Saturday, September 18, 2010

4 Best Friends

When my mother, brother and I became part of the great westward migration to the county we followed Highway 44 to Oakland. Oakland was a small unincorporated area between Webster Groves and Kirkwood. Highway 44 was still under construction and a great source of materials for our tree houses. Not to mention what a great playground!

I remember stealing tomatoes from people’s gardens and bombing cars at night from the highway’s bridge over Berry Ave..

One night we saw a police car coming toward us in the distance. There was a heavy piece of equipment on the bridge. We pulled ourselves up and hung there by sheer muscle power as the cop shined his search light around the machinery. When he finally drove away we fell to the ground exhausted and exhilarated.

We only lived in Oakland for 2 years but they were formative ones for me. I had 4 best friends.

Jack Schenk lived in a 3 story Victorian house surrounded by woods and compost piles. I only remember a few things about him. He turned me on to the song Justine which was the B-side of The Archies “Sugar Sugar” single. I hated The Archies but I loved that song. I think that’s when I realized I could love a song by a band I hated. Roll With The Changes by REO, Jukebox Hero by Foreigner and any guitar part by Tom Sholz of Boston come to mind.

Jack’s mom was one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz along with the rest of her 4th grade class.

He had a garage that was separate from his house. We’d meet there in the morning before school to smoke cigarettes and plan our next crime.

Greg Frillman went to a Catholic school Mary Queen of Peace. They would get out for summer vacation early and I was always jealous until they had to go back early. Greg was my fellow architect for our tree houses. They were spectacular.

Our best one was a 2 story complete with working windows, a bedroom and electricity. It was in our friend Brad Elsner’s back yard. We painted it green so it would blend in with the trees. It was so nice we rented it to Brad’s older brother for 2 weeks when he ran away from home. He used to bring his girl friend there. The first time I ever got drunk Brad’s brother bought us a small bottle of Jack Daniels and Mad Dog. We drank it in the tree house. We laughed all night but couldn’t understand why we weren’t getting drunk. I’m not sure what we expected but we had no idea we were drunk. I think kids get drunk naturally when they’re happy.

Speaking of laughter--- a section of the highway had been completed but not opened yet. There was a pedestrian bridge that went that high over it. I decided I would go across from the outside of a tall chain link fence that stretched across. Greg watched from the safety of the other side. He threw his hands out from his head like he was screaming in terror. I was laughing so hard my strength disappeared. He was relentless. I begged him to stop, I was going to fall. I must have been 3 stories over the pavement. I really don’t know how I made it across.

Years later I ran into him at a mansion in the Central West End. He was going out with my buddy Benet’s old girl friend Nancy Post. We barely acknowledge each other’s presence.

Jeff Knoll ended up being one of my life long best friends. Jeff was already popular with the girls in 6th grade. My nick name was Skinny because I was chubby.

We used to camp in his back yard and sneak out late to pool hop. I remember one pool had a fence around it with a sign that read, “Keep Out, Survivors will be Prosecuted!” Jeff had a tree house too.

His dad was in the Navy in WW II and had a Purple Heart. He never really approved of me. I remember having dinner with the family one eveing. They bowed their heads to pray. I closed my eyes and bowed with them. “I didn’t know Skinny prayed,” he said. I guess it was obvious I was pretending.

When Jeff and I got in trouble for stealing bikes his dad banned me from the house.

Jeff and our friend Dennis Wheeler actually found a corpse on the railroad tracks. It was right out of Stand by Me. There will be more stories about Jeff to come.

Don Belk probably affected me more than any other single person. He was trouble and eventually ended up doing time. A few years ago when my young family lived in Florissant he called me out of the blue. I remember thinking, “How the Hell did Don get my number.” My buddy Tracy gave it to him.

Don started us stealing bikes. Way back in his yard at the top of a hill he had a little club house we used to camp in. He had a really animated personality too. One night when we were sleeping in the club house he yelled, “Kiss my Paducah!” He thought that was so funny his laughter kept us up all night.

Don and I used to play air guitar on yard sticks to Steppenwolf and The Kinks.

I’m not sure why but in 9th grade I hitch hiked back to his Kirkwood home from my place in the West End. Don was playing bass in a band. He turned me onto the grab box at Mel Bay music. I bought my first guitar from it for $25.00.

Without knowing a single song I was invited into the band. We were called Blue Mist. We used to load all of our equipment onto a red wagon and carry it to someone’s garage until the cops were called and we’d move on. The first thing we learned was 18 by Alice Cooper. We played the verse over and over for hours. We never did learn the chorus.

Don met Lee Bock in Webster and fell in love. Lee ended up being the twin sister of my first real girl friend, Linn. It was the beginning of my sexual and intellectual adventures. Don introduced me to Tracy who is still a big part of my life and, as it turned out, was the first bass player in Blue Mist.

This picture of me was taken around 7th grade. I can’t remember the woman’s name. She was a friend of my mom. It was taken one night at Holiday Shores. Our friends Ed and Jan, the owners of Laclede Town’s “Coach and Four Pub” had a small piece of property there. This is where my dad drowned a few years later.


Tracy said...

Hey Dave I think you're confusing Don Belk for Jeff for some of that. It was Jeff who really had done the time.

I'm not sure if I gave Jeff your number or not, I may have, possibly so he could tell you that Don had died but come to think of it before Don died I think maybe you gave Don my number. I was wondering how he tracked me down in Webster. However he did it, Im glad he did. He had gotten his life together in some ways but it was too late for him physically. He made peace with me and died maybe a year or so later. Their little sis Tammy died not too long after.

Doggie said...

Yeah Jeff did the time. Don called me and I thought you gave him the number. He still wanted to jam. I can't believe Tammy died, how? Was Moe involved in whatever Jeff did time for?

Tracy said...

Tammy died from some kind of cancer I think. I talked to their mom shortly after and she said that the weekend before she died she went out and got high like on acid or something... probably not acid but something, memory fails me right now but it was that same old attitude you know? Party on Garth. Moe had nothing to do with Jeff doing time. Jeff had called me to tell me about Tammy and he was living in St Charles at the time. When I called back his girlfriend or wife told me he wasnt there at the moment, he was locked up for something but she was going down to get him out and could I call back later? "Now I don't know where you come down on the incarceration question, whether it's for rehabilitation or revenge. But I was beginning to think, revenge is the only argument that makes any sense."

Anonymous said...

I don't know why, but the image of one running away from home to their own backyard brings to mind the image of a child in an argument with his parents though it's obvious he wasn't a little kid based on your story.