Time, Speed and Distance (Part 2-Speed) A Novel by Capt. Mark T. Einstein
PART TWO: SPEED
Chapter 1: Graduation Day
The perceived acceleration of time with age may be most noticeable when considering our days in school –when time spent staring at the clock above the teacher’s desk seems eternal. Then, with each advancing year, the perceived eternity shortens, until finally, as a high school senior, a graduate will sense the incredible speed with which the last years and moments have passed. Beyond that, each interval of time accelerates until years become decades, reducing the seemingly endless four years of high school to just a blip on the giant radar screen of life.
The boy looks down at his watch. He had been practicing his speech all day. He runs through it once more. It is almost time. He sits in the driver’s seat of a green 1969 Plymouth Sport Satellite. The car is jacked up high in the back with a pair of brand-new wide tires and a set of shiny mag wheels. Two racing stripes decorate the hood and the trunk as he locates a spot in the student parking lot of Gateway High School in Woodbury Heights. The boy’s girlfriend, Kathy, sits next to him in the passenger seat with Paul and Mandy in the back. Both girls are juniors in the Catholic school and have come to cheer for the guys at graduation. Mandy is wild about Paul. And he is wild about her. They are in love and they share a little secret. The words “Class of ‘75” are scrawled onto the rear window of the car.
“What time is it?” Paul asks.
“Ten after six,” says the boy. He holds up his wrist, showing his watch to Paul in the back. “We’ve still got twenty minutes.” They each open a beer.
“Nice watch!” Mandy says, taking hold of the boy’s wrist for a closer look.
“Thanks! I just got it. A graduation present from my father, you could say.” The boy removes the watch from his wrist and passes it back to Mandy for an even closer look. It is a gold Omega Seamaster with a beautiful, new brown leather strap and a genuine gold Omega buckle. The watch is shiny and appears to be new.
“Wow! That’s an awesome watch,” remarks Mandy.
“Tell her the story,” suggests Paul excitedly.
“Yeah!” Says Kathy with enthusiasm. “Tell her the story.”
The boy sinks deep into reflective thought, not knowing where to start. His father swore the “ungrateful son of a bitch” would “never see that watch again” after having the balls to sell it for just $25.00 in Virginia. His father discovered it missing just days after he dragged his runaway son home on a frighteningly tense nonstop trip from Florida. There had been very little conversation on that trip with the three hopeless-looking hooligans stuffed into the back seat of George’s father’s Buick. The last thing on anyone’s mind was the watch. Time had come to a complete standstill as the 1965 Buick Special was swiftly hijacked by its rightful owner and the prisoners were hauled back to New Jersey. The hot tropical breeze suddenly became motionless and turned to an icy chill. George’s father did most of the driving while the boy’s father mainly stared them down with menacing silence.
The boy recounts his story to Mandy from the beginning while Paul and Kathy nod along. They have both heard the story many times.
“Oh my God!” Mandy says in disbelief. “That’s crazy! How did you get caught?”
The boy takes a long drag from his cigarette then exhales slowly. “Ricky,” he says as the smoke empties from his mouth.
“What did he do? What happened?”
“Well, he started missing his girlfriend, so he called her on the phone from the restaurant he was working at. He told her where we were, then she told everybody else. She wanted him to come home. He wanted to go home, too. I think we all did, but nobody wanted to admit it. Except, maybe George. I think George would have stuck it out if we didn’t get caught. He would have found a way to get Hannah down there and the two of them would have fit right in.”
“Jesus! What ever happened to George?”
“I dunno. He graduated last year. I hear he might have started college somewhere or joined the Coast Guard. He’s really smart, you know and a great survivor. No matter what he ends up doing, I’m sure he will land on his feet.”
“But you and Paul are still really good friends, right?”
“Oh yeah!” the boy says bumping fists with Paul in the back. “I don’t think I’d have made it this far without him.”
“Really? Why is that?”
“Well, Mandy, the boy says, even though Paul and I are different in many ways, we each always had something the other has wanted, or maybe I should say, respected. We can do our own thing with our own people without being judgmental about each other. No matter what happens, we still come back to being friends. When you put the two of us together, we are even bigger than the both of us. We have really helped each other through this crazy mess of high school and I hope we can stay friends for a long time.” The boys clink their bottles together then down the rest of their beer. Mandy looks at the watch again and hands it back to the boy in front.
“You never told us how you got the watch back,” Mandy says inquisitively.
“Oh yeah!” recalls the boy. “So, after we got home, I expected to be killed, dead on the spot. My folks were super pissed, and hurt, but they didn’t really show it. They didn’t want to make things worse. It was like real thin ice. Our fun little adventure was actually a full week of sheer terror for them. Believe me, I feel really sorry about that. When I got home, I wasn’t sure if they wanted to kiss me or kill me. They did neither. But, when my father found out I sold his father’s Omega at a pawn shop, he had a bird.”
“Oh shit!” Mandy exclaims.
“Yeah, he wanted to ring my neck, I thought I was dead for sure, then I remembered I still had the pawn ticket in my wallet. I dug through the junk papers and found it wrinkled into a tight little wad. He snatched it from my hand then unfolded it carefully. With the letterhead, ‘Washington Pawn Shop’ at the top, the ticket stated that there was still a few days left to reclaim the watch. So, he calls up the pawn shop and tells the guy he wants it back. The dealer tells my father, ‘Sure buddy, you can have the watch. All you have to do is come into the store with the money and the ticket and I’ll give you the watch.’ My father flipped his lid, ‘Listen you son of a bitch,’ he snapped, ‘do you know that you swindled that watch from a 15-year-old kid who ran away from home in New Jersey?’ The dealer remembered the Buick with Jersey tags and the young boys with guitars. ‘That watch belongs to me and I can prove it! I want it shipped back to New Jersey via registered mail. Or else I’ll send the police to come pick it up. They’ll have your ass for dealing stolen property.’ He went on, ‘When I get the watch back, and it better be quick, I will send you the ticket and $25.00 plus the cost of the postage.’ He rattled off the address. ‘Do I make myself clear?’ He slammed down the phone and then he turned to me pointing his finger right into my face. I froze! ‘One of these days, maybe you’ll learn to appreciate things,’ he said lifting his fist in a rage. ‘Do you have any idea what you have put your family through?’ Then he turned and walked away. I felt really bad after that. ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ I cried out over and over again.
Sure enough, the watch arrived in a couple of days, and in perfect condition. It also came with a note that said, “No need to send any money.” My father put it in a drawer and swore I’d never see it again. Then, he decided to give it back as a sort of graduation present.”
“Oh, my God! That is some story,” Mandy exclaims. “So, what happened after you got home?
“I was grounded for a while and was forbidden to hang out with anyone except Paul. Then, I met some guys trying to start a band. My parents bought me an electric guitar and amp and they let me join the band. I got to go to practice as long as I stayed out of trouble. I forgot all about George, Ricky, and the crazy things we did. We never talked about it again. It all just kind of disappeared in the rearview mirror. Then I met Kathy last year.” He reaches over and pulls her close. She smiles broadly.
“Better check the time,” Kathy says. “Are you getting nervous, Babe?”
“Holy crap! We’re going to be late!”
The boys grab their caps and gowns from the car and jog to the entrance of the gym.
Chapter 2: We Are Free
The graduates are lined up shortest to tallest, with the girls on the left and the boys on the right. Paul is positioned way in the back and is easy to spot. Mr. Malcolm, now the school principal, leads the procession from the gym to the football field where the bleachers are filled to capacity with families and friends. The crowd cheers as the graduates take their seats on the field. The boy from Baltimore will be even easier to pick out because he’ll be seated on the dais along with the heads of the class and other dignitaries. His parents, his sister, and Nan, his grandmother, are standing, waving and shouting from the stands as the boy passes by in the procession. The boy waves back, dressed out in cap and gown with his hair neatly cut just below his ears. He carries a stack of notecards in his hand.
“It’s hard to believe these years have flown by so quickly,” says Nan. “How did he grow up so fast? He’s not a boy anymore. He’s become a man!” she says.
“It hasn’t been easy,” says the boy’s father.
“I guess time just slips away,” replies the boy’s mother. “Then, it’s gone. One day they are banging on your pots and pans and the next, they are graduating from high school.”
“Has he made any decisions about college yet?” asks Nan.
“Nah, he’s not sure what he wants to do. I think it changes every day. He really believes he can make it big in the music business, so he wants to get more serious with the band. They have been playing out at the clubs like every weekend. He teaches guitar lessons on the side and does pretty well for a kid. Then, the next day, he says he wants to be an auto mechanic. We gave him a huge set of tools as a graduation present. He has already taken his car apart and put it back together a couple times. We just kind of leave him alone and don’t bug him about college. He’ll get there. This speech thing really has him excited. We’ll just continue to pray that he’s happy and healthy.”
“Have you heard the speech?” asks Nan.
“Oh yes! He’s been practicing every day with Dr. Weiss for the past two weeks.”
“Isn’t he the English teacher that failed him in his sophomore year?”
“Well, he failed him at first, but by the last quarter, he got his final grade up to an A. He’s been like a mentor to him ever since.”
The boy and his parents were astonished at the beginning of his sophomore year, when they saw the giant bright red “F” scratched onto the first composition the boy turned in that year. He was even more shaken to read, “See me after class!” at the bottom of the page. The boy had never received an F on an assignment that he had actually completed, especially if it was on time. It had to be a mistake. The boy remained after class to find out how 2000 words of great science fiction could possibly earn such a low and insulting grade.
The story was about a brilliant student named Arnold who snuck into the science lab at night and figured out a way to travel great distances by stepping into a beam of light. First, Arnold would mix a series of chemicals into a beaker, then he would drink the concoction. This gave him fifteen minutes to dematerialize and connect with trillions of light particles traveling at 186,000 miles per second. He could travel in any direction as long as he stayed in the light. Then, one night while he was traveling through space, the janitor saw the light on in the science lab. The janitor came in and turned off the light, leaving Arnold stranded in space.
Dr. Weiss ground a nice sharp point onto his red pencil, slid his glasses up to his eyes then got to work reading the paper out loud. The boy watched as his beautifully handwritten composition was slashed to pieces with the color red. RUN ON, PASSIVE VOICE, WEAK WORDS, SUBJECT VERB AGREEMENT… and so on.
“GREAT STORY,” Weiss scribbled in all caps on the last page. “VERY IMAGINATIVE!. BUT IT READS LIKE CRAP! FIND YOUR VOICE! FIND THE RIGHT WORDS! ONCE YOU COMMAND THE LANGUAGE ON PAPER, YOU CAN MAKE ANYTHING HAPPEN!”
“Tell you what,” Weiss told the boy, “I will not average the F into your grade if you do it over. It’s a great story and I’d really like to get something out of it. You have a week to redo it for a higher grade and if you need some more advice, come see me after class.”
After finally receiving an A on “Arnold and the Beam of Light,” the boy continued to earn high grades on his writing and public speaking. While far from attaining valedictorian or salutatorian status, or even honor roll, for that matter, Weiss took great pride in the boy’s progress throughout his four years in high school. When Mr. Malcolm asked Weiss for a recommendation for a non-academic student to give the graduation charge, Weiss recommended the boy from Baltimore. Malcolm agreed.
The ceremony seems to take forever as the boy furtively glances down at his notecards. Speaker after speaker steps up to the podium reflecting on the accomplishments of the Class of ’75. First the valedictorian, then the salutatorian, them Mr. Malcolm. Malcolm reminds the class that “While many of you will still have to register for the draft, you are the first graduating class since the opening of Gateway High School who will not have to worry about being deployed to Vietnam. You are entering a brave new world.”
“Please don’t steal my thunder,” the boy thinks.
Then, Malcolm says, “Now, it is tradition that we select a non-academic student to give the charge. Someone who has made great progress in a less-traditional way. Many of you know our next speaker as the guitar player from the band that plays at our dances, or the kid from Auto Shop with the hot rod Plymouth that leaves his tire marks all over the parking lot. But I know him as a boy that came to us as a lost stranger in a strange land, uniquely challenged to find his way through the complicated maze of growing up. Sound familiar? Well, I have news for you kids! We’re all in the same boat. We never stop growing up.”
Malcolm introduces the boy then gives him a brisk handshake. The two trade places on the platform. Weiss sits in the front row with the rest of the faculty, fingers crossed the boy will do him proud. The boy places his notecards into his pocket then looks directly at the restless Class of ‘75. They are counting the minutes until they are finally free.
“Good evening! And congratulations to you all,” he begins. “I am truly grateful to be chosen for this honor and I thank you all, especially Mr. Malcolm and Dr. Weiss, for giving me the courage to come up here and speak to you. I guess it goes to show that anything is possible.
I would like to speak to you about the values of hard work and education and why they are both necessary to our generation. We have all worked hard to earn our diplomas, and hopefully, we have accepted them with pride. However, we must realize that a high school or college degree does not mean the end of learning, but rather the beginning.”
The graduate is speaking from memory and the buzz of voices goes silent. He hears his words echoing from the loudspeakers. “It is the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the arts and sciences, and it is a permanent deposit into our intellectual savings account with which we can hope to buy true happiness.” The boy’s voice is loud and clear. Dr. Weiss is all smiles. Kathy is on the edge of her seat, feeling so happy that the boy does not look as nervous as he had feared. Paul sits in the back, listening and thinking about his own future and how he will break it to his parents that Mandy is pregnant.
“We must realize that a high school or college degree isn’t necessarily an instant ticket to a high paying job. But it is the ticket to one’s personal freedom. Through our well-rounded education we become free. Free to think, free to choose, and free to learn more. And the harder we work, the more we become able to free ourselves from the shackles of society, its propaganda and the hidden anti-democratic ideals with which we have been forced to live. We become able to accept the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.” It is mid-June and the sun is warm. He had been warned to keep his remarks to less than three minutes. He has the speech timed at just over two. He glances at his watch. Right on time.
“It is our generation,” he continues, “that is rapidly coming to power. We are the ones who will soon be in charge. This puts us in a position where we have no choice but to work and learn. It is surely not our generation that has caused the problems we face today, but, unfortunately, we have been left to solve them. We now have the opportunity to go out into the world and start solving these problems. The sky is the limit!” He can feel the perspiration forming inside his graduation cap. He can hear his voice echoing louder from the speakers. He is almost yelling into the microphone.
“If we wish to eliminate the threat of nuclear extinction, we must learn how to do it together, as a group. No generation has had it so good! We’ve got everything we’ve ever wanted. The right to vote and to choose our own leaders. Hell, we even have the right to drink! We can thank the brave men and women who served in Vietnam for that.” The students burst into a very loud applause as the boy ad libs just a little. “But, now it’s our turn! What will we choose to do with our freedom? We, as individuals must actively express our values and refuse to be intimidated by anyone. We must be able to accept change and through our continued learning, in or out of school, we must bring it about.”
The speech is almost over. He glances at his watch again. Still well under three minutes. The audience is all his now. He’s got them in the palm of his hand. He wipes the sweat from his brow as he pauses. He looks up at his family, then back to the crowd. He sees many familiar faces that were once strangers in this land that is not so strange anymore. They had made it through together. Even those whom he did not like, or those who did not like or know him, suddenly seem like friends – comrades all. He looks far to the back at Paul and wonders, “Where will he go from here? Where will we go from here?” He takes a deep breath as he looks at Weiss and gives him a wink. Weiss winks back. “So, don’t just be satisfied with a high school or college degree. Let’s get hungry for more. Let’s put ourselves to work and show the world what we can do!” The students are wound up, cheering. “Tomorrow is not that far away! It’s here, now, man!” He is shouting. “And, if we want to see a better tomorrow, we’ve got to start working today!” He pauses again. “To our parents and teachers, I just want to say thank you for helping us get here and I hope you can accept my apology for anything we might have done to make your job more difficult. Thank you all for allowing me to be here today!” The audience cheers as the rightful valedictorian returns to the microphone.
“Fellow graduates,” she says, taking hold of the tassel hanging from the right side of her graduation cap. “We now cross over to the next stage of our lives. We have earned this right. As a symbol of our passage, please move your tassels to the left.” This being done, the chatter from the crowd grows louder. The valedictorian then exclaims with joy, “We are FREE!” The crowd erupts into a raucous cheer, and like a huge flock of birds taking flight from a field, nearly 300 graduation caps are launched into the bright blue, steamy sky.
Chapter 3: You and Me Against the World
Mandy looks sideways into the mirror. It is impossible for her to hide her three-month-old predicament any longer. Her baggy clothes are no longer baggy enough. Besides, it’s not a secret anymore. Just a little awkward for a seventeen-year-old girl on her wedding day. The cat snuck out of the bag at the end of June when Paul started bragging to his friends. People weren’t surprised that Paul was over the moon and scoring big time with Mandy, but who guessed he would completely disregard everything he should have learned in health class.
“Holy Christ! Holy Mother of Christ!” Mandy’s father exploded when he first heard the news. Although, her parents had been aware of her coquettish ways since she was a child, Mandy had always been “such a doll and so cute.” Mandy had just finished her junior year at Bishop Eustace High School with Honors and planned to go to Bryn Mawr College after high school. She made honor roll every year since middle school and was the popular captain of the school’s championship field hockey team. Then, she met and fell head over heels for Paul the previous summer on the Boardwalk in Seaside Heights. Her parents really liked Paul, but things were getting way too serious, way too fast. Especially when Paul got his driver’s license in March. She started coming home late if at all, and when she did, she smelled like beer and cigarette smoke offering fewer and fewer apologies. Mandy made no effort to hide the fact that she and Paul had been spending more time in the back seat of his parents’ 1972 Ford LTD than in the front. Mandy’s parents blamed each other for the situation they were in. After the initial jolt and the screaming matches that followed, her parents came up with a plan.
“Listen Mandy, we love you more than anything in the world and there is nothing on this earth we wouldn’t do for you.” Her mother offers, “We can take care of this.”
“Oh, no no no!” Mandy shouted back defiantly. She knew where the conversation was going. “I’m not going to give up my baby. Not ever!”
“But, you are only seventeen years old, sweetheart.” Her mother said. “You should…”
“Don’t even say it! Mandy screamed.
Although, Roe v. Wade changed all the rules in 1972, abortion would not be an option for Mandy because she and her family are strictly Catholic. They would not, could not, even imagine such an outcome. Her mother would have never even hinted it. Instead, they wanted her to have the baby and give it up for adoption. They would home-school their daughter during senior year and get her back on track in time for graduation.
“Sweetheart, you have your whole life ahead of you. Have you really thought about how keeping the baby will change your life? Not just your life! Our lives! High school! College! Your entire future!”
“Yes, I have! Yes! … I have!” Mandy broke into tears. “It’s my life! Not yours! We already decided, we are going to get married and we’re going to keep our baby.”
“You’re only seventeen! Goddammit!” Her father shouted back in a rage. “That boy doesn’t even have a job!”
“It’s not your choice! It’s my choice! It’s our choice! It’s not your choice!” Mandy cried hysterically. She ran into her room crying. “It’s not your choice!”
The wedding was hastily planned by the four parents who had very different views about how to handle the situation. Paul’s parents, much older than Mandy’s are both retired and live on a very good military pension right around the corner from the family from Baltimore. They are unusually excited for Paul and Mandy as much as they are relieved for themselves, since they will not have to worry about the “empty nest syndrome” for a while. Paul and Mandy will live with them in their two-story bi-level home in Woodbury Heights. Mandy moved in with all her things a month before the wedding.
For Paul, the arrangement is a safe and secure way to maintain his position as “king of the household” while his parents foot the bills, at least until he is able to find a decent job. For Mandy, the arrangement, despite her young age, seems to empower her to make the break from her parents and realize her naive fantasies of becoming a responsible wife and mother. She has become an extension of Paul’s family, like a new daughter to dote upon while helping with the impossible job of keeping Paulie happy. Paul’s parents do everything for them, including cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, and shopping. There is very little for the “two kids” to do except eat, drink, and watch sports on TV. Mandy enjoys music. She knows how to play piano and sing. Without her piano, she spends time fiddling with the Hammond organ and she is pretty good. “Maybe you can teach Paulie how to play,” Paul’s mother often says. But Paul couldn’t care less about that organ and he really hates being called Paulie.
The four parents met for dinner at Paul’s house the night before the wedding. The scene was not as tense as anyone had feared, and Mandy’s parents soon found some consolation in the stable surroundings that had now taken possession of their seventeen-year-old daughter. While they do their best to feign optimistic joy, they maintain a silent hope that something miraculous, maybe even something dreadful, will snap them from this nightmare and bring the teenage girl back home.
After dinner, Mandy sat down at the organ. She began playing the soft introduction to Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World,” a Paul Williams song that had been nominated for a Grammy last year. She had learned the song for her mother and played it many times when it was first released in 1974. Now, it takes on a new meaning, anticipating the realities of marriage and motherhood. After a clearly recognizable and beautiful five chord introduction, Mandy started to sing:
“You and me against the world…” She looked back at Paul who was massaging her shoulders from behind, and she smiled as she sang the entire song from memory.
She held the youuuu… for a long time, glancing at her mother as her mother lipped along. “…and me against the world, After three complete verses, all expectant grandparents were very close to tears.
Mandy continues looking sideways into the mirror, delighted with her wedding outfit. It is perfect for a hot, outdoor ceremony in July. A short, lightweight ivory colored fabric with a thin veil dropping down across her face. The dress has been altered in the mid-section to compensate for Mandy’s noticeable changes in proportion.
“How does it look?” Paul’s mother calls into the room climbing the stairs.
“Great!” Mandy calls out. “I just love it. Thank you so much!” Paul’s parents are paying for everything, even the dress. “What’s Paul doing? Has he come home yet?”
“He’s outside smoking a cigarette with some of his friends”. Paul’s mother is breathing hard. “The boys stayed up late last night drinking beer and playing darts in the garage.” Mandy went to bed early, and Paul was out of the house before she got up. Paul’s mother kicks open the door carrying a large basket of laundry. She drops it on the bed.
“Whew!” She sighs, that’s a heavy one.” She looks at Mandy fully dressed in her wedding clothes. “Oh, my word, darlin’!” She exclaims, “Why you look simply ravishing,” she says, accentuating her southern drawl.
“I could have carried that laundry up the steps for you, Mom,” Mandy says.
“Not on your life. Honey, we don’t want you lifting anything up or down those steps.” She smiles. “You could hurt the baby.” The mother moves to the open window and hollers out, “Paulie! Get in here and start getting ready! Now! You’ve got a wedding to go to in two hours.”
Wenonah Lake, shady and cool, is the ideal spot for the 5:00 PM wedding ceremony. The small gazebo and the woodsy water view will photograph well as the small gathering of guests takes a seat in folding chairs on the lawn. These are mainly some mutual friends, Paul’s family members, his older brothers, their wives, their children, and Mandy’s parents. Mandy’s older sister chose not to attend. The topic of a Catholic wedding was never discussed because Mandy’s parents prayed like hell the charade could quickly be annulled. It is much cheaper and easier to annul a civil wedding than it is a Catholic one. So, the nuptials are being officiated by the Gloucester County Clerk, free of charge. Bypassing the traditional cast of participants, such as bride’s maids, ushers, ring bearer, flower girl and “father giving away the bride,” the abbreviated wedding party gets right down to business.
The bride, shrouded in a thin veil, proceeds to the gazebo where Paul waits nervously inside together with the clerk. He is dressed in a white tuxedo and tails, a dubious lapse of protocol for an afternoon wedding.
The boy from Baltimore stands in the small crowd with his girlfriend, Kathy, alongside. He looks at his watch. It is 5:00 PM sharp. “Right on time,” he says to Kathy. “I can’t believe this is actually happening. It hardly seems possible.” He laments, shaking his head almost in grief.
“I can,” Kathy whispers with contradictory excitement. “Doesn’t she look beautiful? Oh my God. She looks so happy!”
“And pregnant!” The boy whispers back.
“They are going to be a family!” Kathy says as Mandy slides into position inside the gazebo.
“Yeah, I guess so,” the boy says to her. Inside, he is as nervous as Paul. “God, I hope Kathy doesn’t get any ideas of her own,” he thinks to himself. He shushes her as the clerk starts reading from his script.
“Family and friends, we gather together today to celebrate the marriage of Mandy and Paul. Marriage is the promise between two people who love each other, who trust that love, who honor one another as individuals, and who wish to spend the rest of their lives together. It enables the two separate souls to share their desires, longings, dreams, and memories, their joys and sorrows, and to help each other through all the uncertainties of life. On behalf of Mandy and Paul, I welcome all of you. You may take your seats.” He turns to the bride and groom.
“As you fulfill your lives and commitment to each other with happiness, trust, and friendship, you will create a life together in which each of you can grow, both as a couple, and as individuals. No greater blessing can come to your marriage than your continued love and respect for each other.”
“Love and respect?” the boy scoffs to himself. “What does Paul know about love and respect?” “In presenting yourselves here today to be joined in marriage, you perform an act of faith. Dedication, love, and joy can grow only when you nourish them together. Stand fast in your hope and confidence, having faith in your shared destiny, just as you have faith in one another today.”
Paul’s parents hold each other’s hand in the front row of seats and think to themselves, “Isn’t this wonderful? Our boy is a man. He has grown up so fast. Wasn’t he lucky to have found this beautiful young woman to spend the rest of his life with?”
Meanwhile, Mandy’s parents tremble with terror. They read each other’s minds: “What a farce! Why did we ever agree to permit our seventeen-year-old baby girl to get swept away like this? By this kid? By these people?” Like an earthquake, or a sudden storm, the two parents are powerless to stop the impact of what is happening. Yet, as they force a countenance of artificial joy, they nod their heads pretending to believe the words they are hearing. They are sobbing inside. “Are you ready now to confirm your commitment to each other in marriage?” the clerk asks with a smile.
“Before you express your words of love and commitment to each other, I will ask each of you your intent. Mandy, will you take Paul to be your husband? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and protect him and forsaking all others be faithful to him until death do you part?”
Mandy is crying, nervously but with apparent joy. “I will.”
“Paul, will you take Mandy to be your wife? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and protect her and forsaking all others be faithful to her until death do you part?”
Paul hesitates for a moment. He gazes at the guests then looks straight at his friend from Baltimore. He smiles then winks. “I will,” he agrees.
The boy isn’t sure what message Paul is trying to convey with the wink. Is he saying, “I’m still here for ya, buddy, don’t worry.” Or, “I’m really going to try my best to make this work out!” Or maybe, “Can you see I’ve got my fingers crossed?” Whatever it was, the boy knows it will not take too long to find out.
The clerk turns to the family and friends. “Marriage is not something that two people invent, or construct by themselves. It takes a far wider community of family and friends to make any marriage work. Each of you have been invited here today because you are a part of that community. Therefore, having heard Mandy and Paul state their intentions to each other, will you support their union and in order to strengthen their lives together, speak the truth to them in love, and help them to seek a life of love for others?”
An enthusiastic “We will” echoes from the small crowd.
“Mandy and Paul, as an expression that your hearts are joined together in love, please face each other and join your hands. Paul, please repeat after me…” And Paul reads the vows in short broken phrases, repeating as instructed:
“I, Paul, take you Mandy to be my wife… to have and to hold from this day on… for better, for worse… for richer, for poorer… in sickness and in health… to love and to cherish… for all the days of my life.”
“Mandy, please repeat after me.”
“I, Mandy,” she starts to choke up, “take you Paul … to be my husband” She reaches behind her thin veil to wipe away tears. She is suddenly terrified. “…to have and to hold,”she sobs, pausing for a moment, then slowly regains her composure. Laughing nervously out loud, she continues, “from this day on… for better, for worse… for richer, for poorer… in sickness and in health… to love and to cherish - for all the days of my life.”
“Well done,” comments the clerk as family and friends exhale a deep breath of well-concealed, apprehensive air.
“Mandy and Paul, may the love you hold for each other now sealed in marriage continue to mature and may your life together be a source of strength and inspiration to others. By the power entrusted in me by the state of New Jersey, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss your bride.” After a long passionate kiss, maybe a little too long, getting a rise of laughter from the guests, the County Clerk invites everyone to join the bride and groom at the Wenonah Fire House beginning at 7:00 PM.
Chapter 4: How Low Can You Go?
The hot rod Plymouth sits in the fire house parking lot. The windows are down, and a humid breeze lingers. Making out in the car is too hot and sticky, so the boy from Baltimore lights up a cigarette and opens a can of beer. Kathy does the same. The boy looks at his watch. It’s still too early to go inside, so they listen to the music booming from the hall.
“God, I hate this disco shit!” says the boy with a sarcastic slur. He has been drinking beer since before the wedding.
“Are you crazy?” Kathy bounces back. She is moving to the music. “I think it’s awesome!”
“What the hell is so good about it?” the boy asks belligerently.
“Well, for one thing, you can actually dance to it, and with some style. Not just a bunch of squirming around to screaming guitars and stupid lyrics.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” he replies. “Listen to that crap!” He moves mockingly with the music, singing, “Do the hustle, do the hustle, do the hustle.” “Pretty deep shit,” he says pointing at his head feigning deep thought.
“No, no! You’ve got it all wrong. It’s more about the body, babe, not the mind. I mean, seriously, what do you really get out of all that head music anyway? You don’t do drugs, so, what is there to get? ‘Thick as a brick?’ Really, is that even a song?”
The Beatles and Bob Dylan flipped the switch back in the early 60s. Since then, the evolution of rock and roll music and lyrics accelerated faster than the speed of sound. Drawing heavily on American musical influences, the “Fab Four” accomplished more in six years than any artist, except maybe Dylan, could hope to accomplish in a lifetime. He doesn’t know what to make of these one-hit wonders that have seized control of music in this brave, new mid 70s world. The boy has been into the music scene since its beginning and he’s proud of it. He has memorized thousands of songs. He can figure out nearly any guitar riff or chord progression just by listening to it. He knows that if he stays at it long enough, he might even become a rock star. But not if this disco shit keeps up.
The boy’s band, “Around the World,” was the first garage band in the high school dance scene to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” in 1974, just a year after it was released. The eighteen-year-old drinking laws generated a whole new demand for live entertainment. Now the band plays in some of the coolest bars and nightclubs in the South Jersey/ Philadelphia area. “Around the World” also plays weddings, and the boy resents the fact that Mandy chose to pay a DJ rather than accept the boy’s offer to bring the band to her wedding to play for free.
The boy and his girlfriend wait in the car until the small room fills with guests. It is 7:15.
“Oh, well,” says the boy. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Come on, babe, give it a break!”
The shades are drawn in the fire house. The artificial darkness is broken by swirling dots of white and flashing beams of multi-colored light. Mostly unfamiliar faces are covered with the dots that also highlight many pastel-colored leisure suits. Even the boy is wearing one, a lightweight polyester jacket and long sharply creased pants. His shirt collar is worn outside his lapels and it is obvious that Kathy has picked out his wardrobe. Kathy wears a short tight skirt with her hair layered and swept back Farrah Fawcett style. The bass notes boom from the large speaker situated in front of the DJ, and people try to shout above the music. The bride and groom have not yet arrived.
“Let’s dance!” Kathy implores, tugging at the boy’s arm.
“You know I look like an idiot when I dance.”
“Who cares? Come on, Babe!” She tugs harder.
“Let’s get a beer first, it’s open bar all night.”
“Damn! That’s really sweet of Paul’s parents to go to all this trouble!” Kathy says with a smile. She releases her grip from the boy’s synthetic suit. “OK, but then we have to dance!”
By the boy’s third beer, the guests have claimed their seats around the tables. The room becomes hot and smoky. The large air conditioner that is mounted in the window tries to do an even bigger job than it was designed to do.
“And here’s one from K.C. and the Sunshine… Band…,” shouts the DJ. At once, nearly everyone in the room jumps to their feet as the synthesized orchestration of “Hollywood Swinging” blares through the speaker.
“Come on, Babe! You promised! This is an easy one. All we have to do is bump our hips together.” She pulls him to his feet. “Like this.” She hunches forward, snapping her fingers as she rocks her body back and forth, each time slamming her hip into the boy’s pelvis. He almost loses his balance as she drags him to the dance floor.
The boy follows along reluctantly. They start out bumping, then the boy steps away to squirm the old-fashioned way. Kathy is lost in the music, validating her exceptional skill as a dancer. The boy watches with heightened appreciation. He loves her and she loves him. Kathy lives in the riverside town of National Park and would have gone to Gateway had her parents not made her attend Catholic school. They started dating at a dance at Bishop Eustace. The boy was playing in the band, and she stared at him the whole time. She had come with some other guy, but quickly blew him off when the boy from Baltimore sat down with her during the break. They talked non-stop and really hit it off. She gave the boy her phone number and quickly became his steady date. Kathy had been trained to say no when her attraction to the boys agitated her raging hormones, but she finally caved in one night during her junior year. They had talked about it frequently during the dates leading up to that special night. It was anti-climactic. Neither actually knew what to do or how to do it, since it was brand new to both of them. But the Great Awakening gives them much to learn and practice, and they learn and practice often.
Standing about five foot six, the eighteen-year-old Kathy is a blonde, at least right now. Otherwise, her hair is a darker sandy color, usually somewhat stiff from hairspray. She wears an up-beat smile that reveals a sense of being truly content and well adapted to late teenage life. Her face is round and beautiful with a well-toned body that attracts the eye of pretty much everyone who looks at her. She looks her sexiest in tight jeans and a flannel shirt which she wears mostly when tending her horse that she keeps at a nearby farm. Kathy is inspired by Mandy’s premature plunge into motherhood, but she really has no interest in getting married or having babies. At least not yet. But someday maybe. The boy hasn’t asked her anyway. They’ve never even talked about it. Thank God. He’s so wrapped up with his band and sports cars right now. That makes her happy.
The music stops suddenly, and the DJ breaks in with an announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our bride and groom, Mandy and Paul, for the first time in public.” He then cranks up the theme from the 1976 film Rocky. Paul bursts into the fire hall dragging Mandy by the hand. Paul releases her and raises both fists into the air, jogging triumphantly, like Stallone ascending the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. He gives a high five to everyone in his path between the front door and the bar.
“Yo! Congratulations, big guy!” the bartender says. “What’ll it be?”
“Heineken, my man.”
“You got it dude! How about your beautiful bride?” He pops open the beer for Paul. Mandy is almost eighteen, but nobody cares to ask her for ID. Not on her wedding day for crying out loud. After all, if she’s old enough to get married and have a baby, she should be old enough to drink.
“I guess I’ll have the same,” Mandy says, not minding the advice of her doctor.
“Just one though, Mandy,” Paul warns. The two join in with the loud chatter as they take a seat next to Paul’s parents.
“Paulie! What is she doing with that beer? You know she’s not supposed to be drinking.”
“Cut it out Mom, it’s our wedding day. Nobody knows how old she is.”
“I don’t care about that! Didn’t the doctor warn you about the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the harm it might do to the baby?” The University of Washington did a study in 1973 linking birth defects with the use of alcohol.
“Sure,” Paul replies, “but he said it’s OK to drink a little. Just not a lot.” Mandy is giddy with the attention and she looks around the room to find her parents. They are not there. She finishes her beer then orders another one. And then another.
The sun sets, further darkening the room. The buffet table is open with an assortment of Italian and American foods. The stuffed shells seem to be going fast so the boy from Baltimore drags Kathy to the line.
Piling the shells onto her plate, Kathy says, “Hey, Babe, does this dress make me look fat?”
“Not yet,” says the boy and they both break into wild laughter.
After the feeding frenzy is over, the music and lights return to Saturday Night Fever pitch. The dance floor is packed.
“I can’t believe the Bee Gees sold their souls for disco, Kathy. It’s killing me!”
“You poor baby, I think you’ll live,” she says, smiling broadly.
The song ends with a slow dance to follow.
“I wonder if he can play ‘Having My Baby’.” The boy asks with a sarcastic smirk. The song was a huge hit in 1974 by Paul Anka and Odia Coates.
“Oh my God! That is too funny, Babe. Shit, if we ask, I bet he’ll do it.”
“How about we do this, we write it down on a piece of paper and hand it to the DJ so nobody knows who made the request?”
“It might not go over very well”
“Hey, it’s a whole lot better than ‘Lay Lady Lay’ or ‘Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do’. Kathy gives him a punch in the shoulder.
“You are so bad,” she says laughing.
Kathy takes out a pen and scribbles on a napkin, “Can you play ‘Having My Baby’ by Paul Anka?” She waits until the DJ isn’t looking then places the note right next to the DJ’s turntable. The DJ is a young high school kid and had never really listened to the song before. He digs through his collection then locates the hit record. After playing another fast number, he stops and makes an announcement.
“Okay, folks, we’re going to do a request right now. Let’s slow it down with a big hit from last year by Paul Anka and Odia Coates.”
“Holy shit!” the boy says, shocked, trying to keep a straight face. “He’s going to do it!”
“Uh oh! This ain’t gonna be pretty,” says Kathy devilishly. “Look at Mandy.”
Mandy stirs in her seat. She recognizes the intro right away and she knows the song very well. She has played it on the piano. She has sung it with Paul. She is living it with Paul. It is THEIR song.
Most of the guests in the audience also know the song. Some start to cringe, some chuckle awkwardly, but everyone glances cautiously at the head table containing the bride and groom and Paul’s parents.
“Havin’ my baby,” sings Anka. The guests are restlessly holding their breath.
“Oh my God!” Kathy says. “Maybe we shouldn’t have done this! Mandy is probably mortified.”
“Shit… maybe you are right… Hold on… I don’t know about that.” Anka sings on, expressing his sheer joy and happiness that his beloved didn’t do what she might have done to remedy her “baby” situation. She didn’t do it… “Look!” Says the boy, Mandy is pulling Paul onto the dance floor.”
“You’re havin’ my baby…”
Paul embraces Mandy and they stare steadily into each other’s eyes. Mandy’s additional dimensions are duly noted. She is weeping. And she is anything but mortified. She is madly in love with Paul. She has set aside every plan, hope, or dream she has ever had for herself as an individual. It was her choice to have this baby and she is truly happy about it. Her plans have been transformed to a whole new something else, and if her parents choose not to be a part of them, well that’s their choice. There is nothing to hide anymore and no reason to feel ashamed. This celebration is not an embarrassing farce. It is the solemn conception of a whole new life, complete with all the joy, hope, and heartache that might go along with it. The reality might not have set into Paul’s jolly old world as yet, but there is time. Plenty of time for him to grow, together with Mandy and the baby. It is a beautiful sensation. The bride and groom hold each other tighter than ever before, forgetting the silly, immature attitudes that surround them. They are a family now.
“Look,” Kathy says, “I think Paul is crying, too.”
“No way!” He looks closer. “Oh my God, you are right.”
At this moment in time, Paul, Mandy and their unborn child become a single entity, dancing slowly and carefully on the precipice of adulthood. Kathy is crying too, and the guests at the tables fall silent. They get it.
“I guess the song wasn’t such a bad idea after all,” Kathy says to the boy as they clink their bottles together. She catches the boy wiping a tear from his own face.
The DJ is getting antsy. He shouts into his microphone, “Now it’s time to find out just how low… can you go?” He pumps up the volume and grabs hold of a mop handle leaning against the wall. “Everybody on the dance floor! It’s time to do de LIMMMMBO, mon!” The loud calypso beat of Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock” floods through the speakers. The guests are magnetized to the center of the room.
“Halleluiah!” screams the boy, wiggling his behind like he knows what he’s doing. “Finally, something I can dance to. Come on, Babe! Let’s go!” Two of the caterers take a break from cleaning up to hold the pole. Everyone, including Paul’s parents, joins the Limbo line. The first time around, the pole is held high and even the six-foot five-inch Paul makes it underneath. Then, the pole comes down a few inches with each round as each participant wiggles up, tips back their head and comes out the other side. The bright lights flash wildly, and the disco dots cover every inch of the room.
“All the limbo boys and girls,
All around the limbo world Gonna do the limbo rock
All around the limbo clock.
Jack be limbo, Jack be quick,
Jack go unda limbo stick.
All around the limbo clock
Hey, let's do the limbo rock.”
On his eighth time around, the boy is one of just three competitors remaining in the game. The song has played through twice. Kathy holds his beer in one hand, and the boy’s leisure suit jacket in the other. She hands off his beer for a huge swig each time he circles back around.
“You can do this, Babe! You can do this!” Kathy shouts as the boy spreads his feet and leans back. He levels out horizontally, bends his knees and squats to ninety degrees, sizing up the small distance between the pole and the floor. He takes a couple short hops toward the pole and is lost in the flashing lights. He hops again, spinning his arms wildly to steady his balance. The pole is just in front of his nose and he just needs another inch. His arms are fully outstretched.
“First you spread your limbo feet, Then you move to limbo beat. Bend back like a limbo tree.”
He suddenly feels the texture of the floor change beneath his feet. Someone spilled a drink and the ice has slid across the floor beneath the pole. He takes his final hop, barely making it under the pole.
“You did it!” Kathy cries out prematurely. As the boy tries to straighten up, he goes down, belly up, flat on the dirty wet floor, knocking the pole and the two caterers down with him. Laughing, he lay there for a few seconds looking up at the disco ball.
“I’m fine! I’m fine!” he says as he rises from the floor, laughing still. Just lost my balance a little. No problem.” Someone reaches down to help him up. He doesn’t need any help, he is fine.
“I guess you lose by default,” says the DJ. The boy puts his jacket back on and returns to the table.
“What time is it getting to be?” asks Kathy as they sit back down. The boy looks at his watch but… it isn’t there. IT ISN’T THERE! At least, not most of it.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” cries the boy in terror. “My watch! It’s gone!” He jumps from his seat and runs up to the DJ.
“Stop the music! Stop the music! Turn on the lights! Please.”
“What’s up, man?” the DJ wants to know.
“You lose it?”
The boy places his wrist below the light next to the turntable and looks straight into the empty gold case of his grandfather’s Omega Seamaster.
“Jesus Christ,” he cries out, “I must have smashed it into the floor when I fell.” He runs back to the D.J. with great urgency. In a flash the house lights come on and the music stops.
“We’re looking for some watch parts on the dance floor,” the DJ announces.
“Here! This must be it!” Kathy says as she points to something beneath her feet.
The room is now silent as the boy steps to the spot where he slipped.
“Fucking limbo,” he exclaims. “Fucking limbo.”
On the floor, at his feet, Kathy is trying to scrape dozens of watch particles into an envelope with her student ID card.
“Oh, my God,” she says. “There are so many pieces.” In addition to the shattered crystal, the hands and the dial have been stomped on. The movement was in pieces with its wheels and gears laying in a loose pile. Nobody in the room, besides himself, Kathy, Mandy, and Paul know what the watch means to the boy, where it has been, what it represents, or how, OR IF it can ever be fixed.
After the last pieces are swept from the floor, the boy looks at Kathy with kind eyes, and says, “Can we go home now? Please?”
Chapter 5 – She’s Leaving Home
Mandy waits until Paul is well out the door before packing everything she needs. It isn’t much. Just a suitcase full of clothes, her toiletries, her jewelry, and most importantly, Little Paulie and his baby supplies. Her older sister, Karen waits around the corner in the family car. She ducks down behind the steering wheel, so Paul does not notice her as he passes on his way to the Acme. Mandy buckles Little Paulie securely into the car seat. He whimpers like a three- month-old child usually does just before bursting into a full-blown shriek. “Ssshhhh! Keep it together, kid,” Mandy says anxiously. “Don’t start now.” Karen eases the car to the driveway in front of the house.
After everything is loaded into the car, Karen, Mandy and Little Paulie slip away into the crisp March Monday afternoon.
“Whew! Nice job,” Karen says to Mandy.
“Yeah, I’m scared shitless.”
“Don’t worry, baby sister. We’ve got this,” Karen says. She reaches across and pats Mandy on the knee with affection. She looks in the rearview mirror at little Paulie who is screaming in the back seat of the car.
“And how are you, my sweet pea? Now you be good for your Aunt Karen,” she says to the ear-piercing infant in the back. “My Lord, Mandy, he’s getting so big!”
“And loud too! Come on, Paulie! Please…”
“So, little sis, tell me everything that happened Saturday night.” Karen had received Mandy’s SOS call Sunday afternoon, and without hesitation, “Plan B” went into action. This time, it was not a false alarm as it had been twice in the past. It was for real. Aunt Karen to the rescue.
“Oh my God, it was awful,” Mandy says. “Two nights ago, on Saturday, he went out with his friends, again, and wouldn’t tell me where he was going or when he was coming back. He does this a lot. But this time, I took him on and told him ‘I can’t take this bullshit anymore. I want it to stop.’ He says back to me that he’s going to do what he wants and if I don’t like it, I can leave. Then he stormed out and slammed the door right in my face. He got into the car and took off. I screamed so loud that his mother came up to see what was wrong. I told her what he said, and she acted like it was all my fault. Like I was driving him to act like this.”
“What? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“No, Karen, I’m not. She actually suggested that I am wrong to expect Paul to stay home and act like a responsible father. ‘He’s just getting this kid stuff out of his system,’ she says. ‘He’ll grow out of it,’ and in the meantime, ‘we’, that’s me and her, ‘can take care of Little Paulie ourselves. Everything will work out just fine,’ she tells me. I said, ‘Mom, do you realize that he goes out almost every single night?’ He uses every excuse in the book and his mother sticks up for him every time. ‘He’s got to carry equipment for the band,’ or, ‘he has to help Nicky fix his motorcycle,’ or ‘he’s just going out for a couple beers with the guys from school.’ She acts like it’s perfectly normal for a nineteen-year-old boy to act this way.”
“What about his job?”
“Now, that’s a fucking joke! Stocking shelves at the Acme? In his spare time? Really? He’s been doing that since he was in high school. He’s already quit twice and went on workman’s comp once. If his boss wasn’t his friend Nicky’s father, he would have been fired after his first week. He keeps telling me that he’s next in line for a big tugboat job, but whenever I bring it up, he changes the subject. He says he might sign up for County College but that won’t start until September. His mother keeps saying, ‘Don’t you worry, sweetie. Things will work themselves out. Just be patient. Everyone will be so happy after we’re adjusted.’ I said, ‘Everyone? Who the hell is everyone? It sure isn’t me!’ Then, Saturday night, we went at it when he got home. I sat up until after 2:00 A.M. waiting. We really went at it. He started pushing me around, and I actually thought he was going to hit me. So, that’s why I called you yesterday morning.”
“Oh, you poor thing. That’s horrible! What about his father, doesn’t he stick up for you?”
“Well, you know they are both pretty old. He just stays out of it. He downplays everything and truly believes Paul can do no wrong. He’s never been able to control his son or his own wife, for that matter, so he gave up trying a long time ago. He would do anything in the world for us though. He’s a really sweet man. But I literally feel like crap knowing that they are paying for everything we have - which is nothing when you feel like a trapped animal, a prisoner. All I’ve really got that’s my own is Little Paulie.” She starts to sob uncontrollably. “I’ve lost everything. I don’t even have my own family anymore.”
“Believe me,” Karen consoles, “Mom and Dad love you like all the world, but they have been really hurt by all of this. They really want you to come home. But not until they are sure you mean business.”
“Then what?” Mandy says. “I don’t want to lose the baby! Paul swears that if I ever leave, he’s going to take Little Paulie. His parents know some really powerful lawyers.”
“Daddy does too!” Karen says. “He can get the best lawyer in town to fight for you if you want to get serious.”
“Shit, Karen! That will cost him a fortune. And we’ll probably still wind up losing. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. Right now, we just need to hide out for a while and not tell anyone where we are. I really don’t want to see Paul or his parents ever again. And I mean it.”
The two girls are eastbound. They pass the busy shopping districts of Woodbury, Cherry Hill, and Marlton. They follow a series of back roads leading to the Village of Batsto which is located right in the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The Pine Barrens represent the largest protected pinelands in the entire US Atlantic coastal region. The vast eco-system stretches across seven counties in central New Jersey between Philadelphia and the ocean.
Mandy’s parents are avid campers and keep a 29’ trailer in a remote campground on the Bass River in the Pines. The two girls spent many weekends there while growing up but started staying home more and more as they got older. Paul has no idea where the campsite is located. He had been invited to go camping with the family many times, but he never did. He preferred to play house with Mandy, unchaperoned, on the weekends instead. Karen doesn’t like Paul, she never did. And she could see right through his phoney charm long before Mandy ever had a clue. So, they didn’t speak for a while after Mandy got pregnant. Karen’s refusal to attend the wedding was her way of saying, “Told ya so.” Now, after proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she was right, Karen will stand with her little sister no matter what.
Nicky’s father gets the call at the Acme. It’s Paul’s mother. She is in hysterics.
“Get Paulie! Get Paulie! Please!” she begs with dreadful gravity in her voice. “Please, right away.”
“Sure… sure! Hang on.”
Paul is standing on a stool organizing cereal boxes on a shelf when he receives the message. He goes to the office and picks up the receiver.
“Paulie! You’ve got to come home RIGHT NOW!”
“Oh my God, what is it Mom? Is it Dad?”
“No son, it’s your wife. She has left and she has taken Little Paulie with her.”
Chapter 6: A Good Day to Make a Deal
The boy works in the driveway polishing his car when the phone rings. It is Mr. Sydney from the jewelry store.
“Hey, kid, can you come down to the shop? I need to talk to you about this watch.”
“You got it done already?” The boy says with excitement.
“Not exactly, come on over and we’ll have a talk.”
“Shit,” the boy thinks. “Bad news, I’ll bet. I was afraid this would happen.”
The nineteen-year-old boy had taken the shattered remains of his gold Omega Seamaster to the best jeweler in town six months after smashing it to pieces in the limbo contest. Mr. Sydney from Brooklawn is the only person on the planet who has confidence he can redeem the function and authenticity of the boy’s beloved timepiece. The very instrument that has measured nearly every tick and tock and every high and low that has elapsed since his father entrusted it to him as a child. Sydney assured the boy he could fix the watch, but it wouldn’t be soon, and it wouldn’t be cheap. But it could be done. The boy hadn’t thought about the watch for a while, however, because more recently, his attention is drawn to a new infatuation – a 1969 primrose yellow Jaguar E-Type convertible.
The seven-year-old sports car came into the boy’s life as serendipitously as a wet dream comes to an adolescent in the middle of the night. It was the boy’s father who first saw the classified ad just before fourth of July. The big story of the year was the huge bicentennial celebration taking place all across the country, especially in Philadelphia. The Inquirer was two inches thick that day with articles and advertisements celebrating the 200 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The boy’s father dug deep into the paper finally reaching the classified ads.
“How much do you think a ‘69 Jag convertible goes for?” the father asked his son.
“I don’t know, but they aren’t cheap. I’d say around $7,000… maybe more.”
“That’s what I thought,” said the boy’s father.
“Well, here’s one in the paper selling for $2500. That seems pretty cheap, don’t you think?”
The boy grabbed the paper from his father and read it over.
“Oh my God, Dad! Yes, that’s a steal! Why don’t we call and see if it is still available.”
“Oh no, no, no, son. You ain’t getting no Jag,” his father said, seeing the chrome wire wheels in the boy’s head starting to spin. Then, out of nowhere. “So, what time is the band playing tonight?”
“Whoa!” Said the boy. “You don’t really expect to tease me like that and then change the subject, do you?
“Uh oh…” the boy’s father thought. “I’ve really done it now.” He knows his son well and he knows that once he gets something in his head, he’ll keep pounding until he gets what he wants. He remembers the Gibson Les Paul and the Marshall amp and how he needed these things for the band and how the deal was so good that only a fool would walk away. “Come on, Dad! I swear I’ll pay you back. You know I will!” The boy would beg and beg. It didn’t hurt his father to help him out. Give him a loan of sorts. He always believed his son would pay him back one way or another. If not by taking care of the pool or mowing the lawn, then by making extra money giving guitar lessons. Maybe just staying close to home and out of trouble was payback enough. His parents never insisted, though they hoped that one day their son would be as enthusiastic about going to college as he is about music, cars, and girls. They just want the kid to be happy.
The boy and his father had shopped for the Plymouth together just before the boy’s seventeenth birthday. The 1969 Sport Satellite seemed like a “perfectly sensible” car to the father—avocado green and completely standard from the factory. To the father, the car had no resemblance to the striped-out, jacked-up, noise-making hot rods that everybody else seem to be driving. What the boy’s father didn’t know was that the Satellite was the base model used to build the Plymouth Road Runner—a high-octane muscle car powered by a monster sized 383 engine and a massive four-barrel carburetor. Even though the boy begged and begged, his father could always count on the “insurance card” to nip the hot rod conversation in the bud. Quite simply, since the father was in the insurance business, he always reminded the boy that without his help, there would be no car insurance to be had. The boy is on the family plan. “I think the Satellite will be just fine,” the father rationalized. The boy agreed, however, he had a few ideas that were not immediately anticipated by his father. No sooner was the Satellite in the boy’s possession, that it was decorated with racing stripes, then a pair of air shocks. Then Cragar mag wheels, hooker headers, traction bars, and L60 tires that were almost a foot wide. Within weeks after “working the engine,” the boy could beat most of his friends off the line at a red light reaching close to 100 MPH in a quarter mile. The boy’s room is filled with model cars and he can recognize the make, model, and year of nearly any foreign or domestic vehicle on the road. He loves cars and still hopes to be a mechanic if he doesn’t make it in the music business.
“Seriously, Dad .It won’t hurt to call the guy, will it?” The boy’s father has no real interest in sports cars, but he’s sure the Jag must either have something very wrong with it or else it has already been sold.
“Go ahead,” he says to the boy, give ‘em a call.”
The boy dials the number on the rotary phone and is greeted by a young female voice on the other end.
“Hi, I’m calling about the car in the paper. Is it still for sale?”
“Yes, it is, but, we’ve gotten a lot of calls already.”
“Can you tell me a little bit about the car?” The father is eavesdropping.
“Sixty thousand miles, no damage, runs great, looks great, yellow…”
“Hmmm, that sounds really good.”
“Ask why they are selling it,” the father whispers to his son.
“Why are you selling it?” the boy asks the woman.
“Oh, I see… right…yep… makes sense. So, can we come check it out today? … Oh…around two o’clock? ... hmmm… Can we come at one o’clock? Okay, my father and I will be there by 1:00 PM for sure.”
He wrote down the address.
“Oh, boy! Here we go …” his father thought to himself. Then he asks, “What did she say?”
“Well,” said the boy, “They live in Cherry Hill and the car belongs to her son. He has just gone away to college. He can’t keep it at the dorm and he won’t be needing it for the next four years. He wants the money for school and is afraid it will depreciate if it just sits outside the front of the house. It sounds like he basically lost interest in it. But… someone might come look at it at two o’clock. She says it is a first come deal. So, I told her we’d be there by one o’clock.”
“What about the Plymouth?”
“We can sell it,” the boy replied nonchalantly. Everybody had a muscle car. But none of his friends had a real sports car. Especially a Jag convertible. It is a true dream machine.
By 1:15 that same afternoon, the boy’s father had given the woman $200.00 to hold the car until he got to the bank. Two hours after that, the boy was polishing his new Jag out in front of his house.
“Come on, Babe! You spend more time polishing the car than you do polishing me,” Kathy says as he puts the finishing touches on the chrome wire wheels.
“Come on, Babe, let’s go for a ride,” the boy says. “We’ve got to go down to Sydney’s jewelry shop. He’s got some news about my watch.”
Mr. Sydney is a big, tall, and friendly man with gigantic hands. He inherited his shop and his horological expertise from his father who died several years ago. Sydney invites the boy and Kathy behind the counter into the back room where he keeps hundreds of watches, junk parts, and a much cluttered work bench. This is where he does his work. Mr. Sydney sits down with the two teens. He is holding the Seamaster in his hand. “I’ve got some bad news for you, kid,” Sydney says remorsefully.
“Shit!” the boy says. “You can’t fix it, right? That’s what I figured, but hey, that’s okay. At least you gave it a shot.”
“Hold your horses, for Christ’s sake. I never said I couldn’t fix it. Here’s the thing … The dial is so badly damaged, I just can’t get these dimples out and it looks like crap. See?” He shows him the watch face and he is right. It looks awful and even worse since he tried to straighten it out. “I have dug through every spare part in those boxes, and I can’t find a decent replacement. Other than that, everything can be put back together.”
“OK, well, at least that’s some good news. So, what can you do about the dial?”
“Well, I can send it out to have a new one made. If I can get a new dial, I will have to remove the gold hour markers and the Omega symbol from yours and glue it all onto the new dial. It won’t be 100% original, but it will look brand new. But… by the time I get everything back together, it’s going to be quite expensive. To be honest, if it were me, I’d get myself another watch. Look here.” He points to a board on the wall where dozens of used watches dangle waiting to either be claimed from repair or to find a new owner. “I’ve got a shitload of nice used watches and I’d be happy as hell to make you a really good deal. You could save yourself a lot of money.” The boy sinks deep into thought. Just a few short years ago, he didn’t hesitate to sell this very same watch for just $25.00 to an unscrupulous pawnbroker, now he’s on the verge of plummeting into financial abyss just to get it working again and back onto his wrist.
The boy looks at Kathy and she glares back at him, shaking her head like “No, don’t you dare try to replace that watch.” She knows the story. “Can you replace a part of your life?”
The boy ponders his dilemma then says, “Well, Mr. Sydney, first, let me tell you a little story, then… please tell me what you would do.” Sydney pulls three beers out of his refrigerator and listens carefully as the boy recounts his story from the beginning.
“Whoa!” Sydney exclaims. “That story is worth more than the watch! You’re not making this shit up are you?”
“I couldn’t if I tried,” says the boy.
“Well, then,” Sydney says, “I suppose we’ll have to make you a new dial. Whatever it takes.” They clink their beers together happily in agreement.
“So,” Sydney says, “In the meantime, how about we make a deal on another watch to hold you over?” I’m trying to make some room in this joint and clear out some dead-end repairs. Today is a good day to make a deal.”
“Well,” says the boy with interest, “What have you got? Do you have any Omegas?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve got a few that work great. Let me see.” He looks up and down the wall. “How about this one? He plucks a shiny stainless steel sports watch from the board. It would look great on your wrist behind the wheel of that Jag.” He reaches up and takes a large-faced, stainless steel sports watch from the wall. It is fastened to a rubber diving strap and it has a noticeably scratched crystal. “It’s an Omega,” Sydney says. He winds the watch then hands it to the boy. “Don’t worry about the scratches, I can polish them out for you.”
The boy takes the watch and examines it. Tick, tick, tick, tick… it is running fine.
“You see,” says Sydney, as he points to the two buttons on each side of the crown, “it’s a chronograph. A stopwatch, you know. It works like this…” He pushes the button to show the boy how the timer starts and stops. “Then the hand flies back to the twelve position when you push the bottom button. Like this see?” The boy starts and stops the chronograph a couple of times. He reads the dial. It is an Omega “Speedmaster Professional.”
“The only problem,” Sydney says, “is that you have to remember to wind it up every day. It’s not an automatic movement like yours.”
“How much do you want for it?” the boy asks.
“Well, here’s the thing, this watch came in as a repair job over five years ago. The guy wanted to have it cleaned and adjusted. So, he left it here but never came back to get it. We call this a dead-end repair. It happens from time to time.” He points to the wall. “So, I tried to phone the guy like twenty times but found out he gave me a bogus phone number. After about a year, I sent him a bill by mail. But the mail came back with the address unknown. I tried again, same thing. I waited and waited for the guy to come get it and he never did. Nobody ever came in looking for a missing or stolen watch, so it’s just been hanging out here ever since. I really just want to get paid for the work I did.”
“So, how much can you sell it for?”
“Well, it’s been here over five years so I’m legally able to sell it. All I want is $90 for my repairs and the watch is yours.” He grins, “Since you and I are now partners on your Seamaster… you can pay me later. I’m sure you’ll be back. Just so long as your Seamaster doesn’t end up on that wall,” says Sydney. The jeweler winks at Kathy, “How’s that for a deal?”
The boy has no idea what the watch might be worth, nor is he aware of any significance the timepiece might have, but he figures it must be worth a lot if it costs $90 just to clean it.
“I’ll take it,” says the boy as he grips Sydney’s large and powerful hand. It was, indeed, a good day to make a deal.
Chapter 7: Ninety Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street
The boy gets out of the shower and is startled by loud banging on the front door. “Open up!” Come on, open up!” Paul hollers from the front porch.
Paul looks crushed, and he’s in no shape to drive. He breaks the news about Mandy and Little Paulie’s desertion. Then he hands the boy a very short note. “Shit Paul! I’m so sorry,” the boy says, sounding surprised. He is truly sorry, but not at all surprised. The scenario had been long foreshadowed. He reads the note. Mandy has made it clear that she and Little Paulie are “just fine” and he should not worry. Mandy knows Paul is a hot head. She warns him not try to contact her or her family, at least not until they are ready for a divorce and annulment. She will have a lawyer notify him to work out visitation and support arrangements, but for now she does not want to speak to him or anyone in his family.
“That’s it? Just like that?” the boy says.
“Jesus,” Paul says. “There’s no way she came up with this crap on her own! I know her parents put her up to this and are hiding them out. I can’t believe she would do this to me! This is bullshit! She didn’t even say why,” Paul says to the boy. He’s nearly in tears.
“Come on, man. You don’t know WHY?” The boy thinks to himself, remembering the many shouting matches that have sounded off from around the corner.
“What am I going to do? I’m going crazy inside! We’ve got to find them. We just have to!”
The boy reluctantly agrees to drive. The two boys slide snuggly into the cockpit compartment of the sleek yellow British sports car. The top is up. It is cool and had rained earlier in the day. The leathery aroma is pleasantly trapped inside the vehicle, distinguishing the classic dream machine as 100 percent pure Jaguar. It is a pungent smell that signifies the brand’s legacy as one of the world’s most time-honored racing marques. The light beads of rain shimmer on the long narrow bonnet, even under the gray and cloudy sky. The car sits low, so low that Paul can almost touch the ground when he reaches out the window. He places a six-pack of beer behind the passenger seat. The boy turns the key and the 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine roars to life. Even Paul, who is hell bent on tracking down his traitorous wife and child, regains his sense of “coolness” as the two boys speed away in desperate pursuit.
“Where are we going?” asks the boy as he shifts through the gears.
“I don’t know, but wherever we go, we’ve got to get there fast,” Paul replies. “Let’s see what this baby can do.” They exit the development and head for the highway.
The Jag is not much in the zero to sixty range, but after that, it enters the sweet spot, where the potential speed seems limitless. Once on the open road, in fourth gear, the velocity quickly accelerates to over 125 miles an hour without even a hint of letting up. The four Pirelli tires grip the road like the paws of a cat clinging to a blanket. The G force is startling, like what one might experience when taking off in an airplane, or even a rocket ship. There is a curve coming up in the distance… The boy takes his foot off the pedal and the car quickly slows. He downshifts to third. “Enough of that,” he thinks, decelerating to the new national speed limit of 55 MPH. Both boys tremble from exhilaration.
The national 55MPH Maximum Speed Limit law was passed in 1974 in response to the dramatic rise in oil prices. The Mideast oil embargo of 1973 severely crippled the US economy and offered solid proof that the days of cheap gasoline were over. The short-term effects of the oil crisis were colossal as millions of motorists lined up across the USA and waited hours to fill up their tanks. Monthly allocations of gasoline ran out quickly leading to rationing and other austere measures for distribution. Prices of gasoline doubled, then tripled, then surpassed the $1.00 per gallon benchmark in a matter of weeks. The long-term effects took a serious toll on the automobile industry as a whole.
At the same time, congress was wrestling with a whole new concept of environmental protection and consumer safety. The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970, heightening the nation’s awareness of pollution —especially air and water pollution. Books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at any Speed, as well as TV campaigns like the “crying Indian” commercial assured the nation that the glory days of gas-guzzling cars and carefree living “in the fast lane” would come to a crashing halt. The response by the government was to impose more and more federal regulations. The new safety and emissions standards challenged automakers to produce more fuel efficient, safer vehicles, resulting in smaller, less powerful, less attractive, and less desirable vehicles. The year 1969 represents the final production year of the truly beautiful, art inspired, chrome detailed muscle cars and classic convertible sports cars.
Mandy has been gone for the better part of the day, and Paul truly has no idea which way to turn. The boy has seen his best friend angry before and he knows he’s got a hot temper, but he has never seen him so helpless, so desperate, or cornered with so few options. He has been knocked out with pain and is loaded with a dangerous combination of beer and fury. He hopes to keep Paul peacefully occupied until he settles down.
“Paul, where do you want to start?”
“Take me to her parents’ house.”
“Did you try calling them or her sister?”
“Yeah, yeah… I did all that. I know they know where she is, but they aren’t talking. Her father hung up on me. My Mom’s been trying all morning to get them to talk but they won’t even answer the phone. All we get is a busy signal.”
“Maybe we should call the cops,” the boy suggests, hoping to bring Paul to his senses.
“And tell them what?” Paul snaps. “She is eighteen now, plus, she left me a note in her own words that says she was leaving. The cops won’t care. What the hell are the cops going to do anyway?” He pounds on the top of the dashboard jolting the needles on the neat row of Smith gauges mounted in the instrument panel. The boy tenses up.
“You can tell them she has kidnapped your son.”
“Thought about that already. They will just tell me to give her time to cool off and wait for her to come home.”
“Maybe she will. Maybe she just needs to get her head together.”
“No fucking way! This time it’s for real. I just want the kid back.”
The boys reach Mandy’s parents’ house situated on a beautiful shady stretch in suburban Cherry Hill. The rain has stopped but the roads are still wet.
“Don’t you think we’re a little bit obvious in this car?” the boy says as he downshifts into second gear. Maybe we should just turn around and think this through a little more.”
“No turning back now,” Paul replies “What have I got to lose? I’m going to knock on the door and see if her father is home.”
“Okay. Then what?” asks the boy nervously.
“Well, if he is, maybe he will let me talk to her.”
“And, what if he doesn’t?”
“Then, maybe I can talk to him, man to man.”
The car slows to a crawl rounding the corner to Mandy’s parents’ house. Mandy’s father’s car is parked out front, but her sister Karen’s car is gone.
Paul tries to conceal his anger. “Pull up here,” he says pointing to an empty space in front of the house. “I’m going to go knock on the door. You wait here.”
“Wait! What are you going to say, Paul?” The boy senses his friend is on the verge of losing control. “What if he won’t talk to you?”
“Then, I’m going to say, ‘let me in, you son of a bitch, and tell me where my son is.’ Then I’m going into the house to find the baby. I know he’s got to be in there. I don’t give a shit about her, but when I find the baby, I’m going to grab him and run back out to the car. Then, we can take off.”
“What? That’s fucking crazy, Paul! Where the hell do think you’re going to go?
“Plenty of places.”
“Believe me Paul, it’s not that simple. I’ll tell you where. You’ll go straight to jail, that’s where and I’m sure as hell not going with you.”
“Oh, don’t you worry, I’ll handle this,” Paul says. Then he grabs his friend’s head and holds it with both of his palms like it’s a basketball. He looks straight into his eyes and starts bawling out loud, sniveling as he tries to speak. “Do you have any idea what if feels like to have your wife and kid disappear into thin air without a trace?” He kicks open the door of the car. In a rage.
“Paul! Paul!! Cut the shit, man! I don’t want any part of this.” The boy is shaking. “If you get out of this car, I’m gonna split and we are through! So get your ass back in here, NOW!” Sobbing, Paul hesitates then sinks back into the bucket seat and closes the door.
“I’m so lost,” he whimpers. “I’m so fucking lost. Can we just drive around for a while?”
“Sure,” says the boy. “Let’s just drive around for a while.” Paul leans his head back as the boy shifts through the gears. “Goddam, that was close,” he thinks to himself.
“Hey man, you’re the only true friend I’ve got, thank you!” Paul says regaining his composure. “I’m really sorry about punching your car.” The boy says nothing.
“What time is it anyway?” asks Paul.
“Shit,” the boy thinks, “I left my watch at home…” He replies, “I don’t know.”
They look at each other for a couple seconds and shout together, “TIME FOR A BEER!”
Chapter 8: Blood on the Tracks – Side One
Neither Paul nor the boy from Baltimore say a word as they glide back out onto the open road. They have completely lost track of time. The sound of winding gears and the steady roar of the 4.2 is all they hear as the whirling rubber meets the road. Hours pass and by nightfall the boys have burned up nearly a full tank of gasoline cruising to the ocean and back. Reaching a long, empty stretch on State Route 130, the boy decides to crank up the adrenaline. He presses hard on the pedal, compressing both the boy’s bodies firmly against the bucket seats.
Deep in thought, the boy reflects on how much his own life has changed in the few years since he and his family moved to New Jersey. It seems like such a long time ago now. The trip to Florida with George and Ricky now seems like a flash of ancient history. He glances at the speedometer, and then at Paul, who is experiencing the worst terror of his life. Probably the same terror his own parents must have felt when he vanished from his home in the middle of the night. The boy has never experienced real grown-up pain before. Sure, the distress of losing his childhood home, his friends, and even his girlfriend in Baltimore was pretty harsh, but that was kid pain. Not adult pain. It all seems so small and insignificant now compared to what Paul is going through.
The closest the boy has ever come to experiencing real adult pain was the time his girlfriend Kathy broke up with him for three weeks in January of 1975. He doesn’t even remember what brought it on, probably too much band practice or not paying enough attention to her. Whatever it was, she refused to see him or take his calls, and the pain hit him hard. After so many days and nights during the past year, touching, feeling, and tasting each other’s bodies, minds, and souls, the couple pledged their exclusive, everlasting love to each other. Like two individual pieces of cloth they had become stitched together into a single fabric. He blamed his own selfish ways for tearing that fabric to shreds. The boy had never felt so helpless and desperate to do something, anything to stitch it all back together again. He would have quit the band if she’d asked him to, but she never did. Somehow, they worked it out, but during that cold, dark January, it was pure pain that saturated every bone in his body. The sadness, the rage, the guilt, the need to prove himself and to reclaim her love was overwhelming. Kathy had even started taking calls from one of her old boyfriends, and the boy actually wanted to hurt him. He wanted to hurt her too. He hunted her down, looking everywhere to find her with that “other person.” “There could never be ‘another person,’” he told himself. It was scary because he’d never met that side of himself before. But, fortunately for him, their mutual desire to stay together was stronger than any of those horrible forces pulling them apart. They reconciled with great enthusiasm. The “little” breakup with Kathy, as short as it was, seemed huge and to last forever. But, in the end, it strengthened their relationship.
The Jag levels off at 100 MPH down the deserted straightaway. “There is no medicine for this kind of pain,” the boy reasons in his mind, “except Dylan.” Bob Dylan had inspired the boy from day one, after first hearing the album, “Bringin’ it all Back Home” as a child at his older cousin Jimmy’s house. The boy got right down to business learning the songs as soon as he could play guitar. Then he started singing them with a harmonica around his neck. By high school graduation, there was not a Dylan album the boy didn’t own or a Dylan song he didn’t know. The boy believes Dylan has been his close intimate soulmate throughout most of his life.
The album “Blood on the Tracks” came as quite a surprise when it was released in January of 1975. Kathy had just broken up with the boy. It was not until he saw the blurry image of the songwriter’s profile on a shelf at the record store that he even knew the album existed. He took the new album home and immediately placed it on his turntable. He set the needle down into the vinyl grooves and was suddenly rapt by the clean, acoustic resonance of a perfect A major chord as it alternated with its respective suspended 4th. With just a few instruments in the mix, the introduction to “Tangled Up in Blue” was so straightforward and simple that he could not wait to hear what Dylan had to say.
The first song is a fragmented tale of a relationship gone bad, destined to fail, with each of the its seven verses intensifying until reaching its tag, “Tangled up in Blue.”:
Dylan’s voice was clear and completely decipherable. He spoke in the first person directly to the boy. The narrative did not contain any of the usual “Dylanesque” abstractions. The poet’s sorrowful words flowed without any need for intellectual interpretation. From the depths of his own hopelessness the boy became spiritually airborne - lifted, like a birthday balloon slipped from the hands of a child. Dylan was confiding in his listener, the boy, in the most honest, direct, and personal way he had ever spoken before. “My God, Bob, it is a goddam sonofabitchin’ masterpiece! I get it!” the boy thought. “I feel your pain.”
The boy listened and listened to song after song, over and over, believing he understood exactly what his wise and sagacious mentor, Bob Dylan, was saying and feeling. The pain, real pain being compared with a corkscrew driving into his heart. One song after the other rang out with pure emotion - a completely different kind of poetry. The boy was seized by the spiteful anger of “Idiot Wind”, the sudden realization of being alone in “Simple Twist of Fate”, the wistful imagery of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, and self- blame and words of forgiveness in “If You See Her, Say Hello.” Something real in each of these songs offered the boy positive proof that with or without Kathy in his life, he was no longer alone. Dylan had released him from the agony of believing he was the only person alive who could feel such pain. He was still alive. Now he hopes, besides the beer, if he shares Dylan’s musical remedy with Paul, it will help him actualize his pain and start to think clearly about his role in the failure of his premature marriage.
“Hey, Paul,” the boy says to his friend as they zip from lane to lane in the Jag just inches off the ground, “enough of this morbid shit! How about grabbing that box of eight tracks from behind the seat. See if you can find ‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan.” Paul reaches back and moves the box to his lap.
“Got it,” he says.
The 8-Track, or “Stereo 8” tape is a standardized audio format that uses a continuous loop of magnetic tape contained in a plastic cartridge. The players for these cartridges usually come as optional equipment with a new car but are readily available as an aftermarket product for those who don’t have one. Installation is done either inside the dashboard or somewhere underneath, with speakers usually fitted behind the seat. The tight arrangement of switches and dials on the Jaguar’s instrument panel required the boy to install his tape deck on the back panel between the two seats, within easy reach of the driver. Such eight-track tape players, regardless of their quality, are notorious for “eating tapes.” This is caused either by a faulty tape or a quirky machine when the tape is pulled from the loop and into the works of the player, stopping it abruptly when enough tape gets tangled up inside. This usually occurs after it is too late, when about a foot or two of tape is sucked from the cartridge.
“Here, lemme do it,” says the boy. “You’ve got to put the tape in a certain way or else the machine will eat it.” The boy turns his head quickly to the space between the two bucket seats where the eight-track tape deck is mounted and inserts the Dylan tape. He turns his eyes back to the road… “Shit! The Circle!” He screams. He suddenly stiffens his grip and ferociously spins the steering wheel to the right… That is the last thing he remembers… until he is awakened by Paul calling his name and tugging at his arm.
Chapter 9: The Flip Side
The boy opens his eyes to a dense fog of darkness pierced only by tiny slivers of dashboard light. He has no sense of what’s up or what’s down. He is unable to reckon his bodily position - or anything else for that matter. “Holy shit, Paul!” he murmurs, “Where are we? What happened? What have I done?” His head is spinning fast as he waits for his answer. “Paul… Paul… Oh my God!” He realizes they are both lying in blood on their backs looking up at the dashboard.
“We’ve wrecked,” utters Paul who is barely visible in the upside-down passenger compartment. “You were out cold for a minute, I thought you were dead.”
The car has ceased all motion and is completely upside down in the parking lot of the Brooklawn Diner.
“I can’t see anything, and I can’t move my left hand,” says the boy. He is gripping the stick shift just above his head, with his right hand. “Oh shit, Paul, are you okay?” “
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to find a way out of here.” The sweet leathery Jaguar smell is overtaken by the strong noxious fumes of gasoline.
“Oh my God!” a frantic female voice screams from outside. “Are you okay in there? Oh my God, we need help here now!! Somebody PLEASE call the police!” Then more voices, then banging and kicking on the slim-line doors of the car. Both doors are crushed into the pavement, bearing the full weight of the upside-down vehicle. Every part of the car once fixed above the doors, including the top, the windshield frame and both side windows are decapitated, pinning the two boys between the bloody asphalt and the floor of the car. “There are two of us in here,” the boy shouts out barely able to raise his voice.
“Can you push on the door?”
“No, I can’t move my hand.”
“Don’t move,” someone shouts. “Help is on the way! Don’t try to move!”
“Where are we?” the boy says to Paul.
“The Brooklawn Circle. You really fucked up, man, trying to take that turn.”
More and more voices show up on the scene.
“Oh my God!”
Then amid the growing chatter… many loud sirens arrive, then… “Everybody back! Everybody back! …Hey you! Get the hell out of here with that cigarette! Get back everyone!”
“I saw the whole thing,” someone shouts out.
“Can you tell me what you saw?” says a police officer.
“Oh my God, it was crazy! We were sitting right there, by the window in the diner when, all of a sudden, this car comes flying end over end across the circle. Then it hits the ground upside down spinning in circles. Then it landed right here in the entrance to the parking lot. There are two people stuck in there right now.”
“Hey there,” a voice calls in, knocking on the upturned frame, “are you badly hurt? Are you conscious?”
“Yes, we’re conscious, but we don’t know how bad we’re hurt yet,” Cries Paul. “Can you get us out of here, please? There’s a lot of blood and gasoline.”
“A rescue squad is on its way,”,says the voice. “Try not to move.”
“We’re both stuck! The doors won’t open.”
Just minutes later, another siren approaches, and a whole new set of sounds is heard above the chatter. It is the sound of machinery— “The Jaws of Life.”
The “Jaws of Life,” first patented in 1961 by a man named George Hurst, is a complicated device used in thousands of emergency situations to assist rescue workers. These machines are hydraulic tools also known as spreaders, cutters, and rams that are used to pry open vehicles in which a victim may be trapped. The “Jaws of Life” can devour an entire automobile in roughly two minutes.
There is no way for the rescue workers to see inside the upside-down Jaguar or for the two occupants to see out. The only communication between them is verbal - and the boys are in no shape to communicate.
“We’re coming in,” says one of the rescue workers, hopefully. “Try not to move. And holler if we come too close.” The sound of loud machinery drowns out the noise of the spectators.
Crunch… a cutter rips into the driver’s side of the car. Then, CRUNCH! Again. This time on the passenger side. Then a flash of light bursts through a seam as the spreader tool tears the door from its hinges. “Okay?” the voice call to the boys. “We’re going to get you out of there.” Now they can see their rescuers. The men are dressed in hard hats and safety gear. The boy can see the people standing all around, they are tensely observing everything. He can see, but not comprehend the atrociousness of the mess he has created.
“Thank God,” says the boy. Both doors are devoured, and Paul is pulled free. Miraculously, he is on his feet.
“You guys are two lucky sons of bitches!” the rescue foreman says, tugging at the other boy.
“Shit guys! We’ve got a problem with this one,” the foreman says to his crewmates. “Quick, bring that spotlight over here.” He shines the light onto the boy’s left hand that appears to be stuck.
“We’re going to need the ram,” says the foreman.
The tip of the boy’s left middle finger is clamped somewhere between the twisted wreckage of the steering column and the broken remains of the wooden steering wheel. He cannot be pulled from the car without leaving most of his finger inside. The workers try to avoid collateral damage as much as possible. The gasoline smell is now overpowering, and the boy is returned to his original position. He is dizzy and becoming nauseous. The crew is working as fast as possible to get him out without losing his finger.
“Don’t move,” the foreman says to the boy as his crewmate arrives with the additional equipment. The ram pushes a hydraulic metal piston rod up against the steering column, exerting thousands of pounds of pressure to open a gap. He is able to partially free the now visibly severed fingertip but will still have to pull hard to get the boy out of the car.
The boy is finally removed from the upside-down vehicle and is placed onto a stretcher next to the car. The paramedics busily start bandaging him up. Dazed, sick, and completely numb from shock, he peeks through his half closed eyes as the EMT straps him down. The accident scene seems like an ancient horror film at a drive-in movie with psychedelic red strobe lights flashing and spinning, altering the real time of the action. Policemen and women, paramedics and onlookers move about, as if in slow motion while the fire department douses the crushed remains of the upside-down Jaguar with a huge high-pressure stream of water. The boy’s short-lived wet dream is over.