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The Dangerous Summer


Harry Buschman

This is the story of Ronnie Locke and how he came to give me a speeding ticket for something I mentioned to him ten years after it happened.

Ronnie and I worked at Peavey's Grain and Feed. It was late summer and we were making plans for the fall. I was planning to finish high school and Ronnie was going to skip it, say goodbye to Grassboro and go to New York. He was already a class behind ... "Y'don't need to finish high school to be a rock star, Artie," he said. We lived in the outskirts of the town of Grassboro, and New York City in those days was the center of the universe.

For the time being, however, we were free and easy – town boys mixing with the crowd who spent their summers up here in Grassboro. Every trailer park was full, every cabin around the lake was rented, every restaurant took reservations and there were open air concerts in the band shell every night. That's where you'd find Ronnie and me, freshly showered and sauntering through the crowd in our stone washed jeans. We showered because when you spend all day in a horse barn you carry a lot of it home with you. The stone washed jeans were a symbol of the sixties, and we wanted to be with it just as much as the city people were.

Our prey were the city girls, of course – up with their families for the summer. Tanned girls wearing heart-shaped sunglasses day and night. Slim hipped girls in sandals, with highlighted, perfumed hair that hung limp and heavy. We'd check them out indifferently, somewhat the way you'd check out a horse, from the ankles up to the head – not from the head down as you would check out a man.

The pickings were plentiful and somehow the girls sensed that Ronnie and I were town boys. It was the way we walked, I suppose – like we owned the place. We lapped it up. For me it was the interlude between the eleventh and twelfth grade and the sudden emergence of manhood ... for Ronnie, I guess it was the making of connections that he could use when he hit the big city. The girls were another story. They were willing but not able I mean. They were hampered by the watchful presence of their parents ... who always seemed to show up just as our efforts were about to bear fruit.

But Ronnie, if not too bright, was persistent, and now that summer was on the wane, he was more than ever determined to set up a few liaisons that he could cash in on later when he got to New York City. He told every young girl within earshot that he personally knew Mick Jagger and he'd see to it that he'd get the Rolling Stones to come to Grassboro for the Labor Day weekend. There was a brass band concert planned for that Saturday night in the band shell and he’d get the Stones to play during the intermissions. He knew a trio playing in a bar on Route 17 on the way to Pittsfield. They called themselves the "New Stones," and they traveled from bar to bar in an old Ford van with blacked-out windows. The singer looked a little like Mick Jagger, but probably old enough to be his father. He was a hot tempered little bastard who walked like a pouter pigeon with his shirt open down the front. His lead guitar was a man we called "Scarface"... he had a bad case of chicken pox when he was young. The two of them used to get together at parties and do "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" laying special emphasis on the lines ...

I can't get no girly action.
I try and I try and I try and I try.

That was Ronnie's plan. He was going to pull the wool over these barely legal age city girls while the band was playing selections from Victor Herbert's "Red Mill." "It's gonna be a blast, Artie," he winked at me, "we get 'em in the van, have a joint or two, and ... SCORE!"

The image of Ronnie, the girls and the "New" Stones SCORING in their blacked-out Ford van spelled trouble to me. I could hear the police whistles while he spoke.

"I'm not up for it tonight, Ronnie. I'm gonna sit this one out ... see you in the morning ... don't forget, we got a mare comin' in for stud tomorrow."

That was okay with Ronnie ... "One more fer me, Artie," he said. The fact that the “Stones” had the reputation of getting out of hand at the drop of a hat didn’t seem to make any difference to him.

I sat with my folks on an old shower curtain my mother brought from home. We spread it on the village green up in front of the gazebo and listened to the band playing Victor Herbert. It was peaceful for a while. My father didn’t know beans about music and he tended to talk while they played ... that was okay for the music I like, but it put Victor Herbert at a disadvantage. The three of us didn’t get together very much as a rule, and when we did we usually found we didn’t have a lot to talk about. It was almost fun to be there with them for a change, the whole town, and the visitors up from the city ...

But it didn't last long ...

If you're familiar with Victor Herbert's "Red Mill" you may recall a chipper little tune entitled, "Every Day is Lady's Day with Me." The hullabaloo began as the band was playing this prophetic little ditty, in fact I was humming it to myself when the cries of two young women erupted from the New Stones blacked-out van parked behind the bandstand. That seemed to create a general hubbub and the band petered out. One by one the players leaned over the rail, ignoring old Mr. Martinelli who still gamely waved his arms, trying to keep the Red Mill going.

I heard a female voice wailing "Daddy! Daddy!" People, townsfolk and city vacationers alike, surged toward the van. The rear door swung open, revealing the depths of youthful depravity, My father turned to me and shouted, "What in the holy hell ...!" My mother, breathing a sigh of relief knowing I was not involved, asked me, "Isn't that your friend Ronnie what's his name in there? Dear me, what will his father say?"

It sort of put a sudden end to summer. The tourists from the city emptied their cabins loaded their cars and took off for home that very weekend. The parents of the two girls pressed charges against Ronnie and his two twisted rock stars. Ronnie spent the night in the town jail ... I visited him in the morning and found him in a cell of his own. They were going to release him at noon, Peavey's had a mare coming in for stud service in the afternoon and it would take both Ronnie and me to keep the stallion from getting out of hand. The “Stone” boys were a different problem altogether. They had a rap list as long as your arm and to make things worse, "Scarface" was driving an unregistered van with a suspended license .... "I think they're gonna throw the book at them," Ronnie told me.

Ronnie got off easy. He was let off with a promise to straighten up, do ten hours of volunteer work at the station house, and show up for school when it opened in two weeks. He liked the work he had to do at the station house – it had something to do with the firing range down in the basement and it changed him a lot. He fell in love with police work and he told me they were going to send him to the police academy in Vermont after he graduated high school.

His dreams of going to New York seemed to vanish like a puff of smoke the night of the band concert. From then on Grassboro was home sweet home to him, and he wanted to spend the rest of his days patrolling a beat within sight of the house he was born in. The nearest I got to the Big Apple was Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It wasn’t New York but at least it wasn’t Glassboro.

Ten years later, Ronnie was the last person on my mind when I drove home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe I was ten miles over the limit, but it was ten o’clock in the morning and I knew the roads like I knew the back of my hand. Suddenly there was a low growl of a siren behind me and a quick look in the mirror told me I was dead in the water.

I pulled over to the shoulder and rolled my window down. I turned on my most innocent face and tried to remember where all my papers were. There seemed to be something familiar in the walk of the figure in dark glasses ... he stopped to copy down my license number ... and then it dawned on me that the cop was none other than Ronnie Locke ... in uniform.

He lowered his bug-eye sunglasses and peered over them. “Well, guess who I caught this morning,” he said. “How the hell are ya, Artie, what is it eight years or so? Happy Thanksgiving.” He opened his summons book and commenced writing.

“More like ten, Ronnie. I heard you’re on the force ... how you doin’?”

“My kinda life. Never knew it would be ... you was doin’ forty in a thirty mile zone.”

“Well, anxious to get home I guess. I haven’t seen my folks since Easter. I only have two days with them ... have’ta be back in Boston by Saturday.” I couldn’t believe he was actually going to give me a ticket.

“I’ll need your license, your registration and your insurance card.”

I had already put them back in my pocket when I saw who got out of the patrol car ... old times sake and all that. “Come on Ronnie. We’re buddies ... it’s Thanksgiving.”

“Your insurance card is expired, Artie. Do have insurance on this car?”

“Course I do. I got the new card a month ago. It’s still tacked on my “things to do” board back home .... I keep forgetting it. You know how it is.” I tried to lighten things up a little. “Hey Ronnie, Remember that Labor Day weekend.”

Ronnie tipped his cap back a bit and grinned down at me. “Yeah, I remember. But this ain’t a very good time to bring that up.” He settled his sunglasses back down on his nose. “Tell y’what Artie, the traffic court judge will be on duty ‘til five this afternoon. Y’can take this here ticket to him and he’ll set the fine for you ... you’ll be home before you know it.”

I shut myself up. He was not the Ronnie I used to know, the Ronnie that was looking to SCORE in the back of a blacked out van. He tore the ticket out of his book carefully and handed it to me with a grin. “Have yourself a nice Thanksgiving Artie. Say hello to your Mom and Dad, y’here.”

©Harry Buschman

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