Knaus and I

            Since drafting ‘Thies and I’, it became apparent to me that some of the characters found herein and such probably require similar tales to be told. Chances are that in the collected edition, the T&I story will follow this one and thus what I am writing about probably makes no sense at all, unless you are a clever enough monkey to skip about or perused the formidable table of contents. If not, I’m certain you are already confused and having made your way this far, you might as well continue, as my words, I am certain delight to you even more than fresh cherry cobbler.

            Though it is probably of little interest to the reader, I met Knaus the same way I met Psycho, at one of the Wargames meetings. He had somehow, and without my knowledge or consent, been brought in by Louis to help ‘run the day to day operations’; something I was perfectly capable of pretending to do. Although threatened by the intrusion, I discovered early on that he was mentally in the same magnitude of bizarre that I was; something that I found strangely comforting. We also found ourselves taking the same art class in sophomore year, which is where he picked up the long discarded moniker, Mouse. As each of us took to the comic book style of art, I introduced him to Collector’s Inn, pleasing Jim to no end, as Knaus always seemed to have a wallet full of cabbage every time he walked in.

            That year I also managed to create another connection by bringing Dave to the art show where Knaus and I were showing off our wares. Within 5 minutes of meeting each other the two were wrestling like dogs in heat in the parking lot. A beautiful bromance was born, and one frankly, that I sometimes became the third wheel in. This was my first and only successful attempt at integrating groups of friends from previous periods in my life with newcomers, probably because it is usually something I try to avoid.

            The first time I stayed over at the Knauses over night, I knew I had met my match in oddness. The kitchen table was covered with newspapers, atop which were a collection of batteries in various stages of disassembly. Knaus revealed that he was performing detailed dissections on them, and although I had abandoned my childhood attempts at alchemy, I resolved to put my chemist hat back on and see what forbidden substances I could take apart at home, resulting in many burns. Knaus also revealed that day his own particular brand of logic when making scrambled eggs. I witnessed him dumping in quantities of vanilla extract into the mix, and when I pressed him on why, he stated that vanilla made things taste better, end of story. It was a principle that could simply not be argued with, though I will say they were pretty sucky eggs.

            That first sleepover was also memorable as it revealed Knaus to be as daring an intrepid explorer as I was, perhaps even more so. We decided to walk over to the old Thruway Mall from his house, taking a back channel along some old abandoned rail road tracks, something Dave and I used to do ourselves. After screwing around there for a while, we headed back utilizing a “shortcut” Knaus claimed to have intimate knowledge of. Somehow we became lost in this area, readily observable by entering these coordinates (42.904482,-78.786821) into Google Maps. This delightful looking “park” area is in truth nothing of the kind; the area is actually an industrial dumping ground amidst a swamp treacherous with piles of corroding hulks of strange machinery and murky channels of slightly frozen over sludge and water filled ditches. Did I mention it was February?

            Knaus led us deep into this wasteland with was what I feel were deliberate intentions to cause me the maximum amount of discomfort possible. We scurried around the piles, snagging our jackets and flesh on the razor sharp edges of rusty metal and frequently plunged one or both legs into one of the horrendous bogs. A mixture of snow and drizzle started to come down, further obscuring our limited view and sense of direction. For several hours we wandered, forced back to the center by the presence of trains or some insurmountable obstacle. Eventually we found our way to one of the side streets and took the by ways back, ending up in Town Park on Harlem. There we were accosted by an angry gentleman we affectionately referred to as ‘Dickhead’ afterward. With our muddy disheveled appearances he mistook us for a pair of sophisticated second story men who had been doing some breaking and entering in the local area weeks prior. We managed to convince him otherwise, but he banished us from the premises anyway.

            Despite the horrendous trip through the bog of doom, I let him convince me to accompany him through the tunnel that runs beneath the Galleria mall shortly after it was built. We began the journey in the mall proper and had Jeff along in tow. We got some cheap flash lights at the Dollar Tree, the kind that you have to hold down the button to keep lit, and ventured to the start of the tunnel, resembling old timey Roman catacombs. Jeff freaked within the first few feet and pledged to meet us, if we emerged alive, around the other side. Creepy does not begin to describe it. Pitch black, sterile, with a slow creek running through. At some points you could look up through a grate and see the happy shoppers walking above in a very different world. Near the end we found a side tunnel and began to venture down. An indescribably horrific noise, however, led us to believe a cult of Satanists was looking for fresh sacrifices, so we bolted out of there post haste.

            We managed to maintain a tight friendship through high school even to the point where I hooked him up with my cousin Ann for the senior prom. He was actually supposed to return the favor hooking me up with his cousin Lin, but fate intervened and I ended up going with Ende’s girlfriend’s friend instead. Before high school ended and after we both got accepted to UB, we made arrangements to become dorm mates the following fall; a service UB was willing to provide as roommates with prior friendships were less likely to cause administrative headaches by requesting room changes mid-semester. We were assigned to Schoellkopf hall on the South Campus on the fourth floor reserved exclusively for freshmen men. Not an ideal choice by any means, but it was a start.

            Our living arrangement was an interesting one, defined by the contract we drew up on the first day that allowed for privacy with female visitors (never required) and the settling of disputes on the field of honor. The field of course turned out to be whatever manner Knaus chose to enact his insidious revenge. In order to shield myself from him better, I constructed an enormous wall from the top of my desk, almost to the ceiling that I referred to as my ‘fire hazard’ as it consisted of mostly paper. Knaus respected the wall to a minor degree, though would often tear pages out of the phone book to turn into paper airplanes and launch them over in miniature raids. Fortunately for me, he had not yet stumbled on the notion of lighting them afire just yet.

            At least once a week we would trundle down to Shirley’s O’Aces, with or without the Irish Club, and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning. It was a grand tradition that later moved to Anacone’s but always followed the same pattern of cheap beer, some sort of bar food, and a traditional playing of William Joel’s classic, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ on the juke. On the walks back we would wax into bizarre conversations, such as what we would do if we stumbled upon a patch of decapitated heads on stakes. Knaus, I recall, immediately concluded that he would take as many of them home as he could carry. Hmm… it occurs to me that this post, as well as some of the others, will probably be deposed as evidence against the defence argument that he is sweet and silent as a lamby-pie.

            As a gift that year, Knaus procured for me a small collection of mice, one male and two females. By April the collection had grown to 42 mice and stunk up the room with great aplomb and all too frequent defecation. One weekend, when we least expected it; they made a bid for freedom. I came back to the room Sunday night and immediately noticed something different. The large tank I kept them in now sported a hole where there had been none before and no mice where there had been 42 before. Looking over at my desk I bore witness to the one named ‘Stripe’ after the Gremlin’s character dive into the moldering water in my hot pot, swim across, and jump out the other side slick with putrid grease. Furious, I called Knaus’s house to get him to come help round them up, but no one picked up. By the time he returned that evening at 11, I was sweaty, disheveled and had managed to recapture 3 of the slowest; the rest defeating my best efforts with ridiculous ease.

            Knaus did manage to help me capture the rest in a comedic run about, John Hughes style, with head clonking, crashing falls, frequent collisions, and all manner of events that would indicate the mice were far cleverer than we. At the end it was Knaus and I against Stripe, the lone hold out, and we were hopelessly outgunned and maneuvered. At some point the little bastard made it into the hall and we happily bid good riddance, but he made a surprise return a millisecond before we shut the door. Finally, improbably, Knaus got the mouse and a day later the lot was taken to a pet store with the most likely final destination in a large reptile of some sort.

            Knaus at this point, and for years on forward, became the prime initiator of trips down to Alleghany to get lost, camp, or make every attempt to get injured in course of photographing wildlife and wee pretty flowers. Most of these trips simply involved a lot of hiking, though there were several traditions that had to be met each trip. One was a visit to Thunder Rocks where we would climb around and scale the impressive boulders. Second was the trip to the legendary beaver damn, the jumping off point where we all got lost that epic journey recounted in ‘How I Became a Horseman’. If this chapter precedes that, well, tough luck. Finally, no trip was complete without a stogie enjoyed usually on the trail leading down from Thunder Rocks to the stream that led to the dam. Due to our impoverished condition, these were usually Dutch Masters, but on one occasion toward the end, we enjoyed authentic Cubans.

            Despite the abuse suffered at his malicious hands, and in spite of the fact that he took to calling himself Malfeus for some reason, we decided to room together the following year rather than take chances on a devil unknown. Common adventures shared between all the roommates in that situation are recounted far too often elsewhere, so I will concentrate on a few items unique to point of this post. While it didn’t trouble us in the past, at least not me anyway, a point of contention came up regarding both my habit of snoring loudly and engaging in distracting sleep talking that made little to no sense. These things enraged Knaus and from time to time I would awaken to see him standing over me gritting his teeth in fury. At site to keep you awake at night assuredly.

On several occasions I did some sleep walking as well, always to his inconvenience. One happy night he was treated to being awakened by me piling the contents of his desk on his sleeping head as “they were about to start air brushing”. Another night I somehow found myself in the hall way, locked out, necessitating a furious pounding on the door until he unhappily let me in. His remedy was to play the same Nine Inch Nails CD on auto repeat each and every night; a condition that kept me from ever really falling asleep soundly and led to many missed classes after sleeping through them on the 5th floor of Lockwood.

Knaus also had an excellent habit of distracting me from schoolwork; something I heartily embraced. He’d look over at me from his desk, exclaim, “I have waaaay too much work to do”, then pull out the latest issue of ‘The Mask’ and commence to reading. This always resulting in me aping his behavior as Matter Eater Lad was far more engaging than BF Skinner. He also had a way of dragging me out to Anacone’s and such on nights before an early morning class. Always with the one-upmanship, if I had an important lecture, he would claim a critical final. He probably did as it was shortly after this that it was strongly suggested he change majors from aerospace engineering to something more his speed like basket weaving or photography.

Knowledge of fine and classical music was an area in which Knaus felt I was severely lacking and attempted to educate me in. Prior to knowing him, I was completely unaware of the iconic 90’s superstar band Transvision Vamp and how they rocked the air waves with such classics as Trash City. We had the opportunity to see them in concert once and to this day I contend that lead singer Wendy James was looking me dead on with the hairy eyeball, such was my magnetic presence in the crowd. I also learned of other enduring legends such as Savatage, Shriekback, and was treated often to the cat like wailings of a post-Blondie Debbie Harry. I’m sure it was musical ignorance that I often sought out knitting needles to end the agony.

When we finally all moved to Comstock, Knaus took on a more reclusive role especially once Aaron and I began our reindeer games and intimidation campaign. Still, on occasion, he would emerge from his oft locked sanctuary and announce he was on a quest for alcohol and trundle down to Anacone’s with or without anyone else in tow. Despite his apparent either shyness or unwillingness to speak in general, with a few beers in him a charismatic demagogue emerged who drew in the enfeebled masses. Often in such circumstances we would find him amidst a crowd of drooling hangers on, gulping up his every ill spoken word. If anyone thought to supply him with endless brandy the world could easily have another JFK or David Koresh, such was his inebriated cult of personality. 

In those heady days of yore he introduced us to one of my favorite summer festivals of all, Allentown. His enthusiasm for going downtown on the subway, slurping raw clams and beer, and looking at all the art we couldn’t afford was infectious! Since those days each trip back is a search to recapture the raw joy of Buffalo’s first summer festival of the season. We used to badger Knaus about entering his own photography as the camera apes down there were pulling down serious green for the same tired old shots of the Central Terminal and shit, but he was unwilling to lay down the cabbage to rent some space despite being able to command four digits a pop for abstract snaps of me eating dog food or Litter Box Jam. Even now I hope to run into him down there, but so far he has declined to compete.

As time progressed he emerged less and less unless it was to bang away on the worlds oldest word processor or not clean the cat box which had become an impressive tower of feces. Once, however, he emerged in a manner most unusual. I came home and was surprised to hear a small commotion and a female voice coming from behind Knaus’s door. As ¾ of the house, a demographic to which both Knaus and I belonged, were not currently being seen with female companionship, this stuck me odd. A bold enquiry led me to believe that Aaron and my cousin had ensconced themselves in there, apparently without Knaus’s knowledge or permission. I began to sweat at what he would do to them, or so I still contend, and when he came strolling through the side door like a thundercloud of death I gently broke the news to him in order to bear the brunt of his immediate wrath.

To my surprise he remained nonchalant about his sanctum sanctorum being so rudely violated. I could only imagine that he was saving his volcanic outburst for the soon to be damned. I threw myself in his path, but he simply stepped over me, the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his lips blinding me from making further pursuit. I managed to come up behind him just as he opened the door and prepared to bludgeon him before he could blast them with his eyes with a bolt of eldritch energy, but while I looked around for an appropriate tool, it became clear that the three of them were really in cahoots. The story, as I was led to believe, was that Knaus egged on by Aaron and Ann in their little exclusionary ka-tet, used a bed sheet tied to his handcuff ring above the bed to shimmy down the side of the house if for no other reason than to annoy me.

When the Comstock project wrapped up and Knaus moved back to his folks, much to their soul crushing dismay I’m certain, we worried he would become a fixture in our past; more of a relic than the hideous goat lamp we absconded with. In the final months we saw very little of him as he spent his time elsewhere and discouraged questions as only Knaus could. At times he would bring Malice, his familiar, along with him as they embarked on dark and mysterious deeds. Instead we were delighted to find that he now actually chose to spend more time in our vicinity, often making the long haul over to Princeton and joining us for our very frequent beer and movie nights. The newest recruits to the Whole Sick Crew, like Jenn with the tongue, Mary, Rob, Chet, and even Dave’s new interest Jennifer took a shine to him. It was the silver age of Knaus and we thought it would last forever.

When things at Princeton degenerated in the last year or so, Knaus, perhaps feeling the Discordia when mom and pops were on the outs (I’m pops by the way), kept his distance. Meetings with him became consigned to long evenings of coffee with myself, Dave and Jen or old school excursions to the forest where to my dismay, increasingly longer periods of time were being devoted to setting up complex equipment to photograph wild posies. When I broke the silence about my intended enlistment to him and Dave, I received open support, though some degree of skepticism as to my true intentions. Anyone who knows me well has difficulty pinning me as a ‘Yessir!’ style military man, except perhaps in the tradition of ‘Stripes’.

While in Basic training Knaus became my most frequent writer, a condition I was intensely grateful for. Basic was a dreary place in which I received frequent verbal comeuppances and days would pass without hint of a smile. Knaus, however, managed to coax out of me the very first laugh out loud with his long and convoluted tales of his wanderings with Dave in the land of UB looking to fulfill the Celestine prophecy. I attempted to share with the other folks, who could all use a giggle as well, but apparently I was the only one cracked enough to appreciate the mad ramblings of shellac headed penman.

Despite the distancing he displayed prior to my departure, he certainly made himself available on a near constant basis when I managed to make it home on leave. Although he had a full time job, not to mention achieving high year tenure at Work-n-Gear, he still managed to drag himself out each and every night until the wee hours. Not only that, but since I didn’t have a car at my disposal, he even drove. Fun nights of pool and beer were spent at old Anacone’s, Bullfeathers, old favorite Caputi’s, and of course our new favorite down on Franklin, the Sanctuary (or Spankuary as it was sometimes known) with its midget bar tender and gothic crowd who moved in from the now defunct Icon.

When I returned for good, Knaus came by to help move me in, although he conveniently showed up just as the very last box was removed from the truck, but had a bottle of SoCo in hand and was forgiven. I don’t recall much after that due to the illness, except that the annual Christmas exchange with Dave resumed and that a screening of our old classic ‘Eric the Viking’ was made to break in my new digs. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital, bored from my near death experience only to have it relieved by a considerate Knaus shipping me a hefty load of books overnight.

In the year or two after my return, Knaus was around for a time, but gradually began to slip away into the night. He was a force to be counted on when Tiffany came to visit, once again eschewing work (since I couldn’t, new in my crap ass job at GP:50) in order to entertain her during the days. He was around often in those days and I think made one last epic trip to Allentown with us. He was also instrumental in decorating my pad with his home grown bonsai trees, necessitating me to line up someone to water them every time I went out of town.

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Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?

            A question apropos to any undertaking in which it is universally understood that questions of clarification need not be asked, yet are anyway. The readership at large I’m certain is hoping that I am going to go into the subject of bear defecation at great length, discussing the color, consistency, and perhaps even the odor. The truly hopeful may be under disillusion, though not after this sentence, that I may have born witness to such an awkward spectacle. Alas, no; this will be the last and final statement on the subject and I will have no further truck with anyone who asks me to elaborate. Instead this article, chapter or whatever the hell it is today will serve to recount some tales about my Boy Scout camping days and perhaps, time permitting, some follow on efforts.

            I already explained my first foray into the deep dark woods in my ‘Webelos’ post and I won’t bother to recount any of that, forcing you to go back and read again, unless of course you just read it recently, in which case you should be OK. Nevertheless, the experience did not deter me a twit from pursuing further outdoor adventures; something I would come to immediately regret. The summer after the Webelos trip my parents decided to treat me to a great time by sending me off to Camp Turner for a whole week, in which they would be free from my nefarious doings; a nice break for them I’m sure. We prepared for weeks; gathering supplies, planning the route down and perusing the colorful brochure that depicted a bunch of happy little assholes having fun.

            I probably would have been a happy asshole myself, had my mother not blabbed the plans to her best girlfriend on one of their marathon conversations. Before I knew what was what, her son, my oft times nemesis, Pete was also coming along for the week. I was dismayed, though a little bit happy to at least have someone whose name I knew along for the ride as I was a shade on the shy side. To make things more awkward, my mother listened to some old friend of hers who had been to this camp many years ago. This idiot revealed to her that campers used footlockers, military style, to haul and store their shit in. So, we ended up borrowing the one this fool had and lugged it home and filled it with my gear. Needless to say, we got there and I was the only one dragging around this antiquated piece of shit while everyone else had sleek modern suitcases.

            I’m sure the other campers in time would have gotten over the fact that my “luggage” matched that of a 19th century sailor, but I was not afforded that opportunity. Pete, within hours of arriving managed to piss off the whole cabin by pushing the smallest guy off some rocks and injuring him. Despite the fact that I too found this to be particularly egregious, I was nevertheless linked to him. Protesting the matter did nothing in my favor as it appeared weasely as if I was turning my back on an old “friend”. This made for a particularly long week in which we both endured muttered threats and I even had the contents of my foot locker tossed a few times. The shunning didn’t bother Pete a whit of course and he continued blindly forward as if everyone didn’t hate him, depriving me of the one soul who should have been sharing the burden of being associated to his own person!

            I managed to survive the Camp Turner experience and even though I managed to avoid all manner of swirlies, wedgies, and the dreaded rear admiral I declined to opt to return the following year as undoubtedly Pete would follow and the whole sorry mess would be repeated. I did, however, decide that if I was going to go camping in a group environment again it would one be with a group I already had an in with, and second, in a much less structured environment. Making fucking boondoggle key chains and playing color wars was a hoot and all but I was simply looking to crash around the woods in as dangerous a manner as possible. I found my outlet in the St Andrew’s Boy Scout troop, a motley group of hooligans masquerading as admirable youth.

            In the traditional sense, Scouting is about service, community, God, country and all that hoo-ha they try and sell you on. I was in it simply for the camping and stated as much, participating the bare minimum amount needed to remain part of the troop and engage in the monthly outings into the deep dark woods. I progressed through the ranks by getting the least number of merit badges required in the easiest possible categories. When I was honorably discharged a few years later I believe it made it all the way to First Class with a host of bullshit badges including Animal Husbandry (one I couldn’t possibly have fulfilled the requirement for), Cross Stitching, and Unrealized Good Intentions, which I didn’t actually have, but got covered while fulfilling Creative Storytelling. My popcorn sales were abysmal as I failed to even convince my grandmother that it was a good buy. The only meetings I showed up to were the pre-campout planning sessions and generally left well before the end to avoid the mini-classes in knot tying and sponge bathing the elderly.

            The camping trips were glorious affairs! I don’t know if I enjoyed the summer or winter versions better as each had their own flava, so I’ll begin with the summer. Summer camping simply meant tents, which rocked. Not in the good sense of head banging ecstasy but more of the feeling of banging your head on the rock beneath your sleeping bag. For some reason we always started these adventures on a Friday evening, and usually arrived just around dusk. Why we did this rather than wait until morning and make things easier was something the dads along always wondered but never did anything about. Arrival was chaos. Freed from the loving shackles of motherhood supervision we immediately began games of ‘Commando’, a ‘Capture-the-Flag’ variant with less rules. What it really was was a bunch of pubescent boys crashing through the dark woods at night trying to “pretend” hunting down and attempting to kill one another. How this never actually happened for real I’ll never understand.

            While we acted like idiots, my father and the rest of the adult supervision would try to get things organized and draft dashing bodies who came too close to the perimeter to set up tents or gather firewood. Firewood gathering was a real Br’er Rabbit tactic in which the captured Scout would generally just return to the game instead of fulfill his proscribed mission. It was usually well after midnight when things were finally in a state to eat something. The first night it was usually the classic hotdog on a stick over the fire, followed by marshmallows. S’mores were a “forget it” as some dickwad would eat all the damn chocolate well before the other pieces of the puzzle could be put together. Exhausted, we would pass out in the wee hours of the morning only to be awoken at the crack of dawn by some funny bastard singing the “it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning” song. Fucker.

            Saturday would be spent in a sleep deprived haze of hiking, more Commando, exploring and a little fishing or such. We were supposed to be learning things like building rope bridges, but our troop was matched well with Scouts who didn’t want to learn and leadership not very inclined to teach anyway. Wisely, we eschewed Jamborees and other events when the cracks in our veneer might be observable to other troops had we allowed them to get too close. At night we would dine on a horrendous concoction known as the “foil meal”: ground chuck, onion, carrots, and potato all wrapped up in foil and stuck in the fire. The results were a greasy mulch of undercooked beef and fat infused half cooked veggies. Adult leadership usually had something else to eat along the lines of strip steaks stored in a locking cooler.

            Winter camping was much more interesting, although indoor affairs wherein we would take up lodging in either the rustic Sikes cabin at Schoellkopf or the fabulous McCormick Lodge at Scouthaven. Given a choice between Sikes, which was analogous to Little House on the Prairie, though a little more primitive, and McCormick, a luxurious bunkhouse with electricity, cooking facilities and indoor bathrooms, I would always choose the former without question. Getting to Sikes on a cold Friday night was always a hoot and involved the immediate task of trying to dry out wood, as the already chopped shit was stored, as a rule, in an area calculated to allow it to absorb the most moisture. We would go wood gathering for wood to burn to dry it and usually settled on green wood. There is nothing like the combination of burning green wood mixed with sopping old aged wood to really fill a cabin up with the maximum amount of smoke possible. I recall that it was even difficult to see the fireplace from my bunk, a simple 4 feet away.

            The best camping of the year was the fabled Thanksgiving campout, of which I attended two. The first year it was at Sikes and Gore, the eldest Scout in the troop, set forth to prepare the annual turkey. An enormous 28 lb bird was set on a spit and manually rotated over the fire for the better part of the day. In the evening, the local rangers in charge of Schoellkopf would be invited to partake with us and provide a midnight hayride after. The smell of the bird cooking all day was magnificent! All eyes rested greedily on the succulent bird and our guests salivated in anticipating when it was taken off the spit. To our dismay the initial carve revealed that the damn thing was still frozen in the middle and not fit for consumption even by Thies’s dog! Our creative solution was to hack off big pieces and dump them in a pot of boiling water to bring then up to temperature. A delicious repast was had of watery stuffing, burned baked potatoes, disgusting boiled turkey, and the lifesaving Mountaintop apple pie.

            The rangers, despite not eating much of anything, especially after witnessing Gore rip apart raw turkey flesh with his sooty hands, and Gary stick his even filthier hand into a 5 gallon jug of bug juice to mix it, made good with the hayride anyway. The hayride, a freezing affair in late November, was made even more uncomfortable by the assholes in front who when passing under a snow laden pine branch would do the old shake down and make sure the rest of us were buried periodically by a faux blizzard. The following year the event was held at McCormick with its fancy schmancy oven and a turkey with one of them new fangled pop up thermometers. Less fun then getting shot in the ass with rock salt we all thought, having never had that particular experience anyway.

            Another great feature about the Thanksgiving campout was that it was traditionally where the new troops broken in. The year that was my first and the same trip that featured the frozen turkey, the legend of the day was that of old Johnny Schoellkopf. The first night we arrived myself and the other newbies were told of old Johnny, the black sheep son of the camp namesake family who killed a whole Scout troop, sacrificed them to Satan, and was guaranteed immortality to skulk about the camp and do so at will until the end of time. Although we were fed a line that countless troops were dispatched in such a fashion, usually ambushed on night hikes, my question regarding why everyone just didn’t go to some other campground was not answered to my satisfaction. It also didn’t seem kosher to me that immediately after this dark telling it was announced that we would be going on a night hike. I smelled a rotten banana and resolved to keep my eyes open.

            I hung towards the back of the formation and was not surprised to see one of the older Scouts, “too sick” to come along, slip out the front door of the cabin before we lost site of it. He was an extremely shitty tracker and I managed to figure out where he was most of the time being gifted with serviceable night vision. On a whim I held further and further back myself and managed to disappear into the woods after we rounded a bend. Hunkering down, I waited for our tracker to pass and began tracking him. As expected, when the troop got into the deepest woods he began with the moaning and chucking around of branches. The other younger troops got pretty panicked, especially with the older guys feigning a ‘Blair Witch’ level of terror. While “Johnny Schoellkopf” stopped to arm himself with snowballs to barrage them with, I managed to walk up right behind him and went with the classic “Boo!” His initial reaction was severe enough where it may have included some bowel voiding, though he quickly followed it with characteristic violence. By the time I extracted my inverted form from the brambly snow bank, the jig was up and we returned to the cabin.

            There was one ill conceived attempt one year to tent camp in the winter time. It was the annual ‘big brother’ team up with the Webelos where in the guise of shepherding them toward the glory of Scout-hood, we would terrorize them for the weekend and get some laughs. The laughs were on us that year my friend, as somehow the Webelos ended up in cozy cabins while the real Scouts got stuck in tents. In January. The official line was that it was planned that way, but given our well unorganized leadership I’m guessing they forgot to book us a cabin and found none were left available when someone finally figured it out.

            Good Scouts should be able to tent camp in any weather. Hell, other troops reputedly even occupied lean-to’s in the dead of winter, but it was universally acknowledged that we simply weren’t good enough Scouts for all that and would probably die if it were attempted. The tent experience almost did the trick. As usual, we set up on a Friday night, my father and I picking a prime level location in a slight depression. A light rain had begun just as we turned in. By morning things were quite wet, and we were getting water intrusion into the tent. I spent most of the day running around in the woods in the rain, becoming thoroughly sopped, all the while exhibiting a magnificent deep chest cough. By late afternoon it became apparent why all attempts to stave the water off were not working – we had pitched our digs on a big sheet of ice that was melting faster by the second. Our sleeping bags were soaked and no dry cloths were left to change in to. Evening approached and the temperature dropped. I was grateful that my father decided to call it and we packed the show up and left once it came out that the Webelos were not going to be sharing the cabin, though would let us come in to dry off for a bit.

            The magnum opus, a term that really doesn’t apply here, of my Scouting camping days was the great Northern Lights canoe trip. The Scoutmaster of my troop, Joe, worked summers as a guide and talked a bunch of us into making the bus ride up to Algonquin National Park up in land of snow and Canuks. Many preparations were made ahead of time, and once again I had an unwelcome item foisted on me through the advice of another old friend of my mothers who had been up there once 30 years prior and was plagued by skeeters. Thus I made the trek up with a giant bee keeper’s hat/ mask that the other fellows naturally found hysterical. I declined to wear it of course and kept it stuffed in the bottom of my duffel.

            The trip was memorable in that it was a first hand exposure to the glory of unspoiled nature, roughing it miles away from paved roads, and eating the Boy Scout equivalent to military MREs every day. It is not worth mentioning much further simply for the fact that nothing at all funny happened, so my exasperating descriptions of some fuck face turtle sunning itself on a log is more than I feel comfortable burdening the readership with, especially as I tend to go on forever as it is. Oh, we did have a momentary giggle when one of the guys was calling his mom in a phone booth and everyone took turns sticking their head in and muttering ‘blowjob’ into the receiver; something he didn’t appreciate as much as we did.

            Shortly after the Northern Lights voyage I ended my association with Scouting for a number of reasons. For one, I had entered high school and felt I was getting too old for that schtick and didn’t want to be one of those pathetic 18 year old Eagle Scouts. Second, a few months after the trip, Joe the Scoutmaster got charged with child molestation. He came to my parents house to disclose this and made the claim that it was pure fabrication of his jilted ex girlfriend who was using her son, who stayed up at Northern Lights with Joe all summer, as a means to get back at him. Though I had no personal evidence of any wrong doing on his part, I and most of the rest of the troop slipped quietly away, even after he resigned.

            I reentered the world of camping once I became old enough to go without supervision, though this was highly inadvisable as the other participants tended to be the likes of Knaus, Thies, Dave, Little Dave, and sometimes Jeff. In retrospect, it was far more likely that someone would get killed or worse with this group than the Scouts, but somehow we managed to straggle home each time. I can think of two voyages worth mentioning.

            The first was the epic trip up into the Adirondacks during the storied Comstock era. This trip consisted of Knaus, Thies, and some dude named Brian who Knaus knew and who we never saw or heard from after. It was a long ride up in Knaus’s van and an even longer hike up the side of the mountain, especially for me as I still did not have a frame pack and relied on my fathers old duffel bag which makes one wish for death when lugging it up a steep mountain.

            The first night there was fantastic. We set up camp and decided to try for the peak of the mountain after dinner. We managed to make it up there just as the sun was beginning to set; a glorious view of nature and all that crap. The undertaking was naturally ill conceived as none of us brought a flashlight. The trip down was danger fraught and filled with infinite risk of tumbling down the poorly defined pathway in near pitch darkness. Undeterred we bounded down at breakneck speed while Knaus entertained us with one of his frequently utilized caricatures of a pissy old man. He had us in stitches and remarkably no one needed any.

            That night I bore witness to further danger in the form of the indigenous wildlife. We had been advised, and surprisingly followed, to tie our food well up in the trees at night for fear of bears, who as it turns out, like to eat as much as they like to shit in the woods. The first night I heard noises and unzipped my tent just a squeak. There in the moonlight was a large brown bear clawing away at the base of the tree our grub was stashed in. He looked my way with a “you want some of this?” expression. I withdrew trusting the razor thin layer of nylon of my tent would be ample guard against his deciding he preferred something fresh. I declined to wake Aaron, who I was sharing the tent with, in fear that he would either attack the bear in defence of his salami sandwiches, or run screaming like a little girl into the woods with the ursine creature lumbering in pursuit, turgid and in a heat of passion.

            Another memorable trip was taken down to Rushford with Knaus, Dave and Jeff, who decided to come out again anyway despite Dave’s earlier plans to stop him with a deft throw of his hatchet. We camped out at my cousin’s property with the stated goal of having a very relaxing weekend, though Dave saw too it that this would assuredly not happen. Right before leaving for the trip, Dave finished his shift at Noco, the one across from the dirty bookstore we loved so much, and the drawer count came up short. Dave, whose work ethic rivaled that of competitive eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, worked himself into such a tizzy that the miscount would bring down the mighty Noco empire, found it impossible to relax.

            The first night there we quickly got a fire going; I was “fire guy” known for my legendary ability to ignite almost anything from kerosene soaked tinder to toilets. Dave brought with him this time a full size axe to go along with the little one strapped to his thigh with duct tape. He neglected, however, to sharpen it before leaving, and despite this found it crucial to chop as much wood as possible. While the rest of us tried to sleep restlessly, Dave spent all goddamn night thunking away at the timbers until we were sure the whole of the forest would be leveled like in that Dr Seuss yarn with the buttinsky Lorax. Lo and behold when we awoke and found that the mighty commotion he spent all night irritating us with resulted in but three sections of green log, such was the dullness of his blade and his wits.

            After spending all night chopping wood, overtired and still pinging about Noco, Dave waxed a bit weird and we finally suggested he go take a nap. In the mean time, Knaus, Jeff and I set to work trying to solve the bridge problem that plagued my cousin. Every spring the stream that ran through the property washed away whatever bridge he built over it. We, three young assholes with no concept of architecture or mechanical design, were determined that we could solve this problem of the ages. While Jeff and I took the approach of building a mighty wooden structure using fallen timber, Knaus set to work attempting to actually change the course of the stream all together and routing it away from the property by constructing a veritable fortress of a mud and stone dam using material dredged from the stream bed. Jeff and I saw merit in this and added our timber collection to the cause.

            A few hours into it, we managed to divert a small portion of the stream about 6 inches to the right. Without warning we were under attack. Small stones came flicking out from the underbrush every few seconds and splashing around us. I finally charged into the woods to find Dave, well camouflaged (or so he thought), with his little pile of armaments and taking aim at Knauses mud and water laden coif. He turned and seethed at me. “If I were a malignant hunter with a gun, you would all be dead right now.” This was apparently in defence of his pre-trip argument to procure an actual gun for this very possibility. Wisely, we knew an armed Dave was a terrifically bad idea under any circumstance. Jeff never camped with us again.

Poster Boys

Bros With Fros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coolness

Weebles or Webelos?

            That is about one of the stupidest titles I have yet to come up with, but since the tale reaches way back to the land before both Comstock and even Jolly Old Joe’s, I thought something childish was apt. Who are we kidding, it is apt either way. In the great tradition of Thies I thought I would share a story that goes back to the misty days before we all knew each other in order to regale you with my stunning prowess as an outdoor man.

            As expected of all the hearty young men of my age, I was thrust into the social activity of Cub Scouts from the moment it became an option in what, third grade or something. I already resented the forced application of “friendship” based on some activity we were all told we would enjoy, but Scouts was less heinous than most as many of my real friends also happened to be members, such as Jeff  and Dave, as well as a smattering of others such as Schultz who dogged my footsteps even back then. I drew the line at Little League which no amount of coaxing could force me into; I in my Calvin-esque preference to play by myself with imaginary creatures or sit reading voluntarily in the confines of a large rabbit cage I dragged into my parent’s backyard. I digress.

            Scouting is a grand tradition based on the Spartan notion of introducing military structure into children’s lives as early as possible, though admittedly in a real fluffy kind of way. Case in point, as lowly Bobcats at the bottom of the totem pole hardship duty was more confined to making shit out of popsicle sticks or peanut butter rather than being woken at 4 to haul ass somewhere to scrub toilets. We worked hard up through the ranks of Wolf and Bear; even though I would have preferred to stop advancement at Wolf the bastards promoted me anyway to new heights of responsibilities. We wore the blue with pride along with our little yellow scarves and all that. Some were more highly decorated than others, having mastered such crafts as applying Elmer’s glue or racing little wooden cars, but things even out and by the 5th grade we all made Mighty Webelo, which is Indian for something like, “little white bastards adopt the ways of our people in a real half assed manner”. That might not be verbatim.

            Being a Webelo was a pretty big deal. We got a different color scarf, were undisputedly the oldest cubs (except that idiot who still couldn’t glue) and got to go on the fabled winter campout in Alleghany with the Boy scouts who were anxious to see who might be tapped to come up into the big leagues. We trained for months and when January hit every one of us could identify the correct color snow not to eat, make up to three semi-obscene shadow puppets with out flashlights, and stir a whole 5 gallon jug of bug juice using nothing but one’s filthy hand.

            On the Webelo side of things, it came down to Jeff, Dave, Pete, Mike S, Keith “Do-Bee”, and me. We were almost matched in number by parents; my father, Mike S’s, Pete’s, and Jeff’s dads all electing to come along as well. Our fearless and reckless natures were well known and documented, so every effort was made to keep the ratio low. On the Boy Scout side of things it was a host of assholes from the St Andrew’s troop, many of whom we didn’t know. Word on the street was that we could expect them to come at us the first night and probably not let up till dawn. It was all right though; most of us had been fighting Charlie for years now, albeit in neighborhood level finger gun kinda way, but we expected no surprises.

            Before we even got in the cars, we got the riot act. Standard stuff really – no knives, no other weapons, especially no knives, stay out of the dad’s beer and liquor, and yes, no knives. On the way down in the Scuto car Keith was trying to surreptitiously put his knife away after flashing it around the car at the other frightened campers (the boy wadn’t right) and managed to slice his hand open good and smear blood all over the Scuto back seat. Mike’s father was apparently very unhappy and despite a powerful desire to leave Keith by the side of the road, managed to bandage up our first casualty and confiscate the knife.

            We arrived well after dark, the first incidence in what I would find to be a grand scouting tradition. Always arrive at night when maximum chaos will introduce every impedance possible to make set up a shitty experience and guarantee the remainder of the trip will be conducted under the guidance of overtired young minds. Though the intrepid young Webelos would have preferred a tent or even lean-to, the father opted for the fully loaded cabin with electricity option. Wusses. After getting us settled in, they disappeared off to caucus in the Boy Scout fathers cabin where popular rumor had it that the fruits of Dionysus flowed freely and the steaks were the size of toilet seats. Left to out own devices, we munched raw hotdogs and engaged in the traditional activity of young boys left on their own; pummeling each other until someone got hurt.

            Jeff was the first to spot them having retired to his cot after being Dutch rubbed by Pete and bit by Keith despite the impressive defense applied by Dave and myself. Masked faces flitted by the window. They had come and we were unprepared having distracted our defenses in the attempt to impose ‘Lord of the Flies’ style order.

 

“Is it locked? Is the door locked?!”

 

            It hadn’t of course; the council of fathers had forbidden it under the concern that they would be forced to deal with the inconvenience in a heavily inebriated condition. Jeff screamed in terror as three large figures, suspected by some to be the very same escaped convicts invented in a tale of terror but an hour before, and by some to be the first wave of the Boy Scouts. The raiding party was small; probably an advance unit dispatched to probe our defenses and report back. We couldn’t have that; it just wouldn’t do.

            Pete and Keith were our muscle as both had been in more fights, often against each other, then any of us could count. They didn’t shy away. Pete was big enough to engage one on his own while Keith tackled the second with Mike’s help. They took a combative approach, Pete with a thumping style and Keith fighting dirty. Keith then pulled the second knife he had apparently brought and it was enough to scare the first two off as everyone knew he was crazy enough to use it.

            Dave and I double teamed the third and managed to make a capture having wrestled him down on the bed and sitting on him.

 

“We got one! We got one!”

 

            We ripped off the rubber Boba Fett mask and as per expectations saw not the grizzled visage of a hardened and well ass pounded convict, but the fresh freckle face of one of the Guam boys. Our first inclination was to keep him hostage against further attacks, but Keith was getting itchy fingers with the knife. We consulted our knowledge of the Geneva Convention but found it wanting. Between Keith’s torturous desires and Jeff being freaked out by the kids presence, not yet having ruled out in his own mind that the kid was not supernatural in nature or “the real Boba Fett”, we decided to let him go, keeping the mask as spoils of war.

            Furious debate erupted. Do we forget the faces of our fathers and bar the door against the inevitable reprisal or face what may come? In the distance we could hear the shrieks of rage as the war party assembled in response to the affront we incurred against the Guam kid. Jeff, conflicted about disobedience was moved to suddenly fly to the door and lock it secure. It wasn’t a moment too soon as the handle jiggled furiously as he bolted to the back door to perform the same action, even as the raiders moved around the outside for the same objective. Secure! The masked figures made a clamorous din of banging and howling, but we would not budge. Well, except for Keith who had his knife out and wished to let them in. Jeff huddled beneath his cot and begged us to find a way to make them stop.

 

“We’re not letting you guys in.”

 

“You will, and we’re gonna pound ya!!”

 

“What? That doesn’t sound like a good idea at all! We’ll stay put. Thanks.”

 

            They were forced to admit that were the circumstances reversed, they would probably not let in a bloodthirsty party of goons who seemed effectively stymied. It finally became a matter of psychological torture against Jeff, who was almost convinced to actually let them in rather than listen to the din of their enraged pounding. Finally, to save poor Jeff we negotiated a truce whereby we would return the captured mask through the window if they would go away and not return the following night. They capitulated and thus ended the great battle of opening night. Not quite ‘300’ but come on, we were in 5th grade.

            The next morning after a breakfast of cold cereal the boys decided to try to conquer the hill right outside the cabin door while the dads lazed about nursing hangovers. Upon reaching the summit, some 90 feet up or so, a rousing game of ‘king of the hill’ erupted. Actually rather than it being a game per se, it instead was a concentrated effort of Pete to throw Keith and Jeff off the hill for kicks and the rest of us joining in. We were about to have our second casualty. Jeff, taking a loose shove from one of us responded by barreling down the hill at breakneck speed, screaming the whole way with his arms flopping helplessly behind him. He would have gone right off the edge of the precipice had the cabin not been there to stop him. BOOM! He hit the side full force, bounced back a little, then collapsed in a heap.

 

“What the hell was that?” the hung over dad’s asked from the doorway.

 

“Jeff…uh… slipped and hit the side of the cabin.”

 

            Jeff’s father rushed out, picked up the semi-unconscious lad and ushered him inside for some hot cocoa while the rest of us continued our game. Jeff rejoined us after about a half hour, and wouldn’t you know it, on his very first foray up he went ahead and did the same damn thing. We were thus banned from the hill for the rest of the morning for not being able to play nice and not chuck Jeff into the side of the cabin. Completely unfair!

            The fun of throwing people down a huge mound of earth ruined, we decided to make like a shepherd and get the flock out of there to less supervised territory. It was time to play explorer as it was our impression that in all likelihood the wilderness 100 feet from the cabin and beyond was virgin territory never tread by human feet except perhaps for some itinerant Cree or other indigenous tribe. I chose to play Pissarro, as in my mind he was inexorably linked to Legion of Doom superstar Bizzaro and thereby the most insanely powerful of the old time Conquistadors. Before you get all PC and insist on pointing out that the Conquistadors were hardly role models, bear in mind we were in 5th grade and the little details like the genocidal massacre of every thriving society in the Western hemisphere had not yet appeared in our social studies books.

            Roaring through the underbrush after less faux Kryptonian Spaniards, I became the next man down. As my eyes had been focused far on the back of Dave’s jacket, I completely missed the big pricker bush in front of me and rammed my face deep into it and cut the cornea of my eye in the process. People like to use phases like “the pain exploded” and whatnot, and I like that so I’m going to do the same thing. The pain exploded in the front of my face and I feel into the wet slushy snow. Dave and Pete took the task of guiding me back to the cabin after I spend a good half hour blinded and yelling on the side of the hill. My problem was that when I opened the unaffected eye, the cut eye would erupt in pain. I learned this lesson two years previous when blinded for the good half of the summer by yellow caterpillar fur; a tale for another day.

            Using my caterpillar-fur-in-the-eye expertise, I was determined not to let the happening ruin my day and the promised fun that lay ahead. I would do everything blind. Hell if Bazooka Joe could get by and have zany adventures with one peeper, who was I to bow down to the pain of fate? Screw that little bubblegum dork! I would not back down. The next activity sledding; this didn’t pose so much a challenge going down as trying to blindly dodge the oncoming sleds on the way back up the hillside. Once it became known that I was a sitting duck with the fast development of echolocation being my best chance for not getting creamed, the rest of the winter revelers took to aiming for me. I found a fast advantage in the ability to open the unaffected eye ever so slightly as to gauge the presence of an oncoming missile. Once came upon my so fast that all I could do was leap vertically and smash my boot square into the bombardier’s nose, bloodying it but good. Only the most foolhardy of sledders came for me after that.

            Next to be injured was Keith, or Do-Bee as we called him after the giant mascot on teen drama ‘Romper Room’. He was as careless a sledder as he was a knifeman and managed to flip his toboggan into the only exposed rock on the entire hillside and gash open the side of his face. At the sight of yet more blood the Counsel of Dad’s voted to shut down the activity all together knowing full well that the following day they would be on the hook to explain each tiny little boo-boo to over concerned mothers. Whoever thought it was a good idea to take pre-pubescent rowdy youngsters with imaginations in overdrive and no common sense into the woods in wintertime was cursing himself by that point and the worse had yet to come.

            After patching up Do-Bee, it was decided that a nice safe, boring nature walk would be the best way to finish out the day. This of course sucked for me because who wants to be led around blind to “look” at nature. I was forced into the march anyway and in the end was happy I did in order to bear auditory witness to the debacle that was to come. A difference of opinion immediately broke out in the hiking party. The Counsel of Dad’s was under the impression that such a walk was for the purpose of experiencing and appreciating nature. For the more junior set, however, it was clear and evident that the purpose was to seek out and destroy as much nature as possible. Like a shaggy horde of Huns armed with ‘walking sticks’, we fanned out beating the underbrush, decapitating helpless ferns, and ripping up and absconding with countless fossil rocks that had lay undisturbed for countless millions of years before us.

            Finally exasperated by our aggressive tactics toward Mother Nature, we were turned back by the weary elders to prepare for dinner. Someone noted that the cabin could be reached in a fraction of the time by ascending the near vertical escarpment of 100 feet or so. It seemed like a good idea at the time and we started up the pass of least resistance. I was being shoved up by various people from time to time, and nearing the top I was lucky enough to have the Guam boy’s father taking responsibility. Suddenly he pushed me into a tree and bade me in a panicked voice to hang on. Behind me I could hear calamity! It as if an avalanche was in process and screams of the doomed wafted up from Hades to torment me. Moments later, silence, eerie and complete.

            I had no idea what happened and was stranded holding on to dear life to a tree as my ears strained for the sounds of human existence. I considered that the Rapture might have occurred and instantly became angry that those sons of bitches would be swept up into the heavens over me and vowed to seek revenge if that was the case. I’d learn ‘em what a real Anti-Christ was about! Then my father, panting just a bit, asked if I was all right and helped me up the last few feet to the edge behind the cabin. I found only him; I; Mr Scuto and the irascible Dave Walsh managed to make it to the top unscathed.

            What had happened was that Mr. Guam lost his footing seconds after having me grab that tree and proceeded to fall cartoon style creating a giant tumbling ball of dust, snow, body parts, exclamatory characters, as well as some little lightning bolts and pain lines thrown in. Andy Capp and the Missus times ten! The disaster managed to suck everyone in its path in but for the lucky 3 who managed to dodge the bullet. Creaking one eye open  I could look down and see the prone little figures slowly begin to rise and shake themselves like beaten dogs. By virtue of his fleet feet, Dave managed to be the only one of the younger set then to escape injury that trip; an omen of more serious things to come.

            Rather than risk the peril of more falling Guam’s and whatnot, Mr Scuto shuttled the survivors back up in his minivan by driving down and around to the base of the hill. A day later, bedraggled, bandaged and liking our wounds we drove back to Buffalo to recuperate and watch our fathers catch hell for the egregious lack of protection provided our fragile young selves. Of the group, only I went on to become a full fledged Boy Scout, though wasn’t enough of a wienie to make it all the way to Eagle.

Wild Blue Yonder

There comes a time when one can see that all the good tales have been told over the course of an era and transition is inevitable. This story is here to serve as such a milestone to mark the gateway where the Comstock and Princeton times have ended and a new bout of stories can begin. This entry will therefore be my last of this thread and recount the series of events that brought the house of Princeton crashing into so much rubble and propelling me toward a new life and direction in the Air Force.

The hijinks and inanity that so characterized our time in the dorms and Comstock began to wane at Princeton and all but disappeared in the last year. Without the common foe of Jason to unite us, or the looming threat of Pax Knaus to keep us on the right path, it was not too long before Aaron and I began to turn on each other to satisfy our unending urges to be irritable and nasty to another human being. The circumstance of life had contributed much to that and therein lays the real fuel that ignited the schism.

In May of 95 I finally graduated from UB with a fresh hot double degree in English and Psychology in my hand. It was not long before I found the damn thing to be practically useless toward finding a job that paid more than the minimum wage. Dismayingly, an expensive BA in Psych gave me just enough knowledge and experience to change Depends down at the old folks home or man the suicide hotlines; neither of which seemed like a good idea given my fear of bodily functions and ‘just do it’ mentality. The English degree was worse, giving me only the wherewithal to blog a good 10 years before there was such a thing. At the time, I was still working my traditional summer job with the Kenmore DPW, working the landscaping crew with old Sam, a grizzled WWII vet who still had arms and a backbone of unbreakable steel.

As a quick aside, I feel compelled to give old Sam a little more pan. A real character in his own right, he called you ‘Bucko’ if he liked you and insisted on a daily trip to DQ where he would throw down a dog eared single and yell ‘chocolate’ at the girl behind the counter. Nothing there actually cost a dollar, but they always gave him a small cone that he took without comment and never failed to unknowingly dip his nose into the creamy goodness. On one occasion the crew and I had just finished mowing down by the Melrose horse path when Sam pointed to an old woman with big swinging tits. “See that old woman over there? I used to fuck her every Friday!”, he declared very matter of fact. Sam apparently got around quite a bit. He would also regale us with the tales of how he ran away from home at 14 and took up with a prostitute down on Swan St. He was married when drafted for the War, but in between storming Utah beach and driving a tank through German houses, he managed to sire a few half Italian half German children along the way. They really don’t build them like him anymore.

The end of the summer came and I still hadn’t gotten around to finding myself a ‘real’ job and hoped the DPW would keep me around until I did. That was not to be and the rest of the summer staff and I were all laid off in early September; the budget for our services expended. Dismayed and unemployed for the first time ever, I scrambled to find anything that would pay the bills. Fortunately, Sam was a connected man and got me an interview with his old crony Wilbur Stanbro at Lakeland Supply on the Boulevard. His son Billy was running the place by then, but Sam’s recommendation was enough to get me hired for the same pay I was making at the DPW.

I started at Lakeland as a driver and reporting to the auspicious Mr. MacVittie, otherwise known as ‘Bud’. As no one bothered to ask me during the informal interview process if I knew how to drive stick or not, it soon came to light that the Ford Ranger delivery vehicles were standard and I had no clue how to operate them. Rather than let me go, Billy was kind enough to let me drive the gas guzzling big white box truck. This was quite a challenge as it was several orders of magnitude larger than anything I had driven before and on one of my first outings I managed to back into a parked car. I left a note, but was castigated for it as Lakeland would have preferred to avoid the liability. My typical day was spent going garage to garage, delivering parts and drums of oil, taking returns, and making runs out to the MAWDI warehouse in Tonawanda. As winter set in, it was clear this was a shit job, but no other prospects loomed. Compared to the other dirt bags Billy hired to drive like Fat Paulie, John, and the old timers, I looked pretty damn good and enjoyed the constant heap of praise received for relatively minor accomplishments.

Although I liked him personally, as did the assistant manager Greg, Bud had a reputation amongst the customers, suppliers, and even old Will. He had a bit of the old Irish temper and would tend to fly off the handle in a flurry of violent cursing when things didn’t go his way. On one occasion the company gas card failed to work at the Getty down the street. The counter girl, an object of our collective lust, was helping me work though it when I decided to give Bud a call. His response was to go ballistic and tell me to peel on out of there and try to take out a pump of two on the way. I decided to play nice and continued working with the hot chippie. Frustrated with the credit company, she suggested that she would give Bud another call to get some information. I informed her that probably wasn’t a good idea, but she gave me a cute little ‘what could go wrong?’ look and went into the back to call. She came back a few minutes later actually crying. I tried to comfort her, but she was so shaken by the experience she told me to just go. I never saw her again and was told she quit that very day.

Due to a litany of similar events, Billy came up with the bright idea to put Bud on the road as a salesman in order to make best use of his sparkling personality. As handling the counter alone was too much for Greg, I was pulled in as Bud’s successor, taking his place at the right end of the counter. Working with Greg was an interesting experience as he seemed to have a low opinion of the people of almost every race, religion and nationality. Ironically, however, this consummate racist married an off-the-boat Puerto Rican woman from the West Side and saw absolutely no conflict of interest in doing so while referring to all other Hispanics in the most derogatory of fashions. Working the counter was certainly better than driving though, so I kept my complaints to a minimum. After coming dangerously close to tipping the box truck, full of a shifted load of oil, on the 400 going 75, I felt rather strongly about remaining indoors.

The Lakeland days weren’t all bad, and it was during this time that I transitioned from the tele-dating to a series of relationships of questionable quality. The first success was with Megan, who was actually a tele-date. She lived in South Buffalo and Aaron had to drive me down there to meet her for the first time. She was just 18, and still actually in high school, but cute enough that I decided to go for it. Due to the fact that neither of us had a car, we only got together on weekends here and there when I could manage to borrow my fathers car for more than a few hours. On those rare times I got the car overnight, she usually stayed over, which I think was of some annoyance to Aaron as by then we truly were not getting on very well.

On one occasion near Christmas I planned a special night, complete with caviar and champagne. I sprinkled rose petals over the bed, put up candles all over the place and went to go pick her up. I had warned Aaron several times about my plans to ensure smooth sailing. After we enjoyed a nice dinner, we came back to the apartment and on my way up the stairs I could hear Mooney’s Irish whisper guffawing from above. We came in to find Aaron, Chet, Mooney, JP, and Matt all sitting around the kitchen table playing Magic cards. Needless to say, I was fairly livid. I demanded they all leave and they responded by not doing so. We retired to my room to try to make the best of it. Sometime later I went out to use the john and came back to find Mooney standing there in my room chatting up Megan as she sat there red faced, trying to cover herself with my twin sized comforter. I firmly resolved that if things didn’t work out with her, I’d find me a girl with her own place.

It wasn’t long after this that she called me up and admitted to drunkenly cheating with some guy named Jimmy who she would later marry and have kids with. While that broke us up pretty good, we remained friends for sometime after, although every time we go together resulted in her cheating on the douchebag of the month she happened to be with. She actually looked me up and called very shortly after I returned from the Air Force, but enough time had gone by that common sense prevailed and I declined getting together.

It wasn’t long after Megan that I met my first non-tele-date girlfriend in several years. Karyn was shopping for a universal remote, as was I, when we got talking. In a bold move that had never worked at any bar or party, I requested her number and actually got it. She had the advantage of having her own place, although it was all the way down in West Seneca and my auto situation had not at all changed. On top of that she was a nurse who worked the night shift. For me and my reclusive ways, this was somewhat perfect as at the time I treasured my solitude to the point where seeing her just a couple times a week was enough. Although I will decline to go into intimate detail, she was very open minded and adventurous in a way very much to my liking. This did pose logistical issues due to having a roommate, but I soon had Aaron’s schedule down and even took to calling him regularly at work just to make sure he was staying put. He did often arrive when we were simply watching TV and he generally responded by huffing and stalking off to his room and either shutting the door or leaving shortly thereafter. She referred to him as ‘Mr Personality’ and some other less polite nicknames.

It should have been a good match, but for the affliction that poisons the will of many a young man. While I was but 23 or 24 and thinking in terms of weeks or perhaps months, she was 27 and beginning to hear the relentless tick of the biological clock. Where I considered her kind of a girlfriend, she was sizing me up for husband and father material. Many women learn the lesson to keep such thoughts silent and only express them in the safest of moments and I feel Karyn probably learned that lesson from me. Before we had even shared least intimate of physical contact, she was already talking about the inevitability of moving in together. This of course chilled me to the bone, though perhaps not quite the one I was thinking with at the time; the root cause of why the situation lasted for as long as it did. The dance continued for some time; she speaking of houses and babies and I recoiling inwardly.

Breaking up with her was the longest process of the kind I had ever experienced. My first attempt was a simple let’s be friends that seemed so frighteningly effective I wondered why I had not tried it before. She took it very well and came over the next day to hang out as ‘friends’ and reestablished the relationship in mere moments. When I realized what had happened and that nothing whatsoever had changed except for an increase in the aggressiveness of her timetable, I made a second attempt. Where I had her full agreement initially, she had talked me back into it by the end of the conversation. Another few weeks went by and I broke up with her a third time in person, very final, no more contact, etc. I believe it was probably the nastiest I had ever gotten in such a situation. She made a brilliant counter move by appealing to my sense of honor as I had promised to help her move. With Herculean resolve I did help, managed to rebuff any attempt of affection, and took to screening my calls for a few months until she finally gave up. I hope for her sake she found someone who was at the maturity level she was looking for as it took me a further 10 years to make it there myself.

After Karyn I decided to take some time for myself to enjoy life as a freewheeling bachelor with my friends. Unfortunately, Aaron and I had degenerated into a situation where we generally communicated through series of grunts. There were exceptions as the occasional basketball game or tackle football match was still held. We also managed to put aside differences enough to enjoy the latest episodes of Seinfeld, Simpson’s, and the Adventures of Pete and Pete, but it just wasn’t the same as the Comstock years when Jason would invite our collective wrath. The majority of his time was spent on Magic Cards and Bloodbowl with some classes and work thrown in for good measure. On top of that, he also gave up beer, took to working out and went so far as to spurn helping me though the endless supply of brown bombers and Tony’s pizza supplied by Mim. We had very little left in common, although Ann still referred to him as my ‘wife’. In spite I took to calling him ‘Boscoe’, thus widening the rift even further.

I took to tele-dating once again and this time ended up with Charlotte or Carrie as she liked to be called. She was another 18 year old and lived all the way down in Eden. Personally, I liked them living far away to avoid pop-overs, as it was bad enough that Mooney would sneak up and bang on the door at any odd hour disturbing the Chinese couples next door. This was at best a bootie call relationship and I never even got around to introducing her to my family. Aaron ignored us completely and Dan met her once and made a gracious comment regarding the generosity of her seat. It was an on again, off again thing that puttered along for a few months here and there. We reconnected the week before I left for good and we wrote back and forth while I was in Basic until one day she just stopped and I never heard from her again.

It was becoming clear to me that something had to change. I spent my days selling auto parts to both asshole mechanics and clueless do it yourselfers for no money, and my nights watching TV alone as the gamers raged on in the kitchen. My degree was worthless and my student loan amount maxed out, thus precluding the route of further education to change my circumstances. The majority of my friends had become obsessed with Magic and did little else and the others all had better things going on. Dave had gotten involved with Jennifer by then; Knaus came around less and less, already withdrawing from our world even back then; and Jenn had disappeared into the great unknown. It was clear I had to take my destiny into my own hands. I pulled out the phone book and called up the Armed Forces recruiting center on Sheridan that I had noticed in my deliveries.

One might wonder why someone already in possession of a college degree might enlist in the military; actually everyone wonders and I’ve had to explain on every job interview since. My reasoning was this. I was in possession of two degrees that had thus far proven themselves worthless toward securing non minimum wage service employment. I was working a career that was only giving me experience in counter sales and not much else. Tired of living hand to mouth, I felt it was time for more, and with the computer age exploding around me, I knew the future was in technology. Having no money to pursue a technical degree, I sought out the one outfit that promised not only free technical education, but job experience to boot, all while being paid. I sucked it up and went in for the first interview with a recruiter.

While in executive fashion I generally tend to make my decisions unilaterally, in this instance I decided to accept the council of others. My family was supportive and in favor of any action that would get me up off my ass and out of my loser existence. With Clinton re-elected, the prospect of an entangling war seemed remote and far away. I also consulted with Dave and Jen, the latter of whom had been married to a military man and understood the life and was able to explain it to me. Both were supportive of the drastic step as was Knaus. I considered consulting the rest of the gang, but decided to wait out of concern that Aaron would screw me by moving out before I was ready to and thus deny me the chance to do that to him.

I went through the paces of taking the exam which showed an aptitude for electronics and I picked my own career in electronic warfare avionics primarily because it sounded cool. A date was finally set for my departure – Jan 22nd and I began planning when I would drop the ball on Aaron and Lakeland. Aaron was at the same time going through the process of trying to move out covertly on his own and finally broke it to me during an argument on whether it damages the eyes to watch TV with the lights out, which every fool knows it does not. I in turn then tipped my own hand and for the first time in 5 years saw an end in sight to our close proximity living arrangement. Fortunately, the revelation had a positive effect and we were able to coexist peacefully thereafter, knowing we had but a few short months more to endure. Although mere shadows of our old Comstock adventures, we did manage to have some fun blowing up my Halloween pumpkin behind Tops and walking through a blizzard to the same place simply to buy soup, which was lost on the return trek.

January came quickly and like thieves in the night, we moved Aaron out of the apartment one cold and blustery day. We then moved the bulk of my belongings into Mim’s attic for safe storage. The last few days I dwelled alone in the apartment, finally my own after all those years, and reminisced in silence about all that had gone on before. On the last day I packed my final bag, and in the chill of morning, long before the office was open, I taped an envelope with notice and our keys to the Princeton management door. A new life waited; marching to the beat of drums and bugles as I put my childish things behind me and went off into the wild blue yonder.

 

This hereby concludes all of the tales I had to tell spanning those glorious halcyon years between the fall of 1991 and the winter of 1996, unless of course there was something highly significant that I had forgotten. Fear not, for the lunacy and poorly conceived ideas continued, albeit in a different setting with new outrageous characters. Stay tuned then for tales of the Air Force years, coming to you soon.

Passing Time

       While there are many stories of the more glorious events that we hold forth as both great and stupid accomplishments, few exist of the lesser things we did to pass the time day to day. I’m sure with that line alone you are now at the edge of your seat, ears cocked and filled with giddy excitement at the prospect of hearing tales of the dreary minutia of some assholes in a house. Not everyday, however, could be filled with toilet paticulae flying though the air, drunken revelry, or even square head young men being trapped on a roof. To anyone not involved, reading this entry may prove less exciting than cleaning the oven or listening to the full blown 20 minute story of the time Aaron couldn’t find his left shoe, but for those of you who around, it’s a nice trip down memory lane.            

       Much has already been said about the gaming, most of it disparaging if not outright mocking on my part. I make no apology except to refrain from the cattiness in this story; primarily as I am directly involved. Gaming played a huge role in the entertainment life of the majority of this group, a thing not surprising giving the near universal lack of success with the coeds, being vehicularly challenged except for visitors and Knaus, and a frightening lack of cable TV outside the cesspit of Jason’s room. In such circumstances a young man’s fancy turns to magic wands and Oompa Loompas. OK, I said I wouldn’t do that, but let’s face it, I’m a liar. Despite the disdain I obviously felt for the genre, I found myself being sucked in from time to time for lack of anything better to do. The alternative was often to hear Knaus explain in grayscale detail the infinite intricacies of Timeslip; a game he had either invented or was in the protracted process of inventing. Only JP had the patience to question the phone book of rules.           

       In those times I did join in, it was often necessary to create a character whom to play. The basic strategy (for those of you reading this who actually dated in high school) was to invent a character with the right mix of skills and talents to survive the adventure, have some fun, and become a better, stronger, richer imaginary character. I diverged from this strategy early on, choosing instead to make my goal be the irritation and eventual destruction of the characters the other players so lovingly invested in. I made them as strong as possible and as clued in as Helen Keller five years before that buttinsky ‘miracle worker’. While convention dictated the naming process follow something appropriately geeky and Harry Potterish like “Volmor” and “Trogon”, I generally gravitated toward the more familiar, like “Filthy Pierre” and “Aquaman”. The sadistic fucks who designed the character sheet included a box where one was meant to drawn in their character. I drew a neck and a large block of granite. What, was I to be some art school wannbe drawing ‘Tippy’ the turtle in the back of a magazine and sending it in? I spit on the intention.            

       Every character was meant to have a purpose, a raison d’être if you will, that drove him, her, or it forward. This was to explain why Fuqnut the Orc bounced around through dangerous territory with a suspect band of brigands, fighting dragons, wizards and Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things instead of staying home and watching  ‘Greatest American Hero’ on DVD. My purpose, boldly worn on my sleeve, was to get the rest of the group killed, or to kill them myself if the opportunity arose. This did nothing to increase my popularity at gaming sessions and it’s a wonder why I was not banned all together as occasionally I was successful. Aquaman was the last character I created, and he met his end at the hand of another character I attempted to stab in the back or push down a well. After that I lacked the initiative to think of another cleverly unoriginal name and draw another block for a portrait.            

       I mentioned Timeslip in passing and must take a moment and give it its due. Although it is not often brought up, but Knaus was a consummate gamer geek as well.  Like Aaron and some others, he got his parents to wisely invest a cool grand in the dynamic money machine that is Larry. I won’t say they were foolish as Larry is one hell of a pitch man, but the end result was along the lines of Enron, albeit on a much smaller scale. Inspired by the anticipated earth shattering success of Battlelords, Knaus decided to grab a piece of the action and come up with his own gaming module. I will say he worked diligently and tirelessly on the endeavor. The result was the most unimaginably complicated system, to my knowledge, ever conceived. I know it was science-fictiony with fantasy elements thrown in as well, and of course time travel and the literally thousands of rules associated with that. I’m not saying it wasn’t clever; hell it allowed for you going back in time and killing yourself as an infant, but the level of complexity made it all but unintelligible; I think anyway. Knaus took great delight in explaining in excruciating detail each and every subtle aspect of the game, the rules, the universe or multiverse it took place in, etc. JP is the only one who took to it to the point of being able to create an effective character and really get anything to happen those few times we played. Much I’m sure to the author’s dismay; it was never published or made its way outside the dining room at Comstock.           

       Before you get the wrong impression, we didn’t necessarily limit ourselves to D&D type play. I’m going to credit Louis with the invention of Calvinball, although he might have nicked it off someone else. Calvinball was named for a ridiculous game invented by comic strip character Calvin in the long defunct ‘Calvin and Hobbes’. Calvin, an imaginative miscreant, invents a game that he plays with his stuffed tiger that is either animated or a product of psychosis. I favor the latter as the game he invents is one of fluid rules that change randomly and nonsensically with a meaningless score and penalty system. We of course loved the idea and Louis thought of a way to apply it to a card game which we also loved. I believe the game starts out as something ordinary but with the person winning the hand being able to add or remove a new rule. While some of the rules were quite witty, the majority were enacted for the purposes of name calling or otherwise inconveniencing someone who made a rule aimed at you for that same purpose. By the end of a round, we all sported titles such as “10th Level Master Shrimper”. It was great fun and I’m not sure whatever happened to it.           

       We did occasionally engage in more physical activities, but it was a rare thing indeed. Shortly after moving in, some of us did get into basketball for a time being, usually spurned on by Dave. Dave’s love of the game bordered on fanatical, and I was easily sucked into the madness. On one occasion in January, we were so jonesing for a game that we actually shoveled off the court behind Lindbergh School. When done we were so tired that we only managed to play a few minutes before calling it a day. Dave later parlayed his organizations skills toward arranging the First Invitational Mac Tournament. This was held on the same day after my father’s annual football party and was scheduled for late afternoon on a warm October day. He managed to bring in quite a few people, including Aaron, Matt, Chris Keith, Knaus (who watched but would not play), Jeff Siuda, Little Dave, Dan Earhart and some of the punk ass kids who hung out at his gas station. It was a gala event with a cheesy trophy promised (and never delivered) and everything. I remember this so well as by some miracle the final game to take it all was me against Schultz. I took the prize that day, much to the consternation of Dave who had been under the impression that as the organizer would be the obvious winner. The first Mac invitational proved to be the last.           

       Less stimulating by several orders of magnitude, yet still worth mentioning is solitaire. That you are seeing this in print is testament to the raw excitement of our daily lives. Nevertheless, an odd phenomenon occurred our second winter at Comstock right around finals time. It seemed as though the four of us simultaneously became obsessed with playing solitaire at every opportunity during study breaks. We would discuss methodology, our win records, and the types of cards we liked, but mainly kept silent, dealing, sorting, arranging and cursing. I would come out of my room to see Knaus shuffling at his desk, then descend to find Aaron crouched over the coffee table counting fast, then spy Jason at the dining room table bending down to pick up the deck he dropped again in the shuffle. Through that finals period we must have each played hundreds of hands. Then suddenly, before the year was even out, we all just stopped. It was a very weird thing.           

       One of the more explosive activities engaged in and not otherwise mentioned elsewhere was the creation of the dry ice bombs. The physics of it was elementary. If one stuffs shavings of dry ice in a fixed sized container, seals it, and then dumps it into a vat of warm water, the rate of expansion becomes so rapid as to explode the container all together. Unfortunately, I was not so blessed to be present at this undertaking, though I wish I had been. I did get to watch the videos which proved to be not much of a consolation prize as one would think.           

       Fairly low on the priority list of things to do were home improvements. Well, it wasn’t our house and we’d be damned before we let old man Kobol reap the benefits of our hard labor. We did like to decorate though, and the living room bore the results of our finest efforts. First up was the beeraymid, lovingly constructed from a collection of Schlitz and American Beer cans. A full 11 stories high, it lasted far longer than anyone expected, quite possibly because it was glued somewhat together by sticky old beer. Sean was directly responsible for its demise, although I can’t remember if he crashed into it himself, or pushed the person who did. We were never again able to reconstruct it to the full glory of 11 levels, save for a few moments or days at a time. I wish I could say that was the most whiskey-tango redneck piece of décor we introduced, but alas, it never came close and actually was considered our classiest display.           

       The first October we moved in I took great delight in decorating the place for Halloween. Lots of fake cobwebs, a ceramic skull, fake spiders, and some cheesy old shit I got from my mom, like a Day-Glo witch and such. None of this, of course, came down until we were moving out. When Christmas time came the day after Thanksgiving (not the day after Halloween as it does now), I added to the Halloween décor by introducing a fake tree, wreath, a bazillion lights both downstairs and up, and of course fake snow that people immediately began writing profanities in to the point where the landlord demanded I remove it that next July. Rounding things out were the stolen No Standing sign, the spare tire I stole from that guy who was in the middle of changing it (I still kind of feel bad about that), a orange road cone, the body painting from Mints, the house comics, the paper reading ‘Matter Eater Lad Darryl Talley and Green Arrow Mark Pike’, the jar of Evil, the Man With the Golden Hat (who I claimed as my grandfather), and of course the Ugly Lamp. Paradise, I would think as I sipped a frosty brew hoisted with Daisy Duke Girl can holder Knaus got me. By and by though, we abided.             

Movin’ Out

No, this is not some allusion to the Billy Joel classic, although I have no doubt that he would sue the britches off me for utilizing it in such an uncouth manner. The title pertains only as the natural sequel to the Movin’ In story, and should the bug eyed musician beg to differ, I will be happy to change it to something innocuous and unrelated like “Anthony’s Song” or some other such nonsense. Be that as it may, allow me to bend your ear and sing you a song of decline and fall of the Comstock Empire and those who dwelt within.           

       By the spring of ’94, the driving impetus that ignited our passion for the house and neighborhood grew flaccid. The days when the old pile of shingles was a regional powerhouse of both parties and interesting characters had long since waned with the schism between us and the Frank clan. True, the general level of peace and prosperity had increased, as did my grades, but some of the magic was no longer there. In addition, we had run out of clever pranks to torture Jason with, making him nothing more than a nuisance rather than a source of amusement. It was clear something had to change, or we would soon find ourselves responsible adults, graduating from college and entering the tedious world of employment.  This simply could not be. I needed another year, maybe two, before contemplating such horrors as a salary, the concept of 9 to 5, and worst of all, big ticket purchases.           

       Knaus was the first to formally announce his intentions. Dismayed by the sale of his childhood bed right from the room it so long occupied, he decided to reestablish firm connection to the womb by moving as closely back to it as comfort and good taste would allow. While he was not replaceable in spirit, he certainly was financially and we contemplated advertising for a suitable substitute. The idea of living there without the constant fear of the ever growing army of cats was not at all unpleasant. The males had taken to spraying all corners of the dump creating a truly rancid and acrid environment. It was also my hope that he would take with him the hideous vacuum that sported a conniving, malicious face. Knaus has gone so far as to name the abomination, giving Herbie yet further animistic powers. Drunk and sadistic, he would threaten to leave it with us, and then cackle at my visible dismay.

       The second blow came with the announcement of Jason’s intention of not moving out. We had somehow assumed that our concentrated efforts to create an environment where he not only felt unwelcome, but terrified. Instead our heaping of attention upon him, negative though it was, somehow bolstered his self esteem to where he mirrored the little orphan boy he resembled, showing the stones to ask for more please. Intolerable! Furthermore, upon hearing of Knauses intentions, he both called dibs on the good room and made clear that he had someone who wanted to move in. Faced with the very real prospect of both sharing a floor with him and having someone who actually wanted to enjoy living space with him move in was more than we could handle.

       In the background, Aaron had been conducting secretive dealings with his long haired, basement dwelling computer geek friend Chet. Chet reportedly resided in a veritable Shangri-la in the prosperous town of Amherst where the superior people dwelt. The very revelation that such a swanky domain would allow the likes of Chet gave Aaron and I both hope that perhaps we as well would be welcome within the borders. After all, they also took Mooney. Though I had not yet seen this paradise, Aaron filled me with tales of wide open spaces, fresh air, basketball courts nearby, a close proximity to Tops, and pizza delivery places that would venture into the neighborhood for home delivery. I was naturally skeptical that such a place not only existed, but would be within the economic confines of our salaries, which perhaps had been raised but a thin dime per hour since hire to a round $4.00 even.

       We began to contemplate the audacity of the venture. Did we dare? The pot was soon sweetened by none other than Dan. As it had been so mentioned, Dan was in the possession of a large collection of rare eclectic videos as such to cause the owner of Mondo Video to pluck his beard in envy. The vast majority of these were crap, patently offensive to even the most hardened pornographers, or some mixture of both, although there were some glistening diamonds in the cesspool if one had to stomach to fish them out. Sure, gems like Liztomania and tapes of MTV Liquid Television were of some note, but I speak of course of Big Red. Aaron had seen a few episodes in one of his forays into Dan’s basement pre-Medicine hour days and the boycott that engendered, and had since rambled on incessantly about the virtues of Red Dwarf. It sounded insipid and puerile to me, even after looking up those words to see what they meant. In order to shut him up once and for all and as partial reparation for Sid and Nancy, as well as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I agreed one day to watch the bootleg tape.

       To say I was absolutely enthralled is a gross understatement! The show was brilliant, incorporating the very best of science fiction, absurd humor and no small amount of shtick. With near orgasmic pleasure we followed the adventures of a slacker spaceman, the hologram of his dead anal bunkmate, the ships computer, and a creature that by incredible coincidence evolved to human appearance from the cat the slacker snuck on board millions of years prior. Each episode was cleverer than the last, except of course for the Queeg episode which was most clever, thus putting a little blip in my tidy little order of things. I digress. The pot being sweetened was the proximity to Dan, now right around the corner, and his promise to grow and share his Red Dwarf library.  As if the decision to move was ever in question, this tipped the skycaps.

       We elected to keep secret the location to where we planned to move as to reduce the chance that Jason might follow out of convenience. As such we went about enjoying the spring and summer with full knowledge that we would soon be divested of Jason, the cats, and the presence of annoyance in our lives all together (ha!). Most memorable of those last days was one of the epic first trips down to Allentown to enjoy the art festival. Lured down by Knaus, who actually had a real interest in the art rather than just to watch the other freaks, we had a rollicking good afternoon. Clams on the half shell, Italian sausage with peppers and onion, beer at Porters, and a surprisingly accurate caricature of Aaron at a computer; it was all wondrous under a crystal blue sky. In Buffalo there is nothing like a good outdoor summer festival to marginalize the vigorous fisting the winters give its residents. The day bespoke of the coming glory of life outside the big brown shitbox the place had become.

       Not surprisingly, come early summer, Jason began enquiring in earnest as to where we planned to hang our hats. We gave him no response, choosing instead to leave him guessing as to whether we would stay or not. We had given Don, the landlord, plenty of advance notice, and I believe it was he who tipped off to Jason that he would be homeless come the end of July. As per usual, he sure didn’t appreeeeciate it one bit! Of course he made every attempt to find out where Aaron and I were going, and Paul as well, but to no avail. You can’t blame him; we had put up with him for two whole years, which was far longer than any other housemate of even area relative. He had really had it made eating our food, using our soap (and toothbrushes for all we know), mooching our toilet paper and laundry detergent, and slapping down increasing value (and decreasing worth) IOUs in lieu of payment for rent or utilities. The barbs and arrows flung his way did nothing toward devaluing the relative worth of these things. As far as we were concerned, he could piss blood one someone else’s toilet seat, or back alley dumpster for all we cared.

       Aaron and I set up an appointment with the good folk at the Princeton front office and got the grand tour of the joint. The model unit they had set up looked pretty sweet! As promised, the complex was technically in Amherst, did boast a basketball court only a block away, had a laundry facility just a short walk over, and was in the near proximity to a wonderful wooden fort style playground that promised endless hours of fun and play. Furthermore, we had Tops only 5 minutes and one treacherous climb away. We would beholden no more to the price gouging machination of the Guy clan and the sadistic cattle prodding of Moustache Guy. Stamps were sold at face value, and as for the produce, if you could see it, you could buy it. Chet and Dan were trumpeting the praises of the neighborhood as well, each being much invested in having the mountain come to Mohammed for a change.

       The last days were relatively uneventful, save for the final Dan birthday party that has been heretofore discussed from many points of view. Jason became more frequently absent, no doubt searching accommodations equal to this exalted level to which he’d become accustomed. In all honestly, I have no idea what really happened to him. I think one day he just wasn’t there anymore, and I never actually saw him again. His room was abandoned, leaving only dust, dirt, and the lingering odor of his person. He took with him, as no evidence of disposal existed, his moldy basement mattress, the garbage picked baseball cups, and the jar of old bacon grease I had hidden in his closet 2 years previous, which he had discovered and then returned to its new home. I had expected some kind of weepy goodbye, and was overjoyed to be spared such crocodile tears the situation would necessitate.

       The actual move out was somewhat better planned than the move in, although it posed its own challenges. Paul moved out the day previous, soliciting help from his father, me and Dave. His giant steel desk proved to be the biggest headache, primarily due it being slammed against my head twice in trying to maneuver it down the stairs. I elected to go the easy route, renting a U-haul to get everything done in one quick shot. I had hoped to split this with Aaron, but he neglected to get the day off and preferred to utilize the many small car trips method everyone so enjoys. He requested, however, that I take over the king size couch bed he had been given that was stored in the garage. I saw no harm in acquiescing given my enjoyment of the use of the large truck.

       The first error I made logistically was picking a weekday to move. While my father and Dave were able to accommodate, no one else was, leaving just the three of us on a scorching 95 degree day. The second error was agreeing to take Aaron’s couch without first taking a look at it, and more importantly, attempting to lift it. The thing was a beast; an anachronistic dinosaur left over from when they made the metal bed frames from wrought iron and the mattresses from some heavy dense DuPont concoction long since retired. Dave and I each grabbed an end to lift and carry up into the truck. “Uhhhhg! Holy fuck! Are you fucking kidding me with this?” Despite both of us being relatively fit, and the truck being but 30 feet away on flat surface, we had to put it down to rest no less than three times before the tortuous ascent up the ramp. I was gravely concerned as to how we were going to extract it later on, but chose to move forward in any case.

       Reaching our destination, already hot, sweaty and badly in need of rest, we concentrated on moving my weighty collection of books and comics up, deliberately ignoring the big pink elephant in the middle of the truck. Exhausted, but otherwise completely done but for the couch, we looked at each other with sad resolution. There was some serious consideration of simply returning the U-Haul with the couch left inside as a free albatross to the next renter, or simply leave it on the lawn for Aaron to move up, but I was determined to set things off in the right direction and expressed such. Heaving, straining, sweating and swearing, we attacked it with the red faced vigor of cheese eating old man on the toilet. To our credit, we made it half way up the stairs before becoming stuck. Naturally, a neighbor demanded exit, and we were forced to undo what little progress we made, and retreated with it back to the outside. Undaunted, we decided then to be smarter than the couch.

       It suddenly occurred to my father, and was then passed on to Dave and I, that whatever man had built, could be unbuilt, preferably on a temporary basis in this case. Right there on the lawn, we unfolded the bed, removed the cushions and mattress and took them up as independent entities. Through diligence and scraped knuckles, we undid all the connections that secured the bed frame to the couch. By itself, this metal leviathan was a challenge to maneuver up and threatened to unfold with every turn of stair, but we managed to fit it in the room. The couch frame, now considerably lighter, still posed an issue due to length. We were forced to move it upward in a completely vertical manner, and acknowledged it would have been impossible intact. When all was said and done, the majority of the effort had been that damn piece of crap. They say God looks out for drunks and fools, and that day we could add Aaron to the mix as he arrived with his first load of stuff not 15 minutes later, spared the agony of the feat.

       The final act was to meet with Don a week later for the final walk though to about the remote possibility of getting our deposit back. We were shocked and disheartened to see that he had already thrown away all the cat eaten furniture and was busily tearing the place apart for a major overhaul. Certainly didn’t bode well toward how he felt we kept the place up. Amazingly, he agreed to our refund in full! With one exception. Jason had neglected to come that day (as we didn’t know how to contact him anyway) and Don let loose his annoyance. “That boy has been trouble from the get go. Every damn month I came by to pick up the rent, and then came by a second time to pick up his. Sometimes even a third!” It was better than we could have hoped for; a windfall of unexpected cash and a final fuck you to old Thirsty Puddles. We walked out and never looked back.

       A brand new chapter of the college experience had begun with all the new excitement to be.  Nothing would ever surpass the Camelot that was Comstock in her glory, but it was time for men to continue childish things somewhere else now, free from the odiferous lurk of Jason and the cats. The golden age was over, and little did we know that a dark age was coming, when free from common threat, we would turn upon each other to satisfy our lusts to be irritable. That, however, is a tale for another day.