Pain pulsed through my head. Fearing the slightest movement might intensify the pain, I remained motionless with my eyes shut for a long while. Where was I? What happened?
A scene flashed in my mind. I was shoved through a revolving door of iron bars into a crowd of sneering young men. Some stood with fists at their sides ready for a confrontation while others paced like caged animals. A tall black guy stood with his hands gripping the bars and screaming for his lawyer. Someone was puking, aiming for a floor drain. Men sat on the floor with their backs against the wall, dejected and resigned. A few sprawled, sleeping on the floor like they were on a bed.
I was in jail. In the drunk tank. Laying still, I opened my eyes, and surveyed the scene. Rough characters roamed aimlessly in the crowded holding cell. With eyes closed again, I remembered the party, my bachelor party.
A dozen friends, half buddies from the neighborhood and the other half fellow Ohio State students, came to my campus apartment a week before I was to marry and leave for a job in Baltimore. A few drinks, some poker, and a hearty sendoff. That was the plan.
The refrigerator was stocked with beer and three magnum bottles of wine—Chianti, Rosé, and Burgundy. A boxed deck of Bicycle cards was on the kitchen table, now in the middle room of my apartment, the parlor of an old house, furnished with a green naugahyde couch, two matching chairs, and fake walnut end tables. The walls were psychiatric green. A bare bulb hung from a ceiling fixture that once held a chandelier. Doors led to a tiny kitchen and two bedrooms. Paper prints of Firpo knocking Dempsey out of the ring and Mont Saint-Michele were thumbtacked to the plaster walls.
My roommate, Arthur Tobin, a Jewish suburban kid from Massachusetts was eager to meet my neighborhood buddies. Joey and his brother-in-law, Kelly Gray, came first. Arthur grinned sheepishly when Joey’s large hand enveloped his. Kelly waved before he tipped a fifth of Jim Beam up toward the ceiling. “Skullbuster!” he proclaimed thrusting it toward me. I graciously declined, and he turned up the bottle for a long swig. “Good for what ails you,” he said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
“Good thing I drove,” said Joey with a nod toward Kelly. Ronnie was right behind them. I nodded and led the way to the kitchen where I flung open the refrigerator and said “Pick your poison.” Ronnie took a long-necked Stroh’s and pried off the top with a churchkey in a single fluid motion. Joey poured himself half a glass of Chianti. I opened a bottle of Jack Daniels Black Label to begin the party.
I saw Tim and his best friend Ernie mounting the front steps and opened the door for them. Tim cradled a fifth of Cutty Sark scotch like a football. At the back door, Arthur welcomed Denis, the leading campus radical, wearing a tie after a TV interview on free speech. Tom Doughtery came straight from work in his suit.
Tim stood next to me sloshing his Cutty on the rocks, and asked, “Finish that thesis?“
“Damn straight. Footnotes and all. Eighty-seven pages,” I replied. “Ready to walk across the stage and collect that sheepskin.”
“The hell you say! Celebration time.” We clicked glasses and downed our drinks.
A few more guys filtered in, found something to drink, and gathered to watch the stud poker game. “Call his hand” and “Raise him” advised the kibitzers noisily. Kelly rose from the couch, peeked at Joey’s hole card, and told him, “If you don’t double that pot, you don’t have a hair on your ass.” Several guys roared their approval. Joey did and lost. He shook his head and downed a large glass of Chianti and called for more. Each time he lost a pot, he gulped more wine, and he lost a lot. Joey seldom played poker or drank more than one or two beers. He was drinking Chianti in from a tall glass.
When some guys were getting ready to leave, Tim held his Cutty Sark high and called for a toast. “To Michael’s marriage and success in Baltimore.” Cries of “Hear, hear,” rose in a loud chorus, followed by upturned glasses.
Joey stood, Chianti in hand, and said “You’ve worked hard, and you deserve to make big bucks.” More cheers and more drained glasses. I bowed slightly and downed my Jack and water. A night to celebrate. I was home and had no need to hold back. I refilled my glass.
Friends stopped by to have a drink and give me a pat on the back. Joey was loudly cursing his bad luck, but Kelly slept undisturbed on the couch. Alcohol amplified conversations around the room. As I returned from the bathroom, I stopped in the doorway and allowed myself some satisfaction. Friends were wishing me well in the next phase of my life, newly married and professionally employed in Baltimore.
I poured an inch of Jack into my glass and added ice cubes. I asked Denis about his interview and the demonstration planned by the Student for Liberal Action. As he was explaining strategy for disrupting graduation ceremonies, we heard a full-throated scream from Joey.
“Jesus H. Christ on a bicycle!” He overturned the table and threw his wine glass at the wall like a fastball. Glass shattered and a red splotch marked the spot. Everyone froze in place. Everyone but Joey. He held the neck of a magnum, wound up like a pitcher, and hurled the heavy bottle at the red splotch. Lines in the plaster radiated from the spot as the magnum bounced back, and Joey laughed. Some chunks of plaster fell to the floor exposing horizontal strips of wood lath.
Everyone backed away from the wall. Joey was not finished. The next magnum splintered the lath and landed in the kitchen. As we stood gaping at the hole in the wall, Joey was completing his windup and threw another strike. The bottle sailed through the hole and clanged into the white stove. More laughter from Joey.
Tim got to Joey’s side, put his arm round him, speaking his name softly, and moving him toward the door. Tim had worked as a bouncer at the Vogue Lounge. I shook Kelly awake with some difficulty. “What happened? Was there a fight? Hate like hell to miss a fight.” I guided him out to Tim’s car where Joey sat stone-faced in the front seat. I pushed Kelly into the back seat.
I staggered inside and saw the Chinese exchange students from upstairs on the landing staring into my apartment. I waved as I staggered by and shut the apartment door behind me. Our guests were leaving hurriedly. Some congratulated me and others offered sympathy for the damage.
Arthur and I sank into chairs and stared at the damage for a minute or two. We laughed. Alcohol was still coursing through our veins. I said, “For Christ’s sake!” We laughed again.
I struggled to my feet. “I’ll worry about this place in the morning—as someone said in a movie.” I moved toward my bedroom when red lights strobed through the window. The door was kicked open and two cops rushed in with billy clubs raised. Arthur and I blanched and put our hands up.
Our landlord was right behind them, yelling repeatedly, “Take them downtown. I’m pressing charges.” One of the cops roughly turned me around, pulled my arms behind my back, and clamped on handcuffs. He tightened them until they cut into my wrists.
“Goddam punk college kids,” sneered the cop as he jerked my arms up and pushed me forward. A few spectators gathered to watch the cops frog walk us to the paddy wagon. The landlord assured the cops he would be at the station to swear out a warrant.
After the wagon door slammed, Arthur said, “I hope they don’t call my dad. He’ll go ape shit.” We sat glumly as the paddy wagon bounced toward the Central Station. Hustled into the station, waiting in line with toughs and hookers, we were worried sober.
Our parents were sleeping soundly, maybe dreaming about their fine, young sons pursuing their education at the university. We cringed at their coming disappointment in us. I remembered their warnings that a police record would follow me forever, a black mark that could never be expunged. Almost as bad as a scarlet letter trumpeting that We had strayed from the straight and narrow path.
When we got to the desk, Arthur said meekly, “I want to make my one phone call now.”
“When you sober up, asshole. You’re going in the tank with all the other drunks, bums, and criminals. Enjoy your stay,” sneered the desk sergeant.
My recollection of processing is hazy. A brisk pat down, removal of the painful handcuffs, trying to remember my social security number for the form, thumbs and fingers pressed on the ink pad, and belts, watches, rings, coins stuffed into a canvas bag. Finally we were shoved through a revolving door of horizontal iron bars.
“Don’t make eye contact,” Arthur whispered. We made our way through the milling crowd of
characters from a prison movie to an empty spot on the far wall. We sat with our backs to the wall casting furtive glances at the rogues roaming about. “Pretend to sleep,” Arthur said with urgency. I closed my eyes and weariness weighed on me, but I didn’t drift off to sleep. What got into Joey? Drunk, of course, but he wasn’t angry when he threw the bottles. He was laughing, gleefully smashing up our apartment. Not a fighting drunk or a crying drunk, but definitely destructive.
I slouched to a prone position on the cold concrete floor, eyes still closed. I recalled one night when Joey returned from a delivery at Territa’s Pizza where he worked and I hung out. His face was flushed and his eyes shone when he returned from a delivery.
“I hit a chicken on Mock Road. It tried to fly out of the way, but it only got as high as the right headlight. Feathers flew everywhere, and I bumped over the body with front and back right tires. I only had to go a little off the road to hit it,” he concluded with a long laugh. He nodded and smiled broadly to confirm how pleased he was with himself.
As I lay on the cold concrete, the image of the magnums crashing through the green plaster and gray lath returned. I winced and shook my head involuntarily. Another memory of Joey came into my head surfaced in my aching head.
We were riding around in the nearby countryside where subdivisions would replace farms in the next year or two. With no money to spend, we were bored. Joey abruptly ordered Bernie to stop the car. At the side of the road in front of a lone farmhouse with no lights on, Joey pointed to the windows glowing in the moonlight. “Gleamers!” he said with enthusiasm. Dick and I looked at each other blankly.
Joey was out of the car gathering the largest stones in the gravel. No headlights were in sight. “Watch this,” he chortled as he pelted the house with rocks until one hit its mark, and the old, thin glass clattered to the porch roof below. Joey laughed maniacally.
Despite our urgent pleas, Joey refused to get in the car. Bernie screamed, “We’ve got to get the hell out of here.” Joey ignored us and heaved rocks at the other moonlit window until it too shattered and was replaced with a dark void. In the car, Joey’s face shone as he went on and on about those “gleamers.” Joey led future forays into the country to stone “gleamers,” but I stayed away.
I slept fitfully on the hard floor. My arm was a pillow. Arthur woke me, saying they were paging us. I scrambled to my feet and we hurried to the gate. A guard verified our identity by alternately staring at us and our driver’s licenses. Tim and Andy Fanta, lawyer for the Student Liberation Association, were at the desk. We signed forms Andy put in front of us. As the desk sergeant scowled, Andy led us down a staircase and out to his car. It was 3 am.
“You’re out on your own recognizance with an arraignment next month, but I’m sure I can get Judge Schwartzwalder to drop the charges after you repair the damage to your apartment,” said Andy, adding, “The owner is plenty pissed.”
We profusely thanked Andy and Tim who found Andy at Larry’s Bar, the hangout for Fabian Socialists, Trotskyites, Stalinists and other leftists. He represented all the campus radicals.
Back at our apartment, Arthur and I groaned when we saw the devastation in our apartment. The overturned table, broken glass, empty wine bottles, and the hole in the wall.
“If Andy’s right, we won’t have a record from this. Pretty damn lucky,” I said.
“Lucky!” Arthur asked. “We just got our apartment trashed and spent time in jail with a bunch of drunks. You call that lucky?”