Dear Peter Arbour,
I’m sorry for trying to make you worship my Jim Morrison poster.
It was 1983. We were in sixth grade. You and Ted Trainor were over one afternoon. We were sitting upstairs in my room, bored, as twelve-year-old boys get, wondering what to do. Maybe it was raining outside. We were best friends, the three of us. We’d been so for years; through Indian Guides and Cub Scouts and carving weapons out of the bamboo that grew by the river, and sharing our first cigarettes in the fort we’d made at the base of the big walnut tree in your yard. My dad used to call us the three amigos. (And this was before that dumb Steve Martin movie.)
But we were changing, as twelve-year-old boys do, and growing apart, at least in some ways. You and Ted were continuing with Boy Scouts (you’d go on to become an Eagle Scout, right? Crazy.) I’d quit before making Tenderfoot, after the first campout-when we learned we were supposed to wash the higher ranked scouts’ dishes after meals, I knew it wasn’t for me. I was hanging out more with other friends, Chris Pack and Blair Bryan, and cultivating unhealthy obsession with Dungeons & Dragons and classic rock.
I had a poster of Jim Morrison in my room, tacked to the slatted door of my closet. It was that famous picture: bare-chested, bead necklace, arms extended, Jesus Christ pose. “An American Poet,” it said at the top. He was staring right at the camera, so the eyes seemed to follow you wherever you went. Chris and Blair and I attached a metaphysical significance to this, and took to bowing our heads whenever we looked at it, intoning a reverential “Jiiiiiimmm” in order to ward off, I don’t know, evil lizard spirits or something. “Indians scattered on dawn’s highway, bleeding,” and all that. “Ghosts crowd a child’s fragile, eggshell mind…” Geek cult stuff.
Understandably, when I explained the situation, you and Ted refused to play along. I must have looked very weird, genuflecting before a poster of a dead rock star in my bedroom. You sneered. “He’s not God, you know,” I remember you saying. I think I might have insisted that yes, in fact, he was: Those were the new house rules. You took a balled-up pair of socks that was lying on the floor and threw it, to prove a point. You hit Jim right in the face, and it dented the paper there. Not a full rip, fixable with scotch tape on the back side, but noticeable if you looked close.
A moment later you and I were standing up, nose to nose. I was cursing at you, you were telling me again, that it was just a poster. My cheeks were hot and I remember the disdain in the way you looked at me. I shoved you and told you to get out. You didn’t shove me back, and maybe that said more than anything else about where we’d found ourselves. We’d fought many times over the years. We’d had some of the most memorable fistfights of my life. Instead, that day, you and Ted just left.
A couple months later, I would fail Ms. Mawson’s English class for refusing to write my final paper. We were supposed to write a biographical report on a person of our choosing. I’d chosen, of course, Jim Morrison. (I’d memorized and recited the lyrics to “Not To Touch the Earth” for an earlier assignment about poetry.) Like you, I’d been an ‘A’ student up to that point. (Technically, I guess, we’d been ‘O’ students, since for whatever reason Little Silver Schools chose “Outstanding” to represent the highest mark on our report cards, first grade through fifth.) But after reading No One Here Gets Out Alive as source material for the paper on Jim Morrison, I decided that the truest way to honor my subject was to not write anything at all.
“Jim wouldn’t do homework,” I told my dad, who grounded me for the first two weeks of summer.
Adolescent rebellion is natural and healthy. Blind idol worship is not. You were right to throw that sock. Besides, as great a rock star as Jim Morrison may have been, his poetry sucked.
Dave Bry is the Awl Associate Editor for both Enjoyments and Regrets.