Tag Archive: kids



Soon after we’d moved into the rental back in the ‘hood it became rather apparent that the old house – a slab floored stick-frame clapboard construction, which was quite weird, given the former and now deceased owner had been a mason.  The toilets kept backing up, vomiting the contents of their bowels and ours across the loose linoleum floors like bad memories of meals once eaten.*

So my dad did what he does best: he called someone in.

And here they come in their big white truck with a tanker behind – and a long, long hose for sucking the sewage up . . .

They park it behind the house, and after poking around with some shovels (I could’ve told ’em where it was at) they found the septic tank.

Digging at it most carefully, they outline the profile; then bringing in a backhoe, they go at it awhile, their ancient machine puffing and chugging like a dinosaur or dragon with a sting tail – lifting buckets of dirt, dumping them aside . . .

And then, finishing the job with the shovels, the expose the concrete lid.  It wasn’t as far down as I expected – but there they were, the workmen (or country bumpkins, from the look of it) – hooking big rusty chains with big rusty hooks to the rusty steel loops set in the concrete . . . then to the backhoe’s bucket . . .

The workmen stood back, and I, who had wisely placed himself in the bedroom, stood looking along with my tiresome brother – protection from the stench which would appear as soon as they lifted the lid.  I was quite sure my protection was futile, given the shallow aluminum framed windows and condition of the house.

Then the lid came up, looming and awesome as the backhoe’s engine gave a big chug and belched smoke, choking down as they gave it the throttle . . .

And then there it stood! it all its awesome and hideous glory: the thing we had been waiting to see: the staring open eye of the pit . . . only instead of there being sewage on top . . .

there was this thick, pink, undulating skin.  Ugly, mottled, smooth, it heaved like a living thing.

Immediately the workmen standing beyond the pit began chuckling, some of them chortling and slapping their knees and giving knowing looks at the house where my parents stood in embarrassed confusion, then comprehension . . .

And as I stood looking at that milky pinky white cloud floating in the museum of past bowel movements and desire, I realized what I was looking at:

the entire pool of the septic tank was covered in a thick floating layer . . . of condoms!

Huge it was.  In more ways than one.

And the workmen apparently thought so, too.  My brother began gagging as the stench oozed into the house despite the closed windows (the seals were no good) – and ran from the room into the interior . . .

while I stood alone, thinking.

Thinking about what HE did and our times together.

He never used a condom for that! I recall thinking.  He always rode me ‘bareback’, down on the dirt, face down in the grit . . .

But there they were: obvious evidence of the previous owners.  Maybe after too many children and not enough family or dollars to support it, they’d gotten a clue.  ‘Or,’ (the thought had occurred to me) – ‘this was from renters before, though after we’d left.’  I don’t know why I a) found it so disgusting, b) it bothered me so much, or c) it kept disturbing ‘me’ (and still does to some extant) so much later on.

But they were certainly gone, and I was here.

As I stood looking – and looking up (I remember looking at the sky a lot – so refreshing, though it was more an overcast blue and gray.)  Smelling that stench.  Reflecting on my past and theirs while relishing somewhat my mid-Western and prudish parent’s embarrassment – yet knowing they the ones, for we had just gotten there.

And yet all those facts didn’t matter, because it didn’t change anything.  My parents were still there and so was my brother (shudder).  Nothing was different.  That’s what we dealt each other.  Outside lay other lives; ones we were imitating, but not quite perfect.  We tried – and tried again.

But it was no use.

It was like I was something foreign here.  Or had come to a foreign land.  Again.

I saw my old best friend once.  I was standing in the sand driveway of the home across the street when he came riding on a motorcycle.  He stopped in front of me and we stared at each other.  I had grown fat, wore glasses – not the kid he knew.  Not a good match for his memories.  And as for him – his curly hair was wild from the wind (he wasn’t wearing any helmet) and his eyes wilder.  Like a feral cat.***

And I knew as soon as I saw him we’d have nothing in common, nothing to do together. We were no longer friends. I no longer knew him, nor he me.  He gave me a long look, a few words, and took off . . .

I saw him again, some thirty years later.  He owns a shop. He’s poor and rash. And he has (or had) a young boy. One of several . . .

and he hangs with his brother, his bigger brother, the one who ‘did’ me (and his little sister when she was four – and he 14 or so).

That thought’s kinda scary . . . but kinda sad.

The End.

(’13’)


Host Notes:
* Some part of me kept trying to connect the ‘vomiting toilets’ with the memories I kept having, only ‘I’ refused to do it (it made the sentences too long) – and it wasn’t the ‘memories’ which were bothering ‘me’ at the age of 13, it was the emotions connected with them – that along with the problems at school
** As a matter-of-fact the description of Jeff’s eyes in the when Matthew first see’s him in the book “The Boy” from when I saw him.  Feral, like a wild cat.
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I’ve seen the movie “Hunger Games”, me and my wife.  I wasn’t impressed.

I guess it’s hard to gain an impression of that lifestyle when you’ve lived one as a kid, courtesy of the United States Army and a few other folks.

I grew up in a wartime culture, as lot of my peers did: steeped in the consequences of Vietnam, our father’s fresh from the horror of Korea (and the PTSD symptoms that followed – at the time unrecognized, but visited upon their kids and immediate family sometimes).

I well remember the hunger games.  The real ones.  The ones that WE played – for real.

Kids, gathered or ganged, platooned or assigned, guardian and guerrilla – we came in all kinds, and all kinds of us had our own specialties.  We’d gather in squads or platoons in the woods under the guidance of some counselors, be they military men or civilian, it really didn’t matter.  I even had a Scout Master – Colonel R., from the time I was 14 or so until I grew up and went into the military myself.

We were all a bunch of Army kids – always ‘fighting’, often playing war.  Our Scouts skills consisted of learning a bunch of survival; our overseas training, even more.*

Often the ‘award’ from such a fight was a can of C-Rats – C-Rations, to you civilian folks.  The favorite was fruit cocktail, pound cake (in a can) fell behind as a distant second.

A stack of “Silver Bullets” co-offered by some counselor (gathered from us, of course!) – would be enough for a reward.

To the spoils goes the victor.

They would set the “goody” somewhere (perhaps), divide us into battle groups (divisions, platoons – squads).  Generally the ‘armies’ were divided evenly, but not always.  Sometimes the ‘smart’ kids would be given the little kids to fight with – and the other team would be a lot of big boys.

Very big boys indeed.

I remember laying curled face down in a ravine, knees against my chest as dozens of kids, charging, dove across the ravine, their heels hammering along my spine and ribs.  I served as kind of a footbridge for a lot of them, or so it seemed.  Not that I was there for that, mind you!  I was a spy, and these were my enemies.  They had come up the hill (stealthily, you know), but I had ‘a-spyed’ them, lurking through the bushes, taking little ‘rushes’ from cover to cover, and had sent my young ‘aid’ a runner, about an eight year old kid (I was 14) to go and fetch help, give warning, do something.  Assemble the troops or whatnot.  Set off the alarm.  For I wasn’t the commander – just an infiltrator into enemy territory seeking a few goals.

Often the rules were uneasy.  You were allowed to hurt other kids – but not too badly.  Nothing that needed first aid (and we’re talking here in the serious days, where a small burn or scratch would get you a look of contempt were you to bring it to their attention, much less whine about it.  Kids today are so ‘tender’ . . . but there again, I had such a high pain tolerance (gee, wonder where that came from?  LOL!)

We “played” hard for that little treat, that can of syrupy sweetness, all swathed in green . . . O.D. green, that is, the color of war and canvas.  (How I like the smell of fresh tinted canvas – that military ‘stuff’, thick, green, and sturdy . . . there’s something about it that says . . . something.  Like ‘welcome home’, somewhat . . .)

I remember (and now this was in my older days, when I was 16 and had learned a lot about survival – and torturing folks) – we caught a kid.

He was from the other team, and he knew where in these deep woods (bounded by a highway and stream on one side, a tremendous lake on the other, bordered by woods and mud, and cut-through with ravines like an old man’s face . . .)

So I had him – or rather my helpers – tie him up.

At the first they were amazed when I took his shoe laces and wrapped them tight around his thumbs.  I tied a noose-knot, one that wouldn’t come unbowed, and would tighten whenever he drew it.

And then I showed them how . . .

to tie him up (to a stump) – and then to torture him . . .

without ever leaving a mark.

(That’s kinda funny, seeing as his name INDEED was Mark; Mark T. is all I’ll say for his own protection here . . .)

He had been boggle eyed and incredulous when I had tied him by his thumbs, sneering and saying:  “I’ll get out in no time!”  He was sure of himself, and that he could break those shoe laces.

While he was struggling with his bounds, I turned to my ‘men’ and began telling them – rather, teaching them what to do.

“We’re gonna tickle him,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.  He was sweating now, and his thumbs were hurting – I could seem them turning blue.

He, overhearing that, stopped struggling (whilst I went over and loosen his thumb braces a bit there) – and laughed again.

“Tickle me?!!”  He barked a laugh again.  “That’ll never work!  You can’t hurt me, you know!  Not really.”  And he smiled with a show of self-satisfaction, and leaned back, confident.

I smiled grimly.

He knew little of what was coming.

Turning to my three or four young charges, I looked over my team and said:

“Like this.”

And we began.  We all took turns in tickling him – him bound against the rough bark of an old (and somewhat soggy) tree stump, and those kids taking turns tickling his ribs, and up under his chin – using every trick in the book, even leaves and soft branches.  We had his shoes off, so his foot soles were bared.  At first he couldn’t stop laughing.

Then he couldn’t stop crying.

Then he couldn’t stop himself from peeing himself.

While we all stood around laughing at him he gave us the information we need . . .

Such is the fate, and the victor’s spoils.

He was only a little younger than me, by a year or two.   After ‘extracting’ our information (and me having two swift young runners go back bearing the news, by different ways should one of them get caught) – we found their camp and made havoc on them, taking care not to snap any of their tent poles, but otherwise ‘destroying’ their tents, and pity he who left a bit of food laying out . . . we would take it, every last drop and crumb . . .

Hunger games.

Yeah.

I’ve played them.

.

.

*We were being ‘trained’ to be infiltrators and ‘helpful little hands’ (in some terms guerrillas) for NBC war.  Those skills included, but were not limited to, learning to fire the minigun from a Cobra’s co-pilot seat using a HUD.  Just in case too many Army pilots got wounded . . . during a nuclear war.

The Dick Knot


“It’s a dick knot,” the boy was explaining to me, swinging it in loose circles between his fingers.  Then he threw out a challenge.  “Nobody has been able to untie it.  If you can – ,” his eyes rolled towards the gray fall sky, “you’d be the very first one to do it.”

I examined the thing.  I had come across it while wandering the playground – a small one on a small base we were on.  This was the last base we would be on; after this we would be going back overseas.  Stateside. We were far from being “short” (that is with only a short time to go) but we could sense a change over the far horizon.  Only about a year left to go . . .

I sighed, taking the knot.  It was huge, the size of a soccer ball, tied in a rope which hung from a massive tree on the playground’s edge .  Facing us was a row of identical apartment buildings, each five stories tall, with identical windows, balconies, and curtains.  The upper floors were more desired, but no one wanted the top one.  That was for “transients” – people who were either coming or going – and consisted of a long hallway the two stairwells, with eighteen identical rooms with 18 identically slanted roofs.  They each had dormer windows.  There’d be a room with a stove and a W.C., but there was no way of locking the doors at the end of the hallway.  As a result kids would occasionally run through, playing chase or escaping foes while a family was cooking dinner or going about their business up there.

Around me stood the playground – one slide, two teeter-tooters, and not much else.  There was, however, the eternal jungle-gym which haunted every playground – a huge cube constructed of pipe iron, set into smaller cubes.  The ends were joined with plain crosses and fittings, and if you fell through – woe to the child who did! – you would crash through all that iron, maybe breaking a bone or your head.

There was another playground once, on another base.  The way the military constructed their toys back then – this time one took off a girl’s fingers – almost took her entire hand – chewing it up in the center pivot of a merry-go-’round they had made out of old sheet iron, a post and some fittings.

But this dick knot – I studied the knot, then looked up.  The rope was tied high on a distant branch.  Looking down, I picking at the knot.

I was about twelve and we’d already been “here” (overseas in Cold War Germany) for two years.  I was tired of moving, the constant changing of schools and ‘friends’.  I appreciated this move – we were on an air corps base now, where my dad belonged and worked.  I had just arrived this afternoon, and dark came early in late autumn.  The rope was easily an inch plus some in diameter, stiff and strong.  I fought the tag end, finding where it looped under a tight coil, and began unraveling.  It was harder than it looked.  The kid who had been encouraging me suddenly turned wandered off . . .

I stood toiling.  Below my feet was sand.   I had become used to kids wandering off – disappearing in and out of my life until it was just a blur in my head.  Not knowing, I was depressed.  I felt it, but didn’t know the word for the situation I was in.  After all, life seems ‘normal’ while you’re living it.  It isn’t until you get to the end that people tell you it wasn’t so . . .

We were on the ‘outskirts’ of the main military bases around Hanau, a region in Germany.  Isolated from the other ones by about five miles through ‘Krautland‘.  There was a shuttle bus that ran from one base to another – old civilian Bluebirds converted to military use, and our school buses in the winter.  Now I was five miles from school, and I’d have to get up even earlier to get on, whereas before I’d lived right across from the school on Old Argonner.

I looked around.  There was no one in sight.  I felt lonely, tired, and bored.  It was best to stay out of the apartment while my mom got things settled, and she’d shooed me outside, telling me “go out, explore!”.  I was beginning to make progress . . .

There was no one around me when I had begun, but after awhile a few kids came up.

“What have you done?!” one of them exclaimed, almost in horror, as the last few kinks in the knot fell away.  “You unraveled the dick knot!”  He came up and grabbed the rope from my hand, glancing between it, me and his companions.  He looked frustrated, looking up at the tree.  “Now we can’t swing on it!”

I felt confused.

“What?” I asked.

“Dumbass,” the kid said, thrusting the rope back at me.  The other two kids (there were three of them) glowered at me expressively.  “Tie it back.  TIE IT BACK!”

Somewhat alarmed, I began redoing the knot again while looking him.

“I thought – someone told me – that this knot needed undone – ,” I feebly protested.  It was going to take a little while – the knot had been huge.

“No it didn’t.  It’s for riding this thing.”  And with that he shook the rope, making my task a little bit harder.

After I’d gotten done, then he showed me how – and why it was called a “dick knot”.

“You ride it like this,” he said, grabbing the rope and jumping up, putting the large knot behind his butt.  The rope disappeared between his legs in the front.  Then he bounced against the tree – feet first – told us to stand back, and took off.

Shoving himself hard with his feet, he spun around in circles while going around the tree.  “Thunk!” – his feet came down on the trunk just as the rope got too short to support another go-around.  Then he took off again, only this time in the other direction.  Shooting past his original starting point, the rope coiling around the tree – his spinning on that knot – then his boots came down on the trunk again; the rope was all wound up, ready to go again, and he did.

“The trick is!,” he yelled as he spun around, “to come down with your feet!”  And with that he smacked his shoulder in the tree as he attempted to turn around.  He winced, fell, and stood rubbing his shoulder.  As I watched another kid got on.

“The trick is: who can get the most go-arounds while you’re going around the tree,” he said, pointing at the kid who had replaced him.  “One-two-three-four – ,” the kid smashed, back first, into the tree’s rough bark, and he groaned, falling to the ground.

“Ouch,” he said, standing up and rubbing his back.

I stood and watched for awhile.

Then after awhile, they left.

Then I tried it on my own.

It grew to be one of my most favorite things – spinning and twirling around that trunk.  I’d go for hours and hours.  I got good at it after getting busted up a few times – sometimes good! – and I’d taken my share of scrapes, bumps, and bruises – but I loved it!  The sensation of flying through the air at speed, the world whirling and spinning around you – the perfect (and careful) timing that was required.  I got to where I would win those ‘contests’ – where you had to get off if you messed up on the landing – going around and around until my audience would get tired.  I kept testing my limits – how wide I could take off, how many rolls I could complete before having to come in for a landing – until the other kids learned it was useless in challenging me.  And I’d be far off in my head – thinking about back home, thinking about the woods; the ‘games’ we played ‘playing’ war – our fears and desires and the great unknown, back home, waiting over that far horizon.

G.I. Joe Scouts


G.I. Joe Scouts

I was about twelve or thirteen when I joined the Boy Scouts. My parents told me about them – they were at the JYC or whatever acronym the Army used for that thing – an Army run “Juvenile Youth Center” where bored teens could hang out. It was worse than the USO, which had fallen into hard times during that period – probably due to the Vietnam war. They had an old dinged up ping-pong table, a couple broken balls, and a paddle or two – the rubber peeling off one side like dead skin. You could hear it flapping and woofing in the wind as you swung it around, batting the beaten balls on their unpredictable trajectories and hearing their dull thumps.

And that was about it.

Us kids were generally bored. We’d seen everything. I read a LOT. We’d scouted out the hangers, hung around in the barracks, stole supplies – you name it.   And we were very good.  Not that we were ‘bad’ kids, just generally bored Army brats with too much knowledge in this world.  So when my parents approached me – practically forced me – into this group, I joined as my brother did.

We were a very small group, this “Troop” of ours.  There were only five or six kids.  They were of various ages and colors – ranging from some small ones (two little black brothers), a medium one (Latino or Hawaiian) about my age, my brother, and someone else.  Race didn’t make any difference; never did, not until the blacks taught me to hate them for a while with their hatred for the ‘white man’ (though I was only a boy at the time).  Sometimes  I still have a problem with it, but then – so do they and they caused it.  At least in me later on.

We had a lot of ‘fun’ with those guys, our G.I. Scout Masters, serving as go-to boys for their beer. They sold it in the barracks in a soda machine – just insert four quarters and you were done – and we’d dutifully trot right on back, bearing their beer. We never drank it. Though German beer was good they didn’t offer it in the machines due to the higher alcohol content – and our Scout Masters always provided the quarters. They were our masters in more than one way, and we were their sons sometime.

They didn’t act like Scout Masters, not much. Nobody wore any uniforms, took any oaths or salutes. I wouldn’t learn those until later, when I joined a real Scout Troop over ‘here’ in the United States again. They acted like a couple G.I.’s who were set on having a fun mission – that of training us kids.   It involved a lot of hiking, quite often in Volksmarching (20 kilometers or more), hard winter camping, and learning survival skills, which included learning weapons and ammo, how to set up a tent, hunt for mines.  We met in one of the underground bunkers – the first of seven  of the rumored underground levels of the base we were on, Fliegerhorst Kaserne (Flying Horse, quite literally translated). These were also the two G.I.’s who took us on trips through parts of the huge sprawling bunker – it seemed to cover acres, and was built like a rat maze with rooms. All the doors were gasketed and vented with chemical ports – small black perforated domed eyes of thickly painted steel – with big dog-legged levers that pivoting in the middle, one on top and one on the bottom. There was a firing range there as well.

We spent a lot of time identifying bullets by their remains. The G.I.’s had us doing it at an outdoor mountain range one time, digging them out of a hill bank that acted as a range backstop, identifying them by name.

“This one’s a thirty caliber, and that one’s a forty-five,” they’d explain, holding up some mushroomed piece of lead, its copper jacket all torn and mangled. You could usually tell by looking at the lands (bottom rim) of the bullet what kind of gun it came from. But sometimes the bottom would be chipped and broken and you’d find yourself digging looking for the pieces, as if there was a story to be told and here were the hidden words. And that was the truth of it sometimes. Sometimes you could tell by small arms caliber fire what kind of bullets were used, and get some idea of the strength of their weapons. They could sometimes tell you the enemy’s – or a sniper’s – direction, though you hadn’t heard where the shot came from. And sometimes, piecing them together, you would learn a little bit about yourself. How to use your own skills to find things like that – those little bits and pieces, piecing them together, and announcing:

“They shot an M-16 from that booth on automatic,” and then pointing to the little holes, be able to explain where the fire came from, where was the enemy’s last known direction when this attack took place. From that you could determine where to go next. We always found ourselves going towards the enemy’s direction so we could track them, or else back to ‘base’ to make your report and stand by for ‘more orders’. A lot of the time those ‘something else’s’ ended up being extended marches – through the snow and woods; along some busy German road in the slush and the rain, backpacks bearing down across our backs. I wished so bad for a frame; mine didn’t have one. It took a long long time, saving up a little as I did, but it was well worth it when I did. My back became hard and strong by then.

One day we were walking when we heard some small arms fire coming from our right. Looking up the mountain, we could see a narrow green swatch of ‘range’ arrowing up on the mountains.  Earlier that day we had been poking for some mines and looking for booby traps and ‘things’ – those long thin wires they would lay out on the ground where a firework would go off announcing your presence to someone and you were ‘dead’.

Filtering up through the woods we ‘took’ that range strategically (announcing ourselves and surprising some older scouts posted around) and surrounding them, went into the long lean-to that served as wet weather protection and a place to clean arms. We all stood there fidgeting around while the two scout masters met, discussed something real quick, and the boys all laid down their weapons in the pits. I was hoping and praying we were going to get to firing them – you know, shooting the still warm weapons, but we didn’t. Instead the Sargent had us move on – filing out of the building single file. Later, after a long night, we came back and dug some bullets out – again, with our fingers stiff and sore because we had to use them. No one had a shovel, which I find rather strange – not even the two G.I.’s. Or if they had one I don’t remember.

So we walked again – a long time – set up our tents and laid down inside, still on the hard packed snow in our canvas bags because it had started snowing again. We were cold, wet and shuddering, wrapped in army canvas as we tried to stay warm . . . but soon the quilted warmth of our downy “Sleeping Bag, Arctic” kicked in, and we slept in our warm cocoons, our breath frosting our mouth and nose.

It was a long night . . . and just one of many I’ve experienced in my lifetime. And some not so comfortable as that . . .

Says a lot for the places I’ve been.

The Canteen: Part Two


It was a chilly early afternoon. Gray clouds scudded across a slate plated sky, broken by occasional shafts of sunlight marching across the verdant green land like golden lances. The tree shuddered and moaned under the wind’s brace, shaking its branches against winter’s advancing chill. Leaves shook with a delicate rustle, some tearing awayto go dancing down the hill and disappearing into the farmer’s field like mice among the grain.

My buddies and I sat on the grass covered bunker, a left over from World War Two. It was outside the fence in the ‘forbidden zone’ – Krautland – and we had gotten there through a hole in the fence. It seemed no matter where we went we could find an escape route – a hole in the fence, a poorly guarded outpost – sneaking out and sneaking in again. You weren’t allowed to do that. It was strictly against regulations. You were required to leave by the main gate if you meant to go, presenting your ID upon re-entering the base to the always present MP-cum-sentry there. Going through the fence was strictly forbidden and it was farmland there – farmland followed by stretches of woods where the tanks and we ‘played’.

We’d go there when we’d get bored, looking for something to do. It wasn’t that weren’t other distractions on the military bases, though we did a lot of things which were illegal, such as sabotaging an airfield’s radar installation, or stealing supplies from the supply depots – and the ammunition no less! – being another. Oft times we would go ‘play’ with the G.I.’s who were on maneuvers, lying and deceiving to our own parents about where we had been, and lying to the G.I.s commanders as well. It all depended upon whose side we were on at the time.

And of course there was the PX, theater, and snack bar – and if you were really lucky, a bowling alley or a pool. Most of the bases didn’t have the latter. That was about it. No TV or radio, no phones to use and play on, no internet, no . . . nothing. Us kids road shuttle buses like flies following a garbage truck. They were long green ones, driven by a German driver, with the classic folding doors and hard seats – Old Bluebirds painted green and recommissioned for the military’s uses. They also were our school buses when the time came, though you had to be on your toes to catch one. The Germans ran their schedules like everything – strictly on time, though God bless them, they would wait for you if they thought you were in trouble or something – on the military bases only.

But us kids were bored. We’d seen it all. We’d scouted the hangers, hung around in the snack bar, played the pinball machines – a costly expense for me. I was always hunting for one that was broken, whether by dropping my quarters back into the return slot like a loose drunk’s grip (while award a credit for our effort) or like a benevolent god, granting us kids our wish for endless credits in return for us sharing the thing and keeping quiet so the snack bar operators wouldn’t catch onto the free games. Once we kept a machine going for almost a week – gathering around it and shielding prying eyes from our gain.

This time we were on a mission, albeit one of our own making. We weren’t hanging out simply because we were bored. I had my purchase from the German canteen; another had the necessary items. We all hoisted ourselves into the tree that stood on the shoulders of the bunker, climbing its branches. We had already checked the single squared opening we’d found in the bunker – near the top, with a square runged ladder leading down. We’d gone inside a few times, but it just stunk of piss, like old beer, and there was always a thin film of water from one to a few inches deep at the bottom. A few G.I.’s had come out one time – we had hidden from them in the tree, not even knowing we were hiding – and then they had engaged in gay sex right there before us, in the weeds below the sharp rise of the bunker. It had grown funnier and funnier until we all started laughing like a bunch of crows – and then screaming “Book! Book!” we’d taken off running for our hole in the gate. The G.I.’s, all tangled in their embraces and the bedsheet they had brung had found themselves tripped up by their nakedness and the sheet they had wrapped themselves in. I was laughing so hard I was barely able to make it – ducking low as I slid like a baseball runner under that scornful lip of the bent chain link curling in the ditch near the bottom – scuffing up the dust as I went ‘in’, back on the base safe and sound, still grinning and looking at my friends . . .

We often came there where when we were bored. It was always quiet and peaceful once we’d get settle down. A Jagermiester’s hut stood out in the field – across the grain you could see fences of wooded land marching down across the horizon. It often brought me a smile, being in those woods . . . away from everyone and the base we were on.

I drew out the package I had purchased the night before and tore the top open. There were the German cigarettes I had bought and I hadn’t been picky about the brand. They were rough and unfiltered. I wouldn’t have known what brand to get anyway since I hadn’t smoked. My father owned a pipe – several well aged Meerschaums as well, but he had given up smoking some time ago. How I loved the aroma of a good pipe tobacco! How my mom hated those things – including the cigarettes I held in my hand. She hated a lot of things with a passion, insanely so some times. Including us because she hated men – hating them secretly and then vomiting out all her own fears and hatreds on us, her own children. There was a lot to be said about that woman, some of them good. But most of them are not.

This was a first for a lot of us, smoking. There were six of us in all that morning or afternoon. With the cloud cover it was hard to judge the time sometimes, but watches were rare. I had a Timex strapped to my arm; some of the other kids owned one as well – small white faces with thin black straps, each one a windup. They were for telling us what time to be home. Others relied on Taps sad siren’s song which would sound promptly at five o’clock pm to announce when it was time to be going. It was like a command from God himself, only more reliable and much more punctual.

One of the boys in our group said he had tried smoking before, sneaking some from his father. Another one chirped that they made you ‘high’, but nobody was quite sure what that meant. After all, what is ‘high’ when you are a kid and only twelve years old? You don’t associate it with some drinking that you did; that was “getting drunk” in our minds. And nobody talked about what others were doing, not much. Sometimes there were traitors in our groups, though usually we were best of friends. You never knew when a knife might fall – the knife of Army separation, or from a small group of friends, or from the disappearance of one individual by himself. Sometimes it would be the fathers who were in conflict – and then everyone would suffer. Sometimes the whole base would feel the wrath of a particularly mad and powerful C.O’s anger. Sometimes we were punished as a group; sometimes all alone. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes it didn’t; but as time went by I just quit feeling this ‘thing’: this sense of loss and separation. By withdrawing into myself I could feel myself ‘keeping myself whole’ in some way as I tried not to fracture into more pain I could bury, more parts than I was capable of keeping going at the same time.

“Here’s the matches,” said one of my friends, dragging one of those paperbacks from the PX, it’s logo small and round. It was a plain white rectangle, stamped with “PX” in black letters in something round. They burned, though, and that was the thing.

Passing the cigarettes out, I took one in my hand and put the pack back in my pocket, carefully balancing. I was sitting on a limb; we all were. Eventually I would learn to stretch out on them and take a nap – high up in the sky, unbeknownst to anyone below – sleeping and catching some breeze, one leg propped against a branch or in a vee, or if the branch was wide enough, cupping it between my shoulders and down the length of my body and letting my legs hang down.

I looked at the cigarette. It was small and round, its ends firmly packed. I was nervous. I had been warned again and again about this thing. How they were not good for you, how they could give you certain types of cancers and things. How your lungs would turn black and fall out in a violent fit of coughing (my mom’s threats on the stuff, including how she would cut our throats if she ever caught us smoking – and she had a good nose on her, that woman! She could smell a package of cigarettes a few yards away, hidden in the back of a drawer under some laundry. I should know as she caught me a few years later when I had the habit going, along with the habit of trotting up to the store where they sold those kinds of things in a machine. Marlboro became my favorite brand and you could get them for fifty to seventy-five cents, though they later went on up to a dollar, which nearly broke me of those things – and my paycheck.

They sold them in a machine over here, too, in Germany, and it had been by the machine the lady in the canteen had been guarding. It wasn’t uncommon for some Army brat to come in, and try to use the machine. But most of them had been caught and then marched away, maybe never to be seen again. You never knew. It depends on what other infractions they had been caught doing, what they were admitting, their own father’s career track and history – their future, everything, was up to second guessing. You never knew about Army command. Sometimes there were politics, deep and personal. Sometimes it just went by the book and regulation. Sometimes it depended on how much trouble the kid had got in – who had seen him do what to who’s or what things. It always depended upon your powers of observation, making sure no one was ever around. Sometimes your entire life was hinged on a word, a look; accurately guessing what others were thinking or which way they would look. We were sneaky as all get-out. You had to be.

For the most part, Americans being Americans, we were American kids. But then there were those special things, those things that set us apart from the groups of school children we were in and with. There were smaller groups among them, of course – there always are: loose groups of losers and friends, the popular ‘cliques’, the jocks and the ‘guys’. But even those were constantly changing, being revised as families shipped off overseas, or to or from somewhere. Our circle of friends was constantly rotating, the faces never remained the same. A few did. A few stick out in my mind with a burning intensity, some of them quite sad, but a lot of them are a blur. And so was this circle – all but one. He was my friend – my best one – and yet he was missing from that thing; this ‘group’ of rougher kids – and more daring kids. Of course his father mistreated him as well; expecting perfection and beating him when he was stoned drunk – sometimes beating him badly and violently in my mind. But not being there for this was good for him, for he went on, much later in his ‘career’, to become a fighter pilot of some kind. An expert in his field no doubt – he had a sharp mind, where mine was muddy as hell sometimes, even back when I was a kid.

“Here, I’ll take one,” I said as the kid, opening the pack of matches, struck one. He applied it to the cigarette he held posed between his lips. Drawing a deep breath he choked on the thing, nearly falling from the tree while simultaneously holding the pack of matches out to me.

“No! I’ll show you how to do it,” said the other kid, the one who had first spoken up about smoking to begin with. He was the one who had stolen some from his father; him and his friends had set me up on the dare; I had been the one to plan a night advance (when the canteen would presumably be at its emptiest, which it was not – it was in full gear when I came in!). He took the still smoking cigarette from his friend, and drawing on it a few times, got the coal red hot and glowing. Putting an unlit cigarette in his mouth, he touched it to the coal and lit up off of it. He handed the burning cigarette to a friend, then lit up another one. Taking mine from me, he lit that one up as well disappointing me – I had wanted to imitate what he was doing; he was saving matches, even I could see that.

As we all sat around – discussing smoking and how it should be done – I found myself growing dizzier and dizzier on the branch I was sitting on. My friends also complained about some vertigo.

“Maybe we should get down,” I said, wisely advising them in my best way. I didn’t want anyone falling and getting hurt out here. That would be sure to bring disaster down on our heads – beyond the fence, the fence would be mended, and we would all get our asses chewed for sure, beaten in some cases beyond a doubt. Mine was one of them for which I feared.

We all clambered down, still discussing this thing – whether to inhale them, or simply puff them away in spurts of smoke. At first we were just puffing on them, but as we grew stronger in our desire to try this thing – getting higher and higher all the time, we began inhaling on them, at first choking until we grew our brown wings and started getting the knack for holding them down. Then we smoked another – and by that time some of the boys were complaining about feeling like vomiting – and we headed towards the fence.

After that I never did give up smoking – at first sneaking a pack a week, sometimes getting them at the PX, but always with my own money. I usually stored them outdoors in some location – down in the community basement room system of supplies and locked doors, and maybe an old machine ‘laundromat’ of some kind – usually consisting of some old worn out machines scattered across a concrete floor in a cold damp room covered with slime from inadequate ventilation, and drain hoses snaking across the floor.

Later on I would go onto being a much more prodigious smoker, though I traded brands from time to time. For instance, I would smoke “Mores” later on during my high school days because cigarettes had gotten so much more expensive (I think they were about a dollar and a half by that time) – and I was always paying for them myself – working for my money and then some. I had an old bike for transportation – I got my first one when I was twelve (and often envy you ‘American kids’ who seem to get one every year or so, though I was an American child). We were just that poor sometimes. I only had three bikes as a ‘child’ – and I bought two of them with my own funds. I had to. My parents weren’t going to get them for me – and they said I would value them more if I worked for them, which I did.

I worked for everything in my life. Hard times – they do that to you. Instill in you a work ethic for life. And a good one, too, given my military background and training, though I don’t use it anymore, having become disabled due to my long stint in the Corps.

And smoking? I wish I had given it up; hadn’t even started back then. I’m still not quite up to a pack a day, though there have been times I exceeded that. I’ve been known to quit – two times. And then I gave up on the thing.

I shouldn’t have. I’ve got enough Nicorette – I worked for the company that makes them; hell, I even helped design the Commit factory – but oh well. We smokers would take breaks outside of that thing, that long tall brick building – smoking and discussing our commitment to this thing – both the building and the habit we would be breaking. Though none of us did it – not a single one.

They ended up hiring smokers for that thing (as much as possible, anyway) just in case someone got addicted to nicotine – which by the way, is an extremely poisonous drug to the system. It’s the plants way of keeping insects off of it. Think of it as a chemical insecticide – that’s what you all are smoking, and so am I. A chemical insecticide produced naturally by some plant, as is THC, by the way. Turns out bugs don’t like getting high any more than teetotalers do, especially when it comes at the risk of taking one’s own life. Which nicotine will do, especially when combined with the hundreds of other chemicals a cigarette is ‘providing’.

So . . . I urge you all NOT to take up smoking if you haven’t; and to give it up if you do (you will live a healthier and longer lifestyle), you will be happier, have more energy (due to lowered CO2 levels if nothing else); take more walks, have fresher breath, no more burn holes in clothes, no more stinking around the house . . .

While I go on smoking my own damn cigarette.

And think about giving up the habit, too.

(I am almost 53 years of age right now. I have been smoking continuously for at least forty of them. It’s really about time I did something for myself, if it isn’t too late by now. But even then I’m going to give up smoking sometime . . .

might be when I’m dying from ’em but I’m gonna have to put ’em up one day, maybe in my grave.


Speaking of which I left my lifelong friend and a guy who could’ve been my grandpa with five cigars – and a lighter – in his front pocket when he got buried.

One of the Boatman, one his well being, one for the Christ he believed in, and one for God the Being.

And one left over for me, when I come up there.

The End.

Ol’ Granddad


Ol’ Granddad

I squirmed in the damp sand, feeling the hard ripples beneath my back. A few inches from my face a curved concrete wall, lit by barely reflected light, threatened to scrape my nose. The tunnel was half filled with sand, its wavy surface betraying that flood waters sometimes rushed through. I squirmed a bit further, paused, and tipped my head so I could look between my bare feet to see my friend.

“You comin’?” I hoarsely half-shouted, half-whispered, trying not to sound loud, and spacing my words out. Sounds tended to get lost in the tunnels, bouncing around until each word and whisper got mixed. Somebody could be say something ten feet away and it would sound like it was in your ear – or hardly make a sound at all. Sounds seemed to travel a mile, rounding every corner. A shout would become a whisper, a whisper a shout – echoing in the tunnels, making judging distance difficult. It wasn’t uncommon to run into someone crawling in the darkness when we would make a chain – head-butting them in the rear with your forehead. You learned to crawl head down and bent. There’s nothing like a face full of butt to teach you that kind of lesson.

“Yeah!” I heard my friend whisper. Only, like I said, it sounded like he was beside me. I grimaced – the tunnel was pinching my broad shoulders – and wormed on.

Ahead the tunnel opened into a small space, a cube. Beyond lay the next round. I carefully shimmied into it, and stood, half squatting in the packed sand. A low concrete roof with an iron ring and cover was over my head; to my right a short shelf ran along the wall. I sat on the sandy shelf, looking out at the world beyond.

I was staring at a small street from a slit in the ground. Ahead lay the road, the dirt eye level. I shifted, digging my feet in the sand after checking for glass. This place was bright compared to some of the tunnels I’d been in. My thoughts turned to Ol’ Granddad – the granddaddy of them all.  All us kids called it that – that big round opening like the pale end of a worm tunneling into the dirt. From its entrance we would sit and debate entering. Few ventured beyond the narrow cone of light entering it during the day. Fewer still knew what lay beyond the curve – of the narrow rooms and narrower pipes that the bravest of us had found.

We were like rats, crawling – carefully, most often blind because none of us owned a flashlight. We would crawl and crawl – not hundreds of feet, but hundreds of yards. It was fun and always a scary adventure.  The fact that it did not bother our knees tells you how tough and hard scrabble us young boys were.  The fact that we were willing to brave the risks of the unknown, what lay in the darkness – knowing there might be rats or glass or snakes (including our own personal terror, the mighty loathsome cottonmouth).  There was a vicious braveness inside of us – a willingness to stick our heads in where angels feared to tread – if just to see what they were so mucking afraid of – and then challenge that thing.

Ol’ Granddad was a terminator pipe that dumped into a ditch a few hundred yards beyond the bend of the road at the bottom of the hill we lived on. It was the tail end of a network of pipes put in to handle the storm water that thunderstorms would bring. The water would sheet down the hill in a crystalline torrent when the Georgia thundershowers would roll in.  Granddad was big and built to handle them. He was concrete – big and strong – and long, curving into the dirt of the ‘hood, diving beneath it.

I don’t know how us kids – “older” kids now, ranging between eight and eleven – came up with the name for that particular section of concrete pipe, except that of them all, it was the biggest, longest, and to most kids, scariest. Few ever dared  explore the tunnels beyond. It curved with the road. Often us boys would gather at the end, for this was a favored dirt clod war zone. The ditches along both sides were deep enough to pose as trenches, protecting everyone who was smart enough – and quick enough – to duck a well thrown clod. Sandy clods full of sharp gravel would arc across that road until a car came, at which point a short truce would be drawn until it passed – then the rain of clods would begin again. Around the corner mid-hill where we lived there was no such protection, and the clods were as soft as sugar.  So we often went down there, slinging these clods – mixtures of clay, sand, and pebbles – at each other. We delighted in the way they would explode in a powdery puff when they hit someone. Using clods with big rocks was forbidden – not by the grownups, but by us – for when a regular clod hit you, it would simply disintegrate, showering you in dust and sand. The ones with rocks hurt; as did clay clods. It just goes to show: children can understand something about cooperation, or else it was from fear. Throwing a rock studded clod could lead to a violent escalation that could end in fisticuffs. At the very least, if you threw one you might find yourself pelted by rock studded clods by both sides, leaving you in welts.

But Ol’ Granddad – that was a big draw, a scary dare, luring us with its dark embrace, its cool concrete walls – beckoning with mysterious whispers. You could hear it whispering to you sometimes; strange sounds – especially when we were gathered around its entrance, debating about entering its mysterious depths and what, if anything we might find.

It took us months to decide to venture into this big old pipe. I can still see it now, still remember it as clear as if those times took place yesterday. How we would sit in front of the pipe, debating – and then finally making the decisions – who was to go first, who was going to go second, and so on.

“Rats might be in there,” someone would nervously say every time, eyeing the dark opening.  “Watch out for glass.”  We would look at our calloused dusty palms, as if envisioning cuts to come.

“Snakes, too,” another might whisper. Everyone was scared of snakes – we knew they sought cool shade during the summer – and rats, we were sure, carried rabies, turning them (in our imagination) into ferocious sharp toothed ravenous monsters. And I didn’t want to get rabies shots again!  (Those scarred me for life in some ways.)  Finally debating – and daring – each other out of our fear, we would venture in.

I’ll never forget those journeys into the darkness. You could ‘duck squat’ if you were short enough, but that took a toll on the legs, so we usually crawled.   The cool, rough cement beneath our hands and knees, we’d crawl along, dragging our toes; the entrance of the pipe – a round white circle – growing smaller and smaller and then disappearing as we’d round the curve. That final glimpse of light before it’s gone. Like an eclipse of the sun it would grow dimmer, the cone of shadow lengthen – and then it would be gone. There would be complete darkness. A sense of vertigo would overtake us; disorientated by the lack of vision, we would find ourselves slowly angling up the curved sides of the tunnel, our sense of gravity gone awry. Your only warning would be a vertigo to warn you. We never took flashlights; that was part of the dare – and it was a long way through the pitch blackness. Not to mention, I don’t think anyone had one. Then slowly, it would appear: a dim gray dot far, far ahead. We would crawl along faster now, more sure of ourselves – a line of boys all in a row, our voices and toes whispering along the concrete.

At the far end Ol’ Granddad abruptly terminated in a concrete room. It was tall – much taller than us, about twelve feet high, with about six feet on each side. Spilling out of the drainage pipe, we’d stand on the sand floor and stare up, relieved to be in the light. The light always seemed gray. Far above our heads the light would trickle around the edges of the heavy plated manhole, and seep through the finger holes you would use to lift it like lances. It was always dry when we crawled. We never ventured into it when it rained, or even if it looked like it might rain, instinctively knowing the threat of a flash flood, and knowing our parents would skin us alive if they knew we were there. There was only one other pipe leading into this terminal, this “junction box” as I came to learn in engineering. That pipe was much smaller, with a thick bed of sand. Looking into it you could see another dim circle of light further on. And of course, only the braver kids would go. There were only two or three of them – me and my best friends.

I remember that pipe very well, the one that we were facing as we stood in that narrow distribution box of the storm drain. It was always damp in that pipe, the sand rose to the middle. You had to crawl on your back or your belly, your nose bumping, shoulders scraping the walls. It wasn’t as dark as Ol’ Granddad – light would trickle in from both ends – nor was it was long as Ol’ Granddad. But the claustrophobic sensation of being squeezed in on all sides was always a bit uncomfortable – more mental than physical – until eventually you would find yourself emerging into a new room, a much smaller room, with another shelf to sit on.

From that vantage point us kids – or at least the few of us who dared – could sit and watch the cars go by on the road outside. Peering through the narrow slit of the rainwater inlet, we would sit there in the cool darkness, whispering and debating to one another, and feeling the thrill of seeing without being seen. It became one of our favorite secret hiding places: no one knew we were there, not even most of the kids of the hood.

“Pssst!” A sharp whisper came at from my feet. I looked down. My friend’s head, dirty blonde and curly, peeped from the pipe. I watched with interest as he squirmed through like a sandy brown worm, kicking aside a shard of glass that I spotted. He squatted, pivoting and peering through the slit, then sat on the sandy bench beside me. A car thundered by, its tires sending deep thumps through the tunnel ahead. The road was ribbed as well with an accordion like layer of sand on top of the hard packed clay and gravel. I could see the little spurts of dust glancing off each one as the car drove by. Its wheels just skipped across the tops of the curves. That’s the only way to take a washboard road – fast. If you go slow you beat both your car and yourself with its harmonics and rhythm. So you fly, just touching the tops of the bumps so that the shocks can’t drop your tires in the middle. It goes a long way towards smoothing out a ride on a washboard road. I know that from having driven plenty of them.

Facing us was another pipe. This one was small, dank, and round. Always it was almost full of sand, choked by the silt which would wash in. It ran directly underneath the road to the storm water inlet on the other side – sitting there on our ‘bench’ we could hear faint rumbles emanating from its dark throat as cars would pass overhead. None of the other pipes we crawled through passed under the road; only this one did. And this was the ultimate dare: to go through this pipe and see what lay on the other side.

As far as I know only I and another friend took that dare – and just a few times. Squeezing my shoulders together, I crawled in on my back – I didn’t want a face full of dirt – and with my nose scraping the top of the tunnel, I inched my way along. It was thrilling and terrifying, and like the patter of running rats my heart would race whenever a car would come over, its wheels sending thunder echoing around me. You could feel the vibration thudding through the concrete walls; the sand above was washboard, testing the car’s suspension – and our nerves. We would voice our fears in a whisper: what if a cave-in happened? What if the tunnel collapsed? And even worse: what would happen if we got stuck? Childish fears, of course – but we were children then.

At the far end of this tunnel lay another box, identical to the one we’d left, only more full of sand. To one side lay yet another tunnel, and even smaller section of pipe. It didn’t take us long, fresh from our fears, to decide: we weren’t going into that one. It was much smaller, much darker, and even more packed with sand. Enough was enough, we decided, and then sliding back into that dark dank pipe, we made our way back to our magic hideout.

Ol’ Granddad. I remember we abandoned our secret pleasure for a week or two when a murderous prisoner escaped from a local jail. The call went out; our parents warned us, we heard it on the radio. Warnings that he could be hiding anywhere – in the bushes, the woods, abandoned cars . . . and drainage pipes. That sort of perked our ears. For a week we would drop by the entrance to Ol’ Granddad and eyeing its round mouth, whisper.

“Do you think we should go in?”

“I don’t know – do you think he’s there?”

“I don’t know – why don’t you go in and find out?”

“Not me! You go! You’re the one that wants to go in!”

And so the debate would rage. Eventually we worked up our courage high enough to venture in – and no, he was not there. But every pebble we’d hear rattling, every stray glint of light from the errant pebble or piece of glass would throw us into a panic. Several times we had jumbles of kids as the ones up front would suddenly try to bolt backwards – only to run into us other kids who were moving on. But we found only the cool darkness, the mysterious stretch of black; the open pit, the branching tunnel. I remember the sighs of relief as we reached the ‘main room’ – the “Sun Room” as we called it, that concrete pit with its dim gray light.

Just one of our ‘grand adventures’ – one that, when we’ve gotten together as adults, we still talk about. The times spent in “Ol’ Granddad” – the pit, and how we’d sit in our secret hiding place, watching the cars go by. As a parent I know I would be horrified to find my child doing such a thing – but I would understand.  There is a huge maze of culverts not too far away – I wouldn’t be surprised to find children exploring them (though they are strictly forbidden).  The lure of the darkness, the desire to discover the secrets beyond. And I think after giving them a good scolding and warning never do it again, I would drop my arm around their shoulders in silent congratulation and pride as I led them gently away . . . shaking with silent laughter.

A World Unto Itself


A World Unto Itself

Living on a military base in Cold War Germany in the late ’60’s and start of the 1970’s was weird for a child raised in civilian ways. For despite having been born an Army brat, we had almost always lived among civilians, in a civilian neighborhood, with civilian friends. I guess that was my parent’s attempt at giving us kids a “sense of normality”. But that was in the U.S.A. In Germany we had no choice – we had to live on a military base. And living on a military base in a foreign land is an experience unto itself – even if you never leave the base. For it is a world unto itself, and it is ruled by an iron hand. And that hand is the base commander (the C.O., or commanding officer). He comes first, the military second, and though it is his responsibility to pass on the military’s rules, he can make exceptions. Usually those exceptions come in the form of more rules (directives, they are called) – ones specific to the base he commands. Next comes “country” (the U.S.A.), then, perhaps if there is room for it, religion.

For us kids you could add even another layer: our parents. Those fit somewhere between “duty to country” and God. They could not supersede the military’s commands, nor could they buck the base commander. They, like you, were expected to follow the rules handed down by the military. You always came second . . . or third . . . or fourth, depending upon your position. And for us kids, the position was very far down on the totem pole. You had this sense of a structure towering over you, the hand of god (which for us was the military, and not the true hand of God) – poised to strike at the least infraction. But, of course, we often broke the rules anyway.

Living on an Army base in Germany . . . especially the smaller ones – how to describe this thing to those who have never lived on one overseas?

Imagine a world built of Army trucks and tanks, marching G.I.’s singing randy slogans. We lived in the buildings the Germans had built for their own military back during WWII – quite literally occupying the homes of our enemies (though they weren’t our enemies anymore – for the most part). You couldn’t just plug in your nifty American appliance – you had to get a bulky transformer, or else you would fry your toy, because the electricity came from the German grid. Therefore, these transformers were considered precious – as precious as a refrigerator or vacuum cleaner, and almost as hard to find. Amenities were few, and often small. The only shopping for American goods was at the PX (Post Exchange) – which in many cases was a small building offering only a limited variety of goods, most of which were for the G.I.’s (such as uniforms, boots, insignia and such). Grocery shopping was done at the commissary, though we often visited the German markets (held in the town’s center squares) for fresh fruit and bread sometimes. Eggs were at a premium. Ditto steak, American bread, milk in those green cartons, and a hundred other things. For big items you had to drive for hours to another base, going to the AFEES center. Often you would be allowed to look at a “display sample” – to actually get the thing you had to order it – and like all mail orders in Germany at the time, it would take at least twelve weeks to get there, sometimes longer. You might not even be at the same base by the time it came in.

Entertainment was extremely limited. There were small libraries (just a few rows of books) – and the base theater. Almost every base had one. And even that was strange – or it would be to a civilian. For these were military theaters, and like everything military, there were procedures to be followed, rules to obey – and you didn’t dare disobey any of them. That would result in immediate ejection from the theater – and perhaps disciplinary action against your father. (This being the early 1970’s, not too many mothers were among the enlisted – though they – and we – had to follow the same rules as the enlisted.)

In a military theater it always started the same way. Everyone would sit down – quietly. Talking and discussion – laughter or fidgeting around – would earn you stern frowns from those around you. You waited for the movie to begin. And then it would start – and always in the same way. (The proper – and best way – in my opinion.) For it would open with the National Anthem, the flag and scenes from America on the screen.

And everybody – and I mean EVERYBODY – would have to stand up. If you were in uniform, you saluted that screen. If not: hand over the heart, standing at strict attention. No looking around. No conversation. Just gestures of pure respect towards the images on the screen. And woe unto the person who decided to remain seated. This was a command directive – not just by the C.O., but by the Army. “Everyone will stand – and remain standing – during the playing of the National Anthem.” No exceptions allowed. You WOULD place your hand over your heart. You WOULD stare at the screen. You would NOT shift around uncomfortably. You did NOT chew popcorn while it was playing. I always thought this was a wonderful thing, and still support the notion. After all: I’m proud to be an American, even if we do come up with some f****’d up policies sometimes. And I’m proud that as an American, I can say that. There are some countries where that would get you jailed, maybe even killed.

Such was (and is) the power of a base’s Commanding Officer that I remember one movie – a “premier” (though the movie had been out in the United States for well over a year) – where the CO was expected to show. He was late. Such was the respect (and fear) of the CO that they held off showing the movie for almost a half hour, waiting for him to get there. There were no open complaints made by the members of the audience; we all sat there, frozen in our seats, waiting for him to get in. The harshest thing I heard anyone say was “I hope he gets here soon.” Nothing else.

I’ve said that these military bases were worlds unto themselves. This was true. We dependents (kids and wives) felt free to mix with the G.I.’s – even when they were at work sometimes. I remember wandering into the hangers (my dad worked on aviation electronics – the “spy” stuff) – looking at the Cobras, UH-1’s, and Mohawks (a “spy” plane). Cruising out onto the tarmac to feel the rotor wash of a helicopter taking off – close and personal. G.I.’s would greet you like an old friend – even if you didn’t know them. After all: we were all bound together by a common thing – the military, our country of origin, our sense of “us” versus “them” – those who lived outside the base. There was always an acute awareness of our presence there among ourselves – that somehow we were just there temporarily, to do a job — and yet bound by ties thicker than blood. And the job of us kids was to obey.

That world ended at the fence — the eternal fence. (The military is fond of fences.) Beyond lay “Krautland”, within lay our world – the “American normalcy” – or the closest thing the Army could bring to it. We would gaze through the wire like tourists on a ship – the world ended there, right at the wire. Beyond – beyond lay another world, one strange and wonderful and full of pitfalls and traps. The gates that guarded our world were always eerily similar – you would know one if you drove by. Even if you didn’t know where you were at or if there was an American base there – you just knew. There would be a single guard hut planted in the middle of a road – red and white striped iron drop bars blocking the way in. A soldier – an “MP”, actually – standing at attention on the “in” side of the gate. An American flag set on a short pole on or near the shack. The fence stretching away on either side of the road opening, blocking all other ways in. There were times when touring through Europe when we’d see such a thing, and we knew: there lays “home” – or at least as much “home” as we’d ever be able to find here. A place of refuge if we needed one; a place we could run to if in trouble. The hell with the American consulate – that was way too far off. If there was trouble, we’d be running to the American base – into the open arms of the Army, for the Army had become our home. You might get into trouble when you got there – but at least it would be familiar trouble spoken in words you could understand. You may have committed “infractions” – but those infractions would be dealt with in an orderly military fashion, a military way. Outside the gate was chaos – or at least a system we couldn’t understand. Our unfamiliarity with foreign law, foreign ways made their system seem that way to us, even though we knew on an instinctive basis the Germans had to have a system. They had a system for everything.

This weirdness of living on a military base – separated from the world by a thin narrow fence, inhabiting a world of the Army’s making – was to become a factor in our lives. A familiar factor for many, I know, for some of you have done that – lived on a base overseas in the mid-60’s, the early 70’s – and you know what it is like. The rush to the PX when there is a rumor of a new shipment of a “new” thing arriving; the long lines there to purchase it (if there are any left) when you get there. The preference the military gives to their military men over the dependents (for dependents always come second – or third – in the military’s mind — which in my opinion is the way it should be). The anxious waiting for a new movie to appear in the theater; the sound of choppers thundering overhead. (I still find myself rushing outside when I hear that distinctive “thump-thump” of military choppers going by.) The smell of O.D. (olive drab) canvas – such a familiar smell that whenever I smell it (and I love it) – it smells like going home. The sound of a hundred booted feet striking the pavement as one; the chorus of voices in the morning as the G.I.’s march off to work . . . or somewhere. I love these things (cut me and I bleed OD green like a Navy officer bleeds blue) – and to me they are some of the most precious memories of all.

Military bases. Overseas. Worlds unto themselves. Places of their own. Separating you from the outside world and creating a world within – neither one ‘normal’ but a mixture of both. A bit of home away from home, and yet not home at all . . . a feeling of impermanence, of being in transit all the time – not where you are from nor where you are going, but stuck – for years! – somewhere inbetween . . .

The Magic Box


The Magic Box

When I was a kid, TV was a miraculous thing. We weren’t allowed to watch much TV, and for the most part we didn’t miss it. Cartoons only came on Saturday morning; none of this “Cartoon Channel” and Nick specials that run 24/7 like today.  And we were only allowed to watch an hour or two of cartoons before we were shooed outside like so many annoying flies to go play in the woods or chase each other in ever tightening circles. “War” was one of our most favorite games; building forts another.  (More on that later, in some other post . . . for we were a warrior’s child, and raised and bred for war, it appears . . .)

“Johnny Quest” was one of my favorite cartoons, and “Gentle Ben”, “Danial Boone”, and “Flipper” were standard fare.  How I wanted to become like that boy with the dolphins! – and yes, I fell in love with him.  There were “The Monkeys”, and the wild psychedelic children’s show, “The Banana Splits”.  You can’t tell me those guys weren’t stoned!  I remember (faintly) episodes of “The Laugh-in” and how much I loved Cher.

But there is a HUGE hole in my TV viewing history, courtesy of being overseas for years. There was no “American” TV – only poorly dubbed American shows featuring “Hoss” from Bonanza riding up and yelling “Vas ist los heir?”. And there weren’t one-hundred and thirty two channels to choose from; there were only two, with a fuzzy UHF channel if you were lucky. And there was no color, only black and white. My parents didn’t buy a color TV until the mid-70’s.

When a black and white TV show comes on today, I tell any children watching that “this is from before we invented color.  It used to be the world was black, white, and gray.  Then we discovered color.  And that’s why the films are that way.”  The look of amazement is well worth it as they stretch their imaginations . . . and regard me with something like awe . . .

Watching the old movies, I’ve come to realize something. Back in the old days, it was the story that mattered.  Not the special effects – unless you count the clay-mation effects of “Jason and the Argonauts”, and stuff like that.  Many of today’s stories just rehash old stuff, albeit they may throw in a twist or two, courtesy of CGI. But it seems nowadays they rely too much on flashing lights and motion (“look at the pretty colors, children!” I often say – albeit with a hint of contempt – as my grandchildren cease to play and stare in bland fascination at the TV screen – no matter what may be on . . .)

I’m not saying great films aren’t still made; they are. But in the old days the directors relied on their own creative juices and their actor’s skills along with a heft sprinkle of a viewer’s imagination and their own artistic eye – not CGI and a computer programmer’s skill at manipulating pixels. (I’ve done that work before.)  They had to find or build REAL scenery to suit their story; not a green screen (which used to be a blue screen).  There were no computer renderings afterward, no ‘touch up’ and after-effects.  They had to rely on having a story which grabbed the audience, not a bunch of flashing lights and booming sound to grab their audiences’ eyes.

I never got to see “Red Skelton”, the comedy show – it came on at bedtime, and bedtime was strictly enforced by my parents. Having seen some of his shows since then, I can’t say that I really missed it – I don’t much care for his brand of humor – but I remember my brother and I lurking in the hallway, peeping around the corner, trying to see what was going on. It didn’t take but once or twice before we’d be shooed back to our bedroom permanently – you didn’t disobey my parents for long, or else you’d suffer the consequences, and those were never very pretty.

The night of the moonshot, when Armstrong first set foot on the moon – even that night was difficult. It happened long after our bedtime, but I KNEW something special was going on – something I didn’t want to miss – and fortunately I didn’t miss that one. By begging and wheedling, coming out of my bedroom every five or ten minutes (and getting a few spankings along the way) – I managed to watch that historic moment. It cost me in bruises, but it was well worth it.

I can barely remember when Kennedy got shot – I was such a young child at the time – but I remember well the grownups reactions – milling around, their confusion infecting me, since I didn’t know what they were so upset about – but well I remember sitting in front of the TV, watching it with them, and hearing the cries of upset all around.

One movie – or actually two – I remember REAL well, for they were to haunt my childhood nighttime, filling every corner with terror, every shadow with fear.

One was the classic everyone has heard of. “The Blob”. The other, a less heard of movie – “H-Man”. Both about the same sort of thing: a being that could slip under doors, through the narrowest cracks, and lurk, dripping down from the shadows.

For years my bedroom was a place of terror after the lights went out. My parents were firm – hard, actually – and they were determined to harden us. No night lights were allowed, no open door to let the hall light in. And in the darkness I would watch, the covers drawn up to my chin, waiting for the shadows to move. “H-Man” – so thin and oily that he could fit between two sheets of paper, and “The Blob”, thick and gelatinous, able to squeeze under the crack of my door. And sooner or later the shadows would start to move in my child’s imagination, terrifying me. And you didn’t cry out at night, not for anything. As young children my brother and I had both learned better. Cries in the night would only bring you pain; real pain when my parents came in, either my father bearing a belt, or my mom her wooden spoon. Those terrors were more real than any we could imagine; despite our imaginations, we’d rather the monsters eat us than have our parents come in.

Young minds are easily affected; I’ve seen that with my own kids, and now they have kids of their own. They believe so much of what they see on TV, taking it all in as “real”. I had to comfort my grandson when we watched the zombies attack, reassuring him that this was all ‘make believe’, and those were actors in suits getting eaten (or run over by buses) – and no more real than “Spongebob Squarepants”. My daughter believed that the world used to BE black and white before she was born; that what I had said about the TV was true. And TV emphasizes so much of what is bad, so little of what is good – and sometimes I think we adults fall into the same trap.

I don’t see kids running around in the woods anymore; no one playing in the street. Here it is, the middle of summer, and all those kids are inside – watching that TV, playing their video games, and imagining that they are socializing through the internet and its chat rooms. Social media has had a great impact on everyone and their attitudes, their outlooks, and judgment of the risks (however real or imagined). In some ways this has been beneficial, helping to reduce prejudice, right injustices, and spread knowledge. But in other ways it has made us more fearful – we believe too much of what we see. For every ‘missing child’ case there are ten thousand kids who never went missing, and if there were as many murders in ‘real life’ as they show on TV none of us would ever set foot outside (or at least not unarmed!). Media shapes society now; of all the influences, it is the greatest one, especially visual media. And media is getting increasingly visual, yielding faster, greater impact – not just here in the United States, but all over the world. It can be ‘the great equalizer’ – but it can also be a subtly persuasive tool in the hands of manipulative politicians – or movie directors. The media influences our thoughts, our actions, our beliefs, our morals, our decisions. I know it has influenced mine. But how many people, I wonder, actually question what they see with what is real; make accurate risk assessments versus assessments based upon TV reality shows – which often depict reality in a very different scale than what it really is. I’ve seen so much ‘false science’ on TV that I’ve had to laugh – while being sickened, knowing that too many people believe what they see – and how the perceptions of risk have change from ‘real risk’ to ‘imagined risk’ – the root of real risk analysis, and how people regard the world around them. It hasn’t always been for the good.

I know things in the future are going to be different; I have no problem with that. Media is going to get more ‘personal’, more immersive, blurring the distinction between perceived reality and reality itself. We are in the midst of one of the greatest social experiments of all time, using ourselves as the guinea pigs – and it is happening all over the world. There’s a lot of places it can take us. But sometimes I wonder where we are going.

 


Taking On The Bullies In The Hood

There was a family of bullies on our street. They lived in the fourth house up the dirt road from us – I can see their white single story house plainly, set behind a chain link fence. In it lived a group of teenagers ranging from about sixteen to nineteen (I was eight or so), and they didn’t get along with anyone except (perhaps), themselves. They wouldn’t hesitate to stop a little kid walking along the road and beat them up. Even the teenager next door didn’t get along with them, and he was a favorite among both us little kids and the grownups. They had parents, I’m sure, but we rarely saw the parents – and no one ventured into their yard. It was certain death – or at least a good thrashing if one of them even saw you looking at them too hard.

Now we had a game we’d play when I was a little kid – “Hockey on a Stick” – which had absolutely nothing to do with hockey. Instead, a kid (usually one of us littler ones) would get a stick, and finding a pile of dog poo, would load up the end of the stick and begin chasing the others with it – all the while yelling “Hockey on a stick! Hockey on a stick!”. I haven’t a clue where that term came from, but I do know this: whoever had that stick was someone to run away from – for if they got too close, down would come the stick, and the next thing you knew, it would be ‘hockey on ME!” Fortunately, I was fast on my feet, and agile, too. That was a skill that was to come in handy for a long time in my life. Especially in this next part.

One hot summer day I was walking up the road going to visit a friend when I noticed the teenagers busily waxing their nice white hotrod (okay, maybe not a hotrod, but definitely their car) – in their driveway. To this day I don’t know what compelled me to do what I did, I only know that I did it – and loved every minute of it.

Finding a stick, I loaded it up – “hockey on a stick” – and loaded it up GOOD. And then I waited until they began putting up their rags. Walking casually ‘past’ their driveway gate – I’d of been whistling if I knew how – I suddenly rushed in, brandishing my poo-loaded stick over my head, and with a loud Indian cry, yelled: “Hockey on a stick!”

And with that I dropped that big load of smelly doggy poo right there on the car’s shiny white hood. I can still see it now: a nicely curled poo, thick and fecal.

I’ll never forget the look of disbelief that came across those teenage faces as I spun and bolted out of the drive, kicking sand up at my heels. After that I wasn’t looking anymore – I was headed for the only safe place I knew: the safety of ‘home’. And like I said: I was fast. I didn’t waste any time hoofing it through the door – and instinctively knowing I’d done something ‘bad’ – I bee-lined it to my bedroom, threw a couple stuffed animals down, and began to ‘play’ as if I’d been there all along.

It didn’t take but a moment, and my heart sunk as I heard the doorbell ring. I could hear angry teenage voices, and my mom’s voice, and I knew I was in for it – big-time. And big-time with my mom – well, read some of my other stories, and you’ll know it was something to be feared. Really. It could be downright life threatening. Literally.

Anyway, I hear the back door shut, and a few minutes later my mom comes to my room. I look up, trying to portray the perfect picture of innocence (still seeing my hands paused over my bears), deathly afraid I’m about to be beaten. I remember looking to see if there was a belt or spoon in her hand – that I remember real clear. Checking to see is she was cocked and loaded, ready to go off.

“I heard what you did,” she said, scolding. But there was an amused glint in her eye and a smile twitching at the corners of her thin lipped mouth. “You know that was wrong.”

Gulping, I answer her all meek and mild, as I’ve been taught to do: “Yes ma’am.”

“Well, I don’t want you to do that again. You leave those boys alone.”

“Yes ma’am.”

And with that my mom turns and walks out of the room. As she goes down the hallway I can hear her chuckling.

Why? Because she knows me: her stupid and daring son. And she knows those teenagers: rough boys who pick on anyone smaller than them. And I guess she figured I’d dished them up something that was not only something they deserved – but exactly what the whole neighborhood thought of them. To this day my mom says she went into the other room and laughed so hard it brought tears to her eyes.

Of course, that led to one of them trying to get revenge.

About a month later I’m sitting in the sandy ditch – we called it a ditch though it was no deeper than the road – playing with my nice new metal Tonka dump truck. You know the kind – big steel thing with plastic wheels and a bed that actually ‘dumps’. It was my pride and joy – we got toys so rarely back then – and I was busily filling it with sand and dumping it, amazed at the smallest details – the yellow cab with the open windows, the smoothly working hinges, when . . .

Along comes one of the teenager bullies – a boy of about sixteen, seventeen or so. He is nonchalantly walking along the road, on my side, in the ditch – and probably would’ve been whistling if he’d thought about it. He stops just across from me and stands there for a moment, looking. I, being a trusting kid who never holds a grudge, look up at him and smile.

And with that he snatches my truck up by the cab, and with a big backhanded swing, bashes me in the face with it.

Normally I guess a kid my age would of jumped up and ran shrieking in the house. But – hell, I was anything but normal. Pain was rarely a factor for me.  I didn’t waste one second – not even a microsecond. I had taken teenagers on before; I wasn’t afraid of them – or him. So I did the first thing that came to mind.

I jumped on him like a vicious little monkey, grasping him with clawing hands around his shoulders, wrapped my legs around his waist – and burying my face in his chest, I bit. And I bit HARD and DEEP, shaking my head like a dog and savagely growling like the animal I had become – the animal he had made me.  He started screaming and yelling and trying to push me off, but no – I shake my head like a shark wanting a piece of the kill and come away with a ragged chunk of flesh big enough to fill my already bloody mouth. Turning my head, I spit it out – I can still see that little crimson crescent moon with skin on one side rolling across the sand, getting covered in grit – and then I dropped from him like a rock, arms still raised with clawed hands to jump back on him and go another round.

He didn’t even pause to look. Grabbing his bloody chest – the blood was just pouring down – he took off up the hill, racing for home and safety – away from the angry little beast I’d become.  I think they actually had to take him to the hospital to get some stitches . . . SOB.

As for me: After he left I sat right down with my truck and started playing again, perfectly calm and happy, as though nothing had happened at all. (In this day and age I know what happened: I’d ‘switched’ to one of my more vicious DID selves – and then switched right back after the threat was gone.)

It was only later when my mom called me in for supper that she noticed the dried caked blood on my face, and how my gums had gotten cut back above my front teeth, making them seem even longer than before. She asked; I told, end of story.

Except for one thing.

Those teenagers never – NEVER – messed with me again.  Me giving them the ol’ stink-eye was often enough to give them pause; you could SEE the fear in their eyes . . . it was well known all about the neighborhood:

You don’t mess with Mikie.  No matter how much he seems at peace and play; no matter that he’s just a small boy – because once I started there was no ‘quit’.  I would keep on going until either I was dead or you left me and my friends alone.  Unfair fights didn’t matter to me; they just made me fight all the harder, mad me even more mad.  I had already fought bullies against tall odds many and many a time.  I guess that one learned it too.  At the expense of a scar he probably carries on his chest to this very day, reminding him: you don’t go bullying the children of the ‘hood.  One of them might “get” you.  The way I did that day.  By biting hunks outta your chest – and out of your heart and courage as well . . .

Team Sports: A Close Encounter


Team Sports: A Close Encounter

When I was a kid, there was only one “team sport” in the ‘hood.  Not that there was a team – nor did we really follow the rules of sport.  But we played football. I don’t recall ever seeing a baseball bat, and baseballs were rarer than hen’s teeth.  ANY ball was unusual and hard to find; however, we had a football that became used by the entire neighborhood. Or at least I think it was; its the ball I have in our closet. There may have been others, but like I said: balls were rare, and hard to find.

Football came in two forms: Scrimmage, and “kill the man with the ball”. Usually there’d was only us younger kids playing with the teenager from next door – racing around our backyard, the dog in tow (he thought he was one of us kids, too, when he wasn’t thinking he was a cat like the cat that had raised him had taught him to be). Charlie was his name – and he’d groom himself like a cat and try to climb a tree. Just like his momma had showed him.

And when it was time to play football – as I said, there were two games. There was ‘scrimmage’ where we’d line up in two lines – the teenager functioning as coach-cum-quarterback most times, showing us how things were done. He taught us how to squat, one hand on the ground; how to ‘launch’ from a squat – head down like a human bullet leading with one shoulder. He showed us how to shake someone off our back – shimmying our butt and swinging our shoulders and squeezing through.

I was only given one position in “the ‘hood” – that of ‘forward rush’ and never receiver. That was because I threw the way I had been shown – like a girl. The way our momma had showed us. After all, she was the only one who would play ‘pitch’ with us kids, ‘catch’, and games like that. Our father never played ball. Not at all. If it wasn’t something he would win, he didn’t play (and he still dislikes losing, never playing for the game’s sake, but only for his own). The only game he played was chess – and then only for the fun of showing how he could beat us. I was a steady study, willing to learn – knowing I was learning while being defeated all the time – but I only won one game against him – and then accused him of letting me win, which he relished and admitted readily enough.

My job was one I enjoyed – I relished charging and smashing my way through a crowd of sweating milling players, my eyes on one goal: the ball. My job was to take the person with the ball down. And a lot of times I would take him down – getting him in the knees, or around waist – or my favorite, leaping up and wrapping my arms around his throat. Oft times the teenager would charge, already winded, as us kids piled on – and then down he would go. We’d pile on him – “dog pile” we’d yell and scream – and then everybody would jump on. And I mean literally everybody from both sides of the team.

There weren’t any rules to the game, or at least not a lot of them. I hadn’t seen a football game before – didn’t see one until I was about fifteen or so; nor had I even heard of basketball, golf, tennis, soccer, or a host of other sports. Swimming I knew – but not as a sport or sport form. It was just something to do, albeit I loved it very much. I grew into some experience with ping-pong, courtesy of the Army Community Youth Club or organizations – running across it here and there, but usually the balls were broken or dented from overly aggressive hits.

We never scored any ‘points’ – there wasn’t any goal to run to – and we didn’t know a thing about field lines, out of bounds – any of that sort of stuff. All we knew was hiking the ball – throwing the ball (passing) – and running. Two teams of kids smashing each other up was what it came down to, with the teenager in the middle, running the chaotic show – and the dog running ’round and ’round in circles, willing to take down any ‘man’. He was like the ‘random factor’ – against (or for) anyone who held the ball – sometimes taking the ball for his own – sometimes just randomly taking down some player by knocking them in the knees. (He took me down a few times as well!) And to us kids he was simply a dark skinned, thick furred, non-English speaking kind of stranger who was welcome to our games, even if he didn’t understand them at all.

The other variation of the game was even simpler: “Kill The Man With the Ball”. That game was was even harder – and unlike the first version of football, it was a lot rougher. The idea was simple – go after the ‘man’ with the ball, take him down, and pile on top of him. And by pile on top of him, I mean everybody would pile on top – a squirming mass of kids, with a kid with a ball buried underneath it all. And it was crushing. It was so crushing my brother got knocked unconscious when one time he found himself at the bottom of the pile – the air literally crushed out of him – which is why I was unwilling to play the game – or at least be the man with the ball. I held the ball only once – a few times, actually – but there was that one time when I was buried beneath that mound of squirming bodies – and I couldn’t draw a breath at all. The weight of them was crushing me – and as the darkness swarmed in (and it was hot and moist with kids breath and sweat down there) – they let up and I was ‘saved’. It was a close thing.

But all that changed when we went to North Carolina. There there was no ‘ball’ – at least not the kind I was used to. Instead there were the ‘team sports’ – and I was a member of one.

I don’t know how it happened, or who put me in it, but I suddenly found myself one day riding my bike after school to the try-out field where they were playing baseball. Now I hadn’t seen any baseball before; didn’t know the game – hadn’t a clue, and still threw just like my mom had shown me – like a girl. Naturally the coach put me on as a catcher – since I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know how to catch the ball. And being the new kid on the block (all the time: the new kid on the block – I knew it but didn’t know it, didn’t know the effects of the thing since I was always the new kid and not some other) – I had no friends at all: none to teach me or throw after the game, nobody to run with or play with at all (unless you count my brother).

It was kinda lonely like that, and one day it really struck me hard. As I was riding my bike back home from practice one day (this was some hilly land) my bicycle chain caught my pants leg in the sprocket (there was no chain guard) and yanked me off my bike in the middle of the road while a thunderstorm was moving in. I was panicked – and then mad – because I wanted to get home before it thundered and roared, plus I didn’t want to get drenched. So here I am all tied up with this bike in the road – and there’s no one to help me. That’s when it sort of struck me in the back of my mind: I am alone in this thing; I have to deal with ALL my problems alone, by myself – and then there’s this: another one to solve. My leg was hurting (the chain had dug in); my butt and shoulder were hurting (from coming down on the pavement) – and there was no one – absolutely no one to help me. Same with the ball. No one to help me; I had to figure it out on my own. Nothing was going right and it never did. . . .

I started to hate that game: I was ridiculous at it, I was unprepared, and no one had taught me a damned thing.

So I gave it up as soon as they let me (I think it was when we moved; that put an end to that thing.) I still have my catcher’s glove – that useless old thing. I doubt it’s caught more than a dozen balls; not worth the money spent. Nor was the lesson learned.

But one thing I did learn: if I gotta problem, I gotta deal with it.

‘Cause there’s no help coming from home.

And sports sucked.