The Junk-Food Junkies

DoritosA few years back, while I was working at KS, there was a group at work collectively known as “The Proofreaders.” They were working on a contract basis, proofreading documents from a long-term project the department was developing. They had one cubicle between the four of them, and spent most of their time poring over documents spread out all over the conference table.

Now there was nothing wrong with my permanent co-workers; they were excellent people one and all, and great colleagues. But I found that I had a good deal more in common with The Proofreaders than with most of my regular co-workers, and was drawn to spend time with them.

For one thing they were closer to my age, and thus had experiences, musical tastes, etc., closer to my own than had the majority of my coworkers. Also they had similar educational backgrounds: we were all college graduates, and humanities majors to boot. We went out to lunch together occasionally, and would often spend a spare minute or two chatting in the hall. On one particular day I remember, we talked about our “first concert,” and we all had fairly similar “first concert” experiences (and all within a couple of years of each other).

The dynamic of feeling more bonded to a group of temporarily-inside “outsiders” than to the members of my more permanent group reminded me of a thing that happened years before, when I was in Sea Scouts — the summer I was 14. I had just joined Sea Scouts earlier that school year, and didn’t know too many people there.

Our flagship vessel was the Argo, from which our “ship” (an organization equivalent to an Explorer post or a Boy Scout troop) took its name. The Argo was (hopefully still is) a 50-foot WW1-vintage open boat that had been fitted with a deck and an abovedeck cabin. It slept 17, had two seawater heads, a diesel-powered stove, and carried two rowboats on the aft deck. It had a wonderful old-fashioned brass telegraph (similar to this one) connecting the bridge with the engine room, a four-foot solid brass helm, and an old Caterpillar engine that pushed us 8 knots flat out with a following sea. It took us a while, and we all smelled like diesel when we got there, but we got there.

The ship was divided into two crews. The younger crew, known as “Argo 2” and of which I was a member, was at the time comprised of high school freshmen and sophomores; the older crew, “Argo 4,” of juniors and seniors. In the summer, it was customary for one or both of the crews to take the Argo on a long excursion up to the San Juan or Gulf Islands.

That summer, the older group was taking a 10-day cruise up to Princess Louisa Inlet, a strikingly picturesque fjord in the near-wilderness north of Vancouver, B.C. Although Argo 2 was not taking its own cruise, any of us who wanted were invited to go on the Argo 4 cruise. I was the only Argo 2 member who accepted the offer. Also going on this cruise were three people from another ship entirely. These were Eric Rasmussen, his sister Tami, and their friend Bill Pugh. They were all high school upperclassmen, and hence roughly the same age as the Argo 4 crew. I was the odd man (well, boy) out at 14.

My fellow Argonauts were more “my people” than these three guests — they were permanent members of the same ship as I, whereas Eric, Tami and Bill were only temporary visitors. But as with The Proofreaders years later, I was definitely drawn to these three outsiders. For one thing there was (may still be) a certain animosity between kids from Renton, a mostly working-class town that I called home, and Bellevue, which had a larger percentage of white-collar and professional-class workers. All the Argo 4 kids were from Bellevue. No such animosity existed between Renton and Kirkland, where E, T & B were from. (Possibly in part because they weren’t in our high school sports league.) Also we all had a sort of neo-hippie outlook which was distinct from the proto-yuppiness of the Bellevue kids.

Whatever the reason, we hit it off. Before the cruise was half over I found myself spending all of my free time with Eric, Tami, and Bill. Because of our common love for Dr. Demento songs and a certain incident with a bag of Doritos, we called ourselves the Junk Food Junkies, from a song played on that radio show. The four of us often left the rest of the crew and went rowing when we were in port. At Princess Louisa, for example, we rowed out into the middle of the inlet and they taught me to sing “Girl” by the Beatles, and “Taxi” by Harry Chapin. When we were in Roche Harbor, we hitchhiked together to a printing shop owned by one of Bill’s relatives, and from there into Friday Harbor at the far end of the island.

It was definitely a delight to a little 14-year-old to be taken under the wing by a group of very cool (well to me they were cool) older kids, who (mirabile dictu!) seemed to enjoy my company as much as I did theirs.

Of course once the cruise was over, in spite of exchanging phone numbers and addresses, we fell out of touch, just as I no longer have any contact with The Proofreaders. But the magic of that cruise, and being part of the Junk Food Junkies, has been in my heart ever since. I can never hear John Lennon sing, “giiiirrrrlllll” without thinking of that very short but very special part of my youth. So if you’re out there, Eric, Tami, and/or Bill, thank you very much!

Copyright © 2005-2012 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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