A mis-spent Youth

 

Crazy Daze In Montana

Feel free to file this post under “Things I Don’t Think I Believe.” I wouldn’t blame you. Fortunately for me, there are still people in this world who will vouch for these stories, strange as a few of them are.

During my two years at the U. of Montana, a few curious things occurred. I was pretty well-behaved my freshman year there, as it was a new world and I was trying to find my way, coming from a small town and small school. But the second year, my wheels slowly began to come off. Fall semester I went down to the Northern Hotel on a Sunday afternoon to sit in on a jam session. I sat in, all right, but it was on organ… there was no piano. I played the best I could, (I’m a horrible organist, and don’t like the instrument anyway) and at the end of the set I went to the men’s room. Two burly guys followed me in there and cornered me. “Your organ playing stinks,” they informed me. “F— you” I informed them back, whereupon the shorter of the two slugged me in the mouth, knocking out a front tooth. I felt it gone immediately, they saw it and quickly left the men’s room. When I went back out, they were nowhere to be seen. I told my friend, Brian, what had happened. “Oh shit, Hulse, I know those guys. They’re the Bell brothers! Wayne Bell is a running back for the Grizzlies, and was a golden gloves boxer in Billings!” Lovely. Just lovely.

Brian was a Sigma Chi, and was trying to get me to pledge. So he went back to the frat house and told his brothers what had happened to one of their pledges. I thought that was the end of it until a touch football game out on the common ground the next Saturday. As it happened, the Bell brothers were Sigma Nu’s, the jock fraternity, and the Sigma Chi’s and Sigma Nu’s played a touch football game that afternoon. They let me be a running back, and who do I see on the other side of the line… Wayne Bell! Turned out to be a non-problem, however, because after 3 or 4 plays, a couple of big guys on my team knocked Wayne down and suddenly 6 or 7 guys were on top of him, pounding him! It was incredible! His team finally got him up and off the field, and the game continued, with considerably more animosity!

I don’t remember who won that day, but my Sigma Chi’s found out that varsity players were not allowed to play in the intramural touch football games. Someone made sure the U. found out about it, and a week later Wayne Bell was kicked off the team. Shortly after that he left school, never to be heard of again, as far as I know. I got a temporary tooth put in, and life went on.

A strange result of this whole affair came on that first night when I came back to my apartment, missing a front tooth. I was rooming with Bob Holton at the time. He was from Butte, a tough kid who wasn’t intimidated by anyone, or anything. I told him about my “fight” and he asked me if I won. “Hell no,” I replied. “I didn’t even fight back, once I knew the tooth was gone.” At that, he got so angry with me he swung at me, lowering his fist at the last second and pounding me in the stomach, doubling me over on the carpet. He was furious with me, but later apologized. He was such a good guy, a big heart, and unfortunately got killed in a jet fighter over Viet Nam years later.


That Wild Summer Of ’64

That next summer turned out to be fairly crazy as well. It was the summer of ’64, and enough unusual things happened that I ended up writing a few chapters about it in a book called, I Didn’t Come Here And I’m Not Leaving. A few highlights here – I got into a midnight fight with a little deputy sheriff from Helena who wanted to take over my then-girlfriend, Bonnie. An actor, David Arkin, and his wife Lynn pulled me out of that mess. Then Dennis Olsen got thrown through the Wells Fargo window one night by “the Frogman…” a Navy Seal who was also trying to steal my girlfriend, Bonnie. And yes, Bonnie, an actress from San Fransisco, caused me several other problems that summer. But you know us guys… we fail to see things very clearly whenever women are involved.

But back to poor Dennis Olsen, who was about as round as a bowling ball and wore epic coke-bottle glasses. He survived the Farg window demolition. What happened though, was that the bartender at the Bale that summer, Art York, heard about Olsen’s demise and was going to go looking for the frogman. Art was a good boxer, and a fighter… and a drinker. And Art “slipped” into other problems beyond what the frogman presented. You see, before he was going to make the frogman pay, he first drove into Butte and bought a new Dodge truck, a beauty. He was so happy with it and proud of it, he stopped at several bars on the way back to Virginia City to show it to friends and throw back a few. By the time he got back to V.C. he was hammered. He hit the big turn at the train station WAY too fast and rolled his new truck right there, barely stopping before it hit the Opera House!

Art crawled out, dazed but all right, just about the time the sheriff showed up. “What happened here, Art?” the sheriff asked.
“Aahh, goddamned black ice.”
The sheriff tried to keep from grinning. “But Art,” he managed, “It’s 80 degrees out!”
“ I know,” replied Art, not missing a beat. “You just can’t see that shit!”


Crazy Daze In Boston

My student I.D.

So many goofy things happened during my time in Boston, there’s probably a book in there somewhere. Several strange things happened with one of my piano teachers at Berklee, Ray Herrera. He taught me through my sophomore year there, and never was a dull moment had! Ray was a Latino guy, nice looking, a fine jazz pianist, but a rogue, even by Berklee standards. Over the two semesters Ray and I became friends. He didn’t teach me a damn thing about playing jazz on the piano, and didn’t seem at all interested in trying. What he WAS interested in, was women, and he got me involved in that interest far deeper than I wanted to be.

The weirdness began late one afternoon in the Fall of ’65, when I woke up under Ray’s piano in his teaching room at Berklee. The piano was being played, and two people were sitting on the piano bench… Ray and a pair of girl’s legs. They turned out to be the legs of one Cindy Crawford (not THAT Cindy Crawford) from Maryland, who was also a student of Ray’s. I finally realized she was having her lesson, and I lay there quietly until she had finished and left. Confused and somewhat disoriented, I crawled out from under the piano to see Ray’s amused smile. “God, I’m sorry, Ray, I don’t know what happened. I fell asleep…”
“It’s okay, man, no harm done.”
“You crawled down there after your lesson, you were going to rest for a few minutes before Cindy’s lesson.”
“You let me do that?”
“Sure. You were tired. No harm done.” Still smiling.
“Did Cindy know?”
“Yeah, she knew. She didn’t care.”
And so began my new relationship with my piano teacher.

Cindy Crawford was a cutie, and like me, not much of a piano play yet. But damn, she was cute and sexy. I asked Ray about her one day after my lesson. “You like Cindy?” He asked. “I will set you up with her.”
I wasn’t sure that was a good idea, I had never been “set up” before. But he told me to dress up and meet him in front of the school the following evening, which I did. He pulled up in a nice car, with Cindy sitting beside him. He drove us out of Boston about 10 miles to a cheesy little club in a small suburb. We got a table and ordered a drink. A trio was playing, and after a few sips of our drinks, Ray asked Cindy to dance. They danced slow, Cindy’s head on Ray’s shoulder, and I slowly realized that they were an item, and this was Ray’s way of telling me.

A few minutes later he asked me if I wanted to dance with Cindy, but I declined, and after our drink we headed back to Boston. I got home a sadder, but wiser boy. I might have spent some time trying to properly process why Ray did what he did, but Ray had other surprises in store for me.

Several weeks later he asked me if I would go somewhere with him the next evening. So once again I met him in front of the school and we drove to downtown Boston and parked, right across the street from the then Playboy Club. While sitting there, Ray explained what he was up to. Seems he had been dating a Playboy Club Bunny, and now he suspected she was cheating on him, dating someone else. So he was spying on her, in an attempt to catch her with the other guy. Ultimately I figured out that he had invited me along just to keep him company… someone to talk to while we were waiting for his girlfriend to leave the club. Later it occurred to me that he probably had me along for back up, in case the new boyfriend showed up and there was trouble. Poor Ray… he was in trouble if I was the toughest guy he could find to back him up!

She finally came out around midnight, got into her car and left. Ray followed discreetly behind, all the way out to her apartment in Newton. She got out, went inside, and about 5 minutes later her lights went out. But Ray stayed there, parked about a 1/2 block away, watching her apartment with a pair of binoculars.

Suddenly there was a knock on the driver’s side door, which scared the hell out of both of us. It was a cop, who either just noticed us, or was called by Ray’s girlfriend, we never figured out which. Ray rolled down his window, putting the binoculars on the floorboard. The policeman asked for his license and registration, then said, “What were you doing with the binoculars?”
Ray didn’t hesitate. “I watching de birds.” he said, in a heavy latin accent. I couldn’t believe it.
The cop gave him his license back. “Well, go watch them somewhere else. It’s one o’clock in the morning.”
“Yes sir, officer,” and we got the hell out of there and back to Boston.

And still Ray wasn’t quite through with me. He dropped by my apartment one afternoon for a beer, only to later turn me in to the schools’s officials for having a metronome in our apartment that he recognized, a metronome that had been stolen from the school.

I got called in to Bob Share’s office, who was the school administrator at the time. I turned the hot metronome in and told Mr. Share my story, which was true, that I had bought it from another Berklee student for ten bucks, having no idea that it was stolen. He listened and evidently believed me, for he told me that if my name ever came across his disk again, for any reason, ANY reason, he would boot me out in a heartbeat. He was angry, firm, and I left his office shaking. Next day I heard the other kid was kicked out of school.

I figured out that it had to have been Ray Herrera who turned me in, and when I went to his office and confronted him with it, he didn’t deny it. “I’m sorry, Stevie, I had to do it. I’m an honest man. I didn’t want to get you in trouble, but I thought you stole it.” And thus ended my relationship, and my year, with “de man who watched de birds.”

Benny on the steps of our Boston apartment


My second roommate in Boston was an unforgettable character. Benny Morris was 4’2″ paraplegic dwarf, 32 years old, who had come back to school to update his piano-playing style. He had already been out on the road for 6 years and was world-wise in ways you and I will never know. Smart, funny, entertaining, he quickly made many friends at school and as his roomy, I found my base of friends growing by leaps and bounds… all because of Benny.

As if being a dwarf weren’t bad enough, Benny was paralyzed from the waist down, and had to use a small set of crutches to get around. But he was mobile and resourceful, with a honed ability to make light of his deficiencies and pull you into his fascinating personality.

Benny and I got along great, and if we did anything really wrong, it was drinking a little too much. There was a bar, the Webster House, just a block from our apartment, and we were on a first name basis with the bartenders and some of the regulars. One night, rolling into our apartment late, somewhat tipsy, we decided that Benny should swing from the chandelier that hung in our building’s foyer. So John, a friend, and I lifted Benny up to grab the big light, then gave him a shove. For a few short, magical moments Benny swung through the hall, giggling like a maniac. The the wiring at the ceiling broke loose, showering us with sparks and strange buzzing sounds. Benny and the lamp did a free-fall, stopping within inches of the floor. We scrambled into our apartment and closed the door, only to have our upstairs neighbors knocking on it moments later, threatening us with horrific bodily harm if we didn’t replace the chandelier we had just totaled.

Well, we had to move, and we did, the very next day, to a bigger apartment across the street. The new place was a great move, because now we had room for a piano. Now all we had to do was find one… and we did! Some guy, living just 3 blocks from us, also on Newbury Street, was moving and gave us his old upright piano!

Well, we were stoked! To have a piano right there in the apartment, to practice and work our homework assignments out on, was suddenly a luxury we hadn’t figured on. All we had to do was move it those three blocks, down the stairs and into our basement apartment!

The night of the move, Benny, our friend John and I hit the Webster House for a few, to devise a plan as to how to get the piano down the street to our place. We knew that going right down the street was the easiest way, and to do that, it had to be late… probably 2 a.m. or so. We got hold of 3 other guys who could help us, and ended up drinking a little more, and planning a little more.

After closing the Webster House, we walked up Newbury Street to the apartment where the piano was waiting for us. The owner was still up, as few Berklee students went to bed before 2 a.m. The homework assignments alone would keep us up half the night. We rolled the piano out of the apartment and onto the street. Then we put Benny on top of the piano, covered the lower half of his body with a sheet. He wasn’t even as long as the piano when he laid down. We had a small pillow for his head, then gave him a candle, lit it, and started pushing the piano down Newbury Street, the 3 blocks to our apartment.

The piano made a slight rumbling, ominous sound as it rolled along the pavement. Benny lay on top of the piano, very still, holding the lit candle upright on his chest. My god, what a sight it must have been! We slowly rolled that piano down to our new apartment, Benny never moving. The candle didn’t go out, and we kept waiting for some apartment lights to come on, to see what he hell was going on out in the street at that hour of the morning. We stayed silent all the way, and never once saw any sign that anyone saw us. One can only hope someone did… it had to be unreal!

We left the piano on the sidewalk that night, and moved it down the stairs into our apartment the next morning. It was wonderful, having a piano, but the real treat was moving it down Newbury Street at 3 in the morning, with Benny lying quietly on top, the candle flickering in the dark!

I have thought of that night so many times since, and have always been sure that no one would believe me if I told them. But that has ceased to matter over the years, and I now share it happily. I have no idea what ever happened to Benny or John; we lost touch after school, all went our own way. But what a time we had!

Steve Hulse