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VOL 018: USAir debut for a teen triumph,
then back for tele-toiling

    My final high school flight was a quick spring-break jaunt back to Springfield. Thanks to deregulation, even a teen with an after-school dishwashing job could afford a seat at 30,000 feet. That Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 also meant that through the 1980s airlines were merging, dying off, sprouting up. Eastern Air Lines managed to hold on till the early 1990s, but here in 1987, I was trying a new airline on for size. The Springfield trip was on USAir. The USAir plane was no Whisperjet. USAir was not the official airline of Walt Disney World. It wasn’t steeped in brand history. (Apologies to its predecessor, Allegheny Airlines, which meant nothing to me.) Obviously, I still carry some sentimental nostalgia for Eastern. But USAir was perfect for getting me from Tampa to National. I knew better than to choose Dulles again.


    Mike alone picked me up. Finally, we’d gotten to the point where we could drive. This visit, as much to visit Mike, also offered socioeconomic insights. I got to see how the rich (relative to Pasco Co.) kids of West Springfield were getting by, better allowing me to wonder what might’ve been if we’d not traded Forrester Boulevard for Nova Scotia Drive. There was more money in Fairfax County, and more acceptance letters from higher-ranking colleges. At the time, that all seemed a fair trade. I was still at the asshole-y height of my adolescence, ever confident I was sailing a much cooler tack, whatever I was doing. At least in Pasco’s small pond, I could be a bigger fish than I would’ve been in West Springfield. I would’ve likely remained fatter, yes, but not become bigger, socially speaking.






    Through the years of high school, Mike had become fairly friendly with Melissa, who had lived two Forrester Boulevard doors down from me during the late-elementary and junior high years. She and I weren’t friends, but not in any way antagonistic. Mostly, I felt a little guilty for living in that particular house, in her little row, as the prior occupants were some wonderful family with kids she liked. Unlike my family. That was clear.


    Mike drove us to the bagel spot where Melissa was working, located in one of the many neighborhood plazas. That was the biggest commonality of these otherwise disparate Gulf Coast and mid-Atlantic locales was their plaza-centric suburban landscapes.


    As they chatted over the counter, Melissa kept eyeing me. It was quite a different look than any she cast my way when I was a prepubescent porker. Eventually, Mike introduced me. “It’s Bill. Remember? He lived next to you.” Melissa’s eyes got wide and the blood left her face. She screeched and bolted into the back of the bagel bakery. If I wanted proof that I’d fully evolved out of my awkward tweens, this would do. I was now unrecognizable – and apparently attractive to some degree – to past peers. I admit it was gratifying. I’ve searched for a German word for the particular flavor of self-satisfaction that comes from evolving into a better version of yourself to the point of being unrecognizable, but I’ve come up empty. Selbstgefälligkeit is not it.


    During my visit, we would go on to meet a boy Mike had a crush on. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember a late-night excursion – moonlit stroll through a neighborhood golf course – with soundtrack by Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell. The resurgent hippie aesthetic had not missed Springfield and the boy Mike was macking on had it down, with his bushy, curly hair and baggy wardrobe hanging on his taut, vegetarian body.


    This visit launched a notion for how we would spend the coming summer, our few weeks before college. We planned that Mike would visit, spending half the summer at my house, the other half at Chris’s. Chris and Mike were adequately acquainted, and her house had so much more room.


    As soon as Mike arrived, we three, along with several other friends from Ridgewood High School, began toiling at Suncoast Resort Vacations. We sat for hours at shared beige desktops in a beige office answering beige phones with fake names. We sold visits to time-share resorts. Legit, but shady. Granted, a huge discount on resort accommodations can be worth the hours spent listening to the onsite time-share sales pitch, even if such visits are often entirely gratis. It was our job to dress up this time-share sales visit as a big win at a great price.


    It was awful work. “Sell, sell, sell! Ring that bell!” We were all doing it with our clunky, electric, smoke-sucking ashtrays buzzing. Classmate John would excuse himself for extended bathroom breaks, which was the only easy way we knew of to be excused from the incoming-calls mine. John dubbed these breaks “Logs for Labor.”


    One of the guys running the operation, who did a little community theater on the side, pressed Mike during a work review, the little period where Mr. Resort Vacations would critique our sales pitches. But he wasn’t pressing Mike on not selling enough weekends in Estes Park. Instead, he just kept asking him indirect questions about the nature of our relationship. Maybe he wanted to give us theater tickets? It added another uncomfortable layer to an already suspect summer job. Within a month, we all quit.

lif 18 four teenagers on a dock_edited.j

Sitting on the dock of the... Pithlachascotee River. Mike's head, hand and knee in the foreground. Pals Wendy (L) and Shaun in the middle. I'm wearing a black

sweatshirt in sweltering heat because, I dunno, The Cure...?

    Mike spent the rest of the summer painting Chris’s house, which alarmed her divorced dad, The Judge. Driving up to the house one afternoon to speak to Chris’s mom, Beth, he spotted Mike with cans and brushes and rollers. “Who is that boy? He’s staying in the house??” Beth mustered all the delicate language she could to explain to The Judge that Mike was a flaming homosexual without directly saying that Mike was a flaming homosexual. Because this was 1987. The Judge left the house; Mike stayed. At least until the end of summer, when he started at the University of Virginia. For Chris and me, it was the University of South Florida.

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this installment, I received terribly sad news from Wendy, one of the girls in the photo. She let me know that some months ago, Shaun, the other girl pictured, died of cancer. 


    In adulthood, Shaun and I only had a small bit of interaction, a couple of messages via Facebook. But that doesn’t mean her imprint on my own life diminished. 


    When I think of Shaun, I think of those rare people who are powerfully wry. She exuded a strength that sometimes made her seem like ethereal royalty. I can’t imagine her ever being flustered. When I knew her, she was a teenager. Most of us seemed like idiots relative to her seeming self-assuredness. 


    My dearest memory of Shaun is lounging in her room as she readied herself at her vanity, heaped with all sorts of 1980s cosmetics. She was a bewitching alchemist, masterfully applying her potions. 


    She also had an age-appropriate attraction to “bad boys.” There was one with a motorcycle who seemed particularly forbidden and tempting. Charlie? While I’m uncertain of that boy’s name, and I never met him, I do remember that her stepfather was named Ed, as was mine. We’d commiserate about our “step-Eds.” 


    Probably the last time I spent with Shaun was at a school dance. It was within a year or so of the photo. I was already in college, Shaun still at Countryside High School. It wasn’t prom, so possibly homecoming. She was intent on going – possibly to see the motorcycle boy – and wanted an escort. Shaun had a sharp eye for aesthetics, and she decided the entrance she wanted to make included me. You didn’t decline a request from Shaun. Even in an ’80s teenage milieu, a request from Shaun held gravitas. If she expected something from you, you delivered. 


    Her very pleasant mother picked me up at my dorm on the University of South Florida campus. On the highway from Tampa to Pinellas County, we passed the acreage of the Tampa International Airport. I can clearly recall a British Airways TriStar gliding in low to land, swooping right over us. Seemed like a good omen to me. It still does. Something beautiful, moving gracefully, yet forcefully. That is how I remember Shaun. Whatever she has taken with her from this place, I am certain she continues gracefully, yet forcefully. 


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