Tuesday, August 28, 2007


We loved our bicycles. We lived on our bicycles. Everywhere we went we went on bicycles. Schwinn's and Rahleighs. English and American. Big ass old school one speed bikes with fat tires that had one up hill speed...slow and one downhill speed...fast. We put baseball cards on them to make noises as they fluttered in the spokes. We shined the chrome and cleaned them and oiled them and knew how to patch tires and change tubes.
We rode our bikes up and down the streets of Wenonah, to and from school, to the pool and back. We rode them in snow and rain and sun. We rode them in wild packs of boys, carrying fake plastic and wooden rifles prepared for war in the woods of Wenonah. We rode them with complete abandon.
I vividly recall riding down Cherry St. by Terry Fleming's house en route to Clay Hill for a game of guns one beautiful summer afternoon. We were all riding no handed and shooting our imaginary enemies as we rode. Suddenly my front tire blew. Pow! The bike bucked up a foot or two in the air then came down and sent me skidding down newly macadamed Cherry St. In seconds I was covered in scrapes and the scrapes were filled with tar and stone and dirt and blood. A passerby asked if I was okay and of course we all assured him I was. Then we ran home as fast as we could to my house. I burst into the living room where my father and my Uncle Al were drinking glasses of whiskey and stood in front of them. Blood was running down all my extremities and my face. They laughed and laughed and laughed. Then I shrieked and burst into tears. Up to then I hadn't cried at all. I was being a man. But seeing my father and my Uncle laughing at me left me bereft. I cried and cried; they laughed and laughed.
Then my mother got out the Hydrogen Peroxide and the bandaids and went to work. In a few workmanlike minutes I was covered in bandages and smarting from the burn of the peroxide. My friends were yelling outside so out I went. We had a game to play.
We played one terrible game called the Bike Game. In this game Stewart DeHart and Bobby McQuaide and maybe Jackie Brangan would ride their bikes back and forth in Lincoln Ave in front of the DeHart residence. We huddled in the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. At their command we ran across the street and they tried to run us down. It was the most terrifying thing I've ever done. No one of us was a winner. We were all mauled and bloody and ridiculed. It was all we could do to get them to stop playing and let us go home.
We organized bike races. Older boys delivered their newspapers on their bikes. All around town bikes were scattered like leaves in front of houses where children lived. We customized our bikes. We loved our bikes.
One day we rode our bikes from Wenonah to Woodbury. Seven miles. Up Mantua Avenue, left on Glassboro Road and all the way into Woodbury. We bought sandwiches and ice cream and sodas and rode back. We were proud little explorers. Then our mothers found out and that was our last bike hike till seventh grade.
In the days before we turned 17 bikes were our only freedom and we loved them. If they were animals they would have loved us back.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Other things we ate; with apologies to Bob Thomas

Bob reminds me of the fact that South Jersey is the home of the Jersey tomato, sweet corn, ungodly peaches and more fresh produce than you can shake a stick at from July till Sept. My mother and father were not monsters. Yes we got fresh tomatoes and corn all summer long. In fact we grew out own in the digging yard several years. I should and will talk more about that later.
To this day I love going home so I can buy bushels of tomatoes for next to nothing that cost bundles of dough from the same farms in the Greenmarket. I was cranky and hungry last night and could only remember the honey loaf. Thank God for the tomatoes, the apples, the peaches, the corn, the lima beans. That's right fresh lima beans...all summer long. Poor Mick. Poor Jack. Now I have to say something. I love lima beans. Ha ha.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Things We Ate

I'm starving tonight. I just came off a stomach flu and didn't eat at all yesterday and tonight, although I've eaten 5 times, I'm still hungry so I thought I should talk about the food we ate in Wenonah.
It was horrible. It was regular. For breakfast every day my mother made us Tang and we had pop tarts. Before pop tarts we ate Frosted Flakes or Cocoa Krispies, or Rice Krispies, or Corn Flakes but it all sucked. Then for lunch we had sandwiches made from this fake ham. I can't remember the name but it will come to me by the end of this post. We drank milk with every meal except after Memorial Day when we had iced tea until Labor Day. Then it was back to milk.
At dinner we had a succession of dull dishes. Tuna casseroles every Friday (we were Catholic), frozen beef in frozen sauce, chicken croquettes, lima beans.
Lima beans.
The cursed vegetable of my youth. My brother Mick may have vomited up lima beans on at least twelve occasions. And we had no dog to feed the food we hated to under the table. It was eat or die. Once a week my mother would make a dish we liked, say cheese steak sandwiches. She would make eight cheese steak sandwiches for six people. Which meant if you were hungry you had to eat fast to get one of the two left over sandwiches. It was a race to hell. Sometimes I won, sometimes Mick won. Ted always lost.
My father loved chipped beef on toast. I have no idea why he felt this was a good thing to eat. But my mother loved him so we ate it. And we had spaghetti. From a can. Not spaghetti O's but close. When I got to college and had to make my first meal for my roomates I went to make spaghetti with Ragu and my roomate Shelley corrected me. She said, no, this is how you make spaghetti sauce. I had to learn how to cut onions and peppers. I learned that there is a thing called a garlic clove.
Some of this was because we weren't well off. My mother had to struggle to make ends meet. This was something I was unaware of at the time. Some of it was because my mother was a lousy cook. She was. A lousy cook.
My grandmother Glading, Nonny Glading, was on the other hand a great cook. She made us meals each weekend that were marvelous. Truly stunning. Fresh ingredients, meat from the butcher, cooked slow and with care. We had Yorkshire Pudding and roasts that were ungodly. Then we went home to honey loaf. That was the name of the fake ham. Honey loaf. Call it what you want but it was fake ham. Not ham on the sandwiches at Nonny's house carved off the ham with mayo and mustard and crusty bread.
My Nonny Wiler, while she didn't cook, served great meals as well. The best roasts I've ever had. Rich and full of flavor. I've never had a roast beef like she served...ever. We sopped the blood up from the cutting board on pieces of white bread with butter. That's the one thing on all my tables when I was young. A loaf of white bread. A pitcher of milk. A quarter pound of butter.
But all of them, my mother, my grandmothers, my uncles could roast Turkeys. They all knew how to make stuffing. They all knew how to fill us up one day in November with food that made you sleepy and happy. And at the end we had Breyer's ice cream with Creme de minthe and sat back happy. The last pieces of mince pie sitting on our plates. Too tired to argue. Too happy to fight. Years later I had the opportunity to serve Christmas and Thanksgiving meals like those. They are and were a gift. Whether you make them or eat at them. I ate with friends in Staten Island one Thanksgiving and they served LeSeour brand baby peas just like my mother and my grandmother, and they had creamed onions, and there was some dumb ass squash soup but who cared. There was cranberry sauce and wine and beer and people laughing.
So the food was lousy but we fought over those cheese steaks. My mother made iced tea from scratch. The mashed potatoes were on every table, with or without gravy. My brothers and I were arguing. We fought and fought and yelled and we sat together every day at dinner. Like a family.
Yesterday I made barbequed chicken for my friends Oscar and Douglas and Louisa and Frank and Johanna. They made beans with jamon and rice and drank Corona and laughed and smoked weed and I went to bed early with the flu. Could you ask for more?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Grace Paley

Grace Paley is dead. I read the news in the Times this morning. I'd met Ms Paley a few times at the Frost Place over the years and had the chance to hear a distinctive American voice. Grace was living in Vermont when I met her but she was all New York City. A beautiful voice filled with the rhythms of New York. Strong and clear. She was to have read this summer with Maxine Kumin, Donald Hall, and Galway Kinnell but her failing health kept her away. Her absence that day was a deep and palpable thing. All of the poets that read are men and women confronting the end of their lives in real life and in verse. It was a wonderful afternoon of stunning power.
Losing a voice in American letters is never a good thing. Tonight I was listening to my ipod shuffle and Robert Frost came on. Right after Bruce Springsteen and right before Dave Brubeck. How wonderful. His clear and distinct reading of Stopping by Woods was a little gift on a hot summers night. Maybe you can remember a poetry reading that took your breath away. Maybe after hearing some poet in a bar or a barn or on a stage you stumbled out into the night thinking this is what poetry is about.
Losing those voices is such a sad thing. Keeping them in our hearts is all we have. Raise a glass to dear Grace. Wish her well on her journey. Hers was a voice that could not be stopped. It sings forever, like all the best writers. We lose great people every day. Fathers, mothers, friends, children. It's always sad and it's inevitable but that doesn't take away the sting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Famous Monsters of Filmland and Comics

I've neglected something truly important in my youth. Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor and publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Our favorite magazine. We ran to Margie's luncheonette to buy each months issue. It detailed the great and near great horror films of the 20's, 30's, 40's, and 50's. It was a beautiful mixed up hodge podge of memorbilia by a man who loved horror movies. Today I read in the Times that Ray Bradbury's first work was published by Forrest in the late 30's. He loved monster movies and we loved them with him.
Our personal favorite was The Thing that Came From Outer Space. A movie that scared the shit out of us. But Forrest turned us on to Ed Wood and Frankenstein with equal approval. He didn't diss Ed Wood as an oddball. Plan Nine from Outer Space was as important as any Bela Lugosi film. We were mesmerized.
Chris had seen one of the Frankenstein films and we acted it out in the shell of a house under construction at the end of Jefferson Street. Gary Condell was the Monster. Chris was Baron von Frankenstein. We were various particpants in the drama. We all knew how to act even though we'd never seen the movies.
Which brings me to comic books. We devoured them. First, Superman and Batman and the Flash and the Justice League of America, but then Marvel Comics. I bought the first issue of Spiderman as a birthday gift for Ted but took it back. It was too good for him. We devoured all of them. The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Dr. Strange. It was a wide world open for the taking. All on display in Margies once a month.
We all wanted x ray specs. I suspect some of us ordered sea monkeys. I know my friend Jack Shephard filled out the forms so he could be an artist!
There were no real monsters in Wenonah. We lurched like Frankenstein in half completed basements. We assembled like frightened villagers to destroy the monster but really nothing was there. It was a joy. A pleasure.
We mounted a play the summer of 1962 to mimic the movies we'd read about but never saw. Gary Condell was the monster. Chris the mad scientist. One of us, who knows who the hero. We wrote a script, sold tickets and were prepared to sell refreshments. Then Joel Cook saw the monster in rehearsal. He was terrified. He ran home in hysterical tears. His parents shut down the production before it ever happened. Little Ed Wood's stymied in our artistry. Mick and I were punished and banished to our rooms. We sat and ate the candy we were going to sell while our friends played outside.
Oh, the vagaries of the artistic life!
But still, perhaps there were aliens among us. Perhaps we were at risk of imminent demise.
Perhaps the siren of the fire whistle might portend more than a minor fire in a kitchen somewhere in town.
Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Now we're talking.
Now it's all real.
Now all the duck and cover nonsense made sense.
Now everytime we heard the fire whistle it meant that Russian missiles were streaking our way. And when they detonated we'd have hell to pay. Zombies walking among us. No food. Horror.
All the stories we made up on the way to school seemed to get a little pale. A little shallow. Maybe we were children in a world not quite so safe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Death and Football

September of 1961 brought another change in my life. In September my grandfather Wiler died. He’d been ill from Emphysema for many years but over the last few months of that summer he took a turn for the worse. Emphysema is a progressive chronic illness that can take years to kill you but when it does it comes on quickly. Technically my grandfather probably died from a heart attack, since his heart would have had to work twice as hard to get enough oxygen from his damaged lungs.
He’d been a life long smoker and that coupled with a stint in the mines as a young man along with a genetic predisposition to Emphysema was all it took. That fall we were involved in a venture of our own and his death, while anticipated, barely brushed me. One day men were lugging oxygen tanks up the porch to his room, the next he was gone.
He’d loved Mick and Ted and I but his illness prevented him from being much fun around us. He was a distant figure to us, unlike my grandmother, and I had no real feelings about him or his death. His wife, my Dad’s mother, was another story.
My grandparents had moved to Wenonah when my grandfather became ill and needed more care. They bought a house up the block from us on the corner of W. Mantua and S. Jefferson. It was one of the earliest homes in Wenonah and had been owned by the Cattell family, a South Jersey family with deep roots. The house still had the original barn behind it, now used as a garage.
Mick and I played in the garage whenever we could. It held secret passages built by other children long ago and you could jump out the hayloft onto a compost heap below. One half of the garage held my grandmothers gardening tools and insecticides. She was an avid gardener and worked hard at it. As a consequence the smell of DDT and Dieldrin filled the barn. Dusts and concentrates sat in heavy brown glass jars on her work bench. When I went to work as an exterminator I recognized those smells immediately.
In the house, on the sunporch, was where she painted. She was a painter of landscapes and still lives and worked in oils with a knife. Her work was extraordinary but devoid of life. Bare empty warehouses, telephone poles, crumbling chimneys in an empty field. Brilliant and cold and scary. The room smelled of oil paints.
In the next room was the dining room and just off it the kitchen. My grandmother didn’t cook and a succession of maids and cooks kept house for her.
My brothers and I were a source of constant irritation with our yelling and noise and roistering. As a consequence we were generally banished to the outdoors at family gatherings.
So here we are in September of 1961 and what am I really involved in. Football. My friends and I have started a football team. The Wenonah Hawks. We've had lemonade sales and raised money to buy uniforms. We've recruited enough boys to fill out a full football team. We found a coach, a man who was a boyfriend of one of my neighbors, Al Frank. We've begun to practice each day. We are a bunch of little kids with no organization that formed a football team in a town with no organized football program and we challenged the local midget football teams. There were teams in Deptford, Mullica Hill, and Center City. We played them all. We played in a 110lb league despite the fact that only Ted Glenn, our center, weighed 110 pounds. Our defensive end, Chuck Lake, might have weighed 65 pounds on a good day. All I cared about that fall was our team and our practices and our games. My grandfather died and my clearest memory of his death is the smell of hay from the knees of my pants from football practice as I watched the technicians delivering oxygen tanks to my dying grandfather.
Our team was pretty good, and very small but we made it to the Lions Bowl in Glassboro that year where we played the champions from Mullica Hill. A boy we knew from Woodbury, Jim Coombs was on the team. They were large and hard and the game was played in January on a frozen field in Glassboro. We got our asses handed to us.
It was wonderful.
So, yes, my grandfather was dead. And yes, my grandmother remained. But we had football glory. Skinny little geeks in green jerseys covered in blood and grass mixing it up with the big boys. And we did it all ourselves. Me, Chris, Gary Condell, Terry Fleming, my brother Mick, Herbie Danner, Ted Glenn. We were hard. We were strong. It was glorious. Not unlike the poems we memorized.
After the Lions Bowl there was a banquet we were invited to. The Mullica Hill team had tough black kids on their team. They all got up at the end on the stage and danced the Pony. We all knew we couldn't dance the Pony but we could hold our own on a frozen field in Glassboro.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Twilight Zone, Spelling, and Poetry

In 4th Grade my bed time was 8:00pm. Maybe 8:30 on a special night. This was good for my parents and bad for me. Everyone I knew stayed up later. They got to watch shows I only knew from their stories or from listening to the tv from my upstairs bedroom when my parents were watching in the 2nd living room. We had, like all our friends, a black and white tv. We got three stations. 3, 6, & 10. My favorite show was Combat but the show I most wanted to see was the Twilight Zone. It was on after my bedtime so I never saw it till I was older but I heard it...in shards, in pieces. This was a show that answered all my story telling needs.
On the way to school the day after a Twilight Zone episode Terry or Chris would tell us about last nights show. About the tank battalion trapped at Custer's Last Stand. About Burgess Meredith in the ruins of WWWIII losing his glasses. About the slot machine that haunted a gambler. Brilliant stories told on the way to school in the fall and winter and spring. The walk to school took perhaps twenty minutes. Eight or nine blocks. Two different routes. On the way to school we usually walked up Mantua Ave and crossed at the proper corner by the park. On the way home we trekked over the railroad bridge and down West Street. All the time telling stories. On the way out the stories of the tv on the way back the stories we invented.
In 4th grade Mr. McIntire made us use our spelling words in a narrative. A story. Each of us tried hard to use the lessons of the Twilight Zone to top the other. Stories of O'Henry filled with irony. Stories of gore and death. Stories to scare ourselves. After a while we stopped caring about the spelling words and cared only about the stories. It was a challenge to top each other. Like poetasters or slam poets or screen writers we wanted to be the best at what we did. I can't remember any of our stories but I know where they all came from.
In 4th and 5th grades and I think in 3rd we were given little yellow booklets with popular poems. Poems from the late 1800's and early 1900's that had a place in the popular imagination. The Frost is O'er the Pumpkin, Trees, etc, etc, etc. We were required to memorize one of these each week and recite them to our peers in class. This too became a challenge. Especially when we were given leave to expand our selections. To move out from the little pamphlets and into the books of poetry that might be in our homes. We were boys. So we found Rudyard Kipling and Stevenson and Tennyson. We craved the poems of gore and horror and tried to top each other with tougher and gorier poems to recite. I memorized The Charge of the Light Brigade and Gunga Din. I mastered The Highwayman. All to top my friends. To show them I was the man.
What an odd pastime. Middle class white kids in the 60's memorizing the heroic dramas of English poets. For glory. For honor. For power.
Years later I read my own poetry out loud at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. I had never read my own work out loud. I was, I guess, petrified with terror. But I'd done this before. I knew the drill. When I finished the drunk crowd of Puerto Ricans gave me a standing ovation. I knew it was the thing I wanted to do again more than anything else. The same night a professor of mine read and was booed off the stage. Of course. She didn't know the drill. She was interested in her work, in it's care and concerns. She didn't understand that when you stand up in front of people and read you've got an obligation to deliver. It didn't have to be loud. It didn't have to be hard to understand. It almost didn't have to be good. What it had to be was better than the last poem they heard. Like our stories. Like the poems we chose to memorize. Who knew that Mr. McIntire was preparing me to be a poet. Who knew he was teaching me to love words. Who knew that five little kids walking down the street in Wenonah were learning to be artists.
Not all of us are artists in our real lives. Chris worked for automotive interests. Terry works for health care interests. My brother is in law enforcement. But all of us know how to tell a story and engage an audience and we want that audience to listen and attend.
They always do.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Comments and Gateway Regional Class of 1970

This will be a brief post. I'm writing to ask those of you who read the blog, who have thoughts and comments and memories to post them as comments. It will help expand the world of Wenonah into a larger place.
Also, just a brief note, my friends Suzy Parker, Barb Conway and her boyfriend Charlie, Dottie Chattin and her husband, Greg & Joyce Jones, Chris and Stephanie DeHart, Gary and Debbie Lundquist/Przywara, and Mitch and Terri Chambers have been conspiring to put together a reunion for us knuckleheads. Anyone from the Class of 70 or who knows folks from the Class of 70 please write me with contact info, etc. We're shooting for a gathering in July of 2008, tenatively the 5th. Please help...these people are driving me nuts.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Little Red House

Wenonah is ringed with woods. They were our favorite places. They weren't wide or deep but they were nearly unvisited by adults or anyone but children. Beyond the woods were the swamps of the Mantua Creek. Once, back in the 1800's the creek was wide and deep. But towns up and down the creek dammed off feeder streams to create ponds and lakes for recreation and decoration and by the time I was young it was a stream about 16 feet wide surrounded by swamp. The swamps were home to muskrat and cattails and birds and had a deep swamp smell. They were scary and inviting.
You could run through them once you knew how. How to avoid the deep mud, find the hillocks and firm places. We did so with abandon. I think it was in 4th grade we found the Little Red House. It was down by the sewer plant at the end of Mantua Avenue on the North side on the Mantua border. You had to walk down a dirt road past the sewer plant a few hundred yards and there it was...an old abandoned shotgun shack. Red. Empty. Falling apart. Me, Chris, Terry, Ed Mossop, Mick, and a few others went several times there to explore. To walk through it's empty rooms and just look.
It was eerie and weird and frightening. And just beyond were the swamps. One day we all walked out to the swamps. We got perhaps thirty feet out when we hit quick mud. This was deep mud that sucked you down. The more you pulled to get out the deeper you went in. Ed Mossop went out furthest and got caught up to his waist. We struggled with panic and terror to free him. It was low tide. If we couldn't get him loose who knew what might happen. He might be sucked all the way in and die. He might drown. Hours of struggle ensued. Mud sucked and pulled and we pulled and Eddie came loose. No shoes. Covered chest deep in swamp mud. We stumbled back. Stunned. Frightened. It was the first time in our lives we confronted a situation in which we might die. We were terrified. Exhilerated. Stunned.
It became legend.
We never went back. The house sank into oblivion. But the struggle became our story.
We learned how to walk on the swamps. How to avoid quick mud. How to leap and dance and play in the swamps. We ran up and down the length of them from the bridge to the trestle. Perhaps a half mile but it seemed like a league.
We began to find weapons. Cattails were spears and hammers once wrenched loose. We waged epic battles up and down the creek. We tore open skunk cabbage and relished it's funk. We were gods.
We learned you could make money on the swamp. You could set traps and catch muskrat and sell them to fur traders. You made more money selling a muskrat than you could on a newspaper route. We knew how to set leghold traps and live traps and we knew where they lived. My Uncle Al from Pennsylvania told us that in the late 40's he sold muskrats to the black people in his town for food. We were stunned. Amazed.
We loved our swamp. More than the woods. Anyone could walk in the woods...only a skilled kid could navigate the swamps. We fought wars with kids from Mantua across the creek. We cherished Christmas gifts of hip boots so we could slog across streams and even the low points of the creek.
When we came home, covered in muck, my mother banished us to the basement to strip our clothes. Rich with the funk of mud and death and life.
When I was much older my father in law fed us a meal of channel catfish caught in the south. It tasted of swamp. I couldn't eat.

Maps of Flour Salt & Water

This was the year teachers began to make us do more than make gifts for our parents. We were asked first to make maps that showed geographical forms and places using a paste made of flour, salt, and water. You would first draw a map on a piece of card board.
Usually the cardboard was the cleaners cardboard from your fathers dress shirts for work. My dad got his from G. Wayne Post. It was the only men's store/dry cleaner in Wenonah. G. Wayne was a good guy. A little droll, sharp dresser, and as I recall, a pencil mustache. He would deliver the shirts of the men of Wenonah each week and their wives would stack them neatly in their shirt drawer.
Then when you had a project of some kind there was cardboard without end. Okay, so you draw a map...say, the state of New Jersey, then you identify the important rivers and mountain ranges. The Delaware, the Kittatiny's, the swamps of the the Delaware Bay. Then the important metropolitan centers. Of which you know nothing. Elizabeth, Newark, Jersey City, Trenton, Atlantic City, Camden. Then you mix the paste. Here's a link for the recipe for the paste: http://www.coe.ilstu.edu/IGA/Geographers%20Have%20High%20Standards/Salt%20Dough%20Landforms.htm.
You spread it evenly over the area of the map. Where there are highlands or mountains you apply more, wetlands and lowlands and shore lines, less. For mountain areas you use your fingers to lift up mountains. You take a number two lead pencil, say, a Ticonderoga, or a Dixon, made in Jersey City, NJ, and trace the rivers. Then you let it dry. It only takes a few hours. Then using water colors you paint the areas green, or blue, or brown, depending on their geographical make-up. Brown...mountains, green...forests, blue...bodies of water. Then you write with unerring hand the names of these places.
Then you carefully pack your finished project in a paper bag, or box, and carry it to school for judgement.
If you are artistic, or have an engineering bent, or can color within the lines, then all is well.
If you are, say, like me, then you are fucked.
You spend hours screaming at your inability to create a beautiful object filled with information. The paste is too watery, it cracks, your colors run, your outlines are blurred, you are in short a miserable, abject failure. Doomed to a "B" in Citizenship.
Doomed to watch others succeed. Doomed to fail again, and again, and again. The only way you escape this terrible mess is to grow up.
No one does this shit after 6th Grade. Thank God, Praise Jesus!
For me in 4th Grade it was a map of my failures I made over and over and over and over.
With rivers and creeks and mountains and miserable printing and poor choices of color.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My 4th Grade Report Card

Here is the real and true record of my dismal failure in 4th grade. Note the level of my anxiety. I merely received a few "c's & d's" and that alone was enough to send me into a tailspin. Miserable wretch! On my next post we'll talk about the most horrid event of 4th grade: Projects!
But in closing let me say that my hard work and good study moved me into the safe haven of 5th grade!

UV Lights, Madelaine, and Science

When last we visited 4th grade Ruthie Hammell was locked in a closet. The janitor Nick was soon to release her and we were soon to return to our classroom. In 4th grade I encountered something I'd never bumped up against before. Work.
Mr. McIntire was a harsh taskmaster. His tests were essay types. "Tell me all you know about the Civil War". His comments were brusk and nasty. He had no worries about public humiliation.
On top of this my childhood asthma jumped into high gear. And I wet the bed. And my father, in an effort to help me with my studies, got a lamp for my desk. Unwittingly he outfitted it with a UV bulb for plant growing. My eyes hurt each day following my arduous studies. I was forced to wear sunglasses even in the classroom. I was wheezing. I could barely compete in sports and when I did I was wearing shades. 4th Grade being a poor place for non-conformity this did nothing for my self esteem. I was shuttled to various doctors to determine the problem with my eyes. I kept saying I thought it was the light. Finally after months one doctor asked to see the bulb and solved that problem.
I still wet the bed. I still wheezed like a steam engine. I still failed class after class or more accurately muddled through. The only good part was all of us were just muddling through. There were no stars in Mr. McIntire's class. Though there was one pretender: Madelaine Pillings. She of the pixie collars and flounced skirts and turned up nose. If we knew the right language we would have called her by her right name: stuck up bitch. Sadly we just muttered under our breath: "Teachers Pet". Though this was not true.
For miraculously Mr. McIntire detested her right along with us. It was the first time in our little lives we realized adults might think and feel as we did. She was a little dickhead and he hated her right along with us. It's just that he had a job and couldn't torture her like we did.
Now, in retrospect, Madelaine might have been a fine and decent young woman. She may have grown up into a beautiful adult woman, had wonderful children and now lives in a great house with her husband, her kids and a dog named Waldo. But that seemed unlikely at the time. As unlikely as I would become a poet or play softball or ski or marry or stop pissing the bed.
The quintessential, well not really, Madelaine event was one afternoon when Mr. McIntire had to leave the room for some reason. He told us we must be good and he appointed Madelaine our monitor. He gave her permission to rat us out on his return. Sure as shit we were little monsters screaming and running wild and tormenting Madelaine. She was shrieking and crying and upon Mr. McIntire's return did just as he asked. Then he declined to punish us. Then she wept bitter tears. But they hate me! She cried. And hate her we did.
He looked at her and slowly, with great deliberation, said, "I feel for you Madelaine, here..." and fumbled about his body as though for his heart, "or here..." and fumbled again. She leapt from her desk and ran from the room in tears. We were in kid heaven.
This was not right. Mr. McIntire displayed little or no empathy. Madelaine was a rat. We were justly vindicated and walked home telling the story again and again. We tell it to this day on the sidewalk on the 4th of July. Like a Greek myth or a great lesson.
I went home that night and had an asthma attack. I wet the bed. I woke up and went back to school.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Back to the Blog

Sorry for not posting for some time. I've been in Franconia, NH at the Frost Place Festival of Poetry and haven't had the chance to post. But I'm back and will have new stuff up tonight or tomorrow.
I had a great time in Franconia, met lots of great poets, went swimming and in general lived life the way I'd prefer to live it. Now I'm back to reality and bugs.
Props to all the folks I met in Franconia, old friends, and the beautiful words that everyone spun out!
Later my friends.