I have known Paul Stefano since first grade. Some of my first memories of him have to do with making up songs with him in music class. I think my favorite was ‘Run Run Run’, which we added ‘… through Paul’s hair. Run run run, you’ll get lost!’. I have laughed an extraordinary amount while spending time with Paul Stefano. I can’t really conjure up a mental image of him smiling or laughing, yet he consistently had contributed to everything that would make me and everyone we knew laugh.
Paul hung out with us all the time. He was just as important part of the group as any of us. And yet, though we were all pretty openly expressive about how much we all cared about each other, it wasn’t ever entirely clear to me if Paul actually even liked us. Greg was the first of us to leave for college and I remember our teary goodnight that saw him off. Paul, as was typical, was unmoved and stoically guided us to spell ‘penis is hard’ on the sign that had removable letters of the local plant nursery (the church’s bible quote board with adjustable letters had long since been locked).
I don’t know why, but it makes sense to think about Paul in the context of his automobile debacles. Paul was the first of us all to drive and somehow, he procured, upon getting his license, a white Mercury Topaz with a tape deck. We spent millions of hours driving around Montgomery County in this thing – to playground with swingsets, arcades, the mall, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, miniature golf, Dairy Queen, bowling alleys that sold cigars out of vending machines, and among other destinations, to a parking lot that had a sign that said, to our amusement, ‘Reserved for Questar’.
Paul’s Mercury Topaz was a monumental noun for us. We drove it downtown on record buying excursions, to Trenton, NJ to see punk shows at City Gardens, to blow two tires on the right side of the car and then get a ticket for doing so next to the art museum. We drove it back from seeing the Random Children play with Fugazi under conditions where the defogger made it so the windshield would not relent from opacity unless we opened the windows to let in the sub-freezing temperatures. During this ride, Paul Stefano monotone delivered sayings like ‘We must have coldness to survive.’ or ‘Death on a stick’ were born. This car was not treated well. I was not present for all of these events, but it feels like it. I can imagine Paul’s baritone voice in each of these events.
• Springfield Township High School Parking Lot – I think just a few hours after 16 year old Paul was awarded this car, that Chris (or Jeb?) (editor’s note – It was actually me!) stabbed a pencil (editor’s note – scissors) through the vinyl dashboard. This was undoubtedly a rude welcome to the Mercury Topaz, but seemed fitting as to make sure the car wasn’t being led on about a future that was not to be for it.
• E. Mill Road – It was a slick fall afternoon out on the way to the Plymouth Meeting Mall, home of Church on the Mall (my favorite place of worship anchored near a Spencer’s Gifts). Paul was driving slow enough while approaching the hairpin turn just before Ft. Washington State Park, so that he was able to repeat at least three times in his calm deep voice, “We’re going to crash. We’re going to crash. We’re going to crash.” BANG. All were okay, but were crashed.
• Church Road – Chris, Brian, Greg, Ralph, Jeb, Paul and I had planned to go camping in New Jersey. The plan was to rent a canoe and get a ride from our campsite and then canoe all the way back to the site. During this trip, I only ate Boo Berry cereal (which Paul and I had spent all of our pooled money on because it was the first time we had seen it in a grocery store in years and years). Also on this trip, Jeb (who was pathetically stuck with inept partners Ralph and me in his canoe) got a clod of mud thrown on his head by partying hillbillies while we canoed past these bathing pigs & Chris laughed at the event while out of his mind on Capri 120’s and True cigarettes. Anyway, before all of that happened, Paul was driving one carload of us in his dad’s Pontiac (not sure why we didn’t take the Topaz) while I was driving the other carload. I have no idea what precipitated the accident, but Paul drove all the way up on a halfpipe-like dirt/tree embankment not 4 minutes from our houses and plopped the car back down at the base. I think something was messed up with the door and it was definitely bad enough that we had, at the very least (and we did do the very least we could do), to ask Paul’s dad to pick up his mangled car and go back to get Brian’s car to bring the balance of us.
• Somewhere in Wyndmoor – This one may be lies, but doesn’t seem like it. We were all skateboarding near a big hill in Wyndmoor. My brain tells me that this was in the era where we would only listen to Bad Religion’s No Control – for what that’s worth in dating when this happened. I couldn’t really skateboard, and still can’t, as a physics teacher, understand how an ‘ollie’ works. Anyway, we’d skateboard back and forth on the street. I don’t really remember the details, but Jeb definitely put Paul’s car in neutral. Paul’s car was definitely PUT in neutral and Paul’s car definitely rammed the back of another car. I think Jeb ended up paying the damage off for a number of years.
• Friendly’s Parking Lot – Down the street from Jeb’s parents’ house was a Friendly’s, which became a bank-Starbucks combination probably more than a few years back. It was here where we somehow figured out that his Mercury Topaz key not only opened, but started my 1990 Toyota Camry. It was only minutes after this realization that I was bound in the back seat while Paul drove my car all the way to the airport before letting me out and returning us to more familiar areas.
• My Parents’ Front Porch – This isn’t really automobile related, but it is automobile facilitated. During our senior year spring, Paul and I hung out a lot. I guess we all did, but it seemed like there was a stretch of time where we had both been accepted in to college and weren’t too engaged with the last year of high school, so we went to Dairy Queen nightly. It wasn’t too rare that Paul would just come by and pick me up for our BlizzardTM ride. One night, the doorbell rang at my parents’ house, and I answered it to see Paul standing with his parents’ dog Clancy on a leash with him. Clancy was a nice but gross dog, whose fur felt like pubic hair. Most of my interactions with Clancy had been witnessing his 3 foot vertical leap that he repeatedly performed when one rang the door of his parents’ house. So I answered the door and said, “hello.” Paul didn’t address me, but said, ‘Clancy, go.’ Clancy started to pee all over the front step outside my parents’ front door. Clancy finished up and Paul walked him back to his car. There was no goodbye, no laughing by Paul, and no Dairy Queen trip that night. The interaction was as short as described. This event felt very Paul.
I’m struck that Mike Parsell, who had been hearing about Paul for years and years from the rest of us, but hadn’t even met him aside from one evening in passing at Jeb and Emily’s wedding, contributed something about him. There aren’t many people about whom you could ask people who haven’t even really met to write. There also probably aren’t many people about whom a whole mess of people would care enough to write whose reponse would be, “I don’t care.”
Though it is likely that Paul may not even like me at all, I love Paul Stefano. For some reason, I kinda want him to be annoyed that I love him.