The Secret of Hart Lake

When I was in 2nd grade, I had a best friend.  His name was Joe.

Joe and I were pretty much inseparable.  Every weekend, I would either sleep out at his house or he’d sleep at mine.  More often than not, we ended up at Joe’s house, though.  His parents always made the best popcorn and we got to stay up as late as we wanted, watching movies we definitely weren’t ready for.  I remember seeing my first Friday the 13th movie late at night with Joe and his older sister (who I had a little bit of a crush on) and screaming like a little girl.

For a good year after that, I was pretty sure I could hear breathing coming from my closet at home.  If I squinted hard enough toward the dark corner of my bedroom, I could almost see a tall, silent weirdo in a goalie mask, machete at the ready.  Chhhhh-chhh-chhh-haaaa-haaaaa-haaaaaaaa….

Joe and I were into all the stuff kids growing up in the late 70’s, early 80’s were into.  Star Wars toys were a no brainer and getting new ‘guys’ and vehicles was pretty much all we talked about.  We would ride our dirt bikes through the alleys, making Speeder Bike noises and ramming each other off of our rides and into the wall.  Joe was always the Biker Scout, which left me as Luke (in Endor gear).

From time to time, I’d get to go to Joe’s cabin with him and his family.  I always, always wanted our family to get a cabin, but it just never happened.  We had to settle for visiting the cabins of friends when we were lucky enough to get invited.  One of the big things we liked to do was explore woods, trails, just about anything.  We’d find sticks and hack n’ slash our way through the rough stuff, imagining there were treasures to be found and ninjas to fight.  It didn’t matter that we didn’t find much.  There was a certain feeling of victory coming back out of the woods and into civilization.

And, you know, getting yelled at for having muddy pants n’ shoes.

We didn’t limit our woods exploring to just Joe’s cabin, either.  Growing up, there was a small lake near our town’s movie theater, called Hart Lake.  It was more of a pond, really, but at the time it seemed like a lake.  We convinced my parents to let us ride our bikes out there (across a few busy roads) so we could explore.  They weren’t crazy about the idea, but we somehow won out.  Our mission was simple and the same as ever:

Find treasure.

That time, we did.

As we trekked through the brambles and wet leaves, we came across a big ol’ black garbage bag.  It was tied up and stuck underneath a bush.  I poked it with my stick and tore a hole in the plastic.  A woman’s face peeked back out at me.  My eyes widened and Joe and I knew INSTANTLY what we’d found.

We dropped to our knees and tore open the bag.  Inside were literally hundreds of Playboys and Penthouse magazines.  The face that stared back at us was Miss January, 1980 (I think).  I’d like to say we just looked at the covers and left them where they were, but we didn’t.  We couldn’t.

We were boys.

“Do you realize what we’ve found?”  I asked Joe.  “This is pretty much the greatest find of all time!”

“Yeah,” he said.  “How do we get these home?”

I lifted the bag and the rest of the magazines slopped out onto the muddy ground.  There was no way we could lift them all and no way we could get them home on our bikes.

“We’ll come back with a car,” I suggested, flipping through the damp and yellowed pages.  “I’ll see if my dad will drive over here with the station wagon.”

Joe just shook his head.  “I don’t think so,” he said. “He’ll ask what we’re loading in the car.”

He was right.  Dad wouldn’t go for that.  Besides, he’d probably want to keep them for himself.

“What if we take one home at a time?”  I looked at the treasure trove of nudity lying around us.  “It’d be easy to sneak them back if there weren’t so many of them.”

We probably stood there for a good hour, contemplating how we could transport our treasures back to civilization.  After a while, we decided we’d have to leave the magazines where they were.  For now.  After another quick peek (or two), we wrapped up the goods and tucked them back under the bush where we’d found them.  I won’t lie and pretend I forgot all about them.  I even considered taking my brother’s wagon all the way back to Hart Lake to load up the product.  I thought it through a bit more and realized that if someone stopped me on the street or (heaven forbid) a police officer decided to stop me (you know, because they always stop suspicious 8 year olds pulling wagons), I’d have to fess up.

“Sorry, Officer.  Just trying to get these Playboys home.”

About a week later, Joe and I happened to venture back to Hart Lake.  No reason, really.  You know, just exploring.  Our hearts were broken when we discovered our naked treasures were gone.  Not even a muddy centerfold remained.

“We’ve been robbed,” I’m sure I said.  I might have even cried a little.

Cut to almost 30 years later.  When I drive through Nordeast Minneapolis, I sometimes pass by Hart Lake.  The movie theater that was once nearby (and was the site of my first job) has been torn down and replaced with condos.  Even the little shack in the parking lot where you could drop off your camera film for developing is long gone.  The whole area is almost unrecognizable.

Even so, I can’t look at that little ring of trees along the edge of the lake (pond) and NOT think about our adventures there and what might’ve been the coolest treasure Joe and I had ever unearthed.