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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

 

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