Teaming With Trouble
Further Adventures of the Problem Child
By Robb Lightfoot
Copyright 2016 by Robb Lightfoot
Published by New Meme Media
All rights reserved
Ebook ISBN – 978-1-940986-04-3
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For Chris, Myron and Walter, the best friends a kid could ever want.
The events in this book are a mixture of fact, fancy and tall tales. Email me if you want to know what really happened. When necessary, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
So here we are in 5th grade, with Mr. Golden as our teacher. He is known for having the most monotonous voice at the school, getting red in the face anytime someone upsets him, and giving really dull assignments.
He wants us to write about our summer vacation. Really? What’s to tell?
The worst sun burn ever. Ten reasons why you should be careful where you store your pet snake. Ice cream cones come and ice cream cones go, but gravity is forever.
The first-day of school essay about how I spent my summer vacation. This is the second-cruelest assignment a teacher can give. Why does Mr. Golden do it? It’s bad enough to have to be back here, sitting on the hard wooden seat, wearing long pants and shoes for the first time in, well, months.
But now we’re being forced to remember all the fun thing that we could still be doing, instead of sweltering in our new clothes, sitting next to mean, extra-large Marge. The one person in our 5th grade class who isn’t afraid of anyone. I heard from Chris that she even beat Dick Young in the 4th of July arm-wrestling championship out at Hart Park. The story goes that she did this right after winning the watermelon eating contest, and the exertion from the arm wrestling caused her to puke all over Dick. He jumped up, and lost by default.
I wonder if she is writing about THAT.
And I wonder if Chris is writing about skinny dipping in his neighbor’s pool. It was the hottest night of the year, 110 even at midnight, and Chris has sought relief by sneaking into the pitch black waters of the York’s new pool. What he didn’t know is that his parents had the same idea, and when the Pete York heard noise, and turned on the pool lights, there were at least four very surprised people, three of them naked. I didn’t hear this from Chris, though, Kenny York told me in Sunday school. So, Mom was right after all, going to church IS good for your soul. That was by best laugh of the summer.
All the really interesting stuff happened to other people, I think. Take the Browns, Donnie was allowed to drive his parent’s boat for the first time, and he had a great day on the lake, right up to the point that he tried to park their classic Beachcomber on the trailer. He’d seen his dad do it hundreds of times. How hard could it be? Well, there is a big difference between watching and doing, or, to be precise, there is at least five feet of difference-the distance that Donnie overshot the trailer and parked the boat in the bed of his dad’s Chevy.
So, I’m sitting here, pencil in hand, and wondering if I should write about our trips to Disneyland. I’m not bragging here, we didn’t go to Disneyland several times this summer, in fact, we never saw the Matterhorn, Mickey, or Tinkerbell at all. But we did try. Mom saved all year for the trip, and the first time we set out, in June, we made it as far as Fort Tejon on Highway 99 before the radiator blew, and with it our budget for the trip.
The second time Mom pulled the money together by having a series of yard sales. We set out in late July—in the dead of the night-it’s cooler by a few degrees-and made it to Newhall before our three-speed transmission became a no-speed transmission, and we found out that the mechanics who fix broken trannys make more per hour than Walt Disney himself.
Trip number three was powered by our charge card, and it ended on the outskirts of LA, in the Angeles national forest, when Bambi decided to end it all on our right front fender.
Never had so much been expended by so many for the bemusement of so few.
I look around the room, and see pencils waggling here and there, and Myron Wilson and I exchange pained expressions. I hear that his family drove to Minnesota, in an un air-conditioned Bonneville station wagon, to visit his Norwegian relatives. The trip didn’t kill him, but his cousins nearly did. He learned a whole new series of wrestling moves that he called “Viking Death Holds.”
Time is called, and I look at my paper. All I have written is: “I played with my dog, read the Hardy boys, and beat my brother 473 times in shooting caroms.” That’s it, and it’s all true. But the best stuff never gets written down. No, you hear it all in the alley behind the 7-11, told by those who know, but you’re always sworn to secrecy with the same pledge: “I’ll kill you if you tell anyone this, but did you hear that….” Of course, you promise not to tell, and then rush off to find someone who has yet to hear. This gets harder as time goes on, so you have to tell the story as soon as you can, as often as you can, and as fast as you can. Sometimes, you even go to church without being asked just to have a new audience.
Storytelling is exhausting word.
But then comes the end of the summer, and you are made to tell stories on yourself. What’s the fun of admitting the stupid things YOU did? So, you string together a few sentences, throw in a reference to your mother’s sunburn (without strap lines, if you’re brave), dogs, kid brothers, and any road trips that didn’t end in disaster.
You put your name on this obituary, and prepare to hand it in, only to learn that the worst has yet to happen. You will be required to read your paper, in front of the class.
Public speaking, a new horror offered up by the fifth grade, allows you to watch one classmate after another say, in 25-words-or-less, that nothing much happened to anyone this summer. You, too, participate in this Chautauqua of the cover-up.
And you wonder three things. Does Mr. Golden really believe that we are all this boring? Why are the stories told behind dumpsters so much more interesting that those told in front of chalkboards? And did Chris really have a Playboy magazine with him in the pool?
Who really knows?
That’s when I decided that I was going to give Mr. Golden some stories. I mean, for years and years we’ve been made to read stories like Mark Twain or Treasure Island, and those didn’t really happen, did they? Our teacher wanted us to tell him about our summers, but he didn’t say that we had to tell him everything, or at least everything quite the way it happened.
Now, as Dad would say, “we’re cooking with gas.”
Maybe I could tell him about my Aunt Barbara and her encounter with aliens during her most recent abduction. Or I could tell him about the time my Dad drove his truck into a sump? Or, better yet about how my Grandmother grabs kids who trespass in her yard and lashes them to her big Sycamore.
Then there’s that weird book I found hidden in the top drawer of my parent’s dresser.
Maybe I do have somethings to write about after all. I think good old Mr. Golden may have opened a real can of worms. What a great chance to get start the year with a bang!
I think I can make his face turn read.
Another Monday morning spent in the principal’s office.
The note said: “Talking in Class,” and there was a checkmark by “failure to follow the rules.” The note also had my name on it. It was a ditto note, and I noted that my name was already dittoed in on the master.
Mrs. Reyes, always a wonder of efficiency, had found yet another way to get me out of her hair as rapidly as possible. Mr. Lewis studied the note and then asked me to explain.
“Well, Mr. ‘L’, I wasn’t really talking.”
“Oh,” he frowned, “then Mrs. Reyes is making this up?”
“Oh, no. It’s just that we had a slight misunderstanding.”
“Perhaps you can clear it up for me.”
“Well, at the time she grabbed me by the collar, I was actually listening,” I explained.
“But you had been talking?”
“I was just answering Myron’s question.”
“Well, I was just helping. He asked if I had an extra pencil, and I just said ‘sure.’”
I thought, up to then, that you really had to speak a certain number of words to be guilty of talking in class. This was second grade, and I was still getting a feeling for these things.
“No, Robb. Even one word, at the wrong time, can be considered talking.”
I thought about this, and wondered why Myron wasn’t in here, too, since he was the one who was actually talking when I was collared. I hadn’t thought much about it then, since I didn’t think either one of us had been talking, really.
“Are we clear on this now?”
The standard answer to this question was obvious: “Yes sir!”
I don’t think I have a problem with rules, but a lot of my teachers have disagreed with me on this point over the years. I still say it’s all their fault. After all, I was really big on rules, following them right to the letter, no matter what, until school pretty much broke me of this habit.
One of the first rules I’d ever learned and had to unlearn in school was to “always tell the truth.”
The “truth” rule served me pretty well until about the third grade, when I ended up in Mr. Lewis’ office entirely through no fault of my own.
This time, I didn’t get sent with a note. Mrs. Glidewell just used the school’s brand-new intercom to let Mr. ‘L’ know I was heading his way. She told him that I had been behaving “inappropriately.”
As far as I know, I was the first kid sent to the office with this new, paperless, method of discipline.
Mr. Lewis was his usual, serious self, and asked me if I knew why I’d been sent. I didn’t really. I’d just been asked to give an illustration of a declarative sentence using an adjective. So, I said that “Kelly’s dress is the ugliest color of pink I’ve ever seen.”
This seemed to fit two rules at the same time. I told the truth, and I used an adjective.
Mr. Lewis explained that it is important to tell the truth, “Unless it needlessly hurts someone’s feelings.”
I told him that Kelly seemed fine with it. She’d told me the same thing at recess. Her mother made her wear the dress because it was a gift from her aunt Mable.
Mr. Lewis ignored my remark, and asked me: “Are we clear on this?”
So, the first of many “unless” clauses began to be added to my life-rules.
School also confused me with the “’i’ before ‘e’ unless after ‘c’ or sounded as ‘a’ as in neighbor or weigh.” OK, that was clear enough, but then you got an entire list of “exceptions,” such as “seize weird leisure.”
I learned that the rules are full of “unlesses” and “exceptions,” and, when I think back on the whole Myron talking but not getting sent to the office, that rules are made up by the rulers.
My friend Joe had a better grasp on this than I did. Joe was the new kid in school that year, and we soon learned that he was the master of all games he played. Joe taught me a whole new approach to rules. The first time I played hide-and-seek with him, I was it. Joe and all our friends agreed that the tree was safe.
One by one I found and chased down my ill-concealed buddies. I’d never been beaten. Until that moment when Joe walked, not ran, up toward me and the tree. I ran over and tagged him. He made no effort to get away.
“No. I’m safe!”
“Are you crazy? You didn’t make it to the tree!”
“Don’t need to.” Joe took his left hand from behind his back, and there, clasped firmly in it, was a small branch with a few leaves on it. “The tree came to me.”
So, we all had a big argument right there, and we decided to vote on it. Half of us thought Joe was safe, and half of us thought he was out. Joe cast the deciding vote.
“That’s cheating,” I said.
“That’s the way we play it over on Worthington Street,” was his answer.
So, we now had to play hide-and-seek by either the “regular” or “Worthington Street” rules.
Joe did it to me again later on when we were playing a card game of “War.” I was about to grab a big pile of cards, when he beat me to it.
“These are mine,” he announced.
“No way,” I shouted.
“You’re crazy. I played an eight on top of your four.”
“But it was the second red-four played in the round.”
“So, the second red four is wild.”
Says the Rainbow Sprinkles rules. Without another word, Joe reached into a box, and pulled out a note card with the following printed in pencil: “The 2nd red for is wild.”
“See,” he said.
I was too stunned to say anything. Now, if this happened to me today, I would have pointed out that it said “for” and not “four,” and so it couldn’t count.
I played Old Maid with him, but we had a similar argument, and he pulled out another note card from his “Rainbow Sprinkles” box.
I learned two things that day. First, the real rules of Rainbow Sprinkles is that “Joe always wins.” The second thing I learned was that Joe’s dad was a trial attorney.
I quit playing cards with Joe after that.
So, you’ll have to excuse me if I have problems with the rules sometimes. It’s not that I don’t try. It’s just that they can be so confusing.
My other best friend, Chris, solved this ‘rule problem’ by having a game with no rules at all. He called it “Stick Quiz.”
He taught it to me one day, and you can try it on your friends some time.
First, you get a big stick.
Second, you hold it right over your friend’s head.
Third, you ask them the question: “I’m thinking of a number between one and a million. What do you think it is?”
The fourth step depends on whether you are holding the stick or standing under it.
My rule, RUN!
Unless…. You’re holding an even bigger sick behind YOUR back.
Let me tell you about the first time I brought a gun into a bank.
Yes, I had Mom’s permission, and it was only a water pistol. What possible trouble could a three-year-old have with just a water pistol, after all?
Mother soon found out.
Now, Mom was against the water-pistol idea from the start. But Dad bought it anyway, and it immediately became my favorite toy. I carried it everywhere, and even slept with it. On that fateful Thursday, she had a half-dozen errands to run and figured that it was best to keep me occupied. So, the red plastic pistol came with us. Better, she thought, to just let me keep it, and she took the precaution of emptying it.
Sure enough. I was totally absorbed with gunning down each and every teller, with a “kabang,” “kabang,” “kabang,” and “click.” Apparently, my water gun was a three-shooter. The tellers all smiled, shook their heads, and went about their business.
Mother patiently waited her turn in line and wasn’t concerned as I wandered about, hiding behind the potted palms and ducking under the new accounts desk. Mom was busy preparing her deposit and trying to roll some pennies while she juggled her checkbook and purse.
Gradually, I worked my way back over to Mom, and I and stood there next to her as the bank president walked up and greeted us.
“My, my, is this a holdup?” Mr. Stevens said to Mom, motioning toward me.
They both laughed, and then I squirted the banker right in his face, a dead-accurate shot.
“Oh, my,” he said, reaching for his handkerchief, his eyes wide. Water dripped off his nose.
Mother looked at me, NO COMMA HERE and at my gun. She snatched it from my hands and saw that it was still half-full. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Stevens. This was empty.” And then, Mom turned to me. “Where did you get water?”
I smiled, and pointed to a door—the men’s room.
A more experienced mother might have known better, but since I was her first-born, she had to ask. “How did you reach the sink?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Whoosh!” I shouted, making a downward motion with my hand as if pressing on a small handle. “Water came from Potty seat.”
Mr. Stevens finished mopping his face, and was about to put the handkerchief back in his pocket. Instead, he held it out gingerly with just two fingers, at arm’s length, and walked away briskly.
Mom lowered her head to avoid the stares of everyone within earshot, and she kept her eyes down until we got through the line and exited the bank. Once on the street, she looked up, burst out laughing, and handed me back my pistol. “When we get home, show Daddy what you did today.”
So I did.
“Can’t we leave it up just a LITTLE longer, Mom?”
“No. It’s browner than last week’s bananas.”
“No. It’s a fire hazard.”
“Chris still has his up.”
“Chris has a plastic tree.”
Mom had me there, it was true. And until this year, we’d always had a fake tree too. It took both Mom and I to talk Dad into a real tree. He was against the idea from the start. After all, we had a “perfectly good” aluminum-tree with white flocking just waiting to go, complete with all-blue ornaments and small floodlights.
“There’s nothing wrong with our tree,” Dad said.
“Ronnie, It’s time we had a real tree again.”
“Too much work.”
“Ronald,” Mom said.
“Too much money.”
“Ronald James,” Mom put her hands on her hips, and that was pretty much the end of that argument. Dad still complained about how our tree still had “plenty of good years left in it.” But all this was face-saving. We were driving to the lot, and the victory belonged to Mom and me.
She even let me pick out the tree. It was magical, and a thing of beauty. To my seven-year-old mind, the tree was the best part of Christmas. I didn’t want it to stop just because all the Christmas presents had been opened.
“Can’t we just keep it?” I begged.
“Remember our understanding?” Mom said.
I sat there, lower lip protruding, hoping for a reprieve. Mom had made me all remove the lights, ornaments, and the star. But the tinsel and pine-smell still made it feel like Christmas, even though it was well into January.
“Well,” she tapped her foot.
“No complaining this time?”
“I’m not complaining.”
“But that’s not complaining.”
“It’s irritating,” Mom said, bending down a bit to look me in the eye.
“But Mom. It’ll die outside.”
“It’s dead already, son.”
“But we’ve watered it,” I pointed to the basin at the bottom of the tree. “It’s been drinking the water.”
Mom shook her head, walked over to the bookcase and pulled volume “T” from the World Book. She flipped it open, and after a moment, pointed to a diagram of a tree, showing the roots.
“They cut it off at the roots. See?”
I looked at the diagram, unconvinced. I’d never seen roots. For all I knew, only some trees had them. Mom could be wrong. After all, our teacher broke parts off her potato plant, and it didn’t die.
“Maybe they’ll grow back.”
“They won’t.” Mom said.
“My teeth do.” I smiled broadly, showing a set of choppers in various stages of growth, decay and resurrection.
“Oh I give up,” Mom said finally. “You can keep it, but take it outside, behind the garage. Just don’t bother me with this tree business, OK?”
I said a big HURRAY, and with her help, dragged the tree outside. She returned to her work, and I planted it by the alley. It was then that I noticed that many neighbors had dumped their trees in the trash. I decided that I’d rescue those, too. I dragged them home, one by one, with my wagon. Each time I brought a tree, dug a hole, and crammed it in. Then, I packed the dirt and soaked the ground until it was nice and soft. I was working on the sixth tree when Chris dropped by and helped me.
“There’s more over on my street,” Chris said.
“We could plant them at your house.”
Chris shook his head. “No room.”
It was true. I still had plenty of room. We only had a half-dozen or so trees. But I was tired and sweaty from all the work. I wasn’t sure I was up for the job.
“I don’t know.”
“Hey, do you want them all to die?”
“No.” I hesitated, it was after all, three blocks to his house. “But it will take all day.”
“We could use my new bicycle.”
“Wow, you’d do that?” I was surprised. The bike was Chris’ biggest-ever present.
“Sure, as long as I get half the profits.”
“Yeah, when we sell all these back next year.”
“Wow…. Yeah.” Chris was a genius. I’d been thinking about saving the trees. He’d seen a way to get rich. We’d show Dad that it really was a great idea to get a real tree. “We should get going.”
“Before someone else gets ‘em,” Chris completed my thought.
I paced off the space remaining, and figured we’d have room for zillions of trees.
“I wonder if we should charge extra for the ones that already have tinsel.” I said.
“Or flocking, do you know how much Mrs. Young paid for hers?” Chris said.
“Maybe she’s tossed it.”
“Let’s go check.”
We took off, me dragging a Red Flyer and Chris taking inventory of all the trees we were passing on the way to his house.
“We’re going to make a killing.” Chris said.
“Yeah, and Dad can’t complain about the cost.”
And sure enough, when Dad got home and saw our farm of 17 trees, he didn’t say a thing about the cost.
Saturday Morning, 6 am.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Dad said, his eyes fixed firmly on me. He scratched out this sentence on the kitchen chalkboard usually dedicated to grocery lists.
He rubbed his face, the heavy stubble of his beard making a different sort of scratching noise against his calloused hand.
“Say it,” he tapped his finger on the board, and even though I couldn’t read his handwriting, I obeyed.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” I repeated.
“So, the next time you wake your mother and me up at midnight, and then every hour on the hour after that, I’m going to make YOU a ghost.”
“But there’s no such thing as ghosts,” I corrected him.
“Damn right about that. Now go in your room and don’t come out until you’re in high school.”
This is the earliest memory I have of my father, and probably the earliest he ever arose on a Saturday when he wasn’t working in the oilfields.
The first movie ever to give me a nightmare was “The Creeping Eye.” It was a black-and-white movie, set in the Swiss Alps, I think, that showed the dangers of modern science and downhill skiing. A mutated eye was terrorizing the Swiss, who were apparently too busy making chocolate to see the slimy little orb come up on them and strangle them.
My memory fails me here. I don’t know how an eye could strangle someone, but trust me, it was terrifying, at least to a four-year-old.
Most of my early childhood was spent terrified of one thing or another, usually the afternoon creature features provided all the nightmare material I needed for weeks on end of fitful sleep. After several death threats from my father, which I found less frightening than “The Mummy,” I learned to just stay in my room and scream. Mom would come in, and she was a lot more sympathetic, at least early on.
Even though he was just a baby, my brother JD soon joined me in my afternoon obsession. He didn’t know what to make of the TV, but he could tell from my face or posture just when to scream himself, it was usually when I crawled under the coil rug or hid behind the recliner.
Monsters never know to look behind recliners you see.
In a sense, I felt a lot safer in there with my brother. I figured the monsters would stop and eat him first, giving me time to get away. This was pretty much my method of self-protection all through those early years, until my kid sister came along and then my brother and I BOTH had another layer of insurance. We thought it was great that we had a little sister because monsters seem to eat the women first. The only men who got ‘ait’ were those dumb enough to try and rescue someone, and we sure as heck weren’t going to do THAT.
The afternoon horror shows got scarier and scarier, as we expanded our monster madness to include Dracula, Frankenstein, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and King Kong vs. Godzilla. The people in these Japanese movies had the amazing ability to talk, at times, without moving their mouths, and at other times they must have been scared speechless, as their mouths would flap and nothing much came out. But it terms of terror, things really got intense when we got color TV. By this time our kid sister would watch the movies and then break out into screams in all the right places and in a few, unexpected moments, such as the used-car commercials featuring Cal Worthington and his alligator-dog, Spot.
Mom would sometimes intervene, in her drive-by, deprogramming-and-television-deprivation mode. She would pass directly in front of the screen, at a super-intense moment, and then, when she had walked away, the TV was off.
This was a real tension-killer. It usually took the TV about half-an-hour to warm back up. During that time, the picture was fuzzy and all the colors were off. Godzilla looked pink, not green, and King Kong looked as menacing as our cocker spaniel, Babe.
The problem with afternoon scary movies, was this. Reruns. Once you’ve seen a movie three or four hundred times, the pee-your-pants terror factor goes away. In fact, the movies become funny. You begin to notice things that you didn’t the first few dozen times you’d seen them. The airplanes flying around Kong and the Empire State Building are the wrong size, little people who looked so scary are now, obviously, limp little dolls. So, to keep up the excitement, my brother and I had to invent new ways of throwing excitement into the mix. We’ make up stuff to scare our sister.
This was a whole new area of fun, since Little Sis was so trusting, at age 6, pretty gullible. We’d warn her that, after the huge explosion that was going to happen, she’d go deaf for a while. Then, we’d turn the volume on the TV all the way down, and JD and I would mouth words back and forth to one another. When she’d ask us a question, we’d gesture wildly, flapping our lips to silently answer her.
This ruse lasted just up to the point she’d call Mom in.
Another favorite trick, used more during fantasy than horror films, was to shine a flashlight on the wall, and tell her it was Tinkerbell, escaped from the TV and ready to grant a wish, if only she was caught. Little Sis would race about the house, crawling over furniture and shelves, until she either broke something, got tired and fell asleep, or the flashlight batteries went dead.
These bonding moments with Little Sis were best done late at night, after Mom and Dad had gone to bed and we had the front room to ourselves. Of course we’d been sent to bed, but on Saturday nights, we’d sneak out and find Seymour, our guide to horrible horror films, or Elvira, in her slinky, slutty outfits, and watch the dregs of American cinema. We had to be careful to keep it down, or Dad would wake up, chew us all out, and send us to bed without the satisfaction of scaring her out of the room just as the movie ended—so she had to believe OUR version.
But most of the time we managed to stifle our sister’s screams with a well-tossed pillow or buy her off with some candy to stop the sniveling. Usually. At other times we’d spin elaborate stories of how she could protect herself by setting up boobie traps. Each week we’d offer another idea for her to protect herself. She learned, over time, to drag the large, swivel mounted mirror up to the back door. This would confuse the mummy. She’d set out pots and pans full of water to keep away the Cat People, zigzag string through the room, anchored on the fireplace, coat rack, and rocking chair. This kept out the vampires when they traveled as bats, or place garlic on the floor to keep them out when they were in human form. There was a small stack of silver bells near the sink, to ward off werewolves, and we even persuaded Little Sis that propping a bag of flour on the upper edge of the door would make the invisible man visible, and avoidable, if he happened in that way.
So, it wasn’t really surprising then on that Oct. 31st, the night of the all-night fright-fest, when Little Sis, with a bit of help from us, set up her full array of anti-monster countermeasures. She was set for a night full of terror—never mind that any of us could get over to the bathroom or the stove to pop popcorn. We were safely tucked in, and Mom and Dad were none-the-wiser.
Sometime during Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” sister screamed, and we were a bit slow in shutting her up. JD and I listened, holding our breath, to see if the tell-tale thumping of my infuriated father would head our way. But we lucked out. We couldn’t believe our good luck when Little Sis screamed again, a piercing and sustained wail, and Dad failed to materialize.
It was in the final moments of the movie that, just as the victims were making one last terrifying attempt to save themselves that the TV went dead and the room blacked out simultaneously, and we heard a low moan by the back door, near the circuit breaker box. All three of us, JD, Little Sis and myself gasped, and then formed a three-part harmony of screams,
The bad door flew open, and a huge, silhouetted figure dashed in, slamming into the mirror and sending it crashing to the floor. The figure staggered sideways, stepping into the pots and pans full of water, sloshing it everywhere and sliding into the web of twine that ran throughout the front room.
My sister may have been only six years old, but she could tie a good knot, and the twine held fast to the fireplace, the rapidly moving phantom slid on an intersection course with the wooden rocker, and connected with it, or at least one of the rocker’s sharp edges, in that region of the body that lies just below the belly button. A loud moan came from the creature, and it engulfed the rocker.
Like any good monster, though, this thing just kept coming at us. The coat rack clock gave its all trying to save us, and toppled down on the rocker just as the thing stood up, knocking it back to the floor and burying it in polyester and fleece.
The immobile monster moaned, and then began to curse. These were not the sort of curses that a witch might make, but something much more familiar and closer to home.
“Oh, oh,” JD said.
“Daddy?” said Little Sis.
I didn’t say anything. It occurred to me, that in the dark, I might be able to get back to my bedroom before the lights came back on. I could pretend to be asleep.
While I was thinking of this move, I heard another sound that cut me off dead in my tracks. It was a not-so-loud thumping in the hallway, coming rapidly in our direction. The door to the front room flew open, and in an instant, a bag of flour rained down on my Mother’s head. She cried out, with a sound like a cat whose tail had been stepped on, and then stood there, with her flashlight, in a cloud of white dust.
Mom started to stop towards us, but her foot came down on one of the garlic cloves, and she had to hobble over to the counter, knocking over the small stack of bells. It sounded for a moment, like Christmas had come early, and frosty the snow-man was in town.
The creature on the floor quit cursing, and, miraculously, started to laugh.
Mother saved the night, in more ways than one, as none of us were beaten to death. Mom told Dad that if he hadn’t been so intent on scaring us, and pulling a prank, none of this would have happened. She also didn’t hold my sister responsible for all the boobie traps.
My brother and I ‘got it’ big-time, of course, as we had to clean the whole mess up. We were forever barred from watching monster films, which, of course, meant that we had to wait almost two months before the next creature feature. But I was given the worst punishment of all. I was forced to sit down, early that next morning, and draw crude pictures on the kitchen message board, to try and convince my sister that, really, “there’s no such things as ghosts.”
The 13 Days of Christmas
At my school, there are two weeks from the start of vacation to Christmas Day. These are the 13 Days of Christmas, and they’re the longest ones of the year.
Oh, sure, Mr. Paul, my 5th grade science teacher will tell you that they are actually the shortest days of the year. But he doesn’t have to live with my little brother and sister and not do ANYTHING to get even with them, even when they really, really deserve it. It’s 13 days of having Mom say, “I guess I’ll have to write a letter to Santa.” Or Dad, humming the tune to “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry….” over and over again.
Personally, my favorite Christmas song is “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.”
The awful thing about the 13-Days of Christmas is that Mom and Dad think I’m a free babysitter or something just because I’m not at school. When I asked them, “What’s up with that,” they remind me that they are “busy with the holidays.” How busy could they be? Mom’s already been shopping for weeks and weeks, Dad says. And most days he just lays back in the recliner, turns on the “magic fingers” and sleeps. The worst part of that is that I can’t watch cartoons on TV. Mom expects us to go outside and play. Sure, I could go outside and down the block to Chris’ house. But, get this, Mom expects me to take JD and Little Sis with me. No way.
Now, I can’t just say ‘no’ straight out. I mean, I really did get TWO lumps of coal in my stocking last year. I got candy too, but the coal is proof that Santa does have some sort of hotline. I know this because I goofed up just the day before Christmas, and it really wasn’t all my fault, you know. Chris Olson had told me that his plan was foolproof, and that he’d tried it out at home and it had worked just great.
“The best way to get what you want,” Chris said, “is to open your presents ahead of time.”
“No, really.” He insisted. “You open the stuff from the relatives who live out-of-town. Then, you take it down to Sears and tell them that you need to exchange it.”
“Ex-change? They give you money?”
“No you dope. They let you trade it for something else.” Chris beamed. “I swapped a stupid-looking sweater for a Battleship Game.”
Now all I can say is that Chris must have done a better job slipping out of the house. I made it down to the store on my bike, but before I could do anything Mom showed up and carted me, my bicycle and my present—a desk set from Aunt Mary, into our Pontiac station wagon and back home. I had to spend Christmas Eve in my bedroom writing an apology letter while everyone else watched “It’s A Wonderful Life,” ate fudge and drank hot cider.
So, I’ve learned you have to be careful in how you go about trying to fix the problems that come with Christmas.
Take that mistletoe thing. Aunt Tina loves to come up and smooch you and leave big lipstick marks on your cheek. I tried to hide the cruddy green stuff, but I couldn’t reach it, even when I stood on a chair. When I tried to jump and grab it, the chair tipped and I fell into the Christmas tree. That was last year, too. Come to think of it, that was probably the second lump of coal. But this year is going to be different. Today, I’m meeting up with
The gang behind 7-11, and we’re going to plan on how to make this the best Christmas ever. Chris has a theory of how Santa decides who’s going to get the best presents, and he’s got a new idea, a “setup,” to work the system.
I’ve just got to figure out how to ditch my brother and sister.
My literary career began back in first grade when I was taught how to write, in front all my friends: “I will not talk in class.” To refine my penmanship, and to help make up for a trade surplus of boxes of chalk, I was told to do this 100 times.
My vocabulary expanded through the second grade, as I was directed to write: “I will remain in my seat at all times,” and “I will open my desk lid only when told to do so.” Since this was done on a blackboard, all of this early work is lost.
So, too, were the papers with the small dotted lines that helped us make our letters the right size. This is really a pity, since we asked to write phrases and sentences that put Dick, Jane and Spot into one exciting place or other.
The first writings that I made, designed to be saved for posterity, were those that I did in a diary I got in the summer just before the third grade. I think it was my uncle Joe who bought me the big red diary with a buckle and a lock. It had a loop inside to hold a pen, and so it was always ready to go.
At first, I was intimidated. What to write? Most of my free time, at school, was spent writing to satisfy my teacher’s demands. I asked Mom what I should do this this diary, and she said: “Why don’t you write down the things that happen to you?” This didn’t make any sense to me. I already knew about those things, why should I write them down? Most of the time, when I wanted to do something, I’d ask Dad, and he would say: “forget it, son.” So, I thought this was the way you got through the day. You just forgot what you did, and then the next day, when you did the same stuff all over again, it wouldn’t be so boring.
“No,” Mom said. “Someday you’ll want to remember what you did, and this is a way of writing a note to yourself that you’ll read later. It’s like a message in a bottle.”
So, I tried this, but it still seemed dumb. I’d write something, and then read it again the next week. It was pretty pathetic reading about an adventure that had seemed SO exciting, and then to see my sorry description. Was my life that dull? I read some of my entries to Mom. I felt silly. She was encouraging. “You’ll be glad you wrote this, the details of life have a way of getting washed away.” Mom assured me.
Mom had a lot of faith in me, or in the power of writing to preserve those moments and memories that tend to get away from us, and she was quite right, were it not for my diary, I would not have had such a detailed account of the summer of ’63. Mom made me write at least an entry a day, and they documented the bugs I caught, the scrapes I got on my bicycle, and the pocket watch my dad inherited from his great-grandfather.
“June 9th—Dear diary,” the entry began. “Today my dad got a pocket watch that had been his great grandfather’s. It plays a little tune and had a cover that snaps shut. Dad says ‘they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.’ He also told me that I was to never, ever touch the watch.”
“June 12^th—^Dear diary, Dad let me hold the watch and listen to it play the tune. I noticed that the time was wrong, and he said it was because the watch was old and dirty. I told him it looked so shiny, how could it be dirty? He said it was because, deep inside, it was full of dirt and needed to be cleaned.”
June 17—Dear diary. I asked Dad if I could look at the watch again, and he told me that he was busy and that I ‘should talk to mother or make yourself useful.’
“I did as I was told, and asked Mom if there was anything I could do to be helpful. She laughed, and said: “Sure, you can do the laundry.” I said, ‘OK,’ and so she let me use the step ladder and hang up all the clothes out of the washing machine. Mom smiled, and said I was her #1 helper.”
“June 21 – Dad came home all covered with dirt, and told me to make myself invisible. I asked Mom how I could be invisible, and she said that Dad just needed some time to cool off and relax. She sent me into their bedroom to gather up all his work clothes. I had an armful of his jeans, and I saw the pocket watch sitting there on his dresser. I know he told me not to touch the watch, so I picked it up by the chain and tucked it into his pants pocket. Won’t he be surprised! I’m not going to tell him that it was me who helped him clean it.”
One thing about diaries, or any story for that matter, is that the most interesting parts are not always written down or told. I have no recollection of whether it was my mother or father who found the watch in his pocket, after it had been through the soak-and-spin cycles, or who awoke me with that scream when the waterlogged watch was found—in the right front pocket where I’d put it.
My Mom and Dad had a huge “discussion” over pocket-watch wash job. Mom was convinced that Dad had taken it to work to show his buddies, and just forgotten it, and he was convinced she’d knocked it off the dresser. All of this was happening in that adult world that existed somewhere above and beyond-above my awareness and beyond my bedtime.
A few weeks later, Mom saw me scribbling up a storm in my diary.
“Looks like you’ve found your voice.”
“What?” I said, puzzled.
“You seem to be writing a lot in your diary.”
“Oh, sure, see?” I unbuckled the diary and handed it to her. She smiled, leafing through it, and then froze, her eyes grew big, and she smoothed out one page and read it again, and again.
“Oh,” she said finally. “I see.” She picked my diary up, and pursed her lips. She snapped it shut and slid the lock in place.
“Let’s put this away for a while,” she said.
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The further adventures of the Problem Child. Twenty humorous stories to amuse and delight. It's not that Robb goes looking for trouble. It just finds him and his hyperactive friends. Selections include "The Red Pistol," where Robb brings a gun to the bank with unfortunate results; Zippo Man and the Ranchero, where Robb's dad unsuccessfully pilots the first, failed attempt at a self-driving car, and Toying With Trouble, stories of bazookas and other things that should never be trusted to chlidren.