Subtitled: Clang, Clang go the jail guitar doors.
So I wrote this, like, many months ago. I suppose I was feeling sorry for myself and I figured the following tale would make me feel better. Things could be much worse. The days of smuggling smokes under bridges and skulking through the halls during lunch period weren’t really all that great. Nowadays I don’t smoke and I get to go home on my lunch hour and watch the Adult Swim cartoons I taped the night before. Keep reading and join the pity party below.
It's the beginning of a new age...thus goes a line in one of my favorite Velvet Underground songs and lately I've been feeling like I've entered not a only a new age, but old age as well. I'm losing my hair. My energy is flagging. All those years spent listening to and playing loud music has left me reaching for the closed caption button on the television remote. It could be worse on that front. My cousin Chris, who's only a year older, has to wear a hearing aid due to years working in a machine shop. All the weight I took off two years ago is trying to come back thanks to my love of ice cream and cookies.
I'm not going to let it get to me. I've got to listen to Johnny's advice to Pony Boy in The Outsiders and "stay golden." I watched that film again awhile back. I just got this urge to see it. It was perhaps better than I remember it, but then again when it came out in the spring of my sophomore year I really took to it. I was a writer just like Pony Boy. Maybe I hadn’t been on the run from the law, but I had been busted once. I don’t think I’ve ever really written about that incident so here goes.
It was the fall of 1982. My family moved again so I switched schools for the third year in a row. I actually looked forward to this after a disastrous freshman year at Oakland. Riverdale was to be the place where I would reconnect to long lost friends from Central Middle and forget about all of the bullies across town. Eventually this did happen, but not until my junior year after I grew almost 6 inches in height and finally got into some classes with my old friends. Sophomore year at Riverdale was perhaps even worse than that freshman experience at Oakland. There I had merely been an outcast, but I became something worse at Riverdale: a class skipping criminal.
It began the first day I got on the bus to go to Riverdale. I headed toward the back since that was where all of the cool freak kids sat. This was where I sat when I went to Oakland; not that I was cool but through some circumstance or other the older freaks took a liking at my attempts to smoke cigarettes at the bus stop in the morning. I basically got a pity pass. This was not the case on bus 29 headed to Buchanan School and then on to Riverdale. I sat about 3 rows from the back and the spitballs began to fly.
I threw them back. I may have been a dork, but I didn’t take crap on the bus. This was what led to a ride in the back of a police cruiser one fine autumn morning. One of the spitball throwers was a guy I had known back in 1st grade, let’s call him the Herc. I had even attended a birthday party for him at the Dipper Dan Ice Cream store in Jackson Heights Plaza. I remember this event because it was the first time I had ever eaten bubblegum ice cream. The Herc knew me too (we used to run into each other at Hot Wheels skating rink), but by this time he had developed an attitude and the usual barbaric bully code of: I can throw crap at you and you have to take it, but if you dare to throw stuff back then I have to kick your ass.
So I was told to meet him at the cement slab that afternoon after school. I didn’t do it. I didn’t know where the cement slab was located. It turns out it was on Arnold Road just off of Big Springs Road. Once the Herc drew me a map I was once again told to meet him, which was something I didn’t want to do. If it had been a chance fight on the bus or at school I would have gladly thrown down with the dude, but I wasn’t going to willingly seek out a fight. So I decided to go play basketball instead. (To clarify: if the Herc had thrown punches at me I would have defended myself, but as you’ll soon see he never raised his fists at me.)
I made the mistake of telling two kids who lived down the road that I was going to a little country church to shoot some hoops. I had mistakenly thought they were my friends, but they only wanted to see me get my brains smashed in by the Herc. So when I made it through the woods to the church he was there waiting for me. In fact, he had already kicked out several basement windows of the church and made a mess of the inside (country churches used to leave their doors unlocked) whiled waiting for me.
I wish I could say that I then beat the Herc and my two supposed friends up and then reported them to the cops, but that is not what went down. The Herc said, “You know why I’m here. Let’s fight.”
“Why should we fight,” I replied?
“You know why. You threw spitball at me on the bus.”
I answered, “That’s because you threw them at me first.”
Herc said, “That wasn’t me.”
“I don’t want to fight you,” I said as my eyes began to tear up. This was quickly seized upon by the Herc as a sign of weakness.
“You know I could kick your ass right now,” he chortled.
And that was it. It was a bad scene of humiliation behind tearful eyes on my part and triumph for the malevolent Herc. He stomped off and I was left with the two Judases. They helped me to clean up the inside of the church. I knew I would catch hell for the crying, even if it had been misinterpreted. It was fight or flight. Adrenaline pumping. And I wasn’t running from the Herc.
The next day I sat in the middle of the bus and endured the taunts of the Herc. He made sure everybody knew what a wimp I was and I did nothing to change that opinion. Time dragged and dragged like it does when you’re 15 and bitterly alone among hundreds. I started skipping classes. Man, it was easy to skip at Riverdale back then. You could hang out behind the gym or the industrial studies building and smoke cigarettes and probably what ever else you wanted to smoke and never see a teacher. But the best way to skip was to just hang out in the hall in front of Mr. Herbert’s office. I drew rock band logos on my notebooks filled with fake heavy metal bands and really horrendous lyrics and I dreamed. I dreamed of a day when the current would become the past and all of the people that disliked me got what was coming to them. The Herc was found to be a crybaby when his time came.
It was a gloriously warm fall day. It was a Saturday and my cousin Freddy had spent the night Friday. We went hiking around the woods so we could smoke a cigarette in peace and I decided to take him up to the church and back around. We cut through the forest and found people at the church. We said hello and kept walking. We could hear the whine of a three-wheeler in the distance. There was an old wooden bridge on the gravel road leading back to the trailer where I lived and we decided to take a break there.
After some time had passed we decided we’d had enough lethargy so we got up so I could go show Freddy the old cemetery in Mr. Lowe’s cow pasture. A county cop car pulled up the road. I thought he must be lost or something. So we ran back to the road to see what was up. The next thing I knew we were in the back of the car heading to Murfreesboro. We heard over the radio that they had another car sent to question the kids on the three-wheeler (my so called friends).
The cop recognized Freddy. He had been busted a few months earlier for breaking some kid’s ribs in a fight that had its genesis in a Junior Pro basketball game from the spring. We were told we were being brought in for questioning for vandalizing the church. Freddy certainly had an alibi for that one since he lived in Smyrna. But my goose was cooked even though I didn’t commit the crime. Failure to rat in this case was enough to convict. Even so, I kept my mouth shut. I only told the police that I didn’t do it.
They got the information they wanted from the guys I had once thought were my friends. They were brought into the station just as my mother came to get me and Freddy. Later, I was told, they brought the Herc in crying. I wish I could have seen that, because even as scared as I was I didn’t cry. And the fear I had while riding to Murfreesboro in the police car was nothing like the fear I had of what my father would do to me when he found out.
He did nothing to me. I repeat nothing. Perhaps this is even scarier. There was nothing to do but to face the judge and his punishment. That would be enough. I was a huge disappointment to my parents and I was ashamed. But really, I was less ashamed of the bust than I was of the fact that I should have given the Herc a black eye. I thought perhaps I would attack him during juvenile court.
Once played out in my imagination I let it be and the court proceedings went on without any fistfights. Herc was actually almost contrite, maybe realizing that he was the one to blame for this anyways. Even so he received the same punishment. We all ended up with 8 hours of community service. If we kept our records clean, the incident would be wiped off our record once we turned eighteen. I worked off my debt to society one Saturday at Oaklands Mansion by raking leaves with another young criminal who kept trying to get me to go smoke pot with him. I really didn’t think that was too good an idea.
I didn’t need anymore trouble. I had also decided to start dipping Skoal that day and it was making me so sick I would never do smokeless tobacco again. It was a dispiriting and miserable experience and it didn’t really benefit the community at all. The grounds of the mansion were fine. It was the caretaker’s yard that needed raking. It probably hadn’t been done in decades. We’d rake through the muck while the caretaker would poke his head out of his house every ten minutes or so to scream at us and tell us that if we didn’t work harder and do a better job we wouldn’t get credit for our 8 hours.
He was all talk. He signed my paper and I was done. My debt to society was paid in full. Herc stopped riding the school bus and never troubled me again. The two guys I had thought were my friend both apologized to me, but I didn’t cross paths with them much after sophomore year anyways. My cousin Freddy and I never got into any more trouble with the law. I stopped skipping classes and high school got better. And I’m still golden.