A fictionalized memoir of the author’s life as a young man in Lincoln, Nebraska, The Frontman is a coming-of-age tale of love and fidelity.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
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"You don't drink don't smoke — what do you do? Subtle innuendos follow"
— Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes," from the album Friend or Foe, released October, 1982. It peaked at number twelve on US Billboard's Hot 100 Songs.
hat the hell are you wearing?" asked Mark after he opened his front door and inspected Sundar's outfit. "You look like a bellhop!"
"It's a Nehru jacket. My uncle sent it over from India; it's all the rage over there," answered Sundar, as he carefully unbuttoned his royal blue tunic.
"Oh yeah, that's right," added Tommy, toasting Sundar with his tenth beer. "I saw Sean Connery wear one of those as James Bond in Dr. No. I think you look like the fuckin' ambassador of cool." He then turned to Mark. "And what do you know, anyway? I've seen some of those ridiculous outfits you've come up with. There's a reason you're the class clown."
All three smiled. Sundar made himself at home on the living room couch, leaning back and confidently placing his hands behind his head. He was so goddamn comfortable in his own brown skin — and everyone always agreed with Tommy — Sundar actually was "the fuckin' ambassador of cool."
Mark Gross had perhaps the most permissive parents on Earth, so naturally, gatherings at his home were frequent and uninhibited. He relished his role as both the host and the life of the party, but that night he could do little to steal the spotlight from Tommy, who, only three hours earlier, threw the game-winning touchdown for the Lincoln Southeast Knights' football team.
"It really wasn't that big a deal," explained Tommy to Julia Turner, The Hottest Girl to Ever Walk the Face of the Planet. "My receiver was open, I threw the ball to him, and he scored. It's that simple."
"It's not that simple, Tommy. Don't be modest," she said. Her body language spoke volumes. She wasn't just fawning, and she wasn't even just eye-fucking; she was sloppy drunk and practically mounting Tommy right there on the family ottoman. Sundar and I had to look away to avoid the appearance of voyeurism.
I grabbed the keys from Tommy as we left Mark's house several hours later. "Ron, I promise you, I drive better when I'm buzzed."
"No fucking way, Tommy," I responded. "Get in the passenger seat while we wait for Julia to finish peeing. I'm driving your car, my friend. And, hey, at what point do you transition from buzzed to shit-faced and incapacitated?"
"Good question, Ron," he replied with a thoughtful grin. "Buzzed is the stage where I feel everything, and everything feels better. Shit-faced is where I wish I would feel nothing and regret that I wasn't satisfied at buzzed. Beer, mushrooms, vodka, weed, mescaline, gin ... I don't discriminate."
Tommy casually puked in Mark's driveway then promptly stumbled into his black, two-door '82 BMW 320i, specially delivered from Chicago to Nebraska because of the state's lack of German auto dealerships. Admittedly, part of me wanted to drive the car, most importantly wanted to be seen the car. "Ron, I don't understand," he said to me, "How do you have such self-control? You never, ever, ever do shit. Did you even have one drink tonight?"
"Nope," I answered, now regretting that I had raised the subject.
"Jesus, Ron! It'll never be 1982 again, and I'll never be a high-school senior again. I basically get good grades, but I have way more fun than you do. You can have a drink every now and then, and you don't have to get an A in every class, bro. You can still become a doctor. You have plenty of time to prove yourself in college. Don't you kinda wanna be me?" My mind raced. In addition to being wealthy, Tommy Hanson was handsome, clever, and athletic, as though Thor was ripped from the pages of a comic book and transported directly to Lincoln, both to befriend me and to torture me with jealousy. "Yes," I said. "I would kinda wanna be you."
"How are you so fucking mature?" he asked with a hint of slurred speech and a touch of spittle.
"I'm not. I'm just a chicken shit." The words stung as they left my mouth.
Before Tommy could respond, we were both mesmerized by the sight of Julia sauntering around the car to Tommy's window. She did rock those Jordache jeans. With her long, purposely-tussled blonde locks, she performed a perfect hair flip as Tommy rolled down the window to toy with her. "Well, aren't you going to give me a ride?" she asked.
"Uh ... yeah." Despite his inebriation, Tommy skillfully shoved a handful of Tic Tacs in his mouth, opened the passenger door, faked sobriety, popped out, let her slide into the backseat, and followed her inside. I doubt she even noticed me, her chauffeur. She then sat on his lap, and he winked at me as if to say, "I'm not too shit-faced for this." Even in his compromised state, Tommy was a living, breathing aphrodisiac.
They started making out. The combined scent of their alcohol and his Drakkar Noir cologne was nauseating. I was humiliated, but Tommy possessed the ability to charm his way out of any perception that he was a dick. I drove them to Tommy's empty estate at Pine Lake. His older sister, Susan, was living at the University of Nebraska's Zeta Sigma Omega sorority house downtown, and his parents were on their annual golf junket in Florida to avoid the early frost of October. Mr. Hanson had made his fortune as an executive in Omaha's thriving insurance industry, and work was now an afterthought. After the two of them staggered out of the car, Tommy waited until Julia was a few paces ahead before turning to me, smiling coyly, and whispering through the open passenger window, "Be a friend, don't tell anyone about this. After all, I am a gentleman."
"Sure thing," I said, smiling weakly. "And I'll bring the car back tomorrow."
As I drove home in the Beemer, I thought out loud about the injustice of it all. "How the fuck is it fair that tonight, he stars in a high-school football game, drinks like a fish at a post-game party, gets an escort in his chariot, and spends the night alone at home with Ms. Bodacious?"
I parked the Beemer a few blocks away from my house and sat in the driver's seat before closing my eyes and smelling the scent of the leather seats. I was envious of both Sundar and Tommy, and I was ashamed that I was envious. Embarrassed and alone, I stepped out of the car, locked the door, and walked home in the dark.
"I just can't help but feeling I'm Living a life of illusion"
— Joe Walsh's "A Life of Illusion," from the album There Goes the Neighborhood, released May, 1981. It peaked at number thirty-four on US Billboard's Hot 100 Songs.
The next morning, Saturday, my alarm went off at 8:00 a.m., far too early for the weekend. While my friends were sleeping off the aftermath of the previous night's debauchery, I dragged myself out of the shower, soaking wet, and wiped the fog off the mirror. I looked at my naked self — my hairy, swarthy, scrawny naked self. I was different. I didn't just appear different. I felt different.
Growing up in Lincoln in the 1980s, I was the only Jew in my class. I was the only one who looked Middle Eastern, the only one who shaved by age twelve, and the only one whose family spoke Hebrew at home. I wasn't a particularly good athlete, and I was continually compared to my two older, really-fucking-smart sisters.
To the casual observer, my ethnicity was difficult to identify. My blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Israeli-born, half-Polish, half-B?elarusian mother conceived three children with her Indian-born husband of Iraqi-Jewish descent. Sadly, the end product of my disparate and "interesting" lineage was not a portrait of "rugged good looks." Instead, it was an unfortunate and ironic mix of Lou Ferrigno's head and Bill Bixby's body, neither incredible nor Hulky.
As part of my Saturday morning ritual, I toweled off, plugged in my Sony Walkman, pressed play, and began to alternate between karaoke and lip sync, this morning to the music of Billy Idol. At the risk of sounding cocky, I was an exceptionally gifted singer, and, unlike my abilities as a student, I never had to work hard at it; my voice came naturally and effortlessly, and I never took a lesson. If my parents didn't pressure me to pursue a career in medicine, they would surely have wanted me to become the cantor at our temple.
Despite being told more than once by old Mrs. Goldberg that I had, "the voice of an angel," I would rather have pursued a life of crime than become a member of the clergy. I was wildly proud of my heritage and the risk my parents and grandparents took in uprooting their lives so that their children and grandchildren could have better ones. Though the spirituality and parables of Judaism fascinated me, its rituals and services bored me to tears, leaving me to resent my father's early morning "call to prayer."
"Ronnie, move it!" my father commanded, as he pounded on the bathroom door. "We're leaving for synagogue in five minutes ... and what is that garbage you're singing anyway? Using your voice for anything other than religious purposes borders on sacrilege."
While I ignored my father's proclamations, I understood that we remained at an impasse. So instead of concentrating on music, I appeased him by focusing on my application to six-year medical schools that would allow me to matriculate directly out of high school. "Full steam ahead," he would say. "Anything less is a sinful waste of time."
Music was indeed my comfort food. Though my own skills were limited to my voice, I did play a respectable air guitar during karaoke-lip sync:
"I'm dancing with myself when there's no-one else in slight ..."
I was the youngest of three children. The oldest was my sister, Zillie — yes, Zillie — short for Zillah. Try growing up with a name like that in the Midwest. My parents didn't mean to torture her. She was named after my maternal grandmother, and was born in Israel, where the biblically derived moniker was perfectly acceptable. It was, therefore, imperative that she grew thick skin; there would be no other means to survive the nickname "Godzilla," which haunted her for the twelve years she lived in Nebraska. Mercifully, my parents grew to understand this cruel reality before they named their younger two children. It was no accident, then, that in choosing a college, Zillie sought only East Coast melting-pot schools, where assimilation was not necessary and where visiting Lincoln would be conveniently inconvenient.
Those born in Israel are described as "sabras," a reference to the cactus-borne fruit that is prickly on the outside and soft on the inside. Zillie personified this description; while her brutal honesty was painful, her loyalty was unrelenting.
She called me early that morning to shoot the shit, and while she made me run late, she offered me both solicited and unsolicited advice. "Ronnie, stop trying to please everyone," she explained. "If you want to become a doctor, become a doctor, and if you want to sing, tell everyone to fuck off."
"Okay, okay," I answered dismissively.
"Don't 'okay, okay' me! That's patronizing! And, by the way, I will always have your back, dumbass."
My middle sister, Iris, was home from college at the University of Illinois. I was certain she attended engineering school to pander to my engineering-professor father, but it turned out she was just wired differently and more successfully than I was. I loved Iris, but she had no patience for her baby brother. Though she was quite familiar with my Saturday morning bathroom customs, and though she was about as enthusiastic about going to temple as I was, she was not one to procrastinate. My sisters and I shared one of the two bathrooms in our three bedroom, one-story stone house, and I had gotten used to feeling like an only child when both of them had departed for college. Iris thumped loudly on the door. "Ronnie, give it a rest! We're going to be late!"
"That's the idea," I responded.
Now my mother had reached her limit and took it upon herself to extricate me with a lighter, but more urgent knock. "Ronnie, hurry up! I put your clean panties in your room!"
Chills ascended my spine. "Jesus, Mom, I asked you never to use the words 'Ronnie' and 'panties' in the same sentence. I wear underwear!"
"What does Jesus have to do with your panties?" she responded, lost in translation. "We have to leave!"
My concert had concluded. I left the bathroom, dressed, and ran to the kitchen to shovel dry cereal down my gullet in an attempt to prevent starvation at the seemingly eternal services. After only a few bites of Frosted Flakes, a repetitive honk emerged from the car. I was generally not allowed to drive until the end of the Sabbath, when three stars in a hopefully cloudless sky signified the end of its traditional observance (thus leaving Tommy's car down the street to avoid conflict) and the beginning of a new week. However, according to my parents' interpretation of Jewish law, the "convenience loophole" superseded this rule so that we could then drive specifically to services. On cue, I would run out, plead with my father to stop waking the dead, and jump in the car. I never begrudged my parents. I simply and genuinely didn't understand them. Most things never changed.
"Mm, but it's poetry in motion And when she turned her eyes to me"
— Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science," From The Album The Golden Age Of Wireless, Released May 10th, 1982. It peaked at number five on us Billboard's Hot 100 Songs.
I had perfect grades, but in order to achieve them I studied endlessly. To complicate matters, my sleep hygiene sucked. After studying until 3:00 a.m., I would wake up at 7:00 a.m. each weekday and drag myself out of bed to shit, shave, and shower. "Breakfast" typically consisted of shoving those same dry Frosted Flakes directly from the box into my mouth with one hand while precariously steering and racing my '70 Plymouth Duster to school with the other. My mom hated that I didn't eat "like a real human being." I do indeed remember summers in Israel, where my grandfather would meticulously prepare cucumber and tomato salad with freshly baked bread, a slice of farmer's cheese, and a giant glass of milk. Best food ever. I agree that only the latter meal represented human food, but I was simply trying my best to behave like an American teenager.
I was always exhausted. Despite the exotic lure of non-kosher food, the thought of consuming subsidized school lunches featuring mystery meat wrapped in stale Midwestern tortillas repulsed me. Because I lived so close to school, I often ran home during lunch to think and eat. And eat. And eat. I could finish an entire box of Kraft Mac & Cheese in one sitting. The key was to strike the right balance of milk, butter, and starch to maximize adolescent-male satiety, while avoiding nausea. Paradoxically, Kraft managed to create a cheap and delicious alternative to human food. After school, cross-country practice would ensure that the thousands of calories I devoured would be burned, and my bony physique would persevere.
Once I reached home, I was spent. My legs twitched. After a half hour with my parents, Dan Rather and the CBS Nightly News at the dinner table at 5:30 p.m., I would sleep for about an hour. I would then awaken, still groggy, and watch a mindless show to help rouse me. The 7:00 p.m. time slot was critical. Monday night's selection — no, not Family Ties (8:00 p.m.), and no, not M*A*S*H" (8:30 p.m.), but Square Pegs, was a taunting metaphor for my life. I would procrastinate a couple of hours more with phone calls and Peanut M&M's, and then finally begin the slog of homework that would last until the wee hours of the morning. Calculus. Chemistry. English (I pretended to be well-rounded). Then I would crash and wake again at 7:00 a.m. The harrowing cycle would continue until Friday night.
"THAT'S disgusting," said Amy.
"No it's not. It's fucking awesome," I responded.
Amy Andrews and I had originally met in fifth grade, at a time when our fathers worked together closely in the faculty senate at the University of Nebraska. Her father, Steven, was a professor of English, and my dad a professor of electrical engineering. The two of them shared a passion for their work and an absent-mindedness for the rest of the world at large: a match made in heaven. Amy's mother, Carol, also a member of the English faculty, bared the additional, sexist reality of equal work for lower pay, along with her presumptive responsibility as the primary caregiver to her only child.
Excerpted from "The Frontman"
Copyright © 2018 Ron Bahar.
Excerpted by permission of BookSparks.
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