It's fairly common knowledge that I moved in with Mark in Pennsylvania after I graduated from high school. Somehow, though, the word got to Littleguy in New York that we were involved in some sort of illicit same-sex union. We received a "wedding gift" from LG not long after we began cohabitating: a device for picking up hard-to-reach pickles from the bottom of pickle jars. Friday night Jell-O baths notwithstanding, I have no idea where this notion could have originated...
Otters were cool. We were cool.
That might be a controversial statement for those that new us but hey, who is the protagonist in every teen movie ever made? If you don't know what protagonist means, don't worry, it wasn't you. The hero wasn't the jock or the good looking rich kid. I hate to use the word geek since it really doesn't quiet fit. I mean, I never had problems getting laid in high school. Roman certainly didn't. We all did ok for ourselves. Isn't that a decent measuring stick of success as a hormonally imbalanced teenager?
I ran into an old classmate (Great Mills class of 89) by the name of Roberts on the USS CONSTELLATION. He remembered me and the rest of the Otters. I didn't even know him, at least I don't think so. I certainly didn't recognize him. He knew who we were though. I think, at the very least, we were memorable.
The 80s was a decade of labels but perhaps geeks wasn't the proper label for us. We were the guys in WEIRD SCIENCE, we were Ducky from SIXTEEN CANDLES, we were the new in town brother in BRING IT ON, and we were Marty in BACK TO THE FUTURE. We grooved to Dead Can Dance, Ramones, Pixies, Depeche Mode, U2, Duran Duran, and the Smiths. We thought eyeliner was cool, shoes without socks acceptable, and that Star Trek was a religious statement. Sports were not our thing but we excelled in Drama, music and art. We didn't have the discipline to get a passing grade in English but we enjoyed writing.
We were the protagonist because we were the underdogs, the guys struggling to make it and to buck convention at the same time. While many of us bore a brave face of, "I don't give a nuts what you think," it is hard to fight the human need to be liked.
We have all done well: Mark's adult film career, Algards novel which has revolutionized the fishing industry, Beave's foray into Professional Wrestling, Roman's . . . well, I can't think of anything funny but seriously, if he would of taken the path of Hollywood, he would of been one of the top ten E! True Hollywood Stories.
Of memories, there are many. My watch that could store phone numbers, a device which I felt was the Rosseta stone to getting laid, and it's terrible destruction in the base pool (witnessed by Roman who still probably cannot shake that horrid scream from his consciousness.) I remember, dressing up, giddy with excitement to go to the opening day of Star Trek V, William Shatner's directorial debut. To say that our disappointment was heart felt is a massive understatement. It was Captain Kirk's greatest failure.
Linda is a lizard, creeping up on our door. Linda is a lizard who keeps coming back for more...It's Linda! AHHHHHH!
Leo's bad white Camero accelerator sticking to the floor and the engine catching fire to the tune of Sweet Inspiration. (Leo, you will be glad to know that I purchased a Camero while in college.) Refusing to wear jeans for the first three years of high school. Thinking that a pink sports jacket was cool (It was cool!). Planet of the Monkeys. Watch out for the soldier monkeys! Star Trek Bloopers: "That's not a string. Bones, your thingy is hanging out!" Saturday Night Cat Fights. Pet Cemetery 2. Interview with Bigfoot, with special lighting to protect his identity.
I know that we scarred the choreographer for life in our attempts at dance in the horrid high school production of Grease. Our Greased Lightning was a 78 Volkswagen Beetle.
Such a beautiful day in the world today, such a beautiful day in the USA, and it's mine, yes it is all mine, I am Mr. Reagan.
All the girls I made out with on Mark's bed.
Flock of Sea Gulls hair, Nattie Boa, and swimming in the Patuxent River in our underwear, surrounded by glow in the dark jelly fish.
Mr. Easley's stunning performance in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and Mr. Fry's torrid tales of Fraternity hijinks. Oh, by the way, Mr. Fry, thank you for introducing me to one of the greatest movies of all time, DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Message? No, simply a great quote from Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan.
damn, looking back at not only high school, but my whole roller coaster of a life, I've had one hell of an adventure. I've lived such a great life and I owe a large part of it to the Otters who taught me to sprinkle my toast with humor and look at life at a slightly tilted angle than everyone else. I would love to hear from any old friends or teachers (Beave, Steve, Anne, Stacy, LG, TJ, Matt, Amy, Ronnie, my old Journalism teacher, Molly, the Town Creek boys, etc), just to see where your lives have taken you.
It's 1982. The scene is a cafeteria in a nondescript middle school in Lexington Park, Maryland, named Esperanza. Middle school for those not familiar with the term, is basically the same thing as junior high. That's not very exciting, but I didn't want any terminology getting in our way.
Across the table one borderline geek, a Roman Terenzini, asks another borderline geek, a Mark Darin, a simple question, "Is that the new Atari Age?" Now, that's just a sad, sad beginning to any conversation. These days, well these days no one would know what the hell you were talking about. Atari Age hasn't been published for the better part of 20 years. That's not the point though. The point is...Jesus, what was my point? ...I was getting a latte, then I spilled some on my lap...screamed in pain.. Oh yes. The budding, young geeks.
That pathetic attempt at contact, from one geek to another was first step in to a lager more bizarre world than I would have imagined. For the seven years that followed, "Is that the new Atari Age," my friend Mark Darin and I grew beyond our geekdom, to a strange level of social status that few obtain. We were the Otters. Everyone knew us and we had almost no natural enemies. We were the guys at the party who had every jock and "popular girl" singing the Lumberjack Song at the top of their lungs. We were the guys that had stands full of football fans chanting "DNA," that's dioxiribo-nucleac-acid to you pal. I can't spell the damned word, but sure as I sit here no one in the stands knew what the hell DNA was. We were in Southern Maryland, after all.
We were the guys on the stage, even if there wasn't a stage. That's what it was all about. All that from that goddamned Atari Age. Go figure.
Unofficial cast parties are always amazing events with much celebration, drunkenness and occasional nudity. As such, I was never one to miss a cast party even when I wasn't actually part of the cast (a technicality which most, save a few weenies, were eager to overlook). The unofficial cast party for Arsenic & Old Lace (I think it was that play) took place on a small stretch of beach beneath Solomon's bridge. Data was cheerfully passing out cheap cigars and toasting to anything that would give him an excuse to drink. Jason had his head nestled between some girl's breasts in the back seat of my car. I was just kicking back in the sand enjoying my Jack Daniel's and watching the festivities develop.
Well, it wasn't long before the cops showed up. The tell-tale signs of a collective hurried shush and the rapid burial of beer cans alerted me to his presence. "Whats going on down here?" he asked. Data looked at me and said "I'll take care of this." Stepping forward to represent the group, Data approached the cop with all the confidence of a half a bottle of Bailey's. He calmly flicked the ash from the tip of his Swisher Sweet and said simply, "Officer, we're all just down here smoking cigars."
The flavor of the previous few stories seems to be "early Otter history," so allow me to share my first experience with these kooky characters. I was a sophomore at GMHS, my mullet and Anthrax t-shirts serving as pathetic representations of whatever clique I thought I was part of. (Truth is, I never really fit in anywhere... but doesn't everyone think that in high school?)
I had never, to this point, heard the word "Otter" in the context that we now all know so well. There was that weird kid Jason in my Spanish class, who would do things like change my chalkboard "Metallica" to "Meatballica" for no better reason than because it was there, and there were the plays that I attended exactly long enough to get extra credit in English class before I bailed... but that was the extent of my exposure. So one day, in conjunction with the aforementioned Spanish class, we were preparing for a field trip to... someplace in DC. (I want to say the National Zoo, but that doesn't seem very Spanish. Usually I'm very good at remembering these things.)
In any event, I remember getting in the bus, securing a seat by myself and waiting for the day to end. I remember Mrs. Kebaugh doing the head count: once, twice, three times... is there an extra kid on the bus?? Turns out there was -- Little guy had smuggled Data on to the bus in hopes of bringing him along for a day of extracurricular frolicking. Mind you, to this point, he was just that other weird kid Mike who wore trenchcoats to school and drank coffee. (What 16 year old did these things??)
Anyway, Data was just sitting there like all the other kids, making no real attempt to hide or look inconspicuous. "The balls on these guys!" I remember thinking as Data exited the bus with his administrative escort, still grinning at the fact that he'd almost made it. It was that day that I swore to get to know these brave and silly people better, and it really worked out for them, because I had a line on quite a lot of free liquor in those days. But that's another (much less interesting) story.
I had the great pleasure of staying two months with Roman and his mother since my parents had the gall to move before the end of my Junior Year. I had my own room and generally, it was a pretty nice deal. My girlfriend at the time was a petite and beautiful punk gal who I got the chance to re-date again in 1993.
One of the greatest challenges as a high school student is finding places to be alone. The backseat of the car worked most of the time but since my parents had fled to Maine, I was car-less. My only option was the short time between the end of school and when Mrs. T would come home, so we would lock ourselves into the room. I would crank up the Soundtrack to CONAN THE BARBARIAN or ZANADU and romance would ensue. Why this didn't sit well with Roman is uncertain but I assume it is because boredom would set in for him about 10 minutes upon getting home and he would begin to bang on the door. "Come on guys, let me in."
After a few adjustments, we would unlock the door and he would bound in, a huge smile on his face, like a puppy finally being let in. One time though, he sprung across the room and sat down on the bed, his hands resting back on the bed to balance himself. His smile quickly faded away as he quickly pulled up his hand and looked at it, his eye wide in horror. "What is that!" he gasped. I responded, "I spilled a drink there." He paused then frantically looked around. "What drink! Where is the drink! There is no can! There is no glass!"
We had no answers and we knew that he was doomed. With a blood curdling shriek, he ran out of the room to begin the long process of cleaning which involved steel wool pads, industrial soap, and lots of scrubbing. In a somewhat unrelated incident, I was unlucky to see some ghetto gang initiation pulled on Roman in San Diego. Someone left a full and tied off used condom on his patio fence. Roman used dishwasher gloves, a smock, and a full roll of a cleaning paper towels to remove the offending bio-hazard. He was forced once again to go through an elaborate scrubbing routine, similar to what Meryl Streep went through in SILKWOOD
You take two cans of re-fried beans, one pound of cheese, one container of fresh (not from a jar) salsa, a dash of garlic salt, a lot of ground black pepper, and some cilantro (if available). Mix it all together and heat until the cheese is the temperature of a nuclear reactor. That's the current formula for Mufungo.
It's taken 17 years to get to this point. The original term "Mufungo" comes from the latin mufungus, meaning of course, cheesey bean dip. That's just a joke, though I'm sure the early Europians would have enjoyed it as well. Except for perhaps the French...bastards.
Anyway, the word was given to us by the prophet Fred Sanford, of Sanford and Son fame. There is an important distinction between the two Mufungos. Fred Sanford made his with a mixture of manudo and "something else." That is to vague to base a proper recipe on. And for those not entirely familiar with manudo, it is an intestine, and innards dish from our friends south of the boarder. While I hear it really is quite good, I haven't mustered the courage to consume it.
Mark first wrote Mufungo on Mrs. Lowery's (our newspaper instructor) board in 1987. She erased it almost immediately, but it was back on the board the next day. This battle raged on for weeks until she lacked the will to erase it any more (or maybe she just got the joke). I know a proud line of Otters continued the tradition after that point and in my heart I like to think it's still there, a confused English Lit student staring at it thinking, "What the hell is that."
I lived with AAl and Mark in Jenkintown, PA for a few short months in the summer of '93. There were only two bedrooms to speak of, so I camped out in the Living room, sort of building myself a room with walls made out of shelving units and blankets, if I recall...
Anyway... During the months I was there, ostensibly searching for work, but not really looking all that hard, I recall a number of things that had to do with food, namely:
Houlihan's Cappuccino. We lived a short walk away from an intersection where there was a Barnes & Noble and a Houlihan's, and we frequented both. Houlihan's had this amazing Cappuccino in an enormous bowl-shaped mug. Many an evening was spent there in contemplation, or writing, or just generally getting schnockered. In fact, one evening there with Mark and myself was my first underage drinking experience, with no getting carded and ordering a Fuzzy Navel. ...unless, of course, you count my step-grandfather (a real 'county' boy) giving me a sip of his beer at the tender age of five. (For the record, I hated it then, but now I'm a beer snob. Go figure.)
Italian/French Sodas. Yummy, overpriced concoctions we often had while browsing through books we couldn't afford at the aforementioned Barnes & Noble, made with seltzer water and one or more of their variously flavored syrups. One was with cream, the other without-- I can't recall which. If I remember correctly, my favorite flavors were raspberry and almond, with cream. Mmmmm...
Doc Brown's Cel-Rey Soda. This was listed for a while on Mark's web page about food that shouldn't exist. Honestly, it wasn't all that bad, but I did prefer some of Doc Brown's less exotic flavors, like Birch Beer. Speaking of bad, though...
Egg Cream / Chocolate Smoothie. These were two different bottles, but I forget exactly which stories applied to which. They were both equally hideous, and prompted AAl on several occasions to introduce someone new to the experience by taking a sip, and then exclaiming, "Oh, that's horrible! Here-- you've got to try it!" I believe it was the Chocolate Smoothie that sat in the refrigerator for months on end, and Mark would occasionally go back for another sip, hoping that perhaps it had improved. In fact, I believe when I visited Mark in the same apartment a year after I had left, that same bottle of Chocolate Smoothie was still in the 'fridge.
And, finally... Frito Soup. At one point, we were so incredibly broke that Mark made soup out of... I believe, Kool-Aid and Fritos. We ate well that night, I tell you.
Mmmm... guimpo! Schluuuuuuurp!
My room, when it wasn't booby trapped by Erik, always seemed to have some sort of public draw. Maybe it was the walls which were adorned with memory inspiring trinkets, inside jokes, snippets of artwork and the obligatory half-naked chick posters. Perhaps it was my checker-board ceiling with the glow-in-the-dark runway and hanging dinosaurs. It may have been my bed which seemed to have the magical power of getting everybody laid but me. Whatever it was, it was never unusual to find someone in my room even if I wasn't there.
It was not even strange to wake up to find that I already had company, but it was odd to wake to find a stranger in my room alone. I sat up in my bed and watched as a trench coat wearing teenager browsed my room, looking at the walls as if he were in an art museum. "Hi." I said, treating this as if it were normal. The stranger nodded and smiled. "Interesting" he replied and added "Here, I brought you a PinaColada."
I accepted the frozen beverage from the kid (which was actually quite good) and allowed him to continue observing. After a few minutes he thanked me and left. I later learned that the stranger was a guy named Lain, a classmate of AAlgar and LG who was being evaluated as a potential Junior Otter candidate. As I got to know him I realized that his quirky behavior and bizarre appearances and disappearances were not at all uncommon. Like Kramer of Seinfeld, it was not at all surprising to see him turn up in the least likely of places. I don't know where he is now... last I heard he was helping to build artificial whales (really)... but I'm sure he'll turn up any second now...
It is fairly common knowledge that Erik was able to pull off a prank that involved announcing (falsely) on two major radio stations on two separate coasts that I wanted to be a woman. As a result of this I started receiving a disturbing number of wolf whistles at school along with a string of anonymous "love letters" at my locker. I even received a phone call from some guy asking me to the prom after I joined the female gender. After years of enduring Erik's torture I finally decided that it was time he got a little bit back. I tried responding on the radio station, but the DJ's (Don & Mike) were not interested in a running joke and thus I failed to get on the air. Instead, I turned to a more hands on approach. I created a flyer. Okay, I made hundreds of flyers, all of which named Erik as some kind of creep campaigning to alter the gender of men.
I distributed these flyers at all three local high schools, all of the major shopping centers in the county and just about anywhere I could publicly staple it.
Later, at Matt Boswel's under 21 night club, The Club Down Under, I would see my work pay off. We had all gotten into the club without paying the cover charge (Being an Otter has it's perks) we proceeded to hang around the "bar" and pester the young man working there for free drinks. Soon, a strange (And somewhat effeminate) guy approached Erik with his index finger extended. "I know you!" he announced "You're that guy on the flyer I found on my car." "Hey, I got one of those too!" I heard another voice say. As the look of confusion on Erik's face grew, the stranger ran to his car to retrieve the flyer and clarify his words. I took this opportunity to make myself scarce. A few minutes later, as I was leaving the club, I heard Erik screaming my name in a scene that I imagine was similar to Kirk screaming "KAHN!!!"
Ok, so I hadn't reached as wide an audience as Erik, but I had influenced the people that matter, those in my immediate surroundings. That day the people saw my retaliation and I knew that my small pond had just become that much smaller.