If you’ve never tried going to sleep with the sun still in the sky despite it being ten in the evening, then you haven’t been to Anchorage in the summer. I was back on the seedier side of town in a one bedroom apartment with two twin beds requiring me to also ignore my dad’s sonorous snoring next to me. It was prodigious and resonant, that snore, so blocking it out was a challenge that usually found me on the couch to get a good night’s sleep more often than not. The sunlight was less of a problem as I always slept on one side with an arm draped across my eyes.
Our neighborhood was the rough and tumble sort with bars and strip clubs and pawn shops scattered hither and yon, perfectly positioned in the center of Anchorage, equidistant to friends who lived in various locations around city. I was a quick walk to Romig Junior High or the roller rink and an easy bike ride to just about everywhere else. My old chums from Inlet View Elementary were now going to Romig as well, so it was easy enough to pick up where I left off. Hockey didn’t start until after the first freeze, so cross country running and swimming were the fall sports we picked to get ready for a season on the ice and smoking weed was the game we played when we weren’t training for the coming meets. Seventh grade in Alaska was the last decent year I would have as both a student and an athlete.
Looking back on the role drugs and alcohol played in my life over the years, I find it surprising my parents had very little to do with it except as my inadvertent suppliers from time to time. Counselors of various sorts have placed the blame for my out-of-control youth square on my parents and their parents before them, genetic compulsions I was unable to control, so let go and let God. My friends provided plenty of temptation, though, and I was hardly blameless for my piss poor performance in a number of important areas. I managed to forge an authentic self out of the raw energy and disparate touchstones that greeted me when I came into this life, but any and all mistakes were entirely my own. One mistake in particular would define my last year in Anchorage.
Our resident pothead enjoyed a steady supply of premium North Shore buds by way of a brother at the University of Hawaii who came home for regular visits. He had a scrimshaw pipe made of ivory and antler that was busted out on a regular basis during lunch to accompany the brown bags we each brought to avoid the lunchroom. My group of comrades made the seventh grade hockey team that year, so practicing took up the bulk of our time as soon as the ice was ready. A great bonus of being on the team was an extra locker near the rear doors of the school for our gear, so we could stash our lunches and grab them on the way to enjoy our herbal condiments outside beyond the twin rinks.
I’m not sure how the incident started or why I would possibly agree to stash my buddy’s pipe in my gear locker, but midway through the season that was exactly what happened and I promptly got busted when I was reported by someone who bore anonymous witness and turned me in. Thinking about it now, I can’t imagine who was there or what they could have reported even if they did see me getting into my locker. The consequences of that inconsequential act were severe. I was pulled out of class and marched to the hallway near the locker rooms by the vice principle and the hockey coach. Once I opened the locker, the two men searched every square inch. When at first they came up empty handed, a flicker of hope flared to life. It was just as quickly extinguished when the coach pointed at the pads and socks hanging from hooks. Reaching deep into the pockets that held the knee and shin pads, the coach’s hand came back holding the carved ivory pipe. I was immediately kicked off the hockey team and ordered to clean out my locker.
The rest of my afternoon was spent in an uncomfortable chair outside the vice principal’s office. The Anchorage Police were called to take possession of my “drug paraphernalia” and fill out a report that led to six months of unsupervised probation requiring me to stay of trouble or else. I also got a two-week vacation from school that didn’t even faze the old man and left me free to find the very trouble I was supposed to avoid. I managed to not get caught for the rest of the school year and “cleared” my permanent record as a result.
The sequence of events escapes me now but I suspect my dad ended up with another reason to run, Roger, run, because before my next summer in Alaska was over, I was moving back to Denver to live with my mom and start eighth grade at yet another school. In the meantime, I hung out with my childhood friends for a final romp of 22-hour days and lax parental supervision. I biked from downtown to the steep hillsides of the wealthy neighborhood where I lived under Doctor Demented’s dominion and back to the close-in suburbs where my cousin lived, sometimes as many as twenty miles in a day. Soaking it all in for when I would need to write this sentence.
The last time I saw Anchorage was at the international airport, having left my dad with his Tanqueray and tonic at the bar nearest to my gate and a flight back to my mom.