BACK TO The IDEA
The words came off the page of the crumpled copy of Good Times in blazing pink iridescent color. They were heralded by blaring trumpets. This was too good to be true. Mimi read the words again. This time, out loud. How beautiful they sounded. It seemed like a calling.
“This is my ticket out of here,” Mimi exclaimed to no one in particular. To no one for sure. She was alone. “If only I can convince these people to at least meet with us. Convince them that we’re the ones. If I can just pull it off.”
Mimi was just 18, fresh out of high school, attending a local college for lack of anything better to do. Living at home with her loving, but very weird, to her, traditional Jewish parents, she longed for the adventure of the open road. Ever since her brother’s friend had gone and recounted all his tales of cross-country gallivanting. His words had jumped out at her like some sort of great adventure novel. She was envious. She knew that she wanted to one day do that, but until now, she didn’t think she really had the means.
Unknown to Mimi, she had much in common with these folks whose few words now appeared before her on this page. She had friends, many friends, but was lonely. There was a great emptiness inside her. Nothing seemed to be happening in her life, nothing that would ever amount to anything. There was this huge, black void. Life just had to mean more than this. Just hanging around in Queens, New York, in Little Neck. She had a boyfriend, sort of. It was on-again, off-again. Nothing going on there. Mimi didn’t place that much importance on boyfriends anyhow. Never did have many. Maybe it was because she wasn’t a particularly attractive girl, a bit on the plump side, or at least she felt so, but more likely she just wasn’t that interested.
Mimi, by all accounts, was one fine person. She had a plethora of friends, because it was apparent to those around her that she really cared about them. She was easy to get along with, never caused any waves. Her long, brown hair hung down nearly to her waist, her nose turned up in a most innocent way. She laughed easily and her big brown eyes always told you everything was OK.
Of late, she’d been giving much thought, when alone, to making the changes necessary for giving some meaning to her life. She felt she needed some different external stimulation. Here, on Long Island - although Little Neck was really considered New York City, a whole different world - she had her regimented parents, confining her every move - although she knew deep down it was out of love - her meaningless part-time job, and her equally meaningless classes at school. She was going nowhere and allowed to do even less. It was horror. Her only refuge was hanging out at night with her good old buddies, but where was that going to lead? She sighed as she reread for the 20th time that little ad in the paper. Funny, it was just a couple of weeks ago she had mentioned to Scottie about just such a journey. Though serious, he had laughed it off. Now this ad ...
* * * * * * *
It was a night much like any other night. The old red Chevy Nova had pulled up behind the apartment building that Mimi called home. The familiar horn honked impatiently. It was Scottie & Fiddle - Mimi’s best friend and currently Scottie’s belle - and Gary ... these were the regulars. On any given night, the remaining seats, and sometimes laps, were crunched up with a variety of other souls. The car was always packed.
Mimi grabbed her jacket, scooted down the apartment stairs, and as she entered the cool, rainy early December air, pulled the jacket up over her head. The front passenger door swung open and she squeezed in next to Fiddle.
“Hi, guys. What’s happening?”
The car was full of smoke. Tobacco smoke mixed with marijuana smoke. An old Buffalo Springfield 8 track tape was blasting from the car stereo. 8 tracks lay everywhere ... Jethro Tull, The Grateful Dead, Deep Purple, The Allman Brothers ... The car idled in the parking lot.
“What’re we gonna do?” screamed Scottie above the din.
You couldn’t talk inside this vehicle, you had to scream. The music ricocheted off every surface inside the car.
“I don’t know, this place is the pits. There’s nothing to do. Any smoke?”
“Here, take a toke.”
“Lower that music, man ... hey, good weed!”
“It’s Springfield ... listen to this tune! ‘Something’s happening here...’”
Scottie burst into song, playing air guitar all the while, giving a stirring rendition of For What It’s Worth. Mimi smiled.
“Scottie. Scottie. What a nut,” she thought.
Scottie & Mimi had become almost inseparable these past few months, much to Fiddle’s dismay. It was purely platonic, of course, but Fiddle felt a pang of jealousy anyway. Here was her best friend stealing, on a certain level, her boyfriend. Right before her eyes. Scottie & Mimi - everyone seemed to use that phrase as if it were one word - were able to communicate. They were fast becoming best friends. Fiddle just couldn’t fill that need in Scottie. No girl had been able to. Mimi was just a good friend. He wasn’t at all physically attracted to her, but he was beginning to love her as a sister. Maybe he was the big brother to Mimi that she had always wished she had. In any case, the two were connecting strongly at some level.
Mimi looked over at Scottie. He was tall, over 6 feet, and slim. His blonde, tight curls, hung over his ears and covered his brow, right down to those big, brown puppy-dog eyes. He was shy, but uninhibited, if those two qualities could possibly mix. He was wired. Always on the move. Had to be doing something. Couldn’t sit still. What a contrast to Mimi’s mellow mood. Mimi was glad they had met and were becoming so close. It would be Fiddle’s problem.
“How about copping some Quaaludes?” someone chimed in from the stuffed back seat. It was amazing that words could actually cut through that dense smoke. Everyone was stoned.
Mimi shouted, “’Ludes? No someone has to be able to drive!”
“Scottie can drive,” said Fiddle.
“I’m stoned already,” he replied.
“Anyone’s house free?”
It was a ritual. If anyone’s parents turned out to be gone for the evening, the crew would race over there, party and blast the stereo. Quaaludes, hash, pot, sometimes acid, lots of beer. Exactly what would go on in the Chevy if no such luck existed. Tonight was one of those luckless nights. The car continued to idle behind Mimi’s apartment.
“Let’s just drive, man.”
“We need gas.”
“OK, here’s 50 cents, let’s all chip in.”
Everyone dug deep into their pockets and came up with $3.27 cents to put into the gas tank. Scottie put the car in drive and whizzed out to the nearest gas station for fuel. Now they were ready, the crucial decision having been made on how to spend the evening. Cruising to nowhere, stoned out of their minds, with plenty more smoke to last through the night, their favorite music pounding throughout the cubicle, and good friends to share all this incredible nothingness.
“Get on Sunrise Highway,” Mimi stated. “Let’s just head east.”
“Sounds good to me.”
The car rolled merrily out onto the relative expanses of Long Island. This happened every night, after night, after night. Oh, sometimes it would be Northern Parkway, or maybe, the Southern State. Of course there was the occasional party at a vacant - of parents - house. But basically this was it. This was existence.
The rain was coming down harder now and the Nova was splashing its way down Sunrise Highway in the blackness. An hour or so of driving brought the car through Bayshore ... this was far, The gang was way out of their territory. Though the smoke hadn’t gotten any thinner, the music had run out without anyone even noticing. After the 10th playing of the Buffalo Springfield tape, Scottie had finally popped it out, eager to replace it with the first Allman Brothers Band tape. It remained in his lap, though. He forgot to pop it in the machine.
“Maybe we better turn around now,” someone said.
This really was an adventure. It wasn’t often that they traveled this far. Once all the way out to Montauk Point, but usually they stayed within the friendly, familiar confines of New York City. This was foreign turf.
“You know what I wish?” mused Mimi.
“That you were locked in a room with Robert Redford.” Scottie blurted. Everyone cracked up in a giggling chorus of marijuana induced lunacy.
“No, no.” Mimi ignored the silliness.
“I wish we could just keep on driving. West, though. Just drive & drive & drive. All the way to California. All of us. Can you imagine?”
“Yeah, I imagine us all starving to death!” Fiddle said. She wasn’t at all cut out for that kind of thing.
“Tell me more. TELL ME MORE!!” roared Scottie through bleary, tear filled eyes. He was laughing hysterically. Those in the back were discussing the Tucker show they had been to two nights before at the Academy of Music and were now oblivious to the conversation up front.
“It’s just that I’ve been thinking. There’s nothing here for us. Look at us.” She was dead serious.
“I can’t even see.” Scottie was delirious.
“Oh shit, a cop.”
Scottie slowed down. Anxiety passed through everyone for a second, that felt like an hour, as the patrol car sped past. Relief. They could have been arrested for the fumes alone.
Mimi barely skipped a beat. She was high enough to finally broach this subject. She’d been thinking about it for quite awhile now. Ever since August when her brother’s friend had returned from his journey and his verbal adventure novel.
“No, be serious. I mean it. We could save the money and go next summer. Things could change for us. We’d be free. We’d see new places, meet new people. Maybe find a life. We’re stagnating!”
Those in the back were listening intently now. The cop scare had brought them back to life. Scottie, even, was beginning to function.
“Sounds good. I’d be up for it. But we’d need a car. My mom won’t let us take this. What’d ya think, Fiddle?”
She just shuttered.
“We better head back. It’s getting late,” a concerned voice said.
Scottie pulled off an exit ramp and began the long ride back. It was quiet in the car now. That lull in the senses after being so loaded had overcome the gang. Everyone was locked in their thoughts. Mimi thought of mountains, and rivers, and clear, fresh skies. Scottie was thinking maybe Mimi was on to something. Fiddle was wishing Mimi wasn’t even her friend. Who was she to be putting these thoughts in her boyfriend’s head. They’re becoming too close anyway. The car splashed on.
The familiar pink glow of a Dunkin Donuts shop was a welcomed sight.
“Man, I got the munchies bad.”
“Let’s eat. I need some coffee ... Any money left?”
They pulled in and gorged themselves. It was a night much like any other night. Except for that one thing. The thought of a trip west. It hadn’t meant much, and was soon forgotten, to most everyone. Scottie, though, had taken a nibble at Mimi’s bait. As he dropped Mimi off, the rain still pouring down, he said,
“But we don’t have a car... want to walk it?” He laughed. Mimi shook her head, frustrated that he still wasn’t taking it all that seriously.
* * * * * * *
So, now this ad appeared before her like some magic wish granted from a giant genie’s lamp. After weeks of long talks with Scottie, she felt certain he would go if only they had a vehicle. He and Fiddle had since broken up, so now not even that restraint existed. Here was the ride ... and more. Lots of people, a permanent move maybe. Adventure. This was too good to be true. She sat, trying to compose an appropriate response. This was their ticket out of here, she just knew.
“God, how many responses they’ll probably get.”
She grew sick in her stomach.
“What if they don’t choose us?”
Nervously, she picked up a pen, a few sheets of yellow note paper, took a deep breath, and began to write. It was Tuesday, January 29, 1974. She began ...
So she had exaggerated a little. If she had been speaking instead of writing the words would have come out sounding like a record at two speeds too slow. As it was, there were words scratched out all over the pages. She contemplated rewriting it. No, she couldn’t bear that apprehension again. She kissed the letter and sealed it. Then she went right out and mailed it, fingers crossed.