Friday, October 15, 2010

Troubled Water

I turned thirteen that summer. Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married and my mother, enraptured, watched the proceedings on television. I wasn’t really that interested in a Royal Wedding, but I sat with her because my dad had been gone all day. As the broadcast continued, I found the glamorous Diana to be poised and regal, and thought she was the kind of woman I wanted to marry. Even though I had experienced stirrings, at that point in my life, it never crossed my mind that married people might have a sex life. Years later, I did marry a woman named Diana, but it turned out she was far from being the Lady with a capital L that she fancied herself, but I digress. Much later that night, my dad came home ossified and found the two of us watching an I Love Lucy rerun. He shook my hand, slipping me a couple of quarters in the process, and asked my mom, “What’s that shit on the tube?” before falling asleep on the couch. He snored so loudly that we lost interest in Lucy’s antics and gave up and went to bed in our rooms at the other end of the apartment. Mom said, “At least I know he got home safely. I worry when he’s out with his friends from the factory.”
A couple of days later, one of my friends, whose father didn’t drink because he had a good job in a bank, invited a bunch of us over to his house to watch music videos on cable television. There was a new channel that was showing them all day long and we watched our favorite groups rocking away as if we were almost there at one of their concerts. Ramon’s parents were going out for dinner, and when Mrs. Martinez waltzed past us I inhaled her scent. She was a dark Puerto Rican beauty with long hair swept up into what was called a French knot, and she smelled like roses. As she stopped to check her hair in the hall mirror, I watched her patting it into place, and thought that was my new ideal, really the kind of woman I would like to marry, and for very different features than I had seen in Lady Di. This woman was sensuous and earthy. Too bad, I was reminded that she was my friend’s mother when she turned at the door, and said, “You boys be good now.” For a while, when I was thirty-five and divorced, I did date a hispanic woman who eventually quit me after telling me one night that I was a Loser with a capital L. Such is my luck in fulfilling boyhood dreams, but again, I digress.
When that summer ended and we had returned to school, one Saturday several of us took the subway into Manhattan to attend a concert that Simon and Garfunkel gave for free in Central Park. A couple of my older friends were interested in “hooking up with chicks,” as they called it, and we younger boys were advised to keep their younger sisters entertained. I sat next to a girl named Debbie through the whole concert, and to this day I cannot listen to Simon and Garfunkel songs without being reminded of Debbie’s chattering. We never saw each other again, but I still recall the sound of her voice. It makes me think of charcoal and ashes.
Near the end of September, Ramon announced that his father was taking him down to Philadelphia for a day to see the Rolling Stones in concert, but he must have felt guilty that so many of us wouldn’t be able to afford an outing like that and promised that we could all come to his place to watch MTV the next weekend, all day long if we wanted. I think a few of the other guys took him up on it, but I didn’t. I stopped hanging around with those guys so regularly after that, and as time went on I saw them less and less. I was not planning to attend the same high school many of them were in, and I knew I would have to concentrate on my studies and get better grades if I wanted to make something of myself. I saw the chasm between Mr. Martinez and my dad as a widening gap, and some days I almost gave up hope of ever bridging it.

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