Knaus and I

            Since drafting ‘Thies and I’, it became apparent to me that some of the characters found herein and such probably require similar tales to be told. Chances are that in the collected edition, the T&I story will follow this one and thus what I am writing about probably makes no sense at all, unless you are a clever enough monkey to skip about or perused the formidable table of contents. If not, I’m certain you are already confused and having made your way this far, you might as well continue, as my words, I am certain delight to you even more than fresh cherry cobbler.

            Though it is probably of little interest to the reader, I met Knaus the same way I met Psycho, at one of the Wargames meetings. He had somehow, and without my knowledge or consent, been brought in by Louis to help ‘run the day to day operations’; something I was perfectly capable of pretending to do. Although threatened by the intrusion, I discovered early on that he was mentally in the same magnitude of bizarre that I was; something that I found strangely comforting. We also found ourselves taking the same art class in sophomore year, which is where he picked up the long discarded moniker, Mouse. As each of us took to the comic book style of art, I introduced him to Collector’s Inn, pleasing Jim to no end, as Knaus always seemed to have a wallet full of cabbage every time he walked in.

            That year I also managed to create another connection by bringing Dave to the art show where Knaus and I were showing off our wares. Within 5 minutes of meeting each other the two were wrestling like dogs in heat in the parking lot. A beautiful bromance was born, and one frankly, that I sometimes became the third wheel in. This was my first and only successful attempt at integrating groups of friends from previous periods in my life with newcomers, probably because it is usually something I try to avoid.

            The first time I stayed over at the Knauses over night, I knew I had met my match in oddness. The kitchen table was covered with newspapers, atop which were a collection of batteries in various stages of disassembly. Knaus revealed that he was performing detailed dissections on them, and although I had abandoned my childhood attempts at alchemy, I resolved to put my chemist hat back on and see what forbidden substances I could take apart at home, resulting in many burns. Knaus also revealed that day his own particular brand of logic when making scrambled eggs. I witnessed him dumping in quantities of vanilla extract into the mix, and when I pressed him on why, he stated that vanilla made things taste better, end of story. It was a principle that could simply not be argued with, though I will say they were pretty sucky eggs.

            That first sleepover was also memorable as it revealed Knaus to be as daring an intrepid explorer as I was, perhaps even more so. We decided to walk over to the old Thruway Mall from his house, taking a back channel along some old abandoned rail road tracks, something Dave and I used to do ourselves. After screwing around there for a while, we headed back utilizing a “shortcut” Knaus claimed to have intimate knowledge of. Somehow we became lost in this area, readily observable by entering these coordinates (42.904482,-78.786821) into Google Maps. This delightful looking “park” area is in truth nothing of the kind; the area is actually an industrial dumping ground amidst a swamp treacherous with piles of corroding hulks of strange machinery and murky channels of slightly frozen over sludge and water filled ditches. Did I mention it was February?

            Knaus led us deep into this wasteland with was what I feel were deliberate intentions to cause me the maximum amount of discomfort possible. We scurried around the piles, snagging our jackets and flesh on the razor sharp edges of rusty metal and frequently plunged one or both legs into one of the horrendous bogs. A mixture of snow and drizzle started to come down, further obscuring our limited view and sense of direction. For several hours we wandered, forced back to the center by the presence of trains or some insurmountable obstacle. Eventually we found our way to one of the side streets and took the by ways back, ending up in Town Park on Harlem. There we were accosted by an angry gentleman we affectionately referred to as ‘Dickhead’ afterward. With our muddy disheveled appearances he mistook us for a pair of sophisticated second story men who had been doing some breaking and entering in the local area weeks prior. We managed to convince him otherwise, but he banished us from the premises anyway.

            Despite the horrendous trip through the bog of doom, I let him convince me to accompany him through the tunnel that runs beneath the Galleria mall shortly after it was built. We began the journey in the mall proper and had Jeff along in tow. We got some cheap flash lights at the Dollar Tree, the kind that you have to hold down the button to keep lit, and ventured to the start of the tunnel, resembling old timey Roman catacombs. Jeff freaked within the first few feet and pledged to meet us, if we emerged alive, around the other side. Creepy does not begin to describe it. Pitch black, sterile, with a slow creek running through. At some points you could look up through a grate and see the happy shoppers walking above in a very different world. Near the end we found a side tunnel and began to venture down. An indescribably horrific noise, however, led us to believe a cult of Satanists was looking for fresh sacrifices, so we bolted out of there post haste.

            We managed to maintain a tight friendship through high school even to the point where I hooked him up with my cousin Ann for the senior prom. He was actually supposed to return the favor hooking me up with his cousin Lin, but fate intervened and I ended up going with Ende’s girlfriend’s friend instead. Before high school ended and after we both got accepted to UB, we made arrangements to become dorm mates the following fall; a service UB was willing to provide as roommates with prior friendships were less likely to cause administrative headaches by requesting room changes mid-semester. We were assigned to Schoellkopf hall on the South Campus on the fourth floor reserved exclusively for freshmen men. Not an ideal choice by any means, but it was a start.

            Our living arrangement was an interesting one, defined by the contract we drew up on the first day that allowed for privacy with female visitors (never required) and the settling of disputes on the field of honor. The field of course turned out to be whatever manner Knaus chose to enact his insidious revenge. In order to shield myself from him better, I constructed an enormous wall from the top of my desk, almost to the ceiling that I referred to as my ‘fire hazard’ as it consisted of mostly paper. Knaus respected the wall to a minor degree, though would often tear pages out of the phone book to turn into paper airplanes and launch them over in miniature raids. Fortunately for me, he had not yet stumbled on the notion of lighting them afire just yet.

            At least once a week we would trundle down to Shirley’s O’Aces, with or without the Irish Club, and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning. It was a grand tradition that later moved to Anacone’s but always followed the same pattern of cheap beer, some sort of bar food, and a traditional playing of William Joel’s classic, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ on the juke. On the walks back we would wax into bizarre conversations, such as what we would do if we stumbled upon a patch of decapitated heads on stakes. Knaus, I recall, immediately concluded that he would take as many of them home as he could carry. Hmm… it occurs to me that this post, as well as some of the others, will probably be deposed as evidence against the defence argument that he is sweet and silent as a lamby-pie.

            As a gift that year, Knaus procured for me a small collection of mice, one male and two females. By April the collection had grown to 42 mice and stunk up the room with great aplomb and all too frequent defecation. One weekend, when we least expected it; they made a bid for freedom. I came back to the room Sunday night and immediately noticed something different. The large tank I kept them in now sported a hole where there had been none before and no mice where there had been 42 before. Looking over at my desk I bore witness to the one named ‘Stripe’ after the Gremlin’s character dive into the moldering water in my hot pot, swim across, and jump out the other side slick with putrid grease. Furious, I called Knaus’s house to get him to come help round them up, but no one picked up. By the time he returned that evening at 11, I was sweaty, disheveled and had managed to recapture 3 of the slowest; the rest defeating my best efforts with ridiculous ease.

            Knaus did manage to help me capture the rest in a comedic run about, John Hughes style, with head clonking, crashing falls, frequent collisions, and all manner of events that would indicate the mice were far cleverer than we. At the end it was Knaus and I against Stripe, the lone hold out, and we were hopelessly outgunned and maneuvered. At some point the little bastard made it into the hall and we happily bid good riddance, but he made a surprise return a millisecond before we shut the door. Finally, improbably, Knaus got the mouse and a day later the lot was taken to a pet store with the most likely final destination in a large reptile of some sort.

            Knaus at this point, and for years on forward, became the prime initiator of trips down to Alleghany to get lost, camp, or make every attempt to get injured in course of photographing wildlife and wee pretty flowers. Most of these trips simply involved a lot of hiking, though there were several traditions that had to be met each trip. One was a visit to Thunder Rocks where we would climb around and scale the impressive boulders. Second was the trip to the legendary beaver damn, the jumping off point where we all got lost that epic journey recounted in ‘How I Became a Horseman’. If this chapter precedes that, well, tough luck. Finally, no trip was complete without a stogie enjoyed usually on the trail leading down from Thunder Rocks to the stream that led to the dam. Due to our impoverished condition, these were usually Dutch Masters, but on one occasion toward the end, we enjoyed authentic Cubans.

            Despite the abuse suffered at his malicious hands, and in spite of the fact that he took to calling himself Malfeus for some reason, we decided to room together the following year rather than take chances on a devil unknown. Common adventures shared between all the roommates in that situation are recounted far too often elsewhere, so I will concentrate on a few items unique to point of this post. While it didn’t trouble us in the past, at least not me anyway, a point of contention came up regarding both my habit of snoring loudly and engaging in distracting sleep talking that made little to no sense. These things enraged Knaus and from time to time I would awaken to see him standing over me gritting his teeth in fury. At site to keep you awake at night assuredly.

On several occasions I did some sleep walking as well, always to his inconvenience. One happy night he was treated to being awakened by me piling the contents of his desk on his sleeping head as “they were about to start air brushing”. Another night I somehow found myself in the hall way, locked out, necessitating a furious pounding on the door until he unhappily let me in. His remedy was to play the same Nine Inch Nails CD on auto repeat each and every night; a condition that kept me from ever really falling asleep soundly and led to many missed classes after sleeping through them on the 5th floor of Lockwood.

Knaus also had an excellent habit of distracting me from schoolwork; something I heartily embraced. He’d look over at me from his desk, exclaim, “I have waaaay too much work to do”, then pull out the latest issue of ‘The Mask’ and commence to reading. This always resulting in me aping his behavior as Matter Eater Lad was far more engaging than BF Skinner. He also had a way of dragging me out to Anacone’s and such on nights before an early morning class. Always with the one-upmanship, if I had an important lecture, he would claim a critical final. He probably did as it was shortly after this that it was strongly suggested he change majors from aerospace engineering to something more his speed like basket weaving or photography.

Knowledge of fine and classical music was an area in which Knaus felt I was severely lacking and attempted to educate me in. Prior to knowing him, I was completely unaware of the iconic 90’s superstar band Transvision Vamp and how they rocked the air waves with such classics as Trash City. We had the opportunity to see them in concert once and to this day I contend that lead singer Wendy James was looking me dead on with the hairy eyeball, such was my magnetic presence in the crowd. I also learned of other enduring legends such as Savatage, Shriekback, and was treated often to the cat like wailings of a post-Blondie Debbie Harry. I’m sure it was musical ignorance that I often sought out knitting needles to end the agony.

When we finally all moved to Comstock, Knaus took on a more reclusive role especially once Aaron and I began our reindeer games and intimidation campaign. Still, on occasion, he would emerge from his oft locked sanctuary and announce he was on a quest for alcohol and trundle down to Anacone’s with or without anyone else in tow. Despite his apparent either shyness or unwillingness to speak in general, with a few beers in him a charismatic demagogue emerged who drew in the enfeebled masses. Often in such circumstances we would find him amidst a crowd of drooling hangers on, gulping up his every ill spoken word. If anyone thought to supply him with endless brandy the world could easily have another JFK or David Koresh, such was his inebriated cult of personality. 

In those heady days of yore he introduced us to one of my favorite summer festivals of all, Allentown. His enthusiasm for going downtown on the subway, slurping raw clams and beer, and looking at all the art we couldn’t afford was infectious! Since those days each trip back is a search to recapture the raw joy of Buffalo’s first summer festival of the season. We used to badger Knaus about entering his own photography as the camera apes down there were pulling down serious green for the same tired old shots of the Central Terminal and shit, but he was unwilling to lay down the cabbage to rent some space despite being able to command four digits a pop for abstract snaps of me eating dog food or Litter Box Jam. Even now I hope to run into him down there, but so far he has declined to compete.

As time progressed he emerged less and less unless it was to bang away on the worlds oldest word processor or not clean the cat box which had become an impressive tower of feces. Once, however, he emerged in a manner most unusual. I came home and was surprised to hear a small commotion and a female voice coming from behind Knaus’s door. As ¾ of the house, a demographic to which both Knaus and I belonged, were not currently being seen with female companionship, this stuck me odd. A bold enquiry led me to believe that Aaron and my cousin had ensconced themselves in there, apparently without Knaus’s knowledge or permission. I began to sweat at what he would do to them, or so I still contend, and when he came strolling through the side door like a thundercloud of death I gently broke the news to him in order to bear the brunt of his immediate wrath.

To my surprise he remained nonchalant about his sanctum sanctorum being so rudely violated. I could only imagine that he was saving his volcanic outburst for the soon to be damned. I threw myself in his path, but he simply stepped over me, the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his lips blinding me from making further pursuit. I managed to come up behind him just as he opened the door and prepared to bludgeon him before he could blast them with his eyes with a bolt of eldritch energy, but while I looked around for an appropriate tool, it became clear that the three of them were really in cahoots. The story, as I was led to believe, was that Knaus egged on by Aaron and Ann in their little exclusionary ka-tet, used a bed sheet tied to his handcuff ring above the bed to shimmy down the side of the house if for no other reason than to annoy me.

When the Comstock project wrapped up and Knaus moved back to his folks, much to their soul crushing dismay I’m certain, we worried he would become a fixture in our past; more of a relic than the hideous goat lamp we absconded with. In the final months we saw very little of him as he spent his time elsewhere and discouraged questions as only Knaus could. At times he would bring Malice, his familiar, along with him as they embarked on dark and mysterious deeds. Instead we were delighted to find that he now actually chose to spend more time in our vicinity, often making the long haul over to Princeton and joining us for our very frequent beer and movie nights. The newest recruits to the Whole Sick Crew, like Jenn with the tongue, Mary, Rob, Chet, and even Dave’s new interest Jennifer took a shine to him. It was the silver age of Knaus and we thought it would last forever.

When things at Princeton degenerated in the last year or so, Knaus, perhaps feeling the Discordia when mom and pops were on the outs (I’m pops by the way), kept his distance. Meetings with him became consigned to long evenings of coffee with myself, Dave and Jen or old school excursions to the forest where to my dismay, increasingly longer periods of time were being devoted to setting up complex equipment to photograph wild posies. When I broke the silence about my intended enlistment to him and Dave, I received open support, though some degree of skepticism as to my true intentions. Anyone who knows me well has difficulty pinning me as a ‘Yessir!’ style military man, except perhaps in the tradition of ‘Stripes’.

While in Basic training Knaus became my most frequent writer, a condition I was intensely grateful for. Basic was a dreary place in which I received frequent verbal comeuppances and days would pass without hint of a smile. Knaus, however, managed to coax out of me the very first laugh out loud with his long and convoluted tales of his wanderings with Dave in the land of UB looking to fulfill the Celestine prophecy. I attempted to share with the other folks, who could all use a giggle as well, but apparently I was the only one cracked enough to appreciate the mad ramblings of shellac headed penman.

Despite the distancing he displayed prior to my departure, he certainly made himself available on a near constant basis when I managed to make it home on leave. Although he had a full time job, not to mention achieving high year tenure at Work-n-Gear, he still managed to drag himself out each and every night until the wee hours. Not only that, but since I didn’t have a car at my disposal, he even drove. Fun nights of pool and beer were spent at old Anacone’s, Bullfeathers, old favorite Caputi’s, and of course our new favorite down on Franklin, the Sanctuary (or Spankuary as it was sometimes known) with its midget bar tender and gothic crowd who moved in from the now defunct Icon.

When I returned for good, Knaus came by to help move me in, although he conveniently showed up just as the very last box was removed from the truck, but had a bottle of SoCo in hand and was forgiven. I don’t recall much after that due to the illness, except that the annual Christmas exchange with Dave resumed and that a screening of our old classic ‘Eric the Viking’ was made to break in my new digs. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital, bored from my near death experience only to have it relieved by a considerate Knaus shipping me a hefty load of books overnight.

In the year or two after my return, Knaus was around for a time, but gradually began to slip away into the night. He was a force to be counted on when Tiffany came to visit, once again eschewing work (since I couldn’t, new in my crap ass job at GP:50) in order to entertain her during the days. He was around often in those days and I think made one last epic trip to Allentown with us. He was also instrumental in decorating my pad with his home grown bonsai trees, necessitating me to line up someone to water them every time I went out of town.

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Man Down!

Bred deep in the bone of many families are great and wondrous characteristics that follow the lineage from times of old right up to the very present. In some it is a great tradition of warcraft. Other families are full of mighty hunters from times of yore. Others still have incredible mathematical understanding, able to calculate tips in their heads without even looking at the tax. My ancestors, a breed apart, were very obviously the ones accidentally knocking over the king’s horse, getting shot in the ass with arrows meant for the stag, and spilling coffee on the check so no one could figure out what they owed when the bill was passed around, much less what to leave for a tip. Yes, bound in the flesh of my family was the triple threat of fearlessness, multiple left feet, and an unlikely tendency to survive anyway in full contradiction of Darwinian scripture.

While I am murky regarding the exploits of my forefathers, given that I seem to be the first whoever thought of actually writing anything down, I know my own father had his collection of unlikely accidents. Most of his were given over to my sisters and I in the form of tales meant to amuse, and amused we were hearing of hammers falling off garages on to his head and whatnot. The most relevant for this telling, however, is the tale of the Siamese cat.

It seems that my grandmother was a great keeper of cats, and liked them how she liked her bail bondsmen, mean. On one occasion my father was walking one of the Siamese cats they had. That is correct, walking, as on a leash in the backyard. To this day I am still unsure why, but hearing of the consequences I have no real desire to ever try. In any event, as the animal nosed about doing whatever cats on leashes tend to do, a dog of unknown origin that shall never be mentioned again, darted into the yard with a cacophony of resounding barking. The cat immediately darted for the weeping willow tree in the yard, found itself strangled by my father’s leash as it hadn’t occurred to him to let go (nor would it me either), and pursued another avenue of attaining height by running straight up my father. The freaked out beast hung for dear life by his arm as he attempted to shake it off. The cat scrambled to keep hold, succeeded, and shredded the arm in the process. I believe my father had to finally whack it against the tree trunk rendering it senseless before he could go seek hundreds of stitches.

My own flirtation with danger began right on my second birthday, and strangely, I remember it happening despite the young age. I was running through my parent’s living room and managed to trip over something or another and crashed, eye first, right into the edge of my parents coffee table. I bleeding all over and being rushed to the emergency room was probably a bit of a downer for the rest of the party goers, whom I believe simply consisted of my grandfather, Paga, and my parents. This was a day of two epic firsts. The primary being my first trip to the ER with stitches, and the second, very close in importance, the start of my life long war with coffee tables. I would like to note that this was the very same coffee table Knaus body slammed me into at Princeton, breaking the leg.

My early childhood years were spent falling down a lot. Back in those golden oldie days when the TV had 4 channels, VCRs were the toys of wealthy dilettantes, and the idea of a personal computer seemed as far away as flying cars, we spent a lot of time outside, running around, collecting critters and playing with that white dog poop you never see anymore and Sarah Silverman wrote a song about. Running around was something I had a very mixed degree of success with. On one hand, I was really fast and would barrel down the sidewalk at full tilt for no apparent reason or pretending to be the Flash or something. On the other, I had no regard at all for the fact that the village had not redone the sidewalks on our tree infest street since the 50’s, and no one square was vertically flush with another. It was over these that I tripped, usually nine or ten times a day.

While such falls would probably maim an old bastard such as me now, at the time it simply meant bloodied hands and knees. It wasn’t the fall that got you, it was what came after. Usually the abrasive concrete would strip away any bandage and scabbing that had accumulated and leave a fresh open wound for which there was only one treatment. My parents alternated between the red staining iodine that had a deep and penetrating burn and the spray on Solarcane, which gave a sharp and wild stinging. The application of either was invariably worse than the fall and I eventually learned to staunch the blood flow myself with whatever was on hand, such as old Kleenex, leaves, or even dirt until it scabbed over. While dirt and snotty rags probably have the opposite effect than disinfectant, I never did have anything happen and to this day have never had a cut or wound and failed to heal up just fine with nary a bit of trouble.

While I generally like to go in some sort of chronological order with these tellings, I’m going to break convention and skip around for the purpose of saving the best story for last, thus forcing you to read every damn word in this tale, unless of course you have the crafty inclination to simply skip ahead, you cheating bastard you. So, if you want to hear the incredible story of the caterpillar fur, you best mind your p’s and q’s and plow on forward through the tedious tales of my scrapings as I have no doubt you are clever enough or possess the opposable thumbs required to move a page or two ahead before its time has come round at last.

In a nutshell, I had many stitches in my time and my father and I became well known local characters in the old Kenmore Mercy ER. One visit there was actually quite ironic. Jeff and I were mucking about Mang Park and managed to run afoul of some assholes who thought we disassembled the bike ramp they constructed out of sand. We did not, but they were in no mood to listen to our clumsy excuses. We were outnumbered and well outsized and decided to make a break for it. As I cut across the basketball court I managed to trip over something and went flying, landing in a skidding belly flop next to a pick up game. The irony is that the damage I did to both knees, hands, and face far exceeded anything I could have expected from the bullies who honestly probably would have just pushed us around a bit, if that.

On another occasion, at the same park, I had a very close call. Ronnie and I, for reasons unknown, were climbing the high fences surrounding the tennis courts. Going over the top I managed to hook my jeans on the spike and the surprise of it resulted in me dangling by one leg a good 25 feet above the hardened asphalt. I was in a full panic as my jeans began to rip and somehow managed to find purchase with my hands before I fell. We exited the perimeter through the door. Ronnie was always good for finding something dangerous to do, like climbing over the railing on the giant slide, dangling by fingertips from the seat while attempting to gain the pole and slide down it. It seemed every year some kid broke his leg on that slide doing something foolish like that, and I have no reason as to why it wasn’t me. Eventually they tore it down and replaced it with something safe and boring.

Once I got a bit older, the majority of my injuries came not so much from falls on foot, but from falls from my bike. It is not that I was really all that clumsy, but that my friends and I insisted on playing such fantastic games as bike tag. The game was played much like ordinary freeze tag was played, except on bikes and over a much larger playing field; the streets of Kenmore. Damage was equally likely to be inflicted on the chased as well as whoever was “it”. The main problem was that for ‘it’ to actually make a tag, it was almost always necessary to come crashing into the person being chased, either head on, or preferably from an angle. Knocking the other person down was a well desired goal, as was running over their leg or hand as they lay vulnerable on the pavement. On one occasion when I was it, I managed to tag Jeff without knocking him over, but he repaid my kindness by applying the brakes while I was grabbing his arm. This resulted in my flying head over the handlebars and skidding across the asphalt. Many stitches were required.

One of the more memorable injuries I suffered was to my foot, appropriately right after track practice at Crosby Field, and completely unrelated to the purpose of being there. Track almost always ended early forcing a group a young men and women to entertain themselves whilst awaiting pickup from the parental units. While it is invariably a bad idea to leave 11 and 12 year olds alone, unsupervised, in a park fraught with danger, they did so anyway despite the very real risks. Just a few weeks prior to my mishap some hairbag headbanger wandered into our little group awaiting Coach Dean and tried picking a fight with the largest of us. I remember this well as the delightful, strung out fellow asked Pete if he knew what it felt like to have his ear bitten off, and then leaned in to give a little nibble. The rest of us of course did nothing; we didn’t like Pete that much, but he apparently changed his mind when confronted with Pete’s unwashed lobe and wandered off to sit on the bleachers until Mr Dean shooed him away.

On the day in question relating to my story (because isn’t it all about that anyway?) we passed the minutes by climbing to the top of the free standing bleachers and jumping off the back. The purpose of this eludes me, but we did it nevertheless. On one such jump I managed to land square on a broken beer bottle and recall with a great lack of fondness the feeling of the shard pushing it’s way up through my sneaker, the bottom of my foot, and out through the top. While most physicians would advise leaving it in place until a trained professional could remove it, I ignored conventional wisdom and yanked the filthy thing out myself. My sneaker immediately filled up with blood and I sat on the ground feeling numb. One of the parents lived right down the street and was informed of the accident and kindly came down and helped me to their kitchen and wrapped my sopping foot in a dishtowel that I assume they threw away after.

When my father came to pick me up the other kids informed him of my location and we made yet another tedious trip to the ER where they greeted us by name and remarked how it had been several long weeks since seeing us last. There is an old saying that the cure is often worse than the injury and this was proved true that evening. The wound on the bottom of my foot had swelled to the size of a large egg and it was into this swelling that the folks doing triage stuck first a large needle full of tetanus vaccine followed by a larger needle full of Novocain. It would have been far kinder, I feel, had they reversed the order of things, but nurses, the cruel sadists of the medical community, were present and probably enjoyed forcibly holding me down as I thrashed and screamed. The Novocain had not yet taken effect, if that is what they even injected, when they began stitching me up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Again I had to be restrained by several stout men, but managed to get a solid kick into the face of the doc with the string, which he did not at all seem to appreciate. Needless to say, they ended my involvement with the sport that season.

Although I did promise to leave the tale of the caterpillar fur until last, it is my fond desire to screw those impatient bastards who skipped ahead and make them go back to see what they missed. Nothing worth reading, assuredly, but my demand for attention is only exceeded by the glory of my hairline. As I made mention in another tale, which may or may not be posted prior to this one, and probably actually follows this in the limited collectors edition of my combined writings, I had a habit of collecting all manner of creepy crawlies much to my mother’s consternation. On this particular summer’s day, my cousin’s birthday for that matter, I was out collecting as many of those yellow furry caterpillars as I could find and storing them in a dedicated penal colony in my yard until they make the transformation to more desirable moths or butterflies. Late that morning, the effort took a turn for the worse.

I found one perched half way up a neighbor’s tree and I set to trying to knock it down with a long twig. As I was doing so, tufts of the yellow fur came wafting down. One such tuft landed on my right eyelid. I blinked and it came right into my eye, burning like the seven fires of deepest hell as they pierced my cornea and lodged there firmly. I let out a mighty yelp of agony and came running home as fast as my legs would take me, all the while the horrendous burning becoming louder as I ground the substance into my ocular cavity with my stubby little fist.

Due to the extreme amount of discomfort I was communicating, my parents attempted to address the matter quickly. They first had me jump into the pool and swim underwater back and forth in attempt to flush the fur out. A noble undertaking, though make without the understanding that the fur of this breed actually consisted of tiny harpoons that once found purchase were a bitch to remove. The water did nothing but actually irritate it more due to the presence of the chlorine, which increased the burning sensation dramatically. Next my father came up with the notion to have my lay very still while he picked the hairs out with his metal tweezers, a plan my mother kyboshed due to the heightened likelihood that he would damage my eye even further. It was back to the ER!

I don’t remember much of that visit, as shortly after we arrived I was given some kind of potent narcotic. I remember the doctors peering at my eye through some big magnification thing and finally declaring I would need a bona fide eye surgeon, the type of which they declined to keep on hand. Without further ado, they bandaged up my eye, gave me a prescription for codeine and sent me packing. Although the problem was just with the right eye, I quickly found that if I kept my left eye open, it make my right eye move and thus caused massive amounts of pain. I was effectively blind!

The whole month of August blew. No running around, no swimming, no nothing fun. The day it happened was my cousin’s birthday party, which we went to, and I found how much fun it is to sit on a picnic bench while the other kids run around whooping it up. On top of that, my mother’s friend, a nurse, spent the whole time trying to cajole me to open the left eye, claiming it wouldn’t make the right one hurt and apparently disbelieving my yelps of anguish every time I tried. Gotta love nurses. Most of the time I spent sitting in the living room listening to TV. We had like 4 channels, plus HBO for some reason. That summer they played ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ every single day from sun up to sun down, or so it seemed and I listened to it so many times I could recite the dialog verbatim. After 5 weekly trips to the eye surgeon, I was finally able to open them back up again. My first order of business was to turn the caterpillar penal colony into a caterpillar death camp with a can of Raid; such is the vengeance of a 10 year old blinded up until 3 days before the school year began.

The final bit of this story I saved for a ridiculous illness I came down with as a teenager. It was the summer I went to Germany and a few weeks after Heiner, our exchange student packed it off back to Dortmund. I awoke with a terrible pain in my abdomen that just kept getting worse. Before the inevitable trip to the ER when my father got home, it cleared up on its own. A few days later I was set to go camping with the CYO group when it manifested yet again, but this time even worse. My mother finally decided to take me over to old Dr Bradley who took one look at my frenzied pacing, another at my urine sample and read a verdict of kidney stones. “Never seen ‘em in a feller so young before, but eh.” It was off to the ER again!

By the time we got there I was off my gourd with the agony. They stuck me on a cot and shot me up with something that kept me calm and immobilized, yet still feeling the pain full force. Bastards. I have no doubt it was those wretched nurses again, or perhaps that doc I kicked in the face that time with my foot, his hour of revenge come around at last. After hours of testing, x-rays and whatnot, they made the same diagnosis the old sawbones made in less than 5 minutes. They debated like old philosophers as what to do with me. Ultrasound? Surgery? How could they make this young lad feel better? The final answer was that they decided to do nothing and see what happened. They kept me overnight for observation, during which time the pain abated and disappeared, then sent me home with a little strainer to pee through.

The next few days were nervous ones; never knowing when my little friend would decide to make his jagged ass way through my urethra, shredding it up good. I was working at Denny’s at the time and every shift I waited for the pain to return or start screaming at the urinals. Fortunately I was at home the evening when the exodus took place. My urine started coming out brown, then turned red with blood and I braced myself for the worst. The pressure was strong enough to keep it moving quickly, though honestly I feel it would have been more comfortable pissing a watermelon out than that wretched lump of spiky calcium. By some miracle I managed to catch it in the little strainer so as to marvel at the thing appearing to be a large grain of sand that caused me such discomfort. I stopped my constant milk drinking immediately and never returned.

Since I’ve already told the tale of my near death experience after the Air Force, many chapters ahead of this in the ultra-rare leather bound on velum collected edition, I’ll spare a retelling. That adventure seems to have capped my medical mis-adventures, at least for the time being. I’m still young.

Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?

            A question apropos to any undertaking in which it is universally understood that questions of clarification need not be asked, yet are anyway. The readership at large I’m certain is hoping that I am going to go into the subject of bear defecation at great length, discussing the color, consistency, and perhaps even the odor. The truly hopeful may be under disillusion, though not after this sentence, that I may have born witness to such an awkward spectacle. Alas, no; this will be the last and final statement on the subject and I will have no further truck with anyone who asks me to elaborate. Instead this article, chapter or whatever the hell it is today will serve to recount some tales about my Boy Scout camping days and perhaps, time permitting, some follow on efforts.

            I already explained my first foray into the deep dark woods in my ‘Webelos’ post and I won’t bother to recount any of that, forcing you to go back and read again, unless of course you just read it recently, in which case you should be OK. Nevertheless, the experience did not deter me a twit from pursuing further outdoor adventures; something I would come to immediately regret. The summer after the Webelos trip my parents decided to treat me to a great time by sending me off to Camp Turner for a whole week, in which they would be free from my nefarious doings; a nice break for them I’m sure. We prepared for weeks; gathering supplies, planning the route down and perusing the colorful brochure that depicted a bunch of happy little assholes having fun.

            I probably would have been a happy asshole myself, had my mother not blabbed the plans to her best girlfriend on one of their marathon conversations. Before I knew what was what, her son, my oft times nemesis, Pete was also coming along for the week. I was dismayed, though a little bit happy to at least have someone whose name I knew along for the ride as I was a shade on the shy side. To make things more awkward, my mother listened to some old friend of hers who had been to this camp many years ago. This idiot revealed to her that campers used footlockers, military style, to haul and store their shit in. So, we ended up borrowing the one this fool had and lugged it home and filled it with my gear. Needless to say, we got there and I was the only one dragging around this antiquated piece of shit while everyone else had sleek modern suitcases.

            I’m sure the other campers in time would have gotten over the fact that my “luggage” matched that of a 19th century sailor, but I was not afforded that opportunity. Pete, within hours of arriving managed to piss off the whole cabin by pushing the smallest guy off some rocks and injuring him. Despite the fact that I too found this to be particularly egregious, I was nevertheless linked to him. Protesting the matter did nothing in my favor as it appeared weasely as if I was turning my back on an old “friend”. This made for a particularly long week in which we both endured muttered threats and I even had the contents of my foot locker tossed a few times. The shunning didn’t bother Pete a whit of course and he continued blindly forward as if everyone didn’t hate him, depriving me of the one soul who should have been sharing the burden of being associated to his own person!

            I managed to survive the Camp Turner experience and even though I managed to avoid all manner of swirlies, wedgies, and the dreaded rear admiral I declined to opt to return the following year as undoubtedly Pete would follow and the whole sorry mess would be repeated. I did, however, decide that if I was going to go camping in a group environment again it would one be with a group I already had an in with, and second, in a much less structured environment. Making fucking boondoggle key chains and playing color wars was a hoot and all but I was simply looking to crash around the woods in as dangerous a manner as possible. I found my outlet in the St Andrew’s Boy Scout troop, a motley group of hooligans masquerading as admirable youth.

            In the traditional sense, Scouting is about service, community, God, country and all that hoo-ha they try and sell you on. I was in it simply for the camping and stated as much, participating the bare minimum amount needed to remain part of the troop and engage in the monthly outings into the deep dark woods. I progressed through the ranks by getting the least number of merit badges required in the easiest possible categories. When I was honorably discharged a few years later I believe it made it all the way to First Class with a host of bullshit badges including Animal Husbandry (one I couldn’t possibly have fulfilled the requirement for), Cross Stitching, and Unrealized Good Intentions, which I didn’t actually have, but got covered while fulfilling Creative Storytelling. My popcorn sales were abysmal as I failed to even convince my grandmother that it was a good buy. The only meetings I showed up to were the pre-campout planning sessions and generally left well before the end to avoid the mini-classes in knot tying and sponge bathing the elderly.

            The camping trips were glorious affairs! I don’t know if I enjoyed the summer or winter versions better as each had their own flava, so I’ll begin with the summer. Summer camping simply meant tents, which rocked. Not in the good sense of head banging ecstasy but more of the feeling of banging your head on the rock beneath your sleeping bag. For some reason we always started these adventures on a Friday evening, and usually arrived just around dusk. Why we did this rather than wait until morning and make things easier was something the dads along always wondered but never did anything about. Arrival was chaos. Freed from the loving shackles of motherhood supervision we immediately began games of ‘Commando’, a ‘Capture-the-Flag’ variant with less rules. What it really was was a bunch of pubescent boys crashing through the dark woods at night trying to “pretend” hunting down and attempting to kill one another. How this never actually happened for real I’ll never understand.

            While we acted like idiots, my father and the rest of the adult supervision would try to get things organized and draft dashing bodies who came too close to the perimeter to set up tents or gather firewood. Firewood gathering was a real Br’er Rabbit tactic in which the captured Scout would generally just return to the game instead of fulfill his proscribed mission. It was usually well after midnight when things were finally in a state to eat something. The first night it was usually the classic hotdog on a stick over the fire, followed by marshmallows. S’mores were a “forget it” as some dickwad would eat all the damn chocolate well before the other pieces of the puzzle could be put together. Exhausted, we would pass out in the wee hours of the morning only to be awoken at the crack of dawn by some funny bastard singing the “it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning” song. Fucker.

            Saturday would be spent in a sleep deprived haze of hiking, more Commando, exploring and a little fishing or such. We were supposed to be learning things like building rope bridges, but our troop was matched well with Scouts who didn’t want to learn and leadership not very inclined to teach anyway. Wisely, we eschewed Jamborees and other events when the cracks in our veneer might be observable to other troops had we allowed them to get too close. At night we would dine on a horrendous concoction known as the “foil meal”: ground chuck, onion, carrots, and potato all wrapped up in foil and stuck in the fire. The results were a greasy mulch of undercooked beef and fat infused half cooked veggies. Adult leadership usually had something else to eat along the lines of strip steaks stored in a locking cooler.

            Winter camping was much more interesting, although indoor affairs wherein we would take up lodging in either the rustic Sikes cabin at Schoellkopf or the fabulous McCormick Lodge at Scouthaven. Given a choice between Sikes, which was analogous to Little House on the Prairie, though a little more primitive, and McCormick, a luxurious bunkhouse with electricity, cooking facilities and indoor bathrooms, I would always choose the former without question. Getting to Sikes on a cold Friday night was always a hoot and involved the immediate task of trying to dry out wood, as the already chopped shit was stored, as a rule, in an area calculated to allow it to absorb the most moisture. We would go wood gathering for wood to burn to dry it and usually settled on green wood. There is nothing like the combination of burning green wood mixed with sopping old aged wood to really fill a cabin up with the maximum amount of smoke possible. I recall that it was even difficult to see the fireplace from my bunk, a simple 4 feet away.

            The best camping of the year was the fabled Thanksgiving campout, of which I attended two. The first year it was at Sikes and Gore, the eldest Scout in the troop, set forth to prepare the annual turkey. An enormous 28 lb bird was set on a spit and manually rotated over the fire for the better part of the day. In the evening, the local rangers in charge of Schoellkopf would be invited to partake with us and provide a midnight hayride after. The smell of the bird cooking all day was magnificent! All eyes rested greedily on the succulent bird and our guests salivated in anticipating when it was taken off the spit. To our dismay the initial carve revealed that the damn thing was still frozen in the middle and not fit for consumption even by Thies’s dog! Our creative solution was to hack off big pieces and dump them in a pot of boiling water to bring then up to temperature. A delicious repast was had of watery stuffing, burned baked potatoes, disgusting boiled turkey, and the lifesaving Mountaintop apple pie.

            The rangers, despite not eating much of anything, especially after witnessing Gore rip apart raw turkey flesh with his sooty hands, and Gary stick his even filthier hand into a 5 gallon jug of bug juice to mix it, made good with the hayride anyway. The hayride, a freezing affair in late November, was made even more uncomfortable by the assholes in front who when passing under a snow laden pine branch would do the old shake down and make sure the rest of us were buried periodically by a faux blizzard. The following year the event was held at McCormick with its fancy schmancy oven and a turkey with one of them new fangled pop up thermometers. Less fun then getting shot in the ass with rock salt we all thought, having never had that particular experience anyway.

            Another great feature about the Thanksgiving campout was that it was traditionally where the new troops broken in. The year that was my first and the same trip that featured the frozen turkey, the legend of the day was that of old Johnny Schoellkopf. The first night we arrived myself and the other newbies were told of old Johnny, the black sheep son of the camp namesake family who killed a whole Scout troop, sacrificed them to Satan, and was guaranteed immortality to skulk about the camp and do so at will until the end of time. Although we were fed a line that countless troops were dispatched in such a fashion, usually ambushed on night hikes, my question regarding why everyone just didn’t go to some other campground was not answered to my satisfaction. It also didn’t seem kosher to me that immediately after this dark telling it was announced that we would be going on a night hike. I smelled a rotten banana and resolved to keep my eyes open.

            I hung towards the back of the formation and was not surprised to see one of the older Scouts, “too sick” to come along, slip out the front door of the cabin before we lost site of it. He was an extremely shitty tracker and I managed to figure out where he was most of the time being gifted with serviceable night vision. On a whim I held further and further back myself and managed to disappear into the woods after we rounded a bend. Hunkering down, I waited for our tracker to pass and began tracking him. As expected, when the troop got into the deepest woods he began with the moaning and chucking around of branches. The other younger troops got pretty panicked, especially with the older guys feigning a ‘Blair Witch’ level of terror. While “Johnny Schoellkopf” stopped to arm himself with snowballs to barrage them with, I managed to walk up right behind him and went with the classic “Boo!” His initial reaction was severe enough where it may have included some bowel voiding, though he quickly followed it with characteristic violence. By the time I extracted my inverted form from the brambly snow bank, the jig was up and we returned to the cabin.

            There was one ill conceived attempt one year to tent camp in the winter time. It was the annual ‘big brother’ team up with the Webelos where in the guise of shepherding them toward the glory of Scout-hood, we would terrorize them for the weekend and get some laughs. The laughs were on us that year my friend, as somehow the Webelos ended up in cozy cabins while the real Scouts got stuck in tents. In January. The official line was that it was planned that way, but given our well unorganized leadership I’m guessing they forgot to book us a cabin and found none were left available when someone finally figured it out.

            Good Scouts should be able to tent camp in any weather. Hell, other troops reputedly even occupied lean-to’s in the dead of winter, but it was universally acknowledged that we simply weren’t good enough Scouts for all that and would probably die if it were attempted. The tent experience almost did the trick. As usual, we set up on a Friday night, my father and I picking a prime level location in a slight depression. A light rain had begun just as we turned in. By morning things were quite wet, and we were getting water intrusion into the tent. I spent most of the day running around in the woods in the rain, becoming thoroughly sopped, all the while exhibiting a magnificent deep chest cough. By late afternoon it became apparent why all attempts to stave the water off were not working – we had pitched our digs on a big sheet of ice that was melting faster by the second. Our sleeping bags were soaked and no dry cloths were left to change in to. Evening approached and the temperature dropped. I was grateful that my father decided to call it and we packed the show up and left once it came out that the Webelos were not going to be sharing the cabin, though would let us come in to dry off for a bit.

            The magnum opus, a term that really doesn’t apply here, of my Scouting camping days was the great Northern Lights canoe trip. The Scoutmaster of my troop, Joe, worked summers as a guide and talked a bunch of us into making the bus ride up to Algonquin National Park up in land of snow and Canuks. Many preparations were made ahead of time, and once again I had an unwelcome item foisted on me through the advice of another old friend of my mothers who had been up there once 30 years prior and was plagued by skeeters. Thus I made the trek up with a giant bee keeper’s hat/ mask that the other fellows naturally found hysterical. I declined to wear it of course and kept it stuffed in the bottom of my duffel.

            The trip was memorable in that it was a first hand exposure to the glory of unspoiled nature, roughing it miles away from paved roads, and eating the Boy Scout equivalent to military MREs every day. It is not worth mentioning much further simply for the fact that nothing at all funny happened, so my exasperating descriptions of some fuck face turtle sunning itself on a log is more than I feel comfortable burdening the readership with, especially as I tend to go on forever as it is. Oh, we did have a momentary giggle when one of the guys was calling his mom in a phone booth and everyone took turns sticking their head in and muttering ‘blowjob’ into the receiver; something he didn’t appreciate as much as we did.

            Shortly after the Northern Lights voyage I ended my association with Scouting for a number of reasons. For one, I had entered high school and felt I was getting too old for that schtick and didn’t want to be one of those pathetic 18 year old Eagle Scouts. Second, a few months after the trip, Joe the Scoutmaster got charged with child molestation. He came to my parents house to disclose this and made the claim that it was pure fabrication of his jilted ex girlfriend who was using her son, who stayed up at Northern Lights with Joe all summer, as a means to get back at him. Though I had no personal evidence of any wrong doing on his part, I and most of the rest of the troop slipped quietly away, even after he resigned.

            I reentered the world of camping once I became old enough to go without supervision, though this was highly inadvisable as the other participants tended to be the likes of Knaus, Thies, Dave, Little Dave, and sometimes Jeff. In retrospect, it was far more likely that someone would get killed or worse with this group than the Scouts, but somehow we managed to straggle home each time. I can think of two voyages worth mentioning.

            The first was the epic trip up into the Adirondacks during the storied Comstock era. This trip consisted of Knaus, Thies, and some dude named Brian who Knaus knew and who we never saw or heard from after. It was a long ride up in Knaus’s van and an even longer hike up the side of the mountain, especially for me as I still did not have a frame pack and relied on my fathers old duffel bag which makes one wish for death when lugging it up a steep mountain.

            The first night there was fantastic. We set up camp and decided to try for the peak of the mountain after dinner. We managed to make it up there just as the sun was beginning to set; a glorious view of nature and all that crap. The undertaking was naturally ill conceived as none of us brought a flashlight. The trip down was danger fraught and filled with infinite risk of tumbling down the poorly defined pathway in near pitch darkness. Undeterred we bounded down at breakneck speed while Knaus entertained us with one of his frequently utilized caricatures of a pissy old man. He had us in stitches and remarkably no one needed any.

            That night I bore witness to further danger in the form of the indigenous wildlife. We had been advised, and surprisingly followed, to tie our food well up in the trees at night for fear of bears, who as it turns out, like to eat as much as they like to shit in the woods. The first night I heard noises and unzipped my tent just a squeak. There in the moonlight was a large brown bear clawing away at the base of the tree our grub was stashed in. He looked my way with a “you want some of this?” expression. I withdrew trusting the razor thin layer of nylon of my tent would be ample guard against his deciding he preferred something fresh. I declined to wake Aaron, who I was sharing the tent with, in fear that he would either attack the bear in defence of his salami sandwiches, or run screaming like a little girl into the woods with the ursine creature lumbering in pursuit, turgid and in a heat of passion.

            Another memorable trip was taken down to Rushford with Knaus, Dave and Jeff, who decided to come out again anyway despite Dave’s earlier plans to stop him with a deft throw of his hatchet. We camped out at my cousin’s property with the stated goal of having a very relaxing weekend, though Dave saw too it that this would assuredly not happen. Right before leaving for the trip, Dave finished his shift at Noco, the one across from the dirty bookstore we loved so much, and the drawer count came up short. Dave, whose work ethic rivaled that of competitive eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, worked himself into such a tizzy that the miscount would bring down the mighty Noco empire, found it impossible to relax.

            The first night there we quickly got a fire going; I was “fire guy” known for my legendary ability to ignite almost anything from kerosene soaked tinder to toilets. Dave brought with him this time a full size axe to go along with the little one strapped to his thigh with duct tape. He neglected, however, to sharpen it before leaving, and despite this found it crucial to chop as much wood as possible. While the rest of us tried to sleep restlessly, Dave spent all goddamn night thunking away at the timbers until we were sure the whole of the forest would be leveled like in that Dr Seuss yarn with the buttinsky Lorax. Lo and behold when we awoke and found that the mighty commotion he spent all night irritating us with resulted in but three sections of green log, such was the dullness of his blade and his wits.

            After spending all night chopping wood, overtired and still pinging about Noco, Dave waxed a bit weird and we finally suggested he go take a nap. In the mean time, Knaus, Jeff and I set to work trying to solve the bridge problem that plagued my cousin. Every spring the stream that ran through the property washed away whatever bridge he built over it. We, three young assholes with no concept of architecture or mechanical design, were determined that we could solve this problem of the ages. While Jeff and I took the approach of building a mighty wooden structure using fallen timber, Knaus set to work attempting to actually change the course of the stream all together and routing it away from the property by constructing a veritable fortress of a mud and stone dam using material dredged from the stream bed. Jeff and I saw merit in this and added our timber collection to the cause.

            A few hours into it, we managed to divert a small portion of the stream about 6 inches to the right. Without warning we were under attack. Small stones came flicking out from the underbrush every few seconds and splashing around us. I finally charged into the woods to find Dave, well camouflaged (or so he thought), with his little pile of armaments and taking aim at Knauses mud and water laden coif. He turned and seethed at me. “If I were a malignant hunter with a gun, you would all be dead right now.” This was apparently in defence of his pre-trip argument to procure an actual gun for this very possibility. Wisely, we knew an armed Dave was a terrifically bad idea under any circumstance. Jeff never camped with us again.

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.

Ach Du Lieber!

            Those of you who may have known me for some good amount of time might choose to recall that I have exhibited, at times, the general tendency to declare a level of expertise on subject matters well outside my scope with the basis of such being flimsy at best. The one that seems to have resonated with most and was frequently cited, was my claim to have been rock climbing in Germany. Miscreants will have you believe that I used this as firm evidence to support everything from my claim to know the best way to grow garlic or make minestrone soup. Jealous lies! In truth I used it only when climbing the Thunder Rocks at Alleghany and advising on the correct three point method. Since you are dying to know, dear munchkins, I will tell you the whole story of how I gained such wisdom at a tender age.

            As everyone knows, Buffalo and Dortmund are international sister cities. No one really knows the need for cities to partner up in this manner or how it came about. Well, they probably do, but I don’t feel like looking it up. In any case, this was fact and one of the programs to come out of this dubious arrangement was the Sister Cities summer exchange program. Through it, American youths would travel to Dortmund and reside with a German family for a month, after which the German student would come to Buffalo under the same arrangement. It was a good way to live in a foreign land cheaply and broaden one’s horizons. Spearheading the program was none other than Herr Savory, my high school German teacher. When I brought news of it home, my grandfather was tickled enough with the idea of me seeing the old sod that he helped my parents finance it.

            We filled out questionnaires so that they would pair us with German students of best fit. I was hoping of course for a little hot to trot Deutche chickie with a shelf like derrière, but apparently my answers indicated that a much better fit would be Heiner. My mother was quite flummoxed at the arrangement as Heiner’s bio indicated that he was 22, the only college student participating in the program, and that his favorite activity was hanging out at the Bier Gartens. She was worried of course that he would be a bad influence, which of course he was, but more on that later.

            There were several “get ta know ya” events before departure where we all met up and settled into one of two groups – the geeks and the assholes. I feel somewhere in between but ended up gravitating toward the nerd herd, as always was my inclination. Russ, the unacknowledged leader of the geek set, was often in conflict with the asshole ‘cool kids’ and thus managed to drag the rest of us in, assuring for plenty of awkward times when they forced us all together. Then one morning in early July we assembled in the parking lot of the old Thruway mall and bussed it up to Toronto where they have an international airport in more than just name.

            It was my first time on a plane and I enjoyed the experience, though after the second leg and a long bus trip, I was thoroughly exhausted and smelled of smoke, as Lufthansa in the 80’s still allowed, and encouraged, open smoking wherever one pleased. Our German families were there to pick us up and I was greeted by Herr and Frau Thiel (so close to Thies!), Georg the brother, and Heiner, my student. The parents spoke no English whatsoever, but Georg, a very cool cat, jumped right in as translator. Heiner, with a wooly blond fro, was cautiously polite. I was in a jet lagged daze when they brought me back to the family abode where Heiner still lived, along with Grossmutter upstairs, and they showed me to Georg’s old room which they made up for me.

            The house they occupied was built sometime in the mid to late Pleistocene period, though had been updated many time since. One of the recent upgrades was the addition of a shower, conveniently constructed from an old pantry that was directly in the living room. There was no place to change, so taking a shower meant descending the stairs in towel, greeting whoever was in the living room, and someone always was, entering the shower, then opening the door just enough to throw the towel out. It was uncomfortable arrangement so I avoided it as much as possible until someone would comment on the pervasive eau d’Wolf.

            Heiner was delighted by my presence as he had lived his 22 years as the smaller, less handsome, not as clever little brother to Georg. His first order of business was to teach me an enormously complex card game that made euchre look like War, and proceed to beat me at it until I refused to play any more. Next he taught me the one strategy game he was a master at: Muller (pronounced moo-lah), or known in English as ‘Nine-Man Morris’. His love of this game, by the way, extended all the way to Buffalo as he proceeded to teach it to my family and friends just so that he could beat them at it. Then came Knaus. The first game they played, Knaus won. Heiner took it as a fluke. Then Knaus won the second game and then the third. Heiner put the game away in a snit and we never saw it again.

            True to his fact sheet, Heiner liked to hit the Bier Gartens pretty much every night and liked to drag me along with him. Although my parents signed a form saying I was not allowed to drink, being only 16 at the time, Heiner’s family completely disregarded it from day one. Nights at the Bier Gartens were not unpleasant as I would sit there with a giant tankard of Dortmunder Kroner Export, my favorite beer to this day, and listen to Heiner and his friends joke around in German and occasionally make fun of me, as I gathered by the looks in my direction followed by laughter. Oh, he would get his all right when the time came!

            Aside from being saddled with a jerk ass big brother type when the rest of the Americans got kids their age, including this one dullard who wound up with a total fox, the one downside of the trip was the food. The Germans are a real meat and potato race of people and most meals out consisted of wurst, brot, and kartofel – sausage, bread and potatoes. At least meals out were somewhat edible and when not being forced into some ‘authentic’ German Rathskeller of some historic value, the Americans gravitated toward good old Mikey D’s, which in Germany, also sold beer.

            On days I spent with the family – it was an on off thing, one day with the family, the next with some planned group activity – I was treated to Frau Thiel’s cooking skills, which were fairly non-existent. Breakfast consisted of a platter that was left out at all times and stocked with several kinds of incredibly dense breads, sausages with big old hunks lard in them, cheeses, marmalade, and a substance I was told was minced ham by Heiner, but later came to find was raw pork. The value of refrigeration was deeply discounted and this stuff Americans generally throw away if exposed to room temperature air for over an hour simply sat out until consumed. Every breakfast I prepared for the worst, though nothing ever happened.

            Lunch wasn’t much better really. Frau Thiel insisted on making me sandwiches out of the ultra dense pumpernickel with the consistency and taste of compressed sawdust. These were usually peanut butter or some suspicious “cold” cut from the breakfast tray. I found them inedible, and if we were on a group outing I would generally ditch them when Heiner wasn’t looking and get some fries. I lived on fries that trip. Dinner was a horrid affair as she would sit there watching me not eating the ghastly thing she prepared like watery mild soup with super fatty chunks of mystery meat or tired old boiled sausages. On one occasion I convinced them to let me grill as they had a BBQ out back. This time I was the villain, for when I came in with nice char broiled sausages all black, crisp and delicious the whole family was horrified. Apparently letting the skin break ‘contaminates’ the sausage making it inedible. Yeah, they kept a bowl of raw pork in the warm dining room eating out of it for a good week, but fainted at the sight of a properly cooked hotdog.

            On the days I spent with the Thiels, they seemed genuinely frustrated with what to do with me all day, so it seemed that at least on 8 or so occasions Mr Thiel, with sometimes Heiner and sometimes Georg, would pack up the car and we’d go auto touring in the Saurland. Form some reason he was under the impression that I had never seen countryside landscapes before and got a charge out of looking out the window at some fields and shit. These were tedious days indeed and lasted until the arrival of Bob, which if you hold on for one goddamn minute, I’ll get to. On one of these dreary days Mr. Thiel wasn’t feeling well and it was just Georg and I, and thus the point of this story.

            Georg gathered that looking out a car window was not my cup of tea, so planned a more interesting day. In the selfsame Saurland there once existed a gigantic underground cavern that collapsed back in prehistoric times leaving a large area full of humungous rocks jutting up out of the earth with seemingly bottomless gaps between them. This is where Georg took me to go rock climbing with no equipment or preparation of any kind, except for a word of caution to keep three points on the rock face at all times because falling into one of the gaps meant a slim to none recovery of your corpse. It was a thrilling experience, fraught with danger, and imbued me with the wisdom of the ages to give expert advice on any number of unrelated topics.

            Time with the Thiels, and Heiner in particular, became so much easier once Bob came to stay. Bob drew a German family who was childless and where both worked, leaving Bob to sit on his ass all day watching German television, which consisted of tennis, dubbed over Loony Tunes (was ist los, doc?), or, I’m not kidding, a German Western called Winneto. The Thiels, who were actually very good people, agreed to take Bob in and thus ease their daily burden to figure out to do with me. Once Bob came, the daily trips to the Saurland stopped and Bob and I generally roamed the streets of Dortmund looking for things to do.

            The other excellent thing about Bob being there was that I now had an ally against Heiner. We quickly found that we could make fun of him by simply speaking in slang, which he was unable to follow. Watching his face scrunch up as he tried to figure out in what manner we were teasing him was priceless and only served to increase our laughter. Frau Thiel would beam as we exclaimed that the hunk of sausage on our plates was “the absolute worst!” as she felt we were simply declaring it absolute sausage. Evenings at the Bier Garten were better as well because now I finally had someone to talk to.

            On group days, things were hit or miss. One some days we would have spectacular outings like boat trips down the Rhine or visit some castle where Charlemagne once rubbed one out. Other days were less exciting and consisted of tours of an automotive plant or a bauxite mine; probably one of the least interesting mined substances you can imagine. On one of these outings Russ, Bob, Gary, Evil and I found a shop that sold tee shirts advertising the Soviet Union and East Germany, both of which still appeared to be going strong. What made them so delightful was that the Germans found them horribly offensive to the degree that turned them into daily wear for us.

            Russ, bless his dork ass hide, also managed to acquire a genuine pair of lederhosen which he looked absolutely ridiculous in. He insisted on wearing these around on occasion which infuriated the German family he was staying with to the degree that they began to shop him around for someone else to take him in. There were no buyers, even the Thiels, who had their hands full already with two rebel jokers already. Russ, pleased with the effect his outfit, the equivalent of one of the Germans coming over and wearing around Puritan garb with big buckle shoes to the local Denny’s, took to wearing it as often as he pleased, including the plane ride home.

            The best trip of all was the opportunity to go to East Berlin when such a thing still existed. On the bus ride through East Germany to the walled city, it was a popular undertaking for everyone to read George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm’ as the bus driver, an ugly character we dubbed Dr. Friendlybones, played the soundtrack to ‘Dirty Dancing’ over and over. Before going through Checkpoint Charlie we were treated to the obligatory Berlin Wall museum which gave a full history and some stories of people who got shot trying to make it across. Apparently the Wall originated as the Berlin Line of Masking Tape, a la Brady Bunch, which proved to be somewhat less effective than the follow on project. We were debriefed before going through. Do not smuggle currency back, do not wander outside the permitted area, do not do the ‘Heil Hitler’ sign at the Russian guards, and do not under any circumstances feed the locals or they will try to follow you home. The end of the brief was given with a ray of hope that perhaps even as soon as 50 years hence, but certainly not before, the Wall would be a thing of the past. This was 1988.

            I wore my East German tee and Russ his Russian one, though we were informed this was a poor choice of wardrobe. We found this to be correct as the East Germans, less full of patriotic pride than one would think and bitterly resentful of the Russian presence, gave us evil stares and even went so far as to call Russ a ‘bitch’. East Berlin was as dreary as one would expect. There still existed bombed out buildings from WWII and very little to spend our currency on. I got a cola from a street vendor and found it three shades more horrendous than even Tab. We went to the finest restaurant they had and ordered big steaks all round; grade Q meat if that, full of fat, gristle and very little flavor. The sides were even worse as we discovered they even found a way to fuck up baked potatoes. Here was the thing, we had to change over 50 marks worth of currency to cross over and were not allowed to bring any of it back. At the end, we gave away whatever we had left to beggars by the checkpoint that lived off of this rule, though I managed to sneak back a few coins in my shoe.

            After a month away, coming back to America was fantastic! It was a long flight back, and a seemingly longer bus trip back from Toronto. The whole bus load of folks actually broke out into the national anthem, albeit poorly sung, as we approached the border. Even better, the Germans were not to follow for another few days, allowing us to get reaclimated without them. This of course gave me some time to plan out a little payback for Heiner and all his bully big brother tricks.

            Heiner arrived a few days later and we set him up in my attic bedroom in the twin bed across the room from me, actually the hottest corner of place, and directly under the bird cage that housed Henry, my ill tempered parakeet who liked to fling seeds out of the cage all night at whoever occupied that bed. It was a hotter summer than most, and Heiner being a rather stout fellow, felt it much more than I did, a very skinny teen. To maximize his discomfort I took to closing the skylight at night if I suspected rain and unplugged the fan for ‘noise reasons’ in the middle of the night. I was just fine with the heat build up, but on more than one occasion Heiner became so overheated that he would rush down in the morning, beet red and encrusted with birdseed, and dive into the pool to bring his body temperature below the three digit mark.

            Where Heiner subjected me to his daily Bier Garten outings with his douchebag friends, I subjected him to daily bike rides with Jeff to Collector’s Inn where we would spend hours upon hours discussing the finer points of ‘Invasion’ with Jim or Kevin as Heiner stood by bored to tears. This was usually followed up by a trip to Watson’s for vanilla cokes, which he found to be a terrible substitution for his beloved beer. Finally he took to eschewing me completely and followed my mother around the house all day, something she didn’t appreciate. Heiner, you see, tended to be argumentative and would actually do things like attempt to correct your English. On more than one occasion he would rush upstairs to grab his dictionary or text book to prove his point, then come slumping back down with the claim he couldn’t find it.

            One week I was granted complete relief from him as one of the families was making a trip to DC in order to show their student around. They invited Heiner to come along and we talked him into it, despite the fact that he had a bad cold and didn’t really want to go. Heiner, in retrospect probably a functional alcoholic, made sure to have a case of beer with him for the journey. He was completely dismayed, however, when we brought him to the family’s house and they announced to all gathered there that “Heiner brought beer! Who wants one?” and he saw his store immediately depleted before the trip was even underway. I was secretly delighted when I found out his trip went terribly. First he was too sick to enjoy. Second, the family turned out extremely cheap (as was Heiner!) and shafted him at every opportunity. While the whole group occupied one hotel room, they stuck Heiner with half the bill. At dinner they would order expensive entrees while he would go frugal, but then divide the check evenly. We all got quite a chuckle out of his bitter recounting of things when he got back.

            All in all, he wasn’t a bad guy and we did have fun showing him around and such for the most part. My mother also hooked him up with the single niece of her friend, which got him out of my hair even more. The visit ended on good terms and we kept in touch often enough they he came back a year later, though specifically to visit my parents, and not so much me. Over the years we eventually lost all contact, and although I have tried to Google his name, all the pages that come up are in German, which I never quite got the knack for despite having rock climbed there

Denny’s on Delaware

            There are a number of establishments that figured well into Comstock lore and the surrounding mythos that orbits around that brown monstrosity. Some have been mentioned with much fanfare such as the celebrated Anacone’s, while others garnered only brief mention such as Mike’s Big Mouth, Jacobi’s, Parkside Candy, Tom’s Diner, and the Olympic. Denny’s on Delaware, although only a small part of the general Comstockery despite birthplace of the Madisons, the roost of Big Chief Strait-Jacket, and the local where Monkey Jaw kicked Dark Pistacio so hard he nearly broke his coccyx, predates them all. While the low degree of incidents in the Comstock years might make it worth a miss, as it turns out it is relevant to me personally and thus of increased interest by several orders of magnitude to the readership.

            It came to light in my junior year at St Joes that one of my friends, Ende specifically, had been seen flashing around some serious cabbage. Not the quarters and singles seen in the pizza line, but real green with pictures of big shots like Lincoln and Hamilton on the face. In most locals I would imagine that the initial suspicion would be drugs or some other illegal enterprise, but being that we were imprisoned in the citadel of Christian Brothers in the most white bread section of town, it seemed there was more of a chance that he was nicking it from his mum or some other unsuspecting source. After watching with envy as he purchased an unheard of third slice of La Hacienda on pizza Wednesday, someone finally got the stones to go over and ask him. That ballsy someone was me.

            Turns out home slice went and got himself a real job; the kind where you have to fill out paperwork with government form numbers on it, punch a card and wear shoes all the time. He was legally employed at Denny’s on Delaware as a member of the illustrious Bus/ Dish team. Being an awkward teenage doofbag I enquired none so gently as to what kind of cash one could expect to take home from that kind of high society gig. I was floored by the answer. $3.85 an hour! I quickly did the numbers. I was working my tail off doing Pennysavers (still!) and raking in a large $13.50 a week. With two weekend shifts at Denny’s, by my tax-law ignorant calculations, I could be brining home over $60 dollars a week. There was no ‘Mathletes’ sweater hanging in my closet but I was still able to tell that the Denny’s gig was more buck for the bang. I moved in for the hookup.

            Came to find out that I wasn’t the only one who was hankering for some of that sweet ass dough-ray-me; Kevin “Special K” W and Missy G also got an easy in and were already gainfully employed – one as a bus\dish and the other as a hostess. For the confused, Missy nabbed the hostess gig looking better in the dress, or so went the opinion in those old less enlightened times. A man of my standing is not one to grovel and beg like a craven cur, so I utilized the chick tactic and turned on the water works. “I’ll talk to my boss and see what I can do.” It was the best I could hope for and declined the use of his mottled hanky.

            Mike managed to score me an interview a few days later on account of his sterling reputation with management. I showed up, punctual as always, and was ushered into the back and took at seat across from Mrs Jones in the fishbowl management office. This, by the way, was my only stint of employment outside the military where honorifics were still employed; Mrs Jones, Mr. Smith, and the living breathing reincarnation of Oscar Wilde himself, Mr. Wirth. I would have liked to assume they all had first names as well, but didn’t want to presume on such a great unknown. The interview was brief and to the point allowing me to confirm that yes, I did feel that given a stream of boiling hot water I could rinse off plates and stick them into a machine that did the rest. As a bonus, I could also pick up tubs of soiled dishes; ferry things around there were needed, and not steal steaks from the freezer and pass them out the back door to some asshole in a pickup. We shook hands, I was issued two shirts, an apron, and hat which I was to wear with all the pride afforded by the office. I started that Friday eve.

            As with any first day on the job, I walked in nervous about being in a new environment and the crushing weight of responsibility I had undertaken. Mike and Kevin arrived with me, all of us walking in from Kenmore, car-less, card carrying members of the League of Impoverished Gentlemen. The position, I hoped, would allow me to rescind my membership and thumb my nose at the remaining members. The evening was filled with training videos which I watched at the break counter on a TV/VCR combo as employees actually on break loudly consumed omelets and patty melts around me, asking retardedly what I was doing. After my sponge like absorption of pearls of knowledge such as not to breath in chemical fumes, spray people in the face with the hose, and wash hands before handling foods (all flagrantly disregarded hundreds of times), I was ready to get to work.

            The value of a first job is that you can always look back and say, “thank God I don’t have to do that anymore!” it was apropos in this case… as well as 4 or 5 others to follow, be that as it may. The job was a multifaceted one which made time move faster, but also dangerous and disgusting which slowed it down to a crawl. I’ll take you through some of the highlights, after which you will have a firm appreciation for that smelly character trying to take your not quite completed meal at one of these third rate diners. Or if you read carefully enough, you will take the hint and stay home and microwave some fish sticks.

            Primacy, all things being equal, in the bus/dish world belonged to washing the goddam dishes, second billing aside. Here is how it went down. The bus monkeys would bring the brown plastic bins full of soiled dishes to the chrome counter to the left of the rinse area where they would pile up like so many dead leaves in an October windstorm. Brimming with the disgusting remains of unfinished food, beverage and empty ashtrays (ah, the 80’s when the smoking section was still half the restaurant), they never stopped coming, especially on Sundays when the old folks and churchies liked to come in and gobble down Grand Slams and Moon’s Over My Hammy. Man on point, and it was always a man; the fairer sex relegated to the front end, would extract all washable items, spray them off with the overhead hose dispensing boiling water, until only refuse was left. The sprayed dishes went into the machine, the garbage at the bottom of the bin was put into the trash can through the magnetized opening (to catch silverware), and rinsed out for reuse.

            While most of Denny’s was nicely air conditioned, the dish room was not. In addition, between the spray hose and the antiquated dish washer, humidity in that sub-local of the back generally reached about ten thousand percent. The supersaturated and superheated moisture had a side effect of carrying airborne grease and food particles that would became inextricably embedded in your clothes, hair and skin; an eau d’Garbage that would make Oscar the Grouch toss his fuzzy green cookies. After about an hour the person would be heat exhausted, shriveled like a prune, soaking, and usually burned in one or more places.

            It is hard to imagine such a position having advantages, but there were in fact a few; mostly having to do with the ability to irritate both co-workers and management. Most of the tactics employed were none too sophisticated and had to do with the hot water hose. Bringing someone to their knees with a face full of scalding water was always good for a chuckle. Another was squirting water into the garbage can so that it became incredibly heavy for the bus monkey who had to take it to the dumpster when you asked; a favorite in wintertime as making the dump always resulted in a bath. Ende truly hated this one and we once almost came to blows over it as I was a frequent abuser. Creaming your co-worker with left over coffee creamers a la “Excess Fluids” was a hoot as well, although the female staff did not take kindly to this as they usually eschewed our reindeer games, especially the gross ones.

            As no one could survive the hellish environment for very long, we tended to rotate out of the prime position and take turns as bus monkeys, cleaners and go-fers. If one had been a particular prick that day, he usually tried to hold on to the prime position as long as possible, but inevitably he would come close to collapse and end up suffering the face blasts of water and the heavy can of ultimate melancholy. The other duties were somewhat more pleasant but with a lot more walking.

            Originally, the clean cut waiters and waitresses would bus the tables and place the bins in out of the way places for us to pick up, but these prima donnas of the food industry finally rebelled and the loathsome duty was shoved on us. I’m not sure who in the Denny’s corporate ladder decided it was a good idea to have soaking, food splattered lads smelling of pungent greasy garbage roaming the floor and leaning over still eating patrons to clear plates, but it certainly took balls. The customers didn’t seem particularly amenable to this either, usually wrinkling their noses in disgust or even lodging bitter complaints when the sweat mingled juice from our shirt collars dripped into their coffee or Denver Omelet, but we were persistent and let them deter us not a smidge. On one occasion one of the fellows managed to spill an entire bucket of pancake batter down the front of him and subsequently managed to schmear the arms and shoulders of several patrons before being relegated to the back for the rest of the shift, management grown tired of providing compensatory deserts.

            Being out and about with the customers allowed us to express the more jaunty aspects of our at work personalities; a condition management both feared and resented yet remained surprisingly tolerant of. We began with the ‘mark of excellence’, a circular sticker used to denote which day of the week something was prepared and applied originally to our aprons and later out foreheads. For some reason having disheveled bus monkeys wandering about with blue or purple bindis adorning their foreheads caused fear and confusion amongst the elderly patrons who could not comprehend a condition in which local boys would be mimicking south Asian caste fashion. We were told to knock it off. Next we went with outrageously large boutonnières of dish pan parsley, usually dripping butter and syrup, and tucked into our nametags. This practice as well was eventually rooted out after one, ill fastened in place, managed to fall into some old mans eggs benny.

            The practice that really seemed to irritate the customers the most was the timing when we chose to perform vacuuming. It wasn’t bad enough that the antiquated thing set off a din loud enough to keep a whole portion of the restaurant from talking, but we actually had the impertinence to ask eating patrons to kindly move their legs as we banged the hose around under tables and even booths. It is human nature, perhaps not with present company but real humans, to not challenge someone who seems engaged in doing something productive, and so most of the time we generally got miserable looks from diners who wished to engage in some snappy dialog with their tablemates or resented having their foot banged into repeatedly by the filthy douche repeatedly going after some imaginary crumb in the far back of the booth. Some, however, were pushed beyond endurance and requested we hold off. Request denied! This probably affected the tip, but given we received no cut, we didn’t give a toss.

            There are two loathsome habits with which we regularly engaged. The first was the decoration of the dish room. I don’t recall who got started doing this, and I believe it began with a simple slice of Canadian bacon slapped to the side of the dish machine in order to give it a bit of panache. One-upmanship quickly reared its head and before long the whole of back was regularly decorated with all manner of meats, cheeses, eggs, break and grits. It was a cornucopia of plenty of quickly spoiling foods; a panoply of customer rejected meals, masticated and gross. Mr Wirth didn’t seem to mind it and found it somewhat comical. Mrs Jones, however, had quite the conniption fit when she came back there on the day the health inspection was due, to find a level of violation so grim as to forecast not only immediate shut down, but a full on demolition. This practice was quickly discontinued.

            The next one is worse, so be sure you wish to continue. In the center station sits a gleaming chrome insert full of salad from which patrons could see a conscientious waitress move it on to plates with long handled tongs. What they did not see was what happens when the bin gets low. Carefully a gloved waitress removes it ever so daintily escorts it to the back, then dumps it on the back counter with the dish bins. “Gimme some more salad!” The dishwasher would then, hands filthy with old yolks and spit up porridge, remove it to the cooler and fill it with same said hands from the giant bin in which it was stored. Washing hands before touching food was probably encouraged in the literature but little in practice. No sign of admonishment was left in the bathroom, nor was the spirit of one followed.

            Everyone thinks that their place of employment is sit com fodder but honestly, we couldn’t hope to compete with CBS superpower ‘Alice’, what with Flo’s kissable grits and all, but we did have our characters. Matt wore the description ‘strong as an ox and almost as smart’ like Trump wears that ridiculous toupee; wild and true, though no one really knows for sure. He was the originator of the dish hose face blasting as well as the garbage can fill up, both tricks useless on him as he was immune to the heat of the water and could lift the can no matter what the fuck we put into it. He was also guilty of sticking my shirt to my back in a literal manner through the employment of many hard slaps when he found that the worst sunburn of my life had broken into a great many blisters. It was the closest I came to passing out from the pain, and despite it, he still managed to get me a good dozen times, plus soaked me with the boiling water a few more. I called out the next day.

            Interestingly enough, or perhaps not, is that this job presented my first knowledgeable anyway (little did I know half my graduating class would eventually come out) encounter with homosexuals. Initially I was quite perplexed as none of them conformed to the homogenous stereotype so lovingly crafted and reinforced in movies. For one, not a single one of them was named Bruce or Bruth, talked with a pronounced lisp, or actively tried to have sex with me every time I walked by. Frankly I wondered if perhaps they were cultural ignoramuses not knowing the correct norms of their kind or perhaps rebels and non-conformists. Although it was assumed that company policy dictated attire, we were shocked at meeting one of them out in the world on an occasion and found him dressed neither in women’s clothing or the mandatory uniform of the Blue Oyster Bar.

            While I had already been forming hard hitting questions regarding what I was being told about religion and the world at large, this served as solid proof to me that I had been sold a bill of goods at least as far as this was concerned. Imagine my surprise then 3 years later when JP made his big debut and managed to not only incorporate every one of the old stereotypes, but exceed them significantly. It was like having a big hunk of coal hit the back of your head and turning to see Santa himself floating there in his sleigh in his big red britches, rearming and sizing you up for a nut shot.

            Aside from working there 2 or 3 days a week, more in the summer, we took to hanging out there pretty much all the time we were not in school. Being introduced to the 6:00 AM shift led quickly to an introduction to coffee and a life long habit that a few years down the line would further lead to the discovery of the delicious pairing of that dark gold and cigarettes, which I only managed to break free from 3 years ago now. Evenings Mike, Kevin and I would haunt the counter and drink endless cups while chatting up the waitresses who were so much kinder when you weren’t banging into them with soiled bins or spilling chocolate milk on their shoes. Most of our paychecks when to the meals we insisted on paying full price for on off hours that we got for half price on breaks. We were die hard addicts to eggs benny, patty melts and even an occasional liver and onions (fine, just me on that last one).

            Eventually of course the time came to bid the place adieu. We suffered a change in management who had far less tolerance for our little jokes and tomfoolery and began looking elsewhere. A brief hiatus emerged at the end of our senior year when Mr Wirth, returning as head manager, called us up as hired guns, quick fix experts, to get his dish room rolling in order again. We answered the call to arms, highly flattered and impressed by our perception of worth. Within a day we realized how much it truly sucked. Mike quit within weeks and Kevin and I stuck in there, I finally quitting accepting the DPW Summer Scum position as the title seemed to have far more dignity than what I was doing.

            To this day Denny’s on Delaware persists on behind the railroad tracks, even after the destruction of its evil twin sister across the way, Perkins, which found new life as an OTB. Perhaps one day I will stroll through those doors again, take a perch at the counter, and revel in the odors of an aged cup of coffee and cheesy eggs benny. I’ll probably pass on the salad.

Weebles or Webelos?

            That is about one of the stupidest titles I have yet to come up with, but since the tale reaches way back to the land before both Comstock and even Jolly Old Joe’s, I thought something childish was apt. Who are we kidding, it is apt either way. In the great tradition of Thies I thought I would share a story that goes back to the misty days before we all knew each other in order to regale you with my stunning prowess as an outdoor man.

            As expected of all the hearty young men of my age, I was thrust into the social activity of Cub Scouts from the moment it became an option in what, third grade or something. I already resented the forced application of “friendship” based on some activity we were all told we would enjoy, but Scouts was less heinous than most as many of my real friends also happened to be members, such as Jeff  and Dave, as well as a smattering of others such as Schultz who dogged my footsteps even back then. I drew the line at Little League which no amount of coaxing could force me into; I in my Calvin-esque preference to play by myself with imaginary creatures or sit reading voluntarily in the confines of a large rabbit cage I dragged into my parent’s backyard. I digress.

            Scouting is a grand tradition based on the Spartan notion of introducing military structure into children’s lives as early as possible, though admittedly in a real fluffy kind of way. Case in point, as lowly Bobcats at the bottom of the totem pole hardship duty was more confined to making shit out of popsicle sticks or peanut butter rather than being woken at 4 to haul ass somewhere to scrub toilets. We worked hard up through the ranks of Wolf and Bear; even though I would have preferred to stop advancement at Wolf the bastards promoted me anyway to new heights of responsibilities. We wore the blue with pride along with our little yellow scarves and all that. Some were more highly decorated than others, having mastered such crafts as applying Elmer’s glue or racing little wooden cars, but things even out and by the 5th grade we all made Mighty Webelo, which is Indian for something like, “little white bastards adopt the ways of our people in a real half assed manner”. That might not be verbatim.

            Being a Webelo was a pretty big deal. We got a different color scarf, were undisputedly the oldest cubs (except that idiot who still couldn’t glue) and got to go on the fabled winter campout in Alleghany with the Boy scouts who were anxious to see who might be tapped to come up into the big leagues. We trained for months and when January hit every one of us could identify the correct color snow not to eat, make up to three semi-obscene shadow puppets with out flashlights, and stir a whole 5 gallon jug of bug juice using nothing but one’s filthy hand.

            On the Webelo side of things, it came down to Jeff, Dave, Pete, Mike S, Keith “Do-Bee”, and me. We were almost matched in number by parents; my father, Mike S’s, Pete’s, and Jeff’s dads all electing to come along as well. Our fearless and reckless natures were well known and documented, so every effort was made to keep the ratio low. On the Boy Scout side of things it was a host of assholes from the St Andrew’s troop, many of whom we didn’t know. Word on the street was that we could expect them to come at us the first night and probably not let up till dawn. It was all right though; most of us had been fighting Charlie for years now, albeit in neighborhood level finger gun kinda way, but we expected no surprises.

            Before we even got in the cars, we got the riot act. Standard stuff really – no knives, no other weapons, especially no knives, stay out of the dad’s beer and liquor, and yes, no knives. On the way down in the Scuto car Keith was trying to surreptitiously put his knife away after flashing it around the car at the other frightened campers (the boy wadn’t right) and managed to slice his hand open good and smear blood all over the Scuto back seat. Mike’s father was apparently very unhappy and despite a powerful desire to leave Keith by the side of the road, managed to bandage up our first casualty and confiscate the knife.

            We arrived well after dark, the first incidence in what I would find to be a grand scouting tradition. Always arrive at night when maximum chaos will introduce every impedance possible to make set up a shitty experience and guarantee the remainder of the trip will be conducted under the guidance of overtired young minds. Though the intrepid young Webelos would have preferred a tent or even lean-to, the father opted for the fully loaded cabin with electricity option. Wusses. After getting us settled in, they disappeared off to caucus in the Boy Scout fathers cabin where popular rumor had it that the fruits of Dionysus flowed freely and the steaks were the size of toilet seats. Left to out own devices, we munched raw hotdogs and engaged in the traditional activity of young boys left on their own; pummeling each other until someone got hurt.

            Jeff was the first to spot them having retired to his cot after being Dutch rubbed by Pete and bit by Keith despite the impressive defense applied by Dave and myself. Masked faces flitted by the window. They had come and we were unprepared having distracted our defenses in the attempt to impose ‘Lord of the Flies’ style order.

 

“Is it locked? Is the door locked?!”

 

            It hadn’t of course; the council of fathers had forbidden it under the concern that they would be forced to deal with the inconvenience in a heavily inebriated condition. Jeff screamed in terror as three large figures, suspected by some to be the very same escaped convicts invented in a tale of terror but an hour before, and by some to be the first wave of the Boy Scouts. The raiding party was small; probably an advance unit dispatched to probe our defenses and report back. We couldn’t have that; it just wouldn’t do.

            Pete and Keith were our muscle as both had been in more fights, often against each other, then any of us could count. They didn’t shy away. Pete was big enough to engage one on his own while Keith tackled the second with Mike’s help. They took a combative approach, Pete with a thumping style and Keith fighting dirty. Keith then pulled the second knife he had apparently brought and it was enough to scare the first two off as everyone knew he was crazy enough to use it.

            Dave and I double teamed the third and managed to make a capture having wrestled him down on the bed and sitting on him.

 

“We got one! We got one!”

 

            We ripped off the rubber Boba Fett mask and as per expectations saw not the grizzled visage of a hardened and well ass pounded convict, but the fresh freckle face of one of the Guam boys. Our first inclination was to keep him hostage against further attacks, but Keith was getting itchy fingers with the knife. We consulted our knowledge of the Geneva Convention but found it wanting. Between Keith’s torturous desires and Jeff being freaked out by the kids presence, not yet having ruled out in his own mind that the kid was not supernatural in nature or “the real Boba Fett”, we decided to let him go, keeping the mask as spoils of war.

            Furious debate erupted. Do we forget the faces of our fathers and bar the door against the inevitable reprisal or face what may come? In the distance we could hear the shrieks of rage as the war party assembled in response to the affront we incurred against the Guam kid. Jeff, conflicted about disobedience was moved to suddenly fly to the door and lock it secure. It wasn’t a moment too soon as the handle jiggled furiously as he bolted to the back door to perform the same action, even as the raiders moved around the outside for the same objective. Secure! The masked figures made a clamorous din of banging and howling, but we would not budge. Well, except for Keith who had his knife out and wished to let them in. Jeff huddled beneath his cot and begged us to find a way to make them stop.

 

“We’re not letting you guys in.”

 

“You will, and we’re gonna pound ya!!”

 

“What? That doesn’t sound like a good idea at all! We’ll stay put. Thanks.”

 

            They were forced to admit that were the circumstances reversed, they would probably not let in a bloodthirsty party of goons who seemed effectively stymied. It finally became a matter of psychological torture against Jeff, who was almost convinced to actually let them in rather than listen to the din of their enraged pounding. Finally, to save poor Jeff we negotiated a truce whereby we would return the captured mask through the window if they would go away and not return the following night. They capitulated and thus ended the great battle of opening night. Not quite ‘300’ but come on, we were in 5th grade.

            The next morning after a breakfast of cold cereal the boys decided to try to conquer the hill right outside the cabin door while the dads lazed about nursing hangovers. Upon reaching the summit, some 90 feet up or so, a rousing game of ‘king of the hill’ erupted. Actually rather than it being a game per se, it instead was a concentrated effort of Pete to throw Keith and Jeff off the hill for kicks and the rest of us joining in. We were about to have our second casualty. Jeff, taking a loose shove from one of us responded by barreling down the hill at breakneck speed, screaming the whole way with his arms flopping helplessly behind him. He would have gone right off the edge of the precipice had the cabin not been there to stop him. BOOM! He hit the side full force, bounced back a little, then collapsed in a heap.

 

“What the hell was that?” the hung over dad’s asked from the doorway.

 

“Jeff…uh… slipped and hit the side of the cabin.”

 

            Jeff’s father rushed out, picked up the semi-unconscious lad and ushered him inside for some hot cocoa while the rest of us continued our game. Jeff rejoined us after about a half hour, and wouldn’t you know it, on his very first foray up he went ahead and did the same damn thing. We were thus banned from the hill for the rest of the morning for not being able to play nice and not chuck Jeff into the side of the cabin. Completely unfair!

            The fun of throwing people down a huge mound of earth ruined, we decided to make like a shepherd and get the flock out of there to less supervised territory. It was time to play explorer as it was our impression that in all likelihood the wilderness 100 feet from the cabin and beyond was virgin territory never tread by human feet except perhaps for some itinerant Cree or other indigenous tribe. I chose to play Pissarro, as in my mind he was inexorably linked to Legion of Doom superstar Bizzaro and thereby the most insanely powerful of the old time Conquistadors. Before you get all PC and insist on pointing out that the Conquistadors were hardly role models, bear in mind we were in 5th grade and the little details like the genocidal massacre of every thriving society in the Western hemisphere had not yet appeared in our social studies books.

            Roaring through the underbrush after less faux Kryptonian Spaniards, I became the next man down. As my eyes had been focused far on the back of Dave’s jacket, I completely missed the big pricker bush in front of me and rammed my face deep into it and cut the cornea of my eye in the process. People like to use phases like “the pain exploded” and whatnot, and I like that so I’m going to do the same thing. The pain exploded in the front of my face and I feel into the wet slushy snow. Dave and Pete took the task of guiding me back to the cabin after I spend a good half hour blinded and yelling on the side of the hill. My problem was that when I opened the unaffected eye, the cut eye would erupt in pain. I learned this lesson two years previous when blinded for the good half of the summer by yellow caterpillar fur; a tale for another day.

            Using my caterpillar-fur-in-the-eye expertise, I was determined not to let the happening ruin my day and the promised fun that lay ahead. I would do everything blind. Hell if Bazooka Joe could get by and have zany adventures with one peeper, who was I to bow down to the pain of fate? Screw that little bubblegum dork! I would not back down. The next activity sledding; this didn’t pose so much a challenge going down as trying to blindly dodge the oncoming sleds on the way back up the hillside. Once it became known that I was a sitting duck with the fast development of echolocation being my best chance for not getting creamed, the rest of the winter revelers took to aiming for me. I found a fast advantage in the ability to open the unaffected eye ever so slightly as to gauge the presence of an oncoming missile. Once came upon my so fast that all I could do was leap vertically and smash my boot square into the bombardier’s nose, bloodying it but good. Only the most foolhardy of sledders came for me after that.

            Next to be injured was Keith, or Do-Bee as we called him after the giant mascot on teen drama ‘Romper Room’. He was as careless a sledder as he was a knifeman and managed to flip his toboggan into the only exposed rock on the entire hillside and gash open the side of his face. At the sight of yet more blood the Counsel of Dad’s voted to shut down the activity all together knowing full well that the following day they would be on the hook to explain each tiny little boo-boo to over concerned mothers. Whoever thought it was a good idea to take pre-pubescent rowdy youngsters with imaginations in overdrive and no common sense into the woods in wintertime was cursing himself by that point and the worse had yet to come.

            After patching up Do-Bee, it was decided that a nice safe, boring nature walk would be the best way to finish out the day. This of course sucked for me because who wants to be led around blind to “look” at nature. I was forced into the march anyway and in the end was happy I did in order to bear auditory witness to the debacle that was to come. A difference of opinion immediately broke out in the hiking party. The Counsel of Dad’s was under the impression that such a walk was for the purpose of experiencing and appreciating nature. For the more junior set, however, it was clear and evident that the purpose was to seek out and destroy as much nature as possible. Like a shaggy horde of Huns armed with ‘walking sticks’, we fanned out beating the underbrush, decapitating helpless ferns, and ripping up and absconding with countless fossil rocks that had lay undisturbed for countless millions of years before us.

            Finally exasperated by our aggressive tactics toward Mother Nature, we were turned back by the weary elders to prepare for dinner. Someone noted that the cabin could be reached in a fraction of the time by ascending the near vertical escarpment of 100 feet or so. It seemed like a good idea at the time and we started up the pass of least resistance. I was being shoved up by various people from time to time, and nearing the top I was lucky enough to have the Guam boy’s father taking responsibility. Suddenly he pushed me into a tree and bade me in a panicked voice to hang on. Behind me I could hear calamity! It as if an avalanche was in process and screams of the doomed wafted up from Hades to torment me. Moments later, silence, eerie and complete.

            I had no idea what happened and was stranded holding on to dear life to a tree as my ears strained for the sounds of human existence. I considered that the Rapture might have occurred and instantly became angry that those sons of bitches would be swept up into the heavens over me and vowed to seek revenge if that was the case. I’d learn ‘em what a real Anti-Christ was about! Then my father, panting just a bit, asked if I was all right and helped me up the last few feet to the edge behind the cabin. I found only him; I; Mr Scuto and the irascible Dave Walsh managed to make it to the top unscathed.

            What had happened was that Mr. Guam lost his footing seconds after having me grab that tree and proceeded to fall cartoon style creating a giant tumbling ball of dust, snow, body parts, exclamatory characters, as well as some little lightning bolts and pain lines thrown in. Andy Capp and the Missus times ten! The disaster managed to suck everyone in its path in but for the lucky 3 who managed to dodge the bullet. Creaking one eye open  I could look down and see the prone little figures slowly begin to rise and shake themselves like beaten dogs. By virtue of his fleet feet, Dave managed to be the only one of the younger set then to escape injury that trip; an omen of more serious things to come.

            Rather than risk the peril of more falling Guam’s and whatnot, Mr Scuto shuttled the survivors back up in his minivan by driving down and around to the base of the hill. A day later, bedraggled, bandaged and liking our wounds we drove back to Buffalo to recuperate and watch our fathers catch hell for the egregious lack of protection provided our fragile young selves. Of the group, only I went on to become a full fledged Boy Scout, though wasn’t enough of a wienie to make it all the way to Eagle.