That Summer Seemed to Last Forever
'Newsies' and its characters belong to Disney.
June 15, 1985
Boots was dreaming that Tina Turner was cooking waffles in his aunt's kitchen.
And apparently, she did so while dressed in her short skirt and high red heels, sporting her spiked coiffure like in the music videos. She belted out the lyrics to her song 'You Better Be Good to Me' - a demand for Boots to obey before he could take just one fluffy syrup-drenched breakfast treat.
Suddenly Tina transformed into Aunt Joyce, his guardian. The dream dissipated as he joined the waking world.
"Boots, you wakin' up? It's nine-thirty!"
Last night, he had stayed up until two to watch Freddy Krueger flay all the prep kids to death on a bedroom ceiling in Nightmare on Elm Street.
The radio in Aunt Joyce's kitchen switched from Tina Turner to 'Cool it Now' by New Edition, which immediately brought Crutchy- and his lame musical taste- to Boots' mind. Crutchy was always washing his second-hand moped across the street while he blared his boombox. He'd once told Boots he wished for a Schwinn bike instead of a moped. He couldn't ride one, though, for obvious reasons.
A loud knock sounded in the kitchen next to Boots' room, the front door to the tenement apartment. He heard his aunt's friendly greeting, followed by a familiar young male voice. Mush's.
"Boots, your friends are here!" she called again.
Friends, as in plural? He wondered who came along with Mush. The reality of yesterday returned like a cold shock, the fact he was fired from his summer job two weeks in. Who cares? He felt a sense of freedom now that the grease-monkey mechanic got freak-out mad at him for being clumsy, giving his young assistant the boot. No pun intended.
The sixteen-year-old threw on a New York Mets T-shirt, jeans, and his Nikes, brand new ones. He had plenty of time to find another gig to make cash before his junior year started at Jefferson Square High.
Stepping out of his tiny closet-sized room and into the drab, cracked-linoleum kitchen, the smell of steamy waffles grew stronger. There stood Mush, along with- Cowboy?
"Hey Boots, the day's half ova'!" said Mush. "We got'cha an oppertunity fer a gig!"
"Here, boys. Have some waffles. Since your friend here's up too late to have his share!"
"Aww, c'mon Aunt Joyce, I'm up now!" said Boots in a half-whiny tone, rushing to grab at least one whole waffle from the platter next to the box of Hungry Jack mix.
"Hungry Jack? Hey, that box describes me perfect! Thanks, ma'am," said Jack 'Cowboy' Kelly, accepting a plate from Boots' aunt with a fluffy waffle on it. He casually reached for the bottle of syrup.
"Ma'am?" Joyce Wright, a mid-forties nursing home CNA, said in mock offense. "I prefer 'Miss' but your friend here sure got some nice manners, Arthur!" she said to her nephew.
"Thanks fer the grub, Miss," said Mush, accepting a waffle plate from a beaming Aunt Joyce. He started eating it without a fork or syrup.
Boots was greatly cheered up by their sudden appearance in his home this morning. He tried not to cringe at Jack's outfit. He'd dared to walk into his fourplex rental building not only A- being a pretty white boy, but B- wearing a button-down pinstripe dress shirt with a...yikes...silver bolo tie.
At least he wasn't wearing his cowboy boots, or that red bandanna around his neck instead of around his head. He had on a pair of respectable, scuffed Adidas today. Jack Kelly's dark brown hair was side-parted and feathered back gracefully, as usual.
Mush, meanwhile, wore his black mesh muscle shirt over a tank top, showing off a set of emerging biceps. He completed the look with acid wash jeans and red sweatbands on his wrists. Mush, ever the jock, would make the football team this fall along with Kid Blink.
"So what's this about gettin' me a gig, man? I don't need help." Boots said while chugging the remains of a carton of orange juice. His aunt shook her head, silently chiding him for not offering his friends each a glass of the stuff.
"Mr. Denton says 'da Times is short on circulation workers," said Jack, who worked a summer job in one of the production rooms of the Times office along with his best friend Davey Jacobs. The two basically sat on their duffs cutting, pasting and assembling ads for the classifieds like a jigsaw puzzle for a measly four dollars an hour.
"Circulation? What's that? Delivery?" asked Boots.
"Yeah. Paper delivery," said Mush. "Even Crutchy can do it. He gotta paper route on his moped a'ready."
So that was why Crutchy wasn't home in the mornings lately. His blue Honda moped was nowhere to be seen until after two.
"So a paper boy?" said Boots incredulously. "What are we, twelve?"
"Beggahs can't be choosahs." said Mush. Jack nodded, straightening his bolo tie with his fingers.
"Pays better per hour than most jobs, and the shifts are short. Early mornings ta' afternoon, or else evenings if ya like. Us three's gonna hit the Times office and I'll getcha some applications. And I'm givin 'ya a tour of my office," said Jack in a tone that suggested there was no argument.
The New York Times building was immense, full of employees of all stations and walks of life bustling about the corridors and lobbies.
"The office where Mr. Denton works is on the higher floors. Where the bigshots get windows and nice views. I ain't takin' ya there," Jack told Boots and Mush as they hopped down flights of stairs to the production and circulation departments.
In a spritely mood, Jack slid down two banisters, his tall form graceful. The downstairs offices were drab and smelled like ink and paper, not to mention hot and humid. Jack went to knock on somebody's small corner office door. A scowling, annoyed-looking older guy was on a rotary phone inside.
"Mr. Kloppman's on the phone, it'll be a sec," said Jack.
"Jack, thanks for takin' us up here on your Saturday off. You didn't haveta," said Boots appreciatively.
After all, Jack could have spent a lazy day at home like most of the other guys wanted to do on Saturdays. But then, wait. Boots had to remember. It's Jack Kelly. Jack Kelly, restless and on the go, didn't take lazy days at home, ever. He probably didn't even have a TV he could watch. He stayed at a youth group home for outgrown foster teens, and was kind of semi-adopted by Mr. Denton, a Times journalist whom he met through the 'Big Brother' program.
"Hey, it's no problem," said Jack. "Cause if I got connections, I don't wanna keep 'em all to myself."
"Thanks, man. I mean it," Boots repeated, and he nudged Mush's shoulder to remind him to pay due respect.
"Thanks, Jack," said Mush, nodding.
Jack was definitely the designated leader of their group of friends. The guy was cool, no doubt about it. He came from the worst situation of all of them- no known family, a foster kid since before he could recall- but he had the enviable air of not giving a shit and living life one day at a time. He also managed to have a car, something most of the other guys didn't have. Most of all, he cared about his friends like a 'big brother' himself though he was just seventeen, the same age or a year older than the rest.
"The Times is a good place to work. Can't promise ya an office job, wish I could," Jack told them.
"Maybe they need help sittin' here pastin' papers togethah. This looks easy," said Mush while glancing around the production room. People sat around tables shuffling through boxes of small printed paper ads, pasting them on large sheets with brushes of rubber cement.
"It's easy but it's boring. I'd rather be outside," said Jack.
A door flew open and David Jacobs came in, carrying a stack of completed classified-ad pages ready to go to print. He wore a baby-blue polo shirt, the collar neatly buttoned up instead of popped. The shirt and his khaki pleated pants were slightly stained with newspaper ink.
"Hey! Jack brought 'cha here to apply for circulation?" David's cheerful greeting was a question.
"Hi, Davey! I guess so. Jack's idea," Boots replied.
"So, Mouth- what kinda hours ya have 'ere? Nine da' five?" Mush asked David.
"Even better! Seven da' three-thirty. Weekends on, Mondays off 'cause I do Sunday classifieds. Good early shift, then I can read and study all the rest a' the evenings," David replied.
"Nerd," scoffed Mush.
Jack came out of Kloppman's office holding two application forms. "Thanks, Mistah Kloppman," he called back to the circulation boss.
The older man scowled briefly at the two new boys, and quickly went back to his deskwork, unimpressed. Boots and Mush found chairs at a table and glanced over the brief application forms Jack set before them, lacking anything to write with.
"Make sure they fill 'em out wit' ball point pens," David reminded Jack, before he decided to personally take two pens from his own workspace and hand one to each of them.
Jack was too distracted at the moment gazing at the school picture of Sarah, taped on David's workspace corner. She was David's sister, and Jack's girlfriend who he'd been dating since before his junior prom. All the guys drooled over her, and for good reason. In that picture, she had brown hair in long waves down her shoulders, bangs curled and sprayed, and lovely brown eyes. She wore a pastel yellow sweater and a faux pearl necklace, the typical prep girl attire. Or at least 'wannabe' prep, since David's family was just as working class as all the guys' around here.
"If you use the office phone to call her, Cowboy, I'll give ya a knuckle sandwich," said David.
"I'll take two of 'em. With extra pickles," said Jack, flashing his perfect Jack-smile.
"Whatever," said David, rolling his eyes. "Anyways, you guys go ahead and fill the apps out, and I'll give 'em to Kloppman. I'm workin' till three-thirty today."
Boots found his application easy enough to fill out, at least at first. Name- Arthur Leon Williams. Birthdate- Feburary 3, 1969. SSN- oh, crap.
"Shit!" exclaimed Mush. "Forgot my frickin' Social Security card!"
Boots was thinking the same. He glanced over at Mush's app, where in childlike block letters he'd filled out 'Michael Joseph Meyers' and his April birthday.
"Just fill out the rest of it here, take it home and find ya' card somewhere." said Jack.
"But hurry up so you can turn it in to 'em today, or at least tomorrow," added David, with a tone that reminded both Boots and Mush of an English teacher or something.
Boots, Jack and Mush wished David a good rest of the day. They went to the bus stop to catch a ride back to Jack's neighborhood; Jack paid for the relatively cheap bus run. From there, they walked to the lot where Jack had parked his car, a drab brown '72 Chevelle Malibu he'd bought from his savings and recent earnings.
"Hey, it's still here!" said Jack. Leaving cars unattended was always a risk.
"Course it is," Mush scoffed. "Who'd want that ugly piece o' shit?"
"People like you and Boots who only have their feet an' their friends' charity to get from A da' B," Jack replied.
They climbed into the car. Boots' and Mush's unfinished job applications were in a folder David gave them, and they both felt like losers for forgetting to bring their stupid little Social Security cards. They still had to carry the papers home with them.
"I'm not takin' ya on a run back today. Not my fault you dunno how to apply for jobs prepared." Jack muttered to the other two.
"I'll spend my own money on a bus to go back. But I don't even know where my Social Security card is!" said Boots, lodged in the corner of the back seat with Mush beside him. Mush's bare armpits were starting to smell in the heat; Boots started to crank the window open a bit.
"If you don't know where your card is, how'd you get your other job before?" Mush asked Boots.
"Word of mouth. No, not Davey. The regular word of mouth. I mean, Barry asked me, he needed someone to help fix cars part time," said Boots. "But I ain't good at mechanical stuff. Guess you learn by tryin.'"
Jack fiddled with the radio buttons on the old car while he drove. Boots and Mush groaned.
"You better not play that country-western shit, Cowboy," Mush said.
"Fine, I won't," said Jack, laughing. He reached down and fumbled with the plastic boxes of cassette tapes scattered on his car floor. The bands were Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Judas Priest.
"I take it Skittery was ridin' with you last," Boots guessed.
"Yeah. I'll play one of his tapes while we take a cruise over to Davey's. I wanna pick up Sarah."
"Aww, if Sarah comes with us, you'll ditch us!" Boots groaned.
"May's well drop us off at home, so you can be free to suck face with her," Mush added.
Mush's voice was muffled by the loud, headbanging guitars of Iron Maiden after Jack popped the tape in. Jack started bobbing his head to the jackhammer beat. Skittery's favorite music was starting to grow on Jack, Boots and all of them, it was true. Angry, raw rebellion, the themes of no hope. Music to listen to when you wanted to vent.
Harder core rap was like that too, but Boots didn't want to constantly listen to all that Bloods and Crips drama that reminded him too much of reality. His music tastes were eclectic, all over the place.
As they neared the street where the Jacobs family lived, they passed people of different skintones, languages, and ages, all walking along the sidewalks or gathered in front of townhouses, talking. It was a melting pot- that is, a melting pot of just poor.
A familiar figure caught their eye wearing a black shirt and pinkish shorts, walking with his shoulders slumped and looking pissed off as usual.
"Hey, Jack, pick him up!" Boots said fondly.
Jack laughed and rolled down the window, letting the sound of Iron Maiden waft out. "Hey- Dumb and Glum!" he yelled to the black-shirted teenage pedestrian.
Skittery turned around and yelled back as Jack slowed his car down. "Gimme my tapes back!"
"Then come with us! I'm off to Davey's!"
"Davey even home? It's Saturday, Jack. He works on Saturday," said Skittery, pulling the small foam headphones off his ears. He held a small Walkman tape player. His black shirt read 'Anthrax.'
Mark 'Skittery' Goldblum was going into junior year like Boots, another one of the younger guys. Very book-smart too, but Boots doubted he'd graduate. Skittery was a metalhead, and wasn't all that extroverted but that didn't stop girls from chasing him. Though nervous and broody with a penchant for death-themed music, he was gifted with a tall, lean build and a pretty-boy face like Jack's and Mush's.
Jack stopped the Chevelle. Skittery jumped into the front passenger seat, beside Cowboy. Mush, directly behind him, reached forward and ground his knuckle into Skittery's head of wavy brown hair for a noogie.
"Girly shampoo?" said Mush, smelling his knuckle.
"Shut up. It's my mom's cheap stuff."
"Were you over at Bumlets' place?" asked Jack. "Your shirt smells like weed. You n' Bum better watch it."
"Yeah, but you know Bumlets. Always with Lisa," Skittery replied with an annoyed tone. "All they do is make out and they don't want me interruptin."
Boots tried not to laugh. At least Jack didn't always ditch them by having a girlfriend. Most of the guys were hoping for the day Bumlets would break up with Lisa, or vice versa.
"So anyways, I wanna see Sarah while Davey's workin," said Jack. "Les is home too, though, so she's probably babysittin' him,'' Jack mused while he turned the heavy metal music on the radio down.
"Jacky, you can't score with the little brudder around," said Mush. "How's about we go to Higgins' place first?"
"Ya think Higgins is home? Or did he catch a bus to Brooklyn to worship at the throne of Spot?"
"It's Saturday. The weekend. NASCAR's on TV, and so's the Belmont Stakes, or whatever horse race is on." Skittery offered this information.
"Then let's cruise on ova' to Ninety-Seventh and Hill," Jack decided. He rounded a corner, making the old car rev its engine. It sounded like a few guns popping off under the boys' seats.
Sitting quietly in the back holding the envelope, Boots knew that if they went to Racetrack Higgins' house, they'd be there all afternoon watching races with him. Probably placing bets with either real money or bags of candy or Doritos, which Racetrack and his younger brother Snipeshooter always had in plenty supply along with soda and cigars. Only Race smoked the cigars, though.
Boots liked the idea because he liked hanging out with Racetrack and Snipeshooter, but still. He and Mush had to get their Social Security cards and job applications finished. Responsibility and all.
"So Skittery," said Jack, "do you have a summer job?"
"Wanna deliver papers?"
"You wanna lay on your bed all day, smoke doobies and wait for nu-cu-ler holocaust," said Jack, more a statement than a question.
"Yup. And it's nuclear, not 'nu-cu-ler."
"Your mom's welfare checks ain't gonna support you when you're twenty-one, Skitts. How come you don't save up for college or somethin'?"
"Cause by the time I'm eighteen, Reagan's gonna start somethin' with either the Iranians, Libya, or the Russians. The Russians will find some reason to push the buttons and blow us all up. Hydrogen bombs. And New York'll be first," said Skittery.
Boots saw that gloomy look coming over the headbanger kid's eyes. He cringed and looked out the window at the passing buildings. Boots was scared of the thought of nuclear war. He used to have nightmares about it a few years back.
"You need to stop watchin' that 'Day After' shit," said Jack. "All it does is feed into ya' pessimism. And speakin' of nukes, I'm gonna move to New Mexico where there's just desert. They test 'em there, I think. But that place is beautiful, and warm. When I go, you should all come with me. To Santa Fe."
"Aliens on UFOs landed in New Mexico, Jack. The government doesn't want us to know, it's a cover-up," said Skittery.
"Shuddup, Skitts," said Mush.
"When we get to Race's house, I wanna use his telephone and call Sarah," said Jack.
Finally, he pulled close to the curb at Ninety-Seventh street, in front of an old three-story tenement building. The four boys got out and walked up the stone steps. Jack knocked.
The door opened and a shortish, dark-haired teenage boy appeared. He wore a pastel green shirt with the collar popped up, a few buttons unbuttoned, and a gold chain necklace. Like Mush, he wore acid-washed jeans.
"Hey, all youse!" he greeted.
"Race! Can we crash for a while?" Jack greeted.
Racetrack opened the door wide for the four to enter. His family home he shared with his brother and mother was a threadbare-carpeted apartment, featuring nasty-looking couches from the Nixon era and a TV on a rolling stand. The TV was tuned to horse races. Snipeshooter, Race's younger brother who was thirteen, sat on one of the couches playing with a Rubik's Cube.
"Texas Futurity Stakes are comin' on," said Race. "Wanna pick a horse? Cowboy, you up for it?"
"Maybe for your whole case of Coke," said Jack.
"It's New Coke," said Race. The boys groaned.
Jack excused himself to borrow the mounted telephone hanging on a wall, to call Sarah.
Mush and Snipeshooter helped Race open up bags of M&M's candy, pouring it all into a bowl. They used the candies for betting instead of real money, since all of them were just plain too low on cash.
Boots took more of an interest in Snipes' Rubik's Cube, than the TV horse races or the M&M's. He was able to get one side of red in the cube, and was almost done with the black side except for the frustrating square in the middle. If he tried to turn the wayward black square to the right row, he would break up the red side.
"Wooo-hoo! Scarlet Destiny, just like I toldja!" yelled Race. "Pay me up, one hundred M&M's!"
"You're gonna get fat," said Mush, scooping up handfuls of candies.
Race replied by pulling up his mint-green shirt, showing off his flat, lean abdomen over his acid-wash Levis and swinging his hips. He was trying to appear 'sexy' but was more comical than anything. "I'm a lean, mean, killin' machine," he declared proudly.
Mush laughed. Boots chuckled too, as he gave up on solving the Rubik's Cube.
"Yeah, Anthony-boy, lay all 'dem M&M's on your stomach and let Spot Conlon lick 'em off you," bantered Mush.
"You sayin' I'm gay with Spot, Mush?" Racetrack asked in a lighthearted tone, tucking his shirt back into his jeans. His Italian olive complexion turned all red, like he'd been working out.
"No comment," said Mush.
"I got no comment, either," echoed Skittery.
Boots stared down at the Rubik's Cube, and the phrase 'whatever floats your boat' popped into his mind for some odd reason.
Snipeshooter chuckled while eating a handful of M&M's. "I won't tell Mom a thing, Anthony," he declared.
"Good, Snipes. And I don't wanna hear your comments anyway, Skittery," said Race. "Cause all ya' talk about is the world ending or UFO shit. You can't talk about normal things."
Skittery shrugged, perhaps partly agreeing with him.
"Skitt's so busy thinkin' bout his death by nuclear bomb that he can't learn how'da live," said Mush.
Racetrack grinned, and Boots guessed it was because he'd been able to divert attention off of Mush's crack about him and Spot Conlon and gayness- and back to making Mush mock Skittery for being a doom-obsessed weirdo.
Boots kept hearing that name 'Spot Conlon' being bandied around, especially anytime Race was with them. Apparently, he was Anthony's good friend in Brooklyn. Race went to Brooklyn all the time to see this Spot guy, but Spot never came into Manhattan or Harlem to meet Racetrack's other friends. Jack had met him, since he could easily go to Brooklyn by virtue of having a car. Plus, Race said that Jack could 'hold his own' with a guy like Spot.
Boots sensed that Racetrack didn't want his 'non-Jack Kelly' friends being mixed up with Spot, due to the guy's reputation of being some kind of tough gang hoodlum.
He put down the Rubik's Cube and picked up a few marbles from the glass ashtray on the coffee table, fidgeting with them and rolling them in one hand.
"Can I offer youse a root beer if ya don't like New Coke?" Racetrack asked, chewing on a mouthful of M&M's.
All the other boys nodded yes, except for Jack- who was still standing in the Higgins' little kitchen on the phone with Sarah Jacobs. Racetrack passed him on the way to the fridge, making kissy faces.
"Jacky loves ya, Sarah!" he teased.
"He's right, Sarah, I love you...I love you too. See ya later," Jack said in a low tone. With a blushing grin, he finally put the phone receiver back on the hook. Racetrack got out cans of soda; the boys drank and ate chips and M&M's on the crumb-dusted couches.
"You're so frickin' whipped, Jacky. You didn't say one word to any o' us since' ya got heah," said Racetrack. He mimed a horsewhip with his arm. "Whhi-cha!"
"Sorry, Race. Guess I lost track of time. Hey, would you and Snipes be interested in deliverin' papers?"
"Deliverin' papers?" Racetrack shrugged. "Hmm, maybe. How much?"
"More than you make right now," Jack said, laughing. "I'll get you applications when Mush and Boots turn in theirs. Lots of paper routes and nobody these days wants to do them in our neighborhoods."
"People in our neighborhoods don't read the frickin' paper, 'cept Davey the nerd. And Skittery with his Russia and Cold War news, and Boots with...whatever it is he reads. What do you read, Bootsie? Da' funnies?"
Boots nodded in Racetrack's direction. "Funnies, yeah. And different kinds a' news articles. Science and stuff."
"Cool," said Racetrack. "Knew you were almost as eggheaded as Davey."
Boots shrugged, not saying much. He didn't want to share too much how he liked reading about medical breakthroughs, the patterns of weather, the environment. If he did, they'd all think he was as weird as Skittery and nerdier than David Jacobs so he kept quiet.
"I'll ask Kloppman what routes he needs assigned," said Jack. "I know one o' the routes they need is Brooklyn. And the Garment District where ya'd make more money with more papers. Anyways, Race, I gotta go give all these guys rides home. I picked up Skitts while he was walkin."
"See ya later. I'll think about that newspaper delivery gig. Brooklyn, eh? Maybe I can ask Spot if he wants to do...somethin' legitimate…"
Racetrack's words trailed off; he started to fidget with his gold necklace. A shadow of worry, or concern, or sadness- or whatever it was that wasn't Race's usual smartass clown face- came over him. Boots noticed it, and he in turn wondered if Jack or anyone else did.
"Spot doesn't seem to me like the kinda guy who's in ta...legitimate anything," Jack opined. "I can't see him as a paper boy tossing the New York Times on porches."
Racetrack nodded, and his expression brightened back into Smartass Clown. "The only things Spot would t'row on peoples' porches are lit-up bags o' shit or firecrackers."
Everybody chuckled and the group started to leave, going out to Jack's car.
"Thanks for letting us stop over," said Boots.
"Boots, I saw you liked those old marbles and my Rubik's Cube," Snipeshooter said. "Do you want 'em? Take 'em!"
"Nah, that's okay. I got a big marble collection at home," Boots said, feeling dumb for playing with Snipeshooter's kid toys.
"Kay, get outta heah! Amscray!" Race called out jovially, the last word in Pig Latin, the silly language they all used to use in junior high.
Boots couldn't help but be curious about this Brooklyn kid that Race was so close to. Why would he want to hang out with a hoodlum when his other friends- Boots himself in particular- tried to avoid the thuggish world of gangs, hard drugs and the temptation to sell? And what kind of activity did Spot do that Racetrack didn't think was 'legitimate?'
Boots had an idea, and that idea came from all the stuff that went on in the very building and block he lived in. The reason he was so quiet going in and out, and why he kept to himself except for when guys like Jack, Davey, Mush, Crutchy, and the rest came over to yank him out of his aunt's place.
The reason why his own dad was in prison, and his mom was dead.
He was so happy to have friends like these who let him tag along. He wasn't a jokester, or a weirdo, or jock, leader, or any particular 'type' like in The Breakfast Club. He was a lot like that wayward black square on the Rubik's Cube that couldn't be turned to fit in.
A.N.- Thanks for reading! This is my first attempt at a Newsies story. I have some tentative plot plans for where I'd like to take this in future chapters. I'm not completely sure about developing pairings or love interests, though 'Sprace' is a tempting possibility. Things may go off in a darker direction. The 1980's are looked back on as a great and idyllic era to grow up in. Certainly more comfortable than realistic 1899 canon Newsies. I'd love to imagine how the boys would have dealt with being underprivileged in this time and setting. Nuclear war worries, gangs, violent crime and drugs, AIDS, welfare-dependent families, and no Internet to connect with the outside world or broaden one's horizons were typical ways of life then.
Hope all of you out there are staying well! -Civilwarrose