BY JAMES DOOLITTLE I was always the new kid. By the time I reached the 7th grade, I had lived in four states, gone to three different parochial schools and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe – which for the era, served me with kindling for conversation starters, so handy when it came to working my way through the bottom rungs of a new district’s social ladder.
That was the thing about Bobby. He didn’t know Star Wars from Battle Beyond the Stars. He didn’t read comic books, didn’t collect baseball cards and sure as hell wasn’t interested in playing nice.
I was a really good kid. Mama’s boy, altar boy. My most vivid memory of Bobby was him beating some poor kid over the head with a skateboard. We had absolutely nothing in common. But for a good three years of my life, due partly to proximity and mostly to boredom, we were best of friends.
Make that good.
Hell, I can’t recall what we even bonded over. Maybe we never did. We just lived on the same block, in the same working class Delaware County town, the kind whose railroad tracks actually did delineate wealth, and class, and every other issue that clamored across Bobby’s life…the child of a single mom, living with grandma, no dad in sight.
Yet for not having a dad in-house, Bobby had an amazing pornography collection. In comparison, my pops had one Playboy. Bobby had a stack that could very well have been hip high, and proved to be constant in regards to the consternation it caused. The burden of hiding all of that porn from his mom wore thin. It was a lot of work, and over the course of that first year, I think Bobby sold most of his library to the boys in the neighborhood, just to clear some stress as he laid the groundwork for his 8th grade venture.
The balls on this kid. Over the course of a summer, he outfitted the crawl spaces that surrounded his attic bedroom with desk lamps, air fresheners and small tupperware units. Into each he tilled earth with unexpected patience and skill, most productively between the hours that bridged release from school and the arrival of the household’s matriarchs. For whatever reason, Bobby would always play hooky rather than feign illness, and it was on these days, when he was most productive. Culling his herb garden, organizing his pornography, listening to metal…
Metal, that was what we bonded over. He had a worthy record collection, I enjoyed the form but wouldn’t dare bring Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” into Judy’s house. The repercussions, I simply did not want to deal. So there we sat on many an afternoon, spinning records, tilling the earth, reading porn (note, even at that age I swear I went out of my way to make it look as if I were reading the articles). Until that day when Bobby deemed his harvest worthy.
I can still taste the anticipation (remember, repercussions) as four of us sat semi-circle watching Bobby clip plant life – leaf, bud, stem, it was all the same. He had taken up the occasional cigarette that fall, and had worked tirelessly hollowing out the nicotine on a few so as to stuff his garden in.
It could have been Maiden being spun. It probably was.
“As I walk all my life drifts before me
And though the end is near I’m not sorry
Catch my soul cos it’s willing to fly away”
My ground rules for participating were clear. Cigarettes were bad, so in no way did I want a puff. Therefore, the circle of boys blew their smoke into my face. Some coughed it out, others added spit. Bobby, of course, had the smoothest exhale, backdropped by his flowing blond hair. I know he thought himself a smarter Spicoli…but just.
We spent the next half hour sitting around attempting to pinpoint if we felt anything. Internally, I theorized that the anxiety of getting caught might be overriding whatever sensation we were supposed to feel. This was boring. Fucking Catholicism.
Bobby stuffed another. I took a few more hits to the face. We eventually emerged into the daylight of a late fall afternoon, and while I felt a tinge of something that could be described as different, I clearly was no longer on the same playing field. Laughing, oogle-eyed and stumbling, my cohorts began a lengthy meander through the neighborhood. At some point I gave up, watching them careen deeper in, oblivious to my absence.
I went home. Knowing Judy, it was either fish sticks or lentil soup. I’m sure I excused myself early from the kitchen table.
I guess that was technically the first time I ever got high.
The first time I ever truly inhaled was some six years later. I still hadn’t found the love of a Parliament Light, nor the companionship of my one divine Hammer. But I had found booze, and in turn, this stunning wallflower of a girl whose name has totally left my memory banks. Trust me, I’ve sat here racking it for hours, wondering with uncertainty whether it was Lori or Lisa. I know it started with an L.
That’s not important. What is, a simple fact – the ultimate gateway drug for dudes is vagina. In this, there is no question.
It was the last night of the collegiate year. We found ourselves huddled three deep in a final dorm room salvo. A case of beer, Keystone probably. A Pixies bootleg blaring. And L, dear sweet L who I pined for a semester, whose football playing boyfriend was obviously going to swoop in tomorrow to take her back to northern Jersey from whence she came. There was no use now, no reasons for telling her how I lusted.
But still, I would prolong my presence to hers without question. A small group went to snack. And then to walk. And to talk. But mostly to smoke a joint in the shadow of Beaver Stadium. And I went, because tonight, on this last night, it was a great night for firsts – the first taste of marijuana, the first taste of L’s saliva…even if it was on said joint.
I was puking into a trash can within hours. Within twelve, in a car heading out of Happy Valley. By nightfall, I was back in Delco. The repercussions, trivial.
After that summer, I never returned to my parent’s house to live again. Future breaks would be spent at college with a new group of friends in a residence that was our own. But every so often, I’d hear about Bobby, the manchild who still snuck into the township holding station to steal the lost bikes of others, and more often than not would still get caught. The businessman, who as per local lore, would pimp a younger female cousin out to the neighborhood boys when she was in town. My old friend, who could be found sitting on a neighborhood street corner or his grandmother’s porch at odd hours of the day, watching our lives go by.
I saw him once post high school. Once that was at least more than a passing hello. Home for Easter, shooting hoops in the backyard, he stumbled up the driveway. We chatted, about nothing. Somewhere deep inside, I wanted to finally share a legitimate toke. I didn’t.
Somehow, the conversation came back to porn. He asked if I had anything new. It wasn’t necessarily new, but I had. I scrounged deep in some attic boxes and pulled out an old rag. Be paged thru as I continued with my hoops. He nodded sly appreciation and walked away.
His mane was still blond and flowing. In a perfect world, the Maiden would have played.
“When you know that your time is close at hand
Maybe then you’ll begin to understand
Life down there is just a strange illusion.”
I never saw that magazine again.
PREVIOUSLY: The First Time Jeff Deeney Got High