In a New York universe of Italians and Jews, Dave Randall stood out like a redwood in a pine forest. Well over six feet, he towered over most of my Long Island University classmates. He had a good few inches on me, and I was considered a giant in my family. He might very well have been the first blond-haired, blue-eyed person I had ever known.
I had been reading Jack Kerouac novels, so when I met Dave and he told me his father was a drunk and in prison, he became a celebrity. In contrast, my father belonged to the upholsterer’s union. He and my mother didn’t even drink on New Year’s Eve.
I lived in East Meadow, a New York suburban cocoon; Dave grew up in a small town outside Tucson.
“Arizona?” I asked, never having traveled west of New Jersey. “You mean with cowboys and Indians?”
He laughed, thinking I was joking.
We became friends. I introduced him to Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus; he introduced me to Marty Robbins and Charlie Pride. I told him how stultifying it was growing up in a middle-class family with parents who wanted only the best for their son. “Too much love is almost as bad as none at all,” I told him.
“No, it’s not,” he said, looking away.
We spent many Saturday nights of our freshman year under the bleachers with weed and Thunderbird talking about women and throwing up. Mostly throwing up. Sometimes, we’d go to fraternity parties, but neither of us fit in. He couldn’t two-step to, “Louie Louie,” and I’d quote Woody Allen, saying I was uncomfortable in groups of two or more.
One weekend, we hitchhiked out to Southampton because that’s where the action was, we had heard. We arranged to stay at the home of a friend of a friend whose parents were away. When we got there, after getting stranded on Sunrise Highway during a thunderstorm, we found the house dark and locked up tight. We bought some wine and spent the rainy night sleeping under the back deck. The next day, we pooled our money and rode a bus back to campus after an uneventful day prowling around town. While sitting in the back of the bus, my clothes still damp, Dave laughed as I wondered aloud when the adventure would begin.
“This is it,” he said.
As time passed, I found a girl impressed with my stories, and he found a number of females impressed with his. His toothy grin and Western innocence gave way to a contrived cool.
We double dated a few times, but my girlfriend was afraid of him. He had added cocaine to his taste for cheap wine and marijuana. His speech quickened to an almost incomprehensible patter. And his eyes, once clear blue, now seemed like the bloodshot and swollen slits of a much older man.
Early in my sophomore year, the woman I thought I’d spend my life with broke up with me. I had gotten too serious too soon, I realize now. Dave helped me get through it. “You’ll find the one you’re looking for,” he said in a faraway voice. “The right one’s out there for guys like you.”
In the meantime, he helped arrange a string of substitutes.
He and I still shared the occasional all night bull session, spiced with alcohol, pills and smoke, but the talk changed. Now he schemed to make quick money, usually involving drugs. It was my turn to feel afraid. While I talked of grad school and love, he spoke of last night’s sex. “Scored a threesome, man. You ever do that?”
I shook my head. He promised to set me up.
He stumbled into my dorm room not long after that. I was writing a paper on Shakespeare’s use of irony in Hamlet. He smelled of weed and wine and said he knew two women who liked to party. I told him the paper was due in two days.
“You read Kerouac, man. Here’s a chance for real kicks.”
I had written enough of the paper so I probably could have finished it before it was due, or at least gotten an extension. My girlfriend at the time, whose name I barely recall, was studying for exams and our relationship was nearing its logical conclusion. There was no reason for me to stay, just as there is no reason for me now, a man past sixty-five, happily married to the same woman for over forty years, to remember, down to the tone in my voice, such an insignificant event.
“I can’t,” I heard myself say. “Gotta finish this paper and study for my political science final.”
Dave looked at me with an older brother’s disappointment. “Ah, pussy,” he said. “At least loan me some money.”
I had just gotten paid from my part-time job washing dishes in the school cafeteria. I gave him ten dollars. He never showed up for his final exams and never answered my letters to him during the summer.
When I returned to school the next semester, word had spread faster than two New Yorkers devouring a pizza: Dave had been arrested somewhere out west for selling drugs.
I thought of finding out where he was and visiting him in jail. Hitchhiking out west to visit a buddy in prison. Now that would be an adventure.
Of course, I never did.
About Wayne: Wayne Scheer has locked himself in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net.