- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
April 1st. April Fool's Day is the time we set aside each year to celebrate tricks and tomfoolery, to play jokes and spin tall tales, to deceive with delight, and delight in deceiving. I've never had much use for it.
But this year, it provides me with an excuse to tell a story that's been on my mind for quite some time. On April Fool's Day, I don't have to say whether or not the story is true. It could be fact or fancy, lies or Gospel. The story is easier to tell that way. It's a story about April, who very nearly became my first real girlfriend.
I was fourteen, and lonely. God, I was lonely, a chubby, weird square peg with little hope of fitting in anywhere. I was a sophomore in high school, and although I had a few friends, I certainly didn't fit in there. I don't remember what set of circumstances prompted me to join Junior Achievement, but join I did, in the fall of 1974. I was fourteen. I wish I'd been more mature at fourteen.
Some of the details are fuzzy, either because I haven't fully fabricated the narrative's nuances, or because I just don't remember. But let's say that Junior Achievement met once a week. Do you know what Junior Achievement is? JA is a program designed for teenagers to work together in forming their own small business, or working with an existing business, and learning about this process of entrepreneurship, work ethic, and pride in one's labor. Each week, I left my home in Syracuse's Northern suburbs to meet with my fellow local members of the teen proletariat downstairs at a location on James Street in Eastwood. There was...well, what works for verisimilitude? No one else from North Syracuse, nobody I knew? A dozen classmates from North Syracuse? Two dozen? Ah, let's say there was one guy I knew, though we were never really pals. One guy I knew, and a bunch of other kids from other parts of Syracuse and its suburbs. I wanted to get into a broadcasting group--radio fascinated me, even then--but that group was filled. I wound up in a manufacturing group, a group that would create, market, and sell a product yet to be determined.
My group included a girl from Liverpool. Her last name is unwritten. Her first name was April.
April was a little older than me, a worldly woman of sixteen. She had red hair. She was cute. And she saw something in me that may not have really been there. Maybe I fooled her. Maybe I fooled myself.
The first orders of business for this new Junior Achievement company were to elect a hierarchy, determine individual roles, choose a product, and come up with a name. I pushed the idea of publishing a magazine, which would have given me a chance to write. Instead, we were going to make spoon rings. We would call ourselves Care-Craft. The Fortune 500 would surely tremble before us.
No one ever believes me when I claim I'm shy. They don't believe it now, nor do they believe it about the younger me. People hear me on the radio now, they hear my bluster and bravado, and presume I must be at ease wherever I am. Shy? Carl?! April Fools!
But I am shy. I've always been shy. And I've always covered it up, or tried to cover it up, by playing a role, by joking, by wearing The Fool's vibrant mask. In high school, my social studies teacher once introduced me as "Carl the sarcastic loudmouth." I didn't feel chastised; it was a badge of honor. I wanted to be Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Peter Parker, the Sweathogs. I wanted to be more than the nothing I felt I might be.
This boisterousness was in evidence at Junior Achievement. I was kind of an asshole.
I don't recall the circumstances that made April take notice of me, or vice versa. I'll have to write in some more convincing motivation for our characters, I guess. But she seemed to think I was funny. She seemed to think I was interesting. She seemed to think there was something there.
Was I smitten? Maybe...a little. I wouldn't have admitted it. That would have implied vulnerability. That would have revealed weakness.
For a few weeks, my role with Care-Craft was promotion. I would design posters to advertise our fine line of spoon rings; it was, I thought, a much better idea than having me try to actually make the damned things, to bend spoons into something resembling attractive fingerwear. No. Poster design. Marketing. Creative endeavor. That was my niche, boyo. I cranked out crappy, presumably-clever little Care-Craft posters that were utterly useless. I was switched to ring production, potential lacerations notwithstanding.
But when I was still toiling away in earnest endeavor on my posters, April watched me intently as I drew an image of Gone With The Wind's Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in a romantic scene. The poster showed Rhett and Scarlett's burgeoning love as a symbol of commitment and devotion, the same commitment and devotion that one expects from Care-Craft rings. Care-Craft! Rhett and Scarlett! Romeo and Juliet!
And April added: "Like you and me!"
Did April really say that? Out loud? Really? Does this girl really, actually, y'know...like me?
She did. She did say it. And I presume she did like me, too. If only my damned walls didn't go up so fast.
My defenses kicked in immediately. Oh, no, I chuckled, waiving off April's declaration. God, what did she think of that stupid reaction? She'd opened up. She'd made it clear--crystal clear--that she thought the notion of Carl and April sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G was perfectly viable. And I'd rejected her. This should have been my lonely heart's dream come true. But I was a chickenshit fourteen-year-old. I rejected her.
If I had a time machine, there are lots of things I'd do. I'd see The Beatles in Hamburg. Okay, maybe that's about all I'd do. But I'd also go back to 1974 and smack some sense into clueless little me. The one other North Syracuse kid there, flabbergasted, tried to set me straight, bless 'im. She likes you. What's the hell's wrong with you? Go for it, you idiot.
I quit Junior Achievement instead. Like Groucho Marx, I would never want to join a club that would accept someone like me as a member.
If we presume April is fictional, I probably haven't done an adequate job of making her seem real. She appears in this narrative as the cute girl with a heart of gold, a wisp, a wraith, a young boy's fantasy. I haven't created a sufficiently vivid image of her long skirts, her thin figure, her stubborn, insubordinate strands of red hair, her light skin, the hint of freckles surrounding her nose, her yellow socks cuffed above sensible shoes, her eyes, her laugh (which was more of a giggle), her smile, the grace she hid beneath an awkward mask of her own. I haven't done this character justice. If she were real, I didn't do the person justice either.
Where should the narrative go next? Perhaps we meet again years later, a random encounter at Wegmans or McDonald's, and laugh and reminisce for minutes on end, vow to stay in touch, but--of course--never do? Or maybe she sends me a picture of her on her wedding day, a lovely bride, with the message either stated or implied, This is what you threw away, you jerk? Or, I guess the likely thing, we go through our lives separately, and never meet again?
We'll go with this scenario, as unlikely as any other: I'm at a party in Buffalo with Brenda, my soon-to-be fiancee. A college girl starts flirting with me, and mentions that she's from Liverpool. I, in turn, mention that I used to know a girl from Liverpool, and it turns out the college girl knows April. I declare that I had such a crush on April when I was in high school--tell her Carl said hi! And then I leave the party with Brenda, as the puzzled college girl watches, confused.
I did see April one more time. I think. I'm not sure. Except that I am sure. When Brenda was pregnant in 1995, I recognized a woman working at the office of Brenda's OB-GYN. Brenda had a very difficult pregnancy. This office visit didn't seem an appropriate time to go over and strike up a conversation with a woman who was almost--but not quite--my girlfriend two decades before that. Our eyes may have met. I couldn't say whether or not she recognized me. And I'm not going to tell you if I think she did.
This is where the story should end. I could imagine that April found happiness in whatever life she chose for herself. I regret not being a better person in 1974, and I regret that missed connection that I spurned as a teenager, but I'm happy that Brenda and I met, fortunate that I grew up enough to allow someone to love me, and to be able to return that love. Happily ever after. That's how the story should end.
The story did end. But its ending fills me with sadness and simmering anger.
April was murdered. She was killed by some lowlife she'd taken in, someone she'd helped, someone she'd sheltered. I read the report in the newspaper, my eyes filling, my teeth grinding, my fists clenching with fury. I just sobbed, helpless...helpless. How could anyone do that to her? How could anyone do that to anyone, of course, but to her? She'd been so sweet, so kind, friendly. I was shivering. My rage was mounting, but ineffectual. There was nothing I could do. I just felt...oh, I can't even come up with a word that isn't trite and maudlin. The empty misery inside me just fixed me in place. The anger has never quite gone away.
I don't know the moral of this story, the lesson to be learned from this tale that might be true, or might be elaborate misdirection. Whether fact or fiction, we must understand that April was not her real name. If I made this up, then April never had a name; if it's true, then I never earned the right to call her by name. I like it better as fiction. In fiction, we can close our book at the end of the narrative, and no one was really hurt, no one really suffered, no one died. If we don't like the ending, we can imagine a better one. If it's not fiction....
April and I weren't meant to be. But God, why did her story have to turn out like that? Why do I still feel guilty? Why do I want to find the guy who killed her and bash in his goddamned skull? It's not that I could have saved her (I couldn't have), nor that we would have built a life together if I'd done things differently (we wouldn't have); it's just another reminder of how fragile we all are. Our time, our connections, our bonds, our hopes, our possibilities, our dreams, our loves...well, we're not guaranteed anything. And we will lose all of it, sooner or later. If there is a better place, somewhere beyond what we think we know, I can only hope April is loved, and appreciated, and happy.
If the story is true.