Saturday, June 19, 2010
I'm speaking of course about myself.
We were all sitting around the dinner table scarfing down turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and Mom's famous green bean casserole, the one she makes with French's french fried onions. On most holidays, our family enjoyed reminiscing about our respective childhoods, funny stories from the past. Dad told the one about Eric talking his way out of a beating with the phrase, "You wouldn't hit your own kid, would ya?" and Mom reminded us of the time Bobby and our cousin Jay destroyed a ceramic gnome that was minding its own business in the neighbors' garden.
Not wanting me to be left out of the fun, Eric said, "There's gotta be a story about Chris getting in trouble, what are we forgetting about?"
Mom stuck up for me. "He's never really done anything all that bad, not that I can remember."
"Not that I got caught at, anyway," I said.
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Dad.
"Okay," I said. "There is one thing I've never told you guys, but the statute of limitations on grounding has to have run out by now, right? I'm thirty-three, you can't punish me for this."
"Well, let's wait and see," said Mom. "You know, I think I still have your Hot Wheels tracks around here somewhere." When we were kids, our orange Hot Wheels tracks were our mom's weapon of choice when it came to administering parental discipline. It worked, those things stung like hell.
"Hold on, Chris, are we going to be sorry you told us about whatever it is?" asked Dad. "You didn't get herpes from a hooker in Tijuana or something, did you?"
"No, that was Bobby," said Eric, through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
"Hey, ix-nay on the ookers-hay!" said Bobby.
"Nah," I said, "it's nothing that horrible. Nothing illegal, no drugs. Just something you didn't really need to know about at the time."
"Okay then," said Dad. "Let's have it."
"All right. It was when we were still living in New Jersey, I was fifteen . . . "
My best friend Brian and I were sitting in his bedroom playing video games. He'd just gotten an Atari, the brand-new, state of the art system, and we were taking turns at a game called Kaboom where a villain who looked like the Hamburglar dropped bombs that you had to catch in little swimming pools. There was a knock at the bedroom door.
"Can I come in?"
It was Brian's older sister Jennifer, 20 years old with a body that would make Suzanne Somers dress in a gunny sack for the rest of her life.
"I got those Styx tickets you guys wanted."
"Holy shit, are you serious?" asked Brian. We had asked her if she could get us tickets, but we were basically just bull-shitting, as usual. It was more like, hey, wouldn't it be cool to go see Styx? Neither of us had been to a concert before, and we'd given absolutely no thought as to the logistics involved.
"Yep, here they are." She handed me the envelope. I opened it up and saw two tickets that read:
Saturday, April 5, 1980
"Wait, Jen, there's only two tickets here," said Brian. "Aren't you coming with us?"
"Uh, well, how are we supposed to get there?"
Fortunately, I'd had some experience making the trip from New Jersey to Madison Square Garden. From the time I was about five, my Aunt Patti took me on regular trips into the city to see the Harlem Globetrotters, Disney on Parade, and the Ringling Brothers Circus. All of these events were at the Garden, and I knew we could take the train to New York without much trouble. We hatched a plan.
It started off with the old, "you tell your parents you're spending the night at my house, and I'll tell my parents I'm staying at yours" trick. If we got together on the Saturday afternoon of the concert, our folks wouldn't expect to see us again until Sunday morning at the earliest. Jennifer agreed to drop us off at the Bound Brook train station late Saturday afternoon, and pick us up that night, after the concert. The rest was up to us.
"My God, you've got to be kidding me," said Mom, as she took the lemon cheese pies out of the refrigerator. "You two actually took the train by yourselves?"
"Yeah, I knew what I was doing, though. Remember, Aunt Patti used to take us all the time. Besides, we were fifteen. It's not like we were a couple of nine-year olds."
"It's different by yourself though, dude," said Bobby. "You're lucky you didn't get mugged."
"You DIDN'T get mugged, did you?" asked Katy.
"Nah, we were fine. We were never even outside for more than a couple minutes . . . "
We bought our train tickets at the Bound Brook station and waited on the platform. The train was almost empty, just a couple in their twenties and an old guy in a cardigan sweater. No one that looked like Son of Sam or Bernie Goetz.
"So now what?" asked Brian. He'd never taken the train into the city before, so he was depending entirely on me. He didn't seem nervous about it, though. He wasn't the kind of kid who got worked up about anything, really. He was in ninth grade and his girlfriend was a senior. Self-confidence was not a problem.
"In about half an hour we're gonna get to Newark. We have to change trains there, which isn't usually a problem but we might have to hustle to make the connection."
"What if we miss it?"
"Well, then we're screwed. We'll have to spend the night at the train station and go home tomorrow."
"Nah, I'm just messin' with you. Trains come by every twenty minutes, we'll just catch the next one. We got plenty of time, worst case scenario we miss the opening act."
At fifteen, I was completely cool with the possibility of missing the connection. When I was younger and traveling with Aunt Patti, though, the mere thought of being left at the station terrified me. I thought we really would have to spend the night and sleep on benches or something. One time on the way home from the circus, we missed the connection, by only a couple seconds. In fact, as the train pulled away, the conductor looked right at me as I stood on the platform screaming "STOP THE TRAIN! STOP THE TRAIN!" He didn't stop the train and I didn't stop crying, not for twenty minutes until the next train arrived. Even at six, I felt sort of stupid.
Brian and I arrived in Newark and checked the connection schedule. "Looks like we've got about ten minutes," I said. Our train's gonna be on Track Two, that's down a level. Let's go." He followed me down the escalator, and we made the connection with no problem.
The second leg of the trip, from Newark to Penn Station, was a quick one. Before we knew it, we were in New York City.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .