Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others. ~ Despair, Inc.
During the spring of my senior year in high-school, my family had become fed up with hoosiers once and for all. We’ve covered this ground already, right? ( See numerous earlier chapters .) So, it should be no surprise that we resigned once and for all to move back to the big city; job or no job, dad said, this was his plan. At least he had a plan; I, on the other hand, had no plan. Upon graduating high school, I thought maybe I’d coach little league or something — maybe take a few classes at the junior college.
Looking back, I now believe that ambition is generally discouraged in the Midwest. Anytime in my life that I showed promise at anything, it was stifled by some authority. Here’s a snippet of criticism from an English teacher I had that year:
… you have let the tone/mood of this essay get out of hand. This essay should tend toward the scholarly serious approach toward a legitimate piece of literature. If you want to write like [famous humorist], get someone to pay you. I won’t!
I believe I received a D+ or thereabouts on that assignment. (I only saved the snippet of criticism, not the entire paper.) In any non-Midwestern high school, I’m sure I’d have also received the D+ in response to the sarcasm and other informalities in my term paper; however, the note from the teacher might have read, “While your grade reflects your informal tone, I must remark that your writing reminds me of [that famous humorist], who makes ten times more money than I do. I would encourage you to read [a list of books by authors I might find inspiring].”
My teacher’s typical stifling attitude explains why so many of our “class leaders” wound up pumping gas at local “quick stops.” Not to disparage gas pumpers, of course. There’s nobility in pumping gasoline. And, we had a lot of nobility where I’m from.
Had I any ambition at that time in my life, I’d have welcomed my father’s announced move back to the big (yet still Midwestern) city as an opportunity. However, content with the apathy instilled in me over the previous six years, I simply went along with it by default. Besides, I still had the rest of the spring to get through. As everyone knows, being a senior means big events in the spring. You have your prom, your graduation, and your senior class trip. With any luck, you emerge from these events unscathed. However, the prom caused a bit of a problem in my household.
I should have read the early signs and bagged the evening from the get-go, but I didn’t. My date was a pretty nice girl. She didn’t, as I recall, resemble anyone famous, so let’s just call her Holly, shall we? We were basically friends, though — not really boyfriend and girlfriend. We doubled with Horatio and his date. You remember Horatio, right? He was the guy whose father collected school buses. I would have loved to have borrowed one of those busses for our prom date, but I suppose Horatio’s dad didn’t think that was a good idea. So, we spent a few hours waxing my father’s Ford Tempo.
Even though Horatio and I were barbecue fanatics, and though we routinely spent hours hidden away in the bowels of the school eating candy together, neither of us had thought of making dinner reservations for prom night. So, there we were, all in formalwear, with no plans.
I remember driving down near the amusement park past many nice restaurants, asking the other three people what they’d like to do. Oddly, no one said a word. Apparently, I was in charge of the dinner plans, and they were mad (well, the girls were, anyway.)
Finally, I said, “Okay, folks, if no one has anything to say, I’m just going to pull into McDonald’s.”
Based on the snickers and light chuckles, no one believed me. (Although, I’m sure Horatio laughed because he thought this was a good idea.) So, I pulled into Mickey-D’s. I hopped out of the car, and went around the other side to open the door for Holly. She seemed a bit pissed off, of course. But, she got out. Horatio and his date did, too.
Inside, we were met with stares from the customers and staff. Horatio and his date ordered first. I ordered next, and then made a huge show of a speech. “Holly,” I said extremely loudly, “tonight is your prom night — a night you’ll remember for the rest of your life. And, I’ve brought you here … to this fine dining establishment to celebrate. Anything you want shall be yours!”
She just stood there silently, building up a good steam.
“Well, aren’t you going to order something?!” I asked, gesturing her up to the cashier.
She approached the counter, looked at the menu board, and then (almost inaudibly) said, “I’ll have a medium diet Coke.”
“A medium?” I said. “Sir, please upgrade her to a large! It’s prom, after all.”
Well, yeah, I suppose that was rather bad behavior on my part. The evening would get much, much worse, though. Earlier in the week, my parents had agreed to let me host the after-prom party. It was supposed to be a rather tame event, with probably 30 to 40 kids decked out in formalwear.
I’m sure most people have heard the typical story about a party getting out of control. That’s common enough. But, by 11:00 p.m. or so on this evening, my dad was in jail.
Everything ran smoothly for the first hour or two. Small groups of well dressed 18-year olds mingled quietly on our back lawn, on our front lawn, in the living room. Most people had beer or some kind of mixed drink, but my parents were relatively cool about that sort of thing. I remember a Chinese exchange student from my school sitting in the living room with my parents, giving an impromptu recital on the piano. Dad, a lifelong piano player, was impressed. I could tell he was enjoying the evening.
But, then things just became unruly. Somehow, the local hoosiers had gotten wind of this and must have issued an All-Points Bulletin that a party was in progress. A little known secret about the Midwest is that the whole the idea for the Internet was actually based on the way lowlives spread information about parties. Droves of people showed up uninvited. These weren’t high school kids, either. Some looked like 40- or 50-year olds. There were derelict assholes and hoosiers in pickup trucks and El Caminos lining all of the streets, their radios blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica at top volume. We even watched a group of bikers arrive out of the woods that lined our back yard. They sprung forth as though they’d been in the woods the whole time, like foul mushrooms after a good rain.
As the commotion peaked, several patrol cars showed up. It seemed like all of the invited people, including my friends and family, had separated and were individually attending to various situations popping up all over. We had fights to deal with, things getting broken, things getting stolen, police officers rounding people up. Hell, we had three cats in the house to keep an eye on as well.
My father and uncle Charlton were outside dealing with the police. At one point, uncle Charlton came over. He’d been trying to sort out the students from the random vagrants. “I don’t know what to do,” he said, desperately. “There’s a black man in the driveway!” He stressed the words “black man” as if to demonstrate the severity of the situation.
“Uncle Charlton, calm down! The black guy is my friend!” I said.
“Well, how the hell am I supposed to know who to kick out?!”
“Well, kick out anyone who’s not in a tux,” I suggested.
Just then some backwoods asshole standing in the bed of a large pickup truck yelled to my uncle Charlton: “Hey old man, suck my nine-incher.”
Uncle Charlton was on fire at this point. I could tell the guns were coming out at any moment because he yelled to the kid, “Well, I’ll tell you what. You produce a nine incher, and not only will I suck it, I’ll blow it off!” (You don’t easily forget comebacks like that one. Even my friend Oral found that funny.)
But, it was too late for any kind of ordered or armed approach, really. I’d run inside to look after something and, in moments, the situation exploded into full chaos. My mother came running inside with a maniacal look in her eyes. “They’ve taken your father into custody!” she shouted. Many of us ran outside to watch the police leave with my father in the back of a patrol car.
Somehow, during all of this, I’d become quite drunk, which didn’t help matters one iota. “I’m going to bail out dad!” I yelled.
“You are like hell,” my mother said. She then went on a rampage, kicking people out of the house en masse. She totally freaked on a few people with top-of-her-lungs orders to leave. Talk about the wrath of God.
One kid — a guy I hated since 7th grade (and, who certainly was not invited) — called my mother a bitch, which really set me off. I remained calm, and remarked to him matter-of-factly, “See, now I have to kill you. I’m going for the thirty-thirty.” I meant it, too. You don’t insult a guy’s mother like that. However, several friends restrained me from blasting that bastard. They locked me in the bathroom for a half-hour or so to cool off.
When I got out of the bathroom, the scene was pretty much an aftermath. Mom had all but cleared the place and had been in touch with the police. The charge was something about “contributing to the delinquency of 400 minors.” I wasn’t sure of the legality of all of that, but it was almost certain that I’d be grounded. A few close friends of the family stuck around to help clean.
Everyone focused on this task rather well. I think everyone understood that the cleaner the place was upon my father’s return, the better. I remember my mother filling trash bags with beer cans, whiskey bottles, and even bags of pot she’d found lying about.
My friend Oral called me into my father’s office in the middle of the night.
“Look,” he said.
“At the wall.”
“At the wall. Don’t you see it?”
I did see it, finally. At first, my eyes passed over it, the way you’d not particularly focus in on any one framed print or something. But, then I saw it. Someone had put a hole in the wall with a hammer — and the hammer was still hanging there. We scrambled for the drywall compound to repair the hole. It wasn’t going to set in time, so we moved a nearby framed print to the left by six inches or so to cover the hole. I secretly repainted the area a week or two later.
Dad got home at six or seven o’clock in the morning and, for once, I kept my mouth shut. If you looked up the phrase “lay low” in some directory, I couldn’t offer a better explanation of how to achieve this. Sit still. Don’t talk. Don’t eat or drink. Don’t make eye contact. Just fucking sit there and hope he doesn’t say anything. And, for the most part, he didn’t — because he was mad beyond words . This was going to take a while to blow over.
Thankfully, the charges were all dropped eventually. It was the last hurrah of the household.
Dad sold the place in short order. I’m sure he took a bit of a loss on it just for the satisfaction of getting out once and for all. I remember helping him pack his office. Oral and I stood there with him and he said, “Yeah, we’re heading back to the city. We’ve been in this house for six years. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. You can see where I patched a few things over the years.” He gestured at the wall that we’d repaired, thinking he repaired it. “But, all in all, it’s been a good house.”
A few years later, my sister called me one day to chat. She said, “I just wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me? … For what?”
“Because you were such a fuck up in high school that, no matter what I do, it’s never as bad as anything you did.”
Hey, what can I say… You’re welcome.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!