Sometime after the 1980s one-hit wonders stopped playing, but before he put on a fire-engine-red Members Only jacket, Gerad Argeros stood completely naked in front of 100 of his best pals in the basement of the Rockledge Hook and Ladder Room on Saturday night in Montgomery County.
Only a microphone separated this 49-year-old performer from the smart-alecky crowd of grade school friends and relatives from Fox Chase. They’d all grown up just over the county line in Northeast Philadelphia. And until two years ago, when I helped make Gerad’s biggest lifelong secret become painfully public to the world at large, everyone here had known him as just good old Gerry.
I stood along a back wall and watched.
Two years ago, in our first-ever conversation, I heard Gerad’s voice over a phone line. He was crying. He had found me after seeing a story I’d reported that Catholic ex-priest James Brzyski, who’d escaped justice despite assaulting as many as 100 children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, had died alone in a Texas motel.
I’d found and questioned Brzyski in person only days before. I’d been working on an investigation about all the now-grown men whose lives this one man and his bishop-enablers had destroyed at St. Cecilia’s in Fox Chase in the 1980s.
Gerad had hightailed it out of Philly years earlier and was living in Brooklyn with his wife and three young children when he called in September 2017. He told me he’d been raped by Brzyski as an altar boy. He then appeared in my story in October that year. Since then, with the courage that has come from public disclosure, he has birthed the show he brought to the ’hood this weekend: Fox Chase Boy.
“Guys,” he said during the short-lived naked intro to his comedy/one-man show, “this isn’t sexual. It isn’t sexy. If you trust me, by the end of the night that we share together, it’s gonna make sense to you.”
He’d lured them all with free tickets, tomato pie from Gaeta’s, and an open bar with beer and merlot in red Solo cups. They packed the place, which is wedged between a funeral home and a business that sells gravestones.
Gerad’s mom, his dad, a buddy who used to have a mullet and once dated his sister, the friend who’d become a mailman and who raves about pizza on Facebook — even the girls who raised their hands when Gerad asked how many had thrown haymakers back in the day — all had come out for Gerry.
It was extraordinary. Kids raised in a tough-talking, conservative Catholic neighborhood, all here for their friend at his moment of maximum vulnerability.
“I’m imagining,” Gerad said, one-upping the swaggering crowd’s nonchalance over his Full Monty look, “how small my penis looks right now.”
They roared. He got dressed. He blared over a single speaker some Eagles color commentary from the 1980 NFC championship game. Then, the show.
“Joey Bethel!” Gerad shouted at a face in the crowd he hadn’t seen in years. From another direction, near the bar, came a random shout: “Love ya, Ger!”
“Vinny Kelly! You cut your mullet!" he said in another Don Rickles-style barb that brought down the house. "Good choice, dude!”
Seated near the front were Donna and James Cunningham. He got quiet as he approached them.
Gerad had never before met them. Their son Jim killed himself in 2017 in Doylestown after having gone public, amid the final throes of lifelong alcoholism, with claims that he, too, had been abused by Brzyski. Jim’s suicide was why I had traveled to Texas and found Brzyski at all.
Gerad gingerly approached Mrs. Cunningham and hugged her. She gave him a prayer card from Jim’s funeral. He placed it on an easel alongside a prayer card for Jimmy Spoerl, another fellow altar boy and pal from Fox Chase soccer who now is dead, his life also ravaged by the trauma of having been raped by Brzyski.
“This whole thing happened to the community,” Gerad told the crowd, though he and the others were “in the hot seat." He unleashed dozens of F-bombs as he spoke of how Brzyski had “trapped” him, raped him, and then spit him out. Trauma, he then said, is intense and lifelong, and nearly killed him.
“It doesn’t want you to be seen, because you think you’re broken,” he said.
After going public in my October 2017 story, it was tough at first. A soccer dad approached him the next day at a Brooklyn field where they were gathered with their kids and whispered: “I read The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning.” The story was everywhere.
“It’s a Philly paper,” Gerad said, before adding with a disarming aside: “I figured it would stay in Philly because that’s how the internet works."
His naked body he calls a “crime scene.” The only witness still alive to what he endured. But the salve, he said, is beyond that.
It’s about looking back on Fox Chase as a place of friends, shared experiences, laughter. His show at times was hilarious. His affection for Philadelphia poured out of his heart.
“You know what this room is?” he said, with a crack in his voice. “This room is love.”