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.