A few months ago when I started a Facebook page for work, and I was friended by someone I knew back in junior high school. And because Facebook’s algorithm suggests friends based on who you friend, a number of people I remember from junior high started popping up on the “suggested friends” sidebar of my profile page. Some of them I friended and later unfriended for a very simple reason: they never answered any messages from me asking how things were going. I figured if they were just friend whores, why bother having them in my group. But that started a whole flood of memories from that time. I messaged a friend (yes, a real friend) who I knew in 6th grade telling him how disappointed I was that these people I knew back in the day couldn’t be bothered to reply to a simple message (which is reprinted below):
You’ll like this… So, a friend of mine from jr. high friended me on FB and just like FB always does, all these names started filling up my suggested friend list. I decided to reconnect with a few of them and here’s what happened. 1. Two friend requests were accepted but they never answered my direct messages that were kind of “How’s everything going. Let’s catch up.” 2. One friend request resulted in the person deleting their profile. It’s probably a coincidence, but it was weird how quickly that profile disappeared. 3. I unfriended all the jr. high friends. At first, I thought it would be fun to see how things were going with them, but when I got the silent treatment, I was over reconnecting pretty quickly.
He thought the reason for the silent treatment was the pictures of bourbon that pepper my profile page from time to time (I guess I should post more pics of my family). And then he asked, about two mutual friends from 6th grade: Thayne and Leroy. Well, I’m as good of a Google monkey as the next person, so after a few keystrokes, I found out what happened to Thayne — and sort of found out about Leroy.
But first let’s go back to 1976…
I was in 6th grade (it was my third elementary school), and I had made three really close friends: Doug, Thayne and Leroy. We bonded over skateboards and KISS. Yes, KISS. The rock group with the painted faces, pyrotechnics, hard rocking songs, and amazing bombast. Just what 12 year old boys love. We were obsessive about the band. Loved almost every song, poured over the lyrics, stared at the album covers for hours while listening to their music over and over and over. Whenever we had free time at school, we would draw their logo on our binders, on notebook paper, used chalk to write on the sidewalk…whatever. We were part of the KISS Army, and for us it was our band. It didn’t matter that they happened to be one of the biggest acts of the ’70s and adored by millions of other kids who were roughly our age, we claimed them as our own and KISS was going to shape our identity for years. We talked about learning how to play guitar so we could learn KISS songs, or how each of us would be what member of KISS (I claimed Gene Simmons). In hindsight, it was a pretty silly obsession, but in the mid-’70s it was an obsession that worried parents and school teachers — and sometimes for good reason as you’ll see why.
Like I said, at school we were just as obsessive about KISS as we were at home. Our teachers– at first sympathetic to our desire to immerse ourselves in music — let us play our albums during lunch using a crappy record player that kind of looked like this:
We were girlfriendless in 6th grade — except for Leroy who had a girlfriend that year (and yes, I was envious). She and her friend would often listen to records with us during our lunch recess. One day, another kid came in and started taunting Leroy’s girlfriend with some lewd talk, but Leroy wasn’t there, so I stood up for her and pushed the guy against the wall and told him get out. He started to leave, but then turned and knocked the tone arm of the record player so the record scratched, and then left saying “Oh, and KISS is stupid…just like you.” The teacher heard what was going on, and we were banned from bringing KISS records to school because it was causing too much of disruption. Did that stop us? Nope. I snuck my copy of Destroyer into my desk so I could look at it when school got boring.
Because we were KISS geeks/obsessives, we were also obsessed with Gene Simmons’ ability to blow fire. Determined to do the same, we bought Bic lighters and took them into the boys restroom to try and imitate Gene Simmons. We would stick the lighters into our mouths and depress the red tab to release the butane gas. We were stupid for doing this, but we weren’t so dumb as to inhale it. Instead we let the gas fill the inside of our mouth (while holding our breath) and then when the time was right, someone would hit the restroom lights, and one of us would attempt to blow fire by lighting the Bic and blowing the butane gas at the flame. It didn’t work very well until one day Leroy blew this magnificent blue and yellow flame that looked just like Gene Simmons. Everyone in the bathroom was in awe. It was just the most amazing thing we had seen: one of us has crossed over from wannabe fire blower, to the real thing. Well, that incident got back to our teachers, and true to form, we couldn’t bring lighters to school anymore.
Okay. Lighters were out. What was left? Well, spitting blood of course! We knew that Gene Simmons spat fake blood stored in easy to puncture bladders in his mouth, but we didn’t have any way to procure those. But we did have these:
And when you put a bunch of these cinnamon flavored candies into your mouth, it activates your saliva glands. After awhile, you have a mouth full of (wait for it!) fake blood — which you could spit all over the ground and gross out the girls (and boys with weak stomachs). Like I said, we were KISS obsessives.
One day, a group of us were hanging out in a field during our lunch hour. What were we talking about? If you said “not KISS” you’re not paying attention to this story. We were lamenting the fact that we couldn’t blow fire, that we were banned from spitting blood during school hours, and we couldn’t listen to our records at lunch anymore. Leroy — who was obsessed with fire and Pepsi Cola — had a can of lighter fluid on him and proceeded to write K-I-S-S with it on the dryish grass field where we were sitting. And then Doug, being every bit of a pyro as the rest of us, took out a book of matches, struck one, and ignited the fuel causing the letters to burn — which started to spread to other parts of the field. We tried to stomp the fire out, but it started to grow. Doug and I ran to get help, and as the teachers sprinted to the field to see if us shouting fire was true, Leroy had the fire out (he used my sweater to throw it over the open flame). Well, that little stunt got us hauled into the principal’s office for a “talking to.” Our punishment: we had to stay after school for a week, our parents had to come in and speak with the principal, and we were told in no uncertain terms that we were not to play with fire, use Bic lighters, and could not buy Red Hots. As far a KISS went, they were akin to the devil for inspiring our antics, and except for Thayne and me, we couldn’t listen to that music anymore.
Did that stop us? Not really. It all became very clandestine. We mostly listened to KISS at Thayne’s house, playing air guitar, and singing along with the songs. Did we attempt to blow fire? No. Spit blood? Nope. Paint our faces? Yep. As much as we could.
As these things go, our love of KISS waned by the middle of 7th grade (at least for me). And what happened to the closeness of our group? It started to break apart as soon as we started junior high. Leroy was a Native American and he was at our school because he was living with a Mormon family who participated in a program that brought Native American children from the reservation to their homes for the school year. After 7th grade, Leroy’s Mormon family moved to another city and we lost touch. When I was around 25, I got his last known address and wrote to him, but the letter came back with “Address unknown” stamped on the envelope. Doug and I grew apart as I found new friends, as did he, and he moved to another school. But Thayne and I remained friends ’til the end of 7th grade when I got admitted into an 8th grade program our school started for higher performing kids (it was called Unified Studies). He must have felt like he was standing still while I was “moving up” because he didn’t want anything to do with me after that. We would acknowledge each other in the halls, but it was clear that he was running with a new crowd (as was I), and our mutual interest in skateboards and KISS was something in the past.
Flash forward to 2012…
Doug and I reconnected about six or seven years ago through email, IM, and blogging. When he asked about Leroy and Thayne on Facebook, I did some quick searches and found out the following:
Thanye: His father died in March of 2011, and about 8 months later, Thayne was arrested for drinking in his vehicle, not having any auto insurance, and contempt of court. In January of 2012, he was arrested again for theft, and by July of the same year, he died of a “prolonged illness.”
Doug: Went to college, got a degree in computer science (I believe), worked for a number of companies (including CompuServe), now works at OCLC in Ohio and develops a series of apps for the iPhone and iPad under the company name, Funky Visions.
Me: Well, if you read this blog, you know that I went to college as well, graduated with a BA, two MAs and a PhD. I work in the radio industry now and am married and have a daughter.
Leroy: Went back to the reservation in Arizona, and according to one jewelry store’s website in the state, he makes authentic Native American jewelry. I emailed the store to see if they had any contact info, and they wrote back that they didn’t. In 2015, I contacted the mother who hosted Leroy in her home back in the ’70s and she said that his sister told her that he developed a problem with drinking and was not doing well. She also said he had some problems with his family and the courts and would probably end up in jail.