The Adventures of the Odd Boys: A True-story—Chapter 2
Rob AKA "Shaggy"
Fred AKA "Fatz"
Javier AKA "Toro"
Francois AKA "Paris"
The continuing adventures of four teenage best friends in Brooklyn NY, during the 1980s.
Intro: As I said in part one; this is an auto-biographical tale, about friendship and also about young love. It’s about life in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1980s, as seen through my eyes, taking place between the Spring of 1983 and the Summer of 1985. 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 Odd Boys go to the Beach:
The summer of 1983 was heating up and I was having the best time of my life. It was the end of June and I’d just graduated from High School. Summer vacation had started and I had two more months before I had to begin College. I felt I had earned a break after receiving my HS diploma and I planned to enjoy every minute of the summer. True, I did have a part-time job in a supermarket but aside from that, it was clear sailing for the next nine weeks. And best of all, I had four best friends to enjoy it with.
In the last chapter, I introduced you to my best buddies, AKA the Odd Boys, as we proudly called ourselves. I was “Shaggy”, and my pals were “Fatz”, “Paris” and “Toro”. We were the wretched outcasts and rebels who didn’t belong anywhere, except with each other. Other people might have seen us as losers but we had each other, so in our eyes, we were winners. Paris was the cool and crazy kid. Toro was the bad-boy with attitude and big muscles. Fatz was the amiable, affable, chubby one with the contagious laugh. I was the brainy nerd who knew more about Shakespeare than football. What a team!
It was a weekday morning—I think it was a Wednesday, but I can’t swear to that—and I was up early because my buddies and I were planning to spend the day at Coney Island. For those who don’t know, Coney Island--which is in Brooklyn, NY-- has a beach, an aquarium and a theme park which used to be called “Astroland” at the time. The ‘Cyclone’ roller coaster and the ‘Wonder Wheel’ Ferris wheel were two of the biggest tourist attractions in the area.
My parents had gone off to work and my older brother Ray had recently gotten married and moved out of the house. I had the place to myself for most of the day during the summer, which suited me fine. Well, I wasn’t totally alone because my Grandparents (who owned the house) lived downstairs and Grandma rarely ever left the house, except to go shopping. Also, our pup Scrapper was there. He was the cutest little Yorkie! I loved that dog.
Scrapper followed me around the house from room-to-room, even to the bathroom. When I stopped he would just lay at my feet until I moved again and he would just follow me. I took him out for his morning walk, which we both always enjoyed and then I gave him his food, which he wolfed down like someone was going to steal it from him. With Scrapper taken care of, I readied myself for my day of sun-and-fun at Coney Island. I had an old school knapsack, into which I stuffed by towels, beach blanket and suntan lotion. I had saved my money from my last paycheck (A massive $45.00) for admission to Astroland. I was all set to go. I petted Scrapper goodbye. He drooped to the floor, depressed, as I left him alone. You know how dogs hate to be left alone.
It was 10:00am and Grandpa was already sitting outside on the front porch, on his little folding chair. Grandma was at the window, as usual.
“I’m going to the beach,” I told them.
“Watch out for the sun,” Grandpa said. “Too much sun gives you cancer.”
“I have my sunblock, Grandpa,” I replied.
“You just make sure you’re back by dinner time,” Grandma said. “Your mother is gonna kill you if you’re late for dinner again.”
“I will be.”
“Watch out for the undertow,” Grandpa said. “It pulls you out and you can drown.”
“I’ll be careful.”
I spotted my pal Fatz, who lived on the same block as I did, coming down the street to meet me. “I gotta go,” I told my grandparents. “See you later.”
“And watch out for jelly fish!” Grandpa yelled. “They sting like a sonavabitch!”
I beat a hasty retreat, joining Fatz and escaping the conversation with my grandparents.
Before we reached the corner, we saw Rusty, the 14 year-old kid who always followed us everywhere. Fatz and I didn’t dislike Rusty but he was very annoying. Paris and Toro didn’t like him much, though. We didn’t want him coming with us to Coney Island. Fatz and I ducked behind parked cars and covertly made our way to the corner, and then bolted for the safety of the next block. It worked. He didn’t see us. What a relief!
It was a beautiful 80 degree day. Fatz and I walked down to Ditmas Avenue where we met Paris and Toro, who were sitting on the steps leading to the elevated train station, smoking cigarettes while waiting for us.
“About time!” Paris snapped. “You guys come by way of Jupiter?”
“You in a hurry?” Fatz asked. “The beach ain’t going anywhere.”
“I’d like to get there while I’m still young enough to swim,” Paris replied.
“Yo, let’s just go!” Toro said.
We got onto the F-train and took it to the end of the line, which was Coney Island. Most of the train lines that go into Brooklyn end at Coney Island. Once you got there, you didn’t need to know where you were going. You just followed the herd until you saw the boardwalk. While heading to the shore, we had to pass Astroland. We could see the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel towering over us. Paris and Toro suggested that we should skip the beach and go right to the amusement park, but I was having none of that. I wanted to go to the beach. And since these guys needed to borrow money from me to get into Astroland, I had the final say.
We climbed the steps to the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean came into view. It looked so inviting. The beach itself was pretty crowded for a weekday. Multi-colored umbrellas dotted the sandy terrain. We took special notice of all the bathing beauties, lying on their blankets, tanning themselves.
We made our way across the sand and found a spot near the rock reef. I laid out the beach blanket and we all striped down to our bathing gear. Toro was proud of his muscular physique. Fatz was more self-conscious and kept a tank-top on.
“I hope the water isn’t too cold,” I said.
“It’s not,” Fatz said.
“How do you know?” Paris asked.
“He’s never cold,” I said. “He could swim in ice water.”
“Come on, let’s hit the water!” Fatz sang, eagerly.
Toro was on the blanket, oiling down his muscular frame. “Youse guys go ahead. I’m gonna get me some sun.”
Fatz, Paris and I went down to the water’s edge. Paris stepped in up to his ankle.
“Holy $#/+! That’s cold!” Paris cried.
‘Don’t be such a wimp!” Fatz said. “It’s ain’t that bad.”
“Let’s see you go in first,” Paris said. “You’re the one that supposedly immune to the cold.”
Fatz suddenly charged into the surf, splashing a lot of water as his ample girth descended into the deeper water.
“Look out, everyone!” Paris yelled. “Runaway hippo!”
Fatz dived under the surf, creating waves that splashed people 10 feet around. He popped up moments later, breaching like a whale, with a big smile on his face. “It’s great. C’mon in!”
“Showoff!” I said.
Paris and I inched our way in, wincing from the cold. Paris squealed when the cold water hit his private area.
“Stop being a baby an’ come in,” Fatz said.
“My future generations are at stake!” Paris shouted.
I’d had enough and dived under the surface. It wasn’t so bad once I got in. It took Paris a while longer but he finally made it all the way in. We splashed around for a while like silly kids. Fatz brought in the Frisbee he’d had in his bag of stuff. We tossed it around for a while. It was great fun.
Paris started to get cold and decided to join Toro on the blanket. Fatz noticed the hot dog vendor on the sand and returned to the blanket to get some money for a frankfurter. I was the last one in the water. I spent the next few minutes just drifting along, relaxed and content.
A girl coming towards the water caught my eye. She was walking alongside another girl, her long hair tossed by a sudden breeze. I’m not sure what it was about this particular distant figure that grabbed my attention. Maybe it was subliminal recognition because as she got closer, I knew who it was.
It was her! My Gina…my unrequited love! My fantasy Goddess! She was here at the beach! I couldn’t believe the fortuitous coincidence of it all. And the fact that I’d never seen her in a bathing suit before made it all the more exciting for me. I watched fixated as she gingerly made her way into the shallows. She and her friend barely made it knee-deep in the cold water before they turned around and retreated back to their blanket to work on their suntans.
My fevered brain began running scenarios regarding how I could use this bit of serendipity to break down the wall that was keeping me from getting to know her better. I ran back to the blanket to ask my buddies for advice. Even though they called me the brainy one, girls were a subject where I was a complete cretin. Back at the blanket, I explained my dilemma and opened the discussion up to suggestions. Not all of them were helpful.
“Don’t do nothing,” Toro said, still endlessly oiling himself down. “You don’t chase ‘em. You let the chicks come to you. Be cool.”
“But I’m not cool!” I countered.
“Act cool,” Toro said.
“I’m not the Fonz!” I shouted. “Anyone got anything better than that?”
Fatz suddenly got up and ran to the water. I had no idea why.
Paris stood up. “Come with me, Casanova. Where is she?”
I led Paris in the direction of her blanket and pointed her out when I we got close. “There she is.”
“Who’s the other one?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s Lori. A snotty Circle Queen with delusions of Goddess-hood.”
“She’s as skinny as a straw.”
“And just about as smart,” I added.
Paris gestured for me to follow him. He instructed me to act surprised when we passed her, as if I didn’t know she was there. I followed his instructions. Gina was lying on her back, with sunglasses on. I think her eyes were closed, but maybe not. I almost walked completely past without saying a word but Paris nudged me with his elbow.
“G…Gina!” I said, perhaps a bit too loud. “What a surprise!”
Gina raised her sunglasses and looked at me. She seemed to be about to say something but then she looked over at Lori, who was staring at Paris and I with disgust that we should enter her presence. Clearly, in her mind, we weren’t worthy to be breathing her air. Gina was obviously uncomfortable about Lori’s disapproving sneer.
“Hi,” Gina said, rather meekly, and with a touch of coldness.
I got the sense that she wanted to be friendly—she usually was—but being in the company of one of the popular crowd, she wasn’t allowed to associate with someone below her level. Girls in the inner-circle didn’t talk to nerds like me. And I knew Gina courted the friendship of those stuck-up girls, which put her in a bind. She tried to create a hybrid personality which was not too bitchy, yet dismissive enough to suit Lori.
“I…I was just walking by and I noticed you,” I said. “I just thought I’d say hello.”
Lori sarcastically muttered, “Lucky us.” I don’t know if I was meant to hear it but I did.
Gina was struggling with her balancing act. “Yeah, hi. Nice to see you. We’re just working on our tans.” She said, and put her sunglasses back on.
There was an awkward silence while I tried to think of something to say but nothing came to mind. I could hear Paris sighing with exasperation at my inept efforts.
“You’re in our light!” Lori suddenly snapped.
Paris had her sized up right away. “Don’t you give off your own glow, princess?”
“What does that mean?!” Lori demanded to know.
Paris looked at me. “I guess that one went over her head. Or through the hole in it.”
“Why are you even talking to us?” Lori snapped.
“Do I have to sign a consent form?” Paris asked.
Things weren’t going well. They got worse when Fatz came over, holding the Frisbee in front of him like a waiter’s tray. “Look at this!” he said when he reached us, and dumped it on the sand. We saw that there was a crab sitting on the Frisbee.
As the crustacean critter started to crawl, Lori jumped to her feet, screaming. “Aghhh! Get that thing away from me! You’re lucky my boyfriend isn’t here!”
Paris was rocked with hysterical laughter and Fatz joined him. I would have laughed, too, but I noticed that Gina had also scrambled to her feet, afraid of the crab. She gave me an accusing look. “Rob, get that thing out of here!”
Unable to refuse Gina anything, I scooped the crab up with the Frisbee and took it back to the sea where it belonged. Paris and Fatz followed me. Paris was slapping Fatz on the back, saying “You are the man!”
I was mortified. My attempt to get to talk to Gina had backfired totally. She’d probably never speak to me again after this, and I couldn’t blame her. Fatz could see I was taking it hard.
“Chill out, dude!” Fatz said. “In 100 years, who’s gonna remember this?”
“It’s cool, Shaggy,” Paris said. “Girls like it when guys give ‘em a hard time. They hate nice guys.”
“You are the worst wing-man ever!” I snapped at Paris, and then I skulked back to the blanket and sat down, dejected. The other two followed me. Toro was sitting like an oiled statue on the blanket.
“What happened with the chick?” he asked.
I explained and he laughed, along with Paris. Fatz seemed to feel a little guilty and tried to console me but I was having none of it.
“I know what’ll cheer you up,” Paris said. “Let’s go to Astroland!”
“Cool beans!” Toro said. “Paris is right. Let’s go on the rides and you’ll forget about the chick.”
I agreed to go, mostly because I wanted to escape from the beach before I ran into Gina again. I didn’t want to hear what she would probably say to me. “Let’s go.”
We left the sand and surf behind. Astroland was only a half-block from the boardwalk. Naturally, I had to pay for Paris and Toro. Admission was $8.00 at the time and I was afraid this was going to run me $24.00, but Paris luckily found a lost $5.00 bill someone had dropped, so I only had to pay $19.00 to get us in. Fatz had his own money.
The guys were right. After we’d spent a little time at Astroland, I started to cheer up. My buddies always made me laugh, even at the worst of times. We went on the Cyclone ride where—I was told—I turned white as a ghost. I was always a sissy about roller coasters.
The guys lined up for a ride called the “hell hole”; a spinning ride that used centrifugal force to pin you to the side of the ride while it twirls you dizzy. I hated spinning rides. (I still do.) They made me sick to my stomach, so I told the other guys to go without me. After they were done mocking me for being such a “faggot”, I wandered around and found myself standing near the ring-toss, watching people trying to win prizes.
“Robert!” a female voice called angrily from behind me.
I was afraid to look because I felt I knew who it was. Slowly I turned…and sure enough, it was her! Gina! She was standing with her hands on her hips, staring a dagger-like stare at me. I would have given anything at that moment for an Earthquake or some distraction to allow me to escape.
“Come here!” she ordered.
I inched my way over to her. It was only about 10 feet but it seemed like miles. Gina didn’t move and inch. She made me come to her.
“How could you do that?” she asked, eyes narrow and fixed sternly on me. “Why would you embarrass me like that?”
“In my defense, it wasn’t me,” I said meekly. “It was my friends.”
“Don’t give me that!” she snapped. “They came over with you and so did the lobster!”
“It was a crab.”
“Who cares!” she yelled. “You humiliated me in front of one of my closest friends. I’m lucky she’s still speaking to me!”
“Not you’re not,” I muttered under my breath.
“What was that? Speak up!”
“Tell me what you just said.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but if she was really one of your closest friends, you wouldn’t have to worry about her not speaking to you over a stupid little thing like this,” I commented. “A real friend doesn’t do that.”
Gina opened her mouth to speak but hesitated. She had to think about that one. “I don’t want to talk about Lori!” she insisted. “Your friends are the ones who caused all the trouble.”
“Maybe,” I said, “But she did instigate it, you know.”
“No she didn’t!”
“Fine, I’m wrong.”
Gina paused. “Okay, maybe she did. But you guys went too far. Why the hell did your friend have a crab anyway?”
“That’s actually a very good question,” I said. “I wish I knew.”
“You guys are so weird!” she said.
“Odd,” I said. “We prefer odd.”
‘You’re odd, all right”, she said. “The crab was kind of funny, though. But don’t tell Lori I said that.”
“Never,” I promised. “By the way, where is your friend now?”
“Oh,” Gina said. ‘Her boyfriend showed up. They decided to go through the haunted house together. Where are your friends?”
“In the hellhole,” I said. “I guess it’s just us right now.”
“I guess so,” she said, trying not to smile, because she was still trying to be angry. “I should still be furious with you, you know.”
I noticed the smurfette doll which was one of the prizes in the ring-toss. I knew Gina liked smurfette because I’d noticed she had one hanging from her rear-view mirror. (From outside the car, of course. I’d never been inside.) “Would you still be mad if I won you that smurfette?”
She almost smiled but held it in. “Maybe. Go on. Win it for me.”
I eagerly paid my turn. I had four tosses. I missed the first one. No problem. Then I missed the second. Okay, I need to focus. Darn, I missed the third. One last chance. Got to aim carefully. I tossed and…Damn! Missed!
Gina shook her head. “You suck at this.”
“Yeah, I do,” I said. “So I guess I’m not forgiven.”
“I shouldn’t,” she said. “But Okay, you’re forgiven. Just promise me you’ll never embarrass me like that again.”
“Scouts honor,” I said. “Cub Scout, not Boy Scout. I never made it to boy scout.”
“Fine,” she said. “I should get back before Lori gets out of the haunted house.
I knew what she meant. She meant ‘Before Lori sees her talking to me.’
“I guess I’ll see you at work tomorrow”, she said, since we both worked at Waldbaums supermarket.
“Probably,” I said. “I’m on the morning shift.”
“Me too,” she said. “Say, where do you live?”
“41st and 9th”, I answered.
“Y’know, I live close to there,” she said. “I’m at Ft. Hamilton. I’ve got my dad’s car. I can give you a lift if you want.”
“Yeah,” I said smiling, “That’d be great.”
“Cool,” she said. “I’ll pick you up at the corner of 41st at 9th avenue tomorrow morning at 6:30.” Then she gave me a gentle slap on the arm. “You big jerk!”
She headed back to the Haunted House to find Lori and her boyfriend. As for me, I was flying high. Things couldn’t have worked out better. I was going to be in her car tomorrow. I thrust my fist into the air. “Yes!”
Later, my pals came back and found me sitting on a bench. “You missed all the fun,” Fatz said.
I just smiled. “No I didn’t.”
Well, that’s the end for now. Chapter Three will be coming soon, when the Odd Boys play a marathon session of Dungeons & Dragons, and Gina comes to me for solace when she has a fight with her boyfriend.