One Night in High School
Across the open field I ran … scared straight!
Alone, running as fast as I could under a cloudless night sky, the farmhouse behind me engulfed in spotlight from the three or four cop cars that had just moments before descended on it.
I was sure I could hear the barking of police dogs in hot pursuit and knew that they’d be on me in no time if I didn’t run faster. I’d covered about 200 yards and had to get to the tree line, now about 100 yards ahead of me.
The night had started normal enough.
My buddies and I were spending another summer Saturday night with nothing much to do. Teenagers in small towns don’t have many options. One of my friends and I had been driving around town and we’d parked in front of a grocery store where some other friends from school had parked. We were just hanging out. Mostly bored.
An acquired level of acceptable boredom keeps a lot of small town young people mired in mediocrity for the whole of their lives. This particular night several of us didn’t want to be bored. We wanted some fun and excitement. But there weren’t many things to spark much fun or excitement that night. So when Joey (not his real name), a guy I barely knew, pulled up and said he was going to a party that was gonna be epic, I was more than willing to check it out.
Joey was sketchy. He was one of those guys who came across as some sort of a “thug-wanna-be.” He was arrogant, mouthy, and bragged about his wild ways and the girls who wanted him. He and I played little league football together when we were 9 years old. Outside of that, he and I had never been close friends. But that night he was better than the lame options I’d been weighing. And besides, he had two girls in his car and I had none.
By this time my buddy had already abandoned me when the girl he was “kind of dating” had driven up and ordered him around like a trained monkey. He hopped when she said jump and left with her. I called him a number of fitting names as they drove off together. No wonder she didn’t like me. (Years later he actually married this girl.)
Joey told me to get in his car. He’d drive. So I got in the back seat of Joey’s car. Susan was in the backseat too. I didn’t know Susan so we started talking and I paid no attention to where we were actually going. She was cute and seemed pretty cool. Said she’d just broken up with her boyfriend and she was afraid that he “might” be at the party too. Great. The last thing I wanted was to be caught up in some drama with a jealous ex-boyfriend and a girl I just met.
We finally got to the long “driveway” that led from the road to the farmhouse. It was then that I realized that I had no idea where we were. Out in the middle of nowhere is all I could determine. South of town, I thought. I also had no idea whose farmhouse it was. No matter. There were probably 20 cars parked all around the front yard, music blaring, lots of energy, and there seemed to be a lot of people having a good time. Fun was afoot!
I got out of the car and followed along with Joey, his girl, and Susan as we headed toward the farmhouse. I walked just close enough to be a part of the group, but not close enough to Susan to give some paranoid jealous ex-boyfriend reason to think that I was “with” her.
Sure enough, Susan’s ex came marching up, gave me a dirty look, and started pleading with her. I just kept walking past him. I could hear Susan trying to explain to him that it was over. He seemed to think it wasn’t. He started begging. Dude was clueless. I didn’t turn around but just kept walking with Joey and his girl toward the music and fun. I’m allergic to drama.
On the porch outside of the farmhouse were two giant speakers blasting out songs from The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, and Pink Floyd. The place, inside and out, looked like a page out of Woodstock, with people wrapped up in blankets, and others standing around drinking and smoking pot. I’d never seen so many kegs and assorted bottles of booze in my life. Everyone seemed drunk, stoned, wasted or in some other alternate state of inebriation or incapacitation. Everyone seemed quite happy. There was a pot-smoke-fog that hung in the air. I think I got high from second-hand smoke as I walked through the house, looking for someone I might know other than Joey, who had disappeared.
I grabbed a beer and started nursing it as I walked through the house. In the dim light, I could see couples who were … well … coupling. It was easy to trip over the couples coupling. There was coupling going on everywhere it seemed. Apparently, the party had been in full swing for a while and teams had already been paired up, so to speak.
I’d been there for about 30 minutes when I was in the hallway of the house looking for the bathroom when I became aware of an abrupt change in the energy of the place. Something didn’t seem right. And then I heard someone yell, “COPS!!”
People smokin’ weed don’t move fast, but they all started to stir and scurry about like squirrels caught in a cage. They sort of reminded me of those old-school football game toys. You know the ones with the little plastic players who move around by the vibration of the metal “field.” Some of those players always spun around in circles. The same thing was going on in the farmhouse.
I started running toward the back of the house looking for a door. I found myself in a bedroom where the “COPS!” alarm had not been heard and the couples coupling in that room were still coupling and oblivious to the buzz kill about to overtake the house and its occupants. Coupleus interruptus.
I looked back toward the front part of the house, about to retrace my steps and look for another way out when I saw the flash of lights from flashlights and car-mounted spotlights. It looked like a Star Wars lightsaber fight was going on. I knew that a return trip through the house was out of the question.
I started to panic.
The bedroom where I was had an open window. With no other option, I ran toward the first-floor window and dove out of it Superman-like. I hit the ground and started running across the open field behind the farmhouse. I saw others running around like the proverbial chickens with their heads cut off. The stoners didn’t seem to have the benefit of logic or deduction. Some were running in slow-motion to their cars. Where the cops were. Where the cops had blocked all of their cars. Including Joey’s car.
I finally hit the tree line and started running through the woods as fast as I could. With limited visibility, I crashed into trees. I tripped over roots and fell, several times. Tree branches scratched my arms. Thorn bushes and vines ripped my jeans and cut my face.
And I had no idea where I was or where I was going. Fear of the unknown, in the dark, in the woods, on the run got my heart rate spiking.
I reached another open space and stopped to look at the night sky. I paused just long enough to find stars and orient myself to run north toward town, away from the farmhouse. (Thank you Boy Scouts!)
I kept running and stumbling and tripping through the woods. By this time I was a sweaty, dirty, bloody mess when I finally got to a paved road. I couldn’t see anything on that road in either direction. No houses. No cars. No signs. Nothing.
But I knew which way north was.
After about 20 minutes on that road, in the half-moonlight, I thought I recognized some landmarks. And then I saw a house off to the right in the far distance. The road started to look familiar. I’d been there before!
This was a section of lonesome road known to my older brother’s crew as “Zigthaller’s.” Named after old man Zigthaller, who allegedly had a farm out there somewhere, my brother, Jack, and his buddies had used this stretch of desolate road to drag race. And he’d taken me with him a few times. (Thanks Jack!)
It was great knowing where I was. And it was terrible too. I was way way out in the middle of nowhere. But at least I knew where I was and where I needed to go. So I started jogging down the road in the direction of town, hiding behind a tree or in a ditch or behind a bush every time a car came down the road. I was sure that the cops were still patrolling the area looking to round us all up and I could NOT get arrested. I’d already joined the Marines by this time and an arrest would derail my Marine Corps career forever.
I eventually made it to a quickie mart convenience store. They had a pay phone. I called my brother and about 30 long minutes later, he picked me up. When he saw the mess I’d become he started laughing uncontrollably. He laughed at me all the way to where my car was parked. He was still laughing at me when he dropped me off.
It was now after 2 in the morning and my mother was waiting for me when I got home. She was both relieved and angry. Mostly angry. She collected my car keys (MY car, mind you. Bought and paid for by yours truly) and she grounded me for eternity … in fact I think I’m still grounded!
My gut feelings about Joey were accurate. While I was in grad school, he was doing a 10 year stretch in prison.
Gut feelings ought to be minded.
I also learned that small seemingly inconsequential decisions can have enormous consequences.
I also learned a valuable lesson about decision making in general. In order to know which way to go, you first have to know where you are. And then you have to know where you want to go and then plot a course to get there. Sometimes a direction is all you can determine and that can be good enough to start the journey.
One night in high school. A lot is being said in recent days about the ability to remember things that happened in high school. I can tell you the details of every key event that happened in my life when I was in high school. The good and the bad. I had a very busy senior year, in fact. I had experiences that year that I can recall in great detail. I snuck off to Tulsa to see Leo Kottke. I took a trip to Pittsburg with a small group of guys in a school-sponsored trip and came back a different 17-year-old. In April I drove to Kansas and joined the Marine Corps. Later that month, I embarrassed myself at the state diving meet. I made some critical decisions that year that had a lifetime of repercussions and consequences, some good, some not so good. When I came back to Fort Smith from Pittsburg, I had a plan for the next 6 years of my life. I knew where I was going.
When Alice came to the fork in the road and asked the Cheshire Cat which road to take, he said, “Well, that depends on where you want to get to.”
“Oh, it really doesn’t matter …” answered Alice.
“Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
What would you do if money were not an issue, fear were not a factor, and failure were not an option?
To your optimum health and fitness!
SEE YOU ON THE QUARTERDECK!
Sergeant Major Tony Ludlow
Sgt. Tony’s Fitness Boot Camp
Mailing address: 4888 Southern Ave., Memphis, TN 38117
Cell Phone: 901-644-0145