Saturday, October 16, 2010

Then There Was The Summer I Went Country

Then there was the summer I went country. But before that there were these two assholes who liked to bring their fingers from one hand down upon the closed fist of the other hand which makes a decent popping noise. Our peanut shaped study hall teacher Mrs. Overton would glare irately from her desk in a perpetually unsatisfied attempt to figure out just where the noises came from. I had just suffered through her algebra class and now after lunch the torture of that partitioned room began anew with total silence required with only the ticking of Timex wristwatches to let you know that time was actually moving. Sometime when the two assholes pressed their luck too often she would jump out from behind her desk, surprisingly quick and agile for her age which I assumed back then was ancient, and look up and down the rows of desks hoping that eye contact would force the guilty parties to crack. She wasn't successful with this tactic. Her anger would dissipate gradually her eyes like electric stove top units fading from cherry red to orange to black and then she's humph back behind her desk. I'd wait for the two assholes to begin in a few minutes later and think sadly that this is the highlight of my day.

 

The two assholes kept it up throughout my long freshman year at Oakland disrupting Mrs. Overton's clawlike grip on all of us who were lame enough to sign up for a study hall class. Spring came and like many spring's before my family moved. I had become used to the disruptions by now. We'd buy a house and lose it. Rent a home and then another. Move from the city to the country and back again. This time it was from a rental located right in the S curve of West Clark Boulevard within view of my beloved elementary school Mitchell-Neilson to a trailer provided to us by Grand Ole Opry star Jimmy C. Newman.

 

Had my father gotten a job as a musician in Jimmy's band? My father while having nebulous ideas of writing songs couldn't play a note so he had taken on the much more unglamourous job of farm attendant. The first winter there he couldn't even afford a winter coat and Jimmy C. felt sorry for him and bought him one for Christmas. It wasn't really all that far removed from my parents's shared sharecropper roots. At least my mother still had her job running machines in a factory which she now drove 40 miles to and back each day.

 

I arrived at Oakland in the morning soon after moving wearing bulky tan boots and the kids in my homerun snickered at me. I was not, what one would call, one of the popular kids. I was also smaller than most of my peers. So I was picked on often that year. It wouldn't be until my junior year after I grew about 6 inches over the summer that guys stopped messing with me. I had taken to wearing an ag-boy style baseball cap with the bill bent into a duck bill shape just for protection. It didn't really go with the flannel shirts with the rock and roll t-shirts worn over them (even when the weather was warm), but I was just trying to avoid being picked on by brain dead jocks. The ag-boys at Oakland were feared and I did at least know one of them who might have had my back if I got in a fight.

 

The thing is... everybody knew I was faking the country boy act. The boots only made the situation more comical. I had been forced to wear them by my over protective parents who were convinced timber rattlenakes were just waiting to pounce upon my tennis shoe shod feet. Within a few months I would discard the boots and run around the 600 or so acres in flip flops not really caring about any damn thing at all. But for now I was tromping through the halls of Oakland perpetually confused and wary especially dreading the 2 class combo pack of algebra and study hall.

 

The mostly preppies in algebra never spoke to me unless it was to ask me for drugs which I didn't take. They'd walk away laughing with barely concealed disappointment. Then came study hall with it's dismal mixture of normal kids, weirdos like me, headcases, and the two assholes. This day would be different. The two assholes were popping their knuckles and Mrs. Overton peered out from behind her desk radiating pure contempt. Then I smelled an acrid foul burning from 3 rows over. One of the headcases had set a girl's hair on fire. She had really long hair too. Perhaps he took offense at how it spread over his own desk like an old afghan knitted by some great aunt when she leaned back in her seat.

 

Mrs. Overton was up in a blur, a little lithe flashing peanut women leaping out of her shell, and before anyone could let out a surprised "shit" under their breath she had the firestarter by an ear and was dragging him away while another student used a book bag to smother the flaming hair. It didn't hurt the girl since she had such long hair. I don't think she felt a thing. Years later I asked her about the incident and she swore that it never happened. But it did, I'd insist, I was there. Your hair was burning and smoking and that dude who sat behind you got kicked out of class and never came back. No, she'd say, my hair has never been on fire. I'd give up and wonder if maybe my entire freshman year at Oakland really was just some bad dream I'd had. I didn't have a yearbook, did I. I wish that was proof of the dream thesis.

 

The first few weeks on Jimmy C. Newman's farm were sorta like a dream. I'd arrve home late in the afternoon and hop on my BMX style bicycle with it's flat black paint and no brakes. I'd race down the mile long gravel driveway to this one lane wooden bridge where I'd park the bike and go underneath the bridge to smoke cigarettes and just let my mind wander to the future where I would finally be cool. This went on for weeks. Off to school in my clunky boots and then back home where I'd instantly vanish to the bridge.

 

Then one day as I pedaled along lost in some fantasy inside my head a person's head appeared from the creek which ran beside the road and he yelled hey at me. This frightened me so much that I screamed out fuuuuuuck while dragging a foot in the gravel so I could stop the bicycle which, remember, had no brakes. The person was James who was several years younger than me. His step-father was the accordion player in Jimmy C.'s band Cajun Country and they lived in an old wooden house that I had thought was empty and haunted just up the road. He was picking up rocks looking for snakes. When he found out I had cigarettes we went under the bridge and smoked several. I found out he had an older step-sister Paige and I would get to meet her soon enough. We heard a car coming up the gravel road and peered out to see Jimmy C.'s wife in her Cadillac spitting gravel dust in her wake. Her car kerlumphed over the bridge and James told me he hated her.

 

I visited James's house maybe a day later. It was a dark house inside full of creaking wooden floors and stairs that were at odd angles and heights. James had a huge room upstairs and he even had a color television where we watched perhaps the very first episode of Late Night w/David Letterman one night when I stayed over. The first time there Paige was gone. I asked about her constantly which amused James and his parents. I had it in my head that we'd be the best of friends and perhaps she'd become my girlfriend. That is, if she was pretty enough in person.

 

When I met her I knew that her looks would do. She was just a year younger than me, but of course was much more mature than me. And after just a few minutes of talking to her she became completely indifferent to me. Looking back on things now it's easy to see why. I was immature, still sorta small, and worst of all my family was living in a trailer on Jimmy C.'s farm which put me several classes below that of her family which featured her world renowned Cajun accordionist father. Her indiferrence only confused me and made we wonder why she wouldn't either like me or at least have the decency to hate me. After hearing her wax rhapsodic over Randy Owen and Alabama over and over I realized if I would only make the slightest effort to understand and appreciate country music perhaps I would be able to get somewhere with this Cajun girl.

 

So I began the big country music experiment. I stopped listening to my Motorhead, Kiss, Black Sabbath, and Ozzy records. I switched my radio dial from 103 KDF to some country giant station. I went to the Grand Ole Opry with Jimmy C. as often as I could. I hung out with James drinking Canadian Mist and playing the godawful Atari Pac-Man game. Soon I was familiar with all of the latest country hits. I knew all the lyrics to Alabama's hits songs and I knew that Janie Fricke wanted her guy to love her 'til the cows came home. When I was invited to a big party thrown by Paige and James's parents I thought that I was finally accepted as a true country boy and perhaps an honorary Cajun.

 

The first thing an adult handed me at the gumbo party was a beer. Damn! Really, I thought. This was incredible. The rest of the evening went by agonizingly as the adults ignored me along with Paige and James who were hanging with the adults. I believe I also managed to offend James's mother Shirley because I wasn't about to actually eat gumbo.

 

So it went. I listened to country music and Paige didn't give a damn. She began to mock me openly and it hurt me even if and perhaps made more so because she was really just a pimply faced teenage girl with nothing really special about her at all. She was really not my type at all and to her credit she at least subconsciously knew it. And I slowly grew to realize this. The country music ceased in my house. Heavy metal and punk rock came back into my life like they always do. Consoling and cajoling me. I turned my passion into wanting to make Paige my girlfriend into a pure burning hate.

 

Now this story has come full circle of sorts. I don't listen to country music to impress a girl or anything like that. I am a dull married man after all. But, you know how Facebook has the "suggested friends" thing at the side? I click it on from time to time wondering just who Facebook thinks I need as my friend and one day recently Paige's name showed up. So, as an experiment I sent her a friend request. That was weeks ago and though I sincerely could care less if she accepts my request or not it sort of makes me happy that as of this date she has ignored it.





POSTSCRIPT

A few weeks after composing this Paige did accept the friend request I sent.

4 comments:

Chris said...

Wally- you've still got it! A sheltered genius the world has yet to discover.

Chris said...

Wally- you've still got it! A sheltered genius the world has yet to discover!

Wally Bangs said...

Thanks for the compliment! I'm going to get this blog going again next year with more regular posts.

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