This is the time of year when reluctant parents cling to their graduating seniors for every moment of time together. Tears are shed as mom’s watch yesterdays kindergartener pack for this years “Senior Week”. The infallibility of youth does nothing to calm her. Boys in particular think they are Superman.
It reminds me of the dynamic surrounding my own graduation from Honolulu’s Damien Memorial in 1977. Except not. We didn’t have a “Senior Week” tradition; and my parents seemed to be in a rush to get me out of the house as soon they possibly could.
I must have been difficult to live with.
The official notification of my Appointment to the Naval Academy was acknowledged at the dinner table with a standing ovation by my siblings and a breath of relief from my parents. You’d think with Plebe Summer Indoctrination in early July, they would have delayed my departure as late as they could. That would not be the case.
I had first met Jeff Freeman the previous summer. We hit it off immediately. Jeff attended Iolani High School and our schools competed on the football field. On a barely relevant and hardly important historical note, on September 19, 1975, Damien defeated Iolani in the first high school football game played at Hawaii’s brand new Aloha Stadium. I threw the first touchdown pass in that game. You can be sure I thought I was Superman.
Flexing one’s pectoral muscles on demand is not a naturally bestowed gift – it’s both an art and a skill that requires practice. Although proficient at publicly showcasing a wide-range of bodily functions, Jeff Freeman is the Godfather of Pec-flexing. His groundbreaking book, “How to Mesmerize and Hypnotize the Ladies with Dancing Pecs” inspired a generation of rap stars, professional wrestlers, and teen idols. Although the art was new and fresh in the 70’s, he convinced me of its amazing potential. Jeff took me under his wing, teaching me the basic ‘Alternating Wink’, the more advanced ’ Twin Winks’ , and the always tantalizing, ‘Double Slo-Mo Tsunami Roll’.
“Just remember,” Jeff would say, “Chicks dig it!”. Under Jeff’s tutelage, the possibilities just seemed endless.
We both received our Congressional Appointments and orders to report to Annapolis on July 6. Somehow our parents were in agreement that we should leave the Island as soon as possible after graduation. They convinced us that we should go on a cross-country trip prior to our institutionalization. We each received the same graduation gift; an Amtrak 30-day USA Rail Pass.
Imagine sending your recent high school graduate on a 30 day long ‘Senior Week’. What were they thinking?
Much like the plot in the movie “The Hangover”, we had no real plan. We had a start date, and we had an end date. In between was wide open. On June 10, 1977, boarding in Salinas, CA, we hit the rails on our two-man Rolling Aloha Tour. Sporting flip-flops, tight tee-shirts, and even tighter shorts, we slapped on our back packs and stepped onto the train.
I am certain fellow passengers were wondering, “Flip flops and backpacks? Really?”
We developed a timelessly juvenile and homophobic form of communication which to this day still falls well below anybody’s standard of political correctness. In the 70’s I don’t recall much emphasis on conversational skills. Pick up lines usually started something like this, “Hi, my name is Pat. I’m from Hawaii. I’m going to the Naval Academy.” All the while inconspicuously (I thought) winking my pecs under my tight t-shirt. That was all the game I had.
The marked up Amtrak map indicates we headed up the coast to Portland, then south to Salt Lake City, then back to California heading up the west coast to Canada, back to Portland and across the northern states through Minneapolis, Chicago, Canton, and into Philadelphia.
We had many interesting encounters and random events which are still emblazoned on my brain. Some of the highlights included posing next to a bronze statue of an American Indian on the steps of the Utah State Capital. As I recall, the locals didn’t find that was as funny as we did.
In the Salt Lake City train station, we met a couple of girls who responded to our pec-flexing with an invitation to join them and their family on British Columbia’s Whistler Mountain. I think the grandparents were surprised to learn we followed the girls all the way from Salt Lake City. Young love is so awesome. And flexible! But hey! – We were on our way to the Naval Academy! Wink-wink.
Between Portland and Chicago, I met Patty Taft. It started with the silver tongue smoothness “My name is…..going to the Naval Academy “shtick .
“My dad went to the Naval Academy!” she said. My pecs went into hyper speed.
“So did mine” I said. “He was Class of ’56.”
A pause, then, “I think that’s when my dad graduated too.”
In summer of ‘77 there was no Google and no cell phones. There was, however, a bottle of ‘Southern Comfort”. The next day, after a prolonged layover in Chicago, Patty, breathlessly, got back on the train.
“You’re not going to believe this!” she said.
Soulfully contemplating the irony of the word ‘Comfort’ in ‘Southern Comfort’, I grunted.
“I called my mom. She has a picture of us taking a bath together when we were babies in Hawaii!”
Gosh, I wonder if the 70’s miss me as much as I miss the 70’s?
Then there was the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. Almost. Jeff’s grandmother lived in Canton, Ohio where we planned to stay for a couple of days. Having wandered off and “fallen asleep” in another car, I missed the early morning stop. By the time I returned to my back pack, Jeff and the Hall of Fame were long gone as I was already somewhere east of Pittsburgh. Although I probably wouldn’t quote it – I wish I would have saved the note he left on my backpack.
I headed into Philadelphia’s’ 30th Street Station, and boarded a bus for my Grandmother’s home in Ocean City, N.J. where Jeff would join me before the final leg to Annapolis. There is nothing quite like a Fourth of July stroll on the boardwalk checking out the surf shops and concession stands. Through divine intervention, I found what would be my last purchase of civilian clothing prior to Indoctrination Day – jockey briefs with a Superman logo ironed on to the crotch. I just had to have them!
The next day we headed south to Annapolis. Then late on the afternoon of July 6, 1977, we stood with nearly 1300 other men and women with our right hands raised . In a matter of hours the long-hair, jeans and flip-flops had been supplanted by a buzz cut, crisp white works uniform and a Dixie cup hat. The only remnant from my civilian past was a Superman logo hidden from sight. .
34 years later some of these memories are as precious as they were the day they happened. I have met many people and am blessed with many treasured friendships. There is, however, only one friend I call “Homo”.
Aloha you strokish Bruddah Jeff! Thanks for the memories!