and the White Paste"
You've all heard the
story of Herb Garble and the mucilage, but you haven't heard about Herb and the white
paste unless you were in Mrs. Peppercorn's fifth-grade class when he and I
were. Brooks got the story of Ella Tingley, the bag of gum drops, the mousetrap,
and the glue right. He never could pass up an opportunity to insult or humiliate
Herb in his books (I'm beginning to appreciate this side of Brooks now), and
when he found out about that incident, it must have been like a prospector
discovering a gold nugget the size of a thumb among the pebbles of a stream! Well, I won't go
into the details of the mucilage story because they are already spelled out
in Freddy and the Men from Mars, a book otherwise riddled with half-truths
and outright lies. To the business of the paste, then...
I don't know how many of my readers are old enough to remember the big tubs of white paste
we'd use in elementary school art class way back in the 1930s. They've gone the route of the
"Big Chief" writing tablets and inkwells and cardboard pencil boxes. Kids
today use those glue sticks in art class if art hasn't been eliminated from
the school budget because of angry, fed-up taxpayers or cost-cutting bean counters.
Anyway, the paste we used resembled nothing more than stiff, white lard, but
it didn't smell too bad unless you flung some of it onto the hot steam
radiator, and then it smelled pretty awful.
The flat sticks-- tongue depressors, I think--we used to pry the paste
out of the tubs made perfect catapults. Of course, if Mrs. Peppercorn
caught anyone catapulting gobs of paste around, it was a couple of good
licks on the palm of your hand with a ruler and a clobbering at
home after she sent a note to your parents, which she never neglected
to do for the slightest misbehavior because it was also her job, she
said, "to produce character in you odious little worms."
Herbie got it into his head, who knows why, to eat the paste even
though the story was that it would stick to your liver the way chewing
gum was supposed to when you accidentally swallowed it, and it would
just as surely kill you over a period of time. This didn't matter to
Herbie, who cut little squares of paper from his writing tablet, made
paste sandwich dainties with them, and hid them in his desk. When Mrs.
Peppercorn wasn't looking, he'd sneak one out and bolt it down. It
would be fair to say that he became addicted to his paste concoctions.
He'd squeeze his eyes shut and make ecstatic "Mmmmmmm" sounds, and
pretty soon other kids sitting around him started asking to try one of
his sandwiches. Before long maybe a dozen kids were hooked on white
after recess, Mrs. Peppercorn finally got wise to what was going on.
Our class filed back into the room, took our seats, and got ready for
spelling. But Herbie, who had eaten about ten of his sandwiches during
recess, had run around like crazy in the hot sun, and had drunk about a
gallon of water at the fountain outside the room before coming in, just
put his head down on his desk and didn't move. Suddenly we all heard a
sound like a hand pump splashing water into a tin bucket. That was
Herbie getting sick all over himself, his desk, and Richard Albacore,
the class bully, who sat right in front of him in the first row. Today
we'd say that Mrs. Peppercorn "went ballistic"! At first she didn't
know what had happened and thought that Herbie had an upset stomach,
but when she saw the contents of Herbie's discharge and grilled some of
the other students, the truth emerged and so did a large knot on
Herbie's head where she whacked him hard with her
ruler. After that, no one ate paste sandwiches, although during art
when Mrs. Peppercorn wasn't looking, the addicts, including Herbie who rarely
learned a lesson, would get a quick fix by sticking their fingers into the
tub of paste and licking them off.
For the rest of the year,
Mrs. Peppercorn made the most of this incident. Whenever someone did or said
something stupid, she'd point to Herbie, now the object of the kind of mob
contempt that rises up so easily in children, and sneer: "Well, now,
that's the kind of thing Herbie would do" or "Well, now,
that's just what Herbie would say." Some of us felt sorry
for Herbie. He'd just sit there, quietly seething and staring at his desk
while Mrs. Peppercorn went off on him. To this day I think of Mrs. Peppercorn
as the very worst sort of teacher. She was the kind who would make you stick
your chewing gum on the end of your nose. Who knows what long-term effects
her ridicule of Herbie had on him. Not being a qualified psychologist, I can't
say for sure, but I'd probably be safe in saying that it didn't do him any
good. The other thing that happened as a result of the paste episode was that
Herbie made a permanent enemy of Richard Albacore, a really tough kid
from what nowadays would be called a "dysfunctional" family. Back then
they were just known as "those Albacores." Herbie spent the rest of
the year looking over his shoulder and cringing at loud noises in anticipation
of a beating from Richard. And the next year, too. This story reminds me of
another incident involving Herbie and "food," a story I call "Herbie,
Petey, and the Kishka."
Petey, and the Kishka"
Petey Muszkiski, Herbie,
and I were great and inseparable friends right up to the age of twelve when
Petey's father got a good-paying job in a steel mill near Buffalo, New York, and Petey
had to move away. You know Petey's uncle Stanley from the Freddy
books. Stanley Muszkiski owned the big theater in town
and the bowling alley. He'd always let us in the Saturday movie shows for
free. He was a great guy, but once Petey moved, the free ride was over, and
we had to pay or sneak in just like everyone else. Petey's Gramma and Grampa
Muszkiski were a really old Polish couple who could barely speak English.
They lived on Chestnut Street down at the south end of Jackson, and Petey
used to stay overnight there whenever his mother and father went out Friday
nights to this Polish "social club" in Plutarch Mills to drink bootleg gin
and beer and to dance all night. Being so old and nearly deaf, Gramma and
Grampa (which is what everyone called them) didn't hear very much of
what was going on around them (or maybe they just ignored it), and Herbie,
Petey, and I could stay up all night when we all stayed overnight together.
We'd say goodnight to the old folks who were nodding off in the parlor and
climb up the shoulder-crowding, steep back stairs from the kitchen to Petey's
Petey's room was really
dark and creepy. The light from one dim overhead bulb barely reached the corners.
Shoved against an outside wall was an old wrought iron bed that one person
could barely fit on, it was so narrow. The mattress was old and sunk in. When
someone stretched out on it, it looked as though the mattress were swallowing
him up. Petey always slept there, and Herbie and I would grab some blankets
from the top shelf in the closet, double them up, and camp out on the floor.
The walls were covered with several layers of wallpaper, the latest being
dark and flowery. The more you stared at it, the more demon faces and snarling
animal heads you would imagine you saw. The only other furniture in the room
was a massive dark dresser hunkering in a corner on claw feet. On top of it
was a big windup alarm clock with two bells and a plain white wash basin and
pitcher. The only decoration, if you could call it that, hung over the bed.
It was this big picture in a golden plaster frame of Jesus on the cross with
his eyes rolled up to heaven and blood running down his face and out his side. Once
we holed up in this hideous room, we could talk, joke, laugh, and holler all
we wanted, and Petey's grandparents never yelled at us to pipe down or to
go to sleep. After we quieted down it was always hard for me to get to
sleep. The silence would settle upon me like a thick suffocating quilt. I'd
glance over at the claw feet on the dresser and be reminded of the stories
Petey's grandparents had told us about the witch Baba Yaga and her hut that
would walk around on chicken feet. I'd glance up at the Jesus picture
and think about how awful it must have been for him to hang like that against
the black sky, all that time surrounded by angry-looking and, for some reason
even worse, completely bored Roman soldiers. Eventually I'd doze off, but
I never really got a good night's sleep there.
One Saturday morning,
we all woke up at exactly the same time just before the alarm was set to go
off. A tantalizing smell had drifted up the back steps from the kitchen
and reached us all simultaneously. I had never smelled anything so good in
my entire life with the possible exception of my mother's kitchen on Thanksgiving
day. Herbie and I looked over at Petey. He smiled, winked, and said, "Kishka
for breakfast!" Petey was a winker. Probably still is. It was as though
he were in a perpetual conspiracy and always glad to have you join. Herbie
asked, "What the hell's 'kishka'?" Petey just grinned and said, "Just
wait. You'll see." Well, we got dressed in a hurry, splashed water on our
faces in the wash basin, and ran down the back stairs. There was Gramma Muszkiski
at the stove, an old woodburner that had been convereted to gas, with a huge
long-handled iron skillet full of scrambled eggs and "kishka." Grampa Muszkiski
was already at the table with his napkin tucked under his chin. Naturally,
Gramma served him first, and he dug into it as though it were his last meal.
We stood there with our mouths watering while she cracked a half dozen more
eggs into the skillet and threw in these hockey-puck-sized pieces of "kishka."
She told us,"You'se kids get plates and siddown dere," and we didn't wait
for a second invitation. Before long our plates were heaped up with the eggs
and "kishka" and we tore into breakfast just as Grampa had.
I had already become
a little suspicious when Petey told Gramma,"No kishka for me. Let the other
guys have it all." It might have been that he was just being polite.. It might
have been pure politeness, but knowing Petey, I had my doubts. There was a
semi-evil side to him. So I ate all my eggs first while Herbie was wolfing
everything down as fast as he could load his fork. He cleared his plate and
then sat there with a funny look on his face. He started wrinkling his nose
and licking his lips and making smacking noises. You could tell something
hadn't agreed with him and wasn't likely to begin agreeing with him anytime
soon. He looked over at Grampa and asked, "Say--what is 'kishka' anyway?"
Well, Grampa didn't understand him any more than a fence post would have,
so Herbie leaned over the table and asked Petey. Petey smirked and told Herbie
what "kishka" is. Herbie couldn't make it all the way up to the bathroom
in time, and Grandma made him scrub the back stairs with scalding water and
lye soap. After that Herbie would never eat anything Polish
at the Muszkiskis', no matter how great it smelled. Now, I promise I won't
tell any more stories like this one and the paste story because they are
rather disgusting. I apologize for any discomfort they may have caused you,
but I think these stories about Herb were just too good to keep under my hat.
in a Jar"
This is a Petey Muszkiski
anecdote which has nothing to do with gastric distress, honest! It happened
on one of those sultry summer days when the best thing to do is to curl up
under a shady tree with a sweaty glass of cold lemonade and watch the clouds
drift by. That's what Petey and I should have done that afternoon,
as Joey Doberman, who lived a couple of doors down from Petey, would probably
have not wound up in the hospital because of us. Well, Petey and I were sitting
on the steps of his back porch. Memories of school and Mrs. Peppercorn
had dissolved away just like a bad dream in the morning light. The new school
year seemed infinitely far away as it always does when you're young and just
a couple of weeks into summer vacation. So far we'd played dozens of sandlot
ball games, swum in the Beans' duck pond nearly every day, played hide-'n-seek
in the Big Woods, built a tree house, played marbles and cards...you
know, we played like kids used to play before crappy television
and demonic marketing and advertising geniuses turned American children
into mindless junior consumer-cult members who have to have
video games and $100 sneakers to make themselves feel happy. I see that I'm
getting started here, so I'd better return to my story. Petey and I
felt kind of played out, if you know what I mean, and were uncustomarily at
a loss as to what to do. Our conversation had gone from "Hey, whadda ya wanna
do?" and "Got me. Whadda you wanna do?" to an unusual and uncomfortable
silence. We had started picking at some loose paint on the porch in the desultory
manner of boys with nothing better to do when a bee detached itself from one
of the hollyhock blooms next to the porch railing and buzzed lazily around
Petey's head. He swatted it away, but it came back, buzzed angrily back and
forth between us, and took off around the corner of the house. Petey stared
after it, and I could see an idea hatching behind his narrowed eyes. He jumped
up and ran into the house without a word. I continued with my paint picking
until Petey dashed out with a large canning jar, announcing on the run that
we were "going to get us some bees."
We headed for the school
playground, a good place to catch bees because it was covered with clover.
Petey explained that the object of this game was to get as many bees as we
could into the jar and then see what would happen. It sure beat sitting on
the porch, so I was game. Petey was good. He'd sneak up on a bee on a clover
flower, scoop her up, and cover the jar with the lid in about two seconds
flat. Getting seven or eight bees into the jar without any of them escaping
wasn't too hard, but the more Petey scooped in, the harder it got to keep
them all contained. Pretty soon the jar was full of really angry bees--I
think there were a little over twenty--and Petey was afraid to open it again.
He didn't say so. What he said was, "I think that's enough bees for
now," but that's what he meant. Well, we stood the jar up on the ground and
lay down on our stomachs to watch the bees for a while. It was actually interesting
for about two minutes. The bees were very agitated, but didn't sting one another.
They just milled around, bumping and bouncing against the walls of the jar
and the lid. The novelty of bouncing bees wore off pretty quickly, and we
decided to go for a bike ride downtown, but there was the matter of the bees.
Petey thought I should open the jar and let them out since he had taken all
the trouble to catch them. I thought that since he had invested so much energy
in catching them, that he should have the pleasure of letting them go. It
was one of those stalemate situations that kids solve by walking away from,
and that's what we did. We left the bees in the jar on the playground, ambled
first to Petey's and then to my house to pick up our bikes, and then we hightailed
it downtown to the soda fountain.
About two hours later
we were back in Petey's yard playing mumblety-peg. I had just done a perfect
underhand double flip with my Barlow knife when we heard Mrs. Doberman scream
"Omigod! Omigod! Help! Somebody help! Call the doctor!" We ran around the
house to the front and down two doors to the Doberman house to see what was
the matter. Already there was a mob of neighborhood adults and kids crowding
around the Dobermans' front porch, craning their necks to see what Mrs. Doberman
was screaming about just inside the house's battered old screen door. Before
long, Mrs. Doberman ran out with her youngest son Joey in tow, followed by
Mrs. Moore, who was their next-door best friend. We knew it was Joey
only by his size because we couldn't see his face owing to a big wet towel
wrapped all around his head. The crowd parted and they ran to the Moore's
driveway where they jumped into Mrs. Moore's car and drove off. Everyone just
stood there, mumbling and shuffling, waiting for someone to tell the rest
what was going on or for one person to say, "Well, there's nothing we can
do here" so they could all leave. Eventually Petey's dad said something like
that and the whole neighborhood went home. You could almost see question marks
and exclamation points in little white balloons over the heads of everyone
as they drifted away.
It was just before dark
when I'd have to pedal home that Mrs. Moore's car pulled up and she and Mrs.
Doberman stepped out, but without Joey. Anyone who was out sitting out on
their porches moseyed on over to where Mrs. Doberman and Mrs. Moore were quietly
talking in the Doberman front yard. Petey and I did, too, and the more we
heard, the more scared we got. I can still remember how the sound of my pounding
heart and panicky, racing mind fragmented the conversation into little pieces,
some of which I remember word-for-word today: "...some goddam fool..."; "...a
jar of bees on the playground of all places..."; "...oughta have his
head examined for chrissakes..."; "...until they're sure he'll be all
right..."; "...not on purpose, you don't suppose..."; "...if there's
anything we can do...." Petey and I stood there like pole-axed cows.
When we could bring ourselves to actually look at each other, we saw that
the adult guilt detectors would soon be clanging loudly unless we got out
of there pronto. We slunk off to a dark corner of Petey's backyard and agreed
that if things didn't look better by noon the next day, we'd hop a train and
take our chances somewhere on the other side of Detroit, which for some reason
we considered the outpost of Western civilization. We didn't try to blame
each other or even blame Joey for being stupid enough to open a jar of furious
bees. We knew darn well that we had been the stupid ones, and that's all there
was to it. However, if there were the slightest chance of getting away with
this one, we'd lay low and wait for it to materialize, but only until noon.
As you can imagine, I
didn't sleep well that night. Several times I was tempted to knock on my parents'
bedroom door and spill the beans about everything. Once I even made it halfway
down the hall, but I just couldn't bring myself to face them. I'd get a good
thrashing from Dad first (painful, but over and done with quickly), then angry
words and exclamations of disbelief and bewilderment ("What ever possessed
you?"; "How could you be so stupid?"; "Did we raise you to do something
like this?") and then the worst. Mom and Dad would give me the cold
shoulder for the next day or two, letting me wallow in shame and guilt for
having disappointed them once more. I'd been through it before. I knew it
was survivable. Eventually they would forgive me and maybe even begin to trust
me again. Even if the story got out somehow, it would blow over after an initial
period of my being eyed suspiciously by all the neighborhood adults every
time I left my porch--usually no more than a week or two. But I just couldn't
'fess up. Petey and I had an agreement. Mum was the word.
As it turned out, Petey
was not able to live up to the terms of our agreement. His father came over
to our house way before noon. Petey had started crying almost immediately
after I had left for home the night before, and his parents had the whole
story out of him in a jiffy. His father related the whole sorry story to my
stunned parents as I stood trembling there in my rumpled pajamas, having been
dragged downstairs by my ear to hear his account of our incredible stupidity. Petey
had already gotten his licking and been confined to his room where he would
remain for the next two weeks until he might be trusted to behave like a civilized
human being again. He could leave only to go to confession and church. The
conversation among my parents and Mr. Muszkiski went on for some time. He
never looked at me once (I had the feeling that Petey had told him it had
been my idea to catch the bees and then leave them for Joey to find),
and when he left...well, what I told you would happen did, plus I had
to go apologize to the Dobermans and buy a get-well gift for Joey with all
the money I had been saving up for a new baseball mitt. The upshot of
it all? Joey had to stay in the hospital for three days, but once the
swelling went down, he came home and was fine. Petey and I started to drift
apart after this incident. We'd still say "Hello" when we met each other riding
bikes or walking downtown, but the days of sleeping over at Gramma and Grampa's
and picking each other to be on the same team were over. This also was when
my parents thought I needed to start music lessons.
Doberman and the Bowling Shoes"
This is a shorter (but
not much shorter) tale and it concerns not only Louis Doberman, but
also Herb and me. The Dobermans were a poor, but proud family, and Louis
taught us just how proud they were. Mr. Doberman had lost his job at the shoe
factory when it folded like so many other businesses back then. He was
pretty handy, though, and the Dobermans got along--but just--on what Mrs.
Doberman made taking in laundry and on what he could make as a jack-of-all-trades.
For instance, he replaced the screen in our screen door when Lulu went
through it to get at a squirrel in our yard, but he couldn't afford to fix
his own door. Now, my father could have fixed our door himself, but
he wanted to help the Dobermans out. The Dobermans never accepted charity,
so if you wanted to do something nice for them, you had to think of some job
for Mr. Doberman to do so he could feel he had earned the money or whatever
and hold his head up. Even when the doctors at the hospital said they'd fix
up Joey's bee stings for free, the Dobermans wouldn't hear of it. Instead
Mr. Doberman cleaned and fixed up the doctors' cars for them in payment. That's
the way he was, and that's the way most people who had fallen on hard times
back then were.
The Doberman kids had
it a lot tougher than most of the rest of us. They never had
new toys or clothes. Louis, the oldest, got his clothes from some Catholic
church society, but the Dobermans thought that was O.K., because no matter
how poor they were, they always put something in the collection plate
at Mass. Then when Louis outgrew those used clothes, they'd be passed
down to his younger brothers. By the time Joey got them, you could practically
see through them.
Now even though Herb
and I are having our problems, and I've taken a couple of shots at him here,
to be fair I'd have to say that he was a pretty decent kid. He and I and Louis
were all in the same class in elementary school, which meant that we'd moved
along together from grade to grade. When Mr. Doberman lost his job, we noticed
that Louis rarely brought a lunch to school that amounted to more than some
butter or lard spread on really thinly cut bread and maybe a piece of hard
cheese. He'd open up his father's old lunch pail (which Mr. Doberman didn't
use anymore) and that's all that would be in there, day after day. When he
got done eating, he'd just sit there and watch the rest of us eat. Every time
someone would offer Louis a cookie or maybe a piece of cake, he'd just shake
his head and say, "No thanks. I'm saving room for dinner."
It was just before Thanksgiving
of the year we were in seventh grade when Herb noticed that Louis had big
holes in the soles of his shoes. Louis had knelt down to retrieve his pencil
which had rolled under Robert Diamond's desk, and Herb, who sat a couple seats
in back of Louis, spotted the holes which were as big as silver dollars. Herb
told me later at recess what he'd seen and that it looked like Louis had cut
some cardboard to size and placed it inside his shoes to stop up the holes.
Herb said it was "a cryin' shame" that Louis had to wear crummy shoes like
that, especially with winter coming. I could hear the wheels going around
in Herb's head. We walked around the schoolyard without talking for a couple
of minutes, and then Herb's eyes lit up. "Hey, I got an idea," he said, but
he wouldn't tell me what. He just said to meet him in front of Muszkiski's
bowling alley at four o'clock.
Naturally I wondered
all the rest of the day what Herb had in mind, and I rode up to Muszkiski's
and parked my bike right at four o'clock. Herb came out of the bowling alley's
front door and motioned me over. He said that he'd talked to Mr. Muszkiski
about Louis. Talked about what, I asked. I thought maybe Herb had asked Mr.
Muszkiski to give Louis a job setting pins so he could buy shoes, but Herb
said no--and besides Mr. Muszkiski would give a job like that to some unemployed
adult first so he could support his family. So I said, "What gives?" Herb
told me that he knew that every once in a while the alley threw out all its
used bowling shoes, so he had just asked Mr. Muszkiski if he could get some
of those shoes for Louis, and Mr. Muszkiski had said, "Sure, go ahead, kid."
We went into the alley and asked to see the shoes they'd be getting rid of.
We sorted through the pile, picked out the two best pairs in the size we thought
would fit Louis the best, and put them into a paper bag. We rode over
to Louis's house, knocked on the back door, and asked if Louis could come
out to play. When he came out, we told him we had something for him and handed
him the bag. He looked inside and then looked at us with a puzzled expression.
"These are bowling shoes," he said flatly. "What are you giving them to me
for?" We stumbled through an explanation bout his shoes and the coming winter
and Mr. Muszkiski while he just stared at us. When we were done rattling on,
he pushed the bag into Herb's hands and said, "Wear 'em yourselves." He didn't
say it in a nasty manner, and you could tell that he wasn't angry and kind
of appreciated what we had intended. Then he turned around and went back into
the house without saying anything more.
Herb looked really crestfallen,
and I probably did, too. We didn't understand what had just happened. When
I asked my parents about it later, my father sat me down and explained the
Dobermans and the way they lived and conducted their lives. Of course, any
adult would understand exactly why the Dobermans were the way they were, but
it was hard for me to grasp at the time. My father's explanation did
help me understand why Louis wouldn't give me and Herb the time of day for
the rest of the year, and I didn't hold it against Louis.
A funny thing happened,
though, years later. Of my little circle of friends, most had gotten through
school, gone into the service, and come back to Centerboro to start our lives
for real. Herb and I were having coffee in Dixon's one Saturday morning when
Louis walked in. We had heard he wasn't hurting. He'd married, had a couple
of kids, and gotten a good job in construction. He was back in Centerboro
visiting his folks that weekend and had come downtown to the diner to say
hello to some of his old friends and acquaintances. When he spotted us sitting
at the counter, he came right over and shook our hands. The first thing he
said to us was, "Remember the bowling shoes?" The first thing! We wouldn't
have brought that up for the world, so Herb ventured a cautious, "Yeah...?"
Well, Louis proceeded to tell us that the bowling shoes story was one of his
favorites, and that he always brought it up when people got around
to swapping the "We were so poor in those days that..." stories. He
thanked us with a big grin, slapped us on our backs, and moved down the counter
to talk to someone else. Herb and I turned to each other with "What
the hell?!" looks on our faces. I guess it goes to show that you never
know the extent of your influence on the people around you, but you probably
already figured that out yourself.
Sean McMurty Incident"
Remember Richard Albacore,
the class bully, from the story of Herb and the paste? Richard inspired
terror in just about everyone. When we went to school, I was "Eddie," Herb
was "Herbie," Peter was "Petey," but no one called Richard "Richie" or "Rich";
to do so would have suggested a measure of friendliness between the speaker
and Richard, and no one was Richard's friend, not a soul, not in school,
and not ever as far as I know. There was only one student whom Richard
himself feared, and that was little Sean McMurty. After the Sean McMurty incident,
Richard walked five blocks out of his way home from school to avoid passing
the McMurty house and the McMurty neighborhood. If Richard were standing on
a street corner on a Saturday afternoon and heard someone say, "Hey, here
comes Sean," his eyes would get big, he'd pull his head turtle-like down into
his shoulders, and the next thing you saw was Richard's back as he sidled
off down the street, trying to look casual and as though he had someplace
better to be. But we all knew that anyplace far away from Sean would
have suited Richard fine, even his own crazy house.
Richard came from a bad
family. Where they lived was known as "that house," and they were known
as "those Albacores." You could always count on some new, horrific
Monday morning story following a weekend at the Albacores'. Richard's father
did most of his heavy drinking starting Friday afternoon and ending Sunday
evening. He had little difficulty getting enough alcohol to keep himself in
a semi-permanent fog even though Prohibition was the law of the land. Centerboro
was a kind of regional distribution point for bootleggers running their booze
down from Canada and up from New York, so if you knew the right people or
had enough money, getting the goods was a cinch. People speculated that Mr.
Albacore was directly involved in the bootlegging, since he didn't have any
kind of steady work and wasn't independently wealthy like the Camphors. But
that was never proven. He was the kind of drunkard who looked sober even when
in his cups. If you ran across Mr. Albacore in the market or just walking
along the street, he wouldn't be stumbling or slurring his words. He walked
ramrod straight and said little, but his eyes were always looking off into
the middle distance or boring right through you as though you weren't there.
There were always terrific rows at the Albacore house which intensified
during the weekends. Although no one except maybe the Centerboro police knew
exactly what sorts of things happened inside the house, it wasn't hard
to imagine the chaos and craziness that must have swirled about inside its
walls. All you had to do was see Richard or one of his brothers come to school
with a black eye or bruises on his arms on Monday. Or notice that Mrs. Albacore
had no friends among the neighborhood women. Or try unsuccessfully to figure
out just how many children actually lived in the place. It was a mess and
a scandal and a shame.
Well, that's the brief
background on Richard. In retrospect it's easy to see why he was a bully.
Even to us kids it wasn't exactly a mystery. To get to the McMurty incident
then, I'll begin by noting that Richard spared no one. Today we might call
him an equal opportunity bully. He picked on all of us boys, of course, cursing,
tripping, punching, gouging, stomping, and spitting on us in a joyless, methodical
way, moving through the boy population of the school the way a threshing machine
traverses a wheat field. He wasn't ever physical with the girls, but his nasty
comments about their sizes, complexions, and reputations no doubt hurt them
just as much as did one of his perfectly-delivered punches right between
the shoulder blades designed to knock the wind right out of us boys. He was
sly enough to torment us when the teachers weren't looking, and none of us
dared to squeal on him, fearing certain and terrible retribution. Richard
delighted especially in harassing boys smaller than he, and when Sean McMurty
entered as a new student about mid-way through the fourth grade, Richard didn't
take long to size up the fresh victim. Sean was small for his age, but his
smallness belied a wiry strength and agility that none of us imagined he had
until Richard tried his stuff on him.
Miss Pottle had left
the room after telling us to please stay at our desks and behave for just
five minutes. We all loved Miss Pottle, as kind and caring a teacher as there
ever was, and there was a tacit agreement among the class that she was to
be respected and obeyed. Even Richard would stay in his seat. But this time,
unable to keep his thuggish nature reigned in until recess to jump Sean, Richard
didn't. As soon as Miss Pottle cleared the door, Richard lumbered up out of
seat and went over in back of Sean's, whereupon he commenced to rap the top
of Sean's skull with his knuckles. Now, this was the first time Richard had
gone after Sean, and he hadn't done much more than rap him two or three time
and call him a "dirty Mick" when Sean turned around, looked Richard square
in the eye, and said, "That's just about enough out of you,
pally." Richard barked out a mirthless laugh and began jabbing Sean hard in
the chest. Sean gave Richard a disbelieving look, a kind of "I thought I told
you" look like none of us had ever seen before, and then he did the likes
of what no one had ever seen before. He shot up out of his seat and climbed
up the front of Richard like a monkey scrambling up a coconut tree. He wrapped
his legs around Richard's middle, grabbed both of Richard's ears, and clamped
his teeth around his nose. Richard, caught off guard, went down hard. He rolled
around trying to dislodge Sean, pounding Sean's back with his fists as hard
as he could and pulling at his arms. But it was no use. Sean hung on like
a pit bull. Then Richard started yelling for help, for his mother, for us
even to get Sean off him, but we stood there paralyzed, our mouths hanging
open and our eyes bugged out. Finally hearing the commotion, Miss Pottle rushed
into the room, rushed out, came back with the janitor Mr. Boyd, and the two
of them managed to pry Richard and Sean apart. Sean, as calm as could be,
wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and said, "I told him that
was enough," as though that should have served as sufficient warning
to Richard, sufficient in the sense that a rattlesnake's rattling is sufficient.
Richard stood there doubled over, blubbering like a baby, blood pouring from
his lacerated nose. Mr. Boyd took the combatants to the principal's office
to sort things out, and Miss Pottle made the rest of us go out for an early
recess while Mr. Boyd cleaned up the mess in our room. Stunned, we milled
about the playground with our circles of friends, whispering among ourselves,
trading our observations of the recent mayhem, speculating on what course
the day would now follow. Some were of the opinion that Richard had finally
gotten his and his reign of terror was over. Others were not so sure. They
ventured that Richard's defeat would make him even more vicious and that we
were really in for it now. This theory cast a pall over everything, and when
Miss Pottle called us back to class, it was a glum-looking group that meandered
in. Neither Richard nor Sean were there, nor were they for the next couple
of days. Richard had been sent to the hospital to have his nose stitched up
and bandaged, and Sean had been suspended until the principal had fully investigated
the incident. Well, during his investigation it came out what Richard was
like, and although the principal wouldn't condone what Sean had done, he shortened
his suspension considerably.
Now, I hope you're not
expecting a miracle here. Richard was still a bully. He continued to
pick on everyone with one obvious exception. But if Sean were around
when Richard was harrying some defenseless soul, all Sean had to do was give
Richard the look, and Richard would back right off. Sean got to be
very popular. I once tried to give Richard the look when he kept poking
me in the ribs, but Richard knew I was no Sean McMurty, and all he did then
was poke me in the eye.
Life's funny, though.
Sean wasn't a fighter and he didn't wear his toughness on his sleeve. He was
just a no-nonsense, resolute guy who wasn't afraid to stand up for himself
and others. Right after high school, Sean went to Christ the King Seminary
near Cooperstown and became a priest. I heard that his first assignment was
to some parish in a rugged neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. I'd be willing
to bet that he fit right in there. And if toughness counts for anything in
the Catholic church hierarchy, he's probably a cardinal today.
I don't know what happened
to Richard Albacore. One Monday morning in the summer before eighth grade,
a neighbor noticed that all the doors and windows in that house were
wide open and that the whole family was gone--lock, stock, and barrel. The
only things they left behind were two filthy, snarling, half-starved mutts
penned up in the back yard. But a funny thing happened here, too. The dog
catcher took the pitiful creatures to the pound where they would have been
destroyed, except for Frieda Coubos, who got wind of it and took those two
dogs to her dairy farm. For years, you couldn't get to Frieda's porch without
a friendly, handlicking greeting from those two. She had cleaned them up,
fed them properly, and doted all over them, and darned if they hadn't turned
out to be two of the finest farm dogs around. Too bad no one could have done
at least as much for the Albacore kids.
Who hasn't at
one time or another dreamed of running away? I'll bet you do right now
if you're squandering the precious, fleeting seconds of your life in a pointless,
futile job. Or if your day-to-day encounters with your spouse play out before
your mind's eye like the struggles of a fly in a pot of glue. Or let's say
that not too long ago your mind was a fertile little nest filled with delightful
sky-blue eggs that promised to hatch into melodious, soaring creatures--and
now you've discovered that some dreadful cuckoo has plundered your nest and
the hatchlings are not yours, but its horrid, clamoring offspring.
Having dislodged all the hopeful, spirited thoughts of your youth, that cuckoo
has deposited in your mind the peace-destroying images of your maxed-out credit
cards, your messed-up children, your myriad physical ailments, your miserable
boss, your meager salary, your...well, you know what I mean. That cuckoo is
simply life itself, isn't it?
Ah, but you can still
daydream of escape. Imagine now that you've won the lottery despite the twelve
million-to-one odds! Now you can tell that martinet of a boss of yours
to go pound salt in his rear end! Dame Fortune has turned her mighty wheel
in your favor, and there you are in... Provence!, sipping a delightful
Chateauneuf-du-Pape while the hoi-polloi toils away in the gray and joyless
coils of their desperate little lives. Ah, yes, we all can dream....
There are times, though,
when escape must go beyond the daydreaming variety. There are times when we
must really run away, as Herbie and I had to when we were thirteen. It was
a perfect October Saturday. The foliage had just caught fire with the glorious
colors of an upstate New York autumn and the tree-covered foothills of
the Adirondacks to the north were ablaze. So, too, was Herbie's garage. Oh,
what a disaster! And it had all started out so innocently, if anything involving
boys and matches could ever be innocent. During that week, Herbie and I had
been assiduously collecting the crushed cigarette stubs--except the
ones with lipstick on them--from the ashtrays in our houses. Since no store
in all of Centerboro would sell us cigarettes, we capitalized on our parents'
bad habit and simply rolled our own from their leavings. We'd sprinkle the
precious crumbs of our scrounged tobacco into the creases of little rectangles
of newspaper, and, as was our Saturday ritual, light up in Herbie's garage
using the old Ronson lighter we had found behind the bowling alley and which
we now kept stashed in the back of the garage in a nail barrel full of doorknobs,
hinges, springs, and assorted other junk. Well, the tobacco crop had been
pretty slim that week, our mothers having been particularly tidy, so our haul
of tobacco was on the sparse side--enough for only two cigarettes apiece.
Chatting and laughing, we had just started puffing away on our first cigarettes
when Freddy Bean, attracted by our voices and the aroma of cigarette smoke
as he was passing by, invited himself in and hunkered down next to us.
He immediately demanded
a puff from each of us, which we grudgingly spared, and then he stood up,
stretched, and began to saunter around the garage, taking it all in.
Even then, Freddy had an air about him--an air of owning whatever place
he happened to be in, an air of control and domination. And yet he wasn't
a bully like Richard Albacore.
He had a way of inviting you into his confidence and making you feel like
a buddy, a pal, a member of his private club. Just the previous year, there
had been stories circulating abound Centerboro about Freddy's involvement
(at the age of twelve) in some botched bank robbery in town. (The stories
were true!) Being typical boys, we naturally gravitated toward
the wickedness and contrariness that Freddy thus embodied, and we were ready
to listen to whatever he had to say and, perhaps, join in some new lark he
might propose. All we'd planned to do after our smoke was to cruise Main Street
for the thousandth time, I on my trusty old Iver Johnson and Herbie on his
ancient CCM Cleveland. (I still have that old bike of mine, by the way. Here's
a picture of it to the left. It's still in pretty good shape, just
like me!) Anyway, that morning we looked to Freddy for some novel alternative
to our usual routine, and he didn't let us down. From his pants pocket he
pulled out a little object and held it under our noses in the palm of his
hand. We scrutinized it and Herbie said, "It's a thread spool and rubber
band. Big deal." Freddy grinned and said, "That's right, Herbie; it's
a thread spool and rubber band. Now watch this."
From his pocket he produced a kitchen match, and with the non-working end
he poked the rubber band down through the hole in the spool. Then he pulled
the band back a little and inserted the match back in the hole until just
the tip was showing as in the diagram I've drawn below.
Herbie and I caught on
immediately. It was an ingenious match catapult. Freddy promptly demonstrated
its effectiveness by launching at close range the loaded match at a cinder
block under the workbench. Upon striking the box, it flashed into satisfying
brilliance in the darkness under the bench, and Herbie and I were instant
"match gun" enthusiasts. Freddy let us test his launcher's accuracy and power until
his supply of matches was gone. For his trouble and expense and the pleasure
of his company, he demanded our remaining two cigarettes, which we forked
over only after insisting he give us the match gun in return. The deal was
closed after an appropriate amount of bickering so we could feel we had gotten
the best of Freddy and vice versa.
Naturally, even before
Freddy had left Herbie's yard, we were already in the kitchen pilfering a fistful
of matches from the cupboard drawer, and before Freddy had reached the corner,
we were back in the garage with our new toy. I was particularly excited to have
such a dandy weapon, puny as it was, as I had recently been disarmed and rendered
relatively harmless by Officer Oglethorpe, a Centerboro cop universally known
as "Straight Arrow" by all the Centerboro kids.
He'd come by that name
owing to his customary admonition to any young person not involved in purposeful,
legal activities. Even if you were just standing on a street corner minding
your own business and shooting the breeze with one of your friends, you were
likely to get a "You'd better walk the straight 'n narrow path,
Bub" from Officer Oglethorpe if he were passing by on his motorcycle.
Earlier that summer he had caught me shooting tin cans with my cherished Quackenbush
#2 airgun (made right in nearby Herkimer) within the town limits. Everyone
knew that was a 100%, instantly punishable deviation from the "straight
'n narrow," and everyone knew what the punishment was. Without a word or a
fuss, Straight Arrow motioned me over, took my gun, and bent it into a V
with the help of a nearby telephone pole. He handed it back to me with
his usual warning. Later, heartbroken and teary-eyed, I complained bitterly
to my parents, but my father snorted and said, "What's the matter? You don't
know the rules?" and my poor mother just shook her head, something, I now
regret to say, she did with considerable frequency back then.
Well, a match gun was
certainly no Quackenbush, but it was a welcome divertissement for Herbie and
me, incipient arsonists that we were (and that I believe most boys
are). At first we continued to fire away at the cinder block, but getting
bored with that, we turned our attention to a big, flat metal plate leaning
against the back wall of the garage. We chalked a crude bull's-eye on the
plate and stepped back five paces or so to commence a target shooting match.
At that range, the accuracy of the match gun was pretty dismal, and most of
our shots went wide of the mark, glancing off the plate without igniting or
missing it entirely. We moved one pace closer without improving our scores
any. Finally we moved to within a yard of the plate, lay on our bellies on
the garage's hard-packed dirt floor, and fired from the prone position. We
kept this up even after one of the flaming matches ricocheted directly back
off the plate and nearly landed in Herbie's eye. It would have been wise for
us to have taken that as an ominous portent, but of course we didn't and continued
We were down to our last
few rounds when Herbie came up with a new slant on the game. Why not light
the match before launching it and then shoot it across the garage?
A brilliant idea, I agreed. Since it was Herbie's idea, he would be the first.
I held our trusty Ronson lighter ready as Herbie loaded the match gun and
pointed it at the garage door. At his signal, I ignited the match and Herbie
let it fly in an erratic arc across the garage. It must have traveled a good
fifteen feet before it bounced off the door and onto a nearby rag pile where,
we thought, it went out. We took turns launching the rest of the matches and
then, growing tired of our sport, walked out the door to grab our bikes and
head downtown. We stood with our backs to the garage for a few minutes planning
our itinerary when I happened to glance back and see smoke seeping out from
under the garage door. I said, "Hey, Herbie...look at this,"
pointing at the the smoke curling up the door. He gave me a look that said,
I hope what I think is happening isn't happening. We ran to the door, yanked
it open, and were met by a roiling inferno that had already climbed the front
wall and was now licking the bottoms of the exposed rafters. (This
is why they tell you not to leave gasoline-soaked or oily rags lying around.
It's because half-witted dolts will find the rags, set them on fire,
and burn your part of the world down.) After its many unpainted years in the
elements, the grey, weathered garage was little more than well-seasoned kindling,
and it couldn't have been more than a minute before its entire front end was
a solid wall of flames. Herbie and I stood there dumbstruck for maybe a whole
minute before our befuddled brains managed to get a message to our legs, and
then, with what little presence of mind we had, we ran right into Herbie's
house and called the fire department. Now Herbie's father worked Saturday
mornings at Siebring's, and his mother was out doing her Saturday grocery
shopping, so we lucked out in two ways. First, they were not around to collar
us--we could make a clean getaway; and second, the family car wasn't in the
garage to explode when the fire reached its gas tank. We didn't even bother
to bundle up any personal belongings to take with us. Herbie ran upstairs
to his bedroom, grabbed his genuine leather wallet with the profile of an
Indian on it and his entire life savings in it--about five dollars--and then
we ran for our lives, the wailing of the fire engines' sirens dogging us as
we sprinted to the bus station on South Main.
Herbie and I had previously
come up with a general, all-purpose evacuation plan should we ever get ourselves
into really serious trouble. We had learned the hard way that it's
always smart to have an escape plan by suffering the consequences of
not having had one in any number of our numbskulled adventures that had ended
in disaster. Well, this incident definitely qualified as "really serious trouble."
We had come up with the scheme of hiding out at the bus station until luggage
was being loaded onto a soon-to-depart bus and then crawling in the luggage
compartment under the bus when nobody was looking. And that is exactly what
we did. The bus we stowed away on happened to be heading for Buffalo, but
by the time it stopped in Syracuse, we had had enough of the dark, cramped
compartment, being banged around every time the bus went over the slightest
bump, and the exhaust fumes. When the driver opened the compartment door,
we wriggled out and tried to stammer out an explanation, but he was having
no part of it. He hauled us into the terminal office, and the man behind the
ticket counter promptly called the Syracuse police.
My father came to pick
us up. I think Mr. Garble would have killed us on the spot there in Syracuse,
so he had stayed home to deal with the fire and then get his temper (which
was pretty bad) under control before he saw Herbie. When we tried to explain
the whole story to my father, he just growled, "Shut up." It was a
long, silent ride back to Centerboro, punctuated now and then by a bout of
fearful blubbering. My father dropped Herbie off at his house. The firetrucks
had gone. The firemen had done their best, but the garage was a smoldering
wreck. All of Mr. Garble's tools and and all the other stuff he had stored
in the garage were ruined. He was really mad about his big, new table
saw. As Herbie told me later, there was a hell of a scene after my father
and I left. Poor Herbie got a terrible thrashing and was grounded for
a month. Even his sister, with whom he squabbled and fought regularly and
almost habitually, felt sorry for him. My father didn't have quite the temper
of Mr. Garble, but I couldn't sit down for the rest of the day and I was out
of circulation for two weeks. This time, we really did learn a lesson.
The next time we used a match gun, we did it outdoors.
To this day, I believe
that Freddy, ever the shrewd judge of character and cleverly manipulative
even as a thirteen-year-old, had known that Herbie and I would do the most
stupid thing possible with the match gun, and, relying on our inherent lack
of brains and weakness of character, had deliberately steered us in the direction
of the destruction of the garage. I imagine, although I can't prove
it, that he must have waited around for the flames to rise and then had a
good laugh on the two of us.
I end this story, I feel compelled to state the following. I know that
the Internet is full of dangerous information, some of it potentially
destructive of human beings and property. So I warn you that although
the easily-constructed match gun looks harmless, it can cause
its share of destruction when in the hands of idiots (as illustrated by this
tale). If you make one of these, please exercise good sense and launch
matches only under the most controlled and safe conditions out-of-doors, and
have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher handy to put out any accidental
It was 1931, and my pals
and I had gotten wind from Petey that yes, it was true--the moving
picture Frankenstein most definitely was going to be shown in
Centerboro at his Uncle Stanley's theater. When shortly thereafter
the lobby poster appeared in the theater's Main Street showcase one Saturday
afternoon, we all immediately fell into a state of feverish, blabbering anticipation--a
mixture of delicious, galloping fear and boyhood braggadocio. Would you
like to see the poster that stirred up so much excitement among us? You would?
Well, here it is...
Pretty tame stuff
by today's standards, isn't it? However, if I were typical of all the
boys in my crowd back then, and I'm sure I was, my heart bounded in
irrepressible dread at the very word "monster" itself and at the hideous
visage of the monster, flat and unanimated as it was on the poster, and yet
I simply had to be the one to issue the mandatory challenge: "I'm
going to see Frankenstein! Are you going to see Frankenstein?
It doesn't look scary to me!" Grandstanding thusly, I established
myself as the boldest of the lot and got the ball rolling. No one would
now dare utter the least reservation about being in the same theater with
the ghastly Frankenstein monster without risking instant mockery as a chicken-hearted
sissy. Without two nickels to rub together, even Louis Doberman would not,
simply could not, gamble on his poverty being an allowable excuse to
avoid confronting the monster. Somehow, he'd have to come up with the
price of admission to save face, which is so important among boys--and men.
As the day approached,
a disturbing rumor radiated quickly throughout the juvenile society of Centerboro.
At first it was just a faint buzzing like that of a cicada in the top limbs
of a far-off tree. But soon it buzzed loudly in the midst of small bands of
flabbergasted boys on street corners, playing fields, and in backyards: Mr.
Muszkiski would not be allowing anyone under eighteen to see Frankenstein.
No one knew the source of the rumor, but Petey intimated that, knowing
his uncle, it might be true. Knowing his uncle? What did this mean, we put
to Petey, who proceeded to tell us the bad news. Uncle Stanley, he said, was
of the opinion that children must be protected from the horrors of the world
as long as possible to ensure their happy and healthy futures. Frankenstein,
in his judgment, would not be fit for tender, young minds, minds which would
most certainly be severely and permanently injured by the terrifying contents
of the movie. Therefore, only adults would be allowed to enter the theater
and partake of what we believed would be one of the greatest events of the
century--the spine-tingling account of the man who made a monster.
Petey, Herb, and I formed
an ad hoc delegation to reason with Mr. Muszkiski, but he, not wishing
to encourage our boyish appetites for the grotesque and weird, flatly refused
to give in to any of our pleas. There was to be no Frankenstein for
us, and that was final. Can you imagine our disappointment? Not
only would each of us miss what would be perhaps the most thrilling monster
movie ever, but we would also miss out on an opportunity to demonstrate our
fearlessness before our peers, an important, almost daily issue among us boys.
Disheartened but not
yet licked, Petey, Herb, and I retreated to our stronghold, the pre-inferno
Garble garage, to contrive a way to see the movie. Perhaps we could disguise
ourselves as older kids, Herb ventured. Maybe we could simply sneak in past
the ticket seller at her little window and the ticket-taker, too, old
Mr. Gatz, who also ran the projector, I thought. Could there be a trapdoor
or secret passage somewhere? Petey speculated. We discussed the merits of
these and other even more far-fetched ideas and dismissed them all. For the
moment, we were stumped. It seemed hopeless. Well, we couldn't breach the
theater with a frontal assault, that was for sure, and since the theater was
sandwiched between two other buildings, that left the roof or back as the
only possible approaches.
We raced up to Main Street,
over to Washington Avenue, and then down a driveway to the small yard in back
of the theater. We scrambled to the top of the rusty iron ladder there and
peered out over a flat expanse that showed no likely means of entry. We then
checked over the back of the building. There was a locked rear exit door,
but we concluded at once that that couldn't possibly suit our purpose. Even
if we bribed some older kid to let us in through the door, we'd be spotted
right off and thrown out. Besides, it was a rule as universal and true as
the law of gravity that you could never trust older kids to live up
to their end of a bargain once you paid them off, and they always insisted
on payment first. We then checked the shuttered window through which coal
was dumped into the bin in the basement. This looked like an excellent prospect.
Why hadn't we come up with this obvious approach before? It was so
simple! Petey had once led us through two dark and dingy rooms in the
basement to the furnace room where we watched the copiously sweating and grunting
Mr. Gatz shovel coal into the great furnace from which cylindrical ducts projected
octopus-like in all directions. Naturally, the window was locked on the inside,
and unless we could get our hands on the latch, the only way into the basement
and then up into the theater would be to break the window, something we liked
Mr. Muszkiski enough not to do despite our desperation to see Frankenstein.
Could it be done without raising suspicion? Petey thought so. It would be
a mere matter of going to the last movie show before the debut of Frankenstein,
leaving one's seat in the dark, getting into the basement through its doorway
in the corridor which led to the lavatories, unlatching the window, and then
returning to one's seat to finish out the show, mission accomplished. On the
day Frankenstein was to be shown, we could then enter the building
through the unlatched basement window and sneak up into the theater. It would
be a cinch. After taking tickets, Mr. Gatz always left the lobby,
climbed the steep, narrow stairs to the projection room, and never came back
down until the last reel of the movie had been rewound. The ticket seller
would not be able to see us sneaking across the lobby. She would be completely
occupied perusing her magazine in her little wicket, guarding the Main Street
door against ticketless intruders, and selling advance tickets for the next
show. Petey, certain to gather praise and gratitude for the exploit, nominated
himself as our secret agent. We then decided to limit our expeditionary force
to just the three of us plus Louis and Bobby Bakierxrynski (who was Petey's
cousin and whose family later changed its name to Baxter so his father could
get a management job at the knitting mills). Recollecting the layout of the
basement as best we could, we drew a completely unnecessary map, and if we
had had watches, we would have synchronized them. We were ready.
It was almost too
easy. All the preliminaries went off without a hitch. Just before the opening
day matinee of Frankenstein, our select group plus one met in back
of the theater. To our original five we had been forced to add Bobby's friend
Marvin Thorpe, who had found out about our plan from Bobby and who had
promptly threatened to give us away if we didn't count him in. What could
we do? Marvin was in. Squatting in a tight huddle by the furnace room window,
we reviewed the scheme. We honored Petey by letting him be first man in. It
was about a six-foot drop to the mound of coal in the bin, and once he had
landed, Petey would lend a hand to the rest of us as we scrabbled in, feet-first,
face down. The only light switch in the basement was at the top of the stairs
that led to the lavatory corridor. The furnace room was dimly and creepily
illuminated by what light filtered in through the window, but the two rooms
between it and the staircase were utterly dark. So, once assembled in the
furnace room, we'd light the candle I had been designated to bring and thread
our way through the darkness beyond and up into the lobby and from there to
the inner sanctum.
Marvin was dispatched
to spy on the lobby from the other side of Main Street, while we crawled into
the basement. It wasn't long before he spotted Mr. Gatz heading for the projection
booth. He raced back to the rear window, inched down to join us, and breathlessly
announced, "Old man Gatz is gone. Let's go." We went.
In less than a minute,
Petey stood on the landing at the top of the stairs, his ear pressed to the
door. Lined up behind him on the staircase in the eerie illumination of the
flickering candle, our hearts pounding, our feet nervously shuffling, we waited
for his signal that all was clear. He soon whispered, "I don't hear
anybody," and then opened the door a crack and peeked down the corridor into
the lobby. "I don't see anybody, either. C'mon! Quick!"
I blew the candle out and we were on our way. Just as planned, the lobby was
deserted. We made a quick right where the corridor met the lobby, and cracked
the door to the theater just enough to squeeze in. There was a kind of half
wall in the back of the theater that separated its seats from the main exit
aisle. We crept along this wall on our hands and knees, silently turned its
corner, and, our luck still holding, slipped into the seats in the middle
of the vacant back row where we hunched down to make ourselves as inconspicous
The film started within
a minute. An ominous, though well-dressed and rather prissy gentleman
appeared on the screen and proceeded to introduce the movie. Here are his
"How do you do?
Mr. Carl Laemmle feels that it would be a little unkind to present this picture
without just a word of friendly warning. We are about to unfold...the story
of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own
image...without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales
ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation--life...
and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It
might even...horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do
not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance
to--ah--well, we've warned you."
Now, of course I didn't
remember this preface verbatim after all these years. I had to rent the movie
to get them. But I do remember how Marvin, sitting in the middle of us, whimpered
and fidgeted uneasily in his seat when he was so kindly given that
chance to...well, scram before the thrilling, shocking, horrifying
movie began. Bobby and Louis who sat on either side of Marvin furiously shushed
him and wouldn't let him leave. And I still remember the credits superimposed
on a background of eyeballs swirling around a demonlike face. The movie was
all we had hoped and dreaded it would be, right from the foreboding opening
scene in the graveyard to the fiery death of the monster in the windmill.
I recall how we cringed at the zapping arcs that Dr. Henry Frankenstein generated
with his electrical paraphernalia and at the thunder and lightning storm that
raged around the laboratory at the birth of the monster. When Henry shrieked
insanely, "It's alive...alive..." we covered our eyes to avoid seeing
the unearthly creature rise up off the table to murder everyone in sight,
and then resumed breathing again when it didn't. And when the creature backed
into the room and turned slowly to reveal in a series of jolting closeups
its vacuous, malevolent face...well, it was all we could do to keep from fleeing
to the exit. But, we stuck it out. We had to. Grimly gripping the armrests
of our chairs, occasionally covering our eyes and plugging our ears, we withstood
the sinister capering of the demented dwarf Fritz, the full-throated screams
of the heroine, the inarticulate growling of the monster on his murderous
rampage. But, no one could afford to chicken out and scramble for the
door--an act so craven that it would result in the coward's immediate demotion
to the rank of Pantywaist First Class. All the brave blustering we had done
before the movie now came back to force us to remain squirming in our seats
for the entire picture. Just before the end of the closing scene, we skedaddled
for the lobby, nonchalantly wandered out onto Main Street under the puzzled
eye of the ticket taker, and ran over to Madison Park to debrief.
You can probably imagine
our conversation--how keen the monster was, and wasn't that a dandy
ending, and "didja see when...," etc. Of course, we also
had to stagger around monster-like, stalking each other with groping arms
extended stiffly before us, re-enacting the most gruesome scenes from the
picture. We kept at it for what was left of the afternoon, and then, one by
one, we drifted off alone to home and dinner--and the approaching darkness
of night and our solitary beds.
None of us ever discussed
the terrors of his first night after seeing Frankenstein. The unbreakable
Code of Deportment for Boys simply forbid it. Gone was the mutually
sustaining company of friends, and each of us was left alone with his imagination. Who
could admit to cringing beneath the sheets or bolting upright in bed at each
creak and clank from the basement? Not I. Would I expose my cowardice by ever
admitting that I had to pee out my bedroom window because the monster was
waiting to grab me on the way to the bathroom. Not until all these years
later. The familiar snoring and mumbling and shifting about of my sleeping
parents--so often a comforting reminder of the closeness of protection and
rescue in the middle of a dark night--was translated in my agitated half-sleep
into the furtive approach of a freakish abomination, a relentless, unappeasable,
murderous creature with a criminal's brain all because that stupid
Fritz dropped the normal brain! And so on throughout the night....
I emerged bleary-eyed
from my twisted, sweaty sheets long before my parents awoke. Heartened by
the early morning sun, I got dressed, splashed water on my face, and went
downstairs to grab a quick bowl of cereal and a glass of milk. Then, as I
stood stretching on the front porch, cheered by the early-morning chorus of
birds, a great surge of confidence filled me, and I pooh-poohed my night terrors.
How stupid I had been. It was only a movie, for Pete's sake.
And as the day went on and the five of us monster buffs (but not Marvin who
never came around us again) gravitated together, we overlooked the obvious
signs of the sleepless night we had each spent and gloried in the great caper
we had pulled off.
As I recollect this episode,
I think of the real monsters the human species has produced from among
its members, and I must say that I long rather desperately and rather hopelessly
for the days when the the most frightening thing in my life was a flickering
image upon a screen.
Peebles Blows Her Top"
You may wonder if all
that business about birds and hats in Freddy and the Popinjay could
possibly have been based on real events in Centerboro. I mean, doesn't it
sound like a completely grotesque and asinine idea to wear a bird upon
one's hat or as a hat? Given the epidemic and intransigent stupidity
of the human race, you will probably not be surprised at all to find out that
it was not considered an outlandish idea once upon a time. As a matter
of fact, the adorning of ladies' heads with bird parts and whole birds was
all the fashion for a considerable period of time. Of course, something so
bizarre could have been driven only by the fashion sense (?) of the upper-class
and upper-class wannabes (i.e., the miserably envious and perennially pretentious
middle class, of which there was a fair representation in Centerboro), one
facet of whose millinery weirdness stemmed from the belief that wearing dead
animal parts made them appear elegant and chic and maybe even
sassy. I ask you to examine this picture and ask yourself if it creates
such an impression.
This preposterous abomination
is one of Harriet's "exclusive" creations made of a bird's wing and the remains
of some beady-eyed little mammal, the beady eye of which you can clearly see
staring out at you in a most pathetic manner. It was this very hat on display
in her little shop window that raised an issue with the Ladies Literary Society
of Centerboro and caused so much of a ruckus at a meeting of that society
and throughout the ranks of the fashionable females of Centerboro.
But before we get to that, here's a bit of background which will help you
make as much sense out of what is essentially senseless as you can.
Now, the business of
obtaining bird parts of the kind you see in the picture above inflicted a
huge toll upon the poor bird population, naturally enough. Long before Harriet
blew her top, editorials in the men's magazine Field and Stream in
1883-1884 complained about the atavistic ferocity of women, whose enslavement
to the demands of silly fashions resulted in the needless and wholesale destruction
of hundreds of thousands of songbirds. Many letters to this magazine called
for legislation to protect birds such as your basic songbirds, swallows, orioles,
egrets, and terns. The American Ornithologists' Union did the same in 1886.
Even royalty, as dim-witted as its members are after years of inbreeding,
saw this stupid and cruel fashion fad the same way as the A.O.U. and readers
of Field and Stream. Queen Alexandra, for instance, declared in 1906
that she would no longer adorn her hats with wild bird feathers. In
like manner, Queen Mary threw out all her feathered hats in 1911 before a
jaunt to India. Wasn't that nice of them to be so royally considerate of birds?
Our august neighbor to
the north, splendid Canada, banned the import of all plumage (except for that
of ostrich and garden fowl), but even so, some tasteless femmes still decorated
their hats with bird remains as reported by Dr. C. Gordon Hewitt, a distinguished
Canadian entomologist, who described a most disturbing sight in 1916: "Only
the other day, in an electric car, I happened to look down at the hat of a
lady in front of me and imagine my disgust to see the skins of two chickadees,
one of our most beautiful, most useful and most widely distributed birds,
70 per cent of whose food consists of injurious insects; those beautiful and
useful native birds had been sacrificed simply to satisfy the thoughtless
and wanton craze of fashion."
To back up a little,
the 1880s and '90s saw women begin to wear whole birds such as Birds
of Paradise on their hats. Frank Chapman, a noted ornithologist of that time,
reported counting 40 different species of native birds decorating the hats
of over 75 percent of the 700 women he counted in New York City. Another account
notes that a stroller through Manhattan in 1886 counted 542 exotic birds,
all of them stuffed and mounted on top of women's hats. I do not make these
You might guess that
the first Audubon societies had something to say about this issue, and of
course they did, protesting what they called an "abominable" habit and joining
the ranks of those who encouraged the passage of laws to eradicate feather
fashions. It was not just royalty, sportsmen, and scientists who raised their
voices to protest the decking out of women in animal and bird parts. Oh, no!
Socialites, too, joined the protesters. Notable among them were Harriet Hemenway
who with her cousin Minna Hall started the Audubon Society chapter in Massachusetts.
She had looked out her window one day in 1896 to see a woman wearing a stuffed
Artic Tern on her hat. Now she was no doubt disgusted by the sight and aroused
to pity for the poor bird, but she also realized that for women to be taken
seriously in a man's world, they simply could not parade about in public underneath
dead creatures mounted upon their apparently empty craniums. Therefore, she
and her cousin mounted a campaign to discourage this repulsive practice. They
organized tea parties and pushed the idea of wearing ribbons and flowers upon
the female head instead of dead birds. They promoted boycotts. They gleaned
names from the Boston Blue Book and mailed circulars which solicited membership
in an organization to protect our feathered cousins from the fashion industry.
Within six years, like-minded people in twenty-six other states formed their
own Audubon Societies, and a curious alliance of socialites, sportsmen, and
scientists worked together to protect little birdies from being sacrificed
in the name of fashion.
I must mention another
notable champion of birds here because she has a slight connection
to Centerboro. Florence Augusta Merriam, born in 1863, grew up in upstate
New York in Locust Grove, a very small town about 31 miles north of Rome,
NY. You'd take Route 46 north out of Rome and pass right by Centerboro
on your way! Florence took an keen interest in the wildlife surrounding
her home, especially the birds. When she went to Smith College, she developed
a passionate interest in studying living birds, rather than their skins, bones,
and feathers, and thought that binoculars were a better tool for bird study
than shotguns. She was horrified by the slaughter of up to five million birds
per annum to supply the fashion industry, and by 1885 she was writing articles
about protecting birds from becoming millinery ornamentation. She organized
the Audubon Society at Smith College and continued to work for the protection
of birds for the rest of her life. I am not certain, but she may have
been an early member of the Ladies' Literary Society of Centerboro, as there
is a possible reference to her in the transcript of the meeting, a part of
which I quote below, during which Harriet blew her top.
Isn't this all quite
fascinating? I'm sure you think so, and for your further edification,
here are two articles which address the very issue that resulted in Harriet's
forcible removal from an LLSC meeting and very nearly her subsequent arrest.
or Flowers" from Birds, Vol. III, No. 5, May, 1898 (A. W. Mumford,
Touching the question
whether the beautiful Terns and Gulls, with their soft gray and white coloring,
were to be popular, it was said that they would not be used as much as formerly.
One salesman said that he would try, where a white bird was requested, to
get the purchaser to accept a domestic Pigeon, which was just as beautiful
as the sea and lake birds named.
The milliners all agree
that the Snowy Egret is doomed to extermination within a short time, its
plumes, so fairy-like in texture, rendering its use for trimming as desirable
in summer as in winter.
As to the birds of
prey, people interested in our feathered friends are as desirous of saving
them from destruction as they are to shield the song birds. There are only
a few of the Hawks and Owls which are injurious, most of them in fact being
beneficial. Hundreds of thousands of these birds were killed for fashion’s
sake last fall, so that this coming season the farmer will note the absence
of these birds by the increased number of rat, mouse, and rabbit pests with
which he will have to deal.
It is a matter of congratulation,
then, to the members of the Audubon Society to know that their efforts in
Chicago have not been wholly fruitless, inasmuch as the majority of dealers
in women’s headgear are willing to confess that they have felt the
effect of the bird protective crusade.
Dr. H. M. Wharton,
pastor of Brantly Baptist Church, Baltimore, has always been a bitter opponent
of those who slaughter birds for millinery purposes. “It is wholesale
murder,” said he, “and I am delighted that a bill is to be offered
in the Maryland legislature for the protection of song birds. I have commented
from the pulpit frequently upon the evil of women wearing birds’ wings
or bodies of birds on their hats, for I have long considered it a cruel
“Birds are our
brothers and sisters,’ aid the Rev. Hugh O. Pentecost before the Unity
Congregation at Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh, a few weeks ago. “If
we are children of God, so are they. The same intelligence, life, and love
that is in us is in them. The difference between us is not in kind, but
Clamor" from Birds and All Nature, Vol. VI, No. 5, December, 1899 (A.
W. Mumford, Publisher)
JUDGING from late millinery
creations, and the appearance of windows and showcases, women, in spite
of the efforts of the Audubon societies, still elect to adorn themselves
with the stuffed remains of rare or common birds.
A live bird is a beautiful
and graceful object, but a dead duck, pigeon, or gull peering with glassy
eyes over the brim of a woman's hat is, to the thinking mind, both unbecoming
and repulsive. In deference to "sentimental" bird lovers and at the same
time the behest of Dame Fashion, wings and breasts are said to be manufactured
out of bits of feathers and quills which have all the appearance of the
original. Wings and breasts, yes, but never the entire creature, which the
bird lover — in a millinery sense — chooses above all other adornments
for her headgear. Apart from the humanitarian side of the subject, one cannot
but marvel that such women cannot be brought to regard the matter from the
esthetic point of view.
my lady, glancing admiringly in the mirror at the death's head above her
brow, "esthetic point of view, indeed! Why, the point of view with most
women is to wear whatever they consider becoming, striking, or outre. Now
I flatter myself in selecting this large gull with spreading wings for my
hat, that I attained .all three of these effects, don't you?"
"Especially the outre,"
muttered one of her listeners, at which my lady laughed, evidently well
Five women out of every
ten who walk the streets of Chicago and other Illinois cities, says a prominent
journal, by wearing dead birds upon their hats proclaim themselves as lawbreakers.
For the first time
in the history of Illinois laws it has been made an offense punishable by
fine and imprisonment, or both, to have in possession any dead, harmless
bird except game birds, which may be "possessed in their proper season."
The wearing of a tern, or a gull, a woodpecker, or a Jay is an offense against
the law's majesty, and any policeman with a mind rigidly bent upon enforcing
the law could round up, without a written warrant, a wagon load of the offenders
any hour in the day, and carry them off to the lockup. What moral suasion
cannot do, a crusade of this sort undoubtedly would.
Thanks to the personal
influence of the Princess of Wales, the osprey plume, so long a feature
of the uniforms of a number of the cavalry regiments of the British army,
has been abolished. After Dec. 31, 1899, the osprey plume, by order of Field
Marshal Lord Wolseley, is to be replaced by one of ostrich feathers. It
was the wearing of these plumes by the officers of all the hussar and rifle
regiments, as well as of the Royal Horse Artillery, which so sadly interfered
with the crusade inaugurated by the Princess against the use of osprey plumes,
The fact that these plumes, to be of any marketable value, have to be torn
from the living bird during the nesting season induced the Queen, the Princess
of Wales, and other ladies of the royal family to set their faces against
the use of both the osprey plume and the aigrette as articles of fashionable
If this can be done
in the interest of the white heron and osprey, on the other side of the
water, why cannot the autocrats of style in this country pronounce against
the barbarous practice of bird adornment entirely, by steadfastly refusing
to wear them themselves? The tireless energy of all societies for the protection
of birds will not begin to do the cause among the masses so much good as
would the total abandonment of them for millinery purposes by what is termed
What follows are passages
quoted from the actual transcript of the secretary's notes from the
meeting of the Ladies' Literary Society of Centerboro at which my ex-wife
Harriet blew her top. The ellipses indicate blather, tripe, and boring
twaddle (of exactly the sort one would expect at a ladies' club meeting) which
I have skipped over for various reasons.
what is your further pleasure?
President, I move the adoption of the following resolution which expresses
the passionate interest of our late sister Florence who campaigned so mightily
against an offense against nature:
Resolved, That it is the sentiment of this club that its members should wear
no birds on their hats this spring.
is moved and seconded that the following resolution be adopted:
Resolved, That it is the sentiment of this club that its member should wear
no birds on their hats this spring.
President, I move to amend by striking out "this spring."
President, I would like to add to Miss B.'s amendment, and so I move to further
amend Mrs. O.'s motion by striking out "its members," and inserting "women."
U., since we're following standard parliamentary usage, your motion cannot
be entertained at the present time. You'll have to wait your turn.
[Miss B.'s motion
is discussed, and put to a vote.]
motion is carried. The question is now upon the adoption of the resolution
as amended. Are there any remarks? Mrs. U., I believe you had a motion you
wished to introduce.
President, I move to amend by striking out "its members," and inserting "women."
motion prevails, and the question is now upon the adoption of the resolution
as amended. Are there any remarks?
certainly are, Madam President. This resolution as amended is the result of
pure spite on your part and Mrs. U., and Miss B., and Mrs. O. If Mrs.
U. hadn't thought I made her wait too long in my shop to see that stupid hat
she saw in my window, she wouldn't have made such a big stink about it all
over the place and wouldn't have thought to launch this personal vendetta
against me in this meeting. It is really too despicable, isn't it. I mean
who does she think she is. And we all know that she put her little toady Mrs.
O. up to making the original motion, now don't we?
Miss B. I rise
to a point of order, Madam President.
B. will please state her point of order.
Miss B.--The Ladies'
Literary Society of Centerboro certainly does not engage in spiteful conduct,
being, as it is, a society of ladies, as Miss P. should ought to know. I would
ask that the President caution Miss P. against further uncalled-for outbursts
of this sort, which have no basis in fact and which cause an unpleasant upset
to the customary decorum of our meetings.
B.'s point is well taken. Miss P., I must caution you about raising your voice
or impugning the character of any member or members of our society.
President, will you please state the motion again?
secretary will please read the resolution.
President, shall I read the resolution as offered by Mrs. O., and the amendments
that have been made?
simply read the resolution as it now stands.
That it is the sentiment of this club that women should wear no birds on their
those in favor--
President, I move to amend by substituting the following:
Resolved, That it is the sentiment of this club that no woman should wear
any bird or feathers of any bird, except those of the ostrich, on her hat.
President, I move to amend by substituting the following:
Resolved, That it is the sentiment of this club that women should not make
use of birds or the feathers of birds for personal adornment.
motion prevails. The question now recurs upon the motion to substitute the
resolution offered by Mrs. T, for the resolution as read by the secretary.
Is there any further discussion?
motion prevails. The question is now upon the adoption of the resolution.
President, I move the previous question.
motion is lost. The question is now upon the adoption of the resolution.
President, what resolution do you mean? Haven't we just voted on the resolution
about wearing birds' feathers?
vote just taken was upon the motion to close debate. The resolution has not
yet been voted upon.
President, I move to lay on the table.
lay you out on the table, you little...
order please! Miss P., if you cannot conduct yourself in a proper manner,
I shall have you escorted from the room.
Miss P.--You and
who else, you cow! Why, for two cents I'd come over there and knock you over
the head with that too stupid gavel!
the sergeant-at-arms please show Miss P. to the door immediately.
mind! I'll show myself to the door, but there's no parliamentary procedure
out on the sidewalk, Madam President, and I'll be out there waiting for you.
that a threat, Miss P?
now, just how stupid are you? Of course it's a threat! I'll pluck you like
chicken, you old &(^@#!
This marks the end of
the interesting part of the meeting, probably the most interesting meeting
in the annals of the L.L.S.C. Miss Peebles did indeed lay for Madam President
that day, but did not engage in a punch up with her or anyone else, as the
police had been contacted before the end of the meeting and Miss Peebles driven
to her home and issued a stern warning to keep away from the officers of the
L.L.S.C. and to attend no further meetings. Naturally, she was drummed out
of the group and thereafter lost all social standing she may have enjoyed
in Centerboro. It is a terrible thing, is it not, to fly in the face of the
powers that be, especially when those powers are wielded by otherwise powerless
women. I find it fascinating, don't you, that Harriet and Mrs. U. crossed
swords in this disgraceful display of female ferocity before I married (and
divorced) the one and later became the other's paramour.
When he was about eight
or nine years old, Jinx's most prized possession was a wondrous marble in
which was embedded a silver lion. He never played it in any of our
great day-long tournaments of those days for fear of damaging or losing it.
He kept his treasure carefully wrapped just so in a square of red flannel
in a little leather pouch with a drawstring that his mother had made especially
for the marble. He seldom brought it out into the light of day, and he would
but rarely let anyone else touch it. It was a sacred amulet, an object
of worship and power to him. Sometimes you might see him carefully
unwrap the marble and peer into it, holding it up and turning and turning
it against the light of the sky. One wonders what went through his head at
those times. There was not one of us who did not covet that marble, and many
a time we tried to sweet-talk and wheedle him into putting it into play, but
he was adamant, and it seemed that the lion marble was forever beyond our
Here's a picture of Jinx's
marble. How I am able to present this splendid image here will become clear
Is it no wonder then that
Jinx's spectacular marble became a kind of grail to the rest of us, the focus
of much daydreaming and scheming. We had just about given up on ever wresting
it from Jinx, when one late July afternoon a set of circumstances arose that
finally tempted Jinx into playing it in a game.
Our usual crowd was out
at the Bean farm that day. It was a real scorcher. For most of the morning
Herb, Louis, Petey, Bobby, Jinx, and I had been splashing around in the duck
pond, but around noon it had become too hot for us even there. Our brains
boiling in our skulls, we stumbled into to the shadow thrown by the barn and
sagged listlessly against the splintery wall. Mrs. Bean caught sight of us
sprawled and panting there like so many barnyard dogs and brought out a pitcher
of her tart sumac berry brew which we gratefully gulped down . She raised
an eyebrow and warned us to keep out of the sun if we knew what was good for
us. Unmindful young boys, she said, had been known to suddenly collapse in
such heat and have to be carted off to spend a week at the Lying-In Hospital.
Would we like that, she asked. No'm, we chorused, and meant it.
She nodded, satisfied that we were either too sensible or too heat-exhausted
to contradict her, and went off to her afternoon chores.
For a while we watched
a few chickens scratch and peck in the dirt yard between the house and the
barn and made bets on which chicken would peck at another's head first. When
they moved out of our line of sight without incident, we turned to other diversions:
telling all the good jokes we had heard in school; gossiping about teachers,
girls, and the odder residents of Centerboro; planning a tree fort up in the
Bean woods. Finally the conversation turned to the marble tournament we had
been staging for the past three summers on the last day before school started.
The big game was slightly more than a month away, but all of us had been working
on our shooting techniques for weeks in anticipation of the contest. I myself
had mastered the art of "knuckling down," and was ready to sweep the ring.
Well, those days we seldom
went anywhere without a bag of thirty or forty of our lesser marbles, prepared
for any quick pick-up game that might get going. Of course, we saved our favorite
shooters and our prized marbles for the big one at summer's end. No
one played in that one who wasn't prepared to put up his best marbles
for grabs. But for now it was permissible to enter any game with your seconds
and thirds--we all knew these games were just for fun and practice. Having
nothing better to in the sweltering heat, we started up a little game we called
"die shoot." In this game, we'd balance an ordinary die on an old clay marble,
of which there were still plenty around. In turn, each of us became the "keeper
of the die." Before the first player took a shot, everyone made a one-time
deposit of two marbles to the "bank." Then any player who wanted a shot would
pay the keeper one marble per shot, stand off behind a line drawn about six
feet from the die, and shoot. If he managed to knock the die off the marble,
the keeper would pay him a number of marbles equal to the dots on the topmost
face of the die. We played this for a while, no one winning or losing any
great number of marbles, and then went on to a game we called "Bouncers."
This was more a game of luck than skill and it was played like this. We'd
stand about five feet away from a wall and toss a marble so that it would
bounce off. All marbles stayed right where they landed until one player's
marble hit any of the ones on the ground, whereupon he'd get all the
marbles that had been thrown before. It was a nerve-wracking, frustrating
game that never lasted long before we turned to another game which required
more refinement and finesse, "Dead Eye"-- the game in which Jinx lost both
his judgment and his lion marble that day.
We drew a one foot circle
in the dirt and each of us placed one marble in the center. The idea behind
"Dead Eye" was to stand over the circle and drop a marble from eye level (and
no stooping or bending!) into the circle. If you managed to knock any marbles
out, you got to keep them. If you didn't, your marble stayed in the circle
and the turn passed to the next player and the next until all the marbles
had been won. Now this was a game that Jinx was pretty good at. He was a foot
shorter than the rest of us which gave him an automatic advantage, and he
had a good eye. Playing "Dead Eye" with Jinx guaranteed you were going to
go home a few marbles poorer.
(To be continued someday when I feel motivated.)
to Contents of Tales Out of School
Out of School (And Elsewhere)
© 2006 by Edward H. Anderson
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Except in the case of brief quotations in totally uncritical, completely
complimentary articles and reviews,
no part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without
the written permission of Edward Henry Anderson.