NOTE: For my new readers, the following is the latest installment in what I call the “Once Upon a Time” series (aren’t I the clever dickens?). They are all true (with some slight artistic exaggerations here and there), but I’ve changed the names of everyone involved, primarily so I don’t hurt any feelings. Or get sued.
The ultimate ego trip, they take place in my hometown and center around me, my family, and friends in the summer of 1972.
Let’s see...did I miss anything? Oh, yeah. Enjoy.
“You’re crazy. It’s Bluto!”
My best friend, Spags, leg casually thrown over the ragged arm of the Laz-E-Boy my father found on the curb on trash day (“They were just throwing the friggin’ thing away!”), stubbornly insisted, “Well, the cartoons I seen it’s been Brutus.”
I jabbed my finger at the television. Popeye was having an animated (pardon the pun) discussion with a frog who quite clearly croaked, “Bluto done it! Bluto done it!!”
“There! What’s the frog saying?”
“It’s a frog, Al. Frogs can’t talk.”
I gave up. Far be it from me to debate the science of a cartoon starring a sailor who gets his strength from spinach.
I’d known Spags since first grade. From the moment my mother first dropped Kathy and I off at Saint Stanislaus Catholic School and Penguin Academy, the skinny (my father called him a “walking zipper”) Tommy Spagnoula had taken me under his wing.
He showed me where we had recess and how to get to our classroom. If I forgot anything, whether a pencil or even lunch, he took care of me. And it wasn’t just me. He helped everyone, even that obnoxious Donna Miglione.
He was one of the most popular kids in our class.
And a regular in the principal’s office.
Spags wasn’t a bad kid. He just loved pranks. Whether playing “pull my finger” during religion class or clapping out “Saint Stanislob” with chalkboard erasers on the sidewalk, he was the class clown.
We became close outside of school, too. On weekends or vacations, we were always at each other’s house.
Since he was an only child, I actually think he preferred the chaos at Penwasser Place. Between me, my sister, two brothers, and an endless parade of family dogs, there was always something going on.
Even if all we did was chase my sister around the yard with dog poop on a stick, he loved being around family.
As high school approached, I wondered if we were going to remain close. What with all our different classes and new groups of friends, it was possible we’d hardly see each other.
But, as I watched the scrawny kid with a mop of brown hair throw M&Ms up in the air so he could catch them in his mouth-or in his nose-I knew better.
Spags and I would always be friends.
“Hey, this is beat,” he complained. “What else can we do?”
Suddenly from upstairs came the outraged shriek of a banshee with a ponytail, “Al!!”
I quickly leapt from the couch. “Well, time to go.”
“Kathy’s probably freaking out over something stupid.”
“What’d you do?”
I burst through the door onto the porch. “Nothing. All I did was draw a Groucho Marx moustache on her Bobby Sherman poster.”
Anxious to get far away from my irate sibling, we headed to High Park. I figured something had to be going on there. Maybe we could get in on a ball game or we might see some of our friends hanging around the monkey bars.
Along the way, we spotted Donny Brooks crouched next to his driveway. Even though he went to our church, he didn’t attend St. Stan’s. We met him when he joined our church’s Scout troop.
He was always getting into fights, which struck me as strange. It wasn’t like he was the type of kid you’d naturally pick on or that he was uncommonly weird. Well, ok, he was always wearing those fatigues he got at the Army-Navy store and we rarely saw him without that fishing hat, the kind only old men wore.
Hmm, come to think of it, he was a little weird.
The problem was he could never keep his mouth shut, no matter how big his opponents were or even how many. The proverbial mouse that roared, he somehow always ended up with his underwear on top of his head.
Still, we got along okay with Donny.
“Hey, Numbnuts! Whatcha doin’?”
He looked at us stepping onto his driveway. Quickly standing up, he shoved a magnifying glass into his pants pocket.
“Oh, hey guys. Nuthin’.”
Spags smirked. “Burning up ants again, huh, Donny?”
“No,” he protested, “what makes you think that?”
“I could be wrong, but I think that mound of little black corpses behind you have seen their last picnic.”
Donny looked sheepishly behind him. “Well, TV’s busted. Besides, Mom says I need to be outside for my asthma.”
I thought, that didn’t make any sense. But, then again, Mrs. Brooks was just as much a knothead as her son.
“We’re heading to the park,” I said. “Wanna come?”
“Sure.” He scanned the side of the driveway like a victorious general surveying the battlefield. “My work here is done.”
“Besides,” he said, retrieving a basketball from inside his garage, “maybe we can play a little two-on-two.”
Math wasn’t his strong point, either.
To be continued....