On a warm spring afternoon, with my school bag swung over my shoulder, I took a leisurely walk home from Forest Elementary School, shuffling my suede Thom McAnâ€™s along the sidewalk. I was sweating profusely in corduroy pants and my thick down jacket — it would be a few weeks until my mom dug the warm weather clothes out of the attic and I was stuck in hot, stuffy attire every day until then. Alone, drifting in the thoughts of my young third grade mind (probably thinking of that girl in my class I thought was â€œsuper prettyâ€), it was the end of a typical school day, which would likely include plopping down in the yellow rocker when I got home to watch The Bugaloos or Speed Racer while munching on raw spaghetti noodles (the only snack left in the house). Then I heard them coming up behind me and my life would change forever.
In unison, I heard chanting, like an army of two marching on a hike, their shoes scrunching the pebbles and dried leaves on the ground.
Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, scrunch.
â€œWe were at the beach,
Everybody had matching towels.â€
Spinning around I saw two older boys jogging my way, each wearing broad smiles and the exuberance of youth. One I recognized as Dave G-, who had been in Cub Scouts with me two years previous. My lasting memory of Dave was the question he asked while our scout pack visited the North Olmsted McDonalds. As our host, an overwhelmed manager in his 30s, wrapped up the tour of the fast food restaurant, he inquired if we, a small group of seven and eight-year olds, had any questions. Dave raised his hand. â€œYeah, how do you make those wonderfully delicious French fries?â€ The manager seemed impressed and proceeded to deliver a long-winded, technical explanation of the frying process that rocketed over all of our heads. Soon thereafter, Dave left the pack.
Jogging alongside Dave that day was a tall, blond boy I didnâ€™t recognize. Forest Elementary wasnâ€™t a large school; in general you knew everyone who went there, especially the students in the grades close to yours. But Iâ€™d never seen this guy before.
â€œHey, câ€™mon!â€ Dave called out as they passed me.
I shrugged and gladly tagged along, my coat making a swish, swish, swish noise each time my arms moved against my body. No introductions were made; I just quickly joined in with their pseudo-militaristic chant. Though I didnâ€™t know the words to what they were saying, I quickly caught on:
â€œWe were at the beach
Everybody had matching towels
Somebody went under the dock
And there they say a rock
But it wasnâ€™t a rockâ€¦
It was a rock LOBSTER!â€
Thatâ€™s all they knew, so the three of us repeated this phrase over and over as we ran together for about a quarter mile. We reached the Black Path, a lonely stretch of a bike path that was more an afterthought than a reasonably planned route to cut through between the schoolâ€™s neighborhood and mine. The blacktop was always in shoddy shape, the weeds along the path always overgrown and menacing. I split off from Dave and the blond guy as they headed toward their homes and I toward mine. As I left them I was wearing the same broad smile they had when our bizarre run-in began. The two of them had made my day, as weird, spontaneous events are wont to do.
It would be a couple of years before I learned what that song was. I happened upon The B-52â€™s performing the shit out of â€œRock Lobsterâ€ on Saturday Night Live and that same huge smile I had on that sunny spring afternoon cracked open my face as I recalled the day my life changed.
Dave moved soon after that day and I didnâ€™t see him until his senior year of high school when he came back to North Olmsted. As for the blond boy I met? The following summer our paths crossed again in the North Olmsted Soccer Organization. I was formally introduced to him by a mutual friend and I learned that his name was Steve. When I was in fifth grade and he was in sixth, we were placed in the same class together. We became fast friends, sharing the same tastes in music and sports. By high school, it was these common interests that landed us in the same cars that drove through town on Saturday nights or at the same parties where we watched each other’s backs. Eventually, our friendship grew into something more unique. As the two of us challenged each other to become better men, better citizens, Steve and I became confidants, more, we became brothers.
Years ago I stood up at Steve’s wedding and shared this story about how we originally met. The tale was well received, but underneath the laughs, we both understood the significance of that day and how it changed both of our lives. Today we live thousands of miles apart, yet through the miracle of the Internet we are in constant contact. I know that Steve is reading this today; besides Julie he has championed my writing more than anyone in my life. If those of you reading enjoy the Basement Songs, you should thank Steve as he encouraged me to keep writing and shape this column into what it is today.
Thirty years have passed since that afternoon in North Olmsted. I canâ€™t help but think of those two kids, strangers, running alongside each other and the long journey they would travel together. That is how friendships are born, through chance encounters on the sidewalks of our youth; not with formal introductions, but through the surf rock punk of a Georgia band and a rock lobster.