And So to Church

Junior year in high school, The Gang often hung out at churches. Did that make you sit up and take notice? Here's the deal. Being a university town, just about all of the churches had established lounges in which the college students could hang out. These were typically furnished with overstuffed sofas, ping-pong tables (upon which hang more than one tale), a phonograph complemented by assorted records, a piano, pop machine, cushions for loafing on the floor and so forth. Everything to make collegiate fellowship happen, and presumably entrap less discerning students within a lifetime of religious indenture.

But remember, this was the sixties. Draft-dodging, hallucinogens and free love enticed, so as a matter of fact, these coffee houses were almost always empty on Friday and Saturday nights. Presumably, a hash pipe, the Amboy Dukes playing in the background and one of those old mattresses--gray-white with age, zig-zag blue pin-stripes running the length, mottled by curious stains and punctuated by stupid sewed-on buttons (remember those?)-- was probably far more appealing, especially if everyone had disrobed. Thus, The Gang appropriated the bypassed student lounges for its own purpose.

More as a reminder to myself than anything, I'll mention that the Campus Lutheran Church was one of our premier haunts. Man! The practical jokes which took place there! Tear gas, explosives, septisimals (if I may so coin that neologism), an unexpectedly found bottle of Mogen David in the broom closet, cranking up the fancy electronic organ in the ample chapel for a rendition of Steppenwolf's Don't Step on the Grass Sam (with full concert hall reverberation if you please), a pop machine dispensing free beverages courtesy of a lock hijacked with a skill worthy of Houdini, the first of the ping-pong table antics, a prayer meeting in the basement unexpectedly adjourned by one magnificent potassium permanganate/magnesium detonation, the thrill of being chased out the back door into the dark night by student caretakers who never caught us, a "wanted poster" pinned to the cork bulletin board in the lobby, even a write-up of our escapades in the Daily Tribune: this place had it all!

And it was just across the street from the Graduate Dormitory in case things got a bit dull on a Friday night. You might recall from The Duggmobile this was the site of the dreadful suicide in which the corpse vanished by the time the news reporters arrived. It also was subject to a little interior remodeling at the hands of my favorite artisan, Tiny, whose primary dainty implement was a ball-peen hammer.

Just round the corner, right on Lincoln Way, across the street from the Student Union, lay the Catholic Church into which my good buddy Fake-Nose had been dragooned by cruel parents. Need I add that the priests there knew him well? And I did mention the celebrity of Fake-Nose's peristalsis for acting on cue, didn't I?

Anyway, this church also established a youth lounge. What I remember most (apart from the potassium nitrate/sugar smoke bombs we lodged in the floor drains--jeez, if that didn't put the nuns' knickers in a twist) was the excellent jukebox, and it was rigged to be free-of-charge with unlimited music! We would crowd around it each weekend to take in the recent additions. I so recall wassailing to the Box Tops performing The Letter, and of course Vanilla Fudge doing You Keep Me Hanging On. Every once in a while some college guy sporting horn-rimmed glasses with lenses an inch thick would wander in and crank up the Cowsills yodelling The Rain, the Park and Other Things. We were a pretty threatening bunch (especially if Tiny was present), so it usually didn't take much to send the interloper packing. Body language, indeed.

I just remembered--can it really have been 45 years ago now?--the pinball machine we were addicted to. Unlike the jukebox, this required the feed of a dime. But a powerful bar magnet licked that problem and all of us played for hours on end with but a single coin split among us. Along those lines, Fake-Nose worked out a pretty good procedure for making free calls from a pay phone booth with nothing more than a strip of cardboard. Say what you will about juvenile delinquency, it often brings out much lateral thinking in the vein of Edward de Bono.

And then there was the incident of the canoe, the trailer and the hapless girl's car. (Damn, that sounds like the title of a Sherlock Holmes story!) Lesson to be learned: never attach a ball hitch to your automobile unless you really intend to use it.

When I think back to then, I always dream of nonstop drizzly nights. Just now, while recalling that, I swear my blood pressure dropped a couple dozen points. Once we had milked the Catholic Church dry, we then headed westward along Lincoln Way in the light rain. It was so relaxing, pleasant, and life seemed as though it would go on forever as we embarked on this strange adventure together. For, though young offenders all, the members of The Gang truly did display a strong attachment to each other.

A few blocks along, just across Stanton Avenue from the Rexall drug store (whose strangely unconcerned pharmacist supplied us with any number of dangerous substances required in our chemical investigations) we paused briefly at the Episcopal Church. This was run more tightly--the head prelate there reminded me of Benito Mussolini both in appearance and behavior, having more than ample ruby red lips, jutting jaw and apparently taking no real joy in life other than being stern for the hell of it--and so rarely attracted our attention. However, we popped in one night to find Jil (a gorgeous high school hippie chick framed in long straight hair, always lightly dosed with an alluring aroma of patchouli, who wore an engaging smile connoting casual coition) attempting to walk on the walls. LSD is no respecter of gravity, apparently, but she sure was having fun. The town really did have territories and I've long wondered what quirk made her cross the Flats (our Berlin wall, separating town and gown) to invade our neck of the woods that night. I always wanted to molest Jil, but since she was descended of Central and I of West, it would never happen. You thought I was kidding about the Montagues and the Capulets, didn't you? Or hippie chicks, for that matter.

Continuing westward through Dog Town (sometimes called Campus Town--a three block stretch of businesses catering to the dormitories immediately opposite L-Way, and home to the magical Wally's Pipe and Gift Shop described elsewhere), we eventually wound up at the student lounge within the Presbyterian Church, just across the street from the football stadium. This is the Dickensian workhouse which made Sundays such misery for me.

The interior of the church itself was quite old-fashioned: lots and lot of polished walnut and oak fittings, plush purple cushions on the minister's throne, the pipes of the not inconsequential organ gleaming with eye-blinding gold. But the college students' fellowship area, well, it definitely looked like the sixties. What is it about furniture from that era which seems to have been crafted (if that's the verb) expressly for discard within a year? William Morris would have gotten a severe case of the dry heaves. His colleague, Oscar Wilde, certainly would have yakked more about these fittings than the wallpaper which so troubled him on his death-bed.

But join me there as we trudge up the exterior wrought-iron fire escape to enter the lounge from the outside (the better to avoid detection) and find our little piece of relaxation. First on the agenda is to raid the refrigerator and drink all of the Hi-C Hawaiian Punch from those gigantic tin cans, perhaps a gallon or so. The guts of teenage boys can hold vast quantities, wanted or not.

Scoping out the record collection, I stumbled upon an album which seemed intriguing. The cover and liner notes were extensive, making reference to Egyptian deities, poetry, scatology, the occult, cannabis, language and more. This was heady stuff for a sixteen-year-old, and I so wanted to crack its code. Repeated listenings that night convinced me the world was far stranger than I'd ever imagined. Hell, I had never even heard of a dominatrix before. More auditions later, at home (I was smart enough always to use headphones) convinced me I had stumbled upon the key.

The album was It Crawled into My Hand, Honest, and the performers were The Fugs.

Thus, Ed Sanders and his mob entered my life, and in a trice I didn't feel so alone. Licking now seemed to be the rule, not the exception, and that excited me. That there was something inherently fun and funny about erotomania excited me. Finding a whole new world of poetry--Allen Ginsberg, William Blake, Marianne Moore--excited me. Hellion? You bet, but ready to uncover more, since that's what we're here for.

Before departing the college lounge that night, the ping-pong table suffered a bit of ignominy (sort of a monomania with The Gang) at the hands of Sheel-Teat...but what else is new?

Yes, churches definitely had an appeal to The Gang. You don't have to be a Sigmund Freud to see why. But it all probably reached the pinnacle the night of that huge blizzard in Ames--a very rare occurrence--and our visit to another Lutheran church way out on the west side of town. The snow kept a-coming and a-coming that night as we visited this venue for the first time. You might call it The Adventure of the Pastor's Galosh. Sherlock again. Don't fret, I'll relate it eventually, for it's a corker.

I think that really was the first time I realized pranksterism is an art form. 

Next installment: A Word Comes to Life

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