Tomorrow is My Birthday

Well, I lied.  Actually my birthday was over a month ago.  It took me this long to finish the following, an account of my early years. It is mostly true.

Tomorrow I’ll be 69 years on this planet.  I was born before the Korean War, after WWII, and before all the other wars after.  I just hope I don’t live to see WWIII.

Now that is out of the way, here are some memories:  I had a tricycle.  It was red. I think I rode it up and down the sidewalk on the block where I lived.  I drove by the old house a few weeks back. Every thing was smaller. They put new siding on.  The walnut tree was bigger.  I still remember the front porch.  The front porch where the milk man delivered the glass containers filled with milk in the insulated box by the door.  The front porch where the Polish lady across the street came to our house one night and bummed a cigarette from my old man.  I think she was flirting, but not sure.  What I do remember was she tore the filter off the cig and said she liked to smoke it straight.  She was a force.

Across the other street was an old dilapidated house that housed a family called the Pughs.  They came up from Texas, and members of our Methodist church saw them rummaging through the garbage cans for food at the park, and decided the Christian thing to do would be to take them in and show charity.  Thus, they housed them in the dilapidated house across from us, and they proceeded to be loud.  They had several kids, the oldest a bruising bully who liked to yell a lot, and the youngest who screamed to high heaven so that I thought someone was being murdered, but not to worry because the middle boy named Clark who had a crush on my sister said it was normal for Robert to scream like a banshee so not to worry. Anyway, they were not much of a nuisance if you didn’t mind screaming banshees, and the old man who liked to weld on his race car in the dead of night, and burn tires during the day. Those days it was legit to burn your garbage.  We had a burn barrel out back, but the Pughs took it to the extreme by burning old tires in the middle of the day when my Mom had laundry hanging out, and now I am sure contributed to global warming.

I went into their house once on Clark’s invitation, and was impressed by how much it stank and how the stairs were so rickety I was afraid to walk on them.  Piles of laundry were in the corners.  The old man told the old lady that he guessed he should go out and burn some more tires.

The other neighbor was an old geezer who had a boxer dog.  The son of a bitch was mean.  One day the boxer grabbed ahold of our small dog Fritz and tried to kill him.  I screamed and the old geezer ran out of the house with a rake and brought it down on the boxer so to make him let go of Fritz and I was relieved.  The boxer ran off with rake holes in his back, but still the old geezer didn’t apologize.  I guess he thought he had done enough.  At another time he called the neighbors over to see the great big fish he had caught called a spoon bill.  I learned that he snagged it at the Bagel Dam in Southern Missouri where, I surmise, you could take big hooks at the end of poles and snag monster fish with spoon bill noses and say whoopee.  He laid it out on his lawn and everyone was amazed.  I’m not sure what he did with it afterwards, but I don’t think you eat them. Whoopee.

When I was young we used to run in packs like wild dogs.  We would play cowboys and Indians, and would play fight like pirates with wooden swords made of laths.  There seemed to be plenty of laths lying around to make into swords.  Anyway, we’d all go up to the football stadium, climb up the walls, and jump off.  As far as I know no one broke any bones, although I can’t be sure.  One day we decided to crawl under the door of the backside of the stadium.  There was a small depression where we could wiggle through.  On the other side was a musty conglomeration of football equipment, including a block and tackle sled, and cast off shoulder pads.  We were disappointed that we didn’t uncover better stuff.  Still, it was an adventure.  We wiggled out of the stadium and grabbed our swords and went to battle.  Then we jumped off the wall of the stadium to show our courage.  It was fun, I guess, but scary.

Later on in Junior High, we had comb fights.  We would chew the end of a pocket comb to make it sharper, then lacerate each other on the arms pretending to be knife fighters.  Boys will be boys.  This escalated into pencil fights.  The object was to stab someone with a sharpened pencil and break off the lead just under the skin.  I know, this was gross and terrible.  It was also a good way to get lead poisoning, although we didn’t think about that at the time.  It was an age where you didn’t think.  My friend Ron stabbed me in the web between my thumb and forefinger.  I still have the scar.  We went on to be best buds.

In Junior High our goal was to drive our teachers bat shit.  We accomplished this one day by teasing our math teacher who we named Bongo Benny.  One day after lunch someone snuck back into the room and wrote a bunch of bad words on the blackboard, you know, ones that started with F, then pulled the sliding board over to cover them up.  Bongo came back from lunch and proceeded to write formulas on the board.  We waited in anticipation.  He then moved the sliding board over to reveal the nasty words. He went ape.  He grabbed erasers in both hands and attacked the F words like a madman, chalk dust flying.  We giggled. Red-faced he turned and yelled that there were only one or two people in this room who could have done this. Actually, most of us could, including the girls, but that didn’t register with him.  He proceeded to grab ahold of the desk of the one or two boys he thought were the culprits, and look them in the eye while moving their desks back and forth.  He made the ones he thought were the guilty stay after.  I didn’t .  I didn’t do it, but thought it was funny.  No girls stayed after, because, I believe, he thought girls were incapable of such shenanigans.

Later in high school certain cliques formed:  hoods, greasers (kind of the same), jocks, preps, egg-heads, and the rest of us where I think I belonged, I guess.  One day a hood came into typing class.  Mrs. Smith gave him a hard time, which he apparently did not appreciate.  When she left the room temporarily, he proceeded to pick up the typewriter, go to the window and open it up, and drop it three stories down to the concrete below.  We all rushed to the window just in time to see it disintegrate.  Mrs. Smith came back into the classroom and was appalled.  She sent the hood down to the principal’s office, and we never saw him again.  I guess he was expelled, or dropped out.

In high school we sat in rows of wooden desks that were bolted to the floor.  Underneath most were a half century of used gum stuck under the front.  Another hood one day decided to flick on his cigarette lighter and heat up the gum. This released a flaming wad of gum from the desk which landed in his lap.  Yowling with his pants on fire, he ran out of the room.  We were astonished.  Never saw him again either.

In Speech class we were assigned to give a speech about what it was we liked to do.  Not everyone liked to give speeches.  A hood girlfriend got up and went to the head of the class, leaned against the chalk tray for support, and proceeded to read from her speech, hands shaking and knees knocking.  She could barely talk.  The only thing I remember her saying was she liked motorcycles and liked to ride on the back of them with her hood boyfriend.

Lest you think my high school was only populated with hoods, well, truth is I can’t remember any outstanding escapades from any of the other groups, like the jocks or the preps. Anyway, I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t invited.

High school was not all fun and games.  We had a young history teacher who gave tough assignments.  We had to do multi-page book reports on obscure historical accounts from times long past and places we didn’t know—like Italy.  When the mid-term grades came out he gave a couple of “C’s” and the rest of us “D’s”, which we probably deserved.  However, the parents of the darlings vying for the National Honor Society howled to the Principal, and lo and behold he was a lot more generous in his grading at the end of the semester.  I guess he learned his lesson.

I also had an algebra teacher who loved to do anything but teach algebra.  He would spend most of the class period processing the football game of the previous week, and make some inane comments about movies he liked—he liked those that were not based on reality because he got enough reality in real life.  At the end of the class period he would throw up a bunch of formulas on the blackboard and expect us to absorb algebra that way.  I never quite got it.

Well, that’s enough for now. I did graduate high school and went on to college, which is a different story.  Stay tuned.





1 Comment

  1. You were obviously a hood, Randy, I mean “Bad Randall.” You don’t remember escapades by jocks or nerds because it takes a hood to have one. It practically has the word “escape” right in it! But you raise a good question: what is the counterpart experience for one’s inner jock or nerd? I guess that’s a nerd question.


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