I had an AM/FM clock radio with green, glowing digits. The radio dial was backlit unevenly so at night you could see the numbers on the left, but not the right. Not that I ever looked at the numbers anyway. I just turned the knob and listened for a clear signal. I knew roughly where the big stations were. Jazz and classical on the left. Pop in the middle. I always shared a bedroom with my twin brother, Dave. And we’d lie in our beds at night, windows open, and listen to Elton John or Diana Ross or King Harvest or Looking Glass or Spiral Starecase or Rudi Vallee or whatever music might be on. We didn’t have much choice. We had three or four stations that came in clearly at night, and only one that played pop. We were subjected to a particular litany of songs just as we were subjected to a particular litany of food and classes and news stories. We didn’t have much choice. The same went with TV. On one particular night in the week, we had an especially poignant choice to make. We could watch Batman or The Wild Wild West, which we didn’t like as much, it being very complex and nuanced. But we missed a lot of Batman because The Wild Wild West lasted an entire hour, which was a half hour longer than Batman. We had to go to bed after the show was over. Which, in retrospect, doesn’t seem fair, but we didn’t question it because we didn’t have any choice in that matter. Either way, we’d be lying in bed before we knew it, windows open, watching those green digits glowing, listening to the same music everyone else in the country was listening to which, I suppose, still binds us together. Gives us the feeling that we are of a particular generation.
I thought all of life would be this way. Our choices would be clear-cut and few. We would have the choice between the station that played Dave Brubeck or the one that played Don McLean. We could read Erica Jong or J.R. Tolkien. We could throw the ring in the crack of doom or not. We could be the good guy or the bad guy. Like Goofus and Gallant in Children’s Highlights magazine. These, I imagined, were the choices waiting for us. And for a wife? It would be a choice between Betty and Veronica, two women who were exactly the same in every detail except for their hair color. I don’t know why Veronica appealed to me so much more than Betty. I saw her as the more edgy one. More dangerous and nuanced. Like the dark side of the dial. And she had a better name. What better name than Veronica? And that red lipstick. Those perky little hatch marks on her cheeks.
When we got out of eighth grade, we got to choose between Westford Academy and Nashoba Tech. I lost a lot of friends to Nashoba. And I was jealous at first. They seemed to have more fun in their classes. Auto repair. Carpentry. Machine shop. But you do burn bridges in life. You want The Wild Wild West? Okay. But you’re going to miss Batman.
So, I became a Westford Academy Grey Ghost. Not that I played football. I may have been small, but I was slow and weak. That sounds like a joke. But it was the truth. So really, my non-participation in football wasn’t exactly a choice I made. I could have chosen football all day long, but football hadn’t chosen me. That was just the way things were. And it wasn't as if our football team was hard to make. We weren't good. I don’t think we won a single game in 1980, my senior year. Our mascot, Casper the Ghost, might have had something to do with it. Not very fierce.
After high school, our quarterback died in a tragic car accident. His car was crushed beneath a lumber truck on the highway. That’s the way I heard it anyway. Every class has at least one tragedy. Some classes have more than one. Four guys, for example, one from the class of ’78 and three from the class of ’79 burned to death after their car hit a tree on Route 110. The rest of us graduated.
Most of us did, anyway. Nobody figured the class of ’80 would amount to much. The principal publicly referred to us as the “Teenage Wasteland,” on one occasion, and "a bunch of assholes" on another. At the pep club rallies, when the cheerleaders called for us to give them a “W,” we never did. We didn’t shout. Didn’t stand up. We just sat there, almost proud that nothing was expected of us, and that we were able to oblige.
Some of us went to Ivy League schools. Some of us went to state schools. Some of us didn’t go to any schools at all. It was a pretty cut-and-dried choice we made at that point in our lives. Combined, as it was, with all those other simple choices we had made previously. Homework or TV? Adam West or Robert Conrad? The left side of the dial or the right? A, B, C, D, or E? Filling in those little egg-shaped spaces with our number two pencils.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the woman I fell in love with and married looked exactly like Veronica. I think it was Archie who gave me the confidence to ask her out in the first place. I never saw anything in the least bit attractive about Archie, a red-headed doofus with freckles. Just like I was. But Archie, apparently, had some hidden talents. Because he had his choice between two beautiful, albeit identical, women.
It used to bother me, the idea that there could be such a thing as fate and, at the same time, free will. But I don’t worry about that stuff anymore. We wept for Dave and Jamie and Paul and Rich and Mark, none of whom chose to die so young. We celebrated our graduation. And we found our way. We fell in love. We had families of our own. Things happened to us. And things happened because of us. And all these things mixed together, all these choices and circumstances, are the blessings and curses we carry with us.