California Scheming Part 1
Second Floor O’Shaughnessy
I guess you’re all wondering just how this all got started, this “boy’s night out” that lasted over a week? I will take credit for stirring the passions of a group of men who came together by chance, having surnames that ended in the letters MNOP. When I was five and learning the alphabet I thought Ellamenno-p was one letter stuck between “K” and “Q” which had the same “kih” sound. What the hell did I know, I was a dumb kid. Actually the “M’s” were on the first floor of O’Shaughnessy, and since I was a “Miller” I got stuck with this rah-rah named Eddie Milhouse. What a twerp. Even though he wasn’t black, far from it, he listened to Soul Music and wore tassels on his shoes. FREAKING tassels, can you believe it? I pop in from Long Island New York with my Doors, Rolling Stones, and Bee Gees (BD-Before Disco), and this bowl cut with sideburns is bee-bopping to Sam and Dave.
Anyway, we lasted less than a week. Never being accused of suffering in silence, I made it quite clear that if they didn’t move one of us, there was going to be blood on the dance floor, and it wouldn’t be mine, even if his father WAS Dr. Edward Milhouse, scourge of the English Department. The powers to be decided that we needed a floor between us, and I ended up on the now infamous Second Floor O’Shaughnessy. When I was introduced to my new roommate, William “Reedy” Owens, I thought he was going to kick MY ass, muscle man pecs, abs and all. He turned out be pretty cool, and interceded in more than one of my verbal altercations that opened me up for an ass-kicking were it not for Reedy stepping in with those powerful words, “Yer gonna have ta go a round with me first, slick.”
The Second Floor Gang
We had Reedy, and Tom Nelson, and Bruce Paslawsky and Alan Patterson and Gary Nagin, and Dana Messerly, and Jay Newberry, and Joe P. “Jopey” New, and Norton, Johnnie Norton – now deceased, and Orling, and Painter and Petrosankos, lots of P’s and O’s and N’s, with little old M for Miller tossed in for good measure. Then of course another “P” for Patton, Blaine Patton to be sure. I was only 17 years old when I started school at VPI, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, later known as VPISU. They added “and State University” to demonstrate their power and might. In the 70’s we sometimes added an “X” VPI-SUX. Now it’s just Virginia Tech, or Tech. Everybody knows how important a degree from there is now, so no need to brag. But…this story is NOT about those days, but the days that followed.
Many years later one member of the class of 1971/72 decided it was time to gather the old gang together again before they started dropping like a bunch of dead moths who flew too close to the flame. In 2005 Blaine and Reedy and Alan, and Bruce, and Tom met at the scene of the crime, Blacksburg Virginia for a reunion, organized by… to no surprise the only interloper, that M guy, me…Frank Miller. One by one the gang showed up in one of the three rooms I’d booked at the Ramada on Prices Fork Road. It was just grand. We picked up where we left off, just as though we’d returned from class and gathered in Nelson’s room before heading to Owens Dining Hall for some mystery meat and chocolate milk. Tricksters all, if the meal was especially disgusting someone would take a pat of butter, press it to the bottom of the tray with an empty milk glass so when one of the hair-netted old crows behind the lunch counter grabbed the glass, the whole tray came with it. We were truly a bunch of assholes at times. But I digress once again. More later about the shenanigans of this wild bunch of miscreants.
More too about the 2005 reunion, a gathering fueled by excessive consumption of fermented grain beverages by some that resulted in broken pull-out beds, smashed ironing boards, and bouncers at the local college hangout ready to toss us all on the street after one of our more inebriated revelers tried to pick up several of the co-eds despite the 40 year age gap, using straight-forward pick-up lines that included, “Do you girls like to par-tay?” “I hear that college girls like to have sex?” and my personal favorite, “Any of you ladies wanna fuck?” We decided to call it a night rather than risk our pal or any of the rest of us getting banned from the establishment.
Despite my valiant efforts to reunite the gang a few years later, in 2007 (we all decided we’d had such a grand time in 2005 we’d do it every other year) only three showed up. Everyone had an excuse, one had a prior engagement playing a harp (no not Johnny Norton) a real harp at a high end affair in New England. At least ONE of our bunch has some class. Another heard we were going to attend a football game, and he had developed an allergy to pigskins and large crowds, so he bowed out. And Patton, I don’t know what happened to him, he claims he never made any commitment despite the fact that I made reservations for three rooms and thought everybody was in. This was in the fall after the deadly shooting, so we thought it was important to attend in solidarity and support for our alma mater. The three of us who did attend got to attend a dinner with all the past Presidents of the University which was pretty cool.
50 years (well almost) 1967-2015
Which brings me back to our most recent reunion. Once again, little old me had to organize and do my best to herd this band of wild cats together, this time with 48 hour right to cancel reservations at the Hampton Inn. Much nicer with sturdier ironing boards, and a real bed for everyone. Blaine, Bruce, Allan, Reedy and yours truly all showed up and a good time was had by all. Nelson bailed again, not because he had to play the harp, but fly out to the West Coast for a Memorial Service for his sister-in-law. I did my best to make it clear that at our advanced years we’d all be playing harps before we knew it, so it would be wise to gather before the grim reaper showed up to take us to Funland.
Someone had the bright idea to bring some herb along, and I’m not talking about Herb Albert, so we were once again able to rise (no pun intended) to the level of childishness and stupidity from earlier days, laughing ourselves silly while we ran from the cops who were eyeing us with suspicious intent. We played horseshoes at the river, and drove all over the country-side in Frank’s high-end luxury sedan which had every accessory including a shower in the back seat. Don’t ask.
Reedy sat in the front seat but still served in the capacity of a “back-set driver” shouting directions to Frank who was nervous enough about parking his large sedan in a small space until he had to tell one of his dearest friends to STFU. “Jesus Christ, can I at least park the damn car without a dissertation on minimizing the distance to the curb?” or something to that effect.
We cruised through campus even getting into the old dorm, and leaned out the window shouting “Johnson Sucks” to no one in particular. We walked around the new buildings which sprang up like mushrooms on what was open space before.
We walked through Norris Hall, scene of the tragic shooting to see the space transformed into a Center for Peace, and the memorial out front of Burris Hall with Hokie Stones for each victim, 32 in all.
We had dinner at one of the many upscale restaurants and visited an art gallery in a friend of Alan’s home, and just generally accepted the fact that “shit happens” in fifty years. Things change, “…some forever not for better…” as John Lennon once sang. If we meet again, it won’t be at Tech. The Tech we knew back in the day is gone, existing only in our memories now. Hell, even Mountain Lake, a gorgeous pool of ice cold water is no more, having been sucked into a cavern deep below the ground like a bathtub someone pulled the plug on. Now it’s just Mountain Field with the Dirty Dancing set a dry hole.
At any rate, one thing led to another and the boys all went home, except Blaine rented a car and headed north to visit his sister on the Western Shore of Maryland and brother in Ocean City on the OTHER side of the Bay. “You mean you are going to drive four hours to the outskirts of D.C.” I told him, “…and then two and a half more hours to Ocean City, and drive within 15 MILES OF MY HOUSE and you can’t find the time to stop by?!” He agreed, but if you know Blaine, he had conditions. He agreed to pay his respects to my home and family, my lovely wife Coletta and daughter Sade, but…..but….I had to agree to return the favor by visiting HIM in California. Now I know on the surface this sounds rather extreme, but in truth, I had made the mistake of telling him I was going to be IN California over the Christmas holidays.
Returning the Favor
“Maybe I can rent a car and me and my family can come up to Two Thousand Oaks or whatever and spend a night,” I offered. He hesitated a moment, “Well,” he started, “You can come up, but I really don’t have room to put you all up,” he finished.
“WTF, I SAW the photos of your house, with the private, hidden driveway, perched on some high bluff overlooking half the State of California, you’ve GOT to have room,” I insisted. “ Well, I do have a three bedroom house, except for the fact that I had to tear down a wall between two of them,” he explained. “Well that sounds like plenty of room. Why did you tear down the wall?” I inquired. “To make room for my pinball machines,” he continued. “I have sixteen of them and they take up a LOT of room.”
Now I have heard of people that have an electronic game in their living room, my cousin Tim has a combination PAC MAN and Space Invaders console in his. I have also heard of the occasional motorcycle in the bedroom (another cousin), litters of puppies, boxes of books, old Playboy magazines, antique furniture, and other assorted “stuff”, but sixteen pinball machines? I mean…why?” Maybe that night when we dropped some of that orange barrel and listened to “Tommy” over and over again. Maybe Blaine’s neural circuitry got fried when “Pinball Wizard” came on for the 20th time, “He’s a pinball wizard, there’s got to be a trick, he’s pinball wizard just watch those supple wrists.”
“Hell, I’ll bring a few sleeping bags and throw them under one of your machines,” I told him. “I have a better idea!” he suddenly exclaimed. “You’re retired, why not hang around after your girls head back East, and we can do a road trip.” Back in the day those two words were all it took, ROAD TRIP! to get your juices flowing. Didn’t even matter where the hell you were going, you were IN! “Let me ask my wife,” I said, since against all odds I have managed to remain married to the same woman for 32 years and counting. I accomplished this feat by being considerate of her opinion. That doesn’t mean I always DO what she asks. She is constantly chastising me for this very thing, “Why do you ask me if you’re gonna do what you want to do anyway?” Honest question, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
No, I’m on a leash, a long one, that’s flexible, and that she lets me off once and a while if I behave myself, but it still makes nice to ask. She granted me permission since I was doing my family thing for ten days so I had earned free time to go play. YAY! She only grumbled once about how much the gas and rental car and motels were going to cost, I told her I worked 38 years to enjoy my retirement and I was determined to do just that.
“I can’t help it if you still want to work, it’s not as though we need the money,” I told her. That went over like a whore at a wedding, “I still have to work to keep us afloat the way you spend money,” she intoned. I reminded her about my pensions, and Social Security, and the IRA Investment plans we both have. So she granted me leave, and we flew out together did the family stuff, gathering around the piano singing Christmas Carols, visiting Legoland, the Walk of Fame, Universal Studios City Walk, Griffith Observatory and several other points of interest including some off-roading which was great fun. Her cousins drove us to the airport, where they caught a plane back East, and I rented a car for the Boys Trip Up the Coast in search of the vanishing Redwood Trees.
I had my suitcase and briefcase in tow having left my girls at the security gate at LAX, and headed down to BAGGAGE CLAIM/GROUND TRANSPORTATION. Following the signs to RENTAL CARS I found a shuttle marked BUDGET/THRIFT and climbed aboard. I was the only one on it. That should have told me right there that I was at the Microsoft Store, not the APPLE Store. Same thing when I walked into the crowded lobby. Two clerks. I climbed under the ropes and headed directly to the counter. I signed all the papers, put my credit card down for the charges, and with the word COMPACT inked across the top went out to pick out my car. I have a remote controlled car bigger than the offerings lined up in the COMPACT row. I settled on a blue “Mirage” so named not for the French Fighter Jet, but that Palm Tree Paradise in the middle of the desert that looks great until you get right up to it to find it was just a Camel and his trusty handler Amal.