Being at my parent’s place was like being in a “near and far” sketch on an episode of Sesame Street. Were your parents kind enough, like mine, to share you with the third parent we all called, TV? If so, you’ll remember those times where Grover would come up close to the camera and say, “This is near.” And then he’d take off running, leglessly, into the distance, getting smaller, stopping and then yelling back to us, “This is far.” And then he repeated this magical process until we got it. Near. Far.
I drove around the neighbourhood I grew up in. It was conveniently arranged in an oval and I slowly navigated around it looking at the places where my friends used to live. Everything had gotten nearer. Or smaller. It was like the Superman comic when Superman uses the shrink ray and visits his relatives in the bottle city of Kandor. (You’d be right if you guessed I didn’t date much growing up.) Who, how or when this happened I have no idea. The tour started at a house on the backside of the oval we always called ‘the Circle’ growing up.
Two hot girls used to live in the split-level yellow house with the big sunburst above the front door. Sadly, they thought they were hotter than they actually were and they treated those of us in the more ‘tepid’ range of good looks like we grossed them out just because they had to breathe in the air we breathed out. Next to door to them had lived a guy the same age as my brother who had a home movie camera (back before video tape and been invented). The three of us made a gangster movie that ended in a horrific blood bath at a backyard pool just down the street. It was a very cool ending except for the dead bodies that surfaced for air or started to get up and look around before we yelled, “Cut!” We couldn’t edit. One of the worst things I ever did was convince this kid that he was turning into a werewolf because he had hair growing on the backs of his fingers. His mom never let him play with us after that. Or he moved, I can’t remember. I hope he’s over his fear of full moons though.
Next up, on the right, is the home of a girl who I will always remember because of another girl and something that happened in the fourth grade. There was nothing special about that day in class as far as I knew then or remember now. Somewhere, about mid-day, there’s suddenly this disturbance. A little noise, a few voices and then suddenly the whole class is talking and then silent all at once. In the front row this girl from my neighbourhood, this girl that road my bus, couldn’t wait any longer for the washroom. Underneath her ergonomically torturous desk chair was a large, yellow pool. The thing that made this memorable was what happened next.
Our teacher realized what had happened and went to the girl who hadn’t been able to wait. She stopped at the edge of the yellow pool. There was a brief, muffle-voiced conversation and then the teacher was helping the girl get up, step over the puddle and exit the room, which she did all without looking back and making eye contact with any of us. We were all still sitting there in stunned silence. On the way out the door the teacher turned back to the class and spoke to Chris, the teacher’s pet, the girl who I envied for her incredible mastery of the times tables and never did anything wrong and she said, “Chris, can you get some paper towels and clean this up while we’re out?” And like that, she was gone.
To this day and for all my life I’ll never forget what happened then. I never expected Chris to get up or to even act like she heard. If I would’ve been called on I would’ve sat there until the teacher came back and pulled the old, “Oh, were you talking to me?” trick. But not Chris. Chris got up, got paper towels and she began carefully and thoroughly soaking up the amber pee pond. It pretty much marked her as both a nerd for life and a saint, a sort of elementary school Mother Theresa. It was one of those rare events where life went on and nobody nicknamed my neighbour “Pissy” or “PeePants”, maybe we’d all been so close to that line before or it was the stuff of our pre-adolescent nightmares that we empathized and we never spoke of it again. From then all the way through graduation 8 years later I always thought of Chris as being made of something holier than me.
Past that girl’s house, down at the end of the street, was my friend Scott’s house. He had a black and white TV long after the rest of us had gone colour. But he had an in ground pool in his backyard (where we filmed our climactic scene for the gangster film) which more than made up for a black and white TV, and he had just about every action figure made: like dolls only cool and from movies, TV shows or comic books. He had the whole Star Trek collection, including a shuttle craft you could actually put the figures into and the complete crew, including Uhura. We all argued who would be ‘Uhura’ and usually decided she stayed on the Enterprise to monitor communications unless my little brother Brad played and we made him be the expendable crewman in the red shirt and Uhura. Scott also had the whole Planet of the Apes collection and I’ve got to stop telling you about it because the geek level is rising pretty high and I’m even thinking about going on Ebay and looking for some of these while I type this.
Next to Scott was Jeff and Tim’s. Again, backyard in-ground pool. Nice. Between their two houses though was the neighbourhood ball field. A hedgerow in back was the home run fence; the light pole was our foul line on the first base side. We’d come from around the neighbourhood and from Brunk Drive behind and play pick up baseball. We could play all day and sometimes did. It was amazing. Except for picking teams. I hated picking teams. Well, what I hated was not so much picking the teams, which I never got to do, but getting picked last or next to last. I hated that. I wasn’t too bad at baseball once I got past my fear of the ball and the bat. And the glove. And the ball being thrown at me. After that I was actually pretty good but getting picked was more a popularity thing than an ability thing and while I wasn’t the least popular kid around (that would’ve been my werewolf friend or my friend the foster child from a few houses up or the guy that rolled me up in a carpet – a story I’ve told elsewhere- giving me permanent claustrophobia – with the wacky mom and the giant poodles.) I was rarely picked in the top 3. But I loved these baseball games, they were everything that our summer breaks were about and had the power to extend the magic of our summer vacations into the fall just before we traded in our gloves and bases for a bigger field, longer sleeves and touch football.
A few more houses down lived my friend Tom. Tom and I were off and on friends. Usually on in the neighbourhood but not so much at school. We had been in love with the same girl, my next door neighbour, who I have already written about. It didn’t get in the way of our friendship but it made for some strange moments. He had won her heart at the time we all lived in the Circle but I didn’t give up, even when she moved hundreds of miles away. There’s something to be said for perseverance but that’s another story.
Tom was a foster kid, which, frankly, I didn’t care about but somehow in the Circle it made him an easy person to blame for anything that happened. Windows soaped? Tom. He’s a foster child don’t you know? House TPd? Tom. Somebody shot your dog with a BB gun? Probably Tom (even though we were all pretty sure it was more likely the old guy a few houses down where your dog kept crapping on his lawn). One day I was in my front yard with Tom’s girlfriend, along with her cousin Linda who I was happy to be flirting with at the moment figuring cousin is almost the same as neighbour when Tom suddenly came running into the yard and stops and starts talking to us, just jumps into a conversation somewhere in the middle which confused us just before our moment of clarity. SKKKKKREEEECCCCHHH!!!! A Gremlin, the car kind, stopped at the end of my driveway and a crew piled out of it and they ran straight for Tom who jumped behind the three of us. After a lot of yelling, finger pointing and threats of violence I figured out that Tom was being accused of throwing a rock through the window of the hatchback on the Gremlin by Scott’s older brother. Tom swore he didn’t do it but the mob wasn’t buying it and they lifted their torches, hoes and rakes high into the air, yelling for his blood. Well, no torches or garden tools but they did want his blood.
We, his friends, jumped to his defense and our righteous indignation for our friend who was once again being accused of something just because he was a foster kid, won the day. The tension evaporated and the torches were put out. The mob left a little uncertain they had found the right man. A couple seconds after they left we all sighed at the same time. It had NOT ended the way we thought it was going to. The three of us turned to Tom and smiled, relieved for us and for him. He grinned back at us and said, “I did it.”
To be continued…