[February 5, 2024] A few days before the start of my Junior year in High School, me and a few of my best buddies sat around a large fire pit eating, drinking soda, and yakking it up about whatever we wanted. The conversation strayed to many topics, and most of all, we spoke of girls. All summer, we did our thing: bike riding, dirt bike racing, selling fireworks, and sleeping late. Our get-togethers were just south of Abilene, Texas, and that summer was a scorcher that even the scorpions and horny toads hated.
We were a bunch of uncoordinated, nonconformist twits, and we were proud of it. “Don’t trust anybody over 30” was the common mantra of the times, and we adopted it fully as we loved the freedom of ignoring what our parents told us. We all assured one another that we were all very handsome and manly men because we were now a year older than last year. Perhaps that was one of the few truths that day.
Topics ranged from girls to upcoming school, politics, looking buff in our t-shirts, and the latest Mexican Restaurant that served spicy food so hot I threw up the first time I ate there. Or perhaps it was something terrible in the food. We talked about what we’d done over the summer, like visiting the zoo and seeing animals having sex in the open or one poor dog that got into the leopard area and found out that cats come in all sizes.
We were turning 15, real youngsters, pushing past the seventh-decade mark. We griped about President Lyndon B. Johnson and his “ill-advised” involvement in Vietnam and our slowly rising fear of getting drafted at 18. Saying that Johnson was a good patriot to our nation was like saying that alligators like vegetables.
My closest buddy, Bill Smith – now that’s his real name – would later go to college and become an Electrical Engineer. Maybe it was his fear after getting nearly killed by an electrical outage at our school. He tried to fix it by putting a penny in the electrical fuse box, a solution our dads told us to get things working again. His right arm was looking gross after he was knocked several feet away. Only a passing janitor saved his life. Thanks to that janitor.
Each of us had taken a few severe crashes dirt biking; in particular, I had several spills that tore up my legs, arms, chest, and back. My helmet saved my head. Several of our crashes were unexplainable, like when we got a big head start to zoom up a 100-foot, clay-faced, rock-encrusted hillside. My bike, a yellow 250 Yamaha, took my 120-pound body up about halfway before giving up. I went flying off. To this day, I wish I had a video of that one because it would indeed have won a prize in America’s Funniest Home videos.
A few of our falls are easily explainable. Henry, a friend who would later become a Pediatrician, had a nasty fall. Carrying a large box for his mom, he went to mail it at the Post Office when the box blocked his sightline – not smart – and he didn’t see the rise in the floor entrance as he stumbled, Frankenstein-like like for several feet before finally falling forward on his hands and knees, all while trying to balance that box.
None of us in our fire pit group got the Darwin Award we deserved. We are all still kicking today. We were called “the gang” – yeah, I know, authentic – but what we did outside of school made up for our dumb stunts and just below-average grades in school. The only class we had together was Chemistry, and I hold the record for starting a fire by exposing pure sodium metal to air and water. It is incredible how much damage that caused to the “indestructible” marbled chemistry lab countertops.
We gathered our vestige of knowledge and devised several things to do before we turned the ripe old age of 30, kind of like a kid’s bucket list. These were stupid, and I’m embarrassed to write any of them down. One was to get a naked lady tattooed on our arm. Thank goodness I never succumbed to that one. I can only shudder to think what my Mom would have said. Imagine her explaining her 15-year-old’s tattoo to her lady friends. Another was putting our tongue on a turtle’s face. Yeah, that works. They bite pretty hard. Of course, we all had to jump off a cliff cut by a river below. None of us landed in the water, but only Bill broke his leg, landing in the gravel on the bank.
My Dad’s advice was to have many great friends, and if they are funny, all the better. But avoid crazies. I don’t know how I would have made it this far without good friends.
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