My Friend Chris and His Cousin

 

I had a friend at that time. We’ll call him Chris. He was a smart guy. He read a lot. He liked science fiction of the kind I was attracted to (Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke). He was inventive. He was interested in electronic kits and gears and motors. He was a natural engineer. All this was overshadowed, however, by something that had gone wrong in his family. I don’t know what it was. His sisters were smart and his father was soft‑spoken and his mother was kind. The girls seemed OK. But Chris had been left unattended to in some important way. Despite his intelligence and curiosity he was angry, resentful and without hope.

All this manifested itself in material form in the shape of his 1972 blue Ford pickup truck. That notorious vehicle had at least one dent in every quarter panel of its damaged external body. Worse, it had an equivalent number of dents inside. Those were produced by the impact of the body parts of friends against the internal surfaces during the continual accidents that resulted in the outer dents. Chris’s truck was the exoskeleton of a nihilist. It had the perfect bumper sticker: Be Alert–The World Needs More Lerts . The irony it produced in combination with the dents elevated it nicely to theatre of the absurd. Very little of that was (so to speak) accidental.

Every time Chris crashed his truck, his father would fix it, and buy him something else. He had a motorbike and a van for selling ice cream. He did not care for his motorbike. He sold no ice cream. He often expressed dissatisfaction with his father and their relationship. But his dad was older and unwell, diagnosed with an illness only after many years. He didn’t have the energy he should have. Maybe he couldn’t pay enough attention to his son. Maybe that’s all it took to fracture their relationship.

Chris had a cousin, Ed, who was about two years younger. I liked him, as much as you can like the younger cousin of a teenage friend. He was a tall, smart, charming, good‑looking kid. He was witty, too. You would have predicted a good future for him, had you met him when he was twelve. But Ed drifted slowly downhill, into a dropout, semi‑drifting mode of existence. He didn’t get as angry as Chris, but he was just as confused. If you knew Ed’s friends, you might say that it was peer pressure that set him on his downward path. But his peers weren’t obviously any more lost or delinquent than he was, although they were generally somewhat less bright. It was also the case that Ed’s–and Chris’s–situation did not appear particularly improved by their discovery of marijuana. Marijuana isn’t bad for everyone any more than alcohol is bad for everyone. Sometimes it even appears to improve people. But it didn’t improve Ed. It didn’t improve Chris, either.

To amuse ourselves in the long nights, Chris and I and Ed and the rest of the teenagers drove around and around in our 1970s cars and pickup trucks. We cruised down Main Street, along Railroad Avenue, up past the high school, around the north end of town, over to the west–or up Main Street, around the north end of town, over to the east–and so on, endlessly repeating the theme. If we weren’t driving in town, we were driving in the countryside. A century earlier, surveyors had laid out a vast grid across the entire three‑hundred‑thousand‑square‑mile expanse of the great western prairie. Every two miles north, a plowed gravel road stretched forever, east to west. Every mile west, another travelled north and south. We never ran out of roads.

 

Teenage Wasteland

 

If we weren’t circling around town and countryside we were at a party. Some relatively young adult (or some relatively creepy older adult) would open his house to friends. It would then become temporary home to all manner of party crashers, many of whom started out seriously undesirable or quickly become that way when drinking. A party might also happen accidentally, when some teenager’s unwitting parents had left town. In that case, the occupants of the cars or trucks always cruising around would notice house lights on, but household car absent. This was not good. Things could get seriously out of hand.

I did not like teenage parties. I do not remember them nostalgically. They were dismal affairs. The lights were kept low. That kept self‑consciousness to a minimum. The over‑loud music made conversation impossible. There was little to talk about in any case. There were always a couple of the town psychopaths attending. Everybody drank and smoked too much. A dreary and oppressive sense of aimlessness hung over such occasions, and nothing ever happened (unless you count the time my too‑quiet classmate drunkenly began to brandish his fully‑loaded 12‑gauge shotgun, or the time the girl I later married contemptuously insulted someone while he threatened her with a knife, or the time another friend climbed a large tree, swung out on a branch, and crashed flat onto his back, half dead right beside the campfire we had started at its base, followed precisely one minute later by his halfwit sidekick).

No one knew what the hell they were doing at those parties. Hoping for a cheerleader? Waiting for Godot? Although the former would have been immediately preferred (although cheerleading squads were scarce in our town), the latter was closer to the truth. It would be more romantic, I suppose, to suggest that we would have all jumped at the chance for something more productive, bored out of our skulls as we were. But it’s not true. We were all too prematurely cynical and world‑weary and leery of responsibility to stick to the debating clubs and Air Cadets and school sports that the adults around us tried to organize. Doing anything wasn’t cool. I don’t know what teenage life was like before the revolutionaries of the late sixties advised everyone young to tune in, turn on and drop out. Was it OK for a teenager to belong wholeheartedly to a club in 1955? Because it certainly wasn’t twenty years later. Plenty of us turned on and dropped out. But not so many tuned in.

I wanted to be elsewhere. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone who eventually left the Fairview I grew up in knew they were leaving by the age of twelve. I knew. My wife, who grew up with me on the street our families shared, knew. The friends I had who did and didn’t leave also knew, regardless of which track they were on. There was an unspoken expectation in the families of those who were college‑bound that such a thing was a matter of course. For those from less‑educated families, a future that included university was simply not part of the conceptual realm. It wasn’t for lack of money, either. Tuition for advanced education was very low at that time, and jobs in Alberta were plentiful and high‑paying. I earned more money in 1980 working at a plywood mill than I would again doing anything else for twenty years. No one missed out on university because of financial need in oil‑rich Alberta in the 1970s.

 

Дата: 2018-09-13, просмотров: 21.