Thirty-five years ago the Village Mall became my second home.
At the time, it was an indoor shopping experience. A Woolco – where my parents bought me Elvis’ Golden Hits not long after the King died in 1977 – anchored the end that’s now a go-kart race course and, in addition to the ever-present Acme, it was home to an Eric movie theater, a bookstore, music shop, pizza place and the pet store where my family adopted a fine feline we named Riley. (True story: we were once awakened at 3 a.m. by a police officer who lived up the street from us. He’d staked out his home to see who – or what – was digging up his flower bed. Turned out it was that darn cat! And he couldn’t wait until morning to alert us to that fact.)
Now, I think it’s safe to say that summer break is a glorious time to be a kid; and that stretch of 1978, when I turned 13, certainly was for me. As I’ve written before (and likely will again), it was when the music bug bit me big time. Little by little, I sold the collection of comic books I’d painstakingly amassed over the previous few years back to the same comic-book store in Hatboro where I’d bought them, then rode my bike to Joe Celano’s music shop and flipped through the racks in search of vinyl gold. The sounds I initially sought, by and large, were from the bubbly sonic stew of rhythms and rhymes that I first heard simmering in the saucy Top 40 brew served by WIFI-92. And that summer it all played out in a phrase: “ Grease is the word….”
Grease: My memory tells me that I saw it a dozen times within a month, all at the Eric, sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own, but that number may well be a stretch. The reason for the obsession: Olivia Newton-John. Like many young men of the era, I became smitten with her even before she donned the tight leather pants for the film’s end. I picked up the single of “You’re the One That I Want” at K-Mart one weekend with my parents, and eventually traded a friend for the double-LP soundtrack. (And, after listening to it once sans moving pictures, never listened to it again until buying the CD decades later and remembering why – it’s mostly Sha Na Na filler.)
Anyway, I’d love to transition to something profound and make that movie a magical coming-of-age metaphor, but I’m afraid I have to settle for something more mundane. I was but 12, about to turn 13. I had no worries larger than my allowance, which comic books to sell, which 45s or LPs to buy, and whether Superstar Billy Graham would win back the WWWF championship from bland Bobby Backlund.
That’s not to say all was rosy, mind you. As awful as the economy has been since 2008, the inflation and unemployment rates throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s bear witness to the fact that being an adult with adult responsibilities was tough back then. But whenever I watch Grease, as I did this morning for what must have been the 50th time, I do so through the eyes and ears of that young kid whose life was insulated from larger concerns. No, it’s not a great movie, and may not even be good, but to me it represents all that is good, and for reasons that never appear on screen.