My Attempts At Founding Clubs And Gangs, 1985 - 1989
According to ’80s coming-of-age films, here are the ways to find amazing adventure.
1) Find an alien. Feed it Reese’s Pieces. Against all odds, protect it from the government. Go on an amazing adventure.
2) Befriend an eccentric, old Asian man, who will teach you karate. Court Elizabeth Shue. Against all odds, win karate tournament by kicking Johnny in the face. Go on an amazing adventure.
3) Become computer and electronics genius. Fake sick to your parents. Contact neurotic friend and steal his father’s 1961 convertible Ferrari 250 GT. Against all odds, spring hot girlfriend from school. Go on an amazing adventure.
4) Form a group of underdog friends. Bond over a common interest. Against all odds, go on an amazing adventure.
The latter seemed the most attainable to me. The Goonies, Monster Squad, Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club, The Lost Boys, Gleaming the Cube, Breakin’ – all of these were driven by a group of quirky small fries who had the same drive. It was clear to me what I needed to do, form a club.
First things first, I needed a rad clubhouse. For a solid year I attempted to build various treehouses, forts, bunkers and lean-tos with no success. Finally my neighbor Paul, a retired handy man, took pity on me and built me a clubhouse.
Six feet by six feet, it was essentially a shed behind our garage. But it had for walls, a window, a slanted room with shingles and a door. It did not have a floor or a doorknob. I managed those problems with scraps of found carpet and tied the door shut with rope.
Now I needed an assembly of unlikely friends with a similar interest and a seemingly unattainable mission.
My Clubs & Gangs: First Attempt
Name: The Exterminators
- Pupp – Leader
- Ryan – Inventor
- Heidi – Girl
- Joshua – Wild Card
Necessary Equipment: Rope, inventions, backpacks, snacks, water bottles, flashlights, Band-Aids, snakebite kit.
Inception: We held our first meeting outside the clubhouse due to a spider resurgence. Despite our name, we had no interest in pest control. We thought The Exterminators sounded tough, like The Goonies.
Disbandment: Everyone voted for Michael as the leader. Even though I founded the club, I wanted to focus on inventing gadgets to save us in tight spots. After twenty minutes of eating snacks and failing to brainstorm an adventure, Michael dissolved the club on the grounds, This sucks. Let’s do something else.
My Clubs & Gangs: Second Attempt
Name: Monster Fighters Gang
Mission: To battle monsters and the supernatural.
Necessary Equipment: Garlic, silver bullets, wooden stacks, crucifixes, torches, book on monsters, amulet, cattle prod.
- Ryan – Vampire Expert
- Pupp – Werewolf Expert
- Heidi – Virgin
- Joshua – Ghost Expert
Inception: Inspired by The Monster Squad, we carved stakes, stole garlic powder and even tried to form silver bullets from solder and a soldering iron. Heidi was not familiar with her role, so I defined virgin for her. Her father yelled at me later. I explained only virgins could read magic spells, but he didn’t care.
Disbandment: The end came before our first formal meeting. Joshua stole his father’s cattle prod. We couldn’t find Ghostbuster proton packs and needed some form of electricity to capture ghosts. Joshua tested the cattle prod on me. I ran bawling around the yard until his dad heard. Joshua received the paddle. Monster Fighters Gang received the axe.
My Clubs & Gangs: Third Attempt
Name: The Breakers
Mission: To breakdance in our town’s talent show and win international fame. Necessary
Equipment: Boombox, Fat Boys cassette tape, cardboard, Chuck Taylors, radical moves.
- Ryan – Lead Breakdancer, Choreographer
- Pupp – Breakdancer, Rapper
- Crystal – Girl Dancer, Beatboxer
- Heidi - Girl Dancer #2, Modern Dance Expert
- Joshua – Hype Man
Inception: The year prior, I entered the town talent show with a dance I choreographed to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” That didn’t convince anyone to join my Michael Jackson Dance Club, so I went with breakdancing instead. My mother bought me knock-off Chuck Taylors. They had a panther in the circle instead of a star. I hated them.
Disbandment: We met informally on four occasions to bust moves. One day Joshua brought spray-paint and we graffiti’d the words Radical, Peace, The Breakers, etc. on our clubhouse (on the outside only since spiders were inside]. I also spray-painted my fake Chuck Taylors. When my mom saw the shoes and shed, breakdancing and Joshua were banned. Reunion rumors surfaced when I got the “Bust A Move” cassette single, but nothing came of it.
My Clubs & Gangs: Fourth Attempt
Name: Nightclub For Kids
Mission: Provide a place for quality entertainment and virgin cocktails.
Necessary Equipment: Stage, microphone, bartending equipment, stocked bar (juices, soda pop, ice, maraschino cherries, grenadine), glasses, tables, couches.
- Ryan – Owner, Bartender, Poet
- Pupp – Bartender, Performer
- Maria – Waitress, Performer
- Tyson –Bar Back
Inception: The movie Cocktail inspired me to ask, “Why aren’t there nightclubs for kids?” I pictured myself behind the bar flipping shakers of juice and jumping up to recite poetry like Tom Cruise did. All staff members (excluding my younger brother Tyson) would occasionally perform various songs, dances and comedy routines.
Disbandment: My girlfriend Maria broke up with me because classmates told her I’d farted in P.E. After that, I spent a lot of time listening to my Richard Marx tape and forgot about pitching Nightclub For Kids.
My Clubs & Gangs: Fifth Attempt
Name: Computer Genius Club
Mission: To hack into important computers. Also, to build robots.
Necessary Equipment: Computers, software, robot parts, caffeinated soda pop.
- Ryan – Computer Genius, Robot Builder
- Charles – Computer Genius, Robot Builder
- Pupp – Centipede Player
Inception: After watching War Games, Weird Science and Short Circuit, I realized this computer thing may be going somewhere. Finally, I’d put my Commodore 64 to something other than printing Happy Birthday signs on a dot-matrix printer.
Disbandment: At our inaugural meeting, Michael claimed hacking into computers was stupid. He and I had grown apart. I’d been spending my time with new friend Charles, writing the screenplay for Jaws 5 (we finished 23 pages). Under Michael’s scrutiny, I admitted to knowing nothing about hacking. We spent the remaining hours playing Centipede and Michael beat my high game. His score still stands on that Commodore 64, as it lays in a landfill buried under VHS players and Young MC cassettes.
The Art of Windmill-Punching
My father’s mustache could have bitch-slapped Tom Selleck’s mustache. My dad dominated men’s league softball and basketball games. He looked like a hairy Napoleon out there, yelling, driving, stealing, hustling … macho oozed from his pores. Men like him are supposed to play by their own rules. However, he never did. He did everything by the book (The Book of Yawn).
A banker by trade, decades before that was a “bad boy” profession, my dad followed protocol like he was still in the army. I’d bet the first time he fell in love as a teen, it was with Barry Goldwater.
The cowboy mentality of Payson’s population inspired most fathers to teach their young (including daughters) how to fight. Since brawling is against protocol, my dad never taught me a right hook. My elementary school fights always ended with me in tears.
Thankfully, Nate moved to town in sixth grade. He amazed me … and not because he was the first black person I’d met … he just happened to be the first black person I’d met. I worshipped him because he truly didn’t give a fuck. Most Payson kids wore Wranglers and cowboy boots. Nate wore a Raiders cap sideways and a diamond stud in his ear, he stole cigarettes and beer from his parents, and he called me the N-word –because he liked me. He’d punch anyone who said it to him.
Nate even owned NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. The only album in our house was my mom’s Greatest Hits of Mr. Barry Manilow. My father just listened to Paul Harvey’s News and Comment.
I never really had the coordination to throw an effective punch. Nate saw this and suggested that I “just lose my shit, go crazy” and start windmill-punching when faced with a fight. That would make people think twice about messing with me.
Nate’s plan worked, but not in the way he intended. I had never really “lost my shit” before. My parents didn’t react well to spasms of emotion. I had years of pent-up anxiety and anger. As soon as I’d start windmill-punching, angst flowed out of me in the form of crying. I’d be hysterically bawling before the fight began.
There I’d stand, wildly punching the air and wailing like a lioness that lost her cub. Opponents found this hilarious. Their laughter eased the desire to fight and bullies started leaving me alone.
Nate’s family moved away that same year. I only knew him two semesters, but still think of him when I’m intimidated: “I can always windmill-punch my way out of this.” Thanks Nate.