I had lots of friends growing up in Boston; there was so much to do. Yet, my two best friends were Rocky and Todd. We were the Three Musketeers. We were always together.
With only three channels to watch, channels 4, 5, and 7, until they developed and aired channels 38 and 56, we never stayed in to watch television. We were always out playing.
We all had nicknames back then. Most times I never knew my friend's real names, just their nicknames. I was Blackie. I liked that name because there was a detective show on years, decades ago, where the main character was a Private Eye named Boston Blackie. So, since my favorite card was the ace of spades and since I was from Boston, like the real Boston Blackie, at least his character in the show that was created by Jack Boyle, I decided to emulate him. That's what we did as kids. Some kids picked a sports star to emulate while others picked a movie star.
Most kids back then fought over who they were going to be. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale were popular favorites. In our neighborhood it was Ted Williams of Boston Red Sox fame or the great Celtics Center Bill Russell or Gino Cappelletti of the New England Patriots or Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins. Gino was a popular sports star to emulate because he was Italian and because most of us were Italian and grew up in an Italian neighborhood.
Todd, we used to call him Odd Todd because, well, he was weird. He emulated Truman Capote, the writer of In Cold Blood fame. Odd Todd had difficulty in choosing because he wasn't sure if he wanted to be Oscar Wilde or Truman Capote. To us, both of those guys were gay choices. That was when we seriously started wondering about Todd. See, I told you he was weird. Now, you know why we called him Odd Todd.
Rocky on the other hand was our hero. He was a great athlete and an excellent boxer. He looked a little like Rocky Marciano, which is why we called him Rocky or maybe he named himself that. I don't remember it was so long ago. All the girls in the neighborhood had a crush on him. He looked a little like Fonzy only bigger and better built. Rocky was never without his leather jacket. I swear he wore that and his engineer boots even in the summer. He was cool. And if you hung out with Rocky, that made you cool, too. Although, there are always exceptions to the rule of being cool and Todd was certainly the exception. There was no way that Todd could ever be cool.
I was a regular kid. I did well in school and had a liking for math and science until I discovered my real love was writing. I played some sports but I wasn't very coordinated. I never played organized sports. Being a Leo the lion, I am not much of a team player. I much rather be a leader than a follower.
Odd Todd never participated in any sports. He liked cooking. He was the only kid in our group who knew how to sew. His mother was disabled and in a wheelchair from Polio when she was a girl and Odd Todd was proud of the fact that he helped his mother make the drapes in their living room and bedroom. Now, can you imagine a kid being proud of that? Let me tell you, he was the butt of our jokes for a long time. Whenever we ripped our pants playing baseball or tag, we'd tease Todd about stitching our pants. He never lived that down.
When the rest of us were forced to take music lessons, I had to take accordion lessons being that my mother was Italian; Rocky took trumpet but Todd took dance lessons, ballet. Boy, he really did dance to a different drummer. When the rest of us kept rhythm to the same beat, we could count on Todd to do something totally contrary to the rest of us. We were always walking away from him shaking our heads.
For example, he helped the girls put on a fashion show in Home Economics class. He was the only boy in that class and had to get a written note from his mother to take the class. She wanted him to learn how to cook and clean house after his Dad passed away. You cannot imagine how much teasing he took from that.
Rocky was always at the gym working out, even then, when no one worked out except for Jack LaLanne. When Rocky wasn't punching his heavy bag, he was punching someone out. He was definitely the toughest kid in the neighborhood.
In hindsight, now that I think of it, we were three very diverse individuals. I wonder how we ever got together as friends. I was the brainy one of the three, Rocky was the muscle, and Todd was our effeminate one.
It was years later that I bumped into Todd. He was getting out of a Rolls Royce in Las Angeles. It was 1985. He was doing well selling his motivation and relaxation tapes. He had seminars all over the country. He even wrote a cookbook that he was hawking. I met his wife, Veronica, a tall, buxom and very beautiful blonde who looked a bit like Loni Anderson of WKRP in Cincinnati fame, only she was better looking and without the goofy lips. Todd was no longer odd but cool.
"Todd, how are you doing?" I could not believe I recognized him after so many years but he looked the same.
"Freddie." He gave me a hug. "How are you?" I could not believe he recognized me. I guess I looked the same, too, after twenty years.
"Good, Todd, good. I'm out here on vacation with my wife. She's back at the hotel."
"This is my wife, the love of my life, Veronica."
Veronica was one of those visually stimulating women who you could not remove your eyes. She was drop dead gorgeous. You could tell by her hair color and her complexion that she was a natural blonde. She looked like one of those beauty queens that always emerge from out of Texas to win Miss America.
"Have you heard from Rocky?"
The color suddenly drained from his face.
"Rocky died, Freddie."
"No way? How? Did he punch out the wrong person? Was he in a police shootout? What happened?"
"Rocky died of AIDS in San Francisco. He was gay."
"Rocky was gay? No way!" I looked at him disbelieving what he just said figuring it was a joke. Disturbingly, it bothered me more that he was gay than that he was dead. I looked at Todd in his powder blue polyester leisure suit. "I always figured you were the one who was gay."
"Me? Gay? Why?"
"Well, you know how you struggled over picking Truman Capote over Oscar Wilde, and you took that Home Economics class in Junior High School, and then when you took ballet lessons, well, what were we to think."
"I can assure you, Todd is not gay." She laughed grabbing him by the arm and kissing him on the lips.
"Well, Freddie, if you must know. I loved to read and Capote and Wilde were two of my favorite authors back then and still are. The Home Economics class, as well as the ballet classes, was because of my Mom being crippled and confined to a wheelchair. She needed me to help out around the house. It was just the two of us. And ballet was always something that she had wanted to learn as a little girl but could not because of her Polio. When I took the lessons, they were for her more than for me. She lived through me vicariously in that regard when it came to dance."
I felt like such a moron.
"I'm sorry, Todd. I feel like a fool. So, what happened to Rocky?"
"Well, he was shacked up with some guy who was not as faithful to their relationship as was he. I heard the guy was really promiscuous picking up sailors at the bus and train stations and doing them in the men's room. I think the guy watched the Midnight Cowboy one too many times. The funny thing is that he is still alive and Rocky is dead."
All this time, I thought that Rocky had taken his name from the late, great boxer Rocky Marciano but, actually, he took the name from Rock Hudson. He knew that the actor was gay even back then before the rest of us knew and before he came out of the closet.
Finding out that Rocky was gay taught me not to stereotype people. We are all God's children, after all, and have the right to live our lives however we see fit, so long as we respect others to do the same.