, September 2023

On a cold Sunday evening in late January 1983, two weeks after his Father had moved out, Carl, now ten, having enjoyed his brief tenure as man of the house, headed downstairs in his pajamas to retrieve his Hardy Boys book, #39, The Mystery of the Chinese Junk, which he had left in the TV den. His younger brother and sister were in bed and his mother was in her bedroom, thus the den light was off, but he knew the book was on top of the radiator cover and did not bother to turn it on.

In the dark, just as his hand had taken hold of the book, a man’s voice said, “Howdy, Carl.”

Carl screamed and ran out of the room yelling, “Intruder! Intruder! Call 9-1-1!”

Upstairs, the door to his mother’s bedroom opened—

“It’s me, babe,” the man called from the den.

“Carl, stop!” his mother ordered.

Carl stopped, but was still scared out of his mind. The man stepped into the light of the living room, a short but muscular guy with black hair and a Burt Reynolds mustache, blue jeans and a pack of Kent cigarettes rolled into the sleeve of his v-neck like Schneider on the edge of town—

“Carl, this is Rick,” his mother said, her son realizing that this was the man who’d cuckolded his father.

They were engaged in March, with a “wedding” planned for late autumn.

*     *     *

On a scorching Saturday afternoon in August, Rick had his two sons at the house—Carl’s future “stepbrothers”, who were the same age as he and his sister, she two years younger—and they all piled into Rick’s Disco-era custom van with the yellow, brown, and orange paint job and the waterbed in the back, and headed out on the Southern State Parkway to “look at a house in Massapequa”.

At first, Carl thought nothing of the expedition, assuming they were just doing some weird boring shit like they usually did on the days Rick had his kids—bird watching, digging for worms, going to Radio Shack, driving out to Shoreham to see the nuclear power plant under construction—but, during the half-hour ride, he realized what was happening and started growing concerned—

They stopped at the 7-Eleven on Merrick Road in Massapequa to get sodas for the kids, and, for the adults, a carton of Kent and a twelve-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, which they would pour into empty Coca-Cola cans while on the road. Unlike Carl’s tightfisted government employee father, Rick, a high-salaried corporate executive, was loose with his wallet and allowed each of the kids their own 128-ounce Big Gulp, Carl mixing every kind of non-diet soda into his, while the other children took theirs straight.

Ten minutes later, on Fox Boulevard in swank Biltmore Shores, home of the legendary Biltmore Beach Club, Rick had to pull over and hurriedly slide open the door to allow his youngest son to puke up his gallon of Dr. Pepper on someone’s driveway, then hurry back behind the wheel and roar away—

A couple of minutes later they turned onto Shoreham Road, where, waiting in the driveway of a house in the middle of the block, smoking a cigarette, was a woman in her 40s wearing a mustard Century 21 blazer over a leather miniskirt and high-heels—

“Howdy,” said Rick, clad in flowery red Hawaiian shirt, white shorts, and sandals, extending his hand, a freshly lit Kent dangling from his lips—

There was a large side yard that looked good for Wiffle Ball. The house itself seemed nothing special—a ranch with a big dormer on the back side, a concrete patio in the back overlooking a koi pond with a waterfall, and an attached garage. The interior was early 1960s suburbia, but nice, including a high-ceilinged living room with three skylights that flooded the room with light, and a finished basement with rock walls and a fully-equipped bar with working soda fountain and beer taps—

“Neil Diamond used to mingle in this very basement,” the real estate lady said. “He used to live over on Frankel, right around the block, and belonged to the Beach Club. He was friends with the current owners, who are retiring to Islamorada.”

“Really,” Rick said, sounding impressed, another Kent dangling from his lips as he spoke, creating a Burma cloud of smoke in front of his face.

“Oh, yes,” the woman said, a bit flirtatiously, which was noticed by Carl’s mother, who’d never had to worry about this sort of thing with her first husband. “He wrote ‘Love on the Rocks’ right on that very bar over there. Also, two houses down, there’s a house full of musicians who were fired from Billy Joel’s band. You can hear them when you drive by, even when you have the windows rolled up and the radio on.”

They moved in three weeks later. A few days into the unpacking, their mother took Carl and his siblings to Birch Lane Elementary and enrolled them. Carl would never see his West Hempstead friends again.

*     *     *

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in their new living room, officiated by six-foot-ten Pastor Luther Roller from the closest Lutheran church in the area—”Our Redeemer” in Seaford, Massapequa’s neighbor to the west—his mother wed husband No. 2.

Carl, his brother, and Rick’s two sons were clad in matching light blue button-downs with navy-blue clip-on ties, gray trousers, and black oxfords from Sears, and his sister in a white and pink dress and black shoes, also from Sears.

As bride and groom kissed, the room dimmed, and a torrential rain began to fall. Moments later, the power went out in the entire neighborhood. Three blocks over, on Lagoon Boulevard, the downpour had flushed the snapper right out of the canal, covering the road with flopping, diesel-coated fish. ▪