Dodge Dart, not the Charger he wanted, but at least it was new. Joey stroked her long, dark hair, took her hand and kissed her. “I’m so sorry Linda.”

Linda gently pulled his face back to her, clearly indicating she had forgiven him. “Look what I have.” She pulled out another red and white beaded necklace and fit the elastic around his neck. “How’s that feel?” They went to the drive-in and continued their reconciliation.

On the drive home, Joey asked Linda. “Are you coming to our game with Nutley?”

Linda looked disappointed. “Sorry dear, I have a community service requirement for graduation. Did you make up with your dad?”

Joey shook his head. “Not yet.” He put his arm around Linda’s waist. “Besides, I have the perfect girl.”

Linda leaned into Joey and pouted. “Oh, now you’re making me sad that I’ll miss your game.”

But Joey’s father was there. Joey saw that his father was having difficulty standing. At half time, he went over to his father. “You all right dad?” Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead, even in the cool November afternoon. “Maybe you should go sit in the car or have some water.”

His father shook his head. “I’m fine. I just want to ask you one thing son. Are you queer?”

Joey couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Why would you say that? You know I have a girlfriend.”

His father hesitated. “The beads, not what a guy should wear.” Joey gave him a disgusted look and headed back to the field.

But this affected his play in the second half. His concentration was broken and he misplayed several passes. Jorge hollered at him. “Torpe. Watch what you’re doing.”

Joey tried to run through his angst, giving Jorge a stopped hand signal. “I’m ok, just run your pattern.” On the next attack, Joey floated a ball over a defender, right in front of Jorge, who made one of his moves and punched it into the net.

“Goal,” came the chant from the crowd. Then there was a scream. Everyone turned to the sideline. Joey’s father was lying on the ground, clutching his chest.

Fortunately there was an ambulance on site. Joey’s father looked up at the EMT, gasping for air and holding his arm. “Don’t worry sir, you’re going to be all right. We’re just going to stabilize you and bring you to the hospital for follow-up.” The EMT was wearing a blue jumpsuit, white high converse and a utility belt with stethoscope, scissors and other first aid equipment. Joey’s father pointed at the EMT and tried to speak, but he couldn’t make out the words. The EMT interrupted. “Relax sir. Don’t try to speak; are you pointing to my necklace. My fiancÚ gave it to me to remind me of her when I’m at work. Sort of like an engagement ring for guys.”