Hamlin Beach

It began as a very ordinary day at the tail end of May. I’d been home from college for about 2 weeks, and had just begun my quintessential summer job mowing grass around the electrical substations of Western New York. It was a high paying job ($8.90 / hr) that my Dad had managed to get me working at Niagara Mohawk, his employer of 35+ years. It would be a hot, dry summer in 1988, the temperatures would set records, and the creeks would dry up. I would spend my days driving in circles around Western New York, from the hills of Cowlesville, north to Medina, east to Brockport, and south to the shores of Hemlock Lake. It was an enormous expanse of country to cover in a company pickup truck with 2 others, pulling a trailer loaded with mowers, gas cans, trimmers, and the tools of our trade. By July the grass has burned out to straw gold, but our work continued, making the rounds of rural back roads from substation to substation, tending to the weeds, and holding back nature from the electron laden arteries of civilization.

In some ways it was the best job I had ever had. At first I had considered the painting crew as the pay was around $12 / hr, mostly due to the inherent danger of climbing the electrical towers. But in the end, my fear of heights got the better of me, and caused me to chicken out. It’s just as well. My friends on the crew complained about the long hot days in full coveralls, burning in the sun and “bitch-a-mastic” paint, as they worked their way through the mosquito infested swamps of Bergen and Alabama. By contrast, my days were spent driving the idyllic farm roads of Western New York, familiarizing myself with every short cut, and coffee shop between the waters of Ontario, and green hills of Wyoming County. I learned more about my home during that summer, than in the other 19 summers combined, and fell in love with the place. But I digress…

The evening of my birthday was not intended to be anything special. I had made some plans with Dan’l to get together and hang out, and he was due to pick me up shortly after dinner. To my great, and ever lasting surprise, when he pulled into the driveway of 20 Prospect in his 1978 Chrysler Cordoba, the front and back seats were full of my 5 closest friends in the world. When I jumped into the back seat, I noticed a case of Molson Golden sitting on the floor, and was informed that we were heading to the lake.

It was a gorgeous, warm summer evening. The sun was slanting in golden rays across the landscape as we drove due north through the muck lands of Elba, across the fabled canal at Albion, through the orchards of Orleans County, and on up Route 98 like an arrow for the shore of Lake Ontario. Six of us laughing in the car, with the windows down, and the moon roof open, and Steve Miller’s greatest hits playing on the radio. We arrived at the beach, and sat on a break wall, looking out at the Lake, drinking beer, and talking until well after the sun had gone down.

It was a simple evening, and one that we would repeat many times over the course of the summer. A group of kids, a case of beer, and a remote rural spot where we could share a laugh, and some stories, and discuss our dreams for the future. We were a cocky bunch, like all 20 year olds are. We were chafing at the restraints of being stuck in Batavia for another summer, and looking forward to the day we moved away to somewhere important, and exciting, and did “real” work. I look back and laugh about it now. If we’d been told how lucky we were, we’d have never believed it. We were convinced that somewhere “out there” important things were happening, and we were somehow missing out on them. We were so eager to get out there and stake our claims in the world.

The time would come soon enough. It was the last free summer we had. The next summer was the interim between our Junior and Senior years of college, and most of us had moved on to internships, or “important” summer jobs in our fields that would prepare us to land that all important post college job when we graduated. It would be a time to lay the first brick for the foundation of that all important resume. But the summer of 1988 was one last fling. A summer to be spent in idleness, drinking in the cool of dusk, leaning against the warm hood of a piece of Detroit steel, watching the swallows dart through the twilight, chasing mosquitoes like so many dreams. I loved those days, even though I wished them away, and I miss those dear friends. And despite the times and distances that have grown like weeds around us, I love them still. God bless them all, wherever they may be.

Wolverines!

“All that hate is gonna burn you up kid.”

“It keeps me warm”

It seems hard to believe now, but back in the day when Red Dawn came out, we really did think the world would end in some sort of World War III scenario. Being a teen during the waning days of the cold war we pretty much assumed that we were all doomed one way or another, so when we saw a movie about a bunch of kids taking to the hills to fight a guerrilla war against the Russians it resonated. What teen doesn’t fashion themselves to be fighting a guerrilla war against the adult world? After all, the thought of camping out in the woods with a bunch of guys, and gals, with lots of red meat, and firearms is as American as hotdogs, baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

In our own little world our enemies weren’t as clearly defined as European actors with bad Russian accents, and no one parachuted into the school yard to gun down our teachers, so we never did find a good excuse to arm ourselves and take to the hills. Instead, we substituted cases of tepid Old Milwaukee, and we took to the woods behind the Blind School. Sitting there on the old broken concrete rubble of construction waste, and learning how to shotgun a can of beer, we decided to christen the place “Wolverine Rock”. Rebels without a cause indeed. Even now I’m not exactly sure what we were rebelling against. Small town boredom most likely.

Like all kids in a small town, we couldn’t wait to shake the dust of the place from our shoes and leave for somewhere exciting. We were a bunch of overachieving working class kids, who were all on the college track. The “good” kids, that never got into much trouble, and did well in school. I don’t think you could have found a more straitlaced group of “rebels” if you tried.

It was the end of our Junior year, and we were all dying to get out of town. It was time to start looking at schools, and making plans for life outside the safety of our little bubble, and we couldn’t wait to start. We had no idea just how good we had it. 30 years later, I think most of us would gladly trade a few weeks of real life for another few weeks of life in May of 1985.

We are scattered to the four winds now. Of the 9 people that sat around drinking that night, not one of us is left in B-town. Only 3 are still in Western New York. The rest in Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, California, and Minnesota. A Diaspora of Batavians, boring people from other states with our sordid tales of small town life. I cannot tell you how much I wish we could all get together again for just one night. No spouses, kids, or adult responsibilities, just hanging out in the woods drinking beer and acting stupid. Was life ever really that simple? Will it ever be that simple again?

So instead, as the sun slips below the edge of the world tonight, and the stars blink on overhead, I will sit on my back porch and raise a toast to you all, wherever you may be. Then looking up at the sky above, I will howl in my best Patrick Swayze imitation, “Wolverines!”

Another trip down memory lane

It’s spring. Heart achingly beautiful spring. The lilacs are poised to bloom any day now, and as we all know, I’m a sucker for lilac time. While spring may not be my favorite season,there is something about the cool, fresh evening air that transports me back in time. So climb aboard the Tardis, and lets go for a ride…

They say that the most potent of all of the human senses is our sense of smell. While sight, sound, taste and touch can all evoke memories of our past, there is something unique about the sense of smell that makes its connection to our memory stronger, and more vivid. I have experienced this many times. Put me within 20 yards of mothballs, and I am immediately transported to my Grandmother’s house. Put me near fresh cut grass during the dusty days of late August, and I can almost feel the pain of football 3 a days. So I find it highly distracting when a co-worker of mine douses himself with Polo by Ralph Lauren, and proceeds to fumigate the office with memories of 1985. Like a red shirted character on Star Trek I am suddenly beamed down to a hostile planet where I know I am doomed.

The year 1985 could have been the high water mark of my life. In fact, it had all the makings of it. When it began I was in the 2nd semester of my Junior year at ND, and had suddenly found myself in the midst of a flowering social life which seemed unattainable a mere 6 months earlier. I had a steady girlfriend, more close friends than any man deserves, and access to alcohol that only increased with each passing month. By spring of that year every week seemed to promise a new experience, and a new coed with whom to become acquainted. By all rights I should have spent the rest of my days in Batavia living in the long shadows of my life at 17. How I managed to escape that fate, and wind up happy, and somewhat well adjusted, on the frozen prairies of Minnesota is still a mystery to me. In fact, attempting to solve that mystery by retracing my steps backward to the very beginning is half the point of writing this blawg.

So these periodic blasts of a dated cologne result in a flood of memories that send me off in a reverie trying to grasp the essence of what I felt at the time. The spring of 1985 was an early one that seemed to linger deep into June. With each passing week the temperature inched upward, the world became greener, and began to vibrate with life. My braces had come off after 6 years of suffering and pain, and my self esteem soared. Never before had anyone ever considered me to be “good looking”, but suddenly it seemed as if there was a different, maybe even handsome, face staring back at me from the mirror. The same could be said for all of us that year. We had turned the corner from gangly teens, to young adults, and we were thrilled to get out and try out our new equipment.

I am a born pessimist. For as long as I can remember, I have viewed every good event in my life with the suspicion that it was fleeting, and would soon be followed by Faulkner-ian loss. If ever there was such a thing as Western New York Gothic, I embodied it. But that spring of 1985, for the first, and maybe the last time in my life, the future seemed boundless. My heart still aches remembering it.

Photo copyright atsjbosma @http://www.flickr.com/photos/87185102@N00/2436554995/

It was a spring evening, with the first breath of summer sighing through the trees. It was a Friday, and after school we had borrowed one of our parent’s cars, and driven a classmate who could pass for 21, out to a convenience store on East Main to buy beer. With thrilling success we had managed to acquire 2 cases of beer. Well, if you can classify Old Milwaukee, and Old Milwaukee Light as beer, but at the time we weren’t exactly selective drinkers. Being 16 and 17 year olds, we were limited in our range and mobility. Getting a car after dark, was pretty much out of the realm of possibility, so we had to do some quick planning to figure out where to store this beer, and where to drink it after nightfall. After some discussion, we decided on the woods behind the Blind School. It was a central location, accessible by a short walk from most of our houses. So we drove the dirt driveway back behind the school that afternoon, and stashed our illicit treasure under some upturned concrete blocks, in a pile of dirt and construction waste from a recent construction project. Then we returned to our homes for supper hoping that no one had spotted us.

That evening, shortly after supper, we began to gather in small groups at various houses. The guys started showing up at 20 Prospect on their 10 speeds before, ahem, “going to the movies”. The girls began to gather at Bella’s house on State Street for the same ostensible purpose. Then as the shadows began to lengthen, we started making our way to the woods to rendezvous. The spot we had chosen was a wooded hillside that sloped down towards the north, and an undeveloped area of scrubby growth that extended to the Thruway. The nearest homes were on Burke Drive, over a hundred yards to the west, through a wooded area thick with undergrowth. It was unlit and very secluded, well off the beaten path for any passing kids, or adults.

Looking back it all seems so innocent, but at the time we felt like hardened criminals committing a felony. Retrieving our warm Old Milwaukee, we began passing cans around the circle, and talking in hushed, conspiratorial tones. Being kids it didn’t take more than half a can for us to begin feeling the magical effects of alcohol beginning to tickle our consciousness. I had never felt more mature in my life than I did sitting around that circle, talking and laughing with 8 other guys and girls. It was the first real clandestine “party” we had ever thrown, and it would not be the last.

Sitting there in the gathering dusk, the city began to disappear around us, until it was just the nine of us there in the dark, our senses alive like never before. Goosebumps appeared on my arms, as much from the excitement of the moment as it was from the coolness of late May. The girls huddled close to the guys, and we began to look at each other in a new light. Up until that point the friendships between us had been reserved and platonic. But as the night went on, and the cans piled up, we became aware of each others presence in a visceral way that we hadn’t ever noticed before. Like blind kids, the dimness and the alcohol had suddenly magnified our other senses. We could feel each others presence, even in the indigo darkness. It was an awakening for us all.

As summer came on, we would repeat this scene many times, in many places, but our relationships had begun to change. With each progressive step, our familiarity increased, and romantic intrigues developed. Over the course of the next 5 years the couplings, and breakups would become too numerous, and intertwined, to keep straight. But sitting there on the edge of 17, the future stretched out like a trackless wilderness. We had no idea what lay before us, and we tingled with anticipation, poised and ready to step forward into the virgin woods and begin blazing our trails.

That was 25 years ago. We had no idea of the twists, turns and the dead ends that we would wander into. One by one our paths would diverge into a forest of our own choosing, and slowly the path behind would be overgrown with weeds and burdocks. But the memories are still there, somewhere far in the back of our minds, until something, say a colleagues bottle of ancient cologne, flips a switch and it all comes flooding back. When it does, there’s not much that can be done except to pause, smile, and marvel at the journey.

a stone, a leaf, and unfound door…

. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

– Thomas Wolfe


As the date stamp in the picture says, Christmas Eve 1990. I was home for the first time since leaving college to start working on the road. After summer in the South, and autumn in the Midwest, I was home again.

I’ve said before, I had always felt that bittersweet longing to leave Batavia behind and get out into fresh air. A place where no one would know me, or have me fixed and pinned to the wall like a bug in a museum case.

"Twentus Prospectus" - A Melancholy Species of mop haired, over achieving, shyness.

Home had become a prison that I longed to escape. The previous six years of my life had been focused on achieving just that. The sole purpose of my final two years at N.D. and my time at Clarkson, had been to get a degree and secure a job that would get me out. I had wanted it so long, I had forgotten why. Perhaps because in the world that I inhabited, leaving home behind for somewhere else was the definition of success.

So here I was, Christmas Eve 1990, the conquering hero returned. Yet I felt no joy. No victory had been won. No, the town, and life there had moved on without me. In fact, it didn’t even seem to notice that I was gone. This is perhaps the greatest irony that faces all of those who work their whole young lives to leave their small town behind. The town was bigger than them all along.

It’s been a long time since I read Thomas Wolfe. I can remember reading “You Can’t Go Home Again” during the long hot summer of 1988, as I spent countless hours riding the back roads of WNY in a Niagara Mohawk pickup truck. Sweaty, dirty, bored, sitting in the shade of a tree at some remote electrical substation during my lunch break reading. At the time I felt the truth that Wolfe was trying to communicate was that once you have grown beyond the provincial, and expanded your self in new and different ways, ways impossible without leaving home behind, that you could never fit back into that home. It was a theme that was no stranger to fiction, and has been mined for ever, dating back at least to the Greek Tragedies. The hero leaves home on a journey. The hero grows. The hero returns to find that he no longer belongs.

But coming home myself that Christmas of 1990, something felt different. It wasn’t that I no longer fit through the door, it was that the door had closed behind me. Whether I wanted to return or not, there was no way back in. The door was locked, and the keys lost. Poised there on that doorstep as a stranger for the first time, I realized that the door that led out, was not the same as the door that would lead back in.

”]

Risky Business revisited

I had a presentation to make to the board of directors of my Dark Corporate Overlords this morning, so I was too preoccupied with worry to write a proper blog post. So instead I will recycle another story from my misspent well spent youth. Enjoy while I clean out my desk…

If there are two constant themes in all of my stories, I think we can agree they are “Drunkenness” and “Sexual Frustration”. The two always seem to go hand in hand. Well class, today’s story is no different. Imagine the coincidence!

It was late winter of 1985, and my teenage social life was taking off. For a brace-faced, acne-riddled, wallflower with a bad Beatles haircut, I had somehow stumbled into a steady girlfriend, and circle of coeds with amazing access to alcohol. Surely all those years of serving as an altar boy were paying dividends, because God was smiling on me now.

For the first time in my natural born life, I was the only child living at home. My Bratty Big Sis was living in Oneonta with her husband, my Big Bruddah was working at the Buffalo Bar in Idaho Springs, Colorado and the “Middle Child Sister” had moved out of the house again, and was in her own apartment. As the Golden Child of the family, I had already enjoyed more than my fair share of my parents attention, but now I was positively swamped with it. It was all about me, all the time, and with 2 cars in the household, and no siblings to have to share them with, I had the freedom to take my girlfriend parking whenever I could slip her out of her parents’ sight. My friends, life was about as good as it could get, but then it got better.

My Bratty Big Sis living in Oneonta just had her first baby the previous summer. My folks were suddenly finding reasons to drive to Oneonta about one weekend a month. Not only did I have wheels, I soon found myself left alone like Tom Cruise in that movie with the awful Bob Seger song. I know, I should be more specific as ALL Bob Seger songs are awful, as are all Tom Cruise movies for that matter. You know the one the one with Rebecca De Mornay? Yeah, THAT one.

I found out on a Friday that they would be leaving the next morning, and coming back on Sunday night. The Middle Sister was over for free dinner on Friday night, and I was able to pull her aside, and give her the $30 from my secret cache to buy me a couple of cases of beer. I could have elected to go cheap, but I wasn’t that sort of guy, yet. I specified a case of Molson Golden, and a case of Michelob dark, and whatever else she could find that looked good at Angotti Beverages.

It only took a few clandestine calls on the old rotary dial in the upstairs hallway to set plans into motion. I called my friend Tim, and told him to come by Saturday afternoon to help set up then plan on spending the night, then I was on the phone with Bella making sure that she could gather the Girl Next Door and other female friends. Chris & Dan were a given. Now I had been drinking for a little less than a year at that point, but in all that time I had never been able to bring my girlfriend to a party. She spent most weekends babysitting for a couple down the street, or cleaning house for a little old lady in town. But on this particular night, the stars had aligned and she was free to come to the party. She arranged a cover story of going to the movies with her best friend so as to hide the fact that she would be drunk and half clothed by 9pm, from her strict parents. Things were shaping up.

My parents left bright and early on Saturday morning, and the game was on. My sister dropped by after lunch with the two cases of beer plus a six pack of some Philippine Beer with a grass hut on the label. (Ooo exotic!) Tim arrived at the appointed hour, and we proceeded to carry my Big Bruddah’s stereo downstairs from the bedroom, and set it up in the living room. I put on my best long sleeve Ocean Pacific T-shirt, we grabbed some dinner from Burger King, and by 7 pm the guests started to arrive.

I had only invited a small circle of 12-15 trusted friends, as the last thing I wanted was for my party to turn into a scene from John Hughes movie. We kept the shades drawn, and nobody drove to the party, walking instead after putting together suitable alibis. We were amazingly responsible for a bunch of hormone addled 17 year olds.

My girlfriend was one of the first to arrive. As people showed up by ones and twos, we started playing quarters around my Mom’s huge kitchen table. I kept jumping in and out of the game, to change the tape, or answer the front door, peeking out each time half expecting to see Johnny Law standing on the front porch.

The party was going great, everyone was in fantastic moods, and the beers were going down easy. This was so much better than drinking warm Old Milwaukee in the woods behind the blind school. Once everyone had arrived, there was little thought or worry about getting caught. Now I could turn my attentions to entertaining my guests, looking forward to later in the evening when I could slip upstairs with my girlfriend. In the mean time I was suavely working the crowd like Sinatra in Vegas, making sure everyone was having a good time.

I’m not sure when I first noticed it, but at some point my girlfriends best friend came up to me, and told me that they had a problem. My girlfriend was about to pass out. Now, this was shocking news to me, and I had just been talking to her not 10 minutes earlier, and she had only had half of a beer. I followed her into the kitchen, and sure enough, there was my girlfriend, her eyes rolling around in her head like pinballs as she slumped against the table. This was definitely not on the agenda.

I helped her up, and tried to figure out what was wrong. She smiled at me, slurred something about how much she loved me, and fell against my shoulder sobbing, “I’m sorry I’m so druuunnnnk. You’re going to hate me aren’t yoooouuuuu.” None of the John Hughes movies I had ever seen had prepared me for this.

I cut her off from drinking, and her best friend started freaking out about how we were going to take her home in this state. Someone suggested she drink some coffee like they did to sober people up on TV, but this being 1985, none of us had ever considered actually drinking coffee. Ick! Then her best friend had the brilliant idea that she should take a cold shower. This seemed to make sense at the time. Perhaps we confused the TV remedy for horny husbands, for the one for drunks. In any case, we helped her upstairs, and her friend took her into the bathroom to help her undress and get in the shower. This wasn’t exactly the way I had hoped to get her out of her clothes that night, although, I may have been amenable to the part about her best friend helping get her undressed.

I went back downstairs to the party, but my mood was pretty much ruined. I proceeded to get myself drunk, muttering under my breath. Then I began to turn my attentions to the Girl Next Door. We had been flirting pretty heavily in school lately, and she seemed to be enjoying the attention I was giving her. I had almost forgotten that my girlfriend was in the shower upstairs. It might have been minutes, it might have been hours, but eventually she came back downstairs, looking sleepy and remorseful. This only ticked me off more, because now the drama began.

“You’re going to break up with meeeee…..”
“No, I’m not. I’m just upset that you got so drunk.”
“You hate meeee….”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yesssss….yoooouuuuu……..dooooooooo………”

It was at this point that I decided that maybe she wasn’t really the girl I wanted to be giving my class ring to. Maybe I should have stuck with the Catholic girls from ND. They could handle their liquor, AND had no issues with fooling around. I guess this was what you might call one of those “teachable moments”.
The rest of the night I spent convincing my now inconsolable girlfriend that I did indeed still love her, despite the fact that I wanted to break up with her more with each passing minute. Eventually the beer ran out, and I missed the rest of my own party. One by one people left for home. I managed to step out onto the porch to say goodbye to the Girl Next Door, and tell her I would give her a call the next day. Then I went back inside, and help my girlfriends BF to walk her home, stopping at the corner of North Street and Bank, so that I wouldn’t be seen by her parents.

I went home and cleaned up. Tim spent the night on my couch, and in the morning we discovered that someone had puked all over the floor of the downstairs bathroom. He denied doing it, and I know it sure as hell wasn’t me. The morning was spent mopping the bathroom, and getting the smell out before my parents came home. He never did own up to it either.

Needless to say, it was a memorable experience. I learned several lessons that night that would serve me well in later years.

1.) Never date a girl that couldn’t handle her liquor.

2.) Parties are WAY more fun when they are at someone else’s house.

3.) There’s no point spending money on good beer, when cheap wine coolers or Franzia will get the girls every bit as drunk.

4.) When a girl is crying hysterically about how you are going to break up with her, keep your mouth shut and go along with it.

5.) Catholic School Girls Rule

I must confess that I knew #5 already, but the party did drive the point home.

When the moon hits your eye, like a big almond pastry, that’s Amaretto…

As I’ve said before, I was the tag-a-long child in the 20 Prospect clan. A full 7-10 years younger than my siblings, I inhabited a different world than the one they knew growing up. While they were going through High School I was sitting on the floor of the living room playing with my Evel Knievel stunt cycle. By the time I hit my teen years they were out of the house and I had become an only child. Needless to say, being the baby in the family I was spoiled rotten, getting to experience a family where Mom & Dad both worked and only had one kid to support. Our vacations became more frequent, and to more exciting places.

The response from my siblings to my golden child status varied. Big Bruddah couldn’t have cared less, and bequeathed to me his stereo and collection of 70’s LP’s while he was out hitchhiking his way around the country. My Bratty Big Sis still hasn’t forgiven me for stealing her status as the baby of the family 43 years ago, and has spent most of her life either tormenting me, or pointing out repeatedly what a spoiled brat I was. But the Middle Child had a completely different approach. She indulged me. It was always the Middle Child that bought me Pepsi and Funyuns when she babysat me. She was the one that took me to see the latest Disney movie at Mancuso’s Theater.

By the time I hit High School, the Middle Child was the only one of my siblings living in Batavia. So it was she who was tasked with looking out for me when my parents were off visiting one of the other siblings. That is when I discovered that one of the great benefits of older siblings is the access to illicit substance that they can provide during your formative years. The Middle Child was always willing to buy me a case of beer, or a bottle of booze if I was planning a party. I doubt anything I do can ever repay her that favor.

When she started asking Bella to babysit my 2 year old nephew things got even better. Now I have told the story of my adoration of the blessed Bella during my first few years at ND, and how over time we became the best of friends. So it wasn’t unusual for us to spend 5 nights a week talking on the phone together, and plotting and planning our next party in the woods behind the Blind School. But having her at my house when my parents and siblings were away was something new entirely.

The first few times that she babysat, I hurried home from practice to spend the evening sitting on the couch with her watching MTV, or old movies, after she had put my nephew to bed. In retrospect, it’s funny that it took us so long to give in to our hormones, and switch to making out. All it really took was a bottle of Amaretto, and a long winter evening while my parents were out of town, and the Middle Child was out with friends.

Now before anyone accuses either one of us of getting the other one drunk, and taking advantage of them, I must say it was completely innocent, and sweet, in a John Hughes coming of age story kind of way. I don’t think either one of us had planned for it to happen, it just did. My Nephew was asleep, and I had just hit up the Middle Child to pick me up some booze with the $10 I had available. The result was a bottle of cheap Amaretto, which must have been on sale. Neither one of us had had Amaretto before, so we decided to open it up and have a taste. That taste soon turned into a game of quarters at the kitchen table where we both ended up winning. Half way through the bottle we emptied our glasses, and decided to move into the other room.

I must say, sticky Amaretto kisses are like almond flavored pastry, and kissing my best friend in the world was a very different sort of thing than kissing my girlfriend. I think that was the night that I discovered that love has more flavors than Baskin and Robbins. When we heard the car in the driveway, we straightened ourselves up, and looked at each other wondering what it was that had just happened. Saying goodnight to her as my sister took her home I wasn’t sure what it would mean for our friendship. Would it be over now? Would it turn into something else?

The next night we spent decorating the ND Gymnasium with our dates for the Christmas Dance. It was a little awkward at first, to be so close together, and pretend that nothing happened. If it had been anyone else, I would not have known what was going to happen, but looking into her eyes, I knew that she felt the same way that I did. Things were new, and different. We had a secret now. A secret we would never tell anyone about, but one that we somehow both decided we didn’t want to spoil by feeling guilt or regret.

In the end our friendship survived, and we both went about our way exploring the pleasures, and pitfalls of High School relationships. We returned to our platonic state and became even stronger friends. Maybe that night of silly exploration had something to do with that. I don’t think that either one of us would have survived it if we didn’t have the other one to lean on through the hard times that were to come. Even now, 20+ years later, she would be the first person I would call if the world started falling down around me.

Still, I must confess, whenever I eat almond pastry I think of Bella.

Phoning it in

It’s one of the paradoxes of technology, but the most wonderful part of having a cell phone is that I never have to speak with anyone. Let me explain, I’ve always been a socially awkward person (try to look surprised) and have never been real fond of speaking to strangers. That is why the advent of email, and the interweb have fit me like a glove. Ever since my dark corporate overlords issued me a “smartphone” capable of sending and receiving emails, I have finally been able to hide behind the virtual curtain, and pretend I’m not at home.

It has been wonderful.

Much to the chagrin of Mrs. 20 Prospect, I would be happiest in a small little farmhouse hidden in a valley somewhere, with nothing but a digital connection to the outside world. No phone calls from people, no making painful small talk in the lunchroom as I wait for the microwave to beep. Just a great big electronic wall between me and the world, that I can use to filter out all that messy, human interaction.

It wasn’t always this way. No kids, once upon a time there was no internet. No cell phones. No text messages. No cable or satellite TV. . (Ahem, excuse me while I put in my dentures) Nope, we had 5 TV channels, and two phones in our house that were affixed to the wall. If you wanted to comment to your friend about the game, or whatever you might be watching on the TV, you had to leave the room and stand in the kitchen to do so.

Shocking, I know.

But technology changes things and whether we admit it or not, technology changes us. The more forms and channels of communication that have opened to me, the less I have actually spoken to people. Believe it or not, in the not too distant past, I used to actually lay on the floor in the hallway, with my feet up on the wall, and the cord of the Ma Bell black rotary phone stretched to its limit, and talk for hours on the phone.

To girls.

Sorry, I hope you were sitting down for that revelation.

If I had to put a number on it, I’d estimate that Bella and I spent roughly 8-10 hours a week talking to each other on the phone. This was in addition to our talks in school, and our nights out with friends. It all started innocently enough, when I called her up one evening during our freshman year at ND under the false pretense of having a question about Algebra homework. As I’ve said before, I had been silently stalking her for months, trying to muster up the courage to actually speak to her.

Yes, it was a crush of the first degree.

When she suddenly became a social pariah for vomiting on the front steps of the school during a spring dance, and revealing the names of the other kids that she had been out drinking with, I became one of her few connections to the outside world. Bella’s parents were insanely strict, and had grounded her for months after that. But as fate would have it, that was the event that really kick started our friendship.

Confined to the house, she had nothing to do but talk on the phone with me. I couldn’t have been happier about it. We spoke every night after dinner, usually for over an hour, until one of our parents (usually hers) would come into the room, and yell at us to hang up so that other people could use the phone.

“Laura, you’ve been on the phone for an hour, it’s time to get off!”
“But Dad, it’s Tom!”
“So?”

But it’s Tom.”

“What is he, your mentor?”

I don’t think this really endeared me to the man. Although, I don’t think that Dom was ever really endeared with anyone. He still intimidates me.

We talked about everything, and nothing at all. Stupid goofy conversations where we ended up creating our own code, and language that only we could understand, so that when we were sitting in the back of Spanish Class, it only took one look to convey a message, and reduce us into stifled laughter.

It is hard to believe there was a time in my life when I could talk for hours with nothing to really say. I mean, that would be like spending hours typing pointless stories for no other purpose than posting them on the internet. OK, bad example.

As the years went by, girlfriends and boyfriends began to insert themselves between us. Slowly our calls got shorter, and became less frequent. College came and went, and with it, real life, and real distances only pulled us further apart. Until one day the calls stopped altogether.

It took years for us to reconnect, and by then, the phone was already an antiquated technology. It wasn’t until 2000, when I opened a letter from the ND Alumni association requesting money, and a short note from Bella was attached. It had an email address next to her name, and well, let’s just say the rest is history.

We communicate by email now. (And blog posts) God only knows what technologies will exist in another 25 years. Whatever they may be, I’m fairly certain she’ll be on the other end waiting for me to pick up.

Happy B-Day Bella.

 

Love,

Your Mentor

(Yeah, I know it’s one day early.)