THE DAY I HAD TED DANSON’S HAIR.
Spring 1988 -- I was well into being Captain Fucking Movies and had to see everything I could in a theater; I mean movies that like no 15-year-old on earth would’ve given a shit about, but from around age 12 or 13 I started getting more and more obsessive about going to the theater instead of just renting stuff 5 or 6 months later. There was a brief era in here for a couple years where my mom – who previously hadn’t that big on going to the theater – became my Moviegoing Buddy, which led to such great formative fucking moments as me and Ma coming home from the Cineplex and Dad asked what we saw and the answer was the incredibly unmanly sounding “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which I clarified by saying “It’s a WOODY ALLEN film, Dad!” which did not help my case, because my old man ABSOLUTELY fucking hated that guy and anyway I’m sure there was some big ballgame on that night and your already-dorky son in Coke-bottle glasses bragging about a night on the town with Mommy to catch the latest Barbara Hershey movie couldn’t have sounded any fucking gayer if I threw some confetti on him like Rip Taylor. It’s because of moments like this that I still half-think my family suspects I’m gay and living some Steve Inwood-in-Cruising existence in the big bad city 2,000 miles away.
But Mom was pretty cool and had fun seeing the big shows with her son, and Woody Allen excepted, was oddly into guy’s-guy movies, so things like “Color of Money” and “The Hitcher” and “Platoon,” she’d take me and I didn’t think anything of it…. Until “The Hidden” came out, that Kyle Maclachlan alien movie, and for fuck-knows-what reason I went with my MOM to see this, and not only was some striptease part a little odd to watch stifling a boner from a seat away, but we saw it on a Friday night, and upon exiting the theater, like half the Cool Kids Class of ’91 was hanging out outside smoking and bullshitting like a scene from Wild Life or Fast Times, and out waddles my dorky ass clearly going to the cinema with Mommy on a FRIDAY NIGHT at age 14, and some fat chick made fun of me In Front of My Mom about it, they’re all “HAHAHAHA He goes to the movies with his Mom! HAHAHA!” Fucking mortifying, and while I think my mom treasured our little outings, she was pretty understanding thereafter about me feeling a little weird about this, and wanting to start spreading my wings by – oh, what a badass – going to movies BY MYSELF!
This long movie-related preface is only to establish which oughta be fucking obvious by now – I didn’t have any goddman friends. These are my later junior high years, the worst, bleakest days of my life, where puberty and awkwardness were meeting head-on with daily bullying and occasional beatdowns, kids tripping me in hallways, Trapper Keeper flying, some fuckbag who’d call me VELOUR always on my case. My mom still bought my clothes, and this is like 1986, ’87, ’88, I didn’t understand fashion shit or care at all, but seemed like EVERY KID had some WHITE T-SHIRT WITH A CRAZY BEACH BAR LOGO, like a big fucking Koo-Koo-Roo looking bird and it’d say like JERK SHACK on it, they’d wear it with acid washed and some Michael Biehn high-tops. I didn’t know how to explain this uniform of the day to my mom, but everyone else’s clothes seemed all casual and bullyish and carefree, and instead I’m still repping Selections By Mom, which were still from the 1979 Columbia Pictures Palette, and BROWN O’CLOCK, always like some ill fitting CORUROY JEANS with a SKIN-TIGHT AS FUCK BROWN PLAID SHIRT or MAROONS. MAROON AND BROWN, yeah, just the ticket in the days of the Lost Boys and hair metal and Tiffany and whatnot. Anyway, yeah, the one shirt was a MAROON VELOUR V-NECK which I can’t imagine WASN’T the gayest fucking shirt in HUMAN HISTORY, and this asshole named Joe something-or-other, some little hateful Pittsburgh white-trash fucking midget would go “VELLLLUUUUUUUUURE!” and start tearing at it. Bunch of dudes circling me like a fucking Sasha Grey blowbang all shouting “VELOUR!” including this fuckhead named Farrare who was a close friend in elementary school but turned on me in junior high, and when I tried fighting back, the Joe kid spit a mouthful of Goldfish crackers on it then Farrare tore it, I had to spend the rest of the day red-faced and ashamed with a RIPPED SHIRT like a loser, everyone making fun of me then the INSANE GUILT where I couldn’t tell my mom that this all happened because she was still dressing me in these absurd fashions.
It had been a little better in 7th grade when my friend Bobby still was around – Mentioned this elsewhere, but he was kind of Dennis Gilder to my Arnie Cunningham, cool kid from across the street who was into music and playing drums and stealing cigarettes and ripping off his dad’s porno mags. Just a great regular dude, but he and his family moved away at the beginning of eight grade, and I was left pretty friendless, NERVOUS AS FUCK entering the lunchroom like it was the prison yard, ultimately sitting with the biggest fucking nerds in the school, the only guys that’d have me, including some rod named Heckla who already had male pattern baldness at FOURTEEN YEARS OF AGE, and some towering lurch who I think was 100% mute. So it was a regular cringing misery every day at lunch with this crew, who unlike my bro Bobby didn’t do jack or shit when some fuckhead rolled up to us and put a booger on my mom’s home-packed Bologna sandwich, or laughed at me drinking a can of SHASTA with a STRAW (“Huh huh huh….You like sucking on straws? I bet you like sucking on straws….”) Great, thanks, fuck off.
And this shit didn’t stop at just school. They’d crank call my house, I’d be watching “Top Gun” on VHS and a party full of little assholes would call asking for me then laughing and calling me “fag,” and the phone would ring over and over and my Mom would get on and yell at them as I cringed and couldn’t focus on Goose’s YAW RATE HEARING. And worse than that was some bullshit called CCD. For those who aren’t Catholic (lucky fucking you), it’s this afterschool or Sunday School type shit where you go and some dude teaches you/…. Fuck, I don’t even know. I stuck with it through 12th grade and maybe I just blanked it out, but I never learned a fucking thing except guilt and misery and depression from it, it’d be some “teacher”/volunteer guy telling you about Jesus or burning in hell or “don’t jerk off” or something, and ALL the fucking cool kids who hated me seemed to be there too, and I’d be stewing that these alleged fucking Catholic angels were all bullying and partying and crank-calling my mom and shit in their downtime. In eight grade our CCD “teacher” was this absolute prick who looked like the “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” guy from Night of the Living Dead, and the guy could NOT having given less of a fuck, he’d put on MTV and let the kids shoot the shit as Motley Crue, that great Catholic example, wailed in the background.. One cold wintry Pittsburgh night in this depressing classroom, his “lesson” was on our burgeoning sexuality and making “the right choices,” and as part of his INCREDIBLY HIP PATTER, he offhanded, “By now, all of you are starting to have feelings. You might be starting to date, and might be PASSING NOTES. I’m sure everyone here as at least PASSED A NOTE now, unless you’re a COMPLETE LERP.” On cue, this weaseally asshole named MONROE pointed at me and declared “HE’S A LERP!” and the teacher DOUBLED OVER, just HOWLING WITH LAUGHTER, “Is that true? You’re a LERP?” And then selected kids started changing LERP! LERP! LERP! as I got all red-faced and slunk into the key lime-colored cement floor.
After “class” one night, the hits kept coming with the bullying and bullshit until I RAN OUT like a bitch, and they circled me with their CDD PROGRAMs, kind of like a baseball program size, rolled up and started whacking me with it. I was ducking and bobbing and terrified and somehow WALKED INTO A FUCKING BROKEN OFF RUSTY PIPE that was protruding from a Dumpster. It broke one of my two front teeth in half. Just chipped the whole bottom half off so I had half a tooth. I screamed “My tooth! My tooth!” as the sensation of the exposed nerve kicked in. They laughed at this for a few seconds before realizing they’d seriously fucked up, but, hey! Their rides home were waiting and everyone pretty much shuffled off in their own directions, leaving me there stunned and shocked and feeling fucking amputated, and some dumb fat oaf goes “Here’s your tooth, dude,” as he had found it for me on the ground. Everyone dispersed and my mom 10m later rolled in to find her son in the snow under a lonely basketball hoop missing a tooth thanks to fucking Catholic class.
She went on a warpath looking for some soccer mom to yell at, but the head culprit was apparently from some white-trash hateful family and the parents couldn’t have given a FUUUUUUCK, and told my Mom it was my own dumbass fault for not being coordinated like the immortal champion Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to ducking a pipe sticking out of a Dumpster on a frozen shitty evening. I got my tooth mounted/capped within a day or so, and as a beacon of kindness toward me and my Mom, this other awesome mom whose son was there but not part of the bullying called our house to see if I was okay, said her son Scott saw it and felt horrible about the whole thing and wanted to hang out. I’m fairly sure this was sort of an Arranged Playdate of sorts encouraged by his mom, maybe partly out of guilt that he had witnessed this scene, but me and Scott had gone to elementary school together in 6th grade when I first moved to Pittsburgh. We had been pals then but gone our separate ways a little bit in junior high, but still saw each other once in a blue room and were pretty friendly. This is basically how I finally got another friend I actually liked and got along with, and who wasn’t a complete fucking dork like the lunchroom crew. We even soon enough got a third pal, this guy Phil, and sometimes an assist from this bozo named JIMMY JACK on Zeppo duty -- and before you new it there was camaraderie and occasional outings like ballgames and birthdays, and some of the psychosis and social cluelessness of 7th and 8th grade subsided and the slightest hint of confidence entered the equation. I was still getting called a “fag” and a “dork” and I would occasionally have some loathsome bush-league Repperton stick his sweaty gym clothes in my locker as a prank, but bolstered by having a friend or two, my funny side came out a little more, and in classes where I felt comfortable (usually English classes) and no bullies were around, I’d do my comedy lines and cut loose a little with the “wacky guy” persona I’d comfortably had as a Rodney Dangerfield-obsessed 10-year-old in laid-back Maine. Fuck, even some of the “popular kids” started thinking of me as funny and stood up for me a little, and the beatings dropped off entirely. Say it with me, Johnny Drama: Victory!
But even though this was -- shockingly, depressingly – as close to a “posse” or crew as I’ve ever successfully maintained, on the “best friend” front it wasn’t always smooth sailing with my “bro” Scott. The most concise way to put this is he was very much an all-American sports-loving, super patriotic ballcap-and-NASCAR, er, what do you call it? Oh, yeah, NORMAL PERSON. And I’m a fucking fruit loop who at age 14 was more interested in seeing “The Last Emperor” because Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs up than in the Steelers or Penguins and who yelled at my Dad for booking our Florida vacation the week WPTT was gonna show an edited-to-fit-2hrs 96 minute version of “Serpico.” (And I couldn’t just set a VCR from afar, I had to BE HOME to HIT PAUSE and CUT OUT THE COMMERCIALS so I could later STOPWATCH THE RUNNING TIME OF THIS CUT.)
The movie psychosis never stopped, and with regards to this Scott dude, even in SIXTH GRADE during our first go-round as pals, I remember subjecting him to my AUDIO RECORDINGS of Popeye Doyle curse words and going to some recreation night at our school and whining to him that we were missing “Up the Creek” on HBO, and in all cases, this dude just BAFFLED by this obviously unimportant bullshit. And it continued ahoy in our ninth grade era, dude would JUST WANNA SHOOT SOME HOOPS or throw a football around like normal kids, and I’d browbeat him into watching “Assault on Precinct 13” and he’d bored to motherfucking death watching this depressing “old movie” with actors he’d never seen with that dreary music, guy just didn’t get it at all. Which is fucking fair enough, I was the weird one, and as an adult this is why I try my damndest never to talk movies too much in real life, I tend to see movies alone and go well out of my way, at least OFF the internet, not to be too insane about this shit, unless 1988, when I was having Scott NAME MOVIES so I could wow him by having the runtimes memorized, long after he rightly pointed out, “How would I fucking know if any of these are right?”
And Scott’s old man was a fucking riot, this big, towering, John Wayne-worshipping old-school grumpy SOB who was so into telling you “I’m to the right of Pat Buchanan,” he might as well have a fucking BUSINESS CARD made up saying it. Dude was this cigar-chomping awesome DAD built like a mighty oak and who above all FUCKING THINGS ABSOLUTELY HATED ME. We called this guy THE FOUNDER because he looked fucking exactly like Dave Thomas the Wendy’s guy who was described as THE FOUNDER OF WENDY’s in commercials then. THE FOUNDER would drive us to the mall to “check out the babes” and on the way there in he’d be trying to talk Pens or Buccos with Scott and my contributions to the conversation would be faggy shit like asking if he saw DAVID BRENNER on the Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show the night before, which fucking appalled him on a million levels, not the least of which was the horrifying concept of a kid of 15 STAYING UP PAST 9-FUCKING-PM. Dude also one got so incensed his daughter bought a Japanese car that he fucking WEPT and made her say the Pledge of Allegiance then threatened to cut her out of the will for turning her back on American cars.
In short, this guy ABSOLUTELY OWNED, exactly the kind of taskmaster hardon who I’d fucking love today, but back then I just couldn’t get in good with the dude at all, who surely was worried about his all-American son hanging out with this Hollywood-lovin’ pussy. He’d give you his WISDOM on certain topics like the correct level of BROWN on his TOAST, or how the perfect soda taste is 2/3 regular Coke with 1/3 Diet Coke, then he’d send us to CoGos to get him one from the fountain and if the fucking Coke-Diet Coke mix wasn’t SPOT-ON he’d spit-take that shit like fucking Arsenio.
Much like how my main bonding thing with my Dad was baseball, and how it was movies when it came to Mom, Scott and The Founder’s big thing was model and remote control airplanes. Both guys were apple-pie as fuck and Scott wanted to be a Navy pilot, they loved aviation and planes and the military and all that shit, and would have these father-son bonding times when they’d built and craft these models together and get super fucking stoked to go try and fly it. They’d try to show it to me, all excited about their newest creation or purchase or FEAT OF MINIATURE AVIATION, and true to form I was about as gracious and open to it as fucking Rain Man, all YEAH THAT’S NICE BUT THERE’S A GOOD WILLIAM FRIEDKIN MOVIE ON HBO TONIGHT. Fucking dork. Like it fucking BLOWS MY MIND how socially inept I am, I was, how I maintained this friendship or any other, ever. As the Founder himself put it, “There’s something weird about you, kid.”
To bring this all back to where we came in, I have cut my mom loose as a Movie Buddy! and Scott couldn’t give a fuck about seeing such formative gems as “Fatal Attraction” and “Less Than Zero” on the silver screen, a fact that his dad the founder of Wendy’s couldn’t be more thankful over. So I essentially resign myself to my eternal fate as a Solo Moviegoer, having Ma drop me off at the trusty Showcase theater or mall dollar house to see this incredibly inappropriate movies that should rightly bore any guy my age, who should be out on the football field or hitting some Risky Business gags-and-stunts house parties by now. But nope, then as now, every weekend it’s ‘What’s out this week? Oh my God I have to see it now now now” And in the spring of 1988, the MAIN FUCKING EVENT for me is “Colors,” that Sean Penn/Robert Duvall cop movie about inner-city gangs. Just that kind of shit ALWAYS the most exciting thing in the UNIVERSE to me, COPS AND GUNS AND DRUGS AND SCARY TOUGH GUYS in LOS ANGELES, I was on PINS AND NEEDLES, and even though I knew goddamn well knew the answer, I tried browbeating Scott into seeing this EPIC IMPORTANT MOVIE with me. IT HAS SEAN PENN! IT HAS ROBERT DUVALL! IT HAS THAT SONG BY ICE-T! IT’S GONNA BE SO COOL! Dude gave it the TOTAL PASS, no interest anyway but this was a weekend where he and the Founder had FINALLY finished some long-worked-on RC PLANE that they were fucking GEEKED over, and I’m trying to persuade him to blow off the FATHER-SON MOMENT OF THE YEAR to go see OFFICER SPICOLI FUCKING UP STREET GANGS. Got the resounding “no no no no no, also no” and accepted my fate, and half-promised, “Yeah, maybe once my IMPORTANT MOVIE IS OVER, I’ll swing by the park and check out your plane.”
But despite the current SOCIAL CONTRACT between me and Ma that the movies-together playdate was a little weird, somehow at the last minute she’s ALL ABOUT seeing this, mostly because of Duvall and “it looks exciting” or something. So I’m cringing that this MOST AWESOMEST COP MOVIE SHIT EVER! is now an outing with Mommy, so I lay down some GROUND RULES that Mom is to drop me off at the curb then park and enter the SHOWCASE CINEMAS separately, she is to walk behind me at all times, and sit at least three seats away. Just such an absolute douche move I still feel vaguely guilty about, as if ROLLING SOLO at a mediocre Sean Penn movie at age 15 makes you a regular fucking Newman in HUD or something. So we see it and it’s, well, maybe not everything I had hoped for but still, fuck it, COPS AND GANGS AND L.A. POLICE UNIFORMS and the treasured emotional experience of hanging out with your Mom watching MARIA CONCHITA ALONSO overacting “HEY PACMAN! LOOOOK AT ME PACMAN! LOOOK AT ME PACMAN!” Plus Duvall clearly wears WRANGLERS, which made my mom go “SEE? SEE? I GET YOU WRANGLERS!” as if ninth graders look to skid-rocking Robert Duval for fashion pointers.
But one thing that REALLY STANDS OUT is Penn’s hair, this CRISP TIGHT SLICKED BACK JERFRO OF LACQUERED BEEFARONI. From the second it ends and we’re back in the family Truckster I’m like “Mom, do you think I could make my hair look like Sean Penn???? Do I look like Sean Penn?” Now I have this fucking TRAVOLTA MOMENT BY MOMENT head of Italian Meatball Hair back then, like STALLONE ON THE MOTORCYCLE IN ROCKY II montage hair, can’t even get a comb through the fucking stuff, but there’s a part where Penn SCULPTS HIS SLICK with an ACE COMB or something and the SECOND WE GET HOME, I’m in the bathroom wetting and slicking my BOUNTIFUL BOUFFANT to kingdom fucking come, but it won’t stay down and TIGHT like Penn’s, my hair’s so thick it just COLLAPSES if I move two steps. So I bring out the big guns and bust out this REALLY GAY MOUSSE my Mom had bought me the summer before, which I didn’t like the smell of. As an aside, one day that summer or fall while I had the house to myself, I tried jerking off to the end credits of HOWLING II while using said MOUSSE as a LUBE, which I do not recommend whatsoever.
So I’m plastering my fucking pompadour with enough jerkoff lube mousse that it’s up to like Kelly Lynch heights when I finally BRUSH IT into what I feel is an approximation of the esteemed Mr Penn in COLORS, which in fact it resembles in no fucking way whatsoever, when I remember, oh, yeah, I should probably go check out Scott’s plane up at the park. This is obviously in the pre-cellphone days on a late afternoon, but I decide to top my PENN CREATION with some SHADES which are like 2-dollar Kmart Ray Bans with ORANGE STEMS and WHAT’S MORE SEAN PENN THAN A HAWAIIAN SHIRT? As a GAG GIFT my dad bought me an obnoxious Aloha shirt for my birthday, and of course it’s SKIN TIGHT AS FUCK but I got the POMPADOUR GOING and the SHADES, never mind I’m topping his ensemble with some nut-hugger BURNT ORANGE GAY SHORTS courtesy of Mom’s impeccable fashion sense, and I’m off to the park Scott’ll be so happy I came to see his plane he’s so proud of.
On the way over, the WIND STARTS KICKING a little and takes hold of my PACMAN COIF and by the time I get there I can feel that this shit is sky-high like fucking Mark Blankfield as Mr. Hyde. Now imagine that then imagine me coming over a big green hill looking like an absolute DORK and spot my best friend and his dad FLYING THE SKIES with their prized fucking RED BARON RC whatever-the-fuck, swear to God The Founder half has a tear in his eye, this is a beautiful moment between father and son, TOTAL Chris Cooper-Jake Gyllenhaal moment from OCTOBER SKY, they handcrafted this plane and tested it and tweaked and it DID THIS TOGETHER, probably the last beautiful formative moment before Scott gets into girls and other interests and they lose touch a little, don’t have that same closeness, but they’ll always have this, this plane, this amazing experience….
Then me shouting “HI SCOTT! HIIIII!” from up on some fucking hilly plain in my BURNT ORANGE SHORT SHORTS with my hair nine feet high with a HAWAIIAN SHIRT on running at them flailing my arms, blurting in on their great day and beaming “I JUST SAW COLORSSSSSS WITH SSTHHHEAN PENNN! DOESN’T MY HAIR LOOK JUUUUUUSTTTHT LIKE SEAN PENN?” If the Sean Penn of 1988 had been the political hot-potato Sean Penn of 2016, I swear the fucking Founder would’ve flown that goddamn Red Baron right into my ballsack then and there, but even then and no chance he even knew who the fuck I was talking about, the dude’s rage-glare was one inch from horse-whipping me like the fucking DUKE, this nancy tubby goober rambling about some Commie cop movie on his BIG DAY, me just CLUELESS and FUCKING STUPID AS EVER blaring I LOOK LIKE SEAN PENN I LOOK LIKE SEAN PENN….
Until Scott cuts the tension and goes “You look more like Sam Malone.” His dad broke character and hit the fucking DECK, holding his belly and pointing HAHAHHAHA HOLY SHIT IT’S SAMMY! HEY SAMMY POUR ME ANOTHER BEER! which wasn’t really a particularly clever line but it brought down the house for those two dumbasses, “You look like TED DANSON!” Scott kept repeating, obviously his dad having no idea what the actor’s name was so he kept with the HEY SAMMY! HEY SAMMMMY! for what seemed like nine fucking years til it finally ran its course and they quickly, their moment totally ruined, showed me one quick loop of this little contraption they’d put all this effort into before the dad packed it in for the day, semi-dejected, and they went home muttering and half-chuckling about “Sammy” as I stood there, yet again, red-faced, deflated, ashamed, and confused that discussing a stupid movie could EVER be ANYTHING but the most important subject at any given moment in time.
All that said, Scott remained a fairly good pal and long after I moved away and moved on, we’d keep in touch a little and have a few laughs, though the last time it seemed like maybe enough time and distanced had passed that not much was there to riff about anymore, and that’s fine. Things even seemed to come full circle as he was in total Dad mode around his kids last I saw him, bellowing WISDOM and FOUNDER RULES, and he and his nice wife seemed about as mystified by this awkward dorky lone wolf dude from California they both probably barely recognized or remembered, yet knew all too well and nothing had really changed. They were excited about me meeting their awesome kids, and as per usual I was weird and dropping ill-timed movie references about BURT REYNOLDS to a five-year-old showing me his matchbox cars, and I was still asking incessantly about old high school people they likely hadn’t thought of in a decade, me in De Niro The Fan mode living in the distant past. Much as I think I’m more self-aware now than I was in the Sammy Malone days, I guess maybe I’m really not, or I only see how off-putting I am when I wallow in and fixate on the past rather than being normal in the present. When we all said farewell that night, I kinda got the feeling it’d be the last time we’d hang out, and indeed a day or two later we were supposed to hit a bar but one or both of us canceled, no hard feelings. Eighteen years later, I’m still pushing away real-life relationships and opportunities to make sure I catch “Triple 9” at the first available matinee, so I guess literally nothing has changed, except I don’t have the Ted Danson hair anymore.