272. Melancholy psychic closet cleaning

Oh, my Blogginis, you little canaries, it is a combination of joy

and trepidation

that leads me to the contemplation

of all the odds and ends

stored back, way back

in the psychic closet of

my memories. I need the soundtrack to be melancholy,

Over the Rhine, “Latter Days” is perfect.

Scented with musty old books and worn leather shoes.

No mothballs here. The moths are thick.

Chew a stick of old style teaberry gum as we look with the heart

A favorite baseball glove

lives there tenderized with neatsfoot oil,

abandoned

along with my photo pack

of black and white Washington Senators

circa 1967 collectible portraits

and various colorful baseball cards

We got in to D.C. Stadium for free if we wore our Little League uniforms on certain generous days. Fathers and sons in all sorts of uniforms filled the arena so vast that the announcer’s voice echoed in a time delay. “Now batting….atting, atting, atting,  for the Senators….enators, enators, enators,  Frank…. ank, ank, ank. Howard,Howard, Howard, Howard.” Thunderous applause for the Hondo.

It was another world driving across the Potomac River

before everything broke loose in 1968,

Bobby Kennedy was killed a month after Martin Luther King… and the stadium was renamed to quell the trauma and grief sweeping the landscape.

It was safer then, before the riots and the rights marches, when I was still a child. Freedom can be radioactive and it was in the late 60’s. That freedom energy lit up a lot of cities that summer for better and worse. I watched D.C. burn for a week in person while many other cities burned on our black and white television.

I never imagined our  cities would still be radioactive fifty years later in the second term of a Black president. Nothing is as simple as it seems.

In the back of my cold closet, moisture would gather due to the fact

that it backed up to an unheated shed full of dust and rust

I housed a possum in that shed once but not for long

I managed to send him to meet Jesus with a bathtub baptism and Right Guard aerosol chrism plus below freezing temperatures. Marsupials are hard to love. I tried.

With three brothers I hid things like gum and money, maybe cigarettes later on

I found that the ultimate hiding place was behind the light switch

Who would look there?  for your silver coins? One of them would eventually.

I had the human figure target from our third grade trip to the FBI, Shot to Shreds for our unending excitement by an Agent with ear muffs. “Any questions, kids?”

“Why didn’t we get ear protection?” I wanted to say.

I asked the agent guide/shooter if I could have the target

“Sure, kid. Here ya go.”

Boom! Instant jealousy from every boy I knew who knew I had it

My mother could not bear to see it on my bedroom wall

Image result for human figure shooting target pictures

It freaked her out beyond the planet Valium’s orbit

So I had to roll it up and  put it in the closet.

I don’t think the FBI gives kids that tour any longer. It’s not safe or we are paranoid. Or there’s liability involved. You know how it is. If a kid pees on a tree, the EPA has to call the CDC to check with the NSA for a tox screen and DNA and satellite pictures which are lost when Congress wants to see for themselves if that kid was Bill Clinton.

In  sixth grade I recycled the name stone for Ben Mae Manor

an historic old manor a block down the Parkway from my house

By balancing it on my purple spider bike seat

That historic stone sat heavily on the parquet wood floor of my closet for years

Until my younger brother moved out in the 1970’s and took it with him

It really ought to be returned one day. So Chris, where is it?

Way, way back in time our cat Pinky had a litter of kittens in that closet. It was dark and safe. We’d peek in with unrestrained glee and count the little fur balls as they suckled before they all had to go “to a family with a farm”. My parents didn’t know any farmers.

And the St. Louis Catholic School uniforms– white collared shirts with navy blue pants and a blue bow tie. Yeah, big fashion. Only black shoes were allowed. They hung in that dark space like mason jars of authority ready to can and pickle me. I refused a lot. I still do. My wife and friends tell me the nuns didn’t beat me enough. That’s cold to say though it may be true.

I had a pair of green leather Converse All Star low top sneakers when I ran away from home around 16. I wore them through the rainy night as I hitchhiked past Baltimore and into near oblivion. I thought I was going to hitch all the way to Boston where other family might appreciate or tolerate me. Not to be. A van full of hippies picked me up on their return drug trip from Philly. They got me stoned and I spent the night with them tripping out over split pea soup. It was very groovy. When I put those damp shoes back in my closet, my feet remained green for days, algaed evidence of my prodigality.Enos Country Slaughter St. Louis Cardinals unsigned 8x10 photo Nice

I had a baseball bat with Enos Slaughter’s name burned into it. I didn’t know who he was or where he played ball, but what a name! go out swinging, kid.

Latter Days… Over the Rhine

What a beautiful piece of heartache
This has all turned out to be
Lord knows we’ve learned the hard way
All about healthy apathy

I use these words pretty loosely
There’s so much more to life than words

There is a me you would not recognize, dear
Call it the shadow of myself
And if the music starts before I get there
Dance without me, you dance so gracefully
I really think I’ll be okay
They’ve taken a toll, these latter days

Nothing like sleeping on a bed of nails
Nothing much here but our broken dream
Oh, but baby, if all else fails
Nothing is ever quite what it seems

And I’m dying inside to leave you
With more than just cliches

There is a me you would not recognize, dear
Call it the shadow of myself
And if the music starts before I get there
Dance without me, you dance so gracefully
I really think I’ll be okay
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days

Tell them it’s real
Tell them it’s really real
I just don’t have much left to say
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days
They’ve taken their toll, these latter days

 

Maybe we should just leave that melancholy closet locked. The past need not be repeated.

250. “Heck yes, I would!”

I don’t even know the precedent to this title, but I figured that I could comb through my thinning synapse farms and glean a memory or two where that line would fit as a response to a distant call. [In case you are wondering what a synapse farm looks like, it’s sort of like a catfish farm where fish swim through chutes and ladders and finally are selected for market by a dimwitted minimum wager with a net when they are plump and delicious, and exhibit just a tinge of orange around their gills.] Sort of like the Amazing Carnack routine of Johnny Carson, where he gave an answer to a sealed question and then opened the envelope and read it aloud for the punch line.  It’s harder than you might think to challenge yourself with such an open-ended gauntlet toss. You can wind up smacking yourself with the glove of challenge. You’ve heard of Russian roulette, yes? But have you heard of Russian bocce? Since it snows so much in Russia, they throw the polina ball straight up and pray it does not hit any of the players assembled below. And then they roll their balls at it as if playing horseshoes with bowling balls.

The line reminds somehow me of the terrible old joke from childhood that was told to me about the dance where the boy with a wooden eye worked up the nerve to ask the girl with the harelip to dance. When she responded excitedly, “Would I? Would I?” He could not help himself and yelled back, “Harelip! Harelip!” Why anyone would tell a kid this joke is beyond me, but somehow these cruel jokes filtered down to junior high kids who told them to elementary age kids, who lost some of their innocence in the process. Would you repeat such an awful joke? In a male-dominated neighborhood in the 1960’s, the answer “Heck yea, I would!” was a fairly common response to any challenge.

Across the Parkway lived Pat and Dougie Fontaine. Mean boys in a lower middle class community. Pat was older and in high school as I recall. He built himself a little putting green in his side yard, the Dorset Drive side. That was quite an accomplishment now that I think of it, and smelled of social climbing. Well, one day the prison road crew were working on the street just beyond the intersection of the Parkway and Dorset Drive. The prisoners watched Pat putt very self righteously while they sweated away picking at asphalt on a humid Virginia summer day. We younger boys were enthralled with these convicts and the one guard with a shotgun.

“Mister, is that loaded?”

“Wouldn’t be much good if it weren’t, kid. Wanna hold it?”

“Heck yes, I would!”  That did not happen. Laughter erupted in the gap between innocence and corruption.

One of the prisoners drew a bottle of chewing tobacco spit from the tailgate of the truck. He said to me, “Hey kid, you want to pour this prison juice into Arnold Palmer’s golf hole over there?”

“Heck yes, I would!”

I did and later on Pat beat my butt. Hey, I deserved it.  The prisoners got a kick out of the whole scene. I guess I got a literal kick out of it. I was destined for smart assery, I suppose.

We Hillians used to roam the woods near our neighborhood back in old Virginia Hills, which was situated between Kings Highway and Telegraph Road in Fairfax County, Virginia. 300 cookie cutter houses laid out on identical quarter acre lots. Those woods have all been plowed under and built upon, but back in the 1960’s they were wild and wooly. The eager young boys in my circle of friends just about lived in those woods, which may have preserved the little bit of sanity left to our stay at home mothers. “Go play”, they’d tell us, without any concern that we might wander literally miles in any direction. And we did wander with regularity. We caught lizards and turtles and snakes and toads and frogs and salamanders and crayfish and baby squirrels and birds and anything slower than we were. It was great suburban adventure to climb trees or have a little campfire wherever we chose.

Across from the Methodist church on Kings Highway was a dirt lane that ended at an old run down farm house from the 1930’s covered in clapboard that needed paint twenty years ago.  It could have been a set  piece for “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I don’t know the occupant’s name, but we had some tall tales about him being a drunk and a crazy man. It was quite a challenge to go down near his house where he had apple trees growing on either side of the lane. Now this may not seem too exciting to kids who play Call of Duty on X Box today, but back in the world of three dimensions this old cuss had a real shotgun with rock salt instead of lead, so the legend went. We knew about the dangers as we quietly snuck down the lane toward his apples, hearts pumping and adrenaline pulsing through our bored little suburban brains.

Now it wasn’t enough to simply slide in through the brush and the tall grass at dusk to snitch some apples in early fall or late summer. Someone always had to push the envelope and throw down a dare. I don’t know which kids dared which other kid. I just know that I was neither. I was along for the adventure not the record book. Anyway, let’s say Michael dared Steve to run up to the old man’s porch and knock while we ran to a safer distance to duly verify the completion of the dare. Steve ran like a bat out of Hell across the crumbling wooden porch and knocked rapidly on the old guy’s door as he also turned to run for his life. It was all in one fluid motion as my memory recorded it. Anyway, as we all held our collective breath, the old man came to his door, flung it open and began shooting some sort of gun at Steve as he scampered away like a zig-zagging jack rabbit through a briar patch. It’s amazing what adrenaline can do to ten year olds’ nervous systems.  When we finally got to a safe place on the other side of Kings Highway and lay on our bellies in the leafy carpet of the woods, we laughed and caught our breath again.

“Want to do it again?” (Not knowing life would wind up far less exciting.)

“Heck yes, I would.!”

 

201. Unsupervised

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.