A Chink in the Armor

For whatever reason, I've been recalling more and more from grammar school days lately. In some instances, it's not so much an incident which comes to mind, but rather an emotion. What's truly alarming is how vivid my recollections from a half-century ago have become, though I can rarely remember what I did yesterday. Or how often those remembrances of random sociopathy make me smile. Could I be entering Shakespeare's sixth or seventh age of man already?

By second grade or thereabouts, I had become quite close to a guy named John; I do in fact recall his entire name perfectly, but as you'll see, no point would be served by revealing it here. John lived about four blocks away from me on Knapp Street, same side in fact.

We played together at school, and after classes, too, doing the usual goofy things like wasting our pennies on Bazooka Joe bubblegum or when considerably more flush, nickels on popsicles from Sucher's Superette immediately adjacent to Louise Elementary School, right across the railroad tracks. Speaking of tracks, in those days you could still detect trolley car rails on Knapp Street right in front of Sucher's. Though the conveyance was long gone, the City hadn't gotten around to paving them over yet.

John's trousers were always blue jeans, starched beyond all recognition. Fabric? No way! These were constructed of timber, or so it seemed. In those days, the style was to get jeans about four inches too long, then turn the cuffs up those four inches and iron the bejesus out of them. He always looked neat and tidy, giving every appearance of being a happy kid of the fifties.

I liked John a lot, but don't really remember why. We just enjoyed being together with no particular end in mind.

And then one day, he was no longer in school, with no explanation offered for his absence.

But my parents took me aside and revealed all. John's mother and father had both been convicted of embezzlement and sent to prison. He wound up being taken in by his grandmother.

I was very sad, for even to my seven-year-old mind, I just knew his parents loved him but that some sort of desperation intruded. Two things: lest you think I was little more than a hopeless sociopath, my heart literally ached for John and his parents. Moreover, I began to develop a definite distrust of society from that affair. Like I say, though just a youngster, I was starting to form conclusions on my own that society is the natural enemy of the individual. Maybe not in so many words, but as I wrote in the opening paragraph, the feelings were taking form even then.

I never saw John again.

And then there was my fifth grade playmate, Mark, who lived just round the corner from me on Lynn Avenue. This poor guy not only came from a broken home, but drowned swimming off the coast of Washington while visiting his father in 1963. Every time I walked or bicycled past his home on Lynn, totally shaded by enormous elm trees, something always tugged at my heartstrings--equally when he was alive and after he was gone. There were lots of elms in Ames in those days, and the harsh sun rarely made it through their boughs.

It's strange how a dream can stick with a person for so many years. I mentioned in a previous installment how I can readily recall the mood and emotional impact of the first dream I ever had. By Louise days, another came along which still conjures up intense memories.

I was born and raised in the golden age of flying saucers. No doubt I had seen some newspaper accounts, or perhaps heard a story on the radio, and certainly summer afternoon movies on WHO-TV such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers or Invaders from Mars would have primed me.

But for whatever reason, I had a most vivid dream one night that I was hanging out at the Louise Elementary playground described previously. While goofing around on the merry-go-round and swing set, something caught my attention up in the sky. Turning my tiny head upwards I marveled at dozens and dozens of black pinpoints against the bright blue backdrop. They swarmed around helter-skelter, zigging and zagging every which way, behaving much like a swarm of bumblebees. Even though I couldn't (in my dream) resolve the objects milling about into actual saucers, I knew that's what they were. I was mystified, maybe a little fearful, but nonetheless overjoyed that the world seemed more orphic to me than others were discerning. Remembrance of this dream, to this day, still evokes a very strong sense of wonder.

I was thinking about this again recently, when a strange parallel came to mind. On March 17, 1950, a very similar occurrence took place in Farmington, New Mexico. But in this case, hundreds of witnesses took in the uncanny sight of flying saucers racing about like aerial bumper cars. Accounts of that incident sound virtually identical to what I "saw" in my dream. For example, take a look at this account of that incident:

Isn't it curious that I would dream this for myself?

The mention of bumblebees above, calls to mind a somewhat odd classmate with whom I hung out for a year or two, probably around fourth grade or so: Patty. Somewhat diminutive in size with longish dirty blonde hair, she always wore skirts. Of course, most of the girls did then, but unlike the others, hers always lay atop that flouncy nylon puffery which buoyed the pleats out a good foot in all directions. In other words, when she walked it sounded like a forest fire, and falling out of an airplane would pose no danger.

Patty and I shared an interest in wildlife and spent one summer together each building a terrarium to house some American toads we came across. We took the environmental aspect pretty seriously and researched the importance of having strata of gravel for drainage, crushed charcoal for purification, sand and soil. And we attended to the botany as well, providing all manner of plants to make the terraria not only visually appealing but self-sustaining for our Bufo americanus friends.

Despite Patty's interest and love of nature, though, she had an unreasoned dread of bees. I mean, she'd go completely ballistic when any sort of yellow and black striped critter flew in. I well recall her becoming positively unhinged as a big fat furry bumblebee visited one day. Patty was working from the dubious premise that the bigger the bee, the more dangerous it must be. And yet, as anyone knows who has milled around with this fatso of the apinae genus, they are exceedingly passive, slow, even indolent and pay no nevermind to humans at all. Nonetheless, she went ape-shit and that's perhaps when I started to wonder if girls were different from boys. Until that time, sexual delineation was not part of my makeup: a friend was a friend, nylon mesh underskirt rustling about or otherwise.

Memories! They simply keep erupting nonstop! Just as I was about to think the well had run dry for this entry, Bobby popped to mind. (We'll leave his surname unspoken, this time for a very different reason). One year behind me, he was sort of weird and behaved like he was living in his own world. I always thought he was a creep, as did most of the students, and yet he kept plugging along doing his own thing. The following escapade transpired when he was in the fifth grade under Miss DeGeusse's tutelage, I suffering under Mr. Cherry.

Do you know those rolling bookshelves for schoolroom use? About five feet long and three feet high, built of heavily shellacked blonde wood, a pair of sloping shelves run the length of them. The entire affair rests upon hard rubber wheels so the teacher could push the moving library out of the way when required.

So anyway, the bottom shelf of the unit in Bobby's class was empty one day, but soon wouldn't be.

Apparently a sense of urgency came on unannounced, and Bobby sidled up to the sloping shelf, dropped trou, and let go. All this toward the back of the room while others were working on some project up front. As told me by an underclassman, this was not a prank on his part. Indeed, I'm inclined to believe that, because several years later at West Junior High, he was hightailing it down the ugly maroon painted staircase at the western end of the building one afternoon when, lo and behold, Bobby had an accident. After a swift kick of the pant leg for a bit of dislodging, he continued on as though nothing was awry. Some guys just don't know how to plan ahead.

Such memories!

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