Archive for April, 2009

Scouting and camping

April 26, 2009

I graduated from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts while we were in DC.  Working very hard, I managed to accrue over 25 merit badges and work my way up from Tenderfoot to Life Scout, which was one step under Eagle.  Some of them were easy, like Cooking and Basketry, but the more technical and scholarly ones took quite a bit of effort.

My favorite one, if I had to pick it, would probably be my Astronomy merit badge.  This one required that I map the sky several times during the night so I would set an alarm clock and drop fuzzily out of bed and squint into the night sky from the back porch.  My mom was also very interested in astronomy and talked to the merit badge counselor who knew someone at the University of Maryland’s observatory.  What a coup she had pulled off!  I was going to be able to go to a real observatory.

When the time for the trip rolled around, the two of us drove into DC and worked our way across town to the campus.  We parked, identified ourselves and went into the building.  Since viewing the stars is a bit difficult during the day, we had gotten up at eleven in the evening for our trip.  We met the head astronomer and were taken on a tour of the entire facility.  A huge reflector telescope dominated the entire room.  I was shown how it kept tracking a single spot by the use of a clockwork mechanism, and how a camera could be attached for photography.

We spent almost four hours there chatting and viewing.  The dome really got a workout that night as we swung the scope this way and that.  I finally pooped out around three in the morning.  I dozed all the way home.  I was definitely ready for the badge test though and didn’t miss a single question.

Many camping trips were taken with my Scout buddies.  Most of the time, we would get to go over into southern Pennsylvania to a private reserve that catered to boy and girl groups.  My dad was a counselor for the Boy Scouts so he went with us on pretty much every trip.  It can be a drag having your dad along all the time, but he did teach us a lot about how to live off the land and things like that.

Sassafras tea was my first introduction to ‘things you can eat or drink that live in the woods but won’t kill you’.  We were taught to look for the tree with three distinct leaf styles: One is oval, one partly divided into three lobes, and one is mitten-shaped.  Once located, you dig around the small tree to expose its roots.  This is what you want and can be confirmed by the smell of root beer emanating from them.  Cut off several roots and trim them by shaving the bark onto a drying surface.  You can make tea from undried bark, but it may be a bit bitter.  Dump the bark chips into boiling water and let it simmer until dark enough for your taste.  Add sugar and you have sassafras tea.

Another set of instructions was how to set snares for rabbits.  All sorts of devious means were shown to us for snagging these elusive creatures.  I never caught one, but my buddy did.  We were shown how to skin, clean, and prepare for roasting.  It was very delicious.

One incident stands out in my mind though.  My dad had lined up some different bits of fruit on a table for us to sample.  Wild strawberries, currants, apples, and pears sat there along with a small, round, fruit that looked like a short stemmed cherry.  Tasting went along swimmingly until we got to the persimmon.  My dad had slipped a ringer in on us.  The persimmon was green.  When persimmons are green, they are nothing but a small ball of alum.  Alum, as we all know, will make your mouth pucker up, all the moisture will disappear, and you start to make sputtering noises trying to spit out the fruit.  This can’t be done because you have no spit to do it with.  The sight of all us boys in various stages of oral agony really cracked him up.  Yeah, real funny dad; thanks a load.

Nighttime campfires provided the venue for telling ghost stories, holding various councils for some of scouting’s awards, and just generally fooling around.  On one occasion we boys were herded into a circle around the fire and told we were going to be taught an old Algonquin Indian ritual.  We were to kneel and face the fire.  Instructions began with us to repeat the first word of the three word incantation: “Oh-Wa”.  We dutifully repeated it in slow cadence while flinging our arms towards the fire and bowing.  We were also told that enlightenment would soon come upon us.  When that happened, we were to break the circle and stand quietly.

Then, after a brief introductory statement about the second word, we repeated it slowly: “Ta-Goo”, and bowed again.  The third word, the speaker noted, would complete the mantra for us.  It was “Si-Am”.  We were then to repeat these three sacred words slowly, but to increase the pace until almost running them together.

All of us began slowly repeating the secret phrase: “Oh-Wa” (pause) “Ta-Goo” (pause) “Si-Am”.  Faster and faster we chanted, each one of us bowing as we did so.  One by one the kids started dropping back from the circle until just a few of us were left.  Yes, I was one of the last to finally get it.  “O wha ta goose I am”.

It may sound a bit corny nowadays, but I met some of the nicest kids at these camps.  Our troop was a bit on the small side, so we almost always had to buddy-up with another smaller troop.  Each time I was a different one.  One year it was a troop visiting Washington from France.  Most of the kids didn’t speak much English, and we hardly knew any French, but we all got along pretty well.

Their counselor was a big, strapping guy that laughed a lot.  His assistant was a pretty dour cuss that hardly ever smiled.  He could cook up a really great meal given the primitive kitchen tools we had.  He even showed us how to use a Dutch oven properly.  We had a wonderful peach cobbler that he made from fruits we picked ourselves.  And, nothing beats the smell of fresh biscuits in the morning.

A few of our mixed band of conspirators were out in the woods one day showing the French cook what delicacies were available.  We found several growths of wild onions, some fruits, and even wild potatoes.  It was one of the French kids that spotted a small, furry, black and white animal ambling up the trail ahead of us.  Now, we Americans know a skunk when we see one, but none of the French guys had ever seen one.  We convinced the cook that this animal was a delicacy worth capturing and that we would surround it and he could wait for him at the other end of the log it was sitting near.

We approached (carefully) and urged the French troop forward with hand signals.  The cook got out ahead of his guys and began closing in on the skunk.  It hissed a couple of times, and then darted into the log – which turned out to be hollow.  Gleefully whooping the hunters swarmed both end of the log and started poking sticks into it trying to dislodge the skunk.

With easily predictable results, the skunk retaliated in a manner befitting a skunk and fired at Will, er, Arne, Francoise, Jean, and the rest.  Now, I don’t understand French, but the air seemed a bit blue; and not entirely from the skunk.  The entire team of intrepid hunters set a blistering pace towards the nearest water, which happened to be our lake, and dove in – clothes and all.  Among much sputtering, eye-rubbing, and general consternation we apologized.

The next evening the cook wouldn’t let us into the kitchen while fixing up our dinner.  Once he was done, the French scouts all filed in dressed nicely and sat down.  My troop filed in likewise and awaited the repast.  The first thing on the table was a couple small pots of butter and some loaves of bread.  These were followed by several plates of – no!  Were those SNAILS?  Yes, they were.  Ah, man, we’ve been had, was the general opinion among us.

Laughing nervously, we watched in horror as each of the French scouts grabbed their small forks and dug in.  Oh, NO, they’re EATING them!  I was offered a shell in which a small piece of snail was sticking out.  Arne showed me how to spear this little bit and drag the rest out.  I worked up the courage to put it on my tongue and chew – once – and swallow.  Hey!  That tasted pretty good.  I could taste lots of garlic and other spices, plus the melted butter it was dipped in.  Pretty soon, every one of us was slurping down our first dinner of snails, ripping off hunks of bread, and dashing them through the butter dishes.

Those guys were pretty good sports after all.

Every one of us had our bunks short-sheeted.

Boy Scout Camp truisms:

Snipe are an elusive bird that simply can NOT be captured by running through the woods like an idiot at midnight with a burlap bag and a flashlight.

Hornet’s nests are NOT to be used as a football, especially if YOU are the wide receiver.

Vines hanging from a tree are NOT the best method for crossing a stream.

Do NOT be the first person to go to sleep.

Outhouses do NOT just fall over by themselves – especially if someone (you) are in them.

Snakes do NOT naturally try to hide in your sleeping bag.

Do NOT accept binoculars for use unless you have first checked the eyepieces for soot.

Bees WILL make nests in the ground also – even under your tent.

Water makes knots in your clothing VERY hard to remove.

Make sure your group leader knows how to read a map. In Addition: If he does, make sure he does NOT hold the compass next to his belt buckle.

When falling into a swamp, trying to run and screaming “Shit! Shit! Shit!” will only make matters worse.  (See previous truism.)

Never believe anyone who tells you that the Girl Scout Camp is just over the hill (or across the lake, or somewhere else nearby) it NEVER will be.

T.O.M

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The BIG date

April 22, 2009

For our first major date, Kathleen and I settled on a movie followed by a trip to the local malt shop next door afterwards.  Since neither one of drove yet, it was agreed that my mom would take us there and her dad would pick us up.  On the appointed day, I spent approximately two-hundred hours getting ready.  The date was to be at six PM, so I began preparations around three-thirty immediately after getting off the school bus.  This was an acknowledged ‘special night’ because we were still in school and it was a Tuesday; a school night.  Kathleen and I walked home from the bus stop, me carrying her books (back then, our school busses had five designated stops in our nine-block community – they didn’t stop at every house on the route for us kids.  We were expected to meet at the stops for transportation to and from school).  By this time, other kids had stopped their hooting and hassling so we walked in peace.

As I was now fourteen, clumsy, and without a lot of social graces, I felt completely overwhelmed when Kathleen appeared at her front door for our date.  I can still remember exactly what she wore:  a blue summer skirt and a matching, button down the front, blouse with little flowers over her left breast, a thin blue band in her hair, and darker blue flats on her feet.  I have no clue what I wore, probably a fresh animal pelt that I had just skinned off a saber-toothed bunny.

With a whisper of nylons against a slip she slid into the back seat of our car.  I was socially conscious enough to at least hold the door for her and caught an altogether too short glimpse of shapely leg on her way in.  We arrived at the theatre unexpectedly soon because I was working up enough nerve to actually take her hand.  I was about ready to make my move when my mom announced that we were here.  What a drag.  “Once more around the block, Jeeves” wouldn’t have worked.

I sauntered up to the ticket booth, bought the tickets, and escorted her into the darkness.  I was, even at that early age, developing myopia, so to avoid having to wear completely dorky glasses which would absolutely guarantee I would never find a mate; we should have sat near the middle or front of the house.  She, on the other hand directed me to one of the last rows in the theatre.  This, according to local legend, was where the ‘make outs’ sat.  Did she know this?  I have to assume so because she smiled and pulled me into the very last row.  I began sweating (perspiring is for sissies, I was sweating) heavily as we sat down until the air conditioning kicked in and cooled me off.  I offered popcorn, which she took and began feeding kernels back to me from her hand.  When her fingertips touched my lips I lost track of time.  I stared into her hazel eyes and was gone.  No fourteen year-old should have to go through this but it seems that each and every one of us does.  Somehow we make it out the other side.  There is an absolute defining moment when you realize that girls can make you feel like an idiot and a knight at the same time.

The movie that night was called “Drum Beat” with Alan Ladd.  The usual cartoons and previews preceded it and, by the time the movie actually started, Kathleen and I had consumed our entire stock of popcorn.  I started to get up to buy more, but she held my hand tightly and told me it didn’t matter.  Didn’t Matter!  What heresy was this, no popcorn for a western; had she blown a fuse somewhere in her moviegoing circuits?

I was in the dark (literally) after she said that, but was illuminated immediately when she pulled my arm over the seat back and dropped it lightly over her shoulders.  Now, here was a situation that hadn’t been covered by the guy’s handbook – at least not the chapters I had been allowed to read yet – so what was I to do now?  Watch the movie, dummy, reverberated through my brain cell (note the use of the singular).  She shifted closer to me in her seat and reached for my other hand.  I was trapped!  Ahhhh-oOOo-gah!  Danger, danger!  Cue the shortness of breath, and clammy hands.  Focus my eyes and attempt, above all, to be cool. Here I was thirty years away from multitasking but multitasking I was.

A short time into the movie, she dropped her head onto my shoulder.  I didn’t feel it at first because my arm had gone completely dead from the neck down to my fingers on that side.  When attempting to shift slightly to allow blood flow again, she turned towards me at the same exact time I turned towards her.  Planned or not our lips met.  Oh, NO!  What the hell was I going to do now?  We’d have to get married or something I was sure.  My instinct was to bolt directly out of the seat and begin swinging from the chandeliers like an idiot.  In reality, I simply kissed back, like a knight.  Her lips were soft and inviting.  I could even taste the very light lipstick she was allowed to use for this date.  My heart began singing, my legs turned to rubber, and I completely lost the plot of the movie.

From time to time, we turned and kissed again.  Each time it was easier and more natural.  Once she even raised a hand and held my cheek as she kissed me.  I raised a hand myself, moved it over towards her chin, but somehow she moved slightly and I missed.  I ended up nudging her breast.  Not hard, but enough to establish firm tactile contact.  I snapped my hand back, narrowly missing her jaw, and tried stammering out an apology.  She said nothing at all, but reached over, grabbed my hand, pulled it over and placed it firmly on her breast again.  Not only that, but she held her hand over mine to keep it there.

I found at that moment that any male teenage palm contained millions of sensors capable of detecting heat, topography, clothing type, and other tactile data.  I knew, for instance, that she had very firm breasts, they were warmer than my hand, and that they were covered by her dress on top and a bra underneath it.  The term today would have been ‘steerable array of sensors’ as the actual antenna doesn’t move.

She sighed deeply (probably thinking “what is it with this guy, is he retarded?”), held my forearm, and caused my palm to circumnavigate her breast.  By that time, I was emboldened enough to try flying solo so I began using my fingertips to do some exploring.  First, I caused my left hand (the one over her shoulder), which was now completely awake, to rise up over her shoulder, head towards to her collarbone and dip down into the neck of her blouse.  The fit was a bit tight, but since the bones had disappeared from my hand it wasn’t a problem.  I slithered downwards until I encountered the top of her bra with the tip of one fang, er, finger.

Now, while this was taking place, predictable things had been happening to me:  my skin had gone very clammy, I began sweating again, and I had an erection.  Not just any old erection, but one that you had to look around to see the screen.  They say that a diamond is the hardest thing in nature, but I disagree.  A fourteen year-olds first major erection is harder.  Smaller ones in the privacy of your own bedroom cannot be compared to anything like what occurs in the presence of a well-rounded girl; and especially if you happen to have your fingers on her breast.  She appeared to be not aware of my plight though as her eyes steadily remained on the screen.

Directing your attention back to the bra (yoo hoo – over here), I soon discovered that there was enough room to slide my fingers between the cloth and her skin – which I did.  I soon had several inches of warm breast covered by my fingers.  Then she made a move I will never forget: she lifted her hand and unbuttoned the top three buttons on her blouse.  How this was done with one hand is a mystery but, then again, how they manage to take off a bra completely using one hand is another, but I was deeply grateful as my access was now unlimited.  As I moved deeper and deeper into her bra cup, she loosened a couple of straps that held the whole thing up.  For all practical intents and purposes she wasn’t wearing it any more.  My fingers dropped down until I encountered a very firm nipple.  I put my palm directly over it and stopped, holding it, and her breast, firmly in my hand.

She sighed again, and we watched the movie for a while.  My erection, however, had not abated one bit.  It was beginning to be a bit uncomfortable actually.  As quietly and with as little movement at all, I tried mightily to adjust it.  No matter how I pushed or prodded, I couldn’t find a comfortable position.  I gave up and tried to watch the movie.

As the movie came close to ending, and before the house lights came up, I reluctantly removed my hand from her breast and she closed up all the straps and buttons.  We turned towards each other and kissed deeply one more time.  Mercifully, my erection had subsided to a dull ache so that when the house lights did come up, I could stand without embarrassment (or doubling over in pain), and we exited the theatre.  Our next stop was the malt shop.

I have no clear recollection of anything that happened after that wonderful moment in the movie.  I replayed that petting scene in my head until the tape was worn out.  My one thought was that the sensation was wonderful and I was eager to learn more.

T.O.M

An excellent website

April 20, 2009

I was searching today, as I usually do for a couple of hours each day, for nostalgic items and came across this URL.  It is a very, very good compilation of ‘things that are no more’.  If you lived, as I did, in the Fifties then you probably remember everything in the video.

If you didn’t live back then, give a listen anyway because it is a huge slice of Americana.

This is it

T.O.M.

Saturday movies & a new school

April 16, 2009

Over the period of five years my family stayed on the East coast, Kathleen and I initially developed a friendship of sorts.  It wasn’t a boy/girl relationship at first, but, simply, a friend/friend.  Once I discovered a) how she looked in a bikini and b) erections, and what they were for, my relation changed into one with a bit more respect to it.  I watched her mature into a young lady and took note of the various ways to act around her.  My biggest help was movies.  By now I had given up corny westerns and had graduated to movies like “Roman Holiday” with the beautiful Audrey Hepburn and “Picnic” with Kim Novak.  (In later years, the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” cat scene would still bring tears to my eyes.)  I paid attention to how the male stars related to their female counterparts.  I wanted to be just like Gregory Peck or Cary Grant; suave, dapper, and always with the right word or phrase at the ready.

But at first, she and I would go, along with other neighborhood kids, to the Saturday movies in a nearby town.  Said trips would last all day from about nine in the morning to around three or four in the afternoon.  I have to think, in retrospect, that our parents used this time as a day of relaxation without having us kids underfoot; possibly fortified with a barrel of booze.

The theatre would be surrounded by hordes of kids with their ticket and candy money clenched in their hands.  A ticket would be only twenty-five cents which left a whole quarter left for various candies and/or popcorn.  You DO remember fifty-cent pieces, don’t you?  Most candy was a nickel and popcorn (the big one) was ten cents.  My favorite was to buy a roll of Necco wafers and dump them into a large bag of popcorn.  That way, they were nice and soft from the heat and wouldn’t chip your teeth. Another added treat was to buy a box of Dots (licorice) and add them to the mix.

Movie events generally started with a couple hundred cartoons – Droopy, Porky Pig, Bugs, Daffy, and the like.  Then followed the various serials that were popular at the time: such as Green Hornet, Lash Larue, Cowboy Bob, Gene Autrey, and Hopalong Cassidy.  If the main feature wasn’t long enough there might be several more cartoons preceding it.  Most main features, in that day, were either horror or science fiction (with an occasional western thrown in).  I remember such wonderful films as “The Brain Eaters”, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, “House of Blood”, and “Them” although my absolute favorite was “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.  Most of us kids would show a lot of bravado in the face of numbing fright by eating all their popcorn in handfuls and putting the bag over their head.  It must have quite a sight seeing all those popcorn bags bobbing up and down in their seats.  My mother couldn’t quite figure out why I sometimes returned home with hulls clinging to my hair. I told her that kids near me had a popcorn fight.

All good things must come to an end though and we filed orderly out of the theatre (in a pig’s eye) to find our parent’s car.  Once loaded, off home we went.

A word here on the trauma of entering a new school and trying to fit into the peer networks that have formed long before you arrived.  While still in grade school, things weren’t too bad because you stayed in one classroom all day (really boring, believe me).  But, once you graduated and moved into Junior High things got a lot more complicated.

First, and foremost, you were assigned a locker.  Said locker was usually several time zones away from where you classes were, and most had a tricky combination lock that took many attempts to trip.  Great fun was heaped on the new guys by dumping something (usually ketchup stolen from the cafeteria) into the ventilation slots in the locker.  If this wasn’t enough, those same fun guys would then clamp an extra lock on the hasp.  By the time you hunted up the custodian (back then they were janitors) the offending lock would be mysteriously missing – making you look like an idiot.

Next would be the light hazing offered by the usual group of rowdy boys who never managed to get caught.  “Kick Me” signs were popular, as was the angling blow in a busy hall that dropped your entire stock of books to the floor with a loud crash.  Backpacks hadn’t been invented back then so you had to carry a stack of books under your arm.  Some of the more nerdy kids (usually boys, but some girls too) carried a briefcase.  These were looked upon with derision as ‘sissy’ and even more demeaning terms.  Not realizing that these cases were ideal for carrying books, their detractors would guffaw and hoot at anyone carrying one.

Lunchtime was always a great time for social mixing.  All the members of one group would sit with their peers as would the members of each and every other group.  By mixing, I mean only with your group.  Once in a while an emissary would be sent from one group to another to offer a treaty of some sort.  If the emissary survived the mission they might eventually become part of both groups.  This happened several times to my recollection.

It was at lunchtime that Kathleen and I finally decided that we liked each other in a different manner.  I hadn’t come right out and said so – that would have been against the code of the male animal – but, nevertheless we boys were now expected to show something towards our opposite sex other than taunts, barbs, hair pulling and rolling in the mud wrestling matches.  They, on the other hand, appeared to be a bit more rounded now.  How had that escaped me since last year?  She had developed a chest, but hid it alluringly behind lacy blouses and loose sweaters.  She had also swelled out a bit from the hips and looked very good both coming and going in a tight skirt.

Why did I look away suddenly when she caught me looking at her?  What in the world was coming over me?  Why was I so damn clumsy?  Did love actually hit me?  Why am I asking you?

All of our parents worried when huge summer storms began showing up on the horizon.  We kids, on the other hand, eagerly awaited them.  This was mostly because we got to run around in the yard in bathing suits in the rain.  Distant rumblings and towering cumulonimbus clouds building up in the sky brought every one of us home and into our swim suits to await the first drops of rain.

Once the storm hit, we would all stream out into the yards and streets yelling, screaming, and dancing around like idiots.  We were not fearful of lightning strikes, or other odd occurrences, but, instead intent on building dams, scratching ditches, and floating plastic ship models down those ditches.

In the middle of one particular storm, we noticed that somebody was throwing ice cubes at us.  They would come crashing down and slam into the pavement with a huge SPLAT.  It wasn’t until on of my buddies got hit on the head and knocked cold that we realized that this was a Very Serious Thing.  We all scattered to the nearest porches as the hail storm built up.  Soon, huge piles of hailstones the size of baseballs were flowing down our streams and gutters.  The newspaper the next day said that one person had even been killed by a ball of ice that was softball-sized.  My mom was pretty upset that her car had seven huge dents in it from the hail.  This storm dampened (no pun intended) out enthusiasm for running out into storms – for about one storm.

One spring day we were playing out in the yard and we heard a huge ‘whoom’ followed by a big ball of smoke and fire about four of five blocks away.  “Quick, Robin – to the Batmobile!”

We pedaled furiously down the street seeking the source of what had become now a large column of black smoke.  When we rounded the final curve there was a wall of fire trucks and police vehicles blocking further access.  We didn’t want to get any closer because we could see the tail of a plane sticking out of the remains of a house.

A huge crowd had gathered and, once we asked around, we were told that a B-24 from the base had crashed into the house.  It sure looked the case now as most of us could identify the twin tail as it went up in flames.  As we worked our way around the bystanders, we could then see pieces of wing, a disconnected engine sitting partially through a neighboring roof, and another one burning in the street.

We must have stood there for hours watching firefighters trying to quench that blaze until four huge foaming trucks from the base arrived and shot retardant all over it.  Kids being kids, we were now not interested so we began drifting away.

Speaking of aircraft, how could I have possibly failed to mention my first aircraft love: the B-36?  When my dad was stationed up in Alaska, they flew all the time out of Ladd Air Force Base – and almost directly overhead.  When a flight of those wonderful birds began warming up I would run outside into the yard and await their takeoff runs.  First, you would hear a deep thrumming as those six trailing-edge-mounted propellers began to grab air.  The bass note would begin to climb the scale as the bird began to move down the runway.  By the time it was overhead, the noise had built into a ear-splitting, glorious roar.  If I was lucky, they would also cut in the four jet engines and pitched high above the propeller noise would be the shriek of those engines at max power.

Ladd was a SAC (Strategic Air Command) base and had a whole wing of B-36’s based there.  Those huge planes were longer by two thirds than even the B-29.  Their wingspan and tail height were even larger than the Soviet Antonov AN-22 and, until the Boeing 747 and the Lockheed C-5 appeared, no aircraft could lift a heavier payload.  Their in-flight profile was unmistakable – a long nose pushing out in front of those wide wings gave it the nickname of “Wild Goose” around the base.

If you really want to capture some stunning screen shots suitable for wallpaper on your desktop find a copy of ‘Strategic Air Command’ with Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson.  Some of the aerial shots are really breathtaking.

T.O.M

Hill climb and a new Bikini next door

April 11, 2009

Pretty much everywhere we kids went it was on a bicycle.  I had one which, I think, was called a Schwinn Roadmaster.  This thing weighed somewhere in the range of two or three hundred pounds because it was covered with sheet metal and chrome.  The tires had inner tubes and the braking system consisted of simply attempting to back-pedal.  This would set the brakes.

One test of our manhood was to take out bicycles UP “Dead Man’s Hill”.  This feat was not really about how strong you were, or how athletic you were, but, simply, how much you weighed.  When you started at the bottom (no running starts allowed) you stood on the pedals to pump your way up.  If you didn’t weigh enough to make the pedals go down, you simply didn’t get to the top.

I had been assaulting this hill off and on for two or three years and finally, one day, I decided that I was going to do it.  I flipped my bike over in the yard and oiled everything. I checked the chain for bad links and tightness.  I made sure the pedals themselves rotated freely.  I added a little extra air to the tires to make them a little harder (even as a kid we all knew that soft tires made your pedaling difficult).

Finally, the big day arrived.  I came home from school, saddled up, and went over to the base of the hill.  A couple of younger kids were trying to climb also so I stood there astride my bike and waited for them to give up.  After several passes back and forth at the base of the hill (the hill ended as a ‘tee’) I suddenly cut over and began climbing.  As I said before, the ascent was something like eighty nine degrees so this took a lot of stamina.  I pulled on opposite handle bars mightily as I pressed down with my full weight on the pedals.  I crept up the hill.  Weaving was permissible, but you weren’t allowed to go parallel.  I angled to one side, then to the other, while still frantically chugging up the hill.  I was looking down so I didn’t see that the hill was cresting.  I did notice that I didn’t have to put more effort into the climb.

I was On Top!  On shaky legs, I dismounted and pumped my fist into the air.  Yahoo!  I had finally conquered the hill.  I coolly drifted back down to receive the adulation of the younger kids and the hearty backslaps by my friends.  It was months before my closest friend was able to do it.  I was secretly pleased.

In 1947, over in France, a beachwear designer named Louis Réard created a new suit called the ‘Bikini’.  This was in honor of the US exploding a nuclear device (read: bomb) over the quiet Bikini Atoll down in the Marshall Islands of the South Pacific (I’ll bet they didn’t think it was an honor).  His reasoning, apparently, was that it would hit you like a nuclear device when you saw it (or, in the case of the French version – the Monokini) didn’t see it.  The bikini rattled around Europe for a while and finally landed in the States, specifically purchased by her mom for the budding body of Kathleen.

Her mom proceeded to pull a supreme gaffe by hauling it out of a shopping bag directly into the open air and held it in front of her daughter, a bunch of other kids, and I.  She was so mortified that I didn’t see her for the rest of the day.  Her parting shot as she motored her way out of the room was “Oh, MUUUUUUTHERRRRRRR!”

Visions of Kathleen wearing those bits of cloth danced through my head.  It took three tries before my buddy finally jabbed me in the ribs to get my attention.  The next day, I was out in the back yard doing something manly (I have no idea what it was, but everything I did by then was ‘manly’); probably running ‘the swinger’ over our yard to lop off the weed stalks showing up.  I heard Kathleen’s back door slam so I turned and watched, enchanted, as she tiptoed out to the small backyard pool they filled up every spring.  I was sitting in the shade under the back porch so she probably didn’t see me.  To be honest, I tried very hard to make sure she wouldn’t see me.

As she climbed up the stairs, I noticed that the middle region between her top strap and her shapely bottom was a lot paler.  Suddenly I realized that she was actually wearing the bikini.  I started my motor, fired up my radar, put the legs into gear, and ambled coolly over to the gate between our two houses.  It wasn’t until I clicked the gate latch after passing through it, that she glanced up, saw me, and shrieked “Go AWAY!”

‘Go away?’ Is this a way to talk to a friendly neighbor?  I assured her that my intentions were honorable and that I had worked hard in the yard and would like a dip in her pool.  She told me that she ‘wasn’t properly dressed’ and that I should again ‘go away’.  The phrase ‘properly dressed’ bounced around my head and a very short, but vivid, fantasy blew through my brain’s movie theatre at the speed of light.  Some amount of whining and begging on my part ensued and her defenses began to wear down.  Finally, she pressed herself to the near side of the pool and allowed me to climb the ladder.  In my usual ‘just kidding around’ style, I cannonballed over her head and splashed down.  She smacked me with a blow-up toy several times and told me not to look.  That is approximately the same thing as telling a fox not to eat chickens that it finds in the henhouse.  Of course I looked; wouldn’t you?

She was still facing towards, and glued to, the wall of the pool but I finally convinced her to turn around.  When she did I strove mightily to not gawk but I’m sure she noted that my eyes had rolled down to the tip of my nose and my tongue hung out.  Just where did THOSE come from – and how did I miss them before?  Stifling my immediate response to howl like Wolfie in the cartoons, I said something inane like “that’s a cool suit”.  While I was mentally cutting my tongue off for making such a stupid remark, she smiled shyly and said “do you like it?”  I told her that it really made her look great.  She then stood up fully and spun in a circle.  I again asked myself how on earth I had missed all these delightfully curvy surfaces on her.

In under ten minutes we were splashing around in the pool like nothing had happened.  I also learned how to project full-color and stereo sound mental fantasies onto my brain screen while carrying on normal conversations.  Very difficult at times and I was definitely thankful for the cold water.

T.O.M

Stinky foods and cookies.

April 7, 2009

A very short word on Brussels Sprouts:  ICK.  My mom usually made these horrible excuses for a vegetable about twice a week.  I could smell them right away as I approached the house as I walked home from school.  Cabbage soup had nothing on these little balls of stinky cellulose.  The stench would reach out and mow down your nose hairs from a hundred feet away.  I would search frantically for one of my friends to see what they were having for dinner.  I would stop cars in the road and ask.  I was desperate to avoid having to even be in the same room as them.

Bowing to the inevitable, I would slice a micron or two off the side and attempt to force my hand to put the fork into my mouth.  My throat would inform my stomach it was on the way and it, in turn, would begin closing down shop.  My teeth would try valiantly to keep from opening, but usually yielded to a smack on the back of my head by either (or both) parents.  I would gag the bite into my mouth without it actually touching anything and hold it there for a couple of weeks.  Finally, I would work up the courage to swallow.  Once I did that, I would jump up from the table.  My dad would yell after me “if you spit that out in the bathroom, bring back ‘The Paddle’.  You DO remember The Paddle don’t you?

This performance would be repeated for another noxious weed called broccoli.  Broccoli is sneaky – it doesn’t have much of a smell as it cooks.  It is there, but very subtly.  I would sometimes get all the way to the table before discovering a pile of it on my plate.  If I was careful I could sneak a pound or two of it off my plate and down to the floor for the dog.  Problem was; we didn’t have a dog.

On the days we skipped ‘foods that parent’s love to torture kids with’ we had just a salad.  That can’t be too bad you say, how harmful could a salad be.  My mom’s salads were made with lettuce that had been left either in the sun for two days or on top of the radiator in the kitchen.  It was the limpest, rattiest, and most horrible leafed vegetable she could serve.  To add taste to this salad she would also make her world-famous dressing.  This was brewed up in the kitchen in a big bowl.  First in went the remains of several bottles of ketchup and chili sauce she had been saving for a month.  Then, she added a dash (liter) of vinegar, and a smidgen (scoop) of mayonnaise.  This would then be poured into an old enema bag and squirted over the limp lettuce.  My brother told me once that he could hear her cackling and chanting “eye of newt, tongue of lizard” and the like.  He may have been exaggerating but with him it can be hard to tell at times.  Who could refuse this tasty delight?  I sure as hell could.

The tale of lettuce continues with an opposite reaction.  On one of our many visits out to Southern California, we went to visit an aunt out in La Jolla (which, until I found out was actually pronounced “Lah Hoy-yah” would produce tolerant laughter).  She took us to lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  It was a good one and my aunt selected a Grande Taco for me.  My mom immediately jumped in with the fact that I would walk a mile on broken glass in bare feet than eat lettuce.  My aunt pooh-poohed the very idea and continued ordering.  I wasn’t clear on just what a ‘ta-co’ was.

When this absolutely huge taco appeared in front of me I was stunned.  It completely filled the plate and hung over each side.  Plus it was filled with my arch-enemy Mr. Lettuce.  I examined it from all sides and decided that with all the other things in it that I liked, the small percentage of lettuce wouldn’t be too bad.  I nibbled a little from one end, and did the same to the other.  As my bites began to get larger and larger, my mom’s mouth followed suit.  In very short time I had completely polished the entire taco and asked if I could have another.  At this point, my mom put her hand on my forehead to see if I was sick.

I had discovered that lettuce only tasted bad when it was warm.  Nice, crisp lettuce was wonderful.  When surrounded by all the beef, tomatoes, corn, and other goodies it was a real meal.  On my second taco, my aunt suggested some hot sauce.  Now, I’d had hot sauce once or twice before and nodded my approval for a dash or two.  This really enhanced the taste and I added just a little more.  This really got my mom’s attention as her food was normally completely flat in the taste department.  Her theory was that if you couldn’t cook the taste out of it, why bother.

She just shook her head as I gobbled my second taco.  From then on, any lettuce she served me had to be nice and cold and crispy or I wouldn’t eat it.  I still declined Brussels sprouts and broccoli politely; usually by feigning (maybe) a gag and slapping a hand over my mouth.  I thought it was funny as hell; she was not amused.

Living, as I did, within a service family we came almost in daily contact with kids from every race and ethnic background.  I never thought once about how the other kids differed from me – only that they had different skills and personalities than I did.  Up in Alaska my closest friend lived down the block and was an Inuit.  I had Asian friends as well.  We all played, tussled, and generally hung around like pals should.  But, this camaraderie only existed when we went visiting friends that lived on the base.  Social mixing did not exist outside those gates.

My parents bought their house in Prince Georges County of Maryland.  This is a county that, in the late fifties completely closed their schools rather than integrate.  It was because of this that I was briefly censured by my friends for inviting Donald home for dinner.  Donald was a Negro (or Black, African American or ‘please apply your current tag here’).  He and I were playing in my yard when a complete stranger drove by and slammed on his brakes.  He yelled something at my mother, who was sitting on the front stoop that really got her dander up.  I don’t think I’d ever seen her that mad.  She jumped up off the porch step, ran out into the street and actually kicked the side of the guy’s car.  Her (almost) exact words were: “You keep that kind of talk to yourself, buster!”  Donald and I looked at each other and tried to figure out what had happened but never did.

From that day onward, I think my mom went out of her way to piss the neighbors off.  At least it seemed that way to me.  The garbage truck would always stop at our house and she would happily fill up their water coolers with water and/or ice for those hard working men.  When the road crew came through widening and paving the road in front of the house, all the laborers would gravitate for lunch under our sweet gum tree.  In summer my dad never lacked help clearing our back yard of accumulated weeds and grass because, after we all completed the yard he would grill hot dogs and hamburgers for every one of us.

If only we could have looked fifty years into the future.  What an eye-opener that would have been for everyone.

It was this sort of thing that actually precipitated my first fight with the local bully.  He called me a horribly racist name and we began to rumble.  I got my ass handed to me because he was bigger, but I felt good about it.  From time to time he would sharpen his fighting skills by beating the crap out of me again.  Unfortunately, this usually took place on the way home from the school bus stop and Kathleen would stand off to watch me lose my stuffing.  She was always there, though, tending to my scrapes and bruises at her house before I got home.  I don’t think my parents ever knew what was happening until I took measures to end the fights.

If there were a contest for best cookie jar deterrent in the world my mom would win it hands down.  We had a fairly large crockery cookie jar that had a flat lit over the top.  This lid didn’t have a handle, but just let you lift from the sides.  After threatening, yelling, screaming, and bringing out The Paddle, we kids still hadn’t learned the meaning of the phrase ‘stay out of the cookie jar’.  This forced her to take drastic action.

The first deterrent consisted of a very shallow plate of marbles set on top.  This was easily defeated by placing a washcloth over them and lifting away.  The next attempt was a bit more devious, but still it was defeated.  Her third try had us stumped for quite a while.  She had put a little multiple-limbed metal tree that had bells hanging from each limb.  Extreme concentration (and a lot of time we couldn’t afford) had to be taken to avoid ringing the bells.  Sometimes it required the assistance of a sibling to help hold those cockamamie bells and keep them from ringing.

Her crowning glory was enhancing the metal tree by asking my dad to solder three more limbs in a tripod-shaped mechanism that held a very sensitive tube with two chimes in it.  This would be the contest-winning configuration.  We kids couldn’t even walk past it without setting off those damn bells.  Each time they went off she would hot foot it into the kitchen to see who the miscreant was – usually me as I had the longer reach – and smack me; or in some cases, all of us.

T.O.M

Awakening – and a thing called ‘TV’

April 4, 2009

A youngster’s journey through life is fraught with danger.  After our visit to the fort in the woods I had been taking out the stolen magazine, er, research material, every once in a while to see if I could discern what the attraction was.  While turning pages one evening in my room I discovered that something had physically changed.  My ‘thingy’ had gotten larger and harder.  It tingled all over.  What in the world had happened to it?

I quickly put away the magazine and, eventually, the feeling went away.  I pondered this strange occurrence for several days and concluded that maybe it was the magazine that did it.  I dragged it back out and began looking through it again.  Sure enough, ten minutes later my thingy was again swollen.  It was a definite cause and effect relationship.  I didn’t think of it in that manner back then, I only knew that something had changed in my life and it was tied to naked girls somehow.  Was I allergic to them?

I didn’t have any real girl-type friends to ask about this except the one next door, Kathleen.  But she didn’t look like any of the girls in the magazine.  In fact, she didn’t have any boobies showing at all.  My only recourse was to ask my dad.

Asking my dad about anything definitely risked being on the receiving end of a long, dry dissertation on the subject in question.  He was in his element when giving what he called ‘briefings’ to groups of officers on base and tended to be that way at home.  So, sighing, I ripped one page out of the magazine (I was young and naive, not stupid) and sought out my father.

When I timidly handed him the page and opened my mouth to ask the question I watched a strange transformation of his face – beginning with his eyeballs popping out of their sockets.  His breath hissed out in a rush and he stood rapidly.  Smoke issued from his ears in giant puffs.  I backed up a couple of steps expecting him to explode.

I never got to ask my question, but, instead was immediately subjected to a rapid-fire inquisition.  Question after question asking me who, where, and under what circumstances, I obtained this FILTH!  I didn’t see any filth anywhere; the page looked pretty clean to me.  He was so wound up he could hardly speak.  My mom started into the living room to see what the ruckus was about, but he stopped her with an upraised palm.  Again and again he asked the same questions.  I wouldn’t rat out anyone.  I suffered in silence and was eventually banned to my room to “think about what I had done”.

What the hell had I done?  I was really confused now.

In time I did connect my strange affliction with the girls in the magazine.  I never went anywhere near my dad again on that subject, but, instead turned to my friends.  They would certainly know what was going on, wouldn’t they?

I was soon filled with half-truths, complete fabrications, and utter nonsense about the opposite sex.  Attention all males:  return to your pre and trans-puberty days and recall everything you ever heard on the subject of women and how to relate to them.  Completely, or mostly wrong, right?

I reasoned that if my dad didn’t want to tell me, then maybe my mom would.  I had enough sense to not bring the page from the magazine, but simply asked if she knew a reason why my thingy would get hard when I was looking at girls (pictures, I mentally added).  She looked deep in thought for a while and then went over to her desk and looked through a dictionary.  When she returned, her finger was under the single word ‘penis’.  She told me that if I was going to use grown-up words that I should use the right ones.

We spent that afternoon looking up words as fast as I could think of them.  Her eyes glazed over after a while so I thought maybe I had better stop.  After my dad came home and she held a conference with him, he came to my room and tried to apologize to me for yelling.  His actions still stung, but the apology helped a bit.  I tentatively asked the question I originally wanted to ask: “why does this happen?  Is there a reason for it?”  He used the same approach as my mother, brought the dictionary back, and opened it to the word ‘intercourse’.  The definition was filled with large words, some I stumbled over, but I eventually understood it to mean that babies were produced in this manner.  Now I was really confused – how could something that happened to me affect a girl?  I wondered if Kathleen knew the answer.

The elusive ‘answer’ never really revealed itself to me in a flash, but, instead, snuck into my mind slowly by osmosis.  At our age, being constantly caught up in peer conversations about sex, truths finally came to the forefront.  I never asked Kathleen (thank goodness) about it, but she and I entered into a slightly different relationship than ‘just buddies’.  I began to see her in a different light – and in that light her silhouette had begun to alter.

My dad came home one evening and told us he had a surprise for the family.  We all gathered at the door while my mom and he dragged a huge cloth-covered package out of the back of the car.  They struggled to carry it up the steps and into the living room.  I wondered what in the world would be that heavy.  With the flourish of a magician whipping his cape around, my dad lifted the cloth to reveal: a television.

Big whoop, I hear you saying.  This television represented the very first one on my block.  None of my friends had one.  It was an Admiral ten-inch floor model.  It weighed as much as an ice box, took around ten minutes to light up (vacuum tubes), and had perhaps the snowiest picture I’d seen since we left Alaska.

He and my mom scooted it around the living room trying to find a place where it would fit.  He tried right in front of the radiator, but my mom reminded him that the case was plastic.  They finally settled on the wall next to the stairs to our bedrooms.  Problem:  No wall socket there.  No problem: run an extension cord.  The cord they selected was rated for, perhaps, a twelve-watt night light.  There was no way it was going to hold current drawn by a power transformer the size of a cigar box.  He snapped the switch and the cord (and our eyebrows) went up in smoke like a lit fuse.

After all of us stamped out the smoking plastic, he found a heavier cord and hooked the “TV” (a new word, or acronym actually, for us kids) to power.  He clicked the switch again and the room was filled with a deep humming sound and all the filaments in the tubes began lighting up.  Finally, with a snap of ozone the picture tube brightened up and showed us – snow.

My dad then reached into another box and pulled out a pair of rabbit ears.  Not real rabbit ears, but a small ball of plastic with rods coming out of it.  Quick work with a screwdriver and a picture began to appear.  My dad played with those ears for an initial fifteen minutes all the while asking us “is this better, is this better” while standing directly in front of the screen.  Not a one of us would even think of daring to tell him to move is big butt out of the way.

We managed to receive five local Washington D.C. channels.  One of them, WTOP, was a strictly news channel so we kids avoided it.  Each channel required the antenna to be oriented differently.  We had a diagram taped to the set’s side that looked like a training aid for a naval semaphore school.  Little stick figures with just arms showed the position of each rabbit ear for each channel.  My dad would have a fit if he caught us watching a channel and hadn’t aligned the ears correctly.

This wonderful box introduced me and my friends to shows like Pinky Lee, Sky King, The Mickey Mouse Club (with the rapidly developing Annette) and, of course, Howdy Doody (“Hey, kids, what time is it?”).  My friendship count had doubled within the fourteen seconds it took for the word to get around that we had a TV.  By the first Saturday all thoughts of going to the movie were forgotten as we sat in front of that TV cheering the cavalry and watching Captain Video vanquish the slimy aliens.

T.O.M

A Query

April 2, 2009

Is any of this interesting to anyone?  I have a lot more to go and was just curious.

T.O.M.