Play by play, I’m not entirely sure that’s how it went down, my confrontation with Clive Drummond in the schoolyard. In fact, I’m certain I embellished. There’s no possible way I can remember what I thought on an afternoon when I was eleven going on twelve. In writing it, I got carried away with the narrative aspect of it. I wanted to tell it as a story, to make you feel as though you were there. I was transported there myself as I wrote. I infused it with the drama that memory carries with it, real or unreal. I’m certain Clive came at me. I’m certain Lex intervened. I’m certain this fused our friendship. Did Lex run down the steps in the way I described? I’d like to think so. I might have imagined that. But I can see him doing it. The scene I created is an approximation. Putting dialogue from twenty-five years ago in direct quotes and calling it memoir is laughable. “You mess with him, you mess with me” is a melodramatic paraphrase. Lex was a seventh grader, not Bruce Lee. And yet, it’s what I felt, the vibe that was coming off Lex. I wasn’t sure why he’d put himself at risk for me. I didn’t just question why a girl would like me, I questioned why anyone, let alone Lex, wanted to be friends with me. Friends were people I fell in with through proximity. We had the same classes. We lived on the same street. They didn’t seek me out. True, Lex and I had French class together, but he kept hanging out with me, even after class was over. He looked for me during recess. He was cooler than me. He was athletic. So why?

Then, too, I have a decided bias against Clive that might have affected my portrayal of him. After this, he didn’t mess with me again, but we were thrown together in gym class our junior year of high school. That quarter the curriculum had been self-defense. We had gym first period, and there were only a handful of boys in the class, so we often got paired. One morning, we were forced to assume the same position we had during our altercation at Cedarbrook, and his hands carried the saline musk of semen. An image popped into my head that made me shudder. He must have masturbated that morning. Masturbated and not washed his hands. We grappled a moment, but I bailed out, let go. I felt as if I was going to retch, so I didn’t have to lie. But I raised my hand and asked the teacher if I could go see the nurse. While I’ll give most people the benefit of the doubt now that we’re adults, he sought me out on Facebook a few years ago, I approved the connection, and then he started shit with me in the comments section on someone else’s post. I wasn’t having it. Although I don’t often use the unfriend, block, and hide functions, I did it with him. All I could think was, “Man, he’s still a dick.”

(By the way, I realize revealing the semen hand smell story here might seem like petty best-served-cold vengeance to some of you, and you’re right. I’m fine with that. I’m using pseudonyms to protect identities, and I’d like to let bygones be, but if you’re reading this, Clive, and you know who you are, here’s some advice: Soap. Water. Scrub for twenty-five seconds. Get beneath the nails. You’ll be doing everyone a favor. Consider this a Public Service Announcement.)

There, I’ve let it go…

As for why Lex was drawn to me, I can only conjecture. Creativity was something his family valued. His dad was a painter, trained at Pratt I believe. He taught at Tyler School of Art. Did Lex see such creativity in me already? Lex hadn’t done much yet by way of creativity either, but it was in him. We became friends in seventh grade, but I remembered him from fifth. He was in Mrs. Falso’s fifth grade class with me at Elkins Park, but we hadn’t connected. He could draw The Joker from Batman. His dad had taught him how, and he impressed us with it. We all asked him to teach us too, but mine were  mangled. What I could do, even then, was tell stories. One of the class projects was creating a book filled with writing the class had done. Poems, stories. I’d submitted two. Slime in the Telephone Lines and a sequel, Slime in the Telephone Lines, Part II (or was it called, More Slime in the Telephone Lines?). It was the ’80s of course, and horror sequels were big. If it’s not entirely clear, the two stories followed an infestation of brain eating slime that traveled via the telephone. I’m not sure Lex would have even remembered that, but the teacher had commented to my parents, “He has all the makings of a writer.” She’d even signed my copy of the class book, once we’d bound it with blue contact paper, “I expect great things from you.” Still, at that age, nine going on ten, I was gruff, defensive. Coming out of elementary school with the stigma I’d been given, I could be standoffish. And things hadn’t changed much between fifth and seventh grade as far as this went. I was still standoffish at Cedarbrook, though Lex worked to cut through it.

“Man, Bob Dylan sucks,” I remember I told him. He’d told me in French that he liked Bob Dylan. “He’s all whiny and nasally.”

“Have you ever listened to him? I mean really listened?”

I shrugged. A metalhead couldn’t like these things, could he? If Elton had taught me anything, it was that these things sucked.

“I’ll bring you a tape tomorrow,” he said.

The next day, he handed me the first cassette of a Bob Dylan Anthology. He also had two CDs. Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks and David Bowie’s Changes. All three were hits compilations, which is likely the best way to get someone to listen to music they’re resistant to. I put on the Dylan but still didn’t have much interest. The first song was “Rainy Day Woman,” and I’ve never liked that song, even after I started to like Dylan. It was Changes that hooked me. Our stereo at home was tucked into a corner in the living room next to a love seat, and I sat on the edge of the love seat and flipped through to my favorite tracks. First it was “Modern Love.” Then “Ziggy Stardust.” Then “Changes.” But the Bowie CD was all scratched. I had to endure some of the tracks skipping. So I started to dig through my parents’ record collection, which was housed in the basement. There were three long wooden crates that I leafed through. I found one of Bowie’s records there, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spider’s From Mars. If Bowie was this good, what else was I missing? I figured I’d try a few other records and grabbed the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Are You Experienced? I went upstairs and put them on the turntable and taped them onto two sides of a blank cassette, and that tape became my Bible, my Rosetta stone to the world of classic rock.

“Did you like it?” Lex asked. And I told him, “I’m still not into the Dylan, but I like Changes.”

This seemed to satisfy him.

Then, too, we were on the bus together. Lex and Reed and I. Maybe I’m looking for depth where there wasn’t any. Maybe it just happened naturally, organically. We sat with each other and goofed around. Sometimes we walked home together. Proximity. I was just there with them, included. On weekends, he stuck around our neighborhood, rather than go home. Sonny organized wiffle ball games, and Lex was good. The kids in our neighborhood often chose him first because he could hit the ball over the roof of the low building across the street we’d designated home run territory. It’s possible that Lex was just lonely. When I started going to his house, I saw that there weren’t many kids in his neighborhood. And since Reed and I were both part of Sonny’s Paxson crew, we introduced him.

One of the first weekends there, we’d merely walked to 7-Eleven and back. This was what we did, how we spent our time. There wasn’t much going on in the neighborhood, so we occupied ourselves by walking to the convenience store, hanging out in front for a bit, and walking back. I bought lemonade. Cheap syrupy disgusting lemonade, and midway back, rather than drink it I began to pour it on my face, and in between sips, howl at the moon. Lex found this hilarious, further evidence of the comic genius evinced that first day in French by my death metal grunt. I often played to his laughter, and here and there it got me in trouble. That first month of school we were sent to the principal’s office because I’d gotten carried away making him laugh during assembly. I’m not sure what the assembly was for, but I’d started mocking the speaker under my breath, and our laughter compounded, kept getting louder and louder. Our French teacher also had a habit of sending kids out to the hall when they grew disruptive, and I spent a great deal of time there, supposedly thinking about what I’d done to deserve this when all the while I knew what I’d done: I’d made my friends laugh, I’d entertained.

But all this conjecture as to what Lex might have seen in me arises out of the way my mind works. I’m always searching for reasons. There might not be a reason, or if there was, it’s lost to time. Why do I need a reason anyway? It happened. I’m not sure if Lex would have seen it the same, not sure he would care. I’m not sure his mind works like mine, that he’s looking for coherence. “You were there, I liked you, we became friends,” he might say. “Why all the soul searching?” He’d be right, too. I’m imbuing a fourteen-year-old version of him almost mystical qualities, the ability to see who we’d become later.

When I called Jim Lyons to tell him I was writing this and asked if he thought I should call Lex and let him know, he’d commented to this affect.

“His mind doesn’t work like that,” Jim said. “You look at life and see the bigger picture, the significance of small events, the way they shape the story. Lex is just looking forward. He doesn’t spend a lot of time analyzing the past.”

I had faith in myself, my abilities, my worth. I always have. I’m not sure how it came to me. My mother, maybe. A supportive family life. Maybe it’s just my nature. Yes, this faith wavers from time to time. I experience moments of doubt, times when I feel like dogshit, mostly after I’ve made mistakes or committed errors in judgment. But it persists. I find my way back to it eventually. It’s what allowed me to endure the taunts and torments of my peers in elementary school without wilting (and believe me, I saw some of the bullied kids wilt like dead roses). It’s what allowed me to move past my depression and crippling anxiety attacks around the time Lex decided to move to New York in our early-twenties. My teachers confirmed my intelligence, my grasp of knowledge. I read books and understood them. I tested well, even if I didn’t always apply myself (another comment my teachers often made, the problem being that I was a dreamer and when I got bored I drifted off to fantasy lands). Whenever I took an interest in something whether it was skateboarding or baseball or playing the guitar, I was adept, talented. If I wasn’t the best, I could at least keep up with the best. I just never really showed it off. I never had the confidence that others would see it. But Lex did. He saw this in me. It wasn’t just that we were thrown together. He wanted to be a part of my world (and I realize Aladdin really screwed up that combination of words; for a moment, I considered cutting them; as a writer if you’re ever wondering whether something’s cliche, ask yourself, was it used in a popular song, but I guess I’ll leave it because it’s accurate). When I told him I skated, he told me he had a board and we should skate some time, so I invited him to meet up with me and Jacob DeGeorges after school.

It was a Friday. I’d asked my dad to drive me to Jacob’s. His parents’ house was at the end of a cul-de-sac, ten minutes by car, and my dad dropped me off and waited until I got inside. Jacob and I planned to go out skating on the street, just around his neighborhood, and I hadn’t told him I’d invited Lex. I figured if he was all right with it, he’d be cool with me springing it on him. If he wasn’t, telling him now would make it too late to complain. “I invited Lex to come with us,” I said. He shrugged. “I gave him your address. He’s gonna meet us here.” The development where Jacob lived was off Washington Lane. The streets were gray and smoothly-paved, which was great for skating. The houses were nice, cookie-cutter like most developments with astro-turf type lawns, but roomy and well-made. Lex lived a half mile down the road on Maple Avenue in Wyncote. It wouldn’t take him too long to skate over and meet us. We decided that rather than wait inside, we’d skate in the cul-de-sac until he arrived and practice our pressure flips.

Like metalheads, skaters were factional and trendy, fascistic—at least they were in our region—and pressure flips were the latest trick. I’d learned to ollie impossible, a trick that was easiest when you placed one for on the tail and one on the nose and snapped the tail while lifting the front foot. If you moved your back foot correctly, you could wrap the board around your foot in the air and land and skate away. It was a difficult maneuver and none of my friends could do it but me, but Elton had told me it wasn’t cool to ollie impossible anymore, so I only did it when skating by myself or with friends who skated and didn’t care, who were few and far between. In fact, the only skater in Cheltenham I knew like this was John Harrison, who was one of the first people I skated with.

Drew and I had met him in the Gerhart’s parking lot off Easton Road. They had a high curb there that someone had pushed a parking block over so that the parking block sloped down, and it was great to do tricks on, a mini version of a handrail. John Harrison was thin, waifish. He had shaggy, dirty blonde hair that looked as if it were never washed. He wore baggy shorts and had bruises all over his legs, but he was perhaps the most gracious skater I’d ever met. He was already there when we arrived, and he waved at us and welcomed us, which was unusual.

Skaters were territorial, full of glare. They’d try to scare you off their spot if you weren’t a friend and they’d already occupied it. At best, you could sit and watch and wait until they were through, but that was pushing it. You often had to prove yourself. Land an impressive trick. Doing that was the speakeasy password, the best way to get invited in. I was often the one pull this off whenever we rode up on another crew, and even the ollie impossible worked, since few other skaters could do it. Still, when I met John Harrison, I couldn’t yet do the ollie impossible. He was the one who showed me it, although he couldn’t land it. What I could do, rather than simply railslide the parking block at Gerhart’s, was come at it from the opposite direction of a regular railslide, ollie and kick my back foot forward ninety degrees, and in clearing the lip, slide down it that way. John was sitting on his board, watching and yelled out, “Hell yeah!” and clapped and we were friends.

John was fifteen and I was twelve, but it didn’t matter to him once he saw what I could do. He took me under his tutelage, brought me around with him, and when the high school kids he skated with looked at me and said things like, “Why’s the kid here?,” he’d respond, “Wait ’til you see him skate.” He showed me skate videos and explained tricks, and I excelled. At times, it was frustrating for him, especially when I landed something in the space of an afternoon he’d been working on for a week. This happened with the ollie impossible. He had come by Rick’s house and I was there, and we were skating out from on Keswick Avenue. He kept botching this move.

“What are you trying to do?” I said.

“Ollie impossible.”

He rode by me slowly.

“It’s this trick where you put your feet here and here and try to wrap the board around your back foot.”

He did it and the board flipped, but once it did, it clattered away. It took me about an hour to figure out, and by then, I could land it about eighty percent of the time.

“Oh fuck you,” he said, half-jokingly and half-serious.

From his tone, I knew it annoyed him, but it built my confidence. I could do things someone three years older wanted to do. I learned triple kickflips, three-sixty kickflips, and as I neared the end of my skating days in early eighth grade, I ollied the Elkins Park train station gap, becoming as far as I knew only the only person beside Kyle Cantor to clear it. I got cocky, maybe a bit too much, and it wouldn’t be the last time this happened. I owed John Harrison a lot for sticking with me and teaching me. But he was in high school and I was in junior high, so during the school year, I skated mostly with Jacob.

A pressure flip was similar to a one-eighty kickflip without the ollie. You positioned your feet at a slant like a parallelogram with you back foot on the edge of the tail and your front foot on the edge at the other side and swept your back foot downward allowing the pressure to flip the board. The best pressure flips were those where you hardly jumped at all, where you appeared to hover above the board while it seemed to act of its own volition below you. Nothing was cooler than to look like you weren’t trying. We did this for the next twenty minutes. I landed a few but not to my liking, not to the style specified. I hoped to adopt a skaters nonchalance but even those I landed took effort. I tried again and kicked the board away and looked up.

“Lex should be here by now,” I said.

“How much longer are we gonna wait?” Jacob said.

“Why don’t we skate toward Washington Lane? That’s where he’ll be coming from.”

So we skated up the cul-de-sac and made a right and skated to where the development ended and Washington Lane began.

For the life of me I can’t recall how Jacob and I became friends, though I remember how it ended. It didn’t happen that day, but the reasons were already there. All we had in common was skateboarding and guitar. Our personalities were vastly different. We both liked horror movies, and we’d watched a few together, but he also liked to talk about horrors day-to-day, real life horrors, violent acts.

One afternoon while walking a narrow wooded road behind his house, we saw a chipmunk dart across our path.

“What if you, like, shot that chipmunk and skinned it.” He’d talked like this before and it grossed me out, and since it bothered me and he thought it was funny, he brought it up again. “Like, you could take a knife and stick it up its anus, and like, cut its stomach out and then cook it and eat it.”

“Come on, man. That’s gross.”

“Or you could eat it raw.”

“Could you stop?”

“Or what if you like, did it to a baby.”

I tried to ignore him.

“Like what if you took your board.” Here he untucked his board from under his arm, “and hit it on the head. Like right in the head. You know how babies have that soft spot. What if you hit it right there?” He jabbed with his board.

I skated away. He jogged and caught up and stopped talking like this. But he brought it up other times, and it made me queasy. Despite the fact I liked horror films, I knew they were fiction. My parents discussed it with me. It wasn’t real. There were stunt men and effects guys behind it all. The violence in a film was a pale imitation of violence in life, which was what Jacob described. He had a BB gun, and he’d showed it to me, and we’d gone out back and tried shooting birds and squirrels, but we didn’t hit anything. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I did. At first my heart wasn’t in it, but then, the competitive side of me came out and I wanted to prove I could shoot, but still, I didn’t want to kill, and I felt that conflict inside and it confused me. I knew that Drew and Sonny and Tony P. had done this too. They’d shot a squirrel with Sonny’s brother’s BB gun, and after they’d shot it, they cut it open and set it on fire. I’d heard about it secondhand but hadn’t seen it happen, and they didn’t talk about it afterward, not like Jacob talked. Did he talk like that because he’d never hit anything, because he didn’t know what it was like but only imagined?

Once we’d reached Washington Lane, we snapped our boards up and walked. The street was busy, more like a highway than a residential thoroughfare, and the sidewalk wasn’t good for skating. We turned right and walked a few hundred yards, and as we did, I spotted Lex heading toward us. He was walking, holding his board tucked beneath his arm as we were, and his face was all red. Why’s he late, I wondered. And what’s that on his face? It looked like candy apple. Like he’d been eating one and smeared it on his cheeks and nose. He jogged a few steps toward us, holding his hands out and up. His hands were smeared with red as well, and I realized the look on his face was harrowed. He was in pain. The substance was blood.

“He’s hurt,” I cried out, and I threw my board to the ground and leapt on it and skated across the rough-hewn sidewalk to reach him quicker. Once I reached him I snapped up my board and took his arm.

“Oh my god, are you okay? What happened?” I asked him. But he just looked at me and didn’t speak.

What a dumb question. He quite obviously was not okay. There was a large gash running from his forehead to the top of his nose, and each time he blinked, it bled.

“Car,” he muttered. “The board.”

“You got hit by a car?” Jacob said.

Lex shook his head and more blood pulsed out.

“The board. The car hit the board,” he said. “The board hit me.”

“We have to get him to a hospital,” I said. “Can you make it to Jacob’s? It’s up the street.”

I took his skateboard and gripped him under his arm and led him along. I was terrified, but kept my cool.

What if he dies, I thought. He’s my friend, but what if he dies? Could he die?

He was walking around, semi-coherent.

I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I had to help him. I needed something to put on the wound and stop the blood, but I didn’t have anything, and Lex continued bleeding. We walked up the street and back into the development.

“It’s just a few blocks up ahead,” I told him. We struggled along, and as we entered the development, I spotted a group of kids playing basketball up one of the side streets. I recognized them from school.

“Can you help?” I called out.

They came down the block and looked at us.

Among them were Lonnie Sales and Kareem Sanders. Lex knew them. He’d hung out with them before.

“Oh shit, he’s fucked up!” one of them said.

“Yeah, could you help us?”

“Come on,” Lonnie said, and he led us into his driveway. The garage door was open, and Lonnie sat Lex in a fold-out picnic chair.

“Sit here.”

Jacob had skated ahead to his house to get his mom.

“Jake’s gone to get help,” I said. “Where’s your mom and dad, can I call them for you?”

He shook his head, another spurt.

“They’re in Atlantic City,” he said. “My sister’s home.”

“What’s the number? Which sister?”

He had three and two were older: Ava and Abby. He said his parents had left Ava in charge. Lonnie led me inside to his phone, and I tried calling but no one answered. Lonnie went and got his dad, and his dad come out with a towel and gave it to Lex.

“Get in the car,” he said.

With that, they drove off. I didn’t know what would happen to him. I was trembling, almost in tears. I stood in the street and saw the powder blue Caddie Jacob’s mom drove. Jacob got out.

“Where were you,” I said. “What took you so long?”

I figured anger was better than tears.

“It took me some time to explain,” Jacob said. “Man, give me a break.”

He was right. It would have taken him time to get there, explain, get back. But I wanted to be angry. For the rest of the night, I was quiet. I stayed until my dad came to pick me up, but I didn’t say much. I was worried. I wanted to call and see if Lex was okay, but he was probably still at the hospital.

When we were very young, just boys, maybe eight or nine, I remember we talked about who we’d be when we grew up. Usually it was Drew and Rick and I. We imagined having wives and children. We named the children. There was always a boy named after ourselves. We never imagined death. But now it’s been twenty-five years. Rick’s no longer with us. When he passed, I hadn’t spoken to him for years. I’d see him out at a bar in Philly and pretend I didn’t know him, and he did the same. There were reasons for this that I won’t go into now. But when he died, I felt grief. He’d been my friend a long time. Today I posted the previous chapter here and learned that the girl I’m calling Hailey also died. Doing this online, it’s not a traditional memoir. I expected things like this to happen, comments to change the course of my thoughts. There’s something that shakes me in hearing of her death, premature. I’m picturing her, a red-headed wisp of a girl, fragile in the way we’re all fragile, even the heartiest of us, even Sonny Ford, Clive Drummond. This feeling, whenever it infects me, lingers for hours, days even. I’m all hollowed out by how close we are to our ends at any given moment. The way we flirt with it day-in, day-out. The way none of us knows when it’s coming. The wreck you see on the highway that might have been yours if you’d left the house five minutes earlier. The pain that causes people to do it to themselves. The call we get when it happens, the phone rings early morning, an ungodly hour. Something irrevocable has occurred. This is the reason I didn’t like the way Jacob talked about violence even then. It isn’t something frivolous, light, a toy to toss around to torment your squeamish friend. Once it happens we feel like we should have seen it coming, done something to stop it, if not right then, then maybe years before, but we couldn’t have known. I’m sitting in an office chair during my lunch break, mourning a girl I hadn’t thought about in years, hadn’t remember until I started to write this. I’m thinking of Rick and how his life might have been different, of what could have happened to prevent him from being in that particular apartment on that particular night when the gunman came to kill him. And I’m thinking of the car on Washington Lane that hit Lex’s skateboard and flipped it up so it caught him in the face. A half-inch to the right or left and he might been blinded. Any greater force, and it might be that I’m not writing this now. I’d have lost a friend before I really had one. And who knows where I’d be?

But Lex recovered. He had to wear a large unflattering mass of bandages over his nose. He’d been treated to an inordinate amount of stitches. What was it? Thirty? Forty? But he survived it. And I went to see him the next day. I stopped by often while he recovered, and I think these visits and my concern meant to Lex what Lex standing up to Clive meant for me. We listened to music and hung out in his room. We joked about it afterward to minimize how serious it was, how much worse it could have been. But I knew. I’d seen the way the blood had spurted out of the wound. It still chills me to think of it. I started to walk to his house. I didn’t ask my parents to drive me. It only took twenty minutes. I’d cut through TW Park, and once he recovered, he’d meet me. I’d call him. We’d make a plan. I’d start walking from my end, he from his. I’d see him rounding the corner of North Bent Road, jogging, as I came from Hewitt, I walking uphill, he down, the tennis courts and jungle gym hovering in the background. And we’d go from there. We’d go and do whatever we wanted to do. Because we could back then. Because we were young and alive.



on July 2, 2016, 3:28 pm

Hey, I am catching up finally. You may bring it up later, but I am wondering if we spent time at Jenkintown Train Station together at all? I went there a bunch, but it may have been after the time I spent with you and Lex. I know I went with Alex Sanford quite a bit. I also keep thinking of the ice skating rink at EP. Place and space is so interesting when it comes to memory, and writing. When you described Washington Lane and walking to meet Lex- I had a flood montage-style of memories of Curtis Arb, Bent Road (and Maple of course), Jenkintown, the train tracks (walking them from Jenkintown to Glenside, or the other way to EP) the Cheltenham Mall and Tyler etc.



on July 3, 2016, 1:19 pm

I remember you hanging out at the train station, but I think that came after. There was an important train station moment for me that will come later in the narrative, however.


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