My Childhood

I’ve been thinking for a while about some of the people I’ve known. I haven’t been a great person and wanted to highlight some of the people I should have treated better. Maybe I’ll learn something about being a better person by these reflections.

Andrew had always been one of those side-liners. The guy’s house everyone met at. Where night games of capture the flag and ghost in the grave yard would originate. The kid with the cool basement, all the fun toys, new game systems, a pool. Had a lot of the things the rest of us in the neighborhood didn’t have. His family wasn’t affluent or flaunted their money in gross ways – they just tipped the money scale enough for themselves that they could afford a bunch of cool shit for their kids. I think a lot of it had to do his parents not ever giving up hope for their childhood.

His father had a model train set setup in their basement, a small line, but something a guy that wishes to grip his youth like a warm teddy bear would have. There were train whistles, CB radios, handmade fm-receivers, scopes, a smattering of Garfield paraphernalia, a big old tv (the kind with massive clunky speakers attached), a pool table, all in their basement. A Pop filled a fridge. It was a haven for kids and we used this to its fullest extent. Lots of hide and seek, plenty of games of pool where the games ended with whipping the balls against the rails and themselves.

My friend though was more than a basement. He took most of my shit, one of the few who was my friend when I didn’t have any, almost always available to hang out; he was accessible. Andrew took more abuse than he should have from all of us, and more so from me. He was a steadfast friend of mine and I don’t feel like I ever gave him the credit he deserved. Because if someone is still your friend after you write “die you poo” on his garage door with face-paint makeup, they’ll put up with nearly everything.

I haven’t talked or seen the guy in years, but I think about my life a lot and he always seems to play  a supporting role. He’s a decent person and hope he’s doing well. Andrew, if you read this: I miss our endless hours of sitting next to each other silently, while playing different games.

In fifth grade, we were told one day that we were going to have seperate girls and boys Olympics. The classroom next to mine joined up with ours and the sexes seperated. We were going to watch a video as the girls were going to have their olympics. This video?

A horribly awkward, “for young children” sexual education video. The male teacher from the adjacent class was stern on keeping things undercontrol, snickering to a minium, and no talking.

It was tough going for a group of fifth graders to keep it together as girls in the next room screamed and cheered on their peers as the box placed at the front of the room squacked “dick” “penis” and “falopean tubes.” My memory tells me kept our composure but I know myself better and sure there was hushed whispsers.

But this is not the focus of the story.

The following day we came in for our go at the games. They were what I can only equate to hastenly thrown together repoductions of tradional olympic games. There was a few of them in all, but I remember one in vivid memory.

The game was discus. We were given a couple of white paper plates and a row of desks created a path and distance markers for the throws. The ‘strong’ boys in class were whipping the flimsy pieces of paper making for short and floppy flights. I leaned over to a friend of mine and told him that they were doing it all wrong. It wasn’t about being a brute. The idea that all off the other kids were missing was that it was about floating them down the field.

I watched a couple more desperate attempts to get the Dixie plates to reach past three feet and they all were seemingly hurled at the ground. My name was called and I stepped up and smiled graciously at the lengthy teacher. I gripped the edge of the plate like a Frisbee and lofted it into the air. It floated, wafting in the silent air as the type A grunts in class watched bewildered, high above the four feet line, lower by the six feet and rest at the nine foot scrawl of masking tape. Everybody went nuts. The muffled sound of the girl’s sex ed video was finally drowned out by the cheers of my classmates and I drew back again for my second throw.

The following afternoon I stepped up on the podium and raised my huge golden chocolate bar above my head and basked in my only first place win of my childhood.

In the micro-verse that is early middle and late elementary school there are few girls to choose from, most of which were based out of proximity. My sister had a friend named Shelly. Even at a young age I could tell her face was broken and jagged. Strange angles gave way to muted expressions and rigid skin. In my entirety of exposure to women, school but mostly television, I knew what ugly was. Shelly was it.

In the haze of childhood I cannot remember which summer it was that I was forced into relations with Shelly but I remember it was short lived. My sister wanted to kiss my friend Johnny, a much older best-friend of mine, mostly because of that fact alone. The new couple devised that my first french kiss should involve someone who knew a thing or two about them. The train wreck, Shelly, knew a thing or two.

Her and I sat at the top of the stairs and I questioned her on the physics of it all to delay the inevitable: my tongue would have it’s first visit into a mouth besides my own, and it was into this creature’s face.

The moment was short and forced. I rammed my timid and sloppy mouth against hers, she and I sword fought with our tongues chasing each other around in there for what seemed for too long. I was over it maybe too quick and sat back looking at her timidly, wondering to myself who I would be able to use my newly christened skill with. Her twisted face broke into a smile looking for a reaction.

My sister called up from the living room down and behind us, “Did you kiss?”

This allowed me an opening to move away and not deal with the scrawled maw of my kissing concubine. I answered with an awkwardly cheerful “yeah!”

Shelly and I sat and went over the details of what I could do to improve and “what most girls like.” The bottom of the stairs and the front door where more interesting and kept the conversation going to placate the girl on my left.

Later, Johnny and I left to play video games and talk in private about how awesome kissing was. I tried to blind out the fact that he was talking about my sister and I was talking about the one girl everyone knew to be fiendishly gruesome. It was the last time I was left kissing Shelly and the last time he kissed my sister.

I’m not sure where it spun from with Diane. I think there was always this weird common ground between her and I. She was never into me, so far as I could tell, and my feelings were never that strong due to her better-than-average good looks and her status in the social rungs of high school. Diane was always holding her snubbed thumbs in clenched fists, drying out the knuckle and making them that much more noticeable. I found her fear and weakness to be admirable. She was in my classes in Middle School so there was familiarity as we aged.

Diane and I went out on our first real date on Valentine’s Day the same year I ended up with a car. Her and I ended up talking in class one day, in our after-lesson work time the teacher had provided. She was busy complaining about her dateless Valentine’s Day to the girl behind her, and I on helping the moose in front of me with his algebra. I waited for my time to jump in and said that “I’d take you out.” Something I thought was nonchalant, but I’m sure came out terrifyingly awkward. As a kid in high school, I existed in the frail state of between social circles, I was never sure of myself (a consistent aliment), and never knew if I should be honest or underhanded. A back and forth between her and I sprouted. It ended with me saying that I’d pick her up for dinner and joking that she better not stand me up.

We were going as friends.

Dinner was at Maggiano’s, a chain Italian restaurant with dark lighting and big booths – a high school equivalent to fine dining. Conversation was awkward and even our clothes were unsure if we were seriously considering this as a date. I had on my standard attire at the time – pleated kakis, beat up gym shoes, and some childish graphic t – with a collard shirt to dress it up a bit. She wore a pair of nice jeans and a dressy top, something she might wear to a nice party – the kind I was never invited to nor even knew about.

Our relationship had previously only existed on a level where we were surrounded by peers, in a loud hallway or a hushed classroom. This was new for both of us and we weren’t sure how to act. We were unsure if we were ready to become adults. Our date went surprising well after the initial jitters. So much so, that for the rest of the semester together and even when we’d see each other in the random splay that was the towns we lived in, she would mention how that had been her favorite date.

We stayed acquaintances for a long time, even without corresponding classes or social circles, during those couple of last years before graduation. I even took her to prom because her boyfriend didn’t want to shell out the cash. Which became the only dance and post-prom I had a good time at. All of the following dances were like Sophomore year in college where you return to only attempt to relive those moments you remember.

Speaking of college: on the first week there, I get a phone message from a number I don’t recognize. It’s Diane and she is at the same college. We meet up at her dorm and she takes me on a tour of her discombobulated floor structure, meeting all the fresh faces, and her room. Her wall held a cork board with the good times she was already having. I had only had two beers in my new collegiate life. Diane had concluded that she was, in fact, quite tired and laid down. I got into bed with her and she drew me close trying to remember something that was really never there. Unsure, overwhelmed, maybe missing all of the signs, I fell asleep. The afternoon faded away with us laying there reaching for memories of what was left of our awkward growth into adulthood.

Her roommate came back from wherever she had gone, making our transition from alone in bed to my departure that much easier. Words of calling me about a party or getting together again were passed but seemed forced. It was the last time I saw Diane.

If you don’t know me, or have ever spoken to me for an extended period of time – you may not know that I was sort of raised by television. This means I’ve build my relationships with people is strange ways and fall back on my knowledge of back catalogue of horrible television that only people vaguely remember. This leads me to a short conversation about Star Trek.

But this isn’t just any Star Trek. This is The Next Generation. The most perfectly quirky, enchanting, technological, and well written sci-fi series ever created. Between Data’s busy jaw, Riker’s smug sexuality, and Wesley Crusher being one of the chosen extra brilliant super humans  – it’s hard to turn away. This series pushed the forth wall in clever and new ways and eases tensions in the story line.

There are, of course, the cheesy and obvious story lines or overtly corny tags. But the show’s brilliance pushed through.

But part of my love for the show comes from somewhere else. I can’t place where we lived at the time – Warrenville? Might have been before that even. Let me start this story by saying that my mother worked full time in retail. For those without parents doing this job, it forces the person to pull shit hours, rarely home for dinner or too tired to be awake for breakfast. It’s not like a parent with an office job where they come home for dinner in a bad mood – you eat cereal alone in a dimly lit kitchen or in front of the TV. I’m not saying my mother was never there, but it was an increasingly rare occasion as I grew older.

That said – TNG was time that we could spend together. Watching the show again is like I’m rolling back the clock to where I sit with my back against the couch my mother popped into. Time with the TV is time we’d spend together, and this prime was during the seven seasons.

Yes, the show is great – impeccable even – but to me it’s a bit more. Thanks for the memories Star Trek.

I’ve got to preface this story by saying I was an annoying jerk when I was young.

This story starts in the passing summers of my middle school years where we (my sister, brother, and I) would split the hot days of our youth at my father’s place. During this stretch we’d spend time in a tiny budding town in Missouri sandwiched between a handful of houses and farm.

My dad yelled at me during dinner. I cannot pull the reason why out of the depths of my consciousness but I know he made me cry. This wasn’t an extraordinary thing in my younger years – I was crying or getting hot and bothered if the wind blew wrong. This was different though for one reason or another and that is pretty much all I can recall on reasoning. The following moments will dictate my father and I’s relationship for the rest of my life and that is why this tale is important.

I was called outside to the front of the house where for the first (and last) time I was talked to like a son. Terms were explained – why he was mad, what I could do to improve – not be a idiot, a sort of talk that I have come to learn as normal in other’s parental relationships. Of course I cried again during our talk saying I was sorry and I’m fairly sure a couple of tears shined in setting sun that evening in his eyes as well. There it was a fleeting moment where we bonded and grew together – where he wasn’t trying to make things better with gifts or yelling at me to “sit the fuck down.” We chatted a bit more and I was still feeling sour about the being yelled at but moving on to the point where I was feeling closer and happier about it all.

Then he suggested getting fireworks and lighting them off on the edge of this sink hole he called a pond. Now for those who don’t know, Missouri has almost no laws covering fireworks, or so it seems, and any man-child can buy face exploding boom-sticks at low low prices, 12-for-the-price-of-1 prices. But I wasn’t interested. I said that I didn’t really want to and was fine with just getting back inside and trying to even my keel.

Of course he pushed. He said I’d like it, went in grabbed his keys and trotted back out. My brother somehow caught wind of my father’s intentions and popped his head out looking to drag himself into our clunky father-son time. He was told no from dear old dad, and that just me and him were going to go and he was going to be forced to watch from the attached back patio.

We drove in near silence and the black cat labeled shop was no different. I was pressed on what type I wanted and became meek. This is not what I wanted. We were so close to something, a new level or respect – and it was blown apart my a buy one get one sale on mortars.

As the dirt settled around the red truck near the pod, I could hear my brother clamoring to go and be apart of our show – but was told to stay put. We lit a handful of bright popping shells using a cigarette that seemed to eternally rest between my father’s lips or hands. It still wasn’t resolved, I had a big dumb fearful grin on my face from the near by bombs and crackles but the unresolved issue lay like an undercooked brownie in my stomach.

I was glad once our awkward laughs and forced congratulations were interrupted by my sibling, who then lit a couple and made things seem normal again

First, a bit of background on my 5th grade teacher. In the early fall there was me and a couple other ‘under-performing’ students that got pulled from being allowed to lunch in order to be forced to do the previous night’s homework. One of my cohorts started to yell and complain about how he legally couldn’t be held from lunch and started to cry – needless to say he was fat. Misses Smith came trotting over and bent down in the 5th grader’s face and began to unravel. The child said he was going to sue and began to bawl. The only thing me and the other failure could do was sit and watch in horror. I refused to go back to class and hid out in my house for three days. The school thought I was ditching class. With the principal, my mom, and the school’s guidence councilor it finally came out that I was afraid of the woman.

Cut to spring time where things seemed to have smoothed out, Misses Smith got the class together into a show of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Keep in mind this is a public school and the meaning and storyline washed over me and I didn’t understand a single lick of what was going on. All I cared about was my crush on Darcy Taylor and her love for apple juice. Darcy was the narrator for the show, singing all the major parts and carrying the class in talent. The ‘bad boy’ of the class got the part of Joseph, a shock to everyone including him. I played the part of one of the half dozen brothers, but I was given a minor roll in placing Joseph in prison. Which was a nice feeling because I thought I should be playing second to Darcy. My “brother” in crime was a girl who lived up the street from me. Jacob was played by another Jacob who was a real dick head the entire time I knew him. Everyone else had parts moving furniture or minor parts playing a mule or another brother.

The play was clunky and awkward just as you’d expect a play put on by ten year olds. Though somehow Misses Smith had a coat either made or borrowed that seemed to fit the boy working it. A lavish thing with swirls of colors and patterns nearly unrecognizable – like something out of a really loud cross-dresser’s closet. It had puffy edges as if a unicorn’s mane got tangled and released itself after gnawing it off and it’s rainbow blood poured down it’s coat which was then cut into a shall for a small child. Joseph wore the coat with ease.

The tape of all of this still lives somewhere at my mom’s and is mentioned in those times when family drinks enough to remember the embarrassing parts of your life. It’s good that it’s nearly lost.

Ah the depths of loneliness. I think if there were a subtitle to my high school life it would be “and other ways of never getting any attention from the opposite sex.”

I had friends in high school, some of them girls. Surprisingly I had a few girl friends – surprising to those who knew me during the time and myself, even now. Though there was always this embarrassing ritual known though out high schools in the land: Crush days. I might be embellishing a bit but I am pretty sure they were held every three months or so: Valentine’s day, Sweetest day, random reason to hate being single day #35.

This is how the agony would start: a week before set date, the cheeriest of all the girls would be rounded up and put at a table at the entrances of the school, there was no way around them. Sure, the first time I thought – hey that is neat – but after the first time no one sent me can of crush. The harsh reality of my ugliness came to fruition. There is no way to escape a table of yelping girls crying out to be recognized in the hustling hallways of an overcrowded high school. Their pampered voices tore at my heartstrings, knowing that not one of those valentines or cans of orange over sugared pop would land on my desk in biology or US history. No escape and it would sit resting in your brain all day pulling and cutting away your self image.

This isn’t the worst part, not by far. The worst is when the same team of giddy volunteers come stumbling into class, pulling everyone out of their stupor, and my peers would tighten their backs awaiting their presents. There would always be so many cans and cards they had to be toted around on an old crying cart, wailing its way through the lanes of desks. Passing out cans and passing those who aren’t wanted – like me. Four long years of being passed over. Oh, don’t feel bad for me.

Something that those who don’t know me well may not know: I’m a real creep. Sure I can carry my own in social situations and all that business now.  Oh, but how I’ve learned, I used to be a terrible creep. I used to think it was funny, or even flirtatious to stare blankly at the girl I was infatuated with. Yeah, that was me. I was the guy that would try for the friend angle and wonder why the girls never noticed me. Am I surprised that I didn’t get any cans of orange crush? No, but the emotional staining was painted thickly on my heart at the time; I was crushed.

I’m not sure this is a shared experience, so I’ll try to be as detailed as I can.

In public elementary school in the Chicago suburbs, there was a time honored tradition, well two. Both involved toting things around on carts.

First was the milk cart. The school nurse or a student teacher would walk around to all of the classrooms in the first hour of the day and hand out milk from a metal wheel cart – like a projector cart without the projector, which I think it may have been. It was stacked top to bottom with 2% and skim – a light blue or yellowish box was your parent’s choice. They would sign up at the start of the year saying which type of milk their little jimmy or kimmy would have for the year, pay some undisclosed amount of money, and relax in knowing their kid’s bones were stuffed full of calcium. I never got milk, we always had a ton in our house and I’d drink glasses through out the day. So my bones were like steel.

The first week or so of class, the lady would come by with a clip board and hand them out, checking that they had received there cold wax-paper box then strolled off to the next class. After the first week they almost always remembered which students got which milk and coasted through the list. Each kid would grab their milk and sit at their desk, one of the only times anyone was ever allowed to eat or drink in the room. They’d hunker over the milk as if regarding a state secret and tear the top apart, pushing the mouth of the container towards themselves. Then they’d have to drink the milk quickly because class had to continue and again, the rules were getting bent to allow them their milk.

Was I jealous of not getting milk? Probably at the time. I’m a fairly selfish person, and more so as a kid, so I’m sure I felt let down by my mom. Although I’m pretty sure we had a conversation sometime in my schooling about not getting milk and how I was feeling less special then my peers. Of course when it came time to sign up, I wasn’t interested or thought it was unnecessary – which it was – so I never had the sweet taste of milk in the morning in elementary school.

Then there was the fluoride cart. Monthly, the same person would come by with a cart of tiny little cups of blue mouthwash. They would check our cups before being allowed to toss them in the waste basket to made sure each of us were swishing. It was as if they didn’t trust all of the parents at the PTA meetings and finally decided that kid’s teeth were falling out the faces at too fast a pace. Those parents must have felt it was their job to ensure the safety of all the children’s teeth.

The fluoride cart would almost always be around the same time of the visits from local dentists. When ever they’d come around, we would munch on pink pills and smile at each other with globs of bright red stuck in the corners of our teeth. The dentists would always talk about the importance of oral hygiene and brush a massive set of teeth with an even larger brush saying to “brush in circles.”

We’d pick up our tiny cups and start flushing out our pie holes. I would dump the whole load in there and start trotting around the room. So the teacher had always yelled at me to keep in place near the sink so I wouldn’t loose a bit while tacking around the class room. I had a problem standing still while swishing. Then I’d spit out my blue mess in the classroom sink along with the tiny bits of cereal or sandwich, telling the sink “ewww” as if it was to blame for it all.

The cart would disappear the same way it came in and it would all be out of heads until they came knocking again.

Note: These won’t be in chronological order or anything, but I thought by putting “part 1” it would force me into writing the rest of them.

So there is this section of everyone’s life where you become this ugly offspring of yourself and your body seems to be forcing you into social awkwardness. No, not high school. I’m of course talking about middle school. Now since not everyone has middle school let me explain: it’s a space between elementry (k-5) and high school (9-12) . Forcing the most awkward years of your life into this cooked down grade six through eight. In our district we were bused across an entire town and pushed into a crumbling high school with a couple other elementary schools.

Now for me. I was as awkward as they come, nerdy, but not brainy , strange, but not funny – a real floating log in the toilet bowl of the hard and fast ‘clique’ society that is school. I wore stained tighty-whities under two year old pairs of corduroy with over-sized t-shirts that billowed when I walked. Yes, even back then corduroy was not at all cool, but I wore them out of choice. Kids my age wore Jancos and had chain wallets, nice jeans, baggy cool polos and the like. I had deep skin patterns on my hips where the pants I wore so tight from my spurting growth, but I didn’t buy bigger. As for my physical self, I had a bowl hair cut that looked like the head of a penis had landed squarely on top of me and not a strand of body hair to show off in the locker room before gym.

So I’ve set the scene.

I had a friend that was much older than me: Johnny Schaefer. A real cool dude who happened to be my neighborhood buddy. He told me to join chorus because thats how I’d meet girls. I thought this was great advice and took his word for it. I showed up to practice – because you don’t try out for seventh & eighth grade chorus –  and there were a couple of other dudes. A real bunch of knuckle heads that seemed to have been fiddling with each others balls, because they were giggling and in a real happy mood. I found out the next week that they were part of the show choir, an eighth grade only singing group, one of the only things in the school (besides jazz band) that you had to try out for. This meant that the chums that had tired to carry me along while we sang five year old ‘top 10’s weren’t there the following practice. I showed up to a room full of growing breasts and uneasy looks.

I sang quietly and on the far side of the room with my back to all the girls. They’d sing high and a couple off key. After the first song, the beautiful chorus teacher stopped for a second and asked all of the girls if there was a volunteer to sing in my key. I guess even at that age my voice was being pulled into the depths of Mordor. The room was silent. I turned and scanned the room; all of the girls were looking at each other or the ground. One of them nearby raised her hand reluctantly, it was one of the ‘better’ singers. She was pulled aside, which happened to be two feet from me. Our chorus teacher asked her little shining star, now draftee, to try to sing near me and in my octave.

It only made things worse. I sang quieter than ever before, the start of my downfall into becoming a social shadow rest in the hands of this single brown haired menace. The girl kept pushing me to sing, which shoved me farther away. She scooted up close, I could smell her shampoo, even after a whole day of school and mandatory gym. Her knees just inches from mine and the horror of being the only guy in a room full of potential penis touching ladies spread through my mind thick as afternoon peanut butter. At the speed I was going, I wouldn’t get a smooch from a single one of them in that room – I wasn’t getting anything I had joined up for.

I came back a few times for practice, never really finding my voice. I was in a show, but made sure the show choir guys were going to perform with us – there was no way in hell I was going to be the only baby faced lad in a sea of maturing vaginas. I eventually stopped going all together.

The end of the year come around and it was yearbook photo season. When you are in a club or sport you are sent a piece of paper with an invitation to leave class and be in the forever marring photo with the rest of the awkwards.  I got one of these notes in fifth period. I knew this would be the only time I’d be in the year book besides placed in the squares with the rest of them. I stood on the far side, just like in practice, the only guy in seventh and eighth grade chorus.