Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You? (R)

STORYTELLER

 

More adventures followed; each extemporaneous tale zig­zagging madly from cleverness to absurdity just as that ludicrous van (“The Mystery Machine” as we’d begun to call it in honor of our fantasy status as amateur sleuths) took us from Arkansas to Texas to Kansas to Iowa and on and on, backwards and forwards but always inching west. Along the way we saw towns that seemed to have died prematurely, held together by empty streets and porches full of old folks. We saw cities snapping at a frenzied pace as if trying too hard to pretend there was nothing wrong at home; there was still plenty to be bought and sold, appointments to be kept. But everywhere we went there were signs, traces, reminders of a country full of lost boys and girls. How many flags had we seen flying at half-mast? How many front pages decorated with military portraits of pimply teens, local boys died good, heroes gone to graveyards every one?

And, conversely, how many other young ones did we pass, meet, talk with who had taken our road and left parents and family wondering after them just as they would had their children been half a world away crawling through Vietnamese jungles instead? Either way, there was grief and a lack of understanding on both sides. As proud as we might have been as an uncompromising generation with a new idea, I see things a bit differently from here and find myself sympathetic towards the mothers and fathers. It can’t have been easy to watch us run or die or lose ourselves. How many prayers were wasted on us?

I think there was definitely some unacknowledged guilt riding with us in the Mystery Machine that summer of ’67. It filled the quiet spaces when the radio was off. It slept with us through the weary nights in strange places. It saw sunsets and sunrises with us from one ocean to another. And it was wearing at us. We were glad we’d left the “Institution” behind, but what we were heading for was vague – and that vagueness was unsatisfactory.

The strain was taking its toll on our happy couple. If Shaggy had been our visionary and Scooby-Doo our karmic catalyst, then it fell on Fred to be our captain. It was a natural role for him; his movements were always sure, blessed, and we naturally looked to him for our rock in the storm. Even Daphne, as strong-willed an indi­vidual as she was and is, leaned on Fred. We needed him to be the unwavering pilot on our journey. Besides, the van was his.

But there were times – in a campground here, a grocery store there – when something nasty would boil to the surface of his usually perfect, stonily blond facade. Like the occasion of our one and only communal bathing experience in a lake in South Dakota when Shaggy, truly enjoying the open air and idyllic surroundings, stood tall and skinny and naked in the clear water and lifted his arms to the sky. He rambled on, in true Shaggy fashion, a modestly poetic paean to the elements, to Mother Earth and Father Sky while Scooby-Doo splashed at the water’s edge chasing dragonflies.

Every muscle in Fred’s body tensed as he dropped his head and, his eyes peering out from under his dripping hair, coldly told his friend to, “cut the hippy shit for one goddamned minute.”

It stunned both Daphne and myself, though Shaggy just sagged with a grin and let it roll right off his back. We were quiet for the rest of our swim, though, from a distance, I heard Daphne doing her best to get to the bottom of Fred’s behavior without taking his head off; quite a feat for the redhead. I don’t know how or if he re­sponded, but this was just one instance, halfway into our trip, of the tension that was building between our captain and his first mate. Rough seas were ahead, and yet pleasant, uncharted waters as well.

It became my job, or so I felt, to offset the growing discomfort amongst our little foursome. Shaggy and Scooby were unending sources of wackiness and simple joy, but even they seemed to react empathetically to our conditions as children do when Mommy and Daddy are fighting. As conjoined at the soul as they were, they shared each other’s moods symbiotically. And nothing in the world was as heart-breaking as those two when sad. So here I came, with all the weapons my imagination had to bear.

In the tales I’d spun we had already tangled with ghosts, killer robots, swamp creatures and Aztec mummies, and now I let it all fly. From time to time we joined other groups of hippies, freaks and nomads in the forests and parks where we created transient communes for a day or two and soon it slipped out that I was a storyteller. Something very unique began to happen.

Our camps would fill with various youth from every con­ceivable shade of the sixties spectrum. Someone almost always had a guitar and had learned just enough of the collected works of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, someone almost always had just enough drugs to turn the evening into a “happening.” It was a dangerously free environment and there I was – the pop shamaness of the campfire.

I was usually half-goaded, half-eager to weave a tale of ludi­crous malevolence and daring-do for those gathered that were still somewhat lucid and not off getting laid in the bushes. If it was a ghost story they wanted, I gave it to ’em, good and scary and always tightly resolved. If they wanted mysteries, I cooked up some doozies with just enough local color and cameos for the listeners to feel they walked through the stories themselves. I aimed to amuse and to please. There are some who might say I’m at it still.

But this was my only deterrent, “peace through diversion” I called it, and I found myself enjoying the newfound elasticity of my narrative faculties and the effect it seemed to have on those within earshot. Not that I was writing anything down; these custom-fit yarns were too entrenched in the moment. Many was the time a fully stoned audience member would suggest, in the middle of a jewel-heist thriller, that the plot be enlivened by the unexpected involvement of the Three Stooges or Batman and Robin. BAM! BIFF! I made it happen. I was easy; I had no qualms about unraveling mysteries that depended upon the expert deductive assistance of, say, Mama Cass.

Those days seemed like a summer camp that would never end and the sound of laughter and singing carried us through the weeks and across the country. We were part of something beautiful and simple and, yes, irresponsible that we felt our elders were deeply jealous of. And maybe they were. But we weren’t, and couldn’t be, truly of one heart, one mind, though we wanted to believe we were. And our reminder sat there across the campfire, and behind the wheel, some­thing darkening his sky blue eyes. Something he was daring us to uncover.

Fred had become our mystery.

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