When I was fifteen, my best friend was Carla Castellano. We were an unlikely pair. I was a skinny, freckled bookworm who had never kissed a boy, while Carla had been blessed with dusky olive skin and curves and, by sophomore year at our Catholic high school, a relatively complicated love life. I envied her skin, her curves and what I saw as her devastating power over men. Carla envied my school grades and not much else except, perhaps my knowing the Latin names for every possible human sexual act - to this day the only aspect of my Catholic education that has ever come in handy. I would have gladly traded my A's for her assets, but I had to settle for hanging around her and hoping that some of Carla's feminine charms might rub off on me.
We spent most of our free time at Carla's house in Canarsie. Her mother, Adele, worked in real estate, selling spanking new McMansions (think Doric columns and four-car garages as the chief architectural features) to mid-level mob families way out in Long Island. Adele stocked their kitchen with frozen pizzas and Hostess cupcakes, then left us in peace. My mother, on the other hand, stayed home making soup from scratch and asking how our day went and generally making a nuisance of herself. So Carla's bedroom would have been our chosen sanctuary even if she had not had a citizen's band radio of her very own. It sat under her bedroom window on top of a lockbox Carla had decoupaged with photos of Peter Frampton. Carla's cb was a beauty - a Palomar Skipper 300 with two mikes and an expanded signal radius (thanks to the five foot antenna hanging precariously out her bedroom window.) Actually, it was not all that beautiful to look at. It was a squat, black box with so many dials and knobs that it looked like a starter EKG set. Wires ran out the back and along the bedroom wall to the power outlet on the other side of the room. More wires snaked over the window ledge. Okay, it was not beautiful - it was just the coolest thing I'd ever seen.
CB radio was the cyberspace of the seventies, a harbinger of the communications free-for-all to come. People who did not transport cargo for a living started talking on the radio network truckers used to keep in touch with home and each other. The chance to live a fantasy life on the open road inspired these otherwise ordinary citizens to install cb radios in their cars and homes. You listened for a while to learn the lingo - a 'gator' was a piece of tire lying on the road, your 'handle' was your name, or the nom de plume you felt the big bad trucker inside you had, somehow, earned. ' A big 10-4, Good Buddy' indicated enthusiastic agreement and 'Smokey' was the dreaded highway patrol. After learning a few key phrases, you worked up the nerve to adopt a handle and start looking for friendship - or whatever - on the airwaves. Some of the truckers were hilarious, sending out a stream of tall tales, one-liners and droll social commentary as they drove somewhere out on the endless network of America's highways. Carla and I would load up on potato chips and diet soda from her kitchen, then head upstairs to spend the afternoon taking turns at the cb mike.
But what, you might ask, could two fifteen year old girls in a pink and white bedroom in Brooklyn find to talk about with lonely, middle-aged truckers out on the road?
Now, you have to remember, this was before the Internet. People did not routinely enter into provocative conversations with strangers from all over the world whenever they felt the urge. Before chat rooms and blogging, anonymous communications ran more along the lines of what was scrawled on bathroom walls.
So the cb radio was our primitive version of cyber-dating. It gave you the chance to be someone else. And this someone else could be as sexy as you wanted her to be; your cb self could be real bad without getting into any real trouble. Carla liked flirting with various 'good buddies' as they drove along - I loved it. I really, really loved Carla's radio because I really, really loved the over-endowed, under-age vixen I morphed into whenever I pressed the speaker button down.
"Breaker, breaker - this is Misty (I couldn't have sunk much lower than Misty, now could I?) What's your handle?"
A deep voice boomed back. "We-he-hell, Misty, my handle might be too hot for you to handle! What's your location, there, honey?"
This was the real test of nerves. Did I chicken out and name some far western cattle state? Did I reveal my true coast, time zone, parish? That afternoon, I guess I felt particularly brazen. I was Misty, damn it - passionate, shameless. Plus, I figured I was safe in Carla's bedroom, no matter what I let slip. I figured wrong.
"I'm a Brooklyn girl, Too Hot - and I'm lonely in Brooklyn." From her twin bed, Carla made a kind of warning gurgle in her throat. I paid no attention.
"Your mama home?"
My mama? I didn't know if my mother was home - I wasn't even home.
"Uh, negatory, good buddy - I'm all alone."
"Not for long. I'm coming to rescue you, little Miss Misty."
"Oh, you can't do that."
"Oh, yes I can. I'm in Brooklyn right now, at the Canarsie market with a load of Mexican mangoes - I'm zeroing in on you, little Misty."
Carla jumped off her bed, scattering stuffed animals and sending potato chips flying. She grabbed my shoulders, I clutched her hand. We stared at the dials and levers on the cb radio. The deep voice came over the intercom, intense and impatient. The trucker was starting to sound a little crazy. Maybe a lot crazy.
"Breaker, breaker - I need your coordinates, Misty - now!" My hand was getting too sweaty to keep a steady grip on the microphone.
"I'm reading you so loud and clear, Misty - I know you're real, real close. Give me your location! I'm grinding gears, hammer down, to find you, girl. No more teasing, now - where the goddamn hell are you?"
Grinding gears - I was sure I could hear them, gears and brakes and eighteen wheels thundering down Carla's block, coming to steal me away and trap me into being Misty forever or for a hundred thousand miles - whichever came first.
My inner bad girl deserted me and I was left with my own coward's fist locked in a death grip around the cb mike. It seemed only a matter of minutes before the big rig came and hauled Misty/Me off. Delirious with fear, I was beginning to think I should resign myself to my fate - living on diner food, sleeping in a truck cab, teaching little Too Hot to Handle, Jr. with correspondence courses on the road. I'd swear to this day that I was about to rattle off our coordinates when Carla saved me. She reached over my shoulder and flipped the little red switch on the lower right-hand corner of the radio - the miraculous On-Off switch.
The microphone went dead, the rows of little lights stopped blinking. I continued to stare at the now silent radio, fully expecting it to spring back to life like some horror movie maniac. Carla went around the table and unplugged it from the wall outlet, then, still not satisfied, she covered the radio and the little table it sat on with the comforter from her bed. We stared at the down-covered square lump. There was no sound from the radio. Cautiously, we cracked open Carla's window and looked outside. The only noise came from her younger brother, Frankie and his friends, who were busy torturing a cat. Closing the window, I silently bid farewell to my cb sweethearts, and to Misty, and suggested to Carla that we go downstairs to catch the second half of Lost in Space. We padded out of the bedroom, exhausted, potato chips crunching under our feet.