"This is a Lodi, pull out."
"No way, man, this is okay, don't worry about it."
"Lodi, man, cut your losses and pull out now before you make an ass out of yourself."
It was Christmas break of 1982. It would be the moment in which the friendship between Martin and myself would be cemented by events that did not work out anything close to how we imagined they would. In the end we would be brought together by the simple act of walking in different directions.
At the time I was fairly certain my future was set. My grades had been so high in my junior year of high school that they decided to move me up to advanced placement in all my classes for my senior year. This, they told me, would ensure that I got into a really good college. The across the board advanced placement would seal my doom. After all, I was only two years or so removed from the debacle of my freshman year when I got high every day and hardly ever showed up for class.
I had interviewed with several colleges already and had felt good about the prospects. I just had to ace all my classes my senior year and I was in at the college of my choice. My essays and my writing samples were impressing some, and I had already been invited to join the school newspaper staff of some notable universities. Everything was going well. I thought I was king of the world. For the first time in my life I was feeling cocky. I could do anything.
Just about a year ago
I set out on the road
Seekin' my fame and fortune
Lookin' for a pot of gold
Things got bad, and things got worse
I guess you know the tune
Oddly enough, or perhaps in an ironic way, we did not stumble across the song until the following summer, exactly seven months after the events of that winter. I had gotten into Creedence Clearwater Revival during the summer of 1983 along with Bob Dylan and some other bands and people I had never listened to before. It was a complete shift in my musical direction. When I put the record on containing Lodi, I could not believe what I was hearing. From the moment I played the song for Martin, "Lodi" became the single word warning we gave each other whenever one of us was about to make a fool out of ourselves.
For years, my Aunt Joan and Uncle Doug had been coming up to Massachusetts from Long Island for a week or two during the summer. For years they came with their three daughters. They spent a lot of time camping during the summer, so when they came to see us they usually pitched their tent in our backyard. During the summer of 1982, they came with two of their daughters. Their eldest daughter, who is now a doctor, had stopped taking vacations with the family. Instead, my cousin Erika brought her friend Tanya. My Aunt Joan, who has an obsession with flea markets and leftist politics, was not doing a very good job entertaining the girls. Apparently they were so bored with my aunt and uncle that Martin and I became pleasant diversions. For most of the visit they hung around with us, going to the places we went and talking about things that interested teenagers.
Being in high school, we of course read into this. This meant that they wanted to be our girlfriends. After they left, we thought for a long time. We had to come up with a scheme that would allow us to visit Tanya and Erika to keep the "passion" alive. So, we planned a bus trip to Long Island over Christmas break. I had even concocted a cover for why we were making the trip. I wove a fabricated story that I was interviewing with someone in the admissions department at Pace University in New York. There was no such interview and I've never even been on the campus of Pace University. It was just an easier and weirder alternative to NYU.
The plan was tricky because neither of us were able to drive. We got tickets on the Greyhound bus from Worcester, Massachusetts to where my cousins live on Long Island. The plan was simple. Martin was coming to New York with me for my interview and to visit family in the city. This part of the plan was worked out perfectly. It would be the execution of the plan that would doom us once we reached Long Island.
Wisdom and experience are often considered unimportant by teenaged boys. Flying blind into a wind tunnel seems to make perfect sense when you haven't yet acquired any sense. The operation would fall apart because we had failed to plan for eventualities.
The first problem was the absence of my other cousins. My father's two sisters live in the same town on Long Island. My Aunt Joan is the mother of three daughters and my Aunt Anita is the mother of two sons. My Aunt Anita and family were away on a skiing trip, which meant we wouldn't have the assistance of my cousin Mark, who was a couple years older than the two of us and had many common interests. The second problem was that we were going to spend two days and three nights on Long Island without any idea what we were going to do during those days. The third problem was that Martin had purchased a gold bracelet he intended to give my cousin Erika as some kind of present.
Rode in on the Greyhound
But I'll be walkin' out if I go
We arrived in the evening. My Uncle Doug picked us up at the bus station and drove us back to the house. My aunt and uncle sat in the kitchen talking while the two bumbling travelers sat in the living room listening to the radio. None of my cousins were anywhere to be found. We were adrift with nowhere to paddle.
We spent much of the night sitting alone in the living room. Eventually, my Uncle Doug came and took us to my other cousins' house. We were going to sleep for the three nights we were in town. At least while we were there, we had my cousin Mark's stereo and extensive record collection to keep us entertained.
We had three nights of this. The first night concluded with a vow to win over Tanya and Erika. We would make a big comeback on day two. The first night was a write-off. It was time to survey the situation. Erika was the only one of my cousins who was in town that weekend. Her sisters were off on trips of their own. During the afternoon of our first full day, Martin and I were sitting in the living room when Erika and Tanya came into the house.
I was always somewhat close with Erika, my only younger cousin. She may have been the first girl I ever kissed and she is easily the best looking in the family, although I've aged better than she has. That's a different story. I have Norwegian blood and she doesn't.
Martin made the first mistake of the weekend. We struggled to find reason to communicate with the two girls. We did not know what to say or do. We were frozen and failed to make any sense until Martin blurted out a question. "Do you have any Led Zeppelin?" We had been listening to a Cat Stevens tape play over and over for two hours because my Aunt Joan has no mercy. Erika stopped, laughed, and said, "We're not really a Led Zeppelin family." It may have been her funniest punch line since she interrupted the viewing of football on Thanksgiving by asking who was playing and why.
We tried to invite ourselves on whatever adventures Tanya and Erika were planning, but they turned us away. "We're just doing girl stuff. You wouldn't like it."
And then Martin snapped.
"Would you please put something on other than this Cat Stevens tape?!? We've been listening to it for three hours!"
Erika told Martin to look for an album in the stack of records next to the stereo in the living room. The only music Martin could find that he considered bearable was a Rush album. As Erika told us how to turn the record over, we listened as if she was teaching us something instead of volunteering that we knew how to turn a record over. She stared at us, waiting for us to laugh at her instructions, but we never did. We listened to her lecture on how to turn a record over silently and then thanked her. We remained for most of the day alone in the living room listening to Rush while my aunt sat smoking cigarettes in the kitchen and my uncle puttered around in his workshop in the basement.
Again, we would by taken to my other cousins' house at the end of the night. Again we would turn on the stereo and play records loud all night long, but this time we raided my cousin's beer stash and drunk ourselves into unconciousness. There was a note from my cousin Mark to us telling us to help ourselves. Regardless, we left money to cover what we drank before screaming at each other as we drank the beers like water. We were angry at each other and ourselves. In the planning stages the trip had seemed like a dream but it had turned into a nightmare. "We are such fucking geeks," we kept telling each other. "What the fuck are we doing here?"
I was just passin' through
Must be seven months or more
Ran out of time and money
Looks like they took my friend
The next day we told my uncle not to pick us up and take us to their house. We stayed at my other cousins' house by ourselves expressing regret and disappointment all day long. We beat ourselves and each other up quite soundly. We couldn't wait until the trip was over. The following day my uncle picked us up and brought us back to the house for lunch. We would have lunch with my aunt and uncle before going to the bus station. It was snowing outside, just a few days after Christmas, and the sky was very dark. Martin decided he was going to leave the bracelet after all. That decision and the note he left with the bracelet remains one of the most painful memories of his life. Years later, the mere mention of "the bracelet" would reduce Martin to a quivering mass of defeat.
Somewhere I lost connection
Ran out of songs to play
"Could we have been any more pathetic?"
"Yes, we had ample opportunity."
During lunch and the few hours we had before going to the bus station, Tanya and Erika were at the house. As we watched television, Tanya sat down and talked to us. We got along great, as we had during the summer. Erika was otherwise occupied with something in the house and we didn't see or talk to her much. So, when Martin went to leave the bracelet he made a rash decision. He found a piece of note paper he found lying by the telephone. On this piece of scrap paper he wrote the most ridiculous note imaginable.
Please give this to Tanya.
I came to give this to Erika if she would go out with me.
Since she was mean to us I want Tanya to have it instead
because she was nicer to us.
He didn't tell me about the note until later. In fact, he had not even told me that he decided to leave the bracelet. I had assumed that he took it with him since things had not gone as planned. Apparently, he put it in a drawer in a spare bedroom. I later found out they hadn't discovered it for three years and at that point no one knew who Martin was.
Once at the bus station, we found ourselves sitting alone in a small bus terminal with the elderly ticket lady. The sky was getting darker and the snow was starting to come down heavy. Martin wanted to go outside, and so we did, where we stood in the snow at the side of the road. Martin had decided on a change of plans. He had family in New York City and wanted to go visit them so the trip wouldn't feel like a complete waste. Our bus tickets took us to Worcester with a stop in New York City, but only a brief one. Martin decided he was going to hitchhike to the city.
I've always had a major aversion to hitchhiking, and this was taking it to the extreme. Martin planned to hitchhike his way into New York City from midway out on Long Island in the middle of a snowstorm. He was depressed and beaten. So was I, but I felt like he was inviting further disaster while I just wanted to go home. He made it into the city and spent a couple days with family, later reporting that he couldn't have lived with himself if something reasonably decent didn't happen on the trip. I managed to ride the bus all the way back to Worcester, where my parents picked me up at the bus terminal and asked me how the trip went while I sat quietly in the back seat telling them, "It was fine." The interview had been fine. Everything was just fine.
I came into town, a one night stand
Looks like my plans fell through
Martin spent the rest of Christmas break in New York City with family. I spent it at home. When my cousins came to visit the following summer he disappeared completely until they were gone. I did not go to Pace University. I went to a state school in Massachusetts and didn't have to interview with anyone to get accepted. It was better that way.
"Lodi, man. Don't go there."
Most people have a Lodi in their life. It goes without saying.
Lyrics copyright 1969, Fantasy Records
Used within fair use limits
Let's not get into the particulars of the Creedence copyright issues
It's a Lodi, man, don't go there.