Friday, August 28, 2015

Unsafe at Any Speed


Most days we'd ride our bikes the few miles down the road to Johnny Machado's house as there were few other places to go within striking distance and Johnny, a couple of critical years older, was always up to something. Past the relentless, summer-roasted carnage of bloated possum roadkill and flattened corn-snakes pressed into the blistering blacktop, past the German Shepherd at the corner of the Shun Pike who had himself managed to avoid this fate despite a ravenous appetite for fleeting fenders and children on bicycles. Finally, we'd put on extra speed to race past the endless stretch of pasture where Billy Hitchcock experimented with raising emaciated cattle on a diet of factory-second Snickers Bars and Lucky Charms, closing our noses to the stench, risking a mouthful of bluebottles, or just clamping down and holding our breath for the last few hundred yards. In a year or so, Billy Hitchcock would invite Timothy Leary to come live at the estate, which would open an entirely new realm of possibilities for us, but for now, and until the epic, Biafran swarms of blow flies drove the Machados to greener pastures, we were content to while away the long afternoons watching skinny, spavined steers in back-lit silhouette tip over and die from starvation and neglect.

Johnny had a Corvair and a girlfriend, donned the first bandana and enjoyed the admiration of most of the kids we knew. As the Leary era took hold it was Johnny who organized unsuccessful infiltrations onto the grounds in search of Roger McGuinn, Jim Morrison or the host of other demigods and culture heroes rumored to be living there. Legend has it he actually made it in himself at least once, spending a night chewing blotter with the Byrds, and we soon gave up gawking at cows to hang around the Hitchcock gate-house where such celebrities might be shaken down in passing by the local constabulary – or Pigs, as we'd come to call them – and frequent, dramatic raids were staged by a man named G.Gordon Liddy, an assistant DA who would later become known more broadly for his own transgressions.

The night that Johnny's status rose from mere approbation to flirt with the heroic was a Friday, the start of a three-day party he'd organized while his parents were in Puerto Rico.  Muffin was coming in on the Trailways, so we piled into the Fairlane wagon sometime after dark and headed in to town to pick him up. In those days the bus stopped at the Millbrook Diner and, as Johnny lurched to a sloppy stop before the plate-glass window, stumbled out and set his wine glass on the roof, I may have been the only one among us sober enough to notice the row of  Sheriff's Deputies and Staties seated at the counter who swiveled in unison to gaze in awe at our arrival. Stuffing Muffin and his bedroll in the back we set off down the deserted street, weaving in and out beneath the lamplights as the main drag gave way to a pitch-black country road.

The strobes and sirens caught up with us within a half a mile and, in the giddy confusion of our revelry, it took Johnny a few hundred yards and the deployment of the cruiser's loudspeaker to finally pull over and come to a stop. I'm not sure what substances beyond Cold Duck and Mateus were on board, but under the glare of his high-beams a half a dozen of us emerged like Bozos from the clown car to be baton-prodded and poked into position along the flanks and hood of the Fairlane. Few of us had identification - my junior membership card from The Museum of Modern Art seemed to provoke rather than mollify the cop – and, after warning us all not to move a muscle, the deputy searched the car and gave the rest of us a cursory pat-down before turning his full attention to Johnny.

While we sat, despairing, in the wagon, the cop grabbed Johnny by the collar of his one-piece, Army-surplus flight suit and threw him, spread-eagle, across the hood before us. Gripping him from behind in an awkward bear-hug, he then began the process of thrusting his hands into each of the suit's many flaps and pockets, starting at the epaulets and working his way down. We could hear Johnny trying to warn him about something, but the cop just told him to shut up and kept working his way, roughly and with prejudice, down the torso to the two, zippered side pockets at Johnny's waist. These, it seems, were not pockets at all, but openings designed to allow access to one's trouser pockets, assuming one was wearing trousers which, sadly, Johnny was not. With one last, dramatic flourish and thrust, the cop had plunged both hands up to the forearms into Johnny's unswaddled loins, resulting in an horrific dance under the headlights as the two of them, locked together, prodigious belly to back, careened about the road shoulder, snorting and howling like a pair of mating beasts.

Eventually uncoupled, the cop, red-faced, chagrined and furious, slapped the cuffs on Johnny Machado and threw him in the back of the cruiser, instructing Muffin, the only other one with a driver's license, to proceed ahead with the rest of us back to town. There we waited in the courtroom while the sole village judge was awoken from his slumber to arraign Johnny on charges of driving under the influence and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. “I imagine I'll be speaking with your father about this, Johnny.” Said the judge. “ I imagine I'll be speaking with him, too.” Replied Johnny, flashing us that wonderful, indomitable grin.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one, Carpentier. From your new fans in London.