Tatted in Tulsa: A Lesson Inside “The Outsiders” House

My best friend vs. Ponyboy’s best friend

I’m not much of a ‘group’ guy.

As the gay son of an immigrant growing up in the suburban midwest, I never actively sought to include myself because I felt like I didn’t belong. I’ve never been part of that ‘group of guys’ often seen in films or read about in books.

As an introvert who tries very hard to pretend he’s an extrovert, most of my friendships are made on a one-on-one basis (often times in a forced-shared environment, such as at school or work), and seldom do they overlap with each other.

The closest I’ve come to being part of a Curtis-Family-And-Company type of group is being included for the last couple of years in a group chat currently called, “Big Brisket Boiz” [the name changes every so often depending on the topic/theme of the discussion in the chat].

The group chat is made up of an actual ‘group of guys’ and myself. One of the guys is my best friend, whom I met – as you might guess – in a forced-shared environment. I was folded into the mix after he and I took a road trip to New Orleans and he invited one of the guys from his group to go along with us. That trip led to other trips & events with the rest of his group; and, suddenly I wasn’t a Plus One anymore, but an actual invite who is now allowed to bring his own Plus One.

Between the COVID pandemic and some of the group starting new chapters in their lives, we now live in four different states between the five of us and getting together takes more of an effort & planning. When floating around ideas in the group chat about what trip we’d link up together on next, suggestions ranged from bourbon trails through Kentucky to freedom trails along the east coast. Being the objective comedic relief of the group, I suggested we get a cabin in Montana where we can dig a well I can throw myself in – with five guys shoveling, the process wouldn’t take as long as me doing it alone.

This idea seemed to stick…not the ‘me drowning in a well’ part, unfortunately, but the ‘cabin’ part.

After months of us taking turns arbitrarily throwing out texts along the lines of, “When’s the cabin thing?”/”Are we still doing that cabin trip?”/”I want the well to be so deep that no one can find me,” legitimate plans started being made.

We settled on a location: Oklahoma. Not all of the group chat was going on the trip, and Oklahoma was pretty much equal distance driving for the 4/5 of us that were going.

With the destination decided, the Airbnb was booked. Somewhere along the line, the idea for the trip morphed. What started out as cabin for well-digging in Montana became a lake house in the middle of backwoods Oklahoma.

Middle-of-Nowhere, OK. 100-degree weather. Wide open lake. Septic system. Canoes. Possible death by woodspeople. An Airbnb with finger paintings on the wall and probably hidden pinhole cameras. An owner named Hank. Golf.

This was not how I wanted to spend my final days.

INT. GROUP CHAT (named "Billy's Willy Wonderland" at the time) - FOUR DAYS BEFORE TRIP
If you had put, 'Dies of Heatstroke in a Republican's Oklahoma Lakehouse' on my 2021 bingo card, I would've told you that you were full of shit.
At least now we don't have to kill you to bury you deeeeep
I have no idea what you're trying to say there.
Armon said he wanted to be killed and buried at the cabin in Montana. I'm saying we can finish his vision after he dies of heatstroke

Or he would kill himself idk I don't remember that part
I didn't say that.
I don't think Armon said that either
He'd be buried alive then? I know this was a thing
I said I wanted us to go to Montana and dig a well for me to throw myself into.

That is very different from dying of heatstroke in a Republican lake house in Oklahoma.
Ah see I knew it had something to do with digging

Grave/well "oh well"
To be unhelpful, none of this is ringing a bell to me so I think you're all wrong.
Unless you're Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, throwing yourself into a well sounds slightly suicidal lol

The Ring role play taken to the next lvl
Yes, the point of throwing myself into the well is to die.
Does anybody golf besides Steve and me in this group?

When we pulled up to the lake house, the first thing I noticed was the well. It turns out the place already ran on well water.

If formatting the texts as a screenplay wasn’t hint enough: the group is made up of guys who are very into movies.

Between a best friend who can name every Academy Award-winning film (in order) & which films it was up against and myself, who is a big book guy, it was inevitable that a road trip to Oklahoma would involve a day trip to Tulsa to visit The Outsiders House Museum.

[In case my boyfriend reads this: “The Outsiders” is a book typically read in middle school English classes. It was adapted into a film by Francis Ford Coppola (prominent film director) and starred Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, the karate kid, the guy from “There’s Something about Mary,” and the coach from “The Mighty Ducks.” The book takes place in Tulsa, OK; so, they filmed the movie in Tulsa, OK. The house where it was filmed is now a museum dedicated to the film/book.]

I hadn’t read the book since we read it for English class in middle school, so I bought a copy to bring along with me and read while in Oklahoma. No one else in the group had read the book and only myself & Ben had seen the film; so, for the other two, their only lesson on “The Outsiders” was watching the film at the lake house the night before we drove to Tulsa.

Spoiler alert: The film sucks.

The two who knew nothing about “The Outsiders” checked out. I spent the whole film talking about everything in the book that got cut out of the movie.

When we got to the museum the next day, you could tell that only two of us were interested. But, the others indulged us by giving it a shot. That’s when it all sort of came into focus for me.

Here I was in the house where a book literally about the bonds of friendship takes place – a book written by a 16-year-old girl who set what we were taught in middle school is the standard of male friendship – taking in my role in this group. I had spent years thinking S.E. Hinton knew more about friendship than I did.

Sure, we’re not out fighting in social class-fueled street rumbles or hiding out together in an abandoned church after committing a murder; but, we all came from opposite north/south sides of the country to spend time together in a place not all of us wanted to be in doing things not all of us wanted to do. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

The fake extrovert in me has always pretended to belong in a group, but the real introvert inside of me was actually starting to believe it.

There’s a passage in the book where Cherry Valance refers to life as a “rat race” – we’re always looking for something to satisfy us but we never find it, she states. “Maybe if we could lose our cool we would,” she adds.

I lost my ‘cool’ on that trip.

The first night we were at the lake house, the night before venturing out to Tulsa, I was on edge. My anxieties were through the roof. I thought I made a mistake by agreeing to the trip – I had wanted to go on a trip with the guys; I didn’t want to go here with the guys. I agreed to go for the camaraderie, but this place wasn’t good enough for me.

Ask me what my alternative suggestion would be, though, and I wouldn’t know.

This trip was the most convenient option for the group as a whole, and it was the last time we’d all see each other again for a while. Yet, I couldn’t lose my ‘cool’ – my self-preservation, my self-centeredness, my main character syndrome.

I thought about it, again. What would my alternative suggestion have been? I don’t know. I don’t know what I was searching for, just that I’d know it when I found it.

I had found it inside that house: What I had been searching for was to be included.

What I didn’t realize was that I had been included the whole time. I was on this trip because I had been included the whole time.

I had what I wanted, but didn’t recognize it; so, I kept searching for something else.

The rat race.

Before we left Tulsa that day to return to the lake house, we stopped (at my lowkey insistence) at a tattoo studio. Ben and I had talked about getting tattoos together when we were in New Orleans. We were going to get tattoos in Memphis. Getting tattoos on our trips had never ended up working out.

After deciding I was getting tatted in Tulsa, Ben joined in: the Johnny to my Ponyboy. The others went with us, but opted to just watch. It would be my fourth tattoo, but it was a first for him.

I recalled that quote from Cherry Valance. I lost my cool in that moment; and, I got a permanent reminder to try continuing to lose my cool.

On our way out of Tulsa, we stopped at a casino to watch some basketball game that one of them said was really important.

And so, there we were – gathered in a place not all of us wanted to be in doing things not all of us wanted to do, but enjoying it all the same because we were an actual ‘group of guys’ just hanging out: our own warped version of outsiders for the weekend.

“Rat race is the perfect name for it […] We’re always going and going and going, and never asking where. Did you ever hear of having more than you wanted? So that you couldn’t want anything else and then started looking for something else to want? It seems like we’re always searching for something to satisfy us, and never finding it. Maybe if we could lose our cool we would.”

– Cherry Valance, ‘The Outsiders’

[Tattoo by Hannah at Anchor & Rose Tattoo Co. in Tulsa, OK. ~ Rat inspired by book quote; the eye is the star from the Tulsa flag.]

3 thoughts on “Tatted in Tulsa: A Lesson Inside “The Outsiders” House

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