Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Past (Part 3)

We stood there, the three of us, just staring at the six large teenagers walking towards us. I can only imagine that from an outsider’s perspective we must have looked like three kids who suddenly looked into the face of Medusa and were immediately turned into statues.
            It was Finn who broke our silence “Fuck, what are we going to do?” was all he said.
            “I aint giving up my bag to them fuckers.” Fish answered.
            “We gotta run.” Was all I managed to reply.                 
            “Hey, retards! Don’t you go anywhere! You gotta pay your candy tax!” one of the six yelled at us.
            “Tell you what,” Fish said, “You two run faster than I do and I’m a better fighter, so, take my bag and head down Karl street.” Then he handed me his pillowcase.
            “Nah Fish, you aint taking a beating for us. Let’s just drop one bag and all take off.” I said.
            “Screw that,” Finn said, “We follow Fish’s plan. We’ll meet up in my garage. They know about the rafters so if we get away, they won’t look at my house.”
            “Yeah, but then they’ll be pissed off and kick our ass’s later.” I said.
            “Not if I have anything to say about it.” Fish said and that’s when we heard a sharp click.
            I looked towards the sound and saw Fish had pulled out a switchblade and was holding the gleaming steel in his right hand. The street lights reflected off the polished surface. When I looked at Fish’s face I saw the crazy eyes he was famous for.
            “Fish, you don’t want to end up in Juvie. Shit.” I said.
            “I aint gonna kill them. Hell, I probably won’t even cut them, but they don’t know that. Now run fuckers.”
            Finn and I turned and ran.
            “Where the fuck are you going? Get back here!” one of the Nine Hundred Six yelled.
            We ignored the order and kept running.
            “Get them!” was the response.
            As Finn and I rounded the corner from Libel street onto Karl street I glanced back to where Fish was. He was standing tall, waving his knife around and in front of him three of the Nine Hundred Six stood with their hands in the air. The other three were in pursuit of Finn and I.
            “Shit, we got three bogies.” I said to Finn.
            “Fuck them. We run faster.” He said and started to pull away from me.
            The sound of our candy sloshing around along with the coins in our bags drowned out the sounds of the older bullies yelling for us to stop. I could hear Finn trying to tell me something but I couldn’t understand him. I tried to speed up but carrying two bags of candy and money was slowing me down.
            As we passed the large evergreen that was in the yard of the first house on Karl Street I saw there were still some kids walking along the street in costume. The kids were smaller and there were only a few adults with them. As we passed by them, Finn screamed something unintelligible to me and then we were gone.
            Halfway down Karl, when we should have cut into the back yard of the house at 600, which shared a fence with my back yard Finn dodged to the left. Towards 601 on the wrong side of the street. I followed.
            Once in the back yard of 601 Karl, Finn scurried to the back of the tool shed and stopped. He knelt down and tried to catch his breath. “What the hell are we doing? We’re supposed to go to your garage?” I said through heavy gasps.
            “Bags… slowing down… stash ‘em.” Finn muttered.
            I nodded and looked around, there was a couple of bushes near the shed and I quickly stuffed mine and Fish’s bags behind them. Finn followed suit.
            We heard our pursuer’s shouts and we peaked around the corner of the shed. They were standing between the houses. One of them was holding his side, another had his hand on his head and seemed to be crying. “Come on out you bunch of pansies! Come get your ass whooping!”
            We ducked back behind the shed “What do you want to do?” I asked.
            “Double back. They don’t know where we are, so we go back for Fish.”
            “Sounds good. Jump the fence and head up the back yards?” I said pointing to the fence not five feet from us.
            Finn nodded. “Just give me another second to catch my breath.”
            We didn’t get to wait as long as we would have liked, our three bullies started yelling and searching the back yard. We quickly shimmied the fence and ended up in the backyard of a house on Karl Drive. Neither of us knew who lived there and to tell the truth, we didn’t care.
            “Skip, aint this where that girl Laura lives?” Finn asked.
            Why the hell did Finn do that? I asked myself. Bringing up Laura. Ugh, as if I didn’t have enough shit on my mind right then. “No, man, she lives closer to the East River and on the other side of the street. Now shut up about her. Let’s go.”
            We headed towards Libel through the backyards. We were two houses from Libel when Finn started talking again. “So we got a plan? Or do we just blaze in there and rumble like the Sharks versus the Jets?” he said referring to West Side Story. The movie he and I had watched at least a half a dozen times over the past year. It seemed the local UHF station had gotten rights to it and decided to run it at least once a month to try and get ratings. Also, after school or on rainy days in the summer, we’d just make popcorn and watch the television. The afternoon movie theatre was usually a western, a kung fu film, a bad horror movie, but then they started showing West Side Story. Finn was addicted to it. I was bored with it, except for Riff. I liked his character.
            “No plan, but with only three of them, Fish with his knife and you and I show up, we may just win.” I said.
            “Yeah, one day we’re going to kick all their asses. I can’t wait for that day.”
            “I’d be happy if they just moved.” I said as we got to the sidewalk on Libel.
            We both turned towards Karl Street and saw Fish standing on the corner with two larger forms and on the ground were three squirming bodies. “What the hell?” Finn asked.
            “No clue, but let’s go find out.” I said and started jogging. Finn followed.
            As we got closer to Fish and company, we realized the two teens standing with him were the Jamrog twins. The bodies on the ground, squirming, crying and moaning in pain, they were three of the Nine Hundred Six.
            “What the hell happened?” Finn asked as we slowed to a walk.
            “The twins showed up.” Fish answered with a shit eating grin.
            “Yeah, we’ve been wanting to get a piece of these jerks for a while.” Dennis said. He was apparently the older of the two twins.
            “Yeah, hard to believe they’re related to the Sandovals.” Glenn said as he kicked one of the squirming bullies in the stomach.
            “Where are the other three?” Fish asked.
            “Last time we saw them, they were halfway down Karl in the backyard of one of the houses.” I said.
            “Where are the bags?” Fish asked.
            “Stashed them in some bushed behind a shed.” Finn answered.
            “Well, let’s go get them. No need to hang out here.” Fish said as he closed his knife and slipped it into his pocket.
            “Uh, guys, what about the other three?” I asked.
            “Don’t worry, Glenn and I will go with you guys. They aint gonna mess with you no more.”
            “Cool, thanks. Finn said.
            Twenty minutes later all five of us were crowded into the rafters of my garage, Dennis and Glenn were offered anything they wanted from our candy supply. They declined and quickly pulled out some Marlboro’s and lit up and started talking about girls.
            The three of us, Fish, Finn and myself, separated candy, divided it all up and counted the change.
            In the end, we all got what we wanted and spent the night eating as much sugar as we could handle and we learned that while running from a fight is smart, it’s much smarter to have friends who are older and bigger than the bullies who terrorize you.
            I know, not an earth shattering revelation, but as an up and coming teenager who is out wandering the mean streets of your town, it is a vital survival tactic.

            Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween Past (Part 2)

It didn’t take the three of us long to make our first rounds through the neighborhood. Simply because we split up. Fish would take the left side of a street, I’d take the right and Finn would scout the block over. We’d meet up at the intersection, compare notes and figure out which houses to avoid on our second and hopefully third trips.
            The scouting trip covered six square blocks and took an hour of daylight to go through. When we finished, we met at my garage and dumped our pillow cases in the rafter fort of my garage. We sat around staring at all the sugary goodness that awaited our eager and watering mouths.
            “Shit, I see a lot of dum dum’s, taffy and bubble gum.” Fish said as he poked his hand into his pile sending the candy scattering into Finn’s and my piles. When he pulled his hand out he was holding not one, not two but three Chick Track Cartoon books. “Ugh, fuck, I can’t believe that old man gave me these.” He said and tossed them to the side.
            I looked down at my pile, I spied the corner of an orange wrapper, the one piece of candy I’d been looking forward to getting since I’d stepped off the porch of 605 Karl Street. A nice man had seen my costume, gave out a laugh, reached down into his candy bowl and pulled out a Reese’s peanut butter cup two pack. He then put his hands above his head and said “Well partner, don’t shoot and I’ll give you this here peanut butter cup.”
            I smiled and said “Much obliged you willy varmit.” And opened my pillow case. He promptly dropped the candy into my bag and I left. But I remembered the house. After all, we were on a scouting mission.
            “Skip, whatchoo got there?” Fish asked.
            I help up the Reeses and smiled. “605 Karl street, we all need to go there.”
            Within the next ten minutes a slew of information was conveyed by the three of us to each other. We spat out addresses and what they were giving out as quick as we could. When we finished, we swapped masks, and headed out.
            The second looting took much less time. After all, there were really only a dozen houses to go to within the neighborhood and by the time we’d finished our first round and went back to the houses in different masks our sacks were half full of large candy bars and even some loose change. It seems one generous couple ran out of candy and decided instead of turning off their porch light, they would just drop whatever lose change they had in a large bowl by their front door. We went to that place six times.
            When the man looked down at Fish, whose mask was cracked and only covering half his face said “Hey, haven’t you already been here?”

            Fish looked the man right in the eyes and said “Nah, we walked from Webster Ave, but my twin brother was by earlier.” Then he smiled the biggest shit eating grin I’d ever seen and opened up his pillow case and offered it up to the man. I swear I could hear money jingling as he did this.
            When we got to the street Finn punched Fish in the arm and said “Man, you have got the biggest pair of balls of anyone.”
            We all laughed.
            As we walked toward my house, I looked up to the sky, it was dark and I could see pin pricks of light from the distant stars. “Guys, it’s getting late. Hell, most of the porch lights are off and I think we’ve done pretty good. Wanna head to the rafters?” The rafters is what we called the fort in my garage.
            “Sure Skip.” Fish said, besides, I don’t think we will get much more tonight anyway. Say, you remember those Chick Track books?”

            Yeah, the old man in the nine hundred block of Memory gave them to you. I think I got a few myself, but not from him.”
            “You remember where?”
            I nodded and gave him the addresses.
            “Good. Cause we didn’t get any treats so it’s almost trick time.” He said with a malicious grin.
            As we walked down Libel street, caught up in our own conversations of which candy we’d eat first, which candy was destined for the trash or our younger siblings, which excluded Finn since he was an only child, he usually gave his unwanted candy to his mom or left it in a bowl on the coffee table. Which we’d end up eating over the course of a few months, we didn’t really notice that some of the bullies from the nine hundred block were headed towards us.
            Now, I should mention that the nine hundred block of Memory Avenue in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the mid-1970’s was run by six teenage boys from three different families. Each one as dangerous and mean as a trapped snake. They were so vicious in        fact that Finn and I eventually refused to go to the bus stop down at the intersection and opted instead to jog the two miles to and from school. Rain, shine, snow or just brutal Wisconsin cold.
            We hated those guys. So much so we just called them the Nine Hundred Six. These cats smoked, in the open for all the parents to see them. And, on occasion, they were known to purloin beers and just sit on the corner and drink them out in the open as well. If they saw something they wanted, they took it. If you even looked at them wrong, you were the subject of endless noogies, half nelsons and full nelsons. If you really pissed them off, they’d gang up on you and beat the living hell out of you.
            We hated them. But out of all of us, it was Fish that hated them the most. Probably because he was the one who stood up to them the most and was on the receiving end of most of their abuse. Finn and I usually ran. After all, we both ran a sub five minute mile and very few people could keep up with that speed. Fish couldn’t run for shit. He could run his mouth, but his legs, well, they just couldn’t move fast enough. During the long summer days, when we’d hang out at the baseball fields and play pick-up games, he’d hit a ball into left field and would still be thrown out at first base. He was just slow. But, he was quick witted and had a sharp tongue and always carried a knife. Which inspired Finn and I to do the same.
            We were between Karl Street and Memory Ave when the Nine Hundred Six came around the corner and saw us. When they started shouting, we froze in our tracks.
            To Be Continued.

            Have a great week and a Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Halloween Past (Part 1)

In the mid 1970’s, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, me and my pals always looked forward to this time of the year. Sure, school was in and our warm, care-free summer days were gone but, the Packers were practicing and football was the talk of the town. But underneath all the sports talk and evening pick-up games of two on two or four on four, we would plan our trick or treating route through our neighborhoods.
            Me being the local paperboy, I was continuously pumped for information as to which house tipped when they paid and which houses were behind on their payments for their daily dose of local news. I believe it was my long-time pal Fish, otherwise known as Al Minnow, who started the questioning and when asked why he wanted to know who was paid in full and tipped and who was behind, he simply answered “Well, if they are paid up to date and can tip then they have money to buy good candy, if they aren’t paid to date, then they will have the cheap candy. We’ll only go to the houses who’ve paid in full. And we’ll ignore the late payers.”
            We all nodded in agreement. After all, it made a ton of sense to our almost teenage ears.
            Two weeks before the fall looting and pillaging of the streets of Green Bay, we would sit around in our fort, or on the curb and discuss which costumes we’d wear. It was Finn, Jimmie Finnegan, who came up with the idea that we should all make sure our masks would be large enough to fit each one of us and that we should all wear at least two sweatshirts or t-shirts depending on the weather and make sure we each carried extra pillowcases in our pockets. You see kids, back in those days, no one ever spent money on a candy bucket in the shape of cheap plastic jack-o-lanterns. Nope we used either paper shopping bags or pillowcases.
            Pillowcases were better, if you dropped it, it would not break and spill your candy all over the street or someone’s sidewalk. And, pillowcases carried more loot, in volume and weight than a paper bag.
            On the great day of free candy we always met at my house. Well, that is to say, between my house and Finn’s house since he lived next door to me and Fish lived about a half mile away. You see, after school let out, Fish would ride his bike home as fast as he could and Finn and I, who usually walked to school together, pretty much ran to our houses.
            Finn went to his house to change, and I bolted into my room to get ready. Since the day was warm, I put on two t-shirts, one had a cowboy on a horse and the other was just plain white but had dark blue trim on the neck and sleeves. I remember thinking I should wear one of my Packer t-shirts but I thought better of it. What if one of the candy givers made a comment about my love for the team and I was forced to talk? What if they were giving out good candy, like snickers or Hershey bars? And when we went back they remembered the shirt except this time I was wearing Fish or Finn’s mask? We’d be busted. Nope, go with something people would likely forget and move on.
            I took my pillowcase off my pillow, it was a bit grungy, hadn’t been washed in a week, nut it was pale blue and didn’t really smell, I stuffed it in my pocket, went to the laundry closet and grabbed a fresh white one to start the night off. Then I headed out to Finn’s house.
            He beat me to my own back door, he was wearing a tan t-shirt and I could see the sleeves of another t-shirt sticking out from under the tan sleeves, his plastic mask dangled around his neck as he came in our back door. “Skip, you ready?”
            “Yeah, I was just heading over to get you. You got everything?”
            “Yup, two cases, two t-shirts and a sweet tooth ready for some candy.”
            “Cool, seen Fish?”
            “Nope, but he’ll be here soon. Hey, aint you forgetting something?”
            “Where’s your mask?”
            I smiled, reached into my right front pocket and pulled it out. It was a Lone Ranger eye mask. I’d tried to talk my mom into buying me one from the store, but she insisted she could make one cheaper from all the cloth lying around the house. You see, out of the three of us, I believe my family was the one in the worst financial straits. Which meant a lot of my jeans had home-made patches on them, I had a lot of thrift store shirts and hand me down shoes. I never really thought much about it then. Now, it is an interesting look back at my childhood.
            My mom, true to her word made the mask and it was black and it fit great.  She even made it large enough for my pals to wear. I dangled the mask in front of Finn and he just looked at it as if it were a wash rag that needed to be thrown away.
            “What the hell is that?”
            “It’s a bandit mask, like the Lone Ranger. My mom made it for me.” I said a bit defensively.
            “I thought we agreed on full face covering masks? What if someone recognizes you? What if we get busted going to the same houses again and again?”
            “I thought about that, look, when I wear it, they might notice my hair or my mouth, when you wear it you have different hair. Same goes for Fish, we all look different. And, this way we don’t have to worry about big kids trying to snatch our bags. I can see better in this than those full face plastic masks.”
            Finn turned his back to me, pulled his mask up and turned around with both thumbs in the air. “Ayyye! Ritchie, tell Al to bring me a cheeseburger!” he said in his best Fonzi voice. He was wearing the “Ben Cooper” Fonzi mask. I laughed.
            “Nice! Your mom got you the “Ben Cooper” costume! Nice!”
            You see, the “Ben Cooper” costumes were the best ones in our eyes. They always had a decent shirt or jumpsuit and the masks looked almost realistic. We all wanted them. It seems most of my friends always had them. However, in my case, I only had the opportunity to get one in my brief stint as a 1970’s kid. That was the “Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man”. I thought it was a great costume. My pals, not so much. But that is another story for another time.
            Finn pulled the mask off his face “Let me see your mask.” He said with his hand out. I handed it over.
            A minute later he was wearing it and dodging imaginary bullets from behind our kitchen table. “You’re right, I can see better with this than the Fonzi mask. Okay, but whoever is wearing it has to keep a look out for the teenagers.”
            Which is when Fish showed up. “Finn, what the hell are you wearing?” was all he said from the landing to my back door.
            “It’s a bandit masks. Skip’s mom made it. It’s pretty cool. And I can see better than with my Fonzi mask. What are you going as?”
            Fish pulled his mask up and let out a loud roar from inside his Frankenstien mask. “Fire Bad!” he added in a low guttural tone.
            Fish and I busted up laughing.
            After a few minute Fish punched us both in our arms. “You two finished, we’re losing daylight.”

            To be continued...

            Have a great week.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Vagabond Planet

Almost twenty years ago Astrophysicists discovered something called “Vagabond Planets”.  These are planets that have been flung out into space that don’t really orbit a star or other large body in the galaxy. They are just sitting there in space all alone, no other mass around it. No one living on it. No real orbit to speak of. It’s just floating all alone in space. This is a pretty cool phenomenon to me. Just being alone. Nothing to bother you. No one pulling you one way or another. You just sit there, existing.
            When I heard about these galactic hermits I immediately liked them. Given, I knew nothing about them and the scientists that discovered them don’t know much about them either. They just know they exist. Which is cool. They are like a giant mystery that we can’t really solve. Sure, we can beam all sorts of rays at them and see what they may be made of but they can never really know what they are or how they got there. Sure, they can speculate but to know exactly what caused them to be flung out of their past orbit into the great void to live its life alone and floating through time on its own course is a bit of an enigma.
            Maybe I like them because they are alone, they have nothing but themselves for company and they are dependent upon nothing for their existence. They are just there. Which is cool to me.
            You see, I am by nature, a person who likes to be alone. I like solitude and being alone with the maniac that lives inside of my mind. I enjoy sorting through my thoughts and figuring out who I am. Why I said what I said in certain situation. Why I acted the way I did in front of people. Not all of these thoughts are pleasant, not all of my answers are positive. No, instead, I spend a good portion of my time beating myself up for past mistakes and trying to figure out how to not make those mistakes in the future.
            Of course, I’m not alone I have a wife, I have a daughter, a family so to speak. I have brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. My life is filled with people who tug and pull on my life in many different ways. Just as you do. Just as our planets tug and pull on each other. But you know, the most demands in my life come from my daughter.
            Children will tug and pull on your life like no other force in creation. In my case, it has been an honor and pleasure. Tomorrow my child turns seventeen. Since her inception she has been a constant source of joy and wonderment in my life. Through all of her ups and downs. Her daily and weekly passions that fade as quickly as they arise, through her crushes, loves and heartbreaks and through her continuous daily life, she has struggled, succeeded and grown in ways that amaze me.
            She is far more mature and ready for life than I was at her age. Probably more mature than I am at this age. She has a focus that would put a trained sniper to shame and a vision for her future that most people never have and never will.
            Her attitude when faced with obstacles and adversarial conflict is one of determination and pragmatism. Through all of her experiences she keeps a good attitude, wit and sarcasm that speak to her upbringing and how she sees the world.
            Her self-reliance and dignity are two traits that I know will help her make the right decisions in pretty much every situation she will be faced with. Not to mention, at her age, that of a teenager who should be rebelling against her parents, her teachers and the status quo of the world is pretty much non-existent. I’ve no idea how she became so well rounded, so accepting of others or even how she became so passionate about equality and justice for everyone.
            I believe that she is the one force in my life that has had more impact on my life than any other force. From the second I found out I was going to be a father, to those fleeting moments when I held her on the day she came into the world to those wonderful hugs I get from her every day, I have been pulled into the solar system of her life simply by being her father. I am honored to be her dad and even more honored to be recognized as her father by others.
            My dream of being a vagabond planet, a hermit so to speak will never come to fruition, simply because the strongest force in my life is my own child. I love you Goose and I hope you have an awesome birthday.

            Have a great week.