Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flatheads, Crescent Wrench's and Pliers (Part 13)

After lunch the day seemed to fly by. Our usual mundane learning continued to be replaced by slide shows and educational films on such topics as “The Food Chain” where we got to see lions on the Serengeti take down zebra’s and gazelles (EXCELLENT). Other films such as “Cross Walk Safety” and “Water Danger” were real snoozers and most of the kids in class as well as the teachers seemed to sleep through them. By the time the last bell rang everyone in school seemed filled with nervous, restless energy and no real direction or outlet for the repressed tension that crackled like electricity throughout the hallways. We took that energy with us as we spilled out of the school as quickly as possible so that we could enjoy the last few hours of sunshine.

Fin, Fish and I met up near the rear doors that lead out to the playground and the bike racks. Over the years we had come to know instinctively where to meet and we always managed to run into each other within minutes of the final bell. By the time I made my way to the doors my buddies were standing just outside the industrial grade doors enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

“What took you so long?” Fin asked.

“Mrs. Miller asked me to stay back for a minute about my math. Don’t worry, it wasn’t about homework.” I answered trying to kill any worry Fin may have had about copying my papers.

“Let’s beat the streets.” Fish said and headed toward the bike rack. Fin and I followed.

As we closed in on Fish, I nudged Fin with my elbow and nodded towards the bike we snagged the seat from. Jimmy Delveaux was standing near his bike screaming at anyone who would listen about his missing bike seat. Fish saw Jimmy raising a fuss and slowed his walk to a stroll and we caught up.

“Don’t say anything, don’t admit to anything and don’t do anything stupid.” Fish whispered.

As the three of us approached the bike rack along with most of the other kids in school, Jimmy was accusing everyone on the playground of stealing his seat. We joined in the throng of kids. Fin and I hung towards the back of the crowd while Fish made his way to his bike.

“You think he’ll figure it out?” I whispered to Fin.

“Nah, its Jimmy. He’s not the sharpest kid in school.” He answered.

“C’mon, let’s get out of here before a teacher shows up. We can wait for Fish at the drugstore across the street.”

Fin and I headed away from Jimmy’s rants, and our classmates screaming responses. Several students were already in line outside the drug store and we could hear them talking about the after school sweets they were in line to purchase. The current popular choice was Snickers, although Kit Kat’s seemed to be running a close second. I always chose Snickers and Fin always chose Kit Kats while Fish usually stole whatever he could get in his pocket and then he proceeded to share with us. Good friend to have.

As we waited in line, both of us kept our conversation on the bike and the camping trip in fear of anyone close to us finding out about the purloined seat in Fish’s back pack and squealing to Jimmy. Jimmy… He was and had been my enemy and nemesis through most of my elementary and middle school years. We had fought each other enough times to know almost intimately when the other was going to throw a punch, pull a knife and when we had been beaten. If it weren’t for the fact that he had saved my life once I wouldn’t have cared that it was his seat that we had stolen. But I did care and what sucked the most about it was that I could never tell Fish to give the seat back. But, in this game of friendship and life one has to pick sides and today was Jimmy’s day to lose. I didn’t like it but there was no turning back.

About five minutes of waiting and twenty kids in line later, Fish showed up pushing his bike, his shirt was torn and his Levi’s were scuffed and dirty at the knees but he was grinning from ear to ear.

“Man, you guys took off to early! Jimmy tried to pick a fight with some older kids. I got knocked down and punched a guy in the nuts and then all hell broke lose! Mrs. Miller showed up and busted up the crowd. Sent everyone packing and I think Jimmy got detention for the rest of the week for inciting a riot!” He bragged joyously.

“Man, sorry to have missed that.” I exclaimed.

“Yeah. Would have been great to see Jimmy get in trouble finally.” Fin added.

“You guys going in? Or do you want to get to work?” Fish asked.

“We were just waiting for you Fish.” I said “No real need to go in.”

“Ok, let’s blow this popsicle stand.” Fish said and led us away from the innocence of childhood.

The walk to Fish’s garage was filled with the usual chatter we had all become familiar with. Girls, bikes, fishing, the Green Bay Packers and what we wanted to do once we got old enough for people to not tell us what to do.

Once we arrived at Fish’s garage we pulled the bike out, checked the paint, touched up any spots we’d missed and started assembly. Fin got the front wheel on while Fish and I set the rear wheel and got the chain in place. Once that was done we put on the new peddles and flipped the bike over. Fish pulled the seat out of his back pack, set it in place and Fin tightened the retaining nut. Then came the handle bars and hand grips.

We were pulling out the air pump to fill the tires when Fish’s little sister came out to the garage to inform us that it was six o’clock and time for dinner.

“Guy’s I gotta go. You should probably head home too. We will finish this up tomorrow and test her out.” Fish told us.

“Fish, man, we are almost done!” I complained as if I were channeling my inner Fin. “Ten more minutes. C’mon. We can get this done tonight.”

“Look, I’d love to but when dinner is ready I gotta go. Family time. Ya know?” He answered.

“Yeah, Fish, we know.” Fin answered for me.

“Great! See youse guys tomorrow.” He said and disappeared inside his house.

Fin and I gathered up our bags and headed for home.

Family time we knew was something that we would not experience that night or for a lot of nights to come. Both of us being the product of broken homes we could neither remember nor muster up the energy to try and remember what family time meant.

“You think things will ever be like that for us?” Fin asked as we turned onto our street as the florescent street lights came on, breaking our self proclaimed silence with his now cracking voice.

“I hope so.” I said as I looked at his face. There appeared to be tear stains on his cheeks. I don’t know if they were or not, I couldn’t look at him for long. The guilt of the day, the pain of my life and the hope for a better future stabbed at me like a wound that would never heal.

“I really hope so Jim.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Update.

Hi everyone. I hope all is well in your corner of the world and that life is not beating you down. I apologize for not posting a blog last week and I hope to rectify that in the near future. I want to give you all a quick explanation of what is going on...

As some of you may know, I work for a municipality here in the heart of the South. And, my job is one that affords me certain pleasures. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) I am paid to basically play with toy trains in a Children's Museum and we are currently at the tail end of an expansion project. The museum will open for full service in the next two months. What does all this mean? Simple, I have been extremely busy with train collection management, case display layouts and the installation of a model train layout that is over 600 square feet in size and contains several miles of wire, train track and several hundred trees, buildings, trains and various other operational accessories and material. To say I'm busy is an understatement.

I hope you all understand and are not upset about missing an episode of what I've come to think of as my "Fish Tales".

Have a great week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Flatheads, Crescent Wrench's and Pliers (Part 12)

Monday morning brought with it the ritualistic routine of getting ready for school. Jockeying for position at the bathroom, fighting to see who gets the last of the Cheerios and who gets stuck making Crème of Wheat and as always the last minute frenzy of finishing any and all homework that was put off until the last moment.

I left the house earlier than my sister and met up with Fin at the foot of my driveway. He was leaning against the telephone pole, his books on the ground at his feet and he was picking at his fingernails. “About time you got out here. I’ve been waiting for you for at least 15 minutes.” He called out to me as I approached.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Vera Lynn gave all the Cheerios to Suzy so I had to make some Cream of Wheat for breakfast.” I explained as I drew near my buddy and continued down our street.

“Hey, did you finish your math homework?” Fin asked as he fell into step alongside me.

“Yeah, I got it done this morning. Why? You need to copy it again?”

“You know I do Skip. I suck at numbers.”

“Ya know Fin, if you could memorize your math tables the way you memorized songs you’d be a straight A student.”

“If they put the equations to music then maybe I could memorize them but until they do I am just gonna have to struggle my way through it.”

“Didn’t you ever watch Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings? They got all the multiplication tables on those cartoons. They also have some with History and English.”

“Nah, you know I’m not big on cartoons. Besides, if I turn the TV on while my mom’s asleep she gets pissed ‘cause it wakes her up.”

“Did you talk to Fish this morning?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Nah, he sometimes calls but he didn’t today. Hope he’s ok. Say, did you bring the tools?”

“Yup, he said to carry them in case an opportunity presents itself so I’m making sure to keep them with me. You got yours?”

“Yeah, not that we’ve needed them yet but ya never know I suppose.”

With that our conversation lulled as we walked into a sunrise that was slowly fading from orange, red and gray into the rich blue of the oncoming Midwestern spring morning.

About two blocks from school we met up with Fish, he was on his bike, riding circles in the middle of an intersection. He was wearing a backpack and smoking while early morning commuters honked their horns as they drove past him. With every horn blast Fish would flip the driver off and laugh.

“Fish, you’re gonna get killed!” I hollered.

He just laughed, straightened out his bike and rode a wheelie all the way to where Fish and I stood at the edge of the intersection. “Nah, they aint gonna hit me. None of them has the guts to do something like that.” He said confidently and then added “You bring the tools?”

“Yeah we both did.” Fin answered for me.

“Good, cause we’re gonna pick up a seat for the bike today. Skip, when I lock my bike up at the bike rack find a bike with a seat you like, then at lunch we’ll take it off the bike and put it in my back pack. Plan?”



And with our plans settled, like sheep or the lemmings of the Arctic we headed stepped foot onto the hallowed ground of our school. Only to be greeted by hundreds of other kids of Green Bay doing the same thing. Footballs and Frisbee’s whizzed over our heads, girls giggled at boys showing off by the tether ball poles or doing flips off the monkey bars and of course the shocked laughter of other boys when one of the stuntmen-showoffs inevitably landed on his face.

“Morons.” Fish said shaking his head and lead us all towards the bike rack. When we got to the bike rack to lock up his bike we had to fight to find a spot to place his ride.

As we walked up and down the one hundred foot bike rack trying to avoid the litter of school books, back packs and girls purses we all kept our eyes open for a seat that we could pilfer. Fin found it and let us know by punching both me and Fish in our arms.

The bike/seat in question was a beat up piece of crap, there was more bare metal then there was paint on it. But the seat was pristine, as if it had just been put on the bike the day before. Fish nodded, I nodded and Fin grinned.

“Make some room between the bikes, I’ll put my bike here.” Fish commanded.

Fin and I pulled some bikes apart with little effort and Fish shoved his ride in, pulled the lock and chain out of his back pack and commenced securing his bike to the metal pipes. While he was doing so he handed Fin his school books and ran the chain through the straps of his backpack.

“Ok, we meet here at lunch, and get the seat. Also, we need to put all our tools in the back pack. No need to have a teacher confiscate our things.”

We all agreed and emptied our pockets, handing over our tools to Fish and he swiftly stuffed the implements of theft into the now secured pack at his feet.

As we headed towards the back doors to the school Fin expressed a concern I had been thinking about “You think the pack will be safe by your bike?”

“Look around Fin, hell, the teachers are all hiding inside the school waiting for the end of the day. Aren’t there usually three or four teachers out here monitoring us? They don’t want to be here anymore than we do. You saw what was going on over at the monkey bars. Usually there’s one teacher there making sure no one gets hurt but not today or at all this week. They’ll be inside, talking about summer vacation and not having to work. It’s what they do.”

“Alright, alright… you don’t have to prove how right you are all the time.” Fin defended himself.

“Forget about it. Just make sure we meet at my bike at lunch time.” Fish reminded us and with that we crossed the threshold of the school.

Once in homeroom I handed Fin my copy of the math papers, he quickly copied the answers, changing one or two so they would not match perfectly and when he was done he handed me back my paper. No one in our class paid us much attention, everyone was more concerned with what they did over the weekend, what they were going to do next weekend or what sort of school work we were going to get during the last week of school.

We soon found out…

Our teacher came in the room pushing an audio-visual cart with four movie reels on it. Our answer had arrived. After attendance was taken, homework passed forward our teacher turned the lights off, turned on the projector and we watched films on nature and the cycle of life including the food chain.

At lunch time, Fish, Fin and I met up near the back doors. Fish had a bag lunch where as Fish and I each had a hot lunch served to us on a pale blue plastic tray. On our tray’s were rectangular slices of pizza, a carton of milk, an orange for me, Fin had taken an apple and we had both picked fries for our vegetable.

Fish led us near his bike and we all sat down to eat and enjoy the sunshine. Kids were scattered in different groups around us, across the kickball field and even onto the dirt playground where the swings and monkey bars sat.

“As soon as it’s safe, I’ll get the tools. Skip, I want you to get the seat.” Fish said between bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Ok.” I responded and felt my stomach knot up with guilt.

“Fish, I want you to stand behind Skip so no one can see what he’s doin. Got that?”

“Yeah man, I got it.” He said and put down his pizza with a sickly look on his face. I imagine he was feeling pretty much the way I was.

“Relax guys.” Fish said and grabbed some of my fries, “It’s all gonna work out. Just be quick and try not to draw attention to yourselves.”

A few minutes later most of the kids on the playground had finished their lunches and were now running around, playing tag, freeze tag, Red-Rover, catch or fighting over turns on the swings. Our opportunity had come and Fish let us know.

“Ok, let’s do this.” Fish’s voice echoed in my ears as I felt the cold steel of a crescent wrench thrust into my hand. “Fin, walk over between the bikes, Skip, get on the side with the nut and act like you’re tying your shoes. It shouldn’t take much to loosen the seat.”

Fin and I followed our orders like robots. I knew there was no way to back out of this and keep Fish as my pal. With every step I took all I saw in my mind was being hauled off to Juvie in the back of a squad car with both my pals.

“Hurry up Skip.” Fin’s voice penetrated my reverie. I looked up at him, he was in position, I turned to look at Fish who was standing at near the rear tires acting as a lookout.

I knelt down between the bikes, acting as if I were tying my shoe. I felt something poking me in the back and turned to look, it was Fish’s peddle. “Get to work man!” came Fish’s voice from a few feet away.

“Ok,ok. Shit, give me a second. You bike peddle is stabbing me in the back.”

“Ignore it and get the damn seat.”

I brought the wrench up to the securing nut, my hands sweaty and shaking as I tried to adjust the thumb screw for the jaws of the wrench to fit and almost dropped it. “Shit.” I muttered.

“Hurry up man, there’s only a few minutes left of lunch.” Fin whispered and then added “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosy.”

“I know, I know. Shut up Fin.” I said as I got the wrench snug on the nut and tried to loosen it. The nut was on tight, real tight, I was putting all I had into trying to get it loose. I felt sweat on my forehead, under my arms and seeping through my Dr. Pepper t-shirt. I was straining so hard my knuckles were turning white. And then the nut came loose. I almost dropped the wrench when it came free. I was shocked, and I felt a big grin spread across my face.

“It’s loose.” I said and set the wrench down near my foot and unscrewed the rest of the nut with my fingers. I saw Fish’s hands reach in and grab the seat and pull it out of the down pipe and make it disappear into his back pack. I grabbed the wrench, handed it to him and he stuffed it in pack as well.

The three of us headed back to the doors to the school as if nothing had ever happened. We all had big grins on our faces, we couldn’t help it. We’d just pilfered a great seat and the kick to the gut feeling I’d had earlier had disappeared along with the seat. As far as I know, that feeling was keeping the seat company inside Fish’s pack right next to our tools.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Flatheads, Crescent Wrench's and Pliers (Part 11)

“Where’s Debbie?” I asked my sister Vera Lynn as she pulled the heavy, black cast iron skillet out of the oven and placed it on top of the stove.

“She’s spending the night at a friend’s house I think.” my oldest sister replied. She had moved over to the refrigerator and was now pulling out all sorts of ingredients for our supper.

“La la ra ra dah dah blug.” Was the response my youngest sister gave me and then she grabbed my ear, squealed in delight and scooted away from me as fast as her 4 year old legs could carry her.

“Skip, keep Suzy away from the stove.” Ordered my sis.

“I’m trying but she’s pretty fast.”

“Just keep her away from the stove. We don’t want her to burn herself. Why don’t you take her in the living room and play a game or something?”

“Ok.” I said as I bent down and grabbed my youngest sister’s legs as she was trying to crawl under the kitchen table. She squealed in delight and laughter. Her hands smacked the linoleum tiled floor making a “FWAPING” sound that resonated in the kitchen and then she grabbed onto the table leg with a death grip. Vera Lynn laughed as she watched us play a game of human tug-o-war. I was forced to release my grip on her tiny, kicking, legs in an attempt to unclamp her arms. Once I’d succeeded she would attach her petite frame to one of the chairs.

In the end, I won the battle. Sort of, two of our kitchen chairs ended up in the living room as a result of me dragging her across the floor and her not letting go of the chair. After arriving in the living room she giggled, squealed and ran back into the kitchen, threw herself across the floor and latched back onto another chair and waited for me to come drag her and the chair back into the living room.

Suzy and I played in the living room until it was time to eat. We built a fort out of couch cushions, and blankets. We slayed dragons, she rescued me from an evil witch; I rescued her from an evil warlock. We pretended to ride motorcycles. She played with her Barbie dolls and I got my G.I. Joe out and blew up her house and killed Ken. She didn’t like that. But we laughed when he miraculously came back to life and stole Joe’s Jeep. We were right in the middle of playing Lego’s when we heard the two most important words all day:


We jumped up and dashed our way through the obstacle course of toys in the living room and into the kitchen. We battled to be first by pulling, pushing and trying to trip one another in good fun. We ended up on our hands and knees crawling into the kitchen. Vera Lynn stood next to the table with a skillet of Goulash in her hands laughing down at us.

“You two need to go wash up first. Then bring the chairs back in here so you can eat.” She clucked at us.

We obeyed. What else could we do?

On our more civilized march from the bathroom we stopped and drug the kitchen chairs into the kitchen. As I looked into the living room from the doorway of the kitchen I saw our magical castle/fort had crumbled like so many castles and forts had over the eons due to lack of mortar, effort, time and neglect. But in this case it was our imagination that had been stripped away. Walls once sturdy enough to hold back dragons and hordes of goblins were now once again cushions for butts. Roofs that had once been made of copper and wood that held back the fire of dragons breathe was now once again an old, tattered, red plaid blanket and a handmade multi-colored afghan.

I shrugged my shoulders and walked away without realizing the impact of the image I’d just witnessed would have on me in future years.

The three of us sat down at the table, said Grace, and dug in to one of my most cherished meals of my childhood. Homemade goulash, bread with plain butter and ice cold milk, a veritable feast fit for a God, or as a last meal for a death row inmate.

During the course of the meal we chatted about our weekend, the upcoming school week and our summer plans. I informed my sisters of the camping trip me and my buddies were planning and she wished us good luck. She spoke of her jobs, her boyfriend(s) and all of her plans she had with her friends. After the meal, she did the dishes and Suzy and I cleaned up the living room. Then, Vera Lynn made sure Suzy had a bath, and that my homework was finished and we watched some television.

When it got late, I went to my room, read for a while and fell asleep. Dreams of slaying dragons on my motorcycle in the Grand Canyon haunted me.