Monday, July 28, 2008

Hitchhiking, Switchblades and JAWS

The DJ on WRKO warned of another shark sighting and we were getting antsy. There were shark sightings every hour on the hour during the summer of '75. It wasn't safe to go in the water, but it wasn't the water where we wanted to be. Even though the city of Boston was in the grips of a sweltering hot summer we didn't want to hit the beach. Not for fear of a shark attack, but because we wanted to go to the movies. Jaws had just hit the movie theaters, horrifying audiences and causing thousands to never swim in the ocean ever again. I sat on the curb in front of my apartment listening to my transistor radio with my friend Sean trying to figure out how we could possibly go to a movie our parents would never let us see. I had plans to meet up with my friend Neil later that day. Neil was a friend from my Catholic school that was one of the most deviously fun kids I had ever met in my ten years. He had taught me the best spots to peg cars with snowballs, the best stores to pilfer candy and how to elude the security guards at Curry College where we would run wild through the grounds stealing tennis balls, scarfing down food in the cafeteria along with many other harmless endeavours. Neil would have a plan.

We met Neil around 9:30 AM at his house and we hopped a bus to Cleary Square. Our friend Stevie, who was another Catholic school classmate, lived on the other side of the square and he was all in for going to see Jaws. Stevie was waiting for us on his porch when we got to his house. We sat on the stairs thinking of our plan. First we would have to get there. The Dedham Cinemas were four miles away and we only had enough money to get into the movie, so a bus was out of the question. We could walk, but that would take over an hour and it was already approaching 90 degrees. Neil suggested we hitchhike. Yeaaah...hitchhike. Just stick out your thumb and get a ride to where ever you want to go. That was easy. Now the hard part, how would we get into an R rated movie. Stevie suggested that we sneak in. Effective, but risky. Sean suggested that we buy a ticket for the latest Herbie The Love Bug movie, which had to be G rated, then go into Jaws. Maybe, but there would be ticket takers checking especially since this was such a high profile flick. I offered that we just ask someone to pose as our parents and buy us a ticket. Everyone thought that was a stupid idea, that no adult would do such a horrible thing as to buy a kid an R rated ticket. We decided to play it by ear, but first things first we had to get there. We stepped off the porch, crossed the street and put out our thumbs.

We didn't walk for more than 5 minutes when a car stopped. "Where ahh you boys goin?" he inquired. "Dedham Cinemas" I piped up. "Hop in, but watch all the crap in the back theah, my cahs a wreck", he informed us. I got in the front seat and sized the guy up. He had long, scraggily hippie hair and a fu-manchu mustache. He had a cigarette sticking out of the side of his mouth and a Narragansett beer between his legs. There was a switchblade sitting on the gearbox. The others jostled for position in the back, while I stared forward, pretending not to notice the beer and the switchblade. He started down the road taking a right onto Eneking Parkway in the direction of the cinemas. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him reach for his beer and take a swig. He then reached down and picked up the switchblade. "You fuckin' kids think you're cool?" he screamed as he flicked out the blade, pointing it in the air so all could see. I felt like pissing myself, but was not as shocked as the others, knowing all along that the switchblade was there. "Are you kids stupid, I could be a murderer or a child molester, you are sooo fuckin' stupid." "Please let us out", Sean whimpered. The rest of us felt the same. "I'll bring you to the movies", he half chuckled, "but promise me you'll never hitchhike ever again!". "We promise" we all said in unison. He took a long swig of his beer and threw the empty can out the car window. The next five minutes seemed to take forever as we drove in silence. "Take it easy boys" he said and left us in the parking lot of the theater.

"Holy Shit," said Stevie, "we almost got wasted". "Shut the fuck up," scolded Neil,"he was just fucking with us". I knew Neil was just as scared as us, I saw it in his eyes, but he always appeared cool and in control. We quickly moved on to the task at hand which was to get into the movies. I approached a middle aged guy and his wife and asked him to buy us tickets. "Where are your parents?" he asked with genuine concern. " moms divorced...and she was gonna take me, she really wanted to, but she has to stay home with my brothers and sisters and..." "Ok, Ok" the guy interrupted my line of bullshit, "How many are you?" "Four, here's the money". "Ok, follow us". We got in the ticket line with the couple and the escorted us right into the theater, no questions asked. "Thanks" I blurted out as we got to the door of our theater and ran for the front row. We got the last four seats together as the theater was filling up fast.

The movie was well worth the trouble. It had everything a ten year old would want in a movie, a little bit o' nudity, bawdy dialogue and of course a blood thirsty shark. After the movie we decided to walk the four miles home. Half way home we it started to pour. We got completely drenched. None of us suggested that we hitch a ride.

When I got home the smell of dinner and the warmth of my couch reinforced the fact that I had made it through another adventure safe and sound. As with most of my childhood adventures my mother never knew the better. I probably told her I was playing baseball all day at Neil's or that I was at the library or the YMCA. To this day I've never hitched a ride, but I do swim in the ocean.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Summer Day, 1975

I kept one eye on the TV and one eye on the front door. The humidity was already starting to build even at 8 AM, which made my butt stick to my chair at the dining room table. Don Kent deemed our oppressive weather an official heat wave as the temperatures were expected to reach the mid nineties. My Captain Crunch was having a hard time maintaining its crunch. I added some more cereal to my sugary milk. I would need my energy today because I was spending the day with my grandmother.

A cab pulled up in front of our apartment. My grandmother's voice boomed down the walkway as she settled up with driver, probably finishing up a conversation about her grandchildren or a movie she had just seen. She waddled up the walkway to our front door, where I was waiting. "Aren't you ready yet?" she scolded as I was still in my PJ's. "I'll get dressed right now!" I assured her and bounded up the stairs as fast as humanly possible. When I came downstairs my brothers and sisters were strewn about the living room watching "The Flintstones" already looking hot and sweaty. Two fans were strategically placed on either end of the room to maximize the cooling effect. It didn't seem to be working, but I didn't care. My Grandma was taking me to Nantasket Beach for a day of fun. I stood at the front door and waited for my mother and grandmother as they finished up their tea at the dining room table. My mother kissed me and told me to be a good boy. We were off.

We walked briskly to the end of the street where we would catch the first of three buses and two trains. I was 10 and she was 60, but she moved quickly. Living in the city her entire life she was a walker. She never had a drivers licence. She never had a need for one making her way about the city on foot, buses, trains or taxi's in a pinch. While waiting for the first bus I stood soaking in the summer morning. The smell of fresh cut grass permeated the atmosphere as Mr. Crowley was cutting his lawn that was kitty corner across the street from the bus stop. Honey bees flew in and out of flowers that grew along a chain link fence that bordered the sidewalk. The bus pulled up to the stop bringing with it the smell of diesel and exhaust. We took the first two seats across from the driver, although instinctually I wanted to head for the back of the bus as I did everyday during the school year. We hopped on another bus in Cleary Square. Then a train in Mattapan Square. Then another train to somewhere in Quincy. Then a bus to Nantasket Beach.

The hour and one half hour bus, bus, train, train, bus journey culminated in a crescendo of anticipation when I could see the giant roller coaster while driving down the beach road. "The Comet" was the signature ride at Paragon Park, a small 'Coney Island' style amusement park that beckoned from across the street from the beach. I dashed off the bus over the sea wall, into the sand while my grandmother waddled over the sea wall and down to the spot I had staked out for us, half way to the water. I spent the next few hours swimming, shell searching, rock throwing and sand digging, while my grandma waded up to her hips and watched me from her beach towel. Sometime after 1 PM she made me get out of the water and wait on my beach towel while she waddled over to the food shack to get us lunch. I lay there on my belly taking in the smell of the ocean, mixed with suntan lotion and fried food, while digging my toes deep into the cool sand and feeling the soft terry cloth towel on my cheek. We decided to eat lunch on the sea wall hoping to keep the sand out of our food.

After lunch we went back down to the beach for another hour. After sufficient browning we packed up and headed across the street for some sweet treats. We stood by the window of a candy shop and watched a machine push and pull Salt Water Taffy, my grams favorite. She bought a box. I opted for ice cream with a cotton candy chaser. We then made our way into the amusement park. My grams favorite thing to do there was Skee Ball. I played a few games with her then switched to pin ball while she continued to attempt to best her Skee Ball high score. After the treats settled it was time for rides. Grandma watched as I was spun, dipped, flipped and wrung by the Tilt O' Whirl, Round-Up, Scooters and of course The Comet. As the sun started down toward the horizon she joined me on the Sky Ride which was a ski lift type of ride which gave you a bird's eye view of the park. The setting sun combined with the haziness illuminated everything in the park with an orangish glow that can only be duplicated in mid summer by the sea side.

After the Sky Ride we made our way to the bus stop and the long ride home. I snuggled into her side during each leg of our trip home fading in and out of consciousness, visions of the surf and orange light in my head. Upon returning home I kissed my mother, thanked my grandma, kissed her and walked through the windy living room straight up to my bed, exhausted. The smell of cigarettes and conversation wafted upwards. I heard two toots of a car horn. I heard the cab door slam from my bed. Goodbye Grandma. Thank you. I love you.