Tuesday, June 13, 2006, 6:39 PM

What do the early eighties, mullet hair styles and Spencer Gifts have in common?


When Spence moved into our apartment neighborhood, he took us kids by storm. He worked out, he had long dark hair, green eyes and a smile that made my pulse do the funky chicken. He drove a maroon Nova with a loud muffler. It had wide tires with very white walls. Remember white walls?

He was named after our favorite store, Spencer Gifts, the place with the fake dog doo, the Whoopie Cushion and the naked people cards. Way. No way. Spence was like a god and he was just a few doors away. He was an adult--twenty-one or twenty-two, which is ancient to a kid--and he'd open his front door and talk to us.

"Don't you kids have bikes to ride? Homework to do? Fires to start?"

He paid us to wash his car, his baby, a position no woman had yet usurped. "Five bucks if those walls are still white when you're done," he used to joke. But he was serious because white-wall tires were the gas, man. Five bucks bought a lot of Pixie Stix, so we scrubbed them tires good. I always payed special attention to the driver's side tire, hoping Spence would single me out as the most likely candidate for Spencerly Womanhood.

Sometimes he reluctantly let us in his apartment. "I don't do skinned knees," he'd say. "No, you can't have a cigarette. Yes, those plants are my only curtains."

As far as Tracy, Rhonda and I were concerned, all of this elevated him from goober barneydom to a pychedelic homey, yo. So of course we had to spy on him. He only had houseplants for curtains, so it was like he was inviting it. One of those tiered plantholder jobbies sat in front of his glass patio windows, with a couple of stragetically-placed hanging plants. It was nothing a trio of inventive kids couldn't overcome.

So we did -- one Saturday night when all of our parents were out at some place called The Cat's Meow where they used to hold dance contests ala Dance Fever. Jeff, the eldest of us kids, told us that Spence was bringing a girl home. It was after eleven at least (we'd bribed the sitter with some of Oogie's vodka) when I climbed on top of Tracy's shoulders, pulled on one of mom's long raincoats, then went stagger-walking into the Night. Tracy couldn't make it all the way down the sidewalk to the next building with me on her shoulders, which was a bummer because there were lots of windows I could have peeked in and seen all kinds of Unspeakable Acts. Still, just the thought of that scared me even more than what I already was because I was pretty sure our Peephood was going to cost us our lucrative car washing stint if Spence caught us. And sore white wall-scrubbing muscles or not, I wanted my Pixie Stix and Hubba Bubba.

I was outvoted that night, though, which was why I sat on Tracy's shoulders feeling like I was going to barf as I leaned in close for a look into Spence's patio doors. It's funny that I was the least interested in seeing what was going on, but I was the one who was going to get the eyefull. Only it was too dark to see anything but plant leaves outlined in black against the blue glow of the fish aquarium. I didn't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed. And suddenly it didn't matter because there was a growling sound behind me.

I screamed, Rhonda screamed and ran, then Tracy screamed and dumped me against the patio glass. I tore the screen door clear off its hinges as Jeff continued to growl somewhere beyond the patio while Spence and his girl, if they'd been anywhere near first base at all, probably had the Mood driven right of them. Or maybe the night's antics spurred them to greater heights. Who knew? Not us kids, that's for sure; we hit the town of Timbuktu inside of five minutes after all hell broke loose.

Spence only lived in the 'hood for a year, but I'm sure he misses us still. Kinda.

4 Did the Unhingey Jiggy Engage in Unhingenosity
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