Life in Hypertext
The Boys in the Park
For now the moment is all: poised between the twin fogs of past and
future. In the gleam of a vapor lamp, three man-boys sit on a painted
log in Prospect Park, in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, on Graduation night.
A transformer hums anonymously, somewhere overhead; closer in, we hear
the sound of Steve's lips sucking on the bottle.
"Ahhh. Good scotch, man."
"Yeah, my dad was pretty decent to get it for us." Already
Bruce's hair is thinning, black strands swept over a domed forehead
like his father's; his is a middle-aged paunch, at eighteen. Mr. Jensen
Steve fondles the ritual object of green glass, observing: "Cutty
Sark. Look at that ship. Just imagine, a hundred years ago we might
be getting ready to set out on the high seas on a ship like that, ready
to seek our fortunes. . . ."
"Give me a break," Bruce says. "We'd be sitting in a
friggin park, just like this, guzzling some rotgut, thinking about our
"You mean our first one," I correct him.
Indeed, the first half of the bottle has helped the three of us reminisce
about those fruitless nights, the last two years, cruising McDonalds
for what we still insist on calling--despite the present irony of our
situation--"prospects." As always, we've been wondering how
things might have been different if we'd been bolder with this or that
"chick." (We don't actually call them "chicks,"
ourselves, but use the term in quotes, in mockery of our less enlightened
As the evening's discussion hasn't yet succeeded in rewriting our history
of failed overtures to the opposite sex, I stand up to suggest we go
back to Steve's for a few games of pong and some tunes; but as I stretch
my spindly legs and wobble in the dark soupy night, I think of my parents,
all our parents there in that house, and decide we're better off where
we are, in our commiseratory state of limbo.
I sit back down on the log and reach for the bottle from Steve, who
sits, fittingly, between Bruce and me, best friends to both of us. "So,
Steve, on the subject of prospects, I guess the odds are in your favor
The shyest one, with a bushy shock of unruly hair, craggy nose and
boyish glint in the eyes, Steve flashes a look of uncertain pride--"Wh-whadya
"Well, going to a co-ed school and all." He's on his way
to Lawrence U., while Bruce and I are both, by coincidence, headed for
the austere wilds of all-male Dartmouth.
"I don't know," Bruce breaks in. "That recruiting guy
said girls are no problem where we're going. They bus them in from all
over New England. Parties in the frat houses every weekend . .
Steve finishes a huge slug from the bottle, laughs madly and passes
it to me. Suddenly I, too, feel in better spirits. I take my swig and
pass it on to Bruce's reaching hand. Three-quarters of it gone, and
the raw, peaty stuff still burns going down. I take a deep breath, trying
to hold my equilibrium. A little cooling breeze cuts through the heavy,
humid June night, and the scotch gives way to a more pleasant aroma:
"the green grass of youth" is how I perceive it, already gone
beyond in my college fantasies.
No one cares to join me on my brief flight on the philosophic plane.
Steve says with obviously furring tongue, "So y're givin' up on
old M.P., then, Bruiser?"
Bruce snaps his head around from under the bottle and glares at him
with a pair of glassy eyes. "Whadya mean?"
"You're not gonna make your move on 'er this summer?"
"Maybe I will and maybe I won't. There're plenty of fish in the
"Same old story," Steve says. "Paper lines from paper
men. You guys, we need to make resolutions o' steel for a change. Gimme
some of that scotch."
Paper activities, we agreed in our boozy analysis that night, included
such former pastimes as playing hearts, or even poker, at Patrick Regis's;
more obvious shams like Young Republicans' picnics; and all our unsuccessful
cruising strategies. Paper prospects, for example, consisted of Young
Republican picnickers from Naperville, ones in '61 Chevys or '57 Cadillacs,
or any group of them packed 3-6 to a vehicle. The most flimsy paper
strategy with any prospect?--subtlety.
Steel activities, on the other hand, were largely action-based. We
could play sports (softball, whiffleball, touch football, ping-pong);
go into Chicago to see the Cubs or the Sox, or to the Oak St. beach
(where last time we'd had the good fortune to stumble onto a photo-party
for the Playboy Bunnies); or if all else failed, we could always go
see the movie The Graduate again. More passive (but still meaningful)
"steel" pursuits included listening to music (the Doors, Beatles,
Simon and Garfunkel, Wilson Pickett), and reading incisively honest
books, like Catch-22 and Catcher in the Rye, that exposed the facade
of duty to paper authority and its values.
Cruising, when properly conducted, could be a steel rather than a paper
activity. But the sights had to be set higher: undesirable prospects
would be replaced by unattainable ones. Steel prospects would be found
driving sporty jobs like '68 Camaros or '66 Corvairs or Mustangs, and
were most approachable in pairs. At the end of the steel road, of course,
was the golden vision: the Lasting Relationship.
Well, our last summer, at least, was plotted out. The rest of our lives
would have to wait.
"You okay, now?"
I was puking my guts out, right there on "the green grass of youth"
where we'd played whiffleball; right under the vapor lamp and the humming
transformer. Dogs from the encircling streets were pricking up their
nostrils and ears and starting to bark.
"Yeah, fine, I guess. Least this way I won't be as hung over tomorrow."
A weak smile from me.
"Somehow," Bruce said, looking at the empty bottle in his
hand, "I don't feel like carrying this into the house with us."
So he heaved it into the middle of the field, where it landed with a
muffled thud--unbroken and, for the moment, unseen.
Then there was nothing left to do but stumble back to Steve's house,
where Bruce's parents, and mine, were waiting indulgently to drive us
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