“I want Susie DeSalvo,” Dusty screamed as he crawled across our gym teacher’s lawn. Mr. McKinley was a mean motherfucker who just returned from ‘Nam convinced that us suburban Jersey boys were sissies. McKinley’s solution to any disobedience in class was to pull out the gloves and stage an impromptu boxing match, always with predictable results.
“Shut the fuck up, and let’s get out of here,” I shout as I pull Dusty by the collar. My parents were away and Dusty, Billy and I had raided the liquor cabinet and drank a quart of Old Granddad. Billy was already in the hospital. At Bedford Park, we saw a couple sitting on a bench. Billy sat down between them and started kissing the girl, Rose who was in our Personal Development class. Personal Development was an “optional class” for intelligent misfits, miscreants and general fuck-ups. The guy, Frankie, one of Dumont’s greasers took an immediate dislike to Billy and punched him straight in the throat. Billy fell to the ground making gurgling noises. Frankie took Rose by the hand and stepped over Billy’s body pausing to step on his head with his Durangos. By this point Billy’s Adams apple had disappeared and lodged itself in his throat. He turned pale blue. Dusty ran to a house near the park and an ambulance was called. Billy was taken to Holy Name Hospital clutching his throat. Dusty and I went back to the basement to drink more whiskey.
Now Dusty was acting up, kneeling on our gym teacher’s lawn, arms outstretched to the heavens yelling obscenities. “Come on out McKinley and fight like a man, you shell-shocked bastard.” Bring your wife out because when I’m done with you, I’m going to fuck her right here on your front lawn.” Every light in every house on Barbara Road was lit except for McKinley’s. Dusty kept at it with a suicidal determination.
“What’d you do in Nam, give blowjobs behind the barracks? Why’d my brother have to die so a bastard like you could return to make our lives miserable?”
McKinley’s bedroom light went on. I dragged a garbage can from the curb and brought it down on Dusty’s head as hard as I could. Dusty looked at me with a crooked smile and then slumped to the ground. Sirens were wailing in the distance. McKinley was at the door in his underwear. I dragged Dusty into the Bedford Park woods and left him to sleep it off.
“The sun always shines at night when you’re high,” I said to Dusty as we took another pill. “Don’t stare at it or it will burn your retinas,” I warned.
Dusty lowered his eyes. “You know man, I want to get out of this shithole town with its little people. I feel so damn big sometimes,” he said with conviction.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “soon we’ll be out of school and free of Dumont forever.”
“No man, you don’t understand, I mean that little town down there.” Dusty stopped and pointed with his toe to a tiny anthill in the parking lot. “The little ones don’t like me because I’m different. Well fuck them man!” With that Dusty lowered his foot on the anthill and kicked sand about in a psychedelic frenzy. “Wow man, I showed them.”
It was a dull night at Memorial Park and the gang had no plans so we smoked some angel dust. Pete and Joe were still bored, but more content with the Teenage Wastelandedness of it all. At about 10:00, a caravan of fast looking cars pulled into the parking lot. The teenagers who piled out of the cars were unbelievable, looking as if they just stepped off the set of American Graffiti. Pete and Joe were standing at the edge of the Dumont gang who were moving in on the Cliffside greasers who were talking about a gang war on some neutral turf to the stoned and bewildered Dumont boys.
“Those douchebags,” said Pete through clenched teeth, “what right do they have bringing their bad trip to us?” With a war hoop that would have scared the pants off the most hardened vet, he lifted an overflowing steel trash container over his head and marched up the hood of a metallic blue Cliffside Camaro and proceeded to smash it through the windshield.
All hell broke loose. The Dumont forces attacked and began pounding the Cliffside cars with anything that could be found. The greasers were lost. They tried to get back to their cars, but to do so they had to run the gauntlet of crazed Dumont boys. By the time the police arrived, the greasers cars were wrecked and had to be towed out of town. For once, the cops were on the Dumont hippies’ side. The Cliffside greasers were arrested for rioting and disorderly conduct and their parents were called to take them home. After this incident, Dumont developed a reputation as a tough town. We lived it up for all it was worth.
“Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.”
Why is that penguin quacking at me? Do penguins quack?
“Quack, quack, quack, opium, quack, quack, China, missionaries, quack, quack, Dean? Quack, quack, Boxer? Quack, quack, quack.”
Shit it’s Mr. Allocco. He’s not a penguin. Why’s he wearing a penguin suit? No, that’s just a suit. He’s asking a question. The class is laughing, showing their incisors. Jenny Berman looks concerned. She is an angel. I love her. Look at her smile, beatific. She’s the only one brave enough to have Bowie hair. Her eyes glisten. I want her more than anything.
“Imperialism,” I shout all too stridently.
Mr. Allocco looks bewildered. “Exactly.”
Vow to self: no more acid during the school day.
“Really? Va-un? I don’t believe you.”
“For real. I did it. Va-un.”
“I wouldn’t lie about that” (yes I would).
“With who then?”
“Charlie’s going to kill you.”
“Charlie’s in California. He doesn’t have to know.”
“Charlie’s going to kill you.”
Joe and I speak in phone code, an intricate system of one-syllable sounds in Spanish and English we invented so our parents don’t know what we’re talking about. Va-un means getting laid, or the potential for getting laid, which until tonight were one and the same. Va-dos A (pronounced Ah) means somebody’s got weed. Va-dos B (pronounced Bay) means we’re going to stand in front of the liquor store on Grant Avenue until some hapless older guy agrees to buy us booze. It usually takes about 10 minutes, but it has been known to take as long as 40.
Charlie is the foreman at the perfume factory. Was the foreman. That’s where we work. Joe and I. It’s the only place that hires 15 year olds. They pay us a dollar seventy-five an hour to stand in line and fill bottles with scented liquid. Actually the older kids work with the machines, Joe and I stick labels to the bottles. Three labels; Oh de Paris, Black Velvet, and Risqué, three bottle shapes, but the same musky scent in each bottle. Margaret is Charlie’s girlfriend. She’s 17, but was left back so she’s only a year ahead of me in school. She’s light years ahead maturity wise. She’s a woman.
Last week Charlie and I were sitting in his car getting high when he told me that he was going on an extended trip and to keep an eye on Margaret for him. The next day, when he was picking up the factory payroll at the bank, Charlie just kept on going. He got on a plane for Los Angeles and flew away. A warrant was issued for his arrest but he was gone. Most of the guys were pissed that Charlie took our paychecks but I was happy for him. There’s no future in Dumont for an 18 year-old dropout. I was sort of honored that he trusted me to watch Margaret. Then I started thinking — why me? What makes me safe with his girlfriend? Who, or what does he think I am?
I always liked Margaret. Last year she sat next to me in Spanish. She wasn’t too good at it but I helped her as best I could. We had a running joke where I would slap the side of my head and exclaim “albondigas, no te dijé” at the slightest provocation. This cracked her up every time. Once she wrote “FREE LOVE FOR A FREE WORLD” in black marker on my jeans. I was in ecstasy for the 20 minutes it took her. Charlie is going to kill me.
It took two bottles of Strawberry Hill to get Margaret where I wanted her. Honestly, I drank more than my fair share. We were talking about her joining Charlie in California at the end of the school year and the next thing we were making out on the bench by the basketball court behind Selzer School. One thing led to another, and then we were doing it in the grass of the soccer field. The whole process lasted less than 5 minutes. Actually it was the best 4 minutes of my life. After we were done, she just lay there. I couldn’t tell if it was from pleasure, exhaustion, or she passed out. Margaret opened her eyes: “Charlie’s going to kill you!… Kill us.” I got her home and left her wobbly on her front porch as I slipped away.
I call Joe.
The Who came on at 9:30. The Garden crowd stood up and screamed. Dusty stood up, turned his back to the stage, outstretched his arms and yelled mournfully, “Where is The Who? I want The Who.”
The people in the vicinity showered Dusty with beer cans and less wholesome refuse.
“Sit down!” Billy yelled.
“Fuck you man,” Dusty screamed, “I can’t see The Who!”
With a jolt he turned around and sprinted for the edge of the balcony. Billy and I caught him in mid-flight at the edge of the overhang. Dusty was quiet for the rest of the night. He didn’t even complain about the ambiguous vibes coming from Billy’s third eye.
Bad day. Thank you Allison Steele, just keep talking, do your night bird thing, let me drift off. The day started unraveling at the park. With Lori Boettger’s stupid dog. No, it began with Wayne’s wacky weed, this weird grass that looks like parsley or oregano, maybe it was parsley, but it was sprayed with some potent shit. We smoked a bowl and the whole world shifted focus. And then out of nowhere that god damned mutt was on my leg, humping it for all it was worth. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it. It was attached. I walked around and dragged the dog with me, everybody laughing, Lori doing nothing whatsoever to heel the beast. Tommy Veroni said “look at the faggots, it takes one to know one.” Everybody laughed harder. I didn’t know what to do, so I slapped the dog with the side of my hand. All was silent and all eyes were on me, as if I just hit a baby or something. The dog too was stunned. For a second, then he sank his teeth into my hand, drawing blood. Finally, Lori pulled him off. I went to my car and sat alone, turning the radio up to full volume.
My car’s not much to speak of. It’s a 66 Impala that I bought for 40 dollars. The reason I got it so cheap is because it was hit by a garbage truck and the fender over the rear tire is twisted at an improbable angle. But it’s my car, and the radio works. Wayne offered Billy a Quaalude if he would kick in the door on the driver’s side with me sitting inside. I’m not much of a fighter, but after the first kick I was face to face with Billy swinging wildly. He was surprised that I was punching him as if I had betrayed our friendship. Fuck him. Fuck all of Memorial Park. I need to stop, or at least slow down.
After I drove off, the ghouls turned their attention to Jenny Berman. So I’ve been told. Kris, Jason and Pete started calling her a cock tease and a skank. I don’t know what she did to raise their ire. Pete told me that when he fucked her, she was like a dead fish, just zoned out of her mind not moving or responding in any way. I don’t think I believe him. If I were fucking her, she would be moving and moaning and holding on tight. Anyway, after calling her all sorts of names the boys threw snowballs at her and Darlene, her new friend from Bergenfield. They left the park ahead of a barrage of snowballs from the boys and taunts from the girls. I got to get out of this place. I got to get out of Dumont if it’s the last thing I ever do.
Dusty and I spent 6 hours sitting on the couch in my living room. We had taken two hits of windowpane acid. It seemed a harmless enough amount at the time.
Dusty was sitting at a strange angle, his pupils the size of nickels, staring into space. He did not move. Not a sound. Perhaps he was still breathing, but he appeared to be in a true state of suspended animation. I fed him orange juice, but it dribbled down his chin. I yelled in Dusty’s ear but there was no response. I slapped him in the face, but he did not blink.
It started four hours earlier while we were watching Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert on TV. Sparks, a funny looking band, with a guy with a Hitler moustache was playing funny sounding music.
“Dusty,” I asked innocently enough, “wouldn’t it be funny if your parents were watching the same show and through our television could see us sitting here high as kites on my couch listening to this funny music. The suggestion became instant reality for Dusty. He decided he had to call his mom and apologize for taking drugs, but that he was safe and would soon be back to normal as long as he stayed away from mirrors. I did not think a call home was a prudent course of action.
Every time that Dusty would get up and go near the phone, I would pull him away. For over two hours, the psychodrama played out taking on epic proportions: good versus evil, logic versus ignorance, reason versus emotion, right versus might. I put an end to the battle when Dusty went to the bathroom, disconnecting the phone and hiding it under the kitchen sink. After Dusty came out of the bathroom, I went in and spent an interminable amount of time watching my day-glow urine splash around the toilet. Dusty was on the couch sitting at a forty degree angle staring off into the cosmos.
I spent the next four hours trying to bring Dusty back. I could see into Dusty’s mind. It was blank. At about four thirty in the morning, Dusty blinked: “What did you say?”
I was overjoyed.
Dusty stretched his arms, “Wow man, if you could see what I just saw.”
“I did Dusty, I did.”
“The worst part is over, go to sleep.”
We worked for a foul tempered landscaper named Rob. Work started at 7 a.m.
“Dusty, I don’t think we should go to work today.”
It’s okay. I’m better now. Everything is clear.”
“Acid has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. I don’t think we should go.”
“Really, it’s okay. I can handle it.”
“Well, just don’t fuck up.”
We lay in our beds quietly for the next hour. I stared at the patterns in the ceiling. At six, we got out of bed, got dressed and walked across town to work.
Rob was waiting for us, frowning, ready to go. He had little styrofoam cups of coffee for us. I tasted mine and immediately spit it all over Rob’s driveway. Rob gave me a dirty look. Dusty and I got into the back of the truck. Dusty looked at Rob.
“Rob, can I ask you a question?”
“Rob, why is your third eye staring at me?”
Damn, Dusty had blown it. I burst out laughing. Rob glared at me.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing Rob, nothing.”
“If you don’t like working for me, you can go home right now.”
“I’m sorry Rob.”
Dusty smiled at Rob, all charm. “Rob?”
Dusty made a peace sign. “Lightly salted draperies, man, and watch out for speed bumps.”
Rob shook his head, got behind the wheel and we were off. Work was awful. I spent most of the day following Dusty with my lawnmower, straightening out the intricate patters he had cut into people’s lawns. At the end of the day, Rob gave me a lecture about working too slowly and time being money. On Monday, I was demoted to weeding. A week later I quit.
I want to die. Want to die, die, die. How am I going to show my face on Monday? Oh God why, why, why did I ask Donna Maravilla out. She’s out of my league, what was I thinking? Maybe because of that time last year when Cathy Triggiani was getting married in St Mary’s and we had just gotten high and we wandered into the church and it was beautiful and it smelled like the presence of God and Donna sat next to me and held my hand during the I dos. Then we went back to her house and raided the medicine cabinet for pills and listened to Neil Young and we were wasted and she put her feet in my lap and let me massage them and it was heavenly.
That was last year. In the past 12 months she got more beautiful and curvy while I just got more pimply and then she started going out with Hoagie who’s in college and we drifted apart since she’s not in college prep classes. A few weeks ago I was talking to her in front of the 7-11 and I just came right out and asked her: “Would you go see the Grateful Dead with me at Roosevelt Stadium?” I originally was going to ask Jenny, but she got shipped away to a foster home after she ran away again. After maybe 10 seconds of thoughtful looking consideration Donna said, “Sure, why not, it’ll be fun.” So we were on.
I don’t really like the Grateful Dead; as a matter of fact I sort of despise them. I’m more of a Sabbath, Zep sort of guy but stoner girls seem to love the Dead. Joe drove me, Donna and Dusty to the wilds of Jersey City to see the Dead. As everyone knows Roosevelt Stadium is a sewer. Literally, the bathrooms back up and you have to wade ankle deep through the piss to get out. And the whole crowd is wasted; sometimes it gets ugly. After the Allman Brothers show people ripped the seats from the stands and burned them in bonfires in the middle of the field. When I saw Eric Clapton there he was so wasted he only played a ukulele, and cursed at the crowd asking us if we were Satan’s children. The Dead was going to be different. All day it drizzled lightly, still the ground was soaked. I had filled my wineskin with Ripple Red in honor of the occasion and Joe had rolled 4 humongous joints.
The Dead was supposed to go on at 3 in the afternoon but I guess because of the rain they didn’t start till 4:30. By that time we had smoked all four joints and gone through two wine skins. Then they came on. The crowd erupted. Midway through the first song, Casey Jones, the guy sitting next to me handed me a pipe of something. I took a deep hit, held it in, felt it coarse through my lungs and then vomited all over Donna Maravilla, a horrible red wine torrent of unremitting nausea. She just looked down in horror, stupefied by my ultimate bad manners. All I could say was “I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry.”
Wouldn’t you know it, the Dead went on to play a tortuous 5 hour set, lazily meandering through a 40 minute jam of a song called St. Stephen about some Christian saint who was tortured, stoned, shot full of arrows, suffered mightily and seemed to somehow get off on it before he died. I was in hell. On the way back home, I mercifully fell asleep in the back seat as Donna squeezed into the front with Dusty and Joe. I’m glad I was passed out so I didn’t have to hear them talk. Do I call Donna tomorrow and apologize? Or do I just wish it all away? Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll just die in my sleep.
I’ve got to find friends my own age. Roger and Mike will graduate in a few months and Woody and Murph are old enough to drink legally. Hell, Roger looks like he’s been old enough to drink for the past 3 years; he had a Fu Manchu when I met him. I think they let me hang around because I amuse them. And because we can smoke in my room with no parental interference. And because of how many girls I know.
Thank God for Allison Steele’s voice to soothe me through my troubles. I hate New Year’s Eve. Last year I spent it cradled in the lap of a bus driver vomiting in my seat of the 167 coming back from the City. Tonight wasn’t as bad, but still pretty awful. The five of us piled into Woody’s car to a party in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson, at the house of some college girl who was in Woody’s class. I was clearly the youngest person there and I felt it from the get go. Then Murph started in with this ridiculous story that we were scouts for Warner Brothers Records. Why would he say such a thing to a bunch of college kids? I made less than a minimal attempt to play along and this pissed Murph off. Over the course of 5 or 6 rum and cokes and 7 or 8 tokes of passed around joints, I was feeling pretty good, not wasted, just good. My chief concern was to find someone to kiss at the stroke of midnight. But that wasn’t happening. I felt like somebody’s tag along kid brother at a grown up college party. That wasn’t so bad. Could have been worse.
At about one, I knew it was time to leave. I looked for my friends, but they were nowhere to be found. I looked across the street and Woody’s car was still parked across the street. Thank God. I went outside and Woody and Roger were inside the car. Passed out. I banged on the roof of the car. No response. I hit it harder. Nothing. I shook the car and yelled. Absolutely nothing. Were they that wasted? Or dead? Or did they simply want to be rid of me so much that they were pretending to be unconscious so they could ditch me? Fuck them, I’d get home on my own.
I got onto Teaneck Road and stuck out my thumb. It was bitter cold. Where were my gloves? Shit. After about 20 minutes a guy in a steel gray Range Rover pulled up. He was wearing driving gloves. Who really wears driving gloves?
“”Where you headed?”
“Dumont,” I told him.
“Get in,” he said, “I’m going the same way.”
“Thank you. I need the ride.”
“How’d you wind up alone on New Year’s?”
“It’s a long story,” I said. “I won’t bore you.”
“No really, why you alone?”
“It’s a long story,” I repeated.
At that point right in front of the Diner by Foster Village he lunged at me. I jumped out of the way and out the door. He caught me by my front hip but I pulled away and jumped out. Unfortunately, I don’t carry my stuff in a wallet. I carry it in a leather tooled Marlboro cigarette case. He knocked it right out of my pocket and into the night as a wicked gust of wind picked up and scattered the contents through the frigid air. I walked home the remaining two and a half miles.
Again, a prayer of thanks to Allison Steele, the Night Bird, the redeemer of wayward souls. Tomorrow is a new year.
“You guys are pussies! You’re scared cause you know I can beat you,” said Dusty.
“It’s not good to go swimming in this condition. Opium fucks your system up but you don’t know it. You can forget to breathe or something,” Billy said patiently.
“Anyhow, you can’t swim Dusty,” I added.
“I can so swim. I’ll bet each of you five bucks I can beat you to the other side of the lake. What’s the matter, you chicken?”
Billy was a good swimmer. He made it across the lake in about 5 minutes. I was an average swimmer. By the time Billy reached the other shore, I was half way across. I looked back to where Dusty was. All I could see was his long frizzy hair, then his mouth.
“Help me man, I can’t breathe.”
A lifeguard in a rowboat paddled around the lake serenely. Dusty addressed his panic to the lifeguard. “Help man, I don’t think you understand… I’m drowning.” Dusty’s head went under again. The lifeguard smiled pleasantly.
“I’m drowning… Dean… save me…”
I was about 200 yards in front and hated the idea of having to turn back. By the time I got to Dusty he had been under water for about a minute and was totally motionless. The only way that I found him was by spotting the mop of hair floating near the top of the water. I was exhausted. I grabbed the hair and began swimming towards shore. I was startled by a powerful whack to the back of my head. Dusty was alive, and crazed. He scratched my neck, pummeled my head, and bit me. Dusty showed teeth I didn’t know humans had. It took every bit of strength to make it to the shore.
Billy and I made Dusty pay us before we let him eat that night. When Dusty’s steak fell into the fire, Dean and I decided that he couldn’t have any more opium. We smoked the rest that night. About 60 dollars worth. Dusty didn’t talk to either of us for a week.
I saw Jenny last night. It was beautiful. It was tragic. I’m in love. A whole gang of us went to Oradell Reservoir for an end of the school year swimming bonfire party. There must have been 50 of us. This time the cops didn’t take our clothes and make us get out of the water like they did last year. They hadn’t arrested anyone, but they sure enjoyed the eyeful they got from lining up us naked teenagers. That was last year.
Last night, sometime around 8, Jenny was there. She had run away from her halfway house in Paramus and was back with us, smoking hash and sitting right next to me by the fire. I didn’t know what to say other than “How’re you doing? I missed you.” Before she could respond, bright lights flooded the clearing and loudspeakers were informing us not to move. Everyone scattered in different directions. Jenny led me by the hand about 100 yards away to some dense bushes. We hid ourselves as best we could staying as quiet as possible. We heard the cops grabbing various people and marching them off. Miraculously, they did not come near our bush. I held Jenny’s hand in fright and anticipation. We stayed huddled under the bush for what seemed like an eternity. Slowly I gathered the courage to kiss her. She responded by kissing back. Hallelujah! I was in heaven. After a few minutes I gained the courage to reach under her shirt and touch her breast. No bra. Double Hallelujah!! Jenny is not big breasted; she sort of resembles Bonnie from the Trots and Bonnie comic strip in The Lampoon. I should mention that I’ve always had a crush on Bonnie. I grabbed a fuller hold. Just then, a blinding light was in my eyes. They found us. We were rousted out of the bushes and pulled apart. The cops weren’t interested in me. It was Jen they were after. She was put in a car and driven off. I was left to walk home; they just didn’t seem to care about me.
I wonder how I’ll see Jenny again. They’ll probably move her to another halfway house further away. I’ll find a way.
“I left it on the roof of your car, and you drove off.”
“Sorry Dusty, I didn’t know it was there.”
“That was 200 dollars of pharmaceutical.”
“I’m sorry, you shouldn’t have left it there.”
“Let’s go back and look for it.”
“Dusty, we drove 90 miles today.”
“You owe me 200 dollars man.”
I got in my car. Dusty tried to hold the door, but I pulled out. I got to get out of this place.