I’ve seen some one-sided fights in my day. Seriously, I used to own a copy of ‘Crippled Masters’ on DVD – one has no arms, the other, no legs. They just wail on each other for hours. I would sit through the whole thing waiting for dwarf ninjas and NBA players with sledgehammers to join the fray.
My teenage downfall – and the last physical altercation I was involved with – can be traced to when I first heard ‘Dust in the Wind’ by Kansas. I first heard this song at a school dance in Wayne, NY, twenty years after its popularity peaked. Worse than being played as a slow dance to a room full of horny teenagers, is that I would later go out of my way to add it to my eight track collection. Whichever’s more dreadful is your call.
I became big fan of being a loner after that, just so I could pick up some new music ideas. Stabbing Westward, Days of the New; really, anything that I thought would make me look ‘cooler’. I was a dumbass. I mean, the same guy that got suspended for listening to Alanis Morissette at a Baptist school trying to act like I’ve been a fan of Marilyn Manson since ‘Portrait of an American Family’ (I would have been eleven). I was the nineties version of a hipster. Before they were called Emo.
I wanted to just be everything everyone wanted. I acted like I was high. I would swear a lot. I pierced my own ear.
Let me just stop there a second: Not only was that insane (-ly badass), I will always remember the sound of the needle ripping through my ear. And of all the bleeding that followed when I was told to take it out on my own, or have it ripped out.
Back to point: I was a posing idiot. Not even an asshole. An asshole you can at least muster some crude sympathy for whatever made them that way. You could have told me licking dried paint would make me cooler, and I’d try it. Fortunately, this stupidity would get kicked out of me soon enough.
I’d begun hanging out with some of the kids from the parochial school. We’d go to the falls out in Penn Yan, or drive around Hammondsport. One afternoon we spent hanging out at Sugar Creek – a neighborhood convenience store that was anything but – drinking blue raspberry soda. This curly headed blonde walks in looking for one of the kids in our group. When she loudly announced to me that he was her cousin, I knew I had a chance.
We hit it off swimmingly. Small talk, music, mostly letting her do the talking while I agreed with all of it. She was having a party in another week, if I wanted to come.
Yes. Yes I did.
Now, pull back on this entire scene for a moment. The macro view will show the seven degrees in which this situation was coming together. Three weeks prior, another girl I’d been dating dumped me rather harshly because she thought I was a druggie. A fair guess, as I was being a dipshit acting like one. To this point, I had never had any illegal substances. Sure, I was fifteen, and I’d drunk some of my brother’s friends under the table, but nothing illegal for all audiences. The dance I heard Kansas’ hauntingly delightful tune was with another girl I was interested in. I think she pitied me a bit in the way the previous-girlfriend situation had fallen apart. She was also going to the party, but with another guy – so, she was obviously not digging me.
Pull back in: I go to this ‘party’. In the hills around Hammondsport, there are several dead towns. Not even ‘sneeze-and-you-miss-them’ places; these towns are only present in the facts that it has houses in them, and that they are still standing by the will of God alone, and the two tumbleweeds rolling in to support the sagging porches. Streets have become scarred three feet wide from potholes. Pine trees living on a hill next to a lake have gone brown and withered. There are no bird calls within five miles. Even raccoons and possums avoid these lands.
Maybe that was just Pultney. Calling it a skeleton town would be generous, unless you intended the partially digested skeletal remains of a fieldmouse as they excrete from a snake. Other ‘towns’ were conglomerations of mobile homes strung end to end for a good mile. In other areas, they were plots of land named after the residents of the one lonely trailer smack in the middle of it. This was one of those locations.
It was around ten o’clock on a crisp May night, and there were a few Christmas lights lining a muddied road. Some heavy metal band was blaring, to which I would later claim I love. I went into the trailer, found the blonde, and three large pickle buckets. They had since been scourged of their brine, and refilled with two liters of vodka, three liters of orange juice, and five pounds of assorted hard fruits. The lids were tamped back on, and the whole lot ferments at room temp for a week. Redneck Wapatula.
The drink was strong, my friends. I was feeling it after the first cup, and the blonde put two more in my hands. Of course, she put other cups in my hands, and better things against my lips. She went to get more drinks, while I stretched to alleviate the stress on the back of my fly, as I fiddled with the stereo to see what other music they had. Couple of guys came around, asking if I want to smoke a bowl.
I decided that would be perfectly swell. So, let’s list the party fouls so far:
Don’t touch the host’s music.
Don’t drink the punch.
Don’t smoke what you didn’t bring.
Don’t snog the host’s girlfriend. Or get your hand up her shirt.
That last one would have been great to know before I got there. So, they guide me out behind the trailer, pass the bowl, and after I get a long drag, punch me in the stomach, and then kick the shit out of me while I was down. Hell if I know why they left, but as soon as they were away I got up and ran into the light of the trailer. I do remember putting a hand to my head, pulling it away bloody, and nonchalantly asking if they had any paper towels.
An hour later, I walked into my house, looked at me mother through the blood from a gash in my forehead and a blackened eye, and plainly stated I’d fucked up. She had me wash up, and the next morning asked if I’d learned my lesson.
Even when I came back to pot on my own grounds two years later, I was always paranoid this was going to happen again. That would be why it was a short lived endeavor. I stick to alcohol these days and – usually – in fair moderation. The only thing I never really learned was why they had called me Tyler the whole time. I found out later that was an inside reference to a poser. That was really the last time I tried hard to be someone I’m not, and it was a lesson learned hard.
Then we have the recent lesson not of being someone I’m not, but of being someone complacent. The status quo is not somewhere you go to grow. Yet, stupidly, I’ve wanted nothing but growth for years. I’ve wanted to wake in the morning and stretch my fingers so far I feel the skin warp as I touch the fringes of the sky. I’ve wanted to be as much in the present as the large presence I feel inside. I’ve wanted to do something I could genuinely step back and acknowledge, saying, “Look at this that I have wrought.”
As I was dragging my feet, it seems the karmic nature of life decided to punch me in the stomach. It got a few good kicks in, too. But as I’m waking, I am seeing my lesson.
Beyond that, I think the only major difference in the past 14 years is that I haven’t listened to anything by Kansas since that night.