Monday, August 30, 2010
"I should, huh?"
"Yes. You have two choices."
"Is one of the choices going back to sleep and dealing with your breakfast in an hour?" I asked hopefully.
"Didn't think so. What do you want?"
"Well, you can go to Vons and get some cheese bagels or if you don't want to get out of the car, just run through a drive through and get Egg McMuffins and hash browns or something."
"All right, bagels sound good actually."
"Oh, and one more thing . . . "
Whenever Theresa sends me on an errand, no matter how small, it almost always includes a "one more thing" addendum. For example, "Chris, we need to go pick up the mail and oh, there's one more thing, we should probably go to Target." Never mind that Target is nowhere near the post office, and Theresa's trips to Target are more exhausting and complex than most Arctic expeditions. The "one more thing" addendum has no such restrictions, nor is it limited to only ONE more thing. In our world, therefore, it's not uncommon for a ten-minute milk run to include a dozen one-more-things and end up killing most of a weekend.
"Oh, one more thing, while you're there you can pick up a bag of ice for tonight." In our household, we normally drink our sodas right from the can. But we were having friends over for dinner and we always assume that our guests (as well as the rest of Western civilization) will be a bit more sophisticated than we are. Thus, the ice.
So I went to Vons Supermarket and headed first to the bakery section. The bagels were packaged neatly in sleeves of six, so I grabbed a sleeve of cheddar and a sleeve of cheddar-jalapeno (my favorite) and went off in search of the ice.
That's when the trouble started.
1. Buy the lime ice cubes and then play dumb when everyone asked "Why does my diet Dr. Pepper taste weird?"
2. Buy the ice block and spend a couple hours chipping the hell out of it with an ice pick, which I do not own in the first place.
3. Go with the 20-pound bag and hope it fit in our freezer, or divvy up the ice in to Ziploc bags.
I went with the 20-pounder.
"Excuse me, Chuck?" The checker's name was Chuck. It said so right there on his name tag.
"Yes, can I help you?"
"You wouldn't happen to have a smaller bag of ice somewhere, would you? I'm just hosting a small dinner gathering, not building an igloo."
"Actually, no. We just changed over to a new ice company, and we're not getting the smaller bags until next week."
Ice company? I've never thought about that. Imagine . . .
What do you do?
I work for the Mr. Chill Ice Company.
Really? What's your job there?
I'm in the water distribution department.
What does that entail?
I pour water into trays.
And then what?
Then the pre-freeze transport department takes the trays to the freezer guys.
That has to be the most pressure-free job on the planet. Unless the freezers break.
I thanked Chuck for his assistance, paid for the ice and the bagels, and headed home.
Theresa was in the kitchen when I arrived. "Jeez, did you get enough ice? There's no way that's going to fit in the freezer."
I told her the story, from lime-flavored ice cubes to Chuck. And then I opened the freezer and tried to squeeze the bag of ice in. Surprisingly, it sort of fit. We only had to transfer a couple of Ziploc bags worth of cubes.
And then she saw the bagels.
"They didn't have any fresh ones?" Theresa asked, with an obvious look of disappointment on her face. Now, had I been thinking quickly, I would have seen the trouble ahead and said no, they were all out of fresh bagels. But I'm not that smart.
"What do you mean, fresh ones?"
"Well, the fresh bagels are right there in the display and you put them in paper bags. The ones that are pre-wrapped in plastic -- like these -- are usually a day old. Did they have any in the display?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"And I apparently screwed up by getting the conveniently pre-wrapped ones?"
"Yes you did. I guess that's the last time I send you to the store for something."
But I think we all know that's a lie. There's always one more thing.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Thanks very much, Mr. Raymond.
Archie Raymond was my Drivers' Education teacher, and he had this habit of singing "Green Acres" during our behind-the-wheel training. He'd even punctuate the melody with a quick "bomp bomp" on the dashboard. This annoying distraction did nothing to improve the car-handling skills of our trio of would-be Mario Andrettis.
"Okay, time to hit the road ladies," said Mr. Raymond. "Who wants to go first?"
"1-2-3 NOT IT!" called Donny Duncan, bottom-of-the-high-school-food-chain dweeb with the coke-bottle glasses.
"NOT IT!" I echoed.
"Pussies," said Rick Mustain. Rick was a sophomore jock, admired by some, despised by everyone else. But more to the point, since Rick's parents were divorced, and Rick's dad got wrapped up in the whole "gotta show m'boy what a cool father he has" phase, Rick had already been driving for two years. Dear ol' dad had given him access to the Camaro right around the time he'd given him access to the Old Milwaukee.
Mustain got behind the wheel of the 1982 Ford Fairmont, revved the engine a few times, and we screeched out of he Cowtown High parking lot.
"Greeeeeeen Acres is the place to be . . . "
With minimal coaching from Mr. Raymond, Mustain merged into the flow of traffic and cruised the freeway. Although I couldn't see the speedometer from my vantage point in the back seat, it seemed like we had a pretty good chance of qualifying for the pole at Daytona.
" . . . keep Manhattan just give me that countrysiiiide."
As Donny battled car-sickness, Mustain exited the freeway, and pulled into the K-Mart parking lot so we could switch drivers.
"Okay Duncan, you're up," said Mr. Raymond.
"Me? Why do I have to go next?"
"Just get in the driver's seat, Candyass," said Mustain, as he drilled Donny in the chest with the car keys.
"Ow!" Donny rubbed his right nipple as he bent over to get the keys from the pavement.
The poor bastard. Donny was only taking drivers' ed because it was a requirement, not because he had any interest in actually operating a motor vehicle. If Donny had his druthers, he'd happily pedal his Schwinn or ride shotgun in his mom's minivan till he was eligible for Social Security.
Donny immediately drove over the curb as he misjudged the width of the parking lot exit.
"Neeeew York is where I'd ratha stay . . . I get allergic smelling hay . . . "
We proceeded down Palomino Avenue at the breakneck speed of fifteen miles per hour. A kid on a skateboard whizzed by.
Mr. Raymond had Donny enter the freeway. We accelerated to about thirty, completely monopolizing the slow lane. For the next fifteen minutes (two miles) Mustain and I played a game of "Count How Many People Give Us the Finger".
"Right there! The old geezer in the next lane!" called Mustain as a twenty-five foot Buick blew our doors in.
"You sure she wasn't just pointing at us?"
"No, man, she flipped us off. Her arthritis makes it look weird, though."
"There's another one, the guy on the Harley," I said.
"Check it out . . . a double bird from the kid in the back of that station wagon."
". . . darlin' I love ya but give me Park Avenue . . . "
Donny managed to get off the freeway, and we headed into a residential neighborhood to practice parallel parking. We found a reasonably empty side street, and Mr. Raymond set up a couple orange cones.
Which Donny promptly crushed. Repeatedly.
You've heard of a U-turn and a K-turn? Well, Donny Duncan invented what could best be described as the "asterisk turn".
Forward, reverse, forward, reverse, hit the curb, forward . . .
Once he finally got parallel parked, we changed places and I was responsible for getting us back to the high school via surface streets. I did a fair job, kept up with traffic, obeyed all traffic regulations, and to the best of my knowledge avoided getting flipped off by any road-raging grandmothers.
Mustain, though, spent the whole ride back alternately punching Donny in the arm and giving me wet willies in my left ear.
"Mr. Raymond, can you tell Mustain to knock it off?" whined Donny.
"Ah, shut up, ya little fairy," countered Mustain.
"Green Acres we are therrrre . . . Ba dump ba dump bump, BOMP BOMP!"
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Back in the late 1980's, I was an assistant manager of a movie theater in Pasadena, California. The theater was located on Colorado Blvd., which as you may know, is the route for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. One year, a bunch of us decided that it would be fun to spend New Year's Eve in the theater, and then watch the parade from the roof the next morning..
Now, I don't remember reading anything in the United Artists Employee Handbook specifically prohibiting the use of the theater premises for an overnight New Year's bash, complete with private showings of first-run movies, informal bar service and sleeping accommodations, but then again, whoever wrote the handbook could probably not have anticipated such a thing occurring.
On New Year's Eve 1988, such a thing occurred.
The theater was open on December 31, so it was business as usual until closing time. The last "official" movie of the evening ended at 11:30, and the paying customers were out by 11:45.
The "bar" opened at midnight.
The concession stand was equipped with refrigerators and ice bins, which on this night were perfect for keeping the beer cold. Mixed drinks were also available for those of that persuasion. On Rose Parade Eve, tourists start lining up along the route early, so the streets outside the theater were packed. This provided an outstanding fundraising (read: beer money) opportunity, as the theater restrooms were much more comfortable and convenient than the port-a-potties provided by the City of Pasadena. You'd be surprised how many people will pay $2 a shot to take a crap on a clean toilet. And then pay $5 for a beer on the way out.
It's pretty hard to run a full-sized Christie movie projector while under the influence, but as it turns out, not impossible. I cranked up a couple of films, and our invited guests enjoyed some free entertainment for the evening. At about 4:00 AM, we all pretty much sacked out in the projection room, a pile of exhausted, drunken idiots.
One evening, out of sheer boredom, Roger decided that he would spend his entire shift walking like a one-year old. Weight forward, knees locked, goofy-ass smile on his face. He even fell a couple times, just to add authenticity. It was hilarious.
Another time, he noticed that a customer was trying to enter the theater on the "wrong side" where the three sets of glass double doors were locked so they could only be used to exit. As the customer tried unsuccessfully to open the doors from the outside, Roger, instead of helping, counted the failed attempts in the voice of "The Count" from Sesame Street.
"ONE! ONE LOCKED DOOR! AAH! AAH! AAH!"
The customer proceeded to the next set of doors. He pulled the handle . . .
"TWO! TWO LOCKED DOORS! AAH! AAH! AAH!"
On to the third and final set. The poor sap was going for the fumblebuck trifecta.
"THREE! THREE BEAUTIFUL LOCKED DOORS! AAH! AAH! AAH!"
Anyway, we crashed out on New Year's Eve, and were still sound asleep when the parade was ready to start. Meanwhile Roger, who I don't think even bothered to go to sleep, had found the bull horn that we sometimes used for crowd control and appointed himself as our unofficial (and certainly unrequested) wakeup call.
"WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THE PARADE IS ABOUT TO BEGIN! WAKE UP I SAY!"
We wanted to kill him. So, hungover and groggy, we dragged ourselves up to the roof of the theater. Roger, still armed with his trusty bull horn, began heckling the Tournament of Roses Parade.
"IS THAT YOUR FLOAT, OR DID THE EQUESTRIAN TEAM AHEAD OF YOU FORGET TO CLEAN UP AFTER THEMSELVES?"
"HEY, SECOND TROMBONE PLAYER, YOU SUCK! AND YOU'RE OUT OF STEP, TOO! GET WITH THE PROGRAM, YOU SCHMUCK!"
"I SAW THREE OF THOSE ROSE PRINCESSES OUT ON HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD LAST NIGHT! THANKS FOR A GREAT TIME, HONEY!"
At one point a guy on the street yelled up at Roger telling him to, and I think I'm quoting this correctly, "Shut up with the bull horn, you asshole."
Roger, though, was impossible to fluster. "OH, LIKE YOU WOULDN'T DO THIS IF YOU HAD ONE!"
"OH MY GOD IT'S SHIRLEY TEMPLE! HEY SHIRLEY!"
Ms. Temple looked around confused, like Governor Connelly after the first shot rang out in Dealey Plaza.
"UP HERE ON THE ROOF!"
Finally, she spotted Roger and waved sweetly. Frankly, I wish she'd have shot him the bird. How funny would THAT have been?
"YOU'RE PRETTY HOT FOR AN OLD BROAD, SHIRLEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING LATER?"
She blew him a kiss and winked. Roger just about fainted.
When the parade ended, we were completely exhausted, still somewhat hungover and nauseous, and ready to call it a day.
But it was time to open the theater for business.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Because of this, whenever I'm going somewhere -- a baseball game, work, the opera (not that I have any intention of going to the opera, but if I did, this point would be just as applicable) -- I make sure to leave early enough so that if an emergency strikes en route, I will still arrive at my destination in time for the first pitch (or the beginning of my work day, or whatever comes first at an opera). Ninety-nine percent of the time, nothing goes wrong and I get where I'm going with plenty of time to spare. This, however, drives my fiance Theresa nuts because for some reason she can't seem to understand the advantage of getting to the stadium two hours before the game starts.
I know. Women.
So anyway, last night I took Theresa to the Hollywood Bowl to see Harry Connick, Jr. The concert was scheduled for 8:30, and the Bowl is about 75 miles from our home. I factored in the time variables like stopping for dinner, getting gas (for the car, not from the dinner), and Friday traffic in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Next, I added extra time in the event of, let's say, a monsoon suddenly sweeping through Alhambra. Using the "Real Time to Dad Time" conversion chart, I determined that we should leave our house at 4:00.
"Four o'clock?" asked Theresa. "So we'll get to the Bowl with about three hours to kill. Why do we have to leave so early?"
"You still don't get this, do you?"
"Yeah, yeah, early is late, on time is early, allow time in case a giant Acme anvil falls on our heads, whatever."
"It's on time is late, early is . . . forget it, just get in the car."
(editor's note: When a woman says "fine", it doesn't mean she agrees with you. All it means is that she's now going to spend the entire car ride plotting how she's going to bug the shit out of you when you're sitting around at the Hollywood Bowl for three hours waiting for the show to start).
|A "light traffic day" on the Hollywood Freeway|
It was at this point that my car stalled.
Due to the threat of potential litigation, I am not at liberty to tell you the make and model of my piece of shit car which crapped out on the Hollywood Freeway. Let's just say that the first part is also the last name of an actor who starred in the Indiana Jones movies, and the second part is the zodiac sign represented by a male cow.
Recently I have had a bit of difficulty with the Indy Male Cow, specifically, it's been leaking some sort of fluid from the undercarriage. I took it in to my mechanic Roger a few weeks ago and explained the situation. He asked, "well, what's it leaking?" I have to be honest here. I am about as schooled in automotive maintenance and repair as Paris Hilton is in particle physics. This being the case, for all I knew my car was leaking maple syrup. Recognizing the befuddled look on my face, Roger changed the question from "fill in the blank" to "multiple choice."
"It's probably oil or transmission fluid," he said.
"Oh, it's oil," I replied, not because I knew that to be the case, but because I don't have the foggiest clue what transmission fluid is. If I'd guessed "transmission fluid" and then Roger asked me a follow up question like, "do you usually use regular or low-fat transmission fluid?" I would've looked like a complete idiot.
When I picked up the car, Roger told me that it had been leaking, you guessed it, transmission fluid and that he replaced the gasket head valve socket (or something like that) and that should take care of the problem. Well, a week ago, I noticed that the car was still leaking something (it's GOTTA be oil this time, right?) but I haven't had the chance to take it back to Roger yet.
|Hmm. What could that mean?|
That's the part we were in.
We turned off the exit ramp and made a left on Run For Your Life Blvd., hoping to find a gas station that didn't look like the U.S. Air Force had used it for bomb practice. We couldn't find any. A few blocks later, though, we came across a CVS Pharmacy. I parked the car which, thank God, hadn't stalled since we'd left the freeway. Walking to the drug store, Theresa and I gave two dollars to a rough-looking, shelter-impaired individual because we thought it was very considerate of him to have actually asked for the money as opposed to beating the shit out of us and taking it, which was probably Plan B.
I bought two quarts of oil, returned to the car, and opened the hood. You're probably thinking, "there's no way in hell he's going to know where to pour the oil," but as it turns out there's a screw-off cap in the engine that has the exact same picture as the light that was blinking on my dashboard. Using the same picture-matching strategy that I employed with my Grrrr-Animals outfits in kindergarten, I completed the oil-replacement procedure and we were on our way.
We made it to the Hollywood Bowl without further incident, at which point the parking nightmare began. The Bowl uses a "stacked parking" system that was invented in 1939 by Heinz Von Karzarkramden, an alcoholic German with a raging case of syphilis and an IQ of 63. In this parking arrangement, cars are parked bumper to bumper, row after row, resembling, well, the Hollywood Freeway. What this means, simply, is that you're boxed in for the night and when the show's over, you don't leave until everyone next to, behind, and in front of you has already departed. We pulled in to our spot at 7:50.
That's right, even with all the problems, we were still in time to get snacks and find our seats with time to spare.
Dad 1, Theresa, 0.
The Hollywood Bowl is a great concert venue with beautiful scenery, excellent acoustics and, most nights, gorgeous weather. The only complaint I have is that the seating is less than comfortable. I'm sure that the fancy-schmancy boxes down front are much better, but we were out in the cheaper sections. There aren't individual seats, just benches with your "seat" number carved into the back. Apparently, these bleachers were built and labeled during the pre-fast food era of American history, because there were six of us crammed into "seats" 1-10. Suffice it to say, it was a cozy evening at the Bowl.
Harry Connick was outstanding, by the way. His on-stage banter alone was worth the price of admission. He told hilarious stories about show business (including his involvement with When Harry Met Sally...) and put on one hell of a show. The music of course was incredible, using both Harry's own jazz band and the string section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. When you stop to think about it, the music business is incredibly unfair. You look at pop stars with next to no talent making bazillions of dollars (I'm looking at YOU, Justin Bieber), and then you see relative nobodies like Harry's lead trumpet player Kevin Bryan playing their asses off just to make a decent living, well, it's pretty sad.
Harry himself, though, earns every dollar of his multi-millions. He did several jazz standards like "It Had to Be You" and "For Once in My Life," along with more contemporary songs including the Beatles' "And I Love Her". Harry didn't ask me to do this, but I'm going to plug his new CD for him anyway. It's called "Your Songs" and it's a nice balance of the genres I mentioned above. Of particular interest to non-jazz fans would be his covers of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" and Elton John's "Your Song". It's a truly fabulous collection.
I should know. Theresa and I listened to the entire CD four times while we were waiting to get out of the parking lot.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
And what do you know, the blind squirrel found an acorn.
Don't get me wrong, The Other Guys will not be a featured film at Cannes, nor will it garner any Academy Award nominations, but it was surprisingly not-terrible. The first half hour alone was funnier than any four other Ferrell movies combined (five if Anchorman is one of them). Wahlberg is excellent in an angry, smoldering counterpoint to Ferrell's well-meaning buffoon, and Ferrell himself avoids (for the most part) over-playing scenes and being an annoying asshole in general. I can't believe I'm writing this, but if we're going to be honest here, he was actually pretty good.
Warning: Spoilers to follow.
As part of the Wahlberg character's backstory, he is constantly being reminded of his greatest career screw up, specifically, shooting Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter in the leg. This earned him the nickname "The Yankee Clipper," and his fellow officers never let him forget it. One great line: "You shoulda shot A-rod!"
So anyway, it seems like Ferrell CAN make a funny movie every so often. While it's not great by any stretch, compared to the rest of the Will Ferrell collection, it's Citizen Kane. Definitely worth seeing.
Oh, one last thing. If you're a fan of Dwayne Johnson or Samuel L. Jackson and are planning to see this movie because they're in it, don't bother. Their total screen time is maybe ten minutes (a funny ten minutes, but then they're gone).
Monday, August 9, 2010
The bell rang in room 302, signaling the beginning of seventh period. It was the first day of the new semester, so we sat anywhere we wanted, ready for Health Education for Freshmen. The teacher entered the classroom, and half the class turned into drooling idiots.
The male half.
Miss Rankin was a first-year teacher fresh out of college, 23 years-old, and absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. Dark hair, stunningly exotic beauty, and a body that caused more than one mid-hallway student collision. Assigning a knockout like Miss Rankin to a class full of pimply ninth graders just coming to grips with the whole boy-girl thing was a dubious decision on the part of the school's administration.
The course went well, at first. Topics like the respiratory system, hygiene, drug and alcohol awareness, and fitness went off without a hitch. Sure, there were times when our attention wavered, like in the spring, when Miss Rankin (or as we now referred to her in private, "Miss Spankin'") sported the more comfortable garments in her wardrobe. More comfortable for her, that is. For us guys, not so much, but we sure enjoyed the scenery.
The trouble really began when we got to Chapter Seven: Human Reproduction. Miss Rankin was about to become a babe in the hormonal woods.
Regardless of the circumstances, words like "penis", "vagina", "erection," and "intercourse" always elicit giggles, jokes, and snickers from ninth-grade boys, and a chorus of "would you guys just grow up?" from ninth-grade girls. When those same words are spoken by your mind-bogglingly hot teacher, it changes the game entirely. We were essentially earning a grade for sitting through an obscene phone call.
"Now, when a man experiences sexual arousal, blood flows to the penis causing an erection," she purred.
Yeah . . . um . . . we know, Miss Spankin'. We know.
"During intercourse, when a man is fully aroused, semen is ejaculated . . . "
Keep talkin', baby, keep talkin' . . .
"Any questions so far?"
Okay, let me back up for a second. I said this was a freshman health class, but I forgot to tell you about Kenny "Ladies" Mann. Kenny was actually a junior, but since he'd flunked the course on his first two attempts, well, here he was again. Third time's a charm? Perhaps. "Ladies" Mann was your prototypical big-man-on-campus. Star wide receiver on the football team, dated cheerleaders (and not always on an individual basis), and was adored by students and teachers alike. Given his life experiences, Kenny knew the freshman health material inside and out (literally, in some instances), and he had no problem asking probing questions to get deeper into the subject matter.
"Uh, yes, Miss Rankin?" Kenny began. "Since you, ya know, brought it up, what would you say is the average size of an erect penis?"
"Studies say that it's anywhere from five and a half to six and a half inches, Kenny."
"Really? That's it? Cool. Does size matter? I mean, in your experience."
Miss Rankin was on thin ice here. Once she started in on "her experience," all hell would break loose in the classroom. On the other hand, she couldn't really get mad at Kenny because, after all, he was asking a legitimate question based on the content of the lecture.
"Well, leaving my personal experiences out of it, the common opinion is that a caring, compassionate partner can provide a fulfilling experience regardless of physical endowments."
You gotta hand it to her, she was really giving it a hell of a go. But Kenny wasn't about to let her off the hook just yet.
"Okay, sure, but all things being equal, Miss Rankin, would a woman get more pleasure from a caring, compassionate little dude or a caring, compassionate stallion?"
"Kenny, it's really a matter of personal taste and I'm not going to get into it with you kids. Let's move on, shall we?"
"Okay, that brings up another thing. Since you mentioned 'taste' . . . "
"THAT'S ENOUGH, KENNY!"
The following year, sex ed was taught by a male teacher to the guys and by a female teacher to the girls. Really, it had to happen sooner or later. But for that one year, those of us in Miss Spankin's class were treated to the most erotic high school experience you could get without getting suspended.
Or arrested, even.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
|Dad with one of his masterpieces, 2010|
When you're a kid, you tend to get involved with whatever interests and hobbies your parents have. If your dad is an expert fisherman, chances are excellent that you're going to spend some time with him sitting in a leaky metal boat yanking gafftop catfish out of Lake Pontchartrain. If your mom's into cooking, she'll probably teach you a few of her favorite recipes so you can make a platter of pot-stickers or maybe a nice pan of walnut brownies to take to school and share with your classmates and get beaten up at lunch time because Anthony Pantuccio doesn't appreciate the culinary arts and thinks that "cookin' is for girls and candy-ass little wimps."
My father's favorite hobby was building and flying control-line model airplanes, so on most weekends I would sit with him in our basement, looking on as he assembled another Flight Streak or Ringmaster. Dad would spend hour after hour sanding balsa wood and cutting MonoKote (a plastic covering for the wings) while I offered helpful comments like "paint a shark mouth on that one," "make a plane that looks like the Red Baron's," and "wow, this glue smells kinda weird."
|"Combat" plane in flight|
Everyone's favorite event, though, was Combat, which pitted the flyers against each other one-on-one. Two planes went up at the same time, and the object was to cut a crepe-paper streamer that was tied to the tail of your opponent's plane (while he tried to cut yours). We'd watch as the planes dipped, dove and swooped all over the place, streamers flapping behind them. It's amazing that the two guys flying didn't get all tangled up in the control lines. There was this one guy Pete who, while being really good at Combat, was sort of an obnoxious braggart. Whenever he won, he'd hold his plane in the air and bellow, "Gotta put another notch in the ol' fuselage (we were little, so we didn't giggle at the possible double-entendre). On a less significant, but infinitely more disturbing level, whenever Pete flew his planes, his ill-fitting pants would sag, subjecting on-lookers to an unwanted glimpse of his ample butt crack. For those reasons, among others, during Pete's Combat matches most people rooted for the other guy. No matter who was competing, though, all the kids watching had one secret wish: To see the two planes smash into each other and bust apart in mid-air. But that hardly ever happened. And of course, whenever a battle ended, we'd run out into the circle and gather the cut-up streamers as souvenirs.
I was five years old when Dad built me a plane of my own, a red and yellow Ringmaster Junior. He taught me to fly one step at a time. First, Dad had me practice spinning around in circles so I'd be able to fly the plane without getting dizzy. This was important because, whether you're maneuvering a Ringmaster through a series of loops or piloting a Boeing 747 across the Pacific, the last thing you want to do when flying a plane is puke all over yourself. Once I was able to spin for a few minutes without falling over, we went out to the field for my first "hands on" lesson. To begin with, Dad would start the plane, get it off the ground and then turn the handle over to me so I could fly it for a while. When the engine started to sputter, I'd hand the controls back so he could land the plane safely. After a couple weeks of that, when I was comfortable keeping the plane airborne, he let me take over the landings. The trick here was to ease the plane down little by little so the wheels just kissed the pavement. My first couple tries were a bit rough; one time I brought the Ringmaster down in the grass, another time I bounced the thing about six times before it came to a stop. But, somehow, I managed to avoid disaster.
Until it came time for me to learn take-offs.
"Okay, Chris, remember. You just give the handle a little bit of "up", and when it gets high enough just straighten it back out. Once you're level, just fly it like usual and you already know how to land it. Ready?"
"Yep! All set!" I ran out to the center circle and picked up the handle while Dad primed and started the engine. When it fired up, he looked out at me, waiting for the signal to release the plane. With a buzz in my stomach, I waved my hand.
I knew there was a next step, but I couldn't remember what it was. The plane just kept going up . . . and up . . . and then it was directly over my head. And then "up" became "down", and my beautiful Ringmaster Junior slammed into the asphalt bursting into a mushroom cloud of yellow silk and red-painted balsa wood. I looked at my Dad, who undoubtedly realized he had about a five-second window before I burst into tears. He put his hands in his back pockets and trotted out to me, like a baseball manager heading to the mound to yank a pitcher who'd given up a 500-foot grand slam. He clapped his hands, with a big smile on his face.
"All right! You're an official pilot!"
"No I'm not," I said, sniffling. "I just killed my plane."
"Ah, that happens to everybody. I've destroyed about twenty of 'em."
Dad crouched down to my level, and looked me in the eye. "Sure, that's how you learn. Know what you did wrong?"
"Not really. I gave it 'up' just like you said."
"And then what?"
"And then the plane crashed."
"Did you give it a little 'down' to straighten it out again?"
A ha! That was the problem. "Um, no, I forgot that part."
"Well, there you go. Remember next time."
"Okay, I will." He mussed my hair as we walked over to inspect the carnage. It wasn't pretty.
"Aw, Dad, look. It's all smashed into little pieces," I said. "You can fix it, right?"
|Not my plane, but isn't that a vicious-looking mouth?|
As we gathered up the splintered balsa wood, the crumpled wings, and the busted propeller, I remembered something my Dad had always said after he'd crashed one of his own aircraft: You can always build another plane. I pictured the two of us sitting together in our basement, assembling a brand new Flight Streak to replace my shattered Ringmaster Junior. I wasn't sure what I wanted the new one to look like, but I did have one request.
"Can you paint a shark mouth on it?"
Monday, August 2, 2010
"Your mother is gone. You boys are gonna have to go with the clown."
So said the teenaged girl in the maroon Mount St. Mary's Academy polo shirt, Jenny, according to the gold name badge fastened above her developing right ta-ta.
My mother dragged my brothers and I, against our will, to a Cub Scout Den Mothers' Training Seminar, and everyone was gathering in the school's main foyer. Mom stepped out for just a minute, or so we thought, leaving us wandering around alone. Eric, Bobby, and I waited, confused, having no idea what we were supposed to do or where we were supposed to go. Mom had somehow neglected to provide us with a game plan. With limited options, and against our better judgment, we ignored the time-honored "don't go with strangers" warning and followed Giggles McYukyuk (or whatever his name was) down the hallway, and into a large classroom.
For the first hour or so, everything was somewhat normal. Our greasepaint-wearing abductor had apparently taken us to the free daycare provided by the Cub Scout seminar's organizers. It would've been nice if Mom had prepared us for this, but being the resilient pre-teens that we were, we adapted. There were lots of kids our age, so we played games, watched TV, and Jenny helped us with a variety of arts and crafts. Giggles was in high spirits as well. He helped out with the crafts, led a rousing game of "Simon Says," and he even possessed a couple standard clown skills, including obscure balloon animal sculpture.
"Okay, youse kids," said Giggles. "Who wants a squid?"
"I do! I do!" screamed everybody.
Giggles inflated a round, full-sized balloon, and then fastened six long balloons which represented the tentacles. Then, using a black marker, he added two gigantic eyes. It actually looked pretty good.
Right around noon, things started getting weird. Not only had Mom forgotten to tell us about the plans for our supervision, she also failed to provide us with lunch. This realization sent my youngest brother Bobby into a hyper-ventilating fit of hysteria, screaming something about starving to death and not wanting to eat bugs. Fortunately, Jenny had access to the Mount St. Mary's Academy kitchen and was able to rustle us up a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She even sprung for a couple sodas from the vending machine. We sat under the trees outside with our stale P.B. and J. and flat Fresca, gazing with envy at the kids who were munching on chicken salad, Fritos, Hostess cupcakes, and a wide array of other kids-whose-moms-love-them lunch fare.
Giggles, meanwhile, was leaning against the fence chain-smoking unfiltered Camels. His medication had apparently worn off and his attitude was deflating faster than one of his balloon critters. During lunch, a cute little seven year-old asked to see a magic trick, and Giggles responded with a surly, "Not now, kid, I'm on break."
After lunch, we went back inside and watched TV for a while, wondering how Mom could've possibly forgotten about us for this long. Had she been kidnapped? Did Giggles have an accomplice? Around 4:00, Jenny began cleaning up the toys and art supplies while Giggles paced back and forth - makeup smeared, curly wig all askew, muttering something about getting home to see the rabbits. One-by-one, parents arrived to pick up their children.
Mrs. Snyder arrived to pick up her son Joey.
Mr. Berkshire picked up Patrick.
Mrs. Franks picked up the twins, Oscar and Mayer.
And then there were three. A trio of panicky brothers, shaking in their Keds, trying to avoid making eye contact with the neurotic clown.
Four-fifteen came and went with no sign of Mom. Four-thirty. Four forty-five.
That's when we huddled up and decided to make a break for it. Since Mom had dropped us off in the foyer, we figured that we'd better head back that way. When Jenny went into the side room to put the cleaning supplies away, we made our move. I held the door open as Bobby and Eric dashed out into the hallway. I followed, shutting the door behind me. We made it! Freedom!
Well, not so fast. Giggles must've heard the door close, because before we'd even gotten twenty yards down the hall, we heard his size-38 Buster Browns flopping on the linoleum. He called out after us, "Hey, youse kids, get back here! You ain't s'posed ta leave till your ma shows up!" Terrified, we kicked it into a higher gear and flew around the corner . . .
. . . and there was Mom. Bobby slammed into her leg, and hid behind her as Giggles skidded to a stop.
"Are you their Ma?" asked the clown.
"Yes, I'm sorry I'm late. I had to help clean up. Do I need to sign them out or anything?"
"Nah, that's okay. See ya."
"Bye. Say goodbye to the clown, boys."
Eric and I mumbled our goodbyes. Bobby gave him the finger.
We let Mom have it on the car ride home.
"You didn't tell us there was gonna be a clown!"
"I had to eat a stupid peanut butter sandwich! I HATE peanut butter!"
"We were the last ones picked up! Don't you love us anymore?" Eric was the master of the guilt trip.
I don't remember Mom ever giving us an explanation for this traumatic event, hell, to her it may have just been another meeting. But to us it was an afternoon in the Giggles McYukyuk House of Horrors. "Permanent scarring" isn't the right phrase, but it's the first one that comes to mind.
I'll probably forgive Mom someday. Probably.