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1 The Earliest

I will start as early as I remember:

My parents’ bedroom in the dark, my head weighed heavily on my mother’s breast. The slow, steady movement of the rocking chair next to her bedroom window. My cheek rested on my mother’s night gown, a soft satin sensation that left my tiny hands grabbing for more. Comfortable. Safe. Tired. Satisfied.

The sun batting me awake. So bright I thought it could blind me through my eyelids. My brother, Eli, to blame. We shared a brown or maybe orange buggy, barely large enough for the two of us. The topper was a quarter sphere and connected at the buggy’s midpoint, and as such only shaded half the buggy at a time. Eli had flipped the cover to the other side. We were at Valley Fair, I think, off to the right near the antique cars. But, like a dream, they weren’t there. Someone had cotton candy, pink not blue, and I wanted some for my face. Not to feed my face, but for rubbing because it looked soft. Also, there were no clouds, which ruined my nap. I was not strong enough to flip the cover back, nor even to stand up. So I lay there in misery, plotting, formulating a plan to change places with my brother.

It was autumn. I awoke in the darkness of my bed and wandered downstairs. I found no one there. My mother and father had not yet divorced. It was strange that one of them would not be there if the lights were on. I knew the button for the TV. I also knew it was way past my bedtime. I decided to hide underneath one of the wood framed chairs, which, looking back, means I curled up to about the size of a ten pound bag of flour. The TV channel was the Home Box Office. I remember the HBO lettering, even though I certainly couldn’t read yet. The program that started had a beach setting in the evening. At one point, one of the actors was (I think) the guy who played the classic nerd in every early 80s movie made. My memories may be confused, but in one of his movies he opens a beer bottle with his eye…. Anyway, there were definitely boobs on the TV at some point. Women boobs, which were much more substantial and I dare say rewarding in some way? I wanted to keep watching, though I could not have said why. Mom and Dad walked in shortly after. They couldn’t figure out why the TV was on. A quick search included the kitchen, the back room, and the bathroom before they found me. They had been out for a walk. I wonder what they talked about, being so close to their divorce. Dad dragged me to bed by the arm, perhaps more roughly than was necessary.

It was summer, and the family was at a cabin, including Dad, so again, probably before the divorce. Eli and I had action figures, Dr. Doom and Captain America among them (the ones released in 1984). The cabin had one light  above a card table. Dad emptied a bag of assorted Hershey’s chocolates onto it and told us to have some. I liked the ones with the nuts. The entire family was there.

I remember answering that I was three years old, though I don’t remember who asked.

You should know that I often dressed up in my mother’s nighties (so soft!). And I do mean that plural. I put on as many as four nighties at a time (so so so so soft!). Then, like a beauty queen without a float, I would sometimes parade down the sidewalk outside. Where some boys may have been mortified to be labeled a mama’s boy, considering this a walk of shame, I was never and have never been ashamed to be like my mother, whose unfaltering kindness patiently stripped from me the common desire of boys to benefit themselves by controlling other living things. But my mom was embarrassed. She would recruit my brothers as regulators. Sending them to collect me from the street corner where, had we lived in a larger city, I am likely to have been propositioned for illegal activities. And, yes, there are photos. To add to their delight, my mouth is smeared over with chocolate. I am smiling. Good times.

This behavior may be explainable by the first memory listed above, but I do not remember the exact chronology, just that these things happened. I guess the point is that I have been a conscious creature, actively making decisions that I could later reflect on, since I was approximately three. The stories to follow in this blog are the unique and often unfortunate ones that constitute me.
2 The Omens

I wasn’t born a naughty kid; I learned from watching my brothers. Especially Eli. We had a number of, well, let’s call them unspoken arrangements. It’s just how two people work when they spend enough time together. For example, when Mom pushed the grocery cart down the aisle and wandered, say, three feet from the cart, we got our snack time on. The arrangement was that Eli would open the package. Usually cookies. Keebler or Nabisco. Anything but Fig Newtons which took about ten years to properly appreciate and another five to un-appreciate again. Once Eli tore it open, I ate the first couple. Who was really to blame? Me for the eating, him for the opening?

The answer according to dear Mum would be that we were both little shits. We each blamed the other, of course, and then mentally hi-fived when the treats had to be paid for and then not wasted. In retrospect, it would have been a better teaching device to throw them away in front of our faces, to not let Eli have any for opening the container, and maybe even to beat him with a broom handle since it was really his fault that we had to pay for the cookies in the first place. But Mom loved us even when we were pricks, which played out to a much higher degree once we became teenagers, but that’s getting ahead of this blog entry.

This entry is about the first naughty things I remember (besides watching softcore porn when my parents went on a walk). Eli was naturally the captain of misadventures, and our older brother, Josh, was the victim. We did terrible things to that poor eldest brother, or at least the things in this life that he loved most: his toys.

Okay, Josh, here is the official apology that you have been demanding for nearly four decades now. I am announcing this officially to the entire world (or as much of it as both finds and reads this blog). Bear in mind that I am accepting partial blame only, to a maximum of 50% unless otherwise noted. Anything that I omit or don’t mention never officially happened, as course of record, and as such I am neither admitting to nor sorry for, so you can cram it:

I apologize for:

1). Stealing your complete collection of original Star Wars figures—which, I checked Ebay and, wow, that would have been worth LOTS of $$$ today!!!—and, one by one, burying them in the sandbox. Or underneath the apple tree. Or in the sand piles at the cement factory across the street. Can you imagine having your sidewalk put in only to have the top half of Boba Fett sticking out? You’d be the coolest kid on the block… Also, I apologize for putting a steak knife to the AT-AT walker (100% me). I remember knowing it was wrong at the time. I also remember thinking it would be cooler with openings on both sides for the figures to jump in and out. I had not yet seen The Empire Strikes Back. If you had watched it with me, I could have replayed those moments instead of relying on my serrated, cutlery-dependent imagination (let’s give you a 10% blame share on that one).

2). Jetfire. Perhaps the coolest Transformer ever. While Eli played with Soundwave and this flip open bot who wasn’t dignified enough to have name, I got Jetfire. We hid in the bushes at the corner house on Thompson and 4th, though I certainly didn’t know streets had names when we did this. Eli and I just knew no one would find us there with our bounty, and we were right. Oh, and yeah, sorry about tearing his arm off, breaking one wing in half, and snapping off the antennae on his head.

3). Your model airplanes. I feel the worst about this. Maybe it’s because you hand painted them. You assembled them with carefully laid epoxy. And then, proud of the hours upon hours needed to achieve this, you strung fishing line through them and hung them from the ceiling. You created your own miniature WWII dogfight, frozen in time at the top of the stairs. They were high enough that your troublesome little brothers couldn’t reach them. And why would we want to?

I had no aptitude for language at that age, let alone foreign languages, but one word, man: piñata. Did I know what one was? No. Did I discover the joy of batting things down with a stick? Oh, yes! This may be more than you want to hear, Josh, but the plastic black baseball bat wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t coordinated enough to strike it’s limited surface area against the spinning, pendular motion of planes after first contact. So eventually, problem-solver that I am, I dragged a kitchen chair upstairs. Heavy though it was, took about fifteen minutes (I dropped it a couple times). Then I dug the pink, beefy wiffle ball bat our of the closet. Sixteen seconds. Max. I don’t think any of those planes withstood more than three hits.

I don’t remember how heartbroken you were when you first witnessed all the destruction. You probably thought that these were omens, that your brother must be the antichrist.

There’s still time.
3 Carplaneboat

The first babysitter I remember was named Wendy. She lived in a two-story blue house on the opposite corner of our block. She kept a vibrant garden, though it fell short the one across the street, where the flowerbeds beguiled Leah Freezen (probably spelled differently) and other neighborhood girls into stealing them one stem at a time—being chased away daily. That woman was always watching…

Wendy loved soap operas. After lunch or maybe snack time, she would usher us, maybe four or five kids, into the nap room, unfurl blue workout mats, and flick off the lights. Enough sun edged around the blinds that the nightlight performed its task unnecessarily. Even without the light on, I could make out the clock on the wall, all the symbols and the faint tic of the second hand, louder than my heartbeat with my ear resting against a pillow, but just barely. I had a sense of when nap time would be over, though I could read a clock no better than a newspaper.

Sometimes I would open the door and sneak out. My memory is fuzzy here, but I think Wendy was in the room across the hall, or if not there, then just down the steps. Either way, I’m pretty sure she was watching As the World Turns. Not that I could read, but the globe replacing the ‘o’ in world gave it away, if not at that time, then later when the show seemed to take over all the gossip of babysitters, aunts, and everyone’s older sisters.

I distinctly remember trying to watch the show, perhaps through the crack in a door or from a perch at the top of the steps, one eye between balusters, and thinking how boring it was. Faces talking, that’s it. I saw enough of that with boring grown-ups, the kind of people who didn’t fling fruit, roll cars on the floor, or do anything else fun. In the show, nothing ever happened. The settings changed frequently enough, but each one was as boring as the last. Sometimes you’d get a hospital room—what a highlight—but you never saw how the person ended up there.

One afternoon I delighted in a new toy. In the basement, I dumped out a couple buckets of snap-together building pieces, like Legos, only a little bigger with a generic manufacturer. They included specialty pieces like wheels with real rubber edges for making cars, planes, boats, and my personal favorite: a carplaneboat, which could do anything, from underwater exploration to space travel. It took me the greater part of playtime just to build the damn thing, so when, ready to let my imagination soar, Wendy tore my handwork from me and declared nap time, I refused. I was not tired. At all. Even a little. I tried to resist physically, fought her powerful adult grip, but she carried me up to the blue mat while I cried.

I remember being alone for that nap time. The other kids had been moved to a quieter environment perhaps. I also remember promising myself to prove to Wendy how awake I was. I even played this little fantasy in my head where Wendy opened the door after nap time to find me standing with my arms crossed, still frowning and unhappy. See, I wasn’t tired, B! But I soon grew weary of standing. Unknown hours of soap operas would be watched before Wendy would return. I had already cried my voice hoarse. So maybe sitting down with my arms crossed and a frown would be just as good, no?

Yeah, I totally fell asleep. When she woke me, I did not immediately want to get up. Was I forgetting something? I came to realize that she had won, that adults everywhere who thought they were smarter than me were right. How did she know I was tired when I didn’t even know? I tried to play it off like I slept out of boredom. I vowed to recreate the carplaneboat at the next play time, but distinctly remember never again getting the chance. They never again made an appearance. Why? It has taken me nearly 30 years to deduce that my tantrum may have had something to do with it.
4 Preschool Blues & Rainbows

My memory of this is so weird that it must be false. I remember long tables in a huge, open basement room that had troughs around the edge filled with sand. The sand was damp and stuck together in chunks. Sandbox time was not a daily privilege, but a reward, and one that a girl in class was always denied. No one ever wanted to be near her because she smelled like pee. And she cried constantly. Wouldn’t you if you smelled like pee? Or maybe she cried because no one would be her friend, because she always smelled like pee. I would like to read her blog about childhood if she has one. Anyway, sometimes an adult or two would disappear with her, kicking and screaming, after she had clawed another kid. During these times, no one would say anything. The rest of us would just look at each other, thankful for the quiet and the fresh air.

I should mention that Fraggle Rock is part of the sandbox trough memory. As is my brother, Josh’s pinewood derby from Boy Scouts. His car lost by more than a length if memory serves. He probably didn’t put much effort into it knowing his shitty little brothers would inevitably steal or destroy it. The derby was at night, autumn when the wind is still warm and feels like everything is alive.

In the spring, a girl named Laura, who never smelled like pee, invited me to my first ever birthday party. I remember my mother taking me to the Shopko or K-Mart and letting me pick out a gift. Even at that age, I was aware that Laura would not like Dr. Doom or Jetfire because she was a girl, and girl’s like dolls. I delicately weighed the qualities of the various options: size, sturdiness, color, trying to suppose what a girl with good taste would want. I finally chose Rainbow Brite, almost certainly due to some advertising gimmick meant to lure kids. I was late to the party despite the girl living two blocks away. When she opened the present, she pretended to be happy with it. She then led me to her room where she sat it next toa  row of about twenty near-identical Rainbow Brite dolls. WTF. How was I supposed to know? It was probably on sale. Thanks moms of America: Laura’s subconscious hatred for rainbows has probably made her a lifelong homophone. We need to break the chains, not forge them people!
5 Playtime with Neighborhood Girl

Your childhood is part of my childhood. I can’t recall my oldest memories without remembering you. I guess that’s what sharing means, real sharing, though I don’t know what exactly I am supposed to do with that. Write a blog? Share the things I’ve shared?

Back then, I wondered if we would get married. I can’t imagine that now. The thought of being without my actual wife leaves me feeling like a stranger in a photograph from the 80s. It’s hard to really describe, but, if you’ve ever poured over an old photo album and come across a picture of yourself at some much younger age, and there’s a person there, maybe in the background, that no one looking seems to remember. That’s how it feels. One part nostalgia, but mostly loneliness. The kind of regret that’s as illogical as it is enduring.

We didn’t get married.

I knew instinctively that you held no interest in my older brothers’ toys, not even burying them. We ended up playing this game where we got tired and had to go to sleep a lot. It doesn’t sound like much fun, I know, but we managed to make it something of a psychological thriller. A mystery. Here’s how it worked: I would lie down on my back. You would lie down on top of me, your face half buried in a pillow. We were usually still in our school uniforms. Your tights were soft, like a nightgown, or maybe even four night gowns.

Sometimes I put my hands on your back. The part we liked, I think, was that, fully clothed, our pubic bones pressed firmly against each other. Then, after this happened a few times, of playing at night with you laying on top of me, I began to feel guilty. Why? I don’t really know. I thought maybe you were bored, or not interested in having my Ken doll shaped privates pressed against your Ken doll shaped privates, separated by several layers of Catholic school uniform and Holy Spirit. I began making pretenses to play with my cat, Athena, or to put puzzles together, or to continue playing house but in a more active way that included daytime pretend hours instead of exclusively dealing in nighttime pretend hours. This would give you an opportunity to disengage from this activity to pursue other games. But you must have enjoyed laying on me, because you countered my pretenses with you own, reasons that we had to play house, and that, would you look at that, it’s night time again… This was probably the first psychological experiment that I ever conducted (continue reading this blog to discover that I learned nothing from it).

I don’t remember any of the reasons. I remember you breathing into my ear. It was so loud. Louder than anyone’s breathing as you faced toward me, in prime kissing position, instead of facing away. Your breaths came in and out slowly enough, sometimes unnaturally so, your breathing tense like a young lover’s. I remained on my back. I really did want to touch your tights. Instead I like you impersonate a confused, unreliable ocean into my ears.

I took things slowly. I was a gentleman. So slowly, in fact, that we never held hands after kindergarten and, to this day, have never made out or even kissed.

I did once provide a candlelit dinner for you. We must have been in third or fourth grade. They were birthday candles. I think I used pink ones. I sure as shit didn’t bake a cake so there was nothing to sink them in, so I put them in spools of my mother’s thread. I was old enough to realize—so who am I kidding probably fifth grade—how childish the execution on this otherwise very adult display of affection might be. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t eat my grilled cheese sandwich; the immaturity of the thread spools voided any sophistication points I earned using the stovetop. To be polite, or maybe too embarrassed for me, you didn’t eat yours either.
6 Pee Parachute

One sure way to miss out on babes is to be more interested in G.I. Joe. I remember my brother, Eli, getting this awesome one with a parachute. Had I been as creative with making props for my own toys as I was with destroying my eldest brother’s (sorry Josh!), I could have had a hundred paratroopers with floss waistbands tied off on coffee filters or cellophane. Advertising convinced me that the flimsy plastic with the logo printed on it would bring me true joy, the kind Eli seemed to be having. But he wasn’t experiencing joy. He basked in my attention and my jealousy, but the toy itself wasn’t that fun, not that we knew it yet.

We discovered this when I got one. Tossing them into the air proved only that they would come down, and faster, it seemed, than on the cartoon. We counted the hang time on one hand. How to improve the game? Throw them out a second story window!

So we did, but this was not enough. Like the producers of reality TV shows, we had to go further. We started throwing all our toys out our second floor bedroom window into the back yard. Toy boxes full, though one at a time. Stuffed animals, Transformers (sorry Josh!), you name it. We found more pleasure in this than our other favorite pastime, which was piling our toys against our mother’s bedroom door while she was inside. The figures, plastic dinosaurs, battery-operated talking robots, and even Lego constructions fell a foot or so shy of the ceiling. Once we couldn’t reach the top of the mound, we would start tossing toys up there. Only when more rolled off to the bottom than stuck did we ever quit. As I remember, my mom was trapped inside her room one time. I don’t recall whether it was the yelling or our empty stomachs that impelled us to dismantle what we referred to as Fun Wall.

The problem with throwing your possessions out your second floor window is that you had to recover those things and haul them up a flight of stairs in order to continue playing. We did, though, for an afternoon, maybe a dozen trips, before gravity lost its luster. What could we throw down that we didn’t have to pick up? Yes! You got it. We did, too! PEE!!!

We peed out the window next. Sadly, this we could do only once (we didn’t have the patience to refill the tank). Luckily our neighbor, Edna—I’m pretty sure she was 72 years old for the last 30 years of her life and did nothing but garden—was there to see and able to humiliate my mother upon their next meeting by saying, Peed from the window that’s what they did!

To hear my mom tell the story, it didn’t happen exactly like that. Instead, we had run through Edna’s garden or plucked a tulip or something, or maybe it was our cat that crossed over enemy lines and attacked the birds in Edna’s birdbath. Either way, Edna called over to my mother and met her in the backyard. Then, in that perfect moment when Mom was defending the integrity of her young sons and loyal kitty, the wave of urine cascaded out the window and into the bright, summer sunshine, glittering like molten gold as it showers the fresh green grass below.

Thems your boys!
7 Train's Always On Time

Mischief requires a helping hand, and when my brothers failed to be complicit, I had my cousin, Dan. His family lived in Utah but came up to visit regularly until they moved to Minnesota in, I want to say my fourth grade year. I enjoyed their visits, not because I liked Dan as a playmate, but because with him inevitably came Transformers that I did not have. They were Autobots, emergency vehicles like a fire truck and ambulance, I think, but were light blue in color. I don’t even remember them ever making a cameo on the cartoon, but planted on each was the red Autobot face, which made them exotic and prized. They were not Go-bots. These were not impostors, but the real thing ready to provide real make-believe fun.

We quickly bored of these, and of playing in-doors in general. Fortunately, we had our grandmother’s ravine. The boundary was simple: we couldn’t go “that way” beyond the intersection, which was essentially the front of our grandmother’s property. To the back of the property, the ravine promised to fill the afternoon with our favorite game: Army. I think you can imagine how that game worked.

One afternoon Crystal, Dan’s younger sister, came with us. This is a wonder because we probably treated her worse in those days than we did Josh’s toys. We mocked her for her inadequate understanding of military weapons and protocols, of sports cars, and, later, for moving the Nintendo controller in a circular, hopping motion to help Mario jump over pits—if Nintendo had discovered her visionary powers then, the Wii sensors would have been released a full decade earlier, I’m sure.

That summer we marched to the ditch that cuts off the ravine several blocks from downtown Mankato. Technically, no parental boundary existed there. Dan and I opted to keep going. Crystal, knowing better, and Eli, knowing he deserved several broom-handle beatings already for opening cookies in grocery stores, refused to continue. Dan, using the logic of a five and a half year old lawyer to combat common sense, insisted that our parents could only blame their own oversight. Dan called them babies. I was maybe three and a half at the time.

Dan led the way past the downtown Mankato mall, which was a hopping place in 1984, to the train depot. The sheer power of the steam locomotive, plus the heavy machinery involved in its operation, made trains cool. We walked around several of the sleeping giants, crawled halfway up the ladders until black grease stained our hands. We tried our might, but the train cars would not budge against our collective nine-year-old strength (3.5 + 5.5 = 9, for those of you who haven’t been paying close enough attention). Luckily, none of the trains started moving while we explored the grounds. Years later, the same grandmother would bring to an art fair in Iowa, where we would watch a train safety video for hours in what I remember as a converted school bus. At the time, though, neither of knew the danger. The lure of the mall carried us from possible decapitation and delivered us to possible kidnapping.

In its heart, the downtown mall had a central escalator that lifted us to Toys Plus. We crawled up the escalator step by step; it did not move fast enough. The glory of the toy store! All the Transformers. All the G.I. Joes. All the model airplanes that Josh would build for me to destroy. It had everything. We didn’t have any money, but we perused. We examined. We coveted as moms and dads led smiling children to the cashier to demonstrate to them routine capitalism.

In many ways it was like being starved at a Lannister wedding feast, all the time knowing you’d be surrendered to a Bolton if you took anything. So we left. Where to next? The elevator! The much older cousin of the escalator. Its novelty was still new to us (everything but pooping is new to a three year old I guess). The mall spanned a mere two levels, nothing extravagant by today’s standards, but the elevator was encased in a hard plastic faux glass, so we could watch shoppers as if the world beyond was a kind of television show.

Safe in our tiny box, I remember going up and down for what seemed like hours. Dan and I took turns pressing the button for people. With only two choices, it was an easy job. Of our fellow dozens, possibly hundreds of co-elevator riders, not one that I remember asked where our parents were. Oh 1984, a time when mental illness didn’t yet have its flare for the dramatic, its selfish need for attention. But what can you do? Not even George Orwell saw that coming. . . The quick acceleration followed by the abrupt stop made it feel like an amusement park ride. Only free. The lack of fried pickles or corn dogs had hunger catching up too eventually. Time to return to grandma’s.

I remember my eyes having to adjust to the brightness outside. We spent that much time in there, the most I have ever spent in any mall including movies (and ever will if my luck holds), including Christmas. While I squinted, a stranger came up to us and started asking questions. I let Dan do the talking as he was the point man, er boy. His complete confidence in himself as a five year old still baffles me. I remember holding the man’s hand at one point and both of us getting in his car. I also remember feeling safe. He already knew where to drive us, not that we would have been much good giving directions: ah, drive down that ditch and then up that ravine and that’s where Grandma lives! I did figure out who he was by the time he walked us to the door.

“Are you a policeman?” I asked.

I don’t remember the wording of his answer, but my Grandma tells it as if he wanted to strangle me for being a wise guy. He didn’t because he was kind enough to give my Grandma that honor. She said, direct quote here: “What were you thinking?” but it seemed like the wrong time to say, “That seeing trains would be fun.” Her body language didn’t communicate that she had her own love of trains. Grams quickly deferred the honor of punishment to my mother, who remained decisively silent. And then all I remember was hearing Dan’s screams from the basement. A spanking I’m sure, but it sounded so much worse. With no carpet in my grandma’s stairway, the cries echoed up, both intense and muffled as if through a megaphone. As the leader of the expedition, it was a fate he no doubt deserved. Having gone along, I knew inherently that justice would require the same from me. My mother sat me down in the living room, and I remember it as if I was sitting in the middle of the room, but that just may be the feeling of it. Of my mother’s eyes, staring into my soul, this black patch of pure evil that stained it the moment we crossed beyond the boundaries of our parents’ dictum, which, let’s be honest, was a little ambiguous and that was really their fault, but when your mother looks at you like that, you know. You know you done fucked up and you deserve the wrath. The blood price. And you begin to hope that you can exist in the world without love. That you don’t need it. Because living without it would be much easier than getting what you deserve. You feel yourself transforming into—no, don’t say it!—a bad kid. And maybe you had been one all along?!

She stared at me, Dan’s tortured cries kept floating up through the hallway. And she continued. Her eyes silently beating down on me. When was it my turn? When would I be deservedly beaten? She said nothing. Did nothing but stare, those eyes eating away all sense of certainty, all possible comfort and ease. Dan’s screams. . . I began to want to be beaten! Anything but this, this waiting. This terrible unknown future punishment, this curse poised to strike but aloof like a vulture, waiting for my weakest moment.

My mother never spanked me. Ultimately she made me feel even more guilty by not spanking me, which is a classic Catholic trick (say that three times fast!). And it worked. I became a good little boy, for a couple months at least. . . .
8 Apple Time

The house at the corner of Thompson and Fourth had these low cut bushes. I mentioned earlier that Eli and I went there to play with the toys Josh had barred us from use, typically things fragile or expensive, things Josh paid for with his paper route money. Also as mentioned, we destroyed, buried, or lost many of these things. We continued to value that house for the duck-and-cover style camouflage that is provided, especially when we knew we were misbehaving.

One such instance, I remember, was when Eli and I made it over there on our hot cycles. You know the plastic tri-wheelers, bright colors fading in the sun, littering the yards of lower income neighborhoods every summer, the kind a six year old is too big pedal. We had recently learned of a wonderful hand gesture called the bird and wanted to try it out.

“Hey!” we yelled at the first adult we saw. Then we flicked him off. Then we tore down the sidewalk going, well I can’t imagine faster than two or three miles per hour.

A summer or two later, Eli and I recruited Dan to help us with the tedious task of bagging apples. We had two trees, one crabapple and the other a green monster in the back yard. What Mom didn’t turn into pies scattered the lawn, attracting bees and wasps, eventually rotting into puffy brown apple barf. We raked them into three piles, but no one wanted to grab them by the handful. We started a food fight, pelting each other until a thought occurred to one of us: we don’t have to throw them at each other.

We each grabbed an armful and made the slow journey through the alley to the corner house bushes. Then we waited. When the first car rolled along, I think only Dan hit it. I had a lousy arm. One was enough. The car squealed to a halt. We didn’t wait around to see if the driver was going to get out. We dashed between houses, scurried down the alleyway like so many cockroaches, and slipped into the garage.

That. Was awesome.

We thought it was at the time. I can’t remember why we thought that, but we did. So, after talking about how cool it was for maybe five minutes, back to the lawn to reload. The second car reacted much the same way if I remember, but, after that, there was a drought. It was mid afternoon on a weekday, and any one who could afford a car was either waiting to go to work or already there.

Knowing I was a terrible shot, I thought, hey, why not practice a bit? Polish my sidearm? I threw a couple apples at a black car parked across the street. Miss. Miss. And a miss. I couldn’t even get it across the road. Eli and Dan threw a few with a couple successes. I wasn’t going to waste the rest of my shots, so I ran across the street—which was strictly forbidden—and smashed a leaky, swollen apple against the driver’s side window. It stuck in place as if suctioned on. I unloaded the rest of the ammo in the same way while the others started throwing more at other parked cars.

Then we got busted. The guy who lived in that house, who we’d never seen, came out onto his front steps and started yelling. It was a real shock. That was supposed to be our safe spot. We all panicked. Every boy for himself. I don’t remember if he chased either Eli or Dan, but, I did end up running past his door and house getting to the alley. A wooden dowel propped open his basement window, and the light was on. Hmm. Interesting.

We met up back at the apple piles in the back yard, huffing, out of breath, still shaken. The scare did not stop us from continuing our complete dickishness. Each one of us pulled the back of our T-shirt up so that the front could be stretched into a bowl. I remember how heavy the apples were that filled it, so maybe fifteen pounds worth, maybe more for my physically superior elders. Then right back to that window, one on each side and one in the middle. Dan whispered a countdown and, all at once, the piles of rotting fruit dropped through the window, dislodging the dowel with a sloppy plop onto this poor guy’s basement floor. I remember thinking about gravity, maybe knowing its name, and guessing how difficult it would be for him to undo this mess we inflicted on him. I heard the scream, even through the window. Whatever he was doing down there, the next several hours of his life had been destroyed. Claimed by our mischief and our inexplicable delight. We booked it, laughing by the time we got home, little bastards that we were. And never did apologize. Sorry.

9 Learning

Some lessons are harder than others.

Perhaps my favorite early memory is learning to read and write. Specifically, we played the ABC Alphabet game (Scrabble Brand). Not only was spinning the on the color wheel satisfying, but so was moving the plastic game piece around to the various letters, yanking them off the pile on the schoolyard, and filling word card. Try the link below if you’re unfamiliar:

I specifically remember thinking that the cards with only three letters were the easy ones. Especially cat and dog. We had both at home, so my familiarity surely helped. The four-letter words were the ones to watch out for. Also, the ‘x’ in fox and the ‘w’in—I don’t remember what—clearly became the extravagant, bold letters. I remember trying to pick them “for later” even when my word card didn’t contain them. This was one of if not the first game I played. My journey has come a long way.

Then came the writing, in large pads of unbleached, thin paper. My pencil pressing turning the pages underneath into ant farm mazes. I remember writing my name. The circle in the ‘a’ never connected properly to the stick on the side. Always too far or too close.

My mom took me to the Mankato Powwow. I remember this as happening at Sibley Park, which now seems like an ironic punishment, though the official website says the powwow was only held there until the year before I was born. Hmm. The powwow now happens during the third full weekend of September at Dakota Wokiksuye Makoce Park (Land of Memories Park).

The beads, bracelets, and moccasins were a good time, but the Wacipi (Wa-CHEE-pee meaning "dance" in Dakota) was where it was at. The drums. Steady. Driving. An unbreakable force. This was likely my first connection to live percussion, and the rhythmic, vibrating low end of “the beat”.

I’ll admit that the singing wasn’t what I was used to or expecting. The melodies frequently jumped in range, as one might expect from a war cry, and I couldn’t understand what they were singing about. Would those seeds later grow into my love of Hardcore?

The entire experience was so different and had such energy that I immediately latched onto it. And, as children will do, tried to copy it. I poorly imitated the singing, and threw in the hand pat over the mouth, likely as seen in Disney’s Peter Pan, in what must have been, in the early 1980s in Mankato, a completely average and acceptable display of racism for the white people, and a rather disrespectful one to the indigenous people sharing their culture.

My mother stopped me from singing. I remember feeling like there was a mixup. I wasn’t making fun of these people; I thought they were cool, and I was trying to participate/engage with them. I wanted to be like them. Clearly, my actions could not then be considered offensive!

Sometimes, it’s about more than intentions…

I have to relearn this lesson, even in my 40s. It’s a tough one. Maybe the toughest one for white people.
10 Military Brat Rats

My father established himself, in my mind, as the best carpet and flooring installer in Mankato. He had several vans during my childhood, each one replaced by something newer when vital components died in smoke or leaking chemical fluids, but each van had two things: 1). an extended cargo space; 2). a butt-load of tools that satisfied the shape and size requirements for make believe machine guns. With pipe extensions for a carpet stretcher, a knee kicker, and the occasional mallet, hammer, and staple gun, we scurried over and under the eleven to fourteen foot rolls of carpet that regularly stacked two to six deep in the van. The goal? To take pot shots at the cars tailing us, who were trying to kill us. We mimicked gun fights from movies in a game we called Military Brat Rats. Self-deprecating, perhaps, but, I’m sure you’ll agree, appropriate to our behavior. Who were our enemies? They exploded into imaginary barrels of flame evaporating into black smoke, vehicles littered with bullets, again and again and again. Maybe they were Russians. Maybe not. Typically this depended on the most recently released Arnold Schwartzenegger movie.

We watched them all. We learned that being naughty could occur without provoking or directly inconveniencing other humans. We watched The Running Man and when it got to the part where the game show host asks Arnie to volunteer to be a contestant, we cranked the volume on the TV.

“Fuck you,” Arnie says.

Soooooooo badass! He was strong and confident and could swear whenever he wanted—even to authority figures! Just like we anticipated ourselves being when we grew up. In the meantime, we rewound and played that five second clip over and over one afternoon.

When we pressed <play>, the game show host would finish the last two to four words of his sentence, or none if the timing was right, “—on the Running Man.”

“Fuck you.”

It took some practice before we could get the rhythm of the VCR’s rewind. It always started slowly, then sped up. The timing had to be perfect, otherwise you lost the swear word or had to endure boring game show guy talk for an extra few seconds, a real bummer. I find it difficult to remember what had me so charmed, but that was a different me back then.

Other action movies factored in, too. First Blood, including Part II (“In order to survive a war, you have to become war”), Robocop (“Can you fly, Bobbie?”), Die Hard (“Shoot—the glass!”), 48 Hours (No quote remembered here, just boobs in the opening sequence), Big Trouble in Little China (“Son of a bitch must pay!”), et cetera. . . . I would like to specify that none of these were Steven Seagal movies. He was a pussy, and hasn’t aged well. Movie tricks. Film editing. Stunt doubles. Kids and wannabes liked Steven Seagal because he was a wannabe. He always wore a gi or some black flowing shirt; you could never tell if he was ripped. Even if Steve had muscles, Arnie could have ripped him in half. No question. It would be like Superman fighting Mighty Mouse. To quote Teddy Duchamp, “Superman is a real guy.” Anyway, we didn’t have an internet to discover Steven was a 7th-dan black belt at aikido. Whatever. I still stand by our reasoning.

The point I’m making here is that our boyish interest in the military set the stage for later trespasses again society, in that we practiced stealth and evasion as part of this game, Military Brat Rats. When outside the van, we regularly ran around the house, our cousins’ trailer courts, or parks on missions we invented for ourselves, and had to hide when real people or car lights interrupted our objective. Once spotted in the direct rays of headlights, the enemy shot and killed us instantly. Sometimes ghost versions of ourselves then appeared to help the other two, but most often we pretended to be our former character’s twin brother who was a perfect simulacrum. Same weapon proficiencies, same skills—explosives, disarming explosives, stealth, pain tolerance, holding our breath under water, knife fighting, throwing stars, and strong were amongst the most common—but now we could add vengeance (damn, I forgot the movie Rolling Vengeance above!) to the mission objective list. Game on.
11 Bullying in 1988

We had this great loft in kindergarten. The teacher, Mrs. C, kept it stocked with books in a sweetgrass-woven basket and reading pillows, but who would want to page through the picture book when you could throw pingpong balls or, better yet, shoot rubber bands at nerds? Considering what you know of childhood Jacob, I’m sure you thought I was that little jerk. Not so. Even worse, I admired those jerks.

Two boys, cousins, perhaps as trouble-prone as my own cousin and me, took over the loft at every playtime. None of the other kids rivaled them in size, so they physically removed anyone trying to invade their fort. They made it sound like a game when snot-nosed whiners like myself tattled, but they weren’t going to give it up. And why would they? The guard rails gave them privacy and cover for whatever projectile mischief they could think up, plus I’m sure they enjoyed the attention that came from being the gatekeepers of the most coveted play area in class. Even when Mrs. C put up a sign-up for the loft, these boys still muscled their way into other kids’s slots all too often.

I often waited for a turn underneath the loft with the miniature plastic oven and putrid green and fluorescent orange dish set that the girls used to play house. I guess I played house, too, sometimes. I kept waiting for the girls to want to lay on me during nighttime, but they never did. As an adult, I can even admit that I had fun pretending whatever it was I pretended, though I feared the judgment of male peers at the time.

For Easter in kindergarten, I remember the cousins making bunny Easter baskets and leaving everything but the nose (which was pink) white. They didn’t even use the white crayon to give the paper the proper sheen that any consistent, mother-loving basket would need. Oh how I judged them, their laziness. Personally, I colored my bunny basket brown, making sure to outline the face and bushy butt tail with a solid, darker line to pronounce the details. My mother would be ever so impressed. This took extra time, and ate well into recess, but what was the alternative? Get thrown out of the loft again?

So fast forward to third grade. The cousins, E and J, get separated into two opposite classrooms and can no longer bully anyone out of the loft (which is gone at this point, is metaphorical only). So I instantly become BFF with E, who is in my class.

We play ninja turtles during recess, and we let the two kids we don’t like play with us (what angels we are!), but impose on them the roles of Shredder and Krang, our archenemies. As the villains, they get chased, hit with sticks, or bonked with kickballs. When they fight back, which is rare, we hide from them and throw fistfuls of pea rock at them from inside the playground slide. All is right in the cosmos: heroes make all others suffer.

Until. One day at lunch I’m at the back of the line. Probably for whipping the Lebanese immigrant (there was just one in our grade) with a jump rope (he was Krang). I would like to apologize for that now, Charbel, as well as making fun of you for the yellow, feathery jacket that shackled you to the nickname Big Bird for many years. We were dicks (and would be married before achieving any sense of fashion). Anyway, I cut in line up to where my new bully friend was, which happened to be ahead of Shedder (a.k.a Jeremy). He told me I was supposed to be at the back of the line, and, if memory serves, I told him if he said anything I would punch him. He called my bluff and was about to tell on me. I remember looking at E and seeing in his eye absolutely no surprise. No excitement. He also thought I was a lying piece of shit and waited for some authority figure to send my ass to the back of the line. This would not do. I was a boy of my word.

So I punched Jeremy. His nose ran red with blood instantly. I don’t remember what bullshit story I made up about us playing around, but it must have been obvious to the principal when we, and I do mean we, laid it out in his office. Jeremy corroborated every fake, cowardly lie I spit out. At the time I thought it was because I threatened him, not with words but with body language, eyes as cold and unblinking as Superman’s when they laser cut skyscrapers and oil tankers. Looking back, he probably feared the retaliation that all whistleblowers face. Maybe he felt sorry for me, didn’t want to play a part in my well-earned suspension or expulsion because, like kindergarten me, he wanted to be a friend. To have a friend.

And the worst part? The exact same thing happened a week later to the day. Same cutting in line. Same principal’s office. Same bullshit excuse, only this time Jeremy threw in some medical condition, that he got bloody noses a lot for no reason. Seriously. At third grade I shifted the blame to the victim for him to internalize with a success rate that, I am sure, made my white male ancestors proud from their graves. I’m not going to go into the inexhaustible list of institutionalized mistakes of my forebears, but at least I have identified the connection. This gives me the opportunity to recognize the real worst part. I never said I’m sorry.

Here’s to you, Jeremy Fischer. I’m sorry.
12 Blue Buildings

As a child, life was full of contradictions: parents telling me not to smoke or drink while they did just that, teachers urging me to tell the truth when all that got me was discipline, the entire one God made of three beings thing at church, Bon Jovi living a prayer while cashing out sellout crowds at stadium venues. Of course the list goes on, but age has a way of accepting simply because it’s too much effort not to, effort that could be otherwise spent making money, finding someone to hold hands with, or sleeping. We learn to accept bullshit, call it out only when it’s directly self-beneficial. This (originally was) being the tenth installment of Faceplant, still early in the tales of my life’s manifold mistakes, I would like to embrace the spirit of contradiction by telling you I was a pretty good kid.

Instead of supporting that statement, I am going to do the opposite. I mentioned the cement factory across the street in an earlier entry, the giant piles of sand that played graveyard to countless action figures. Just beyond the operation’s perimeter were some old work buildings, ruinous, crumbling post-apocalyptic type buildings. Old. I imagine that both OSHA representatives and social workers would shudder to hear that these buildings became a playground of sorts.

Legitimate concerns included broken glass, tetanus, broken bones from jumping or falling through windows or down stairwells sans stairs, and smoke inhalation (wait for it). Its last workforce, I imagine them with kerosine lanterns, cravats, and pantaloons,  gutted each building, removed even the stairs in some instances, which gave these places a dungeony quality more appropriate to the Dark Ages. The floor had fallen away in some places. Loose floorboards wobbled over support beams. We knew enough to avoid these areas.

So what did we do here? We ate 10 cent candy—Lemonheads, ZotZ (was there a generic version of these; I don’t remember this being their name), Red Hots, Jawbreakers, Slowpokes, et cetera. . . We either stole money from the washing machine, which accumulated over time from the pant pockets of our elder brother Josh who had a paper route, or we stole the candy on rare occasions. Either way, we knew our guilt was valid and therefore needed a secret place to satisfy our sweet tooth without interruption.

We also learned that hairspray is inflammable. We drenched the palms of our hands, lit them into fireballs, and quickly waved them out. When my mother ran out of hairspray, we grabbed cans of I don’t even know what off the vehicles parked at the cement factory. I couldn’t read anything over four letters, but I recognized what the bold red stamp on the side of a can meant. Warning label some would call it, invitation label is more accurate when it comes to kids. Fire. So much fun! We brought other things to burn: books, stuffed animals, candy wrappers (evidence), action figures (stupid ones), crayons, my own face. . . .

Yeah, one day I remember we debated what would happen if you held a continuous spray of an inflammable canister to a lighter. One theory was that the fire would follow the stream inside the canister an it would explode, probably killing everything within a city block. Another theory, the one I was willing to defend, was that it would create an awesome jet of flame. Whoever was with me, Eli for sure, backed up. I flicked the lighter and did what had (not really) to be done. A bright burst of light filled my vision as if a fireball had consumed my face. Its heat vanished immediately; I remember being surprised not to feel any burns. So, argument won. I was right. It was awesome.

Until I got home:

My mother: What happened?
Me: Uh, nothing.
My mother: What were you doing?
Me: I don’t know.
My mother: What did you do to your hair?

I took a moment to run my hand through my hair to try to discover if she was bluffing. Parents did that. Often they were pretty sure that I was up to no good but would have no way to prove it. If I kept to the story and they had no proof, I knew I was golden. Either of those failed, and I was finished. I was smart enough not to commit to a story until I was beyond a reasonable doubt that they had no proof, or maybe not enough proof. My hair was proof. I could feel texture between the soft pads of my fingertips. Gnarled, bulbous gobs covered my head like grains of sand. The fireball singed all the hairs on my head, melting them back into saltlike nodes, with some having even melted together. My eyebrows, too. Into the barber’s chair I went. I can’t recall what explanation I eventually offered, but I’m sure my mom saw right through it.

We didn’t always escape notice. A neighborhood friend, Joe, came with Eli and myself to the cement factory to crawl into the giant cement mixing drum that typically spins on the back of the trucks. You’ve seen them around town, almost cylindrical with some logo or another alternating upside down for viewers on the other side of the truck. Joe slipped into the bottom of the truck and got covered in wet cement. I was not alarmed. You brush it off, no big deal, right?

This kid freaked out. He yelled and screamed. We pulled him out and ushered him back to our garage where the plan was to hose him down a garden hose, wipe off the big gray chunks first. He kept yelling about how it was going to dry, it was going to dry! I guess he didn’t realize that we weren’t cartoon characters. No T.N.T. would be necessary to liberate him from a giant stone bowling ball, which did not dry instantaneously. Both Eli and I tried with limited kid vocabularies—which should have been compatible with his own—to convince him there was nothing to fear, but he countered with the you’re not the one covered in cement / you don’t know what I’m going through bit (appeal to experience) that all young people cling to so inappropriately. He went into the house, covered in cement, so an adult could call 911. Instead we got grounded and lectured while my mom sprayed him off with the garden hose. From then on we knew we needed to be more selective in whom we invited into the fold.

And now back to being a good kid. I know now and knew this then when the kids moved in next door. Another house of three boys and a single mom. When they went to the blue buildings, they smashed out all the remaining windows. They whipped walls and floorboards with the rusty metal chains. They smoked. They threw rocks at birds, squirrels, and even our cats those pieces of shit. They even tried getting us to catch our cat (because they couldn’t) to put in a pen to fight their dog. I also think they endured domestic abuse, or had from several of their mother’s ex-boyfriends.

So many things you don’t understand at the time.

The only good thing about having them on the block was that they often took the blame for our misadventures. “Are you one of those Hollerick kids?” What of it? or Whatcha gunna do about it? became our answers to fuming, red-faced adults. One of the brothers next door got expelled from, I think all the schools in Mankato. From ours, it was for smashing a window on another student’s hand and breaking all his fingers. The violent side, I guess, is what I’m trying to illustrate, though he was never violent toward me, and even seemed pleasant. I guess I never provoked him.

Other neighborhood kids did the same crap. Started drinking super young, threw rocks at me when I rode my bike. Tried to beat me up on my way home from the bus stop on days Eli was sick, or sometimes when their older brothers played hooky (I wish I could remember if this was before or after third grade, that brief period when I was a bully myself).

As far as my me and brothers, we were not angry children. We neither witnessed nor endured domestic abuse or short-tempered, uneducated parents (my mother was working on college and then a Master’s Degree in English; I know, how did she find the time?). Sadly, I think this a unique advantage compared to many of the kids in our neighborhood. We also had a support network of extended family. And we went to a private, Catholic school. Violence, not our thing. We were pranksters, which made us, comparatively, pretty good kids.

13 Throwing Star

Last week I focussed on the difference between the charming, creative nature of my pranks as measured against the destructive and often violent behavior of other neighborhood hooligans. To backpedal, there was one incident when a weapon was involved.

There was a time in America when any nine year old could go to a county fair, sink softballs into a jug, knock milk bottles over, or race a wooden car with a pointer down winner row to win various prizes, and, in many cases, those prizes equated to 80s gang-style weaponry. Someone made the decision to allow fairgoers to win switchblades, butterfly knives, throwing stars, brass knuckles, baseball bats, and nunchucks among other not-for-kindess type items. These items certainly drove interest, and therefore ticket sales: to quote The Jerk: “Ahhh, it’s a profit deal!”

But this person had obviously never been to a rural county fair. Everyone wants to fight everyone else already. Traditional reasons: drunk and ornery, to impress girls, cuz some punk was talking shit during masculine display at the last county fair and you will never forget this, et cetera. . . . Why arm these people while they are there? Then even the overconfident, forgetful, and lazy ones become capable of impulsive hospital-caliber damage.

That time in America was destined for a short lifespan, but I hit it three years running. My game of choice was the woodblock car with the pointer on one side. It flicked between metal pins as the car itself ran back and forth on a greased rail; the harder you pushed it, the more times it would bounce against the rubber stoppers at either end. I remember there being a rule about a minimum number of bounces to ensure that you didn’t lightly push it to the best prize category. I never needed to. Varying colors of paint between the metal pins denoted what prize category you could pick from. Of course yellow sucked. It was the largest, filled almost the entire middle of the track, but you still did get a prize. Everyone’s a winner! How reassuring, perhaps the reason I favored this game to begin with.

First year, first try, I hit the weaponry category. Found near the ends of the track, it was the second highest prize tier. I remember an older boy being pissed off because he’d tried twenty times to hit it. I wanted to think that county fair magic prevented big, strong kids from getting butterfly knives because they didn’t need such things to protect themselves. Instead, the minimal arm strength of a then nine year old was optimal for such reward, kind of a modern Cinderella story. I got a butterfly knife, probably aluminum or some cheap metal, boxy handle dotted with holes so you could see the blade when folded inside.

Next year I had to try a few times, but I got another one. In fact, I got a higher category and traded down for it. Copper dragons (I think) made up the handles on this one, which made it my new favorite stabbing tool. The year after I started having too much arm strength. It took several attempts to win a throwing star, but win I did. The carnie refused to award the prize to me without parental consent. With no parent there, he eventually settled on my brother, Josh, or maybe one of his friend’s older brothers, but I can’t imagine any of us had a picture ID. I knew then that the Golden Age of the county fair was almost over, felt my rights violated somehow, and I was right. The next year, after who knows how many violent outbreaks by school-age kids, the North Mankato fair no longer awarded this kind of prize. I did get that throwing star, though, silver with a pretzel-shaped Chinese dragon painted in red. That was when we almost ended some kid’s life.

As with the current generation, everyone wanted to be a ninja even then. Unlike the kids today, though, we were willing to train for it. For stealth, we practiced rolling our footsteps heel-to-toe or by placing weight only on the big toe and its first joint. We skirted walls and kept to the shadows. We squinted so less light reflected off our eyes, a lesson we learned from our cats. If we had weapons, they would definitely be dipped in weapon black, or at least we pretended they would be because we couldn’t buy spray paint. And we practiced throwing my throwing star.

This was a terrible idea. We were not stealthy about this part of our training because we wanted the neighborhood to know how badass we were. Not my mom’s neighborhood. Those kids would probably beat us up, take it, and become better ninjas themselves. We trained at my dad’s in North Mankato, which sat about three blocks from the park that hosted the county fair. Most of the kids there were younger, some annoying but not rock throwers.

Our target rose from the earth as a fat-trunked elm tree. The bark was thick and wavy, like hair that Mother Nature had braided and used to clothe her spiring creature. We took turns whipping the throwing star, which wasn’t sharp to begin with, and became disappointed when it didn’t stick into the tree like in the movies. We decreased the distance to the target and started throwing harder. This would get it to stick, right?

The next part blurs in my mind because it happened too fast. I want to say Eli threw it, but maybe it was me, and it hit the tree, but ricocheted off the convex edge. That’s when, a house or two down, I saw the two kids playing on the sidewalk. One pushed himself along on a tricycle and suddenly started crying. I remember thinking it was funny that he started crying. Thank God. He’s not dead.

I have no idea what happened immediately after that, but I probably ran into the house and pretended that nothing happened. That was my style. But there was proof, a bleeding kid—must have been four or five—and my throwing star as confiscated by the parent. Justified in her rage, justified in much more than that, actually, it’s hard to imagine how this entry would have read if that child gone to the hospital or even died. I could have killed someone. Someone not yet old enough to think a malicious thought. It’s possible that I would not have turned into the kind of person who likes to write, who wants to share stories.

It turned out that the throwing star scratched and did not puncture the skin on his bicep. When my dad commanded us to gather in the living room and explain what happened to the kid’s mother, we examined the boy with relieved curiosity. The bleeding amounted to a ketchup-like smear no larger than a quarter, and it had already coagulated, dried. Shit, he was fine. That feeling like we were off the hook provided an important lesson in perception (or possibility thereof): our loose lips poured out the truth and, despite her son’s inconsequential scratch, she became ever so much angrier!

She yelled grownup things at us, at my dad, too, maybe. I distinctly remember being grounded, and our dad taking away our Nintendo, probably to hide in the top of his closet. Trapped indoors on a beautiful sunny day and no video games? Then, mysteriously, our father brought the Nintendo back. He said something, a single sentence, and we weren’t about to argue. His logic escaped us as grownup thinking often did. I still have no idea how he justified reducing the punishment. We clearly deserved much worse considering what could have happened—and the kid’s mom made sure we wouldn’t forget (maybe ever considering this relay of the story) the most dreadful possibilities. To this day I’m not sure what changed my dad’s mind. I should ask him if he remembers that.
14 Follow the Leader

At the end of the third grade, I played follow-the-leader one afternoon recess. I did as my new friend E did, marching around the playground, kicking rocks, sharpening our accuracy by spitting on leafy plant life. Then he threw a rock. Then I threw a rock. From the rotten apple story earlier, you will recall that I am/was a terrible shot.

I dropped the hammer. Boy would people be impressed with how far this one went. Only, I released prematurely, the rock stopped on E’s face. Travel time: 0.2522 seconds. E screamed immediately. Blood leaked out of the hand that covered his face, dripped along the pavement as we crouched next to the pea-rock sandbox containing the jungle gym and other recess equipment. The on-duty teacher came to the screaming and walkied in the accident. Someone called 911, and an ambulance showed up shortly after.

I disappeared indoors, to the relative quiet of a dark, empty classroom while everyone else panicked outside. I don’t remember the thought, but I remember feeling like I didn’t have any friends, wouldn’t after this. Friends didn’t smash each others’ faces in with rocks. I felt so guilty. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to become my friend; I had just spend the previous months punching, making fun of, and otherwise being a complete dick to the only other kids that might have me. It was like the sitcom episode where the kid changes to be cool and loses all his friends but maybe his mom who, though not qualified as a friend, per se, walks him into learning the lesson. I slammed my head on a desk several times with increasing force. I thought it would knock me out and everyone would see how sorry I felt.

Instead it just hurt a lot, and I remained the only one who knew how sorry I felt.

This incident may have skewed my trajectory from all-time-legendary cockface to something less douchey. Fourth grade was a quiet year. Most notably, I had a teacher who stood about four feet something, was shorter than several of us. My brother, fattened up before the first of several growth spurts, forcibly removed her from a drinking fountain, thinking she was an underclassman, had to apologize. Perhaps that was the worst thing a Steinbauer did that academic year.

Only other memory of note: when our tiny teacher went on maternity leave, we got this awesome teacher named Mr. Den. When this girl, Melissa, kept talking one class as she was wont to do, he picked up her chair with her still in it, one-handed, and set her down facing a corner of the room. What a badass, just like Arnie without the guns (or swords, if you’re thinking Conan). We, my entire class of fourth graders, arm wrestled him at the end of year, all at once. Despite the fact that we had an advantage in both quantity of arms and leverage, we still failed to beat him.
15 Monsters in My Underwear

Thirteen is a special number to me (this was originally the 13th entry). My maternal grandmother was born on a Friday the 13th one June. My mother on July 13th; we blame the missed Friday on my grandparents for surrendering to lust without the proper mathematical planning. Then in 1981, I appeared on a Friday the 13th. I verified this by backtracking on a digital calendar; this is not one of the stories that a mother tells her child to make him feel special, a white lie told often enough that all parties eventually believe wholeheartedly in its truth.

To make this an extra special entry, I am going to give titles to all the Faceplant episodes, starting with this one, just to give a flavor of what your are about to find.

So let’s talk monsters. Summer between fourth and fifth (I think, maybe?), Eli, Dan, and I rode our bikes everywhere, including the K-Mart on Madison Avenue. They sold toys, but I think my older troublemakers may have just started listening to music. Compact Discs impressed the shit out of us. No FF or RW between songs. No long dead spaces at the ends of albums. Truly a technology of the future. It was last forever… Time table suggests a year or two later than I remember it.

Monster in My Pocket (trademark?) was an early 1990s phenomenon where I believe Matchbox poured cheap plastic into molds to make simple, solid figurines that were not especially fun to play with. In writing this I found a painted version online, newer, with battle stats as if each particular monster underwent a version of the NFL pre-draft combine. Your bench is great, Mr. Godzilla, but, despite it being a single step for you, your forty yard dash is too slow. We’re sorry (cut to Godzilla in tears).

I think we started stealing them simply because they were easy to steal. We didn’t play with them. We didn’t think they were cool, or bring them to school to brag with our characteristic youthful distaste (please note that I had a mullet at this time). It was summer; these toys were designed to fit in pockets; we were bored; we stuffed them in our shorts.

Our failsafe if we were caught: we stash them in our underwear, a place no one would ever conceive of searching, and we tell them we were innocent. We walk out of the store and hi-five. Endless summer continues.

Eli and I went without Dan one day, perhaps to get a beat on his collection. Just before the exit a plainclothes security guard stopped us and asked where we hid the toys, told us shoplifting was a prosecutable crime. I was ready to play dumb—that approach worked well for me in the past, but Eli gave in immediately. I remember him saying this exactly: “Would you believe in our underwear?” If the answer had been ‘no,’ as was our plan, we could have walked out free klepto-maniacal boys. Or so I thought. Giving us up was probably for the better for the judge sentencing later, as they had it on tape: the proof.

We sat in a security room, interrogation chamber really, for the better part of an hour waiting for our mother. Furious as she was, the eldest always took more responsibility, therefore more blame, in epic fails involving multiple siblings. I played the impressionable victim, the peer pressured, and avoided household punishments.

I don’t remember paying a fine, but some authority mandated that we attend an anti-bad things class at the police station. Mostly about stealing, but I remember some anti-drug, recognize peer pressure, and respect yourself hoopla planted into the curriculum. I sacrificed four weekend mornings for that (I think), or, if sacrificed in not the proper phrase, then repaid society for my wrongdoing.

And yes, we were pissed that Dan never got caught. He has always had an eye for detail. I would estimate that he would have identified the surreptitious security guy and aborted mission. Not that it matters. I’m sure his collection, like ours, ended up in a landfill. Fun fact: Mexican customs restricted (not currently in effect) the importation of any plastic toys from Taiwan several years ago (early 2010s actually). Why? Landfill control. Imagine it: a literal mountain of toys.
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