Paul Collette 108,271 words
1230 So. Gertruda Avenue
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
PROJECT F. O. Y.
(YOU CAN’T GO BACK)
A Novel By
It is with genuine reticence that I pen the following statement; the primary reservation being that scoffers and skeptics alike may unwittingly balk and rebuke these facts without allowance for reasonable consideration.
What you are about to read on the following pages is, simply stated, an authentic account. The proverbial names have been changed to protect the proverbial innocent. And although the story may seem remarkable in some of its twists and turns, the reader can rest assured that every attempt was made to research the facts and arrive at the pure truth.
Among other efforts, hours piled upon hours were spent knocking on closed government doors resulting in the acquisition of bits and pieces of both classified and de-classified materials. Eventually these materials began to fall into place, fitting into full pages of the inevitable truth. Nonetheless, no matter how diligent and complete the pursuit for these pages of truth actually became, there are some tattered bits and pieces that will probably never be fitted into the complete puzzle. This occurrence can be directly attributed to the creation and later use by the military, Secret Service, FBI and CIA of two highly prominent inventions – the thick black flair and the mighty paper-shredder.
Probably the most surprising element encountered by this researcher was, and still is, the fact that no matter where one looks the twists and turns recorded on the following pages have not been touched upon by others. I suppose this is subsequently due to the fact that with all of the freedoms we have inherited in this country the cost incurred is a complex set of laws, rules, and the like. Over the centuries this cannot help but produce a unique paradox. However, again, let me assure and comfort the reader that what follows is as pure to the truth as can be, as pure as the paradox itself.
In fact, something once said by Mark Twain is a fitting summary –
“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything . . .”
And for those few who still harbor any lingering doubts, I respectfully submit . . .
Before flipping and turning these pages, know this: On the 6th day of December, in the year 2012, an affidavit was given and filed at the L.A. County Courthouse, by this researcher, in downtown “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula,” California. The following pages are the direct and, in some cases, the indirect result of that original document.
“Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.”
(YOU CAN’T GO BACK)
“You think about goin’ to your high school reunion,
You’re puttin’ on airs, tell me who ya foolin’?
‘Cause you can’t go back to how things were
Or even how they weren’t . . .”
CHAPTER 1: On hold . . .
I was forty-seven years old and still sittin’ around waiting for my life to start . . .
*ANOTHER AUTHOR’S NOTE: Chapter 2 is merely about our group, a group of guys who hung out together in high school. There were nine of us including myself. It actually does nothing to further the plot but does give the reader background info. So if you are impatient you may jump ahead to Chapter 3 on page 31. It is a rather long chapter (25 pages) but does lay the groundwork for what transpires later so whatever you do, do not skip Chapter 3.
(YOU CAN’T GO BACK)
CHAPTER 2: The Group
“Koop” was a great person. He was the type of guy who didn’t much care if you were popular or a wimp—wimp being the noun of choice in pre-1964. After that, you were labeled a nerd. In fact, when we were at El Camino Junior College I remember arguing for three-quarters of an hour with Denny about the spelling of nerd. He swore up and down that it was “n-u-r-d.” I fought for the more common spelling.
Denny Kooper was the first one in our class to get his driver’s license, a car, and the first to tool around. So, we all wanted to hang with him on those Friday nights when there was an away game and it was too far to travel. I actually earned the right to go with “Koop” a lot more than most of the guys. In fact, I even got shotgun automatically, without calling it, which was unheard of, especially in the early ‘60’s.
It came down on those Friday nights that I became the sort of opposite of a designated driver. I didn’t drink at all – not even beer, the liquid of choice for most high schoolers. “Koop” not only had his driver’s license, an old ’51 Plymouth, and liberal parents, but he also had the penchant and capacity to drink a lot – and rarely beer, mostly the hard stuff.
So, most Friday nights it became my job to ride shotgun and mix “Koop’s” drinks for him (so he could concentrate on driving). He had converted his glove compartment into a mini-bar and I remember mixing Vodka and Collins a lot. Sometimes, as a change of pace, it would be bourbon and soda or rum and coke. And every now and then “Koop” would ask me to mix him a “suicide,” where I poured out portions of anything he had available. Man, how he loved those “suicides.”
It’s actually a bit of a surprise that I never became a bartender. What’s even more surprising and rather ironic is that we lived through those Friday nights. And, to top it off, fate never even had us edge close to peril, to getting into an accident. That’s why I guess it hit me so hard when “Koop’s” wife called from Colorado last week and told me “Koop” was gone. A heart attack. Just like that.
Almost immediately I thought about our 30th high school reunion coming up that summer. No “Koop.” Soon my thoughts drifted to those Friday nights filled with testosterone and alcohol. (Just testosterone for me, thanks.) Then it finally settled on my most recent memory of “Koop,” when I last saw him and his wife. It was at a reunion of all of our high school’s baseball teams – all the years of our teams throughout the decades. Coach organized an annual event where past players from the late ‘50’s through the ‘90’s came to participate in the reunion game, or they came to merely watch and visit old memories, and, of course, drink.
Well, “Koop” actually never played baseball in high school but he did excel at the drinking and visiting, so he usually made the annual trek from Colorado, Arizona or Texas (wherever he was living), out to the West Coast the first week-end in February.
So, now my mind was keyed in to roughly two years ago, when I last saw “Koop.” It was the last Horse-hider’s Reunion Hop. We were inside the local sports bar having some drinks and visiting when “Koop” suddenly said, “Hey, le’s head on out to my car.”
Only a few of us actually went out to the parking lot that evening – Ray, Mo, Bob-O and me. I really think that most of the guys didn’t know what the hell “Koop” was talking about or they were just plain comfortable with where they were.
When we got to his car, actually a nice, new SUV, “Koop” let us in. I automatically took shotgun. Someone asked, “Hey ‘Koop,’ where we goin’?”
His speech was always a bit slurred—“Jus’ a little trip down mem’ry lane . . .”
“Koop” began to recall stories. I said – “All we need now is KFWB or KRLA.” And – Voila! “Koop” produced a variety of fifties and sixties CD’s—
“Nest best thing.” He uttered, “A’tually better, no yappin’ – no commercials . . .”
Four hours later we were still sitting out in that parking lot. We hadn’t moved. But, man, what a trip!
In reality we never left the parking lot that night. We stayed in “Koop’s” car for hours. His glove compartment was still a full mini-bar but was much more sophisticated than in our high school years. I mixed drinks for “Koop” and everyone else and we took one of the most memorable trips I had been on in a long, long time. God, how we laughed. Our stomachs ached. “Koop” had quite a memory and reminded us of many an adventure (filled with “Koop-ism” embellishments), that we had all forgotten or had tucked somewhere far away in the backgrounds of our minds . . .
Like I said, “Koop” was a hell of a guy . . .
I saw Gregory Mozure late yesterday afternoon. He was playing tennis. And he was still quite good. Some things don’t change much with time.
“Mo” was always a little bit better at everything, a little more mature. Or maybe it was just because he was quieter and more soft-spoken than the rest of us and that made him seem more mature.
I remember when we were sixteen, we all got guitars for Christmas. I recall vividly, and somewhat painfully, that I got a Kogo, some very cheap Japanese model, which was constructed for nylon strings. But, instead, some idiot somewhere had strung that guitar with steel strings. And they were tight! The strings were actually a good half-inch from the lower frets, which made it nearly impossible to get any kind of clear sound even when I became pretty accomplished.
“Mo?” He got a nice Fender electric guitar with amps! And he became quite proficient, a little better than the rest of us.
A flood of memories hit me immediately as I visited with “Mo” between sets; specifically how the group used to spend over-nighters at his place. We spent a lot of weekends there because he actually had his own place. In reality, it was a separate unit off the main house—out in the backyard. His family called it a rumpus room because of the pool table but it was actually “Mo’s” bedroom. It probably slept seven or eight of us quite comfortably, comfortably for teen-agers, that is.
And “Mo” had this place to himself . . . At one time or another, usually once we started noticing girls, we all ruminated on how lucky he was to have a place of his own – well, sort of . . .
When we slept over at “Mo’s” sometimes we would jam. But the majority of the time we just lay around and talked, sometimes dreaming forward but ultimately the concentration was on just trying to make each other laugh.
“Mo” was our age (in human years), but a year behind us in school. When we were all big seniors “Mo” was a junior. His parents had held him back a year in eighth grade so he could mature. Hell, like I said, he was more mature than the rest of us. I think it really did give him an edge, though – his being held back, especially in sports. I know that in baseball and tennis that extra year helped him a lot . . . back then.
I really don’t know what “Mo” thought about being in eighth grade twice. He never really talked about it. I guess it happened young enough that it didn’t affect him too much, negatively – mentally. The odd thing is that he had two sets of friends – our group, closer to his age, and another bunch in his same class. I guess that really isn’t that odd, but most high schoolers only identified with one group back in the sixties, whether it was Surfers, Soc.’s, or Ho-dads, or whatever’s . . .
The one thing I did notice about “Mo” was, that, especially in high school, he was a half step ahead, a half-step better. As I mentioned, he was a half step better on the guitar and he was a half step funnier than the rest of us. Even his grades were a half step higher. And, like I also said, he had that all-important half-step edge in sports.
When it came right down to it I suppose the only great equalizer was chicks. Most of us weren’t very good or very interested in that subject. We were more concerned with seeing if we could say something hilariously funny at the precise moment that one of us was taking a swig from a milk carton just to see if we could get the milk to fly out of our noses and mouths! Timing was everything. It was our lives. In some ways it still is . . .
I mean, now and then we thought about girls and even sometimes discussed them, but for the most part they were just a sidebar. Maybe Bob Owens and Ray Donnells thought more about girls than they let on to the group; Bob-O because he was with Carrie since the ninth or tenth grade and Ray because, when we were seniors he started going steady with a freshman girl. Ray was head over heels for this chick but he still spent most of his Friday and Saturday nights with the group. There was something about the group.
When I saw “Mo” playing tennis that day, at first I wasn’t quite sure it was him. But, then, he recognized me and we chatted for a bit between his sets. I asked him if he was going to our 30-year reunion and he reminded me that it was only 29 for him. Still a half-step better . . .
I told him he should still come, see the group. He shrugged his shoulders and said he’d see and then returned to the court.
I only remember two other things from that chance, late afternoon summer meeting. One, “Mo” was doing pretty well for himself in his job and appeared to be making a nice living as an accountant. And, two, as I watched him, I could tell that he was still a half-step better than me at tennis . . .
Benny’s claim to fame was that he could do the “Wipe Out” laugh, on cue, perfectly, I swear – just like on the record. He actually had a lot more going for him than that but he never, ever passed up an opportunity to do the laugh.
Probably the number one performance of the laugh was one night when we were cruisin’ Hawthorne Boulevard and we stopped at “Bob’s Big Boy.” The parking lot was exceptionally crowded that night and ol’ Benny just let ‘er rip! The place went wild . . . well, sort of. I’m sure some kids even started looking for the Safari’s . . . well, sort of.
Probably the most ill timed rendition of the “Wipe Out” laugh? Well, it came as Benny was leaving a Wednesday night Catechism class. The nuns didn’t find that very amusing. Most of the kids laughed, though. And besides, come on now, how many nuns had actually heard the recording of “Wipe Out?”
Benny Leonardi was truly one-of-a-kind. If there were a leader in our group I think most of us would now admit that it was Benny. Back then no one wanted to admit it but now we probably would. Benny had this sarcastic sense of humor which was punctuated by his ability to do the “Wipe Out” laugh. And, honestly, Benny was the quickest and most clever one in the group. If we counted it up, he no doubtedly held the record for the most projectile milk . . .
Usually it was Benny who decided what the group was doing that night after the game. Benny was the one who would say, “Let’s cruise Hawthorne Boulevard” or “Let’s go over to ‘Mo’s’ place.” Benny was the guy with the laugh . . .
Before I really got to know Benny, in the summer heading into our junior year, I don’t think I was too crazy about him. Although, honestly, I think that was based on a seventh or eighth grade incident where he traded me a ton of newer baseball cards for my older and slightly larger 1950’s collection. He convinced me that there were more Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in the 1958 and ’59 edition and sold me on the fact that they were newer.
I was duped!
Well, at least I got the last laugh. When we were older and out of the house I learned that Benny’s mom had tossed all of his cards from the mid-50’s. But, my mom? Bless her, bless her twice. When I moved out she took my chest drawers filled with those old baseball and football cards, wrapped ‘em up in a Bekin’s blanket and stored them out of the way in the rafters of the garage. She actually did the same thing with all of my old comic books I collected.
What a great find, a treasure, it was a few years ago to unwrap that blanket and have all those cards stare back at me. Take that, Benny! “Heh-heh-heh-Heh-heh-heh-heh—Wipe out!” (Oh well, I never could do it as well as him . . .)
I think “Koop” and I were probably the most disappointed that Benny didn’t come to the twenty-year reunion. We were all hoping against hope that he’d show at the thirty year this summer. He had moved kind of far away, Oklahoma or Oregon or something, (one of those “O” states), right after college at USC. It had already turned into one of those Christmas Card thingies even in our early twenties.
It really was hard to accept the feeling of the ol’ group peeling apart. I mean, when you stopped to think about it, we did just about everything together for four or five years, from the summer of our junior year in high school through two years of junior college. When Benny went to USC we would still do things periodically but for the most part, the group was history, although none of us really realized it until we were older. I guess it’s because when you are young life is on fast forward – you are constantly looking forward, anxious. And, then, once you have moved too far forward you can’t help looking back . . . rewind mode.
Bob Owens, who we called “Bob-O” (not Bobo), was sort of a whacko. He had at least one major screw loose. He was taller than all of us, about 6’3” or 6’4” and was well built. He always wore his blond hair in a crew cut, which sort of topped off his rounded face. And, even as a senior, he was already developing a bit of a paunch. He was a part of our group but was the only one who actually had a steady girl friend ever since, like eighth grade. So, many of those Friday and Saturday nights he would be with Carrie Porter instead of with the group.
When “Bob-O” was with us there almost always seemed to be a little more tension filling the evenings. It’s difficult to explain but he was louder almost all of the time. He talked louder, he laughed louder, and he was – well, let’s just leave it at – he was louder. If he cracked a joke he was the first, and usually the loudest, to laugh.
After “Koop,” “Bob-O” was the next guy to get a car in our group, a Chevy convertible. But, unlike “Koop,” “Bob-O” drove like a raving maniac – Mr. Toad! And he drank, probably not as consistently as “Koop” but he actually drank with the sole intent to get plastered. Since Benny, Ray, Mo, Kirk and I didn’t drink it was sometimes hard to deal with “Bob-O.” There were a lot of Friday nights where he’d start off with the group, get himself hammered, and then drive off to go get Carrie.
Don’t get me wrong. He was a nice enough guy but he really did turn into an asshole when he drank.
One time, when we were seniors, he shoved these four junior high school kids in the back, from behind, just so he could pick a fight with them. I honestly don’t know if he expected “Gumby” and Ray and I to help out when the four kids obliged him. But, we didn’t. We just sort of backed up out of the way and watched.
It was one against four, but “Bob-O,” who, like I said, was kind of big, handled them relatively easily, although he did come out of the fracas with a bloodied nose. One of the kids got in a lucky punch when the other three had him semi-pinned for a moment. Actually, nobody really won – but the four junior high kids high-tailed it out of there when they got the chance.
I remember this time, in particular, because, for the most part, we missed a great football game – something like 28-27. And ol’ “Bob-O” was really pissed at us for not joining in the fight with him. It wasn’t about that we didn’t come to his aid, it was about group function, as he saw it. After the fight we sat tucked in on the bottom of the backside of the bleachers and “Gumby” and I listened as Ray tried to talk some sense into “Bob-O.”
After he was pretty much through being pissed off at us, he was laughing and all proud of himself. His chest stuck out like a peacock. And then the next thing you know he was crying, sobbing to Ray that he didn’t know why he did stuff like that.
“Jesus, Bob, you’re a senior. What’s in there?” Ray thwacked him on the side of the head.
“I don’t know . . . I don’t know . . .” he blurted out between sobs.
And then, just as swiftly, he was laughing and smiling again and saying – “I’m gonna go see Carrie . . . ‘Show her the time of her life . . .”
Like I said earlier, there definitely was a loose screw and most probably a major one at that.
I guess it really wasn’t all that surprising that after we graduated “Bob-O” was the first one to split from the group. He and Carrie went off to college for a year or so. Then they got married and, the last I’d heard, he went to work for his dad’s business – car repairs or something.
The only times I ever saw “Bob-O” was at the reunions, where I just said something to the effect of, “Glad to see you’re still in one piece, Bob-O . . .”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” he’d always answer.
You know, we never even exchanged Christmas cards.
Kirk Blackman (who we called “Gumby” due to his long arms and legs and his double-jointed abilities), played basketball and he was pretty darn good too. Surprisingly, we had a pretty darn good team, especially since we were a small high school in the South Bay and never really played against the city powerhouses. But I’m pretty sure “Gumby” could’ve actually held his own against them too. He went on and played a little at some small college in the Northwest after El Camino Community College. Then I heard that he dropped all basketball ties and went on to med school somewhere on the East Coast – Ivy League, I think.
There were two things I always remembered about “Gumby.” One, he had the sharpest elbows of anyone I’d ever met. God, it was hell trying to get a rebound if you got caught underneath with him. He also could bend and contort those elbows and his shoulders every which way possible. Sheesh!
The second thing I remember was how strict “Gumby’s” – Kirk’s dad, was . . .
One night the group was just standing around in some parking lot off of Main Street. We were just talking, crackin’ jokes and making fun of each other when two patrol cars rolled up. We were all a little scared but since we truly hadn’t been doing anything wrong none of us were really that concerned . . . None of us except “Gumby.” He kept muttering things like “Oh, God! If my dad finds out, I’m dead . . .” and “Oh man, what am I going to do?”
One of the policemen asked, “Whose car is that?” He waved toward a dirty, white Camaro parked up in the far corner of the lot sitting with its hood propped open.
“None of ours,” Benny offered. “We wouldn’t be caught dead with a Chevy!”
We heard another cop call out, “Hey Chuck, the battery’s missing.”
And the first cop turned back to us, especially Benny, “Okay, young man, where’s the battery?”
“It wasn’t us. We haven’t been near that junk heap.” Ah, way to go Benny, sarcasm and belligerence are just what’s called for in situations like this . . .
Well, of course because we looked like such hardened JDs and because the fuzz had nothing better to do that night, they hauled all of us down to the local police station located smack in the middle of Main Street.
“Hey, we can walk there faster than this!” Again, way to go Benny. (Of course, he was right. We were only three to four blocks away.)
I distinctly remember that it was between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m., so we weren’t even breaking curfew or anything. And besides Benny, “Bob-O” was his usual loud and obnoxious self, which probably didn’t help our situation.
And to his credit, Benny really did try to reason with the cops – “Come on, Officer Chuck . . .” but then, ultimately, he got even more sarcastic. The rest of us were actually fairly quiet. Ray and “Mo” didn’t say much and “Koop” just sort of echoed Benny, only much softer. Walter, of course, wasn’t with us – It was one of those group do-nothin’ nights. And “Gumby?” “Gumby” was white as a bleached sheet, scared and ready to piss his pants.
The dumb police actually held us down at the station for more than two hours. To make matters worse, it was after midnight before they finally started calling our parents.
Benny kept repeating, “It wasn’t us. I’m tellin’ ya, it was Louie what done it!” He would say this with his best New York, nasal accent and we would all crack up . . . except for “Gumby” and, of course, the feds. They didn’t laugh either. Although, to this day, I still swear, one of them smiled . . . a little.
The point was – we all knew that we were innocent. We hadn’t done anything wrong, not one iota. And we all knew our parents would believe us and we weren’t too worried . . . all of us except for “Gumby.”
I recall that we all tried to cheer “Gumby” up but he was so distant and distracted. Ray finally said, “Leave him alone. His dad’s gonna freak.”
Boy, did Ray hit the nail on the head. When the police finally phoned all of our parents they were mostly upset that the police had held us for so long without notifying them earlier. “What were you doing for two hours?” my dad snapped at them.
More than two hours, really – What’s with that?
But “Gumby’s” dad was different. I remember – he was the second or third one down to the station and before anyone could stop him he grabbed “Gumby” by the shirt and literally threw him into the plate glass window . . . which, of course, shattered. “Gumby” was so embarrassed. I don’t think he was too hurt physically but inside he was dying. And, he was trying hard not to cry.
The police and other parents finally calmed down his dad enough that they felt comfortable releasing “Gumby” to go home. But we all felt uncomfortable and speculated as to whether “Gumby” was going to get it with the belt, the back of a hand, or a stick . . .
When Benny’s dad came in with “Mo’s” dad, Benny told the cops one last time, “It was Louie what done it! I swear! I swear! It was Louie!”
And, we all laughed, a little nervously, and went home . . . But none of us could get that image of “Gumby” out of our minds, him slumped down by a large, potted, rubber tree plant, shattered glass all around him. I mean, we all knew his dad was strict, but come on . . .
Some years later, by the time “Gumby’s” dad had died a rather early death, we had all learned, at our own time and place, that Mr. Blackman was an alcoholic . . .
But, back then, he was just Kirk’s dad, just “Gumby’s” pop . . .
Walter Young was the kid who was strange, weird, odd, geeky and the like, when you are in high school and brilliant and most probably rich, when you are older. He was always a skinny, flimsy kid with a narrow face and sharp nose. And he wore those thick-rimmed glasses that looked way too big for his face.
I probably got to know Walter better than anyone else in our group just because I sort of liked listening to him and, really, I thought he wasn’t such a bad guy. He was interesting. But, boy did he do and say some weird stuff. He always seemed to chime in with some obscure fact; a non sequitur that would kill whatever the group was discussing. I also remember that I used to feel bad if I were the one who had to tell Walter that the group wasn’t doing anything that night when, in reality, we were.
One time, in particular that always stuck with me was when we were sittin’ on the blue, wooden lunch tables and trying to rank the Top 25 “most bitchenist chicks.” We were on babe number 24 when Walter interjected—“Oh, you know, a dragonfly only has a life-span of 24 hours . . .”
There was dead silence. And, then some “Uh-huh’s,” and “Yeah’s?” and “Okay’s” followed.
I don’t know why I always remembered that one time in particular. Maybe I thought it was interesting – the futility of twenty-four hours. Maybe it was because I had to tell Walter we weren’t doing anything special that night, when, in reality, we were all going to “Mo’s . . .”
As a matter of fact, I actually got to know Walter a little better in Doc Wesson’s Chemistry class. I once asked him what he was doing and Walter replied, simply, “Mixing acids and bases.”
And, then he would produce these incredible mini-explosions. Doc Wesson really liked Walter. He was an A+ + student in math and science so Doc trusted him with a lot more materials than the rest of us were privy to.
Another thing Walter did was mix concoctions and ingest them. Every now and then he would offer something to me but I always backed off. “How do you know it’s safe?” I would ask.
He’d reply, “I just know,” as he swallowed some slimy looking blue goop or licked at some yellowish-orange powder, (Yum, Lick-em-Aid) . . .
Walter drove a ’39 Plymouth, when it was running. In reality, it was his dad’s second car, but every now and then he’d get it for a Friday or Saturday night.
I remember one night in particular because, to this day, I still don’t know how he did it. We were casually driving down a residential block in our small town. It was in the early evening when the street lights first come on.
Walter bragged, “Watch this!” And he would slowly steer toward a street-lamp with this intense look screwed up on his face. Then, I swear to God – Poof! The street light would flicker and go out.
“Betcha don’t think I can do it again, do you?” Walter crowed pretty cockily.
He was right. I didn’t think he could. So he drove down Illinois Street and – Poof! Poof! Poof! – Did it three more times!
I said, “This is too weird . . . You know something, Walter? You’re not really doing anything. It’s just a coincidence.”
So, when Walter drove up to the fifth lamp and nothing happened, I exclaimed – “See! See! It was just a fluke!”
Walter stopped the car, glanced over at me through those thick glasses and, with this crooked grin, he got out. He took about four steps toward the street-lamp, like he was challenging it, and – Poof! It flickered and went dark like all the others . . . I swear!
I recall later, trying to tell Benny and Ray and “Koop” and everyone about this incident but they all laughed it off, hummed “Twilight Zone,” and changed the subject. It was one of those things; I guess you had to be there . . .
Another memorable Walter event – The whole group was gathered at our favorite lunch spot when Walter strode up with this official looking letter and addressed us all. “Hey, I’m going to be a published author. Viking Press accepted my book!”
Of course, I bit and asked, “What book?”
“It delves into the depths of the evolution of dinosaurs,” he continued. “It’s about a Peniceros and a Clitasauris who got together, and that’s how the “Big Bang” theory developed . . .”
Dead silence . . .
I smiled weakly . . .
Boy, I hated always being the one to have to tell Walter that the group wasn’t doing anything . . .
Vinny Garrison was undoubtedly the funniest guy to ever go to our high school. He died an untimely death in an automobile accident on the infamous 405 Freeway when we were in our mid-thirties. But he died a legend, not only a legend in our high school but a legend in our hometown.
He had the greatest reputation for his pranks. And two pranks in particular still reverberate around the city even to this day. First, on Grad Night at Disneyland in the mid-1960’s we all went on the Snow White ride in Fantasyland. As a point of fact, Vinny is the total reason that the witch who pops out with the poison apple is now holographic. Back then Vinny actually plucked the apple from the old hag’s hand when she popped out. All night long at Grad Night he kept flashing his trophy in a myriad of ways. You had to admit – it was funny back then. (Well, again, maybe you had to be there.)
Actually Vinny’s most memorable prank took place during our senior year in high school. Our older high school was comprised of two stories and Miss Goodman taught English in a classroom on the second floor. Now, Miss Goodman was nice and all but she was very, very old – ancient, in fact.
So, one day during a question and answer period in class Vinny kept raising his hand and asking remarkably stupid questions or giving ridiculously dumb answers to her questions. Finally, even Miss Goodman caught on to what he was doing to procure laughs and she wisely stopped calling on him.
Well, ol’ Vinny, he almost jumped out of his desk chair (not to mention his skin) waving his arms trying to get our old English teacher’s attention just one more time. Finally, after a lot of swooshing and waving Vinny jumped up and blurted out—
“Miss Goodman, I’m sorry but you never call on me! I raise my hand over and over again but do you call on me? Noooo! I can’t stand it anymore! I’ve had my hand raised for at least twenty minutes! And you won’t call on me! And besides that I’m having trouble at home. My parents are always fighting, my older brother beats me up all the time and nobody likes me and now you won’t even call on me!”
And so on . . . almost to the point of tears . . . (Vinny actually worked up quite a lather.)
Now, during this entire diatribe Vinny had edged himself over to the back window which was wide open. It was always hot in our classroom. Eventually he proceeded to take off his shoes (God only knows why), and he then began threatening to jump out, to end it all!
“The world just doesn’t understand me and nobody cares and now you won’t even call on me and I even knew the answer . . . And my family and my friends don’t care. Oh, I’m just going to end it all for everyone—”
Well, a flustered Miss Goodman tried to reason with him but ended up just crying out—“No, no, don’t jump! Oh, dear! Oh, no!”
And then, so completely and utterly rattled she called out, “Don’t jump! Oh, Mr. Garrison. Don’t do anything rash. Oh, my . . .” And she ran out of the room and down the northern stone steps heading for the first floor and the office of the vice principal.
Well, now, Vinny seized this opportunity to scurry out the back door and down the south steps further on down the hallway. He then proceeded on, going outside. Soon, in a lavish display, he positioned himself on the lawn directly under the second story window and lay down on his back spread eagle. In what he believed was a nice touch he set his shoes down nicely in front of him.
By now the entire class had gathered around the back window. Besides the catcalls we were all catatonic with laughter. But then Miss Goodman rushed in with Mr. Kingman, the V.P. The look on her face silenced almost all of us. There was a hush as she leaned on her desk to hold herself up. As humorous as the situation was I don’t think many of us will ever forget that look on her face. She was devastated. I think that was the only downside to the prank.
Rather quickly an expressionless Mr. Kingman strolled nonchalantly toward the open window as the Red Sea of students parted. He leaned his head out and barked—
“Mr. Garrison! Get up! Now! Meet me in my office in thirty seconds and be prompt about it!”
I remember Vinny cocking his head up with a smile. He quickly grabbed his shoes and high-tailed it to the vice principal’s office.
To this day Vinny is still revered as this story continues to circulate and bounce through the high school hallways and the Main Street shops and eateries. Vinny was the king of pranks and one of the funniest guys we ever knew.
Oh, by the way, the next day following this particular prank, the administration made a minor adjustment. Miss Goodman’s new English classroom was now on the first floor. And, according to Vinny, he only got one day of detention plus a good talking to. In fact, from then on Vinny was a model student. Well, maybe not a model student but he was the guy who would always say, “Aw, come on guys give her a break. It’s her last year.”
I wonder who he got that from!
Actually, it was a bit sad at his funeral, quite a few years back. Ray and I were the only ones from the group who attended. And actually, Mr. Kingman was there. Everyone else was too caught up in their own lives or out of town. But, I did notice that every single guy in the group had sent flowers to the legend. There were so many flowers I couldn’t identify half of them (and I’ve always had a knack with flowers).
But, you know what all those flowers said? “Legends never die.”
Ray Donnells and I got along probably the best in the group. Ray loved to sing and always has. So I learned a few chords on the ol’ Kogo guitar and we would spend hours practicing the same song over and over again. Sometimes we’d practice so long that the tips of my fingers would start to bleed. Honestly.
We also shared a passion for baseball so oftentimes, especially in the Spring, we’d go to a local field and spend hours hitting ground balls to each other and fielding them as deftly as we could. We had some kind of scoring system but I don’t actually remember much of it anymore.
Or we would go down to Rec Park and play a little one-on-one basketball until we dropped. I guess that was the one thing Ray and I shared. We could do the same thing for hours and never get tired of it. When we were in college, whenever we were double dating, we’d even see who could make-out the longest. We called it powerin’… You know, in a lot of ways that is true friendship.
When we were seniors in high school I used to go to the Donnells’ house to play guitar and sing. And, it never failed – Ray would invariably have some 78 record of an old classic he would be hot on and play it for me. From “Old Man River” to “Swanee,” to “Moonlight in Vermont,” Ray loved those old songs. So, we’d spend hours trying to figure them out on the guitar and practice them over and over again. Ray actually had this incredible voice and could even imitate a lot of singers. Me? Well, I could carry a tune (for the most part) . . .
Then, one time, luck struck. We got an opportunity to sing for the student body at some special high school night event. Our debut! Our big break!
I recall that, at first, Ray didn’t want to do it. “No way!”
I mean, he had a great voice and all, but (and this was a big “but”), he didn’t think we were ready, seeing how I really only knew a few chords and I wasn’t too adept at changing or strumming.
But I finally talked him into it. I promised I would only strum each chord once on the downbeat, nothing fancy (yeah, like I could really do fancy!) . . .
That magic night in the Boys gym, Ray sang “I Gave My Love A Cherry” (The Circle Song) while I strummed the old Kogo as cleanly as I could. I have to admit it was going so well, that I did get a bit cocky. By the time we hit the third verse and chorus I was throwing in a variety of extra strums.
That night we were a hit! Ray got about a hundred compliments on his voice (and, of course, most of those compliments were from the opposite sex!).
Oh, and I got one guy, Jeff Davidson (Mr. Popular at that), who came up to me and said, “I didn’t know you could play the guitar. You guys were pretty good . . .”
Man, we were floatin’!
As seniors Ray and I became so close that we were the only two in the group who talked intimately to each other about girls. I don’t know, maybe it was the singing and the guitars, you know, the romance thing. He was bent out of shape in love with this freshman, Connie Floyd. She was really cute, just kind of young.
Anyway, he started dating her right after we graduated and sometimes we would double date. And then, two years after that, we lived in an apartment together while going to Long Beach State. We spent just about all of our lives together. Besides the living together and practicing and playing guitars – Ray had learned to play also and actually had gotten better than me – we almost always went out together as a threesome. And, then, we’d go as a foursome once I started dating Liz on a steady basis . . .
So, really, I guess, out of the whole group, I was closest to Ray. Our 30th reunion that summer would be a lot more fun with him. Ray was going to be the emcee and, of course, sing some too . . .
I was truly looking forward to seeing him again (even though we kept in touch pretty regularly), and doing a little strummin’ and hummin’. And I was really looking forward to seeing the group . . . what was left of it.
At times I even let “Koop” slip through some spaces in my mind. I was looking so forward that I forgot to look back . . . well, sort of . . .