But They’re a Christian Band–Part Two

stryper-togehterasonesoldiersundercommandConvincing mom to go to Maranatha was as easy as convincing an old woman in Kansas that God needed her to give money to a televangelist. She was always reading Bible study books and she was good for needing more than she could finish in a month. While she meandered the self-help section, I browsed the cassettes looking for something that I knew wouldn’t be there. I flipped through the plastic cases of familiar names like Petra and Stryper and the REZ band. My parents had bought everyone of their cassettes for my birthday, Christmas, and Easter. I could count on a cassette with the Maranatha price tag half-way peeled on any of these holidays.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” my mother asked with a handful of study guides for Corinthians and Ephesians and tucked between were books on raising a Christian Boy in A Secular World and When They Don’t Honor Their Parents. Mom figured since God had made me, the manual had to be out there somewhere.

“Not really.”

“Do you have any of these?” She was looking down at the collection of REZ tapes. I wanted to say I have two of each! You’ve bought them for my birthday and Easter this year. Instead, I just nodded.

“Well, there’s always Christmas.”

Of course there was. One more Petra tape and I was going to pull a Fountain of Billy myself. I wanted to Rock. Not be rocked to sleep with another rendition of “The Coloring Song”. I’ve never heard anyone take such an inspiring message and turn it into a song that would lull shepherds to sleep.

“I was looking for U2.” There. I had fired my initial shot. Mother looked at me quizzically. I knew that she and the other mothers spoke in their little Bible study groups about things like the Anti-Christ/Devil’s Children and the Culture Club, and how they were poisoning the minds of America. To be honest, I thought Boy George was as absurd as my parents did, but that didn’t stop me from singing “Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma Chameleon” all day. Each time I did, I’d lose my radio for a week, but it was worth it just to see the frightened reaction on my parents face. If I had the balls, I’d have stolen some of my sister’s makeup and painted myself to look like him, too. I’d have strawberry stained lips and I’d paint my eyes to look like the eye of Ra and I borrow a rainbow of felt and fabric from mom’s sewing kit and make my hair look like a clown threw up on me. I didn’t only because I was afraid I’d be sent to some dark rehab for future homosexuals. By the quirk in her look, U2 hadn’t made it into their specter of fear.

“They’re a new Christian band,” I said sheepishly.

Mom shrugged. “Did you look in the U’s?”

Yep. She really said that.

“They don’t have them.”

“Let’s ask at the counter.”

Oooh. Not what I had planned for. I was just hoping that I’d be able to move into the second phase of my plan smoothly. Once it was firmly established that Maranatha didn’t have everything Christian they’d have to take me to the West Covina Mall where there was a Tower Records. I’d seen the place many times. It was a giant brick and red tile building with red and white metal awnings over the floor to ceiling windows in the parking lot of the mall. The windows had posters of Madonna and David Bowie and Adam Ant. And that was why I was never allowed to go inside. Damn you awkward gender-bending music trends!

Mom had thrown an unforeseen twist to my plot. I knew that the clerk would look through her shipping records and announce that, no, there was no such thing as U2. If Maranatha didn’t have it, then it wasn’t Christian. That would be the end of that.

Before we could get to the counter, I found a young lady wearing a soft peach/pastel shirt and blue jeans, her hair bunched atop her head in a pile of curls and feathering. Her Maranatha badge said her name was Clare. “Do you have U2?”

She looked dumbfounded and I could tell she was lost. Here’s what she probably heard: “Do you have you, too?” If I let this moment go on too long, the spellbinding silence would lull my mom into anxiety and she’d lose it. She rationalize that I’d broken the poor girl’s brain asking about a band that was clearly not a Christian band. “They’re a new Christian band,” I blurted.

“Oh,” she said pleasantly. “Did you look under ‘U’?”

No matter how hard I tried to scrub it off, the I’m-A-Complete-Idiot tattoo on my forehead wouldn’t come off. “Not there.”

“Maybe you can come back next week. We get more tapes then.”

“Okay,” I replied. “Can we come back next week?” I asked as I turned to my mother. I hoped this question would settle it and she wouldn’t bring it up to the manager behind the counter. “We’ll see.”

As the cashier handed my mother her change I thought I’d made it out free and clear. She didn’t say anything to the young girl other than a polite “God bless.” She always said that to people. But then the stubby, portly manager with thinning brown hair, a face that showed the torment of acne filled high school years, and a light blue and white Hawaiian flower print shirt walked up behind the cashier and asked, “Did you find everything you needed?” Uh. No. Wasn’t going to find it here in the first place. This was all a ruse. Please don’t ruin it.

“My son wanted a cassette by U2.”

I swear, if he asks if I looked under “u” I was going to hit someone.

Instead, he looked at his clipboard, flipped some pages, scowled, and replied, “We don’t have them. Maybe you should try Tower Records.”

Holy shit! Some middle-aged, balding, Magnum-wannabe managing a Christian bookstore suggested we go to Tower? I probably should have dropped to my knees on the spot and prayed a long prayer of forgiveness and repentance.

“No,” my mother said softly. “My son says they’re a Christian band.”

The man looked at me for a moment. He saw right through me and through my hollow lie. “They have a small selection of Christian music and they can get Christian bands from Europe that we cannot.”

Okay. Prayer wasn’t enough. I probably should run off to some monastery, shave my head,  take a vow of silence, and live the austere life! I could see it now. Me walking around a cloister in a brown robe with a rough hemp rope for a belt, shaved head, chanting, humming, and reading all the dirty pages of the Bible over and over again. It’s a shame they no longer made illuminated manuscripts. I’d have had a blast drawing some of those pictures. A regular Biblical Penthouse forum.

My mother and I didn’t say a word until we pulled into the driveway of our blue trimmed  white house. I opened the door and slid out the backseat of the “banana boat”–a overtly derisive term used for my mother’s yellow 1977 Dodge Aspen wagon. I was always embarrassed going to school in a Chiquita fruit. I followed my mother in silence. In the dining room, she set down her new collection of books on the table just as silently as she walked. She had a weird way of being deadly silent. I’d be in my room looking at the TV Guide, reading all the shows I’d never see including the late-night HBO ones and then there she’d be standing in my door. I swear she had a sixth sense when it came to my soul and its temptations.

“So can we?” I asked meekly.

“Can we what?”

“Tower records?”

She pursed her lips. I had as good of a chance getting my mom to go shopping with me in the Red Light district in Amsterdam than I had of getting her into Tower. At least there, you knew for certain the girls were girls. But that wasn’t my hope. No, if fate was playing on my team–and it was after Mr. Magnum Christian guy–then my sister would take me.

“We’ll talk with your father when he gets home.”

And, just like that, I was back to recording on my two year old Memorex cassette. It was getting so bad you could barely hear the underlying recordings as I recorded new songs over the past. U2 would have to go into the dusty, neglected hope chest of my youth along with becoming a professional BMX racer, a big rig truck driver, hearing AC/DC for the first time, and living in a household that had cable television.

The topic of U2 and Tower Records never came up at dinner. Father, in his usual dour, stern voice, asked how school was, why my math test scores were low, and if I finished my homework for next week. I nodded. Anything more invited too many questions. After dinner, I finished my chores of clearing the table and cleaning the dishes. I was about to retreat to my room when dad came up to me and said, “You need to go to Tower Records?”

I’d heard about The Exorcist from kids at school whose parents were less fastidious about their faith. I knew that the girl in the movie was possessed; Satanic possession was something my parents feared would, or maybe had, happen to me. I’d heard the older kids quoting “What an excellent day for an exorcism” whenever something strange happened at school, or one of the teachers decided that it was paddling time. At our school, the administration exorcised the demons from us not with holy water or scripture but with a solid ping-pong paddle. I had my fair share of turns leaning over the principal’s desk counting to three or five or the dreaded seven.

I looked up at my father, the austere man who’s love I knew I had, but had to decipher through This-Is-Going-To-Hurt-Me-More-Than-You moments, and wondered if I needed a priest.

“You wanted a cassette.”

I blinked blankly. It was that slow blink you might have as you drove by a car accident as they were pulling the bodies from the wreckage.

“Do you want to go or not?”

Oh. There he was. Stern and to the point. Glad to have you back.

Like most of the time I spent with my father, we drove the twenty five minutes to the West Covina mall in a silence that you’d hear in funeral homes or the Antarctic.

The actual Tower Records in West Covina, no long since closed.

The actual Tower Records in West Covina, now long since closed.

The inside of Tower was everything I imagined and then so much more. There were posters of bands that I had never heard of–New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Violent Femmes, Ultravox–and some familiar names as well. Men At Work blared over the speakers. There were punks with leather jackets emblazoned with “The Ramones” on the back. There were guys wearing frilled white shirts that looked like something from a vintage 40’s era pirate movie and girls wearing all black from hair, to eye makeup to lips to clothes. There were preppy kids and nerdy kids and just plain teenagers. It was an entirely different world to me, but it was the normal world. I was the one who lived in a void.

My dad’s drill sergeant face became more stoic than Lincoln’s on a rock in South Dakota. His mind was trying to grasp the unholiness of the situation, but it was like trying to capture smoke with your fingers. There was no way he’d be able to absorb the entirety of the place and I knew that I’d have to be quick about things or we’d be out the door faster than a Jehovah’s Witness was kicked off my front porch.

And there was another problem. U2 was supposed to be a Christian band. I knew that was total bullshit. Their albums would be found in the rock section. The problem being, dad would follow me there and stop me dead in my tracks. Mr. Magnum guy from Maranatha Books couldn’t help me now. I rushed over to the UVW section of the rock music hoping that my furtive darting, like a squirrel on a street not knowing which way to go as the car came to hit him, would help me elude my father.

Not Mr.-I-Was-A-Green-Beret guy. He had me as though he was a hound and I was the fox. He parked his massive body behind me as I pulled “War” from the rack. “This isn’t Christian music,” he said.

“Maybe they misfiled it.” Yeah. Like that was going to work.

My father took one look at the record cover with the young boy, hands behind his head, a little cut on his lip, all in black and white, with “U2/WAR” in blood red and said: “Nope.” He turned, and I knew that as a dutiful foot soldier, I was expected to follow quickstep.

On our way out of what must have seemed to my father to be one of the three portals to hell–the other two being Hollywood itself and Las Vegas–my father paused by the “new release” rack. I tried to follow his eyes across the rack. There were the usual sinners: A little girl in a white dress playing peeping tom (Violent Femmes); A building exploding as viewed through a sniper’s scope (Def Leppard); An orange haired, bondage masked Annie Lennox; A pentagram and title “Shout At The Devil”. At least Madonna looked somewhat decent. Then my eyes caught Juice Newton’s latest album. God no. If he picked up that pastel cacophony of wretchedness I’d be shamed for all time.

What he reached for instead was “Built For Speed”. I could see a twinkle in his eyes. He looked back in time through that cover. Maybe he saw himself in those Rockabilly outfits and slicked back hair standing in front of two amazing hot rods. In that moment, I realized that my father was a person, too. That there were memories and hopes and dreams behind that icy veneer.

And that’s how I ended up walking into my bedroom with my first ever record. I played that album almost raw. I still have it, along with hundreds of others that I have since collected. Oh, I did end up with “War”, on cassette, for my birthday. It was a gift from my sister.

Read Part One here

Read more stories from the ’83 series here

But They’re a Christian Band–Part One

erin_gray0248(1)It was already a hot day and it wasn’t even nine in the morning. The heat shimmered off the black asphalt like a steady rain falling upwards. I was walking two houses up the street to Adam and Billy’s. Adam was my age and Billy was his younger brother; we’d been friends since kindergarten. Above me, past the sagging eucalyptus trees and overgrown shrubbery, trucks ground through their gears as they made their way up the 210 freeway along the slopes of South Hills. I loved going over to Adam and Billy’s house for two reasons: Rock music and their stepmom. She drove a burgundy MG convertible and she looked exactly like Erin Gray from Battlestar Galactica. Yeah. She was hot. She’d take us to the beach in that convertible and we’d be the kings of the road. And she’d let us go into Adam’s room and blare the music and we’d dance and sing and act like little rock savages. We’d play air guitar to “Eye of the Tiger” and “Abracadabra” and “Don’t You Want Me”. Our favorite song to play pretend band to was Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”. It became my little anthem. And whenever Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” came on the radio, we’d be joined by Adam’s stepmom who would belt out her voice as though she was calling us into war. I’d pick up Billy’s wooden tennis racket, Adam would jump onto his chair with two pencils substituting for drum sticks and we’d play our own little private concert. To say that Adam’s house was a sacrosanct temple of music doesn’t do it justice; I watched MTv’s launch at his house. I was confused by Boy George there. I watched Madonna and got turned on there. While my house only had free channels and the gospel networks, Adam had cable! I had convinced my parents to let me sleep over at his house that fateful August night in ’81 and together we watched The Buggles change how we listened to music. After a few weeks of Rod Stewart videos we tired of MTv and went back to AM radio and our rock gods.

1982-84 were good years for music. The Police. Duran Duran. Michael Jackson. Prince. But in my good Christian naivete I had no idea what it was that I was reciting despite the clear connotations: “I feel the magic in your caress/I feel magic when I touch your dress/Silk and Satin; leather and lace/Black panties with an angel’s face”. Uh, yeah. Nope didn’t get it! And this from a kid who’d read all the naughty stuff in the Bible. Though it doesn’t help that the Bible is rather cryptic with its messages with its “goes in to her” stuff. [Extra points for anyone who can name the song quoted above! No looking up on the internet either.] To be honest, I was beginning to get things figured out and by ’84 I would be pretending to not have a clue just so my sister and her friends could get a laugh.

It might sound callouss, but I would head over to Adam’s just to listen to music. We were friends though, and did the things friends did. When the older boys on the street dared us to a game of “rat tail” we’d be there for each other, until the boys caught us. Rat tail was just that–We’d all have towels rolled up and soaked wet. The older boys would hide inside one of the houses and Adam and I would have to come in and try to find them. The older kids would jump out from their hiding places and start snapping their wet towels against our bare legs and arms and once cornered Adam would abandon me to the tortures of those rat tails or vice versa. We were good friends! But we shared a love of music. There really wasn’t music in my house. Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts” was tempting fate. My sister tried to bring in Purple Rain and the tape was destroyed twice–she dared to buy another copy–when my parents heard “Darling Nikki”. It didn’t help her cause any that my sister’s name is Nicole.

So, there I was wandering up the street ready to immerse myself in everything holy about rock ‘n roll. Adam and Billy were standing outside on their driveway. They’d just waved good-bye to their dad and were standing idly in the morning heat. Like usual, we stood around debating what to do: Ride bikes? Ride our skateboards down Concord Lane? Ask the older boys to go to 7-Eleven? Listen to music? Then Billy stopped mid-sentence and gurgled a burp. Adam and I laughed, but Billy didn’t look good. Billy looked around as though a wild spirit had just flown through him and he was trying to find it. Adam and I paused. When Billy looked skyward, we both looked too wondering what it was that he was looking for or at. Then we heard the gurgle again. Only this time it was accompanied not with a burp but with a steady flow of breakfast. There was Billy standing on his driveway, eyes to the sky, vomiting like a fountain in Vegas. It went on for what seemed like minutes. Billy puking to the sky with chunks of bacon and eggs and milk and toast raining down on his shoulders and the pavement with a faint splattering sound almost like the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. The longer he puked, the paler his face went until he finished and his face matched the white of his eyes. After we’d finished laughing what Adam would later call “The Fountain of Billy”, Adam took Billy inside. That was the end of my day with them. If Billy couldn’t play, neither could Adam. I went home.

Martin-f_Panasonic_RQ2108

The creator of so many mixed tapes in the early 80s

I had two ways of listening to music: A Panasonic slimline cassette player or my record player/stereo. The only redeeming value that my Panasonic had was that I could record my favorite songs off the radio. I’d sit next to the speakers and hold up that old cassette player, careful to not make too many movements because the microphone would pick up all the cracks and knocks of the plastic case. It wasn’t worth listening to music on since it’s one speaker sounded about as decent as a conversation between two tin cups tied with a string. But I would record all my favorites off the radio.

The stereo was a hand-me-down. As were most of the things, expensive things, that I had in my life. My first bike was a lime green–that late ’70s green, like peas meet Andy Warhol–girls bike with a two foot long beige banana seat and glittery tassels that hung from the opalescent, green handle grips. It had been my sister’s and she’d long since outgrown it. My first car was my dad’s old, old business car that he bought off the company, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

The case was fake wood and the AM/FM dial often stuck in the higher numbers. The opaque green lid wasn’t hinged so if I was playing a record, it was just better to leave it off otherwise I’d make the needle jump. The speakers were massive, yet they only produced a tinny, static noise if I turned the volume anywhere past five. And that was okay, because if my parents knew what I was listening to, I’d have gotten in trouble. My mother forbid me from watching such subversive shows like Sesame Street–she’d never let me learn my numbers from a vampire!

At school there was a sixth grader named Chad who wore a simple black pin with “U2” in white on the collar of his shirt. I had no idea what a U2 was, and thought it just was a cool way of saying “you, too?” In March I’d heard them for the first time. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. I had to have their album. I’d talked to Chad and he told me they were a Christian band. I knew he was full of shit, but, hey, a band singing about Sunday I could play this off on my parents. I recorded the song off the radio with my little Panasonic but you could hear my mom in the background clanking dishes in the kitchen as she made dinner. Kind of took the edge off the protest song.

Walking home from Adam and Billy’s, I decided that I would screw up the nerve and get my parents to take me to the music store and buy War. I had an elaborate lie crafted.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” was a song about Christ fighting for our sins; “New Year’s Day” was about His resurrection and how it made a new day for us Christians. The album title was a bit complicated so I had hoped to navigate around that one, but if it came up, I’d say something about it being a “war” against Satan.

When I say music store, what I mean is a Christian Bookstore on Arrow Highway. It was next door to Southeast Construction Products and their bright red sign that looked a 2-D image of an arrow’s fletchings. It was a strange place. The fence bounding Arrow Highway was made of beige brick columns with pearl white statuary atop them and chain link fencing between. I always imagined the place as some ’70s drug induced shrine to Italian stereotypical lawn decor or a Roman gladiator pit. The latter seemed more appropriate since Maranatha Christian Books was next door.

Read Part Two Here

Read more stories from the ’83 series here

7-Eleven

My longing to go to 7-Eleven had nothing to do with Slurpees. Most of the time, they just gave me a brain ache and a short lived sugar buzz that I really didn’t need in life. From an 628x471early age, my quest to conquer the bike-to-7-Eleven barrier ranked right up there with seeing a naked woman. And, as fate would have it 7-Eleven accomplished both feats at once.

In school, I excelled in memorizing pointless crap. We’d learn Bible verses for an hour each day in our class where other kids might be doing art or some other elective. But I did something else during Bible. Sure, I memorized all the verses and chapters, recited them dutifully beside the teacher’s desk each Friday, and then proceeded to forget them within moments. But I did something more sinister. I’d read the other verses. I’d skip to the chapters that we weren’t reading. By the time I was ten, I could tell you where every naughty part of the Bible was. Genesis 19: 30-38 was one that stuck with me for quite some time. Nothing like Lot and his two daughters sleeping in a cave where the girls get their dad drunk and sleep with him. Of course, in school, we never read past the tenth chapter of Genesis; this information was only something that I could learn for myself. And we always got the Disney version of Samson, but I made sure to read the juicy details.

The idea of sex, or the notion of it, kept a separate space in my mind and I visited it often. I had no idea how it worked, and if the Bible was to be believed, it happened by “pleasing” each other. Whatever that meant. No. Sex was naked. Nudity was the sex that occupied my life. Breasts. Coy smiles. Flirtatious eyes. And 7-Eleven provided it.

All I wanted to be was like all the other boys on my street. I wanted to swear. I wanted to wear an AC/DC button on my shirt–even though I had no idea what they sounded like; all I knew was that my parents called them evil and that was good enough. And I wanted to ride my bike with all the other boys to 7-Eleven. My parents had promised that this summer I could join the other neighborhood kids and ride my bike to 7-Eleven. To buy Slurpees, of course! What every pubescent kid knew was that the magazine rack right beside the Slurpee machine had all the “dirty” magazines on them. We’d linger, pouring our sugary ice concoction out of the machine as slowly as we could. It was an art: Crank the handle just enough to get the machine pouring, but not enough that you’d have to watch the cup fill; stare at the covers of the sex magazines and let the Slurpee fill our cup while the come-hither stares of the cover models teased our tortured brains. I still remember the covers of Playboy and Penthouse that warm June. Playboy announced it’s Playmate for that year and she was dressed in while lacy panties and bra while waving a sheer frill over shoulders and behind her, her head tilted in the traditional Hey-I-Know-You’re-Looking-At-Me pose. But for all my puerile desires, I couldn’t see anything more on the cover than I could during a soap commercial on TV. Even Penthouse‘s cover model hid her breast behind a rose. Still, it was worth the trip.

It was a Saturday morning. The clouds lingered in the July sky painting the street outside my bedroom window in black and light silhouettes. The traffic on the 210 was picking up, trucks downshifting and engine breaks had been a part of my mornings and nights for the last three years. I’d been to the 7-Eleven three weekends now. It was ironic that the first Penthouse cover had a blue rose on it since it seemed like everything was coming up roses for me. I knew it was hard for my parents to relent and let me ride my bike the half-mile down Glendora Ave and across Arrow Highway. Just two years earlier, a neighbor kid had been hit by a car crossing Arrow on his way to pay an RV storage bill for his parents. I had begged my parents to let me go with him–we lived on Banna Ave. just five houses south of Arrow. My parents forced me to baseball practice instead. I lived to see his funeral.

“Be careful,” my mother would say as I shuffled my blue Webco BMX out the garage door and onto the driveway. Behind her words, I could see that boy’s funeral in her eyes.

“But, we cross at an intersection,” I pleaded. “He crossed where there were no lights.” It was a desperate plea that had fallen on deaf ears until this summer. The first ride down, I almost thought that I had seen my mother following us in her yellow–banana yellow–station wagon.

I dressed quietly while I watched the clouds drift lazily over the sky. It was going to be a warm day; you could feel the heat creeping along the ground, skulking like a serpent coiling to surprise. I wanted to slip out of the house without my parents knowing. Though I was able to ride with the kids, I knew that all it took was one fleeting whim of my father and I would be back to watching the boys ride past my bedroom window. Loathing my solitude and hoping their brains froze.

I crept across the oak floor that my father laid in a meticulous herringbone pattern, careful to avoid the loose strips that creaked beneath a misplaced footstep. I was so busy watching my feet that I nearly stumbled into my mother. She was dressed in a pair of blue jeans with a white blouse tucked into them. Her hair was already curled. A feat that required a blowdryer, curling iron, and a pint of hairspray. She had her blue knit jacket slung over her shoulder; she was always cold, even in the hottest days of August. Her black leather purse was sitting on the counter beside an empty plate. It wasn’t like her. I looked at her with a bit of surprise and she saw it.

“I’m going out this morning,” she said indifferently.

“Oh.” It was all I could muster. Saturday’s were her only day of rest. Monday through Friday she was shuttling me to and from school. Sunday she was rousing me from bed to go to church. It wasn’t unusual to see my dad out early. “Me, too.”

“Don’t forget breakfast,” she said as she picked up her purse.

“I won’t.” I watched my mother walk into the garage, the morning sun creeping across the garage floor, and into her banana yellow station wagon. My dad walked in from the den. He wore his usual summer morning fair: Torn, blue boxer shorts and a threadbare, white t-shirt.

“She’s got something at the church.” He said it as though I needed to know, as if it would offer some sort of conclusion to this morning’s randomness.

“Okay.”

As I ate breakfast I tried to put everything this morning out of my mind. In hindsight, I should have realized that something was stirring. After putting my empty bowl into the dishwasher I shouted out to dad that I was going up the street. What that meant was that I was going out looking for anyone who was home and could play.

Most of the kids on the street were older than me, and none went to my school. They were all in public school. That word was spoken in our house as though it had some sinister connotation; public school where they churned out the ungrateful heathens en masse. I went into the garage and pulled out my blue framed Webco bike with yellow pads across the neck, top frame, and handle bars. I was the only kid with pads on their bike, and I hated it. Despised it. A loathing festered each time I looked down at them. I had tempted fate once and taken them off and stashed the three violators of coolness in the bushes in our yard. Of course, I forgot to put them back on and when dad came home his laser keen awareness of all things amiss had spotted the violation before he’d closed his car door. I was grounded from my bike for a week. The pads became a condition to going to 7-Eleven. So, outwardly, I lived with the mockery from the older boys, but silently I stewed. It was just another resentment that I could file away into my psyche.

I spent the better part of an hour riding by myself. Eventually garage doors opened and kids wandered out. Shortly before noon, we were riding as a small group down Glendora Ave., past the enormous Baptist church, past old Lady Dowdy’s house, over the wash–really just a large concrete basin for rain runoff–and then we stopped cold in our tracks at the gas station across Arrow from the 7-Eleven.

I’m not really certain when my parents came to find religion, but like Americans, religion found them in the early eighties. My parents lapped at the fundamentalism that had put men like Falwell, Bakker and Swaggart on television and Reagan in the White House. Mom going to church on a warm July Saturday morning wasn’t really unusual. What was stood, no, marched, in front of my eyes along Arrow Highway.

“Is that your mom?”

I stood over my bike too dumbfounded to speak. My hands tensed and gripped the handlebars tightly.

“I think it is his mom,” another boy said derisively.

“What the fuck is she doing?”

Their signs read: END PORNOGRAPHY; SLURPEES AND SEX DON’T MIX; OH THANK HEAVEN/7-11/STOPS SELLING PORN

There were five of them. A small little army for God. My face burned with embarrassment. The light turned green and I watched the neighbor kids ride their bikes past my mother and her church friends. I stood, almost hovering, over my bike across the street. I just couldn’t go with them. Not past my mother in her buttoned up blouse holding a sign chastising porn. And just like that, my trips to 7-Eleven ended. I turned around and rode my bike home, alone. Before I got there, I stopped at a trashcan left out from garbage pick-up the day earlier, ripped off the three humiliating safety pads, and tossed them into the trash. If I’d get grounded from my bike, that was fine since there was no place to ride it anymore. At least I’d have the face of Ms. Playboy 1983 in my mind for a while.