It's not a good thing when the only time I write is when someone passes away. Lost two friends this year already, and we're not even out of January.
James Bonner. I don't recall anyone ever calling him James. His name was Boner. I think even the teachers called him Boner. I hadn't talked to Boner in years. It was one of those classic vanishing acts after high school. I've known Boner since grade school, but I spent every other day with this kid, from 1989 to 1992. Then the day after graduation, we went our separate ways, and didn't keep in touch. But during those four years, we never really talked about our feelings, or called each other just to say "hi". Mine and Boner's relationship was about living. Hell, he was with me most every time I got arrested.
Everyone knew this guy. All the older kids knew him…the "Wooderson" types who had already graduated (or didn't) knew him…the popular bunch in school knew him, and everyone else in between. Everyone knew Boner. He was kind of an anomaly, whereas he didn't really fit into any category or group. He was universally accepted by everyone. He was Boner, and he was a fun kid.
From what I hear, my high school class was one of the last of a dying breed. I don't use this term lightly--but our class "partied". Yes, partied. We were like something straight out of "Dazed and Confused". We drove our shitty cars everywhere, looking for a dirt road to share a box of shittier beer (that we worked very hard at acquiring) and talk about what we thought that all the chicks were doing that night. Then we would go try and find those chicks. We would cruise Kearney Street. Sometimes we would race, sometimes we would jump in the bed of someone's truck, hunker down and split a bottle of Yukon Jack. And of course, we would throw that empty bottle at something we probably shouldn't.
Carefree. Amazingly carefree.
I don't remember what classes I took in high school. I don't remember many of my teachers. I think I got okay grades, but who cares. What I remember is the most carefree time of my life--and from 40 years of talking to thousands of other various people in my life--a much more carefree time than most anyone else I've ever encountered. It was glorious. We had no idea at the time, but it was glorious.
There were some real characters from those days. Some, I still call dear friends. But at the center of every single incredible, memorable, amazing time I had within those four years, was Boner.
He lived further in the sticks than I did, so he would come pick me up shortly after we got home from school on Friday evening. I could hear him coming down the street about a mile away, blasting Dio from his giant speaker box sitting in the back seat of his baby blue Mustang, right next to the Igloo full of iced beer. Rust eating away at the floorboards, a horrid, unsafe fume blowing from the vents. He would always honk when he pulled into the driveway. He didn't need to. On a night with no plans, we took it upon ourselves to make them. We would round up the usual suspects: Middleton, Vinnie, the Lambeths, Eagleburger, Kev, and we would first and foremost map out a booze plan. "How many cases of beer? Busch, right? We need any whiskey?"
"Nathan's coming, he'll have whiskey. Boner, how we getting booze? Oh, cool, Lenny will buy it for us. You know Lenny good enough? Cool."
Next up, a place to drink the booze. "Not Lenny's house again--place weirds me out. Staley and Shannon are out, can't go there... We could always go to The Road?"
The Road was a place…er, a road, where we would park our cars and drink beer and whiskey while we thought of something cooler to do. It really wasn't hidden--it was kind of a frontage road right next to the highway. Cops would usually chase us away--not sure why we chose that road… On some occasions, if my hazy memory serves, while we would be drinking at The Road, other carloads of likeminded high school booze-hounds would show up to do the exact thing we were doing. Of course Boner knew them, so we then had an instant party.
On a great night, we would already have plans in place. Typically it was a house party at Vinnie's or Kent's. We would get there early to prime. Usually someone would have puked from tequila shots before the party even started.
Foster would sneak out of his bedroom window after his parents went to sleep, with the focus and stealth of a ninja. The plan was for Boner to pick him up and take him to the party. Foster carefully lifts his window--no creaks, no pops. He slowly pushes the tabs in on his screen. It comes out perfectly, without a sound. With the grace of a ballerina, he slips out of his window and slides the glass back down. He tip-toes through the shadows and quickly sprints down two driveways, a safe enough distance from his parents. He looks down the street and sees nothing but darkness. He suddenly hears what he thinks is "Holy Diver", by the impeccable Ronnie James Dio. Then, a baby blue, murdered out Mustang comes barreling around the corner…the door flings open.
"You ready to drink some beer?"
"Yes. Yes I am, Boner."
Simultaneously, Boner floors the gas and flips the volume on the in-dash. A blue torch of booze-fueled awesomeness scorches past Foster's house, surely waking his parents from their slumber. But who cares, in six minutes they'll be pulling up to Kent's. Someone will throw them a beer the second they walk in the door. People by the hoards will gradually start lining the curb with their cars, and parking in the grass. Some, we celebrate their arrival. Others, we will probably fight later.
"We need more chicks." There are twenty, 17 year old guys drinking heavily for several hours, waiting for girls… waiting…. drinking…hoping she shows up…or hoping she shows up. Every time the door opens, we are hoping it's her. But she doesn't show. So what? She's looking pretty good…and she's looking real good.
"Holy shit, did you just see who walked in? This night just got a lot better!"
Boner was a Czar. He was Mafia. He was The Arranger. He brought worlds together. He bridged gaps. If there were a movie to be made about those four years of my life, the leading man of the movie would play James Bonner. He was such an important character in my life--some of the most memorable, carefree years of my life.
"Thanks for driving tonight, man."