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Unexpected House Guests

Mike Petrillo

The Crashing of Leslie Fry’s Party, Literally

In order to appreciate the many subtle undercurrents of this story, one must understand the class distinctions or at least the distinctions in our class. Back in high school, we divided into cliques not based upon economic status, but based upon social and geographical lines. Camp Hill High School was middle class, very middle class, with a few upper middle class and perhaps a few lower middle class families thrown in to round it out. I lived in the Bowery of the town, and hung out with future poets, writers, and artists, oh, and a future East Asian Studies major. He plays the key role in a party we were never invited to. We were not the type that one would invite to a party, at least the Party variety. People had this perception of us that we were unpredictable (which we were) and capable (which we were) of doing something that might embarrass an unsuspecting Host or Hostess.

So, we weren’t expected to show up at Lee Fry’s house party. I suspect it was Kehew, only because I always suspect Kehew, who suggested crashing the party. We usual suspects piled into the Green Torino and drove over to Lee’s, over on the hilly road running aside the country club. It was winter and a thick coating of snow was on the ground. Despite the cold, Stump was dressed in a tee shirt with no sleeves and a straw cowboy hat. Being the perfect party guests, we brought along our own booze and several snacks. We filed politely up to the door and let Kehew do the talking. (It must have been his idea, yes?) Elmo pushed along side in the front, waving the booze high to prove we’d be no burden. Stump and I stood in the back of our crowd of six, partially hidden.

Meg Johnston answered the door, and only opened it a fraction to peek out. Safe. Kehew negotiated with Meg, using his swizzle baritone of voice of distinction. After a short parlay, we were admitted, although Meg was very tentative about letting us pass and her caution was confirmed when Stump tipped his cowboy hat in passing. I don’t remember everyone who was there, but I do remember us sitting in a circle around the living room (at least as circular as one could be in a rectangular living room) and quietly talking, drinking, and eating snacks. Our crowd exceeded the traditional seating capacity so things quickly got informal and we sat on the floor. We were just as comfortable on the floor as we would have been sitting on the furniture and everything started out with our group, yes, even Stump, on best behavior. To amaze everyone at the party, we were able to act normal and even conduct intelligent, pleasant conversation.

At some time in all this civility, Stump wandered back a hall that led to the dining room. This wall had quite a few framed pictures and Stump studied each of them very carefully. Leslie’s parents came home, and Leslie’s dad came down the hall, noticing a young man, holding a straw hat, absorbed in the pictures. I had stopped at the opposite end of hallway and I stood, listening to the longest conversation one of my classmates had ever had with another classmate’s parents. Leslie’s dad was a retired Army Colonel and Stump was fascinated with anything to do with the military. Impressed by Stump’s serious, well thought out questions (was Stump contemplating a military career?), Colonel Fry was very happy to answer and the two struck up a respectful repartee.

With their passageway conversation, the night took on a timeless, almost surreal tone. Sadly for the rest of us, the evening had ended. The crew, perhaps feeling that they had conquered Meg at the front door and were now reaching the limits of their civility and the end of their alcohol, the crew wanted to press on. Stump told us he wanted to stay and talk some more with Colonel Fry. How he’d get back from the Fry’s back to his house, across Country Club Hills and the park through all that snow, was unclear. We had witnessed Stump’s inner strength ability to withstand cold in near complete bareness; he was known to go for a winter run of five, six, ten miles in only shorts and his sneakers, finishing his cooldown by doing snow-angels in the roadside banks. The rest of us piled into the Torino and went home.

How long Stump stayed talking the military and memories, clutching his cowboy hat and drink, no one kept track. It was much later and he had decided to walk home. The direct path led directly through the Fry’s back yard. Their backyard was built up and rose to about the height of their next roof. The snow on the ground somewhat hid the fact that there was a transition from ground to house. (Also the amount of alcohol Stump drank may have had a small part in it).

Without a moment’s notice, Stump was walking across the top the neighbor’s snowcapped roof. The house, however, was shaped like an L. With no distinction between ground and sky, Stump simply walked directly off the L. He fell onto the neighbor’s patio. A few more feet and he would have landed in their pool. Without missing a step or changing direction, Stump staggered through the hedge in front of him and out to the front of the house. The experience motivated him to flag down a passing car to catch a ride the rest of the way.

It was a luck catch, for this was no ordinary passing car. It was a white and wood panel station wagon with a Confederate flag for the front license plate. The driver kindly offered to take the bloody, wounded Army guy back to his home across town. Here is the driver’s trustworthy, eye-witness account:

“I was driving cautiously, as I always do in snow conditions, when this body looming in a bush stood up, a bloody madman in white straw cowboy hat, waving his bloody hands for me to stop. His nose was bleeding and he looked like hell. He told me how he walked onto the roof and walked right off and he asked me if I could drive him home. I told Stump I would as long as he didn’t get any blood on the seats.”

Invited to the party at Lee Fry’s, Frans Barends was only then threading the wagon over slick streets to drop in and say hello. After all, he had been invited. It was a remarkable evening in the whole of it, how a group of misfits found their way into a Party and that the host and guests did not regret letting us in. In fact the party was very nice; and everyone had a good time, particularly Colonel Fry and Stump with their two hour mysterious conversation in the hallway. On the whole, there’s nothing truly amazing about Stump’s one step too far off a roof; he was always doing things like that. What was remarkable was the FBI doing a background investigation on Frans never discovered the blood.

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