The Chain Whipping Incident

Did you know the world’s only hippie memorial is located along the Illinois Central train tracks in Arcola, Illinois? The town I grew up in was actually a hotbed of radical activity in the 1960s. The fledgling Students for Democratic Society (SDS) picked Urbana, Illinois, in fact, as the site for their 1965 conference, and hundreds of members arrived from all around the country. Soon, we had the state’s best garage band, The Finchley Boys, as well as the country’s greatest experimental artist, John Cage, both performing in our little community 120 miles south of Chicago. We also had the first landmark performance of a masterpiece called “MacBird!” which theorized JFK had been murdered and President Johnson was an accomplice in the crime.

Jim “Chef Ra” Wilson was my high school senior class president, the first black elected to that position. He organized the first black appreciation celebration in the history of Urbana High. It was held late at night and included free soul food and a series of performances by notable black musicians who were also students at the school.

My best friend Larry Green, recently arrived from Baltimore, somehow became one of the star attractions of the evening by commanding a gaggle of black girls around him at all times, all constantly cracking up at his improv performances. The alpha chick among them was also the girlfriend of the star of the show, who played keyboards and sang, among many other talents. I remember him from the stage suddenly stopping the show to ask his girl what she was doing with her arm around Larry Green’s neck? Somehow, Larry turned that all around into a big belly laugh and the performance went on. I don’t know if any long-term inter-racial relationships were born that night, but it certainly was a wonderfully healing ceremony for all who attended and I hope we left many of our fellow black students with a sense of our appreciation for their culture, despite the institutionalized racism that had afflicted the school up until then and the fact few of us would actually try the chitlins.

Jim’s ceremonies would continue to evolve and mature as he grew up. One of his best was his annual appearance in the July 4th parade, which wound its way through much of the town before culminating at the football stadium, where the state’s largest fireworks display would be set off come darkness. Jim could often be found in some wild, colorful outfit, roller-skating through the entire parade route and doing circles and stunts the whole way. He was well over 6 foot tall, and had placed third in the state high jump his senior year so his athletic abilities were unparalleled.

In 1968, someone applied for a permit for anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to march in the annual parade and the permit was duly granted on grounds of free speech after a brief court battle even though members of the town councils wanted it denied as un-American and inappropriate. We happened to be driving past Green Street when the protestors were attacked by a gang of men wearing hard-hats, some of whom wielded clubs and chains. Jim Cole, leader of the Finchley Boys, was one of the protestors and would later describe grabbing a fist aimed at his face and then realizing it belonged to someone he knew quite well. I really felt I’d missed out on something exciting, but I wasn’t much of a street fighter anyway. My time, however, was soon coming.

Later that day, I was hitchhiking with Larry and Carole. Carole, at this point, had become Larry’s girl friend.  I’d already read “The Sun Also Rises” so the part of discarded ex-lover who hangs on for dear life had already been portrayed as a noble cause. Whenever I saw films like “Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid,” I immediately recognized my role.

Anyway, a white car slowed to a stop. “We’ll take the girl, but we won’t take you,” said a dude in the backseat, whose mouth seemed full of marbles. He had a southern, redneck accent and was barely understandable. I looked inside the car and noticed some guys in uniform and thought I saw a hardhat on one of the seats.

“Would you like to ride with these guys?” I asked Carole, who, of course, said, “No.”

As I was explaining the situation, the dude in the shotgun seat reached down on the floor and produced a steel chain. He opened the car door and I began backing away from the car, while holding Larry and Carole behind me. But we couldn’t back up fast enough for the dude swung that four-foot chain and it whipped around my side while he began yelling about his contempt for long-haired hippies like me. At this point, my only thought was to get Carole out of there before the other three dudes got out of the car and tried to abduct her. She seemed to be the real center of interest in all situations, so I grabbed her arm and yelled, “Run!”

Meanwhile, Larry, stepped around me and confronted this dude. Larry had the supreme confidence he could talk his way out of any situation as well as being somewhat fearless. Larry probably began with some comment like: “Hey, now wait a minute, this doesn’t call for violence…” Meanwhile I was already halfway around the house wondering why Larry hadn’t taken off running with us when I yelled “Run!.” Although I couldn’t see what was happening, I soon surmised that Larry had been pushed into a large bush and beaten on his back a couple times with the chain.

Some guardian angel appeared out of no where, claiming to be a Vietnam War Vet. The dude beating on Larry was talking about the war while he was beating on him. And this Vet wanted him to know that all Vets didn’t feel like him and that he should leave Larry alone and let him go. Carole, meanwhile, refused to stay hidden on the other side of the house with me since she was delirious with concern over Larry.

Eventually the three of us re-united and the car drove off. Back at her house, Carole scolded me pretty harshly for running away from the scene and abandoning Larry like that after he tried to stick up for me. But we got over it pretty quick and headed back to Campus-town, where everyone was hanging out in front of Turk’s Head. Larry showed off his chain marks for all to see while we recounted the story of our adventures. Much later than night, while I was alone in the bathroom, I would finally notice the chain welts across my own back.

Race Riot at Urbana High

Larry Green and Doug Blair backstage at the UHS auditorium.

I was seated in the auditorium at Urbana High, waiting for the senior class speeches to begin, when Larry Green suddenly appeared out-of-nowhere wearing an elegant double-breasted pinstriped suit, while sporting my blue hat.

“Can I borrow your hat?” he’d asked me the night before on the phone. “Sure,” I replied. And in a few minutes, Larry arrived to pick it up so he could wear it during his election speech the next day. My hat was famous around school for having “LSD” embossed on it, just as I was somewhat famous for being one of the first people in town to actually take LSD.

Smitty detested that hat so much that the first time I wore it into the boy’s locker room for gym class, I was told Smitty wanted to see me in his office. I’d never been summoned by Smitty before and was plenty nervous going in, and assumed it had something to do with my new underground newspaper, but it didn’t. Smitty just ordered me leave my offensive hat in my hall locker, or he promised to confiscate and destroy it.

I was the publisher/editor of The Tin Whistle at the time, and Larry was our official candidate, and I was running the campaign promoting Larry’s election. Our school was in great emotional turmoil at the time, starting when Smitty encouraged members of the U-Club to beat-up longhairs and Frank Sowers hit the kid with the longest hair in school (Doug Blair) over the head with a baseball bat, and the next day Carp retaliated by sucker punching Frank on his front lawn. Then the radical blacks sided against the U-Club and jumped on one of the head jocks in the halls. At first, that seemed like maybe a good thing. Obviously, it was not.

I remember standing on the second floor of Urbana High about a day later when I saw a typical violent altercation about to go down. There were around six sophomore blacks ganged-up against one prominent senior starter on the football team. But before any blows were thrown, a half dozen white members of the football team appeared out of nowhere, running to the rescue from all directions. Obviously some sort of alarm system was now in place amongst the team to thwart these random beat-downs that were taking place. At that moment, all sympathy shifted away from the blacks, who had suffered under Smitty’s racist regime, and back to the head jocks, who were now just viewed as total innocents trying to defend themselves against superior numbers. I started thinking how could The Tin Whistle help end all this senseless violence?

Meanwhile, Charlie Gerron, a columnist in The Tin Whistle was stoking the flames, challenging any jock in school to a one-on-one match, and I’m sure Charlie would have gladly taken anyone on, had anyone ever accepted.

Jim Cole, former lead singer of the Finchley Boys, came back to school for a few days the previous semester, while he was renting a room at Eric Swenson’s house. One morning Cole was asked to read the day’s announcements over the public address system and he read them all perfectly, except for the fact he changed the final one, a fundraising effort for the Association for Foreign Students: “the AFS will be sponsoring a race riot in the cafeteria at noon. Bring your own weapons.”

You see, the previous day, a racial altercation had cleared the lunchroom momentarily, and everyone was still on edge from that incident. But Cole sure let the air out of the balloon with that fake announcement. We all laughed heartily together, blacks, whites, jocks. Cole, meanwhile, bounded straight out of the school and never came back. I guess the Grandmaster of Mayhem had been searching for a proper exit line and that was it. So this was the background to the student elections taking place at Urbana High in the fall of 1968.

My hat must have provided the final magic touch, because Larry certainly wowed the crowd that afternoon. It may have been his first “great performance,” although certainly not nearly his last. Sauntering across the stage in a sort of Fred-Astaire-meets-Lenny-Bruce persona, Larry launched into a beatnik poem by Shel Silverstein lifted out of Playboy magazine. (I wonder if any students thought he was jivin’ off the top of his head?) When this performance was over, Larry asked everyone to vote for Jim Wilson. And then Jim took the stage and gave a very serious speech about the need to address the racial communication issues at the school, a speech that soon swept Jim into office, with all of us in full support.

Except for that slight last-second, ego-meltdown by Larry, who, after his grand performance was over, was swarmed by sycophants urging him to stay in the race. I remember Larry coming up to me soon after he heard I was urging people to vote for Jim Wilson. He was super mad and saying “I am running!” I was crestfallen at that moment because I knew Larry was letting the magic slip away. It was a sort of Frodo-won’t-let-go-of-the-ring moment.

You might wonder, why the hat? Larry was still under haircut rules at the time, and I had just recently escaped them. I think I wore that hat so much because it helped disguise the fact my hair was really shorter than it should have been. And I think that’s the same reason Larry employed it, as his character that day was an ultra hipster. And Larry was running against another white dude with almost shoulder-length blonde hair. So the hat may have been the perfect touch to his act. You’ll also notice that in my column for that month, I’d created these white and black devils as a comic illustration, representing, no doubt the twin paths that had emerged at the beginning of the counterculture, one of which involved violence and one of which did not.

Jim Wilson was now the first black senior class president in Urbana High history, thanks in no small part to Larry Green throwing him his support (and then taking it back too late for anyone to notice), and the fact no member of the U-Club ran against him, and as a result of the football coach unfairly blackballing him off the team. And the first thing Jim did was ask every student to fill-out a one-page query on racial attitudes.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Jim edited these responses and was going to have them read aloud in public assembly, just to show us how crazy deep our collective racism really ran. See, most of us were living in our own little worlds. Some of the more socially progressive among us certainly had no idea of the primitive beliefs being held by some of our fundamentalist fellow students, just as none of us knew the history of racism in the town, and how all blacks had been herded around the hemp factory near the railroad tracks on the north-side to live in shacks with no electricity or running water. These conditions existed up through the 1960s in some parts of the slum, although slowly a few black families had leaked into better parts of town.

The reading of selected passages of these forms caused great stress, as evident in a photo of some tearful reactions published in the yearbook as it was happening (left).

Charlie Gerron, in fact, rushed the backstage and began pounding on the door, eventually reduced almost to tears. Charlie wanted to beat-up the students reading those ugly responses behind a screen. Charlie didn’t realize those weren’t the same students who thought black people smelled bad and were spawns of the devil, that was just Albie Fisher and some friends of Jim’s reading those outlandish statements of ignorance.

Jim’s student forum on racism worked to perfection, however, as no one in the school from that day forward ever asserted there was no such thing as racism at Urbana High. The only question now was, what was Jim going to do about it?

Paranoid Delusional Break-Down

Doug was a university student for about one semester before he decided to drop out of the U of I. He applied for a job as a disk jockey at one of the local radio stations and got it. Doug soon moved to an apartment near Uni High. He put an extra mattress on the floor in his two-room apartment and I was always welcome to crash there. He was still sniffing toluene at the time, although Doug had his sights set for bigger and better highs. After extensive research, he and a friend from Uni High decided the easiest psychedelic to self-manufacture was DMT and they set about collecting all the ingredients, supplies and equipment necessary, all of which was being stashed in secret panels above his kitchen cabinets. They were stealing this stuff by going into the steam tunnels and entering labs late at night (see my eBook, “The Steam Tunnels”). They would always dress up in lab coats and act like graduate students while breaking into these labs. Sometimes they would just brazenly load up carts of supplies and wheel them around in full view of anybody. The secret was that white lab coat, which gave them an aura of respectability despite their long hair.

Doug was at work during the afternoon, and I had a set of keys, so first chance I got, I invited Carole and her friend Alice over to check out my new hangout. Larry was also with us on this particular day. Doug had completely covered one wall with record album covers and he always had the best records, including lots of really obscure stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else. Around this time, Doug turned me onto the little-known West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and H.P. Lovecraft, a split-off band from the Shadows of Knight. I played my favorite cuts from both albums. The girls, however, seemed more interested in a campy “Hobbit” record that had been churned out to cash-in on that craze. It was really silly and they laughed while playing one particularly silly song over and over. It was about Daffodils.

Carole and Alice were also interested in the toluene, never having tried glue, so I showed them how that worked. Before I knew it, Larry and Alice were deep into their bags and had crawled under the covers in Doug’s bed. Suddenly, Carole put down her bag and french kissed me with great passion. It was the first time I’d ever kissed a girl and my mind sort of exploded. I was super aware of the mistake I’d made the first time around, so I pretty much kept my hands to myself, while Larry started balling Alice right away. I just kept making out with Carole. She probably was wondering why I didn’t make any serious moves, and she actually ordered me to get high at one point and handed me her bag. I pretended to take a few whiffs, but I really had no interest in the glue high. I was a lot more high from that french kiss.  I was extremely conscious of the fact Carole was in a compromised state and was determined not to take advantage of the situation. Mostly, though, I was just a typical virgin, I guess, too shy to make a serious move. Eventually, Carole and Alice had to go somewhere and they both split rather suddenly. A few minutes later, I noticed the bottle of toluene was missing.

That’s when I had the first major paranoid breakdown of my teenage existence. Before long, I’d convinced myself that the whole make-out session had been a ploy to steal drugs. I was a very sad chuckle-head back then because I’d soon sabotage any potential relationship with Carole by concocting the most evil scheme imaginable. When Doug came home I told him about the missing bottle. Doug just opened his secret cabinet and pulled out a giant gallon container of toluene he had stashed there. But after I explained my plan to Doug,  he readily agreed to play his role. So I called Carole and said Doug had gotten back, the bottle of toluene was missing, and Doug was going into withdrawal. I acted really crazed while Doug painfully moaned in the background. Before long, I had Carole in tears. She called Alice and Alice’s story was the bottle had been tossed in the bushes or something. We never got it back. But my torturing of Carole over this stupid bottle was really over-the-top, although in my paranoid delusion, I couldn’t stop myself.

After the phone calls were over, and Doug and I were laughing about what great actors we were, Doug mentioned that the news director at his new job was a really cool guy who wanted to meet me. His name was Don Clark and unfortunately, he would soon radically change all our lives.

The Outcasts

The first issue of The Tin Whistle included my endorsement for Larry Green for Senior Class president, our counterculture attempt to take over the political structure of a school that had always been dominated by the winners of the annual Daughters of the American Revolution awards.

You’ll notice Larry wears the magic cross that was also the secret symbol of my elementary school streetgang (see “From Violent Streetgangs to Merry Pranksters”). I took both photos the same day, cut them up and glued them together to create the effect of Larry as teenage monster towering over Urbana High.

The story “Tales from the House on High Street” is an obvious  reference to Eric Swenson’s pad, our favorite hangout. After the Knight Riders kicked me out of the band for being an LSD addict (or so they thought), I toyed around with the idea of starting a band with Eric and we held a bunch of rehearsals at his house, but I soon came to the conclusion being in a band with Eric wasn’t really going to amount to anything real, as Eric was more than content to just jam in his living room and nothing more. He always had a cigarette in his mouth when he drummed, and used an overturned cymbal on the floor as his ashtray.

Meanwhile, The Finchley Boys were going through their own changes. Somewhere along the line, they started doing an Animals’ cover, “Outcast.” Actually, “Outcast” was originally an R&B love song Eddie Campbell and Ernie Johnson recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1964. The Animals version was faster and they dropped the horn riff and replaced it with a guitar. The song rocked hard, had a powerful hook, and it instantly became a major highlight of the Finchley’s set, eventually becoming their new signature song. It was no longer a silly love song, either. Now “Outcast” stood for the position we longhairs found ourselves in, as we were not being accepted by the establishment.

Faber was the lead singer on “Outcast.” Although Faber had started as the roadie, then played harmonica on one song, he was now singing the two biggest hits the band had. One day when the band was arriving in a car together at Urbana High, Faber and Cole got into a little dispute over some minor matter and Cole announced he was leaving the band so he could concentrate on becoming a guitar player. Cole soon left high school and moved into a room on the second floor of Eric’s house, right across the hall from the padlocked room Daddy Swenson slept in.

Carole

One day I brought Larry with me on one of my visits to Carole’s house. We were sitting on the floor of her porch talking, when Larry went into his imitation of Timothy Leary. Carole started cracking up. It was the first time she noticed how smart and funny Larry was. I had this idea we should cover ourselves with a blanket and pretend we were all in a womb together, about to be born as a set of triplets. I don’t know where I came up with this shit, maybe I was already aware of the Living Theater, because this was essentially an improv-exercise right out of a Viola Spolin handbook. We went to the back yard, threw a blanket over us, and curled into a ball, all spooning each other. I was on the outside, and, of course, Carole was in the middle. It was all very innocent, really. But I could tell right away from the way Carole was petting Larry’s hair, that she’d taken a sudden interest in him.

When she went back inside, her mom was super pissed. “What are the neighbors going to think!” Carole stood her ground, however, saying we were just playing a game and nothing sexual had been going on at all, which was true, sort of.

I could tell there were speed bumps ahead with my grand scheme to make Carole my girl friend, as she seemed easily distracted by other dudes.

Reflections on Older Brothers

Here’s my best buddy Larry Green in 1966 before he had long hair. Since I’ve already outlined my teenage iconography involving the goddess side of life (see “Origins of Stairway to Heaven” and “Goddess with the Dark Hair”), it might be useful to chart two major influences on the Yang side of life. My two best friends, Larry and Bugsy, both had extremely influential older brothers, both one-year older than us. While my brother was attending an Ivy League prep school (see “Smartest Kids in Town), Larry’s and Bugsy’s brothers were living in San Francisco, the coolest place in the universe in 1967. Having a super-cool older brother gave them both a leg up on me. But those two dudes, they were as different as night and day, and really represented the twin paths that confronted me. And I couldn’t decide which path I wanted to take and kept swerving from one to another.

Larry’s brother, Richard, had gone South during the Civil Right’s Movement and put his life on the line to help those less fortunate than himself. Somewhere along the line, Richard became a full-fledged Bodhisattva, devoting himself to helping people and spreading positive vibrations. Richard came through town periodically, and instead of Champaign County ditch weed, he carried real marijuana that actually got you high. Richard turned Larry on for the first time that summer and then started driving back to Frisco. He broke down around Carbondale, and a stranger helped him fix his flat. Richard gave that stranger a joint as a present for helping him and the stranger called the cops. Richard spent a few months in jail.

But then there was Bugsy’s brother, Don, who’d broken all the rules and walked the wild side since he was 14. His parents had shipped him off to Florida for a special program (probably a CIA mind control experiment—at least that’s what Don and I believe today). At the very beginnings of the ’60s there was already this dichotomy between the peace-love hippie vibe, and the punks who were living in the real world of pimps, prostitutes, pawn shops and pool halls. Don was a master of that world.

Brian Ravlin soon followed Don to San Francisco. Both these brothers, Richard and Don, would soon return to Urbana, however, and I would finally meet both legends in the flesh.

The Smartest Kids in Town

There were four high schools in my hometown but only one was really hard to get into. You had to be somewhere around 90% in math and reading to even get considered. I couldn’t get past the math, although I did take the test. My brother got in on his second try and soon found himself in a very special tribe.

Two of his classmates, David Goldwasser and Sam Levine, were my age; David and I had been in the fifth grade together at Leal. Those two were probably considered the brightest in the class, but those dudes weren’t just about brains. University High had long been the local punching-bag in sports—it’s players known derisively as the “Uni Punys.” But when my brother and his friends started winning track meets, those words rang hollow.

Uni High was really an Ivy League prep school plopped down in the middle of the corn fields. They staged elaborate Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, which provided an opportunity to showcase their voices. Tim Peltason was one of the ringleaders of this tribe, for sure. He’d grease back his hair and do amazing Elvis impersonations. He rounded everybody up one summer night for a long car-trip to see Johnny Cash perform live in some fairground in Southern Illinois. That’s Paul on the left and Tim on the right in a photo I took in 1967 (above).

Everybody knew these guys were the smartest kids to come down the pike in a long time, and many of them were expected to go on to great things. They really dug soul music and would venture into the North End to buy blazing hot barbecue sandwiches, the only white guys in the joint.

On New Year’s Eve 1967, they wanted to throw a grand party. Sam was transferring to Harvard in the Spring. (Sam still holds the record for youngest person ever admitted to that school. He’d already skipped freshman year of high school, and was now skipping senior year.) Of course, the gang wanted alcohol at this party, so, in his wisdom, Paul negotiated a deal with my parents. It ended up, Paul was given a gallon or so of lab-grade alcohol to make punch with on the condition everyone spent the night and especially that nobody drove a car that night.

Today, my Dad would go to jail, but it just shows the immense confidence and respect this tribe had generated with the older generation. They had located a huge six-bedroom, completely-private house for this party, so everyone could crash there, which turned out good because there was a huge snowstorm that night. When I found out about the alcohol, I convinced my brother to let Larry and me dress-up as high-class servants to serve the punch. Paul thought that was a great idea, especially after we showed him the marching-band outfits we’d just stolen out of a closet of a church on Green Street.

Larry and I got quite tipsy and had a wonderful time that night; it was probably our introduction to the positive side of alcohol. (The first time I’d been aware of people getting drunk I was in fourth grade and it scared the shit out of me. I fled that party and hid in my bed and started crying. I just wanted my 16-year-old cousin to stop drinking because I didn’t like the changes I was seeing.) The climax came when one of the hotter girls in the class began weeping hysterically. I guess news had gotten out that young Sam Levine was upstairs losing his virginity.

“They are forsaking all human dignity up there,” sobbed the girl.

I was thinking,  “She’s upset because it’s not her up there, right? Otherwise this makes no sense.” I drunkenly bolted upstairs and peeked into the room but couldn’t see anything as they were buried under covers. “Shut the door!” yelled Sam.

Larry was way ahead of the rest of us in this regard, having lost his virginity in Baltimore at 14 or 15. He had a remarkable rapport with the opposite sex and wasn’t very choosey. He liked girls of all sorts and flirted continuously. I could see how having him as a sidekick might be an asset.

One last note about Sam Levine. Not only were we the same age, we had similar backgrounds. And when he left town, he gave me his cushy weekend job at the News-Gazette. I didn’t know it at the time, but the publisher was a lover of Johnny Roselli, an enforcer for the Chicago mob who managed the Hollywood-mob connections. At the time I was a junior copy boy filing the AP wire tapes, and I had no idea Roselli was coming into town for liaisons with my ultimate boss at the paper, Marajen Chinigo. Today Sam is a world-class sax player in Nashville, Tim a leading Shakespearean scholar, Paul a biochemist, and Dave is famous because his son co-founded MGMT.

They just had their 50th anniversary celebration and I heard Sam brought his sax and blew the roof off.

Larry and the Cross

I was sitting in the locker room putting on my street clothes when the new kid in school pointed at my Blues Magoos t-shirt and let me know how hip he thought it was. Their just-released album “Psychedelic Lollypop” included a psychedelic stencil that I’d ironed on the front of a plain white t-shirt. Psychedelic t-shirts didn’t exist at this time, at least not in central Illinois, and buying that album was the only way to get one. (I still have that t-shirt today, believe it or not, as well as the leather jacket I wore through most of the ’60s, although the stencil has all but disappeared and the shirt is now yellow.) I noticed something significant right away. Around his neck hung the secret sign from my Leal School gang days (see “From Violent Steetgangs to Merry Pranksters”).

We got to talking, and I discovered his name was Larry Green and he’d just arrived from Baltimore, which I could relate to having come a few years earlier from Boston, via England and Germany. Very few kids in the school were hip to psychedelic garage rock. In fact, I thought I was the only one. Larry introduced me to Doug Blair, who soon became famous for having the longest hair in high school. Much more important, Doug had started his own legal radio station from his bedroom and was broadcasting garage rock to a significant portion of the town of Urbana. The signal was easily reached from my house as well as Larry’s.

Larry Green and Doug Blair backstage at the UHS auditorium.

That’s them in the above photo, Larry on the left and Doug on the right. At the time, both Larry and I wanted long hair, but long bangs was as far as we’d gotten. It would take a huge confrontation for me to get control over my hair (see 1966). Larry soon became the first hang-out-everyday sidekick I’d had since first grade, when Bobby Davidson and I became best friends in Arlington, Massachusetts. Larry was a devout Catholic at the time, which I understood, since I was still going to Lutheran Sunday school and Saturday school. One day, however, I got to talking to my older brother and discovered he and his friends at Uni High (the smartest kids in town) had all come to the conclusion religion was a fairy tale. I remember I got so mad at my brother because he hadn’t told me immediately, and allowed me to continue wallowing in the darkness.

Pretty soon, I told my parents I wasn’t interested in going to church anymore, something that was greatly reinforced when the Pastor showed up at our house one night after dinner, attempting to arm-twist my Dad into making bigger contributions to the church. He wanted 10% of my Dad’s salary, and I remember how proud I was when Dad laughed that suggestion off saying, “No, I’m not giving you that much.”

I made a deal with my parents. Since my confirmation was only a month or two away, once I got confirmed, I’d never have to go to church again. And I didn’t. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Urbana High football coach, Smitty, was a member of that Lutheran congregation, and his only son was in my confirmation class, although we seldom spoke. Much, much later in life, Larry came to visit me and handed over the cross he’d worn in the ’60s, an icon both of us had invested magical powers into at one time. Larry felt it belonged with me for some reason.