One of my best friends lived a couple blocks away at the corner of two roads you’ve never heard of. And his parents had a summer home somewhere out near the Hamptons--though less snobbish.
We would eat frozen pizzas for breakfast underneath the summerhouse deck umbrella; listen to the bug zapper murdering moths and dragonflies, beetles, ladybugs. We had no idea that mosquitoes were attracted to carbon dioxide and water vapor on the breath of mammals--not the blue monster hanging from the corner of the house. (Female mosquitoes were everywhere and drew blood.)
We smiled at the Snap, Crackle, and Pop! of each electrocuted insect, sinking our teeth into thin
Our heroes were Ronald McDonald, Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, Jeff Hostetler, Zack Morris, the Oakland Athletics, Anthrax, Doritos, Hulk Hogan, André the Giant, G.I. Joe, Devils, Yankees, Megadeth, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, and Mötley Crüe, among others.
One of our substitute teachers was the mother of the lead guitarist from Anthrax. She looked normal. But summers were our paradise. We watched WWF wrestling, swam in the pool or practiced wiffleball in the backyard, pretending we were José Canseco and Mark Maguire before the steroid scandal.
He was a genuine friend, blatant heterosexual, and it was always purely platonic, writing elaborate lists about the hottest girls often after convoluted and heated debates for hours during Mercedes and ferry rides to and from reality. He never wanted to play doctor, touch my genitals in the bathtub or the back of the shed or a closet; not even a kitchen cabinet. He neither wanted to trade undergarments, nor showed me his penis during a sleepover. Never asked and I didn’t show him mine either. It wasn’t my thing to play doctor trying to deliver a baby from my scrotum.
His father was a dentist, mine a lawyer. We rode Trek bicycles with busted kickstand around the block, watched leaves changing colors, grew mildly depressed as another nine months of school approached. We edited our lists and more leaves fell, then snow. JAMS shorts and Tevas were replaced with layered jackets, hats, gloves, skates, and boots; all tans (except the Hispanic kids’) long-faded; no such thing as AIDS Awareness.
We waited for that goddamn yellow school bus in the snow, ears purpled, me with the genius girl and older brother across the road who hardly spoke to them and hated that motherfucking bus with all my heart; with the surly driver every morning, stoic in the wide, rear-view mirror above his bald head, silent, alone and six seats separating most of us weirdoes.
Was gracious when older brother invited me in his car senior year, even filled it with stinky equipment, hockey bag on my shoulders, slug away from old SUV like a demented turtle, never forgetting that afternoon many years earlier after the indoor swim club when we went up to his bedroom and he closed the door, kicked his dripping bathing suit across the room and we took turns holding the exit and dancing around naked.
Around that time his father was my psychiatrist for one session; when the old man saw me years after waiting terrified and purple-eared frozen in the kitchen he must have known I needed meds and was the craziest kid on the whole damn road. (And we had a dozen half-lunatics at least.)
Our lexicon centered on “awesome,” “dude,” “shut up,” “rad,” and “recess.” We refined secret lists; that was our gig. He was a gifted musician; still is. I was an athlete, can’t say I’m much more than an alcoholic runner hiking up the mountain these days.
We played videogames until our fingers blistered and he introduced me to Nintendo Entertainment System; the original one where we had to blow up inside the game cartridges before loading them, where games got frozen, everything was straightforward and unfocused in comparison, not new pussy shit where kids with no pubes have perfect wireless technology and no experience with the golden age of gaming.
Our black wires were coiled up around the controller like a rubber serpent. I bit chunks into the wires, licked batteries until the acid burnt my tongue.
Again invited to visit the utopian house by the beach; this time going alone, cruising on his father’s brand-new, white-glistening, exorbitant sport fishing yacht commissioned to cruise us out to paradise on its maiden voyage. We never made it, crashed into a stubborn embankment in the middle of the night, shipwrecked on the precipice of some desolate, moonlit shoreline.
“You alright Matthew?” his father asked.
Slammed my chest against the front rubber cushions of the upper deck where we were chatting with the captain. Nothing severely injured only minor stomach pains for a second as wind got knocked out of my lungs; felt like two and a half men banging against my abdomen. Flashlights and spotlights focus on the coarse, jagged shoreline as far as the beams could penetrate. Never has anybody heard such a tsunami of obscenities: the wave of profanities lasted all week. My friend’s father was not winning.
“Don’t be bashful Matthew,” the father always said.
The man offered the world to me. Being the most bashful of any of my friends’ friends, I didn’t heed his father’s advice, didn’t ask for much; pizza and soda, a good bug zapper, a bag of Doritos, a rodeo every now and then…but even then I didn’t ask, because everything was already there.
“Soap operas,” he said, turning off the boat’s television while we were still at the marina.
Soap operas were considered pornographic back in the eighties. Who knew? By then I had flat-chested girls falling on top of me; but all I cared about were sports, hockey, and sitcoms.
“You sure you’re alright?”
We marched onto the rocky beach and found a half-dilapidated bar down a dark sandy road where patrons were drinking tiger blood. The tavern was filled with magic: no tourists or entrapment. Grisly fishermen and the blue-collar professional alcoholics you’ll only find at a seaside bar after midnight.
Unrecognizable music purred from a beaten jukebox. The residual echoes penetrate my eardrums late at night after making love to my Mexican wife, the vilification of the captain, elaborate labyrinthine maledictions summoned over telephone lines dead for decades. Frothy beer mugs clanging together: the perfect storm.
Blasphemy echoes ever since the Irish teacher scolded me because two fourth grade female students said I was “swearing.” Swore to God it wasn’t true. Like electrocuting a platoon of insects, Mrs. Murphy exploded bloated guts all over me…didn’t know she meant cursing.
Only thing missing is a good wiffleball scrimmage, frozen pizza steaming on a patio table, and a glass of Coca-Cola on ice, but time freezes and those days are gone and all that remains are cold forgotten grains of unmapped sand; superficial seagulls still flocking to the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket; broken beer bottles and airborne propaganda; sea-washed lead paint chips beneath naked moonlit toes.
The bug zapper is still hanging from the corner, somewhere.
published 14 May 2011