On Sunday, Kenny brought my Hammond A-105 and 147 Leslie out to our house. I was still trying to get sand out of my ass crack and every other orifice. We immediately ran into a couple of big problems. First, the stairway up to my room wasn’t close to wide enough. Second, with a Hammond and Leslie in our front room it was impossible to move, see the TV, or reach the stairs. Kenny wished us luck and took off to nurse his hangover.
I called my cousin, Rock, to see if they could haul the gear to the new practice place but Danny wasn’t home. He was at church. His Polish father was Catholic and required his rock star son to attend mass twice a week. This was one of my first exposures to irony. I liked it. Irony was hilarious. That was when my love for irony first sprouted.
Rock got the message when he returned from church, fetched Ted Anderson and drove over to pick me and my enormous organ.
Yes, I was telling the enormous organ joke way back then. It has elicited laughs and gotten me laid for 45 years. Hey, when something works I stick with it.
Irony number two occurred when we drove out to South Superior to the practice house that was across the street from the park where we North End kids had kicked ass for 10 minutes during our bus-by attack. It was Ted’s house, a small place. Most houses are small in Superior and northern towns like it, easier to heat. Ted had turned the living room into a practice/recording studio. On the fireplace mantle stood a large, hulking stereo reel-to-reel tape recorder.
While I set up, Ted played recordings of original songs he was writing. The songs were cool. They had a harder edge to them than anything on the radio at the time. This was going to be a fun group.
Jack Ghostly showed up next with his guitars. Jack had a sweat, white Mosrite 12-string guitar as well as a burgundy Gibson SG. It was great to see Jack outside of guitar lessons. He was even cooler away from the music store and more conversational. He told stories that wouldn’t have been appropriate at Nickelson’s. Best of all, he treated me like an equal and not a little kid.
Rock had a gold-plated Shure Unidyne microphone. It glimmered in the coloured mood lighting of Ted’s studio. He had also recently purchased an Echoplex EP-2. I was fascinated by the device. It was an analog echo device. It consisted of an infinite loop tape that ran by a stationary playback head. The record and erase head were on a slide that allowed the user to change the length of the delay. Rock talked into his mike that was running through the Echoplex. He moved the head back and forth creating the coolest vocal effect I’d ever heard.
Tim O’Neil rolled in last. This was our first meeting. He was the most frenetic person I had ever met. He was all over the place, setting up his kit, shaking hands, talking faster that I thought humanly possible.
“How are you doing, Ted-ski,” he greeted as he shook hands with Ted. “Jack-ski, how are you doing, man?” “Rock-ski, this is too cool. Is that your cousin?”
“Yes, Tee-mo this is Armond,” Rock said.
“Armond-ski, great to finally meet you, man. Rock-ski has been talking all about you. I hear you’re a pretty hot Hammond player. You’re from New Orleans? What’s it like in New Orleans? Man, I got to get down there for Mardi Gras some year soon. Hey guys, let’s take a road trip down to New Orleans for the next Mardi Gras. Do you want to? It would be hip, daddy-o. I hear that women show their tits if you give them beads. Armond-ski, have your ever seen that? When is our first gig? Are we booked yet? Man, I’ve got to go to the dentist tomorrow. My molar is killing me. I’ve got an uncle who’s a dentist, but he lives in Michigan. I don’t have time to go all the way there. Do you guys know of a good dentist in town? That’s cheap, too? Man, I just got this new head for my snare. It’s really got a snap now. I painted Dynasty on my bass drum head but it isn’t dry yet. When’s our first gig? It will probably dry by then. I painted it with day-glow paint. It looks great under a black light. Wait till you see it. So, Armond-ski, you’re pretty quiet man. Don’t they talk down in New Orleans? I hear it’s pronounced N’Awlins down there. How do you pronounce it? Man, we’ve got to get down to Mardi Gras. Are there a lot of people? I’ve heard it gets so tight that you can’t fart. Have you guys ever seen me light my farts? Ooo, wait I feel one coming.” At that point, he dropped onto the couch and, sure as shit, lit a fart that shot a flame out of his ass while releasing a humongous amount of gas. That was the first time he had stopped talking since he entered the room
Who was this character? That was my first reaction. I had never met anyone like him. He asked questions but didn’t wait for an answer, or even give an opportunity to answer. He tacked ski onto all names. He smiled incessantly. He may well have been the most excited person on the planet. How were we ever going to get anything done with this guy around?
Tim pulled out a hand-rolled cigarette and lit it. He took a couple of long, deep draws on the cigarette and handed toward me saying, “Ear.”
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t smoke cigarettes. My parents smoked cigarettes. I’d eaten every meal of my life thus far in a cloud of cigarette smoke. It grossed me out. Somehow, Tim’s cigarette didn’t smell as bad as the ones my parents smoked. It smelled sweeter. I didn’t want to seem like a square so I took it f rom him and puffed at it briefly. I took the smoke into my mouth not my lungs. Nonetheless, I felt lightheaded in a few moments. I handed it back. Ted said, “Pass it this way, Armond.” I did.
Tim watched as Ted dragged. “Good shit, eh?”
“Goo, chit,” Ted replied holding the smoke deep in his lungs.
It was then that I realized that this wasn’t any normal cigarette and that I was supposed to breathe it deep into my lungs and hold it. I did that on my next turn. I held it in as long as I could. Then, I started to choke and choke and choke. I coughed, choked, spit crap up, had drool falling down my chin. I thought I was going to puke. My head got dizzy. I thought I was going to pass out. I thought I was going to puke and pass out simultaneously.
Tim laughed, “Good shit ain’t it? Armond-ski got a good hit that time.”
I finally stopped coughing, but, man, did I feel different. My hands looked like they were pulsing. My eyes kept going in and out of focus. So, this is what marijuana felt like. I wasn’t sure that I liked it. Tim seemed to calm down quite a bit, though. That was a good thing. I wouldn’t have been able to handle his machine gun gabbing in this state.
My cousin passed on the pot. “Bad for my throat,” he said.
Practice started out slowly as we bounced song ideas back and forth trying to find common ground. Clearly, Jack and Ted knew way more songs than I did. I felt insecure about that, kind of paranoid. It was the weed. I knew how to play. I could read Jack’s hands. Everything would be all right. Several song suggestions were shot down by Rock, “Not ready yet. Too high, too low, too much strain on my voice.” I forget what we finally played for our first song together but I do remember the power in that room. Man, were these cats fucking great.
We quickly knocked down a dozen songs like we’d been playing together for weeks. Every tune we tried sounded better than the original. We took a break to cool down and listen to a couple of records that Rock wanted to do. The first song was Poor Side Of Town by Johnny Rivers. Jack showed me the chord changes. Piece of cake.
The next song was a little bit harder, Summer In The City by The Lovin’ Spoonful. It started out with a distinctive piano part. I could tell that it was a Wurlitzer electric piano by the characteristic sound. There were mainly two electric pianos used at the time, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer. I had a hard time figuring out the part using the Hammond. It didn’t sound the same. The Wurlitzer had a characteristic slightly out of tune quality to it. I was stumped. Ted came to my rescue. His hands were too thick and meaty to ever be a good keys player but he had a great ear. He demonstrated the part as he heard it. He was dead on.
Tim suggested jokingly, “Hey guys, let’s learn some Herman’s Hermits,” then cackled loudly.
Rock looked sideways at him with a feigned scowl, “I ain’t singing no Herman Fucking Hermit’s.”
This wasn’t going to be a bubble gum band. This was a hard rock band. We weren’t near as funky as Loading Zone. We had a driving, almost dangerous sound. Some of Rock’s antics during songs were spooky, frightening.
The third new song we learned that day was Come On Up by the Young Rascals. It was another great harmony tune where the harmony parts were added one at a time on the word Baby. It had been a minor hit that year but it had a measure of cool that fit Dynasty. It also had a great organ part with a Leslie that sped up and slowed down perfectly by their Hammond player, Felix Cavaliere.
It was clear that not only did Dynasty have four solid musicians, but five good singers too. We had four backup singers who were all naturals at harmony plus we could each carry a few songs as lead singer that would give Rock a break so he didn’t have to sing every song in a 4-hour night.
On our first day of rehearsals we knocked out 45 songs with ease. We were gig ready on day one.
Monday, August 29th, brought me back to school as an 8th grader. That is t the uncomfortable age when teenagers reach peak viciousness. It wasn’t physical threats anymore, now the attacks were all personal, mental attacks. Cliques formed to exclude and deride other kids to make the clique kids feel superior, to raise themselves on the social pecking order of the school. I wanted no part of this bullshit. My clothes came from the Sears catalog. Since mom was still in the nuthouse dad ordered my slacks and shirts based on price and value. He had worn a uniform all his life, was still wearing one at the factory, and didn’t understand the pressures to fit in, to wear mod threads, shoes, and grow the hair out. If you weren’t in the clique, the kids pointed and snickered at you. I tried to not let it bother me, but it did hurt and left lasting scars.
I took German as a foreign language class again that year. I wanted to learn to read German more than speak it. My motivation lay in a philosopher I was reading named Freidrich Nietzsche. I found frequent references to Nietzsche by the Beat Poets I had been reading. I dug Nietzsche but started to suspect that the Christian translators may have distorted his words in defense of their religion. I wanted to read Nietzsche in his original language. I was learning to question everything, take nothing at face value. I would later come to find that the translators got it right. I found no distortion.
In Physical Education class they showed us a movie that was supposed to scare us out of using drugs. The title was Reefer Madness. It looked like it was made in the early 1930’s not too far into the era of talkies. The film was hilarious though it wasn’t intended as such. Here was that irony thing rearing its beautiful breast at me again. The day after I smoked my first marijuana the authorities are showing me this ridiculous farce on the evils of the demon devil-weed. The gym teacher hollered at us a couple of times for laughing out loud. “Hey, this is serious. Don’t you dare laugh at this. I’m going to start taking names if you don’t knock it off.”
After the film a local cop rolled a cart out with samples of pot on it. He opened a bag while spurting his message and spit all over us, put the contents into a metal ashtray and set it on fire so that we’d know what it smelled like. Somebody in the class said, “Yep, that’s Mary Jane, alright,” which garnered another warning from the gym teacher, Mr. Tough.
After his talk about how grass would ruin your life and surely lead down a slippery slope to heroin addiction and death, he asked if there were any questions.
Resident smartass Ray Orr shot up his hand and said, “Where can I get me some of that?” Everybody laughed except the cop and Mr. Tough. I waited for the wrath of authoritarianism to reign down upon Ray, but nothing happened. We were dismissed.
The school library was lame. The only book I found of interest was Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. I didn’t understand the equations, the calculus behind his theory, but his concepts made total sense to me.
The college library was on my way home giving me access to books and literature that couldn’t be found in the public school or even the public library. I read an unabridged version of Howl by Allan Ginsberg, the poem that Oscar Deutsch had performed brilliantly at the Id. I read about the censorship enforced by the FBI and the trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. City Lights Booksellers couldn’t find a printer in the US that would print Howl so Ferlinghetti had it printed in London and imported the book into the country. Customs and FBI agents seized the books when they came ashore in Boston and charged Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg with obscenity. The Time and Life magazine articles covering the trial could only allude to the main line of the poem at the heart of the case. It was a fun puzzle to figure out which line they were talking about lest they be charged with obscenity as well. There were many possibilities but I narrowed it down to one line, which turned out to be correct. The line, “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy” was at the heart of the government’s case.
The case became a national sensation, mostly due to its salacious subject matter. Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were acquitted when the judge determined that the poem had “redeeming social importance.” Even better than winning the case, the publicity generated by the trial caused sales of the book to skyrocket and brought significant notice to the Beat Movement.
Reading about Howl and the Beat Poets led me to On The Road by Jack Kerouac. The novel lit me with excitement, particularly the section where Sal, Dean and crew passed through New Orleans. The style that Kerouac used to describe people, places, and scenes was inspiring and like nothing I had read before and caused me to read everything by or about Kerouac in the library. Those readings lead me to other Beat Poets. Over the course of the next few months I read everything the college library had by Beat Poets. I started to write in my own journal in a style heavily influenced by these new literary giants.
The inspiration derived from my readings at that time has remained with me becoming a living part of me. My first two books, Dimension Dancing and Descendants, and my spoken word performances and albums are testament to the vast influence the Beat Poets had upon me.
Not being an actual college student at the time I wasn’t able to check out books so I wound up spending many hours reading in the overstuffed chairs or at tables and frequently in the bathroom. Some of the writings featured erotic imagery that sent me to a bathroom stall to relieve the tension in my pants.
School trudged on that week until I received exciting news, Ted Anderson booked us into a county beer bar for the upcoming Labor Day weekend. We would play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights for $40 a man per night, or a cool $120 for the three nights. That was nearly what I made in six nights at The Cove.
Thursday night we rehearsed our entire song list from one end to the other with occasional pot breaks. We all felt that we were ready for the weekend, no doubt. If not for reading and playing music I wouldn’t have been able to bear the tedium and lunacy of public school.
This was the time when my Gemini twins split into two distinct personalities. One of me went to school, remained quiet, sullen, closed, talked to few people, made few friends, and maintained a façade of caring about what they were teaching me. My other twin was outgoing, gregarious, joyous, talented, and open; the real Armond Blackwater. The bifurcation of personality would serve me well in the future and keep me sane, somewhat.
Dynasty’s first gig was at a county bar named Ramble Inn. Wisconsin was filled with little bars like this with cute names that played on the word inn. Come On Inn, Welcome Inn, Stumble Inn, Wander Inn, and the ploy was even stretched to the max with one bar called the Wiscons Inn.
Ramble Inn was on Amnicon Lake, which was locally referred to as Snake Lake, not because there were snakes in the lake, rather it described the denizens who lived on the lake – a bunch of proudly snaky people.
Drinking is the number one activity in northern Wisconsin. They proudly describe themselves as drunks not alcoholics because alcoholics have to go to all those damned meetings. They take great care not to get too much blood in their alcohol system. There isn’t an activity that they don’t believe would be improved by alcohol.
Labor Day was celebrated with much drunkenness that weekend. Dynasty packed the small bar on Friday night. Apparently, everybody that was there Friday night returned with five friends on Saturday night and the crowd really exploded on Sunday night. The crowd consisted of mostly young people except for a few locals.
Wisconsin had a really stupid law back then. Bars in the city of Superior all had an age limit of 21 whereas county beer bars could serve people at 18. To make the situation even more deadly, the county bars weren’t allowed off-sale licenses, which meant kids 18-20 (and often younger), the most unskilled drivers on the highway, had to drive miles out into the county, drink as much as they could while they were there, then find their way back to the city peering through one bloodshot eye.
The weather was still fairly warm away from Lake Superior so lots of kids camped out in or near their cars. At closing time, 2am, they flooded drunkenly out into the night. As I was heading out to the van on Saturday night, I saw that Ted was heavily engaged with a girl in his van. The van was a rockin’, so I didn’t come a knockin’. I walked back toward the lake where I encountered a young chick sitting on the bank crying. Her boyfriend had taken off with another slut, leaving his former slut behind, crushed. I sat down next to her and asked why she was crying. She filled me in. I listened politely, eventually getting an arm around her shoulder to comfort her.
My sympathizing earned big dividends. We made out for awhile, two drunken teens carousing in the moonlight on a warm, soon to be hot, Indian summer night. My hand began to roam over her back and front and finally boobs. She made no effort to stop me. In fact, my exploration was met with approving moans through our locked mouths until she finally asked, “Do you want to go skinny dipping.”
“Hell yes,” I replied. We drunkenly struggled with clothes that didn’t seem to want to come off. Into the water we plunged. The temperature was only 65, which dampened not only my body but my hard on. We met back up in chest high water to resume the kissing and probing, which promptly restored rigidity. We attempted to copulate but the action of the waves and the spongy silt bottom made balance a real challenged. So, we swam to a nearby dock where I helped boost her up following quickly behind. I fucked her right there on the dock, under the moonlight. She complained about the dock slats hurting her back so we switched positions. I immediately found out what she meant. I took the pain as long as I could and then led her behind a nearby bush on the shore to complete our naked ritual.
I remembered Nietzsche’s words from “Thus Spake Zarathustra”. He described Dionysus promoting a ritual of wine and fertility that he called The Festival of the Ass. This girls name just happened to be Diane. Ha, you thought I didn’t remember, didn’t you? I remember her name because it connected me to Dionysus and she was goddess enough for me that night. She was fit 18-yearold entering her senior year of high school. She asked me what grade I was in. I told her that I had graduated, which in my mind was the truth. She would have been mortified to learn that she was balling a kid of 13, so why trouble this already heartbroken girl with facts, or truth.
Somehow, we dressed partially and stumbled to the van where Ted and his chick were out cold. I quietly grabbed two blankets from the van. We found a nice piney spot in the nearby woods where we passed out. I woke up with a hard on within an hour and sleepily fucked her from behind while we laid our sides.
I loved my new band. I felt like an emperor from a long past Chinese dynasty.
I called my dad in the morning telling him that Ted got too drunk to drive so we camped for the night rather than risk the trip back to town. He agreed that it had been the wisest choice and reminded me that I had school on Tuesday and needed to get back fairly early on Monday. He wasn’t the least bit worried. I was with my cousin. How much trouble could I get into?
The Ramble Inn made so much money that they booked us back on weekends for the next two months and again for Thanksgiving week, which was also deer hunting season in Wisconsin when all the drunken sots of the area would stumble out into the woods with guns they hadn’t fired or cleaned in a year, with hangovers and pints of blackberry brandy in their orange suits so they could sit drinking in a tree stand shooting at anything that moved. Those gigs were a total bore because the crown consisted nearly entirely of great white hunters and very few chicks.
School droned on into the winter months. This would be the first year that I spent an entire winter in northern Wisconsin. I was about to experience firsthand why they called it the “Frozen Tundra.”
Sometime in the frozen months (the exact date is fuzzy in my mind) Ted came to practice with some exciting news. “I booked us to open up a big concert at the Duluth Arena Auditorium.” He paused, waiting for one of us to ask who the lead act was.
“Who are we opening for?” Tim finally asked.
“They’re big,” Ted teased, “One of the biggest.”
“Will you tell us, already,” Tim cried. “I’m about to bust a nut here.”
“Herman’s Hermits,” Ted beamed.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” said Rock.
“No, I’m not. We are opening for Herman’s Hermits at the Duluth Arena Auditorium.”
“Well, that’s pretty fucking huge, man,” said Rock, which surprised me because I knew that he really hated the smarmy pop hits the band performed. Then again, Herman’s Hermits were one of the hottest acts going at the time. They had several hits on the charts, had appeared numerous times on TV, and were selling a lot of records.
The Duluth Arena Auditorium had recently been completed, back in late 1965, and stood as the biggest venue in the Twin Ports area. They built it as a hockey arena. Hockey is really big in that area. I mean really big, like a second religion to them. My dad took me to the Arena to see one of his current favourite performers earlier in the year, Buck Owens and the Buccaneers. The show in the auditorium was great. The venue was impressive featuring a big stage and sloped seating to create an intimate environment. It was engineered so that there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.
I was thrilled at the news. I had never dreamed that I would play a show as big as that. I had no idea of how many of these types of events I’d be playing in the future. This was the first one. I was about to play for my first crowd of over 5,000. The thought of playing to such a crowd gave me cold sweats.
We took about an hour deciding which songs to play and then practiced the shit out of those songs. Rock and Jack insisted that we have at least 90 minutes of music ready in case we were asked to play longer.
We were scheduled to play for one hour before the second band got up. Herman’s Hermits would come on last. This was the way concerts were set up back then. The record company would send a big act like HH out on tour with one of their lesser groups hoping that people would become fans of the lesser band, too. I have no idea who the secondary act was that night, so I guess they flamed out quickly. A local promoter would contract a local band, cheap, to play while people flowed into the auditorium.
I wasn’t nervous that night. Nope, I was totally scared shitless. My hands were shaking, my throat was dry, and my legs wouldn’t stop quivering. It didn’t help that my band mates were showing similar signs of stage fright.
At 8pm sharp, we were cued to take the stage.
“Ladies and gentleman,” the announcer boomed, “give a big Duluth welcome for Dynasty.”
I heard about six people clap. We filed out onto the stage, took our positions, then my cousin, the star of our band, sauntered out, grabbed the mike, looked back at us, spun, and screamed, “I feel good.” The band jumped in. “Like I knew that I would now. I feel good. Like I knew that I would now. So good, so good, I’ve got you.” My shaking hands flubbed one of the rising notes, but nobody heard it or if they did they didn’t care. With that mistake out of the way I settled down and played a great set. The applause grew with the crowd. They really dug us, I thought or hoped.
Sure enough the stage manager made the stretching motion with his hands from the wings after Rock had said good night. “I guess we’re going to play a little longer,” we launched into “Land Of A Thousand Dances”, which had grown into a long jam song for us with Rock dancing all over like a whirling dervish. The girls in the audience loved it. Jack and I traded off soloing while Rock milked the crowd. When the song ended we got a rather large ovation from the nearly filled seats.
Exiting to backstage there was Peter Noone, good old Herman himself. “Great set, guys,” he said with his English accent. He was a really nice, gracious guy. I was star-struck at first but soon realized that he was a regular person. The rest of the Hermits were just as warm and genuine. They appeared to be just as nervous as we were. Yet, another great lesson in my formative years.
The other band looked even more scared than we had been. In fact, they were white as ghosts. And, they weren’t that good. We didn’t pay much attention to their show. We were hanging out with Herman’s Hermits, drinking free sodas with them backstage. Rock talked to Peter like he’d known him all his life. Rock had that air about him. He thought himself as big a star as Peter Noone, which was pretty ridiculous considering that Noone had sold 4 or 5 million records and Rock had sold 0. Still, it was fun to watch.
Herman’s Hermits put on a great show. Besides their big bubble gum hits they played quite a few great R & B tunes. In fact, get them away from the simple, smarmy shit and these guys were pretty fine musicians and Noone had way more voice than that cutesy shit he sang on TV. I was truly impressed. They played for nearly 2&1/2 hours. They received a standing ovation from the sold out auditorium crowd. They were breathless when they left the stage after a second and final encore. We greeted them with more applause and sincere congratulatory remarks. Peter Noone remained that sweet, humble guy that we met before his set.
I became a big fan of Peter Noone that night.
The next day in school I was exhausted. I had gotten home around 3am. We were a big hit with the local promoter guy who promised that he’d be using us at more shows in the future.
I didn’t notice at first, but kids in school were looking at me and whispering in the halls and in class. Apparently, a few of the elite clique had been at the Hermit’s show and recognized me. The word spread fast. They weren’t talking to me, but they were whispering about me. I didn’t catch on until a girl named Karen Lake approached me and said hi. She was a petite little thing, no tits, but really cute. I said hi back. A little wary, I looked around for somebody about to trip me or push me over somebody behind me.
“Were you really playing at the Herman’s Hermits concert last night?” she drooled.
“Yes. Yes, I was,” I said, more than a little shocked.
“That is so cool. Did you get to meet him?” she asked.
I pretended I didn’t know what she was asking. “Did I meet who?”
“You know… him… Herman.” She nodded.
“His name is Peter Noone and yes, I met him.”
“That is so cool.” Was this all this girl knew how to say, I thought.
“He’s a real nice kid.” And kid he was, I don’t think Peter was more than 18 or 19 at the time.
“That is so cool. Did you touch him?” she panted.
“I shook his hand, if that’s what you mean,” I replied. “I talked to all of the guys in his band. They were really nice, ya know, humble even.”
What came next nearly floored me. She grabbed my arm and asked, “Would you be my boyfriend.” I didn’t know what to say. These were the last words I expected to hear out of her mouth. I didn’t have an answer. I stood there dumbfounded for what seemed an eternity.
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
She squealed and hugged my arm. I still didn’t know what to say or do. Here was this girl that wouldn’t have spit on me if I was on fire the day before asking me to be her boyfriend. I still didn’t believe it. I suspected an elaborate plot to humiliate me further was in play.
But, she was serious. The word spread fast that Karen Lake was going steady with Armond Blackwater, that quiet musician kid that played with Dynasty, the best band in the Twin Ports.
I had no idea what being Karen Lake’s boyfriend required of me or what liberties of the flesh that it granted me. She met me at my locker after several periods in the day and talked until time for our next class. We had no classes together so we often left in different directions. One class coincided where our classrooms were near each other for that period. I would walk her to class, then sprint to mine.
Loraine heard the news of Karen latching onto me and saw us together. She wasn’t jealous nor was her sister Mary. Loraine said Karen’s name with a degree of amusement. “So, you’re going with K-ran,” after which she would always giggle. It seemed like she knew something I didn’t.
Dynasty had a gig coming up on a Friday night at the local Vocational Technical College, a new student mixer of sorts. I asked Karen if she wanted to accompany me to the gig. I hadn’t gotten very far with her yet, barely even touched her. I hadn’t even kissed her yet.
She replied, “My parents don’t allow me to date boys.”
Now, I was more puzzled than ever about the meaning of being her boyfriend. We couldn’t go out together. We were never together outside the halls of school. The prospect of us ever having fun together seemed nearly impossible. How was I her boyfriend, again? I thought.
“I’m going to the movies Saturday with the girls,” she said. “If you meet us there I can sit with you in the theatre.”
“What movie?” I asked.
“The Sound Of Music,” she replied.
I nearly gagged. “The Sound Of Music,” I repeated, “Really.”
“Yeah, it looks really neat,” she defended.
“I’d love to,” I lied. The prospect of getting her alone in a dark theatre held the potential of getting somewhere with her. And, I didn’t even have to buy her ticket. I’m sure I probably masturbated that night imagining getting a feel of boob off from her. All of my jack off sessions included a fantasy of some sort about a girl I had seen, or recalling fun in the loft or in the woods. I switched up fantasies frequently.
Junior high kids talked like that back then. “Did you get anything off her?” was equivalent to, and replacement of, the old baseball metaphors of the 40’s and 50’s. I was never too clear on which base represented what female body part, anyway. Society was on the verge of sexual revolution and the talk was becoming more frank. If you felt a girl up it meant that you touched her boob, usually over her clothes.
We went to the movie in mid-November. It had to be around that time because I learned of the death of Mississippi John Hurt that morning from my dad. Dad was a voracious reader of newspapers. He read several every day. He read the local papers that consisted of the Superior Evening Telegram and the Duluth News Tribune as well as the Chicago Tribune and the Minneapolis Star. Chicago being a huge blues town was first to report the death of the legendary blues guitarist/singer. Dad reminded me that we had seen Mississippi John Hurt back in 1960 at an outdoor concert in City Park in New Orleans. I faintly recalled the man. I was only 7 at the time.
Hurt was renowned for his finger picking style on guitar and as a man who “sang in a loud whisper”. Mississippi John was still playing in the south in the early sixties. I do remember seeing posters and ads for him frequently on telephone poles and at bus and streetcar stops. He got really big after he moved to Washington DC, for some reason, making a big hit at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. It was sad to hear that a man with such great talent, who struggled all his life until he finally got a break, then died shortly after making it big and gaining the recognition that he deserved. Sometimes irony sucked.
I walked down to the Beacon Theatre in downtown Superior, a six block stretch of stores that included Kresges, Newberry’s, and Woolworth’s dime stores. They were known as dime stores because a person could actually buy stuff for a dime that was worth a fuck. Actually, I think they called them Five & Dime stores. So, you could buy something useful for a nickel.
Beacon Theatre dated back to the silent film era and still had an old upright piano sitting near the screen, out of tune and never played. I could picture the old days when a pianist would pound away while reading sheet music that accompanied the film and while the patrons read the movie, usually out loud and always moving their lips while they read. I could almost hear the sounds still bouncing faintly off the ornately sculpted wood walls.
I sat next to Karen in the middle of the row in the middle of the theatre, not in the balcony where lovers necked and copped feels. Karen’s two girlfriends sat to her left. I forget their names, but it was clear that neither approved of Karen seeing me. During one tense scene in the movie I worked up the nerve to grasp her right hand in my left. Her hand was colder than a corpse. That is as far as I got with her. I suffered through the yodeling and coloratura vocals of this too happy movie that seemed like it would never end just to hold hands with Karen Lake.
When the movie finally, mercifully ended, Karen said she’d had fun and then her and her girls got up and headed up the aisle. No kiss, not even a peck on the cheek did I receive from her. She had fun? I knew fun. I’d been taught how to have fun by the Lafontaine sisters. This wasn’t fun. To this day I can’t watch “The Sound of Music”. I appreciate the quality of the movie and music more now that I did back then, but I’m still pissed at the film for not getting me more action.
That was the extent of my first “date” with a wasicu girl.
Afterward, I trudged through the cold out to Ted’s studio out in South Superior to ready for the gig that night at a bar down in Hayward, Wisconsin.
I lost interest in Karen Lake quickly after that. I walked her to class a few more times, even accidently brushed a nipple with my elbow one day, but our courtship chilled quickly and she stopped pursuing me. I’m certain her girlfriends were pleased. I really didn’t care. We had nothing in common, certainly not our definition of fun. I don’t recall ever talking to her again.
This would become a pattern for me with wasicu girls all the way through high school until graduation standing in stark contrast to my experiences with wasicu girls in bars.
Hayward, WI is a resort town with lakes and major rivers all around. Fishing is the big draw in the summer, skiing in winter. We played at a ski resort, which was the only thing going in the winter. Snow bunnies with bulging sweaters were everywhere in various stages of drunkenness. The band sounded great. The crowd was reactive and appreciative. Jack Ghostly and I traded some beautiful solos each of us building off the other. There are only a few things better than sex. Entertaining is definitely one of them.
My cousin scored with one snow bunny that brought him back to her chalet. None of the rest of us got anywhere leaving Ted, Tim, Jack and me to drive back in the van with the equipment.
Ted dropped Jack at his house near SR 2 on Belknap first. Tim lived within a few blocks of Central Junior, so after dropping Tim off I had Ted swing by the alley behind 314 John, but the place was quiet and dark.
Three strikes counted me out for the day. There was no mud for my duck. Ted sparked a joint and passed it to me. Blessed relief flowed through me. It had been a strange day all around.
My parents were still up when I got home, drunk, and arguing at that hour with Johnny Cash singing at Folsom Prison on the record player. Mother had returned from the hospital a few days before her birthday, which happened to fall on Halloween. Irony played a cruel trick on me in that case making me the spawn of a psycho-mom born on All Hallows Eve. They stopped the fight when I came in. I told them about the gig at the ski resort, the crowd reaction, and that I’d made $60 that night, which corresponds to about 400 dollars in 2009.
Hearing that my dad said, “That’s great, but if it starts affecting your schoolwork…”
“I’ve got four A’s and one B,” I replied. The B was in German. I didn’t practice speaking it enough because my focus was on reading not speaking. And, I was getting those grades without really trying. “I’m the best writer in my English class, probably the whole school. It won’t be a problem, I assure you.”
They were satisfied with that. I then excused myself saying I was tired and needed sleep. I also had some vivid memories of ski bunny boobs to beat off to.
The parents apparently forgot what they were arguing about. My dad started singing along with Johnny Cash, “You dirty old egg sucking dog.” My dad was a terrible singer. Musical talent had skipped a generation in the Blackwater Tribe.
I fell asleep quickly waking up an hour later to a strange noise that I couldn’t identify at first. It was the parents having sex – just what I didn’t want or need to hear. I stuffed the earpiece in one ear as quickly as I could, jammed a pillow against the other, and turned up “W-E-B-C, Channel 56, Channel 56, Channel 56.”
The familiar voice of New Orleans native Lee Dorsey singing “Working In A Cold Mine” soothed my nerves and lulled me back to sleep.