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Stories from the summer of ’72
John Buford Goode
Chapter 1–The Old Car
THE OLD CAR ROLLED down the highway into the late Saturday morning. The car was about thirty minutes out of Phoenix, headed north to Flagstaff on Interstate 17. It was just passing through the sparsely populated community of New River and starting up the long, steep climb to the top of the mesa at Sunset Point. To say that the car was ‘old’ serves only to describe her age, nothing more. It was the beginning of the summer of 1972 and the car was almost forty years old. The driver was not. Behind the big steering wheel sat a young man of seventeen, setting out on what he excitedly anticipated would be another gratifying summer. His name was Clayton, Clay to friends and family, and he loved summer. He loved all vacations away from school, but summer was, without question, by far the best. Summer was long enough that there was no anxiety about it ending as it was just beginning. One week of spring break was fine; two weeks over Christmas was better; but summer was timeless and it was his. The old car was a 1934 Plymouth Coupe, dark forest green, with big curved Gullwing fenders that sloped back into wide running boards along the sides of the car,
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terminating into the rear fenders. She had suicide doors and a trunk that opened into a rumble seat. The spare tire was mounted on the rear of the car, behind the shiny rear chrome bumper and dual tail lamps that stood off from the back of the rear fenders. Powered by a Flathead Six engine, the old car issued a low growl, almost like a truck, as she moved steadily up the steep incline at sixtyfive miles per hour. The oil filter consisted of a roll of toilet paper placed inside a cylindrical canister mounted alongside the engine block. Mounted on pedestals above the inboard side of each front fender were large chrome, half-globe-shaped head lamps, which were about the size of a nice round cantaloupe and stood almost as high as the hood. The hood was long and narrow, taking up about half the car’s length, leading back to the cab, with fold-up hinged doors on both sides that met at the top along the midline of the engine cowling. The grill, which looked like a knight’s jousting shield, was made up of thirty-four quarter-inch-thick vanes of satin-finished chromed steel called Valchrome steel, and covered the entire front of the car, sloping down from the prowl in a slow curve to a point at the base of the car behind the chrome bumper. The windshield consisted of a flat piece of safety glass. It was barely twelve inches tall, straight along the top and slightly curved along the bottom to match the shape of the long engine cowling. The old car rolled confidently along on six-inch wide, thirty-twoinch tall tires mounted on steel ‘artillery’ rims.
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CLAYTON’S MOTHER, Pamela Montgomery, MD, had heard about the old car from an associate at work. The associate’s neighbor had the old car in his garage at home and was looking to part with it. Pamela believed that teenage boys, young men, should start with an old car, one that required work, to learn the necessary skills that a man should have. Learning auto mechanics, as part of being able to fix things in general, was an important rite of passage to manhood. To his mother’s way of thinking, real men were handy. That, of course, was the contradiction in his mother. She was a highly educated and accomplished doctor and businesswoman, who for more than a decade had aggressively established her place in what was understood at the time as the world of men. But in her mind, men were responsible for taking care of and repairing all things mechanical. If a woman had a flat tire, she would just stand outside her car looking helpless in her modestly sexy clothes, with her hair blowing in the wind and any number of fellas would fall all over themselves offering to change the tire. Clayton couldn’t understand the dichotomy of this strong woman: succeeding in a man’s world but still fostering the stereotype of women as the weaker sex. The country, in 1972, was still in the early stages of the feminist revolution and women were demanding equality in just about everything. His mother was somewhat of an
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anachronism; it didn’t bother her to use her femininity as a distraction, but she wasn’t manipulative. Her success was based on being very professional and extremely competent. Clayton had asked her once, prompted by a news report of the Women’s Movement, if she had ever felt discrimination in her career. And she replied, “No, I just wouldn’t tolerate it. So if it was there I simply refused to recognize it. Oh, I want men to see me as a woman; I have never tried to be a man or even thought of as one of the guys. If during a business meeting the men at the table are stupid enough to be distracted by my bosom while I am getting what I want, that’s just fine with me. I have never noticed or cared.” Pamela was proud of her son even though she didn’t quite get him. Clayton had a strong independent streak; more so than her other children. He almost never really wanted anything from her, and when he did, it was always measured and exact. When she bought him clothes for school, he knew exactly what he wanted and it was always the minimum he needed. If, during the school year, he wanted something more, he would always buy it himself, with money he had earned. It seemed to Pamela that Clayton always had a job. When he was twelve years old, he would get up at two in the morning to catch a bus to pick berries in the fields outside of Portland, Oregon. What kind of kid does that? she would think.
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Pamela came home from work excited about the car and told Clayton as soon as he got home from his part-time job. Clayton was skeptical at first, but he was also intrigued. “An ‘old timey’ car,” he said after she had described it to him. He wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about having to work on a car as she was. He had helped his friends work on theirs and hadn’t found it all that much fun. It was more fun when cars did what they were supposed to do: go places. Driving cars was fun; fixing cars, not so much. But something about the idea got his imagination working. He visualized himself coming to school in a vintage car and the kids’ reaction; taking his buddies off campus to lunch; laughing kids hanging out in the ‘rumble seat.’ Images of Mickey Rooney and the Bowery Boys came to mind. It could be fun, he thought. No one else in school had one and it certainly fit his image of himself as somewhat of a nonconformist. The next day, Pamela and Clayton headed out in the late afternoon, an hour before dusk. The old car was in West Phoenix, about half an hour away from their home in Tempe. The old car was waiting for them, in the driveway, running. They drove up to the curb in front of the house and got out. A large man, who appeared to be the car’s owner, was busily drying off the car. “Well there you are, right on time,” he called out with a broad smile as they exited the car they came in.
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“Just giving her a quick rinse,” he said, fluttering a rag toward the humming car. “She’s been in the garage for a while and was a bit dusty. Thought I should start her up and get the battery charged.” The car was a faded flat gray two-door coupe, long and low with a massive, slightly rusted chrome grill and big fenders which sported two large, rusted headlights perched forward on top. The car was as long and as wide as a modern four-door sedan. Clayton thought, at first view, that it had the look of the old box-style MG, except a lot bigger in every direction and rounded fenders. “Hi, I’m Pamela,” Clayton’s mother called out as she walked toward the man with the rag. “This is my son Clay. We’re looking at the car for him. This will be his first car.” Good grief, mom, Clayton thought. He doesn’t need to know that. Clayton was always irritated when his mom felt it necessary to define the relative pecking order of things, and he didn’t like being reduced to a kid anymore. In an effort to forestall his mom from starting in on her dialogue regarding the importance of young men learning to repair cars and all, he quickly walked up to the man with the rag, offered his hand and introduced himself. “Clay Montgomery.”
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“Ed Beam,” the older man replied, taking Clayton’s hand and clasping it firmly. He was pleased that the boy had an air of confidence and a firm grip. Ed Beam was tall, over six feet, broad shouldered, with a stiff, close-cropped, graying brown mustache. He had big, strong, rough hands. He was sporting a slight paunch, but Clayton clearly could see that this man had kept himself in shape or worked a hard, physical job. Clayton guessed his age at fifty. “Well there she is,” indicating the old car with a sweep of the rag in his left hand. “She’s a 1934 Plymouth Coupe. The first car I ever bought.” “Really!” Clayton stepped back and looked at the man with a hint of surprise on his face. “When did you buy it?” Shit, he hasn’t been the only owner, has he? Ed replied with a knowing smile, guessing what Clayton was after. “I bought her new off the lot in 1936.” “You’re kidding? You have been the only owner?” Clayton spouted out, still not believing his ears. Ed broadened his smile at the young man’s incredulous stare. “Yep, I am the only owner. The original purchase documents and the first registration are in the glove box. I got ’em out of my files for you.”
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Ed led Clayton around the passenger side of the car and retrieved the papers from the glove box with a key. “This key opens the glove box and the trunk,” Ed said as he started to hand over the faded and worn papers to Clayton. But as he turned to Clayton, he saw the young man staring at the car door. Holy shit, the door opens backwards! The door opened from the front of the cab swinging out, toward the back of the cab. “Suicide doors,” Clayton blurted out. Ed laughed. Pamela was standing at the rear of the car, feeling pretty pleased with herself watching Clayton’s show of interest in the car, when she heard her son’s reference to suicide doors. “Suicide what?” she blurted out with concern. “Suicide doors,” Clayton answered, turning to his mom and demonstrating the door action. “The doors open backwards, not forwards.” Oblivious to his mom’s real concern, Clayton continued, “They’re called ‘suicide doors’ because if the door starts to open for any reason when the car is moving fast, the wind will catch the door and yank you out if you’re holding on to it. Way cool!” Then he turned to Ed and said, “What a classic feature.” Ed laughed again. “Yep, they did away with a lot of the fun stuff in an effort to make cars safer.” He was clearly enjoying the young man’s enthusiasm.
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Pamela wasn’t at all sure she liked the sound of that. “There are seat belts, of course?” “Not originally,” Ed replied. “No, I had to install them when seat belts came out. It seemed like a good idea, so I put them in myself. I put in three sets in the cab; that’s all the passengers she’ll carry.” Clayton, still not grasping his mother’s concern, accepted the proffered papers from Ed. After a brief examination in the fading daylight, he exclaimed, to no one in particular, “Good grief, here’s the original bill of sale!” Ed started for the rear of the car, where Pamela was standing. “Come back and take a look at the trunk,” he said to Clayton. Ed was pleased with the young man’s enthusiasm and was excited about showing off the car. Even though the paint was faded and the grill and headlights were a bit rusted, he had kept the car, all these years, in good running condition. Clayton followed Ed to the rear of the car, and as Ed was opening the trunk, he showed his mother the papers. “Here’s the first registration, 1936, registered to Ed Beam. That’s amazing.” Clayton realized that he was holding a piece of history; not important history, but history nonetheless. Pamela was still concerned over the picture her son painted describing the ‘suicide doors’ and only glanced at the papers.
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“Take a look here; bet you haven’t seen one of these before,” Ed said as he held the trunk lid open. Clayton and his mom looked in the trunk and saw a bench seat bolted to the floor. The lid of the trunk, like the car doors, opened to the rear of the car, toward the spare tire, instead of forward. Mounted on the lid was the padded backrest to the seat mounted on the floor. “It’s a ‘rumble seat,’” Ed said. Then he quickly added, hoping to allay Pamela’s discomfort, “I put in two sets of seat belts back here, too. There is really only room for two to sit back here.” Then, moving into his sales pitch, he went on, “There’s lots of room in the trunk for baggage, forward of the seat and there’s storage under the seat.” “Do you know what a ‘rumble seat’ is?” Pamela asked Clayton. “Yes mother, I do. I watched all those old blackand-white movies on TV when I was a kid. I think it was Cheaper by the Dozen, where the dad wanted to chaperone his daughter to the prom and had to ride in the rumble seat of her date’s car.” Clayton wasn’t ready to go over the car’s features; he was still curious about the car’s history. “How did you come to be the car’s only owner? I mean, what got you to hang on to the car all this time?” he asked, as the notion of the ‘Little Old Lady from Pasadena,’ who drove her car only on the weekends, and that was to church, came into his head.
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Ed was just gearing up for his sales pitch, thinking ahead to the features he wanted the kid to see, and was taken a little off-guard with Clayton’s question and the young man’s apparently sincere interest in the history of the car. The history Clayton was asking about was, after all, his history. “Well,” Ed started, “I bought this car brand new, off the lot, at the end of the summer of 1936, just before I went off to college. I had worked construction all through high school, saving my money for college, but I got in on a scholarship. A full ride; so I took the money I had saved and bought this here car. I pictured myself as a big man on campus showing up in this shiny new coupe.” “Full ride, what sport?” Clayton asked, skipping the possibility that it might have been an academic scholarship. “Basketball, at the University of Illinois,” Ed answered, and then, with a hint of pride, he added, “I was the starting forward my senior year.” “Wrestling is my sport,” Clayton said with equal pride. “I figured you for a wrestler. Your grip is strong and you got the build for it,” Ed offered, throwing Clayton a man-to-man-type bone.
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Clayton beamed at the recognition. “So how did you get the car from college in Illinois to here?” “Well, I soon found out that college had a lot more to do with it than running around in a new sport coupe. I don’t think I put more than ten thousand miles on the car in the four years I was there. And most of that was running home for vacations and holidays. I always worked during the summer, but I rode out to the job with a bunch of guys in the work truck. My little car just didn’t get much use during the summer, except maybe a date or two.” The last he said with a wink to Clayton. “After I graduated in the spring of 1940, I enlisted in the Army. Most of us knew that something was coming our way, and I, like a lot of guys, wasn’t going to miss it. Besides, this was during the depression and jobs were still hard to come by, even for new college grads. Because of my college degree, the Army put me in OCS, Officer Candidate School, and I came out a Second Lieutenant, what was known as a ‘Butter Bar,’ because of the gold bars they pinned on our shoulders.” “Which branch of the Army did you serve in?” Clayton asked with obvious interest. “I was in the 82nd Airborne, the All-American Division,” Ed answered with obvious pride. “You were in the 82nd during World War Two?” Clayton asked with unabashed awe and respect.
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“Yep, I was there from almost day one, when the Division was formed. Made all four combat jumps the 82nd made during the war, from Sicily to Operation Market Garden in Belgium.” At this point Clayton lost track of the car, his sole purpose for being there. World War Two was a passion of his. His love of reading began with Guadalcanal Diary, given to him by a friend of his mother’s on his twelfth birthday. Not long after, he became a voracious reader. At first he read everything about the war that he could find in the school library. Then he broadened into anything with military history; the Civil War, the Great War, Korea, the Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the feats of Alexander, the conquests of Rome. The list was unending. Before long, he was reading all types of books. He found that books could take you places, put you in other people’s shoes, offer experiences, and tease the mind with all sorts of possibilities. It was fun to let the stories play in your head. But World War Two held a special interest, and he not only enjoyed studying the war, but also was fascinated with the era. He was drawn to all things in the Forties; the music, the dances, the clothes, the girls, the cars, the airplanes, the home front and of course the leaders. But mostly he was drawn to the individuals and their stories of courage and heroism, sacrifice and fortitude. He often
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wondered, as he read, if he would have had the necessary stuff to stand his ground and do his duty in the face of imminent death or if the whine of bullets and the blast of bombs would unnerve and unman him. He realized that many of the people he read about were not unafraid; that courage was not about going into battle unafraid, but being afraid and still going into battle. But this man, this man talking in front of him, had shown the stuff of men. It was not just that this man should be admired for what he had done to succor the civilized world. Clayton believed that it was more about what he had done to tame the demons of fear and selfdoubt inside himself. Ed stood there with the confidence of a Maasai warrior, who had earned his right to be called a warrior by killing a lion with his spear and short sword. A pride, a self-awareness that comes only when one has pushed past the boundaries of fear and doubt and bravely done one’s duty. “Initially I was in the regular Infantry, but I quickly grew bored of the day-to-day tedium of an Infantry man’s life. I really had no interest in Artillery or Armor and sure didn’t want a life in the backwaters of Supply or Ordinance. Like so many guys, I thought, ‘If I was going to be in this man’s Army, I was going to fight.’ Word came down about a new division being formed and they were looking for the best and toughest men they could find. Parachute Infantry, I had no idea what it was, but the physical qualifications were very high and the unit was
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presented as an ‘elite’ unit. We were told that the unit was going to train very hard and most of the volunteers were not going to qualify. I thought I was one tough S-OB, and the idea of jumping out of airplanes into battle sounded a whole lot more fun than slogging your way on the march into one. And they paid more because it was an ‘elite’ unit. So, I jumped at the chance and volunteered. Airborne Infantry turned out to be my cup of tea, as the Brits say.” Clayton had read several books about the 82nd and its sister unit, the 101st Division, the Screaming Eagles. Both units had jumped into Normandy ahead of the D-Day invasion and were covered in glory. “So, you were in the Normandy jump?” “I certainly was,” Ed replied. “And that little fracas sure started out as a big mess, I can tell you. But I almost didn’t make that jump. Broke my knee landing on a wall in the Salerno jump. Had to fight all day and the next two days before they were able to evac me. My knee wasn’t fully healed in time for the jump into Normandy, but I damn sure wasn’t going to miss it. So I bribed the doc with a case of good Scotch to certify me for the jump. Besides, I was a Captain in command of a Company and had done all the training exercises with my men in preparation for that jump, sore knee and all. It didn’t hold me back any, so I wasn’t worried about it.”
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Pamela, standing there watching the two men talking about the past, began to get impatient. She could see where this meeting was going and attempted to steer the conversation back to their original purpose. “So how did you end up keeping the car all these years after the war?” “I went to work in Chicago after the war. I didn’t drive the car much. I took the ‘L’ to work, got married and started a family. A coupe is not much use to a family. But she had such low mileage I just hung on to her. She was still pretty new, or unused, anyway. I think she had less than twenty thousand miles on her when my first boy was born.” “What did you do for a living?” Pamela asked, moving the conversation further away from the war. She knew that Clayton could become completely absorbed with World War Two, and even though she also found Ed interesting, they were there to buy a car. “I had a degree in business,” Ed answered. “After the war, I used the GI Bill to train as a CPA. I worked for a big contracting company in job cost accounting. Bought a station wagon when my first daughter came along a couple of years after my son. Kept the coupe pretty much as a second car, but she didn’t get used much.” “How many kids do you have?” Pamela asked.
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“Me and Marcie, we had five, two boys and three girls. They’re all grown up now, off doing what kids do these days. Both boys did tours in Vietnam, which scared the living hell out of Marcie and me. My oldest girl went over there, too, as an Army nurse. We didn’t like that much either.” “How did you end up in Phoenix with the car?” Pamela asked, hoping to finally get the conversation back to the car. “I got tired of accounting. I missed construction; working in the field. A superintendent’s job opened up here in Phoenix and I jumped at it, moved the family west. The drive out here was the most miles I put on her at one time. There’s only a little over sixty-six thousand miles on her. Original miles, the odometer has not gone ’round yet.” “It turns over at one hundred thousand miles?” Clayton asked, trying to reinsert himself into the conversation. He was a little miffed that his mom had moved the conversation away from Ed’s exploits in the war. He had hoped to hear more firsthand accounts. “Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine point nine miles, then she rolls over,” Ed said, almost wistfully. “I kinda wanted to see it myself, but I guess that’ll be yours, if you want her.”
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“Well,” Pamela asked Clayton, very pleased with her little self that she had finally got the men back on the subject of the car, “what do you think?” “Yes, I’m interested in her,” Clayton replied, adopting Ed’s inference that the car was a female. “Let me show you the rest of the car,” Ed offered, warming back up to his sales pitch. Pamela and Clayton could see that Ed really loved this old car. Ed led them to the front, where he lifted the driver’s side half of the hood and folded it over, across the top of the passenger’s side hood, revealing the engine block. “That is a ‘Flathead Six’ engine, the best that was ever made,” Ed said with pride. “Solid, dependable and easy as pie to fix. The engine block is mounted on Plymouth’s famous ‘Floating Power’ rubber engine mountings. Look here at this.” Ed pointed at a cylindrical canister mounted on the engine block near the driver’s door. He unscrewed the wingnut and lifted off the top. “This here is your oil filter,” he said as he lifted out a roll of toilet paper. “Toilet paper, that’s what you use?” Clayton asked as if he disbelieved his own eyes. “Yep, that’s all she needs. You have to change it a little more often. You can get a factory-made filter, but hell, that’s all it is, really.”
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Clayton noticed the twelve-inch-long dual air horns mounted on the firewall above the oil filter canister. “Bet these make some noise.” “They sure do. That was standard equipment in 1934. Now you only see ’em on trucks,” Ed replied. Then he opened the driver’s side door. “Get up in there Clay, see how she feels.” Clayton climbed into the cab, noticing the upholstery was a heavy but soft fabric with tuck-and-roll finishing. “Is the upholstery original?” “Yes, sir. Like I said, she really didn’t get much use.” The cab was very roomy, like the old dump truck Clayton drove the previous summer. In fact, many things about the cab were reminiscent of the old bobtail that he had operated. There was a large steering wheel mounted on a straight column that angled away from the driver all the way to the floorboard. The gearshift was a long, straight rod with a black ball on the end, which came out of a boot on the floor, just left of the center of the cab. There was a starter pedal located left of the clutch. To start the car, the driver, with the key on, engaged the starter by holding the clutch down with the ball of his left foot and depressing the starter pedal with the heel. The seat was a straight bench, room enough for three. Behind the seat was a storage area, but not room
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for anything else. Clayton liked the feel of the cab, and even though the front windshield was seriously narrow, no more than twelve inches tall, he felt he had a clear view out. Ed stepped up onto the running board and showed Clayton the unusual features of the windows. The front vent windows could be swung out, and the front door window rolled down, allowing the compartment to be ventilated but blocking the wind. Or you could lock both of them in the closed position by throwing a lever and both windows could be lowered into the door. The windshield could be opened by pushing out the bottom and held in place by a center support. Across the top of the windshield was a single large sun visor that shaded both the driver and passenger sides of the cab. There was a single windshield wiper hanging from the top on the driver’s side. It was vacuum operated; air pressure would cause the wiper to swing to the right, till a valve released the air with a swoosh, and then a spring brought the blade back to its starting position with a click. The old car had, of all things, a radio to the left of the glove box. “Does the radio work?” Clayton asked, hopefully. “Sure does. Switch it on and see for yourself. You only get AM, but she sounds pretty good and has decent
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reception. I listened to it when I drove out from Chicago.” Clayton turned on the radio, and after a brief warm-up period, Western music started to play. He smiled and thought, I’ll have to fix that, first thing. “Now look at this,” Ed continued. “This pull lever here is an overdrive. The transmission is a standard three-speed, but with this overdrive here you get a fourth speed. When you are cruising on the highway, above forty-five, you can pull this lever and the transmission will smooth out and purr like a kitten. Now an interesting thing about this overdrive is that they say Chrysler didn’t put this transmission on the Plymouths until the Fifties, but I know different, ’cause I got one right here and she came with the car.” Pamela was standing with a smile next to Ed, watching Clayton explore the car, but she was starting to get antsy. “Well, Clay, what do you think?” “I like her, mom. She’ll be fun and I can tell you no one has anything like her at school,” Clayton responded, looking over at his mother. “Let’s buy her.” The deal his mom had made with him was that she would pay for half of the eight-hundred-dollar price and he would pay the rest out of his pocket.
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“Okay then, Ed, I think you’ve got a sale,” Pamela said, turning to look at Ed. She could see that Ed was a little surprised that he had just sold his car. “Now you’re not going to turn her into a hot rod, are you?” he asked with concern, as Clayton exited the cab. “Like I said, she is all original, down to the tires.” “Those aren’t the original tires, are they?” Clayton asked in disbelief, pointing to the tall tires. “No, no, no, I’ve put new tires on her when she needed them, but those are the original rims, not some fancy wide-tire rims. Those rims are called steel artillery wheels, and they were a big change over the spoked wheels that were common back then.” “Can you still get tires for this car?” Clayton asked, thinking, Now that’s an important question. “Sure you can,” Ed replied. “Almost any tire store will have ’em. You would be surprised what you can still get for an old car.” “Ed, it looks like you have sold me a car and no, I don’t plan on turning her into a hot rod. I like her the way she is. I’ll just spruce her up a bit with a new coat of paint and new chrome on the grill and headlights is all I think I’ll do to her.”
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Pamela handed Ed eight crisp hundred-dollar bills, and he handed over the title to Clayton. “She’s all yours, Clay. Have fun and take care of her for me.” THE FIRST THING CLAYTON did on the drive home was change the radio station to KRIS, a Phoenix pop station, and Bob Dylan was crooning ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ Perfect! He pictured the reaction at school when he tooled into the parking lot with this old car. This car is totally gangster, beyond cool, he thought as he smiled to himself. He was definitely happy. What he hadn’t figured on was how much work was involved in getting the old car ready for her debut at school. His mom had enlisted the help of another associate with automotive expertise to assist him and instruct him as he got the car up to snuff. He ended up working any free evenings, after work, and all weekends to get the car ready. It took six weeks and was barely ready before the semester ended for the summer break. They pulled the headlights, bumpers, tire cover and the grill and sent them to be sandblasted and rechromed. Clayton spent weeks underneath the car pulling and replacing every bolt in the frame. He would go home after working on the car covered in forty-year-old oil, grease and road grime, along with a touch of Noc-ItLoose industrial solvent. It was knuckle-busting, patience-taxing work.
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They put on new tires and yes, surprisingly, they were readily available at the local tire store. They overhauled the carburetor and transmission and gave her a tune-up with all new spark plug wires. They changed out the battery wires and starter wires, as well as the starter, fuel pump and water pump. Clayton was shocked that most of the parts the old car needed were available at the nearest part store. Sometimes he would have to go to two or three stores to find a part, and once, for the transmission gear cluster, he had to go to a salvage yard. But everything the old car needed was found. Finally, the car was ready for paint. It was originally painted Palm Beach Gray, but now it was a faded, almost primer-looking gray. Clayton ignored the limited original color options available in 1934 and instead chose forest green, his favorite color. When she was done, she was slick green, shiny chrome and ready for school.
CLAYTON WAS SOMEWHERE AROUND average height; five feet, eight inches tall. He weighed only a hundred and forty-five pounds, but his muscular frame made him look bigger. Wrestling, training for wrestling and working construction gave him his build. The muscles on his shoulders were big, making his shoulders look broad. He had a thick, almost barrel chest, a very big neck and a ridiculously small waist. He carried most of his weight in his upper body; his hips were slim and his legs, except for being rock hard, would have been called skinny. But the feature that most stood out were his arms; wrestling made for big hard arms. One of his wrestling buddies said that they were gnomes or some other missapportioned creatures out of fairy tales. Clayton did one hundred pull-ups in sets of twenty every day. He did fingertip pull-ups, using the top of the door trim at home till all of the trim in his house was loose and his mother yelled at him to quit. His daily routine in the off-season included hundreds of sit-ups, v-sits, and push-ups of every type. He worked his arms so much that his triceps looked like bricks and were as hard. His head was round and covered by a thick, curly wave of blondish brown hair that he left, modishly, uncut in the off-season. When he let his hair grow, it would on-
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ly reach a couple of inches down his back, and no longer. Instead, it would bush out in curly waves and ringlets. His eyes were solid green and his nose had a slight curve from being broken by a fastball that got away from a pitcher in little league. But girls seem to think that his best feature is his smile, or more precisely, his dimples that appeared in his cheeks when he smiled. Clayton was in the prime of his life and of course he didn’t know it. All he knew was that it was summer and, ‘man,’ it was great to be alive. As the old car completed its climb out of the valley and crested the mesa called Sunset Point, the radio was playing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and a euphoric feeling settled into his head. It moved down to his shoulders and came to rest in his chest; a feeling of complete happiness. A mindless feeling, and for the next few miles, he just let it wash over him without a thought. For a few minutes, he was just happy. Then, as we all do, he started to examine the sensation with his mind, and as quickly as it came, it went away, leaving him happy, but mindfully happy. The euphoria had passed, and as he thought about it, he wanted it back and thought he could re-engender it through thought. But he soon gave up as his mind wandered about and finally settled on the expectations and anxieties of this year’s summer adventure. A FROWN CAME OVER his face as he reminisced over the reception the old car received at school; it was non-
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plus, underwhelming to say the least. ‘Non-plus’ was a term his mother used when something you expected to be great turned out not to be and you didn’t know why; it was just ‘non-plus’. The kids weren’t even mildly interested in an old car, even an antique one. Everyone wanted the newer cars. That’s what ‘cool’ was: Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, and Chargers. Sporty, fast, bigengined muscle cars. Even his best buds didn’t think much of the old car. First thing he did was take a bunch of them out, off campus, for lunch at McDonald’s. He had to actually talk two of them into riding in the rumble seat. He was surprised that there wasn’t even an argument over who was to get to ride back there; nobody thought it was cool. The coup de grâce came when the batteries couldn’t kick the old engine over and they had to push start her to get back to school; so much for the kids-and-fun aspect. However, the old car did firmly cement his reputation as a nonconformist. He looked around the cab of the old car as he drove and admired the sturdiness. At first glance, the cab appeared to be almost Spartan compared to the interiors of modern cars. First off, there was no padding on the dash; it was just cold gray-painted steel. But, upon closer examination, everything on the dash—the dials, the knobs, the switches and levers—was made to last, almost as if it had all been handcrafted.
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He was also impressed with the power the old engine had. The old car had climbed out of the valley almost with ease, the old engine pushing over a ton of Detroit steel up the steep grade in third gear. He had had to downshift only near the top. CLAYTON WAS DEFINITELY IN his prime. Most would argue that the prime of a man’s life comes much later, when he has achieved the sought-after success in his life’s undertakings, wife and family, work and security. At such a time a man still has his health, vigor and is still able to get it up well enough to satisfy his wife or maybe even a mistress or two on the side. That is what most people would define as being in the prime of one’s life. But all that is illusionary. The reality is that you are just one bad stock market day away from insolvency, one economic bubble burst away from bankruptcy, or one company downsizing from foreclosure. No, the prime of one’s life is when you are the most carefree. The time in that short, blissful interval when you are out from under your parents’ thumbs and before the burdens and responsibilities of life shackle you to the plow yoke for the rest of your active life. Some never experience their prime. Parents hold sway throughout college and only withdraw when their children are successfully ensconced in careers and able to fend for themselves. Some find their prime in college and either drop out for the lack of direction or harness it
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and succeed. Others, those lucky, talented few, find it in sports and live lives of endless summers playing games for a living. For Clayton, it was his summers. He had discovered that if he worked at a real job and supported himself, he was left, by his parents, on his own recognizance. Or was it his demise? All his life his parents had supported his need for independence, an independence that most kids never experience in any form. HE HAD SPENT THE previous summer working for a demolition company in El Paso. His Uncle Gerald had invited him to come out and stay the summer with him. Gerald was Clayton’s father’s youngest brother and was a little less than three years older than Clayton. At first, Clayton and his older brother had trouble getting used to having an uncle the same age. It was disconcerting to hear Gerald call their father by his first name; they were brought up to never call an adult by their Christian name, but to always use ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Uncle’ this or ‘Aunt’ that. Children were just not allowed to be familiar. And they had to say ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’; yes sir, no sir. That’s the way kids were taught; they were expected to be respectful around adults; ‘speak only when spoken to,’ ‘be seen, but not heard.’ Gerald didn’t follow any of those rules when he was around their dad, or even their mom, or hell, even any of the other aunts and uncles on their dad’s side, for that matter.
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That made Gerald an enigma to Clayton and his brother. And what was worse, Gerald insisted that they call him Uncle Gerald. This insistence resulted in many a roughhousing fights. But, over time the three of them became good friends. Gerald had an acerbic sense of humor. And the fact that he could get their dad’s goat and get away with it made him a riot to be around. So, when his Uncle Gerald offered to put him up for the summer and get him a job on a demolition crew, Clayton jumped at the chance. When he told his folks that he was going to work in El Paso and live with Gerald for the summer, they just shrugged and said, “See you at the end of the summer.” It was that simple; freedom is a nice thing to have. Living with Uncle Gerald was a riot. He wasn’t the most attractive man on the planet, but he had a funny, sarcastic wit, and he had charm and lots of it. Girls flocked to him and through him, Clayton never went without. Gerald also had energy and they were always doing something, and that something always seemed to include the ladies. Gerald had active girls, who liked to play sports and run around; he had outdoor girls, who liked to hike, go to the river, climb and go caving; and he had mellow cuddle girls, who liked to sit, drink wine, smoke a little weed and listen to music. The energy of the summer was all good. The work was strenuous and Clayton could feel that he was getting
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strong and hard because of it. He measured his progress by what he could do at the end of the summer compared to when he started. One of the jobs was to load salvaged brick into the dump truck. The used brick had been cleaned and stacked in rows of four by piece-work laborers. When the summer began, Clayton could throw a stack of eight bricks, or two rows, into the dump truck; by summer’s end, he could throw ten rows, or forty bricks, at a time. And do it with ease. At the end of the summer, he took a short trip to see his cousin Randy in Albuquerque and then headed home. His parents were very glad to see him. As nonchalant as they were about his going away for the summer, they had missed him. In fact, they were so good to him that he decided, right then and there, he would do it again next summer. CLAYTON CAME BY HIS penchant for independence naturally. His father, Joe, had been raised on a cattle ranch and was working the range as a regular hand by the time he was thirteen. When Joe was sixteen, he took his younger brother and drove deep into Mexico to go fishing for a whole month in Guaymas, on the Sea of Cortez; a whole month living on the beach without parents. At sixteen, Joe was considered a full-fledged man, and as a man, he would occasionally spend his hard-earned money on liquor and whores in Juarez.
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This is not to imply that his father was a flake, a bum, or a roustabout. In fact, both of Clayton’s parents were working professionals. Both were successful, comfortable, flexible and trusting. And his parents were divorced; had been since Clayton was seven. But, they stayed in touch with each other and Clayton spent time with both as he was growing up. Clayton’s mother saw the same independent streak in her son that his father had. She didn’t fully appreciate it, but she knew enough not to try and squelch it. And she was also very independent-minded herself. She had gone to medical school with two children at home and no money to speak of, at a time when women did not become doctors. She was supposed to be home taking care of her husband and her children. She said, “Bullshit! I can do both, thank you very much.” And she did, having two more kids in the bargain. She had remarried to an almost bigger-than-life character. A rough-and-tumble man who blew into their lives like a gale force wind, full of profanities and profane sayings that shocked and amused. If it was hot, it was “hotter than a nun’s dream”; if it was cold, it was “colder than a witch’s tit,” and if it was really cold, it was “colder than a Russian well digger’s ass in winter.” Tom, Clayton’s stepfather, was rock-hard tough with even harder fists. Men who misstepped when crossing his path knew in an instant that if they chose fight
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over flight, they would have to kill him or take a beating. The set of Tom’s jaw and the fire in his eyes were his tells, and almost always the objects of his wrath would retreat. Tom was quickly becoming an anachronism in his own time; society was quickly becoming intolerant of men slugging it out over little to nothing other than marking their territory. But Tom couldn’t have cared less. If you had the poor judgment of getting in his way and not backing the fuck down, you were going down. These were the parental influences in Clayton’s life; independent, successful and tough, each full of life experiences that Clayton absorbed with intent. Clayton learned at a young age that he could almost do anything he wanted as long as he took responsibility for his actions, including paying the freight if it came to that. And, of course, he had to stay out of trouble. This, for Clayton, was trouble in itself, because Clayton had a puckish nature. He never saw a prank he couldn’t get down with, a practical joke he could pass by. CLAYTON WAS THE KID in the neighborhood that all the parents wanted their kids not to play with. One parent told his mother that he could look at Clayton’s face and see those wheels turning, knowing that nothing good was going to come of it. And of course he was a magnet for all the neighborhood kids. It was not that he got into trouble; he almost never did. It was that he was always on the verge of getting into trouble. He would, creatively, contrive some activity, some adventure that, if it went
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awry, would land him and anybody who went along with him in the shit, but his adventures rarely went awry. And he could, persuasively, convince other kids to go along with him, much to their parents’ chagrin. When he started high school, his parents told him that there would be no rules, no curfew, no bed time on school nights, and no restrictions on drinking. If he wanted, he could come home and go to the refrigerator and have a beer, a glass of wine, or even mix himself a drink. But what they wanted in return was for him not to fuck up. Go to school, make good grades, call if you are going to be out past eleven, don’t be a drunk or a drug addict, don’t be reckless with your car, in fact, no tickets. Fuck up and there will be rules, as many rules as may be needed to remedy the situation. Clayton realized that he was being given a privilege, the privilege of living like an adult in his parents’ house. And he cherished and guarded that privilege. Having no rules satisfied the drive for independence that was settled deep within his soul. He created his own code of conduct, and by adhering to this code, he was, generally, able to meet his parents’ directive to stay out of trouble, thus avoiding the wrath of rules. Generally, in the sense that he wasn’t perfect and was, after all, a teenage boy and his parents were, after all, parents. He constantly had to resist his nature for creative adventures that could turn on a knife’s edge into
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misadventures. He took up wrestling as a way to channel his energies. Actually, he took up wrestling because he was good at it from the very start. Some people run fast or jump high, throw far or fast or hard, catch, hit, kick, swim, ski or have any number of athletic skills or talents, but Clayton could wrestle. HE FOUND OUT THAT he had a natural talent for wrestling one summer’s evening, just before the start of his freshman year. His parents had moved the family to a large townhouse complex in Mesa at the start of summer. Clayton quickly made a number of new friends by going out for the local swim team. He was not really that fond of swimming and the practices were grueling, but the exposure to lots of local kids of both sexes who were his age made the endeavor worthwhile. Clayton was better than average at most athletic activities but did not truly excel at any of them. He wasn’t big enough or quite fast enough to play high school football, which he really wanted to do. Though he was a good guy to have on your team, he was very rarely the first guy that you would pick. So, late in the evening he and his buds were wrestling on the grass with some other local boys he didn’t know, but who would be going to the same high school as freshmen. He grappled with a dark-haired kid a little taller and heavier than he was. The bigger kid seemed to know what he was doing, but every time he would move in for a tie-up, Clayton would put him on the grass using
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headlock throws, arm throws or leg trips that he had learned over the years fighting with his older brother. Each time, Clayton would end up sitting on the kid’s chest in a very un-wrestling-like position and pin the kid’s shoulders to the grass with his knees. After each pin, the kid would get up and clap him on the back and say, “That was a good one. You wanna go again?” When dinnertime came around, the boys broke up and headed home. Clayton was walking back to his townhouse with his best friend for the summer, who lived five doors down, when his buddy said, “You oughta think about going out for the wrestling team this year. That kid you were wrestling is pretty good.” “Really?” Clayton responded, giving his friend a look of surprise tinged with pride. “How good is he?” “He was the junior high city champ last year and you stuck it to him.” “Seriously?” Clayton responded, truly surprised, but the feeling of pride was now swelling his chest. “I’ve never thought about wrestling as a sport.” That was not quite true; Clayton had read a short story about a kid going up against the state champion and finding himself counting the ceiling lights as he was pinned in the first thirty seconds of the match. The kid in the story had said that “no one came to wrestling meets except girlfriends and concerned mothers,” and, further,
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had described the sport as smelly, sweaty and rigorous to the point of absurdity. Clayton had thought to himself after reading the story, Why would anyone in their right mind go out for such a sport? But oddly enough, here he was actually contemplating such a notion. It turned out that wrestling was a big sport at his high school; not as big as football, of course, but almost as big as basketball. Each year his high school put on the mat one of the top teams in the state. And a lot more people would come out to watch than a few girlfriends and concerned mothers. The stands were usually full of students along with the school band and cheerleaders. Competition for a varsity or junior varsity spot was fierce, with an average of seven guys per weight class. Even the freshman team had five to six guys per weight class, all grappling for one starting spot. Clayton was, in fact, a natural. He attributed his ability to years of rolling around and tussling with his older and much heavier brother, as well as his older cousins. He was the youngest of all the cousins by at least a year or two, but he liked rough-and-tumble play and usually held his own. When he started formal wrestling, he was surprised at how easy the moves and technique came to him. Prior to the first meet of the season, he had challenged his way to the top and started for the freshman team. After three victories on the freshman team, he challenged for the junior varsity spot. He spent
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the rest of the season wrestling for the junior varsity, amassing a record of six wins and two losses. The next year, as a sophomore, he started on junior varsity and after two meets had fought his way, over three seniors and one junior, onto the varsity team. His high school was a major sports power in the state and it was rare for a sophomore to start for the varsity in any sport, much less wrestling where experience and strength are critical success factors. Every week during the season he had to fend off challengers; sometimes he won and sometimes he lost and was demoted to the JV for the next meet. Ultimately, he wrestled six matches for the varsity, winning four and losing two, while going undefeated on the JV squad. Unfortunately for his season, he lost the all-important last challenge match, the match to decide who would represent the team at the divisional tournament. Clayton’s next year, his junior year, the year he had just finished, he came back to school from the summer break in the best shape of his life. He had spent the summer in El Paso working as a laborer for a demolition company and was thin and rock hard. He had real strength, ‘man strength,’ strength that comes from working physical labor for eight to ten hours a day, five to six days a week. And, almost as important as strength, he had not gained any weight over the summer. Wrestling is all about the weight; keeping your weight down while increasing your strength was often critical to the success
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of a wrestler. There were wrestlers that grew each year and found themselves competing in heavier weight classes. Many of them were football players and wrestling was a winter sport, used solely for the purpose of staying in shape. Some of them found success in the sport, but the serious competitive wrestler staked his claim to a weight class and fought hard to win it, year after year. When Clayton finished his sophomore year, his goal for the next year was to own his varsity spot and finish high enough in the divisional tournament to qualify to go to State. The notion of placing at State, winning a medal, was a goal for another year. He didn’t perceive himself as that kind of wrestler—that quality of a mat man. He knew he was competitive—he always finished near the top in every Freestyle and Greco-Roman tournament he entered—but he never won or even medaled in a tournament. When the season started his junior year, it felt different. He was winning matches he shouldn’t have, losing matches he should have won; it clearly was a transitional year. But transitional to what? He didn’t see it or realize it, but he was becoming one of the best wrestlers in his weight class in the state. He had bombed out in the second round of a major tournament early in the year, but finished with an overall record of twelve wins against two losses going into the divisional tournament. Clayton finished third in the divisional tournament, as he had expected that he would. The top four wrestlers qualify for
40 John Buford Goode
the state tournament. In the consolation finals for third and fourth place, he had avenged his first loss of the season. With his third place finish and his trip to State in hand, Clayton didn’t focus on the fact that he had badly beaten the Divisional Champion when the two met in a dual meet earlier in the year. His goal at the start of the season had been to go to State and now he was going; it was a stepping stone of experience. When he walked into the venue for the state meet, he was immediately struck by the size of the tournament. The meet was being held in a brand-new high school gym in Tucson. The gym was super clean and brightly lit with natural light emanating from windows at the top and in the roof. There were eight mats, four on each side of the gym. It was by far the largest venue he had ever wrestled in. There was lots of pageantry, as well, from the opening session all the way through to the finals. Clayton was moved, deep inside him, and consequently the first three matches he wrestled felt like outof-body experiences. His first match was his worst; even though he won seven to five, he wrestled out of touch with the skills that brought him to State. His second match was against the number-one ranked, undefeated wrestler in his weight class, but Clayton didn’t know it at the time. Since he wasn’t an elite wrestler, he had never paid attention to who he had to wrestle; it just didn’t matter to him. Winning and losing were important—
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everyone likes to win, nobody likes to lose—but for Clayton, how he wrestled was what mattered. It was a chess game; did he accomplish his game plan, did his setups work, what went right or wrong with his moves and what did he need to work on for the next match. It was all analytical, except it wasn’t. Deep down Clayton hated losing and loved winning. More than anything, except maybe sex, he loved winning. Who he had to wrestle didn’t matter because he always thought he could win. Being good enough to be the State Champion was an abstract thought that had nothing to do with him. What mattered to Clayton was his opponent across the circle. So Clayton didn’t know that he was wrestling the top-ranked wrestler and the coaches didn’t tell him. When the ref’s whistle blew to start the match, he moved out toward his opponent in a solid neutral position stance, and when his opponent came at him too aggressively, Clayton threw him with a perfect headlock throw. Clayton wasn’t big on throws, but he had practiced the moves to the point that the technique was instinctive. When his opponent pushed into him for a tieup, without thinking Clayton rocked back, slipped his arm through and around his opponent’s neck, turned his hips and threw him. Boom—in an instant it was done. He spent the rest of the first period trying to get a pin, and when he didn’t get it, the match went the distance, the full three periods, Clayton winning seven to four. When the ref raised his arm in victory after the
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handshake, Clayton still didn’t know that he had beaten the tournament favorite, but his coaches knew it and then literally the whole tournament was set spinning on its ear; well, that’s how it felt to Clayton. It was a major upset. Wrestlers and coaches were coming up and congratulating him. Some of them he knew and admired; it was a pretty heady moment for a relatively unknown wrestler. The next morning, in the semi-finals, he had to go up against the wrestler that had badly beaten and knocked him out of the tournament earlier in the year. Clayton had lost that match eleven to one and it really wasn’t even that close. But Clayton approached the match as if the two had never met. At least that was how it appeared to the coaches, but Clayton had replayed the loss over and over in his head many times since and had fully analyzed the mistakes he had made in their first meeting. He had moved into his opponent’s strengths and he was determined not to do it again. Yesterday’s upset win had made Clayton determined to win his next match to prove that his win had not been a fluke. He decided that he was going to wrestle aggressively defensive; aggressive enough not to get called for stalling, but with a solid defensive to not let his opponent have his moves. The first period ended zero to zero. In the second period, Clayton was down in the referee’s position and he quickly escaped for one point. Back on their feet in the neutral position, Clayton went back into his aggres-
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sive stall, making solid shot attempts to keep his opponent off balance and to eat up the clock. The second period ended one to zero, in favor of Clayton. In the third period, Clayton’s opponent was on the bottom in the referee’s position. All Clayton had to do was ride him for two minutes and Clayton would be wrestling in the finals for the State Championship. Holy smokes, that’s what he did. No matter what move his opponent attempted in trying to escape or reverse him, Clayton was all over him like a blanket. When the tone sounded and the ref blew his whistle signaling that the match was over, Clayton couldn’t believe it. He had advanced to the Championship round by a score of one to zero. In the finals, the magic air had come out and Clayton was brought back to earth. He wrestled a good match but lost eight to three. Second in States was still one hell of an accomplishment, and it had established him as one of the best wrestlers in the State. He now had elite status and he was bound and determined to prove to everyone that he deserved it. Summer construction work was as much about getting strong and weight control as it was about freedom from his parents. He wanted a hard, physically demanding job. THE OLD CAR HAD breezed up and down the hills north of Sunset Point, never dropping below sixty-five miles per hour. Clayton was surprised at how well the old car was traveling. The steering wheel was tight and the tall, six-inch-wide tires held firmly to the road. The gauges all
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read normal and he was cruising; next stop, Cordes Junction. Cordes Junction was, pretty much, nothing more than a gas station and an old café and general store located at the intersection of I-17 and State Route 69 to Prescott. It was a tradition in his family to stop at Cordes Junction when heading to Flagstaff to ski. They would head out early in the morning and get breakfast at the café. Clayton didn’t know why he was making a stop this time. He didn’t need gas and wasn’t going to have breakfast or lunch; it was nothing more than he always had. AS HE DROVE DOWN from Sunset Point to the Junction, Clayton once again thought about how lucky he was. But he wasn’t pondering the summer freedom; he was thinking about Vietnam. He had dodged a bullet and he knew it; a big damn bullet. The war had been around for so long it had seemed as if it would never end. In 1964, when he was nine years old, he was sitting with his father and older brother watching the news and there came a report on America’s growing involvement in some far-off place called Vietnam. Vietnam, where American soldiers were somehow involved in fighting something called the Viet Cong. When the report was over, his father looked at them with a very somber, serious face and said, “I don’t think this war is going to end soon. I am afraid that the two of you will be called to fight in it.”
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Clayton was stunned at his father’s statement. “Dad, I’m only nine years old; the war is not going to still be going on when I get old enough. Wars don’t last that long. Do they?” His father responded with what would turn out to be a very prophetic statement. “I’m afraid this one might. I don’t see how we are going to get out of it once we get in.” “Well, we’ll win it,” Clayton said proudly. “I mean, we always win. We have the best army in the world. We just go in and defeat them.” “It’s not so easy fighting a war so far away, in a country that may not want us to win. Without the support of the people, it may be virtually impossible to win any sustainable victory.” First he hears for the first time that America was at war; when did that happen? Then he hears that America might lose the war; really, America never lost a war. That was unthinkable. “If the people don’t support us, why are we there?” Clayton asked, very puzzled. “That question, son, is going to be asked over and over, again and again, by a lot of people, for years to come,” his father answered, ruefully. Well Clayton, like most boys who grew up in the post-World War Two-Korean War era, thought war was
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great. For two decades young lads had been fed a steady diet of heroic war movies and television shows, all extolling the chest-swelling hoorah of war. Clayton didn’t think that his father could be right; no war would last the nine years necessary for him to be called up. But clearly he needed to start paying attention to what was going on in the world around him. He thought to himself, We are at war and I don’t know anything about it. Wars should have some formal beginning, not just appear out of nowhere on the nightly news. Where’s the pageantry, where’s the parades, the tearful goodbyes, the marching through the streets? This is just no way to fight a war. It doesn’t make sense. The war began to be on the television every night and, as the war progressed, it was clear from the change in the tenor of the reporting that the war was not being won; it was even starting to seem that it wasn’t going to be. And a growing sense was that perhaps it shouldn’t be won. Maybe the rationale that was sold to the American public was not the real reason that the US was fighting in Vietnam. The argument that we were saving a largely agrarian people from the evils of Communism, when the people being saved really didn’t give a shit, was starting to wear thin. The better argument that was made to the citizens of America was that if Vietnam falls, the rest of Southeast Asia will also fall to the Communists. The socalled ‘Domino Theory’ was also starting to look pretty threadbare.
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The nightly news also carried reports on the massive protests all over the country. Initially the protests appeared, by and large, to be made up of draft-age students and were represented in the news to be selfserving demonstrations by a bunch of doped up cowards. At least that was the storyline on the nightly news programs and in the daily newspapers. But then, moms and pops of dead or wounded boys began to ask why. Spiritual leaders and civil rights leaders and finally politicians began to emerge, all questioning the wisdom of continuing to fight a seemingly endless war in a part of the world that doesn’t understand or appreciate why we are fighting for them, and by and large would much rather see us stop and go the fuck home. WHEN CLAYTON WAS SIXTEEN, early in his junior year, he walked into a conversation between his mom and his stepdad. He was coming down the stairs in the townhouse in Tempe, and as he rounded the corner, he heard them talking on the couch in the small living room at the base of the stairs. He realized they were talking about him and Vietnam. He heard “Canada” in the discussion. “What are you guys talking about?” “You,” his mother replied. “We are going to send you to Canada when you graduate. This awful war isn’t going to be over anytime soon and we don’t want to see you go.”
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“Well, graduation is almost two years away and they don’t draft eighteen-year-olds. A lot can happen in three years. But I’ll tell you right now I’m not running off to Canada. If Vietnam is still going on and I get drafted, I will go.” Clayton was surprised at the directness and tone that he used with his parents. He had only once before stood his ground with his folks, when they tried to get him to quit wrestling, but, even then, he didn’t speak as firmly as he did now. His mom was also taken aback by the unyielding tone he used and was quickly reduced to pleading her point of view. “Honey, this war is a terrible thing. There are awful, horrific things happening over there. Even if you don’t get killed or come back with some horrible wound, you may be scarred for life with the experience of it.” In the last few years, Clayton had thought a lot about having to go to Vietnam. He had watched older friends get drafted and some of them had shipped off to Nam. One, a senior on the wrestling team when he was a freshman, didn’t come back. Well, his body did, but he didn’t. Clayton’s thinking about Vietnam changed from heroic fantasies to the simple, harsh reality of whether or not he should go at all, if called by his country. And, even though he wasn’t at all sure that his rationale wasn’t
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tinged with the notions of bravery and heroism that he had been bathed in all his life by Hollywood, television, books and parades, this is the reason he gave to his mom and stepfather, sitting there on the couch with sincere looks of concern furrowed in their faces. “I understand, mom, and believe me, I don’t want to go, but I have to go,” Clayton responded. “I’m not saying I have to go out of some misplaced sense of patriotic duty. I have to go because my country has called on me to go. And even if my country is led by a bunch of Neanderthal fools in Washington and dead-ass wrong, I still have to go, because to not go is to be thought of as a coward. Maybe not by all people, but by most and most is the system.” “But honey, Vietnam is an amoral war,” Pamela pleaded. “There is no shame in refusing to fight an amoral war. In fact, I think it is an act of a true hero to stand up for what is right, to even stand up to your government when they are wrong. And honey, they are so wrong in this war.” “I don’t think I know enough about what we are doing in Vietnam or why we are there. I agree that it feels terribly wrong,” Clayton replied as he readied to drop his real reason. “But mother, if I run off to Canada, that’s a decision that will follow me the rest of my life. I may never be able to come home. I could end up on the run from Canadian Mounties as an illegal alien and if
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caught I could be deported back to the States for prosecution and end up in prison. And I think, most importantly, I wouldn’t feel right about not going. I would always wonder, did I not go because I knew in my heart the war was wrong and to fight it was wrong, or did I not go because I was afraid and a coward. I’ve thought a lot about this and decided that if I’m drafted I’ll go. I won’t volunteer or anything stupid like that, but if I’m drafted, I’m going.” Clayton quickly turned and walked out of the room, ending the discussion. His mom turned to his stepdad and put her head on his chest. “Tom, my baby is going to go off to war. I don’t think I’ll be able to stand it,” she cried. “Pam, it will be okay. Clay is right; it’s his decision, and either way it will be a decision that will follow him for the rest of his life. Who knows, three years is a long time and maybe those idiots will figure out a way to get us out before Clay gets called. Next year is an election year and you already know that the war’s going to be the biggest issue. Maybe Nixon will cut and run, otherwise it’ll be the reason he loses the election. Whoever the Democrat is will surely run on ending the war.” “But will they end it in time to keep Clay from having to go?” Pamela asked, not at all hopeful.
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“Possibly; shit, by next summer Nixon may just unilaterally walk away to help himself get re-elected. I wouldn’t put it past Tricky Dick.” WELL THAT’S PRETTY MUCH what happened, or at least it seemed that way. Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Secretary of State, would soon announce two weeks before the presidential election that ‘peace is at hand’ and Nixon would go on to win a second term easily. In actuality, Nixon had started, as early as 1969, a program of ‘Vietnamization’ of the war, as part of his ‘secret plan’ to end the war. Vietnamization referred to the process of replacing American units with Vietnamese units in combat operations. This began the gradual drawdown of American combat units from 1969 to 1972. However, the American public was confused by Nixon’s many other moves which appeared to be escalating the war; the Cambodian Incursion in 1970 and large-scale air attacks of Hanoi and Haiphong in 1972 and the mining of North Vietnamese ports. But, by the summer of 1972, young men nearing the age of nineteen, draft age, were feeling a lot better about the direction the war was headed. There was even talk that the draft was going to end soon. And, in December 1972, just after Clayton’s eighteenth birthday, Nixon did in fact end the draft. As the summer of 1972 began, Clayton felt as if a huge weight was being lifted off of him; a reprieve from a sure death sentence. He would no longer have to make the Solomon-esque decision; to go or to run? The notion
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that Vietnam was no longer on his horizon just added to the sense of summer freedom. CLAYTON DECIDED NOT TO go back to El Paso for this summer, but instead to go out and stay with his cousin Randy in Albuquerque. He didn’t have a job waiting for him, nor did he have any prospects; he was just going to wing it and see what came. He and Randy were kindred spirits, travelers of a sort. They had complementary chemistry. By themselves they made little sparks; put together they were volatile. It had always been that way, but they started to come into their own as teenagers. One summer, Randy was visiting Clayton in Phoenix. He was fifteen, Clayton was thirteen and both of them were becoming consumed with girls. Clayton lived in a large apartment complex with a big common swimming pool. The complex was located in a wellestablished residential neighborhood. Between the apartments and the neighborhood, there were lots and lots of girls. That was the summer that the two developed their first operational public spoof. They had, for years, ever since they were little kids, put on skits and plays for the adults and later for their friends in Randy’s neighborhood in Albuquerque. Randy’s mom got them started in play acting to keep them entertained and, most importantly, occupied, during family holiday get-togethers. As they got older, Randy and Clayton kept up the prac-
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tice, even as they entered high school. Whenever they would get together, they would immediately start plotting and planning some escapade, either a skit or a spoof. The inclination was odd, because neither was naturally gregarious. This particular spoof was a flash of insight that came to Clayton as they sat around a neighborhood park one evening with a couple of sweet things. He was sitting on the merry-go-round with his lady interest, a cute little blonde number, and Randy was slowly going up and down on the teeter-totter with his, a redhead that he had stolen from Clayton earlier in the summer. The girls weren’t showing the prerequisite interest, and Clayton thought he and Randy needed to come up with something to grease the skids. “We need some beer,” he announced to the group. Both girls lit up like Christmas trees. It was not that any of them were all that experienced with liquor; it was more about doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. Ah, such is youth. Randy, ignoring the girls’ change in attitude, went right to the heart of the matter. “Yah, some beer would be nice, but how do you plan on acquiring some?” he asked very dismissively. He was past being bored with his filly. Even though she was pretty, she had kind of a mutt of a personality. “You could try and steal some from
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home, but your mom would kick your ass. And she ain’t got any, anyway; I checked.” “No, I ain’t going there,” Clayton replied with a grin. “Well, we could ask someone to buy some for us at the 7-11,” Randy offered, still in a negative mode. “But, uh, no. We would need money for that. I don’t think you’re gonna talk someone into just giving us some of their beer.” Clayton leaned forward with his outstretched arms wrapped around the merry-go-round pipe railings on each side of him. “That’s exactly what I have in mind,” he responded, his grin turning into a big smile. “You’re looking at a man with a plan.” Randy stopped the teeter-totter with the girl up in the air and offered up his signature grin. “Do tell.” “We’re going to go on a scavenger hunt.” “Come again?” Randy’s grin faded and his eyebrows arched, completing the puzzled look on his face. “A scavenger hunt?” Clayton couldn’t help but laugh at his friend’s face. “Yah, a scavenger hunt. You know. The game they play at slumber parties. You gotta go out and gather up a bunch of crap; the team that gets all the stuff first, wins.”
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“Okay, I’m listening,” Randy said. His demeanor was rapidly changing from bored pessimism to guarded curiosity. He realized that they were about to navigate uncharted waters. The girl sitting next to Clayton on the merry-goround spoke up with a bitchy, petulant voice. “Hey, you said you were going to get us some beer, not play some stupid game.” The redhead, stuck up at the top of the teetertotter, looked over at Clayton and chimed in, “Yah, that’s what you said.” She turned back to Randy and added, “And damn it, let me down from here. My ass is getting sore.” “Come on, quit your bitching,” Randy said as he lowered her back to the ground, where they dismounted together. “Didn’t you hear? We got a man with a plan.” “Here’s how we play it,” Clayton started in. “First, we make up a list; a list with a bunch of items. Items we gotta collect on our hunt. Second, on that list is going to be a can of beer.” “How many items are on that list?” Randy asked, interrupting the flow. “I don’t know. Maybe twenty or so. Then—”
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“What kind of stuff is on the list?” the redheaded Charlotte asked, warming up to the game. “Hell, it can be anything typically found in a house. Shit people won’t mind parting with. So, we get a sack or a pillowcase and we go around with our list, knock on doors, and we get people to give us shit on the list to help us win the game.” “If there are twenty things, it could take all night to fill the list before we get to the can of beer,” Charlotte interjected. Charlotte was definitely not stupid; demented, as it turned out later, but not stupid. “We’ve got to fill the bag ourselves with most of the stuff on the list,” Randy jumped in, clearly grasping the plan. “So, all that’s left is a can of beer and a couple of items. Maybe the remaining items should be stuff that they will be reluctant to part with.” “Yah, give ’em a hard choice; something tough to part with or a can of beer,” Clayton offered, getting excited. “It can’t be too tough, like momma’s wedding ring, but something reasonable.” “Let’s get some paper and make a list,” Charlotte said. They sat at a picnic table in the park under a weak-ass pole light and scratched out a list. The list had
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to contain items that Clayton could easily obtain from his house. His mother expressed some curiosity when Clayton and Randy walked out with a pillowcase holding a bunch of crap, but she bought their explanation with a knowing smile. Those two shits are up to something. The pillowcase contained all but four of the items on their list. Each item was dutifully checked off so that there would be no question as to what was left to be collected. After careful consideration and much discussion, they decided that the missing items would be a fork, a candle, a battery and, of course, the sought-after can of beer. After a quick rehearsal, Clayton and Randy rang their first doorbell. They applied their spiel, worked their magic and, son-of-a-bitch, it worked. Back at the park, laughing, they passed the beer around. Charlotte stepped up. “I want to try it,” she said in earnest. “It’s my turn next.” “Well, listen guys,” Randy said as he finished off the can, “if we are gonna try and score some more beer, we can’t come back here and drink it down each time. We’ll get too drunk to get away with it. So let’s go out and see how many we can get, then come back here and drink ’em.”
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So there they were, on a beautiful summer’s night, knocking on doors, ringing bells and rolling through the lines of their skit. Sometimes it worked; sometimes they got a candle or a battery. Once, they even got a fork that they had to promise to bring back. They all took turns and paired up; even the little blonde number mustered all her courage and took a try. Of course Charlotte, the sociopath, was a natural. One time, Randy had to ad-lib in a big way, when an older guy, a family-man type, asked who had made up the list; putting a can of beer on the list for a kids scavenger hunt? Randy, thinking on his feet, quickly told him that the party chaperones were the birthday girl’s brother and his friends, who were home from college. Randy added, with a wink, that the chaperones were probably trying to score some beer. It worked; another can of beer went into the bag. They scored three beers before someone got upset about kids, beer and parties. There is always somebody with a stick permanently stuck up their ass. This guy wanted to go over and set the chaperones straight about the impropriety of having minors collecting cans of beer. So the spoof came to an abrupt end, but it had worked. They had scored a total of four cans of beer, which they shared with the girls in the park. But, more importantly, Clayton and Randy had arrived at a new lev-
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el of creative consciousness. Separately, they were normal teenage boys; together they could be bold, inventive extroverts. They were just beginning to explore the bounds of their creative journey. And now, with Clayton heading Randy’s way, they were going to spend a whole summer together, sans parental interference. HE ROLLED DOWN I-17 and onto the off ramp at Cordes Junction. He pulled up in front of the general store, turned around in the parking lot and parked facing down a slight incline, thinking, Just in case she doesn’t start. Better to be prepared. He went in and picked out a bag of tortilla chips, a jar of bean dip and a six-pack of beer. At the checkout counter, the lady asked for his ID, which he proffered for her inspection. Clayton clearly looked younger than nineteen, the drinking age at the time, but not so young that he couldn’t get away with it, even in broad daylight. Especially when his driver’s license said that he was born in 1951, which would make him twenty years old. Now his driver’s license wasn’t fake; it was, in fact, as real as they come. It just had his birth date wrong. A careful alteration that Clayton had inadvertently discovered that he could make with a razor blade; turned the four at the end of the year he was born into a one, adding three years to his age at a time in one’s life when older was better. So Clayton had no trouble purchasing his beer for the road.
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Clayton climbed back into the old car and it fired up without hesitation. He drove out of the parking lot and onto the northbound I-17 on-ramp. As he drove down the ramp, he saw a hitchhiker standing just past the end of the ramp; just standing there with his backpack, thumbing a ride north to Flagstaff. Clayton’s first reaction was to pass the man by; his family never picked up hitchhikers, and on top of that, he thought, You never know what you are going to get, some stinky, smelly jerk that won’t shut up. But then he thought, What the hell, more and more kids are getting around the country with their thumbs; it’s kinda the thing to do. Besides, a little company won’t hurt. What Clayton didn’t know as he pulled the old car onto the shoulder of the highway, thirty yards past the man with his thumb out, and really couldn’t have known, was that his summer adventure was about to begin. He was about to meet Rudy Valencia.
Chapter 3-Rudy Valencia
RUDY VALENCIA WAS STANDING just past the northbound I-17 on-ramp from Cordes Junction with his thumb out. His red backpack was on the ground beside him, leaning against a mile post marker. Almost everything he had in the world was in that backpack; everything except the six thousand, seven hundred and sixtytwo dollars he had squirreled away in several locales around the country that he routinely frequented in his travels. Rudy was permanently on the road. Except for a three-to-four-month stay in Jamaica each year, Rudy was rambling. The money in those accounts was the result of moving weed from the West Coast, where it was cheap, to the East Coast, where it was expensive; at least a sixfold increase in street value. Rudy thought of himself as a businessman, an entrepreneur, and his profit margin was beyond unreal. You could buy a lid of pot on the streets in California for ten dollars and you could sell it in any city in the Northeast for sixty dollars. Rudy routinely bought several pounds of Mary Jane for eighty dollars a pound, cleaned it, and broke it down into two-fingered lids, which he sold for sixty dollars each. His gross take was eight hundred to nine hundred dollars per pound, a thousand percent profit.
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Rudy didn’t bother to keep any of the weed for himself. Cheap Mexican weed, which is what he found in California, was, in his opinion, not worth the trouble to roll and smoke. He was used to the high he got from Jamaican ganja. It wasn’t that useless mellow, walking around high that California surfer dudes or East Coast preppy shits liked. No, Rudy liked a rip-roaring, facechanging, reality-altering, mind-fucking smoke. Rudy was always stoned; his eyes were permanently bagged, red slits. He walked the world with a smile brought on by just the right amount of smoke; not enough to turn a man into a puddle, but just enough to create a carefully maintained haze. At night he almost always loaded up heavy for a deep night’s sleep. Rudy’s preferred smoke was more exotic than the weed he peddled; Jamaican ganja, sinsemilla, Thai stick, hash. Big-time, mind-bending smoke, requiring comfort, congenial company and serious resonating tunes; the Grateful Dead, Yes, Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers. Music that, when stoned and your eyes closed and lying back with your head cradled on a pillow or between your lady’s breast, would carry you comfortably away. Your thoughts could be poetic or spiritual or even Einsteinian. In Rudy’s world, why not be stoned? There he was standing next to the on-ramp from Cordes Junction with his thumb out trying to look needy without looking creepy, thinking, How the fuck did I let myself get dumped here?
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EARLIER THAT MORNING, a new 1972 Caddy picked him up on Mill Avenue at the entrance to the 60 in Tempe, where he was standing with his thumb out and a cardboard, hand-written sign that read ‘Flagstaff’. He was headed to Winslow, east of Flagstaff on I-40, but he knew from hitchhiking experience to break the trip down into reasonable bites or drivers would pass you by because they weren’t going all the way to your destination. You had to take I-17 north to Flagstaff to get to I-40. Then you go east on I-40 to Winslow, about forty-five miles away. I-40 had pretty much been built along old US Route 66. The 60 connected to I-10 about three miles west of Mill Avenue. I-10 became I-17 North unless you got off the freeway and drove through West Phoenix to get back on the 10 to go west to LA. Only Phoenix could have such a clusterfuck of a freeway system. So, from Mill Avenue and the 60 going west, you could end up on I-10 East (actually South) to Tucson, or I-10 West (actually North), which ultimately circuitously headed west to LA or evolved into the I-17 North to Flagstaff, at what was known in Phoenix as the Durango Curve. For a hitchhiker, if you didn’t know what you were about, you could easily end up headed in the wrong direction. Hot damn! he thought to himself as he jumped in. A Cadillac, nice ride.
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Rudy figured that his sign would eliminate the Tucson- or LA-bound traffic, leaving the I-17-bound drivers deeming to stop and give him a lift. At least that was his theory. Rudy knew from all his years on the road that there were people, lots of ’em, who didn’t know what planet they were on, much less what road or series of roads it took to get from point A to point B. So it wasn’t a big surprise when the driver of the Caddy said, as the car sped off, merging with the other traffic turning onto the 60 from the on-ramp, “I’m not going all the way to Flagstaff, but at least I’ll get you through Phoenix.” Rudy, looking over at the driver, a kid, which answered the question ‘why a Caddy would stop for a hitchhiker’ .So how far you gowin’?’ he asked, thinking to himself, Shit, what the fuck is the sign for? Rudy had a sinking feeling starting in his gut, because he knew that this was a good way for a hitchhiker to get stuck somewhere out in Bumfuck, Egypt. “Oh, I’m going to Prescott,” the kid responded with a big toothy smile spread across his pimply face. “I can drop you off at Cordes Junction.” “What’s a Cortez Junction, man? I don’t know Arizona so well,” Rudy as he succumbed to the sinking feeling. “Its Cordes Junction,” the kid corrected, grinning over at Rudy, drawing out the ‘s’ at the end of Cordes.
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“Nothing to do with conquistadores. It’s the junction of I17 and State Highway 69, the road to Prescott. There’s an old café and general store with a couple of gas pumps. It’ll be easy to catch a ride to Flagstaff from there,” the kid tried to reassure him. Easy, Rudy thought, we’ll see. He knew from way too much experience that this had all the makings of a hitchhiker’s nightmare. “Thanks, man, for picking me up,” Rudy said, smiling back at the kid while thinking, Fuck, this plan’s fucked! I’m gonna get stuck out in the sticks, no way forward, no way back. Shit, at least if I didn’t get a ride back there, I coulda gone back to mom’s and called my friends in Winslow to let ’em know I’m gonna be a day late. Maybe take a Greyhound up there tomorrow. Now, shit, I could spend days at, where, C-O-R-T-E-Z fucking Junction. Fuck me blue, Kemosabe. He settled back into the leather seat, letting the joint he had smoked earlier relax him, and thought, with a slight smile, Well, at least it’s a nice ride. RUDY HAD BEEN STUCK thumbing his ass off at Cordes Junction going on four hours. He had left his station at the on-ramp twice and hiked the half mile over to the old general store to get a drink and use the bathroom. Each time he had to purchase something at the store for the privilege—water and the shitter were reserved for paying patrons only. Pissing on the side of the road didn’t bother him after too many years thumbing; for a fact, neither
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did taking a dump. But there was little cover along the on-ramp, and Rudy figured that this was the kind of place the law might take exception to his responding to the call of nature and detain him for indecent exposure. Anyway, getting something to drink was an overriding concern, making the consideration of pissing alongside the road an academic exercise. Standing in the Arizona summer sun, Rudy had drained his water bottle twice. He had just come back on station from his second trip to the store with a full water bottle, eating a Dreamsicle, his tariff for the water and the piss, when the old car roared down the on-ramp past him. Rudy stared in amazement. “What the fuck? That’s a very cool car,” he muttered out loud to himself. “Wow, don’t often see an old car like that on the interstate. Fuck often, try never.” He caught a glimpse of the youngish-looking driver behind the wheel as the car roared past him. The kid had long, light brown, curly hair. And, to his surprise, as he pondered the incredulity of the old car motoring onto the interstate in this day and age, the car rolled to a stop thirty paces down the road. Far out, he’s picking me up! Rudy broke into a smile of relief. Cool man, way cool. Elation was overcoming frustration as he grabbed his pack and started to jog toward the waiting car. As he pulled up next to the passenger window, the driver yelled out, “Stow your gear in the rumble seat.”
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“Rumble seat?” Rudy asked, not sure he heard straight. “Yah, the rumble seat, man,” the driver said, jerking his thumb toward the back of the car, “the trunk.” Rudy opened the lid on the trunk and started to toss his pack in when he realized the trunk lid formed the backrest to a seat in the trunk. Oh yah, rumble seat, a realization springing forth along with memories of old black-and-white movies. Fuck, never seen one, but recognition breathed knowledge and he knew in an instant what it was. “A rumble seat, fuck me,” he said out loud to himself. Rudy pulled open the suicide door and stepped onto the wide running board. “Thanks, man,” he offered with a big toothy smile to the kid behind the wheel. He stepped into the cab and slid onto the bench seat. “Way cool car, man. This is one bitchin’ ride.” The radio station out of Prescott was just starting to play ‘Miss American Pie’ as Clayton maneuvered the old car back out onto the highway. “Really dude, thanks for picking me up. Been out there a while and I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of spending the night,” Rudy said, looking over at Clayton with a big natural smile showing through a thick, dark beard. “The name’s Rudy Valencia.”
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Rudy looked very familiar to Clayton, but he could not quite place him. “Hey, no problem, man,” Clayton responded. “Figured I could use the company. I’m Clay; nice to meet you, Rudy. Where are you headed?” Rudy was perhaps five and a half feet tall, with a stocky, square build. He had a dark, tan complexion behind a thick, full, untrimmed black beard. He had a mass of very dark, almost black, wavy hair that was not worn long according to the trendy fashion of the day, but clearly hadn’t seen a barber for a cut or a trim in the recent past. Clayton couldn’t put his finger on it, but he was certain Rudy reminded him of someone. “I’m headed to Winslow,” Rudy replied, crossing his fingers that Clay was headed east from Flagstaff. “Cool man, I’m going to Albuquerque. I go right through Winslow,” Clayton responded, looking over at Rudy with a smile, and then it occurred to him that Rudy said ‘Winslow’. “Winslow, what the fuck is in Winslow? The whole town’s not much more than a wide spot in the road.” “I hear that, but I’ve got a buddy who lives there and I’m meeting up with friends at his pad. We’re all going to head out to Frisco; hang at the Haight. Can you dig it? So, Clay, man, tell me about this cool ride, man.” Clayton didn’t know what the reference to the Haight meant so he wasn’t sure if he ‘dug it,’ but the ref-
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erence to his old car as a ‘cool ride’ gave him a smile. “She’s a 1934 Plymouth Rumble Seat Coupe. She has a Flathead Six under the hood. And, would you believe, she uses a roll of toilet paper for an oil filter?” Clayton liked to throw that last bit in, because he thought it somehow characterized the incongruity of the old girl. “No shit, a roll of toilet paper,” Rudy responded with another big smile, and then asked, jokingly, “is that stock?” Clayton glanced over at Rudy and caught the smile. “No man, I don’t think it’s stock, but it sure does the job.” Then, he got it; the sunglasses, the dark, bushy beard, the dark wavy hair. Shit, Rudy’s a dead ringer for Fidel Castro! And he was; all he needed was a militarystyle khaki shirt and a forage cap. “Rudy, you care for a beer?” he asked with a smile. Clayton already liked Rudy; he had an easygoing way about him. It seemed as if he saw fun at every turn. Of course he did; he was always stoned. And he really did look like Fidel Castro, only shorter. Rudy, in turn, was caught off-guard with Clayton’s question. The kid didn’t appear old enough to buy beer. “You’ve got beer?” he asked, and then followed up with, “how old are you, man? You don’t look old enough.” Clayton laughed, “Yah, man, I’ve got beer. It’s in the bag behind your seat. There’s some chips and bean
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dip, too, if you’re hungry.” Then he laughed again as he decided to use his fake age. “I’m twenty, dude. I just look young; it’s a curse. Can’t get the chicks to take me seriously.” Rudy was in the process of retrieving the bag of goodies from behind his seat when he stopped and turned back to look at Clayton. “Bullshit, you’re twenty,” he said emphatically. “Yah, I am, man,” Clayton asserted with a chuckle. “You can check my license.” “Well shit, far out, dude. I wouldn’t worry about the chicks. With that baby face, they’ll all want to mother you. Take you right to their bosoms,” Rudy laughed as he pulled the tab on a can of beer and handed it to Clayton. “You know what they say about drinking and driving?” “No, what? It’s bad for your health?” Clayton tried to guess what the correct response was. “It’s the only way to travel,” he laughed as he pulled the tab on the second beer. Rudy talked constantly. Clayton learned that Rudy was twenty-eight and had been on the road since he was eighteen. He started wandering right after he graduated from high school. He had been motivated by a great book he read called The Gypsies, by Jan Yoors. Clayton had read the book, too, and they started in, reminding each
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other of various passages from the book. Clayton had to agree that he had never read a book that enticed him as much to step out and travel the open road. Since he first set out, Rudy had traveled back and forth between the East and West Coasts a dozen times or more, mostly by thumbing, sometimes with friends. Early on, he had found his way to Jamaica because of the ‘ganja’; now he spent most all of his winters with friends in Jamaica. And Rudy loved to get high. That was his main motivation in life. He grew up near Berkeley, where his mom had done her graduate work and taught classes. In fact, he had gone to Tempe to visit his mother. It was the first time he had seen her in six years. She was an anthropology professor at Arizona State University. She taught cultural anthropology and specialized in Native American cultures of the Southwest. Clayton told Rudy that he was a student at ASU working on a Bachelor of Science degree, with an undeclared major. He was thinking about taking some anthro classes to satisfy his social science requirements. He would have to look Rudy’s mother up. He explained that he was going to Albuquerque to stay with his cousin and to work construction over the summer break. Clayton learned that the Haight referred to Haight-Ashbury, a neighborhood in San Francisco, near Berkeley. Rudy and his friends were headed up there be-
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cause that was where the ‘happening’ was. Rudy had a boatload of stories about being on the road, and before the two knew it, they were in Flagstaff, making the connection to I-40 East. As they headed out of Flagstaff to Winslow, Rudy explained a little more about his buddy with the place in Winslow and who the friends were he was going to meet. John, the owner of the house in Winslow, was Rudy’s best friend in high school. John had ended up in Winslow because that’s where his wife was from. Jason and Mary were friends from back East that he usually hooked up with on his trips to the West. They were good people; easy to travel with. “You’ll like Mary; she’s a sweetheart,” Rudy offered up and then laughed. “And she is gonna like you, man.” He also explained what the ‘happening’ was in Haight-Ashbury. Kids from all over the country were hanging out, listening to music, dropping acid, making love, and getting oh so very high. It was a ‘righteous’ time. Haight-Ashbury had become famous or infamous, depending on the way you looked at popular culture, for the ‘Summer of Love.’ In the summer of 1967, the hippie countercultural movement made its stand on the Haight. They were drawn there by a music festival that featured a number of famous, soon-to-be famous and nearfamous bands and artists. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin were perfect reflections of the
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bohemian culture of the hippies. Rudy tried to talk Clayton into giving up his plans for the summer and coming with them. But Clayton’s idea of adventure was a lot more structured and had a hell of a lot less to do with drugs than ole Rudy’s idea of a good time. A short stint in Rudy’s world might be fun, but a whole summer could easily turn into a drag. “Well, listen man,” Rudy said as they were entering Winslow, “if I can’t talk you into trippin’ up to Frisco with me, at least hang out with me and my friends a while before you head out to Albuquerque. They’re some pretty cool people. John’s wife’s a damn good cook, and knowing John, they are gonna do it up right tonight.” “Well hell, I’ve got time for a beer, but if I’m gonna hang much longer I need to let my friends in Albuquerque know I’m gonna be late.” “That’s cool, man. John’s got a phone you can use, if you need to. He won’t care about the charges; he’s used to people having to call all over the place to stay connected. Can you dig it? When you get into town, pull into the nearest store; I wanna buy some beer for the house. It’s always good to come bearing gifts. It’s kinda biblical, if you know what I mean?” The Interstate 40 bypass around Winslow hadn’t been constructed in 1972, so as the old car approached Winslow, I-40 turned off onto old US Route 66 near the
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west edge of town. Route 66 had been the main eastwest highway across the middle of the nation for over thirty years and was now being replaced by Interstate 40. Old Route 66 was made famous in a classic song, ‘Get Your Kicks on Route 66,’ first recorded in 1946 by Nat King Cole and covered many times since. There was also a television show in the early Sixties named Route 66 about the adventures and drama of two young men out on the road in a Chevy Corvette. As they pulled into Winslow, Clayton started singing, under his breath, the words to the Eagles’ song ‘Take it Easy.’ “Yah, man,” Rudy laughed, then joined in. That song was a clear and happy expression of the carefree nature of the youth experience in America at the time. Clayton just liked the image of a ‘girl in a flatbed Ford’ making her presence known to the man on the corner. The two were singing loudly and laughing as they drove down Old 66. In some poignant way, that song represented more than just their mood. It resonated with being young, free and carefree; with truly ‘taking it easy.’
US 66 WAS THEN and is still the main street through Winslow. Clayton pulled off at the first convenience store they came to, and Rudy went in and bought a case of cold beer. They proceeded east about halfway through town before Rudy directed Clayton to turn north into a residential area. After a couple more turns, they pulled up in front of an old Fifties-style, square-built block home that was painted light blue with a big front veranda. As they were getting out of the car, a tall, lanky, long-haired guy came bounding out of the house, letting the screen door slam shut behind him with a bang. “Goddamnit, Rudy, it’s about time you got here,” the man was saying with a big smile as he loped up to Rudy, who was coming around the old car. “You said you were going to get an early start, so we expected you hours ago.” When the two met, they gave each other a hug and Rudy turned to Clayton and said, “Jason, let me introduce you to Clay. He picked me up at some wide spot in the road called Cordes Junction and saved my ass.” Clayton stepped up to Jason and shook his hand, but before he could say anything, Rudy started talking again. “Clay is also the owner of this fine automobile, and
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he’s heading to Albuquerque to work this summer. I have tried to talk young Clay, here, into going west with us to Frisco, but he has steadfastly, if not sensibly, maintained his determination to head east.” Just then another man, also with long hair, but not nearly as tall as Jason, let out a whistle from the front porch, then said, “Nice car. I’ll say this for you Rudy-boy, you do get around in style.” “Clay, the gentleman on the porch yonder is John, our host and benefactor,” Rudy explained, as he pointed over to the man on the porch. “John, this is Clay, the owner of this here car you are admiring. I’m hoping Clay will stay and have supper with us.” “Well, he’d be welcome. There is always room for one more,” John offered as he walked down off the porch to get a closer look at the old car. “She’s a 1934 Plymouth Rumble Seat Coupe,” Clayton said with his hand out, by way of introduction, as John approached. After shaking Clayton’s hand, he turned and stood admiring the car, stroking his thin beard. “She’s a nice one,” he said, after a moment, using the feminine reference. “You drove her all the way up from Phoenix. How’d she handle on the highway?”
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“No problems. She drives great and we went sixty-five almost the whole way,” Clayton responded, smiling and letting his pride show. “Amazing! These new cars today won’t be around in forty years, much less get your ass up here from Phoenix. Well come on in and have a cold one. Hey Rudy, you need help with your gear or do you guys have it?” Rudy had gone around to the trunk to show Jason the rumble seat and retrieve his pack. “No, John, we can handle it. Where’s Mary?” “She’s gone to the store with Jenny to get some food for tonight and your trip tomorrow,” John answered as he walked up the steps. Clayton followed John into the house. Rudy and Jason came in shortly behind them. They entered into the living room, where there were already two people in residence on a big couch against the wall across from the front door. To the right of the couch was a stuffed chair, and against the far wall was a large fireplace; not much use this time of year, but Clayton thought that it sure must come in handy in the winter. There was a long, low coffee table made out of pine in front of the couch across from him. There were two large stuffed chairs straddling the big window to his right. “Clay, this is Jill and Terry, friends of mine from back East,” John said by way of introduction. Then he in-
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troduced Rudy when he and Jason came in. “Clay, make yourself at home, man. Rudy, you know the way; show him where the can and stuff is.” John turned to his left and went through an archway, then came back a few minutes later with a couple of ice-cold cans of beer. Clayton figured that that must be the way to the kitchen. “Here you go fellas; this ought to go down good. Rudy, how’s your mom, man? Still knocking knowledge into college undergrads?” “You know mom,” Rudy replied in between heavy hits on the cold beer. “She likes the college life. Not so sure she cares for Tempe or Phoenix much. Says there’s limited cultural offerings. But, the pay is good and she likes her colleagues and the research she’s doing.” Clayton had made his way to the chair next to the couch and was sucking down the cold beer. Man, this is going down good! Jill and Terry, who were obviously stoned, had been listening to Santana when they all came in. Clayton was starting to relax and get into the groove of the Latin beat. The atmosphere in the house was very congenial, and Clayton found that it was easy to get into the flow. Rudy finished his beer and he called over to Clayton, “Clay, you ready for another one?” Without waiting for a response, he headed through the archway to the kitchen.
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“Yah, I could do another,” Clay called after him. Just then the front door opened and in walked two girls, arms full with grocery bags. They headed straight for the kitchen. One of them called out, “Hun, there’s a couple more in the car.” John quickly got up off the couch and responded, “I’m all over it, babe.” That must have been Jenny, Clayton thought, but he wasn’t sure which one had called out to John; they had come in and gone to the kitchen so fast. But a short second later, out came one of the gals, who immediately went up to Rudy and gave him a big hug. “’Bout time you got here,” she said as she unclenched. “We were starting to worry.” Mary was a vision. Clayton immediately recognized her from Rudy’s description. She was at least as tall as Clayton with long dark brown hair. She was wearing a navy blue gypsy dress and a blue-and-purple tie-dyed halter top with no bra, or as Clayton’s step-dad liked to say, ‘she was free boobing.’ When she turned from Rudy to look over at Clayton, the sun shining through the window lit up her form almost like Clayton was wearing Xray glasses. Her aspect took his breath away. She had a figure straight from some renaissance painting, like the nudes Clayton used to stare at in art
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history class; fantasize is more like it. It seemed to Clayton that the old masters always needed to paint the Madonna and Child; and somebody, maybe it was da Vinci, just had to paint the Virgin in the nude. Clayton was only slightly uneasy about fantasizing over an artistic representation of a naked Virgin Mary. He thought it was probably sacrilegious, but he really wasn’t all that religious anyway. Besides, the lady in the painting wasn’t really the Virgin, but some Florentine model that ole randy Leonardo was sticking it to when he wasn’t painting her. So it was really Leo who was being sacrilegious; sticking the Christ child in that naked babe’s arms. It made him chuckle to think of Leo trying to concentrate on painting this babe with a big stiffy. He couldn’t get close to the easel; had to use long brushes. “So, who’s this?” Clayton heard her say as he woke from his trance. As Clayton was getting up to meet this vision, Rudy was saying, “Why, this is young Mr. Clay. He’s the reason I’m here. He rescued me from some little nonentity of a town outside of Phoenix, where I had been stuck for going on four hours this morning.” Clayton walked over and offered her his hand. “Hi, I’m Clay,” he said, with a shy smile. Mary watched him all the way as he came over and thought to herself, Ooh my, this one’s gonna be trou-
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ble. He wasn’t very big, but he had a solid build with crazy curly hair and, as he walked toward her, she could sense his extreme confidence; something about that excited her. She took Clayton’s hand and turned her head back to look at Rudy. “How did you manage that?” “It’s a long, sad story, but let’s just say that I was suckered by a brand-new Caddy,” Rudy responded. Then, with a glint in his eyes, he added, “But right now I think it’s more important that we talk young Mr. Clay into staying for supper. Don’t you agree?” “Oh, I certainly do. In fact, why isn’t young Mr. Clay going to Frisco in the morning with us?” “Well he’s a man with a plan, and his plan is to go east to Albuquerque to work for the summer.” “Bummer!” Mary responded to Rudy, and then she set her gaze squarely on Clayton, still holding his hand. “You sure we can’t entice you to change your plan?” She had vivid blue eyes and Clayton found himself melting under her gaze. Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, he thought. One could lose a lifetime in those eyes. Clayton, regaining a smattering of his composure, smiled back at her and said, “Even though I’m intrigued by your offer, I’m afraid my plans are solid.” “Well at least stay for dinner and maybe even the night. Albuquerque will still be there tomorrow.”
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“Yah,” John chimed in, coming back from the kitchen. “We’re going to burn some steaks and Jenny makes a wicked potato salad.” “You sure you’ve got enough?” Clayton asked, feeling a little bit sheepish about intruding. “We always do, man,” John reassured him. “And we like company. We’re in Winslow, for God’s sake; company is about the only big deal we have to look forward to.” So there it was: after calling Randy in Albuquerque to let him know that he would be coming in around noon the following day, Clayton found himself sitting with Mary in one of the big stuffed chairs, listening to Credence. They had just finished a great meal; John definitely knew what he was doing with a charcoal grill and Jenny had whipped up a mean, spicy potato salad. Corn on the cob, coleslaw and more cold beer completed the dinner. Clayton came into the living room and found his way to the same chair he had occupied before. He was surprised when Mary came in, after, and asked him to slide over to make room for her. There were other seats available. Rudy was over on the couch doing what Rudy does best—rolling a couple of joints. Clayton was a little apprehensive about the prospect of getting high. He had
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smoked weed a couple of times before, but it wasn’t his thing and he was a little worried about coming off like a rookie in front of all these experienced smokers. Mary, seeing Clayton eyeing Rudy, asked, “Do you get high, honey?” Clayton opted for the truth because it would be quickly obvious to everyone that he was almost clueless about pot. “I have, only a couple of times. I thought it was fun but I don’t get the opportunity very often.” A polite way of saying that he doesn’t hang with the crowd that does. “That’s cool, just take small hits. That pot of Rudy’s will put most of us in the weeds if we hit it too hard.” Rudy lit up two joints and passed one each way so that the smoke got around to everyone quicker. John got up and put Elton John’s ‘Mad Man Across the Water’ on the stereo. Clayton, taking Mary’s advice to heart, took only small tokes each time she passed a joint to him. He settled in and let the music wash over and around him. He had to admit that being stoned was a hell of a way to listen to good music.
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Mary put her legs up over Clayton’s and snuggled her head into his chest. After a bit, she took a drink of water and then leaned up and gave him a cool, wet kiss. He hadn’t realized that his mouth had gotten so dry; and the kiss was like he was in the desert and Mary had become the oasis. He drank her in, and was thirsty for more. She kissed him again, slowly; her tongue explored his mouth and met his tongue. He returned her kiss, and for an indeterminate amount of time, the world ceased to turn on its axis and time stood still. The kiss became everything; such is the single-mindedness of being stoned. She came up for air first and laughed. “You’re stoned,” she said. Then, getting up off his lap, she grabbed his hand. “Come with me. It’s time to put you to bed.” As she led him out of the room, she turned and said, “Night all.” ON THE SURFACE, THE ‘sexual revolution’ appeared to be more about sexual freedom for women than it was about men. But the reality was that it had an equally liberating effect on men, as well. The conventional wisdom was that, historically, men have had the freedom to explore their sexuality, at least heterosexuality. Boys were expected and even encouraged to go out and sow their
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wild oats before settling down to domesticated monogamy. Girls, on the other hand, were expected, by society, to be chaste, all the way up to their wedding day. A girl in America was expected to guard and secure her honor. To not do so, to fail in this sacred duty, to not be able to serve up her special, singular flower to her husband for him to devour with all the debauching acumen that he had somehow acquired during his limited travels, meant that she was a fallen angel, a loose woman, a slut, a person of ill repute, one step short of walking the streets. The absurdity of this dichotomy should have been evident to any sentient, reasoning being. Boys were expected to respond to the directives of their biology, the urgings of their hormones, and plant their seeds into any agreeable depository, whereas girls, or proper girls, were to resist the same biological imperatives and stand as chaste guardians of what was good and right in America. Ingrained in this bizarre notion of morality was the idea that women were to be pure, and purity was defined as being untouched by man before her husband touched the living shit out of her. And men, in this very narrow world, wanted, expected and even demanded that purity, so that he could be the sole possessor of that special piece of womanhood; the chattel, the dowry had been reduced to the singular, the pussy. In this confined tunnel of a world, boys were now relegated to satisfying the needs of their developing bod-
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ies in experiences that were virtually devoid of passion or romance, or were free to urge any girl they could coax into a backseat to give up that special flower without the requisite commitment, thereby relegating herself to the position of easy lay, a slut. Good boys don’t marry sluts. So boys are asking because they have a need, and girls are saying no, even though they also have a need, and if the girls assent, they are diminished or even cast out. That is the essence of Victorian morality. A morality imposed by the Victorians, who were the upper class, on the middle class as a means of controlling the middle class, without, overtly, appearing to do so. Create a set of rules that govern fundamental behavior, rules that you, yourself, don’t really adhere to, and hold them high, as if to say ‘this is what it takes to be us.’ Every upwardly mobile member of the middle class jumped at the opportunity to pick up the gauntlet of genteel behavior thrown down by their betters. But that was the Victorians, an old European dynastic, soon-to-be anachronistic, amalgamation of ruling families. How the hell did their bullshit come across the ocean to America? The American experience has always teetered on the knife’s edge of becoming a plutocracy. The wealthy in this country have always likened themselves to European royalty and would love to have the hereditary titles to boot. But more important than titles is power, and power is control, and it is a lot easier to control a thing if it comes readily accepting of the yoke. Perpetuate the
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myth that ‘you too can be just like us if only you…,’ fill in your own blank; in this case it was a set of moral rules, never written down, that was presented as a set of values that defined what it means to be above the lower classes. The absurdity of the morality game became evident when our boys went overseas in World War Two. The clash of moral rules between the old- and newworld cultures was prodigious. In Great Britain, girls didn’t say no to a man’s advance unless she wasn’t interested in him. If she was, she assumed and trusted that his advances were honorable. That he was interested in her not only for sex, but for a formal, marital relationship. Women in Great Britain relied on a man’s honor, whereas GIs from the States were used to women defending theirs. So when the two met, the British lass assumed that the Yank was honorable and the Yank thought the lass was easy. No small misunderstanding. It was the same for Australia, in the Pacific Theater. The collision of cultural sexual mores was not predicted or expected. In Australia, it was known as the ‘Great Debouche.’ The truth was that the ‘sexual revolution’ was just that, a revolution in sex: the opportunity for both women and men to freely explore the mystical and even transformational world of uninhibited sexual pleasure without recourse to some set of arbitrary moral taboos that never had anything to do with anything. The sexual revolu-
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tion was the tossing away of the century-old shackles that the Victorian ruling class had placed around the private parts of the middle class to control their behavior. The ‘sexual revolution’ was as much a part of the revolution of the human spirit as the Civil Rights Movement, or the Equal Rights Movement, or the protests against the Vietnam War, and would eventually lead to the Gay Rights Movement. It changed America and America would never look back, no matter how hard those antiquated purveyors of moral rectitude would ply their tired diatribes. The ‘sexual revolution’ was, maybe, the one lasting contribution of the youth generation of the late Sixties and early Seventies. MARY LED CLAYTON BY the hand down the hallway to a bedroom at the end, across from the bathroom. She crossed to the bed and pulled the covers back. She turned back to Clayton and began undressing him and kissing him slowly as she proceeded. When she pulled his shirt off over his head, he slid his hands under her blouse, up around her breasts, running his palms over her stiff nipples, causing her to moan. She smoothly unsnapped, unzipped and started to pull down his jeans, but he still had his tennis shoes on. They laughed as the roadblock was encountered and Clayton deftly flipped off his shoes. She pivoted him around and tossed him on the bed to complete the removal of his pants. He reached up, pulled her down on top and slid her blouse over her head, getting a look at her breasts for
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the first time. They were full, slightly pendulous, with seriously dark nipples. He instinctively placed one in his mouth and began to gently suck on it, while flicking it with his tongue. She sagged into him and moaned again. “Okay, okay,” she said, as she pushed herself up, off of him. Standing, she quickly slid off her skirt and her panties. Clayton, in the half-light of the room, could make out the bushy patch of hair between her legs, and it sent a thrill through him. She came back to the bed and leaned over him. He could just barely feel her nipples on his chest as she hovered there for a moment before lowering herself into the embrace of his strong arms. Clayton had had sex before, a few times with exactly three girls, but it was still new enough to be insanely exciting. The anticipation consumed his being, gripped him in his chest, and his conscious thought was Boy, oh boy, oh boy. Reality struck like a flash out of nowhere, invading his mind, and momentarily deflating his ardor. I’m about to screw an older girl, an experienced girl, a girl with certainly more experience than I have. Shit, oh fucking dear! In five seconds she is going to know what a rube I am. I have just enough lovemaking experience to know that I have no lovemaking experience. Then bam! Go down on her. He had heard more often than he could recall that chicks went wild when you licked their pussy. His stepfa-
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ther would always say, “Show me a man that doesn’t eat out his wife and I will show you a wife I can steal.” Only one problem; he had never done it before. How hard can it be? Just kiss your way down there and start licking parts. But what parts? Fuck, I don’t really even know the parts. His previous backseat fumblings and gropings only served to provide a limited picture in his mind of the very particular intricacies of that very important part of the female anatomy. He remembered his father joking with a friend that eating pussy was like sucking on a juicy orange, or was it a peach? You just sort of dug your face into it and got juice all over your chin. Dad was being an asshole, as he so often could be, trying to embarrass him in front of his friend. He remembered thinking What a jerk! and was embarrassed instead for his dad. Such remembrances were not conducive to the task at hand. Just work your way down there and figure out what’s what when you get there. So he began to work his way down her body, kissing and flicking her skin with his tongue as he went. He stopped at her breasts and licked and sucked on her nipples, which, he was pleased, seemed to have the desired
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effect. Mary moaned and pressed his head into her breasts. When she relaxed the pressure, he moved on down toward her navel. Then all of a sudden, she grabbed his head and placed it squarely between her legs, grinding his mouth into her crease, whereupon he began to lick and suck and generally go to town. Mary emitted very satisfactory moans and groans, while slowly writhing, alternately moving herself into his mouth and then pulling away. At first he was taken aback by the female odor; he didn’t expect that, but was quickly drawn to it. It was sweet and pungent and earthy. He concluded that it smelled like sex, and it fed his passion. The taste was the next question that flowed through his mind. Salty syrup? The parts he licked were soft and smooth. The more he licked, the more syrup he got. Not a juicy orange or a peach; it was more like eating a very ripe mango. He worked his way down her crease, licking and sucking on her lips till he reached the bottom and penetrated her with his tongue. The more she moaned, the more vigorous he worked, still clueless. But he was stoned and it is so easy to get lost into things when you are stoned. And he was lost into her pussy; it was allconsuming.
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Then all of a sudden, she gave a low laugh. “That’s enough, come here, I want you inside me.” Holy shit! Never heard a girl say that before. ‘I want you inside me.’ Fuck, really! She drew him up and helped him find the right spot. It would not be fair to say that in his excitement he slammed it home, but it would be close. “Whoa, cowboy,” she laughed. “Slow. Enjoy the ride,” she cooed as she gyrated her ass under him. He tried to kiss her and she laughed again as she wiped the mango juice from his face. Then she gave him a deep kiss that nearly sucked the life out of him. The result of which was that, all of a sudden, he realized that his dick was speaking. Shit, fuck, damn! he thought. Come on! Nothing screams inexperience more than being a preemie. Well, the cat’s out of the bag. He had the presence of mind to stay in the saddle. Maybe she won’t notice, he hoped. He focused on his stroke; how she felt around his cock, as he slowly moved in and out of her. His stoned mind became riveted, as stoned minds are apt to do, by how tight and slippery she felt as he moved. And quickly, her responsive moanings began to quicken and deepen. All of which served to re-
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kindle his prick, and he was off to the races again, manhood intact. It was intense. She came first and he followed, for his second time, shortly after with that confident, ‘who’s the man now’ smile on his face. He fell asleep listening to the faint sound of the Allman Brothers’ album Eat a Peach coming down the hall from the living room. Mary’s head was cuddled on his shoulder, and the last thing he remembered was her soft breathing, almost like a cat purring.
CLAYTON WOKE UP THE next morning all cozy in the bed. His head was a little groggy, not unlike a hangover, but a hell of a lot more pleasant. No headache for one and no queasy stomach for two, but definitely a slow noggin. He lazily stretched and scooted around in the covers. Man this bed feels nice, he thought as thoughts of last night emerged into his consciousness. He reached across the bed for Mary, thinking she might be up for the same, you know, a little of the ole one-two, a bit of the ole in-and-out, but she wasn’t there. Clayton realized as he felt around that she must already be up without waking him. He sat up and looked around, then checked his watch. Jeez, it’s already past eight. He rarely slept past seven and was usually up before six. Christ, I’ve gotta get on the road. He jumped out of bed and quickly threw on the same clothes he was wearing the night before. Having to wear yesterday’s clothes kind of creeped him out; it had been a long, hot and sweaty drive up from Phoenix. He paused before pulling on the underwear and weighed his options; day-old drawers or go without? Aw, fuck it!
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He pulled on his jeans over his bare ass and stuffed the briefs in his pocket. He quickly made the bed, as thoughts of his mother came into his head. “You always make your bed in the morning when you are a guest in somebody’s house,” she would say. She had taught him right. He went to the head across the hall from the bedroom for the morning piss ritual and damn near missed the pot because of the crusty sex stuff on the head of his penis. “Shit,” he muttered as he abruptly shut the flow off. “What the fuck?” He cleared his prick with his fingers and thought, Hmm, interesting. Mental pictures of last night erupted all over again; for the second time this morning thinking about enticing Mary back into the sack. Shit, that’s not helping one damn bit, he thought to himself as his dick was inadvertently getting hard. “Back to the task at hand,” he admonished himself as he pushed the head of his dick back down toward the bowl. “Now that’s better,” he muttered as his stream went straight and true into the water in the bowl. He washed his hands in the sink and splashed some water on his face and through his hair, combing it back with his fingers. He stood looking at his face in the mirror, wishing he had his toothbrush. Man, he thought, my mouth tastes terrible, like a menstruating skunk’s ass, using one of his stepfather’s favorite profane sayings. He
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laughed to himself. Maybe it’s a good thing Mary left. My breath would gag a maggot. He walked out of the bathroom and went down the hall to the living room, expecting to see the same crowd as the night before. He was disappointed to find the room empty except for John, his host, who was sitting on the couch with his feet up on the coffee table, reading the morning paper with a cup of coffee balanced on the arm of the couch. “Hey, morning,” Clayton said, as he walked through the doorway and then asked, looking around, “where is everyone?” “Oh, hey man,” John replied, lowering his paper and looking over the top at Clayton. “They’re all gone, man. Jill and Terry headed east at first light. Rudy, Jason and Mary headed out to Frisco about an hour later. Mary said not to wake you. She said she had kept you up a bit.” John chuckled at that last quip. Clayton smiled and looked down at his feet as he caught on to the double meaning. “Yah, you could say she did that, man.” “Rudy said to tell you thanks again for the ride up. He liked your bitchin’ car, said it was a great ride. Mary said to tell you to take care of yourself. She thinks you guys will hook up somewhere again in the future. You know, some kind of karmic thing, man.”
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“Well, who knows, maybe we will,” Clayton offered, feeling disappointed that he didn’t get to say goodbye, especially to Mary. She will be a big memory; too bad it will be colored by the purple haze of reefer. “Hey man, there’s a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen and stuff to make breakfast.” “Nah, man, I’m cool. But, I tell you what, I could really use a shower before I get on the road. Is it cool if I use your bathroom?” “Oh, yah man, that’s what it’s there for. Dive in. Clean towels are in the hall closet.” Clayton grabbed his gear from the trunk of the car and went back in for a quick shower and to brush his fucking teeth. He lingered under the hot water for a minute or two, and then turned the valve to cold to wake himself up. A trick he had learned the previous summer in El Paso. After a night out, nothing better to wake your ass up at five-thirty in the morning before work. Clayton offered to pay John something for the bed and shower as he was saying goodbye. “No way, man,” John said, walking him to his car. “I’m well taken care of by the folks doing coast-to-coast runs. ‘Free enterprise,’ it’s the greatest. You were Rudy’s guest, man. He covered your tab.”
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“Well, thanks again,” Clayton said, as he offered his hand to John. “Hey man, you are always welcome back. Shit, stop in for a beer when you are headed home after the summer. Regale me with your exploits.” “Yah, right! If last night was any indication of the direction this summer is headed, it will be some story.” “You know it, man! Take care. Hey, by the way, man, Rudy’s right, this is one bitchin’ ride,” John said as Clayton fired up the old car. Clayton waved goodbye and quickly found his way back to old Route 66 and headed east through town. He pulled into the first gas station with a convenience store and filled up the old car. He checked the oil and was pleased to see that the old lady wasn’t burning any. He went into the store, grabbed a pint of milk and a honey bun for the road, paid his tab and walked out to the old car. He was on the road again. He pulled onto Route 66 and out of the blue the lines from ‘Take It Easy’ came into his head again and he started singing, over the engine noise. He was singing loudly, and pretty much out of tune, when he came up to the old La Posada Hotel. The large Santa Fe adobe-style building looked out of place on main street in Winslow. He quickly pulled into the
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parking lot to get a closer look. The hotel had opened in 1930 and was the last of the Harvey Houses. Harvey Houses were a chain of hotel and dining establishments built by Fred Harvey to serve railroad stops. They were known for good food at fair prices. Fred Harvey also built the El Tovar Hotel at the south rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as the Bright Angel Lodge down in the Canyon. Clayton had stayed in Harvey Houses and eaten at his restaurants when he was a kid, and he remembered that the uniformed waitresses were called ‘Harvey Girls.’ Unfortunately, Clayton was disappointed to see that the La Posada was no longer a hotel, but was now some sort of headquarters for the Santa Fe Railroad. Progress, baby! ON THE EAST SIDE of town, Route 66 transitioned back into the new I-40 again. As Clayton drove onto the new divided highway, he became a little nostalgic for the old Route 66. When Clayton was five, he had traveled old 66 when his family moved from Dallas to LA back in the late Fifties. Work had not begun on I-40 yet, but there had been lots of road construction with many detours along the way. One of Clayton’s favorite and recurring memories was of that trip. It was at a detour, where they had to wait for a pilot car to lead them across a section of road under construction. While they were waiting, a man on a big machine roared up alongside their waiting car and dumped some dirt and then roared away. Clayton later learned that the machine was called a scraper, but that
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man operating the machine was what Clayton remembered most. He was blonde, well-muscled and very tan, almost sunburnt, and had a look as if he owned the world. He saw little Clayton looking up at him from the car window and gave the kid a big smile as he turned the machine. Clayton decided then and there that if he got the chance, he was going to work construction and run some big equipment like that. Not something you share with your parents, who want and expect you to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. Back on Interstate 40, the old car settled into the trip. Clayton had pulled the overdrive out and they were cruising at sixty-five. It was a magnificent day; that would be the only way to describe it. There were panoramic vistas in every direction and the sky was as deep blue as sky can be. Interstate 40 was being built by the Government, funded by the American taxpayer, as part of the system of ‘Interstate and Defense Highways’ created by President Eisenhower. Eisenhower, after Germany surrendered, had been impressed with the highway system in Germany and the capabilities for moving men and equipment during war. But Eisenhower also knew that the United States desperately needed a modern highway system to serve its growing population and to meet the demands of an expanding economy. But no matter the rationale, economic growth or national security, Eisenhower, a Republican, was responsible for enacting what
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is considered the ‘greatest public works project in history’; a jobs program that began in 1956 and continued into the Nineties, and provided work for millions of Americans. A jobs program that built a significant component of the infrastructure that was required for the United States to become a highly industrialized economic superpower. Only a moron would say that government doesn’t create jobs. About forty-five minutes after pulling out onto I40, Clayton was steering the old car back onto old 66, through the Town of Holbrook. Winslow, Holbrook, Gallup and Grants were all railroad towns. They all had their origins around 1881, as rail heads for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. The Santa Fe Railroad, the eventual successor to the A & P, now used the lines that had been originally laid out to run adjacent to a roadway, first surveyed in 1857; that roadway was to become Route 66. So these railroad towns naturally became stops for motorists traveling between Chicago and Los Angeles. Ten minutes later, Clayton pulled out of Holbrook, back onto I-40. He figured that it would take a little over two hours to get to Gallup, New Mexico, and two hours after that to get to Albuquerque. He chided himself that it was too early in the drive to start getting antsy about arriving, but he was excited about hooking up again with his cousin Randy.
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HE AND RANDY HAD always hit it off; all the way back when Clayton was not yet four during an Emerson family Christmas get-together. Emerson was his mother’s maiden name and Randy was her brother’s kid. That Christmas, Randy’s family, along with the grandparents, came to Dallas to celebrate. Clayton and Randy quickly became friends, even though Randy was closer in age to Clayton’s older brother. All the cousins were good friends and had a lot of fun together, but Clayton and Randy seemed to have a greater bond. And even though, in those early years, they only saw each other once or twice a year, they would immediately pick up their friendship as if they had never been apart. Clayton would say that it was mostly due to Randy and his disarming personality. The minute you came into his presence, he made you feel at home. He was glad to see you and he showed it. But the thing that always came to mind when Clayton thought of Randy was his very special smile. A shit-eating smile. Randy had a shit-eating smile. It was a specific smile; not the one he used to charm girls. That smile was a big broad, toothy, effusive smile. Total charm; the girls never saw it coming, and when it was upon them, they just melted. No, this smile was different, and Clayton called it Randy’s shit-eating smile. Why shit-eating? Who the fuck knows? The imagery was not quite right, but it was a smile that reflected a level of understanding, a certain knowledge that you may or may
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not have, insight into what was about to happen, or the possibilities. It wasn’t a big open-lipped, toothy smile or even a broad grin. It really wasn’t much of a smile at all, and if you didn’t know Randy, you could have easily missed it. The lips purse together slightly, the mouth turns up a little at the corners, and there’s a twinkle in his eyes. It definitely wasn’t a smile used over pleasantries; ‘hi, how are you?’ No, it was a smile that let you know that he was seeing the future or one possible future. It was a smile that came from the eyes and there was real mirth behind them. For Clayton, it was a smile of recognition; a smile that said, ‘I see where you are going with this and I like it. Damn the torpedoes; lay on, McDuffie.’ Randy’s special smile showed up naturally. It began to appear when he and Clayton were little kids together, along with the other cousins, and they had fucked something up and were sure to get into trouble unless they creatively figured a way out. The smile meant that he somehow saw the humor in the predicament they were in. He had to learn to hide it when his parents began to recognize it as a ‘tell’. When they saw it, they knew the bullshit was flying. So he hid it away from the big folk and only brought it out for Clayton and some of the other cousins, an occasional school buddy and a chick here and there.
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He often used it on Clayton when the two of them were chasing chicks, which was a big part of what they did these days. The almost-secret smile that he tossed to Clayton said ‘bingo’; things were about to happen and they were in the pilot’s seat. CLAYTON, LOST IN THOUGHT, had crossed into New Mexico without noticing. All of a sudden he realized that he was driving through the red-and-yellow sandstone bluffs and rock formations, which meant Gallup was just ahead. Soon I-40 was discharging all traffic back onto Route 66 to drive through the business district of Gallup. In the upcoming years, bypasses would be built at Winslow, Holbrook and Gallup, and all the roadside businesses on 66 would take a beating; most will close. But in 1972, Route 66 through Gallup was still happening. The KOA campground was full, and the famous ‘Hotel to the Stars,’ the El Rancho Hotel and Motel, was still bringing in the business. Gallup was known for the surrounding picturesque rugged red rock terrain and a whole host of movies that Hollywood made in the area during the Forties and Fifties. The El Rancho is where many a famous movie star stayed and the production crews headquartered during filming on location. Clayton stopped for gas on the east side of Gallup, checked the oil again and picked up a soda and some chips. Back out on I-40, he began to reminisce some more about Randy and his childhood. They always seemed to be on the verge of getting hurt or into serious
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trouble, but somehow managed to extricate themselves with no one of consequence being the wiser. One time, when he was nine, he, Randy and the others were playing hide-and-seek. The parents had gone out for the evening and left their oldest cousin, Randy’s sister, Louise, to babysit. Louise was all of thirteen, and her penchant for finding trouble was just as big as, if not bigger than, that of her younger charges. She was truly an instigator with a serious bent for creative mischief. Anyway, Clayton, who had just turned seven the previous week, and Randy had elected to hide together. The game was being played indoors because it was nighttime, winter and cold as hell outside. The two boys had decided to hide in the dryer located in the garage. It was a side-loading unit, stationed next to the sideloading washer. Why they chose the dryer over the washer, who knows; but it turned out to be a fortuitous choice. Why they chose to hide in a relatively tiny space was clearly because it was there. It was like the clowns climbing out of the Volkswagen at the circus; no one would ever think that two little boys could fit in the drum of a small dryer, much less look for them there. First Randy climbed in; the idea being that if he could fit through the opening, then Clayton could, too. Once inside, Randy would scrunch up in the drum and make room for Clayton. So in Randy went; his head fol-
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lowed by his shoulders, which he had to work through the opening. After his shoulders were through the door, the rest of him followed. Clayton looked in. “I don’t think there’s any room for me in there.” Randy hugged his legs tight to his chest. “Sure there is,” he reassured Clayton. “Just duck your head through the door and wiggle your shoulders in. You can sit on that side,” indicating the space across from him. “There’s plenty of room.” Clayton did as instructed and squirmed his way into the drum. Surprisingly, the two of them actually fit, all assholes, elbows and knees. Each had his butt ensconced between two of the vanes on the drum, with one vane between them at the knees and two vanes between them at the head. Clayton had the angle on the door and reached to begin to pull it shut to complete their camouflage. And just as the door was closing, Randy spoke up, “Don’t shut it all the way.” CLICK. Clayton looked at Randy, who looked back with that fucking shit-eating smile.
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“Oh no,” Randy said, half laughing. “I don’t think we can open it from the inside.” “Sure we can,” Clayton said authoritatively. Clayton, at seven, had yet to grasp the notion that some doors only open from one direction, dryer doors being one of those doors. No reason to have a handle on the inside. “No, I don’t think so,” Randy responded, smiling again. Clayton pushed the door carefully, so as not to open it all the way, giving away their hiding place. No response. He pushed it a little harder; nothing. He leaned against it and gave it a mighty shove; it didn’t budge an inch. Randy was sitting in a tiny ball, giggling at Clayton’s efforts. Coolly he said, “Yah, I don’t think we are going anywhere soon. We will just have to wait till someone finds us.” “How long will that be?” Clayton asked, becoming concerned. “We may not get found till mom comes out and does the laundry.” Randy laughed again, but then, seeing concern on his younger cousin’s face, tried to reassure him. “But I think they will come looking for us sooner. We just have to sit tight.”
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Then Randy noticed that the glass on the door was fogging up. “Uh oh, we may be running out of oxygen.” “Oxygen?” Clayton asked, with just a small amount of understanding. He had heard his older brother use the word and kind of knew why it was important. “Yah, oxygen, you know, air to breathe,” Randy responded, trying to look serious. And he was serious; except the situation was so damn comical that he was having trouble keeping a straight face. Clayton didn’t know whether to believe his older cousin. Even though he insisted on being treated as an equal, and sometimes went to blows to ensure his position, he knew that all of his cousins were ahead of him in school and knew things he didn’t. So, he was always on his guard to protect himself from being the goat of some teasing, which took advantage of his relative ignorance. He looked at Randy and couldn’t tell if this new concern was bullshit or not. Then all of a sudden Randy started pounding on the door and yelling, “Hey, we’re in here! Help us! Let us out!” Clayton immediately became scared and joined in the pounding and yelling. Then the two of them looked at each other and started laughing. They would alternate between laughing at their predicament and yelling and
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pounding on the door, with a little praying thrown in for good measure. Then they heard a noise and looked out their little window and saw Louise walk by. They started yelling and pounding on the glass. She didn’t seem to hear them. She walked on by, then turned around and came back into their limited field of vision, then disappeared again. They heard the door from the garage into the kitchen open; then the light in the garage went off, and the door closed. There they sat in the dark. “She didn’t hear us,” Clayton said, becoming very nervous. Sitting in the dark was way more than he was up for. “She had to hear us,” Randy responded, not at all happy with being in the dark himself. “If she really couldn’t hear us, then this thing is a lot more airtight than I thought.” A few minutes later, as their eyes were just beginning to adjust to the light, or lack thereof, the light came back on. Louise and the other cousins were peering in at them through the window in the door and laughing. “They look like sardines in a can,” Louise said to the mirth of everyone on the outside. “Come on Sis, let us out,” Randy pleaded through the door.
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“I don’t know. I don’t think you’re dry enough,” Louise said in response to her brother. “What do you think guys, should we spin ’em around a bit?” she asked the other cousins. Then she reached across the top of the machine and began to turn the dial. All Randy and Clayton could hear was the rattle of the ratchet on the dial and then a hum as the drum tried to turn. Fortunately, the combined weight of the two boys was more than the dryer motor could handle and Louise quickly abandoned her efforts. But, the result was that the two boys were nearly reduced to tears, so she relented and let them out. CLAYTON SMILED AT THE memory as he passed through the town of Grants. Another near-death experience averted for the two. I-40 continued through the town of Grants; the last detour onto old US Route 66 was at Gallup. I-40 was now completed all the way to and through Albuquerque. He thought to himself that he was only an hour out of Albuquerque. Now it was going to be harder to maintain the anticipation of arriving and seeing his good friend. He and Randy were kindred spirits in many things; physical activity, sports, skits, and practical jokes, but most of all, chasing girls. Their grandfather once commented on the excessive efforts that they appeared to be expending. “Boys, girls are like streetcars; there will be another one along in fifteen minutes.” But grandfather
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didn’t understand it was the chase that was almost as fun as the catch. In all the years they had been friends, they had only fought physically once, and that was over a girl. The girl was a tall redhead named Charlotte, and she was already well-endowed at an age when most girls were just starting to move out of their first training bras. She was Clayton’s girlfriend until Randy came for a visit at the beginning of summer and she immediately became attracted to the older and taller Randy. Clayton, taking offense at the interloper, tried to deck him. Randy was bigger, but Clayton was almost as strong and he was a lot meaner from years of battling his older brother. The two fought briefly to a draw and lay on the ground panting before breaking out in laughter. They decided then and there to never let a skirt come between them again. A few years later, a sixteen-year-old Charlotte showed up at Randy’s house, unannounced, and caused no end of discord there, before Randy was able to send her packing. CLAYTON CRESTED THE FINAL hill and looked down the long grade onto Albuquerque in the valley below. Albuquerque is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande. Most of the city had developed between the western slopes of the Sandia-Manzano Mountains and the eastern bank of the Rio Grande. The city was founded by the Spanish in 1708, but the area was first explored by the
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conquistadores in the sixteenth century. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led the first expedition into the area in 1540, over two hundred years before the American Revolution. Coronado was looking for the seven golden cities of Cibola. He followed a major trail north from Mexico City that had been used for centuries by the indigenous people for trade. Spanish settlers first arrived in the area in 1598. Juan de Oriate led five hundred settlers with seven thousand heads of livestock along the same trail that Coronado had followed. Because of the large areas for grazing along the Rio Grande, they settled on what, one hundred years later, was to become Albuquerque. The trail that first Coronado, then Oriate followed was to become the ‘Camino Real de Tierra Adentro,’ the ‘royal road of the interior lands.’ Albuquerque began, in accordance with tradition and crown requirements, with a central plaza, surrounded by government buildings, businesses, homes and a church. Albuquerque’s historic plaza still remains today and is a testament to its three-hundred-year-old multicultural heritage. As the old car rolled into town, Clayton pulled out the directions to his cousin’s apartment. Randy had rented a place near the university so that he could bike to class. It was a great location if you wanted to be in the middle of the college action, which unfortunately was at low ebb during the summer. During the school year, Randy had a roommate, but fortuitously for Clayton, the
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roomy had gone home for the summer, leaving him a room. Randy met him in the parking lot, partly to help him find the unit, but mostly to get a look at the famous old car. Randy was two or three inches taller than Clayton. He had a thin, but muscular build; you could almost say that he was lanky. His sport was tennis and it showed in his tan, muscular legs. His hair was brown and worn modishly shoulder length. He sported a bristly mustache that made him look like Teddy Roosevelt. When he gave a big smile and said ‘bully,’ all he needed was a sword and you would have followed him up San Juan Hill. Clayton wheeled the old car into the parking space that Randy indicated. “Jesus,” he called out to Clayton. “Only you could find a car older than anything I have ever owned.” “Yah, but everything you have ever owned has been a hunk of junk,” Clayton responded through the open window. “This is a mean, green, driving machine. She made it all the way from Phoenix without burning any oil. What was the last car you have ever owned that wouldn’t have used a case of oil trying to go to Gallup, much less Phoenix?” Randy did have a hankering for cars that lived on the edge of mechanical disaster. Not starting was the norm, bad brakes were not uncommon, burning oil was
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typical and generally being torn to shit and looking bad was par. Randy laughed, and as Clayton got out of the old car, he walked up and stuck out his hand. “Glad you made it, dude. I was beginning to worry that you had been abducted by gypsies and taken off to California to be in the circus.” Clayton grabbed Randy’s offered hand and held it firmly. “Not gypsies, man. It was hippies. And goodlooking ones at that.” “Gypsies, hippies, same thing. I got to say, dude, that is one fucking cool car. We’re gonna have to take it out for a spin around town later. Let’s get your gear. I’ve got a cold one waiting upstairs.” “Right on, man. A cold one would just about do it right now,” Clayton responded with a smile. Randy led Clayton up to the apartment and showed him the empty bedroom. The apartment was your basic, no-frills two-bedroom apartment. You entered into the living room. The kitchen was straight ahead and was open to the living room behind a counter. To the left was a hallway; the first door on the right was the bathroom, the next door on the left was the first bedroom, and the last door at the end of the hall on the right was the second bedroom. Randy had furnished the unit with furniture he picked up at a second-hand store and some pieces he begged off his folks. He had put
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some of his own artwork on the walls, so the place didn’t look completely Spartan. Randy grabbed a couple of cold beers out of the fridge and tossed one to Clayton. “So what’s your plan, dude?” Randy asked as they pulled the pop-tops of their beers. “I plan to go out early in the morning and find a job,” Clayton replied and then took a heavy pull on the can. Man, this is good! Four hours isn’t a long trip, but it’s long enough to work up a thirst for a cold beer. “How do you plan to do that?” Randy clearly was skeptical. “Are you gonna look in the paper to see who’s hiring?” “No, I’m going to drive around and look for construction sites, drive up, find the foreman and see if he needs someone for the summer.” “Doing what? Dude, you know, finding a job ain’t just that easy.” “I’m going to be working as an unskilled laborer; same as I did last year. And, man, I think finding a job is just that easy. Construction companies are always looking for warm bodies to do the grunt work. You’ll see. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a job by the time I come home tomorrow.”
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Randy scoffed. “Oh yah, okay. We’ll see how that goes. When you do get a job, you can start kicking in some rent and money for groceries. I’ll front you till then.”
Chapter 6-Summer Job
BILLY SMITH WAS OBVIOUSLY the project foreman. He was standing in the middle of the road giving out work assignments to the waiting crews when Clayton drove up in the old car. Clayton got up very early on Monday morning and headed out at five-thirty. He figured he would stop at any sizable construction site and just ask if they needed any labor for the summer. The worst that could happen is that he would be told no. The first project he came to appeared to be a housing subdivision consisting of about fifty houses, lined along both sides of a single street. He figured that he might as well start there. He saw a man standing in the middle of the street leaning on the side of a black pickup truck, giving orders to individuals and groups of men. Clayton turned the corner onto the street full of workers and slowly drove up. The man was in his late twenties, six feet tall, red hair, sun burnt with a freckled face. Billy looked over at the old car and at the kid behind the wheel and said, “What the fuck, over?” Clayton
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was to learn that that was Billy’s favorite saying and could be used for just about any situation. “I’m looking for the foreman,” Clayton asked, as he leaned out the window of the old car, guessing that that weird greeting was his cue. Billy looked the car over from side to side, and then stepped one foot onto the running board. “The foreman?” he repeated, looking kind of puzzled. This, in turn, made Clayton feel even more puzzled. “Yah, the guy in charge. You know, whoever is running this job?” Clayton tried to clarify; at the same time he started to question his very limited understanding of the vernacular of a construction project. ‘Foreman’ seemed to be the right word, but fuck, who the fuck knows? So Clayton stuck to his guns and repeated his question only to realize, when Billy started to grin, that he was being played. “Well now, I guess that would be me. Hey Ricky,” Billy called over to a short Hispanic worker walking by with a ladder on his shoulder. “Am I the guy in charge of this here job?” “Fuck me, I dunno. You as good as the next guy,” Ricky responded without breaking stride.
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“Yah kid, I guess I’m the foreman. What can I do for you?” Billy asked, giving Clayton a big reassuring smile. “Do you need any labor help this summer?” Clayton asked with a very relieved smile on his face. “I’m here for the summer from Phoenix and I’m looking for some construction work.” Billy looked the kid over, then stepped back and gave the car another look. “You came here from Phoenix and you want a construction job for the summer? Did you drive this car over from Phoenix?” “Yes sir, I did, and she ran real well. I’m staying with my cousin for the summer and I like to work construction. It keeps me in shape,” Clayton responded. “Keeps you in shape? Hell, you’re not big enough for football. What are you staying in shape for?” “I’m a wrestler,” Clayton stated with such firm conviction that Billy decided to leave the subject alone. “What’s your name, kid?” “Clay Montgomery.” “Well Clay, I’m Bill Smith; people call me Billy. Even though I do run things around here, I’ve gotta ask the owner; he should be coming on the job site pretty
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soon. I think he’ll go for it ’cause we could use some help. You work construction before?” “No sir, but I worked as a laborer for a demolition company in El Paso last summer,” Clayton replied, hoping that would be enough. Labor is labor, right? Then he thought he should expand on his experience. “I worked on a number of demolition sites and made a lot of deliveries to home construction projects. I also drove a bobtailed dump truck and operated a front-end loader a bit.” “Demolition, huh; I expect you would have to keep your head on a swivel on a demolition site to stay out of trouble,” Billy remarked. “Park your car up the street in front of that yellow truck and wait there for me. When Lou gets around, I’ll ask him if we can use you.” A short while later, a young man drove up in a metallic blue El Camino and stopped in the middle of the street next to Billy. That must be Lou, Clayton thought. Man, he looks young. Billy leaned his head down to the driver’s window and talked with the man for about twenty minutes. Then he straightened up and motioned over to Clayton. Clayton stepped out of the old car and walked over to Billy and the El Camino. “Clay, this is Lou. Lou’s the big boss,” Billy said to Clayton, by way of introduction.
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Sitting behind the wheel was a young man in his early twenties. He was small, with thinning blonde hair, but looked hard as nails. He clearly didn’t sit on his ass and drive around all day. Lou leaned out of the window and quickly looked Clayton over. “You ready to work, kid?” he asked. “Yes sir, I am very ready,” Clayton responded, obviously happy that it sounded like he was going to get a job. Lou looked up at Billy and grinned at Clay’s overeager enthusiasm. “Go get your lunch, kid, and get in. We’ve got to go over to another job site. I can use you over there today.” On the way over to the other job site, Lou told Clayton that he would get paid two dollars an hour, which was fifteen cents more than minimum wage. Clayton was ecstatic. Work started at six AM, they took an hour for lunch at ten AM, and they knocked off at three. “You show up and be ready to work at six,” Lou admonished him. “If you’re late one goddamn time, I’ll fire your ass. Here’s my business card; call me if there’s a problem, car trouble or you’re sick or something. Don’t fucking leave me hanging. You got that, kid?”
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“Yes sir, I understand. I worked all last summer and I was never late.” Clayton did understand; he understood the importance of being on the job, ready to work, not just driving up, but ready to go when starting time came. It was drummed into him by his old boss, last summer. The other job site was a two-story office building. The foundation was down and most of the building had been framed in. The roof was on and many of the windows were in place. Crews were working inside on the air conditioning and heating ducts, the plumbing and wiring. They pulled up to the front of the building, but before they got out, Lou turned to Clayton and handed him a pen and a blank sheet of notepaper torn from a pad Lou kept by his leg. “Write down your full name, your home address, your address here, your Social Security number and a phone number for someone to call in case of an emergency. I’ll take this into the office with me and I’ll bring back the paperwork later when I pick you up.” After Clayton jotted down the required information, he got out of the car and joined Lou inside the building. Lou was busy having what appeared to be a heated discussion with a big guy who sounded like the crew chief, in charge of the guys installing the ductwork. He waited behind Lou so as not to disturb him, but the
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big guy saw him standing there and motioned Lou to turn around. “I think this kid needs something,” the big guy said. Thanks a lot, Clayton was thinking, when he said as Lou turned around, looking irritated, “Sorry, I was trying to wait till you were finished.” Lou spoke abruptly, over Clayton’s apology. “Go, start policing the site. Pick up all the trash and crap and throw it in the dumpster out there. Save any good pieces of wood and throw the rest away. There’s a bunch of forms next to the dumpster; break them down and stack them up. In the toolbox on my truck, grab a hammer and a wrecking bar. Get after it kid.” He then turned back to the big man. That’s what Clayton did. He was all ‘assholes and elbows’ as last summer’s boss would say. Before long he had the site looking pretty good and was beginning to break down the forms when Lou walked up. “Sorry about that, Clay. That fat tub of shit was trying to get into my pocket for some bullshit change order. Fuckers think they can do that ’cause I’m young and not my old man. But, what they don’t know is, I’m a whole lot meaner than my old man ever was.” Clay smiled, a little embarrassed about the apology, and then asked, “I take it he didn’t get his change order?”
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“Fuck no! Don’t get me wrong; fair is fair. If he really deserved a change order, I would have given it to him, but he didn’t and he fucking knew it. Pisses me off! Anyway, grab the pick, shovel and the wheelbarrow out of my truck, and meet me around the other side.” The other side was the main entry into the building. For some reason, when the site work was done, three feet of earth was left in front of the future doorway. This hard, compacted cake of earth had to be removed. That was to be Clayton’s task for the rest of the day. Lou left Clayton to it and drove off to the office. Clayton got set up, preparing to make short work of this little job. He takes a lumberjack swing with the pick, swinging it all the way around, from his waist, up and over his shoulder and buries the spiked end of the pick into the middle of the cake of dirt. Shee-at! He then has to pry the pick out of the dirt and he repeats the process. Fuck me, this is gonna take all day. Again he has to wrestle the pick out of the dirt and starts to take another swing when a short little Hispanic-looking guy steps up and grabs his arm. “You wait,” the guy said. “Me show you,” and he takes the pick from Clayton. It was the Hispanic guy Billy had called out to at the first job site. He rotates the pick in his hand to the chisel bit, bends at the waist and begins chopping, very rapidly, at the edges of the hard packed dirt. He is only lifting the pick above his bent-
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over head and bringing it down, putting his back and shoulders into it. The little guy is taking at least ten more whacks at the cake than Clayton was with his lumberjack swing, and as he chops, large chunks of the cake spall off. After about five minutes, he has broken off a wheelbarrow load of loose dirt; he stops and hands the pick to Clayton. “Okay, now you.” Clayton grabs the pick, a little embarrassed that he apparently didn’t know how to actually use a pick, and begins to chip away at the cake in the same fashion. It was exhausting to work that fast in a bent-over position, but he was making real progress now, whereas before he was making none. After watching Clayton for a few minutes, the guy says, “Much better, no?” Clayton stops and looks up at the smiling guy and says, “Yes, it’s much better, thanks.” The guy holds out his hand and with a big smile says, “Enrique, call me Ricky, no.” Clayton takes the man’s hand and says, “Hey. I’m Clay.” “Okay, Clay, you work fast, no.” Enrique liked the kid. He liked his attitude. He liked any kid who was willing to come out and work, but he especially thought well of any gringo kid who was willing to work hard labor. Most of them seemed so spoiled; they had so much. But
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here was one putting himself out there; willing to work hard. That was a good thing in Enrique’s book. “Okay, Ricky, I work fast,” Clayton replied. He didn’t know it at the time, but he had just made a good friend; someone who would take the time to show him the ropes whenever the opportunity came up. Working the way Ricky showed him was turning into a good workout, and Clayton reminded himself that that was what he was here for. Swinging and chopping was getting him out of breath and he forced himself to push through it, just as he would do when he got out of breath in wrestling practice. When he generated enough loose dirt, he would lay down the pick, grab the shovel and quickly fill the wheelbarrow. He’d run the dirt around to the front and spread it in a landscape area with the shovel. By the time Lou came back to pick him up, he had the job all but licked. Lou smiled and said, “All right, then. Let’s pack the tools up and head out.” It had been a hard day and Clayton was dog-tired, but he felt good. He was pleased with himself; he had done what he had set out to do. He had come to Albuquerque to get a construction job for the summer and that’s what he had done. It was surprisingly easy. Clayton
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was looking forward to Randy’s expression when he told him that he had gotten a job—the first time out. THE SECOND DAY HE reported to the housing project site and Billy detailed him to start cleaning up the trash and construction debris as he had done at the office building site the previous day. The housing site was considerably larger. There were twenty-five homes on each side of the street, in various stages of construction. First there was a group of homes that were nearly completed, except for the interior finish work; crews were busy installing flooring, baseboards, cabinets, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures and painting. Government inspectors were conducting final inspections and generating ‘punch lists’; lists of items that were missing or needed to be corrected. Next came a group of houses with the exteriors completed or close to being completed; roofs, doors, and windows were installed and the exterior finishes were in progress. Crews on the inside were busy rocking the walls. Outside crews were installing backyard walls and grading the yards. The next group was framed with the roofs on. Plumbing, electrical, and heating and air-conditioning crews were busy on the insides. Then came a group of houses that were being framed. Framing crews were busy erecting interior and
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exterior walls along with roof substructure. These crews were the most boisterous and the biggest risk takers. They moved fast and had to work together as a team. Until the framing was complete, the structure was unstable and could come tumbling down on top of them if they didn’t get it right. There was a group of lots with no activity. The foundations had been poured and had to cure before the framing crews could move in. Finally, the last group at the end of the street was being prepped for foundations and wall footings. It was like an assembly line for houses. There were crews for everything, and almost all the crews were subcontractors; concrete workers who prepped and poured the foundations and driveways, riggers who framed the houses, plumbers, electricians, HVAC guys, roofers, masons, insulation crews, sheet rockers, block layers , door and window crews, stucco crews, tile and carpet layers, painters, finish carpenters and landscapers. CR Bailey, really, only had a handful of employees. It was pretty much Billy, who ran things, Clayton and a couple of other laborers. Billy was responsible for coordinating and inspecting the work of the subcontractors. He made sure, through Lou, that any required materials were on hand, at the right time, for each crew. He was also responsible
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for making any repairs to any accepted work that was later damaged by a succeeding crew, as well as performing any corrective work resulting from an inspection. Working under Billy’s supervision gave Clayton the chance to be involved in every aspect of home construction. He generally worked as a laborer, cleaning out trenches and footers, moving excess block from one location to the next, raking yards, cleaning up the site, and cleaning out the houses, but often he was given an assignment which allowed him to gain some knowledge and experience in home construction. Billy would toss a tool and some materials for something that needed to be fixed or corrected and send him on his way with the briefest of explanations, usually lacking the ‘how to’ component. He would be left on his own to figure out how to get done what he was asked to do. But many times Ricky would just happen to come around to show him how to do the job. It happened that way often enough that Clayton realized that Billy was probably sending Ricky over to mentor him. THE FIRST FEW DAYS at work were the hardest, both physically and mentally. The body, especially the legs and feet, gets very tired and starts to drag. The brain becomes weary of the heat and the effort and starts to ask, ‘What the fuck?’; to question the sanity of doing this to itself. But by week’s end, the body is adjusting, a self-
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satisfied feeling is enveloping the soul and you are looking forward to a well-earned two days off. Fridays were paydays. Sometime in the early afternoon Lou would deliver the checks from the office to Billy to pass out. As Billy walked up to Clayton with Clayton’s first check of the summer, he called out, “What the fuck, over.” As he handed the check over, he gave Clayton a grin and said, “You did good, kid. Keep that up all summer. You hear?” Clayton offered up a somewhat embarrassed smile and replied, “Yes sir, I will.” He liked that he was complimented on his ability to work hard, but it also seemed as if working hard was what he was supposed to do. He hadn’t yet learned that the world was full of slackers and that hard-working men recognized and appreciated other hard-working men. “Leave off the sir; I’m just Billy, okay? Listen Clay, Lou’s going to need you on another job next week. He wants you to go with Ricky to help with the demo on a big house remodel.” Billy grinned and jokingly added, “Lou figured with your experience last summer, you might know a thing or two about demo. Anyway, take your direction from Ricky, okay?” “Cool,” Clayton responded, then grinned back, “I like tearing shit up.”
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“Yah, well, remember this is a remodel; you’re taking shit apart carefully. More like working with a scalpel than a wrecking ball. You dig, compadre?” Clayton almost laughed at how serious Billy got, but decided to hold back. “Yah, I know Billy. I was only kidding,” he grinned. “Well, anyway, I’m going to need someone to help around here. You know anyone who wants to work and ain’t a lazy shit like you?” Billy asked, laughing and giving Clayton a push in the shoulder as he said ‘you’. “Yah, my cousin said he’d like to come out and work construction. He’s only got a part-time job at the art theater down on Nob Hill,” Clayton offered. He couldn’t believe his ears; Randy was saying, only yesterday, that he would like to get a summer construction job like his. Then he added for good measure, “I know he would make a good worker.” “You two won’t have any problems working together, will ya? If I hire him, you guys aren’t going to fuck around all day on me?” Clayton chuckled at Billy’s admonition. He and Randy together did tend to mean trouble, but he thought they could contain themselves. “No Billy, we’re cool. You’ll get your day’s work out of us.”
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“Okay, bring him with you on Monday. Tell him to be ready to work. If I like him, I’ll put him right to it.” WELL, THERE IT WAS, a perfect end to a good first week. Clayton was pretty pleased with himself and things when he climbed into the old car and fired her up for the trip back to the apartment. He had his first paycheck, which meant money for the weekend. He had impressed his boss enough to be sent on a special assignment. He was going to work with Ricky, who, besides knowing his shit, was a riot to work with. The little guy was enthusiastic about everything and was constantly offering encouragement, but he was also a consummate practical joker. And finally, he got Randy a job; the two of them were going to work together the entire summer. To top it off, the old car fired right up. He had taken to parking facing downhill on a slight incline to facilitate push starting her if she didn’t catch before the batteries ran down. But today she fired right up. He started singing along with Jim Croce, coming over the radio, ‘You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.’
CLAYTON WAS BONE-TIRED from his first week at work. But he was also very self-satisfied that he had made it through. Next week was going to be harder still, but it would get better. He knew from the past summer’s experience that the first week was always the toughest and that, sometime in the second or third week, his body would adjust and that he would stop thinking about how tired or how hot he was. All in all, it was nice to have a couple of days off. That was when summer freedom really began. Randy was already up when Clayton hobbled into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and maybe a bite of breakfast. He hobbled because his feet and ankles hurt. They hurt last year at the beginning of the summer. He knew that they, too, would get better with time, but right now they fucking hurt. Seriously annoying! “Hey man, how about some tennis this morning, ’round about eleven o’clock?” Randy asked, completely ignoring Clayton’s debilitated state. Clayton, Randy and Lucy, Randy’s current main squeeze, had stayed up playing music the night before till Clayton nodded off on the recliner around half-past nine.
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Lucy had kissed Clayton’s cheek to wake him up to go to bed, or maybe it was Randy. He really didn’t know which. “Fuck man! Can’t you see that I can barely walk? I don’t need to play no fucking tennis. Thank you very fucking much.” “No, no, no dude, tennis is exactly what you need for those tight sore muscles. Stretch those puppies out.” Randy was being his most persuasive self, holding his finger up lecture style. He generally didn’t quit until he got what he wanted. There was something to Randy’s argument, Clayton admitted to himself. Besides, if the goal was to get into shape this summer, it would be good to get out and exercise. Burn some fat, he thought. “But the bottoms of my fucking feet hurt. Running around a tennis court is the last thing I want to be doing,” Clayton whined, thinking he may salvage a TV day on the couch yet. “That’s ’cause you’ve worn work boots and clomped around all week. You need to put tennis shoes on and stretch that arch out. Trust me, just the thing,” Randy argued, seeing Clayton start to waver. Shit, he’s probably right, again, Clayton thought, realizing that breakfast, couch and a nap were probably off the table.
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“Besides,” Randy said, deciding to throw in all his chips at once, “we gotta pep you up for your date.” BLIND DATE, JESUS! RIANNA thought to herself as she drove to Randy’s parents’ house. If it wasn’t for Randy’s persistence, she would have turned it down, even though, with her fiancé out of town, she was going to be sitting home on a Saturday night. She had, in fact, turned the offer down several times, explaining that she was going to get married in three weeks. But Randy insisted that it was just a group get-together and that he needed a girl so his cousin wouldn’t be a third wheel. Besides, Randy was always fun. I hope his cousin is half as goodlooking as he is, she thought. Then, remembering her fiancé, she quickly amended that to, Just let him be a nice guy. Randy had opted for his folks’ house over the apartment; the housebeing more suitable for entertaining girls, and his parents were away with the younger kids, water skiing, over the weekend. It was also close to where Rianna lived, and she drove herself down for the blind date, giving herself the option of bolting if the date was bad. “RIANNA, COME ON IN,” Randy said, opening the screen door. “How have you been? You look great, girl,” giving her a big hug as she walked through the door. She and Randy had dated briefly in high school. Even though their romance was short-lived, they had remained good
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friends and had often double-dated. Rianna still had tinges of romantic feelings for Randy, but she knew, that for her, Randy was a lot more fun as a friend than as a boyfriend. “Clay, this is my good friend Rianna,” Randy said, ushering her through the entry foyer into the living room, where Lucy and Clayton were talking and sipping strawberry daiquiris. Clayton stood up and walked forward as Rianna came into the room and offered her hand. Wow, sassy, Clayton thought to himself, as he smiled, looking directly at her and taking her hand. “Randy has talked a lot about you. It’s great to finally meet you,” Clayton said, very pleased at what he was seeing, very pleased indeed. Rianna was short, curvy and pretty. Even though she was short, she was put together well. She had shoulder-length brownish blonde hair and a big, real smile, not some fakey, bullshit smile. Clayton could see by the self-assured way she came into the room that there was confidence and intelligence behind that smile. Oh my God, Rianna thought, looking up at his face, those green eyes, that smile, those dimples, oh my, this is trouble. She seriously felt slightly weak in the knees. Good God, get a grip, she commanded herself. Clayton was still talking.
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“I know blind dates are a seriously scary proposition,” Clayton was saying, trying to make Rianna feel at ease. “Let’s just go out and have some fun.” Then, turning on the charm, “Randy didn’t tell me what a looker you are. You are a doll.” Rianna, transferring her weight from one foot to the other and ever so slightly swaying her hips in the process, dropped her head slightly to one side. “Randy says you always manage to get him into trouble,” Rianna said, responding to his flattery with her most alluring gaze. Oh my God, I’m flirting, she chided herself as she remembered that she was engaged. She’s flirting with me. Clayton smiled to himself as he noticed the almost imperceptible hip swaying and the come-on look she gave him. That’s an open invitation, if ever I saw one. Randy smiled his knowing, impish smile at Clayton, behind Rianna’s back, as he watched his cousin go to work and Rianna succumb to his charm. Ah, there it is, magic, he thought. “Rianna, you remember Lucy?” he said with his hand held out to Lucy on the couch. Lucy was sitting there watching the scene unfold as Clayton worked his magic. Damn, she thought, he’s as good as Randy. What the fuck, is there a school or something where these guys go to learn how to charm the pants off a girl?
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As Lucy got up she said, “Hi Rianna. You want a drink? Randy makes a damn good strawberry daiquiri.” Rianna smiled at Lucy and inwardly sighed as Lucy broke the sexual tension. Good grief, she thought. This is going to be trouble, picturing the night ahead. “Yes, please. A cold drink is just what I need.” As a knowing smile came across Lucy’s face, she quickly added, “After a hot summer’s day.” Lucy thought, behind her smile, Oh yah, you be in trouble, girl. “Coming right up,” Randy said, taking his cue as the host. To Clayton and Lucy he added, “You guys need a refresher?” After their drinks, they went to the movies. Clayton chatted up Rianna all the way there, making her feel very at ease. Clayton and Randy told stories about some of the pranks and spoofs they had done over the years and they all laughed, especially when the two guys traded barbs and gags. Man, these guys have managed to do an awful lot of shit without getting into trouble, Rianna thought with admiration. They saw Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a great Franco Zeffirelli romantic film, very much an art film and a perfect choice to warm a young lady’s heart. Clayton sweetly
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held Rianna’s hand throughout the flick. He had opened her car door for her and offered his arm to lead her into the theater. When she took it, she was quite surprised. She had never felt an upper arm that was quite so hard. She wanted to squeeze it to see if it really was so hard. So she did. “Good grief, that’s not an arm,” she announced as she worked both hands around his upper arm and down his forearm. His triceps felt like a brick. “It’s a piece of granite. What on earth do you do to make it so hard?” “I work construction, mainly labor,” Clayton replied as nonchalantly as he could. “You know, digging ditches, carrying block or other heavy stuff all day. Crap like that.” Then he tossed in, with more than a hint of pride, “I also wrestle. It’s a hell of a workout.” “I’d hate to wrestle you,” she said, purposefully playing to his obvious pride. “Do you win?” Oh my God, I’m flirting again. I’d hate to wrestle you. What is that? Be careful, girl. “Mostly,” he said with a grin. After the movie, Rianna thought, I’d better get out of here now and go home. This guy is trouble and I can’t trust myself. As they pulled up to the house, Rianna said, as she got out of the car, “I had a great time. Randy, thanks for
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calling me. I really had fun. Clay, it was a pleasure meeting you.” Randy quickly stepped out of the car. “You can’t run off yet. The night is young, girl. Come on in for a drink and listen to some music. I’ve got the new Simon & Garfunkel album and it’s really good.” Lucy chimed in, over the hood of the car, “Don’t leave me with these two. Come in for a bit.” Clayton stepped around the car and walked up to her. “A couple of drinks and we’ll let you go. I promise to be on my best behavior.” And he meant it, knowing that she had a serious boyfriend. Clayton figured it was best to be gallant. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” giggling as she spoke. “Well, if you prefer that I be as bad as I can be, I’m sure I can muster up,” Clayton laughed back, stepping close and looking down at her. “No, no, no, best behavior would be nice,” laughing as she stared up at him. Shit! she thought, staring into his eyes for the second time tonight. He’s undressing me with those eyes right here in the street, under this street light. “Yah, you better go with nice,” Randy added, chuckling.
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“Cool,” Clayton said, smiling at her. “What are we drinking?” he added, turning to look over at Randy. “Tequila,” Randy exclaimed enthusiastically. “Ah yes, to-kill-ya,” Clayton said, jumping on the notion with equal enthusiasm. “Perfect!” “No way,” Lucy broke in. “The last time I drank tequila you almost had me running naked in the streets.” “Well, we’ll see if we can do better this time,” Randy teased with a wink, as they entered the house and he headed off to the kitchen. “Better how?” Lucy called after him, as she walked into the living room. “More or less clothes on this time?” “All depends on which way the wind is blowing, as to which port we’ll sail into, my dear,” Randy answered from the kitchen. Clayton and Rianna followed, Rianna holding on to his arm again. “Fuck, I hate tequila,” she blurted out. “Really?” Clayton asked. “You don’t like the taste? We can find something else to drink,” he offered, throwing her a life vest. “No, I like the taste,” she replied. “Too much so. Crazy shit always happens. It’s hard to maintain when you drink that stuff.”
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“True enough. Seriously, we don’t have to follow Randy down that rabbit hole. There’s beer and even wine, I think, if you would prefer?” Clayton said, opening up the life preserver nice and wide. “Oh shit! What the hell,” she replied as they sat down on the couch. “Let’s party,” she added, eschewing the proffered lifeline, instead electing to go down with the ship. Clayton smiled and said, “Now you’re talking.” He thought to himself, This could get very interesting. Interesting indeed! Randy came out into the living room with a bottle of Cuervo Gold, four shot glasses, a bowl of lime wedges and a salt shaker. “Well, ladies and gent, we all know how this game is played.” While they slammed home shots, the boys regaled the girls with more stories of their adventures, of street theater, spoofs and pranks that had nearly landed them in jail, and more than once. But they never had been caught. After four shots of tequila each, chased by cans of ice-cold beer, and the new Simon & Garfunkel album had played over twice, Randy announced, “All right, kids, we need a new game to play, any ideas?”
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“On a gorgeous summer night, such as this, I like to go swimming,” Clayton offered, giving Randy a slight wink. “Oh man, a cool dip would be great!” Randy replied with enthusiasm. “Yah,” Lucy said, trying to guess where this was going through the fog of the booze, “you don’t have a pool, you boob.” “Now, now, now, Clay’s got an idea. Let’s hear him out,” Randy said, winking at Lucy. “Well,” Clayton said, looking over at Lucy, “we don’t have a pool. True enough. So, let’s go pool hopping. That’s more fun than swimming in your own pool, anyway.” “Whaddya mean, pool hopping?” Rianna asked, with some interest. Sensing her interest, Randy coolly and matter-offactly responded, “We sneak into other people’s pools.” Oh crap! Lucy thought, starting to see the destination. Naked in the streets again. “I gathered that. Whose pools?” asked Rianna, leaning away from Clayton and looking back sideways at him? “Whose pools do you sneak into?”
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“No one’s in particular. We usually sneak into apartment complexes and swim in their pools,” Clayton said, grinning at her. “Really, you guys do that?” Rianna asked with more than a hint of incredulity coming through her voice. “What happens if you get caught?” “We haven’t yet,” Randy jumped in. “We do it all the time.” Which was not true at all. This was a new gag, being created on the fly. “Why apartment complexes? Isn’t there a better chance of getting caught there than in somebody’s backyard?” “Yes,” Randy responded, “but there’s no chance of getting shot. You sneak into somebody’s backyard and they’re just as likely to shoot your ass with buckshot as to call the cops.” “Either way, it ain’t the outcome we want,” Clayton followed. “Now apartments, only the manager might realize that we’re not supposed to be there. All he’ll do is yell and shoo us away. Anybody else sees us and they will think we live there. Just tenants having a bit too much fun. If we get caught, we just leave.” “Simple,” Randy added. “No muss, no fuss.”
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“Really, how many times have you done this before?” Lucy asked, starting to warm up to the idea. Randy gave her his big smile. “Shit, we do this every summer.” “And you guys have never been caught?” Rianna asked again, becoming intrigued by the possibility of an adventure. “Only once,” Clayton offered. “A manager just asked us to leave because we couldn’t produce the pool ID tags the tenants get.” Lucy, smiling, decided to keep silent and watch as the two boys worked their magic on Rianna, wondering how they were going to finesse the next step. “Okay, I’m in!” Rianna stepped up enthusiastically. What the hell, she thought, a little risky adventure, it’ll be some laughs. “Let’s do it!” Besides, being in one of Randy’s crazy escapades was always fun. “But I don’t have a suit. We can run by my house and get one quick.” Here it comes, Lucy thought. She had already figured out where the guys were going with this and could tell that Rianna hadn’t snapped to it yet. Son of a bitch! I always knew that Randy and tequila would have me running naked in the streets. I guess tonight’s the night.
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“No, no suits,” Randy said, looking right into Rianna’s eyes with that damn Cheshire grin. “We’re skinny-dipping. Anybodycan pool hop with suits on.” “Yah,” Clayton added, jumping to the support of his cousin. “There’s no risk if we wear suits. And if there’s no risk, there’s no adventure. And if there’s no adventure, then what’s the point?” “It will have no soul,” Randy jumped back in, taking the tag from his cousin. “With suits, it’ll just be something we did; a ho-hum, boring happening, nothing more.” Oh…My…God! Rianna thought, they’re not serious. “You can’t be serious! I’m gonna get naked and sneak into public pools? No way!” But maybe it was the liquor breaking down her sense of propriety, or maybe it was Randy’s fucking grin daring her, or maybe it was Clay’s eyes enticing her, or maybe it was all three or maybe she was losing her fucking mind. She turned to Lucy. “Lucy, you gonna do this?” Lucy looked at Randy and he offered her that fucking knowing grin. “Sure, why not. Naked in the streets, here I come.” Randy went to get some towels, not waiting for Rianna’s answer. And before she knew it, she was in the car heading off to their first stop. It was never enough to
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do a spoof a single time; the boys were talking multiple incursions. Randy and Clayton worked on easing the tension in the car by talking up the event and explaining how simple it would be to extricate themselves if they got caught. “If someone walks up and asks what the hell it is we’re doing, just get out of the pool, grab your towel and head for the car. Be nonchalant, like this always happens,” Randy explained, laughing. “Yah, don’t hurry or run. Act as if this is just another normal night in the summer. Keep talking; laughing is okay,” Clayton chimed in. “Nobody will really care enough to say anything about it, except ask us to leave,” Randy continued over Clayton. Of course he and Clayton were leaving out the part that, if they’re caught by a dude, the girls will get fairly scoped. But Rianna was already there. “Yah, uh huh, except we will be totally naked! You know, without clothes?” Rianna blurted out, thinking, This is fucking nuts! If we get caught my parents are going to freak. Then she remembered her future husband. Shit, my parents, Jonathon is going to go vertically apeshit.
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“Semi-public nudity is what makes it exciting,” Clayton was saying while holding her hand and staring into her eyes. “Semi-public, are you serious? This is public nudity, if you haven’t noticed,” Rianna asserted, chuckling as she spoke. Damn those eyes. “No, no,” Clayton said as he softly held her hand in his, while stroking it with the other hand. “Public nudity is when you go out into a crowd without your clothes on, like a bad dream. You know the one, where you are out in a crowd in your underwear. Semi-public is only the chance that you might get seen. That’s the excitement; the naughty allure of the unknown.” Feeling his hand caressing hers and looking at him staring at her as he talked, Rianna began to become less apprehensive. She had to admit that she was becoming excited—or was it aroused?—at the prospect. Oh dear, this is going to be complicated. She became resolved to see it through. The first victim was a relatively new, very nice apartment complex, with lots of vegetation surrounding the pool area. Randy pulled into an unmarked parking space, assuming that it was visitor parking. Clayton and Randy began pulling off their clothes. Lucy followed suit after draping a towel over her front.
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“Oh, what the hell,” Rianna said and, following Lucy’s lead, draped a towel covering herself and began removing her clothes. As she was removing her bra, the towel slipped off onto her lap, baring her breast. She looked up, expecting Clayton to be staring at her like a hungry wolf, short on a day’s meal. Instead she saw that he was pointedly looking away. Hmm, a gentleman? she asked herself. Around eleven-thirty, they slipped into the Palo Brea apartments and found their way to the pool. There was no security lock on the gate requiring a resident’s pass key, so in they went. The area around the pool was dimly lit with low-level landscape lighting. But the pool itself was completely lit. The unexpected revelation that they would not be skinny-dipping cloaked in the anonymity of darkness took all four by surprise. Standing at the pool edge, there was a brief discussion about moving on to option B in hopes of finding a darker venue. Then Clayton said, “Fuck it.” He dropped his towel and silently slid into the pool and under the water. Turning under the water, he carefully surfaced, so as not to create splashing noises, and looked to see if any of his fellow travelers were following suit. Of course Randy was coming in right behind him. The girls looked at each other, then with a giggle, dropped their towels and began their descent into the pool.
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Clayton’s new vantage point gave him a worm’seye view of the naked girls’ endowments as they gingerly worked their way into the cool water. It had been Clayton’s experience that girls generally don’t like the sudden rush of cooler temperature and rarely dive pell-mell into a pool, but ease their way in, acclimating as they go. He was able to give each girl a thorough appraisal as they slowly entered the water. Fuck me, he thought. Lucy’s body is extraordinary. Lucy had a body like the Hollywood starlets from the Fifties and Sixties. She had large, but not overly large, breasts that stood out with pointy nipples and big dark areolas. A slim waist that opened up into wellproportioned hips. At the intersection of her long legs was a thick, dark bush that correlated with her thick, long dark hair. She was most definitely a vision from the silver screen. Rianna’s body, in contrast, was a different type of sexiness. She was round and curvaceous. She was four inches shorter than Lucy and blonde. Her breasts were small, but full with small nipples. Her waist was slender with a nice rounded tummy. Her hips and ass were round, and her legs, though not long, were in proportion to her body. She had willowy wisps of blonde hair covering her pubis, leaving her lips exposed. Clayton could feel himself firming up. Shit, if I don’t get laid tonight I’m cutting the damn thing off, he
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thought to himself. He looked over at Randy and saw that he was making the same unabashed appraisal. The girls, realizing that the boys were openly gawking at them, forwent the last two steps and slid quickly and somewhat noisily into the water. “Shush,” Randy whispered. “We have to be quiet.” They quietly swam around a bit. But the amount of light in the pool made them all uneasy. Randy whispered, “Let’s go find another spot. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find one with the pool light off.” They moved to the steps as silently as they could, endeavoring not to make ripples in the water that could lead to noise. The guys, as good gentlemen should, guided the girls to the steps, allowing them to go up first. As the girls stepped up onto the first step, they turned and looked at each other, remembering the close scrutiny the boys gave them when they entered the pool. They turned in unison and saw the boys down in the water up to their chins, staring up at them. “No way,” Rianna whispered, laughing at the sight, reminding her of two little boys with their faces pressed against the glass, looking into a candy store. “Not this time, boys. You go first.”
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“Yah, we’re not going to let you look up our asses at our cookies as we go up the stairs,” Lucy added, being much more direct. “It’s our turn.” As the girls stepped down, back into the pool, the boys gave each other a quick glance, grinning from ear to ear, and started laughing as quietly as they could. Up the stairs they went and grabbed their towels. Looking down, Clayton realized that the cold water had turned his penis into a nubbin, a button sitting on top of his scrotum. “Oh, good grief,” he said, under his breath, as he reached down and gave his dick a good tug, stretching it back into something resembling a respectable wang. Randy looked over toward Clayton just in time to see him yank on his dick and started laughing at Clayton’s predicament. “Well, the goddamn water was cold,” Clayton muttered in defense. “The poor little guy retreated to get warm.” As the girls came out of the pool, the guys held their towels open for them and carefully averted their eyes in a mock show of gentlemanliness. The girls overlapped the towels above their breasts in a beach wrap fashion. The towels were just wide enough to cover their butts, with little to spare.
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They didn’t bother to put their clothes back on when they got to the car. Instead they headed off to their next location sitting in their towels. Rianna sidled up to Clayton and put her hand on his leg. He put his arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him. As they pulled up to a stoplight, Lucy noticed a car full of girls sitting in the lane next to Randy. “Let’s do a Chinese Fire Drill!” she almost yelled, clearly getting excited. As the light turned green and both cars began to pull through the intersection, she said, “Randy, stay up with them. We can do a Chinese Fire Drill at the next light.” Rianna leaned forward and grabbed Lucy’s arm. “What on earth is a Chinese Fire Drill?” “When we stop at the next light, we all jump out and run around their car without our clothes on,” Lucy answered laughing. “It’ll be a gas.” “Christ,” Clayton muttered. “Randy, get her under control.” But then Rianna turned around all excited. “No, let’s do it.” She tossed out the challenge; threw down the gauntlet. Neither Clayton nor Randy could let this pass.
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“It’s in keeping with the theme of the evening, Clay,” Randy offered up in support of the spoof. As they pulled up to the car at the next light, Clayton muttered, “Out of control, insane.” But he was the first one out the car door, sans towel. Around the car, full of surprised girls, they went laughing and cavorting. Yes, cavorting, because it wouldn’t do just to streak around the car. You had to jump and gesture, hop and laugh. Back into the car they launched themselves before the light changed. “Randy, turn right. Turn right now,” Clayton called out, almost commanded. Leaving the scene was important, before the girls in the adjacent car could process what had occurred around them with the people sitting in the car next to them. Incongruity was the key. By driving away in a different direction, the girls will be left with the incongruous nature of what had just occurred. It all had happened so quickly that they couldn’t be sure that it had happened at all. Well, that was the theory. Randy turned the corner fast, squealing the tires slightly, and off they went to their next pool-hopping venue. Rianna was sitting next to Clayton on her towel, with her chest heaving from the exertion, excitement and laughter. In fact, they had all left their towels off. It
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somehow no longer seemed important. Clayton marveled at this naked girl sitting next to him and she noticed him looking her way. “What?” she asked, already suspecting the answer. “I’m just enjoying the view,” he responded with a big smile. “Well, enjoy this,” she said as she pulled the towel out from under her butt and tossed it in his face. At their next destination, they were in luck; the pool lights were off and there was very little light in the pool area. Most of the lighting came from the up-lighting of the trees around the pool area. It was perfect; enough light to see fairly well, but not enough to be seen if they kept quiet. So they all, as quietly as they could, slid into the pool, trying to create as little wake as possible. To Clayton’s amazement, Rianna silently breaststroked over to him and latched herself like a lamprey to his body. “I’m cold,” she whispered, looking up into his eyes, as she pressed herself onto his body. He could feel every contour of her body against his chest and thighs; the press of her nipples and the tickle of her bush. He reached around her, grabbing the globes of her ass, and hugged her even closer. He began
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to lean his head down with the intent of giving her a soft, quick kiss, but she moved quickly to meet his lips and gave him an unexpected, passionate kiss. At that moment his dick went as hard as a railroad spike. This unforeseen turn of events had caught him off-guard and he became slightly embarrassed about the eruption of his big boner. He was pretty sure that pushing sex at the moment, in that place, was not the best play. So he eased his hips away from her, hoping she hadn’t noticed that he had become hard. But of course she had. And that was what she had wanted, but perhaps this wasn’t the time or place. After all, semi-public nudity was one thing; semi-public sex was entirely another. Getting caught naked and having to grab your towel and scurry away would be a laughable event; getting caught in the middle of fucking and having to uncouple could put one off sex and would most assuredly ruin the prospect of completing the act later. Lucy was sitting in Randy’s arms and he was carrying her slowly through the water when they looked over at Clay and Rianna. They became transfixed at the scene unfolding before them. “Oh my God, I think Clay’s gonna fuck her right here and now,” Randy whispered into Lucy’s ear, trying not to laugh, thereby ruining the scene.
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But just then, Clayton and Rianna slowly moved apart and began to swim around, occasionally returning for a quick, but warm, kiss. Clayton was encumbered by his dick, which remained as hard as the Rock of Gibraltar. He hoped that the cold water would cure his ardor, but he couldn’t get rid of it. Pink elephant, pink elephant, he repeated over and over in his brain, trying to focus on something, anything else other than his persistent member. But as he moved through the water, the friction kept his attention riveted on what he knew was soon to be a very embarrassing, obvious, protruding shlong. As he swam, his dick acted like a rudder, the water pulling it out straight. It was almost painful. He turned over and floated on his back, but then the damn thing would look like a mast in need of a sail. Okay, stop swimming, think of something else, anything else, he pleaded with himself. But whenever he stopped swimming, Rianna would glide over for another kiss and embrace, rubbing her very desirable body up against his. And he would have to swim away, his rudder vibrating under the water. This is ridiculous, he thought to himself for the umpteenth time. If she comes near me again, I’m just gonna grab her and fuck her. And then, as if the sun had just come up, he thought of a solution. “Let’s go find another
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spot,” he announced to the group. Anything is better than this! They all readily agreed and quietly got out of the pool and toweled off. Back in the car, Rianna slid over to Clayton and put her arms around him. She whispered in his ear, “Take me back to Randy’s.” Clayton’s eyebrows shot up, as he understood the import of her request. “Uh, guys, how about we call this one on account of rain?” “What?” Lucy asked, not comprehending. “What are you saying? Rain, what rain?” “Honey, it’s okay. I think it’s getting late and it’s time for us to head to the barn,” Randy said, turning to look at Lucy. “Barn? What barn? Clay’s talking rain and you’re talking about some damn barn.” Randy leaned over and pulled Lucy to him. “I think the kids would like to go back to the house now. Is that okay?” “Oh! Oh yah, sure,” Lucy said, finally gaining an understanding of the situation. “Absolutely, let’s go back to the house.” Rianna and Clayton kissed all the way back to Randy’s folks’ house. She had turned so that she lay
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across his towel-draped lap. She had her towel wrapped around her, above her breasts, but as they kissed it kept slipping down over her boobs and opening up to her bush. She lay cradled in his left arm, which left his right hand free to get busy and play, which it did every time the towel offered an opportunity. His left foot was resting on the hump in the floor of the car that provided space for the drive shaft, so that his left knee was higher than his right, and Rianna could rest her back without him having to hold her up all the way home. But it also provided a bit of space for his still-hard penis without her having to recline against it. He was still inexperienced enough to think that he shouldn’t be obvious about his intentions, as if she could be conceivably considering other options. Of course she could feel his penis poking her in the back, and she was very satisfied with the knowledge that it was there and ready to go. She had no other intentions than to get him inside of her at the earliest opportunity. She had deftly opened her towel and let his hand play down between her legs so that he could discern that she, too, was ready to go. She was slippery with excitement and he ran his fingers lightly up and down the lips of her pussy, pausing at the bottom to insert his index finger ever so slightly. Gone were thoughts of her fiancé or what her parents would say. She was going to have him and that was that. If he kept it up, she was going to come right there in the backseat.
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When they arrived back at the house, she got out of the car, adjusting her towel around her. Clayton followed her out of the car and up the driveway to the house. Randy had opened the door and let Lucy in, followed by Rianna, when Clayton came up to the door. Randy looked down and saw Clayton’s boner protruding out from under his towel. He pointed and started chuckling. “Jesus Christ, what the hell is that?” Both Rianna and Lucy looked back at what Randy was drawing attention to. Rianna stepped back and took Clayton’s hand. Looking at Randy, she said, “Never you mind. That’s not for you.” The two of them headed back to the guest bedroom. The towels were off before the door was shut and she had pulled him down on top of her on the bed, between her legs. He was inside of her in a flash, all the way to the hilt. She gasped. Jesus, he’s hard. There was way too much sexual tension throughout the night, and it was all coming to a head in an instant. As usual, his excitement was getting the better of him, before he thought she was ready, but he really didn’t need to worry. She was coming within seconds and he exploded right with her. Good Lord, she thought as he lay on top of her panting. That was beyond out there. Wow, I was really
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turned on. Of course she had climaxed before with other partners, and her fiancé was a good lover, but this was something different. Chock it up to a whole night of foreplay, what do you expect. Then he started slowly moving inside her and he started kissing her on her neck, cheeks, eyes and lips. Good Lord, he’s still hard as a rock. Oh shit, not again! She was going to come again and quickly. She started moving with him, bringing him into her, positioning her G-spot so that he was right on it. There it goes, holy spamoly! Wow! Clayton could feel her start to respond to his efforts, and when she started to move with him, allowing him to go deeper, he rapidly got excited. Shit, too soon, he thought, but again, his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. He felt her come, and when she let out an audible shriek, he came along with her. He lay on his back beside her with his arm around her. She lay on her side with her head resting on his chest. “You know this shouldn’t be happening. I’m engaged or I’m about to be. We’re supposed to have an engagement party in a couple of weeks.” “Cool, are you going to invite me?” “Yah, right! That will be the thing to do. Here, honey, meet Clay, he’s the guy I screwed when you were out of town.”
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“Hey, think of this as your last fling. Guys are supposed to be able to have a bachelor party where they can sow the last of their wild oats. Why can’t girls?” Clayton offered, in hopes of reassuring her that this was okay. But, really his motive was that he didn’t want this to stop. He was already gearing up to make love to her some more. “True enough,” she sighed. “And it has been fun.” “Well it’s not over yet.” He got up and pulled her out of the bed. “Come on, let’s get something to drink.” She was about to say that it was time for her to go home, but she realized that she was still horny and thought, What the hell, in for a penny. He grabbed the towels as they headed out the door. In the kitchen they found an open bottle of wine and two glasses that Randy must have set out for them. Randy and Lucy were nowhere to be found. They must be in Randy’s old bedroom, Clayton thought to himself. Clayton poured the wine and led Rianna out the backdoor, onto the tiff lawn, where he spread the towels next to each other. There they sat very close and sipped their wine, and kissed and talked. It was getting early in the morning but the dawn had yet to show itself. After a bit, Clayton began to kiss her on the neck and shoulders. He took the almost-empty wine glass
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from her and eased her back on the towel. He began to kiss her on her breasts, sucking on her small nipples, each one in turn, giving them playful, rapid licks with his tongue. He continued moving down her torso, kissing her below her breast and her tummy. Then he worked his way, further down, between her legs and began kissing and licking her bush, always working lower till he had opened her up with his tongue. This was only his second time going down on a girl, and he was determined to explore this facet of lovemaking. His first time was a blur of a memory; he knew that he didn’t have a clue what he was doing then. This time he was going to take his time and see what was what. He found her lips and gently ran his tongue up and down each side, and she gave him a very satisfactory moan for his efforts. The lips came together at the top and there was a little nubbin. He had heard of the clitoris, but had no idea what or where it was, other than girls liked it when a guy paid attention to it. He thought maybe this was the magical clitoris. He began to lick it, perhaps a bit too vigorously. Rianna put her hand on the back of his head and said, “Easy, go slow.” Then she sighed as he began to gently flick it with his tongue. Then in a flash of inspiration, he began to suck it very gently. She moaned and began to press his head down into her. He began to suck
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it a little harder and she began to moan in unison with his efforts. She pushed his head harder and faster and he sucked harder and faster till finally, with a loud moan, she arched her back and grabbed his head with both hands. “Okay, okay enough,” she said as she wiggled her ass, moving her parts away from him. “Come here,” she said in a very sultry voice, and she guided him up into her wet pussy. He began to slowly move in and out and she kissed him, sucking his tongue deep into her mouth. He was working away, trying not to get too excited too quickly, when she said, “I don’t think I can come again; three’s enough. I’ve never come three times before.” Pride welled up inside of him. Maybe he was getting good at this. “Never say enough is enough,” he said cavalierly. And with an inspiration that came out of nowhere, he brought his knees up close to her ass, scooped her legs up over his shoulders, and cupped her ass with his hands and began to move in and out of her, pulling her to him with his strong arms. “Oh, good Lord!” she said and grabbed his arms and began working with him. She was moaning and he was grunting when they both came in an explosion of sound and relief. He fell on top of her then rolled to the
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side. They lay on their backs looking up at the sky as dawn was just starting to break. “Four is always better than three,” she laughed. He laughed and panted with her. A WEEK LATER, CLAYTON, Randy and Lucy were walking up the driveway to Rianna’s house. They had been invited to Rianna’s engagement party. She met them at the door and looked at Clayton. “Wipe that smile off your face and behave yourself,” she chided him with a grin. “Seriously, come on in; the bar’s over there in the corner. Get a drink and I’ll introduce you to my folks and my future husband.” And that was that; a most peculiar end to what, up to then, was the best experience he had ever had with a girl. He somehow knew that it would stand the test of time and remain one of his most memorable experiences.
Chapter 8-Live or Die, Man
ONE AFTERNOON, AFTER WORK, Clayton was driving the old car over to his Uncle’s house in the northeast part of Albuquerque. He and Randy had agreed to come over and help remove a hedge row of old, overgrown bushes. Randy had reported to a different job site that day, so the two were driving separately. It had been a long, hot and especially hard day. Clayton had spent the whole day digging out footers in preparation for a concrete pour in the morning. Digging with a shovel all day was hard duty, but Clayton didn’t mind. He enjoyed the repetitious nature of the work; he could lock himself into a rhythm and, once his muscles settled into the job, he could turn his mind loose to daydream. Time passed quickly and before he knew it, the day was over. He was tired and dirty with sweat mixed with dust, and his muscles were sore. He was heading north on San Pedro and had stopped at a traffic signal. A traffic engineer would have designated San Pedro as a ‘minor collector’ or ‘local collector’ road. It had only two, extra wide, lanes. Along the west side, older homes fronted onto the road, with driveways, mailboxes, and front yards with an offset sidewalk. On the east side, newer housing developments
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backed onto the road with six- foot-high subdivision walls, buffered by ten feet or so of landscaping and a sidewalk, attached to the curb. On-street parking was permitted along the west side of the street, but there were only a few parked cars at this time of day; which, as it turned out, was a very lucky thing. When the light turned green, Clayton applied pressure to the gas pedal and the old car started to accelerate. As the engine revved to the required RPM, he quickly engaged the clutch and shifted up to second gear. The old car was just about out of the intersection when the engine began to choke off, sputter and stall. Ah, shit, vapor lock! Goddamnit, not now. The car rapidly lost power and slowed to around ten miles per hour. Clayton immediately reached over and flipped the switch, turning on the emergency flashers in the taillights. Clayton had experienced this unsettling phenomenon before. He had decided that it was ‘vapor lock’ without really knowing what the condition was or how it was caused. It just seemed to him that the carburetor, for no apparent reason, would start to choke off, starving the engine of fuel. It always happened after the car had been running for a sufficient time to warm the engine up to running temperature and then was brought back to idling, like at a stop light. So ‘vapor lock’ sounded like a good description.
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“Son of a bitch,” Clayton hollered as he slapped the big steering wheel. Goddamn, I hate this shit. And he did; he hated experiencing mechanical difficulties with cars. Cars needed to do what they were meant to do: get you from here to there and fucking back again. Clayton was hot, sweaty, dirty and tired and in no mood to have to mess around with a truculent automobile. Coasting along, the engine sputtering and choking, Clayton looked ahead to the next side street to turn off on. He figured he would pull over, out of the way, and turn the engine off to let it cool down. He was just pondering the possibilities of various solutions to the problem, from his limited repertoire of auto mechanics, when he noticed in the rear-view mirror that a black truck was rapidly driving up his ass. The black truck, a piece-of-shit Chevrolet pickup, came screaming up, well over the speed limit, and damn near rammed the old car, before swerving out into the on-coming traffic lane to pass. As the driver started to swerve his truck, he, of course, found it necessary to lay on the vehicle’s horn, blaring all the way around and passed Clayton and the old car. Maybe it was his upbringing; his stepdad, Tom, had a quick temper and did not suffer bullshit lightly. Maybe he was just tired from a long, hard day and just wanted to get to where he was going. Maybe he was embarrassed with having to limp down the road with a poorly running, very old car. Who knows? In the end it doesn’t matter why; all that matters is that, before he
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knew it and without thinking, his arm flew up, showing the back of his hand, with one, single, solitary finger extended. Of course it was the middle finger; the classic ‘bird,’ saying, ‘fuck you, too, and the horse you rode in on.’ It was a visceral reaction to the accumulation of stimuli, nothing more. But, it unleashed a cascading meltdown of events. The driver of the black, piece-ofshit Chevy pickup threw the steering wheel hard over and slid the truck to a skidding stop, sideways, blocking both lanes of travel. “Oh, sheeeee-it!” Clayton screamed, as he slammed on the brakes, mashing the pedal almost to the floor. The frame of the old car lurched forward with the change in momentum as the tires caught hold of the pavement. Clayton could feel the drum brakes pumping through the brake pedal. There was no way the old car was going to stop in time. The car started to skid to the left, so Clayton decided to go with it and crossed the street, bouncing up, over the curb, and into the front yard, where she came to rest. Oh my God! What the fuck just happened? Clayton leaned forward and laid his head down on his arms that were draped across the steering wheel. He was as white as the shell of a chicken egg, and his heart was pounding so hard he thought it would explode out of his chest.
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What the hell was that guy thinking? That’s one crazy motherfucker. His heart began to slow and he lifted his head and saw four or five small children standing in the next yard over, staring back at him. Jesus christ, there could have been children playing in this yard. And he laid his head down again, feeling like he might pass out. I’m not sure I could have missed them. Of course I would have. Fuck, I don’t know. His thoughts were exploding, as he tried to get a grip on reality. Shit like this just doesn’t happen, he thought. When he looked up again, he saw that the driver of the black truck had exited his vehicle and was storming over toward him, leaving his fucking truck parked in the middle of the street, blocking both lanes of travel. “You fucking little punk,” Clayton heard the driver yelling at him. “I’m gonna kick your fucking little ass. Gonna teach you a fucking lesson, you fucking punk.” “Holy shit!” Clayton mumbled to himself, as he stared, wide-eyed and slack-mouthed, at the raging man coming toward him. The man was a goddamn monster bulldog. He was Clayton’s height, plus or minus an inch, but he was a behemoth in every other dimension. His legs were thicker than Clayton’s waist, his upper arms were thicker than Clayton’s thighs, his chest and shoulders looked like he
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was a football player wearing pads. And his neck; fuck, Clayton had a big neck. This guy, storming across the street, had no neck; it was just a continuation of his bullet head. You couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other began. And, oh yah, the motherfucker had a crew cut. Perfect, a redneck! “You’re gonna be sorry you ever gave me the finger, you punk piece of shit. I’m gonna break that finger off and shove it up your ass.” Clayton looked skyward and his jaw dropped open. Really? This can’t be happening. He shook himself to clear his head. Think, goddamnit. He quickly considered his options. Okay, okay, you’ve got two choices, he told himself, fight or flight; then he realized there was a third option, bleed and die. The old car was still running, sitting there quietly idling. Okay, when he pulls open the door, kick him as hard as you can and then drive down the front yards around the truck. Maybe I can get to my Uncle’s house before this fucker can catch me. Then he started to envision the potential pitfalls of his plan. The fucker can grab my leg when I try to kick him and pull me out or the old car will stall and he’ll jump onto the running board and drive my head through the windshield. The apparition, still spouting obscenities and descriptions of the mayhem he was about to commit, was
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now up onto the grass. Clayton was running out of time. He reached under the seat and pulled out a mega long diesel mechanic’s screwdriver. The octagon-shaped shaft was sixteen inches long and a quarter of an inch thick. The blade at the end of the shaft was an inch long and half an inch wide. It had a very heavy, thick, plastic red handle. It was a formidable weapon. That son of a bitch’s not going to kick my ass. Clayton, getting angry at the predicament he was in, started to have thoughts of creating his own mayhem. Who the fuck does that bastard think he is? I’ll jam this thing in his throat when he tries to open the door. See how he likes bleeding to death. Ooh, the thought of killing someone went through him like an electric shock. Wow, killing a man is a whole different ball game. I’m sure it would be called ‘selfdefense,’ but I would still be arrested and charged. Shit, I might go to jail for this. But even if I don’t go to jail, I still killed a man. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. Thoughts raced through his head at light speed. He looked for guidance. The male influences in his life would have been of different minds regarding the handling of this situation. HIS STEPFATHER, TOM, would have jumped out of the old car before it had stopped rolling and met the bastard before he could get his ass out of his truck. Tom would have yanked the man out to the pavement and shoved the big screwdriver up his ass. He would have done it without hesitation or remorse. This Clayton knew for
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certain. One time, when Clayton was a lot younger, he was standing with Tom, one Sunday morning, at a doughnut shop. There was a good crowd milling around, trying to get to the counter to place their order. Tom leaned down to Clayton’s ear and quietly said, “If that son of a bitch behind me jostles me one more time, I’m gonna wipe the floor with his ass.” “What did you say about me, mister?” the guy, whom Tom was referring to, asked, all tough like. Tom turned around and stepped up to the man, almost chest to chest, and locked his gaze on the man’s face. The man was well over six feet tall; Tom was only five-eight, so he had to look up at the man. “Let’s step outside and I’ll show you what I said about you,” Tom replied in a low, even voice. “What?” the man asked, clearly not expecting that response to his tough-guy act. “You heard me, you son of a bitch. Let’s step outside, right now.” The grim determination on Tom’s face said it all; he clearly intended to kick the man’s ass or die trying. The man backed down. He backed up and went to the back of the line, as far away from Tom as he could get. Tom looked at Clayton and gave a little laugh. “Did you see that bastard? He was a big son of a bitch. Glad he backed down.”
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NOW HIS FATHER HAD a different approach; he believed and taught Clayton that most conflicts could be resolved through peaceful discussions. That is what intelligent, civilized men do. Yah, right! His father worked a cattle ranch; you don’t think he led with his fists first and talked later? Besides, this situation had escalated well past talking. Or had it? THE BIG BASTARD HAD reached the door and was yanking it open. “Get out here, you little prick, and take your beating.” Well the opportunity for ‘flight’ had obviously passed, ‘fight’ was an absurd notion, and it would have only hastened the ‘bleeding and dying,’ which now appeared to be a real likelihood. Then Clayton hit upon a fourth option: ‘begging’. He pled for his life. He didn’t want to kill the man and he sure didn’t want to take a beating, so debasing himself seemed like the least of all possible evils. But, he still kept his right hand on the screwdriver, behind him, just in case. The man accepted Clayton’s profuse apologies and backed down. In actuality, he had already lost most of his rage, stomping over to the old car. He turned and stomped back to his truck, which had been left blocking the street all this time, and got in, backed up and drove off, squealing and smoking his tires for good measure. Oddly, there were no waiting cars, going in either direction, that were blocked by his truck. Go figure!
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Clayton, one last time, took a deep breath and laid his head down on the steering wheel. Never again will I give a man the bird, unless I’m ready to fight or die. That was un-fucking-believable! He lifted his head with a sigh, looked both ways behind him and carefully backed the car over the curb back out onto San Pedro. As he drove, he thought about the event that had just occurred and his narrow escape. Then he wondered for the first time about the thing that he would wonder for the rest of his life: could he have killed that man to save himself from a beating? Would that have been the right thing to do? Even if it were judged to be selfdefense and determined to be a legal, righteous kill, could he live with the fact that he had taken another man’s life? He couldn’t envision an act more final than that.
Chapter 9-Saturday Job
“HEY CLAY, I THINK maybe you werk for me,” Ricky said one afternoon, as they drove back from a remodel job they had been working on. Wow, Clayton thought with mixed feelings of pride and apprehension. “What do you mean, work for you?” “You know, I werk for me. I contractor. I have contract with Lou to do job. I no werk for heem. I do contract werk. See this truck? Pretty good truck. Es mi truck, mi tools, todo es mio. I werk for me.” THERE IT WAS; WHAT Ricky was saying was that he was living the American dream. In America, a man could make something of himself, if he worked hard enough and had ambition. This was a time when nobody really cared if a man had legal status. A time before the ‘crazy years,’ when politics was going to create problems where none existed. In the ‘crazy years’ to come, politics would be about manufacturing issues intent on dividing the country, not uniting it. Divisive social issues, ‘wedge issues,’ ‘wedgies,’ ‘atomic wedgies.’ A ‘wedgy’ was a locker-room prank where the perpetrator grabbed the back of the
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victim’s underpants and pulled his drawers up the crack of his ass. An ‘atomic wedgy’ was trying to pull the back of the underwear over the victim’s head, usually shredding the underwear in the process. This was what politics would become; a rending of the fabric of American society, its civility, even its humanity. The victims in this case, this particular wedgy, would be the undocumented workers seeking the American dream of opportunity and freedom from financial oppression. The unintended victims of this program were the employers: the contractors, the farmers and many industries. Never mind that every economic study showed that the burden created by the undocumented worker was significantly less than the financial contribution they made to society; a segment of the body politic was to pound the non-issue into an election issue, hoping to energize its base. The obvious intended collateral damage were the people of Hispanic descent, some of whom had resided in this country for several decades; birthing children, raising families, paying taxes and paying into Social Security. The future would bring active enforcement by the several states, which included direct profiling of anybody with brown skin, English-only legislation and illegal incarceration till one could prove citizenship. Sure, in 1972 there was active border enforcement and there was Border Patrol, but it was limited to controlling the flow of workers from Mexico at the border. If a man really wanted to work and kept himself out of trouble, there was al-
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ways good, hard work available. Clayton just assumed that Ricky was ‘wet’; a term used for undocumented workers, derived from having to swim the Rio Grande— assuming there was water in the river—hence, ‘wet back’ or ‘wet’. Derogatory perhaps, but a term that had been used for so many years that it was locked into the lexicon of the times. Clayton was to learn later that Ricky in fact had papers and was here working legally. It made him somewhat ashamed that he had just assumed, but wasn’t sure why it mattered. “SO YOU WANT ME to come work for you and quit on Lou?” Clayton was feeling a growing apprehension that was outweighing his feeling of pride at being asked. Clearly, Ricky thought enough of him, as a good, hard worker, to ask him, but was there any job security with the opportunity? “No, no, no, no estoy desciendo que quiero engañar a nadie. Soy muy honesto. Not you quit Lou, but you werk with me on Saturday. I have other jobs, yes. Not jobs fo Lou; jobs fo me. I want you to werk on Saturday fo a small job. You like me, no fuck around, you werk hard; no lazy. You do the job, we make much money, mucho dinero,” he said the last with a raise of his eyebrows. “What Lou pays you?” “Two-fifty an hour,” Clayton replied with a smile. Lou, after a month of work, had given him a fifty-cent raise, because he hustled. Two-fifty an hour was almost
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seventy-five cents more than minimum wage and Clayton felt good about that; getting paid a man’s wage for doing a man’s job. “Two-fifty cada hora es pretty good, que no. Is OK. I think, is OK. I pay you same. Two-fifty por hora, you werk for me Saturday. OK?” “Yah, OK,” Clayton replied, feeling a bit bummed. After all, he was giving up his Saturday and only making what he usually made, not even time and a half overtime pay. “What time?” SO THERE IT WAS. Clayton found himself at six o’clock in the morning, giving up his Saturday of leisure, squeezed between Ricky and another Mexican on the frontseat of Ricky’s truck, headed out to Ricky’s side job. Ricky introduced the new guy as Prejedas, but Clayton couldn’t catch his name. He asked the guy several times to pronounce his name. It was totally different than any Mexican names Clayton had heard before, which, in his mind, were usually similar to American names. Enrique was Ricky, Juan was John. But what was this? It was something like Pre-head-ice. So Clayton opted for Pre. Pre wasn’t totally happy with the outcome, but he shrugged his shoulders in assent. Pre was a short, stocky, roly-poly fellow who didn’t speak a lick of English. He was obviously just off the boat, as they say, recently up from Mexico. But his
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lack of English didn’t deter him from conversing incessantly with Clayton in Spanish, as if Clayton understood not only the words, but also the innuendos, the inside jokes. Ricky chuckled, then sometimes laughed, and sometimes would translate if Pre was asking Clayton a question or trying to involve Clayton in the continuous babbling. Other times Ricky would let the conversation pass and Clayton would be on his own. At one point in the incessant chatter, Ricky told Pre something that had him laughing hard, his belly jiggling up and down. Clayton, curious, asked Ricky what was up. “What’s so funny, Ricky?” Ricky, still laughing along with Pre, answered, “Is OK. You see. You see. The owners, they funny people. You see.” Clayton shrugged and thought, Guess I’ll see. See what? I dunno, but I’ll see it when I see it. He leaned back in the seat between the two Mexicans and started to doze. They drove east on I-40, up Tijeras Canyon, with Pre chattering on. They drove to the backside of the Sandias, then turned north off the interstate into a sparsely populated residential community, carefully placed into the rolling foothills and slopes of the east side of the Sandia Mountains. Clayton woke when the
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wheels of the truck hit gravel. They wound their way through the unpaved roads of the community, up slopes populated with juniper, pinyon pine and an occasional evergreen oak. A turn here, a turn there, take the left fork of a wye and before long Clayton was completely lost. He would never be able to find this place again, much less find his way out. As they drove, they worked their way higher onto the slopes of the mountain. Clayton thought, Wherever this place is, it’s going to have one hell of a view. They drove up toward a rocky escarpment, then turned and drove parallel to the rocky cliff, still climbing. As they went higher, the trees changed to spruce and fir. The escarpment on their left was an exposed bedrock ridge, forty to sixty feet high, composed of gray-white granite with a pink hue. The base was littered with tumble-down boulders the size of Volkswagens. After a mile or so, the escarpment diminished into the slope of the mountain and they climbed a steep section of the road, tires spinning slightly on the loose gravel of the dry roadbed. They climbed up on top of the escarpment and then made a hard left up a driveway into a stand of tall Ponderosa pine trees. Clayton thought, becoming fully awake, Where the fuck are we? He tried to find some point of reference, but couldn’t get a fix on the sun through the trees. He always had directional problems due to topographical consider-
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ations. Up and down, a turn here, a hairpin curve there; getting lost was easy when you weren’t driving. The truck pulled up next to the garage of what, at first, appeared to be a two-story home covered with redwood siding and a cedar shake roof. The house was built into the side of a slope, and Clayton quickly realized that the house was really a single story built on top of what was mostly a garage on one end and meeting the slope of the ground on the other. The eaves of the pitched roof were perhaps twenty-two-feet high at the front of the garage and twelve feet at the far end of the house, up the slope. The house backed up to the escarpment that they had just surmounted. The ground sloped away from the front of the house to the back, toward the escarpment, such that the back of the house needed to be supported by a retaining wall, which reached a maximum height of eight feet, making thirty feet the maximum overall height, measured to the eave at the back corner of the garage. The backside of the garage was around twenty feet from the edge of the escarpment that they had traversed near the conclusion of their drive to the property. The escarpment was a significant topographical feature of the east slopes of the Sandia Mountains; a geological formation of exposed bedrock that was covered in lichens. Clayton estimated that the escarpment adjacent to the garage was forty-five-feet high, disrupted by lots of big-ass boulders. The ground at the base of the escarpment was similarly sloped as the
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top, falling at a rate of one foot for every five to six feet. Not really flat, but certainly buildable. This situation was going to play a significant role in the day’s activities. Clayton and Pre unpacked the tools and materials while Ricky climbed the stairs to the main entry and knocked on the door. The tools were simple; hammers, handsaws and ladders. The materials were equally simple; buckets of tenpenny common nails and twelve-footlong, one-by-two cedar furring strips. The house was a simple design; a large rectangle, forty to fifty feet deep, from front to back, and eighty or more feet wide. A wide balcony extended across the entire front of the house, starting above the garage and becoming a walkway and patio where the floor of the house met the slope of the ground. Clayton realized on closer inspection that the siding wasn’t redwood but plain pine or fir, stained red. The best features of the architecture were columns, retaining walls and patio walls made of native stone, covered in different shades of green lichens. Ricky let the owners know that they were there and ready to begin work. “Clayton, take the escalera here,” he said, pointing to the eight-foot-high wooden stepladder. “We go,” pointing to the corner of the house above the garage.
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Clayton shoved his arm through one of the rungs of the ladder about midway down and hoisted it up to balance on his shoulder. Ricky handed him three bundles of wood for his other arm, then he put a bucket of nails with a hammer in Clayton’s free hand that was sticking through the ladder. Ricky directs Pre in Spanish, who proceeds to grab a second stepladder and similar load of materials. Clayton and Pre start up the stone stairs to the balcony. Ricky follows with more nails, a crosscut handsaw and six more bundles of wood. A bunch of pack mules grunting up the stone steps. Clayton thought to himself, Typical Mexican bullshit. Why not make two trips or even three? Ricky set up the ladder Pre had hauled up at the corner over the garage. He puts a nail bib around his waist, grabs a hammer and a slat, climbs the ladder and nails the slat vertically along the corner of the house. Pre hands him a second slat and he nails it horizontally over the seam between the lower and upper panels of siding. He steps back down and takes a tape measure and marks off twelve-inch centers from the first slat. Motioning Clayton over, Ricky says, “You put nails here and here,” instructing Clayton to nail a slat at each mark, below the horizontal slat. “Start at the top and put nails every twelve inches. You got it?”
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“Yah, I got it,” Clayton replied, thinking, It ain’t rocket science. “You make straight,” Ricky admonished, showing Clayton that he wanted the boards perfectly vertical. “How do you want me to do that, by eye? Do you have a level?” Clayton asked. A string of Spanish profanity flowed from Ricky. “No me chingas pendejo. No es necesario a tener nivelador Pinche güeros, siempre quieren cosas es posible a hacer mucho por mano. No, no, you make straight,” pointing to his eye. Clayton put the next slat on the mark and hammered home a nail. He then used his tape measure to check the distance back to the first slat at the corner. He lined up the slat to the vertical by measuring back to the first slat at the next nail point, thinking to himself, If the first slat is plumb, I can make sure the rest of the slats are straight by making them parallel to the first slat. “Rocket science, indeed,” he mumbled with a smile to himself. Ricky nodded his head, approving Clayton’s work. “To do,” pointing down the balcony and walkway. Clayton thought, So that’s the job, nailing boards to the new siding. I think this is called ‘board and batten,’ but he wasn’t at all sure.
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Ricky and Pre continued nailing the horizontal slats along the seam and disappeared around the side of the house. Clayton continued along the balcony, nailing and measuring to keep each slat plumb. After a bit, Ricky and Pre returned to the starting point and began to install the slats above the horizontal slat. Ricky would measure the length from the horizontal slat to the eave and call down to Pre, who would cut the slat to length and hand it up to Ricky, who would nail it into place. The two of them worked fast and Clayton had to pick up his pace so that they wouldn’t catch up to him. Getting passed by would have been embarrassing and Clayton was sure it would involve a string of Mexican profanities as they tried to work on top of each other. As they worked their way along to the uphill side of the house, just past the front door, the wooden balcony gave way to a stone walkway as the main floor of the house met the slope of the ground. The walkway was paved with flat stones, matching the stonework on the house, carefully fitted together. They were working away in good rhythm, making good time, when things got bizarre. Clayton had made it past the front door and Ricky was fast approaching, when out of the front door a man emerged. Tall, skinny, thinning crop of dark, uncombed hair, forty-something. One could reasonably assume the man was the owner. He was wearing dark sunglasses, a colorful beach towel around his neck and thongs. Not the ass-less undergar-
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ments that strippers wore in titty bars back then and would become the standard wear for most young women in the future. But rubber sandals, which would later become known as flip-flops, so as not to confuse as women became comfortable with a single strap or strip of cloth up their ass. Beyond those items of apparel, he was naked. Totally naked; unabashed in the least as he strolled out, a folded newspaper under his arm. He walked past the open-mouthed, working men, who were trying with all their might not to stare, but all of them reflexively looked down at the man’s business. Get busy, focus on the work, hold the boards straight, and hit the nail on the head, striving with all their might not to burst out laughing. Pre’s belly was jiggling and Ricky was snickering under his breath, but Clayton was cool, like this was a daily occurrence for him, seen it a million times. But his cheeks hurt as he held his lips tightly. What the fuck? he thought, trying not to think of the man’s hairy, pendulous penis and wrinkled balls. His gaze was only there for a second before he snapped his eyes back to his work, but the image was firmly etched in his brain. Jesus Christ! That’s something you don’t see every day, he thought, as his mind continued, against his will, to work over the picture. The man proceeded past Clayton and continued down the walkway toward the side of the house they
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were working toward. Clayton allowed a side glance at the man’s receding figure and saw the flabby cheeks of his white ass flouncing along on top of hairy, spindly legs as he disappeared around the corner of the house; another etched image that needed to be scrubbed. Goddamn, buddy, tan that thing. NOW YOU MIGHT THINK, ‘Hey, what’s the big deal? Nudity, even public nudity, so what?’ But this was the beginning of the Seventies; long before nudity of all types became commonplace. There was almost no nudity of any type in the public domain. Of course there were nudist colonies, which most thought were bastions of orgy-esque depravity. And even though this was the time of hippies, flower children, free love, and challenging the conventional mores of society, nudity was still rare. Sure, Playboy was trashing Victorian notions of propriety, but it had, until very recently, limited itself only to tits and ass, and that was on the pages of a magazine. There was very little nudity in movies, and there was absolutely none on TV. Sure, mainstream pics, such as The Graduate, MASH and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, had very brief glimpses of the naked bod, but ‘tits and ass sell’ had yet to become the mantra of Hollywood. As far as TV, women weren’t even allowed to model bras in ads. Bras had to be shown on mannequins or over sweaters, worn by well-endowed women with perky, pointy boobs, or maybe it was the bra doing its job.
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So seeing a naked man, with his privates unabashedly exposed, strutting out into nature with such nonchalance, as if he were off to another day at the office, was unusual in the extreme. And funny…very funny. RICKY MOVED OVER NEXT to Clayton and quietly said with a low chuckle, “Maybe the women come out, too.” Clayton responded, his thoughts quickening, “Women?” “Yah, last time I werk here there were three of ’em.” “Three women?” Clayton asked, trying to hide his hopeful excitement. Nothing filled his youthful thoughts more, these days, than images of naked women. And naked women in the flesh, cavorting with nature, like garden nymphs, well, he was struggling to contain himself. “Yah, I tink, maybe his wife and daughters. I dun know fer shure. Last time they all out on the sun patio. You see.” Clayton continued nailing and measuring the slats with his mind racing, full of anticipatory thoughts. How to get a good look without really staring? Am I a pervert for wanting to catch a glimpse of naked women as they lay around enjoying what nature has provided? I hope the daughters aren’t too young. That would be perverted. As they worked their way around to the side of the house,
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Clayton saw that the stone walkway became a path which led to a stone patio built into the slope about thirty yards away from the house. The patio was constructed of the same material and in the same manner as the walkway. A fire pit was located in the center. There, the man was reclining in a chaise, sunning himself, reading the newspaper. Sadly, there were no naked women present in the other available chaises. Clayton was secretly crestfallen. He really was a puss hound and maybe a bit of a pervert, too. Again the hidden mirth, stifled chuckles and snickers, but they quickly regained their composure and proceeded with the job. The rhythm of the work quickly took Clayton’s mind off the disappointment. As they rounded the next corner to the backside of the house, Clayton saw that the ground was starting to slope away toward the rocky drop of the escarpment. Ricky hadn’t nailed the horizontal slat along the seam between the sheeting yet. The stepladders were unstable, because the ground sloped two ways: down along the building toward the garage and back away from the building toward the escarpment. Clayton and Pre were detailed to go and bring up the other ladders; a twelvefoot wooden ladder that appeared to Clayton to be handmade, and an old, well-used, sixteen-foot aluminum extension ladder. Ricky placed the aluminum ladder on the slope and leveled it by jamming the uphill leg into the ground. When he was satisfied, he climbed up and Pre handed
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him a slat which he deftly nailed, horizontally, along the seam. Without being directed, Clayton took a slat and carefully lined it up with the vertical slat around the corner and nailed it into place. He took out his tape measure and began marking off the twelve-inch spacing for the vertical slats. When he caught up to Ricky, who had already repositioned his ladder three times, he retreated back to the corner and began nailing the vertical slats, making sure they were parallel. Ricky moved rapidly toward the garage end of the house. There were places where he couldn’t get the ladder level by working the uphill leg into the slope, so he and Pre resorted to building a platform, under the downhill leg, out of flat rocks. Pre would brace himself against the ladder as Ricky climbed up and nailed the horizontal slats. Clayton thought to himself, as he watched Ricky climb up the ladder with one leg set on a pile of rocks, Jesus, this is how you get yourself hurt. And as he thought it, sure enough the makeshift platform crumbled as Ricky was halfway up the ladder. Ricky jumped to the ground laughing, as the ladder slid sideways along the wall. Ricky and Pre thought that the event was hysterical, and a flurry of Spanish passed between them. Christ Almighty, Clayton thought. These guys are nuts. He was soon to find out, to his chagrin, just how nuts. Clayton did observe, however, that after the near
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miss, Ricky and Pre took greater care in building the platform for the downhill leg. At some point down the backside, Ricky had to extend the ladder to its full height in order to reach the seam to be covered by the horizontal slat. By the time he reached the end of the building, he was standing on the top rung of the ladder, nailing the slat into place by reaching above his head. Are you kidding me? Clayton thought, becoming agitated as he watched. This is certifiable! When Ricky finished nailing the last horizontal slat, he and Pre moved back to the corner and, as before, started measuring, cutting and nailing the vertical slats above the horizontal slats. About two-thirds of the way down the side, Clayton’s twelve-foot ladder no longer had the necessary height for him to reach the horizontal slat. Clayton was relegated to handing boards, which Pre had just cut, up to Ricky. He looked down toward the garage at the area above the last horizontal slat and thought, How in hell are we going to nail slats up there? We’ve maxed out the sixteen-foot ladder and Ricky didn’t bring any scaffolding. We need scaffolding. Scaffolding was the only thing that made sense to Clayton, but much to his consternation, he would soon see how they were going to finish the job. And the role he would have to play would give him pause. It would be the second time in his life that he would test the limits of his courage and
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come face to face with thoughts of his own mortality. Pretty heady stuff when you are only seventeen. After he finished nailing all the slats above the horizontal slat that he could reach with the sixteen-foot extension ladder, Ricky began nailing the slats below the horizontal slat that Clayton wasn’t able to reach. When they reached the end of the building, Clayton spoke up. “What are we going to do now? I think we need scaffolding to finish this,” he stated hopefully, although he knew that Ricky didn’t bring any. Ricky came down from the ladder and grinned at Clayton, then said to Pre, “Triga me la cuerda.” Pre disappeared around the corner of the house and Clayton heard the truck door opening. Pre reappeared a few minutes later with a length of rope. As Pre went to the truck, Ricky went up the slope to collect the wooden ladder Clayton had left leaning against the building. Ricky laid the two ladders on the ground, with the aluminum extension ladder above the wooden ladder. He cut the rope into four pieces and began lashing the aluminum ladder to the top of the wooden ladder. He overlapped the two rungs on each ladder, creating a single jerryrigged ladder of around twenty-feet long. Clayton, as he realized what Ricky was doing, couldn’t contain himself. “Ricky, this is nuts! It’s not even close to being safe. You’re gonna get hurt, man.”
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“I no get hurt. I no go ladder. You go,” laughing as he said it. “You go,” Ricky repeated for emphasis. “Bullshit, I go!” Clayton said, checking the Mexican’s ropework. “You go, you small. Prejedas, I hold ladder. You don’t fall. I hold steady.” It was true that Clayton was the smallest. Even though he was at least two inches taller than Ricky and maybe four inches taller than Pre, he was by far the lightest of the three, weighing only one hundred forty-five pounds. Fuck me blue, Clayton thought. This is fucking insane. But it was a point of honor, a manly thing. A man doesn’t show fear to other men. That’s the whole bag of goods as to why men will fight in war; doing the scariest and most horrible things imaginable in the worst conditions possible, because a man doesn’t want to let his mates down. He doesn’t want to be thought of as less than a man by his buds. Clayton knew that he had no choice. It took all three of them to stand the elongated ladder up against the wall because it was so unwieldy, and then Ricky and Pre propped up the downhill leg with good flat rocks. Clayton dropped a handful of nails into his bib and hooked his hammer through the tie strings and started climbing the ladder, full of trepidation, clutching three slats in his hand. The ladder felt springy and deflected
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toward the house as he went up. When he crossed from the wooden ladder to the aluminum ladder, he began testing the lashings by gently bouncing on the ladder before moving to the next rung. When he advanced to a rung high enough to reach the eave, he was still three rungs down on the ladder. The angle of the ladder to the wall made for a fairly stable working platform, and Clayton relaxed a bit. Then he looked over his shoulder and realized that the rocky escarpment appeared not to be more than ten feet away. His shit froze. Talk about a major pucker factor; his sphincter shrank to the size of a pea. Jesus Christ, I’m fucked. If anything goes wrong in the slightest, I’m going over the goddamn cliff. I’ve got nowhere to go. He could see his fate in his mind, as clear as if it had already happened. “Hold on to the goddamn ladder,” he called down to the two at the base, trying to sound cool and in control. All he got back was a string of jeers and catcalls in Spanish and broken-border English. “You no worry. We hold ladder. You jes get to work,” Ricky called up laughing. Clearly he could see through Clayton’s attempt at bravado. As Clayton began to work, his anxiety about his safety began to abate. He put the three slats between his
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body and the ladder with one end on the rung at his feet. He pulled his tape measure from his bib and measured over to the last slat Ricky had nailed into place and made a mark to his left at twelve inches. He grabbed a nail from his bib, then took one of the slats from between his legs with the same hand. Holding the slat and nail in his left hand at the proper location, he drove the nail home with the hammer in his right hand. He did the same for the slat almost in front of him, and then tried to follow the same procedure for the slat to be positioned to his right. But Clayton was so right-hand dominant that he had to turn his body and reach across the ladder to hold the slat in place with his left hand. This move made him feel unstable, so he resorted to trying to drive nails with his left hand. ‘Ping,’ he mishit the first nail and it arched out past him. “Damn it, hit the damn nail, Clay. We no have all damn day,” Ricky called up laughing at Clayton’s ineptitude. “I’m no good with my left hand,” Clayton called down in response, thinking sarcastically to himself, Damn? What? Did Ricky just learn a new word for his vocabulary? Clayton holstered the hammer back in the ties of his bib and reached through the rungs of the ladder with his left hand and grabbed the slat. With that he was able to drive the nail home with his right hand. He worked his
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way down the ladder, making sure the three slats were vertical and nailing them into place. When back on the ground, Clayton felt a wave of relief. For some reason, it was more unsettling than he thought it would be. He realized the edge of the escarpment was not ten feet away, but more like twenty feet. It sure appeared closer than that when he was up the ladder. From his high perch, he could actually see over the edge. The three of them repositioned the ladder. Making the ladder stable was getting more difficult as the slope of the ground was working against them and the ladder had to be more vertical to reach the eave. The stack of flat rocks under the downhill leg was getting taller in order to make the ladder level, which did nothing for the anxiety that was constantly nagging at Clayton. Jesus, Clayton thought, as he ascended the ladder again, could this get more ridiculous? As the ladder was repositioned several more times, the answer was a resounding ‘yes!’. As they moved the ladder along the backside of the house, toward the garage, the overall height of the house from the ground kept increasing and the ladder was becoming straighter and flatter to the wall. “Mother fuck, fuck, fuck,” Clayton repeated under his breath as if it was some protective mantra. The lad-
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der was now almost flat against the wall and he was standing on the second rung from the top, his body pressed flat to the wall, trying to hold a slat and nail in his left hand above his head and hit the nail home with the hammer in his right. ‘Ping,’ ‘ping,’ ‘ping’ was the result of three successive attempts. Each time the bent nail went flying off, arching over his shoulder to the ground below. “Damn it, Clay, you hit nail straight. You no waste nails,” Ricky called up to him, getting impatient. Clayton wanted to call down, Fuck the nails, but instead said through clenched teeth, “I can’t see the goddamn nail to hit it.” “You look at the nail, then you hit it,” Ricky advised. “I know I look at the nail then hit it,” Clayton called down, exasperated. His legs were shaking and he was sure if he looked up enough to see the nail that he would lean back and fall off the ladder. Oh shit, he thought, don’t think about the escarpment. Stay focused and hit the fucking nail. With great resolve, he finally hit the nail home and was able to move down a rung. Breathe, he reminded himself. With legs still shaking, he finished nailing the slats at this ladder position.
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Down on the ground, the ladder had to be repositioned one last time. The ground was flatter and the base of the ladder was less precarious, but the height to the top was at least another foot. Clayton stood there looking up and said, almost to himself, “Can’t do it.” “No mas,” he told Ricky with a certainty that was clear and unmistakable. “You no go?” Ricky asked, pointing up the ladder with a smile pasted across his face. “No, I no go. I’m done, man,” said Clayton, his face as white as a bed sheet, responding as firmly as he could. It pained him to chicken out, but he felt he had done his share and proven himself enough. Besides, he realized that this thing called ‘manly pride’ wasn’t necessarily worth getting seriously hurt or dying for. “OK,” Ricky said, smiling, then said something in Spanish to Pre, which Clayton decided meant ‘wimp,’ and turned and scrambled up to the top rung of the ladder and deftly began nailing the last two slats into place. Ricky did falter a bit when he stood on the top rung and looked down over the escarpment. He let out a halfscared whoop, which served to soothe Clayton’s pride, but he didn’t mishit any nails and was soon working his way down the ladder, nailing as he went. With the job done, they loaded up their gear and Ricky drove Clayton back to the old car. Clayton was
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tired, but satisfied with the day. He was looking forward to having Sunday off and especially looking forward to his date with Maureen this evening. Ricky said he would pay as soon as he got paid for the job, which should be later this coming week. Clayton, a little bummed, said okay and climbed into the old car for the trip back to the apartment.
CLAYTON ARRIVED AT THE apartment at ten after six and found a very pensive Randy. “Goddamnit Clay, we are gonna be late. The movie starts at seven-thirty and we’ve gotta leave and collect the girls in twenty minutes. So get your ass in the shower and get ready.” “I’m on top of it,” Clayton replied over his shoulder as he scurried down the hallway, to his room, yanking off his shirt over his head as he went. “You don’t have to tell me twice.” He was as excited about tonight’s date as Randy was, but for different reasons. Randy was taking out Lucy, his main squeeze. A great gal, but Randy had been dating her for a while and he was much more interested in, and really didn’t want to be late for, the movie, The Godfather, the hottest flick in town. Clayton, on the other hand, was excited about the gal he was taking out. Maureen was her name and all week he couldn’t think of anything else. HE HAD SEEN HER walking through the crush of bodies at the activity center of the social club his cousin belonged to on Sandia Base. The club was holding a teen
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dance for its members and guests, and most of the kids were between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, but there was an ample quotient of older kids and young adults, some all the way up to their early twenties. As he walked toward her, she noticed him looking at her and lit up like a torch. Wow! he thought. Shit, oh dear, she’s cute. She had big brown eyes beaming up at him with a big smile, which said, ‘Come on, big boy.’ She was short, small and at first he thought she might just be too young—a teenybopper. But he asked her to dance anyway. And when the second song turned to a slow dance, ‘Nights in White Satin,’ a long-standing dance standard, he pulled her toward him and introduced himself. “I’m Clay,” he said over the music while leaning back and looking at her amazing eyes. “Maureen,” she replied. “Are you a member of the club, here?” “No, I’m a guest of a member. I’m just here in Albuquerque working for the summer,” he replied, holding her close by the waist as they continued to dance to the music. Clayton thought that being from out of town added a little mystery. She was maybe five-foot-one, and he could tell she had a well-put-together bod. From his height van-
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tage he could spy down at her cleavage and was pleased to see that there were nice, not really large, but nice boobs. “How about you, are you a member?” “No, the same. I’m here with a friend from school. Her father is stationed here.” “What school do you go to?” “Manzano; I’ll be a senior this year. How about you? Where are you from?” “Arizona; I’ll be a senior at Saguaro High in Scottsdale.” Clayton was relieved that she wasn’t a teenybopper. He decided then and there he wasn’t going to let this one go. He pulled her a little closer and she rested her head against his chest. Good Lord, his body is as hard as a rock, she thought with a smile and tightened her arms around his neck. They danced to four more songs and Clayton was able to display his limited repertoire of dance moves. She was a good dancer; most girls were. And she seemed to enjoy dancing with him. At least he did more than step side to side, rocking his arms back and forth, looking side to side. He could keep time and dance with the beat instead of flailing around like a spastic monkey. She thought he was a better-than-average dancer, as boys go.
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At the end of the fourth dance, Cat Stevens’ ‘Peace Train,’ Clayton called over the noise, “Do you want to get a drink?” “Sure, and I could use some air.” She wanted to get him outside, to see if he was really as nice as he seemed. He reached out and took her hand, putting her arm through his to lead her off the dance floor to the concession stand. Her hand rested on his bicep and her fingers flexed for a moment, ever so slightly giving it a squeeze. Good Lord! she thought for the second time. This guy is built. She had seen and even dated some of the football players who were pretty damn stout, but this guy felt to her like he was all muscle. He smiled as he led her off the dance floor, knowing that she was cognizant of his physique. He was proud that his hard work was paying off and liked it when it was recognized and maybe even admired. He didn’t think it was conceit, but maybe it was a little. And if it helped him land girls, he was more than ready to use it. He ran into Randy at the concession stand talking to a pair of girls. “Maureen, this is my cousin Randy, who I’m staying with this summer. Randy, this is Maureen, who I just met and I don’t want to let out of my sight.”
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Reacting to the blatant flattery with a smile, Maureen offered her hand. “Hi, Randy.” Taking her hand, Randy unloaded his big charming smile. “Well Maureen, it’s a pleasure.” Turning to the girls at each side, he said, “Maureen, Clay, these lovely ladies are Jan and Joanne, two co-eds at the U.” Randy, turning to face the girls, said, “Clay, I bet you didn’t know that co-eds came in pairs.” Randy was trying to appear cute as he gigged the girls. College girls no longer cared to be called ‘co-eds,’ which harkened back to a time when ‘Home Economics’ was a major and the stereotypical girl was on campus, primarily, to find a husband. “You wish we came in pairs,” Joanne scoffed. “You couldn’t handle one of us.” Randy gave her his big smile and replied, “I don’t know, sweetness. I am more than willing to give it the old college try. If you two can break me, I’ll buy breakfast.” “Oh, good grief!” Jan interjected. “I think he’s serious.” Joanne hesitated and looked directly into Randy’s eyes, then said, “Yes, I think he is.” At that point Clayton grabbed Maureen’s hand and they excused themselves. They took their waxed
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cups of cola and went out into the courtyard. The club had a policy that attendees couldn’t leave the dance and re-enter, in order to keep kids, usually the boys, from going out to drink booze and coming back in and making trouble, but you could go out into the courtyard. Which they were sad to see was heavily chaperoned. Both had thoughts of doing a little necking by way of introduction. But, it did give Clayton an opportunity to do a more thorough appraisal. Maureen had long, thick, very dark brown hair that surrounded a lovely, soft, light-skinned oval face. She had full lips that fit well below a small nose. She had a perfect body in miniature. Nothing was too large or too small. He could see that her breasts filled out her lownecked white satin blouse, but were not so big as to be out of place on her small frame. She was wearing a miniskirt, but not so short as to push the bounds of propriety, so as not to be let into the dance by the chaperones. Her legs were shapely and, given her height, did not appear short, and they went all the way up to her ass, which was perfection. But it was her eyes; big, brown, soft doe eyes. Eyes that lit up and shined at you when she talked. She would bat her thick eyelashes and melt your heart. SHE WAS HISPANIC, a proud group of people, originally from Spain, but with a long history in the Southwest. Maureen’s family had settled in what we now call the
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State of New Mexico long before it was a state or even a territory of the United States. Her family came to this land a hundred years before the Puritans reached Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower. They came with the Conquistadores, who explored and settled this land. They were well established with cities and towns and roads in between, along with all manner of economic and governmental accoutrements, necessary to maintain any settlement, a hundred years before any Anglos showed their faces in the area. She was part of a culture within a culture. And even though she spoke English as well as any AngloAmerican, she still spoke Spanish at home, as did all her family, as they had done, dating back hundreds of years. She had both feet fully planted in modern America, but was proudly aware of her ancestral heritage back in Spain. Clayton was a little envious of Maureen’s cultural identity. So many Americans, like himself, had their cultural heritage so muddied in the flowing waters of time, so as to have lost any semblance of an identity. Clayton understood that he was Scotch-Irish through one grandparent, Dutch through another, German through another and perhaps English through the last. Who knows? And, God forbid, don’t try and factor the great-grandparents into the mix. Maureen didn’t have that problem. Sure, there was cultural diversity in her ancestral tree, but the Spanish identity still remained.
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And that really was the grace of America. America was a country unique in the world and in the history of the world; unique because of the successful blending of ethnicities in the population, along with tolerance of cultural identity. It wasn’t easy or without friction, but it was, in the main, triumphant. CLAYTON ENJOYED TALKING TO HER—her eyes nearly had him mesmerized—but he started to feel that she still might be a bit too young for him. She was seventeen, the same age as him, but she giggled a little too much and laughed a little too loud and long at his inane, feeble attempts at humor. But he decided that perhaps it was nervousness and asked her out to a movie, next Saturday, which she readily agreed to. They returned to the dance and danced the rest of the night away, pressing against each other during the slow dances. The evening, all in all, was a very satisfying one and a good start. RANDY AND CLAYTON LEFT the apartment right at sixthirty. Clayton had to go into a full-court press to get ready on time. Randy was cajoling him along because of his anxiety over being late for the movie. “You know that there is going to be a line at the flick,” Randy whined.
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“Don’t worry, cuz. Lucy and Maureen don’t live that far apart. We’ll make it to the theater with twenty minutes to spare.” “More like fifteen minutes, if we’re lucky.” They took Randy’s car, a 1966 Chevy Chevelle. It wasn’t as reliable as the old car, but it had four doors and Randy was absolutely not interested in going on a date riding in a rumble seat; what he called “a poor man’s convertible.” He didn’t appreciate the quaint nostalgia of the experience. They collected their dates and arrived at the theater exactly fifteen minutes before the show. Randy was right. He was right again about the crowd. The movie was getting a lot of play. A long line stood in front of the box office, waiting to buy tickets. “I’ll let you guys off here and go and find a parking space.” Randy stopped the car at the curb directly in front of the theater. “You guys get in line for the tickets. I’ll catch up with you.” Randy parked the car in the back forty and took off at a trot to the box office and found his group near the front of the line. “Goddamnit, we only have five minutes to show time,” Randy complained as he walked up to the group, who, before he intruded, were chatting away and laugh-
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ing. Clayton had just told the girls some story from work, probably poking fun at Randy or himself. “Don’t worry, that’s when the trailers start,” Clayton said, in an effort to mollify his cousin. Instead, his attempt was the beginning of the age-old debate: is the published time for the start of the movie or the advertisements preceding the movie? “Fuck you! That’s when the movie starts,” Randy responded emphatically, ending any further discussion on the subject. “Besides, I like to see the trailers. It’s part of the moviegoing experience.” CLAYTON WASN’T ALL that excited about seeing The Godfather. It had a lot of hype, but to him it was just another movie glorifying a segment of society that he thought abhorrent. The underbelly, no, the asshole of society, that should be eradicated by all means available. Organized crime had grown, nourished by poorly conceived laws and government policies, to the point that it was a permanent fixture of America’s modern society. Crime had become institutionalized, and decades of laws and government policies had done nothing, and would do nothing in the future, to deter the growth. Instead, law enforcement would focus on landing more than two million of the country’s citizens in jail or prison by the end of the millennium. More people would be incarcerated in the US than in totalitarian China, with four times the population.
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Prohibition didn’t create organized crime, but it provided the financial largess, the wherewithal, for organized crime to grow and really become systematized into a coast-to-coast operation. Prohibition corporatized crime; made it big business. When that insane social experiment was over, organized crime was too big to stop and had already moved into drugs, which would become the next social experiment in controlling human behavior. By 1972, President Nixon had already announced his ‘War on Drugs’ and future presidents would escalate this so-called ‘War’ to new and ever more destructive heights. Legislating human behavior would be the cause celeb of a “law and order” platform embraced by both political parties. Meanwhile, organized crime would continue to grow like a cancer into all facets of the American economy. Legitimate shell companies, represented by Washington lobbying firms, would be formed with illegal funds laundered offshore. Law enforcement would be reduced to putting everyone that they could get their hands on in jail; everyone except the mobsters who benefited enormously from law enforcement’s overzealous efforts. NO, CLAYTON WASN’T EXCITED about seeing another mob movie. But, he couldn’t have been more wrong. The movie was great. The story was compelling and the music and cinematography left him riveted in his seat till the credits had completely rolled. But it was the actors. Who were these guys, Al Pacino and James Caan? And the rest
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of the cast, good Lord. And of course there was Brando doing what Brando does best: being Brando. After the movie, the four of them sat and talked excitedly about it while the theater cleared out. When they exited the theater, Randy suggested they walk around the mall while the parking lot cleared out. They stopped for ice cream and talked about the movie some more. The girls were in agreement that Sonny, the character played by James Caan, was a dream and they didn’t like it when he was riddled with bullets. By the time they got out to the car, the parking lot was virtually empty, which, as things were about to go, was a very good thing. They all climbed into the car, with Randy and Clayton opening the girls’ doors for them. Randy climbed in behind the wheel and turned the key. Almost nothing was the result. Sort of a low, slow turning of the starter motor, then click, click, click, in rapid succession. The battery was dead: par for one of Randy’s cars. Randy had never, ever owned reliable transportation. Randy, laughing, said, “Well guys, I guess we’re gonna have to push her.” He liked to refer to his mechanical disasters as females, associating the cars with the temperamental nature he expected from all girls.
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Clayton, laughing along, so as to make light of the situation as if it was just a normal dating event, said, “Yep, let’s get to it.” The boys got out and appraised the situation. The car was on a slight grade with its ass end pointing down. “Lucy, you remember how to pop the clutch?” Lucy, sliding over to the driver’s seat, replied in a somewhat fatalistic tone, “Yah, I remember.” She had only had to do this half a dozen times before. She thought to herself, Dates with Randy were always an adventure. “When you pop the clutch and the engine catches, put the clutch back in and rev the motor with your right foot,” Randy reminded. “I remember, damn it.” “We gotta turn her around so she’s facing downhill,” Randy hollered from the rear of the car. But try as they might, they couldn’t get the heavy bitch to budge. “Well, shit on a stick! We’re gonna have to push her backwards,” Randy muttered to Clayton, through clenched teeth.
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“Lucy, we’re gonna have to push you backwards. There are no cars around to worry about. Just remember to push the clutch back in when she fires.” “I got it. Let’s just get going.” Clayton and Randy came around to the front of the car and began to push. Pushing downhill did the trick; she rolled easily and quickly gained starting speed. “NOW!” Randy yelled and Lucy popped the clutch. Then all hell broke loose. Lucy forgot to put the clutch back in when the engine caught. She had the gas pedal almost to the floor and the car shot off like a rocket sled, going backwards, faster and faster. Peals of laughter mixed with screams came out of the windows, as the car began a wide arc around the parking lot. Randy just stood there next to Clayton, watching the absurd scene unfold. Then he turned to Clayton and offered that impish grin, saying, “Yep, she’s got it, all right.” The car circled back around, toward the boys, standing with their mouths open. They tried to calculate the car’s trajectory. “Look out, she’s coming back for us,” Clayton hollered.
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Randy, laughing, grabbed Clayton by the arm. “Shit, which way should we run?” They realized that they had to stand their ground as the car circled on approach and make their move at the last possible second. It was seriously unnerving, till they jumped to the inside of the arc on the driver’s side of the car. Randy yelled, as the girls went flying by, “Lucy, damn it, take your foot off the gas and push in the damn clutch.” Lucy finally complied. Well, at least with the clutch part. As she pushed in the clutch with her left foot, her right foot remained buried on the gas pedal. The car began to coast to a stop with the engine racing. As Randy and Clayton raced to the car, Randy yelled, “The gas Lucy, take your foot off the goddamn gas!” She did and put her foot on the brake. The car began to sputter and die. “Christ, Lucy, don’t let her die. Take her out of gear and give her a little gas.” As the two boys reached the car, Lucy finally had it under control. Everyone started laughing. As Randy climbed in behind the wheel, Lucy punched him.
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“Never again, Randy! You get this car fixed. A new battery or something or don’t ask me out. You hear?” She was half teasing and half dead serious. Randy decided that maybe it was time to listen to the serious part. BACK AT THE APARTMENT, Clayton and Maureen were sitting together, more like reclining together, in a New Agey idea of a loveseat. It was more like a recliner for two, except the chair didn’t recline from a sitting position, but was always in a layback. The chair looked like a wave and was covered in some sort of pinkish, watermelon-colored, velour-type material. Randy had found it in a second-hand store; thinking it was cool, he had brought it back to his apartment. It was exceptionally ugly. But it did have its purpose; it was impossible for two people to sit in it without snuggling close. Maureen was lying back against Clayton’s arm, which was draped across her shoulders, under her neck. Randy was in the small galley kitchen making a second batch of strawberry margaritas. They had had their first drink on the small apartment patio that looked out over the pool area before adjourning to the living room. The girls had already pled their case to make the drinks weaker this time, but Randy knew his business. No guy in his right mind would ever drink a strawberry margarita unless he was trying to make some girl. And even though he and Lucy were already doing it, he was trying to be a good wingman for Clayton.
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Clayton and Maureen had already engaged in some preliminary necking while waiting for the drinks, when out of nowhere Maureen announces, “I really don’t get turned on by kissing and messing around.” She said it in a matter-of-fact, most definite way, to Lucy, who was sitting across the room on the small, two-butt couch. Shit! Clayton thought. Did I just hear that? Doesn’t like sex? Frigid or something? His mind raced to a conclusion. Wow! He had heard of frigidity, girls being called frigid by guys in the locker room, but he didn’t have a clue what it really was. Hell, he was just learning that girls came. Seriously, from someone so young? How does she know? She couldn’t know. Not really. She can’t have enough experience, with enough guys. The thoughts were racing rapid fire through his head. “Really?” Lucy responded to the out-of-nowhere comment. “You don’t like boys?” She was thinking to herself, Maybe she’s coming on to me? Is she coming on to Lucy? Maybe she’s a lezbo? Clayton thought, in sync with Lucy. IN 1972, HOMOSEXUALITY was still very much in the closet. The vast majority of people thought homosexual love constituted activities performed by degenerates. Sodomy was a punishable crime in most states, and so were many heterosexual acts that the more sexually open elements of society were starting to enjoy.
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“NO! OH, GOD NO! I like boys.” Maureen was visibly surprised at Lucy’s question. “I like them just fine. I just don’t like all the kissing and groping and getting hot. It’s a lot of bother and gets kind of boring.” Oh bullshit, this is ridiculous! I’ve got to find out. Clayton leaned in and kissed her cheek, saying, in a very cavalier manner, belying the real uncertainty that he had in his own carnal abilities, “Maybe you just haven’t been with the right guy.” His next kiss was on her neck, toward the back, moving up to her ear. Bingo, fucking bingo! Maureen melted. She honest-to-god melted. She moaned, slid slightly down the couch, turning into him, pulling his head down to her, and planted a deep kiss. Lucy was startled by how fast Maureen was getting into the mood. Doesn’t get turned on by kissing and fooling around, my ass, she thought. I guess she doesn’t like the fooling around part: she just wants to get right to the fucking part. Randy walked in from the kitchen with a couple of drinks for the girls and was surprised to see Maureen and Clayton entwined like a couple of earthworms in heat. “Whoa kids, get a room, will ya,” he said, almost laughing. Clayton, more surprised than anyone, jumped up and pulled Maureen to her feet and herded her down the
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hallway to his bedroom. Before he could properly close the door, she was all over him. He fell back against the door, slamming it shut in the process. She pulled him backwards on top of her onto the bed. Then it turned into a clusterfuck of deep kisses, shoes flying, clothes being undone, unbuttoned, unzipped, unsnapped, pulled down, pulled up, groping here and groping there. Maureen finally lay back, diagonally, on the bed, pillows and bedspread bunched all around her, panting from the mêlée. Her blouse was open and her bra was unsnapped and up over her perfectly round breasts. Her boots and jeans were on the floor, but she still had her boot socks pulled all the way up. She gazed up with serious, hungry eyes as Clayton slowly pulled her panties down. Clayton’s shirt was lying in one corner of the room, a shoe was in the other corner and the other shoe had somehow made it under the bed. His pants were unbuckled, unzipped and partway down his hips. He kneeled between her legs, gazing down at the vision before him. She had dark, perfectly round, quarter-size nipples, and as her panties came off past her hips, he saw that she had a thick patch of dark hair between her legs. She lifted her hips, then her legs so that he could negotiate the removal of the unwanted panties. Maureen spread her legs, reached up and pulled Clayton down to her. As they embraced and kissed, he
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slid his hand down between her legs and slid his fingers through her silky pubic hair. She was really wet, hot wet, crazy wet. Clayton still wasn’t completely sure what that meant, but it really turned him on. She was all over him, moving into him, pulling him on top of her, between her legs, yanking his pants further down, grabbing his penis, trying to get him inside her. It felt so good, but Clayton was way too excited. As he started to enter her, his excitement exploded and he came. No time to get control, no time to think of math equations, or pink elephants or to let it sneak out. It just went off, big-time. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Preemie again! Goddamn, fuck! his brain screamed. This is starting to be a real problem. Maureen wasn’t close to being satisfied and either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Although, not noticing was a stretch, ’cause he had just come all over her thigh. She wanted more. She wanted him to continue. No, ‘wanted’ wasn’t even close to her frame of mind; she needed him to continue. She insisted and demanded that he continue. She grabbed his dick and tried to push it inside her, but unfortunately, coming so abruptly along with the embarrassment of the event happening so quickly, coupled with her inexpert, frantic administrations, were working against him. Her persistent wrangling of his in-
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creasingly flaccid penis into her vagina was becoming an all-consuming mental exercise. Pink elephant came to mind again, but it was too late for that. He tried not to think about the fact that his manhood was becoming a rubbery, tiny nubbin of serious insignificance. Nor did he want to focus on her insistent stretching and pulling on his prick in a feeble attempt to stir it back to life. He tried to think instead of the incredibly hot, wet pussy just waiting for him. And it would almost work. It’s alive! he happily thought to himself, as it began to firm up, parodying a line from an old Frankenstein movie. Funny how these things come to mind when in the middle of something completely unrelated. Yah baby! His ardor started to return, but then at the first sign of life she crammed the damn thing inside her. It almost worked. He started pumping her and his penis continued to firm up. His brain began racing with excitement and relief. Yes, I’m feeling it. He focused all his thoughts on how his penis felt sliding in and back, trying to absorb every ounce of friction. We’re on our way now, baby. Watch me go. She was giving off very satisfactory moans and his excitement grew and he began to feel cocky. I’m gonna fuck you blind.
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Boom. The wheels came off. In her throws of passion, she moved her ass to reposition his thrust and dislodged his still-unfirm manhood. FUCK! his brain screamed. Quit moving, stay still. Let me do my job. But the girl who said she didn’t or couldn’t get turned on was so far in heat she was beyond salvation. The process started all over again. The stretching and pulling and stuffing, but it was to no avail. Clayton had shot his wad and that was, unfortunately, that. The second round was becoming more desperate than the first. To Clayton it was starting to become comical. Finally, when he couldn’t stand her frenetic efforts, he pressed down on top of her and eased her hands up and away from his useless manhood and slowly kissed her. After the kiss, he whispered, “I’m sorry. I dunno, maybe it was the booze or maybe it was how hot you are, but I got too excited too quickly. I am sorry, I’ll do better next time, I promise.” But he wasn’t sure there would be a next time. Why in the world would she want to go out with a noob like him? WHEN HE DROPPED HER off, he walked her to her door. She turned to him and said, “I had a good time. Thanks for taking me out.” I’ll bet you did, Clayton thought, still smarting from his dismal sexual performance.
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“Call me again, OK?” she asked so sweetly. “Sure I will. We’ll go to dinner next time.” Then she gave him a hug and a kiss and, without intending to, destroyed him. “Thanks for not shooting me.” “Excuse me?” he asked, looking perplexed. “You know, for pulling out and not coming inside me. I appreciate that.” Then she opened the door and walked in. Goddamn! He had hoped that it somehow had gone unnoticed. But he realized, with a chuckle, that he was damn near coming at the sight of her. I guess it was pretty obvious. HE GOT INTO THE car for the drive back to the apartment with Randy. “Well, how was it?” Randy asked. “You’re quick. You didn’t even wait for the second drink before you hauled her ass back to the bedroom.” You’re quick! Couldn’t have been a worse choice of words, Clayton thought. “Yah, quick all right.” Then Clayton relayed the night’s carnal fiasco to Randy. Before they reached the apartment, Randy was howling with mirth. The thought of her wringing Clayton’s dick like a chicken and stuffing the wad of flaccid flesh up into her
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had him crying with laughter. At first, Clayton was taken aback at his cousin’s laughing, but then, seeing that he was on a roll, he spared no detail. If you’re gonna be the class clown, be a good one. But when they arrived back at the apartment, Clayton turned serious. “Man, this has got me spooked. I don’t want to be one of those guys you hear about who can’t control his dick. I always thought I would be one of those Don Juan types. You know? One of those guys who can fuck the bejesus out of a girl, leaving her smoking and in love.” Randy started to laugh again but, seeing the serious concern on his younger friend’s face, decided to give his pal a pep talk. “Don’t worry, man. It will all start to work out. The more you worry about it, the worse it will get. So, don’t worry. Instead, man, next time get your mind right before you start.” Randy smiled. “The pussy ain’t going away. So take your time. Enjoy the ride.” Clayton looked intently at his cousin, trying to see if he was being teased. Instead he saw real sincerity. “Seriously, dude, spend more time messing around with her and the pussy. It’s called foreplay. If you do it right, she’ll be coming before you know it and it won’t matter if you come too quickly; she will already be there.”
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“Okay, I get it, but what about some messing around techniques. What do you do?” The earnest way Clayton asked almost made Randy start laughing again. “Hold the phone, man. You gotta figure that out for yourself. That’s part of the fun. Just listen and watch for the tells.” “The tells?” Clayton asked, a little disappointed that he wasn’t going to get a how-to tutorial. “Yah, you know, man, the little signs that you’re on the right track; her sighs, her moans, the softness in her body, the stiffness in her nipples, the squishiness in her pussy. The way she moves into you, embracing you with her body. The loss of control when you bring her to climax. It’s the language of love and you have to learn it for yourself.” Randy moved into the kitchen as he talked and got a glass of water and started to head down the hall to the bedroom, talking as he went. “Besides, it’s more fun that way. To be told how makes it too clinical, too mechanical. Chicks sense that. You want to be genuine when you make love. And always remember, that’s what you are doing; making love, not having sex. It’s an art form, not an act.” Sage wisdom from a guy only two years older, Clayton thought sarcastically. But he had to admit, Randy
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did have a lot more experience with girls than he did, and the chicks did seem to keep coming back for more. As Randy started to walk into his room, he stopped at the door and turned back to Clayton. “Sure glad I don’t have to sleep in your bed tonight. Sounds like you came like a volcano. Bet you there’s come all over the place.” He chuckled as he gigged his buddy and went into his room. “Fucker,” Clayton yelled after him. He heard a loud guffaw in retort.
CLAYTON LIKED TO WORK. He liked getting up early, before sunup, and going to work. He liked being at work; the sights and sounds and the feeling of making something. He liked the physical side and the tired sense of accomplishment at the day’s end. He smiled inwardly at the way his muscles ached a little when he flexed and stretched them; way better than a gym workout. The only thing that bothered him was that his feet and ankles often hurt after a long day, which, if one could, one would readily skip that aggravation. Fucking bird legs, really his ankles were skinnier than a dog’s dick. Calves were okay, medium-size and solid, but his ankles were toothpicks; fucking genetics. Clayton worked for three weeks on the remodel job, assisting Ricky with the demolition. During that time Clayton got to know Ricky, and his respect for the little Mexican grew. One of the first things he had learned about Ricky was that he had come up from Mexico on a work visa. He had been in the States for six years, had bought a house and had almost saved up enough to bring his wife and two children north. After the three weeks, he and Ricky had become good friends. Ricky respected the gringo kid, who really
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wanted to work. He thought that Clayton probably had the same privileges and opportunities as the other Anglo kids that he saw all over the place, but Clayton chose to come and work; not fuck around, but work. Whereas, Clayton saw Ricky as his mentor; from whom he learned how to work. Not just learn skills and techniques of the job, but how to move one’s ass to get things done. He showed Clayton how to read the plans for the new work. From the plans, Ricky had to determine what needed to be torn down to make room for the new design. He was careful and precise, but he was fast. He was constantly moving and he wanted Clayton to do the same, so that the days were exhausting. But they went by fast. When the demolition was complete, Lou sent Clayton back to the housing project, leaving Ricky to work on the new construction. Later on that summer, Ricky and Clayton were in transit between jobs, in Ricky’s truck, around lunchtime. Ricky turned to Clayton and said, “I think we go to my house for lunch. You like chili?” He pronounced it ‘cheelay’. “I grow some pretty good chili.” “Sure, I like chili, let’s go to your house. Is your house close-by?” Clayton asked, worrying that he didn’t want to be late getting to the next job. “Yes, five minutes, no more,” Ricky answered. “You like my house. Is cool house.”
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Clayton quickly looked over at Ricky, thinking, Slang, Ricky’s using slang; but then Ricky said, almost as if he was reading Clayton’s mind, “Made from adobes. Very cool in summer and warm in winter, too. You know adobes?” “Yah, sure, I know adobes.” Clayton had, once upon a time, in an earlier life, lived with his father in an old adobe house. The house was out on a farm and it was a good memory. Ricky was proud of his house and he showed Clayton around, getting him to agree, several times, that it was a ‘good house.’ It was a typical adobe house, probably forty years old, plastered and painted light blue with dark blue trim on the outside and plastered and painted bright white on the inside. The original house was built in a square and consisted of four rooms, but there had been several additions over the years, so that the house now had eight rooms in a rambling, somewhat disjointed fashion, with different floor levels and odd portals between rooms. But the house was clean and orderly and Clayton had to admit that it was damn cool in the summer heat; and with no air conditioning at all. Ricky quickly fixed them burritos, with scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, some kind of sausage, and fresh green chilies from his garden.
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Goddamn this is good, Clayton thought as he tore into his. “Ricky, this is really good,” he said as he thought, Authentic, homemade Mexican food is always way better than the crap you get at restaurants. Ricky passed a bottle of red hot sauce over to him and he doused the end before he took his next bite. Then it hit him. Oh shit, this is hot! The capsaicin in the green chilies was just starting to work its special brand of magic. That magic that occurs when you realize it’s too spicy to eat, but it tastes too damn good to stop. It’s some kind of Mexican voodoo spell. “Holy shit, Ricky, this is hot!” Clayton said, as his eyes began watering and sweat started to appear on his brow. He took a big drink of iced tea, in hopes of quenching the fire, but that’s like throwing water on an oil fire. Ricky, at the sight of Clayton’s flushed face, began laughing. There was nothing more satisfying to a chili grower than to bring a man to his knees and have him sweat bullets with his mouth on fire. But Clayton didn’t give in. The damn thing tasted too good to stop eating and he didn’t want to give Ricky the satisfaction, anyway. The upshot was that every time Ricky and Clayton found themselves together for a meal, Ricky would produce another fucking chili, grown from
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his garden, for Clayton to sample. Clayton was even drawn into a lunch with a couple of Mexican block layers and Ricky, in which all the Latinos brought chilies in some sort of perverse contest to see who could grow the hottest pepper. After one bite of some small dark green spike of chili that burned on impact, Clayton said, “Fuck this! What’s the point if you can’t taste anything after you eat one of these fucking things?” Whereupon his resignation from the ‘who’s got the hottest pepper?’ contest, they all howled. Clayton, to his chagrin, then realized he was the only one eating the damn things. Fucking Ricky had set him up. And there was Randy giving him the business, too. “Did you know about this?” he asked Randy while looking around for something, anything to cool his burning mouth off. “No dude, I didn’t,” Randy answered between laughs. “I just knew there was no way in hell I was going to eat one of those damn things. Dad and granddad got me to bite into one when I was twelve. It was a sorry experience, I can tell you.” “Well fuck! Ricky, goddamnit, my mouth is about to burn off.” Ricky and the other Mexicans were still laughing at his predicament, but Ricky, taking pity on him, walked over and offered him a thermos of cool milk.
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“Here, this will help a little,” he laughed. “Drink it slowly and hold the milk in your mouth. And Clayton, this is very important.” Ricky was now looking at Clayton very seriously. “What hand you hold chili with?” Clayton blinked at Ricky, between swigs of milk. “What hand? Why?” “Because,” and Ricky started laughing again as he spoke, “you no want to hold you dick weeth that hand when you piss.” Now they were all laughing at him again, but it was infectious and he joined in. “You think it burn you mouth, wait you get it on you dick. We have to take you to hospital.” CLAYTON LOOKED FORWARD TO the start of each day; waiting eagerly for his assignment from Billy, hoping it would be something challenging. More than just leveling and raking the rocks out of yards or shoveling out utility trenches or footers. However, even if he got one of those more tedious and mundane assignments, he didn’t care. Being on a construction site was stimulating enough. Over a dozen trades working in choreographed harmony with the yells, curses and conversations that flowed everywhere. Every crew had a radio playing most every type of music; the slow twang and steady beat of countrywestern, the um-pa-pa of Mexican mariachi music, the heavy beat and loud guitars of rock ’n’ roll. All punctuated by the staccato of hammers, drills, saws and mixers and other implements of construction.
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Heaven! Working alongside hard men, making a living, building something, was his idea of heaven. Being measured by other men for your accomplishments and contribution; ‘he’s a good hand’ is the accolade you strive for. Not being a kid working a summer job, but being a hand. Someone to rely on, someone trusted to do a good job. Every day on the job was a good day. And five good days in a row meant you earned a weekend; two days of total carefree, do-what-you-want bliss. Then Monday morning, back at the job you go. Some workdays were better than others, but they all were special. BILLY SMITH, THE FOREMAN, had been a chopper pilot in Vietnam before coming home and learning the construction trade. After Vietnam, he was highly motivated and learned everything he could about residential construction: site prep, foundations, concrete, framing, plumbing, electrical, roofing, heating and cooling, finish carpentry. He was not just a good hand, he was a top hand. A construction company made money with a hand like Billy. That’s why Lou relied on Billy to run things and pretty much stayed out of his way, other than to make sure he had what he needed. One day, about midway through the summer, Clayton and a couple of the other workers were taking their lunch break, sitting on the concrete floor, leaning against the unfinished walls of the living room of a house
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they were working on, when Billy walked in through the front door with his lunch pail. “What the fuck, over?” Billy offered up his usual greeting, as he closed the front door behind him. He sat down and leaned against the wall opposite Clayton. “This looks like a good place for lunch, eh boys?” It was a good place for lunch. The walls were nearly ready for rocking. The exterior walls were insulated, holding in the cool air from the early morning against the heat of the summer day. Summers in Albuquerque were not nearly as hot as the summers in Phoenix, but they still managed to push one hundred degrees. So, having a cool concrete floor, protected from the latemorning sun, to sit on while eating lunch in the shade was almost luxurious. “It doesn’t get much better than this,” one of the HVAC guys responded. “Yah, man,” Billy answered as he opened his lunch pail and took out his thermos and a sandwich in a baggie. It dawned on Clayton that this was the first time he had had lunch with Bill since the first week. “Where did ‘what the fuck, over’ come from?” Clayton asked as Billy began to eat what appeared to be a pretty good sandwich of ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Damn thing looked three inches thick.
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“Billy was a chopper pilot in Nam,” the same HVAC guy answered for Billy. “That’s how he would respond on his radio or something.” Clayton asked Billy why he wasn’t still flying. It seemed to him that people became pilots in the military so they could have civilian careers as pilots. He thought they made good money. So, why was Billy working construction? Billy stopped munching on his ham and cheese sandwich and looked over at Clayton for half a moment, as if he was trying to figure out an answer, almost like he had never been asked that question before. Then he looked down at the sandwich in his hand and spoke. “’Cause pardner, in Vietnam I was always scared shitless. When I started out flying I loved it and I loved flying choppers. Best time of my life. But the Nam kicked that in the ass. All you need to do is fly into a hot LZ once to know that you never want to do it again.” “Hot LZ? What’s an LZ?” Clayton asked. “Military term for landing zone. A hot LZ is a landing site that is under fire. You drop in from just above the tree tops, bullets, explosions, and shit bursting all around you, rattling off the sides of your craft, sometimes striking the plexiglass canopy in front of you. There ain’t enough prayers in the world to save your butt. We use to
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say, before we went out, ‘give your soul to God, ’cause the Nam’s got your ass’.” Billy stared straight at Clayton, but Clayton could see that Billy was no longer seeing him; Billy’s mind was back in the ‘Nam’. The hand with the forgotten sandwich dropped lower and Billy continued with his answer. “You’re in the shit now. You drop off a load of troopers or ammo or some other supplies. Then your world turns to the surreal. The boys on the ground start loading wounded and medics in your bay. Boys screaming and crying, bleeding and dying. Blood everywhere, horrible wounds. Guys dying or, sometimes, already dead.” Billy’s attention abruptly snapped back to the present. “Fuck man, who would want to fly after that?” Clayton, trying to picture the image, shuddered and thanked providence for sparing him the experience. His generation might be the first in a very long time to not have to go and fight for their country; a rare luxury in the history of the Republic. Billy looked down at his half-eaten sandwich and thought for a minute, and then he looked up and shot a big grin at Clayton. “Fuck, I don’t know; I might fly again someday. I sure did love it once. Maybe?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows?” Billy tossed the remainder of the sandwich into his lunch pail, closed and latched the lid, and then quick-
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ly got up. “Let’s get to it, boys. Chow time is over.” Then he walked out the front door. EVEN THE MUNDANE DRUDGE jobs didn’t bother Clayton. The never-ending yard leveling, and grading, it didn’t get much duller than that. But doing a good job, working fast and steady, leaving a yard even and rock free, was a challenge, requiring thought and technique. He watched the older laborers, one old guy in particular, who didn’t use a rake, but graded with a flathead shovel. His work was near-perfect, the Michelangelo of yard leveling. The guy never created a large windrow of rocks, but shoveled the rocks that accumulated at the end of his shovel into a wheelbarrow that was always close-by. Picture raking an entire yard with a leveling surface no wider than ten inches and having it turn out so close you could stringline it and not see half an inch of variation across the whole yard. That’s what this old guy did; slow and steady. Yard raking was the job always given to the kids working summer. Clayton preferred doing something more akin to all the construction around him and usually was designated for something more constructive, but when he wasn’t needed, it was raking yards. He didn’t mind; once he was in the groove, he would let his mind wander and daydream. He had lots of scenarios that he would play out in his head; themes of heroic deeds, where he was always the hero. Sometimes he would replay movies he had recently seen or books that he had
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read. Many times he replayed wrestling matches in his head; always matches that he’d lost, going over and over what moves he should’ve used, and he always came out on top in the rematch. He attributed his record of never losing twice to the same opponent to this mental replay. If you think you’re going to win, you’re more than halfway to winning. HIS INWARD REVERIE WAS often broken by the banter of his co-workers. One afternoon, he, Randy and the old Mexican were raking away on a yard with two kids that periodically showed up on the job site for work. The kids were about Clayton’s age, but acted and worked like kids. Clearly they were here because they were related to somebody and were being made to work to keep them out of trouble. The only good thing was that they always brought a transistor radio with them, tuned to the local pop station. The radio was playing ‘Brandi’ for the umpteenth time, when one of them broke Clayton’s concentration. “Last night John and I played strip poker with Alice,” Ted offered to start a conversation. Clayton didn’t like conversations when he worked. They slowed the focus on the job and broke the imagery in his head. For him, being able to be in his head made time go away, especially when performing a drudge job. It would make for a very long day if you couldn’t climb
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inside your head, but strip poker with a chick was worth coming back to present reality for. “Alice? Who’s Alice?” he asked. “Oh man, she’s this hot neighbor of Ted’s,” Ted’s friend, John, offered as he stopped raking to talk. “How hot is hot?” Clayton inquired, trying to downplay his piquing interest, which was being driven by the developing image of a near-naked girl sitting across from a deck of cards. He definitely needed more information to fill in the necessary details. “She’s hot,” Randy offered. “I met her when you flew home for that tournament last weekend,” referring to the High School Freestyle Nationals that Clayton had taken fourth in. “Yeah, so tell me,” Clayton said, pressing for salient details while trying not to sound overly interested. “Blonde, pretty, better-than-average tits, great ass.” Oh fuck, the card-playing image was almost complete. “Well, how far did you twerps get? Both of you ended up in your drawers while she had all the cards?” “No way, man,” Ted answered, “we cheated her down to her bra and panties.”
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“And? Don’t leave us hanging here man,” Randy demanded, working hard on his own image. “She wised up. Said she had to go home. Fuck, I still get a hard-on thinking about it,” Ted said, with more than a hint of manly pride. “Me too,” John jumped in. “Man it was bitchin’! She had on those lacy see-through things; you could see hair and nips and everything; it was like she was naked.” The image was completed enough here to take care of the rest of the day and a couple of future days. It was like that scene in ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ where the gal with the big tits and tight pants was washing her car in front of all those convicts on the chain gang. But sex imagery could be more distracting from work than distracting from the passage of time. Clayton had to snap back to the job at hand, or the hard-on he was getting was going to become a problem. “So that’s it? You two jerk-offs had a near-naked, drop-dead hot chick sit in front of you and she gets up and walks her ass out. Fuck me! If Randy had been there he’d have nailed that shit to the floor.” “I’d have to get you off her first,” Randy retorted. “It would be a race, true enough,” Clayton laughed, thinking, I need to meet this Alice chick. Alice,
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sweet Alice. Blonde Alice with the lacy see-through lingerie. Ah shit, the hard-on is back.
Chapter 12-Sweet Alice
AT THE END OF THE DAY, Randy and Clayton grabbed their lunch pails and their drink coolers and headed to the old car. They stowed everything in the trunk, in front of the rumble seat, and fired up the old car for the trip home. As usual, the engine doesn’t catch and the starter motor quickly runs down the battery. Clayton had, wisely, parked the car on a slight incline to make it easier to push start. Push starting the old car was quite easy; you just had to get it barely rolling and the large tires would create a significant enough torque to turn the old engine over. “How about those two nerds playing strip poker with a hot chick?” Clayton opened. “Can you fucking believe it?” Randy responded with a mock-exasperated tone. “You met her?” Clayton asked hopefully. “Yeah, I did better than that, I got her number.” There’s that grin. “That’s my boy!” Fucking Randy never failed to get a girl’s number. Clayton once saw Randy jump out of his car at a stoplight to ask a pretty girl in the car waiting at
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the light next to him for her number. And she gave it to him before the light changed to green. That girl was his current girlfriend, Lucy. “Why haven’t you called her, if she’s so hot?” “Shit man, I’ve been busy with Lucy. Forgot I had it, to tell the truth.” Shit, oh dear! Randy’s wallet was four inches thick, no kidding, full of all kinds of shit, but especially phone numbers. Girls would walk up and hand him their numbers, unsolicited. Finding a specific number for a specific girl was often an act of futility. “Christ Randy, don’t tell me her number is in that ass rock you call a billfold. The girl of my dreams is lost forever in the flotsam and jetsam of your ass.” “Whoa, cowboy! Who said I’d give you the number, anyway?” “You’ve got Lucy. She is all you can handle right now. Besides, Alice, sweet Alice, will be here after I go home, when the summer’s over,” Clayton offered with a hopeful smile. He didn’t want to appear too needy or ole Randy Bo would take inordinate pleasure in fucking with him. “Besides, it’s not the first time I’ve warmed up a babe for you; remember Charlotte? Or you for me for that matter.”
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“Oh, fuck, you’d have to bring up that whackedout bitch. Shit, I didn’t think I’d ever see her wide ass out the door. You know she went after dad.” “Knowing your pops, he tapped that once or twice before she got away.” “No, he didn’t. I know for sure he didn’t, but mom suspected that he did. It’s still not a topic of conversation around the ole homestead, if you know what I mean. Mom’s still pissed at me for bringing her around. I tried to tell her it was you who started that boulder rolling down the hill.” “Well, I’ll do a better job of vetting Alice for you,” Clayton offered. Randy paused and thought for a minute; images of Lucy, backdropped by those of Charlotte, rolling around in his head. “Fuck! Okay, by the time I get around to calling her, I won’t be able to read the number anyway. Just remember, who’s your daddy? Who’s your main man?” “Man, only if she turns out to be as hot as you say and worth the trouble.” “She is and she will.” Clayton was in dire need of a new gal to hang with. He and Maureen dated two more times after the pathetic disaster of a first date. The dates were always
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pleasant, but there was no romantic spark. Clayton would have liked to chock it up to Maureen’s professed disinterest in sex, but he knew it was probably more related to his miserable performance the first time around. The mental picture of her insistently trying to coach his flaccid privates back to life put him off and held him back from trying very hard to get her back into the sack. So the relationship, on mutual agreement, didn’t get past the third date. Clayton wanted a new girlfriend, bad. Alice sounded just like the ticket. When they got back to the apartment, he was all over Randy to call her to see if she was up for a blind date. “All right, all right, I’ll call her after dinner. Maybe she can go out tomorrow,” Randy offered, holding his hand up, as if to tell Clayton to stop. “Right now I’m going to take a shower,” he said, as he headed down the hallway. “What’s the chance that a girl as hot as you say won’t have a date on Saturday night?” Clayton called after him. Randy stopped at the bathroom door and looked back at Clayton’s earnest face and replied, “You never know till you ask. She seemed pretty bored with her summer. She just might be open to a better proposition.”
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“That would be way cool, man,” Clayton responded with a hopeful look. After dinner, Randy rang Alice; she was almost out the door on a date. “Hey Alice, it’s Randy.” “Randy, Randy who?” she replied, obviously not remembering him. “Randy, Randy Emerson. I met you with John and Ted at the poker game two weeks ago,” Randy answered, a little surprised that she didn’t remember him. He couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. In fact, it had never happened before. Ah shit! Clayton thought, listening to Randy trying to establish who he was. “She doesn’t remember you?” Randy held up his hand to silence Clayton and spoke into the receiver. “You gave me your number after the game.” “Oh yah,” Alice said as recognition came to her and she remembered thinking he was a cool dude, especially compared to those two nerds at the game. You would have thought they had never seen a girl in her bra and panties, she thought to herself. Then it occurred to her, They probably hadn’t. Probably gave them enough jerk-off material to last the rest of the year, she laughed to herself. “Randy, sure, I remember you. You sure took
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your sweet-ass time calling me,” she purposely led with an accusation just to put him off-guard. “Yah, well, that’s true enough,” Randy replied coolly, not willing to be sidetracked. “Been a bit busy, but I didn’t forget about you,” he cooed. Ah, fuck! This isn’t right, Clayton thought, becoming concerned with the sound of Randy’s voice. “Randy, what are you doing?” Randy again held up his hand, giving Clayton the ‘shut the fuck up’ look. “So how’s it going now?” Alice asked, opening up, willing to give the cute guy a chance. “What are you after?” “It’s going good. Summer’s great. And I guess I’m after you. But hey, I’m calling to see if you would like to go out with my cousin, Clay, tomorrow? You know, maybe dinner and a movie?” Randy replied, tossing the carrot out. Who doesn’t like dinner and a movie? It’s a safe, tried-and-true play. “Oh, you’re not asking me out, but you want me to go out with your cousin?” she replied, disappointed that Randy wasn’t calling for himself. “Yah, you remember John and Ted talked about Clay at the poker game. He works with us at CR Bailey’s. I
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promise you he’s very cool and lots of fun,” Randy said, sensing trouble and going at her hard. Sell, baby sell! Clayton grinned and held his thumbs up. “Well,” Alice said, starting to be intrigued, remembering what that nerd Ted had said about this Clay guy—that he was a rock-hard beast—but she decided to play it coy. “I’ve got a date tomorrow and I don’t do blind dates.” Randy’s face fell as it registered her negative response and Clayton, looking like his dog had just died, whispered, “Don’t let her off the hook.” Alice, hearing Clayton’s plea to Randy, thought, What the hell. “Say, listen, why don’t you come over later tonight and I’ll meet your cousin. If I like him, maybe we can hook up,” she offered, thinking, He can’t be any worse than any of this summer’s pickings so far. Well, yah, he could be, but what the hell. “Cool!” Randy said, his face brightening as he jumped out of his bar stool. “Give me your address and directions.” After she did, Randy asked, “What time?” “Around eleven-thirty; my room’s in the front of the house on the left, next to the garage. I will leave a
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light on. Be very quiet; don’t wake my mom and dad. Seriously man, I don’t need shit from my folks.” “Will do. See you at eleven-thirty,” Randy reassured her and hung up with a big smile. “I’ve got you up to the plate, boyo. Don’t fucking swing and miss,” he admonished Clayton. “Don’t worry, I’m all over it. It’s game time,” Clayton replied, beaming from ear to ear. AT EXACTLY ELEVEN-THIRTY, Randy coasted his Chevelle up to the address Alice had given, with Lucy in the frontseat and Clayton in the back. Clayton had to talk Randy into coming with him because Alice didn’t know him from Adam. So Randy, in turn, not wanting to be sitting around in the car with his thumb up his ass, talked Lucy into coming to keep him company. Lucy came, because she was curious to see this Alice chick; or as she put it, “Who the hell invites a dude over to sneak her out after she has been on a date with some other dude? This chick I gotta see.” He and Clayton got out and very quietly shut their doors. They walked noiselessly up to the first window next to the garage; the one with the light on. They looked in and saw a vision in gossamer; a beautiful blonde in a translucent, pale blue nightgown walked across the room from the bed to the dresser. The material of her nighty left nothing to the imagination. She was around five feet,
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four inches tall and had all the curves in all the right places; legs, hips, ass, belly and boobs were fucking perfect. And her blonde hair was thick, curly and halfway down her back. Clayton and Randy turned and looked at each other. Randy had his ‘shit-eating grin’ and Clayton had a big-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look. “Shit, oh dear,” Clayton whispered, almost under his breath. “Holy smokes,” Randy whispered back. “See, I told you she was hot.” Randy tapped lightly on the window and the vision turned to look, giving them a smile that took their collective breaths away. At that moment they would have said that she had a face that would put Helen of Troy to shame. In reality, she really wasn’t that beautiful. She was more than cute, but it was her smile that made her the most beautiful girl Clayton had ever seen. When she smiled, man, she shined. She quickly got up and came over to the window. Clayton noticed that she didn’t bother to put on a robe, which in itself was hot. She opened the window and leaned on the sill. The screen had already been removed. “Hi Randy,” she said, looking at Randy with really big, amazingly blue
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eyes. They were so big and so blue that Clayton could tell their color even with the light of the room behind her. “How have you been?” Then she turned her gaze to Clayton as Randy introduced him. “Alice, this is my cousin Clay, up from Phoenix for the summer.” Nice face, she thought. “Well hi, Clay,” she said as she turned the high beams on him. Good Lord, I think my heart’s gonna stop, Clayton thought as he returned her gaze with a big smile of his own. “Hi Alice, it’s great to meet you. Randy has said a lot about you.” Wow! She felt her heart flutter. Now that is a smile. “He couldn’t have said much about me, ’cause we only met that one time,” she deftly parried his silly compliment. Now try a little harder. “True enough, but I think one evening of strip poker with you would leave a man with a whole lot to say about it.” She laughed. Well done; charming and cute. Summer is definitely looking up. Randy, thinking maybe they should move things along before they get busted talking at Alice’s window, whispered, “Thought you said you could sneak out?”
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“Sure, I only do it if I think it’s worth the trouble that I could get in, if I get caught,” she whispered back. “Well,” Clayton asked as he reached out and took her hand off the windowsill, “what are you waiting for?” Bold, she thought. He likes to take charge. “Okay, help me down.” Before Clayton knew it, he had his arms full of near-naked loveliness. She stifled a giggle as he held her. They went out to the car and quietly got in. Clayton introduced Alice to Lucy, who was just as surprised to see Alice in a see-through nighty as the guys were. In the backseat, Alice and Clayton began to get acquainted, which didn’t involve much talking. The second after Alice said hi to Lucy, she was in his arms kissing away. Fortunately for Alice, given her lack of substantial clothing, the night was warm and she was quite comfortable in Clayton’s arms. Unfortunately for Clayton, given the proximity of this vision of sexy loveliness, the warm night did nothing to keep him from shivering from overexcitement. Here was this girl he had just met, minutes before, this beautiful girl with the barest of anything on, passionately kissing him as if they had been long-time lovers. And what she was wearing was almost worse than no clothes at all; she was all silky smooth and he could feel how firm she was underneath the thin film of fabric. And to top it off, she didn’t seem to care where
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he put his hands. It was truly the ‘kid in a candy store’ syndrome. His excitement was overloading his synapses and he started shivering. Alice was excited, too. She couldn’t believe that she was being so forward and so easy. But this guy somehow made her want to be in his arms, kissing him. She was surprised at how hard his body was. When he helped her down from the window, it was done effortlessly, almost like she floated down. Then she was in his arms and she knew that she wanted to kiss him. After a short interval of delicious petting, it became clear to both of them that the backseat of the Chevelle, with Randy and Lucy making out in the frontseat, was not the venue they needed, and all that they were achieving was a serious case of frustration. The intense excitement and the close confinement of the backseat were starting to give Clayton a leg cramp. So they got out and went around to the back of the car. Clayton leaned on the trunk and hugged Alice close. “As fun as this is,” he said to her as he kissed her on the forehead, “I really thought our first date would be a little more of the usual go-out-and-get-to-know-you thing. Can I talk you into coming out with me?” Alice reached up with her lips and kissed him. “Of course you can.” “When?” he replied quickly, very quickly.
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She giggled and said, “Call me tomorrow morning and we’ll see.” TO SAY, FOR CLAYTON, that it was love at first sight would not be too far off the mark. But if it wasn’t love, it was certainly lust. Clayton had not yet learned to distinguish between the two. The first night of sucking face and boob massage left him with a powerful hunger for more of sweet Alice. He called her the next morning and asked her out on a real date. He was pleased and very excited to hear that she had canceled her date that evening and the night was all his, if he wanted it. Oh yes, he wanted it; he badly wanted to see her again and was looking forward to being out on a proper date. A proper date, which would entail the obligatory meeting of the parents, along with the equally obligatory firm handshake with pop. Alice’s dad was a Major in the Air Force, a jet pilot and an assistant squadron commander. He was used to sizing up young men. Even though Clayton had long hair—long compared to the buzz cut required in the military—he liked the young man. He thought Clayton held himself with an air of confidence, and Clayton was a wrestler, which meant discipline. You could see it in the young man’s solid build. He also liked the fact that Clayton was working construction for the summer, not slacking around.
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Clayton could feel Alice’s dad’s eyes on him, being sized up, and he thought the Major was eyeing him for recruitment, but the older man’s thoughts were far from that. After promising to have Alice back by eleven-thirty, they departed on their date. Clayton took Alice to see Cabaret, and then out for a bite afterwards. They both thought Cabaret was a great flick, destined to be a classic, and the movie gave them lots to talk about as they ate. They had met Randy and Lucy at the movie, but Lucy had to be home early, so they were eating alone. Exactly at eleven-fifteen, the old car pulled up in front of Alice’s house, where the deep kissing, like Friday night, began. Clayton broke their embrace in time for her to go in before the promised time. “When can I see you again?” he asked hopefully, at the same time trying to hide his underlying sense of urgency. Alice looked over at him with a shine that almost stopped his heart. “Anytime you want, Clay.” Then she smiled a wicked, knowing smile. “In fact, why don’t you drive around for an hour and then come back and get me. I’ll sneak out again. Just come to the window and help me down like you did last time.” His heart did stop. “Ooh, that would be great!” he almost stuttered, he was so excited. He got out of the car and went around and opened her door for her, then es-
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corted her up to the front door and gave her a sweet, but short, goodbye kiss. “See you soon.” HE DROVE AROUND FOR the required hour, thinking, with urgent anticipation, of the possible outcome of tonight’s furtive liaison. He lectured himself on not getting too excited and maintaining control. After all, if things did go as he had hoped, it was most certainly not his first rodeo and, by God, he should be able to stay in the saddle the requisite eight fucking seconds. He didn’t want to pull up to her house with the old car sounding like a pickup with a hole in its muffler, so he parked around the corner at the end of the block, which was three houses down the street from Alice’s house. The side street was on a slight incline. He figured he could use that to coast a ways before popping the clutch. She came out of her bedroom window as before, dressed in the same fashion as before, except this time Clayton realized as he helped her down that she wasn’t wearing any panties. How he kept from coming in his jeans on the spot was a testament to his willpower. He took her to the old cemetery near Victory Hills. He and Randy had long ago started taking girls there. Something about the quiet solitude or the macabre creepiness made girls want to stay close and cuddle. Their inhibitions, along with their guards, were almost
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always let down. It was their most successful make-out place and many a girl got laid there. But with Alice, getting in the proper mood was not the issue. She saw the seclusion for what it was and devoured Clayton. There was little need for foreplay. He always kept a blanket under the rumble seat in the trunk of the old car. He had spread it out in the middle of a cluster of old trees, giving them a sense of privacy, even though it was unlikely anyone else would be venturing into a graveyard after midnight. She lay down onto the blanket and reached up and pulled him on top of her. Before he knew it, his jeans and underpants were down around his ankles and she was bringing him inside her. She was wet with hot cream, and in an instant he knew he was going to pop off just as he was getting started. But as he was working on gaining some measure of control to let his ejaculation squeak out, hoping she wouldn’t notice, he realized that she was coming. Her orgasm actually started as he entered her, and as usual, because he was overexcited and worrying about his own performance, he didn’t notice. He had heard that girls could fake a climax if they wanted to, but he knew instinctively that this was real and he became so mesmerized by its intensity that he forgot his own dilemma. In fact, he felt empowered, strong, and virile as he firmly thrust his cock inside her, repeatedly. Her climax was loud and vigorous. She moaned his name as he entered her, and with each stroke she repeated it, louder each time, till with
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almost a scream she yelled it out, as she came. He came with her; his ejaculations felt like a series of explosions. So much for the anxiety over being a preemie. Holy shit! Her loud and sudden climax and the intensity of his startled him. Who knew that could happen, he thought with a smile, almost beginning to laugh, but deciding that would be a major sex faux pas. She lay there, almost naked, on the blanket, in the soft light of the full moon, and Clayton was very nearly overcome with the vision of her. She had very light skin, typical of a natural blonde, and she radiated in the moonlight like some mythical forest nymph. This woman, that he had just made love to, had, in his estimation, the most perfect body he could imagine. Words can be so limiting and crass when used to attempt to describe perfection. Her legs were shapely, long and flowed up to her round hips and the firm globes of her ass. Her hips and butt were not too big or too narrow, but enticing. Her waist was small and her tummy was almost flat. Her breasts were large and perfectly round, with quarter-size pink nipples. Her thick blonde hair was the color of golden honey and fell down past her shoulders. The silky hair between her legs was almost platinum blonde. Her almond-shaped face was angelic with soft features and full, succulent lips. But it was her big blue eyes that could suck you in. Clayton, even in the moonlight, could still see the blue as she looked up at him with such wantonness, which immediately made him hard again.
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With the urgency gone, they settled down to slow lovemaking. Clayton began to carefully explore her body with his hands and his tongue. He started first by kissing her slowly, playing with her lips with his tongue. All their kissing up to now had been intense and demanding. Now he wanted to discover how she really wanted to be kissed. She responded by opening her mouth ever so slightly to let his tongue play across the inner part of her lips. She opened wider and met his tongue with hers and they began a slow tango; learning how the other liked to dance. The kiss lasted for a long time as they both became lost in it; neither had experienced a kiss anything close to that intensity. It seemed as if there was nothing else in the world but each other’s warm, moist mouth and their dancing tongues. But Clayton’s ardor was rising and he slowly withdrew his tongue and playfully brought her back by gently biting her lower lip. “Wow!” she giggled, as she came back to the present. “Fuck me, that was amazing.” “I just did and now I’m going to do it again,” Clayton responded, huskily. Oh yah you are, she thought as he began to kiss her neck. She slid her hands along his arms as he began to work his way down her throat with little wet kisses.
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She kneaded the muscles in his upper arms. My God his arms are hard! He began to kiss her soft, but firm, breasts, giving her skin little flicks with his tongue. Her skin felt so natural to him, as if it was his own skin. It was soft and silky smooth, but it was the scent and the taste that were becoming all-consuming. He felt as if he could devour her. He came upon a nipple and gently sucked it into his mouth. Alice moaned and increased the pressure of the action of her hands on his arms. He was surprised that her nipple got significantly larger and harder as he alternately sucked and flicked it with the tip of his tongue. Who knew? While he played with her nipples, he slid his hand down, between her legs. She was still very wet from their first lovemaking, and he began to play in the wetness. It felt like face cream or a thick lotion. He slowly ran his fingers up and down her lips, sliding the cream around all her parts. She began to moan softly and move her hips ever so slightly as he played. His fingers finally came to light at the apex of her lips, and he began to gently slide the cream back and forth over her little nubbin as he sucked a little harder on her nipple. Her moaning intensified and she began to shudder. And then she began to come; wave after wave went through her body. “Okay, okay, that’s enough,” she said as she grabbed his hand away from her sex. “Holy smokes, that
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was intense. Come here.” She pulled him up to her mouth and began to kiss him, pushing her tongue into his mouth. She wanted him to come inside her; she wanted to fuck again. But Clayton wasn’t done with his exploration. He was a man with a plan. He had long ago discarded all his clothes and was naked between her legs. He pulled his knees up under her thighs, resting the tops of his thighs against her ass, with his hard prick tantalizingly close to penetrating her. She curled the heels of her feet behind his hips and tried to pull him inside her. All she got inside was the tip of his dick before he playfully withdrew it. “Oh, come on. I want you inside me,” she said as she thrust her hips onto his lap, trying again to capture his erect penis. He looked at her with hungry eyes and said, “Not yet, I’m not done.” He straightened her right leg and began to kiss her calf, working down to the ultra-soft area at the back of her knee. Then he continued on up her inner thigh, sliding his hand up the outside of her leg as he went. When he reached the top of her thigh, his cheek was brushing the hairs of her bush; he reached both hands under the round globes of her ass and buried his face into her sex. He followed the same course with his tongue that he had used with his fingers; running the tip slowly up and down her lips. But then he realized, in a flash of
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inspiration, that he could use his lips to give her wet kisses. He found her nubbin again and began to make love to it with his mouth. It was more than receptive; and Alice was climaxing again, this time harder and louder. She called out his name so loud it caught him off-guard. “Enough! Please, no more,” she pleaded. She sat up and reached over his shoulders, taking ahold of his arms and pulling him up to her. She pulled her knees up, locked her feet around his hips and pulled him inside her. “Okay, now fuck me,” she said in earnest. And he did, slowly at first, then faster and harder till they both came, and then collapsed. They lay there naked, side by side, on a blanket, in the moonlight, inside a little grove of trees, on a cemetery lawn, looking up at the stars. They both thought, Summer is turning out to be just fine.
Chapter 13- Genesis
JULY 4 WAS ON A Tuesday, which gave ample opportunity for an extra-long, four-day weekend, but the construction industry rarely opted for such extravagances. Time is money; construction companies only make money when projects are worked on. Same goes for the subcontractors, who perform piecework such as framing, sheet rocking, plumbing, electrical, and the like. Especially, the same goes for the workers who get paid hourly and can’t afford losing eight or more hours of pay to lie around an extra day. Many companies didn’t give holiday pay, and most subs, who work for themselves, didn’t either. CR Bailey did pay eight hours for the Fourth, but you had to work the Monday before, which was okay with Clayton. That particular Monday was an especially good day. The workday before a holiday always seemed to be light and airy, hell, even joyful, just like being at school the day before a vacation. It had started to rain in the morning and the crews that worked outside had to knock off. But Clayton and Randy were working through a punch list that required them to be on the inside of a number of homes that were just about to be final-ed, ready for the owners to occupy. They were installing cabinet and drawer hardware and laying down beads of
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caulking on the tops of the baseboards and around the doors and windows. The rain came down hard for about an hour; Tom, Clayton’s stepfather, would have said that ‘it was raining like a two-cunted cow pissing off a flat rock.’ The nice thing was that the rain had cooled things off, almost to the point of the air being chilly. And the air had that special smell that comes in the desert after a rainfall, a clean, earthy smell. And the two were just happy as they worked their afternoon away. “HER HAIR WAS AS thick as Rasputin’s dick,” Clayton tossed out there to no one in particular as he cleaned the caulking from the tip of his gun. But since Randy was the only one in the room, he took the bait. “Whose hair, and you mean Rasputin’s beard, don’t you?” “No, I mean his dick. That rascal was a known claim jumper in his time. He’d stick that spike of his in any ole hole. ‘Anywhere, anytime’ was his nickname, among his peers.” Randy knew he was trapped. His cousin had sucked him in again; he just had to see where Clayton was going to take this. “Yah, so what? What does Rasputin’s prolific use of his dick have to do with her hair? And whose hair are you referring to?”
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“Well you see, I’m glad you asked,” Clayton replied with a sly smile as he changed out the tube of caulking. “It was the size of his dick that I was referring to. It was rumored to be big, not necessarily long, but thick, touching all sides going in. A real plugger.” “Enough!” Randy cried out, becoming exasperated. His cousin’s ‘shaggy dog’ style of telling stories would piss off a saint. “Jesus Christ, the image you create. When you talk about a girl’s attributes—her figure, her lips, tits, ass, hair—you’re supposed to use imagery that conjures up beauty and sex appeal. Not Rasputin’s dead old dick. When you talk about how thick her hair is, try using Rapunzel.” “You mean that chick in the tower with the hair so long, that fucking Prince Charming climbed up it and rogered her in the tower. No man, there’s nothing sexy about that chick. First off, while she was growing that hair, she was sitting in that tower eating bonbons out of boredom and not getting any exercise. By the time that hair reached the ground from that tower window, she looked like the Betty Boop balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Second, man, with all that hair sitting way up in that tower, you think that shit got washed? No man, that was some greasy, nasty shit. Prince Charmin’ had to have Spiderman hands to climb that slick shit. Then what’s he gonna do with One-Ton Tilly when he gets to the top? No man, that’s not an image that elicits the tiniest bit of beauty.”
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“For fuck sake! That’s a classy story of love, sacrifice and redemption. Have you no shame? No respect? What’s next? Cinderella? Snow White?” “Oh man, Snow White; don’t even let me get started on that one. There’s more to the story than has been revealed in the telling. Man, seriously, that cute little princess and those nasty dwarves. You think they kept her around because of her cooking and cleaning abilities. She was a princess for God’s sake. She wouldn’t know a fried egg from macaroni salad or a dishrag from a maxi pad. No, they kept her around ’cause they were doing the big and nasty with her. Sometimes, two and three at a time. You know, going all airtight on her.” “Stop!” Randy held up his hand. “Just fucking stop it. Ain’t there nothing sacred? Turning a children’s classic into sordid bits of nasty creepiness is just wrong. I bet you never babysat the neighbor’s kids, did you?” “Sure did. The kids loved me. Especially when I shared out their dad’s liquor. But I didn’t have as much fun as you probably did, sitting for the Ashton kids next door. That little Rosanne is an up-and-coming vixen.” “Rosanne? What the fuck are you talking about, now?” Randy asked. He was becoming irritated with being perplexed by the meanderings of his cousin’s warped mind.
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“Yah, Rosanne. She’s the one I’ve been talking about; the fourteen-year-old with the screaming twentyyear-old body. She’s got that incredibly thick, long dark hair. Who did you think I was talking about?” Clayton responded with a smile. Gotcha. THEY WOULD NEVER REMEMBER whose idea it was, who authored the initial concept. Randy would insist it was Clayton, it was always Clayton who came up with the crazy shit they did. Clayton would remember it was Randy who was the adventurous extrovert. In the telling and retelling, through the years at family gatherings, to their kids and grandkids, they would each offer the other the credit or blame. And maybe it was one or the other, but more likely it was spontaneous combustion. Both guys lived fairly safe, sane, normal young lives of school, sports, girls, parents, hopes and expectations when apart. But when together, their mutual need for extroverted, outrageous actions always overcame rationality. For some unexplained reason, they both were drawn to street theater, the performance of various thespian acts on unsuspecting audiences and escaping the scene before the authorities could be summoned. Sometimes they actually heard applause, as they made their exit stage left, but usually utterances of ‘what the fuck?’ or ‘what was that?’ or ‘do these guys think they are funny?’ and, once, ‘get off my car, you assholes.’
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Their favorite and long-running show was an encounter between swashbucklers, or fourteenth-century duelists. They would meet at the intersection of two major streets, replete in costume and brandishing real fencing foils—safety tips had been broken off long ago— usually in front of a diner, and fight a sword duel, resulting in Randy spewing copious amounts of theatrical blood in every direction, then running off in a fit of laughter. Sometimes, if the stage selected had on-street parking, the duel would result in a running sword battle up and over the parked cars along the street. Much of their show was ad-libbed, frenzied action, but there were rehearsed moments which demonstrated real theatrical swordplay. One move in particular, where Clayton would disarm Randy with a twist of his wrist and catch Randy’s sword in midair before tossing it back to continue the show. Or if one dropped his blade, the other would slip his blade under and flick the dropped blade high into the air back to the disarmed man’s hand; always a crowd pleaser. They would finish with blood being spilt, sometimes applause, and, rarer still, tips. They would always yell ‘support your local theater’ as they exited their ad hoc stage. What theater were they referring to? Who knows? It just added a bit of legitimacy to their act and it worked more than once to mollify store managers and cops. “WE NEED TO DO something this Fourth,” Randy said with concern; time for a good spoof this summer was
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fast slipping away. He had that ‘I lost the puppy’ look on his face. There was a very visceral emphasis placed on the word ‘need’. “Girls, beer, music, dancing, fireworks, that kind of something?” Clayton asked, even though he already knew that Randy had moved beyond the mundane menu of getting drunk and getting laid. “Nah, something memorable for Christ’s sake! It’s our country’s birthday for Christ’s sake. We need to celebrate with style, with panache, with outrageous theater.” And there it was, not the beginning, the Genesis, the seed kernel of an idea for a spoof, but a throwing down of the gauntlet, a challenge that they needed to do something extraordinary, stretching the bounds of sane behavior. Something that would leave an unsuspecting public dumbfounded and hopefully amused. That’s when they hit upon a gangland-style street murder, strictly Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone, Eliot Ness and The Untouchables. “What if we took the Plymouth out for a spin?” Randy, looking disappointedly bored, replied, “A drive in an old car? Weak, my friend.” “Noooo, not just a drive in an old car; let’s reenact a scene from The Godfather. I look at my car and I see gangster, where everyone else sees an old or classic or
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cute old car. But, I see Brando, Pacino or James Caan riddled with bullet holes.” “Okay, lay on. You have my interest,” Randy said with his ‘shit-eating grin’ just starting to peek out. “I want them to see gangster chases in the street, sirens blaring, Tommy guns rattling. I want Al Capone, Eliot Ness, The Godfather, man, serious theatrical cool!” Ah, the Genesis, that nugget of an idea that turns into the spoof of all spoofs; a 1920s gangland-style murder on the streets of Albuquerque. “Uh, it’s ‘no’ time again. I sure as hell don’t want a running, gunning shootout with the cops. Not sure I’m interested in entertaining the unsuspecting public with a Bonnie and Clyde act.” “I know, I know, work with me here. We’ve got to retire the Errol Flynn routine. Remember the last time? The manager came out and kicked us off the corner. We just had to retaliate. Remember? We snuck back and removed the valve stems from all four tires of his Caddie. I think that bit has worn thin. We need new material.” “I hear you man; something fresh, new and outrageous. What’s your thought?”
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“I really want to perform a gangland murder! It would be funny if I drove up in the old car and gunned you down and drove off.” “Oh, fuck yeah! Big explosion, blood everywhere. The Wild Bunch in Albuquerque. I can work with that.” There’s that smile; Randy’s mind was working, picturing the spoof. “You know, I don’t want to be left on the street after you’ve blown a hole in me. Kind of sucks, standing around with blood all over me, my thumb up my ass, waiting for you to come back around and pick me up.” “Well you can’t very well get into the car after I’ve blown your chest open, covered in tomato paste. Besides, I’m motoring on; I’ve got to make me getaway.” “Shit, how are you gonna shoot me, anyway? You’re on the left side; I’m on the right side. Nobody will see the gun. Besides, we gotta make some noise with the gun to get everyone’s attention. Otherwise I’m just a guy who appeared out of nowhere laying on the sidewalk holding a shirt full of bloody goo. We’ve got to get everyone’s attention, so they see me gunned down.” “Well, then we need another man to be the shooter,” Clayton offered. “How about Vinnie T?” “You think he’d do it? I mean this is some seriously crazy shit. You think he’s up for it?”
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“Shit yah! He thinks this crazy crap we do is very cool. He told me that he’s up for anything. Remember, he was the straight man for the Robenstuffle prank.” ROBENSTUFFLE WAS A LITTLE prank where Randy and Clayton went into a drugstore and pretended to be foreigners who couldn’t speak English. They would jabber back and forth at the druggist, repeating the word ‘Robenstuffle,’ accompanied by dramatic hand gestures. The druggist would try to decode the language and the hand-waving pantomime in an earnest attempt to try to provide service. It always amazed the two at how willing people were to try to assist two lost foreigners. Then, after a reasonable amount of ridiculous play acting, Vinnie, who was already shopping in the store, would step up and offer assistance. Saying that he understood them and that the two were from Yugoslavia or some such nonsense, he would begin to attempt to translate. His first try would be ‘galoshes,’ rubber boots worn over street shoes on rainy days. Galoshes were also commonly known as ‘rubbers’. Then, this is where Vinnie’s acting was spot on. He would feign understanding, and with just the right amount of a knowing smile, he would announce to the man, or sometimes the lady, behind the counter that the two were seeking rubbers, or prophylactics. Rubbers, in those days, were kept behind the drug counter, away from view by the public. Clearly the sexual revolution had a ways to go.
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It was a ballsy skit to do and maintain a straight face, especially when one or the other was pantomiming a rubber using various stretching movements. They ended up with lots of packs of rubbers and way more laughs, but were finally caught when the pharmacist tried to speak to them in their declared language. The surprise on Randy’s face had a half-hearted shit-eating smile, more of an ‘oh, sheee-it’ smile. Out the store all three of them tore in an eruption of laughter. They retired the bit after that. CLAYTON’S FACE BRIGHTENED up with anticipation. “Yah, I remember; he also played the motorcycle cop in that little spoof you played on me last year.” Randy and his folks picked Clayton up from the airport at the end of the previous summer. Clayton invited himself over for a brief visit before heading home. When they arrived back at the house and were getting out of the car, a motorcycle cop pulled up the driveway with his light flashing and his siren wailing. He pointed at Randy and motioned him over. Randy looked over at Clayton and almost gave it away with the appearance of the beginnings of a shiteating grin, but he maintained his composure and walked over to the cop, who was dismounting from his bike. The cop pulled out an envelope and handed it to Randy, who opened it and pulled from it a sheet of folded paper. Randy quickly unfolded the paper, looked at it, looked
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back at the cop, and then turned and pointed straight at Clayton with his arm extended. Clayton looked at his Aunt and Uncle, then back at Randy and the cop, when the cop motioned for Clayton to come over. He walked over and the cop handed him the paper. “Is this you?” the cop demanded, tapping the image on the paper. Looking down, Clayton saw a wanted poster with an artist’s sketch and, by God, it was him. What the fuck, he thought. But then he looked up and Randy and the cop were grinning from ear to ear. They had him cold, but couldn’t handle it. He knew he was being played and wanted to say ‘fuck you guys,’ but the cop sure looked real and it was never a good idea to tell a cop to fuck off, even if he was helping with a practical joke. The cop broke into laughter and started taking off his helmet. “Son of a bitch, we had him!” Randy said, giving the cop a shove in the shoulder. “You couldn’t keep a straight face five more minutes?” “Me? It’s your fault. I was doing fine till I looked at you,” the cop replied defensively, as his helmet came all the way off, revealing his identity.
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“Fucking Vinnie T; I should have guessed,” Clayton said, laughing along. “What in hell are you doing in this getup?” Vinnie, still laughing, said, “The look on your face; man, it was priceless. I work part time as an escort for a security company. You know, we drive around escorting funerals, mostly.” VINNIE WAS BIG, FOOTBALL-player big, and in fact, he played high school football till he injured a knee his junior year. He was at least six feet tall with wide shoulders and tree trunk legs. He had a tan complexion with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes to match. Vinnie T was Italian through and through. Vinnie T would be perfect. “If we get Vinnie in, how we gonna play it?” “Hmm, let’s see,” Randy dropped his head with his brow furrowed as he began working the scene over in his mind. “I’ll be walking on the sidewalk, on the right side of the road, toward the intersection, casual like, minding my own business, and then you guys come around the corner, drive up and shoot me.” Simple enough in concept. From the gauntlet being thrown down, to the embryonic nugget, which grew into a basic concept, it was now going to be nurtured into a detailed, choreographed piece of street theater, a skit, a spoof of all spoofs; the stuff that legends are made of.
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The two of them bounced the choreography back and forth till they had a solid plan, and it was beautiful. “I hope, when this thing is done, that the unsuspecting audience knows that this is a spoof,” Randy said, expressing real concern. “Shit Randy, there are so many moving parts to this skit that there is no way it will come off without a hitch. The public will see that it’s not real.” “Well that doesn’t make me feel any better. If the shit goes wrong, then I’ll be the one looking like an idiot.” “You mean we will all look stupid.” “Not all of us; just me! I will look stupid. You fuckers get to drive away, leaving me for dead on the sidewalk. What’ll I do then, get up and take a bow?” “Hmm, why don’t we take you with us? After Vinnie shoots you, he picks you up and throws you in on the rumble seat. That way, good or bad performance, we make our escape together.”
Chapter 14-July 4
SERGEANT ALBERTO APODOCA, Al to his friends, came into the precinct station at five forty-five Tuesday evening. Fuck, fuck, fuck, he thought to himself, fucking Fourth of July. I hate this shift. It gets worse every year. At six o’clock, on the dot, he briefed his squad. “I don’t have to tell you men it’s the Fourth of July. Next to Halloween or Cinco de Mayo, this night sucks to be a peace officer. So, stay on your toes; anything can happen tonight. Expect lots of drunks; some of them may be armed. Work together when approaching anybody that appears to be inebriated.” As he stood at the podium, he thought to himself, Please, no more than three shootings tonight. He didn’t have the manpower to station at shootings, waiting for homicide detectives, while his city or his piece of the city erupted into euphoric party craziness. “Watch yourself and watch out for each other,” he admonished his men as he closed the briefing. Sergeant Apodoca was a fourteen-year veteran of the Albuquerque police force and had seen enough Fourths from his patrol car to fill a career. This one was going to be one the department would be talking about for a long time. As he climbed into his patrol car, he
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crossed himself and looked skyward. Please bring everybody home tonight, Amen. THE OLD CAR ROLLED out at nine. The boys figured it would be the perfect time to catch the dinner crowd. Vinnie had shown up at seven with a six-pack of beer, well dressed for his part. Randy and Clayton had gone over the role he was to play the night before and he came dressed for the part of a Chicago gangster; brown suit, bright yellow shirt with red pinstripes, shiny light brown shoes and a white tie. If you saw him in Vegas, you would instantly assume he was mob, straight down to the white socks showing out from under his cuffs. “Where did you get the shirt and tie?” Clayton asked, holding back a laugh. “My ole man’s closet. Pop’s a snappy dresser,” Vinnie replied with a straight face. Which drew an instant laugh from Randy and Clayton. “Yah, he is,” Clayton offered, looking down and away from Vinnie’s serious expression. The three of them loaded up into the old Plymouth with Clayton at the wheel, Vinnie in the middle and Randy riding shotgun to facilitate his exit from the car. The radio was playing ‘Bad Moon Rising’ by Credence. It had been raining off and on all day and into the early
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evening. But sometime around seven o’clock, the storm seemed to have finally moved on with only sporadic, light sprinkling. The summer storm brought much-needed moisture to the desert and was a welcome respite from the summer heat and left behind a very damp, but much cooler, Albuquerque. It was setting up to be a great night to celebrate the Fourth of July. They turned west on Menaul, then made a left turn on Chama Street, a side street into a residential neighborhood, about a quarter of a mile north of the intersection of Menaul and Louisiana. Clayton stopped the car just past the corner to let Randy out, and then continued on into the neighborhood. RANDY STARTED WALKING WEST on the sidewalk along Menaul toward the intersection with Louisiana. On the southeast corner of the intersection was a Sambo’s Restaurant. Sambo’s was a restaurant chain similar to Denny’s, but with a more flamboyant, colorful motif. The chain was highly successful, with over one thousand restaurants, and at least one in almost every state. The restaurant, which was originally named after two guys, Sam and Bo, unfortunately chose to connect itself to the children’s book of the same name, The Story of Little Black Sambo. The Civil Rights Movement that gained steam in the Sixties and was still battling in the Seventies had made the country acutely aware of and sensitive to the plight of African-Americans. By the Seventies, the consciousness of the American people began to push back
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against the name; many felt the name ‘Sambo’ denigrated Negroes in America. And even though the restaurant name was a play on the names of the founders, America was becoming hypersensitive to prejudice and the lack of respect that had been shown to African-Americans. This was still a cataclysmic time for the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great Civil Rights leader, had been assassinated not four years earlier. School integration was now the law of the land, but it did nothing to change the hearts and minds of the American public. The University of Alabama had not yet let black players on its football team, and wouldn’t till 1978, another six years; that was because the school was no longer able to compete for the national championship against teams that did. The Movement would have to continue, because old forms of injustice were rapidly being replaced by new forms. ‘Political Correctness’ was entering the lexicon of the public. The term, originally meant as a positive term, referred to ‘getting on the right side of history,’ as it relates to any form of prejudice or discrimination against any segment of society. But, the use of ‘PC’ quickly became, snickeringly, pejorative by all those who longed for the old days, when they could call a spade a spade. All in all, it was a very unfortunate time to have a boatload of restaurants named ‘Sambo’s,’ no matter how good the food was.
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SAM AND WANDA JOHNSON were just beginning to dive into their meals at Sambo’s. Wanda had the meatloaf with the vegetable medley, while Sam had the world-famous country fried chicken, mashed potatoes with country gravy and biscuits. Sam and Wanda were in their late sixties and had been married a long time. They had come in for a late dinner after seeing The Godfather at a nearby theater. They weren’t sure if they liked the movie; much of the content was disturbing. Organized crime in America was hard to accept; after all, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI said it didn’t exist. They were sitting at a street-side table and Wanda could have seen Randy walking down the sidewalk, if she had looked up from her meal. Jeffery, Patty, Susan and Dan were sitting in the booth behind Sam, laughing at some story that Dan was telling about his little brother. They had menus in hand, each glancing over the choices during Dan’s story. They had come in for a bite before they go to the ten-thirty showing of The Godfather. Patty looked out at the street and saw a very old car turn the corner and she started to tell the group to look. Frank and Charlene Rogers, with their four kids aged from one-and-a-half years to eleven, were sitting in the booth behind Wanda. They were there to have dinner out, a Fourth of July break from dinner at home, and The Godfather was furthest from their minds. Frank could have seen Randy coming down the sidewalk if he had had time to look up from tending the child on either side of
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him. Charlene was likewise busy with the baby in the highchair at the head of the table. But Tommy, the oldest, sitting to his mommy’s right, next to the window, saw the old car coming up the street and started to point it out to his dad, who was too busy to acknowledge or respond. Frank was glancing, longingly, at his plate, hoping to get a bite of his dinner before it got cold. The much longed-for break from dinner at home was turning out to be more trying than relaxing. But, it was about to get a lot more exciting. AFTER DROPPING RANDY OFF, Clayton and Vinnie drove through the neighborhood, winding their way south and finally west to Louisiana. There they turned right to head north to the intersection with Menaul, where they turned the corner, coming into Susan’s view, and headed slowly up the street toward Randy, catching the eye of young Tommy. Clayton steered the old car close to the curb. He was running almost at idle speed and had his left foot off the clutch, applying just enough even pressure on the gas pedal with his right foot to keep the engine from stalling. As they approached Randy, Vinnie opened the suicide door and stepped out of the cab onto the running board. The tires on the right side of the car were just on the edge of the gutter so that the running board was only six inches or so away from the curb. The running board was about a foot higher than the top of the curb, so Vinnie stepped onto the sidewalk from the slowly moving
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car with ease, almost graceful in his brown suit, bright yellow red-pinstripe shirt and white tie. On cue, Randy, upon seeing Vinnie step out of the old car in front of him, feigned recognition and let out a cry, more like a scream of terror, the purpose of which was to gain the unsuspecting public’s attention on the scene of street theater about to unfold. Randy’s cry was a guttural scream of sheer terror. Well played, yes, well played indeed. Well, maybe too well played? As Vinnie landed on the sidewalk, he reached inside his coat and pulled a black forty-five pistol from his waistband. The pistol looked like an Army Model 1914 forty-five, the main sidearm of the Army and Marine Corps from World War One through Vietnam. The weapon was originally designed to fight in the Moro Insurrection in the Philippines because of the punch it packed, able to knock a charging man down. The gun Vinnie pulled was really a BB gun that Randy had received from his dad on his twelfth birthday. But it looked, very much, like the real thing, even upon close examination. Black and menacing, only the size of the bore gave the gun away. Vinnie, holding the gun chest high, away from his body, pointing skyward, cocked the gun with an exaggerated flourish. He proceeded to point the gun at Randy, who was backing away, yelling, “No, no, please God, no,”
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with his arms extended as if he was going to fend off the bullets that would soon be coming his way. Clayton, who was idling along the street in the old car, was following the action on the sidewalk. As Vinnie began to lower the pistol and take aim at Randy, he lit and threw two cherry bombs out the driver’s side window onto the street. Vinnie, almost as if cued by a director, jerked the pistol back twice, in rapid succession, as the cherry bombs went off with clear, loud bangs. Randy screamed again and clutched his chest hard, bursting a bag under his shirt, which contained a concoction of theatrical blood. The blood was a creation of his and Clayton’s for a skit they had done two years before and was designed for the perfect color and consistency, when exploded from a baggie, and was made from just the right amount of Karo syrup, food coloring, and tomato paste, with a serious amount of Tabasco sauce thrown in for good measure. Randy hit his chest with such exaggeration and force, the blood exploded in a great cloud as he fell back onto the sidewalk with an audible thud. Randy, totally into his role, hit the sidewalk hard. At that point Vinnie panicked and shit started to unravel fast. He jumped back into the car, leaving Randy, a frozen corpse, on the sidewalk.
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“What the fuck are you doing?” Clayton yelled at Vinnie as Vinnie slid into the seat. “You’ve got to pick him up. We can’t leave him there.” “Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Vinnie yelled. His face was white with pure terror and it looked like, for a moment, that he wasn’t going to respond to Clayton’s admonition. In fact, his fear was so palpable it was infectious and Clayton was starting to succumb to it, to the point of actually considering driving off without Randy. But reason quickly took over and he smiled as he reminded himself that this was only a spoof, a far cry from reality. He reached across Vinnie’s body and grabbed the big man’s far shoulder and turned him to be able to look directly into his eyes. He then spoke very slowly to Vinnie and with as much emphasis as he could. “You have to get back out there and pick Randy up.” Vinnie’s face relaxed and a small amount of color came back. He jumped back out of the car, grabbed Randy from off the sidewalk, slung him over his shoulder in a classic fireman’s carry and stepped over to the old car, which had idled up almost past them. He jerked open the trunk lid and tossed Randy in on top of the rumble seat. Randy, playing dead for all he’s worth, went in like a sack of potatoes, hitting his head on the edge of the trunk and slumped, semi-unconscious, into the seat with arms and legs hanging out the top of the trunk. Af-
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ter dumping Randy, Vinnie jumped back into the cab of the old car. Clayton floored the gas pedal and the old car started to pull away from the scene, when the engine immediately began to sputter, choke and die. “Oh, shit, not now!” Clayton cursed as he slapped his hands onto the steering wheel in frustration. “What’s wrong?” Vinnie asked, the panic coming back and rising in his throat. “Vapor lock! The son of a bitch is locking up,” Clayton cursed, starting to feel Vinnie’s panic as he pictured the old car limping away at ten miles an hour. Some getaway, he almost laughed at the thought. It would have been a nervous laugh, if he could have gotten it out. Right then the engine caught and they gained speed, moving away from the scene. Relief settled over Clayton like a warm blanket on a cold night. Man, this could have sucked big-time, he thought with a smile. WANDA SAW RANDY SCREAM at the big, menacing man who emerged from the old car coming up the street. She was just thinking, What an interesting old car; I haven’t seen one like it in years. My, it takes me back…, when Randy screamed and started to back away from the man, with his hands out. She dropped a fork full of veggies she was just about to place in her mouth.
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Sam, hearing Randy’s scream, jerked his head to the right so hard he thought he broke his neck. Susan called out “Oh, my God!” as she and her three friends jumped in their seats and stared out the window at the scene about to unfold. Tommy yelled “Daddy!” very frightenedly and pointed out the window, finally getting Frank’s attention. Charlene spun around from the baby, and looked over Tommy’s head. They all saw Vinnie pull a black Army forty-five and shoot Randy down in the streets of Albuquerque in cold blood. Very cold blood! As the unseen cherry bombs popped, the big gun jerked back and the screaming man’s chest exploded, there was a collective scream from everyone dining in the booths along the windows on the Menaul side of the restaurant, and then the whole place erupted in hysteria. Diners jumped out of their seats and rushed to the windows to see what all the fuss was about and were witnesses to Vinnie tossing a very bloody and obviously dead Randy into the back of a very old car. The car appeared to stall for a moment then sped off, eastward on Menaul. CLAYTON TURNED RIGHT AT the corner where they had let Randy out earlier and drove into the neighbor-
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hood again. He found a vacant corner lot and pulled off. He and Vinnie fell out of the old car laughing their asses off. Vinnie was very excited. “That was fucking far out,” he laughed, giving Clayton a shove as he came around the car, then doubling over laughing. Clayton pushed Vinnie back and damn near knocked him over, he was laughing so hard. “That was outta sight! Best spoof ever.” A call came from the rear of the old car. “Hey, get me the hell out of here.” The two were laughing so hard they forgot about Randy. They had to pull him out of the trunk because his ass had become wedged between the rumble seat and the floor with his legs and arms hanging over the sides so that he couldn’t pull himself up. Once on the ground, Randy, rubbing the back of his head, joined in the laughter. “Dude, you didn’t have to chuck my ass in the back so hard,” he said to Vinnie. “I’m lucky I didn’t break my damn neck.” Vinnie was way too excited to acknowledge Randy’s admonition. “Jesus! Did you see the blood explode out of Randy’s chest?” “No, man, I missed it. I was watching the road and trying to keep her from stalling,” Clayton replied. “Was it really good? Was it realistic?”
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“Shit man, it just erupted like a volcano. Scared the shit out of me,” Vinnie admitted somewhat sheepishly between his mirth. Randy, still rubbing his head, jumped in. “Goddamn dude, you ran off. Scared the crap out of me, lying there thinking, ‘what the fuck am I going to do’; how the hell do I just get up and walk away, all fucking covered in fucking gore?” “Oh yah,” Clayton chimed in, pointing at Vinnie. “When he jumped back in the car without you, I thought ‘oh shit!’. I yelled at him to get his ass back out there. I reminded him that we had to take you with us.” “Yah, you were one cool cat. When all that blood exploded out of Randy’s chest and he hit the deck so fucking hard, I panicked,” Vinnie admitted. “It was way too real. I didn’t expect that. Fuck, man, it was far out!” “It was perfect. We couldn’t have done it any better,” Randy said, echoing Vinnie’s enthusiasm. MEANWHILE, BACK AT SAMBO’S Restaurant, the place was in an uproar. Patrons were standing around and crowding onto the booths on the Menaul side of the restaurant, trying to get a look out into the street. Susan was crying hysterically, while Jeffery was trying to console her.
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Dan was saying, authoritatively, “Ah hell, it’s just some advertisement for The Godfather. It’s not real.” Patty replied, “Dan, you don’t know that.” “It looked pretty fucking real to me,” Jeffery added, becoming agitated with Dan’s matter-of-fact tone. Charlene was holding a very upset and scared Tommy close to her chest, while looking over at Frank with wide, disbelieving eyes. “My God, Frank, did you see that? Did that really happen?” Frank, looking over at his panicked wife, was thinking, This is the last time we’re going out to dinner. Sam had jumped out of his seat to come to Wanda’s aid. She had fainted, pulling her plate of meatloaf and vegetables over onto herself as she slumped in her seat. Being a witness to a drive-by shooting on a busy major street in Albuquerque would, in and of itself, be enough to get everyone’s tongue-a-wagging, but this was something way beyond that. This was a time warp right back to the streets of Chicago during Prohibition. Now, some saw the event for what it really was: a hoax, a Fourth of July prank. And some even made the leap to The Godfather and thought it was some form of advertising. But most of the diners in the booths along Menaul were certain that they had seen a brutal street murder
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and their hysteria infected the rest of the restaurant. Servers weren’t serving, cooks weren’t cooking, and most of all, diners weren’t dining. The manager picked up the phone and called the police. CLAYTON LOOKED PENSIVE ABOUT Randy’s claim of perfection. “I don’t know, you guys,” he stepped in. “The timing of the firecrackers was off. They didn’t go off as fast as I thought they would. Vinnie started jerking the gun back before they went off.” Vinnie responded defensively, “I don’t think so, man. It seemed to me to be dead on.” Randy added, becoming a little defensive himself, “I thought the timing was about as good as you can get. I could see Vinnie’s arm jerking back as the cherry bombs exploded. Man they were loud!” “Yah, you’re right on there, man,” Clayton conceded. “The pops scared the shit out of me. If Randy’s scream didn’t get their attention, the bombs sure did. But dudes, we gotta do it again. I know the timing was off.” “I don’t know about the timing,” Vinnie jumped in. “But I’m up for it, just because it was fucking cool, outta sight, man. It was a fucking blast!” Randy, still massaging his scalp, looked at the other two. “You know me, I can do this all night. But Vinnie, goddamnit, don’t throw me in the trunk so fucking hard.”
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Clayton and Vinnie started laughing again, describing to Randy how ridiculous he looked stuffed in the trunk of the car with his arms and legs flailing about, like he had his ass stuck in a barrel. SERGEANT APODOCA GOT THE call over the radio and thought, Good Lord, a drive-by shooting in front of Sambo’s Restaurant. He responded to the call and was the second car on the scene. As he walked in, he could see that the restaurant was crowded with agitated diners all talking at once. There was an officer sitting in a booth talking to an elderly lady that looked a bit befuddled. He was met by the other officer that had arrived with the first squad car. “Sarge, you’re not going to believe this.” The officer briefly described what had occurred and then introduced him to the restaurant manager who looked worn out and frustrated. As the manager relayed all that he knew about the incident, Sergeant Apodoca couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Now this is going to fucking suck. As other officers arrived, he detailed them to start taking statements from the patrons and to help the first squad to arrive with protecting the supposed crime scene along Menaul. He went out to his squad car and radioed the precinct to request additional detectives. Typically two would be detailed to this incident, but he knew that was not going to be nearly enough. He sat and thought for a second, then asked the dispatcher to contact the movie
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theaters in the area to see if they were running some kind of promotional ad for The Godfather. It would just be like those assholes to do something stupid like this without first contacting us or getting a permit. He went out and joined the officers on the sidewalk along Menaul. Everyone was busy protecting the crime scene or looking for and flagging clues, like spent shell casings; there were none. He bent down and looked at the blood splattered all over the sidewalk. Hmm, messy, he thought. That had to be some sight. Looking closer at the blood, something didn’t appear right. There should be more; a pool of blood where the body laid and splatters of blood where the perp carried the victim to the car. He reached down and gingerly dipped the tip of his finger in the blood. He raised his finger carefully to his nose and sniffed. Tabasco? Ah fuck, goddamn Tabasco! It’s a fucking hoax! He slid his finger across the blood and brought it to his mouth, tasting it with his tongue. “Yep, it’s fucking Tabasco,” he said out loud. “Jim,” he called to one of the officers, “get down here and taste this and tell me what you think.” Officer Jim hesitated, not sure he heard the unusual request correctly, then complied. “Shit, this is more like spaghetti sauce than blood.”
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“Boys, we got us here a hoax; some college prank, or hell, it could be some promo for that damn gangster movie. In any case, it sure as hell ain’t a murder. Let’s call off the dogs.” Sergeant Apodoca was working himself up into a right proper lather. Much of it was brought on by the exasperation of the situation, but some of it was relief that there wasn’t going to be a new form of crime in his street. “It’s a fucking waste of time. When I catch those punks, and we are going to catch them, I’m going to scare the living shit out of them.” As he was talking, he was starting to formulate a plan. “I think we will just turn the tables on them.” RANDY TOOK OFF HIS blood-soaked shirt and pulled off the mostly empty bag of blood. “Yeow, I hate this part,” he cried as the tape pulled off a few of the few hairs he had on his chest. “Fucking pansy! There’s more hair on a baby’s ass than that weak-ass chest of yours,” Clayton teased, giving Randy the business as usual. In point of fact, Randy’s chest was far from ‘weak ass’; it was well developed from a lot of hours under the bench press bar. Randy quickly toweled off most of the goo and affixed a new bag of blood to his chest. After donning a clean shirt, Randy said, giving a thumb’s-up, “Let’s do it.”
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Just as Sergeant Apodoca was getting briefed by the first officers on the scene at Sambo’s, the three drove off to find their next victim.
Chapter 15-Third Time’s the Charm
THEY DROVE EAST THROUGH the neighborhood, keeping off the major arterial streets. Before they got to Pennsylvania Avenue, the next major north-south arterial, they came up behind IHOP, located on Menaul a little under a mile east of Sambo’s. Clayton and Vinnie dropped Randy off behind the restaurant and then circled back around through the subdivision, so that they could come out on Menaul west of the restaurant and drive east past it, as before. Randy walked out to Menaul, about a block east of the restaurant, and started to go west on the sidewalk. If their timing was right, Randy would be walking in front of the restaurant just as the old car came idling up. But it wasn’t and there was a wrinkle they had not accounted for: the front door into IHOP was at the center of the restaurant, facing Menaul, right where the scene was staged to unfold. As Randy approached the restaurant, he could see people going in and coming out the front door, departing from and returning to the sidewalk; his sidewalk, his stage. As Randy got closer to the front door, the old car came idling up and Vinnie was just starting to emerge onto the running board when four college-age girls
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walked out of the restaurant in front of Randy, right into the middle of the scene. Oh, fuck it, Randy thought, the show must go on. But the show began to unravel from the get-go. Vinnie stepped off the running board of the old car and drew his gun and, in his best theatrical style, showed he was intent on serious mayhem. Randy let out a half-hearted scream, all he could muster in front of the girls. Clayton lit and threw the cherry bombs out the window onto the street, as before, but this time the bombs landed right in the middle of a puddle of rain water, fizzled and went out. Vinnie was already jerking his arm back, but there was no ‘pop, pop,’ so the action of his arm combined with his over-the-top acting looks to Randy like a silent movie routine and he starts laughing; which quickly degrades into an embarrassed laugh, being in front of the girls and all, but not so much, because after all, he was the veteran of many street theater miscues. He grabs Vinnie and shoves him back into the old car that was just beginning to pass them. “Fuck it, let’s go,” he yelled in between laughs, pulling the suicide door closed. “Get the fuck out of here.” “I did my part, it wasn’t me,” Vinnie said defensively as the old car responded to the gas pedal. “It’s OK, Vinnie,” Clayton said laughing, as he steered the old car out into traffic. “Sometimes we gotta
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abort the mission. The director says ‘cut’ ’cause the scene ain’t working.” Randy said, “Did you see those girls? Shit, I probably have classes with ’em.” As they drove off, the girls called out questions after them, unsure of what they had just witnessed. “What are you guys up to? Does this have something to do with The Godfather movie?” “Is this some kind of prank; a fraternity thing?” “This shit isn’t funny!” As Clayton drove up to the intersection and turned right onto Pennsylvania, Randy said, “Jesus, that fucking sucked!” “Yah, no shit, the goddamn firecrackers went into the drink,” Clayton added, still laughing. But Randy wasn’t laughing anymore. He leaned forward and looked past Vinnie at Clayton, his longtime partner in crime, with a serious, bummed look and said, “Nah, man, it wasn’t just that. It was just not working. We can’t have the front doors anywhere near the stage. Can’t let the audience get that close to the action.” Then he fell into his shit-eating smile and winked at Clayton. “It was fucking funny, ole Vinnie here, jerking that big gun back
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with no noise.” He tilted his head to look up at Vinnie. “The look on your face, dude, was priceless.” “Hey, I did my part,” Vinnie said, becoming defensive again and starting to look like a kicked puppy. Clayton completed a left turn off of Pennsylvania, into a new neighborhood, south of Menaul. He turned his head slightly to glance at Vinnie. “You were fine, great in fact. Randy’s right, though; the stage was wrong. We can’t let the audience get that close to the stage. The realism we’re trying for, it won’t hold up to close scrutiny.” Clayton drove back into the neighborhood and pulled the old car up to the curb and stopped next to a park. “Hey dudes, let’s call it a night?” Clayton said, cooling on the game and starting to feel a little embarrassed about getting caught, mid-act, in front of those chicks. He knew, going in, that there was little chance that this skit would come off with a complete sense of realism. There were just too many moving parts. And, in some sense, he was scared of the notion that they could actually portray a realistic, gangland-style shooting on the streets of Albuquerque. There could be serious repercussions for the perpetrators, not the least of which they could all get shot by the cops. But, even with that reservation, he still felt somehow compelled to try. Perhaps their first attempt was as good as it was going to
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get, which was pretty damn good. “I think, looking back, we put on a pretty damn good show at Sambo’s.” Randy, on the other hand, reversing himself from his earlier reluctance to go a second time, said, “Fuck no, we need to do it again and get it right!” Determination was setting in. “I’m in,” Vinnie, said, jumping in with his vote. Clayton started laughing. “Well shit, fire! I guess we go again. Randy, where to?” “Let’s head over to the Denny’s on Central. It’s got the perfect setup. Entry is off the parking lot on the side. No door on the street side facing Central.” “Oh man, I’ve eaten there a lot,” Vinnie added. “There are booths all along the Central side of the restaurant.” “Sounds like a perfect setup for a show,” Clayton agreed with a smile. “Groovy,” Randy said, and then added in his best theatrical voice, “once more into the breach, my fellow thespians.” THEY PULLED BACK OUT onto Pennsylvania and headed south, turning right onto Central. In order to come up behind the Denny’s, they turned south onto Washington and then west into a subdivision. They were all relieved
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to be off of the major streets; each had an uncomfortable sense that someone was watching them or that they were being followed. As before, they let Randy off, so that he could make his way around to walk west on Central toward the restaurant, while they worked their way around, through the subdivision, so that they could pull out onto Central west of the restaurant and drive toward Randy. The route Clayton took brought him closer to the restaurant than he had intended. They ended up approaching a four-way stop on a side street that ran directly adjacent to the west side of the restaurant. “Shit,” Clayton said to Vinnie, concern in his voice. “I think this is gonna be too close. We’re not gonna have enough room to set up the scene.” “Do you think we oughta go left and drive that way a bit?” Vinnie offered, pointing to the left. “So we can come on out to Central further down.” “Yah, maybe? Fuck, I dunno,” Clayton said, as he tried to puzzle through his options. “I don’t know how far we gotta go down that way before we get a road that goes to Central.” Then, making up his mind, Clayton rolled the old car straight through the intersection. “Fuck, we don’t have time. Randy’s going to be out in front of the restaurant any time now,” he was saying, when out of nowhere
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a cop car rolled up behind them with its lights flashing and getting their attention with a short burst of its siren. MEANWHILE, AT THE OPPOSITE corner of the restaurant, Randy, walking on the sidewalk along Central, was just approaching the parking lot on the east side. Frank Alverez and his family were in the process of exiting the family station wagon that he had just parked in a space that faced onto Central. They were going into Denny’s for a bite after viewing the fireworks show out on the Air Force base. As Frank was closing his door, he looked up and saw Randy walking slowly, with what seemed to be uncertain steps, on the sidewalk in front of him. Frank thought, Is that guy hurt or something? And as he looked closer, he saw what appeared to be blood seeping through the man’s shirt. He called over to his wife, “Honey, I think this guy has been in an accident. Stay here with the kids; I’m going to go and check him out.” Frank leaped over the short wall that separated the parking lot from the sidewalk along the street and approached Randy. Randy, walking along as slowly as he could, waiting for the old car to come up the street toward him, was asking himself, Where the fuck are those guys? He didn’t see Frank approach till the last second. Frank approached with his hands out, so as to catch Randy if he collapsed. “Hey buddy, are you okay?”
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he asked as he started to grab Randy by the shoulders. “I’m a paramedic. I can help.” “What the fuck?” Randy blurted out as Frank stepped in front of him. Oh shit, what’s this guy want? he thought as he stepped back out of Frank’s grasp. Randy had no idea that he hadn’t thoroughly wiped off the fake blood from his first untimely death. In fact, there was a substantial amount on his left side under his arm and down around his pants. That blood, which was now oozing out his clean shirt, coupled with his slow, uncertain walk, had poor Mr. Alverez, paramedic, overly concerned with the state of his health. Oh man, this guy is losing a lot of blood, Frank thought as he got a closer look at Randy’s shirt. I think he’s in shock. “You need to lie down. I think you may be going into shock.” He stepped forward and firmly took hold of Randy’s shoulders. “Do you know what happened? Were you in an accident?” Randy looked down at his shirt and, with a start, realized what the problem was. His reality had gone from worrying about where Clayton, Vinnie and the old car could be, to the here and now. Shit, fuck, damn! This guy thinks I’m hurt. As Frank tries to ease him to the ground, he backs away. “Look mister, really, I’m okay.” He opens his shirt and reveals the fresh bag of blood taped to his chest and
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starts talking really fast as he backs away from the guy. “See, it’s all part of a skit. It’s a fraternity skit our pledge brothers are making us do. It’s no big deal. Really, I’m okay.” Frank just stares at the bag of blood, trying to comprehend what he was seeing. His reality had just exploded; he was in paramedic mode, dealing with a serious medical emergency, but now he was in the middle of some fucking college prank. Randy had backed away so that there was now about six yards between them, and he started to turn away when Frank, as if waking from a dream, shook his head and spoke, “That’s not funny, buddy! Not fucking funny at all!” “Sorry dude,” Randy replied over his shoulder. “I’ll let the guys at the frat know.” He kept walking away as fast as he could. Well this is fucked into a cocked hat! Where the hell are those guys? AROUND THE CORNER ON the side street, Clayton and Vinnie were about to have their own reality check. “Fuck!” Clayton muttered through clenched teeth. He turned to Vinnie and asked, “Didn’t I stop at the stop sign? Shit, where did he come from? Did you see him? I didn’t see him.”
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“I don’t know, man. I didn’t see him either,” Vinnie responded a little nervously. Nobody likes to get pulled over for a traffic citation. Somehow it feels, for the relatively few minutes it takes, that your life is not your own. “I don’t know where he was. He could have been around the corner on the next street over.” Clayton moved the old car to the curb just past the corner of the restaurant, and into the view of the dining patrons. He started to reach toward the glove box with the intention of getting his registration and insurance out, when a voice came over a loudspeaker and said, “You there, in the car, don’t move. Stay where you are.” “Shit man! What the fuck’s going on?” Clayton asked Vinnie, becoming more mystified than nervous. “I don’t know man,” Vinnie answered. “But something’s not right.” Now it may be hard to believe, but at this juncture, neither Clayton nor Vinnie were thinking anything about the earlier capper they had pulled at Sambo’s. It didn’t come to mind, even when a second police car pulled up and blocked the road in front of them, or a third car pulled up next to the car that had pulled them over, effectively blocking the road behind them. Even when all the cops exited their cars and drew their guns
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using the open doors as shields, the two just sat there in ignorant wonderment. It was when a cop in the latest arrival called over the loudspeaker, “You in the car, come out one at a time with your hands up where we can see them and lean face forward, putting your hands on top of the car,” that their reality bubble burst. One minute you are thinking about the embarrassment and cost of a traffic ticket, and the next you’re possibly being arrested for murder. Clayton looked over at Vinnie with his eyebrows raised in comprehension as reality bites him in the ass. “Oh shit!” he says and starts laughing. “We’re fucked now.” Reality has similarly struck Vinnie and he’s not sure why Clayton thinks it’s a laughing matter. “What the fuck, Clay? This ain’t funny. We’re gonna be in serious trouble, man.” “No, we’re not,” Clayton responded, still laughing. “What are they gonna do, charge us with murder?” Clayton’s laughter was infectious and Vinnie quickly caught the bug. “Yah,” he said through chuckles, “but, maybe they don’t know we didn’t kill anyone?” At that thought, Clayton sobered up and looked over at Vinnie. Then, with as much fatalism as he could muster and in his best Spaghetti Western style, he said,
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“Only one way to find out.” He slowly opened his door and stepped out onto the street and into the spotlights of the assembled police vehicles. Vinnie quickly followed suit, except he stepped out onto the sidewalk. Both immediately assumed the position, leaning against the old car. Cops from either direction came running up, two on each side, and while one cop held them against the car, the other quickly frisked them. The two cops with Clayton pulled him away from the old car and pushed him around to the sidewalk and made him stand next to Vinnie. A crowd was starting to gather on the sidewalk about ten yards away, toward Central Avenue. Most of the curious onlookers had been eating in Denny’s when the old car was pulled over in front of them. An older officer seemed to take charge. The other three looked pretty young; you would correctly guess that they were new to the force. But they all looked very serious and kept their hands resting on their holstered pistols. The older cop stepped up to Clayton and asked, “Where’s the gun?” Clayton, surprised by the question, stammered a question back. “Wh-what gun?”
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“The gun you two used over on Menaul,” the older cop replied. “Where is it?” “We didn’t use a gun. We don’t have a gun,” Clayton responded, with as much sincerity as he could muster, because he really didn’t know what they were referring to. But then it hit him and he almost laughed. Deciding that laughing would not be the smartest thing he ever did, he forced his face to stay straight with just a hint of a smile and said, “Oh, you mean the old BB gun.” Then he turned his head to look over at Vinnie, who was frozen up against the car, and said, “You had it last.” Vinnie quickly jerked his head toward the car door and said, “It’s on the frontseat.” One of the younger cops, a blonde one, who had been in the car that first pulled them over, stepped around the open passenger door and lit up the frontseat with his flashlight. Spotting the pistol, he reached in and retrieved it. His first thought was that the gun looked real, and as he picked it up, it had the heft of a real gun, but then he looked down the bore and realized it was definitely a BB gun. With a slight hint of a smile, he showed it to the older cop who had been doing the interrogating. RANDY, IN THE MEANTIME, had come around the corner of Denny’s and joined the crowd of onlookers, all gawking at this old car, a bunch of policemen, police cars
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with the lights flashing and two young men, who appeared to be in a boatload of trouble. Two of the cops had just escorted one of the men from the driver’s side to the sidewalk next to the other, well-dressed, bigger man. Then, one of the policemen looked into the car and came out with a big black pistol. The young men were definitely in trouble. Hmm, Randy thought, maybe I should just go home? Not much I can do here. But the notion of abandoning his friends really didn’t appeal to him. Besides, this was actually pretty interesting, being on the outside and looking in and all. The smaller of the two men was starting to explain to the policeman in front of him; Randy, curiosity getting the best of him, pushed toward the front of the crowd. “OKAY, YOU TWO; START explaining. What the hell is going on?” the older officer asked, as sternly as he could. The juxtaposition of this very old car and the black BB gun that looked like a forty-five was starting to get to him. He wanted to laugh, but the Sarge made it clear that they were to lay it on thick and scare the shit out of these college punks. Clayton started talking fast, explaining what they had been up to. And he thought he was making good headway when the older cop interrupted. “Wait a mi-
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nute; you picked this guy up off the street on Menaul? Where did you leave him?” “We dropped him off down the street,” Clayton answered. “You see…” The older cop interrupted again. “You do know that that is kidnapping?” “Kidnapping! No, no, no, he was part of the show,” Clayton, getting concerned, started to plead. “He was with us.” “With you?” the older cop asked, not really understanding. “Well, where is he now?” “I told you, we dropped him off. We were going to do it again,” Clayton explained, starting to feel hopeless. “You were going to do it again?” the older cop asked, with as much incredulity in his voice as he could muster. “You were going to kidnap someone else?” “You don’t understand,” Clayton replied, becoming exasperated. He had obviously given his explanation of what they were up to too quickly. He looked away from the cop standing in front of him, trying to find the inspiration for a better approach to his explanation, when he spied Randy in the crowd. Randy was just standing there watching the scene unfold with that fucking ‘shit-eating grin’ on his face.
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“There he is,” Clayton said excitedly, pointing over to Randy. “There who is?” the cop asked. “Our friend; the guy we pretended to shoot,” Clayton answered. “He’s with us.” RANDY, STANDING WITH THE curious crowd of onlookers, was trying to look circumspect, and when Clayton pointed his way, he looked at the guy to his left, then to his right, as if Clayton was pointing at them. Then he gave a sort of ‘who, me?’ look and stepped forward with a smile. A player all the way. “Okay, you got me,” he said as he started walking over to the cops. “You with them?” the older cop asked. “Yes sir, I am,” Randy replied, trying, for all he’s worth, to look serious. “You’re the one they shot over on Menaul?” “Yes sir, that would be me,” Randy answered. “Well then get over here with these other two,” he ordered. “Let’s hear it again. What the hell are you guys doing?” So Clayton began again, trying to talk a little slower and to be as clear as he could. While he was talk-
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ing, one of the cop cars pulled out and left. When he was done, the older cop went back to his car and got on the radio, while two of the young cops kept an eye on them. They collectively figured that they had better just stand there without talking. The young blonde officer went over and conferred with the older officer, then came back and relieved one of the guards, who got in the car with the older officer. The blonde cop looked at them and, with a hint of a smile, said, “You three get in your car and follow me. I’m taking you to see the sergeant. He’ll decide what to do with you. We’re going up Central about three miles, so stay with me.” He turned and indicated the other car. “The other officers will follow, so don’t screw around. You’re already in as much trouble as you can handle. You follow?” They collectively said, “Yes, sir,” and loaded up into the old car. CLAYTON FIRED UP THE OLD car and waited for the blonde officer to pull in front and take the lead. The drive up Central was nerve-wracking for the guys. Clayton and Randy tried to make light of the situation, but Vinnie was petrified.
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“My old man is going to kill me if he has to come and bail my ass out of jail,” Vinnie whined. “Nobody’s going to jail,” Randy said. “Yah Vinnie, if they were going to arrest us, they would have already,” Clayton added. “Hell, they didn’t even cuff us when they had us up against the car.” Then he looked over at Randy and started laughing. Randy laughed back. Their laugh was eerily similar to the laugh they had shared when locked in the dryer all those years before. It was kind of a gallows laugh, and it did nothing to mollify Vinnie. “Fuck you guys,” he said. “Really Vinnie, it will be okay,” Randy said. “What the hell could they charge us with, anyway?” “They could charge us with disturbing the peace, for one,” Vinnie offered, very seriously. “Or public nuisance or something.” “Hmm,” Randy said, with a very straight face and a serious tone, “hadn’t thought of that.” Clayton stopped laughing and turned and looked at Randy to see if he was serious. They stared at each other for the briefest second, then busted out laughing again.
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“Nah,” Randy said, “it’s too much trouble.” THE LEAD CAR PULLED into a gas station that had a number of other police cars already there. The car following them continued on down Central. The station alarm was going off with one hell of a racket. The blonde cop came over and told Clayton to park the old car right where it was. He ordered them all to get out and walk over to see the officer standing by the gas pumps. Sergeant Apodoca was in a foul mood. The Fourth of July was normally a bad night to be a cop, but this homicide hoax was about all he could stand. But he had to admit, when he saw the old car roll up into the station, that it was the most creative load of bullshit he had ever seen. The boys in the station would be talking for years about this little capper. But, now he had to do something to these little shits. He couldn’t really arrest them; well, he could, but it would be more trouble than it was worth. He settled on putting the fear of God in them. When they walked over to him, he just looked at them for a long minute. A bunch of college punks, he thought. “Listen, you little pricks, do you know how much trouble you have caused tonight? I can’t begin to tell you what a pain in my ass your little escapade has been. I’ve had three cars out looking for you guys and on a night that I could least afford the manpower. And the
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restaurant was turned inside out by customers who thought they had seen a real gangland murder.” The more he talked, the madder he was getting. Ease up Al, he said to himself, before you handcuff these three to a pole. “So listen, you jerks, it’s your lucky night. I don’t got the time to deal with your asses anymore. So this is what you are going to do. Go home. Go straight home. If I catch any of you out later tonight or any night from now on, I’ll run you in and book you. Do you hear me? We are going to keep a record of this. If any of you do anything in my streets again, this record will come out and it will go very bad for you. Do you understand?” “Yes sir,” they each said. “We understand.” “Thank you, sir,” Clayton added. “Yah, yah; now get the hell out of here,” he said as he handed them back their driver’s licenses. They wanted to run back to the old car, but decorum dictated that they should walk. Clayton fired her up and very carefully backed up and around in the driveway to pull back out onto Central. He gingerly pulled out, using his blinker, and gave the old car some gas, whereupon she began to stall. “Ah shit!” collectively rang out from all three.
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Clayton pounded the palms of his hands on the big steering wheel again and said, “Goddamnit, not now.” Randy offered up a prayer. “Feets, don’t fail me now.” Just as resignation started to settle into Clayton’s mind, the engine caught and the old car fired up; they were headed home. This one was in the books. SERGEANT APODOCA STOOD AND watched the old car pull out onto Central Avenue. He heard the engine sputter and choke off, and the old car appeared, for a moment, to stall; then the engine caught hold and the car began to steadily move off down the road. It was the first time that he really looked at the old car and was struck by how cool it was. It was a blast from the past, and he could see that this little capper was damn creative. Lucky the little bastards didn’t get shot. This may go down in the books as the funniest yet. Then he turned back to talk to one of the investigators who was coming out of the gas station and yelling, “When is the owner going to get down here and shut this damn alarm off?” God, I hate the fucking Fourth of July, he thought for the
hundredth time, tonight.
THE OLD CAR ROLLED along the highway, heading west in the early hours of the morning, chased by the sunrise. The light of the impending dawn was just starting to peek over the horizon behind the young man at the wheel. The young man’s name was Clayton, Clay to his friends and family, and he was going home. The road ahead was still cloaked in the pitch-black darkness of the night, pierced only by the faint glow from the shiny chrome headlights of the old car. As Clayton settled into the long drive, he listened to Mungo Jerry croon ‘In the Summertime,’ and his head began to swim with thoughts of the summer that had just passed; an unconscious smile spread across his face. But then his thoughts became interrupted by the slow, but inexorable, march of the sun behind him. The sun continued its steady rise; still hanging well below the horizon behind him, but more and more of the scenery around him began to be revealed. In the half-light, the period in the early morning when the sun has not yet crested the horizon in the east, but everything is becoming illuminated from the wash of the sun’s rays over the curvature of the earth, Clayton began to see land forms out in the dark night; gray silhouettes at first, then slowly turning into blue-gray shapes.
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As the light from the sun began to play across the road before him, the last vestiges of the dark night were slowly being chased away. Vast panoramic vistas were being revealed to the driver. A sense of contentment enveloped Clayton and he remarked, out loud to no one but the roaring car, “Man, I sure do love summers.” The radio started playing The Mamas & the Papas’ ‘California Dreamin’’ as he approached Grants. Off to Clayton’s left, toward the south, he could barely make out the pyramidal shape of El Calderon, a not-so-old, but extinct, volcano; and he knew he was driving through the lava fields. The ground to his left and right was dark and flat, but he could just make out the twisted and jagged shapes emerging below the flatness. He was driving in and through history, or at least geological history. He knew from his Uncle, Randy’s father, that the lava fields were the result of eruptions of several volcanoes in the area, including El Calderon; and the last eruption may have occurred as recently as eight hundred years ago. He was struck by the image that the Acoma Pueblo, a few miles back behind him, to the north of the highway, was occupied at least one thousand years ago, and the last eruption would have been a major event in the lives of the Indians who lived in the area. The growth of humanity intertwined with the growing pains of the earth. As the sun continued to rise and finally peek above the horizon, amber rays began to spread over the tops of the mountains and mesas along his route. The
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sun continued to grow behind him, bathing the slopes with hues of gold and red. There Clayton sat, truly awestruck as he drove, watching the colors develop and deepen as the sun continued to come up. He marveled at that grand vista that was ahead of him. He was struck by the immensity of it all and the realization that he was only able to view one very small postage stamp of the sum total of all the views in the world. But this little stamp, for the moment, was his. As the old car hummed down the highway, The Temptations came over the radio, harmonizing ‘Just My Imagination.’ Clayton watched the day unfold before him and was again overtaken by a sense of peace and wellbeing; a happiness without constraints. This time, however, he didn’t examine the feeling, but instead let it ride along with him. His mind was a perfect blank, just allowing the world to unfold before him. The sensation didn’t last long, only ten or so minutes, and it lifted just as it came, without notice, driven to flight as Clayton began again to think and remember his summer. THE ROAD BEFORE HIM was straight as an arrow shot, with gentle ups and downs following the terrain. As he crested each rise, he could now look off into the distance and see the road miles and miles ahead disappear over the horizon. He settled back into the bench seat and relaxed into the drive. He thought of Alice, sweet Alice, and his chest tightened and his heart ached.
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Clayton started to revisit in his mind all the summer’s nights spent hidden in the grove of trees at the old cemetery or on the grassy banks of the Rio Grande with Alice, making love. Not the fast, furtive sex experienced by most teenagers, but the slow, passionate, intricate dance of real lovemaking. At that dance, Clayton started out as a novice, a real neophyte, but he was a fast, interested learner. Not to say that, at seventeen, Alice was all that experienced, herself. She was not a loose girl, hopping from one partner to the next. She, also, had limited experience, but she was a natural at the intricacies of the dance, and she knew what she wanted and, more importantly, needed. And Clayton was the first lover she had that was willing to listen to the subtle language of love. They usually skipped the typical dating forums— movies, dinner, dancing, bowling, whatever else comes to mind—and went straight to a quiet, secluded, private place. They would talk and kiss and fiddle into foreplay and slowly make love, not constrained by the typical lastminute rush to get home by the agreed-upon time. Then there were those nights when she snuck out and they went back to his bedroom at Randy’s apartment and made love all night, careful to get back before her father woke to go to the base. He continued to suffer from premature ejaculation. He would often think his penis was betraying him and began calling it Arnold, after Benedict Arnold, the
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infamous Revolutionary War traitor. But, he had worked out a solution. He knew his penis became overly excited upon first penetration, but he couldn’t figure out why. Fucker had a mind of its own. He could almost hear it saying “pussy, pussy, I want pussy!” And then, upon entering it, a yell of “yah baby!” Then he came, no matter how he had tried to prepare himself: math equations, current news, the Gettysburg Address, fucking pink elephants. Nothing worked. So, he would let his ejaculation squeak out; sort of coming without really climaxing. He had learned before with Rianna that he could stay hard after he had ejaculated. Especially if he let it squeak out, he could continue to pleasure Alice till she climaxed and then, if he timed it right, he could climax and ejaculate a second time along with her. He could tell when she came by the way she felt around his penis and the shudders that went through her body, right through him. There was no question in his mind of her faking it. But it was mostly the way she looked at him after she came, the soft look of pure love that told him that he had satisfied her. “Wow, you can do that to me for the rest of my life,” she once said and meant it. And he had wanted to. He would have married her, right then and there, if that hadn’t gone against the grain of everything they had learned from their parents. It was a Romeo and Juliet moment, as silly as that sounds. They were in love; at least, at that point in time they were in love. Clayton
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knew, with every fiber in his body, that he loved her. But, as these things usually go, and perhaps should go, it was not to be. ALICE HAD DUMPED HIM a week prior to his planned departure for home. He loved her dearly and thought that she was the love of his life. It was the first time that he had experienced love mixed with passion. Not just steady sex, which in and of itself was a novelty in his young life, but red-hot lovemaking, that left him to smolder inside, yearning for more. But, at her father’s urging, she had let him go and his heart ached at the memory of it. He was sure it was broken beyond repair, and he despaired of ever really loving another as much as he loved her. His despair was such a sweet, forlorn feeling. But he was young with much time and much life to live and what he didn’t know was that time heals all wounds, especially wounds of the heart. He did know that his life was ahead of him and he was sure that there would be others; others he would love and even others that would break his heart again, until finally, if he was lucky, he would find the one that would stay true and love him to the end. THE SUN WAS STILL rising as he approached Gallup, and its rays were reflecting off the red sandstone rocks. Clayton forced his attention away from sweet Alice, realizing that nothing productive would come from digging into that pain. He turned his thoughts to Enrique and remembered how the proud Mexican had taken the time to
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teach him how to work hard and efficiently. He thought of the many Mexicans who had come north across the border to find work to support their families; men who did a good day’s work and a good job for fair pay. And he thought how great a country this was that would welcome and offer men that chance; it would be a sad day if America ever turned its back on such people. As he drove down old 66 through Gallup, he was brought to a halt at a traffic light. The cross street was named Miyamura Blvd. Clayton knew, from a book he had read, that the street was named after Hiroshi Miyamura, an American of Japanese descent, born in Gallup, who had received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in the Korean War. As he crossed Miyamura Blvd., he remembered a little-known story about Gallup; how the people of Gallup had successfully stood up to the Federal Government and prevented the internment of over eight hundred Japanese-Americans, who were residents of the city. Hiroshi Miyamura, born in 1925, had to be one of those residents. Twenty-five years later, as a corporal in the United States Army, he’s a machine gun squad leader in an infantry company in Korea. One night he single-handedly holds off the enemy to allow his men to withdraw until he is wounded and captured. To think of the juxtapositions of this man doing his heroic duty in service of his country, when his country had previously tried to imprison him and his family, along with thousands of others, just for being of a certain heritage, and
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the city that refused to let it happen to him, his family or his neighbors. The contradictions of history were a marvel. CLAYTON DROVE THE OLD car back onto I-40, leaving Gallup behind; he knew that he would be crossing the border into Arizona soon. He reflected on the sense of empowerment that he felt from being young in America. The youth movement, in its various forms, had changed the face of the nation; the generation that fought the establishment and won and was still winning. And he felt that he was a part of that generation, albeit the last part of it. And he was proud of his generation, so very proud, because the movement was still going on, and its full impact on the country was yet to come. The country had survived the giant miscalculation that was Vietnam. The hidden scars that his friend carried would ultimately be the hidden scars that the nation would bear for generations to come. Clayton’s understanding of war had been colored by the post-WWII and Korean Conflict movies and television shows. These movies were always of a heroic nature where the hero seldom dies. So many men of Clayton’s generation and the generations before him went off to war with those sentiments in mind only to find that Vietnam was something else. Vietnam was an apparition in warfare; a meaningless war to stop an ideology. After seeing his friend come home, Clayton began to ponder a deeper
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sensibility and now was very glad that his country didn’t need to call him to serve. Through their protests, his generation had brought the government to its senses. They had pushed forward their agenda of free love, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, the harbinger of a freer and more liberal society. But there was much more to their agenda than hedonistic pursuits; they were after a freer, more tolerant society. Freedom was no longer an abstraction; the Civil Rights Movement helped to foster the Women’s Rights Movement which, along with the Youth Movement, laid the first stones of the very beginnings of a Gay Rights Movement. Clayton believed in his heart that the future would bring a country that truly lived up to its creed ‘that all are created equal’ and that all are entitled to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ He felt strongly that it would be his generation that would finally accomplish this, as they moved forward and began to take the reins of leadership. Clayton felt that there was nothing his generation couldn’t do. He was sure that it was going to change the world and make it a better place for his future kids and their kids. It was going to be a world of logic, reason, fairness and compassion. Boy, was he going to be disappointed. His generation would ultimately turn out to be just like their parents, consumed with materialism and limited by intolerance. It was the calm before the storm. The radio was playing ‘White Rabbit.’
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AN IDEA, ONE THAT had been around but had never been accepted, was quietly, almost subversively, being worked into the fabric of human endeavor. It was the notion that there are people who are better than the rest of us, and the thing that makes them better is that, in their estimation, they contribute more and, therefore, they deserve more than the rest of us. A lot more; the sky’s the limit. The idea was ‘exceptionalism,’ and it was the perfect antithesis to socialism. It was an ideology that was, ever so quietly, to become a movement without actually being a movement; then, all of a sudden, it was no longer merely an idea, it was economic truth. Carved into stone and brought down from the mountain, it was accepted as the way things were. No discussion, no debate; it was ingrained in the body politic, like a cancer. And that new economic truth was going to be a plague on the future of mankind. Clayton was going to learn the hard lesson, that rational people can convince themselves of irrational ideas. The country was in its prime in 1972. Things would never be so good, and the promise of an even greater future, never so bright. But, the next forty years would see a massive transfer of wealth, giving rise to a plutocracy. A plutocracy created from the slow and steady erosion of the standard of living of the middle class, which had served so well as the broad economic backbone of American post-World War Two prosperity. The sacrifices of the middle class were not exacted to
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better the country, but instead to line the pockets of the new, behind-the-scenes rulers. The economics were as old as history; the rich get richer by feeding on everyone else. This newly minted plutocracy would eventually lay waste to the democratic principles of the Republic. AS HE APPROACHED WINSLOW, he remembered that John had warmly invited him to stop by for a beer on his way home. He debated whether to stop at John’s house. He was curious about whether Rudy and Mary had come back through. But as he drove through town, he realized that that was then and this is now and now is the time to head home, leaving all that had taken place in the past. As he exited Winslow, Clayton wondered if he would ever cross paths with Rudy or Mary again. There was no way for him to know that he would, in fact, see both them again next summer in the highlands of New Mexico, where Clayton would be living out his dream of running heavy equipment on a road construction project like the man in his memory. And he would, again, run into Rudy, years later, out in the Florida Keys, when Clayton was working on a fishing boat. THE OLD CAR WAS humming along, keeping time to Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to Be Wild.’ Clayton was in the prime of his life, but he didn’t know it. Forty years would have to pass before he realized that it just didn’t get any better than seventeen.
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This summer’s story was over. Clayton was approaching Flagstaff and was now feeling the excitement of arriving home and seeing family, friends and starting a new school year. As he pulled out of Flagstaff onto I-17, the radio started playing ‘I Am a Rock’ and he began to look with anticipation toward finishing his senior year and winning the state championship that had eluded him last year. Wrestling was going to be his only focus; well, that and girls. The old car was running well, the gauges all read normal, and soon he would be home.
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