It was 1979, and my whole world was upside down. My Mother, who had always been the epitome of domestic bliss, was now going out on the weekends with a mystery man. It wasn’t that I minded. My parents’ final years together were hell on earth, and I was happy that my Mom was having some fun. Mom was clearly letting loose and had readily embraced the late 70’s lifestyle. Bell bottoms, tight t-shirts, parties on the weekends, and drinking beer had replaced my biological father’s standards; supper on the table at six, refilling his drinks as needed, and complete submission to his wants and needs.
She clearly was very concerned about telling us about her new boyfriend. I already knew his name was Pat, short for Patrick. I knew that he had two sons, one of which was my own age. I knew that my sister despised him, even though she had never even seen him, and he wasn’t her Daddy.
As I sat at our kitchen table there on Worth Street, eating a humongous bowl of Cookie Crisp cereal, my ten year old mind contemplated the news she was about to share. Cookie Crisp cereal usually meant big news in our household. No way did we ever get the king of sugar cereals unless Mom was buttering us up about something.
“Son, I need to talk to you about something,” Mom casually said.
As I wiped a huge drop of chocolate milk from my chin, I looked up at her, and smiled. “Sure Mom, go ahead.”
“You know that me and your father have been apart now for awhile, and your Momma gets lonely sometimes.”
“Mom, if you want to hang out more, all you had to do was say so.”
“Honey, that isn’t what I mean. She stammered over some words that I am sure I didn’t understand nor did I much care, as long as I could keep eating my cereal. I have started seeing someone, and we are really enjoying each other. He is a man.”
“Cool! When are you gonna let me meet him?” (I had seen enough episodes of the Brady Bunch to understand what was going on.)
“Are you sure you aren’t upset about it? I mean do you have any questions?” my mother stammered. After calmly assuring her that I was fine, and diving back into my cereal, she seemed to realize that she had passed the test. With me……
My mom knew that passing the test with my sister, Tonya, would be another matter altogether. Tonya was 13 years old, and much wiser about the world and such. She also had been babysitting me while Mom went out with Pat on the weekends, and to her, that was horrific. Not because of me, but because she still harbored hopes of my Mom going back to my Dad. Sissy, as she was so often called, had one hell of a temper. Even at that age, she would quickly speak her mind. She was, and still is to a large degree, Daddy’s girl. This was going to be hard.
Thankfully, I wasn’t around for the conversation between the two of them. I know from the tension between them that it wasn’t smoothed over with cereal. My sister had plans to move in with my Father anyway, and I think she fell back on that fact mentally. I know she did verbally.
It was a Friday afternoon, and my buddy, Jerry Hedrick (otherwise known as Doodle) was over at my house. We were in the backyard, and doing our best Starsky and Hutch imitations as we so often did back then. It was all kind of hilarious, as Doodle was always Starsky, and I was always Hutch. It made no matter to us that Starsky had black hair, and Doodle had blonde. In spite of my striking jet black mane, Doodle explained that he drove better so he had to be Starsky. It made sense to me, as I preferred blonde headed Hutch anyway, because he fought better. No matter that the Cobra Hot Rod was imaginary and any kind of driver would do…
“Rodney! Tell Doodle he needs to run on home now! I need you to come inside!”, my mother wailed from atop our back porch. Why was it, when you were really small, parents would always ask you to tell your friends stuff, even though they were right there for the telling? I always wondered about that.
As I walked in the back door, my Mom was by the sink doing the dishes, and dancing. Dancing? My Mom was dancing? What in the name of all that was holy was going on? Interrupting her moment of bliss, I asked, “Why did Doodle have to go home? We were just about to catch the bad guys, Mom.”
“Well, you have another friend coming over tonight, my Mom sassed back at me with a sheepish grin all over her face. Pat is coming over tonight to meet you and Tonya….and he is bringing his son, Todd. He is your age, you know.”
I don’t know why the reality of it all didn’t hit me until then, but it did. I remember that I felt two emotions course through me simultaneously. I felt the need to protect my Mother, and I couldn’t wait to meet my new friend. They fought childishly in my brain for control, and quickly the excitement of a new friend won out.
“When will they be here?”
“Around six, so get washed up. We might be going out. I want you to be on your best behavior young man, and I mean it!”
Her words trailed off in the distance as I was already in my room, and preparing. A new friend was coming to see me, and I had to be sure that my palace was ready. Keep in mind that the late 70’s was all about two things. Disco and Kiss. You could not like them both, though many did secretly. (Myself being one of them) Out in the open, and in my heart of hearts, I loved Kiss! I had all of there albums to date, and virtually every poster that I knew existed. They covered every wall of my powder blue room, except of course, the one poster that was the must have of the time…..Farrah Fawcett in that red bathing suit. It was famous, and I had one. Dead center, right above my bed so that if you were in bed on your back, she was smiling down at you. I remember the setup in my room was pretty awesome for a kid. It looked fairly grown up to a fellow 10 year old. I had a large black corner daybed, that was kind of like another bed, and adult sized dresser drawers. I had a nice bed, with a sliding compartment for a headboard. Of course, given the year, I had the groovy inch long shag carpet, that was a mix of grey, blue, and some color I haven’t been able to ascertain to this day.
As I perused the room, and looked around, the only thing that didn’t fit in was my batman curtains and bedspread. Somehow, they really put a Romper Room snag in my plan to look cool. This was the first time meeting this dude, and he had to see I was cool. I was hip. I was down with the whole scene in suburban America. I explained all of this to my Mom, and somehow she convinced me that changing my draperies and bedspread wasn’t going to happen in the next hour before they got there. Half-heartedly moping back to the room, I put my newest Kiss album onto my little red record player, and waited nervously.
My sister had asked to spend the night with her best friend Charla, and had already left when I realized that it was well past six that night. I secretly sighed in relief to myself, as I knew she would use Pat’s being late as yet another reason not to like him. Truth was, Pat had called Mom to tell her he was running behind, because he had worked late.
I remember sitting at the huge bay window in our living room, and seeing his little orange Vega drive up into our driveway. Out of the driver’s side door stepped a seemingly huge man, made even larger by the fact that his afro was a foot high. He had on big round amber sunglasses, and was sporting what looked to be an orange mustache to match his afro. Everything seemed larger than life about him, and completely the opposite of my Father. I didn’t even notice the pudgy little boy walking behind him right away as I was so focused on the white Shaft walking to the front door to see my Mom. I went to my bedroom so as to not look overanxious..
I heard the knock at the door, and my Mom went over and opened it. I heard a quick kiss from the hallway that felt really strange to me. My Mom called for me and I strode confidently to the living room, knees shaking underneath me. I didn’t want him to see I was afraid of him, and to his credit, he didn’t notice it outwardly. I remember walking up to him, and shaking his hand, and it being so large. It seemed as though it was 10 times bigger than mine. Looking up at this mountain of a man, I expected to see a hard face. All I really saw was the kindest eyes I had ever seen, and a wonderful feeling of security that was totally out of place in my world and at that time. Out of place or not, I felt it just the same. Little did I know, that I had a prophetic moment, and that this man would be the single most influential person of my lifetime. I just saw Shaft. And I liked him.
Todd peeked around his Dad’s side and for the first time I relaxed for a moment. While I was a tall wiry 10 year old, my new friend was short and well, fat. He had chubby cheeks that were bright red, and pale skin that made them seem that much brighter. For whatever reason, his appearance put me at ease. I don’t really know what I was expecting, though it surely wasn’t the guy in front of me.
Me and Todd shot off towards my bedroom, instantly forgetting the strange atmosphere that the meeting originally inspired. Coming down the hall, I remember feeling like the cool one, and I liked that. I had never got to be the “cool” one before.
As my door swung open, and my majestic room came into view, I heard Todd yell “Right on! You like Kiss too? They are the coolest band in the world! I have a ton of posters too!” Just as I had planned, “God of Thunder” was just starting to play on my record player. My master plan was going perfectly, as he was jamming! We played air guitar for the first hour or so of the visit, and during that hour, we became friends. Give two boys an air guitar, Kiss, and suddenly bonding is inevitable. It was as though we had been friends for years, not minutes, and neither of us cared what was happening outside that room.
Have you ever seen Gene Simmons act during his performance of “God of Thunder?” Basically, he would strut around the stage in his demon costume, spitting blood and fire, all while crouched like some oversized lizard. The thigh high boots would add to the illusion, and you would swear he was of another planet. Well, Todd and I was certain that we could imitate him to perfection, and decided more of the world should see this. Plus it was good for laughs we figured. We cranked up the stereo, (which on my little record player was surprisingly loud) and got into our poses.
I am certain I looked unbelievably silly, crouched down like a lizard, while sporting the skinniest legs ever seen. My legs were the target of my families’ most infamous nickname. “Birdlegs”. So here I was, with my butt nearly touching the floor, my bony knees sticking up in the air, all while flicking my tongue out, and walking like this giant lizard. Todd was right behind me, coming down the hallway decidedly higher off the ground, but trying just the same. We both were walking in giant exaggerated steps so as to maximize the lizard effect, and looked as ignorant as two little boys could.
When we reached the living room, my Mom and Pat was sitting on the couch facing the hall and looked up completely confused. When they saw us jamming on the guitars, and acting the fool, they busted up laughing, and the night was relaxed from then on. Amazing how mixing birdlegs, Gene Simmons, giant imaginary lizards, and air guitars can lighten any situation, isn’t it?
After recovering from our silliness, we all piled into my Mom’s Pinto, and headed off to get ice cream. Sitting in the ice cream shop, and laughing with everyone, I oddly felt a kinship with everyone. My Mom, Pat, Todd, and Me. I knew that day, that we would all be together, and be happy. I still don’t know how I knew, but I did.