Midnight Ramblers

Digital Painting by Stephanie Khattak. iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, Adobe Fresco

Nights were dark behind the pine curtain. I have written before about our relative comfort with cemetaries. I’ve been thinking on that a little more lately, perhaps because it’s the “spooky season” and it’s getting dark a little earlier. But there is more to say, because the bigger picture is that we were just pretty fearless.

We were never really afraid of the dark, period. Literally or figuratively. We weren’t afraid to go out at night, we weren’t afraid to take risks to pull pranks or do silly things. We loved who we loved, no matter what, and we were so loyal to each other long before “Ride or Die” became part of the pop culture lexicon.

As the Bible says, to paraphrase Romans 8:31, if you are for me, then who can be against me? The verse is referencing God, but for us, it was each other as well.

During slumber parties, after we tired of making prank calls, we would inevitably clean out the hosts’ toilet paper supply and load into someone’s car. (Sorry for any rude awakenings, moms and dads!) We would then drive to a house or two or three and proceed to toss toilet paper into the trees, across the shrubs, over the mailbox and whatever else we could. When plain toilet-papering became too predictable, we upped our game to “Oreo-ing” (Take an Oreo apart. Stick the icing half to house or car windows. Eat the other half.); “Forking” (Plant a million forks in someone’s yard); “Hot-Tamale-ing” (Similar to the Oreo, bite a Hot Tamale candy in half and stick it to windows” and general sign leaving (posterboard, markers and phrases that ranged from encouraging to amorous.)

During these attacks of extreme creativity, we were chased by angry people on four-wheelers; had popper firecrackers thrown at our legs, bumbled into a herd of geese and were almost always made to go back and clean up, if the victims’ parents knew ours. Once, in an impressive counter-attack, someone was hiding in a tree watching for us, jumped down and ran to his neighbor’s house (next on our list!) and woke him up so that they could lie in wait for us. I don’t remember what they did to defend themselves, but it was extremely well-played. (Unsurprisingly, that person went on to join the military and plan counterattacks and defensive actions for the government.) Another time, a house light came on and in our infinite wisdom, we fell down in the yard and “played possum.” That person didn’t confront us then, but his college-age girlfriend was absolutely ringing my phone the minute we got back home.

When you’re a champion, others try to knock you down. Once, a group of guys planned to wrap MY house when I was having a slumber party. Luckily (for us!) my mom had turned a mailbox into a bird feeder and hung the metal part from our biggest tree. One of the wrappers, sneaking around, stood up under it and saw stars. They all had to come inside for the adults to decide if he needed medical attention. (He was fine.)

All of these things took place after midnight with very, very minimal supervision. Before we could drive, our parents drove us, but then we were set free. My friend Courtney and I were recently brainstorming ways to entertain her daughters. Wrapping came up, but was then dismissed with “well, now they’d just get shot.”

We could just as easily have been shot then! Or the cops could have come, or someone could have come out of their house and cursed at us, or hurt us in other ways. Were we naive? I don’t think so. I think we were just confident in the dark.

Because we may have been vandals, but we were a UNIT of vandals! My bestie may have thrown that particular toilet paper roll, but if it knocked over a rose bush, we accepted that were all in trouble. We had faith in God, too but at the time we didn’t really articulate it as such. We certainly didn’t go around saying “Every Oreo Stuck Perfectly. God Bless Us, Every One.” or anything like that. But we did have a basic faith that something, someone, somewhere would make sure we would be ok.

And I know we were lucky. I do realize, especially as a grown up, that in some communities and some groups, this kind of “fun” would not be fun at all. We were lucky, and privileged. The worst we got was cleaning duty.

It’s October, almost Halloween, and I had originally wanted to write about things that scared me. But honestly, looking back, the things that scared me weren’t shadows in the dark or bumps in the night, or even the desolate streets and spooky back roads we drove after dark in our clackety “starter cars” before cell phones existed. As I have thought about this and other things we did, I think “wow, we should have been more scared!” Some of the things we did make my heart skip.

But my friends were with me. We were emboldened. We were safe. If we were together, if we were for each other, then who could be against us? There were so many things I truly was scared of – being made fun of, doing something wrong, the asshole on the school bus, my English teacher. But not this. Not this darkness, and not these risks. WE were the things that went bump in the night. WE were the prowlers, the instigators, the throwers of toilet paper and catchers of fireworks and consequences. And we loved every minute of it. Call it naivete’ or call it faith, I mostly call it friendship.

Is Your Refrigerator Running?

“Slumber Party” by Stephanie Khattak. iPad and Apple pencil in Procreate.

I wasn’t allowed to call boys when I was growing up. To do so was a sin worse than murder. I might was well have been dancing on tables in my bathing suit. But that didn’t stop me from calling boys, I just found a loophole – prank calls. Probably because I didn’t actually know how to talk to boys like a normal person since doing so was such a Big Deal.

Anyway, we spent most slumber party nights on the phone dialing out with made-up scenarios, intriguing lines of questioning, new and exciting personas and in some cases, multi-call serial dramas. We even did sort of spoken word bits to different types of background music. (No, not rapping. Not nearly that cool.)

My friend had a Swatch “funky twin” phone making it easy to group up on the call. Of course this was before anything digital, like star-69 or even saving numbers in Contacts. I kept doing it into college, and only stopped when my friend and I got bored and called a random person while were were vacationing in Florida only to have him call back (justifiably) pissed off and asking for the person we were staying with, by name. That was our introduction to caller ID and the last time I ever prank called anyone.

To this day, prank calling was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. We were never hurtful or harassing, and in retrospect, it was probably entertaining for some. Like their own, personal, interactive podcast, just with more giggling.

In My Room

“After Curfew” Stephanie Khattak. Ipad and Apple Pencil. Animated with Photoshop.

My story begins, like many teenage girls’, in the hours between midnight and sunrise, aka, when you have to be home after curfew, but you’re not sleepy, so you retreat to your room with your books and your stuff, and if you’re lucky, a phone line. And if you’re very lucky, or if your uncle works for the phone company, like mine did, you have a private phone number and answering machine. After we shut the door and said goodnight to our parents, it was time for Act 2.

If no one was spending the night (rare!) I would read, or write stories or letters to my pen pals. Eventually the phone would ring or I’d call someone who had likely been doing the same, and just as likely had been out with me an hour earlier.

My friends and I were prolific writers and creative thinkers. We passed notes all day long. My best friend went to a different school, so we’d write notes and stockpile them, and trade the stacks at church on Sunday. We wrote about everything, folded up the notes in elaborate origami shapes and palmed them back and forth like contraband. I still have many of those notes, and my some of my closest friends today are the writers. The interesting thing is that their words haven’t lost importance at all. It would be easy to look back and say “we were so silly,” but what we worried about – our fears, celebrations, observations and our questions – are still so important to who we are today. Even then, we wanted to be loved and accepted. We wanted to be good people and make good choices and have interesting lives.

If we could have written notes to each other while talking on the phone, we probably would have, but instead we would collaborate on stories, write poems about boys we liked and then read them to each other, and design elaborate games, worlds and alternate realities for ourselves. As a young adult home from college, I found some of that stuff in a forgotten trunk. My friend, as serious as I’d ever seen her, said “Burn it.” So, with privacy in mind, I won’t share any real details, but suffice it to say, in a different world, we might have combined D&D with that “Girl Talk Date Line” game and become millionaires.

I’m an only child and I grew up in the country so I was, and still tend to be in my own head a lot. These days, I’m afraid to sleep in my childhood bedroom, because it is too quiet and dark. I typically stay at a hotel when I visit home. But back then, my room was nothing less than a sanctuary and an incubator for the person I would become.

Dance Party USA

“Dance Party USA”

In East Texas in the mid-90s, only a few radio stations came in clearly. One was country and one was pop. We were pretty happy with that until we discovered the “alternative rock” station out of Nacogdoches, the college town a few miles away. It was a student-run radio station and it played the best music – The Smiths, New Order, 10000 Maniacs…it was all new to us and we loved every note.

Needless to say, no one played this type of music at the dances we went to (and were quickly becoming too cool for.) So, we made our own fun, and we called it “Dance Party USA”. My older friends had cars and those cars had radios, so we would drive to a kind of small pasture that’s now a park behind our town’s DPS, turn on the radio, and dance to the music we liked.

In retrospect, I guess we are lucky that we didn’t run down the battery in those cars, or get interrupted by people who might hurt us. At that time, what we were doing was one of the safest things that teenage girls could do on a Saturday night, even in the dark in a place where none of our parents knew. Every now and then some guys would join us, but just as often, it was just we three or four, and that was totally fine.

When I think of how the world has changed and how even our hometown has changed, I think back on nights like this and realize they’re probably not possible anymore. It was definitely “of a time.” Even the way that music is consumed is different – who needs to spin the dials searching for a college radio station when you have a whole jukebox on your phone in your pocket, and who needs to cruise around looking for fun when you can make a whole night’s worth of plans without even speaking out loud.

We had one particular friend whose dancing was pure, un-self-conscious joy. When I think of her I often think of Dance Party USA and how I wish we could have all been more like her then, and stayed that way.

Happy Birthday, Molly!

Birthday Cat!

Our sweet, senior cat Molly turns 17 this month. Not sure the exact day, so I mark the milestone around the middle of April.

She really is an amazing cat, although I am fully aware that every cat is amazing. She’s got her own distinctive personality, likes what she likes, and displays a lot of empathy and individualism for someone with a brain the size of a walnut.

I’m still friends with the person who I got her from, so I know her mother lived to be 16 and a sibling made it to just a few weeks ago. There’s still another sibling, Lucy, who is still kickin’ it in East Texas.

Happy Birthday, Molly. I love you to pieces.