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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2001.
and it would all be free
november 24, 2001
I've wondered sometimes what must go through Wile E. Coyote's thoughts as his spinning legs buzzsaw him over the edge of yet another cliff.
To those of you unfamiliar with Wile E. Coyote, he's the co-star of the Roadrunner cartoons created by the great Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones (Jones started the Roadrunner series in 1949. Previously, he created Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, and just about every other notable cartoon character).
In the roadrunner series, each episode features Wile E. Coyote trying once again to catch up to, and grab hold of, the roadrunner's neck, presumably to eat the bird. Each attempt he makes, often with the assistance of devices he's purchased from Acme Corporation, turn out to work against him, so that no matter how foolproof his plan may seem while he's poring over the blueprints of the latest roadrunner-ensnaring contraption, it's always himself, and not the roadrunner, who winds up getting run over by a train, or smashing flat, mid-air, against a section of rock painted black to look like a tunnel entrance, or standing with blinking eyes dead center within the enlarging shadow across the sand of a two-ton safe, or, most commonly, racing full-tilt over the edge of a cliff.
As a kid, it always fascinated me that his run off the edge of a cliff didn't immediately plummet him downwards. Instead, the laws of gravity were grandly ignored long enough for his rush to take him so far from the edge he had no hope of hopping back, and to be able, suspended mid-air as the forward momentum of his racing feet ran out, to look down and realize what had happened before he actually started dropping.
It's that moment of realization that there is nothing beneath his big beige feet but the far-below curl of a canyon river that has always set me wondering what goes through his mind before the vertical lines appear above his head and he starts to drop rapidly down, dwindling, towards the distant canyon floor.
It can't be fear. I say that because he's been in that same situation so many times, off so many cliffs, that no matter how stupid he may be (and he has to be somewhat stupid to have the roadrunner constantly elude him), he must remember from past experiences that although he's about to be foiled, and even worse than foiled, humiliated, he's not going to die. He's going to survive for yet another cartoon chase, another day.
So as he's drifting downwards, floating on his back, large ears buffeted by the breeze of his plummet, the canyon floor below him looming larger, he must simply wonder how this particular crash onto, and often into, the canyon floor will compare with past crash landings.
How deep of a coyote-shaped hole in the ground will he create this time? How many furry limbs will require casts? How soon will he be able to get off crutches and start speed-training again?
I've always felt like Wile E. Coyote, meaning I've always felt I've lived a charmed life. Charmed, in that even though disasters may occasionally befall me, the worse that happens to me is that I have to occasionally climb out of a Ralph Robert Moore-shaped hole.
My life has been free of any truly great tragedy. I've lost loved ones, but I always knew that cliff could never be raced back onto. Life starts as a receiving, and ends as a taking away, bit by bit. I've had only minor physical pains in life, modest surgeries, dull diseases. The only times I've been to a hospital, other than birth and to have my tonsils removed, have been to visit the less fortunate.
Today I'm fifty-one. I've never had cancer, never a heart attack, stroke, loss of a limb, accident leaving me blind, been on the sidewalk under a falling piano, received an envelope filled with Anthrax, etc., etc., etc. (Some of you may be thinking it's unwise of me to mention, for example, that I've never had a heart attack, under the superstitious belief that this sort of boast will, in fact, attract that disaster, to which I can only reply, If only it were that easy to control what we do, and don't, get).
But bombs have dropped around me, as they do in each of our lives.
When I was a kid, my best friend was George. I grew up living in what back then was referred to as a 'mixed neighborhood', meaning blacks and whites living in the same approximate area (I lived on Lake Avenue in Greenwich, Connecticut. If you went to the nearest intersection, then three blocks up that hill, then three blocks to the left, you came to four houses where black families lived. Even though that was quite a walk, in those days even blacks living that far away from whites were considered to be living close enough to make the neighborhood mixed.)
George, my best friend back then, was black. His was one of the four families. The whole time we knew each other, which was years and years of childhood, the issue of me being white and him being black almost never came up (I only remember two times it did. Once, during a movie we were watching together at the local theater, when we must have been about eight. Part of the action took place in Africa. He turned to me in his seat and said, "That's where my ancestors came from." Another time, when we were older, about eleven, he talked to me one day in the woods about what it felt like to be black, and how it made him nervous sometimes).
George had an incredible hairline. His forehead was high, his hairline scooping towards the temples on either side, the front of the hairline curving roundly down above the center of his face, but still an impressive distance above his eyebrows. Like Nat King Cole. He was a great friend, and we had some great little-boy adventures. There was a patch of woods in the hills behind his street, and we'd always be up there jumping from one boulder to another, or finding a hidden spot behind a cluster of trees where we could sit on the dirt and talk (and where we'd buried, in plastic bags, and constantly dug up, like a dog's bone, a boy's ransom (about three) of Playboy magazines we somehow acquired); and, also nearby, a large medical building which seems in memory to have been years in construction, so that we could tightrope across the bare support beams of the unfinished floors, and later in the construction, poke around the doorless rooms, always on the lookout for hoboes).
Like most kids, we'd indulge each other's acting-out fantasies of the career each had decided upon. I wanted to be a spy. George wanted to be Tarzan (boy, did he want to be Tarzan. He talked about it almost every time we met).
We founded, along with one other boyhood chum, Peter, who was white, and who has appeared in one or two past Latelys, the 'Four F Club'. To fully appreciate the inanity of this club, you have to realize we were three little boys who had barely talked to girls, and yet our club's confident motto was, "Find 'em, Feel 'em, Fuck 'em, Forget 'em." On the first three F's I believe we hooked our right pinkies together in different configurations; the hand signal for the fourth 'F' was, I believe, the erect right thumb jerking backwards over the small right shoulder in a dismissive gesture.
In my teenage years I lost track of George for a while. We went to different schools, and I had started working in New York City. One Christmas I happened to get a seasonal job at the local post office sorting mail, and it turned out he was working there at the time too. Our remeeting didn't go well. He was friends by then with another black kid, slightly older than us, who bragged every break about how many white girls he had fucked, and how many more he had lined up to fuck. His friend having sex with 'white women' didn't bother me at all, but it did bother me that this seemed to be said in large part in an attempt to try to bother me, and that George was going along with it. The times had changed.
While I was going to college I worked nights at Cuff's Stationary in Old Greenwich, a suburb of Greenwich proper, and while driving there one evening I spotted George walking alone on the sidewalk. I honked, waved. He ran over, through the traffic. "Do you smoke?" I had a cigarette in my hand, so it took me a moment to understand what he was really asking. "Yeah." "Come by my house tomorrow night. Okay?"
I walked up the hill the next night, after work. I had always gotten along with his family, and they always seemed to like me. When the front door opened, his mother gave me a hug. "Bobby, it's so good to see you." His older sisters, who wore blue jeans and weird eyeglasses, told me George really needed a friend now.
George was in his bedroom. He hadn't come down to greet me. I knocked, he asked urgently who it was, then ushered me in and shut the door. He had dark glasses on. We sat by the open window of his room. He brought out a tray filled with the plastic bags and twisted foil rolls of several types of drugs. We smoked some pot together, listening to the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, which had been released a few months earlier. Throughout our conversation, he waved the smoke towards the open window, sprayed aerosol room freshener into the air, and stopped in mid-sentence whenever he heard a car engine out front, to make sure it wasn't the police. "You have sex with a girl yet?"
We both grinned.
"It's great, right?"
"Lemme ask you something. If you could be guaranteed you'd have an unlimited supply of heroin, so that you'd never run out, and it would all be free, would you start using heroin?"
I thought about it. "No."
"No, because I'd still be addicted to it."
"That's right. That's how I feel."
We nodded in agreement.
His family was waiting for me when I came back down the stairs, hours later. All of them except the father, who was working late. Which meant all women, different ages. "You got to start seeing George more often, Bobby."
But I never did, and I forget exactly why. It may have been his heavy drug use, it may have just been that we had grown too far apart, it probably was that I had a girlfriend by then, and wanted to spend all my time with her.
Something I've never done, although I know a lot of people do, is look up old friends on the Internet. I think it's an interesting idea, but to be honest, I just never had the inclination.
The other night, I was in one of those moods where I didn't quite feel like signing off the computer yet, but I didn't want to start a new project. I wanted to do something more or less mindless, like just surf the Net.
But what would I surf for?
I decided to perform searches on different boys I had gone to high school with, just to see if anything came up. If they had many mentions, if they had their own websites, etc.
I tried a couple of names. Nothing. Not a single reference.
Then I tried the name David Carroll.
David and I went to grade school together, and high school. We sang in the boys' choir together in grade school, each Sunday during high mass. I didn't have a great singing voice, so it surprised me I was accepted into the choir (there were only about six boys in the choir). David had a great voice, even then. Concurrent with all this, during the early sixties, his dad, he was fairly well off, and worked in New York City, somehow arranged for David and his siblings to put out a novelty record, under the name The Karroll Kids. About that time, then-President Kennedy was urging Americans to exercise more, and as I vaguely remember it, he wanted all of us as a nation to walk more. So the Karroll Kids' record had to do with a humorous take on walking as exercise. I remember his dad arranged to have manufactured some fake footsteps, made out of rubber or plastic, to promote the record. It never became a hit, but I believe it did bubble up onto the lower rungs of some playlists.
David first showed up at St. Mary's Grammar School around the sixth grade. We were never best friends, but we hung out in the same group. Around seventh grade, I started writing my first novel, We the Cursed. It was about two friends who were werewolves. They lived together, taking care of each other each full moon, but then one decides he wants to be famous, and writes a thinly-disguised novel about their lives together. He does become famous, while his friend gets lost in the crowd of hangers-on around the author. The novel is made into a movie, and wins an Academy Award. The night of the awards, as the werewolf novelist steps up on stage to receive an Oscar for best screenplay, his former friend, transformed into a werewolf, lopes up onto the stage, slashing the novelist's throat, grabbing the Oscar, and leaps away behind the curtains.
I used to write a little bit of the novel every night, reading the latest continuation each day to a small group of boys during lunch recess. David was one of the boys who'd gather around me to see what was happening in the story.
When we went to high school, he began bugging me to turn the handwritten manuscript over to him, so he could have it typed-up. I finally did. That was the last I ever saw of it. I reminded him several times he still had it, and that I wanted it back, typed or untyped, but he always had an excuse not to return it (he had loaned it out to someone else, he had temporarily misplaced it, etc.)
The high school we went to was St. Mary's Boys High School. Our freshman year it had been co-ed, but then the priests decided it was a bad idea to have boys and girls at our age going to the same school.
At some point during freshman or sophomore year at high school it dawned on most of us that David was gay. No one used the word 'gay' back then, of course. The proper term was 'homo'. Although we'd occasionally accuse each other of being a homo, it was done more to get someone's goat than anything else, just another way of teasing. The few bona-fide gays there were in class, such as David, were not harassed.
The nuns all loved him. He was that kind of kid.
So I looked up 'David Carroll' on Google, and was surprised at the number of returns I got.
I hadn't seen or heard from him since the late sixties. But now I found out he had pursued his singing career, on Broadway. In fact, he was a big success. He'd been nominated for two Tony awards, for 'Chess' and 'Grand Hotel', had played opposite Linda Ronstadt in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of 'La Boheme' (for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk Award), and had appeared in several TV movies, as well as episodes of Knots Landing, The Rockford Files, and Chips.
I started searching for his e-mail address, to congratulate him, which is when I found out he was dead. He died in 1992, at the age of forty-one, of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Fittingly, he died in a recording studio, laying down the vocals for the play Grand Hotel, which would have been his first CD. He collapsed in the studio during the recording, and died minutes later.
I looked up George too, my best friend from childhood, who had wanted so much to be Tarzan, but there were no references.