VOL 008: another Whisperjet, another Springfield home

    By the time of my next flight, the late spring of 1980, we had moved back to a lifestyle that was more familiar. Turns out we were stuck in the apartment for merely a year.

    While I started fourth grade at Cardinal Forest Elementary, taking the bus from the apartment village, I entered fifth grade in prime real estate directly across the street. From the front door, I could see across pavement and lawn and into the windows of the school. That proximity made school simultaneously less intimidating, but ever-present. Now that Dora and Ed were living together – in this style of a Russian novel with reconstructed family, economic considerations, principal characters (Megan, Patrick) removed from the main narrative due to university commitments – the accommodations, at least, were back to normal. Thankfully, we didn’t have to move into Ed’s weird North Springfield world. Rather, he moved into ours in West Springfield. Dora probably lobbied for me to stay at the same elementary school. Oddly, Red the dachshund was not part of the picture. I figured an upside of moving in with Ed was that I would become de facto dog owner. Had he died? Gone to live with Ed’s son in Florida? The pound? I really don’t know. Still, trading the apartment for the townhouse was welcome. 

Porky and the Duchess.JPG

It's December 1979 and I am chunking out. Here, Dora and I are attending a wedding. If only there'd been an NBC rep at this function, Mom and I would've been immediately offered a madcap mystery slot on Thursday nights. I'd be the genius, crime-solving, orphan heir in the care of a stern-but-kindly distant relative from the Old Country. "Up next, it's Porky and the Duchess, only on NBC!"

    There were even two popular girls on our stretch of six very Virginia-looking red brick houses, with their decorative wooden faux shutters and boxwood shrubs. Two doors down was M, who was sort of sporty popular, but seemingly resentful her neighbor friends’ parents sold the house we now occupied. She had a brother who would ride his bike down the slide in the little playground we shared with another row of houses. Pretty kickass, though such feats just gave me stress. First, the kid could break something or die. Second, I might be dared to follow suit, which I would decline at all costs, leaving me to swallow more shame. Now a fat kid, I had to avoid whatever shame I could. In the other direction, immediately next door, was K, more “pretty popular” than sporty. 

NOW A FAT KID, I HAD TO AVOID WHATEVER SHAME I COULD

    I was not cut out for popularity, whether sporty, pretty, or any other kind. So thankful I was, then, to find my Rolling Valley pal, Mike on the playground one recess. His family, back from Las Vegas, had also moved into the Cardinal Forest district. The reunion was stunningly deadpan. “You go here now?” Either one of us may have opened the dialogue, as well as provided the confirmation. “Yeah.” That was all it took. We were too young to drive or drink or have much freedom at all. Our parents could tell us tomorrow that we were moving again. Best not to get too close, at least not till we were more comfortable writing letters or using the phone without permission.

 

    That Mike and I liked to spend recess playing four-square did little to improve either’s social standing. We were, however, already developing a budding understanding of what it meant to have some outsider cachet. We could see that lines were forming, that kids were no longer building alliances based on the proximity of desks, but by actual tastes. Personalities were becoming clearer. The most welcome thought was that being distanced from the top tier of cool kids didn’t necessarily mean that distance put you closer to the bottom, though it often did. We had some budding notion that our distance simply put us outside the system. These were the first flashes of recognizing counter-culture elitism. It might’ve been thanks to the gay gene. 

    I was purely mainstream cool, however, boarding another Eastern Airlines Whisperjet for Atlanta. Dora and I were flying down for Patrick’s graduation from Georgia Tech. Atlanta’s expanding airport, to be the largest airport in the world, wasn’t quite ready, but we could see some of that signature red architecture as Sandy drove us from the older iteration to our hotel. It was the topic of conversation, actually, in the sort of tone reserved for a world’s fair or Olympic village set to open. The soon-to-open midfield terminal of William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport loomed large in the psyche of Georgians. 

    Aside from that vivid splash of Hartsfield-Jackson red, it was a fairly inconsequential trip. There was a garden party in the lushly Southern backyard of a stately mansion on the Tech campus, a venue that would later fill in spots of my imagination when reading Anne Rice vampire novels and needing a notion of something with magnolias and columns. In those three days, I sampled my first spinach salad – with bacon and warm strawberry vinaigrette. The other culinary highlight was The Varsity. I didn’t enjoy the food, but it was certainly impressive to see this sort of fast-food factory churning out the goods. 

 

    The hotel Dora and I stayed at had a novel pay phone in the lobby. “As featured on the Phil Donohue show!” read the sign. It was a pay phone designed for lying. “I’m stuck at the airport, Honey,” might be your canned fib of choice. Press a button and, voila, background airport noise. I don’t recall the other misinformation options, but I was not impressed. There were no options that could help an 11-year-old out of a bind. “I’m stuck at the airport, Mom.” “You’re what?? I’m calling the police!” 

'THIS AIN'T A REAL GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD, MA'AM' 

    Finally, there was the literal “hooker” with the proverbial heart of gold. Feeling a little restless after we checked in, Dora suggested we take a stroll in the neighborhood. But this was like the convention center neighborhood of many cities. There were several large buildings in the area, but mostly a dead streetscape – maybe a Hardee’s. The only person we came across was that kindly sex worker, who charitably advised my mother in her rough drawl, “This ain’t a real good neighborhood, Ma’am.” As we headed back to the hotel, briskly, I wondered aloud why Mom’s mood had seemingly changed. Was there something wrong with that lady? “She was a prostitute.” I had a pretty good idea what that meant, so I didn’t push the point, fearful my badgering would make my mother all the more tense. Besides, I was happy heading back to the hotel, because the gift shop sold Baby Ruth candy bars. 

 

    How exciting to spend a weekend away sampling a new city! This was the promise of the jet age. Yes, please. 

UP NEXT, VOL 009: YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN, KID