I will never forget the day I met Jim Duke. We were waiting in line to use the restroom at G.H. Whitcomb Elementary School in Clear Lake City, Texas. Well, that isn?t exactly true. We were actually waiting in line in a contest in the boy?s bathroom. We were both trying to be the first second grader in school history to actually use the bathroom over the urinal, despite the fact that it was about six feet wide. We had been drinking water all morning long. Jim and I have always been ambitious.
That contest was interrupted when an emergency landed one of the contestants in an ambulance. I won?t describe what happened after Hamp Turner held it in too long. Besides, I was in the stall trying to convince Jim that the first ?o? in the ?Fort Howard? label on the toilet paper dispenser was really an ?a.? We still argue about it to this day. Jim and I have always been intellectuals.
When Scott Maxson moved to town two years later, Jim and I got over our grammar school foolishness. In other words, we started acting like bona fide juvenile delinquents. I wasn?t there the day that Jim and Scott lit the ditch on fire behind Scott?s house but I do remember hearing the sirens when the fire department arrived.
Nor was I there the time that Scott and Jim used tin foil to make fake nails that stuck out of the cracks in the street in front of Scott?s house. It was pretty funny until the guy in the El Camino truck (or was the El Camino a car?) spun out of control trying to swerve out of the way of the ?nails? in the road. I was also glad I wasn?t there when he hopped out of that El Camino and chased them through the neighborhood.
I should be careful about making fun of Jim. He knows that I once got arrested at a party with a sixteen year old girl. Every time I try to defend myself by pointing out that I was only seventeen at the time, he talks about the second time I got arrested. That was after I relieved myself on the side of a car. I didn?t know that it was an undercover cop car. And I sure didn?t know that there were two undercover cops inside the car at the time. Come to think of it, I don?t think my parents ever found out about it. I hope they aren?t still reading my columns.
When these things come up, Scott never comes to my defense. When he tells the story about a bunch of guys beating me up in a parking lot when I was seventeen, he leaves out the part about him running away crying just minutes before (this account may not be entirely accurate, by the way). But he likes to remind me of the time I threw him in a pool at a party on his first date with Stephanie Camille. He got me back later when he stuffed a chicken breast under the carpet inside my 1970 GTO. By the time I went on a date with Amy Long four nights later, that chicken breast smelled pretty rotten. I thought I had just run over a possum or a raccoon. All night Amy kept asking me why my car smelled so bad. We never went out again.
Of course, I got Scott back later when he was out on a date with a girl from Austin, Texas. I called and left a message calling myself ?Fabian? saying ?Remember me? We met at a gay bar last Thursday night. Thanks for the back massage? before I hung up laughing. Scott was dumb enough to play his messages later that night when he took the girl home to his apartment. He spent the rest of the night convincing her it was just a joke. It was OK though. They ended up dating for two years. We all laughed about it later. I get messages from ?Fabian? to this day.
Eleven years later, Scott planted the ?men seeking men? section of the local personals under the passenger side visor of my car. Tandy found it on our second date. She also found the Playgirl centerfold he planted in my Pottery Barn catalogue. When I was single I always tried to put something on the coffee table that my dates would enjoy reading. That was going a little too far.
When I look back on endless nights of drag racing and burying that GTO speedometer at 140 mph, I feel lucky to be alive. The most dangerous thing Jim ever did until then was to get into a fistfight with a bush. The bush won as I remember.
Whenever we get together we talk about the good times. Not the time that Bubba was stabbed at the drive-in movie theater. Not about the times that weren?t so good or the things that really hurt. Not the lies we told or the promises we broke.
We just think back to the promises we kept; the promise never to grow old and the promise never to stop laughing. And, above all, never to let old friendships die.
Old friends are blessings from God. And so are fortieth birthdays. Happy Birthday, Jim.
Mike Adams (www.DrAdams.org) is a professor at UNC Wilmington. He tells a lot of stories in class. But a few are just between him and old friends.