That Boy Ain’t Right

            Provocative words, uttered in the homespun south Texas drawl of one Hank Hill in reference to his idiot wuss of an offspring Bobby. The same words, however for different more manly and dynamic reasons, could easily have applied to me from the earliest days onward. Let’s face it, anyone who has known me for even a fairly short amount of time quickly came to conclusion that I don’t quite march to the beat of any earthly made drum. Quirky, eclectic, eccentric, oddball, strange, weird, of just fucking batshit crazy are all words I vehemently resemble when applied correctly, which is often. Much of this can be attributed to some heavenly deity’s grudge against those forced to come in contact with me; the expected outcome of irritating the omnipotent, or just bad luck, but nevertheless I’ll share some tales of some of my early success as a jackass.

            Though I remember it only dimly, it has been confirmed by my parents that I had a very lofty and early goal from toddlerhood to construct a trap capable of outsmarting and capturing the mailman. When you think about it, this is a reasonable goal for a young entrepreneur such as me. A man working alone, carrying with him no visible means of protection and a very long trail of places he might have been though the day should anyone feel inclined to come looking. Pair this with the fact that he had in his possession seemingly countless letters and packages, only a smidgen of which he doled out to our residence. It only made sense to want the full deal.

            These early attempts were somewhat crude as I lacked permission to utilize the power tools which would have made constructing a far more robust trap with relative ease. I was thus consigned to using twigs, bits of string, and berries smeared over the steps to create a slippery surface. The mailman turned out to be craftier than I anticipated and never once did I come outside to find him incapacitated and entangled in my machinations. By the time I hit kindergarten I abandoned the effort as the thought finally penetrated that I didn’t have clear strategy for transporting, imprisoning or caring for a full grown man once I extracted the valuable mail. Furthermore, if I let him go, I had reasonable expectation that he knew where I lived as he managed to find the place every day, and might tell someone who could get me in trouble. I needed less dangerous prey.

            I found my less dangerous prey, at least I thought, in Pete the Dog, a free range mutt owned by the Indian family down the block. I had a personal grudge against Pete mainly due to my strong aversion to all things fecal. Pete had a particular delight in pooping on our lawn which I preferred to utilize for wrestling and such. On one occasion I found Pete in the act of elimination and forcibly attempted to eject him from the property, for which he nipped me in the leg. Oh, it was on! Bad enough the mongrel befouled my playing field but to incur assault against my person as well? How dare he!

            My first attempt to imprison Pete for his misdeeds did not fare well. I did manage to lure him into my parent’s garage and then close it. It was noticed by my mother that I was taunting something mercilessly though the window of the door for several hours. I was given the order to spring the beast well before his sentence was up; a travesty of the local justice system I am certain prevails even to this day. Grudgingly, I opened the door and Pete, showing gratitude in his typical manner bit me in the leg once again while departing; a little “fuck you, brat” to fuel my wrath even further. Now it was really on and that dog was getting served. Not in the Korean restaurant kind of served, but the bad movie about competitive break dancing served.

            I finally decided that the only way to effectively take Pete out of the equation and have it remain secret was to go with the classic pit. The dog would be lured over it, fall though the carefully laid branches, and remain my prisoner until such time as it learned its lesson and was able to communicate that clearly to me. The ideal spot, not visible from the house or the garage, was the patch of earth between the pool and the house. There with my fathers spade I took to digging a magnificent pit undetected by the authoritarian regime. Initially, in any case. I was down a good 3 feet right next to the foundation when we experienced a summer rainy day. My father became very agitated when water began pouring through the foundation on the south side of the house and immediately set about looking for a cause. Apparently my pit was it and I found myself filling it in the following morning without ever tasting the victory of staring down at a captive dog. In the end, I never managed to capture Pete and instead waited patiently for the family to move away, which they did.

            There was absolutely no way that I was going to make it into the double digit ages without capturing some difficult beastie, so I turned my horrid attention to birds. Were I able to capture one of these kings of the sky, it might be possible that could extract from it the secret of flight, or at least some advice on why my cardboard wings would not even allow for simple gliding. I began with the old fashioned box/ stick/ string combo, which necessitated man-in-the-loop configuration piloted by myself and sometimes my cousin Ann as co-pilot. The crafty birds, however, demonstrated some reluctance to enter a precarious enclosed space, even with the promise of delicious crumbs, with my leering face nearby. I needed a better mousetrap.

            I acquired my first cage at a garage sale, an excellent outlet for cash strapped young roustabouts with above average cage requirements. It was a gerbil cage with a trap door style entrance. Understanding that I was part of the problem, I was able to fashion a hair trigger mechanism that should bring the door down as the bird entered and brushed against it. It seemed foolproof but never seemed to work even though I set it each morning before school and checked first thing after I got home. Dejected, I abandoned the effort eventually.

            In later years I came to find out that it was actually a spectacular success! The first morning I set it my mother looked out the window to see the neighbors big black Tom cat curled atop the cage hungrily as two sparrows hopped around inside. My sister was home to bear witness and was quickly sworn to secrecy as she shooed the cat away, let the birds loose and subsequently sabotaged my trap each morning until I grew tired of the game. Had I been so encouraged by an early success, today I could have been world famous as Wolf the Bounty Hunter instead of sitting here writing this yarn when I should be calculating performance metrics or setting up a meeting about things that probably don’t need to be discussed.

            My need to capture things branched off in two directions; each one irritating to my family and friends for different reasons. The first was directly related to the previous attempts, but now refocused on all manner of creepy crawly creatures. Having no natural fear of things normally found repulsive by humans, I became the premier collector of bugs, snakes, toads and whatnot in the greater Kenmore area. Kenmore, not generally known for it’s ecological diversity, especially back in the ‘70’s when they still doused the entire village in poison each summer, still managed to yield up a fine panoply of things calculated to give the sane members of society the heebie-jeebies.

            I’m not sure how my mother and sister, both deathly afraid of spiders and similar ilk managed to cohabitate the garage and yard where I kept my menagerie of giant spiders, beetles, crickets and such in easily escapable containers, but I imagine it was through forced deniability, a strong trait in my family wherein even the most heinous or upsetting of issues could be easily ignored as if it never existed at all. While the insects were a hoot, I much preferred reptiles and amphibians, probably for the pure size value. While bugs just sat there looking scary, toads did cool things like urinate a good half cup of liquid when scared. Nothing short of poop on a stick incites revulsion in the neighborhood girls than galloping toward them, toad in hand, with a bright stream of yellow frog piss streaming down your arm.

            My experimentation with cage traps managed to incite a curiosity within me that let to the expeditious purchase of a large rabbit cage at a near by garage sale for but a mere quarter. The return on the investment was astounding as the cage and I became near inseparable companions for years on end, in the summertime at least. Unlike the other children my age who took up Little League or other healthy activities, I preferred to spend my time, ideally with a snack of some kind, sitting in my cage in the backyard reading a book. To add to the effect I put a sturdy looking padlock on the front door to give the illusion that I was trapped against my will. In reality, I entered and exited through the top, but to the casual observer I was firmly incarcerated.

            To my parent’s consternation I would occasionally, for the purpose of a better view, drag the cage on to the front porch and commence my reading activities there. I suppose all were lucky that it was the early 80’s when apparently publically displaying caged youths was still considered to be socially acceptable and perhaps even admirable, as the same today would probably incite an angry visit from CPS. I recall one occasion when my mother’s friend, Mrs C and her daughter Melissa who was in my class at St Paul’s, pulled up in the driveway while I was perched in the front. I bid them welcome and received quite some looks as they passed by. A few moments later my mother flung open the front door and demanded I move my display to the rear, preferably behind the pool, it was absolutely necessary at all.

            While my big game hunter tendencies did lead to my days of pseudo incarceration, it also led me to the joys of digging. I remember thinking as I excavated the ill fated pit intended for Pete the Dog the excitement of overturning every shovelful of dirt. Absolutely anything could be under there. Anything! Of course I found nothing whatsoever but a lot more dirt and a fine collection of red Kenmore clay that is frankly a bitch to get through. I resolved at that time that it should be my mission that no one else ever face such disappointment as to dig a hole and not find some sort of treasure.

            I began with animals. Not buried alive as you might be concluding in horror; while I was a bizarre and eccentric lad cruelty was not in my bag of tricks. No, I specialized in elaborate funerals for the various creatures that managed to come into my collection and shortly thereafter perished for some reason or another. The best example I can think of was the fish tomb.

            A long time family friend, Cleo, finally passed, found floating belly up, corpse rescued before the cat could get to it. I took the remains into the basement and began my preparation. I soaked the body for a week in a solution of copper sulfate as a preservative and then wrapped it in fine strips of glue soaked linen. The mummy was laid into a sarcophagus I had carved from Styrofoam and then decorated. This was placed into a wooden box along with several vessels fashioned from modeling clay and filled with such offerings as olive oil and spices from my mother’s panty. She did, by the way, wonder why she was suddenly so low on everything. I included other grave goods such as coins and other knick knacks. I finally sealed the tomb well with a thinly applied strip of hot glue. The final product was interred behind the pool, deep in the earth, where I imagine it still sits, even though the pool is now gone, replaced by a garden and a raspberry bush above the tomb of the unknown pices.

            When animals were not available or did not die quickly enough, I took to installing all manner of miniature time capsules filled with all sorts of crap I could get my hands on. Empty jars served as good vehicles, though one of my best efforts was a long personal history on a scroll, inserted into a cleaned out glass Pepsi bottle, sealed, and lowered into a wall in the house from the attic. This, by the way, was later found by some contractors redoing the kitchen and passed over to my parents. Most upsetting! I have it in my collection of crap to this day and I await the opportunity to reinstall it somewhere appropriate. In my estimation, no less than 50 of these exist on my parent’s property, some of which though were discovered through various gardening intrusions.

            I would like to take a moment to disclose that time capsule obsession has not abated. They say that when no longer a child, one should put away childish things, and I’m down with that, but with the qualifier that those things I chose to continue were actually adult things I was precocious enough to be engaging in and thereby have cause to proceed. Two summers ago I managed to achieve my first adult time capsule in the backyard. I put together a collection of crap I feel the future will be interested in. Each item I vacu-sealed and placed into one of two very large pieces of Tupperware – one for dry goods and the other for consumables such as wine, beer, various canned goods, and of course some pork brains in milk gravy. The dry goods capsule contains all sorts of items such as comics, coins, a printed copy of all the Comstock stories to that date, and even a little porn in case the future waxes puritanical.

            The Tupperware was sealed with epoxy, and then silicone was applied around the edges. Each was put into a large Ziploc storage bag twice over. The packages were then put into a large cardboard box lined with Styrofoam and the entire box was covered with duct tape. The pit was over 6 feet deep (the excavation of which a spectacle for the neighbors). I mixed concrete in my wheelbarrow and created a floor, then lowered the capsule into the still wet mix. I drove rebar around the sides creating a cage around it, and then poured in concrete until it was covered. I drove additional rebar in at odd angles with the idea of making it a bitch to try to dig up. From there I added a layer of rubble, dirt, more rubble, dirt, another layer of concrete, dirt, bricks, and final layer of dirt and sod. I expect it will not be uncovered for many years, if ever, as the obstacles are too much for some backyard asshole with a shovel and too much time.

            Most of the activities I described were summer related, but rest assured I kept busy in the winter months as well. I learned of the concept of alchemy at a young edge and decided I found my calling. My grandmother, perhaps enticed by the prospect of cheap gold, supported my interest with the gifting of brand new chemistry sets each Christmas to my parents dread. Although these sets came with detailed instructions on experiments, none of them explained how to create new elements, so I disregarded the book all together and focused my energies on pure instinct. As the set only came with about 20 different substances, I was forced to make use of household good such as lye, muriatic acid, various cleansers and even some mercury my father brought home from work.

            Despite mixing every substance I could get my hands on, plus applying heat, open flame, and even electricity, I never managed to create anything new. What I did manage was to give myself chemical burns, inhaled acid fumes, set my workbench on fire, and probably absorbed enough mercury to really explain everything since. I managed to bust myself on the forbidden mercury usage. I pulled the old copper penny from the solution designed to turn it to a new metal and found that it had worked! Where Mr Lincoln had sported tired old copper cladding, he now gleamed the brightest silver back at me. I whooped with joy and envisioned the fame and fortune about to come my way. I showed my father, who was initially astounded at my accomplishment until examining it very closely and finding that the silver was in fact a very thin coating of mercury that had bonded to the copper when I ran a charge through the mix. I was crushed.

            In any event, the chemistry set was a far better outlet for my experimental tendencies than other household items had been. Before I had a Bunsen burner I experimented with the melting of various plastics and bits of rubber by dropping them on my light bulb. This created a terrific stench that lingered in the vicinity of my room, and sometimes the entire second floor, for several years. This came only second, however, to the smell experienced when my pet clam died. I asked my father how long a clam would live when I absconded with one from the block party. He answered 2 days in the fridge, so after the 2 day period was up, I moved Whiskers to my toy box to continue his days. Within a week Whiskers was pungent enough to elicit a ‘where is that horrid stench coming from’ manhunt concluding with a green, frothing dead clam being removed by my father, ready to toss his cookies.

            I can probably go on and on, but question whether the bizarre fantasy world I inhabited is of any real interest to the reader as I doubt much of it would make any sense whatsoever. Suffice it to say, I inhabited a ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ mental existence, though I will brag with no small amount of exaggeration that my adventures exceeded his in scope, complexity, and outrageousness by several orders of magnitude. For the most part I preferred my own company, eschewed anything that even hinted at organization or teamwork, and often avoided my core group of friends who frankly were just as weird as I was. Still am and still are.

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2 Responses

  1. You should know better than to mess with a Pete, be they canine or Canadian brother miscreants.

    Frog pee running down your arm. Didn’t you try that with one of your dating services ladies once?

    It is a real shame that all your creativity and exuberance was numbed to death by intoxicants, only to occasionally rear it’s head. Such is the folly of college.

    Ahh, the good old pork brains. I have not seen the container of these you gifted me some years ago. I will forever the nutrition label that reflected how this small can provided move 1000% of the RDA of cholesterol.

    Without pictures to corroborate your recent time capsule store I will not believe it. Not only because I will irritate you, but because having known you long enough I know there is an equal chance you concocted this elaborate plan as if is you actually executed it.

    Why did your father bring home Mercury? I know he enjoys cooking, so putting two and two together this explains a lot.

    Whiskers the Clam. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

  2. I was this Pete’s Endless Mike!

    I did try chasing Paula away with frog pee, but it only seemed to excite her all the more.

    If you can’t find the pork brains I gave you I can only conclude that you ate them. I will send you more at my earliest convenience.

    It is better that my timecapsule remains a suspected urban legend as I do not want it dug up in my lifetime.

    My father, like me, doesn’t hesistate to bring home anything cool that may be of some use some day. He made the mistake of showing it to me in the little plastic bottle, exclaiming how neat is was, then telling me not to play with it. Naturally I did so immediatly!

    My father does not enjoy cooking, and even if he did, how does that relate to the mercury? Typical Thies sense!

    If you like, I can mail you the near fresh remains of Whiskers the XXLVIIth, though it would be by ground in plain brown wrapping.

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