One of the first things you learn when starting a running program is this: The best runners don’t compete with other people – they compete with themselves. Rather than trying to best another person, they try to beat their own time. It’s a good idea in general to set personal standards to measure success. I’ve applied the concept several times in my life, but the most useful personal benchmark has to do with “getting in trouble” and by that I don’t mean life-altering hardship, setbacks or personal challenges – “trouble” as in “Awwwmmmm – you’re in trouble. Mrs. Blinzler wants to see you after recess.”1
In early 1969 I helped organize a party that got me into so much trouble I’ve used it as a gauge for the rest of my life. How did it come about? The same way normally rational people get in unforeseen trouble: Life became too comfortable. Whether you’re reading academic records, scriptural accounts or even bardic oral tradition, one lesson humanity has had to learn over and over is that any time life gets too comfortable we get into mischief. Such self-inflicted shots in the foot can take many forms, but in my case my it wasn’t a golden calf, it my part in planning a beer bust at Jim the K’s house on the last night of February 1969.
As I have written elsewhere, my sophomore year in high school was much better than my freshman year and in some ways it was the most enjoyable of my entire high school experience. I was doing well in my studies, I was part of a tight circle of friends and involved in an after-hours judo program. There was a happy balance in my life – for example while it looked like Star Trek was going to be cancelled in the spring, the Beatles graced us with the White Album just after Christmas.
It was also just after the Christmas break2 we started planning a party. Looking around It seemed like everyone in the school was going out on weekends and getting tanked/smashed/blitzed/blotto/feeling no pain while we just shared Playboy party jokes at lunch time. Even I could see we were missing out on something, so we arranged our own “event” for the last Saturday in February – which took some careful coordination as our average age was fifteen and only a couple guys could drive. Through a bit of low-grade subterfuge and careful planning we ended up with three different sleepovers scheduled for the weekend; the sleepovers serving as marshalling areas for the party supplies which we would then amass at Jim Kluting’s house for the event.
My base of operations would be Spike’s house where we made liberal use of his father’s liquor cabinet in our preparation, carefully stowing the bottles in my old seventh grade book bag. Our friend Louie had somehow convinced his dad to drive him (and his beer) to the party but the white-hot rumor of all rumors involved the Holland sisters who were reportedly coming with beer of their own as well.
The weekend finally arrived, and the various teams started their preparations. I was a little concerned – Spike and I had jumped the gun by knocking back a beer apiece, but most of mine ended up on my coat and the alcohol that did make it into my system was apparently having no effect. I was beginning to wonder if the party was going to be as “off the hook” as we had hoped.
I started into an emotional yo-yo:
- YO-YO UP: We got out of Spike’s house with the alcohol undetected.
- YO-YO DOWN: At the last-minute Louie’s dad backed out on giving him beer.
- YO-YO UP: The Holland sisters showed up for the party.
- YO-YO DOWN: They weren’t able sneak any of their dad’s beer out of the house.
Undeterred and primed for a raucous, wild night of hedonistic depravity we showed up at the appointed hour at Jim’s door, which I proceeded to pound on wildly with my fist.
“Did we get the date wrong?”
The door opened to a scene of sedate activity. Jim and a half-dozen early arrivals were sitting at card tables playing various games. Jim’s mom had some Jiffy-Pop on the stove and the tables were laden with such exotic and forbidden beverages as Shasta Orange Soda, Seven-up and for those with even more sophisticated taste there was Coca-Cola. Once again, my literal sense of perception had blinded me to the fact that most of the talk about the “off-the-hook” party had been just that: talk and that only a few of us really did come prepared for a blow-out.
Spike and I were shortly joined by a few other true believers and our party-within-a-party retired out to the driveway to salvage the night. I ended up with one of the Holland sisters in a buddy’s El Camino where nothing more noteworthy than a little snuggling went on. Oh, we did have a Mason jar full of a screwdriverish mix of Shasta Orange Cola and vodka but drinking it made my lip curl and I gave up when more of the hideous concoction ended up on my coat than down my gullet. I went back in the house, apologized to Jim and his mom, and then Spike and I caught a ride back to his house, a little embarrassed but glad everything had been tied up nicely by the end of the evening.
It was early the next week that I found out I was mistaken when I encountered one of the greatest dangers of the Last Frontier; something infinitely more dangerous than bears, wolves, moose, earthquakes, avalanches, ravenous clouds of mosquitos or plane crashes.
A threat to life and limb that made all of these perils fade next to nothing.
An angry mom with high standards for her kids.
Evidently the Holland sister I had been cuddled up had spilled a single drop of our pseudo-screwdriver on her polka-dot slacks – which was enough to wake her mom up from a sound sleep in the master bedroom on the other side of their home. After grilling her daughters most of the night for information, she started tracking down other party participants to their homes, met with parents and started a cascade of parental discipline that had a significant percentage of the sophomore class grounded within 48 hours of the party.
For some reason she didn’t get my name, but Spike’s mom did call my folks and warn them that a crazy lady from North Kenai had started a witch-hunt. As soon as the call was over Mom and Dad started grilling me about the weekend, but I managed to avoid any real punishment by deflecting my parent’s inquiries in a masterpiece of verbal legerdemain:3
- “Mom, where would I get money to buy beer?”
- “Who would buy it for me?”
- “Do you really think I would do something like that?”
For the next two weeks Spike and I lived like escaped POWs trying to blend in with the general German population while Mrs. Holland kept up the witch-hunt for other party-goers. I was so spooked at the prospect of Serious Trouble my stomach was constantly upset but eventually life settled back down to normal and I no longer jumped whenever our phone unexpectedly rang in the evening.
I laid low and rode out the clock, spending two weeks holed up in my room entranced by the White Album, then losing six weeks when I fell in then out of love4. By that time the academic year was coming to a close; final exams and starting a new job with the Neighborhood Youth Corps absorbed all my spare time and thought, but it was our big pointedly non-alcoholic group date/end of school party that painted over the February debacle for good.
In my best neurotic fashion, I over-analyzed the issue in my mind several times over the summer break and came up with the following conclusions:
- Alcohol was definitely not my friend. The drunken pleasure or “buzz” that classmates were always talking about just didn’t happen for me.
- Nothing in life was pleasant enough for me to deal with that much trouble again.
Two Years Later
Debbie and I were cuddled up on the bleachers at a wrestling match, the action on the mat taking second place to the simple pleasure of each other’s company. We were also having a good time with other friends sitting in the general area, one of them being the younger of the two Holland sisters who had been at Jim’s party. Pam was now a varsity cheerleader and we were laughing and responding to her routine, and in general having a good time. During a break she came over to talk but as she ran back out she waved to a middle-aged woman sitting just to the side and said, “Love you Mom!”
I was sitting within slapping range of the Witch Hunter from 1969! My distress must have shown because Debbie started asking if I was feeling OK and when my Dad unexpectedly showed up (he didn’t know about Debbie5) I didn’t blink an eye. That familiar yet unwelcome churning in my stomach started up again and I began mentally calculating how quickly I could get to the exit, but then there was another break in the action and Pam showed up at the side of the bleachers.
Again, my distress must have been very obvious because she leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, she forgot about the party a long time ago”. All the tension left my body and I settled back down on the bleachers in relief – and thankful that my resolution to stay out of trouble had also kept me out of Mrs. Holland’s radar long enough for the trouble to go away.
…. now I just had to figure out what to tell my Dad about Debbie.
- Why do little kids all instinctly say “Ahhhmmm – you’re in trouble” Why that particular phoneme? Why don’t they say “Ah-oogah – you’re in trouble”?
- Most of the dumber stunts I’ve witnessed in myself and friends happened deep in the winter. I think the lack of sunlight has something to do with it. The lack of daylight is supposed to bring on SAD (Seasonal Adjustive Disorder) but I’ve also though it was more accurately expressed as Seasonal Adjustive Dumba**)
- It was only later that I realized I probably hadn’t been as clever as I figured. Dad was standing a step behind Mom as they were grilling me, and she couldn’t see him roll his eyes at that last response.
- See blog post 1969: With a Little Luck (to be published).
- See blog post 1971: …then Dave discovered girls.