I don't think that a Halloween goes by that my brother and I don't mention "The Confederates Incident". I get the feeling that it's going to be one of the stories that is passed down for generations through my family. When my brother and I were kids in our small Southern town in the 70's, there was a motorcycle gang who called themselves "The Confederates" that lived down at the other end of our street. They were a pretty hard-scramble bunch and I can remember how folks in our area talked about them with anxiety in their voices. I remember seeing them flying down the street in packs with their long hair dusty and twisted in the wind and confederate flags on their ragged denim backs. We were growing up in the time of gritty biker movies filled with bloody brawls and scenes of psychedelic drug highs mocked up by wacky camera filters and bright, swirly lights. And in our minds, the Confederates must have just walked out of one of those movies.
Even though we were led to believe that the world was like Happy Days, this world was a lot more interesting. You wouldn't find a Potsie within a hundred miles of this bunch and I'm pretty sure that not even the Fonz would have looked like a rebel in their wake. In the car, whenever we'd pass their house on the way out of our neighborhood, my brother and I couldn't help but turn our heads all the way around to look at them gathered on the front porch of that rundown mill house (while hiding low behind the bench seat so that they wouldn't see us, hunt us down and make an example out of us). They were a mixture of scary and wow.
I've asked my brother to share "The Confederates Incident" with you here. There is even a KISS connection. This just can't get any more 70's if you ask me. Take it away, bro! :
"When I told my mom I wanted to be Ace Frehley for Halloween, I don't think she even blinked. I was a total KISS fanatic at the time, and my mom was probably happy that I didn't want to be Gene Simmons' demon character, Paul Stanley's loverman character, or Peter Criss's Ringo character. A space cadet probably seemed like a safe choice (this was before Ace's substance abuse problems came to light).
In retrospect, though, maybe I should have modeled myself after Gene, who was claiming to have slept with thousands of women. It might have kept my parents from secretly wondering if I was gay during all of those girlfriendless, D&D-playing years.
(Note from Sis: Um, no.)
NOTE: My parents get general rock 'n' roll props anyway for just letting me be as I dropped into the rabbit hole of rock 'n' roll obsession. When my sister tattled that my new Blondie record contained the phrase "pain in the ass," they let it go. And when I was a teenager, seemingly unaware that a closed bedroom door would not mask the constant f-bombs blaring from my Rage Against the Machine record, they apparently sighed and just told themselves that at least I wasn't getting high or arrested.
Note from Sis: My Mom just came up with this brilliant photo. Look at how obsessed he was! Not only the posters and records but he was also wearing a KISS t-shirt! Remember when I mentioned the Fonz earlier? I love that the Fonz and Barbarino were mixed in. I doubt that my brother even liked them. They were probably just a smokescreen so that my parents wouldn't fear that he had gone over to the dark side. Anyway...back to my brother's story! (I'm still interrupting him after all of these years.)
So anyway, my mom called my great aunt, who worked at JC Penney, and who had access to a lot of dumpster-bound fabrics and other material from the mannequin displays. A pair of tights, a roll of silver foil, some makeup, and who knows what other crafty materials later, and I was Ace Frehley.
And I've gotta say that mom did a stellar job. Even today, that costume holds up pretty well. My only regret is that this was around the time that KISS were toying with disco, so Ace's costume is a little more shimmery and dance-floor ready than in other years. And as any of my ex-flames will tell you, I'm not a dancer. In fact, I should be wrapped up in electrical cord the moment I walk into a place with a dance floor, just in case I get any wild ideas.
At any rate, I wore my costume to the school carnival and won a skateboard, which was pretty cool.
Note from sis: That's me as the gypsy looking like a lame fool next to Ace Frehley. We were about to go to said carnival with our best friends, Carla and Michael. Look at my brother's face! He looks like he's thinking,"I'm a can of interplanetary whoop-ass! Bring to me your Milky Way miniatures!" Now back to the story!
But the real treat came while we were trick or treating. Our street, way before it became an avenue of crack houses, had all sorts of people along its two- or three-mile length. There were the old folks running their appliance repair businesses out of their back yards, there was the old house full of colored glassware in every window, there was the white clapboard house with Bible verses written in red paint on all of the exterior walls, and there was the motorcycle gang's crash house.
The Confederates were about what you'd expect from a mid '70s motorcycle club: tattoos, denim jackets, long hair, long beards, bikes filling the front yard, "old ladies" lounging on the porch steps. My only experience with them had been once when some friends and I snuck under the fig tree at the edge of their back yard to watch them smoke and drink, and one of them yelled out, "I'm gonna get a rope and hang me some kids!" You should have seen us run. I'll bet that old fellow's still laughing about that one.
But on Halloween night, they were handing out candy just like everyone else, and to our young minds, any house handing out candy was worth the risk (well, except for that creepy house with the Bible verses on the walls -- we'd convinced ourselves that guy had a rattlesnake pit in his living room). One look at my Ace Frehley costume, and the bikers invited me into their house so they could show me off. I can't remember what my mom thought of this. The Confederates, for all their hell raisin', were part of the neighborhood, and never really caused any trouble. As far as she was concerned, she might have viewed it in the same way that she would have viewed my going into my grandmother's house. She might have made me go in because it would have been rude to refuse. But I like to think she was horrified, because that would make me a total mom-disobeyin' badass for going in there. Although, truth be told, I was terrified.
So while one of their "old ladies" came out on the front porch to smoke and keep my sister (who was dressed like an angel, no way she was getting in!) company, I went into the biker lair. I wish I could remember more than just general biker awesomeness. They were lounging around everywhere watching TV. There was lots of yelling and laughing and cursing. There was a dentist's chair right there in the middle of the living room! A dentist's chair! One day I'm going to get hypnotized and relive that memory, just so I can get the details back.
It also turns out that, unbeknownst to me until a week or so ago, a future girlfriend was probably in there as well. Older than me by a couple of years, she was apparently the Confederates' off-limits-to-advances mascot, and was probably there smoking and drinking and laughing at me as I geekily discussed who was my favorite member of KISS (obviously Ace) with the gang (they went with Gene; I'm pretty sure Paul and Peter got no votes). I'll bet if I saw her, I was scared to death of her.
After a few minutes, I went back out, much to my mother's relief, since I didn't appear to be drunk, high, tattooed, or sold into Satan's service. I'm pretty sure she didn't share that story very often. I'm not even sure if she told my dad."
So, kids...that is "The Confederates Story" as told by my brother. Thanks, bro!
I also remember that for some reason, I happened to switch out of the gypsy costume shown above and was now dressed like an angel for trick-or-treating. My costume was a little white choir robe and a wire coat hanger pinned on my head, twisted upwards and ending in a piece of cardboard spray-painted gold in the shape of a halo. No photos exist of that one. I am pretty sure it's because the entire universe knew that I was lame next to Ace there. Much like vampires, extreme lameness can not be photographed.
One of the things that makes this story amazing to my brother and me is that my parents were always very protective of us. We weren't allowed to run around the neighborhood and get into trouble (well, except for my brother who was apparently hiding under fig trees and risking his life while I was playing with Holly Hobbie paper dolls in my room). I remember that moment when our Mom told us that we could go up on the porch of the Confederates. I also remember my little kid heart both leaping and pausing all at once. We made our way up on the porch and before we knew it, the biker guys had grabbed my brother and pulled him inside where I heard the entire shack go into an uproar over his costume. One of the biker ladies came out and I remember like it was yesterday...She took a long puff on her cigarette, blew the smoke into my face (hey, it was the 70's) and said, "Look y'all! She's a little angel!" before erupting into a gigantic cackle and going back inside of the house for her brush with trick-or-treating rock and roll greatness.
Sooner or later, my brother emerged from the house. I SO wish that I could remember the look on his face. I imagine that he came out of the house looking smug with a face flush with adrenaline - and a full beard from being enveloped into such an adult world so abruptly.
Yesterday, I asked my Mom for her side of the story. Here is what she had to say:
"Aunt Ruth was definitely a big part of that outfit, we told her what we were doing and her mind went in to overdrive. And there was no way she could imagine who KISS was. Surely we had a picture of some type to show her and we sat down and started figuring what we needed to make an outfit. Thankfully she had access to odds and ends from Penney's. So I did the best I could to pull all those pieces together with glue, staples. It did take quite a while. Turned out pretty neat I think. It did sparkle. We spray painted the boots silver and dad and I painted his face.
I do remember the bikers' house, the people saw you guys and wanted everyone inside to see Andy so away they took him, I was outside on the porch with you.. I was definitely concerned. I remember us standing there and this guy was eating Oreos and asked did you want some for your treat or treat and we told him, 'No thanks'.
And you know I don't think we even talked about even being there or you guys going in and probably never told Dad. It happened, we left and went on our way. I never knew there was a dentist chair, or that Andy was scared. Yes, what did happen to my motherly instinct?"
Thanks Mom! So, maybe it was a momentary lapse of mother-henning on her part or maybe she just felt edgy that night - either way, I love that she let us go. It has made for one of our favorite stories of childhood ever. However, I can't imagine how hard she must have had to pull on me to keep me from taking those Oreos. Scary biker guy or not - hello, Oreos!
Oh wait! This just in from my Mom!: "I remember a house with a screen porch, before we got to that one. We walked into the porch and you said an old person lived there. I asked how you knew and you said it smelled like it."
Gosh, I was such an insensitive child!
And this: "When Andy was talking about his liking KISS I was trying to remember the little boy that pretty much I think introduced him to KISS. He was small with blond hair. But after a while his mom decided KISS was apparently close to the devil and she made her son get rid of all his KISS stuff and told me I should too. I told her it would pass and left Andy alone with it . I still have Andy's KISS characters in the closet."
My Mom is being nice. They're "characters" are actually dolls but she won't say so as she wants my brother to look like a tough guy. Remember these?
"KISS: That's the name! KISS: They may look insane! KISS: If rock's your game!" - What a jingle! Look at Gene's tongue! And Ace's Farrah Fawcett hairdo!
My Barbie and Cher dolls used to date those rock and roll legends. Ken seriously took a back seat to these bad boys!
To make this a true family affair, I'll add this quote from my Dad:
"I never thought KISS was satanic but I remember telling Andy that I thought they were just making up for their lack of talent with costumes and showmanship. Pretty sure y'all never told me about the trick or treating thing."
Ooh! Family secrets! So, y'all...that is "The Confederates Incident". I can't wait to see how the story evolves through the decades. I'll close with another photo that I've unearthed of my brother. Here he is rocking his bad boy side at a family card party:
And this great quote that my brother and I still repeat four years after it was made on Flickr:
"The Gods of metal totally had your mom's back." - Elmer Presslee
They sure did, Elmer. They sure did.
Until next time (get up - everybody's gonna move their feet...get down - everybody's gonna leave your seat),
x's and o's,