Back in November, I posted on the formation of the neighborhood scene that came together in The Barn that we owned. It was a place where we all hung out and threw amazing, wild-assed parties.
It was like we were all family… in fact that’s what we called ourselves: “The Family.”
That all started when I was a sophomore and they ran The Godfather 1 and 2 on TV, all cut together in chronological order. (Remember, Godfather 2 had all kinds of flashbacks to the 1920’s.) As the only Italian in my group, I was christened “The Godfather”, which I kept as a nickname all through college, even using it as my air-name on college radio.
The Barn was just coming together during the spring that my buddies and I were graduating high school. The first domino toppled at graduation, when my crazy friend Billy suggested that we all wear suits and ties under our robes, but with shorts instead of slacks. (Real 70’s shorts, not like the flood-pants that pass for shorts now.) We were all into it, having gotten a taste of pulling ridiculous stunts throughout our last spring in school.
I know that may sound tame today, but it was a big deal back then. Or at least it would have been if my dad hadn’t put the kibosh on it.
“You will NOT do anything to embarrass this family!”
I told my friends that I was out. At least I think I did. Either Billy didn’t get the message, or he just didn’t care. The funny thing about Bill was that no one knew who the hell he was. He only came to our school for senior year. He just happened to be in my newspaper class and it was really just a fluke that he fell in with The Family and me.
Anyway, there we were in Toledo’s Masonic Auditorium getting all graduated, and then Billy goes up to get his diploma. As he walks across the stage, you could see his robe kind of open up, exposing his big old hairy thigh. The murmur started low in the crowd, slowly rising to a clamor.
“Who is that guy?”
I felt bad for his parents, who I could just see sinking down into their seats. It was the talk of the day.
Now I know that’s not any great prank, but I only tell it because it was the domino that set up the next one.
At the end of that summer, Billy’s family had to move to Valdosta GA, which is about 20 miles from the Florida border. We had a big Barn Blowout to see him off, which was the first major party we threw out there.
In December, Bill and his parents had to come back to close on their house, so we set up another big party to commemorate the occasion. Bill was flying up by himself though, so we agreed to pick him up at the airport. That’s when the scheming started.
We decided that as a tribute, we would show up wearing our suits and ties, with shorts. In December. We further decided we would Mob it up like our Family namesakes so we borrowed our friend Rob’s parents' big Lincoln town car, get some big fat stogies and use my mom’s mandolin case to masquerade as a violin case. I sported nice wooden cane, but I have no idea where I got it.
For some reason, known only to himself, my buddy Rik apparently decided to go as the world’s ugliest pregnant woman.
We had a ball rolling through a very sleepy Toledo Express Airport that night. Rik was a big hit. Someone from a car rental counter made a remark over the intercom. Some elderly dude tried to grab his ass.
Anyway, when Billy finally came down the escalator from the gate, this is what he saw:
L-R, My late friend Brill, Rob, Rik, John and moi, posing in The Barn.
Bill took one look at us down there waiting for him and promptly turned around and tried to go back up the escalator. He had to come down eventually though and we snapped him up and whisked him off to The Barn for another night of debauchery and partied with wild abandon.
Billy, playing lead shovel in our air-band.
The next domino fell the following May, Rik and I planned to go to Georgia to visit Bill. OK, in truth, the plan was for me to go… Rik decided to come along and surprise Bill. (This became another regular thing… once we all scattered to the wind, whenever one of us came back to town, we would only tell a few people so we could show up unannounced and surprise the rest.)
Anyway, after the Toledo Express greeting, we knew that Bill would have something in store for us when we got to Valdosta. I decided I would make a pre-emptive strike and show up in South Georgia dressed like a cowboy. (These were the days of Urban Cowboy, so I had the gear, right down to the saucer-sized belt buckle and cowboy hat.) The kicker, I decided, would be for me to ride off the plane on a stick-horse.
Rik, having already embarrassed himself sufficiently at the airport, wanted nothing to do with this plan, so I was on my own. My immediate problem was where to get a stick-horse. Did they even sell them any more?
Fortunately I had a buddy at college, Bruce, who also worked at Toys R Us. (Or was it Kiddie City?) He not only said that they sold them, but that he could say I was his brother and get me the family discount. (We looked enough alike… both were slender with dark hair and glasses.) Being a broke-assed college student, I was all over it.
So I showed up at Toys R Us, saw Bruce and met his co-worker, Brian, who never questioned our relationship. Stick-horse secured, the plan was a “go.”
The trip was a blur… one minute I’m standing in the Detroit airport wearing a cowboy hat, boots, rawhide vest, plaid shirt and a stick-horse over my shoulder, with a group of Japanese businessmen pointing at me and talking animatedly among themselves. Next minute I’m unsuccessfully trying to cram the stick-horse into the overhead bin, before eventually stowing it under my seat.
Finally, it was time for the payoff. There was no jetway, so we had to walk across the tarmac to get to the gate. Once at the gate, it was time for my big entrance. I charged into the gate astride my stick horse as if I was riding across the range. I couldn’t wait to see Billy’s face.
There was one problem though… fucker wasn’t there.
I spun my head around like I was watching a tennis match on fast-forward. No Billy.
“Gah! All my planning for naught!”
Rik and I regrouped. We’d try to get him when he did show up.
A few minutes later, Rik was looking out the window to the parking lot and said, “Dude…”
Making his way across the lot was some guy in a full Arabian robe and headdress. It had to be Billy. This was going to cause even more of a fuss than my stupid getup. Going around in South Georgia dressed like that, during the time when we had hostages being held in Iran, could get a guy seriously killed.
So we hid from him and made him walk around the gate area looking for us. Finally Rik snuck up from behind, clapped a big paw on his shoulder and went, “You ina heapa trouble heah, boah.”
Yes, we had learned everything we needed to know about southern life from Buford T. Justice.
We had a grand week of drinking, swimming and clubbing in Valdosta, capped by our learning how to chew tobacco from Bill’s authentic redneck neighbor. And my parents were worried I was going to come back with some kind of drug habit. I think they’d rather I’d have returned hooked on smack than spitting in a cup.
L-R: Me, Billy and Rik, who is getting up close and personal with a vent pipe.
The following fall, my “brother” Bruce’s co-worker Brian enrolled at Bowling Green and began hanging out with us in the Commuter Center. This was unexpected. That domino meant that Bruce and I had to continue to act like brothers.
You know, sometimes these things just fall right in your lap and you just have to go with it.
In practically no time, we had everyone in the Commuter Center in on the plot. No one was to let on that Bruce and I were unrelated.
It would get a little complicated when groups of us would go out to bars or clubs. We always had to come up with reasons why Bruce and I never came or left together, but we pulled it off.
“Tell Mom I’ll be home by 1:00…”
One time I had my school crowd, including Brian, out to The Barn for a party. It took some explaining but again, he never doubted us. We said that it was Rob’s barn and the reason my name was all over the place and all my records were there was just because I spent so much time there.
We even gave Brian the grand tour of the place, including my mom’s study on the far end of The Barn. I almost regretted that when I spotted a framed picture of me on the shelf, but I quickly walked over and stood in front of it. He never noticed.
That night, when Rob had to leave, he said, “Hey Godfather, I’m heading up to bed, lock up for me, will ya?”
Then he backed his car out, without putting on the lights. Brian never doubted the performance and was impressed that I was allowed to lock up.
“I told you I spend a lot of time out here.”
About a year after it all started, and after Bruce was no longer working at the toy store, we decided to pull the plug on the whole charade and finally let Brian in on it. To set it up, we threw another Barn Party for Brian’s birthday. (Really, we never needed much of a reason to have a Barn Party.)
About half-way through the party, we called him over.
“Brian, we’d like to give you your birthday present now.”
“Dude, Bruce and I aren’t really brothers. We were only pretending in order to get me a discount on that stick horse. This is actually my house and my Barn. Happy Birthday.”
We waited for the explosion, but none came. Brian refused to believe us.
This was beautiful! We’d done such a good job for so long, we had to show him our driver’s licenses to make him believe it. I think he was more ready to believe they were fake IDs than that we weren’t brothers.
Then, the enormity of the con began to dawn on him, as he realized how many people had to be in on it.
“Everyone here knows this? Everyone at school? Hazel (the Commuter Center Director) knew?
“Yes, yes, and yes.”
“And all those times at the club when… and when Rob had you lock up…”
“Yeah, that was all fake.”
Poor guy just sat there with his head in his hands…
“Bastards! I can’t believe it! How did I not see it?"
Because we were that good, that’s how.
The rest of the night, every 20 minutes or so, out of no where he’d just go, “I can’t believe it! Jesus!”
Hours later, we took him in to introduce him to my parents and he was like, “Yeah, I’m the dummy that had no idea they weren’t brothers…”
Lucky for him, that was the last domino.
Editor’s Note: I apologize for the length of this post, but I hope you’ll agree that with the inter-related nature of this story, it was best told all at once rather than split up. (As if I really have an editor…)