Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sweet 16 And Never Been What?

When I was 15 Pam left me for God. I would hitchhike out to Webster Groves and spend the night under her window like some love lorn Romeo. For some reason she didn't call the cops and I eventually won back her heart. Somehow after this experience I was never the same.

This is when I met A. The coincidence was that A’s big brother Kevin had already been Pam’s boyfriend. I remember taking a short cut through her yard and seeing them with legs wrapped around each other on her trampoline. I thought this was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen.

This was the same Kevin I toured the East Coast with in the mini-bus. Kevin was seriously diabetic and wasn’t supposed to live to see 40. I believe he made it to 47.

A, Marge and I became inseparable at this time. Marge had moved into an old mansion A was living in in the Central West End. I pretty much lived there too although it wasn’t official.

I was a Central West End kid but I was new to the private street scene. A’s house had a huge leather sculpture above the fireplace and a waterfall that ran down the wall in an atrium connected to the dining room. At the entrance was a huge staircase with a landing large enough to accommodate the bands that played our parties. David Surkamp played Julia on his acoustic guitar. His band Pavlov’s Dog had just gotten signed with ABC Records and this song was getting a lot of air play. My attitude was, “who is this joker with the falsetto voice making all the girls swoon”?

A would warn the cops before a party so they could keep an eye on things. We were kids and I couldn’t believe she would be open with them about our intentions. This was an entirely different culture than I was used to; borne from privilege.

I remember one night A and I were sitting in front of the fireplace tripping and her mother called. She casually confessed we were doing LSD. Her mother came home around three or four in the morning asking about our experience. (She was a psychologist and was genuinely interested).

We were all going to alternative schools at the time. I went to Logos when it was still an urban school. I paid my own tuition - $5.00 a semester. My teachers were Jesuit priests in the making. They were serving their Viet Nam conscientious objection service with inner city kids.

I thought our school was tough because we smoked cigarettes and drank coffee in class. We had nothing on A. She went to Matrix which was a Free School. Our band rehearsed in the basement. A. told me one of her assignments was reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead on acid.

A went from 7th grade to Forest Park Community College. At graduation she scrambled to get a GED. From there she went to Vassar. She’s been a journalist ever since. She lived in Managua during the Contra years. She was in Lima Peru during problems down there. She’s even lived in Cuba.

I’ve always been very proud of her but never really told her.

When Marge turned 16 we had a party up in the attic at A.’s house. The theme was “Sweet 16 and Never Been What?” A. came up with that. My band supported Marge, A, and K as they sang Love Child by The Supremes. Pam worked with the girls on the arrangement. Pam was actually playing piano with us at the time and we had just gotten back together.

The party got out of hand and the last thing I remember was Pam opening a closet door to find A and me giggling like school children on the floor.


Mike said...

My first class at Matrix was "Listening to the Blues." Teach' played LPs on a record player. As he put away one album to choose another, he caught my eye and asked me if I liked Billie Holiday.

I was fourteen, newly-runawayed from a certified Klan town across the river. I couldn't believe my unbelievable luck. I'd found a family.
I found my family. Here's why:

I blushed hard, both honored and panicked about Teach' watching my face for an answer. He wore a genuinely-patient grin.

"Like him?" I said. "I love 'im."

....well, now......fuck my new-century discretion, especially since I intend to honor the man. . .

Fred Schmelzter, who'd asked me about Lady Day, said nothing. His beardy grin grew just a bit wider.

We were fifteen kids, and Fred, packed ass-tight on the floor of an upstairs room, so the smell was heady. We'd been told to Respect The Process, and we had chosen to respect Fred, so all were quiet, except for giggling from Miss A. and her crew, girls faced with my hopelessly funny situation, especially hard to ignore at twelve or thirteen.
They were gently silenced by FS's eyes. He placed a new record on the spindle. Fred dropped the needle into a groove.
A scritch, then there was Billie Holiday.
It was a late-career recording, so it took me a minute to register "woman"; and in the next minute, Mark Jaquith, sitting beside me on the floor, was patting my back like a brother does.

I remember that you and your likewise brothers lived in the basement. I remember even more clearly your music, which was so reassuring to walk on; it permeated the first-floor floor. It pulsed outside, where we had painted the fire hydrant yellow and blue. I can't remember why.
Thank you for posting your blog. It is pleasing to view. Your writings are honorable.
I wonder if Pam's stepmother was an ex-nun. If yes: I can still summon up trace sense-memories of the airless air that surrounded her. Same woman? Then you know what I mean.
Thanks for the mention of Matrix. For a while we felt aggressive towards Logos, a failed attempt at freek gang warfare? I always thought you guys were smarter because you met in classrooms and we hung from trees.
With love sent back to the past, where and when we each needed it,

Mike said...

I woke up this morning thinking, "No T in Schmelzer."