Suzie Q’s mother ran a hand laundry and her family lived in the back of the store. They were among the last people I knew to have a party line. For you young’uns, that’s when several households shared one phone line. If you picked up the phone, someone else might already be using that line and you could hear the conversation. Likewise, they could hear yours. One of the people who shared a line with them was an older woman, unknown outside of the sporadic contact over the phone. Suzie Q told me not to talk about boys over the phone because that woman listened in and reported everything back to her parents, who kept her on a tight leash. She was usually only allowed out for a specific purpose, like a movie. Lazy Saturday afternoons hanging out on Cherry Bomb’s porch were not on list of approved activities, and it wasn’t long before I got used to Suzie Q’s absence and started developing an independent friendship with the other girls.
All human associations build natural hierarchies. I’m not going to hedge that statement by saying “most” or “usually” until I personally come across one group that functions differently. Cherry Bomb was the center of this group. Of Polish descent, she bore a slight resemblance to Debbie Harry, with blond hair, blue eyes and prominent cheekbones. She, Cat Eyes and Sour Puss had been friends since elementary school. Cherry Bomb and Cat Eyes were extremely close, as if they were a binary star in which Cherry Bomb was the primary star. But then there was Sour Puss, and Suzie Q, and eventually I showed up. To extend the astronomical analogy, an n-body problem may result in chaos. In the back of my mind, I was aware of this fact and tried hard not to step on Sour Puss’s toes as I, without intent or forethought, began to replace her in the hierarchy. My closeness to Suzie Q, as opposed to the central star of Cherry Bomb, didn’t help the way I hoped it would. This only made Sour Puss more of an outsider.
If Cherry Bomb was in a close female friendship with Cat Eyes, she was in a romantic relationship with Chuck E. You know the Billy Joel song, “Brenda and Eddie were the popular steadies, and the king and the queen of the prom.” It was junior high school, not high school, so there was no prom, but that sums up the relationship. Conveniently, Chuck E had a best friend, Hazy Davy, with whom Cat Eyes had taken up the summer before I joined the group.
Cherry Bomb lived in a craftsman bungalow and a Saturday routine would soon take shape, in which we’d sit on her porch, Cherry Bomb, Cat Eyes, Sour Puss and I. Suzie Q, who lived very close by, might join us for an hour or two. Eventually, Chuck E and Hazy Davy would show up on their bicycles. Frequently, this was not long before Suzie Q would have to depart. As evening descended, the two couples would start to do things like hold hands and Sour Puss and I would pick up the cue that it was time to leave. As the two single girls being abandoned by the friends with boyfriends, I tried to make some overtures of friendship towards Sour Puss and she responded in a friendly manner. However, one weekend, when Chuck E and Hazy Davy arrived on their Bicycles, there was another with them, let’s call him Sheep Dog. I’m calling him Sheep Dog because he was larger than the others, but in a gentle, loping way. He had blue eyes that were almost always obscured by light brown hair that hung in his face and a modest self-effacing manner. I almost didn’t notice him until he walked up the steps of the porch. He would soon become by first real boyfriend.
Along the southern edge of our town ran a road we called Broadway. If you followed it towards the east, it would take you to New York City. This road separated our town from the one in which the boys lived, all the boys except Sheep Dog. Sheep Dog’s family had moved about forty minutes away by car, in the same state, but another county. Every once in a while, he’d persuade his older brother to drive him back to their old town so he could visit his friends. That’s why I hadn’t met him before. His demeanor was true to his personality. He was a gentle person and a bit shy.