My first best friend was Shane Hickey. We became friends around age six because he went to my church. He was one of those kids that other people instinctively hate. Our classmates hated him. His four older brothers hated him. Even some of our teachers hated him. Our third grade teacher, Mr. Doyle gave him a swat every day for a week for no apparent reason.
Shane was a chronic bed wetter until at least age eight, so he always had that funky aura about him. That’s the only concrete reason I could think of for people’s disdain, but I’m still not convinced it could be just that. At any rate, I was one of the few people that didn’t hate him.
I was a good friend for Shane to have because I could be talked into doing just about anything, and he introduced me to an array of illicit activities at a very early age. He and I would pick up cigarette butts from the parking lot of the sleazy bar next to his house and practice smoking. He was a pyro of course, so we were always playing with matches, seeing what we could burn. We came very close to burning his house down one day when we were playing with matches on the hide-a-bed. That was when we were about seven. He got his hide tanned when his parents got home, but it didn’t seem to help.
When we got a little older he moved on to blowing things up. It started with throwing aerosol cans into the burn barrel behind their house (no garbage pickup where we lived), and then he graduated to making dynamite by breaking apart shotgun shells to get the powder and shot out of them, rolling that up in tinfoil with a Bic lighter, and then wrapping the whole thing up tightly with tape with a fuse sticking out the top. For some reason we enjoyed huge amounts of unstructured, unsupervised play time back then. Maybe our parents were negligent, but I think it was just a rural-Alaska-in-the-70s thing.
Having four older brothers meant various stashes of porno mags for us kids to get into. I learned a lot of fascinating vocabulary from reading Penthouse Letters in particular. I remember us at age eight or nine discussing boobs versus pussy. He was quite partial to pussy, but I was emphatically a boob man. As soon as we were old enough to have boners he was suggesting inventive things to do with them, not all of which were in strict accordance with the teachings of the holy scriptures.
You’re undoubtedly getting the impression by now that Shane Hickey was a bit of a deviant, which is correct, and I suppose that makes me deviant by association. I won’t dispute it. One of the few constructive things I got from him was an interest in reading though, and I don’t just mean Penthouse Letters. I read the entire Hardy Boys series on his recommendation, and burned through The Chronicles of Narnia no less than seven times. Of course there was an immense trove of comic books at his house what with having four brothers and all, and we consumed those greedily. We also used tracing paper on Wonder Woman to make her naked though, so kind of getting back to the deviant thing I guess.
At one point in the fourth grade Shane suggested that we stay inside during recess to read. He said Wendy Bundt would be reading too. I said, Okay sure. Wendy was not bad looking, but she dressed kind of sloppy and had that same bed-wetter funk that followed Shane around. I thought this must have some significance but I couldn’t figure it out.
It turned out that the real significance of reading with Wendy was that Wendy was up for kissing while reading. So we would hunker down in the beanbags in the reading corner with our books (Narnia, natch), Shane on one side of Wendy and I on the other, and we would read until all the kids and teacher were out of the room, and then she would alternate delivering smooches back and forth. The stories of Peter and Susan and the gang, the clumsy smooching, and the smell of stale urine all mingle together to create a pretty strange childhood memory.
In spring of the fifth grade, right before the end of the school day one day I overheard Kaarlo Wik and Johnny Stolz plotting to jump Shane out by the school buses and beat him up. I could not let this dastardly plot go unchallenged so I followed them out and sure enough they got right to harassing him. I had never been in a fight before unless you count punching Tommy Carver in the face, but that was under duress from an older boy. Tommy certainly had it coming since he was picking on defenseless little Jeff Adolph, but still, it hadn’t been my idea. So I was pretty nervous going up against two guys my own age, especially Johnny who was a mean and wiry little scrapper.
As soon as I cut in Shane took off running and Kaarlo bowed out too. So it was just me and Johnny. He started laughing and pussyfooting, bobbing and weaving and throwing jabs at my stomach. I just tried to hold my own and keep my arms up until a bus driver came over and broke it up. It was pretty disappointing that my best friend left me hanging like that.
Shane Hickey does get credit for introducing me to alcohol at age 14. Him and Charlie and me were out in the woods behind his house and he pulled this jar from a mossy hollow at the base of a tree. He said, Wanna try some JD? (That’s whiskey, in case you didn’t know.) Here Mark, drink it. As I mentioned before, I would do pretty much anything anybody suggested, so of course I drank it. There were about two finger widths in this pint jar. It burned like fire and turned me into a complete blithering idiot. They hauled me back to his place and kept me in his room so as to not attract attention. I was making a hell of a lot of noise though, cackling like a deranged animal, so they shoved me out of his window and attempted to get me back to the woods. Just then his mom called out the door, my mom was on the phone asking to talk to me. Oh shit. I did my best to act straight as I talked to her. She said that she was just sure that she had accidentally taken her tent to the dump and dumped it, and she was on her way over to pick us three guys up to go rooting around in the garbage looking for it.
I was now having one of the worst experiences of my life, drunk off my ass, trying my hardest to be normal and casually breathe into my coat at the same time so my mom wouldn’t get a whiff of my toxicity. Then we were slipping around in filth in the bottom of an industrial dumpster – it had started raining by this time – for a tent that we never found, and Charlie stepped on a nail and was even more pissed at me. It was only later that I wondered why I was the only one who drank the whiskey, and it was much later before I began to suspect that the tent search might have been my mom’s way of punishing me without having to officially charge me with a crime. If so, very clever mom.
As we got older Shane developed into what you could call a “stoner dirtbag”. I started spending more time with less deviant friends, and when I did hang out with Shane I was less impressed with his suggestions for things to do. For example, at some point after he started smoking pot he thought it would be pretty fun to get his kitten stoned. He put it in a paper bag and was planning to take a big bong hit and then blow the smoke into the bag. However, he did not want the kitten to think badly of him, so he wanted me to hold the bag. I thought this showed very poor character, and I did not do it.
He had always been good at sharing interesting bits of lore, but now it was along the lines of, Hey if you are ever out of rolling papers you can make a pretty good joint with a page out of a Gideon pocket Bible, like they do in prison. I filed that one away.
His life from then on seemed to be on a predictable trajectory, and I did not have much to do with him. Weed and crank were not really my thing anyway, and the quality of our conversations had bottomed out long ago, sometime after the fourth grade reading/kissing phase. The last time I saw him was after I had moved to Portland to go to art school, at age 21. He was coming through town from wherever and wanted to party. He was just as grubby and shifty as ever, and would not stop hitting on my friend Kate, no matter how many times she deflected his advances. Some years after that I heard that he had found Jesus and turned his life around. If so, I was happy he was saved. I usually think Christians are being hyperbolic when they say that someone was saved, but in Shane Hickey’s case I think it’s a legitimate claim.