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.

Preschool hijinks

I went to a sort of combination preschool and daycare for kids under kindergarten age. My mom had a job at the time and she would drop me off. I don't remember how long I was there but it was long enough to set some memories into stone.

First and foremost there was a little playground with a canopy from an airplane and sort of figure 8 concrete sidewalk with lots of tricycles. I used to play under the canopy because it just seemed so cool and different. But my favorite by far was the tricycle track. My family were friend with a famous racing family from Tulsa. They are three generations further along now and the racing skills just keep getting handed down. We used to frequent the dirt track races at the Tulsa Fairgrounds speedway on Saturday nights to watch our friends race their cars. I loved the racing and the cars and the rumble and it has stuck with me to this day. The tricycle track was my chance to show my skills to the world. When all the other kids were leisurely pedaling around the concrete I was always in race mode. Even in preschool, rubbin is racin, and I made sure that everyone on the playground understood who was the boss when it came to three wheel speed. Unfortunately the grownups did not see that the same way and I was eventually banished from the tricycle track. I am sure I screamed and maybe that's even what caused my preschool days to come to an end but I do know that without the tricycle speedway I didn't have any reason to be there. Lame.

Nap time absolutely sucked. I always felt totally dominated. It did not sit well with a five year old alpha male. I remember just laying there staring at the ceiling or causing trouble because I wouldn't shut up...a trait that many people now would still recognize. LOL

There was a kid in a wheelchair named Phillip. I was five years old and I have this kid's image seared in my brain. I remember being curious about him and his wheelchair. Not scared or weirded out but it didn't compute well as to why he was stuck in the chair all the time. I remember him as bright and communicative but he obviously couldn't walk for some sad reason.

I hated Simon Sez. Nobody ever told me the rules. Even into my teens I don't think I knew how to play. In preschool we would go outside on a concrete patio and everyone would spread out and we would play simon sez. To me, the rules were just do everything the leader does exactly like they do it. Period. And I was brilliant at it. And I was always the first one OUT and I never knew why because I know I was doing better than everyone else. There was lots of frustration and I may have even went all tantrum on em more than once because of it. Ha. Even at a very young age I had to know why things worked like they did or I wans't happy.

Somewhere about this age I remember asking my granddad what made the wind blow. Now my granddad was a smart man and probably knew 95% of the scientific answer but you can't just blurt out scientific data to a 5 year old so he told me the clouds made the wind blow. I immediately knew this was complete bullshit. Even I had worked out that the wind moved the clouds. I remember being angry about being lied to even though I never said anything. I do know that this one simple conversation changed how I approached learning. It was better to research and experiment myself before asking anyone. This one event shaped a lot of how I managed my daughters when they asked real LIFE questions. I would often make a joke but when they were serious I would give them the full unrestricted scientific explanation right down to jargon and nomenclature. If they didn't understand then we slowly worked backward simplifying the explanation till it was digestible to them.

Doesn't everyone have a second grade teacher?

My father was around thirty years old when I was born. My mother in her late twenties. My only sister is eight years older than me.

We all had Mrs. Helen Paul as our second grade teacher.

I believe there is a building at the elementary school dedicated to her now.

Truly amazing.

Small town. Small world.

Candy lessons

The elementary school I went to had grades K thru 4. My third grade teacher was Mrs. Morrison. It was a standard school surrounded by plenty of open space to run as well as jungle gyms, giant swings, basketball hoops, slides and the ever-present teatherball. I ate lunch almost every day in the cafeteria. The food was prepared in-house by a magical group of workers whom were almost all moms of kids that attended the school. The food was always outstanding and I enjoyed almost all of it. I never owned a lunch box. I never took a sack lunch to school. A sandwich didn't compare to a big plate of hot food and I wasn't a picky eater. Our sunday family dinners included just about every vegetable available. Heck, I loved spinach when other kids wouldn't get near it. Bring on the meatloaf and if there was salisbury steak then you better watch your fingers because I'm going at it HARD!

There was a strange little building that sat on a corner of the school that was simply called THE CANDY STORE. I don't know if it had a real name but this was the street name that all the kids used. I don't remember much about the structure other than it was basically a one room building and was set up kind of like an old soda fountain only more sparse. I don't know why it was there or why it was allowed to exist but it was there nonetheless. This establishment was available to all kids at the school at lunch time as well as after school. They had a big counter with lots of candy on display for sale. They served fountain sodas in little cups and I'm pretty sure they served frito pies maybe even hotdogs. But mostly they sold candy. Lots and lots of candy. As an adult now I can't even begin to imagine this scenario at a public school much less think about how kids would be affected with large amounts of candy available to them at lunch time. I'm pretty sure my first trip there was in first grade sometime. It wasn't unheard of to eat lunch in the cafeteria and then run off to the candy store before hitting the playground for recess. I'm sure there had to be kids who ate there every day for lunch. There were days when I would ask and I would get money to eat at the candy store for lunch but those times were rare.

I actually didn't eat much candy as a kid. I would have some if it were available but I didn't crave it or beg for it. I liked slopokes and suckers and sweettarts and baby elephants. Baby elephants? I'm not sure how it started but at some point in my young impressionable mind I managed to get Baby Ruth convoluted into Baby Elephant. I have never known the reasoning behind this little nugget of misplaced information but there it my early years a Baby Ruth was called, by me, a Baby Elephant. Now, I distinctly remember standing at the candy counter and the nice lady behind the counter would ask me what I wanted and I would blurt out, A Baby Elephant. She would just stare at me and say there wasn't such a thing but I knew there was. And so began the ritual of pointing out the candy bar I wanted on the wall of the store while the nice lady would go along pointing here finger at all the candy bars till she hit on the correct one and would grab one and send it my way. I'm sure I could read Baby Ruth on the candy wrapper but it didn't sink in that this is what it was called. I don't know why. Kids are weird.

They also sold Charms pops which were the predecessor to the round charms pops you see today. Back then they came in cherry or grape and were flat on one side and had bumps on the other side which I believe were meant to be grapes or cherries. I liked the little suckers for what they were but I may have liked them even more for their gimmick. Every so often you would get one and take off the wrapper and there would be a Willy Wonka style magic ticket inside that would get you exactly one free Charms pop of your choice. I remember being so excited when I would get the magic ticket and then would race back to the candy store to proudly display my Major Award and receive my freebie. It was awesome marketing and it worked perfectly on me. And you would win fairly often, maybe one in four, so a kid wouldn't get dismayed over never winning. It was genius. I was a winner playing a candy slot machine that only had a 25% payback.

Mrs. Morrison had a classroom that featured two entrance and exit doors. One was the normal door that went into the hallway and the other exited directly outside. I'm sure it was a fire escape but I didn't know that in third grade. We used it during fire drills but I didn't know it was there for that purpose. For myself and most kids it really only served one purpose. It was the very closest gateway to the candy store. The front door of the candy store and the classroom exit were directly across a small gravel street from each other.

In our school there weren't enough buses to accommodate all the kids so the buses were grouped into two different time slots. Some kids rode the bus to their homes and when the bus had finished it's route it would return to the school and pick up a second group of kids and go on a different route. Also the same buses served the separate elementary, middle and high schools. But to make the job easier some of the buses began their pickups and different schools with a third of the buses going to each school and then progressing to the other two in succession. My bus just happened to begin picking up kids at the high school and then went to the middle school and then to the elementary. So there was a good half hour of wait time before the bus would come around to pick me up and any other kids on my route. Our bus was generally about half full at most.

One day my friend Bruce and I had been asked, or volunteered, by Mrs Morrison to help with some task inside the classroom after school. I don't remember what it was. It was probably stapling bunches of paper or moving desks or cleaning chalkboards or, hahahahahaha, clapping erasers. Wow. Hadn't thought about that little task many many years. Anyway when we finished our task Mrs Morrison gave us, I believe, a dollar to take across the street to the candy store and get ourselves a treat for our wonderful assistance. We readily accepted our prize and ran across the street and promptly loaded up on exactly one dollar worth of sodas and candy, which was quite a bit back then as many candies were five cents and I believe a cup of pop was fifteen cents. We grabbed it all up and meandered back to Mrs Morrisons room when we were met with angry eyes. Apparently somewhere between seeing the dollar for goodies and exiting the room we were given instructions to each get exactly one thing and bring back the change but that had obviously fallen on deaf ears. I remember a fair scolding and some guilt about not listening and following directions. Our great candy triumph had turned into a minor tragedy. She even told the story to the class the next day as a leaning lesson about following instructions. I was sorry for not listening and learned a valuable lesson that day that has remained with me my entire life. It's funny how some events just stick while other seemingly superb experiences just flitter away like they never happened. I think guilt has an express lane to memory central when it's time for your brain to choose what goes on the hard drive and what doesn't.

I once ran into Mrs Morrison in a checkout line at walmart after I had went off to college. She immediately recognized me and we laughed and shared the candy store story to everyone in line at checkstand number 2 that day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Two Wheels of freedom

My sister taught me to ride a bicycle. I got a Stingray bike from OTASCO from my parents or grandparents. At least that's what I think happened. It had a banana seat and high handlebars and one speed and those brakes that work when you push the pedals backwards. My sister had one just like it, I think, only the girls version with the white handlebar grips with the plastic streamers and tassels coming out the end and a white basket on the front. When it was time for me to learn the only real place was on the country road in front of the house. It was flat and we lived on a long straight section so we could see traffic coming and get out of the way. About a half mile down the road there was a pretty steep hill that was maybe 60 feet higher than the level portion below. I believe my dad held the bike up for me while I got on and learned what it felt to balance. Then my sister would push me along and keep the bike balanced for me. Eventually I managed to learn how to pedal and still she would run beside me as fast as she could till she couldn't keep up any more. I think i learned late for a kid, like 8 or 10. I do know that the first time I really rode my bike I rode it up the hill down the road while sitting on the seat the whole time. It was a hill that most people would have to walk a bike up to get to the top even if they had a ten speed. I had a generic one speed jan brady bike. All the power was supplied by the monkey boy legs honed from hours in the woods jumping and climbing and running. My sister still tells the story about how I would ride my bike up that hill sitting down like some superman kid. Once I had bike riding mastered I would ride it around a made up little track that crossed from my house to granddads house and back. I pretended I was driving a race car. I did it for hours. And hours. Nonstop and all alone. I would literally do entire Indy 500 races by doing 500 laps around my little track that was maybe 30 yards long. Of course I did pit stops but I always finished my races. Later I got a more substantial kind of motocross bicycle that held up to my abuse better. It was still a primitive bike compared to motocross bikes today because it came before they were even really invented. But it did hold up amazingly well. It was probably from OTASCO too, like my Stingray, and made from heavy gauge steel of some type. My grandad once changed all the countertops in his house and I found the ones he had discarded and promptly made a jump ramp with it using cement blocks and scrap wood. I loved Evel Kneivel. I had fun jumping it. My friend Bruce came over one day and was jumping it with me. I was fearless. Just for fun I jumped it once and landed with the brakes on so I could see how far I jumped from where the skid mark started. I had set the jump up at the bottom a portion of the hill I lived on. I had to push the bike up the hill and I had cut some small trees out of the way to get a faster run at it. I thought I was jumping like ten feet. The first jump was closer to ten yards. My friends jumps were pretty good too. I thought he was flying forever. I spent hours modifying the run to the jump from farther and farther up the hill till I was jumping my bike as far as the terrain would allow. That was probably the beginning of many years of stories as adrenaline would become my drug of choice.

I lived about 15 miles one-way to where I went to school in the town of Catoosa, population 3000. About half the road there is a one and a half lane country road full of potholes. It had many sharp and blind corners and hills and meandered generally along the Verdigris river. I would call it generally unsafe now but back then it was just the road home. On a map the road doesn't really seem to have a point and it wanders all over the place when most all roads are built and maintained by the counties and are straight section lines. I was told it was an old wagon trail and considering it's route along the river it made sense. It was a long way between bridges in the old days. The other half of the road was a wide two lane highway with wide shoulders. It couldn't be much more different than the wagon trail and was a pleasure to drive.

One long lazy summer day my friend Bruce and I got the idea that we would ride our bikes to the town where our school and friends all lived. I would guess we were in the 5th grade, maybe 6th. We had heard stories about how our buddies rode bikes around town and got into all sorts of adventures. We wanted to get a piece of that so the plan was hatched. We left after our parents had all went to work. No we didn't tell anyone where we were going. Kids. We were sure we'd be told no so it just seemed better to not tell anyone. Of course we didn't consider that everyone in the town knew us and our families and that everyone would know almost immediately but kids don't know that. We managed to ride about 50 miles that day on generic one speed bikes without getting hurt or killed. And we got to hang out with some of our friends. The only way we had of knowing where they were was to ride around and look for them. I don't remember getting in any trouble with our parents. It seems like it may have been mentioned in passing. Dunno.

I watch kids nowadays get rides from their parents to and from school who only live two blocks away. I don't know if it was better in the old days or worse. But I do know that the amount of parental guilt and paranoia surrounding kids today has increased a hundred fold. Back then it seemed like kids had much more responsibility in learning about their world and sometimes there were consequences...a burned hand or a broken leg or a cut on your forehead. You got scars but you also learned a great deal about yourself and the world and how to interact within it. It was the blossoming of common sense, something infinitely more valuable to a kid than what they get now in its place, dollars and cents.

The McGills

When I was maybe in the fifth grade, maybe third grade, it’s hard to pinpoint now, a family built and moved into a house one driveway down and across the street from my house. I noticed they had a male child. He appeared to be a little older than me, a couple of grades ahead maybe. Living in the woods there aren't many people, especially kids, available for interaction so I was excited by the opportunity to make a new friend. I seen him riding his bike one day after they had moved in. He was just going up and down the little one and a half lane paved road that passed my house. Our house is set back from the road about 50 yards or so. I watched him for a while and then I decided to get on my bike and check him out. I rode down to the road and began riding around too, sometimes following, sometimes doing my own thing, waiting for the right time to approach and introduce myself. I had stopped in my driveway and the kid pedaled over to me. I thought it was going to finally be time to meet each other exchange stories and stuff. But when he stopped he bent down, grabbed a big handful of gravel and threw it at me as hard as he could. WTF! I was dumbfounded. He quickly rode away and vanished down his own driveway to his house. I was just plain confused. What did I do to deserve that? Try to be nice? I went back to my house to tend my wounds when I seen him back on his bike and riding up and down the road again. This was obviously war and I had to defend myself. I did the only rational thing I could think of. I got my BB gun, Daisy Red Rider with the compass in the stock, set up just outside my back door and began firing volleys his way each time he passed my driveway. I got in a few direct hits and he vanished back into his house for the final time. I didn’t see him after that. I went inside and continued on with life.

Some hours later, after dark, there was an uncharacteristic knock on our front door. We live in the country. We don’t lock our doors. Nobody knocks. My dad answered and it was the kids dad, Mr. McGill. Uh oh. Dammit. The cloud of doom started to descend upon me. Much the same as when you pass a highway patrol doing 80. Mr. McGill explained that his son had been shot by your son with a BB gun. For no reason! My dad spun and immediately asked me if I had indeed been shooting at this man’s son with my BB gun…a known capital offense. I told him about the bike riding and the gravel throwing and about how I was afraid for my life so I defended myself against the older boy with my BB gun. My dad turned to Mr. McGill and said that sounded perfectly reasonable and that he needed to teach his kid to not throw rocks. Yay dad! I was told to not shoot at people and that was that. Mr. McGill was livid and didn’t agree at all. He yelled and walked away toward his house yelling the entire way. End of this chapter. But the beginning of the McGill saga.

I tried on several occasions to make friends with the kid across the road. Every time I tried it would always end up with me on the bad end of whatever it was we were doing. Eventually I quit trying. We played football once in his front yard, er, pasture. How harmful could that be, right? We were tossing a football amicably back and forth when he started running toward me and threw the ball at my face as hard as he could. I didn’t have time to react and my nose exploded. Blood everywhere. And laughter. WTF? Maybe he had mental problems. Based on my experiences though I would expect he was getting some significant repentant beatings in the name of god from his overzealous dad of Christ. It sucked for me but I felt worse for that kid.

The stories continue. This is my account of the next event and I have the overall theme correct but the details are pretty fuzzy and I wasn’t a firsthand witness so I am using poor memory and some interpretation. I’m guessing I was maybe 14 years old. My sister, Joy, got married right out of high school to a local boy. Eventually they moved into a house next door to my dad’s place. They rented it from a family that had lived in the house for a long long time but had to move on. I don’t remember why but I suspect they got too old to live on their own and either died or got moved to a care facility. Neighbors were so far apart that there wasn’t any close bonding so we knew our neighbors but we didn’t really KNOW our neighbors. My sister had Samoyed dogs. Big white fluffy husky looking Alaska sled pulling type dogs. I can’t actually remember the details at the moment but they also had a third outdoor dog that I believe was a result of a bad accidental coupling between their female Samoyed and a german shepherd. The result was a snow white short haired large boxy german shepherdy looking thing. It was always very shy of strangers and would run off to a safe distance and bark to keep the strangers away. There wasn’t anything threatening about it. It was just a posturing mechanism for self defense. The fenced yard of my sister’s house fronted the little country lane we lived on and the dogs were all seen daily by everyone who lived in the area or traveled the road daily. They were big and white and impossible to not see as you drove past. Well apparently one sad day the dogs had managed to get out of their fenced yard as dogs are want to do. When my sis got home they found the dogs at home but out of the yard. They herded them inside without much fanfare and went on with their evening. Soon there came a knock at the door and it was the same irritating father of the rock throwing, nose exploding boy. He was ranting about how the dogs had been out and had ventured into his yard and had threatened his sheep. The sheep live in a pen and do not come out nor do any other animals get in so we knew that the shy dog had most likely just barked and the angry man took the opportunity to be an ass. After his rant he left and the evening moved on. The german shepherd dog had seemed pretty normal when my sis got home but now he was starting to look sick. They didn’t see anything suspicious right away so they figured it might have been fatigue of the day. Later the dog seemed worse and they looked at him again and they found a tiny, almost invisible red stain. A stain caused by a 0.22 caliber bullet. The dood across the street had shot the dog. He didn’t come across the street to ask about the loose dog. He didn’t ask my sister or my father or my grandparents who are all there most all of every day. No, he decided the best thing to do would be to shoot the dog. And then he had the nerve to go bitch about the dogs being out after he had shot the do and didn’t even bother to tell them he had shot the dog. Did the dog threaten the sheep? I dunno, maybe. Were the sheep in any danger? No possible way. Was this devout bible thumping man of god just angry at the world and took every opportunity to be a complete asshole. Yes and I’m sure he had plenty of friends that were clones of him.

This event was the culmination of a series of events that were always instigated by the people across the street whether it was throwing rocks or shooting dogs or etc. We had enough. My brother-in-law, RJ, was a peaceful dood and I don’t think I had ever seen him angry in all the time I knew him. He went crazy mad and was going across the road to yell or fight or do whatever was in his head. I went with him kind of as a backup in case he got too nutty. Mostly I was just a witness. I think my dad and the remainder of the family were outside on our property just keeping watch and seeing what was happening. We banged on the door and there were lots of threats and finger pointing and insults being hurled and it was basically a testosterone war without punches thrown. After the last insult and threat had been thrown we retreated back to our side of the road. Nobody wants to be at war with a neighbor and when you live in the woods neighbors aren’t even close enough to have a fight but these people had managed to be about as unpleasant and idiotic as any people I had ever known. There was a father, a mother, a son and a daughter and they had all managed to start some kind of conflict whether it was on a school bus or at the grocery store or in our own front yard. Other than my BB gun incident there had never been any type of retaliation from our side of the road. But killing a pet went way over the line. We thought hard and long at how to make them suffer some of our irritation they had been dishing out all these years. I like to think that I came up with the idea but perhaps it wasn’t me. I think it was though. It was genius then but I’m not proud of it now, as an adult. Retaliation only escalates to some end that nobody wants. I was a young teen and I didn’t see that. Everyone in the country has long driveways and they are usually covered in small gravel so there isn’t mud and there is some traction in the snow. The people across the street had used a large very gray gravel to cover their driveway. The gravel was the same general height and color as a standard roofing nail. I knew where there was a large supply of readily available roofing nails. I’m not proud of spreading roofing nails all the way up and down their driveway in the middle of the night. But we never heard another word from the stupid people from across the street. We watched in the morning as the spectacle played out. Four people. Four cars. Sixteen tires. Sixteen flats before they reached the end of the driveway. And it continued for a while. I don’t think they ever could find all the nails buried in the gravel. The act may have actually been a catalyst for positive change. I’m pretty sure the parents divorced not too long after that and the kids moved away leaving the man to be angry at himself and the walls of his empty house for the remainder of his days. Again, from what I have learned as an adult about people and relationships I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to make a case for some significant physical and emotional abuse in that house for a long time. Once more, I will say that I’m sorry I did the nail thing. I’m also sorry that there are people in the world who are mean.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

So I Let It Go

I love my dad for all the good values and skills he gave to me.

I was angry and resentful for all the bad values and inadequate skills he gave me or failed to provide.

There's nothing unconditional about it. When people treat you appropriately they have an opportunity to receive love and respect. When people treat you inappropriately they lose the right to be loved and respected. Your family gets a free pass till you are old enough to make decisions on your own about how you deserve to be treated as a person. After that they have to earn love and respect by showing you the same.

I spent several years in my mid thirties looking inside myself for answers to nagging questions I had. I had behaviors that I knew were bad but they came natural to me so I wanted to know why those things were in my brain. I spent time with therapists and I researched the various facets of psychology specifically as they related to emotions and relationships.

I learned several things but one of the most important is the significance of your environment (nature and nurture) when you are between the ages of 6 and 12 (give or take a year or two for individual differences). These are the years when kids become self aware and aware of their surroundings. They don't necessarily understand it but they are able to process it enough to store the emotions and experiences away for future use. Overwhelming emotional experiences often produce dramatic and traumatic results in adulthood when the appropriate triggers are set in motion. It is not necessarily a self-fulfilling prophecy but the statistics do show a significant correlation between childhood trauma and adult behaviors.

I was never sexually or physically abused that I can remember. There was no overt actions by my parents or grandparents or anyone else who was responsible for my care. I experienced abuse as an observer. I watched it happen to my friends. I watched it happen between friends. I watched it between my parents. I watched it between other kids parents. And I experienced voids where kids should be learning with adults about the world and relationships and people. My relationship role models were not good.

I struggled most of my life not really understanding the difference between sex and love and intimacy. I wasn't given any education about sex. I just learned at a young age that sex is what people do when they like each other. I didn't learn about boundaries and about patience. I didn't have any of either. My initial and only reaction to a girl that I would meet and like was to have sex whether I had known her all my life for for five minutes. Everything I did in a relationship was always working toward sex. Some of it was testosterone but a large portion of it was that I didn't know any other way to tell a girl that I liked her besides shoving my tongue down her throat and my hand in her pants. It's embarrassing when I look back on my behavior in relationships. My research would definitely suggest that I had been introduced to sex in some way at an early age but I don't remember anything like that happening. It could be suppressed somehow but that doesn't feel correct either. I will never know. And on that same note, I found it very easy to get sex from age 14 on. I was a good looking, outgoing, athletic blondish okie boy and there was no shortage of young ladies willing to fuck. I have been extremely lucky to never have gotten an STD or to have kids that were unwanted. I learned about and used protection but the desire to show girls how I cared for them sometimes resulted in safety taking a backseat to desire. I had some exceptional women in my life and my confusion with sex and love probably destroyed many of those relationships. I now understand the differences and have wonderful and appropriate relationships but I still feel the original information stored on my hard drive from time to time. My stepdaughters have taught me volumes about myself...just by getting to watch them grow up and interact with their environment. And I have been able to give them the very best of me and they love and respect me for it and I am the luckiest man ever.

I have a very significantly developed self-preservation mechanism. It stems mostly from the addictive behaviors in my family that I observed as a youngster. When puberty and girls became prevalent in life around 13 or 14 years old there was a pretty significant paradigm shift in my personality. I was very driven with sports and winning and competing and then it slowly began eroding. I steadily became a real jerk to a lot of people. If you were any sort of threat to me, conscious or unconscious, I would resort to bullying behavior. And it was to anybody, boy or girl. I feel really bad now about how I treated a lot of perfectly innocent nice wonderful people who could have just as easily been my friends. I have had some occasion in my adult life to tell some of those people that I was sorry and that healed a lot of my shame. Now it's pretty much a running joke about how much of a dick I was then and that I'm much better now. I was a pretty big jerk till I was able to do my research into myself and then I let a lot of it go. Sometimes my self preservation mechanism triggers and it is manifested in a complete system shutdown. I just want to run away and be alone till it passes and those who love and understand me now allow that to happen and pass and life is grand. It is very cool indeed.

I had kept a big heaping ball of resentment towards my dad for being a drunk and for embarrassing me and for not being loving toward me and for not teaching me the good parts of becoming a man. I have kept it for years and anger would well up in me when I would do something harmful that I could trace right back to him. My dad, for lack of a better word, grew up sometime in his fifties. He quit drinking and changed a lot of his relationships and isn't volatile at all. But it has been too late coming for me. I'm happy for him but it only did a minor bit to help with the chasm between us. We can talk for a few minutes and then my mechanisms trigger and I flee. Since he has changed I got it in my head that maybe he would be able to look back on the person he was when I was in his responsible care and find a sincere way to look me in the eye and tell me he was sorry. I've always thought that would make a lot of the resentment go away. I gave him many opportunities. I set up conversations. I beat around the bush. Nothing ever happened. I talk to my wife about it and she says she can see it in his eyes that he feels bad for the way it was but I was hung up on him telling me personally, heart to heart. So this last fall I was in Oklahoma for a separate event and I arranged to stay at the old family homestead for a couple of days. I made a commitment to confront him with my life story and my problems and how they related to his drinking and yadayadayada. Well, I actually got enough balls one day when we were alone in the house and it was quiet and he was listening to me talk about football or fishing or something. I told him that I had real relationship troubles as an adult as well as a bunch of other struggles. Basically just telling him about me without pointing any fingers at him. Then I said "You know, you spent all the greatest years of my youth drunk." He didn't talk back to me. Instead he lowered his head a little and looked toward the ground and looked to be in legitimate reflection and whispered under his breath "Yeah". And that was it. My plan to demand an apology ended up with some silence and some nonverbal acknowledgement and then I got up and got a bowl of nilla wafer banana pudding. That simple act of acknowledgement was all I needed. It seemed mean and heartless to torment this man any further with my need for an apology just to make him feel bad about himself when he had changed his life. So I let it go. I let it all go. I still have struggles with legacies left by my dad's behaviors but it's not a witch hunt anymore. I know he had a disease. I know that I only understood a fraction of his life and how he got to be who he was. I know now he recognizes his role in some of my troubles. My life is fabulous with a wife and kids that make me happier and prouder every day. I have traveled many a mile and lived a full life and some of the good part of that is because of my dad.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Simple stories of youth

Age 6. My sister got a tape recorder for her birthday. I think it was about her 14th birthday but it could be a year either way. She also had a tabletop organ that was pretty primitive for a key instrument. It had one key chords on the left hand and one or two sets of keys. I learned some simple songs, mostly kid christmas songs and that Frere Jaques song. I believe I even took it to school for music class in the fifth grade and played it along with the songs I knew. A one finger concerto. In my twenties I had the wonderful experience of being the lead singer of a rock band. Feeling rather empty on stage I purchased a professional keyboard and managed to learn just enough to not look stupid on stage. I played simple parts to fill the background when the guys who could really play did their thing. It was fun and really challenging for me. My sister also had an acoustic guitar. Nobody ever showed me how to play and I never worked out what my left hand was supposed to do. I would lay my fingers on the strings just like on tv but no good sound ever came out. I didn't know you had to push the strings down and it never occurred to me to even try. HA. I have tried to play the guitar on several occasions in my life. I love soulful sad electric blues guitar and have wanted to learn to play but there's just nothing natural about it for me. It's all mechanical and not as fun as I want it to be. Yes I did learn to push on the strings. I think my only musical instrument I ever received was a kiddie drum set. I remember it lasted maybe only minutes before I put holes in all the drum heads. End of drums but at least someone tried. I think it may have been a birthday present because I kinda remember it not being christmas outside the window when I played with it. I used to steal my sister's tape recorder when nobody was home and record myself singing. I have very vague memories of embarrassment of my sister and mom finding out and making fun of me about it. I didn't actually realize the song would still be on the tape when I was done singing. Out of sight, out of mind. I always sang the same song the same way. Over and over and over. “Gimme the loooovve. All I can taaake. Gimme the love all I can take. “ Three lines. Very Eric Clapton. I will admit that the last line had some different delay timing in it. Cmon. I wasnt completely without musical talent. The song was never loud though...I would never sing it loud. I kept it somewhere above a whisper. At that time in my life, the words themselves had plenty of volume for anyone willing to listen. Lalalala lalalala lalalalalalalah.

Chef boyardee raviolis, chef boyardee spaghetti, french toast, cereal, eggs, peanut butter, ice cream. I could cook. Chef Jeff. Or as I was called, Booger Chef and Jeff, due to an ill fated fast food chain called Burger Chef who had a commercial featuring Burger Chef and Jeff. Ah kids.

I had many small metal toy cars. Not Hot Wheels. They were too expensive. Actually I did get one Hot Wheels set that came with an oval track and two cars that ran on batteries. The cars didn't last that long and I lost interest in them since I couldn't keep replacing them. I did use the track that came with the set though. I loved the little cheap metal cars that came in packs of 8 or 10. They weren't close to the quality of Hot Wheels. These were just stamped out of cheap metal with solid axles and plastic wheels. I used to race them around and around the kitchen counter in pretend races. The centers of the corners was always a size D battery taped to the counter. I also used to drag race them down some of those Hot Wheels tracks that I would hook together in a straight line down the length of the kitchen. I even had a little push button starter thingy that made sure both cars left the start line at exactly the same time. I would do tournaments to see which car was going to be the fastest that day. I would tape the start line high on the wall on a convertible table/chair that my Great Uncle Clarence had made and that my mother had hand painted with I believe was a self portrait. Every day I would alter the race course a little to change the physics of the track to see if it affected the outcome of the races. Always manipulating my environment and testing the laws of physics. No wonder I'm an engineer now. I took the time to paint all my cheap cars once with model paint. I also painted the top of my wooden dresser at the same time. It stayed that way till i left for college and beyond. I had bunk beds and a matching three drawer dresser. I remember going to the small furniture store in Claremore and picking it out myself when I was really young. I had the same bed and mattresses till i left for college. The bunk bed has drawers under it. Clothes in the dresser. Toys n legos n comic books in the bunk bed drawers. I always slept on the bottom bunk. I can only think of four or five people who ever slept over. At the same time I didn't like being in other houses for sleepovers either. I wanted the control of my own space and sleeping over didn't give me that. Control probably sums up a huge part of who I am and who I learned to be. It's a common story among young people. Never feeling in control of anything. It also explains a lot of my time alone in the woods. It was my own universe and I could control it any way I pleased. I have a stepdaughter Heather who struggles with the same issues of control. It's maddening to be the plastic airplane in the stream and not the person with the stick. My closest friend in proximity, Bruce, was the only person to ever spend any real time at my house when I was really young. I remember lots of chaos in his house too so I don't think he liked being home either. So, we would we would spend the majority of our days in the woods away from our homes.

I loved to play monopoly. By myself.

I ate at the school cafeteria almost every day for 12.5 years.

I read comics but not the normal young boy comics. I liked Richie Rich and some of the offshoots. I had a lot of them. Never threw them out. Read and reread them often. I had short stints with Mad and Cracked and the occasional marvel or DC superhero but I never really liked them that much. I read a lot of books about bigfoot and gargoyles and other creatures that inhabited that fuzzy space between real and make believe. They just seemed interesting. Never any vampires tho. Wasn’t interested. Godzilla was really cool. I watched the original SNL by accident. I watched the moon landings and every Olympics.

Speaking of, during the 1972 Olympics a bunch of GUERRILLAS stormed the dorms at the games and killed some people. I was absolutely freaking amazed at how anyone would allow GORILLAS to run free at the olympics. And whey didn't they just hunt them down and kill them? My dad let me use a 410 gauge single shot shotgun for rabbit hunting and I was sure I could have tracked them down and taken them out easy enough. I remember my parents were out partying and I was home alone. Yes, I was home alone a lot at that age but in fairness my grandparents lived like 20 yards away and kept a close eye on me. It don't make it right or wrong or good or bad. Its just how it was. I was still awake when they got home and I was animated telling them the story of how gorillas had attacked the olympics and killed a bunch of people. But not Olga Korbut. She was dreamy. In the end they giggled at me and explained the difference between guerrillas and gorillas and it made much more sense to me.

Super Sugar Crisp. Sugar Frosted Flakes. Sugar Frosted Mini Wheats. Breakfasts of champions.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I never liked the little fireworks you get at fireworks stands on July 4 holiday. I got them because that’s what I was supposed to do because I was a boy but I never liked them. We would actually buy ours from a small stand just on the edge of Claremore on Hiway 20. The guy that ran the stand was blind. That always intrigued me and made it special. Fireworks were loud. I didn’t like loud. My parents yelled at each other a lot when I was a kid. Screamed. Really bad things. I don’t know exactly what I just know it was bad. And Ioud. I used to lay in my room and listen and try to get the will to go tell them to stop but I never could so I just lay there unable to move. Quiet. Alone. I have a memory that I told them to stop once but am sure it was just a dream or a wish that was imprinted in my brain as an experience that really happened. I accept loud from things that are supposed to be loud. Race cars. Motorcycles. Airplanes. But not parents and for whatever reason, not fireworks. Loud voices set me off. If someone raises their voice to me it completely shuts me down. I retreat back under the blanket. By myself. Trying to will it stop but never ever being able to do it. I hate fireworks. People fireworks most of all.

My wife NeCole once blew me up with a firework. We were probably 14 at the time. She blew me up with bottle rocket to be exact. They are little rockets on the end of a stick that fly into the air and then explode. They are pretty much banned everywhere now because they set a lot of houses on fire. We were sitting in chairs on the edge of a river lighting bottle rockets in our hand and then tossing them so they would shoot across the water or into it and then explode with a muffled thump and a fist sized flash of light. Even though I didn’t like fireworks, it was fun because she was there and I had to show off for her. Sometimes you gotta man up if you want to get the girl. Bottle rockets were notorious for poor quality control as they were mass produced by the millions. Sometimes the fuses would burn really fast and the firework would take off before you were ready. She held one in her hand, lit it and then prepared to toss it. Only it didn’t make it that far. It blew up before she could toss it. It blew up right in front of my face. She didn’t’ mean to. I didn’t hate her for it. But I’m sure it triggered all sorts of bad memories. Because I was with my girlfriend I’m sure I kept my cool and laughed it away but on the inside I had to be spinning out of control. As an adult I still loathe small fireworks and I refuse to participate. I will watch the big commercial fireworks shows but I try to avoid the little ones or at least keep some distance away. To me they still don’t go bang. They scream. Only now they sound like little kids yelling STOP IT as loud as they can. But its only in their head that they scream so nobody ever hears. Nobody ever hears their screams. Nobody ever heard mine.

Balls of mud and other activities

I was indeed throwing mud balls at the side of our house. A house with white siding. I don’t know why. I was like 8 yrs old. I liked to throw things. I was good at it. Kids do what they think they are good at. Pick up some mud. Use some grass and twigs to get it to stay together just right and then heave it as hard as I could against the side of the house from fifteen yards away. Wham! Wham! Each mud ball would rattle the windows of the house as it exploded on the ivory exterior. The balls of mud would create spectacular patterns on the siding as the core of the mud ball was forced outward from the impact. Not too unlike a snowball fight. With a house. And not too unlike creating snowflake. Except they are brown and lumpy. So there I am. Striking out the Yankees one by one. They were a crafty bunch and these fastballs just weren't getting the job done. I was ahead by one run and the last batter was at the plate. It was Hank Aaron. No, the teams and the players don't have to match. You just play against the best of the best. Always. This situation called for a curve ball. Full count. Now, in order for the curve ball to get to over the plate I need to start it out high and right. Just about the edge of the front living room window. I rocked and fired. The ball of mud left my hand perfectly as I anticipated the graceful arc of the curve ball that would result in triumph. But physics is funny. Sometimes it applies, sometimes it doesn't. I discovered instantly that mud and baseballs do not react the same when imparted spin. Mud doesn't curve. At all. I watched in agony as the mud ball flew straight at and through the window shattering the upper pane of four that made up the window. Crap. I stood there petrified. Then I heard the doorknob of the back door turn, click and then the door was open. There stood my mom. OK. Now I had been tossing heavy loud mud balls at the house for a while with no reaction and now that a little glass and mud entered the house there she was. I was sure this was not entirely my fault. She LET me do it. It was just as much her fault. She calmly surveyed the damage, turned and looked me straight in the eye. "Did you just throw mud through this window?" Panic. Terror. I stood there covered in mud from head to toe, mud balls at my feet, brain calculating my predicament. Then, I gently raised my hand and categorically denied any participation in the breaking of any glass of any kind. I discussed at length how the glass was obviously defective and broke on its own accord without any outside interference of any kind. I don't really remember if i got into trouble because of that. Surely i did but i don't remember it. There is a chance my mom just laughed and made me clean the side of the house with the hose. Dunno. Kids are so dumb. And cute.

We had a swimming pool. It was a 3 foot galvanized steel tub that sat in a small patch of sun just beyond the kitchen window. I swam in it. It was safe. Right up until the biggest effing bee in the entire universe stabbed me on the shoulder. I watched it in super slow motion fly right up to me, ME, a superior being, and proceed to impale itself in an excruciating death dance upon my tender white wing. I was maybe 4. I never moved a muscle. I just watched it happen in silence. Then I screamed. A lot. LOUDLY. Who the hell was that bee to do that to me. What did i ever do to it? I mean personally. I may have used a member of its family for batting practice with a plastic bat but that wasn’t personal but that stab sure as hell was. The animal world needed to brush up on its rules. I was offended. I still am. Bastards.

I could throw a ball and swing a bat pracitcally from birth. In the summertime in Oklahoma there are fireflies. Lots of fireflies. We actually call them lightning bugs but fireflies is easier to type. They come out just at dusk and stay around all night if it is warm and humid and calm. I would take my plastic baseball bat and run around in the dark looking for flashes. When I would see one flash I would run to where the flash was and then scan the horizon with my corners of my eyes for the next flash. Eventually I would connect the dots and guess where the next flash would come. When it did i would triangulate its position and give a mighty babe ruth swing that most often would result in a spectacular flying glowing green dead insect. When you hit them their butts would explode and glow with fluorescent yellow-green sticky goo. Every summer night my plastic bat glowed too. Glowed with the light from a dozen smooshed lightning bug butts. I was superior.

When the creek was full of water during or after a rain I would take little plastic airplanes...hold on. Yes I had these big bags of little plastic airplanes like plastic army men only they were airplanes. All colorful too. Small. The largest plane was only maybe two inches across. I don't know why. I never ran around with them playing Charles Lindbergh games. Anyway i would go out in the rain to the creek and I would put a bright yellow plastic airplane in the stream and watch it float with the current. There were lots of little waterfalls and pools and I helped it along with a stick if it got stuck. I would do this for hours. In the pouring rain. The way the water gave the little toy plane energy and made it come alive and give it movement fascinated the hell out of me. The little plane would spin this way and that and tumble down the falls and bounce over rocks and stumps and roots. And never ever the same way twice. Sometimes I would put two or three planes in the water at the same time to race them downstream. Put it in the water. Poke it with a stick. Walk a hundred yards watching it the entire time. Pick it up. Take it back as far as possible and do it again and again and again and again. All by myself in a pouring rain on a warm summer afternoon.