Saturday, January 29, 2011

1st Drunk: Urbandale 1976

I've always been late at doing everything. At least late in doing those things often considered as rites or thresholds and such. I was eighteen before I ever got truly drunk--bad drunk--and that was when, in 1976, the drinking age was eighteen. I must have been nineteen--almost twenty--before I got laid and though I had tried pot towards the end of high school, I'd never been stoned until the age of twenty, while in college. Even later for later thresholds, I was always behind somewhat, be it a live-in relationship with a girlfriend or love and marriage or getting published and teaching and so on down the line. As I've said before I was (am?) a late bloomer.
So, this incident is not one I like to recall often. It was after high school (which I pretty much hated) was over. It was summer. I was working full time at Younkers with no plans to go to college--my only plans were to get a van, get a dog and drive out West: Idaho and Oregon specifically. I was smart in some ways, very stupid in others: I was still a kid. After a self-imposed semi-exile from my longtime friends at school (I thought I was punishing them as well as myself, but I don't think they noticed that much that I was gone from the group--but this is another story/lesson), I was pretty much back into the fold by summer, after graduation. And I was out with them: Jim, Randy, Bill, Rick, Dave. There was a party somewhere in Urbandale, not at someone's house but at some rented room like one would for an anniversary or birthday or bar mitzvah (though we knew nothing of bar mitzvahs, any of us, as there were no Jews in Urbandale [that we knew of] just as there were no asians or blacks or much of any ethnic diversity [okay, there was one asian girl, Alice, and there was one black girl, but that was pretty much it for a suburb of Des Moines in the late 70s]) and in this room were only fellow former students of our class.
Now, I'd had beer. I'd had wine and whiskey and such. My parents were no teetotalers. In fact, they were heavy drinkers in their way--nah, strike that, they were heavy drinkers--so I'd had sips and gulps since childhood and there was always beer and such at the house and I'd had a few beers since turning eighteen, but only a few. But I'd never been drunk.
Well, at the strange party I drank beer after beer. I had been quiet and invisible for most of my high school years--at least invisible to the movers and shakers, that upper echelon of cliques in the tiered world of high school--and a lot of the popular people, guys mostly, were there. But, becoming drunk, I was doing just fine. (I'd also changed a bit--again my luck, my sense of being late--just out of high school: my acne (a great thorn in my side, the bane of my life) had dissipated, I had put a lot of pettiness behind me very quickly since school was done, I was more vocal and personable. So, I was holding my own and somehow became the focus of attention as music blared and they all encouraged me to chug a beer. Me! And so I obliged.
Now, do I think they purposely encouraged me so that I'd get drunk and make a fool of myself?
They had no idea I'd never been drunk. They encouraged me because they too were drunk and that's what young males do, the only difference here was that I was new to this game, this bonding through drink and objectification of women and such. So, I drank it up! And, I was quite drunk by the time the party broke. A good chunk of the boys decided to head to the Urbandale Country Club to sneak into the pool for a swim. I recall Dave was driving (Dave was one of my earliest friends, since junior high, and his father was the Mayor of Urbandale (seriously)) and Dave had his dad's Cadillac. I was full bore drunk by then and I rode in teh back seat as we charged out to the country club (a place alien to me except that I'd gone a few times with Dave, as his family was a member) and they all clambered out of their cars and climbed the fence in order to swim. Me? I was too far gone, feeling quite sick, so I only made it to the top of Dave's Caddy, where I sprawled out like a wounded soldier and groaned. I wasn't very aware of things and in other ways I was very aware. So, I rolled and moaned on top of the car and then I eventually began to vomit.
I threw up great hanks of slime and chunky beer-swum vomit and--so very unfortunately for poor dave (or poor Dave's father--the car's windows were open below me. So, on top of the Cadillac I threw up down the side of the car and into the open window. Ah. I was out of it. I'd never been drunk, had never vomited because I was drunk, I thought little of it other than the vomiting made me feel a bit better.
I don't recall everything after that. I know dave was not happy. I know we went to Gary M's house but I was wasted. They--the classmates who I did not care too much for (though I always liked gary and he was always good to me)--my erstwhile classmates of 76 put me tenderly to bed, treated me quite nicely, were very amused that I had thrown up into the open windows of a Caddy and there I was.
In the morning I woke up feeling 100% horrible. I did not like standing up. My mouth was dry, tongue swollen, my skull was like a washing machine at full tilt. But it was my stomach that pained me the most (I've always felt things through my stomach, be it worry or heartache or what-have-you). I did rise and make it out of doors. I knew where I was and why. No one else was around. It was still somewhat early--maybe nine or so, maybe seven--and I felt strange as well as sick. My world--the simple world of Urbandale which I pretty much hated--was different, different in neither a good or worse way. Just altered somehow. And I began to walk. It was a slow painful walk, a long distance to walk, further than my walks from 65th Street to the high school, but I walked.
When I finally got home, my mother was there. She was relieved to see me. Of course I had not called and I had never before failed to come home, but my parents were not the over-worrying type, they assumed we kids knew to keep ourselves alive. Still she was relieved and pretty quickly made the correct assumption why i was struggling home at nine in the morning. I told her i was sick, that I had been drunk. She was not angry. She told me I was hungover.
"I'm not hungover," I protested. "I'm sick. My stomach hurts."
She laughed.
"That's what a hangover is," she informed me.
Ah. All that time I'd only seen hangovers through the lens of TV and the movies and in those it was always the recipient's head that was in pain. But, there, I learned that wasn't true.
Well. Though I'm often late to things, I'm rather glad for it. It's like when you have kids and in those early years people prattle on about when your child or their child first learns to walk or talk or even sit up and as a parent you'll fret over it until it happens and then it's forgotten for the most part. The thing is, they learned, it happened and now on to the next threshold. So, I'm glad I took my time. My brain and body had a good while to develop and strengthen before I learned to destroy it. My emotional state--always a bit iffy with me--had time to strengthen also before I involved myself in the trials of humanity. So, I'm okay. And now, on to the next rite of passage . . .

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Washing My face In A Cold River: Seattle 1987

Just a short memory as today is cold and the water from the tap--normally warm down here where I live--is coming out cold. What I recall is a time I went camping in the rain forest in the Olympic Mountains. This was with Matt and Brock and, just east of Forks or wherever, we went into the National Park and to the rain forest and there was no one else there save one lone camper who had tons of collected wood and had stored it beneath plastic tarps although while we were there it did not rain in the rain forest. It was damp, grey-skied, a place full of huge trees and tree limbs and the thick drapery of moss, slugs and fungi. It was quiet and the trails led through the trees and over white-rushing streams and up mountainous hills. But what I'm thinking of is the morning I awoke and--this was a primitive camp--there was no running water, so I took my wash cloth and my bar of soap and went down to the river--the Hoh River, I think--and dipped my hands in it and it was ice cold! But, I wanted to wash up (I was somewhat fastidious about washing my face, a leftover from my teen years of bad acne), so I went ahead and lathered up (yes, I know you are not supposed to put soap in a fresh river, but really, this was a bar of soap and this river was fast and wide and I hardly considered it to be a pollutant) and I washed my face with that achingly cold water. Fresh water. Snowmelt/rain water. And it wasn't just the water, but it was the fact that I was more or less alone in a great woods leaning into a big cold river with woods and mountains and the gray un-raining sky above me. That's what I recall and miss.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Weirdest Place I Have Ever Been: Jonesborough 1968

By weirdest I'm totally talking about within my own vision. The people who lived in small towns, the people who lived in Jonesborough in 1968, would not have seen it as strange. I know that. But I was a kid of, what?, 11 years old or some such when we moved from the Pacific West Coast, from Washington, and into that little tiny burg in semi-Appalachia Tennessee.
For us--at least Mother, Oldest Brother, Second Oldest Brother, me, Sister and Younger Brother--it was a shock to the system. We went from a bedroom community of Portland, Oregon, a burgeoning town with ties to Seattle, to a smaller than small town in the almost deep south. In the late Sixties! We did not understand the history, the customs, and almost the language . . . Ah, I'll explain later.

LATER: much later. Trying to pick this thread back up but suffice it to say that the United States of the 60s and early 70s was not the homogenized, restaurant and retail chain, cable TV/Internet/cell phone connected country that we live in today. We were all midwesterners and, though my parents were not sophisticates by any means, both from small towns in the midwest (Red Oak, Iowa; Arlington, South Dakota) and we kids had been born in Sioux Falls and had a bit of the west coast in us from Vancouver [not L.A. or San Fran or even Seattle], but it was still a shock to the system to have landed in a small burg like Jonesborough--even Johnson City would have been shocking enough. It was world still wrapped in racism and small thinking, one of rural sensibilities, it was like a foreign country in the sense that the language was different, the food was different (how many hot school lunches did I have that were simple beans or cheese toast, collard greens?), the people were different. That's not to say I disliked the people or even, eventually, the culture. I grew to like it in many ways, but more in Johnson City than Jonesborough; I adapted--perhaps more than my brothers and sister, perhaps not as much as my father who liked it, over all. But it was--the small town of Jonesborough, where I did return briefly in the eighties with Fru, a quick car trip for a look-see when I lived with her in Champaign, and where it had changed and was a charming little southern town, pretty and unassuming with a cafe and bed and breakfast and antique shops and such--the damned weirdest place I'd ever lived.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Pet Hammerhead Shark: Fort Lauderdale 1997

First Daughter always loved animals. Sure, she liked cats and dogs (she still does like cats, dogs not so much), but she really loved elephants and giraffes when she was young. She also liked things like anteaters, bats, lizards, armadillos, tapirs, and other creatures. But all of this was mainly when she was very young, when we lived in Illinois.
We moved to Florida and she started school and then there were other interests--friends and cartoons, music, Pokemon. She still liked animals and was interested in them, but the pull of them was less so. So, a year after our move, when we bought our house after renting one in Victoria Park for a year, I was a little surprised when she started going on about hammerhead sharks.
She really really liked hammerheads. We took her and Second Daughter to the Museum of Science and Discovery and there they had a bonnethead shark--very similar to a hammerhead but much smaller--and that fascinated her. At some point she asked if she could have a pet hammerhead. I said, "Sure. I'll build an aquarium in the back yard." Of course I was joking.
I guess the point of this memory is that I was very surprised to find that she had taken me seriously. She really expected me to build the aquarium and get her a hammerhead shark. I had thought the she knew I was being fatuous in my comment (she even knew the word facetious, she knew by then my sense of humor and irony), she was six or seven and so I had assumed she would not conceive of the idea that we could have a 100 to 1000lb shark as a pet. But it turns out that I was the one who was wrong.
She took the news well that she would not be getting a pet hammerhead. I explained the impossibility of it and she understood. No biggie. But then, for her birthday, I surprised her and got one!
Not really. Just being facetious.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Guy at School, Once Again: Urbandale 1971

I'm thinking about how I started 7th grade in Iowa, how we moved mid-year from Tennessee to Des Moines (Urbandale) and, once again, I was a new guy at school. I'd been a new guy before and so it wasn't traumatic or unusual for me. I'd started kindergarten in Sioux Falls, the 1st grade in Vancouver. We'd moved mid-year from Washington to the little town of Jonesborough, TN during my 4th grade and I adapted to those very strange surroundings. Then, while in Tennessee, I'd changed schools from Jonesborough to the Cherokee county school and then the Johnson City school before Iowa. Still, there's an oddness and stigma to be new, especially in mid-year.
I started attending the 7th grade at Urbandale Junior High (now it's called middle school, I believe) right before the Xmas break, but we didn't move into our house till the new year so in many ways I started the first of the year. I recall within my first day I had some girl pass me a note from some other girl who wanted me to "like"her, she described herself and where she sat in this class, etc etc. I was new. I didn't know what to make of it, so, I ignored it. She and her friend--who had passed the note--then took a disliking to me for, really, about the rest of my years in that school system. Huh. I was assigned a locker and my locker mates--two false tough kids--didn't care for that, so they changed the locks on me, threw my stuff out, etc. I complained and got that settled--don't remember exactly how. I was not adverse to fighting, physically, but did find that I was a bit cowed by all the newness in this new world--not just the new school, but entering into that phase of life known as adolescence. I think middle school is probably the worst years of a person's life, in many ways. This was before they tried to educate kids (and parents) about the difficulties and changes, about the steep pitfalls that befall many young people in those years.
The school systems themselves were quite different. In Tennessee, I was used to regular rooms and then going to classes. Academic expectations were not high. I was basically in a country system, full of rural boys and girls. In Iowa, they had open classrooms, where we all gathered together then split up into sections within a giant room to be taught separate subjects. They were further along than I was and I had become shy, internal, subdued by it all. I tolerated school. I felt more displaced than I had--in many ways--than in Tennessee, even and still longed for the days on the west coast in Washington (which I still considered my true home).
But more than anything, I think it was just the physical and hormonal changes that affected me in those days and the years to come, until about the end of my senior year or even a year or tow after--for me, probably until about the ages of 19 or 20, believe it or not.
It still amazes me to come across teens who are self-confident and capable, who engage well with both adults and their peers. I get ticked off when I see movies--or, less often, read books--about teens or pre-teens who are crafty and quick-witted, who confound adults and the adult world and can accomplish many things (perhaps that's why these teen movies are popular, they provide the fantasy of being able to outwit and outshine the adult world). To this day I such find such confident teen behavior--whether fictionalized or empirically derived--abnormal and always expect teenagers to be shy and clumsy and to do very stupid things.
Maybe that was just me.