316. The Prom Blast

Rarely do I dwell on the past. I’m talking like forty years ago. I enjoy visiting yesterdays for laughs. That’s about it. So today I am not missing what wasn’t there to begin with; rather, I am chuckling at how adolescence moved like a morning fog over our lives, making some obvious things seem mysterious till the sun of adult life burned it away.

In my junior year, which turned out to be my last year of high school, the Prom was the irresistible buzz, a siren’s song of sensual delights. Oddly, that spring awkward teen boys and slightly more mature girls paired off as if by some biological cue. Dates were needed to go to this magical evening of enchantment in our high school gymnasium that had been transformed from a mere basketball court into a fairy tale castle that beckoned for perfect knights and ladies to promenade through the gates. Oh Teen Glory. Oh Holy Adolescent Grail!!

I rented a powder blue tuxedo and got my hair cut. I think I bought my date a corsage, though I had no idea what a corsage was. I managed to have a bottle of champagne tucked away for later with two wine glasses. I made dinner reservations at a lousy steakhouse in D.C. that had an interesting name, then spent most of that Saturday washing and waxing my dad’s Oldsmobile Belmont 88 till it gleamed like milk fed veal in a vat of Oil of Olay. If you leaned on any part of the car,  you’d slip off immediately. I Armour Alled the fake leather upholstery so much that you could slide right out the other door if you moved too quickly along the bench seats. Yeah, “Stairway to Heaven” played on the FM radio dial through tinny speakers. It was perfect, just like my girlfriend was, before I realized that perfect does not exist. All this vehicular preparation allowed me to ignore the fact that I was totally unprepared for a real live mature date that might require some class and an air of confidence.

But what could possibly go wrong?  I was triple dating with my two buddies, Steve and Bernie, and their very pretty girlfriends. I’m stretching, but I think the girls’ names were Sonja and Denise. Denise was in the Prom court, so our logistics had to be precise. Steve and Bernie showed up at my house halfway through a case of beer by mid afternoon. I was going to be the designated driver before that term had been coined, which is odd since we were all 17 in 1973. What I didn’t realize at the moment was that Steve and Bernie were even more self conscious than I was about getting into our rented monkey suits. I guess beer makes a tux fit better.

My next door neighbor Richard had no girlfriend, but he had good weed and a flair for the outrageous. He rented an outfit that could only be described as a cross between Elvis and a bull fighter. His blonde hair was permed and he wore make up. It was the 1970’s and glitter rock was on the uptick. His “date” was another friend, Dwight in a wig and a plain blue dress. He was a homely looking girl. Oh, and he had a purse that held more weed, I think. They had some pictures snapped with unnatural smiles on their faces. The neighbors peeked at their antics as if they were staring at the end of civilization.

So driving with two embarrassingly drunk buddies is awkward even when the stakes are low. But on this most magical of all adolescent nights, the stakes were very high. Steve and Bernie clowned for one another to ease their social awkwardness. They busted me out as I drove across the 14th Street bridge into D.C. and up to a dark steak house. A valet took my dad’s shiny car from me. I had no idea what was going on, but I kept my cool. The maître de seated our party next to the kitchen. I didn’t even have to tip him for such thoughtfulness.

We started to order, when Bernie’s girlfriend realized she had to be back at the school in about 4o minutes, the time it would take to drive there. Several incomplete sentences were uttered but not answered. Everyone ordered and then Bernie and Denise took off in my dad’s shiny Oldsmobile with the champagne in the back seat, leaving me with drunk Steve, his angry girl friend, and my bewildered girlfriend. The waiter was confused about serving dinner. We tried to explain the stupidity of our situation. I don’t think such a campaign of stupidity had been launched in D.C. since Wilbur Mills had almost driven into the tidal basin with the Argentinian stripper Fannie Foxx the previous year. Oh, the good old days!

For two or three hours we sat, waiting for Bernie, my dad’s car, my champagne, and the Prom Princess whose beauty had caused all this cursed affliction. We ate quietly with long pauses and sighs and speculations. Cell phones were decades away. We were so lost imagining the ecstasies our classmates were enjoying at the big show. Finally Bernie and his  date showed up with sparks in their eyes. They had been to the magic castle and had drunk my champagne on the way. “It was good, Dude.”

The waiter brought their cold meals to them and they hurriedly ate. The staff could not wait for us to leave, nor could we.  I felt as used and abused as an Amish mule.  I drove as fast as I possibly could out of D.C. as time slipped away. It was a sad song experience, like Mc Arthur’s Park… “someone left a cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it cause it took so long to bake and I’ll never have that recipe again…”

We pulled in and jumped out of the shiny Olds as the last song was being played. We had managed to miss the entire extravaganza. Two girls cried joyless tears. Richard and Dwight were a hit as they walked out of the gym all smiles.  Oh the Glory lost. The unholy Grail was not in the gym as the house lights came up, revealing a basketball court with awkward paper decorations everywhere. What a blast!

 

 

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313. Boyz in the Woodz

How many stories took place in the woods across the street from my childhood home in the suburbs of Alexandria, Virginia? It was a no man’s land of wonder and risky adventure for me through early high school,   actually until my frenzied focus turned to cars and girls from other neighborhoods. The Woodz were only about 10 acres of hard clay ground that dropped into a creek bed and were cost prohibitive to develop in the cookie cutter housing tracts logic of the 1950’s. Hemmed in on four sides by nearly identical brick box houses, someone owned it but no one built on it,  unless you count forts made from leaves and sticks covering holes in the ground, lit by candles. It was a great place to play army games and have snowball fights when we were little, or to make out with a girl while smoking a cigarette in junior high. There was also a well worn path next to the stream where kids would run and ride their bikes. We knew every inch of those acres. If someone hid a Playboy or beer out there, well, it was liberated for the proletariat comrades’ edjumakation.

Before the families on that side put up fences, the high field was open for community grazing for baseball and football games. One level area was used once a year for the after-Christmas community bon fire, hosted by the never sober Leroy King. All that open ground enabled boys who were up to no good find many escape routes from their misdeeds, like pelting cars with snowballs and stealing Christmas light bulbs just for the challenge of maybe getting caught. Of course there was a rope swing over the deepest drop of the creek that was so often dry. I broke my wrist there in 3rd grade, I think. My playmates continued to swing over me, trying to hit me with spit for points as I lay groaning and in shock in that dry creek bed. But it was worth it all to have a cast on my wrist for two months. You see, we kept track of who had how many stitches and broken bones. Everything was a competition where a reasonably cautious kid didn’t have a chance. A broken wrist was easily worth fifteen stitches.

Across the Parkway was another patch of woods, maybe 7 acres, that separated a row of houses from the school yard and baseball fields. We cut through friendly yards– the Murrays, the Audettes, or that family with five girls– Hope, Charity, Faith, Smite and Vengeance–when we needed to. There were two old homesteads tucked into those woods, so technically they owned those woods. Now the poor miserable Rileys rented their shack and floated an old bathtub boat in the small pond behind their rundown abode. Bad stories told in whispers wafted from the Rileys like skunk stink. A horrid Steven King novel could have been set there. The other dwelling was a decent farmhouse with a nice large garden. No one knew their name. I don’t recall vandalizing their garden or trick or treating there,  but I remember being chased off and told about trespassing. Hey, there was no fence and we were on the prowl.

But the granddaddy of all the woodz lay beyond Kings Highway. It ran for a mile or two south and a mile or more west. Eventually it ran into federal property with missile silos and serious double fences long before you could reach the Coast Guard station on Telegraph Road. Something shady was going on there behind SECRET signs, like aliens in jars of formaldehyde weird.

Anyway, the older we grew the more deeply we explored those woods surrounding Ben Mae Manor. We caught spring peepers in the ditch beside the road. In the snow we’d track animals and one another by following footprints. We also stole apples off an old dude’s trees farther down Kings Highway. It was rumored that he shot rock salt at kids who trespassed. That suburban myth  just added to the excitement of snitching apples. On the other side of Kings Highway was St. Mark’s Church. This was also the back way into the ball fields. Another homestead sat there with a few goats and chickens and beehives. Who could resist hitting the hives with rocks?  We couldn’t. Stirring up the bees ended our boredom temporarily.

Near that spot I witnessed one of the coolest Crocodile Dundee sort of things ever, and this was before he was even invented. A seven foot black snake slithered out of a big brush pile where some trees had been bulldozed for parking space behind the church. One of the baseball team kids’ dad grabbed the tail of that snake and snapped it like a long bull whip. All of us astonished boys watched in amazement as the snake’s head went flying by without its writhing body. That event was a lunch table tale topper for years afterwards.

“I mean the head flew by with the snake’s mouth open, trying to bite the air! And its body just squirmed grossly with no head. Blood squirted out like ketchup bombs all over.  Are you gonna eat those fries?”

In junior high my neighbor Richard decided we needed a minibike trail to the Hayfield Farms community, a mere four miles south and west of our starting point. A group of us determined to blaze a trail of glory and promptly got to cutting down trees and uprooting bushes that were in the way. It was a fall project that didn’t last too long. We probably blazed about 200 yards before we petered out and settled for a camp out in the woods. Later on older boys built real woodzy cabins down there for parties of the psychosexual variety. The age of innocence was over but not forgotten, all hail the joyz of the boyz in the woodz.

 

272. Melancholy psychic closet cleaning

Oh, my Blogginis, you little canaries, it is a combination of joy

and trepidation

that leads me to the contemplation

of all the odds and ends

stored back, way back

in the psychic closet of

my memories. I need the soundtrack to be melancholy,

Over the Rhine, “Latter Days” is perfect.

Scented with musty old books and worn leather shoes.

No mothballs here. The moths are thick.

Chew a stick of old style teaberry gum as we look with the heart

A favorite baseball glove

lives there tenderized with neatsfoot oil,

abandoned

along with my photo pack

of black and white Washington Senators

circa 1967 collectible portraits

and various colorful baseball cards

We got in to D.C. Stadium for free if we wore our Little League uniforms on certain generous days. Fathers and sons in all sorts of uniforms filled the arena so vast that the announcer’s voice echoed in a time delay. “Now batting….atting, atting, atting,  for the Senators….enators, enators, enators,  Frank…. ank, ank, ank. Howard,Howard, Howard, Howard.” Thunderous applause for the Hondo.

It was another world driving across the Potomac River

before everything broke loose in 1968,

Bobby Kennedy was killed a month after Martin Luther King… and the stadium was renamed to quell the trauma and grief sweeping the landscape.

It was safer then, before the riots and the rights marches, when I was still a child. Freedom can be radioactive and it was in the late 60’s. That freedom energy lit up a lot of cities that summer for better and worse. I watched D.C. burn for a week in person while many other cities burned on our black and white television.

I never imagined our  cities would still be radioactive fifty years later in the second term of a Black president. Nothing is as simple as it seems.

In the back of my cold closet, moisture would gather due to the fact

that it backed up to an unheated shed full of dust and rust

I housed a possum in that shed once but not for long

I managed to send him to meet Jesus with a bathtub baptism and Right Guard aerosol chrism plus below freezing temperatures. Marsupials are hard to love. I tried.

With three brothers I hid things like gum and money, maybe cigarettes later on

I found that the ultimate hiding place was behind the light switch

Who would look there?  for your silver coins? One of them would eventually.

I had the human figure target from our third grade trip to the FBI, Shot to Shreds for our unending excitement by an Agent with ear muffs. “Any questions, kids?”

“Why didn’t we get ear protection?” I wanted to say.

I asked the agent guide/shooter if I could have the target

“Sure, kid. Here ya go.”

Boom! Instant jealousy from every boy I knew who knew I had it

My mother could not bear to see it on my bedroom wall

Image result for human figure shooting target pictures

It freaked her out beyond the planet Valium’s orbit

So I had to roll it up and  put it in the closet.

I don’t think the FBI gives kids that tour any longer. It’s not safe or we are paranoid. Or there’s liability involved. You know how it is. If a kid pees on a tree, the EPA has to call the CDC to check with the NSA for a tox screen and DNA and satellite pictures which are lost when Congress wants to see for themselves if that kid was Bill Clinton.

In  sixth grade I recycled the name stone for Ben Mae Manor

an historic old manor a block down the Parkway from my house

By balancing it on my purple spider bike seat

That historic stone sat heavily on the parquet wood floor of my closet for years

Until my younger brother moved out in the 1970’s and took it with him

It really ought to be returned one day. So Chris, where is it?

Way, way back in time our cat Pinky had a litter of kittens in that closet. It was dark and safe. We’d peek in with unrestrained glee and count the little fur balls as they suckled before they all had to go “to a family with a farm”. My parents didn’t know any farmers.

And the St. Louis Catholic School uniforms– white collared shirts with navy blue pants and a blue bow tie. Yeah, big fashion. Only black shoes were allowed. They hung in that dark space like mason jars of authority ready to can and pickle me. I refused a lot. I still do. My wife and friends tell me the nuns didn’t beat me enough. That’s cold to say though it may be true.

I had a pair of green leather Converse All Star low top sneakers when I ran away from home around 16. I wore them through the rainy night as I hitchhiked past Baltimore and into near oblivion. I thought I was going to hitch all the way to Boston where other family might appreciate or tolerate me. Not to be. A van full of hippies picked me up on their return drug trip from Philly. They got me stoned and I spent the night with them tripping out over split pea soup. It was very groovy. When I put those damp shoes back in my closet, my feet remained green for days, algaed evidence of my prodigality.Enos Country Slaughter St. Louis Cardinals unsigned 8x10 photo Nice

I had a baseball bat with Enos Slaughter’s name burned into it. I didn’t know who he was or where he played ball, but what a name! go out swinging, kid.

Latter Days… Over the Rhine

What a beautiful piece of heartache
This has all turned out to be
Lord knows we’ve learned the hard way
All about healthy apathy

I use these words pretty loosely
There’s so much more to life than words

There is a me you would not recognize, dear
Call it the shadow of myself
And if the music starts before I get there
Dance without me, you dance so gracefully
I really think I’ll be okay
They’ve taken a toll, these latter days

Nothing like sleeping on a bed of nails
Nothing much here but our broken dream
Oh, but baby, if all else fails
Nothing is ever quite what it seems

And I’m dying inside to leave you
With more than just cliches

There is a me you would not recognize, dear
Call it the shadow of myself
And if the music starts before I get there
Dance without me, you dance so gracefully
I really think I’ll be okay
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days

Tell them it’s real
Tell them it’s really real
I just don’t have much left to say
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days

 

Maybe we should just leave that melancholy closet locked. The past need not be repeated.

250. “Heck yes, I would!”

I don’t even know the precedent to this title, but I figured that I could comb through my thinning synapse farms and glean a memory or two where that line would fit as a response to a distant call. [In case you are wondering what a synapse farm looks like, it’s sort of like a catfish farm where fish swim through chutes and ladders and finally are selected for market by a dimwitted minimum wager with a net when they are plump and delicious, and exhibit just a tinge of orange around their gills.] Sort of like the Amazing Carnack routine of Johnny Carson, where he gave an answer to a sealed question and then opened the envelope and read it aloud for the punch line.  It’s harder than you might think to challenge yourself with such an open-ended gauntlet toss. You can wind up smacking yourself with the glove of challenge. You’ve heard of Russian roulette, yes? But have you heard of Russian bocce? Since it snows so much in Russia, they throw the polina ball straight up and pray it does not hit any of the players assembled below. And then they roll their balls at it as if playing horseshoes with bowling balls.

The line reminds somehow me of the terrible old joke from childhood that was told to me about the dance where the boy with a wooden eye worked up the nerve to ask the girl with the harelip to dance. When she responded excitedly, “Would I? Would I?” He could not help himself and yelled back, “Harelip! Harelip!” Why anyone would tell a kid this joke is beyond me, but somehow these cruel jokes filtered down to junior high kids who told them to elementary age kids, who lost some of their innocence in the process. Would you repeat such an awful joke? In a male-dominated neighborhood in the 1960’s, the answer “Heck yea, I would!” was a fairly common response to any challenge.

Across the Parkway lived Pat and Dougie Fontaine. Mean boys in a lower middle class community. Pat was older and in high school as I recall. He built himself a little putting green in his side yard, the Dorset Drive side. That was quite an accomplishment now that I think of it, and smelled of social climbing. Well, one day the prison road crew were working on the street just beyond the intersection of the Parkway and Dorset Drive. The prisoners watched Pat putt very self righteously while they sweated away picking at asphalt on a humid Virginia summer day. We younger boys were enthralled with these convicts and the one guard with a shotgun.

“Mister, is that loaded?”

“Wouldn’t be much good if it weren’t, kid. Wanna hold it?”

“Heck yes, I would!”  That did not happen. Laughter erupted in the gap between innocence and corruption.

One of the prisoners drew a bottle of chewing tobacco spit from the tailgate of the truck. He said to me, “Hey kid, you want to pour this prison juice into Arnold Palmer’s golf hole over there?”

“Heck yes, I would!”

I did and later on Pat beat my butt. Hey, I deserved it.  The prisoners got a kick out of the whole scene. I guess I got a literal kick out of it. I was destined for smart assery, I suppose.

We Hillians used to roam the woods near our neighborhood back in old Virginia Hills, which was situated between Kings Highway and Telegraph Road in Fairfax County, Virginia. 300 cookie cutter houses laid out on identical quarter acre lots. Those woods have all been plowed under and built upon, but back in the 1960’s they were wild and wooly. The eager young boys in my circle of friends just about lived in those woods, which may have preserved the little bit of sanity left to our stay at home mothers. “Go play”, they’d tell us, without any concern that we might wander literally miles in any direction. And we did wander with regularity. We caught lizards and turtles and snakes and toads and frogs and salamanders and crayfish and baby squirrels and birds and anything slower than we were. It was great suburban adventure to climb trees or have a little campfire wherever we chose.

Across from the Methodist church on Kings Highway was a dirt lane that ended at an old run down farm house from the 1930’s covered in clapboard that needed paint twenty years ago.  It could have been a set  piece for “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I don’t know the occupant’s name, but we had some tall tales about him being a drunk and a crazy man. It was quite a challenge to go down near his house where he had apple trees growing on either side of the lane. Now this may not seem too exciting to kids who play Call of Duty on X Box today, but back in the world of three dimensions this old cuss had a real shotgun with rock salt instead of lead, so the legend went. We knew about the dangers as we quietly snuck down the lane toward his apples, hearts pumping and adrenaline pulsing through our bored little suburban brains.

Now it wasn’t enough to simply slide in through the brush and the tall grass at dusk to snitch some apples in early fall or late summer. Someone always had to push the envelope and throw down a dare. I don’t know which kids dared which other kid. I just know that I was neither. I was along for the adventure not the record book. Anyway, let’s say Michael dared Steve to run up to the old man’s porch and knock while we ran to a safer distance to duly verify the completion of the dare. Steve ran like a bat out of Hell across the crumbling wooden porch and knocked rapidly on the old guy’s door as he also turned to run for his life. It was all in one fluid motion as my memory recorded it. Anyway, as we all held our collective breath, the old man came to his door, flung it open and began shooting some sort of gun at Steve as he scampered away like a zig-zagging jack rabbit through a briar patch. It’s amazing what adrenaline can do to ten year olds’ nervous systems.  When we finally got to a safe place on the other side of Kings Highway and lay on our bellies in the leafy carpet of the woods, we laughed and caught our breath again.

“Want to do it again?” (Not knowing life would wind up far less exciting.)

“Heck yes, I would.!”

 

208. Full Fool Throttle to Nowhere

I don’t think too long about where to start posts. I just go. Extraverts do this:  we get in the car and drive for about twenty minutes before we turn to our introverted spouses and ask, “Hey, by the way, where are we going?” Occasionally we just happen to be headed in the right direction; for instance, if we live at the end of a long dead end road that has no turns for fifty miles or so.  Efficiency is boring sometimes, well most of the time. Racing to a familiar place is too. This may explain why I feel no attraction to NASCAR races. They just go nowhere really fast. If all goes well for all the drivers, they don’t crash, and a couple of hours later they wind  up in the order they left…. Okay, I know there are strategies and fuel stops and tires and little adjustments along the way to nowhere. But the goal is still the same place they have passed 100 times or more while making a continuous left hand turn for a few hours of a chase scene.  I’m surprised there are not more neck injuries in the spectators from whipping their heads in circles for hours. Full fool throttle, yeah, it sounds cool for a movie title or an energy drink, but if you add the small print (to Nowhere), it loses something.

Charlie Sheen comes to mind. Geez, I wonder why. I don’t know if he’s asked anyone for directions in life yet. He’s full fool throttle alright, and there have been plenty of crashes and shoving matches throughout his volatile life in the double zero car.  To begin with, he drives against the traffic, like he’s a Brit driving in the right hand direction. Oh, Charlie!  You may have tiger blood, but  your neurotransmission fluid is a quart low. A pit stop is in order.  Adolescence is a high energy phase of life. It ends, though, does it not? In a crash or a victory lap or just later in the pack. But eventually adult faculties are supposed to take over.

I don’t need to go to NASCAR or Hollywood for another example. I can recall a former friend “Darvon”. He was a couple of years older. We went to the same high school and then college, but I did not meet him until college. Sort of wish I’d never met him. He was full tilt, fool throttle. I guess it was my sophomore year when we met. I was living with three other guys on Grace Street in Richmond. Second floor. I posted about blowing up the gas stove in post 8 However Explosively. “Darvon” was a frequent visitor to our place. He was devious and cruel in his humor. He liked to play mind games with folks and then pretend he knew nothing about the very trap he had laid. For instance, he once broke into a friend’s apartment and moved all the furniture into opposite rooms. Later he acted surprised when Cliff told the scary story.  His apartment was about a mile from ours. One night I let him borrow my car to save him the walk home. Just my luck, a guy who was wasted on drugs or alcohol ran into my car, crushing the left fender and seemingly ruining the hood. My car was considered a total loss and I received a whopping $360 check from my insurance company. Much later on, I succeeded in fixing the fender myself for an investment of $60 and my labor, netting $300, which was a huge windfall for me in those days– 1975 or so.

Streaking had been popular on college campuses, my grandchildren. It was usually done by drunk males at night through a crowd. It died off pretty quickly. One night “Darvon” and various other guys were hanging out at my apartment drinking alcohol of some sort or another. We talked about the streaking phenomenon and how it had come and gone. In the stupidity of sophomoric self indulgence we decided to bring it back. We meaning my roommates and “Darvon”. They ran across the street. Then down the block. Then a couple of blocks over past the home for retired nuns. I pray for their pardon today, but they may have made a nun’s night back then. Who knows?

Funny Nun Caught Smoking -

Well, “Darvon” was competitive and had to be the alpha dog. He decided to streak the governor’s mansion, that would be the governor of Virginia. Fool throttle.

The mansion was about a mile and a half east of where we were domiciled, but “Darvon” was jacked up and ready. He wore only socks and red high top Converse sneakers, a floppy Caucasian afro, and a demonic grin. I know that my roommate Bruce drove the pace car next to him; that was a green Buick Skylark he called “the green snake”. Not sure who  rode along. But there they were at 2 or 3 a.m. putting down Franklin Street toward the Virginia state buildings and the governor’s residence. It must have been an interesting procession under the orange mercury vapor streetlights, only missing the Olympic torch.

I stayed home fully clothed, as I had throughout all of the shenanigans. The boys said I was their conscience or babysitter, or something halfway in between. Anyway, a blind man could see what was coming. As they drove and “Darvon” ran triumphantly onto the grounds of the governor’s estate, armed guards appeared with flashlights and guns. “Darvon” was taken down. A search was not needed. Why on earth Bruce was not also arrested, I’ll never know. He was taken to the police station, though. The next day he brought home a blank incident report that he’d swiped. He filled that out with outrageous details which we kept as a souvenir of the evening. “Darvon” was given thirty days in jail, I believe. However, due to overcrowded conditions, he only served a few days and returned to college to continue his studies in antisocial behavior.

I’ll just stop  here. I think I have supported my odd topic like a jockstrap.

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.

3. then

I’m out there now. I told my adult daughters and my wife, meanwhile feeling like Cosmo Kramer in khakis– “I’m out there, Jerrry.”  “Yes, and only a thin layer of gabardine separates us.”  (Scrunched up mouth of disgust)

I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you can’t stop being and doing so that you can live in fear of ever hurting another person on the planet. Every breath we take has consequences. Now do I wait and ponder the echo of my consequences around the globe, or do I go on living in a forward direction? Easy choice. I can’t picture the entire planet thinking through consequences somehow. My computer is using electricity that was produced by coal being burned. And the coal burned was a consequence of some primeval swamp material compacting and hardening over the millions of  years since then and now. No, it’s too much for my puny brain to conceive. Do you live in the here and now? Or do you live in the there and then? Worriers live in the future. Morosely depressed folks live in the past. Healthy folks live in the moment, where we are alive. Minutes ago we were alive. Minutes from now we will be alive. But our mind/body/spirit pulses in the now. It can be messy in the now, but that’s where the fun is.

So now I’m getting suspicious queries about what I will be writing about. “Mostly crap that crosses my neural pathways”, I say. But I’m beginning to sense that some folks worry that I will out them somehow. Now, if I were that kind of guy, wouldn’t I have done so already?  I mean, why wait for technology to enable me to slander another person. I’m sure that even in cave paintings there are untranslated slanders like “Kong pees the bed” or “Beest sucks his thumb”. New meanness does not come from nothing. The same folks who slam others on facebook and texts in a previous life slammed their peers in slam books. Do you remember those from junior high?  A spiral notebook that had names listed and you would say nice or awful things under each name. Mercifully, they had a short shelf life ended by a teacher or parent snagging and destroying them.

No, I’ll not slam a flea here. There are no fleas here. Unless that’s a new term that goes with blogs, like “Oh, he’s just a flea on that blog.”

Something that may be interesting is that I hitchhiked across the U.S. in 1978 from my home near Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, California. I had worked all summer between my junior and senior year of college and my girlfriend (later wife) was living in Long Beach,California. I guess I wanted to prove something to myself and save the airfare, an outrageous $125 each way back then. I bought a return ticket so that I could be on time for college, unlike my freshman year when I showed up a few days late for orientation and herbally disoriented. Anyway, that August I got a ride to the road nearest my parents’ house and stuck out my sign, “L.A.”  Herbally disoriented again. A guy I knew from high school picked me up and took me a few miles to interstate 95 South. He suggested that I break down my goal into smaller bites– Richmond, North Carolina, Raleigh, Tennessee, Nashville, etc. I thought he was brilliant and followed his suggestions. He thought I was brilliant for being so reckless to go off and thumb myself across the continent. Fortunately I was too stupid to realize the insanity of what I was up to.

Funny that 35 years later I can still recall some of the characters who picked me up. There was a disheartened young minister, he may have been a worship leader in a Volkswagen Beetle. It was immaculate and I knew better than to ask if I could smoke. Yes, I smoked a lot of cigarettes back in the day. They cost about $0.35 then. That is not a typo. Thirty five cents. At Sandor’s Bookstore in Richmond you could buy a carton for $2.00. Cancer cost less to acquire in the late 1970’s. The sad church guy let me off in North Carolina, I believe. He was kind but off somewhere in his own stuff. Of course, I was perfectly adjusted.

Later on, as I recall, a used car salesman from N.C. picked me up. He had a southern accent but explained to me that he was actually an immigrant from Northern Ireland, had come over as a kid. I’m Irish extraction but not too crazed about it. He dropped me off in the rain and dark and I stayed beneath an overpass on Route 40 all night. No rides. No one could see me.

At dawn a gay guy in a Volkswagen picked me up. He’d been up all night partying with  his friends and was on his way into the Great Smokey Mountains. It was just fine until he reached over and squeezed my noodle. “Surprise!” he said to me. Well it was a shock but not a surprise. “Just drop me off here,” I said. He did. It was the middle of nowhere in the early morning hours. I was a bit pissed off since I hadn’t slept and my noodle had been doodled without my permission or enjoyment. Which is something I might add here, I have had many gay guys hit on me in my life without any provocation or invitation from me. A mystery, my friend. I’m not homophobic just a bit skittish.

Well, this is as good as any place to pull over. I imagine that I’ll revisit this cross country journey on a later entry, but like the coffee shop, it won’t be finished anytime soon.