The Rock began in a tool room in the back of Bebop’s garage. It was three backyards and two fences from mine.
The first addition was two wooden “bunks” mounted to the wall studs. With Bebop’s direction – it was his garage, after all – I cut some of the boards and hammered some of the nails (probably my Dad’s) with tools borrowed from my Dad’s collection.
It was full with three occupants, two reclining and one in the doorway. Anyone else had to be outside.
The Rock was a place to be with other pre-teen boys. Some came from less than middle-class neighborhoods, some from above middle-class but all within a mile. Most came on foot, a few on bikes. There were one or two kids from Lombardy Street where houses sat on multi-acre lots, had long driveways and brick-paved, covered patios in the middle of their back yards.
But the rich kids weren’t the core. To be in that core group, to belong to The Rock, you had to smoke, and you had to inhale. And you had to have parents that were relatively uninvolved and didn’t know much about what their kids were doing in the neighborhood. That, of course, wasn’t one of the rules. That’s just who tended to hang out there.
As the happenstance membership grew, a doorway was eventually cut through to the main part of the garage where a wood floor was hammered together from scrap and a wall erected cutting the garage in half. Three or four steel bunks with thin mattresses were added and, with the standing area in the middle of the now 10-10’ room, it was easy for a gang of more than half a dozen to accumulate, all smoking and exchanging dirty jokes.
For the most part, The Rock was just a place to be.
I passed a lot of time there. As it was in his backyard, I guess Bebop was there more than anyone else but I remember Jimmy Butler and Redus and Jackie as well as other faces with time-faded nicknames at The Rock.
In the second summer, a single bare light bulb hanging from a wire connected to an extension cord thrown through the trees and snaked into the house through a screen window was added but the light was usually off because it revealed the shabbiness, the bare mattresses, the full ash trays that were the true indicators of the value of time spent there.
Winters in Memphis can be sub-zero at night and only in the teens in the daytime. One winter, a plugin electric heater was added. It rendered the uninsulated, drafty Rock survivable for a cigarette or two but no more. And we all knew the wooden structure would go up in an instant – ash tray use was always enforced – so the heater discipline was similarly strict.
After a few years as most of us became teens and the oldest started driving, beer and hard liquor were added to the mix. With multi-year accumulations of old Playboy and Hustler magazines and zero adult supervision, it was pretty much anything goes in The Rock. A few girls were said to have visited the place.
My parents eventually forbade my going there.
The Rock came up once amongst my Facebook “friends” many decades later and, at first, the stories were regarded with some prurient excitement as we reflected back on our by then long-lost youth.
But eventually I felt it only right to report how it really was.
The Rock was not a nice place, nor a valuable place, and certainly not one that would receive parental approval.
But, I must confess, there are times when an escape, even if a bit on the shabby side, can still be pretty nice.
Today, I can recall a ramshackle road-side diner in Alabama, a dusty pub out in the Devonshire countryside or a tiny but not particularly well kept sushi bar a few blocks from Shibuya station and experience the same welcome absence of ennui as I did at The Rock.