Wildwood Daze – The Button Master

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1979-1980

There was a little unique shop on the boardwalk called The Button Master. My friend, Wolfie who was in a band with me at the time used to call the place, The Button Bastard. (I don’t know why, but why not?)

The shop was nothing but buttons. This was a trend in the mid to late 70s. They had all kinds of cool phrases on them and they could even make custom buttons for you if you brought them an image.

I always had a few buttons stuck to my green army jacket, which had the logo of my band on the back, The Union Jacks. I also had several buttons on the black guitar strap for my guitar. They were one of Alex from A Clockwork Orange, (Read the book by Anthony Burgess in 12th grade in American Lit class and loved it but hadn’t seen the Kubrick movie yet because it was no longer out in theaters and they would never show something like that on TV back then!) I had a button that said; I Want It All, Total Control, and a custom button I had made of Farrah Fawcett. (Because I LOVED her back then)

The owner was never there and I only met him once. But there was a guy who was in his 20s from New York named Tom Duke who worked there. He was a nice guy and would always let me hang out there and talk about rock music. Which I loved. I would sometimes just go up there on my day off and just browse the buttons and chat with him. They were all super cheap. Maybe a buck apiece.

I think Tom lived there, because there was a mattress on the floor in the back room, and I assumed he crashed there all summer. He was skinny and sort of gaunt, so he may have been a random drug user who didn’t seem like a person of means. But he had vast musical knowledge and I loved talking about rock with anybody who knew what they were talking about back then.

He was a big, YES and Genesis fan, and told me he knew some of the guys in those bands which I thought was super cool. (Could have been a lie, but who’s checking?) He liked that the latest Genesis album was entitled, Duke, because that was his last name. Just a weird coincidence I suppose.

Sometimes he had beer and we’d drink and chat and make it a fun night laughing it up in the store. Alcohol was new to me back then and I could get a nice buzz from 2 bottles of Bud. I remember Tom going out the back door of the store once and peeing right off the edge of the boardwalk into the parking lot below. Somebody yelled at him to stop, but he just laughed and shouted, “What? It’s my F*cking parking spot!”

I thought that was hilarious.

One night I was hanging out in the store and it was getting late. I knew he’d be closing soon and I’d be going home. I was just hanging in the store and talking rock with him, and helping customers find different buttons. I had spent so much time in that store I sort of knew where everything was. Just sheets hung up around the room and thousands of colorful buttons pinned all over them. Pretty simple setup and cheap inventory with low overhead.

This couple came in and they sort of looked like hybrid hippies. In their late 30s or early 40s. Like, maybe they used to be hippies but cut their hair but still had that hippie vibe to them.

I noticed the guy had an iron-on of Wile E Coyote on his yellow T-shirt. But I’m pretty sure this wasn’t an image licensed by Warner Brothers. It was Wile E, in a diving position with his mouth open and the message said: Muff Diver.

I’d seen that image before, but it just seemed kind of creepy even back then. We only wore fun images and rock band names on our shirts, and here was this old guy with this weird awkward shirt on.

I pointed to the wall of buttons and asked him if there was anything he was interested in. His response was:

“Other than f*cking?”

Okay, that’s weird.

So then, what I’m assuming was wife starts flirting with me right in the store. I’m getting nervous because her husband is right there on the other side of the store. She’s touching me and rubbing my back and stuff. I’m 17 years old and still pretty naive. I’ve been dating girls since I was 14 years old, but this was some new adult ground for me back in 1980. But I have a couple of beers in me, so I’m not having an anxiety attack.

She says she wants me to come back to their motel room for some fun. She was kind of hot and I was debating whether I should do it, but something was telling me I shouldn’t. I was experiencing some classic stranger danger. I didn’t know these people. What if they took me back to their room and killed me? I liked horror movies and my mind went right to that image.

Her husband was sort of just standing off in the distance watching all of this. He was smiling and nodding his head. I’m thinking, is this something these people do? Hunt young teen guys for their kinky debauchery? I wasn’t stupid and I’d heard of people who were swingers but I hadn’t encountered anything like this before.

So, Tom Duke says, “Why don’t you two just go into the back room and have at it. I felt a little better about that idea because he was there and if anything weird went down he could come and save me.

But, here’s the thing, they were in agreeance only if her husband could join in. I was like… No way. No three-way with an old dude. His wife continued to stay close to me and rub my back like I was some sort of pet.

I told them I appreciated their offer, but I just wasn’t into that sort of thing. They were nice about it and just laughed. She turns to her husband and says: “I think it’s just a lack of experience.”

I protested that I was hip to all things like that but just wasn’t into that particular thing. But they knew. I did lack experience. But in all honesty, there was no way I was fooling around with a lady and a man in some sort of sexy tryst.

They smiled, said goodbye, and left the store to go hunt down some other hapless teen. I hope they didn’t find anybody.

The next day I went and told my boss Louie on the Golden Nugget the whole lurid story. He told me I did the right thing by declining their offer. I’ll never forget what Louie yelled to me over the noise of the ride.

“You could have been screwing the lady and then all of a sudden, you feel some guy getting you from behind!” (add expletives and profanity from your imagination)

Just another crazy summer night in Wildwood.

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Here’s my latest book. There will be a book about my summers in Wildwood coming Memorial Day 2023!

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