Sunday, August 31, 2014


Spin & Marty 

I flattened myself out on the green-painted deck of Veteran’s Memorial Park Pool, abandoning myself to the sun, to the summer heat, daydreaming the afternoon away. Vet Mem was from another era—even in the late ‘60s.  It belonged to an America that was slowly slipping away with incidents like Kent State, Altamont, hippies and Black Panthers becoming a sleekly mainstream watermark of current events like the  bloody footage of Vietnam on the news every night, “our” boys at My Lai.   But in Middletown, Connecticut, at Vet Mem Park, veterans were still treated with respect, and old values steadfastly clung to the wooded, landscaped grounds. Spring water bubbled up from a pipe, fresh and freezing cold.  There was a petting zoo with goats, lambs, chickens, bunnies and four or five beautiful fallow deer, butting each other and rubbing their newly developed antlers up against tree trunks to ease the itching.  They were the kind of deer that looked like fawns all their lives, with white flag tails and Bambi spots on their backs.  When you’d hold up some weeds or a carrot brought from home, they’d shove their wet obsidian, squared-off noses through the openings in the Cyclone fence, nudging almost desperately at your hand.

The pool itself was located in an ugly post-World War II cinderblock building, painted a jarring, chalky, Atomic Age turquoise.  For a quarter you rented a locking wire-mesh basket to your bathing suite and held the key while you swam. I’d watch the older girls and women change, trying to get a glimpse of heir bodies, and imagine what it would be like to look like that, or touch grown-up flesh not quite as taut as my own.  The women I spied on all had swaying breasts, thighs milky white in the light filtering through the screened-in windows.  Still just a kid, I’d carry my rolled-up towel to the snack bar and buy Jujubes or Snow-Caps or Junior Mints—movie candy, really—for a dime.  Then I’d spread my towel out on one of the splintery wooden chaise lounges, or maybe just keep it balled up on the grass so it wouldn’t get wet, while I spent the next three or four hours racing, doing cannonballs off the sides of the pool, or if you were old enough (and I was just getting to the), flirting with the lifeguard on duty.  I was at “that awkward age” –still wanting to dunk my little brother, race with the boys, but just beginning to notice the mating dances going on all around me.

There were a couple of lifeguards and  they were almost interchangeable.  Both were cute, bronze, with shaggy, Sun-In bleached Bobby Sherman hair.  They were lithe and tan in baggy, faded swimming trunks, with shiny silver whistles on lanyards, dangling onto their thousands-of-yards-of-Mark-Spitz-Butterfly Stroke pecs.  The lifeguards were perfect objects for testing the waters  for real flirting, and  I spied on the girls who tried to get the lifeguards’ attention, as well as spying on the lifeguards’ girlfriends, who were really pretty.  

The sun was still high at four p.m., but by that time I’d be a little whipped from all the chlorine and fancy diving, remembering to keep my legs together and as straight as possible, toes curled, chest out and back arched.  Exhausted, I’d get as flat as possible, deeply inhaling the intoxicating summer smell of pool water on hot concrete, mixed with the cocoa-butter smell of Coppertone lotion which had been seeping into the concrete and floating on the water in a thin film all summer long.  It smelled good enough to eat.  There’d be laughter in the background, blasts from the lifeguard’s whistle, and, of course, staticy Top Forty coming from someone’s small, tinny transistor radio.  I’d be covered in little droplets of chlorinated water in my snugly fitting royal blue one-piece with the nautical red star hanging just above my belly button like a military decoration.  I was daydreaming of what life would be like as a teenager.

Time seemed to move slower back then, but my body could sense adolescence was approaching rapidly.  My friends in school were already giggling about boys—though I couldn’t see being interested in my classmates when there were lifeguards around.  My mother worked in the Theatre Department at Wesleyan university, and I had a number of crushes on Theatre Majors, mostly artsy, scruffy hippie-types.  Even though the Summer Of Love wasn’t too far in the past, the lifeguards at Vet Mem held a different sort of fascination for me, in a Tiger Beat magazine kind of way.  The lifeguards seemed all about Teen Promise, proms and shit like that.  The boys in my class looked like Timmy from Lassie in their drip-dry Sears plaid shirts, and the J.C. Penney’s jeans that had elastic insets in the back of the waist panel were hardly what one would term “attractive.”  Most of the boys looked like they hadn’t figured out how to wash their own ears yet, and many of the girls towered over them, even in sneakers.  They were just boys –little kids.  I didn’t want Timmy from Lassie, I wanted Spin and Marty – long, tall dangerous teenagers with musclely arms and flat stomachs under clean white Hanes t-shirts and faded, baggy Levi’s. 

Spin and Marty were in a black and white Disney series and lived on a dude ranch.  They were always on horseback.  They looked strong and capable, gentle when they handled livestock, more interesting when they handled rope lariats and rifles.  Spin was wilder, Marty a little more compassionate, but they both had sun-bleached butch buzzcuts under their trashed straw cowboy hats.  They dragged their boots and mumbled, looked like they knew how to smoke, swear, and especially kiss.  Annette, Darlene, and Doreen from The Mickey Mouse Club always guest-starred as either Spin or Marty’s love interest.  I hated Annette, was jealous of Darlene, but Doreen was attractive in a slutty, back-seat-of-the-car-at-a-drive-in way.  When she kissed Spin on a hayride in one episode, I got an immediate stomachache.  I didn’t have the foggiest notion of what desire was at that point, I just thought the butterflies were because of something I’d eaten.  Still, I watched Spin and Marty religiously, and the stomachaches became more and more frequent.  Boys my own age were out of the question.  Lying by the Vet Mem pool that summer was almost like being encased in a chrysalis, sleeping, waiting for adulthood.  It was palpable.

Nowadays, all lifeguards look young and callow to me, too straight arrow and blank, like the good-looking boys and girls on Baywatch.  Except for Pamela Anderson—who had that awesome  Doreen/drive-in movie whorey look.  Spin and Marty are a faded black and white memory from the past.  When was the last time I saw one of their episodes, before Watergate?  I realize how they helped to shape my perception of sexual attractiveness—long limbs, pretty faces, smooth androgynous chests… and sometimes, in moments of sheer perversity, I can’t help but imagine the fate that befalls  the black and white  era ex-Disney stars, those clean cut, adolescent Midnight Cowboys.  Maybe it was Doreen that I’d heard had been in jail for writing bad checks, I’m not sure.  And poor Annette, Rest In Peace.

I imagine Spin old and haggard now, perhaps living in a one-bedroom dump in Tujunga, skin red from years of outdoor work, a few divorces, a failed Country and Western career, an  alcohol problem.  Maybe he got into Meth or something.  Marty probably grew up fey and latent queer –maybe he hustled when the agents stopped calling and the parts stopped being offered.  Did some hardcore porn in the ‘70’s.  Maybe I’d even bumped into one of them at a K-Mart or bought something from one from them at a swap meet!  You never know.  And whatever happed to Timmy?  Child stars, childhood.  We really were innocent back then.  Nobody would even make a kid’s show about a dude ranch anymore, no way.

These days, the idea of going to a public pool is repellent to me, and not just because of athlete’s foot and pee-water.  Drugs for sale, gang violence, molestations, petty crimes in the locker rooms.  If I had kids, I wouldn’t let them go no matter how hot it got.  They’d have to be satisfied with seeing Baywatch reruns.  And look who Pamela Anderson Lee is with now.  She probably preferred Spin to Marty, too.  Even the beach is too polluted to visit.  Do they eve even show Spin and Marty anymore?

Oh man…those long, lazy preteen summer afternoons at Vet Mem—suntan lotion and candy, lifeguards, covert spying missions, waiting for my period to come, waiting for some kind of indefinable action.  Testing the waters of my own undiscovered sexuality.

 And as for daydreams?  Well... who has the time?


 The story you’ve just read is from my book Escape From Houdini Mountain ,  signed copies available here:

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