Speaking of my stunning ability to pick only shitheads for friends, a relative quickie:
I don’t remember how it came to be, but when I was five years old David was my first friend ever. There were other kids who lived between my house and his, but somehow or other we wuz frenz first. In a manner of speaking.
David was an accidental conception, 12 years younger than his sister Claudia, and he was spoiled absolutely rotten. His father was a career Navy man so was usually absent, and his mother, well… their house was always closed up and dark, which I later came to associate with “mommy gets migraines”. I guess I should interrupt the flow of the story here for those who don’t know the 1960’s except as it has been chronicled on film: “mommy gets migraines” was a code phrase that meant that mommy was addicted to prescription barbiturates.
Seconal: Because Suburban Life Sucks.
With the possible exception of parental affection, David got anything and everything he wanted. It looked like a pretty good gig, to me. Despite having nothing at all to be angry about, David developed a habit of hitting me for no discernible reason. With my only other experience being at home where Mommie Dearest hit me a lot, and The Princess (my younger sister) hit me a lot, and if I dared to hit The Princess back Mommie Dearest would hit me some more, I just figured it for my lot in life. Everyone gets to hit me, and I don’t get to hit anyone back. Still, when he hit me I’d split. If I’d wanted to get smacked on I’d have stayed home.
One day David managed to draw blood, which piqued Mommie Dearest’s curiosity. I told her that David had punched me in the face again… And she informed me that it was my right and my duty to hit him back. If I didn’t hit him back, she informed me, she’d spank me. The way she put it was that I was going to be in a fight one way or the other, either with David or with her. I was confused. How was I supposed to know which person to hit back, and which person to not hit back? She explained it to me as best she could, but I wasn’t really clear on the concept when it was over. I was to hit back when it was not my sister, and not a girl unless the girl was much larger, and not a boy if the boy was much smaller, and… well, fuck it. David was on the hit list and that’s what was important.
Except I’m a peaceable guy by nature and didn’t want to hit David back. I just wanted him to stop hitting me. So I quit going to David’s house, and that way he couldn’t hit me so I wouldn’t be compelled by those weird rules to hit him back. I found some other kids in the neighborhood to hang out with, kids who didn’t (yet) hit me. Poor dumb spoiled rotten David just sat in his front yard all alone watching us play, and I was good with that. I felt sorry for him, lacking the courage to just walk up to the other kids and say, “Hi, my name is David. Can I play with you guys?”, but I didn’t mind that conflict was thus avoided.
Well, until it wasn’t any more. One day we were all playing a game that some kid invented that was something like tag on bicycles. Yes indeed, that’s a stupid game that involves lots of crashing and injury and blood, and lots of crying from those kids who didn’t yet know that something to cry about only came from your parents. I ended up stopped in front of the house next door to David’s, and he yelled at me, “Get out of my yard!”. You can guess how that conversation went. “I’m not in your yard!”. “Get out of my yard!”. And so on. Then David decided that he was going to make me. I hadn’t challenged him to do so, but there he was.
I remember thinking as he came toward me that it made no sense for a kid with no one to play catch with to be sitting in his yard with a baseball and glove. Also that I hoped hitting him back would not make things somehow worse. I hadn’t ever hit a neighborhood kid back, and I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t expecting him to bash me in the head with his baseball, but he did, so I took it from him and threw it out into the street. Then he tried to bash me in the face with his baseball glove, but I took it from him and bashed him in the face with it before throwing it, too, into the street. Take that! He took a swing at me but missed, and that’s when I discovered The Beast, the one who lives within. I moved closer and popped spoiled rotten David right on the nose, letting the blood out of it. He started backing up in a helluva hurry then, but he couldn’t run faster backward than I could forward so I got him again before he tripped on a tree root and fell on his back.
Gentle, peaceable me would have backed up then and warned him to just lie there bleeding, but The Beast was in control and gentle, peaceable me was just along for the ride and both curious about and horrified by The Beast. I jumped onto David’s chest and just pounded his face with a flurry of punches. He was screaming at me, “I give up! I give up! Uncle! Uncle!”, and I was screaming back at him, “Oh no you don’t!” and wondering what the hell he meant by Uncle. (I wasn’t much into television so hadn’t ever heard the expression “crying Uncle” before.) Poor, stupid, spoiled rotten David was in a situation that neither of us could have even imagined possible just a minute before, but there he was covered in blood and snot, screaming and crying, and probably wondering why “Uncle!” didn’t work in real life like it did on television. The Beast’s plan was to just keep bashing David in the face until he stopped moving, which in retrospect seems disproportionate to anything the spoiled little brat ever did to me.
Eh, the best laid plans of mice and small enraged children… David’s sister Claudia came out of the house, a thing I’d never actually seen her do before, and she was wearing go-go boots. White, with fringes. Quite clean, freshly polished from the look of them. And with pointy toes of the sort that will leave a hell of a painful bruise if you should happen to get kicked in the ribs by them with a force sufficient to hurl your body about five feet through the air. I hadn’t seen her coming until just an instant before taking flight, and by the time I figured out precisely where I was and precisely why I was there she’d scooped poor bloody David up and was heading for the house.
When I looked around I saw my first ever crowd of bloodthirsty onlookers, and a number of them were adults. Despite having seen it many times now, I still don’t understand how adults can stand by and watch something like that for entertainment. Those people disgust me. As I walked back to the house the younger bloodthirsty onlookers clapped me on the back and congratulated me as if what I’d just done was some kind of honorable accomplishment and not something deserving of how horrible I felt about it.
David didn’t try to hit anyone for eight years after that. Then for some reason he decided that he was going to be a bully and pick on some smaller kids who lived across the street from him. By then I was the neighborhood enforcer, a job I did not want but could not refuse, so another kid came running to me to tell me that David was being stupid, and I went to back the fool off. Poor stupid David was not in a mental state in which wisdom could prevail, and I guess he had some pent up rage that was more suitably directed at me than at the little kids he’d been picking on. He wouldn’t just hightail it home like a good little spoiled brat — he would not be satisfied until he saw blood. Kind, peaceable me was in control that day, but there was no talking him out of a fight. So I goaded the fool on, and he moved in on me like he was on a string.
I guess he thought he had the best of it when he backed me into a corner. It was at the house of the smaller kids he’d been picking on, where the garage met the house at a right angle. Poor stupid David, he never saw it coming. He saw me there, cornered, and it was written in his eyes that I was his now. He was going to lay some serious payback on me. He struck his best big tough he man boxing pose, and I brought my guard up but was holding it way too low for a guy who doesn’t want to be punched out. David’s eyes grew wide, and he put everything he had behind that punch to my face. He was slow and clumsy, but I’ve got to give him credit for having got his whole upper body into and and pushing off with his rear foot. It was a devastating punch, and the pain when the punch landed was severe. Where my face used to be there was just a bloody mess. A bloody mess in the corner where the garage met the house, a corner covered in stucco. I had ducked and he had just punched the ever lovin’ shit out of a house.
I pushed David forcefully back and got myself out of that corner just in case he had grown tougher than I was prepared to give him credit for. He hadn’t. He was crying, and trying to call me names but they came out unintelligibly. I told him that he ought to run on home to his mommy so she could clean up his hand, and by golly he actually did run. His second run at being a billy bad ass was over and so far as I know he never tried for a third.
The last time I saw David was, of all places, in Air Force basic training. He was in my flight, and though all but a few were from the same county he was the only other one from my home town. He lasted all of five days, during which he never slept or had a bowel movement. Growing up spoiled hadn’t prepared him for basic training, not even as soft as we had it in the Air Force. On the fifth night he went into the TI’s office and in no time was bawling and blubbering, with snot running down his face and onto his uniform shirt. The TI walked him out of the barracks, and a little while later came back and told a few of us to load the contents of his locker into his duffel bag. I never saw him again.
He told his parents that he got out because the Air Force had violated his enlistment contract, and said that even I was having a really tough time of it. I guess he elaborated with a line of bullshit so horrific that his parents were concerned about my well being and went in person to talk to my parents. My folks told his that they’d just talked to me the day before and I seemed perfectly happy to them, and my mother repeated the same question I’d asked rhetorically: How would it even be possible to violate someone’s enlistment contract in just the first five days of basic training? David’s father had just finished his 30 and retired from the Navy, so the question hit him like a runaway freight train. His darling boy had lied to him, and was too wimpy to handle a full week of Air Force basic training. That’s really not the sort of thing a career military man wants to acknowledge about his only son.
David’s mother was still intent upon coddling her baby boy, but his father would have none of it. They ended up divorced over that disagreement, and David lived with his mother at least until she sold the house and left the neighborhood. Or so I was told — he was never around when I was back in town on leave.
Poor, stupid, spoiled rotten David Beaman. He was the first of many who would eventually convince me that friends are almost as bad as family.