When I was 11 I lied and said I was 13 when I submitted my full name, parent’s address, and list of favorite bands to Metal Edge magazine’s Pen Pals section.
Which was good because I was 13 when they published it.
I’d been a faithful reader of Metal Edge ever since my friend Annie, whose parents smoked Marlboro Reds in the kitchen and whose older brother played “Cum On Feel the Noize” in the basement had started decorating her room with its torn-out pages. We’d walk to the Rite-Aid not far from her house and buy each issue, taking care to get one from the back that hadn’t been fingered by other shoppers.
Soon my room was covered with long-haired, ripped-teeshirted Gods of Rock the likes of Rick Savage, Zakk Wylde, Stephen Pearcy, and Joey Tempest, their names discreetly printed in small white capital letters in the corner.
The Pen Pals page was newsprint like the other sections of the magazine not dedicated to preteen walls and promised the opportunity to make friends with metal fans world ‘round. On a piece of notebook paper I wrote:
(house and street omitted to protect my parents, who still live there)
New Martinsville, WV
Likes: Def Leppard, Poison, Whitesnake, Europe, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Stryper, White Lion
and sent it to the address ATTN: Pen Pals. Each month I’d stand in the Rite-Aid and nervously scan for my name. I didn’t know they’d printed it until the first letter arrived from Japan.
They came from Sweden and Huntington, WV. Letters came from Minneapolis and Ontario and Nevada, and one day an envelope arrived from San Antonio, TX, decorated with the most beautiful artwork I’d ever seen.
Freddy Q. was an artist. Freddy Q. loved White Lion. Freddy drew an amazing rendition of the Pride album cover on a piece of typing paper and sent it in a legal-size envelope so it wouldn’t have folds. I wrote and told Freddy about my family, my tape collection, and how I’d stained the driveway spray-painting banners for the Def Leppard concert. I told him about my Swatch phone and how my friend Rachael and I met a boy at the WOMP-FM Monster Jam and called everyone in the Wheeling phone book with his last name, asking if Mike was there, and the $124 phone bill my dad was surprised to receive.
Freddy and I exchanged phone numbers and agreed that he’d call. I waited that night with my finger on the hook, popping it up on the first ring so my parents would assume it was a wrong number.
The voice on the other end surprised me. It wasn’t his Spanish accent or the fact that his deep voice made him sound at least 17; it was the fact that I was hearing the voice behind the slanted scrawl and the heartfelt pencil drawings. We didn’t have much to say.
Later that spring, around the time mom filled my Easter basket with To Hell With the Devil on cassette and Misty of Chincoteague in paperback, my love of the magazine had started to fade. I’d graduated to full-sized posters, Kip Winger in a Bastille Day tank-top and the iconic G N’ R band shot replacing the tear-outs. Freddy didn’t write after the phone call, but I’ve always wondered what happened to the boy in Texas who loved White Lion.
Maybe I’ll find him on the Internet.