Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please---Simon and Garfunkel
11 years old and I was hard to please, Ricky Schroeder and Todd Bridges had nothing on me. 11, just short of a dozen, there is something revered about 12. There are 12 months in a year, 12 donuts in a box, and there are 12 apostles if you count Judas--if you don’t, then I guess you come back to 11, which was my age during the sweltering summer of 1984.
My birthday had come and gone without much fanfare, grandpa telephoned from Florida and asked me, “Tommy, what did you get?” I told him asteroids and he said that he had a cream for that. Grandma always sent me money that equaled my age, 11 singles, I really hoped she’d still be around when I turned 50.
The color black was a popular birthday theme. It's not that I was a Goth Kid, Marilyn Manson terrified me, it was Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, that I respected. Cash's Folsom Prison album rotated on my RCA record player like a nonstop tilt o whirl ride. Convicted felons got to see Johnny Cash live and the closest thing I got to a concert was listening to a mediocre Cheap Trick cover band at Hillside Fest. I had just about worn a hole through my black Chuck Taylors and my brother's tattered black ACDC shirt looked a lot better on me than on him. It was no coincidence that it was from the Back in Black Tour.
Hillside is a small suburb 11 miles from Chicago, although there aren’t any hills or sides of hills that I could think of. It was a welcoming place to grow up in, there were sidewalks, a local movie theatre with only one screen, a town square with a stone fountain, a public pool, and tree lined streets that grew with the community. The majestic oak’s roots grabbed a foothold on the earth, survived harsh winters, lightning strikes, humid summers, and rodents in need of dental work.
The towering timbers witnessed kids on Redline bikes with triangle frames, boss cranks, and mag wheels. Kids had nowhere to go and all day to get there. If my goal was to do absolutely nothing, then that summer I knew I had the talent and fortitude to reach it! I showed people early on that Tommy Noonan was a goal setter and a trailblazer.
I started noticing the blisters on a late June evening. It was as though the skin between my thumb and my pointer’s finger had peeled like an onion with tiny welts. It made me reflect on other serious neighborhood injuries, like Marty Flakeman’s grandpa who lost his leg on a land mine in El Salvador and Janet Tilman’s sister who had an alcohol related injury, she was hit by a beer truck. Doctors think she will make a full recovery since the truck was only carrying lite beer.
The hand affliction was difficult to overcome and it put me at a disadvantage in life’s most important thumb demands: the handling of an Atari 64 joystick. These blisters are often referred to as: gamer's thumb.
Thumbs are anything if not paramount, they aren’t mere fingers, the thumb has its own unique name. Toes, on the other hand or on the other foot, are just toes, even the big toe is really just a toe. The thumb is probably the second most important body part, before the eyes and close behind the heart.
Similar to Willis Reed’s miraculous comeback, I was playing injured as we reset our deciding game of Defender. The challenger was Dominic Antonio Fedele, amateur filmmaker and best friend since diapers. Dominic, or Dom, was the proud owner of a unibrow and alabaster buck teeth which were the envy of every beaver in the Des Plaines River Valley. He hadn’t hit a growth spurt, but he was not short on confidence. With white cotton drawstring pants, a bright turquoise urban pipeline buttoned down shirt, and white leather double laced boat shoes, he emulated Miami Vice in substance and style.
The Defender game was brilliant, exhilarating, and infuriating at the same time. It was like being on the Millenium Falcon with firepower and change of direction at my fingertips. Compared to 2020 the graphics were elementary, but for the time it was historic. I was the sultan of gamers which was evidenced by 104,027 points to be exact. In my record breaking achievement I still had a couple of smart bombs left, had I used them I could’ve scored much more, but enough about life’s biggest regrets.
Dom and I were what you might call: electronic athletes. Sure we could go outside in the humidity and play football or run up and down the basketball court, but why get some strange kid's slimy sweat on you when you can play that same game from the comfort of your own video gaming console.
At this particular moment my focus was on trouncing Dom once again. The Atari 64 Defender series, as we called it, was knotted at two games a piece as we prepared for the rubber match. Dom had never taken me to a Game 5, not in Pac Man, Pitfall, and certainly not my speciality: Defender. The pressure of an elimination game was intense, I could thoroughly understand what San Francisco 49er Dwight Jones was thinking when he made "The Catch" in the back of the endzone in 82', but fortunately for Dwight he didn't have a debilitating thumb injury to overcome.
My basement, or as it was referred to: Noonan’s Gamer's Funk Hole, was a player’s paradise complete with bumper pool, air hockey, fluorescent Rolling Stone’s lips sign, and a murky 100 gallon fish tank. The color of the carpeting was called magic pumpkin. Imagine the Jolly Green Giant vomiting sweet potatoes, that would be the color of our wall to wall shag flooring. It smelled a little funky thanks to my brother's poker/cigar nights and our dog Sugar's propensity to pee when excited.
My cherry red leather oversized chair had thick bronze metal beads along the arms. Being a southpaw, I had the chair placed on the left side of the enormous 27 inch tv. The bean bag chair was all Dom's and he sunk in it like the submarine in Das Boot.
Dom ankle flipped his boat shoes off which released a smell that could be used in nuclear gas warfare. Shoes without having socks as a buffer was a destructive combination, everyone knew that the cotton of the socks had the ability to eliminate bacteria buildup, bunions, and terminate toenail fungus. The problem was, Dom didn’t believe in socks, he claimed that socks made his feet sweat.
The worst part was the apocalyptic smell that came from two locations. Besides his scaly odor-rific bare feet sitting atop the glass coffee table, his catapulted footwear torpedoed into the shag carpeting and omitted a stench that could be considered a crime against humanity.
I complained to Dom, but he reminded me that I was a sockless wonder also. I said, “Good point,” and then I scratched the side of my naked foot with a popsicle stick that I found stuck on the smudged table. Wincing in pain I unvelcroed my thumb brace. Dom looked down at my injury and said, "Baby!" and "Those aren't blisters, they're freckles." I velcroed back up and heroically replied, "GAME ON!"
(End of Part 1....to be continued)
(Part 2..Coming Soon: Even the losers get lucky sometimes,the video battle and the unexpected outcome, the canines, meet Uncle Chuck-the Uninvited House"Guest", summer cash, & Dom's answer to Charlie's Angels & Bo Derek)
Author Notes: The story is about the trials of growing up in 1984. It is part fiction and part observational.