For each of the last two years of high school, my destination was always the same immediately following dismissal. After parking my car in a vacant lot next door, I walked up the steps to a highly elevated front porch, where one of my classmates lived. Often the family’s two erstwhile cats had decapitated a small animal or two, usually squirrels, leaving their severed heads on the floor mat.
After disposing of the latest feline love offering, the glass pipe came out and smoking began. I was a novice at first, but wanted to seem as though I knew what I was doing. My cover was blown almost instantly, but no one gave me a hard time about it. I did not know the proper way to light the bowl. A fellow participant corrected me early on, as before I’d confused the bowl for the carb. A carb regulates airflow in and out of the pipe. Lighting it does absolutely nothing.
Her parents always returned home from work a couple hours later. We finished up well before they arrived. I can’t remember now how I got hooked into this network of friends. Because I’d always had trouble forming friendships, I graciously accepted the offer and appreciated the fellowship. They were kind and non-judgmental at a time where many of my peers were the exact opposite.
One of the reasons I was there was because of my feelings for the host of the party. She kindly swatted away my advances, one by one. Serially monogamous, I got the feeling that she didn’t really know what she wanted out of a boyfriend. Few of us did at that time. My feelings faded away eventually.
My first creative writing efforts were often introduced to those present on the front porch. Though I consider them juvenile and a little embarrassing now, they do show great promise. The people with whom I kept company were not academic high-achievers as I was. If anything, they were classic underachievers, the sort of kids we called “alternative” then, although that phrase doesn’t mean now what it meant then.
I was a huge Tori Amos fan at the time, as was she. Her older sister left behind the sheet music to several songs. A guitarist, the complicated chords of each song were beyond my skill. Around the same time, Tori became something of a gay icon. I saw her in concert twice, surrounded by queer men and women. Most people passing time on the front porch were as interested in music as I was, but mostly disinterested in the same bland, formulaic Top 40 that ruled the charts.
Bluff Park is a self-contained community within the city limits of Hoover. As the name would suggest, it is at a higher elevation than the rest of the city. The last vestiges of blue collar life, or at least lower middle class life can be found there. Bluff Park kids stick together through thick and thin. I still remember watching packs of girls walking the streets together after school, talking and gossiping.
Earlier in high school, I’d befriended a fellow guitarist from the same community. I was just learning the instrument, but was picking things up quickly. Both of his parents smoked inside the house. Now, I’d find the practice intolerable, but in those days I smoked copiously myself, so it didn’t really seem to matter. I will say that, should I sleep over, I smelled like I’d been out to a club all night.
His mother was an alcoholic, or at least a heavy drinker. She made passes at me, even though I was fifteen and still several years underage. She didn’t seem to discriminate much with her affections, since she also flirted shamelessly with my father when he arrived to pick me up. My friend appeared to ignore this as much as possible. I suppose, under the circumstances, I would have tried to do the same thing.
I remember heading for the showers the instant I arrived home, to wash off the cigarette smell. Not yet having much confidence or experience around those to whom I was attracted, my attentions often turned to his mother. Did she really want me, or did she only want the attention? She was clearly quite fond of me because of my musical ability, but due to my young age, I wasn’t sure what to do with the mixed messages.
As it turns out, I never pushed too hard. I was intimidated enough by women my age. Her husband was always present, only a room or two away. I wondered if he knew about his wife’s preoccupations. They were flagrant, so I imagine he must have registered complaints at some time or another. Though speculation is rarely constructive or helpful, I wondered then and wonder now if they had an open relationship.