Don’t raise your eyes…….
It’s only teenage wasteland”
I was always told (by my mother, mind you) that I was the perfect child. Quiet, polite, never cried.
What a crock. Revisionist history, at best.
That may have been true for my early years. Very early years……and, in truth, I was probably more shell-shocked and triangulated between the “Battling Bickerson’s” who were my less comedic and more ambitiously angry parents than any specter of Spock respectability. I actively chose to behave in order to call less attention to myself and thereby deflect at least some of the reasons that I believed, in my small childlike worldview, were the fuel for their caustic combustibility.
But once I outsized my mother, bypassed my father, and grew into somewhat my own self, I looked around and it was the late 1960’s. Now nothing like the 60’s had ever happened in this world….or any world…..before. Bell Bottoms, Beatles, and Bongs. Who knew what this magical mystery stir of a stew could brew.…..in the culture……in the kids……in me?
Oh, and lest we forget. There was this little blot of behavioral modification called LSD. We’ll call that a MODifier, as smash up between the cultural zeitgeist of the moment and the throwback, stick-figure, sentence structure diagram-matics of our elementary school youth.
As it happened, I was coming of age at the crossroads of America’s coming together, 25 miles from Washington, D.C. We had just weathered Cuba, Castro, and Civil Rights and everyone’s collective cultural nerves were fraught and frenetically on edge.
Now 10 years earlier, life had been a different animal. That animal would be my elder sister.
Her life back then in the darker ages was programmed, plotted…….perfected. Her dates were chaperoned, her major was chosen (Art) and her husband was selected….and married…the week she graduated from college, a doctor. Perfect.
I was to become a different creature altogether.
Looking in the rearview, it’s easy to see that my parents, 40 year olds when I was born (a rarity in the early 1950’s) were more than likely tired. Tired of fighting each other, tired of working hard to accomplish their version of the American Dream, tired at the thought that they had a teenager on their hands and a social revolution at their feet. Rear views are great……for perspective, but they don’t keep you on any semblance of a straight line in terms of forward motion.
I don’t remember where I went wrong, really.
I know that the flock of feral kids I was nesting with out in our country fox holes got in our fair share of kid-like trouble, usually suspected but rarely actually caught. Blowing up mailboxes, filling pools with printer’s ink from school, “borrowing” parental cars for late-night race-abouts, smoking in the barn, drinking purloined booze, all the normal, fairly innocuous preteen trouble.
I think it was probably about the time that we all hit legal, that magical 16th birthday. We had all learned to drive on the farm at ridiculously early ages; tractors, trucks, anything farm related were fair game. We drove from the house down the actual road (more lane than road but still……to us) to the barn and anywhere else we could grudgingly justify to our parents as necessary, the neighbor’s barn, the end of the road to chase some steer…whatever excuse that might serve to pass parental justification muster and get our feet on the gas pedals of our imagined lives.
But now, suddenly, we had the actual keys to the Country Squire.
During the day, we were in semi-servitude to the parents, removing from them the daily grind of shuttling the younger ones to and from school, piano lessons, 4-H, and to be fair, we practically leapt an ANY excuse to get away from the radar range of our mother’s sixth senses. Disclaimer: all children smaller than us survived to adulthood although most are still bound, by filial fiat, to silence as to what was witnessed on these surreptitious outings. To this day, when we gather and start to tell tales, the Mother Unit plugs her ears and cries, “Is this something I don’t want to hear?”
Come nightfall though, all bets were off and all things were possible. It was a fifteen mile drive to the District Line and thus to Morris Miller’s Liquor Store, where, puffed up and trying to look at least 17, we wheedled and cajoled likely suspects (anyone who really did look 18) into buying us beer and trading product for cash out back in the lot……..a precursor of drug deals to come now that I think about it.
It was then a rush back out to our familiar country haunts, miles and miles of dark, deserted, rural heaven where, for the rest of our Freedom Rider evenings, we would careen and carouse with no supervision…….or sense. Most of us survived.
There were the standard 2.5 horrific car crashes per year amongst our rather smaller school crowd, an occasional fatality. We paused on the accelerator, briefly. But soon enough, the invincibility and hormones that are youth overtook us again and, once more, all that was in the rearview.
Out tale today is of the softer side of rebellion. Angst-light as it were.
The time was 1969-70. I was a misfit senior in high school so still living at home, barely. Just as the world was seemingly exploding from every seam around us, so too, was I. Ready to fly, or flee. Freedom flapped its feathered wings around in my chest and sent my heart on flights of fancy that only imagination and a steady dose of hallucinatory drugs could quell.
I had a friend, Peter, a year older and already out of the nest enough to have a good job with the phone company, working evenings on the main-frame. He’d get off duty around midnight. He drove a souped-up Dodge. He could buy beer. Trapped in the prison of my parent’s making it was simply too tempting.
Since mobile phones or even pagers were non-existent, all plans had to be carefully formulated hours and days ahead, times coordinated, rendezvous set. Peter would cruise down the lane in front of my house once, his grumbling muffleristic growl unmistakable to my waiting ear. I was lying, dressed, silent, in bed, covers up to my chin just in case of a bed-check, yet with every fiber of me being taught, lion-like, fully dressed and ready to spring. After the second pass, he would pull ¼ mile down the lane and wait, rumbling softly in the distance but not enough to put parental alerts on point.
And then I would set in motion The Great Escape.
I should add here that all old homes in the country in those pre-fire-extinguished decades had a plan, hounded into all of us since birth. If there was ever a fire, and they did happen, just enough to friends and neighbors to have become more than just rural lore, we had our instructions. Incase of said fire, that coiled and knotted bundle of rope that was stashed under your bed, the one tightly attached to the bottom leg of the bedstead, was to be flung, post-haste, out the nearest window of your room and you were to do your best Boy Scout rope-shimmy down to safety.
This fact will play out in a bit.
My father’s snoring could wake the dead. My mother’s room was, therefore, on the other end of the house….the quiet end….from mine. I could, with a minimum of caution and carrying my shoes in my hand, slip down the stairs, out the kitchen door to the basement stairs. Once there, I merely had to bribe the dog with a biscuit and she became, for the moment, my slobbering accomplice, wagging me out the lowest basement door into the dark, midnight world that beckoned. Shoes back on, I would slip, unheard, out of the yard and into the waiting getaway car, driver at the ready, and we would roar off into the night.
Now in reality, we did little of anything substantive on these midnight prowls other than consume huge amounts of Schlitz, smoke packs of cigs, and put mile upon useless mile on Peter’s Dodge. We talked trouble, constantly, imagined our lives embellished with Bondish touches and sexy women and exotic places and yet, in truth, we circled the same dusty, country, roads we had grown up riding on our horses only now we used a different sort of horsepower and had a vastly more extended range.
Yaaaawn. Did we really lose that many nights of sleep just to daydream in the dark?
Back at lockdown, the parentals had their morning routine down to a science. I knew my father arose at 10 minutes before 5am every day. And so, the night’s beer and smoke allotment consumed, my driver would drop me once again down the lane and I would light out across the yard once more…well stagger actually, now, but here the story gets messy.
Maggie, the furry ball of protective fluff that resided in the basement stairwell at night, was not as amenable to me coming back IN the door as she was with my taking leave of it. The barking was ferocious. Even the neighbors would waken and so comes into play the aforementioned fire escape rope. Upon departure, I has not flung but gently lowered it out my bedroom window and down to the ground below the dining room bay window below. And there it had swayed, silently, waiting its turn in my nightly dramatic adventures.
I simply had to……..very quietly……slightly hard to do when boozy and brazen intersect……….climb up the rope in the reverse of it’s intended use, pull it in after me, and put it and me under and into the bed for a couple hours of much needed sleep.
This worked amazingly well, mostly. Until.
One Spring morning when the light was early and the father was late there came a moment. The moment. The time when I fully realized I had to leave the nest, sooner rather than later, and not by means of a fire-rope.
The father burst forth into my room, a really obnoxiously rude habit he had thrust upon my entire childhood, banging doors, shouting me awake and to action. Just bullishly belligerent. I hated mornings for years because of him. But on this particular day, he simply opened my door, strode into my room and kicked my bed until I stirred awake.
What’s this? I thought.
A firm yet stern “Get up and come with me” was issued.
Now I was never one to actual care what my father said, did, or thought. Really. Never had. But on this day something about the undertone in his voice was menacing enough to alert my inner “Oh Shit” alarm and I did as I was told.
Following him down the stairs, the fog of the night before fled quickly into my mental recesses and my mind went into over-dive trying to think what I had done, of late, that I was about to pay the price for. Did he find my pot stash…..again? Had I left my cigarette butts on the lawn under the bushes where I secret-smoked?
Out the front door we marched, around the side of the house, under my bedroom window. There, striding up the wall like a bad game of Twister, was a perfect set of muddy footprints, looking for all the world like someone had moon-walked up the dining room wall straight into my bedroom window.
It had rained the night before.
“You had better get the hose and wash them off before your mother gets up.”
Nothing more was ever said….at least about this particular incident.
It really was only the beginning of teenage wasteland.