Where the Boys Are

from left, me, Bettsie, me with Diana, right, me thinking about Sol

What a motley group of misfits we were. Putzing around, morning till night, each new day a Groundhog Day repeat of the one before. There was Sol, my soul mate, though he didn’t know it. Skinny kid, a year older than me; a little boy who wouldn’t reach puberty till late, like me. Tons of freckles, also like me. A bit of a trouble maker (me? not so much). There was Doug, way into puberty, hairy and all, and at a young age. Man-like, deep voice, with a bark bigger than his bite. Other kids feared him. Danny, very scary, very hairy, already a bit of a perv at 11 or 12. Dave and Bill were older, or seemed so much older that I didn’t really know why they were hanging around with us. And they sure didn’t seem like they were from Beverly Hills — but I’m not sure any of us did. Many of us were from the “the slums of Beverly Hills,” where our parents moved us for a better education. Some education: playing poker in Roxbury Park.

Most of us were free floaters; lost kids. Kids with parents who didn’t know or didn’t care where their children were. And if they cared, they thought we were at the Teen Center and under some sort of supervision. That could not be farther from the truth. There was gambling, sex and eventually drugs. Again, not me. Not me… yet.

It was an alpha male group and we girls were mainly considered a nuisance. The boys played cards all day, placing big, Vegas-style bets in public. This was a serious pastime and girls were not really allowed. We would foist ourselves on them, standing behind one or another and praying for our guy to win. That’s when we would momentarily be noticed and the boy might say, “Stay there Fredde, you’re good luck for me today.” Ah, the power of that. I was needed and important. I was 12 years old. Stolen moments in the Boys Club.

my brother Alan in hat, Sol looking at camera, Doug to right

My best friend Susie had a pool table so I spent hours practicing my game. Then, I would show up at the Teen Center and strut my new shots. In order to play with the boys, you needed the skill and I was beginning to hold my own. This is also where I became fiercely competitive and not bad at all at ping-pong. The boys were sometimes brutal on Diana, a devoted friend since age 5. She wasn’t quite as skillful at dodging their abuse as I was. And she taunted them more than I did. We were both teased mercilessly for being flat-chested.

Susie was the eternal tomboy, who didn’t quite “get” my fascination with the boys. She had some great toys in her house. Besides the pool table, there were also slot machines. Her dad was friends with all the famous race car drivers because he made parts for their cars. I used these masculine toys as bait to get the gang over to Susie’s house. That was always a real accomplishment, one that went totally unnoticed by Susie, who often feigned disinterest. And to be truthful, the boys weren’t there for me either. They came just to play with the toys. But, the excitement of it all made me dream of more boy-filled nights.

The “it” girl of our gang was Debbie. She wasn’t a girl’s girl; she was too busy working it on the boys. Debbie had older sisters and knew how to land a guy. And she did. She broke both my big brother’s heart and Doug’s big brother’s heart, almost at the same time. My brother Alan was always present. The gang belonged to both of us but I’m sure he felt early on that I was tagging along. Alan inherited the unfortunate burden of having to take care of me. We were meshed and this gang of kids became family. Every Friday in the early evening we showed up at the Teen Center and that’s where you could find us all weekend, all summer, year in, year out.

One night, at 13 years old, when the Teen Center closed its doors, the older group asked me along with them. They told me about a house that they would break into on a regular basis because it was abandoned. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I said yes, but we drove to a very secluded area, then hiked up a very dark mountain to an even darker house. Think spooky movie. They seemed to know what they were doing as they jimmied the door open and we all piled inside. The minute we were in, a huge floodlight flashed in our eyes, blinding us. We couldn’t see each other or anything else as a voice behind the light spoke: “You, little one, get over here.” He was pointing at me — and at 13, I looked more like 9. He then held a gun — yes, a gun — to my head and threatened to kill all of us, but me first. We begged and promised to never step foot on his property again. Great group I was hanging with.

There was a cultural and sexual revolution growing around us, not that we knew it living in our narrow world. Our soundtrack was “Come Back When You Grow Up” (thought it was about me) by Bobby Vee and the Strangers, “98.6 Degrees” by Keith, and “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful. I Think We’re Alone Now by Tommy James and the Shondells was my song with Sol (he never got the memo informing him of this ).

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When I was around 14, I graduated from Sol to Gary. Older, a surfer, very sexy. It was really just another out-of-reach crush for me. But he was the draw and why I kept showing up. A new girl arrived at my school who I befriended and in my generosity, introduced her to my gang. I also introduced her to everyone in school. Soon, she was one of us, and one day when we were walking home from school, she announced that Gary had asked her out. I was stunned and asked her what she was going to do. She knew he was my one big love. Sue Bridgeman then looked at me and said in the nastiest voice anyone had ever spoken to me, “I’m going to go out with him — eat your heart out, Fredde Duke!” For emphasis she used my first and last name; not a moment I will ever forget. I was such an innocent that I’d never even heard that expression, and went into my house shaking and sobbing. I felt slapped and yes, I’m outing her right here and now in my blog with her full name. Never had I experienced such cruelty.

I would babysit Kayla Feder up the street, and the minute her parents left to go out, I would put full makeup on her and dress her up like a “teen” so we could go hang out at the Teen Center. When her parents caught wind of this, I was fired, but Bettsie, another one of our gang, took my place and we continued to take Kayla to our Friday night cruising at the Teen Center.

At 15, I graduated again, this time to an even bigger crush, my biggest yet, on Scooter. A real man. Seventeen years old. He was on the swim team, and I quickly became a swim team groupie. I could stare at those boys’ bodies for hours. Scooter humored me and became my new best friend. We were soon together every weekend. I was throwing a surprise birthday party for Sol, but my gang, orchestrated by Diane, decided to turn it on me; I would do all the work but in fact, it was me that they would surprise. It was genius, but I was oh so disappointed when Scooter told me he could not attend “Sol’s party.” It was to be held at Kathy’s house, a girl with a real family and from the right side of the tracks. We weren’t sure why she was one of us.

The first person I saw as I walked through Kathy’s house carrying a case of coca cola (bottles, no less), was Scooter wrapped on the floor in a blanket. Everyone was popping out of doors yelling, “Surprise!” Best surprise party ever. And the best surprise of all for me was Scooter being there. He presented me with a ring as a gift and then told me I would have to kiss him. Fear set in. Later that night when he dropped me off for my regular Saturday night slumber party at Susie’s, I jumped out of his souped-up car, ran around to where he sat in the driver’s seat, and barely reached up far enough to quickly give him a peck on the lips. I didn’t linger for even a second; I ran inside to dream about and relive the moment.

I graduated permanently the summer before I turned 16. I switched parks. To a much less innocent place. A place where I really grew up. Maybe one day I will tell my story of Park Summer. Maybe.

When we got hungry at the Teen Center, we would scrape together all our quarters, nickels, dimes, even pennies, and head up the street to eat at the counter of Roxbury Pharmacy. The food was great, can’t tell you how much I miss it. The pharmacy is all that’s left there on Roxbury and Pico Blvd. , no more grill/restaurant.

And what was once the Teen Center is now a senior citizen center. So maybe it won’t be long before I’m headed back there.

Cast of characters that I am still good friends with: Diane, Susie, Sol, Doug, Gary, Bettsie, Kayla and Scooter. Kathy through Facebook, but don’t speak to her regularly like I do the others.

see? 13, look 7 or 8!!!!!

 

13, looked 9, no wonder the boys didn't notice me!

Scooter on swim team, very hot

me with Scooter, recent one, at Diane and my 50'th party!

 

with Gary Hendlin in the 70's

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19 Responses to “Where the Boys Are”

  1. Ellen Bloom says:

    Good post, Fredde. I, too, remember the Teen Center at Roxbury Park. They also offered classes on Saturday. I remember being in a drama group. Thanks for the memories!

  2. Bettsie says:

    Oh, the good old days!!

  3. Bettsie says:

    I remember getting bar-b-q food at Haig’s Market and taking it to Roxbury Park to watch Little League. Also remember going into the park at night just to try to scare the shit out of outselves,and we did!! That was the beauty of living in BH in the 60s could walk around at night and cruise anywhere, like 31 flavors or Chapmans or Will Wright’s!! Yummmmmmy!!!!

  4. I didn’t really discover boys until I graduated from Beverly, not that I had no interest, I was just very shy. It’s fun to hear your stories. I vaguely remember the teen center…I don’t think my mother let me out much, l.o.l. I had a very strict European upbringing. Sounds like you had a heck of lot more fun than I did.

  5. Joel says:

    Great post–keep it up, you’ll have enough content for the book!

  6. Augie Duke says:

    wow. Apple truly doesen’t fall from the tree, or whatever that saying is. I love this one, becuase i feel we all have similar stories from our early teens. Good one mamma……..

  7. Fredde – I don’t think I ever went to the teen center – at Roxbury Park? I do remember another park though!! Great story! 🙂

  8. pauli moss says:

    It is interesting how many details we remember ‘in retrospect’ – and yet I find I am not so good at remembering where I put my keys yesterday.
    My brother used to put on plays at that Teen Center I think. Richard
    Dreyfuss was in his first one: Suddenly Last Summer. Thanks for stirring up the ghosts.

  9. mitch says:

    Great story, Fredde. You have a great style. Took me right back to my wayward youth. At 13-14 I was delivering booze for the Liquor Castle. I carried bottles all over BH on my bike. And speaking of old dark houses, I delivered to quite a few of them, with scary people answering the doors. It was creepy, but sometimes fun. To rip off a phrase, I was a young boy with a lot to learn.

  10. DBoos says:

    Ah yes…Super Drugs on Saturday for a burger or hot dog…and the very dear to my heart….Archie comic books! Going with you to get “Turtles”, and an array of chocolate treats, and gum and such wonderfully sugary fare to last us the day at the Teen Center. Spending time with you walking back and forth across Olympic Blvd at Roxbury, with you dressed as a little old lady, your hair pulled back into a bun with powder in it to make it look like it was white, and those Ben Franklin glasses that we all wear now to ACTUALLY see with, with your father’s cane in hand, poking it at cars as we crossed that damn street over and over again. Yes, South Roxbury Drive holds many memories for us indeed…and it’s been a long, long time since I thought about that party. Loved that you posted this…thanks Fred

  11. David Miller-Engel says:

    It is amazing how we can remember the things we did then and cannot remeber what we had for breakfast…thanks for the memories Fredde….

  12. robin says:

    who was debbie the “it” girl?
    love love love your writing.
    and you.

  13. stacey nelkin says:

    Fredde,
    I love your writing and your stories –
    especially about the times before I met you – you’re filling in all the gaps for me in such a beautiful way…
    xxxx

  14. Eric Bobrow says:

    Wow, what a wonderful post. I too remember the Teen Center in Roxbury Park fondly. I spent a lot of time there in 9th and 10th grade, learned to play pool and ping pong, felt like it was “home” for a while. I wasn’t yet into girls, so I guess I was one of the boys who ignored you…sorry! Anyway, thanks for sharing your memories, it was a sweet time in our lives.
    Eric Bobrow

  15. randy ralston says:

    WHAT a great writer you are, Freddie! Reads like the wind. Not a heavy read. Keep writing. best always, randolph ralston

  16. seymore cole MD says:

    Well I am just saying your writing is expressive,deep and the Other park needs some of your shared memories.

  17. Hoov says:

    Lisa Jim and I go back to fall of 70 through summer 71 raising hell. Great times We had a snocker sp table that came from arty shaw the musican and playing pool was a hoot. Aloha too both of you amd Lisa

  18. April says:

    Does everyone remember Bones? Blinkie?

  19. […] Safe, old friends.  Before the new park, Roxbury Park friends like Susie and Bettsie (more here).  Then one day my father phoned my mother (they were divorced) and said he wanted to pick me up […]

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