Hanging Out 2011: A Retrospective

by Scott Reu, cosmic adjunct to Gordon Sander.

10pm: Almost twenty Hangers file into the TV Room at Risley for the first event of the night, a Twilight Zone-a-thon. Gordon pitches us his book about Rod Serling. DVD technology fails us for the last time, and as a result we are only able to watch “King Nine Will Not Return” and “Time Enough At Last” before Gordon’s preliminary speech on Hanging Out. Gordon tells us that his first Hangers were LSD-powered Cornellians in need of a leader. They travelled around campus, looking for wonders in whatever places they could find them, only to end up at the top row of bleachers at Schoellkopf field at 5:30am, anticipating the sunrise. By 10am, when the sky was already light, but they had not yet seen the sun, these tripping Hangers were not so much Hanging Out as Freaking Out. One of them looked up to discover that they had accidentally positioned themselves on the wrong side of the stadium, facing west instead of east.

11:40pm: We line up to get into the bus which will take us to the Haunt, a local bar and grill. The bus driver gets lost and doesn’t arrive until about midnight. The bus has its own bouncer, who looks a lot like Keith Richards. As we pull away from the traffic circle in front of Risley, I discover that I’ve left the dome light on inside my car. I tell the bus of Hangers that this has happened and that I’m anticipating a dead battery. AIR Abe says, “I’ll help you out tomorrow, I’ve got jump cables.” I am careful at this point to notice that he did NOT say that he had a car to connect the cables to, but I try to forget about the disaster the morning may bring. We plummet into the valley at the maximum speed allowed by law.

12am: The drive to the Haunt is somewhat frightening, “like the Indiana Jones ride at Disney Land,” I muse to Courtney. The experience of rapid vertical descent coupled with the pervasive smell of pot do not inspire confidence, but we take comfort in knowing that it would be a cool way to die. Gordon has two basic instructions for when we arrive at the Haunt: “One: try to blend in. Infiltrate the crowd. Two: try to be as silly as possible. You know Monty Python, the Ministry of Silly Walks? THAT silly. Got it? Two things: blend in, be silly.”

12:30am: I rack the pool balls and go in for a solitary break. Gordon asks if I’d like to play 8-ball with him. Naturally, I do. I win the first game slowly and I lose the second game quickly. (Note: A hustler would let me win once and then get me to lay money on a second game, where he would roundly beat me and make a quick $20. Gordon’s approach was somewhat different. He did lose the first game and win the second game, but he didn’t get me to bet any money and, after we were done, he offered me a job.) We, collectively, discover that the Haunt is located on a dimensionally-displaced Louisiana Bayou, and that I can’t dance.

1am: We depart the Haunt on foot, aiming for a school playground a few blocks away. The swings are immediately snapped up by voracious and almost disturbingly giddy Hangers, so Courtney (ingeniously or foolishly) tries–quite successfully, I might add–to commandeer the kiddie swing. Then she almost dies trying to get out. Hat Ben comes along and does acrobatics on the kiddie swing, and when he’s done, Courtney announces that it’s my turn. I attempt to get onto the kiddie swing, but fail utterly, first finding myself literally horizontal and hanging on for dear life, and then finding myself crouched in the seat of the swing, too terrified to move another muscle. When I finally wrangle myself out of the swingset, I resolve not go near it again. Ever. [At this point, I start to tally the mounting number of times that Courtney gets me physically injured, which is at two after a descent of the nearby play-structure which leaves my knees in pretty rough shape.] At the end of our revels, Gordon congratulates us on not attracting any police attention like the Hangers of yesteryear had done on their field trip to this same park. We press onward.

2am: Gordon gives us 20 rules for life in an increasingly freezing-cold part of a park in Ithaca. Everyone huddles for warmth as we listen to Gordon telling us the importance of remembering where you put things. When we depart for the 24-hour State Diner, Gordon tells us that a nearby green space will be our last chance to run around in an open field for the evening. No sooner has the last syllable of that sentence passed through his lips than four people–myself included–make a mad dash for the open field, running aimlessly. I exclaim, “This is what it must feel like to be a dog! If you threw a tennis ball, I’d give chase!” [The Courtney injury count is at three as of this park incident. She was spinning around in circles, and I was running around, and there was...a collision.]

3am: We arrive at the State Diner only to find two burly men clad in “SECURITY” T-Shirts, telling us that the State Diner is closed for a couple of hours for undisclosed reasons. We aren’t quite sure what to do with that. Based on the total lack of police involvement at the scene, we conclude that no-one is dead and make for the Short Stop deli, where we fill up on coffee and Poor Man’s Pizzas. We take a taxi to Gordon’s apartment where the caffeine slog sets in.

4am: Gordon has given us some candles to light for our sunrise poetry reading. I become entirely transfixed with my candle, exclaiming occasionally, “Man, candles are GREAT! Aw, man…LOOK AT THIS THING!” We all tell our best dirty jokes, I tell a story about my dad almost being killed in a fire, and most everyone colors some pages from a Blue’s Clues coloring book with crayons. Everyone sings “American Pie” together, and we start to identify with the iconic “generation lost in space,” as we lose significant portions of our numbers to the creeping advances of mutual exhaustion. Tom falls asleep beneath a blanket constructed entirely of Blue’s Clues coloring book pages. At 4:45, Gordon tells us that it’s time to depart for the park.

4:45am: A college kid walking down the hill on which Gordon’s house is situated happens upon our group. “I’m not weird or anything,” he exclaims as we filter out of the house, “I was at a bad party up on the hill, and I came down here in search of a better one.” We tell him that he just may have encountered a better one.

Silviana: “How bad could the party have been if you left at 4:45am?”
Stranger: “Well, they threw me in a creek.”

As we light our candles for the sunrise poetry ceremony (which was to be conducted on the west-facing and aptly-named Sunset Hill), I sense a little nervousness in the stranger. Surely a little humor would cheer him up.

Me: “These candles are for our cult.”
Courtney: “Yes! We have a human sacrifice!”
Stranger (Not picking up on our hilarity): “Uh…”
Me: “Hey, Stranger, are you baptized? ‘Cause if you are, that ruins it.”

5am: We take our candles and our poetry down to SunSet Hill, which is damp with dew and chilled. Seven people read poems and stories, and we watch as the wax on our candles melts and runs down our fingers, imparting momentary warmth. At this moment, I feel a genuine, deep communion with my fellow-travelers, likely as not delivered through the sleep-deprivation of the evening or the mind-numbing cold. In that instant, I could see Gordon’s first group of Hangers, lost in a trip in 1970, facing the wrong way to watch the sunrise at Schoellkopf, riding a wave of LSD and hope for a peaceful, enlightened future–hope for a sunrise of a different sort. If you look down at the Libe Slope from Uris, in the right light, you can still see the place where that wave broke almost fifty years ago.

6am: When we finish, the sun has already technically risen, but the Sunset Park has one final parting gift for our company of tired Hangers: a gorgeous view of Cayuga and the valley in which Ithaca sits like a jewel. We take a commemorative photograph. Hat Ben, Courtney, and I wander back to Risley together, tired and cold and damp and reminiscing about the events of the night and the good things still to come on Sunday. When we arrive at the building, I see my car in the traffic circle. I expect a dead battery, owing to my earlier stupidity. I muse silently on the possibility of having to steal some electricity with Abe’s jump cables. “But, wait…” I think, hesitantly optimistic. I unlock my car door and open it. The dome light is still on.

I slide the key into the ignition and turn it. The starter motor complains. The spark plugs fire. The engine shudders into life.

[Thus is ended Hanging Out 2011,

for one pilgrim, at least.]

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