|My one friend in school, Marlene, was laughing at me one day for getting an F in history (a class with lots of
homework, and I did not do one piece of it). I said, "What are you laughing at? I'm gonna get in trouble."
She said, "I'm not laughing because you got an F, I'm laughing because you just don't care what they do --
you do what you want. I wish I could do that." That cheered me up. She was right. I never cared before if
I was punished. Punish me -- who cares? I did what I wanted and that was that.
My time has always been my time. Age 4, at the school playground with Mom. I was climbing around a wooden fortress
and Mom said it was time to go -- we had to go get Theresa from school. But I wasn't done yet, and not about to
leave. Mom knew if she yelled, I'd never come down. "C'mon, honey. Let's go now." The woman sweet-talked
me for a long time, but I wasn't having any of it. I said, "Come and get me." Now Mom had one rotten
kid who wouldn't listen, and one just out of school for the day who needed to be walked home -- the patience pool
had long since dried up. Mom climbed up the ladder on the side of the fort to get me and WHOOP! -- I slid down
the pole to the inside. She yelled at me, "Now stop it! You come here right now!" I began to laugh unrestrained
-- my mom was going to chase me! She slid down the pole after me, and I shot out through a window and back up to
the top. Mom lost it, screaming and climbing after me, just missing me each time. What a delight! We continued,
me squealing and her screaming, both climbing and sliding until laughter overcame me and I could hardly move. I
was done, we could leave now. What fun! Yeah, she blistered my ass when she finally got her hands one me. I also
got my butt beat with that leather belt twice -- once from Mom when we got home, then from Dad when he got home.
I paid dearly, and I'd do it over a million times more without a second thought. It was a bargain at any price.
I was not well-liked in high school -- well-hated is more like it. I took a barrage of insults daily for liking
the Pretenders. No one knew who they were. It was a Led Zeppelin world. Lucky for me, there seemed to be some mystery
about me that scared people away. This fear was cemented in many minds after I slugged a football player for an
unPretenders-related act. Always taunted from a distance -- they dared not get close enough for me to sink my teeth
in. Until one day, when a particularly dumb individual walked past me and Marlene and said something that was
Pretenders-related. I'm sure it was not even worth the energy spent to consider it, but I was already in a foul
mood for some reason. I threw down my books and turned around in time to grab the guy and throw him into the cyclone
fence. He fell into it deeply and bounced back out, thrashing around out of control and completely off balance.
Then this mindless wonder fell to the ground. Already having humiliated him in front of his oh-so-cool friends,
I could do no more damage even if I'd decided to kick the life out of him. I picked up my books, asked, "Didn't
your mother ever teach you any manners?" and walked off. Apparently, my mother hadn't taught me any either.
Chrissie was pregnant! Wow! Good for her! I couldn't think of anything else that would've brought her such happiness
at that time. Jennifer (a friend of mine who had graduated in my sister's class) and I sat around one day, bored.
"What do you think Chrissie'll name her kid?" Jennifer asked. "Hmm..." I pondered. "Wait!"
said Jennifer, "A boy or a girl?" "Oh, a girl, for sure!" My expert opinion. "Named...?"
"Hmm..." I pondered again. "Zelda!" We started laughing and tossing out silly and highly unlikely
names. Jennifer said, "Natasha." It was funny, but for some reason, not too weird. It sounds like a little-girl
name. From that day until the child was born, we referred to her as "Natasha". It just fit, so I kept
it for her.
The baby was born on Jennifer's birthday. MTV cut in with a special announcement about it. I was sitting on the
coffee table (which means my parents weren't home). After I heard, I whooped, "All right, Natasha! Welcome!"
Jennifer came over about an hour later, and I told her Natasha had arrived. "Really?" "Yeah, can
you believe it? Now I'll have a way to remember when your birthday is." She struck me! (Not as being
funny, but for being funny.)
There was no official name for Natasha for awhile. This can't be correct, but it seems to me I heard the name about
two months after her birth. Then again, I also remember a lot of people saying that the baby hadn't been named
yet, for ages. Maybe the birth announcement missed all the magazines that had just hit the stands, and we had to
wait another month to see it printed. Natalie Rae Hynde. What a sweet name. We continued to call her "Natasha"
as it was a habit now.
Around December it hit me. Came out of nowhere. Jennifer and I were sitting around again, probably doing something
constructive like tossing insults back and forth. I blinked when it smacked into my thought path. I said, "Natasha."
Jennifer looked at me. "That's Russian," I continued. "That's right, dar-link." Jennifer imitated
Natasha from Rocky & Bullwinkle. I said, "It's Natalie... in Russian." That was weird, huh? Chrissie
took a long time to name her child because she wanted to give her the right name. "Natalie" was her name
before she was born. Apparently, it wasn't a matter of figuring out which name suited her, it was a matter of locating
the name that was hers already. Jennifer had figured it out easily enough.
April 1983. Jennifer told me Pete died. She said her boyfriend had told her that earlier in the morning. I didn't
believe it because he was always pulling stuff like that to see if she'd believe him. I didn't even have that usual
twinge of panic, that "but what if it's true..."? It just wasn't and that was that. About two weeks later,
I read it in Rolling Stone. Pete, you goddamned ass, why did you have to go and do something that stupid? Pete
did not die from a drug overdose, despite what the press always states. What he did was shoot up in the
bath, pass out and drown. Drowning was the official cause of death. The press will always tell you that he and
Jim died of drug overdoses. What the hell do they care? As long as they have a story, what does it matter if it's
May 1983. The Pretenders were playing the US Festival in San Bernardino. This was many miles from my home
in San Jose. Theresa and I had made the long trek down that way the previous year for the first US Festival. We'd
returned home in one piece (well, two pieces), so my parents let us go to this one. We were going with friends
this time. My second Pretenders show! It even got me out of school for a few days! Thanks, guys!
Now I must tell you the story of why I really dislike John Mellencamp. A couple weeks before the US Festival, John
Cougar-Mellencamp (or whatever name he was using at the time) pulled out of the lineup. I never knew why, nor did
I care, until I learned that it did affect me, after all. A friend of mine (mid-twenties, English, with a great
affection for the same bands I loved) from work was really upset after the announcement. I came into the office
and was like, "Hey! Why so down?" What could be that bad? On the verge of tears, he explained
that he was very good friends with John Cougar Etcetera's manager, and he'd set it up for me to go backstage, hoping
I'd be able to meet Chrissie! It was like -- a done deal. Then when John C-M dropped out, it was like -- an undone
Before we left for the US Festival, Dad ran us through a refresher course on how to change a tire, jump-start a
car and put up the tent. He bought new batteries for the flashlights. Who wanted to think about junk like that?
We bought Coke. Theresa and I kept telling everyone "You won't want to eat -- it'll be too hot. Just get stuff
to drink." From our last trip down there, we'd learned you couldn't possibly have too much to drink. They
bought stuff for sandwiches anyway. We set out on our great adventure and drove for some hours. Theresa and Jennifer's
friend Vicky fell asleep in the back. Jennifer drove and I kept her awake, still my job on long car trips as I
do not drive (I'd kill someone, I know myself -- I'd get really mad and slam into someone, I really would, so I
will not give myself the chance).
It was the most beautiful night I'd ever seen. Windows down, Pretenders II blasting. Stars like gunshot as we sped
beneath them, landscape glowing as if the light came from within. The moon was so full and bright, a luminous pearl
against the soft, black skin of night. Jennifer turned the headlights off and we were flying.
Neither of us said anything, each lost in our own world. The scenery speeding past the windows, the music spilling
from the speakers, seemed to have put us in a trance.
Jennifer finally looked down at the speedometer and exclaimed, "Oh my GOD, we're going 100 miles an hour!
I've never hit a hundred in this car before!" I leaned over to see -- we sure were going 100. We slowed
down and were able to read a sign on the side of the road: NOW LEAVING PACHECO PASS. We gasped -- the notorious
Pacheco Pass was (it's gone now -- a safer path was put in) one of the most dangerous roads in the country. It
curved out onto the edges of mountains -- hundreds of people have been killed on it. We had just flown over it
at 100 miles per hour with no headlights -- too fast to read the warning signs or see the wrecked cars and mock
cemeteries erected along the side of the road by some of the many families who had lost loved ones on this deadly
stretch of road.
Out in the middle of nowhere a white owl flew over the car. Whatever it represents, I dunno, but it wasn't the
In the morning, we arrived at the "camp ground" (more like a large, haphazardly leveled expanse of dry
dirt) and grabbed a spot for the tent and car. Theresa and I put up the tent -- hey, we knew how! It was extremely
windy and the dirt was dry and sandy, so the tent stakes did not want to stay in the ground. Jennifer had a spiked
dog collar she liked to wear. We snapped together her collar and her and my spiked wrist bands to make one big
piece, looped it around the car door handle and around the front center post of the tent, and snapped the ends
together. It worked -- the tent stayed up. (Now if that doesn't sound like an episode of "Commander McBrag,"
I don't know what does.)
There was a little stand where you could buy ice. It was one long, hot walk from our camp. We needed ice often
as the heat was incinerating, so we took turns hoofing it over to Ice Island. I was told it was my turn. "No
way, I got it last time." Jennifer sighed. "I know, but the bikers never bother you." It was true.
They stopped the three older girls to talk to them. On one of my trips this enormous man sitting in the shade with
two other guys said, "Hey sweetie, want a beer?" I laughed, kept moving, and said, "Oh, I'm not
old enough to drink." He said, "We won't tell, heh heh heh." "Maybe later." "Anytime."
So what was the problem? I ended up getting ice every time, although after a while we ate it instead of putting
it in the ice chest. Over the course of our stay, someone, who shall remain nameless, put her lavender soap in
the ice chest. The ice melted and the open sandwich fixin's were floating in lavender soap-flavored water. Yum.
We now had no food even if we wanted it. They did sell food inside the concert site, but it really was too hot
to eat anything. There were no stores except the little ice place, and they only had ice.
We didn't go to the "metal" day. I seem to recall roasting in the tent all day, sick from the intense
heat. Jennifer slathered Noxema on me - I was badly blistered from being in the sun for extended periods of time.
I hate the heat. And the smell of Noxema.
U2 played -- we were up front for it. Few others knew who they were. Bono had his white flag and started to climb
up to the top of the stage rigging. Stage hands bolted after him, trying to pull him down, but he kept getting
away, reminding me of a favorite childhood memory. He dropped the flag at one point, but kept going and made it
to the top. He serenaded us from above. The guy is a classic performer. He endeared himself to us all that day.
The heat was stifling. You had to leave to get water often. Before the Pretenders came on, I could barely stand
up. If I'd have stayed up front, I would have passed out, and I wasn't going to miss this for anything!
Better to see it from afar than to not see it at all. They came out and everyone was a Pretenders fan. I thought
the bass player was OK. He looked like he was having fun. Poor Malcolm must've been petrified to play in front
of that many people. He did well. I remember thinking Robbie was kinda snooty. Where was he going with those guitar
solos? They did a new song, "Middle of the Road." I tried to remember the lyrics as best as I could.
They did a great job and I was so proud. I don't know why, it had nothing to do with me, but I was proud of them.
We'd all been separated during the day. When I got back to camp, the rest of the gang was already there. They saw
me coming and Jennifer yelled, "What'd you think?" I let out some kind of battle cry (I'm part Cherokee,
remember?), cut into "Middle of the Road" and finished up (ran out of memorized lyrics) as I stepped
into our camp.
I'd asked about Pretenders shirts at every shirt booth. "They aren't here yet," everyone told me. Damn!
I wanted a new shirt! The last day we were there, I was walking around with Theresa talking about (as usual) the
Pretenders. I said, "See, another cool thing about them is they don't have shirts in ugly colours. Black or
white t-shirts and that's it. You'd never see a pink or yellow Pretenders shirt." I finished up as
we reached a shirt booth. I opened my mouth to inquire about Pretenders shirts just as Theresa said, "This
one is nice..." I turned towards her. She had her hands on the display shirt, on a hanger above our heads,
and turned it so I could see. A PINK PRETENDERS SHIRT!?!? AAAAHHHH!!! They had a gray one as well, but PINK! Me
and my big mouth. Bought it anyhow. At least it wasn't yellow, eh?
Sometime during these few days my sister bumped into a friend of ours, Teresa, who had packed her lavender soap
and taken the bus down. Jennifer didn't like her then (strangely enough, they ended up being great pals later)
and didn't want her to come with us (it was Jennifer's car), and there really wasn't any room. Well, she "accidentally"
missed the bus back so she had to ride home with us. We hadn't eaten in days and were starving. No one had money
except for the little bit we'd put aside for gas to get home. We drove and drove and drove. Jennifer was the only
responsible (and I am really stretching the meaning of that word here) one among us. She had a checking account
and a store card for Alpha Beta. Going through a small town, we spotted the store and said in unison "Alpha
Beta!" Never so happy to see a grocery store, we rejoiced. Next to the store was a little donut shop. Apparently
we all wanted donuts -- this was before every grocery store in America had a deli and soup 'n' salad bar and bakery.
In Alpha Beta we all got milk plus stuff to drink later. Jennifer made the check out for extra cash (Hurray! Now
we'd have enough gas money to get home for sure!) and we went to get donuts.
There were five of us and we were awfully hungry so we bought a huge box. These old ladies were working behind
the counter. We got some napkins and started to take straws for our milk. This mean old lady said, "You can't
have any straws -- you didn't buy anything to drink." We'd just bought a ton of donuts and this old cow wouldn't
let us have five straws! Friendly little town, huh? We left and ate in the car. Jennifer asked me, unsuspecting
fool, to go with her to throw the stuff away. We went back into the shop. Jennifer passed up the trash can and,
with the two old bats watching, tossed a big messy load of garbage onto the counter. "Here" she said,
"thought you might like to reuse the box." I turned a brilliant shade of red before following her out
of the shop. Then we laughed all the way home (which was still very, very far away...)