Excerpt from John Young's WHEN THE COIN IS IN THE AIR



A Cape Summer


      With feet on sandy Cape Cod, my luck had changed, or so I

thought, and I stopped at the first business I saw to ask for a job.

The big fruit stand just over the bridge buzzed with customers

and college-aged kids racing around helping and stocking food.

It looked perfect. But the manager said she had all the help they

needed. So I hit the road, checking out a few towns on the Cape,

searching for tourist-type jobs at restaurants and gift shops along

the way without luck. The first two nights I found quiet side roads

and slept in the back of my truck. The second night, deep into the

fuzzy hours, I was awakened by a sharp rapping on the aluminum

shell over the back of my pickup.

     “Hello, in there,” came a big voice.

      “Hello,” I said.

      “Can’t sleep here, son.” The guy was probably my brother’s age.

      “I was falling asleep at the wheel,” I lied, “tried to drive straight through

from Indiana but couldn’t quite make it.”

      “Where you headed?”


      “Okay. You go back to sleep, but I don’t want to see you sleeping

on the streets here tomorrow night, got it?”

      “Got it. Thanks.”

      “And out of here by 8:30 in the morning.”

      “8:30. Right, I’ll be gone.”

     With that he drove off, and I hunkered down in my sleeping

bag for the rest of the night. But there was no question I needed

to find a job and a place to live.

      In the morning, I drove to Falmouth. I liked it and went to a

lumber yard to ask for a job or to see if any carpentry crews were

looking for help. The assistant manager wanted my address, and I

confessed I was living out of my truck for the time being. She said

she knew a man who sometimes helped young people and gave

me the name of a Daniel Standish, a Falmouth insurance man.

With nothing to lose, I went to see this Daniel Standish of the

pilgrim name. His business sign incorporated the Christian symbol

of the fish. After we talked for a few minutes, I asked if he was

a Christian and told him I was (though my doubts were already

getting the better of me). In his next breath he asked me to come

and live with his family until he could find me a job and a place to

live. For the next two weeks, I lived there—free room and board as

Standish refused to take my money. He hired me to work around

his house, building a fence, putting up a basketball goal for his son,

painting the trim on his house, even had me answering the phone

at his office.




     I had heard Standish badmouth a place in Falmouth called Two

Brothers, a giant bar and dance club on the beach. I think he

referred to it as a “den of sin.” But I figured since I’d gotten to Cape

Cod before most of the New England college kids—their summer

started mid-June—I’d have a chance to get a job working nights at

Two Brothers. I walked in the door and there was a big guy behind

the bar. I’d guess him at six-feet two and 240 pounds. He looked

at me and said, “Yo, you looking for a job?”




      “Follow me,” he strode past me out to the big deck. I paused to

admire the view of the beach, the bluffs of Falmouth Heights and

Vineyard Sound, before running down the stairs to the sand. When

I caught up to him, he whirled around and took a roundhouse

swing at my head.

       I ducked it and, using his momentum shoved him and locked

up his arm from behind. As he tried to break free, I felt his weight

shift and threw him to the sand.

      “Stay down,” I ordered and was ready to kick him in the face or

punch him in the back of the head depending on how he moved.

      Instead he held out a hand and laughed. “Want the job?!”

      I didn’t take his hand, but backed away a step. “Good move,”

he said. I still doubted I could trust him, prepared in case he made

another move at me. I could feel my heart pounding in my neck

and ears, the adrenaline tingling in my arms and back.

      He got up and dusted off the sand, “I’m Mick.”

      “Jason,” I said. “Jason Blake.”

      “I wasn’t going to hit you,” Mick said. “Just testing your reactions.

You’re not very big for a bouncer, but you’re quick. Are you


      “Most people think so.”

      “Smart enough to defuse a fight rather than get into one? Because

the job is simple, Jason: protect the patrons from the problems,” Mick said.

      That got my attention.

      “Every time there’s a fight, I lose money. Every time you bounce

some jackass in a big scene and his buds follow, I lose money.

Every time you smooth ruffled feathers, prevent a fight—protect

the patrons from a problem—by getting a ruffian to leave quietly,

this place is a money-makin’ machine.”

      “Makes sense,” I said. “I’m not really a fighter anyway.”


      Now that I realized he really wasn’t going to jump me, the

adrenaline leached out of my muscles and the shakes set in.

      “Come on inside. I’ll go over the details.” He laughed and patted

me on the back as he held out his hand to shake.

      Inside, Mick gave me a Two Brothers jacket made for the bouncers.

Thick cotton sweatshirt inside (good padding for a punch to

the ribs or kidneys), and rip-stop nylon shell (which would slow

down a slashing knife).

      “Here’s how it works,” he said. “Pay is forty bucks a night, fifty for

every night without a fight or a rough bounce. Hours are eight to

midnight, and it includes dinner while you work. All the soda and

coffee you want. No beer or booze while on duty. No touching the

waitresses or patrons while on duty or in Two Brothers uniform.

Got it?”

      “Yeah,” I said.

      “After you get some experience, you’ll go until two in the morning

for seventy-two a night plus twenty if there’s no fights or rough

stuff. All cash—no contracts, no checks, no benefits. We’ll train you

in a few afternoon sessions and have you shadow a couple of the

other guys. We work in pairs. And I’m here most nights too.”

      I’d never made close to ten or twelve dollars an hour, so I didn’t

bother to tell Mick I was twenty years old, legally underage to even

be in his bar.

      Over the next few days, I got detailed training in bar fighting

and how to diffuse it from Big Dave, a guy who’d played defensive

end at Nebraska and had grown up in a rough part of Miami, a

tough white kid among Cubans and blacks. He was six-foot four,

thickly muscled and held a karate black belt. A twenty-year veteran

as a bouncer, Dave taught me ten ways to stop a guy. The goal

wasn’t to beat anyone up, just stop them quickly, and get them out

the door with minimal distraction or damage to anyone. He taught

me where to hit a guy if he moves this way, that way. How to wrestle

a guy to the ground. How to call for backup. How to watch out

for the drunk buddy who might bust your head or your partner’s.

How to clear the crowd. How to disarm a guy with a knife. What

to do if someone pulled a gun. A gun? It wasn’t likely, Big Dave

assured me. But it had happened. It was both thrilling and scary

to learn all this. Would I really need to know it? Did I want to

know it? What had I signed up for?

      In the end Big Dave reiterated the rally cry of the bouncer at

Two Brothers: “Protect the Patrons from the Problems.”

      After my training, I was ready to shadow Dave. It was an eye

opening, non-stop lesson. He taught me how to watch the crowd,

and he could spot the guys who were likely trouble the second

they walked in the door.

      Dave graded them on an estimated danger level 1-5 and “nitro.”

He only gave numbers to those already deemed risky. A one was

a bad drunk, not a real physical threat but mean and likely to start

a fight over a girl, an odd glance, or a Yankees hat. A five was a

guy who was an ex-athlete or current one, often a big guy who

could crush you if things got out of hand, and things could get out

of hand in a hurry. Or he might be a lean-muscled stud, quick

and vicious. A “nitro” was a number four or five who was drunk,

angry, high, or armed—a dangerous guy who made you want to

dial 9-1- and hold your finger over the other 1 until he left. Dave

warned me to watch a “nitro” all the time and stay close. The best

you could hope for with a five or a nitro who started trouble was

that they were drunk enough to have impaired coordination—that

and that you had a good partner.

      Dave called out girls who attracted trouble. They were all “shark

bait.” I never told Dave I was attracted to these girls myself—which

I found unnerving.

      Dave also told me Mick bought out the four brothers who

started the place after his baseball career ended. He’d played first

base for the Red Sox and Mets. Mick was a good guy who could

hold his own if trouble broke out.

      There were three bars in the Two Brothers. The bars were

named ABC.

      A-Bar was the main one. It was out in the middle of the building,

a large rectangle, and we all kept track of the customers by

their positions on the clock. “There’s a 4 and a nitro circling shark

bait at two-o’clock.”

      B-Bar served the disco. It was less trouble because there were

no stools and people drifted back and forth. Around B-Bar we

relied on the bartenders and waitresses to help us spot trouble

brewing, guys getting too drunk or getting too physical with female


      C-Bar was the easy one. It was mellow. Down the hall, with

ample soundproofing, and removed from the rest of the club by a

breezeway, it was basically a folk music venue. I liked it there, but

Mick didn’t want us hanging out at C-Bar. No trouble to control.

Still, we wandered down there from time to time.

      Every bar was outfitted with alarms, and each bouncer had to

keep an eye on the wall monitors, a series of lights which identified

where there was trouble. Red was the east end of A-Bar and yellow

the west end. Green was B-Bar. And there was no light for C-Bar.

      My first two nights came off without a single ruffled feather, and

I was feeling flush with a hundred bucks in my pocket. Only one

guy had to be asked to leave after he patted a waitress on the butt.

There was no a discussion when Big Dave eased up next to him,

slid his beer aside and quietly explained his night was over, but

he’d be welcomed back if he could keep his hands off the staff and

customers. The guy never said a word, just put ten bucks on the

bar and walked out. I stuck close to Big Dave, hanging on his nonstop

chatter about who to watch and how to avoid trouble. After

twenty years, there were few things Dave hadn’t seen. A migrant

worker really, Big Dave floated up and down the east coast with

the tourists and the weather. Winter through spring he enforced

the peace at bars in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. After the annual

insanity of Florida’s spring break season, he’d take a month off to

visit friends, working a few nights in North Carolina and New Jersey

as he drifted toward the Cape and Two Brothers—which opened

in May and closed in September.

      On my third night bouncing, two guys squared off. One threw

his glass of beer at the other, prompting Dave to say, as we rushed

to the east end of A-Bar: “Showtime.” When we got there, the dry

guy was staggering to his feet, his nose looking like an “S” curve

and gushing blood. Dave took the puncher and told me to take

the mess. I held him back, as he made a show of going after the

other guy, but he didn’t put in much of an effort. He didn’t want

any more, just trying to save face (or what was left of it). I gave

him a bar towel for his bloody nose. After Dave got the other guy

out, with Mick following to make sure none of the group messed

with Dave, I escorted the mess out with Dave following. It really

was teamwork. But that didn’t keep Dave and Mick from teasing

me for getting blood on my jacket, Mick reminding me to wash

it before work the next night. Mick’s last words were, “No bonus

tonight boys. The job is to protect the patrons from the problems.”




      While I kept my night job quiet around Daniel Standish, I’m

sure he suspected I was out carousing for girls or getting into some

other trouble, and he redoubled his effort to find me a job and a

place to stay, probably to get me away from his kids.

      He did find me a job. A carpenter friend of his, Sonny McCoy,

hired me to join his Christian crew for $5.50 per hour. Not much

money, especially in light of bouncing, but jobs were scarce, so I

took it. And the Christian leaning appealed. I’d worked for some

crazy crews before. (Once on a framing crew, the crew chief got

high in the morning before climbing up to walk on the rafters of a

three-story house. He quit smoking on the job after he got blown

off the top-plate of a garage we were building and broke his arm.)

So if Christ made the crew sane and respectable, that was fine by

me. Standish also found jobs and places to live for players on the

Falmouth Clippers baseball team, a team in the Cape Cod League.

He found a place for me and one of the baseball players to live.

      We rented a small bedroom and kitchen access for $40 per week

each, from the Stone family. Really from Mrs. Stone because she

ran things. A college-educated woman, she was bright and full

of energy, but shackled by her family. Mr. Stone, a very nice

man, was as dull as his name. Conversation, to him, meant talking

about the weather. In a 30-year military career, he never rose

above sergeant. Their oldest boy was a high school dropout who

messed with drugs, had gotten a girl pregnant and married her,

and couldn’t keep a job. So he frequently borrowed money from

his mother. Their youngest boy was fourteen and on the fast track

to follow the older, sneaking off to smoke pot and booze it up with

his buddies. There was a daughter too, though we knew little of

her—until she returned from the mental institution.

     Mrs. Stone loved my roommate and me because we were, like

her, energetic, interested in life, and mentally engaged in it. My

roommate played baseball games almost every evening, but I spent

time with her before heading off to the Two Brothers. While the rest

of her family huddled like stone-age men around the television,

watching Jeopardy or reruns of Gilligan’s Island as if they held the

secret of fire, Mrs. Stone and I sat in the kitchen and talked about

life, favorite books, and, since she’d graduated from the University

of Iowa, the Midwest. Stuck in her blunt household, I felt sorry

for her. The thing that kept Mrs. Stone sane that summer was

planning a visit to her friends in Norway with her husband and

younger son. I looked over maps and picture books of Norway

with her, listening to details of the trip.

      My day job as a carpenter left me exhausted many evenings, so

I didn’t really want to go to Two Brothers. But the money was too

good to pass up, and I liked the new skill I was developing under

Big Dave’s tutelage. I liked my slowly evolving sense of trouble

brewing, the ability to discern the vibe of whether to spring or

slide into a situation.

      The Christian carpentry crew circled in a different orbit than the

staff and customers at Two Brothers. McCoy’s carpentry crew met

at 8:00 each morning in the church parking lot, with Sonny handing

out coffee as people arrived. Once all eight of us were there, we

had a quick prayer, and Sonny assigned the four junior carpenters

to the three senior carpenters for the day’s work. Sonny checked in

at each job site every day, lending a hand if needed, solving problems,

talking to home owners and meeting with or estimating for

prospective customers. We mostly worked on the old stick-andshingle

summer homes along the water. They belonged to wealthy

or once-wealthy families of Boston and New York.

      The guys on the crew included me in their activities. Carl and

his lovely wife invited me to dinner and took me to hear folk music

at the coffee shop in Woods Hole. We also played tennis on the

Oceanside, on a clay court at a big house. The old woman who

owned it sat and watch us play doubles in our dirty work clothes

and told stories about “famous” New York people we’d never heard

of. My favorite activity was a Friday ritual of crab hunting after

work which ended with all the crew’s families in a crab feast at

Sonny McCoy’s house. Boiled corn and crabs and a giant salad

bowl. We crowded around two large picnic tables or sat in the

grass, laughing and joking around. I was the butt of many jokes

from both the guys and their wives.

      “With all the pretty college girls on Cape Cod,” one wife said,

“why can’t you get a date?”

      “Who says I can’t get a date?” I said, though it was true. I’d only

had one date with a girl who said she’d finished her freshman

year in college, a year younger than me. But when we went for a

walk on the beach after a movie and kissed, she confessed she was

seventeen and in high school. I took her home and never saw her

again. The other two girls I’d asked out had deferred.

      “He’s just too picky,” another wife said.

      “Lower your standards and up your fun,” said a third. They all

laughed at that.




      One Monday we were rebuilding a sun porch on a rambling old

house and Sonny was there working with us. I cut the replacement

floor joists. These were a big, expensive boards, two-by-twelve

and twelve feet long. When we went to put the new ones in, I

discovered I’d cut one two inches short. Crap. The board was

suddenly waste. It also put a stop to the work. Someone would

have to go get a replacement. Sonny called a break and sent one

of the other young guys to the lumber yard.

      Sonny said, “Measure twice...”

      “Cut once,” I finished the carpenter’s maxim. That was as close

as he ever came to scolding me.

      I sat there looking at the short board and noticed I hadn’t even

cut it square. Was this the result of working until after 2:00 a.m.

over the weekend at Two Brothers? The least I could do was cover

the second mistake—cutting it short was bad enough. I pulled out

my square, marked the tail of the board and re-cut it.

      Sonny watched and said, “No matter how many times you cut

it, Jason, it won’t get any longer.” And he laughed and laughed at

his joke. At the end of the day, I asked if I’d have to pay for the

board, like another crew I’d worked on, but Sonny just laughed

and said no. Not unless I made a habit of it.

      But I did get reassigned to two tough jobs for the rest of the

week. The first was to spend two days climbing up and down the

ladder, bringing 80-pound bundles of asphalt shingles up to the

crew which was putting a new roof on a house out by one of the

kettle-hole ponds in Woods Hole. On a bet for coffee, one of the

guys said I couldn’t carry two bundles up, 160 pounds. I won. The

next two days, I was assigned to work alone at an antique house

next to the old Quaker Meeting House in East Falmouth. The stone

foundation of the old house had collapsed and someone had to dig

it out. Guess who? The cellar was too low to stand up in, so I had

to stoop, crawl or squat. First I had to drag out the boulders. Then

I had to shovel out all the dirt—one five-gallon bucket at a time.

Actually, I’d fill two of them and drag out two at a time to dump

on the driveway. I knew I’d have to eventually shovel that pile into

a truck. Over and over I filled the buckets. It was back-breaking

work. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, I was startled by the

sound of a second shovel next to mine. It was Sonny. He didn’t

say much, just kept shoveling.

      It made a big impression on me that he showed me, without

telling me, that he wasn’t above doing the grunt work, wasn’t above

the dirty work. Right then, I decided if I ever owned a company

I’d do the same thing.

      After about an hour, he said he had to go, but it helped me a

lot. Both for my morale and for getting the job done.

      “Let’s take a break. I got you a Gatorade.”

      While we sat on the tailgate of his truck, he told me he’d heard

I was working as a bouncer at Two Brothers.

      “Yes sir, that’s right.” I answered.

      “If you need the money, Jason, I’ll pay you another dollar an

hour. But only if you quit.”

      “Sonny, I really appreciate it, but I need the money. It will really

help me and my family when I’m back at college.”

      “I’m just worried about that place.”

      “I’m not getting in trouble. I don’t drink or anything like that.”

      “Good luck finds you in a good place, and bad luck finds you in

a bad place.” He patted me on the shoulder. “Simple as that really.

You’re a good kid, and I want what’s good for you.”

      I didn’t answer for a few seconds. “I’ll be careful,” I said.




      That night, after working to dig the foundation, I showed up at

Two Brothers early to get something to eat. It was busy, heading

into the July 4th weekend. During my six weeks as a bouncer, we

hadn’t had much trouble. A couple of guys took swings at me, but

I was able to duck or block them and wrap the guy up until help

arrived and off he went. My worst encounter came when a huge

guy grabbed me and lifted me up like a rag doll, crushing my ribs.

Dave stepped in quick. “Stop,” he said. The guy tossed me aside and

took a wild swing at Dave. Then Pow. Dave hit the guy so fast and

so hard his head snapped back, and he just crumpled. Bam and

down, like a roll of wet sod. Big Dave had shielded me from most

of the bad stuff, but that night, heading into the July 4th weekend,

Dave was out sick. I got assigned to work with Ted, a guy whose

father was a friend of Mick’s. Ted was a couple years older than I,

a tennis player at Tufts. A tennis player?!

      And wouldn’t you know, in swaggers the big dude who Dave

had taken out when he grabbed me. With two oversized buddies.

He wore his number-five nitro full-bore. I wished Dave was there.

I almost quit on the spot. One drink in, the guy glared and pointed

at me from across A-Bar. I asked Mick to help keep an eye on him,

and Mick gave him and his friends a no-hard-feelings beer from

me. I’ll admit I was scared. This guy was every bit the size of an

NFL offensive tackle, probably six-five and easily 310 pounds. I

was six-foot and 185, and Ted was taller than I, but soft. Besides

Ted was chatting up a new waitress and not paying attention.

      The big guy disappeared into the dance room. After awhile I

checked in at B-Bar to see if they’d seen him. Oh, yeah, he was

knocking them back with his two buddies. I went back to pull Ted

away from his own shark bait, and to warn Mick and tell him to

have the cops nearby because this was feeling like a powder keg.

Almost instinctively I reached past Mick into the cash register and

took a roll of nickels ($2 worth) and put it in my left pocket, a lesson

from my father’s boxing cheat. It was a waiting game now.

      And it wasn’t long. The number-five nitro grabbed a B-Bar

waitress who had a tray of drinks, reaching down the back of her

shorts. She dropped the tray, screaming, but he held tight.

      “Hey, let her go,” I said. “Not cool.” I didn’t want to be too firm

which he’d take as a challenge, or too light and he’d mock me.

      “Hello, Pigeon Shit,” he said.

      “Let’s not have any trouble. It’s time to go.”

      “You going to throw me out? Where’s your big brother?” His

friends, one on each side of me, laughed. I reached into my pocket

and locked my fist around the roll of nickels.

      “Look,” I said, holding out an open right palm. “let’s keep this

simple. The boss already called the cops, and they’re outside–”

      “I’m gonna kick your ass.” He flung the waitress aside like a doll.

      “Those cops would love to toss you in–”

      “I’m gonna kick your ass right now.”

      Everything went into slow motion. He pulled back that hammer

of a fist, reaching for Nantucket, and I exploded into him with

everything I had, with an inside right jab, hitting him square in the

throat. (I aimed for the chin, but at least I connected.) He gasped

for air leaning forward, and I hit him again with my weighted left

hook right where the jaw joins the skull. It broke with the same

pause and give as the kid’s leg broke on the football field when I

was in ninth grade. Nickels exploded from my hand, as he went


      Then the room tilted as I heard screaming.

      The next thing I knew I woke up in the hospital—or so I thought.

It was a nursing home run by one of Mick’s friends.

      Turned out, one of the big guy’s buddies had grabbed a whisky

bottle from the bartender and cracked it over my head. Mick was

sitting there when I woke up. He stuffed a hundred bucks in my

hand. “Tell me you got health insurance.”

      “I got health insurance.” Wait. Did I? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure

what day it was or where I was. But, yeah, I had health insurance

of some kind through the university.

      One of the nursing home residents, an old woman, thin as a

fork, kept coming in every hour or two to wake me up, take my

pulse, and check my eyes. I don’t know if she’d been a nurse in her

youth, but at least someone was checking on me. I worried about

how badly I might be hurt. I knew my head was messed up. Big

Dave came by late that night to make sure I didn’t need to go to

a Boston hospital. In the morning the nursing home doc checked

me over again and said I’d be fine—other than a five-day headache

and a warning not to bounce my head around for a few weeks.

      Sonny McCoy came by too. “Jason, I warned you about that

place. When you get close to trouble, it finds you. That’s a lesson

you just learned the hard way.”

      I didn’t say anything.

     Sonny drove me over to Two Brothers to get my truck. When

we stopped, he said “I want you to take an extra two bucks an hour

and quit that bouncer job.” I didn’t tell Sonny I’d already decided

to leave, but I told him I would, that I’d go in right then and tell

the owner. I saw Mick’s BMW in the parking lot.

      Inside, I told Mick I was done. He knew. He said Big Dave had

decided for me. Mick bought me lunch and gave me another two

hundred bucks. “Use it for your textbooks this fall.”

      And so ended my life as a bouncer.

      I never went back to Two Brothers.




      For the next week I did have wicked headaches and couldn’t

use a hammer, so Sonny put me on soft duty: cleaning up, running

errands, painting a porch, and straightening up his office.

      The good news was I got plenty of sleep for my first time on

Cape Cod, read more, and spent evenings after work walking on

the beaches instead of preventing bar fights. I also hung around

the Stones’ house where I spent time talking to Mrs. Stone about

books. To repay my attention and to help me out with the loss of

dinners at Two Brothers, Mrs. Stone often cooked an extra potato

at dinner, or somehow had a little extra pasta or salad. It upset her

that my dinners now usually consisted of either peanut butter and

jelly sandwiches, or cans of Chef Boyardee Ravioli, heated on the

stove with me forking food straight from the can.

      The Stones left to spend the last six weeks of the summer in

Norway, leaving my roommate and me alone with their daughter.

As soon as her mother left, Carla Stone lost her cashier job at

Stop-and-Shop and spent her days in front of the TV, wearing her

bathrobe from the time she got up, around noon, until she went to

bed, around midnight. By all appearances she stopped bathing as

well. Living off our rent money, which Mrs. Stone had instructed

us to pay to Carla, she tried to raise our rent a few days after her

mother left. She went into an incoherent rage, shrieking wordlessly

through the house, when we refused. Then Carla did not speak to

us or acknowledge our existence for days—until something like a

telephone call for one of us after ten o’clock set her off screaming

at us again.

     By the end of the first week, my roommate couldn’t

take it and moved out to live with a couple of baseball teammates.

I wanted to do the same, but I felt a responsibility to Mrs. Stone

as a repayment for her kindness, to help support her daughter. I

wondered what my brother would do. I knew Dad would quit her

as he’d quit many jobs. What would Mom do? I imagined her

bearing it out, telling herself it would end soon, and then walking

away having fulfilled her sense of obligation. That’s what I decided

to do.

      But it got worse.

      As the sole target of Carla’s imbalance, the young woman tilted

toward me. I pitied her when I woke in the middle of the night

to the sound of her sobbing in her bedroom. Then she’d hurl

something against the wall—the sound of china or glass shattering.

Then silence. Some nights it was impossible to sleep when Carla

simultaneously played the TV and the stereo, raising the volume

of both as if the devices were in competition. Once in a while,

I came home late and hearing this competition from outside the

house, I lingered beside my small pickup debating whether or not

to go in. Twice, I slept in the back of my truck rather than face her

and the racket. Carla had done herself some sort of violence before

being institutionalized, I knew, and I feared she might hurt herself.

Or worse, turn on me. Especially after I awoke to the sound of a

doorknob rattle and saw her slowly crack open the door to peer in

on me with one eye. With images of her sinking a knife into my

back as I slept, I put a bolt on my door and locked myself in at

night. Next time I heard the knob rattle, the door didn’t yield, and

Carla Stone went into a rage yanking at the knob and pounding on

the door, again shrieking wordlessly at me. Then collecting herself

in a seething anger, she hissed, “I will kill you. You know that? Oh,

yeah. I’ll do it.”

      That did it. I decided to get the hell out and not ruin my last

month on the Cape. Running an asylum wasn’t part of the bargain.

I’d live out of my truck if I had to.

      I drove over to Old Silver Beach. It was a foggy night, cool, the

air damp. I could hear the ocean from the parking lot but couldn’t

see it. I felt relieved after my decision, but down deep I also felt

uneasy, wondering if it made me the kind of man who left when

things got tough. I refocused on the practical. It would be hard

to find an affordable place for just four weeks. And I didn’t want

to cut into my meager savings plan. Despite my paltry take-home

pay, I set aside $75 per week for college. (It wasn’t enough, and I’d

have to take out a student loan to survive the school year.) After

rent, I had about $35 a week plus any overtime for food, fun and

gas. When I worked for Two Brothers, I had money, but no time.

Now that I had time, I wouldn’t allow myself the money.

       I mentioned my living situation to Dale McCoy, a painting con-

tractor and the younger brother of my boss, Sonny McCoy. Dale

had become a good friend that summer though he was more than

twenty years older than I. A very funny and happy-go-lucky man,

Dale was also a deep thinker about life and religion and friendship.

I had resolved to live out of my truck and asked Dale if I

could shower at his outdoor shower behind the house after work,

and maybe park my truck in his turnaround. Instead, Dale insisted

I move in with his family for the same amount of rent I’d paid the

Stones. I hedged, giving him a chance to discuss it with his wife

and back out of the offer, but he was emphatic. And I accepted.

      That night I told Carla I was moving out. She blocked the door.

She said I couldn’t leave. She threatened me again if I tried.

      “I’m sorry. I’ve decided.”

      Then she began to cry, to wail and blubber as she followed

me up the stairs and back down while I carried my books and

magazines. She begged me not to move out.

      “I can’t stay,” I said, and went upstairs for the last of my things.

Then as I turned, she pulled out a kitchen knife and I slammed

the door on her and locked it. She jabbed the knife into the door

again and again. I threw the last of my things out the second floor

window and climbed out on a porch roof. I had to jump to the

lawn. I picked up my stuff and snuck around the house, expecting

her to spring out of the bushes with that big knife. But when I came

past a window, I saw she was already back in her chair, watching

TV, as expressionless as a reptile.

      To assuage my guilt, I took out my wallet, doing it fast because

I knew I’d stop myself if I reconsidered, and slipped another week’s

rent, $40, under the front door. Then I sprinted to my truck and

raced away.

      I wanted to call Mrs. Stone and tell her what happened; it felt

cowardly not to, and irresponsible. What if Carla hurt herself? But

I didn’t know how to reach her in Norway, so I just ran.

      Living with Dale McCoy, his wife Gail, and their two daughters—

May, 12, and Beth, 15—was life in a playground compared to the

Stone house. Dale and I sat up late in discussions, sometimes about

religion, but more often about how to live a life or about dreams,

and we joked around a lot. He was like an older brother, but easier-going

than Walter, and like Walter, Dale was a kind of father figure


      At the end of the summer, Dale asked me to go with his family,

and two other families, to spend four days at his father’s cabin in

New Hampshire. It was a perfect end for my summer. We hiked

in woods of the White Mountains, went swimming in ponds and

icy-cold mountain streams, and hung around campfires. At the

end of the night, everyone else would go to bed inside the little

cabin, but I slept outside under the stars.

      These eight adults and seven kids, all friends I’d made that summer,

felt like family to me. And when it was time to leave for Indiana,

it saddened me to say goodbye. Dale and Gail made me

promise to come back and stay with his family the next summer.

      As I drove my bright-orange Nissan pickup across the mountains

toward Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and twenty

hours later finally to Indiana—I reflected.

      I had driven a thousand miles from home, ended up in a town

none of my family members had even visited, and carved out a

life for myself. I’d earned a living, found places to stay, and had

made life-long friends—I could have stayed the rest of my life in

Falmouth. And I did it all alone.

      Another fact crept up on me: except for college, my brother had

never been outside of Indianapolis, and even then, with friends or

family. In this act of independence, if in few other places, I gave

myself permission to mark that I had surpassed Walter.