In 1978, my best friend in the world was Mike Gustafson.
A tall and lanky kid, Mike Gustafson was adored by our entire 3rd grade class, all of whom lovingly called him “Gus.”
Gus was a tall introvert from a broken home, slightly spoiled yet remarkably grounded. I always looked up to Gus, both literally and figuratively. In 4th grade basketball, I was in awe of Gus’ ability to consistently score with his trademark, left-handed hook-shot. Absolutely owning the air above the court, Mike’s ability to rule from above was jaw-droppingly cool, especially to a diminutive child like me.
As an adult â€” and especially as a Mego collector â€” I marvel at my memories of Gus. I don’t have a single memory of ‘playing Mego’ with Gus, yet time spent with him ranks among my greatest childhood memories. Instead of Mego, my recollections of Gus revolve around the rock band KISSâ€¦ and costumes.
Gus and I spent countless hours in his mom’s one-bedroom apartment. I remember playing with his Super Joes and other toys, but our shared passion was KISS. Splayed across the shag carpet of his mom’s corner plot in the Traver Street Apartments, we repeatedly dropped the needle on KISS’ Love Gun and Alive II. Such obnoxious behavior maddened most parents, but Gus’ mom was not like other moms. Relatively young, Gus’ mom was quite hip, notably attractive and very accommodating. In today’s parlance, Gus’ mom was a MILF.
Of course, when I was 8 years old, I didn’t think that way. I just remember how I felt about her the day Gus told me she had scored THREE TICKETS to see KISS playing Cobo Arena in Detroit, with an upstart opening band (called Cheap Trick. Ahem.) â€” and I was invited to take the third seat.
I’ll skip the melodrama of my parents’ forbidding my attendance of that legendary concert. Sure, I still have some issues surrounding their unfortunate decision, but I can’t change the past. Besides, given Gus’ mom’s reputation and behaviour, I can’t really blame them for preventing my attendance. But oh! What I would give now to have witnessed that concert!
Anyway, Gus and I loved KISS as much as we loved playing dress up. In early 1978, months before Richard Donner’s landmark “Superman” film debuted in our Michigan home town, Gus’ mom made a Superman costume for her kid. To complete the ensemble, she even ordered a tiny Superman patch from one of those ubiquitous ads printed on the backs of our beloved comic books!
When Gus first donned the costume for me, I remember thinking it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Months later, I begged Gus to let me borrow the outfit, and he generously obliged. By that time, unfortunately, he was unable to locate the belt. I vividly recall the belt as yellow, braided-cloth with a gilded buckle. I begged him to find it, but it was simply lost. Despite the disappointment, I happily took the beltless outfit home.
I don’t think I took it off for several days in a row.
After wearing it relentlessly, my dad suggested we take some pictures, and I’m thrilled he did, as I can now look back on these memories with some visual evidence. Here’s me in Spring 1978, wearing a beltless version of Gus’ mom’s Superman costume:
Candid shot, trying my best to look ‘Super-manly.’
Perched in a rotted old tree in our front yard, ready to strike!
Apparently, I didn’t need Christopher Reeves’ patriotic take on the role to appreciate the character’s ideals. The black lines beneath my chin reveal my history as a true ‘latch key’ kid of the 1970s; the black lines are a shoe-lace necklace that held a key to my house.
Perhaps the most telling photograph of my entire childhood; clearly, I took this stuff waaaaay too seriously. Lighten up, kid!
I wish you well, Gus, wherever you are. I sure miss those days we spent together, and I hope you are doing well.