By Bill Cushing
I figured I’ve outlived the statute of limitations, so now this story can be told.
In 1970, I began at the University of Missouri; it was a short-lived pursuit since I flunked out after one semester — largely from having far too much fun while not completing the work needed to continue. While most of my peers were embroiled in anti-establishment zeal, I wasn’t. I did grow a Fu Manchu but more to look like Joe Namath than a revolutionary, and my political beliefs at any given time were usually directly proportional to my chances of getting laid.
One of my close friends (read as “drinking buddy”) was Scott. We shared a few classes together, although he didn’t see me at many of them. He usually saw me in the evening when I would stop by his room to drink along with others in the dorm, including Scott’s roommate, George. George was called “Crazy George” and for good reason. First of all, he had that slightly crooked smile and shine in the eyes that would indicate someone a bit off kilter. Perhaps, like Ted Kozinski after him, he had worked too closely with numbers and details as an engineering major and had lost his bearings. His behavior added to the reputation. Among other things, he used to make money on occasion by pulling a “Cool Hand Luke,” sneaking off during early morning hours to dismantle the heads of parking meters, breaking into them, and then cashing in the money. He even chose double headed meters and noted the schedule of collections so that he could maximize his economic input. Another time, while in the dorm lounge, I recall the elevator doors opening, then hearing a strange rolling sound. Looking around the corner toward the lobby, here came George, folded up into a crouch, riding a shopping cart toward the doors of the cafeteria, screaming like a banshee the whole time.
At any rate, Crazy George was one of the crowd as we would drink for the better part of the evening even though most of the rest of our peers on campus were involved in planning the revolution and smoking pot. I guess we were the “old school” folks, preferring beer to dope (although we consumed our share of the latter as well). We let the other students attend to the protests of the period; we were content to attend classes when we felt like it, drink beer all night, and enjoy each other’s company. One night, four of us gathered for our ritual imbibing, choosing quart bottles on this occasion, probably because of a sale price. The last of our quartet was a guy I’d seen but never met before because he was a friend of Crazy George. I don’t remember his name. However, during the course of the evening’s buzz, he bragged about how he designed explosives. Probably, like George, he was an engineering student. At any rate, we heard him talk about making bombs out of walnut shells, toilet paper rolls, even Coca-Cola bottles. Of course, it didn’t take long for one of us, after finishing his final swig of Bud, to hold up the empty container and ask, “Could ya’ make a bomb out of this?”
Of course, the answer was “of course,” and it wasn’t long before we staggered down to his room to retrieve his explosives and detonating materials. Within a half-hour or so, he had completed the task and set the bottled bomb on the table while we continued drinking, smoking, and bullshitting. After a midnight run to replenish the beer supply, we started discussing the possibility of exploding our newly designed incendiary device. The question that remained was where to go to set the thing off and enjoy the show. We settled on a state park that was located about seven miles from campus. We stumbled down to the parking lot with our beer and our gear, piled ourselves into Scott’s car, and cranked up the Chevy to head to the Midwestern testing area.
The only problem with drunks with bombs is that they usually make bad decisions. In this case, the bad decision might have been accidental, but somehow the beer-bottle bomb ended up in the lap of Crazy George, who was sitting in the back seat behind Scott. Before we were even off campus, George rolled down his window, lit the makeshift fuse with the hot end of his cigarette, and howling, heaved the Bud bomb out of the car.
“What the fuck,” screamed Scott as he slammed on the brakes. We watched an instantaneous flower of flame bloom out of the earth where the bottle had landed. Before the report of our homemade device finished echoing between the buildings surrounding us, Scott had gunned the car down the road, screeching burning rubber as we hastened back to the dorm. And though we laughed about it, we also cursed George’s idiocy: he had deprived us of a decent viewing of our handiwork. Not to mention the problems we’d have had had anyone seen us, especially since we might have done some serious damage with the thing. However, we got over it, drank some more, and eventually made our ways to our respective beds to sleep off our drunk and skip morning classes.
I woke up much earlier than planned with my head pounding from the beer of the night before. How could I sleep with all the commotion going on around me? Bruce, my dorm mate, had several of his friends in and out all morning. I caught snatches of conversation concerning the uprising.
“Should we make banners or signs?”
“Dunno. What are we protesting?”
All I protested was the din of political chatter around me. It figured, I thought between stabs of the new day’s light, that these clowns would call a strike, then figure out what the cause should be. Finally, I couldn’t ignore the chatter. I got up, showered, dressed, and went to get some food. Once outside, the environment was even stranger; crowds were gathering in different locations of the university’s quad. Speakers were exhorting their brothers and sisters to join them in overthrowing the oppressors. Slogan-laden signs were leading parades in all different directions. Apparently, every anarchistic or radical element had decided to have a convention on our campus on this particular day.
Stopping at a local beanery for some tacos and soda, I tried to nurse my head and body back to something resembling normal. All the while, I felt like I was at the zoo, only the displays were ideologues who couldn’t seem to wait for an outbreak of takeovers and protests. I decided to return to the dorm, visit Scott, and try to get a fix on the day. Wending my way through the chanting maze of people, I hoped that Scott had learned what had happened to cause this sudden explosion of “anti-whatever” feeling on the campus.
I happened to stumble upon a group that contained Bruce, his arm raised in the power fist of defiance, his elbow periodically pumping it in the air.
“Hey, man,” I croaked when I got next to him. “What’s happening?”
“It’s happening, man. It’s happening.” A grin spread across his face, the corners of his mouth seeming to touch the end points of the pork chop sideburns descending from wild blond hair. Never had I seen such happiness. He was finally having his day in the sun, one of protestation politics.
“Apparently,” I said, looking around at the fever pitch that was eddying but never receding around me from the crowd. Again, I turned to Bruce to repeat the question. “But what happened? Exactly.”
“Didn’t you hear?” He laughed at my ignorance, obviously enjoying the fact that his hard drinking classmate had missed the details. “Last night someone threw a cocktail at the ROTC building around the corner from the dorms. And now, at last, the revolution has come to Missouri.”
I sighed and began to wonder what idiots had tried to blow up the ROTC building, but even as the thought was forming, the realization of reality hit me.
“Holy shit,” I screamed.
“Yeah,” Bruce responded, “cool, ain’t it?”
“Oh, yeah. Cool. Gotta’ split. See ya.”
I couldn’t run back to the dorm fast enough. Scott, too, had heard the news and was fuming.
“That ever-lovin’ asshole George,” he kept saying while pacing the floor. “He’s fucked us for sure this time. Of all the places to lob that thing, he has to hit the fuckin’ ROTC building. Damnitall, what do we do?”
Scott lit a new cigarette off the half-smoked one and continued, “That building’s federal; they’re gonna call in the FBI on this one. That’s real time. Shit. What do we do? Maybe I can call my girlfriend’s dad; he’s a good lawyer. We gotta figure this out before the shit hits the fan. Damn, damn, damn.”
And that was pretty much the rest of our day as well as a good part of our semester. Every time there was an unexpected phone call or a summons from an RA, we were sure that we’d been busted. It didn’t suppress our drinking habits any but certainly made us pretty paranoid. Of course, drinking with George around was pretty much out of the question. Even after I departed the campus after flunking out, that hazy memory nagged me, especially when I ended up in the Navy and had to be fingerprinted for security clearances.
However, for whatever reason, and even though there had been an investigation into the incident, I never personally heard anymore about it. Perhaps the evidence was destroyed in the blast; perhaps they just didn’t try too hard since no real damage had been done. After all, the explosion occurred on the lawn rather than in or even really near the building.
Whatever the reason, I survived.
So now, I feel free to share the story, and the reason for doing so is simply that I can’t resist a smile once in awhile at the thought that the day the revolution came to the University of Missouri, it happened because four hedonistic drunks with no particular beliefs whatsoever wanted to watch a big bang.
Bill Cushing was born in Virginia. He grew up in New York, attended school in Pennsylvania, began college in Missouri, but found himself back in Virginia and New York as well as Florida, Maryland, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico before moving to California. He earned an MFA in writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He now teaches at East Los Angeles and Mt. San Antonio colleges. Bill has published in Another Chicago Magazine, Brownstone Review, Metaphor, Newtown Literary Journal, the San Juan Star, and West Trade Review. He has poems in two recently-released anthologies, Getting Old and Stories of Music.