This is for Anna.
I hung out with other classmates now and then, though none stood out as particularly good friends. I think being invited to others' houses or having them come to mine had more to do with our moms' scheduling than our own. One thing I liked to do with some of these friends was lie. When new friends would come over for instance, one of the first things I liked to do was escort them down to the stream and take them on a little tour, creating interesting tales along the way. One such tale involved a giant bear that I swore lived nearby. I pointed out its paw print in some poured concrete near the water (it actually belonged to Dusty, the neighborhood dog). I also showed them a tiny cave further downstream, hypothesizing that it was its home. I tried to convince them that the red spray paint on the cave's walls was blood. There was also a concrete parking block that had been thrown down by the water, and I told them how the whole area used to be a giant shopping center that had since been torn down. I remembered hearing on TV that snakes could sometimes blend in by making themselves look like sticks by being still and rigid. I took this a step further, warning my friend Ben Heyn one day to watch out for any stick, since snakes could actually turn into them.
A year or two later my class went on a field trip one day to see a play. Ben was sitting behind me. I don’t remember what he said but he was being mean to me. It was a palpable reminder not only that we weren’t friends at that point in time, but that we had used to be friends, too. It was a weird feeling…of changing times.
Brian liked to make use of the stream, too. He and his friend Peter Schultz used to frequently start and anxiously tend to fires down there using old newspaper.
I hung out with a classmate named Raphael Zeldin a few times. I can’t help but remember him for one thing: His eyebrows were always pointed downward as if he were angry. It was very disconcerting.
I used to accompany my dad to Home Depot somewhat regularly. He was always a big fan of buying little bits to fix whatever the household problem was, as opposed to a brand new “whatever-you’re-fixing.” I always hated Home Depot. I respected the company and its mission, but just could not stand the vastness of the place, the disorder of it all. Even more how I loathed how dirty its products, floors, and shelves were, smelling of work and manual labor. And I was never quite convinced Dad knew exactly what he was looking for or how he was going to use it once he found it. It was all a big educational journey for him, that I guess he welcomed, in the pursuit of manliness. I just always wanted to know what the quickest and easiest solution was, take the most efficient and productive approach.
Places like Home Depot are where I first learned the concept of pricing products, and how it’s all pretty ridiculous if you think about it (and I wondered if people did). I remember asking my dad, “Why would it be priced $1.99 instead of simply $2.00?” He explained that it was sort of a gimmick to seem less expensive. I thought it was pretty dumb, and still do. Is the human race really that thoughtless to think $1.99 is a considerably better price than $2.00? What’s more, that kind of spending just produces much more change in everyone’s hands. I think a clean transaction is much more attractive. I vowed then that if I ever owned my own store, everything would be rounded to the dollar. And whenever I see products priced that way, it makes me feel good.
In the checkout line for Home Depot one day, there seemed to be some difficulties with the transaction. One thing after another, we waited as people grew impatient behind. Befitting his personality, my dad tried to make light of the situation by joking to the checkout lady, “Boy, we must be the customers from hell.” I was not happy with this joke. We were raised to strictly adhere to a vocabulary void of any kind of expletives in the least, even the word “crud” for example. Standing in line, I glanced up and gave my dad a look. While walking to the car in the parking lot, I didn’t talk to him, and I think he could tell I was upset. As we opened the doors he asked me, “Are you upset because I said ‘hell’?” “Yes,” I replied. “You could have used another word, like ‘heck’.” In retrospect, I realize this word would not have been able to make the joke work. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Funny how things change. After some time, “crud” became part of everyday speech and it was “crap” that was out-of-bounds according to Mom. And eventually, “crap” was alright but “shit” was not. And even now, I can get away with “shit” from time to time if I’m careful.
Around this time I acquired a liking for comic books, probably because I’ve always been in pursuit of attaching myself rigorously to an interest. And because Brian bought comic books. He liked X-Men the most, so I did too. Not that I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion anyway. They were the best superhero group as far as I was concerned, and the masses as far I could tell. But he always knew more about comic books than I ever did. It was all too confusing for me. We’d go to this comic book store, and I was just intimidated by the vast amount of different comics and storylines there were available. I didn’t know how to just pick up one and dive in, especially when I’d be starting in the middle of a story, unless I somehow had the time, money, and resources to acquire all the previous comics in a series I’d missed. I only ever bought a handful of comic books. I couldn’t get really into X-Men though, because that was his thing. I settled for the next best…Spider-Man. But I never took it too seriously.
And once I realized I wasn’t half-bad at drawing, I figured I could produce my own comic books. Heck, I could probably mass produce them, hand them out, achieve popular status, sell them! Again, the idea probably came from Brian, who would come up with his own comic book stories too, but no matter. I created ridiculous characters: Swordfish Man, Toothbrush Man (and his soon to be sidekick Toothpaste Man), Turbo Grandpa, and my longest-running series, Grunt Dog. The problem was that I was a big-idea thinker, and couldn’t ever bring my complete vision to fruition. I’d bring each story as far as to the point where the hero tragically undergoes his superhuman transformation, and then put the pencil down and think of something else to do.
Then there were pogs, a ridiculous game that originated in Hawaii in the 1920s, that had reached popular status again in the early 90s. Lots of the kids spent their allowance on the things, nothing more than little cardboard or plastic flat circles with designs or drawings on them. They even had special containers for them. In the comic book store, they kept the special ones in a glass case for display. I remember collecting them ravenously, and yet I can’t say I ever played an actual game of pogs before, or would know how to.
Around the same time, a card game resembling Dungeons and Dragons had become wildly popular, at least at my school…Magic: The Gathering. Here was a hobby whose time of arrival allowed me to experience it from the beginning and so on. I bought the starter kit from the comic book store, a fancy container with fifty or so Magic cards and a little bag of smooth stones. But like pogs, I don’t think I ever actually played the game. It was too confusing. I liked the idea, though.
I could only involve myself in activities for so long. I had big ideas, fantasies of great endeavors and projects. I could even make a name for myself, I thought. No, I had to make a name for myself, become something, be recognized for something. Otherwise, what meaning would my life have? Could I allow my gravestone to become an ant in a colony without any reason to notice it? I wanted to create a legacy. But I never had the patience, and still wonder if it’s something you can acquire.
It could be anything. I remember I somehow learned how to make tiny hand puppets out of paper. Then you could dress the faces up, create characters. I had fun with it for a while, so I thought, “Why not sell them to the public? Show off my great talent.” I made a few, created some price tags that I stuck onto them. Then, not ready to begin marketing them yet, I decided to go further with the project and make a little book with detailed instructions about how to make the puppets. I could sell this too, complete with illustrations, because that would really make me seem like an expert on the subject. Nothing came of it. They’re in a box in my closet… “Objects To Save”.