Dads don't bluff.
My brothers and I learned this valuable lesson as we were trekking down Interstate 95 on Christmas night, 1979.
Most Decembers of my childhood, we would visit my mom's parents in Orlando over Christmas vacation, leaving on the night of Christmas and returning after New Year's. In the winter of '79, we had been on the road for about five hours when the aforementioned lesson took place.
You see, that year my brothers and I received, courtesy of the "Make Parents Want to Stab Themselves With a Dull Pencil" division of the Milton Bradley Company, a game called "Simon". The object of "Simon" was to repeat, in exact sequence, the beeps, boops, and buzzes (accompanied by multicolored lights) emitted by the jelly donut-shaped game console. We'd been at it since about 5:30 that morning, and when my dad, in a move he would come to regret, said we could bring one toy with us on the trip to Florida, well, Simon was the obvious choice. In the back of the Chevy Nomad we sat, pressing buttons and racking up new high scores into the night.
We beeped our way down the Jersey Turnpike.
We booped through Delaware.
We buzzed past Baltimore.
We even blipped and bleeped across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
In retrospect, and now being a father myself, I have to be honest and say my dad lasted a lot longer than I would have. But even so, somewhere in Virginia we hit DEFCON 1 on the Dad-o-Meter.
"If I hear one more (expletive) beep, I'm throwing that thing to the side of the highway!"
This would be as good a time as any to tell you a little bit about my youngest brother Bobby.
Bobby is five years younger than I am, which made him nine years old that particular Christmas. He is blessed with the gift of humor, the sincere desire to be all things to all people, and a good-natured personality that makes him almost impossible not to like and even harder to get angry at. At age nine he was not, unfortunately, endowed with much of an ability to think things through to their inevitable conclusion. So when Dad made the threat, let's just say that one of us was not on the same page.
"Come on, one more game, it's my turn anyway," Bobby whispered.
"You heard Dad, we have to stop," replied 11-year old Eric. He's the family equivalent of Switzerland.
"Just once. He won't really throw it away," Bobby insisted.
"He might not throw it away, but we'll get in trouble," I added. Keeping it real.
"I think he'll throw it away AND we'll get in trouble," said Eric, keeping it realer.
"Here, let me have it," Bobby said, and grabbed Simon from the van's table. Eric and I just looked at each other. Let the games begin.
Somewhere in Detroit, at Chevrolet's manufacturing plant, there is a man who was responsible for installing the braking system on the 1978 Chevy Nomad. Based on the immediacy with which my father was able to bring the vehicle to a screeching halt on the shoulder of I-95, I am certain that this gentleman at Chevy took his job very seriously, and undoubtedly earned Employee of the Year honors.
The sliding door opened. An outstretched arm and an open hand reached into the back of the van. Without a word, Bobby placed Simon in the hand. The arm withdrew. The door slammed shut.
When we next saw our father, he was standing in front of the van, illuminated only by the headlights. It was almost ethereal. Then, in one fluid, Jenner-esque motion, Dad wound up and discus-flung Simon into the night, abandoned, to beep its final boop in the woods outside Norfolk.
We drove the next 25 miles or so in dead silence, which was only to be broken by two words Eric muttered under his breath."Told ya."
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Dads don't bluff.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
After more cutting and pasting than I EVER want to do again in my life, the construction of KNUCKLEHEAD is complete. Thank you so much for your patience, and dealing with my archives clogging up your readers.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
If you were an American male, between the ages of say, 10 and 15 in the mid-70's, I'd be willing to wager that you have a story quite similar to this one.
You see, the mid-70's were the absolute heyday of one Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, motorcycle stuntman-slash-self-destructive nut job with a death wish. Every few Sundays, my friends and I would gather around the TV and, thanks to ABC's Wide World of Sports, bear witness to an array of Knievlian feats. Fly a Harley over 26 double-decker buses? Check. Soar over 20 Mack trucks? Done. Sail over the fountains at Caesar's Palace, crash, and flop like a rag doll across the pavement breaking practically every bone in his body? Mission accomplished. Evel was gutsy. Evel was charismatic. Evel was an alcoholic, borderline psycho intent on jeopardizing his very existence for the entertainment of a schadenfreude-obsessed public.
We idolized him, is what I'm saying.
One Sunday afternoon, after watching one of his successful jumps, three of us were appropriately inspired to attempt our own version of Evel's "Watch Me Pull a 15-Mack-Truck-Long Publicity Stunt Out of My Ass" trick.
Of course, we didn't have a Harley. We had a Huffy.
We didn't have Mack trucks. We had metal trash cans.
We didn't have a cool cape and motorcycle helmet. We had an American flag beach towel and a New York Jets football helmet. The kind with the sticker on the back that said "Warning: Not a Protective Helmet".
All we needed now was an incredibly brave 9-year old willing to risk life and limb to entertain the rest of us.
In every neighborhood, there resides one kid who will do absolutely anything on a dare. Doesn't matter what it is, if it's preceded by the phrase, "Hey, (fill in name), I dare you to . . . " this individual will take it upon himself - it's always a guy, no girls are this moronic - to prove his manhood to all in attendance. In our neighborhood, this role was filled by Mike the Whip.
Here's a look at Mike's resume under the category of "Dares Taken", covering the period between his 8th and 12th birthdays:
June 12, 1973: Swallowed 57 cents in small change.
October 22, 1973: Jumped off the roof of his house.
April 5, 1974: Stole a six pack of Old Milwaukee from Stop n' Shop.
September 13, 1974: Called our fourth grade teacher, and I quote, "One hot mama." To her face.
March 18, 1975: Ate a live salamander.
August 2, 1976: Grabbed the mostly-developed right hooter of Debbie Esposito, a girl four years his senior.
August 3, 1976: Cheerfully took a beating from Vinnie Esposito, the very large, extremely hostile, and marginally psychotic brother of Debbie (one should note, however, that this was an unintended consequence of a dare, not a dare in and of itself).
All of which, of course, made Mike an obvious nominee for the title of Neighborhood Daredevil.
So, as Robbie and I dutifully set up the trash cans and a wooden ramp (a plank, actually), Mike the Whip suited up in the beach towel and Jets helmet, hopped on my bike, and pedaled down to the far end of the "launch runway," better known as Runyon Avenue.
Looking like Joe Namath on a three-day bender, Mike came flying down the street, towel fluttering behind him. He hit the ramp straight on and soared majestically through the air, successfully clearing three trash cans!
Unfortunately, we had set up FIVE trash cans.
You're probably thinking, "That was pretty stupid, STARTING with five trash cans." That's because you're smarter than we were. Basically, we started with five trash cans because we HAD five trash cans. If Mr. Wagner's gate hadn't been locked, it would've been six trash cans.
So Mike clanged off trash can number four while my Huffy careened into the Kellermans' front yard and the Jets helmet spun on the pavement like an official NFL dredl. Ensuing groans and whimpers were rendered inaudible by the towel wrapped around Mike's head.
"Is his leg supposed to look like that?" asked Robbie.
"I don't think so. It looks like he has two knees."
"Everyone has two knees."
"Not on the same leg."
Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your point of view), Mike's mom heard the crash and came running outside. Being a mature adult, brimming with maternal instincts and unconditional love for her oldest son, and sensing the immediate need to get the situation under control, Mrs. the Whip reacted as any mother would.
She freaked out.
"WHOSE DUMB ASS IDEA WAS THIS?!?!"
Well, technically, the "dumb ass" concept of hurtling through the air on a two-wheeled cycle o' death was Evel Knievel's idea, but we were pretty sure that wasn't Mike's mother meant. Her question, as it turned out, was rhetorical because by the time I had formulated a response (something to the effect of "we kinda all thought of it"), Mike was being loaded into the back seat of the Mom-mobile. In a dramatic vehicular stunt all her own, Mike's mom peeled out of the driveway, and sped off with Andretti-like focus to Somerset Hospital.
That was the last of our Evel deeds.
Until . . .
A few months later, after Mike's cast came off, the pins were removed, the scrapes and cuts had healed and my bike was (more or less) repaired, the three of us were sitting in Robbie's living room eagerly anticipating ABC's live telecast of Evel Knievel's attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. Spanning the globe, bringing us the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory, blah, blah, blah . . .
Anyway . . .
We watched in admiration as Evel prepared.
We got goosebumps when we saw him board the rocket bike.
We gasped when the chute opened prematurely.
We panicked as Evel floated downward into the Snake River.
We all looked at each other in silence. After the appropriate pause (let's say, five seconds), Mike said, "We gotta try something like THAT."
Naturally, we didn't have a rocket bike. We had a Huffy with slightly twisted rims.
We didn't have a canyon. We had a mud-filled ditch behind an abandoned warehouse.
We didn't have a cool cape and motorcycle helmet. We had a mostly-shredded scraggly towel and a scratched up Jets football helmet with the "Warning: Not a Protective Helmet" sticker sarcastically circled in black magic marker.
Well, one thing led to another, and about an hour later, Robbie and I were looking down into the ditch at an upside-down Huffy, a helmet missing its facemask, and a banged-up and bloodied 9-year old daredevil. Robbie asked what I thought was a pretty good question.
"Is his arm supposed to look like that?"
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Just FYI, I'm transitioning to a new URL. The one the got you here obviously works, and it will eventually re-direct you to the new one which is:
Simple, huh? If it's not too much trouble, you might want to go to the new one on your "blogs I'm following" and on your blogroll (ahem, ahem).
Anyway, as you can see I have a new name and a new URL. I'm still ugly, though. Can't have everything.
I appreciate your patience and your continued help in getting word of these changes to all of our mutual friends. You're all wonderful.
As you can see, I'm making progress. I'm going to put up a new original piece later this evening, and then I'm going to add a whole bunch of stuff from the old site (I was able to save it all! Woohoo!). Naturally, I'm not going to bother transferring over the crap, but my better stuff will make the trip.
I apologize if this clogs up your reader for a bit . . . but I want to get all my archives over to this new place.
What do you thing? Looking okay so far?
Be back soon . . .
Rusty (cough, cough).
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Hey! You found me! Thanks, I appreciate it.
Anyway, here's the story.
Over at my former site, which shall remain nameless so as to thwart search engines, I was foolish enough to use my actual name. For the past year, it didn't present a problem. Well, in the last couple days or so, someone who has nothing to do with my place of employment and wouldn't know me from Adam stumbled across that other site by doing a Google search for cranberry juice.
One thing led to another, some of my material was taken horrifically out of context and e-mailed to my superiors. Let me be clear on this . . . I was NOT told to take the site down. I did that on my own because, frankly, it's not the hill I'm ready to die on. It's just easier to go about my business this way, and maintain a certain amount of anonymity. My new name is Chris S. Rushdie.
I realize this new blog looks like shit right now. I'll get to it over the weekend, I promise, in the meantime if you could help me spread the word (and link our mutual friends to this new land) I would be ever so grateful.
And just because I love you all so much, my first "real" post will be the next installment of the "Where Are They Now" series, featuring Davey Hansen of "Davey and Goliath" fame.
See you this weekend!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I grew up in a neighborhood four blocks long and one block wide. The neighborhood may have been small, but the 10-15 year old male demographic was disproportionally represented, resulting in various informal sporting events. During the fall and winter, football was the game of choice, and we played in the outfield of Runyon Field, which was right around the corner from my house. The games were usually five on five or thereabouts, tackle. This naturally resulted in plenty of bruises and scrapes, mostly inflicted by the untackleable Wayne DeMato. Wayne was a year ahead of me, among the older kids in our group, and he was built like a fire hydrant. Whichever team he ended up on always played him at fullback and nine times out of ten, that team won the game.
If you'd like to experience what it was like to play defense against Wayne's team, do this experiment at home. You'll need an assistant. Take a long plank, about thirty feet long and five feet wide. Stand in your driveway facing your house, with a waist-high table in front of you. Your assistant should then climb on your roof with a bowling ball. Take the plank and rest one end of it on the edge of the roof, the other end on the table. Then, close your eyes, and have your assistant roll the bowling ball down the angled plank, and try to catch it, all the while keeping your eyes closed. When you regain consciousness, you will have reasonably simulated an attempted tackle of Wayne DeMato.
Another example of Wayne's toughness. We were playing a pickup game of baseball at the same field one summer afternoon. I was on first base, and Wayne was playing shortstop for the other team. The batter, I can't remember who, hit a grounder to the second baseman, who flipped it to Wayne to start the double play. I slid in to Wayne, my shin hitting the back of his lower leg causing him to fall on me, which was not a pleasant experience, let me tell you. I heard a snap, and Wayne got up limping. We played a few more innings until eventually Wayne said his leg was really getting sore and he should go home. Well, the next day at school Wayne was in a cast, and told us he had broken the smaller bone in his lower leg (the fibula, but we didn't know that back then). Amazingly, I think he had two hits during the innings after he had already gotten hurt. Even on a broken leg, the guy dominated.
Other times, a bunch of us would play touch football in the street. I remember one time we were out there and the temperature was about fifteen degrees. One of the younger kids, Mike Ambrose, was wearing one of those NFL jackets that were supposed to look like your traditional letterman's jacket. Felt, with imitation leather (read: plastic) sleeves. Mike went across the middle, caught a pass and ran smack into the defender and fell to the asphalt on his arm. That's when the faux-leather right sleeve on his Redskins jacket broke.
Not ripped, not tore.
It was so cold that the plastic had hardened, and then cracked on the street. He pulled off the jagged forearm and tossed it aside, and we continued the game. We laughed our butts off about that one for weeks.
Games like these consumed hour upon hour, day after day. We didn't have elaborate video game systems (unless you count "Pong"), so we were outside until it got too cold in the winter or until the street lights came on in the summer. I still remember a lot of those guys. Joe Buck and Ken Kinney, who were always the fastest runners among us. Rob, and Paul, the Hodges Brothers Ken and John, and the two Waldmans, Keith and Kevin. It was a pretty fun neighborhood to grow up in. Very few fights, and those that did break out were settled pretty quickly and the game went on.
Don't remember anyone ever fighting Wayne, though. We may have just been dumb kids, but we weren't suicidal.