Sharon paused in the midst of comforting me as I lay sprawled on the skating rink floor, not quite certain that she had heard me correctly. “The naked man? What naked man?”
Just then , the Hellions on Wheels both came racing up, trying to make it look like they had been nowhere in the county when this tragic misfortune had befallen me. They immediately launched into overly-dramatic poses of concern, wringing their hands and making noises of lamentation and grief. I really, really hated them with an intense passion.
Meanwhile, the rest of the skating crowd paused for roughly three seconds to determine my status and assess any possible impact this new development might have on their own lives. Upon seeing that I was clearly not dead, and noting the absence of any blood pools or exposed bone, the crowd was quickly over it and went back to circling the giant room and looking for sexual partners.
In fact, several of the skaters didn’t even bother to slow down, choosing instead to whiz around us and glare at me like I was one of the reasons for the downfall of mankind. Well, exCUSE me, Teenage Stud-Wannabe with the feathered hair, so sorry that I busted my ass and possibly broke some tenuous love connection you had going on with that slut in the designer skates just ahead of you.
With all this commotion, Sharon apparently forgot all about my request for a naked man. Or at least she never mentioned it again. Instead, she helped me to my feet, brushed me off, and our little quartet of drama and juvenile delinquency wandered off the rink.
Needless to say, I no longer cared very much for the skating rink outings. Of course, this did not deter Sharon and Mom in their quest for romantic companionship. We continued to visit the rink quite often, the Hellions continued to torment any victim they could find, and I continued to wonder what the nuns were thinking every time we rolled by in a cloud of dust.
At least Sharon tried to mix up the manhunt venues in an effort to minimize potential boredom. She and Mom would also go bowling. (Remember that point in the 70’s when nearly everyone in the country joined a bowling league of some kind? It was truly a moment of temporary national insanity.)
Trouble is, bowling alleys are not designed for children. They are designed to maximize the profits off of drunken, rowdy adults who get lit and then continue to pay for additional games even though their bowling skills slide deeper into the toilet as the night progresses. Eventually, no one cares what their score is as long as the beer keeps coming.
In this environment, the younger crowd has to entertain themselves. Granted, back in THAT day, kids still knew how to use their imagination to come up with interesting things to pass the time. (Unlike the modern age, where every new child-targeted product seems to have “and you don’t even have to drag your fat ass off the couch!” as a design principle.) But still, creativity will only get you so far in a noisy barn full of drunken people who high-five a lot. Eventually, a bored child will do anything.
You could watch the grown-ups bowl for a little while, and maybe even be slightly invested when mommy or daddy did something loud and fancy that made some people cheer and other people use naughty words. But once you had the basics of the game down, you really didn’t need to see the same actions performed a hundred times. You roll the ball and knock over the wood things. Got it. Can we go play in the street now?
Most bowling alleys had pinball machines. This was also a diversion that started out pleasantly enough but quickly lost its luster. For one thing, you had to have money to play these things. You might score a dollar or two from your distracted parents, but this stipend usually did not last very long, especially since you weren’t the right height and really didn’t know what you were doing.
Soon enough, you were out of coins and had to relinquish the controls to someone else, and eventually this someone else would be a greasy-haired male in his late teens. These guys somehow had an endless cash flow, probably the result of drug deals and/or questionable activity involving jacking open locked doors, grabbing something, and then running very fast as sirens wailed in the distance.
And of course, it didn’t take long for the greasy thugs to decide they didn’t really want you hanging around, clutching the side of the pinball machine with gooey fingers and trying to see what they were doing. Eventually, you would be strongly encouraged to get lost. If you were stupid and didn’t heed this directive, they would lean down to your scrawny level and threaten you with unsavory violence, their breath reeking of a curious smell that you would not be able to place until years later in some smoke-filled frat house basement.
Once banished from the clanging and the flashing lights, you had to select alternative entertainment options.
You could get something to eat from the trashy “restaurant” that you could find in most bowling alleys, usually with names like “Buddy’s Burger Basket” or “Chicken Shack” or just plain “Snack Bar”. This would require an influx of funding, so you would have to trek back to the lanes where your parents were bowling, wait until one of them realized that you were still alive and apparently wanted something, and then request a withdrawal.
In our particular case, I didn’t understand all things financial when it came family solvency, but I did realize that Mom was on a budget. So I kept my requests to a minimum. But those Hellion kids? They were constantly asking Sharon for something to eat, and she would always shove money their way. Then the little brats would march over to the snack bar, order the most expensive thing they could find, take one bite of it, throw it in the trash, then go ask for more money. Which they would get.
Once you had milked Alice’s Restaurant for any possible iota of fun, your entertainment choices drastically dwindled.
You could check all the payphones and vending machines for coins that were possibly abandoned by some drunk suddenly realizing it was his turn back at the lanes. Everybody used cigarette machines and payphones back then, and everybody was drunk, so if you were really diligent and timed it right, you could score a dime or two. Once you’d made the circuit a couple of times, though, the excitement paled.
You could go stand by the slightly-older kids who always managed to pile up right outside the public restrooms. I never understood the reasoning behind this choice for a gathering place, but that’s where the older kids were. If you behaved yourself and didn’t get in the way, you could pick up the latest swear words and cut-downs that were currently in vogue. You knew that you couldn’t repeat these phrases to an adult without risk of a commotion, but you could definitely repeat them on the playground and bask in the spotlight for a bit.
And finally, you could go outside the bowling alley.
This was an entertainment option that you had to earn. Not everybody got to go outside. The qualifications involved some hazy mix of your current age, the general reputation of the surrounding neighborhood, the number and quality of people in your proposed expedition party, and the frustration level of the legal guardian who really wanted you to just shut up and quit bugging them.
At some point, our little clan of degenerates bartered a contractual agreement and were given authorization for exterior travel, as long as both Hellion Kerry and I swore to look out for the womenfolk, namely Dawn and Hellion Kristy. Since I really wanted to go outside, I kept mum about the analogy that granting any type of authority to Kerry was like handing a gun to Lee Harvey Oswald and asking him not to come back until all of the bullets were gone.
The very first time we were permitted to leave the bowling alley went something like this:
Our little disparate quartet was issued parental visas, and we excitedly headed toward the entrance doors. Both Kerry and Kristy were waving maniacally and blowing kisses at Sharon, so I knew right away they were planning some type of deviltry and were merely softening Sharon up for the eventual tap on her shoulder she was going to get from a police officer. Great.
The second the double doors closed behind us, Kerry and Kristy took off running for the side of the building.
What the hell? Dawn and I looked at each, looked at the thundering terror twins, looked back at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and ran after them. Those little imps were FAST when they wanted to be, and they obviously knew something that we didn’t as they sped around the side of the building and kept running. Dawn and I were already out of breath when we ran around the corner and spied the twins rounding the next corner and heading into the alley.
This just did not seem right at all, with warning bells clanging in my head, fully aware that regret was on the horizon. But Dawn and I kept running, because we were stupid and slightly curious.
We came around the second corner, and almost slammed into Kerry and Kristy, who were standing there and glaring at an older couple, a guy and a girl in their mid-teens. The twins had obviously interrupted this couple in the middle of something, but I was too naïve for it to make immediate sense. I could see that both of their lips were really red and puffy, and their faces were kind of sweaty and shiny, and they were clutching each other in an overly-friendly way. Had they been kissing? Wow, this was wild. I expected my dad’s hand to appear out of nowhere and cover my eyes like he did during the parts of a movie that I couldn’t watch.
The guy was focused on Kerry. “What the hell did you say?”
Kerry: “Are you having sex?”
(Oh my GOD!)
There was a moment of shocked silence. This allowed me time to glance down the rest of the alley, and realize that there were lots of couples in sweaty embraces. And lots of uncoupled people who were just standing around, smoking cigarettes and drinking out of bottles. Nobody back here looked old enough to drive. And the whole place reeked of a smell I remembered from when Daddy used to make beer in the garage when I was very little. And there was some other smell… was somebody doing laundry?
The puffy-lipped guy let go of the puffy-lipped girl, letting her slide a bit down the side of the building until she regained her drunken balance. He took a step toward Kerry. “You want me to kick your ass?” (He’s saying this to a 9-year-old. Tough guy, right? But I wasn’t about to point this out, as long as it wasn’t my ass getting kicked.)
Then Kristy takes a step forward as well, focusing her attention on the tramp leaning against the building: “Are you pregnant?” The tramp’s eyes shot wide open, then she briefly glanced at the puffy-lipped guy with a slight look of terror. Oh really?
Puffy Daddy’s eyes narrowed, and then he started marching toward Kerry. “I’m gonna beat the-”
That’s it, it was TIME to GO. I grabbed Dawn’s hand and she grabbed Kristy’s and somehow Kristy had a moment of sanity and grabbed Kerry’s. We all turned and ran for Jesus, still holding hands and running along like some twisted, half-ass “Sound of Music” family fleeing the Nazis, leaping over abandoned tires and questionable smashed food. But there wasn’t any singing.
We raced up the side of the building, around the corner, across the parking lot, and then slammed through the front doors of the bowling alley, not stopping until we skidded to a halt behind the lanes where our Moms were laughing and socializing.
Sharon turned to look at us, somehow not noticing the sheer panic in our eyes and the sweat-soaked clothing. “Back so soon?”
Kerry: “It was kind of hot out there. We decided to come back in.”
Sharon smiled. “Okay, then. Well, we should be done in a few minutes” Then she turned and went to grab a ball.
We sat there quietly until it was time to leave, only occasionally glancing at the front doors to ensure that some hopped-up Fonzie wasn’t bearing down on us with a switchblade.
The final incident where I allowed the Hellions to lead me astray took place later that summer. And this one was purely Kerry’s fault. (I guess Kristy was distracted by some other anarchistic agenda and was probably busy ensnaring my sister Dawn, leaving Kerry to single-handedly work his evil on me.) The Moms were driving us home one night from some event or another, and “The Streak” was playing on the radio as we pulled into Sharon’s apartment complex.
This complex was relatively new. Some of the buildings weren’t even finished yet (and yes, we would sneak into them and play sordid childhood games while the clueless Moms chatted in Sharon’s kitchen), and the whole property was peppered with fledgling landscaping, including baby trees that were being held in place by thin wires anchored into the ground.
So anyway, as Sharon navigates toward an available parking slot, “The Streak” is winding down on the radio, with all the “look at that, look at that” and “fastest thing on two feet” business. Kerry turns to me and says “Know what that song’s about?” (For the uninitiated, this song concerns “streaking” which involves stripping down to your birthday suit and prancing around in public, which was actually a fad at the time. What can I say, it was the 70’s. Blame the drugs.)
Me, instantly suspicious: “Yeah. Why?”
Kerry: “We can do that.”
Me: “What, run around naked?”
Kerry: “Not NAKED. That’s stupid. But we can let our weenies hang out.”
And right there, folks, I should have signed off. Because it’s KERRY. There can be nothing good about any idea coming out of his mouth. I was outraged. But also slightly intrigued. Nudity and running? That was an interesting combo. He had me. “What do we do?”
Kerry: “We just get out of the car, act like we’re walking with everybody else, then unzip and start screaming and running.”
He sound very certain about the details. Just how many times had he done this? “Okay, let’s do it.” (Dear Mom: That was Satan talking, not me. Your loving son, Brian. You sure are pretty.)
So Sharon parks the car, and everybody piles out and starts walking toward Sharon’s building. Suddenly, Kerry lets out with some Indian war whoop thing, unzips his shorts, digs around for his little stub of boyhood, and then pops it out. I’m still new at this, so I’m a little slow on the draw, but I eventually get there, with my precious poking out as well. Then Kerry, still whooping and hollering, takes off across the parking lot. I whoop and holler and run after him.
Behind us, I think I can hear Mom screaming after us in some type of outrage. I also think I can hear Sharon guffawing and doubling over, I’m not sure, a lot of things were happening at one time.
Kerry veers out of the parking lot and sprints across the grounds in front of one of the unoccupied apartment buildings. I stagger along behind him (it’s hard to run and make sure your penis is showing at the same time, what can I say), just trying to copy his actions because I’m new to this whole scenario.
Kerry, who’s doing a lot of weird moves and is clearly more invested in the drama than I am, suddenly changes course and makes a sharp turn to the right, heading toward one of the entrances to the vacant building. I’m a ways behind him (sorry, still on a learning curve here) so I realize that I need to gain some ground or I’m going to lose him and I sure as hell don’t want to be the only one blowing in the wind.
So I pivot and race directly toward the door that Kerry has just entered, instead of following the path that he had taken. This is a critical fail point on my part. Kerry lives around here, and he knows what’s what, including the intricacies of the local landscaping. I don’t know squat.
Halfway to the door, just as I’m about to brush past one of the baby trees, I have a split-second to realize that this tree is one of those anchored to the ground with thin wires. But it’s not enough time to stop my forward momentum.
I crash into the wire, which hits me right about mid-section, and the next thing I know is that my feet are over my head as I flip over the wire and then slam to the ground on my back. The air is knocked out of my lungs and I can’t breathe. I’m in a total state of paralysis, with my hands still spreading my shorts wide open for the world to see my business.
Kerry bangs back out of the door that he just ran through. “Brian, come ON. What are you doing?”
Me: “Ulgg… unk… unhhh.”
Kerry, being an experienced hellion and knowing just how long we have before the authorities arrive, races out, grabs my arms and pulls me to my feet, pushing and shoving me toward the entrance of the unoccupied building. We get inside and the door slams shut.
Kerry: “Wasn’t that COOL!”
Me, finally catching my breath: “I HATE you. I’m never listening to you again. HATE you.”
Kerry: “Dude, shut up and close your zipper.”