Midway through eighth grade, I moved back to my hometown and picked up again with Jason and Chris. By then all of us had kissed girls, and were impressed by them. Each of us lived in a different spot miles outside of town, so seeing each other or girls always depended upon parents’ transportation.
Jason and his family left town after eighth grade ended, bound for the snow-white beaches of the Florida panhandle. I was hurt. He was the second best friend I had, and he left. I wondered whether he or Chris had felt that when I moved. Or, at least, I wonder it now.
Chris and I hung out more and more. We each had other friends too, of course, but most of my memories from that time are of him.
Although Chris and his dad no longer lived on a farm, there was one activity we enjoyed in both places — burning trash. A 50-gallon barrel sat in their backyard, and served as their incinerator. We burned things we probably shouldn’t have, like plastic bottles that put off toxic fumes, but we didn’t inhale. We sometimes held aloft a burning bottle to hear the zip sound of the molten plastic drips.
When fire’s power wasn’t holding us captive, we spent time with its mortal enemy.
Their house lay a few miles below a United States Army Corps of Engineers dam, less than a half mile from the river. The water was about 56 degrees Farenheit year-round, so taking a dip meant a serious committment to cooling off. Chris acclimated to it much more quickly than I, and could spend more time completely under water. The water was so cold that it took my breath away the moment it lapped above my waist. By that time, my legs didn’t bother me anymore because they were numb. Once I got used to it, I jumped in from a stump beside a deep pool.
After swimming, we had to perform leech checks. We never found bloodsuckers of Stand by Me proportions, but sometimes several of the tiny black parasites attached themselves to our bodies. They bothered me more than they did Chris, and seemed much worse than ticks, even though ticks had a worse reputation. One is believed by some to help cure disease, and one is known to carry it. Still, just the word “leech” set me on edge.
On shore, we “drilled” the sand with thin poles we pulled from plentiful cane stands. Gases formed by decaying plant matter erupted from the sand, and sometimes made a whoosh sound. We never tried to light it or otherwise prove what it was, but maybe we would be millionaires by now if we had. Or just a couple of guys with no eyebrows.
We couldn’t go down to the river whenever the whim hit us. The hydroelectric dam had to generate electricity somehow, and that meant significant fluctuations in water levels. Being on the river during generation hours was a bad idea, unless drowning or being smashed to bits against trees was the goal.
Entertaining ourselves indoors was never a problem. We often improvised duets at his house, with either our band instruments (low brass), or Chris’ Roland keyboard. His eventual career in the recording industry was no surprise.
Back then, VCR’s were fairly new to home users. My family lagged so far behind on this technological front that we never owned a top-loading VCR. Chris and his dad had one at their house, however, and it was there that he and I watched movies bootlegged in Korea. Brought over by a friend of his dad, they obviously had been recorded, Seinfeld Death Blow-style, by a camcorder operator with the nervous shakes. We didn’t care that there were Korean subtitles on the screen; it was a huge thrill to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in somebody’s house when it was still in American theaters. We also enjoyed other titles — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Silverado, Blazing Saddles and Ishtar (okay, so we enjoyed some of them).
Chris and I never got into arguments, and we always had fun. Although he had more sheer brainpower than I, and I never got into chess or Dune, we clicked intellectually, too. We both liked nerdy stuff, but girls just as much. Somehow, we did fairly well at each but never butted heads in competition.