Tag Archives: Memoir

Memoir – Draining, Spraying, Stealing, and Hiding Beer

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been
changed as some of the people involved now live respectable lives and I would
hate to sully their reputations. At times I will take liberties as in who did
what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen
together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy

Draining, Spraying, Stealing, and Hiding Beer

Old Style Coaster

I am going to come clean – we drank some beer during the teen years. I can try to justify it – “it was a different time”, “we just didn’t have the awareness we have now”, “it was more accepted”, “we were bored”, “it was there, who else was going to do it?” – but it doesn’t make it right. But it did happen, and it did generate memories.

Draining – The Sandwich Fair officially kicked off the social season. Each year, right after school started , the fair went on during labor day weekend. Harvesting wasn’t really  going yet but much of the summer farm work was done. Great time for a celebration. The fair was also one of the few times you could mingle with kids from other schools. This didn’t happen much otherwise, towns kept pretty much to themselves for the most part. Anyway, we (when I say we, I know it was at least Cisco, Hymie and I, but I think there were others involved) met some people we knew and heard about a party out in Somonauk. We followed our new friends out there to find a small, quiet gathering of teenagers. We doubled the size of the party and tripled the noise. This little party has a fresh case of beer in the fridge, and we had brought along a 6 pack. We turned the music up, chatted the girls up, and managed to drain all the beer in the house in under 45 minutes. When it was dry, we left.

Spraying –It was winter and we had gotten a hold of two cases of beer. We had no place to store it, so we kept it in a cooler in the trunk of my car (’73 Sprint/Duster, trunk so big I could sleep in it comfortably). The party season was a bit weak that year, so we had no place to use it up. Over Xmas break we went to a basketball game. At halftime, we had the bright idea to go out and down a beer or two. Hymie, Spanky and I headed out to the car. We each brought a beer in from the trunk and we say three wide on the front seat. For some reason, we did the one-two-three- Open! ritual, making it so we all opened at the same time. Big mistake. The beer had partially frozen, when we opened them, they sprayed all over the windshield, the dash, the front seat, and us. We piled out of the vehicle and into the school parking lot, sprayed in beer. Not to be deterred, we laughed and took a long drink of our beers. Beer that has been through temperature changes gets skunky, and skunky does not taste good. Then it dawned on me that the remainder of the beer in the trunk was also bad. Fortune smiled at that time, as a couple of sophomores came by and asked, “Hey, you guys got any beer to sell?” We made them a hell of a deal, and $10 later they walked away happy.

Stealing – It was summer and our beer sources had dried up. We kept a multitude of sources, older siblings, older friends, girls that looked older… but we had come up dry this warm night. We heard about a small party a guy was having since his parents were out of town. The rumour was that he had scored quite a bit of beer. He was not part of our regular group, more of a rival crew of good timers. While we were not antagonistic with each other, we did travel in different circles. But, they had beer and we didn’t. Something had to change. We devised a plan. Three of us, with girlfriends, went to the front door. Girlfriends was critical, since their girlfriends would talk to our girlfriends and give us an excuse to be there. The door opened and the talking started. Soon, everyone was out on the front porch having a good old talk. At this time, the remainder of the crew snuck around the back of the house, went into the kitchen and liberated two cases of beer from the fridge. Once we got the all clear sign, the guys out front made noises that we wanted to leave, so the nice little talk broke up. Thirty minutes later, we were out at Buef’s house, sitting around a bonfire and drinking some nice cold beer.

Hiding – This was the year after high school on Xmas break. The first time we were all back together again since summer, and New Years Eve was to be our big time. Beav’s parents would be gone all night, so we had the blast there. It was cold and snowy that year. The New Years Eve temp was expected to be in the teens. We, being older, were more experienced and efficient at acquiring alcohol. We had a lot to be exact, and there were probably 20 of us at the party. We were having a great time, until around 1 am when a car pulled up in the driveway and Beav yells “It’s my parents, hide the beer!” We quickly organized a line of people who emptied the fridge and hauled the coolers out the back door. A few of us stayed inside to explain the cars out front. Beav’s dad was in the bag and his mom was feeling pretty good. They rambled through the house, on some unknown errand, but they made it clear that they would be leaving again. 20 minutes later, as they were headed out the front door, Beav’s dad yells out “We’re leaving, won’t be back until morning. You can tell everyone out back they can come back in. They’re probably getting a bit cold!”

I still say it was a different time then. Today, someone would snap a picture of this activity, post it, and kids would get suspended or worse. I feel bad for kids now in some ways, they don’t have as much room to make the little mistakes that helps to develop the judgement to avoid the bigger ones.

Memoir – Police Activity: Big Boots, Small Guns, and Speeding Tickets

Police Activity – Big Boots, Small Guns, and Speeding Tickets

 police-lights

I have already discussed some of my experiences with the police during my teen years. I got pulled over on while on my bicycle three times. I, and the rest of the crew, had discussions with the police about the artistic merits of toilet paper in trees on consecutive nights. Then there was the considerable donation we made to the Park Police at Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan. That’s a repsectable amount of police activity, but wait, there was more. Compared to many people, my interactions with the police have been modest and pedestrian. One only needs to watch a episode of “Cops” to see how things can be different, but these are my stories and I’m sticking to them.

My older son is nearly driving age.  We were talking about the responsibilities involved with driving and he asked “What happens if you get a speeding ticket?”. I explained that would be bad, really bad in some circumstances, but it does happen. It got me to thinking about my teen years and tickets. That reminded me of three incidents from those years.

Big Boots – It was 1981 and we were flatland rednecks. Part of the accepted attire at the time were hiking boots. Big, clunky, hiking boots, that made your feet look three times bigger than they really were (joke time – what do you say about a man with big feet? Big shoes.) Yeah, we also had flannel and concert t-shirts, Jean jackets, but I really remember the hiking boots. Hymie finally got his folks to buy him a pair, with was an accomplishment. Hymie’s growth spurt sent him from 5’8” past 6’ in about 18 months so his folks had a hell of a time keeping him in clothes that fit. He got a nice pair of boots, maybe size 12.5, on the inside, but on the outside each was a bit smaller than a golf cart. Let me remind you that at the time, Hymie’s main mode of transportation was a Renault Le Car. A vehicle that was just a bit larger than a golf cart. So, put these two together in your mind. Good. Now the story. It was well after dark and Hymie and I were out looking for a chase. A chase was where you would follow a car for a while, then pass it in hopes that it would follow you. A chase. In Boulder Hill, with the twisty roads and lack of street lights, this was great fun. So we are in a chase, being chased, going well above the posted 35mph speed limit when lights flip on behind us, police lights. At first Hymie floors it (“flooring it” is a relative term in a Le Car. While the gas pedal did go down, the car didn’t really speed up, it just made more noise), I give him a panicked look, then he smiles and pulls over. He had a plan. Knowing he had a plan make my panic worse.

The police officer walks up and goes through his normal bit, license, where you going,…. Do you know how fast you were going…  you were doing 51 in a 35…Then Hymie starts in with his explanation . “I didn’t mean to be speeding officer. I grew up in this neighborhood and I know how dangerous it is to speed with all the little kids and the cars parked out on the road. I wasn’t really speeding, but my boot got caught under the brake pedal and I couldn’t get it off of the gas.” At this point I was trying to figure out if I should call mom or dad from the lock up, when the cop turned his flashlight down to Hymie’s feet. You could barely see any floor with those lunker boots filling up all the space. “I just got these boots, and I guess I never guessed that you could accidently hit both pedals. It is a pretty little car.” The policeman angled the light to see the pedals, which in this car were hardly more than rubber covered sticks. “I managed to get it un stuck right after you turned on your lights, you probably heard the motor go as I pushed to get it out”. The policeman turned his light to Hymie’s face. It was all innocence and smiles, as if he were taking meals to elderly shut ins on his way to bible class. “Ok, be more careful next time. Have a nice night.” The Officer went back to his car and left. Hymie smiled at me, “Well, it could’ve happened you know” was all he said.

Small Guns – On Hymie’s 18th birthday, we went hiking down around Silver Springs Park. It was late, late fall, and the park was nearly empty. That was convenient, since we brought a couple of BB guns, and a bottle of wine. As always, when we went hiking, each of use was carrying a knife big enough to be illegal. We walked around and shot at things, not animals or birds as such, but just tried to hit things. (For the record, I hit nothing. Ever. Man, did I suck.) We each took a slug of the wine, but it really didn’t taste good to us (Again, genius at work. Cheap ass screw cap wine out of the bottle on a 40 degree day and we were surprised it tasted bad. Go figure.) After a few hours we came back home and decided to go to Mc Donalds at Rt. 30 and Douglas. As we travelled along Fernwood, a police car came towards us and flicked on his lights. Hymie pulled over as stashed the wine bottle deep under the passenger seat of the Le Car, then followed it with hats and gloves. The guns were in the hatchback, covered with a blanket. The three of us looked great, all decked out in military surplus gear, sweaty from the hiking, mud stained, and not at all suspicious . Then the Officer started his routine: License, where are you going, where have you been… to which Hymie answered truthfully. Then “Do you know you were going 48miles per hour?” “Oh, no sir, I had no idea. We just came up that big hill back there and sometimes this little car has trouble with it when all of us are in the car” (Yes, another Le Car related incident). The Officer looked each one of us over “You boys all from around here?” yessirs, followed along with our addresses. He told us to stay put while he went back to his car. We sweated and didn’t say a word to each other the whole time. Then he came back. “You really need to be a lot more careful in a residential area boys. I don’t doubt this little foreign car couldn’t make the hill easily, but still keep the speed down. Since it’s your birthday, I’m going to let you go. Have a nice day.” We went to the Mc Donalds, ate some burgers, and laughed for the next two hours.

Speeding Tickets – I used to drive to a video store all the way out in Warrenville to get movies. Then we would have movie nights at my house.  Yes, this was VHS, and the VHS player had dials and was always flashing because we couldn’t set the time correctly. In terms of entertainment choices, it was the dawn of time. Once Eola road was finished from Rt. 34 to New York Street, my time to and from the store was really cut down. Hymie went with me to get a video, and on the way back we got caught by the light at Eola and New York. I said “I love this new section of road. It’s in great shape, it has twists and turns like a sports car track, no houses on it, and there are never any cops. Hang on.” When the light went green, I gave the Celica all it could take. The first curve was a righ hander just after a little rise in the road. By now I was going about 65mph. As I crossed lanes to the right and headed into the turn, I saw the cop car sitting in the median, facing me. I slammed on the brakes. The tired squealed and the car went into a minor slide. I corrected the slide just at the officer turned on his lights and pointed for me to pull over. Hymie stared straight ahead, face like a stone, while I was terrified. What would happen? Then I thought, hell, Hymie’s been pulled over twice, guilty as hell and we got out of it both times. I relaxed a little and tried to put on a smiley face. I rolled down my window and started with “Hello officer, is there a probl…..” That’s as far as I got. “Son, I’m going to give you ticket for speeding. Then I’m going to look around this car and give you every ticket I possible can. On top of that, I’m just hoping you’ve got something outstanding  Let me see your license.” He took it and walked around the car carefully inspecting the lights. After fifteen minutes or so of waiting he came back and handed me a ticket. “You are so lucky son. All I can do is give you a speeding ticket for going 53 in a 50 zone. I know you were going faster, but that’s all I got. Don’t bother trying to fight it, I’m going to show up in court for this one. Have a nice day.” And he left. I sat, stunned and speechless. Unfortunately, Hymie wasn’t. “You know what your problem is? You just aren’t good with people….”

Memoir – The Lows and Highs of Raft Races

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed as some of the people involved now live respectable lives and I would hate to sully their reputations. At times I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy.

The Raft Races

The town of Oswego used to have a celebration in June each year called “Oswego Days”. These types of celebrations are common in rural towns, everyone getting together for a week over the summer, usually involving a parade, a carnival/fair, and other events. Oswego’s celebration had all these things, and it had the raft race.

The Fox River runs through Oswego on  it’s way down to the Illinois. For several miles upriver from Oswego, and all the way to Yorkville, the river is a shallow, slow moving lazy kind of a river that just invites you to jump in on a hot summer day. Only back then, you were a bit hesitant since it always smelled a bit funny and seemed to have more dead fish than live ones in it. That’s probably not a fair appraisal, really, but that’s how I remember it. The raft race ran from a park a mile or so upstream from town and ended at the bridge crossing the river. There were many classes, divided up by age. The race would start everybody out together, then mark whoever made it across the finish line and figure out who won what. It was fun for the kids, and a beer-fueled cruise for the adult entrants. We ran the race several times.

1977: Our Rookie Year.

It was probably Cisco’s idea to do the race. I don’t remember. He and Hymie built a raft without me knowing about it. This was probably sound decision. I was heavier that either of them, and I was (and still am) useless with a tool in my hand. In the end I don’t know if they felt guilty about leaving me out, or if I just weaseled my way into project, but the end result was that we were all in the race. We built a wooden raft and lashed it to a pair of large inner tubes. Only the raft wasn’t big enough for all three of us. So, my friends let me use another inner tube and tied a rope from it onto the back of the raft. We were high drag on shallow water. It was a long day, but we still took first place. Lucky for us we were the only entry our age.

1978: Triumph of Design.

We spent a little more time on the design phase the second year. We were still relying on tractor inner tubes for our primary floatation. Through a big of experimentation, we learned that you could tie an inflated inner tube across the center and it would form a mini-canoe, with the front and back higher than the center. We measured this width, then built a long ladder frame to that width, long enough for three big inner tubes and three intrepid Vikings. I mention Vikings, because we had another idea. We wanted to make a bigger image at the end of the race. One of the adult entries the previous year was a huge barge with a mini cannon on it. At the end of the race they would shoot it off with the boom echoing up and down the river valley. The other thing they had was a big sail. This let them not paddle, yet still make good time. We couldn’t do the cannon, well, not that would get us in trouble, but we could do the sail. We put up a mast and fastened it to a cross bar. Then we got a white sheet put a huge skull and crossbones on it. We rigged up a system to raise and lower the sail and put it all together. The first time we raised the sail the whole thing caught a little breeze and tipped over. It was top heavy, really top heavy. So we added a couple of small outriggers made out of car tire inner tubes. We put it up again, then heard the awful cracking sound as the wind caught the sail and stressed the mast. Then we put in cross bracing, and ran lines from the tops of the mast to the ends of the raft and the out riggers. By now, it was time to get to the race. We lined up for the start with our sail down. We were a bit worried about breaking the whole ship, so we decided to put the sail up once we rounded the bend towards the finish line. The gun sounded and we all took off. The ship was pretty good, with the canoe’d inner tubes being much more efficient in the water. We rowed and rowed, and got out front by quite a bit in the first three or four hundred yards. Then we learned something about draft. Draft is how much water you have to work with, or depth. It had been a fairly dry spring that year, but not drought-like. The water was there, but there just wasn’t much of it in some spots. In fact, we spent about half of the next two hours picking up or dragging our beautiful ship down the river. That is hard work, even when you are in the prime of your youth.  By the time we rounded the bend we were exhausted, wet, and getting a bit cranky with each other. The bend marked a slower part of the river, also one that was deeper. We got in and started rowing again. We were still in front, but not by much as other had taken paths with more water. We pushed and pushed until we got a strong lead. Then, just before the bridge, we brought the oars in and put  up our magnificent sail. A huge cheer rose up from the crowd lining the bridge. The Skulled sail billowed in the breeze and glistened in the sunlight. It also brought us to a dead stop. The breeze that day was blowing up the river, not down the river. We rowed and rowed, water splashing everywhere, boards creaking against the wind and our efforts. Finally, Hymie just cut the rope and dropped the sail. We pushed across the finish line barely ahead of the competition.

1979: Hi Tech and Hi Tides

The third year we planned even more than the second year. That doesn’t mean we were better, it just means we spent more time talking about it as we went garbage picking or sat at the firepits. We wanted something new, something with performance. We wanted to smoke all the competition with our brilliant raft and our brute force. We were short on force, so we needed to concentrate on the raft.

Hauling the raft across the shallow spots the previous year taught us an important lesson about how much wood weighs and how much wet wood weighs. We needed something lighter, but that floats and floats enough to carry the three of us. We hit upon the idea of Styrofoam.  The giant home improvement stores did not exist back then, but there was still a decent amount of home construction going on where we lived. You can fill in the blanks. We managed to get a hold of several 4” thick sheets of Styrofoam. I had the bright idea to use spray foam sealer between the sheets to seal them up and to glue them together. Seemed like a good idea at the time. We sprayed some on and stuck the sheets together. An hour later we took a look and realized that the spray didn’t stick them together, but melted them down. We had eaten away at the Styrofoam wherever the spray touched. I was banned from having ideas at this point. Hymie and Cisco used strips of wood to build down the center and long bolts the hold the sheets together. Then they set about carving the front end. I will bet that to this day, 30+ years later, they are still digging Styrofoam shavings out of Cisco’s parents garage. It was a petro-chemical byproduct snowfall after hours of cutting and filing. We painted it up, red and blue, and were ready.

This raft was ¼ the weight and rode much higher in the water. What we didn’t count on was the difficulty in getting on the raft and staying on. We didn’t put seats on. Hmmm, quite an oversight in retrospect. The other things we didn’t count on was high water. That spring was wet, and the river was running much faster and deeper. When you are standing chest deep in water, it is hard to lift yourself up onto a platform, more so when the other two monkeys are trying to do the same thing, all while holding onto your paddle. The gun sounded and we weren’t even on the raft. We struggled and swore while the rest of the competitors thrashed their way down the river. Finally Cisco, the lightest of us, got on and Hymie and I just started pushing. We managed to get to a more shallow spot and we all got on the raft. Then the next issue reared its head. The raft was too wide to get a paddle in the water when you were sitting at the center. Maybe half of the paddle would get in and be useful. The brilliant raft was anything but. So we went with brute force. We paddled and paddled, slapping the water like meth-headed beavers, weaving this way and that way as we could barely steer the craft. When was shallow enough, we jumped off and ran with our craft – this proved to be the most efficient way to pilot this particular raft. Through frenzied paddling and water jogging we managed to pass much of the pack. Then the bend and the deeper water. We paddled furiously, frenetically, and fanatically until we cross the finish line, a bit behind the first place raft.

We competed in a couple of more races in the next few years, each time scrounging parts from old rafts and building something at the last minute. These were more leisurely efforts, not like our highly competitive ones in the past. We still talk fondly of our rafts, the times building them and of the races.

Memoir – Sometimes, stuff just blows up

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed as some of the people involved now live respectable lives and I would hate to sully their reputations. At times I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy

Memoir – Sometimes, stuff just blows up

Males need a place to feel comfortable. To be who they want to be. To express themselves like men should express themselves. To be alone. Particularly to be alone with other males. These spaces should be rustic. Full of wood and a little bit of dirt. Not filthy, but not really clean. No air fresheners or accent pillows. With tools of some type within arm’s reach. We had such a place when we were young. We had the firepits.

Cisco’s house had a small, very tidy backyard where his dad had a little garden and a small shed. Next to the shed was a small, but very wide tree. Underneath was all cleared of brush, dark and hidden. Behind the shed was a big pile of bricks. Cisco’s dad was a woodworker and he had a small shop in the back of his garage. He would make wooden toys to sell at craft fairs, or he would just putter out there, I’m not really sure. The point is that there was always a lot of scrap wood. Now, our stirring need for a male place combined with the resources at hand (a dark hidden place, bricks, and scrap wood) to create our proto-man-cave, i.e. the Fire Pits.

We took the space under the tree and cleared the ground of leaves, mulch and other burnables. Then we each staked out a spot and built a little brick enclosure, like a fire place but without a chimney or screen, or anything resembling common sense. Then we carefully piled the scrap wood where each of us could reach it. A couple of matches and newspaper later we each had a little fire.

Sitting in front of a fire is primal. It’s cathartic. It’s hypnotic. On cold fall days we would walk down to Buy Rite and get some pop and chips (side story, one of these trips resulted in us coming up with the game “take-a-big-mouthful-of-red-crème-soda-and-then-the-other-guys-try-to-make-you-laugh-so-it-comes-out-your-nose”. Red Crème soda in my nasal passages is probably the cause of my sinus issues today). We would trudge back to the house and start up the fires as darkness fell. We would drink pop and pass the chips back and forth, taking about school, girls, family, girls, adventures, girls and so forth.

Quiet times of reflection and conversation. Yeah, that type of thing is not meant to last long. It is a vacuum, a void, a hallow space that the teen boy’s mind seeks to fill with something. For us, that something usually involved explosions or vandalism or girls. This one involved explosions, but not on purpose. Honest. It really wasn’t on purpose this time.

We learned that the shop classes in school actually forged tools out of aluminum, melting the aluminum then pouring it into casts. The wheels started turning. We knew we couldn’t actually melt aluminum. We knew because we tried. The pop cans just sat there, not melting. Then we learned lead had a really low melting point. So, the theft of a couple of Cisco’s dad’s fishing sinkers and a few minutes of burning later, we knew we could melt lead. What to make a cast out of? Plaster. We got the basics of how to use it for making a cast of an animal track from an old Boy Scout manual I had ( it was from the ‘50s, and was amazingly useful. Tips on making shelters, different kinds of fires, first aid. So much better than the one I had from the ‘80s. All it told me about was how to handle a flag and how to display my non-existent merit badges.) We got the basics for plaster from the hardware store then set out to make some molds. We used an arrow head for one, a little army man for another. We quickly went through our lead supply. We needed more lead. This stymied us for a week or so. Then, as we were walking through the parking lot at the Buy Rite, Hymie stopped in his tracks and the ‘brainstorm’ smile crawled across his face. He pulled out his pocket knife (the pocketknife. We each had one, and kept it in our pockets all the time, even at school. Good thing we never used them to cause carve in desktops, or tree stumps at the Civic Center, or to rapidly deflate bike tires….) and knelt next to a car while telling us to “keep a Lookout”. A minute later he popped up holding the lead weight from the car wheel. “I know where to get lead!” We changed directions and headed to the Ford dealership on Rt. 25, just down the hill from the Buy Rite. They sold cars, but also did a decent business in work vehicles, the kind with bigger tires, bigger wheels and bigger lead weights. 15 minutes later we were each holding about a pound of lead in our pockets and trying to walk normally out of the parking lot.

After trudging back, we set out to melt some lead. Let me just say that Hymie was really into this, he had 4 or 5 of the weights melted down in no time and was looking around for another can to melt in. He found a can, then went to dump the molten lead from the first can to the second can. I don’t pretend to understand the chemistry of what happened next. Cisco and I heard a pop and a poof, followed by several little thuds against the little metal shed, further followed by Hymie’s screams and truly first rate swearing (Hymie spent a lot of time at the family farm in his youth, doing work with his uncle and dad around the farm. He was a much better, more colorful and natural swearer than Cisco or I. He wasn’t a true artist at that point, but he was clearly a budding talent). We rushed over to survey the damage and to hide the evidence. Hymie’s was holding his forehead. The back of his hand had a big burn on it. There were little bits of lead sticking to the side of the metal shed. “I don’t know what happened!” he said “I just poured it out and it exploded! Something hit me in the head and it burns!” We got his hand away from his head and there was a chunk of lead stuck in his hair down by the scalp. And a nasty red burn. We cut the hair out (again, love those pocket knives). It had only missed his eyes by about 2 inches. Then we saw the can. It was still intact, but the lead had formed a thin, fragile bubble, much like a popover, at the top of the can. We poked it and it deflated. The can was empty except for a little bit of water at the bottom. Near as we could tell, the hot molten lead reacted/ rapidly cooled as it hit the water. Steam, lead, heat, and cool combined to cause the lead to expand out violently. Into Hymie’s face, hands, and back of the metal shed. Flying, hot lead and we didn’t even have a gun. This time.

Memoir – The Train Tracks

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed to both protect the innocent and to subvert any statutes of limitations that may still apply. I don’t feel the need to be entirely truthful. I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy.

The Train Tracks

Like many, many towns in the flatlands, we had a railroad track running by our neighborhood. It ran along the west side of Boulder Hill from the Fox River all the way south through Oswego. I can still hear the sound of the train and the whistle blowing on warm summer nights when I had my window open. That train and the sounds of motorcycles racing along the river and the cicadas are some the favorite sounds from my childhood.

Standing on train tracks and just looking is a different experience. IN the flatlands, it really does look like the track go on forever. They have a mythic quality, the promise of someone other than where you are and the chance that something will come along from somewhere else and change where you are. For us, the train tracks were both and more.

The Bridge – At the river, the train ran across a bridge to the other side. One day while we were down by the river we thought to have a look at the underside of the tracks. We climbed up one of the supports and found that there was a walkway under the bridge and it went all the way across the river. It was like a yellow brick road to some magical place, only that is was made from old rotted wood and led to a sewage treatment plant on the other side. It was late in the day, so we decided that we would make an adventure of it that weekend. Weekend came and we got to the tracks by about 10. We climbed up and started across. It was wobbily, it echoed our nervous voices, it smelled like diesel and dead fish. You had to set over the iron supports every six to eight feet, so the going was slow. It was also a big nerve wracking because we were 30 feet or so above the river, which we knew was less than 3 feet deep. A fall would break your legs, then you would drown. In total, the bridge was two hundred to two hundred and fifty feet long. About a third of the way across, there was a platform off to the side. Nice place to rest, except that it was occupied. Two guys a year older than us were standing there smoking…and holding guns. One was the Crossman BB/Pellet gun that had taught a generation of us that squirrels are quicker than they look and the nieghbor’s house is closer than it looked. The other gun was bigger, but not a hunting rifle. Looking back on it, it’s possible that it was a .22, but more likely it was a specialized pellet gun. At that time, it didn’t matter exactly what they were. What did matter was that we were essentially trapped with two guys with guns. We said our hello’s and continued on the wobbily bridge, threading through the trestles as we went. I heard a ‘tink” and saw a little spark off to my left. Then another and another. Hymie, who was bringing up the rear, yelled, “get moving, they’re shooting!” We ran the rest of the way, jumping through the trestles and bouncing on the old rotted boards.

The Stash
Another day, we decided to walk the tracks from the bridge and head south until we got to the Civic Center. We bought some donuts and pop at the bakery next to the Buy Rite and headed south. Early on the trip, just a bit behind the apartments, we found a cardboard box suspiciously stuffed in some rocks on the other side of the tracks. We opened up the box and found someone’s porn stash. It was ragged, water damaged, and otherwise mangled….but it had naked women so we took what we could stuff into our coats and headed on. We decided to stop around lunch, but we needed a private place to do our reading. We followed a little trail back into some woods and came across a little clearing with stumps for stools and a ring for a fire. There were empty pop cans, old vegetable cans and cigarette butts scattered around. We figured we found some type of hobo campground. Though we had no idea what a hobo really was. So for the next hour, we had an educational experience and donuts.

Herbie, the duck
One other walk on the tracks, we made it almost to Oswego, but we stopped where the train crosses Rt. 25 just outside of town. We climbed down the embankment and found ourselves right by a culvert that lead under the highway and it was big enough to walk in if you bent over a ways. We shuffled our way through the and found a very secluded little creek and forest area that we had no idea was there. The creek formed into a pond fifteen feet wide or so and maybe 4 feet deep. The pond emptied out into another creek and then the river about 50 years later. It was like some sylvan paradise, idyllic in a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn kind of way. We sat down to rest , enjoying the quiet in between the passing of cars and trucks just 30 feet away but oblivious to our presence. In the quiet, we could hear a rustling now and then and a little peep. We searched until we found it, a little yellow baby duck. It would sit in our hand, follow us around, and otherwise be just a cute as a baby duck can be. We searched around, even went close to the house nearby, but we couldn’t find any sign of other ducks. We built him a nest of sorts where he could get to the water easily, but also be sheltered from the weather. We named him Herbie. We discussed what they ate and how we could take care of him. None of us were about to try to explain a baby duck to our parents, so when we left, we had to make sure he didn’t follow. We were awfully quiet going back home, knowing that a baby duck didn’t have much chance. When we spit up to go our separate ways home, we agreed that we would each talk to our parents about keeping him, then come back tomorrow with a way to carry him back. That night it stormed like it can only storm in the flatlands. High winds, heavy rain, and lots of lightning. We rode our bikes down there but we couldn’t get through he culvert because of the water. We crossed the highway and went down the hill to Herbie’s home. The idyllic little refuge was now a disaster zone. A lot of leaves and branches had washed through the culvert, along with a lot of water. The pond was gone, the shelter was gone, and Herbie was gone. The ride home was very, very quiet.

Memoir – Rednecks, Racing and some other word beginning with R

Much but not all of the racing team

Much but not all of the racing team

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed to both protect the innocent and to subvert any statutes of limitations that may still apply. I will also take liberties with the truth as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. Such is the nature of a memoir. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy

Rednecks, Racing, and some other word beginning with R

Teen boys in the flatlands in the early ‘80s had a simple set of interests. Teen Girls, Cars, Beer – not neccesarily in that order, but those three subject covered much of what was going on in our heads at any given time. I’ve already talked about Teen Girls, so much so that I am in danger of violating that pesky restraining order, and I have discussed beer at length. Lets talk about cars, specifically race cars.

There was a ¼ mile dirt track about 30 minutes northwest of us, the Sycamore Speedway. A ¼ mile rutted dirt oval, surrounding a mud and weed choked infield, and in turn surrounded by a 4 foot high, one foot thick cement wall. One side had a large set of aluminum bleachers and the other opened up to junkyard. On a warm summer nights, with the crickets chirping and the bright lights shining down on lines of gleaming home built race cars the place was very close to heaven. As close as I was likely to get anyway. They raced three classes there, Super Late Model, Late Model, and Spectator. Late Model and Super Late Model were for people who were serious about racing. If you built frames and motors, you ran Super Late. If you worked on engines, and played with suspensions, you ran Late Model. If you had an old hunk of American iron out back of the barn, and you thought you could get it running, and really had no regard for your own personal safety, you ran in the Spectator class.

One weekend, early in the summer, we went out to the speedway for a night. That accomplished two things; 1) it was fun, cheap, not illegal entertainment and 2) counted as a date for the guys who needed to fulfill that obligation. We watched with rapt attention as cars roared by, lap after lap. We cheered with each win and groaned with each smash into the wall. Then, they announced the spectator class race. We had never heard of this, spectators racing? You mean just anybody with a car could get out on the track? Really? Anybody? Then about 15 old beat up sedans and wagons lined up side by side and rolled around the track. The flag dropped and the junk parade roared to life. Those big V-8s launched the land yatchs into motion, bumping and crunching each other as they flew into the first turn. It was at this point that someone, probably Boss or Buef or both uttered the words “We could do this…” The die was cast. We picked up a pamphlet explaining the rules on our way out and started planning.

First we needed a car. Boss scored for us. He was always in the market for a car, and seemed to go through them quickly. He found us a early ‘70’s Pontiac T-37. Never heard of it? Neither had we. It was essentially a low budget, 4 door Le Mans. Only we found one that had some of the performance options from the GTO stuffed inside, including the base 400 motor with the big 4 barrel carb, and heavy duty suspension. Perfect for the rough and tumble ¼ mile at Sycamore.

Second we needed to do some work on the car. By we, I mean the two guys who could actually work on cars, Boss and Buef. Buef was a born grease monkey. He worked for his father’s construction company fixing the big grading equipment, so he had access to tools, space to work in and the knowledge to do the job. He also happened to have spent several years racing go carts. Boss knew the basics of car work, and wasn’t afraid to try anything. Much more ego and ambition than common sense. Perfect for the job. The two of them ripped out most of the interior, fixed the minor needs, moved the battery to the inside of the passenger compartment, welded the doors shut, took out the side windows, and tuned up the engine. The car ran really well once all was done. We had to do some testing, so we took it out in Buef’s field behind the house, 40 acres of flat. The car was strong enough that we couldn’t get it all the way opened up in the field. Further testing was required. On one of the many long straight stretches, we managed to get the speedometer to pin at the 120 mark, and it was still accelerating. The car was ready, almost.

Third, it needed to look like a race car. Buef took a sprayer, red paint and coated the car a bright shade of scarlet. Then we stole every little can of paint from our garages at home and set out to paint the car. We put a big 83 on each side (class of ’83, it seemed pretty important then), painted a big Old Style symbol on the hood (Old Style was a popular beer in Chicago at the time), and then put logos for different performance parts on the sides. My contribution was to paint an image of our mascot, Alphonse, on the trunk. Alphonse was a 3 foot high stuffed animal we had found garbage picking earlier in the year. He was kind of a bear looking snowman, so I decided that he was a bear disguised as a snowman who hunted for Artisians. (Artisians are…nevermind, it’s kind of a long story and makes less and less sense the further away from it I get.). I fashioned him an army helmet with a large antennae and a toy gun. All was ready.

Since we were spending a lot of time on the car, our parents became interested in the project either out of fear for the safety of their children or in hopes that we would provide morbid entertainment (as a parent now I understand that these urges are perfectly natural and not mutually exclusive).  Cisco’s mom and dad were there, as was Buef’s father (we had to borrow a trailer from him to get the car to the track, and he was the only one with a license to drive a truck that big.), and possibly others. There were three heat races and one final race for each class. We had one person qualified to race, Buef, and three that wanted to race, Cisco, Hymie, and Boss. I chose not to race, some vestigial self-preservation instinct I kicking in I assume. In fact, I didn’t even go into the pits with the guys, being useless under the hood of the car. I did get to see everything from the stands and more  importantly with the parents. It was mid summer and the weather was perfect, warm but not too hot, a light breeze over the fields, and a clear night. It was too much to resist for many people. For the first heat, a lot more people showed up than when we were there before. There was close to 30 cars on the ¼ mile track – the line of cars itself took up over 1/3rd of the track. There wasn’t really any room to race. Hymie drove first, helmet and raceface on. The cars slowly circled the track and as they came down the backstretch, Hymie looks over at the car besides him. There is a huge redneck sitting there with what looks like a kids football helmet perched on his head. The guy looks back at Hymie, then reaches down beside him and pulls up a 6-pack, minus two. He fumbles one out of the platstic rings, pops it open, and downs it before they start the next turn. Yup, this was a night at the races.

Hymie’s and Boss’s runs were uneventful for the purposes of this story. Loud, fast, terrifying and inches from death, but uneventful from the view of the grandstands. The third heat was Cisco’s turn. Remember, Cisco is about 5’3” and 110 lbs, all wirey muscle but really no mass. Cisco’s parents were in the stands. They were not overprotective, but they were protective. More than once the three of us would be out miles from home and just about to get into trouble when one of them would pull up in the car and tell him it was time to go.  They did the warm up lap and Buef’s dad yells out “Hey, is that Cisco in the car?” Beuf’s dad and Cisco had a weird relationship. They didn’t dislike each other, but they genuinely enjoyed antagonizing each other at every possible moment. “I hope he’s wearing his seat belt, cause he’s bound to end up smashed into the wall since he can’t see over the dashboard!” Buef’s dad was unaware that Cisco’s mom was sitting next to him. She was still getting used to the fact that Cisco was driving the race car, strapped into 4000lbs propelled by 300 horses at 50 miles per hour among a score of drunken hillbillies all similarily equipped. She was visibly nervous, shaking a little as her fingers left impressions in the aluminum bleachers. The line of cars roared to life as they came out of turn 4 and the race was on.

Cisco had pretty good position, maybe 6th place or so coming out of turn 2 and going into turn three. He had some open space so he gunned it into the corner. The back of the car slid out and he spun around twice, coming to rest at the exit of turn 4. The car was stalled, it wouldn’t start. He was also facing the wrong way on the track, his nose into oncoming traffic. Cars swerved to avoid him as they mashed the gas down to come out of the turn at speed. Each one barely missing Cisco. One to the left, one to the right, as he sat there unable to move. With each little brush with death Cisco’s mom would utter a little “Eeeek!” or “Ahhh” or simple take a deep dramatic breath. With each passing car Buef’s dad would whoop louder and laugh harder, tears filling his eyes . “He’s never gonna make it!” he said. “He’s a sitting duck!” he said. The cars cleared for a moment and we could see Cisco frantically working the ignition, then the pack came back around the track and the cycle of near death experiences started anew, as did his mom’s little noises and Buef’s dad’s laughter. By the end of lap 4, Cisco’s mom was pale and her eyes were losing focus while Buef’s dad’s face was beet red and he was having trouble breathing. Suddenly, Cisco got the car started, spun around and went back into the fight. A few uneventful laps later the race ended and Cisco pulled the car into the pits. Cisco’s dad helped his mom shuffle down the steps and out to her car. She couldn’t watch anymore.

We had other races, without much success but with a lot of good fun. The parents never came to another race. Some things are for the better.

Memoir – Drinking Story, New Years, 1982

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed to both protect the innocent and to subvert any statutes of limitations that may still apply. I will also take liberties with the truth as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. Such is the nature of a memoir. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy.

Drinking Story – New Year’s 1982

                This was halfway through our senior year of high school. We were really coming together as a class. Our daring, arrogance, and ambition grew with each passing day. The fall party season had been pretty good and we were all looking forwards to New Years, but nobody had announced a party yet. Xmas break approached and still no notice. Things were getting tense. It was winter, and a field party was out of the question. In the cold, without the corn all around, sound carries for miles in the flatlands. Setting up in a field or on a desolate road was sure to be too loud for safety. We needed a venue. Then on the last day before break, our fortunes turned – a girl in our class (known at Toots for the remainder of the story) announced that her house was open and everybody was invited. We had 8 days to prepare.

                Beer was our drink of choice most times. It was cheap and you could get it down. Wine, for us flatland rednecks, always had screwcaps and tasted like hell. Hard liquor was expensive and had serious risks. Each of us had at one time or another had a go around with cheap Vodka or Southern Comfort in the past and we were not eager to repeat the experience. The problem with Beer was threefold though. 1) you needed quite a bit of it for a group, so it was hard to conceal and transport, 2) It really, really smelled on your breath making post party detection a problem ( I carried grape bubble yum in my coats and in my car. I could have eaten a road kill skunk and grape bubble yum would still cover the scent) and 3) the biggest problem was that a lot of girls wouldn’t drink it. And how are we going to get them to believe our lies if they are sober? We needed a solution. Here is where having older siblings paid off.

                Cisco’s older brother was 22 or 23 at this time, and we always thought he was pretty much the epitome of cool. He had a cool big truck (33’ monster mudder tires on a Ford with a short stepside box. Bright Yellow. Yes, cool.), he had girls always calling, and he always came home late. We talked to him about our issue and he proposed something we had never heard of: Cocktails. He gave us the recipes for three different drinks, each with strong content and a fruity taste. Give a girl two or three of these and we had a good chance to become both interesting and attractive to her. We spend the next week working our sources to get the money and alcohol. When the day of the party came, Cisco, Hymie and I spent time in my garage mixing up a gallon of screwdrivers, watermelons, and kamikazes. We were set.

                Toots’ house was in the middle of town in Oswego. Remember, in the early ‘80s downtown Oswego is one main street not 4 blocks long, with a river on one side and about 5 blocks of residential on the other. Here was the police department, the fire department, the local bars, and couple of struggling local businesses. She was two blocks away, on the busiest road in town, on the busiest intersection in town, and across the street from a church. Perfect quiet secluded place for a hundred or so under aged partiers to spend New Years Eve. We pulled up, (the whole gang, Beave/Buef/Frito/Boss/ Cisco/Hymie… maybe 8 or  9 of us + girlfriends) in several cars. The rest of the gang had a couple of cases of beer while the three of us had the super hooch. Hymie, Cisco and I parked in the church parking lot. Hey, what? They weren’t using it! We got inside and the place started jumping.

                This was the biggest party we had up to that time. 100+ people, lots of loud music, everybody happy. We supplied everyone (everyone with XX for chromosomes that is) who wanted one of our dinks with a small cup and a solid shot of heaven. As the night went on, people got more and more drunk. It is amazing what a two ounce drink can do to a 100 lb teenager who isn’t used to drinking. Midnight came and we made it a point to get a kiss from every girl we could. It was the best time ever.

                Well, until the true effects started to kick in. Those fruity drinks went down way to easy, then came back around later to take a toll. That, and despite Cisco’s brother’s wise advise (never, ever, ever mix alcohol and beer were his sage but unheeded words), we did mix in a couple of beers. So, by one or so people were starting to drop. Running out back to throw up, getting someone to take them home, or simply falling asleep in the living room. Soon it looked like a refugee scene. Hymie comes up to me, bleary eyed, unfocused and slurring – “Hey, dude, I need some air. Lets go for a ride”. We went out and got in to his car (a Le Car by the way. Closest thing to a motorized red wagon I have ever been in) and headed out to the country. The countryside on a cold clear night can be quite lovely, with the snow covered fields glistening in the moonlight. We didn’t notice. I was staring at the road trying to decide which one was the real one while Hymie just drove with his head out the window (it was Jan 1st. The temp was not above 10 degrees. The antifreeze in his blood probably helped avoid frostbite). Halfway through he stopped the car, turned to me and said “You have to drive. I don’t know where we are.” Mind that we had lived here all of our lives and had driven around in the country for countless hours. We switched seats. By the time I figured out the controls, he was asleep with his head against the window.

                We made it back to the party. I parked at the church and woke Hymie up. He told me he was going to sleep in the car for a while. Then he opened the door and threw up. I made sure he was wearing gloves then went back into the party. Things had deteriorated while we were gone. There were people in the snow in the yard, people crashed on couches and chairs, people sleeping in closets. Buef and Boss were working to get Beave out to a car, but he was in no condition to walk. They dragged him out and took him home. Cisco was in a chair with a sophomore girl sleeping on his lap. He was as happy as I had ever seen him, ever. I stayed inside for a while, then decided to leave. Eventually, parents would be home and I didn’t want to be there. I went back out and checked on Hymie. I sat in the driver’s seat while he sobered up. A big guy with a couple of friends came up to his side of the car and started pointing at him and laughing. They were yelling at him, calling him a loser, a lightweight and several other choice names. They were mocking his sorry condition. Now Hymie is not one to put up with this, but the truth of the matter was that he was in poor shape. He straightened up and rolled down his window. The groups outside laughed even harder when they got a good look at him. They started in on him again, but he raised up his hand getting them to stop. He motioned for them to come closer and took a deep breath. They shuffled closer to the car. “Thanks, now you are all standing in my puke”. They looked down to see the wide puddle of sullied snow next to the car. They yelled then left. Hymie told me to get out, he was going home. After that, every time some one was a dick to someone else and make themselves look bad doing it we would use the line “Thanks, now you are all standing in my puke.”

                Side Story: Beave made it home with help and went to bed. His folks knew what was going on, and let him sleep in until easily 8am. At that point, dad barged in his room, opened the shades and turned on the lights. “Hey there Beave!” he boomed. “Hope you had a good time last night. It’s a bright sunny morning and it’s time to get up! Just a question though, I need your keys to move your car so I can leave.” Beave was barely able to breath. His head pounded and his tongue felt like an old felt boot lining. “Keys in the car…” was all he managed. Dad left then came back in a couple of minutes later. “Your keys might be in your car, but the car is not in the driveway. It’s not out front either. Where’s the car Beave?” “It’s not our front?” he replied. “Nope, nothing but snow and a set of car tracks running through the yard.” “Oh shit.” At that Dad started laughing, loudly. “Honey! Honey! It seems like Beave lost his car last night!” Dad’s humor subsided and he got all serious “You have until noon to find your car or you will not have a car once it is found.” He burned up the phones and we found the car at 11:45am. For years afterwards, whenever someone couldn’t find something we would say “Hey, where’s the car? Honey, Beave lost the car!”