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Reggie, I hardly knew you

Reggie never owned a pair of blue jeans

I was sitting in the living room one night watching wrestling on TV when someone knocked at the front door. When I opened it, I didn’t recognize the guy at first. But when he said, “Hello again, Pat,” I realized it was a guy from long ago—a high school classmate, Reggie Dwight.

I hadn’t seen him in decades. It took a couple of seconds for my brain to mesh with the moment. “Hey, Reg!” I said. “Great to see you! It’s been—jeez, how long has it been?”

Reggie stood under the porch light, hanging his head, barely making eye contact. After a pause that verged on awkward, I said, “C’mon in! Sit down. Want a beer?”

He said “no beer,” took a few lethargic steps and sank into an overstuffed recliner near the door. He splayed his legs, feet flat on the floor, an expression on his face that was beyond sad. I looked at him for a few moments, thinking he would speak. He didn’t, so I started with the obvious question: “What’s wrong, Reg?”

With his eyes still to the floor, he answered, “I remember when rock was young.” He stopped, then looked up, swallowed hard, and in a voice tinged with nostalgia and regret, he continued, “Me and Susie had so much fun.”

Susie … Susie … Must have been a high school girlfriend. I couldn’t place a face with her name.

He sighed, “Holding hands and skimming stones.” He stopped again, choking up. Briefly, I wondered how two people could hold hands while skimming stones. If they both were right-handed, then one of them would have to throw with the left. But then he continued: “Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own.”

I couldn’t remember his place, probably because Reg and I weren’t tight in high school. I was a jock, while he was what we jocks called a “music geek.” But at the time, I secretly dreamed of learning to play the contrabassoon, and I had heard that Reggie wanted to join the track team and throw the discus. So we were on speaking terms. I guessed his place might have been a basement apartment at the local tattoo parlor or maybe on the third floor of the Salvation Army building.

A tear came to Reggie’s eye. “But the biggest thrill I ever got,” he said, his voice rising a little in enthusiasm, “was doing a thing called the crocodile rock. While the other kids were rockin’ round the clock, we were hoppin’ and boppin’ to the crocodile rock.”

Rockin’ round the clock? Reggie’s memory had short-circuited. We other kids listened to Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly and Grand Funk Railroad. And what was this “crocodile rock” he was talking about? Back then, you didn’t dance—rather, you jerked and lurched around with your eyes closed, actions that certainly weren’t named after reptiles.

Reggie’s spirits were rising, and he kept talking about dancing.

“Well crocodile rocking is something shocking, when your feet just can't keep still.” But quickly, his voice broke, and he sobbed, “I never knew me a better time and I guess I never will.”

Suddenly, Susie’s face—well, to be honest, her body—came to mind. Without thinking, I exclaimed, “Lawdy mama! Those Friday nights when Susie wore her dresses tight!” When all the guys in high school looked at her, we started drooling so bad we needed lobster bibs. For some reason we never could figure out, though, she and short, pudgy Reggie were as tight as pizza crust and sauce.

Reggie glanced up and started to his feet. I thought he was going to get up and punch me for my outburst about Susie. I mean, this was a girl he obviously still had deep feelings for. I felt sorry for him and didn’t want to fight, so I gave him my best badass squint, and he noticed I was all muscled up from years of weightlifting. He pretended he was stretching his legs, then sat down and said, “Crocodile rocking was out of sight.” Then he scrunched up his face and, in one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard, began to sing in a nasally falsetto: “La, la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la—“

“Reggie!” I said sharply. I was losing my patience as I began to remember that Reg was obnoxious in high school. He always made sure we saw him and Susie walking down the school hallway, holding hands, or French kissing in front of her locker. He stopped in mid-“la” and said after a moment, “But the years went by and the rock just died. Susie went and left us for some foreign guy.”

Us? Us? Susie never gave me the day of the week, much less the time of day. I asked her to go to the senior prom with me, figuring maybe I’d be asking her before Reggie did and figuring I was a better match for her than her piano-playing boyfriend. She said no, explaining with a smirk that she was tired of being indoors. Hurt, I asked her if she was going with Reggie, and she said no, she was going with Santa Claus. I remember thinking then that she and Reg were drifting apart.

And I was right. She ran away with Emin, the exchange student from Turkey who spoke English so poorly that the first time he went into Kentucky Fried Chicken, he looked for a long time at the lighted menu above the counter, blinking at it all the while, before pointing and saying, “I take meal ‘A’” with a big grin. He got nothing but A’s on his report card, though. Something was odd.

I began to watch him closely, but he never slipped out of character. For example, when I introduced him to my friend Duke, he stretched his arm out to shake Duke’s hand, but instead of saying something like “pleased to meet you,” he said, “My change, please.” But shortly after, I got the evidence I needed to show his act was an international ruse. I overheard him on the telephone one night when he didn’t think anyone was around, speaking to his parents. He sounded like Prince Charles—but when I told my friends, they didn’t believe it.

And when he was doing his clueless-in-the-USA schtick at a party, we local guys might as well have been invisible. All the girls stood around Emin. He preened. I would be so envious that I’d almost want to cry. All the girls loved him. Especially Susie.

I snapped back into the moment. Reggie was sinking deeper into the recliner, getting all watery-eyed again. “Long nights crying by the record machine, dreaming of my Chevy and my old blue jeans.” No one could ever forget what happened to the Chevy. Once he learned that Emin and Susie had moved all the way across the country and were living together in Mohave in a Winnebago, he took all his clothes off, poured a gallon of antifreeze over his head, climbed onto his Chevy’s roof and began smashing it with a crowbar. Sadly for Reggie, smashing his car all to hell with a crowbar took two days. It was great entertainment for an hour or so, but then we all headed with our fake IDs to the Pompadour A-Go-Go for last call. The next day, even the traffic cop wasn’t paying attention to him.

As for blue jeans, Reggie never owned a pair of jeans in his life. This was in the psychedelic ’60s, when the style trend-setters were Jimi, Janis and the Sgt. Pepper Beatles, so almost anything went, but even so, Reggie’s style didn’t fit in: glitter, feathers, clothes that looked like they’d been jointly designed by Ming the Merciless and Liberace, an ever-changing array of glasses with frames the size of scuba masks, and platform shoes that boosted his height 8 inches so that he was a full 6 feet tall.

Over in the chair, Reggie began to mumble and said something that made no sense at all: “Learnin’ fast as the weeks went past.” Learning what? Maybe he was talking about how quickly Emin learned how to charm cheerleaders into the back seats of their fathers’ Chevys. Then he began making sense—kind of—again. “We really thought the crocodile rock would last.”

By this time I had remembered that in fact, I barely knew Reggie in high school. I just knew who he was. As for Susie, well, as Reggie droned on, I remembered her, all right. She had a chassis like a Jaguar XKE. I used to dream of smothering her in chocolate syrup, grabbing a can of Spanish peanuts and—

My reverie was interrupted again as Reggie yammered on. It was after midnight. I had to work the next day. I stood up.

“Reg,” I said, “it’s been good to see you again, but I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. Give me a shout next time you’re in town, OK?”

Reggie looked hurt, but stood up and said, “I think it’s going to be a long, long time 'til touchdown brings me 'round again to find—”

He stopped, a puzzled look on his face. “Sorry,” he said. “I was in the wrong song.”

Wrong song? It was late. My brain didn’t have the energy to figure out the metaphor. But before I could speak again, Reggie was at the door, wordlessly, and he didn’t look back. The latch clicked shut. But as he stepped from the steps to my front sidewalk, I could hear his voice again—

“La, la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la …”


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2015 01:54 am (UTC)
"My change, please." Ha ha ha ha I forgot that one.
Jul. 31st, 2015 02:00 am (UTC)
Yeah, a lot of reality got blended into that part.
Jul. 31st, 2015 06:08 pm (UTC)
Now, would one be correct in theorising that the conceptual crux of the continuous biscuit is the apostrophe?! :-D
Jul. 31st, 2015 07:50 pm (UTC)
I knew you'd catch the Pompadour A-Go-Go reference and the nod toward "Brown Shoes Don't Make It."

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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