Monday, July 6, 2015

Reflections On...For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

The sensational Van Halen album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, was released at a pivotal time in my young life. I had just graduated high school, and this was the first record one of my favorite bands released post diploma receipt. Thus, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge became the first album that the newly graduated Ryo added to his collection.

This record also came out as I was entering my first summer with no clear path or plan on what to do with my life. I had already decided that I would not attend college. School and I had never been best friends, and the thought of doing two more years at a county college was not the most appealing to me. I was a drifter and a dreamer, and for the first time in my life I had what I felt was unlimited freedom. I was working part time at Roy Rogers fast food restaurant, living at home with my mother (when I was home, which wasn’t often) and I had gas money in my pocket. What more could an 18 year old male ask for? This was paradise.

And then life got complicated. As was usually the case, it was a girl that gummed up the works and turned my stupid happy summer on its rear. And as was usually the case, the outcome of events appeared so dramatic to my immature mind, that it caused a wave of life changing events to transpire. Teenagers are such idiots, especially the males.

As my high school years came to a close, I was dating Cheryl. She was an older woman (21 to my 18) who was a little bit crazy, not well liked by Mom, and extremely curvy. What wasn’t there to love? Unfortunately as our time together wore on, Cheryl got a little crazier in her daily life activities. She also started to get very clingy and needy. Clingy and needy are two words that any adolescent male has a hard time comprehending when it comes to the opposite sex. Why are they so clingy? Why do they have so many needs? Needless to say our relationship slipped on a downward slope and by 4th of July weekend, we were pretty much a non-item.

Yet, before our relationship came to a conclusion, I made a new friend. Yes, she was female. Yes, I was attracted to her. And yes, she had a boyfriend. To complicate matters, her boyfriend was a friend of mine. He was actually more akin to a “friend of a friend,” but we did all spend time together on a somewhat regular basis. Therefore, for purposes of clarification, he was a friend; a friend who was dating a girl that I took an instant liking to. All the ingredients in a recipe for disaster were present and accounted for.

And in the middle of all the turmoil, before the storm, during the storm, and after the storm, was the latest record from Van Halen. I remember buying this CD the week it came out. I went to my local music shop, purchased the disc off the rack, hopped into my automobile, and headed for the highway. The opening notes of “Poundcake” washed all over me. The drill launched against the guitar strings and the high pitch whine kicked in creating a musical atmosphere of bliss. I turned the volume knob to the right, lowered my windows and hit the gas as a big grin filled my face.

I would come to spend a lot of time with For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. There would be an intimacy with most of the songs as they were played repeatedly in my car, on my home stereo, and basically wherever I would roam. The album was a terrific one, and the more I listened to it, the more I found to enjoy about it. “Poundcake” and “In and Out” resonated with me the earliest. “Poundcake” held me because it was just such a damn good song. “In and Out” was on my radar because it reminded me about sex. And sex was one thing that 18 year old Ryo couldn’t get enough of.
And that takes us back to the friend of a friend who was really my friend and his quasi-girlfriend. I say quasi, because she never clearly defined their relationship. He would say they were an item, but she would say they were only, kind of, sort of, maybe dating. How girlish of her. I should have known then the trouble she was going to be, but I was too smitten to care about any warning signs.

The girl’s name was Beth and while she was (maybe) hooked up with my (sort of) friend, Doug, I was still with Cheryl. And yet Beth and I spent a lot of time together as late June became early July. During that time, we got to know each other very well. We became good friends, but not in the dreaded “ugh, I’m only a friend” label way. Sexual tension was certainly thick in the air anytime that the two of us got together.

And the two of us got together often. We were together during the daytime, nighttime, pretty much anytime. Anytime that we weren’t with our current dates, that is. And the more time I spent with Beth, the more I avoided Doug. Not that I was angered with him or anything like that, but just because it didn’t feel right. This was a girl that he thought he was dating, and I was in there stirring the pot and creating sexual sparks. It hadn’t gotten to a level of sexual contact yet, but Beth and I could both tell it was heading in that direction. And all the while, Doug was none the wiser. I would like to say that made me sad, or feel bad about what was happening, but young Ryo did not have the same morals that old Ryo has. Young Ryo kept thinking, “Hey, they aren’t married. She isn’t even officially an item with him. It’s still fair game.” I conveniently forgot that I had my own girlfriend to deal with.

That is, until that relationship came to a screeching halt. It was me that ended it. Cheryl, as I had mentioned previously, was just getting a little too crazy for my liking. And I knew, or at least thought, that I had Beth waiting in the wings. So it appeared to make perfect sense. It was time to cut the cord on Cheryl and be with the girl that I was spending most of my time with anyway. So, we had “the talk” one afternoon. It just so happened to be the same afternoon that Beth was around. How did I get myself in these situations?

As I told Cheryl I didn’t want to be with her anymore, she exploded. She said it was because of Beth and had a few choice words to say about her. I tried to explain that it wasn’t Beth, it was me. I just didn’t feel the same anymore. Deep in both of our hearts, though, we knew I was lying. Cheryl was in tears, almost pleading with me to stay together, and while I did feel for her, I stood strong as well. “We can’t be together anymore,” I said. She was devastated. She got out of my car and made a beeline for Beth, who happened to be nearby. She cursed her out and when Beth tried to explain that she and I weren’t an item, Cheryl was having none of it. She just got into her own vehicle and exited the scene. Beth and I looked at one another, neither of us certain of what to say.

I did not see Beth for the next few days. I realized it was because I had done the right thing making myself completely available, while she still had an ongoing “thing” with Doug. I spent the next few days to myself, working, seeing friends, and listening to For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge on an endless loop. At this point “Judgment Day” and “Top Of The World” were speaking to me the loudest. “Top of the World” rose above the rest as it created an avenue of hope for me. There was hope for the future and it was my hope that someday I would be on top of the world with Beth at my side. In order for that to happen though, we had to talk.

And so like a “Man On A Mission” I took the initiative and reached out to Beth. When I did make contact with her, I asked her why she had been avoiding me. She provided some lame response that she had been busy or some other such nonsense. She might as well have told me she was washing her hair. I told her that I missed her and that I wanted to see her again. She suggested lunch and thus our course was off once more. It was clear that she had missed me as well. After that lunch the roller coaster took off again. We started to see more and more of each other, and one evening while lying on the couch in my living room, the inevitable happened. We were “cuddling” tightly on the couch, enjoying each other’s company and just staring at one another, when I threw caution to the wind, leaned in, and kissed her hard on the mouth. With my heart thumping in my chest and “Spanked” ringing out in my head, she returned my kiss with equal passion. Whoa!

Apparently the kiss meant more to me than it did to her, because the next day, it was business as usual. She was still dating/not dating Doug, and I was still the extra in the soap opera of our lives. Even though we had taken the relationship up a notch, she didn’t want to change her status. And the more I spoke to Doug, the deeper he was falling for Beth. My conscience actually woke up and told me this was wrong.

It all came to a head while having a conversation with a mutual male friend who knew all of us, but none of what was transpiring. While speaking with our mutual friend, the conversation of Doug and Beth came up. Although uncomfortable with the subject matter, I couldn’t just shun the conversation. Our mutual friend told me that what Doug liked most about Beth was his feeling that she would never cheat on him. Hearing those words forced the wind out of my sails.

Our first make out session was clearly not our last one. And while we never raised our level of intimacy beyond long, lingering, passion filled kissing, we both knew that we could. Our moral compass stopped us thankfully. But, the fact that she was making out with me while spending time with Doug (and doing who knows what sexually with him) was still in the air like some stink filled laundry. And every time I brought the subject up she quickly diverted the topic. I was too much of a blockhead to hold my ground. I should have, but never did. That was when I knew I was being played.

Around this time, I started listening to “Runaround” over and over and over again. It was an extremely fitting song at that time in my life. Beth was giving me the runaround. She would promise me things and never deliver. She would talk about a future for us. There was even talk of us moving out of state together so we could pursue education (Illinois and Nebraska were bandied about). Basically we discussed running away together. And then, with a turn of the screw, she would be in Doug’s arms. She would be holding him. She may even have been talking about running away with him. What the hell was happening? Young Ryo was learning a hard lesson in life. Beth was giving me the runaround. And it sucked.

Now let’s travel back to the conversation with our mutual friend. After he laid that bombshell of a line on me, I got a little queasy. “Mickey,” I said. “We need to talk.” He looked at me with a sideways glance, unsure of what I was about to say. Then I dropped it on him. All of it. Right down to the makeout sessions. He was eerily quiet for a moment before sighing. “Well. That just figures.”

We talked until night became morning as I explained how awful I felt, but how hung up I was. I even told him about our plans to run away together, which was met with a deep, jovial belly laugh. It was not in any way mean spirited. It was a genuine laugh. He was extremely amused by that piece of information.  Our talk was highly productive and meaningful, because by the end of that evening, as the sun was rising in the East, I had come to the conclusion that I needed to be the one to do the right thing. I had to tell Beth that if she was going to continue to see Doug, then we couldn’t be together. Young arrogant me rationalized that of course she would stop seeing Doug after that demand. Young Ryo learned another hard lesson. Don’t give a woman an ultimatum.
The next night, Beth and I got together and I put it all on the line. I told her in no uncertain terms that she couldn’t have the best of both worlds. She needed to choose between Doug and me. It wasn’t fair to any of us for her to be selfish and want to be with both men. As I stood there smiling inside, knowing that she would ask me how to break the news to Doug, the unthinkable happened. She told me off. She turned it on me, telling me that I was being the selfish one and that she owed it to Doug for the two of them to stay together. I was speechless. Did that really just happen?

Unfortunately, it did. In an unbelievable ending to our summer romance, Beth put the kibosh on my ultimatum. She left, choosing Doug. In hindsight, I should have seen that coming, but young Ryo was dumb Ryo. I just didn’t know any better.

My summer went on and I continued to play For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge a lot, but other discs had slid into the mix as well. As my time with Beth instantly became less, my time spent with the new Van Halen album followed suit.

The last time I saw Beth was an odd moment. It was early September, neither of us had run away to the Midwest as we once plotted, and she was still with Doug---until that moment. She came into Roy Rogers (where I hung out even when I wasn’t working --- what a job!) near hysterics. She had tears running down her face and she came up to me immediately. I looked at Mickey, whom I was passing the time with, in a quizzical manner as Beth hugged me tightly. She invited me outside and of course I obliged.

Beth proceeded to tell me that she and Doug had split up. Her father basically made it happen and told her that they could not be together any longer. She wanted to secretly continue to see him on the sly, but she knew that if and when she got caught, it would just make things worse. She cried in my arms and begged me to let him back into the fold. She asked that I be there for him as a friend, because that is what he was going to need. She hugged me tight again and left me bewildered.  

Needless to say, Doug did come back into the fold. It wasn't the same as it ever was, but guys are very forgiving once the girl problems are out of the way. We move on rather quickly and just thrust ourselves into the next dramatic thing. For me, that would be finding my way in life and ultimately ending up in Cape Coral, Florida, on course for a new life. I never saw Beth again. That awkward moment in Roy Rogers was the last time I laid eyes on her. Yet, whenever I pull out For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and especially when I listen to "Runaround," I can close my eyes and see her as clear as day. It always takes me back.    

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