Two of my sisters, my brother-in-law Rik, and I descended on Charleston, SC, just before Christmas 1972. I flew down from Nashville with only the clothes on my back and gifts for my family. And a tin full of untested marijuana brownies I’d made the previous night from an ounce of high-quality Jamaican weed.
In Charleston I stayed with my cute little Christian grandma Dana (on my left above) three blocks away from Tiz’s house on Legare St, where the rest of the family was boarding.
The day after I arrived Tiz, my mom, told me that she and Dana had bought me a suit to wear for a cocktail party that afternoon a few blocks away in honor of Hank Stallworth–a guy I’d known at boarding school–and his fiancee: a blue blazer, a white-on-white shirt, an enormous red satin necktie, red double-knit polyester pants, and a shiny white belt.
“Where are your dress shoes?” Tiz asked.
“I’m wearing them,” I said.
“Those are boots. Where are your shoes?”
“I didn’t bring any.”
“My God. All right, they’ll have to do. Your stepfather has some shoe polish in his closet you can borrow. Now hurry up, you have to be there in an hour.”
The only shoe polish my stepfather had that came close to brown was cordovan, which I discovered too late turned my brown boots purple. Now seemed like an excellent time to eat a brownie, so I had two. A half hour later I was buffing my boots to a nice shine when the full impact of the brownies hit me really, really, REALLY hard. I was much too stoned to go to this party and told my sister Ruthie so.
“Bullshit, Willie. We have to go and we don’t even know these people. He’s your friend! If we have to go, you have to go!”
This made sense, but it still didn’t seem fair. I grabbed my new clothes and my purple boots and walked to my grandmother’s. Dana greeted me at the door with a message: “Will, Tiz called and told me to tell you to hurry up.” I said to tell Tiz I’d be there as soon as I showered and changed clothes.
Upstairs I was laying out my new clothes on my bed when Dana knocked on my bedroom door.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Dana, thanks!”
“You were singing!”
“You were singing about The Devil!”
I froze. This was not good. Not only was I not even aware that I was singing, but I was singing loudly enough that an 83 year old deaf woman could hear me through a closed door. I explained my behavior somehow and she went away. A minute later I realized I’d been singing “Sympathy For The Devil” very, very loud.
The water in Charleston was so soft that after my shower my hair, which usually just hung straight down, was cascading down past my shoulders in ringlets (as in the photo above). And the shirt was three sizes too large for my neck. My eyes were BRIGHT red and I had the stupidest shit-eating grin on my face ever. Fully dressed, I looked like I’d been raised by circus people.
When I showed up at my mom’s house to get my sisters and Rik, Ruthie answered the door and fell into hysterics. She hollered for the others to come see me at the front door. Rik and my older sister (seen above) almost collapsed from laughter.
We were met at the party by Hank, who introduced us to his fiancee. The inside of the house looked like a Brooks Brothers showroom–short-haired men, dressed in conservatively cut charcoal-grey/black suits, white shirts, club ties, and BLACK shoes, were everywhere. I, on the other hand, looked like a clown the host had thoughtlessly hired to entertain everyone.
I headed for the bar and buffet table. I figured cocktail shrimp and a couple of bloody marys would bring me down. I was so wrong; in a matter of minutes I was both drunk andstoned. I wandered away from the shrimp and passed from one group of strangers to another, not talking to anyone, just listening to their boring preppie bullshit about hunting, sports, and cars. I figured if I didn’t actually talk to anyone, I could fake my way through this ordeal; so for 10 minutes or so people engaged me in conversations to which I contributed a nod, a laugh, or a handshake, but absolutely zero interest in or comprehension of what was said.
At some point I found myself listening to this older man talk, but I couldn’t understand a word he was saying–it was all just “Blah blah blah blah blah” to me. I began to panic that he might actually ask me a question. Deciding I’d be better off doing the talking instead of the listening, I interrupted him. “You know,” I said, “I was talking with Mr. Smythe earlier, and he was telling me this insane story about deRo Myers, how deRo had gone to Princeton and become a ‘hippie’. And just between us, I listened as politely as I could, but he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. DeRo Myers? A HIPPIE?I mean, I spent four years at EHS with deRo, and I knowdeRo Myers. And I’m telling you, Mr. Smythe doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. But what do you think? You must know deRo–do you think deRo’s become a, quote, hippie, unquote?”
He swallowed uncomfortably. “Well, actually,” he said. “Actually, I’mMr. Smythe and I just finished telling you that story.”
“Oh. Right. Well, I’m going to go have another drink.”
I quickly made my way to the buffet table and never looked back. I had another bloody mary or two and some more cocktail shrimp. I saw this one really pretty girl standing by herself against the back wall. Having forgotten what I looked like, I approached her and started talking her up. I suggested we have dinner together while I was in Charleston. She politely turned me down, but I kept insisting. Dinner, a movie, anything. My sister Ruthie appeared and apologized for interrupting. “Do you mind if I talk to my brother for a few minutes?” The girl said not at all. Ruthie asked me what I thought I was doing. Hadn’t we agreed my talking to people was a bad idea? I countered that I was in the middle of putting the blast on this incredibly beautiful girl and actually getting somewhere, so what’s the problem?
“Willie,” she said, “that’s your friend’s fiancee! God, you are such an idiot!Maybe we better go back to Tiz’s.”
“I’m ready,” I said.
The photo above was taken by Rik the next day at Christmas dinner. I resisted — with extreme unction — having a record of me in this outfit. To no avail. My expression says it all.