Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A stroll down memory lane...

 Author's note: This story has a special place in my heart. It was the first one accepted for publication way back in 2010, after a long series of rejection notices. It is dedicated here to Beverly Scales Mitchell, the real Beth Scalini. 


Party Crashers

 from The Storyteller

 So, whataya wanna do?”

“I don’t know. Whata you wanna do?”

“How ‘bout … nah, that’s no good. Whata you wanna do?”

Nick, Darin, and Brent stood on the corner under the streetlight, re-enacting the famous scene from the movie Marty, even though they hadn’t seen the film. It was a warm Friday evening in September and there were lots of possibilities to consider, including some old favorites from years past.

“Wanna harass the pachucos?” Nick asked, reaching back a few years for a golden oldie.

It was an activity that involved hiding in the bushes until some older guys came through the neighborhood, guys who dressed and acted like gang members and wore the pachuco uniform: unwashed Levis with the belt loops cut off, pulled down as low as possible on their hips; thick wedge-soled shoes with metal taps nailed to the heels; shirts and leather jackets with the collars turned up and a pack of Lucky Strike in the breast pocket; and of course, long hair slicked back in a ducktail, plastered down with lots of Dixie Peach Pomade.

When the pachucos walked down the street, Nick and his friends would jump out and yell, “Hey you rotten punks,” or whatever vile phrase they could come up with. The tough guys would reel around, see it was a bunch of younger boys and light out in pursuit, determined to kick some butt. There was no problem outrunning the wannabe gangsters. It was hard to run in those heavy shoes and leather jackets while holding up your pants with one hand. They usually gave up after a block or so, sometimes clutching their knees and gasping for air. It was great fun, but they knew they’d outgrown that particular game. After all, they were in Junior High School now.

“Wanna do ‘death scene?’” Darin asked, tapping another old favorite.

It was a game where they waited until they saw the headlights of a car several blocks away, heading in their direction. Two guys would pretend to be beating on the third, and as the car came closer, one of the beaters would make stabbing motions toward the victim. The beaters would pretend to notice the car and race away, leaving the victim to go into his “death scene,” falling to the ground, clutching his stab wounds. The objective was to get the driver to slam on his brakes and come to the victim’s aid. Then the victim would jump up and sprint away. But they knew this was another game they’d outgrown. Besides, most of the drivers in the neighborhood had seen it all before.

“How ‘bout the Auto Movies?” Nick asked.

That was one that never grew old. The drive-in theater out on Benicia Road was only a few miles away and they could always find a hole or a loose board in the wooden fence. Then they could let themselves in and hang out on the playground down in front of the screen, or stroll boldly up to the snack bar for some popcorn or a cold drink. As they got a little older, they discovered that if they walked through the rows of cars and saw one where the speaker was connected to the window but no heads were visible, they could sneak up and look in the window and get an eyeful. It was better than any sex education class they’d attended.

Once a girl opened her eyes, saw their faces at the window and screamed at the top of her lungs. That sent them running to their hole in the fence and out to safety, even though the boyfriend was in no position to give chase. Afterward they felt bad and hoped the poor guy hadn’t had a heart attack or anything. No doubt about it, though: having the drive-in close by was a constant source of entertainment, even if you never saw a movie.

At this point, Brent took charge, because he knew exactly what he wanted to do. “Let’s go by Nancy Dawkins’s party.”

“Are you nuts? We weren’t invited. I’m not goin’ there. No way.” Nick and Darin wanted nothing to do with a boy-girl party, especially when they were not invited.

“We’ll just cruise by,” Brent reassured them. “Nobody will see us. Come on, let’s go.” He didn’t mention his real reason for going there. Claire Ryan, a girl he was very interested in, would be at the party. Somehow this was like a magnet and he could not resist the pull. Brent kept up the pressure on Nick and Darin, and Nick at least was beginning to weaken. Nick knew that Beth Scalini would be there too. One party, two magnets: a hard combination to resist.

Brent’s arguments prevailed and before long they were rounding a bend in the street, approaching Nancy’s house. The lights were on in the garage and they could hear music floating on the balmy air. They stopped behind a car parked at the curb, peering around the vehicle like three poorly trained spies. From inside the garage came sporadic bursts of laughter and the sound of Fats Domino on the record player singing “Ain’t That a Shame.”

The headlights of an approaching car startled them and they quickly stepped away and began walking nonchalantly up the street. The car passed and they continued walking for a half block.

“Let’s go back,” Brent implored.

“Not me. I’ve had enough. I’m goin’ home. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” And with that, Darin took off, ignoring their pleas to hang around a while.

Brent nearly dragged Nick back to the car in front of Nancy’s house. A new record was on the turntable inside. It was Elvis singing “Love Me Tender,” and it was too much for Brent to bear. He thought about Claire and pictured her dancing close to him, moving slowly to the music. “Stay here,” he said. “I’m going to check this out.” He had his eye on the window in the door at the side of the garage.

“Are you crazy? They’ll see you.” Nick considered turning around and making a run for home before Brent could reach the garage, but somehow his feet were glued to the pavement. He watched Brent approach the door, look quickly in through the window, then pull his head away. He turned and looked in again. Suddenly, he spun around and came walking back toward Nick, his hands plunged deep in his pockets. The door to the garage opened and someone stepped out onto the walk. Nick recognized Steve Gray, a friend from school.

“Brent? Is that you? Come here, man. Are you alone?” Steve was walking toward Brent now, and there were other kids poking their heads out of the garage to see what was going on. “Hey, Nick, is that you? Man, am I glad to see you guys. There’s like seven girls here, but only three guys showed up. Come on in and join the party. We need you.”

“Nah, we can’t do that,” Brent said. “We weren’t invited.”

“I’ll talk to Nancy. I’m sure it’ll be okay.”

This conversation was relayed back to the garage and a few minutes later, Nancy approached them with the formal invitation. “My parents said it is okay if you guys want to come in and join us.” She said it with a smile that was hard to resist. Nick started to open his mouth, not really sure what he was going to say, when Brent took charge again.

“Okay, we’ll go home and change clothes and be back in a few minutes.” The deal was done, no way to back out now. As Brent said this, Nick saw Beth, standing by the door, looking every bit the pretty, popular cheerleader that she was. He felt his heart jump into his throat. A few seconds later, Nick and Brent were hurrying for home.


Nick’s parents were sitting in the living room, listening to the radio when he came in. He quickly explained the last-minute invitation to the party while they glanced at one another and stifled the smiles that were trying to break out. They gave their permission and Nick rushed off to get ready.

He went into the bathroom, ran warm water in the sink, stripped to the waist and scrubbed himself with a soapy washcloth. Then he went to work on his hair, realizing immediately that he was badly in need of a haircut. His flattop with longish sides would not cooperate, no matter how much hair cream he smeared on it. Finally, he stopped and stared into the mirror. Staring back was the face that only a mother could love, with the fuzzy hair, the nose still peeling from a summer in the sun, the freckles spread so densely across his cheeks that it looked like his face was dirty. Why would Beth Scalini even look at this face? He dropped his eyes in despair and wondered if there was a way out, a way to convince Brent to go to the party alone. Then he heard voices from the living room and he knew Brent was there, ready and eager to go.

Brent was waiting in Nick’s bedroom. “Come on, man, let’s go. Time is a-wastin’.”

“I don’t know if I’m going. Why don’t you just go?”

“What? Are you kidding me? Come on, get dressed. Here, man, I’ll help.” He went to Nick’s closet and pulled out a clean shirt and a pair of khakis. Before Nick could protest any further, he was dressed and they were out the front door and on their way to the party. When Brent was motivated, he was like a force of nature.


The Dawkins’ garage had been spruced up and organized for the party, with lawnmower and tools and the like all stowed away elsewhere. There was a table loaded with snacks and a cooler with cold drinks, and on another table across the floor was the portable record player with piles of 45-rpm records arranged next to it. All the girls were congregated around the record player, selecting records to be stacked on the changer, engaged in animated conversation. The boys gathered around the snack table, talking about happenings at school and the prospects for the football team. Each group made it a point to keep an eye on the other.

The record changed and a pretty ballad came on the player. Brent wasted no time. He went directly to Claire and asked her to dance. Steve chose a partner and joined them on the floor. Nick was in awe at how easy they made it look. All he could do was try to remain focused on the conversation in progress while glancing every now and then at Beth. And there she was with her short dark hair, her laughing eyes, and the smile that came so easily and made you feel so good. Why couldn’t he be like Brent and just walk over there and ask her to dance? And if she said, “No thank you,” then he could simply curl up and die right there on the floor of Nancy’s garage.

After a couple of songs, Brent went to the record player and began sifting through the 45’s. He stacked several records on the changer and then went back to Claire. The Platters’ recording of “Only You” started, the sweet black voices filling the garage. Brent and Claire moved slowly around the floor, talking and laughing, Brent’s eyes focusing on her pretty face. The next record was the Platters again with “The Magic Touch,” and now they were cheek to cheek and Nick could see that Brent was speaking softly into Claire’s ear. The record changed again and Elvis was back to reprise “Love Me Tender.” Brent had obviously stacked the deck for romance and it was working as planned. Now he and Claire moved very slowly together, their arms wrapped tightly around each other.

“Hey, look what I found!” Steve called from across the garage. He was holding a milk bottle over his head, the old-fashioned kind with the bulb at the top to collect the cream, the kind that the milkman delivered to the front porch. “Let’s play Spin the Bottle!”

Everyone gathered around in a circle, kneeling on the garage floor—that is except Brent and Claire who were nowhere to be seen—and the game began. After each spin, the couple would go out into the backyard for their kiss. Nick had barely settled into the circle when it was his turn to spin. He spun the bottle carefully, watched it rotate several times, then come slowly to rest. It was pointing directly at Beth.

Nick scrambled to his feet and watched Beth do the same. She smiled the tiniest of smiles in his direction and then headed for the door to the backyard. As Nick followed her, he was aware of the kids around the circle egging them on, the guys saying, “All right, go Nick!” and the girls calling, “Ooo, Beth!” And then he was in the backyard, on the Dawkins’ patio, his heart pounding out of his chest, face to face with Beth Scalini.

All of this should have played out in slow motion, like the famous commercial with the couple running toward each other on the beach. It might as well have been in super slow motion, because what happened next he would remember for the rest of his life. It’s a beautiful thing when your first real kiss is like that.

Nancy’s mother came out to the garage to check on things and promptly put an end to Spin the Bottle. Shortly after that, the party came to an end. Cars were arriving at the front of the Dawkins’ home, parents coming to pick up their kids. Beth was gone with a friend before Nick could plot his next move, not that he had any moves. He waited now while Brent said a long, lingering goodbye to Claire. When her father arrived, Brent opened the car door for her and even reached in to shake hands with Mr. Ryan and introduce himself. Vince Ryan sat there, slightly dumbfounded, with a look on his face that said who the hell is Brent Barlow and why is he shaking my hand?

Brent and Nick watched Claire and her father drive away and then started the short walk home. Brent was overflowing with excitement. He and Claire were officially going steady now, and he needed to give her a ring or a pin or something, and where could he get a ring, and maybe they could ride the bus downtown tomorrow to Newberry’s or Woolworth’s and he could find something nice but not too expensive, and on and on.

Nick was only half-listening, preoccupied with his thoughts of Beth. He decided not to share what had happened with Brent. He would keep Beth to himself for now. On Monday, he would have his friends talk to her friends and ask, what does Beth think of Nick Shane? And if her friends said, well what does Nick think of Beth, then what? He could tell them to say, he likes her. Or, he likes her a lot! Geez, what if they come back with, she thinks he’s a nice guy, but … Oh, man, what then? He’d have to talk to Brent about it—Mr. Smooth, Mr. Confident, Mr. Shake Hands With Her Dad. Brent will know what to do. But not now. Maybe tomorrow. Nick really needed to sleep on it.

They reached the corner of Buss and Russell and stopped for a few minutes to make plans for the next day. It seemed to Nick that it had been a very long time since they stood on this spot under the streetlight, trying to decide what to do with this warm September evening.

He was right. It was a lifetime ago.