Dialogue overheard at a bonfire party, Friday night, Spring, 1979…
- “Fuck that noise, Led Zeppelin IV is, by far, better than Zeppelin III—any day of the week! Zep III?… too much acoustic crap.”
- “You hear what happened to Michelson yesterday? He got suspended. Yeah, he told Gribbin to go fuck himself! I was there, man, he said it! Gribbin, go fuck yourself! I swear to god, he did.”
- “Her tits, man… they’re the worst—the worst. In the whole school.”
These random samples of sparkling discourse were the intellectual watermark for teenagers in 1979—at least the ones I was surrounded by. But this was typical, I suppose, of any bonfire party out in the woods across anywhere in North America on any Friday night back then.
We had just pulled up. Dave and Brad and Harold and Tom and I fell out of Tom’s LeMans like clowns in a circus car. I was making my way to the fire, getting my bearings, hoping against hope to find someone I knew among all of these upper classmen, when I heard a familiar voice.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Hahn?”
Shit. Jeff Jackson. He was the school’s starting quarterback and, also, its enfant terrible. He was so good at throwing a ball around that several universities were already knocking on his door, scholarships in hand—it didn’t matter that he couldn’t conjugate a verb, explain what a prime number was, read without moving his lips. This dolt would not only get into college long before I ever did, but his fully intact and financially flush family would never have to spend a dime on it. And how in the world throwing a ball to someone translated into being gifted an education… well, that never made any fucking sense to me. And, now, as a teacher for twenty years, makes even less sense now. The world, man…
Jackson, to his credit, hated me too. I was never sure why, though. It could be that he didn’t like that I was friends with the other guys on the football team—who I had befriended in U.S history class. They quickly came to realize that the dude with the long hair and the Thin Lizzy t-shirts actually knew a few things. If they could free their minds, they learned that sitting at the same table as me provided unexpected benefits to their GPAs. Whatever the reason was, Jeff Jackson went out of his way to make my life miserable. Tonight was no exception.
“I asked you a question, dumbass,” he persisted.
“Well, Jeffrey,” I said, looking at the party around me. “I’m just taking in the fresh air, enjoying the intellectual discussion, and, you know,” I gestured towards him, “the good company.”
“You’re a real smart-ass, Hahn. You know that?”
“My mother’s very words.”
“C’mon, man. Lay off of the kid,” came a voice from behind me. I turned to see that it was Tom. “Hahn’s all right. He ran defence for us tonight.”
Jackson looked like he was going to launch into another salvo but Tom mollified him with a contraband brew. They walked off, together towards the fire, but not before Jackson threw me a threatening look. I gave him a nod and a thumbs-up.
“What a dick.” It was Linda-From-Biology-Class. And she was standing right next to me.
You see, Linda-From-Biology-Class was a straight up fox. (That was the terminology then—sorry.) She was in the tenth grade (an older woman!), smart as hell, and sexy—a rare combination. You see, girls in my high school, much like students deciding on O or A level studies in the UK, decided at an early age which discipline to pursue: smart or sexy. Rarely would there be someone that chose both tracts of study. It was like majoring in Business and Art at the same time and at two different universities.
“Dickhead thinks he’s hot shit. Look at him….”
I did. Jackson was looking over his shoulder at us—well, probably at Linda, not me. Everybody looked at Linda.
“He probably thinks I’m over here talking about him right now.”
“Yeah, he’s so vain,” I agreed, but she didn’t get the joke. “He’s like our own Warren Beatty,” I added. Still nothing. “You know, that song…”
“Yeah, I get it. What? Am I fucking Carly Simon?” She rolled her eyes. “Jesus, she has a mouth like a fish—you ever notice that?”
“Oh. Sorry,” I said.
Then, clumsily, as much as out of trying to break awkward verbal cul-de-sac I just drove us into, as my usual need to have things always make sense somehow, I let in with “Wait a second—weren’t you guys going out?”
See, Linda-From-Biology-Class was seen at a house party going into the master bedroom with Jackson. This, predictably, was at odds with Jackson’s girlfriend, Whitney Morrison, the head cheerleader. Anyway, Linda-From-Biology-Class and Jackson emerged, later, both looking like they took a ride in the spin cycle of a washing machine, Jackson smiling to beat the band. It was also said that he shouted Touchdown! as he did, but I don’t know, I wasn’t there. This counted as ‘big news’ in the corridors of our high school.
She looked at me in a way that made me think that she might punch me, got up, and walked away. I went after her.
“Hey,” I said as I caught up to her. “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t very good around girls and was even worse around girls I just pissed off.
“Yeah, well that’s the thing with guys,” she said, nodding at a group of boys by the fire. “You fuckheads all think you know fucking everything—and you know what? You don’t know shit. You don’t know shit.” She reached into a cooler and grabbed a can of Olympia beer and handed one to me. “Here you go, smart guy.”
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m, uh… I’m trying to get over a cold.”
She looked at me with suspicion. “No shit? Okay. A cold.” She popped the tab on her beer, began to take a sip, but stopped, seemed to think better of it. “Yeah, those spring colds. They’re the worst.” She set down the beer and began walking. I followed her.
Hey, if you want to know, I didn’t really start drinking—at all—until I was 21, the legal drinking age in the U.S. What can I say? I’m a ‘rules’ guy, it’s true, but that wasn’t it, that wasn’t the reason. In high school, I was completely clean of booze or drugs of any kind; what the punks typified as straight-edge. The thing of it is, I lived and breathed in a pot-heavy environment that was rivalled only by southern California—I mean, grass was everywhere, as was its attendant moronic stoner lifestyle, i.e. being stupid, lethargic, and proudly so—all things that I stood (then and now) firmly against. Look. I just didn’t want anyone thinking that—more than anything—I was an idiot. Anyway, by all appearances, it didn’t seem like you could do grass or drink without acting like a complete imbecile, the two seemed to go hand-in-hand like fucking peas and carrots, so I opted out. Simple as that.
I followed her away from the group, further into the woods, Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean”, chugging in the background, fading, finally into traffic in the distance, dogs barking, enveloped by the din of suburbia. We talked a bit more, about school—about Martin’s art class (“I heard that he married one of his students—when he taught in college! Can you believe that?” “Wow, that’s fucked up.”), about what was coming up in biology class (“I heard we have to dissect frogs next term. That’s going to be cool!” “Yeah, for sure.”)—the usual nonsense that passes for conversation to tread water whilst you get up the nerve to get to what you really are there for.
We came out of the woods and into the perimeter of someone’s backyard. The light of the house spilled out onto the grass in a way that reminded me of Mr. Martin’s lesson on René Magritte and his series of paintings, The Empire of Lights. It was dark out but you could make out the clouds above us in a surreal way. There was a doghouse that looked so much like what you are told what a doghouse looks like—from movies and cartoons—that it didn’t actually look real. When a big dog ambled out, sniffing the air in curiosity, I was actually startled.
I was just about stealing up the nerve for… well, I don’t know now nor did I have the slightest clue then, but something, when, out of nowhere, she said, “Listen, just so you know, getting groped—assaulted—by a fucking gorilla, is not going out, asshole. It’s not going out.”
“Uh…” is all that I could muster.
“Yeah, look into it,” she hissed. “How would you like it if he tried pulling your pants off? How ‘bout if he threw you on the bed and tried putting his…” She stopped in mid-sentence and motioned towards the dog. “Hey, boy! Come here!” She kneeled down and motioned to it as if she had food. The dog obediently sprinted over and jumped up on the gate, greedily sniffing the air for the phantom food that Linda had offered it. Then she opened the latch and said, “There you go boy—you’re free! Go!”
And the dog did—he went. I mean, he hauled ass out of there like he’d been planning this for years, like he was just waiting for his messiah, Linda-From-Biology-Class, to come and deliver him from his bondage, to release him. For that dog, there was, apparently, no turning back.
“I wanna be like that fucking dog, man,” she said wistfully as we watched it run into the woods, quickly out of sight, swallowed up by the blackness. She looked off into the woods for a long time—so long that I was becoming uncomfortable just standing there not knowing what to say just waiting for her to say something waiting for something to happen so that when she finally said, “Let’s get back; it’s getting late,” I felt myself exhale with gratitude.
We walked back to the party not saying a word, the sound of our footsteps, the breaking twigs, the soft pad of the blanket of pine needles beneath us slowly, surely, replaced by the voices of teenagers, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” blasting from the car stereo.
The fire had died way down, burned down to red glowing embers at this point—we were gone longer than I thought. Linda looked around nervously. Then began waving at someone—it was another girl whose name I didn’t know, a big girl who was in, I think, grade 12. “Well, I’m gonna split,” she said with a small smile. Then, before I knew what was happening, I felt her breath on my ear. “Thank you,” she whispered.
And then I saw stars. And blackness. And when I opened my eyes—when my eyes saw something again—I saw grass and the blur of an Adidas shoe, those three stripes.
Then I heard it, coming from all around me, my own Greek chorus: “Oh, SHIT—FIGHT! A FIGHT!”
And then all I felt were what seemed like drumbeats on my chest and my cheek—and as soon as it began it was over.
Apparently—and I had to trust the testimony of my friends on this—what happened was this: Linda had come in, close, to whisper in my ear—and Jeff Jackson saw this. And then he came in and sucker punched me right on the other side of my face. And then I dropped like a sack of potatoes’. And then Jackson got on top of me and started, as they say, raining blows on me. Fortunately, Tom and Harold were nearby—looking for me, ironically—and pulled him off before he could do any real damage.
“What the fuck, Jeff?” Tom roared at him.
“What? What? What’d I do?” he asked, incredulously. Outraged by this indignity.
“Are you fucking crazy, dude?” Tom asked.
“Ask him!” he said, pointing at me as I wobbled to my feet, Harold helping me up. My ears were ringing. “Ask him ‘What the fuck’!” Jackson protested.
Tom looked at me in a way that seemed to ask for an explanation. I just looked at him like he, too, was out of his mind. Linda looked at Jackson and said, “Proud of yourself, big man?” and walked off. Jackson looked at me, then Tom, before walking off following Linda.
I reflexively began to go after them—I made it about three steps—when Tom held me back. “Whoa, whoa, whoa… where you going, Tonto?” He brushed me off and smiled. “No, no. I think it’s time to get your smart ass back home while you’re still in one piece.”
I watched Linda walking off, Jackson catching up to her, putting his arm around her. I watched how she didn’t try to take his arm off of her. “Don’t worry about that shit, man,” Tom said, shaking his head. “None of this shit ever makes sense. It never does. Trust me.”
We made it back to his LeMans and Harold yelled “Shotgun!”
“Wait. What?” I said. “But I just got my ass kicked!”
“You know the rules, man,” reminded Tom. We all got in the car and headed back to the main road. “You gotta call shotgun—the minute we can see the car.”
We were about two minutes into the drive, Harold was going on about a girl he had in his Drivers’ Education class… “I’m telling you man, we almost got into a fucking wreck because Baumann couldn’t keep his eyes off her tits, man. I mean, seriously? She’s about as smart as a bag of gravel and can’t drive worth a shit and Mr. Baumann’s got his eyes plastered on these fucking knockers, not paying attention to the road…”
“WHOA, HOLY SHIT!!”
“WHAT THE FUCK…? What the fuck was…. What the fuck WAS THAT?” asked Brad.
We hit something. Or something hit us. Or?
Tom quickly pulled off to the side of the road and got out—followed by the rest of us.
Out here on the road, it seemed colder than it was and the car stereo was blasting Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” from their then popular Live at Budokan album. It echoed into the darkness, sounding like the cheap seats in an arena.
“Oh… oh, fuck…”
It was Tom. He was about fifty feet or so away from the car, behind us, kneeling down in the road. We walked up to him and saw it: a dog. A dog, it’s legs and body twisted up in an unnatural way. When I got closer I saw it—and I almost wanted to throw up. Was it the same dog we I earlier? Was it the dog that Linda—that we—let out of its gate? It was dark and I wouldn’t make my legs move to get any closer.
I just stood there. I just stood there listening to the song blasting from the car behind me, the lyrics bouncing of hidden things in the darkness, as I watched the dog spasm, twitch, bleed its last few moments on this earth onto the pavement of the road, Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander shouting his wisdom out into the void…
Mother told me, yes, she told me
That I’d meet girls like you
She also told me, “Stay away
You’ll never know what you’ll catch”
Just the other day I heard
Of a soldier’s falling off
Some Indonesian junk
That’s going round…