The Next to Disappear

My favorite room in our house was my dad’s wood-paneled study where I talked to my best friend Mary on the rotary dial phone every day. I’d sit with my legs over the arm in a big, soft, fake-velvety chair with a zig-zag pattern in subdued beige, white and black. Some days, the stale cigarette air was clocked with the sweetness of a weekend cigar. Our number, shared by the entire family with no caller ID or call waiting, was 301-656-5635. Hers was 301-654-1776. I twirled the long cord while we talked. My kids don’t have their place or home base like that. They carry their phones with them wherever they go. And none of us know our best friend’s phone number.

They’ve never seen a telephone booth, and I will never forget the night of a swim team pizza party, when Eleni and I got trapped inside the booth as some bad-boy teenagers threw firecrackers at it, then ran directly into the hood of a police car, chased of course by the swim team Dads.

My first 45, Hurt So Good. They were in the process of disappearing. Replaced by all the mix tapes friends and boyfriends exchanged to capture the beach trip or the summer, how we felt about each other or a year in our lives.

When was the last time you saw TAB in the soda machine? Or even a soda machine? It’s all energy drinks now – florescent blue – and water. TAB was my “go to” coming down off the Edgemoor lifeguard stand until I learned about iced tea mixed with lemonade.

I brought my Dad’s 100-pound IBM Selectric typewriter to college, managing perfectly fine with it as news editor the school paper until my senior year Chinese History professor told me he would fail any paper not produced on a computer. Back then, computer paper had the trim on the sides that you had to tear off, so it was obvious. He said my 30-page papers were disorganized and “White Out can’t save you.” What’s White Out?

Last year, my son never used his school locker. He said it was broken. Was too shy to ask for help. So, he carried a 50-pound backpack around all day, every day. His little brother, joining him at high school in recent weeks, stood in front of his, clueless about what to do. Walked away. So, they got on Youtube. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And now they’re in.

Our lockers had combo locks. Our bike chain locks had combo locks. Most houses had an old combo lock or two lying around that no one could remember what it had been for. Little kids thought they were toys. But we all knew the pattern. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And I remember how almost every year of middle and high school, I’d return from Christmas Break having forgotten mine. A few days without a locker trying desperately to remember. Until… click. I still dream about it.

Maybe it’s the next to go.

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My Teenagers’ Friends

My best friend is very likely still my best friend because she was nice to my younger sisters. When she invited me to the mall or movies, she assumed they would tag along. Never in our entire friendship did she ask ”do they have to come?” or act annoyed that they dragged out their sleeping bags for our sleepovers. She just embraced being the fourth sister – as responsible for my sisters as I was.

I guess that’s why I judge the friends of my two teenage boys by how they respond to a little brother in their midst.

He’s ten. He’s loud. He wants to play. He thinks he’s one of the big dogs… but really, he’s still the little guy. He might cheat. He might even cry.

So, I love teenagers who are good to him, and his two older brothers seem to hold onto the friends who are.

Last night, a long-legged teenage boy ascended the stairs from our basement brandishing a nerf gun. My ten-year-old was at his heels. The teenager – a friend of our eighth grader – wore a too-small army helmet and a knight’s silver armor from old Halloween costumes. The little guy wore an orange ski helmet, goggles and a grin from ear to ear… because they were playing his game, on his terms.

And it struck me instantly, as it has before, that this lanky teenager is a great kid. I’m glad he’s my son’s friend.

It was hours later, trying to fall asleep, that something else entered my mind. Does it ever cross his mind to say, “Do we have to?” Because I realized it never crossed mine, as we were trying to be cool teenagers, that my best friend might not want little sisters tagging along. And…

She was ten. She was loud. She just wanted to play…