I should not be left unsupervised. It’s just not wise. And yet, that is where I find myself quite often. I work by myself nowadays, usually for 12 hour stretches. Now, I do have lots of face time with folks, so don’t go thinking that I am a recluse or even a recluse spider. Still, I think it’s safer all around if someone responsible watches me. My wife and daughter are out for the evening, leaving me alone with Johnny the dog on a silent Sunday night. I have not thought of anything controversial to do yet, but the night is young. If I were more ambitious, I’d think of something goofy to do in the name of creativity. Most of you know that there is a thin line between creative and insane. I walk that razor wire daily. Plus I have a history.
As a kid in a cookie cutter neighborhood of the 1960’s, I was often unsupervised along with my three brothers and the kids next door and across the street and down the hill. Our exhausted mothers would say, “Go play!” and we’d be gone until darkness or hunger overtook us. A favorite winter activity was tracking animals in the snow. My woodsy friend Chris Young would usually be with me. It was exciting to find deer tracks in the thin woods next to our housing development in Northern Virginia, minutes from the Beltway. And raccoon tracks were big ticket items. Rabbits too. We dreamed of catching and domesticating these poor creatures. Post 31. Possumly is just one example of boys left unsupervised and the messes they make.
There was the time when I was preschool age. The tired mothers in our neighborhood bowled at Penn Daw Lanes bowling alley on the other side of Rte. 1. It was a familiar two miles or so from our house. I had a good visual memory and could tell you the names of most of the cross streets on Kings Highway that led to the intersection with Rte. 1. Anyway, one Thursday morning I was plopped into the nursery room with about twenty five other grimy kids and my little brother Chris. If I was five, then he was three. After a short while of noise and chaos I took matters into my own unsupervised hands. I think I probably told the child care worker/head babysitter that I was taking my little brother to the bathroom cuz he’d pooped his pants or something. Once outside of that windowless, hot, overcrowded room, we made a break for it out of the glass doors downstairs. No one noticed us sneaking out behind the teams of desperately bored housewives bowling their unmet needs away in the fluorescent lit noise.
Once in the fresh air we stealthily crossed the parking lot. Chris followed without complaint, but my memory is pretty foggy. He could have screamed bloody murder and it would all come out the same in my personal history. The next challenge ahead of us was the four lane Rte. 1. Well, in those days, I’m talking 1961 Blogamicekins, traffic was not so heavy. We darted across the lanes, pausing at the concrete median strips and then the triangle wedge that fed Kings Highway into Rte. 1. After that it was just two miles uphill and one right turn. We’d be home then. It never occurred to me that I might need a key. Not sure we even locked the doors back then.
Kings Highway was a two lane road with ditches on each side. No sidewalk or shoulder to walk along. When a car came, we’d hop into the ditch as it passed close by us. We were at the bottom of the first big hill, where the stream ran under the road before it ran next to Mt. Comfort cemetery, when Mrs. Page stopped in a worried state. At great personal risk and possible peril she stopped, yelled at me and Chris, and forcefully parented us into her car. I think she took us back to the bowling alley and my panicked mother. My butt can tell the rest of the story. I just have a slight memory of my mother converting her panic into kinetic energy that resonated with my buttocks. She beat my unsupervised ass a good one. I guess I earned that one…but nobody died.
While I’m in the old neighborhood, I recall another unsupervised summer day walking home from the Giant grocery store at Rte. 1. Chris Young, my woodsy mate, and I were walking through Mt. Comfort cemetery. It was hot and we were bored 10 year olds maybe. We had already stopped at the fountain at the entrance and drank some water out of the pool under it. We had stared long and hard at the face of Jesus in relief across the traffic circle from the fountain. Because it was cleverly carved in relief, the eyes followed you no matter where you stood. Chris stood on one side and I on the other. We each testified, “He’s looking at me.” Unfortunately, we were just unsupervised boys again. We wandered across the bone dry grass.
As we got farther from the maintenance shed and office, Chris began flicking matches onto this tinderbox grass. It would instantly burn and a circle of fire would zoom out from the match. Chris would swish his Converse sneakers over the rim of the fire circle and put it out. I was nervous about getting in trouble, but Chris was too stupid for fear. He flicked another match; made a bigger circle and then another. He wondered how a big a carbon foot print he could leave on the grass. Well, his last attempt was the winner. The circle grew exponentially fast and both of us dancing along the edge could not get ahead of the fire. It was out of control and headed toward occupied graves on the one side and crackly dry woods on the other. Chris ran away into the woods like an ostrich with burned feet, leaving me behind as the maniacal maintenance guy came tearing toward my shaking carcass in an old green Jeep. He circled the fire’s edge with his tires and quickly put out the inner circle flames with a fire extinguisher. He was not happy and wanted to kick butt and take names. I immediately ratted out Chris– address, phone number, which bedroom was his, and how his father liked coffee. I was scared and my feet smelled of fire. Which is why I should not be left unsupervised. Ever.