“Mom wants to know if you wanna go to my birthday party.”
The inside of Jake’s father’s store was full of candy, soda, and junk food. Jake was standing behind the counter with a handful of candy, wearing a white t-shirt and his jeans sliding down off his butt. He smelled like boy sweat and his face was smeared with dirt.
He snatched a pack of Big League Chew Bubble Gum off the shelf and started shoveling gummy worms into a plastic bag.
“Dad. Can I go?”
His dad grunted, never looking up from the register.
“Cool. See ya’ later.”
We ran out the front door of the store and climbed through the back hatch of the station wagon. Jake had a wad of gum the size of a softball stuffed in his cheek before we even pulled away from the curb.
There weren’t any seatbelts in the back and we bounced around like empty soda cans as the car turned each corner, mouths full of gummy worms.
My other friends were shoved in the rest of the seats. Jake was the only boy.
It was my 10th birthday.
Mom was taking us to Pudgies Pizza for an impromptu party.
Our faces were smeared with pizza sauce when we piled onto the playground and climbed on merry-go-rounds without safety bars and swings made of hard seats. We swung high and metal brackets squeaked and the set shook like it might fall down around us. When our bellies were up in our throats we let go and landed on feet, on knees, on rears. We laughed and got back up again.
The metal slide tore at our skin on the way down and our legs were pink from the friction.
We spun ourselves wild on the merry-go-round until we almost threw up and the world blurred into a million colors. Jake flew off and fell on his back into a mud puddle. He stood up and grinned, his cheek full of bubble gum.
The backside of his pants were a muddy mess. Mom laid a blanket in the back of the station wagon for him to sit on.
Back at the store he jumped out, yanked his jeans up around his waist, held them in place with one hand.
“See ya’ later,” he said. He shoved a gummy worm his mouth. His hands were still covered in mud. His hair was matted to his forehead with sweat.
He ran up the stairs. The door slammed closed hard behind him.
I climbed back into the cargo area of the station wagon and pulled the tailgate closed.
This was life in the ’80s.