323. Remitch

[I’ve been all serious for the last three posts. Whew! Enough already. I need some big fat whimsy steak with a sweet mustard sauce of glibness. A side of steaming tomfoolery. And for my appetizer I’d like a half dozen giggles on the half shell. A raw guffaw salad and some buttery belly rolls of laughter. Yeah, and let’s see, I’ll wash it down with a quart of bubbling uproar. I cannot live on a daily diet of grim gruel, bloggourmets. Spasms of humor spew out of my mind/throat connection from time to time. I must chuckle up.]

I ran into  Mitch at the coffee shop today. He’s getting big, buff and beardy. We chatted briefly about his new girl friend, number 9 someone suggested. I had met him and her off the leash at a local  winery about five weeks ago. It was a lovely summer night and the C- band played Jimmy Buffet style Island Music Mahn as the sun set in their glazed eyes. The band’s eyes, that is. We danced the conga line and did the limbo, among other island standards.

That night I validated Mitch’s choice of girlfriend, which surprised him. He told me I’d always been cautious about his previous selections. I told him I had to approve of this one. “Why is that?” he asked innocently enough.  “Because my shoulders are covered in your tears, mucus, snot and drool, Bro. I can’t carry you through another relationship. This one has to work.”

“Wow, that’s a pretty powerful endorsement, Dude.”

“You bet your skinny jeans it is.”

Well, I inquired about the aforementioned g.f., and he told me things were moving along nicely.  One glitch arose, however. When he went to show her one of my old Mitch blog posts, he got stuck in the archives. I suggested that he simply Google, Mitchlessly. Burritospecial.Wordpress.Com. Or he could sample South Central Brovania at the same address. He felt that was too much to remember and suggested that I simply copy it forward, (something I abhor) or else write a new post about him. Okay, I can do that.

I pondered my material and decided to do a Re mix called Remitch. I’d just let my mind wander and associate all my Mitch points of contact. The funny thing is that I actually met his grandfather Ed Latch decades back, maybe even before Mitch was born. I coached basketball one year and Ed was the Godfather of Catholic Youth League basketball in our area back then. I don’t recall much about that season except we once  played a game with only four players and nearly won. The rule stated that you needed five players at the tipoff of a game. Well, our fifth player was very sick but agreed to stand there at the tip off. Then he sat for the remainder of the game.

Naturally one of my players fouled out, but the opposing coach decided to let the kid stay in the game despite the foul maximum. Eventually one of  his starters fouled out, and I had to return the favor. We lost, sort of, by the score. It would have been a better story if we’d won.

I first saw Mitch when he was in high school, rocking the electric guitar at a music program. He played some licks from the back corner of the high school auditorium. I have no idea what the selection was, maybe Deep Purple. We were there to listen to our exchange student Kaisa’s boyfriend Tyler “the Wedgie Boy” play drums. I named him “the Wedgie Boy” because he had perfected the skinny jeans look back in 2006, so much so that he appeared to be suffering from a permanent case of the walking, talking  wedgie. I didn’t trust him either. When a boy spends more time on his hair, clothes and make up than your daughter, albeit a foreign exchange daughter, beware.

I realize these are very thin tangents that almost connect to Mitch. Eventually he came out front as a very good guitarist in our church’s praise band while at the same time whipping up coffees and lattes at the bean shop on the square. That’s where we connected as he moaned and groaned through his first relationship with the music pastor’s daughter. Like every first love there is blindness, myopia, nearsightedness, ocular distortion, retarded perception, and various other ailments. It was a wide but shallow emotional swamp Mitch had to cross back then. Sad songs were written as a consequence. Very sad,

“I got the preacher daughter blues, it’s a game that you just can’t lose

Preacher daughter blues, from my head down to my shoes

If it weren’t for that preacher’s daughter, I think I could let myself get loose.

Instead I got to choose: be who I am or one of her fools.”

Day after gray day we huddled and shared the wisdom gleaned from failed relationships, the fallen kernels of truth winnowed after struggling harvests from burned fields. Think of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.

“Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood

And I don’t care if the money’s no good

Just take what you need and leave the rest,

But they should never have taken the very best.”

That lyric refers to Robert E. Lee, hero of a lost cause. Somehow Mitch fits in by association. He has a wonderful heart and a deep spirit. He just needed to grow his mind to match them. Pain has a way of growing those pathways by pruning away the ones we would naively prefer to follow. Yeah, I like that.

So here is to Mitch and his g.f. # 9. On SportsCenter they always say, “She’s a beauty that number 9”. Well, in this case it’s true.

 

318. Pine Street

I lived upstairs on Pine Street in Richmond for a year or so while I was in my sophomore year of college. That whole block has since been torn down and redeveloped into modern campus buildings. Back in the 1970’s it was a bleak block of row houses. Ours was a wood frame with an add on kitchen out the back. Our kitchen had been built over a sloped first floor roof. The resulting floor was so slanted that, even when quite sober, you’d toddle downhill in agreement with gravity. If you were intoxicated, everything was fine; you just had to lean again the house lean. Simple. The back kitchen door/ fire escape from the death trap led to a steep set of wooden stairs facing due east and busy Belvedere Street. From the top step I’d sometimes smoke a cigarette and laugh out loud at the huge sign over the used car lot on Broad Street. It featured a slick mustachioed sales cad, Mad Man Dapper Dan the Used Car Man and the saying, “I’d give them away but my wife won’t let me.” His face seemed to view all of Richmond, as if he were some Middle Eastern despot watching for moral failures in the populace.

“Dan, you are the man. I trust you, Dude.”

It still cracks me up to imagine an evening in Dapper Dan’s company, cigar in one hand, bourbon in the other, telling tales of great car deals and trips to exotic Roanoke. “Boy, the things I seen and dun can’t be cataloged  by a million monks in a million encyclopedias in a million years. You know, I just love that word, MILLION.” Fading like old black and white photos, my memories sort of bleed into one another as my neural pathways move in together to cut expenses in retirement.

AbandonedHousesFinal

We had no air conditioning, of course, and the Richmond summers were the equivalent of hippopotamuses in weather terms– big, fat, wet, sloppy, and dangerous. The wiring would likely have melted if we’d tried an a/c window unit. So we would climb out on the porch roof facing Pine Street on hot nights and drink a few cheap beers while we listened to music blast from inside. It was often a pathetic portrait of perspiring almost, nearly, slightly, okay dammit-ghetto ennui. Our porch roof aligned with the rest of the row house porch roofs all the way down the block, until the line jutted out to the sidewalk at the up and coming new restaurant and potted palm tree bar called Bruce’s, with skylights in their roof. Well, it was not out of the ordinary for one of my crew to walk down the porch roofs past sleeping neighbors to wave in on the diners through the skylight. Later, the diners might see us as they came out to get in their cars. We were not hassled as much as we deserved to be but merely shooed away like annoying city pigeons. College communities have a high tolerance for the ludicrous, I have learned.

Often while listening to Clapton or Hendrix or the Beatles, we could watch people doing things on the street or sidewalk that they thought no one else could see. We had no television and this was in the dinosaurlike pre-personal computer age. One boring rainy night my roomie Jeff and I were in our porch roof positions beneath metal awnings as a couple came out of the above cited restaurant/bar, walking slightly sloppily. It was clear that they were tipsy. The man opened the door of the dark sedan in the rain and his Betty Boop jumped in to the passenger seat, giving me and Jeff a clear view of what was about to go down. The tipsy strange man started the car and the windshield wipers began flapping. The car remained in park while the passengers got into gear.

Jeff was picking along to the Beatles “I Want You” on his black and white Fender and amp as we glommed on to the steamy car action unfolding in front of and below us.  We laughed as the couple began some rather heated making out and mutual fondling. Jeff cranked up the volume and continued picking, “I want you, I want you so bad, Babe. I want you so bad, It’s driving me mad, it’s driving me mad.” Though the impassioned couple could not see or hear us, they complied with clumsy choreography on the beat. It was amazingly synchronized even though this was in the pre- music video era. All live action.

Let’s just say that the steamed up couple reached a crescendo as the guitar raged into the curtain of droning summer rain, pounding out an urgent beat on the aluminum awnings above us. Jeff shifted with the bridge to “She’s so heavy, heavy, heavy, etc.” while the wipers worked in time like a metronome.

We thought it couldn’t get any funnier as the song ended and Jeff set his guitar down. We stood up and clapped for their performance. I suppose our dual stand up against the stained yellow light behind us caught Betty Boop’s eye. She lifted her head up and made a most amazing face.

We couldn’t hear the scream but we saw her mouth open and her teeth bared. Obscenities were mouthed through the steamed up window.  In just a couple of seconds the sedan lights came on and the car peeled away without looking any which way. I can imagine it was an awkward verbal ending to a their gymnastic achievements.

Well, that is a great story to tell when folks mention compromising positions, but I feel like Mad Man Dapper Dan when I repeat this double indiscretion. I have no cigar or bourbon, but I feel like a sleazy used car salesman anyway. I suppose that conviction is caused by some decency knocking on my conscience’s door. If I answer it, I might wind up in jail. Just turn the lights out and stay quiet. (In a whisper voice… “I’d give them away but my wife won’t let me.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

281. South Central Brovania

Image result for dudes with beards picturesInside the boro limits of Turtle Town Is a little 2 bedroom apartment known affectionately as Brovania. That’s hyphenation talk for “brothers in Pennsylvania”. The two Bros who live there are Mitch and Byron, former barristas from my coffee shop. Nice guys, both of them. And single. It seems that nice young single guys are fairly rare, vastly outnumbered by nice young single ladies. This imbalance causes much anguish on both sides of the dating football or croquet mallet… or any other bad metaphor you can come up with, my bold bloggnats. It appears to me (as an old geezer from two generations back) that modern dating is far more fragile than it used to be. The vetting process is longer, even arduous at times. As if each person involved were a possible fake Rembrandt that needs to be tested and insured before it can be loved. In my old days it took a smile, eye contact, a little chat, a suggestion and then the promise of the next day… until a string of days ran unbroken into an exclusive relationship. There were no “friends with benefits” that I knew of in the 1970’s.  Nor were there long times of testing and making sure of relationships. We just dove in, or maybe it was just folks like me who dove first and checked water depth second. Some friends’ marriages wound up with broken necks. Mine was merely strained.

Perhaps there is less trust left on the planet, you know, like fossil fuels. Everything is tested and surveyed– our political candidates have focus groups for their campaigns; television shows and movies are previewed with mock audiences prior to launch. I want to yell, ‘Hey, if your ideas are worthy, why are you shaving them for public  approval?’ Leading from behind is what that is called, I believe.  Ahhh yesss, it’s about the consumption and profit motive. “Trust me, friends. I want what’s good for me.” Your approval equates to their power and money. Even Enterprise Rental cars called me while I was in the bathtub to see how I felt about my recent rental car experience. “Wet. Warm. Clean.” This after the hospital sent me a survey about my recent $2,000 ER visit for a paralyzed neck. (This had nothing to do with the state of my marriage.) Please comment below: “Um, SHOCKED  but insured, thank God, rather than bankrupted.” But dating? You need trust, which is truth over time. Both, not one or the other.  On-line sites are everywhere advertising great outcomes for their users. Sure, it’s possible. But every week Comcast sends me slick advertising urging me to switch over to their bundle of services, while my phone rings with offers of reduced utility bills. They are all moving product or services. Maybe I could bundle my internet, with E-Harmony, and my electric bill. Buy, save, now. It’s exhausting if you take any of this endless feedback loop seriously. But dating??? It’s swimming with sharks outside of Brovania.

After a while all this quality control crap becomes so much background noise to tune out. So I’m tuning out and wondering how life is inside Brovania. But I need not wonder for long because the boys Facebook (verb use here) all their major activities. I know where Mitch is more often than Mitch does with only occasional F’book cruising. The old saying “Youth is wasted on the young” has a lot more grit and traction the older you get. Folks said that when I was young. I didn’t get it then, but I do now.  Reminds me of an old poem by Irving Layton that intrigued me as a kid.

By walking I found out
Where I was going.

By intensely hating, how to love.
By loving, whom and what to love.

By grieving, how to laugh from the belly.
Out of infirmity, I have built strength.

Out of untruth, truth.
From hypocrisy, I wove directness.

Almost now I know who I am.
Almost I have the boldness to be that man.

Another step

And I shall be where I started from.

I would add that by aging I have learned how to be young. And I treasure that innocence and optimism that the boys from Brovania still exhibit. The freshness of young love, a good buddy to hang with, a local brew, the unlimited horizon. The view from Brovania is awesome once you learn that life is lived looking forward but understood looking backward.

Reminds me of the time Sam and Chris and Mark and I took off in the middle of a summer night and went camping at the Meadowlands State Park just south of Paris, Virginia. It was a straight shot out Route 50. We pitched a tent in the dark and fell down laughing. In the morning we realized we had not a single crumb of food. We manufactured some fishing poles out of discarded hooks and fishing line. In no time we had caught several blue gills and cooked them on a grill. No one had a fishing license, I’m sure. We did have a bag of pot in Sam’s glove box, which we enjoyed to excess.
On our way out of the park the road was so rutted and bumpy that we got out and rode on the hood of Sam’s Ford Falcon to help balance the front end and stop bottoming out. Wouldn’t you know that a county mounty rolled up and wrote Sam a ticket for reckless operation of a motor vehicle or some such thing. Sam reached into the glove box for his registration just under the ounce of pot. It was  a long moment till we all exhaled. After a lame lecture about safe vehicle operation, Officer Barney Fife let us go.

I’ve never forgotten the incident. It resides next to the memory of driving back from Dulles Airport under a full moon without headlights in Dwight’s old green Volkswagen bug. He turned on his lights only to see a large doe standing in front of us with the original “deer in the headlights” look. We hit her and then the front trunk blew open, which caused great panic among us four guys. When Dwight finally stopped the bug just short of the pine woods on the right shoulder, we watched his spare tire bounce away into the woods. It was another long moment before we all exhaled and saw the deer hair stuck in any crack in the VW. The hood was forced back into its original shape. We retrieved the spare tire while laughing outrageously. Dwight was an official Deer Slayer. “By turning on my high beams, I saw where I was going.” That’s not a poem. It’s just a message smuggled out of Brovania.

*** continue the fun at 52. Mitchlessly

 

171. Adolessons 2

I recall a night in mid-May of 1975. I had just gotten home from my first year of college. My buddies came by and we drank some beer and perhaps smoked some pot. It was a long time ago. All these things were legal then if you were under the influence of adolescence. There was Craver, Tim Gulley, Gerard Windt, my older brother Steve, and me. Craver and Gulley were big boys– 250 each; “G” was like a piece of shoelace licorice; and my brother and I were average size 20 and 19 year olds. Anyhow, we wound up at Craver’s kitchen table, blathering and joking, and we were looking for some adventure. Gulley was blathering on about his father and how he worked at the White House. I challenged his b.s. He called the White House and handed me the phone. “Good evening, this is the White House. How may I help you?” said the very adult voice on the other end. I hung up. “I hope they don’t trace prank calls”, was my lame reply to Gulley. I wouldn’t want Mark’s dad, Colonel Craver, to get that follow up phone call.

Image result for vietnam era army ranger pictures

 

“Uh huh, they did what? Why that’s un-American. I’ll take care of it with my Ranger-trained hands.” He served much too long in Vietnam, and the country changed on him while he was deployed. That’s another blog post.

I suppose the conversation moved on to our girlfriends. Somehow I mentioned that mine was stuck at college in Richmond till her mother could drive down and fetch her on the weekend. Gulley, ever grandiose and seeking universal approval, offered that we all pile in his Volkswagen and drive to Richmond and bring her back immediately. “Gulley, there are five of us going down in a VW Beetle. One of us would have to get out and hitchhike back.”

“No, we’ll squeeze in on the way back.”

The funny thing about substances is how they can make what is clearly impossible seem viable. We piled into his Beetle. It was tight. Gulley was over-excited and did a very Gulley thing: he punched his windshield and made a fist-sized spider web appear. Now usually such a bad omen would make an audience reconsider what’s up. Nope. We just headed down the road in the dark. Luminescence became pleasantly kaleidoscopic as we passed streetlights and other vehicles.

Now a careful reader might ask at this juncture, “Don’t you ever learn?” I mean there was the broken foot while skipping school; the mangled deer with the headlights out; the somnambulance ride to Ocean City; not to mention the ticket Sam got when three of us rode on the hood of his Falcon to keep it from bottoming out on a back road in Fauquier County, and a local sheriff couldn’t see the wisdom of that move.( Another pile of guys had decided to go camping in the middle of another bored summer night.) And the answer is an unequivocal “NO”.

Our first destination was the 7-11 store for more beer. Strangely, we thought, they stopped selling beer at 2:00 a.m. We could not figure that one out. Again, another bad omen, but we forged onward, down 95 to Richmond.

It must have been 4:00 a.m. when we arrived, unannounced and strolled right into Johnson Hall, the dorm I lived in as well as my girlfriend Sara. I think after brief introductions we all slept on the floor of her dorm room, or maybe it was mine. In any event the sun came up soon after and the alcohol’s effects were worn off. What seemed gloriously fun and cool and inimitable the night before looked like a dirty Volkswagen with a broken windshield in the pale morning light. Reality was like a flea in our sleeping bag. How to squeeze six people into an overcrowded VW? Sara had to go in the back seat, and though her weight was welcome at first, after an hour it was painful and then numbing over the final hour as the sun heated up and the engine whined under the strain of 1,000 pounds of human cargo. If nothing else, my respect for clown car passengers in the circus grew immensely on that morning. It was wisdom born from pain.

Back at my house, where the saga had begun twelve hours earlier, the VW disgorged its occupants. Normalcy returned in the daylight. And here’s the odd thing: normalcy is forgettable. The mundane is not memorable. Just ask a tollbooth worker what moments were memorable in his/her career. Was it the 12 millionth suit and briefcase or the nude woman with a pet zebra in the back seat who whispered ala Marilyn Monroe, “This is my birthday zoot suit” ? That’s not a fair question, I realize this.

Those days were thirty eight years ago. Gerard lives in San Francisco now and has an awesome life according to his Christmas card letters. The last time I saw Gulley he picked me up hitchhiking on the way to California in 1978. Craver died in 2004. In 1979 I married the only girl in the VW, and my brother Steve is still her brother-in-law.

What to make of these adolescent lessons, because logical outcomes and life altering wisdom are not the only lessons we gather in life. Life rushes out of us, even on boring summer nights that seem to lack meaning and purpose. Some heavily potentiated moments gel into little gemstones that we bury in the subsoil of our consciousness. Somehow these stem cell moments achieve critical mass and arc into the idealized timelessness of nostalgia. And that has to count for something despite the mixing of metaphors.

170. Adolessons 1

Blazing blognacity! Humor, like fireworks, should only be handled by professionals. Even then, someone may lose a finger or an eye due to a tragic mishap. Nor should adolescent males be left unsupervised…ever. Many a full grown man is today hobbling around due to some foolish stunt he pulled as a teenager. Some have scars. Some have skin cancer ’cause they didn’t use sunscreen. A neighbor, Steve Murray, lost his sight in one eye when a cherry bomb he threw out his window caught the frame and bounced back into his face, forever altering his life. Lots of lessons are learned in male adolescence. Lots aren’t.

One summer night in high school we were hanging around my Fairfax County front yard, bored yet energetic. It must have been 11 p.m. or so. Richard Cooper, Dwayne Beatty, me, and maybe Johnny Emrico and Bobby Doering were mulling over teen angst. It was dark, okay? Richard still had a cast on his foot from a rope swing accident earlier in the spring. While we were skipping school, and he was under the influence of Boone’s Farm Berry wine, he swung fast and hard off his 1967 Volkswagen Beetle’s hood and flew into space above the Occoquan River near Woodbridge, Virginia. Unfortunately for him, as he let go and flipped a flawless backward gainer, he landed on a large rock and shattered his ankle.

So here we were a couple of months later, unrepentant. Someone babbled that we should drive to Ocean City, Maryland, a four hour car ride back in the day. Like another adventure I blogged about, (the x-rated movie scam Blog #73. Unerringly), the motion to be purposefully stupid was unanimously approved. Dwayne said he’d drive his dad’s gold Pontiac Bonneville. It easily sat six with room to spare. Each guy went home for a towel, no sun screen, some food, money, and maybe left a note for a sleeping parent. I grabbed a half bag of charcoals and a pack of hot dogs.

Away we went at high speeds. On a different night Dwayne had pushed his dad’s Pontiac up to 125 mph on the Beltway. Not on this night. In fact, on our way through small towns in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we all fell asleep until the car jumped a railroad track and slammed down on the other side. For dramatic effect I’ll compare it to a space capsule full of monkeys re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, jolting the animals awake. From there on one of us was assigned to keep Dwayne awake.

When we got to the boardwalk, it was 3:00 a.m. and we imagined we’d just sleep on the beach. The cops had other ideas. They told us we could not sleep anywhere except a hotel, not even in our car. So we sat on the benches until sunup, at which time we were allowed to sleep on the beach. We were tired and hungry. I made a little pit in the sand and lit my charcoals for roasting the wieners. The cops had other ideas. “You can’t have a fire on the beach, kid. Put it out.” I was stunned and still hungry. I kicked sand over my combusting charcoals not knowing that I was simply creating a sand furnace. Later in the day I walked right over my buried charcoal and burned my right foot. One of the other guys had the communal brain at that time, I guess. We all laughed hard at our own stupidity. Somehow everyone survived the sunburnt trip, sort of. Richard got tired of his cast, though, and walked into the waves. In a matter of minutes the plaster softened and he took it off. Bad idea. The ankle was not ready for duty, and pain began to school him again. Apparently he was a slow learner.

It could have been the same summer but a different cast of characters. The only common factor was me. Again, adolescent males bored on a summer night. It was Sam, Chris and Dwight this night. After squirreling around our local haunts, Sam or Chris said, “Let’s go to Dulles airport and watch the planes come in.” All in favor got in Dwight’s green bug and away we went. There was a full moon as I recall because on the way west Dwight turned his lights out and drove by moonlight. Once we got to the terminal we noticed that it was just about as empty and boring as the place we’d just left.

Back in Dwight’s bug, back on the access road, again no lights. As we approached the Beltway, one of us suggested turning on the lights for safety. Dwight did so and, lo’ and behold, a large doe stood right in front of the car, but not for long. Boom! The deer slammed into the hood, the windshield, and rolled over the roof of the car. Mrs. Deer flew up and into history. The trunk, which was in the front of bugs, flew open and bent back on its hinges as Dwight tried to slow down and not crash any worse than we’d already managed to do. He was blinded by the hood, however. In slow motion I recall the VW’s headlights illuminating the woods which we wound up driving into and Dwight’s spare tire bouncing merrily through the trees in the moonlight. It was death defying and hilarious at the same moment. We got out to inspect the damage. Not too bad for us. The deer was nowhere in sight. We fetched the spare, pulled deer hair out of the rear view mirror and hood handle, and bent the hood back into closed position. Somehow, and only God knows how, we made it home alive again.

 

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be adolescents.