Pine Nuts: Grounded for life |

Pine Nuts: Grounded for life

Johnnie Walker (real name) was the coolest dude in our 1957 eighth-grade class. He liked girls and girls liked him, at a time when most the rest of us boys still thought girls were yucky.

Mr. Lawrence was our teacher. His diagramming of a sentence could put a cow to sleep, and who cared if I split my infinitives, anyway. John suggested to me at recess that we cut school the following morning and ride the Hound into Oakland to buy us some cherry bombs down in China Town for the Fourth of July.

I liked that idea and suggested, “Yeah, and we could be the first in our class to be served a beer.”

“Cherry bombs & beer! What time?” asked John.

“Eight o’clock … the Hound stops in front of the Casa at eight.”

“See you there …”

That bus ride into Oakland with John was the first time I had tasted complete and unfettered freedom, and I was unspeakably happy. We disembarked at the corner of 13th and Broadway, which was the poor side of town, and we must have looked like a couple of turnips that fell off a truck.

With a quick hand-jive of rock-scissors-paper, I won the honor of walking into a Broadway bar at nine o’clock in the morning and ordering a beer. Mind you, at 14 I looked 12, having a pencil neck and the look of a still suckling child. This was going to be a monumental task. To pull it off I would have to become, well, John Wayne …

I walked into that bar with my John Wayne swagger, that is to say, one leg at a time. The bar was empty, save the barkeep at the far end of a long dark room. I took a seat on the first stool and stared at the dirty brown bar. I was wishing I had drawn a mustache on my upper lip, then remembered John Wayne did not have a mustache. It occurred to me as the barkeep approached that I was going to have to look him straight in the eye and make my order like I had done it so many times before, in the movies.

“What’ll ya have?” I heard him ask in an uninterested way.

I glanced up and gave that barkeep a look I saw John Wayne give a gun fighter in the movie, “The Searchers.” And I ordered the first beer of my life …

“Gimmie a Schiltz!”

“Schiltz, huh? Schiltz?! You mean Schlitz? Getouttahere!!”

I staggered out like I had been shot in the chest.

John took one look at me and didn’t ask, nor did he volunteer to give it a try himself. Instead we elected to move along to China Town in search of some cherry bombs, which we were actually able to acquire …

Our Greyhound ride back to Orinda was not as ebullient as our ride into Oakland, but we figured one out of two wasn’t bad for our first time over the county line, and we entertained ourselves with schemes of what we might do with our cherry bombs on the Fourth of July.

At the Orinda Crossroads we split our Chinese booty and parted ways to hitchhike home. I got a ride with a stranger. John got a ride with our teacher, Mr. Lawrence, who took him right to his front door, and walked him into the house. By the time I arrived home, John’s mom had called my mom and we were grounded for the remainder of our natural lives …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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