The Adventures of the Odd Boys: A True-Life Chronicle
Rob AKA "Shaggy"
Fred AKA "Fatz"
Javier AKA Toro
Francois AKA Paris
The adventures of four teenage best friends in Brooklyn NY, during the 1980s.
Intro: This is an auto-biographical tale. It’s a story of friendship and also a love story. It’s about life in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1980s, as seen through my eyes. These particular events that I am writing about took place between the Spring of 1983 and the Summer of 1985. I picked that specific period because, now that I’m getting (much) older, I realize these years were probably the two most interesting, amazing, fun and formative years of my entire life. I was aged 18-20 over that period. The main focus of these tales is on the close group of friends I had as a teenager, and on that first love—the one that got away! The one you never forget.
The cast…Well, there’s me (Rob), and my three best buddies; Francois (16), Javier (16) and Fred (17). Each one of us had a nick-name. I was “Shaggy” because everyone said I looked like the guy from Scooby Doo back then. Francois was “Paris”, because he was part French and because he liked The Trojan War stories. Javier, who has Hispanic, was called “Toro” because he was as strong as a bull, and could be just as temperamental. And Freddy was “Fatz” because he was a big, portly fellow. Also, he looked a bit like Fat Albert. They were my best pals. We called ourselves the Odd Boys, because everyone called us a bunch of oddballs. Also, we all liked the Odd Couple series. We were always together. I don’t think I’ll ever have the kind of friends again that I had back then.
Sometimes Rusty--a skinny 14 year old, klutzy kid--would hang around with us. Rusty meant well but he was all thumbs, had two left feet, and wasn’t the brightest candle on the cake. He couldn’t go a day without breaking something. We sometimes called him “Gilligan”. (Although my dad called him “Dennis the Menace”, ever since he broke our front window playing ball).
And then there was Gina! Ah, Gina…my first love. My dream girl! The pretty, popular girl who was way out of my league but somehow we became very close. Sadly, I could never get out of the “friend-zone” in her eyes. I don’t think she ever really knew how crazy I was about her. If she did, she didn’t let on. Its 25 years later and still not a week goes by that Gina doesn’t come into my mind somehow.
So, this is the first in a series of tales about the best times of my life.
The Odd Boys Go to the Movies.
It was early June, 1983. The number one song in the country was “Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irena Cara, followed by “Beat It!” by Michael Jackson. The number one TV show was Dallas. Ronald Reagan was President. And no one had a cell phone. The summer was just beginning and I was just about to graduate from High school.
My buddies and I had the day planned out to the tiniest detail. I had personally gone over every part of the plan so that nothing could go wrong. So naturally, everything fell apart almost immediately.
It was the second-to-last week of the school year and, like most impatient teenagers, we wanted to get a jump-start on summer vacation. Attendance was a big problem in schools during those final days of the term. I was especially eager to rush the end of term because it was my last two weeks of High School ever. I was about to graduate, so why not celebrate by taking an unscheduled holiday? We called it “playing hooky”. (I wonder if they still use that term today.)
My buddies and I decided to take that next-to-last Friday off. We had a specific reason for this. The eagerly awaited finale to the Star Wars trilogy, The Return of the Jedi was coming out that day and there was no way that my pals and I were going to sit in school all day when the most eagerly awaited film ever was playing in so many local theaters. You might ask, “Why not wait one more day, until Saturday?” Seriously? It was a new Star Wars movie! There was no way the four of us were going to be sitting in a schoolroom when we could be watching light-saber fights on a giant screen.
This was actually a big moment for me on a personal basis. It was the first time that my three pals and I had all gone to a movie together. I hadn’t known some of them very long at that point. I’d known Fatz for years; since 1977, about one year after my family first moved to Brooklyn. I was a shy, nerdy kid who didn’t make friends easily. Fatz was the only black kid on the block. That, plus his weight problem, made him the target of jokes by the bullying jerks on our street. Fatz and I gravitated toward each other and became best buds.
It wasn’t until 1982 that I’d met another friend of his, who I came to know as Toro. Fatz and I went to different schools and he’d met Toro in his homeroom class. Fatz introduced us and we quickly became friends, which was unusual, since neither of us normally made friends easily. Toro had a lot of personal problems, mostly stemming from his dysfunctional family life. He was angry much of the time and I couldn’t blame him, considering what he had to deal with. It wasn’t unusual for him to get into a brawl over a tiny matter. I’d always empathized with damaged people since I had so many issues of my own. We liked having Toro around because he was a stocky, intimidating fellow, and a pair of nerds like Fatz and I could use that muscle to back us up. People didn’t bother us much when Toro was around.
I’d only known Paris for a few months when we went to see Jedi. Paris was one of those rebellious kids who other kids thought were so cool because they’d dropped out of school. He was fairly well known around the neighborhood but I wouldn’t say he was all that popular, because he was picky about who he made friends with. Fatz, Toro and I met him sporadically around the neighborhood and we bonded over our mutual love of Monty Python, MAD magazine, Japanese anime and Star Wars. Toro and Paris seemed to hit-it-off quickly. Actually, Paris and I were opposites in many ways. He was the cool street kid in the khaki coat, smoking cigarettes, who liked to get drunk on Saturday nights and sometimes smoke pot. I was the straight-laced, goody-good who crossed at the green and not in between. Paris used to always tell me, “I’ll corrupt you yet, Shaggy!”
The four of us had become an inseparable unit over the winter/spring months of 1983. People got so used to seeing the four of us together, that if you saw only three of us, you’d immediately wonder where the other guy was, because we just didn’t look complete without the full quartet. I was loving it; being part of such a tight group. We’d coined our name “the Odd Boys” only recently and wore the mantle proudly.
Not everyone was happy about my new group of friends. My mother, for instance, was not the most liberal thinker and wasn’t crazy that two of my best friends were black and Hispanic. Add to the mix a hard-drinking dropout, and Mom was not a happy woman! But I didn’t care. I had good friends for the first time in my life!
Anyway, getting back to playing hooky and going to the movie…I didn’t normally cut class because, as I said, I was the goody-good, but maybe Paris really was corrupting me. Or maybe it was just because it was a Star Wars film. Whatever the reason, I skipped school for the day. If my parents had found out, my father would have walloped me for an hour and my mother would have grounded me for a month, but I was willing to take the chance. It was the last film in the Star Wars trilogy, for Gods sake! Wasn’t that worth the risk?
My Parents left for work earlier than I left for school but my grandparents lived downstairs. (They owned the house and we lived upstairs.) So I took my knapsack of books, waved goodbye to Grandma at the window and snuck off to meet my four buddies at the rendezvous. Fatz and I lived on the same block and I found him waiting for me around the corner. Along with him, I spotted Rusty.
Rusty was a lot younger than the rest of us, and an Uber-klutz. It could be a bit thick-headed, too. No genius, he. Rusty was the kid who got picked on and ridiculed by practically every other kid in the neighborhood. My relationship with Rusty started in 1976 when I first moved to Brooklyn and had no friends. It was a year before I met Fatz and for that first year, Rusty was the only kid on the neighborhood who would be my friend. (Even though I was 11 and he was 7 at the time.) The kid worshipped me for some reason and followed me everywhere. Now I was 18 and had three great friends my own age. I didn’t really want 14 year-old Rusty hanging around me anymore but I didn’t have the heart to kick him to the curb, since he’d been my only friend at one time. And he still worshipped the ground I walked on, so I just couldn’t tell him to beat it. Fatz was used to Rusty since we all came from the same block but Paris and Toro had little patience for him and frequently ridiculed him. The kid took it well, I have to say. I never got mad, no matter how much they teased him.
Rusty hadn’t really been invited to come along with us but he somehow got the impression that he had been. Neither of us wanted to be the one to tell him he couldn’t come so he trailed along with us. When we got to the spot on Ditmas Avenue where we met Paris and Toro, they let their exasperation at seeing Rusty be expressed quite clearly. “What’s your f**king deal, Shaggy?” they shouted in their annoyance. It was a bad start to our day of hooky and Jedi knights.
Things got worse when I found out that most of them had no money. Although Fatz had managed to scrounge up the four bucks for the film (Ah, the days when a movie was only $4.00. It’s $13.00 now in NY), Toro, Paris and Rusty came with their hand out. I was the only one of the Odd Boys with a job (I worked at a Waldbaums Supermarket) and I was the one who was always lending money to my unemployed pals. That movie ended up costing me $27.00, including the popcorn and sodas. That was a lot of cash for a kid in 1983.
Naturally, I didn’t have $30.00 cash on me--I had $10.00--and kids didn’t have credit or debit cards back then. So what to do? I couldn’t miss Return of the Jedi. I had to know if Han Solo was going to be rescued from Jabba the Hutt and whether Darth Vader was really Luke’s father. Missing it was not an option, but I would have enjoyed it less knowing that Toro and Paris were missing it. I always had more fun when they were around. Obviously, I couldn’t ask my parents for money. How, then, to solve this dilemma?
I decided to stop by my job to see if I could get my paycheck. I always got paid on Fridays but I wasn’t scheduled to work until that evening, and hadn’t planned to pick it up until then. But the best laid plans of mice and Odd Boys…
It was only 8:30 in the morning, but Waldbaums opened at 7am and I knew that the paychecks always came in on Wednesday afternoon. My boss was surprised to see my there so early in the morning, looking for my check, but he gave it to me anyway. (It was a whopping $42.75) One good thing about working in the supermarket was that they were able to cash my check there. I could go to any cash register and the cashier would cash the check for me. Instant cash!
I went to the check-out area to find a cashier and—to my shock and delight—I saw HER!! Gina was there, at register number three. My check-out Angel!
It was unusual for Gina to be working so early on a school day, but like me, she needed money and took the day off from school to get in some extra hours so she’d have money to go clubbing over the weekend. Good old Hooky—everyone was doing it!
I timidly crept towards her register, because the sight of Gina always made my mind melt to mush and I became clumsier than Rusty. She spotted me inching toward her.
“Hi Rob,” she said, in a friendly voice.
“Urp,” I muttered.
“Morning,” I managed to say, somewhat understandably.
“What’re you doing here so early?” she asked.
I was having trouble forming words, so I held up my paycheck. “Money.” I said, using an economy of words.
“You want me to cash that for you?” she asked.
Before I even answered, she snatched the check out of my hand. Something about that seemed so…intimate. Like we were close…as close as I’d always hoped to be.
As she opened her register, I managed to ask her, in a mostly intelligible way, why she was there so early, and she explained to me about needing money to go clubbing. I decided to make a joke.
“Yeah, I hate baby seals, too.” I said.
She looked at me strangely for a moment and went back to counting the money. I felt like a total buffoon. I should never try to tell jokes. But then Gina stopped counting and suddenly started laughing.
“Clubbing! I get it!” she said.
I was relieved to hear that. It made me feel less like an idiot. She handed me the money and I said, “I’m going with my friends now to see The Return of the Jedi. We ditched class today.”
“I don’t like science fiction,” she said. “But my boyfriend wants to see it.”
‘Boyfriend!’ I hissed in my mind, hating the idea that some gorilla was putting his hands on my dream girl. I almost crumbled up the money in my hand when my fists clenched. I didn’t know who he was but he wasn’t good enough for her!
A customer came to her register. I was always amazed at people who go shopping at 8:30 in the morning. “Gotta get back to work,” Gina said.
“Yeah, I should go,” I said. “My friends are waiting for me.”
“Enjoy the movie.”
“Thanks,” I said and walked out, still dazed from having engaged my angel in conversation and partly enraged that someone had the audacity to go out with her!
My pals were waiting out front, watching me through the one of those big front windows that supermarkets always have. They were chuckling when I came out.
“Who was the babe you were talking to?” Paris asked. “She’s hot!”
I chose not to answer. “No one. Just one of the cashiers.”
“Liar!” Fatz said, because he knew me best. “That was Gina, his fantasy girl.”
“That her?” Toro asked. “The one you’re always going on about? She ain’t all that!”
“Who?” Rusty asked, always a little behind the rest of us. “What’re you talkin’ about?”
“Never mind!” I snapped. “Just forget it! I got the money, let’s go!”
“You should do her, dude!” Paris said.
“Word up!” Toro added.
I decided to change the subject. I told the guys I didn’t have enough money to pay for four people, so one of them—Toro, Paris or Rusty—would have to go. To be fair, I put it to a vote. Unanimously, Rusty was voted off the Island. He was disappointed but he took it well.
“I guess I’ll go somewhere,” he said.
We all agreed. He should go somewhere. Just not with us. I felt bad watching him walk away alone, particularly because he was walking in the wrong direction to get home. I was about to call him back but the guys knew what a softy I was, and knew what I was going to do.
“Don’t you dare call him back!” Paris snapped.
“I’m mad serious!” Toro said. “Don’t be calling him back here!”
I let the poor kid go and we started to walk to the train station. Frankly, I had forgotten all about Rusty by the time were reached the station. I had to pay three train fares, which probably helped me get over the fact that I didn’t have to pay for a fourth now.
We caught the train quickly and got into a car where three pretty young girls were sitting. They were no doubt playing hooky, too. (Everyone was doing it.) Before long, Paris had started a conversation with them. He, Toro and even Fatz flirted with the girls. I kept my mouth shut because I wasn’t good at it and I knew I’d just screw things up. Anyway, there were only three of them, so I was the odd-man-out. And aside from that, none of them were Gina. The girls got off a few stops later and I don’t think any phone numbers were exchanged.
We got to the Kent Theater in Flatbush Brooklyn, on Coney Island Avenue by 9 o’clock in the morning. The first showing at this particular theater wasn’t until 11:30 am, so we were just a tad early but we wanted to make sure we got in to see the first show. We weren’t even the first ones there. Two other guys, older than us--all decked out in Star Wars T-shirts--had beaten us there. They’d actually been there since 6am.
And so we waited for two-and-a-half hours. It was a nice, warm day. We always had so much fun together that the time flew by quickly. It wasn’t unusual for us to just hang around and do nothing but talk--since these guys rarely had any money to do anything else--so this was just another day for us.
The line started to build up behind us and by 11:00am, it stretched down the block and around the corner. We were glad we’d gotten there early. The excitement built at 11:15 when they started letting people in. Cheers ran out as the box office opened.
Our next problem came when a very officious manager refused to let us in. “It’s 11:00 on a school day! What are you guys doing here?” I truly had not expected this obstacle!
I showed him my school ID to prove I was 18. He said I could go in but my buddies couldn’t. I pointed out that they should be allowed in while accompanied by an adult, which I technically was, being 18. At first he wasn’t buying that but then he disappeared into his office, ordering the usher to keep us out until he got back. He came out five minutes later, still grumpy and told the usher, “Let those hoodlums in!”
Toro was angry at being called a “hoodlum” but the rest of us calmed him down. We didn’t care what he called us, as long as we didn’t have to miss the movie. Priorities! Jedi’s go before pride! I bought Toro some milk duds and he calmed down. He and I shared a bag of medium-sized popcorn with Paris, while Fatz had a large bag all to himself. (At least he paid for his own.)
Since we’d been delayed, we didn’t get as good a choice of seats as we’d hoped but I was satisfied that I could see the screen and hear the sound system. Nothing was going to ruin this for me.
The movie started and the crowd cheered with excitement. The scrolling words crossed the screen and the film started. (I remember how excited I was!)
We sat, enjoying the film, and everything was fine, until the end. During the climactic light-saber fight between Luke and Vader, the theater lights came on for some reason. It made the screen very difficult to see. We could see Luke chopping Vader’s hand off but it was a murky image in the light. Very frustrating! The audience almost rioted!
After the film, many disgruntled people asked for their money back. The theater really screwed up big-time on this one. I was tempted to do the same thing but my guys decided that they wanted to stay and see the film a second time, which was technically against the rules. I couldn’t very well ask for my money back and then go back inside and sit through the movie for free a second time. I would have preferred my $12.00 admission back but they convinced me to do the second showing. And so we watched it again (There were some people standing somewhere in the back of the theater because we were taking up four seats we didn’t pay for.)
After the second showing ended, it was 4:00 in the afternoon. The manager saw us leaving and snarled “You hoodlums are just leaving now? You was here at the crack of dawn!”
Toro snapped, “Why you callin’ us hoodlums!”
An argument erupted and we had to drag Toro out of the theater—not an easy task, might I add—or he would have torn it to the ground. The theater employees were clearly reluctant to get between Toro and the manager. I don’t blame them. Toro was very intimidating! We got him out without any blood or violence but that was the last time we ever went to the Kent Theater in Flatbush.
I realized that I was running late. I was supposed to at work in Waldbaums by 4:30, and I hated being late. The bosses hated it even more. I left my buddies at the subway station—they were taking a different train—and rushed to get to work. I was five minutes late and my supervisor let me know he noticed. I looked around to see if Gina was still there but she had left at 4:00.Disappointing!
The store closed at 10:00 and I went home. I hadn’t eaten all day, except for some popcorn, so I was famished. My dad picked me up after work and took me home. He asked me how my day in school was. I never understood why parents asked that. I lied and said it was “fine”, which placated his obligation to ask me about it.
When I got back home, I was greeted by our new puppy scrapper, a cute, little Yorkie. My mom had left some omelet on the stove for me. I was never a big fan of omelet but I was hungry enough to eat the legs off the kitchen chairs, so I gobbled it down, while Scrapper begged at my feet. I slipped him some under the table. I loved that dog!
At 11:00pm I went to bed. It had been a busy day but a good one. I lay there thinking about the movie; about my buds, and about Gina. I wished every day could be this much fun. As Scrapper snuggled up with me, I smiled, thinking that the summer was just beginning and I had three good pals to spend it with. I knew the best days were just starting.
And that’s the end of Chapter One…
Look for Part Two soon, when the Odd Boys spend a day at the beach.