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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lenzi

(Re)Collection: Squeeze

There was a time in high school and on through college where I could get a pretty good handle on whether we were going to be kindred spirits by looking at what records you liked. If you were into Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon or Phil Collins, 99 times out of 100 we would not be real friends. There were perfectly nice, compatible people who I did not get to know based on that criteria alone. I know it is superficial, but that is the way I saw it.

I rejected a lot of popular American and British music because I was just sick and fucking tired of it. All of the white guys aping old blues rock styles. All of the kitschy hard rock. All of the throwaway Americana like JohnCougarKennyLogginsHueyLewisDonHenley. It was played out.

New Wave seemed an ok alternative as did Punk Rock, English and American style. That was more aligned with my budding sensibilities. D.C. did not have cable TV in the 80s. So no MTV. If you were a dude who liked New Wave and Punk, you were probably not in the In crowd. You probably were a bit of a romantic. You were probably not macho. You probably didn't play football. You could probably hang out with girls on an equal footing and not merely perceive them as your playthings.

But why the Clash and not Pink Floyd? Peter Gabriel and not Eric Clapton? I grew up in the shadow of a sister who didn't give a shit about me. She did not associate with me and my friends. Her music, while interesting and mysterious to me on some level, was not going to be my music. That meant no Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Traffic, the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin and so forth. It was not a conscious decision on my part. I just felt it in my bones that it wasn't my scene or my style. Drugs scared me. Psychedelia made no sense to me. Hippies gave me the creeps.

In eighth grade, when most young people are starting to define themselves by their music and fashion, I was changing and my sensibilities were a little slow in catching up with my peers. I was a late bloomer.

I liked music, but I had no defined tribe. I liked sports, but I realized that they were not my tribe. I was not a tough kid or a rabble rouser or a real delinquent. I was not rich or poor. I was just stuck in the middle. I was a mediocre teen. But I was slowly starting to get a sense of what I liked.

In the midst of all this change, I was sent to a Jesuit boys school in the Fall of 1980. I lost a lot of my friends and had to start over. But I managed to keep up my friendship with Ty. Another friend David joined us in our own little triumvirate of slightly awkward and uncool new teens. We liked each others company so it was cool.

If you were friends with me, you liked skateboards and bikes. My obsession with ten speeds was just kicking in. I spent many hours up at the Chevy Chase bike shop ogling the shiny rows of Schwinns, Cannondales and Fujis they had in their showroom. I poured over the catalogs, specing out my ideal bike. I couldn't afford a race bike with Campagnolo and Mavic components but Shimano and Suntour stuff was in my budget range. It was almost as good and would have to do.

The colors were like candy. The bright, metal flake paint schemes, chromed lugs and dropouts, brazed on downtube shifters and water bottle mounts. The smell of the bike shop stirred the same kind of lust in me that skateboard shops had a few years prior. It was a beautiful little world. And one that I could not yet afford to play in so I got busy.

I started doing odd jobs like mowing lawns, delivering papers and painting houses to earn money to buy my first good bike. I set my sights on a Fuji Royale touring bike, because I could not get the cash together for a racing bike. I desperately wanted one though. That came later.

Ty, David and I decided in the Spring of 1981 that we wanted to take a long bike trip that summer. Ty knew of an outfit that organized them. Our parents approved. We bought panniers, handle bar bags, riding gear, tool kits and supplies. It was the beginning of my gear obsession.

Off we went in July on an Amtrak from Union Station up to New Haven, Connecticut to start our journey through New England and the White Mountains up into Montreal, Canada. No parents. Just a chaperone. A cool college kid also named Dave. We were really psyched up about it.

I had experienced that type of quasi-freedom before when I went to hockey camp in the summers but this trip was more grown up. We had long days of cycling. From 60 to 110 miles a day. We stayed in youth hostels in small rural towns. The camaraderie between us was strong. We kept each other motivated and pushed the pace for ourselves in that way that boys love to do.

Who would be the fastest up a hill or on a descent? Who was the toughest? Who complained the least? We all watched each other closely, measuring our strength and resilience against each other. It was exciting.

We also pranked each other a lot. One particularly hard day in the White Mountains, we were at the bottom of a very long, grueling climb. As we got water and snacks at a road side store, Ty and David put some large pieces of limestone in my panniers while I was inside.

We got back on our bikes and climbed for what seemed like hours in the heat and finally reached the top of the mountain road. We all got off our bikes and leaned them against the guard rail.

Ty and David were laughing and looking at me. I was thinking that maybe I had snot hanging out of my nose or something on the butt of my riding pants. They pointed at my panniers. So I opened them up and found those big rocks. I was pissed. I chased them around and tried to punch them in the balls. Finally, Dave the chaperone had to break it all up and get us back in the saddle.

That night I decided I would get them back. I bought some Ex Lax chocolate bars and carefully scraped off the Ex Lax logo on each of the squares. Later that day, as every one got really hungry before dinner, I offered Ty and David some chocolate. Ty refused by David ate a bunch of it. I told him to keep the bar because I had another. He was in a bit of distress that night. Many trips to the bathroom.

The next morning I told him what happened and he got bent out of shape. We struck a truce and left each other alone after that. I am sure it would have escalated to actually poisoning each other if we hadn't. The only highjacks after that were restricted to running each other off the road or letting air out of each others tires. We all had pumps so it was only a minor inconvenience. Nothing like having the runs all night.

Dave gave us all a lot of space to enjoy ourselves. He was a carefree, outdoorsy kind of guy. We thought he was really old. 21 or 22 is old when you are 14. Dave would allow all of us to get ahead of him so he could keep an eye on us and scoop up the stragglers. It also gave him some peace. We all talked and argued endlessly about nothing as boys do. It must have been really annoying.

Ty and I fell back and rode with him one afternoon. We felt kind of cool being in his presence. He would sing songs. None of us had Walkmen or radios or anything. This was our entertainment. Ty impressed him with a word for word rendition of the Dead Kennedys California Uber Alles. I was very impressed, too.

Then Dave launches into a song that we vaguely knew. It was a little too adult and thus off our radar.

I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste A flannel for my face Pajamas, a hairbrush New shoes and a case I said to my reflection "Let's get out of this place"

I can still hear his voice in my head. He was a good singer. That was my introduction to Squeeze. Tempted. The lyrics are kind of adult for a 14 year old boy, but I think I was intrigued. I liked girls but I had no understanding of relationships and infidelity. But Squeeze made it seem mysterious and romantic.

Later in my teens, I often found that girls I liked were fans of Squeeze. And guys that I got really close to, like my good friend Dan who I met in Cape May Point, New Jersey, were also into them. That band was a solid piece of common ground. If you liked them, we were probably going to be friends. Music is a good barometer.

That trip ended on a bum note. We rolled triumphantly into Montreal and got set up at a hostel in the old section of the city. We parked up our bikes in the basement of the building, went sightseeing and got dinner.

When we awoke the next morning, we went down to retrieve our bikes and found them all missing. Every single one. Totally cleaned out. The police told us they were probably loaded on to a big truck in the middle of the night. Such thefts were relatively common in Montreal.

I can't say I was heartbroken or anything. I knew I wanted to get a racing bike, so I secretly hoped that I would be able able to play up the theft to my mom and get some sympathy. Then maybe I could parlay that into a better bike, one with Campagnolo components.

Of course that didn't happen. The first thing my mom asked me was why I didn't lock up my bike. She had spent all that money on a Kryptonite lock and I didn't use it. It was now my fault. Back to reality.

On my brief vacation, I had tasted a little adulthood. My friendship with Ty and David soon faded, but my interest and love of Squeeze endured.

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