Carefree is how youth should be

My friend Steven died last July and the other day I was thinking about him and how we used to argue about really dorky things, especially when we were in high school and one I recalled was the battle over a few of the words in the song “Love Potion No. 9,” by The Clovers.

(An aside: When I was in Portugal, I saw absolutely NO ONE using a stupid cellphone on the street or texting from the tables at the outdoor bar I called home in Lisbon. I have no idea why I thought of that in the midst of writing about Steven, but my mind is, you know, discursive.)

Anyway, in the song, there is a line about a kiss on the corner of 34th and Vine streets and I KNOW the line goes like this:

“And when I kissed a cop at 34th and Vine, he broke my little bottle of Love Potion No. 9.”

But Steven INSISTED in went like this:

“But when I kissed a CLOCK at 34th and Vine, IT broke my little bottle of Love Potion No. 9.”

Now, friends, you know I am nothing if not the soul of logic so I said, to Steven, logically (and rationally):

“You idiot. Why would he kiss a clock?”

And Steven was ready (he always was):

“Because he was stoned on the love potion. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

Ah, but I was ready:

“But a clock can’t break something. How can a clock break a bottle of anything, let alone love potion?”

And Steven was ready in return:

“It’s a song, schmuck, not the guy’s biography. In other words, IT’S FICTION so anything goes.”

I think he was reading H.P. Lovecraft that year. Or maybe Ayn Rand, which is more or less the same thing.

Yes, well, of course, it was a stupid argument, but we were 16 and did and said a lot of stupid things. We were friends and even though we’d seen each other rarely in the last 30 years, we were always friends and not having him on this boring paltry planet leaves a hole and not just for me but for, I think, the universe because people like Steven are integral to it. He was interested in everything and could talk about everything and sometimes even knew what the heck he was talking about, unlike his command of song lyrics, and when he didn’t know, he’d bluff, which is why he almost always took me in Hollywoods Gin because I could not read him at all.

Even in high school he knew weird stuff the rest of us would never have thought of. His first car, a blue ’55 Ford, he named:


Ah, you’re as dumbfounded as was I when he told me and our friend Pascarelli thought it was some sort of dirty word.

It was the name of Alexander the Great’s horse.

Ah, history: We had the same history teacher in high school even though I was a year ahead (chronologically, not intellectually) and he had to see her one day after school so we both went to her room and while he and she stood at her desk having a serious conversation (maybe about Genghis Khan’s turtle) I took everything off of her desk and put it in the waste paper basket, then Steven and I walked out.

You know what she did? She laughed. And then made us come back and put everything back on her desk, which didn’t actually spoil the joke. We might have even neatened her desk in the process.

I’m thinking of this now in the wake of the latest horrific attack on innocent people at a concert in Manchester, England, which could just have easily been Manchester, N.H., or Manchester, Vt., and if you think not, well, that’s only because you forget that it happened at a nightclub in Florida, although not to kids — to 8 YEAR OLDS, for God’s sake. I’m remembering how even after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, two kids were still nutty enough to gently trash a teacher’s desk and the teacher was cool enough to laugh about it but tough enough to make us fix it.

And then things got weird with assassinations and Vietnam and slaughter in African nations and American troops in places we couldn’t find on a map and then 911 and Afghanistan and Iraq and kids gunned down in a Connecticut school and in a Colorado movie theater and in a Florida nightclub and in a Paris theater and now a Manchester, England, concert venue and I wonder how 16-year-olds feel each day in school. Are they care-free enough to trash — gently — a teacher’s desk in fun? Or does the world weigh upon them?

I don’t know, man, but I’m glad my daughter, and Steven’s daughter, aren’t kids anymore, because these times, man … these times … whew. Back then, well, yeah, the Cuban Missile Crisis was scary but then we had a president who had a staff that was … ah, forget it, what’s the point?

Anyway, as the first anniversary of Steven’s death approached, I thought about looking up the words to “Love Potion No. 9” by those Clovers and then I thought, no. No. Let it alone. Let it alone just in case, just in case there is this thing called an Afterlife and in case, when I get there, I run into Steven, and he’ll greet me with:

“Hey, Clevie. It was a CLOCK!”

I don’t want to say, “No, it wasn’t, I Googled it.”

Nope. Never spoil a good argument/discussion with a stupid Google fact.

Mike Cleveland is former editor of The Cabinet.