Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Barbarous Quartet

"Hand me another beer," my friend Matt said as Gene let out a blood-curdling scream, opened the car door and bolted across the sparsely illuminated parking lot, launched himself swan dive-style over an embankment, and disappeared into the deep snow wearing only a t-shirt. I took a bottle out of our new case of beer, popped the cap, and handed it back to him.

Monotony can be a great motivator. Sometimes it inspires genius and sometimes stupidity but at a certain level of boredom, any action is better than nothing.

Now you would think that living in a beautiful state surrounded by great places to hike, swim, bike, ski or any other of a host of fun outdoor activities that teens and young adults would never have a lack of things to do. But your thinking would be wrong.

More commonly, people would just gather somewhere to stand in a circle and silently drink. A bonfire, a backyard, a parking lot or sandpit, it would always be the same. No conversations. No games. Just a bunch of (mostly) guys engaged in serious, monotonous drinking until everyone got so drunk they either fell down and passed out, got in a fight, or were dragged off by one of the few women sitting around like vultures to pick off some fresh meat. It was boring as hell. But any other activity wouldn't support the cool, silent stereotype everyone was trying to live up to.

Fortunately, my friends and I didn't have that to worry about. Almost since birth we'd established ourselves as too shy, too smart, too creative, to imaginative or just too poor to be cool. So when we went to parties - which we hadn't actually been invited to but had heard about through the grapevine - we used to try to liven things up.

Over the years, we tried lots of things. We introduced a number of drinking games to the parties when they were indoors. Once in a while, when everyone was just drinking and staring, one of us would let out a scream, turn, run and launch ourselves into the nearest snowbank, cornfield, hay mound, river or whatever else was available. Then we'd just quietly walk back and join the crowd as if nothing had happened. A little while later, another of us would do it. By the time the evening was over, we had everyone doing it. The irony is that something isn't cool unless everyone else is doing it, but someone has to start it and whoever does so isn't cool.

One night my friends Gene, Kenny and Scudder were listening to a Dr. Demento tape while driving to a party. On the tape was a song called "Leprosy" sung barbershop quartet-style to the tune of the Beatles' "Yesterday". We thought that it was funny as hell and since there were four of us in the car... why not? We pulled the car over and spent about a half hour working out our parts. Kenny was bass, Gene was baritone, Scudder and I swapped off tenor and lead.

When we got to the party - which consisted of the usual silent drinking and staring into the fire - we walked up to the first friend we saw, circled around him and broke into song. He and everyone just stood dumbfounded. There was a full minute after we finished the last note that people just stared. Frankly, I thought we might get our butts kicked. And then, one of the guys said "Follow me into the house. I want you to sing that for my cousin".

Before long, everyone had to hear it and we got invited to the next several parties so we could sing it. And then the newness wore off, our uncoolness returned, and the customary silence descended once again on the backyards, bonfires and sandpits of Deadsville.

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