That hated time.
That dreaded time.
That feared time.
Because I did not know my left foot from my right foot.
You see, during “Nap Time” I had to remove my shoes and I could never figure out which shoe went on which foot.
Made no difference to me if I woke up and put the left shoe into the right mouth, but it did seem to matter a great deal to my kindergarten teacher. She would grow livid if one of her charges got the whole shoe business wrong. Well, good for her and bless her heart.
“Your shoes are on the wrong foot. Doesn’t that look funny to you? Doesn’t it feel uncomfortable? Don’t you feel like a fool?”
No. No. And, No.
I cared not.
However, being eager to please and wont to have no drama hurled in my direction, I made an honest effort to figure out the ‘whole shoe business’ just to make my life easier and less complicated.
Since I, until this day, cannot discern right from left, (or find my wayward way about my home town—pop: 1800) I came up with what I thought was a semi-brilliant plan: When nap-time came about, I would remove my shoes and carefully place them on the floor and slide them underneath my cot in exactly the same configuration that they had whilst my feet were wearing them. I surmised that once awakened, I could roll over, sit up, and by placing my feet just the same way as before I had retired, find the shoes exactly as they had been. Good theory, but I was never quite certain if or not, some Evil Shoe Satan had trifled with my shoes whist I was sleeping and therefore, did not know (with absolute certainty) if my shoes were still in the same configuration where I had left them and hence, if they would go back on in that same same configuration I needed.
I hated nap time.
Or, more accurately: the waking up from nap time.
Many survived nap-times (and years) later…
My mom and I were best friends for the first ten years of my life. Of course I don’t much remember the first two, and there was also that brief period I spent kidnapped by my father and stepmother, (And ferreted away in stealth to Kansas City), but I am making an assumption based on the remaining eight or so. She married young, had me young, and divorced young. She got all that out of her system by the time she was about twenty-two I believe. She and my father met during college at East Texas State University in Commerce and quickly married. My father was there after having been expelled from most of the other universities in Texas and was a French/Drama double-major. Mom was into El Ed.
Sometime after mom and grandmother (with the help of a private investigator) kidnapped me back, mom and I moved to Fremont, California where she got a job teaching first grade at Harvey Green Elementary. I was assigned to mom’s first grade class and I remember thinking how easy I was going to have it because of this. Wrong! I still accuse her of child abuse during that school year. Once she punished me and a buddy for talking in class by making me stand on tip toes with my nose pressed against the chalkboard as she drew a circle around it and making me keep it there for what seemed like six days.
But those were happy times for the most part, and we lived in a very small garage apartment owned by some friends of my grandparents. My mother had a beautiful voice and would sing a cappella constantly while cooking, doing dishes, or just mucking about the apartment. My musical talents have obviously come from my father’s side.
The elderly couple who owned the apartment and the very large house and yard surrounding it were called Benbow. They were very nice people and apparently very, very good friends of my grandmother; hence our living there for what I now must assume was cheap rent. I liked them well enough I suppose. They had a ranch somewhere close to Fremont and I do remember going there at least once for the ‘roundup.’ There were horses, cows, dog, cats, varmints, barbecue, (Not barbecued varmints!) and a nice creek to go skinny dipping in. All right there in the Bay Area. Amazing to me now, but then, that was many years ago…
What I didn’t like about the arrangement was the fact that Mrs. Benbow had a pet Tom Turkey, named ‘Mr. Peabody.’ This bird hated little boys. And he was passionate about it. Mom would give me a cookie and tell me, “Now, go play outside and let me finish cleaning the house.” I feared the outside while holding cookies. Mr. Peabody would lie in wait for me, and as soon as he saw me with cookies or anything resembling cookies, he would launch his attack. With a strongly developed sense of self-preservation even at that tender age, I would drop the cookies and flee (Read: Run Like Hell) back to mom, complaining about this evil bird. She would just laugh and tell me to get over it, or “Why don’t you just play somewhere else?” Easily said Mom, but impossibly done. “Remember? I can’t cross the street???” Grrrr…. This was not the proper response from someone who was supposed to love me above and beyond all things on Earth.
One day as I was warily munching a cookie, I saw Mr. Peabody circling, sizing me up for the attack that was certain to follow, but this day I did not flee. Something had come over me and instead of running for the apartment I ran for a large stick I had noticed on the ground just outside the door. Someone, or Some Thing had put that stick there for a reason and I was quite certain I knew what the reason was. I grabbed the stick and confronted Mr. Peabody. Now, most of the turkeys I have known are not terribly bright and Mr. Peabody being no exception kept charging me with his wings flapping, his beak squawking, and his talons kicking up dust as if he expected this to be just another easy victory for him in the never ending Cookie Wars.
I smacked him full force right in the side, “dusting him off” so to speak and releasing a small cloud of turkey feathers from him and a large “Whoop!” from me. This shocked him for an instant, but then he rejoined the battle in earnest and came at me again complaining even louder than before. With new found courage and drunk from the power that only MWTD, Massive Weapons of Turkey Destruction can provide, I stood my ground and let him have it again. This time he grew some intelligence and ran from me. He actually ran from me! I couldn’t believe it. Of course I had to chase him now. Memories of all the times of torment and of all the cookies lost flooded my mind. I was going to have my satisfaction. I chased that poor bird all around the yard, giddy with my newly found manhood and laughing manically the whole time. Mr. Peabody ended up running into the entrance to the stairwell leading to our apartment and promptly got stuck behind the water heater. As much as I hated that turkey I did not want him to die stuck behind that appliance in that awful way. I tried in vain to poke him out, but had to give up when called in to supper. Panic had started growing in my mind at that point, as I knew I would be blamed for the untimely end of The Gracious and Good Mr. Peabody even though I am certain there had been no witnesses.
Well, the damn bird did end up dying there and horribly so I am sure, and at the time I was somewhat remorseful, but as I look back on that experience, no longer am. May he rot in Hell. And even though relentlessly interrogated and upon more than one occasion, I never confessed to the murder of the Beloved Mr. Peabody–Until this day. And I am confident I can trust you not to drop a dime…
It wasn’t terribly long after ‘The Peabody Affair’ that we moved into a brand new house across town that my grandmother had purchased for us. I loved it and I still remember the street address: 39613 Bruning Street Fremont California (The ZIP code escapes me). The houses were all the same, being part of the whole which was a new housing development. That fact did not dampen my enthusiasm over having a brand new place that smelled gloriously of fresh paint and newly disturbed earth instead of damp, moldy mildew punctuated by the ever-present ghost of a murdered turkey.
It was a new beginning.
I was now in the fourth grade and in a new school district and in a new school. The name of which I cannot for the life of me remember. No matter. I loved the school. It was for 4th-6th grade only and I had a different teacher for each class, just like High School. Unbelievable! I was all grown up. I was a little big man or a big little man… and I was in a Big New School. It was 1966. Vietnam was just some place no one had really ever heard of. LBJ was bringing forth The Great Society. Color TVs were becoming affordable, (which meant Saturday Morning Cartoons in Color!) and I was going to be an astronaut.
I happily walked to school every day. Oh yes! No longer must I ride with Mom in her broken down, smelly, Gawd-awful-dirty-white Rambler to school. No Ma’am. I could walk to My School which was no more than two blocks from my house. Mom had kept her job at Harvey Green, so we would bid farewell every morning and go to our separate ‘jobs.’ As I said, I was all grown up.
The dominant theme during those years for me was Optimism. And I had it by the bushel. Hell, everyone did. America (at least my little segment of it) then was the Best Place on Earth. Everything was modern. Everything worked. Everything was brand new, sanitized and sealed for my protection. The government cared about us. I loved my school. I loved my friends. I loved my new house. I loved my life. Anything & Everything seemed possible. Of course, knowing what I know now of history and what happened beginning around 1967 to our country, I realize I was indeed living in a dream. But, that makes it no less real for me and my fond memories. I can wax ‘cynical’ with the best, but there are some things and some times in my life that I keep immune to too much ‘piercing introspection’ and analysis. I don’t have my head in the sand about some things in my past, but neither am I hell-bent on rewriting history to better represent what was truly going on at the time and how it is supposed to have affected me and made me what I am. I have my memories and they are happy memories and They made me what I am. And the fact that someone at the same place and at the same time with a little more knowledge would like to rain upon my parade doesn’t necessarily make my reality any less real for me than the reality that was then for them.
My mother was probably “The Original Hippy Chick.” When Haight-Asbury was in full bloom, she would not shut up about it until we went there. I knew a little of the Hippy Culture then, yet had no desire to experience it ‘up close an’ personal.’ Mom did. So one bright sunny Saturday morning we packed up the Rambler and headed to ‘Frisco and Haight-Ashbury. To say that trip opened my eyes would be an understatement bordering on felonious. I was shocked, awed, amazed, bothered, bewildered, enlightened, enchanted, enthralled, and all at the same time. The whole day was a whorl of attacks on my senses and emotions. I remember clearly all the people with their long hair, colorful clothing, love beads, head bands, peace signs, guitars, laughter, and smoke coming from everywhere and not smelling at all like the smoke from the cigarettes my mother used to light up. But most of all, I remember the music. Music was ubiquitous and oh how I did love the music.
We walked up and down those streets for hours and I do believe my mother stopped and purchased some trinket from every single hippy-trinket-seller she visited, which, by my estimation, would have been all of two hundred of them.
Not really being a trinkets-man myself, I purchased a pair of small green turtles that I wanted to rescue from a hippy life I was certain they were not well suited for. I actually remember telling the turtles during the ride home not to worry; that they were safe now, and also apologizing to them if I had left any of their family members behind due to the fact that my meager allowance did not afford me the luxury of benevolence to purchase freedom for the whole lot of them–Even though I did beg mom for an advance to do just that.
It was at about that same time that ‘Mike’ appeared. Mike was a good man, a carpenter by trade, raised by nuns in an orphanage in Michigan, and as most good Catholics, patriarch of a very large family. It took me some time, but I did finally come to realize that Mike and Mom were more than casual acquaintances. Mom and I started spending more and more time at Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and various other places for ‘outings.’ Mike always seemed to appear at these places ‘as if by magic.’ They took me to Reno one weekend, left me in a hotel room with a baby sitter as the son of a single mother and came back to me in the room as a son with a mother and a stepfather. The best part of the trip was when they took me to a casino. While unsupervised, I got busted by the casino staff for playing the nickel slots. I was pissed too when they made me stop even though, as I logically tried to explain, “No, I can’t because I’m winning you see and…” They did at least allow me to keep my winnings. Thus the seeds of my first vice (of many to come) were planted in my fertile young psyche.
Well, of course Mike moved in with us permanently, so at least that façade was over and things settled into a ‘new normal’ for me. After about a year of Mike’s ex, decidedly and justifiably taking him to the cleaners for alimony, child support, and his left uh… leg, we packed up a second-hand panel truck, a squeaky trailer, one smelly white Rambler, two cats, one dog, two green turtles… oh, and one brand-new baby brother for me, and moved back to Texas where the word ‘alimony’ has to this day yet to be enshrined into the vernacular. I’m sure we looked like ‘The Joads,’ only in reverse.
“Turtle Blues” below.
(But of course, you’d know that)