Horatio writes: Thanks to J. Owen for this beauty. He was born and bred Upper West Side as the story attests:
My best friend growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was a kid called Marcus Berg. We were the kind of friends who were joined at the hip up to about the age of 14 when playing Atari stopped being our number one priority and was replaced by pursuing girls in his case, and personal computing in mine. Looking back, I can pinpoint one exact moment when our friendship began to dissolve. We were throwing a football in Riverside Park one late winter afternoon as we often did on the way home from school. I gave the ball a little bit too much of the Dan Fouts treatment and it went over his head and into the bushes. Bergie ran in to retrieve it, and emerged with the ball in his right hand, and a copy of Penthouse Letters in his left. Our relationship was never the same again.
The questions such as whose was this magazine and what the hell was it doing in the bushes of Riverside Park were not asked. Even the ball was quickly forgotten as we flicked through this slightly-soiled discovery and the treasures that lay within. Darkness descended quickly as it does in winter in Manhattan. Riverside Park in the early eighties was not a place you wanted to be at night unless you intended to score some drugs or indulge in some man on man pleasuring and this created a problem for Marcus. His parents were English and extremely strict in a "spare the rod, spoil the child" way. So there was not a chance that magazine was returning with him to his 98th and West End boudoir. But for Marcus, the magazine was like a diamond, and to throw it away so soon after finding it would have been a sin akin to leaving left overs if you ever had dinner with Bob Geldof.
Under pressure, Bergie was quick of mind and quick of foot -- the closest analogy would be George Peppard in the A-Team. He shinned up a nearby tree, a spruce I think, and concealed the magazine in a crevice between two branches. And that is where the fun started for Berg. For the very next night, he put on his black champion sweatshirt and camo pants and penetrated the park at night -- an act which hithertofore had held a kind of Candyman stigma in our imaginations -- returned to his tree, climbed it, retrieved the magazine, knocked one out to its pages with a flashlight, restored it to its hiding place, and then ran like the wind back to the safety of West End Avenue. When he told me about this act of foolhardy bravery the next day in class I was aghast and agog. As I listened to the story and the risk of life and limb he was exposing himself to, it was like my friend had become a different person. "Yes, I was terrified" he admitted, ""But, tossing one off is like how i imagine drugs feel. You know what I mean, right?"
I was too embarrassed to admit that I did not. For the sake of our friendship, but just as much, for the sake of maintaining perceptions as much as I could about my not so well developed masculinity... I played along and tried to pretend that I was down with his daredevil Delta Force style park raids which occurred ritually in the same way every night for the next three months, a period in which the magazine stayed in the tree, the only difference being that it was now stored in a plastic bag (my idea) to protect it from the elements.
On the 93rd day of this ritual, the magazine mysteriously disappeared. I was relieved. But Bergie entered a state of depression and mourning after which he picked himself up, started running with a slightly faster crowd at school and our relationship, though still warm, was never really the same again. I think about this story being less about friendship, and more about the intoxicating power of the act of masturbation to an adolescent boy. That between life and death and knocking on out, they would choose death.