The Adventures of the Odd Boys: Chapter Eight--A true life story
Rob AKA "Shaggy"
Freddy AKA "Fatz"
Javier AKA "Toro"
Francois AKA "Paris"
The Odd Boys: A Winter’s Tale
These tales of my youth in Brooklyn, New York, in the eighties are true stories (with a little poetic license to exaggerate sometimes) about the best time of my life; my “glory days”. These events take place between the spring of 1983 and the summer of 1985. They are about the close group of friends I had at the time and about that first love; the one that got away. The one you never forget!
The Odd Boys: A Winter’s Tale
January 1984: It was a whole New Year, and while I was sorry to see 1983 end, because it had been the best year of my life, I was hopeful that 1984 would be just as good. After all, nothing had changed except that a ‘3’ had turned to a ‘4’. I still had my three best buddies. For anyone who missed the earlier chapters, my three pals were “Fatz”, “Toro” and “Paris”. Fatz was the smiley, amiable one who followed along for the ride. Toro was a loyal friend with a fiery temper who could get himself into trouble if we didn’t talk him down when he was all worked up. Paris was the most wild and undisciplined member of our group and the one who usually got us into some trouble that I had to talk our way out of. My nickname was “Shaggy” and I was sort of the Richie Cunningham of the group. Collectively, we called ourselves “The Odd Boys” because that’s what we were. Everyone thought we were odd, so why not own it?
Aside from my three chums, there was my dream girl Gina. Gina was the cool girl in her High School. I met her when we worked together in a Waldbaums supermarket. Although she was oblivious of my existence at first, fate stepped in and we somehow became friends over the course of 1983. Or at least, she saw it as a friendship. I was madly in love with her. I don’t know if she was unaware of my feelings or if she just played dumb. Some of my pals thought she was attracted to me, too, but wouldn’t admit it because she was too invested in being part of the cool crowd to date a nerd like me. Whichever it was, I was perpetually stuck in the ‘Friend Zone’.
My family and I lived in my Grandfather’s house. It was a two-family home. He and my Grandmother lived downstairs, and my parents and I lived upstairs. I also had an older brother (He is three years my senior) but he’d moved out and gotten married a year earlier. Rounding out the residents of my old Brooklyn home was Scrapper, our Yorkshire Terrier.
It was mid-January of ’84 and I was just about to start my second semester at college. I did surprisingly well in the first semester, considering what an underachiever I’d been in High School. My mother—not an easy woman to please—was so satisfied with my grades that she had to reluctantly admit that the time I spent with my friends was not distracting me from my academic pursuits (an excuse she used initially to justify keeping me away from my pals, who she never really liked) and that my overall attitude toward life was better now than it had been a year earlier. So Mom didn’t chide me for spending the day with my Odd Boy chums anymore.
I was with my pals on that cold January afternoon. We went to the vacant lot down the street from my house, which was currently a white blanket of snow. And what would four reasonably intelligent teenagers do during school break? We built a snowman. Yes, we were like a bunch of big kids, but what’s the fun of growing up if you can’t act like an 8-year old once in a while, when the mood strikes? (I have to say the mood struck us more often than I’d like to admit.)
Our snowman had to be as unusual as we were. First of all, it had to be big! Paris and I stood up on top of a pair of upside-down garbage cans to reach up as high as get could get. Our snowman must have been about 7-feet-tall. Fatz and Toro had rolled up the biggest snow-boulder you’ve ever seen, to use as the base for the lower body. We didn’t have a top-hat so we used my Grandfather’s old volunteer fireman hat. Toro gave it a pair of sunglasses, Fatz used a half-eaten banana for a nose and Paris added a pair of vampire fangs for the mouth. It was the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen.
Rusty joined us in our snow construction. Rusty was the 14-year old kid who lived across the street from me. He used to follow me around, like a stray dog. But not a very smart one! Rusty’s brain was usually on time-delay, just a bit behind the rest of us. And he was the clumsiest klutz you’d ever meet. We never let him carry anything breakable. We often called him “Gilligan”, because he was such a well-intentioned bungler.
Paris and I got off the garbage cans. We all stood back and admired our handiwork. No one in the city had a larger or stranger snowman than the Odd Boys did. If only they had had camera phones back then. The four of us did our cheesy “One for all, and all for one” move, with accompanying high-fives. (All except Rusty who lifted his hand for a high five but no one gave him one.)
“He needs a name,” I said.
“How about Andre the Giant Snowman?” Paris suggested.
“What about Gulliver?” Fatz offered.
Rusty shouted “Frosty!”
We all stared at him. “Frosty?” We all asked.
“Uh, I didn’t say anything,” he said, meekly.
“Snowzilla!” Toro said.
Fatz and Paris laughed; they both liked ‘Snowzilla’. I wasn’t crazy about it but I didn’t have anything better so I went along with it. I stood on one of the two garbage cans and tapped the giant snowman on the hat with a stick. “I hereby dub thee, Snowzilla!” I said.
Fatz, Toro and Paris applauded. Rusty wanted to get in on the action so he climbed up on the other garbage can. I’m not sure what he was planning to do, but I knew that Rusty and climbing didn’t go together.
“Get down off there!” I said.
“I won’t fall!” he yelled.
Well, I guess I don’t need to tell you what happened right after he said he wouldn’t fall. Yes, he fell! He toppled right into our snowman, and knocked Snowzilla right to the ground.
“Aw no!” Fatz yelled.
“Damn it!” Paris said. “He just killed Snowzilla!”
“Moron!” Toro yelled.
Rusty lay there in a pile of snow. “I fell,” he said.
I helped him up. “Yeah, we noticed.”
We all looked sadly at the big pile of snow that used to be Snowzilla, but which was now only recognizable by the fireman hat, sunglasses, banana and fangs in the snow. “This sucks!” Paris said.
“Uhhh, are you guys mad?” Rusty asked.
We all looked at him and then we all grabbed a handful of snow. We packed the snow into snowballs. Rusty was a bit slow but he realized what was about to happen. He made a break for it and we pelted him with snowballs as he ran out of the lot.
Fatz pointed to the remains of Snowzilla. “Do ya wanna start again?”
“Nah, I ain’t in the mood anymore!” Toro said, still annoyed.
“Me either,” Paris said. “There will never be another Snowzilla. He died so young!”
“So what do you guys feel like doing now?” I asked.
As an answer, Paris pelted me with a snowball. I responded in kind but missed. Toro hit me with a second snowball. Fatz threw one at Toro. Paris fired back at Fatz. I hit Paris with one. The whole thing escalated into a snowball version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. We battled for about a half hour. It was a heck of a lot of fun. I think Fatz won on points.
“Hey, crazy guys!” a familiar and ever-so-sexy voice called.
I turned--which allowed Fatz to beam me with a snowball--and I saw my dream girl Gina standing near the gate to the lot. Her car was parked behind her. (She never walked anywhere.) She was in a white coat, white boots, black pants and black gloves. Her long, dark hair was being blown around by the wind. She brushed it from in front of her face with one hand while waving to me with the other.
“Time out, guys,” I said, making a ‘T’ sign with my hands. But true to form, all three of them battered me with snowballs anyway. Gina laughed. I stuck my tongue out at the three of them and they all gave me the raspberry in unison.
Gina shook her head. “You four loonies are getting younger, not older. You’re like four big kids.”
“I guess we’ve got Peter Pan-itis,” I said. “We’ll never grow up. So, how’d you know I was here?”
“I went by your house and I saw Rusty,” she said. “He told me where you were. He also said he wanted me to tell you he’s sorry about Frosty, whatever that means.”
“It’s nothing,” I said. “We’re not really mad at him. We just like to give him a hard time. Thanks for the message. So, what brings you around my way?”
“Well, I was on my way to see Steven but I wanted to stop by and see you for a minute,” she told me.
‘Steven’ again! I’d really come to hate that name. I tried not to show it. “What’s on your mind?”
“I just wanted to apologize for being so short with you yesterday,” she replied.
The day before, her friends caught her talking to me. She was embarrassed to be seen with me, so she suddenly switched to the unpleasant alternate personality that she assumed when her snooty friends were around. She started snapping at me for ‘bothering her’ and then went away with her friends, acting like I was some unwanted pest who followed her around and she couldn’t get rid of. It wasn’t the first time she’d done that, and as annoying as it was, I was used to it by this point. Our relationship—whatever it was—had to be a secret in her eyes or she’d be kicked out of her social circle. And her boyfriend wouldn’t like it if he knew she was spending so much time with me.
“I had to do it,” she said. “I don’t like doing it to you but I don’t have any choice. You understand, right?”
I guess I was emboldened by the presence of my three best friends but the words came out of my mouth before I could censor them. “You do have a choice, you know. You don’t have to do that.”
“You just don’t get it!” she snapped. “You can’t see it from my side. When your friends see you with me, it makes you look cooler. When my friends see me with you—well, it’s just not good for me. And Steven wouldn’t like it either. I’m taking a big risk being friends with you because I like you. You just don’t appreciate how hard this is for me!”
Her logic did not resemble any Earth logic I had ever come across before but, as usual, I accepted it because I was so crazy about her. I always forgave her for everything. “Maybe you’re right. I accept your apology.”
“Good,” she said. “So what’re you nuts up to today?”
“We’re building a snowman.”
She looked around the field. “Where?”
“We’ve had a little setback,” I said. “Hey, you want to help?”
“No time, I gotta run,” she said. “But I do have time to make a snow angel.”
She tied her long hair up, laid down in the snow, spread her arms and legs and made a snow angel in the lot. I stared dreamily at her. To me, she was an angel.
She got up, brushed the snow off herself and headed back to her car. “Gotta go, babe. Smooches to you.”
I watched her drive off, wishing things could be different between us. I turned to walk back to my buddies, and as I did, four snowballs slammed into my body. One hit me right in the face. The three of them were laughing at me and it was so contagious, I caught it, too. The four of us started laughing hysterically. Passing people looked at us as if we were demented, drooling lunatics. Eventually we controlled ourselves and we sat in silence for a minute.
“So what do we do now?” Toro asked.
“I’m cold,” I said.
“Me too,” Paris agreed. “Whatever we do, let’s do it indoors.”
We wondered what to do next. We didn’t want to go to any of our homes because our parents were there and for various reasons none of us wanted to be around our parents just then. However, we didn’t have any money to do anything like going to the movies. But we wanted to be somewhere warm. Where to go?
“Let’s get on the subway,” Toro said.
“Why?” I asked. “Where are we going?”
“I dunno,” he said. “At least it’s heated.”
“Good idea,” Paris said. “That way, when we decide where we want to go, we’ll already be on the train.”
That made absolutely no sense to me but Toro and Paris were for it and Fatz went along with it, as he went along with pretty much everything. So we walked to the subway. It was the kind of odd, impulsive, pointless thing we did often.
Fortunately, everyone had enough money for their own subway fare because normally I had to pay for everything we did. We hopped on the B-Train line at the 9th avenue station and just rode the train. We talked and joked around and never came to a decision about where were wanted to get off. The train reached the last stop in Coney Island, which would have been good news in the summer because the beach was there but in January, no one went to the beach except for the Polar Bear club (Those guys who swim in freezing cold water.) So what did we do? We stayed on the train until it started going back the other direction, toward Manhattan.
As we got to Manhattan, the train got more and more crowded. I don’t like crowds so I decided we should transfer back to the Brooklyn-bound line and head home. It would be time for dinner soon and my parents always went ballistic when I was late at the table.
En route back to Brooklyn, we heard some sort of commotion happening in the next car. The door between cars slid open and people came running out of the next car, looking terrified. Some of them were screaming. People in our train car got caught up in the frenzy and started running, even though they had no idea what we were running from.
“He’s got a knife!” Someone yelled. “He’s crazy! He stabbed that guy!”
Apparently there was a knife-wielding maniac on the train. Our frivolous decision to hop on the subway suddenly turned dangerous. The four of us were sitting on the long side bench and everyone was running past us in a panicky pack, trying to get as far from the danger as they could. Someone stupidly pulled the emergency break, so the train came to a stop and we were stuck between stations.
Fatz got up but his huge girth proved an inconvenience to the people trying to squeeze by. Paris stood up on the seat and began to run along the seats, heading for cover. I stood up on the seat, weighing my options. Should I risk getting trampled in this panic or just hope that the knife guy stays in the last car and leaves me alone. Toro just sat there. He wouldn’t move. I’m not sure what was going through his mind. Maybe it was a macho thing or maybe he felt the same as I did that the mob was more dangerous than staying put. We looked at each other.
“You want to run?” I asked him.
“No,” he said.
Soon the train car cleared out and only Toro and I were left. I watched the door to the next car, where the crazy guy was supposed to be. I kept expecting him to pop out of the door like a character from a Friday the 13th film. It was a tense few moments.
Just then, a young cop came from the opposite door, where the other passengers had vanished into. He looked nervous. He passed us, unholstering his gun. I could tell he was scared because the gun visibly shook in his hand. He walked into the next car, where the trouble had come from.
Toro and I peeked into the next car. It was an anti-climactic moment because there was no blade-wielding maniac. We saw someone kneeling on the ground with a bloody shoulder. He pointed to the opposite door. From what I could gather, the perpetrator jumped out between the train cars and escaped along the tracks. The cop attended to the wounded man. It took a bit of time for the train to get moving again.
Fatz and Paris came back to look for us. “What’s going on?” Fatz asked.
“It’s all over,” I said.
More people started to return to our train car. Everyone spied into the other car to see what was happening. Some people seemed to be disappointed that there was nothing but a bleeding guy. Eventually the train started moving again and we got to the next station. Paramedics were finally able to get to the wounded man. Transit police and regular cops joined forces to check out the subway tracks for the stabber. I don’t know if they ever caught him or not.
While everyone else was thinking about the strange event we’d just experienced, all I could think about was the wrath of my mother if I was late for dinner. What excuse would I use? That I took a pointless trip to the city and almost got trampled by a panicky crowd who were running from a maniac? She’d never let me out of the house again! I knew better than to ever bring this up and I told my guys not to mention it either.
We transferred to another train on the lower track and made out way back to Brooklyn.
Paris and Toro got off on an earlier stop to make their way home. We said our goodbyes and Fatz and I went back to the 9th Avenue stop. (Fatz lived on my block.) We passed the lot where the remains of Snowzilla were still laying. I retrieved my Grandfather’s old fire hat. I noticed that Gina’s snow angel was still there. I stopped to stare at it.
“I thought you were late getting home,” Fatz asked me.
“I am,” I said. “But sometimes you just have to take a moment to smell the roses.”
“Ain’t no roses here,” he pointed out, reasonably. “Just snow.”
“True,” I said. “But how often do you see an angel in the snow?”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So, that’s the end of Chapter Eight. The Odd Boys will be back in Chapter Nine, when my buddies and I celebrate my 19th birthday, and Gina gives me a present.