Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saying goodbye to three-fourths of my life

I could not say what David Letterman meant to the rest of the world.  I can only try and articulate what he meant to me.

In the early days, he (and the Beastie Boys) seemed to speak directly to my teenaged soul.  I can remember Axl and I discussing the previous night's Top Ten List the next day at school, when we weren't busy writing down color-coded lyrics to "Paul Revere" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." 

Sardonic, absurd, non-conforming, self-deprecating, and more than a bit of a goofball -- wait, are we talking about Dave or 17-year-old me?  Even so, he somehow managed to come across as hip and cool.  (OK, yes, we're definitely talking about Dave.)

In the NBC days particularly, the surprise element of the show was off the charts.  One article I read put forth the idea of how enormous Letterman would have been on the internet and Twitter has such things been around/popular then.  I cringe at using such a cliche, but you literally never knew what was going to happen.  It made for must-see late night TV.

One of my favorite parts was when Letterman took the show to the streets of Manhattan and somehow magically made you feel as if you were there, a part of New York, the center of the world.  The show lost something as those escapades became rarer, eventually all but stopping.

It's easy to forget how the late night landscape looked when Letterman, having been passed over to succeed Carson, made the jump to CBS.  ABC was airing "Nightline."  Prior to 1993, I think CBS had a late night movie offering in that slot.  Arsenio was around in syndication.  But for the most part, no other talk show had been able to sustain for any considerable length of time opposite "The Tonight Show."  (Remember "Into the Night Starring Rick Dees?"  Me either.)

I would argue that Letterman's move and success spurred a significant shift in late night programming, for better or worse.  Pretty soon every Tom (Snyder), Dick (Dietrick), and Chevy (Chase) around were joining the party. 

All this is not to say Dave and I didn't have our issues, or that I was always a faithful viewer.  I hadn't been for awhile.  Heck, I fell asleep during the finale and had to watch the rest of it the next day on DVR.  Staying up until midnight and waking up at 7:00 when you're seventeen is slightly more exhilarating than staying up until midnight and waking up at 5:00 when you're forty-two.

And I think we all remember the Bone/Letterman online Top Ten Contest feud.  (Top Ten Little Known Facts About Santa Claus? My entry: Doesn't believe in HIMSELF.)  Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the far-less-criminal Oprah/Letterman feud.

In recent years, the surprise element was not nearly what it once was.  The show became less funny to me.  But at the same time, Letterman became more real, more human.  (This is something Leno never quite managed, in my opinion, and I suppose maybe never wanted to.)

Letterman made very public mistakes, he had serious health problems, he became a father.  He cared and talked about world events and politics.  And I always thought his interview skills to be excellent, far and above any of his late night contemporaries.

As he sort of became the elder statesman, it seemed like he appealed to a wider audience.  At least within my test group.  Because while I didn't watch nearly as often, my Mom became one of his biggest fans.  I know she would not have even considered watching him in 1989.

"That David is so silly, isn't he?" she would say with much affection.  Rupert Jee and Jack Hanna were two of her favorites.  And anytime Regis and Letterman were on together, it was the highlight of her month.

I wonder what she'll do now, what she'll watch, as she doesn't seem to care for or get any of "those kids on there now."

I can hardly remember a time when there wasn't a David Letterman on television.  For thirty-three of my forty-two years, there has been.  And then it hits me, I'm not writing about what his show meant to me.  Instead, in all selfishness, it's about what his retirement signifies:  The inescapable passing of time.

And all you can do is remember, and say goodbye.  To the gap-toothed smile, the tossing of pens at cameras, and those years of your life.


"And I wonder when I sing along with you / If everything could ever feel this real forever / If anything could ever be this good again..."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Farmer Bone

I've always said I wanted a garden.

Turns out just saying it doesn't mean it gets dug, planted, watered, blessed by a priest, and whatever other steps are involved in facilitating fresh vegetables springing forth from God's green.

No, it's kinda like saying you want to climb Mt. Everest.  It's a nice thought, but unless you buy climbing gear, do numerous smaller climbs to prep, happen to know a good Sherpa, and many other steps I'm sure, your chances of ever scaling the Lhotse Face are slightly less than your chances of winning the Powerball.

After moving in to the house and actually having a yard for the first time in twenty years, my agricultural dreams -- unlike most of my other dreams -- seemed on the verge of coming true.  Time and home improvement projects would not allow for it last year.  So all winter I set my sights on this spring.

Then it rained for approximately 28 of the first 25 days in April and apparently standing water, while ideal for starting the world's largest natural mosquito habitat and malaria hotspot, is not good for planting.

There was also an issue finding a tiller.  While many people I know have a garden, not a single one had a tiller I could borrow.  "Oh, John Brown comes over and plows ours every year."  Unfortunately, I didn't know John Brown from... well, John Brown.  And even if I had, I'm fairly certain his tractor wasn't fitting through the four-foot wide gate in my back fence.

Renting a tiller didn't work, either.  We'd reserve one, but then had to call and cancel.  Again because of that pesky little 28 days of rain.

Then one day it hit me: If there was going to be a garden, I was going to have to dig it myself.

There are few realizations I hate more than the one where you realize if something is going to get done, you are going to have to be the one to do it.  It's right up there with "I'm going to have to confront this person" and "This toilet water is rising instead of going down" amongst my least-fave realizations of all-time.

But I was going to have to do it.  Old school.  By hand.  Like MacGyver.  Surely you remember that time MacGyver had to dig his own garden?  No?  Maybe it was one of the lost episodes.  Pesticides and hormones in commercial produce were the enemies.

Yes, I would MacGyver a garden right there in my own backyard.  First step?  Go to Lowe's and buy a shovel.   (This was the last season of the series when MacGyver was just mailing it in mostly.  It was sad to watch.)

Then I started digging.  And digging.  And digging. I dug a hole about 9 feet by 6 feet and roughly a foot deep.  It gave me a whole new appreciation for those people on "Forensic Files" who dig a hole to bury a body.  Unlike those lazy criminals who just dump it off the side of the road and down into some ravine.

I dug so much I got a callous!  My first, I believe.  Thankfully, some Aveeno did wonders for that.  (I'm pretty sure Aveeno was probably a big sponsor of MacGyver.  And now we know why.)  

My hamstrings hurt like they'd been beaten a thousand times with a cane by one of those women you saw on a video you accidentally came across years ago on the internet who whip people for sexual gratification.  But you could only watch like four seconds of it because it was 1998 and you still had dial-up.  Not that you tried.  I never remember MacGyver having hamstring problems.

During my 72-hour hamstring recovery period, I was able to ponder my next move, which would obviously be implanting my seeds into Mother Earth.  Though exactly when and how deeply I was unsure.  I asked, but again, there didn't seem to be a single garden Sherpa amongst my circle of family and friends.

But I'd forgotten about one friend that I knew.  The garden Sherpa warehouse: Lowe's.

And suddenly I was shoveling manure, per their advice.  Two 50 pound bags of pure cow malarkey.  I always figured I'd wind up shoveling manure at some point in my life, I just never thought it'd be voluntary.  (MacGyver refused to do the manure shoveling scene, which I believe is why the series was canceled.)

Finally it was time to impregnate the Earth.  Which I did, with seeds I had purchased from another man.  (It briefly occurs to me that perhaps there is a better way to phrase this?)

With lotioned hands and hopeful heart, I now wait for God to give the increase.  For the Earth to swell and spring forth with pesticide-free vegetables, which I and "Chad" from Lowe's hath made together.

The miracle known as life.

"Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now / Give me spots on my apples / But leave me the birds and the bees, please..."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

How will you spend eternity?

I didn't mean to scare you.  I just wanted to check in, really.  Make sure you know I'm still here.  That I'm not going on another one of my Tony Geary-esque three month hiatuses.  Side jobs got a little busy this week.  Plus, I'm poeming once a day for National Poetry Month.  It really is true what they say, a poem a day keeps other blogs posts away.

Also, I continue to name my future children.  (I'm really gonna have to get on the ball to get all this begatting done.)  My latest adventure in nomenclature has yielded yet another gem.  Are you ready for it?

Annie.

Little orphan Annie.  Annie, get your gun.  Annie freakin' Lennox!  Annie are you OK, so Annie are you OK, are you OK, Annie?!  It's classic.  I think she'll fit right in with little Luke and Adrian.

Picture, if you will, a dad and daughter walking hand in calloused hand through an overgrown meadow.  OK, so it's more of a yard that the dad hasn't mowed in four days, but it looks like it's been three weeks.  That's because the dad put out some Miracle-Gro a couple of times to try and save a fledgling tree, never once considering it would cause the grass to grow like the ever-loving national debt.

Anyway, back to our story.  The daughter pauses to ask one of those age-old questions that kids ask sometimes.

"Daddy, what's that three-foot tall purple thing growing by the house?"

Now that could have been a stumper.  But little does she know he's been waiting for this moment for years.  He looks down into those trusting eyes, pulls out his phone, swipes it from camera to video so that he can Facebook this immediately afterward, and responds with four words he's practiced and perfected.

"That's poke salad, Annie."

Sigh.  Raising my future children is so rewarding.  Will be, I mean.

I thought I'd close today with a short poem from my NaPoWriMo collection, a little cross-pollination if you will.  Also, ideally, this will help explain where the title of my post came from.


Beyond the blue
If I make it somehow
That first day

While everyone else
Is in a scurry to
See the Savior

I'll search out
He who built the ark
To discuss mosquitoes


"Every day 'fore supper time / She'd go down by the truck patch / And pick her a mess of polk salad / And carry it home in a tow sack..."

Sunday, April 05, 2015

A Confession over Coffee

I don't know where I was that day.  Maybe I was hanging out by the immaturity booth trying to get an extra dose.  Perhaps some fig-leaf-clad hottie was distracting me with her forbidden fruit.  Whatever it was, this much is certain:  I was nowhere to be found when they were handing out coffee-making ability.

I suck at it!

You've heard of the little engine that could?  I'm the little barista that couldn't.

Let's delve into a little of my history with the wakey juice.  It's probably important to start by mentioning that at one point I thought you poured the water directly into the filter.

And then I turned thirty-four.

Far too often, (read: almost always) me attempting to make coffee somehow winds up with grounds in the coffee.  And not like one or two grounds.  We're talking a multitude of grounds.  The best part of waking up is... well it's definitely not that.  Logically, I know the grounds are not supposed to drip into the pot, but I don't know how to stop it from happening.

At work, since I'm the first one to arrive every morning, the secretary used to get the coffee pot ready to go before she left in the evening.  Then all I had to do was plug it in when I got there in the morning.  Fortunately, even I couldn't screw that up.

Unfortunately, she quit in December.  So now we don't have coffee in the morning until someone besides me gets to work.

I even called the publishers of the "...for Dummies" series.  "I'm sorry, sir.  There is no 'Coffee for Dummies' book.  There's just no demand for one."

"Oh yeah?  Well there's no demand for your mother!" (I didn't really say that.  Curse my non-confrontational, Maxwell-House-challenged self!)

In my very frail defense, I haven't tried to make it that many times.  Only twice in the last two years.  Last year, I even texted a friend and asked for careful step-by-step instructions.  She texted back exactly how much water to add, how much coffee, and.... well that's pretty much it, I guess.

Then...

I'm not sure what happened. (This is a common theme with me and coffee.)  Coffee was leaking out of the top of the maker.  There were grounds running down the side of the pot and onto the counter.  I was pretty sure the whole thing might explode at any second.  I thought maybe the coffee maker was broken.

It wasn't.

Over the next months, I was careful to watch when others would make coffee.  Where did they put the water?  Where did they put the coffee?  How did they turn it on?  Were animal sacrifices to appease the coffee gods involved?

Fast forward to this past Sunday.  The urge struck me again.  I, foolishly, felt confident.  I'm a grown man, theoretically.  There is no way I can continue screwing this up.  Even the worst barista lucks into a perfect cup now and again, right?  So I hopped back up on that deceptively complicated horse.

And...

After about ten minutes, there were only a couple of drops in the bottom of the pot.  Intuitively sensing something was wrong, I opened the top to find the water was in the filter -- which is not where I put it, by the way, this time -- and on the verge of overflowing!  What in the world is going on with my life!?!?!?

Eventually, I found that if I pushed down harder on the top of the coffee maker, the coffee would come out.  Albeit that meant grounds and all by this point.  Naturally.  

But something had clicked.  I mean, literally.  The top of the coffee maker had clicked when I pressed down on it.  That must be the key.  So I decided to give it one more chance.  Yes, I'm giving the coffee one more opportunity to behave as it should, because clearly it is the coffee that is underperforming and not me.  I cleaned out the pot -- I'm sorry, the "carafe."  Perhaps if I speak like a barista, I'll become one.

I pushed down.  I heard the click.  (These may be my two most phenomenal sentences ever.)

Wait....what's that?  Could it be?  Yes, yes, I believe it is!  I'm making coffee.  It's coming out!!!  (That's what she said.)  And the best part of all?  There didn't appear to be any grounds in it. My great-great-great-great-uncle Bone Valdez, if there is such a man, would be so proud.

I poured myself a cup, with just a bit of milk, and 3-4 heaping teaspoons of sugar, of course.  I felt accomplished.  So this is what making coffee is like for everyone else in the world.

And then, I tasted it.

The chemical formula for caffeine is C8H10N4O2.  This was more like... 10W30.

Ah well, at least my "pistons and valves" should be good to go for another three months or three thousand miles.



"I like my sugar with coffee and cream..."

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Roots



Us two
Fighting, at first
For the same ground
To escape the other's shadow
Then maturing
Content in our own petals
Yet forever sharing
An undeniable resemblance
Always side by side
Until someone
Picked you
Took you away
But if e'er you should miss me
Return to your roots
I am always here
Your sibling



April is National Poetry Month.  I am going to attempt to poem each day at my Poetry Wrecks site, home for wayward lyrics and disadvantaged poetry.  If I like any of them, I may cross post here, as I have done with this one.  For this, I was given an image of two flowers and challenged to write a 55-word free verse poem.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Act the Second

(This is the conclusion to a story I began a couple weeks ago.  If you missed part one, you can check it out here.  Unless you're a member of law enforcement, in which case, there's really nothing to see.  I consider this a motivational story.  As in, it motivates me to post something else soon so this won't be the first thing people see when they come here.)

Punishment was swift.

The following Monday, most of the student body was in the gym for the intramural finals.  The principal walked in and pointed at the three of us -- Axl, Neil, and myself --and called us to his office.  We unceremoniously made our way down the bleachers and out of the gym in front of all our peers and every girl I'd ever made out with or wanted to.

Actually, if I hadn't had the worst game of my life in the intramural semifinals the week before, we probably would've been playing and they'd have had to stop the game to pull me out.  So, it could have been worse.

When we got to the office, I saw LJ first.  He had graduated the prior year.  They had contacted him and made him come back to the school!  This had to be bad.

Then we were led into another room -- the actual principal's office -- where sat the middle school principal, Mister Mims.

He was Ferris Bueller's Rooney, The Breakfast Club's Vernon, and every other self-important school administrator starving to wield what little power they'd been afforded rolled into one.  I was certain he had waited for this day his whole life.

The basic gist of the meeting was that we would perform 100 hours of "community service" which would largely be made up of painting the middle school.  In exchange, he wouldn't press charges, nothing would go on our record, and we would all be able to graduate as planned.

It seemed like a power play then, and still does.  Intimidation and scare tactics at their best.  I'm sure they needed someone to paint the school.  Here was a chance to get someone to do it for free.  But what choice did we have?  Felt like none.

They had also contacted our parents.  Axl and I would miss our senior trip, to the beach.

And so that became the summer we learned to paint, and bonded, with each other and with the middle school custodian, Ms. Bullard.

Ms. Bullard was sort of a manly woman.  Not all that fetching.  It wasn't hard to imagine her in younger days plowing ten acres nine months pregnant, stopping to squeeze out triplets with no medicinal assistance, then going right back to plowing.

She was no nonsense, but good as gold.  I got the feeling she didn't agree with the principal's punishment, and she made that summer as bearable as possible while still ensuring we got some painting done.

One thing I remember most about that summer are the days when every single thing she said seemed to be a euphemism for something sexual.  OK, so most days are probably like that when you're seventeen.  But this one day, she was having a problem with the tractor (seriously, like a lawn tractor, she was mowing) and had Axl and I on the ground looking underneath it.

"Do you see anything sticking out?"

"Just feel around under there until you find it."

"Don't make me have to get down on my hands and knees."

On and on it went, for like ten minutes.  I swear she was doing it on purpose.  If ever I was going to pee my pants from laughter, that would've been the day.

Another thing I remember about the summer is that somehow LJ had managed to keep the whole ordeal hidden from his parents.  When we found this out, we began "accidentally" splattering paint on him so they'd figure out something was going on.

To counter this, he started bringing extra clothes every day and changing in the car before he went home.  That's when one of us got the wise idea to call his parents, and when they said he wasn't home, we'd say "Oh, is he not back from painting the school yet?"

It seems like a crappy thing to do now, but guys are like that sometimes.  We rag each other incessantly, make up fun games where we punch each other in the upper arm to the point of bruising, and sometimes... tattle on each other like whiny babies.  Evidently.

Mostly I just remember the hours.  The painting.  The long days.  The camaraderie.  Talking about anything and everything to pass the time.  Listening to the radio.  You haven't lived until you've sung "Daytime Friends" by Kenny Rogers out loud with three of your best male friends while sweating profusely in the June Alabama humidity at what amounts to little more than a glorified work release camp.

When it was finally over, I can remember a feeling of "what do I do with all this free time now?"  I might've even had a touch of Stockholm syndrome.  It's easy to understand how people who are in prison for a long time can no longer function on the outside. 

I suppose the worst part of it all was disappointing my parents.  And Neil's mom.  Neil was two years my junior.  She had always trusted me to look out for him, and I had let her down.  One day when I knew he wasn't home, I went over and apologized to her face to face.  She forgave me absolutely and completely, I know.  Still, few times have I ever felt lower.

And of course, missing my senior trip seemed like the worst thing in the world.  It would be another five years before I saw the ocean for the first time.

Despite all that, most of the negative feelings have simply faded away with time.

Someday when I recount this tale for my great-grandchildren -- running a paint roller up and down LJ's shirt, Ms. Bullard and the tractor, getting to see the inside of an actual teacher's lounge -- one of them (while marveling at how sharp my memory is for a 104-year-old) will ask, "Sir Bone (I get knighted in my swingin' sixties), why are you smiling?"

And I'll reply with a hint of a gleam in my eye...

"Not now, what's-yer-name.  Go play in the yard or something.  It's time for my bi-hourly nap."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saucy

When a man looks into the not-so-distant future and sees himself being with one, and only one, woman for the rest of his life, it can be a staggering realization.

He begins to have thoughts he's never had before.  As he senses his window of opportunity closing, he may be tempted to have one final fling before the day to end all dalliances arrives.

In extreme cases, he may give in, trying various other women.  Some he's had before, some he hasn't.

I speak from experience.

It seems strange that this is me -- a guy whose first time didn't happen until he was fifteen.  It was at a friend's birthday party.  We had gone to Pizza Inn to celebrate.  One thing led to another.  It was new and different, but I had no doubt I wanted to experience it again.

If you're not following -- and really, how could you be -- this has all been a reverse euphemism... for pizza.

My favorite pizza place within a five-galaxy radius, Marco's, is opening a store in my town this summer.  Just the mention of it elicits a Pavlovian response.  I'm as excited as a 10-year-old girl backstage at a One Direction concert.  (Analogies like this, that's what makes me beautiful?)

But Niall, Liam, Harry and those other two guys have nothing on the fresh, juicy toppings, sublime crust, and sinful cheesy bread that I will soon be ingesting on a far-too-frequent basis.  There's also the award-winning (Wikipedia's adjective, not mine) White Cheezy.  Or as I like to call it, the Kate Upton of pizzas.

I think that must be why, within the past week, I've had pizza three times at three different places, including twice in one day!  My subconscious knows that soon I will never be with another woman, er, pizza place, again.

I've become a pizza slut.  Doing whatever it takes to obtain new and different marinara. And they don't even have to be good-lookin' pizzas, either.

Last Sunday afternoon, I had a pizza with potatoes on it.  Potatoes, people!  What in the name of Papa John is going on?

This is what comes from realizing you will soon be spending the remainder of your days loving just one pizza place.

To be honest, I'm most worried about my weight.  I think we've all seen what happens to a lot of guys after they get married.  Amiright?

I'm kinda hoping they'll have a walk-up window.  With a treadmill.  Run while you wait.

Otherwise, I may have to jog to Canada and back, twice a year, just to keep my weight somewhere between slightly stocky and morbidly obese.

Of course if I did that, I could stop on the way and visit the original Marco's location in Oregon, Ohio.

It's a sort of mecca for chubby guys like me.

"When the moon hits your eye / Like a big pizza pie / That's amore / When the world seems to shine / Like you've had too much wine / That's amore..."

Thursday, March 05, 2015

A Tale Not Proudly Told

I suppose I can write about it now.  Enough time has passed.  Although you can never be too careful with stuff like this.  But I think it's safe now, what with the statute of limitations and all.

It was the spring of my senior year of high school.  Must have been well into April, perhaps even early May.  I only say that because it was warm that night.

Six of us -- Archie, Ben, Neil, LJ, Axl, and I -- had gone to town.  Well, the next town over.  I don't remember for sure what we did, maybe went bowling or something.  I would say we went to the mall, we were always doing that, but that wasn't Archie's sort of thing.

On the way over, we were joking Axl that one of the teachers was gonna have the middle school gym open that night for basketball.  He did that sometimes, just not tonight.  But that really got Axl going.  He believed us.  And he wouldn't let it go, even on the way home from bowling.

First I should say, we were in two cars.  Archie had borrowed his brother's Corvette.  Who lets their 17-year-old brother borrow their Corvette?  But he had.  I don't remember who drove the other car, it's not really important, other than to say it wasn't me or Ben.  And it dang sure wasn't a Corvette.

At that time, Neil would've had a black Hyundai hatchback, before anybody even knew they made Hyundais.  We used to con him into letting one of us drive it, because he didn't know where he was going half the time.  We'd have to stop a few blocks before we got home and switch back so his parents wouldn't know.  Axl captained about a 1974 Oldsmobile houseboat-on-wheels, from back in the good old days when they still made cars that seated eight comfortably, and wouldn't fit in one lane.  I would've been in the gold, four-door '85 Cavalier I'd "inherited" from my parents, but like I said I didn't drive that night.

I know I didn't drive because I remember Ben and I fought over who had to ride back with Archie.  I don't even know why, other than it would have been more fun to ride in a car with four than just you and Archie.

Archie wasn't a bad guy.  He wasn't.  He was just... Archie.  He would get all mature on you sometimes.  But just sometimes.  His family was well-to-do.  His dad had started some industrial supply company and they were the first ones to sell those big arctic cooling fans that NFL teams used on the sidelines.  I mean, surely they weren't the first, but that's what Archie told us anyway.  I don't know, maybe they were the first.  But he really wasn't a bad guy.  Not in the least.

So Ben rode with Archie, and the rest of us rode back together, and we went to the drive-in restaurant, the six of us in two cars.  Then, because Axl just wouldn't let it go, even though we told him they weren't shooting basketball at the gym that night, we decided to take him over there so he would drop it.

At some point, we must have gone and gotten our own vehicles -- Axl, LJ, Neil and myself -- because I remember all our cars were parked outside the gym.  Somehow we beat Archie and Ben over there.  And being sophisticated as we were, we decided we'd run down to the old football field and hide on the bleachers so they couldn't find us.

The middle school used to be the high school, and the old football field was just an empty lot they used for a playground at recess.  But on one side, there were these concrete bleachers built into the side of a hill.  So we all laid down where they wouldn't be able to see us.  They looked and looked and hollered for us, then finally gave up and decided to leave.  We all thought it was the most hilarious doggone thing ever.

That's one thing about being seventeen.  The stupidest things are funny.  Maybe that's why seventeen is such a magnificent age.  Actually, I think most of us were eighteen.  But saying we were seventeen sounds better.  It makes it all seem a little more excusable.

In hindsight, Archie and Ben leaving turned out to be... what's the opposite of fortuitous?  Because Archie would have been our moral compass.  There's no doubt in my mind about that.  I think Neil would have objected, too, had he not been two years younger than us.  But as such, he didn't speak up much.  I didn't think his mother would ever forgive me for what we were about to do, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and all.

The recently-departed Ben oft regaled us with stories of guys -- older guys -- who were always sneaking into the gym on Saturdays to shoot ball.  Ben grew up in a house across from the school.  And not even across a road, just a dead-end alley.  I spent the night at his house when my sister was born.  Well, that was after I threw up in the waiting room at the hospital.  God forbid I miss a day of second grade.

Apparently, the back door to the gym used to be broken or something and you could get right in.  But that was Saturday -- "day" being the key syllable there.  I think you see where this is going.

We tried the door.  It was locked.  Had Ben lied?  Surely not.  Probably they had fixed the lock sometime in the past ten years was all.  

This is another thing about being seventeen, at least for me.  We were always looking for a place to play basketball.  It could be an old goal in the dirt in somebody's backyard, an outdoor court with no net at a local church, or, in this case, a locked gymnasium.

So there we were on a warm spring night 'neath the Alabama stars, a few weeks yet until graduation, the real world seemingly still far away.  An entire gymnasium with its two beautiful basketball goals, just sitting there, beckoning to us from the other side of a brick wall, a locked door, and some windows.

Ah yes, the windows.  Those big tilt-out windows that gyms always have.  Did I mention several of them were open?

I'm not sure how long we debated it.  I do remember having qualms.  Not many qualms, but a couple of qualms.  I think poor Neil may have even objected at first.  But peer pressure's idiocy knows no bounds.  So after ten or fifteen or thirty minutes, the four of us, a real crack group of world-class decision-makers mind you, settled upon a plan.

We would hoist Neil up to the ledge by one of the open windows.  He was probably about 5'10" and fairly slight of frame.  He would be able to climb through the window, make his way over to turn on the lights, then let us in the back door.  I don't recall why, but we seemed fairly confident the back door would open from the inside. 

It did.

And there we were -- in basketball xanadu!

We started out playing some "21," then two-on-two, and eventually broke off into two games of one-on-one.  I was taking on Axl, while LJ and Neal went at it on the other end.  I don't remember much about the basketball portion of the evening, which is a bit strange, as it is the whole reason for the story.  I just remember Neal kept killing LJ.

He would yell things like, "Bone, I beat him 21 to 4."  "Bone, I beat him again." "Bone."

"Bone!"

I had stopped even listening.  Then both their voices -- LJ and Neal -- were yelling my name.

"Bone!!!"

To this day, I never knew why they yelled at me.  I mean, why not Axl?  We were the same age.  Heck, he was four months older even.  Why did I have to be the ringleader?  But I was.

Axl and I stopped our game.  We turned to see what they wanted.  And there, at the far end of the court, stood two women.

I recognized one as a teacher.  Turns out they both were.

Suddenly the real world had gotten awfully close.

Evidently one of the teachers had been driving by the school and saw every light in the gym was on, you know, because it was night time and all!

Drat!  The only flaw in our plan, and it had come back to bite us in the hindquarters.

They had an intriguing question for us: "What are ya'll doing in here?"

Neal, bless his heart, replied with the innocence of a child (which legally, he still was).

"Playing basketball?"

We would laugh about that part later, but I swear I could not have mustered even a whimper in that moment.  I'd have been less terrified if there had been Soviet paratroopers landing outside the gym.  I'd seen "Red Dawn" so I knew how to handle that.

Then Axl began trying to talk his/our way out of it, saying we thought the other teacher, the one we kidded him about, was going to be up there that night.  That old boy, I swear.  Once in 9th grade English class, he made up this whole book report about a book that didn't even exist.  If that wasn't enough, when Archie told the teacher the book didn't exist, she said pensively, "No.  I think I may have heard of that book." 

Axl could always, and still can, talk his way out of almost anything.  But he wasn't talking his way out of this.

The teachers told us to get out and that this better never happen again.  I'm not sure if they were yelling, but it sure felt like they were.  We scampered to our cars.

I bet it took me about twelve hours to fall asleep that night.  I hoped that would be the end of it.

It wasn't.


"Seventeen, only comes once in a lifetime / Don't it just fly by wild and free / Goin' anyway the wind blew, baby..."