I “finished” ninth grade at Bear Creek High School with a report card full of Fs and Ds that would need to be made up the following year if I wanted to move on to tenth grade. First, though, was summer 1985 and an epic three months of nonstop partying that started with my Uncle Travis showing up on our doorstep after hitchhiking from Eugene, Oregon. He was two years my senior at seventeen, more of an older brother really, and relished his role as my self-appointed tormentor. It was the first time since sixth grade I had been the tormentee and it was shocking in its abruptness.
It probably wasn’t his intention, but my uncle painted a target on my back by changing the underlying nature of my developing self-image. I was back in the ill-fitting court jester uniform I had been trying to burn for years, though I can’t place all the blame on my Travis’ shoulders. He had his own issues to overcome as the son of a damaged man with a bottle attached to both hands. He also didn’t force feed me alcohol in prodigious amounts, though I did get woken up with a bong hit and “good morning” swirly more days than not. A swirly requires being shoved headfirst in a toilet and having the water swirl your hair into shape resembling nothing so much as a soft-serve ice cream cone. Travis could have worked at Dairy Queen given the precision of his swirls.
As court jester, my job was to play counterpoint to the cooler kids in their all their many adventures. That’s how Uncle Travis slotted in to our lives so easily. He was the cool stoner kid from Oregon who had just hitchhiked across the country at the end of his junior year in high school. He had attitude and affability in equal measure. Eric bought a 1967 Dodge Van with a bed built in back and walls covered with orange fur. I’m not sure how he afforded it, but it was an awesome way to kick off my summer. Travis’ new van provided dad with an excuse to teach me how to drive a “three-on-the-tree” manual at the same time he showed his little brother. My dad had already taught me to drive a standard 5-speed manual transmission using the small Mazda pick-up he recently purchased.
Summer officially kicked off with my first concert ever at the incomparable Red Rocks Amphitheater to see Iron Maiden on the last leg of their World Slavery tour in support of the album Powerslave. The show was nothing short of amazing even with the fuzzy goggles I was wearing by way of a gallon milk jug of Bacardi and coke that we took to the show in an Styrofoam cooler and the copious amounts of weed we smoked as joints traveled up and down the rows of stone seats from hand to hand. The band’s cartoon mascot Eddie was brought to life as a 20-foot tall marionette dressed in mummy rags and a fierce expression, chasing Bruce Dickinson time and again during the three hour heavy metal extravaganza. Dickinson is a total animal.
This was also the summer of the one bad acid trip I experienced in all the times of taking the drug. One of the guys I hung out with was a long-haired, leather-jacketed Lothario named Duncan. While his skill with the ladies always impressed me with its ease, I am happy I never followed suit despite the shit I received in return. No woman should be treated in such a fashion. Duncan was usually kept in check by another member of the crew, Big John, who made it his mission to ensure no one fucked with me too badly as a result of my big mouth and diminutive size. The weekend of the bad acid trip, he was out of town, so I was left to defend myself with precious few defense mechanisms.
The morning started out like most Saturdays did that strange summer – with a bong hit and a swirly. Thus fortified, the rest of the day was spent at one of several pools around our condo complex, pool selection depended on which held the most pretty girls I would never talk to. Not talking to girls was a lifelong habit I broke only when I got married. I can use two fingers to count the serious relationships I had before meeting my wife Megan in 2005, though I did dive headlong into each chance to feel out of sorts and uncomfortable whenever the chance presented itself.
A second van owned by a hippie named Stan joined in our odd adventures. He was an accomplished musician and a friend of his was throwing a rager party in downtown Denver that beautiful Saturday afternoon. Between his van and Travis’ van, there was room enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to go, a rowdy group of ten or eleven teenagers and a handful of twenty-something adults still living the high school high. We piled in and wound our way through the inner suburbs to the tree-lined streets near capitol hill, filled with massive Victorian mansions.
Some of the homes looked a breath away from falling down while others were as shiny as the day they were built, most fell somewhere in between the two extremes. Our destination was a fully restored grand dame from the last century spread across four stories of gleaming hardwood floors and staircases. Sitting areas were tucked throughout the enormous space, many with musical instruments of some sort waiting to be played, perfect lounging spots for the eclectic group of guests.
The large backyard held a brick grill smoking and puffing as it performed magic for a serious maestro of a chef based on smells wafting to and fro. A series of pristine wooden decks connected by short stairs and railed walkways provided an almost magical air to the gathering, completed by a line of 50-gallon trashcans filled with kegs and ice. A group of shirtless stoners played hacky sack near the carriage house that defined one side of the yard’s perimeter, chowing on “fruit salad” scooped from a watermelon filled with Everclear over-proof liquor and other assorted fruits the night before. On the long wood table next to the enormous melon were plates, buns and condiments to queue up for the meat coming off the grill as fast as we could eat it as well as the variety of side dishes on a bigger table nearby.
A rock band played in a gazebo on one side of the mansion, inspired musicians stepping up to play as bored former jammers dropped off for more food or drink, a revolving door of styles and genres that nonetheless worked as if they had played together for years. Of all the parties I have been to before or since, it ranks as the one I would most want to throw at my own beautifully-restored, turn-of-the-century mansion, though the dozens of teenagers stumbling around in search of more booze or drugs wouldn’t be admitted given the current trends on tolerance for ethical ambiguity when it comes to “children” under eighteen years old. I would rather not end up in jail for contributing to the delinquency of that many minors all at once.
After a couple hours of epic eating and drinking and flirting, someone started passing out quarter-inch squares of thick white paper stamped with black musical notes. Massive doses of LSD landed on waiting and eager tongues, and it wasn’t much more than a half hour before the day took on a surrealistic patina of touchable sounds and tasty colors. I ended up in a tan Crown Victoria with Lothario Duncan and a couple of Billy Bad Asses from Bear Creek who hung out from time to time. Their car was the civilian version of the powerful police cruisers with a sweet sound system and comfortable seats disguising the extreme levels of danger I was in whenever I enthusiastically jumped inside.
The last semi-cool thing I remember that night was watching a UFO come to a landing over Red Rocks Amphitheater before the Billys dropped Duncan and I back at our condo complex back on south Sheridan Avenue. We ended up in a friend’s empty pad while he was out of town working. The end game started off tame enough with a bottle of Jack Daniels, a six pack of coke and what felt like a carton of Marlboro Reds. Things went quickly downhill from there. I am not surprised the night ended with me at the end of a wooden kitchen chair with a whip-wielding Duncan held at bay beyond the legs, like a lion who took half his tamer’s tools to even the odds.