Pat Hickey: Tahoe Boy

Excerpts from 'Tahoe Boy'

Pat Hickey's Lake Tahoe home

Finding happiness is damn hard to do. Even growing up in a picture-perfect paradise like Lake Tahoe it wasn’t easy. Friends of mine got lost looking for it in America’s year-round blue playground. Many went elsewhere sojourning for their peace. I did it all before I came back home to find mine…

As a teenager I wondered if hometown and family were all there’d ever be. Figuring that getting to where I wanted to go involved getting away from where I came, I spent my days dreaming about going way. But as any teenager will tell you, you can’t make it to the future without going through the present. And the ever-present for any young person are his parents and their world. They, of course, had family and parents as well.

A boy’s boarding school makes you long for a lot of things you don’t have. Having a car was number one, with female contact of any kind a close second. Even though the Christian Brothers committed to a vow of forgoing such mysteries of the latter; they understood that an occasional chaperoned meeting of boys and girls would likely keep down the incidences of late-night shaving-cream fights and waste-can fires in the dorm.

Once a year the proper young ladies of nearby St. Joseph School for Girls would grace St. Mary’s smelly gym with their perfumed presence. We’d all act as if it was no big deal, but secretly each freshman boarder was after-shaving his brains out in nervous anticipation of a would-be dance encounter with someone other than his 24/7 male companions.

Moonlite was a poor step-child of the more infamous Mustang Ranch near Reno. Avoiding eye contact and make poor attempts at man humor, most of the team watched as a few puffed-up young stallions turned over their dollars to the Madam inside that trailer of iniquity. Names have been forgotten that to protect the innocence that was lost. One boy, minus bravado, confessed he kept his socks on during the mostly sordid affair. A metaphor for purity now breached, his white socks were a remnant of the decency that even a $10 lay couldn’t remove.

I’ll never forget the look on my Father’s face. I faced him shivering in my shorts with a pair of swim fins slung over my back. Yes, it was a freakish snowstorm for early June, but no explanation in the world would have made a father proud of what he saw at his doorstep. Cleaning the snow off my flip-flops, he told me the F.B.I. had been to the house during my absence. It was sad to see my Father so afraid. I couldn’t blame him for his scowl or his sentiments. In that uneasy moment, prison would have been preferable to the silence that separated us.

Pat Hickey

On the way to Heaven, I put my parents through hell. In the span of just three years…I’d dropped out of college, refused induction into the Army, and traipsed through Canada in a hippie van headed nowhere. Culminating my departure from the mainstream was the joining of a new religious movement that most would soon consider a cult. It was a lot for my middle-of-the-road American folks to digest. Even though I wouldn’t change what happened, it took decades and having my own children to fully appreciate what I put them through as parents.

The locals weren’t paying much attention to all the shenanigans their Congressman Charlie Wilson was up to in Washington, but they did see us coming. A front page story in the Lufkin Dailey News foretold of our arrival in Angelina County. An article on the “Moonies coming to town” appeared beneath a photo of elephants stampeding in New Delhi, which gave townspeople the impression we were about to run roughshod over them and everything that East Texas stood for. The result was a regular procession of pickup trucks on Friday night driving slowly by on the dirt road in front of the farm after the high school football game was over. The stream of vehicles looked like the scene from Field of Dreams when Iowans went out to see for themselves the crazy thing Kevin Costner had done in the middle of his cornfield.

Pat Hickey and wife Myung-Hee in Korea
Pat Hickey and wife Myung-Hee in Korea

Years later after we were together in Chicago, Reverend Moon visited the city and kidded me for being too close with my new spouse. It was a problem for the Movement in its early days in America that had kept its young adherents zealous, in part, by keeping them chaste. Abstinence, I can assure you, does make the heart and other body parts grow fonder. Anyway, since he’d arranged my marriage in the first place, I told him he had no one to blame but himself. He laughed and I escaped judgment — at least for the time being.

Former President Ronald Reagan, wife Nancy Reagan and Pat Hickey

I had two great fears going into that evening. One was that I’d be seated next to Nancy Reagan. The second, since it was a dinner dance, was that I might be required to dance with her. Besides imagining the Secret Service tackling me for an attack on her toes, I was equally afraid of having to make small talk with a First Lady. You know, light table chatter like, “So, what have you been doing with your life Mr. Hickey? “Thank you for asking Mrs. Reagan. I’m fine. I just got back from selling flowers on Sunset Boulevard!” Dead silence.

As it turned out, I did sit next to her; but she did all the talking. I was honored to hear, probably for the 10,000th time, how she came up with the now infamous “Just Say No” campaign. I won’t bore you as she did the head table guests with just how the phrase was coined to get kids off drugs. But I suppose she was just as bored being there with me.

Being sworn in before family and friends is a day worth remembering. What I also remember is that for the first few weeks of the session we practiced the old military drill of “hurry up and wait.” Nevada’s territorial roots are evidenced in the fact the legislators only meet every two years in Carson City. As Twain smirked, even that often may be detrimental to the well-being of the state. The session is supposed to be for a period of only 60 days. ‘Supposed to” being the operative word; because 60 days turned into six months — with the bulk of the bills being held to the end of the session when they attract less public attention or are more easily amended when deals are being brokered and legislative horse-trading being done. In the meantime, we waited and acted important, as only legislators can.

Going home for the girl from Kansas was like finding the way back to the Lake for me. There was no place like home and no place like Lake Tahoe, to finally find my peace. Returning, I too pulled back the curtain to the happiness I’d sought ever since growing up there as a boy.