Category Archives: About Friends

#TBT: I-85 Take Me Home To The Place I Belong!

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It all started with a simple high school baseball game.

I originally posted this back in April 2012. I had lunch with Robby not long ago and thought it’d be a good time for a rerun.

This post is the direct result of a memory jog brought on by reading about some random high school baseball playoff. Looking at the box score of a couple of schools I’ve never heard of took me back to one of the most confusing nights of my life that also just happened to involve a high school playoff game . . . sort of.

As Kid Rock so eloquently puts it, “It was 1989 (technically, 1990), my thoughts were short, my hair was long . . . ” My alma mater, Laurens District 55 High School, was playing for the State 4A Baseball Championship against Lancaster High School. My long-time best friend, Robby, asked me to go to the first of the three game series with him and we watched the Green and Gold dismantle the Bruins at Laurens’ stadium. The second game was the next night in Lancaster and Robby asked me to go to that one as well.

At that point, Robby and I managed to maintain what was left of our grade-school spanning friendship. He hadn’t been home from his freshman year at college long  when the playoffs in question started. He’d gone off to Clemson University while I had chosen a girl over my education and stayed home — which is another story for another time — and gone to Greenville Tech. (Spoiler alert: I came to my senses and rectified that situation in the fall of ’90.) So we agreed to meet at his house the next night about 4 and make the three hour drive to Lancaster in time for the game.

Now if you look at the relative positions of Lancaster High School and our home town of Gray Court on a map of South Carolina, you’ll probably start to wonder how in the world it can take three hours to make such a seemingly short trip. The answer — as an old man once told me — is simple, you can’t get there from here. What I mean is, then as now, NO road worth driving connects Gray Court and Lancaster. What’s more, you never ACTUALLY reach a town in the course of the entire trip there. You always “head towards” a town but make a turn before you get to the town limits. For example, in the first leg of the trip, we “headed towards” Union, but turned before we got there in order to “head towards” Chester. The upshot of it all is what looks like it should take 45 minutes to an hour of hard driving takes 3 or more hours of winding country roads through one of the most desolate areas of my home state.

Our chariot for the evening’s events. Robby’s looked almost exactly like this one.

We made it to the game without a hitch, riding in Robby’s high school graduation present – a frost white 1989 Chevy Beretta. It was a beautiful day full of  bright spring sunshine. Once there, we watched as Laurens was handed its hind-quarters on a silver platter by a pitcher named “Pep” Harris who would eventually play for the Cleveland Indians and the California Angels. The boy was “throwing bb’s” as the baseball expression goes and he made our visiting team look sickly and anemic, which future major league pitchers often do to their high school competition. I got to shake his hand before Robby and I packed up and headed home.

Here’s where the fun began.

See, this was in my younger and less responsible days when I preferred the company of my dear uncles James Beam and Jonathan Daniels over lesser forms of entertainment. Robby shared my love of the “family”, though his preferences ran more towards Messrs. Bartles and James. In any event, we had brought along several “family members” on this particular adventure and by the time the sun went down, most of those dearly beloveds had gone on to a new place of residence. In short, we were a bit less coordinated for our trip home than we’d be on our trip out.

We did fine until we were “headed towards” Chester. Then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear even now, we went UNDER a bridge that we were supposed to go OVER. That would have been trouble enough, but what with our relative lack of thought processing compounded by a joyous rendition of the ENTIRE AC/DC discography played on one of the first in-dash CD players I’d ever seen, we did not notice our mistake for nearly an hour.

When we realized we should have long since reached Union, we started looking for road signs. We were on a two lane road in the middle of the boondocks. Road signs were at a premium. Now two 19 year old guys are not lost so long as there is gas in the tank; they are merely taking the scenic route, so we weren’t worried. The fuzzy effects of our erstwhile uncles had worn off so we were in full possession of our outstanding senses of direction. We reasoned that “home” was to our left, so the very next intersection we found, we turned left. After spending twenty minutes on that road, we figured we must not have turned far enough left so at the next crossroads, we hung another left.

We started to feel this way after midnight.

After twenty more minutes of driving through scrub pine and cotton in the desolate northern borderlands of South Carolina, we came to another crossroads. At that point, a glance at the fuel gauge told the two of us we were dangerously close to getting lost. Unfortunately, we had not the foggiest idea where we were since this was well before a future POTUS Bill Clinton opened up the GPS system for civilian use. I hate to admit it, but we resorted to flipping a coin. The coin chose “right turn” and five minutes later we were at the chain link locked gate of an abandoned cotton mill. After throwing that particular quarter over the aforementioned gate, we headed back the way we came on what amounted to a left hand turn.

About ten minutes later, our luck changed somewhat. After two and a half hours of roaming around aimlessly in the dark, we saw our first road sign. It read “Charlotte 35 miles.” Somehow, we had managed to wander to within 35 miles of the largest city in North Carolina. We were no less than 270 degrees in the wrong direction. Undeterred, we now had knowledge, somewhat anyway, of our position. We still needed to keep going left. At the next intersection, we did. Twenty minutes later, we came to an intersection with a sign pointing off to the right reading “Charlotte 45” above some other places I’d never heard of and I’ve lived in this state all my life.

Now at that point, Robby — ever the stubborn optimist — wanted to turn left again. One glance at the dash, however, told me we were now SERIOUSLY close to being lost so I said, “Temp, let’s go to Charlotte.”

Click to enlarge!

He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “Why do you want to go to Charlotte? We need to get home.”

I replied, “I KNOW. That’s why I think we should go to Charlotte.”

He said, “Why?” I asked, “Do you know where we are?” He shook his head then said, “But what good will it do to go to Charlotte? That’s even further from home.”

Finally, exasperated, hungry, tired, and my throat sore from imitating Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I said, “I KNOW THAT DAMMIT, BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW THE HELL TO GET HOME FROM CHARLOTTE!!!!”

We turned right and headed towards Charlotte.

Along the way, about ten minutes later, we crossed a road with a sign reading “SC 92”. Before I could say anything, Robby had already slammed on the brakes and did a half doughnut turn onto that road. Two hours and a seedy gas station stop later and we were home because Robby knew what I did . . . SC 92 dead-ends onto SC 14 and SC 14 is also Main Street of Gray Court.

So the moral of the story? Don’t hang out with your “uncles” then try to drive . . . or navigate either for that matter, but if you do and you end up on the backside of nowhere, head for Charlotte because I-85’ll take you to I-385 and I-385’ll get you to Gray Court where you can stop at Mama’s and have her call me and I’ll come and try to get you home.

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

Of Aiding and Abetting

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Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.

It might surprise people who know me and those who follow this blog to learn that I am an accessory before the fact to premeditated murder. The case never came to trial; in fact, no arrests have ever been made, but lately, to quote Eminem, “I’ve been cleaning out my closet” and the guilt I’ve toted over this incident in my life — in my youth (not an excuse, just time frame) — has grown heavier over time. Writing about this unhappy episode isn’t going to change anything. It won’t erase my part in a sad story. In fact, I don’t know what is behind the overwhelming compulsion to preempt my usual World War I post to air out this particular load of dirty laundry. I just know it’s time I told my part.

Anyone now expecting sordid details, copious finger-pointing, and salacious name naming is going to be sorely disappointed. I will name no names but my own. The guilt others feel, if any, is theirs alone to continue hiding or expose to the world. To my knowledge, less than ten, maybe fifteen, people know any of this story. Again, as far as I know, only about five know the entire tale and I’m not one of them.

I was one of the few members of my circle of friends to have a job during high school. The majority of my closest associates relied on regular, sizable handouts from upper middle class parents for spending money, gas money, and any other teen essentials. Daddy provided me with a car and when I wrecked it, he bought me another one. Mama paid my auto insurance and kept a roof over my head. If I wanted to party, date, or in any other way raise Hell, the funds to do so were up to me to obtain so I went to work the week after I turned 15 and I worked as hard as I could for the next twenty-five years until my deteriorating mental health landed me on government disability.

Late in my senior year of high school, I attended a huge bash at the spacious and beautiful ranch of one of my inner circle of friends. Alcohol flowed freely, but I consumed precious little because I was in a black mood. I had begun a downward spiral that would take two decades to land me in Carolina Behavioral Center, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was still operating under the assumption I was a prickly, hard-to-like asshat.

In any event, one of my comrades in arms for most of my life showed up at this party with his flavor of the month. After a few visits to the keg and a shot or two from the pickup truck tailgate bar, he and said girl disappeared, as had several couples during the night, to “explore” the ranch grounds. They eventually found their way to the hay barn and proceeded to give literal meaning to “a roll in the hay.” When I saw them next, a couple of hours later, they were both wearing looks of deep chagrin . . . not horror, not disgust, and not worry . . . they just looked chagrined. Upon a conversational investigation, I ascertained during the aforementioned hay roll, their preferred barrier method of contraception had suffered a catastrophic failure and they worried about the ramifications of this potential disaster. A couple of hours after this revelation, I left the party and by morning had forgotten all about their quandary.

My selective amnesia continued for approximately six weeks until the phone rang unusually early on a Saturday morning. My friend was on the other end of the line, “Wham,” he said, “Could you come over please, I need some help.” I’ve made it my policy throughout my life to go whenever and wherever any of my friends call. This willingness to demonstrate my loyalty has caused me no small amount of suffering through the years, and I’ve seldom encountered any like-minded reciprocity from those I have helped, even those I’ve helped greatly, but I can only control my behavior. What others do is between them and their conscience.

I arrived at my friend’s home a short time to find him still lying in bed wearing a perfectly haggard look on top of his t-shirt and sweatpants. He got straight to the point, saying, “Wham, I need to borrow some money.” Now you know the purpose for that seemingly random paragraph about my work history above. I laughed a bit and replied, “Why don’t you ask your dad or grandpa? They can give you a whole lot more than me and you won’t have to pay them back!” He looked at me and simply said, “I’m trying not to involve my parents.” I nodded. So, he’d gotten a speeding ticket or some such and didn’t want to catch Hell and endure the inevitable grilling lecture that would surely accompany a bail-out.

So I asked, “Okay, how much is the ticket and how fast were you going?” He looked away and shook his head, “It’s not a ticket, Wham. It’s something else.” I found that odd, but — you know — loyalty. I said, “Well, okay. How much do you need then?” He then looked me in the face and said, “$247.00” I know my face blanched because that’s what it always does when I’m overcome with some emotions. See, I’d had conversations with other friends and acquaintances about the high cost of living, and one particular item came up a few times and it always cost $247.00. He went to speak, but I put up my hand.

He fell silent and I pulled out my wallet — I didn’t carry a man-purse back then — and pulled out twelve twenty-dollar bills and a ten. It was basically my entire week’s pay with a little overtime. I folded it and handed it to him as he took it, I said, “I don’t want to hear anything else. Don’t bother saying anything. I don’t want to know anymore than I do right now. Never speak to me about this again, don’t bother trying to pay me back, but don’t you dare come to me if you ever have this ‘problem’ again.” He nodded his thanks and I left with a sick stomach knowing I’d just become an accessory to murder — premeditated murder.

I don’t know other people’s politics or views on what I paid for. I know — if statistics are to be trusted (ha,ha) — probably half of you think I did nothing wrong. In some other cases, I’d be happy to agree with you, but not this one. This was a healthy mother and father with no genetic issues. No life was on the line. No one was in any danger . . . except the danger of scandal. To follow through with this would just have been “inconvenient” and might have “shut some doors” in the future. Both were headed for college, after all. Never mind this “problem” could have been the answer to some infertile couple’s prayers and dreams. This is the type of adoptibility social workers and agencies dream of.

The scandal though. The gossip. The “inconvenience” of the matter. Nine months are too long to hide and people were bound to find out. After all, who were they hurting? This was the late 1980’s, not the 1950’s. They weren’t interested in marrying each other, which — and don’t lose the irony — my friend’s parents did years earlier when they had the same “problem.” I happened to be with him the day he found his birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license and did some quick math . . . it wasn’t pretty. As far as I know, the two of them only went on one more “date.” No one was the wiser and no one seemed bothered at all. To this day, if it bothers him or her, they’ve done masterful jobs at hiding it.

It’s bothered me for years though, and even though I know it is theologically untenable, I can’t help but wonder when I’m at my lowest points if my part in such a sin — yes, SIN, S.I.N. damn it all, call a spade a spade for God’s sake, right is right and wrong is wrong whether you’re an atheist, Buddhist, agnostic, or Hindu– has something to do with why I don’t have children today. Rationally, I know it doesn’t work that way, but sometimes I have a hard time being rational.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

 

He’s A Keeper

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Budweiser Long Neck

The Swiss Army Knife of beverage containers.

While we were fishing when we were both much younger, Daddy advised me whenever I go to a bar, ALWAYS order a Budweiser Long Neck; when I pointed out to him that I despise the taste of beer of any kind he just said, “Then have them bring it unopened, but always have one.” It’s little gems of wisdom like this one that have convinced me over the years I was sired by a genius.

Anyway, a good friend of Budge and me is getting married Saturday. Budge is arranging her flowers and I did the rehearsal dinner slide show as our wedding presents. Sometimes talent is better than money and a lot more useful. Both of us treasure this little lady a great deal. Budge tells me her beau is just as good a person as “Sylvia” is though I’ve never met him. I think I’m going to like him though. For my purposes, let’s call him “Mickey.”

Tuesday night, Mickey had Sylvia get dressed up and took her to their favorite little sushi spot for a romantic final date before marriage. Now, just as an aside from this 20 year man, NEVER stop dating even once you’re married, but I digress. So the two of them ventured out to a cute little sushi place in downtown Greenville for the $2.00 Tuesday Sushi Special. As another aside, I don’t know that I would eat any raw fish, much less DISCOUNT raw fish, but again, I digress.

The two of them had settled into their comfy corner booth and begun the process of peering lovingly into each others’ eyes as only two people destined for each other can do when the quiet romantic magic of the evening shattered with the arrival at a nearby table of another couple. For my purposes, let’s call them “Thug-boy” and “Debbie” (as in “Debbie Does .  .  .  ., well, you know). Debbie wore a stunningly short skirt complemented by a scoop-neck blouse which amply advertised some local plastic surgeon’s skill with a scalpel. Thug-boy chose a tastefully put together ensemble of wifebeater, sateen basketball shorts worn fashionably low slung to show off his Underoos, and ridiculously expensive athletic shoes in a dazzling color scheme. He also chose to accessorize his outfit with the ubiquitous bane of our civilization — a large cell phone, into which he was talking . . . non-stop . . . and obnoxiously loudly.

Rude table neighbors are de rigueur these days so just the talking probably wouldn’t have triggered any response from anyone just because it’s so expected. Unfortunately, Thug-boy did not possess the gift of a large and varied vocabulary and the bulk of his stentorian conversation with persons unknown primarily consisted of repeated violations of the Third Commandment and crass colloquial commentary on coital habits of someone and a female parent. Now this is still the South and even though some things have changed a great deal, loudly cussing — especially using those two particularly vulgar epithets — in public and in front of ladies is still generally frowned upon and poor Debbie noticed most of her fellow patrons were frowning.

Once Debbie realized her beloved’s behavior wasn’t just embarrassing her to the point of wanting to slide under the table, but was also causing tremendous discomfort throughout the establishment, she made the chivalrous but ultimately doomed decision to attempt to curb her “boo’thang’s” conversation. In the meek way common to women who accompany boys like Thug-boy, she asked him if he could please tone down the outbursts. Apparently, the young man took umbrage with his hollaback girl and proceeded to announce to her and everyone else in a ten-mile radius his intention to talk and cuss as loudly as he wished because, “I got twice as much money as these **f-bomb deleted** people do.”

At that point, Mickey, who has a sharp wit replied in a normal tone, “But apparently not nearly enough to buy class.” Debbie apparently overheard Mickey’s remark because she turned to Sylvia and tearfully apologized for Thug-boy’s unconscionable behavior. Sylvia graciously replied, as only a real Southern girl can, “Honey, don’t feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for you. You have to put up with him.” It seems this remark managed to penetrate Thug-boy’s egocentric haze because he took his phone down from his ear, stood up abruptly, turned to Mickey and in a tone and diction straight out of some misogynistic gangsta rap song said, “Dude, you best check dat fat, moufy’, ugly, **expletive comparison to female dog deleted ** ‘fore somepin’ bad happen!”

Folks, Sylvia is precious, that’s the only word I can use to describe her that does her justice and every Southern soul out there knows just what I mean. In all honesty she has fought the Battle of the Bulge most of her life and while, to quote Meghan Trainor, “it’s pretty clear [she] ain’t no size two” she has been victorious, is quite shapely, very fit and healthy, and, to further draw from Miss Meghan Sylvia can “still shake it, shake it like [she’s] supposed to do.” Well, Thug-boy’s words obviously hurt and that’s where the night turned from awkward to surreal.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mickey is not a violent man. He’s not a particularly large man either. He watches football; he plays a little golf on the weekends. What he IS, however, is a MAN and more specifically, a SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN and folks, ain’t NO self-respecting son of the south gonna let so heinous an insult towards his soon-to-be bride pass unchallenged. Faster than thought, faster than he later admitted he thought possible, Mickey levitated from his seat and shoved Thug-boy’s table into the jerk’s stomach. At that point, Debbie tearfully vanished out the door and from our story.

Say it again! I DARE you! I double DARE you!!

Say it again! I DARE you! I double DARE you!!

Now let’s pause just a moment. You remember Daddy’s advice to me about the long neck Bud bottle? Well, apparently, Mickey’s daddy gave him the SAME advice, and here’s why — the neck of a long neck beer bottle fits very comfortably into one’s hand and gives a really good grip on the bottle which enables one to swing said bottle with a great deal of velocity and force into the face of or, alternately, upside the head of various jerks, boors, and, in this case, assholes. Also, REAL beer bottles — as opposed to the ones in movies — don’t shatter easily and when they do it’s simply time to switch from blunt force trauma to slicing and dicing.

Getting back to the action, Mickey stood up shoving the table with his left hand while his right hand brought up the bottle level with Thug-boy’s nose (which Mickey later recalled made his arm slant upward more than he’d liked) and announced in a voice and tirade worthy of Jules Winnefield, “Say another word! Say one more thing to my girl, **noun version of f-bomb deleted**, and I WILL COMPLETELY **verb form of f-bomb once again deleted** YOU UP!!!” As I said, Mickey is a gentle, caring man, but Thug-boy ignored Rule of the Jungle #2: “NEVER come between a male and his mate!” (FYI, Rule of the Jungle #1, for those who don’t know, is, of course, NEVER get between a momma and her babies.”

In the end, Thug-boy backed down and slunk away, apparently noting the fire in Mickey’s eyes and Mickey’s absolute commitment to use that bottle for the second purpose for which God Almighty intended (the first being to hold Budweiser, of course), proving that, just like ALL bullies, Thug-boy couldn’t take being stood up to! “Sylvia” obviously has her a keeper and I’m looking forward to shaking his hand at the dinner!

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

Broken Noses and Broken Hearts at Beach Week ’89

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NOT what you want to see at the beach.

NOT what you want to see at the beach.

Anyway, the week wasn’t off to the greatest start with having to wrestle down and hogtie a skeeved out stoner so I figured it had to get better. Day 2 — rain, and lots of it. This wasn’t a passing shower to cool things down for ten minutes then raise the humidity out the roof. This was what Papa Wham called, “a good soaking rain,” which is great if you are growing corn or some such crop, but it sucks all the life out of a beach trip.

The most immediate danger was just being in the room all together. Too much testosterone confined in too small a space is trouble enough, but add in copious amounts of alcohol and you have the Balkans right before World War I — everyone wants to fight and fight badly, but honor demanded an excuse. “Borrowing beer” was always a great excuse, and two or three times things came to blows in the room over someone taking more than his share of the libations from the fridge or cooler. Luckily, everyone was slightly too drunk to either cause any real physical damage or to feel much of the damage that resulted from the few haymakers that managed to land on the odd jaw or nose.

It’s at this point I need to interject some background about my place in all this mess. While most everyone else was binge drinking to make a sailor proud, I was limiting myself to nursing a couple of Jack and Cokes. Truth be told, I wasn’t a very big drinker throughout high school. The prospect of having to face Mama with liquor on my breath was a buzzkiller every time so I was a pretty light drinker. I would sip a little at parties but I preferred to stay mostly clearheaded and alert enough to talk to anyone in a uniform who happened to show up at the most inopportune moments. Don’t worry though, when I got to college, I quickly made up for lost time.

Typical boys hotel room at the beach.

Typical boys hotel room at the beach.

In the early afternoon of the rain-soaked second day, several of the guys got word their various girlfriends had arrived “in country.” Most of the girls had waited an extra day to come to First Week, ostensibly because it took that much longer for them to pack their suitcases and then get all the suitcases into the 54′ U-Haul trailer to bring the stuff down. Most of us guys had two — maybe three — pairs of shorts, a handful of t-shirts, some swimming trunks, and some type of footwear. I packed everything I needed for the week in one backpack and had plenty of room to spare.

In any event, the arrival of the females of the species meant we wouldn’t see quite a few of the guys anymore that week. For one thing, the girls always stayed in much nicer hotels — the kind with running water and real sheets. Also, just to be honest, several of the guys were giddy at the prospect of finally getting what had been promised, for some since freshman year. I leave the details to the gentle reader’s imagination. Suffice it to say, with no parents around to walk in at the worst possible moments, many couples were, in the words of poet Robert Herrick, “Gather[ing] ye rosebuds while ye may.

Typical girls hotel room at the beach.

Typical girls hotel room at the beach.

Not all my lusty boon companions had perforce waited for the arrival of some maiden fair, however. Several of the guys were at the beach specifically to hunt for foreign eyes, ruby lips and shapely hips, and when you grow up in the booming metropolis of Greater Laurens County, “foreign” is any out-of-state plates — even if the state was Georgia or North Carolina. The siren call of girls strange to them was irresistible and several ended up in whirlwind Beach Week romances. Unfortunately for some of them, their souvenir of the week was a little more than a scrapbook but thankfully nothing Ajax couldn’t get off. They were lucky. In 1989 in the backwaters of South Carolina, we had heard of AIDS, but it was still just a boogeyman, not a real threat, or so we thought. I found out different in college, yet another story for another time.

For my part, senior year had “put me off my feed” insofar as females went. I broke up with the first great love of my life late  junior year in pursuit of greener pastures. By October senior year I realized the pastures were only greener because they sat over septic tanks, so I worked hard to get us back together. For awhile — a few weeks right around Christmas — it seemed we were an item again. Then in late January she disappeared for two weeks and all her dad (who absolutely hated me) would say was, “she’s at her momma’s in Georgia.”

I think that went well; don't you think that went well?

I think that went well; don’t you think that went well?

She came back on a Thursday  just after third nine weeks ended and met me at my locker after school with no fanfare, no “hello”, “how are you”, “kiss my ass” or anything; she just handed me my class ring. The last thing she ever said to me was, “Dean (to this day she is the only person who used my middle name), I’ve got some good news for you and some bad news.” Normally, when someone tells you that, you get to choose which you wish to hear first but in her case she just continued on with, “The good news is — IT’S NOT YOURS — I guess you can figure the bad news out for yourself.” Then she turned and walked out of my life forever and I made an exception to my usual “light drinking rule” for a few days. I made a very interesting discovery during those drunkenly hazy days too — when you are drunker than Cooter Brown, you don’t notice the tandem-axle dump truck load of emotional pain life heaps on you day after day nearly so much. Thus began a long period of self-medicating a clinical depression and personality disorder I didn’t even know I had. Anybody see an eminent train wreck in this locality?

Anyway, twenty-five years on, she’s a mother of three, and grandmother of three more (I’ve discovered all too often Facebook has a way of giving you news you aren’t looking for and don’t really want) and I’m in the midst of a good life with the third and greatest love of my life. My Budge has stayed with me through episodes that would have sent any of my former ex-girlfriends running in terror so it seems all things worked together for the good.

Sorry that I still haven’t finished the story of Senior Week. Actually, I haven’t even gotten to some of the rougher moments. Still, it’s enough for now.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean . . . unless it’s sand between your toes.

Modern Day Mos Eisley

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The crew I used to run with in high school. This is us the morning we left for Senior Week.

The crew I used to run with in high school the morning after graduation just before we left for Senior Week.

The debauchery goes by many names: First Week, Sun Fun Week, Beach Week, or just Senior Week. I’m referring to the two-week period in late May to early June when hordes of hormone fueled recently graduated teenagers descend upon the strip of sand and water known in the Chamber of Commerce literature of Horry County as “The Grand Strand.”

Beach Week has been a tradition around the south for as long as anyone I know can remember. Daddy told me several stories about his teenage trips to the beach in the Wonder Years of the 1960s. Mama and her best friend, Carolyn used to ride down in CP’s 1965 Mustang convertible just to watch the boys go by.

That was a different time though. If you want a documentary of that particular era in the life of the Grand Strand, find a copy of the movie Shag and take notes. It’s a superb movie and from all I can gather from my older friends and family who knew the beach “back when,” it’s pretty accurate.

By the late ’80s though, action on The Strip was a little different. The bikinis covered much less, the kids had much worse manners, and no one had a clue how to dance correctly. Beach Week had evolved into a secular version of Carnaval. Looking around on the main drag, one can almost hear Obi-Wan informing young Luke Skywalker, “Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” Just like Luke, none of us listened anyway.

We left for the beach the day after graduation, 3 June 1989. Robby and I were riding together. His graduation present from his dad and stepmom was a snow-white ’89 Chevrolet Beretta sport coupe. To this day, I have never seen a whiter white on a car. It was a glorious piece of Detroit steel. Of course, we weren’t driving it. Robby’s dad, Bobby, forbade Robby to take this beautiful French vanilla wonder down to the coast. Bobby had been to Senior Week in his day plus he knew the two of us extremely well. For example, my driving reputation was so horrible, Robby (and a lot of my friends now that I think of it) couldn’t ride with me if I was driving the car. Basically, he didn’t want the Beretta totaled before it needed an oil change.

So we took the four banger doo-doo brown Subaru. At least it had a sunroof.

If I’d known how much my life was going to change on this trip, I’d have paid more attention to the details. Unfortunately, we never see the good times when we are in the midst of them. It’s only looking back when we can say, “It never got better than that” or “I wish I’d have know x so I could have done y.” For instance, I had no way of knowing that long bumper to bumper ride to the beach would be one of the last times I would ride with Robby, my best friend since second grade. Our paths were starting to diverge; I just didn’t know it.

We stayed at The Rainbow Court Motel. It was a “second street” accommodation meaning we had to walk across the main road and past the beachfront hotels to get to the sand. I knew a lot of girls who stayed in the beach front five-star palaces like The Yachtsman, but their parents were paying for their trips. Community Cash overtime stocking and bagging was paying for mine. Gas and everything cost me less than $200 for a week. Of course, eight of us were staying together (at least that’s what we told the manager — it was really more like 24) so someone was making a mint.

The first night we were there, one of the sophomores from our school who’d tagged along with another group from my class went nuts. He was a serious stoner even at 16, but he had broken the ONE rule, nay COMMANDMENT we had laid down — you can do all the drugs you want, but BUY THEM AT HOME! Any fool knows to never buy baggies from a stranger, ESPECIALLY AT THE FREAKING BEACH. Seriously, people from all over Hell and half of Georgia are milling around the beach during the first weeks and they love to screw over dumb, gullible teenagers. This kid couldn’t pass up a deal though. Unfortunately, his “bargain” turned into much more than he bargained for. Whatever jerk he bought his dime bag from had laced the pot with angel dust — PCP, and my friends, PCP is a bad day in powder form. This kid absolutely flipped out. He was hallucinating and screaming about glowing purple spiders and running around like a madman — buck naked, of course — and at the beach, attracting attention like that is a BIG no-no.

Myrtle Beach Police Department contracts with every surrounding department to get enough extra help for the two-week tsunami of teenagers. The contract police are tired and cranky and let me say, those boys don’t play. Back then a public disturbance charge — and running around in your birthday suit definitely fit the criteria for “disturbing” — would get you a $238 fine, but even worse, since most of us weren’t 18 yet, we couldn’t pay our own bail which meant a call to the parents to come get you. I’d heard horror stories about guys whose moms and dads had to come get them from the beachfront hoosegow. Getting in trouble anytime is bad; getting in trouble when your parents have to drive five or six hours to come get you is a whole other level of trouble. I know if I’d gotten arrested, which I almost did (more on that later), I’d have just ridden home on the roof rack or in the trunk. No way would I have sat next to Mama (or Daddy either) for the long road back.

Anyway, this kid is going crazy so we had to get him inside and shut up before the heat came down on all of us. It didn’t help matters that someone had come up with the brilliant idea to go get his sister AND his girlfriend who pitched right in to help by going all hysterical and weepy just as soon as they saw him. Wonderful.

We lured him inside with promises of showers to drown the glowing purple spiders. Getting him to calm down proved a bit more problematic. This dude was about 5’9″ and 115. It took EIGHT of us to get him under control and the eight of us were all wrestlers or football linemen. We were not small guys. Once we got him sort of wedged in to a couch so we could handle him better we took turns holding him down for the four hours it took the stuff to get through his system. Looking back, we probably should have dragged his naked butt to the hospital, but that would have raised many, many questions we had no good answers to, so we did the best we could.

That was just the first day. It didn’t get any better for me.

I’ll tell you some more later on. For now, know that I love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Friday Night Lights Shine on the Friday Night Blues

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In the five years since my last teaching contract renewed and I left education, I have endure a crippling wave of sadness during the first week of “back to school.” That sadness is never more acute and I never have to struggle harder to keep bullets out of my head, poison out of my system, or my car at the top of cliffs rather than the bottom than at six o’clock on the first full schedule Friday of high school football.

If you’ve never taught in a high school, I can’t adequately describe for you how important Friday nights are, especially here in the Southland. Any school with a football team is a beehive all day on Friday as the guys (and a girl or two) walk the halls in their jerseys and the cheerleaders wear their non-dress-code-conforming uniforms to school. The day is spent making plans for who is riding with whom to where and who is bringing the illicit substances to the bonfire or house party after the game.

I used to eat up every moment of it. Every Friday for the fifteen years I taught, I was young again for ten Fridays in the fall and as long as my school’s team managed to stay in the playoffs. The kids used to take me back to the Friday nights when my friends and I were the ones planning. From my freshman year through my junior year, I went to more games than I missed. I even went to a game or two my senior year even though the taste of bile and ashes had replaced the once-sweet euphoria by then, but that’s another story.

Several of my friends of those days were football players and one of my lasting regrets is never having tried to get on the team. I was acquainted with many of the cheerleaders and wrote essays for more than one of them so they could keep good enough grades to stay on the squad. My best buddy at the time, Robby, was first trumpet in the band, so I always sat as close to the band as possible. Another regret is never trying to get in the band. I guess I can chalk up my lack of participation to a few things. Some are gifted with athletic prowess and some with musical talent. My gift was, and is, memory. Some call it a gift; I lean more towards curse and agree with the Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett when he says

“Memories are killing things. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

God knows I don’t miss much about high school, but I do miss Friday nights. For those aforementioned years in education, I got those Friday nights back, especially the few years when my schools were desperate enough for warm bodies to ask me to be an assistant football coach. I have a painfully entertaining story of my first game as a JV football coach which involves me, an away game, and a whistle. Maybe I’ll tell the entire story sometime, but for now suffice it to say we lost the game and the night in general was a cascade of fiascoes one atop another. Actually, that phrase pretty much describes my whole football coaching career. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Now though, I’m a civilian. Here it is 6:30 on the first big football Friday. Oh, I know I could go to a local game anyway, but it’s not the same. Something about plunking down your teacher id and walking in the gate for free just adds a special sweetness to the night. The greatest reward, though, is the smiles on the faces of the boys on the field when they catch sight of you on the track or in the stands. Little Johnny may have been the bane of your existence in second block all year, but come Monday, when you tell him how awesome his one tackle of the night was, you’ll have him in your back pocket. Trust me on that one . . . I know from experience.

Go out and pull for your favorite teams and take care everyone.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

I-85 Take Me Home To The Place I Belong!

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It all started with a simple high school baseball game.

This post is the direct result of a memory jog brought on by reading about some random high school baseball playoff. Looking at the box score of a couple of schools I’ve never heard of took me back to one of the most confusing nights of my life that also just happened to involve a high school playoff game . . . sort of.

As Kid Rock so eloquently puts it, “It was 1989 (technically, 1990), my thoughts were short, my hair was long . . . ” My alma mater, Laurens District 55 High School, was playing for the State 4A Baseball Championship against Lancaster High School. My long-time best friend, Robby, asked me to go to the first of the three game series with him and we watched the Green and Gold dismantle the Bruins at Laurens’ stadium. The second game was the next night in Lancaster and Robby asked me to go to that one as well.

At that point, Robby and I managed to maintain what was left of our grade-school spanning friendship. He hadn’t been home from his freshman year at college long  when the playoffs in question started. He’d gone off to Clemson University while I had chosen a girl over my education and stayed home — which is another story for another time — and gone to Greenville Tech. (Spoiler alert: I came to my senses and rectified that situation in the fall of ’90.) So we agreed to meet at his house the next night about 4 and make the three hour drive to Lancaster in time for the game.

Now if you look at the relative positions of Lancaster High School and our home town of Gray Court on a map of South Carolina, you’ll probably start to wonder how in the world it can take three hours to make such a seemingly short trip. The answer — as an old man once told me — is simple, you can’t get there from here. What I mean is, then as now, NO road worth driving connects Gray Court and Lancaster. What’s more, you never ACTUALLY reach a town in the course of the entire trip there. You always “head towards” a town but make a turn before you get to the town limits. For example, in the first leg of the trip, we “headed towards” Union, but turned before we got there in order to “head towards” Chester. The upshot of it all is what looks like it should take 45 minutes to an hour of hard driving takes 3 or more hours of winding country roads through one of the most desolate areas of my home state.

Our chariot for the evening's events. Robby's looked almost exactly like this one.

We made it to the game without a hitch, riding in Robby’s high school graduation present – a frost white 1989 Chevy Beretta. It was a beautiful day full of  bright spring sunshine. Once there, we watched as Laurens was handed its hind-quarters on a silver platter by a pitcher named “Pep” Harris who would eventually play for the Cleveland Indians and the California Angels. The boy was “throwing bb’s” as the baseball expression goes and he made our visiting team look sickly and anemic, which future major league pitchers often do to their high school competition. I got to shake his hand before Robby and I packed up and headed home.

Here’s where the fun began.

See, this was in my younger and less responsible days when I preferred the company of my dear uncles James Beam and Jonathan Daniels over lesser forms of entertainment. Robby shared my love of the “family”, though his preferences ran more towards Messrs. Bartles and James. In any event, we had brought along several “family members” on this particular adventure and by the time the sun went down, most of those dearly beloveds had gone on to a new place of residence. In short, we were a bit less coordinated for our trip home than we’d be on our trip out.

We did fine until we were “headed towards” Chester. Then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear even now, we went UNDER a bridge that we were supposed to go OVER. That would have been trouble enough, but what with our relative lack of thought processing compounded by a joyous rendition of the ENTIRE AC/DC discography played on one of the first in-dash CD players I’d ever seen, we did not notice our mistake for nearly an hour.

When we realized we should have long since reached Union, we started looking for road signs. We were on a two lane road in the middle of the boondocks. Road signs were at a premium. Now two 19 year old guys are not lost so long as there is gas in the tank; they are merely taking the scenic route, so we weren’t worried. The fuzzy effects of our erstwhile uncles had worn off so we were in full possession of our outstanding senses of direction. We reasoned that “home” was to our left, so the very next intersection we found, we turned left. After spending twenty minutes on that road, we figured we must not have turned far enough left so at the next crossroads, we hung another left.

We started to feel this way after midnight.

After twenty more minutes of driving through scrub pine and cotton in the desolate northern borderlands of South Carolina, we came to another crossroads. At that point, a glance at the fuel gauge told the two of us we were dangerously close to getting lost. Unfortunately, we had not the foggiest idea where we were since this was well before a future POTUS Bill Clinton opened up the GPS system for civilian use. I hate to admit it, but we resorted to flipping a coin. The coin chose “right turn” and five minutes later we were at the chain link locked gate of an abandoned cotton mill. After throwing that particular quarter over the aforementioned gate, we headed back the way we came on what amounted to a left hand turn.

About ten minutes later, our luck changed somewhat. After two and a half hours of roaming around aimlessly in the dark, we saw our first road sign. It read “Charlotte 35 miles.” Somehow, we had managed to wander to within 35 miles of the largest city in North Carolina. We were no less than 270 degrees in the wrong direction. Undeterred, we now had knowledge, somewhat anyway, of our position. We still needed to keep going left. At the next intersection, we did. Twenty minutes later, we came to an intersection with a sign pointing off to the right reading “Charlotte 45” above some other places I’d never heard of and I’ve lived in this state all my life.

Now at that point, Robby — ever the stubborn optimist — wanted to turn left again. One glance at the dash, however, told me we were now SERIOUSLY close to being lost so I said, “Temp, let’s go to Charlotte.”

Click to enlarge!

He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “Why do you want to go to Charlotte? We need to get home.”

I replied, “I KNOW. That’s why I think we should go to Charlotte.”

He said, “Why?” I asked, “Do you know where we are?” He shook his head then said, “But what good will it do to go to Charlotte? That’s even further from home.”

Finally, exasperated, hungry, tired, and my throat sore from imitating Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I said, “I KNOW THAT DAMMIT, BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW THE HELL TO GET HOME FROM CHARLOTTE!!!!”

We turned right and headed towards Charlotte.

Along the way, about ten minutes later, we crossed a road with a sign reading “SC 92”. Before I could say anything, Robby had already slammed on the brakes and did a half doughnut turn onto that road. Two hours and a seedy gas station stop later and we were home because Robby knew what I did . . . SC 92 dead-ends onto SC 14 and SC 14 is also Main Street of Gray Court.

So the moral of the story? Don’t hang out with your “uncles” then try to drive . . . or navigate either for that matter, but if you do and you end up on the backside of nowhere, head for Charlotte because I-85’ll take you to I-385 and I-385’ll get you to Gray Court where you can stop at Mama’s and have her call me and I’ll come and try to get you home.

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

Deuce, Part I — An Unlikely Alliance

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Um, Laura's the big one.

My first day as a librarian at Bell St. Middle School in Laurens District 56, I met Laura. She was in charge of teacher IDs and email passwords so at lunch on the first day of the new teacher orientation, I fell in with the rest of the newbies and trooped down to the IT Department’s basement outpost in what was then the District Office to have my ID made and get a login for the computer network.

Now, when I am nervous, I talk very fast. Think of an auctioneer and double his speed. When I am excited, I also talk very fast. This was my first day as a school librarian AND I was in a new district, I was extremely nervous while being incredibly excited. Think of an auctioneer with Tourette’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Autism and severe ADHD standing in a nest of fire ants with his hair ablaze and you’ll have a close approximation of what Laura received that hot August day.

While,  in line I noticed a Michigan poster on the wall with a photo of Laura and another girl (later I found out it was Ho-Hum Amy) in front of “The Big House” in Ann Arbor. I also saw a photo of an ankle with a crescent moon tattooed on it. In my nervously excited state, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet taking in everything around me and checking it off against info in my head. I was last in line to get my stuff so as soon as Laura spoke to me, I started talking.

According to Laura, the conversation went somewhat thusly (with my part approximating how she says I answered her):

Laura: “Hi. What can I do for you?”

Me: “Hi-my-name-is-Shannon-ShannonWham-W-h-a-m-Wham-just-like-George-Michael’s-old-singing-group-Wham!-before-he-got-weird. Is-that-you-outside-the-BigHouseinMichigan? DidyougotoMichigan?Are-you-a-Michigan-fan-it’s-hard-to-tell-’cause-you-have-a-USCposterontheotherwall-soIthoughtyoumighthave-goneto-USC-but-I-need-to-get-my-idandlogin-Imthenewlibrarian-over-atBellStreet-do-you-have-a-tattoo-is-that-the-tattoo-in-that-picture-ofyourankleisthatyourankle-you-have-a-nice-office-it’sgoodandcooldownhere-it’ssohottoday-that’sareallyprettyplantwhatisit-oh-you-already-got-myidandloginbutI-didn’t-tell-you-my-social-didyou-lookitup-wowyou’refast-well,Igottagoeatlunch-thenextsession-startsinthirtyminutes-thanksalot-itwasnicetomeetyou!

And I left.

She never looked at me after her initial greeting, but over a year later I found out as soon as I left, she went back to where the IT guys ate lunch and announced, “The new librarian over at Bell Street is certifiably insane. I mean, he SERIOUSLY needs medicated,” and she proceeded to recap my entire spiel.

Little did she know how right she was . . .

Among her other multitudinous talents, Laura's a very accomplished actress.

I didn’t see much of her that first year. Of course, the year pretty much passed in a blur anyway. I emailed her when one of my little monsters forgot his or her password so she could fix them up a new one and we’d chat a bit here and there but with no premonitions of what was to come.

The next year started off pretty much the same way. I’d call if I needed something IT-ish and every now and then she’d stop by to drop off something. Laura is a wildly engaging person and she’s hysterically funny to talk to when she gets going. That fall, I found out she loves college football and is a die-hard Michigan fan. As the fates would have it, Appalachian State scored a monumental, historic upset over Michigan in the opening game of the college football season so I downloaded the App State fight song and sent it to her as her ration of crap about that fiasco. Then right after Christmas, I blew a disc out in my back and was laid up and out of work for most of January. She emailed me a time or two while I was out of commission and she was one of the first to call me up and welcome me back once my discs finally healed.

Still, at this juncture, she was a colleague from work who had some similar interests to me and I never dreamed she’d be anything else. Then I called her the Monday afternoon after spring break. The day had just ended and I was feeling spring feverish and blithering on like I do when I’m nervous or excited.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Laura has something in common with my Budge — they are both “Stuffers.” Anything bad that happens to them gets shoved in a huge mental trunk and stuffed away to be dealt with a some indeterminate time in the future. She wasn’t answering like she usually did and that’s when I caught a note in her voice that told me something was very, very wrong.

Since she is such a proficient “stuffer,” anyone would have difficulty discerning anything out of the ordinary was amiss in her voice, but — as I said — I just caught a hint of something not right. Now Laura also has in common with Budge being a VERY private person. Neither one of them “do their business out in the street,” so just casually asking “what’s wrong” wasn’t very likely to get any sort of accurate answer. I suppose I’ll never know why I asked or why she answered. I just know the Lord truly does work in utterly mysterious ways to bring extremely special people into our lives when it’s time.

Turns out her spring break had been HIDEOUS — absolutely hellish. She told me all about it in an hour-long conversation. Out of respect for her privacy, I won’t divulge details but suffice it to say it involved loved ones dying, betrayal, car problems, unexpectedly moving houses . . . just think of the worst week you could have then double it and you’ll get close to Laura’s spring break. She was living in a commercial for Murphy’s Law. I was blown away by how wounded she was and I just wanted to be some comfort, so I think I said something profound like, “Wow. I am so sorry. Can I do anything? If I can help, let me know.” That’s what we Southerners do. “If I can help, let me know” is right up the list with “Bless her heart!”

Two of my favorite people in the world: Budge and Laura, Ace and Deuce.

I talked to her off and on that year but I really got to know her well over the summer when I was volunteering as an IT tech at the DO. The group of us would eat lunch almost daily at El Jalisco,  a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant in Clinton. At the end of the summer, she was moving again and asked if I could help out, so one hot, muggy Saturday afternoon, we moved her from Ware Shoals to Simpsonville.

That next day was the first time I mentioned to Budge we should take Laura out to eat. She had just started working a second job as a barista at Starbucks and hardly ever had time or money for herself. She was making it on her own though. Laura is tough and proud that way. Anyway, Budge was glad for a chance to meet this “Laura” I had been fretting about so we took her to Anita’s Mexican Restaurant. Within a month, Anita’s on Tuesday was a weekly ritual.

As we hung out more and more, I realized Laura was my lost baby sister. She and Budge were like twin sisters and became best of friends. For the next few years, we were inseparable. We’d eat out or I’d cook two or three times a week; Dana and I would take supper to her at Starbucks; we’d go to movies; we even did a few holidays together . . . Laura and Budge used to joke that we were Mormons. Budge was Ace and Laura was Deuce — my two sisterwives.

I have never met a stranger, but a plethora of quirks hinders me making close friends. I haven’t had a friend anywhere as close as Laura since college or before. She could even deal with me during a meltdown. Mama, Budge, and Laura are the only people who can calm me down once I go off the deep end. It helped Budge out more than anyone could understand knowing Laura could help when I was spiraling. She’s one of two people Budge can call and say, “He’s having a bad day,” and Laura would know exactly what was going on and how to help. It gave Budge someone to lean on and another pair of hands when I became more than one handful.

For example, last summer Budge went to Hawaii with Ki-Ki for four weeks. I don’t do well when Budge isn’t around, so Laura called every day to make sure I was out of bed. She even forced me to go out so I didn’t sit in the house like a cabbage while Budge was gone.

So over the last few years, Laura has gone from a casual acquaintance to an adopted sister. For my part, it would have suited me just fine for things to rock and roll on forever and for a good long time, it looked like that’s how it was going to be.

I liked it. I was content. The three of us could take on the world.

However, I didn’t know about the buckeye . . .

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

Skip Party Aftermath

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When we last left our intrepid hero (that’d be me) he (or rather I) was standing on the front deck of the Overbay hacienda eating one of the first bags of Cool Ranch Doritos to grace the snack shelf at the local Stop ‘n Steal watching my best friend Robby allowing two of our class (drivers license-less) hotties to take his car for a spin. They were on the return trip with KC in the driver’s seat and CC riding shotgun as Robby sat helplessly in the backseat. All had gone well on the trip out and now, one more turn and KC would bring the little Phoenix to a nice safe stop and we’d all go home to supper.

Only she didn’t make it.

Like most families of my childhood friends, the Overbays had that bane of a bicycle-riding child’s existence — a crushed gravel driveway. Inevitably, some of the gravel would travel out onto the black top and create a gravel slick, which could throw and unwary two-wheeler into a serious case of road rash in a skinny minute. Little did we know, it worked for cars just as well as bicycles.

KC hit the gravel slick and the front end of the car got a bit squirrelly. Now an experienced driver would have just backed completely off the gas and waited for the dust to settle. KC was not — as I have mentioned before — an experienced driver. She panicked and stomped BOTH pedals at the same time. The accelerator won out over the brake and the poor Phoenix skidded completely off the driveway to be quite rudely introduced to the sawn off telephone pole that served as the north corner post of the Overbay’s barbed wire fence.

Looked a lot like this, only there were two head prints instead of one. We drove the car to school the next day and had "KC" written over one and "CC" over the other.

As usual in these cases, time seemed to stop as the collective gasp of the party goers caused me to drop my chips and bolt towards the stairs. Once on the ground, I was joined by several other people in a headlong Jack and Jill-esque tumble towards the scene of the accident. What we found was not encouraging.

The front end of the car had wrapped its bumper around the cruel pole in a desperate lover’s embrace . . . and so did the radiator. Simultaneously, KC and CC – seatbeltless, naturally — launched forehead first into the windshield. They didn’t do the classic “shattered glass fly through” but they hit with enough force to make two NICE spiderwebs — one on each side of the glass and raise beautiful raspberry blue goose eggs on both their classically beautiful high foreheads. Meanwhile, Robby, the Phoenix’s erstwhile owner, was tossed into the hatchback where he lay on his back, feet in the air, somewhat dazed like a spring-woken tortoise newly crawled from his winter’s den.

Ignoring all first aid training and advice, we helped the girls and Robby from the car. The girls were a bit unsteady on their feet and might even have had a mild concussion. We would never know because this was a skip party and what happens at the skip party STAYS at the skip party, or at least it did in those pre-cell phone camera days. We certainly weren’t going to call the police and ambulance. At the risk of sounding heartlessly arrogant, we were the cream of the Laurens 55 High School crop (what I was doing there, I still wonder sometimes) and we couldn’t risk the hoopla and resulting brouhaha a police report would generate.

The party disintegrated just as soon as everyone realized that no one was dead or critically injured. This is referred to even to this day as the “Getting the Hell out of Dodge” procedure. Robby took the driver’s seat, I sat shotgun, and Duane folded his lanky frame into the backseat. Hopefully, Robby turned the key and the little Phoenix that could sputtered to life. Against all odds, it backed away from the pole and with the help of a couple of Raider linemen, ended up back on the road and off towards home.

This is a pretty good facsimile of Duane's dad . . . pretty much all the time.

We did have one nasty dilemma. We had to get Duane home under his parent’s radar. They were the most strict parents of our entire group — if by strict one means somewhat Stalinesque. That party I mentioned in the first act of this tragedy resulted in Duane being put on restriction for the rest of his life. He didn’t get to leave the house on the weekend until college. If his dad found out about THIS snafu, Duane would probably end up in a shallow grave somewhere. Luckily, we had always planned for just this kind of eventuality. Duane got out of the car about 200 yards from the schoolbus stop for his house. When his younger brothers got off the bus, he just fell in behind them — no muss no fuss. Duane didn’t even worry about them ratting him out. Those five boys were tight. None of them was going to risk bringing the wrath of Gray Court’s version of The Great Santini down on a sibling.

So with Duane’s continued future assured, Robby and I limped the Phoenix back to his house. He asked me if I wanted to take his motorcycle home and thus avoid the ensuing confrontation with his dad — Bobby. I told him that I’d been with him when the mess started and I wasn’t bailing now. I figured I owed to him as my best buddy to face the music with him. Besides, Bobby T was one of my greatest father figures growing up. He knew how things were with me and Mama and with me and Daddy so he always made sure I had walking around money as well as doing five thousand other little things for me that I’ll never be able to repay him for. Bobby T is a great man and I really looked up to him so I couldn’t run home like a coward and let Robby take the heat alone.

This is what we started with.

We sat across the den from each other waiting for the sound of Bobby’s car in the drive. In that eternal hour, I caught a glimpse of what a condemned man must feel like waiting for the warden and the preacher to come to his cell. Bobby got home and walked in the house all smiles and hellos like always. Robby and I realized instantly that he hadn’t seen the car. Now Bobby was the type of parent who hadn’t forgotten that he hadn’t been a complete angel as a teenager either, so he recognized our guilty looks pretty quickly. We didn’t even BOTHER trying to explain anything; we just led him out to the car. He looked at the damage, then at us, then back at the damage and just shook his head. That head shake was his ultimate mark of disappointment.

Funny though. Duane’s dad would have launched into the stratosphere. I don’t really know WHAT Daddy would have said, but I know I couldn’t write most of it on a family oriented blog. Bobby just shrugged and said, “Don’t plan on going

and 16 hours later we had this.

anywhere Saturday, boys,” and walked in the house.

I spent the night with Robby that Friday and we spent about 16 hours the next day cleaning out Bobby’s three bay garage / workshop. The Augean Stables that Herakles cleaned as his fifth penitential labor were pristine compared to this building and alas, we had neither Alpheus nor Peneus to reroute to our aid. We worked mightily fueled by gratitude and hot dogs until the floor of the shop was FDA approved. It was a learning experience for certain, but it still wasn’t the last skip party we’d have 🙂

Love y’all! Keep those feet clean.

Springtime = Skip Party

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The Indigo Girls said it best when they sang “There’s something about the Southland in the springtime!” I was just sitting on the porch looking at the living proof that God Almighty is a University of North Carolina fan — a gorgeous Tarheel Blue sky. The temperature is just about perfect and if trees had a way of reproducing that didn’t involve that fluffy yellow pollen, I could stay outside forever. I know people say that we’d get tired of one continuous type of weather year round, but I promise that if someone could invent a Claritin or Allegra pump similar to the insulin pump some diabetics wear, I’d be willing to test this time of year all year.

Back when I was in high school, a day like this would result in several feverish calls between our group’s houses, and in those days — not THAT long ago — “calling around” meant dodging parents who always answered the phone. We didn’t have cell phones, Facebook, or email. Of course, it’s just as well. I probably wouldn’t have graduated if the Internet had been fully open and operational in the middle ’80s. In any event, we’d be attempting to set up a skip party for the next day.Some people favor playing hooky on Fridays to get an early start on the weekend, but I was always the type to skip on Monday so as to put off the first of the week for as long as possible. Skipping Mondays also had the advantage of less makeup work. In a tradition I was later to continue as a high school teacher myself, Fridays were always quiz and test days. Mondays were just notes and worksheets. My teachers didn’t really care if I made up notes. Tests were mandatory though.

Our parents had differing opinions about skipping. Mama simply required that I let her know if I was planning to come down with a 24 hour bout of “spring fever.” Robby’s dad was pretty much the same. Duane, however, was forbidden to skip school under any circumstances. That meant he had to actually drive to school then walk down Raider Road a bit where one of us could pick him up. For some reason, the girls got to do pretty much whatever they wanted to — and they ALWAYS wanted to skip.

"Honey, does this new vodka taste a little watery to you?"

Skip parties were eclectic affairs. Sometimes, we’d just congregate at someone’s centrally located but somewhat off the road house and sit around running our mouths and eating another set of parents out of house and home. Later on in high school — I think we started our sophomore year — some of the more adventurous souls would score some “adult refreshment” from Mom and Dad’s liquor cabinet. Those of us who were Pentecostal or Southern Baptist usually relied on the Presbyterians or the handful of Episcopalians to take care of the alcohol needs. Pentecostal parents — like Mama — really didn’t drink and the Southern Baptist parents managed to hide their liquor stashes in much more difficult to find locations. One particular young lady who will go nameless, always brought a jar of very nice vodka . . . until she finally learned — the hard way of course — that one can only replace JUST SO MUCH vodka with water before Daddy noticed. Fortunately for her, she had an extremely cool older brother who was a Clemson University student and complete Helion and gave his baby sister carte blanche to throw him under the bus with their parents whenever necessary.

Just as a reflection though, I don’t remember our parties ever getting completely out of hand; well, except for that ONE time at Duane’s when his parents were in Europe for a week and we had a weekend long bash with over 250 people showing up, but other than that, we didn’t go for some of the insanity I’ve seen among high schoolers (and even middle schoolers) of this generation. A little liquor WOULD change the dynamic somewhat, just as it always has since Jesus turned the water to wine in Cana of Galilee, but except for a few fights that produced more bruised feelings than bruises and a strange relationship or twelve, we didn’t get nearly as rowdy as today’s bunch. Of course, our parents probably thought the same thing about THEIR generation since they were certain we were in the grip of the Antichrist.

 

Like this, only LOTS more kids.

I remember two particular incidents from those days quite well. Once, around this time in April of our senior year, a great cloud of us met up at one of the girls’ lakehouses and piled on for a pontoon ride around Lake Greenwood. About ten o’clock in the morning, I noticed Robby counting people. I asked him what in the world he was doing and he said, “look around.” I picked up his drift then. We had around 30 people divided between two pontoons and of those 30, twenty-six were in our second period math class . . . which just happened to be meeting at that very moment back at school — with a grand total of 2 people in it, if they had actually shown up.

 

The second incident was during the spring of our tenth grade year. Robby picked me up and told me we weren’t going to school, which was fine with me. I just ran back in the house and left Mama a note so she’d know what to say when the school called her after she got off third shift. Then we picked Duane up in Laurens as per our SOP and headed to the Overbays. It was a warm enough day to swim if anyone wanted to–unlike yours truly who couldn’t, and still can’t, swim. The four Overbay brothers had an awesome Olympic sized pool with no fence around it. That made one of the more interesting water sports at their house the “water walking contest” where someone would get about twenty yards back from the deep end and take off at a dead sprint right out onto the water to see how many steps he (and it was ALWAYS “he”) could take before getting pulled over by the long arm of the law of gravity.

That wasn’t what made this day special though. THIS day, Robby made the grave mistake of letting people talk him into driving his car. Robby was one of the few of us with night licenses and a car. Unwisely, he started sitting in the back while different folks took the trusty little ’83 Pontiac Phoenix Hatchback out for a spin.

A little browner than this, but a pretty good likeness.

The first ten or fifteen trips actually went quite well and it was getting about time to shut the party down anyway when Robby, in a total lapse of judgment, let Kathryn get behind the wheel with Carolyn riding shotgun.

The trip out was fine. Kathryn guided the little brown car up the gravel driveway and out to the stop sign about a mile away with no problem. She was doing great on the trip back in as well when the car skidded ever so slightly on some loose gravel at the head of the drive.

Now, keep your feet clean for a while and I’ll tell you the Paul Harvey in my next installment.

Love y’all 🙂