Your Greatest Year

There are two versions of this story.

The first—probably because it’s the most recent—comes from the first chapter of my would-be post-Britain novel Out of English, titled “The Boner of Dumond”:

Leaning against the door of the ’Mont, I cracked open the second of an eight-pack of Blatz Light Cream Ale shooters. Not the Miller High Life; the shooters. The good shooters, Mad Dog.

It’s a sunny day, Thursday in fact—July 28, 1983—but what a fucking awful day. Which is why I’m by the lake, chowing down two Burger Chef cheeseburgers and now suckin’ down this shooter.

Not gonna look at the letter again. And not going back to work, nope.

Nothing matters, man.

And later…

On my fifth shooter and I’m breaking the goddamn things on a rock. Between smashups, a crow lands on a rock a couple feet from me, dipping a beak in the water and blinking my way. I’m thinking he’ll see me with that green glass to my lips and he’ll fly away. But he just stands there, blinking at me.

What the fuck?

Wonder if a half-dollar will get me into college, Lianna. What do you think? Ghost of a chance?

I smash the drained shooter on the rocks and you bet Mr. Crow takes the hint and flaps away.

The second version (probably “closer to the truth”) was written in my journal on Saturday, July 28, 1984:

Thursday’s mail brought a loan rejection letter from my lender, Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board. This shocked and angered me. I called the Board from home and then called the school from work. I was told there was an error in my Loan Analysis Report, where I had noted and signed 2 in our household and only one attending school this Fall. It was suggested that I contact a Mr. Jose Sanchez the next day to see if the problem could be cleared up. The rest of the day at work was for me claustrophobic. I was dazed that my loan wouldn’t come through, so much so that I couldn’t concentrate on work and decided that, at 3 pm, I’d take the rest of the afternoon off. … I stopped and picked up two cheeseburgers and a six pack of beer and drove out to Lake Waconia and sat in the car and watched sailboats out on the lake. It was a beautiful day. Options raced through my head … what would I do this Fall? School was out of the question … I’d find a new job and a place to live. Sitting there by Lake Waconia, I suddenly felt transported away from my anxiety, maybe the beer helped…

Then, like now, I was ripe for reinvention.

I wanted to leave my job of three years and move away from the isolated hobby farm in the country, my father’s harshness, and my mother’s ongoing depressive episode.

The day after that lakeside epiphany, I redoubled my effort.

I phoned the financial aid guy in Iowa City. “He told me to mail the application back to him,” the journal reports, “and he would make the changes. He told me that, based on the new information, I shouldn’t have any trouble getting the maximum loan for $2,500.”

I immediately sent the amended application back. Then I had to await confirmation of the loan.


Meanwhile the Indianhead Players of the Westonka Community Theater were planning to perform skits for an early August town-wide event called the “Incredible Festival.”

I met with actor-friends Tom LaCrosse and Karin Davis at the Mound American Legion Hall. We huddled around a table with drinks in front of us and pads and pencils at the ready.

Tom, Karin, and I wrote two original skits, “The Neighborhood Pharmacy,” and “The Last Judgment.” We’d noodled the scripts as early as mid-July, weeks before the loan rejection letter.

The concept for “The Neighborhood Pharmacy” came from one of our late-night Legion Hall wit sessions: “How do pharmacists actually read a physician’s awful handwriting on prescriptions?”

The answer: “They don’t! It’s a guessing game with each prescription!” The concept had us doubled over with laughter.

Karin played a customer with a prescription she’s handed to a junior pharmacist (played by me) who can’t decipher it. Well, neither can his father, the head pharmacist (performed by Tom). After a lot of high jinks and “20 Questions,” it turns out that the customer has given the pharmacists her daughter’s illegible note—definitely not a prescription.

In “The Last Judgment,” Tom played a fire-and-brimstone preacher, Karin his long-suffering wife, and I his son, home from college and bringing along his friend “Tony”—which preacher and wife think is a guy but who’s actually their son’s new girlfriend. Confusion ensues about where the new friend will sleep when he/she comes to visit.

Of the two skits, “Judgment” was weakest. I was adamant that we scrap it altogether. On Tuesday, July 31, I wrote in the journal:

Last night I arrived up at the Theatre half an hour late … Tom was upset. I then mentioned as a course of business that I felt we should drop ‘The Last Judgment’ sketch and call it a shorter show. …Tom refused to acknowledge me. Karin tried diplomacy, but no good. ‘Maybe Bill (Schutt) will do it,’ Tom said to Karin. At this point I was thinking … why doesn’t Bill do the whole fucking show? But I hadn’t said anything until finally, seeing the meeting was going nowhere, got up and said, ‘Well, I’ll talk to you later…’ Tom snapped back: ‘No, no, I don’t think so. You’re too much of a child, Mike.’ I stormed out surprised at myself for not blurting anything out.

“I don’t think I was being unfair,” I wrote in the journal. “I felt we should drop the sketch because it was humorless and cynical … I stand faithfully by my lack of faith in it.”

I was sad for a while. Tom was like an artistic father figure.

But I wrote in the journal later: “My sights, from here on in, are set toward Iowa!


Mom_Me84Then came Saturday, Aug. 25, 1984:

Right now I’m sitting alone in my dorm room. … Mom, Dad and I had lunch in Iowa City—at a deli in the Old Capitol Mall. The weather, all day, was beautiful. We stopped in at Penny’s and they bought me a blanket. Directly after that we stopped at the Hy-Vee and Mom bought me a few groceries—for the weekend. They dropped me off and left around 4pm. So, now I’ve been by myself for the past few hours. I started feeling a bit lonely. This is what it’s like to know no one.

Two days later I received a letter from Dad written in soft-lead pencil on a sheet of yellow legal pad paper.

He begins all business-like: hoping my roommate had arrived okay, that I’d successfully scheduled my classes, and that I’d taken “a long walk in the park across the street” from my dorm.

Then he wrote this:

I know you have been gone just a few days, but I already miss having you around. You are a great son, a person that I respect and love very much and I hope and pray this will be your greatest year for growing and expanding your horizon.

I was 24, and there was so much more.

I was finally away from the Family Project again and totally jazzed to be on my own.

But, 31 years later, I can’t begin to tell you how much those words mean to me now.

~ by completelyinthedark on June 12, 2015.

One Response to “Your Greatest Year”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    I’ve been feeling gratitude all week and happy to reshare this. All-new post next Friday, my friends.


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