The Boys of My Dreams (or: I Was Almost a Rock Star Detective)
I got the scrapbook for my tenth birthday—a large spiral-bound book with a groovy green cover. On the front, there was a cartoon drawing of a girl with daisies in her hair, wearing a daisy yellow dress, carrying daisies, walking barefoot through a field of daisies, and talking to a butterfly.
Inside I wrote in magic marker: My Charlie’s Angels and Hardy Boys Scrapbook. And then proceeded to fill each page with every picture of every boy I ever loved. Which was many, many boys. Tim Van Patten of The White Shadow. Woody Wood of the Bay City Rollers. Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick. Gregory Harrison. Barry Gibb. Bjorn Borg. Toward the back of the scrapbook, I wrote: Cats, Dogs, and other Animals! Plus other stars like Donny and Marie, and Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, Cheryl Tiegs! And then filled up the following pages with more pictures of Woody Wood, Tom Petersson, and Parker Stevenson.
Because my feelings for Parker were so enormous, I wallpapered my room with his face and wrote him a poem:
I love your hair,
I love your eyes,
Your smile lights the summer skies.
I love your face,
Which leaves a trace of prettiness,
If there was a Miss America for men,
You would surely win.
I penned long fan letters to him, but was too shy to mail them. I spent whole nights lying awake in my canopy bed, trying to figure out a way to meet him. I was ten. He was twenty-something. I lived in Indiana. He lived in California. I was a fourth grader at Westview Elementary School. He was a TV star. But my parents—particularly my mother—had always taught me that you could be or do anything you put your mind to.
In addition to meeting Parker Stevenson, the thing I most wanted to do in the world was be a rock star. Then it was a private detective, then an astronaut, an archaeologist, an actress, and then a rock star who was also a private detective who sometimes acted and flew into space. I also dreamed of being a writer, and by the time I was ten, I had written, in addition to my poetic ode to Parker, an autobiography (My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sister entitled Blindness Strikes Mary, a series of prison mysteries, a collection of short stories featuring me as the main character (an internationally famous rock star detective), and a partially finished novel about Vietnam.
Long before I could figure out how to be Mrs. Parker Stevenson or, at the very least, how to meet him, my passion waned, as it always did, and I became more and more devoted to Tom Petersson. Parker began to seem too… nice. Too… safe. Too… boring. I was now eleven, after all. Something about Tom was dangerous and exciting. It wasn’t just that he played bass guitar in a rock band and that he was dark and tall. You could just look at him on the cover of Heaven Tonight—at his sleepy eyes and messy hair (all that hair!)—and tell that this was not a nice boy or a good boy or a safe boy. No. This was a very bad boy. Someone who might do wicked things like stay out late or drive fast. (Alarmed by my love for him, my mother explained to me what a “cheap trick” was—thrillingly, it had something to do with a prostitute—assuming it would shock me away from the band and Tom. If anything, my devotion to him only deepened.) I loved him more than I had ever loved Parker. More than I loved Bjorn Borg or Woody Wood or Tim Van Patten. I loved him as much as Freddie Prinze Sr. I was inconsolable because I didn’t know him.
My friend Heather Craig and I alternated playing Charlie’s Angels and ABBA, with Cheap Trick’s lead vocalist, Robin Zander, as her boyfriend and Tom Petersson as mine. We gave concerts in my room or solved mysteries and then we sat in the stands (my bed) of Wembley Arena (my green room) and listened to the boys as they sang songs to us. Tom Petersson only sang one Cheap Trick song because he played bass, which meant I largely had to sit there and listen to Robin sing songs to Heather. This was maddening, but fortunately the song Tom sang was a good one. It was all about how he’d been around the world and met a million girls, but the only one he wanted was you—or me, as I interpreted it.
I played that song over and over pretending he was singing it to me. I listened to it so much that I knew he was singing it to me, just like he would one day when he was my boyfriend and we were traveling the world being rock star detectives together. I dreamed of what that day would be like—the day I would meet him, just like Vicki Lesner of Ecorse, Michigan, a girl I read about in 16 Magazine. She had met the entire band—including Tom—at an autograph session at a record store and Robin Zander had kissed her and Tom had talked to her. I didn’t know Vicki Lesner, but I hated her really and truly. I couldn’t imagine anything better than getting to meet Tom Petersson, and she had barely even cared. She seemed to think getting kissed by Robin was about the biggest deal there was.
In 1996, I was working at House of Blues in Los Angeles, writing the content for their website and interviewing the musicians who came through the club. By this time, I’d managed to meet two of my lesser childhood crushes—Richard Hatch (who had advertised acting classes in the back of the Hollywood Reporter) and Mario Van Peebles (whom I met on a television set at Warner Bros). When I heard Cheap Trick was coming, I worked myself into a complete state of wild panic the entire week before they arrived.
The members of the band and I spent the day of their concert together—the entire day—lounging about in the green room. They were funny and warm and crazy and down-to-earth. They were, after all, just four Midwestern boys from Chicago. I, of course, told them how I had loved them since I was little. How I used to play pretend and how I had dreamed and dreamed of this moment for all my life. I sat next to Tom Petersson on the couch. He was still handsome, still sexy, still able to stop my heart just by being. I asked him if he ever sang in concert his one solo song, the one I used to pretend he sang to me in my green room in Indiana.
“No,” he said. “For everyone’s sake, I stopped singing in public a long time ago.” (This inspired laughter and agreement all around.) Then he asked me if I would be at the concert. I said yes, right down front.
That night, as I leaned on the stage, he caught my eye between songs and then nodded to the rest of the band. I heard the oh-so familiar sounds of much-loved guitar chords, and suddenly Tom replaced Robin at the microphone.
He looked right at me the entire time he sang—all about how he’d been around the world and met all those girls, but how he only wanted to be with me—just as I’d always imagined he would. For four-plus minutes, I didn’t breathe or blink. I stood there watching him, taking in every word, willing myself to never ever, so long as I lived, forget that moment.
The rest of the concert was a blur, and afterward I left, skipping the after-party, which I’d been invited to, and where I may or may not have had the chance to get to know Tom better. I went home and lay down on my floor and listened to my recording of the concert over and over again. When I closed my eyes, I wasn’t in my Los Angeles apartment, I was in my green room again, and I was eleven years old and filled with possibility.
It wasn’t about sleeping with my childhood crush or even kissing him—the real Tom would have had a hell of a time living up to the fantasy of the pretend Tom anyway. It was about something greater than that. It was about something my parents taught me. It was about something I’d always believed. It was about something Jiminy Cricket once said: “If you don’t have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?”