Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wacky Words Can Crack Cocoons

1956-57 was a strange year or perhaps The Kid was a strange fish. No one harassed him, except some of the Greasers who only occasionally swam across his path. Everyone avoided the Greasers where possibly. There were only a half-dozen of them and they moved together as if the hooks and zippers of their leather jackets had somehow fused chains binding them together. Even if forced not to wear the jackets in school they were still in uniform. They wore the Fonzie costume, (although any other similarity to the Fonz of "Happy Days" was purely fictional). Everyday it was black jeans with cuffs turned up, motorcycle boots, white T-shirt often with a pack of Camels rolled in a sleeve. Their hair was in a shiny, grease-smeared DA (Duck's Ass) and their arms were scarred with the name of their girlfriend.

Tattoos were a rarity and if someone sported one that sport was an adult, probably an old Navy veteran. There were few if any tattoo parlors in The Kid's part of this world. Knowing the 1950s they may even have been illegal. Rich and The Kid talked of getting a tattoo someday and discussed what they would mar their arms or chest with, but neither ever followed through. The Kid talked about a skull, he was very big on skulls at the time and the crown of his baseball cap bore the Jolly Roger symbol. So the Greasers weren't sporting tattoos like we are used to seeing on everybody and their uncle and grandma these days, no dazzling multi-colored sleeves and no Tramp Stamps. These guys were carving (ow!) their girlfriends' names (ouch!) down their forearms (You must remember Greasers don't cry; there's no crying in arm mutilation!) with switchblades.

The Kid didn't want to belong to any clique that badly.

But he would have liked at least a few people to eat lunch with.

His social life outside of school was probably less than it had been back in town; that is, he had a limited number of friends there, but the operative word is number. Here it was Rich and Rich's two siblings, which meant it was mostly Rich. Occasionally there were a couple other of Rich's friends around, but this was rare.  This was country. Everyone lived too distant for regular get togethers, at least in tenth grade when none of them were driving age yet. Knowing Rich's friends was no help at school, because they didn't go to The Kid's school. Although Rich was the same age as The Kid (actually was almost a year older), he had been held back a couple grades in school. Rich's friends were from his class in school, thus also didn't go to where The Kid attended.

The Kid was doing much better grade wise at the new school, mostly A's and B's, although he was struggling as usual with the world of math. He had geometry in tenth grade and couldn't get an angle on it. (Yes, that is an intentional pun.) His teacher was a tough old bird, who appeared to fit the mold of the  priggish "Mrs. Grundy" of Thomas Mortons' 1798 play, Speed the Plough or perhaps the imagery of "Miss Grundy" of the "Archie" comics contemporary with The Kid's school days. Same old fashioned wardrobe, same gray bun of hair, same spectacles and same disapproving expression.

The common oft-repeated joke was they had built the school around her when the school was build in 1912.

The truth is she was a teacher who really cared about the students and that they learned. We could probably use more of her kind today. She took no nonsense, not even from the Greasers, and she led the class with a wooden pointer in her hand, one she might smack threateningly into the palm of the other if she felt you weren't trying. Her general method was to assign homework problems, then call randomly upon victims to solve each problem at the blackboard in the next days class. She would not let a pupil sit down until they worked out the answer, sometimes even holding one at the board pass the bell. This did not particularly help The Kid. Shy with the scars of ridicule left him from the old school, he was wary of such public exhortation. Called upon to preform a problem in front of all and sundry would send his mind reeling in panic and as a result he would even forget what little he might know about such things as the degree of angle in an isosceles triangle. It was the humiliation of ninth grade Latin class all over again.

Ironically, his language skills took a turn for the better in tenth grade. From getting the first and only F he would ever have in Latin, he was getting A's in l'apprentissage du français, not that he would retain much into adult life. The Kid had a hearing defect that hindered his distinguishing certain sounds. The Kid tended toward the visual. Even in Latin he could read the passages in the book. He just couldn't quite translate the spoken word or pronounce his conjugations quite properly. The main difference was his French teacher was an easy going fellow who didn't seem to press the issue when The Kid ne pouvait pas bien parler Français.

Of course what The Kid was or wasn't accomplishing in his classes had no bearing on his friendless situation. 

The Kid hated school, not just because of the lack of a buddy, but he found it generally boring. With the exception of math, most subjects came easily enough. As long as he read the text and listened to the teacher's lectures he could remember enough to pass the tests. He was lax in completing homework and seldom bothered taking notes. He would sketch in his notebook instead, draw cartoons or characters of the teacher or other students. He would sometimes draw animations, making a pictures on the edge of a book, changing it slightly each time so when he flipped the pages the drawing would move. If he actually made notes they had nothing to do with the subject, but would be story ideas that came to him that he wanted to remember later.

He wanted to be a writer. He sat behind an old Underwood typewriter pecking out stuff every night rather than doing his school assignments. It was a decision he made when he was twelve years old, to write.

He had what success he had doing this even before he was twelve. A short story was highly praised by his third grade teacher, even played a pivotal role in his meeting his best friend, Ron. 

(See 52 Pages All in Color For a Dime and The Kid Met Him in the Funny Pages in my Bends of the Brandywine Blog.)

The Kid had written and performed a puppet show at school in fourth grade and in sixth grade his friend, Stu, and he had started, wrote and sold a newspaper called "The Daily Star". These things and his early art work got him attention. Often his artwork would end up pinned to a bulletin board for public display, such as the fish he did in first grade that graces the opening of this post.

Writing was also generated by his father's constant criticism of his play. As a boy he had garnered a motley collection of rubber solders, plastic cowboys and indians and similar icons in metal. His father would see him playing war or some adventure with these objects and berate him for playing with dolls or claim he was too old for such toys. They were common toys among boys in his time and weren't dolls in the general sense. They were molded in shapes of battle and stood at the most two or three inches tall.

The Kid had picked certain favorites to be the heros in his play because they were different in some way. There was a metal cowboy, somewhat larger than the rest who wore a wide hat that was his top favorite and alter ego in these games. There was also a metal army officer in dress and permanent attention who he always made the police chief. There was a one-armed indian and a one-legged rubber solder, who had removal helmet and utility belt and rifle.

He defended his father's charges that it was sissy to play with these by claiming he just used them to write. The Kid doubted his father accepted this, but it became the reality. At twelve the kid wrote a story,  which he then expanded into a novel called, It. The heros of the story were a tall cowboy, a stiff police chief, a one-armed Indian and a one-legged giant. Wonder where he came up with those characters? The villain was a mad scientist who had created a monster and lived on an island surrounded by quicksand. It was a stew of Doc Savage, Frankenstein and Treasure Island. (When he was older The Kid reworked this into a novella called, Dream. Admittedly, Dream is far different from It. The cowboy, the police chief, the Indian and the giant are gone, as is the scientist and his monster but the island surrounded by quicksand remains.)

Just as an aside, The Kid learned in these days the power of  Hollywood to distort a book (or reality, for that matter). When he bought the "Classics Illustrated Comic Book" version of Frankenstein he was shocked at how the comic book took liberties and changed the story. What was the monster and his maker doing on a ship near the North Pole anyway. The Kid didn't remember Boris Karloff stiff-legging it through any snow drifts or ice floes. It wasn't until he read the novel that he discovered the comic book was truer to Mary Shelley's vision than the James Whale film. The Kid vowed if any of his novels were ever made into movies, he would demand artistic control. And if it ever happens, The Old Goat will honor The Kid's Vow.

In his junior high days The Kid attempted novels or he wrote poems, usually parodies of popular songs, such as "Rich Man'$ $ixteen Ton$."  

    He loads sixteen tons of cash every day.
Sixteen tons and that ain’t hay.
Saint Peter don’t you call him,
‘Cause you all know.
You can’t take it with you,

            So he won’t go!

In the second half of tenth grade The Kid was lounging about at lunch, alone. He was writing in a notebook and began to unconsciously sing what he was writing. Despite his terrible voice, or maybe because of it, he drew an attentive crowd.

If the thing don’t understand you.
If you fly on separate wings.
Waste no time. Make a start.
Pull that lid right off your chest.
Push her out of the coffin
And drum her out of your rest.

If you laugh at different funerals.
If you root for different ghouls.
Waste no time. Creep no more.
Show her what the stake is for!
Place it o’re her heart
And drum it through her breast.

At first The Kid didn't notice. He was absorbed in creating a parody of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.

I touch your hand
And your arm falls off.
I pat your back,
You begin to cough.
My eyes look down
At your twisted face,
And I must admit,
With distaste!

Older than Egypt are you...

His attention was caught when there was actual applause.

I’ve been known to share your
Practical conclusion,
Thinking the beast could keep
Its seclusion,
‘Til all of a sudden that moon’s
Shown down and hit me smack
In the snude:
That’s how I turned out to be
The hairy young werewolf you see.

It was a strange moment that turned life about for The Kid. Suddenly in a place where no one seemed to note his existence, he had fans.

In some enchanted graveyard
Something may be laughing.
You may hear it laughing
From in a crumbled tomb,
And night after night,
As strange as it seems,
The sound of laughter
                       Will echo your screams.

Others actually began to talk to him in the halls, invite him to join them at lunch and ask if he had written anything new. He read them parts of stories he was working on, mostly horror, recited a new poem or did some parody play, acting out the characters. This included a beer commercial. I wonder if a student could do a beer commercial, even as burlesque, in todays schools?



(Harry Peals is playing darts and he knocks over a tall glass of beer setting on a table.)

Oops.  I’ve knocked over Bert’s beer.  I hope he doesn’t come back for a while.

(Enter Bert.)
Harry, what’s this mess on the floor?

That’s your Peals’ beer, Bert.

What’s it doing all over the floor, Harry?

I was just playing some darts and one slipped.

Well, get me another bottle of my Peals’ Beer, Harry.

(Looking in cabinet.)

We seem to be out of glasses. Should I put it in a coffee cup?

No coffee cups in here.  Get some glasses.

I’ll have to go see George.  Put on the live shot, Bert.

 (Exit Harry.)

There it is, folks.  Peals!  The cooled-brewed beer with the barrel of flavor.

     (Enter Harry.)

George didn’t have any glasses either.  I brought a brandy snifter.


Never mind, Harry.  I’ll drink it from the bottle.

Maybe a wine carafe?

I’m burning your dart board, Harry.
Fade out.

There had been a very popular ad campaign for Piels beer in those days featuring Bert and Harry Piels. This was a take-off on those ads. The Kid always hoped his silly little skit did not influence any of his classmates down the slippery slope of alcoholism. But in the meantime, his wacky words had frayed the hard cocoon and cracked it. It was to lead to some close friendships eventually and to some success writing in high school, but that was still in his future. For now he was happy to just be accepted at the lunch table with some of the others.

Another door was soon to open, but it was to be opened by the key of tragedy and leave him with mixed emotions. That situation lay in the near future as well. 

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