“You just get off the phone?” Angela questions me.
“Yeah. I made two other calls.”
“Be careful about the toll calls. The moms keep track.”
“That’s why I need a job. I need to get my driver’s license.”
“For pizza delivery. You still need a car,” Angie is busting my chops.
“Maybe my mom will lend me her’s,” I say hopefully.
“Don’t worry. We’ll let you use our station wagon. You’re our brother,” Amy is the positive one.
Angie just looks disgusted. “Don’t expect us to drive you around and help.”
I just smile. The high from talking with Tommy is mellowed out by Anna and Hippie, teen mom and pop.
“My friends are pregnant.”
“Oh, no. What are they gonna do? They can’t get an abortion.” Angie jumps on it.
“Stop stressing. It’s all good. They’s already married. It’s good news. They even got two moms to help. Just like us.”
“Well, we ain’t pregnant and that ain’t changing.’
“Stop the single mom paranoia. I’m the ‘new kid in town.’ Maybe I’ll be the one who gits a girl pregnant.”
“You do and ya ain’t usin’ the car.” Typical over-reaction.
“Well, anyways, yer meetin’ them this Christmas. They’s comin’ to visit.”
“What’s the moms say ‘bout that? You gotta move back to the second floor if’n you start invitin’ people to stay.”
I keep laughing at their reactions as they come up with further restrictions on my sense of hospitality.
“They’s Mima and Pipa lives over in Harlan County. I convinced Hippie to introduce his new family to ‘em, so’s they stop prayin’ for ‘em all the time. They got no need ta stay here. Calm down.”
I fail to mention Tommy.
Trying to fall asleep, I can’t get Tommy out of my head. Jace slips under the covers with me, hoping I’m able to pump up a little wood. No such luck. He rolls over and ignores me. Maybe my fascination with Tommy has me reverting to pre-pubescent boy mode. My tendency to over-think things hasn’t gone away.
Soon the girls are yelling at me to get up so they can dress me for school. They must have done a good job because all day people come up to me to say hi and compliment me on the Friday coffee shop show, or the football game fight band or the choir performance. Word/gossip gets around quickly at Aims High. ‘Gator drags me to the gym and introduces me to his football coach, Red Ball. We ask him to be our bowling team coach. He laughs but agrees that anything that keeps his boys busy during off-season is a good thing. He promises to call the other coaches in the area to schedule competitions. He isn’t sure about girls partnering with the boys. He tells us to propose rules and regulations to govern the new sport. At lunch, ‘Gator’s boys introduce their choices for bowling partners, so there are four more girls sitting with us. We name it the ten pin table. The twins seem more comfortable, no longer the only girls with the jocks. I realize that they don’t have many friends. Maybe being a twin means you don’t need friends. I’m a good influence on them as it seems everybody in school is now my friend. ‘Popularity breeds contempt,’ I remember a future rock star saying.
After lunch ‘Gator takes us to meet with the marching band director. He heard about our performance at the State game. We ask if we can join the band in the stands as a ‘spirit’ component. We drop the name fight band as too violent-sounding. He agrees to place us next to the percussion section which will add rhythm to our rock songs. He also will have a mic there for vocals and amps for our guitars.
After final bell we meet Miss Hull at the band room. She is mildly upset we had let the football players ruin our performance on Friday night. I explain how we chose songs to get the college kids to think about how things are different from the sixties. I think she was a little offended that we were challenging the prevailing wisdom of her generation. We discuss the songs we plan for the football game spirit band. The lyrics to ‘Search and Destroy’ grab her attention.
We agree it is too satanic for a school event. She compliments us on the other songs and for being so creative. I am adjusting to increased adult supervision, remembering how Mike Sr. had told me that the reason Dade County locked me up was because I refused to be supervised.
Mom picks me up to go for my driver’s license. I take the written exam and barely pass. The road tester tells Mom I need more practice, but he passes me anyway. The moms are pleased that the twins are willing to share their car. I have to promise that my job will not interfere with my schoolwork. The manager at the Pizza Pit is surprised I got my license so quickly. He tells me to come back the next day, so he can check my car and auto insurance.
Monday’s mail has a large envelope from Jay. He sent a Little House of the Prairie script. It isn’t the school dance episode but the holiday show, ‘A Plum Creek Christmas.’ I figure I can play Christmas carols and not have to act. Mrs. McCarthy is pleased I obtained a script. She asks the whole class if we want to do the show at Christmas assembly in December. We spend the rest of the period discussing the roles and who will play whom. I miss Mr. Clark, but it isn’t Shakespeare. That night I get around to actually reading the script as part of my homework. The other students have seen the episode which ran Christmas 1974. It is insanely insipid, cloying and cutesy. My evil brain starts plotting updates to involve the audience with comic relief. The pony, Bunny, is my first inspiration, remembering the donkey role in Midsummer’s Night Dream. Bunny can become a comic foil, shifting loyalty at a change of the breeze. More than just a little pony prancing is written into the director’s notes. I warn myself not to take too much for granted, as Mrs. McCarthy may have someone else in mind as director.
“Gator keeps up his bromancing of me. I wonder if his posse is as interested. I think they gladly follow his lead and enjoy wherever he takes them. Halloween is Friday. The boys have a football game that night and afterward is a barn party, an Iowa tradition that promises to ‘blow my socks off.” The twins and I are anxious to try out our performance of fight songs for the ‘spirit’ band. We also practice the Eagles’ ‘New Kid in Town.’ My new-found popularity matches the irony of the song’s lyrics.
Tuesday night is my first shift as delivery boy for the Pizza Pit. Amy insists she accompany me on my rounds, as navigator. I’m ‘new to Ames’ and barely know my way home, let alone all the street names. The manager checks the car for reliability and insurance validity.
“This yer girlfriend, gonna ride along?” he asks.
“No. I’m his sister. I’m helpin’ out,” Amy speaks up.
“Well, good way to git tips is for her to take the pie to the door.”
“I’m jist the navigator.”
“Well, jist sayin’…”
“’S’kay. I need to work on my charm.” I’m not worried, just annoyed. He is trying to hit on Amy, who’s oblivious.
I work the 5pm to 7pm shift, dinner hours. The moms tell me I need to be home for homework. Wednesday night is choir practice. I won’t get rich but at least I’ll have pocket-money. Dad will be so proud.
“What’s a barn party?” I quiz Amy as we do our deliveries.
“There’s plenty of abandoned barns out in the country. Everyone hangs out at one, drinking and doing drugs until the girls will put out.” Amy is blunt.
“No choir girls, I’m guessin’.”
“Ya got that right.”
“I’ll pass on it then.”
“’Gator’s feelin’s may be hurt,” she needles me.
“He’ll git over it.”
“Ya don’t wanna get laid?”
A sore subject, my butt reminds me.
“Naw. I’s off sex fer awhile.”
She gives me a funny look. “Being true to yer Florida girlfriend?”
“Not that. We’re not exclusive. Still getting’ over my trip here.”
“Did something terrible happen?” She drops the country accent.
“Kinda,” I’m not ready to talk about being raped.
She looks at me. When I don’t say any more, “Well, whenever you wanna talk about it, I’m here for you.”
I stop the car and give her a tight hug. It feels good. Sisters rule.
The week goes by quickly. Choir practice is weird, with Jace floating around the church, checking everything out like he owns the place. With my lower tenor voice as a foundation, the girls harmonize perfectly. We overwhelm the regular members. I worry they will resent our dominating the hymns. The choir master has us stand separately, singing in rounds, so we aren’t competing with the rest of the choir. It’s fun.
“Gator is worked up about the football game. The team is undefeated, but he’s not taking anything for granted. We sit with the band. After warm ups, the team is in the locker room for the coach’s pep talk. When they burst onto the field, we play Queen’s ‘We are the Champions,” getting everyone pumped up.
Rock music is new to football. The mic’d vocals and amp’d guitars are loud and rocking. We sing the national anthem; when I throw in the Hendrix psychedelic riffs it blows everyone away.
The crowd is into it. Right from the kickoff, ‘Gator and the boys are pumped. The defense is on the field at first. The visitors are knocked back on every play. On third and long, ‘Gator blitzes the quarterback as he drops back to pass, smothering him for a big loss.
The girls and I are ready, jumping to the chorus of ‘Dirty Deeds.’ As we repeat the simple line, the crowd gets into it, singing along,
“Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.”
‘Gator jumps up and does a little war dance in front of the prone quarterback. He instantly draws a fifteen-yard penalty for taunting.
The girls and I instantly change to the intro of ‘We are the Champions.”
“I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through
(And we mean to go on and on and on and on)
We are the champions my friends
And we’ll keep on fightin’ till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions
Of the world”
The whole stands are singing along now. ‘Gator goes from dejected to exultant. The opposing team still has to punt the ball away. Again ‘Gator blitzes. The kicker is so rattled, he misses the ball which bounces once and is picked up by ‘Gator who romps down the field for a touchdown. We restart the ‘Champions’ as he races into the end zone. He runs off the field, holding the ball high over his head, to the cheers of the crowd. ‘Gator lines up with the special teams for the kickoff. We play ‘Search and Destroy,’
As the ball flies over the heads of the players on the field, ‘Gator steamrolls the opposing players in his way. The return man barely has time to catch the ball before he’s crunched with a crushing tackle. The ball dribbles out of his hands. ‘Gator being Johnny-on-the-spot, picks up the fumble and has his second touchdown within five seconds of the first one. The game proceeds from there, with Aims High leading 35-0 at half-time. The visitors change quarterbacks to start the second half. We play ‘New Kid in Town,’ with the stands all pointing and laughing at the hapless second-stringer. I notice a few jokers pointing at me during the song.
The truth hurts – not really. The game remains a rout. As the teams run off the field, we play ‘Champions’ for a final time. We wait for ‘Gator and his crew outside the gym. When he comes out, he is surrounded by a group of muscular college students, his friends from the State team. Several adults try to speak with ‘Gator, but his college friends tell them to get lost. They are evidently college recruiters.
“Ferget it,” one of the State players tells them. “He’s coming to State next year.”
I dub his life, ‘’Gator-World.’ Even the college students call him ‘Gator. When he sees us waiting for him, a big smile breaks out. He rushes over.
“Those songs really rocked my world. See my two touchdowns?” he crows.
“Oh, we missed those,” I kid him.
“No way,” as he punches my arm.
“Oh, ‘Gator, you’re so great,” the girls get into mocking him. Real friends never hesitate to knock you down a notch.
He looks at them, realizing we’re being sarcastic. One notch is enough, as he just laughs at himself. “Well, it was the whole team, not just me. We crushed ‘em.”
All three of us punch him on his bulging biceps.
“Pizza,” he announces. I inwardly groan, remembering I just got off work a few hours ago.
“Ya already did yer shift,” the boss complains, as we pile into the Pit.
“I’m a customer, this time,” I clarify. “We’s comin’ from the football game.”
‘Gator flexes. “Do we look like losers?”
“What’s ya want. It’s on the house,” the boss proves himself human. I should warn him about football players and free pizza. I figure he must know.
My respect goes out the window when he greets Amy, “How ya doin,’ darlin’?’”
We put away four pizzas in no time. There’s no offer of seconds. We get down to business about the Halloween night’s festivities. It’s too late for trick or treating, but the barn party beckons.
“We ain’t going to a ‘barn party,’” the twins announce. “We have reputations to maintain.”
“Well, I ain’t goin’ neither,” I decide.
“Ya gots ta go,” ‘Gator laments. “Bring guitars, so as y’all kin play at the party.”
“They got power at this abandoned barn?”
“Jist play acoustic. We’ll all sit around and sing ‘Kumbaya.’”
I’m impressed that ‘Gator has some musical knowledge, if not discerning taste. The Seekers? Pete Seeger? Joan Baez?
We drive to the Hyland house to pick up guitars and let the moms know where we’re going. They immediately prescribe a midnight curfew which we refuse to acknowledge. We’ll have to leave as soon as we get there. They insist we take the station wagon, instead of riding in the boys’ pickups. I ride with ‘Gator until he picks up his comfort-girl/cheerleader. We drive all over Ames picking up each of his posse member’s girlfriends, before heading out-of-town to the mysterious barn location. Soon we’re driving on dirt roads, off the main highway. Twenty minutes later we spot the party, lit up by a circle of pickups with their headlights on. The sound of Boston is blaring from the pickups’ radios.
Stadium rock meant for sitting on your ass and slowly waving your hair around – long guitar solos played at a stately pace. I hate it. Good old country will be an improvement. Where’s Willie Nelson? Probably out behind the barn, getting stoned.
Everyone goes in different directions once we park. The girls grab me by each arm. It’s their first barn party. The chaos is infectious, if not the sounds. People we barely know, run up to us, offering beer and/or joints. My forsaken prior life beckons. I remain a protector of the girls, who recoil at the offerings of demon alcohol and reefer madness. We find a group of girls who welcome additional abstainers.
“Go ahead, Andy. I know yer chompin’ at the bit to at least have a beer.”
“Y’all sure you’ll be alright with the other girls.”
“Don’tcha worry ‘bout us. We’ve bin spurnin’ these burnouts fer years.”
I nervously laugh but figure I can probably have a beer without ruining my reputation, ‘the new kid in town.’
I wander to the nearest group of guys, with a few girls attached to their boyfriends’ hips.
“Ya wanna, beer, Andy?” someone asks.
“Sure, thanks,” as he hands me a PBR tall boy.
“Shotgun, shotgun,” the cry goes up. I let him punch a hole in the bottom of the can with a church key. Lifting the can up-side-down to my mouth, I popped the tab and the whole can drains down my throat. I choke and the remainder soaks my shirt. In ten seconds I’m high.
“Woo-ey,” I yell, as everyone slaps me on the back. I wander from group to group with similar downing of beers. Finally, ‘Gator comes up to me, his girlfriend on his hip, and looks me in the eye, “You’re wasted.”
“Damn straight, mate,” I rhyme, putting my arm around his shoulder. He beams at everyone, with both his girlfriend and new best friend wrapped around him. We stumble from group to group, partaking of excessive amounts of beer. Finally, we run into the girl group, the twins take one look at me. “You’re wasted,” they tear me away from ‘Gator. We both think it’s hilarious.
“Where’s them guitars?” ‘Gator asks. “I’s sick of lame rock. Where is Boston anyway?”
I stand there swaying, with Amy holding me up. Angie runs off to get the guitars from their car. I plop down and once we start playing, everyone forms a circle. ‘Gator turns off the horrid radio music. I remember I want to hear country music and start playing the Dead’s ‘Truckin.’
I play a long intro, getting everyone relaxed into a country mood before kicking in the vocals at a faster pace. The twins sing the ‘Truckin’ chorus, getting everyone to join in. Once we finish, ‘Gator announces we need pot to be in a Dead Head mood. He stares at a long hair who laughs and pulls out a joint, that goes around the circle. I play ‘One Toke over the Line.”
I instantly miss Tommy’s fractured ‘who do you love?’ and ‘I sail away’, but the twins hit it perfectly. No need for pinching. Someone holds the joint for me as the twins sing, so I get a no-hands hit. Next ‘Gator comes over and gives me a shotgun hit. I swear our lips almost touch. I jump up, exhale, and play the low notes of ‘Spirit in the Sky.’
Jumping around, my head whirls from being totally high for the first time since Cocoa Beach. When was that? The girls jump up, more to keep me from stumbling than from their own exuberance. The circle breaks up as we race from group to group. Norman Greenbaum in Iowa – imagine that. Next I return to the Dead, with ‘Friend of the Devil,’ my reaction to being with so many drunk and stoned friends.
The girls follow me around. I’m too stoned to notice I’m overdoing it, until suddenly I want them to notice. After ‘Devil,’ I whisper ‘Bobby McGee’, making them smile.
We just sing the chorus, “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Amy sings “He’s looking for that home and I hope he finds it.” It’s too much for my overloaded stoned mind. I sit down hard, with tears streaming down my face. The girls stop playing and hug me. They whisper that I’ve found my home, which causes another outburst. My wimpy self exposes itself. ‘Gator and the boys are stunned as I choke. ‘Gator instinctively knows what to do and joins the girls around me. His strength gets me to finish the song:
“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, that’s all that Bobby left me, yeah,
But feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
Hey, feeling good was good enough for me, hmm hmm,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.
La la la, la la la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la la la Bobby McGee.
La la la la la, la la la la la
La la la la la, Bobby McGee, la.
La La la, la la la la la la,
La La la la la la la la la, hey now Bobby now Bobby McGee yeah.
Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na na na na
Hey now Bobby now, Bobby McGee, yeah.
Lord, I’m calling my lover, calling my man,
I said I’m calling my lover just the best I can,
C’mon, where is Bobby now, where is Bobby McGee, yeah,
Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lord
Hey, hey, hey, Bobby McGee, Lord!
Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy Lord
Hey, hey, hey, Bobby McGee. “
FOSTER, FRED L / KRISTOFFERSON, KRIS
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
I finally look up to see fifty people standing around us, all singing the final stanza. I feel good but chagrined that I probably have ruined the barn party.
After that song, everyone leaves. ‘Gator leads me to the twins’ station wagon. The monster of the gridiron that evening is my gentle giant after midnight. Angie drives as the three of us sit together on the front bench seat, me in the middle, riding pussy. I feel ashamed but glad.
“That’s the end of partying for you, boy,” Angie proclaims. “That pot knocked you for a loop.”
“Did I embarrass myself a bit,” I murmur.
“A bit? I’d say a bit more than that,” Angie rejoins.
“I thought it was sweet,” Amy defends me. “I never seen a boy cry before. At least not since kindergarten.”
“That’s me, the five year-old,” I sniff.
“Ah, Andy. It’s okay. Y’know yer too damn lovable.”
“But maybe your heavy metal rep suffered a serious blow,” Angie laughs.
We all laugh and I feel better. I start singing ‘Crimson and Clover,”
We all sing it bouncing along the dirt road. Both girls hug me. Unlike Hippie, Angie doesn’t run off the road into the barren corn fields. Halloween is over. It’s all Saints Day.
It is two o’clock when we get to the Hyland house. The moms are both sitting up, ready to pounce on the curfew violation. They instantly know I’m drunk: beer smell – a dead giveaway. The fact that both girls did not indulge, saves all of us. The moms appear to have lower standards for boys. We sit around the kitchen table, relating the day’s and night’s adventures.
“You played at the football game and also at a barn party? What’s this need to perform at a dime’s notice?” Mom asks.
“It’s Andy,” Angie accuses me. “He needs too much attention. He’s a performance junkie. Then, when he’s gets everyone’s attention, he breaks down in tears, making all those nasty metal heads love him. It’s disgusting.”
“People can’t help themselves for wanting to be with him,” Amy explains “It was the line, “He’s looking for that home and I hope he finds it,” that set him off.” He needs us, Moms.”
Molly puts on her shrink cap, “Remember that he had a nervous breakdown when he arrived here. It wasn’t just from a hard bus ride.”
“Oh, Mom. He told me terrible things happened before he got on the bus.”
Hey, I’m right here, I thought. My little life’s not that important.
Molly turns to me. “I’m glad you’re able to share your troubles, Andy. That you trust us is very important. Sometimes a shrink can help bring out what troubles us, but family can also be effective. When you’re ready to share, remember we all love you. Nothing will change that.”
Maybe being gang raped as a truck-stop prostitute may be an exception to that acceptance. Being stoned doesn’t help the discussion. We soon go to bed. It’s four o’clock.
“Good night, Jim Bob,” the girls call out from their room.
I sniff again and gulp, “G’night.”
Halloweens tend to wear me out.