My memory floats back on rainy days with Van Morrison singing, back to late adolescence in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I don’t go into the back pages of my life too often, but when I do, it’s both comforting and poignant, like a bayberry candle burning in a funeral home. A warm memory arises of teenage guys hanging together, listening to music and talking, trying to figure our way through life. Then another ethereal memory floats by, sweet fumes and specters. These jeweled memories hang together on specially braided brain wavelengths– pearls, rubies, agates, opals, and jade. Precious individually but priceless as a group.
One such string of memories starts at Mark Craver’s kitchen table, surrounded by bright orange flowers on the wallpaper. My brother Steve, Gerard, Gulley, Crave, and I were yakking and drinking whiskey, I think. Could have been vodka, who knows. It was late. Crave didn’t drink much, if any. Never saw him drink a beer, come to think of it. Gulley’s dad worked at the White House then. Must have been Jerry Ford’s place in those days. One of a few of our un-elected presidents. Anyway, Gulley was jabbering about this or that and we said, “Call the White House. Go on. Call them.”
Now this was long before the cell phone or internet. Gulley picked up Colonel Craver’s kitchen wall phone and punched in some numbers. He handed it to me. A crisp young Marine voice answered, “Good evening, you’ve reached the White House. How may I direct your call?” I froze and quickly hung up. Some things are pranks; other things are precursors to getting arrested. This was definitely the latter.
“Okay, Gulley. You got me. Dang! I hope they don’t trace the call. Let’s go somewhere, fast.” I imagined the Secret Service surrounding the house and calling us out with bullhorns… “Put the phone down. Walk out backwards with your hands interlaced behind your heads. Any sudden moves will result in death by our sharp shooters. No booty dances either. We’ll shoot you in the head for that.”
A funny aside, as I go down this bunny trail, Crave’s younger brother was interviewed by the FBI during the Unabomber hunt. Apparently Nate had drifted and hitch hiked in a manner that put him near the bombing sites at the time of the explosions. How unlucky can a guy be? “No, no. I can explain. I’m a brilliant but aimless drifter without any attachments to stabilize me and nothing to lose. I’m not your guy despite the strangely convincing circumstances.”
Now this may be sequentially incorrect or right on. Memories overlap and play dress up in my mind sometimes. As I recall we got a crazy urge to move, go for a ride. I suggested Richmond, Virginia, a two hour drive south. Gulley had his Super Beetle back then. He jumped on the idea and off we went to 95 South at three or four a.m. on an early summer night. He and Craver were the big boys, so they sat up front. Gerard, my brother, and I were skinny then and sat in the back, hips grinding into each other. Sideways, please! Our mood was high and optimistic, nearly manic. Gulley got so excited about the bubbling bromantic adventure that he punched his windshield and created an interesting spiderweb pattern that was hard to see through. We stopped for beer at a 7-11 somewhere on the way and were told we had to wait till 5 or 6 a.m. to buy the beer. Apparently Virginia had a sober up time back then. We waited and carried on for a while; bought the beer; and sojourned southward in the weighted down VW with the cracked windshield. I would have pulled such a car over for no other reason than violating fashion laws… had I been a cop, which would have been ludicrous for any civilized society.
[Why do adolescent males do the things they do? And who pays for the damages? The driver’s insurance and the driver usually. “Mr. Gulley, it appears that your windshield was hit by an object on the inside. How does that work?”
There was the time we sat on the hood of Sam’s 1968 Ford Falcon, which I would later buy for $400. The car was bottoming out on the dirt road out of the campground we had inhabited the night before. The three passengers got out to put weight on the front end and counterbalance the vehicle. Of course we laughed and carried on. The park ranger cop was not amused and wrote Sam a ticket for some violation or other. His license and registration were in the glove box under an ounce of pot. Sam was cool and compliant that day, but I know he had to go back to Fauquier County courthouse to answer for our crime against nature and humanity, a month later with his dad, the Air Force colonel.
Then there was the ride back from Dulles Airport in the middle of a moonlit night when Dwight turned the lights of his green VW bug on just in time to hit a deer. Amazingly only the deer died. The VW sustained sheet metal damages, nothing more. We deserved worse but were spared so I could blog about it forty years later, I suppose.]
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