The Adventures of the Odd Boys: A True-story…Chapter Four
Rob AKA "Shaggy"
Freddy AKA "Fatz"
Javier AKA "Toro"
Francois AKA "Paris"
Intro: These recollections are true events from my teenage years. These events take place in Brooklyn, NY, between the Spring of 1983 and the Summer of 1985—my “glory days” and the best time of my life. These tales are about friendship and young love. My recollections revolve around the close group of friends I had back then, and about my first love—the one that got away. The one you never forget!
Odd Boys in the Park
It was early autumn 1983: The wonderful summer of ’83 had, unfortunately, ended; despite my hopes that if I wished really hard, time would somehow stop and summer would last forever. It didn’t.
It had been an amazing summer. It was the first summer I had spent with my group of buddies; three guys who were the closest friends I ever had. We called ourselves the Odd Boys, because that was what everyone thought of us. We all had nicknames. I was “Shaggy”, and my pals were “Fatz”, “Paris” and “Toro”. I’d known Fatz for a long time but since meeting Toro and Paris, something in my life became complete and I was thrilled to actually belong somewhere—to be part of something, even if it was just a group of teenage oddballs.
The other incredible thing about that summer was that I had somehow managed to get close to my dream girl Gina. I’d been head-over-heels in love with her ever since we started working together eight months earlier at the Waldbaums supermarket in Bensonhurst. Gina barely seemed to notice me at first but over this summer, through a series of lucky events, she and I had become very close. We talked on the phone for hours and had breakfast at the muffin place and lunch at Wendys and I’d carry her bags when she went shopping at the mall. I loved every second of it. What a summer!
Alas, the summer was gone. I was 18 and just beginning my first year of college in Long Island City. It was a long commute from home (An hour & 40 minutes each way by train) but mom and dad couldn’t afford a dormitory room for me, and I wouldn’t have wanted to live in one anyway, because I would have been too far from my Odd Boy buddies. And from Gina. So I accepted the 3 hour and twenty minute round-tripper every day.
I looked forward to the weekends because it was the only chance I had to spend time with my Odd Boys. They were younger than me and still in High School (except Paris, who had dropped out) and I admit I was bothered by the fact that the three of them could still get together during the week, while I was on the train coming home from Long Island City. We’d talk on the phone in the evening but I only got to spend time with them on Saturday and Sunday.
This particular Saturday, the bunch of us went over to Paris’ house in Park Slope. We usually met at my place but Mom and Dad were having company. Paris lived in a small apartment and had a rather large family. It was always crowded there. He didn’t have a room of his own. His clan used to drink a lot and fight a lot. They were also rather poor. I guess the most accurate description would be “white trash” but I didn’t think of them that way. They weren’t bad people; just noisy and uncouth.
After a short time in Paris’ place, he was getting annoyed by his own family and wanted to get out and go somewhere. The rest of us agreed. We could only take so much of the family feuding. It was time to wander.
Paris lived very close to Prospect Park so I suggested we go there. For those who don’t know, Prospect Park is the biggest park in Brooklyn. 585 acres of it. The landscape was designed by famed landscapers/architects Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, who also designed Central Park in Manhattan. It’s been called the ‘Brooklyn Forest’. It has a 90 acre meadow, a 60 acre lake and the Prospect Park Zoo. It’s a great place to spend a day, so that’s what we decided to do.
It was a nice day out. We entered the park and saw a lot of families picnicking in the area with the wooden tables and benches. Some families were barbecuing, which was actually illegal there but it was done so commonly that the cops didn’t bother to stop them anymore more. We also saw kids flying kites and lots of people walking their dogs.
We stopped on the foot bridge over the stream and tried to spot some fish, after which we walked along the bicycle path. One biker almost ran into us and we had to restrain Toro from ripping the guy’s head off. Toro was very volatile, which was a bad combination with the fact that he was very strong and muscular. I have no idea how many times we stopped him from hurting someone. He was still mad 10 minutes later so we decided to get him away from other people who he might potentially hurt, and we took to the woodland paths through the forest-like areas.
We saw a couple of raccoons, an opossum (although we had no idea what it was at the time. Fatz thought it was some mutant rat) and plenty of squirrels. I commented on how fast they climbed up trees.
“I wanna do that,” Paris said.
“Do what?” I asked.
“I wanna climb a tree,” he said. “I haven’t climbed a tree in forever!”
“Me either,” I said.
“So let’s go!”
Paris and I found a tree with low branches and started to climb. Toro wasn’t in the mood to climb and Fatz was too bulky and heavy, so it was just the two of us. I was satisfied to get 10 or 15 feet off the ground and settle down on a sturdy branch. Paris, of course, always wanted to push the envelope and climbed up a lot higher. I have to admit that he was making me nervous because the branches up there didn’t look too sturdy and it would have been a long fall if one of them snapped. When he got high enough he did the Tarzan yell. Thank God there were no vines to swing on or he probably would have tried.
Toro got bored waiting for us. “You guys done acting like monkeys, yet? Get down here and I’ll give you a banana.”
I climbed down but Paris willfully stalled. He climbed down slowly, than leapt to the ground, yelling ‘Ta-da’!
“Let’s go, huh!” Toro said.
We continued to explore the back roads of the wooded hills of the park. Occasionally we came upon someone else, but mostly we were on our own. We found a small creek with some turtles in it. The little shelled critters ducked under the water when we got close but eventually come up on the other side. There was a tiny baby turtle among them, as well.
“It’s a little Gamera,” Paris said.
“I knew someone was going to make a Gamera joke,” I commented.
“Had to be done,” Fatz added.
We walked some more and Fatz pointed at my cap and said, “Do you know you have a cricket on your head?”
Toro looked. “Oh $#/+, he does!”
I took my hat off and saw what they were talking about. “It’s not a cricket. It’s a Praying Mantis.”
“Looks like an atheist to me,” Paris said.
I shook my cap but the Praying Mantis clung on like a barnacle. After some efforts, I got it to abandon my cap and fly off. “Godspeed, little Mantis.”
“I guess his wife wanted him home,” Paris said.
“Maybe he was late for dinner,” Fatz said.
“Always thinking of food,” Toro said.
We came to a clearing where we saw what seemed to be a strange, green mist. Curious, we walked closer. As we entered the mist, we found that it wasn’t a mist at all but instead a swarm of tiny green insects. Possibly some sort of gnat. There were so many that they appeared from afar as a transparent green mass. We noticed that above the tiny bugs was another level of larger insects, like a cover over the green swarm. The larger bugs seemed to be dragon flies, but I wasn’t sure. They appeared to be picking off the smaller bugs for lunch. Then we noticed a flock of birds circling high over head. They periodically swooped down and gulped a mouthful of dragonfly. Finally, from out of the trees came a hawk, which grabbed one of the birds in its talons and dragged it off. Settling down on a branch, it proceeded to rip the bird open with its beak. The whole thing was a great example of the cycle-of-life…the big eating the small.
“That was so cool!” Paris said.
“Word up!” Toro added.
Later, we came out of the wooded area and found ourselves by the lake. I took my sneakers off and sat with my feet dangling in the water. The other guys copied me and soon the four of us were sitting side-by-side on the bank, all eight feet in the water. We watched the ducks float by. They looked at us disapprovingly, like we were trespassing.
“Shouldn’t you be going south?” Paris shouted at them.
We sat there for about 20 minutes.
“This is just what I needed,” I said. “I feel really relaxed right now.”
“You stress out too much,” Paris said.
“Yeah, you gotta chill, man,” Toro said.
“Look who’s talking,” Fatz said. “You get mad about everything!”
“I only get mad when people mess with me!” Toro answered, defensively.
“And you always think people are messing with you,” Fatz said.
“They always are!” Toro yelled.
Fatz was going to respond but I signaled for him to drop it and he did. I was feeling so relaxed, I didn’t want things to escalate into an argument.
“So what’s up with you and that chick Gina?” Paris asked. “You doing her yet?”
“You should totally hit that, man,” Toro said.
“He ain’t even asked her out yet,” Fatz told them.
“What?” Paris asked. “Do I have to tie you two together? What’re you waiting for?”
“He’s stuck in the friend zone,” Fatz said.
I was getting annoyed by all this. “She’s got a boyfriend, you know!”
“She’s not married,” Paris said. “It’s a jock who cheats on her. She’ll dump him eventually. You might as well move in now and stake your claim. Go for it, dude!”
“Yo, stop being such a pussy,” Toro said. “Go get her!”
I wished I could just swoop in and steal Gina away from her cheating, macho boyfriend, but it wasn’t that easy. Gina seemed to be stuck on the guy, or at least on the idea of dating a big, hunky, macho man who was going to inherit his father’s towing business one day. Her mother loved Stephen (in a kind of creepy way, I might add) and always convinced Gina to give him the benefit of the doubt when he seemed to be straying. He always had a weak alibi—usually that he was with his brother when he was actually out with another girl—but his lame lies seemed to work and Gina always ended up believing him, despite the evidence that was piling up in front of her eyes. ‘Willful blindness’ I guess you’d call it.
Sometimes if I advised her to dump the guy she seemed to consider it but after she’d talk to him, she’d change her mind; and if I suggested it again, she’d yell at me for instigating trouble. At least, until the next time she had a problem with him, when she’d come to me for a shoulder to cry on.
Fatz was right. I was stuck in the friend-zone and I couldn’t seem to get out of it! I needed to do something.
I recalled Gina saying she might be going to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens this weekend. Coincidentally, the Botanic Garden in Brooklyn was adjacent to Prospect Park. It was only a short walk away. I wondered if that was why I subconsciously suggested we go to Prospect Park today.
“You guys are right,” I said. “It’s time to make a move. You guys wanted to go to the park zoo, right.”
They all answered affirmatively. They did.
I doled out the admission money to the three of them--they never had any money—and told them to meet me at the Monkey house in about an hour or so. “I’m going to make my move!”
“Cool! Fatz said.
“That’s my boy!” Paris commented.
“Go get ‘er, stud!” Toro added.
I ran to the park exit and then jogged alongside the length of the Park on the Washington Avenue side, until I reached the Botanic Gardens, which were adjoined on the north side of the park. I slapped down my $3.00 admission and rushed inside.
I really wasn’t sure if she was there. I knew she was planning to go that weekend but she might have changed her mind. She also might have been there and gone. Maybe she hadn’t arrived yet. Or maybe she was going to come on Sunday instead of Saturday. Maybe I was wasting my time wandering around the Botanic Gardens looking for a girl who possibly wasn’t even there.
I passed the children’s garden and the rock garden and the herb garden and the rose garden and the Shakespeare garden. I walked along the row of cherry trees in ‘Cherry walk’. I was nearly ready to give up when I reached the Japanese garden and pond. I stopped for a minute to look at the myriad colorful fish and all the turtles (who swim surprisingly fast considering their slow reputation). I glanced across the pond at the Japanese-styled viewing hut where visitors could sit and enjoy the view of the fish and water. And then I saw her! It was her! My Gina! She was here!
My elation was somewhat dimmed by the fact that she wasn’t alone. She was with two of her girlfriends; two conceited circle queens named Lori and Marianne. It was a toss-up with one was more stuck-up. I knew I had to be careful when Gina’s friends were around because I knew she valued her place in the popular clique. She couldn’t be seen talking to a member of the Dweeb Patrol. We basically had to keep our friendship secret from most of the people she knew, because they would berate her for ‘lowering’ herself and embarrassing the beautiful people. Gina might lose her spot in the inner circle.
I had to try to get her alone, which was very hard because teenage girls move in herds and never stray from their friends, even when they go to the bathroom. I crept along covertly, stalking them, hoping for an opportunity to get her alone. I wanted to talk to her there in the Botanic Gardens because it was a properly romantic setting. A beautiful garden on a warm autumn afternoon. It seemed ideal!
I managed to get her attention just as she and her friends were going into the tropical greenhouse. She was startled to see me—perhaps alarmed—and checked to see if her friends had spotted me yet. They obviously hadn’t because they gave no outward sign of disgust. I pointed for her to meet me in the fragrance garden. She just waved me away.
I went to the fragrance garden to wait for her, unsure if she was going to show up or not. After a few minutes, I saw her. She was walking fast. As she got near, I could smell her familiar perfume even over the fragrances of the garden. Her luxurious long hair blew in the breeze. My heart pounded out a samba beat. What a woman!
“What are you doing here?” she said, sounding rather annoyed.
“Well, I was in Prospect Park with my friends and I remembered you’d be here so I thought I’d stop by to say hello. So…Hello.”
“That’s nice but I really can’t talk now,” she said. “They think I’ve gone to look for a pay phone to call Stephen. I have to get back soon.”
Always that name, Steven! I hated that name! If the guy hadn’t been so big, I’d have belted him in the nose long ago. Large jerks are the worst kind of jerk!
“I…I wanted to say something to you,” I told her, nervously.
“Can it wait?” she asked. “They’ll be looking for me if I don’t come right back.”
“Well, I just…”
“Come on, spit it out!” she said. “Talk faster!”
I looked at her amid the lovely plants and I don’t think she’d ever looked for beautiful.
“You look amazing,” I said before I even realized I said it.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling. “You’re sweet.”
“What?!” she asked impatiently. “What is it? I’m in a hurry.”
“Right, because you don’t want them to see us together,” I commented.
She shrugged. “You know how it is.”
Yes, I knew how it was. And I knew that it was hopeless asking her to go out with me. Gina was a high school girl, completely trapped in her world of popularity and image. There was no way she’d date me, even if she wanted to, because it would ruin her socially. She might conceivably give up her cheating boyfriend but she wouldn’t give up her crowd of friends just for me, any more than I’d give up my Odd Boy buddies.
I knew it was hopeless, and even worse, it might ruin the friendship if I told her how I felt. She might not want to be around me any longer because it would be uncomfortable for both of us. So I decided not to say anything. “I just wanted to say…Happy birthday!”
She looked quizzically at me. “My birthday is in November.”
“Oh, I thought you said September,” I lied. It was a lame lie but it was the best I could come up with. “Sorry. I just didn’t want you to think I forgot.”
“Okay, well, thanks anyway,” she said. “You can try again in two months. Buy me something nice. Look, I have to go. They’re going to get suspicious. Gotta run.”
“Sure,” I said. “No problem. Talk to you soon.”
She blew me an air kiss “Mwah!” and rushed off to get back to her snotty friends. I was left with egg on my face and a sense of hopelessness that I’d never be anything more than a friend to Gina. A good day had suddenly gone downhill.
I strolled dejectedly back to Prospect Park and went to the zoo. Paying my admission fee, I dragged myself to the Monkey cage where my Odd Boys were waiting for me.
“Hey, the playboy’s back!” Toro said.
“The player returns,” Paris said.
“So dish the dirt! How’d it go?” Fatz asked.
I explained the whole pathetic story to them. They looked at me with a mix of pity and exasperation. I was a hopeless case.
“You are such a pussy!” Paris said.
“Word up!” Toro added. “Man, what’re we gonna do wit’ you?”
“I know, I know,” I said. “I’m a loser.”
“You’re not a loser,” Fatz said. “You’re our boy!”
“We’ll get you there,” Paris said. “Just wait.”
“We got your back, homey,” Toro said.
We all put out our hands and did our corny three Musketeers “One for all and all for one” thing, which sounds totally geeky now but at the time, it was just what I needed. They cheered me up, like they always did.
We started to look at the monkeys again. Fatz pointed at a big one. “Look at this guy! King Kong’s brother.”
“I knew someone was going to make a King Kong joke,” I said.
“Had to be done,” Paris said.
“Word up!” Toro said.
I loved those guys.
So that’s the end of chapter four. Join the Odd Boys again in chapter five as we celebrate Halloween together, and I tutor Gina in literature.