Scraps of Tin Foil
I graduated from high school in 1970, was drafted into the US Army sixteen months later, and relocated to NorCal after I had served my two-year sentence in the Big Green Machine. In fleeing the San Gabriel Valley and eventually ending up in the northern-most section of Mendocino County, within hiking distance of Humboldt, I left a lot behind, most of it intentionally.
Mixed in there, though, were a couple of treasured possessions, if friendships can be considered as such. I have often reflected on that adage which proclaims that if a friendship lasts seven years, it will last a lifetime. I have many acquaintances but few friends in my life, but one friend I do have is John, with whom I went to high school.
We were classmates as freshmen and sophomores-acquaintances only, really-and then we became friends. The summer following my second year of high school, I expanded my social horizons, and I joined a group of acquaintances who started informally gathering to play baseball. Sometimes there were plenty of guys, sometimes as few as four or five, so we would play Over the Line.
A huge factor was that our friend Eddie had gotten his driver’s license, and could chauffeur us around in style, in his parents’ Buick Electra. Eddie had made the varsity football team as a lineman and he had his license, but it never went to his head.
And he smoked cigarettes, as his dad did. He smoked a lot. He was intelligent, witty and courteous, and now he’s gone, one of the few friendships I had that was swallowed up in that forty-five-year gap.
The single, thread-like strand that still attached me to SoCal, was the annual Christmas card that arrived each Holiday Season with a vibrant picture of John and his family and the briefest of synopses of the previous year.
Sometimes I got it together to respond and sometimes I didn’t, but the process remained intact and eventually the 21st century caught up with us and I hooked up with John’s better half, Brenda, through Face/Book.
I was baffled in my earliest attempts to reconnect with my SoCal brothers and sisters, to find that there appeared to be a complete indifference to the social medium, upon which I had come to rely so heavily. My attempts proved futile except for the most perfunctory of responses, bland and distantly polite, as though I were possibly a family member of a former spouse, with whom one had to be tolerant, but certainly not effusive.
However, once I was on f/b with Brenda, it was pretty natural that John and I would exchange emails. He tried to talk me into going down to the desert a year ago March, for spring training, so that we could talk baseball and reconnect.
I was cautious, perhaps too much so, and warned him that there was some significant gappage between the north and the south-that is-of California, more’s the pity. How much would it bug him, I asked, when I stepped out back of the motel/stadium every couple of hours, to take my meds, aka hitting the bong?
John worked with numbers his whole life, and retired three years or so ago, except during tax season, after being informed by his smiling spouse that she was fine with it, as long as he still left the house every day at seven, and returned around five.
Brenda has such the sweet smile.
Heck, I never would have figured John for numbers ever since we were sophomores in geometry and he orchestrated the great tin foil caper. Mr. O’Dea had found it necessary to leave the room for some reason and John quickly distributed little scraps of foil to all willing participants. Oh, we were so willing.
Upon the instructor’s return and given the discreet signal from John (a broad smile, slowly rotated as many of the 360 degrees that his neck would allow), we ALL smiled, revealing tin foil-covered teeth, reflecting back the glare of the banks of florescent lights in a merry sort of fashion, if you looked at it from the miscreants’ perspective.
When Mr. O’Dea fled to find the dean, there was a flurry of silver streaks as we all disposed of the evidence. Mine went into one of my shoes, and my ruler, protractor, and sharpened pencil were readily at hand, as I contemplated our pending fate.
When the door burst open and Mr. O’Dea, he of the beet-red face, came hurtling into the classroom, accompanied by Father Luke, there was nothing but the sight of bent heads to be seen. To a man, they were industriously groping with spatial relationships and shapes, hands furiously scribbling cogent notes and numbers for the sake of posterity, if not for the homework basket.
Asked to give him our undivided attention, we all complied, and when he asked about the tin foil, all we could do is shrug our shoulders collectively, and slowly shake our heads no, we knew nothing.
Oh yeah, we all smiled.
Next: “The Time Capsule”