Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Unseen World

In Eighth grade my father decided Mick and I needed a room of our own. So that summer, well, that August, he labored mightily to renovate our attic into a bedroom. My dad wasn’t the handiest guy on the planet but he made a closet out of window shutters and we spackled and painted and soon Mick and I were settled in our new room. It was a nice big room, the biggest in the house, and it would become a sanctum over the years for good behavior and bad.

Mick and I had shared a room before when we were young. That never went well. We spent most of our time fighting and as it happens Mick periodically walked in his sleep. I remember one fine night when he took a whiz in our closet, mistaking it for the bathroom a few feet away. This time things went better. No fights. No petty bickering. Maybe we were growing up.

Now our house was an old house. It was built in 1888 and it had its peculiarities. It made noises at night when it settled and it had the odd shadow that seemed out of place. We didn’t know much about the people who’d lived there before us except for the family that we replaced, the Sacca’s. We knew them because they lived two doors down and Peggy Sacca walked me to school that first day of first grade. We also knew them by the charcoal graffiti in the attic (before we painted). I particularly remember one little note: “Peggy Sacca says her mom smokes cigarettes”. A damning note to say the least.

At any event a few weeks into our tenure on a stormy Fall night (well, maybe not stormy) Mick and I were talking when from out of nowhere an object in the middle of our dresser slid two feet and dropped off the dresser. You heard me. It just slid to the edge of the dresser and then it fell off. No minor earthquake, no truck rumbling through, no kid brother behind the dresser tipping it. So we naturally assumed it had to be a poltergeist. Or a ghost.

In any event Mick picked up his blanket and pillow and went downstairs to my old room at the foot of the attic stairs, never to return. I stayed. It was my bedroom, except when I was away at college, till 1974. Me, the ghost, and the graffiti.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Friendship and it's vagaries

The Gateway years mark the beginning of my slow inexorable slide into being a complete non-entity. In Wenonah, while I may have been picked on occasionally, I still had a certain presence and friends who I'd known for many years. High school however completely confounded me. I was unable to find a persona that worked. It seemed to me that all my friends were able to change, to grow up, to be a cool person. Having worked with high school kids for many years now I know that I was wrong on at least that count. The odds are that every one of my friends and acquaintances felt as goony as I did. The difference was that they felt goony with cool kids and I felt goony all alone.
I've always been a big reader and this isolation made me a bigger reader. Books were a place I could go to and imagine myself as someone different. A brave soldier, or a lawyer fighting for the common man, or a wilderness scout in the 1800's. Anything other than a kid in corduroy pants, a plaid long sleeve shirt, and two giant cowlicks. The only thing I was spared was pimples. Thank God for small favors.
My cool friends would hang out with me now and again and in class kids I admired would talk with me and listen to me but once that was done I was back to geekdom. Me, Jim Maddox, Grant Karsner, and Bruce Zahn sitting at the cafeteria table just hoping nothing bad would happen to us for the next twenty minutes.
Meanwhile kids were walking around wearing desert boots and jeff caps and Beetle jackets and had cool dress shirts with fairy loops. Not this boy. We were still shopping in Pitman for clothes and Pitman was anything but cool so you can imagine a men's store in Pitman would be the antithesis of cool.
Eighth Grade! Five long years stretched out in front of me till I could go away to college and ditch these losers. It seemed like my life was to be an eternal torment and that was not a bad prediction at least for the forseeable future.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

APBA Baseball

One thing I hate about this blog is the early sixties. Stuff is mixed up in my head time wise and I don't have a way to anchor it to a year or a class. Things extend between years, pop up again and vanish. Boy Scouts, for instance, were part of my life at two very different occasions in the sixties. The same is true of APBA sports games.
ABPA is a game much like Strat-o-matic. Each is a combination of dice, player cards, and result boards. Each game has demented enthusiasts. In Wenonah my neighborhood was filled with APBA Baseball and later football, basketball, and golf enthusiasts. Terry and Chris were the first to purchase games and soon all of us had one. The games were played either in Terry's basement or my front porch.
We were deadly serious about the game. We played full seasons, used real score books and kept detailed statistics. There were leaders in HR's, batting average, and ERA. Just like the big boys. Terry had the Yankees and my team was the Reds, Gary Condell loved the Cardinals and Mick the Pirates. We'd sit for hours in Terry's basement rolling dice and yelling cheers, all the while listening to Mary Flemings collection of show tunes and Frank Sinatra 45's.
We were surrounded by Doc Flemings Yankee memorabilia and bar supplies and the air was damp basement air. The kids who weren't playing were playing the slot machine.
The competition was fierce although it seems the Yankees always won...just as they did in real life. Later we bought into old time teams. I had the 1940 Cincinnati Reds and Terry had the 27 Yankees. He won game after game after game. Every player on his team was light years better than any other player on any other team. Babe Ruth hit a homer every other at bat. It was hopeless.
Once again I was a loser. I had lots of company but the Reds weren't really all that good. I loved them and wanted them to be good but the numbers didn't lie...they were not a championship team vs any other team. Had I known that in the 70's the Big Red Machine would rear its head I would have given any thing to travel into the future and come back with those cards. No more block of k after k after k. I'd be a winner and they'd all be losers. Fat chance. I was stuck in 1965 in a basement getting crushed day after day after day by better players, better strategists, and cooler kids. I was a loser.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Apology

Many (well two) people have been asking when I would post again. They apparently were sick of the trestle. To all of you bored people I apologize. I'm undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C which requires me to take a chemo therapy drug every week. It sucks the life out of you. I don't care about food or sex and I can't come up with an idea to save my ass. So bear with me. This too shall pass and we can leap back with abandon into the heady days of the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five and Lyndon Baines Johnson and Vietnam. Life stretches out before us.

Pavlov's Jack

As you'll no doubt remember I washed out of Boy Scouts (literally) because I wet the bed. That was when I was eleven. I continued to do so till I was fourteen. I think that puts me in eighth grade but even if it doesn't I'm thinking about it so in it goes.
My parents took me to many doctors over the years trying to figure out why I peed myself at night. Shrinks, urologists, you name it. They also never really told me why we were talking to these folks. I was dragged from health care center to health care center and I still woke up in a sea of piss every morning.
Then one day my parents brought home a new device. It consisted of a rubber pad that went under my sheets and an electronic device. The device worked thus: when liquids hit the pad it triggered an electric signal that rang a loud bell. A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LOUD BELL!!!!
No one explained to me how it actually worked except to show me the bell going off and setting things up and sending me to bed.
I peed again the next night and I think the next two nights but then a miracle happened. Right before I had to piss I woke up and went downstairs and pissed in the toilet. I didn't wet the bed. And I didn't wet the bed ever again.
I thought at the time this was a miracle. I still do for the most part. But I've since learned about Pavlov's dog and I realize I was a Pavlovian dog. I heard the bell before I peed and woke up and went downstairs.
This was good because I didn't wet the bed. It was bad because I hate bells. I have to pick up a phone on the first ring if not sooner. Loud noises freak me out. Oh, and I don't like to piss or shit in any place other than a toilet or the wilderness (or pee in a back yard late at night when I'm drunk and happy). This was a real liability when I became ill with AIDS because pissing and shitting yourself are kind of day to day possibilities.
But that is for a post much, much later. For now I'm in eighth grade and my sheets are dry and the bell is muffled.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Crossing the Trestle

I should mention that several years ago at a poetry reading in Warren County I ran into an old poetry associate, Charles Johnson. I had just finished my reading and one of the poems mentioned the tracks and the trestle. Charles walked up to me and said "I crossed that trestle". I was surprised and asked what he meant. He told me he'd taken the walk down the tracks and crossed the railroad trestle. Just as my friends and I and generations of kids had done over the years.
The difference is that Charles was from Haddon Heights or Jericho and he was black and for a young man from Jericho to cross that trestle in the early sixties was far braver than any other little kid worrying about trains.
There were real threats if he walked through Wenonah and the threats were the people. They're talking about finally building the light rail from Philly to Glassboro through Wenonah using the old rail bed again. As usual the anti light rail group is worried about black and spanish folks getting off in Wenonah. As though any black kid would want to get off in Wenonah. As if they wouldn't get escorted to the town line and sent home. Some things never change.
So my congratulations to my brave friend and to all my friends who helped walk that line. Don't forget there is still a line. Watch each others back.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Trestle & The Pill Factory

In eighth grade we began to expand our geographic horizons. We moved further afield from the woods by Clay Hill, venturing past the Lentz's house all the way to the railroad trestle. This hike required we cross a huge downed tree and it passed an area of the creek where you might actually be able to swim. There was one home with a huge German Shepherd that you would have to sneak by. The trail ended up in an area we called Boy Scout Island. It wasn't an island but occasionally the different scout troops would do overnights there. Just past Boy Scout Island was the trestle. The trestle was huge and loomed far over our heads. The creek itself had it's only "white water" as it rolled over rocks from the construction of the trestle.
We'd scale the trestle from the bottom or simply walk up the sides and then venture out on the trestle itself. None of us knew when a train might come so this was initially terrifying. We later learned we could move off to a side area of the trestle and wait till a train passed if we were trapped in the middle when one came through. But in the beginning we were too stupid to figure this out.
After spending a beautiful Fall afternoon dodging death we'd walk down the tracks throwing rocks at the telegraph wires to hear the weird sounds they'd make. A high whine. After a bit we'd drop down the grade and pass by the Pill Factory. By the time we were kids the Pill Factory was abandoned but for years it had been one of the few industries in Wenonah. Now it was a scary abandoned white building. As I recall we were too frightened to go inside but I could be wrong.
We'd end up by the Mecholsky's and then back home. Another day of artificially induced terror and adventure. Four or six or eight teenagers lost in their own little world.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Glorious 4th

Okay, I'm sick as a dog, I feel like shit but come hell or high water I'll be at the corner of S. Lincoln & W. Mantua Ave when the three one minute blasts go off. Keep in mind I'm giving up the Macy's fireworks in the Hudson.
Seriously there is no better 4th of July in all the world like Wenonah's!
See you there.