The Outline of my Life
15 years old.
Freshman - sophomore.
The desperate virgin days. I hang out at west end parties meeting beautiful girls who I'm too shy to approach. The skinny dipping pool crashing nights were frustrating for me because the minute I took my glasses off I couldn't see.
We started hanging out at night in Bum Shit City.
In 1974 the riverfront of St. Louis was a neglected, run-down place full of cavernous empty warehouses in various states of decay and neglect, and just up the hill a little way from Lenore K. Sullivan Boulevard, the eastern most street in downtown St. Louis that ran along the riverfront, there was a three or four car abandoned train sitting on a side track, all boarded up. George, Mark and my brother Gus named it Bum Shit City after finding a steaming, obnoxiously liquid pile of Bum Shit inside the train one day. Under the influence of Norman Mailer's book on NY subway graffiti, they painted big slogans and cans of PBR all over it one drunken night, which unfortunately led to someone deciding to paint over the entire train with thick black glossy paint soon thereafter.
The main reason we hung out in Bum Shit City was that we had no place else to go to drink our beer and whiskey after buying it East St. Louis. It was pretty easy to simply drive back over the river and hang out on the riverfront, like modern day Tom Sawyers, and talk about women and places we'd like to go.
I really start to hate Southwest High school, even though I'm only there half of the day thanks to Honors Art. My English teacher is a real source of frustration for me after the intelligence and sophistication of Miss Enright in Grade school. I make plans to go to Metro High school, the alternative St. Louis Public High School, where my brother is already going. It's hard to get into Metro, because you had to be smart enough and you had to be a sophomore. I wait my year at Southwest out and apply to Metro.
Start my second book, "The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy".
David Bohannon, a friend from Honors Art, teaches me my first two guitar chords and I compose my first song, a joke called "The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy".
Summer with dad working washing trailers. This may have been the first year I ever flew in a commercial plane. My dad's business, Apache Village, was off to a good start. He'd gotten an old miniature golf lot and turned it into an open-air showroom for Apache Trailers, these cool collapsible hard-shelled trailers that cranked up and down like a tent trailer, from a little box that was easy to tow. He set some sales records and did pretty well for himself, I think.
I got into Metro, but only after a long negotiation involving my desire to stay in the Honors Art program. Eventually, they allow me to go to Honors Art and to Metro, the only student ever allowed to take non-Metro classes. The Metro philosophy was important: Every class had to be half black and half white students. Students enrolled for the classes, and when the maximum number of one race were enrolled, the class was limited to the same number of kids of the other race. I remember Honors Art as being pretty balanced racially, especially in terms of talent.
Sophomore year at Metro High School. Here I met a bunch of people who were to become lifelong friends: Danny Stefacek, Chip (now known as Peter) Wood, Charlie Leonard and his brother Jim and sister Sue, Bill Cross, and many more. Some of them I already knew through going to parties with George and my brother.
I bought my first six pack of beer in East St. Louis with George, Mark Katz. By this time we are going out at night all the time, climbing into George's Buick Special and cruising around to The Chase Park Plaza to roam around the hallways and look for open rooms, or over the East St. Louis to buy beer or whiskey to drink down on the riverfront at Bum Shit City.
I discover that I love Jazz, a strange taste to acquire in the 70s, when everyone my age was listening to the Allman Brothers and Crosby Stills Nash & Young. George is the instigator of this, since he always has his radio in his Buick Special tuned to WIBV, which played swing tunes all night long when they weren't broadcasting high school basketball games. We went to Brown Hall at Washington University to watch old movies a lot.
Meanwhile, at Honors Art, Ed Mantels and Bill Morris join the elite group. People are astounded at how much Ed and Bill and I draw alike. I'm inordinately proud of myself: Only 15 years old and I already have an entire art movement based on my style.
Tom Sleet comes to Honors Art classes and immediately knocks me down to size. All of a sudden I'm not the hotshot artist I thought I was. Tom Sleet effortlessly produces masterpieces of great conceptual thought and incredible execution. His mastery of color impresses me the most.
With Danny Stefacek, started the movie "Dog's Dream".
Danny was the first close friend I had who was unequivocally smarter than me. He opened up my own intellectual efforts enormously. He'd also started writing books, and had finished a book-length report for a Metro class on the history of crime. He had a closet filled with stolen library books, that towered up to the ceiling. At first I was aghast at this, since the Library was a sacred place to me, but after a while I figured it was no big deal. Eventually his mother got wise and took them all back. The cynical side of me realizes that they were probably then thrown away or sold by the library. The knowledge that the library doesn't keep all of it's books is a scary one. Is nothing permanent?
Gus starts his Chase Movie, I find the passkey. Having a passkey to all the rooms in the Chase Park Plaza represents the height of my teenaged years. I cut my hair really short, and only wore long sleeved white shirts and dark pants, and refused to wear jeans. I was living in a jazz fantasy, reinventing myself as a swinging, rich, hipster swing-era cool guy in the middle of ubiquitous hippiedom. I really stood out back then, in the sea of shag haircuts and blue jeans around me.
We still went to East St. Louis and Bum Shit City from time to time. I relished the contrasts between the slums and the stars. Danny and I stumbled across a ladder that led up to the old train tracks under Eads Bridge and we explored the old tunnels under St. Louis and the abandoned buildings connected to the bridge. We filmed part of Dog's Dream under the bridge, and partied with all of our friends up there. It was our little private playground.
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