He hesitated, straining to see the clock on the desk. He didn't wish to step on the cold floor if it was too early. In a bold move he threw back the covers and bounded out. Using discarded clothing to insulate his feet, he reached the clock in three steps. He pressed the alarm button off just after 6:00 AM. Perfect! Jack had conquered time. He had slept soundly until waking just before the alarm. He followed a leisurely course to work.
At the grocery store, Jack alternated between concentration and a vision of Julie. He was trying to decipher his feelings. "Was this Love?"
Both Jack and Julie had been born into The Mormon Church, as they say. At the usual age of eight they were baptized, at the tender age of twelve he was ordained a Deacon, at fourteen he was ordained a Teacher and at sixteen he was ordained a Priest. This was a normal progression in the Priesthood for Jack and his male peers. Of course, girls don't receive the Priesthood. They both exceeded these minimal preparations by attending Seminary each morning before high school.
Jack was going through all the hoops in preparation for his mission. The outward signs of a successful religious life were unambiguous. In his mind there was less certainty. He challenged his religion the same way he challenged his emotional connection to Julie. His conscious drifted to a topic that repeated in his mind, that he would latter commit to writing.
It seems sometimes that life is really nonexistent, or that one's own self is the only individual who actually exists and that all other acquaintances are merely, shall I say, characters in a play. This thought is generated by the feeling you get after you leave a given place and then return. While you are away, nothing happens except preparation for your return.
I am saying that all things are fabricated for my life, that I am sitting here now by myself and people are preparing to associate with me. This means that now foreign lands do not exist but only what I can see. People are really doing nothing and are really not existing but some great mind manages to put them into place when they are needed. This thought has caused me, on occasion, to look around the corner to see if there was anything on the other side in hopes that I could find a void where The Great Mind has not applied the necessary scenery.
This idea could motivate a person who believed in it to become very domineering and give him/her a complex of entire and overpowering superiority. This could possibly be the motive behind great rulers and omnipotent dictators. But if such a philosophy existed there would be in the minds of all those who possessed the thought a force compelling each person to destroy his friends and neighbors because they in theory do not exist.
I do not believe this theory could be true, because it would mean that history is all fables and the books are written only to create authenticity. The more one contemplates the essence of this theory the more it becomes unbelievable. It is a desire to be in the whirl. A desire to be constantly in the mainstream of action that could possibly motivate such thoughts. It is possibly an inner fear of being left out of all events and possibly a desire to be important.
When I explained my theory to some, they say it is a natural reaction to think that existence is for yourself. It really is confusing but even more dominating is the impression that this theory is the outpouring of some neurotic mind. But really I must clarify myself; I definitely do not believe in this theory. It is very, shall I say, egocentric to say the least. But it is a thought I have harbored in my mind and wished to include. In reality, the purpose of life as I see it entirely contradicts this philosophy.
The Mormon principles of pre-existence and co-creation which is experienced by husband and wife entirely knock the bottom out of the theory because how could a man, the only man, create with an image a thing which is only to make him live--then what would his off-spring be--half man half image? What an imaginary thought (pun intended). It is more important in life to realize that there are people like yourself who do exist and have similar feelings and react in similar ways. This brings forth the spirit of brotherhood and is the key to life with real honest-to-goodness people.
It is wonderful to think of how much you are like others, but how different you are also. Knowing that no two in the 3 billion odd people on the earth are the same in appearance or personality or character, this thought is somewhat refreshing. But even more, this drowns out the possibility of the former theory mainly because it is easier to understand.
As Jack worked he psychoanalyzed his own thoughts as if playing Bridge, challenging and then doubling the challenge. There was nothing in the Mormon Doctrine to encourage one to think in such a way, this was his unique personal nature which had not yet expressed itself.
Jack's meditation was interrupted by his supervisor. He was cleaning lettuce and recovered from his day dream as Mike came into the back room.
"Hi Jack!" Mike arrived close to noon to cover the late shift so Jack could have this weekend evening off. "You got a hot date tonight?"
"I hope so." Jack parried.
"Ya, you young guys have all the fun." He tied his red apron behind his back. The apron almost matched his bright red curly hair. It was the same kind Jack was wearing. It framed the white shirt and what Jack thought was a ridiculously narrow black bow tie.
"Sure, I had all my fun this morning. I unloaded that truck practically all by myself and still got all those potatoes packed. Did you notice?"
"You got fast hands, Jack. That's for sure. Does Julie like those fast hands?" Mike had finally struck a nerve and Jack flushed red.
"I'll never tell." He managed a retort while still blushing.
Saved by the bell. A voice over the loud speaker called for assistance to carryout at the other end of the store.
"That's for you Jack. I'll take over here."
"You think you can handle this without me?" His tone was polite but mocking as he wiped his hands and moved toward the swinging double doors.
"I didn't even notice you were here." Mike liked the thoughtful, conscientious way Jack worked. He chose to express his satisfaction through thinly veiled sarcasm rather than direct complements. Jack was fast and wanted to do a good job. That set him apart from the other high school kids who came and went in the store. Few made it to the produce section.
Jack jogged cautiously along the isle between the clean, fresh vegetables he had carefully tended. The store was beginning to get busy; that meant he would stay occupied until quitting time.
When Jack finished work he drove carefully through the streets of The City of Hood River. As he pulled away from the stop on the corner of State and Front streets, he noticed a person walking on the wide gravel shoulder. Even from the back this person was easily recognizable as his cousin, Lawrence, otherwise known as Lucky.
Lucky's jeans hung low and bagged around his heavy, black engineering boots. He wore a plain, white shirt with short sleeves that Jack recognized as his own. Jack didn't mind, he actually felt good that he and Lucky were close enough to share without asking. The sharing was mostly one-way since Lucky didn't have anything Jack wanted to wear. Jack honked and pulled off the road.
Lucky turned and waved warmly. He backtracked to climb into the passenger side. Before he entered, Lucky took one last drag on a cigarette butt and flicked it away with precise dexterity. He had agreed with reluctance not to smoke in the car, and besides, he was past done anyway.
Lucky and Jack were cousins and Lucky had lived with Jack and his mother since the beginning of the previous school year. Lucky refused to cooperate with his mother and her new husband. Neither could handle him because he objected to their authority in place of his father. He would have rebelled against his father too, as he rebelled against any authority.
Jack and Lucky got along fine. They were as close as brothers, maybe even closer since they didn't fight anymore. Each went his own way and lived his own style with the unspoken consent of the other.
The two were opposites in most ways: Jack was tall and blond; Lucky was short with longer black hair combed to a point in front and a shaggy ducktail in back. Lucky socialized with the "Hoods" in school; whereas Jack was a precollege, all-American boy in comparison. He was lean, square at the shoulders, with hair combed to the side like the late President John F. Kennedy.
"Hey there Dude! Thanks for stoppin'." Lucky slipped easily into the car and only had to bow his head slightly to miss the roof. He rolled the window completely down and put his elbow over the door to gain the air flow.
Jack reached over and slapped Lucky on the shoulder and teased, "Still smoking that obnoxious shit?" He pulled back onto the road.
"Ya. Well, you would too if you just knew how to enjoy life."
Jack laughed at Lucky's straight face that finally broke into a grin.
"Hey, let's take a spin around to the Eastside. I'll show you where my new ole lady lives."
Jack obeyed without protest and kept to the subject. "You got a broad, have ya? What's her name?"
"Shit. If I tell you that, you'll know everything."
They passed the Hood River Distillery on the left, a massive, lifeless, wooden building. It came alive during harvest when cull apples or pears were dumped into a pit inside the huge sliding doors. The maze of tall timbers and supporting beams under the structure had made a convenient hiding place. Across from this was the angled right turnoff, East 2nd, to which they would return to enter their own neighborhood.
"Probably Linda Donnally, she lives up there on the Eastside." Jack couldn't hold back a wide grin as he negotiated the narrow road. The dangerous turn led to the too-narrow, two-lane bridge that spanned the Hood River.
"You gotta be crazy! Not her! Take the loop road past the cement place." Lucky made a movement with his hand in the appropriate direction. "That bitch is too straight for me and you know it. She's so tight she squeaks anyway."
"You could enjoy a buxom, wholesome girl like Linda. Maybe she keeps her legs together but I bet she kisses nice. A girl like that would keep you out of trouble. Her folks have money but she doesn't let it go to her head."
"You're full of shit, Jack!"
"I've seen how she looks at you. Her locker is close to yours. She probably arranged that herself."
"Bull shit!" Lucky sputtered and picked a piece of tobacco off his tongue. "She's stuck up, just like the rest of her snooty friends."
"That's a nice shirt you have on." Jack tried to change the subject before Lucky got into one of his tirades about the hypocrisy of the elite social classes.
"Thanks Jack. I had a job interview this afternoon so I had to wear a clean shirt that didn't have any grease stains on it."
"How did it go?"
"Alright, I guess. Jerry said he'd let me know right away, one way or the other."
"At least he didn't say no today. He'll come around. Good help like you is hard to find."
"I don't think he's got that figured out yet. He doesn't pay too good."
They reached the base of The Loops that was part of the Old Columbia River Highway. They ascended the sharp, steep switchbacks that eventually led to the garbage dump. The V-6 motor took the hill with only an occasional ping of displeasure from the low-octane fuel. Jack drove onto a viewpoint and the two gazed at the familiar panorama.
The profile of the well-treed city was visible from the top of The Loops across the rugged canyon made by the now placid Hood River. The old town known by the same name was asleep as usual, even during the day. Further in the distance, the Columbia River moved stealthily toward The Gorge, being careful to not awaken the city as it passed. The town was a good deal more impressive from a distance than from the inside where Jack had know it for a dozen years.
The mouth of the windy Columbia Gorge was just visible at the far edge of the town. According to some, it is the most spectacular geological structure in the state of Oregon, and Washington of course. If you had to construct a chapel 30 miles long and 10 miles wide you might do well to fashion it after this magnificent, natural wonder. By this time both boys had grown accustomed to living near such a sight and took it mostly for granted.
"What do you think about me going on a mission?" This was a major concern for Jack. He had always thought seriously about going on a mission for The Mormon Church. There was still time to decide and he felt close enough to Lucky to discuss such a personal question.
"Truthfully? I haven't given that much thought for myself. I'm not interested in going to church, let alone a mission. I don't care about church stuff. Staying alive from day to day is enough for me. If I get that job I'll be happy."
"It seems like the thing to do. It's like you live for 18-plus years and you pay back 10% to The Church like tithes on your life by going out and trying to teach other people for two years. I'm going to college of course, but going on a mission won't interfere with that. It'll just set me back a couple years. It's hard to picture what it will be like; going around knocking on doors I guess. You never know ahead where you'll get sent. I'd like to do something to help other people, ya' know? I wish you would give more thought to The Church, it wouldn't do you any harm."
This argument didn't impress Lucky. He scowled and remained silent for a minute. "I haven't been paying too much tithing lately either. I'm not interested in all that hocus-pocus."
"It seems like everybody expects me to go on a mission, and they say how great it is and how much you learn. Nobody else in our family has every gone before. I won't be old enough until after I go to Brigham Young University for two years. I haven't made up my mind for sure. But I guess I will."
"I've been thinking about goin' into the Army as soon as I can. I can go when I turn 17, even before graduating from high school with a GED and one parent's signature."
"I have to sign up for the draft in a few months but I can get a deferral for school and for a mission. I'm not excited about being drafted. Later on I'll probably go into the Air Force, maybe as an officer. What makes you think you would enjoy the Army? If you can't get along with your mother, how do you ever expect to tolerate the discipline of being a soldier?"
"It can't be any worse than what I'm doin' now, which is nothin' man. I don't have any interest in anything at school except playing music which I don't do in school anyways. School just takes up time, nothin' about it grabs me."
"The Army can really reach out and grab you, that's for sure. And don't worry, you'll get the job." Jack grabbed Lucky's knee to break the tension as he pulled back onto the road.
Lucky gave him a sharp hit on the shoulder muscle in fun. Jack's confidence reassured Lucky. "Just 'round the next corner, take a right. Alice's is the first driveway on the right."
Jack slowed as they both inspected the light green ranch-style house. "We better get going. I have to get back home and get ready to go to the movie tonight with Julie." He stepped on the accelerator and sped enough to make the car roll on its shock absorbers. The tires screeched but not enough to impress Lucky.
"Geess, you don't have to try to crash this tub." Lucky scolded Jack's weak attempt at being a race car driver.
Jack turned the car right at the next intersection after driving slowly past the stop sign. He made a mental note of the three-way corner and the orchard across the street, silently fixing the location and circumstances in his mind for future reference.
"If you let me drive I could show ya how it's s'posed to be done."
"I'd like to live to tell about it." He sped through the tight curves descending toward the river.
"Alice, hun? I guess I don't know her."
"She's not a real beauty but she sure can dance."
"I hope that's all you do. You're too young to be a father."
"No way man. I'm gonna keep my pants on. Besides, I've only been out with her twice and we haven't even been alone for more than five minutes." Lucky exaggerated. He hadn't kissed Alice yet but had every intention of doing so the next time he got a chance. There was no way he was going to admit to Jack how slow he was.
"I have to go to band practice at Jim's at 6:00 with my guitar. Can you drop me off?"
"Ya, sure. You mean our guitar? I'd like to listen to you guys before tomorrow night anyway."
The noise was deafening in the large bedroom. Three players of Lucky's band struggled to keep pace with the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand." This was the last song and Lucky gave the ending extra flare by over-working the reverb.
Lucky was the lead guitar player and would admit the group could barely imitate the real artists. He played mostly by ear and had fun during practice. They hadn't played for a real dance yet but that deficiency would be remedied soon.
The group was in Jim Long's house. The sound from Jim's trap drum set and two electric guitars resonated throughout the house. Jim was one of Jack's best friends from The Mormon Church. He let his hair grow from a crew-cut into the long, Beatles style bowl-cut. Jim was heavy-set, square-jawed and a rather poor drummer. He tried to compensate for lack of talent with enthusiasm.
"Ya don't mind if I leave this gear here, do ya?" Lucky asked Jim as he unfastened his colorful Mexican patterned shoulder strap and put his guitar in its case.
"No. I'll bring it with me to the Elks tomorrow along with my gear. Jack got this dance set up but I'm not sure if we're ready. We don't get paid because it's free to the public. We can just have fun and play around with our material."
The base player suggested, "If we get used up we can throw on a few discs."
Jim added, "We can always play `Louie, Louie' for a half hour or so. That's like the school anthem. But you can't use any of those obscene lyrics."
Lucky scowled, mocking Jim. "Nobody ever listens to the words anyway. Shit!"
"This is our first gig. You don't want it to be our last, do ya?"
"You sound too much like Jack, now. There's nothing better to do, I guess. This town is brain-dead during the summer."
"You can say that again!" Jim emphasized with a drum roll. "Where ya headed Lucky? You got a date?" Jim and Jack colluded to harass Lucky about his love life since he hadn't had any.
"You might call it that. I told Alice I'd meet her and her sister at the Game Room on The Heights."
"I'd offer to give you a ride but I don't have the car. Anyway I have to make sure my sister stays out of trouble."
"No problem man. I planned to walk. Alice's sister has a car and she'll take us home from there. See ya 'bout 7:00 tomorrow."
Lucky waved as he left the bedroom and stomped down the stairs. As he headed out the front door, he un-rolled his shirt sleeve and retrieved what remained of a pack of cigarettes. He squinted against the sun as he walked slowly south up the hill, pondering his plight.
Lucky's family consisted of five sisters with whom he had been in constant battle. There was no love lost from not being with his mother and stepfather. The third oldest sister, Sandra, the closest to his own age, was sympathetic. She defended him in arguments with the others, when she wasn't fighting with him directly. He smiled to himself when he thought of her and the innocent affection they had shared.
After one block, he turned west onto Eugene Street. He found a matchbook in his pocket and lit the cigarette. He took a deep drag since he hadn't had one for nearly three hours. He couldn't smoke in Jim's house; Mormons didn't allow smoking. The cigarette was a Lucky Strike from a white package with a large red circle logo. His fanatic loyalty to this brand was how he acquired the handle "Lucky." He figured if people said it often enough it might come true. "No harm in trying." he said so often it had become his slogan.
As usual, Lucky was wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans and his black oversized engineering boots. Walking any distance was awkward in these heavy boots. At best he could only plod along like a work horse with his short legs taking oversized steps. The tall heels gave him an extra two inches. His father had been a welder, whenever he could get work, and had passed his shoe style to his son.
He didn't really miss his sisters but he hadn't seen his father for three years and did miss him. He didn't know where he lived and had no way to contact him. His stomach ached when he thought of his absent and idealized father. His esophagus tightened but he didn't want to cry. He forced the pain inside. He exhaled the smoke slowly as if to exhaust these emotions, holding his head back to avoid irritation and prevent tears.
He turned left onto 12th Street and crossed the empty street at an angle.
Conflicting forces plucked at his life. Jack coaxed him to be responsible and urged him to go to Church and associate with Jim and other preppie types. He felt attracted to Alice and the Hoods that drank beer and smoked. These were the children of the working class who liked motorcycles and hot cars. That's what Lucky liked too but he didn't always feel welcome in that group any more than he felt welcome at Church. He hated when those people felt sorry for him. He didn't fit anywhere.
He recalled riding with his Dad on his Harley Davidson hog not so many years before. That was freedom, that was excellence. That was where he belonged. He visualized the wind blowing through his hair and imagined the power to accelerate surging in the grasp of his hand.
His esophagus got tight again and he had to wipe his eyes. He quickly looked around to make sure he was alone.
"Must have gotten smoke in my eyes." he thought aloud to himself, denying legitimacy to his repressed emotions. He forced his mind onto his prospects of employment. The next day he would learn the result of his job interview with Jack's brother-in-law. He had a good chance at a job and it would be nice to earn some extra money. He owed Jack for the used electric guitar and amplifier. He knew Jack was intervening to help him get this part-time job, though he denied it. He looked forward to it because he enjoyed working on cars.
Lucky had fixed his mother's car since his father left, up to the time she got connected to that tall, jerk, Bud Ford. Lucky and his sisters called him "Buford" behind his back. He was Mr. Zero Personality according to Lucky's way of thinking. He was an A-l class hypocrite because he slept with Lucky's mother before they married and he was otherwise a straight laced Mormon. He was a good mechanic but he was still a jerk. Buford had taken time to help Lucky learn to play the guitar and reached out to him, but he was still a jerk. Lucky refused to let him be a friend.
Lucky's mother and Buford conspired against him, so he thought. They wouldn't give him any slack. They objected to his friends and wouldn't let him drive any time he made the smallest mistake. She refused to sign for his driver's license until his Aunt and Jack vouched for his improved conduct. He could see it didn't kill him to get in earlier for a change. He had abstained from alcohol for a few weeks but it wasn't any of their damn business what he did. He had made this argument frequently in the past, never very successfully. He only succeeded in convincing himself.
As he walked he noticed the empty basketball court. He was alone, not unlike the isolated goal with the torn net. A basketball court shouldn't be empty in the evening of such a brilliant summer day.