Thursday, August 13, 2009

#6 - Boys of Summer

Trigger: Kids playing with a garden hose down the street, in this gawd awful Texas heat.


In the 70's, my mom and stepdad were best friends with a couple that somehow managed to get ownership of this big chunk of land east of Broken Arrow, OK. I know those folks didn't have a lot of money, so how they pulled it off was a big mystery. (This parcel of land is located on the same road I babbled about in Post #3).

Anyway, however they got it, they had it. Maybe they got a good deal, since it was a few years before Broken Arrow exploded into the fastest-growing school district in the state in the 80's. And it wasn't really prime property, being outside the city limits, and most of the spread consisted of scrubby "nothing worthwhile is going to grow here" patches, and a few trees.

So, Barb and Larry (loved Barb, hated Larry, he was a total bastard) dragged in a mobile home and set up camp. One redeeming feature of this land was a pond just about smack in the middle of the property. As long as we weren't in the middle of a drought (which happens every other day in Oklahoma), this thing was pretty plush.

Somebody wrangled a paddle boat from somewhere, and us kids would spend hours on that thing, going nowhere on the pond, just circles, but enjoying the journey anyway. When you're twelve, your imagination is still strong. Everything is full of promise, and dreams. It's only later, when reality and responsibility have beaten you down, that you forget how to live.

But the real prize, the jewel, was located at the far east end of the property. Back there, the property tumbled into an area that we called "the strip pits". Somebody, at some time, had surface-mined for something or other. Which resulted in these narrow (maybe 20-feet wide?) but very deep grooves in the earth. And these grooves were filled with water.

Perfect for swimming. Nirvana, in fact. No maintenance. Nature took care of it. The water was always there, inviting you in.

In current days, of course, we realize that swimming in such a thing is probably not in our best interest. Who knows what kind of metals or whatever were mined out of those trenches. Probably something we shouldn't be in contact with. The water was always intriguingly murky, never clear, this constant shade of dirty green-brown.

And the fish? Yes, there were fish, so it wasn't completely poisonous, but these were some fairly vicious fish. They would swim up and nibble on you if you stayed still, so you learned to always be active. For a kid, this was not a problem. For the slower adults, there would often be cries of surpise.

But those slower adults also built stairs down the side of the trench to water level, and constructed a big-ass floating dock on the water for everyone to flop down on when they needed a break from splashing around in the water and escaping the carniverous fish.

And the piece de resistance? The adults hacked away all the overgrowth leading to the highest point on the cliffside, a spot that was powerful and scary and thrilling. From this vantage, you could leap forward, and then plummet 30 feet into the murky waters. It was terrifying the first time, you might even quietly wet yourself. But after that? Perfect, total, release.

And that's what's missing in my life today.

Where is the faith in the jump? Where is the trust in the jump? Where IS the jump?


Thursday, July 2, 2009

#5 - Sunglasses At Night

Trigger: Random memory while searching for old friends on Facebook


We were out of high school, that much is certain, with all of us off to our various colleges doing whatever. But the exact timing and date is fuzzy, not sure why. Seems like it might have been summer between freshman and sophomore college years, but just guessing.

Anyway, several of my high school friends got together one night. And again, the actual tally of who was in this group is blurry. I'm certain Erika L. was there, and it may have even been her car, or at least somebody's car that she was driving.

Really odd to me that I don't clearly remember the participants, but one event on that night is crystal. Wonder what that's all about?

So we all pile into the car, and for whatever reason we head back to the old stomping grounds around Broken Arrow Senior High. Don't recall if we drove to that area on purpose, or if we were just joy-riding and somebody said "hey, let's hit the high school drag".

We pull up to the intersection of Main and College. This is a major crossroads, in a way, though more symbolic than actual. Main St is, of course, Main St. Back in the day, this was the main thoroughfare, but that was YEARS ago, way before our high school days. Even then it was nothing more than a quaint reminder of times gone by. The focus of the city had long since shifted elsewhere. But still, significant in a way.

And then there's College St. This section of that road led smack into the back of Broken Arrow Senior High. The campus used to be an actual college decades ago, but had been the high school campus for a long time.

So we were at ground zero for our memories of both the high school and the town.

And I happen to glance over and see that one of the Main/College street sign toppers is laying on the ground instead of on the pole. What the hell? What happened with that? And then I get the idea.

"Let's take that street sign."

Immediate cries of approval, therefore indicating that drinking was most likely involved. The driver zips up to said fallen signage, and we initiate Operation Grab and Run.

Now, one thing you may not know about sign toppers: They are much bigger than you think they are.

So I throw open the door, reach down to grab the booty, and quickly realize: I can't get it into the car. It's too big. And it's freakin heavy.

I understand that I explained above that this was no longer a major conduit in the town of Broken Arrow. But it wasn't exactly tumbleweeds and nothingness, either. There was still plenty of activity. For an example, activity that might involve curious police officers.

"Just GO!" I scream out, clutching and sweating.

The driver floors it and we race down the street, my ass is hanging out the door, doing my best to keep the sign metal from scraping the pavement and sending sparks flying, but not always succeeding in that mission. (Did I mention it was heavy?)

Somebody was holding on to me. Not sure. What I do know is that our own Mario Andretti was hitting every damn pothole she could. It's amazing I didn't lose any teeth.

Then, suddenly, Mario is taking a corner on two-wheels, tires squealing. We shoot down a side street, run over something, another swerve, and we come to a jolting stop.

I look up, still clinging to the contraband.

We are in the parking lot of the oldest Methodist church in town.

Great. Nothing like committing a sin and then driving straight to God for the consequences. Thanks, Mario. Love ya.

So I fall out of the car, lug the sign around to the back of the car, and we heave it into the trunk, where it miraculously fits. (Well, duh, we're at a church.) Then we scramble back into the car and race way into the night.

I have no idea who ended up with that sign. I'm hoping that whoever it was still has it, and still remembers.

And can tell me who was in the car that night....

Friday, June 19, 2009

#4 - Sixteen Candles

Trigger: Reviewing the previous post.


1981 again. This time, it's the day OF my 16th birthday. I don't have my official driver's license yet, but I'm going to take the test after school. The excitement is pulsing through my body.

Of course, I've had my learner's permit for a while. But the actual learning has been... a bit lacking, at least from an official standpoint. I had already taken the requisite semester of Driver's Ed in school, but that was basically a joke. This was the one elective class that EVERY student opted for, so the classes were always packed. I believe there were 50 people in ours.

The class was "taught" by two coaches. Each day, each coach would take 3 students out to practice driving an actual car, and the remaining 44 students would sit around and pretend to read driving manuals and learn the info needed to pass the written driving exam. Nobody actually did anything. It was recess, you just had to sit at your desk.

So with the mathematics involved in that arrangement, I only actually got to drive 3 times. The first time, it was me and two of the biggest jocks on campus. So they talked shop with the coach, and I was basically on my own. I don't think the coach said more than two words to me. I just drove around until time was up.

The two subsequent times were a little better, had some non-athletes with me, so the coach managed to acknowledge my presence. But he was drunk both times. This was a football town, and coaches were gods, so he could do whatever he wanted.

And therein lies my official training. A total of 50 minutes of actual road time, jocks talking shop, and drunkenness. I'm sure the insurance companies would be thrilled to know about that.

My REAL training took place on the country roads way outside of town. That wasn't necessarily a good thing (see previous post), but at least I got a little bit of experience.

So the sacred day arrives wherein I can become a licensed driver, a pivotal, milestone moment. As mentioned, pulsating excitement. I mean, this is big, dreamed about for years. But first I've got to get through the day, slog through all my classes.

Most of the school day is a blur, but one thing remains clear for some odd reason. We're sitting in Advanced Biology, and the teacher, Mr. Armstrong, is discussing his recent bout with food poisoning, the result of a visit to a new sandwich chain in town, Schlotzky's. Because of his knowledge base, he can describe exactly what happens to the physical body in such a scenario, the buildup that leads to eventual vomiting. And he goes into detail.

Slightly repulsed, oddly fascinated, generally over it, I get through it. Just before the hour is over, one of my lab buddies turns to me and asks, "So how does it feel? Being sixteen?"

I pause, and then I'm honest. "It feels the same. I was really expecting SOMETHING to happen. But I really don't feel anything. It's weird." He looks at me a little distrustfully, but doesn't say anything. In the future, on his birthday, he will fess up to the same thing. Where was the magical something that you should feel?

I shouldn't have hoped for "something" to happen. Because it did. Just not in a good way.

I finally get through the day. Time for the driving test. My step-dad picks me up for the journey to the DMV, which only heightens my nervousness, due to our very strained relationship. So much drama with him, real and imagined. Mostly real.

We get there, and the place is swarming as we get in line. It seems every two minutes someone is racing in from the driving area, clutching the prize of legality. I just try to breathe.

Finally, it's my turn. I'm assigned to an officer and we march outside to step-dad's vehicle. There has to be an inspection of the car, something I hadn't realized. I'm so used to beer cans rolling around in his car that I didn't notice them on the drive over. But I certainly notice them when they spill out of the car as the officer checks the turn signals. Miraculously, he doesn't say a thing about that. Then he walks around behind the car.

"We've got a problem," he says, scribbling something on his clipboard that has an air of finality. Dread builds. "Your license plate is expired. Can't take a test in this thing." And then he just marches inside, done. Nothing to him. Everything to me. This is MY day. And it's been taken away.

We stand there a minute, me and the one who has never considered me more than baggage in his marriage to my mother, looking at each other. I don't want to give it to him, but I think there is the tiniest spark of concern in his eyes, and a little smidge of shame. But it might just be the beer.

"I'll fix this, we can come back," he says.

"Okay," I say. Not what I WANT to say, but it's all that I'm allowed. And then I open the passenger door and climb in. Instead of the driver's side, where I should be on this day.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

#3 - Drive

Trigger: Driving home from work and taking a corner WAY too fast


1981. Finally had my coveted driver's license. We lived "somewhat" out in the country. The major roads were paved, but everything else was dirt or gravel. But since there was usually no one else on these roads at the same time as you were, you could get away with some creative driving. Do what you want, just don't hit a cow. And that was a muse a 16-year-old could not ignore.

There were lots of crazy-ass roads that didn't follow the dictates of "normal" street-planning. One of the more interesting of these was 209th St, which I think was also called Evans Road, but I may be mixing my memories. This thing ran straight and true in some places, but in other sections the damn thing swerved all over the place, probably just to avoid trees. And I think it was graded once by some drunk county road worker, then left on its own.

But again, with the being-16 thing, this road was a thrilling challenge. I'm meandering down this road one day, just driving around because there wasn't anything else to do, and I realize there's this one section of dirt road with a really steep drop. There's potential here. I turn around, go back over the crest and a take another run, faster this time. And the car actually leaves the ground for a second or two.

Oh my gawd. I've discovered a new toy.

So I race home and get on the horn with my peeps. I'm totally stoked, we have GOT to max this thing out. What else is there to do in this hick town?

A few days later, the fates congeal, and I'm in the family Bronco with some of my peeps, who all happen to be girls, natch, I'm a sensitive gay guy with issues. We're all almost squealing with excitement, because that's how we rolled, we would pick out something mundane and pump it up to mean something far more than it should matter. This is how you get through the dry, dusty hell of living in the sticks.

I'm barrelling down Evans Road. The Bronco is careening all over the place. We can't see squat because there's no such thing as street lights out here in the cultural desert. Nothing but the Bronco headlights, briefly illuminating wildlife as they scamper from the road.

We're zooming toward the drop in the road. I actually floor it, years before Thelma and Louise thought they were being original with this thought process. We cross the point of no return and that damn Bronco hurtles toward the sky. This is NASA, people, we are in the air for what seems like minutes.

We finally crash to the earth. Things are flying around the car, screams echo across the cow pastures, at least one person has a small orgasm. I somehow manage to keep the Bronco from flipping and killing us all.

We were total idiots.

We could have died.

But instead we lived. In so many ways. And when you compare it to our current life in the cubicle farms with those endless, meaningless emails? Sure would like to be back on Evans Road, flooring it and innocent. With my peeps...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

#2 - Papa, Can You Hear Me?

Trigger: Running across a picture of Becca W online, a good friend from my University of Tulsa days


Barbra Streisand's movie "Yentl" was about to be released. Becca was so excited she was on the verge of squealing. She loved Barbra. Loved music. (She was a Music major, if memory serves, as well as a Business major. That girl was busy.) She nearly killed us on the manic drive to the theater.

The movie starts. Immediately, Becca is transported. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it myself, but to watch Becca watching the movie was the true thrill. This movie was speaking to her in a way that I couldn't quite grasp. Another plane entirely.

And we sat through it again. Excited to do so. This time, Becca basically had the entire score down, and was singing along. Softly, discreetly, only belting on a few lines. Perfect pitch. There is something truly sublime about being with someone who is having an experience that is deeply meaningful to them, that moves them. You are close to their soul, their heart, a privileged chance to look into a sacred window. So you respect, and admire, and stand quietly by, supportive. This is not about you. In any way. And it's beautiful.

So I'm taking this all in, and I'm also thinking of a recent mini-scandal at the University. Involving me. A few folks with hate in their veins had tried to pin the "gay" tag on me. In the early 80's, in Tulsa, even at a university with supposedly more progressive minds, you cannot survive with this tag. Especially when it's true.

But Becca went out of her way to tell people that there wasn't anything gay about me as far as she was concerned, even though I'm sure her instincts told her otherwise. Which was the strongest support you could give someone at that time, back when the witch-hunts were so real, before Matthew Shepard opened some eyes. All you could do was lie, and therefore protect, if you were strong enough. Becca was.

So, Becca, I did hear you. And thank you.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

#1 - Message in a Bottle

Trigger: Clicking on high school classmate Sherry D's profile in Facebook.


Junior year, sitting in a classroom, some required course that we had to take, don't remember which, but a coach was teaching the class, so it had to be one of THOSE classes, where chances were strong that you might not learn a whole lot. (The coach was famous for throwing erasers, something you could get away with back in the day, but the name escapes me. Seems like there was a tragic car accident with one of his relatives at some point.)

The coach is entertaining a group of jocks with some sports story, happened a lot, so the non-jocks are having a sidebar discussion. Topic turns to music, and somebody mentions this new thing coming out called "cassettes" that might one day replace 8-tracks and vinyl. There is laughter, how can this happen? Then Sherry states in no uncertain terms that "Cassettes rock!" or something like that. Sound quality is superb.

So me and the rest of the geeks and geek-ettes ponder. 8-tracks and vinyl are all we know about music. How can something so fundamental change? (And I'm sure as hell not going to mention my membership with Columbia House, wherein I'm still commited to purchasing something like 36 more 8-tracks in the next two months or murky legal things could happen to me. Anyone could get a membership with Columbia House in those days. A 4-year-old could get an account as long as somebody sent in the checks.)

Just upstairs and down the hall from us was the "computer lab", where you could take a course in very basic Basic. That was a little exciting, and I did eventually take the class, with all those "nested" commands and things that looped. But it didn't really mean anything yet. We didn't know about the coming day when technological changes would build to a blur, that you would eventually never be able to hold on to anything because you would always concerned about "What's next?"

It was a sleepy time, thinking back. Things were steady, you knew what you knew. A time when you simply LIVED life, instead of trying to keep up with it. The blur was yet to come.

And I don't know that Sherry was some Prophetess of the future. She was certainly smart enough to be. But with her making the comment that day, something rotated and locked in my brain, and the memory is still here.

And Sherry was in the high school band, an eviable thing to me, because most everyone knew that you could be a little different in that group, a little more yourself, there wasn't as much judgement. So she had the cool factor, in my book. And she was always nice, even to those that The Deciders had deemed unworthy. Sherry was right as rain that day, sitting one row over and one desk up.