Our Story So Far: In part one, Augurs of Spring, we learn that May 29 was the 100th Anniversary of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris in 1913. Having just returned from his 40th high school reunion, the author lamely attempts to create the implicit simile between his own night in Hays, Kansas in 1970 as personal revolution and Stravinsky’s musical revolution of 1913.
In part two, Ritual of Abduction , the author recounts tediously his parents’ divorce, reconciliation, traditional ‘vacation’ in Kansas and their announcement on the very last day that the family would NOT return home to Laramie, but that the older brothers, 13 and 11, would begin school in Kansas the following day….
3. Sacrificial Dance
Sacrifice means, literally, “to make sacred.” In the context of Stravinsky’s ballet, an old pagan rite of spring is enacted, as, ultimately a young, self-chosen victim intentionally dances herself to death, literally “made sacred” by the act. Here is what Wikipedia shorthands the final section of “The Rite of Spring.”
Danse sacrale (L’Elue) Sacrificial Dance The Chosen One dances to death in the presence of the old men, in the great “Sacrificial Dance”.
Downtown Lucas, Kansas today
Lucas, Kansas was a small community near the center of Kansas in the “Smoky Hills” region, in Russell County — “Boyhood Home of Sens. Bob Dole and Arlen Specter!” as announced by a billboard just outside of the town of Russell at its off-ramp of Interstate 70. The 1970 census listed the farm-supporting town as a hub of 524 souls (As of 2010, the population had shrunk to 393).
Lucas is famous for Samuel P. Dinsmoor’s “Garden of Eden” which is a sort of living religious/political cartoon that he built, starting as a 62-year-old Civil War veteran (he was a nurse) , specifically to be a tourist attraction. One of the stipulations of his will was that you could see his mummified corpse in a glass-topped casket inside a pyramid he built, but you had to pay at least $1.
Dinsmoor’s Crypt @ Garden of Eden
The crypt was across the street, cattywampus, from my grandma’s house in Lucas. When we arrived for “vacation” it was invariably in the middle of the night, and, before air-conditioners, the window in the “sewing” room (with the old foot-treadle Singer sewing machine and the Sears Silvertone Giant cabinet radio) had to be open for the air conditioner to circulate fresh, outside air.
The only building lit in town, with the annual cicadas* droning and the crickets chirping, was, seemingly, Dinsmoor’s Crypt. At the age of 7, staring at some creepy dead guy’s tomb, with that drone, I never got much sleep the first night. This repeated until I no longer thought about it.
S.P. Dinsmoore’s Garden of Eden last Friday 5/24 (click photo to enlarge)
(* Annual cicadas emerge every year and drone in the heat of late summer, as opposed to periodic cicadas that emerge in cycles of 13 and 17 years, called ‘broods.’ This summer New York and the East coast are getting periodic cicadas. Let’s see how THEY drone.)
We were, however, moved to my G-Grandma and G-Grandpa Deines’ (pronounced DYE-nuss) house, while they were in the nursing home and needed someone to watch the place, which was filled with old treasures, some from before they got off the boat at Ellis Island from Germany. They had still spoken German at home the last time we saw them.
My entire life — my clothes, my toys, my books, my microscope, telescope, geology kit … you name it — had been torn from me. All friendly connections I’d had were ripped out of me like IV tubes in some nightmare, replaced by a town in which everyone was related to everyone, and in a house dominated by weird old bubble pictures in ornate faux-gold frames of German men and women in their late teens and early twenties, before and after embarkation to America.
Lucas High School’s front doors are virtually unchanged.
But LHS is no more. First consolidated with arch-rival Luray,
they now are consolidated with Sylvan Grove, whose facilities
they now use. This is currently the Lucas-Luray grade school.
My class in Lucas High School consisted of 13 members. The senior class boasted 10. The sophomore class had 14, the junior class 22 (evidently the farm boys got back from the Korean War.) I had been, in Laramie, after two hellish years, a NINTH GRADER, the highest caste of junior high school, and finally, the captains of the sports teams, the president of the senior class, the “cool” kids, were friends with me, having played baseball all summer together.
Instead, I was a lowly freshman in Senior High School.
That’s really all I needed to know about Lucas High: I was an alien, and my friend Dave, who was from TEN miles away, in Sylvan Grove, was EQUALLY an alien, and, not being with a class of kids from kindergarten on, it was an awkward place to start, but start we did.
Dad was president of the Class of 1948
We went through the cycle of the sports. Football season included a visit to the state 8-Man Football championship game. Basketball season started the next day, occasioning the ONLY known instance of Lucas water being potable and even WELCOME, after Coach Fitzmorris had us do 100 laps around the old gym (using the bleachers for a sinuous up and down stair climb) and, at the end of the road, the brand new water cooler drinking fountain, which, on normal days could not hide the dreadful taste of the limestone in all the water — which produced stalactites of lime on all plumbing, occasioning ALL residents to drink instant ice tea instead of water — except after you’d finished 100 laps, in which case Lucas water was sheerest ambrosia.
Other than a coat of paint, the gym is EXACTLY as it was
I still had my ancient and venerable job of waking my brother John up in the morning, but we slept in the same bed (which we had NEVER done) and I simply threw off the covers and headed for the bathroom.
Which brings me to the very last piece of information you need to know before the SENSESBENDINGMINDALTERING conclusion:
Dr. White’s water torture
Dr. White minus glasses
I had always had the job of waking John, and it was NOT an easy one. He was a covers-grabber, and a snooze-button’s worst nightmare. You’d wake him up and he’d go back to sleep. I always was tempted to let him sleep, then wake up at ten or eleven AM, dress and get to school late and mortified. But I never did. Instead, I became creative over time. I would always wake him. And then try again. But the THIRD time was mine.
Sometimes, I’d just strip the covers completely off the bed. Other times, I’d do my favorite, which was to go to the freezer, pop two ice cubes out of a tray, pull back the covers, yank open the waistband of his shorts, toss in said ice cubes and put the covers back. He would SLEEP through this entire process.
Like trying to wake THIS up
I would then go into the bathroom, and finish brushing teeth, combing hair, etc. And, at a certain lovely point, came the scream, and I knew that he was up. He would invoke my name to let me know so, usually modified by a school ground epithet that he’d undoubtedly learned from his ruffian friends.
Of course, once he simply wouldn’t get up, so I reached between the box springs and mattress and simply flipped the twin beds. (We had twin beds from my first grade on. We slept in one bed when I was five for a few months. And sometimes on vacation.) Anyway, back when I had a life in Laramie, my mother had said something to Dr. James White about and he decided to “cure” me of my “sadistic” and “brutal” wakeup torments. (Perhaps, but then again, the little SOB never missed a day of school, and I always made sure he was up.)
A moral cartoon
He came downstairs to where we now had separate bedrooms and a POOL TABLE! and woke me up. He lectured me, while pinching me and twisting ears and doing all sorts of things that he’d IMAGINED I’d done to “poor” John, but which I hadn’t.
Then he let me go back to sleep.
And then the lights snapped on …
and this continued for HOURS.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Are you going to waken your brother with kindness?
Now we’d call it “sleep deprivation” … and child abuse. Then it was just “good therapy” and “an object lesson.” But I remember that I went into tunnel vision for the first time, and the pores on his skin were the size of the craters of the moon.
And his owlish, Larry King glasses were enormous sheets of polished glass, his overlarge forehead and thinning hair on top was a veritable pink mountain of flesh, and, while I would not take sides, as per my promise, I was pretty sure that I hated the sonofabitch with everything I had, because, ghod help us, he was ENJOYING it. OK: He was screwed up, I know that. He was raised Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh Day Adventist and couldn’t salute the flag or sing the national banner or say the pledge of allegiance.
He was small and bullied, so he became a Golden Gloves boxer. He was too bright for his own good and too dark to cope with.
Anyway, he was as nuts as mother about suddenly deciding to punish for some real or imagined sin, and he was, shall we say, very ‘creative’ in his punishments.
I did not learn my lesson about waking up John, however. And a world goes by.
The Final Dance
New scoreboard, yes, but the same OLD scoreboard
One night during basketball season in 1970 (we’d begun in 1969, a mere month after the moon landing) we were to play for the B-team league championship. And, because of injuries, I was going to START in that game, and really show them what I could do on a basketball court, after warming the bench all season.
Back up one week. It was a Saturday. And we were in the Deines’ old-person-smelling house, mom, the two little kids, Leann and Jay, and John and I. Dad was still working in Laramie. And Mom said, “let’s get everybody into the car! Let’s go for a drive.”
Let’s go for a ride!
Which was amazing, first of all, because Lela Claussen is many things, but spontaneous ain’t one of ’em.
So, we piled the various supplies you need for small persons who cannot yet control their bladders and bowels and drove south out of Lucas over the Wilson dam down to I-70 and then we turned west. For miles and miles, the only thing you could see was a distant airport beacon, flashing white and then green. And it kept getting closer and closer.
Hays Airport beacon
We got off on Highway 40 and kept on going RIGHT UP to the beacon. We turned in. HAYS REGIONAL AIRPORT a lighted concrete slab at the entrance announced. We turned in drove to the front doors of the airport, where we picked up … Doctor James White.
Holy crap! It’s Dr. White!
I turned numb. We drove into the center of town, where there was a motel done up in fake log cabin style (but very GOOD fake log cabin, with blond wood heavily shellacked.)
They got two rooms. And two cribs. John and I were in one room with Leann’s (the older sister) and Dr. White and Mother were in the other room with Jay’s crib and their own libido.
And I was a hollow and empty shell from the moment we had stopped at the airport. This man had cost me EVERYTHING: my friends, my social status, my school, my precious books, my paints, my models (I had an Apollo 11 moon landing model they’d released in anticipation, but I had waited until AFTER to put it together), my Laramie Centennial Special Edition of the Daily Boomerang, my Moon Landing newspapers from New York and San Francisco and Denver and Cheyenne and Laramie and Omaha and Kansas City; my stamp collection, my telescope, microscope, collection of BOYS LIFE going back to the 1950s, my Doc Savage collection (to #44 complete) my Spiderman collection (beginning with #6, the Scorpion), my first edition first printing James Blish Star Trek adaptation, etc. etc. etc.
Or, a weekend with Jim White, M.D.
And all of Boy Scouting, which I had been in since I was a wee Bobcat Cub Scout. I was about to become a Star, and the final journey to Eagle Scout. Sorry: gone forever.
All because of him.
I did not know what to do. And then he helped me.
Mom and he were in the other room getting squared away, and he came into that knotty-pine wood-paneled room, with the vertical two pipe gas heater and the plaid drapes. And he sat with his knees on my shoulders and my shoulders on the bed and lectured me on waking up my brother, and spittle from his rant flecking my face. And the pores on his face became the size of craters on the moon.
I don’t know where the fuck that came from. It was a massive non-sequitur in the middle of a bad Philip K. Dick novel.
Not an actual PKD novel
Not only was the transition from a University town in Wyoming to a small farm school in Kansas hellish enough, but now the reason for our expulsion from paradise was back. All sacrifices were in vain, and WHY would he want to begin his little stolen weekend of fucking my mother by “disciplining” me?
Some kind of bizarre reverse Oedipus thing, I think. Like I said, he was screwed up.
And so began the night that changed my life.
I had promised to not take sides. I would do that. But that did not mean that I was required to aid and abed something that, frankly, disgusted me. Yes, gentle readers, puberty struck that first month in Kansas, and I no longer was embarrassed n the locker room by having the genitals of a child where most of the kids in 8th grade in Laramie had the genitals of men.
The actual locker room, unchanged but for a coat or two of paint.
And with that came the realization of what PLAYBOY was talking about, and that inevitable moment when you realize that your parents WEREN’T jumping up and down on their bed at 6 AM Saturday because they knew how much fun jumping up and down on the bed was, and they were only prohibiting YOU from doing it because they were HYPOCRITES!
Er, no. They weren’t exactly “jumping up and down on the bed.”
And then I realized that my mother and Doctor White weren’t jumping either.
Refers to those who check the royal bedroom for bombs
So: the moment that changed my life was no physical one, nor religious one, nor even sentimental nor loving one. It was a moral moment. I decided to keep my promise to not take sides, but nowhere in that promise did it say I had to HELP. Or agree. I only agreed to remain neutral. I had not agreed to listen to them jump on the bedsprings.
NO MORE. NEVER AGAIN.
So I looked at my little brother, the Good German, and said, John, I’m leaving. You coming?
He, speechless and terrified, SHOOK his head, unable to mouth the words — as I knew he would, but you gotta make the offer.
And I put on my jacket and walked out of that motel room, with no idea in the world where I WAS, but every idea in the world about where I WOULD NOT REMAIN.
In Kansas, in February.
I was lucky. There on old US 40, was a laundromat. I went inside, made up a piteous story, and a nice college student loaned me a dime, so I could make a collect call to my grandma in Lucas, across from Dinsmoor’s Crypt.
I swear to ghod this is that same laundromat 43 years later
My dad, Dwayne Claussen, had given me a secret superpower, or, Monopoly “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. He’d told me, “Son, if you are ever in trouble, or ever need help or money or anything, and it is an emergency, your grandmother has promised to help.” (And, that was the side of my family, obviously, that this whole notion that promises must be honored came from, pretty obviously.)
I dialed Grandma and caught her just before she turned in, which gives the chronology: It’s an hour from Lucas to Hays. She took off at that moment. It must have been ten o’clock. She could tell from the earnestness in my voice that this was an emergency. “I am at the Hays Airport,” I said, thinking that the beacon is the perfect landmark, and you can always wait at an airport without looking suspicious. “I need you to come get me, but I can’t tell you why.” And she said, “All right. I’m only my way.”
My Grandmother, Rachel Claussen
This was when my brilliance began to go seriously astray.
I returned the dime to the student, exited the laundromat and began walking east along old 40 towards the airport. As it quickly became apparent, I had seriously underestimated the distance to the airport. Heck, it only took a couple of minutes from the airport to the motel. Well, it was a lot longer than a couple of minute hike to the motel.
And then the station wagon pulled up behind me, filled with John, Mom, Dr. White, Leann and Jay. John the Good German had obviously been next door in a shot to fink on me and save his own skin. (Fair enough, but he could at least have given me a head start.)
I cut across the way and they had to make a tortuous series of maneuvers as I vanished into the Kansas night. They turned around and sped off. I picked up the pace. I didn’t remember all this STUFF between the airport and the no-tell motel. (And, I have to say that I was VERY pleased to have screwed up their night of stolen adulterous bliss. Sorry.)
And then a spotlight shone on me.
It was the Hays, Kansas police.
Now, this is the part of the memory that amazes me when I go back to it: It never OCCURRED to me that they had any chance in hell of catching me.
My brother and I and our friends had spent a goodly portion of the previous couple of years ducking the Laramie Police for fun and frolic, and we regularly used to play a little game in Boy Scouts called “infiltration” where you infiltrate through a forest about the size of a football field with a road running through the middle. If you got through it was a point. If you got caught it was a point against. You were busted by scoutmasters with flashlights. (Who would only turn them on to nail you.) This story becomes more important later on.
No team ever got a positive score.
I jumped some fences and evaded them, getting on a parallel course using Kansas geography 101: You are only ever going north-south or east-west so any parallel road will do. And, wisely, I had chosen that airport beacon, so I didn’t need to worry about heading the wrong direction. Just head for it:white sweep … long pause … green sweep.
Then I had to play tag for a little longer, as they came around a corner on me. I hid in the foundation dig for a new house. Two little girls came on me and asked me what I was doing. I told them I was hiding from some boys. They invited me into their house for a glass of water. Their dad, a classic concerned parent, asked me and I told him, something about meeting a man at the airport, but I had misjudged the distance, and was afraid that I’d miss him. He gave me a ride to the airport.
This is when the wheels really came off.
The Hays Regional Airport was CLOSED. All the lights turned off, all the buildings locked.
He was quizzical, and I made up a lame excuse that I was supposed to meet him here, so just let me off anyway.
Now, as you can see, there is NO cover by the airport sign. Then, there was even less. The sign and two bushes. And, knowing that they were too obvious, I backed up a little in the bare field at the airport entrance and lay prone in the dead, yellow grass.
And, minutes later, the POLICE showed up. They stopped at the sign and scanned it with their floodlight, then went in, made a circuit of the parking lot with the spotlight and came back, aiming the spotlight RIGHT AT ME!
Same spot, in daylight, 2013
That’s where Boy Scout “infiltration”game comes in handy.
Once, on a moonless night’s game, Louie, the Eagle/Explorer scout was walking through where I was, and he aimed the flashlight straight down at me on the ground, where I was lying, as flat to the ground as possible. I knew that I was busted and started to get up.
And Louie jumped three feet in the air, dropping his flashlight, which followed a separate arc and went out when it landed.
Louie and I both searched on our hands and knees until we found the flashlight, which wasn’t broken but had actually turned itself off from the violence of the landing.
And that was the field lesson of what I later learned from books: predators, especially NIGHT predators look for MOVEMENT. So I didn’t move, a dark-jacketed body in a field of short yellow grass (luckily, it wasn’t cold enough to show my breath, or the gig would have been up. The Hays Police turned left and headed back into town.
Same Hays Regional Airport, not much changed
And then the Ford station wagon, burgandy, with cherry apple interior and two facing seats in the back for long drives to Kansas and Nebraska that dad had bought from his high school buddy Elmer Svaty at Lucas Motors in Lucas, Kansas in 1967.
They didn’t see me either, but retraced the police’s route and left. Obviously, the “concerned” parent had gone straight back and called the Hays Police, who’d communicated with Mom and Dr. White, because the airport was NOT the obvious destination.
This is the Frontier turboprop type serving Hays in 1970
And then an endless time until the familiar Silver-blue Ford LTD that dad had bought and then given to Grandma when we bought the station wagon. I had been afraid that I would fall asleep. But when a person jumped up out of the grass and ran towards the LTD, Grandma admitted, it “it nearly gave me a heart attack!” OK: I don’t blame her. We drove back to Lucas and I stayed the night in HER room (the one WITHOUT the lovely view of Dinsmoor’s Crypt).
It was exactly midnight when we got back to Lucas. Which means that the whole adventure had begun about seven pm that Saturday night and lasted to the end of my childhood.
And I didn’t ever tell Grandma Claussen what I was doing in Hays, Kansas, hiding at the airport, and she never asked me. That was the promise, and I’d kept mine and she’d kept hers.
Mom called the next day, and I went back to the bubble pictures of German Emigrants in the tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the Deines’ house. And all seemed better.
It was on Monday, when I’d gone to school like usual, and was going to start the B team game (mom never came to any of my games, and so didn’t know about it). Mom actually met me outside the lunchroom after lunch, and said, “Let’s go for a ride.” Saturday night had taught me nothing. I spent Monday night, and every night thereafter to the end of the 1969-1970 school year as a cadet at St. John’s Military School in Salina, Kansas, an hour the OTHER way on I-70 from Hays Airport.
I learned two important truths that day. First, that if my mom or the mafia asks you to “go for a ride,” DON’T GO! WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO: DON’T GET IN THAT CAR!!
Didn’t have any mafia illustrations, sorry.
And I learned the terrible truth: Military Schools are reform schools for rich kids, almost all of whom had parents who were given the option of the state juvenile detention facility or a “good military school.” We were all hard cases, and I was about to learn a lot of stuff about sex and drugs and rock and roll that I doubt my mother would have liked me to know about. We were unwanted troublemakers, and it was as hellish then as it is now.
Except for one difference: they had been sent there for their vices. I was sent there for my virtues.
Mom was afraid that I’d fink to Dad and Grandma, if I hadn’t already. But she never knew that I never did: I kept my promise and covered up her crime.
The day that I became the person I am was when I decided to keep my promise, but with a proviso: I will always do the right thing, but I reserve the right to determine what is right.
In the years following, I have kept my own counsel about “the right thing to do” which took me through an awful lot of morally ambiguous territory ever after. It was my moral emancipation, and I have been an ethical free agent ever since, directly responsible to the dictates of my own conscience and, as Theodore Sturgeon put it to me, my “inner moral compass.”
I was able to “walk on the wild side” and come away with nothing more than a few scratches. But when I look at the night I never spent in Hays, I understand that was the night that childhood ended, and the night I took moral responsibility for my own life.
Now the paths diverge after that.
Mom moved to Salina, fell off the Jesus cliff and pretends that since “Jesus” forgave her, none of this awful shit ever happened. She eventually remarried Dad, and he died of a coronary as Franklin County Superintendent of Roads in Ottawa, Kansas in 1990. They flew the flags at half mast and closed the county offices at noon so that employees could attend the funeral. Not bad for the President of the Class of 1948 at Lucas Rural High School.
Leann and Jay grew up with no knowledge of this, followed, on the weekend of Apollo 13, my youngest sister, Sarah, who only knows what she was told.
Which was probably nothing.
When I decided to follow the calling of my avocation drop out of TCU and head for Hollywood, EVERY adult authority figure I knew told me that I was crazy. But, because of that night in Hays, I never doubted that I was doing the right thing, and I never wavered. I went on to become a writer and infamously an editor HUSTLER Magazine at the age of 23.( And have done other things, as well. But that was what they asked about at the Reunion.)
And I only ever saw Dr. White one more time. The next summer, we were in Salina, Dad lost his position in the great Nixon recession, and took a job as a trucking loadout supervisor. He was required to ride along on occasion.
We lived in an old two-story house in Salina and were dirt poor. One month we wallpapered the house to pay for our rent.
There was no air-conditioning and only two fans. One went in mom and dad and Sarah’s room. (She was born three months premature and was still delicate after endless predictions by medicos of her early demise.) One went in “the kids” room — which always thereafter meant Leann and Jay. I was 11 years older than Leann. John was 9 years older. Two discrete families by two different fathers.
No fans in Salina
We got no fan. But, at 3 AM, we would open the windows, throw out a sheet, and lie on the porch in the relative cool of the morning, as Salina’s street lights blinked red and yellow until they resumed functioning for the morning traffic.
I came down one morning. I was playing baseball for the Fraternal Order of Eagles and had my F.O.E. baseball jersey on, appropriately …
… and there was Doctor White.
I simply accepted and didn’t say anything. Just sat down. He tried to kiss up to me. He unctuously complimented me on my bangs, saying that I looked like a “Roman gladiator*.” I was polite and brief and got the hell out of there, saved by baseball. I never saw him again. [* AIRPORT! the movie had not then come out.] The next year he was living in Alameda County, California (Oakland area). His family were still back in Laramie. Our family was back, in Lucas.
He put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, ending his “Summer of Love” forever.
And I thought of all these things, as the Beech 1900D landed in Hays, Kansas, and the cabdriver took me to the Super 8 motel at the North end of town, and I finally spent that night in Hays a lifetime later.
“The last time I was in Hays,” I told the cabdriver, “The police were looking for me.”
He chuckled. “They might still be.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “That was forty-three years ago. Running away from home.”
He laughed. It was as much truth as he needed to know.
They are ashamed of my name, and so do not speak to me. But one night in the basement of the house in Ottawa, Kansas — in 1989, twenty years after these events — Dad, Dwayne Nolan Claussen (when he was still living) and Mom, Lela M. Claussen (regrettably still living), sat and told me that they wanted to thank me for not taking sides. And that they believed it had been that, finally, that had saved their marriage.
Of course the story is different now. But they always change.
This is cross-posted from his vorpal sword.