Reprinted from another Christmas. Oh, the humanity.
I was in high school in the mid-seventies. It was the best of times; and on Christmas Eve in 1974, it was also the worst of times.
That night my friend Kenny Baker picked me up in his avocado-green Camaro after I had finished dinner with the family. It was cold and Baker’s car seemed even louder and shakier than usual.
We drove while the eight-track skipped through T Rex, “banging his gong.”
“Whatcha wanna do?” Baker asked me.
I didn’t really have a plan but remembered that a girl we knew in Park Hill asked me to drop in.
“Let’s go to Rita’s house,” I said.
Rita Ritchie lived in a large Spanish style home on Skyline Drive. Her dad was a doctor and there were a bunch of kids, eight or nine I think. Rita was my age while most of her siblings were older.
We pulled up in front of the house and had to park on the street because the big driveway was full.
“And the radio played that forgotten song, Brenda Lee coming on strong,” sang Golden Earring as Baker turned off the car, which revolted with a couple of violent shakes and a long whine.
The house was full of Ritchies, who warmly welcomed us in, all except for some leering brother-in-law I didn’t know.
Rita’s sister Carolyn handed us some punch and I went over to say hello to Dr. Ritchie, who was arguing with his youngest daughter Becca about what album to play next. He wanted “Al Martino’s Christmas Favorites,” while she lobbied for “Endless Summer” by The Beach Boys.
I left them to their debate and headed to the kitchen where I found Rita and her mother.
After a few minutes Rita took my hand and led me towards the den. I looked back in the living room and saw Becca pouting on the couch as Al Martino sang about Rudolph.
The den was full of people and Rita pulled me towards the crushed velvet white couch that was strangely unoccupied. If only it hadn’t been.
Behind the couch, on a table, sat an impressive and very large tropical fish tank, probably 65 or 70 gallons. Rita told me that the tank belonged to her brother-in-law and that the fish were supposed to be rare and expensive. I remembered the brother-in-law leering at Baker and me when we arrived.
Rita turned to talk with someone and I sat down on the couch, falling backward into the soft velvet.
But it was lower and softer than I judged and my head snapped back, like someone had rear-ended me. I felt something firm give way behind my head, accompanied by a sickening, cracking sound.
I looked across the room at Baker, whose face changed quickly to surprise as he saw the water from the fish tank pour onto my shoulders.
Then one of the girls screamed “Oh No!” and the terrible truth rushed over me. Oh the humanity.
I jumped up and chaos ensued as two of Rita’s brothers moved to the ends of the tank to try and save the poor couch.
The next thirty seconds seemed to last forever, and I heard things like:
“He broke it with his head!
“Who is that guy?”
“His head went through the aquarium!”
“Dad, come in the den, you won’t believe what happened!”
“It was him!”
“Don’t let him get away!”
“Feed him to the lions!!”
The aquarium I had killed lay on the floor in front of the couch. I wondered why they hadn’t taken it outside, but decided not to say anything, wondering if they really had lions.
I stared as the million-dollar fish flopped on the soaked shag rug. People scrambled to save them and I moved in to help. But when I saw one get squashed by a boot, I turned the other way.
Someone grabbed my hand and led me out of the melee. It was Rita. We walked outside and the last thing I heard was Brian Wilson singing, “Don’t Worry Baby, everything will turn out alright.” At least Becca was happy.
Baker followed, laughing uncontrollably. I hated Baker.
Rita said she thought maybe we should go. What a surprise.
Still stunned, I told Baker to take me home. He giggled as he started the Camaro.
“And the newsman sang his same song, one more radar lover gone.”
Later, Rita would tell me that they were able to save the couch but that all of the fish eventually died, including three that had gotten stepped on. She said it was OK though because her dad never really liked the aquarium anyway. I thought she was just trying to make me feel better, but changed my mind when she told me her brother-in-law wanted to kill me. I think he still does.
Jay Edwards is editor-in-chief of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.