Friday, June 10, 2011

Daily Dose #13 (06/10/11)


Friendships are funny. You think they will last forever, but life intrudes. Trajectories that seem to coincide for a time, skew unexpectedly.

As I age, I've come to accept that phenomena a little more gracefully, but as a child, it's hard to understand what was seemingly set in stone... wasn't.

In grade school, I had a little posse of really close friends. Specifically, Steve Krause, Bob Shepard, and Billy Hunter. But Steve was my best bud out of the bunch. We understood each other.

I suppose we gravitated toward each other because we were intellectually well matched. Always at the top of the class, but it never was competitive. We just found each other interesting. It wasn't a premeditated thing, or a parental choice of peers. We just sort of organically clumped together.

So through out that time we were always hanging out with each other. Raiding the Rossi family candy drawer and industrial sized cache of Royal Palm Soda was always at least weekly occurrence. Riding our bikes all over town, and in the summer taking long treks down Benson Road and ending up in Owasco, Mandana, or some other little burg down the west side of Skaneateles Lake, just little rolling stones with no destination known (as long as you were back home by dinner time).

Sometimes we would spend afternoons At Billy Hunter's. He had a barn, and we would free fall from the rafters into the piles of hay below, or play chess on rainy days. Mr. Hunter was some kind of diplomat, and their house was filled with Asian treasures.

Sometimes we'd have sleepovers and camp in our respective backyards. It was all just kid stuff. We never did any homework together, because frankly, from my perspective, homework wasn't necessary to ace a test. All you had to do was listen to the teacher, and most of the crap they tried to stuff in your head from grades one to five you already knew before you walked into Belle H. Waterman Elementary School.

So life, and your social life in particular, was pretty stable. These were your buds, and any hang time you had, you hung with them. As mentioned in a previous blog, The Band Of Brothers was a concept that I took very seriously, even as a little kid.

I suppose our paths started to diverge a bit by the time we hit fifth grade, but we still calibrated to stick together. Steve and Bob joined the Boy Scouts. That deal was too structured for me even then, but I gave professional camping and woodsmanship a try to keep the clan together. After a very abortive attempt in the late fall on a canoe trip to the Adirondacks where I ended up freezing my tuckus off (That's a blog for the future, right there!), I decided that following the dogma of Robert Baden-Powell might not be such a good fit for me. It made more sense to my ten year old brain to join the Girl Scouts, because that's where all the action was... But we carried on, until two major life changes started to get in the way: Hormones, and matriculating into middle school.

There were two elementary schools in Skaneateles, one that serviced the west side, and ours, Belle H. Waterman, that serviced the East, from Kindergarten to Grade Five. When you hit sixth grade, both sides of the town were blended into one school, so there were a whole set of kids that you had never seen before, and you had real classes. Social Studies, Math, Science, English, and Foreign Languages all taught by separate teachers with separate personalities and expectations. Skating by with charisma and natural ability was no longer an option.

You were separated from your buddies on what seemed to be an alphabetical basis, not a social or even intellectual criteria. Accelerated courses didn't come available until eighth grade testing. We started to drift apart, and form new little social clumps. I started experimenting with being a world class trouble maker right around then. I was very good at it.

And of course, their was a whole new crop of westside girls for me to fall in love with, which it seemed I was doing on a bi-weekly basis. Interests, by this time, were clearly diverging for Steve, Billy, Bob and George.

But that divergence wasn't completed yet. We all decided to not to participate in the then infantile practice of Trick Or Treating for Halloween. That was so last year.

Instead, we decided to go out and raise Halloween hell... with girls; for me a very necessary component for any type of hell raising of any kind, in that present and in my upcoming future. The possibility of kissing was now a compulsory element in any future social event.

So about twenty of us went out that night armed to the teeth with eggs, toilet paper, and multiple cans of Barbasol Shaving Cream, with the plastic spouts melted and perforated with pins: you got more power and distance with this modification .

I think the basic game plan was to pelt each other as much as possible, and then focus your pelting on the object of your affection, with the possibility of tongue wrestling with Penny Zulaf in a bush somewhere with eggs, toilet paper, and shaving cream somehow being involved in the festivities. Pelting as an expression of puppy love? It made sense at the time.

Honestly, I don't really remember just what we were thinking, other than it was one of our first boy/girl outings, and we were going to have fun. I wore a gorilla mask and gorilla hand gloves to add the extra element of irony, romance and mystery. It was going to be guerrilla warfare, and I was hoping Penny would get the joke. Once a masker, always a masker.

So out we went, and we had a blast playing war Halloween style with the girls. It was wild, it was woolly, and it was fun, even if there was no necking involved... we ended up dripping with gooey egg and shaving cream material on the North side of Genesee Street across from the nursing home that squatly sat at the top of Lakeview Circle.

And although truce had been declared by then, an over-boisterous reveler ran straight up to me and sprayed me right in the eyeballs with shaving cream from point blank range. I was blinded.

Lori Walser suggested that all of us go down to her house at the bottom of Lake View Circle to clean up, but more specifically to get my burning eyeballs to a kitchen water tap as quickly as possible.

I turned to Steve.

Me: I can't see, Steve... can you get me across the road?
Steve: Sure...just hold my hand.

The next part of this reminiscence gets fuzzy for me. Perhaps I was thinking about the possibility of playing spin the bottle in the Walser family basement as I was crossing the street gripping Steve's hand. Maybe there would be some tongue wrasslin' after all.

All I do remember is this. I remember losing that grip, and turning to see a blinding light, all in a split second.

The rest of this is second hand narrative. I had been struck in the ass by a car that was travelling way above the 30mph speed limit, flew about twenty feet in the air, and landed on my head, cracking my skull open like the dozens of Halloween eggs that had been lobbed that night. The second lifetime event where my brains got the unexpected architectural detail of a skylight.

The next thing I remember is laying in the side of the road with the S.A.V.E.S. ambulance crew looming about, red lights flashing. I looked up and saw Ed Peterson's very huge feet, and a very tiny version of Ed's head asking me if I was alright.

Ah, perspective. Ed, a volunteer with S.A.V.E.S., was a very tall man. I blacked out before I could answer, and the next two weeks was a blur. There is no memory, just what my parents or siblings tell me about what happened in the aftermath. Evidently, it was pretty scary, but I didn't have any awareness of what was happening around me at the Upstate Medical Hospital ICU head trauma unit.

As I convalesced at home, none of my buddies showed up. Or if they did, I don't remember.

But I do remember the day I got the all clear to go back to school. My head and face was still very swollen and the color of a ripe plum. I looked like a combination of a big headed cartoon version of Quasimodo and the Elephant Man, all colored purple, green, and jaundiced yellow, the whites of my eyes still blood red.

I wasn't stupid enough to think I would return with a hero's welcome, and dreaded going back. I was hideous, and as predicted, everyone kept their distance.

That was it for me and Steve. He went on to be an Eagle Scout and classic High Achiever. Y'all know the drill: College, Architect, Married his high school sweetheart Dorothy, raised a family, and became a pillar of the community.

I went on to be a classic reprobate; Smoked cigarettes in a leather jacket on the corner, grew my hair long, constantly extending my middle finger to authority and the status quo, drank and smoked copious amounts of weed, and eventually dropped out of high school to join the circus also known as the music industry. To Skaneateles, I became a ghost and a cipher; a subject of legend and tall tales told. The more distance I put between me and Skaneateles, the better.

Those life paths took time to develop, but they started there.

Maybe being untethered from my best friend Steve was just what I needed to make that choice. I didn't think much of it at the time: We were sort of naturally separating anyway, but because his disappearance was radical, I instinctively knew it was time to make new friends, and falling in with the trouble makers was a half and half affair. I wanted to have them, and they were the only ones that would have me at the time.

I left Skaneateles for good when I was seventeen, and didn't return to live in my hometown until thirty years later. Although I remained close to it because my parents live there, I really only returned for holidays, and all of the people I knew in my childhood became distant memories. I was too busy crafting a new life's story.

But return I did, in 2008 to prepare for a Shuffling Hungarians show. I got a little railroad apartment on State Street, arriving with just an electric piano, some clothes, a computer and my two dogs, Huckleberry and Doodle.

I needed to score some cheap furniture in a hurry: And that's where we'll pick up this 40 year cyclical story, in the 14th installment of "The Daily Dose". Stay tuned.




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