When I was in fifth grade, I had three special friends. We spent a lot of time together doing guy stuff, you know–building rockets and death rays, sailing ice boats, flying airplanes, chasing bad guys in a hot ’33 roadster, having adventures with a capital A. Their names were Frank, Tom, and Joe. That’s Frank Hardy, Tom Swift Jr., and Joe Hardy.
Why did I like hanging out with these guys, I mean, besides the cool cars, boats, and rocket ships? Well, they had neat parents who were always there for them, in a background sort of way. Their parents were never upset when the boys impulsively went out at 10 pm to investigate a ring of car thieves out on Bayshore Road, or launched themselves on a rocket bound for the asteroid belt. I mean, their parents trusted them, really trusted them. If Frank and Joe suddenly needed to fly to Idaho all they had to do was ask, and their parents said they could go.
Why couldn’t I have had parents like their parents? The Hardy’s could go to Mexico on a whim. Tom could go to the moon when he wanted. I couldn’t even go to the dry creek and it was only two blocks away. What could have happened at that dry creek so near to home? All that was there was a lot of poison oak and an old rope tied to a branch in the oak tree. A handle was attached to the rope and if you grabbed it and went running, you would swing out over the dry creek. You would be only about ten feet above the piles of concrete chunks someone had dumped in the creek bed. I mean, how could that be dangerous? After all, I swung out there my share of times and I never got hurt. Never got poison oak either. Never got caught for that matter. My parents never asked. I never told.
Frank, Joe, and Tom had what every fifth grade boy dreams of: FREEDOM. So I hung out with them and their friends. There was Chet Morton who liked his food (I could relate to that) and Biff (what a cool name) who could handle any pugilistic types who came along. Come on, Mom and Dad. With friends like these what’s to worry about. I’ll be safe.
And their girl friends? In fifth grade you don’t want a girl friend, but you are sort of noticing that maybe, just maybe mind you, girls aren’t some pesky plague inflicted upon the tribe of manhood by some unknown and vengeful goddess (mothers excepted, of course). The boys’ girlfriends were just about perfect. They never minded when the boys rushed off somewhere like Mars or New York City for days on end without bothering to tell them that they would be gone for a while. They were happy to prepare the fried chicken and potato salad for a picnic date. They never made a scene, demanded attention, got all weepy, or expected the boys to take time from an important project to spend time with them. That was a relief, discovering that girls could be alright, once they grew up, of course.
Most importantly, my buddies were famous. People liked them and respected them. When you needed help, you didn’t hesitate to ask my friends to help you. And when you did ask, they always came through. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up.
Somewhere between fifth grade and high school, though, I left my old friends behind. Why? My teen years were nothing like theirs. Can you say impulsive? (Sure, Joe was impulsive, but Frank was always steady, assessing everything and keeping Joe on track–although occasionally it was Frank who was impulsive and Joe who was logical. Never understood how they went back and forth like that). Can you say irresponsible? That was me in spades. Can you say a total washout with girls who were nothing like the guys’ girls (and none of them were)? I was always saying the wrong things and doing the wrong things, never intentionally, mind you, but from the reactions, it might as well have been. And there were those girls who would use you as a stepping stool up to the next social level. Ouch.
Not that I was ever very high on the social scale. No one laughed at my jokes. No one asked my opinion. I wasn’t invited to the parties. When I asked a girl at the Latin Club Dance if I could have the next dance, she sighed and said, “Oh, all right.” No one asked to hear me play Beethoven’s “The Tempest” sonata. But some popular guy who could barely strum three chords on his guitar? He was always asked to bring his guitar along and even to play it!
And Freedom? Going anywhere meant facing the Inquisition. “Where are you going?” “How long will you be there?” “When will you be home?” Who are you going with?” “What are you going to be doing?”
Then I was out of school and into adulthood and everything was not as it had been pictured! Instead of FREEDOM, there was RESPONSIBILITY. There were bosses who thought nothing of telling me as I left work on Friday that I would need to come in tomorrow and work overtime. Scratch that date to Monterrey. There were parents who wanted to know what my intentions were for their daughters. There were bills to pay. Jetting off to Disneyland or taking my roadster up the coast to Mendocino for any reason required weeks of frugal living and saving my dollars until I could afford that little luxury. Now I hated my old friends for creating such a false picture of life back when I was innocent and susceptible. Yes, hated them, in a good sort of way: I ignored them completely.
yet I must admit, now that I am ever so much older than I ever imagined I could be back in fifth grade, that every once in a while, particularly on a nice Spring day or a crisp Autumn night, I am a little envious of my old friends. I know I can’t be like them, but what does it hurt to dream?