One of the oddities of the entertainment industry is that many models and performers use stage names. A stage name affords performers a certain amount of anonymity. In the 80’s, it afforded a hint of actual privacy, before everything about everyone was captured and stored on Facebook, The NSA, Chinese, Russian and countless other databases. In the eighties, you could maintain some level of anonymity simply by changing your name. Most models would have two first names, like Cindy Ann or Deborah Mary; just like strippers. I was listed as John Joseph on my modeling comp card simply because an agent told me to use my first and middle name.
That’s why so many people who leave the industry are typically almost impossible to locate. They can’t be found using their stage names. In some cases, it’s for the best. In this case, I just turned eighteen. She was sixteen. I didn’t know she was only sixteen when I met her. To compound the issue, she hadn’t actually turned sixteen yet. She was dancing like a disco queen at a club called Feathers, in Levittown. As far as I knew, they proofed everyone, so it never crossed my mind that she might be under eighteen. She was one of a few under aged girls I ever dated. I didn’t understand why they were considered too young. I was only two years older and had just turned eighteen myself. However, I never pursued relationships if I found out a girl was using fake I.D. and lying about her age.
The first time I met her she was dancing in a particularly suggestive manner at Feathers. Girls from all over Long Island would frequent that disco. The guys would dress like John Travolta. We mimicked the dance moves we saw in movies. No one had a clue as to what we were doing. But, some of the girls were hot. They seemed to instinctually know how to move their bodies and were far superior dancers. They had natural rhythm and it showed. Dancing is, and always has been, as much a sexual expression as a creative or romantic expression. When a girl who was dancing was also very beautiful, it could be quite erotic.
She was from Brookville. We danced for at least five hours, with a few alcohol and water breaks mixed in. We didn’t talk much. With every new song, we started grinding into each other, more and more. Eventually she ditched her girlfriends. We danced until we closed the place. Then, I drove her home. She lived in a mansion. It was the largest house I had ever seen, until I began photographing weddings at Oheka Castle decades later. At one point, Oheka Castle was the second largest private residence in the United States. The Brookville residence was even larger than my grandfather’s mansion on Camelback Mountain in Arizona. This house was gigantic.
As soon as we walked in, she kissed me and ran up the stairs. She was up there for a long time. Finally, I went upstairs to find her. As I called her name, looking into each room, I was worried she might have fallen asleep. I was also worried that her parents would come home and find me wandering through their mansion. But, as I turned the corner to a totally pink room, she came running out completely naked! She grabbed me, kissed me and ran away saying “you’re it.” She wanted me to chase her, so I did. I ran after her, following her down the stairs looking for her. After searching through almost every room in the house, I found her in a room with a swimming pool. It was enormous. She was swimming and waiting for me to join her.
I immediately took my clothes off and dove in. We started to kiss. It was so romantic. The lighting was dim and the pool was heated. It was perfect. We kissed for a good fifteen minutes. Then, she started to touch me more intimately, smiled and swam to the other side of the pool. I swam towards her. Every time I swam closer she would move further away. As I walked up the pool steps, she ran in the opposite direction, laughing and screaming. She wanted me run after her again. The chase was on. As she was running up the stairs, I was passing the front door. I could hear the door opening. I was like, holy shit, what do I do? I ran up the stairs so I wouldn’t get caught, but I was completely naked. My clothes were at the pool! I went upstairs to her room and we both hid under the bed. I didn’t understand her strategy. We were both soaking wet and naked.
She grabbed my hand and then hugged held me tightly when she heard her father calling her. Eventually, he said, “we are going to wait right here, until you come down.” She put some clothes on and tried to dry her hair as quickly as possible. She left me in her room wearing nothing but a towel. A few minutes later she came upstairs with my clothes and I got dressed. Once I was dressed, her father came into the room and told me she was only fifteen. I thought he was lying and then I thought he was going to kill me. I couldn’t believe that this well-developed, yet petite, girl was only fifteen. I told him I enjoyed dancing with his daughter and really liked her. His reply was kind and considerate. He said “don’t sweat it John, maybe in another life.” He knew I was from a middle-class town and wanted something more for his daughter. His primary issue wasn’t the age difference but my “middle class status”.
He walked me out and for some reason, tried to give me a few hundred dollars. I wouldn’t take it and said, “no way! Are you kidding me?” It was the first time in my life I felt different knowing that he was writing me off simply because I was not from a wealthy neighborhood. I figured I would see her the following week at Feathers, where I saw her almost every weekend prior, dancing wildly. I knew it meant he never wanted me to come back and I never did. As I got into my car, the sun was rising. I saw a light in her bedroom window. She was wearing the same pink pajamas she put on when she left to talk to her parents. It looked like she was crying. Of that, I’m not totally certain. Her father told me she brought home a different guy every weekend, but I didn’t believe him. Maybe I was a fool, but I had fallen in love with that petite dancer over the months of her flirting followed by our dance marathon at Feathers. In retrospect, she was not too young to love, but she was too young to love at the time. I never saw her again, even though I went to Feathers every weekend afterwards for months, hoping she would be there. I’ll never forget our naked race through the mansion, swimming in her indoor pool, or dancing with her.
There was one other love affair with a girl who was too young to love that occurred before I was officially living in NYC. I was staying with friends in their NYC apartments quite often. I was eighteen, almost nineteen. I had just started photographing professional NYC models. An acquaintance introduced me to a young lady who was looking to create a portfolio. She was studying at a music academy, as opposed to a traditional high school. In addition to her music, one of her goals was to model. Her academy was a performing arts high school, with a very high price tag attached to it. I was invited to her family’s apartment many times by her mom. She was one of the first girls I met who did not have a father; at least he was not around or engaged in her life. She never wanted to speak about it. All I knew was that he was MIA and her mother was rather sad. She was tall for her age. She was sixteen chronologically, but was an old soul. Her mother would always make us tea and ask me when I was coming back to the city.
I wasn’t sure who liked me more, her or her mother. I only got into the city once a month, or so, back then. I was a novice, albeit talented, photographer. Her mom was trying to set us up. It was the first time I ever remember a mom setting me up with her daughter. What made it even stranger was that she was only sixteen. She was tall and mature, but still, she was just sixteen. Then again, I wasn’t yet nineteen myself. She was considerably more mature than I was. She may have been more mature then her own mother. We met for tea, at least five or six times, over a year or so. At that point she started to model more formally. She hired an agent and a manager. Her mother was seeing millions in her daughter’s future. She had that kind of grace and beauty. Once my friend started to allow me use his studio in Hell’s Kitchen, her mom would have a driver drop her off. This was long before I sublet the place from him. The sessions were more like play dates. We would shoot for a couple of hours and then go to dinner at one fancy restaurant or another.
At the end of every shoot, she would beg me to let her stay. For some reason, she was terrified of her mother.. But, I was always respectful. Her mom made it clear that there would be no sex until she was eighteen. She was very controlling. The severity of it was lost on me at the time. I thought that was how rich, cultured kids were all treated in New York City. I had no frame of reference other than the girl from Brookville and we all know how abruptly that ended. At the end of shoots, she would hug me and say, “please just one more hour of shooting…just one more hour. I can’t bear to be away from you.” She would try to kiss me, but I was trying to do the right thing. The desperation and longing in her voice was intoxicating.
The last time I saw her we were laying on the floor, taking in the sunset, after we had shot for hours. She was sad, upset that she was going to have to leave soon. I was joking around with her, as I always did, trying to keep her spirits up. I knew I would have waited years for her, if she would wait for me. I was falling in love with her. On this occasion, it was just too much for me and we started to kiss. They were soft little butterfly kisses. She giggled and looked into my eyes the entire time. After almost a year I was giving in to the passion. But, she wasn’t seventeen yet, so I stopped at kissing. I was enamored with her and wanted to marry her. I wanted to spend my life with her. I had more chemistry with her than any woman I ever knew.
I told her I couldn’t see her again until she turned seventeen. I couldn’t control my sexual desires and I wouldn’t do anything that could put me in jeopardy, no matter how much we loved each other. It escalated to beyond kissing. We started to touch each other in ways that were pushing me to break my promise. She became very sad and started to cry. As her driver came to the door, she kissed me, right in front of him. As they left, I could see the look on the driver’s face. It would be the last time I saw her. When I called, I was told not to call back. I didn’t understand why. I went to her house and learned that they had gone to Japan where she landed a huge modeling contract. Her mother went with her. Her mother never wanted us to fall in love, she just wanted me to build an amazing portfolio for her, for free.
Often, I think about those two girls who were too young to love. I wonder what would have happened if they were just a little older. I don’t think I have ever had such organic loving connections. There was a time when I also was too young to love. That never stopped older girls from hitting on me or acting on their crushes. There were however, two times in my life when I was told that I was too young to love. Once it was by a girl I used to catch grasshoppers with at Humarock Beach, on Cape Cod. For summer vacations, we used to go to my mother’s aunt’s cottage. It was on a narrow strip of land that had a river on one side and the ocean on the other. Once, I almost killed myself while surfing. Not only were there sharks in the water, but the current pulled me out to deeper waters. I was rescued by cousin Tommy, who swam out and guided me back to shore.
When my sixteen-year-old grasshopper-catching partner found out, she ran to me and hugged me passionately. She then started kissing me under a very bright full moon. As people started to come outside, she ran away. Even at that young age, I realized she had feelings for me far more intense than catching grasshoppers. I had similar feelings for her, despite the fact I just turned twelve. She told me that she loved me. Soon afterwards her family left their cottage for some reason. A day or two later they were gone for good, even though they were supposed to stay the entire summer. I often wonder how different my life would have been if any one of those three chapters of love were allowed to take their natural progression. I have unsuccessfully tried to locate all of these past chapters of love despite the fact I can’t remember their names. I often wonder if they would even remember me so many years later. Now even decades later, they are all still deeply embedded in my heart. If only society was different and we were allowed to love anyone we wanted to and not confined by so many rules.