That’s What Friends Are For

“A terrorist spreads fear by bombing rollercoasters at amusement parks across the U.S. unless he’s paid $1M.” That’s the description of the movie I really, really, really, really, really wanted to see on my 10th birthday. “Can we see ‘Rollercoaster’? Pleeeeeeaaaaaassssse!”

It’s hard to say why. I was already too scared to ride the old wooden rollercoaster at the PNE in Vancouver. So, it didn’t make much sense for me to be begging my Mom to take my friends and I to this film. I don’t think I even knew that it was being screened in “sensurround”, the system whereby heavy bass speakers were positioned to simulate theater-shaking, seat-rumbling sound during the intense, explosive scenes. I certainly had no clue that the movie featured the motion picture debuts of both Helen Hunt and Steve Guttenberg.

But, I was a 10-year-old boy. I’m guessing, as I surveyed the entertainment page in the newspaper, I sensed pressure from my birthday party peers to pick the scary movie everyone was talking about at the time. You might better understand the distinct nature of the peer pressure I was facing if you knew a bit more about the unique company I kept.

At another one of my birthday parties, for instance, in order to entertain ourselves we decided to collect all of the mattresses in the basement and cover one bedroom floor entirely in their forgiving comfort. Then we made the rules: shirts off, on your knees, using one hand only, punch other guys below the neck and above the belt until you were the only one left. Okay, fine; this might be exactly the kind of innovation you’d expect from a crew of prepubescent boys in the absence of any video games or movies. But, it was still an epic party game formulation in my book.

I’m not sure for how many rounds we lasted. It wasn’t as short as a Conor McGregor UFC fight, or as long as Rocky III. Nor was it as vicious as either. Nevertheless, we had casualties. One of my friends, in particular, took considerable punishment. That is partly a reflection of another unique thing about the collection of lads with whom I associated: it was a diverse mix. As I still do, I maintain friendships with people from many different groups. This particular party was populated mostly with my school chums, a few guys from older grades who crashed the party and some other friends from my neighbourhood. And there was this one fella who was a complete outsider to all but me. While he wasn’t very familiar with any of my other guests, he was all too familiar with being picked on. He was a bully-magnet. The fact that he didn’t opt to “sit this one out” was a true testament to his intestinal fortitude. Whenever a new round of our mono-limbed “Fight Club” fun started, he was the recipient of some not-so-restrained slugs to the gut.

He was also the only kid at my aforementioned 10th Birthday Party who spoke up against seeing “Rollercoaster: a race against time… and terror!” It’s not like I was taking a vote. But, my inner-chicken was subconsciously opening the door for any excuse to get out of seeing what I knew the mob wanted, and would likely keep me awake every night until I was 20. While the other guys did their best impressions of being exploded off my couch-coaster, it was my softer-spoken pal who came to my rescue, putting his finger on the ad for an alternative; “I’ve heard this one is pretty cool.”

By the time we got to the theatre, the lights were down, the previews were over and the opening crawl had just been preceded by the static blue text, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

An enduring friendship is characterized by very little to resemble severe ups and downs, dramatic dips, jolting twists, or explosive “sensurround”. It’s more like the timeless Hollywood classic; even going for long periods of time without seeing each other, you can comfortably pick up just were you left off. Of all the guys who fake barfed in my living room amusement park, and of all the guys who left welts on my chest and abdomen, the only one with whom the bond has held strongly over 38 years is the bully-magnet. Yes, the force is strong with this one.



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