Sunday, September 11, 2022

Crazy George

I figured I’ve outlived the statute of limitations, so now this story can be told.

In 1970, I began a brief academic pursuit at the University of Missouri. It didn't last long because I preferred having fun more than attending classes. I’d say that I fell in with the wrong crowd, but it’s more accurate to say I sought them out.

Scott Robinson and I shared a few classes together although I wasn’t at many of them. So “classmate” isn’t the best label; “drinking buddy” would be more accurate. We usually only saw each other in the evening when I stopped by his room to drink along with his roommate, George Farmer. We called him “Crazy George.” He got that moniker for good reason. First of all, he had that slightly crooked smile and shine in the eyes of someone a bit off kilter. His behavior added to the reputation. Among other things, he used to make money by pulling a “Cool Hand Luke,” sneaking downtown during early morning to dismantle the heads of parking meters, then breaking into them. He even chose double headed meters and recorded the collection schedule to maximize his take.

Another time, while in the dorm lounge, I heard the elevator doors open, then a strange rolling sound. Here came George folded in a crouch, riding a pilfered shopping cart toward the cafeteria, screaming like a banshee the whole time.

So, Crazy George, Scott, and I formed the core of our particular crowd. While most of our peers were embroiled in anti-establishment zeal, we let them attend to protest; we were content to drink beer and enjoy each other’s company.

One night, four of us gathered for our ritual imbibing, choosing quart bottles on this occasion—probably because of a sale price. One of our quartet was a guy I’d seen but never met before. Like George, he was an engineering student. During the course of the evening, he bragged about how he designed explosives. “I can make bombs out of walnut shells, toilet paper rolls, even Coca-Cola bottles.”

It didn’t take long for one of us to hold up an empty quart bottle and ask, “Could ya’ make a bomb out of one of these?”

Of course, the answer was “of course.”

We stumbled to his room to retrieve the needed materials. Within a half-hour, he had completed the task and set the bottled bomb on the table. After a run to replenish our beer supply before closing time, we pondered the possibility of setting off our newly designed incendiary device. The question: where to go enjoy the show.

We settled on a state park located about seven miles from campus.

The four of us staggered down to the parking lot with our beer and our gear, piled into Scott’s GTO.

The only problem with drunks is they usually make bad decisions. In this case, our makeshift device ended up in George’s lap. Before we were even off campus, he had rolled down the back window, lit the fuse with the hot end of his cigarette, and howling, heaved the bottled-up bomb out of the car.

“What the fuck!” Scott screamed and jammed the brakes. At the same instant, a flower of flame blossomed out of the ground where the bottle had landed. Before the report of our homemade device finished echoing between the buildings surrounding us, Scott gunned his Pontiac, burning rubber back to the dorm.

We laughed about it but also cursed George: he’d deprived us of a decent viewing of his buddy’s handiwork. Not to mention the problems we’d have if anyone saw us, especially since we might have done some serious damage. But somehow we got over it, drank some more, and eventually made our way to our respective beds to sleep off our drunk and skip morning classes.

I woke up much earlier than planned. How could I sleep with all the commotion going on around me? Bruce, my dorm roommate, had several of his friends in and out all morning. I caught bits of conversation about an uprising.

“Should we make banners or signs?”

“Dunno. What are we protesting?” That was Bruce. All I protested was the din of political babble around me.

“That figures,” I mumbled quietly between stabs of the new day’s light and my head pounding from the night before. These clowns would be the type to call a strike, then figure out the cause later.

I couldn’t ignore the chatter any longer, so I dressed. “Later, guys, I’m outta here.”

Outside, the environment was even stranger. Crowds gathered in different locations of the university’s quad. Speakers exhorted their brothers and sisters to join in overthrowing unnamed oppressors. Slogan-laden signs led parades in different directions. It looked like every anarchist or radical in a five-mile radius decided to hold a convention on our campus.

I felt like I was at the zoo except the displays were ideologues who couldn’t wait for an outbreak of takeovers and protests.

I decided to return to the dorm, visit Scott, and try to get a fix on the day. Wending my through the chanting maze of people, I hoped he’d learned what had happened to cause this sudden outbreak of “anti-whatever” feeling on the campus.

En route, I stumbled upon a group that contained my roomy, his arm raised in the power fist of defiance, periodically pumping it in the air.

“Hey, man,” I croaked when I got next to him. “What is happening?”

“It’s happening, man.” A grin spread across his face, the corners of his mouth seeming to touch the end points of the porkchop sideburns descending from wild blond hair. Never had I seen such happiness. “It’s happening.”

“Apparently,” I surveyed the crowd eddying but never receding. I repeated the question. “But what happened? Exactly.”

“Didn’t you hear?” He laughed at my ignorance, obviously enjoying the fact that his hard drinking classmate had missed the details. “Last night someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the ROTC building near our dorm. The revolution has come.”

“Great. Just what I needed today.” I sighed and wondered what kind of idiots would try to blow up the ROTC building.

Then, reality hit me.

“Holy shit,” I screamed.

“Yeah,” he responded. “Cool, ain’t it?”

“Oh, yeah. Cool. Gotta’ go. See ya.”

I couldn’t run back to the dorm fast enough. Scott, too, had heard the news and was fuming.

“That ever-lovin’ asshole,” he kept saying, pacing the floor. “He’s shafted us for sure this time. Of all places to lob that thing, he has to hit the fuckin’ ROTC building,” Scott lit a new cigarette off an already half-smoked one. “That building’s federal; they’re gonna call in the FBI on this one. That’s real time.”

And that was pretty much the rest of our day as well as a good part of our semester. Everytime there was an unexpected phone call or a summons from an RA, we were sure we’d been busted. It didn’t suppress our drinking habits any but certainly made us paranoid. Of course, drinking with George around was out of the question.

Even after I departed the campus after flunking out, that hazy memory nagged me, especially when I ended up in the Navy and got fingerprinted for security clearances.

A lot of “what if’s” filled my head for a lot of years.

For whatever reason, I never heard another word about it. Perhaps evidence was destroyed in the blast; perhaps investigators just didn’t try too hard. After all, no real damage had been done, and the explosion occurred on the lawn rather than in or even near the building.

Whatever the reason, I survived.

So now, I feel free to share the story, and the reason for doing so is simply that I can’t resist a smile once in awhile at the thought that the day the revolution came to the University of Missouri, it happened because four hedonistic drunks with no particular political beliefs wanted to watch a big bang.

Bill Cushing lived in numerous states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico before moving to California where he now resides with his wife and their son. As an undergrad, he was called the “blue collar” writer because of his time in the Navy and as a shipyard electrician. Earning an MFA, he retired in 2020 after teaching college for 23 years. His prose has appeared in print and online. Bill has three poetry books available, most recently...this just in...from Cyberwit. Bill’s current project is a memoir focused on his years aboard ships.