Down in our base­ment we’d mim­ic the Bea­t­les just like they were on Sul­li­van. I made repli­ca gui­tars out of cutout card­board accu­rate in every detail com­plete with knobs, frets and strings, col­or­ing them in with pas­tels from my Jon Gnagy art set. I used my mom’s hair­spray to fix the pas­tels to keep them from smear­ing and give the gui­tars a cool lac­quered sur­face. I was always John, “the artis­tic one,” Wayne alter­nat­ed between Paul and George and my broth­er Joe and one of Tay­lor twins would fill out the band. The twins would smug­gle over one of their mother’s wigs, a Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor kind of mop and press a wad of sil­ly put­ty on their nose and took turns being Ringo. It was hilar­i­ous.

My par­ents nev­er had much mon­ey to dole out but every now and then you’d man­age get a quar­ter or fifty cents for some­thing or anoth­er. I was a resource­ful scrounger and kept a keen eye out for a glint of coinage lying about. I col­lect­ed coke bot­tles I found along the road, you could get good mon­ey for the bot­tles if you had a box of them. I sold my dupli­cate Bea­t­les cards at an inflat­ed 5 cents a pop and made out­ra­geous bets like I could walk across the room on my hands or drink a table­spoon of Tabas­co sauce for a quar­ter. I could do it. When no one was look­ing, at my house or at neighbor’s, I’d take the lib­er­ty to search sofas for loose change in the deep crevasse back behind the cush­ions. It’s prob­a­bly added up to hun­dreds of dol­lars over my life­time.

When we had mon­ey, we head­ed to the rail­road. There was a track not too far from Mechan­ics Val­ley Road. With Joe and my sis­ters in tow we’d fol­low it up about a mile (it was prob­a­bly a half a mile, if that) until it came to one of our favorite places, the local can­dy store. You could buy plen­ty of can­dy for a quar­ter then because sin­gle can­dies were a pen­ny and can­dy bars were a nick­el or a dime. For 50 cents you could eat your­self sick. Inside a large glass counter there were three shelves of can­dy, on the top of the counter was an array of open box­es of gum, trad­ing cards, can­dy bars and suck­ers. It was a trea­sure trove of can­dy. Over­whelm­ing to behold, it was enough to dri­ve you nuts as well as the pro­pri­etor who stood wait­ing impa­tient­ly behind the counter as your eyes dart­ed back and forth while you hemmed and hawed and final­ly slob­bered: “I’ll take one of them, two of those, —no three, a pack of this, a box of that, and so on. Your lit­tle brown bag would soon be filled to the brim with red hot dol­lars, Bazooka Gum, wax lips and can­dy neck­laces for my sis­ters, Mal­low Cups, Nec­cos, can­dy cig­a­rettes, Pixy Sticks, black licorice twists, caramels and jaw­break­ers. Oh yeah … and two five-cent packs of Bea­t­les cards with a pow­dery wedge of bub­ble gum in them. (I have to stop now — my teeth hurt think­ing about it.) All that can­dy, all those cav­i­ties.

Lat­er that year, I found out why peo­ple hate den­tists.
I was par­a­lyzed as I gripped the arms of the den­tist chair. Pinned down by the dentist’s elbow, he held my jaw open with his thumb. My eyes closed at the sight of a fright­en­ing­ly long nee­dle head­ed into my mouth, straight into my gums and excru­ci­at­ing­ly sen­si­tive nerves. It killed me! He left the room while I laid there in rig­or mor­tis recline. I blinked as tears streamed down my face and licked the inside of my mouth and wiped my tongue to see if there was blood. There wasn’t. The side of my face went total­ly numb, includ­ing my right eye. I grabbed a tiny den­tal mir­ror from his tray of tor­tur­ous tools beside me and peered at my self through it. I looked like a very young Qua­si­mo­do.

The den­tist returned and I watched ner­vous­ly as he arranged the drilling bits, var­i­ous pointy den­tal tools and cot­ton swabs on the tray beside me. He smelled of cig­a­rettes and his nos­trils were so hairy it looked like he had squir­rels lodged up his nose. He held up the drill bit and revved it before going in. It buzzed in a high-pitched whine as he drilled out my cav­i­ties and packed them with sil­ver fill­ings. After sur­viv­ing that tor­ture, like that wasn’t enough, I was lec­tured on my poor hygiene and exces­sive can­dy con­sump­tion.
“I bet­ter not see you back here any time soon!” the doc­tor warned.
I took that to heart and start­ed brush­ing on a dai­ly basis, some­times twice. I still, mirac­u­lous­ly, have that sweet tooth, re-filled a cou­ple times since then.

We had been in North East for almost two years and our time was up. We would be mov­ing down to Bain­bridge Naval Base, six miles away in anoth­er month. Over the last few weeks I stayed over night at Wayne’s and the Tay­lor twin’s house as often as pos­si­ble. We watched some our favorite shows— The Out­er Lim­its, The Mun­sters and The Addams Fam­i­ly; the lat­ter, two brand new shows that year. They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mys­te­ri­ous and spooky…. You wouldn’t believe how many wise-ass kids sang that song at me through the years.
“That Addams Fam­i­ly has two d’s!” I’d come back with.

My friends and I were into mon­sters — big time. We loved to watch the hor­ror clas­sics— Franken­stein, The Wolf­man, Drac­u­la and The Crea­ture from the Black Lagoon to name a few. We paged through copies of Famous Mon­sters Mag­a­zine and mar­veled at the behind the scenes pho­tos of mon­ster movie mak­ing mag­ic. It was ter­ror-ific. We stared in awe at pic­tures of Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi and the great Boris Karloff endur­ing hours in the make up chair or clown­ing around the set. As an artist, I had a deep appre­ci­a­tion for the artistry of spe­cial effects.
For Hal­loween that year I was the Wolf­man, well tech­ni­cal­ly, Wolf­boy. I saved hair clip­pings from recent hair­cuts and past­ed it to my face. I paint­ed my eyes and tip of my nose black with my water­col­or set and slipped on a set of wax can­dy fangs. My face itched some­thing ter­ri­ble and the teeth kind of melt­ed, but I was con­vinced I looked just as scary as Lon Chaney Jr. ever did.

One of my last mem­o­ries of North East was Wayne Dean’s ninth birth­day par­ty. It was a big shindig. Every Dean from miles around was there for the cel­e­bra­tion. His par­ents, his cousins, aunts, uncles and grand­par­ents were all in atten­dance. It was out­side on a warm fall after­noon as we stood around a cloth cov­ered pic­nic table filled with plates, cups, par­ty hats and a big punch bowl with scoops of sher­bet float­ing in a sea of foamy cream. In the cen­ter of the table was a large choco­late cake with Wayne’s name dec­o­rat­ing the top of it in yel­low and blue con­fec­tionary script sur­round­ed by bar­ber-striped can­dles. On a fold out table next to the pic­nic table was a pile of presents so big I thought the table would col­lapse at any sec­ond. Wayne sat at the big table in front of the cake grin­ning as he eyed the presents, by the looks of it, equal to a good Christ­mas haul. The can­dles were lit then re-lit in the unco­op­er­a­tive wind. With a nod of her head Mrs. Dean gave the offi­cial go ahead as the crowd sang a rous­ing and enthu­si­as­tic “Hap­py Birth­day To You.” I joined the cho­rus and wait­ed patient­ly for the last refrain.
“Hap­py Birth­day to you…” I con­tin­ued singing: “You look like a mon­key and yah act like one too!”

That…I have to say… did not go over too well. It was met with scorn­ful glares and total silence. If a crick­et had been chirp­ing in a near­by field you’d have heard it. It was one of those uncom­fort­able moments when you try to laugh it off, force a fee­ble laugh, clear your throat and feel the twitch­ing smirk melt off your face as you stand there in your pointy birth­day hat feel­ing like a jerk.

Wayne smiled, rolled his eyes back and shook his head before blow­ing out the can­dles. I stared down, not dar­ing to look up as I took my seat at the table. I was hand­ed a plate with an extreme­ly small slice of cake. It wasn’t a total dis­as­ter because the cake was real­ly good and Wayne loved his present. I gave him an Auro­ra Mon­ster mod­el kit of The Wolf Man with a human skull at his feet. He told me it was his favorite but I knew he was being polite. The best one, hands down, was the Bea­t­les sec­ond album, A Hard Days Night. We wait­ed until the crowd broke up and slipped by them as they set­tled in front of the TV inside to watch a col­lege foot­ball game. Wayne and I ran up stairs to lis­ten to the album.

Although we didn’t make it down this year, my son Jude and I stop in North East occa­sion­al­ly on our way to the Susque­han­na Flats to fish for Striper. We go by Harry’s Bait and Bar­ber Shop … real­ly, and get blood­worms and shin­ers before we head out, still hop­ing to catch a big one. On the wall above the bub­bling min­now and eel troughs is a bul­letin board pinned with pho­tos of fish­er­men with their BIG fish. I study the faces to see if any of them resem­ble a Wayne Dean of my own age.

There’s a stop and go place in Per­ryville, right before you cross the bridge to Havre de Grace, where we put in at the pub­lic boat ramp. On one of our vis­its there I was talk­ing to the cashier all friend­ly-like and casu­al­ly men­tioned I’d lived in North East as a kid — and did she hap­pen to know Wayne Dean! She smiled and said, “Yeah, he’s still around. Wayne some­times stops in for a cof­fee on his way to work. He works for the rail­road.”

Hey Wayne!”

We promised to write and stay in touch but nev­er did. I fig­ured I’d nev­er see him or the Tay­lor twins again. That’s the way it was when you were a Navy brat. I’ve had a lot of great friends over the years but out of habit I’d lose touch and let the time lapse as well as the friend­ship.