Art Lee: Desperate ‘entertainment’ for bored children
Even at the time, it was bizarre behavior for what bored kids would do for entertainment. Their junior high school year was barely over, and yet two weeks later, they were already bored, lamenting their being stuck in their tiny town — they named it “Boresville” — on this warm June night with no place to go and no way to get there anyway, certainly not by bicycle.
Too young for a driver’s license, they would only dream of turning the magical 16, finally but finally allowing them to drive and escape their boring lutefisk ghetto. Freedom Forthcoming! But not yet. Meanwhile, alas, they could only slouch along Main Street and weakly wave at the hot-bloods in their hot-rods barreling through town on their way to the dancehall in the next town, a town so big that it even had two stoplights.
Oh well, gotta do sumthin’, so back to biking downtown on Friday nights to loll around across the street from the only two taverns and watch the goings on across the way, where the blinking lights of “Miller High Life” and “Blatz Beer” brought in the moths and the thirsty. Just sit there glumly on the bench in front of the gas station and wait for any action. Friday night was special because “Friday is payday” and the day taverns prospered — and bored kids could observe the intoxicated results tottering right there across the street. That’s it; that’s all.
Talk about desperation. We gathered there just for something to do, just to watch for the drunks who might stagger out the door and maybe do something special, anything special. Whatever, we thought it was funny.
Our teenage gallery included both genders, with a few girls apparently intrigued by this goofy behavior as much as the boys did, and, of course, the boys would try to impress the girls with their comments, which smart-alecky statements they regarded as witty and the girls regarded as half-witted. This one night, a non-regular showed up, Marit Einarson, a quiet girl who said nothing.
It does not take much to amuse the simple mind. Our being there was testimony to that aphorism. Apparently it did not take much alcohol to affect some simple drinkers either, like “Two Beer Tollefson,” who “could not hold his liquor,” as the men who sat in front of the barbershop sarcastically said of him. Because that was no compliment; he was not a “real man” said the men, not like Peder Prestegaard, who would/could polish off a six-pack in 10 minutes before even seriously getting started on the hard stuff. Yet, the compliments had ended for Peder, however, because of his penchant for sneaking out the front door of the saloon, then relieving himself right there on Main Street, and sometimes he would first stumble up and down the block, then stop, then deliberately take bad aim on at an auto owned by the person at the bar with whom he had gotten into a snit — five years ago.
But, oh, this was great fun to watch. Or so we told ourselves, until this one night when it stopped having any more appeal.
An expected comedy turned into an unexpected tragedy. It was also an awakening. It began when Johannes Einarson emerged clumsily from the tavern. Totally bombed. He began taking tiny baby steps forward, then stopping, then taking big steps backward. He kept repeating this action. A silly scene before us. But nobody laughed. Nobody said anything. Our mouths were closed and stomachs tightened because there in our witnessing group was Johannes’ daughter, Marit. Embarrassing. Unnerving for all. What do we say? What do we do? Pretend you don’t see him? Pretend you don’t hear his off-key singing, his bellowing out “Red River Valley?” At that moment, it seemed like a great time to be somewhere else.
Marit then saved us by saying loudly: “Boy oh boy, is my old man gonna catch it when he gets home tonight. Ma will crown him with a frying pan and he’ll wake up with a lump on his head as big as his big red nose.”
And then she laughed hard. And then we could laugh. Saved, we thought. That seemed to end the problem. She was OK; it was OK. Then one snarky remark was blurted out: “The only way he can get to where he wants to go is to turn around and head the other way. Ha ha ha.” But no one else laughed.
Luckily, the 10 o’clock hour was approaching fast, the time when the “You be home by 10 o’clock or else. . .” parental threat kicked in, and we all got ready, eager to leave. We got on our bikes and began to murmur our banal goodbyes —”See ya”— and almost all of the kids peddled off into the black night for home. Suddenly, the wind came up strong, and it was then that the wind-blown streetlight started swinging back and forth, its light briefly catching the face of Marit and revealing her welled-up eyes and the tears running down her cheeks. It wasn’t over at all. She then tried to say a strong goodbye of her own but it wasn’t there; her words were choked.
She well knew and we at last learned: Drunkenness is not funny. It was time to grow up.