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The Adventures of the Odd Boys: A True-story…Chapter Seven
Rob AKA "Shaggy"
Francois AKA "Paris"
The Adventures of the Odd Boys: A True-story…Chapter Seven
Intro: These tales are true anecdotes from my teen years. These stories 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 recollections are about friendship and young love. My remembrances revolve around the close group of friends I had at the time, and about my first love—the one that got away. The one you never forget!
The Odd Boys Christmas Carol:
It was late December 1983, and the Christmas season was upon us. I was 18 years old and having the time of my life. I had never looked forward to Christmas more than I had at that time. Ever since I’d reached my teens, I lost my interest in Christmas which I thought of as a commercialized sales gimmick. But that particular year, I was feeling more celebratory.
I had three best friends now, who I went everywhere with. They were Freddy, Javier and Francois, but their nicknames were “Fatz”, “Toro” and “Paris”. My own alias was “Shaggy”. Fatz was jolly, Toro was angry and Paris was crazy. I was the deep, philosophical one. Our collective group moniker was “the Odd Boys”. The name fit us perfectly. We were odd, no doubt. Odd and proud of it.
To make things better, there were two women in my life. Hard to believe, considering I was such a nerd, but there were actually two women who liked to spend time with me. Firstly, there was Gina, my long-time crush. I had been crazy about her for over a year. She and I had become close friends, although I wanted it to be more. The problem was that Gina was dating some jock jerk, and even if she hadn’t been, she was too caught up in the whole mindset of being part of the popular clique, that she would never date a geek like me. That would knock her right out of the inner circle of her social group.
The other girl was Laura, a model I’d met a month before at a Laundromat. Laura was absolutely gorgeous. Tall, buxom and with a sexy Lauren Bacall voice. She turned heads everywhere we went. We weren’t exactly dating, but she did invite me to go places with her. Mostly we went to art galleries and museums, because we both liked that sort of thing and she always had trouble finding guys who didn’t find those kinds of things boring.
I never told my parents about Laura, because they basically still treated me like a baby at 18, and if I’d told them I was going somewhere with a model, my mother would probably have locked me in my room, nailed the door shut and put an armed guard there. She couldn’t let her baby get soiled by a dirty girl. Whenever I went out, I just told her I was with my Odd Boy buddies. She always believed it.
Anyway, it was the Christmas season and I was full of holiday cheer for a chance (A fact that alarmed my family, because they wondered what I was up to.) The weather had gotten cold and the days were very short and that usually caused me to become sad, but this year, everything seemed warm and bright. I was floating in my own sea of contentment.
It was Christmas break from school and I had two weeks off. My Odd boy buddies also had a holiday break from high school, so I would have been spending more time with them than I had been during the semester, but I was quite frankly eager to spend time with Gina and Laura, too. I think it annoyed them a bit, since we’d been so used to being together every spare moment that we weren’t in school or asleep.
It was the morning of Christmas Eve, 1983. Christmas fell on a Sunday that year, so Christmas Eve was on Saturday. I wanted to sleep late because I knew I’d be up late, seeing as that night we were going to visit relatives on Staten Island and I’d be hearing the chimes at midnight. I also knew that my mother was going to wake me early the next day, since we were going to different relatives for Christmas Day, and she always woke everyone up at the crack of dawn for family outings. Therefore, I was hoping to sleep late that Saturday.
Alas, it was not to be. My mother was up before six and she wanted to make sure all her usual Saturday chores were done before she left. I guess she feared that the world would implode if she ever missed her regularly scheduled Saturday cleaning and laundry. She was vacuuming at 6am. I tried to ignore the sound by closing my door, by she soon burst into my room, vacuum roaring and started cleaning my carpet as I lay there, pulling the covers over my head.
“Get up, you lazy thing!’ she ordered. “I want you to do the laundry.”
I poked my head out from under the covers and looked at the clock. “Mom, its 6:15 in the morning.”
“Don’t make me tell you twice,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, so get up!”
Grumbling rebelliously, I dragged myself out of bed. By 6:30am, I was already in the basement, shoving clothes into the washing machine, cursing under my breath. My grandfather was also in the basement in his “laboratory”, or so I called it. Grandpa has a workshop full of tools and gadgets (machines to measure volts and amps and other stuff I knew nothing about) and it always reminded me of a Mad Scientist’s lair. The only thing missing was Boris Karloff. It has to be said that grandpa was a handy tinkerer. If he hadn’t been a tailor, he would have made a good repair man. By this point, however, he was long since retired.
“Come ‘ere an’ lookit this!” he said to me. It seemed more of a demand than a request. I obliged.
He showed me the old TV he was working on. He used to go around the neighborhood collecting old TV’s radios and appliances that had been dumped in the trash. He would bring them home, fix them and then end up throwing them out anyway because he had too much junk in that basement and it drove my grandmother crazy, so she insisted he toss those old pieces of junk. Grandpa didn’t care. The challenge was in fixing them. Once he was done, he didn’t care what happened to them next. It kept him busy, so he wasn’t bored.
I listened as he explained to me step-by-step what he was doing. I forced a smile on my face and nodded patiently, although I had no interest in this what-so-ever. Grandpa loved to explain things and he seemed oblivious to the fact that no one wanted to hear it. He was a good man, God love him, but deadly dull.
I was actually relieved when I heard my mother bellowing from upstairs for me. “Sorry grandpa, gotta go.”
"I’ll finish explain it later,” he said.
He would, too!
I raced up the stairs and my mother snapped at me. “What were you doing down there for so long? Did you get lost in the basement?”
“I was talking to grandpa.”
“You can fool around with your grandfather after your chores are done!” she chided. “I want you to go to the store.”
“Are the stores even open at this hour?” I asked, annoyed.
“The A&P opens at 6:30 and it is now 6:45.” She said. “So get dressed.”
She handed me a long grocery list and some coupons she’d clipped from the newspaper. There was no way to win this argument, so I gave up, as I usually did with my mother. My father knew better than to argue, too. I saw him dusting the furniture in the living room.
By 9am, the shopping was done and all the groceries put away. The chores were done and we’d all eaten breakfast. Mom was cooking something that she was going to bring to Staten Island with us tonight. Grandma was up there helping, because she was coming with us. My father took advantage of this lull in the action to get in his daily work-out. Dad exercised every single day, without fail. They were both occupied and we didn’t have to leave for our Christmas Eve visit until 5 o’clock that afternoon. That gave me eight hours of freedom!
I took our dog scrapper for a walk, just to escape the whirlwind of activity. It was exhausting just being around my mother when she was in her hyper ‘work-clean-cook’ mode. I thought how lucky my brother was that he’d moved out. I was looking forward to the day I would get a place of my own. But that was still at least four years away. After I finished walking Scrapper, it was still only 10:20, so I got on my bike and road around for a while.
At 11 o’clock, I found a pay phone and tried to call Laura. I hadn’t heard from her in a few days and she hadn’t returned my calls. I’d left two messages for her and now left a third with the friend who she was living with. (I thought I heard another voice in the background. Could it have been her?) I wondered if leaving three messages was too clingy. Did it make me seem too needy?
Trying not to overthink things, as I was known to do, I kept riding. I passed near Gina’s house (probably unconsciously intentional, more than by chance) and since it was 11:30, I thought it was late enough to ring her bell. (Remember the days when you could just stop by friend’s homes without an appointment?) Her mother—who didn’t like me very much, for some reason—answered the door and called Gina down from upstairs. She came down, looking lovely as always.
We sat down on her front steps. “So, to what do I owe this honor?” she asked.
“Am I sensing a rebuke?’ I asked.
“I don’t see you that much anymore,” she said. “I don’t like being blown off like that.”
I was surprised by this comment. “But I just saw you Thursday.”
She shrugged. “Well, maybe, but it just seems like you have less time for me these days.”
“If I haven’t been as attentive as usual, it’s not intentional,” I said. “It’s my fist term in college. You’ll see next year when you go.”
Herb eyes narrowed accusingly. “School and Laura.”
“Laura?” I asked, taken a bit off-guard. “What’s she got to do with this?”
Gina folded her arms defensively. “You two seem to have hit it off real well.”
“Well, I suppose so,” I said. “What brought it up?”
“Nothing. Never mind,” she said. “What did you come by for?”
“I just wanted to say Merry Christmas,” I said.
“Thanks,” she said. “Merry Christmas.”
“Are you angry with me?” I asked her.
She looked the other way. “Why would I be?”
“I can’t think of a reason,” I said, honestly.
“Then drop it, okay,” she insisted.
There was a moment of tense silence. “How’d you do on that report I wrote for you?” I asked.
“I got an ‘A’ on it. Thanks.”
“Anything for you,” I said. “I’ve got something else for you. But I don’t have it with me right now. I’ll give it to you later.”
Gina looked uncomfortable. I think she forgot to get me a present. “Oh, uh, yeah. I’ll give you yours later, too.”
There was another long pause.
“I don’t trust that girl,” Gina snapped.
“That Laura girl,” Gina answered. “I don’t trust her. She’s up to something.”
“What makes you say that?”
She waved her finger at me. “You are so naïve. You don’t know women. Trust me. I can tell a sneaky female a mile away. You watch out for her.”
I wasn’t sure what led her to believe this, since she’d only seen Laura once. But considering that Laura was possibly avoiding me, I didn’t dismiss her warning. “Okay, I’ll watch my back.”
“Okay, I believe you,” I said.
Gina stood up. “I have to go back inside. We’re going out later. It’s almost noon and we’re going to eat soon, so…”
“It’s almost noon?” I asked. “Holy crow! I’m late. I have to be somewhere.”
As I was leaving, Gina grabbed my arm and pulled me back. She kissed me on the cheek. “Merry Christmas, hon.”
I was probably blushing like a schoolboy. “Y…yeah. Thanks. Merry Christmas.”
I watched her go inside. That obsessed adoration I had for her before I started hanging around with Laura suddenly came back full force. I was still in love!
After my head cleared, I got back on my bike and road quickly to the intersection of New Utrecht Avenue and 13th Avenue--which was part of the busy, local shopping area--where my pals were waiting for me at the local Woolworths. We’d decided the previous day to meet there, to do some bargain-basement gift buying. Paris had an additional suggestion for what we should do that the other guys thought was hilarious. I was a little reluctant but I didn’t want to be the mold on the cheese, so I agreed to do it.
I was the last one to arrive, which was very unusual, but then again, this wasn’t a typical day. “Hi guys,” I said, as I chained my bike to a parking meter.
Fatz, Toro and Paris were standing near the entrance to Woolworths, also called the Five-and-Ten Cents store. Toro and Paris were smoking, and Fatz was eating a small bag of Wise onion/garlic potato chips. “Hey Shaggy.” Fatz said.
“About time,” Toro said.
“I thought you’d chickened out,” Paris added.
“Are we really going to do this?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Absolutely,” Paris replied.
“Damn straight!” Toro added.
I shrugged, resigned. “Okay, whatever.”
“We oughta do the shopping thing first,” Fatz said.
I quickly agreed, trying to put off the embarrassing thing I didn’t really want to do. The four of us went inside to do out last minute Christmas shopping. We walked through the store for about 15-20 minutes, looking for bargains, and picked out some cheap gifts for each other. These guys couldn’t afford three gifts so we’d done our Santa-pick early; therefore we each only had to buy one gift. Then we went outside to exchange them.
Paris bought Fatz some chocolate candies; Fatz bought Toro some batteries for his ‘Boom Box’ (radio); Toro bought me a pen; and I bought Paris some new sunglasses, even though it was winter. (He wasn’t easy to shop for.) Those were our Christmas gifts to each other.
It’s the thought that counts, right?
After the shopping was out of the way, Paris let me know that he hadn’t forgotten what we’d agreed to do. “Okay, it’s time. You guys ready?”
“Are you sure you want to do this? It’s cold out.” I said, in a futile effect to get out of it.
“You’re doing this!” Toro insisted.
“Don’t wuss out!” Paris added.
“Come on, and get it over with,” Fatz said.
I sighed and complied. The four of us stood on the busy, bustling street corner on Christmas Eve…And we started caroling.
I hated speaking or singing in public, (I still do) so it was not a comfortable moment for me, but when you’re in a group as close as the Odd Boys were, you didn’t wimp-out on your pals. It was all for one, and one for all!
The worst part was, we weren’t even singing Christmas songs! Paris and Toro hated traditional Christmas songs, so Paris came up with some wacky alternative.
First was “Feelings”, a Morris Albert song. “Feeeeel-ings! Whoa, whoa, whoa, feeeel-ings! Whoa-whoa-whoa feeeel-ings; again in my arms.”
I felt like an idiot! We hadn’t rehearsed, so we were not harmonizing, and none of us were good singers. Lots and lots of people passed us, staring at us as if we were escaped inmates from an insane asylum. I couldn’t really blame them, and I actually think that was the whole point of Paris’ plan…Just to do something nutty for Christmas. The manager of the 5 & 10 peered angrily out at us, perhaps fearing we were going to drive business away from his store on his busiest day.
We had just finished our second song “Holiday”—which was newly released by Madonna at that point—and were just about to segue into our second song, which was the theme from the Dudley Moore film Arthur, when a cop car pulled up. I’m not sure if someone called them (Possibly the guy from Woolworths) or if they just happened by and spotted this strange scene. It didn’t really matter which. The fact was, they were there!
The two officers approached us. I felt embarrassed, but Paris was giggling, as if he’d expected this. Fatz looked a little nervous. My biggest worry was Toro. I could see the hateful look on his face as the two cops arrived. I could practically feel the rage radiating off him like gamma rays. He hated the police. I was afraid he’d do or say something to get us all locked up. (Wouldn’t my parents have just loved that on Christmas Eve?) Paris made things worse by making a Nazi salute to them. The officers didn’t seem amused by that. I knew I had to do something quickly to defuse this situation before it exploded.
“Good afternoon, officers,” I said politely, smiling. Fortunately, I had one of those faces that said ‘This guy is harmless’. The cops seemed to unclench a bit when I stepped up to greet them.
“What are you fellas doing out here?” One of the cops asked.
“Just caroling, sir,” I said. “Singing Christmas carols. Tis the season.”
“Well you can’t do it here, so move along,” they told us.
Paris, of course, couldn’t resist using that lethal tongue. “I didn’t get the memo that this wasn’t a free country anymore,” he snapped.
“Don’t wise off to me, kid,” one of them said.
Paris was about to say something else but Fatz jabbed him in the ribs with his elbow. I immediately started talking, so Paris wouldn’t have a chance. “I’m terribly sorry officer and we’ll be leaving right now. We were done anyway.”
Toro was trembling with fury and was about to explode. I was hoping he could hold it together a bit longer. Paris seemed like he was ready to say something but Fatz covered his mouth.
“Let’s go, guys,” I said. “I have to be getting home anyway. My mom will freak if I’m late.”
Fatz dragged Paris away. “All right, I’m coming!” Paris cried, as Fatz yanked him by the arm.
Toro, however, stood defiantly, as if he was making a statement that he wasn’t going to be pushed around by any coppers. The two officers stared him down for a few very tense seconds. I gently grabbed his arm, not wanted to set him off. “Come on, buddy. I’ve got to get home. I’m late. You know my mom.”
Toro nodded slightly and then slowly turned and followed me. I almost forgot to take my bike with me. The cops got back into their cruiser. I let out a big sigh of relief. A potential disaster had just been narrowly averted. As much as I loved Paris and Toro, those guys were a handful to deal with sometimes.
We walked around for a little while, giving Toro a chance to cool off. I rolled my bike alongside me. I started talking about our usual topics of movies, TV, comics and girls. Fatz joined in with me and soon Paris did, too. Toro eventually entered the conversation and the incident with the cops was forgotten. Just to make sure we didn’t slide back into a rehash of that incident. I told my pals about Laura not returning my calls. I wanted their input.
“Maybe she’s busy around Christmastime,” Fatz said helpfully.
“I think you’re on the way out,” Paris said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I see the signs,” he said. “It started off strong because you caught her in a weak moment but then the sudden rush she had when she met you faded and now she’s being all fickle. I see the signs, dude. She’s flighty. She’s gonna give you the boot soon.”
“You think so?”
“He’s right, man,” Toro said. “She ain’t straight-up. She’s gonna stomp on your naïve ass.”
“So you think I shouldn’t call her again?” I asked.
Paris put out his hand. “Gimme a dime. What’s her phone number?”
“I’m gonna call her for you,” he said.
“Just gimme a dime and watch the master at work,” he said.
So I gave him a dime and her phone number and trusted him. He was my friend, after all. We were Odd Boys. All for one and one for all. He went to the nearest pay phone and dialed her number.
“Hello?” A female voice answered.
“Hello,” Paris said. “Is this Laura Bondi?”
“Nah,” the voice said. “Who wants her?”
“I’m calling about a modeling assignment for her,” Paris lied.
“Well, she don’t live here no more.” The voice said.
“Nah, she moved out today,” the girl on the phone said. “She was living with me for a while but she moved back in with her ex-boyfriend today.”
“Aw, too bad I missed her,” he said. “Thanks for the information. Goodbye.”
I’d managed to overhear part of it but Paris filled me in on all the details. I was stunned. When I’d met her at the Laundromat, she was depressed because this guy had just dumped her and now she was back with him again and shed never said a word to me.
“I knew it”, Paris said. “Bitch!”
“Forget the hoe,” Toro said. “She ain’t no big loss.”
“I think she was kind of screwy,” Fatz said. “Be glad she’s history.”
I managed to shake off my surprise. “You guys are absolutely right. She was a flake and I’m better off learning that now, before I got too invested. Anyway, my heart belongs to Gina.”
We walked around a bit more but soon we all had to go our separates way because Christmas Eve was family time. Even though we considered each other family, our biological families wanted us in attendance on Christmas Eve. So it was time to separate.
“Merry Christmas, guys,” Fatz said.
“To you, too,” I answered. “I’m glad I got to spend part of the day with you guys. Even that ridiculous caroling thing was fun. In a weird way. And thanks for your help about Laura.”
“Don’t mention it,” Paris said. “You know who loves you.”
Toro nodded. “You guys are like my brothers.”
Paris playfully kissed Toro on the cheek. Toro nudged him away but he laughed all the same.
“I love you guys,” I said. And I meant it. I loved those guys!
So that’s the end of chapter seven and my Odd Boys Christmas Carol. Join the Odd Boys again in Chapter Eight for an Odd Boys snowball fight and a dangerous situation on the NY subway.