“WOOF WOOF....WOOF!” You just can’t imagine the effect of touching noses with a large dog while he barks at you can give you.
I have a friend. He is not like any other friend a person could have. He lives a little on the dark side. His patterns of sleep are varied and disturbed. He likes to get drunk and regrets it in his own private way in the morning. He sidesteps morality and certainly has his own book of laws. This is not to imply he is not a good man. But is always in some sort of crisis and being around him, you can find yourself caught up in his storms. I give you Charley Tanner, player of pianos, shrugger of responsibility, dreamer and frequent loser in this world of imperfect players. His hold on me is long standing and powerful. I think it’s because he has the courage to do what he wants, when he wants to do it. But of more importance...he is prepared to take the consequences without worrying about them or letting them change his course. It all works out for Charley. He simply will live till he dies, without all the baggage we carry around in the name of security. There are many stories to tell about him. This is just one that came to mind after seeing that girl in the white pants and blue top at the park today. She reminded me of a girl that I met on the cloudy side of Charley’s barometer. By invitation only, The Sister-in Law’s.
Charly married into the Elliot family when he was 19 years old and Karla was 17. She was the oldest of three sisters that lived with their divorced mother outside of a small town in northern Indiana. In a time legendary for its permissiveness their mother set a new standard. All three girls were lovely and young. April was 15 and Jenny was 14. Charley married Karla but he loved Jenny. I didn’t love any of them but April was 15 going on 35 and if nobody saw me I was willing to make some concessions. Since Charley and I were so close he confided to me his love for the youngster. I sympathized with him but thought the whole thing wrong till he mentioned that April wanted to “spend a little time with me”.
I parked my car and ran up a long flight of wooden stairs to Charley’s second story apartment. Charley answered the door when I knocked.
“You ready man?” I saw Karla, now about 6 months pregnant, sitting in a rocker listening to some music. I felt a bit guilty. I don’t think Charley felt guilty at all.
“Yeah. Karla was going over to Dale’s house to play some music.” Yup. That was The Story. Fairly believable too, since we were both musicians and often played at my place. It worked out better because I lived in the country and we could turn it up loud. We were into excess in those days.
Down the steps and to the car we went. Two lying young men on there way to the land of whoppers...and I don’t mean hamburgers either. It’s about at this point in the shared adventures of Charley and me that I sought reassurance nothing would go wrong. I do not know why I even asked because something always went wrong. I kind of made up for it by asking a whole bunch of times.
“Charley, are you sure their mom is at work?”
“Charley, are you sure April wants to see me?”
“Charley, are you sure we should be doing this?”
Charley turned and looked at me like I was an idiot. He answered my last question and pulled the noose tighter around my neck at the same time.
“If we weren’t goin' to see ‘em somebody else would be. Now how you gonna' feel when we missed out?”
That made perfect sense to me, although that reasoning got a lot of people hanged at Nuremburg. It was dark and we were on our way to a forbidden rendezvous! It took about half an hour to wind our way down the dark country roads to his mother-in-law’s house. About a quarter mile away Charley signaled me to stop.
“There is a tricky spot coming. We will have to kill the lights from here on.”
My eyes bulged and sweat broke out on my forehead. This is where you found your better judgment about 10 minutes too late with Charley.
“Why do we have to turn off the lights?”
“Because we have to go by the neighbor’s house and he keeps an eye on the girls for my mother-in-law.”
Oh, Great! He hadn’t told me about additional fortifications we had to slip through. Then he dropped another worry.
“Just past his house we have to pull off onto a little tractor path by the river...we will leave the car there. Then we can walk down the road, past the woods to their house...we throw a few stones at their window and they climb down the antennae.” Charley sure sounded confident but I was still leery and looking for reassurance. That’s when I asked him, “What are we gonna' do tonight anyway?”
He set the hook in this big fish with one sentence. “We are goin’’ skinny dippin’. That’s what the girls always want to do.”
I was barely 18 years old and had more hormones than bars have bottles. I could see us now at the little beach at Lake of the Woods. It was late and no one would be around. At that moment I was sure I loved April and damn sure my friend Charley was leading me to the Promised Land. See, I just visited Charley’s world...he lived there all the time. These short visits made the improbable seem likely...and occasionally things worked out...not usually where women were concerned. Charley was snake bit when it came to women...he did not have the gift of sincerity, but boy did he have a boner for Jenny. Like I told you. He was in love and for that reason maybe we can overlook the age difference...or maybe not...as for me, well April was older than Jenny, I wasn’t married, and besides Charley didn’t have a car. I couldn’t leave him the victim of unrequited love, now could I?
Out went the lights, and in the dark on that country road, in the year 1970 we pushed on into local history. I pulled the green Firebird down the tractor path and cut the engine. We sat there for a minute listening to the engine pop and ping as it cooled. We were in no danger of cooling down. We both thought of combing our hair at the same time which resulted in us cracking our heads together when we leaned towards each other to look into the rear view mirror. I figure that was the last chance we had to come to our senses.
Things progressed rapidly from here. We were quiet as we walked down the asphalt road, past the woods to the large white Elliot house. We worked our way quickly around to the back of the house, near the large TV. antennae. Charley quickly threw some small stones at a window still lit by a lamp. I saw the curtains adorning the edge of the window shaking furiously and out came first one shapely leg, and then the other. Aprils long golden hair moved gently in the night breeze as she gained a foothold on the steel structure. I can still remember that smile she flashed me...it was desire and fire and the promise of all young men’s dreams captured in an instant. Jenny came out next. I heard Charley making some low guttural sounds I would like to forget about. I got the impression that the girls had done this before, their certainly wasn’t any hesitation on their part.
“Shit, what’s that??” Anxiety made my hair stand on end as I looked through the woods and saw a red and white flashing light. It was coming from right about where my car was hidden on that tractor path.
“Don’t panic,” offered Charley. I think he was mentally taking out his rain gear...storm coming you know, “I think it’s the cops.”
No, I wasn’t going to panic. I was going to hide in the dog house. It was the first thing I saw that looked like a hiding place. The only problem was Brutus, the aging Elliot watchdog. On the flaming wings of fear I dove through the small opening of the shelter. I had forgotten all about the lovely April and was turning around in the dark interior to look out the door, when............
“WOOF...WOOF WOOF!” The sound was like a gun shot in my left ear. I went straight up and tried to rip the roof off the structure with my head. I dimly saw the small square of light coming through the opening and bolted for it....unfortunately Brutus was thoroughly frightened by this stranger’s sudden and unwanted appearance and was bailing out too. We both reached the door at the same time and tried to push our respective bodies through. YUP...we got stuck...or nearly so. Half our bodies were through the door and we were both kicking wildly with our backlegs while we clawed madly with our front limbs. We were carving furrows in the ground and our back legs were tangled with each others as we frog kicked to get free. About this time we turned to look at each other...that great beast of unknown ancestry and I looked each other in the eyes with our noses touching. I can still feel that cold, wet rubbery object exhaling dog breath into my nostrils.
“WOOF WOOF....WOOF!” You just can’t imagine the effect of touching noses with a large dog while he barks at you can give you. I was particularly inspired to leave that doghouse at once. His red eyes looked desperate and he spit stringy foam on my face. We both went totally crazy with fear. With a great ripping and splintering sound the front of the dog house came apart. We were free...Brutus made it to the barn...I made it from the frying pan into the fire. Charley called to me from the woods.
“What are you doing makin’ all that goddamn noise? Dale get over here...NOW!” Boy... I just couldn’t wait to tell him. I ran into the woods and found Charley on his belly surveying the police car down the road. He was obviously parked next to my car. What a mess. Killing Charley would just get him out of explaining this one to his wife...so I let him live, but I was cherishing the thought of delayed vengeance.
“Dale, go down and see what he wants.” That was Charley for you. I make a quick visit to his world and he wants me to become a permanent resident. I wasn’t buying into that one...I might have driven the car, but I was just along for the ride.
“No way Charley. Here’s the damn key. You go talk to him and I will find my own way back to town...even if I have to walk.” At the moment walking back to town sounded damn good. Anything to get out of this. I was starting to compute the age differences between us and the girls from a completely different perspective.
“O.K. I guess I got you into this. I will tell him I was out driving your car and it kinda broke down there.” Sounded good to me. Charley angled out of the woods and headed down the road. I could see the round hat of the deputy sheriff now... the view kind of came and went with that revolving light.
I could see Charley talking to the officer. He was doing a lot of arm gestures and his head was nodding up and down whenever the cop talked. I felt secure in the woods. They would never get me. No one knew I was here. I had finally flown above one of Charley’s storms.
“Dale....HEY....DAAAAAALE. He wants to talk to you.” A small wet spot appeared on my jeans before I could draw myself up tight. I was going to kill him right before the cop’s eyes. I had no choice but to walk out of the woods and to my car.
“Son, you want to tell me what your doing out here?” This officer knew us both from some other bad weather I had come through with Charley.
“My car quit.”
“Yeah, that’s just what I told him....”
“SHUT-UP Charley,” the nice policeman said. “Let him tell it.”
“The car quit.” I lifted my eyebrows and tried to look innocent.
“You sure look guilty about something,” he said matter-of-factly, “You aren’t sniffing around those Elliot girls are you?”
“NOOOOoooo.” I replied with more sincerity than Mother Teresa talking to God.
“Well. I don’t think you are being sincere...try starting that car.” Well, now...I didn’t suppose my Firebird was going to play along with this by not starting, they are very sincere cars, but a couple of guys in eye of a hurricane can hope can’t they?
“VRRRROOOOOOOMM,” went the quisling of cars. By that time we had both mastered the dumb smile. I think the cop was sick of us both and was probably used to riding shotgun on the Elliot gold. Its the only reason I can think of he did not pursue his advantage and inform Charley’s mother-in law or hold us there till she got off the graveyard shift.
“You two get outa' here and I don’t want that car breaking down anywhere around here again.”
“Yes sir,” said my amigo Charley. His imaginative umbrella was already in the back seat. He turned to me and put his world in order.
“You wanna' go play some music?”
Like I said I just visited Charley’s world. He lives there all the time and occasionally I still hear from him. He lives in Oklahoma now and has graduated from Oral Roberts University. Yeah, he got religion...but it was and is religion that allows for a lot of bad weather. As for me, I live in Oregon now and never got “a calling” from anything except my alarm clock. I miss Charley’s world.....it’s really a wonderful place. Rather like a delinquent Mary Poppin’s movie. You can get there by knowing Charley. It’s strictly invitation only.