Raw excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. I hope you are enjoying reading these chapter essays as much as I am enjoying hearing stories of the shenanigans of the lives of your loved ones. Thank you for all your comments and helping me keep laughing. XO
Brian was the first among their friends to turn 16 and get his driver’s license in December of 1971. But way, way, way before then, he started dreaming, planning for this rite of passage that feels like everything to most teens. He washed dishes after school, on the weekends, summers, for four years, from the time he was 12. I know, this detail is equal parts impressive of Brian’s laser focus and sleazy of his employer, but it was the late 60s early 70s, labor laws were obviously lax and child labor was as good as any. He managed to save enough money to buy his own 56 Chevy. He described the buzz of excitement among their group of friends that someone, anyone, had obtained the dream, the inaugural milestone, a license to drive AND a car at his personal disposal. His new-found freedom was a victorious first taste of real adult-type liberty for all of them.
That first Friday night after obtaining his new wheels, word spread by crowd fire that Brian was driving everyone to Shakey’s Pizza after the basketball game. The proverbial everyone plus their date showed up to pile in his gently-used ride for pizza, and no doubt, fun. Brian described the giddy teens clumsily crawling over each other via the two doors to load the car. They first filled the back seat, laughing at the ridiculous feat they were attempting. Next, another awkward layer of kids kneeing and elbowing their way around the tight space, sitting on the bench of the first-in kids’ laps. The more people packed themselves in the car the more they laughed, the ones inside, crushing or being crushed and those standing outside the car waiting, champing at the bit to join that first layer of kids already packed inside. The next layer resorted to diving on top of the pile, laying on one another in interspersed layers of bodies with feet and arms going every direction within the car, crossing over between back and front seat and out the windows. He then filled the trunk to the brim with as many kids as would fit. Of course, Dave was right there, probably somewhere near the bottom.
Besides sketchy child labor laws, this was also before not only federal seat belt laws but before seat belts were a standard safety feature or even a consideration among American car manufacturers, drivers, or passengers alike. It was a roomy 50s car that one might exaggeratedly be able to play racketball in the back seat, but this was an extraordinary mass of teenage humanity in his car.
After the crazy hilarity of stacking everyone in, people getting squashed, getting the doors and trunk closed, Brian started the car, proceeded to back out of his parking spot, and drive across the lot to the exit. The car was riding so low that his front bumper scraped the unavoidable speed bump near the exit. There was NO way he was going to scratch his new car or get stuck in the ever so slight slope of the driveway. Less than a couple hundred feet from where they just loaded up, he had to abruptly stop the car and have everyone unload. It was literally one and a half minutes of drive time after they got underway. One can only imagine how hilarious it would have been to pile back out of the car, wait mere seconds while the car was moved to the street, then repeat the pile in process once again. The world just opened up for everyone when Brian got his wheels.
That car was parked in front of our house at some point just about every day because those two, Brian and Dave, had places to go (school) and people to meet (cruising E Street commences), football practice and they did all things together, with the radio on.
I cannot help but laugh thinking about them going on a double-date attending one of their formal dances. The guys wore pastel colored tuxes with those ridiculous ruffled front white dress shirts with corresponding colored trim on the curly fabric that looked like it had had a VERY tight perm. Brian’s tux was baby blue with dark blue piping accents around the edges of lapels, ruffles and Dave wore pale green with darker green trim. How was this EVER a popular style that boys saved up their money to rent? Brian jokes that they were the original Dumb and Dumber brothers.
When Brian would drop Dave off at the end of the shenanigans of any whatever the occasion, it was never a drop and run situation. They would always BS a bit before Dave would get out of the car. Maybe they were listening to the end of a good song on the radio, they both loved the music of the day and you had to patiently wait for your favorite songs to come on. So when it came on, you listened to it to the end. Brian told me about the time they were cruising in the local mountains above the cloud cover, it was a really beautiful day when “You can’t always get what you want” came on the radio. It was the first time he heard the song with that angelic boys choir acapella opening, he looked around and momentarily wondered curiously if they had somehow driven to the next realm of existence until of course Mick Jagger broke into the surreal moment bringing him back to earth. Dave bought himself a car in the upcoming years but it was a very rough open dune buggy. It was a glorified street legal gokart more than a car, not exactly suitable for dates. They cruised and they listened to music and double-dated with Brian behind the wheel as the designated driver.
My mom describes her and my dad being in bed hearing the familiar sound of Brian’s car pull up around the midnight curfew, then hearing either music or most commonly the two of them laughing loudly about something. She said they could hear Dave get louder as he opened the car door and rolled out onto the grass also not an uncommon sequence of events. My parents could tell by the change in volume of Dave’s voice that he was rolling around on the ground out there, fully endorsing the hilarity of the moment. My mom, well both my mom and dad just loved hearing the boys’ laughter drifting up away from the street to their bedroom. They always found themselves at first snickering which grew into giggling, ultimately giving way to howling at the boys laughing outside. They would catch their breath and then laugh at themselves laughing at the boys having the time of their silly young lives.
After I laughed with her at her experience and description of this regular event, she joyfully added that Dave had the MOST infectious laugh she had ever heard, that she missed it after he was hurt. Remembering those nights when those two boys sat out by the curb in Brian’s car was a particularly endearing memory that has remained with her 70+ years. His diaphragm is part of the many things affected by his paralysis. Besides putting him at greater risk of choking, it caused his laugh to change, not the frequency or ease with which he laughed, that never changed, just the way he characteristically sounded-like a barking seal with asthma. Still VERY identifiably his and definitely infectious.