“Kinney Tales” by guest blogger George Post

George Post is a LaramieBoy™ at heart, having grown up there until age 13. He has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1977, where he has worked as a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher.

http://www.georgepostphotography.com
http://playa-messiah.com ~ my Burning Man coffee-table book

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Wayne Kinney was my best friend during the time my family lived in the town of Laramie, Wyoming. I suppose we must have originally met in the 1958 Summer Orchestra program in the old original Laramie High School building; Wayne played violin and I was learning viola. Besides classical music, we quickly discovered that we shared interests in chemistry, electronics, math, chess, science fiction, numismatics & philately, homemade root-beer, general mischief, and practical jokes.

Wayne was a certified genius, with a tested IQ of 180. He was also a piano prodigy, having played an entire Beethoven Piano Concerto in recital at age 8 on the University of Wyoming campus. His grandmother, who lived with the Kinney family, had begun teaching him piano just about as soon as he could sit upright. Even as a teen, his reach from thumb to pinky was an octave plus three; when he held up his hands his thumbs and pinkies jutted out perpendicularly at nearly 180º to each other.

My family moved to Utah in 1960, but Wayne and I corresponded regularly by postal mail, sending each other “funvelope” packets of things like cartoons, trading cards, stickers, and Mad Magazines. And my family did return to Laramie during a couple of subsequent summers, so I would get to hang out with Wayne and other Laramie friends during those visits.

After high school, we both started college, me at CSU in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Wayne at UW in Laramie. I heard from friends that Wayne’s life had grown troubled, and eventually he dropped out of college. In fact, he was developing the early throes of organic scizophrenia.

I last saw him whole and relatively normal in the summer of 1967, when he visited me at my first wife’s family ranch at Stove Prairie above Rist Canyon. (At that time I was married to Linda Steadman, eventually the sole fatality of the horrific High Park Fire in 2012). Wayne had taken the Greyhound from Laramie to Ft Collins to tell me GoodBye Forever. He said he was becoming a mystic, he’d given up music because it used up too much valuable memory-bank space, and basically he was disentangling himself from The Past and anything that could remind him of it. Clearly, in retrospect, he must have already felt himself slipping into mental illness. I wish there had been more effective medications back then!

He told me that he’d recently been out in Berkeley and had smoked some really strong pot that kind of knocked him out of his senses for 5 whole weeks. “It was if my brain had been run through a meatgrinder and spread across the Golden Gate Bridge at rush hour,” he said. Maybe it was laced with something, or maybe he just had such a high-powered brain (genius-level IQ) that he should never have even smoked pot. And one of his first experiences with cannabis in Laramie during his UW days was rather traumatic; he’d just been turned on by married couple Rick Kogan and Cathy Thomas when the Laramie cops raided their house, and apparently Wayne went out the window and managed to escape but was very freaked out by the whole thing.

I saw him one other time, in Denver in the early 1970s. He was living in a big, mostly senior, residence hotel. He had, at one time, checked himself into the State Hospital in Pueblo, but they only wanted to medicate him so strongly that he felt unable to effectively confront his demons, so he eventually left there and moved into the hotel. I have no idea what he was doing for money at the time, but I suppose that his mother Phyllis was helping him financially. Anyway, the desk clerk had directed me to an upper floor, west-side hallway; I found him there pacing nervously back and forth, wearing a huge full beard and a thick bundle of hair way down his back. I offered him a little gift I’d brought along, but he just grunted uncomfortably, turned abruptly and walked away. I could see that my presence disturbed him considerably, so I left. Later I heard that he had taken up residence in the basement of the family house on 12th Street in Laramie. And when he died (from a fall during a seizure) it was Wayne’s and my Laramie High School classmate and fellow LHS Symphonic Orchestra member Trevor Thomas, brother of the above-mentioned Cathy Thomas, who phoned me with the sad news.

Phyllis told me that near the end of his life Wayne had somewhat come out of his shell and would occasionally walk downtown and have a beer at one of the many bars there. I have this fantasy that I might have bumped into him in a tavern on one of my occasional visits to Laramie back then; I’d sit down on the stool next to him and strike up a conversation…

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Wayne was an astute observer of the human condition. There was a big fat guy at the Boomerang office to whom we paperboys paid our weekly bills every Friday afternoon. One day we read on the front page of the Boomerang that he’d been arrested and charged with embezzlement! Naturally, he was also fired. Not long afterward we saw through the open door of a Grand Avenue saloon that he was out on bail and working there as a bartender. Always after that, as we peddled our paperboy bikes past that particular watering hole (between 3rd and 4th as I recall, on the south side of the street), Wayne would say, military style: “Prepare to learn lesson! Eyes…Right! Learn….Lesson!” and we’d look in through the open doorway to see the poor fat-man at work in his wonderful new career.

Legal Disclaimer: Please note that the Statute of Limitations has run out on all of this, many years ago.

Wayne Kinney and I were teenage pranksters of the worst kind, with no consciences and apparently little or no empathy for our victims. For example, one time we put a time-fuse firecracker in a cream puff in the front window of the bakery on Grand Avenue. We retreated to the shadows of the alley across the street, and collapsed in rollicking laughter when the firecracker splattered the entire plate-glass window with cream. Probably not so damn funny to those poor bakery ladies who had to clean up the mess.

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We were both Laramie Daily Boomerang paperboys, and (at least during the homework-free summers) voraciously devoured the daily news, looking for local oddities and fun stuff. One summer, probably 1960, we read that the downtown banks were discontinuing the practice of throwing coins from their roofs during the Jubilee Days Parade. Evidently a couple of people had been hit in the faces and slightly injured the previous year, so clearly the long beloved local tradition had to end. Wayne’s devious practical-joker mind immediately kicked into overdrive, and he came up with a diabolical plan to exploit this situation.

On the day of the parade we assembled a handful of nickels & dimes, which Wayne stuffed into his pocket. We also had our paperboy bags and a package of small colorful balloons. Sneaking into the mens’ room of the Conner Hotel, we filled the balloons with water and loaded the canvas Boomerang bags with them. We carried them across the street and down the alley behind the Boyd’s Stockman Supply, where it was feasible to get onto the roof and where we had stashed our paperboy bikes. We hoisted the bags full of water balloons up onto the roof and carted them up to a position behind Boyd’s false front. It was a great place to watch the parade from, and when the last float had passed the parade-watchers spilled out into Second Street. Wayne tossed a bunch of small coins into the street, setting off a feeding frenzy. Those who didn’t get a coin turned their faces skyward and raised their arms in supplication: “Me, me, ME!” That’s when we unleashed a barrage of water balloons, emptying both of our newspaper bags in less than half a minute.

Quickly then we ran back down the roof, retrieved our bikes and headed towards Grand Avenue. Just then an angry mob of drenched parade-watchers rounded the building and came charging into the alley, so we did a U-turn and pedaled the other direction, easily outrunning them while cackling hysterically at the success of our prank. I am quite certain that it was not nearly so amusing to anyone who caught a water balloon full in the face that day.

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In the summer of 1959 Wayne Kinney and I found a way to sneak into the old High School after hours or on weekends. Near the northwest corner of the big building was a coal chute, unused since the installation of a modern natural-gas-fired boiler in the basement. We found that if we jiggled the latch just right it was possible to lift the heavy steel door and then climb down a ladder, closing the door again behind us on the way down. Once in the basement, we had to crawl on our bellies under some furnace ducts–in near-total darkness–until finally emerging in the Boys’ Locker Room. From there we had the run of the place.

We were never interested in destructive vandalism, but we sure enjoyed exploring. One fascinating discovery was that there was a long-unused swimming pool in the middle of the basement. Legend had it that the pool had only ever been filled once, because when it came time to change the water and the drain was opened, it belched raw sewage, the drain being lower than the neighborhood sewer system. So the pool had been pumped out and never filled again; it was being used as a storage repository for retired student desks and other dusty old furniture.

We could also make our way up the stairwell at the southeast corner of the building, and at the top (the third floor) was a door with the brass doorknob removed. We were easily able to open the door, though, by sticking a Boy Scout knife’s screwdriver blade into the square knob-shaft socket, and were rewarded with full access to the school’s roof. Being nasty little prankster hobbitses, we used to throw water balloons and firecrackers at passing cars from that roof!

But the best destination was the gym. There were two thick exercise ropes dangling from the high ceiling, and when the bleachers were collapsed the ropes could be used as “Tarzan” swings. We could grab the big knot at the bottom end of the rope, walk it up the steps to the balcony, climb over the steel railing, hold on tight and then swing waaaaaay out across the entire width of the gym. Once we got good at it we discovered that we could sit on the ropes’ knots and swing back and forth at will, grabbing the balcony railings with one hand to rest briefly on either side of the arc. Unbelievably good fun!

One Sunday afternoon that fall, soon after the 1959-60 school-year had started, we sneaked into the school and were in the gym merrily swinging away; suddenly a janitor walked in. He chastised us for an activity he perceived as inherently very dangerous and threatened to call our folks. But in the end he just said, “You boys are in a lot of trouble. I’m gonna let you go for today, but first thing tomorrow morning I want you to find either Mr. Mack [the principal] or Mr. Rony [the athletic coach] and confess this incident. They’ll figure out some appropriate punishment.” Wayne and I completely cracked up with laughter; how could you take a grownup seriously who’d just told you to go “find either Mr. Mack-or-Rony?”

8 Replies to ““Kinney Tales” by guest blogger George Post”

  1. Thank you George for unleashing the flood of memories. Wayne was a dear and special friend. I last spoke to him in 1975 on the phone but we said our “goodbyes” in 1967 after an emotional dinner with my first wife.

  2. Hi George, I was a violin student at UW from 62 to 66. Wayne, Larry Price and I had many adventures in Laramie during this time. Thank you for the stories. Jack Wallace

  3. Thank you for the remarkably moving story of your youth. I know you better through your words.

  4. Another thought–Wayne spent some of the years he had disappeared as a homeless person in San Francisco. As I travel, I see many homeless people needing money. I think of him, and that he survived only because of the kindness of people who gave him money and took care of him as strangers to him. In Prague, from where I just got back, a person was on his knees, with his body flat against the ground, head face down to the sidewalk, and his arms straight in front of him–the way I believe to be in deep prayer. A painful position for long when needing money…..an amazing position for prayer. Again, my thanks to all who help the poor in any way and who help those with mental illness. Wayne needed help and received it.

  5. Wonderfully endearing, even though I don’t know any of the people in the story! Thanks for sharing the enduring details of your lively boyhood and friendship.

  6. George–what wonderful memories! Right before Wayne disappeared, I was the only one he was talking to, so I was really happy he went to say goodbye to you. That well could have been his last communication with friends and family. He was gone for about 10 years, and we finally found him in a hospital in Canada, so you probably saw him around 1975 -76 in Colorado. He was always so kind to me, playing complicated piano pieces, showing me his new musical discoveries, and really acting like a dad. I miss him greatly. By the way, for the last few years, we would play pinball and my brother Bob hung out with him a lot. It is also good he had a son, Tom, whom he loved a lot. He has four grandchildren who would delight him. I know he would be delighted with them. He would also be so proud of Tom who has done well. Thanks for your wonderful fun memories!

  7. Enjoyed your heartfelt portrayal of friend Wayne. I never knew much of the background of his illness nor the various manifestations you share so well. A special mental image of swinging on the Gym ropes is filling my head right now! Thanks, George, for taking the time to share your memories. Dan

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