Terry has begun writing a book of memoirs of his childhood. He started
with the intention of chronicling some of the more interesting musical anecdotes
from the early years, but as it went along he was continually drawn further
back into his youth and this story is one rough chapter.
When I was nine years old in 1959, like millions of kids everywhere,
Zorro was my hero. In my Grandfather's garage one summer day, I found a
large frayed sheet of black silk and made a makeshift cape out of it. I
began running and leaping through the garage, imagining heroic deeds and
acts of derring-do as I whipped my cape around my face and over my shoulder,
just as I'd seen Guy Williams do a few hundred times on the Disney t.v.
show. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware that my grandfather's garage also contained,
among the neat stacks of various rummages, an old car battery that was leaking
acid on the floor. On my fourth Zorro "whip", I managed to snap
one of the corners of the cape, which had soaked up some of the astringent
liquid, into my left eye. My grandmother, hearing my un-Zorro like screams,
was at my side in an instant, guiding me into the bathroom, and flushing
my burning, swollen eye with cool tap water. In spite of my fears of being
blinded and possibly becoming the only one-eyed super hero, I would retain
my full sight and live to whip my cape again.
I suppose my folks felt sorry for me after that and decided to buy me a real Zorro outfit for my birthday. For some strange reason, the Zorro packet didn't come with a sword, but it did contain a little black cumberbun along with the other accessories. I was again forced to improvise and eventually I found a short steel pole in my dad's garage that served my purposes. With my hat, mask, and now official Zorro cape in place, I slipped the sword into my cumberbun and was immediately off, running about my middle-class Norwalk neighborhood, dashing between houses and trees, leaping over fences and crouching behind bushes to secretly spy on my kid friends, who were now transformed into dastardly foes. I would slash at the air, slicing great Z patterns into the seat pants of my imaginary enemies, and making a whoosh whoosh whoosh sound with my voice. I could do this alone for hours, my imagination creating vast Mexican landscapes and sworn enemies wicked enough to receive the dreaded mark.
Mary lived across the street. She was a little blond girl two years younger than I, who I suppose, one could call my first official girlfriend. On our first date together, my mom took the two of us to a dance and I remember opening the door of the car for Mary and calling her "Dear" because it seemed proper and grown up. Mary didn't know that secretly I was Zorro, who was, of course, a complete gentlemen with the ladies, always smooth and debonair. Zorro was the perfect role model for a kid who didn't have much self confidence, especially with girls. So Zorro took Mary to the dance and wound up kissing her on the cheek at the end of the night.
I liked going over to Mary's on Saturdays, because her mom was divorced and usually away somewhere for a couple of hours shopping or something. We didn't do anything overtly sexual, (I think we played doctor with one of her dolls once, but that's as close as we got). No, I enjoyed going to Mary's house because "Tang", the breakfast drink, had come out on the market in 1959, and we liked to mix it with water from the kitchen tap and drink glass after glass of it. Later it would become the official drink of the astronauts, but there were no astronauts then. Those dirty Russians had launched the first unmanned satellite called "Sputnik" and as Americans we were embarrassed, angry, and I think a little frightened that we hadn't done it first. Sometimes at night our family would lie on the ground in our back yard and watch it pass overhead, a distant pulsing little dot against a canvas of stars in the days when you could still see the Milky Way in the skies above most of southern California. Anyway, Mary's mom kept several jars of the stuff in the cupboard, and fortunately for us, she didn't appear to be keeping an exact inventory of the powdered concoction's diminishing supply. I didn't really understand then why drinking it was so attractive. I don't think it was that good. It was kind of bitter and flat, and no matter how hard you mixed it, there was always a thick gunky residue of granulated sugar and chemicals left in the bottom of the glass. I guess drinking Tang for hours was attractive to Mary and me for reasons beyond it's novelty and taste. We were participating together in a ritual of personal liberty. No one was there to tell us we couldn't drink it, or to put limits on our consumption. Like grownups, we could drink it until we were bloated and sick and urinating like horses. Zorro was a man of self control. He would never have drank that much Tang, and being out of character myself at the time, I guess I let him down a little bit.
I've let him down a lot since, in greater and more consequential ways, and the outfit's uncomfortable and binding and better left in the attic of my childhood. Still, I can't keep my heart now and then from dusting it off, ironing out the wrinkles, and trying it on one more time, even though I know it's always going to be a lousy fit. God knows I'd like to be a hero, a cloaked savior of damsels in distress, a champion of the oppressed, a man among men, but when I take a hard honest look at myself, that nine year old pretender is right there, still laying low and slashing imaginary Z's into the air.