Friday, January 28, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
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.
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
Monday, January 10, 2011
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
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
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
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.
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.