Thursday, April 7, 2011

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and he's out

My daughter Heather just posted a blog. It hit a common spot. I will explain.

For as long as I can remember I have generally preferred to be alone. I don't like being lonely, that's something entirely different. Or, more to the point, I have some emotional disease that prevents me from being in a crowd.

Here's what happens. Say I go dancing at a club with my wife and friends which does happen from time to time. When I get there I like the noise and the closeness and the crowd and the energy and I get an adrenaline pump. But then after a while, maybe an hour or even less, my brain begins to shut down. My hearing slowly begins to get muddy and sound loses its crispness. My vision field starts to narrow and darken like I'm looking down a hallway and someone is slowly turning the light knob from full on to full off. My arms get heavy and my coordination slowly goes away. Eventually I reach complete shut down and I have to retreat somewhere and sort of take a nap. I don't pass out. I just quit interacting with my environment. It's like a NASA rocket launch only in reverse. At 100 I am fully functional and having fun and by the time the countdown hits zero I'm basically in a waking coma.

As a teen I always wanted to be included in the group, but I had trouble staying in the group. I hated going to parties or meetings or study groups or cub scouts. The shutdown process would make me awkward and I would have to compensate by being loud or extreme or annoying in some way. Sort of like slapping yourself to stay awake. It just comes off as being weird to other kids. I sought out friends who were ungrouped. It was easier for me that way. I was on all sorts of ball teams and they all made me really uncomfortable. Even as part of a team I would separate myself to the edges. In college it prevented me from using study groups or help sessions. Some classes even closed in on me from time to time. It's hard to pay attention when all you want to do is run away and breathe. I liked frat parties but couldn't belong. The few groups that I did join made me feel like I was still always on the outside looking in because I was always preparing for the inevitable shutdown. I never wanted to get married and have kids. The idea of a toddler in my space full time is terrifying. I have a wonderful wife and have gotten to help her children grow into wonderful young adults but it was difficult at times. I would have to moderate my behaviors to accommodate teen activities. And I still have it today and every day I live.

Once I recognized I had this condition I began studying how I had modified my behaviors to deal with it. Some of the behavior isn't fun. I avoid going out in groups. Most people just think I'm a party pooper. I can't even stay long enough to poop. Some of my best friends went out for a birthday at a dance club and I just had to give lame excuses. Interestingly enough we went to dinner early in the day and that is just fine. I'm sure they are just confused. I can't go to family Thanksgiving dinners. I can't go with my wife to visit her family who live nearby. They always go and stay all day. I can't. I can go but I have to leave. I try to explain but they just think I don't like them. I don't blame them. I'm going to Oklahoma to visit my family and do some other things but mostly I will drive around in the car by myself because I can't stay in their homes and I don't have anywhere else to go. I would love to meet some of my old highschool acquaintances at the local indian casino but it's just an imaginary idea that I know I can't actually do. Line them all up individually and I can party all night long, just don't put them all in one room. I can be in crowded rooms if there is some order to it like a movie theater or a broadway show or a training class or a business meeting. Being in a restaurant can go from good to bad. I generally eat at 11am or 2pm for lunch because I can't be in the noon crowd and eat comfortably.

There are some interesting side notes to the condition. I can, and like to be, in front of a crowd. I have been a baseball player, lead singer in a band, motorcycle racer, car racer, golfer, etc. As long as I'm in front of the crowd I'm fine. If I'm in the crowd I shut down. My wife says that I have to be the parade leader or I won't be in the parade at all. Now we know why. Now that I think about it I would often morph into class clown or the guy who shocks everyone with outlandish sexual jokes and that kind of stuff when I was a teen. It was a coping mechanism, a way to separate myself from the crowd. Then I was on a pedestal and not part of the crowd and for some reason that is ok. I've always like to be the boss. I like to lead, not to follow. It separates me. Now I feel like a calf at a cutting horse competition. MOOOO. I guess there always the second option of hiding in a dark corner but that has not generally been my modus operandi given a choice between the two. I help my wife who teaches colorguard. I drive the equipment truck to shows. There are lots of teens. They all seem to like me well enough. But I sit in the truck all day because outside of my truck is teen chaos as far as I can see.

I thought about this some before but never in this depth. Heather, my daughter, opened the issue with her blog and it really got my thoughts racing. I won't sleep tonite. I have discussed my issues with loud noises and chaos in earlier posts and about having to run away for days at a time to be alone. I'm not sure what's behind this condition. I don't know if it is a mechanism to deal with some trauma I can't remember or if I have a missing chromosome or if I just one day veered left instead of right and her I am.

I do know that some days I am sad and bitter and grumpy and my inability to be social is the root cause. I'm dreading something I have to do in the future or I am lamenting something stupid that has just happened in the past because of my inability to hang out in a crowd.

I started this post all interested and curious. Now I'm just sad and feel broken and feel like I have lost out on a lot of happiness in my years all because of this stupid problem. I'm going to go run away and hide for a while.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall

I was riding my minibike one day in fourth grade. That puts me at about 10 years old. My mom had bought me a minibike, a mini chopper actually, and I would ride it nonstop around and around the land surrounding our house. The minibike was orange and had a normal lawnmower engine but it had long easy rider forks in the front. I think my mom could have been a biker chick if she had been born in a different era. I remember her knowing some biker types but it wasn't part of our family in any way. I remember going past a shop when we were in the car one day and we seen the minibike and my mom had to get it for me which was just fine with me. My granddad took care of it for me and I rode it any time I could pretending I was a superhero motocross star. I never rode it on the street and really wasn't interested in pavement. I only liked to ride it on dirt and do wheelies and jump it over little dirt mounds. I had a black helmet that was about ten sizes too big for me with a big fold around shield. I don't know where the helmet came from. It was obviously a hand me down from someone but I don't know who.

For a short time around fourth grade I actually befriended a kid who had moved in just up the street from me. He was a couple years ahead of me in school but he wasn't mean to me so it was fun to hang out. His parents had gotten him a minibike too and he rode down the road to see me and ride around my house. He lived at a house much like my own with lots of land to ride around. There was a long dirt road that led from his house out into the river bottoms where he would ride. I had seen it before when I had visited his house on my bicycle but had never been there with my minibike. He suggested we go to his house and ride and I was all for it. He lived about a half mile away up our little paved country road that was just wide enough for two cars to carefully pass. His house set atop a small hill that was a favorite to go over in the school bus because you had to go down and then up really fast and then down the other side just as fast and it would get you a little weightless in your seat like a roller coaster.

I don't remember getting permission to go up the road but it wasn't normal for me to ride on the road on my minibike. But I had been up the same road on my bicycle hundreds of times and it wasn't a big deal so doing it on a minibike shouldn't be any different. We started up the road carefully hugging the side of the pavement to be careful of cars. The hill was dangerous and I had learned to go to the top of hills and check both ways before crossing the road that way you can see cars coming from the other side of the hill. We rode to the top of the hill and when we got to my friend's house he turned left just before the crest of the hill and crossed the street to his driveway. I coasted to the top of the hill and took a cursory look both ways and started across myself.

And then the world vanished. Just disappeared. It was really quiet and I couldn't remember anything. I was laying on the ground but I didn't know where or why. I was numb all over and calm. I looked around but I really couldn't see much around me except for what was really close and everything just seemed out of focus. It was a lot like when you have fallen asleep in a hotel room after you were really tired and you wake up in the middle of the night in the dark and you know you aren't in your own bed but you haven't woken up enough to know what bed you actually were in. I rolled over and stood up and the world vanished again.

I opened my eyes and I was looking down the little country road where I lived. I was in the middle of the road about a half mile from my house. The road was pretty flat from my vantage point. I could see my sister running down the middle of the road. I think I might have chuckled because she would run with her hands all straight and tight like she was saluting over and over and over again. I didn't see anything or hear anything. I just seen her running full speed toward me. And then the world vanished again.

A young man known by our family who lived not far from us had been driving his car, presumably home, at the same time I was going to my friends house to ride my minibike in his back yard. There were no speed limits on the old country road and most people, especially teenagers in hotrod cars, drove as fast as they wanted to go. He just happened to be going so fast that day, 75mph if my memory is correct, that I never seen his car when I crossed the road. He was at the bottom of the hill out of my view and I thought it was safe to cross the street when I didn't see any cars. But he was going so fast that he managed to hit me when he crested the hill. He never seen me...I never seen him. The impact threw me all the way down the hill and I came to rest near the bottom somewhere right in the middle of the road. I don't recollect wearing my helmet but that could have been wrong. I may have just fallen off.

I only have memories in dreams of the crash, no cognizant memories. I see a movie in my head of slamming the side of the car and being airborne. I don't remember hitting the ground. I don't remember sliding down the pavement head first and face down. I don't remember the asphalt chewing away the left side of my face. I don't remember the pavement peeling the skin from both my arms. I don't remember the minibike landing on top of me. I don't remember the hot exhaust pipe of the minibike laying on my right ankle slowly burning and melting its way through the skin and muscle to the bones underneath. I remember seeing my sister run. I dream about people being around me but I wasn't really aware of them. I don't really remember anything till I was in the ambulance.

In the ambulance, at the accident site or in route to the hospital, I remember my mom and sister. I don't remember an paramedic or anything about the ambulance. I can't be sure my mom and sister were even there but I have a memory of them there and that I was making jokes. I had to have been crying or screaming or sedated or something but my only memory is that I was telling jokes and trying to cheer up my mom and sis. I have no idea if that memory is bedded in reality or not but it is a common theme because I have the same memory at the hospital. I only remember one thing and that was in the xray room. I have a memory of being on the really cold top of the xray table. I can feel the cold now when I think about it and I can remember my mom telling my sister to go lay beside me while I was waiting for the xrays to begin. And then I remember saying no and to go away and that I didn't need my sister to comfort me and that I was okay. I vaguely remember doing the same joking thing but it seems really weird for that to be true. I can only imagine that it is my mind giving me a pleasant coping mechanism for the horrible trauma I was enduring.

I should have died. But I didn't. I should be handicapped or a vegetable or in a wheelchair with a ventilator and a poop bag but I'm not. I don't remember seeing the car so I assumed it hit the back wheel of my minibike. The three ton 75 mph wrecking ball could only have missed my right leg by a few inches. Had it impacted my leg it would have torn it completely off. But it didn't. The accident was horrific and the consequences severe. But I am still here today with a few battle scars that you would be hard pressed to find by inspection.

The months after the accident are mostly lost to me but I have a few remaining memories. The crash peeled the skin off the left side of my face, both my arms and some of my legs. I had a hand sized burn on my ankle that went to bone. And I had a bump on the top of my head that remains to this day that almost seems like the front and back of my skull had been pushed together till a ridge formed and then it just froze like that. This was like 1975 and there wasn't nearly the diagnostics available as there is today. I don't know if I have significant memory loss from my concussions. I don't know if that accident will affect me in old age. Is it the reason I have trouble breathing out of the right side of my nose? Did it shove my nose sideways? Hmmmm. I never really thought about it but it may explain some issues. Interesting.

DeeDee Cantrell. She lived with her parents a few miles away from my house. Her father was good friends with my granddad and also with my dad. He was a kind man who always welcomed us to his house and I think we even went fishing with him a few times. DeeDee was in high school and volunteered or worked as a candy striper nurse at the hospital where I was after the accident. I endured daily rituals of scrubbing my wounds with medicated soapy pads full of yellow goop to remove the dead tissue and keep infection at bay. DeeDee was always there to take care of me. I'm sure her duties were light but my memory is of her being there to do all the painful work because it's just better if it's done by someone you know. I can't remember how long I was in the hospital. Interestingly I don't ever remember having any conversation or discussion or even random story telling about this event with anyone. It seems like I would have had a remember when moment with my mom or dad at some point but I don't remember that ever happening. I remember getting games to play in the hospital and my friend came to see me once. He had to endure seeing me lay on the road mostly dead which had to be traumatic. The event didn't make us forever friends. We just passed in the wind with that event and never connected again. In the hospital I could only see out of one eye most of the time. The left side of my face was swollen so bad my eye was pretty much shut. Nobody would let me look in a mirror until close to the day I left the hospital. I don't remember what I saw but I know it wasn't pretty.

I stayed at home for a long time after I left the hospital. I don't remember if I could walk or not because of my leg injury. My mom, and I think DeeDee at times, had to still scrub my wounds daily and cover me in gauze and antibacterial ointments and all other kinds of stuff. I don't know what she thought. It seemed almost certain that I would be disfigured. Who knew if I was ever going to run again like that little kid that terrorized the forest. It had to be really difficult for her, emotionally overloaded. Maybe we will talk about it one day. I will put it on my to do list.

I missed a good portion of fourth grade. I got a package from my homeroom with all sorts of notes and candy and junk from the kids but I don't remember any thing else. I only remember going back to school because I had to put my leg up on a desk chair or it would hurt really bad. Other than that, most of fourth grade is a blur mostly due to trauma. I wonder now how it affected a bunch of 10 year olds to know that one of their classmates was almost dead and wouldn't be coming back for a long time. Strange.

In the end I managed to not be horribly disfigured. The daily scrubbing routines that I'm sure made me scream and cry did their job in reducing the scarring and infection. I have a small scar under my left nostril, hardly noticeable, but the skin and muscles work a little different on the two sides of my face. Its obvious when I smile, at least to me. My arms are both heavily scarred. But they are so scarred that it's hard to tell because the scarring is consistent and covered both my forearms. I know they are all scarred up but other people probably can't tell. And I have a palm sized area above the outside of my right ankle that has really thin onion skin and is dead, no nerves or hair or anything. It's just a funny shaped dead dent that seems hardly noticeable to other people.

I was ten years old when Humpty fell off the wall and almost died. People who cared committed themselves to putting Humpty back together again as good as new.

I am grateful. Thank you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pieces of the Puzzle

I spent my summers during my early school years mostly home alone. There were times when my mom wasn't working and was there especially when I was really young. And my grandparents were ever present next door if I ever needed an adult. But for the most part I spent my days alone. My closest friend in temperament and distance, Bruce, lived about a mile away and I did see him pretty often but there were lots of days all by myself. Our school was miles and miles away and it was even a long distance expensive phone call from my home to connect to any of my school friends that way. Because of that I never learned to have a phone attached to my ear 24 hours a day like a lot of teens of that era. There was certainly no need for a Brady Bunch pay phone in the I even had a den. I didn't really connect with my peers beyond the classroom before I was 14 and had my own transportation.

I was comfortable in my semi-isolation. I never really had a sibling to play with or to connect with because my sister was so much older than me. I had Legos and comic books and toy cars and an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle and a bicycle and miles of open land to keep me occupied. It's funny how there are no real boundaries when you are a kid. Trespassing just meant don't climb the tree in your front yard and don't mess with my livestock but the other 35 acres behind your house was fair game. I crossed from field to field and owner to owner without concern of any kind. There were times when you may get yelled at but it never meant much. Open land was free land.

I am not a herd animal. I'm not comfortable hanging out with the crowd. I never was. I don't know if the chicken or the egg came first but it is the way I am regardless. As an adult I require my alone time and open space around me from time to time to reset my batteries. Everyone in my family and most all my friends understand this need so nobody gets offended if and when I disappear from time to time, sometimes for days at a time. I will run off and spend hours on my boat or drive in my truck somewhere or go to Vegas and just hold up in a hotel room till I am cleansed. When the world overwhelms me I begin to shut down. It's like there is a room with a hundred levers that go straight to my battery and somebody just starts clicking all the levers to the off position one by one. I can tell when it begins, and it has a bunch of different triggers although I don't always recognize what the trigger is at the time. But I do have outward signs. One of the most obvious is that I pace like the sad old Tigers you used to see in cages in old zoos. I get that 100 mile stare and just start moving from room to room. I try to let everyone in my life know about this up front before I ever begin a relationship. I don't want to scare anyone. Sometime my wife sees me begin the pacing process and she escorts me to my pillow and my overnight bag and kisses me on the cheek and says go have fun. LOL. She is outstanding and she knows I will come back all bright and cheery and renewed and ready to take on the world again.

Despite my comfort with being alone there is still an overriding desire when you are a kid to seek out other kids. I'm guessing it's in our DNA. It almost never failed if I was out riding my bike and I happened upon other kids I would cheerfully engage them and try to be included in whatever adventures were happening at the time. If you look back on my previous posts GOD NEVER CAME TO DINNER and THE McGILLS you will see a lot of this behavior in action. Unfortunately, except for my friend Bruce, all of my attempts at fraternization or socialization were disasters. It always seemed to me that every one of the other young people who lived within ten miles of me were all bullies, the sons of wannabe preachers and backwoods farmers.

This story has never been told........One fine summer Oklahoma day with the south wind blowing the 100 degree and 100 percent humidity air through the sunsoaked trees I was out riding my bike on our little country road looking for adventure. I'm guessing third grade. A ways down our road I was passing a driveway to one of the preacher families when I spotted one of the sons and another boy who lived farther away playing in the driveway near the entrance to the house. The boys were older than me by a couple of years. They had a big cardboard box and were in the process of constructing some sort of structure. I had become wary of the neighborhood kids but a cardboard box is nearly irresistible to me. I pedaled just inside the driveway and stopped. The boys yelled for me to come play with them and seemed genuinely friendly and glad to have me join their reindeer games. My little brain jumped at the opportunity. I pedaled down the gravel driveway to the concrete paved section where they were setting up their clubhouse or fort or store or whatever it was going to be. They were busy cutting holes for windows and they wanted me to help them so I jumped right in and did whatever they wanted, happy to have a little social time. There was idle chitchat and I wasn't exactly included in the conversation but I wasn't excluded either. We got the windows all cut out of the box. It was pretty hot sweaty work on the exposed concrete as there were no trees next to the house. Then when I was getting most excited to begin our make believer whatever-it-was-going-to-be one of the boys produced a pellet gun. Pellet guns are much more powerful than BB guns and have the ability to take down small game like any small hunting rifle. The gun was pointed at my head. I was told I was their prisoner and this was their fort. I tried to run away but they were bigger and faster and they tackled me and tied my hands and feet and dragged me back to their cardboard fort. I was instructed to sit and stare directly at the sun or I would be killed. And there I sat. For hours. With a gun pointed at my head. I panicked but I didn't cry out. In my mind I had assumed that there weren't any parents to rescue me and if I yelled out and the boys parents came out they would do the same to me only much much worse. 100 degrees. Probably from about noon to 5pm. When I was just as abruptly untied and told to go away. I got on my bike and rode home as fast as I could. And sat there trying to make sense of what had happened. There was no retaliation to this event. I internalized it and made it all my fault because I was probably just a weird creepy kid that nobody liked. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. I'm going on 46 now.

So now I sit and wonder where that fits in my puzzle of a life. Was it a defining moment? Did something go click inside my head? Was this the beginning or a middle point in my long long road of social inadequacy and ineptitude? It certainly wasn't my only experience of that genre. I had run ins with many bullies and generally I fought back. But somewhere in that supercritical kid age between about 8 and 10 my paradigm shifted in the background noise of my brain somehow and someway. At that place in time and space I felt very alone and very vulnerable and very controlled. I spent 20 years of my life trying to control everything and I mean absolutely everything and everyone. I had some revelations in my thirties that changed that somewhat but I still struggle daily with the overwhelming need to control my environment. Now I can moderate it but for a long long time it prevented me from ever being able to be part of the crowd. It made me a jerk in high school. I made me a real dick in my twenties. I have difficulty making real friends. It feels like people are firecrackers with short fuses and I am constantly flinching and running away so I won't get hurt. There are a handful of people who made it behind my wall with me and they describe me as the greatest person they know, the pit bull that tears open asses but will lay all night with the newborn. I only wish I could have shared that greatest person with the rest of the world for all those years instead of being so focused on control that it made me inaccessible. I am ashamed and saddened by my history.

I have four wonderful children, by marriage, to whom I present the worlds greatest person in all it's naked vulnerable glory. They are rare individuals who didn't have to live with the huge wall of control from my early years. And they all love me incredibly, by their own choice and admission, and I feel like I may have been able to do something so worthwhile by them that maybe it makes up for all the ugliness that I presented to the world for all those years before.

Thank you. Thank you to all who are with me today and believe in me and look past my wall to the real person inside.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taking a dump

This memory goes in the "I would die if I found my kids doing this" file.

Growing up in rural Oklahoma affords a curious kid many an opportunity. There are any number of natural wonders from trees and hills to climb to rivers and streams to ford to caves and holes to explore. But one of the worst blights in any community is also an absolute treasure to the right boy.

A sad part of rural living is that almost any country road or out of the way spot on a highway has a place where people decide to dump their garbage. Old tires and swing sets and couches and cans and bottles and roof shingles and washing machines and cars and televisions. And the list goes on and on. I spent many hours pilfering old dump sites for interesting treasures. There was a really old one not far from my friend Bruce's house that we frequented. There were all sorts of rusty metal cans and broken glass and boards with nails and I'm sure we got our fair share of injuries wading thru other people's garbage. When a nail goes thru your PF Flyers you learn to look down to where you step. When a can slices open your arm you learn to be more careful. When that copperhead jumps at your from under the old tire you learn to poke it with a stick first. These activities seem so foreign now and I wonder if there are still curious youngsters in the country who still get the chance to rummage thru the waste of others, or if they even would want to.

To me, I didn't see a pile of garbage. I could only see possibilities and the price of those possibilities was exactly zero. I was an original recycler. A turner of old things into, well, still old things but they were repurposed. There was old wood that made some perfectly good tree houses. There were discarded tires that were hung from trees or just rolled down big hills for entertainment. There were pieces of old chairs and furniture that could be used to make a perfectly usable outdoor living room for a few adventurous kiddos. I remember Bruce's dad had some old water ski blanks that we used to "snowboard" down hills in the winter before snowboarding was even a word in our world. We made make believe swords and fantasy worlds. We just plain threw a bunch of it further down hills just to hear it crash. Any unbroken bottle or light bulb was a treat beyond compare. Give a boy a bucket full of rocks and a bucket full of glass bottles and the day is set. Add in a glass of koolaid and a baloney (bologna) sandwich and you were king of the world. Store bought toys and games were grand but they were no match for something you made yourself out of some old scrap metal and a good imagination and a bunch of bailing wire. I'm a professional engineer now. I still make stuff from old scrap metal and a good imagination and some bigger better bailing wire. But, the song remains the same and close to my heart.

There was always a treasure that had no equal. One that always seemed better than all the others. Books. More specifically comic books. Most specifically...Playboy. Yessir, I found many a grown man's stash of comics that had been held since childhood and the porn that was treasured after the onset of puberty. Interestingly enough, comics and Playboys seemed to show up together. Two male vices. A childhood memory that needs to be discarded so maturity may ensue and pornography that has been collected and scoured till the pages are worn thru. Both tossed away, most likely due to a flash of guilt or embarrassment or because they were told to get rid of them or else they would be sleeping on the couch till they were OUT OF THIS HOUSE. And it's funny how they aren't thrown in the garbage can because that may cause embarrassment like you were committing the worst sin in the world and your sins may somehow be discovered by the garbage man or your neighbor or your mom when she comes over to visit. No, they are covertly and indiscriminately tossed into the woods when the world is looking the other way. Better to break the law than be judged by others. It's a silly game we play. One man's trash. Another young man's treasure.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You'll shoot your eye out kid

I had a BB gun at an early age. Not sure how young I was when I got one but it was definitely in elementary school. The standard Daisy model. I don't know if it was a Red Rider model and it definitely didn't have a compass in the stock. When BB guns are new they work well, not lethal to anything but small birds when they are new, but they quickly wear out to a point when the firepower becomes a joke and a boy begins to get creative.

When I first got it, had to be a christmas present, I read in the instructions that you could make a suitable target for practice out of a cardboard box that was filled with crumpled newspaper. It was a great idea and I had soon built my very own super duper target practice box to shoot at. The bonus part of it was that the box would capture the BB's and I could retrieve them and use them over and over again. The instruction expressly forbade this practice but I figured it was just a marketing ploy to make me buy new BB's all the time. Now it gets weird for the first time. It was the middle of winter and there was nowhere to shoot. So I set the target in the hallway between the kitchen and my room. And I shot at it. Over and over and over and over till it was shredded. Pump. Click. Whooomp. Whap. Repeat. My parents were home. They allowed it. They had to listen to it long into the night. What an amazing display of poor parental decision making and loving tolerance. Maybe listening to the BB gun go off over and over again was better than listening to my mouth going off over and over again. That's probably the real answer.

I shot my first little bird the next day. I cried and buried my first little bird the same day. Lesson learned.

I would gather large acorns from around the yard and would line them up on a raised concrete walkway that went around the front of our house. I would stand at one end and shoot the acorns off the walkway on the other end. I would do this for hours inspecting each and every acorn for accuracy and inspecting the damage I had caused. I would save up my money and would get my granddad to take me to OTASCO where I would buy big boxes of BB's to use.

After a while I moved my way up to shooting at little plastic cowboys and indians. They were like the little green army men but were bright red and blue and yellow, not green like the army men. In the woods, little green army men would all be lost in a day. I would create elaborate gun battles between the cowboys and the indians with me playing fulltime quarterback for both sides. I would take a shot from the cowboys side then would switch and shoot from the indians side. I would set them up all over the woods and would run and shoot and entertain myself for hours and days and weeks on end.

Eventually the BB gun would lose it's power to where you would have to aim at a fortyfive degree angle to get a BB to travel ten feet. So I made up my own game of chicken. I would go into a clear area where there were no trees overhead and I would pile up crunchy dead leave all over the place. I would put on a cowboy hat and I would aim straight up in the air and shoot. Immediately I would drop my head forward so the brim of my hat protected my head and shoulders and would put my hands at my side and I would wait and listen to where the BB would land, of course trying to hit myself on the head. I would listen intently and the BB would land in the leaves near me and I would hear it and then I would recalculated my aiming angles and the wind and would try again over and over. It was like playing solitaire. Chicken solitaire.

My weirdest and darkest moment with my BB gun was right before it died completely. A BB would barely even come out of the gun so I got the idea to see what else would shoot out of it. And wouldn't you know it, dry spaghetti worked perfect. I would put a stick of spaghetti down the barrel of the gun, cock it and shoot and the spaghetti would come rocketing out the end. It was a load of fun to play with but spaghetti has awful aerodynamic qualities. I was limited to very short range shooting. So I went off in to the woods armed with a bag of spaghetti looking for a target. Oddly enough I happened upon a small clearing that was absolutely full of tree frogs. They jumped every which way when I walked thru them and then the idea hit me. I loaded. Aimed. Shot. The spaghetti went right thru the frog and into the soft ground. Meanwhile the poor frog would still be alive jumping up and down on this stick of spaghetti till the insides of the frog got the spaghetti moist and then it would fall over. I don't think I ever shot any other living things with the BB gun but frogs held my attention at least for a couple of days.

My world was always about being outdoors and about searching for answers and about experimenting and testing boundaries. But spaghetti in a BB gun? That was out there, even for me.

More first grade adventures

We had a music class that all students had to attend. It was really a singing class and in that it was probably just another recess for the kids, a chance to blow off more energy before heading back to class once again. In my school you had one teacher and one class for the entire day except for music class and trips to the library and things like that. So you spent you entire classroom time with the same kids every day. In music class we would sit in our little chairs in a small room and scream out songs chosen by our teacher, Mrs Sewell. It seems like we sang the same basic songs every time in class unless there was a special event on the horizon like a PTA meeting or a holiday. But mostly we sang hymns. Battle hymns. (I don't think I ever used the word hymn in a written sentence before, it looks really strange and wrong. Hymn. Hymn. Hymn.) As I have written previously, I didn't have any awareness that there was a war going on in Vietnam so there wasn't any real connection to the songs we were singing. I think most of the songs were from WW2. I didn't really listen to the words and they had no meaning to me. I just sang along phonetically, pronouncing the words but not relating them to anything or in any order. I still sing songs like that today. The lyrics were just another musical instrument in my head...AND THE CAISSONS GO ROLLING ALONG, KEEP EM ROLLING, AND THE CAISSONS GO ROLLING ALONG. LALALALALA. I do recall being chosen to participate in a program that was to be given at an assembly for parents to see. It may have been a PTA meeting. I think there were a lot of those. Anyway, Mrs Sewell had discussed the event and how it was to take place. Certain exceptional children would be chosen to learn a verse to a song and would get to sing it in front of everyone at the assembly. I was elated. Just like everything else I knew I was the greatest singer in my class and probably in the whole entire school. I was the most confident neurotic kid you ever seen. When it was time for the teacher to choose kids for the various parts (these were real singing parts, not just to stand wearing a tree costume) I was absolutely sure she would begin choosing from the top of the talent pool, the cream off the old milk jug, the frothy head on the Dad's Rootbeer...and that would of course be me. But when the time came, another was chosen before me. And another. And another. And I remember sitting there aghast and ashamed and terrified and broken completely in two inside. I might have cried a little. I watched as all the parts were given away one at a time right before my eyes. My world was ruined. What had happened? But just when the world was on the verge of collapse, the shining beacon of stardom shown my way as I was indeed chosen. I'm pretty sure I was chosen last. OOOOOHHHHH! I get it. Saving the best for last so all my bathe in the glory. It all made sense now. I had no way to know the relevance of my part. Was I the Lead? Surely this is the case! And I tried hard and practiced long hours so I may not only perform well for my community but prove once again who was THE MAN! I will perform my part for you now for your enjoyment. Please forgive the spelling as there are some lyrical terms included that are not part of the spoken language. Here I go....ahem...ahem...

John Smith, there was a man!
Hi Ho Diddle Aye Oh!
From Kentucky he began
To make our country grow-ow-ow-ow-owwww!

Simply brilliant! I had a costume. Probably even a cool hat. Maybe a sword. I was so excited the day of the assembly. It was an evening event that required us to go home from school as usual and then to return to the school to perform. I remember going home. I remember putting on my costume. I remember getting a fever. I remember throwing up. I cannot believe I actually got sick. So sick that I could not attend the event. All that time and energy wasted. What a load of blah this turned out to be. Hi Ho Diddle Aye Crap!

The boys bathroom near the principals office had a sink for washing your hands that I was unfamiliar with. It was a large circular waist level basin. There was a circular lever below the sink that, when stepped upon, produced a gentle stream of water from a bunch of little holes like a long circular shower head where all the streams of water lined up. It was sort of like a fountain for dirty hands. I guess the design was to make it easier for little ones to not have to deal with faucets and all that. Plus it was much like a long trough urinal in that a lot of kids could use it at once. There was no one kid per sink rule to be followed. It was a soapy free-for-all. This bathroom was located in the fourth grade area of the school, very much foreign to me as a first grader. One day at school I got sick as kids tend to do. Flu, cold, herpes, whatever. I was escorted to the principals office by my teacher and left there while my mother was contacted via telephone. Dial up BR549. One ringy dingy. Two ringy dingy. Mrs Scott, young master Jeffery is with me and he appears to have become ill. Whatever shall we do with the young master? Mom was on her way. I don't know where she worked but she was coming to get me. It was my first time in the principals office. The place where the bad kids go. I felt bad just sitting in there. Delinquency by osmosis. Eventually my illness got he better of me and I got light headed, and then the cold clammy face, and then the sweat on the forehead and then...Hey! I gotta go throw up! Use the bathroom young squire, most haste! So into the bathroom I ran. And when I got there I was faced with this monstrosity of a sink. It confused me. It looked all hospitally and stuff. The long urinal thingy I knew about and wasn't gonna barf there. There was a couple of toilet stalls in the back of the bathroom but I wasn't sure that was the ticket either. But this big round doctor office thingy looked to be here for just such emergencies. So over the rail I went and BLEEEEHHHHHHUUUUUUUKKKKKKK. Much better. I got a drink of water from the fountain outside and took my place in the chair next to the secretary, feeling much better. Not long after that the principal came in the office, having just finished using the same restroom, and asked me if I had thrown up in the bathroom. Huh? Of course. Roll eyes. In the throwup thingy. That's a sink for washing hands not a place to throw up, he said. Why didn't you throw up in the toilet? That's where poop goes, not barf. I used the throwup thingy. LOL. The principal shook his head and went into his office and called the janitorial staff to come do a cleanup pronto. Apparently there isn't enough water flow in the sink to wash away barf and it was just gonna sit there all day greeting every dirty handed munchkin that happened by. HA! That couldn't have worked out any better if I had actually planned it. Awesome. Kids and barf. An eternal love affair.

That same bathroom sported one of those long white urinal tubs where several boys can line up shoulder to shoulder and let loose the worries of the day. It sat in a corner so one end of the urinal was against a wall. There is nothing remarkable about that. However...on the closed off end of the urinal...on the wall...was a small, mounted piece of sculpture, some kind of shell or something...or as a young boy would call it...TARGET PRACTICE!!!!!! Yessirree we would line up on the open end and encourage each other to see who had the firepower to get their pee stream up and into the target. I cannot begin to imagine how many gallons of urine flowed down that wall to, well, wherever it went. I'm sure the smell was wonderful and the janitors had to dread entering that bathroom every single day. Elementary school. Simply magic.

Our playground had slides. Several of them in fact. In particular there were three line up in a row on the far edge of the playground area adjacent to the open field. One was normal, like five steps to the top. One was short but had a big hump in the middle of it which made for great wheelies. And one was taller than the rest and I'm pretty sure it was the middle one. I am guessing it may have had 8 steps to the top. Now, as a kid, I harbored almost no fear of objects or nature. If it could be climbed I was in it. If I could jump off or over it, consider it done. But I had a bit of an issue with heights. I still do. I get a gut anxiety reaction to all heights and even when I just perceive height in a movie. I really hate it. It feels broken. A flaw. As an adult I can overcome the anxiety just by talking myself thru it but as a kid I only knew it as a weirdness that it seemed like only I had. You can probably see where this is going. I loved the short slide with the hump in it. It was like a jump. Today it would be labeled extreme and you would need little kiddie tattoos just to get a chance to ride it. But then it was just fun for me. The medium slide was straight and normal and posed no problems for me. Wheee! Slide! Butt first in the dirt and back up it again one more time. But the tall one. The tall one. It caused me trouble. I would watch kids go up and slide down but I simply could not make myself do it...but I ached to so very much. Every single cell in my body wanted to prove I was the man like always but the towering, infinitely lofty slide kept me at bay. I became transfixed by it. Haunted by it at other times of the day. Embarrassed to even be near it. But I couldn't let it go. I was determined to show this slide who was boss. So one fine day after probably months of trepidation I got up enough courage to go to the top. I had been in line before. I think I had even gotten to the second step before I would jump off and run away humiliated. It was awful and shameful and it made me feel completely alone in the world. But there I was, in line once again determined to make the top. To make it worse I had to watch little Cindy Brady's in their tiny dresses just run up the freaking thing and launch themselves over the top without a whim in the world. How defeating it was. I was next in line and I started up the steps. Probably three kids could stand on the steps waiting to work their way to the top so the process involved several individual triumphs. I made it up the next to the top step and had a firm grip on the rails...and froze. Petrified. Stuck. Wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. The kids yelled and eventually ridiculed me and called me names. A teacher had to rescue me. The bell had rang and all the kids had left the playground and I was still up there like a statue gripping the rails white knuckled. After a time of trying to talk me down, the teacher had to come up the steps and hug me and hold me and bring me down one step at a time. I was so terrified from falling from a stupid slide when I had easily jumped off the roof of my house at home many times before. I had launched myself out of trees twice as high. But this stupid slide had my number. Eventually I managed my fear one day when the playground was empty. I didn't even slide down the stupid slide. I walked all the way up the steps to the top and jumped off backward and landed on the ground and dusted myself off and went up and put my feet over the edge and managed to slide down the awful demon that had haunted my dreams for so so long. The story makes me wonder how many kids stand around just like me triggered by some unknown demon while nobody notices.

Being a kid is just plain hard.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A heapin' helpin' of first grade

First grade. My parents were married. My sister would have just started high school. I lived next door to my mother's parents. I visited my dad's parents just about every Sunday. First grade was chock full of events that have stuck with me all these years. What follows is what I can glean from the innocent fields of early childhood in small town America.

I was a bully. Actually to be more correct I was a superhero. Superheroes are just bullies to other bullies and that was me. I was the protector of the weak. I stood tall where others could not muster the strength. On more than one occasion I put a successful beatdown on a bully wannabe. I would play like normal but whenever I seen a bigger kid picking on a smaller kid I jumped to the rescue ready to throw down. I was a protector. Maybe it was the first time I ever really had other people who needed protecting besides myself. Didn't matter. I was a hero on the playground. And I'm pretty sure I got my share of corporal punishment from it. Yes, it was the norm to get out the old wooden paddle and teach lessons to kids who couldn't quite learn the lesson by just listening. I didn't listen all that well but I learned about a million lessons. OUCH.

I discovered girls in first grade. Better yet I discovered girls were for kissing in the first grade. What the hell! I don't know where it came from but I thought girls were, well, girls. Not icky. No cooties. Not good to play with but good to play near. I think the first girl I ever kissed cried. I think her name was Debbie. I also kissed Sherrie and Nancy a lot. Strange how when you play cowboys and indians with girls there is always a magical cure to bring you back to life if you just happen to stray in front of a lethal make-believe bullet. All it takes is a peck on the lips. Amazingly enough I died a LOT. And I always managed to pull thru with a little help from my friends. Lucky me.

Our playground was vast, if you were a first grader. We had all the room we could ever need to run and jump and do whatever came natural. What came natural in the early 70's was to play army. There was surely a Vietnam component to our role playing but I wasn't aware of it in any way. In fact I learned about the Vietnam war from books so I was too young to comprehend any of it that I happened to see on tv or in the newspaper. All the army boys would split up into two groups and war would commence every day. I didn't care whose side I was on because I was in it for the drama. My acting skills were keen and sharp and I had one of the greatest shot-to-death moves in the entire first grade. I would always charge the most elite fighting force at a full run and just before I could pounce upon the enemy I would be riddled with machine gun fire. At a full run I would grab my stomach and somersault and cartwheel end over end till I laid to rest a fallen hero. Then of course I'd get up and go do it again. Isn't life grand.

I loathed mornings. I still do. My world doesn't begin till after 10am. I used to wake up and whine like a stuck pig all morning about having to get up. Going to school wasn't bad it was the pregame rituals that I couldn't stand. We had a heater vent that came out of the wall from under the kitchen cabinet just under the sink. In the mornings I would get up and cry and go lay next to the vent with the warm air blowing on me till I was threatened. I would acquiesce, find whatever I had on the day before in the floor and toddle my way to the school bus. There was always a half hour or twenty minutes from time the bus let you off at school before the first bell rang. This was always basketball time. I played every morning with Kenny Harris. There were other players but Kenny was always there with a ball ready to go. He graduated high school exactly the same way. Our courts were made up of dirt or fine pea gravel that had been beaten into submission years ago forming a firm crust on which to perform our advanced ball handling skills. One of the best skills was avoiding the big thorny stickers that grew in the grass adjacent to the courts. On occasion the rubber ball would get on embedded in it and when it finally turned face up to your hand when you were dribbling it would jam deep into your palm or finger. Always keep you eye on the ball was a real mantra and a practical way to not be in pain all day. We played in the coldest weather completely bundled up in our winter coats and hats and gloves. Amazing what kids will do.

Jackie "Hooter" Gray would become one of my BFF in first grade till we went off to college in separate directions. He was shorter than me but athletic and energetic just as I was. He did have one thing in first grade that I never had even when I graduated high school. A mustache. Yessir he had a bonafide mustache in first grade. The offspring of a lot of indian blood he had black hair and lots of it and the crowning achievement was a mustache that he was probably born with. Ain't that a hoot.

Besides lunch time we had an actual recess in the afternoon also. Every day we would all line up in the hallway and launch out the door at a full run toward a set of tennis courts that served as our recess area where a teacher would lead us thru jumping jacks and stuff like that. The courts were a ways from the door of the school...maybe 50 yards? I would hang out toward the back of the group when the door opened and I would run like the wind. I made it my goal to always be there first and much of the time I was. So much so that it became more fun to start in the back and pass everyone than it was just to get there first easily. Growing up in the woods climbing trees and throwing rocks and jumping creeks does wonders to a young boy's coordination and strength and speed.

I was always athletic and loved any kind of game that involved running or jumping or throwing. Tee ball was a natural for me. I have memories of several moments in games. Tee ball was the start of a long love affair with baseball that eventually ended somewhat sadly but the ride along the way was epic and full of learning and respect and discipline that was handed out by one significant figure. Our coach Wayne Gable. He was our coach all the way thru little league. He played ball at a high level, perhaps professionally, and was the dad of one of the kids on the team. He didn't treat us as little kids, he treated us as young baseball players. He would throw the ball twice as fast as any other coaches and hit the ball twice as high as any other coach and hit the ball twice as hard at us as any other coach. By the time we played other kids it was like playing in super slow motion. We almost never lost a game. It was a great time in my life.

In first grade we learned how to write our ABC's using little guides about a half sheet of paper in size. They were a greenish hue. They were treacherous. They had three or four lines on them for writing. On the top would be some print of the letters we were to form and we would trace those before setting off on the rest of the paper on our own. I remember the class bemoaning the teacher every time we got one because our hands would cramp from sooooooo much writing. Too much work for such delicate souls. How could they do this to us! Oh the humanity! We had a regular reading session where three or four kids would sit in a circle with the teacher and we would take turns reading from a book out loud. Near the circle there was a poster board with all the kids names on it and it was broken up into columns. If you read superbly you would get a GOLD star, a SILVER star if you were good and I think a COPPER star if you participated. I was one hundred percent absolutely positively no doubt in my mind the very best reader in the whole state of Oklahoma, much less a puny small town first grade class. However I soon learned that there is such a thing as perceived equality. I noticed that even horrible readers would get gold stars sometimes and that the best kids, ME, would sometimes not get a freaking gold star. It was an absolute travesty and a serious blow to my ego even if I did understand the teacher was only doing it to make the other kids not feel so inferior to me. (Yes, my granddad taught me to read very early. I would do the Jumble puzzle and the Word Search puzzle at the bottom of the comics page of the newspaper almost every night. Well, ok, I helped with the Jumble. But I was a Word Search master. I don't know if I read better or worse than any of the other kids but I certainly thought I was superior and that is all that matters.) This bastardization of the gold star standard caused me to take desperate measures. I took to calling my fellow classmates the D word. Yes, they were all dumbbells. OMG! So controversial! I remember the scolding I got for calling other kids dumbbells from the teacher and from my dad. I never uttered the word again that I know of. I had learned my lesson. You don't mess with the Establishment or they will TAKE YOU DOWN! I spent most of the rest of my school years messing with the establishment and receiving the state approved corporal punishment each and every time. (No I don't want your 2011 opinion on spankings. It was an art form then that was mastered by the elite educators over many years of careful experience. Nothing today can even remotely compare.) In fact I remember getting stood up in a christmas assembly and marched directly to the hallway for a swat on the butt. All the kids were in the gym being led by the music teacher in tumultuous renditions of the classic kid christmas favorites. Rudolph was always a favorite song for kids and I sang loud and clear for all to hear. Only I was singing RANDOLPH THE BOWLEGGED COWBOY at the top of my lungs after being told repeatedly to stop. Establishment 1, Kid 0.

I tried Cub Scouts in the first grade. I went to a meeting. I got my uniform. Actually the uniform was pretty cool especially that little bandana thing you had to wear and the sweet hat. It took a couple of meetings before we got our merit badge books, We got like little gold arrows or something like that to sew on our shirts for each goal that was reached in the official book. I was excited to get the book and the day I got home after a meeting I opened it and started to look thru the list of goals to accomplish. I.E. climb a tree over ten feet tall. Check. Done that. Skip a rock on the water. Check Done that. And it went on and on until I had checked every one of the Cub Scout guide goals. Growing up in the woods I had already accomplished every single thing in the book. What a disappointment. I think I may have went to one more meeting and then I quit. Paper mache held no interest. Neither did scrapbooking. I determined right then and there that the cub scouts was a secret organization for sissies. I'm sure it is a fine organization but the way it was presented to me just didn't work out. I didn't need an after school activity. I lived in the woods.

Around first grade my mom took me to an apartment where she was meeting someone. I do not know the reason we were there. I did not know the people who lived there. But they were the first black people I had ever been around. Ever. My mom had purchased me one of those jumbo sized bags of jelly beans earlier in the day and I remember taking them with me inside when we visited. At some point I remember moving off by myself away from the adults, maybe on a patio. Some other kids came over and I tried to make friends. They bullied me and stole my jelly beans. I sat there dumbstruck. That was my first experience with racial tolerance. It was not a good one. I didn't have to form my own opinion of black people because that was given to us at a young age. Our town was white. There were indians (native americans) and a smattering of hispanics but no black people. We were taught that black people were inferior. Period. It was college before I could shake off those old belief systems and form my own informed opinions concerning race. But for then, at that point, black people stole my jellybeans and no white people had ever done that. I'm sure it left a mark.