I spent part of the summer that I turned 20 hanging out with a guy I’ll call Ted who had the word wiggle in his last name. (Really.) He was obsessed with Stan Lee and constantly drew cartoons on the backs of envelopes, napkins and stray scraps of paper. We canvassed southern Connecticut with clipboards from Ralph Nader’s citizen action group and hung out late with our team after work on the Long Island Sound beaches we wanted to see cleaned up. I made him listen to Boogie Down Productions and we drove to Giants Stadium to see David Bowie who sang “Young Americans” only because we were there, we were certain.
I bid him an amicable goodbye and drove back to Ohio in late July, ready to take a road trip with my best childhood friend. She and I took one leg of our trip north, where we hiked the Niagara gorge, listened to a Canadian bartender hold forth about the secret meanings of songs by the Guess Who, wandered the streets of Toronto and got turned away from a Hard Rock Café because of a rip in the knee of my jeans. On our southern leg, we spent time in hostels in Baltimore and D.C. so we could go to free museums for a couple of days, but the time we planned to spend on the beach was destined to be rainy, so we turned the car back north instead.
She had moved out to Western Massachusetts, close to where I was going to college, after doing some road trip time on her own and visiting me twice. She always set her arrival date on the full moon because we have been unequivocally, comfortably silly together ever since we met in the fourth grade. She tried classes at UMass for a bit, but people and comforts in Ohio called her home that summer. She left a sort-of boyfriend out east, and he wanted to see her home state, so we made the trek back toward the Berkshires to retrieve him.
Ted was staying with one of his own childhood friends in Waterbury, Connecticut trying to figure out the next step in his life. He invited us to stop and stay on the living room futon, because our northern detour had kept us in the car for over 10 hours already and we needed a break.
Ted’s friend’s real name was Lenny, but late in high school, he insisted that everyone called him Sean because he was obsessed with Sean Penn. By the time I met Lenny, he wasn’t obsessed with Sean Penn anymore. He was obsessed with Billy Idol, but a third name change didn’t seem reasonable, so Sean he remained, except to Ted, who found the whole thing hilarious, and insisted on calling him Lenny/Sean.
We walked into Lenny/Sean’s apartment while he was still at work, so Ted greeted us alone. The shelves in the entry hallway were full of photos of Lenny/Sean’s family. Among the obvious parents and uncles and grandparents and cousins were two framed pictures of Billy Idol. He sat casually in a chair in one shot, every part of his body completely relaxed, except for his shellacked hair. He wore shades and a leather jacket in the other, giving the camera an uncharacteristically shy smile over his shoulder. Ted picked up one of the frames and handed it to me. It was clear that the pictures came from a magazine.
The living room had a more overt homage, with a giant white silk screen tapestry of sneering Billy hanging over the futon. The three of us ate pizza and collapsed on the floor, staring up at the pop star’s mean-looking mug.
“Aw… cheer up, Billy,” one of us said, which we all found unreasonably funny. We laughed, manic and punch-drunk for what seemed like a half an hour as we reassured the giant, sneering face that there was no reason to be so angry, that things weren’t so bad.
We regrouped by the time that Lenny/Sean came home from work and settled in for a visit, which was pleasant and free of any mention of “White Weddings” or “Rebel Yells.” Then he grabbed his guitar and sat on the edge of the futon. Ted shot me a slightly alarmed, but bemused look.
Lenny/Sean sang us a song that he wrote, which, to my freshly 20-year-old brain, sounded just fine enough, and thankfully, there were no sneers involved.
But then he launched into a long solo, which he dovetailed into another song that we didn’t recognize, until Lenny/Sean sang the chorus with conviction: “Flesh! Flesh for Fantasy…”
We raised our fists, sneered and sang along.