The morning was no different from any other during my lazy teenage days of summer. The sun was awake and high by the time I left my home. Outside, the winds were slow and warm. There was little to do in my small town. There were few places to go and only a few ways for me to get there.
There were no classrooms to attend or teachers to contend with. There were no homework assignments, no detention, trips to the principal’s office, or progress reports to worry about in the mail. There was little else besides the idled time of teenage life.
There had been an outbreak of gypsy moths with their white, cloth-like cocoons webbed in the branches of various trees. Aside from them, the cicada bugs chattered from bushes, branches and shrubs. Their clacking sound came in waves—it was almost like a chorus of nature that mixed in with the breeze.
The cicadas themselves were large winged bugs—big bug-eyes— black bodies and white underbellies. Their greenish, see-thru wings were large and paper like. They were ugly bugs, but they were even uglier before they blossomed into their final stage of life.
Before they became the winged version of themselves, they were brown bugs who crawled out from holes in the ground. They climbed up on tree stumps and shed their brown skin to prepare for flight.
There were a lot of these cicada bugs in the summertime. I associate them with a better part of my young history and connect their chattering sound to the lazy summer days of my early teenage life.
I was always an early riser and up before anyone else. On some mornings, I could hear The Old Man maneuvering from his bedroom door, which was just across the hall from mine. He would wake early and leave for work before the sun made its mark. I could hear him move down the steps and about to make his way through the den—he paused slightly when he reached the bottom step as if to explain how tired he was. Then I could hear the sound of his footsteps as he rounded the corner, through the living room, and into the bathroom to splash water on his face.
My Mother worked as well. Together, they grew a small business from a sidewalk in Queens, New York, into sizable company. My Mother never left as early as The Old Man did.
She had her own morning routine. She made a pot of coffee on the stove, ate something, left a small amount of money inside the green tin on top of the microwave, and then she left for the day.
I was always awake for this, but I seldom came downstairs or left my room until both of my parents was gone. These were the days when my mischief was mostly innocent and hidden from my parents. There was no real trouble. At worst, I shot fireworks and smoked Marlboro Reds. These were the, “Hey mister,” days.
I call them this because, “Hey mister,” was the opening sentence to the usual question, which followed, “If I gave you the money, do you think you could buy me some beer?”
Usually, I was not alone. My friends were always nearby—some of them would be by my side, and some of them would take a turn and ask the over 21 looking clientele of the local 7-11.
This was never a long process. Someone would usually come along and help out. There were three kinds of people in this equation. It was important for me to easily identify each of the three.
First was the obvious: Do not ask anyone that look like they would say, “NO!” or call the police. I had to be careful of tattling neighbors. I also had to be careful of my older brother’s friends. And while yes, my brother did the same thing when he was a young teenager (minus the Marlboro Reds) he was not opposed to handing me beatings to keep me in line.
Second was not as obvious, but still equally important: Do not ask anyone that looks like they would say yes and then take your money. This only happened to me once. When I complained, the man smiled at me while holding a six-pack of Michelob. He opened the door to his car, sat inside, and then he started the ignition.
While arguing with him, the mean old bastard laughed at me. “What are you gonna do about it? Call the cops?”
Then he flicked his cigarette at me. He grinded his yellowing teeth with brown edges as he drove away, snarling, and extending his middle finger. “So long, punk!”
The third equation was the good equation. These were the people who remembered what it was like to be a teenager, and furthermore, these were the people who had no trouble with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. They were the ones we looked for.
Most of my time was spent at the local pool. The pool was not close. It was a decent walk from my house, but this is where everyone went. There were different crowds at the town pool. On one side, there were the clean-cut athletes, which were called jocks to the opposite crowd. On my side were the longhaired kids who listened to bad heavy metal. We were considered the burnouts and far from athletic.
No day was ever different from another. Once the hours were late enough and the rest of my friends were awake, I made my way over to the park on Prospect Avenue. It was strange to me. The weather was hot, but yet, I never swam in the park’s pool. I would often look through the fence at the girls in their bathing suits, but I rarely went inside.
My friends and I were loud—yes, but we were mostly harmless. We tried to look and act tough, but we were far too young and still untouched by life’s consequences and unfortunate pitfalls.
I remember these days well. I remember the friends I stayed with and the sleep-overs. I remember smoking pot and the LSD trips, which were never too often, but they were often enough to vaguely remember. We were all young and baby-faced. Most of us boys were in the early stages of our sexual career; however, no matter how inexperienced we were, all of us acted as if we knew what we were talking about.
These were the days . . .
They were long and hot. The nights were slightly wild and none of us were afraid to dream. We were always together and always at the park. We would always talk about going someplace else—but we talked about this while sitting at the park doing the same things as the day before.
And no one wanted to be the first to leave. No one wanted to leave because though nothing ever happened; God forbid something did happen, no one wanted to be the person that missed it.
This was so long ago. It feels like this happened in another lifetime. It feels like my story was something I read somewhere—or like a movie I watched a long time ago. I remember the details, though they seem so distant and faded.
Most of the old crew has disappeared. Pete moved to Arizona, Anthony has not been heard from in a long time. Neither has Mike L, or Scott.
Craig S died years back. He died young, just out of high school in a motorcycle accident.
Sandy moved away and so did Danielle.
Theresa left for Florida years back to create a life of her own.
Eileen is doing well. She is married and has two beautiful children.
Jamie went through her share of changes too. Now she’s a mom and I smile when I see pictures of her and her family on social media. I smile because it is good to see good things come to good people.
I never knew what happened to Jeanette. She was pretty. I liked her, but she went out with Eddie. Last I heard, Eddie did four years for lighting a fire, but that was decades ago.
Jay moved down south and his brother is somewhere in there world—but I’m not sure where.
Tracy married a cop, which is strange whenever I think of it. She was always very pretty though. I liked her too.
I saw Joanne once. I apologized for throwing up on her leg in Pete’s bathroom after I drank too much Seagram’s. She said she didn’t remember this—which leaves me to wonder if I threw up on someone else.
Mike A. is doing very well. Someone told me he runs an I.T. department. And my friend Rob—Rob is a best-selling author. I speak with him often because I see him as a source of inspiration.
I speak with Chris on occasion. He and I share some old memories from time to time. Chris had huge hair back then. He liked different kinds of music and he never cared who agreed or disagreed with his choices. I respected that.
I run a charity event with V.J. and Kerry. These two friends help keep me grounded. And Chrissy too. She is part of our event. She keeps us in line and motivated
Vinny B went into the Marines. So did Rick, and last I heard they ran into each other while serving in Somalia. In a time of war, they were able to sit down and grab a beer. I like that.
Sadly, Dorian passed at a young age. I always felt bad because I never had the chance to say goodbye to him. It always hurt that I never had the chance to say I was sorry to his brother Chris.
We are all older now. Not everyone has their ability to grow long hair anymore. Some are balding. Some of my old friends are moms now. Some are even grandmothers too.
The park is still there on Prospect Avenue. The Meadow Dairy is still across the street, but the owners changed and sandwiches are not the same.
I saw a picture of Randy on social media. His hair is gray now. He and I went through some shaky times together. Yet, when I heard from him, all I could remember were the good times when he and I sat on the roof of my house and drank from a bottle of gin.
Craig went into the navy. He suffered a loss that no one should ever understand, but in all, he became a father, a husband, and an excellent power of example.
Part of age is awareness, and nevertheless, awareness is not always an easy thing. The other day, I became aware that life is always too short.
We lost Brian in August. He reached out to me a few times because he wanted to get sober. He reached out to me a few days before his birthday. I made plans to call him back, but God the Father had different plans. Brian died one day before his 40th birthday, however, I did not learn this until months later.
This Friday, I have to go over to the funeral home on North Jerusalem to say goodbye to Tommy. I am sure I will see some of my old friends there. Whoever I see, I plan to hug them really hard and really long because there are no friends like old friends.
Wherever I go, whoever we become, good or bad; these people will always be a part of me. Whether I have seen them recently or not since the days of my teenage years—they are all important people in my life and more than just another entry in my journal.
I don’t like funerals or funeral homes. I don’t like graves or cemeteries. I don’t like thinking about the sad stories or tragedies that came when many of us fell from innocence and became part of the drug and alcohol culture.
But I do like the park on Prospect Avenue. I like the memories and the old concrete bench we used to sit on.
I think that’s where I’ll go after the wake.
Maybe I’ll find Tommy, Brian, and Dorian there . . .
They were always at the park.