I met Thomas when we ditched school together. We were 16, and my friend Scott and I had planned to skip out after homeroom and take Scott’s 1978 Corvette out to Palo Duro Canyon for a day of sunshine and freedom. In homeroom, Scott said, “Thomas McKenzie is gonna come with us.” I shrugged and said okay like I knew who Thomas McKenzie was. I was really wondering how someone was going to cram themselves into the cubby behind the Corvette’s two seats. But Thomas did, and we had a grand time. Later, Scott and Thomas’s parents found out and ratted out their sons to the principal, to teach them a lesson. They had to serve three days of detention, but neither said a word about me. I had a new friend. With such a beginning, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Thomas and I blew up a gas station together a couple years later.
|Thomas and Robert, partners in crime c. 1991|
My friendship with Thomas was forged in our peculiarities. Teenage boys in small-town Texas who loved literature and film and the arts, were politically progressive, came from educated high-culture families, had a passion for the Christian faith and talking theology, and didn’t play football was a rare mix. I had actually torn up my knee playing football, but Thomas had no athletic ability whatsoever, and didn’t really care. When he was the editor of the school newspaper, he wrote a scathing editorial attacking the student body’s forced attendance at pep rallies, that we all were called out of class each Friday and made to march to the gym to offer our tribute to the football team. Needless to say, this did not go over well, and Thomas was threatened with more than a few ass-kickings. Ironically, Thomas would become an avid and knowledgeable football fan. But such contradictions were part of the mixture that made our friendship inevitable—some cosmic alignment that gave each of us exactly the gravity we needed for growing up.
In the following years we were inseparable. We were in classes together, played in the band together, sang in the choir together, acted in theater productions together. Every great film released during the late 80s and early 90s, we saw together. Most Friday or Saturday nights—and weeknights during the summers—my band held late-night jam sessions in a church. They were social affairs, with friends hanging out while we chugged through our Christian rock songs. Thomas was always there, laughing and running around with the others and often acting as “director” of goofy videos. Afterwards, several of us would pile into someone’s car or truck and go out to one of our favorite spots to look up at the starry Texas sky and have deep talks about God and life and rock n’ roll. Sometime close to sunrise we would end up crashing at one of our houses, usually mine—four or five teenaged boys asleep on the living room floor.