1983. One of the most action packed years of my life. A constant stream of parties and clubs. So many nights spent in someone’s garage listening to our friends’ band practice and then driving to the club to watch them play, then out to another club to make some spastic attempts at dancing to punk rock and gothy new wave. The soundtrack to that time was a bizarre mix of The Police, New Order, Circle Jerks, Aztec Camera and Metallica. And Iron Maiden. Minutemen. Big Country. Suicidal Tendencies. Man, that was a good year for music. The The! U2′s last good album! PiL! Kurtis Blow! That’s right. I said Kurtis Blow.
But this story is earlier in the year than some of that. I hadn’t even started working at the record store yet. By July, I had done more drinking and partying in one half year than I had in the past four years combined. I was 21 and a slacker. I was jobless for most of the beginning of that year. Which isn’t always a bad thing when your friends were buying the beer and dope, and your boyfriend was paying for dinner.
Ah, the boyfriend. He was becoming creasingly agitated with my desire to have a life outside of sitting in his mom’s basement watching Clint Eastwood movies. And not the good Clint movies either. We’re talking orangutans here. But he comes into the picture later. The boyfriend, not Clint. Or the orangutan. Right now it’s the afternoon of July 4th, 1983.
There’s a big party at my parent’s house. Well, there was always a party at my parent’s house. They were the consummate entertainers. A lot of my early childhood memories are of weekend cocktail parties in the backyard. They were typical 70′s parties with drinks with fancy names and couples dressed in fancy clothes and food with names like Weenie Casserole. I kid you not.
But this was the 80′s. We had moved on from charcoal roasted weenies, Brandy Alexanders and demure women to gas grills, kegs of Bud and drunken firemen. Yea, dad knew how to keep with the times. Best of all, he ran the tv cable outside so we could party AND not miss a moment of a baseball game.
So here we are. Fourth of July, 1983 (insert wavy lines here that transport you magically back to that time). A yard full of firemen and relatives. A keg or two. Grill going. Yankees on the tv.
If you are a Yankee fan you know exactly what we were watching unfold that afternoon. Dave Righetti on the mound vs. the hated Red Sox. 41,000 people at the stadium. Dave’s pitching a no hitter. We sat mesmerized in the yard, squinting at the smallish tv, trying to see past the sun glares, drinking, eating and watching history being made. When the game was over and Righetti had thrown a no-hitter (the Yankees’ first since 1956) we all raised a plastic cup of beer to the Yankees, and America. Oh yea, patriotism runs deep when you are drunk on beer and melonball shots and high on beating the Red Sox.
When the game was over, the party really began. There was swimming and drunken volleyball and the obligatory lighting off of M-80s in garbage cans. It seemed to be a tradition in my neighborhood, along with lighting off mats of firecrackers. Personally, I never understood the attraction of making something go boom without the benefit of pretty sparkles or at least something going on fire, but that’s just me. I’m a visual kind of person. Go boom? Meh. Go boom with flames? Kick ass.
So in the midst of this noisy celebration of America and all it had to offer (like hot dogs, beer on tap in your backyard and your mother dancing on the deck to The Police), I get a phone call. It’s my fiancé. Oh yea, I forgot to mention. I was engaged to this guy. I was young and stupid. As opposed to later on when I became old and stupid. But that’s another story. This guy was, hmmm how to describe him? Nuts? Psychotic? He had just taken a job at Riker’s Island as a correction officer and came home one night telling me how he really identified with some of the prisoners. Ok. I may want to start rethinking my life plan here. Clint Eastwood monkey movies and identifying with murderers? That just might be a lethal combo.
Anyhow, the deal was this: I had his car at my house. He needed it back to go to work in the morning. Could I drive it over to his house? Well, let’s see. I had been drinking all day and he’s the one who left the car at my house when he ditched me the night before to go out with his friend and….well, the conversation went in such a way that I agreed to bring the car. At the last minute he told me to fill it up with gas before I brought it to his house. Let’s not get into the why of my saying yes. Young. Stupid. Etc. We’ll leave it at that.
So my cousin follows me in her car. We drive the mile or so and I stop at the gas station just down the block from my the fiance’s house. The car windows are rolled down because it’s hot out and the a/c is broken. I tell the guy to fill it up and lean back in my seat and wait. There’s a few kids sitting in the lot of the 7-11 across the street, shooting off bottle rockets. Another useless firework. Oh boy, it makes a whistling sound and then a small pop the end. If that’s your idea of excitement, then I bet Seven Minutes in Heaven is the perfect sex game for you.
I remember thinking that it probably wasn’t a good idea for these kids to be lighting off fireworks so close to a gas station. Probably a really bad idea considering it looked like they were actually aiming the bottle rockets toward the pumps. I started to get nervous. What if one hit a pump? Would it blow up? Would I die right there in a ball of flames, screaming for help while realizing that my imminent death would mean every subsequent Fourth of July after this would be ruined for my parents?
I pulled myself together. Sat up straight. Watched the little numbers on the gas pump turn. Come on, fill up already, let’s get out of here.
And then: A whistling in my ear. Deafening, like a jet plane was landing in my head. A pop. A sudden burst of pain. What the fuck? What. The. Fuck?? Pain. Pain. Pain. I’m deaf and in agony. My chest. My chest is on fire, I think. Let me tell you, nothing sobers you up quicker than the idea that someone just blew a hole open in your chest. Was I shot? Dying? I looked down and saw red. Red all over. My shirt was red and my chest was in pain and…holy shit. They nailed me with one of those bottle rockets!
At first I thought I was bleeding out but quickly realized that the red was dye from the rocket. The pain? That was real. I could feel my shirt starting to stick to the burn underneath it. That hurt like a bitch.
I guess I had screamed when the rocket hit, but I didn’t hear it because of the whistling in my ear. My cousin was at my window and the gas station attendant had come running over. I was clutching my chest and hyperventilating and at first my cousin thought I was having a heart attack. The shirt I was wearing was a V-neck and I slowly pulled the material to one side and pointed to what I was sure was a gaping in hole in my chest. My cousin gasped. The gas station guy said “Ewww.” Nice. Well, it wasn’t a hole, but it was a pretty intense burn. I was shaking and in pain and the guy said he would run across the street to the firehouse and send an ambulance over. No. No. No. No ambulance.
I paid the gas station guy, who said he was calling the cops on the kids with the bottle rockets. Whatever, I didn’t want to stick around. I needed some first aid, stat. And by first aid I mean someone to calm me down. Preferably someone holding a bottle of vodka.
Ok, start the car. Drive down the block. Fiancé only lives five houses away, I’ll make it there ok and we’ll get this burn taken care of and he will calm me down and tell me I’m not dying and give me a drink and some ointment and gauze and a few words of comfort and everything will be ok.
I walk into his house. My cousin yells at no one in particular “Hey, hey, she got hit with a firecracker. Anyone here? Hello? Emergency!” Fiancé guy comes down the stairs, looking annoyed.
“What? She what?”
My cousin repeats. Slowly, for the retarded. “Hit. With. Firecracker.”
She doesn’t like him much. Never did. He looks me over. I don’t say anything. Partly because I’m still hyperventilating and kind of crying and partly because the mess on my chest really should speak for itself. He looks me over again. Shrugs. Says the words that would become fatal to our pending nuptials.
“Did you at least put gas in the car?”
Well, you can imagine my stunned silence. What you can’t imagine and I can’t do justice to is the Glare O’ Death my cousin gave him. A glare that said all at once “You are such a fucking asshole and I hope you say the wrong thing to the wrong prisoner at work and he takes you hostage and fills your ass with his beefstick. And then I hope your ambulance crashes on the way to the hospital to have your ass repaired. And you die. DIE.”
I didn’t say a word. I just threw his keys at him and walked out of the house. The only thing I said to my cousin on the way back to my house was “Fucker. Fucker.” Over and over again.
We got back to my house and a couple of the firemen there fixed me up the best they could. I probably should have gone to the hospital. But there was vodka and hot dogs and The Towering Inferno on tv. I decided to skip the fireworks festivities for the evening. And decided to skip my upcoming wedding (though I didn’t get around to actually saying that out loud until November).
That bottle rocket might have actually been a sign from god. Ok, not the best choice of signs, but sometimes it takes a little force to send someone a message.
Every time I get a slight sunburn, you can see a faint scar on my chest. A constant reminder of Fourth of July, 1983. Makes me think of The Police, Dave Righetti and searing pain. Both physical and emotional. But hey, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Or can just be offset with a keg of beer, hot dogs and Steve McQueen.
America, fuck yeah!