July 4, 1976
At the time of the Bicentennial July 4th, I was working at the Mystik (adhesive) Tape factory in Northfield, Illinois, across the street from New Trier West High School.
I worked the graveyard shift — the only machine operator in the consumer tape department, making long, log-like rolls of tape that were later sliced, carrot-like, into various widths of tape and placed in dispensers. I had started there as a materials handler about 18 months earlier, and despite the overnight hours, the graveyard-shift job was a small step up and more money.
My work week started at 11 p.m. Monday night and didn't end until 7 a.m. Saturday morning, so my weekends didn't really start until about 1 p.m. Saturday, after I got up.
On the Bicentennial weekend, I was already primed to party well before going to work Friday night. My parents and sisters were, for some inexplicable reason, visiting relatives in Canada on the occasion of the American Bicentennial. They asked me to stay in their house next to the Glencoe Beach and “keep an eye on your brother and the house.” My brother and I viewed this as an automatic license to party … heh, heh, heh.
My brother played in a rock band and we rigged his band's P.A. system to a reel-to-reel tape deck, with very large speaker cabinets placed in open third-floor windows facing Lake Michigan. We had spent a good deal of time transferring our album collections to four-hour tapes — everything from the Beatles and Stones, to the Dead and Jefferson Airplane — and healthy doses of the Who and Led Zepellin — mixed with the Eagles, Poco, Linda Ronstadt — and even some Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie.
On my way home from work at 7 a.m. that Friday, Richard Murphy, a younger friend who had driven non-stop from Colorado in his Bronco, pulled me over along Glencoe Road. He thrust two cases of 16 oz. Coors beer into my hands, with the words, “Don’t worry, I’ve got 18 more cases in the back … get these cold … the party starts tomorrow … now I gotta go get some sleep.” This was in the days when Coors wasn’t legally distributed in Illinois. And well before I developed a more refined taste in beer.
I went home, completely cleared out the half-size refrigerator in my small apartment, and filled the fridge with my windfall (who cared about food — this was Coors!!). Work passed in a blur of anticipation that night, different from the usual sleep-deprivation blur that characterized every other night of the year I worked the graveyard shift.
When I got off work that Saturday morning, I went home, immediately cracked the first of many, many beers I drank in the next 36 hours, and called Richard’s older brother Tom (who’s my age and a closer friend to me than Richard) at their parents’ home. Tom had, wisely, flown from Colorado with his girlfriend, arrived the night before, was well-rested and very ready to party.
Tom and Richard’s parents (who lived just a block from my parent’s house at the foot of Hazel Avenue) were patient people who tolerated a good deal of foolishness, so they hardly blinked when I was at their door at 9 a.m. with a half-consumed cold Coors in my hand. I learned Tom and his girlfriend Laura (a very curvaceous Susan Blakely look-a-like) were going to a hotel to make room in the house for Tom’s twin brother John, and John’s wife and two children.
I immediately offered to let Tom and Laura stay in one of my sisters’ bedrooms, which everyone agreed was a dandy idea. We trundled their luggage the short distance to my parent’s house, and promptly rewarded ourselves with their first beer of the day and a joint, as we sat on lawn chairs in the back yard and listened to the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers blast eastward over the lake … and, oh, it musta been no later than 10 a.m.
The rest of the day gradually dissolved in a golden sea of multiple Coors and a cloud of pungent smoke — with a break to stumble to Tom’s parents’ house to welcome his grandparents, who also arrived in town for the festivities.
Tom’s grandmother, as it turned out, correctly believed her age gave her the right to say whatever was on her mind. This was coupled with an absolutely marvelous, quick sense of humor. Over the course of the next day or so, every time she saw me, I had a beer in my hand — except once — when she turned to me with a twinkle and asked, “Who are you? … oh, wait … why, Corey, I didn’t recognize you without a beer in your hand.”
And when Tom asked his grandmother why she waited seven years after getting married to give birth to Tom’s mother (her only child), without missing a beat, she said, “Well, honey, until then your grandfather was shooting blanks.” Thank God, we were in the back yard just then, because we all sprayed beer at that one.
Saturday afternoon slid into night, and after more beer and barbecued burgers, we all piled into a couple of cars and drove up to Scornovacco’s restaurant in Highwood, where the bar and courtyard run by the owners’ sons were the place to go during the early to mid-’70s. Our group by this time included the three Murphy brothers, their wives/girlfriends, me, and perhaps two or three others.
I had a loose grip on details by this time. Fueled by beer and pot, I felt like Hunter Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, since it was Saturday night and I hadn’t slept since early Friday afternoon.
I remember (very vaguely) coming home to find my brother, his band mates and several young women partying. I stumbled to bed in my parents’ room, after pointing Tom and Laura to my sister’s room.
When I woke up about 9:30 a.m. (surprisingly lucid and un-hungover), my brother was gone (getting triple time for working that day as a ticket agent in the downtown Chicago & North Western railroad station). My party urge quickly reasserted itself.
I threaded a three-hour reel-to-reel tape and hit the play button, got a cold beer from the fridge and a lawn chair from the back porch ... and settled down under a cloudless sky as White Bird by It’s A Beautiful Day wafted out of the third-floor windows facing Lake Michigan.
Soon Laura, looking alert but tousled (heh, heh, I thought to myself), stepped out on the second floor balcony outside my sister’s room and called down that she and Tom would be out soon.
From then on the day was slowly bathed in a smoke and beer-drenched golden glow … soon the lifeguards on the public beach 300 yards away down the lakefront bluff were calling with requests. I was able to tell them honestly that all their requests were somewhere on the tapes I had, and to be patient.
Beer followed beer (and perhaps some boilermakers) … we took a break from immobility by ambling down to watch the typically small-town 4th of July parade make its way twice around downtown Glencoe.
By the time we returned to the house, my brother was home and a number of his friends had arrived and the full-sized refrigerator was full of beer — everything else had been eaten.
One of my few clear memories of that late afternoon was trying not to ogle Laura too obviously. She was lovely, well-tanned and amply-endowed, with a toothy grin, clad only in a very small yellow bikini. I probably failed miserably at trying to be subtle in my drunken admiration.
As the sun was setting, I received a call from M, a former girlfriend. She had heard from her younger brothers about our party, and was bored out of her skull spending the holiday with her somewhat starchy and distinctly un-fun family. M asked if she could come over, and I believe I was gracious in my drunkenness, because a little while later, she arrived. Although we agreed we were just friends having fun together that night, it was yet another re-start to a relationship that began in June 1972 and finally slouched to a reasonably amicable end in May 1978.
The whole group of us sat in the dark facing the lake, as the fireworks streaked skyward from the public beach, accompanied by the heaviest mix of the tapes: the Who, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin pumping out into the night.
As the fireworks concluded, a member of the Glencoe Police asked us to turn down — we did — but then my brother's band started playing inside … heh, heh, heh.
I do know several of my parents’ friends were there for brief periods through the evening, but in each case, we were gracious and they left and never reported to my parents the mayhem they found. Of course, we did play the perfect hosts.
M left about midnight, and the last non-staying guest left about 2 a.m.
I left the clean-up for the morning.