DOGS! DOGS! DOGS!

Maggie the Wonderdog

Maggie: (Jumping up and down on the back seat, looking out the window of the minivan.) Oh boy! We’re going bye-bye in the car! Can you believe it? Bye-bye in the car! Woo-hoo!

Moxie: (sitting on the backseat) Yeah, yeah, settle down.

Maggie: C’mon Mox! We’re going in the car. The car. The CAR!!!!

Moxie: But do you know where we’re going?

Maggie: Of course! We’re going in the car!

Moxie: No dummy, I mean do you know where the peoples are taking us?

Maggie: Where? Somewhere fun? Somewhere with dogs? Somewhere with dead stuff to sniff? Tell me!

Moxie: Didn’t you see the suitcases in the bedroom? The people are going on vacation, and leaving us at the dog sitter’s.

Maggie: Oh boy! The dog sitters! Dogs! More dogs!

Moxie: (sigh…)

Maggie: What’s the matter Mox? Why aren’t you excited? We’re going to the dog sitters!

Moxie: Don’t you get it? The peoples are leaving us behind? It might be days or weeks before we see them again?

Maggie: Huh, I didn’t think of that…

Moxie: Who knows when, or even if, they’ll come back?

Maggie: What? You mean they might not come back?

Moxie: You never know with peoples. My first peoples took me to a dog sitter’s once, and I ended up in a cage at the shelter.

Maggie: What’s a shelter?

Moxie: It’s a place people take dogs they don’t want anymore.

Maggie: But the peoples still want us right? Right Mox? They aren’t leaving us forever!

Moxie: Well, I hope not. I mean, once you’ve done time in the big house, you don’t ever want to go back. You’re lucky you were just a stray they found in a swamp. Trust me, you wouldn’t last a week in the shelter with all those Pit Bulls.

Maggie: Oh please tell me they aren’t leaving us forever! I like it in our house! I don’t want to go back to the swamp! I don’t want to go to the shelter!

Moxie: Relax kid, it’ll be OK. (pointing out window) Look, see? We’re pulling up in front of the dog sitter’s right now.

Maggie: (looks out window) LOOK! There’s more DOGS!!!!! (starts jumping up and down) DOGS! DOGS! DOGS! DOGS! DOGS! DOGS! DOGS!

(The car door opens, and Maggie jumps out and runs to the door)

Maggie: C’MON! MOX!!! THERE’S DOGS!!!!

Moxie: (tail between legs, walking to front door.) I’m coming. I’m coming. (pauses, looks back sheepishly)

Maggie: (Looking at Moxie) Hey? What’s matter? Are you crying?

Moxie: *sniff* Nuh-uh!

Maggie: Don’t worry, everything is going to be OK. The peoples will be back.

Moxie: How do you know?

Maggie: I just know it! I’m a hound, I have a sense about these things.

 

 

On the brink

” Adolescence is God’s way of punishing us for crimes we have yet to commit.” – Mr. 20 Prospect

Do you remember when life was simple? When you woke up in the morning, lay in bed watching the sunlight streaming into the bedroom, and wondered what you should play today. They say that youth is wasted on the young. I’m not so sure. The kids sure seem to enjoy it. And they are still kids. Ten and Eleven, the height of childhood. Old enough to ride the big rides at the Amusement Park, and still young enough to squeal with delicious terror. Adulthood is something enigmatic and distant, like a mountain range that never seems to get any closer. Yet mystery still lurks in the shadows, even though you feel protected and immortal.

Oh, those Boo Radley summers. They lasted an eternity. You never see the end coming. It comes on so slow, you look up one day and it is there. When I was a kid I used to have a re-occurring dream. In it I was playing with the kids on Prospect out in the middle of the street like we always did. When looking up through the ceiling of maples I saw a spaceship descending slowly, coming for us. Suddenly, I was overcome with fear, and began running for home, looking up to see the ship advancing on us. Suddenly the world was different, the reality that we knew was over and a new one was descending out of the sky.

I never understood that dream, but in true Ray Bradbury fashion, I think I get it now. The ship descending slowly towards us was adolescence. Like adolescence it never announces it’s coming until you realize one day it has arrived. Then everything changes. From age 13 until 17, our bodies convulse, and transform like Dr. Jeckl becoming Mr. Hyde. We become grotesques, long legged, knobby knees, our bodies too big and awkward for us to control. The face that looks back at us from the mirror takes on different proportions. Our noses, and ears suddenly stick out like a caricature.

I can remember the trips to Dr. Trifthauser’s. From 6th to 10th grade, I made a monthly visit to the orthodontist to sit in a chair and have my braces torqued and adjusted. It was a form of medieval torture, as if the good Doctor, in his garish golf pants, were trying to extract a confession from me. Six chairs in a big room, facing a wall lined with one long carpeted bench, on which the youth of Batavia sat in silence, waiting for their turn. Kids from every elementary school in town, all together in the torture chamber on the second flood while their Mom’s waited outside.

In some ways, the Orthodontists’ office was the symbolic event that revealed the bonds between us and our families were about to be supplanted by bonds between us and our fellow prisoners, in a coming of age ritual that never made the pages of the National Geographic’s hanging in the magazine rack. For six years we would be prisoners in our own bodies. Serving time as the Inquisitor did his best to extract a confession for crimes we had yet to commit.

Is there anything more unjust in life than adolescence? Is it any wonder that when we are finally released we go crazy with our new found freedom, and race headlong to try out the tools of adulthood which we are so unprepared to use? So let the kids play. Let them be kids. It will be over all too soon. All we can do is to love them, and prepare them for what lies ahead. There is no point in telling them. They wouldn’t believe us if we did.

Paint Your Wagon

One of the grand traditions in the life of an American family is the cross country driving vacation. As far as I know, we are the only country in the world where people think nothing of spending 3-4 days in a car driving with Mom, Dad, Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, and deceased Grandparents tied to the roof. (Wait, that was a movie. Never mind.) The Original Mr. 20 Prospect always had an affinity for Clark Griswold type excursions in the family truckster. I’ve written before of our Epic driving trips to Disney World in the mid-70’s. As the 70’s came to a close, and the 80’s began, my siblings began to leave home one by one, until it was just me living at 20 Prospect with my folks. I had two childhood’s, the one with the big brawling family of siblings, and the one as a spoiled only child. Well, to be honest I was spoiled no matter which one you picked. Being the baby has it’s privileges.

From the time of our last driving trip to Florida in 1976 until 1982, we didn’t venture more than a long days drive in any direction of Batavia. These were the years we went to Washington to take in the museums, to Pennsylvania visit my Dad’s childhood haunts in & around Pittsburgh, to South Bend, Indiana, and later to Boston, to see my Big Bruddah, to the Adirondacks to see my Bratty Big Sister, and finally our annual trips to Ohio. For some reason, Dad was always up for a trip to Ohio. I think we went there every year from 78′ to 82′, and saw just about all there was to see. The football Hall of Fame in Canton, the Wright – Patterson Airforce Museum in Dayton, King’s Island, Cedar Point, Sea World, Lake Geyuga, etc… For such a small looking state on a map, Ohio can take an eternity to cross. Which reminds me…

When I was traveling the country on business in the early 90’s, I always noticed that whenever we crossed a time zone, my watch seemed to be 15 minutes slower than the actual time. If I traveled progressively from Eastern Time to Pacific, I would be 45 minutes behind. Finally I discovered that the U.S. Government has been shaving 15 minutes off of the time zones, and hiding them in Ohio. This is why Ohio seems to take a full hour longer to cross in a car than it should. The missing 45 minutes are where they hide Bigfoot, UFO’s, Amelia Earhardt, Mothman and Jimmy Hoffa. Digressing…

So when the summer of 1982 rolled around, and we finally married off my Bratty Big Sis, there was little reason to stay in Batavia. Big Bruddah was back in town living in a dumpy apartment in East Bethany with some hippie chick, the Middle Child was in round #2 or 3 of her stints at the local Community College, and Bratty Big Sis was off to Florida on her honeymoon. So once the bills had been settled at the Moose Club, and the house had been cleaned up, we loaded up our 1982 Chrysler LeBaron K-Car, and pointed it west for my first trip beyond the Mississippi. As luck would have it, my parents had asked me if I wanted to bring a friend along on vacation, so I had asked my best friend Chris to accompany us on our adventure. Our destination… Colorado!

I had never seen “real” mountains before, and ever since my Big Bruddah had dropped out of the University of Notre Dame to hitchhike around the country and find himself, Colorado had figured prominently in his travels. In fact, the original Mr. 20 Prospect had dropped out of High School in the early 50’s and joined the Air Force, where he was sent to Denver for basic training. Little did I know at the time, but by 1991, I too would leave NY behind for the wilds of Colorado. It must be something in the 20 Prospect blood that calls us to the Rockies. Either that or its the Coors and John Denver.

Anyway, in the summer of 1982 we left Batavia behind and began our trek across this great country. I was a straight A student, and a bit of a geography geek, but I never had any real sense of the size of this country until the summer we drove across it. Holy Krep. It is a big, big, place. We left early in the morning on Day 1, as the 20 Prospect clan began every vacation hours before dawn to “beat the traffic”. All vacations began this way, as Mom & Dad roused us from our sleep, and we crawled into the back seat of the Chrysler as they drove around the block to pick up a dozen donuts, and a thermos of coffee at our Dunkin Donuts. Then we’d fall back to sleep as we headed west on the Thruway. Our first stop was always, ALWAYS, the Angola Service Center of the NYS Thruway. Notable in WNY kiddom, because the restaurant was in the middle of the highway, but the parking lots were on the side, connected by a glass walkway over the road. Semitrucks would boom by mere feet below your feet, as you walked to the bathroom. How cool was that? Hell, that excitement alone would have been enough to qualify as a vacation.

Next stop was always a rest area outside of Ashtabula, where they had honest to God outhouses, JUST LIKE THE PIONEERS!!!! Buzzing flies, and the smell of excrement, were the same sensory experiences that greeted all of those kids huddled in their Conestoga Wagons! This was LIVING HISTORY! Nightfall found us somewhere on the pan flat surface of the moon central Illinois.

Day 2 brought us to St. Louis! Gateway of the West! We had crossed the Em-eye-ess-ess-eye-ess-ess-eye-pee-pee-eye! The place where radio stations changed from call letters begining with “W”, to ones beginning with “K”! This was like a foreign land! Missouri brought hot, oppressing heat and humidity, and rolling hills of green, a welcome sight after the flatness of the I states. We crossed Missourra, and hit Kansas, and it seemed like we had finally found the West! Rolling hills of wheat, and prairie grass greeted us on our way out of KC. We barreled straight west across the plains of Western Kansas, racing big yellow Union Pacific diesel engines pulling mile after mile of boxcars. Chris and I entertained ourselves the only way two 13 year old boys know how, talking in code about girls, and snickering at every road sign that could possibly construe some sexual double entendre.

We stopped for the night just across the border in Colorado. Out on the flat expanse of prairie in Burlington Colorado, at a little motel just off of I-70. After dinner Chris and I took our soccer ball and headed out through the wheat field to a little town park about a quarter mile away. We spent about an hour playing on the playground equipment, and kicking the ball around, when the dark clouds began gathering off to the west. We watched them roll in for what seemed like over an hour. As tongues of lightning began to lick the prairie from the massive wall of brooding clouds we headed back to the motel. Mom was happy to see us, and we sat in the lawn chairs in front of our motel room door watching the awesome light show of a thunderstorm rolling across the plains. The nice thing about the great plains is that there is nothing to get in the way of the scenery.

After the storm had passed we put on our swim trunks and went for a swim in the pool. Day 3 found us on top of Pikes Peak, an honest to goodness mountain, after a long ride up on the cog railway. I’d like to say the view was breathtaking, and in a way it was, but I spent my time on the summit heaving my guts out into a toilet with altitude sickness. That was the first, but not the last time that I learned to spend night #1 in Colorado at 5,000 feet, before venturing any higher into the mountains. Jeez, but it can play havoc with my joints.

We spent the next few days exploring Cripple Creek, the Garden of the Gods, Denver Zoo, Elitches Gardens, and driving up to the Berthoud Pass and all the other places my Dad remembered from his time there in the 50’s. We spent our nights at Howard Johnson motels along the front range, and had the strange fortune of running into a girl our age at the HoJo’s for 3 consecutive nights. She was greatly entertained by our “New Yawk” voices, and kept asking us questions, wanting to know everything about NYC despite the fact that neither of us had been closer than 5 hours to the place in our entire lives. That was my first realization that everywhere I would ever travel, as soon as I mentioned being from NY, people would immediately think I sprang from a Woody Allen movie.

Oye.

After a while we gave up trying to explain, and just started making up stories based on the episodes of Barney Miller, and Welcome Back Kotter that we had seen. A strategy I continue to employ to this day.

Our time in Colorado came to a quick end, and before we knew it we were headed back across the ungodly expanse of Nebraska, and Iowa. Two days later, and we were home again in Batavia. In time to see the finish of the 1982 World Cup on TV, and finish out our seasons of summer soccer. But a seed had been planted. Somewhere deep within me, the memory of those wide open skies would call to me, and enter into my dreams, promising a glittering world of purple mountains majesty across the fruited plain. It was a call that I would never be able to say no to. And when my opportunity arose to hit the open road and explore the American West I seized it with both hands. The result was 3 of the best years of my life from 1990 – 1993, kicking about the country diving ever deeper into myself, to discover the wilderness within, and the silent strength of a granite spine of mountains that I never knew lay buried within me.

Eventually, my travels would bring me to Minnesota, and into the arms of the woman who has been the center of my universe for 18 years. Time has passed, and aside from a couple of trips back to the front range, I have not laid eyes on the Rocky Mountains in over 15 years. That is all about to change. This summer we will be passing along the tradition of interminable car trips across this vast country to 20 Prospect Jr. and Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect. I can only hope these memories ripple out through their lives the way that waves do from a stone dropped into a deep and silent well.

Coca-Cola Freestyle

It is said that Americans prize freedom above all else. I disagree. It is not so much the freedom we prize, as it is the freedom to choose. This is a key distinction, as it is the gift of having choices that we most relish. Whether we are in the voting booth, or the Wal-Mart, we enjoy having an infinite variety of options to choose from. Well, most of us.

 

To be honest, some days I wish I had a freedom from choice. Some days I just want to walk into the coffee shop and say “Gimme Coffee!” without having to describe the size of it in Latin, or choose which country it was grown in. This is also why I hate doing the grocery shopping. Not for the difficulty of locating the ketchup in the store, but for the dizzying array of different ketchups that I have to cognitively sort through to find a plain old bottle of god damned ketchup.

 

Sometimes less is more.

 

So when I read an article in the Red Star Tribune about a fancy-schmancy new Coke machine that was arriving in the Twin Cities, I was a little torn. I’m not much of a Pop drinker anymore, despite rotting half of my teeth as a child swilling RC Cola, and Fanta Red Cream Soda. Now when I belly up to the fast food beverage dispenser I just stick my cup under the Diet Coke without a second thought. I’ve put on enough pounds since turning 40 I figure ZERO calories is my only real option. So I was a little surprised, and excited, when I read the article, and heard that you could choose from over 100 different flavors, and 10,000 possible custom flavor combination’s.

 

TEN THOUSAND DIFFERENT FLAVORS.

 

I went out that very day to hunt down one of these machines and see for myself. Well, I am here to report that I found one of the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines at a local Dairy Queen over lunchtime. It is everything they describe, and more. I have now seen the future of beverage dispensing, and I am here to tell you it is going to be a wonderful and glorious future.

 

There’s only one problem. Now that I have the option of 10,000 different flavors I can never be satisfied with any single flavor again. Now every time I walk into a place with one of these machines I will be compelled to create a Franken-Pop flavor that I have never tasted before. And when I leave bloated and gassy, I will feel guilty, and slightly anxious about the other 9,999 flavors that I didn’t try. To be quite honest, I’m not sure I am prepared to live with such pressure. This is the same reason I stopped buying beer, when our local beer store started stocking 200 different kinds of micro-brews. It’s like walking into a library and feeling compelled to read every book. It will take me several lifetimes to try all the flavors I now want to try, and with my failing middle age memory, I will never be able to remember which one is my favorite.

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to call the Dr. and have her up my medications to deal with the panic attacks I will be suffering tonight when I take the family to Davanni’s to try Lemon-Lime Vanilla Coke.

(DISCLAIMER: This is not a paid product endorsement. However, if the good folks at Coca-Cola Inc. would like to comp me by installing one of these at 20 Prospect, I would have no problem sleeping at night)

Beside Still Waters

Despite the seductive promises of global warming, we are suffering through another year without a summer here in Minnesota. It has been cold, wet, and cloudy, all month. Which would make for a good wheat beer, but a lousy summer.

This past weekend 20 Prospect Jr. had a baseball tournament with the big kids. Our local baseball association does not have a regular traveling/tournament team at the 3rd & 4th grade level, what with the general lack of fine motor skills due to the high quantities of lead in the groundwater. So 20 Prospect Jr. asked to play with the 5th & 6th grade team, which was looking to fill out their roster. Last weekend was our first “real” little league tournament, and let’s just say it was eye opening.

The tournament was being held in one of those frou-frou Southwestern Minneapolis Suburbs. I won’t say which, so let’s just called it “Mercedesville”. (Seriously, we parked next to a BMW 7 Series. I don’t think we’ve ever had a BMW 7 Series even drive through our suburb.) It had rained pretty heavy the night before, so when 20 Prospect Jr. and I showed up at the field at 7:30am it was a little swampy. Our game was pushed back a half hour to give the grounds crew time to prepare the field.

I

Kid

You

Not.

They had a grounds crew. Not some Dad’s with a rake, but a guy employed by the City of Mercedesville to attend to the grounds of their Little League Baseball Estate with his helper elves. It would be unthinkable to play a game with the fields in poor condition apparently, which was a sharp contrast to the tournament we hosted last year, when it rained all day, and we played in ankle deep puddles. I can remember one line drive that hit the infield mud and just stuck there. The pitcher had to dig it out to throw it to first. But I digress.

It was a gorgeous facility, with seven or eight fields, a real batting cage, a snack shack, and park pavilions with a lake and a beach. I felt like we should have brought a picnic basket and stayed for the day. We’ll, we did stay for the day. Due to the on again, off again rain, we didn’t get home until 9 o’clock at night. In between we got creamed by three different teams, from three different towns in much higher income brackets.

JAY-ZUS.

The other teams were outfitted better than some minor league teams. For our uniforms, the head coach had borrowed T-shirts and hats from his regular 5th & 6th grade team, and brought them along for 20 Prospect Jr. and some of the other kids to wear. So even though we just had lousy cotton/poly t-shirts, compared to the full knit uni’s of the rich kids, we at least matched.

Those rich folk take their baseball seriously. The best (worst) part was watching one of their coaches chew them out after they let in 3 runs one inning. Despite the fact that they already had 13 at that point. He called them together and gave them a speech about not “letting off of the pedal”. Honestly, once you take your boot off our neck you never know what we peasants will do. Why take a chance? Keep the riff raff where they belong.

Despite the thumping we received, 20 Prospect Jr. had a ball. I was afraid he’d be intimidated playing with the big kids, but he wasn’t. He picked up on the rule differences, and the larger field, and had more put outs than any of the other infielders on his team. He even stole some bases, which had him thinking he was pretty hot stuff. At this level, EVERYONE can steal bases. Really, not even the rich kids with their personal trainers can throw a runner out at second playing on a high school sized field.

It was a long day, but a fun one. Well, for 20P Jr. and me anyway. After shivering in pissy rain all day, Mrs. 20 Prospect Jr. looked at me during the car ride home from Mercedesville, and stated in no uncertain terms “I am NOT watching baseball on TV tonight”.

Sunday was overcast again, but dry and a little warmer. For Father’s Day we took the Puppies and drove over to Stillwater, Minnesota, one of our favorite places to go bumming. The Nature Valley Grand Prix bicycle race was going on through the streets downtown, so we wandered around the course, and watched some of the race. It always amazes me what athletes these riders are. 20 laps up lung busting Chilkoot Hill at speeds I can reach only by going downhill.

Chilkoot Hill in Stillwater - The photo doesn't do it justice.

Bonzaiiiiiiiiiiii

Stillwater is an old lumber town on the St. Croix River. A hundred and more years ago it cut a bazillion board feet of lumber out of the White Pine logs that lumberjacks floated down river from the Northwoods of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Now it’s just a quaint 19th Century town, with a marina, and lots of shops and restaurants.

We walked around, had some ice cream, killed the better part of 2 hours, then drove home. Of course, we made time sure to stop at the Candy Store for some Salt Water Taffy first!

Tremblay's Sweet Shop

It was a day spent doing precious little, but we did it together, and on Father’s Day what more could I ask?

The Lift Bridge over the St. Croix

We’ll, I suppose I could ask to get dropped off at the Husband Daycare… but I’ll save that for our next visit.

Shhh! Don’t tell a soul.

Whew! Sorry for the mess around here today, but on Friday afternoon 20 Prospect was a featured blog on WordPress.com’s “Freshly Pressed”, and ever since my front porch has been overrun with hordes of visitors. I’ve been too busy running about pouring drinks, and filling the bowls of chips and salsa to take time to write a proper post, and now that everyone has gone, I am left sweeping up after the mess.

Seriously though, what kind of Karma steers 800 people to my site on the very day that I announce I’m going to be dialing it back for a few weeks?

So, just between us, I’m back.

Shhh… don’t tell anyone!

I’ve got the shades drawn so the neighbors think I’m not home. We’ll just hang out here on the back porch for a few days until the doorbell stops ringing, and the coast is clear. It’ll be fine.

Can I get you some coffee? Please, don’t mind the mess, just make yourself at home.

I like to think that the several hundred visitors, and comments in the past few days have all been the result of my brilliance, but I know better. Most of these visitors from the WP home page, just pulled off of the information superhighway, paused at the stop sign, then sped right back up the on ramp spraying gravel behind them.

( I hope you enjoyed your stay! Please come again!)

No really. PLEASE!

My self image is embarrassingly dependent on my page views. This is the main reason why I can’t stop blogging. What would I do if I didn’t have your comments to make me feel important, and special? Why, without the seven or eight of you I’d have to sit in a Starbucks with my Laptop open, wearing a black mock turtle neck, and trying to look important! So thank you dear devoted followers from saving me from such a fate.

Come back tomorrow, and the next day, and every day to see what fun new things I have written, and help me feel better about myself. Seriously, you guys are saving me a ton of money on therapy bills.

There are 151 ways to say I’m sorry

A guy only has so many stories to tell. This is one of them…

(NOTE: This blog contains 100% post consumer recycled content)

Memories are like birds. You can be sitting in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee, and when you look out the window a flock of them are gathering around the feeder. And just as quickly, the dog can run down the back steps and they will scatter, leaving you wondering just what it was you were thinking about a moment ago.

Maybe it’s the season, but lately the memories have been flitting about my head like chickadees. I blame facebook. Ever since I put my name out there and accepted my first friend request, I have been running into names and faces that I hadn’t thought about in years. If nothing else, social media is a good crutch for a fading middle age memory.

The past few weeks have been a lot of fun, putting these old memories into words. And like I have said before, I learned long ago not to trust the objectivity, or truthfulness of memory. The mind has a curious way of distorting them with each remembrance until they become memories of memories. But I enjoy them nonetheless.

Looking back at the last 6 months of postings, it occurs to me, that if all you knew of my life was what I wrote you would think I grew up doing nothing but drinking beer, and chasing girls. I am fairly certain there was more to my life than that, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it might have been. Oddly enough, despite the preponderance of stories involving alcohol and girls, I led what could be considered a pretty typical existence for a working class kid from Batavia, circa 1985. I pulled down good grades, was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, and made it to church every Sunday. And yet, when I filled my coffee cup this morning, and sat in front of the window, I was not reminded of charitable works, or academic triumphs, but of nights spent sitting in the dark of my bedroom, listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits, and pining away over some unrequited crush. I guess that’s normal if you consider that of all the relationships you have in the course of a lifetime, only one of them will not end badly. In reality, if even one of them ends happily ever after you are doing better than 50% of the general population.

Cripes that’s a depressing thought. No wonder I turned to booze.

Kidding. There is no doubt, alcohol was our primary form of entertainment from age 16 through 25. It wasn’t so much that we abused alcohol, as alcohol abused us. Nearly every weekend centered around getting our hands on some form of it, and finding a place to consume it. There was the aforementioned woods behind the Blind School, and a whole assortment of dead end dirt roads in the countryside of Genesee County, my personal favorite being the one out by the City Dump. But for all of our law breaking, and living dangerously, we were a pretty responsible bunch. I am not lying when I say that even at 17 we took turns being designated drivers. That thankless task usually fell upon my good friend Dan’l, who by 19 had acquired his own set of wheels, a fabulous 1978 Chrysler Cordoba the size of the U.S.S. Enterprise. And like the good crew of that ship, our weekly mission was to go where no man had gone before. Usually, we failed in our efforts, but not from a lack of trying.

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise

But despite Dan’l’s heroic sacrifices, he was not always consigned to be our D.D. I took my turns as well. I can remember one particular night, during spring break of my freshman year of college, where I volunteered for the duty, only to live to regret it.

It was sometime in March, or early April, when the Western New York weather could not make up its mind if it was winter or spring. There was a house party out on the East side of town, in a development off of East Main, past the old Twin Fair. It was around Easter time, and the spring breaks of our assorted colleges and universities happened to fall over the same weekend. The weather not being suitable for outdoor drinking, someone’s whose parents were out of town had volunteered to host a party.

I was in a steady relationship at the time, with a girl I had been dating since the beginning of my Junior year of High School. A relationship of that length bordered on common law marriage for a kid of 19. Not that I had ever let that stop me from pining for, and pursuing other girls. Yes, I had hormonal issues rivaling those of Tiger Woods, but back in those innocent days it was not recognized as a treatable addiction. Instead we referred to it as being a “teenager”.

In some ways I think that my status as being in a steady relationship, just served to make me desirable to girls at the time, for when we did eventually break up later that spring, girls suddenly treated me like I suffered from leprosy. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The only way I had managed to lead such a double life from age 17 to 19, was the fact that my girlfriend was a very sweet, and hard working girl from a working class family, who spent her weekends cleaning house in the daytime for an elderly woman, and her evenings babysitting for a family down the street. This meant that for the most part I attended every party alone, hormonal, and prone to temptation. But since we had begun college in the Fall she had cut back on her babysitting jobs and taken on more prosaic work for a college student. So on the eventful night of the party in question she was coming along with me.
Being the designated driver for the evening, I had managed to borrow my parents Plymouth Voyageur minivan, an ideal vehicle for shuttling drunks. Picking my steady-eddie up from her house, I made a few more stops in town before heading out East Main to the party. When we got there the place was hopping. Just about every kid from the BHS class of 1986 seemed to be in attendance, as well as kids from Notre Dame, and some of the rural schools in the county. It was a veritable class re-union. Kids were playing drinking games in the kitchen, or hanging out in the shag carpeted, faux-paneled family room as 80’s music blared. Being Freshmen home on break, we were pretty damn full of ourselves. Everyone seemed to be sporting their school colors in some form, and blathering at length about how great their life at the University of Blah-blah-blah truly was. It was curious how much less interesting we became when I was sober.

We hadn’t been there for more than 30 minutes, when a call came in that someone needed a ride to the party. Having a somewhat less than titillating time with my sobriety, I volunteered to go pick them up. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye as she was sitting down at the kitchen table to get in on a game of quarters. For those who grew up in a missionary family in the depths of the African jungle, or as members of a religious cult in a compound in Idaho, let me explain. The game of quarters consisted of every one taking turns trying to bounce a quarter into a glass of beer. A successful turn allowed the bouncer to pick one person around the table to “consume” the drink. The word “drink” was outlawed, as was using your finger to point to a person. So a successful bounce was followed by pointing your elbow at whatever coed you hoped to get drunk enough to lower their inhibitions to the point where you met their standards, and saying “consume”. Failure to remember the rules about pointing, or saying drink, meant you had to down it yourself. Even by the age of 19, the novelty of this game had worn thin, which means I was probably not the only one suffering from boredom at the party.

Now my girlfriend, being busy with work every weekend, had never had much opportunity to develop a tolerance for alcohol. Even at the few parties she had attended, it took little more than the scent of a wine cooler to begin to swoon. In fact, at the first party I had ever hosted at 20 Prospect she had managed to become so drunk off of 2 beers that her friends had to take her upstairs and put her in the shower to sober her up before taking her home. Based on history alone, I should have known better than to leave her alone at the party.

Now Batavia is not a big city, and the trip into town and back couldn’t have taken me more than 30 minutes. When I walked in the door, I found my girlfriend in the living room, unable to stand up, her eyes rolling about her head like pinwheels. Unbeknown to me, after I left the game of quarters had switched from cheap beer to Bacardi 151 Rum. Knowing that she was a lightweight, Bella and her boyfriend had proceeded to feed her with 5 shots for the fun of it. Within 15 minutes my girlfriend was in the bathroom, her head over the toilet, “selling Buicks.” It wasn’t even 9 o’clock in the evening.

Do not try this at home

In retrospect, I could have kept her at the party, and waited for her to come around. But she was so out of it that I had little choice but to take her home. One of the other guys at the party, to whom I will forever be indebted, helped me carry her to the car and came along on my via dolorosa. There are few things in life that I dreaded as much as taking her home to her parents. Like Simon the Cyrene, this stand-up guy helped me bear my cross up the front steps to her door, where he left me to face my crucifixion. It was an ugly scene. Her Mom answered the door, and as I carried her into the entryway and explained what had happened, she very quickly deduced the situation and called for one of the older sisters to come quick and help us out. She tried to keep the commotion quiet, but her husband had heard, and came storming down the hallway screaming that he was going to kill me. Her Mom turned to me, and said “Quick, go!” and taking her sage advice I turned for the door. It slammed behind me, and as I hurried across the porch and bounded down the steps I could hear them screaming in the entry way, as she tried to restrain him from coming after me.

Needless to say, I did not return to the party that night. Instead I drove home, where I sat in the living room pretending to watch TV, half expecting the State Police to show up and take me away in handcuffs. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. For all the nights I had conspired, broke laws, and been unfaithful to her, in the end it was the night that I was sober and responsible that I got into trouble. Perhaps in some karmic way it was expiation for my infidelities. The rest of the evening passed uneventfully, and I eventually turned into bed where I lay in the dark, looking up at the ceiling, marveling at the randomness of fate.

It was a few days before my girlfriend called me on the phone to apologize. Things hadn’t been great between us for a long time, and this was pretty much the event it took to get me to force the issue. It would be a few months for the breakup to finally occur, after going through the whole “let’s be friends” melodrama. Little did I know that God was not done punishing me, and it would be 3 long, lonely years before I had a relationship that lasted more than a couple of weeks. I would like to say that I suffered an injustice, but in my heart I knew I got what I deserved.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.