I was fat. Ed was ugly. Charles was handsome and charming and rich.
The three of us acted as a tight trio at Xavier High School in Manhattan and at home in Brooklyn and, during the summers of 1984 and 85, on the bonny, bonny banks of Lake Mohawk in bucolic Sparta, New Jersey, where Charles's family owned a beautiful Swiss Chalet summer home.
And there was a girl there in Sparta who we called Madonna Boots.
When we met this young lady, though, nobody knew her as Madonna Boots. Her proper moniker was Melissa. And the song that defined the moment was "If This Is It" by Huey Lewis and the News, the video for which was in berserk hyper-rotation on MTV.
Music Television was an endless indulgence of our occasional weekend jaunts to Sparta, as cable wouldn't come to the outer boroughs of The Greatest City in the World until after we graduated high school (which was also about a quarter-century after the locals had been begun enjoying it in Mississippi and Idaho and Hawaii and other cosmopolitan hotspots).
Plus this was the swelter season of 1984, and we were in the thick of one of those once-an-adolescence (if you're lucky) explosions of indelible pop milestones that by included "Sister Christian", the theme from Ghostbusters, "Oh, Sherry" by Steve Perry, Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, "Magic" and "You Might Think" by The Cars, Van Halen's 1984 album, ZZ Top's Eliminator, "When Doves Cry" by Prince getting played on album-rock FM stations, and The Boss's Born in the USA juggernaut if you were into that sort of thing and - given the very specific time and location -- we were.
"Borderline" by Madonna was everywhere, too, coming out of car radios and in stores and - much to the chafing endangerment of my dink - on video.
On top of that, Melissa and her sister Ingrid were really into singing "867-5309," a hit from two years earlier - a length of time that seems, when you're 15, like an eon ago.
Such nostalgia momentarily made those girls come off as sort of interesting. The fan letter they wrote to "Sunglasses at Night" crooner Corey Hart, however, dashed any such hopes of my having found fellow oddball pop obsessives (and female ones at that).
Alas, after we first met Melissa while patrolling Lake Mohawk on Charles's little speedboat, the blonde cheerleader from the affluent North Jersey suburbs did what came naturally and carnally took up with the one us sporting the Ralph Lauren get-ups the fancy waterfront getaway and the corporeal appearance closest to what most would deem humanly acceptable.
The Big Event was Charles's first time and Melissa's fifteenth or ninety-third or seven-hundredth or who-could-possibly-know-however-many (and that included Melissa herself). Charles and Melissa didn't last long as a couple, but he got what we were pressuring him to get and she got another penis to further prop up the pyramid she seemed to be building.
Indeed, Sparta's premier pom-pom purveyor had been around, and she didn't hesitate to let anyone know it. Melissa also boasted about doing a stretch in a psychiatric facility where, she claimed, she had met political scion and recent overdose fatality David Kennedy. That was one hell of a name-drop.
Invariably, Melissa would start talking about her nut-hut stay - and the behavior that, presumably, prompted it - in sober-faced, confessional tones, but each description rapidly escalated into giddiness and defiant bragging, as though she were saying: "I got caught jacking off three different weight lifters three different times in front of three different gym lockers and, last year, I got down to eighty pounds and they took my shoelaces from me in the hospital, and what have you ever done, HUH?"
On top of this, Melissa was also very, very dumb.
Perhaps that's not fair. The more accurate term might be "oblivious." It was around this time that news reports appallingly proclaimed that most high-school students couldn't locate the United States on a world map or name more than two presidents or do anything that came easy to me - a lifelong D-minus student - and whenever such talk cropped up, Melissa always leapt to mind ... thinking about John Waite records and swallowing cock and nothing else.
However one might describe her condition, I saw Melissa's double-whammy of mental illness and pronounced lack of general intelligence as my in.
On one level, I wanted to know more about how Melissa had obtained help with her head. I'd been aching to see a psychiatrist at least since Annie Hall aired uncut on ABC in 1978, and certainly since I'd fashioned a noose in the family garage and stood on a ladder with it secured around my neck as a means of relaxing when I was 11.
Truly driving me, though, was what I avoided catching sight of in the shower --- an eighth-of-a-ton of hanging blubber slopped onto a weakling frame that was coated with cystic acne, highlighted by free-clinic wire-frames that crawled with green fungus as a result of resting on my oil-gushing, oversized cheeks.
"Dom Deluise with zits and glasses," was how somebody put it, sincerely not trying to be hurtful.
More common, though, (and now a source of pride) was simply: "Ebert."
Even my aunts and uncles pointed out the resemblance that was made uncanny by the passion for movies I shared with the great critic.
I loved Roger Ebert then and I love him now, but it distressed me to no end as an adolescent to know that he'd never been married. Unwilling bachelorhood, it seemed inescapable, would be my fate too.
"What I need," I once told a friend, "is a girl who's been blind since birth and has no feeling in her hands, arms, face or midsection. And maybe deaf, too, because I always say stuff that chicks hate."
In lieu of hunting down any such Jilly-Got-Her-Gun-type, I took a crack at pressing the flesh once with the single looniest, stupidest individual I'd ever met.
Writing was the only thing I was any good at, and I carried on all sorts of letter correspondences with friends and relatives and Howard Stern tape-traders and even my buddy Mark's mother, who was really into horror movies.
With this in mind, I scribbled Melissa's address down and, upon beginning my junior year of high-school, embarked on a bombastic mail campaign to win her scrambled head and polluted heart.
Since there was no way I (or you or a potted plant) could communicate on Melissa's level, I simply wrote to her as though she were the ideal love-mate of my wildest dreams. I employed loopy language and obscure cultural references and I pondered politics, believing that this would dazzle my intended. And it did, I think.
The first time Melissa wrote back, the envelope included the stick from a Blow-Pop she'd eaten. I didn't remove that thing from mouth until it simply dissolved and then I just swallowed.
Aside from scrawling countless pages on countless yellow pads (my preferred medium), I was also a big-time practitioner of the lost art of letters-on-tape.
It was a common practice once, wherein you'd talk into a recorder and then mail the cassette to somebody who'd return the gesture. My taped missives were major undertakings, however, that included sound effects, movie clips, and original comedy bits. I'm sure they were horrible. But this was my radio nerd side in action and I loved doing it.
I never recorded my single most triumphant use of audio trickery, though. My family shared a backyard with a synagogue named Young Israel of Avenue K. One Friday night in 1985, world-famous radical Jewish separatist Meir Kahane was speaking at Young Israel, and his appearance attracted thousands - regular worshippers, pro-Kahane demonstrators, anti-Kahane demonstrators, reporters, cops, curious bystanders, and one gussied-up black lady about whom I still wonder.
Seeing this brouhaha from my bedroom, I quickly cut together sounds of helicopters, machine guns, and bombs, and I aimed my stereo speakers out the window.
"Children of Zion!" I shouted into a microphone while crouched out of sight. "Run for your lives! The God of Abraham exerts his wrath now!" Then I let loose with a soundtrack of all-out warfare.
Fortunately for me, and all those gathered, there was so much crowd noise that my incendiary broadcast didn't stir the trouble I was hoping for. But it got me thinking about new ways I could use audio tricks to my advantage.
The first tape-letter I sent to Melissa included news about school, a riff on how much I hated the TV show The Facts of Life but how I'd seen every single episode ever broadcast (which was a repeat of my earlier experience with The Brady Bunch), and some musical selections.
My first song choice was, cannily, "The Final Cut" by Pink Floyd, which contained lyrics that had rattled me soul-deep upon hearing them and now never fail to me wince:
"There's a kid who had a big hallucination
The next part is even more awful:
"And if I show you my dark side
And it wraps up with:
"Thought I oughta bare my naked feelings
Believing those words would be too subtle for Melissa, I bolstered the song's pleas with the most ragingly controversial practice of the high PMRC-era: subliminal messaging.
Unlike Pink Floyd (them again) on The Wall or accused abusers Judas Priest on Stained Class or whoever the mad genius was on the Mr. Ed theme (which, when spun in reverse, plainly states, "Someone sang a song for Satan" and "The source is the devil" - I swear!), backward-masking proved beyond my lo-fi capabilities.
My solution, then, when I recorded "The Final Cut" onto cassette for Melissa, was to simultaneously whisper the communiqués I wanted to implant in her mind into a microphone so that they'd be barely audible, but still there.
This is what I said:
"I want to have sex with Mike McPadden ... I want to have sex with Mike McPadden ... I want to have sex with Mike McPadden ... I want to have sex with Mike McPadden ...."
Over and over, I chanted that suggestion in a murmur for the duration of the song.
Left at that, such desperation comes off as kind of charming, but subsequent tapes included tunes laced with messages that don't make me giggle upon reflection. Among them:
"I will go back to the hospital if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ... I will go back to the hospital if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ... I will go back to the hospital if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ... I will go back to the hospital if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ..."
"My sister Ingrid will die if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ... My sister Ingrid will die if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ... My sister Ingrid will die if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ... My sister Ingrid will die if I don't have sex with Mike McPadden ... "
That last one played under "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, sending quite the mixed signal, I'm sure.
Proud I may not be of this, but let me assure you that Tipper Gore and company might have been on to something.
My letters and tapes to Melissa eventually gave way to telephone chats (made by me from a pizzeria phone booth using a credit card number pilfered by Ed from somebody's parents who'd left it out - teenagers, ain't they just the best?). And, in time, talk turned in the direction toward which I'd been steering.
"I thought of you the other day," Melissa told me. "We were watching that movie Revenge of the Nerds, and that part where the cheerleader has sex with the nerd and it's really good, and he says that's because nerds think about sex all the time and jocks just think about sports and so that's why nerds are better at sex - that made me think, 'That's like Mike!'"
"Yeah," I said, "that's true. Everything in Revenge of the Nerds is true."
"And Booger reminded me of you, too," she added.
This sent my ego through the roof of Sal's Pizza. Booger, as played by Curtis Armstrong, is an unwashed, beer-swilling, slob - but NOT FAT!
The wedge was in place. Clearly. Now I had to get it out of my pants and into Melissa's.
The summer of 1985 opened on two significant personal notes. It was the first time in three years that I wasn't sentenced to summer school (due, mostly, to how easy it had been to cheat in eleventh-grade math). It also marked my introduction to gainful employment.
Courtesy of somebody's Irish-American organized-crime connections, I'd been hired to run elevators in a luxury apartment complex on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
What a gig that turned out to be. After a two-hour commute from Flatbush, I manned my car from four in the afternoon until midnight. The only free time was a half-hour meal break at 5:30. It was strictly verboten to sit, read, listen to music, or engage one's passengers in conversation. My days off were Tuesday and Wednesday. It was pretty tough to work for that particular weekend.
At least the staff consisted of resentful Third-Worlders and the boss was a drunken off-the-boat Mick asshole and the other summer-work kids were pampered Long Island pricks and the teenaged tenants were privileged New-Wave jerkoffs out enjoying the sunshine and there was a bike messenger who liked to pat my fat gut and tell me to try some low-calorie food.
We didn't even have those cool, old elevators with the hand control that you could drive. My task consisted entirely of pressing buttons for the sort of likable individuals who would pay to keep humans in boxes to push buttons for them.
One thing kept me going: that Revenge of the Nerds conversation.
Well, that and Madonna. Lord, the Material Prostitute was everywhere that summer, still pumping hits off the Like a Virgin album ("Dress You Up" being the big one come August) and getting married to Sean Penn and turning up in simultaneous issues of Playboy and Penthouse that were literally rushed to New York newsstands in the middle of the night in an attempt to scoop one another.
I know that last part because my pal Rich and I stood outside the Kings Highway subway stop's magazine kiosk at 3am, waiting for the trucks to pull up.
Remarkably, my beloved New York Post beat both slap-mags to the pump. The photos being published in the glossies were black-and-white art modeling shots that Madonna had posed for in her early, gloriously unshaven twenties.
The Saturday edition of the Post actually included a topless shot of Our Lady of Pubescent Corruption. It was the one where she's petting a cat and it was right there on, like, page four. Nipples and everything. And I studied every inch of that torn-out image in my elevator, which I took to the sub-basement and cut the power from, just long enough to masturbate to it. Six times. That day.
The influence of Madonna across the Hudson River on troubled suburban adolescent females - particularly, it seemed, if they were blonde - can not be underestimated.
Melissa asked me to describe, in rigorous detail, every Madonna photograph in Playboy and Penthouse. I was happy to oblige. Such talk was, I reasoned, the closest I would ever come to bona fide sexual experience. I was also really wigged out and turned on beyond belief by Madonn'a armpit hair in the pictures, but I kept mum about that lest it seem "gay."
Perusing the magazines while on the phone with Melissa, I (sort of) joked: "This is the best birthday present a boy could ever hope for!"
"That's right," Melissa said. "You're birthday's coming up. How old are you going to be?"
"Seventeen," I answered.
"SEVENTEEN!" Melissa shrieked back. "And you're STILL a VIRGIN?!?"
"God!" Melissa huffed. "That is the most pathetic thing I've ever heard."
"Oh, I bet I could top that if I really tried..."
"Seventeen and still a virgin," she marveled. "That is fucking lame. I can't know anybody who's that big a loser. I'll fuck you."
Now I may (or may not) have picked up on flirtatious talk from Melissa in the past, which I took mostly to be semi-good-natured mean-spirited jokes (if that makes any goddamned sense), e.g. - "You're so hot and gorgeous, Mike. How can any woman resist you? HAW-HAW-HAW!" But there was some germ of sincerity to this declaration that hit me as ... legit.
She really might do me this mitzvah.
Holy FUCK! Those subliminal messages might have WORKED!
"You'll de-virginize me, huh?" I asked. "Well, you know, I am going to be in Sparta with Charles and Ed on my birthday."
"Yeah, yeah," Melissa said. "I'll make sure you're not seventeen and still a virgin, which I still can't believe is possible. But what present are you going to give me if I do it?"
"You tell me," I said. "I make big-time elevator operator bucks now."
"Okay," Melissa mused, "I will fuck you if ... if ... [she was thinking] ... if you bring me ... [really hard] ... if you bring me boots like Madonna wore in Desperately Seeking Susan! You know the boots I'm talking about?"
This footwear, I was familiar with.
I had seen Desperately Seeking Susan several times after having made love to the newspaper ad and the Rolling Stone cover featuring Madonna and co-star Rosanna Arquette looking brilliantly post-lesbian-coital. I even knew that the movie's theme song - "Into the Groove" - was Madonna's favorite among her own hits because she wrote it.
So, yes, I knew the boots she was talking about.
"Done," I said. "You got it. I'll hit the Village first thing next Tuesday."
"Good. You can fuck me if you bring me those boots. And then maybe I can be your girlfriend."
I was dumbstruck. Freaked out. Incredulous. And -- whiz-bang-boom - head-over-flabby-ass in love with the looniest, stupidest individual I had ever met.
And yet, really, deep down, I knew the deal. I knew who I was. I knew who she was. I knew what I looked like. I knew the things I thought about. And I knew (pretty much) how much money my father made.
I knew, too, what Melissa looked like, and I was painfully aware of all the things she couldn't possibly think about and I could guess what kind of scratch her old man was taking home.
And I knew where this whole mess would be going.
And I knew to put on "Sexual Revolution" by Roger Waters from The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking album, and to intensely focus on its closing lyrics:
"I awoke in a fever
And I knew I deserved what I was going to get.
- Mike McPadden