Sunday, February 19, 2012

No. 837 – 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Electric Ladyland
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

I was six when Jimi Hendrix passed from our mortal plane. Of course, I didn’t know anything about it at the time—the news was for adults—or anything about his music, but I did know his name because of my best friend from kindergarten, Mark Beener.

I don’t remember how we met, but we were in the same kindergarten class—Mrs. Tubbs’ at Cranbrook Elementary School—and I have a clear memory of seeing my shadow on the sidewalk as I went with Mark to his house after school the first time. His house was one street over from mine.

Mark was big into dinosaurs, like I was, and race cars, again like I was. He had Johnny Lightning; I had Hot Wheels. We’d race them in a corner of his basement, away from the washer and dryer, and what I remember about his basement was it was very Sixties chic. Hanging rows of beads separated a sitting area from the play area and laundry area, and I thought that was pretty groovy. I also remember that that was the first time I’d ever seen a lava lamp and a bottle candle, where the wax dripped over the sides like artwork.

I spent the night at his house once—my first sleep-over. Mark was the youngest of four or five kids, maybe even six—my memory on this is dodgy. And he was the youngest by a mile. He lived with his mom, who was divorced, and a sister who was in junior high. His older brothers and, I think, sisters, were gone.

His mom’s bedroom was downstairs, but the kids’ bedrooms were upstairs, and my recollection was that they were two large rooms, like dorms. In the boys’ room, which now, of course, was just Mark’s room, were these really colorful posters on one wall, and I remember the words on them even though they didn’t mean anything to me at the time: Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

The next morning, his mom made pancakes, and in the front living room, we played Uncle Wiggily, who had rheumatism. (I remember that but nothing else about the game, because it was such an odd word to me.)

Anyway, that was the only time I spent the night, because before long, my parents began to discourage me from playing with Mark. Why? Well, let’s start with Mark’s older siblings. As I said, they were never around. What I recall is that they were either in jail or rehab or both as a result of drugs.

I had no understanding of drugs other than they were bad, mmkay. One day I went over to Mark’s house when one of his brothers was there briefly after—again my young-boy recollection being fuzzy—getting out of jail. Mark was very happy to see him, and I remember we played kickball in his driveway. He didn’t strike me as a particularly bad person.

So, yeah, Mark was a hippie kid. I did know what that meant. He had long hair, but to me, he was just a regular kid. It’s not like I saw drugs around, although in retrospect, there had to be, just not in the open. No one ever offered me anything; Mark and I were just little kids. I was never afraid to go to his house. It’s not Mark’s fault that his brothers and sisters were screw-ups (and I don’t even know if that’s necessarily true).

The next year we were in different classes, and we started to spend less time together, but the real break happened when my family moved in the middle of second grade. Because it was far enough away that I would have to cross busy streets on my bike to get to Mark’s house, we didn’t see each other any more.

But as luck would have it, in third grade, a new kid joined my class. It was Mark. I was eager to rekindle our friendship, but my mom wasn’t having it. She expressly forbid me from playing with Mark (all the while never saying why).

The reunion was brief anyway, because a few weeks later, he told me his family was moving to Florida. So I went home and asked my mom once more if I could play at Mark’s. She said no. I didn’t say why I wanted to that day, but when you’re nine, you don’t have a sense that reason works on parents. No means no. So I didn’t go over, and I never saw Mark again.

I can’t remember how it came up in conversation, but some time after that, I told Mom that Mark had moved away. I told her that was why I had wanted to go over to his place that one day—to say goodbye. She expressed shock: Well, if I had known that, I would have let you go over.

Ah, so it was my fault then. Thanks for the guilt trip along with the value of your hindsight and your opinion about the trustworthiness of my judgment. It was my first real experience with the notion that being a parent doesn’t mean you know everything or even what’s right.

Anyway, It makes sense to spin out my most epic post to date to Hendrix’s most epic psychedelic fantasy. I have no idea what happened to Mark. I think we exchanged letters once after he moved, but you know, boys don’t write letters, so that wasn’t going to continue. For all I know, he’s now the world’s foremost expert on Johnny Lightning cars, and he still has that two-engine dragster.

I’d like that. And, dude, I still have the Twinmill and the orange track. I want a rematch.

1 comment:

  1. This story is sweet and sad--the image of remembering your shadow is very specific and poetic--and I can imagine you checking out that hippie basement--cool!