Graduation & Sandy Lee: I was still slightly drunk when I walked across the stage at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Pasadena. I got back from Galveston couple of hours before the ceremony and Mom was already so worried she wouldn’t even let me unload my car. She nagged me straight into the shower and after a shave and rinse, I dried off and dressed then she made me put on the cap and gown for this goofy picture:
Goofy (still drunk) Polaroid
Anyone who’s been to Houston in late spring or summer can testify that the climate is very similar to Calcutta. With humidity above 90% and temperature from 90o to 105o F you break into a sweat in a couple of minutes and after ten minutes you’re soaked. The graduation ceremony in the open stadium was scheduled for 5:00pm but there would be speeches, music and prayers before the parade of over 400 individual students marched across the stage to receive their diplomas and a hearty hand shake. Easily two or three hours of waiting in hot moist air just a few miles from a steaming swamp.
I really felt sorry for my old man. Mom had us all dressed up: neckties, dress shirts, slacks, polished shoes and sports coats. It would be hot for anyone, but “Mac” weighed over two-thirty and he was definitely huffing and puffing as we walked the across the crushed oyster shell of the stadium parking lot. I had to wear the rented polyester blend gown, but “Mac” wore a dark navy blue sports coat. While the family made their way up to the stadium seating, I walked around the track to the graduates’ section where I was directed to my assigned seat. It turned out we were arranged by homeroom and seated in alphabetical order which put me next to Sandy Lee.
Because our homeroom teacher Mrs. Hammerstone assigned her student seating in alphabetical order, for three years first thing every morning I sat next to Sandy every school day. A pixie cut dishwater blonde with small breasts and a tomboy figure, Sandy Lee was a quiet, shy girl who was an average student with a tight group of girlfriends who hung out together to insulate each other from the social currents of the standard school cliques. Over the years I helped her with her Algebra homework and served as a copy reader and tutor for her English and History papers and we became “friends.”
To tell the truth I was attracted to Sandy from the first time I set eyes on her, but due to my delayed driving privileges and her attachment to one of the motorheads in auto shop, we never had the chance to “date.” By senior year I was “going steady” with Sandy Martin while Sandy Lee still clung to the “on again off again” attachment to her jealous, surly mechanic boy. About the same time I was having second thoughts about my “steady”, she was going through a rough patch with her boyfriend and our short conversations in homeroom became de facto co-counseling sessions. I resented the way that her handsome motorhead treated her, and she expressed sympathy for my sexual frustrations with Sandy Martin.
As usual I can’t recall the specifics of our conversation but as we waited for all of the rigmarole associated with the ceremony to end, we somehow managed to confess our unrequited mutual attraction for one another. By the time our homeroom got the cue to descend the stairs and line up stage right to wait for our names to be called, we were holding hands and looking forward for the first chance we could find to get together. When Sandy’s name was called and she walked across the stage to collect her diploma, I was grinning ear to ear. I followed in turn and we held hands as we walked out into the crowd of seniors on the football field. It went fairly quickly after that and in less than thirty minutes we all threw our mortar boards into the air and shook hands, slapped each other on the back, hugged and kissed… and man oh man did Sandy and I ever enjoy our first kiss.
Po’ Boys at El Rancho and Milk & Cookies at Sandy Martin’s: Sandy was going out with her family and friends to celebrate and I was committed to an appearance at Sandy Martin’s house, so after asking around for a pen, we exchanged phone numbers and I promised to call her and take her down to Galveston the next day. We parted ways and I made my way out to the parking lot where “Mac” sat behind the wheel of the white Chrysler Newport with the air conditioner on full blast. I jumped in and we were off in a cloud of white dust to eat giant Po’ Boy sandwiches at “Mac’s” favorite place south of Hobby Airport, the El Rancho.
As things turned out the Po Boys we had for dinner were the best part of the evening. “Mac” bought me a cold beer to go with my fried oyster feast and after we were all stuffed to the gills, we drove home. I changed into my polo shirt, cut off jeans, and sneakers, finished unloading the camping gear from my Chevy, gave Mom a hug and a kiss and drove over to Sandy Martin’s house.
Her older brother Jake was home from UT Austin and we talked about life on campus with their dad, a hard core Longhorn alumnus who’d attended UT all the way through law school. Sandy came in with a plate full of homemade cookies and brownies and a pitcher of cold milk and as the entire family gathered round the dining room table, we spent a pleasant hour or so with small talk and family lore. It was nearly ten before I could politely extricate myself. With a quick kiss I left Sandy at the front door and drove over to the Andrews’ house.
Scotch from the Bottle and Drunken Fisticuffs: By the time I got over to there most of the usual suspects were there: some of the folk from the beach, assorted smart attractive girls, Steve and John, Dan Humphreys, Jimmy Choate, Chuck Fox and a very drunk and sullen Sonny Trent. Our celebratory party mood was depleted, no one was playing or singing in the dimly lit front room and only Miles Davis played on the stereo. With the exception of John Andrews and Jimmy Choate who held their glasses of scotch on the rocks, all the guys were drinking straight from a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label.
Dan H. passed the bottle to me as I closed the front door and with a weary voice said, “Hair of the dog, welcome to the party.” Cheryl, John’s current girlfriend snickered and put a platter of thinly sliced cold cuts, bread and vegetables on the coffee table as she sat down on the floor between John’s legs and leaned back into his stomach. Sonny Trent slurred his words as he echoed, “Hair of the dog… why suffer a hangover when you can just stay drunk?”
I took a good pull on the Johnny Walker then handed the bottle back to Dan and folded a slice of rare roast beef over a piece of French bread. “Got any cold beer or should I make a run,” I asked. Steve Andrews pointed toward the kitchen and said, “Heineken in the fridge.”
Walking through the subdued crowd in the den, I talked with a few people as I made my way to the kitchen. One of the smart attractive girls with whom I had a passing acquaintance, I think her name was Lindy, decided to charm me with her loopy drunken chatter while I grabbed a beer. I suppose she thought she was being seductive, but after my frolic with the McMasters sisters and the buzz I still had from Sandy Lee’s kiss, I just wasn’t interested. She persisted until Sonny Trent’s voice boomed from the front room and I excused myself to go see what the hell was going on.
“If you weren’t my ride home I’d kick your ass,” Sonny shouted. Dan Humphreys laughed and replied, “You’re so drunk you’d fall on your ass before…”
Half a foot shorter and twenty pounds lighter than Dan, Sonny was still a barrel chested young bull of a guy who moved much faster than anyone expected. In less than a second he was on his feet slipping through John Andrews' attempt to stop him and on his way toward Dan. Dan, who had fairly good wrestling and judo moves, stood up and let Sonny wrap his arms around his waist then threw his arm around his neck and rolled back using Sonny’s momentum to flip him over the arm of the sofa and onto the floor. A lamp went crashing off the end table and, by the time Sonny was on his hands and knees, Steve Andrews and I grabbed his arms and pretty much had him immobilized.
John picked up my foaming bottle of Heineken from the carpet and took control of the situation, “Sonny, listen up man. We love you but you’re drunk and feeling mean and breaking the furniture. We’re going to take you outside and if we have to, we’re gonna sit on you ‘til you chill out.”
Dan was lying on the couch giggling his ass off, “What we got here is your classic barroom brawl!” Then he started to improvise a country western lyric, “Pool cues and broken bottles rollin’ across the floor, Swingin’ from the lamp posts, covered in mud, blood and beeeerrr…”
John was not amused, “Knock it off Dan! Sonny’s fucked up and you’ve been needlin’ him since before you got here.”
Steve and I walked Sonny out the front door and around the front yard until we got to the bottom of what was eating him. It turned out that his scholarship to UNAM in Mexico City fell through and his plans to go to college south of the border were screwed. He was sitting on the curb with his hands on his head randomly swearing at the powers that be, when Dan came out and sat down beside him. “Motherfuckers, goddamn motherfuckers,” muttered Sonny. “You can say that three times,” said Dan, “We can all be motherfuckers when things get fucked up. I didn’t know Mexico meant that much to you and I’m sorry that I fucked with you. If you’re up for it, I’ll pour your sorry ass into the truck and take you home so you can sleep it off. Or would you rather just pass out in the back?”
Sonny looked at Dan with one eye closed and said, “Probably a good idea. I’m so drunk I gotta close one eye to see double.” Then we all laughed and helped Sonny get into the bed of Dan’s rust bucket ‘55 pickup truck, covered him up with a raggedy old sleeping bag and waved them off into the night.
We were all so exhausted that after I finished my beer and the rest of the crew polished off the scotch, we just crashed on the couches, floor and spare bedrooms. Later, in 1973, a guy named Ray Wylie Hubbard would finish Dan’s attempt at lyrical improvisation with his classic "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers," which would become a juke box anthem in the bars of Texas for two decades.
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