“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back…”
I was standing in a line of other shirtless guys in the bare-bulb lit corridor of a yellowish hallway of some empty government building.
A congressional appointment to the Naval Academy was mine. The other guys in line were trying to get to Annapolis. I had an almost-sure thing. (That’ll be the day, I thought.)
Why at the front of the line was there a garbage can?
When the first guys in line passed out left then right like a Busby Berkeley chorus line and the next puked into the can I found out. This was part of the physical and the guys in the white coats, who came in silently from nowhere, were drawing blood from each of America’s finest candidates for becoming educated sea warriors and apparently they couldn’t handle the sight of blood. At least their own.
I grew up in a military family. A Navy family that moved about once a year to anywhere there might be a body of water (including Lake Michigan) and I got plenty of needles in my arm when I got to each new school. And I got to a lot of new schools…I went to four in just one year on Oahu. I blame my failure to get into Annapolis on the fact that, between schools, I missed sevens and eights in math. I passed every part of the hardest entrance exam in the U.S. — including the physical done on that wet, slow snowing day in Detroit — every part except math. Math is important in the Naval Academy because the degree you get when you graduate to become a naval officer is a degree in engineering. Which, thinking about it now, was sort of a good thing. Instead of going to Annapolis, I got into The University of Southern California on my SAT scores (because my high school grades sucked and my SATs were stellar) and surfed.
That cold, clear, starry night, torn between being bummed out and relieved, I cruised downtown Detroit. I went to my first-choice destination –the classic Fox Theater that was open, empty and magnificently all royal maroon velvet and gold inside the tall high rococo revival ceilings.
My other destination was the armory to see a custom car and hot rod show. One of the cars I had pinstriped and flame painted was in the show.
They had entertainment too at that show in the small, creepy building barely big enough in its faded vanilla inside to hold the cars. Up on a little riser of a stage, in the full glare of the room with no theatrically dramatic lighting, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens performed. They sounded just like they did on record, I adolescently thought. After the show, they both left together to join Buddy Holly, sitting in the seat Waylon Jennings gave up for him in a small plane, to fly to another show in Minnesota, via Iowa, in a storm. The next day. The day the music died.
Comments: Great stuff. Keep it up. Bob Grossman