A Fistful Of Quarters From A Grown Man In His Underwear

April 21, 2010

The end of the school year is within the distance of one well-spat loogie for the age appropriate. As a kid, it was the annual re-opening of the campground down the road that was a tangible sign that summer break was close.

Before we were old enough to drive, the campground also served as somewhere to waste the little money we had on things like miniature golf and video games.

At that time, our town was still a couple of years away from having an actual arcade and Atari game consoles were not yet in all our homes. The campground game room was one of the few places to play video games.

Of course, there were three, maybe four games and they were always well behind the times with the selection – Space Invaders when Pac-Man was the rage, Galaga instead of Defender.

Asteroids was a hip as it got.

The couple that ran the campground was on the staff of our high school.

He was a burly fellow, taught shop, and was known to all as Bandsaw Bob.

She was on the bony side, was the school nurse, and seemed to be going for some Jackie Kennedy vibe.

I don’t believe that I ever saw him without a tooth pick lodged in his teeth.

I couldn’t say the same for her.

The game room was downstairs from the gift shop/concierge desk/campground office which was usually our first stop to exchange a few dollars for quarters.

Several friends and I entered one afternoon and found the gift shop vacant. We stood at the counter, growing impatient to blast space bugs and such.

A door behind the counter of the gift shop led to the proprietor’s home and, as our conversation grew louder, we heard stirring from the adjacent dwelling (which was our objective).

Through the door lumbered Bob, muttering about “nobody minding the store” and “been out digging up a stump.”

There he stood, his large, round face flushed and beads of sweat trickling from his forehead met his flat top.

He was wearing nothing but his underwear.

And he had his tooth pick.

“You kids need quarters?” he asked jovially. He was a jovial fellow.

Before we could offer an affirmative, wife Jackie burst through the doorway. “Bob,” she barked. “Go take a shower and get cleaned up for dinner.”

He shrugged. “You all have seen a man in his underwear before.”

We’d seen pictures of Ted Nugent in a loin cloth in music magazines. And now, we had seen our high school’s shop teacher in his underwear.

Of course, in retrospect, I realize that, had this event – which became an oft-recounted part of me and my friends childhood lore – taken place in 2010 instead of 1980, Bob might have found himself in trouble, but there was nothing dodgy.

When you grow up in a small town, everyone knows everyone else fairly well, certainly well enough to know that sometimes a man in his underwear is just a man in his underwear.

Here are four songs that might have provided some clothing suggestions…

Sparks – Angst In My Pants
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Though they never got radio airplay where I lived, I had seen Sparks duet with The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin on Cool Places in ‘82 on Solid Gold. And, my friend Streuss owned several of their cassettes like In Space, Whomp That Sucker, and Angst In My Pants.

Quirky and amusing, Sparks often had an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of life’s truths amidst all of the melodic musical insanity.

Kate Bush – The Red Shoes
from The Red Shoes

I fell hard for Kate Bush when I discovered her music. It was, like many listeners here in the States, with The Hounds Of Love. I’d read about her and was intrigued, but hadn’t really had the opportunity to check out her prior albums.

Of course, subsequent albums were slow to arrive but worth the wait.

Haircut 100 – Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) (extended version)

I didn’t like Haircut 100 back in the day. Of course, they weren’t around very long and I never heard their lone hit, Love Plus One, on the radio much.

It was years later – when the song kept popping up on ’80s compilations – that I grew fond of Love Plus One. I finally snagged a copy of Pelican West on vinyl a year or so ago and it was underwhelming.

Favourite Shirts is more manic than Love Plus One and manic Haircut 100 doesn’t have the same charm to me (but I didn’t have a lot of “shirt” songs).

Bob Dylan – Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
from Blonde On Blonde

I hadn’t heard Bob Dylan in 1980. I wouldn’t begin a relationship with Dylan for a few more years.

Sartorially speaking, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat would have been a fitting suggestion for Bandsaw’s wife. She did have the Jackie Kennedy thing about her.

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The Zap

October 22, 2008

It wasn’t the cleverest of names, but it was so generic that it now strikes me as endearing. It could have been any arcade in any small, Midwestern town in 1983, but it was all ours.

Our town wasn’t unlike the one in the movie Footloose (undoubtedly a major reason why that flick was such a mammoth success). Of course, we did have a bowling alley, a public pool, and probably a dozen bars – the ratio of places to drink to our population had to be equal to the average town in the UK. Any (all) of those establishments might have been verboten in Footlooseville.

For the couple of years during which The Zap existed, though, it was pretty much the hub of my friends and my world. It was the dingy command center for our plots, plans, and schemes in a minimally remodeled building that had housed a beauty salon and an auto repair garage

Not that we required much. The Zap had refrigerated air and concrete floors, providing cool in the humidity of summer (although it also was frigid in the winter). It had video games and pinball machines. And it had a jukebox.

The jukebox is one rite of passage that I’m grateful I am old enough to have gotten to experience. The jukebox was common to us all, but there was also specific etiquette of which you were familiar if you were a regular.

It also had to be one of the earliest financial dilemmas we faced as kids – burn through your limited funds playing Defender or Robotron or selecting a few more songs on the jukebox.

I think I usually opted for more music. So, here are a few the songs that emptied my pockets and kept me from notching stratospheric scores on Asteroids.

The Pretenders – Back On The Chain Gang
I didn’t know much by The Pretenders aside from Brass In Pocket and…maybe that was it. But it was easy to fall in love with this song. It was wistful yet defiant. It sounded so hopeful, but it was a hard-earned hope.

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
As classic rock hadn’t been invented in 1983, I’m not sure if I was familiar with Radar Love, but we all knew Twilight Zone, the song by Golden Earring that wasn’t Radar Love.

But my friends and I certainly loved Twilight Zone. The whole dark undercurrent of the lyric welded with that driving music made the song a universal favorite at The Zap, cutting across all social lines and musical divisions.

Chris DeBurgh – Don’t Pay The Ferryman
My friend Brad used to go spend a couple weeks with his father in Arizona every summer. Upon his return, he would awe us with cassettes of songs he had taped off the radio stations “out there”(it was quite an exotic trek to us). There was a lot of New Wave and songs which we wouldn’t hear on our stations ’til often months later.

Anyhow, I remember hearing Don’t Pay The Ferryman on one of those cassettes. Like Twilight Zone, it had a mysterious, dread-filled lyric. As for DeBurgh, I always thought he kind of resembled Dudley Moore which gives the song a slightly comical bent to me now.

Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
During my junior high/high school years, Billy Squier was a rock god to most of my hometown’s kids. Of course, he was toppled from that exalted position as minor deity by the infamously bad video for Rock Me Tonight. (I’d include a link, but if you’ve read this far, you know the video)

But when Emotions In Motion came out, he was still cool and Everybody Wants You was constantly playing from a radio or car stereo. In fact, DJ Mark Sebastian from Q102 in Cincinnati played the damn song repeatedly one night on his shift (like for an hour or something, I can’t exactly recall). There was considerable water-cooler talk at school the next day following that stunt.