Excerpt from John Young's WHEN THE COIN IS IN THE AIR
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A Cape Summer
With feet on sandy Cape Cod, my luck had changed, or so I
thought, and I stopped at the first business I saw to ask for a job.
The big fruit stand just over the bridge buzzed with customers
and college-aged kids racing around helping and stocking food.
It looked perfect. But the manager said she had all the help they
needed. So I hit the road, checking out a few towns on the Cape,
searching for tourist-type jobs at restaurants and gift shops along
the way without luck. The first two nights I found quiet side roads
and slept in the back of my truck. The second night, deep into the
fuzzy hours, I was awakened by a sharp rapping on the aluminum
shell over the back of my pickup.
“Hello, in there,” came a big voice.
“Hello,” I said.
“Can’t sleep here, son.” The guy was probably my brother’s age.
“I was falling asleep at the wheel,” I lied, “tried to drive straight through
from Indiana but couldn’t quite make it.”
“Where you headed?”
“Okay. You go back to sleep, but I don’t want to see you sleeping
on the streets here tomorrow night, got it?”
“Got it. Thanks.”
“And out of here by 8:30 in the morning.”
“8:30. Right, I’ll be gone.”
With that he drove off, and I hunkered down in my sleeping
bag for the rest of the night. But there was no question I needed
to find a job and a place to live.
In the morning, I drove to Falmouth. I liked it and went to a
lumber yard to ask for a job or to see if any carpentry crews were
looking for help. The assistant manager wanted my address, and I
confessed I was living out of my truck for the time being. She said
she knew a man who sometimes helped young people and gave
me the name of a Daniel Standish, a Falmouth insurance man.
With nothing to lose, I went to see this Daniel Standish of the
pilgrim name. His business sign incorporated the Christian symbol
of the fish. After we talked for a few minutes, I asked if he was
a Christian and told him I was (though my doubts were already
getting the better of me). In his next breath he asked me to come
and live with his family until he could find me a job and a place to
live. For the next two weeks, I lived there—free room and board as
Standish refused to take my money. He hired me to work around
his house, building a fence, putting up a basketball goal for his son,
painting the trim on his house, even had me answering the phone
at his office.
I had heard Standish badmouth a place in Falmouth called Two
Brothers, a giant bar and dance club on the beach. I think he
referred to it as a “den of sin.” But I figured since I’d gotten to Cape
Cod before most of the New England college kids—their summer
started mid-June—I’d have a chance to get a job working nights at
Two Brothers. I walked in the door and there was a big guy behind
the bar. I’d guess him at six-feet two and 240 pounds. He looked
at me and said, “Yo, you looking for a job?”
“Follow me,” he strode past me out to the big deck. I paused to
admire the view of the beach, the bluffs of Falmouth Heights and
Vineyard Sound, before running down the stairs to the sand. When
I caught up to him, he whirled around and took a roundhouse
swing at my head.
I ducked it and, using his momentum shoved him and locked
up his arm from behind. As he tried to break free, I felt his weight
shift and threw him to the sand.
“Stay down,” I ordered and was ready to kick him in the face or
punch him in the back of the head depending on how he moved.
Instead he held out a hand and laughed. “Want the job?!”
I didn’t take his hand, but backed away a step. “Good move,”
he said. I still doubted I could trust him, prepared in case he made
another move at me. I could feel my heart pounding in my neck
and ears, the adrenaline tingling in my arms and back.
He got up and dusted off the sand, “I’m Mick.”
“Jason,” I said. “Jason Blake.”
“I wasn’t going to hit you,” Mick said. “Just testing your reactions.
You’re not very big for a bouncer, but you’re quick. Are you
“Most people think so.”
“Smart enough to defuse a fight rather than get into one? Because
the job is simple, Jason: protect the patrons from the problems,” Mick said.
That got my attention.
“Every time there’s a fight, I lose money. Every time you bounce
some jackass in a big scene and his buds follow, I lose money.
Every time you smooth ruffled feathers, prevent a fight—protect
the patrons from a problem—by getting a ruffian to leave quietly,
this place is a money-makin’ machine.”
“Makes sense,” I said. “I’m not really a fighter anyway.”
Now that I realized he really wasn’t going to jump me, the
adrenaline leached out of my muscles and the shakes set in.
“Come on inside. I’ll go over the details.” He laughed and patted
me on the back as he held out his hand to shake.
Inside, Mick gave me a Two Brothers jacket made for the bouncers.
Thick cotton sweatshirt inside (good padding for a punch to
the ribs or kidneys), and rip-stop nylon shell (which would slow
down a slashing knife).
“Here’s how it works,” he said. “Pay is forty bucks a night, fifty for
every night without a fight or a rough bounce. Hours are eight to
midnight, and it includes dinner while you work. All the soda and
coffee you want. No beer or booze while on duty. No touching the
waitresses or patrons while on duty or in Two Brothers uniform.
“Yeah,” I said.
“After you get some experience, you’ll go until two in the morning
for seventy-two a night plus twenty if there’s no fights or rough
stuff. All cash—no contracts, no checks, no benefits. We’ll train you
in a few afternoon sessions and have you shadow a couple of the
other guys. We work in pairs. And I’m here most nights too.”
I’d never made close to ten or twelve dollars an hour, so I didn’t
bother to tell Mick I was twenty years old, legally underage to even
be in his bar.
Over the next few days, I got detailed training in bar fighting
and how to diffuse it from Big Dave, a guy who’d played defensive
end at Nebraska and had grown up in a rough part of Miami, a
tough white kid among Cubans and blacks. He was six-foot four,
thickly muscled and held a karate black belt. A twenty-year veteran
as a bouncer, Dave taught me ten ways to stop a guy. The goal
wasn’t to beat anyone up, just stop them quickly, and get them out
the door with minimal distraction or damage to anyone. He taught
me where to hit a guy if he moves this way, that way. How to wrestle
a guy to the ground. How to call for backup. How to watch out
for the drunk buddy who might bust your head or your partner’s.
How to clear the crowd. How to disarm a guy with a knife. What
to do if someone pulled a gun. A gun? It wasn’t likely, Big Dave
assured me. But it had happened. It was both thrilling and scary
to learn all this. Would I really need to know it? Did I want to
know it? What had I signed up for?
In the end Big Dave reiterated the rally cry of the bouncer at
Two Brothers: “Protect the Patrons from the Problems.”
After my training, I was ready to shadow Dave. It was an eye
opening, non-stop lesson. He taught me how to watch the crowd,
and he could spot the guys who were likely trouble the second
they walked in the door.
Dave graded them on an estimated danger level 1-5 and “nitro.”
He only gave numbers to those already deemed risky. A one was
a bad drunk, not a real physical threat but mean and likely to start
a fight over a girl, an odd glance, or a Yankees hat. A five was a
guy who was an ex-athlete or current one, often a big guy who
could crush you if things got out of hand, and things could get out
of hand in a hurry. Or he might be a lean-muscled stud, quick
and vicious. A “nitro” was a number four or five who was drunk,
angry, high, or armed—a dangerous guy who made you want to
dial 9-1- and hold your finger over the other 1 until he left. Dave
warned me to watch a “nitro” all the time and stay close. The best
you could hope for with a five or a nitro who started trouble was
that they were drunk enough to have impaired coordination—that
and that you had a good partner.
Dave called out girls who attracted trouble. They were all “shark
bait.” I never told Dave I was attracted to these girls myself—which
I found unnerving.
Dave also told me Mick bought out the four brothers who
started the place after his baseball career ended. He’d played first
base for the Red Sox and Mets. Mick was a good guy who could
hold his own if trouble broke out.
There were three bars in the Two Brothers. The bars were
A-Bar was the main one. It was out in the middle of the building,
a large rectangle, and we all kept track of the customers by
their positions on the clock. “There’s a 4 and a nitro circling shark
bait at two-o’clock.”
B-Bar served the disco. It was less trouble because there were
no stools and people drifted back and forth. Around B-Bar we
relied on the bartenders and waitresses to help us spot trouble
brewing, guys getting too drunk or getting too physical with female
C-Bar was the easy one. It was mellow. Down the hall, with
ample soundproofing, and removed from the rest of the club by a
breezeway, it was basically a folk music venue. I liked it there, but
Mick didn’t want us hanging out at C-Bar. No trouble to control.
Still, we wandered down there from time to time.
Every bar was outfitted with alarms, and each bouncer had to
keep an eye on the wall monitors, a series of lights which identified
where there was trouble. Red was the east end of A-Bar and yellow
the west end. Green was B-Bar. And there was no light for C-Bar.
My first two nights came off without a single ruffled feather, and
I was feeling flush with a hundred bucks in my pocket. Only one
guy had to be asked to leave after he patted a waitress on the butt.
There was no a discussion when Big Dave eased up next to him,
slid his beer aside and quietly explained his night was over, but
he’d be welcomed back if he could keep his hands off the staff and
customers. The guy never said a word, just put ten bucks on the
bar and walked out. I stuck close to Big Dave, hanging on his nonstop
chatter about who to watch and how to avoid trouble. After
twenty years, there were few things Dave hadn’t seen. A migrant
worker really, Big Dave floated up and down the east coast with
the tourists and the weather. Winter through spring he enforced
the peace at bars in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. After the annual
insanity of Florida’s spring break season, he’d take a month off to
visit friends, working a few nights in North Carolina and New Jersey
as he drifted toward the Cape and Two Brothers—which opened
in May and closed in September.
On my third night bouncing, two guys squared off. One threw
his glass of beer at the other, prompting Dave to say, as we rushed
to the east end of A-Bar: “Showtime.” When we got there, the dry
guy was staggering to his feet, his nose looking like an “S” curve
and gushing blood. Dave took the puncher and told me to take
the mess. I held him back, as he made a show of going after the
other guy, but he didn’t put in much of an effort. He didn’t want
any more, just trying to save face (or what was left of it). I gave
him a bar towel for his bloody nose. After Dave got the other guy
out, with Mick following to make sure none of the group messed
with Dave, I escorted the mess out with Dave following. It really
was teamwork. But that didn’t keep Dave and Mick from teasing
me for getting blood on my jacket, Mick reminding me to wash
it before work the next night. Mick’s last words were, “No bonus
tonight boys. The job is to protect the patrons from the problems.”
While I kept my night job quiet around Daniel Standish, I’m
sure he suspected I was out carousing for girls or getting into some
other trouble, and he redoubled his effort to find me a job and a
place to stay, probably to get me away from his kids.
He did find me a job. A carpenter friend of his, Sonny McCoy,
hired me to join his Christian crew for $5.50 per hour. Not much
money, especially in light of bouncing, but jobs were scarce, so I
took it. And the Christian leaning appealed. I’d worked for some
crazy crews before. (Once on a framing crew, the crew chief got
high in the morning before climbing up to walk on the rafters of a
three-story house. He quit smoking on the job after he got blown
off the top-plate of a garage we were building and broke his arm.)
So if Christ made the crew sane and respectable, that was fine by
me. Standish also found jobs and places to live for players on the
Falmouth Clippers baseball team, a team in the Cape Cod League.
He found a place for me and one of the baseball players to live.
We rented a small bedroom and kitchen access for $40 per week
each, from the Stone family. Really from Mrs. Stone because she
ran things. A college-educated woman, she was bright and full
of energy, but shackled by her family. Mr. Stone, a very nice
man, was as dull as his name. Conversation, to him, meant talking
about the weather. In a 30-year military career, he never rose
above sergeant. Their oldest boy was a high school dropout who
messed with drugs, had gotten a girl pregnant and married her,
and couldn’t keep a job. So he frequently borrowed money from
his mother. Their youngest boy was fourteen and on the fast track
to follow the older, sneaking off to smoke pot and booze it up with
his buddies. There was a daughter too, though we knew little of
her—until she returned from the mental institution.
Mrs. Stone loved my roommate and me because we were, like
her, energetic, interested in life, and mentally engaged in it. My
roommate played baseball games almost every evening, but I spent
time with her before heading off to the Two Brothers. While the rest
of her family huddled like stone-age men around the television,
watching Jeopardy or reruns of Gilligan’s Island as if they held the
secret of fire, Mrs. Stone and I sat in the kitchen and talked about
life, favorite books, and, since she’d graduated from the University
of Iowa, the Midwest. Stuck in her blunt household, I felt sorry
for her. The thing that kept Mrs. Stone sane that summer was
planning a visit to her friends in Norway with her husband and
younger son. I looked over maps and picture books of Norway
with her, listening to details of the trip.
My day job as a carpenter left me exhausted many evenings, so
I didn’t really want to go to Two Brothers. But the money was too
good to pass up, and I liked the new skill I was developing under
Big Dave’s tutelage. I liked my slowly evolving sense of trouble
brewing, the ability to discern the vibe of whether to spring or
slide into a situation.
The Christian carpentry crew circled in a different orbit than the
staff and customers at Two Brothers. McCoy’s carpentry crew met
at 8:00 each morning in the church parking lot, with Sonny handing
out coffee as people arrived. Once all eight of us were there, we
had a quick prayer, and Sonny assigned the four junior carpenters
to the three senior carpenters for the day’s work. Sonny checked in
at each job site every day, lending a hand if needed, solving problems,
talking to home owners and meeting with or estimating for
prospective customers. We mostly worked on the old stick-andshingle
summer homes along the water. They belonged to wealthy
or once-wealthy families of Boston and New York.
The guys on the crew included me in their activities. Carl and
his lovely wife invited me to dinner and took me to hear folk music
at the coffee shop in Woods Hole. We also played tennis on the
Oceanside, on a clay court at a big house. The old woman who
owned it sat and watch us play doubles in our dirty work clothes
and told stories about “famous” New York people we’d never heard
of. My favorite activity was a Friday ritual of crab hunting after
work which ended with all the crew’s families in a crab feast at
Sonny McCoy’s house. Boiled corn and crabs and a giant salad
bowl. We crowded around two large picnic tables or sat in the
grass, laughing and joking around. I was the butt of many jokes
from both the guys and their wives.
“With all the pretty college girls on Cape Cod,” one wife said,
“why can’t you get a date?”
“Who says I can’t get a date?” I said, though it was true. I’d only
had one date with a girl who said she’d finished her freshman
year in college, a year younger than me. But when we went for a
walk on the beach after a movie and kissed, she confessed she was
seventeen and in high school. I took her home and never saw her
again. The other two girls I’d asked out had deferred.
“He’s just too picky,” another wife said.
“Lower your standards and up your fun,” said a third. They all
laughed at that.
One Monday we were rebuilding a sun porch on a rambling old
house and Sonny was there working with us. I cut the replacement
floor joists. These were a big, expensive boards, two-by-twelve
and twelve feet long. When we went to put the new ones in, I
discovered I’d cut one two inches short. Crap. The board was
suddenly waste. It also put a stop to the work. Someone would
have to go get a replacement. Sonny called a break and sent one
of the other young guys to the lumber yard.
Sonny said, “Measure twice...”
“Cut once,” I finished the carpenter’s maxim. That was as close
as he ever came to scolding me.
I sat there looking at the short board and noticed I hadn’t even
cut it square. Was this the result of working until after 2:00 a.m.
over the weekend at Two Brothers? The least I could do was cover
the second mistake—cutting it short was bad enough. I pulled out
my square, marked the tail of the board and re-cut it.
Sonny watched and said, “No matter how many times you cut
it, Jason, it won’t get any longer.” And he laughed and laughed at
his joke. At the end of the day, I asked if I’d have to pay for the
board, like another crew I’d worked on, but Sonny just laughed
and said no. Not unless I made a habit of it.
But I did get reassigned to two tough jobs for the rest of the
week. The first was to spend two days climbing up and down the
ladder, bringing 80-pound bundles of asphalt shingles up to the
crew which was putting a new roof on a house out by one of the
kettle-hole ponds in Woods Hole. On a bet for coffee, one of the
guys said I couldn’t carry two bundles up, 160 pounds. I won. The
next two days, I was assigned to work alone at an antique house
next to the old Quaker Meeting House in East Falmouth. The stone
foundation of the old house had collapsed and someone had to dig
it out. Guess who? The cellar was too low to stand up in, so I had
to stoop, crawl or squat. First I had to drag out the boulders. Then
I had to shovel out all the dirt—one five-gallon bucket at a time.
Actually, I’d fill two of them and drag out two at a time to dump
on the driveway. I knew I’d have to eventually shovel that pile into
a truck. Over and over I filled the buckets. It was back-breaking
work. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, I was startled by the
sound of a second shovel next to mine. It was Sonny. He didn’t
say much, just kept shoveling.
It made a big impression on me that he showed me, without
telling me, that he wasn’t above doing the grunt work, wasn’t above
the dirty work. Right then, I decided if I ever owned a company
I’d do the same thing.
After about an hour, he said he had to go, but it helped me a
lot. Both for my morale and for getting the job done.
“Let’s take a break. I got you a Gatorade.”
While we sat on the tailgate of his truck, he told me he’d heard
I was working as a bouncer at Two Brothers.
“Yes sir, that’s right.” I answered.
“If you need the money, Jason, I’ll pay you another dollar an
hour. But only if you quit.”
“Sonny, I really appreciate it, but I need the money. It will really
help me and my family when I’m back at college.”
“I’m just worried about that place.”
“I’m not getting in trouble. I don’t drink or anything like that.”
“Good luck finds you in a good place, and bad luck finds you in
a bad place.” He patted me on the shoulder. “Simple as that really.
You’re a good kid, and I want what’s good for you.”
I didn’t answer for a few seconds. “I’ll be careful,” I said.
That night, after working to dig the foundation, I showed up at
Two Brothers early to get something to eat. It was busy, heading
into the July 4th weekend. During my six weeks as a bouncer, we
hadn’t had much trouble. A couple of guys took swings at me, but
I was able to duck or block them and wrap the guy up until help
arrived and off he went. My worst encounter came when a huge
guy grabbed me and lifted me up like a rag doll, crushing my ribs.
Dave stepped in quick. “Stop,” he said. The guy tossed me aside and
took a wild swing at Dave. Then Pow. Dave hit the guy so fast and
so hard his head snapped back, and he just crumpled. Bam and
down, like a roll of wet sod. Big Dave had shielded me from most
of the bad stuff, but that night, heading into the July 4th weekend,
Dave was out sick. I got assigned to work with Ted, a guy whose
father was a friend of Mick’s. Ted was a couple years older than I,
a tennis player at Tufts. A tennis player?!
And wouldn’t you know, in swaggers the big dude who Dave
had taken out when he grabbed me. With two oversized buddies.
He wore his number-five nitro full-bore. I wished Dave was there.
I almost quit on the spot. One drink in, the guy glared and pointed
at me from across A-Bar. I asked Mick to help keep an eye on him,
and Mick gave him and his friends a no-hard-feelings beer from
me. I’ll admit I was scared. This guy was every bit the size of an
NFL offensive tackle, probably six-five and easily 310 pounds. I
was six-foot and 185, and Ted was taller than I, but soft. Besides
Ted was chatting up a new waitress and not paying attention.
The big guy disappeared into the dance room. After awhile I
checked in at B-Bar to see if they’d seen him. Oh, yeah, he was
knocking them back with his two buddies. I went back to pull Ted
away from his own shark bait, and to warn Mick and tell him to
have the cops nearby because this was feeling like a powder keg.
Almost instinctively I reached past Mick into the cash register and
took a roll of nickels ($2 worth) and put it in my left pocket, a lesson
from my father’s boxing cheat. It was a waiting game now.
And it wasn’t long. The number-five nitro grabbed a B-Bar
waitress who had a tray of drinks, reaching down the back of her
shorts. She dropped the tray, screaming, but he held tight.
“Hey, let her go,” I said. “Not cool.” I didn’t want to be too firm
which he’d take as a challenge, or too light and he’d mock me.
“Hello, Pigeon Shit,” he said.
“Let’s not have any trouble. It’s time to go.”
“You going to throw me out? Where’s your big brother?” His
friends, one on each side of me, laughed. I reached into my pocket
and locked my fist around the roll of nickels.
“Look,” I said, holding out an open right palm. “let’s keep this
simple. The boss already called the cops, and they’re outside–”
“I’m gonna kick your ass.” He flung the waitress aside like a doll.
“Those cops would love to toss you in–”
“I’m gonna kick your ass right now.”
Everything went into slow motion. He pulled back that hammer
of a fist, reaching for Nantucket, and I exploded into him with
everything I had, with an inside right jab, hitting him square in the
throat. (I aimed for the chin, but at least I connected.) He gasped
for air leaning forward, and I hit him again with my weighted left
hook right where the jaw joins the skull. It broke with the same
pause and give as the kid’s leg broke on the football field when I
was in ninth grade. Nickels exploded from my hand, as he went
Then the room tilted as I heard screaming.
The next thing I knew I woke up in the hospital—or so I thought.
It was a nursing home run by one of Mick’s friends.
Turned out, one of the big guy’s buddies had grabbed a whisky
bottle from the bartender and cracked it over my head. Mick was
sitting there when I woke up. He stuffed a hundred bucks in my
hand. “Tell me you got health insurance.”
“I got health insurance.” Wait. Did I? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure
what day it was or where I was. But, yeah, I had health insurance
of some kind through the university.
One of the nursing home residents, an old woman, thin as a
fork, kept coming in every hour or two to wake me up, take my
pulse, and check my eyes. I don’t know if she’d been a nurse in her
youth, but at least someone was checking on me. I worried about
how badly I might be hurt. I knew my head was messed up. Big
Dave came by late that night to make sure I didn’t need to go to
a Boston hospital. In the morning the nursing home doc checked
me over again and said I’d be fine—other than a five-day headache
and a warning not to bounce my head around for a few weeks.
Sonny McCoy came by too. “Jason, I warned you about that
place. When you get close to trouble, it finds you. That’s a lesson
you just learned the hard way.”
I didn’t say anything.
Sonny drove me over to Two Brothers to get my truck. When
we stopped, he said “I want you to take an extra two bucks an hour
and quit that bouncer job.” I didn’t tell Sonny I’d already decided
to leave, but I told him I would, that I’d go in right then and tell
the owner. I saw Mick’s BMW in the parking lot.
Inside, I told Mick I was done. He knew. He said Big Dave had
decided for me. Mick bought me lunch and gave me another two
hundred bucks. “Use it for your textbooks this fall.”
And so ended my life as a bouncer.
I never went back to Two Brothers.
For the next week I did have wicked headaches and couldn’t
use a hammer, so Sonny put me on soft duty: cleaning up, running
errands, painting a porch, and straightening up his office.
The good news was I got plenty of sleep for my first time on
Cape Cod, read more, and spent evenings after work walking on
the beaches instead of preventing bar fights. I also hung around
the Stones’ house where I spent time talking to Mrs. Stone about
books. To repay my attention and to help me out with the loss of
dinners at Two Brothers, Mrs. Stone often cooked an extra potato
at dinner, or somehow had a little extra pasta or salad. It upset her
that my dinners now usually consisted of either peanut butter and
jelly sandwiches, or cans of Chef Boyardee Ravioli, heated on the
stove with me forking food straight from the can.
The Stones left to spend the last six weeks of the summer in
Norway, leaving my roommate and me alone with their daughter.
As soon as her mother left, Carla Stone lost her cashier job at
Stop-and-Shop and spent her days in front of the TV, wearing her
bathrobe from the time she got up, around noon, until she went to
bed, around midnight. By all appearances she stopped bathing as
well. Living off our rent money, which Mrs. Stone had instructed
us to pay to Carla, she tried to raise our rent a few days after her
mother left. She went into an incoherent rage, shrieking wordlessly
through the house, when we refused. Then Carla did not speak to
us or acknowledge our existence for days—until something like a
telephone call for one of us after ten o’clock set her off screaming
at us again.
By the end of the first week, my roommate couldn’t
take it and moved out to live with a couple of baseball teammates.
I wanted to do the same, but I felt a responsibility to Mrs. Stone
as a repayment for her kindness, to help support her daughter. I
wondered what my brother would do. I knew Dad would quit her
as he’d quit many jobs. What would Mom do? I imagined her
bearing it out, telling herself it would end soon, and then walking
away having fulfilled her sense of obligation. That’s what I decided
But it got worse.
As the sole target of Carla’s imbalance, the young woman tilted
toward me. I pitied her when I woke in the middle of the night
to the sound of her sobbing in her bedroom. Then she’d hurl
something against the wall—the sound of china or glass shattering.
Then silence. Some nights it was impossible to sleep when Carla
simultaneously played the TV and the stereo, raising the volume
of both as if the devices were in competition. Once in a while,
I came home late and hearing this competition from outside the
house, I lingered beside my small pickup debating whether or not
to go in. Twice, I slept in the back of my truck rather than face her
and the racket. Carla had done herself some sort of violence before
being institutionalized, I knew, and I feared she might hurt herself.
Or worse, turn on me. Especially after I awoke to the sound of a
doorknob rattle and saw her slowly crack open the door to peer in
on me with one eye. With images of her sinking a knife into my
back as I slept, I put a bolt on my door and locked myself in at
night. Next time I heard the knob rattle, the door didn’t yield, and
Carla Stone went into a rage yanking at the knob and pounding on
the door, again shrieking wordlessly at me. Then collecting herself
in a seething anger, she hissed, “I will kill you. You know that? Oh,
yeah. I’ll do it.”
That did it. I decided to get the hell out and not ruin my last
month on the Cape. Running an asylum wasn’t part of the bargain.
I’d live out of my truck if I had to.
I drove over to Old Silver Beach. It was a foggy night, cool, the
air damp. I could hear the ocean from the parking lot but couldn’t
see it. I felt relieved after my decision, but down deep I also felt
uneasy, wondering if it made me the kind of man who left when
things got tough. I refocused on the practical. It would be hard
to find an affordable place for just four weeks. And I didn’t want
to cut into my meager savings plan. Despite my paltry take-home
pay, I set aside $75 per week for college. (It wasn’t enough, and I’d
have to take out a student loan to survive the school year.) After
rent, I had about $35 a week plus any overtime for food, fun and
gas. When I worked for Two Brothers, I had money, but no time.
Now that I had time, I wouldn’t allow myself the money.
I mentioned my living situation to Dale McCoy, a painting con-
tractor and the younger brother of my boss, Sonny McCoy. Dale
had become a good friend that summer though he was more than
twenty years older than I. A very funny and happy-go-lucky man,
Dale was also a deep thinker about life and religion and friendship.
I had resolved to live out of my truck and asked Dale if I
could shower at his outdoor shower behind the house after work,
and maybe park my truck in his turnaround. Instead, Dale insisted
I move in with his family for the same amount of rent I’d paid the
Stones. I hedged, giving him a chance to discuss it with his wife
and back out of the offer, but he was emphatic. And I accepted.
That night I told Carla I was moving out. She blocked the door.
She said I couldn’t leave. She threatened me again if I tried.
“I’m sorry. I’ve decided.”
Then she began to cry, to wail and blubber as she followed
me up the stairs and back down while I carried my books and
magazines. She begged me not to move out.
“I can’t stay,” I said, and went upstairs for the last of my things.
Then as I turned, she pulled out a kitchen knife and I slammed
the door on her and locked it. She jabbed the knife into the door
again and again. I threw the last of my things out the second floor
window and climbed out on a porch roof. I had to jump to the
lawn. I picked up my stuff and snuck around the house, expecting
her to spring out of the bushes with that big knife. But when I came
past a window, I saw she was already back in her chair, watching
TV, as expressionless as a reptile.
To assuage my guilt, I took out my wallet, doing it fast because
I knew I’d stop myself if I reconsidered, and slipped another week’s
rent, $40, under the front door. Then I sprinted to my truck and
I wanted to call Mrs. Stone and tell her what happened; it felt
cowardly not to, and irresponsible. What if Carla hurt herself? But
I didn’t know how to reach her in Norway, so I just ran.
Living with Dale McCoy, his wife Gail, and their two daughters—
May, 12, and Beth, 15—was life in a playground compared to the
Stone house. Dale and I sat up late in discussions, sometimes about
religion, but more often about how to live a life or about dreams,
and we joked around a lot. He was like an older brother, but easier-going
than Walter, and like Walter, Dale was a kind of father figure
At the end of the summer, Dale asked me to go with his family,
and two other families, to spend four days at his father’s cabin in
New Hampshire. It was a perfect end for my summer. We hiked
in woods of the White Mountains, went swimming in ponds and
icy-cold mountain streams, and hung around campfires. At the
end of the night, everyone else would go to bed inside the little
cabin, but I slept outside under the stars.
These eight adults and seven kids, all friends I’d made that summer,
felt like family to me. And when it was time to leave for Indiana,
it saddened me to say goodbye. Dale and Gail made me
promise to come back and stay with his family the next summer.
As I drove my bright-orange Nissan pickup across the mountains
toward Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and twenty
hours later finally to Indiana—I reflected.
I had driven a thousand miles from home, ended up in a town
none of my family members had even visited, and carved out a
life for myself. I’d earned a living, found places to stay, and had
made life-long friends—I could have stayed the rest of my life in
Falmouth. And I did it all alone.
Another fact crept up on me: except for college, my brother had
never been outside of Indianapolis, and even then, with friends or
family. In this act of independence, if in few other places, I gave
myself permission to mark that I had surpassed Walter.