Death Team

#880: Death Team

GETTING MORE TALE #880: Death Team

One of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday morning was down in the basement drawing pictures while listening to heavy metal music with my best buddy Bob.  Most likely, we were watching one of my VHS tapes of the Pepsi Power Hour while doodling away with our pencils.  It was the best of times, with the best of friends, and the absolute best kind of music.

In the early to mid 1980s, MuchMusic was only available on pay TV.  We had it, but Bob Schipper did not.  Therefore he only had two pathways to the Pepsi Power Hour:

  1. Wait for the one or two weeks per year when pay TV was free for sneak preview.
  2. I tape the videos, and share my finds with him on Saturday mornings.

It was an amazing way to bond as kids.  He brought with him his paper and pencils, and we would get down to business while watching music videos.

In the summer, we moved activities to the front or back porches, with a ghetto blaster playing Kiss or Iron Maiden as we sketched.   In fact, the story really begins on the back porch.  The very same back porch on which we schooled George Balasz about Accept.  Bob had mastered the art of drawing muscled warriors in cool poses.  His very first was a master of escape whom he dubbed “Motor Head”.  In his first appearance, he seems doomed, hanging from a noose.  But a closer look reveals him casually smoking a cigarette and holding a pair of nun-chucks for his imminent escape.  Note the frayed rope.  He was in no danger – he was biding his time!

Having mastered this first character, it was time to expand on the concept. Bob drew many different designs and body types. Giants, archers, characters with cybernetic limbs…the field was wide open, but heavy metal music was always an influence.

Bob’s second sketch was a man in a metal Quiet Riot mask he named “Killer”.  Killer was one of Bob’s favourites.  As his drawing abilities grew, he expanded upon Killer.  Next, he designed a custom car and robotic pet for the character.  I liked the way he used metal plates and rivets for detail.

Bob taught me the secrets of drawing these heroic figures, and I began to create my own warriors.  The characters we were sketching resembled Mad Max marauders, crossed with heavy metal tropes.  Really, all of that metal stuff was inspired by the post-apocalyptic fiction genre that was all the rage in the early 80s.  Nobody did it better than Mad Max, and many of our characters wore masks like Lord Humungous.  Others had bandaged faces, like Eddie in some of the Powerslave-era Iron Maiden artwork.  Some wielded ninja-like weapons, since ninja movies were also all the rage at the time.

We called our characters “Death Team”.

Bob’s backstory concept of Death Team was a school gang, with a strong influence from martial arts movies.  The idea was that the gang evolves into a government-sanctioned fighting force.  That meant no limits.  The cars and trucks that we drew were armoured and kitted out.  Very much inspired by M.A.S.K., Mad Max, and other shows of the time.  If there was something cool on the screen, we would try to draw it and add our own twists.  What I brought to the table was my interest in GI Joe comics, and the military side of fiction.  The ninjas were the common ground between Death Team and GI Joe, and many of my characters had weapons and outfits inspired by the comics.  I started giving my characters code names and bios, just like GI Joe, and gave them the inverted star sigil.

At this point during the earliest Death Team drawings, my sister and I had our big musical schism.  That means that up until 1985, she was into the same music I was.  Well…not W.A.S.P.  But she liked Quiet Riot, Motley Crue and Iron Maiden.  Then something happened, and she went into what I called “New Wave”.  Pointer Sisters, Corey Hart, Tina Turner.  To counter our heavy metal Death Team, she created her own squad called the Wavers.  She drew her own team members:  “Waver” and “The Wave”.  Needless to say, Death Team would have crushed the Wavers in combat.

Bob and I sketched solo, during the week.  Then we’d gather on the weekends to share our work.  We’d inspire each other and keep drawing more.   Those are the Saturday morning Power Hour sessions I remember so fondly.

One weekend, Bob came over excited that he had learned to draw “a really cool bike”.  He arrived at my door with his new character “Bike Ninja”.  We helped each other name our characters, but that one didn’t need anything fancier than simply “Bike Ninja”.  His boots had outward-facing spikes, and his left hand was replaced by a robotic claw with a laser in it.

“That might make it hard for him to ride his bike,” I offered up.

“Nahh!” said Bob.  “He’s a ninja!”

My mom noticed that many of the characters were smoking cigarettes.  She asked why that was.  Bob started putting cigarettes in some of their mouths (even the ones wearing masks) to make them look cooler, so I followed suit.  That was the rock and roll influence, as many of our rock star heroes like Eddie Van Halen were constantly smoking.  We had no interest in it, but the visual followed into our art.

Bob’s art was much better and more original than mine.  I improved over time.  By 1987 I had finally drawn one I was really proud of, a character all about street justice and inspired by Dee Snider from Twisted Sister.  In fact this character was meant to be the real Dee Snider, joining our team to save Earth.  The concept was stolen from Sgt. Slaughter, the WWF wrestler who joined the fictional GI Joe team.  If that could happen, then Dee Snider could join Death Team!

As Bob and I built our little world of characters on paper, we realized our gang needed someone to fight.  Bob was watching the Silver Hawks cartoon before school in the mornings, and took influence from some of the creatures seen on early morning TV.  We decided on a force of alien invaders as our adversaries, and a wide variety we did draw.

Bob was really the visual guy though; his drawings were so far ahead of mine.  I was more a conceptual guy.  I came up with the character bios and some of the overarching story.  It was hard bridging the street gang origins together with the alien invasion concept, but I wrote an origin.  Together, Bob and I wanted Death Team to be a Canadian team (with some American and overseas volunteers).  We wrote them as a down-on-their-luck school gang who lived together on the rough side of town, wherever that was.  They actually began as two rival gangs who combined their forces together.  We wrote the first pages together and then I finished writing the story.  The guys were so tough, that they were swiftly recruited by the Canadian government as a unit of street enforcers.  The Death Team was born!

I decided that the leader of the alien invasion was to be a human.  Perhaps inspired by Xur in The Last Starfighter, the alien leader was a former Death Team computer wizard who made contact with the aliens by sending a signal through a black hole.  He then defected and joined them, determined to conquer the Earth for his own.  We even named our alien alliance the “Xor Aliens”.

Bob was really good at drawing aliens, though most had human bodies with alien heads, hands and feet.  Some were covered with hair.  He was good at drawing big round mouths with a circular row of teeth.  I thought that was a cool visual.  Many of ours were aquatic.  Planet Xor must have had a lot of oceans.

When I look back at these drawings, I see a difference between Bob and I.  It’s quality vs. quantity.  His are better while mine are plentiful.  Some of mine were little more than outlines with no shading or depth.  Plenty of mine are rip-offs.  He was coming up his own ideas.  The thing we have in common, easily seen in these sketches, is how much fun we had!

The pinnacle of of our fun was realized one afternoon when we decided to commit Death Tape to an audio adventure.  One side of a 60 minute tape contains us acting out our favourite characters, in a series of adventures.  This is all done to the backing tracks of great hard rock tunes.  It opens with “In the Beginning” and “Shout at the Devil” by the mighty Motley Crue.  This meant we used two ghetto blasters in making this tape.  One to record, and one to play the backing music while we acted out the scenes.  Quiet Riot’s “Slick Black Cadillac” and “Caught in the Crossfire” by April Wine were the songs used for the other scenes.  I just remember having so much fun doing it.  It didn’t matter if the tape is unlistenable.  My face was red from laughing so hard that day.

All this Death Team stuff goes hand-in-hand with the earliest days of my discovery of metal.  You can see the influences bleeding through.  Characters named “Motor Head” and “Killer” and “Helix” and “Crazee” and “Iron Maiden”.  We weren’t terribly original, but we were terrifically entertained.  Entertained by ourselves!  All we needed was some paper, some sharp pencils, and a good song.  I can still hear the tunes playing, whether it was W.A.S.P. or Motley Crue or Iron Maiden themselves.  The tunes were critical.  The team could not have existed with the tunes, and the tunes were only more fun to listen to while drawing pictures of the team.

Later on in school, when I was much better at art, I tried my hand at doing a sequel team, called “DT 2”.  I played the music, and tried to recreate the magic by sitting down and drawing some updated ninjas.  Without my friend it was a futile exercise.  Death Team cannot exist without three things:

  1. Heavy metal music
  2. Paper and sharp pencils
  3. My buddy Bob

Anything else is simply a knock-off.

#703: The Lost Chapters – “1986”

GETTING MORE TALE #703:  The Lost Chapters – “1986”

 

Part 1:  Easter holiday

Easter weekend has always been one of my favourites of the year. While working at the record store, it became much less so. I often could not get away for Easter, plus Easter Monday is only a bank holiday, not a holiday for stiffs working retail.  But that’s the life of a grown-up, not a kid.  In 1986 we still had the innocence of never had worked an honest day in our lives.  Oh sure, we mowed the lawns.  Big deal.  That was kind of enjoyable.  I loved starting our mower’s old gas engine.  I loved filling it up with gas.

Aside from lawn mowing and a few winters of forcible shovelling, we had no idea yet of the horrors of the Adult Life.[1]  I mean, we kind of knew.  We knew that glorious childhood would not last forever.  Our teachers ensured this with the constant hammering of, “If you want a good job later, you better do your home work tonight.”  We understood, with gloom, that somewhere down the line would come a time when weekends were not free.  When we would be out working while Gilligan’s Island was on TV, and how could you go without Gilligan’s Island?  How could you live your life without Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife?  It really didn’t seem possible.[2]  [3]

In those days, we loved a little bit of an extended holiday.  Summer holidays were best, followed by Christmas (two weeks), March break (one week), and Easter (four days).  Not only that, but the last day of school before a holiday like this was usually a write off, or at least half a write off.  The teachers let you goof around.  It was almost like a four and a half day break.  This made Easter a pretty significant holiday, and we spent a lot of our Easters doing fun stuff.  We were either at the cottage, visiting relatives, or both.

Many happy Easter weekends abound in my memories. I can remember spending Easter of ’85 in Ottawa with my family, and our Uncle Gar and Aunt Miriam. I can distinctly remember getting Quiet Riot’s Condition Critical cassette that Easter, as well as a Transformers Insecticon (Shrapnel).

It was Easter of ’86 that was the best of them all. At least, Easter ’86 is the clearest in my memory.  I remember it much more clearly than any other. None have had that impact; it was just that magical time of our lives.  It was the Age of Discovery.  That year, I discovered girls pretty seriously for the first time.

1986 was a turning point in my life. I had spent the previous eight years in a crummy Catholic school populated by all the main subcultures:  nerds, jocks, dicks, ugly kids, and girls who listened to Duran Duran. Grade 8 was particularly hard. I was being bullied in a serious way that winter.  Not by today’s standards.  By today’s standards, this is nothing.  By 1986 standards, this was a big deal for a kid.  I can remember snow being stuffed down my shirt every Thursday after shop class. Every fucking Thursday.  I fucking hated Thursday so fucking much.  I can remember kids who I thought were my friends laughing when it happened.  Earlier that same term, I can remember Kenny Lawrence volunteering to be my science lab buddy. I was suspicious of his motives, so I asked him why. He said, “Because I think you’re cool”. I let it slide because I needed a lab partner too, but it was soon evident that the real reason was because he knew I’d do all the work and get us a good mark. I was a nice guy even then; too nice, and that’s a trait I still have.

I didn’t fit in with anybody. I was into rock and roll, I was into books, and I knew nothing about sports or Duran Duran and Mr. Mister. Most importantly, I didn’t want to know. Even back then I was true to who I was. I refused to be a fake. Metal on metal, was what I craved.  I was going to sell my music soul out to Duran fucking Duran and get a fucking Corey Feldman haircut just because it was the way to get girls into me?  If a girl wasn’t into me as I was, Motley Crue and all, then she wasn’t worth it.

Of paramount importance to me was the fact that this was the last year of school before we all took the leap into high school. High school presents one tantalising possibility: The chance to switch school systems, and get away from the Catholic dicks. For anybody who was there, I will testify that the Catholic schools in the 80’s hosted the most and worst dicks you could find back then. Whether that is still true I do not know, but it certainly was true in 1986. I jumped at the chance to get out, and sent in my application to Grand River Collegiate Institute (GRCI).

GRCI presented freedom, but also for the first time ever, a chance to attend school with my best friend Bob. Bob was two years older, and we’d never have a class together, I knew that, but he always tried to get us lockers side by side. Bob was popular, smart, creative, easily the best influence on my life at the time. Most importantly he was tall, physically strong, really cool, and just an absolutely good person.  He would protect me from any dicks I might run into. He’d also bring me into his circle of friends; older kids, which was great for me because I fit in better with them.  We had similar interests.  One of Bob’s friends was a kid named Rob Daniels.  Today he’s the host of Visions In Sound on CKWR and a frequent collaborator.

Easter of 1986 represented the end of that dreadful winter, and the beginning of a new hopeful spring. As with many Easters past, we opened up our cottage and went up for the long weekend. We probably didn’t even have the water hooked up yet, because Easter fell in March that year. It was warm, but ice still covered Lake Huron. We have a photo of me, trying to negotiate ice floes out on the lake on our canoe. Much like Ernest Shackleton 70 years earlier, I rowed that canoe through the leads, trying to find open water. Unlike Shackleton, I found myself in the drink, or as we said back then, I got “two soakers”. It was a glorious time to be alive.

At the cottage, my sister and I played board games. A favourite was called Crossbows and Catapults.  It had no actual board, but the idea was pretty simple. You built a castle wall out of the bricks provided, focusing on strength and protection of your castle courtyard.

The game came with one crossbow and one catapult per player, as well as discs to fire. The weapons were powered by elastic bands. We still have the game; the elastics dried out but are replaceable. Each player took turns firing at their opponent. Aim was crucial! If you could weaken or destroy your opponent’s wall, you could then try to fire the “King” disc into your opponent’s castle courtyard. If you did, you won. But if you missed, your opponent could capture your King disc. Your only hope then was to rescue him by knocking down your opponent’s tower.

You could also buy expansion sets. One we had was a spring-powered battering ram that was hard to aim but packed enough punch to destroy a wall with only one shot. Another one was a set of castle outposts that had their own built-in catapults. However, they could also be captured with a single well-aimed shot, and then turned against you.

We played for hours, taking up the entire kitchen floor (you needed a smooth flat surface). While we played, we listened to music. My memories are of Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love cassette – the original Leathür Records mix. We also played the two Quiet Riot cassettes that were out at the time, Metal Health and the aforementioned Condition Critical. My sister loved Quiet Riot and the Crue, but didn’t think much of my Judas Priest or W.A.S.P. cassettes. The previous weekend, MuchMusic debuted the new Judas Priest video, “Turbo Lover”, and I taped that and cranked it outdoors on the back porch. I was also listening to two Christian rock bands called Rez and the Darrell Mansfield Band, which Bob had taped for me.  For years all I had of Rez and Mansfield was that crappy sounding cassette (actually unlistenable) until the advent of Amazon and iTunes.

We also played badminton. A picture exists of me playing air guitar on a badminton racquet from that weekend. The yard was big enough to do so, and we didn’t even need a net, we just used the clothesline. It was great fun, and the weekend was warm enough that nobody needed jackets.

Right; girls.  I wasn’t picky.  Any that would talk to me would do.

My dad’s friend Bill was interested in renting the log cabin next door. Sadly it’s not there anymore. It was owned by an elderly lady who couldn’t use it anymore, so she rented it out. (A year later, we purchased the cabin from her. Sadly we had to tear it down in 2001, as the roof had rot.) Bill had come up with his family to check it out. Bill had a daughter who was my age.  And she didn’t know me, at all.  She didn’t know I was the fucking loser of the school! She didn’t know my history of saying stupid things at the exact wrong time!  She didn’t know I didn’t give a fuck about hockey.  I could play up the rocker image.  I could be the bad boy.  The bad boy with a fucking Crossbows and Catapults on the kitchen floor, but somehow God damn it, a “tough kid”!

As I sat there that afternoon trying to look at her using only my peripheral vision, plans were set in motion. They reserved the cottage for two weeks in early August, giving me much time to formulate my plans. I needed to get her to like me by completely ignoring her!  Chicks love guys that are dicks!

That was the anticipation for the coming summer.  Not only would I be escaping the Hell that was Catholic school, but this girl my age was going to be spending two weeks at the cabin next door.  Now, I had never really spoken to girls before and I had no idea how to go about it. Most of my plans involved grossing her out with insects. [4]

 

Part 2: Musical integrity

“We gonna hand the microphone over to…ACE FREHLEY, SHOCK ME!!”

Anybody who’s paid their rock n’ roll taxes knows that this is how Paul Stanley introduces Ace Frehley’s vocal spotlight on the song “Shock Me” from Kiss Alive II.  During the winter and spring of 1986, my neighbour George (whom was the kind of kid that you socialised with only so you could access his music library) had taped the album for me.  He had also taped such albums as Love Gun and Double Platinum.  Best of all was the rare Animalize Live Uncensored video that he had dubbed onto cassette for me.  I was well armed with Kiss music by the time summer rolled around.  Back then I could scarcely afford to buy more than a couple cassettes a year, since I was still plowing all my allowance into GI Joe and Transformers forces.  Yeah, that means at age 13 I was still playing with toys.  No big deal. You’re the asshole for thinking so.

Anyway, the dubbed copies sounded terrible, but I didn’t know any better.  I had a Walkman, it was a piece of shit, but it was a Walkman.  I had a proper ghetto blaster that wasn’t loud enough and a turntable at home, but these were not exactly what you would call portable.  If I remember correctly, the ghetto blaster itself took something like nine D-size batteries, enough power for Ace Frehley to “shock me” at any place and any time.  However the juice wouldn’t even last for a whole day of music, and the batteries too expensive to replace regularly, so I never did that.

Finally, I graduated grade school.  Grade 8, the dicks, Mrs. Powers, and compulsory church services were behind me.  Grand 9, highschool, lay ahead in what was guaranteed to be better times.  Before that, the summer lay ahead as one final chance to be a kid.

Unfortunately, Bob was not around much that summer.  He had left in July for Calgary to stay with his older brother Martin.  We promised to correspond via lettermail.  This summer, I would be flying solo.  At the end of the month, Bill’s family truckster came up to the rented cottage fully loaded and daughter in tow.

I was packed and fully prepared.  I had my two cases of cassettes.  One case was massive; it held 60 tapes.  The other was much smaller, but I had about 100 albums on cassette and LP back then to occupy my time.  Many were dubbed, but by then a growing number were not.

 

Part 3:  Musical flashbacks

The way the system worked was brilliant and simple.  There was no file sharing.  If one of us owned an album, it was the right and privilege of all the neighbor kids to ask you to borrow it for taping purposes.  Or, if your equipment was superior they’d ask you to do it for them.  However, we all had crappy equipment with the exception of George Balasz.  George Balasz didn’t have cassettes either, he still had LPs, which sounded better.

George’s LP collection was very impressive.  His Kiss albums were virtually complete.  He even had such rarities as the Kiss Killers record, which was a European import.  He also had a complete collection of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest records, and I had access to dubbed copies of these whenever I wanted.  The only problem was that George was a little fucking creepy.

His family was Hungarian, and happened to be the token white trash family on the street.  His house had that awful Beef Soup Whif that Wayne Campbell speaks of.  When we were kids, he pissed Bob and I off by stealing certain rare Lego pieces from us.  He was older than any of us, so when he started to show us his Playboy collection, we labelled him as a perv rather than a cool kid, which was the opposite effect from what he was going for.  He had also stolen Bob’s brother’s bike.  He hid it in his garage, which had no door.  John simply walked over to George’s house, saw it, and beat the piss out of him.  This pleased everyone since nobody liked a thief, the adults didn’t care for George, and John had never done anything violent before in his life.  It was the kind of thing everybody whispered about.

“Have you seen John?”

“No, I haven’t seen him in days.  Why?”

“GEORGE STOLE HIS BIKE AND JOHN WENT LOOKING FOR IT AND HE FOUND IT IN GEORGE BALASZ’ GARAGE AND THEN HE FOUND GEORGE AND BEAT HIM UP HE PUNCHED HIM RIGHT IN THE FACE AND MAYBE GEORGE WAS EVEN BLEEDING BUT JOHN IS GROUNDED NOW AND GEORGE WON’T GO OUTSIDE BECAUSE EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT NOW AND PEOPLE KEEP CALLING GEORGE NAMES LIKE THIEF AND JAILBIRD AND HE’S SUCH A LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSER!”

George’s family was not smart with money.  Years later, after George had graduated high school, his father passed away.  He left them a sum of money which they squandered on new furniture and drapes.  My father managed the bank at the time, and counselled them to invest the money.  They didn’t.  As my father predicted, it did not last, and they were flat broke within a few years and sold their house.  It was all very sad.

George had the same affliction.  He couldn’t hold onto money or anything else for that matter.  This worked to my advantage.  I have quite a collection of rare, early GI Joe figures that I got for a buck a piece.  He needed the money to buy more records and I was happy to provide it for these figures.  I have no idea what the figures are worth today, but certainly more than a buck a piece.  I also acquired a complete collection of GI Joe comics in a similar fashion:  A buck a piece, maybe a little more for the early issues like 1 and 2.

My collection of comics was pretty sweet, and my collection of toys even sweeter.  My music library was coming along nicely.  Most importantly, I had developed integrity in my musical taste.  I was learning to see qualities that I valued in music.  I rejected the bands that seemed like they’d sold out any balls at all to have a hit.

Musically speaking it was a pretty simple time.  David Lee Roth had just left Van Halen, and 5150 had just come out, with Sammy.  Kiss settled into a strong lineup featuring new guitar player Bruce Kulick and all the kids dug their latest album Asylum.  Maiden had dropped a double-live monster on us called Live After Death and we were all eager to find out what their new album would sound like.  Priest recently released Turbo which was completely modern sounding, with synthesizers, and most of us thought it was pretty cool.  On the rare occasion we could afford a music magazine, we’d read about how Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris were feuding, but we were confident they’d be friends again and make the next Maiden album the best ever.

In summary, I felt pretty cool musically, though not in any other ways.

I knew I wasn’t cool by the standards of kids of the day, but I knew I was cool in the eyes of my true friends and myself.  Most important was the integrity factor.  If something was deemed uncool at school, such as comic books, I was only more dedicated in my collecting.  If a band, such a Quiet Riot, was condemned as being washed up, I still went to the store to check out their new tape whenever it came out.  I didn’t care.  It was a kind of loyalty; a loyalty to oneself.

 

Part 4:  Clueless

I was armed with the knowledge that I had musical integrity, and a character that was somewhat unique.  I was also armed with a BB gun. I was actually a pretty good shot; chicks should find that impressive.  That meant that if WWIII broke out right then and there, I could defend any girl’s life.  They appreciate that stuff, right?  Bob was in Alberta; I was going solo this summer.  I was ready as I’d ever be.

My dad’s friends arrived at the cottage and settled into the cabin next door.  The next morning I set out on my plans.  I figured that I needed a few things to get noticed by a girl.

  1. My Walkman, loaded up with Kiss Animalize Live Uncensored.  I figured, she’d ask what I was listening to, I’d say Kiss Animalize Live Uncensored in a cool disinterested voice.
  2. A magnifying glass.
  3. A plentiful supply of things to burn, both alive and dead.  Because nothing says, “come hither, baby,” like the smell of a dead ant.  (It smells a lot like bacon, by the way.)

There I was, wandering the woods between the two cottages, Walkman on my ears and magnifying glass in my heads, burning leaves and bugs.  She’d think I was cool; she had to, because this was the only idea I had.

As it turns out, I didn’t get her attention.  But her younger brother Mike came out to see what I was doing.  Together we bonded by pulling the legs off grasshoppers and then burning what was left.  We were the original Beavis and Butt-head.  We actually had a lot in common, like Transformers.  He came over to read my comic books and we became friends.

That night, our families had decided to have a marshmallow/weenie roast together.  They had a huge fireplace there, a cement monster that was slowly crumbling under the weight of so many winters.  It was a good time, and it was the first time a girl laughed at something I said in a good way.  I’m much funnier now (trust me) but back then I was absolutely useless at making girls laugh.  Whatever I said always just came out completely wrong.

I tried to steer the conversation to comfortable territory.  I brought up something I knew a lot about, and would impress her.  Obviously, I picked WWF wrestling.  She said something along the lines of, “Wrestling’s dumb, it’s so fake!”  I rose to the sports-entertainment’s defence.

“Wrestling’s not entirely fake.  Look at a move like a suplex.  You can’t fake that.”

“What’s a suplex?” she queried.

Not knowing how to describe one, the best answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”

She  laughed.  Something about that was funny to her, in a good way.  I didn’t mean to make her laugh, and I thought she would laugh at me.  She didn’t.  A first!  I was a natural.

Making progress, the next obvious step was to return to my original strategy of gross-outs with insects.

We called them tree toads, but they were cicadas.  They look like huge fat grasshoppers, and their high-pitched song could be heard loudly all summer long.  It’s a great sound; it means summer is here.  That year, we found some tree toads for the first time.  We’d heard them but never seen one before.  First, we only found their empty shells.  Like snakes, they shed their skin leaving behind a hard shell, but they can shed their skins in such a way that the shapes are completely intact.  They are an exact duplicate of the insect itself, with a small slit in the back where the tree toad escaped.  They were intact right down to their clingy little legs.  These legs were clingy enough that you could hang several of these shells from your face thus grossing out any girl you liked.  This is what I did.  I even got my sister and the other Mike in on it.  We both had cicada shells hanging from our cheeks and noses.

For Mike, it was fun because we were grossing out his sister.  For me, it was making contact.  Any contact!  I did the ultimate gross-out when I found a live tree toad and hung him off my face.  She left.  Somehow, I thought I was being funny.

Having used up the insect strategy, I selected a new one.

 

 

 

Part 5:  Being excellent at something

I always knew you had to be excellent at something.  I could aim a BB gun and hit a dime.   I could also draw.

Death Team was my pride and joy.  Bob had shown me how to draw human figures and aliens, and I was good at doing airplanes and tanks.  Together we honed our skills.  My human figures were getting better all the time.  We’d created something called Death Team.  I liken it to a concept similar to GI Joe, with a couple modifications.  Our guys were all rockers or punks, it was a Canadian team, and it was on paper only.  We put together dozens of drawings of characters and vehicles and put them together in a binder.  We made some cover art for the binder, we even recorded an audio cassette of us acting out Death Team skits.  It was a totally real thing to us and we wanted to get rich by turning it into a toyline or movie.

Our “business card”

 

I decided to unleash the Great three-inch Death Team binder and casually be drawing some guy in a cool action pose while the girl walked by.

The nice thing was that even though she didn’t care about my drawings of guys with guns, I was having a good time drawing them.  Mike came over and joined us.  Then he showed us how to play a really fun adventure style game using just a pencil and paper.  You’d draw a dungeon, put some obstacles in there, and then verbally guide your friends through the dungeon you’d just drawn and see if they could make it past the obstacles.  My sister and I loved it, and the game became much more elaborate between the three of us.  Suddenly it wasn’t about impressing the girls anymore, it was about having a blast with this new game we’d invented.  We always invented our own games, and 1986 continued that tradition…and then an afternoon was gone.

Eventually the week was gone, too, and we had to go home.  My dad had to return to work.  I got home, and there was a letter from Bob.  He was having a great time in Calgary and asked about updates from home.  He was going to go and see Ozzy with some new band called “Metallica” but Ozzy cancelled.

He’d written this letter and drawn a picture.  The picture was of me and him rocking out, and a picture of George Balasz at his nerdly best.  He wrote in his letter that he picked up a rare copy of Kiss Killers on vinyl.  It was the German pressing with the backwards “ZZ” logo.  [5]   He was having a good summer with his brother Martin, and Martin’s dog.  He wrote, “One thing for sure, I’m getting a dog when I come back to Kitchener.”  Maybe Bob didn’t know his mother as well as I did, because I knew there was no way in hell he was getting a dog when he got back to Kitchener.  He also said he was getting a computer when he got home, but that also did not materialise.  His mom put the kibosh on both.

I was so glad to hear from him.  The summer had been pretty quiet without him around.  Also, I needed his help.  Mike and I were coming up with new Death Team characters every day, and Bob wasn’t there to see them, and offer his own notes.  Grade 9 was swiftly approaching and I was worried that I wouldn’t be prepared.  I was hoping Bob could help me shop for supplies I’d need for highschool.

 

My mom, sister and I headed back up to the cottage without my dad who would catch up with us at the end of the week.  His friends were still renting next door.  When we came back, we had this huge bonfire in our back yard.  There was a lot of construction up by the county road, and a lot of trees down.  My mom sent me, Mike, and the girl into the woods to bring some of the bigger logs down to burn.  We basically stole logs from this construction site, but nobody cared about things like that.  We did a hot dog roast, marshmallows, and told jokes.

Saturday night, after my dad got back, we all went into town to see the parade.  It was a tradition.  Every Saturday night in Kincardine, the local Scottish piper band makes its way down the main street, and everyone follows.  When I say everyone, I mean it.  The entire town comes out to see it.  At 8pm, every Saturday night for the entire summer, the downtown came alive.  After the parade, ice cream was the traditional confection.

This particular weekend, there was a clown there, I have no idea why.  His name was “Bazo the Clown”.  Bazo had grabbed a “bad kid” and was giving him hell.  None of knew why, but the sight of Bazo the Clown grabbing this kid and scolding him was something we found absolutely hilarious.  We were in stitches.  We still speak of Bazo.

I had a few days left to try to make some sort of impact on the girl.  Insects didn’t do it, and drawings didn’t do it.  Switching back to the concept of making the girl laugh, I figured out a way to include the absent Bob.  Bob was funny, and we did some funny recordings together.  We recorded skits to audio tapes and we thought they were the funniest fucking things anybody had ever done in the history of comedy.

Bob and I had several hours of these comedy “gold” on tape.  Most of them involved us making fun of George Balasz, but he was a pretty easy target.  Some of them involved us making fun of Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts.  We both watched TV preachers on weekday mornings while waiting for cartoons to start.  We thought they were hilarious.  Certainly, Ozzy would have been proud of us.  The only problem was this was all inside joke comedy that nobody else would get.

I invited Mike and his sister over to take part in a recording session.  The idea was to record a sketch that would play on our rivalry.  The real idea however was again to attempt to be excellent at something in front of the girl.  Also, I hoped to impress her with the size of my cassette collection (as you would).  Showing off my musical integrity would do the trick.  But, I found out later, you can’t impress a girl who likes Duran Duran with Kiss.

My cassettes were starting to overflow their cases.  What I had done to handle the overspill was hand-paint two ceramic bookends with Kiss artwork.  I used these bookends to store my Kiss tapes upon my shelves.  At least my artwork would have to impress her, if the music did not.  I painted all six Kiss masks and a logo. Far from being impressed the girl thought it would be funny to mix up the order of the tapes.  Nobody could actually mix them up permanently for my organisational skills were second to none.  I had them all back in order soon, chronologically by date of release.

Part 6:  Seasons end

It was an excellent summer.  It was an excellent time to be alive.  The lake was warm, the water levels were high, the waves were crashing on the sandy beach and we took advantage of that for as long as we could.

The summer drew to a close.  The days grew shorter.  Our games grew sillier.  My sister invented something, I guess you’d call it a game, called “The Poo Machine”.  Thankfully the details are lost to me.  It mostly involved pulling levers and making fart sounds.  It kept us occupied and outside.

When we returned home, Bob also arrived back from Calgary.  I showed him the Death Team drawings I had done, and hoped for his approval.

He showed me his Kiss record; the one with the German logo.  Things were moving back to normal.  We got the grade 9 supplies.  High school began.  I hung out with Bob every day and our friendship got tighter and tighter.  A new journey was beginning.  I was shedding the skin of the old life.  I was a high school kid.  Toys were soon gone, replaced by a ravenous insatiable need to collect music.  This was a quest Bob shared with me and we bonded.  Great music was just around the corner.  A new Iron Maiden album was about to come out.  The future was golden.

 

 


[1] From the moment your parent or guardian says “Get a job.”

[2] This is before PVR’s, kids.  VCR’s too, for those born before 1994.  Do try to keep up.

[3] I am using Gilligan’s Island as a matter of poetic license.  I actually had this thought when I was a teenager about the Beverly Hillbillies.  They were always on at noon and I realised one day, I wouldn’t be at home at noon anymore.

[4] I found out in later that this girl was actually my first kiss. When we were both like, three years old.  The deed was done. Her brother Mike, who was cool and I hung out with, dug up a picture of it, which was in his family’s photo album. I didn’t even know we had met before. Mike teased me endlessly. However, to me it meant that at least I had kissed a girl, once.  I didn’t remember it, but what the hell, I’ll take it.

[5] Kiss could not use their lightning bolt SS logo in Germany because it was too similar to the Nazi SS logo.  Therefore all German Kiss albums do not have the original lightning bolt SS logo, but use backwards ZZ’s instead.  The copy that Bob bought in Calgary that summer is the same copy that I own today.