"Hey bud, let's get saved."
I looked over at John. He was serious.
In a split second, I considered our options for the evening. We could "get saved" and spend the night talking to Jesus freaks who would hold our hands and tell us what a momentous decision we had just made. We could go over to Hastings and rent some tit flick to watch at John's house after his parents went to sleep. We could drag Main, talk to some guy bragging about his new Toyota-"I got the V-6 power option," he might say-or just play Dokken's "Alone Again" over and over for about three hours like we did last night (John just broke up with his girlfriend). A pretty easy choice.
"Um, okay," I said.
We got up and joined the throng at the front of the stage.
Years later, a friend of mine told me that the only way to get young people interested in anything (he was putting together a political organization at the time) was to offer pizza and beer in equal quantities.
Most churches frown on underage drinking, so the local 10,000-member Baptist church offered just the pizza to the kids who showed up at their revival in the junior high school auditorium. John and I were there solely because of the pizza. I was a Methodist at the time, and he was non-committal towards the whole religion idea. But we had the munchies and were quite willing to watch some middle-aged fool hop up and down spouting hellfire and brimstone for about an hour as our payment for said raiment.
John and I graduated Monday, which is when Lara dumped him. She did the whole prom thing (even fucked him at the Holiday Inn until morning) and then threw his ring in his face as we were getting into his truck after sweating out the three-hour commencement ceremony.
While not the love of his life, John thought she was at the time and subjected me (he himself didn't seem to notice) to an unending barrage of heavy metal power ballads. He'd pick one a night, though since Wednesday he had gotten stuck on the Dokken tune, and nothing I would say or do could change that. I might have thrown the tape out the window, but as I am a normal-sized human being and John is six-six, two-fifty, that really wasn't an option.
John had a thing about particular songs. Usually we would go out and drive up and down Main Street in his truck, blasting one particular song a night. Occasionally an album, though that would also last longer. We had spent the whole month of May on Girls Girls Girls (well, after it came out the second week of the month, anyway). Something about heroin-inspired guitar riffs that really got John off. Me, I liked Paul Simon at the time. We never did play "You Can Call Me Al."
According to "born-again" Christian theology, you have to make a conscious choice to accept Jesus into your heart. This, and only this, will get you into heaven. All those churches that baptize babies are condemning their members to hell, because babies are not quite ready for Jesus. "Jesus ain't no child molester," one revivalist once said. Well, I myself hoped he was right. It would suck to base your faith on a guy who wore a raincoat and hung around playgrounds.
So we got saved. About two hundred of us wandered up to the stage and were blessed by the preacher. We repeated some prayer like "Jesus, I want you to be my light and my hope, my only redemption." Except that John said, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." No one noticed.
A bunch of kids from the Baptist Hitler youth marched us backstage and into the gym, where counselors helped us cement our faith. All the girls went one way, and the boys another. So John and I got this geek who couldn't quite get his Bible verses straight and somehow managed to feed us something out of Song of Solomon. We were hungry enough and didn't need the Christian version of the Kama Sutra laid on us at that moment. He managed to ramble on for close to half an hour when I decided to get things wrapped up.
"How about John 3:16?" I asked.
"Excuse me?" replied our prayer buddy.
"You know, `For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son; he who believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.' "
"Hey, that sounds pretty good," he said.
John nudged me. "What the fuck was that all about?" he whispered.
"Just getting the ball rolling," I said. I looked up angelically at the kid. He smiled.
"Well, I guess that does wrap things up," he said. "Any-"
And before we even heard the word "questions", John and I were up like a flash and headed to the pizza line. Getting saved was one thing, but you never fuck with free 'za.
We almost made it, too, when this guy in a really tacky suit stopped us as we were walking in the olympic competitive sense toward the door.
"Hey, boys, what's the rush?"
We made some excuse about meeting friends in the pizza line.
"Come on, didn't you listen to your counselor? When you eat the flesh of Jesus, you have no need for earthly sustenance."
All the same, we said, we really should be going.
Neither of us had any plans, and before we realized what he was getting at, we admitted this.
"How'd you like to join up with us and spread the word of Jesus?"
Apparently our mouths did not drop far enough, because he kept up his spiel. And before we really understood the wheres and whys of the whole situation, we found ourselves agreeing to talk it over with our parents and decide. He patted us on our backs and walked out.
By the time we got to the pizza, it was all gone.
Much later, we found out who our friend was. Jimmie Blue Robinson was his name, and recruiting young meat was his game. The revival had a need for about ten young guys to travel around with the Rev. Bubba Joe Tollison. The way Jimmie Blue made it sound, we would just ride the bus and get paid fifty bucks a day. We'd get to clean up after the services and such, but generally we would be on our own.
As we got into John's truck, we were in severe shock.
"Why'd we do that?" I asked John.
"Agree to go on the road with these folks, that's what."
"Fuck, I thought it was a joke. We just don't show up tomorrow, and that will be that."
"Yeah, alright," I said, sighing. "But you have to admit, it would be interesting."
John looked at me like I was crazy. Then he started up the truck and punched the Dokken tape in the dash. I decided crazy was probably a relative term.
You have to understand my frame of mind to really comprehend what happened when I got home. First, I was not born in Clovis (that's a town on the Llano Estacado of Eastern New Mexico; you don't want to ask how the gringos pronounced Llano Estacado) and I wasn't planning to stay. In fact, I was going to Missouri in the fall and study journalism. I couldn't wait, but I knew I had to get through one last summer in the town I liked to call God's own shithole.
Unlike most kids in high school, I did not cultivate a social life. Indeed, I consciously eschewed one, with a few lapses. I didn't want a serious relationship that might tie me to Clovis, so I didn't date (well, the fact that my self-confidence in that area was non-existent might have also had something to do with it). I even skipped prom on moral grounds (why pay that much money for a social event?), despite being asked.
Clovis is a patriarchal society. Men in charge. Men ask their women out, don't ask permission to fuck. They assume full compliance. So to ask a guy out is to put your entire reputation on the the line. If the guy turned you down, the entire rest of your high school existence would be one of shame and rejection. At least, that was what most people believed.
So when I got the call (I'd been told to expect a couple, even though I had made my position clear), I was still surprised by how it worked out.
"Hello, is this Jon?"
"Hi, Jon. This is Mandy, from your government class."
"I'm calling for a friend of mine." This is how you get around the shame factor.
"Well, do you have a date for the prom."
"No, I don't. I'm not going, and this doesn't have anything to do with anyone. I don't think the whole thing is right."
So I gave my whole screed about how immoral it is to blow a huge wad of cash on one night. For me, back then, $150 is a huge wad of cash. Having been through a wedding, I know differently now. Ah, innocent youth.
"Well, I'd like to tell you her name." This is supposed to change my mind, I guess.
"Please don't. I don't want to embarrass her. I wouldn't even be taking Elle MacPherson to prom if I could."
"Her name is Corrine Selzman."
Now I had a problem. I knew Corrine reaosnably well. She was a nice person, even good-looking. I had no problem with the idea of dating her or even doing a few other things with her. But prom? I had stated my position, and I wouldn't be a hypocrite.
"I can't. I like Corrine. I think she's really cool, but I'm not going to prom. It has nothing to do with her at all. I wish you hadn't told me her name, because I certainly don't want to hurt her feelings."
"So go to the prom with her and you won't"
Guilt only works so far with me. Guilt trips rarely work at all. "No. I made a decision, and I'm sticking with it. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone about this. I promise."
I really meant to keep that promise, but it slipped out (though I didn't name the girl, apparently enough people knew I would be asked and by hearing nothing in the affirmative they assumed I rejected her). I guess her feelings were hurt. I don't know. I never actually spoke to her about it. I don't know if she went to prom or not, though after my rejection, she was certainly damaged goods. After all, I was considered to be so desperate for a date, I'd accept one from anyone (although Corrine was definitely cool enough for me to have some interest, as I said).
To be honest, that whole experience didn't have a whole lot to do with shit, but I thought I'd relate it. As I said, my general feelings about Clovis were not the best, and it was things like the prom which helped shape those thoughts.
About halfway though the night, as we turned around at the south end of Main where the Santa Fe railroad used to have some offices, John decided he was tired of "Alone Again". So he jerked the tape out of his deck and threw it out the sliding window behind the seat and into the pickup bed.
"I'll get it when I want it." I decided not to bring up the possibility of rain. Of course, the chances of rain in Clovis in early June were slim and none. John then popped a tape out of its case and rammed it into the stereo. Let me Up, I've Had Enough. But we never got past "Jammin' Me". Of course.
"Take back your... lyin' bitches!
Take back your fuckin' whores!"
So he didn't exactly stick to the lyrics as written.
When I got home, my parents were up. This in itself was unusual. Like I said, I hadn't really cultivated a social life, but between John and a few other friends, I did go out wandering, and my parents never worried. After all, John didn't drink, and I had decided that if I lived in Clovis and drank on a regular basis, I would get suicidal. While I never actually told my parents this, they seemed to understand that I wasn't out carousing and cruising to die.
But here they were, waiting in the kitchen. Fuckin' A. Did one of my brothers die or something?
"Are you going on the road with Bill Fuckwad Tollison?" my dad asked.
I should note that my dad rarely cusses. In fact, he had this whole
philosophical argument that if you cuss a lot you're just not smart enough to express yourself properly. I see his point, but I disagree. Anyway, back to the discussion, as it was.
"Um, no. John and I just decided to get saved at the revival as a goof, and this guy cornered us."
"So you aren't leaving?" my mom asked.
"I don't think so."
My dad was still pretty pissed and wouldn't leave it at that.
"So why did you say yes?" he said, almost yelling, but not quite.
"To get him off my back."
"Did you think about how this action would affect your mother and me?"
"No, Dad. I was just trying to get to the pizza."
"Yeah. You get free pizza if you went to the revival."
"Why did you go to the revival?" My dad asked, not really believing what I had just told him.
At about this point, my mom, who hadn't said much, decided she wasn't in the mood to take part in an inane argument any more. She got up and went downstairs to bed.
"For the free pizza."
"You shouldn't be bribing people to get them to go to church," my dad scowled.
I didn't think this was directed at me, but I figured I might as well try and wrap things up.
"Whatever. We went for the pizza. We didn't even get any. Our little goof backfired. So we wandered around hungry all night."
I got up to go to bed. My dad didn't say anything else. He was just mumbling little things to himself, still pissed off more with the preacher's procurer than my adventures.
Once I got in bed, I started to really think about the whole deal. Three hundred fifty bucks a week, probably cash and definitely no tax forms. Twelve weeks or so. That's over two thousand bucks, I realized. And with my personal contribution to my out-of-state tuition at Missouri (my parents' was about three) coming in at over three grand, even if I blew a grand I would still have a grand to buy off some slave time at the library or wherever I worked. That would be nice.
I could get out of Clovis forever, now. I had no intentions of ever returning after I left. Not even for a summer. I'd get a summer job in Columbia, maybe take a cheap apartment. Who knows? But I would be out of Clovis. And that would be nice.
Another hour or so of thought on the subject got me really in the mood to leave. I decided to give John a yell. He had his own phone in his room as well, and we communicated often in the wee hours of the morning.
He wasn't asleep.
"Hey bud, I'm still yelling at my folks. I'll call you back."
So I waited, and thought some more.
Another reason I hated Clovis: no sense of irony whatsoever.
Just a few days before graduation, there was an assembly for the student council campaigns. The sister of a friend of mine, Lisa or something (if that wasn't her name, I'm calling her that) was running against the most popular girl in school for class president. That girl was named Heather or Candi or some such silly name. I can't remember, but it was something oddly appropriate like that.
Anyway, Lisa had decided to fuck it and just say what was on the top of her head: how much the school sucked, her ideas for fixing it and such. A pretty decent speech. She included a few barbs at the faculty and administration (sealing her fate, if she had a chance to begin with) and got a decent rise out of the students. I cheered her, despite my general distaste for involvement in school activities.
Then Heather/Candi/whatever wheeled out a table to the center of the gym. There were two cans of pop sitting on it. One had her name, the other Lisa's. She pops "Lisa", takes a sip, and put it back down in the table, saying nothing. Then she picks up the can with her name on it, pops it and takes a swig from that one. She lets loose one of those "aaaahhhh" noises and says, without a trace of irony, "Vote for Heather. The original choice."
Did she really consider such a stupid ploy, not to mention a doubly ironic one, to be more original than Lisa's attempt at a real speech? Well, considering her God-given brain power, she probably did.
The students gave Heather/Candi/whatever a standing ovation. I would have puked, but it was right before lunch and I was hungry. Of course, Heather/Candi/whatever won by a landslide.
So as I waited for John's parents to tire of yelling at him so we could talk, I began seriously contemplating leaving. There were a couple of folks I would miss, perhaps, but not enough to make me stay. At least at the time.
Even in retrospect, I would still do everything about the same.
You can see where this is leading, can't you?