Dave Todd’s Basement
By Marc Jennings
I’m not sure exactly when the first time I went to Dave Todd’s basement was. As I have said before, I moved into the Fairview Elementary district just before eighth grade and met Dave at that time. We became good friends. So I may have been in his basement at some time early in that school year, 1961-62. But, the first time I remember was in the winter of that year when I attended a party at Dave’s house.
I don’t know how things went at your elementary school, but at Fairview random people would host a party from time to time. In most cases, the people who had the party, and the people who came to the party, were “going with” someone. That is, you were a couple. Maybe there were people who at some time came to a party without a girlfriend or a boyfriend, but if that was the case, I don’t remember it.
At these parties there would be cokes, snacks and music. For activity, you would talk, slow dance with your girlfriend (or boyfriend), but mostly make out. Making out was the main event, it was the reason to go to the party in the first place, more or less—for the guys anyway (at least it was in my case). Making out consisted of kissing, caressing non-controversial parts of your partner’s body and that was about it. Oh, I think there may have been one or two instances, if someone turned off a light in part of the room, when I may have observed a male and female body pressed a little closer together than regulation for such an event, but this was not standard. Being with a girl was a big deal, then. For me, it was just the previous year that I arranged to meet a girl at a movie and it took the entire film for me to work up the nerve to put my arm around her. So, dancing and making out were major developments in the girl department.
Anyway, as I came down the stairs I heard Gene Chandler singing “Duke of Earl”. I can never hear that song without thinking of Dave Todd’s basement. The next thing that caught my attention was one of the usual couples: Susie Harris and Randy Hathaway. As long as I had known them they had been going together. To me, they seemed a perfect couple—except they always seemed to be yelling at each other; which is what was happening as I came in. But it was a nice party; we talked, ate snacks, danced some and made out.
Dave Todd lived at 1034 Bertram Ave. Bertram was parallel to Hillcrest, the next street over from FHS, going toward Salem. Dave’s house was very nice and the basement was nicely finished in the knotty pine paneling that seemed to exist in basements all over Dayton. I don’t know for sure, but I’m thinking someone made a lot of money selling knotty pine boards in Dayton. But Dave’s was well done, with linoleum tile squares on the floor, and it seemed neat to us guys. There was a knotty pine bar with stools to sit on and behind the bar was a refrigerator that was always filled with 6 ounce cokes in bottles.
One day, soon after we started high school at Fairview,
several of us went over to Dave’s basement right after school for the first
time. That day, it was me, Dave, Scott Kelso and Jim Swanson. We followed a
route and routine that we would continue, with few exceptions, every day for
the next four years. I have a picture in my mind of the southeast corner of
Philadelphia and Hillcrest. I can remember what the curb looked like, how
cracked the sidewalk was, and other details of our slow walk from school to
Dave’s as we talked.
Dave’s house was about in the middle of the block with Philadelphia Dr. on one end and Benson Dr. on the other. We always walked down Philadelphia to get to Dave’s. Up Bertram, and as we approached his house we first came to his garage. It was a single car garage; at that time, most people had just one car. The garage door was always open. If it was trash day, Dave had to haul the trash cans from the street back to the house. We never helped Dave with the cans; this was his job, and he seemed to want to accomplish it himself, though we did lend him moral support.
We entered the house though the garage. This took us into the kitchen. We would kind of troop in, single file, diagonally across the kitchen to the door to the basement. Most days, I remember Dave’s sweet little grandmother, who lived there, in the kitchen preparing dinner. She always wore an apron and Dave would invariably pull on her apron strings and untie them. She was in on the joke and would laugh and make a show of getting after Dave. It was almost a ritual, but a nice one. It said to us that this was a house of a loving family. If we encountered Dave’s Father or Mother they were always nice to us and they made sure we knew we were welcome.
The stairway to the basement went halfway down to a landing then turned 45% to another group of steps before turning another 45% for the final two steps into the main knotty pine room. Once in the room we would walk over to the bar and sit on a stool. Dave would take up a position by the refrigerator and start taking out cokes, opening the bottle on the opener attached to the bar (the bottle cap would fall to a little container below the opener), and handing them to us. This was another ritual but it was kind of like we were at “Cheers” and Dave was Sam Malone dispensing liquid refreshment. We all came in together so we didn’t get to say “Norm” in unison as a regular came in, but that’s what we were—regulars.
As we established this routine, our circle of friends at school grew. New friends would come with us and everybody was welcome. Sometimes we had a pretty good sized group walking through the kitchen. But everyone was always well behaved; a fact we didn’t think about at the time, but is amazing to me now. We were 14 or 15 years old, and 18 before we no longer went to Dave Todd’s basement. In Webster’s New American Dictionary under “immature”, it has a picture of us, so it is pretty remarkable that we never got out of line while at Dave’s.
The after-school group would vary from day to day. If someone was on an athletic team and practiced after school, or if one of us was in some other activity—or in detention—they were just not there and someone else was. The old memory is fading just a bit, and I may be miss-remembering (as they say in Washington), but I think I went there just about every day for four years. Sometimes guys would come from Colonel White to Dave’s basement. I remember Bruce Cohen was there so much he was almost a regular. I don’t remember any guys from Meadowdale ever being there, they might not have been quite as welcome.
Mostly, it was guys from Fairview Elementary and Cornell Heights who were the regulars in Dave’s basement at first. It wasn’t long, however, before the regulars included Loos and Gettysburg alumni. But at one time or another we had just about every school represented. Besides the bar stools, there were chairs and a couch in the basement and we would drink our cokes, spread out and talk. What did we talk about? You name it. School, classes, teachers, the latest adventure someone had, or what so and so did in Biology or study hall. We talked about music, songs, dances, cars, upcoming events, who was cool and who was a dope, what we were going to do the coming weekend, what we did last weekend, who was seen at Parkmoor or Goody’s with whom, when the next meeting of Alpha Chi was, we even occasionally talked about girls.
We talked about girls but not that much. This was mostly our guy group and we talked about guy things. A lot of the talk was about what we thought was “cool”, or impressive. We didn’t realize it at the time but we were bonding, forming our own little sub-culture that existed within Fairview—and to a degree—beyond the bounds of Fairview. We learned from each other, although nobody verified the information we often accepted as the truth. It was amazing the little pieces of information that everyone could contribute during a discussion. After a couple of years we had a pretty impressive reservoir of random but mostly useless information. And we knew of all kinds of people from all over. We sometimes talked about clothes and kind of settled on what was acceptable to wear and what wasn’t. We all got our wardrobes at the same places and pretty much wore the same things.
We sometimes did dumb stuff. At one time one of us told the rest about how you could pass out. You would squat down, inhale and exhale as vigorously as you could about ten times and then rapidly stand up and attempt to exhale but block you mouth with your fist. While you did this, another guy would come up from behind, put his arms around your chest and squeeze as hard as he could. It never failed. You would go out like a light every time for ten to thirty seconds, on occasion, longer.
You had to have people you could trust to do this, cause the guy squeezing your chest could let you fall to the floor, where sometimes you would twitch, your eyes might roll back in your head, and other things that were pretty funny if you were watching. So, it was possible to pass out, and come to a short while later on the floor with a bunch of guys standing around laughing their butts off at you. We did it once in the parking lot of the Mascot and the victim—I think it might have been Mike Stein—passed out and rolled though some puddles of water, while appearing to have a seizure. It was a while before he came to. It was funny, but after that one I think we kind of found other things to do besides passing out.
One thing that was not in Dave Todd’s basement was a phone. It’s a funny thing, but as a group we were as close to one another as it was possible to be. Yet we never called each other on the phone. Oh, I’m sure we did on occasion dial a friend’s number, but if so it was to ask a specific question or to pass a specific item of information and that was it. If we wanted to talk, we met somewhere and talked. Now, I have no idea why this was. Parents didn’t like for you to be on the phone a lot—as a general rule—but I don’t think that was it. I think we just preferred to be together.
I never remember arguments or harsh words in Dave Todd’s basement. It was like neutral territory where, by convention, hostilities were forbidden. Of course we were all friends, but still, friends could have quarrels and differences of opinion, which we did. Just not in Dave Todd’s basement.
This daily gathering in Dave Todd’s basement was remarkable, although to us at the time it seemed as normal as the sun rising in the east. We would stay about the same amount of time every day and then leave. It was almost like some unseen force was sending us a signal that it was time to go. So we were always there about the same amount of time and then we left to go home.
Looking back on this daily ritual from the perspective of 45 or so years’ worth of adult life, I wonder about it. What was it that made us go there every day? After all, we were pretty much together all day in school and on the weekends. I just don’t know. I don’t remember feeling compelled to be there so I wouldn’t miss anything. I don’t remember looking forward to those 45 to 60 minutes with great excitement each day. I don’t know for sure why we so faithfully attended this little daily gathering.
Maybe we went to Dave’s basement because it was close and we were welcome and it felt comfortable. It felt like kicking off your new shoes at the end of the day and putting on an old beat-up pair, along with a sweatshirt and jeans. We didn’t have to worry about anything there. The world and all its difficult future decisions were suspended for a time. We didn’t have to worry about not saying and doing the right thing and being embarrassed. We knew we could count on our friends there for support. As adolescents we were always fearful of something: grades, being picked on, being shot down, forgetting something important, saying something stupid; but not in Dave’s basement.
But it wasn’t just a feeling of safety. As adolescents we were also learning things every day; about the world around us and about ourselves. It was an intense period. We were changing from kids to adults, a process that was to take a long time, but it fascinated us. We wanted to share it with our friends; to see if they were feeling about things the way we were feeling. Sometimes we didn’t understand; we needed the help of our friends to put things in perspective. And we learned things from our friends that helped us navigate, gave us guideposts. And when we experienced something great, we relived it in Dave’s basement.
I guess, in a way, it was Dave Todd’s basement where we went to grow up.