Monday, February 23, 2009
Got any Outlaw Theme Music? "TJ & 14"
TJ & 14
The night I’ll remember, when I look back on all the times my friend T.J. stayed over at my house, is the night he didn’t come over at all. Despite that, it was a night that was everything our entire time together was, like this evening, as I write.
His mother thought he was there. T.J. spending the night? Sure. Routine. His 14th birthday was coming up that weekend. She couldn’t do a lot to mark the occasion, but that would be something he liked, in the one place he would probably get in the least trouble. My parents didn’t drink, didn’t even smoke. As for drugs, they drug me to Church, three services a week, where partying was considered “of the devil,” probably even more cartoony in the mind of a bemused scoffer and confirmed non-church goer. It’s right there in St. Paul’s writing: “the world” will not understand.
Make no mistake, they kept me on a tight leash. These were the days when we didn’t carry cell phones, so in lieu of checking up on me, they simply forbade me go very far. Without special permission, I could only walk about a mile away from the house. “Yard dog,” as they used to say when teasing Neal down in Auburn. Even hanging out over at T.J.’s trailer in the park across the old highway over the wooded hillside deserved an informative phone call, at least. At least from there, I had more places to walk and explore, neighborhoods and countryside all along highway 53.
We lived in a trailer, too, on a piece of land my grandpa White sold my parents for a penny, just across the driveway from him, Grandma, and Aunt Linda. That was where we used to plant and pick fresh vegetables, in a garden on the other side of their old driveway, in clean country air of the foothills of Appalachia. Tomatoes, okra, corn, green beans---you name it. Everybody worked at the family hardware store, which you reached by walking across an old 2x4 plank laid over a drainage ditch through a patch of hickory bushes. You could get “switched” with one of those if you didn’t behave. Hickory Tea.
Mom & Dad could finally afford a double wide that year, so the bedroom where I spent that night without T.J. spending the night was different than the one where we spent most of our times hanging out late, continuing the same never-ending conversation we used to carry as far as the ol’ yard dog could walk and still cover myself with my peeps.
We were close because he popped up in my weekly kaliediscope classes, where you had a chance to enjoy a more creative, adult-minded version of school for a sweet while with Amy Langham and wonder Ms. Fountain. So we were two oddballs who made each other laugh.
Oh, and for any true Shannon dwellers from those days, this isn't a story about Fourteen who used to come into Shannon Supply Hardware Store, but he's pretty okay by me, too. I remember him when I was a kid, seven, eight. I used to ask Paw Paw if Fourteen would come in, or had.
Originally, his Mom, step dad, and two sisters rented a house just behind the old Model Elementary school, itself the remaining campus of the 1912 founding of Model School, across from step=dad’s mother’s house.
I envied their freedom “to be worldly.” In other words, there was porn to be sneaked and rock music to be heard. I watched “Porky’s” once when I spent the night there; I think we had to be a little sneaky to manage that one. I loved talking to his mother, without pretense, freely, like an adult, without editing or constricting my precocious and liberalized opinion, and never without laughter.
That was the place where T.J. “taped off” a copy of Born in the U.S.A., my one and only contraband album of rock music. It could’ve just as easily have been Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Aside from some songs pirated from their abbreviated form on the television show America’s Top Ten with Casey Kasem, I didn’t have my own choice of music until the wonderous clock radio came into my life, so the Boss had a wide open imagination in that savored bedtime audience. He’s inspiring the back of my mind with his hopeful new Workin’ On a Dream as I share this story with you. “Surprise, Surprise, come open your eyes” indeed. I really enjoyed my gift, specially requested of my reprobate buddy, the kid caught with cigarettes his first week on campus, about the time of his eleventh birthday.
He was a bit more able to take care of himself physically, because he was bigger, a bit tougher, and able to project enough cocky confidence, but mostly he was a lot angrier than me.
Funny, the kids who believed in Tough hung out with him anyway when I wasn’t around. I had depth perception problems in the same eye where I also sported a wondrous pea-sized cyst on my eyelid, of the type favored by sorcerers of old. Wonderful for sitting and seeing into daydream worlds, but to catch anything, or hit anything, I needed to be exposed to the Zen approach. Besides, I didn’t have anyone in the family close to me and associating with me who’d stayed in school and done athletics. Fortunately, I didn’t end up totally by myself.
The Holt was the only other guy who expressed interest in spending time with me; he and Kevin had an innocent little gang of smart alecks in Mrs. Atkins class across the hall. I’d stop at their table at lunch when I threw away my stuff from my plate, even though you were forced to sit according to class. The Holt made comic books a fad for a minute in fifth grade, though we were almost eleven and would soon be considered too old to collect Transformers by the next year.
T.J. discovered music in a big way when some of us first joined band in sixth grade. His talent at alto saxophone was becoming apparent by the end of that year. He really amazed people and by eighth grade was making All State and being asked to play with the adults at Sam Baltzer’s North Georgia Wind Ensemble, nights on Shorter College campus. Mr. Shook, our nearly retired band director, could plainly see practicing was what was holding the boy together.
One day T.J. would finally tell me, if I’d never been there, with my strict parents, stuck around the house, hoping for something so exciting as smart, rebellious T.J.’s visits, he doesn’t know how he’d have survived. It was like getting a look at Paula Hill’s ass: something to sustain the emotionally disturbed phenomena of being stuck in a school day with something pleasant to think about. But more serious.
He said, joyously, recently, I’d never have realized the things he saw, the sadness he knew, living in his Mom’s trailer. He says that saxophone talent was nothing less than an escape valve. The world of Duke Ellington & Count Basie that seemed too fine for my palette composed mostly of white Southern Gospel and stolen Top 40 pop, welcomed him in jaunty bar by bar, because that is where he went to escape emotional anguish. Maybe I thought too much of the comparison to allow myself to get much better on the saxophone. But maybe my home was also a place with so many comforts and distractions, one could be lulled into a complacency not to need more, or truly develop one’s self, depending instead on the wild distinction that made school a breeze so long as you paid attention. T.J. told me later he never doubted my parents loved me, no matter how many times I wished someone more to my taste loved me.
I went along for his vandalism sprees with his crew, the same boys who worked with him to build a hazardously toxic still, their eleven year old attempt at moonshining. I never had any taste for hurting anyone or destroying anything; it always made me feel guilty to take anger out on anyone. We did all the wrong we could without actually injuring people, although that stunt we pulled putting cinder blocks up on the train rails to see how far the train would knock them was exactly the kind of thing you hope your local cop or someone picks kids up for doing. For our own sakes, it’s probably best T.J. and I got caught early on in those experiments, even if I couldn’t go to Disney World with the band, candy sales or no. It might be the start of why I still want to tour to this day, in the long view.
We were picked up shoplifting while going to K-Mart with Mom on my 14th birthday. Between Kenny G and David Sanborn, he had a lot of jazz stuffed down his britches. My copy of the Beach Boys didn’t have the foot-long plastic anti-theft casing, but we were stars on store security, anyway. While he was debating on whether to call the police to come get us, the guard gruffly said, to my saddened face, “well, happy birthday!”
Thank God the Holt was just stuck talking on the phone with me. We would get in enough mischief in years to come, the Stupid and Disruptive Risks At Whim Years. He did get to run with us sometimes though!
But you know what? T.J.’s 14th birthday really took the cake. Must have, because there wasn't one. That "birthday celebration that wasn't" was the last time I’d ever aid my buddy in circumventing the rules, unless there’s one about propriety broken by this telling. The Wade Brothers, his enterprising neighbors and hell-raisers, worked with step-brother Shawn in spiriting T.J. to the Greyhound Bus Station. The most believable alibi was that he was spending the weekend with me, even if that would mean Sunday School. So, after all the confessions about girls, and monologues about building one’s emotional state, and harangues against the well-intentioned powers that be, and dirty jokes and well-behaved interactions with the parents, I was left to myself to think it all over, to look back.
I listened to “Desperado” by the Eagles that night, more than once, to capture some sense of life for which there was no song I knew. Tonight, I hear Springsteen’s “Outlaw Pete”, who was found by an enemy who never sought to be his friend. Hearing from your old life is a common theme now among the great song writers in grey haired times.
I wondered how long it’d be before his mother realized he was missing, how long I’d have to hold out; I felt terrible that there was no other way. I can never judge. His grandparents in Coweta County, Oklahoma, had a farm where he was welcome. So he covered himself long enough to make the trip; I don’t think he let her know til she called them. I totally understood the desire to escape, to try to go somewhere and re-invent one’s self, but the reasons for his escape remain a secret for his family. It is a conflict I could never truly know, and here is not the place to try explaining. I wanted to share the exhilaration one finds best at the beginning of a new journey, that ineffable continuous contact with the unknown. That night, while hopeful for my good friend, for a moment I cried to myself, appreciating differently the level of sharing and honesty now ended. The end of sharing, well, at least he'd soon write, and as for the end of honesty, great, because T.J. loved a good compulsive lie as well as anyone. Certified electrician, indeed!
Someday, we’d find each other again. I’d think about writing it all, today, with fourteen years to celebrate, of a different life of two, with a new close friend found seven further years down the way. It’s the second month’s seventh day, the fourteenth anniversary since two others surrendered to one another, to discover as they say, that in the spiritual life, you are always at the beginning—so the happiest celebration of fourteen of all is found at this story’s end.
February 7, 2009
Cecil Disharoon, Spring 2009 Good to Have You Back, B'Joy