George A. Yesthal
“He who makes a beast of himself escapes the pain of being a man”.
Dr. Samuel Johnson
I guess you could say it was all Claude Kirschner’s fault; the way we turned out, I mean. In case you’re not old enough to recall, Claude Kirschner was the guy that hosted Terrytoon Circus; a kiddy show that aired during the fifties. Claude was probably the single most mighty bastion of opposition to child rights since Captain Hook. He and his arch accomplice, Clowny, a hand puppet, would lure us poor unsuspecting kids into a half hour adventure in TVland literally intoxicated by the heady mix of clown antics and cartoons. Innocent enough, right? Well maybe, were we simply talking about clown antics and cartoons like the venues of Mickey mouse or Captain Kangaroo. But, oh no, not old Claude. No innocence about this smiling-faced charlatan. Claude’s show had a kicker. A possibly unintended subliminal quirk that may have inadvertently changed the face of history. At the end of every show Claude would announce: “Well boys and girls, we’ve had a wonderful time but now it’s seven o’clock. Time for all good little children to be in bed.”
Now let’s examine the serious socio-psychological repercussions of this seemingly harmless statement, shall we?
In essence what Claude was saying was, “Okay kiddies, now that you’ve had your ration of funnies, get your asses to bed because you insignificant little bastards are patently unworthy of a nightlife. NIGHTLIFE. Remember that word. It’s of key importance to my theory and this story in general.
When one thinks of nightlife he automatically, whether consciously or subconsciously, associates it with partying and good times. So, actually, what old Claude was saying is, “You cannot party.”
Now I think most people, especially parents, will agree that when you tell a child that they can’t have something, it will be that very something that they crave.Tell a child; “You cannot have candy.” He will crave candy. Tell a child, “You cannot play in mud.” He will crave playing in mud. Tell a child, “You cannot party…” Well, I think you can see where this is going. Henceforth we will call this Kirshner’s Syndrome.
The characters in this story are the unfortunate victims of Kirshner’s Syndrome. Thanks to Claude and Clowny the children of the fifties contracted one more social disease that they passed along to the children of the sixties and seventies, etc. etc. etc..
Now don’t get me wrong, weighed in the overall scale of current affairs, Kirschner’s Syndrome is not the worst ailment one might be afflicted with. After all, symptoms may include drinking, smoking, drugging, brawling, carousing and engaging in gratuitous sex. They do not, however, include running for public office just to screw a whole municipality and/or state and/or country at once. OR bombing a building and/or plane and/or train. OR dying in some remote foreign country in retaliation for same. See what I mean?
Now a somewhat ironic benefit of KS is that the one afflicted with it is often too numb to appreciate that he, or the world around him for that matter, is afflicted with anything at all. Ergo, Kirschner’s Syndrome could conceivably be the only real salvation for mankind as we know it.
Consider this as you peruse the following and it may be credited with a modicum of sense, though I doubt it. Though this is meant to be awork of humor, the following is true, which once again bears out the old saw that truth is stranger than fiction.
Gremlins, Grass and Graduation, June, 1969
All and all, Lake Owassa in Sussex County of the Garden State, New Jersey was a typical sedate rural community. Early to bed, early to rise. Neighborly over-the-fence chit-chat about hunting, fishing, the weather as well as the customary bit of spicy gossip about Mr. jones and Mrs. Smith, of course. But generally; seldom was heard a discouraging word. Yes, boredom and mediocrity had settled in Lake Owassa in the guise of tranquility.
June of ‘69 would see a change to all that. A demon seed was planted in the womb of quaint lake community. 1969 saw the graduation and concurrent emancipation of one George Arnold Yesthal and a group of cohorts that star as this tale’s protagonists.
I remember the night of my graduation as if it were only yesterday, which is surprising in and of itself, as so much else between then and now is somewhat foggy.
After making the rounds of all the obligatory jock-type parties, you know the kind, where mom serves tasty tidbits and punch and dad asks what you want to do with your life, a few friends and I decided to spend the rest of the night getting wasted on High Point Mountain. God! What a feeling of freedom we had that night. To this day sometimes in quiet moments that feeling comes back to linger like a fart in a closet. Yessir, wild abandon was the password that night. I remember telling my buddy, Bruce, “Well, I guess all that’s left now is to wreak havoc on the rest of the world”, as I downed my umpteenth beer.
Smoking joints with Lee Frabel in my car brought the conversation to more sedate matters like far-eastern philosophies, the music of Ravi Shankar, peace in Nam, etc..Then it happened. GREMLINS.
The acid kicked in with a force unmatched by the Big Bang. Oh, hadn’t I mentioned the acid? Anyway, gremlins. I had been ignoring them pretty successfully until they started getting into my car. I heard them, I saw them, felt them touching me. The nasty buggers were everywhere, with their obnoxious laughing and chittering.
Down go the windows, flick on the dome light and here I am screaming, “Gremlins, gremlins, oh my God! AAAHHH! Kill ‘em , kill ‘em all”. All the while swinging my arms and scratching like a man covered with red ants.
Lee had no idea I had eaten acid.. In a blind attempt to bring me back to the world of the semi-sane he issued me a swift smack across my face. Now, I’m not sure, but I think he was expecting a “Thanks, I needed that” response but all I could think was ‘Here I am beset by all these accursed gremlins and one of my best friends is hitting me in the face’. The look of shock as I lunged for his throat is indelibly etched in my psyche.
Of course, as usual, my timing couldn’t have been worse. There outside the window stood Mr. Park Ranger. Big sonofabitch too. Given the effects of acid, he could have been Smokey the Bear for all I knew. At that point reality was a commodity in short supply. The thought occurred to me that he may have been a hallucination, but if that was not the case, how was I unexplained all these goddamned gremlins?
Well, the ranger proved to be as real as they come and not in much of a mood to be screwing around with a couple of freaks at three in the morning either.
“Okay, boys, out of the car. Where you boys from?”
My jaws worked but damned if I could make anything come out. Lee was cognisant enough to offer some response.
“What you boys doing up here this time of night?”
I managed to croak out, ”Graduated. Celebrating.”
That was a mistake. He started nosing around the car. He must have seen all the empties in the back seat, but what he said next almost made my knees buckle.
“Stinks like marijuana. You guys been smoking pot?”
That’s when I completely phased out in some kind of mental failsafe. I started letting Charlie Mingus’ Jelly Roll Soul play in my head and rationalized that jail might not be too bad…I knew some people there…ya get to work out a lot…
The next thing I knew the ranger was driving away and we were getting back into my car. It seems Lee gave him some line of bullshit that I never did get straight but it involved blindness, excruciating pain and a limited time to live. Anyway, soon we were on our way back down the mountain acid, pot, gremlins and all.
“Lee”, I said. “Why do you think that guy could smell pot but he missed all those frigging gremlins?”
No gremlins for lee. Lee was passed out.
Halfway down the mountain came that all too familiar sound. “Choke, gurgle, wretch…” There goes Lee, transformed from a mere mortal to the goddess Pele, spewing molten vomit all over the place. “Oh God, spare me”, I thought. Here was my poor 1960 pushbutton automatic Rambler Classic, doomed to a life of Lysol baths and car deodorizers.
Well, I guess you take the good with the bad. If not for Lee I may well have spent my graduation night in the can. Thanks, Lee.
Raymond E Arlen
I don’t remember exactly where or when I met Ray but I think it was around the age of twelve or thirteen. It kind of seems like he was just always there. My past being an ill-defined series of blurs and foggy memories, this lack of recollection is hardly surprising.
One thing is certain; considering that an accurate cross section of the average Sussex county resident at the time would have shown a mix of pious, social-minded do-gooders and vehement rednecks, it’s safe to say that we hop-heads and drug abusers felt a strong alliance Indeed one could spot another a mile off. These were the circumstances under which Ray and I became fast friends. Nowadays everyone has done a toke or a toot at one time or another but back in the day, we were a rare breed.
I can well imagine that in a past incarnation he might have been a rum runner. Born into this life, his first words might have been “Fuckin’ aye!” While he did master the art of walking he never did learn how to stop falling down.
Ray Arlen; a veritable monument to the drug addled rebels of the sixties. He is without question one of my best friends but is indubitably, at times, his own worst enemy.
Let me explain something about Ray. No matter the circumstances of any given situation, if Ray wants to try it, then try it he will. Anything from building a log castle from the ground up to drinking three quarts of bourbon in one night. It doesn’t matter if he’s never tried it before. If it works, fine. If not, well that’s okay too. The guy’s got balls that sometimes outweigh his brain. In truth I believe he may have a deep-seeded Don Quixote type death wish.
Let me explain. Today Ray is an electrician of the highest water who plies his trade with an expertise that can only be called art. Not always so.
Years ago, when Ray was only apprenticing under his father, he shows up at my door with a quarter ounce of hashish and a case of Becks. Well, with a calling card such as this he could very well have been Charlie Manson and gained swift and immediate entry to my home. But it wasn’t Manson, it was Raymo. So much the better.
By the time we had smoked up half of the blond Lebanese and drank half the case, the conversation turned to our new stove which was of no immediate use because we needed a licensed electrician to hook install a 220 watt service and line. We had the hardware, just not the know-how.
“Electrician, shit!” says Ray. “I know how to do that. Get me some tools.”
No sooner did I get the prescribed tools than off he goes to the cellar, our modern-day slayer of windmills with me in hot pursuit.
Now, I’m the next thing to a moron when it comes to electronics, but it just seemed to me that if you’re going to hook a line to the main service you ought to shut the power down first and I said as much.
I remember how foolish I felt when he said, “Listen, numb-nuts, if we shut the power down, how we gonna see? No Lights…no work.” Neither of us could generate enough cerebral impulse to think of a flashlight and, to me anyway, what he said seemed so logical.
Over by the main service the floor was wet as it always was at that time of the year from the Spring thaw seeping through the wall.
So here goes Raymo, head full of steam, attacking that power box just like he knew what he was doing. Strip this wire, insert that wire, hand me this, hand me that, hand me the other thing. I’ve got to admit that I was convinced that before me stood a bonafide junior electrician.
This seemed to be progressing smoothly as I looked on helplessly. The it happened…BANG…SNAP…SIZZLE! Out go the lights. All I could see was Ray’s figure silhouetted by this beautiful white and cobalt light. Don Quixote morphed into Captain Electro right before my eyes and here he is screaming, “Help me, help me, Oh shit…Oh God…Help me, help me!”
By the grace of God, I somehow had enough sense not to grab him so I’m looking around for a board or something to knock him away from the line with when everything goes blac to an ear-splitting snap.
That’s it, I thought. Old Ray’s dead. The darkness and silence was absolutely cloying as I fumbled in my pocket for my lighter. When I finally got it out and lit it, Ray was standing so close to me that I nearly set his beard on fire. He had this crazes look on his face, kind of a mixture of joy, pain and shock.
“Ray”, I said. “Are you okay?”
“Are you alright?”
“Uh…yeah. How are you?”
‘No, no, Ray, listen to me, I…”
“What the hell was that flash?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. That was you. How do you feel?”
“Thirsty. C’mon, let’s get a beer.”
So we finished th Becks and went to Brady’s Pub for the remainder of the evening.
That’s what I mean about Ray. Semi-crazy, 100% indestructible Well, you know what they say: “God protects the old, the young and the drunk.”
Now drinking is an acquired talent. An art. A school of thought in which Ray and I and our cohorts have risen to doctorate levels with tenure. Imbibers extraordinaire. To all but the most hardened tipplers, the passion we share for distilled spirits and their effect on the human brain, is an inscrutable enigma. Fine connoisseurs of inebriation and alcoholic stupor are we.
Vitamin A. The cure for what ails.
The years ensuing my graduation saw a snowball effect at Lake Owassa. With the sixties and seventies came a mighty migration from New York and the vicinity to the subtle Nirvana of Lake Owassa. An influx of of people sickened by the nine to five urban cancer that they wallowed in daily, reaching out, grasping desperately at some semblance of sanity that took shape in the form of a weekend Utopia, rural and serene…Lake Owassa. The pilgrims to the Mecca in the mountains turned the “lake over the hill” into an extended suburbia.
We full-timers bore a distinct dislike to these transient weekend warriors. This attitude persisted until we realized that with the pilgrims came an insatiable horde of drug gluttons. The children of the damned. The damned pilgrims, that is. Yessir, our kind of people.
One of these damned offspring was a fellow named Jimmy Greves. Jimmy hailed from Brooklyn, the home of much that people regret about humanity. Jimmiy’s a kind hearted slob with an all consuming lust for self punishment. He copulates with danger and courts all that can hurt him. More on Jimmy later.
Now, Jimmy had an uncle named Tim Burke who eventually became the sheriff of Laramie, Wyoming. Time does bring the most astonishing changes. But in 1970 Tim stated a local annual tradition until the young man went west some years later. The tradition?
Caribou stew…it would be there. At the feast. Caribou stew; the very thought of it, together with sundry other victuals, a seemly endless wellspring of booze and drugs of the most exotic nature, were brewing visions of drunken bliss and culinary orgasm since early that morning.
Ten o’clock that morning we we got wood for the bonfire, set up tables, cleaned up the property and by noon the women-folk were telling us to get the hell out and leave them to work their magic. “Go on, now. Shoo, off with you.” So, off we went to while away the hours until feast time. Idle hands.
Before long the setting sun had transformed the verdant green of the trees to olive drab. The blue reflections of the lake became vaginal pink hues, warm and comforting.
Numb by feast time from tranquil country hours of smoking and imbibing, we’d forgotten momentarily that from which, only a few short hours ago, we had to be held like dogs at bay.
Terry Sliker came by bearing tequila. A host of other anticipating specters brought a variety of different inebriates; hash, beer, ludes, whiskey. Most were consumed by feast time
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
ROCK’N’ROLL HOOTCHIE COO…
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
Through the blare Rick Derringer wailing on the hi-fi, (yes, that’s what they were called back then) and the fog of sleep, I distinctly heard booming. Did our house require an exorcism?
BOOM BOOM BOOM! “Hey, you assholes, wake up!”
Then it hit me…the feast.
On my feet, half numb and yelling, ”Hey, everybody up. Tim’s pounding the door down. Ho ho, it’s feast time.”
Run downstairs, unlock the door, admit Tim.
“Are you people that fucked up already?” Tim asked.
“C’mon, everything’s ready. Caribou stew. Remember, you pot-head?” Tim’s finger tapping furiously at my forehead.
Yeah, yeah. We didn’t forget…just nodded out.”
Thump thump thump. Down the stairs came Terry Slaker. “Everyone’s ready except for Jimmy,” he said. “We can’t get him up.”
“What do you mean,” I asked.
“I mean he’s drunk.”
“Terry, we’re all drunk.” I laughed at the way he singled Jimmy out.
Terry started laughing too. “No, no. Not like us. Jimmy’s out cold. Shit-faced. He won’t get up.”
“Well, it sure as hell ain’t the first time.” said Tim, sniggering.
We, none of us, could see the sense in any further procrastination. “Let’ grab him and carry his sorry ass down then”, I said. So we did. Down the stairs, out to the car. Six passenger car; seven people. Jimmy goes in the trunk. Down the road to Tim’s place.
We reveled in gluttony and intoxication.
8:30…food …more dope.
10:00…More food…more drink…more dope.
12:00…Cindy. Cindy? Oh, my God!
“George, where’s Jimmy? Wasn’t he with you?” she asked.
I had my face hidden in my hands. “Yes, I think I’ve killed him. I’ve killed your brother. Oh my God!” I was shaking and on the verge of tears.
“What the hell are you ranting about?” she asked. She was looking at me, questioning with her eyes and hoping I would break into laughter at an obvious joke. I didn’t. I was sure that Jimmy had, by now, suffocated. You know, all those stories you’re told as a kid about people suffocating in refrigerators and car trunks and so on.
Cindy got hysterical. I felt sick. I got up. I fell down. I got up again, ran to the car and unlocked the trunk. I was afraid to look so I hid my eyes. Visions of poor Jimmy lying there blue, bloated, dead. Ugh! Cindy was silent.
“Is he…?” I muttered
She said, “Yes, I think so.”
Sorrow and guilt ripped at me. “I knew it. Oh God, I just knew it” I cried.
To my great relief she said, “No, asshole, I mean he’s alive. See? He’s breathing and I just heard him fart.”
I left the trunk open and eventually Jimmy joined the party. He had a great time. I died a thousand deaths. I needed booze and I needed drugs and both right away.
I stood at the keg hardly able to move; a smorgasbord of sensation and emotion. Nervous anxiety from Jimmy’s near murder by negligence…euphoria from the acid.(oh, didn’t I mention that?)…tipsy from whatever, and through it all filtered the general absurdity of the tableau that was the feast. A comedy of horrors, so to speak.
As I looked around I saw:
Cindy sitting on the well having a full-blown conversation with the hand pump.
Jeff Orbin on his hands and knees, groping through the grass and yelling, “Wherth my teeth! I lotht my teeth! Watch were ya thtep!”
Big Pat Keller is threatening to overturn someone’s VW and Jimmy Greaves is egging him on.
Bobby Kussak is singing Frank Zappa’s Call Any Vegetable, while the band he’s supposed to be singing with played Honky Tonk Women.
There’s some dude I’ve never met before standing behind me talking about the time he and I canoed down the Delaware together.
There’s a line twelve deep at the outhouse and I’ve got to take a shit so bad I can taste it.
I waited on line for what seemed an eternity. I was certain it didn’t take that long to build Rome. Ass cheeks clenched tighter than a rottweiler’s jaws, shaking, head pounding, heart palpitating. THE WOODS. Use the woods. At any other time it would have seemed such an obvious alternative. Simple. Use the woods. So I did.
Sublime relief and mild ecstasy poured over me. By and large one of the best rushes of the evening. Use the woods…brilliant!
No toilet paper…STUPID!
Why in the name of God didn’t I think to bring a napkin or something with me? Stupid…Goddamn stupid ass.
Through the branches I could see people moving in the light of the fire like demons at some black mass. Everyone laughing and having a good time and here am I, glued to the woods by my self-made shit-assed dilemma
One form in particular appeared to be growing larger and larger silhouetted by the firelight. It was someone coming closer, coming toward me. Oh God. Please don’t let it be one of the girls!
It wasn’t. It was Kenny Rosenburg and he was staggering. He stopped just past the edge of the woods to take a leak. “Aha”, I thought. Here is a kinsman in malady.” Mine being admittedly slight more urge than his
“Pssst…Kenny. Kenny Rosenburg”, I whispered. He was tripping too so I scared the hell out of him He reeled back, arms wind milling in some vain attempt to protect himself and croaked something to the effect of, “Whoa! Back.Tempt me not, viper.” He was always a bit melodramatic.
“Kenny, for Christ’s sake be quiet. It’s me George. George Yesthal.
“What the fuck are you doing in there?’ he asked.
“ I need something to wipe my ass with.”
“Why, did you take a shit?” I could hear him starting to chuckle.
“NO, I took communion. Christ, Kenny! Look, would you get me a napkin or something?”
I couldn’t believe his response. “Why don’t you just use leaves?” The little shit was arguing with me.
“Because it’s dark and there’s poison ivy in here. Would you just get the napkin, pleas
“What’s in it for me?” I guess he thought he was being cute.
“Well, how ‘bout this? I WON’T KICK YOUR LITTLE JEWISH ASS!”
What he did next was just cruel. He turned to the crowd and yelled, “Hey, would somebody bring something for George to wipe his ass with?”
It might not have been so bad had I not been so strongly feeling the ravages of the acid, but as it was I now longed for the thousand deaths that threatened a short while ago.
The laughter went up. People came wandering over. Jeff Orbin was the benevolent soul who provided the napkin and to him I owe a lifelong debt of gratitude. I wiped. Kenny left as he valued the luxury of chewing with his own teeth.
I emerged from the Ogre’s Black Forest in search of my beer mug, which was nowhere to be found. Anyone who has ever been to a keg party knows that any receptacle that will hold the precious golden nectar is worth it’s weight in gold. In my hour of most desperate need, I’d been robbed in typical James Gang fashion. A heinous crime to be sure.
I eventually recovered a mug from the sleeping hands of Dick Wood. I rationalized stealing from the dead by saying to myself that he might have broken it in his sleep and gotten cut.
The line at the outhouse hadn’t moved and people were starting to yell and pound on the door. Who was in the shitter?
The outhouse was situated about eighty feet up the hill of the back yard of Tim’s bungalow. I could barely make out it’s outline in the dark but it was obvious that there was a light on inside.
In what must have been only a fraction of a second, the door flung violently open revealing a bright yellow light and the silhouette of a human form falling to the ground. Just as violently the door slammed shut with a bang. Cheers and applause rang out. Ray Arlen was the person in question. He got up and came to the edge of the fire leaning on the post of a purloined 25 mph. sign he’d found in the path on the way down. He looked for all the world like some biblical saint gazing into Nebuchadnezzar’s firey furnace. People started placing bets as to whether or not he’d fall into the fire. I walked over to him and whispered, “Where’s your beer?”
Ray turned and went straight to the keg. He didn’t burn. I won five bucks
What rip-snorting party would be complete without a visit from our dedicated boys in blue (actually it’s gray in Jersey)? Those valiant defenders of justice who selflessly keep our streets safe for rapists, muggers and assassins by wasting their time (and our tax dollars) harassing pot smokers.
So, sure enough, up rumbles that immaculate Plymouth Fury, spotlight shining into hundreds of dilated pupils. The car halted right in front of Tim’s bungalow and out steps his majesty, Trooper Cooper. His real name, as God is my witness. He had with him some rookie that I’m guessing he was trying to impress.
Trooper Cooper went straight into the house while the rookie wandered through the crow asking names and writing them down. When he came to me I told him my name was Benny MacNammara. Bobby Kussac was telling him “No habla Ingles”, when I wandered off to heed mother nature.
When I returned Tim was telling everyone that they had to move their cars. So we did. As I was coming back from my car I overheard that snotty little rookie getting heavy with Benny Mac. “Listen, smart-ass, I will find out your real name and when I do I’ll bust you every time you so much as fart.” Poor Benny got so shook up. I got hysterical with laughter.
Eventually they left. The rest of the feast is something of a blur. Ray found Jeff’s teeth. Jeff lost his tenuous hold on sanity. Cindy spent the night with the pump. Jimmy made his way back to the trunk of my car and I woke up face down with a mouthful of dirt.
The first feast and those that followed were a huge success. Thanks Tim, wherever you are.
This humble tale is dedicated the loving memories of:
James Greves and Jeffrey Orbin.
I’m sure they are preparing the next big feast for the rest of us.
This is a short story that is factual but for some VERY minor embellishment. It just goes to show that real life is sometimes much funnier than that which is made up.
Some of the names have been changed to protect the GUILTY.