Monday is my first day back to school. While everyone else skips every day, I have accumulated a massive backlog of homework and missed assignments in my classes. I see the gang at Nutrition. They all pester me to revive the ditch pad in my room. Jace is reluctant to risk his newly won privileges at the garage. Their desperation is in conflict with my academic future: friendship vs. school. I take the easy choice. Getting stoned makes it all seem logical. I never even think about swim team. Instead of getting my head screwed back on, I opted to screw off.
Mary comes looking for Robby after school is out. I want to chat about her background and to tell her about Tina.
“I gotta alotta Puerto Rican friends in New York,” I tell her.
“Well, you have one Puerto Rican friend here.”
“Shit, my friends don’t even have huerto friends.”
“Huerto? What does that mean?”
“No hable espanol?”
“Si. Perfectamente. Entiendo ‘huerto’ como ‘being led astray.’”
“It’s slang for ‘whiteboy.’”
“Well, maybe you’ve been led astray. I don’t know any slang, just what my folks speak at home.”
“Can I come over and practice my Spanish?”
“You want to come to my house? I don’t think so.”
“You pickin’ up on my chick again?” Ricky interrupts us.
“Just to practice my Spanish.”
“You don’t wanna go to her house. They got chickens.”
“Pollo. Cool, man.”
She looks embarrassed, so we let it drop. Robby hangs a possessive arm around Mary. I forgot how jealous he can be.
Next day at school, I ditch after second period. My vacation is extended. I even lie to Scott and Lydia about still being injured. They inform Coach. There is no one to check my story. My room is a disaster zone, with cigarette butts everywhere and marijuana roaches in all the ashtrays. I am out of money. No more trips to Sorrento’s. My friends quickly empty the fridge of anything instantly edible. Being high constantly, I always have the munchies. I am not eating regular meals. Since my accident, I’ve dropped from 155 to 135 pounds. My clothes hang on me. It makes me look more like my new friends. I figure six months for my hair to grow out. I already have the expressions and attitude down. My new appearance, the de rigueur slouch and I fit right in. I am a stoner now. I have rings under my eyes. As my hair grows out, the bleached blond ends contrast with my dark brown roots. One night while foraging for food in the kitchen, Susan is putting the dishes away.
“Tim,” she asks, “are you still suffering from your back injury?”
I straighten up slightly. “I’m okay, Susan. Is there anything to snack?”
“I stopped making you dinner since you aren’t getting home late from practice anymore. Maybe you can eat with your dad and me from now on.”
“No. That’s cool. I’ll just make a sandwich.”
She looks at me like I am drooling or falling over. I beat a hasty retreat to my room. The gang has moved to Robby’s, having consumed all the joints he brought to my room. I look in the bathroom mirror to see if I really look as bad as Susan thinks. It is the lines under my eyes, I decide. Combing my hair forward, it falls to my eyebrows. Just another month or so for it to fall over my eyes. Passable. I swear I will never cut my hair again. I go to Robby’s, leaving from my window and using the tree route for the first time since the accident. I pronounce myself recovered.
I only go to home room and the first two periods. School does not consider me truant. My teachers from third through final period still think I am sick and excused from school. I have it all covered. By mid-October, I complete the transition from jock to stoner. My high school coach walks right by me in the hall, unaware I am his star athlete. He has no interest in obvious stoners. Even my consciousness has changed. Instead of oldies running in my brain, it’s totally heavy metal: Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Hendrix and Deep Purple.
It affects how I walk, like an internal metronome. I watch the confident swagger of the straight kids and realize how arrogant I must have seemed. Now I just float, bouncing off walls and people. Everything is cool. My long hair covers my ears, where I stash a joint, ready to spark up. As part of Robby’s gang, kids come up to me to buy weed almost every day. First and second periods are all about deliveries, not learning. I barely miss my swim team friends, telling Scott and Lydia the doctor is keeping me out of practice. They call less frequently. I blame them for not making the effort. I accept that I have moved on to a new group of friends, much like constantly relocating in the military. At least I have high school to act out the drama. It is a call from Stu about the Halloween party that shakes me up. He misses me, wanting to know if I can at least attend the team party.
“It was cool last year, Tim. Don’t you want to do it again?”
“Hey, man, wasn’t it just the other day? Yeah, like, wasn’t it far out?” I drawl.
“Is that really you, Tim? You sound, like strange.”
“’People are strange when you’re a stranger.’ I miss you, man.”
“Com’n, Tim. Stop goofin’ around.”
“You think I’m goofin’ on you? Just bein’ cool. You know you’re my favorite little dude.”
“Well, I gotta go, Tim. Been nice talking to you.”
“Yeah, right, like it’s been real.”
“Really like I’m sure.”
“Well, are you coming to the party?”
“Can I bring my friends?”
“Sure, I guess. Who are they?”
“My friends, man. Robby and Mary, Michael, Iggy, the whole gang.”
“You’re in a gang?”
“They’re like Floyd’s gang, just friends. You need to get beyond yourself and the little world of swimming. We’ll be there.”
“Well, I gotta go. Bye, Tim.”
“Take it easy. Take it any way you can get it.”
I go back to the party, forgetting the pain I obviously caused him. Screw him.
As time moves faster in our golden haze, I learn about everyone in Robby’s gang. Michael has been Robby’s best friend since first grade. He is dark and quiet, content to know what is going on and flow with the group. Dave and Jazz are best buddies in 9th grade, junior high stoners, stupid enough to cause trouble, but too young to suffer the consequences. Iggy is the truly dark one, with a perpetual scowl. He never approves of anything. While we are moving into Progressive Rock (Jeff Beck, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan) Iggy is a primitive retro, preferring the Detroit sounds of real rhythm and blues, like Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, the Amboy Dukes with Ted Nugent, and especially The Stooges. He laughs at our pretensions of being real musicians, saying you do not need to know anything to be a rocker. He’s a 50’s greaser in the 70’s, with a chunky build, a leather jacket and long, greased-backed hair. He looks like the only one of us who could win a fight. He also is the only one to spend time in juvie. Dawn is Jazz’s older sister. Although she likes to talk and doesn’t mind being the butt of our sexist jokes, she keeps pretty much to herself. The only other girl regular is Mary, Robby’s girlfriend. She has her own mind, speaking out against our stupid sexist ideas, none of which are directed at her. After putting me off about my Latina girlfriend, she slowly comes around, asking me about Tina and what it was like visiting her. When I try explaining life in the Bronx, she burst into song from ‘West Side Story,’ “I like to be in A-mer-i-ca.”
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company / Boosey & Hawkes
I join in, “Life is good in A-mer-i-ca,” to the amazement of the others, whose knowledge of pop music is limited to the Monkeys. Both of us had to listen to our parents’ Broadway Musical albums for too many years. We even know the spoken parts between lyrics.
“A real Ricky and Lucy act,” Robby sarcastically puts us down.
“No, you’re Ricky,” I counter.
“Oh, Ricky, can I be in the show tonight?” Mary dead-pans.
“Stop it,” he complains, sending us into hysterics.
The others watch with open mouths, waiting to see if it is okay to laugh at Robby. He just glowers. I break into Rex Harrison’s song from ‘My Fair Lady,’ “Why can’t a woman be more like a man? Men are so witty, charming, and gay,” pointing right at Robby.
ARTIST: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
TITLE: A Hymn to Him
It’s too much for the rest of them. Everyone, except Robby, is in hysterics. He is so mad, he stomps off. Mary and I chase after him. He climbs a tree and is soon flying from branch to branch. There is no way we can catch him. We both yell at him that it is just a joke. Walking back to my room, Mary puts her arm around my waist. When we walk in, we are greeted with cat-calls and whistles. Once they quiet down, we face the night’s crisis: no weed without Robby. I send them out my window, into the trees, to find him. Thirty minutes later he is spotted. We chase after him, but he has no trouble staying ahead of us. Finally, he climbs down and goes in through his room’s window, where he can have the last laugh. None of us care. As soon he brings out the bong, it is bong hits all around.
“What are we doing for Halloween,” I ask.
“Smashing pumpkins and slashing tires,” Iggy looks up hopefully.
“So it was you guys last year?”
“We’re your worst nightmare.”
“I thought you were Babes in Toyland.”
The only babe around here is Mary,…and Dawn,” John quickly corrects himself.
“No, you’re the big babe, John,” Dawn counters, pinching his cherry red cheeks, which makes him blush more.
“Well, I got us invited to a party,” I announce.
“Well, whoop dee doo, we can come?” Robby remarks.
“Yeah, they said it’s okay.”
“I hate parties. It’s just a bunch of soch’s who don’t know how to really party.’
“Yay, pah-tay,” Iggy screams, and the bong goes round again.
“We’ve got special plans for Halloween,” Robby announces quietly. “I’ve invited a special lady for all you guys, and ladies too. Her name is Donna.
“You hired a prostitute, and she’s a lez?” Dawn looks concerned.
“Sex will be just the smallest part of it. This Donna will blow your mind,” Robby keeps up the suspense.
“Com’n Robby,” Dave whines. “Why do you always lead us on?
“’Cause you follow just like sheep.”
“Bah, bah,” Iggy bleats at Dave and Jazz.
“Remember,” Robby continues, “in my religion, Halloween’s real name is Samhain. It demands…. SACRIFICE.” He stares really hard at Dave and Jazz.
Everyone else laughs, as the two jump.
“I guess we’ll not be doing a sacrifice at my swim team party.”
“Swim team?” Iggy mocks. “We’re not a bunch of kids. I ‘spose they’ll all wear costumes.”
“Yeah, that’s what it’s all about.”
“I’ve chosen the costumes,” Robby states, “I chose robes for Samhain. Those not ready to follow, better put their lives in order.”
“Bah, bah,” Iggy bleats, startling Dave and Jazz again.
“It’s two weeks before All Saint’s Eve,” Robby intones, “but in Wicca, a week is ten days. When it is one Wicca week away, the ceremony will begin. And no mewling to the priests,” he whirls to face Dave, who shrinks further into the corner. Ricky spins around, toward the door, where he put out the lights. He then reappears in ghostly form with a flashlight beneath his chin, making a seriously demented face, with a hint of madness in the determination of purpose in his eyes.
“Leave,” he orders, and everyone piles out into the relative lightness of the outdoors. I wander home, with Jace staying close to me.
“Can I stay the night?” he asks.
“’Course. Robby really scare you?”
“Naw, he does this every year. Halloween’s his thing, man. I just like you and want to stay.”
“I like you, too, Jace.”
He grins the goofy smile that totally blows his stoner image. We get into bed quickly. He gives me a great massage, talking all the time about his dreams of having a band. I am so relaxed that it takes me a minute to realize someone else is standing by the bed. Turning on the light, I see Robby leering at us.
“What are you doing, boys?” he asks.
Jace starts to jump out of bed, until I pull him back.
“He’s spending the night, Robby. That’s all.”
“Looked to me like you are going at it.”
“I give him back massages,” Jace stammers.
“Well, you seem primed for action,” I accuse him by pointing at the obvious hard-on in his low-cut jeans.
“Whatcha expect. I ain’t here for a massage.”
“I’m so outta here,” Jace backs out of my bed.
“Hold it,” I hold up my hands. “You both act like something’s going to happen here. It ain’t, so get rid of the Tally-Whacker, Robby, and stay here Jace. Nothing’s happening.”
“Tally-Whacker?” they both explode, and we are all laughing.
“I’m sick of being the big fag around here,” I complain. “If you are going to do it, go right ahead. Just count me out.”
They both look at each other as only two friends can, who have known each other all their lives and can never possibly be attracted to each other.
“Well, that’s settled. I’m going to sleep.” I lay back in the middle of the bed. Both sit there and then also lay down. I wake up with Jace’s leg on top of mine and Robby cuddled up next to me. Just like old times at the Watt’s. When we get to school, I draw Robby aside, once Jace goes to class.
“You’re treating me like a girlfriend, you know.” I accuse him.
“Well, I think you have a problem with jealousy. Last night you got mad at Mary for nothing. Then you thought I was having sex without you. You are not missing out, man.”
“What’s between Mary and me is exactly that, between just the two of us.”
“We were only poking fun at you. You can’t always be in-charge of everything and everyone.”
“Look who’s trying to be in-charge now.”
“Hey, you don’t know Jace like I do. He’s scared to death to have sex with a guy, probably girls, too. There’s nothing going on. If you’re going to spy, at least know what you’re seeing.”
“I wasn’t spyin.’ It just seemed so obvious. I can’t help myself. I thought we’d all do it.”
“You’re a perv.”
“You got me doin’ it.”
We laugh and leave it. Robby reminds me that I have to help him with Samhain.
A few days later, when Robby and Mary walk into my room, Dave pipes up.
“It’s Ricky and Lucy.”
“Shut up, fuck.”
Dave just grins, pleased to be on the giving end for once. Mary smiles and comes over to sit with me. Robby is left standing there. We all worry he may be so pissed he will not bring out a joint. He glares, and then sits in the window. He lights his joint and gives the impression he could give a fuck for what we think. Mary seldom smokes, so I decide to pass up the afternoon high. We are talking about school and how lame sports are. Later, Robby takes me outside and asks what I think I am doing.
“What? Just by talking with Mary?”
“You know what I mean, man.”
“Robby, I told you not to play the jealousy trip with me.”
“Then why do you make fun of me in front of my girlfriend?”
“I didn’t say anything. It’s Dave who made the remark.”
“Why don’t you get high with us? Why do you stay with Mary?”
“You’re paranoid, man. Nothing’s going on.”
“There better not be.”
I grab him and look him right in the eye. He finally looks away.
“Why are we fighting?”
“You don’t understand. I think she wants to dump me.”
“Well, at least you’re telling me what’s going on. I’ll make sure not to get in between you two.”
We walk upstairs together, and Robby takes out another joint. I am soon as high as all the others.
About three o’clock I hear steps running up the stairs. Figuring it is just another stoner, I do not look up to see who comes in.
“What are you doing, Tim?” Scott’s familiar voice rings out.
“Scott. Why are you here?”
“I came to see how you are, before practice.” Noticing what we were doing, ” I can’t believe you’re a stoner.”
“Fuck off, jock head,” Iggy threatens him.
I jump up and take him outside.
“At least you’re walking okay. Why aren’t you at the pool?”
I do not know what to say. My perpetual slouch makes it necessary to look up at him. All I see is arrogance in his expression. When I do not answer, he starts giving me a lecture on drugs. I cut him off.
“You’ll never understand, Scott. I tried to be like you guys, but you never accepted me.”
”What are you saying, that all that time last spring and summer when you taught me to believe in myself, it was all a lie?”
“That’s just it, Scott. It’s all about you. You never understood me.”
“I can’t believe I really loved you. Look at you.”
“I can’t believe you said you’d always love me.”
“Well, you abandoned us, Tim.”
“Scott, Scott. You moved on to Lydia. It’s taken you two months to figure out we’re no longer together.”
“I can’t believe you’re comparing us to my girlfriend.”
“I can’t believe you’ve forgotten what it was like.”
“Drugs have warped your mind, Tim. I love you, but it was never like that.”
I think about all the ups and downs we went through, the time he accused me of molesting Stu. He thinks of things in his own way. The truth is not as important as how he interprets it. It is clear to me, in my drug haze. There is no way to make him see it.
“Well, I guess I’m just a fag to you.” I want to add how much it hurt when he left me for Lydia. It sounds like whining, just like a fag. I say nothing more.
He stares at me and turns away, walking quickly out of the yard.
I am devastated, exposed and stripped of my pride. When I walk upstairs, everyone bursts into cheers. They think I kicked the jock-head’s ass. The music is turned up loud. I sit by myself, listening to Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused.’ Robert Plant’s lyrics hit me right where I’m quivering from the shock.
“Been Dazed and Confused for so long it’s not true.
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you.
Lots of people talkin’, few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below.
You hurt and abuse tellin’ all of your lies.
Run around sweet baby, Lord how you hypnotize.
Sweet little baby, I don’t know where you’ve been.”
FREDERIC, ERIC / MCCOY, TRAVIS / MILLER, JAKE / BATTEY, CARLOS / BATTEY, STEVEN / COLEMAN, JOSHUA / HINDLIN, JACOB
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group
Mary comes over and just sits with me. She is the only one who recognizes it: I just broke up with the first real love of my life. Robby comes over, too, but does not complain. She asks me what I am thinking, I tell her how it feels to know that we really broke up. I hate Scott at that moment. I take it as a sure sign it is over. I never hated anyone before, especially someone I loved. We just sit there. When the tears start, she is crying, too. Robby tells us to stop crying, which I do more out of embarrassment than relief. He gives me a hug, which Mary shares. When the gang leaves for Robby’s, I stay home. Sitting in my darkened window sill, I wish for a thunder and lightning storm to match my feelings. I need a downpour to cleanse me of regret. But it is already the dry season. I figure that means it is the high season. I know Scott will tell everyone on the team. I had not wanted to burn that bridge behind me. Scott will do me the favor. I have not been in the pool for a month, but I am still wearing my team suit. I take it off and put it away. It is definitely more comfortable without. Soon I hear footsteps coming up to my room. Jace appears carrying his Gibson SG guitar and a small practice amp. He has a big grin on his face.
“You need electric sounds to blast away the blues.”
We rock out that night until his fingers bleed and my voice cracks. He hides the guitar in my closet, strips off and jumps into my bed.
“Coming?” he says
“I hope,” I joke.