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Screwdrivers Can Be Dangerous:
The First of Many Confessions
by Marc Jennings
It was a very cold Friday night, even for December. It was the end of 1962, our freshman year at Fairview. After dinner I walked to Dave Toddís house. Dave had been my best friend since the eighth grade when I moved into the Fairview Elementary district. We planned to go to the basketball game at FHS that night. But there was something more that promised to make this night memorable.
Dave had told me he knew someone that could get us some something ďto drinkĒ. Up to this point in my brief high school career, I donít think I had experienced the opportunity to consume any alcoholic beverage, but my little circle of friends often found this an interesting topic for discussion. We were in high school now and we were eager to do the things one did in high school. We wanted to be like the cool upperclassmen who strode the halls of Fairview as if they owned them.
I suppose we also believed we had been kids long enough and wanted to put that immature period of our lives behind us. To do so, there were certain rites of passage. Driving a car was one of those, although, unfortunately, it was tied to your sixteenth birthday so it could not be rushed. Drinking alcohol was another. And just tasting it did not count. You had to obtain some surreptitiously, find a place at which you could drink undisturbed, and drink until you consumed enough to qualify. There were all sorts of unwritten rules about how you should drink, but we learned those later. Dave and I were rookies and we had a lot to learn.
Drinking in high school is not a good idea. However, it was only one of the bad ideas that some of us pursued with great energy during our years at Fairview.
Later, when I was married and had children of my own, I had a great fear that they would turn out to be as prone to teenage misbehavior as I had beenóeven by half. (Thankfully, they were so much better than me.)
Upon reaching Daveís house on Bertram Ave., we left immediately and started walking in the opposite direction from Fairview. Dave explained that Bill Massey, through some mysterious process, was to obtain our liquid refreshment. So we walked to Masseyís apartment on the other side of Salem. By the time we reached our destination it was fully dark and a good bit colder. We went up to Masseyís second floor apartment, said hello to his mother and the three of us left as soon as we could. This time we would have the convenience of riding in Billís motherís car, which was parked outside.
We didnít go very far, but just exactly how or where we actually got possession of the alcohol is now lost in the mists of my faded memory. The point was that we now had a fifth of grocery-store quality pre-mixed screwdriver! If we had only known then what lay in store for us we would have discarded the bottle, asked Massey to drop us off at school and enjoyed our classmates, as the Bulldog hoopsters battled some other hated high school. But no-o-o, we didnít know, and we had to learn the hard way.
Massey parked the car in an alley behind a row of small commercial buildings on Salem. He was in a hurry to get on with whatever he had planned for the evening, which didnít include us freshmen. Dave and I sat in the back seat and passed the bottle back and forth; taking great chugging swallows of that screwdriver. In a few minutes it was gone. ďThat wasnít badĒ, I thought as we climbed out of the car and thanked Bill.
We felt pretty good. We had successfully had our first drinking experience, had not been caught, and we probably had a bit of swagger in our step as we crossed Salem, cut through Fairview Elementary and continued toward FHS on Benson. However, just two blocks from Hillcrest Ave. strange things started to happen.
For me, very suddenly, I felt a warm glow in my stomach. Moments later I felt that warmth spread to my arms and legs. I was no longer cold. It no longer seemed cold. Slowly I began to discover that my normal physical coordination had been impaired. I mentioned this to Dave, and he confirmed he was experiencing pretty much the same thing. This acknowledgement between us, we found hilarious. We took some time exploring how we felt, and our progress toward our destination all but stopped. Had anyone observed us at that moment, it would have been instantly obvious that we were bombed.
Overcoming our lack of focus, we eventually managed to stumble on one more block, and there, on the corner, under a streetlight, we encountered two guys. It was Tom McCowan and Mickey Levy. These were older guys we knew, Dave better than I; but still, we didnít know what to expect. Mickey, a very intense person who didnít always take things too seriously, was carrying a large screwdriver, strange as this might seem on a Friday night. He looked directly at me and challenged me to take the screwdriver and see if I could stab him with it. At any other time I would have found this to be intimidating and a situation that would be tough to back down from. But tonight, I thought it awfully silly and I laughed as I said, ďMickey, I donít want to stab you.Ē
At that, Tom and Mickey seemed to relax and let us join their little two-man group. We talked for a few minutes, although this proved quite difficult for Dave and me, as our words got jumbled up. Tom and Mickey obviously recognized our severely impaired condition; however, the fact that we had done it, earned their grudging respect, in a high school teenage guy kind of way. After all, not too many freshmen could be found wandering around Dayton View drunk. We soon parted, Dave and me to the next experience that awaited us at the basketball game.
I recall no details of the final trek to the school and walking up to the rear entrance to the old gym, adjacent to the teacherís parking lot. But I do remember vividly moving inside the door and down the hall a few feet to where a table had been set up to sell tickets to spectators. Our condition was getting worse, but this was critical. We had enough sense left to realize we must not act impaired. We could not stumble or weave back and forth or giggle for no apparent reason. If we appeared to be under the influence, the officials could confront us and we would be in deep trouble. Summoning what shreds of self control we had left, we purchased tickets and went inside.
In retrospect, this was a mistake. The heat in the building seemed to accelerate our inebriation, and we found ourselves emerging into a crowded, noisy gymnasium with all sorts of obstacles in our path. The space between the wall and the basketball court that we had to walk to reach the bleacher stairs seemed to be about six inches wide. And, a basketball game, in addition to being a sporting event, was also a social occasion. Many eyes watched the people who entered the gym.
We turned left, and somehow made our way to the cement steps leading to the seats behind the basket. But, for some reason these were not normal steps. Each one seemed to be only half as high as a typical stair riser. Well, the results were predictable. I went up only a few rows before I stumbled and fell; and Dave was pretty clumsy trying to help me up while warning me not to act drunk. Despite my condition, I noticed a familiar female face not far away on my left. Was it then or later I recognized that face as belonging to our principal, Miss Folger? I think her expression was a mixture of concern and suspicion. Dave and I smiled, pretending nothing had happened, moved up a few rows and collapsed awkwardly in some empty seats. From this point on, anything that happened was going to be bad. We were living on borrowed time.
But then, something interceded in our downward spiral to self-destruction. I didnít see her coming but without warning Nancy Marker was sitting down beside us. She was saying things like, ďAre you guys crazy? You have to get out of here before you get in trouble!Ē
I definitely did not want to hear this. I thought Dave and I were doing just fine now, and saw no reason we should not stay there and enjoy the gameóor something. I objected to her increasing insistence that we leave. But I was beginning to learn that when you are drunk you donít make very effective arguments for your position. And, that people generally donít pay much attention to a reasoned argument put forth by a drunk person.
Despite our objections, we were powerless to resist Nancy. She absolutely knew what had to happen and she was not going to take no for an answer. For my part, I resented this and I knew I was going to be mad at her laterósometime. After all, we were not babies. And we had the whole night ahead of us. We didnít want someone spoiling our night of drinking and fun. But of course Nancy had seen our less than graceful entrance, and had seen me fall in front of Miss Folger, and I guess she was afraid we were in eminent danger of spending the next four years in juvenile detention.
At any rate, Nancy led us out of the gym without further incident. I guess she just took us both by the arm and guided us out. When we got outside I was still irritated by this intrusion into our evening, but I was about to reach a new stage of the experience. I didnít feel so good any more. I also noticed that the cold had returned. It felt like it was 10 below zero.
I donít recall much more. It became obvious Nancy was going to take us home. I guess we dropped Dave off at Bertram, although I really donít remember what happened to him. When we reached Fairview Elementary I got sick, really sick. When that was over it seemed as if the temperature had dropped to 30 below. It was cold. I felt awful. Poor Nancy must have been colder than me but she didnít leave. Iím sure I was a pretty sorry sight and we still had a long walk in front of us.
Of that walk, I remember nothing. When we reached my house on Litchfield Ave. Nancy called someone to pick her up, but I went up to bed. That was all I was capable of at the time. I never thanked her. I always thought it was a mistake to show up at home before I got myself more under control. But she was concerned about us and she did what she thought was best. At the very least, she deserved our gratitude for coming to our aid at a time she believed we needed it, while sacrificing her own comfort. That was Nancy.
Iíd like to say I learned my lesson from this night. I guess I did learn some things, but I continued to drink with my friends and others, often to excess. My drinking experiences began in late 1962 and ended in 1968. During those years, I experienced many hair-raising adventures and miraculously survived. Perhaps, in the future I will confess other immature and ill-considered activities that, collectively, made my years at Fairview rich and memorable.
The story related above is true, to the degree I remember, and has been cleaned up and approved for publication by my censor, classmate and wife, Darlene Glaze Jennings.