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My recent return to the Iron Range took me through terrain roughly called “south of Aurora” which prompted a recollection.
I doubt I stood out as a teen; meaning I was often effectively innocent; more often basically useless. This is a period medical books should term as adolescent male lunacy. Insane is the only explanation I can give for why three boys of fourteen would pursue our plan. Crazy also fits the origin of the idea which seemed to arise from nowhere and was based on a secret about a woman living way off in the country who would do what was needed to make a boy into a man. You see, from its first inception we three were in well over our heads, but when drowning in hormones you don’t necessarily own the resources to be reasonable. Paying a price for name, location, phone number, and cost for undetailed services and then holding that precious secret in hand on a scrap of paper sent the hormone carnival into riot. The basics were this. All we had to do was get there. For five dollars in cash (or beer) we’d become men. What more was there?
In the late 50’s five dollars was a modest fortune for a boy. The beer part, more masculine by far than mere money, was a lot harder for us to wrangle than the slightly more than twelve dollars we scraped together in hope we’d be so charming the lady would grant a discount or if nothing else give a wholesale rate. You see how practical the financial side of this was and how well thought out. Cash and carry was the strong area of our plan considering we had no means other than bikes to go over twenty miles to the mating ground of migratory boys. On paved roads I was a shoe-in for five to ten mile trips. I did one-way trips of such distance almost weekly and had tested myself doing a long grind all the way to Biwabik and back which proved a lesson in leg muscles and crotch distress. Our Loveland destination was further than that and was mostly dirt road, definitely not the speediest or easiest for bike travel. With the wisdom of our age we decided we’d need four hours. How’s that for optimism? But then an unexpected stab of reason entered as the fat boy (in those days they were called “husky” but that meant the same as fat) of the trio was factored in. He was as good on a two wheeler as I on a unicycle. Allowing for that we decided five hours was needed to reach our goal of Halleluiah world. How practical we could be when needed.
Logistic detail may not have been our strong area. Knowing our parents was. Not one of us doubted for an instant that an early AM departure on bikes would not bring a third degree. The fat boy was rarely up before ten. If we were to return in time to eat (why miss that) we’d need to be near our destination by then. The only way to disguise our deception was with more of the same. Saying we were off on a camping trip we’d start at five AM, but rather than take tents and etc. all that way to slow us down we’d stash that stuff just out of town and pedal away free as a trio of blackbirds to our pickings. When push met shove we could be ruthlessly focused and intensely practical and still be in a full state of hormone crazies believing that after a feat we could barely imagine we’d pedal happily home, grab our gear, and sit down to dinner saying we changed our minds about camping. Everything was planned. Deception and alibi were (in terms of a fourteen year old mind) finely tuned. Leaving at five AM we should reach our far off destination by ten. Not knowing exactly where in that rural haven the end of our trek lay meant we’d need another hour for door-to-door inquiry. Three strange boys in unfamiliar territory looking for trouble; nobody would notice. And so what if we got yelled at or chased? We had bikes and no one there knew us. It was perfect. All we had to do was find her by 11:30 so that all three could walk the plank in turn. I realistic terms that meant we’d be able to leave for home by quarter of twelve. At the latest if she was so charmed and gave us two turns we’d be out by Noon. After that was the mere five hour sprint for home, pick up our stashed gear, and sit down to dinner at 5:30 as usual but wearing unfamiliar smiles.
We were ready, but it never happened. The hormone machine desired it to happen but an unwanted reality set us back. The slap in the face came from the contact call to set it up. Having an easily recognizable alto voice I left the call to one of the others able to do a passable Cagney. At the gas station so central to many of our devious plans he made the call from a pay phone that ate another buck of our collected funds and gave us nothing but a look on a boy’s face that would in later years be seen on Bud Bundy saying “She says she doesn’t have any cows and to stop calling.” In that moment we knew we’d been had. The teenager with pack of smokes rolled in his T shirt sleeve had taken an entire buck of our money and lied to us. We agreed he deserved the beating none of us were going to give him. Justice had to be left to fate. Aside from the lesson gained by kissing reality’s rump my sole reward was the small packet of protection bought in the gas station washroom. I never felt as grown-up or guilty as I did feeding precious quarters into a machine that finally spat out an item oversize in all ways but ambition. That reminder lingered in my wallet years before I threw the flat, desiccated, and no longer purposeful thing away.