Joe Zasada was one of the coolest kids that I hung out with growing up. My opinion can be disputed by many of my contemporaries, but look at the facts. He wore a pouch of dead bird bones around his neck. He was the second kid in our grade to start smoking (Harris was the first.) He had sideburns and wore like 9 shirts at once. He brought chain wallets to Fairview, a fad that still flys today by some dorks. He was rowdy as hell and inspired a generation with his wildass rhetoric. He was the first kid I knew to have sex. If you sat next to him in class, the teacher would hate you by association. He was all about the outdoors and exploring stuff (one time he & I walked to Springfield so he could show me a dead cat skeleton in a barn) Current status aside, Joe was a good guy to have on your side and I consider myself lucky to have grown up with him. In May of 1992, the end of our freshman year of high school, Joe planned a campout in the woods across the street from his house. It was a decent patch of forest and fairly secluded. This outing was dubbed and will forever be referred to as “the Jamboree.”
The lineup for that historic journey was straight out of Young Guns. Accompanying Zasada on this outlandish outing was Belmont, Linsted, Turko and myself. Rounding out the gang was Tom Bean, Jim Borland and Mike Morrison. These three were always our friends, but I cite the Jamboree as the last time we really hung out with them as a group. I guess it was kind of a farewell. This was the age just before social rankings were realized, a standard of which I have never comprehended. This was early teenage innocence at it’s finest.
I rode with my mom to pick up Linsted then she dropped us off at Zasada’s house. Carrying our rations, we walked back thru the woods until we heard our comrades setting up camp deep in the bush. A fire pit was already being constructed and giant logs were being dusted off for makeshift benches. In a clearing, I set up my dome tent, unaware that I wouldn’t even use it that evening. The night before, a reconnaissance team, led by Colonel Tom Bean, broke into Mike Woods garage and stole a case of beer. Somehow our gang of 14 year olds also secured a bottle of Rebel Yell whiskey. While relaxing on a log, I peered to my right to see Linsted reach into the front pocket of his flannel shirt to reveal a box of little cigars. He offered me one. I had never smoked in my life, but surrounded by nature, a cozy fire and my best friends in the world, I was feeling kinda dangerous. I felt like an adult. I remember it tasting like dirt and it made me dizzy. It was still daylight as we sat around the fire and told stories. The flames were dying down so Belmont & Linsted grabbed the axe and set off into the greenery for more firewood. (as I learned in Las Vegas in 2004, ALWAYS FOLLOW BELMONT WHENEVER HE GOES TO DO SOMETHING…read: when we followed the drunk homeless guy for 30 blocks into the desert!)
We circled around the flame pit as the bottle of Rebel Yell was cracked open and passed around like Mononucleosis. I skipped on my turn, as this was the first time anyone there had ever drank before. It showed. Borland grabbed the bottle and trying to impress those around him (we were!) he took a massive swig. Massive. Within 20 minutes little Jimmy entered the blurry gates of inebriation for the first time.
Off in the distance we heard some hootin’ and hollerin.’ While cutting down trees, Belmont and Linsted found a little bat. Instinctively, they nailed him to a tree in the jesus christ pose. The lil’ fucker was pissed. He was screeching and biting the air before ceasing to breathe. All of us by the campfire ran over to check out their discovery. As we marveled at the little fanged flyer, Borland ran up behind us, drunk as the day is long. We moved out of the way so he put his arms out to catch himself. He grabbed hold of the mighty oak for balance. Clutching the tree like a prom date, Jimmy gazed upon the black bat. He tilted his head like a curious puppy as he viewed the viral vampire. In a rather unexpected move, Jimmy opened his mouth, lunged forward and took a bite out of the bat. Instantly, Morrison and I tried to pry to lil’ guy from Jimmy’s mouth, our fingers cut up by Borland’s crooked teeth. Jimmy wrestled and resisted, finally swallowing the bat chunk. “Dude, Borland ate a bat!” It’s a story that will live forever in Fairview folklore…and I was there.
Time passed and the Jamboree was in full force. The bottle of Rebel Yell was virtually gone and everyone was having a hell of a time. I remember SOMEONE peeing in the booze bottle, hoping someone else would drink it. Just around dusk some of the ‘older kids’ showed up. Bob Jensen, Jawn Yochim, Jason Oros and Nicole McNeal somehow found out about our secluded soiree. I hated Bob & Jawn back then. They were both cocky as fuck and hung out with my brother which automatically made them gay. Oros acted like he was running shit and confiscated the Rebel Yell bottle as Jawn spit on Morrison’s face. Fuck those guys man!By nightfall, our food rations of beef jerky, Coca-Cola and a bag of Gibbles Red Hot potato chips were entirely depleted. Making an executive decision, Zasada proclaimed, “To the Post!” We jaunted thru the woods and swamp land up past I-90 and over to the Hitchin’ Post restaurant (solemnly remembered as the best damn eatery in Fairview history.) We all were seated at a long table by the restrooms and were soon greeted by our server, Cheryl. She was a weathered looking waitress of about 25. She was attractive but her tragedy was blazingly apparent in hindsight. She was receptive and flirtatious to all at the table. I ordered my usual, french toast and 3 pancakes. I wish a stenographer would have recorded our conversation, for I can’t recall one topic of discussion, but I know that I never laughed so hard in my life, before of since. Man, I loved that place. After an excellent midnight meal, we scraped together what little money we had left and bought 3 cases of pop from the gas station next door. As we rambled back to home base, old man Platz released the hounds on us as we crossed thru his fields. We took off running like a brood of badgers, our legs fiercely navigating thru the freshly cropped soil. That was my first memory of adrenaline. Some of our pack got lost and when we arrived back at camp, we assumed the worst. A search party was immediately organized to find our deliquent crew. When they appeared from the woods minutes later, we all shouted & embraced and told the tale of what just transpired. It was intense as hell.
Back at camp, we again huddled around the fire and wove a tapestry of stories thicker than Doug Rozyle’s hair. Off in the distance we heard a rustling in the woods. We all jumped up at attention, grabbing the closest weapon of choice to combat the unseen enemy. The woods was quiet. I still remember that very moment of silence. Belmont seeped out a silent fart, but we all heard it. It may have been the last time I truly felt the element of fear. We all stood motionless and on edge, ready at any moment to either wage war or run like banshees (hopefully the more valiant!)
We were all convinced that ‘something’ was our there. We outskirted the camp with a barbed wire perimeter about shin high (of which Zasada tripped over twice.) We set up a night watch schedule, 2 people at a time, one hour shifts. I was paired with Morrison and we were the second team to go. We sat back to back about 20 yards from the fire, deep in the foliage. We took turns holding the pellet gun and speculating what the menace could be. Morrison fell asleep very quickly. It was cold away from the fire. I could hear my friends laughing in the distance. I was too busy protecting their lives to have fun. I clutched the pistol in my hands and pretended to be Don Johnson on some routine drug bust on Miami Vice…only in the woods…in Fairview. About halfway thru my shift Belmont came over to the outpost and brought me a can of pop. At least someone appreciated my gallant efforts. We cracked open some Cokes and started our own little party…that’s what real friends are for.
Once our shift was over, the gun was passed to Bean and Turko. I returned to the fire and a cornicoupia of chronicles. A few people were resting on the logs. Borland was finally sobering up and the fire as dying down. Zasada grabbed a can of gasoline and made the purely ace choice of dumping the entire contents onto the fire. That picture will forever be etched into my memory, as will that entire day.
When the sun came up in the morning, me, Belmont and Linsted were still awake, still bombarding each other with a tornado of tales. I packed up my tent, stepped over the barb wire tripline and walked the 3 miles home. I was tired, I was dirty. I wasn’t ready for the comprehension of what had just transpired. I just smelled like campfire and was concerned that my mom would be upset because my pants were caked with mud. Little did I know, I built character, friendships and survival skills that would feed me forever.
I draw so many parallels in my life to the movies that I grew up watching. I never really appreciated the pure genius of “Stand By Me” until I was old enough to reminisce. Those of us who were there still talk about the Jamboree. We could never re-enact that in a million years. We wouldn’t want to. Sometimes those golden moments that you cherish forever are the ones that you initially take for granted. Everyone has their stories from childhood that help shape and define them. The years that followed were garnished with discussion of another backwoods outing, but I for one am glad that this memory will remain untainted and pure…just as we were.