Who am I? I’m Joe. Part 2

Ok, so where did we leave off?  Ah yes.  Highschool.  We’ll I’d established my core group of friends by this time and had a ton of people I “knew” through parties and whatnot.

Bear was one of the most influential people in my life.  He taught me a lot about a lot of things.  We were pretty much inseparable.  He had a Black Ford Ranger.  He was a senior, I was a freshman and we partied pretty hard together.   He also had a girlfriend that rode in the middle of his truck who I made it my mission in life to torment.  Lacy.  Even saying her name after all these years gives me chills.  Lacy was one of those girls who was ready to be a housewife at 16.  She would have been perfectly happy with skipping the keg parties, moving in with Bear, settling down and having 2.5 kids and somehow working in school into her homemaker duties.

Lacy was a problem.  Bear loved her, so I found interesting and unique ways to try to get rid of her without overtly pissing the Big Boy off.   Secretly, he thought it was hilarious and encouraged our arguments in very discrete ways.

So, we were the three amigos, whether we wanted to be or not, rolling in that Ranger to the next party.

My attendance was less than stellar yet I had a fool-proof system for avoiding detection by the school truant officer.  I would show up, leave with Bear, then call in sick the next day.  I probably went to highschool for the full day less than 30 times?   If that?

Eventually my Mom was concerned after Bear dropped me off at the house on a Thursday school night drunk as a skunk after imbibing too much at a local restaurant and repainting their walls with my 15 year old version of a Richter painting, used with chicken tenders, french fries and vodka and she decided to send me to Northside.

Here was the problem, I had friends there too!   One of my junior high friends had a cousin that ended up being a surrogate Bear to me at Northside, Mitch.  Mitch introduced me to his friends and although I had to tweak the system a bit, I was back on track with my school skipping and partying.  I still hung out with Bear and crew on the weekends, but during the week, it was the “Kids”, a group of girls who were a year older than me, wild as hell and earned the nickname because they ran around with seniors and Mitch and his friends.  Northside parties a little different from Southside, instead of the house parties and parents good liquor, it was mainly everybody chipping in on an 1/8th of weed and driving.  Lots of driving around and always ending up at Buckets.  I had a lot of good times with those guys, but it wasn’t my scene.  They were slightly edgier than my Southside crowd and somebody was always up to something shady.   Eventually, my mother recognized this and decided the best idea was to return me to Southside the following year.

Now, understand that all my friends, at both schools, for the most part, had graduated or dropped out.  Southside was not the same place it had been for me.  I hated school now with a passion.   I’d spent the summer going to Greenwood summer school and swimming at Jack Creek while trying a brief stent of living with my Dad, however that proved to be impossible.  We were too much alike and he had rules that, to quote the movie, “The dude could not abide”.

During that summer, I’d basically lived with Bear and a couple of his friends at Lakeside Apartments and added a few more additions to my crew of misfits.   I won’t go into detail as these people have families and lives and certainly don’t want their dirty laundry of 20 years ago aired on the internet, but needless to say, it was one of the best summers of my life.

After this 24/7 parade of debauchery was over and the school bell rang for the first time for my sophomore year, after 3 hours, I decided I was out.   I just quit going.  Didn’t even devise a system to keep from anyone noticing.

Needless to say, this had consequences, the first was the truant officer and the second was the smug little guidance counsellor that convinced my mother to allow me to take the GED test as in his words, “He won’t be able to pass it, nobody does, they end up at PASS school where they hate it and he’ll beg to come back”.

Hah!   A challenge.  Now for those of you who don’t know, a GED is a test that covers everything you are taught in highschool, a misconception is this test is easy, no, it literally covers all facets of the highschool educational experience, it’s just relatively simple to pass with a failing grade being incredibly low.   You would think the guidance counselor would have noticed that I’d already taken my SAT and had achieved a 1540.

I spent a total of 3 hours in PASS taking a mock GED test that I scored the highest score they had on record at the time and they had no choice but to transfer me to the Adult Education Center were I was mandated to be while the next GED test was being given in 13 days.

I killed it, scoring so high, I got a nice little scholarship to the local college community college, Westark, which would later become a part of the U of A.

College was fun.  My problem was, here I am, 16 years old, all the freedom in the world and they didn’t care one way or the other if I went.  I lasted two semesters, the first, doing extremely well, the second, not so much.

Now, having the freedom and the return of my long-lost friend, Ryan, from his stay in OK for our previous childhood miscreant behavior, I brought together the group of friends that would be my crew until I was at least 19.   Bear, Ryan, Chris (a kid I grew up with who had hung out with Ryan and I on occasion) Scott and a new recruit we picked up along the way, Alex.  Bear and I also had our sub-crew of some of the guys who hung out at the Lakeside house and we would hang out with them as well.

For work, I built computers, had a brief stent at a radio shack and mainly did what 16 year olds do who aren’t in school… had as much fun as humanly possible, with no care or worry of the future.   Eventually I’d obtain a fake ID and a roommate from Jay, an older dude I’d become friends with from the Lakeside days and we moved into the Links when they first opened.  A brand new, furnished apartment that would become home base.

Scott had essentially pulled the same stunt I did and no longer went to school, so he would show up in the morning, we would wake and bake, go to McDonald’s, eat a Jam Pack (20 delicious nuggets split into two containers, 2 SUPER-sized fries and 2 Dr. Peppers).   Then we would roll around all day hanging out with Alex or whoever happened to be around at the time.   At night, Jay would get off work, the old crew would come over and I eventually found myself using Jay’s ID and old Mercedes to begin my downtown adventures in Fort Smith.  I became a regular at J-Mike’s, Roosters, Muck’s, Papa’s and some of the other bars of that era downtown.

Of course I’m 21, look at the ID!  Yeah I had a growth spurt, I know I’m tall, but I was 5’6 when that was taken (I’m 6’3 1/2).   Never failed though until Ryan and I decided to take a trip to Corpus Christi and apparently a Dallas nightclub owner was getting his detective on that night.   Anyway.

It was a pretty good life.  Obviously I was doing nothing and going nowhere fast, but when you are 16-17 years old, you’d be surprised at how little you think about the future and how much you live in the moment.   While my peers were studying for midterms or taking their ACTs, I’d already been through 2 semesters of college and built beer-a-mids that would go the floor to ceiling.

I feel this story wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention a game that would bind not only my group together but a few others in town, Super Smash Bros on Nintendo 64.  Wow.  This game would give all of us in the core group, Scott – Mario, Bear – Pikachu, Ryan – StarFox and myself, Any character I wanted to play with, with the exception of Scott and his Mario, I mastered them all to full potential), hours of entertainment and good times.

In retrospect, of course I could have spent my time more productively and as a parent, this is my worst nightmare, but, I feel uniquely prepared to prevent my children from repeating my mistakes.   They have two obstacles to overcome if they want to achieve the level of fuck-up I had…  1st, I’m a Network Security Expert, certified and everything, multiple times and 2nd, I know every trick in the book, from the fake apps to how EXIF data works to GPS and how to throw a SIM card in a raspberry PI machine the size of a cigarette holder, add a magnet and put it under a car and know exactly where that car is at all times.  Good luck girls, good luck.

While at the Links, I met Matt.  He was my married next door neighbor who was extremely too young to be married to his hippy wife.  We would spend our days playing video games and drinking Miller Lights and on occasion, our nights stealing newspaper machines because they seemed like they would make good decorative art (they don’t, we returned it) and generally getting up to as much mischief as we could.

There were a lot of interesting people at those apartments, too many to remember, but a few stand out..  Dirk, the 44 year pro fisherman (a.k.a. I have a broken down bass boat and no job) and the girls who lived there.   We were pretty well-known in the 9 months we spent in that apartment and it became a hangout for a lot of different people.  Life was good.

Now if you are still reading all this, you may think I advocate dropping out of school to live on your own and spend your days smoking that good-good and your nights abusing your liver, all before you can legally buy a beer at a local bar, which you get around with a fake ID and no drivers license of your own in a borrowed Mercedes while your passed out 22 yr old roommate is asleep on the couch.

I’m not.  It was stupid, a waste of my potential, but I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t fun and didn’t teach me a few things.   Among them, self-sufficiency.  Nobody paid for this but me and my roommate.  I grew up in that apartment.  Learned to interact with all types of people in that apartment, met my first real girlfriend in that apartment and navigated the sometimes crazy waves of bar-life in that apartment.

By the time I was 21, I was apart of a company making 8 to 15 grand every two weeks and living it up.   What were you doing at 21?  Probably living a version of my 17-year-old life.

My point is, the forest has many different paths and we all choose ours, don’t be ashamed if your pick of trail isn’t what most people took and know that no matter what path you take, you can always get out a machete and with a little hard work and a lot of luck, cut your own way to a good life.

Now that we have covered Highschool and my first attempts at College, I’m going to take a break.   Needless to say, it was an adventure and many, many things happened that for the sake of others, I won’t cover.

In Part 3 of Who am I?, I will tell you what happens when you turn a 16 yr old loose to live his own life and how a group of friends can totally fall apart.   The cost of living wild and free can be high and eventually we would all pay it in our own way.

Until then, I hope you are having a great day.

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