With the summer job completed, and college bearing down on our collection of friends, there was only one thing left to do before starting the next important stage of our lives. Hold a The Big Sendoff Party.
Our clan was a mix of cross country guys with a few other peers thrown in. We gathered at the home of a friend whose parents never seemed to be home. That left the house open for the night. His place sat at the end of a deadend road, so the neighborhood wasn’t dialed into our activities either.
My personal party history wasn’t all that much to brag about, but things were accelerating going into my freshman year in college. Earlier that summer, we made a trip up to Mirror Lake in the Wisconsin Dells. It was supposed to be a fun camping trip, but the Boone’s Farm wine took over early in the evening. There was some prodigious barfing going on with one of our friends late in the night. Come morning, the riverine traces of his misery cut through the sandy soil below his tent. We got up early and decided to go home rather than stay around and try to make something better of the day.
We’d lashed a Sunfish sailboat to the roof of the ’67 Chevy that our friend Rob Walker drove. But given our condition that afternoon and night, we never took the boat near the water. The next morning, in our hungover state, no one thought to check the integrity of the tie job we’d done on the 15-foot boat. Roaring down I-90 back to Illinois, one of the lashings came loose and the boat swung sideways from its streamlined position to catch the full brunt of the wind at 60+ miles an hour. We felt the car lurch to one side and the other. Rob kept it on the road, but we pulled over to tie the boat firmly back in place. Most of us were too stunned to say much. Once it was secured again, we felt safe enough to laugh it off.
Nothing symbolizes the vicissitudes of life more aptly than the effect that sailboat had on our car that day. One minute you’re sailing along, so to speak. The next minute, something in your sphere catches the winds of life the wrong way and it almost drives you off the road.
Often as not, these events are self-inflicted, yet seldom intentional. In running, something as simple as a shoe coming untied can screw up an entire race. So can eating the wrong food before a hard run, or forgetting to hit the bathroom that last time. Among runners, shit really does happen. As in, all the time.
But when you’re a male teenager, the frontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed. That’s the risk-taking segment of the mind. I recently listened to a neurologist on NPR explaining that the decision-making capabilities of teens, especially male teens, is further compromised by the priorities that young men place on peer acceptance over the actual dangers of whatever activities they choose to engage. Young men view losing peer acceptance as a far greater risk than getting into trouble.
That explains why our party at the end of summer got so damned out of hand. We all had a little money from those summer jobs. Some of it found a vodka bottle or two, a ton of beer and perhaps even a little pot to smoke outside. We roiled around the house that night in late summer of 1975 drinking and laughing and wondering what comes next. As midnight neared, someone announced they were hungry for donuts. A few guys piled into one of the cars and off they drove, pretty much drunk as hell, to the Dunkin’ Donuts four miles away.
To their shock and dismay, the store was nearly devoid of donuts at that time. “No fucking donuts?” one of them asked. “This is a donut shop, and you ain’t got no donuts?”
I can’t claim that was a direct quote.The incident was related to me third or fourth hand. I wasn’t there to witness the Drunken Donuts scene, but I got the gist when they returned. Admittedly, I was also disconsolate at the lack of donuts to hand out.
My interests were elsewhere that evening. A former girlfriend showed up at the party and the quiet sparks of a summer night flew between us. We were getting busy beneath the back porch deck when the donut caravan rolled back to the house. The headlights hit us and we quickly separated and zipped up to greet the drunken merrymakers. Never was I so sad to see my friends return.
Things only got uglier and stranger––as Hunter S. Thompson might say––as the evening wore on. Somehow a few of us decided that skinny-dipping in the quarry pond a quarter mile away would be a good idea. We hiked through darkness and stripped off our clothes. The water was black and foreboding, with no moon to light the night. I dipped a toe in the water and recalled, through my own weakly functioning frontal cortex, that quarries often have steep banks. It might be ‘all or nothing’ if one stepped into the water.
In any case, that lake was warmer than the night air and a mist was rising by that time in the morning. I swam in circles without my glasses on. The darkness beneath my chin seemed close as death.I kicked hard to keep my head above water. At that moment I heard raucous giggling by the shore, and looked up to see the shapes of several young women running away with our clothes.
We shouted after them in that muffled voice one uses while trying to be both forceful and secret about it. Then we swam back to shore. Naked in the night, the few of us looked down at our dicks shriveled from the cold and began mincing along the shore to get back to house. The stones hurt our feet. A branch raked across my shoulders, giving me a start. Then we humped our way through a field of wet grass and up the road to the house.
There, standing on the porch where we’d messed around earlier that evening, was the former girlfriend in her tight white jeans and tube top. By contrast, I stood shivering with my hand over my junk and asked, in the most masculine voice I could muster, “Could I have my clothes back, please? I’m cold.”
She chuckled, tossed them in my direction and walked back inside. I never saw her again that evening.
Eventually we all did crash on the basement floor. The cold swim sobered me up, so I sat there wondering if I could find that girl somewhere in the house. I didn’t dare go upstairs in case my friend’s parents had gotten home.
It took several days to recover from that party. I went for short runs to work off the fatigue and the stress of staying up all night to drink more booze than I ever did before. Like I said, partying was not my forte, but that night stretched both my expectations and frontal cortex a few notches.
The Big Sendoff signified the dissolution of that group, to some degree. Most of us went off to college. A few stayed and worked local jobs and held the town down while we college boys were gone. That last week of summer I packed up some clothes and ran as much as I could to get ready for the first cross country practice at Luther College.
My parents took me up to school and we walked the Luther campus together with my friend Paul Morlock and his folks. Later that day, I showed up at the fieldhouse to get team-issued tee shirts and shorts, a set of running shoes, and some spikes. I placed them all in a locker and said to myself, “Okay, this is happening.”
Yes, Christopher Cudworth. It really was.