31 July 2009

1979 ... The Summer Between


Languid onshore breezes are blowing this afternoon here in Los Angeles. The palm trees, some 100 feet tall, grow with a certain katana blade shape because of these winds. As sometimes happens on windy days, I think back to earlier childhood times. It's the rustling of the wind in the fronds that sort of lulls me to daydreaming, and remembering, and ignoring the article I'm supposed to write (for JustLuxe.com); the one that sits on my desk, mocking me, waiting for another ham-fisted attempt by yours truly. What shook loose from the palm trees today, though, was a memory from 30 years ago. The summer of 1979 was an odd and ungainly one, transformative for me and my friends in a lot of ways.

This was the summer going from jr. high to high school. When bodies became long and thin, and parents worried a bit more about where you were, what you were doing, and more importantly, whom you were with. This was the summer/era of going from disco to punk, Carter to Reagan, from boyhood to wanting manhood. From innocent indolence to focused fury of pubescence.

Most of the time during the summer of 1979 I worried about being "big" enough to play football (my dad said I wasn't allowed to play b/c he thought I was too small. I can actually remember exactly where we were as I teared-up silently, staring out our Cutlass Olds). My core friends didn't play football, so I didn't perseverate on the topic too long because they wouldn't hear of it anyway. I was able to participate in the other things we were doing that summer -- like playing poker late into the night; camping out in backyards; swimming in pools and at the beach; joy-riding on my brother's Ducatti when my parents were in Europe; sneaking out and riding skateboards at 2am when my parents were sleeping in their room upstairs above mine -- and decided to let my body determine on its own if I was going to be able to make the team (which I finally would, thank God).

A huge pastime, obsession, constant reminder for us, as one could imagine, was girls. Just about anything to do with girls was on our minds: our best friend's sisters, their moms, the lady who gave out cookie samples at Von's Grocery, the Farah Fawcett poster (RIP -- the actress not the poster). We had several very mature freshman/sophomores who (unfortunately for them and fortunate for us) weren't old enough to drive and so had to stick around our neighborhood in the canyon that led to Malibu, nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains like a kitten in the crook of an avacado green couch.

One of the girls who received our affection and attention was the niece of a legendary rock band drummer (who would die the next year, as all rock drummers seemed to be doing back then). She had a sizable German Shepherd who needed to be walked every day, twice a day, on account of the rather sizable "her-shitza-poopoos" (as they say in doggie German) that her mom was getting tired of cleaning up.

Ms. Barbie, with her shock of auburn hair, would walk that dog up and around the hilly streets of our tract, and the half-dozen of us boys reported on her whereabouts as regular militia spying on enemy troop movements. Whether we were playing football, shooting hoops, riding our skateboards up the 10 ft ramp we built at the end of the cul-de-sac, or just sitting on the wall next to the pomegranate tree eating our purloined fruit, when she would sashay by, we would think up any excuse to make small talk with her. We even tried try to shake her hand with our purple stained fingers, and she'd just sort of laugh at us. Now that we were all good and embarrassed, she'd keep walking, telling her dog jokingly, "watch 'em!" Looking back to 1979, that was not a bad way for a matriculating 8th grader to spend a summer.

The other girl was Tammy. Tammy looked 23. When you're 13, and somebody looks 23 ... well, let's just say nobody ever talked to Tammy. Not even the next year when she became a water girl for the football teams. Tammy was TNT, nitroglycerin, and C4 all rolled into one sophomore ordinance shell. She was rarely around because the junior and seniors routinely picked her up to go to the beach. She'd wave, though. Just sort of smile, shake her blond hair, and flick her fingers in our direction. Either she was waving, or something was stuck on her finger. I think she liked being noticed, and was probably waving to us, even if it was a silent soliloquy of "so long, suckers." And we were. Suckers. For her and for Ms. Barbie.


1979 was the year that "Magic" Johnson won the NCAA basketball championship (and was coming to L.A. to start showtime) and John "the Duke" Wayne passed away. That year, 1979 and thereabouts, was weird because there was a couple of serial killers on the loose in Southern California. One was targeting women, and the other young boys. The police found the body of one 14 or 15 yr-old boy in a dumpster at the end of the street by where we rode our skateboards. I can't remember exactly the order of these events, but it happened something like this, I swear. We (3 or 4 of us) were riding in an old abandoned skatepark near the 101 fwy, and a creepster dude stopped his VW van and asked if he could take some pictures. Nick (who looked like Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) said "sure" and proceeded to take his shirt off like a total a-hole and ride around one of the bowls (looks like an empty swimming pool) working up a good lather of sweat. Greg and myself (and I think my little brother) immediately got out of the bowl and told Nick to "Come on, dude! We gotta go!!" Nick, thank God, eventually got out and came over to where the rest of us were standing with disbelief on our faces. We then ran like hell to get back home, thinking we saw that VW van at every turn and corner. That night I happened to tell my friend John about the creepy-creep; his dad (unbeknownst to me) happened to be on a special California task force looking for this serial killer of young boys. Before the next morning, every kid at that old skatepark had been interviewed by the task force, the vehicle identified, and the creepster photog taken in for questioning.


Turns out he wasn't the guy, but, thank God, they did manage to catch the guy. He was convicted and became one of the first murderers to be put-down by the renewed death penalty in California.

That summer was also noticeable for the slow, yet rhythmic death of disco (you could dance to it). People were actually spray painting "disco" with an exclamation on the bottom of stop signs, reading "STOP disco!" Music is such an important conduit for transporting us back to those sepia memories of our youth. I actually like certain disco again, e.g., KC and the Sunshine Band ("party hand" in the air, y'all!). That summer of 1979 also showed the remarkable growth of punk. Man, did I love the music of the late 70's and early 80's: The Ramones, The Police, Devo, The Buggles, The Talking Heads, The Cars, X, AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Steely Dan.

Those awkward moments of junior high were about to become awkward years in high school. When the Ayatollah would toss out a Shah, and an actor would toss out a peanut farmer from the presidency. When the West would begin to face the challenge of radical Islam. The times were changing with Disco, the "Duke," and avocado green and burnt orange interior design colors all passing their stale dates. KROQ was becoming cool, yuppies were being born like litters of puppies, and interest rates were starting to come back down to earth. Everything was old, yet it all was new, too. Good ole 1979.

7 comments:

Dumbwit Tellher ♥ said...

Great trip down memory lane or is that mammary lane..lol? Growing up in CA for me always sounded like Disneyland 24/7. It was not until I was 19 that I finally got to visit & 45 that I got to live there, although to brief. How I loved & still do, Steely Dan! Your posts always are impressive.

JGregg said...

ha! "mammary lane" ... i love that! didn't mean to be too obnoxious, but that was 1979 for us. so glad that you got to live even for a bit in california. one of my favorite times was living in virginia for a few years during grad school; surpassed my expectations. -- Jg.

christian soldier said...

Moved here round '79--did not want to live here---Now-I would not leave--
unless the taxes on business get WAY to heavy ...

Your post -'A Baker's Dozen..' brought a smile ...
and all (13)! admonitions are so true... -
(9.--opening doors for women is an honorable act...I - a 'former' "I can do everything myself.." woman.. appreciate such acts of gallantry now...)
C-CS

Dr. Dave said...

You have such a rhythm to your prose. I really enjoy it. Thanks for sharing.

I was 12 that summer and didn't have nearly as much fun as you, but I can remember most of what you talked about here. Now...if only I can remember where I put my car keys this morning....

JGregg said...

Carol-CS: Thx for stopping by, and glad you enjoyed the Baker's Dozen post!

Dr. D -- Huge compliment, thank you, sir. Btw, your keys are still in the lock outside on front porch (I hate when I or my kids leave mine there!).

Caleb S. Garcia said...

Sounds like you had a fun childhood as dictated through your nostalgic memoirs. Also I'm glad you weren't chopped to bits by the skate-park-photo killer, that would have been bad...also the Cars chick is well painted, that is all.

K. said...

Ah, I love getting nostalgic...I got sucked in by your Police poster(I had one in my room around that time)and enjoyed reading your memories...