Clydesdale Rescue

It was early winter in our first year at Comstock when we first began to suspect that something was amiss. While strange thumping and animal noises were commonplace in the rear of the first floor where Aaron and Thirsty bunked down, the quality and characteristics took a noticeable turn. In addition, occasional screams could be heard from Aaron’s room late at night and the following morning he would turn up with massive u-shaped black and blue marks on his face or extremities. He attempted to explain them away as commonplace household mishaps and we took him at his word. The pervasive dung odor was attributed to Thirsty, and perhaps not unjustly.

Further suspicions arose one evening when a massive fur laden hoof crashed through the wall of Thirsty’s room and launched his weak and pale frame spinning askew into the radiator so recently christened with Schultz’s urine. He made claim that in his trip through the air he caught glimpse of a brown behemoth through the hole, but upon regaining consciousness found the far side was conveniently covered by an iconic Cheryl Tiegs poster. We disbelieved him en masse and he eventually let the matter drop.

Revelation came one glorious morning as munched old eggs for breakfast. The smell of them scrambled with the last of the vanilla extract awoke a dark seated passion in the beast. It reared up and brought down Aaron’s door with an irresistible double whammy and strode out. Knaus and I stood by helplessly as the first Clydesdale we had ever seen outside a commercial strode into the dining room and took to devouring our carefully prepared meal. Aaron came running out sheepish and apologetic, full of unfulfilled promises to replace them with fresh or more recently expired eggs.

A palaver was held between the three of us, Thirsty exempt as he took to sleeping more and more ever since the kick. The truth came out, bit by bit, through the course of careful questioning and torment. He had fallen in with a splinter group dedicated to the rescue of Clydesdale horses from all current ownership, and as with like programs for various species of dogs, warriors for the cause were expected to house and care for specimens in transition. He had thought to keep the effort secret to avoid our mocking fun, and with careful timing and the removal of several door frames had managed admirably. With precedent being set by Knaus’s far more destructive cat Malice it was impossible not to accept.

Aaron was relieved to no longer be forced to sleep beneath the ever shifting beast in close quarters, not to mention an impressive defecation schedule. His frequency of showering decreased, though not to Thirsty’s level. For the rest of us, the inconveniences began to grow but initially balanced by Aaron’s jauntier attitude. He lugged about a weighty tome titled “Astounding True Facts and Accounts of International Clydesdale’s” and quoted from it incessantly. The veracity of the claims were questioned but independent research held them true.

Did you know that if the level of Clydesdale poaching in Gabon were to reach a world wide scale, the species would be extinct by 3013?

Did you know that in 1743 a Clydesdale was appointed Prime Minister of Prussia for a period of 17 days?

The quotes were an educational experience, as was the continued presence of Francois, whom Aaron was having a challenging time finding local placement for. An inquiry from the Barksdale dog Food Company was rejected as being contrary to the spirit of the cause, as was a subsequent one from the good people at Elmer’s. An ad in the Pennysaver generated little interest, as did tacky fliers stapled cockeyed to random telephone poles. In the mean time, our lives evolved.

Did you know in 1977 a Clydesdale named Brasie May was the first of her kind to swim the English Channel?

Thirsty was the first to suffer most and as a direct result of the initial beating. The rest of us discovered early on that strategies used to keep the others from our food had little effect on Francois. Even my pizzas covered in anchovies and onion, generally sacrosanct and unmolested in the fridge, would be wantonly removed and consumed by vociferous horse even as I beat at his haunches with my balled fists. We took to taking most meals out of the home except for Thirsty. Three times a day he would cook and bring his meal out to the coffee table, and three times a day Francois would find a new way to distract him and devour the latest offering before Thirsty could react. He grew weak and shaky, but stubbornly determined not to disrupt his routine of taking meals while enjoying reruns of ‘Quincy’.

Did you know that teams of Clydesdales won 4 of the last 37 Iditarod’s?

Without warning the number of horses doubled, but the problems increased by several orders of magnitude. Another daring rescue had been made and Aaron drew the short end of the stick despite much of the membership currently supporting zero Clydesdales. Luck of the draw perhaps, perhaps. Aaron’s German obedience was ours to lament, though he now too would feel the effects as well. The state of the house, deplorable as it was to start, deteriorated quickly.

Did you know that in North Dakota, SD, Clydesdales actually achieved suffrage a full 20 years before women?

I grew enraged on a daily basis. Sitting in the chair with high arms enjoying my stories I would suddenly hear rustling about the Christmas tree I had set up in the Florida room. Each time I would spring to my feet to find the two of them attempting to ascend it for the purposes of batting about and destroying the precious glass ornaments with which I decorated it.  I had filled a spray bottle with water and vinegar and unleashed it full into their faces, but they actually seemed to like it. A full week before Christmas the tree was done, a gnarled mess leaning haphazardly against the glass doors, denuded of even a single bauble. I was despondent with a heart full of vengeance.

Did you know that Clydesdales were critical to the capture of an Enigma machine in WWII in one of the craftiest submarine capers in history?

Food became a problem. Jason’s large pasta dishes were enough to sustain one Clydesdale, but certainly not two. With each meal he would prepare, Francois and Bon Scott would set to battling over it through the living room as Thirsty cowered beside the couch. Growling and fur flying everywhere, the winner would quickly gobble as the loser would eye Thirsty with a cold gleam. I was the unfortunate witness the day Malice was cornered, stomped, and devoured and took no relish in reporting back to Knaus. Aaron, under threat of dire vengeance now had to lug 100 lb bags of Clydesdale chow back from Wilson Farms on his own. I asked him why he chose not to employ the sturdy horses in this endeavor. It was no choice he reported; putting the beasts to work was antithetical to the mission. His back grew stooped and bowed as 4 trips were required per day.

Did you know that Clydesdales, in their most natural form, are equipped with razor sharp retractable adamantium claws?

With an assured food supply, elimination occurred with a frequency beyond Aaron’s ability to keep up, especially since he now spent close to 4 hours a day going to and from the store. We took great care to avoid the steaming heaps until Aaron would come through with his shovel and dust bin, but it was not uncommon to see one indented with a sock print followed by shitty tracks disappearing into Thirsty’s door. The smell grew unbearable and the infestation of large green bottle flies was no longer confined to Thirsty’s bedroom. Female visitors, rare to begin with due to constant substitution for coffee filters for toilet paper, became a thing of the past. One night, drunk on a stash of beer they had not found and consumed yet, I opened the back door and determined that they would be outdoor horses from thence on.

Did you know that Clydesdales are the creation of Poseidon, patron god of the ocean, Budweiser beer, and ironically, the spotted Appaloosa?

Francois and Bon Scott took up temporary residence in the garage, having chased away or eaten Wrinkly Bill, the cat and previous tenant. It seemed a peaceable solution at the outset until they both went into heat at the same time keeping the neighborhood awake with intolerable whinnying at all hours of the night. To our collective dismay the pungent scent of their pheromones combined with the cacophony was enough to attract a local wild stallion that impregnated them both. Hormonal and hungry they terrorized the neighborhood. Aaron attempted to corral them with some chicken wire to no avail. Desperate, he removed the side door entirely and discovered they would roost indoors at night given the option and freedom. We rejoined the suffering of the neighborhood at large; they bearing the brunt in daylight hours and we in the evenings. Miserable all.

Did you know that Clydesdales when viewed from an oblique angel are often mistaken for woodchucks?

They grew fiercely territorial and harder to live with by the day. Thirsty, whom they already associated with meals, was assumed eaten following his sudden disappearance and Aaron’s discovery of a pair of grey underpants amidst the feces. We never really found out for sure and deflected all inquiries from relatives. Aaron grew nervous by the day as they tore into the bags of chow with unholy vengeance before he could even set them down. He lost two digits and part of his elbow in a single week. I tried to keep a locked door to prevent intrusion, but they found a way to pick the lock and I was thereafter treated to frequent intrusion, sometimes in moments most private. Efforts to find permanent situations for them were redoubled, but it was a hard sell.

Did you know that the bones of heroic Clydesdales were used in the construction of the impenetrable Castle Greyskull?

We resented the inconvenience, but in a sense we thought of them as family, secretly approving of some of the services rendered. Change was forced unexpectedly one day by Don, our landlord. Initially, he offered no objection to the great horses and even offered unique praise when learning of Thirsty’s probable fate having once identified him as trouble from the get go. Bon Scott, however, had a bad habit and a beef with Don. Coming over to mow the lawn one spring day he was surprised by a Clydesdale charging full tilt from between two houses and ramming his truck off the road. We explained the dent could be easily buffed out, but he was done; they had to go. He rang Barksdale and they salivated.

Did you know a Clydesdale was the winner of the very first episode of ‘Bowling for Dollars’ and that they were disallowed thereafter, such was the blow out?

Blackjacking Don and locking him in Thirsty’s old room was a calculated risk, but we couldn’t bear seeing their pictures on bags of kibble. With Knaus’s unusually large supply of ether we drugged them soundly and tied them to the roof of his Cutlass. Together, we drove them down to Salamanca and released them into a local pasture, ignoring the protests of the family picnicking there. We drove back in tears, but in ensuing years swelled with pride each time the news reported on the mighty herd ravaging the Southern Tier and northern Pennsylvania. Rescued from commercial labor, they do God’s work now.

Did you know this book was written, published and distributed solely by Clydesdales?

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.

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.

Thies and I

            Whereas I have absolutely no doubt that the title character would prefer that I instead named this piece “King and I”, his attempts to get us to call him by this and other canine nicknames never quite caught on. This chapter, my tenacious little titans, is the long overdue answer to the earlier post, ‘Wolf and I’ by the author I now wish to roast in return. In truth, I don’t recall his version being necessarily a roast per se, but it’s been some time since I read it and thus feel required to fire back on a just in case basis. Truth be told, probably enough already has been said about this scurrilous lad, but a bit more, conveniently packaged should appease the hungry masses.

            I first met Thies back at St Joes at the old Wargames club meetings. At the time I though he and another character Booger were one in the same, and he undoubtedly attempts to make the same claim. I later came to realize that he was a separate yet similar entity all together, imported like a case of old cheese from foreign locals. Louis, who grew up in the near vicinity of him decided to bring him in to pad the ranks of the growing club with ardent supporters who would back his illegal status as dictator for life. In truth I believe Louis still runs the St Joes Wargames club from afar using hand picked successors and monitoring meetings closely in his strange box. In any event, I never chose to engage unless trying to actively kill his character; a trait I charmed everyone with.

            I quickly forgot him and the rest of the crew, but for Louis and Knaus who I was unable to shake all together. In my freshman year at UB, however, he found a way to creep back into my glorious vicinity. I was rooming in Schoellkopf hall on the south campus with Knaus when around the spring time his began having long phone conversations with some person known as ‘Psycho’ like a couple of old Mary Sue’s clucking away with girlish pleasure. My Holmsian instinct should have kicked in at that time and Thies’s face should have popped immediately into my brain, but alas, it did not as I doubt I ever knew his name and certainly not his new nickname. I did, however, have enormous appreciation for him as oftentimes he would abscond with Knaus for long evenings, leaving me the room to myself to watch whatever I wished on his TV/ VCR combo or rummage through his stuff.

            Eventually it came to pass that I was expected to meet this ‘Psycho’ character and Knaus invited him out to Shirley’s with us; a time I know I recounted elsewhere, so will keep to the short version herein. In any event, he proved considerably verbose, regaling me with tales of times he played pool before; a topic of considerable fascination akin to the checkers tournament my aged neighbor attempts to impart to me as I flee from the car to the garage. He did, however, hold his own in chugging down whatever shitty beer they were pouring and even went so far as to join us for garlic bread and cheese at Mike’s Big Mouth after. Unfortunately he failed the ultimate litmus test when he both failed to and objected to joining us in our ritual pee against the old Presbyterian Church on Bailey. We saw no more of him that year.

            Despite his constant crimes against my person I opted once again for occupying a dorm room with Knaus, and we found that we would be moving up to the big time at Goodyear. Little did I know that Knaus, in his typical underhanded and Machiavellian fashion, made arrangements with both Thies and JP to occupy the adjoining suite next to ours. I exploded with rage as I was under the misguided hope that sitcom style zaniness would hold true and through a mix up that room would contain some nubile coeds instead. In any event, I didn’t recall who these two putzes were anyway, so grudgingly acceded, as if I had a choice.

            I was forced to admit that the admission of these two extra individuals to my world turned out to be not such a bad thing. For one, I was no longer the sole object of Knauses malevolent intentions, leaving me to sleep considerably easier at nights. On top of that, I got to enjoy the show as Thies and JP locked horns from the get go, initiating a vicious graffiti war with indelible markers that remained a fixture in their room for the duration. Psycho, as he became known as exclusively, but for a brief time in the spring when Knaus renamed him ‘Brownie Buttfuck’, provided all manner of amusement on his own. We came to find that offering auditory descriptions of penis tortures, a conversation mysterious in its origins, was enough to make him curl up into a little ball on the floor, quivering and drooling, until we departed the premises.

            In those days we were also always seeking to define our signature look. Having at the time a full head of hair, I entertained notions of adopting the classic ‘Marvel’ wedge haircut seen on Wolverine and others, though it never panned out. Instead I settled for the classic 90210 sideburns and rocked them, Dylan McKay style. Psycho, not to be undone, grew a magnificent pony tail flowing from the back of his head in shining auburn like a good Catholic schoolgirl. In truth it exceeded no more than an inch and protruded like the turgid member of an especially hairy elf, but we forgave him the immodesty of it.

            Psycho proved to be very adept at commodity trading both to his advantage and our appreciation. He, unlike the rest of us left to fend for ourselves, was bequeathed with a fully loaded meal card that was not only good at the Spot cafeteria in the basement, but at Domino’s as well. Generally the transaction worked like this. I got paid on Fridays, cashed my check, gave Psycho his due, and then spent the rest on comic books. Due to my status of then being broke, I came to rely on advances from the meal card to feed myself delicious chicken sandwiches and pizza through the weekend until I could milk the sweet teat of freebies at food service once again. Though I paid no interest on the advances, I made up for it in other ways such as applying a good 4 lbs of meat and cheeses on his subs when he came through my line.

            Another delightful trait we discovered was his willingness to eat almost anything back then. I believe this was attributed to his nearly absent sense of smell; the only possible reason he would culminate his culinary odyssey with a plate of Nasty Olde Sauce. In the Goodyear days it was limited to more mundane fare, though I did bear witness to him once gagging down and subsequently upchucking a whole handful of jalapenos during a critical game of ‘truth or date’ with Ann and Tammy, the only two female visitors our room ever received. His amazing ability did allow him to survive on food stuffs such as popcorn for long stretches of time, much like a wharf rat.

            Although it became somewhat unavoidable after the toilet incident, Psycho was one of the driving forces that led us to the dark door of Comstock. While the rest of us could have theoretically returned home, Psycho’s parents up and moved all the way across the country when he went away to college. An apocryphal version of the story has this occurring without his knowledge, and that he returned home with gear in tow only to have the door answered by strangers, but this has never been truly verified or disproven. In any event, he needed permanent digs and lingering in the poorly ventilated basement of the Mooney’s, having his belongings mutilated and urinated on during weekly Dashwood Medicine hours was not along term solution. I, wishing freedom from any burdens of home life, and Knaus, with parents wishing themselves free of the burden of him being at home life, joined him on his quest with the inspired help of Dave.

            Due to events not worth recounting yet again, Aaron was relegated to one of the back bedrooms at Comstock, conveniently next to the bathroom and in clear ear shot of Louis’s frequent Mighty Taco cacophonous BMs. Unfortunately for him; he was also next to Jason which in truth helped to cement our alliance and friendship. Jason really got off on the wrong foot with him as in their first ever meeting, after he feigned that he poisoned the pizza Psycho and his girlfriend were eating with a packet of silica gel that said very clearly, ‘not meant for human consumption’. It was a slight Psycho was not to take lightly and the memory of it fueled many late night planning sessions filled with diabolical plots to irritate him. It also didn’t help that Psycho, a neat freak, was constantly cleaning up dishes Jason left wantonly about, or that I was only one to clean the kitchen floor, the magnet for the constant rate of spillage.

            The supreme efforts expended to make Jason’s life slightly less tolerable forged a bond and with Knaus rarely present anymore, we found ourselves in cahoots more and more often. Aside from just being bastards, we also adopted traditions of walking all the way to Tops from Comstock on Sunday afternoons and lugging back as many groceries we could carry. Part of the tradition, if I recall correctly, was the treasured procurement of Nestle Quick brand chocolate milk, which we would enjoy quaffing down in great gulps upon returning home, flaunting the empty containers at Jason and Knaus who were forced to drink the suspect drippings from the tap. Originally these shopping trips were meant to be at the L&T, but after Moustache Guy refused to sell us produce 2 minutes before opening (it was already on display!) we decided to boycott his wares. All food items upon return were marked with big angry notes, aimed more at Jason than the vengeful Knaus, who ate little, but what he damn well pleased.

            We also found ourselves in cahoots regarding TV watching habits and came to dominate the living room, so long as Knaus wasn’t present and it served to intimidate Jason who would be immediately outvoted from the show about the feelings of macadamia nuts he was already in to in favor of ‘Treehouse of Horror’. Knaus kept an enviable collection of authentic bad movies in his room, locked away safely while his TV combo was ritually abused. We found ourselves, much like Thursday nights in the dorms, creeping up on him, elbowing each other, to ask if we might borrow one of them for just a little bit. The answer, never guaranteed, was sometimes yes, and we would revel in the tale of an electrocuted man or some nonsense. After a while this became no longer necessary as my position at Collector’s allowed be to borrow, at no cost, any of the collection of very crappy horror movies my boss rented out to local creeps.

            Through my association with Collector’s I was able to pull him into my extra geekified universe of comic collecting. I got him started with ‘Heavy Metal’ magazine, a gateway product, for which he actually got carded at Seeley and Kanes. Next I made comics available free around the house, just sitting in white box for anyone to sample, and indeed, he did. Finally after months of grooming I was able to pull him into the shop and get a firm commitment to collect not one, but several different series to be kept in pristine condition with bags and boards. Unfortunately the line I got him stated on, Marvel’s ill fated ‘2099’ venture, turned out to be too sucky for words and those comics, so lovingly preserved, have not only devalued substantially, but actually depress the market value of any property they are housed on.

            Another commonality, I almost forgot, was our mutual love of fresh French fries; dripping with salt and hot oil. Living where we did the take out options were limited and any fries ordered were generally limp and soggy, and unworthy of our exalted palates. With a ‘can-do’ spirit not seen since old WWII era film reels, we rolled up our sleeves, boiled us up some oil in the wok Knaus procured but never used, and set to work peeling spuds. The results, well perhaps not as tasty as carnival fries, were certainly excellent and enjoyed several times over our stint there; that is until one of the girls Dan brought over yorked up in the remains.

            When the time finally came to depart Comstock, partially because Knaus decided to once again become a burden on his parents, and partially because we all but set fire to Jason and he still showed no signs of leaving, Psycho and I decided to continue our living arrangement, but in a better locale. Unbeknownst to me, Chet had snuck in the picture and became an unsavory influence, filling his head with castles in the clouds regarding the wondrous land of Princeton Courts. I suspected that Chet’s plan all along was to secure a couch near by where he could crash when his Chinese dad was drunk and pants-less, but nevertheless, we ended up there. I was sold on the convenience of Tops, right up a near vertical path behind the place. For Psycho it was the beacon of the hoops courts, which sold me as well on the idea of getting in shape.

            The first year went surprisingly well. The key to it all was our mutual obsession with TV shows generally no one else ever watched. Weekends were filled with basketball and full on tackle football over at the school to be followed by all manner of wonderful programming. The Adventures of Pete and Pete, X-Files (till I made him hate it), Lois and Clark, Seinfeld, the Simpsons, Dan’s Red Dwarf tapes, and finally Space Ghost. Such was the fabric of our character that bonds were so easily formed over the emissions of a smallish cathode ray tube.

            We also continued to have minor adventures, although most were not of the same quality as Comstock. The first Halloween we entertained ourselves by blowing up the Jack O’ Lantern I carved behind Tops. It was a marvelous spectacle and naturally Knaus forgot to bring his camera. We made frequent walks up to Tops in those days, right up the old path, sometimes waist deep in snow. We also grew a great love in ordering food from Jacobi’s, though still bear the guilt of probably killing one of their delivery boys by ordering in a terrible snowstorm and demanding satisfaction. The manager said he was never heard from again. Well, that day anyway.

            After some time though, the cracks began to show. It was fairly amazing that thing went well so long for basically two jackasses who had strong reputations for not cohabitating well. Slowly, I began to wax more slovenly and he grew more rigid in his German authoritarianism. I think much of it had to do with the fact that our TV watching habits took a turn south. Sure, we would always have Seinfeld, but I began gravitating toward the Discovery channel and shows about how to make cheese, while he insisted on watching things like Division 3 High School basketball and curling. Lights on or off? The debate grew thunderous to where on one occasion I replaced the perfectly good bulb in the Ugly Lamp with a burned out one I kept on hand for such an occasion.

            On top of that, he grew monstrously dependant on the gaming. Where I had taken great pains to cultivate a comic addiction, Chet trumped my Tylenol with codeine with smack in the form of Bloodbowl and Magic cards. Night after night I would haunt the living room, lights off, soaking up the flickering radiation from the tube. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Psycho, Chet, Matt and the rest would howl and bark, banging the table in wanton ecstasy because one idiot trumped another’s ‘Elf Taking a Whiz’ card with ‘Orc With The Green Apple Splatters’. I ventured in, with much snarling, only for food or a beer. They in turn would only invade my domain to use the can, a frequent unwelcome intrusion brought on by excessive Mountain Dew and Mighty Taco consumption.

            On many occasions they brought me to rage. Once, after a long Saturday at Collector’s, I came home with the express desire to consume my delicious Mrs Paul’s Pirogues that I procured for just that purpose the day before. I lifted the delightful blue box in the freezer. Way too light! Peering inside the tattered side, I would see but one lone surviving member rattling around, mocking me; too little to assuage my hunger. Pounding on Psycho’s door I demanded satisfaction. One fortunate thing in my favor was that Psycho, regardless of any other faults, was unquestionably honest to the point where it caused problems, such as when I needed him to lie about my presence to avoid friends and loved ones. Was it you? No. Matt? (I was hoping, as I felt he needed a good comeuppance for being so smarmy about working out in his mom’s basement) No. Dan (always the most likely) No. Chet? No reply. Chet? Silence. I had my man. I immediately called over there and got him after haggling with the Chinese woman for 5 minutes regarding what I wanted. I gave him a verbal lashing that really resulted in nothing. Faced with the prospect of dining on one of the Tony’s pizzas, I went to bed hungry.

            Eventually we stopped associating with each other on any level other than grunts or sarcastic pointed questions. I did my best to drive him from the apartment by any means necessary. It was an iron contest of wills between two juggernauts of stubbornness; either one willing to run a sword through his own bowel for even the opportunity to scratch the other. Eventually this grew old and we both made secret plans to move out and screw the other; he eyeing a cavernous basement apartment beneath some old building, and I eyeing the sky. Through some means I forget, our mutual plans became revealed and frankly, it made things much more comfortable in the end. We were able to reestablish cordiality and help each other move. When he finally departed and I had the place to myself for a few days, always my goal, in a tiny way I even missed the old goat, especially calling him ‘Boscoe’, which made him erupt in foul rage.

            By the time I came back from the Air Force, relations had fully normalized and we returned to the old days of bad movies, Allentown, basketball games, and meals. As much as I loath to give anyone credit, he was one of the only 3 friends of mine to make journey to Jersey for my wedding. Last I saw him; he handed over the treasured UB table, confiscated so many years ago; my legacy now for safe keeping. The best of times, however, will always be those moments after duct taping Jason’s room, high on a Quick sugar rush, munching home made fries and watching ‘Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’ and worshiping at the alter of Green Arrow Mark Pike. You had to be there.

Ach Du Lieber!

            Those of you who may have known me for some good amount of time might choose to recall that I have exhibited, at times, the general tendency to declare a level of expertise on subject matters well outside my scope with the basis of such being flimsy at best. The one that seems to have resonated with most and was frequently cited, was my claim to have been rock climbing in Germany. Miscreants will have you believe that I used this as firm evidence to support everything from my claim to know the best way to grow garlic or make minestrone soup. Jealous lies! In truth I used it only when climbing the Thunder Rocks at Alleghany and advising on the correct three point method. Since you are dying to know, dear munchkins, I will tell you the whole story of how I gained such wisdom at a tender age.

            As everyone knows, Buffalo and Dortmund are international sister cities. No one really knows the need for cities to partner up in this manner or how it came about. Well, they probably do, but I don’t feel like looking it up. In any case, this was fact and one of the programs to come out of this dubious arrangement was the Sister Cities summer exchange program. Through it, American youths would travel to Dortmund and reside with a German family for a month, after which the German student would come to Buffalo under the same arrangement. It was a good way to live in a foreign land cheaply and broaden one’s horizons. Spearheading the program was none other than Herr Savory, my high school German teacher. When I brought news of it home, my grandfather was tickled enough with the idea of me seeing the old sod that he helped my parents finance it.

            We filled out questionnaires so that they would pair us with German students of best fit. I was hoping of course for a little hot to trot Deutche chickie with a shelf like derrière, but apparently my answers indicated that a much better fit would be Heiner. My mother was quite flummoxed at the arrangement as Heiner’s bio indicated that he was 22, the only college student participating in the program, and that his favorite activity was hanging out at the Bier Gartens. She was worried of course that he would be a bad influence, which of course he was, but more on that later.

            There were several “get ta know ya” events before departure where we all met up and settled into one of two groups – the geeks and the assholes. I feel somewhere in between but ended up gravitating toward the nerd herd, as always was my inclination. Russ, the unacknowledged leader of the geek set, was often in conflict with the asshole ‘cool kids’ and thus managed to drag the rest of us in, assuring for plenty of awkward times when they forced us all together. Then one morning in early July we assembled in the parking lot of the old Thruway mall and bussed it up to Toronto where they have an international airport in more than just name.

            It was my first time on a plane and I enjoyed the experience, though after the second leg and a long bus trip, I was thoroughly exhausted and smelled of smoke, as Lufthansa in the 80’s still allowed, and encouraged, open smoking wherever one pleased. Our German families were there to pick us up and I was greeted by Herr and Frau Thiel (so close to Thies!), Georg the brother, and Heiner, my student. The parents spoke no English whatsoever, but Georg, a very cool cat, jumped right in as translator. Heiner, with a wooly blond fro, was cautiously polite. I was in a jet lagged daze when they brought me back to the family abode where Heiner still lived, along with Grossmutter upstairs, and they showed me to Georg’s old room which they made up for me.

            The house they occupied was built sometime in the mid to late Pleistocene period, though had been updated many time since. One of the recent upgrades was the addition of a shower, conveniently constructed from an old pantry that was directly in the living room. There was no place to change, so taking a shower meant descending the stairs in towel, greeting whoever was in the living room, and someone always was, entering the shower, then opening the door just enough to throw the towel out. It was uncomfortable arrangement so I avoided it as much as possible until someone would comment on the pervasive eau d’Wolf.

            Heiner was delighted by my presence as he had lived his 22 years as the smaller, less handsome, not as clever little brother to Georg. His first order of business was to teach me an enormously complex card game that made euchre look like War, and proceed to beat me at it until I refused to play any more. Next he taught me the one strategy game he was a master at: Muller (pronounced moo-lah), or known in English as ‘Nine-Man Morris’. His love of this game, by the way, extended all the way to Buffalo as he proceeded to teach it to my family and friends just so that he could beat them at it. Then came Knaus. The first game they played, Knaus won. Heiner took it as a fluke. Then Knaus won the second game and then the third. Heiner put the game away in a snit and we never saw it again.

            True to his fact sheet, Heiner liked to hit the Bier Gartens pretty much every night and liked to drag me along with him. Although my parents signed a form saying I was not allowed to drink, being only 16 at the time, Heiner’s family completely disregarded it from day one. Nights at the Bier Gartens were not unpleasant as I would sit there with a giant tankard of Dortmunder Kroner Export, my favorite beer to this day, and listen to Heiner and his friends joke around in German and occasionally make fun of me, as I gathered by the looks in my direction followed by laughter. Oh, he would get his all right when the time came!

            Aside from being saddled with a jerk ass big brother type when the rest of the Americans got kids their age, including this one dullard who wound up with a total fox, the one downside of the trip was the food. The Germans are a real meat and potato race of people and most meals out consisted of wurst, brot, and kartofel – sausage, bread and potatoes. At least meals out were somewhat edible and when not being forced into some ‘authentic’ German Rathskeller of some historic value, the Americans gravitated toward good old Mikey D’s, which in Germany, also sold beer.

            On days I spent with the family – it was an on off thing, one day with the family, the next with some planned group activity – I was treated to Frau Thiel’s cooking skills, which were fairly non-existent. Breakfast consisted of a platter that was left out at all times and stocked with several kinds of incredibly dense breads, sausages with big old hunks lard in them, cheeses, marmalade, and a substance I was told was minced ham by Heiner, but later came to find was raw pork. The value of refrigeration was deeply discounted and this stuff Americans generally throw away if exposed to room temperature air for over an hour simply sat out until consumed. Every breakfast I prepared for the worst, though nothing ever happened.

            Lunch wasn’t much better really. Frau Thiel insisted on making me sandwiches out of the ultra dense pumpernickel with the consistency and taste of compressed sawdust. These were usually peanut butter or some suspicious “cold” cut from the breakfast tray. I found them inedible, and if we were on a group outing I would generally ditch them when Heiner wasn’t looking and get some fries. I lived on fries that trip. Dinner was a horrid affair as she would sit there watching me not eating the ghastly thing she prepared like watery mild soup with super fatty chunks of mystery meat or tired old boiled sausages. On one occasion I convinced them to let me grill as they had a BBQ out back. This time I was the villain, for when I came in with nice char broiled sausages all black, crisp and delicious the whole family was horrified. Apparently letting the skin break ‘contaminates’ the sausage making it inedible. Yeah, they kept a bowl of raw pork in the warm dining room eating out of it for a good week, but fainted at the sight of a properly cooked hotdog.

            On the days I spent with the Thiels, they seemed genuinely frustrated with what to do with me all day, so it seemed that at least on 8 or so occasions Mr Thiel, with sometimes Heiner and sometimes Georg, would pack up the car and we’d go auto touring in the Saurland. Form some reason he was under the impression that I had never seen countryside landscapes before and got a charge out of looking out the window at some fields and shit. These were tedious days indeed and lasted until the arrival of Bob, which if you hold on for one goddamn minute, I’ll get to. On one of these dreary days Mr. Thiel wasn’t feeling well and it was just Georg and I, and thus the point of this story.

            Georg gathered that looking out a car window was not my cup of tea, so planned a more interesting day. In the selfsame Saurland there once existed a gigantic underground cavern that collapsed back in prehistoric times leaving a large area full of humungous rocks jutting up out of the earth with seemingly bottomless gaps between them. This is where Georg took me to go rock climbing with no equipment or preparation of any kind, except for a word of caution to keep three points on the rock face at all times because falling into one of the gaps meant a slim to none recovery of your corpse. It was a thrilling experience, fraught with danger, and imbued me with the wisdom of the ages to give expert advice on any number of unrelated topics.

            Time with the Thiels, and Heiner in particular, became so much easier once Bob came to stay. Bob drew a German family who was childless and where both worked, leaving Bob to sit on his ass all day watching German television, which consisted of tennis, dubbed over Loony Tunes (was ist los, doc?), or, I’m not kidding, a German Western called Winneto. The Thiels, who were actually very good people, agreed to take Bob in and thus ease their daily burden to figure out to do with me. Once Bob came, the daily trips to the Saurland stopped and Bob and I generally roamed the streets of Dortmund looking for things to do.

            The other excellent thing about Bob being there was that I now had an ally against Heiner. We quickly found that we could make fun of him by simply speaking in slang, which he was unable to follow. Watching his face scrunch up as he tried to figure out in what manner we were teasing him was priceless and only served to increase our laughter. Frau Thiel would beam as we exclaimed that the hunk of sausage on our plates was “the absolute worst!” as she felt we were simply declaring it absolute sausage. Evenings at the Bier Garten were better as well because now I finally had someone to talk to.

            On group days, things were hit or miss. One some days we would have spectacular outings like boat trips down the Rhine or visit some castle where Charlemagne once rubbed one out. Other days were less exciting and consisted of tours of an automotive plant or a bauxite mine; probably one of the least interesting mined substances you can imagine. On one of these outings Russ, Bob, Gary, Evil and I found a shop that sold tee shirts advertising the Soviet Union and East Germany, both of which still appeared to be going strong. What made them so delightful was that the Germans found them horribly offensive to the degree that turned them into daily wear for us.

            Russ, bless his dork ass hide, also managed to acquire a genuine pair of lederhosen which he looked absolutely ridiculous in. He insisted on wearing these around on occasion which infuriated the German family he was staying with to the degree that they began to shop him around for someone else to take him in. There were no buyers, even the Thiels, who had their hands full already with two rebel jokers already. Russ, pleased with the effect his outfit, the equivalent of one of the Germans coming over and wearing around Puritan garb with big buckle shoes to the local Denny’s, took to wearing it as often as he pleased, including the plane ride home.

            The best trip of all was the opportunity to go to East Berlin when such a thing still existed. On the bus ride through East Germany to the walled city, it was a popular undertaking for everyone to read George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm’ as the bus driver, an ugly character we dubbed Dr. Friendlybones, played the soundtrack to ‘Dirty Dancing’ over and over. Before going through Checkpoint Charlie we were treated to the obligatory Berlin Wall museum which gave a full history and some stories of people who got shot trying to make it across. Apparently the Wall originated as the Berlin Line of Masking Tape, a la Brady Bunch, which proved to be somewhat less effective than the follow on project. We were debriefed before going through. Do not smuggle currency back, do not wander outside the permitted area, do not do the ‘Heil Hitler’ sign at the Russian guards, and do not under any circumstances feed the locals or they will try to follow you home. The end of the brief was given with a ray of hope that perhaps even as soon as 50 years hence, but certainly not before, the Wall would be a thing of the past. This was 1988.

            I wore my East German tee and Russ his Russian one, though we were informed this was a poor choice of wardrobe. We found this to be correct as the East Germans, less full of patriotic pride than one would think and bitterly resentful of the Russian presence, gave us evil stares and even went so far as to call Russ a ‘bitch’. East Berlin was as dreary as one would expect. There still existed bombed out buildings from WWII and very little to spend our currency on. I got a cola from a street vendor and found it three shades more horrendous than even Tab. We went to the finest restaurant they had and ordered big steaks all round; grade Q meat if that, full of fat, gristle and very little flavor. The sides were even worse as we discovered they even found a way to fuck up baked potatoes. Here was the thing, we had to change over 50 marks worth of currency to cross over and were not allowed to bring any of it back. At the end, we gave away whatever we had left to beggars by the checkpoint that lived off of this rule, though I managed to sneak back a few coins in my shoe.

            After a month away, coming back to America was fantastic! It was a long flight back, and a seemingly longer bus trip back from Toronto. The whole bus load of folks actually broke out into the national anthem, albeit poorly sung, as we approached the border. Even better, the Germans were not to follow for another few days, allowing us to get reaclimated without them. This of course gave me some time to plan out a little payback for Heiner and all his bully big brother tricks.

            Heiner arrived a few days later and we set him up in my attic bedroom in the twin bed across the room from me, actually the hottest corner of place, and directly under the bird cage that housed Henry, my ill tempered parakeet who liked to fling seeds out of the cage all night at whoever occupied that bed. It was a hotter summer than most, and Heiner being a rather stout fellow, felt it much more than I did, a very skinny teen. To maximize his discomfort I took to closing the skylight at night if I suspected rain and unplugged the fan for ‘noise reasons’ in the middle of the night. I was just fine with the heat build up, but on more than one occasion Heiner became so overheated that he would rush down in the morning, beet red and encrusted with birdseed, and dive into the pool to bring his body temperature below the three digit mark.

            Where Heiner subjected me to his daily Bier Garten outings with his douchebag friends, I subjected him to daily bike rides with Jeff to Collector’s Inn where we would spend hours upon hours discussing the finer points of ‘Invasion’ with Jim or Kevin as Heiner stood by bored to tears. This was usually followed up by a trip to Watson’s for vanilla cokes, which he found to be a terrible substitution for his beloved beer. Finally he took to eschewing me completely and followed my mother around the house all day, something she didn’t appreciate. Heiner, you see, tended to be argumentative and would actually do things like attempt to correct your English. On more than one occasion he would rush upstairs to grab his dictionary or text book to prove his point, then come slumping back down with the claim he couldn’t find it.

            One week I was granted complete relief from him as one of the families was making a trip to DC in order to show their student around. They invited Heiner to come along and we talked him into it, despite the fact that he had a bad cold and didn’t really want to go. Heiner, in retrospect probably a functional alcoholic, made sure to have a case of beer with him for the journey. He was completely dismayed, however, when we brought him to the family’s house and they announced to all gathered there that “Heiner brought beer! Who wants one?” and he saw his store immediately depleted before the trip was even underway. I was secretly delighted when I found out his trip went terribly. First he was too sick to enjoy. Second, the family turned out extremely cheap (as was Heiner!) and shafted him at every opportunity. While the whole group occupied one hotel room, they stuck Heiner with half the bill. At dinner they would order expensive entrees while he would go frugal, but then divide the check evenly. We all got quite a chuckle out of his bitter recounting of things when he got back.

            All in all, he wasn’t a bad guy and we did have fun showing him around and such for the most part. My mother also hooked him up with the single niece of her friend, which got him out of my hair even more. The visit ended on good terms and we kept in touch often enough they he came back a year later, though specifically to visit my parents, and not so much me. Over the years we eventually lost all contact, and although I have tried to Google his name, all the pages that come up are in German, which I never quite got the knack for despite having rock climbed there

A Tradition Like No Other

The Comstock and Princeton era’s birthed a number of traditions, most formed out of boredom, laziness, or lack of choice.

Every holiday has it’s own traditions, especially *mas.  The most persistent and pervasive of all Comstock traditions was the Brown Bomber.  Mike’s grandmother took great pride in baking.  All throughout the year Mike would come home with a coffee tin of baked goods, but especially around *mas.  What is a Brown Bomber?  It is not a Fraternaty initiation, nor another of Larry’s army stories, but a golf ball sized sphere of rice crispies and peanut butter coated in chocolate.  Sounds awesome!  They sure are, but after you have had hundreds of these suckers you are done.  Done for good.  Mike, myself, and every single character of the crew tasted defeat after a handful of Brown Bombers, even the immutable Paul fell.  The only one left standing was Dan.  No doubt due to his thick stomach walls earned with his mom’s pork chips and the infamous pickle jar.

The next tradition started before Comstock, but was engulfed by Comstock.  that was Mike’s dad’s Bills-Miami party.  Mike’s dad would open his garage to a big party with lots of food, guys, and a big TV.  Aside from myself, Paul, Dan, and Mike the party-goers were comprised of grizzly old men from the neighborhood.  Inevitably they would spin tales of of Jack Kemp, and various other “old man nonsense”.  EDITOR’s NOTE: I can’t wait to be an old man and use my growing collection of crazy old man behaviors; when the sole purpose of my remaining life is to both others.  One of us would make some comment about some Bills player that was a group favorite just to roust the old men.  By 1999 the Bills height of power was diminishing, and Miami was sucking with no Marino, hence the party moved from the Miami game to a random other game.  With this move the fever of the party waned, and along with Mike entering the Air Force, coupled with the Paul’s decent into hermit-hood, and my detachment from Mike.  that last thing I wanted was to spend MORE time with Mike.

Many television programs made their way as a Comstock tradition.  The first of which was the original Beverly Hills 90210.  This started when in Goodyear.  Given no cable in the dorms at the time, we where stuck with 3 channels, 2 of which where often blurry.  Only the soon to be beloved Fox was routinely clear.  Paul, Mike, and I decided to make one of our routine trips to Tops in the University Plaza.  Paul held us up for a minute to use the bathroom.  As all readers know by now, this “minute” lasted way more than a minute.  In the meantime Mike and I flipped on the TV just in time for the start of the weekly installment of the antics of spoiled rich kids played by 30+ year olds, some balding and pretentious enough to purposely mispronounce their name.  By the time Paul emerged, hair gel in tact, Mike and I where hopelessly locked into the show.  Only 5 minutes remained.  The siren song of Beverly Hills did not release us from it’s icy grip for another several years.  It is odd what you become engrossed in when your entertainment options are limited.  If it hadn’t been for Paul and his meddling hair.

Many other TV shows where targeted by Mike and myself over the years: The Adventures of Pete & Pete (I recently bought the Season 1 DVD), the classic Degrassi Junior High (the story of a Canadian junior high, which recently made a comeback in the same fashion as Saved by the Bell: The New Class), and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – the draw of Dean Cain, former Buffalo Bill and sprinkle in the famous line from the first episode..

Terri Hatcher: *long tirade about how she is the experienced reported, and Dean is some punk, closing with how any co-authored pieces will have her by-line above his*
Dean Cain: *smirk* “Got it.  You like to be on top.”

Other, less obscure, programs became Comstock favorites also, including Seinfeld and the Simpsons.  These where both recorded on VHS tape and a formal event was help where Mike and I split up the tapes just before he entered the Air Force.  Dan often barged into Princeton Sunday night just before Simpsons time.  He tried initially to barge in during the show, but when we refused to answer, even though with the TV blaring, it was quite obvious we were in there.  Dan would bring some strange movie or British TV over to watch after, but Mike would always go to bed early, and since I would relish any time I could spend at home with Mike gone or asleep I would watch said weird program with Dan.

The X-Files was a favorite of Mike and mine both, until Mike ruined it for me with his fanatical behavior.  No sounds during the show.  No one over.  Disconnecting the phone.  Watching it in as much dark as possible.  I grew to dislike the X-Files, and stopped watching it after the first season, never to return.

While living at Comstock itself we where stuck with Paul’s TV/VCR combo.  We where also stuck with the same 5 movies.  Having watched them all, including when we broke down and watched Frantic, the default because One Crazy Summer.  I lost count how many times we watched this.  mike often fell asleep long before the end.  Clutching his Daisy Duke beer can handle, and occasionally talking in his sleep.  When Mike talked in his sleep you could ask him questions and he would reply, uttering such gems as “I had sex with 30 houses and stuff.”

All these years of limited viewing left us fans of MST3K, and after some buffer time when Princeton vanished, and the Comstock era ended, we started a new tradition of Crappy Movie Night.  We would gather with pizza and beer, and watch 2-3 terrible movies.  The event was a success only 50% of the time, but then again , what kind of incentive is Manos: Hands of Fate or Lolita.

The final tradition that also held favor for several months, long after Comstock was over, was Travel Friday.  In an effort to not end up in the same bars each week we forced the issue.  We would gather and car pool over to some restaurant/bar that no once had ever been to, and engulf some dinner.  If the place was god we would stay, and if not then we would head to some new place that was unknown to all or most of us.

There are certainly other “traditions” that could be mentioned, like someone being trapped in the Comstock bathroom every party, or Jason getting upset with Dan, but those are left for another post.

Summer Dorm Daze

           My first summer at Langley, albeit actually the least exciting of the three I spent there, proved to provide enough entertainment to commit to the time it takes to jot down an event or two. It was a period of great activity and revelry as we enjoyed the spectacular weather and prepared for upcoming trials; my friends for their first trip to the desert in support of Southern Watch and I for my upcoming arm surgery. I felt I had the much sweeter deal and spared no effort rubbing it in and wonder how I escaped having the other arm ripped from its socket as well.

            In anticipation of going dry for a few months as not even alcohol heavy mouthwash was permitted in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the whole of the dorms erupted into full blown parties each night that didn’t have a duty day following. John was the architect of a great many of these and the rest of us were more than happy to participate. At these events several recurring themes began to emerge that we could count on and left me surprised that no one came up with bingo cards to mark their passage and strike up an illicit gambling operation.

            As I mentioned before, Ford could always be counted on to start a vitriolic rant against Einstein and science in general until I goaded him into a complete breakdown, after which he retreated into a scowling husk of his former self. At some point around mid evening some idiot in the courtyard between the buildings would though either pure drunken sloppiness or attempted acrobatic feat, fall fully into the holly bushes that made up the hedging and have to be pried free bloody and howling. For those not familiar, holly is a very densely thicketed bush with small stiff leaves treacherous with prickers. Whoever thought of planting scores of them where young airmen were most likely to fall into them inebriated was pure genius! On Monday mornings it was not at all uncommon to run across several red eyed stumble bums walking about with heavily abraded arms and faces. It only happened to me once and as with Knaus’s stairs I report with full indignant honesty that I didn’t fall; I was pushed.

            Another unpleasant tradition, never practiced by yours truly, was the end of the night pee off the balcony; occasionally on to someone. I don’t know why this kept happening, but each and every night some different precocious fuck nut would climb up to the third floor, free the shriveled sausage of fury, and let loose golden showers while laughing like a troglodyte as his brilliant comedy. Those of us who recalled that this was all but mandatory moved either to the center of the courtyard and out of range, or into the pool parlor on the first floor. About one of three times some poor fool was caught in the full barrage which would lead to a furious charge up the stairs and attempted murder. Why no one ever fell off or was the victim of a severely deserved beat down I’m not sure as it only could have set a positive example.

            As the summer drove into high gear the weather grew progressively hotter and more humid in the Hampton Roads area. Even the evenings became somewhat unbearable driving the large weekend parties out of the courtyard and into small sub-parties in peoples rooms, which were air conditioned. I thought this was just fine as it was far more comfortable and the chances of being peed on or knocked into a briar patch were significantly reduced. Here we formed the single malt scotch club wherein the Friday after each payday (the first and fifteenth of each month), 4 of us would pool our cash and purchase a new expensive single malt to try. The Balvenie Double Wood earned the highest ranking. Huddled over glasses of expensive spirits and many empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, we would scheme and plot.

            One such evening on a particularly hot day, we grew to lament the fact that the base pool was only open during working hours and that a more compassionate military would open it on such hellacious evenings. We then contemplated actually swimming in the bay but discounted the notion for reasons of jellyfish infestation and the rank latrine like smell that emanated from it. It was just a shame that the pool, surrounded by chain link fence topped with razor wire, was just sitting there cool and unused. And unguarded. The idea of course came to us simultaneously and debate began.

            Cons: it was locked, topped with razor wire, it was close to a main road patrolled by base security forces, and if caught, we would be charged with breaking and entering, not to mention the much worse sin of gross safety violation.

            Pros: it was hot, the pool was cool, and we had been drinking scotch for 4 hours.

            We thought it couldn’t hurt to at least wander over there and really check out the situation. It didn’t mean we had to do anything and we decided that we almost assuredly wouldn’t. We changed into our swim trunks, grabbed towels and moseyed on over. We slunk around the back keeping to the shadows and surveyed the main entrance and surrounding fencing. It was chained closed with a heavy duty steel padlock. Knaus probably could have defeated it in seconds but never taught me his craft. We discovered the fatal flaw, or what we though was it, next to the cinderblock changing hut. It was at the rear of the pool, away from the light and the fence ran into it perpendicularly. Performing a complex set of calculations in our heads, we deduced that if John ascended first, he would have the requisite arm length to haul his gargantuan mass to the shingled roof, missing the razor wire by close to an inch if he inhaled sharply at the right moment to pull his paunch out of danger. He could then use his bulk as an anchor to help Bryan and I traverse the distance. It was brilliant and could not fail.

            They say God protects fools and drunks thus we were doubly covered that night. John and Bryan made it up, not quite injury free but not requiring stitches or reattachment of limbs. When my turn came, the luck seemed to fold. It was a few weeks before my surgery and my shoulder simply couldn’t support the climb without threatening to come loose a fourth time. Bitter with rage, I shook the fence and was surprised when it moved slightly. This particular section was only about 3 feet wide between the support pole and where it connected next to a second pole against the hut. Once again John’s ox like properties came into use for the greater good. He grabbed the end and bent it inward enough for me to enter, and simply bent it back into place. There was some regret on their part after enduring many scrapings against the razors, but all in all it worked out for the best.

            Aware of the danger, we kept very quiet, slipping from the shadows to the pool only when no headlights showed on the road about 30 yards distant. The water was cool and far more refreshing than the AC, especially when 5 of us were sitting in a tiny closed door room chain smoking. After a while of simply sitting in the shallow end, we grew slightly bolder and drew straws to send someone back to get our beer and cigs. I drew short and John let me out and back in again. When I got back we spent a good 3 hours silently floating about, drinking beer, talking and smoking in hushed whispers as we flicked our ashes into the crystal waters. At one point someone dropped their beer where it filled with water and sunk to the bottom of the deep end prompting a worrisome effort to retrieve it lest evidence of our presence be detected. When done, we removed all traces that we had ever been there stopping just short of wiping the place down to obscure tell-tale prints.

            For the next few weeks before my operation and their departure for Saudi, the pool break in became a grand weekend tradition. Not trusting the other goons about the dorms, we elected to keep our doings a closely guarded secret. To avoid suspicion we would decline stating off at the same parties and then wander off from them at an agreed upon time and meet up behind the pool. Our fears once we got in, however, reduced to an almost ludicrous level. Where we originally moved like silent ninjas in the night, we graduated to whooping down the slides and even using the diving boards. Several reconnaissance missions had revealed: that in the dark, the interior of the pool area was all but invisible from the road; that security forces always drove with windows closed in hot weather; no foot patrol existed; and there was nothing nearby to generate any other foot traffic but for an occasional lovers stroll. Happy to say, we never got caught although a week or so after our final immersion an article appeared in the base paper about the sanctity of closed areas, especially the pools. We had left our empties on the last day.

            This period also had the distinction of a visit from the esteemed Knaus; the only one of my college friends to bother making their way down to visit. Most of the trip was no stranger to him as back at Comstock he suddenly declared one day that he was driving down to DC and no one was going to stop him. No one even tried and he made good on his threat over a long weekend during which one or two individuals haphazardly wondered where he might be. He returned with plenty of pictures and probably now shows up on a whole host of government threat lists. In any case, he came, and I managed to extend his journey by a few hours.

            In the pre-9/11 days, all one had to do to get access to the base was to call someone on it from the gate, have them call the security gate and give the visitors name, and they were allowed unrestricted access. My phone at the time had a condition by which it didn’t necessarily hang up when hung up and had to be checked each time, which was something I habitually forgot. Poor Knaus actually arrived at the gate on time only to call and find my line busy. As he tried again and again over an hour, the guard became suspicious of the shady character and finally shooed him away all together. In my room and unaware of the situation, I was getting progressively more annoyed with his tardiness as he always refused to bow to the absolute mastery of the clock like I did. Fed up and wanting to go to dinner, I called the gate just to check if he had been by and received tale of the mysterious stranger with stylized hair frantically calling under incredulous gaze. I contemplated fleeing all together, not knowing if his capacity for revenge had grown and wondered if allowing him on a base full of fearsome war machines was really such a good idea. Cautiously, I granted access when he finally called back.

            His visit was a good time and included a visit to the one place none of my other friends would dare venture for fear of the name. To us, the Great Dismal Swamp just sounded too inviting to pass up. It appeared on maps of southern VA covering hundreds of square miles and avoided by most roads and beckoned all the more after being told even locals don’t go there. Finding an entrance was the hard part and was only achieved after purchasing a local map right near the swamp area. The only road in was unmarked, nameless and unpaved. Paul never hesitated as he navigated the white mini-van down it until we found a clearing in which to park.

            It was readily apparent that the place was appropriately named and not some cutesy ironic moniker as we feared. Some overgrown paths existed and we set down one with the swamp waters festering on either side. Just a few feet in a snake of very generous proportions made its presence known and slithered away. We counted ourselves lucky being deep in Cottonmouth territory and easily within striking range. In any case, we went forward anyway and hiked about considerably and amazingly without becoming lost in the treacherous gloomy mosaic of antediluvian foliage. The wildlife, however, was spectacular and Knaus got many good shots without dropping his camera in the fetid waters as he constantly did at Alleghany.

            My Air Force friends took well to Knaus, which was not much of a surprise as those who gathered themselves around me were cut from similar cloth as those from my past. I was delighted when he lectured John and Bryan on the correct use of the door and window controls and finally engaged the child lock and required them to ask permission that their window be cracked to smoke. Later on at one of the night parties, a rumor got started (possibly by me) that Knaus was an undercover agent of the Office of Special Investigation (OSI), the AF version of the FBI and Gestapo combined. I was so pleased with the reaction this got that I started the same rumor about myself not long after.
Requests from underage partiers to by them beer dropped to zero and it was wonderful to see young airmen hurriedly ditch drinks as I approached as they did with Knaus that night. The visit all together was too short and he declined to ever return.

            Soon after Knaus left and my friends boarded planes for the Mid-East, I decided to try my luck with the fairer sex once again and met Susan; a local who shared my passion for bad ‘80’s culture and local bands performing it thus validating our white bread Gen X status as campy kitsch lovers. Our first date was at the cheesily named Duck Inn and we followed up with a long moonlit walk on the beach. She seemed very in to me from the get go, which should have been a warning sign, but I was a slow learner in such areas. Two years my senior, a very recent divorcee, ex-Amway distributor, and had a deep passion for the crushingly depressing warbling of Sarah McLaughlin. My second warning sign should have been that she insisted on playing me several of Ms McLaughlin’s tunes on our very first date and broke down into tears. Twice.

            She had some quirks I found endearing such as her insistence on singing the Everything song ‘Hooch’ even after I demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that it was unquestionably about pussy. She also enjoyed watching the X-Men cartoon and we began a tradition to watching together over the phone. I worked overnights and she days, so each morning when I got home, I’d call and we’d watch together as she got ready for work and I wound down. When she heard hurricane Bonnie was scheduled to batter the Hampton Roads area in a weeks time, she hastily filled her bathtub as an emergency measure. I was forced to shame her into emptying it by asking if things ever got so bad as she was reduced to drinking bathwater, not to mention obvious hygienic issue of not bathing for a week due to an unreliable storm. On the downside, almost everything upset her to an alarming degree. Many long phone calls of consolation were spent as she went on for hours about dropping an ice cream cone and wondering if maybe it happened because she didn’t deserve it and whatnot.

            Not long after my arm operation, my sister came to visit. My arm was still in a sling tucked under my shirt, so Susan promised to drive me under the admonition not to be late. Up to that point we had never yet seen the beginning of a movie; much less the previews due to her inability to sub serve herself to grim father time. That day spelled the beginning of the end. I waited in the dorm parking lot, pacing back and forth as the time ticked on to when Laura’s flight would be touching down. I finally gave up hope and jumped in my car to drive one armed to the airport. I was pretty pissed to begin with, and riding in a Camero with malfunctioning windows and absent AC on a 100 degree day with my arm strapped to my chest was torturous. My concern was that Laura would arrive, not see me, call my mother, and I’d have to hear about it forever. Furious, I got on to the highway to face total gridlock.

            It was the most infuriating ride of my life. Gasping, sweating and swearing at the top of my lungs in the hot unmoving car as the minutes ticked forward for an hour and a half. By the time I reached the airport, my face had taken on a tomato complexion and my clothes were soaked through. My throat was closed and harsh from the constant profane screaming. I ran up the steps and there was Laura at the top, with Susan. She had arrived late as usual, not seen me, and then took a local short cut to the airport and bypassed the traffic. She recognized Laura from pictures and introduced herself, but not after calling my mother several times to complain of my absence. I returned to my room later to a machine full of angry messages and meaningless threats. Not long after Susan and I became ‘just friends’ at my suggestion.