Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Keep the Customers Satisfied"

I'm not sure who's idea it was, but what started it was the Morning Announcements over the intercom at Lowell Elementary in Boise. Every morning, the principal would make the day's announcements -- and sometimes students would come on the intercom afterward and sing or do a brief comedy skit.
My friends and I thought we could do this and Get Famous.
God knows who suggested the idea, but somehow the plan was hatched to get on the morning announcements and sing "Snoopy and the Red Baron." God knows why.
The conspirators were myself and friends Tim, Steve, the other Steve, the other Tim, and Patrick. We were all in the same fifth-grade class. Within days we got onto the morning announcements and sang the flattest, weakest version of "Snoopy and the Red Baron" that you'll ever hear. That's because we NEVER practiced. It was excruciating. Nothing but stunned silence afterward.
Thus started our 15 minutes of fame.
After that, we were semi-officially "a singing group." We were The Snoopys. We took it upon ourselves to break meekly into song whenever our teacher, Mr. Jones, abandoned the classroom for 15 minutes at a time and vanished off to the teachers' lounge for a smoke. God knows what we sang, and I can't remember. I can't remember if anyone ever told us we were "good." It didn't matter.
(Can I note here that Mr. Jones warned my mother during a parent-teacher conference that if I didn't take a bigger part in sports and get out and socialize more often, that I'd end up gay? Seriously. This was in 1970. My mom told Mr. Jones to mind his own business.)
There was some talent in the group. Tim could actually sing -- he later got solo vocal spots in school choir concerts. As for the rest of us -- who knows? We thought about adding more members to the group. We even thought about adding two girls.
We never officially sang together in public again. But we always Had Plans. We began collecting lyrics for all the songs we thought we might someday sing in an official songbook -- a composition notebook from class. Life in The Snoopys became an immediate power struggle between Tim and I over who got to carry around the songbook.
I thought Tim was my friend. As part of our research into cool songs to sing, he invited me over to his house, where we listened to Simon and Garfunkel's BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER album in a glassed-in den where Tim's record player was. "Keep the Customers Satisfied" was a big favorite, along with "Cecelia," though neither of us understood the words. Too bad we never got to the gorgeous "The Only Living Boy in New York."
I was actually closer friends with Steve -- who was an uncoordinated nerdy geek just like me. It was just like looking in a mirror, and I thought his loopy sense of humor was a scream.
But the battles over the songbook got uglier. Tim started threatening to beat me up. He started chasing me home on our bikes -- we zigged and zagged through after-school traffic and I was usually able to dodge him and make a run for it. Only once -- on the last day of fifth grade -- did he catch me in a local park and start punching me. That was the last time I remember purposely hitting someone in anger, with an intent to hurt. I was screaming and crying in anger. And then I ran.
Two weeks later we moved to Washington. I was in an Air Force family and we moved every two or three years. Three years later we moved back to Idaho, and Tim ended up in my junior-high English class. He'd gotten pudgy and didn't seem to remember me.
Steve was around school, too. We had similar lives for awhile. He worked in the same car-parts store I did after graduating from high school. He joined the Air Force two years before I did. Last I heard, he made a career of the AF and was a foreign-language instructor. That was more than 15 years ago.
I lost touch with everyone else a lot longer ago. And some of them maybe I wouldn't want to know now. I looked up another old friend from sixth grade a couple days ago and found out from Facebook that I REALLY don't want to talk to him now. I used to know him when he smoked pot and listened to Peter Frampton, and now he's as far away from that as he can possibly get. And not in a good way. What is it that changes people so much? Is it just life and experiences, or is there something more?

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