Vision Quest, page 1
For Roy and Lucille Davis
I’m not exaggerating when I say the following teachers and coaches and the one neighborhood dad helped save my life. There’s nothing in the world that lifts a kid’s spirit like a smile on the face of an adult when he or she sees you coming. If these good people are happy to see you, you can’t be as worthless as you feel.
My children and I owe the following people a debt of the heart. I was just another young human being to them, but to me they are the exceptions that shaped the man I try every day to become.
Everywhere Spirit, Bless these souls and the ones I’ve forgotten.
. . . I say live it out like a god
Sure of immortal life, though you are in doubt,
Is the way to live it.
If that doesn’t make God proud of you
Then God is nothing but gravitation,
Or sleep is the golden goal.
from Edgar Lee Masters’s
Spoon River Anthology
Both Dad and I are pretty sure Shute is going to grind my body into the green surface of our David Thompson High School wrestling mat. We work hard to put that thought out of our minds, though. I don’t wrestle Shute until after the first of the year, when the weights come up two pounds and I move down from the 154-pound class—where I’m already lean—to become probably the world’s hungriest 147-pounder. I’ve got two weeks yet. We also put it out of our minds because today is my birthday and Dad had our 1941 DeSoto reupholstered in the original mohair. He presented it to me this morning in celebration of my eighteen years and my upcoming high school graduation. Still, he couldn’t forget my impending doom. After he caressed the leather armrests, rubbed up the bristling new fabric, and spun the big old steering wheel with one finger, he noted that Carla will be able to drive me around in style and solid comfort after Shute breaks all my bones. Carla is my girl friend. She lives with us.
Carla loves the DeSoto. Today we eat our lunch in it, and she spreads a red-and-white checkered tablecloth over the backseat so she won’t drip yogurt on the mohair. I sit in front, manning our Sony portable cassette recorder, playing a Beatles collection and the Stones’ “Hot Rocks,” eating raw carrots and celery and hard-boiled eggs, turning to pure protein before her very eyes as she hands me another carrot. I’m down to 150.
Carla climbs in front and rubs the dash and window moldings with a waxed cloth Dad brought her from the store.
Dad’s in the car business. People in the car business call their places “stores” now. The name has gone through phases. When I was a little kid playing park league baseball Dad would say he was going to the “garage.” And when I was in junior high playing Pop Warner football he’d say he was going to the “lot.” But now it’s “store.”
I see Belle walking our way as I finally open the car door to head for my English class. The wind blows hard and for a second my eyes hurt from the cold. “Hi, folksies!” yells Belle, slipping and nearly falling on the icy sidewalk. Belle, you crack, don’t do any dope in our car, I think to myself, nodding to her.
Belle is the gum-freeze queen of David Thompson High and Carla’s best friend after me. She’s wrecked a good share of the time, especially at school. She’s usually holding dope and I would would hate to see her nabbed for it with Carla. It seems that most of the administration and teachers and kids take Belle’s space travel for the effervescence of school spirit. I suppose it’s because she’s a cheerleader and beautiful. There’s really not much chance of her getting caught around school, but I still worry.
Belle is friendly and funny and a good person. She’s never done me wrong. The chance of her getting Carla in trouble is the only thing I don’t like about Belle. I sound like a parent. Carla wouldn’t like it if she knew I felt this way. There’s probably nothing to worry about. Carla is pretty down on chemicals and kind of down on dope in general, and she’s afraid Belle is overdoing it. I doubt Carla would allow Belle to do any dope in her presence.
I’m smiling big and thinking about friendship as Carla waves good-bye with her waxed cloth. I’m also being careful not to fall on my ass. If I’m going to have my coccyx broken, I’d rather Shute did it than this transient and impersonal patch of ice.
Coach Ratta passes me in the gym door. “What do you weigh?” he asks.
“Fifty,” I reply, stopping for a bit. We always leave out the one hundred.
His eyebrows rise. “Can you beat Kuchera?” he asks, eyebrows coming down. He knows I can. What he doubts is that I can make 147 without losing my strength.
“Yes,” I reply, thinking how much I like Kuch and how badly I can munch his body, and wishing we didn’t have to wrestle off for the spot, but not wishing it too hard because it will only be for this one match.
“We’ll see,” Coach Ratta says. He’s sure I’m losing my strength.
Coach and most of the team and a lot of other people at school were pretty pissed off at me for deciding to graduate a semester early. I’ll miss a couple league matches and the district and state tournaments. But Doug Bowden, our number-two guy at 154, is undefeated in his junior varsity matches and is going to put a lot of varsity guys on their backs once he gets the chance. I thought about this before I made my decision.
Coach isn’t mad anymore and neither is anybody on the team. Dad figured from the start it was okay as long as I was sure. And Carla thought it was a good idea, especially since I’d be working full-time and earning money to help Dad. It worries my mom a little, but that’s her nature.
* * *
Senior English is a nice class. We read novels and short stories and we write essays and discuss. Gene Tanneran, our teacher, says we must articulate with both pen and tongue, so he grades us on class participation.
Gene continually tries to bring up his two favorite subjects for ridicule, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. I figure the two sonsabitches aren’t worth my time. Gene and Thurston Reilly, who is editor of the school paper and wants to be a muckraking columnist, get the biggest kick out of Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, in which the big dick swears that the guys who contributed to his slush fund never asked him for any special favors, points out his sweet wife’s respectable Republican cloth coat, and vows ardently never to return Checkers, the lovable cocker sent to him by a Texan who must have been a real dog-hater.
Gene shows the film once a month and he and Thurston just howl. I thought it was funny the first time, but now I think it’s sad. The way I see it, if people ever saw or heard that speech and were still dumb or evil enough to vote for the bastard, they deserve everything he’ll ever do to them.
Gene’s also got a record of Agnew’s speeches. He figures Agnew should be public enemy number one for making parents hate and fear their own children. Gene loved it when I told him my dad thinks I’m a pretty good guy and Agnew is a flaming asshole.
Tanneran wrestled in high school and college. He asks me what I weigh as we walk out of class.
“I’m down to fifty,” I say.
“Fat city!” Gene exclaims, savoring the irony. “You’re gonna make it!”
We hold our wrestle-offs after our regular practice. That’s after two hours of exercises, running, takedowns, es
I’ve avoided Kuch all practice. Otto Lafte tied me to the trampoline as usual on wrestle-off days. We bounce around and wrestle on the trampoline and he always manages to get me on my stomach and then he sits on my back. Once he gets me down it’s all over. Otto weighs 243. He stretches the leg straps of my jock around my ankles; then he hooks the waistband through the tramp springs. I think it calms him somehow. Wrestle-offs shouldn’t bother Otto—he’s been David Thompson’s number-one heavyweight for two and a half years. Kuch usually participates in the trampoline ritual. Not that Otto needs the help. It’s just something we do. Sometimes Otto and I get Kuch. Sometimes Kuch and I and Balldozer get Otto. Sometimes we pluck the guy’s pubic hair. Little Jerry Konigi is plucked almost bald. He weighs ninety eight pounds. Everybody takes out their frustrations on Jerry.
Coach Ratta untied me. Then as I jumped down from the tramp he caught me midair and drove me to the mat. He does this all the time. I think he got the idea from Peter Seller’s valet, Kato, the guy who’s always sneaking up and attacking him in the Pink Panther movies. Coach says he does it to keep us constantly alert when we’re on the mat, and especially when we’re in a match and one wrestler has just escaped and gotten to his feet. A lot of guys get taken down at that point in a match. If you’re the one who’s escaped, you have this tendency to relax, because you’ve just gotten out of a hold and scored yourself a point—and you leave yourself open to getting taken right back to the mat. And if you’re the one who’s let the other guy escape, you have this tendency to say shit and shake your head and relax for a second—and then the guy takes you down and gets two more points on you. He let me up without saying a word and turned toward the door to the main wrestling room. I untied my sweat pants and had my eyes on my crotch as I adjusted my jock when he knocked me down again. This time he took me right to my back. I was pinned before I could get my hands out of my pants. I guess Coach doesn’t want me getting overconfident.
Not only do we hold our wrestle-offs after a full practice, but we wrestle nine minutes instead of the regular six. And even if you pin or get pinned, you still have to go the full nine.
Kuch is ready. He’s spoken with the Everywhere Spirit and now he’s shouting his war cries. He took a lot of shit about his Indian stuff from crowds last season, especially on the road. People wrote the principal and called him on the phone to complain about Kuch’s aboriginal behavior on the mat. Kuch doesn’t consult with the Everywhere Spirit in public anymore and the only time he uses his war cry is at the whistle when he’s on the bottom in the referee’s position. But he still does all his Indian stuff when he wrestles off.
Kuch screams and I bounce in my takedown dance. I’m too fast. I take him down with single-leg dives, double-leg dives, sweeps. I counter his dives with a whizzer, slipping my arm under his armpit to the back of his head and levering downward so he either has to let go of my leg or get flipped over on his back. Kuch is strong. If he locks me up he can snap my head down to the mat or shuck me off, spinning me sideways, opening me up for a fireman’s carry. I dance away and don’t lock up with Kuch. We go takedowns for three minutes and I lead 12–0.
Now we go to the referee’s position—one guy down on his hands and knees and the other guy kneeling beside him with one arm around his waist, fingers on his belly button, and the other hand gripping his elbow. The top guys’s chin is in line with the bottom guy’s spine. They both look straight ahead at the referee’s hand, which is supposed to move at the same time he blows his whistle to start the round. The down guy has the better chance to score points. He can escape for one point, or reverse and get control of the top guy for two points. The top guy tries to keep control and work for a pin. In a real match, when you escape you work for a takedown, and when you reverse you work for a pin. But in wrestle-offs, when we get an escape or a reversal we go back to the referee’s position and start again.
Kuch is down first. He’s very strong and he’s quick. He pops right to his feet, screaming, trying for an escape. But I go to a double-heel trip and haul him back down to the mat. He’s too out of breath now to keep up his steady stream of war cries. I counter his sitout. I follow him on his roll. I try to pin him toward the end of the round, but either I’m too tired or he’s not tired enough. I can’t take him to his back.
Now I get three minutes from down. I throw my best moves from here. I walk out on him—“crawl” out, actually, charging on my hands and knees, like a giant little kid escaping from his playpen; then I explode into a sitout and reverse for two points. I pop to my feet, bellowing like a goosed dromedary, and use a standing switch for two. I lock his arm and roll, escaping for a point. I buck back and hip over, reversing for two. I throw an outside switch and lean back hard for leverage on the arm Kuch is trying to hold me with. I’m levering hard and have almost worked behind him to gain control when he lets me go and pulls his arm away. I fall flat on my back. He’s on me in half a breath and I’m pinned. Renewed, he whoops and dances and kicks me in the ass a few times, smiling. We go back to the referee’s position and wait for Coach’s whistle.
Carla picks me up from practice. Whenever she can she drives me downtown, where I work part-time as a room-service boy at the Spokane Hotel. When she’s working herself or when she has something to do, I take the bus or just hitch. There’re always plenty of people driving downtown.
“Well?” Carla asks.
“I kicked ass,” I reply.
“Twenty-three to five.”
“You got pinned again!” Carla knows how to keep score. I get pinned fairly often in practice, but I’ve never been pinned in a match.
“Fucking rubber-arm.” I sigh, shaking my head.
“What can you do?”
“A guy rubber-arms you when you lean back too hard and hesitate on the switch. You’re leaning on his arm for leverage, and if you hesitate at all, he can pull his arm away. You fall right on your back. I’ve got to stop hesitating. Either that or go to a sitout or a standup all the time.”
“Is Shute a good rubber-armer?” Carla asks.
I squinch my face.
“I know,” she says. “Is a pig’s pussy pork?”
I have to laugh. That’s one of our local clichés from which Carla usually refrains. She must have been keeping it in reserve for just such an appropriate moment.
“Gotcha.” She smiles smugly.
We stop at Strick’s bakery. Carla likes to buy day-old doughnuts and maple bars for Dad’s breakfast. Carla eats granola and Dad has eggs, meat, and a doughnut or a maple bar. I drink a can of Nutrament, and if my weight’s down enough I might eat a slice of liver or a wheat-germ burger, too. Having breakfast together like that is a good way to start the day.
“Is the exhibitionist still in the hotel?” Carla asks. Part of the fun of working in a hotel is all the people you meet. I try to keep Carla informed about them.
“He was naked again, toweling off after a shower like he always is. But this time he drops the towel, flashes me a shot at his root, and gets an immediate hard-on. His cock jerked up in stages like a drawbridge. I just stood there. I told him to give me a call when he was through. I meant so I could pick up the tray. He just smiled and scratched his nuts.”
“The human body well kept is a beautiful thing,” Carla says. “I don’t really think there should be any limits to the fun people can have with it.” Then she says, “And I think your friend Tanneran is after mine.”
“Your what?” I ask. I’m a little tired and slow-witted after a hard practice.
“My body,” Carla says.
“What makes you think that?”
“He asked me to come to his house.”
“Do you want him?” I ask.
“Would you like me to talk to him about it, then?”
“Yes,” Carla says. “But not because I can’t. It would just make me feel better about us. Okay?”
“Sure,” I reply. Now I’ll have to talk to Tanneran. Shit. But it’s good of Carla to let me know what she expects of me. Having a serious girlfriend is not all fun and games. There’s responsibility in it.
* * *
Carla is related to the reason I’m working during wrestling season. It was partially because of Carla that Dad lost his job and is being sued for fifteen thousand smackers. He decided he didn’t want to work for anybody else again, so he sold our cabin at Loon Lake and our boat and pickup, borrowed a bunch of money, and opened Spokane’s first Honda car store. Shortly after Dad lost his job he and Mom broke up. He lost our poodle in that deal, and I lost part of my mother. I felt like I should help Dad, so I sold my 450cc Honda motorcycle and vowed to work as steady as I could through the school year to earn money for college. This was one of the big reasons I decided to graduate early. Chances are I’ll get a wrestling scholarship, but they don’t pay for everything. I had other reasons, too.
Carla walked into the store one afternoon last July with three hundred bucks. She’d been hitching since Chicago and was fed up with it and wanted to buy a car that would get her to the Pacific Ocean. The store was a big Buick dealership downtown near the freeway and Dad was sales manager. Dad was out when Carla came looking for a car. Ray Lucas, one of the used-car salesmen, showed Carla the back row, where all car dealers keep their clunks. In the back row last July sat a ’62 Rambler wagon, a ’65 Imperial, a ’49 Chevy pickup, a ’66 Buick, and a ’53 Ford coupe. I remember because Dad and I were looking for a cheap car to run as a claimer in the stock car races. I was all set to buy that Ford if it was any good at all. I figured to bash out the windows, rip out the upholstery, and weld in a rollbar. I’d dropped by after work that day so we could test-drive it. Dad thought the bearings might be about gone.