It was raining cats and dogs the morning of January 24, and Carl was almost late for class. He cut through the west wing of Mount Clef Inn. As he approached the exit, the door to room 401 opened and out came Nicole D'Amato -- whom Carl has admired from afar. Carl held the hallway door open for her and she thanked him and asked, "Wanna share an umbrella?" The two walked down Memorial Parkway, chatting away. It was the year's best moment.
At this point, Carl began to notice something out of place about this whole year. Why, if he were only living in room 431 as originally planned, he probably would have noticed in time just what a gem Nicole really was. Now, thanks to Hercules having changed the room assignment, it was too late. She was spoken for. The room assignment change sent things clear off in another direction, and he spent the rest of the year pining away for the lost opportunity of winning Nicole's heart. However, he kept Winslow in the
back of his mind.
One day in April, Hercules asked him if he wanted to work for TOP theater during the summer. Before the initial shock had worn off, Dr. George Richter passed by. He was in charge of TOP Theater and Hercules introduced him to Carl. They shook hands but Carl said very little, although he agreed to an interview.
At first, Carl didn't know how he’d get out of this one. If he got stuck working at TOP, he'd be living with Hercules for practically the whole summer -- a situation he'd rather avoid. Then his brain kicked into action and he came up with a plan to squeak his way out of it.
Several nights later they went to a building in downtown Thousand Oaks for the interview. Dr. Richter interviewed Hercules first. Then came Carl's turn. Come on dude, put on a good timid act, Carl thought, as he faced Dr. Richter and Dr. Michael Arndt, the Drama Department Head, who was also a co-interviewer. Carl answered the questions with only the most basic replies, quite often using only three- or four-word answers and talking in a soft, unsure voice.
On the way home, Hercules told Carl that he listened in on the interview and thought that Carl probably wouldn't get the job. Carl outwardly looked concerned, but inwardly he was glad that Hercules thought this way, because it gave him hope that his plan had worked.
Sure enough, it had. A couple of weeks later Hercules got the notice that he was hired, but that they didn't think Carl was ready for the job. As Hercules left the room to go to class, Carl heaved a sigh of relief. Safe for the summer. [editor’s note: ha ha.]
The last week in June, Carl's parents were on a business trip to Arizona. He had the house to himself. On June 27, the phone in the living room rang. Instead of answering it, he went to the phone in the den which was on another line. As the living room phone kept ringing, he dialed Herc's number to see if this was him trying to call. Sure enough, the number was busy. He didn't answer the phone.
The phone rang again about an hour later, and he repeated the same trick, which he calls the "back-door technique." (Caller ID was still a decade away.) This time, Hercules's line started to ring and Carl slammed down the den phone and ran to the living room. His parents were on the other line.
The next day, he drove to the Gorilla Fireworks stand at Woodruff & Del Amo. He saw Mike Maricle there, and John Penman in a promotional gorilla suit, and started planning for another trip to Catalina.
Craig came over the next day. He told Carl about a telemarketing job open at Time-Life books. It was less than a mile from Carl's house so he could walk there. Carl called and made an appointment for an interview. They could see him on July 7 at 5 p.m.
Less than twenty minutes later, the phone rang. Carl, not wanting to push his luck with the back-door technique, soon wished he had. It was Hercules, and Carl had to drive to Thousand Oaks to see a movie.
They wound up spending the whole holiday weekend at Carl’s house.
On the Fourth of July, they drove back to Thousand Oaks. As they pulled up to the house, Hercules noticed a piece of paper taped to the front door. He got out of the car and told Carl to wait.
He went to the door, read the note, took it and hustled back to the car, visibly upset.
The sky had fallen in.
The note was for Hercules. Due to his apparent lack of concern about TOP Theater, and partially because Dr. Richter had difficulty getting hold of him, he was fired. The note further instructed Hercules to turn in his Cyrano script and his key to the house.
Carl knew right then that the summer of 1983 was finished. If Hercules couldn't get the job back, he'd have to live with Carl the whole summer. It would be a long, hot two months in hell.
Hercules talked to Dr. Richter but failed to persuade him to reconsider. Two of the reasons Dr. Richter gave were that Hercules was "more concerned with hanging around with Carl," and complaints about Carl staying at the house on Marian Avenue.
The two drove back to Santa Monica. Carl told his parents of the situation and they unfortunately agreed to let Hercules stay at the home until the start of the fall semester.
Graduation Dream Comes True For America's Little Princess
The afternoon of July 29 Carl, his mother and Hercules went to a supermarket in Venice. Thumbing through the August 2 issue of the Enquirer, he happened on something on the next-to-last page that would give him renewed desire to get away:
Right in the middle of the 1983 tribulation, a new article on Denise Gottlieb had hit the stands.
According to the article, she had graduated on May 25 -- at age 19 -- from Winslow Junior High School. She was two inches taller and had gained 3½ lbs. since she was 17. This time, there were only two photos of her; one in a dress standing with four other girls, and a flashback photo from the 1967 article showing her dwarfed by a doll.
The article gave no indication of a boyfriend, so there was still hope -- and that's just what Carl needed in the middle of this, the worst period in his life -- a reason to go on.
Nice of you to drop in like that, Denise. Come back anytime.
Hercules went back to Cal Lutheran on schedule despite almost getting kicked out of the house when Carl let his parents in on the way Herc was treating him. Things started to return to normal.
Carl had already let Hercules know of plans for Mid-September, including the upcoming wedding of his cousin Noreen*. The following Wednesday night, Carl and Craig drove to CLC in separate cars (dropping off the Berlin photos at Sav-On on the way) and drove home together in Craig's car. Carl's dad was not too happy about this; he was sure the car would not be in such great shape when Hercules returned it.
The next day, the family flew to JFK airport and stayed with various relatives in preparation for the big day. They bought Carl some new clothes and shoes just for the wedding.
Saturday, September 17: Hundreds of onlookers filed into the cathedral to see Thomas Scarlatti take Noreen Knudsen in holy matrimony. In the middle of the ceremony, something got stuck in Carl's throat and he developed a loud, unstoppable cough. He was a little embarrassed and ashamed to face his cousin for a few moments, but she understood.
During his one-week stay in New York, he got the love and support he needed to end the disastrous “friendship” with Hercules once and for all. His mother told a few of his relatives about what went on during the summer. Later, talking with his cousin Anne, she revealed that she too had had a problem with a domineering friend, although not nearly as severe as Carl's. Anne is to be credited the most for giving Carl the encouragement needed to break it off.
After they boarded a plane for Los Angeles, Carl shed a few tears as the plane left the ground. He didn't want to leave New York with all the love and support, but he had to. He had a demon to face.
The plane touched down at LAX early that evening, September 21. Although it was the second anniversary of the best day of Carl's life, he barely stopped to reflect on how far he'd fallen since then. Jennifer was long gone. Denise had been pushed into the background, in light of recent events. Nicole remained an impossible dream.
Hercules mentioned that the best way for Carl to give him
screwup pay was to forfeit to him 25 percent of everything he made at Road Runners. Carl just said okay, but the incentive to leave the place was kindled. He'd leave tomorrow.
He spent the night at Kramer 1 and the next morning the two of them went out for breakfast. On the way back, Hercules mentioned that there was a dance the next night, and to bring up some more of his stuff on Monday. When they got back Carl tried to call Road Runners and bill the call to his parents' phone. His mother refused to accept the charges.
By all practical standards, there wasn't really anything keeping Carl chained to Hercules at this point. Thanks to the emotional support from his family back east, and faced with the possibility of losing 25% of his pay, he was pretty sure that today, September 23, would be the day he’d finally break away from Hercules Simpson –- the long hoped-for Liberation Day. And what better date than this -- it would cancel out that dark September 23 of two years earlier. Poetic justice of a sort.
The most fitting thing he could do now would be to go home and yell out the last lines from that famous 1963 civil rights speech: "Free at last, Free at last." He didn't think of it though. Besides, King had a dream. Carl was just awakening from a long nightmare.
Around 9:30 he got in the car and drove away. As he turned the corner by Regent's Building to go toward Faculty Street, a beautiful sight caught his eye: walking up the grass hill by the teachers' offices at Regent's, there was Nicole -- all decked out in a dress. Her eyes never looked so pretty.
Meanwhile, Carl's parents were making arrangements for him to go to New York and live with his aunt and uncle. At first, his mother suggested they have his car shipped back east but he protested, insisting on driving there himself.
Wednesday, Carl didn't go to work. The plan for New York was being finalized. His uncle Ron knew someone who worked at UPS in Manhattan. There might be a job for Carl there. He'd be leaving on Friday, September 30.
In two days.
He took a little time off from work and his parents took him and Greg to the Auto Club, where a route was mapped out from Santa Monica almost to White Plains. Part of the route took him down Interstate 40 -- right through Winslow, Arizona! (remember that place?)
Later, Carl's parents took him and Greg out for lunch. Carl's dad even financed the trip out of love and concern, loaning him a whopping $800 in traveler's checks. Carl went back to Road Runners and explained the present situation. He was well-liked there, so they were pretty cool about his giving only two days' notice. Greg and Craig were a little disappointed.
* (Names of relatives have been changed.)
Friday finally arrived. It seemed that it was too soon. He had not packed very much; everything was happening so fast. Around 10 that morning his dad called from work. Carl told him that he was first going to Thousand Oaks to pick up some pictures. His father told him to hurry up, because "it's not just your life that's at stake here. It's your soul."
He drove to Thousand Oaks to pick up the new prints of the Berlin photos. After he got the pictures he decided to take a chance on getting one final copy of the Echo. He drove to the CLC campus, parked near the Nelson Room, jumped out, ran to the newsrack by the cafeteria, grabbed a paper and raced back to the car. He drove off without anyone ever suspecting a thing.
The phone didn't ring again all day. Carl was finally ready to go by mid-afternoon. After a few hugs and kisses, his mother said, "The great adventure begins!" and at 4:30, he was off -- but first, he had two items of unfinished business to attend to.
On the way to New York, he stopped by Road Runners and picked up his paycheck -- all of $140 because of all the time off. He had one more check coming; he told the boss to send it to his Aunt Rose in Peekskill. Then he went to the pawn shop on Second Street to try and buy back the gold rings. It was too late. They'd been sold to another pawn shop across town, which by this hour must have been closed. But Carl was in a hurry to get out of there, so he headed east as it got dark.
After as stay at a friend's house in Yorba Linda, Carl strayed from the Auto Club route a bit and stopped in Las Vegas. Heading into Arizona, he stopped at Hoover Dam and took a few pictures, then ate dinner in Kingman.