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Your Old Man’s Gonna Break Your Back
By Ben Hunter

In late July of 1981, I got arrested for throwing charcoal briquettes at a public bus.  I’d recently turned 13 and had just finished being grounded for throwing what the cops called “ceramic tile” (actually pieces of some kind of drainage pipe we’d found) at the house behind my friend Al’s house, scaring the shit out of- and then enraging- the occupants.  It was a troublesome time.

A loose group of friends generally hung out at Al’s most afternoons because neither of his parents was ever around.  Our activities consisted of pick-up games of baseball and football that spanned several people’s front yards, vandalism and prank phone calls.  While the vandalism varied from season to season, throwing things at the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) bus that came by Al’s house every half-hour remained a constant. When we saw the bus pull up to the corner of Al’s street, we would instantly drop what we were doing and run in the house and grab stuff from Al’s fridge. We’d usually take eggs, apples and potatoes (if his mother ever noticed that so much food was disappearing, she never said anything to us) and bomb the shit out of the bus as it passed.  Then we’d pick back up where we left off until a new bus came by a half-hour later.

On the day of the arrest we’d already completely exhausted the contents of Al’s refrigerator.  When we saw the bus pull up to the corner, Al, Darren and I desperately searched for something to throw.  The only thing we could find was charcoal from Al’s garage.  We crouched down by the side of Al’s house, and as the bus lumbered by, we popped up and hurled the briquettes, one of us missing altogether, two of us hitting the side of the bus.  Nobody hit a window, and we were mildly disappointed by that.  Normally the bus stopped at the stop sign just past Al’s house, then went on its way.  This day, however, it stopped at the stop sign and remained stopped at the stop sign.  Nervously we piled into Al’s house and shut all the curtains (that’ll make us inconspicuous!).  Peering out every 15 seconds, we’d update each other with phrases like, “It’s still there!  Why the hell is it still there?”

It was still there because the bus drivers on this particular route had gotten sick of being target practice every half-hour between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM each weekday afternoon and had called the police to arrange a stakeout of sorts.  After a couple minutes of waiting, we heard an engine roaring and a squeal of tires tearing around the corner.  Al, Darren and I scattered away from the front windows.  I ran to the furthest part of the house from the front door, trying to put as much distance between myself and the impending doom as possible.  I wasn’t sure where Al and Darren had gone. During my flight away from the windows, I thought I heard the back door slam.  After a few moments of silence, I cautiously said, “Al?  Al?”  All I heard in response was a few yips from his dog.  Then I heard a strong pounding on the front door, followed by, “Come on out, guys.  We know you’re in there!”  I heard the front door open and I could tell that somebody was now in Al’s living room.  Realizing that it was hopeless to try to run past him and out the backdoor, I trudged from my sanctuary into the front room.  The first words out of the cop’s mouth when he saw me were, “You again?  Your old man’s gonna break your back!”  It was the same cop who’d busted us for the “ceramic tile” incident.  His name was Officer Ventura, and he had the stereotypical early-eighties cop look- tight uniform, short hair and big black mustache.  If you’ve ever seen the beginning of “Me, Myself & Irene,” you know what I’m talking about.

Ventura hauled me outside, where I was greeted by the angry bus driver, arms crossly folded, standing in Al’s driveway.  I looked up and saw many pissed-off faces staring back at me from the bus we’d just nailed. I remember thinking that getting busted for charcoal, which was so damn light it could hardly do any damage, really seemed like an injustice.  There were a few neighbors, also with arms crossed, gathered in their driveways to watch the show.  “Where are your buddies?” the cop asked.  Stoically, I refused to tell him.  I figured they’d run over to Darren’s house, which was two streets down, but I didn’t want to rat on my friends.  Then this big lump of shit asshole named Larry Searle, who was one grade behind us, came riding by on his bicycle.  He shouted, “They’re at Stevenson’s” and went weaving away with a shit-eatin’ grin on his pig-like face.  Man, I hated that fucker.  Ventura shoved me into the backseat of his cruiser and said, “You’re gonna tell me where the hell they are.  I can eventually figure it out, but if you don’t tell me right now, you’ll be sorry.” Resigned to my fate (man, I sure caved easily!), I told him where Darren’s house was.  Ventura went roaring out of Al’s driveway and down the suburban street with its cookie-cutter ranch-style houses spaced three feet apart from one another, yelling into his radio, “I’ve got one in custody!  In pursuit of two others!”   

In less than a minute we were barreling into Darren’s driveway.  When Al and Darren had gotten there, they had immediately begun shooting hoops into the net that was hooked to the top of Darren’s garage, trying to look nonchalant.  Darren’s mom was outside, sitting in a lawn chair on the front porch.  Ventura blasted into the driveway, leapt out of the car and screamed, “Okay, Junior, into the car, and you know what for!”  Darren’s mom flipped out, screeching, “You’re talking too fast, you’re talking too fast!”  As the officer hustled Darren and Al into the backseat next to me, he explained to Darren’s mom what had happened.  While this was going on, I looked at Darren’s front window and saw the faces of 4 or 5 of his brothers and sisters pressed against the glass, some of them looking ready to cry.  While I was pondering what his siblings must have been thinking, a car pulled into the driveway behind us.  Out popped Darren’s dad, just home from work.  As he passed the cop car, he gave us one of the coldest stares I’ve ever seen.  Then, instantly composing himself, he walked up to Ventura and said pleasantly, “Hi, Officer.  What’s the trouble?”  Ventura went through his spiel about what hellions we were, got back into the car and drove us to the Bedford Heights police headquarters.   

We pulled inside the police station garage, and when we stopped I tried to open up the car door.  It wouldn’t open, and I realized we were locked in from the outside.  At that point it really hit me that this was something more serious than usual.  Ventura opened the door and pulled each of us out.  He herded us into the station, repeatedly calling me Turner (I guess that’s sort of like Hunter. Who knows? Maybe to him all WASP names sounded the same).  While Al and Darren were placed in a holding cell, I was marched into a tiny room nearby that had space enough for a small table, a chair and not much else.  After a couple minutes of sitting alone in this room, I heard heavy footsteps and a loud roar coming toward me.  The footsteps halted outside the holding cell, and I heard a deep, angry voice tell Al he better start counting every bar in the cell and Darren he better start counting every brick.  If either had the count wrong when the voice’s owner got back, there would be hell to pay.  Seconds later the door burst open and in squeezed a man big enough to play offensive line for the Browns.  He looked like Ventura, with the same mustache you only seem to find on white guys who are cops, baseball players, gay, or some combination of the three, but he was a lot more powerful.  

The first thing Man-Mountain shouted at me was, “Who the hell do you think you are?  An up and coming Len Barker?”  Len Barker was a pitcher for the Indians who had recently thrown a perfect game, and yes, Len Barker was also a white guy with a mustache.  When I didn’t respond, the big cop continued with his tirade, berating me for being such a bad boy.  At one point he paused, seemed to compose himself, and asked me why, exactly, did I do what I did?  How could I explain it?  Saying that doing stuff like this just gave us a real charge, as well as making us laugh maniacally, didn’t really seem like the right response.   Instead, I told him I did it because I was bored.  “BORED!” he yelled.  “BORED? There are baseball diamonds, a swimming pool and a rec. center in this community, and you’re BORED?!?!?”  After ranting and raving at me for a few more minutes, he slammed out of the room.  I heard him stop by the holding cell and yell, “Did you hear what I just said to him?”  Al and Darren must have meekly nodded at that point. Big Cop continued, “Good, then I won’t have to say it again!”  Then he continued on his way.  Happily, I never saw him again.  For the record, he also repeatedly called me Turner.  

I sat numbly in the empty interrogation room for a few minutes until Ventura showed up to lead me into the next phase of my journey.  “C’mon, Turner,” he said as he escorted me past Al and Darren, who were still in the holding cell.  Walking past them, I tried to smile, but at this point, the joke didn’t seem all that funny anymore.  Walking briskly, Ventura took me into the main cellblock. To my great relief, there were no other occupants there at the time. I wasn’t exactly sure what sort of characters might have been in these jail cells, but for some reason I thought it would be somebody like the guy who threw grass at me from the back of his landscaping truck while I was riding my moped the previous summer.  This longhaired, early-‘80s-lookin’ rascal was probably in his low twenties at the time, and he had a vague aura of drug use about him.  When he saw me putt putting along behind his pickup truck he couldn’t resist hurling fistfuls of freshly cut grass at me from the garbage bags piled up around him. The sumbitch was laughing crazily as clumps of grass flew in my face, down my shirt and all over just about every stitch of clothing I had on.  

When I got home, my stepdad, Bob, happened to be in the garage, and he asked me what happened. Without thinking, I said, “Those landscapers were throwing grass at me all the way from Columbus Road until I got home.” Bob didn’t say anything for a moment.  Then he looked really, REALLY pissed-off.  In a deadly monotone, he said, “Get in the car.”  At this point, I realized what was about to happen and tried to protest, but he cut me off, again saying, “GET IN THE CAR.”  What could I do?  I got into the front seat of his huge, bright red ’77 Thunderbird and meekly sat there as we careened out of the driveway backwards.  Bob gunned the car down Scarlet Oak Drive and came to a screeching halt 3 seconds and 300 hundred feet later.   Upon seeing the landscapers still in their driveway, yukking it up and having a good time, my heart sank; I was really hoping they’d be nowhere to be found.  At this time Bob must’ve been 32 or 33 years old, and he could most definitely be an intimidating character.  Standing about 6’0’’, he probably weighed a lean, mean 210 pounds.  While he was (and still is) a fun-loving, nice guy at heart, Bob could work himself into a rage that would make nobody- I mean nobody- want to fuck with him.  This was one of those times.  As I uncomfortably sat in the passenger seat, Bob sprang out of the car, harshly slamming the door.  All the windows were up, so I couldn’t hear a lot of what he was yelling, but I could tell those guys were really shitting it. I think they realized pretty quickly that they had picked the wrong guy’s stepson to throw grass at.  After a minute or two of Bob’s haranguing, the main culprit meekly stood up, walked over to our car, opened the door and patted me on the shoulder, saying, “Are you okay, buddy?”  My head was spinning.  I was excited by seeing those fucks humiliated, but I was more embarrassed for being the cause of it.  I mumbled something like, “Uh, yeah,” and the guy nodded and shut the door again.  

Luckily the landscaping, grass-throwing crew was not in the jail waiting to exact their revenge, which made me feel a little more comfortable at first.  After about half an hour, however, I got pretty fidgety.  There was a video camera mounted on the wall opposite my cell, which was the last one in the row.  Every once in awhile it whirred to life.  I figured at this point Ventura must’ve called my parents (despite the fact that he didn’t seem to know my real name) and that they now were somewhere in the station, occasionally turning the video camera on me to see how repentant I was.  With this in mind, every time I heard the camera turn on, I made sure to put on my saddest face.  For the time being I was just glad to have been separated from the undoubtedly savage wrath I would face from my mom and stepdad when we met up again.   

After about an hour, I heard footsteps coming down the corridor.  The cell next to mine was opened, someone shuffled in, and the guard retreated back out of the cellblock, slamming the outer door in his wake.  I really had no idea who my new neighbor was.  I was hoping it was Al or Darren, but I had no way of knowing for sure.  What if it was the grass thrower, recently busted on some sort of pot charge?  A few more minutes went by, and I just had to say something.  Cautiously, I said, “Al?”  There was no answer for a moment, and I instantly regretted saying anything.  Then Al said, “Yeah?”  Thank fuck.  I quizzed him on what was going on and he told me Darren had been released to his parents soon after I was put in my cell.  While Darren had been a major player in the “ceramic tile” incident, he never actually got busted for it (we couldn’t bring ourselves to rat on him when we were caught), so the cops thought this was his first offense.   

Al and I lamented our plight, and when the cameras sprang into action, we both tried our best to look sorry for what we’d done (I’d briefed Al on this plan of attack shortly after we started talking, and he felt it was sound).  Through an open window at the end of the cellblock we could hear kids playing baseball at the diamonds nearby.  Both of us agreed that we’d much rather be out there than in jail.  After awhile there was not much left to say.  As we drifted into silence, I curled up on the gym mat-type of a bed I had and tried to fall asleep.  Shutting all this out seemed to be the best course of action, but I just couldn’t sleep.  Another half-hour went by and somebody came into the cellblock, opened Al’s door and led him away, telling him his mother had finally shown up.  Once again I was alone.  While at first I was glad to have been separated from my parents, now I was anxious to get the hell out of this cell.  For another hour I played the remorse-for-the-camera game and was almost overjoyed when I heard the outer cellblock door open up again.  A stony-faced cop I hadn’t seen before opened my cell and led me through the station, wordlessly escorting me into Ventura’s office.  Ventura was seated behind a desk, smirking at me as I came in.  My mom and stepdad were off to my left, sitting in chairs and looking up at me with serious anger and hurt all over their faces.  The first thing Ventura barked at me was, “How could you do this to your mother?!?”  Then he ranted and raved a bit more, but I couldn’t focus on what he was saying.  My mind was reeling, and I honestly thought I was going to pass out.  I came in and out of comprehending his speech, at times hearing that I may have to come in and clean fire engines and mop floors at City Hall to make up for what I’d done.  Ventura eventually said he’d be in touch to determine my exact restitution and then smugly released me into the custody of my parents. 

As we emerged into the daylight of the municipal building’s parking lot, my mom lost it and smacked me a good one across the back, yelling, “You’re a jerk!”  To literally add insult to injury, a school chum of mine happened to be riding his bike across the parking lot towards the baseball diamonds and saw the whole thing.  For some reason someone else witnessing the debacle took it to another level of shittiness.   We got to our car and my mom opened up the passenger-side door.  As I pulled back the front seat and crawled into the back, I braced to get whacked again, but it didn’t happen.  My mom and stepdad got in the front seat and we began our silent journey home.  Oh, fuck. This really sucked.  I wanted to permanently remain in the quiet limbo of the trip home and not have to deal with the inevitable shouting and grounding that would occur once we got to our destination.   

We pulled into our driveway without incident and it was now time for me to get out of the car.  Why couldn’t the asshole landscaper have been driving in front of us, throwing stuff at us and distracting my parents from what was to come next?  I got out of the car, again flinching but not being hit, and trudged into the house behind my mom and stepdad.  Bob solemnly told me to go up to my room.  I was not to turn music on, read or even sleep.  I was instructed that my only acceptable course of action was to lie on my bed and think about what I’d done.  This went on for three- I kid you not- days, though sleeping was eventually permitted.  It was really a drag. The only time I was allowed out of my room was to go to the bathroom or to come downstairs and eat breakfast, lunch or dinner in silence.   

On day three, I was summoned down into our family room.  Over twenty years later, this room still sticks out in my mind.  It had changed little since my stepdad’s bachelor days, featuring a thick red shag carpet, a gaudy red couch and chair in a Spanish motif, and a cheaply ornate coffee table with matching end tables on either side of the couch.  I especially liked the end tables because they contained stacks and stacks of my stepdad’s old Penthouses and Hustlers (Once I’d looked at them, I’d always try to put them back in exactly- to the fraction of an inch- the way I found them, fearing there would be hell to pay if my transgression was discovered.  Amazingly, this is one thing I never got in trouble for).  There had also been an artificial Christmas tree that was up for three years before my mom and stepdad got married.  It stayed up until the following Christmas, and then my mom made Bob take it down. Tackiness aside, this room does hold good memories for me.  It was where I discovered MTV.  When MTV emerged in the early ‘80s, they played some absolutely fantastic stuff (Specials, Clash, Stray Cats, Romantics, The Jam, Bow Wow Wow, etc…) that I would never have heard listening to mainstream Cleveland radio.  My friends and I spent most of the summer after this incident in that dark, underground room, just dying to see what would be played next.  My parents constantly wondered aloud how we could waste beautiful summer days inside, glued to the TV, but it was really a no-brainer to us.  It was a great time for new music, and there was absolutely no way we could resist it.   

When I got into the family room, I plopped down in the big red chair and waited for the barrage.  I wasn’t disappointed.  My mom and stepdad tag-teamed up with a series of “Whys?!?” and “How could yous?!?” until I lost track of what they were saying.  It turned out that when I was in jail they’d searched my room, expecting to find drugs.  I didn’t take drugs or even drink at that time, so there was no contraband to explain my deviant behavior.  The only thing they could confront me with was a photo album they’d found full of instant pictures Al and I had taken of each other.  They were mostly stupid shots of us posing like assholes, occasionally flipping each other the bird, but it served its purpose as a catalyst for the ire directed toward me.  I didn’t even try explaining what we were doing.  It was just dumb junior high boy stuff that really couldn’t be translated into parental sense.   

When the tumult died down, I was sentenced to a month’s hard labor around the house.  The work included washing every window (inside and out), extensive yard work in our tiny front and back yards, and lots of housecleaning.  No TV for the first 2 weeks of the punishment.  No phone calls for the ENTIRE punishment.  It was a dismal month.  By the time I got done being grounded, it was just about the beginning of my 8th grade school year.  Towards the end of the grounding my parents took me to an interview at a private school nearby because they felt I needed a permanent separation from my “asshole buddies on the street.”  I behaved like a complete prick on the interview, totally sullen and unresponsive as the guy from the school asked me questions and showed me around the campus.  But it turns out I didn’t even have to waste the effort blowing the interview because this private school was too expensive for me to attend. While I was initially happy about this, by the time I came back into circulation, there was a definite gap between Al, Darren and myself.  As the next school year went on, we drifted apart.  By the time I moved away the following year, we hardly hung out at all.  

I went on to find more delinquent adventures at my new school- after a year of being a very shy kid who most people mistakenly thought was a pothead- but I never again was as brazen as I’d been during the summer of 1981.  To give you an idea of how bad it had gotten before we were arrested for the bus incident, Al and I used to stand in his driveway in the middle of the afternoon and hit golf balls with an aluminum baseball bat towards a driveway a few houses down and across the street.  This driveway usually had several cars in it and there was always a huge camper parked there as well.  We would give each other points for the amount of ricochets we could get between cars, and a solid thud against the camper scored top marks in our impromptu game. We just didn’t give a fuck.  Surprisingly, nobody ever tried to bring us to justice for this. 

Al, Darren and I got together one final time a few years later during the summer of 1987.  I’d recently gotten back from my first year of college, Al was driving a truck, and Darren was married with a kid on the way.  We met up at Darren’s apartment and drank beer together for the first time.  Darren’s wife, who I’d never met before, shut herself in their bedroom and refused to socialize with us.  Just as well for her, because we ended up getting drunk and obnoxious pretty quickly.  A porn video was soon introduced, and shortly afterwards we stumbled onto Darren’s 3rd floor porch and started hurling semi-full and totally-full beer cans down onto the cars parked in the lot below.  There was a Mercedes or BMW with an open sunroof, and that soon became the prime target.  We’d belted it with several cans filled to varying degrees before one of us actually got one through the sunroof.  At that point we’d realized we’d thrown all of the beer off the balcony and needed more.  Al and I staggered down the street to the Open Pantry and got another twelve-pack (at the time you could be 19 to buy beer in Ohio- I’d just made the Grandfather Clause by 11 days!).  When Al and I got back into Darren’s building, we couldn’t remember which apartment number Darren was in, so we started smashing all of the intercom buttons.  Lotsa people squawked, and we greeted them with a hearty slew of “Fuck-offs” and “Go to hells” until somebody just gave in and buzzed us up.  By the time this happened, Al and I had completely crunched in the intercom board to the point of a certain expensive repair bill.   

We stumbled upstairs, eventually finding Darren’s apartment.  While Al and I were all set to continue our reunion rampage, Darren had been forced to sing another tune.  His wife had told him in no uncertain terms that we were not allowed back in.  He sheepishly apologized, and Al and I said it was okay.  We took our leave, and that was the last time I ever saw Darren.  Al and I talked of going to a local bar, but instead we bullshitted a bit and then drunkenly drove off to our own separate destinations.  I saw Al once more after that, getting together for an uneventful drink a few weeks later.  I think both of us realized it was time to move on, and that’s what we did. 

 

 

 

 

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