Positive Earth, Negative Earth

The summer of 1967 was my summer. It was a time of unbounded restlessness for me and the turbulent world around me. This summer contained all of the raw ingredients and organic circumstances to make an incoming high school freshman into a seasoned, four star adult. I would never be the same after this summer. What I didn’t know was that this summer would become the context for my childish naiveté to be cornered and raped.

From my vantage point of a take-on-the-world teenager, the current events of 1967 became larger than life: The Outer Space Treaty with the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the US had been signed earlier in the year. On June 1st the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely hearts Club Band, “The Soundtrack for the Summer of Love.” Only a month before, on May 1st, Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu were married in Las Vegas. On June 25th, the Beatles debuted “All You Need is Love,” as 400 million viewers watched the first live, international, satellite production. The Doors self-titled album had already been released in January. I was collecting 45s and LPs as fast as my paychecks were handed to me. On June 23rd, President Johnson would meet with Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in New Jersey to determine the temperature of the Cold War. The Vietnam Conflict was on everyone’s mind, except mine. I wasn’t seventeen, yet. For me, “The Beat” went on.

Simmering social unrest and heated war protests boiled over each evening into our living room though our boxy tube TV set. Angry protests became a nightly news feature. The 1967 summer broadcasts contained the Vietnam Conflict, the Cold war and the first Sudanese Civil war. I can still see my father watching the fatherly Walter Cronkite announcing his impassioned but formal newscasts. My dad, laid back, unsettled in a stiff sofa, would shake his cantilevered knee wildly up and down as if sowing the nightly news together word-for-word with a Singer sewing machine.

This was the summer before I entered High School. I had already started the summer band program and was waiting for the fall cross country program to begin. I also worked during that summer at Skrudland’s Photo Center, selling photofinishing and canisters of Tri-X 125 speed film. Though working full time, I made sure to take some time off of work to hang out with other teens from our church. My social clock had already begun ticking. And, with a few hard-earned dollars stuffed in my pocket I was ready to be wild and precocious on a tattered jean budget.

It was June, 1967 when I first met Ken. He pulled into the parking lot of the Auburn Bible Church driving his 1963 sky blue convertible T-bird, the voice of Dean Martin singing “Amore” on the AM/FM radio. Ken‘s small head and face, a vignette of James Dean without the looks and hair, stuck out of the driver’s seat like a bobble head toy. Getting out of his car, his lanky body navigated over toward us guys and right in front of me.

“Hi, I’m Ken.”

“Hi.” I responded looking at my neighbor friend Bill. “I’m Denny.”

“Do you think that we’ll get everyone together and get over to the park? He asked.

“I think the girls are figuring out who they are going to ride with.”  I responded looking at the ground.

‘Yeah, I think your right.’ “Are you just starting high school?

“Yeah, I’m a freshman.” I started kicking loose gravel.

“I’m a senior this year. I transferred from York High School because they finished building the high school here in town.”

“I’m in summer band and I’m on the cross country team,” I answered, trying to sound more senior-like.

“You can ride with me to the park.”

“OK.” was my answer, with an air of instant pride at being selected by a senior to ride in a rag-top. I asked my best friend Bill to ride with us. With the T-Bird filled with just the guys and with me in blue jeans and a white tee shirt, I was on top of the world. Once the girls had decided on their carefully selected seating arrangement, we all boarded the few cars available and headed out to Churchill Park.

That summer there were many such teen outings and I joined them all in hopes of making new friends before entering high school. My best friend Bill, who lived across the street from my family went along on these outings.  Early on, I had invited Bill to come to our church. We were both eight years old when this happened. He tagged along and soon became a regular with our family. To our families, Bill and I were the left and right pockets on the same pair of jeans – we could always found together.

After the social initiation of the group outings, Ken started calling me and asking me to come over to his house. He said that he had a Triumph TR3 that he was rebuilding and that he needed some help. I told him I didn’t know anything about cars except something about oil changes but he begged me to come over. I finally accepted his invitation on one hot, boring summer day. I was eager to be friends and to learn about cars. I figured that I would be driving soon enough.

That day I rode my bike across town to Ken‘s house. I pulled up to his parent’s house and found the garage door open with Ken standing inside. His hands were black, holding an oily car piece in his hand. The TR3 was parked in the garage with the hood up. I said “Hi” and then asked about his parents. He explained that his mother worked in a clothing store and his father worked at a country club in the men’s locker room. He told me, “They were never home during the day”. I felt a little unsettled not knowing the neighborhood or Ken that well. It must have showed.  Ken immediately began talking about the TR3 and what he was trying to do.

Looking at the Triumph, Ken explained: “The Triumph has a positive earth electrical system and I’m trying to connect a radio. There are only three items on a stock positive earth TR3 electrical system that care what the polarity of the system is, the ammeter, the coil and the generator.” I jut nodded my head and looked informed. The most I knew about what he was saying was that there were positive and negative forces in the world. Opposites attract and like polarities repel.

I went on to handle a few car parts trying to look into the whole matter. My hands soon became like his, greasy, with fingernails full of the black muck of spent oil. I was extremely interested in seeing the sporty little car repaired, especially if Ken would let me drive the car. At fourteen, I sensed the spirit of fast sporty cars was racing through me. And, I also became keenly aware that a new friendship was forming in the pit stop.

As Ken spoke about the car, I quickly scribbled the steps to make a polarity conversion, just in the chance that I should ever come to own a TR3 and an AM/FM radio:

1. Disconnect and remove battery.

2. Switch the leads on the ammeter. Move the wires from one connecting clip to the other.

3. Switch the low voltage leads on the coil. Disconnect the leads, loosen the clamp on the coil holder, rotate the coil 180 degrees and reconnect the wires. Keep the same lead routing.

4. Disconnect the small wire on the generator. Note: The connection post is labeled F (for field).

5. Place the battery back into the battery tray in the opposite direction as it was sitting. Re-attach the hold down bracket.

6. Connect the clean ground connector to the negative terminal of the battery. Note: The terminals are different sizes. Make them fit.

7. Disconnect the wire at terminal “F”. Take a length of insulated wire and connect one end to the battery’s positive terminal. Touch the other end of the wire to the field (F) terminal of the generator a couple of times. This generally produces a spark. Remove the wire from the battery. This re-polarizes the generator. Note: The “F” may be hard to see on the generator. You can also do these steps on the wire at the voltage regulator “F” terminal.

8. Reconnect the wire disconnected from the field (F) of the generator.

9. Attach the battery cable leading to the starter solenoid to the positive terminal of the battery.

After we completed the polarity conversion Ken invited me inside the house.  There, we washed up.  Ken then offered me something to drink. He handed me a glass of lemonade and we sat down in his kitchen, talking for a while. After about half-an-hour, Ken asked me if I wanted to play cards. I told him I didn’t know how to play cards. He said “I can show you.” I thought that here was something else that I could learn from another guy so I agreed.

Ken left the room and came back shortly with a deck of cards. He began to shuffle the deck in ways I had never seen shuffled before except perhaps on the TV show Gunsmoke. He began to tell me the different hands and their value and the rules of the five card stud, his favorite game.  He dealt the cards and I gathered them up, holding them, fanned out in my hand, just like Maverick would hold them in the TV western.

I quickly lost every hand I played but Ken he convinced me to keep trying. After seven games and only one win, Ken asked me if I wanted to bet on the next hand. I said “I don’t bet.” He came back, “It will only be for candy.” He threw a handful of M&Ms on the table. I hesitated and then said, “Why not.” I continued to lose the rounds and my pile of M&Ms disappeared. I said I had to get home for dinner. I grabbed my bike and headed back across town toward home. It felt good knowing that I had a new friend and that I had learned ‘guy’ stuff in the process.

In June of that summer I hung out with the teens from our church seeking ways to be with the girls as much as possible. In July, Ken began calling our house often He was inviting me to come over to his house. I finally went over to see him.

 We again worked on his TR3, this time cleaning the carburetor. He asked about my family. While cleaning out the butterfly valve with some solvent, I told him that, “My dad works in town, my mom is at home and I have two brothers and a sister. We moved here in 1960.”

Ken and I finished the carburetor repair. We cleaned our hands and then grabbed a couple of Cokes from his parent’s icebox. I soon noticed a deck of cards on the kitchen table. With our cold drinks we sat down and played several hands. After winning a few rounds, Ken wanted to know if I “wanted to play for stakes?” “I don’t know.  I just like playing,” I responded.

Ken then pestered me to “up the ante” and I kept saying “No”. After several more hands he asked me again and I said “what are you talking about.” He said that if I were to lose the next hand that I would have to do what ever he wanted and that if he was to lose that he would do whatever I wanted. It felt weird to me but at the same time I knew that I always had the power of “No”, so I said “OK”. I desired his friendship and socially, it would help having a senior as a friend in high school. Would he ask me to fix a tire?

I lost the next hand. He told me what he wanted me to do: “I want you to clean the house. Sweep, vacuum, everything.”

I looked at him incredulously. “What?’

“You lost, you said you would play and now you lost. You must do what I want.”

I resisted, looking everywhere for a way out of the bet. “I’m not going to clean your house.”

“You have to,” he insisted. “You gave your word. You’re a Christian aren’t you?” He left the room and came back to the kitchen with a small men’s Speedo swimsuit. “I want you to wear this while you’re cleaning.”

My face flushed lobster red. I said, “No way!” I immediately began trying to lower the debt to just cleaning the house. I felt like running. I also felt that I needed to somehow save face, to be a Christian and honor my word. I had no idea of the consequences this bet imposed on me. Rattled, I got up from the kitchen chair I promised to come back another day and help him with the TR3 and maybe even play cards again, “Without betting,” I added while heading for the garage. I got on my bike and sped off, relieved to be pumping the pedals in the direction of home.

In August I started cross country training. I ran ten miles every day, five days a week. I soon realized that I was more of a sprinter but I didn’t want to quit what I had started. I just kept running the long distances even though it meant coming in last most of the time.

I loved to run and so I was very happy to be doing it while wearing the school’s jersey. I enjoyed meeting up with my team friends on Saturdays for a “fun run” through the town. We ran wherever we wanted to go and I would perpetually come in last. My teammates would always be waiting for me at the end our run, where I would run up to group panting like I would die on the spot. They would heartily laugh, having already recovered early on from the run.

Summer band was now in full swing, literally. I had auditioned for the first trumpet section and I won the seat. I sat behind a sophomore who was the solo trumpet. He often played fourth trumpet in the Civic Orchestra in Chicago. Our concert band was top notch. We played classical music transcripts written for concert band instruments. I was overjoyed. As a youngster, I listened to classical music at home every night. I especially enjoyed the brassy pieces of music: Mussorgsky’s, Pictures at an Exhibition; Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Sousa marches.

That summer I was invited to play in the concert orchestra and the swing band. I had many close friends in each of these groups. The increasing number of friendships with kids in the band, the orchestra, the swing band, the classrooms, the cross-country team and the church were all the positive charges that I needed to keep things running smoothly.

At the start of August, twenty days before school started, I got a phone call from Ken. He wanted me to “come over”. “The Triumph is ready to roll. I’ll take you for a ride.”

Thinking that this would be a harmless way to honor my bet I said,” OK”. I headed over to his house and found the Triumph parked on the street. Ken walked out of the garage and asked me if I was ready and I nodded “yes”.

We got in the sports car and Ken started the engine.  He shifted into first and then turned on the newly installed radio. “Superjock” Larry Lujack, a regular the WLS AM station, came on the radio, sarcastically talking about the ”klunk letter of the day”. As we listened, Ken drove the TR3 out of the neighbor hood and headed for the nearby highway. The convertible sports car responded quickly, moving effortlessly through five gears. The wind whipped through my hair. Radar love.

We returned to his house an hour later. Ken parked the car in the garage and we went in for a Coke. I knew at this point that I would not play cards so when he asked I said, “No.” He persisted in asking and I persisted in resisting. Finally, he said that he had a roulette game in his bedroom. I had heard about roulette from a TV show but I reallyknew nothing about the game. Ken persisted in his desire to show me. I went with him to his bedroom thinking that I would see this thing and then head home.

When we got to his bedroom, Ken uncovered the roulette game from a box that was stored under a bunk bed. He spun its center wheel, showing me how it worked. He handed it to me and I sat down on his bed to hold the wheel on my lap. I spun the wheel to see where the red, black and white balls would land. As I did, Ken sat down next to me. I quickly moved over to make room for him. Ken then moved closer. He then put his arms around me and started wrestling me down to the bed. I was in complete shock.

Taller than me, Ken leveraged himself on top of me, grappling every which way to confine me. I squirmed under him, thrashing my arms every which way, trying to push myself out. I was yelling “Stop it!” over and over.

Ken began to use his feet against the footboard of the bed and his tall frame as a lever to hold me down against the bed. He then grabbed one of my legs and pulled it up onto the bed. As I lay face down across the bed, I struggled in vain to get out from under him. I had wrestled many kids when I was younger so I reacted to his “take over” by trying to roll out sideways from his body. When I started to do this Ken grabbed a rope from the wall side of his bed.  He must have hidden the rope for a time like this.

While on top of me, Ken tried to loop my neck and hands to the headboard. I continued to struggle, turning sideways, but with no luck. Then, I felt his pelvis thrusting into my backside. I immediately pushed myself up from the bed with all of my strength and put a shaky leg on the floor and then quickly another. I had to forcefully wrench my head out the headlock he put on me.  When I finally pulled myself free I ran out of his room, headed straight for my bike and took off for home. The adrenaline racing through me caused me to pump the pedals even faster.

That night, I ate dinner silently. I never mentioned what had happened to my parents or to anyone until now. I felt shamed and wounded.  I felt dirty, dirtier than when I worked on the car. I had once read the word “rape” in an Old Testament story. I only understood it to mean something that only happened to women. I didn’t understand a lot of what I felt about that day until forty years later. I then came to realize that I felt shame, disgust. At fourteen, in 1967, I had never heard the words “homosexuality” or “being gay”. And, I didn’t have any understanding that someone would take advantage of me and my desire for friendship. I was deeply saddened by the broken trust. I have always wanted to be good friends with anyone I had met. But, to Ken, our natural friendship meant forced and unnatural sex to him.

From that point on, throughout high school and afterward, I always made a point of never being alone with Ken. Whenever Ken was around my best friend Bill, my right jean pocket, would always be with me. I wanted my friendship with Ken to continue but it would be at a distance.

My 1967 ‘TR3’ summer had become forever flawed and so would I.  That school year I would go on to act as nothing had happened. It was a time and place that I didn’t want to remember and yet the memory of it would occur every time I sought a close friendship with anyone:  Would this new friendship become a vehicle for violating me? Thankfully, there have been trustworthy friends in my life.  Friends like Bill.

Much later, I would find out that Ken would go on to become a mayor of a small village outside of Chicago. Ken had always boasted to me of his being a lifelong Democrat. He knew that I was a Republican. In the end, he would never get my vote.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

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