Thursday, February 11, 2016
A Case of Doubt
((The Fall/Winter of 1967) (Part of: Donkeyland, a Side Street Saga))
It is one of those odd or peculiar moments in life, views you have, like a dream (later on turning into a heavy weight), a half-sleep where everything is distorted, so, once you get focused, you must try to keep focused. The evening was bleak; the cold sky looked very high. It happened in late fall (the end of November I believe).
As I tell this story, it seems even at this early point it appears to be collapsing in on me, that is, threatening to collapse in on me, as it unfolds around me. Thus I should try to write this out in one quick afternoon, and rewrite it in the evening before it fades; it took place forty-four years ago, 1967, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.
I stepped outside of Sharon’s apartment (she lived in an apartment complex with her two sons; I was dating her: actually we were kind of living together, me with her, more so than she with me, meaning it was her apartment). As I was saying I stepped outside to talk to Sid Moeller, my bosom buddy, and from our neighborhood called by the Police Howie, Donkeyland. I felt cold, perhaps by all the icy slush lying about; this complex was a mile or so beyond our neighborhood; Sid and I both attended Washington High School.
The cold soaked into my bones, and then into my marrow of my bones. As a few cars come into the parking lot area, their tires spattered the muck all about. I looked at Sid, saw that he was serious, and had a stern face. I leaned my shoulder against a pole by the sidewalk.
“Hell of a night,” I said, rubbing my hands together, it was 9:00 p.m. Sharon had stepped close by the door, it was ajar, she was trying hard to listen to our conversation. Of course she already knew what Sid wanted, what he always wanted, my company. Sid seeing Sharon was hesitant to say anything, of what was on his mind. In the distance I could still hear the slush of the car tires on the asphalt road, a police or ambulance siren. The area was a beehive for hooligans, those I really didn’t know, whereas in Donkeyland, or on Cayuga Street, I did; —I might have been considered a strain bird out of his cage here had someone took a real interest in me.
I stood shaking from the cold, said to Sid, “Well what’s on your mind, it is cold out here.”
It appeared he didn’t know how to put it, perhaps because Sharon was still watching, and she had expressed: she hoped I wasn’t going anyplace this evening.
The neighbors’ apartments were noisy. Sid usually didn’t have trouble talking me into whatever he wanted me to do with him, that is to say, he could be persuasive. He’d even drive up to Washington High School my last year of school in 1965, and just before I’d open the door to go inside for classes, he’d show up, honk his horn, show me a six-pack of beer and say, “Come on Chick, I got some more hidden in the trunk,” and there I’d be sitting in his front seat. I missed sixty-four days of school my senior year, and still graduated (although I had six-weekends to make it up, work incomplete, or else).
Anyhow, here we were—but a few feet apart, the man next door stumbling about, trying to get his key into the keyhole of his apartment, half drunk on his ass, if indeed it was his apartment. A taxi had stopped at another apartment, and blew the car’s horn; they never got out of their automobiles in fear of some potential catastrophe.
“Forget it, buddy,” he commented, and walked over to the curb as if to appease Sharon, knowing she was listening, moving closer nearby his car, leaving me standing where I was, knowing I’d join him in a jiffy. In the distance I could hear her two little boys fighting, she left the doorway to go investigate, one child was three the other six she was divorced, and my age being twenty, as was hers, plus she was a nice looking blond and rather slim and sharply, but vindictive, controlling and bossy.
A wave of near pleading filled Sid’s face. I simply waited for him to say what he needed to say, whatever was on his mind, and right now he was looking like a wounded ostrich fighting to get words out; the cold still sucking from somewhere in his face, sucking it inward, as this meeting proceeded slowly. A soft cold rain, —a drizzle started up, I stood there shivering, I remained phlegmatic, Sid a bit circumspect. Sid had had a few drinks before he had come over, and had a few more with me there in Sharon’s apartment as to warm up, but I hadn’t yet started my night’s serious drinking, nor had he, it was Friday evening, in St. Paul, Minnesota, I had turned twenty-years old, a month prior, and Sid, would be twenty-one in six months. As we had walked into the apartment to warm up, and then back out again to talk, I started pacing the sidewalk some, “I was hoping you’d come to Hudson, Wisconsin, with me tonight!” exclaimed Sid in a pleasant and hopeful manner.
I stumbled about, nearly fell, my shoes and socks got soaked with muck. I concentrated on Sid’s offer, I really wanted to go, he even said he’d borrow me money if I needed some, “I better stay here, Sharon’s been moody lately, awful moody, I’m going to move out soon, I don’t like her demands on me, but I better stay tonight, plus it’s getting late, too late to take a long drive to Hudson, drink and then drive all the way back, just stay here with us and get drunk,” I said to Sid, Sharon was showing some hostility, and there was some prefigure lurking a shadow from the stairway in Sharon’s house, out the open door right on me, it was her: plus, there was something suppressed about this, accordingly I hesitated a moment, then added “That’s it, that’s about it, just drive slow if you got to go. It’s a long drive you know,” his face was disparaging! As for my knees they were getting cold standing there, and my feet still in the slush and muck were freezing up.
“I’ll be fine, one of the other guys will be driving,” he said on a whim.
“The other guys,” I assumed, “I thought you were going alone?” My voice got gruffly and not encouraging, and then I started to feel the ice rain on my head, and my forehead, and on my back. My cheeks getting numb, the drizzle continued.
“Where did you find these guys?” I asked— “Whose car you using?”
“It’s all right,” Sid said, intrepidly, as if there was nothing to worry about.
To Sid: “You mean you’re going to let someone else drive, you’re going against your own principles, you’ve told me a hundred times if not more, you never let anyone drive you anywhere, and you drive only your own car.” (Wherever he had gotten that principle, he stuck to it like glue, like white on rice, it was a decision he made the day his father bought him his first car, 1953 Dodge, and I was shocked to see he was modifying it.) I gave an effluvium to all this. I had peered straight into his face when I said, “You got to be kidding!” For some reason I felt interposed by his friends, an odd if not prodigious emotion to say the least, saying that, but I had to say what I felt, and now I felt even more uncomfortable about going. I was nettled having heard these guys were taking Sid, and I think Sid felt twisted, by wanting to stay, yet he had given his word to these new friends to go, whom were not of the neighborhood. I was hesitant, even felt a little guilty saying no to Sid, but hearing what I heard, that he was not driving, and it was not his car, because I knew Sid was a good driver, I venture to say: I became even more Skeptical, cynical on the matter at hand. He nodded a ‘Yes’ from me, for a moment his glance was silent and cold.
“You ought to just let them guys go themselves, and stay here!” I per near begged.
Sharon was talking to her two kids now, she looked anxious, wanting to get back to the doorway, to insure I’d not take off, all of sudden by jumping into Sid’s car. I don’t think Sid had expected this, but he wasn’t surprised after he had told me about the two guys, —these two guys he barely knew, and whom I didn’t know at all, and me turning him down cold turkey now, and now that he had mentioned everything there was to mention, he was about to leave. For the most part, I never felt comfortable drinking with strangers I didn’t know, they often got drunk and wanted to fight—test you out to see who the better man was, and I wanted to drink, and more often than not they were full of laboriousness, where in the neighborhood, everyone knew everyone quite well, and where they stood, and if you didn’t like something, or to be a part of something, it was fine with one and all.
“Are you sure you want to go, you always insist on driving yourself.”
“We’ve designated someone not to drink too much.” He said.
“You know how that works, it doesn’t work. Once you start drinking, the non-drinker wants to drink and then you’re too far away to say anything, and it isn’t your car, and you are not going to walk back, you’re putting yourself into their hands,” everything I said seemed to be caustic humor for him.
“Okay,” he said, “I’m all right.”
“You seem all right,” I remarked, “but you will all be goofy drunk coming back, and Highway #94 is not all that lit up, from Hudson to St. Paul.”
I was starting to freeze standing in this one spot, thinking thoughts, perhaps what he was thinking, staying in a warm house, drinking, getting drunk, but he had told those fellows he’d go, and he felt he had to go, even though now he had second thoughts on the matter. It’s funny, when you let someone take control of your life, that is exactly what they do but it is not for your betterment, it is in every case I’ve yet to see, under the heading of self-interest.
“No, I told them I’d go; I’d feel funny at the last minute telling them otherwise, plus they’re waiting on me…” said Sid, as if his honor was at stake, as if he’d not have a lid to fit the kettle, figuratively speaking, should they ask for a reasonable motive why he wasn’t going; that is to say, he couldn’t find one at this late moment. I was even surprised he had even asked me to come, and want to go so far, at such a late instant.
“Well, where are they?”
“They’re waiting for me at a bar!”
We both glanced at one another, oddly, as if he had just discovered we were disconnected; if anything it alleviated my saying no to him.
“No,” I reconfirmed, but I wanted to keep him company. He looked confused, and I suppose so did I to him.
I had left and he had left, and I went into the kitchen to join Sharon, and she took a cold beer out of the refrigerator for me, it tasted marvelous.
“Better go easy on that, Chick,” she said, we only have a six-pack left.
“Six,” I said, “isn’t bad if you don’t drink any.” I had three already, she had one and Sid had two. She liked her beer almost as much as I did. I was upset with myself for not going along with Sid, blaming it on Sharon who had insisted I stay home for once, even to the point of threatening to kick me out if I went. “If you go,” she said, “don’t come back.”
In the back of my head I had plans anyhow to go onto San Francisco in the approaching weeks, so I felt it was best not to cause waves, frolicking along with her.
The News Report!
“Wake up,” said Sharon; it was on the 7:00 a.m., news. “Wake up, Sid is on the news!” She shouted from the stairway by the living room; up the stairs came the reverberation of her voice. She said it a number of times.
My head and stomach was the worse, a hangover, it acted as if I had drunk way too much, or too little, or woken up too early too quickly. I rolled onto my side. After a while, I yelled down, “You said, Sid? What about him?” as I clangored my way out of bed.
“He’s on the news, come and see!”
“Come on down and see for yourself, you won’t believe it if I tell you.”
“Tell me?” I yelped in my stoical way.
“He had an accident.” Then there was a long hesitation, and I knew I’d have to wake up completely and go on downstairs to find out what all the commotion was about. And so having rolled halfway already out of bed I put my feet onto the floor firmly. Then I heard her say something like “You were lucky.”
“Yeah,” I said, not knowing why I said, what I said, because I knew nothing of what was going on.
By the time I had gotten down to the living room the news was still on, wrapping up, the commentator was going over the local news once more, I felt like a dead fish, hammered on, but getting better, still feeling a little sleepy, nauseated is perhaps the better description.
“Come over here,” said Sharon, “listen it’ll be on next, I saw it three times already.”
I just sat there and watched, she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me for some reason what exactly was going on, and then she said, “You see!” She said. It was a car wreck. I didn’t say a word, I didn’t recognize the car, and it wasn’t Sid’s.
“Wait a minute,” Sharon told me, he’ll say more about it in a moment.” It was as if she needed my confirmation, to assess if what had happened really happened.
I sat up arched my back, my stomach was sore.
“I’m afraid you’re going to get really upset,” she inferred.
“Wait and see.” I waited to see I didn’t want to quibble over spilt milk as they say, let the mystery flow naturally out.
Then the News Commentator came on, and said, “Three boys coming back from Hudson, Wisconsin, on Highway #94, smashed into a guard railing, smashed right thought it, breaking out their front window, and having the railing come out through the back window, they must have been going ninety-miles an hour, all tested for having high alcohol content in their blood. All were killed instantly. Sid Moeller, twenty-years old and…”
There was a long pause, my mouth went dry, I almost lost my breath, and I had to gulp for air.
“Do you want me to go get some beer?” asked Sharon calmly.
“No, I should call Paula, see if she knows,” it was his wife, they were separated, and she was filing for a divorce.
“Okay,” she said, “but don’t leave please.”
I did leave, I frowned and moved out of the place, and moved over on the Westside of town, where the Mexicans lived, found a basement apartment, and stayed there until summer (although I did have an incident with a girl named ‘the Shadow’ somewhere in-between all this), and went to San Francisco, thereafter. I had felt terrible for those months after Sid’s death; I was silent for a long while.
I was never invited to his funeral by his parents—being at the time his best friend (so I felt), matter of fact, I heard, overheard, one of them saying, “Why was it not him, but rather our boy…” Meaning me! And they skipped over the name and finished the sentence by saying, “The good die young…” But they had seen me, and whispered it, not sure if they wanted me to overhear what they felt and were saying, or not, but I did, and their eyes expressed the rest of their absorbed feelings. I held no grudges for that allusion, and smiled at them, it was on the corner of Sycamore and Jackson streets that I had overheard the conversation, by the old church. In any cases, the implication of me was there, but I guess I don’t blame them, I was to them the wild card in Sid’s life, but then so was Sid in mine, they just couldn’t believe he was as wild as me, not unusual for blind parents, who can see everything but what’s in front of their noses. (Now they all are dead but me, so I can write this.)
No: 716/ 1-25-2011/ Reedited 6-2015