This one time,
12. or 13, when me
And a bunch of other kids
From a different neighborhood
Played. Outside. From about sunup
To 9:00 at night. I dimly remember
(This light-bulb memory is the barest bit of energy
In an ancient filament of thought:)
It was a nightmare come to life.
There was this one kid across the River
They found him naked and dead,
In a discarded pile of coal.
His life brutally taken from him.
But that was the only time
I'd ever heard of something so horrible. Happening.
It was as commonplace as school shootings.
Which is to say, it didn’t happen in the
World that was ‘As Far As I Knew’.
Outside, everywhere, as far as I knew;
Was just where you went. No matter what.
It’s just what we did. And we did a LOT.
We played. On a job application, I would have
Written that. “Player”. As in: “Hey, I’m a kid.
I mess around. I’m unhygienic and smelly and
My hair is long and arms sunburned and sweaty
And tired and about as happy as any kid
Could be in 1975.
This one time,
I go in this dumpster and grab a
Sandwich the Mgr. of the 7-11 mistakenly threw out
It smelled. Badly. I pretended to take a gigantic
Bite out of it. My buddies weren’t ROTFL.
That stupid phrase was pre-born.
They laughed so hard they fell off their bikes.
Probably painfully so.
I worshiped this praise. Ate it like
Seinfeld eats applause.
They were rolling
On hot Iowa summer pavement, laughing fit to split.
On top of that dumpster, that day, in that single moment,
I was the King of Whatever
The manager heard some kind of ruckus.
The sandwich was in my hand, a cheesy spoiled grenade.
Which I promptly threw at him. ‘Cause he was the Adult
And I obviously wasn't Victor Mature.
He waddled back inside and called the Cops.
They were literally right around the corner.
My buddies took off like scalded dogs
I got on my homemade trail bike, laughing so
Hard I pedaled into a sticker-tree.
I didn't know what "irony" was back then.
Back then, I was so inherently goofy, that funny
Hilarious crap was somehow attracted to me.
Ironically, when I tried being funny on purpose...
Fill in the blank. There's a lesson in there somewhere.
I'm pretty sure.
We met at that French word I still can't spell.
Ron Day View.
Loony loons. We laughed out little butts off.
And we rode bikes EVERYWHERE.
Through the trails. There were bike
Trails trailing everywhere, short-cuts from point
Hay to Tree. And oh yeah, I climbed trees.
Constantly. And ate apples and plums from
That mean lady’s yard. She stood in her
Kitchen and glared through cat-eyed glasses,
Daring us. Daring me.
GO AHEAD. PICK JUST ONE SINGLE PLUM.
THEN I'LL CALL YOUR MOTHER!
(Interestingly, we didn't hang out with the
plums which didn't fall too far from Mrs. Tree)
Ate whatever was edible. Wild clover.
Yeah. Grass. And
Crab-apples that held the promise of
Painful bowel movements squirting out of
Your ****. Not ‘***’ because cussing wasn’t
All that big of a deal. You heard it in R movies.
But it hadn’t permeated the marrow of
Our entire culture. Not yet. It wasn’t all over
TV after, say, 8:45.
Nothing about ***. Absolutely Nuttin' Honey.
'Cause I'd be making stuff up in 1975,
When I was 12. Kissing was just...
We messed around, got into and out of trouble.
We laughed. The future hung over us like
Those mean-sounding thunderclouds,
Miles away, but moving from the North-East,
Because severe weather in Iowa always came
In the same direction.
It’s what we did. It’s just about
All we did as kids. Man, we were crazy, and had
We built bikes out of spare parts. They were low-
Slung and cool. Mine was always breaking.
I did a lot of stupid things, and somehow,
Somehow I got away with doing a lot of
I believe in God. Now.
Way back then, I was Catholic. I don’t
Know if that sufficiently explains it
Or not. We ate fishsticks on Fridays during
Lent. We went to church sometimes
On Wednesday nights, the Guitar Mass,
And on Sundays. The Mass felt like it
Lasted 93 minutes, like our services do
Now. But it seemed to go on forever.
It as about 45 minutes, and we would always
“Leave Early” which meant, we’d take
Our Communion, solemnly, eyes
Downcast and humble, but I would slow,
Then stop, lost in the visage:
I looked up at the Man on the Cross and
Wondered when the Priest would ever
Get around to explaining why He
Died for my sins.
Someone would wake me from my
Reverie, and whisper, “Please move ahead.”
Shamefaced, I would say, truthfully,
“I’m sorry, Ma’am.” Because, in 1975,
When I was 12, I really was.
Then an hour
Later I was dressed in
Salvation Army rags (today)
And I would jump in the creek with my
Jean-shorts and off-color shirt on.
Sometimes, the bikes weren’t in the picture.
So we hiked. Never ‘walked’ but “hiked” which
Was moving with a greater purpose.
Great distances. The distances weren’t the great
Part. I forget what the great part was, because
This was when I was a kid. When I was 12.
The things you did
As a kid
You store them in a secret kid-locker
In your heart
And your heart, it grows, along with the rest of
You, like a quarter pounded into the meat of
A young tree. The tree envelops the quarter,
Taking it in to itself, swallowing time
That you only try to clumsily relive
(Like I’m trying right now)
It used to be cold, icy, and snowy in Iowa.
I know this; I was out in it most of the time.
Does anyone sled anymore? Toboggan?
Round-saucer spinning uncontrollably at
About 12 mph? Metal sleds with runners
And power steering? Down crazy-steep
Barreling down frozen white hills, crashing
Into copses of thin pliable young trees.
You only see this kind of stuff on Youtube
In somebody’s ‘All-time Epic Fail List
The failure is epic, alright. We’ve moved on.
And not necessarily to a bigger, brighter future.
Ice! I skated on long-bladed racer skates.
I could stop on a dollar’s worth of
And this one time
Fell right on my knee hard enough to
Grind a hole in my jeans. It looked like a ******
Meteor crater. A pretty girl named Tina
Felt sorry for me and sat right next to me
She wore pink pom-poms and I fell in
Puppy with her for about three hours.
Then she smiled and hugged me and
I was more frozen than the ice outside
And she left, her Mom picking her up
And eying me balefully as I stood
Pink-faced and flushed and utterly
Confused about the randomness of
What had just happened to me.
Girls from my town all knew
More about myself than myself knew
About me. They had me PEGGED, brothers
And sisters. But not this girl. She was from
The next town over.
That was a good day, if I’m remembering
It correctly. If. I’m pretty sure I am.
Or, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.
We played a game called ‘Blackman’
Like a tag game in Gym, where
One kid is “IT” and a mass of skaters
Goes from one end of the ice pond
To the other, and the people you capture
(I couldn’t catch an old man in front-wheel
Drive figure skates and I got so frustrated
I gave up to jeers and yells and found the
Trees were good listeners to kids
Who couldn’t skate as coordinated as
They wanted to.
So ten minutes later
I would go into the Warming House, and
Listen to am radio. All the Hits! KSTT! Davenport,
Iowa. On ******* Blvd., which was really
River Drive, because the Hostess Plant stood
Sentinel on top of the hill, pushing out
Sponge-cake filling and HoHos and Cupcakes
And those awful coconut snowballs, and
This one time, in high school, I shoved one
Inside my mouth and tried to swallow it
And about choked to death.
I walked to Mark Twain Elementary School
And ran home for lunch, and was usually
Late because I was easily distracted
And when the school day ended,
I walked or ran home, hurrying, because
Captain Ernie and Bugs Bunny Cartoons were on,
And then Gilligan’s Island from about 4:00 to
5:30, when the news would come on,
And then Dinner,
And I couldn’t stand to sit still
To save my life. I have ADD. I
Know this now. I didn’t know it
(Nobody knew what it was)
I knew something was wrong with me
Or not-right. It was just the way
The World Turned.
Back then. I had no sense of ‘self’.
I was a changeling. I tried to fit into
Whatever people expected of me, which
Was very often extremely difficult, because
These people I emulated and thought were
So **** cool were just as messed up
As I was, maybe more; But I
Didn’t have the emotional maturity
(Or I couldn’t face the awful responsibility
That went with that awful truth)
To deal with it, so under the rug it went.
I was moody and happy and singing
One moment and crying in the shower
This one time, I was stuck
In the borderlands of childhood
And the beginning of a man
It was safe, for awhile
This one time.