Gene for the Defense

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Speeding TicketIt was way past midnight on a wintry Saturday night in 1975. It had just started to snow and through my windshield, the falling flakes looked like that scene in Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon blasts into light speed. Everything was blanketed in white, but there were still two well-worn tire paths where the road was still visible.

The speed limit on Busha Highway in Marysville is 55 miles-per-hour, but since the roads were slick, I dropped my speed to 45. As I rounded the bend by the refinery, I passed an oncoming car. In my rear-view mirror, I noticed that the car made a U-turn and was quickly gaining on me. I fully expected this fool to pass me, but instead red-and-blue flashing lights pierced my back window. I was being pulled over, but I had no idea why I was being pulled over.

A friendly Marysville Police Officer told me why he had pulled me over: my speed was too fast for road conditions and he suggested that I slow down. Now, I might have gotten off with a warning at that point, but I couldn’t leave well-enough alone.

First, I pointed out that I was was driving 10 miles-per-hour under the speed limit, and second, not only had he passed me in the opposite direction, but he turned around and caught up to me within one mile. So—being the smart ass that I am—I asked him if he was driving too fast for road conditions too? And that’s when his attitude changed.

He wrote me a speeding ticket and advised me to slow down. Dripping with sarcasm, I said “Thank you, officer.”

I pissed and moaned to anyone who would listen to my sad tale of injustice and everyone gave me the same advice, “Go to court.” Damn straight. Hell yeah. I signed the ticket, checked the box marked ‘not guilty,’ and—since I worked in the same building—I hand delivered it to the County Court Office. They scheduled my court date. My case would go to trial in 30 days at 9:00 a.m. in front of Judge Hamm.

“Damn straight” and “Hell yeah” quickly turned into “What the hell have I done?”

The morning of my trial was another snow storm; how appropriate. And it wasn’t just a snow storm, it was a blizzard with drifting snow. Schools were closed and driving was treacherous. I wasn’t really sure if the County Court would even be open in such severe weather.

It was a good thing I showed up because Judge Hamm showed up, and so did the Marysville Police Officer. We both stood up when he entered the court. I was the only defendant in the court room, but before my case was called, he read the names of every other person who was scheduled to show up that morning and ruled their cases as guilty since they neglected to appear before the court.

Next thing I heard was, “The court calls case number blah, blah, blah, the City of Marysville versus Eugene Renaker.”

Judge Hamm instructed me to take a seat at the front table to his right. I gathered all of my evidence, including: a month-old weather report from the daily WHLS news bulletin, a large road map of the incident and a photograph of the snow-covered road that I had shot the morning after I received my ticket. I came loaded for bear, but I would never get a chance to show any of my dazzling articles of defense. I took a seat in my suit and tie.

The officer was sworn in and asked by a prosecutor to explain what happened. The officer made it sound all very legal, “At 1:12 a.m. while traveling south on Busha Highway, I encountered a vehicle that was traveling at a speed that I deemed to be too fast for road conditions because it was snowing. I turned around and pursued the vehicle. At Michigan Road I pulled the driver over.”

The prosecutor asked, “How hard was it snowing?”

The officer pointed to the blizzard just outside the window and said, “Just like it is right now.”

Judge Hamm reacted to the blinding blizzard that blew past the window in horizontal gusts, “Good Lord.”

I jumped to my feet and yelled, “Objection your Honor! Isn’t that just a little too coincidental?”

Everything stopped. Time stood still. Everyone was looking at me; the bailiff, the Marysville Police Officer, the prosecutor, and even the stenographer. Last, but certainly not least, Judge Hamm was staring at me.

I thought I was going to be charged with contempt. It was as if some crazy 19-year-old understudy had taken over my body and shouted out lines that weren’t even in the play. I just stood there with my hand still in the air.

The Judge gently waved me back into my chair and said, “Sit down, Perry Mason.”

In the end, I didn’t even have to take the stand. I think Judge Hamm envisioned more theatrics on my part and quickly dismissed the case if I agreed to pay court costs of $35.

“What?!”  I remember thinking, “Why should I have to pay anything? This is bullshit” However, logic prevailed and I cooled my jets as Judge Hamm explained that also meant no points or ticket on my record.

Dripping with appreciation, I said, “Thank you, your Honor.”

Bank Robbery Suspect

During my senior year of high school, I worked at the Mueller Brass Company in the school’s co-op business program. Every morning I punched a time clock before 7 a.m. and punched out at 12 noon; Saturdays too. From the moment I punched the clock, I had 30 minutes to get in my car, drive to the high school, eat a 50¢ hot lunch in the cafeteria (or at McDonald’s across the street) and be on my stool in Mr. Belt’s architecture class. Everyday was a race to make it to my class on time.

My instructor treated his class like it was a business. We were to be in our seats and working on our drawings when the bell rang. Not only that, he locked the door as the bell was ringing. Tardy students were given chores at the end of the day. You say you ride the bus? Didn’t matter. Not his problem. Call home. Call a friend. Call a cab. Walk. I was late once…and only once.

The point I’m making is that I drove fast—very fast—to arrive on time. I’m surprised I didn’t get any speeding tickets that year. In addition, I had tested different routes and used the one that avoided the (always red) traffic light at the intersection of 20th Street and Lapeer Road. I worked in the engineering building and its parking lot emptied onto 17th Street. There, I hanged a right and drove to the stop sign at Lapeer Avenue. 17th Street doesn’t line up with the 17th Street on the other side of Lapeer Road—it has something to do with the curvature of the earth, but I digress—so I had to jog a little as I crossed it. The fastest route was to make that jog and continue down 17th Street until it ended at Howard Street  where I turned right and drove for two blocks to 20th Street. (I know the numbers don’t add up, but that’s how they built and numbered the streets.) Next, I turned left on 20th Street for two blocks and pulled into the city pool parking lot.

My car was a five-year old 1969 Chrysler 300 that I shared with my mother, but it had guts—a 440 V8—with plenty of pick up and go. Punch it from a stand still and it momentarily paused as the four-barrel carburetor opened up and then it left rubber on the road. And being a typical teenager, I squealed my tires at every opportunity on the way to school including starts, stops and turns. There is a credit union—hell, it was my credit union—on 17th Street near Howard Street and one day it was being robbed at noon. It really was. And here I come—as if on cue—with squealing tires and a wide-open Holley four barrel. I flew past the credit union and squealed around the corner onto Howard. I had no idea what was going on inside the credit union, but someone did. An accurate description of me, my car and my license plate was given to the police.

30 minutes later, while I was sitting in Mr. Belt’s class, the Port Huron Police were sitting in my living room with my mother. According to the police report, they stated, and I quote, that they “had reason to believe I was involved in a bank robbery.” Their meeting with my mother was over very quickly because the actual bank robbers were captured almost immediately. I was never charged or questioned. In fact, I didn’t even know about the credit union robbery until my mother told me about the visitors that had knocked on her door that afternoon. I’m not sure she was convinced I wasn’t involved at the time. It was an amusing story, but I assured her it was nothing more than a coincidence.

End of story…or so I thought.

One year later, I was a student at the local community college and I had landed a job in the City of Port Huron’s Planning Department. My boss, Ray Stratton, allowed me to work around my college schedule before flex time was even invented. (He was a pretty cool guy.) In return, I tried to give him more than was expected. This job was a sweet deal and I didn’t want to lose it for any reason.

Governor Milliken was coming to our small town and we were pulling out all the stops. He was scheduled to speak at the McMorran Auditorium and our planning department had prepared many charts and maps for his presentation. On the day of the governor’s arrival, Ray Stratton was asked to run a routine check of police reports on the people in his department.

Remember that credit union?

The whole department was lined up: Jerry, Ray, Bill, Jim, Kathy, Izzy and myself. We needed the “backstage” passes so we could enter the McMorran Auditorium to set up the presentation materials. We were waiting for Ray Stratton…and he was late. He walked into our office, head down, reading a piece of paper. He was obviously distracted. We watched him and then we looked at each other with mild curiosity. He continued reading the paper silently. He looked up and seemed to be caught off guard by our presence. He composed himself.

“Renaker, you can’t go. You’ve got a police file,” he said.

Everyone stared at me like I was a terrorist.

I was too stunned to reply. How in the hell could I have a police file, I wondered. I didn’t even have a speeding ticket at the time. I looked at my coworkers for support, but there was none. I felt like a leper. Ray Stratton handed out the security clearance letters to everyone but me. He glanced at the report one last time.

“Did you rob a bank?” he asked.

I swore under my breath. (Pretty sure it was the “F” word.)

Kathy heard me and gasped audibly. The others looked at me with wide eyes. I dropped my head in disgust, but everyone else mistook my body language as an admission of guilt. My reply didn’t help much either.

“I can explain that,” I said.

I never got the chance. Everyone in the City Planning Department left immediately for the governor’s presentation. After that, they just looked at me a little differently.

Ray Stratton left the report on his desk and I read it while they were gone. I discovered how much faith my mother had in me during my senior year of high school.

“Doesn’t surprise me at all, he’s crazy,” she had told the police one year ago.

Now she said that she had told me the whole story, but I’m quite certain she never told me that part. I know I would have definitely remembered the “he’s crazy” part of the story.

As far as I know, I still have a police report file. My wife tells me I should have that record destroyed, but for some reason, I kind of like it.

A Simple Misunderstanding

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It was the winter of 1974 and my high school architecture instructor, Mr. Belt, was teaching our class about stress points. To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember anything he taught us on the subject. It involved a lot of math—not my strongest subject—to determine the location of the breaking point when a load was placed on a structure.

I’m sure he explained it correctly, but his lesson eluded me. It wasn’t just me, either. None of us really understood what he was trying to convey to us. He might as well have been speaking Swahili as he scribbled formulas on the chalk board.

Mr. Belt must have sensed our complete lack of understanding, so he decided to make it interesting. He introduced dynamite into the equation.

“Imagine you want to blow up a bridge, but you only have one stick of dynamite.” he said.

Hello. That piqued our interest. We sat up and paid attention.

He produced a small engineering drawing of Seventh Street Bridge located in downtown Port Huron. The drawing showed the bridge in the raised and lowered positions. It also displayed the hidden workings of the bridge including the motors, gears and cantilever weights.

“Where would you put it? At the weakest point on the bridge. Right? That’s what I’m asking you to find…the weakest point, or as we call it, the stress point,” he said.

Now, as far as I can recall, he only said “dynamite” once, but that was enough. After that, the assignment suddenly became very interesting. Isn’t it amazing how a different perspective can change your whole outlook?

We were told to work in teams on this assignment. With a simple knowing nod to Ed, one of my fellow classmates, we were teammates. We divided the work: I would draw up the plans; Ed would calculate the equations.

Within a week, we had completed our assignment. I had drawn orthographic views of both sides of the bridge, plus a top view of Seventh Street and the Black River. A call-out line with an arrow pointed to an “X” on the thin part of the bridge’s arch. Hand printed next to the line were the words,”Place dynamite here.” It was awesome. Really.

I made a set of blueprints of our drawings at Mueller Brass where I worked every morning in the engineering department. The plans were rolled into a tube and I took them to school—where I promptly lost them.

Of all people to find the set of blueprints was our American Literature teacher, Mr. Mitchem. Earlier that same year, Ed and I had left a shoebox on his podium that contained a fake time bomb, complete with a ticking clock, a six-volt dry cell, and bell wire connected to large radio resistors (blasting caps) and highway flares (dynamite.) It was a prop for a skit we performed, but that’s a different story. Note: see “American Lit Book Report.”

Mr. Mitchem called us out of other classes and we reported to his class room as instructed. His mood was serious as he confronted us.

“Are you guys planning to do anything illegal in the near future?” he asked us, point blank.

My mind raced. What the hell was he getting at? Cheating on tests? Smoking pot? Drinking beer? Riding trains? Taunting the mounted police at the football games?

Ed was always better on his feet.

“Nope,” he said.

I followed Ed’s lead.

“Nope,” I repeated.

Mr. Mitchem stared at us using his silent tactic, as if one of us would break down under the tremendous pressure. (No chance.) He unrolled the set of blueprints on his desk.

“Can you explain this?” he said.

Ha! He thought we were terrorists? We both laughed and relaxed.

“You think we would blow up a bridge? This is an assignment for Mr. Belt’s architecture class,” Ed said.

Mr. Mitchem simply stared at us. He wasn’t buying this incredulous explanation, but we didn’t care; we were in the clear and we knew it. We were both chuckling as he rolled up the blueprints and marched across the hall to Mr. Belt’s class. The door was locked and Mr. Belt was teaching a class, but Mr. Mitchem didn’t care; he was on a mission. He knocked on the door. Ed and I stood behind him; grinning.

Mr. Belt opened the door and saw the rolled blueprints in Mr. Mitchem’s hand. He knew the question before it was asked.

“It’s an assignment to find stress points on a structure,” he said.

With that, he extended his hand and took possession of the blueprints and returned to his class. Mr. Mitchem turned around and simply told us to return to our classes.

Neither teacher ever mentioned this incident again. And in retrospect, it wasn’t really much of an event; it was just a simple misunderstanding. It was long forgotten when our yearbooks arrived in June. Like most students, we filled our yearbooks with grand salutations, wishes of luck and simple signatures.

And that’s what I expected from Mr. Mitchem; a simple signature, but instead he wrote a poem in my yearbook. Word got around, and for the next week my fellow classmates repeatedly asked me to show them Mr. Mitchem’s poem; which I did with a smile.

And I still chuckle about it to this day.

An explosion in the night,
7th Street Bridge is gone,
It went without a fight,
In the Magic Bomber’s dawn.

— W. P. Mitchem

The Stolen Christmas Tree

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To be honest, none of us thought it was vandalism at the time, but that’s how it was described in the Sunday morning edition of our local newspaper, The Times Herald:

“Vandals destroy trees at Chippewa School.”

One of those pine trees—and many evergreen branches from the others we butchered—decorated the sanctuary at Griswold Street Baptist Church.

Traditionally, the youth group trimmed the church at the beginning of Advent. In years past, they purchased a tall tree from the Ruby Tree Farm, cut it down, dragged it to a truck, drove it to the church, dragged the tree inside the church and decorated it. The reward for this day of hard labor was hot cocoa and cookies.

This year was different because, being high-school seniors, we were the oldest kids in the youth group. My friend and I had a better plan: find a tree for free and spend the $25 (designated for the Christmas tree) on pizza.

It’s important to point out that Domino’s Pizza didn’t exist at the time. In fact, there were no pizza chains to speak of and only a handful of restaurants served this Italian treat: Saffee’s, Joe’s, Dino’s, and House of Pizza. My point being, pizza was a big deal in 1973.
After the Wednesday night church service, the Youth Group Chaperon gave us $25 to spend on acquiring a Christmas Tree. All we had to do was find a tree—a free tree—between now and Saturday morning.

This is much harder than it sounds.

The next day after school, four of us piled into a pickup truck and we combed the area looking for a suitable tree. There were many trees that fit the bill, but cutting them down and making a clean getaway would be next to impossible. We ruled out trees located in neighborhoods because one of the girls thought that would be rude. Next, we continued to search the industrial areas, city parks, beaches and cemeteries, all to no avail.

I had an epiphany.

Years ago, I went to Chippewa School for Saturday morning basketball games. Since I didn’t have a bike lock, I hid my bicycle behind a thick grove of evergreen trees. Better yet, Chippewa School was isolated at the end of a secluded road. Bingo. We selected our tree and returned after dark.

We chopped down the best-looking tree and severed the branches of many other trees for trimmings. It was a well-executed surgical strike. 15-minutes later, we dragged the tree inside the church, placed it in the tree stand and washed our hands—figuratively and literally—because they were sticky from the sap. The rest of the youth group would decorate the tree on Saturday morning. Our part of the job, procurement, was done.

It was time to celebrate.

We spent our ill-gotten gain at Joe’s Pizzaria by ordering two top-of-the-line 16″ Supreme pizzas—and they were absolutely delicious. (Stolen fruit tastes the sweetest.) Living the dream, we gorged until we were stuffed and pumped coins into the juke box all evening—a perfect ending to a perfect caper.

On Sunday morning, my co-conspirator approached me in the church parking lot.

“Did you tell anyone where the tree came from?” he asked.

“Hell no,” I said.

He unfolded the newspaper article and I read it. A wave of fear came over me as I looked at the photograph of the barren trunks and one-lone stump. I have to admit, it did look a lot like vandalism.

“Holy shit,” I whispered.

The short article ended with a request for anyone with any knowledge of this crime to contact the St. Clair County Sheriff’s office. Well, anyone with half a brain could solve this crime; the evidence was right inside the church for everyone to see. We would be caught for sure; it was just a matter of time. The cops were probably on their way here right now.

My friend refolded the article and stuffed it back into his suit coat pocket. We were doomed. It occurred to us that, most likely, we would spend the rest of the holidays at the juvenile detention center on Krafft Road.  We walked into church with our guilty heads lowered. And there it was, in all its glory, (Is this the same tree?) the most magnificent and radiant Christmas tree I have ever seen in my life.

It was unrecognizable.

The youth group had done a spectacular job.  The tree was decorated from top-to-bottom with strings of colored-lights, ornaments, tinsel and a star-spire capped the top. Canned goods for the needy surrounded the base. Evergreen trimmings adorned with red ribbons were hung down the halls and aisles of the church. All that was missing was the choir singing, Joy to the World. No one would recognize this tree. Not now. Not ever.

We walked into the Youth Bible Study Class, took our seats and said a prayer of thanks.

I Hate Devotions

There, I said it. Never liked them, never will.

A couple of evenings each week, my mother would goad my father into leading our family through a scripted devotional booklet provided by the church. A devotion service at home consisted of four parts: a bible verse reading, a message that interpreted the bible verse, a family prayer in which we were all asked to participate and my father’s long-winded pontification to close the service.

The reason I probably disliked—no, hated—devotions was that it didn’t matter what else you might be doing at the time, you had to drop everything for devotions. You say your favorite television show is almost over with? Didn’t matter. Turn it off. Television was a form of idolatry. What if I had an algebra test the next day and I was studying? Again, it didn’t matter. In fact, I was told I could pray for my test. The best course of action was to sit down as quickly as possible and get the damn thing over with.

When I said we were asked to participate in the family prayer, that’s usually as far as it went.

My father would ask, “Eugene, would you like to say a prayer?”

“No,” I would reply.

My brother, Kenny, always took my lead and refused to pray as well. (Good brother. No sense in dragging this out any longer than it has too.) My little sister, Shawna, usually refused to pray as well, but one time I remember her prayer quite clearly.

My father asked, “Shawna, would you like to say a prayer?”

“Yes,” she replied.

I looked up, so did Kenny. (Make it short you little traitor.) Shawna folded her hands, closed her eyes.

“Dear Lord, please make Kenny a better boy,” she said.

Kenny jumped up to defend his honor and placed his fist in her face.

“YOU PRAY FOR YOURSELF!” he screamed.

My father broke up the fight before it turned ugly and took my brother to his room. Devotions ended early that night. (Alright, Kenny.)

The only other bright spot that I can remember about devotions was a contest that my brother and I devised. Not sure how it started; doesn’t matter. Once the family-participation prayer was over with, my father would start his prayer. The moment he said, “Dear Lord…” Kenny and I would each take a deep breath and see if we could hold our breath until my father’s prayer ended. Usually he won, but every now and then, we made it.

There was a cadence and repetition to his prayers. Once he said the catch phrase, “We give you the honor and the glory,” you could safely assume you were in the last 30 seconds of his prayer. And so it was said, “We give you the honor and the glory…” so Kenny and I held out. Any other night, we would have given up because our bodies were already demanding fresh air, but this night we really thought we were going to make it.

We refused to quit. We were going to win. The end was within our grasp. The tell-tale clues that said he was nearly finished with his prayer were all there. Wrap it up. Wrap it up, I thought.

And then my father remembered he had forgotten to pray for the president and congress. My brother and I realized the game was over at the same time. We both exhaled forcefully and gasped for much-needed oxygen as if we had just run a marathon. In a sense, we had. Our parents looked up, like deer in headlights, as both of us panted to maintain consciousness.

That is probably the closest I have ever come to passing out.

Bad Karma

The truth is, I completely forgot about the following story until my friend’s wife jogged my memory with the email below—and there it was, just waiting to be picked up and held for a while. Enjoy.
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Re: Childhood story attached
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 7:31 PM
From: “janxxxxxxx@comcast.net”

Hi Gene,
Stay in touch…if you have any more stories to share, feel free. Did you write one about the firecrackers in the car?
How is your hearing? ☺
Janet
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Firecrackers were hard to come by when I was growing up. As far as I know, they were only legal in Tennessee and Canada in the early 70s. Luckily, my grandparents lived in Florida. Every summer on our annual trip to Florida, we drove through Tennessee. So, every summer I returned home with a bag chock full of Black Cat firecrackers. And, they were usually gone within a week.

My friend, David, was always willing to help me light firecrackers. We tossed them in mailboxes, pipes and trash cans—all of which seemed to amplify the sound of the explosion. It was getting late, we were bored and hungry, so we went for a drive to McDonald’s. Dave had a driver’s license in 11th grade—I didn’t—so, Dave drove. It was just getting dark as we cruised through town munching on our burgers and sipping our Cokes. I don’t think we took the firecrackers with us intentionally, but there they were, in David’s pick-up truck.

I’m not sure who proposed that we toss lit firecrackers out the window, but that’s what we did. As David drove slowly through downtown Port Huron, I unwound a couple of firecrackers, lit one and casually tossed it to the curb near a few pedestrians. It exploded a second later. CRACK! The people jumped at the unexpected explosion. We laughed at their frightened reactions. What a hoot! I lit another one with similar results. We laughed just as hard. So, I lit another one, and another one, and lit…

“NOOOOO!!!” David yelled,

I looked in my lap. To my horror, the mother fuse to the unwound strand of firecrackers was lit. All I had time to do was swat it off my lap like it was a hornet.

Remember what I said about the sound of the explosion being amplified when a firecracker was placed in an enclosure? Well, it’s especially true if you’re inside that enclosure—like say, a pick-up truck cab.

The firecrackers were barely off my lap when they exploded in a hail of non-stop intense flashes. “BAM, CRACK, BANG, BOOM, BAM, CRACK, BANG, BOOM, BAM, CRACK, BANG, BOOM!!!” Although I had smacked the firecrackers to the floorboard, they exploded everywhere. I covered my face. I’m not sure if David did—(remember, he was still driving.) The sound was deafening and the smoke from all the firecrackers was intense. It was all over in about 10 seconds. Dave drove over the curb and we both—literally—fell out of his truck gasping for air. I can only imagine what the car behind us must have thought about the flashes, smoke and two guys stumbling out of a pick-up truck.

I crawled onto the sidewalk on my hands and knees—dazed and very confused. (Now I understand the principle of a flash-bang grenade that SWAT teams use in hostage situations.) My ears were ringing very loud and I was quite sure I was permanently deaf. I was stunned—unsure of who, what or where I was. It took a moment to compose myself. What the hell just happened?

In retrospect, I know exactly what happened…bad karma. Karma is the belief that humans have “free will” to choose good or evil, and enjoy the benefits or—in this case—suffer the consequences. Well, we chose to be assholes that night, and we suffered the consequences. Karma can take years to show up, but sometimes, karma is immediate and appropriate.

The Dirty Blanket

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My mother was convinced that Satan was using rock-n-roll music to destroy the youth of our country; present company included. More than once she confiscated and destroyed a rock music album that she deemed to be offensive. Remember the cover of Who’s Next by The Who? Gone. Or the bible verses on the back of Aqualung by Jethro Tull? Blasphemy. And Give me an F… chant by Country Joe McDonald on the triple album Woodstock. Gone. Gone. And gone.

Rock and roll was evil—pure and simple—so I learned to hide my albums and my activities. The less she knew, the better it was for both of us. It was just self preservation on my part.

In 1973, a new hard-rock tune, Frankenstein by the Edgar Winter Group, caught my ear. WRIF played the hell out of it. It quickly became my favorite song. I bought the album and I played the hell out of it too. And, I turned it up to eleven whenever I could. A few months later, I saw an ad in the Sunday Detroit Free Press for the Edgar Winter Group’s concert at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. It was a dream come true. I mailed off a money order and received four tickets a week later. I asked my best friend, Lorena, to go with me. She was thrilled. Better yet, she had a driver’s license.

Lorena wasn’t my girl friend; she was one of my best friends that just happened to be a girl. Get it? We went out together all the time, but our friendship was strictly a brother-and-sister” type relationship. Most people assumed—my mother included—that our friendship was much more intimate. It wasn’t.

The day of the concert arrived the same week that report cards were sent home. Lorena had received a “C” in some class and she was grounded until the next marking period. The next marking period? That’s six weeks! That’s like forever in teenager time. Since she couldn’t go to the concert, she set me up with one of her good friends who could drive and we went to the show with another couple. The concert was awesome.

It was around midnight when I arrived home. My parents were already in bed. The phone rang as I entered the house.

“Hello?” I answered softly.

It was Lorena.

“Eugene? Is that you?” my mother called from her bedroom.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Who called?” she asked.

“It was a wrong number,” I said.

I returned to Lorena’s call. She wanted to hear everything about the concert. Not wanting to wake up our families, we both whispered. About this time, Lorena’s father walked through their dark house into the kitchen and cut an extremely loud fart. Pffffffffft! I even heard it over the phone. We could barely contain our laughter and we couldn’t understand our whispers.

“Can you come over, right now?” Lorena asked.

“I’ll be right over.” I said.

I slipped out the back door and rode my bicycle over to Lorena’s house. She met me in her driveway around one in the morning. We walked down to her boat dock on the St. Clair River and wrapped ourselves up in her blanket. We watched chunks of ice float by as we talked about the concert, our high school classes and life in general.

At one point, I distinctly remember impersonating Bill Cosby. I recounted the skit where he had placed a frog in his pocket that croaked on cue.

“Hey old weird Harold, I’ll bet you fifty cents my leg can burp.” “Croak,” I said.

We laughed and talked for hours. The time flew by. Around four-thirty in the morning, the sky began to lighten. Our time was over. When we stood up, we noticed the bottom edge of the blanket was dirty from the wet dock. Lorena didn’t want to explain to her parents why her blanket was soaking wet and filthy, so I rolled it up and offered to wash and dry it. (What a guy.) Done deal.

It was around five in the morning when I crept back into my house. I threw Lorena’s blanket in the washing machine, added some soap, started the wash cycle and went to bed.

My mother woke me up with a start that afternoon.

“Eugene! Whose blanket is this?” she asked with an irritated tone.

She was holding the wet blanket and she was very upset. I was still very groggy. She repeated the question a little louder. It didn’t occur to me how incriminating this evidence might appear to my mother.

“It’s Lorena’s blanket,” I said.

“And why is it in my washing machine?” she asked.

“Cause we got it dirty,” I said quite matter of factly. (Sheesh. Get a clue, lady.)

You could see the fruit spinning in my mother’s mind. One-by-one, they all lined up. Her eyes widened.

“Tiny! Get up here!” she called to my father who was downstairs.

He climbed upstairs to my bedroom and stood next to my mother.

“Your son has got some explaining to do,” she stated like a prosecuting attorney.

I was wide awake now and I quickly went into damage control mode. I tried to explain that this wasn’t how it looked, but she would hear none of it. Abruptly, my mother left my bedroom and my father followed her.

Cool. That was easy.

I fell back into my warm bed with every intention of going back to sleep. A moment later, I heard my mother shouting downstairs. (Now what?) Whoever she was yelling at now wasn’t saying anything. Unless…unless—oh shit—unless she was on the telephone.

And she was.

“Lorena, you need to get over here right now!” she shouted.
“Oh, I think you know exactly what this is about. A dirty blanket!” she said.

I scrambled down the stairs and tried to stop my mother before she completely ruined my life.

“Mom! No! Stop it. She’s already in trouble,” I said.

Now I was referring to Lorena being grounded, but that’s not how it sounded to my mother. She freaked.

“Tiny!” she yelled.

My dad walked back into the melee.

“Eugene has gotten Lorena in trouble,” she said.

“Great day in the morning,” he said.

“What? No! That’s not what I meant,” I said.

Lorena was still on the phone and I’m pretty sure she was laughing.

“Get over here right now,” my mother told her.

Lorena said she was eating dinner with her family and then she hung up. (What balls.)

“Hello? Lorena? Lorena?” My mother spoke into the dead handset.

I loved it.

But I was also pissed. And embarrassed. I took the wet blanket from my mother and put it in the clothes dryer. My mother called her pastor and spilled her guts to him. I went upstairs to my bedroom, shut the door and put Frankenstein on the turntable and turned it up to 11.

They say nothing spreads faster than a good rumor.

The following Monday at school, it seemed that everyone knew that Eugene had gotten Lorena in trouble and there was a dirty blanket to prove it. I hadn’t told a soul. I’m positive Lorena hadn’t told anyone. That left the Pastor and the Deacons of the church. So much for confidentiality.