In Indiana
    David Berthy
In Indiana Tom Richards, who we called Tompon, holed up in his house for weeks. This was just before we graduated from high school. His mom was sick. My friend Bobby and I tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't come out. He sat in the house, waiting.

In Indiana, when we were young, we dreamed of being basketball stars. By the age of four, we were out on the courts for eight hours a day during the blistering summers. By five, our summers were an endless blur of basketball camps and personal lessons. We played basketball with fervor, because we believed, because we were chasing the impossible ghosts of Damon Bailey, Steve Alford, and Larry Bird with the conviction that slow white boys could eventually succeed through hard work and the development of rock solid fundamentals. By the age of six, it was time to do or die. When I was cut from the first grade team, despite my parents petitioning of the elementary basketball association board of delegates, I turned to the streets.

I found a role model in my sister’s boyfriend. My sister, ten years older, had an eighteen-year-old boyfriend named Jerry Lee. She was popular and beautiful and it was the eighties. I gawked the first time Jerry Lee pulled his monster truck into our driveway. It stood about ten feet off the ground and Jerry Lee had to use a rope ladder to get down. The bug-deflector was custom painted. It said, “Jerry Lee’s Tonka Toy.” On the back there was a neon “No Fat Chicks!” sign that could be turned on or off from the dashboard.

In Indiana we vacationed in Florida. One time when I was nine I went to Tallahassee with my friend Bobby Perkins’ family and rode on the crushed velvet seats of his aunt Connie’s cigar colored Monte-Carlo when we got there. The car smelled like cigarette smoke had been massaged into the seats. Connie, who had a rattail and spiky hair, popped in ancient eight tracks and smoked Newport after Newport. “Steely Dan sucks,” Bobby told her. She took a big pull from her cigarette, threw it out the window, inhaled deeply, and blew a stream of smoke into his face. “Sugar,” she said, “You don’t know shit.” The Cuervo Gold. The Fine Columbian. Make tonight a wonderful night.

We watched a basketball game there. An Arab named Allah was playing center. “God damn dune coon towel head,” said Connie’s husband, Uncle Don. He took a sip of moonshine. “American boys deserve those scholarships.” While we watched the game we ate boneless rib sandwiches and mozzarella sticks with butter and cream dip. Uncle Don saw we were puzzled. “You boys,” he said, “are gettin' an education.”

In Indiana I gradually became interested in something Peter Oakley called “humping.” I was, after all, eleven by that time. He made me pay him five dollars one day behind the school, for which he promised to tell me everything there was to know. I don’t remember much, except the violent impression I walked away with. He let me keep a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, and I walked away clutching it, words like “banging, “nailing,” and “slamming” surging through my head. I needed to see more, to hear more, so Bobby and I headed back to the woods. There was a fort back there made from plywood, old mattresses, and rusty corrugated iron. That fort was where we met Tompon, who, tall and skinny, lorded over the other kids. He was what Ms. Stone the loud librarian called aristocratic.

We would sit back in the fort and smoke cigarettes, thumbing through magazines filched from our dads like Hustler, Cheri, Club International, and Swank. We would sit back there and prod, not unlike Egyptologists, at the pink smiles that spread out wide on the soiled pages. One of us would invariably jab a stick into a glossy pink vagina – laughing even though the big-breasted blondes always kept their expressions. We smoked a lot of cigarettes with matches I stole from my dad’s collection, so that one time I distinctly remember lighting up a stick with a book of matches from Raffles in Singapore – home of the Singapore Sling. Sometimes we read the “letters,” sections of the pornos. “I love it when a guy licks my clit for hours,” said Pam, a tasty tart from Manchester, England. Soon after, I think around eleven, I started to drink.

In Indiana vomiting for seventy-five nights in a row couldn’t keep me away from Jim Beam. We loved Jim Beam. We chased our shots with Mountain Dew and called them Jews. I always seemed to wind up in the bathtub, drunk, with marker drawings up and down my arms like bad tattoos, smeared blue and red across my cheeks. I’d puke on the floor and laugh like a scary clown. In the morning, Tompon would carry me home in a wheel barrel. My dad would give me a chummy slug on the arm and make me do yard work.

My dad, the lawyer, ran and had successes. He got up every morning and ran. He ran for miles, around the track, on country roads. He ran and he ran and he ran. His legs marbled with muscle. He sometimes scowled, he always wore suits, and he slept well. One day he ran a hundred miles. He just did. We sat in lawn chairs, wondering if he’s ever come home, and when he did the blood from his blisters was seeping through the mesh of his New Balances. When he turned forty it was a somber affair. His German chocolate cake wound up clinging to our backyard cedar fence, the blue and yellow candles like murdered toy soldiers exploded onto the cement. My dad hated Indiana.

In Indiana I thought I would never get laid. While all my friends developed intimate relationships before sixth grade was over I had to wait. I got on my knees and prayed each night, praying that something, anything, would kick start my pituitary gland. My parents, fearing malfunction, took me a specialist, who did as poor a job as my therapist convincing me that some people didn’t go through puberty until the were fifteen. Finally, at thirteen, the much anticipated change occurred. In Indiana I fell in love with one of three girls I knew named Tanya. She was a younger girl, twelve. I would sneak over to her house in the middle of the night, dodging the curfew patrol helicopters by staying low to the ground, and nervously smoking Camel bare-ass cigarettes. When I got to her house we would sneak into her backyard and smoke pot and out of a tiny metal pipe with tie-dyed faces on it. Then we would maybe take a few hits of acid and hole up in her basement beneath her dad the sheriff’s John Wayne movie poster and handgun collection. We would kiss and touch for hours, listening to the Doors and Jimi. On the way home, exhausted, I would stare up at the moon, grin, and smell my fingers.

I finally got some. The first time Tanya and I had sex was in her bedroom, surrounded by Teddy Bears, needlework with flowers, and a framed plaque honoring her first communion. I tried hard. Afterwards I walked home and smoked a cigarette. That’s what you were supposed to do. That was how I lost my virginity in Indiana.

In Indiana my friend Lonnie was big into speed. One time when we were freshmen in high school we were doing a track unit in PE. In Indiana P.E. was one of the only places that included everyone, all of high school’s factions and identities. My friends and I were druggies. We were slump shouldered and skinny and our hair was long and greasy. We hung out on cancer corner and threw it all away. The athletes were as far away from us as they could get, and all sorts of other groups were in between. Neither of our groups knew what to think of the devil worshippers, who wore white make-up and black trench coats and listened to bands we’d never heard of. Rumor had it they all spent weekend nights in a barn on Nash Road where they sacrificed chickens, rabbits, cows, and so forth, to Satan. Some of the athletes were fundamentalist Christians (thick, slabby ones). Those Christians did elaborate tandem stretches, pushing on each other, all of them in tank tops and spandex shorts. All of them had on beefy running shoes and serious expressions. That day’s event was the quarter mile. The rest of us were going to walk, to pay for our slacker dignity with D’s in P.E. Lonnie jumped up and down, ready.

Mr. Vance, the P.E. teacher, blew his whistle and made us line up on the starting line. He looked us over and sneered. He had his tube socks pulled up. He wore Bike coaching shorts with a double snap at the waist. Rumor had it that he possessed the unfortunate habit of stretching while waiting in line at fast food restaurants. He even had a crew cut. Shit. He glared at us and Lonnie glared at the good kids. When the Coach Vance blew his whistle Lonnie ran. He was way ahead of the good kids at the 200-meter mark and maybe on his way to setting a county record when he collapsed. Mr. Vance called the ambulance and the ambulance called the authorities. Lonnie lived, but he disappeared. Some said he was teaching english in Tokyo, having a good old time with all those women. Others suspected he had joined a semi-mystic Maoist guerilla warrior cult in Columbia. Later we all found out his parents sent him away to a camp in Utah where he dug trenches and built fences and had to hike twenty miles a day with an eighty pound back pack. Lonnie dug and hiked and got off drugs, liquor, and even chew, and when he came back he was muscled and tan. He finished high school, went to work building diesel engines, got married, and became a fundamentalist Christian. In Indiana, it seems, the God people always win.

In Indiana we knew by the time we were juniors in high school that we had spent too long in Indiana. Our crimes grew more and more serious, and then slipped into felony land. Tompon, Bobby and I formed a gang, and started off our sophomore year by unbolting street signs and stashing them in our garages, so that Riverside Drive and Marlborough Court and Mockingbird Lane were stripped of their bright green identifiers. From there, we started wandering the neighborhoods in a pack, pilfering anything we could find from those people stupid enough to leave their car doors open just because they lived in a small town in Indiana. Next, we graduated to squirting water into the dollar bill slots of coke machines, looking around nervously while the glowing behemoths spewed cokes and quarters. We made five thousand dollars from the Howard Johnson alone, moving methodically through every floor. From there it was only a matter of time until we robbed our first convenience store. We confused everyone by dressing up as Japanese sock hoppers. There was only one Japanese person that lived in our town in Indiana. His name was Yoshiki, and he confused everyone by not being Chinese. They grilled him for days. That was when the Japanese were stealing all of the jobs from good honest folk in Indiana.

Tompon’s mom was down to seventy-five pounds before she died. We all went to the funeral. Afterwards, there was a reception. Big Tom, Tompon’s dad, drank a fifth of Early Times and passed out on the couch. Bobby, Tompon, and I shook our legs, smoked cigarettes, and thought about all of the pills Tompon’s mom had accumulated. There were so many pills. There were jumbo bottles: Xanax, Percodan, Valium, and Vicodin. After people finally left, Tompon went to get them.

I put some Valium on my tongue, and washed away the bitter taste with my Budweiser. We all drank and took pills until we passed out onto the floor. I woke up first and knew I should clean up the evidence before Big Tom stumbled awake. The bag was open on the floor. There were little bottles everywhere. I knew I should clean it up but I couldn’t move. Big Tom farted loudly. I watched with half-open eyes while he got up and looked around, shook his head, and began gathering the little bottles. He put them in a trash bag, cinched it good, and took it out to the curb.

In Indiana Bobby, Tompon, and I celebrated our high school graduation by getting screaming drunk and going to the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Racing Show. We were in high spirits as somehow we had all managed to get into college, though no one remembered how. We drank 40 ounce Miller Lites and howled at the super midgets and monster trucks, swirling through their paces. During a break in the action, a nasal twang came on the loudspeaker. The lady behind me screamed. She had spiky hair, blue eye shadow, and tight jeans with a hole in the knee. I stared at her. “Who the hell is that?” I asked.

“Honey,” she said, with a sexy stutter of her hips, “That’s Dwight Yoakum, and he gives me an orrrrrgasm.” Bobby, Tompon, and I got up and danced with her on our last day together in Indiana


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