Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling

On a brisk, cloudy, cool, and gloomy school day at Cisco Jr. High in March, 1958, Mrs. Jones’ 6th grade home room was interrupted by the appearance of the principal, Mr. Glass, holding a 6th grader’s allotment of issued textbooks. Behind him was a new arrival at CJHS, a guy struggling under the weight of the school desk he was to use in his new classroom, for we had no empty spares. He was introduced to us as Bill Adling, recently moved to Cisco from Ballinger.

Teachers of different subjects rotated to different home rooms (There were three home rooms of sixth graders then.) back in those days, and the teacher at this interrupting moment was Mrs. Bledsoe, our 6th grade social studies teacher. After Mr. Glass had left, she asked me to show Bill Adling my social studies notebook to give him an idea of what we had been doing in this class (a real honor). With Bill A. standing over my desk, looking intently, I rummaged around my disorganized assembly of school accoutrements, only to discover to my dismay and embarrassment this was probably the only day the entire school year when I had left my illustrated notebook at home! Bill A. remembers being particularly unimpressed with me, especially with my cowboy work boots and my cowboy-style shirt (probably with shirt-tail untucked), thinking to himself something like, “Boy, what a bunch of hicks!”

Bill A. (He would become just “Adling” when he befriended Bill Lee, and the rest of us, to avoid ambiguity.) had been associated with the “rough crowd” of Ballinger, and he began to seek that group in Cisco; he was not prepared for what he found; the “hick” Hastings was just the tip of the iceberg! He misinterpreted the “fight” he saw on the playground between Earl Carson and J.V. Plumlee as real and started slugging at J.V. in earnest, until it was explained to him that “friendly fighting” was the basis of their friendship — that they had been doing that since the first grade back in West Ward. My observation of Bill A. the rest of the sixth grade (We seldom seemed to talk to each other at that time.) was that he was not afraid of, in fact, was very enthusiastic about, getting into trouble with either the teachers or the administration — he was always saying something he shouldn’t (but I wish I had the guts to say), and he was always, after being moved to the deskmate of Billy Cozart, cheating on spelling tests. Bill A. found himself adapting to a bunch that was not a group of hoods or delinquents or hicks, but, rather, a group like which he had not seen — weirdos, perhaps?

Only he knows why by the time the sixth grade was over, he was making overtures of befriending those of us who drew elaborate pictures of war scenes, or designed elaborate hot air balloons with rulers and compasses — Clark Odom, Bill Lee, John Shelton, and me. In essence, Adling became Cisco’s covert social “rehab” project, which was “detoxifying” him of the bad tendencies that had tempted him in Ballinger.

All in all, it was, when it came to the two of us, an inauspicious start to our friendship, which did not “take off” until the summer between the sixth and seventh grades. One afternoon, Adling, who was looking for someone to “hook up” with, could not get in touch with Clark Odom, Lee, Berry, or Earl Carson. As perhaps a final resort he called my house, to which he was immediately invited, and that was all it took. He was not put off by huge coon hounds in my back yard, and that summer there was seldom a day went by in which we did not get together (We lived only about three blocks from each other.) to form the foundation of our friendship. We played games (mostly baseball scrub in our backyards, touchpass, and firing BB guns at toy soldiers), we played games of our own invention (his most famous was a game of indoor marble team elimination, complete with playoffs and State championships), we challenged each other to see if the other could meet a dare — I had the advantage when I took him out on the farms and ranches. (He suffered a fall and nasty side scrap trying to walk the 2 x 4 top railing of my Grandad McKinney’s cattle lots with which I challenged him.) But, mostly, we talked, making up stuff to make each other laugh.

I know Melville in “Billy Budd, Sailor” states: “But the ‘might-have-been’ is but boggy ground to build on.” However, it is fun to think, what would have happened, what might have been, if Adling had not been so desperate that day to play with someone and never called me? Only our hairdressers know for sure!

As it was, that was the key once we did start sharing time together — we both had vivid imaginations we had no inclination to restrict. We made up characters, based upon school experiences, based upon sporting events, based upon our mutual Little League experiences, etc. — a “habit” that lasted well into high school (Characters named Stupid B. Stupid — the “B” stood for “Stupid” –, Herman, Coach, Bewah, etc.). The characters reminded me of those I had made up back in West Ward to entertain (bore?) my classmates. I realized the energy I saw early on as a tendency to get with the “wrong crowd” in Adling was really the crying out of an irrepressible imagination bursting for expression. My version of part of my personal imagination was to urge his on and on for mutual, endless laughs. We lampooned almost everyone we knew, except our family members, but we included ourselves, so it was free of mean-spiritedness and belittlement. We pulled small pranks on each other every chance we got, which became an increasing challenge, as, with every prank, the less gullible we became.

One example will suffice: One cold, snowy day (probably a school snow day when we were free from classes) I telephoned him to see what he was doing, using a funny voice just for the hell of it. He thought I was someone he had met on a family trip up north or northeast:

“Is this” So-in-so? asked Adling, when I was reluctant to identify myself with the funny voice.

“Uh..why, yes, this is” So-in-so!

“The one I met at” Such-and-such place “back during” Such-and-such “time?”

“Yeah, that’s me!”

“I can’t believe it! What are you doing in Cisco?”

“Uh…just passing through…. we had to stop for gas…remembered you are from Cisco, so looked you up in the phonebook..”

So it went until he had convinced himself I was indeed his friend from vacation and I had convinced him my family had no time to stop but that we would be passing by his house (Adling lived on the main highway (US 80) through town.) so he could wave to us from his house! Thus it was that Adling, wanting to get a distant look to the east from whence he expected “his friend” to come, climbed up into a cold, leafless mesquite tree in his front yard hoping for a good long look at every west-bound car that passed. I let him freeze a while and then made my way over to his house. Finding him “up a tree,” I asked him from his front porch what he was doing, and he said he needed to stay in the cold to see if he could see his friend from vacation who miraculously showed up in Cisco! I could not keep from laughing out loud and “spilling the beans” to Adling, who could not believe his credulity.

That is just a taste, and does not hint at the many times he “got” me!

Let me wax and wane back and forth in time concerning Adling:

Lee naturally joined in with our increasingly twisted senses of humor, to be joined by Berry. By the time the eighth grade rolled around, we were fully developed self-made “class clowns” whose only audience that mattered was ourselves. Clark Odom was not a “natural” class clown like the rest of us, but, it was probably best he was the “sober” one of the Mean Corner (See Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee), for, if it had been Berry sitting beside Adling, it would be obvious the Mean Corner could not exist that way with four “clowns” — Adling, Lee, Berry, and Hastings.

It is definitely misleading to imply that Adling (and, indeed, Berry also) was not “country” compared to Lee, Cole, and myself. (See Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee). He was as enthusiastic as anyone in plunging into the joy and adventure of camping out in the pastures of my parents’ land. For his essay our Junior year in Mrs. Lee’s class, he wrote about the logistics of planning for the staples of a campout. Once the strange sounds of the night out in the uninhabited countryside were interpreted for him, he blended into the darkness of the night as well as any of us. For example, he adjusted readily to the sounds of my show sow Prunelly feeding during the night within earshot of the pick-up bedding we were using during an early camp-out. Adling was as enthusiastic as Berry and I to go walking on a multi-mile trek across the country side past scary cemeteries and the ghostly Leon River in the wee hours of the morning, while we left Lee sleeping at our campsite beside the slowly dying embers of our campfire.

High school gave us greater opportunities to expand our friendships, based upon humor and imagination. Each in our own way never stopped imagining. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the circumstances of our senior year (see The M-4, and the “M” Stands for…) ushered in the M-4, the original idea was Adling’s. Wild ideas, always conjured to get each other to laugh, were the order of the day. That the idea was linked to Adling’s perpetual struggle with authority of any type is also not surprising. Elsewhere, I have described Adling as the John Lennon of the M-4, not that he or any of us was a “leader” of the M-4 in any traditional sense of the word, but in that the purpose of so much of his imaginings included the means to struggle against the enemies of his teenaged angst, a la John Lennon.

What happened sometime late in 1963, I later found out about 37 years after the fact, Adling decided to reveal his idea to me, his imagination “buddy.” He probably thought we would both have a great laugh and talk about the scenarios growing in our heads from talking about it; apparently, he had no thoughts about actually doing it, because he did not know for sure if it could be done, so, he claimed, after all those years, that if I had said it was just a silly, imaginative idea, and only that, we would have soon gone on thinking of something else to laugh over, as usual. But — and here is another of those “might-have-been” moments — I started imagining, along with the laughing, how it could be done, and, soon, came up with the idea of how to actually do it. What if I had laughed it off, just as Adling was willing to do? Would the M-4 have ever come about? It goes to show you — be careful of whom you ask.

Adling taught me over the years to never stop dreaming, never stop imagining; I like to think I taught him what dreams are worth keeping and pursuing, and which ones should be thrown away. He taught me never to back down from the powers that be, and I hope I taught him that there is good in being different for its own sake. In addition to becoming a great architect, Adling is a gifted artist, his medium being watercolor. None of us who know him should be surprised. I would like to own an original Adling watercolor one day. You can see his work all over the campus of Texas Tech University in the form of many of its buildings he designed and around the city of that campus, Lubbock, Texas. The artist Adling and the artist C.W. Block (See Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas) both have inspired me to artistic endeavors (Rusty barbed wire is one of my mediums.).

Robert Cole and I agree that the only time we ever saw Adling “lose it” was during the M-4’s chair escape the night of February 11, 1964. During a breather from the chair lifting “machine” we formed lifting desks from the front entrance door to the flat roof of the school building, I failed to make sure the front door out of which the chair/desks were moved outside was properly jammed so it would not close and lock us out; the door slammed shut, with all four of us apparently locked outside!

Adling began to rage at me as loud as he dared, “Hastings! It ain’t gonna be too hard to figure out who did this when they find Berry’s and my books and jackets in the teachers’ lounge in the morning!” (Adling and Berry, the first two inside the building before being joined by Cole and me, had worked on their homework in the teachers’ lounge — a ‘sort of rebellious act’ as Adling recalled — waiting for darkness and the appearance of Cole and Hastings.) For one brief moment I thought he was going to start swinging at me like he did at J.V. back in the sixth grade (The irony is that the building where we were pulling off our prank was a faux HS building, and actually the very same in which we had attended Jr. High and in which Adling had made his first appearance in Mrs. Jones’ room back in 1958.), but I could not help but laugh at the comedy of the situation, an infection that soon spread to Berry and Cole, and was caught by Adling last. Cole took Adling with him to see if the door at the other end of the building had been left open (which it had, so there was no reason to panic) and to calm Adling down. Berry and I stayed near the locked door, both of us recognizing the locked door was no barrier to getting back in; we both knew entrance was possible over one of the stalls of the boys’ bathroom between the gymnasium and the office area. By the time I climbed down through the bathroom and let Berry back in, and by the time Adling and Cole had come through the door left ajar at the other end of the building, Adling had calmed down and we three began laughing again at his panic, soon joined by Adling himself.

Adling and I were always talking each other into doing stuff together no sane person would do alone, or with others more sane than we. I was always getting him to help me work on the farms for my dad (hauling hay, mostly at night, battling snakes inside bales of hay), and he would talk me into things like helping paint the dock at the Odoms’ lake house from the water level or having high pressure water fights with the car washing equipment at Westfall’s service station where he worked. As a duo, we were social outcasts; we double-dated a total of once or twice, tops; whenever I could get him to attend a school dance to help me do the set up (I was on the Student Council most of high school helping with the dance committees.), which was rare, we usually spent the actual dance time playing ping-pong over in a dimly lit corner, never paying attention to the row of ladies lined up waiting to be asked to dance; neither of us could dance, and I dated Sylvia, a good Baptist young lady who did not dance and did not attend any dances.

When Adling got his first car and proudly drove it to school for the first time, he was so focused in successfully negotiating the frantic trip of several blocks from the 3-story HS building to the athletic field house after classes that afternoon (It was nothing short of a mad dash, reminiscent of the auto-chase scenes from the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World;” students without cars would randomly, it seemed, pile into whatever car would accept them, and the car would roar off amidst a frantic traffic jam that over the years had to claim its share of road victims — stray dogs, alley cats, small children, elderly with walkers, etc.; there must have been some bad, bad punishment threatened by the coaches to anyone who was late!), he forgot he had a car of his own at school! He bummed a ride as usual and got another to get him home at the end of the day; his parents, surprised at not seeing his car, asked him where it was! He had to walk back to the high school to get his car.

He simply could not and cannot help himself saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. One time during HS, the late Shirley (Page) Strother, obviously interested in him, told him he smelled good, and Adling said, “It all depends where you smell.” She walked away, having lost interest. In making a professional pitch for the architectural firm in Lubbock he owns (Adling Associates) to a brace of Texas Tech officials about how good was the air conditioning he would install, he said it would blow off your toupee, not knowing one of the top officials in the brace wore a toupee the official thought was a secret only he knew.

Equally impossible for Adling was keeping away from a mysterious light left on inside an abandoned house on Mr. Hittson’s land north of Cisco during our college years in the summer of 1965. He had to appear before a grand jury at the county court house in Eastland, submitting a statement as to why he had investigated the light and left a sarcastic note that Mr. Hittson did not appreciate. Mr. Hittson’s admonition of Adling to “go straight!” fell on deaf ears. It was amazing Adling’s grand jury took no action, considering his “legal counsel” took the form of Prince Altom and yours truly!

To this day, he never uses a map when driving somewhere new or making a trip not undertaken in a long while, which drives me crazy! During one of our college day summers we spent in Cisco, I posed as his gardener accompanying him to a girl’s house in order to impress her; it did not work. He and I crashed a Cisco community beauty contest so well one July evening at the old swimming pool below the Lake Cisco dam spillway we had painted as Seniors, that many in the audience thought it was a planned part of the program.  (The Lake Cisco dam spillway is the “canvas” upon which Adling, Berry, and I painted “Seniors 1964″ the night before we graduated high school, each of us individually was held dangling precariously aloft by ropes gripped by a gang of classmates managed by [who else?] the remaining member of the M-4, Cole.)

He designed the M-4 symbol for the four of us; he made each of us an M-4 “business card.” He kept a diary of a lot of his high school days and college days at Texas Tech, parts of which he let me use as a major resource when I wrote the memoirs in which he was one of the major “stars” (See And God Said ‘Let There Be Friends’..….). He suggested I add the words “And It Was Weird!” to the title of my memoirs.

Adling became famous for quitting the sports program he happened to be in (football, track, etc.) in HS at least once a week, declaring, usually after everyone had left the field house (except we managers), “I quit!” Then he would empty his locker and throw all his issued stuff on the floor for me, the manager/trainer, to pick up. Then he would storm out as if there was a large audience watching him. Doing my impression of a minimalist manager, learned from Clark’s older brother, Olin Odom, I would do most of what I was supposed to do before I left and locked up, always forgetting to pick up Adling’s stuff. The next school day he would have a change of heart and ask me to get his stuff back to him, having the fear of what the coaches would do to him if they knew he quit for no good reason. I said I thought the stuff was still on the floor, and that he better get to the field house before the coaches get there and see his stuff in the floor, or both of us would be in trouble. About the only time he was early to the field house was on these days, when he usually scooped up his stuff and put it back in his locker before either the coaches or I got there.

He played the “monster” line backer on the strong side of the defense in football near the end of his playing days in HS. During one home game he received a concussion, apparently, that was undetected until he disappeared after the game going over to Bobby Smith’s house across town. He “woke up” on Hwy 80 near Baird, some 30 or so miles west of Cisco, not remembering how he got there. We had “whipped up” a pretty good “search posse” looking for him all over Cisco by the time he got word to us where he was and we met him on the highway between Cisco and Putnam. When he lost his memory from too many White Russian mixed drinks sitting at a slot machine in Las Vegas during a 2007 trip wherein he and Pamela met Sylvia and me at “Sin City,” he thought that was the first time he had “blacked out.” I should have remembered his unscheduled trip to Baird.

He, Berry, and I have declared ourselves the first Beatle fans in Cisco (See Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll; Hell, Hell, Heavy Metal), and we are sticking to that story. He and I dreamed, in 1964, of skipping the whole college scene and stow-awaying on a boat to Liverpool; Adling knows the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll — how he is not a metal fan as am I is beyond my comprehension. He is a true, blue Stones’ fan, if there ever was one. He and I developed a stack of 45’s and LP’s during HS and college by which we studied, we partied, and we laughed still more. During the summer of 1967, while he was working a summer job near Ft. Worth, I drove to his apartment and we played and played and played the just released Sgt. Pepper’s album.

We made weird home movies together when we bivouacked in the summers (and Christmas holidays) at Cisco. He and I were asked not to plan further class reunions when he and I showed those movies for our class on stage of the new Cisco High School building. The only one who probably drank more Dad’s root beer than Adling or I was Cole. Adling talked me into buying a Nehru jacket when he worked at a downtown Cisco clothing store (Heidenheimer’s). He had a ’52 or ’53 Ford with a hole in the floorboard back in HS between the brake and clutch, such that, after a rain, when he drove it over the speed limit through the flooded dip on far west 9th street, a column of water would shoot straight up through the hole and drench the driver’s face and upper chest thoroughly! Adling would drive thusly to do that on purpose — just to get you to laugh!

He was my best man for Sylvia’s and my wedding, or, better, he was the one closest to me during the ceremony; all of the guys in my wedding party were best men; I was and am sorry I had to make a designation. Adling and Jim Burns were the only ones with enough strength and stamina to throw me an all-night bachelor party the night before the wedding.

Because of Adling I am probably one of the few Aggies that enjoyed attending the Texas A&M-Texas Tech football game every two years in Lubbock, for the football games were only the facade of an excuse for us to get together to reminiscence over old times and create new laughs. The two teams will not play each other regularly from now on, but I am determined to keep the tradition of our visits going; it was never about the game any way. Our friendship transcends university rivalries and on-field competition.

Adling is the best friend one could ever have; you can confide in him, and he will not betray you; when you need him, he is there. Little did I know that day I spotted the “new kid” behind Mr. Glass trying to hold on to his school desk how our lives were to become intertwined…

Not long ago on Facebook, someone in the group “Hey, I Lived in Cisco, Texas” (probably me) asked about the mid 60’s and who did this and who did that. Sheri (Heyser) Malone piped up immediately and said “Adling and you! It was always you two… you and Adling!” You know… I think she’s right…


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