Growing Up is a beautiful coming of age story that is currently being shopped to several Hollywood producers for a big screen adaptation.
Thinking of Chet and how much I miss him, made me want to write this out, but I don’t know why, really. Maybe I wanted to share the memory of this day with him another time. Maybe I thought some of you might like to read about this day, many years ago, that sticks out in my memory, as one of the best days ever in the history of mankind.
37 years ago today (3/25/80)….
Silliness, immaturity, stupidity….life-long memories that I am truly blessed to have.
The Rangers played the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden in a fairly meaningless, Tuesday night game. Chet, Gidge, Bobby, Chris Wynne and I attended our first Ranger game without adults. Chet and I were 16 years old. Bobby might have been 17. Gidge and Chris could very well have been 15.
We were between sport seasons in high school. Basketball was finished and baseball practices were just starting. Bobby really did like baseball, so I’m not sure how he squared going into the city and missing practice, but he did. At this point, I was not really into playing baseball any further, so missing a practice did not matter to me. I can’t remember if Chet had retired from baseball after freshman year, but in any event, even if he was still playing baseball, he didn’t give a crap about missing a baseball practice, so he and I started talking about going into see a Rangers game…by ourselves, without out our parents.
I don’t remember how any of us convinced our parents to let us go into the city without any supervision. I assume I told my parents Bobby was going. My parents trusted Bobby, because he was a bit more mature and certainly less of a dope than the rest of us (remember this thought for later). I have no idea how the rest of the guys convinced their parents, but they did.
So, the plan started with Chet and me, and we quickly recruited Gidge, a known degenerate hockey fan too. We chose Rangers v. Buffalo because of Gidge. For reasons that may have been known to me at one time or another, but escape me now, Gidge was a Sabres fan. He never lived in Buffalo, as far as I knew. The Sabres were never any good, so you couldn’t accuse him of bandwagoning a good team. We always just accepted that Gidge was a Sabres fan for whatever inexplicable reason. I’m sure Chet got Chris to go by simply it mentioning to him. Chris was always up for things. Chet recruited Bobby, no doubt.
I don’t remember how we got the tickets. I don’t remember going to Ticketmaster in Ridgewood or anything like that. It was altogether possible that Pat (otherwise known as Mrs. Smith to us) got them.. She had ticket contacts everywhere in NY. So it is possible that Chet’s Mom is somewhat responsible for all of this….
The plan was: meet at the Waldwick train station after school; take the train into Hoboken; take the PATH to 33rd St.; go to the Garden; watch the game; and come home. Sounds innocent enough.
My brother Glenn offered to pick us up at the Garden and drive us home. That was cool. Glenn was 23 at the time and gainfully employed somewhere; assigned to the night shift, which allowed him to be able to pick us up in Manhattan; and he had a really nice black and silver Oldsmobile Cutlas Supreme, which he kept immaculate. For those of you who don’t know my brother, ‘fastidious’ does not begin to describe him and the way he keeps his cars. His cars are cleaner than most hospital operating rooms. Remember this fact for later. I think having Glenn pick us up may have been a selling point to get our parents to approve of our journey into NYC.
Here we go. Got on the train at the Waldwick station. I do not remember sneaking in beer and drinking on the train to Hoboken. This is a skill we’d all develop later in life. I do remember, however, bringing something rather unusual on the train. We had one of those mesh laundry bags with the cinch top that I believe were pilfered from Kaplan’s Cleaners by Chet, since I think he worked there. We all carried our books and gym clothes to school in them. Chet, and some of the other guys who worked at Kaplan’s, made sure all of Waldwick High School had them. The mesh bag contained several rolls of toilet paper, which we intended to throw on the ice, when the Rangers scored. I know. Ridiculous right? I have to admit that particular stupidity was my idea, sort of a bucket list item for a 16 year old in 1980. I was obsessed with doing it.
Train ride to Hoboken was uneventful. PATH train to 33rd St. was uneventful. Got off the PATH, walked through the station, up the stairs and out into the open in mid-Manhattan. We were kings of the world.
I remember distinctly, as a group, we sort of stopped and looked at each other with a “OK, now that we are here, what do we do now” sort of look. As we discussed plans, we noticed Gidge was missing. Where did he go? Apparently, Gidge made a beeline for one of those old NYC press stands. He was buying something. Gidge then walked back to us, proudly, with a magazine in hand, and said something like, “hey, look what I got. Check it out.” Gidge bought a porn mag called, ‘Harvey.’ No joke. That’s the first thing an unsupervised Gidge decided to do in Manhattan. Relax. It was not hardcore porn. It was no worse/better, depending upon your point of view, than Penthouse, but not hardcore. And check it out, we did; right there on the street corner, in the middle of Manhattan…yup, five approx. 16 year old boys, with eyes as big as dinner plates, holding a porn mag out, rotating it around for the world to see us looking at it. We didn’t care.
After our peeping session on the corner, we decided to go find a place where we could get a beer and something to eat. We spied a place on 33rd street called, ‘Brew and Burger.’ Perfect. That’s exactly what we wanted. We go inside and they immediately seat us upstairs, but there was not one other table upstairs with any patrons. The 5 of us were alone upstairs. There was a separate bar up there, with its own bartender. We had a waiter all to ourselves. No one else was around.
We settled in our seats. The waiter, who was not more than 25 or so, had jet black hair that was greased back with an enormous amount of, let’s say grease or some petroleum product. The bartender was an older black guy. He liked to talk.
The waiter comes over and he presents us with that moment of truth for 16 year old boys, trying desperately to look 18 in NYC, “can I get you something to drink?” I remember a delay, where all of us sort of looked at each other momentarily wondering who would have the courage to break the law? None of us had fake IDs. We didn’t think that far ahead. I did my best to ask, like I had done it a thousand times before, “what do you have on tap?” He may have said multiple beers, but I was kinda nervous, so I ordered the first thing he said, Piels Real Draft. “I’ll have one of those,” I think cooly I said. There was, as I remember, a really long pause, as we waited to see, if we were gonna get away with ordering beer as minors. Then, the waiter sort of lifted his head in Chet’s direction, the signal that it was gonna work, because if he didn’t card me, he wasn’t gonna card anyone. Chet, then happily said, “me too!” Around the table it went, “me too.” We all had ordered a mug of Piels Real Draft. Yuck, perhaps the worst beer ever made, but there we were, in a Manhattan restaurant, drinking beer with our newly met, most adored people in the world – the waiter who served us beer and the bartender who poured our beers.
We had a great time at dinner. I cannot explain the joy of that dinner. We drank a lot of beer. Never did change my order to a better quality beer. Maybe we thought that would raise suspicion? No way. Our new friends knew we were under age. It did not concern them. Man, that was fun. We talked with our new friends; we talked amongst ourselves. Who knows what we talked about, probably about the game and how none of us could figure out why Gidge was a Sabres fan…I do remember that Gidge would pull out that Harvey mag for us to look at during dinner.
Towards the end of dinner, the bartender was goofing around with the waiter and flipped his lit cigarette at the waiter. Yes, he was smoking in an NYC eating establishment. Things were different back then. It hit him on the head and his head was instantaneously engulfed in a flash of a blue flame. It was cool. We laughed our asses off. The bartender then said, in a big laughing voice, “you come to the city; you eat some dinner; you drink some beers; and you get a show!”
The waiter was OK, burnt hair notwithstanding.
Now, it was off to the Rangers game, five relatively inebriated 16 year olds. I know that’s pathetically bad, but it was fun then. How the hell we got a mesh bag full of toilet paper rolls into MSG is a mystery, but we did. Maybe we showed the ticket taker the Harvey mag to distract him?
Our seats in the Garden, were in the corner, second to last row of the Green seats, right side of the 7th Ave. goal…to the right of my favorite Ranger at the time, goalie, John Davidson (J.D.) for 2 whole periods.
We had some beer during the game. Getting served at MSG during a hockey, in 1980, was pretty much a given, if you could get your head above the counter. Then, it was time to ready the toilet paper, but I recall the Rangers scored pretty early into the 1st period and we were unprepared. So, the first throw was hurried, because you had to open the bag and get the roll out. It was my job to throw the toilet paper, because I had the best arm. No. That’s not true. I think it was more like, “it was your stupid idea to bring the stupid toilet paper; you can throw it and get tossed out of the Garden, dumbass.” I threw the first roll standing at my seat and was not able to get my legs into the throw. It was a wounded duck. It drifted way left of the ice and landed directly in the little square glass enclosure, where the goal judge sat in those days. Even though I missed the ice, what a shot! I couldn’t have done that again, if I tried a thousand times. We laughed…utter failure of purpose, but the unintended result was worthwhile. I’m sure the goal judge was unharmed, but I bet he was startled.
- I was determined not to miss the ice on the next throw. I don’t remember how or when we got a felt tipped marker, but we had one. The Rangers took some time to score their next goal, which gave us all time to write messages on the toilet paper roll that I was about to throw. I don’t remember exactly what we wrote, but we were pretty much drunk anyway. It was real poignant stuff, like, “go Rangers and J.D. is the best.” Something like that. Then, the Rangers scored again. I really think it was Anders Hedberg. Chet would have appreciated that I remembered who scored. I tried to look up old Rangers box scores, but even the internet does not have that.
This time, I ran down the aisle a bit, got some momentum and then throw the toilet paper. It was a majestic throw, the paper unraveling with a nice, fluttering tail, as it descended and landed right in the face-off circle to the right of J.D. This was possibly the proudest athletic achievement of my life. Then, when it could not get any better, it did. J.D. skated over to my toilet paper roll and gently pushed it to the side with his goalie stick. Well, that was it for me. I exclaimed multiple times, “J.D. touched my toilet paper.” I was so unnecessarily proud. I wondered if he had read any of the messages we wrote? None of us ever forgot my inebriated, over the top reaction to J.D. touching the toilet paper. Chet would bring it up all the time over the years. I think he was making fun of me….
That was the last roll of toilet paper any of us ever threw at a professional sporting event. Bucket list checked.
One other thing I remember from the game was that there were these miscreants sitting behind us smoking weed. They were younger than we were. Imagine that! Teens smoking weed at a Ranger game; such bad form. Poor parenting, I guess…. They offered it to us, but, our drug of choice at that particular moment in time was beer. They scared me.
The game ended in a 3-3 tie. Gidge was happy. Time to go meet Glenn at the rendezvous place, somewhere on 33rd St. We didn’t have cell phones. How the hell did we meet him? As we left the seats and hit the stairs, Bobby realized (and we realized) he was shit-faced and he proceeded to puke all over the stairs. As we gathered our ailing friend, we heard someone else on the stairs say, “pork chops and beer,” with a tsk, tsk, tsk sound. Over the years, I think that became one of Gidge’s favorite phases, at least whenever we were watching hockey. By the way, I have no idea if Bobby ordered pork chops at Brew and Burger.
We met Glenn and drove home. I was sitting in the front seat, when the distinctive smell of vomit filled the car. I know he tried hard to not get it on anything, but who the hell could do that? Chet sat next to the puke covered Bobby the whole way home. Gidge desperately tried to protect the Harvey mag. The fact that the evening ended with Bobby yaking in my hyper-fastidious brother’s Oldsmobile, just put a cherry on top of the evening. While we all apologized to Glenn profusely, we still thought it was more funny than tragic. I think Glenn just liked being part of such a special night.
That’s it. As far as I know, we all went to school the next day.