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Above all, George aims for the Realm to provide a safe hangout for as many kids as possible. As far as that goes, he doesn't mind picking up hitchhikers on the road of spiritual confusion. "Probably our greatest value is one of love: that people would look at us and not go, 'Oh, those people follow Christ so they're real judgmental,'" he explains. "Certainly we have convictions and standards, but first and foremost we are about love. We have lesbians, and gays, different races, different denominations, some kids that are Jewish. Some that are Catholic."
And some that are neo-Nazis. While other kids arrive at the Realm in shiny new Ford trucks, Josh Parrish is bumming a ride. A recent Realm convert, Parrish sports a shaved head, suspenders and a Third Reich tattoo with a swastika centerpiece. Though he bounces in and out of hospitals, friends' pads and his grandparents' house, he can sometimes be found at his aunt's mobile home in O'Fallon. Amid the laundered bedding drying on wire fences and the above-ground pools of the small suburban subdivision, Parrish emerges from the unit.
This is the twenty-year-old's second trip to the youth center, and he's bringing along his cousin Jacob. The two are good friends who refer to each other as brothers. The relationship is made peculiar by the fact that Jake is openly gay.
The story goes something like this: Their mothers were identical twins. Josh's mother died shortly after childbirth, and he ended up with his mother's parents in O'Fallon after his father abandoned him. A falling-out with his grandparents led him to join up with a crew of local neo-Nazis for a time; Josh now stays with friends or at his aunt's, where Jake and Jake's sister live. Jake's dad split long ago.
Before the Realm, seasoned fries, Vanilla Cokes and Marlboro Lights provide a three-course meal at a nearby Denny's. "I started when I was thirteen, so it's not really a big deal," says seventeen-year-old Jake, dismissing his smoking habit. "My mother buys them for me." The two are awaiting the arrival of Josh's fiancée, Darla, who's also the mother of his young son. An overly attentive waitstaff keeps a sharp eye on the table as the cousins discuss their beliefs, their bond and their mishaps.
"He just got out of the psych ward [at St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles]," Jake says of Josh. Darla took him there after he overdosed on pain pills. Even worse, owing to a fight a few months back, Josh says, he can only pee with the aid of a catheter. Though he says he quit the Nazi thing when he got out of the psych ward, he still has "some belief in it." He still shaves his head and wears clothes that show off his tattoo, and he feels loyal to the St. Louis neo-Nazis who took him in when he was down and out.
"It was kind of a welcoming thing," he explains. "I found more comfort in it than I do in my own [grandparents], really. They were more accepting than any other race on the streets. Everyone else just treated me like blatant crap." His worst fight was with a group of four SHARPs, or non-racist skinheads: "They were trying to gang up on me, so I ended up bringing out a knife out on it, cutting up some people. They eventually just ran off."
Though not thrilled with his cousin's sexual orientation, Josh accepts Jake because "he's blood." Jake seems to take his future a bit more seriously than his cousin, but he's certainly done his share of fucking up. The high school dropout says he wrote $1,700 worth of bad checks recently to buy car stereo equipment. He recently entered the Job Corps program and says he's aiming to get his act together.
On this Wednesday night at the Realm, Josh, Jake and Darla listen to a band called Our Heart's Hero. "They were okay," Josh says afterward. "Weren't too bad. They had kind of like a blink-182 sound to them." They play Foosball and meet new people. Josh appears to get along well with everyone he encounters, and Jake seems particularly jazzed about the venue in retrospect.
"I had a wonderful time," he says. "It was very friendly. There were some people from my old church that I saw. The fact that they'd spend that much money on the teenagers in the community is really kind of cool."
Jake says he plans to go back. Informed of Jamie George's accepting-yet-proselytizing attitude toward gays -- "From the Bible's perspective, homosexuality is a sin. We would encourage them to start on a journey of reflection and questioning" -- he says it won't affect him.
"I'd let it go in one ear and out the other. I'll listen, but I'm not going to take it to heart. The Bible says that it's wrong? I'm Christian, I'm born again. It's just -- something happened. I can't force myself to like the opposite sex. I think it's unchangeable. It's hard to live with people coming up to you saying, 'You need to change.' It just makes you want them to leave you alone."