I was shooting hoops in the driveway on a Saturday afternoon in the spring, vaguely aware of the long-haired guys laughing and carrying on in Mr. Frey’s backyard next door. He had hippie bands over to his house once a month or so. These guys sounded British.
Mr. Frey was about half hippie himself, with hair down to his collar and a full beard. He was in the music business, and long hair was a requirement for young musicians and their managers, my mother explained, just as it was required for Dad to wear a suit and tie to his sales job in New York City.
As usual, Mom was tending her flowers in the front yard and Dad was pushing a mower across the back. He had his shirt off and Mom wore a sunhat the size of a truck tire.
A jumper found the net and, as I retrieved the ball, I became aware of a man walking towards me. “Hey, you want to play some football?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure.” I was twelve and played on a flag football team, where we liked to tackle an opponent and pull out his flag. The notion of tackling a few rock’n’rollers appealed. They weren’t much bigger than me.
“We could use you and one more. Allen said you have a brother?”
“I have two,” I said. “They’re up in the treehouse.”
We walked toward the structure, perched twenty feet up in a towering oak. We’d acquired the lumber for the treehouse a couple of years earlier, making several runs to construction sites under cover of darkness. “Isn’t this stealing?” my older sister Mary asked during one stealth run in our “Catholic Cadillac,” which is what Mom called our old station wagon.
“It would be,” Mom conceded, “except the builder overcharged us for the house. We’re just evening things out.”
She hired a neighborhood member of the counterculture to build the treehouse. It was large and sturdy, and when he finished the construction he painted it midnight blue. When that layer dried, he added yellow and orange flowers, peace signs, and swirls. We slept up there on balmy summer nights.
The musician seemed impressed; he called over his band mates to check it out.
“Hello,” one of them called, “is there anybody in there?”
Mike and Chris, the Irish twins, popped up and looked down at the crowd. Chris asked, “Who are you guys?”
One of them made introductions. “I’m Nick,” he said. “And my mates are David, Roger and Richard.”
Mike, a year older and much larger than Chris, was an easy choice for the football game. Plus, Mike liked to hit people – usually me – while Chris, a precocious physicist, preferred to ponder things such as the speed of light, the nature of time, and why Mike was in perpetual motion.
“Mind if we take a look at your treehouse?” Richard asked my brothers.
“If you can get up here,” Mike said. This was our usual challenge. Fewer than half the kids in the neighborhood possessed the climbing skills to ascend to our beloved fortress.
Mr. Frey strolled over, looking concerned. “I’ve seen kids fall from up there,” he said. “John, didn’t one of your friends break his ankle last summer?”
I confirmed that he had. “So guys,” Mr. Frey said to the band, “maybe heading up there isn’t a great idea. You break a leg, we have to cancel shows, you’ll let down the fans…”
They reluctantly agreed to stay grounded. Mike clambered down and they organized the football match, which we were disappointed to learn was actually soccer and didn’t involve tackling. I was teamed with David and Nick, Mike with Roger and Richard.
Mrs. Frey set up some lawn chairs and sat next to her husband. She kept a close eye on Harlan, their toddler, who was running around in his diaper and looked like he wanted to join the game.
Mike and I had never played soccer, but figured out the game fairly quickly, if unskillfully. The musicians encouraged us and ripped each other and laughed a lot. They let us score a couple of times, but battled each other fiercely.
David was dribbling up the makeshift field, pressured by Richard. He kicked the ball, trying to pass to me on the other side. Mike was watching me and didn’t see the ball coming and it struck him on the side of his face, hard. He stopped and put a hand to his ear, looking like he might cry. The band members ran over and made sure he was okay.
Then Mike picked up the ball and I saw what I always thought of as The Look. When Mike had The Look, I put as much distance between us as quickly as I could. The Look meant he was about to throw things.
He once threw a toy gun at me as I pedaled my banana-seat Schwinn furiously out of the driveway, leading me perfectly in a toss that would have made Joe Namath proud. The gun struck me on the crown of the head, resulting in a loud crash, full body scrapes, and several stitches.
Another time he threw a marble apple at me, narrowly missing my head but punching a hole through the panel wall in our living room. We recovered the apple and covered the hole with a picture, and our parents didn’t discover the damage for several years.
“You should run,” I advised David.
“Yeah, run away. Fast.”
At that moment, Mike struck, winding up and hurling the soccer ball into David’s stomach from a couple of feet away. He didn’t have time protect himself and doubled over, wincing. A few moments later he straightened up and forced a laugh; no grown man wants to admit he had been wounded by a kid armed with a soccer ball. I could tell he was one hurting hippie.
That effectively ended the soccer game. The wind was picking up and they got the idea to fly a kite. So they piled loudly into Mr. Frey’s car and he drove them over to the stores on Highway 35. They returned an hour later with groceries and a yellow and blue kite.
They got the kite up high and took turns holding the line. It was directly above my basketball hoop for a while, then took a nosedive toward our house, crashing hard. They tried to pull the kite loose but the line got wrapped around our TV antennae. Nick walked over to where Dad was pushing the mower, finishing up the final section of the yard. He lowered the throttle to hear.
“We seem to have caught our kite on your roof,” Nick said, pointing skyward. “Wondering if we could borrow a ladder?”
“Sure,” Dad said. “It’s in the garage. Help yourself.”
I showed them the ladder and they hauled it around to the side of the house, then extended it to the roof. “Should we draw straws?” Richard asked.
“Oh, I’ll go on up,” Roger said. Mr. Frey watched the kite recovery operation from his driveway, arms folded across his chest. He looked worried again.
Roger carefully ascended while the others steadied the ladder. Once on the roof, he strode up the incline to the antennae, where he began to untangle the rat’s nest of string. Took him a couple of minutes to get it loose. When he turned triumphantly, kite in hand, his smile became a frown when he saw that his band mates had removed the ladder and set it on the newly trimmed lawn. They laughed and pointed up at him.
“Right, very funny, now bring it back,” he demanded.
“Think it’s tea time,” David said. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back in a bit.”
“Come on!” Roger yelled. “You can’t leave me up here on the dark side of the moon!”
After some more teasing, the others relented and returned the ladder to the side of the house. Roger threw the kite angrily and it spun down to the yard. Dad had finished his meditative chore and returned the mower to the garage. He stepped out, pulled on a shirt and watched the young musicians carry the ladder toward him.
“I’m going to have a beer,” he said. “You fellas want to join me?”
“Cold comfort,” said Roger, and looked at his mates. “Yeah, sure.”
Mary and I were in charge of fetching beers. She seemed at a rare loss for words as she smiled and played waitress. Back in the living room, she was ecstatic. “Do you know who they are?” she asked me in a whisper.
I shrugged. “One of Mr. Frey’s bands.”
My sister knew her rock’n’roll and shook her head, appalled at my ignorance. “They are Pink Floyd!”
“ ‘Pink Floyd,’ “ Dad said, tasting the sound. “That doesn’t really work, does it? I like the color and name combination, but Jesus, not Pink Floyd!”
“You want us to change our name to ‘Jesus,’ “ joked David.
“Let’s see,” my father continued. “You’re British, so how about…Green Limeys? Or maybe Crimson Cockneys?”
“You know, we rather like Pink Floyd,” Nick said.
“Yes, sentimental about it,” Roger added.
Dad shrugged. “Hey, it’s your band. But you fellas are what, twenty-five or so? Have you thought about getting real jobs?”
Mom emerged from her garden looking fulfilled and filthy. She saw Mary frowning and shaking her head as she spied on the porch summit. “What’s wrong?” Mom said.
“Dad’s out there giving Pink Floyd career advice.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Mom said, looking at the four young men on the porch. “Which one is Pink?”
Soon after I heard one of the musicians say, “Well, time to go.” They thanked Dad for the beer and retreated to Mr. Frey’s house.
I returned to shooting hoops in the driveway. Mr. Frey walked over a short time later and handed me a pile of the band’s T-shirts. I thanked him and he said, “If they ask to go up in the treehouse again, tell them it’s off limits to anyone over fifteen.”
I didn’t listen to the band’s music for a while, and it took me awhile longer to appreciate their artistry. I’ve occasionally told friends – and once or twice an attractive woman in a bar – that I played soccer with Pink Floyd. “Sure,” one of my friends said, rolling his eyes. “And I played guitar with Michael Jordan.”
The band split up, as bands do, and most of what I’ve heard about them over the years has been negative – feuds and lawsuits and assorted acrimony. Yet I can’t help but see Pink Floyd through the prism of my 12-year-old eyes: a beautiful bunch of hippies in harmony with each other and the world, shining like crazy diamonds.
John Foley is a writer, artist and high school teacher. His freelance work has appeared in Sail Magazine, Heinemann Books for Young Readers, Spirituality & Health and many other publications, and his novels include Hoops of Steel, which was named a Book for the Teen-Age by the New York Public Library. He lives with his wife and son in Prescott Valley, Arizona.