310. Tragic Muscle Head Cars

My blog post numbers are getting up near the high horsepower engine range. It is just a natural association for me to recall that 327 CID was a Chevy engine, though I am no motor head.  There was a Ford 302. Chevy also had a 350, 396, and 427.  I just know that they were powerful and fast, too fast for the teenagers who tried to drive them. Which is perhaps symbolic of how woefully unprepared some adolescent males are to maneuver through the twisting course of adult life.

Where to begin?  Charlie Young drove a Camaro Z28 when we were all teenagers. I have no idea where he got the money to even buy the gas, though it was cheap in the early 1970’s. It was a sweet car to be sure, green base with wide white racing stripes. A shrine to the young male ego, sporting  slotted mags, a Hurst shifter, slick spoiler on the back, and fat tires. Yeah. Charlie posed in it like Clint Eastwood on a racehorse. Cool squint and a John Travolta smile.

There was talk of races behind the high school and big talk about how fast this car was or how fast that guy shifted gears. I don’t recall how Charlie fared in these much heralded races. I just recall that the Z28 went away one day, and not into a museum. He got married early and moved into a travel trailer parked in his parents’ side yard. The last I heard about Charlie was that he was working for the sheriff’s department back home transporting prisoners. Someone told me that one of the prisoners persuaded Charlie to stop at a liquor store during the trip to jail for one last good time. Good Time Charlie obliged and got drunk too; the prisoner escaped; Charlie was fired. The funny part is that there is no surprise here. It just got away from him like the Z28 did years before.

Let’s go up a few cubic inches. I believe Glenn Barret’s Nova SS had a 307 or a 350. I used to know these things like baseball players’ batting averages. Glenn’s car was red and black, manual transmission. He was constantly cleaning or waxing it, posing with the door open. He had this cool rolling start he liked to pull where he’d start the car just by popping the clutch. Cool cubed, man. He’d silently cruise into a parking space with the engine off or drift down a grade noiselessly and then pop that clutch. VRRRoooom!!

One day he was parked on the incline in front of Bobby Doering’s house, door open, coolness spilling out of his car like chilled air conditioning. He was all set to do the silent back out, but this time he forgot to close his door. As he glided back down the hill, his driver side door caught the fire hydrant he had neglected to account for. The interaction ripped his door out away from the frame of the car like an airplane wing.  Now this would upset any driver of any car, but factor back in that Glenn worshipped this Nova SS. It was his first love, his status symbol, his everything. Like Barry White sang,

“I know there’s only, only one like you
There’s no way they could have made two
Girl, you’re my reality, but I’m lost in a dream
You’re the first, you’re the last, my everything ”

He married young and took up golf. Not sure how either of those endeavors turned out.

Then there is the king of foolishness, the late Bobby Doering. He moved from Oklahoma in his junior year of high school. He could talk and bluster and brag with a western cockiness that was infectious and charming. He was famous for sayings like, “That sounds like a cow pissing on a flat rock.”

Bobby had a couple of cute sisters, plus his dad had a Porsche that we drove around when we cut school. What more could a 17 year old need? He also played ice hockey when that was unheard of in our experience. What more? How about a  forest green Chevelle SS 396 with boss wheels and dual exhaust? One of the coolest cars ever.

 Bobby lacked common sense and a healthy fear of death or injury. He’d smoke the tires with no provocation whatsoever. I imagine there is great pressure to blow out the four barrel carburetor when you have one, just like the pressure to drive your dad’s Porsche 135 miles an hour on the Beltway while skipping school and listening to the Stones “Under My Thumb”.

Bobby was keen on my girlfriend’s girlfriend Lisa, who was 15 then, I think. Lisa’s parents weren’t too keen on Bobby being around Lisa, for obvious reasons.  However, on Halloween of that year Bobby was driving both girls around the neighborhood  in the SS 396 when he decided to gun the engine and smoke tires. He did and lost control of the green monster, dumping it into a deep ravine to his left. He and both girls fell forward as the Chevelle went 90 degrees into the concrete culvert. I forget the physical damage done. Everyone received injuries as no one wore their seatbelt. Bobby was bankrupted. The car was totaled but the loan against it was not. He had to get a job and work off the debts he’d accumulated while  worshipping at the shrine of the 396.

I don’t know when, but through the grapevine I learned that he died a couple of years later, maybe while playing hockey. Cardiac arrest. Rest in peace, bro, like Dick Clark– forever a teenager.

I don’t recall the CID of Mike Dean’s Charger or Challenger. It’s too far back there. It was a big muscle car, I do know. He hung out in the same neighborhood of Wilton Woods, where there were plenty of cute girls. Mike’s car was not the problem, though. The story is murky, but as I heard it he blew his brains out with a gun after this girlfriend dumped him. Too much power in the hands of boys wanting to be great.

Tragedies are poignant because they did not have to happen. Some character flaw or bizarre circumstance destroys a good manboy. Yeah, well let me finish by directing you to Tom Waits’ “Big Joe and Phantom 309”, a lovely old ballad with a tragic seed.

 

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289. Something/ Nothing?

                               

I liked Todd Rundgren’s music in the 1970’s. His double album Something/Anything (1972) was pleasant enough as I recall. Not groundbreaking or toothchipping… just enough of something salty and sweet together, like tortilla chips and chewy caramels for my ears to chomp.  He played all the instruments and sang all the tracks, which is pretty impressive, I think. I recall a review in the Washington Post that called him the clown prince of rock n roll. I guess that was accurate. He made some money along the way and did a good bit of successful producing. So I suppose he knew a thing or two. I mention him as a surveyor’s reference point in time and culture that I am racing away from.

I saw him at the Kennedy Center in 1973, I think, with his Nirvana band. (No, not that Nirvana band! Duh!! They were still in elementary school then.) I wore gold glitter across my metrosexual collarbone and sprinkled more on the tops of my literally blue suede Converse sneakers. And, yes, filthy ones, I wore other clothes. [Strike that last image from the record, your Honor.] It was a fashion statement I will never need to restate, unless it would get me out of prison early. Get this: during the show some joint burning pothead (not the Burrito Manchild ) was being escorted from his seat by security when Rundgren stopped the show and told the wannabe cops to leave the guy alone. Strangely enough, they complied. Who knew that celebrities on stage commanded civic authority? Keep in mind that Richard Nixon was in the White House, and at the Opera House next to our auditorium, Washington’s finest sashayed in the great hall under JFK’s bronze bust while the other glitterati pranced about during a shared intermission. Someone should have lost his scheduling job for that faux pas. When hauled before the review board the next day, in response to the question, “What were you smoking?”, Ted the scheduling director pleaded simply, “something, anything”. “Shoot him!”

Bust of JFK in the lobby of the Kennedy Center

Fasten your seat belts as I whip the narrative violently away from this scene. The other day I believe a musical person by profession at my Sunday School table told her husband that he should never agree with me or say “Right” if I just said “Right” or “Never” if I just said “Never”.  Okay, hurt me. I believe it was a case of Something/Nothing. Robert was confused.

“Can I say ‘Right’ when you say ‘Right’, Dear?”

“Yes, but not when he says it. Okay?”

“Okay.”

I whispered, “Right on, Robert. Right now. You’re righteous. Right?”

He looked at me like I had an ice cream cone on a hot summer day… and he didn’t. “Oh no you don’t, Buddy. Not a single lick.”

“Ri…. ri…ri…”

“Robert!”

Crackamundo, he heeled.

I get a good bit of this reaction from others. I must provoke a certain socially acceptable disdain in folks who feel familiar and comfortable enough to mildly insult me. They tell me I bring it on myself and I can’t disagree. I think it is a pheromone that I emit.

The other night after our ballroom dance class a bunch of us went to a local restaurant and had a drink and an appetizer. I sat across from my lovely bride who sat next to Don the dancing dentist. Within a short period of time Don felt familiar and comfortable enough to drill and fill me. He asked my wife where our daughter got her musical ability. My wife said something like ‘Well, I took piano and guitar lessons, but my husband did not. His family didn’t do much with him.’ To which Don replied something like ‘So you contributed something and your husband contributed nothing’ or something like that.  To which I complained, “Don, don’t you even use novacaine before you stick a knife in a man’s gums?”

We chuckled nervously. I wanted him to think that I am a dangerous ex-con with a hair trigger temper and pistol under the tabletop. At least I wanted to think that he thinks I’m  more dangerous than an ex-hairdresser with a sparky blow dryer in hand. I am no marshmallow, Dude! The bullseye on my back is an unfortunate birthmark not an invitation. But alas! It’s a target for the disenfranchised to franchise like a McDonald’s. (If  you have any ideas what that last sentence means, would you please personal message me? I’d really like to know.)

So, the theme, the overarching theme that I must support with related drivel… hmmm. I seem to have lost it along the way. This is of no concern to me since I don’t usually follow the rules of proper writing. I just accelerate to maintain control. I first over heard this statement in a small English pub outside of Bury St. Edmunds, East Anglia in 1973 or so. Some American military guys were talking quite loudly as they sucked down pints of ale. One guy was reviewing driving training he’d received State side. He was yakking about driving through a culvert when he blurted, “I accelerated to maintain control”, as if that were the punch line to an extended joke. I was seventeen and alone. I wound up chatting with one of the military dudes. He was righteous and much smarter than I was. He told me of the vast peacekeeping mission of the military, how they were agents of peace. I did not believe him, still don’t. However, I had a copy of a science fiction book that a former classmate claimed to have written. Wilbur even autographed it for my girlfriend’s gift.  This military guy clarified that the Great and Powerful Wilbur was lying, which was true, of course, but it wasn’t nearly as cool a story as having gone to school with a famous science fiction author. Just another something/anything that turned into nothing. Why do folks insist on the truth when a faint gauzy blur will do just as well? We know Bigfoot doesn’t exist, but why crush us?

“Hello, it’s me
I’ve thought about us for a long, long time
Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong
There’s something here that doesn’t last too long
Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine”
Something cannot come from nothing. Right?
“I’ll have an Anything with a twist of lime.”
Oh where is Todd Rundgren when you need him?

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.!”

 

234. Wanderlust

“Wanderlust may be driven by the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt, and has been linked to bipolar disorder in the periodicity of the attacks. Or it may reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours.

In adolescence, dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home and locality may also fuel the desire to travel.” That’s Wikipedia’s quick and dirty definition.

I had a good dose of wanderlust as a young guy. I grew up in the same sameness of a cookie cutter neighborhood in the 1960’s while the world raged around me and I could not engage it. My parents’ frame of reference was pre-World War II and later on the marvelous uniformity of the 1950’s. Life seemed pretty well scripted for them– go to church, go to school, go to work. Asking why or what else there could be never seemed to occur to them. Or for their entire generation for that matter. And it makes sense when you consider that they were born during World War I, into pre electrification and pre automobile America. They came of age in the Great Depression and the rise of global Fascism. Wanting a predictable script is understandable when the world you live in has unleashed fear, loathing and insecurity again and again. Having safety, food, a job, a home, and predictable routines trumps having an adventure. I always say, “We want what we do not have, e.g., If you have a double cheeseburger, then you don’t want one.”

So when my turn came to bat, I had all of the things my parents often lacked. Consequently, I wanted what I did not have– travel, adventure, novelty, diversity, art, music, romance, etc. I did not want the cookie cutter house, the government job, the Catholic faith, the same old same old. I began exploring as a kid, often wandering off to see what was on the other side of the road, the neighborhood, the highway, the world. In an odd way childhood wanderlust confirms the security or desperation at the heart of the matter. This sort of thing was not encouraged, by the way.

One of my first wanderings was away from the childcare room at my mother’s bowling league on Thursday mornings. I was five, I think. I took my little brother Chris along with me and started walking home, about two miles. No one noticed. I knew the way and we crossed a four lane highway and walked along a two lane country road before our neighbor lady, Connie Page, stopped and picked us up. I got my butt whipped for that adventure; to no avail. I liked the taste of risk. No one died, and besides, you ought to pay more attention to sneaky kids, dontcha think?

When I was older, I’d ride my bike farther than permitted, out into the hinterlands of the unknown. Maybe a half mile away. Maybe five. It was never hard to find another boy in my neighborhood with absent-minded parents and an itch to go. Sometimes we’d ride in little gangs of four or five, jabbering as we pedaled without helmets or pads, often without working brakes, “Look, No hands!” up to the Giant store on Route 1 or down to the 7-11 on Kings Highway or over to Rose Hill shopping center. At other times we’d simply follow woods or streams as far as we had daylight and then come home again. Often enough we’d collect returnable bottles to fund our soda or pack of gum at the destination, at two cents per discarded bottle.

By age 12 my world expanded with junior high school and lots of new folks from other neighborhoods. The local Metro bus stopped at my street corner and continued all the way to the Mall in D.C. For thirty five cents you could cross state lines and arrive in another world full of diverse tourists or civil protesters. I did that at 12 years of age, just out of curiosity. I wanted to see what an anti-war protest looked like up close in 1968, I believe it was. Thousands and thousands of hippies were camped all around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, smoking pot and burning flags. They were bathing buck naked in the reflecting pool and in a fountain near the Smithsonian. Thus my wandering was lustfully rewarded with large doses of nakedness. Yes, my grandchildren, it’s hard to believe now, but it’s true: The Nation’s capital was briefly a strip club before the D.C. police started firing tear gas all over the place. Then it was just naked brutality.

Hitchhiking was a common practice back then. I used to hitchhike back and forth to high school without too much effort or worry. Later on I hitched back and forth to college. And ultimately across the country in 1978. That was some awesome wanderlust that I posted about early on in this blog.[ I even hitched a few rides in England when I was there in 1973 trying to impress my lost high school girlfriend with my wanderlust. To no lustful avail, my blogguppies.] In those days I knew where I was, and I didn’t want to be there. My blinking GPS pin was always somewhere else. I wonder if an Irish gypsy slept with one of my ancestors.  Eventually life became too harsh for hitchhiking, maybe in the go go 1980’s when the gap between rich and poor skyrocketed; when free agency came into mainstream American life; and greedy individualism swelled up with 401k’s and property values. But I believe those days are gone… replaced by bunkerlust, a longing to burrow into one’s own luxuriously appointed gated community.

What was is no more and yet there is nothing new under the sun, except for the folks who have not learned this lesson. Wander on, young ones. Someone will pay more attention to you after you’ve gone.

 

 

225. Five kilometers to go

Runners and walkers of all ages will enjoy the Footrace FrenzyI am going to run again in the annual 5K Race Against Poverty through our downtown streets on the first Friday in June. It’s a fundraiser for a community action program called Circles. My wife mentors a single woman in that program, helping her to see the way out of poverty by working and saving, and stewarding her earnings. It’s refreshing to see a program that actually works in the here and now without a government bureaucracy overseeing and wasting millions of dollars on another pipe dream that only works on graph paper. I have new sneakers and a bright orange t-shirt to impress the many fashionistas in our Wal Mart town. Looking good actually reduces your race time. It’s similar to golf; the best dressed golfer wins.

On this particular night our sleepy downtown will be teeming with people. Hundreds of folks come out to walk or run the course. Other stationary hundreds cheer on the racers as they go by. Even as we jog through the public housing section at the south end of town, folks clap and encourage us… though I never visit that section of town at any other time… they are kind. It’s nice all around. The very officious Fire Police direct traffic around the runners and walkers with great authority and vigor in their temporary power. Businesses are jacked up with customers. They are usually closed by 6 p.m. Cars and trucks are rerouted so pedestrians can lollygag in the streets for a couple of hours.

There is a different feeling, a more inviting one, when the traffic disappears. I’d like to keep it that way all year round. A simple rerouting could make our four prime blocks around the center square park-like and very calm while crushing the rest of our town with traffic. There’s the rub, dang it. Why couldn’t Turtle Town just have started out with a nice sheep meadow in the center and then built around that? Because of all the sheep poop, I guess. Why not a village green or a commons area?  We do have a trout stream that runs through the center of town which has not been poisoned yet. That’s a nice touch to any urban area.

So I’ve been jogging in preparation for the race. I of course will not race. My goal is to not stop and to feel good about merely completing the 3.1 miles. Last year the young gun Jana talked some pre-race smack to me about how she was going to dust me off like some old stuffed pheasant on a bookshelf in an English library on a cruise ship far away. Well, she is half my age and should dust me; however, she had not prepared for the run and was mostly full of young brash talk. As we ran off from the start line, she left me behind. No surprise. However, I caught up to her farther up the course, where legs and lungs began to ache. We chatted in little bursts of breath as we jogged next to one another. About a third of a mile from the end I said, “I guess this is where you dust me.” She laughed and started to run faster, leaving me behind… just as I had calculated. I watched as she slowed down after about fifty yards ahead of me. I started running on her outside shoulder so that she could not see me sneaking up on her. As we turned the final corner of the race, Jana looked behind over her right shoulder as I passed  her on her left side. She did not see me beat her to the finish line. But the computer chips on our shoes told the sad tale:  she was smoked by a 57 year old stuffed bird. I had no time to celebrate as my lungs burst and dissolved in the humid summer air. Whew! It took about an hour for my body to return to equilibrium. Which again is why I am jogging now in preparation for the race.

In an earlier post I told the tale of Pastor Kyle “Losing His Lasagna” in the same race three years ago. Unlike sneaking past Jana, there was no satisfaction in passing the hurling Pastor Kyle on King Street bridge, chumming for trout with his regurgitated lasagna dinner. “What was I thinking?” he cried out to me as I handed him my blue hanker chief to wipe the tomatoey vomitus off his chin. So it goes. One man’s personal sermon:  never eat and run, my sheep.

Today I was chatting with Corey, who is in my ballroom dance classes on Friday evenings. (With his wife. We are not a couple. You know what I mean!!!) He smokes in the alley outside my office building. A couple of weeks ago he told me that he was going to run in the Race Against Poverty. I asked if he was going to smoke and if he needed an ashtray for the race. He said no, he’d be  quitting soon and then training. Well, he was smoking a cigarette today. I told him I was worried about him dying on the course, which I don’t think is fair for all the nonsmokers who would have to hurdle his lifeless carcass. He assured me that he was quitting the nasty nicotine and would train soon. But we are running out of time here. The race is three weeks away. He told me that he used to run seven minute miles, and he has short legs, so that’s saying something for a guy who is built more for wrestling than running. He went on to reference a scene from the t.v. show Scrubs in which one of the characters remembers his glory race days during which he smoked and sprinted. Only on t.v. my blog puffs. I am not going to stop and defibrillate him as he reaches for another Marlboro.  It’s only five kilometers, man. Not kill-o-meters. Suck it up, man. Go.

 

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.

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.

8. however explosively

On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a novel that inspired me at 17 years of age. Somehow it made sense to my late adolescent herbally influenced mind. Several guys racing back and forth across 1940’s America, outrunning consequences. Living large without any money to speak of. Drinking, smoking pot, talking philosophically, having freewheeling sex, and always leaving somewhere for somewhere else before dawn…it all seemed so real and true and magnetic. If I had been a steel bb I’d have rolled right into that fictional magnet. Well, I guess that I did.

I read it again recently. Actually I finished it while I treaded on the treadmill this morning. What a bunch of crap! I kept reading through the poorly written feverish prose looking for the meaning and power that I believed was held in that novel. It wasn’t there. It was like hearing the jokes and conversations that brought you laughing to your knees in high school and realizing that is was just self indulgent dew that evaporated long ago. It had no substance, no lasting power. Wow, what a disappointment.

I suppose that I wanted to fit that wild life of drinking and smoking and sexing and talking and experiencing life at full bore minus any negative consequences. In other words, I was a charged up, impulsive adolescent enamored of older, fictional adolescents who, I believed, were inspired adults. They were on to a sort of wisdom that existed beyond rules and convention, traditions and culture, so I thought at 18. Now I see the main character Dean Moriarity as a bipolar maniac who bullshat his way past some easily impressed guys who were desperate to be misled. It’s embarrassing for my adult self to read the words that I thought meant something deep, and come to the conclusion that at their deepest simply dig a shallow, sophomoric grave.

I wanted to be older when I was younger. I missed the hippie era by a few years. I felt slighted to be in between generations. I thought I would have enjoyed Woodstock live rather than the movie and album. I went to anti-war rallies in D.C. but as a curious spectator not as a participant. I guess that I have been a curious spectator most of my life. Reading about others and watching movies, these are spectator activities. I recall my buddy Mark was always at the movies or reading and writing. Well, he was a writer. And that’s what writers do– espionage reports to the larger world. I always wanted to be a doer, however. Writing was the fall back position.

The older I get the more I see the wisdom in age requirements for government service. Young folks don’t yet know what they don’t know. They can’t, anymore than I could explain why we were “studying” the rock opera Tommy in my high school English class.  The sexy young student teacher blathered about Marshall McCluhan and “the medium is the message” to high school boys who just liked to watch her jiggle. We understood that she was the medium and the message all at once. She could have been speaking Mandarin Chinese, but we got the message… “I desperately want to share my Jiggles with you.” Well, that’s what we each came away with. She desired us. This is why we could not even drive a school bus, let alone command others to do difficult tasks.

This is also why you don’t cook on freshly ignited charcoals. They are flaming and full of toxins that have to burn off before they are safe to cook meat. But adolescent boys would cook with Bic lighters or propane torches if you let them.  This is probably where I should tell  the gas explosion story.

I was 19, I think. I moved into a huge flat with three friends. We stayed up late talking, smoking and drinking beer. In the morning only one roommate was around when I got up to make breakfast. Paul sat across from the kitchen nook in a stuffed chair. I started mixing up pancake batter. “Hey,man, want some pancakes?”  He was very interested in anything that did not come from a can. “I’ve been eatin’ canned food for months, Man. Yessss, I’d love some pancakes.”  I got busy and turned the gas on in the oven. I carelessly put a cookiesheet in the oven.

What I failed to do was check to see if this new gas stove had a pilot light like the old gas stove in my parents’ house. It didn’t, which meant that I had released several cubic feet of natural gas into an airtight space. It was all good until I turned on the front burner. As the burner jet puffed into flame, there was a microsecond delay and then an explosion that I will never forget. The oven bounced and expanded in air. The oven door slammed open and the cookie sheet shot out across the room at Paul, who must have thought a poultergeist had flooded the place. “Aaaaahhhhhh!!!”

In one very long second that lasted for ten minutes, simultaneously the glass panes in the old double hung window beside the stove blew out onto the sidewalk and the steps below on Grace Street. The apartment door blew violently open into the hallway. The hair on my arm singed and smelled that nasty stink like burning nylon. The old plaster ceilings reverberated and little trails of plaster dust fell down like fine snow all around the huge room where the bomb went off.

I didn’t know what to do first. Paul stood up shakily. Okay. I went to the window to see if folks were impaled by falling glass shards. Okay. All clear.  I began to laugh nervously when I realized that no one was injured or dead. I shut the apartment door and noticed that the frame seemed to have grown a fraction of an inch. Not so bad as it could have been.  I knew what I’d be doing for the rest of the day. I had to find a hardware store in Richmond and buy glass, a couple of tools, and some glazing. Before dark I had repaired the blown out windows. The stove remained swollen but empty like a woman who had recently and violently given birth.

We laughed a lot about the explosion, but not nearly as much as when a couple of days later my other roommate Bruce was taking a shower in the small bathroom adjacent to the kitchen. It had been in the blast area.  While he was lathered up and shampooed fully, the horsehair plaster ceiling collapsed on him, sticking to him so that when he came screaming and coughing out of the bathroom, he looked like a mummy in mid processing. Oh, my, did we laugh till tears came. We had Old Mr. Rhone the fix it man for the landlord come repair it. He knew we were up to no good, but he didn’t say anything and we didn’t offer any explanations.

Mummies - monsters Photo

So, this is why teenagers don’t run the Senate or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA or much of anything.

Burry