Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maybe I Should Stand Still

I may have mentioned that I am not a very coordinated fellow. I have a rich history of bumping into things, knocking shit over, and/or just wiping out for no discernible reason. I typically take what I call "my annual fall" in the winter months. I'll be shoveling the driveway or simply standing still when suddenly my feet will fly out from underneath me and I'll come crashing down on my butt (actually I've been pretty lucky this winter season. I haven't had a spill yet. "Yet" being the operative word here). The tumbles usually aren't of the breaking bones variety but more along the lines of "Oh shit, I hope no one saw that" genus. I'm probably going to wind up on YouTube against my will one of these days with the some unfortunate tag like: "Fat Dude Toppling into an Icy Puddle LOL!".

Recently I've been going through some old pics from when I was a kid and I found one that represents my gracelessness quite well. It's a picture of me holding a damp facecloth to my bicep while my sister Mary stands guard over me. Why was I holding the damp facecloth on my arm? Well, I'll tells ya.

It was Mary's birthday (and if I'm correct at guessing the ages here, it was her 4th birthday which would make me 7) and after the cake had been devoured and the presents had been opened, I went out bike riding with my friend Joey. Now Joey had a super fancy and lightweight BMX-style bike. I had an old Columbia with ape hanger handlebars and a banana seat. It weighed nearly as much as I did. Joey was a kid who was much smaller than I and he had seemingly boundless energy. It was always really hard to keep up with him. He'd be doing all these little jumps and hops up and over curbs and stuff while still maintaining a significant lead over me. He was fast, light, and he never ever tired. In other words, the opposite of me.

On this particular day Joey rode over to my house and we did what we usually did. We'd ride up and down my street and in and out of my driveway. The driveway was halfway down the street so we'd go as fast as we could down the hill and then turn into the driveway at the very last second. The goal was to hit the entrance at an angle where we could get some air. It all sounds harmless enough but there was the added danger of the giant tree.  The giant tree sat on our neighbor's property but its trunk stuck out juuuuuust enough onto our side that if you miscalculated your angle of approach, you could end up with a face full of bark. I saw that tree up close and personal more than once. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The two of us were riding around at the top of my street which kinda made me nervous because there were a couple of brothers who lived in a house right there who were notorious bullies. They had chased me and another kid away from their house when we were walking home from school. They had warned us not to let them catch us in their yard (But we weren't in their yard. We were on the sidewalk. Why would we go in their yard in the first place? Silly bullies, you make no sense). Now here I was riding around in front of their house in bold defiance of their territorial borders. It made my palms all sweaty. Joey was riding around like a lunatic hopping up onto the sidewalk and then using the sloped driveway entrances like mini ramps. He could not be stopped. I was trundling along behind him showcasing my limited catalog of tricks: The Poppa Wheelie (that's what I thought it was called. I realize now that I must have misheard someone say "pop a wheelie" and never thought to question the name), The Curb Jump (a.k.a. The Spoke Breaker), and of course the ever-popular Sliding Skid (my personal favorite...although it did tend to limit the life span of my tires by quite a lot).

Joey was doing these amazing jumps using the lip of the curb and the slope of the driveway as his ramp. I was impressed. I watched him over and over again until I knew just how he did it. On his next approach, I followed on my two-wheeled tank of a bike. He hit that curb and he FLEW across the sidewalk landing neatly and dare-I-say gingerly about 5 feet away. I hit the SAME curb at the SAME speed and my bike nearly came to a complete stop when the front tire hit. I managed somehow to stay upright and followed Joey around for another attempt. This time I watched as he lifted the front tire at the very last second before it hit the curb. OH! That's how he does it. I was so excited to try it out for myself.

I wheeled around and made a bee-line for that curb. A split second before hitting the curb I lifted that giant front wheel up and when the back tire hit, my bike and I were suddenly airborne. Holy shit! I had done it! Hey! Lookit me! I'm totally DOING A TRICK! I was so excited that I hadn't actually failed at the jump that I completely forgot one of the most important parts of this particular trick: Stopping. I looked up and right in front of me loomed a chain link fence that clearly wasn't going to swerve at the last second. I scrunched up my face and slammed full speed into the fence. My bike added insult to injury by clonking me on the head with its handlebars. Thanks for that, bike. I was leaning up against the fence doing an injury inventory when I noticed that my arm really hurt. Hmmm, I'm gonna have to go have Mom check on that for me when I get home. Let me just bend down and pick up my bike here. Huh, that's weird...I can't bend down. My arm seems to be caught on something. Lemme look and that...why is the fence going INTO my arm like that? That's when I realized that I was impaled on the top of the chain link fence. The prongs were sticking right into my left bicep. Ow. Ow. Ow. [Note: I tried to find a picture of a chain link fence with those prongs but apparently now-a-days they make them all roundy and no longer have the super sharpened spikey bits anymore.]

I don't remember exactly how but somehow I managed to extricate my arm from the grasp of the fence. I looked around to see where Joey was and he was no where to be found. He had bailed. He did the typical kid thing of panicking about "Oh shit, we're gonna get in trouble for breaking that fence" and took off. Thanks Joey. No, don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I looked at the deep wound on my arm and I remember thinking, "Huh, that doesn't look so bad". And then it started bleeding. A lot.

I was still remarkably calm as I got back on my bike and started down the hill to my house with my left arm out of commission. I zipped down the hill, made the right-hand turn into our driveway too quickly, lost control of the bike and went full-on Superman-style into the not-so-welcoming arms of that goddamn giant tree. It made a huge racket and all the kids in our yard came running over to see what had happened. And that's when I started crying. I had crashed so hard that my handlebars where all crooked and the chain had fallen off (I remember that because it had scratched the hell out of my ankle and gave me a grease tattoo on my calf). I hobbled into the kitchen and there my Mom had to figure out what had happened from my open sobs and snot bubbles. I was a mess. Somehow she determined that I wasn't dying and got me cleaned up and calm enough to take this photo. But don't worry, I survived. Check it:

No need to go to the hospital for stitches or perhaps a tetanus shot...just put some Mercurochrome on that fucker and walk it off kid.

Friday, February 11, 2011

To Hell with Kix, I Want Quisp

I have three sisters; two older and one younger. Sometimes when I tell people that they say things like, "Oh, that must have been hard for you growing up. Y'know, being the only boy, huh?" Nope. Not at all. Think about it: My oldest sister Theresa (we call her "Tree" by the way) was saddled with the burden of having to break-in our parents. She had to test all their rules and limits to see where the weak points were (and she found them too...woo-boy did she ever). Patty, the second-oldest, kinda got the shaft. I mean, Tree is the oldest, I'm the only boy, and Mary is the youngest (I can't call her "the baby"...cuz she'll punch me in the arm). So Patty is Jan. No one wants to be Jan (not even Eve Plumb). Patty showed us all up though by being the only one of us (so far) to produce an offspring. She single-handedly made sure that our giant-head genes were passed on to the next generation. And Mary had to deal with me as an older brother. Shit, I had it easy.

Growing up in a small apartment with 4 kids, 2 parents and a grandmother made for an interesting childhood. The place where we lived until 1986 didn't have much in the way of real doors either. Most of the rooms, including the bedrooms, had those shitty vinyl accordion folding doors (I tried to find an example of those doors but none of the pics did them justice. Suffice it to say that they were cheap and would come out of their tracks nearly every time you tried to open or close them). Yeah, that doesn't really cut it if you're looking for some privacy or if you don't want monsters to come in your room. Only the bathroom had a real door but it was the only bathroom for 7 people (did mention that I have 3 sisters? I did? oh, ok). This is one of the reasons I wanted a single-family house. I wanted some goddamn privacy and some real doors.

Mom used to like to rearrange the rooms in the apartment. And I don't mean just moving where the couch is. No, she would swap out entire rooms. This meant that my bedroom, at one point or another, had been relocated to every room in that apartment with the exception of the kitchen. The kitchen was the only room that remained constant. She liked to keep us on our toes I guess. I did eventually get my own room (once Tree went off to college) but it suffered from the lack of a door as well. And since it was right off the noisiest room in the house; the kitchen, it was occasionally hard to go to sleep (especially with the kitchen light beaming through the slats in my "door").

For most of that time we were a single-income household and I can't for the life of me figure out how the hell my parents managed that (Mom went back to work when Mary turned 6 or 7). I mean, we were nice kids and all but holy shit we'd eat you out of house and home. I mean look at these faces. These are the faces of kids who meant business.

No, I don't know what I'm looking at. All I know is that I'm the only one who was classy enough to get dressed for this photo. Vesty/stripey shirt thing? Check. Wide-as-fuck shiny, white belt? Check. Just a hint of belly showing? Check and mate bitches. 
How did I get that cut on my chin? A simple story there. Patty and I would take my Tonka trucks to the top of the street where we lived and then we'd sit on them while they hurtled down the hilly sidewalk. It was fun AND dangerous! Double score! You'd think that I got that cut from a spectacular yellow dump truck wipe-out involving a neighbor's car suddenly pulling out a driveway (although that happened too) but no, I got that when I fell off the curb walking back up the hill to do it all over again. I am quite clumsy you see.

My dad's job driving a delivery truck in Boston required him to get up at an ungodly hour to start his shift. He then would come home about 12 hours later (sometimes later, depending on how shitty his day was) where we would attack him at the front door. Can you imagine four bobble-headed kids barreling down a long hallway towards you after a long day? Holy shit. After flinging ourselves at him we'd demand his attention for the next hour or so while he tried desperately to wind down from work. Dinner would be served by 6PM or so and we'd all sit in the kitchen watching TV and fighting over the last sawdust-dry pork chop or stuck-together spaghetti. After dinner everyone would go about their business (homework, washing dishes, getting ready for bed, punching each other) while Dad would remain in the kitchen doing his crossword puzzle with the TV on. He'd usually start to nod off at the kitchen table with Mom saying "John, why don't you just go to bed?". Because he's stubborn dammit. He'll go to bed when HE wants to! Or at least not until he nods off for the 10th time and his cigarette burns yet another hole in the cable rug around the kitchen table.

Dad also did the weekly grocery shopping for the family on Saturday mornings. Since he was so hard to get him to ourselves during the week, it was considered a special treat to be the one who got to go with him. Not only did it mean that you got Dad all to yourself for a good couple hours but more importantly it meant that you got to choose the cereals for the week. That was a highly coveted position to be in and we'd get pretty competitive about who got to go. Being the one to pick out the cereals for the week was basically the kid equivalent of winning the lottery (now with marshmallow bits!). Another bonus was – depending on how long it took to do the shopping – Dad would sometimes take the one who was with him to Brigham's for an ice-cream. Holy shit. That was huge. An ice-cream that you didn't have to scarf down in fear that the others were waiting for you to let your guard down to swoop in and take the rest (at least that's what it felt like). You could sit there at the counter and listen to the grown-ups talk about whatever the hell they were talking about and just ENJOY your ice-cream.

As we got older of course it became less special to spend your Saturday morning in a Ceratani's grocery store pushing a shopping cart up and down aisles that had saw dust all over the floor (what was with the saw dust anyway? Was it meant to sop up spills? Cuz all it really did was make most of the floor really slippery and it would clog up the front wheels on the cart. Most of the carts at Ceratani's had wheels that were completely jacked-up). I would still go with him every now and then through high school but it was not the same. We didn't have the connection that I think we both wanted at that time in our lives. I think I was there mainly so that he'd have someone to carry all the stuff up to the 3rd floor of the apartment building. And eventually – after some pretty intense arguments that we had about the choices I was making – I stopped going with him on Saturdays completely. We just didn't get along if I'm honest. We barely spoke for months during my last year of high school. Basically he had called me out on my bullshit and at the time I hadn't been mature enough to agree with him and change. Now I get it and I'm glad he did that. I'm glad that I grew a pair and told him that he was correct before he died. It's been 14 years since he passed away and this June it'll be 16 years since Mom died. I can't believe that. Those numbers seem impossible. I'm glad I had them as my parents.

Mmmm...pie and cigarettes