This past weekend, I had a nice fall visit back to Pennsylvania, part of which involved running into an old friend I haven’t seen in roughly 10 years. Robin’s from Ringtown. Our friend Tony, who I see just about every time I go back, is also from Ringtown. Robin lives down past Reading now, far enough way and busy enough with work that he rarely gets back to our home area. Tony lives in Shenandoah, just over the hill from Ringtown.
When we were kids, we used to harass kids from Ringtown by taking the melody for Glenn Campbell’s hit song “Rhinestone Cowboy” and instead sing, “Like a Ringtown farmer …” There are a lot of farming communities in Pennsylvania. Within our school district, there were other farming-based towns: Gordon and Lavelle. You drive between Gordon and Lavelle, and you can catch the overwhelming aroma of cow manure in summer time.
While it would be lost on outsiders and city slickers, all these little rural towns have their own vibe, which you’ll often see unexpurgated in the kids of the town. With farm towns like Gordon and Lavelle, the kids were always physical, probably due to their proximity to farm animals and the need to interact with them. I know that sounds weird – I don’t mean to imply bovine bestiality – but when you work on a farm, you’re herding and feeding goats, pigs, cows, etc. You get into it with them sometimes, holding them down for shots or brands – rare farms would even have horses.
As a result, a lot of these kids were physical. Our high-school championship wrestling teams of the 70s and 80s were stocked with Ringtown kids: big, physical kids who liked to grapple. Even now, farming high schools like Tri-Valley, despite being very small population wise, will often field state-finalist caliber wrestling teams. It’s a weird thing with farm kids.
I don’t think Robin and Tony come from farming families, but both probably did enough work on farms as kids, and lived around plenty of other farmers, that they had the same rollicking, physical vibe. They were always administering “titty twisters” on guys in their peer group: grabbing a guys chest as hard as possible, pinching down and twisting. I’d imagine this would be much more painful for a full-breasted woman, but it hurt like hell, too, when done on a guy. Robin was strong as an ox – if he caught you in a titty twister, the pain could be excruciating. Followed by him braying out his horse-like laugh.
Another odd thing we did in that Butthead phase of life. Any time we disagreed with what one of us was saying, provided no teachers were around, rather than say something witty like "you're full of shit," we'd ball up one of our hands into a fist, place it directly underneath the chin of the kid making the questionable statement, and then make a "pwt-pwt-pwt" sound with our lips to imitate the sound of an oil can squirting oil. What we were really doing was pretending our outstretched arm and fist was a penis, and we were ejacualting on the offending party's face as a sign of disrespect. I'm not sure why ejaculting on someone's face would represent the epitome of humiliation, but there it was. And that oil-can sound ... I've never heard my penis make a sound in any state of being. But I guess when you're 14 years old and learning how to use the thing in different ways, the first time you see it in action in that fashion, you imagine it making that oil-can sound.
Those Ringtown kids were always grabbing each other: headlocks, full nelsons, hammerlocks. When I say they seemed gay, I don’t mean “effeminate” gay, I mean “prison shower sex” gay – guys who were always grabbing each other in deeply physical ways that were rude. Granted, most boys did this – rough-housing – in varying degrees, but with Ringtown kids, it was an art form and a constant. It was nothing to pass by a study hall or gym class in repose and see two Ringtown guys, red-faced and gasping, locked up with each other in some physical challenge. Arm wrestling was big, too. Girls would be sitting at the surrounding desks doing homework, while two Ringtown guys would be busting neck veins and sweating profusely in an arm-wrestling death match. (I kept waiting for one of them to lean over and gently kiss the other on the cheek.)
You’d think I wouldn’t get along with guys like this, but one other thing about Ringtown kids, a lot of them were pretty good-natured and friendly. Sure, as time went along, I got tired of the endless arm wrestling matches and silly physical crap that seemed like a misguided mating ritual. But the kids I knew from Ringtown tended to be friendly, regardless of social status.
I should mention social status, because that was the strange (but good) thing about Robin. This is a guy who spent the first two decades of his life doing everything possible to go off the rails (drugs, dropping out, rampant teen sex, going AWOL in the Navy and eventually getting discharged, etc.), yet is now a plant manager (not sure what kind of plant), making great money and living in a quiet rural/suburban town with a few kids from two marriages. You can take issue with the marriages, but by all rites, I had figured this guy to be a corpse long before 30.
How did he get there? A reversal of fortune? I don’t know. I gather from what he told me that he’s just as perplexed that he’s made it this far and is, in fact, somehow excelling in life. When I implied that something must have happened to make him shift gears, he said, no, I’ve always known I was a good worker, I just didn’t like school and had more of a wild side when I was a kid.
Which was an understatement! He had Tony and me in tears with some of his stories. The time he and Tony watched a notoriously gamey kid in our school take a dump in the locker-room shower after gym class. Or when he screwed a girl in the vestibule of the auditorium during a presentation. (I vaguely remember this as I was in the auditorium that day and the rumor had spread like wild fire … thought it was a joke at the time … but he verified that they actually did this.) Or routinely driving his motorcycle at over 100 mph down a long pot-holed hill leading into Ringtown. Or having one of his naval officers hit on him in a hotel room while on R&R in Connecticut (basically hopping naked into bed with Robin, throwing his bare leg over his waist and whispering “roll over” into Robin’s ear … which he did, punching the officer square in the face, then taking off with nothing but his pants on and catching a taxi back to base … no wonder the guy went AWOL twice.)
The guy’s a repository of these sort of wild stories, his favorites being all the times he’s been caught having sex with various girlfriends and then wives in public or while visiting relatives. It’s as if he planned these events, but I gather he delighted in taking these calculated risks – yanking up his wife’s dress while her parents were on the porch and trying to bang out a quick one on the living-room sofa. He detailed getting caught once, bare-assed and pumping full-gun in a guest room, and his mother-in-law, opening the door without knocking, letting out a shriek that made him lose his erection instantly. I can only imagine the parents’ horror to witness this red-haired monster romping porn-star style on their little princess, who was probably moaning like an alley cat. The following breakfast or dinner must have been quite an ordeal for everyone.
Robin used to wear leather pants, sometimes with a matching vest, which had to be the gayest thing I recall anyone in our high-school wearing. Understand that he was a Judas Priest fan, and like millions of other Judas Priest fans, Robin had no idea Rob Halford was gay and into hard-core S&M, thus the leather outfit he wore into metal’s rough legend, with all these aggressively heterosexual kids none the wiser. There was little worry about mistaking Robin for being gay – the guy was like a modern-day centaur galloping through the countryside in a permanent rutting season, leaving hoof marks and stains on many family-car seat covers.
Just before he joined the navy, after dropping out of high school in the ninth grade (he may have flunked a grade or two), he worked with brother J at a gas station on night shift, which apparently only gave him more time to rut, as he outlined a few instances of comely customers taking up his offers to come back at his break time and get the van rocking. Pumping gas on night shift is a rough job – shady characters, drunken kids and adults, a lot of down time as the night wears on, and the gas freezes on your hands when it gets colder. J recalled the weird conversations he and Robin would have early in the morning, reminiscent of a perverted Waiting for Godot:
Robin: What would happen if you crazy-glued your dick to someone’s forehead?
J: I imagine you’d have your dick crazy-glued to someone’s forehead.
Robin: I know, I know. But, what would you do?
J: You’d probably stand there thinking, “I have my dick crazy-glued to this person’s forehead.” And that person would think, “This guy’s dick is crazy-glued to my forehead.”
Robin: I know, I know. But how would you get out of it?
J: I think a better question might be how did you get into it.
With Robin, the possibility of crazy-gluing his dick to a woman’s forehead was very real. Just to see what would happen. I couldn’t help but think when I heard him recount these many bizarre stories what an odd life he had leading into his adulthood – which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to find out how stable and successful he is now. The last time I saw him in our youth, I didn’t know it, but he was AWOL from the Navy for the first time, riding around on his motorcycle, and with what would be come his first wife (not sure if she was pregnant at the time or shortly thereafter). When I heard he’d gone AWOL and then been caught and thrown in the brig for 90 days, I thought, here we go. Apparently, he did the same thing again a year later, only this time, the Navy threw him out after this stint in the brig. All this transpired before he was 21 years old.
What I’m not seeing with him is all those years in between, much like no one knows what happened to Jesus between the ages of 12 and 33. I know the basic story line: drummed out of the service, feeling low, gets a job driving trucks with one of his brothers, which grows into these various managerial spots resulting in plant manager years along, all the while married and having kids, so he has these things to anchor him. As opposed to the footloose and fancy-free kid I knew who nearly blew out his candle before legally becoming an adult. I still remember the time he and our friend John, while out driving drunk, sheared off a telephone pole in Pottsville and somehow got out of the situation with Robin’s mother blaming John for the incident (although he was not driving and nearly got his head caved in when the pole crashed down on the car).
Robin said he hardly even drinks anymore, much less do drugs, so I’m sure that’s also another huge factor in his turnaround. He asked me if I knew the whereabouts of many of the infamous, fellow drug-addled kids from our class, the ones who got high in the wooded area on the north side of the school before lumbering back to doze in meaningless classes. And I told him they were all living on Mars with Jesus Christ. Because I have no idea what happened to a lot of the kids, save I suspect they’ve probably had a rough time unless they, like him, somehow snapped out of that teenage drug lethargy and allowed themselves to grow up.
All I know I was literally laughing myself to tears over his stories, part nostalgia, and part getting caught up in that wild energy that sometimes erupts when you get old friends together who haven’t seen each other in awhile, and vivid memories of embarrassing and odd situations come flooding out, like some bizarre form of group therapy. Haven't laughed that hard in a long time.