Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Four
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 29, 2008
“Leaving home is a kick, you know? kind of like summer vacation? Only it’s no more screams, no more fights, no more parents’ dirty looks,” Sean had told Lenny a few weeks before he would graduate from his high school. Lenny had a new job teaching, downtown, and a new apartment nearby. Sean’s part-time job was only eight blocks from the apartment. He could leave home now, and he was gradually shifting his books and clothes into Lenny’s new place.
“So when are you moving in?”
“Just as soon as I graduate.”
“Have you told your parents yet?”
“No. Why should I?”
“Well, I don’t want any trouble with them. You are kind of young, Sean. And you told me how they run your life.”
“Don’t worry about it. I looked into it. There’s not a damn thing they can do if I have a job, and I start full-time a week before graduation. I’m really looking forward to this.”
“Won’t you miss home?”
“Are you kidding? What’s to miss? An old house with bad plumbing? Holes in the walls? Freezing in the morning because the heating oil ran out again?”
“What about your parents? Won’t you miss them?”
“No fucking way, Lenny. I think they’re crazy. You should have heard some of the fights they had: cursing each other, throwing things, breaking things.”
“Kind of infantile, huh?”
“You said it. I couldn’t see much difference between them and the younger kids.”
“Don’t you love them?”
“No, I don’t care anymore. I’ll miss my brothers and sisters, but I don’t want to ever have to go back there once I’m out.”
“Well, you’ve gotta go back there now. Do you want some help?”
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine this way, moving things a little at a time. I don’t want to get into a fight right now.”
“Hell, Lenny, I’ve got finals coming up.”
“For high school?”
“Hey, it’s a good school.”
“From what I’ve seen, public education sucks.”
“Maybe so, but I’ve got a job already, at Johns Hopkins, in a Physics lab.”
“Well, don’t forget the rent. I hope you can give me some money soon. I have to have it by the fifteenth of every month.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t be such a worry-wart. I’ll have the money. Look, I’ll see you later, O.K.?”
“Sean. Wait. I was planning on going down to David’s tonight. Don’t you want to come with me?”
“Can’t. I told you I’ve got finals. I’ve gotta study.”
“I’ll help you.”
“With Chemistry? Analytic Geometry? You teach English!”
“Oh, you’re right,” Lenny laughed. “Well, when are you coming back?”
“I’ll bring some more books down tomorrow or the next day.”
“How come you have so many books? I thought your folks didn’t have money?”
“I stole most of ’em, one or two at a time, and I flipped burgers for the rest. See ya later.”
“Yeah. See you,” Lenny said, but he was thinking about keeping his dresser locked.
Steve didn’t have much money. His new roommate worried him. The guy’s only eighteen. Can I trust him? We’ll have rent and bills to pay. What if he won’t pay his share? I want him here, but I sure can’t afford to keep him.
Lenny was not the most stable of people himself. Sean didn’t know it, but Lenny had almost not finished college. His relationship with Henry had almost destroyed him. Henry had quit school and disappeared. Lenny hadn’t taken enough pills to die, but the psychiatrists had helped. Now he was getting by with weekly outpatient visits and a little help from his Thorazine pills.
Oh, well, at least Sean’s good looking. Maybe he’ll come around. Things are looking up, Lenny thought, as a smile brightened his face. I hope he doesn’t get drafted.
Lenny didn’t have to worry about the draft. He was eighty pounds overweight and the letter from his psychiatrist had assured his 4-F (last to be called) status.
Sean passed his exams. His parents looked forward to the graduation ceremony, but Sean didn’t want to go. He wanted to just grab his diploma and join the real world. The more interested they were, the less interested he was. It’s just another dumb ritual, he thought. He had read about the protests and boycotts of college graduations over the war and other things.
“What do mean you’re not going?” his mother asked.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Since when do you decide? This is your graduation. It’s important to you, to us. You have to go.”
“I have to go? No I don’t. Not anymore.”
“Not anymore? As long as you live here you do what we say.”
“I don’t live here anymore.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m moving out.”
“You’re not going anywhere. Your father will talk to you.”
Mr. Emmet took Sean to the cellar to “talk.” There had been a lot of spankings, whippings, and lectures down there, so Sean wondered what kind of talk this would be. His father preceded him down the narrow stairs. A small piece of old linoleum flaked off a stair onto the concrete floor below. Sean was acutely aware of the damp smell of the cellar, ducking his head to avoid the ceiling joists at the bottom of the stairs. His father turned around to face him. Sean almost didn’t recognize the look on his face, but then he remembered. That look, I saw it before. Yeah, it was the way he grinned when he gave me and Paul that cryptic birds-and-the-bees talk.
“What is all this about your leaving? Where are you going? What are you going to do?”
“I have an apartment, and my job is full-time now. I’m moving Saturday.”
“Saturday? You can’t go just like that.”
“You’re the one told me to go.”
“What? Me? When?”
“You said, ‘If you don’t like it, get out,’ so I’m going,” Sean said, defiantly, but ready to duck.
“What?” Mr. Emmet asked, more puzzled than angry. Then he snapped. “That? That doesn’t matter. Uh, you know your mother doesn’t want you to leave. This will be real hard on her.”
It didn’t matter to Sean. His mind was set, but he agreed to go to the graduation. What does it matter, he thought, I’ve won. In two days I’m out of here.
On Saturday Sean was up and dressed faster than he had gotten up in twelve years of the same routine. He threw a tie around his neck, adjusted the two ends and let his hands take over tying the knot. I can do what I want, go where I want, stay out all night, Sean thought, as he pulled the longer end over the other, and up and over, and around the left loop, and behind the right side. And I don’t ever have to talk to them again. He pulled hard on the almost completed knot, wrapped it all the way around the front and up the back and then down through the front of the knot. He pulled it tight. “Aw, shit,” he yelled – the wide front end was too short.
“You’re gonna be late for your own graduation,” his mother yelled up the attic stairs.
He pulled the tie apart, and slowly, fixedly, re-tied the knot. He tucked his shirt in, grabbed his rented black jacket, and ran down the stairs – sideways, in order to give his feet maximum purchase on the crumbling narrow boards – fingered the attic door lintel and swung through the gap. From there, he jumped the rest of the stairs from the second floor three and four at a time, grabbed the railing post and swung onto the hallway floor.
As soon as he and his parents got back from the ceremony downtown, they were going to give him a ride to his new apartment with the rest of his things. He was ready.
No one talked on the way down, except for Mr. Emmet’s ritualistic cursing of all other drivers: “Where’d you get your license, in a box of crackerjacks? Horn works, try your lights. Idiot! Learn how to drive,” etc. Sean was used to it, only this time he was as anxious as his father to get somewhere – he wanted to get this over with and finish moving.
He found his seat on stage and looked around. There were four hundred and ninety-one other guys on stage, and four hundred and ninety of them in black suits. One guy came in a white suit, all the way from the white tie down to his white shoes. Now that was an idea, Sean thought, better than not coming at all.
Baltimore’s Mayor Tommy D’Alessandro gave out the diplomas. Principal Burkert had the people stand up who were going to college; over half the class stood. Then he had the people stand who already had a job. Most of the rest stood, except for Sean, who didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore.
Mr. and Mrs. Emmet brought their son back to their house. He left his diploma on the table in the hall while he ran up the stairs to gather his few remaining clothes and books. The small roll of paper looked out of place with all the family rollar skating trophies and medals. Only Sean had rejected the competitions. Trophies and medals weren’t sufficient incentive for Sean. The endless hours of practice and travel hadn’t interested Sean in the least, and his school work had required endless hours of study, just to graduate. Somehow Paul did both, but Sean had struggled through his courses, even repeating his junior year.
“This is all your fault,” Mrs. Emmet accused.
“How do figure that? You’re the one that spoiled him for so many years. I’m surprised he had the balls to do this.”
Before they could continue, Sean came down the stairs with some clothes, a few books, and an old suitcase that once belonged to his maternal grandmother. She’d died when Sean was two. He didn’t remember her, but the suitcase was still good, and the stuffed animal she had bought for him before she died was in the case. His father took it out to the car, and they drove silently to the apartment on Twenty-fifth and Calvert streets. The buiding was old but well-maintained. Not far away the city was already tearing whole blocks of dilapidated slums down.
They carried his things up the two flights of stairs – against his protests – and looked the place over. He was anxious for them to leave.
“I guess this is it,” Mr. Emmet said.
“Call us sometime,” Mrs. Emmet urged.
Sean just nodded his head. His mother moved to hug him, but he backed away. “We’d better get going,” she told Mr. Emmet, and they left. Sean was elated. That was easy, he thought, This is all easier than I thought it would be.
“Welcome Sean, I see your parents brought you.”
“Yeah, yeah, they insisted.”
Lenny carried the suitcase to Sean’s bed in the small bedroom. “You know,” he said, “You don’t have to sleep here.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean I have a nice king size bed out there. We could both fit easily, and then we could use this room for storage.”
“Uh, no thanks, Lenny. I like it just fine in here.” Aw, hell, what have I got myself into now?