Denton, Texas, Summer 1963: Glynda G. was a happy-go-lucky, merry girl who’d appeared in our High School my Junior year. She was friends with Carolyn, my then-girlfriend, and the two girls had come to the same college a year after me. Pat M. was one of the four of us guys who had lived in the house in the Shady Shores community on Lake Dallas, a few miles out of town.
The Viet Nam war hovered over us all. We were being called for the draft left and right. They gave a 100-question multiple-choice test with four choices for each answer. If you scored 25 — which would be the average score if you just threw darts at the test — you passed. You qualified to be a soldier.
To escape, you had to be enrolled in school, be married, or run away to Canada.
Then, the draft board decided it didn’t matter if you were enrolled in school.
I didn’t know anybody in Canada, so I got a psychiatrist to tell them, truthfully, “You don’t want this boy.” They believed him, and I didn’t go. I’m glad, for I know I’d never have come back.
Pat said he was going to get married.
Since he didn’t have a girlfriend, I thought this idea sounded peculiar. But he had a plan.
“I’m going to marry Glynda,” he said.
And, by golly, he did.
I can’t imagine why she married him. They’d not been going together. I guess the excitement of being asked was just too much. She said yes.
I didn’t seem him much for a while, but he reported that married life agreed with him. And that summer I worked as a prison guard, in the records department of Huntsville Prison. Was it an interesting job? Yes it was. But that’s another story.
One weekend that summer, I took off and I drove back to Denton, where Pat and Glynda were living in a small apartment. They weren’t expecting me and I arrived very late on Friday evening. The lights in their apartment were off. I crept silently around to the rear, where I guessed the bedroom would be, and I crawled to a spot beneath their window. The window was open just a bit that summer night, as I’d known it would be.
There I let loose my panther scream.
Now if you haven’t heard this, it’s done like growling, but during a forceful indrawing of the breath. It makes a truly blood-curdling sound, and if you open and close your mouth while doing it, it sounds like a panther. Exactly like a panther. Like a horrible panther.
There beneath the window of your bedroom.
I heard shocked whispers through the window. “What was that?!!” she hissed.
“I don’t know,” he said.
I waited for a long, long moment, then gave another panther scream, louder!
Glynda screamed right along with me. “What the hell?!!” yelled Pat.
“Oh good,” I said, “It’s Pat and Glynda. This is your apartment.”
They actually let me in after that, which goes to show they were good friends, or maybe not very smart. We sat up talking for a while, drinking coffee and listening to a new Ramsey Lewis album about being “in with the in-crowd.” Then they made me a bed on the sofa and we all retired for the night.
The next day, Glynda told me how someone stole their blankets and towels from the laundromat, and then she asked my opinion about how to decorate a space over the sofa. They had several pictures but all were too small. I suggested they make an arrangement of all the pictures, and then held the different pictures up so that, all together, they made a large rectangle on the wall. That is, it was a large rectangle except it needed something about three feet wide and a foot tall in the lower corner.
“Let’s go look outside,” I said, and we stumbled out into the scorching heat of the vacant lot next door, where we poked through the weeds. There I found a crankshaft. I do not know why an automobile crankshaft was lying in the vacant lot, but it was the right size. So I went to the hardware store and bought a board and some trim, a piece of tan cardboard, a spool of wire, and some black paint.
Back at the apartment we cut the cardboard to cover the front face of the board, and drilled holes through the cardboard and the board. We wired the crankshaft onto the board, and then cut the trim and nailed it around the edges, to serve as a picture frame. I painted the trim black. Now we had a deep frame (black), a tan cardboard background, and the three-dimensional crankshaft in the middle. The crankshaft was rusted and had mystery speckles of white and red along one end.
We hung the framed crankshaft among the pictures on the wall.
Perfect. A wall-collage.
That was my wedding gift to Glynda and Pat. A panther, and a crankshaft.
I think they liked it.