I went to New Jersey on Saturday because Don died last Sunday. Don’s the guy on the left. The greatest guitar player America ever produced is on the right. All dressed up because we three were going to a wedding. 1973. Hair was important back then.
I was going to wax poetic about south Jersey in the early 70’s because, IMHO, it was the perfect place and time to be a teenager. But, no need, because I wrote a story a few years ago expressing that very same sentiment. I tried to get it published but it’s (a) too long and (b) about teenagers in south Jersey in the early 70’s, which, to my surprise, only appeals to people who were teenagers in south Jersey in the early 70’s. But I want y’all to know what a great guy Don was, what a magically crazy place south Jersey was, and how fondly I remember it all so, pack a lunch, settle in, and spend the next 20 minutes in the Pine Barrens, 40 years ago:
Every Bruce Springsteen Song Ever Sung
Dale was sitting on the porch when the Drumobile pulled up. “I thought you guys weren’t coming,” he said.
Dave stuck his head out the passenger window, “We’re not. Thought you were going out with your Mommy.”
“She and Cliff had other plans.”
“Oh,” Dave’s lion mane flipped back inside and turned towards Dru. Dale watched their seventy pounds of hair converge and shake and knew they were laughing at some private joke. He idly wondered if he should kick their asses.
“You coming?” Dave’s hair back out, brown and free, hive for the buzzing bees. Dale smiled at the old song.
“Thought you guys were pissed at me.”
“We are. Get in.”
Dale shrugged, pushed off the steps, slicked back his own curled out white-fro and adjusted the fatigue jacket. He slid in the back door.
Dave reached over and fingered a collar of the jacket. “You gonna get a new one a these?”
“I dunno,” Dale knocked his hand away. “Why, you want this one?”
“If I get a new one, I’ll send this to you.”
“Give it to me now. You won’t need it in Vietnam.”
Dru chuckled and Dale just shook his head, “Moron, Vietnam’s about over.”
“No it’s not. You’ll be there,” and Dave turned back to the front, certain, as always.
“Riiiight,” Dale Bill-Cosby’d it and looked at Dru, “So what are we doing?”
“Going out, man,” Dru adjusted the back mirror. “It’s your last night of freedom. Or it’s your first night of freedom, depending.”
“We gotta get some beer,” Dave said. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “You’re buying.”
“Why am I buying?”
“Because you got a job.”
“Haven’t been paid yet.”
“But you will be. Fifty bucks a month, good chow hall food, a cot, a tent and a rifle. ‘Ooooooveeer theeeereeeee, over there!'” Dave started bellowing, couldn’t call it singing.
“Fuck you, man.”
“No, fuck you, sell out.”
Dale was immediately murderous, “Look, jerkweed, as I’ve told you a million times already, I don’t have a choice here.”
Dave didn’t know when to shut up and he was going to say something that absolutely guaranteed a superior ass kicking when Dru cracked him on the back of the head with his high school ring. “Knock it off! We been through this. It’s done. The three D’s are out tonight, for the last time. Nothing else matters.”
Dale gave him a grateful look and Dave rubbed his head. “All right,” he said, “but you’re still buying.”
“Fine,” Dale patted his cash pocket, “but we gotta go to Gino’s first.”
They both groaned long and hard, “Ah, man!” Dave was loudest, “Have you still got it for that chick?”
“She’s working tonight.”
“Beer’s the other way,” Dru pointed out.
“Just go to Gino’s.”
Dru shrugged and carefully backed the battleship out, stopping often, wary of the drug dealers and thieves and desperate welfare cheats who zoomed with disregard in and out of the parking lot. He pulled up to 38 and looked warily towards Pemberton, because everyone left there on a Friday night with the same disregard, intent on Mt. Holly or Moorestown or Philly. Anyplace but here.
“I do feel much like a hamburger,” Dave said, smacking his lips. He jerked the thumb back again. “You’re buying that, too.”
Dale just shook his head.
“Can I help you?” she said archly and Dale melted, just melted. Look at her, those almond eyes lit with devilment, black-red hair all netted but a cascade, he knew, down her back, the smooth light tinge of her skin. The red uniform held her curved, flowing body like a present. God.
“Sirloin burger,” Dave nudged Dale and canted his head towards the overhead menu.
“Gino Giant for me,” Dru waved airily as he examined the milk shake machine.
“Yeah, those,” Dale said, “and I’ll take, uh, some chips…” he was lost in her eyes again.
“…a milkshake and two apples pies,” she laughed. “Yeah, I know by now.”
He flushed. Geez, had he been here that many times, stammering the items he wanted and watching her move, with light grace from one end of the counter to the other, fetching them? Apparently.
She stood, amused, cute little grin on her face and a sparkle in her look and he could do nothing. Just nothing. She cocked her head a bit, inviting the question, but he was too stunned, cow hit by hammer.
A hand flowed across his back and clutched his shoulder, drawing him in. Dru had him locked in a hug, trapped against the counter, the tidal wave of his black stringy hair rolling forward as he leaned towards her. “My friend here,” Dru spoke through the locks, “wants to ask you a question.”
“Does he,” she replied, flipping her glance from Dru back to Dale.
Dru nodded and slapped Dale once on the back, “We’ll be at the table, Romeo,” and stepped away. Dave snorted a laugh, grabbed far too many napkins, and followed.
Dale closed his eyes, mortified, and when he opened them she was still there with the same grin, enjoying his torture. A couple of patrons smirked and the manager and a couple of other cute counter girls stalked by pretending not to know what was going on, but their sideways glances gave them away. Oh boy.
Now or never. Cowards die a thousand deaths. Into the breach. “Come out tonight,” he said.
“Come out tonight. Just come out tonight.”
She let out a pleased, exasperated laugh that exhilarated and distressed at the same time. Amusement with dismissal. “I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Dale. And you’re Sherri,” he pointed at her nametag.
“Observant,” she noted and he felt so utterly stupid. “You know, it works a little different than that. You ask for my number, I decide whether to give it to you, you call. Normal stuff.”
“I know,” he sighed, “but I just don’t have the time.”
“I’m leaving. Tomorrow morning.”
“Leaving? New Jersey?”
Arched exquisite eyebrows demanded the explanation and he didn’t want to say it because, here, it ends. Loser, failure, dork, stupid, what, can’t go to college, too poor, too dumb, can’t get a job, are you that desperate?
“I joined the Air Force.”
He had braced for scorn, but that wasn’t her tone. She actually sounded interested. “Yes.”
“So, what?” and she flipped an exquisite hand. “Am I supposed to be your last good time or something?”
“No, no,” and Dale gulped because, yeah, it sounded a bit sordid. “Not like that, just…” and he didn’t have the words, just couldn’t explain, worshipping her for the past two months, getting fired, Dad no longer sending the checks, Mom fighting, Cliff ridiculing, his brother running away. He stopped. “Come out tonight,” and he hoped he sounded as sincere and desperate and love struck as he was.
“You coming back to New Jersey?”
“Yes. After basic, they give me two weeks leave before I go to school.”
“X Ray technician.”
“Hhm,” little sound of approval and her look narrowed, evaluated. Dale blinked. This was a completely different reaction than he’d gotten from everyone else he knew. Especially the two crapheads throwing napkins at each other in the back.
“My Dad would kill me,” she said and smoothed back a stray lock.
That wasn’t ‘no.’ His heart soared. “Tell him it’s his last chance,” and he couldn’t help it, the lyric popped into his head, “to get his daughter into a fine romance.”
She stared at him, her mouth open, then burst out with a musical, twenty-toned laugh that just wrapped around his stomach and warmed. He grinned.
“You’re crazy, just crazy,” she said and glanced at her boss who was hovering too close, obviously enjoying this. She frowned, studying him. “Be here at midnight,” she said.
He stopped breathing. He told himself to close his mouth, that he looked like an idiot, but the moment, this moment, too perfect.
“And don’t be late.”
“Because if you’re just one minute late, I’m leaving.”
“And don’t expect anything, and you now what I mean,” she warned.
“Oh no, no, no,” he babbled, “I know, that’s not right, I mean, I know, it’s okay, it’s perfect…I’ll be back at midnight,” and he turned and the angels sang and…
He turned back, blinking.
She gestured at a white bag, “Your food?”
“Oh, yeah, right,” and he threw a bill down and she gave him change and her touch lingered a bit more than it should, he supposed, and it was silk on a wound and he looked at her and there, for the first time, she looked back. Down he went.
“Midnight,” he said and pointed a finger at her and knew immediately how dorky that was and flushed as she nodded and raised an eyebrow and the manager and the two counter girls flanked her while the two patrons flanked him and he wondered if they would all break into applause. He ran back to the table.
“We gotta be back here by midnight.”
“Cool,” Dru said, standing and grabbing the bag out of his hand. “We’re going to Cartaret.”
Dru motioned at Dave, who was pawing through the bag as Dru held it. “He met a girl there. S’go.”
“So how’d you meet this girl?”
They were approaching some intersection. Dale was hopelessly lost.
“Cherry Hill mall.”
“That’s ‘where,’ not ‘how.'”
“Sorry, Professor,” Dave was leaning forward, obviously digging through a pocket.
“What’s her name?”
“Rose,” he mumbled, still in his pocket.
“Little Rosie,” Dru cackled.
“Screw you,” Dave mumbled again.
“You know where you’re going?” Dale asked Dru.
“Yep,” he said and made a couple of quick turns and they pulled into a parking lot. “Here,” he announced.
Dale looked at Dave. “A bowling alley.”
“And we just came from where, Gino’s?”
“Good point. And let’s not forget, midnight.”
“Yeah, we know, midnight, give it a rest. Here,” he handed Dale a joint. “Fire this up. You might actually mellow out.”
Dale studied it. Big fat one, moist, good aroma, definitely knock-you-on-your-ass grass. “I can’t, man,” he pushed it back. “They’ll catch me tomorrow.”
“Catch you? How?”
Dale shrugged. “Some kind of test.”
Dru turned around, interested, “What, like a blood test?”
“No, pee test. They test your pee.”
They both were turned around now. “No shit?” Dave asked.
“No, pee,” Dru said and that convulsed them. Dave grabbed the joint, turned and lit it, taking in a huge lungful and handing it back over his head.
“Man, I can’t.”
“Just take it, dickhead.”
“I’m telling you, I can’t.”
Dale sighed and fished the joint out of Dave’s hand and stared at the glowing tip. “I will get so busted.”
“Good. They’ll throw you out then, right?”
“Then I’m screwed.”
“You’re screwed anyway,” Dru said, peering at the entrance. “Might as well enjoy it.”
That, somehow, made sense and Dale inhaled and held and held and forced, displacing every bit of oxygen with green Utopia because it was the last night, his last night on Earth, so might as well breathe some earth…
“You bogartin’?” Dru asked and he passed it up.
They finished it and got out and strolled towards the entrance. Dale watched the street light buzzing in and out, in and out, dim to bright, white to brown, then back again, some kind of pattern so he watched, frowning. Light, dark, light light, dark dark dark, light light…”What the hell?” he whispered.
“Hm?” Dru was studying the door handle. Dave had already gone inside.
“There’s a message here, man.”
“There’s a message in everything. Let’s go.” They stepped through.
Dave was halfway down the torn-up carpet, standing in a ball pit and leaning at some big-breasted redhead who was leaning back at him, hands on her hips. There were about six or seven greasers with rolled up sleeves and dark bangs and dark looks, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, sitting around watching. A couple of big haired blondes with ironed-in curls giggled behind them.
“Doesn’t look good,” Dale said.
“No, it doesn’t. Why don’t you go help? I’m gonna get some chicken,” and Dru beelined for the snack bar.
Dale moved behind Dave. “So, what?” he was saying to Big Red, “What? I shouldna come? You said to come. So I came. Here I am. And here you are,” he made a sweeping gesture at the greasers.
“So, what, what? You own me? I don’t own you. It’s not like you called me or anything for a week, was it? So what were you doing, huh, chasing some of them Piney girls? Huh?” she had that middle Jersey accent, nasal, attacking all the consonants. Dale disliked her immediately.
“You know it’s a long distance call, girl, and I ain’t made of money.”
“So you’re broke, too?” she threw her hands up in exasperation. “Well, that’s just great, that really is. At least my friends can pay to go bowling!”
Dave turned red and that wasn’t good, oh no, not good at all. “So,” voice low and menacing, “You dating the entire auto shop?” He glared at the greasers. None of them moved, just watched.
She turned her head and did that “twa” girls do when they’re about to freak out. Dale grabbed Dave’s collar and jerked him off his feet. “S’cuse us, M’aam,” he said and duckwalked Dave off the pit and onto the main floor, looking for Dru as Dave tried to punch his way out of Dale’s grip.
“The hell, man!” Dave finally got around and was pawing at his sleeve.
Dale knocked his hand away. “Enemy recognition is a very important survival skill,” he hissed and jerked his head back at the greasers, who had not moved.
“Screw ’em, and let me tell you…” Dave spluttered, still trying to escape.
There was a shriek. Startled, Dave and Dale and the rest of the bowling alley stopped and stared. A fat woman wearing green Capri pants and a pull-over stretch top, her hair beehived by some kind of resin, was stumbling backwards, trying to gain her balance but losing against the ball return, a look of sheer terror on her face. Three feet away from her stood Dru, all six foot a half and 120 pounds of him, unwashed black-string waterfall of hair on either side of his face where he had planted, with both hands, the most gigantic drum stick Dale had ever seen, and was busily devouring it while curiously watching the fat woman. Imagine completing a strike, turning and seeing that—anyone’d shriek and fall down.
Dale started to giggle.
Dave looked furiously at Rose, who had turned her arms-akimbo lean-out-from-the-waist attitude towards Dru, and was mouthing something. Dave looked back at Dru and started giggling, too.
Dale glanced back as they reached the car but none of the greasers had moved. “You drive,” Dru said around his drumstick and Dale grabbed the keys from him.
“I don’t know where we’re going,” he said, peering back at the streetlight that was still frantically trying to signal him. Dru silently pointed with the drumstick and Dale followed his chicken directions.
“That bitch,” Dave muttered from the backseat, “That complete bitch. Screw her. Screw ‘em all. They’re all bitches. That Gino’s girl won’t be there at midnight, you know. She’ll screw you over, too.”
Dale ignored him as they pulled up to the tollbooth. The ticket taker was a shriveled old guy, looked like he had just eaten a crate of lemons.
“Exit 5,” Dale said.
“Six bucks,” the old man snarled.
“Six bucks!” Dave shrieked from the back, “What the hell is this? It was only two fifty to get here!”
Great. They’re stoned, still holding, have angered half of Cartaret, and Dave wants to start a fight with a rip-off toll taker, who can summon the Troopers in about three seconds.
“It’s okay, Dave, it’s okay, different hours, that’s all. Here,” he gave the money and smiled genially at the sourface, who gave him back the stub. “My friend is overwrought, pay no attention to him. And by the way, eat me,” he said as they drove off.
They took the south ramp. Dru threw the drumstick out the window and licked his fingers, “Did you just tell that guy to eat you?”
Dave started laughing uproariously in the backseat. Dale smiled.
“Lakes,” Dru said.
They pulled up to the bandstand.
“Look,” Dru pointed. “A plethora of Pineys.”
“Hmm,” Dale nodded. “An imbroglio of in-breds.”
Dru cocked his head. “‘Imbroglio.’ That’s good.”
Dru got out and crunched around the gravel to the back, popping the station wagon hatch. “Here,” he said, shoving a case of Rolling Rock forwards. Dave heaved it onto the seat next to him, snatching a bottle. “A raft of Rock,” he intoned as he passed another bottle to Dale.
Dru pulled out the guitar case and stalked towards the band shell. “Midnight,” Dale called after him. Dru just waved.
Dale churchkeyed the bottle and took a long, satisfying swig. Dave belched.
The lights silhouetted the swirl and turmoil of Pineys and heads and greasers jockeying across the veranda, upturning picnic tables and shoving each other and hugging each other and throwing each other out on the sand. Girls slapped boys or kissed boys and pulled them off into the fog coming up from the lake. The rest of Warlock was already on the stage and, by their faces and gestures, were giving Dru a hard time about being late, which he just waved off.
“They seem to have gotten their drunk-on pretty early,” Dale said.
“Umph,” was the only response.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“We got time,” Dave said. “Here,” he gave him a lit joint.
“In for a penny…”
Dale shrugged and inhaled and oh so sweet so sweet the whole world running and stars forever swirling and laughing and dancing and they were his forever and this was his (last) night forever and it will (soon) never end and then midnight with Sherri (not there) and the time never ends, never ends…
“Whoa,” Dale breathed, “What a rush.”
“Yeah, let’s go, they’re startin,'” and Dave slammed the door.
Dale almost fell out but caught himself and even snagged another beer before stamping into the shell, the only lit part of the park, only lit, lit, so lit, the lake lit, not lit, lit lake, Presidential Lakes, lit at Presidential Lakes…
“Hey man!” a big pimple face, grinning and gap toothed, shoved into his own, making Dale recoil. Sonny. “Hey man, I heard you joined the Ef Fuckin’ Air Force!”
“Far fucking out, man, far fucking out! Let me shake your hand, man, let me!” as if Dale had a choice because Sonny grabbed his wrist and started pumping like he was getting water. “You see this guy?” he screeched, “Motherfucker just joined the US Fuckin’ Air Force!”
“Yo!” ‘s and “Shit!” and “Fuck you!” ‘s filled the air. Eddie blocked his path, all muscle, all dangerous. “That true?” his eyes narrow, his face pinched.
Eddie shook his head, “Motherfucker,” he said quietly, “You motherfucker.”
“Dude!” JD, coal black and true-fro’d and shiny seven feet tall of JD fell on him and picked him up and he was whirling through the heads who were trying to make him smoke and the hard guys who were punching him in the arms and he lost the Rock somewhere before getting put down again. The Pineys just stared, malevolent.
“So,” a quiet voice, next to his ear.
He turned. Irene. Irene, Irene, Beauty Queen, it doesn’t seem that long ago, you know, when you were mine and life was fine.
“So,” he replied.
“So you did it.”
“Hmm,” she said and nothing else. Her brown, brown eyes rolled and held him and he could see the red highlights in her raven hair. Black is the color…he wanted to touch it, again.
“Hey man!” Junebug draped an arm over her and pulled her close, his glasses too smoke-streaked to really see and his focus already offworld. She snuggled into his arms and there was a challenge there. “Air Force man!”
“Yeah,” he said to Junebug and looked at Irene and should be upset, and he guessed he was.
Except there was midnight.
“Hello,” Dru’s voice over the microphone, feedback that made them all cringe and scream. Dru ignored it. “We’re Warlock. From Trenton,” and he hit the first chords of Smoke on the Water.
They all screamed and surged towards the stage roaring “Duuh duh DUUH, duh duh DA DUUH!” as Dru ripped it and hit it again and again and Obie came in and they were rockin,’ just rockin.’ Dale was pressed against Harris and his sister and was jumping in time with them. Junebug and Irene were gone.
Dale looked back. Sonny was jumping and dancing but Eddie and Haze and the Broker brothers weren’t. They just stood there, arms crossed, Chatsworth crazy, looking at him. Mad.
“Shit,” he said.
“Wazzat?” Harris sang, joy in the band light.
“What’s with the Chatsworth boys?”
He peered over Dale’s shoulder. “Oh them? Dunno man, been that way all night,” and he turned back to Dru, who was now Walking the Dog, sounded like Tyler, played like Perry, like Page, Trower, all of ’em. The world’s greatest guitarist. Too cool.
Dale looked back again. Dave was standing in front of Haze. Haze had Dave’s collar in one hand and a fist drawn back. He smacked Dave hard, right on the mouth, rocking him.
“Fuck!” Dale yelled and spun and was there, coming over Dave, who had crumpled to his knees, round-housing Haze with his Earth shoe, right in the nose. Haze whipped back and Dale stepped long into the stance and drove the reverse punch deep into Haze’s stomach. “Oof!” he coughed and flew back like a rope yanked him off his feet, the blood from his nose streaming after him.
Two powerful hands grabbed Dale’s shoulders from behind like vises. Eddie, who could rip him in half like a piece of paper. Dale did not hesitate but drove a back-kick as hard as he could. He connected somewhere on Eddie’s hip and the hands let go as Eddie yelled in pain and rage.
“Hey! None of that karate shit here!” Canny Broker roared and swung a huge fist that bounced off Dale’s head, sending him reeling and seeing far too many stars.
It was on. Tables flew and trash cans and the center of the floor was a scrum of fist flying leg kicking grappling boxers and Bruce Lees while girls circled and screamed and cried and held each other or got right in there. An amoebae of combat.
“Knock it the FUCK off!” Dru in the microphone but they were way past reason and the scrum grew and grew and absorbed all. Dale somehow located Dave on the floor and dragged him past the war out to the sand. “Sonofabitch!” Dave kept yelling, but holding his mouth so it came out “Somebeblick.” Dale started laughing.
“Keys!” Dru was next to him, guitar still dragging the cord. Dale looked back. Warlock was mesmerized by the growing riot lapping at the stage, soon to engulf them. Deer in headlights.
“C’mon!” Dru snatched the keys from Dale and they shuffled low to the Drumobile, keeping out of sight. Sirens started in the distance.
“Fuck!” Dru yelled and threw the guitar in and helped throw Dave in the back and Dale piled on top of Dave and Dru jumped in and started the Polara and, fishtailing and flying across the bridge, they were on Deep Hollow, careening side to side, getting lost in the Lebanon. Dale turned. Local cops, cherry tops, were converging on the band shell.
Dru kicked it and the dust picked up and swirled away behind them.
“Uh oh,” he said.
Dale felt it the same time Dru said it. They were sliding, the front tire thumping and erratic and they had no traction on the dirt road.
“Oh shit!” They all cried, except for Dave whose contribution was “Fwit!” and the back end came around and they were going sideways down Deep Hollow, big pines whipping past and the berm bouncing them from side to side as Dru tried to brake but the Polara was having none of it. They careened up and bounced, the front of the Polara settling hard on the road, the other half hung up on the berm.
“What the fuck was that?” Dale shook himself, checking for broken bones or spouting arteries although, face it, they hadn’t hit that hard.
“Dunno,” Dru said and pulled on the door handle. It opened only part way so he began shouldering it. He got it halfway through the crap and pulled himself over the top, skinny enough to do so. Dale pushed on his door and it was also stuck. “Hey,” he called, “help me here.”
“Go out the other side, it’s clear,” Dru said from the front of the Polara. “And grab my light out the glove box.”
Dave reached across the seat and got the flashlight, then fell out the other door. Dale scrambled after him, helping Dave up.
“How’s your mouth?” he asked.
“It’s okay,” Dave said, gingerly poking at a tooth.
“What was that all about?”
“Ah,” Dave spat the tooth on the ground. “You know. The usual.”
“Light,” Dru called and Dave strode over, handing it to him. Dale joined them.
“Look at that,” Dru was bemused, illuminating the shredded tire. “Looks like somebody slashed it.”
“You’re shittin’ me,” Dale bent down and stared at the rubber. “Dunno, man, looks like it just blew.”
“No, someone definitely cut it,” Dru pointed at a clean line at the rim. “Right there.”
“Now who’d do that?”
Dave spat some blood, “I can guess.”
“Man,” Dale stood up. “You got a spare?”
“Yeah, but we’ll have to push it off the berm first. You two lift the back up and I’ll drive it out.”
“But the tire,” Dave protested.
Dru waved him off, “It’ll be all right.” He walked back around and slid across the front seat. “C’mon,” he called. He started the Polara. Dave and Dale looked at each other and shrugged.
Took time, but they got it out. The Polara was now broadside in the middle of the dirt road. Stars wheeled and the moon’s crescent backlit the pines to just a tad of silver, and the night rolled.
Dave was bent over catching his breath and shaking his head. “Stuck in the swamps of Jersey.”
A rush of horror. “Hey!” Dale yelled, “Hey! What time is it, man?”
Dru looked up. He was assembling the jack and had the spare next to him, the flashlight on the ground shining underneath the Polara. “You ain’t gonna make it, bro.”
“Oh no, nononono, don’t say shit like that, man, just don’t say it.”
“Sorry, but that’s the truth.”
“Look,” the fury was on him and Dale grabbed at the jack. “We gotta make it. Got to! Hurry up, man. Hurry!”
Dru grabbed the jack back, “Look, dude,” he shook the tire iron at him. “I know how to do this crap, you don’t, and I’m telling you, we ain’t gonna make it. So relax!”
“Besides,” Dave straightened. “She ain’t gonna be there, anyway.”
Dale stepped back, speechless. Decision time.
He started running up the road.
“Hey, what the, what the FUCK, man?” both of them calling. Dave started laughing. “Well you sure as hell ain’t gonna make it on foot!”
He got to the turnoff that led back to Springfield Road. He whirled. “Catch up to me, dudes!” he yelled.
“What?” Dru yelled back.
“Catch up to me! On the road there. Catch up!” and he turned to go but stopped because the moon moved the right way and the flashlight under the car did, too, and there they were, spirits in the night. They were racing Dave’s Impala down this very road laughing and throwing beer at each other, they were drunk on the beach and stumbling, cold and shivering, to Dave’s house and falling on the bedroom floor and Dave’s brother came in the next morning and threw chairs on them, and they were at the Polka Hall in Groveville dancing with the local girls while Dru played and they were running through Pemberton High School with the Lake girls and skipping to the Koffee Kup.
“Catch up to me,” he pleaded. But they stood there, silent, and he knew they wouldn’t.
He ran. There were a few cars passing back and forth and that’s what he banked on and he hit the asphalt hard, barely missing a pickup truck that blew its horn and swerved and someone yelled. He didn’t care. He stepped into the middle of the road as headlights bore down. He wasn’t moving. He was going to make it, or die.
The car slowed, stopped. A head poked out the driver’s window. “Hey, man!” a delighted voice.
Dale strode over to the Camino and yanked open the passenger door. “Five dollars to get me to Gino’s by midnight,” he said
“Midnight?” Sonny shook his head. “No way, bro.”
Sonny paused. “Get in, strap in, and hang on.”
He stood in the empty parking lot, the security lights from Gino’s glowing the asphalt, glowing him, the most forlorn of objects, his arms jammed into pockets, lost opportunity hammering him upside the head and laughing maniacally. Same old story. A bus pulling away as he made the stop, a movie selling out as he reached the booth, the door to the SATs closing as he ran down the hall. Dollar short, day late.
He heard the pop of gravel and crap underneath some tires and felt a car approaching. Great, probably cops or, worse, Mt. Holly thugs. He turned, ready for jail or war and missing the Air Force bus and subsequent warrants for AWOL or Desertion or whatever they charged guys who didn’t have the stones to even show up and that’d be fine, Mr. Sergeant Recruiter Man, So-Disappointed-in-You-Son, because, well, his life was pretty much over, anyway.
There was a brown Coronet pulled up sideways to him. She was in the driver’s seat.
“You’re late,” she said out the window.
“What kept you?”
“Been a strange night.”
“Hmm,” she regarded him, “I can see that.” She paused, sniffed. “Is that dope?”
“I don’t do that.”
“I don’t drink, either.”
“And…” her voice became stern. He braced himself. “I don’t…” she paused. “Well, I will. Eventually. But not tonight.” She waggled a finger at him. “I don’t care if you’re going to Vietnam.”
“Vietnam’s about over.”
“I know, so that line won’t work.”
He smiled, “Gotcha.”
She grinned and there was just enough light from the topped moon to make her a tad silver and she was Diana. The Huntress had his heart.
“Woooooohoooooooo!” screamed from the road as a pair of tires screamed and Dale watched Sonny’s Camino fishtail down 38, fire and smoke coming off the road. “Goooood luuuuck brooooo!” followed the fast vanishing taillights.
“Friend of yours?” she asked.
“He is now.”
She nodded and gestured to the passenger side. He walked around and opened the door and slid onto the bench. He looked at her. The red slip of a uniform was still holding her jealously. “I thought you weren’t going to wait.”
“I changed my mind.”
She regarded him. “Silly question.”
He nodded. The radio was tuned to MMR. Springsteen. Hard to be a saint in the city.
“What time’s your bus?” she asked.
She nodded. “You’ll make it,” and she turned her head and those eyes, amber and forever, half lidded coquettishly at him. “And you’ll definitely, definitely, want to come back.”
He grinned. She grinned. They drove off.