The first time my best friend, Chris, told me he loved Alice Cooper, I wondered if she was in his class at school.
“Alice Cooper’s a guy,” he informed me.
I soon understood why Chris was so enamored with the mascara-eyed rock star. In the spring of 1972, Cooper and his band had released a three-and-half-minute pop anthem that shot up the charts with a refrain voicing every kid’s dream: “School’s out forever!”
Talk about timing. I was in sixth grade, Chris in fifth. As my friend played “School’s Out” over and over in his bedroom in early June, we couldn’t wait for the carefree days of summer to arrive.
We were too young to work, other than my weekend “employment” as a stock boy at my grandfather’s baby clothes store on Federal Hill. So that left plenty of time for goofing around – Wiffle ball in my backyard, Nok Hockey games at the playground, and treks to Wolcott’s five-and-dime for candy, sometimes supplemented by the nefarious “five-finger discount,” if we dared.
Chris and I spent just about every day together, and on occasional nights, we’d gather with other kids in our Elmhurst neighborhood for a game we called “Chase,” which essentially was team hide-and-seek. Trespassing properties all along Rankin Avenue, we’d vanish into bushes, slink behind garages, and climb up trees to evade discovery. Once or twice, a flicked-on floodlight found me before any seeker did, accompanied by a homeowner’s bark, telling me where to go.
And then summer reached the point I dreaded each year: one morning in early August, Chris and his family departed on their annual trip to Altoona, Pennsylvania to visit his aunt. I knew the next 10 days would seem like 10 weeks.
In 1972, there was no texting, no Instagram posts or TikTok videos, nothing but a postcard from Chris that came a week after he had left. I found myself calling his house on the off chance his vacation had been cut short, letting the phone ring dozens of times before hanging up.
When Chris finally returned that year, our summer rituals resumed. And then, with the first day of school looming, we devised a last-day-of-summer plan right out of our dreams: we’d hop on a bus at Kennedy Plaza and travel 11 miles to Rocky Point, the famed amusement park overlooking Narragansett Bay. Three dollars apiece would give us unlimited access to all the rides all day. Heaven!
The day arrived, hot and sunny, and Chris and I stood agog on the Rocky Point midway. We played Skee-Ball, slammed bumper cars, survived the House of Horrors, wolfed down doughboys, and lined up again and again for the new ride everyone was talking about. We’d seen ads for the Flume in the newspaper, hawking “the largest, most spectacular ride in the East, a half-mile of thrilling fun and excitement through forest, rapids, and two splashing 45-foot-high slides into sparkling clear water.” While “forest” and “rapids” were a bit of a stretch, the ride didn’t disappoint. By the end of the day, we were drenched.
On the bus back to Providence, Chris said he wished he could ride the Flume in a never-ending loop. I suppose that’s how we felt about summer, too.
But the following day, bells summoned us to our newly separate schools, signaling the first day of classes and the end of that summer’s ride.
Even then, we somehow knew it would be one we’d long remember.