I wasn’t popular either. Usually I had only two friends at a time, and these were chosen because they weren’t popular. Don tended to bully me, and I was generally afraid of him, but Mike Clift, a fellow who lived on Samish Island and could have made a living modeling coats, was a common friend of the two of us, and so we were often in each other’s company. Yet Don kept picking on me.
One day in seventh grade, our class went to the film room to watch a film on drunk and careless driving. It was full of blood and gore and guts, enough to scare you into never driving at all. I could relate to the film, because just before it began, Don beat me to the floor. We had gone into the room and were sitting down on the folding chairs, and Don happened to have his feet up and sticking into the partially folded chair I chose to sit on. As I plopped down on it, the chair unfolded and badly pinched Don’s feet. He lost it. As soon as he could get loose, he was up and I was down and his fists were all over me. Mr. Breckenridge, our teacher, was on Don almost as fast as Don was on me, and he rushed both of us out of the room and into some furnace room to yell at us and find out what happened. Don told him that I intentionally crushed his feet in the chair, and I explained that I didn’t know they were there and that it was an accident. Mr. Breckenridge finally said that he believed me, tried to make some peace between us, and soon we were back in the room, watching the blood and gore and guts.
Once I actually visited Don at his home on Bow Hill. We watched TV for awhile, and I remember his mother coming in and staring at the back of Don’s head for a time. Then she reached up and put her hands on both sides of his head and turned it slightly, saying, “When you watch TV, Don, you don’t look straight at it. You’re always looking at it from an angle. Why is that?” She worried about his eyesight, or possibly something worse, in the brain.
After the chores were done, Don and I went into their front yard to pick and eat some apples off their tree. Then Don had a great idea: We could throw apples from behind the bushes at passing cars! What fun! Nowadays such a thing would dent cars, but cars were tougher then, despite that gory film at school, and the main tragedy would be to get apple juice on the paint job. Cars didn’t go by that often, but when they did, Don and I would enjoy ourselves immensely. But then a passing driver screeched to a stop, and while Don and I ran for our lives and hid better, the driver pulled over, got out, and went to the Teachmans’ door. This is when I learned what a strict father was.
When I was a little kid and put sand in a girl’s hair, and when I pushed Danny into a sewer ditch, my Dad would go so far as to spank me. In my whole life, Dad spanked me three times. But when Don’s father came charging out of the house, he carried a big belt in his hand. Don knew better than to hide from his father, and when we stepped out into the open yard, I witnessed something in real life I hope never to see again. That big man whipped and beat Don with that belt to the point that I feared for Don’s life. He left me alone, didn’t even scold me, but showed no mercy to his son. Don wasn’t much fun that day after the beating, so I soon left and went home, after agreeing with him that his father was terrible.
And home wasn’t the only place Don was beaten. One day at school, he and I got into a thermos bottle fight in the cafeteria. The next thing we knew, we were sitting at our desks in Mr. Breckenridge’s classroom. Only the three of us were there. Mr. Breckenridge took pride in his collection of paddles hanging on the wall, some even having holes in them to cut down on wind resistance, and he chose a fierce-looking one now. He then turned and said, “Don, come up here!” Don obediently walked up to him. “Grab your ankles,” said Mr. Breckenridge, and Don bent down and grabbed his ankles. The noise of that paddle slapping Don’s rear was horrible and loud and made me wince. Don walked back to his desk, quietly crying, and then Mr. Breckenridge said, “Dale, come up here!”
I had never had a swat before. The palm of my Dad’s hand had been all that ever spanked me, three times. I couldn’t believe that that big man was now intending to whack me with that board! I gripped onto my desk and said, “Not if I’m going to get that.”
Mr. Breckenridge had to pry me loose from the desk and literally drag me to the front of the classroom. Somehow he managed to get me into position, and he swatted me, not with one, but with three blows. I dropped to the floor and lay wriggling on my back, screaming and crying. By then Don had stopped crying, and he looked at me with a tired expression as if to say, This is what life is, kid.
Through the years, Don and I had a love-hate sort of friendship. Sometimes we’d have fun together. Sometimes he’d pick on me. We took P.E. in high school together, and both of us were good at wrestling. Don would always beat his opponent, though, using speed as his tactic. He would be like a mongoose with a cobra. It was amazing to watch.
One day, in the locker room, the two of us got into an argument that was building into a fight, and inevitably Don would win. I envisioned myself all bloody and tied naked to the bench with my own jock strap, not to mention the broken glasses and dental damage. But then, just before his plan to hit me, Don said through his clenched teeth, “Buttlick.”
“Buttlick,” he repeated, pausing, shrugging his shoulders a bit and giving me a peculiar look.
It began in my belly, and shook its way upwards, until spraying out of my mouth as uproarious laughter. “Buttlick?!” I shouted, and laughed uncontrollably. I laughed so much that Don cracked a smile, and soon both of us were laughing. We didn’t fight after all; we were laughing so hard we couldn’t. And I don’t think Don and I ever so much as argued after that. We were good friends.
Recently, in this age of Internet and Facebook, I’ve been trying to find Don Teachman. It’s been almost fifty years, and maybe he’s no longer findable. As far as I ever knew, his life was a hard one, and maybe his watching TV at an angle was a sign of something serious. I wish I could find my old friend, and if I did, I could finally tell him that I knew his feet were in that folding chair. That’s why I picked that chair to plop down on.
P.S., June 2, 2014
Another high school classmate online gave me what he thought might be Don's address, in Idaho. So I mailed a letter to what turned out to be his mother's address, and, since Don is against having a computer in his home, his mother mailed my letter to him, in Burlington WA, and a friend of Don's emailed me his phone number. Tonight I called him and we had the first of what I'm sure will be many great, long talks with my old buddy.
Don said this week had been really strange. First, he watched again the movie, "The Time Machine," and remembered that he and I had gone together in 1960 to the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon to watch this great movie when it first came out. (I hadn't remembered that.) Then, later in the week he saw a little white Ford Anglia just like my family had in the '60's, the car my Mom got in a bad wreck in, and so he thought of me again. And then, to top it off, here comes a letter from me, wanting to get in contact with him! It was quite a mystical week for him after almost fifty years.
It turns out that Don dropped out of high school after his junior year and enlisted in the Marines, went twice to Vietnam, was wounded both times, and is now on disability. Nevertheless he's a skilled musician on several instruments and now has a group performing rock music in a studio in his home. They're working on a CD.
As I reminded him, Don remembered all the things in the above post; and he added an incident I don't remember: In high school he and some other guys put a corked bottle of India ink with Alka-Seltzer into my P.E. locker. It then exploded, getting all over my white shorts and T-shirt, and he laughed as he said on the phone that I looked like a zebra afterwards. I told him I'd have to get him back for that, and he laughed even harder.
For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.