I think I was in 7th grade when a new family moved into the house down the street: The Allens. Remember the “One of these things is not like the other ones” song on Sesame Street? That’s what comes to mind when I think of the Allens. The immediate distinction was their obvious un-Mormonness, but we had a few non-Mormon families in the neighborhood, so that didn’t quite explain it. And I still can’t quite explain it.
I don’t know where they had lived before, but it must have been someplace like Southern California or Italy or Hawaii. I don’t say this merely because of their permanent tans, but because they were possessed of a type of cool not indigenous to Utah. And it wasn’t an establishment cool, but a very independent, working class cool.
I think the dad had a little masonry business, or something in construction. He was bald and bearded and very friendly, and he wore Magnum P.I. shorts and his birthday top. I’m sure he was aware that his hairy beer-belly, huge German Sheppard, front yard drinking, and basically everything else about them was foreign to the fair-haired LDS kids biking around, so he went out of his way to smile and wave. I appreciated that. I liked Mr. Allen. He and Mrs. Allen had an aura about them that said “I’m slaving away this summer to be able to spend the fall in Cabo/Havasupai/Key West with our laidback, leathery friends and Budweisers on our boat Monkey Business/Endless Summer/Sailor’s Delight.”
I knew things were going to get wild when their youngest son, Brian, introduced himself to everyone at school as “Bra.” That was what he insisted being called. There were a few crazy things about this. 1. Bra was obviously a potty word and this was Farmington Jr. High. 2. A bra was a girl thing and if anyone else would have asked to be called Bra he would have been labeled as a homo and picked on for the next 5 years.
Brian even insisted to the teachers that they call him Bra. That was a big deal. I clearly remember getting the fourth-hand scoop on how old Mrs. so-and-so refused to call him Bra and how he had argued that that was the name he went by and she relented! But Bra was the one guy who could pull it off. He was very big for his age (a year older than me), although not a jock, and he had this swagger that the brown brick halls of Farmington Jr. High could hardly contain. I’ve never seen that swagger since. It was in the same family as the magic James Dean had.
Bra had an instant crew of flunkies right when he showed up. It was like 6 or 7 guys from the stoner and skater orbits saw him walk through the door and thought “Yep, there’s the one I’ve been waiting for. That’s my new leader,” and then walked over to him to see what was next. I tried not to be too in awe of Bra, because I thought I was sort of cool too, and this was my home turf. But looking back now, I see that he was Johnny Depp and I was Don from Napoleon Dynamite.
And if you were impressed with Bra, you were in for a ride, because he was really the radness-runt of the family. The oldest of the three kids was Jake. Jake was about the most handsome, friendly, confident, curly-haired Greek god you ever met as a kid. He was probably 6 years older than me. One of the nicest things that has ever happened to me was when Jake asked me to play on the competition roller hockey team he coached (I wasn’t always 7’3’’). He had seen my moves around the neighborhood. I refused. That seems so weird to me now. I could have spent all this quality time with my hero, and the league was in Ogden so we would have all that driving time together. But I turned him down, I think because I was intimidated and nervous. To top it all off, Jake had taken an old Chevy Bronco, spent countless hours customizing and fixing it up, and ended up with the most boss 4×4 south of Layton. It had a gorgeous yellow body, huge 36 or 37 inch tires (your family suburban probably has 30 inch tires), wench, roll cage, the works. Jake was the man.
Jake’s sister of similar age (maybe they were twins) was his equal in every respect. Except she wasn’t nice, which added to her allure. She was beautiful, very tan, had rich, long dark hair, and looked like something of a hippie queen. I assume there were at least a few exchanges between Compton Bench moms about this new immodest, car-washing threat to the neighborhood. From the 3-second glances I caught of her while whooshing by their house on two, four, or eight wheels, I could tell that she thought she was way too good for this Podunk Pleasantville she was stuck in. And she was right. She belonged in Hollywood or Paris or touring with the Grateful Dead as head groupie. I never exchanged a word with her.
I can’t remember when or where they moved, but my later memories of the neighborhood find them not living there anymore. To me the Allens represent my curiosity throughout my life about what it would be like to be someone else. I didn’t necessarily want to be an Allen. But I wondered what it would be like to live a totally different life. I still wonder that.