Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What June 13th Means To Me: Striking Oil

The best part about being a kid has to be the optimistic naivete. And I miss believing that the improbable isn't impossible.

When I was young, my friend Clinton lived at the end of a long quiet street called Waters Edge.  It might as well have been the end of the world.  His house bordered a dense wooded area that seemed to go on forever.  We were entirely too old (and I guess too smart) to believe that those woods held any mythical creatures, magical powers, or buried treasure, but we'd explore them just the same in hopes of finding something undiscovered. After all, when the rest of our surroundings were paved streets and perfectly, manicured lawns, the chaos of the woods made it feel uncharted.

No one ever explained to us how the 1970's era Chevy ever got there.  But the rusted, white vehicle sat smack in the center of the woods, and we visited it like James Cameron would the Titanic.  We'd prod the car with tools and sticks, exploring a different part of it for a few minutes each time.  The car had been there a while, we weren't sure how long, but long enough for it to be stripped of most of its features.  It still had a steering wheel and gear shift, but the passenger side front seat was long removed. We never gave this a second thought, for all we knew, the car had been there since George Washington and his men traversed the woods a few hundred years before.  It was rumored he'd stayed at an old house nearby during the Revolutionary War. We were obviously aware that this was impossible, but the distant past was the distant past and bled together as such. Once, we lifted the extremely tattered back seat of the car to find a family of rats, and for some reason Clinton became hellbent on catching them, so we ran back to his house and returned with a plastic pumpkin basket from McDonald's that would act as a trap.  I believe the pumpkin's name was McBoo. It all seemed like a good idea, catching rabid small animals.  That's what happens when you're a kid.  Regardless, the rats were long gone by the time we returned.

I can't remember if we always knew of the barrel that sat under some branches about a hundred feet away from the car, but once we inspected it, it had become the thing we had always hoped to find.  It was large, round, and silver.  It said "Firestone" on the top.  You could hear the slosh of liquid inside when you rolled it.  It could only mean one thing: we struck oil.  We didn't know much about oil, but we knew it was society's lifeblood, therefore expensive.  I'd recently seen a cartoon where the characters found oil.  They called it Texas tea; they filled up tea cups and pretended to drink it.  They discussed all the things they would do with the money, and how much it would change their lives. I told Clinton about the cartoon, and it inflated our expectations to way beyond reasonable  It didn't occur to us why a barrel of oil sat in the woods, but that's what made the area special.  As far as we knew, we were the only ones who still walked through it, it was entirely possible no one ever noticed the hidden treasure.  Like we stumbled upon an undiscovered Pharaoh's the middle of suburban New York.  And like those cartoon characters, we quickly dreamed of how this barrel full of oil would change our fortune.

Since the woods didn't exactly provide an even terrain, transporting the barrel back to Clinton's house proved to be difficult.  We couldn't carry it; it was entirely too heavy.  We couldn't roll it; there were too many rocks.  The only thing we could do was flip it, end over end, for a hundred meters until we reached his backyard.  Unfortunately, game as I was, I wasn't strong enough to flip the barrel more than a couple of times, so Clinton provided the heavy lifting, while I kept it balanced so it wouldn't fall and roll away.  We wondered what kind of oil it was, and how much it would net us.  We decided that there was probably 600 dollars worth in the barrel, though I have no clue how we arrived at that number. But we knew 300 dollars a piece would by a bunch of Nintendo games. Probably eight for each of us.  A combined sixteen games?  What more did we need.  It all seemed reasonable. 

After two hours, we finally reached Clinton's house and stormed inside to find his father.  He was a science teacher, a smart guy, he'd be able to help us.  He was always a measured man, but generally played along with our curiosity, so he approached the barrel with a similar excitement.  He told us that we found something, indeed.  A commodity, of sorts.  But it wasn't a barrel of oil, it was a half empty keg of beer.  We weren't too young to deflate.  There went the rest of our lives.

We never saw that 600 dollars, but did split a ten dollar bill.  That's how much the liquor store gave us for the keg.  I can't remember what we did with it, but I hope it went to something worthwhile.  Regardless, we never visited the car again.

A few years later I got a phone call from Clinton.  The woods were on fire; somehow the car had ignited.  We never learned why or how, but it burned to a charred, black shell.  A year after that, the town sold the land to a developer who cleared the woods in favor of an idyllic street filled with McMansions.  It turned out the woods did not sit on the edge of the world, after all.  In fact, the road to our elementary school, the place we went everyday, sat on the other side. 

Anytime I receive 600 dollars today, I think of that barrel of oil.  That was going to change our future.  And, in many ways, I guess it did. 

Anyway, it's Clinton's birthday today!  33. We're fucking old!  But I bet we could carry beer kegs pretty easily now. 

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