For more about Gay Haubner’s life in the North Country, read the other chapters in her serialized memoir. The Post will publish a new segment each week.
On weekend nights, kids meandered from one car to the other at London Inn, asking each other “Where’s the party?” All too often parents selfishly refused to leave home, or a drunken debacle the weekend before had resulted in Wendi Carlson’s mother forbidding her to have friends over, or Mr. and Mrs. Anderson were waging a minor, and ultimately unsuccessful, offensive to take back their basement from East High’s sophomore class.
So my gang of girls ended up doing a lot of drinking al fresco, even when the snow piled four feet high and the temperature dropped to zero. I staved off the cold in long underwear and my toasty army surplus green parka with a neon orange lining, the hood trimmed with fur from some strange beast, the exact same jacket worn by all my friends; when we gathered outside to party, we looked like some weird winter drinking team.
The multiple layers we wore underneath that parka kept us warm, but also made peeing a two-girlfriend job, one to hold you up so you wouldn’t fall bare-assed into the snow and one to block the view from curious teen boys, as the process took a while. You had to unzip and then shove down the three layers of jeans, long underwear, and panties past your knees, before you could grasp the arms of Friend Number One, lean back till your butt was almost touching the snow, and finally feel that hot blissful stream that you hoped missed your boots.
Drunken tobogganing on the hilly ninth hole of Northland Country Club was a favorite winter activity until Andie James knocked out her upper incisors when she shot head first off the sled and we had to deliver her bloody-mouthed and smashed on Tango Orange Flavored Vodka to her distraught parents.
We then took up drunken broomball, the only team sport I have ever enjoyed. The first half of drunken broomball was collecting brooms. We drove up and down the dark snowy streets of Duluth, peering at each porch and stoop illuminated under a circle of pale light til we spotted one that had a simple, regulation, round-handed, yellow-bristled wooden broom leaning against the house, kept there to sweep fresh snow off the steps. Wendi Carlson — no one else was brave enough — leapt out of her well-earned shotgun seat, ran close to the ground in a Groucho Marx crouch to the target house, snatched up the broom, ran back to the car, threw the broom inside, trying not to whack anyone, and hopped in while we all yelled “Go go go!” and the White Delight peeled out.
When we had gathered the same number of brooms as girls, we drove down to the Congdon Elementary ice rink, lovingly created and maintained by Mr. Swan, the scary janitor, every winter. The rink was totally deserted at night, faintly lit by the street lamps and stars. We stuck bottles of Night Train and Tango and Mad Dog and occasionally an actual real bottle of Southern Comfort in a rink-side snowbank and grabbed up our brooms. We slipped and slid skatelessly around the ice, laughing hysterically, falling on our asses, and occasionally swatting a volleyball in the direction of a hockey net. There were many breaks for drinking and helping each other pee. It was always hard for me to remember which net my team was supposed to be aiming at, but I rarely touched broom to ball anyway. I was there for the girls, for the drunkenness, for the laughter. We didn’t keep score; it was like the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland. Suddenly the game would be over and we would head back to the London Inn, thoughtlessly leaving both bottles and brooms scattered on the ice for Mr. Swan to clean up the next morning.
Once the snow was off the ground and the temperature reached a balmy fifty degrees, new drinking venues opened up. Former Girl Scouts and YWCA campers, we built raging bonfires on the lakefront, which attracted boys from miles around, and which I hope we properly extinguished. There was also the abandoned one-room Lakeside train depot, which offered shelter even if it had a faint whiff of hobo piss. This was a popular spot as it was where the trains slowed down before entering the yard. A test of manhood (or drunkenness) was to run alongside the train, jump and pull yourself up the ladder, and ride a few hundred feet down the line before launching yourself off into the cinders that bordered the rails.
Finally, it was Duluth summer, when we would shiver in our bikinis at Park Point beach trying desperately to get a hint of a tan, playing Spades, listening to WEBC on the radio, singing along to “My Cherie Amour” every time it came on, which was twenty times an afternoon, gossiping about boys, and smoking (except me). There were trips out to rustic lake cabins, with smelly outhouses and rooms lit by kerosene lamps, and hopefully, parents back in the bustling city of Duluth, so we could carouse freely, long into the twilight evening, the sun still beaming off the lake water at ten at night. If we were lucky or if someone had dropped a hint, groups of boys discovered our location and arrived by the carload, bearing more bottles of booze and sleeping bags to cuddle and steal kisses in.
With all those other pleasurable activities, enjoyed in the company of my solid band of girlfriends, every week I crossed my fingers and wished that Doug Figge would have to spend both Friday and Saturday nights over the Fryolater. I liked the idea of a boyfriend much more than the boy himself.
Before the end of my sophomore year, I received a letter from Global Citizenship, inviting me back for another session of junior international diplomacy. Most of my girlfriends had landed summer jobs; at 15 I was too young for anything but babysitting, which I despised. I had a lot of summer days to fill, so I signed up for another go at becoming a Global Citizen, deciding that the hours spent lost in the black and white visions of Fellini and Bergman more than made up for the tedium of running imaginary countries.
The letter also informed me that this year’s Global Citizenship class would count toward high school graduation credits. Doug Figge listened to my ramblings about last summer’s course — the fabulous movies, the atomic bomb attacks — with half an ear, as he was busy trying to wriggle his hand inside my pants, but he took notice when I mentioned the credit. The next day I found out that Doug, John Bean, and Joe Sloan had all signed up for Global Citizenship.
Joe Sloan had come back from his strict boarding school with a serious hallucinogen habit, which he immediately passed on to Doug and John. Since I was unable to smoke a joint I was never offered so much as half a tab of acid. When not working or at Global Citizenship, the three boys, with me in tow (Mary Ann Stuart was MIA that summer), got high in Joe Sloan’s basement, blasting Cream and looking at the walls. There is no worse hell than being stuck in a room for hours with people who are tripping so hard they forget to turn the record over.
That summer’s Global Citizenship class was a bust. There were the two bright young men from last year, now even more hopeful that all the made-up nations and the kids running them could learn to live in peaceful harmony. The nuclear option had been removed from the game, making it even more tedious and probably closer to what the real UN is like. And instead of those wonderful foreign films, there was Photography. We were broken into groups of four or five, given one (1) camera per group, and ordered to create a slide show depicting a social issue. I don’t know what kind of Dorothea Lange images these young men expected in prosperous Duluth; what they got were mostly photos of the town’s three most prominent winos and a few liquor store Indians.
I was stuck with Doug and John and Joe, who decided our group’s topic would be drugs. I was not given a vote; in fact, I never even got to touch the camera. The boys completed our assignment without ever having to leave Joe Sloan’s basement. They took photos of album covers.
That was our slide show on a social issue: drug-inspired album covers — “Tommy,” “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” (with that weird wavy plastic insert), and “Court of the Crimson King” — one slide clicking into focus after the other, with “Crystal Ship” by the Doors as the soundtrack. After the lights went back on, the two nice young men shook their heads, expressed their disappointment in our group, and told us we would not receive credit for the class. One of the teachers pulled me to the side later to ask, “Are you okay? Are those boys giving you drugs?” If only.
My mother was also taking a class that summer at the university, having decided to resume her college education, which had been interrupted by my conception and birth. Three afternoons a week I had the ultimate teenage luxury: a parentless house. All my girlfriends who were off work came over to sit around the kitchen table, fog up the breakfast nook with cigarette smoke, and make plans for that night (“We’ll meet at the London Inn”). If my sisters were also out of the house, I’d be with Doug on the living room couch, him splayed on top of me, tentacled like an octopus, hands everywhere, oily-faced and hot-breathed.
Why didn’t I just break up with him? Why did I allow him to maul my tiny bosoms when it gave me no pleasure at all? Why did I give in to Doug’s pleas to “Just touch it, just put your fingers on it?” so he could have the spurt of pleasure while all I got was a sticky hand?
I kept hoping that somehow Doug would magically disappear and Joe Sloan would finally realize that we were meant for each other. Or that someone would say, “Here, Gay, here’s a tab of acid,” and make my time with Doug more interesting.
What I got was Doug’s needy grindings of his crotch on my hip bones, his crappy kissing, and his claim of “I love you,” supposedly the magic words that would make it okay to have sex with him. All of which wore me down and wore me down until I finally succumbed on July 20.
Joe Sloan and John Bean were busy in Joe’s basement. Joe had just received a mail order kit to make fireworks, and he and John, pupils the size of pinholes, were cackling uncontrollably as they spilled gunpowder about a small work room. I don’t know if they were making bottle rockets or M-80s; I did know that I did not want to be around in case someone lit a cigarette. So when Doug stuck his tongue in my ear and drew me away up the stairs, I did not object. We crept up the back stairs to a long forgotten room, maybe a former maid’s quarter, with a small window angled under a gable, a single mattress, and a black and white TV on a dresser.
Doug, true to his upbringing, could not resist turning on the television.
“Look!” I cried. “It’s the moon landing!” Doug looked and then fell on top of me, yanking away my tee shirt and shorts. Oh the hell with it, I thought, let’s just get this over. Doug thrust his way inside me while I pretended it didn’t hurt. I turned my head towards the TV and watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon while I said goodbye to my virginity. One small but necessary step for womankind.
For years I had been dying to have sex; I expected the transcendent experience described in my favorite dirty books, not one where my most vivid memory is of an astronaut. Years later, I still felt queasy every time I saw MTV’s logo of a man planting the flag on the moon.
There was no rubber; Doug had never offered to get one, and I had no idea of how to bring up the subject. I took the idea that I could get pregnant from this awkward coupling and stuck in somewhere in my brain where I wouldn’t see it.
When it was finally over, Doug looked at his watch, but not to time his performance. “I have to get to work,” he said, and pulled on his pants. I did not look back to see what bodily fluids we had left on that lonely bed. Doug drove me home, and I called Wendi Carlson and complained. She assured me that every girl’s first time was awful, and that even though I was sore and still finding drops of blood in my panties, if I wanted to eventually enjoy it, I should keep on having sex with Doug.