Coopster Created Part 3 – Eberwhite Woods

The churchyard from Eberwhite Woods in winter
It was still Wednesday December 12 and I walked through the familiar streets of my home town. There were patches of dirty snow on the ground, in spots shaded from the sun, remnants from a snowfall probably more than a week ago. But the sky was clear and the temperature was above freezing, which was quite a nice day in Ann Arbor terms for this time of year. From Bicycle Jim’s I was walking west on South University through campus with the UGLI and graduate library on my right and the law school across the street on my left. Though this was my home town, I felt like an outsider of sorts on this street in the midst of campus, just a “townee” and not at this point a college student, at least until next fall when I planned to go back to Western in Kalamazoo.

I crossed State Street and walked around the Union by the iconic “Cube”, which had been there since the University remodeled this plaza back in the late 1960s. It was a large, maybe eight feet on a side metal cubic sculpture, set into the little plaza just north of the Union on one of its vertices, engineered with bearings that allowed it to be spun by a fairly good push. I did so, for old times sake, just to see if it still worked, though not enough to look like some tourist. I noted the university administration building on the west side of the plaza, built like a little fortress with its tiny windows. It was built in the late 1960s during all the campus protests around the Vietnam War, and we joked that it was designed with those tiny windows to make it harder for protesting students to smash them, and through them breach and occupy the building.

From the plaza I headed south, sloping down Thompson Street between the old brick four-story West Quad student dormitory on my left and the more modern look Institute of Survey Research building on my right, where Mary Jane worked and my mom was interviewing on Friday for a job as a phone canvasser. If she got it, it would be the first actual paying job she had had since I was a little kid. I hoped that she did get it, since it would be a big boost to her at times tenuous self esteem, and our little family could certainly use the money.

The next cross street was Madison and I headed west continuing the gradual grade down and across the train tracks to Main Street. As I crossed Main, continuing west, I passed one of the favorite toy stores from my youth, the Kiddie Korner. I particularly remembered it as the place that sold the Aurora HO scale electric slot cars and tracks. At my request on my “Christmas list”, my parents had bought me a set for Christmas back when I was eight. Over these past ten years my brother and I had continued to play with it, incrementally buying more track and more cars, and even this past summer setting up an elaborate track in the attic. My mom and dad had always been determined, with what little discretionary money they had, to buy me toys that would fire my imagination and engage my desires and capabilities to conceive, create and engineer ever more complex and intriguing play venues.

From the Kiddie Korner it was a very short block until I passed the Washtenaw Dairy, where my dad used to take my brother and I for ice cream. It was his favorite place to get the stuff, because nowhere else in town were such big cones so cheap, and when it came to being a junk food junkie, my dad was nothing if not very thrifty. Past the Dairy I started the gradual uphill walk under the bare maples into the old westside. Seeing their bare branches reaching up to the sky I recalled a poem I had written for a high school English class, where I reimagined trees as being asleep in the spring and summer but coming alive in the fall…

In autumn bitter breezes blow
And blow away the leaves
Like moss that gathers on the dead
And gathered on the trees

I chuckled recalling my attempt at alliteration as I passed the north end of Wurster Park, the park long and narrow and climbing up the gradual hill, nestled stealthily mostly behind houses. Then at the end of that block further up Madison I crossed Fifth, the street I used to walk down from our old house on Prescott by Almendinger Park to my original elementary school, Bach (pronounced “Baugh”) School. I looked north down Fifth, and the school building was still there, looking as I had remembered it. Finally the last couple blocks to where Madison ended at Seventh Street.

Usually when I drove the car or took my bike to Jerry and Avi’s I would ride on Pauline Boulevard, which ran parallel to Madison but nearly a half mile to the South. That route would take me around the south end of Eberwhite Woods and the adjoining Fritz Park, the two together forming a continuous ribbon of woods running from Pauline a half mile north to Liberty Street, the latter two blocks north of my current location, cutting through the middle of Ann Arbor’s old west side. Jerry and Avi lived on the west side of the woods, at about the midpoint between Pauline and Liberty. So by car or bicycle from my present point at Madison and Seventh, I would either have to head south to Pauline or north to Liberty to get around the woods. But on foot, the direct route was through the woods itself. So a quick jog north down Seventh to Lutz Avenue and then west on Lutz a couple meandering blocks until it ended at the seven acre yard surrounding the big Lutheran Church on the south side of Liberty, which was on the east side of Eberwhite Woods. The church had been built on the crest of a gentle hill that was probably the high point of the entire west side of the city.

I had an unquenchable love of geography, and my home town was particularly interesting in that regard because of all the woodsie parks that were integrated into the various neighborhoods and often provided shortcuts for the person on foot. Given that love, I had a particular thing for those shortcuts and clever ways to get through complicated terrain. I had originally discovered that, when walking to Jerry and Avi’s from Pauline, I could cut through Fritz Park and then through Eberwhite Woods itself to get there much quicker than continuing on Pauline and Arbordale Street around the south side of the woods. But coming down Madison instead of Pauline, I had discovered this route on Lutz, across the churchyard, and into the woods from a bit farther north. It just seemed so off the beaten path that I loved it.

I crossed the big church yard, avoiding the big muddy patches from the melting snow, and plunged into the woods at the entryway as best I remembered it. The paths through the woods could be deceiving, they were narrow and unmarked, but I was aided by the fact that the trees were bare and let in the twilight so I could see a bit farther ahead to better gauge where I was going. Though my backpack was sitting at home and not on my back, I felt like the traveler again, though I was traversing a more known, intimate space. After a few wrong turns here and there on the path, I sighted the west side of the woods and the exit onto Ivywood between Jerry’s and Avi’s houses. Not carrying a watch I figured it had to be about 5pm, because the sun was just under the horizon.

Exiting the woods on Ivywood, I went left to the second house, up the couple steps onto the small front porch and rang the doorbell. It was Jerry’s mom Marcy who opened the door. She was wearing a big floppy Michigan sweatshirt, jeans and thick colorfully striped wool socks but no shoes. She recognized me, tilted her head and grinned, speaking with her singsongy voice and inviting me into the front hallway with her.

“Oh my god, there you are, back from Europe!” She stood facing me and not a foot away in the narrow hallway.

“Indeed”, I replied, that my favorite new word that the British loved to punctuate their sentences with.

“So how was it?”, she wrinkled her nose and opened her eyes wide and even in the tight quarters moving them slightly closer to mine.

“It was”, and I paused, not having that standard reply sorted out yet and taking in the energy of our physical proximity, her in my face as it were but pleasantly so. I finally continuing, “Quite the adventure. I got to go to so many places and see so much that I had only read about or seen on TV!”

“Wow”, and then said a second time more longingly, “Wow! So London, Paris, Rome?”

“Yep. All those places, plus the Rhine and Mosel rivers, Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Munich, Florence, Venice, Amsterdam and Grindelwald up in the Alps.”

“Oh wow, the Alps!” Her shoulders slouched and she shifted the weight of her slender body from one hip to the other and kind of nestled herself against the hallway wall. She was getting her vicarious travel fix and I was happy to oblige. She threw her head back and ran her hands through her long straight hair and I could see through her eyes her mind imagining the big mountains and enjoying our little encounter. We had this kind of subtle thing for each other, so it was fun having the opportunity to be in these close quarters with her.

Then there was a voice from the top of the stairs. “Hey mother, is that Cooper? Send him up!”

“Ugh”, Marcy rolled her eyes and her body slouched against the wall, “I guess I need to wait to get some details”. She pursed her lips and pointed with a finger up the stairs. “The stoners upstairs are calling you. Glad you’re back. I need to hear more soon. Enjoy Alice!”

To extend that somewhat intimate moment with her a bit longer, not wanting to just cut and run at the first opportunity to move on like I was only talking with her to be polite to my friend’s mom, I put my hand on her arm to make my closing point. I felt that little jolt of electricity in touching another human’s body, and particularly the upper arm which, though through the sweatshirt, was softer and fleshier than the bonier forearm. “For all the big wonderful European cities I saw, I think I liked little Grindelwald and the Swiss Alps the best! I look forward to having a chance to sit down with you and tell you all about it.”

“Good, good, good, sweetie”, she said nodding and returning my touch by patting me on the shoulder as I headed up the stairs, she finally calling out, “And you guys should not drive to Crisler if you’re all stoned!”

Jerry was at the top of the stairs in the open doorway to his bedroom. His curly light brown hair was a lot longer than last summer, and his beard too, giving him a very Jerry Garcia or John Lennon at his hairiest look. He had on bellbottom jeans and his brown leather boots with his own maybe one-inch heels. He had a plaid shirt under his well worn bluejean jacket. He looked me in the eye, his twinkling. “Good to finally see you again man. Welcome back!” And then with a mischievous grin, “So my mom hitting on you or you on her?”, followed by a chuckle that alerted me that he was pretty high already.

“Naw”, I said for the record, but also nodding like maybe, unofficially, there was a little something to that, “Your mom’s just nice and why should I be rude?”

“We’ll go with that”, he said smirking, “C’mon in!”

I could smell the burnt marijuana as I entered his bedroom. Avi and Clark were sitting on the carpet in the middle of the floor between Jerry’s small desk and twin-sized bed. Avi looked at me, still with his same curly black hair on his head and dark eyes, but now the beginnings of some facial hair as well, though a year younger than me, me with no facial hair yet to speak of. Jerry and Clark were actually a year older than I was, though the two of them and I were in the same grade, I having skipped kindergarten many many moons ago.

“Cooper Zale”, Avi called out, pointing at me, and then like a peer and equal and not our younger sidekick, “Welcome back my friend! Sit and have a toke!” I recalled that Avi had not been smoking marijuana with us last summer.

“So Jerry and Clark have got you smoking weed now Avi?”

“Well”, he replied, stroking his budding facial hair professorially like his dad, “It is just as mildly illegal for me as a minor as it is for you as an ‘adult’.” Ann Arbor by local ordinance had decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana to a misdemeanor and a $15 ticket, rather than a felony that it had been by prior state law, the law that had been overturned by the successful legal challenge to White Panther leader John Sinclair’s conviction for possession the previous year.

Clark looked up at me with his sheepish green eyes, his own curly brown locks and mustache and a stubbly chin. He patted a spot on the carpet next to him. “Sit friend and get caught up. You look way to straight!” I sat and he passed me the joint that was smouldering between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. I took a toke a bit gingerly so I would not cough, but I did anyway. The three of them laughed but tenderly so, they were all glad I was back and I was very happy to be back in their intimate circle as well.

I passed the diminishing joint to Jerry who took a big thoughtful drag, holding it in for a few seconds before blowing a smoke ring with his controlled puff of an exhale. “So we want to hear everything about your travels, but we need to get you stoned first. Avi read us your letters.”

“Good”, I said nodding, and then feeling the need to explain, “So I wrote to Avi only because I knew he would share with the rest of you, and he was the one writing to me.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it”, he replied, his bloodshot eyes twinkling again, “I was off at school, Clark was off somewhere”, that generating a snicker from Clark, “And Avi’s sort of the unofficial secretary for the group!”

At that, Clark put his right hand on Avi’s shoulder and said with all mock seriousness, “We count on you kid!” It was that dynamic where the three of us treated Avi like a younger sibling who we mainly looked after and only occasionally teased.

We finished the joint plus a couple extra tokes for me from Jerry’s pipe so I would get properly “caught up”. We discussed logistics of how to get to the concert and I suggested that we actually walk. First to McDonald’s around the corner to get some food and then through the woods over to Crisler for the concert. Clark said he was well practiced at driving his old VW Bug stoned, but I successfully made the case that it would be more fun to walk, it being just a bit more than a mile through Eberwhite woods to Crisler. And walking we could get as fucked up as we wanted and relax and enjoy the journey, plus I promised to regale them the whole way with “tales from my European odyssey”. My motion carried the floor unanimously, and we made our preparations to leave, Clark showing that he had two more joints in his jeans pocket and Jerry two of his own. As we tromped down the stairs and out the front door we informed Marcy that we would be headed to the concert on foot.

“Good to hear”, Marcy noted, “Be safe and enjoy Alice!”, wobbling her eyes and wiggling her fingers as she spoke his name. Her expressive eyes caught mine and she mouthed a “thank you” as I exited the house into the now dark early evening. I would have pitched the four of us to walk anyway, but it was nice that she thought that I did it because she asked.

It was just a couple minutes walk around the corner to McDonald’s. We passed by Mr. Peacock’s house, who lived right next to Jerry. Both Jerry and I had had Peacock for a Modern Russian History class, second semester of our senior year at Pioneer. He was perhaps the most unorthodox teacher at our high school, being an avowed communist and just a “colorful” character generally. One of the highlights of his class had been his telling the story of the group, the Narodnaya Volya, Russian for “People’s Will”, who had plotted over fifteen years, and after several unsuccessful attempts, had eventually assassinated Tsar Alexander in 1881. And then his telling of the 1917 revolutions that first brought the Socialist Revolutionaries and their leader, Alexander Kerensky, to power in February of that year, but finally the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, in October.

Jerry and I had been budding wannabe revolutionaries at the time and Peacock introduced us into a whole delicious historical world of the broad spectrum of radical groups involved in the Russian revolutions. That including learning the differences between the various leftist factions that were working to overthrow the Russian Tsar. The Socialist Revolutionaries, or “SRs”, who attempted to set up a democratic government in Russia. The Bolsheviks, or “Majority Caucus” of the Russian Communist party, led by Lenin, who were willing to use violent means to facilitate a Marxist government in Russia. The Mensheviks, or “Minority Caucus” of the Communists, led by Trotsky, who were less inclined to violence. And finally what are referred to by most conventional historians as “anarchists”, but according to Peacock were really nihilists, who believed that destroying the old order, by violent means as necessary, would lead to a more positive new order rising from the ashes of the old. That as opposed to the real anarchists, like Bakunin, Kropotkin and Tolstoy, who believed that people could govern themselves without any sort of controlling elite, whether autocratic, communist, or democratically elected.

Jerry and I had particularly resonated with those anarchist ideas. So given Mr. Peacock’s radical bona fides in our eyes, it had been humorously incongruous on other occasions to see him out mowing the lawn of the house he and his wife owned, like any other “bourgeois” middle class Ann Arborite, though he was not out in his yard on this occasion.

By the time we got to McDonald’s, I was starting to sense the THC juicing through my brain. It made me feel so deliciously in the moment, and I fixated on the wonderfully garish and colorful graphics of the McDonald’s menu board above the counter where we waited in line. Turns out the guy that took our combined order was a classmate of Avi’s at Pioneer.

Avi introduced him to us as Wesley, and he had the looks and demeanor to match his nerdish name. Fairly short straight black hair, neatly combed with a part over a round pale baby face behind thick black plastic framed glasses. He surveyed the three of us older types with Avi, with our big hair, squinting eyes and probably giving off the faint but distinctive scent of burnt marijuana, which if he hadn’t smoked it, he had probably smelled it in the bathrooms of his high school. He seemed, well “shocked” was the best adjective I could think of, to see his Physics and Calculus classmate in such a different, outside of the nerdy classroom, context. Avi explained to him we were headed to the Alice Cooper concert at Crisler Arena.

“You going to be in Calculus tomorrow?” Wesley asked Avi with concern as he gave us our combined order in a big white bag, plus a cardboard holder for our four drinks, “Because Mr Barton is reviewing for the final.”

“I don’t know”, said Avi, “I may skip my morning classes tomorrow and maybe see you in Physics. I’m pretty much ready for the Calculus final.”

“Well okay”, Wesley said, disappointed, casting another nervous glance at the the three of us behind Avi, perhaps aware of and processing the implications that his schoolmate and the rest of us were stoned, as he took the money Avi had collected from the group and gave him back the change. Wesley opened his mouth again to say something more but it just hung open with no words coming out.

Avi took the bag and Clark stepped forward to take the drink holder, leaning over to Wesley and saying, one nerd to another, “Don’t worry kid, my girlfriend says Mr Barton’s final questions are all from the chapter tests”. The four of us exited the place and found one of the shining yellow plastic tables with orange plastic seats, seats and tabletop held up by shiny blue metal pipes all emanating from a single central pipe out of the concrete patio, like some bizarre alien giant metal mushroom.

“Well that was pretty weird!” Avi noted as he sat down and looked up at the now dark and starry sky, then starting to pull the various bagged and boxed items out of the big white bag and distributing them among the four of us. We each opened our various Big Macs and Fillets of Fish and experienced the array of visual and olfactory pleasures of these expertly fabricated food-like items. The first bite was always the best with its burst of warm, salty, cheesy, fatty mouthfeel. Then a mouthful of fries with their scrumptious, salty, greasy, crunchy exteriors, giving way to warm comforting interior softness, that no candybar could match. Finally a suck on a cold, sweet, syrupy Coke to deliciously wash it all down, and prepare the palette for the next iteration.

“So are you busted now?” Jerry managed to ask Avi, chuckling, as he simultaneously masticated two long french fries. He and Avi had been neighbors and friends for years. “Has this new wilder side of you, nurtured by unsavory older characters like us, been revealed to your unsuspecting comrades?” Jerry was always tuned to the emotional zeitgeist of the moment, and asked his questions in all earnestness and concern, even though with his light chuckling touch. It did feel to all of us like some small but significant right of passage for the youngest member of our little circle. Avi only nodded as he chowed down on a big mouthful of two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.

We all finished gobbling up and sucking down our taste tuned fabrications, though the cold sodas made us all shiver in the now cold darkness of an early winter evening. I looked at my three comrades and felt that cannabis hive mind coalescing between us. We were now together in that alternative plane of existence that paralleled the conventional (what today we might refer to as “muggle”) world. I had a flashback to the last time I was stoned, in Amsterdam, as part of that foursome with Butch, wonderful Gwendolyn, and her boyfriend whose name, even though it was just a week ago, was already escaping me.

Our bellies full, and anticipations of sugar and caffeine buzzes ahead, we set off from the Golden Arches back in the direction of Jerry’s house, and then onward from there, Jerry leading the way east into the woods that he and Avi knew better than the rest of us. At the rear of our little caravan, I began my narrative of my journey, as promised, telling it now for the second time today, and recalling the artistically annotated map jammed in the back pocket of my jeans. Arriving in London with Angie, who only Jerry, among the three of them, had actually met. That first night staying in that seedy hostel in London, maybe starting us off on the wrong foot. Then on to Oxford and staying with the Clay family (who we had lived next to the summer of 1970 my mom, brother and I lived in England) for a couple nights, that I hoped would help Angie get settled down and into the groove of our adventure after that bad start. Then on to Salisbury and Angie’s reveal that she had decided not to continue with our journey.

I felt stoned enough, and comfortable enough within that cannabis hive mind with my closest circle of friends, to share my feelings of fear of continuing alone, but greater fear of going home and feeling like a failure. I noted them all nodding that they got that dilemma. I included details for them of my teary phone conversation with my mom from that little red phone booth outside the Salisbury youth hostel. At the end of that part I could see Jerry shaking his head and saying, “What a hassle!”, as he continued to look and move forward with his longlegged strides, his big mane of hair bouncing along with him.

We emerged from the woods farther south from the point where I had entered it from the churchyard, in the outfield of the baseball diamond of the Eberwhite elementary school playground, where I had played little league games seven years ago. From that vantage we plunged into the adjacent smaller woods of Fritz Park as we headed south now towards Pauline. The evening darkness was chilly, but just below freezing and no wind, mild conditions for the four of us having blood thickened from years of cold winter weather living here in Ann Arbor.

I started into the story of Angie and our last night together in the little hotel room in London, saying goodbye to her the next morning and walking to the train station to catch my train to the coast, then by ferry across to Calais, and then on by a second train to Basel. Full of angst and doubts though determined to continue, at least for now. Having that young Frenchwoman to talk to on the train from Calais easing the loneliness somewhat. But then getting into Basel at like three in the morning, tired, hearing and seeing only languages I did not understand, trying to figure out how to get a train to Munich. As I wove my tale from the rear of our group I could see each of their heads at various points nodding as we trudged along, now deep into the buzz of caffeine, sugar high, and the more profound underlying alternate state of being of the weed.

We got to Pauline and headed east again, now on the sidewalk two by two, towards my old childhood neighborhood around Almendinger park. It was not yet six o’clock, but felt like it was the middle of the night, our time sense completely obliterated. I launched into my whole first of three stays in Munich, this one with the U.S. Army brats, living in a dorm on the campus of some sort of extension of a U.S. university. All their hashish and Tanqueray gin, plus Oktoberfest and all that amazing German beer that put Bud, Miller and even Coors to shame. It was fun to share all the tales of intoxication with them that I had not shared with my mom and Mary Jane. I went on and on about the amazing rush I had on the hash, sitting back in a big cozy couch feeling like I was accelerating backward into the cushions. That sparked some sharing from Jerry and Clark about their own peak highs.

Past Almendinger Park and heading down to Main Street, I shared my first stint in Switzerland, the hostel in Chur, the young Swedish women, sweet Ashild and anarchist Bubil that I befriended and our night out at the tavern in town. The tale I had told to my mom and Mary Jane of driving one of my hostel comrade’s car back to the hostel the wrong way down the one-way street, and being pulled over by the police and given a breathalyzer test that I thankfully passed. Then from Chur, hitchhiking across the country and eventually catching other trains to return to Munich for my second stay there, this time with Helmet and Angelica, who we had met the summer we lived in England.

We crossed Main Street and wound our way around the north side of Michigan Stadium to our destination. It was just after six and there was already a line a quarter of the way around the arena, and we took our place at the end.

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