Monday was my first day back to school. While everyone else could skip every day, I had accumulated a massive backlog of homework and missed assignments in my classes. I saw the gang at Nutrition. They all pestered me to revive the ditch pad in my room. Jace was reluctant to risk his newly won privileges at the garage. Their desperation was in conflict with my academic future: friendship vs. homework. I made the easy choice. Getting stoned made it all seem logical. I never even thought about swim team. Instead of getting my head screwed back on, I opted to screw off.
Mary came looking for Robby after school was out. I wanted to chat about her background and to tell her about Tina.
“I gotta alotta Puerto Rican friends in New York,” I told 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 interrupted us.
“Just to practice my Spanish.”
“You don’t wanna go to her house. They got chickens.”
“Pollo. Cool, man.”
She looked embarrassed so we let it drop. Robby hung an arm around Mary. I’d forgotten how jealous he could be.
Next day at school, I ditched after second period. My vacation was extended. I even lied to Scott and Lydia about still being injured. They informed Coach. There was no one to check my story. My room was a disaster zone, with cigarette butts everywhere and marijuana roaches in all the ashtrays. I was out of money. No more trips to Sorrento’s. My friends quickly emptied the fridge of anything instantly edible. Being high constantly, I always seemed to have the munchies, but I wasn’t eating regular meals. Since my accident I had dropped from 155 to 135 pounds. My clothes hung on me. It made me look more like my new friends. I figured six months for my hair to grow out. I already had the expressions and attitude down. My new appearance and the de rigueur slouch let me fit in. I was a stoner now. I had rings under my eyes. As my hair grew out the blond bleached ends contrasted with the dark brown roots. One night while foraging for food in the kitchen, Susan was putting the dishes away.
“Tim,” she asked, “are you still suffering from your back injury?”
I straightened up slightly. “I’m okay, Susan. Is there anything to snack?”
“I stopped making you dinner since you weren’t getting home late from practice. Maybe you should eat with your dad and me from now on.”
“No. That’s cool. I’ll just make a sandwich.”
She looked at me like I was drooling or falling over. I beat a hasty retreat to my room. The gang had moved to Robby’s, having consumed all the joints he’d brought to my room. I looked in the bathroom mirror to see if I really looked as bad as Susan said. It was the lines under my eyes, I decided. Combing my hair forward, it fell to my eyebrows. Just another month or so for it to fall over my eyes. Passable. I swore I’d never cut my hair again. I went to Robby’s, leaving from my window and using the tree route for the first time since the accident. I pronounced myself recovered.
I was going to home room and the first two periods. School didn’t consider me truant. My teachers from third through final period had been told I was sick. They assumed I was still excused from school. I had it all covered. By mid-October, I had completed the transition from jock to stoner. My high school coach walked right by me in the morning, unaware I was his star athlete. He had no interest in obvious stoners. Even my consciousness had changed. Instead of oldies running in my brain, it was totally heavy metal: Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Hendrix and Deep Purple.
It affected how I walked, like an internal metronome. I watched the confident swagger of the straight kids and realized how arrogant I had seemed. Now I just floated, bouncing off walls and people. Everything was cool. My long hair covered my ears, where I always had a joint ready to pull out. As part of Robby’s gang, kids came up to me to buy weed almost every day. First and second periods were about deliveries, not learning. I barely missed my swim team friends, telling Scott and Lydia the doctor was keeping me out of practice. They called less frequently. I blamed them for not making the effort. I accepted that I had moved on to a new group of friends, much like constantly relocating in the military. At least I had high school to act out the drama. It was a call from Stu about the Halloween party that shook me up. He missed me, wanting to know if I could 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?”
“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 went back to the party, forgetting the pain I obviously caused him. Fuck ‘em.
As time moved faster in our golden haze, I was learning about everyone in Robby’s gang. Michael had been Robby’s best friend since first grade. He was dark and quiet, content to know what was going on and flow with the group. Dave and Jazz were best buddies in 9th grade, junior high stoners, stupid enough to cause trouble, but too young to suffer the consequences. Iggy was the truly dark one, with a perpetual scowl. He never approved of anything. While we were moving into Progressive Rock (Jeff Beck, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan) Iggy was 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 laughed at our pretensions of being real musicians, saying you didn’t need to know anything to be a rocker. He was a 50’s greaser in the 70’s, with a chunky build, a leather jacket and long, greased-backed hair. He looked like the only one of us who could win a fight. He also was the only one to spend time in juvie. Dawn was Jazz’s older sister. Although she liked to talk and didn’t mind being the butt of our sexist jokes, she kept pretty much to herself. The only other girl regular was Mary, Robby’s girlfriend. She had her own mind, speaking out against our stupid ideas, none of which were directed at her. After putting me off about my Latina girlfriend, she slowly came around, asking me about Tina and what it was like visiting her. When I tried explaining life in the Bronx, she burst into song from ‘West Side Story,’ “I like to live in A-mer-i-ca.”
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company / Boosey & Hawkes
I joined in, “Life is good in A-mer-i-ca,” to the amazement of the others, whose knowledge of pop music was limited to the Monkeys. Both of us had been forced to listen to our parents’ Broadway Musical albums for too many years. We even knew the spoken parts between lyrics.
“A real Ricky and Lucy act,” Robby sarcastically put us down.
“No, you’re Ricky,” I countered.
“Oh, Ricky, can I be in the show tonight?” Mary dead-panned.
“Stop it,” he complained, sending us into hysterics.
The others watched with open mouths, waiting to see if it was alright to laugh at Robby. He just glowered. I broke 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 was too much for the rest of them. Everyone, except Robby, was in hysterics. He was so mad, he stomped off. Mary and I chased after him. He climbed a tree and was soon flying from branch to branch. There was no way we could catch him. We both yelled at him that it was just a joke. Walking back to my room, Mary put her arm around my waist. When we walked in, we were greeted with cat-calls and whistles. Once they quieted down, we faced the night’s crisis: no weed without Robby. I sent them out my window, into the trees, to search him out. Thirty minutes later he was spotted. We chased after him, but he had no trouble staying ahead of us. Finally he climbed down and went in his room’s window, where he could have the last laugh. None of us cared, as soon he brought out the bong. It was bong hits all around.
“What are we doing for Halloween,” I asked.
“Smashing pumpkins and slashing tires,” Iggy looked 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 corrected himself.
“No, you’re the big babe, John,” Dawn countered, pinching his cherry red cheek, which made him blush more.
“Well, I got us invited to a party,” I announced.
“Well, whoop dee doo, we can come.” Robby remarked.
“Yeah, they said it was okay.”
“I hate parties. It’s just a bunch of soc’s who don’t know how to really party.’
“Yeah, pah-tay,” Iggy screamed, and the bong went round again.
“We’ve got special plans for Halloween,” Robby announced 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 les?” Dawn looked concerned.
“Sex will be just the smallest part of it. This Donna will blow your mind,” Robby kept up the suspense.
“Com’n Robby,” Dave whined. “Why do you always lead us on?
“’Cause you follow just like sheep.”
“Bah, bah,” Iggy bleated at Dave and Jazz.
“Remember,” Robby continued, “in my religion, Halloween’s real name is Samhain. It demands .. SACRIFICE.” He stared really hard at Dave and Jazz.
Everyone else laughed, as the two jumped.
“I guess we’ll not be doing a sacrifice at my swim team party.”
“Swim team?” Iggy mocked. “We’re not a bunch of kids. I ‘spose they’ll all wear costumes.”
“Yeah, that’s what it’s all about.”
“I’ll choose the costumes,” Robby stated, “and I’ll choose the robes for Samhain. Those not ready to follow, better put their lives in order.”
“Bah, bah,” Iggy bleated, startling Dave and Jazz again.
“It’s two weeks before All Saint’s Eve,” Robby intoned, “but in Wiccan, a week is ten days. When it is one Wiccan week away, the ceremony will begin. And no mewling to the priests,” he whirled to face Dave, who shrunk further into the corner. Ricky spun around, toward the door, where he put out the lights. He then reappeared 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 ordered, and everyone piled into the relative lightness of the outdoors. I wandered home, with Jace staying close to me.
“Can I stay the night?” he asked.
“’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 grinned his goofy smile that totally blew his stoner image. We got into bed quickly and he gave me a great massage, talking all the time about his dreams of having a band. I was so relaxed that it took me a minute to realize someone else was standing by the bed. Turning on the light, I saw Robby leering at us.
“What are you doing, boys?” he asked.
Jace started to jump out of the bed, until I pulled him back.
“He’s spending the night, Robby. That’s all.”
“Looked to me like you were going at it.”
“I give him back massages,” Jace stammered.
“Well, you seem primed for action,” I accused him by pointing to the obvious hard-on in his low-cut jeans.
“Whatcha expect. I ain’t here for a massage.”
“I’m so outta here,” Jace backed out of my bed.
“Hold it,” I held 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 exploded, and we were all laughing.
“I’m sick of being the big fag around here,” I complained. “If you are going to do it, go right ahead. Just count me out.”
They both looked at each other as only two friends can ,who’ve known each other all their lives and 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 sat there and then also lay down. I woke 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 got to school, I drew Robby aside, once Jace was gone.
“You’re treating me like your girlfriend, you know.” I accused 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 everybody.”
“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 couldn’t help myself. I thought we’d all do it.”
“You’re a perv.”
“You got me doin’ it.”
We laughed and left it. Robby reminded me that I had to help him with Samhain.
A few days later, when Robby and Mary walked into my room, and Dave piped up.
“It’s Ricky and Lucy.”
“Shut up, fuck.”
Dave just grinned, pleased to be on the giving end for once. Mary smiled and came over to sit with me. Robby was left standing there, and we all feared he may be so pissed he wouldn’t bring out a joint. He glared, and then sat in the window. He lit his joint and gave the impression he could give a fuck for what we thought. Mary seldom smoked, so I decided to pass up the afternoon high. We were talking about school and how lame sports were. Later, Robby took me outside and asked me what I thought I was 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 was Dave who made the remark.”
“Why didn’t you get high with us? Why did you stay with Mary?”
“You’re paranoid, man. Nothing’s going on.”
“There better not be.”
I grabbed him and looked him right in the eye. He finally looked 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 walked upstairs together, and Robby brought out another joint. I soon was as high as the others.
About three o’clock I heard steps running up the stairs. Figuring it was just another stoner, I didn’t look up to see who came in.
“What are you doing, Tim?” Scott’s familiar voice rang 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 threatened him.
I jumped up and took him outside.
“At least you’re walking okay. Why haven’t you been to the pool?”
I didn’t know what to say. My perpetual slouch made it necessary to look up at him. All I could see was arrogance in his expression. When I didn’t answer, he started 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 a lie?”
“That’s just it, Scott. It was 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’ve 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 thought about all the ups and downs we had gone through, the time he had accused me of molesting Stu. He thought of things in his own way. The truth was not as important as how he interpreted it. It was clear to me, in my drug haze. There was no way to make him see it.
“Well, I guess I’m just a fag to you.” I wanted to add how much it had hurt when he left me for Lydia. It sounded like whining, like a fag. I said nothing more.
He stared at me, turned away, walking quickly out of the yard.
I was devastated, exposed and stripped of my pride. When I walked upstairs, everyone burst into cheers. They thought I had kicked the jock-head out. The music was turned up loud. I sat by myself, listening to ‘Dazed and Confused’ by Zeppelin. Robert Plant’s lyrics hit me right where I was quivering from the shock.
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you.
Lots of people talkin’, few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below.
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 came over and just sat with me. She was the only one who recognized it. I had just broken up with the first real love of my life. Robby came over too but didn’t complain. She asked me what I was thinking, I told her how it felt to know that we were really broken up. I hated Scott at that moment. I took it as a sure sign it was over. I’d never hated anyone before, especially someone I had loved. We just sat there. When the tears started, she was crying, too. Robby told us to stop crying, which I did more out of embarrassment than relief. He gave me a hug, which Mary shared. When the gang left for Robby’s, I stayed home. Sitting in my darkened window sill, I wished for a thunder and lightning storm to match my feelings. I needed a downpour to cleanse me of regret, but it was already the dry season. I figured that must mean it was the high season. I knew Scott would tell everyone on the team. I hadn’t wanted to burn that bridge behind me. Scott would do me the favor. I hadn’t been in the pool in a month, but I was still wearing my team suit. I took it off and put it away. It was definitely more comfortable. Soon I heard footsteps coming up to my room. Jace appeared carrying his Gibson SG guitar and a small practice amp. He had a big grin on his face.
“You need electric sounds to blast away the blues.” We rocked out that night until his fingers bled and my voice cracked. He hid the guitar in my closet, stripped off and jumped into my bed.
“Coming?” he said
“I hope,” I joked.