(When I wrote this one I was very concerned about the language, but teenagers in South Carolina circa 1979 didn’t speak like enlightened 21st century people. These can be difficult decisions to make as a writer: Do I go for authenticity and risk offending my audience, or do I sanitize the dialogue? Inevitably one has to trust that readers are smart enough to recognize context, and that patronizing them is just rude.)
New Year’s Eve, 1979. Time to move into the Eighties; time to live a Killing Joke song. This was the first turn of a decade I was old enough to understand. I was two years old on New Year’s Eve 1969. Every memory that I owned was dated nineteen seventy-something. The ’80s seemed like the future to me. Ten blank years. I’d be twenty-two at the end of the decade; I’d be a grown-up. This was my decade.
My sisters and I walked down to Mike’s house for the big night. Mike’s whole family was home including his older brother, Neil. They shared both a room and an interest in my sisters. I was the tag along fifth wheel bothersome little brother whose presence made it okay for the two couples to be in the boys’ room.
“See my new poster?” Mike motioned to the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders taped over the stereo.
“You notice anything?”
I stepped closer. “What?”
“You can see her pussy.” My sister slapped Mike’s arm. He laughed.
“Oh yeah. I see it.”
Mike and Neil laughed. “No you don’t,” Mike said. I looked around for something — anything — to change the subject. Under the weight bench was a gas-powered model car. I picked it up.
I flipped it over and looked at the exposed drivetrain. The driveshaft from the little Cox glow plug motor wasn’t connected to anything.
“Your worm gear is broken.”
“Your worm gear.”
“What the fuck is a worm gear?”
“It transmits power from the engine to this gear on the rear axle.”
“Are you some kind of fucking genius?”
I walked to the living room. Mr. and Mrs. Mike’s Parents were watching Lawrence Welk. Mike’s sister Kay was in the kitchen making Icees.
“What flavor are those?”
“Can I have one?”
Kay smiled. “Mama, can I give him one?”
“It’s New Years. I reckon.”
In every other version of this story the protagonist doesn’t know that he’s been served alcohol. He gets unintentionally smashed and becomes the funny little pet chimp at whom everyone has a good laugh. But that first taste of rum burned – I knew what Kay handed me. If anything I pretended not to know so that I could have more.
“It’s not an Icee, it’s a strawberry daiquiri.”
So much for that plan. Mr. Mike’s Dad walked into the kitchen.
“I’m a Navy man twenty years. You know what we called that in the Navy? A pussy drink. I’d kick your ass for drinking something like that. You want to be a man drink bourbon.”
I stared at him, waiting to get punched. He wrinkled his brow, stared hard and grabbed the cup out of my hands. Without breaking eye contact he poured me another daiquiri, tousled my hair with a cigarette laugh and went back to Lawrence Welk.
I walked back into Mike’s and Neil’s room with my drink.
“Hell yeah,” Neil said. “Time to party.”
“We’ll take you out back to smoke some rope,” Mike said. My sister punched him again. Neil unraveled himself from my other sister and changed the record.
Ahhhh, freak out!
Le Freak, c’est Chic.
Mike bolted. “Ah, hell no! Turn that nigger shit off!”
“Be cool man, it’s ‘Le Freak.’”
“I don’t give a fuck. It’s nigger shit.” Mike yanked the tone arm off the album and threw the disc at the wall. It hit the head Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader in her invisible to me genitals. He put on Judas Priest’s Hell Bent for Leather.
“Be cool, man.”
“I am cool, I just don’t want to listen to that shit.”
“You like Hendrix.”
“Hendrix ain’t a nigger.”
“What was he then?”
“He was a jamming motherfucker.”
I laid down on the weight bench, stared at the ceiling and listened to Judas Priest. Mike turned off the overhead light and switched on the brothers’ collection of Spencer Gifts lights: black lights, flickering bulbs in beer can fixtures, infinity mirrors, and lava lamps.
Feeling like we’re ready to kick tonight
No hesitating, my body’s aching
Looking for some action, satisfaction all right
Mike and Neil made out with my sisters. I focused on the black light posters. I emptied my daiquiri and staggered out of the room.
Mr. and Mrs. Mike’s Parents were watching something on television. Kay poured me another drink. I fell into the couch and I pretended to watch, too. Either minutes or hours later I stumbled to the front door and unleashed a volcano of pink daiquiri into their front bushes. There was very little pause between eruptions, and they seemed to go on forever.
“Is he okay?”
“Yeah, he’s all right.”
“Navy men hold their liquor.”
The front door closed behind me. My decade had arrived.
Categories: Throw Beck Thursday