On the cusp of Spring

Spring is an uncertain time in Minnesota. The whole world seems to oscillate hourly between raw freezing cold, and the warm promise of summer. Walking the dogs tonight, the March sun was setting into a glowing orange pool on the horizon. Above it, a thin fingernail of moon was just starting to appear in the darkness. As I hustled along the quiet streets, the houses were shut up tight, shades still drawn against the night. The silhouette of geese passed overhead in the cobalt sky, their honking the only sound rising above the snapping wind.

One of the funny things about memory, is you never know what will trigger it. It can be a scent, a sight, a sound, or sometimes just a word said in passing by a stranger. Walking the dogs through the dark tree lined streets tonight I stumbled through such a portal, back into 1985. The springtime of my life, when unbeknown to me everything was about to change.

It was on a night similar to this one, when winter came clawing back in response to a warm spring afternoon, that my good friend Chris and I were headed to a dance at Batavia High. I was flying solo that night, having just broken up with my girlfriend, and lusting mightily after the girl next door. I was sixteen years old and the night seemed full of promise.

My parents were working Bingo at ND that night and had taken the car, and my big sister was out with friends, so it took a little creativity for us to get our hands on alcohol. Discussing our plans over the phone, we decided to each try to raid whatever we could get from out parents and meet at 7 pm, outside of Platten’s North Side Deli.

Surveying the options before me in the empty house, I decided to fill an empty 16 oz bottle of Sprite with some White Lake Niagara jug wine that my Mom kept in the fridge. It seemed to be the least likely stuff to be missed. Walking down Richmond Ave to meet Chris I wondered what he would be able to score. I don’t think I had ever seen his folks drink, but being Catholic, I’m sure they were required to keep booze somewhere in the house just in case of an emergency, like a death or an unannounced visit by a priest.

He did not disappoint. Meeting up on the street in front of the corner store, he informed me he had managed to fill half of an empty coke bottle with some rum. We surveyed our options for how and where to go about drinking our booty. The wind was blowing last years leaves down the gutters of Bank Street, and the sky was beginning to spit light rain at us. We decided to try the old stone picnic pavilions in MacArthur Park, out beyond the outfield fence of Dwyer Stadium. Still, the thought of trying to drink straight rum, wasn’t sounding too appealing to us, so we lit upon a plan to buy a bottle of Coke to mix it with.

After that, it was just a simple word problem to figure out how to get the Coke into the rum, and the rum into the Coke in even amounts. I think we decided the easiest thing to do was to drink the wine first, then use the empty bottle to mix the rum & Coke. It was that sort of quick thinking that helped us score high enough on our SAT’s to get into the colleges of our choice. Oddly enough though, the SAT never presented questions on the best way to mix Rum & Coke in a park at night.

Shivering in the cold rain, we walked to the stone pavilions, and warmed ourselves with the cloying cheap wine, and the tangy bite of the rum and Coke. Taking swigs from the bottles, and holding them inside our burning mouths just heightened the numbness of my cheekbones, and nose. Then, feeling sufficiently fortified to face the lovely young women of Batavia High School, we made our way across the parking lot to the school.

As any clandestine high school drinker will tell you, the key to getting through the chaperons at the door, is to keep from exhaling. There’s a real art to being able to say hello to teachers, and parents, without letting any air escape your mouth. I’m sure ventriloquists practice something similar.

Successfully making it past the bouncers, we hung up our jackets, and started down the long hallway to the gym. The alcohol was just beginning to make its way fully into our bloodstream. I could feel the color rising in my cheeks. Passing the brightly lit glass windows of the school cafeteria we ran into Jennifer and her friends, who immediately squealed “You guys have been drinking, haven’t you!?!”.

There is no more grown up feeling in the all the world, than being 16 years old, and drunk. If I’d have known that then, I probably would have been sorely disappointed. The lights in the gym swirled, and the DJ played all the greatest hits of 1985. We found the group of Junior girls we’d come looking for, and began doing the white guy shuffle to the music, in a big circle of kids. It wasn’t long before the alcohol was making the whole scene seem like a kaleidoscope of sound and light.

The girls seemed more beautiful in that dimly lit gym, than they ever did in the florescent hum of the classrooms. Taking turns dancing slow songs with them, I was able to revel in their scents, and the fuzzy warmth of their sweaters, clinging to their small of their backs. At that moment I was in love with each and every one of them, which is to say that I was mostly in love with myself.

It was all so new. We seemed like the first teenagers on the face of the earth to discover the warm sticky embraces of dancing together. I felt like the night could have lasted forever, but before I knew it the DJ was announcing the last song of the night. I managed to grab the girl next door, and hold her close as the last slow song played, my hands slowly inching down the scratchy wool of her sweater, over the tell tale clasp of that forbidden bra somewhere underneath it. I had no thought or plan for what if anything would happen, I was purely living in the moment.

The song ended, and before I knew it, our coats were on and she was hustling off in a crowd of friends to catch her ride. Chris and I stood outside on the sidewalk, saying goodbye as they left, then turned our collars up against the windy drizzle, and started the long sobering walk home. I thought there would be so many other nights, and so many other chances to experience such bliss. I had no idea how fleeting it would all prove to be. We were growing up so fast, and time was accelerating.

How quickly it would pass. That was over 25 years ago. Stumbling back into that evening tonight was like finding a rare coin whose true worth is not in its value, but the warm reassurance it gives, as you turn it over and over in your hand.

There she sits buddy, just a-gleeming in the sun…

Growing up I used to listen to Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown. Not out of love for Top 40 music, but out of boredom, and pure desire to be current. Each week Kasey would read a letter from a listener, who wrote in to make a long distance dedication. These were always heart wrenching letters, along the lines of…

Dear Kasey,

I’m writing to ask for a long distance dedication to my brother Earl. I haven’t seen him since we were both 8 years old. You see Kasey, we were Siamese twins, and it wasn’t until we were four that Mom was able to raise enough money to pay for the operation to have us separated. Little did we know that it would be both the best and worst moment in our lives. Mom loved us dearly, and wanted us to have a normal life like all the other children at the playground. She spent 4 years traveling, and working to raise enough money to give us that operation. If only we knew the problems it would cause in our family life. You see Kasey, my Mom took us to have that operation without my Dad’s permission. He was furious when he found out. Once Earl and I were no longer Siamese Twins, we were dropped from the traveling freak show. What followed was 4 long years of living in bus stations, scraping up gum from the floor and selling it on the street. Those were hard years Kasey, because people don’t like to buy used gum from homeless children on the street. Yes, it’s true. I am sorry to say that Mom & Dad split up. Mom kept me, and Dad took Earl. I am now 25 years old, and have a family of my own. I haven’t seen Earl or Dad since that fateful day. I want more than anything to find Earl, and bring him back into our lives. Ever since he left, I truly have been half a person. So Kasey, I would love if you could play my song and dedicate it to Earl wherever he is.

Sincerely,

Split in half in Oklahoma

Then, wiping tears from his eyes, Kasey would say… “Well Earl, wherever you are, this week’s long distance dedication goes out to you. Here’s Bruce Springsteen’s, Pink Cadillac”…

So consider this post my long distance dedication to my long lost Siamese Twin Earl. Without further ado, here’s another post about a car!

Not just any car. My first car. Well, if you discount the fact that my parents owned it and paid the insurance on it, listing me only as an occasional driver. (My Mother’s halo used to mysteriously disappear when it was time to pay the car insurance bills) This was no ordinary car. As I have mentioned before, it rivaled the U.S.S. Chester A. Nimitz in size and weight. There was so much steel in that baby that it had it’s own gravitational field.

Behold the 1972 Dodge Coronet!

The Tank

We lovingly referred to it as the Tank. Dad bought it off some guy who lived out on the Batavia-Byron Rd. The body was in terrific shape, and it ran great. With the exception of a faulty water pump that limited the car’s range to about 10 miles before it would overheat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I have a sneaky suspicion that this was the feature that sold Dad on the car. A 10 miles radius wasn’t far enough for me to get into any serious trouble.

Luckily, it was far enough that I could make it to just about every dead end dirt road party spot in Genesee County. So other than that devastatingly fateful night at “the Top of the World”, it worked fine for my purposes. It’s ocean liner like steering, and Saturn V rocket-like throttle response took a little getting used to, but I figured it out. You just had to hold your foot down to the floor, and shake the wheel back and forth from 10 to 2 o’clock to keep it out of the ditch.

Aside from freedom from having to borrow the family minivan the Tank came with a back seat the size of a Queen size bed. No sitting in the GCC parking lot on a winter night, steaming up the windows in a Ford Escort with a stick shift sticking in your backside. (Unless of course you were into that sort of thing). No Ma’am, a night out with me in the Tank promised luxurious accommodations.

I also like to think that this was the thing that sold Dad on the car. (Looks up to heaven, flashes a thumbs up sign) Thanks Dad!

Looking back on those nights out in the country with a sweet smelling girl, umm… “studying astronomy” through the back window, all I can do is smile. At least until a right hook from Mrs. 20 Prospect wipes that misty look off my face. (Her right hook really is her best punch). It seemed so dangerous to us at the time, but looking back I am amazed at how tender and innocent we were. (No really, I mean it) I am also amazed at how lucky we were every time I read a story about a car full of kids dying in a car wreck.

So, at the risk of being a hypocrite, I just want to say, kids if you are reading this, DON’T DO WHAT I DID!

Seriously, when you are old enough to drive I am selling the minivan and buying the smallest subcompact car I can find.

Better start taking yoga classes.

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.

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.

Why do chicks dig hockey players?

I have been on this earth for 43 years now, and I like to think I am an astute observer of the human condition. Well, as attentive an observer as any male can be. Ooo! Look! Shiny objects!

Where was I?

Right. I am an astute observer of the foibles and paradoxes of this strange mammalian beast we call man. What I have learned of this creature could fill volumes of scientific essays. However, what I have learned about his partner on this earth, this strange creature called “woo-man” would only fill half a page. If not for this great mystery I would have lost interest in life a long, long time ago. So rare are these insights that when I do uncover a truth about the behavior of the female of the species, I hold it up like a prospector finding a pure nugget of gold, and shout EUREKA! Then I feel a sudden urge to share my great discovery with mankind.

Thankfully I have a blog to share these pearls of wisdom. So today I would like to contribute this one great truth for the betterment of mankind.

Are you ready?

Are you sitting down?

OK, here goes.

Chicks dig hockey players.

Shocking, I know. But trust me on this one. Hockey players are second only to rock musicians on the scale of womanly desire. Please, don’t ask me to explain it. I leave that to greater minds than mine.

It was the Junior year of High School when I first discovered this. As hockey season rolled around, I noticed that half of the girls in class would talk about the previous night’s Sabres game with the same sort of interest usually reserved for Rainbows, and Unicorns. Wondering what this was all about, I asked The Girl Next Door why she followed hockey, and she made it abundantly clear. Hockey players were H-O-T.

This revelation came as a bitter blow. Not only had I dropped out of guitar lessons in the 6th grade, but the Ice Arena in Batavia hadn’t even opened until I was 12, and our school did not have a hockey program. Somehow I had missed out on the two best ways of picking up girls before I had even known what was at stake. Fate is a cruel mistress.

So I decided I would make the best of a bad situation, and become a hockey fan so that I would have something to talk to girls about, other than helping them with their Trigonometry homework.

As that winter progressed beneath the gray permaclouds of Western New York, I began to watch as many hockey games as I could so that I could get in on the conversation with the gaggle of hockey mad girls in school. Before long, The Girl Next Door and I were calling each other between periods to breakdown the game like Don Cherry and Ron MacLean. Who knew talking to girls could be so easy?

But my discussions about hockey weren’t just limited to my puppy dog infatuation with The Girl Next Door. I soon struck up hockey friendships with half of the girls in my class. And to make things even more remarkable, NONE of these relationships involved either beer, or make out sessions in clandestine locations. What was happening to me? How could I suddenly relate to women so easily, and frequently that I could choose to be selective about which girls to lust after?

Amazing days indeed.

As much as our mutual love of hockey brought me closer to The Girl Next Door, I had no illusions. The root of her interest was the inexplicable, carnal desire that cute hockey players created in the loins of teenage girls. Yes, I may be able to talk for hours about a Sabres game with her, but I could never turn her on the way that Phil Housley, or Tom Barrasso could.

As for my platonic hockey relationships, I actually learned more about the game of hockey from Maria and Dina than I did from any guy I knew. When I went to a game during Senior Year it was with them, and not any of my supposed “guy” friends. These girls not only lusted after players, they also were walking encyclopedias of hockey knowledge.

When the game was over, we walked down the dank, smelly caverns of the Aud, to stand outside the Sabres locker room so Dina could introduce us to Mike Foligno, as she babysat his kids. In retrospect, going to a hockey game with 2 girls has to count among of the highlights of my teenage years. When Maria almost killed us by driving under a Semi in a snow squall, the epic nature of the night was cemented in my memory. Not many men come close to having their obituary mention you died while on a date with two girls.

Sigh… if only I had been a hockey player.

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.