I have mentioned him before in passing, but one of the few friends I had in New York during my astoundingly awkward seventh grade year was a kid named Jamie. I have to assume since he was buddies with a clueless dork like me, he must have been pretty lonely and damaged too but then again, who doesn’t feel that way in seventh grade. We went to second and third grade together before he transferred elsewhere but we somehow ended up in the same smart geek-filled SP advanced class together when we started Junior High. Don’t worry, by eighth grade they booted me outta’ that program and shoved me back with the regular riff-raff and rambunctious remedials.
Besides not really knowing or liking much of anyone else in the class, the only real point of context we had to build a friendship on was a shared obsession with The Beatles. We dissected albums, quoted lyrics and tried to stump each other with researched band history factoids during class. Eventually we hung out together after school a handful of times.
One of our bigger mismatches involved sports or more precisely, my cluelessness on the subject. Jamie was a typical somewhat athletic kid that could hold his own in any game and near religiously followed all the local sports teams. Most of my family could not even name all the local teams and we certainly were not known for our athletic prowess.
There was never an inkling of an iota of a floated around idea of a thought that maybe I should join something remotely close to an organized sport team or Little League. Like signing up for the local Hitler Youth Choir or an after-school self-immolation club, it just was never even a consideration. No one would have stopped me but… I mostly played New York street games like boxball, stoop-ball and Ace King Queen. The only real sport I consistently played was basketball but my skill set was primarily based on the fact I sprouted taller a couple of years before my peers.
I recall Jamie and I walking down to the courts down Woodhaven Blvd between Victory Fields and Co-Op City to play handball couple of times and once we tossed around a football in the street in front of his house, but that mostly consisted of me chasing a ball down the street or throwing it at his feet until he got fed up with me. Most of the time we spent together consisted of making numerous cassette recordings of us poorly performing parody versions of Beatles songs with re-written lyrics making fun of all our classmates that we disliked.
We created a back history for our fictional band The BellMore Breakouts. Bell from Bellview and More from Creedmore, the two major New York psychiatric hospitals. I believe his sister was handicapped, so writing improper joke lyrics on the subject was likely therapeutical for him; I had no excuse except I was a typical adolescent insensitive dope.
Gravitating to our favorites, Jamie character was modeled after Paul, I was a John character and rounding out the non-existent quartet was Hagstrom Map, the name of the company printed in small letters on the bottom of a decorative map hanging on his wall, and Tom Carvel, the gravel-voiced elderly owner/spokesman for the local ice cream chain. Hagstrom did not show up on any songs since he was the ‘quiet one’ but we found endless humor in the concept of Tom Carvel singing lyrics with his ‘nails on a chalkboard’ voice and throwing in the occasional line about Thiny-Thin diet ice cream and Cookie Puss cakes. Did I mention that neither of us could sing or play a musical instrument? I said I was a dork.
Although it might be the same morbid curiosity that would cause you to look at a fiery car accident on the side of the road or try to figure out what a flattened road-kill pizza might have been in its previous incarnation, I guess I would like to actually hear one of those cringe-worthy recordings but my copies are gone. Long-term friendships have been forged on far less than Beatles parodys but this one did not stand the test of time. By eighth grade we rarely saw each other. His family moved out of the neighborhood to Long Island and I only went out there once. By then he had actually bought a bass guitar and was trying to learn how to play.
Girls had become as big a topic of conversation as the Beatles and he had a bit of a crush on Bonnie Tyler based on her cover photo on the It’s A Heartache album where he claimed you could see the shadow of the edge of her nipple… you can’t but a 13 year old boy in the pre-internet era took what he could get. During my one visit Jamie also wanted to film a Bellmore Breakout version of the Beatles’ Let It Be concert on the roof of his shed using his Mom’s Super 8 camera, but we ran into several logistical problems the least of which being there was only two of us instead of four and one of us had to operate the camera from below.
Since we weren’t in class together anymore, writing lyrics making fun of people from a year before seemed kinda silly and I was kinda bored having kinda’ outgrown the whole thing. Later that year I moved to Miami but had still not made any friends down there yet when Jamie called suggesting he come down for a few days. It did not go well.
Again, he still wanted to record more stuff but at that point it just seemed ridiculous to me. He envisioned the trip to be filled with writing / recording our stupid songs and ogling girls on the beach. Neither happened. To make things worse, my Grandmother had just moved down and my folks expected us to spend one of his days visiting helping paint her condo. I don’t really blame him for being upset. He was miserable and I was a shitty host. We barely talked his last day in Florida and after he left I uncharacteristically threw out those horribly embarrassing cassettes. Except for an accidental bumping into each other a few years later on the streets of Manhattan where we exchanged pleasantries, we have never talked since.
So here is my dilemma. He recently appeared on my ‘people you might know’ section of FACEBOOK. I don’t know how he got there, we have no mutual friends. Did he look for me? Did the internet gods point him out for me to have some cosmic atonement for being a Junior High jerk or is there some tiny bit of data on a dusty circuit board on the bottom of some buried mega-computer that stumbled upon the fact we both went to JHS119 together for one year decades ago? What computer algorithm made this happen? Why can’t it find Stacey Hoffman instead, the girl in elementary school that developed breasts first that I had a very silent from afar crush on.
Or… or… follow me here… do I reach out. Test the waters, see if he does not think I am a butthead and then spring the question. ‘Do you still have any of the tapes?’ Is my curiosity about wanting to hear something so god-awfully bad, so squirmingly uncomfortable, that will absolutely cause 100% guaranteed embarrassment and stir up miserable memories of one of the worst eras of my life truly that strong? Yeah, it kinda is. I’ll keep you posted.