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Seventh Grade Gangster Of Love….Part 1

In The 70's on April 27, 2021 at 5:57 am

‘Seventh grade is gonna be a trip!’ Jackie exclaimed, holding her paper schedule out to compare with mine. We had Mr. Gates twice that year- once in the Fall, and again in our last semester. Jackie and I didn’t share every class, so we were thrilled when we found we out had Metal Shop- together! as our final class of the day on Wednesdays and Fridays. This meant we could hang out in Mr. Gates class, barely do any work (he didn’t care!) and leave school together-we could catch the bus, or better yet- walk home and wait for the after school shenanigans to find us.

Nathan Hale: The ‘Junior Jail’

By the time June arrived, both Jackie and I each had boyfriends. Jackie was seeing a guy named Mike, who worked at the car wash on Westport Avenue, and went to Norwalk High. He was a much older man, a tenth grader. He wasn’t ‘to-die-for cute’, but he was one of those guys who, the better you knew him, the cuter he got. Mike was 16, and had a banged up brown Pinto which we loved, as he drove us around town endlessly, a delicious taste of the freedom we, too, might have when someday we got our licenses. Imagine- you feel like going to the beach-and you just go! Need something at Bradlees? Bam! You’re there! We were thrilled to go anywhere with Mike, and we’d tool around listening to WABC radio through his tinny speakers, singing along to “Band On The Run’ and ‘Bennie and the Jets’, and smoke our cigarettes like the high school kids we idolized. Mike was also known to bring us to Carroll’s and buy us 35 cent hamburgers, and sometimes, even fries to split, depending on how his tips went that day. Jackie, we both agreed, had found herself a catch, and I was glad to be along for the ride. Even if I wished Mike would invest in an 8-track player and some new speakers.

Lots of cool guys worked at the car wash..

Meanwhile, I was ‘dating’ Joey Baducci (by dating I mean: standing next to him at the pool hall and sometimes letting him kiss me -closed mouth of course!) I’d first met him at the beach, a few weeks earlier when Jackie, Mike and I were hanging out in the crowded beach parking lot on an early Friday evening. I was bored out of my mind, drinking what was left of a warm Shasta Root Beer, trying not to look at Jackie and Mike who were making out like Mike was leaving for the war. They had been promising for the past forty five minutes we were going to Carroll’s and I had skipped dinner in anticipation, grabbing only the soda as I sprinted out of the house.

Hanging out with these two could turn into being a third wheel on a dime- as soon as the kissing began- and nothing says ‘you don’t have a boyfriend’ as clearly as watching another couple make out, so I finally decided to walk over to the snack bar, and then maybe the pier. The sun was easing down on the horizon, a fiery orange ball, casting flame colored shadows across the sky, washing out the brick walls of the Calf Pasture outbuildings.  Soon it would be dark.

I started off across the lot. Somehow, Jackie noticed I was on the move (she must have come up briefly for air) and insisted that they come with. Whatever. The love birds trailed me like I was dropping crumbs, as I clomped along like a show-horse in my new white clogs. My flared hip- hugger jeans were extra long- so you couldn’t actually see my new clogs, but you could sure hear them. Any louder and I end up tied up to a lamp post! My halter-style denim vest- which tied behind my neck was nothing if not tres chic, showing just a hint of tanned cleavage. (Years later, I’d see this exact outfit on an undercover cop posing as jail-bait on 20/20)

Anyway, I could vaguely hear someone calling my name above the crowd. Or at least, someone was calling out ‘Lisa’ to any of the fifty thousand Lisas who were hanging out at the beach in the mid 70s.  But sure enough, I noticed Tony Baducci waving his hands at me. He was standing in front of a line of sweet muscle cars-Camaro, Chevelle, Camaro, Roadrunner- with a crowd I didn’t know. Mostly high school guys, probably gear-heads. They always had the best cars.

“This way, guys” I said to Jackie and Mike, gesturing the change of direction like an air traffic controller guiding a plane to the gate. The two of then walked arm and arm, forehead to forehead (hurl!) barely glancing over, then veering clumsily like loopy contestants in a three-legged race. Almost inevitably, a carload of boisterous teens almost ran into them, and the words ‘Watch it, D***wads!’ echoed out behind me. Glad someone said it. You would think this would stop them, but they hardly noticed. 

I approached Tony, who was acting overly happy to see me, as if we hadn’t just been together in classes all day hardly even acknowledging each other. Tony had longish, shaggy, brown hair, big brown eyes and a crooked nose that somehow made him look cool. In fact, he would have been boyfriend material if only he had been half-a-foot taller.  We didn’t run in the same circles because he lived across town from me, on the far side of the school district. Though this would matter less and less, and eventually not at all by the time we had cars -right now- at fourteen, it was important to keep your friends close by for convenience sake. Phone friends were good- don’t get me wrong- but you needed someone to traipse through the woods and smoke cigarettes with- someone whose house you could escape to when all hell broke loose in your own. In other words: someone within walking distance. Jackie was my close-to-homegirl.

Smoking: Why do it alone?

“How you doin’, Lisa?’ Tony asked excitedly when we walked up. “What are you doin’ down here?”

Like I was the last person he’d ever expect to see, despite the fact that what seemed like the entire junior-and senior-high schools were here at the beach. If there was a more popular hang-out, it was yet undiscovered.  Tony was smiling kind of weird and kept glancing at the guys standing behind him, who all stared at me with laughing eyes. I shrugged my shoulders, pointed at Mike and Jackie, who stood behind me sucking face and brilliantly said “I dunno……..just hangin?’ I mean- what is anyone doing down here?

Abruptly, Tony said “Lisa- this is my brother, Joey” and pointed to a guy standing to his left. A tall, sun-drenched guy-much older, maybe even 20 (!) with long, dirty blonde hair, wearing jeans, no shirt, and holding a Budweiser pushed him forward, and all of the guys laughed. Joey looked irritated and put-upon, but he held his hand out and I shook it. He was taller than me and wearing a blue silkscreen ‘Keep On Truckin’ t-shirt. He had thick brownish-red hair, afro-ish in texture and style, a sprinkle of freckles across his nose and cheeks, and a noticeable resemblance to Tony in his brown eyes. 

Joey was a stylish kinda guy…

“Hi!” he said flatly. Then he stared at me. Uncomfortable silence followed, and threatened to take over. 

Suddenly- someone’s car stereo blasted to life:

“Some people call me the Space Cowboy….(doodoodoodoodoodoodooodo) Some call me the Ganster of Lo-ove (doodoodoodoodoodoodoodo)…Some people call me Maurice…..(whit-wooo)….

We all jumped, like cats in response to any sound or movement. My heart thumped out of my chest. The stereo, which belonged to the shirtless wonder sounded awesome, once the startle passed. His car was a sweet silver Camaro SS, with black stripes on the hood, jacked up high like a toddler in her mother’s high heels.  It had shiny silver rims, Cragars all around. It was my dream car and my dream stereo.  

In order to hear ourselves talk, we had to move away from the stereo’s force field, so the five of us walked away from the car until the music was at a reasonable decibel. It was quite the voyage.  (Which was an homage to the intensity of the Camaro’s sound system!)

Halfway across the parking lot, we could once again hear ourselves talk. Tony got the ball rolling by telling Joey we were in Metal Shop together, and eventually Joey started talking a little. He had a nasally voice that brought to mind Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.  Maybe he had a cold? Joey told me he went to Norwalk High, was in tenth grade, and was getting his license next Saturday morning. I asked him if he had a cold, and he said not that he knew of.

“Wait’ll you see his car, Lis!” Tony said suddenly, to which Joey blushed and said “It needs work, but….”

To the left of me,  Jackie pulled her mouth from Mike’s with an audible ‘pop’ and said “So- are we goin’ to the snack bar or what?” wiping the slobber off her chin by rolling up the bottom of her t-shirt (hey! I see you went with the white bra covered in tiny red roses…now I can sleep) and wiping. I guess all semblance of order was out the window for her. 

“Ummm…I was waitin’ on you!” I said defiantly. Tony, sensing we were leaving blurted out: “Hey Lisa. Gimme your number” At which Joey elbowed him hard and spit “Don’t!” under his breath…Good Lord! These two were not on the same page.

Paper mixed with little specks of candy …mmmm!

I told Tony my number was ‘in the book’, along with what street I lived on. It’s not like any of us had pens or paper anyway. I wasn’t even clear on who was going to call, or even why, but the situation seemed harmless, so I went with it. Let the future me deal with it.

I said ‘Later!” then me and the lovebirds headed to the snack bar, where I bought a pack of Candy Buttons with my paltry change while Mike shared a red-checkered cardboard box of fries swimming in ketchup with Jackie, then devoured a delicious looking yellow Scooter Pie. My stomach growled. I had planned on catching the sunset, but by the time we walked the pier, the sun was already gone, leaving in it’s place a dark gray sky. We did however, see some impressive pails of bluefish and snapper, caught by the old men on the docks with bamboo fishing poles. Men with leathery, brown faces, who spoke only Spanish and whispered ‘bonito’ as Jackie and I strolled by, abruptly turning away at the sight of Mike. I was so hungry by now that I mentally pictured grabbing one of the fish in the pail and eating it cartoon-cat style, pulling out a complete fish skeleton when I was done and tossing it off the pier into the Sound.

The Pier

 

Seventh Grade Gangster Of Love: Part 2,3

In The 70's, Writing on April 26, 2021 at 9:13 am

When Tony actually called that next Saturday, I was surprised. Fact was, I’d forgotten all about our conversation at the beach. But I was more than happy  to meet him and his brother Joey, who said they’d pick me up in front of the Woods, because it sure beat what I was doing, which was nothing. I took a shower and put on my navy blue halter top, the one with the white polka dots, faded bell bottoms, tan suede belt, and white Adidas with blue stripes. Of course, I added my ‘gang-affiliated’ red, white and blue terrycloth sweatband from Trey, lest I run into any of my fellow Top Sixers out for an afternoon cruise.

The Woods. With a capital ‘W”

I clicked open the screen door and headed down my steep front lawn, then  stood at the end of Ronnie’s driveway. Cars flew by, zooming up and down Wolfpit Avenue, and horns beeped, guys shouting ‘wooo!’ and other stuff as they sped past. It scared me when they did this, it was aggressive; almost threatening. Of course, I’d get used to it, and eventually even (kind of?) take it as a semi- terrifying compliment? but this was a confusing time, hormones, affecting everything in our lives now.

After a few minutes, I spot what Tony had described as a ‘silver’ Chevelle driving towards me. I guess primer gray is a kind of ‘silver’. Joey slowed down and pulled carefully onto the strip of grass and dirt in front of the Woods. He was being very precise-you could tell- not settling for the spot until it was exactly right. Moving forward, then back, then forward. If I’d had a tape measure we could have verified his dirt to grass to tire ratio. I look both ways  and crossed the street, skirting around the back of the car to the passenger side. As I approached, I notice Joey pushing Tony, and Tony pushing back, and I hear Joey say, in a growl ( I suspect this is a familiar tone to Tony) “Get in back, asshole!” but they both stopped short as my bare midriff is framed by the open window (super sexy with dabs of pink calamine lotion from yet another bout of poison ivy). Tony scrambled to open the door, then scoots into the back, while I slipped into the front seat.

Joey’s Chevelle on a good day. Sweet!

“Nice car!’ I say, as I get in. It’s not exactly super nice now, but I see it’s potential, without a doubt. There’s no hiding the beauty of an American muscle car, regardless of condition. Good bones are hard to come by. 

Joey blushes, then  grins with pride and says ‘Thanks!” and I can tell it’s already the best car to him.  I turn around and say “Hey!’ to Tony, who smiles and gives me the thumbs up sign.  We sit there for a minute, no one saying anything.

“Welp….where are we going?” I ask, anxious to get a move on, and verbally dancing to try and prevent any signs of  it being awkward, since I can’t deal with uncomfortable silence. I also want to leave before I’m spotted ‘in a car’, as I’m (technically) forbidden to drive in cars yet, though mustn’t we all agree that as far as that goes, the train left the station a long time ago? 

“Where do you wanna go?” asks Joey, which I take as a good sign. A team player. I quickly look him over and decide he’s pretty cute. His hair is in a neat white-boy ‘fro, and he’s wearing  a Stones Tongue t-shirt and jeans. This, though is somewhat problematic, as music wise- it tells me nothing. The Rolling Stones in the 70’s are the kind of jumping off point that can land you anywhere. Joey could be into Black Sabbath, Loggins and Messina, or Lawrence Welk for all I know. And only one of the three is acceptable. Still, it beats Tony’s iron-on transfer t-shirt: two cartoon frogs underneath which reads: “Your Pad Or Mine’ (no question mark) with little green hearts above their heads. I know one of the frogs is a girl, because she has on lipstick and mascara. If the lilly-pad’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin?

Your Pad or Mine?

I suggest the pool hall over by Bagel King, which is close by and probably pretty happening on this early Saturday afternoon. The guys agree it’s a good idea. Joey adjusts his side and rear view mirrors, and is very thorough and careful about pulling back out onto the road. He’s only had his license for two hours, but to his credit, drives like someone who’s had it all day. 

Sure enough, the pool hall is bustling, the parking lot is abuzz with people milling about and we wave and nod to those we know, or with whom we feel an affinity through t-shirts and hair lengths. Joey parks a good distance from anyone, so I assume parking isn’t his forte yet. Inside there’s a fury of commotion. Joey holds the door open for me (another good sign), and I feel a strong, welcomed blast of a/c, and hear the opening notes to ‘Summer Breeze’ coming from the jukebox, along with the crack of ball-on-ball action atop the green felt covered pool tables.  There are no open tables, so Joey tells me he’ll be right back, and heads over to put his name on the list and to pay. Tony and I walk the perimeter of the room, looking for familiar faces. I always feel so exposed in places filled with people until I find refuge in a familiar group of buds. 

C’mon Norton! Just hit the damn ball!

Joey joins us again, and asks me if I want anything from the vending machine. Nah. I could never eat in front of all these people! We lean up against the wall, and watch various games in progress. I like that Joey’s taller than me, so that also gets an invisible thumbs up. At 5’8, you’d be surprised at how few guys are even close to my height, especially at 14 years old. The jukebox plays ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and the mood gets funky. Well- as funky as a room full of white people can get, anyway. I see that guy again- the one who looks like the singer in Pink Floyd, the one with the suede fringed jacket who has the chopper right out of ‘Easy Rider’. He stands to the side of one of the tables, holding a pool cue by his side, waiting to take a shot. He looks me in the eye, winks and smiles. I smile back,  then avert my eyes and feel the heat of a blush in my cheeks.

By the way, which one’s Pink?

What I remember most about these early relationships is that I had no idea (nor did I spend much time contemplating) what they were, or what they were supposed to be. At fourteen, the thought of sex didn’t even cross my mind! Kissing did, but certainly not sex! Bad things happened in the ‘sex world’. Girls ruined their lives with bad reputations and babies could be conceived (there goes all the fun in life! I knew that from babysitting!), and evidently,  once you ‘did it’ guys would never call you again. Which was part of the confusion. Why did guys even want to do stuff with a girl that would make him not like her anymore?  I would’ve been mortified that I was so replaceable….had I been even half aware.  As a young woman I took it as a compliment when guys liked me, and thought it was something about how ‘witty’ and ‘deep’ I was that attracted boys (and made me unique)- when in fact, at that age, the last thing on a guys mind was a girl’s mind!

Only girls with big ‘personalities’ made the cut….

Still, I had known, since last summer in Florida, that something had changed in the way guys were looking at me, by the way they were yelling things out of cars and whistling, and the way that the gross businessman had twirled his tongue at me, day after day (scaring me), as I rode my beach cruiser around the neighborhood, looking for a pick-up game of kickball, or someone with a pool. I knew things were different from the way my grandfather and grandmother discussed what I was wearing all of a sudden (Grandfather: ‘Jesus Mary and Joseph, she’s dressed like she’s on her way to Bourbon Street!’ Grandmother: ‘Oh Peter! She’s wearing shorts and a bathing suit. It’s 99 degrees in the shade out there and she’s going swimming!’) I knew when the lady next door to their house predicted I would be a ‘heartbreaker’ and then she and my grandmother  laughed. That sounded awful, like I was going to be cruel! How dare she? But nothing was clear. Except that a shift had taken place, and that there might be no going back. Which was in many ways sad.

The thing was: I liked the anonymity of being a kid .I liked being autonomous-I’d gotten comfortable with it.. I liked living life under the radar. I liked not worrying about my appearance, or wearing make-up, or putting together ‘outfits’- I liked to roll out of bed, grab a ping-pong paddle and find someone to play. I liked eating and running and playing outside without worrying ‘how it looked’. I was uncomfortable, and achingly self-conscious in this new ‘spotlight’. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who measured their self worth by how desirable they were to the boys. I didn’t care what the boys thought, and didn’t want to. If anything. let them be the worried about what I thought! But I could feel the whole mess coming down at me….complications and drama, like a giant wave- and I knew I couldn’t run far enough away not to get wet-or hurt- or drown. I never would have willingly left the cocoon I was in, it was fine! Sure, we all had problems here and there, but it was easy to push them to the side and just live!  The girl I was was okay and liked her simple life. At least until until Gollum, the evil one -stepped up and slipped away with her. 

PART 3: THE FACTS OF LIFE

When I was twelve my mother did a number on me.

My mother was pretty easy-going and open, but when it came to the subject of sex, she wasn’t exactly forthcoming. I was eleven-going-on-twelve when she decided to tell me the facts of life, though had I known this was the plan I would’ve been much less on board. That balmy summer night, we stopped at Venezia’s and got a mushroom pizza, then drove down to Shady Beach in her Gold Duster to have dinner by the sea. An uneventful, but pleasant evening- or so I thought! We sat at a picnic table, both eating a slice, complimented the gentle breeze, dabbed the corners of our mouths with paper napkins. Until, after some more small-talk when she suddenly changed things up on me and announced: “It’s time we had ‘The Talk!” She may as well have pulled out a switchblade- that’s is how ambushed I felt. It was ‘Shady’ beach alright! 

About to take a nice bite of delicious pizza when she said this, I stopped abruptly, furrowed my brows and asked ‘What talk?’ in the same way little Arnold might say: ‘Whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?’

Remember, this was the 70’s-the decade of After School Specials, and ‘talks’ abounded. The Drug Talk-starring ‘Pot leads Into Heroin’ spiel, the ‘Someone’s Dying/ Already Dead’ talk, the ‘Hitch Hiking Leads To Murder’ talk  ,and of course, the classic  ‘Dirty Old Man In The Park’ talk…..you name it -there was a talk. But the worst one of all- was the Sex Talk. I rolled my eyes and realized my mother had cunningly set the trap by luring me in with mouth-watering Venezia’s pizza. Well played, Mary Jayne…I made a mental note to stop liking pizza so much.*

“Can we at least wait until I’m done eating? Because I know this is gonna make me sick…” I said petulantly, rolling my eyes.

My mother let out a big sigh, and stared directly at me “Well…..I guess….” she said, obviously disappointed. I proceeded to take tiny bites of my slice, and even began pulling off some of the cheese in little strings and individual mushrooms in a lame attempt at stalling. Is there anything grosser than your mother talking about sex? (Well, maybe your father talking about sex?) She kept staring at me, and I kept pretending I didn’t notice. In the distance a dog barked, a man’s voice yelled ‘Where’s the god-damned lighter fluid?’ and gulls squawked. The air smelled like barbecue and salt water. The sun was turning from yellow to orange as it began its descent.

“Okay, missy!” she announced, after finally seeing through my ploy- stopping short only of adding ‘chop! chop!’ “Let’s get this show on the road!”

I threw my crust in the box, and slumped down onto the picnic table, crossing my arms on the table, then resting my chin on  them.

“LISA ANN(E?!)” she cried “SIT UP! PAY ATTENTION! AND CUT THE MALARKEY-NOW!!” I instantly sat up, even folding my hands neatly in front of me, twirling my thumbs in circles. I was deathly afraid of anyone over-hearing us. I gazed  with dead eyes over her shoulder. I looked everywhere but in her eyes. She pulled out a Virginia Slim and lit it with a yellow Bic. She inhaled deeply, then exhaled a bullhorn shaped cloud of smoke directly into my face. The After-School Specials hadn’t covered the ‘Second Hand Smoke’ talk yet. 

“Now…’ she began, “There are certain things in life that involve a man and woman..”

“I know-a!” I said, frustrated and embarrassed. 

“And there is the whole sperm and egg thing….that…….well, you need to know about it”

These words sounded so obscene to me. Even sex vocabulary was nasty!

“I know-aaa!” I said, this time more forcefully, teeth gritted.

That’s nothing! Mine talked about sex!

“The man’s penis…you do know what a penis is, right?” she asked. Seriously.

“OH MY GOD! KILL ME!” I cried, covering my eyes with my hands.

“And there’s, the vagina-which is on the woman, and where…..”

“OH MY GOD! STOP!” I looked up into the sky and put my hands over my ears. I couldn’t be less mature or less sorry about it.

My mother’s tongue started blending her tongue into her right cheek from the inside. She was getting riled up.

“Y’know, what?” she said, disgusted, her voice taking on a ‘let’s cut the crap’ tone “Ya can’t make this easy, can ya?” she threw her cigarette down and crushed it under her sneaker forcefully. Then she leaned down and brought up what was left of the unlit cigarette and  placed it on the table, readying it for the trashcan. My mother would never litter. She would not be held responsible for making an Indian cry.

“So- I take you to Venezia’s, out of the goodness of my heart-” she continued. ‘I try and-“

“Well, we didn’t really go in…. sooooo….” I said, interrupting. 

My mother’s mouth formed an ‘o’ and her eyebrows shot up to her hairline.  Her face was red. The tongue was going. But right before she blew her top, she seemed to think the better of it and switched her approach. She began talking softly, sweetly- like she was trying to lure a squirrel to eat peanuts from her hand. We both knew that I was not being disrespectful out of spite, but because I was crazy with embarrassment, and trying to distract her. I would rather have a terrible fight with her than listen to her talk to me about sex.

Mom: “Honey-Have you heard of the  fallopian tubes?”
Me: “Please kill me”

“Why do you do this? This is really all I want to know. It really is.” she said, her hands fluttering about, almost as if she was talking to another (invisible) adult. “Why? I ask? Are you just contrarian by nature? Is that it?” she asked gently, like it was an affliction I was not responsible for, and couldn’t help. At this my eyebrows shot up, and my eyes popped. Hadn’t we already established this? Like ten years ago? “You know who you remind me of right now?” she asked, arms folded across her chest, tapping her foot annoyingly in the grass, eyes wide 

“Your father” “My father” we answered simultaneously.

She reached over and picked the cigarette butt up, walked to the trashcan a few feet away and tossed it. She peered inside for a second, and I’m sure it pained her that she couldn’t take that garbage can and throw it into another, bigger one like she did to me at home when I so much as tossed a Kleenex into the bedroom wastebasket. The tissue wouldn’t have time to hit the bottom of the basket before she was emptying it out into the kitchen trashcan, and twisting that one up to go out. God forbid a wastebasket contain actual waste!

Somehow though, she tore herself away and walked back, perching on the edge of the picnic table bench, a signal that indicated we were leaving soon. She secured the pizza box, still half full, and took her keys out of her purse, placing them on the table. Then she cleared her throat. 

“I need to know if you have any questions about the Birds and the Bees?'” she asked. ‘And I’m not foolin’ around here, Sister!”

“No-aah! I already know everything….I swear!” This was not true, but someone opened the gate and I was getting the hell out of this conversational pen.

“Well, Miss Missy-let me tell you!… you’d better bet your sweet bippy that you do! Because this is important stuff! And you don’t want to end up…with…well…you know…” her eyes darted furtively back and forth, as though checking for bystanders who might accidentally hear the horror that was about to come out of her mouth. Certain the coast was clear, she then leaned in menacingly and hissed: “with child!” Her argument couldn’t have been more valid. After all, look what she was going through right now with her own child! 

“No, Mom- I don’t! You’re right…..Now can we go?”

After heaving a big sigh in my direction, she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. She grabbed her keys and pointed at the pizza box I was to carry to the car. The woman had done all she could.

And thus ended the ‘Great Sex Talk’ of  1972.**

 

 

 *it didn’t ‘take’

**She ended up buying me a book. It was gross….

 

‘The Woods’ Part One

In The 70's on August 24, 2020 at 7:58 pm

…and to a Castle I will take you….

“The Woods’, (with a capital ‘W’) were diagonally across the street from my house. There were three or four acres of woods, and if you walked straight through them, you’d come out to a stream, and after a minute, you’d be behind Carroll’s Restaurant, and the Car Wash. Next to that was the Sunoco Gas station on the main drag, where we could sometimes cop cigarettes for fifty-five cents a pack.

But we rarely walked all the way through, because the jewel of “The Woods’ was smack dab in the middle, where we had collectively ‘built’ a sweet little hangout, a place we went to drink beer and smoke cigarettes, and if we were lucky, smoke pot. It was in a small dirt clearing,  created by dragging pieces of fallen trees and logs over, placing them in a wide circle, then adding a little fire-pit in the dirt, with round rocks to form a circle, and over the years, it really came into its own as a cool little place to gather, away from the prying eyes of parents and siblings and, of course, ‘The Man’. It was understood to be a privilege to spend time there, something you earned. There was no littering,  you had to leave with everything  you came in with, and it was a secret: not everybody was welcomed in. There were about ten of us who claimed the land, like a 1970’s version of stoner pilgrims, and we didn’t even have to throw a ‘fake-nice’ holiday to thank the people we’d stolen it from. We had no idea who actually owned the place, and just assumed it to be part of the town’s stash of land. We had no right to keep people out, and yet we did….we figured that since we lived the closest to it physically- that it was ours to rule. Like douchebag surfers at a beach with big waves.

But there were ways around the rules. You could bring a joint- or even better, a nickel bag along, and invitations ensued. Ditto a six-pack or extra cigarettes. In desperate times a lighter might gain you entry. You could be super-cute and  get a carte- blanche, all access pass. You might have a nice car, or know someone who knew someone who’s ‘in’- so it wasn’t that hard to be a part of it, but it wasn’t just ‘out there’ and all public either, like a park, or behind a school. The best part was: no kids on swings or security guards.

I was thirteen when I started hanging out in The Woods. Not surprisingly, Lance was one of the ‘woods guys’, as well as Michael and his brothers, who lived across the street from me-and a crowd of guys who were a little older who lived in the neighborhood. Most of them had long hair, wore pukka shell necklaces with T-Rex or Zeppelin band shirts , faded jeans and tan with red-laces work boots. They had bone-stones and wooden pipes with abalone inlays and carried boom-boxes with the best tunes blasting out of them. “Cities On Flame With Rock’n’Roll’ by Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple’s ‘Space Truckin’, and  ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ all howled out of those woods-just to name a few. I was so drawn to this music, and to the people who also loved this music, I felt I was finding my place somehow. The middle of the woods often felt more like home than my house.

Sometimes, I was the only girl at the hang-out, surrounded by rocker boys, but I always felt completely safe -in fact, I never considered safety at all, it was just (rightly) assumed. Had my Dad known I was in there and with who- he would have thought the worst. (and smoking marijuana wasn’t even the ‘worst’ he’d be thinking) But these guys, with their long hair and their loud music  had certain lines they didn’t cross and laws they didn’t break.  A big one was most definitely the jail-bait law. And though, like everyone else in my world, they hemmed and hawed and ‘no way’d their way around believing I was only 13- they also knew I wasn’t a liar, because who would lie they were younger in the days when we all wished we were older? They also knew what grade I was in, and could see how ‘green’ I was.  Not that I’m implying I was so god-damned irresistible, or anything of the sort, but we all know what people think (and say) about one girl in the woods with boys!  These guys had their eyes on older, hipper, more awesome girls anyway. I  fancied myself their ‘cool’ younger sister.

There wasn’t always pot and beer involved-how could there be? We weren’t privy to endless supplies or much money. Oftentimes we’d just sit around and rap about everything under the sun.  I remember what my Dad used to say to me when I was young and bored out of my mind, hovering around him like a hummingbird while he tried to relax and read the paper. “Oh, for God’s sake Annie, go do something!” to which I’d say, ‘there’s nothing to do!”– and exasperated, he’d huff “Oh, for Chrissakes – go sit on a log!”-and here I was, all these years later, in the woods, sitting on a log!

One of my favorite guys was Michael. The oldest in his family of five boys, he was the big brother I didn’t have. He was always around after school- working on his car, which he couldn’t even yet drive at fifteen- or hanging out at the end of his dirt driveway (the corner) with me and whoever else meandered by. We’d stand around, shooting the breeze as the cars zoomed by, flying down the hill on Wolfpit Avenue, horns honking, motorcycles rumbling, muscle cars wailing, leaving behind bits and pieces of  songs like instant snapshots as they sped away.  We either loved or hated the tunes, and many a sweet hot rod was rendered less than, as a crappy pop song slapped us in the face, while an occasional piece of junk was elevated to the sought-after thumbs up status from all of us should we hear ‘Houses of The Holy’ banging out its thudding speakers. We could spend hours at the corner, especially in the summer, doing nothing and everything all at once, heading indoors after dark, happy and spent.

Michael was  tall, and blonde headed, from an Irish family who moved to Connecticut from the Bronx. He had a cool New York accent, and a ‘cut-the-bullshit’ New York attitude I loved and respected. His opinions were cut and dry- but he was never mean, or arrogant-and if we disagreed on something- a book, a tv show, an eight-track purchase- he’d just gently tease me about it, or attribute it to me ‘being a girl’, to which I’d shoot back that his bad taste was on account of his ‘being a guy’. I’m sure it was in part because of his looking after me that I had a position of respect in the neighborhood.

One day, a group of us were sitting around, shooting the shit and taking tokes of good Hawaiian weed from a small glass pipe Lance had brought along. The woods were quiet, as we were sans boom-box and tunes, and the pot so strong it clubbed me over the head. I sat on my log, twisting my Mood Ring around on my finger (my ring was always black- with an occasional muddy brown) It was an overcast summer day in late June, summer vacation. The woods were still damp from the morning rain, and the smell of wet dirt hung heavy. I began focusing in on a bright green leaf, sprouting from a nearby bush (isn’t nature amazing? look at those water drops! What a cool pattern! I should draw that!) when all of a sudden a deep, booming voice shouted: “Hands Up! POLICE!”

There were seven of us in the circle, and we froze. We heard footsteps crushing twigs and  leaves along the path, foliage ruffling and then more shouting: ‘I  SAID “POLICE!” HANDS UP!!!” Suddenly, Lance jumped up, and high tailed it towards the back of the woods. A thousandth of a second later we all jumped up, and began scrambling after him. I ran as fast as I could, but it wasn’t easy, as I was wearing cheap, gold , Caldor issued, ‘jewel’ encrusted sandals, so Michael quickly circled back, grabbed my wrist, and pulled me at his much faster pace. We were hurdling over tree stumps, logs, boulders, and avoiding the  giant trees in our path at the very last second. When we hit the clearing alongside the creek, we were impeded by a cluster of wet, moss covered logs, several feet high, from a big felled tree. Once we scaled those, we’d be ‘home free’, and able to run the rest of the dirt corridor unobstructed. The other guys were so far ahead of us, they looked to be an inch tall, running and leaping like gazelles.

Michael let go of my wrist, and shouted ‘C’mon! Jump’ as he flew over the first log, using his hands as a springboard,  like he was part frog, or something. I followed behind, panting and giving it my all, but the stump was higher than I thought, and slippery with the moss. The 6 Million Dollar Man music began to play in my head- then the sound of a record abruptly scratching. I made it most of the way over, but my left foot caught on the stump. I felt a sickening crunch, and a lightning bolt of pain as my big toe smashed into the wood. I stumbled forward and crumpled to the ground, between two of the monstrous logs.

T-Rex and -wait!- is that Michael?!

Michael glanced back, and seeing me go down, he immediately veered off into the woods to his left. He tracked back, staying out of sight, and emerged right where I lay.  I was flat on my back on the dirty ground, which meant the the cops couldn’t see me from a distance, but if they pursued us, I was a dead duck. There was no way I could run, or possibly even walk. My toe throbbed, and I writhed in pain. 

Looking up and down the path, and determining the coast was clear, Michael hunched down, hopped over (again, frog-like!) and crept over to me. He peered over the top of the log, scanning the whole while for the cops, and then pulled me up into a sitting position. I could feel damp dirt, twigs and pebbles embedded in my back, as I was wearing -as usual- a halter top.  Michael pulled some dead leaves and stems out of my hair. I had tears in my eyes from the pain in my foot. 

“Are you okay?’ he asked.

“My toe!” I moaned. I still hadn’t looked at it. Michael picked my foot up by the ankle, to peer below my denim bell-bottom cuffs and told me later he almost dropped it from the shock of what he saw. To his credit, he managed to put my leg down gently, then wiped his hands on his own jeans. 

“Oh, Geez!” he said, sounding alarmed, his face going pale. “Fuck!!!… You need to get to a Doctor!” He sounded panicked. Which panicked me. 

I shook my head, and bit the bullet. I pulled up my pant leg and I looked down at my toe, now undulating with unbearable pain. My big toenail looked as though it had cracked all the way down the middle, vertically- then exploded. The nail was spread open like a double-door closet, presenting utter gore as it’s contents. Blood gushed out, pulsating in rivulets down my foot, and around my ankle, where it then dripped into the dirt. My golden, bejeweled sandal, dripping with shockingly red blood, as well as with caked blackish stains suggested some sort of bizarre royal massacre, the red and blue gems tainted and fouled (“My God! They’ve killed the Queen!”) I got woozy from the sight of it. So did Michael.

I wore the Caldor version of these…

 

“We gotta get you home!” said Micheal “Is someone there to take you to the Emergency Room?”

Right then we jumped as someone yelled “FREEZE!”  above our heads. We both gasped and looked up to see- Dack! standing above us on the other side of the log.  We were confused. 

Michael immediately asked: “Are the cops still back there? Did you see them?”

Dack started laughing. “COPS? YOU DUMMIES! I’M THE COPS!”….

Ha Ha f**ckin Ha!” went Dack….

There was a stunned silence as we put it all together. Dack had been fooling around, and knowing we were gathered together in the woods he had decided to trick us. There had been NO cops!!  Dack was just being a dick! If I had been able to stand I would’ve punched him in the gut with all of my strength.

“Really funny, Dack!” said Michael “Come and see what happened to Lisa coz of your little joke!”

 

Dack, still smiling, stepped around the log. I saw the color drain from his face as he looked at my mangled toe and bloody foot. “Oh, shit!!” he said, then “Oh My God!” Now I was getting really scared. I was completely straight as well. It was as if my buzz had taken off with the rest of the guys.

“Help me get her up, Dick!” hissed Michael. Tears were actually streaming out of my eyes at this point, and the pain was getting even worse. The guys lifted me to a standing position, and I draped my arms around each of them. I purposely leaned towards Michael, but there’s no easy way to accept someone’s help to walk, without getting up close and personal. I hated Dack at that moment, but needed him.

It took us awhile to get through the woods and across Wolfpit, then up my driveway. I was hopping, and trying to walk by using my heel. No one was home at my house- my parents were at work, and my brothers probably off with friends. As soon as we got to my front door, I told Dack to take off. He tried apologizing, but I wasn’t in the mood to hash it out. “Just GO!” I shouted.

Michael helped me up the stairs, and went into the hall bathroom to run some warm water in the tub. He grabbed a towel and a washcloth out of the cabinet, and started looking through the medicine chest for some antibiotic ointment. 

 

“Put your foot in the water, Lis…” he told me. Just looking at the heavy flow spilling into the tub made my toe ache even harder.

“I can’t” I sniffed.

“Yes you CAN! You gotta!…I think” Michael insisted.

I leaned against the wall by the tub and lifted up my injured foot. 

“Turn off the thingy!” I whined. There was no way I was going near that water.

“Okay, Okaaay!” Michael said, twisting the water off. Neither Michael nor I had any first aid smarts whatsoever.

“Just help me to my room!!” I cried, angrily. He held me by the waist while I hopped across the hall. I got to my rose print covered canopy bed, and sat, holding my damaged foot up. Michael handed me a wet washcloth, and I cleaned off as much blood as possible without actually touching anything. The toenail was no longer bleeding out, but it was a clotty mess. Michael went to the kitchen and brought me a Flinstone jelly jar glass of water and two Excedrins. It made me laugh. After I took them I said- “What now? Do I call you in the morning?”  

“Har, har!” Michael answered. “Lisa- for real! – have your Mom bring you to the hospital when she gets home. That looks bad!”

“I will-a!” I insisted, tired of hearing it.

We spent a few minutes talking about Dack, and how he was a major jack-ass. He also commented on how my room was so ‘girlie’ and that he knew it would be. I gave him the finger, and he laughed. Michael said he was calling me tonight to check on my progress. I thanked him, and he positioned the towel across the  lower half of my bedspread, so I could place my blood-stained foot up there. It struck me that the red roses on my bedspread and canopy looked exactly  like what I imagined the bloody toe print from my injury might be, if I would ever have the nerve to make contact.  But, at least it would coordinate. I shivered at the thought.

Mine was white with red roses, but it was very ‘girlie’ for sure!

After Michael left, I lay back and tried to figure out how to explain this whole thing to my parents. Obviously, the entire story had to be tweaked. “Well, Mom and Dad- I was smoking a bowl in the woods with a bunch of guys, and heard someone yell ‘cops!’, so what else could I do but run?” wasn’t gonna fly. It was an infraction factory! I racked my brain so hard for something believable, that I fell asleep, and didn’t come to until an hour later when I was awakened by my mother, keys jangling and pocketbook in hand- hovering above my face with her Jackie O sunglasses, demanding “Lee Lee?! MY GOD! WHAT DID YOU DO?”

 

 

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