I said my goodbyes to the guys and headed out of the garage. As I approached the edge of the driveway Fin called out to me to wait, and I did. He ran up to me and told me he needed to head home as well. The sun was heading quickly towards the East River as we headed south on Libel Street. The shadows of the trees and buildings offered us their cool respites from the warmth of the day, and sending chills down my spine.
“I really think your idea sucks, Skip.” Fin complained.
“Look Fin, I understand you don’t like the idea, but do you see any other way to get up the money? You got a piggy bank we can raid? Or, do you have any other idea that could help us?”
“No man. But… but… Finders Keepers rules. Man, I found the Playboys so technically they’re mine. Not yours. Not Fish’s. I should say what happens to them. And for you to presume you guys can just sell them to anyone who wants them really sucks!”
“Fin, stop freaking out. Look, we haven’t decided to sell them. And if you had wanted to keep them for yourself you wouldn’t have told us. Besides, we always share with each other. All for one! Remember? Isn’t that what we agreed to when we read the Musketeers book? That we’d keep to those rules?”
“I haven’t even looked at all of them. You know? There might be something in there I want to keep.”
“Ok, how ‘bout this, we all get together tomorrow afternoon, go through the magazines, keep a couple for ourselves and then sell the rest? I’m sure Fish will be cool with the idea and we all have our own magazines.”
“What if I want one your or Fish want?”
“Simple, you found them, you get first pick. I’ll take last pick since we are building the bike for me.”
“Ok, I can live with that. Say, how’d you get so smart with this sort of stuff?”
“Try living with two older sisters and one younger sister and have to fight for who goes first on getting new school clothes or shoes. You learn real fast how to make the best out of all situations.”
As we approached Memory Avenue we saw some of the neighborhood kids riding bikes, throwing footballs and skipping rope. The Sandoval kids had a game of tag going on in the front yard with the Ellison kids. The Jamrogs and Montifels were apparently having a cookout that filled the block with the mouth watering scent of hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs. You could also hear the sound of the Pop-Top beers and sodas up and down the block crackling like rifle fire during hunting season.
The twins, Dennis and Glenn Jamrog, were showing Mike Montifel their new skateboards and how they could jump off the curb with them. I smiled and waved at them, knowing that soon, all three of them and me and my crew would be in the Jamrog’s basement making a deal for the magazines. They were older, always had money and rarely had adult supervision. We just had to come up with a way to get them alone to talk to them.
I knew for a fact, Mike, Dennis and Glenn all received allowances from their parents and I made this morsel of information known to Fin. He said he would try to talk with the older kids after dinner. I told him to stop by and get me when he was ready.
Fin didn’t stop by, I guess he forgot or he had other shit to do around the house that night. I’m glad he didn’t show up because it was a bad night for me at my house. So bad that I’m not gonna go into details right now. Instead, I’m gonna move on with the story.
Sunday morning, around 10 am, I snuck out of my bedroom window, leaving behind a note to my mom stating I’d be home later in the day. I added that I would be ok, don’t worry about me and that I’d stay out of trouble. Once again, I took my BB gun and the tools Fish had given me, I also had managed to pilfer 5 bucks from my sister Vera’s wallet and as I did so I made a silent promise to pay her back one day. (I still owe her those 5 bucks too.)
I snuck into Fin’s house through an open basement window, now; all three of us had promised each other that we’d always leave a safe way into each other’s houses just in case we needed a sanctuary away from the madness in our particular families’ worlds. Fin kept a basement window unlocked; I kept my bedroom window unlocked and Fish kept the back door to his garage unlocked. All three of us had utilized those safety points at various times in our brief friendship and never once did any of us ask questions as to why the others had to use them.
Once inside Fin’s darkened basement I made my way over to the lawn chairs him and his mother kept down there and sat down. We, Fish, Fin and I, had made a make-shift lounge there. Chairs, a used end table and for a coffee table we had hi-jacked an old wooden cable spool from a construction site that we used as a coffee table. I opened the drawer to the end table and found a pack of smokes we kept there and lit one of the sticks up. The acrid, blue smoke quickly filled the room as I sat in the darkness thinking about whether I wanted to ever go home and if my home was a place I wanted to stay.
It wasn’t long before Fin came downstairs and discovered me sitting alone in the dark. His footfalls on the wooden steps echoed through the room like the bass notes of a Pink Floyd song. “I thought I heard you sneak in.” he said as he reached in the drawer for a smoke. “I was getting ready to come over and get you.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m not home.” I joked.
“Good, you saved me the trip over. Why are you sitting here in the dark?”
“No reason. Just didn’t feel like turning on the light. Besides, I think better when it’s dark. What happened to you last night?”
“What do you mean?”
“You were supposed to come get me after you talked to the teenagers.”
“Oh man! I forgot. Sorry. I did talk to Mike, Dennis and Glenn. They’re interested but they want to see the magazines first.”
“Ok, we can do that.”
“Yup, I called Fish and he went and got the box this morning and took it to his house. All we need to do is go get them and bring them over to the Jamrog’s garage. After we go through them first.”
“Ok, let’s get going. Um, but can we jump your fence and cut up Karl street? I’m in no mood to deal with my family.”
“Sure man, no problem. Let me get my shoes on and we’ll head out.”
A few moments later we had snuck out Fin’s back door, scurried behind his garage and hopped the fence into the backyard of the neighbor’s house. We snuck between some houses and headed up Karl Street towards Libel.
It was a beautiful day, the birds fluttered from limb to limb looking for the perfect place to make their nests. Bees busied themselves in the multitude of flower beds that had just come into bloom. Dogs throughout the neighborhood barked at imaginary noises and cats stalked the birds from the bushes.
But in all honesty, I didn’t even try to enjoy the half mile trek to Fish’s. I was on a mission to get as far away from Memory Avenue as possible. “Skip!, man, hold up!” Fin called to me. “You don’t have to run. Shit, Fish’ll be there when we get there.”
I stopped, and turned toward Fin, we were standing at the corner of Libel and Brookridge. Cars were driving by on their way home from church filled with familie’s dressed in their Sunday’s Finest clothes. Housewives in fancy hats, factory workers in ties, kids in suits and fancy dresses, each and every one of them completely oblivious as to the shit one person can heap onto another.
“Fuck Man! What the hell happened to your face?”
“Nothing man. Just leave it alone.”
“Was it that prick again?”
“Yeah, forget about it. Let’s get to Fish’s house.
For once, in quite a very long time, Fin actually listened to my request and shut up. We hurried to Meadow Lane to Fish’s house and met up with Fish in his basement. Fish was sitting on the old couch his parents kept down there for us kids to us. At his feet was the box of Playboys and scattered on the couch and floor were a dozen of the musty smelling, glossy pages of carnal pleasure.
“What the hell happened to you?” Fish asked me.
“Leave it alone.” Fin quipped in defense of me.
“Was it the asshole again?” Fish inquired.
“Skip didn’t say, but I can only assume it was.”
I slid some of the magazines out of the way in order to make a place for myself to sit on the couch. “You gotta smoke on ya Fish?” I asked. He nodded and pulled a pack out and handed Fin and I one. We all lit up, Fin sat down and started flipping through the pages of one of the many magazines. I tried to look interested and picked one up. But instead of seeing naked women in their entire erotic splendor all I saw were cigarette ads, car ads, and whiskey ads that all promised a better life and all you needed was a metric ton of money.
I heard Fin and Fish talking but I couldn’t or wouldn’t listen to them. All their words seemed to buzz in my ears like a million bees swarming down upon a field of wild daisies. The only thought on my mind was how long it would take me to either get out of my house or get my revenge on the prick that routinely got his jollies out of kicking my ass.
I looked over at Fin, he was sorting the magazines into two piles, a keep pile and a sell pile. His keep pile was much larger than his sell pile. His eyes were wide, there was sweat on his forehead and he was squirming as if there were no way possible for him to get comfortable. I started to chuckle to myself, and slowly cast my gaze over to Fish, his smoke was dangling from his mouth, several magazines were on his lap, and they were closed. “Hey Fin, how many of these things you gonna keep?” he asked.
“Man, I want ‘em all!” He cried out.
I started laughing, I couldn’t help it. He looked like he was about to explode in joy. “Fin, man, you gotta relax. You can’t keep them all.” I said between hitched breaths.
“Why not? We can keep most of ‘em. Right?”
“Where are we gonna keep these things?” Fish asked. “We can’t keep them here, or at the fort, they’ll get ruined during the rain and snow storms. Hell, I’m only keeping two because I can easily hide them in my room. Where are you gonna hide yours?”
“I don’t know yet.” Was Fish’s response “What about you Skip?” he asked me, invading my momentary happiness.
“Probably in my rafters in the garage, you know, where we started to build that fort but never finished. I figure I can hide one there.”
“Only one? Really? C’mon man, you all these to chose from and you only want one? Which one?” Fin questioned.
“Barbi Benton.” I said. Both Fin and Fish stopped moving and stared at me. Fish was smiling and Fin’s mouth just hung open in disbelief.
“Is that one in this pile?” Fin eagerly asked. “Where? I haven’t seen it. You holding out on me?” he was frantically pushing away the stack of magazines he’d already looked through, and reaching into the box pulling out more of the purloined pornography.
Fish started laughing, “Man, calm down. It’s not in the box.” He was pointing at my lap. I looked down at the magazine sitting between my jean clad legs. There she was, the March 1970 issue of Playboy, Barbi stared up at me in that glorious red shirt, her eyes gleaming of innocence and hope, the white gloves in the shape of a bunny rabbit, and a million dollar smile that gives me shivers down my spine to this day. That one cover made that last 14 hours of hell disappear with that one little glance. Yup, I thought, this is the one for me.
“No Fair!” screamed Fin. “I wanted that one!”
“Fin, you have about ten of them right now. At this rate you’re not going to want to sell any of them.” Fish said.
“Fin, it’s the only one I want. I don’t care what you keep, this is the one I want.”
“Ah, hell, ok.” He gave in. “What about you Fish?”
“I picked out three I want. You can go through them if you want, it doesn’t really matter too much to me.”
“Nah, it’s ok. Take what you want.”
And, with that, we boxed up all the unwanted magazines, threw a towel over them and headed back towards the Jamrog’s garage on Memory. We cut through the new housing construction, each of us taking turns carrying the box when it got too heavy.
When we got the back of the garage, I poked my head around to the side and saw the backyard was empty, I nodded to Fish and Fin, gave them a quick nod and ducked around the corner. They followed and caught up with me at the side door. We were nervous, tired, sweating and more than a bit scarred that we were going to get our asses kicked and our treasure stolen.
I knocked on the door, turned the knob and all three of us stepped into the smoke filled garage.