Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lost in the Fog

I did not have a social disease.
My grandmother eventually noticed the rash and she asked me what it was and I told her I didn't know, because I didn't know. She told my mother and my mother insisted I go to a dermatologist in West Chester. He looked me over and besides the rash he found a couple small white patches on my arms. He said it was psoriasis and prescribed a cream to spread on any affected areas.
I had it all over my scalp, which is why I would flake so much at a mere touch. The scalp was a common place for the disease, as were elbows and knees. He told us it liked to hide, to find a dark area. He also told us to get this special shampoo.
The cream and the shampoo smelled like telephone poles. They contained some tar base chemical substance like creosote.  Oh, I was sure the girls would be attracted to this cologne. I should have never pointed out the man with the discolored face when I was a preschooler. I was sure he had cursed me with this. He probably went to one of those witches in Downingtown and ordered up this hex
“Now, how do you like it?” I could hear him ask. “Let’s see if you enjoy children pointing at you.”

An incident coming home from Ronald Tipton’s seemed to represent how my next year would go. The Tiptons had moved from their apartment at Boot Road and Chestnut Street. His father bought a house in the hills north of Downingtown. The house was back up a lane off Hopewell Road. I traveled the back roads from Bucktown to his house on Friday nights and on this particular one  I left his place very late and headed up creepy Creek Road.
There was a heavy fog making it even creepier. I couldn't see but a few feet ahead and practically other to the sides. It was tricky staying on the twisted  s the road followed along the Brandywine. Eventually I had to leave this street for even less familiar and narrower country lanes. I thought I was making the correct turns at crossroads, but it sure seemed to be a lot longer than usual to get home. I also appeared to be going up hills more than I recalled, but as I went higher the fog lifted some and suddenly all I saw were trees. Trees to the left of me and trees to the right of me and not anything that looked the least familiar.
Normally it took me a half hour to drive from Ronald’s to home, but I had been driving well over an hour and still there was nothing but trees. The road only went in a circular pattern sometimes upward and other times downward yet always within the trees. It didn't matter which way I turned nothing outside changed. I was beginning to get nervous. I had no idea where I was and it didn’t matter what road I turned down I was still in this never-ending forest. It was like an episode from the Twilight Zone. "For your observation, meet Larry Meredith. A young man who thought he was just taking a short ride home, but instead he was driving into...THE TWILIGHT ZONE!"
After another half hour or so I popped out of the trees into some farmland. the scenery was vaguely familiar. I realized I had been lost in French Creek State Park all this time. I knew where I was now, but not exactly how to get out of the place. It took me another half hour or more to finally get home.

All during eleventh grade I was in a fog. There were a few clear patches and then I would feel lost again.

Richard and I were attending dances at the Warwick Junior High (left), where he still went to ninth grade. He was younger than I by six mouths, but held back two grades. I went to the dances because he needed a ride and I had the car. I was an Uber driver for most of my friends before Uber was ever thought of. At the dance I spent my time hanging along one of the walls watching others dance. I was the Woeful Wallflower of Warwick. You see, I had no confidence in asking a girl to dance. 
Oh, occasionally, I ventured over to some girl who seemed as alone and abandoned as I thinking she might want to dance. I approached even these expecting to be turned down and of course I was.
Rich did not lack confidence. He knew no fear. He used the caveman approach to getting a girl. He simply walked up to a girl, grabbed her arm and drug her onto the floor. He gave them no chance to reject him and no escape. He never said a word, he just took.  He sat out very few dances. 
One of the girls he took was Barbara Summate (pictured right) and he soon began to date her regularly. Now I was not only chauffeuring him to these shindigs, I was chauffeuring his date. I should have worn one go those little chauffeur caps. It was lonely enough before when he waltzed off with girls inside the gym all night and left me holding up my wall, but at least we communicated in the car. Now he ignored me altogether as he sat in the back seat pawing Barbara. There was no other way to describe it, except pawing, unless it escalated to mauling.

Meanwhile I was getting a complex and beginning to constantly brood over my inability to get girls to dance with me. I would be moody around the house and sometimes I would mumble my complains to my mother about it. I had a reputation at school as a decent guy. I felt this was a handicap.
“Girls don’t want nice guys,” I would say to my mother.
“Oh, it just seems that way now,” she would say.
“No, they want guys like Richard who grab them and kiss them on the first date.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get a girl,” was the best she could offer.
"I''m going to die a bachelor," was what I insisted in return.

There was a girl I liked from afar. Her name was Gail Francis (left). I thought she was spectacularly pretty. She was a year behind me at school, but I kept running into her. It was almost as if she was stalking me and it was driving me crazy. I really wanted to ask her out, but I couldn’t get up the nerve to do it. Yet, every time I turned around she would be nearby.
I sometimes read the poems I wrote to my friends at lunch. One day I was reading this parody of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. I called it “South Cemetery”. It was four song take-offs, “I’m Gonna Drink that Blood Right Outta Her Neck”, “Older Than Egypt”, “Some Enchanted Graveyard” and “A Wonderful Wolf”
I expect ev’ryone of my crowd
To make fun of my proud
Protestations of hypnotic entrances;
And they’ll say I’m sup’stitious,
A bit naïve to believe any legend
I hear from some wolf in pants.

I’ve been known to share your
Practical conclusion,
Thinking the beast could keep
Its seclusion,
‘Til all of a sudden that moon’s
Shown down and hit me smack
In the snude:
That’s how I turned out to be
The hairy young werewolf you see.

I turned around after finishing and Gail was standing right behind me listening. She had a big smile on her face.
“I think you’re really funny,” she said.
It was the perfect opportunity, except I felt my face turn warm and knew I was blushing. “Thank you,” I mumbled and hurried off into the distance as if late for class.
I still kept running into Gail everywhere I turned, but I never did ask her on a date. The irony came when we got our School Yearbooks as seniors. There was a section in every Yearbook called “Class Will”. Someone of the editorial staff wrote a little blurb about each member of the graduating class. It was what that graduate supposedly left to someone in the junior class. My blurb read, “Larry Meredith wills his collection of gory horror novels to Gail Francis. They will be good for her book reports next years.”

Just coincidence or did someone know of my crush on Gail? Or is it possible someone knew she had a crush on me?

Maybe my reputation around the school was that of nice guy, but I didn’t always live up to it. One of the biggest regrets of my life was the terrible thing I did to a girl at one of those school dances. There was a tradition at these affairs during my teenage days called the Sadie Hawkins Dance. Sadie Hawkins was a character created by Al Capp in his comic strip Li’l Abner. The strip was very popular in my youth and ran in the Sunday Papers for 40 plus years. It was set in a Hillbilly town called Dogpatch. Sadie Hawkins was “the homeliest gal in all them hills”. When she went un-courted for 35 years her father rounded up all the young men of the town and made them have a footrace with Sadie chasing down a man. The one she caught would have to marry her. The other spinsters of Dogpatch then declared an annual Sadie Hawkins’ Day where they chased down men to marry.

Borrowing from the comic strip, this reversal of traditional roles became a staple of one high school dance an evening. At some point the DJ announced a Sadie Hawkins’s Dance and the girls got to ask the boys. Normally the girls passed me over in this ritual, but not this time. I was standing at my usual place when this particular girl asked me to dance. This was a moment of decision. A decent man would have said yes. A brave man would have said yes. I was neither. I said no and made an excuse that I had to leave.
Here I had languished as a wallflower for a season dying to dance with a girl and now I turn one down. Why did I do that?
I was a coward. I had a chance to be gracious and kind and I didn’t take it. I have been ashamed of myself ever since. Guys considered this girl the homeliest girl in the class. I knew the other boys, the bulls and Fonzie-types anyway, would make fun unmercifully of any guy seen dancing with her. “Where’s your girlfriend today?” guys would ask with a mocking tone. “Larry and Whozits sittin’ in a tree…” would echo down the corridors as I passed.
Any boy worth his salt wouldn’t have cared. I proved myself worthless. I walked away.
I felt guilt almost immediately. I sat in the car the rest of the night waiting for the dance to end and Richard to come out. I was glad she was not in any of my classes because I didn’t want to face her and so I stayed outside in the car. I didn’t go back inside and ask her to dance. I knew I hurt her. I had enough experience with rejection to understand how painful that must have been for her. This remorse added to the growing moodiness I was displaying around home more and more.

Note: I left both the name and photo of this person out of the account, although I had included both in my original transcript. I see no reason to add to the humiliation she must have suffered as a teenager, for I know how cruelly the jokes and jibes aimed toward her were. Hopefully, as an adult she had a happy life. She did marry and had several children. She died relatively young, sometime between the age of 52 and 67. I do not know the circumstances of her death.

I was losing interest in going to class. I wasn’t doing my homework. I wasn’t even keeping up on my reading assignments. My marks were abysmal. I couldn’t stand most of my teachers. I was drifting more and more to my old fantasies, but I was seldom alone at home anymore. My grandmother was always there. I had to confine my imaginings to when I took a bath. I would sneak one of my magazines into the bathroom under my clothes and I would take the risk of hairy hands.
Life outside of school and home was going along fairly well. I was out most nights now, cruising with Richard or visiting my old Downingtown friends. Since I wasn't having much success with getting girls to dance with me or date me, what was I doing?
I was indulging in the other big interest of guys in my neck of the woods.
Pottstown has had a long reputation for drag racing. When I was a teen they were trying to
hard to stomp it out, but in recent years I think they have played off of that theme. Saturday nights became something of a festival in that town during the 1990s and 2000s. You would see all kinds of
hot rods and custom cars heading up the Pottstown Pike. These weren’t kids either. These were older guys showing off what they did by stealth fifty years earlier, cruising back and forth on the main street of Pottstown. They even created the official Pottstown Cruise, which has been going on for at least 20 years (pictured right Pottstown Cruise Day 1991; on the left if the Pottstown Cruise 2010, below right, Pottstown Cruise Night 2010).
But we were kids back then in 1957-58 and hot rods weren’t welcome cruising up and down High Street. My Ford was hardly a Hot Rod, but that didn’t stop me picking drag races with other kids at every stoplight. I had quick reflects, which helped on those short blocks, but if the next light didn’t change red quickly before I reached it I didn’t stand much chance with my Straight Six against V-8s.
But that was what we did night after night, pull up at red lights and lay rubber on the green.

Richard was always agitating to get his hands under the hood of my Ford. I wouldn’t let him fiddle about with my engine, but I did allow him to talk me into some modifications to the body. It’s difficult to see some of these in this picture. The pinstripes are obvious, but they were just decals. You can see that we smoothed out the trunk. We removed the original chrome trim and the lock device. The area was filled and painted over. We ran a cable from the trunk lock through the car up to the driver’s side alongside the seat. You pulled a handle on this cable to pop the trunk.
One day something went wrong with the cable. I needed to get the trunk open so I got a crowbar, stuck the flat end in the crease where the truck lid fitted against the body and tried to pry it. When doing this on one side didn’t work, I tried on the other. The only results I got were these narrow, deep groves in the top of each fender. I didn’t realize I could pull out the rear seat to access the trunk.
This wasn’t the only modification resulting in damage. Richard and I (mostly Richard) installed lowering blocks (pictured right) in the back. It was the custom of the day to have your car ride very low to the ground in the rear. Lowering blocks fastened in between springs and chassis pushed the rear down. They also made going too fast over a bump rather unforgiving. I went over a rise at the end of a driveway and broke my springs.

We removed the hubcaps to paint the wheels red. Everybody considered red wheel cool. I wanted to put Oldsmobile taillights on, but I don’t think I ever did. I also notice I had a bumper sticker reading, “Girl Wanted”. I can’t read what the snide remark below that says and I don’t remember it. I did stop Richard cold when he wanted to cut the roof supports and lower the roof height. Let's not get carried away here, man!
The most unusual dents on my car didn’t come from dragging, but from attending drag races in Lancaster. Richard and I became regulars at a couple of drag tracks, not as participants, just spectators. We went to the drags in Perkasie, which had a drag strip with grandstands (pictured left). Other times we went to the drags in Lancaster. They held these at the Lancaster Airfield. The cars raced down one of the runways. There were no stands, but if you got there early you could pull your car right up to the side of the runway to watch. We would park and climb up on my car roof for the races. Richard tended to get excited and bounce up and down. He left his impression in my car roof. Of course, this was not your traditional moon roof.
Now I had the dented front fender from when I hit the support beam, the dented back fenders from the crowbars, the broken springs and dents in my roof. What more could I do to this poor vehicle?

1 comment:

Jon said...

I'm still thoroughly enjoying all of your memories - getting lost in the fog, modifying your Ford, the school dances.

I was an absolute nerd in high school - thick glasses and pathetically skinny. I was also about two years younger than everybody in my class. I never dated in school and never went to the dances.
I didn't get "wild" until I was in my 20's. Then there was no turning back!