Lee G.’s family attended a Methodist church just down the street from the egomanical Dr. Fred’s church. I last attended church in the seventh grade, when the good doctor stuck his flock with the bill for his failed television ministry. “You should come to MYF with me,” Lee G. said.
“I don’t like church.”
“It’s not church, It’s a youth group. We do all sorts of things.”
And they did. The Methodist Youth Fellowship went to movies, Pizza Inn, had picnics and parties. Lee G. invited me to most of these functions and nobody ever blinked — no preaching or converting, just hanging out. MYF was the most church-less church group ever.
They went to Myrtle Beach during the summer after tenth grade and I tagged along. I don’t know where we stayed, but it was either church-owned or some sort of compound rented out to large groups. The facilities consisted of two cinder block barracks — one per gender — with community showers, and a building that served as a common room for meals and gatherings. The beach was a quick walk away, as was Myrtle Beach’s famous Pavilion.
Methodists are great. Their only strict rule was that we had to meet in the common room at 4:00 every afternoon to discuss our days and work in a Jesus reference or two. Other than that we had the run of the beach during the day and roamed the Pavilion at night. I could handle a little Jesus time in exchange for that.
Really the trip was a week of good little Christian boys trying to get laid (or at least see a tit) and good little Christian girls playing defense while showing as much skin as they could get away with. Triangle bikini tops versus muscle shirts, and everybody wearing cutoffs. It’s true: In the pre-Michael Jordan era guys wore shorts that were actually short. Of course the socks were much longer, so I guess it’s a push.
I had Sherri at home, which meant that I had access to breasts; besides, I truly loved the girl in that way that only sixteen year-olds can. So I stayed away from the tail chasing and the futile attempts to peek into the girls’ communal shower. My days were spent on the sand with my Frisbees, practicing for the day I would win the world freestyle championships and spend my millions on a 1965 Mustang fastback and Jimi’s Stratocaster.
My Mustang fetish sort of crept up on me. I was never really a car kid. First of all they didn’t fly, and secondly even in elementary school the car guys were a different breed. I tried, of course, but it was simply the wrong suit of clothes. Stuck in the back of Lee G.’s Dodge Aspen station wagon, fifth grade me said, “I saw a Porsche once.”
“What did it look like?” Lee G.’s father asked.
“It was a racing Porsche.”
“But what did it look like?”
“It was a race car with stickers on it.”
“What color was it? What shape?”
“It was lots of colors.”
“So you saw a multicolored Porsche covered in stickers, and you can’t describe it beyond that. Is that your story?”
I guess my point is that although I had a few Matchbox cars my auto knowledge was so limited that I couldn’t describe an Indy car. Also, that Lee G.’s father could really bust out the dickishness when his bullshit detector went off.
The Boiling Springs High School student parking lot was dedicated to the art of the muscle car: Chevelles, Novas, and Malibus; Cudas, Darts, and Chargers; Torinos and Galaxies; and Camaros and Firebirds in abundance. There were so many Camaros and Firebirds that the place looked like a GM dealership: Trans-Ams, Z28s, Rally Sports, and Berlinettas. The more words I string together the more romantic this all sounds rather that what that parking lot really was, which was a visual bore.
Except for Scott’s bright white ’65 Mustang Fastback. I didn’t know the guy — he was a couple of years ahead of me. That’s irrelevant, really. He was an Izod and duck shoe guy, a varsity athlete. We wouldn’t have run in the same circle regardless of age. But man, that car. It was spotless and fast and sexy. I couldn’t help but watch him speed past the pine trees looming over the parking lot, mostly because I was struggling to get my MG started every afternoon while Scott was smoking past the Camaros in his Stang.
Every day on my way to work at Hardee’s I passed the Western Auto on Highway 9. Parked out front was a red ’67 notchback with a black stripe running from trunk lid to hood, and in the window a sign: “For Sale, $1,400.”
“I’m going to save up for a car,” I told my father.
“You have a car.”
“For a new car. That Mustang parked in front of Western Auto.”
“What do you want with that piece of shit?”
“It’s better than my car.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your car.”
“The muffler fell off yesterday.”
“Don’t blame the car because you don’t take care of it.”
“I’m going to buy that Mustang.”
“The hell you are.”
“It’s my money.”
“But it’s my car. You’re a minor. My name is on the title, so legally it’s mine and you’re not selling it.”
I never bought that Mustang. That summer my father went to his high school reunion. On his bio he listed his collection of British sports cars, which included my MGB.
Anyway, the beach. I was a monk in cutoffs, jamming with my Frisbees by day and walking the Pavilion at night. I wasn’t the only who wasn’t on the prowl, though. Leeann, varsity head cheerleader and friend of Mustang Scott’s, was on the beach trip, too, and we found ourselves walking the Pavilion together one evening.
“Why aren’t you off with Susan and them chasing guys?”
“What would I want with these boys? I got me a college man.”
We played air hockey and Q*Bert, Ms. Pacman and Black Knight pinball. It was fun hanging out with the queen of the Untouchables, the varsity head cheerleader, here in the Myrtle Beach Pavilion with nothing at stake. She didn’t have to ignore me and I didn’t have to be terrified of her — just two buddies with quarters to spend and time to kill.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go shoot some pool.” She grabbed my hand and led me like a lost puppy toward the pool table. Leaning against the empty table was a heavy-lidded shirtless dude, deeply reddened by too much sun. His brown hair was perfectly parted and feathered, never moved when his alcohol-heavy head bobbed. Leann stepped toward the table’s coin slots. Big Red waved her away.
“Naw, this is my table.”
“Oh, you own it?” Leeann said.
“Get out of my way, redneck.” She may only have been five feet tall, but her heart was six-three.
“You better calm your woman down, man.”
“She’s not my woman,” I said. I may have been six feet tall but my heart was three-six.
“Yes I am. Are you going to let him talk to me like that, Jim? Kick his redneck ass.”
Big Red laughed. “Y’all are cool, man. Hey. Hey. Hey. You like Neil Young, man?”
“Yeah, he’s cool.” I didn’t know anything about Neil Young.
“Cool? That mother fucker is bad. ‘Needle and the Damage Done,’ man. Neil knows what’s happening.” Big Red’s eyes were closed now, and he clung to the pool table’s rail.
“Yeah, he’s bad. Hey, you like Skynyrd?” I asked.
“Skynyrd? Mother fucker that’s redneck music. And you know what Lynyrd said: ‘I hope Neil Young remembers a Southern man don’t need him around.’ I ought to kick your ass.”
“Come on, Leeann. I don’t really want to play pool.”
“Kick this redneck’s ass!”
“Come on.” I grabbed her hand and walked away. We were halfway to the air hockey table when she said “you’re a pussy” and disappeared into the crowd.
The next day I was back out on the beach with my Frisbees. I spent all day performing for my imaginary audience. That afternoon I sat across from Lee G. in the common room’s circle. We went around the circle, talking about our days. Everyone listened politely except for Lee G., who spent the entire time making faces at me. My turn finally came. Leeann must have told them the “you’re a pussy” story. Methodist kids are so nice, I thought, look at them trying to make me feel better. Every eye in the place was locked onto mine except for Lee G.’s. He continued making faces across the circle.
Afterward I pulled him aside. “What was that all about?”
“Those faces. What are you, five?”
“No, I was trying to get your attention.”
“What? What? You have my attention. What do you want?”
“Your dick was hanging out of your cutoffs.”
That was enough beach for one summer.
Related “Why It Matters” piece: https://jamesostafford.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/32-whats-your-favorite-color-baby/