I moved back to my hometown of La Crosse, WI in 1988 after living in Phoenix the previous year. My parents had sold the house I grew up in, so I had to go out and get my first apartment on my own for the first time. It was a small studio/efficiency apartment – basically one large room with a separate bathroom.
I was working at the La Crosse Country Club, working outdoors was always nice. Life in the apartment was boring – I’m a socially needy person, and outside of work I didn't have much to do. Most of my high school buddies joined the service or headed off to college. After a couple weeks an old friend named Brian Graef moved back to La Crosse. We were very close in age, and our mothers became fast friends when they were both pregnant at the same time. Brian's folks had moved away while he was still young, but he came to visit his maternal grandparents every summer, and I'd always stop over to see him.
Well, it turns out Brian had just finished a very brief stint in the Navy. His goal was to fly fighter jets, so he enlisted! A few weeks after shipping out for Basic Military Training (BMT) he was back in La Crosse, and he didn't want to talk about the Navy. We quickly decide to be roommates to share the rent, utilities, and have a little comradery.
At first things were nice. Brian got a job working at Rocky Rococo’s as the overnight cleaner, while I worked at the golf course. He'd just be coming home from his shift when I'd be getting up in the morning, and he'd sleep afternoons while I was at work. We had evenings to hang out. We couldn't go out to the bars because we were only twenty, but I did show him some of the highlights of the city.
I rode my bicycle everywhere because I couldn’t afford car insurance, and Brian rode his bicycle because he didn’t own a car. Brian told me stories about riding to nearby towns, and I’d tell him I didn’t believe him. It surely wasn't a good idea to ride a bicycle from La Crosse to Stoddard and back, you'd be sure to get sideswiped. I challenged him on his ride to Coon Valley and back (35 miles round trip). I asked him a few questions about the highway. distance, and his times -- his answers didn’t add up.
I challenged him right then-and-there to ride to Coon Valley and back. Reluctantly he accepted my dare, or he'd have been a real chicken in my book. We started off, and it began to rain, so Brian asked,
“Do you want to quit and try it another day?”
I told him something to the effect that a house never fell on my sister, so I wasn’t about to melt! We continued on. My front tire slipped out on a turn and I got a really nasty road rash on my knee. Brian asked again if I wanted to do it another day, and I offered back,
“It’s only a scratch. I ain’t got time to bleed!”
The ride went up Irish Hill, a long steep hill that lasts for 10 grueling miles. My knee was still bleeding pretty good, so I tore the bottom of my shirt off to wrap it around my leg. Brian was well ahead of me during the climb up Irish Hill, but I blew past him on the top of the hill, when the road became flat again. He was a better climber, and I was faster in the flats on the way to Coon Valley. I stopped at the edge of the city, pointed into town and said this was it, unless he wanted to go deeper into town.
Brian was huffing and puffing and generally looking like he needed a nap. I wanted to get home in time to catch the 10:30 rerun of M.A.S.H., so I told him,
“I’m heading down the hill and I’m not going to wait, unless you need me to?”
He didn't, so I raced back, going very fast down Irish Hill, and made it home with plenty of time before the show started. Within a half-hour of relaxing, my knee started to swell, stiffen, and get really sore. It was still worth it.
My knee was so sore and stiff the next morning, I could hardly move it at first. I was in agony for the next three days. I had to tough it out at work, and had no choice but to ride my bike everywhere I went, because I still had no car insurance. Brian was careful as to when he’d challenge me on stuff from that point on.
Brian quickly made a few friends – Jay Mohledal and Russell Beatty from Altus, Oklahoma. My introduction to Russ and Jay was arriving home earlier than expected, from an out-of-town wedding, and seeing a party at the apartment. I left a horrible first impression on them, and they left a horrible first impression on me. I yelled at Russ for riding my bike in the parking lot. I entered the apartment and proceeded to yell at everyone. I yelled at people spilling Mountain Dew on my records, and other crap going on that was unacceptable to me. Within minutes everyone thought I was an asshole. The party died down, and everyone went home.
Over the next few weeks I talked Jay and Russ, and we started to become friends. Jay and Russ lived with Jay's mom. Jay's mother was a nurse at Gunderson Clinic in town, and she never seemed to mind the whole bunch of us to hanging out and raiding her refrigerator.
Well, one day the boys told me about Brian’s plan to fly them to Minneapolis for a weekend, because he was a pilot and flew the company Learjet for Heileman’s. Heileman’s was a brewery, at the time the country’s third largest, and their corporate HQ was in La Crosse. I explained to the guys it was total bullshit, Brian was the night cleaner for Rocky Rococo’s, a local deep dish pizza joint and the closest he ever came to getting a pilots license was when the Navy send him back to Wisconsin on a plane (after washing out). They asked me to explain a few other dubious claims he made, all of which were bullshit.
Soon Jay & Russ were my friends, and Brian was the outsider. Brian quickly gained the nickname Penis, and we refused to call him anything else. I wouldn't hand the phone over or take a message unless they called him Penis. The boys were sick of all his lies, and so was I. So, we made a game out of avoiding him. We hung out at Jay’s mother’s house and ate everything in site. We made fun of Jay’s younger troubled sister Leah - times were good! Jay’s mother's nursing instinct took over and she got sick of the games we played to avoid Brian, and she wanted us out of the house. We'd get her or Leah to answer the phone when Brian called and say we weren't around. Sometimes we'd claim to be going to a certain place at a certain time, only to lead Brian to the opposite end of town, with no intention of showing up. One night Jay's mom told us we had to hang out with him, or get banned from her refrigerator. No more free food!
By this time Brian had a second job working for Low Lincoln-Mercury. He spent his days polishing and moving cars around the dealership. Earlier that day he had to drive to Winona, MN with another dealership employee to pick up a 4-wheel drive Jeep and drive it back to La Crosse. The rule was if you got back and the dealership was closed you take that vehicle home for the night.
Well, Brian called, we took the call and told him to pick us up in the fancy new 4WD Jeep so we could all go to the movies. It was a Tuesday so we went to the theater for dollar night. I don’t remember what movie we saw, but afterwards we went for pizza and then to Goose Island State Park.
We arrived at the park a few minutes before the 11:00 closing time. We got Brian to do spin-outs on the park’s flat snowy areas a few times. Later I spotted an open field and told Brian to head down there so he could race all over the place. We told him there was no way he'd get this bad-ass Jeep stuck - they were made for terrain like this! The Jeep got stuck faster than cop can eat a doughnut.
Brian tried to rock the Jeep back-and-forth a few times attempting to get unstuck. He failed, then we elected him to walk back into the Town of Stoddard to call for a tow truck. Jay, Russ, and myself stayed behind. Jay and Russ always argued with each other about who knew more about cars, so when Brian was gone they to rock the Jeep again by quickly switching from drive-to-reverse. I stood outside and watched this folly unfold.
A few minutes of this will make your transmission get VERY hot. The heat combined with a tiny leak of transmission fluid caused a small grass fire under the Jeep. I never saw the boys from Oklahoma move so fast as when they abandoned the Jeep, and ran for cover before the Jeep exploded. It never exploded, and the fire was smaller than the average doorstep poop-bag on fire. I smothered the fire by kicking some snow on it.
After what seemed like an eternity, Brian arrived with the tow. Brian was quickly in his mode where he was telling the tow operator how to properly do his job. The operator had the look on his face where like he was about a minute from killing him and leaving his corpse for the coyotes. A few minutes later Deputy Bakalars showed up. He was a well known as the no nonsense deputy who patrolled the park. He allowed kids to be kids, as long as they didn't place themselves in danger or destroy the park. He looked the other way over underage drinking, and sex. That earned trust, among the kids that frequented the park. Bakalars questioned Brian for about a half hour away from the tow driver, allowing him to get his job done and get the Jeep back on the road and out of the park. That time, being questioned away from the tow operator, may have saved his life.
Deputy Bakalars then came to us while Brian was settling the bill with the tow guy. He told us the story Brian explained, about swerving to miss a deer. We all backed his story, wanting to show a united front. If we could pass muster with Baklars, we could get home and stay out of jail, for intentionally trying off-roading in the park. Bakalars had one more question for us,
“Boys, did that deer have fucking wings?”
“Yes sir, it did!”
On the way home the transmission made an awful racket. Russ told Brian,
“It could be the transmission?”
More about Brian Graef: He was born in La Crosse, WI in 1968 as Brian Sciborski. He changed his name to Brian Graef after his mother remarried and his step-father adopted him. He was in the Navy for a very short period of time, maybe two weeks (washed out). He dated a girl we nicknamed Boner (because she was so ugly no guy could have a boner in her presence). He enjoys airplanes, jets, and air shows. He may tell you he is a pilot - whether or not he has a license to fly. He lived in La Crosse, WI during the summer and fall of 1988. I had no idea what happened to Brian after our lease was up, I lost track of him, until recently. I had always assumed he was the most likely person I knew to be married to a woman with a pronounced Adam's Apple, but it appears he is married to a real woman (unverified). Her name is Peggy (same name as his mother, can you say Oedipus Complex). In case he is lonely please give him a call, or write him a postcard...
Jay Mohledal was originally from Altus, OK - I met Jay Mohledal after he moved to La Crosse, WI with Russell Beatty sometime during the fall of 1988. Jay was in the Marine Corps for a short time. I lost track of him after he moved back to Altus, OK. I think he was trying to reunite with his high school sweetheart. Jay was very well known for sleeping in very late. Once, he slept his entire Thanksgiving break from work, missing turkey dinner and everything. Today he runs a hotel in Texas and has three kids with his wife.
Russell R. Beatty was originally from Denton, TX, but moved to Altus, OK. He moved to La Crosse, WI with Jay Mohledal. Russell R. Beatty likes cars, weightlifting, and 80's rock music. Russell joined the Army and was on the National Honor Guard. Russell R. Beatty was a Kirby vacuum sales person for a couple of weeks.
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