(I am conflating some things, changing names and stuff like that. But I am telling the truth. What happened actually happened. I imagine it was/is rather common.)
This is no deep dark secret, though it was never anything that we discussed around the supper table with the kids and Gramma, and I never told Mom and Dad.
Donnie’s mother was Den Mother for about five or six of us who were in a little Scout Troop in our neighborhood. I attended one meeting at her house, ate a few cookies, got a handbook and learned how to make a paste out of water and flour; a skill which has saved my life and the lives of everyone I know on innumerable occasions. It is probably the only life-saving skill I have. I may have been ten years old.
Why did I never go back? Why did my career end before it had never started? The truth is that I am lazy. I looked down the corridor of years and saw how long it would take to become an Eagle; to reach the summit of Scoutlife and soar and said, “Nah, not for me.” As a result I never have been good sitting Indian style, or at paying attention at meetings and starting fires with moss and flint. I guess I never really wanted to be, though I do admire the Natty Bumppo’s of the world.
Ronny was different. He stayed in, and got good at all that stuff, and had a sash that got progressively more busy with badges and ribbons as we got older. We hung out, all of us, scouts and non-scouts. It was an egalitarian society of boys, and the odd girl in dungarees as jeans were known back then before “denim” and “jeans” entered the language. As long as they could run as fast as the rest of us, what the hell? I never gave them a second thought.
Oh, there were one or two who were different. They were “Girls”, and wore dresses, and made mud pies, and jumped rope and giggled. We chased them away. The ones in dungarees came and went, occasionally wrestled when we played “pile on” or had free for alls, and played in the outfield when we played ball, and stood up on the swings at the playground when the “parkie” wasn’t there to enforce the rules against standing up on the swings at the playground (as senseless a rule as there ever was).
And life went on, and we got older. Even Ronny, who was there, but he wasn’t if you know what I mean, got older. He didn’t fit right, and we always felt a little strange, and he always acted a little strange when he was around on the ever more rare occasion. Other than that he was a normal guy. Tall, with straight black hair, no pimples, slim, athletic looking, he could have been a model for one of those Greek statues one sees in all the best museums. Did I mention he had a clear complexion? He was quiet, and a bit awkward. I remember that the guy couldn’t tell a joke and couldn’t make a wisecrack that landed with effect on its target. He was a good looking goof. No one really missed him, but we all waved at him and opened up our little circle when he showed up on these fewer and fewer occasions.
Soon enough we had discovered girls. It was difficult at first fitting them into our busy schedule of ball games and rough house, but we managed. We were all sophomores; those of us still in school thought less and less about that (small loss) and more an more about them.
There was a bar on the corner, The Kingsbridge Tavern, run by a little Italian guy named Angie. He may have had another name, but if he did I have long forgotten it. Betimes we noticed it and entered its hallowed precincts, became initiates in its rites. I mean to say that we cut our milk teeth on drinking at Angie’s. I did homework at the bar, and had fights outside of it, some of them with people I never knew. I often collected The Old Man and brought him home from Angie’s loving care, becoming, then, a sort of father to my Father. That was not so unusual in my neighborhood.
Late one night (or early one morning) at about this time of the year, I was in Angie’s. Only a few folks were there and the place was quiet. Ronny walked in and we said hello. He sat next to me and we “exchanged pleasantries” as a fellow from New Jersey often put it. Ronny had joined the Air Force and must have been home on leave. Or, maybe he was on his way to Basic. It doesn’t signify.
We kept our seats and exchanged our pleasantries until Angie poured our last beer. Then Ronny suggested we grab a six pack and go across the street to finish the evening under what stars remained. I was then and am still a “dirty stay up”, and he was paying. So, it was the best idea ever, and I joined him.
We drank one or two beers as we sat watching the sky lighten behind the buildings on Kingsbridge Hill. And we solved some world problems. Then, I turned to Ronny and made my excuses. And then, he laid a hand on my arm and made me an offer.
“Nah,” I said, “I ain’t built that way.” “Oh,” he answered, “Sorry.” He was polite, an Eagle Scout I think. I never saw him again.
A month or so after that night, when I had “sailed away for a year and a day to the land where the bong trees grow”, one of my shipmates told me rather crudely that the Chief Steward, whom I had thought was a friend, wanted to do to me what Ronny had wanted to do. On this occasion I found a fire ax and sought the fellow out but was prevented from doing him what I thought was a service to all by cooler heads.
He was a good cook. But I never knew if he was a Scout.
There have been other occasions, but none recently. I stay away from Scouts, and will lengthen my distance.