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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

There were Influences, and then There Were Influences: Books & Magazines

Ronald Tipton and I outlined a novel idea in 1956.  We called it, Attention Teacher! It was a fictionalized account of our Junior High Years. We divided it into two parts. The first was, “Frank March’s School Daze” that I would write and the second, “Which Way is that Hill” to be written by us both. We wrote the Introduction and I began the first part, but we never finished. We were looking at those years in a humorous way. I reworked some of “Mother’s Carey’s Chickens” into the beginning, since that story was about the early days of Junior High. I did cover several of the events that happened to me in junior high, most of which were included in this series. I do not know whether Ron ever wrote anything further or what happened to it if he did.
If I was writing light and funny stories about my school days, which the opposite of what I felt at the time, my reading tastes were moving in a different, darker direction. Warner Brothers released Nicholas Ray’s film “Rebel Without a Cause” in October 1955. It was the start of a literal meteoric career, that of James Dean. I wanted to see that film, but I missed it. I didn’t see “Rebel Without a Cause” until my wedding night, but that’s another story. I didn’t see the movie, but I bought a book in 1956 entitled, Children of the Dark by Irving Shulman.

I loved the book. I could identify with the main characters so well. I read the book several times. I had no idea at the time that Irving Shurman had written the original treatment and story for Rebel Without a Cause and this was his novelization of that film.
I then bought his novel, The Amboy Dukes, another tale of alienated teenagers. Columbia Pictures turned this into a movie in 1974 called “The Lords of Flatbush”. “The Lords of Flatbush” launched a couple famous careers as well. It starred the unknown actors Henry Winkler and Sylvester Stallone. Winkler has said he based “The Fonz” character in “Happy Days” on Stallone’s performance in that movie. They had filmed Amboy Dukes previously under the title “City Across the River” in 1949. I wonder if anyone ever thought of doing a film based on the book and simply calling it,  “The Amboy Dukes”?
I wanted more stories about trouble kids. (Gee, I wonder why?) The film “Blackboard Jungle” had appeared in 1955 and I saw it along with Ronald I believe, one of his ticket prizes from “The Achieve”. The Auditorium Theater nearly burst at the seams when “Rock Around the Clock” blasted from the speakers. (By the way, The Auditorium today is a senior center.) They based the film upon the book by Evan Hunter and I begged my mother to buy me the book by him. She mistakenly got me The Jungle Kids, a collection of short stories published in 1956 to feed off the success of the film “Blackboard Jungle”. At first I was disappointed. But then it was okay; those stories greatly influenced me. The Jungle Kids was another book I read more than once. I reread it so often the cover
tore loose. Hunter showed up as a writer of some episodes for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents’” dramatizations in 1957. (He wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s, “The Birds”. I followed this up by reading The Blackboard Jungle and Second Ending.  Second Ending, sometimes known as Quartet in H was a gritty story about a jazz trumpet player’s slow slide down the pit of drugs.
These stories of alienation and juvenile crime were to influence several of my stories over the next couple years. I was identifying with the main characters in most of these. I was feeling very alienated and was soon turning to a life of crime myself. I was shoplifting.
I really didn’t want to shoplift. I know that sounds like a cop out, but I was not a kid with larceny in his heart. Gain by theft was not my desire. It was more gain of desire. The only time I had ever stole anything was some change from my mother’s purse and the guilt I felt from that was palpable. (I know, I haven’t forgotten that Coca-Cola.) The reality was I had been an ultra honest boy otherwise. No, it was not the deadly sin of Greed, or even Envy, that drove me. It was Lust.
My fantasying was taking another turn.
My parents move left me living with my grandparents. I had lived with my grandparents before, but this time it was not the same. My grandfather had stepped in and been a surrogate father when I was younger, taking me with him on trips and adventures and giving me gifts. I loved my grandfather very much, but his fall at work and resulting shattered leg changed him.
Even when the cast came off and he returned to work the pain remained and so did the liquor. He hit the bottle as soon as he came home from work and didn’t stop until he fell into a stupor. He would lie on the sofa in the dining room and mumble. He was not a happy drunk; he was a mean one. He lay night after night, cursing out people in his head.
He didn’t want anything to do with old friends. They came to call when he was laid up in  the cast, but he was so short with them they eventually drifted away. He had stopped going to the foxhunts, too. He just lay about the house and drank. I don’t know how my grandmother stood it, except she was a tough woman.
We were watching television one evening when he staggered in from the dining room and yelled something. Both my grandmother and I went, “Sh-h-h!”
“Don’t you shush me, you goddamn boy. Y’can go t’hell. Damn worthless kid.”
He staggered back and collapsed on the sofa. I was stunned. I came to where he now lay on the day bed and told him I was sorry, but he cursed at me, then he took a clumbsy swat toward me with his hand. I ducked aside and from then on I tried to stay as far from him as possible. I would go around the dining room table if passing to the kitchen just to keep away.
My parents were gone north to live and I would soon. I would have to give up the job I enjoyed doing and the money it brought. I might have to give up my friends Ronald and Stuart. On top of this, I believed I was flunking Ninth Grade. All I had felt were left to me were my Pirate Ladies, but I couldn’t even fully engage in my fantasy the way I had. My grandparents never went anywhere and left me alone. I couldn’t frolic about their abode half naked.

I lay in bed at night and created a new fantasy. This one was more voyeuristic. I was still passive in this scenario, but I wasn’t a prisoner and she wasn’t a Pirate. She was an exhibitionist. She didn’t have a name. She didn’t have a clear face, so she had no real person identity. She was simply my concept of pretty and sexy. She may have been Betty from the Archie Comics. My imaginary self would be in some public place, even in a classroom at school. It varied. This girl would be in my line of sight and she would do something provocative. She might be bending over so I could see a lot of cleavage. She might be sitting with her skirt pulled up showing her thigh.
She would catch me looking and smile. She would then expose more. She might undo a button on her blouse; she might hitch her skirt higher. Eventually she would approach me. She would lean near and tell me to dare her to do something. Even in my fantasy I would get flustered. I might tell her to undo her blouse more or lift her skirt so I could see her underpants. She always complied. She would ask if I didn’t want to see more. I would nod and she might pullher bra  up and show her breasts. I had never seen a woman’s breasts, except some pinup calendars of young models in revealing bikinis, but I did have a general idea what they looked like. I could picture her breasts. She would ask if I wanted her to take off her panties. I would nod and she would slip them down her legs, but her skirt would always drop too. I did not know what a woman’s lower anatomy looked like. I couldn’t even imagine it.
 My curiosity had long been growing. I wasn’t nervy enough to ask a girl “to play doctor” and no real life girl ever approached me asking for dares like my imaginary one.If any real girl had done such a thing I probably would have run away and avoided that young lady from then on. I would have been way too shy to comply.

I went into Sam Charles’ Newsstand often. I had for years. Sometimes I got a soda there or bought my bubblegum-with-baseball-cards. I would buy some candy bars on occasion or browse his comic books. Now I was going there everyday after school and on Saturday afternoon to pick up my newspapers. Any time I ventured inside I saw those magazines toward the front middle of his display racks. I had paid them naught attention a few months earlier, but now my eyes wandered to them every time.
They called them “Men’s Magazines”, but more commonly “Girlie Magazines”. They  weren’t like Esquire. These magazines had lots of photographs of scantily clad, maybe nude, women. Their titles were “Escapade”, “Cabaret”, “Nugget”, “Dude”, and “Adam”.  The board holding them on the rack hid the covers, except for the titles, behind wide panels.
There was a sign on this section of the display. “Anyone under the age of 21 cannot browse or purchase these magazines.”
I really, really, really wanted to look inside these magazines, but I wasn’t twenty-one. I couldn’t buy them. I had to steal them, which was how I justified to myself what I was doing. You know, I was the victim here; they drove me to steal. I would have fit right in with a lot people today.
I was scared to death the first couple times. I looked like the thief I was, pacing back and forth past that section and constantly looking over my shoulders. Finally, not seeing anyone looking, I grabbed a couple at random and stuffed them inside my shirt. I continued to look at other magazines, the ones next to those like "Argosy" and "Fiend and Stream", for a couple minutes and then walked out. I counted out my papers and pushed my bike up the street. Once beyond the newsstand I took the magazines out of my shirt and pushed then under the newspapers.  

If nervous during the theft I was sweating now. I was anxious to have a peek inside these magazines now that I had them. I couldn’t just sit down on the curb there in the business district and start gawking at the pictures. I had to serve my customers along Lancaster Avenue. The anticipation was overwhelming. I hadn’t gone far until I had the puberty teen's embarrassment. I pedaled on hoping my bike and bag of papers hid my condition. As I walked to a porch to place the paper I kept fingers crossed no one would step out to greet me.
My first opportunity to take a glance came on Uwchlan Avenue. I only had two deliveries up this street and there was a bit of space between houses where I could pause and not look suspicious. If any one saw me they might think I was checking my address book. I pulled up one of the magazines and spread it atop my papers. I quickly rifled through the pages, hardly stopping at any. I could only be there a couple of minutes, I had to look quick.
What I saw send shivers through me but was also a bit of a let down. Most of the women wore bikinis or lingerie like Betty Page here on the left. They positioned any nudes behind a bush or potted plant. Leaves hid the parts I wanted to see.
This I discovered was the standard fare of 1950s Girlie magazines. There was still much kept hidden. Some of the magazines were more risqué than others. They would show a bare bottom or even a bare breast, but nothing below the waist up front. I don’t know if Sam Charles was stocking any of those new magazines called “Playboy”, but I never stole one if he was. Even Playboy didn’t show everything in the 1950’s. They airbrushed their notorious centerfolds so there was no public hair, no anything. I was coming to believe women actually did have nothing below the waist. (This was to prove embarrassing in the near future.)

I would stop along my route in any place affording some privacy and flip through the pages. This was hardly satisfying. I also faced another problem, disposal.
I wanted to go someplace where I could leisurely look at the magazines, but where would that be? I thought Devil’s Nest in Stuart’s woods. It wasn’t practical. I had my bicycle. Where could I put my bike while I went back there? If I was living at 417 Washington I could have taken them home. My father wouldn’t be there and I could easily sneak them pass my mother if she were home from work. I could then hide them up in my attic playroom. Mom didn’t often go up there except to sweep the floor. She never went through my things.
I wasn’t living at 417, though. My parents had moved and I was at 424 Washington. Taking them there was too risky. Where would I hide them? Everyone knew I hated the attic, so it would certainly raise questions if I began spending time up there. My bedroom was simply temporary and my grandparents had things in the bureaus that they sometimes came in to get. My grandmother was a much more thorough cleaner than my mom. She would find anything I tried to hide, even under the mattress. I did bring a couple home once thinking I could burn them when I took out the trash. The trouble was they burned slow. I had to keep poking at them with a stick to keep the flame going until everything was unreadable ash. It took too long to do.
The only thing I could do was dispose of the evidence each time before I went home. I would steal some magazines, peruse them best I could when and wherever I could, and then ditch them in some trashcan or dumpster along my route. This was getting to be a lot of work for a quick look-see at a semi-naked woman.
I decided my best bet was the weekend when I didn’t have school. Besides I didn’t want to keep snitching magazines when I picked up my papers. It would look odd if I was loitering about the magazine racks every day. If I went early on a Saturday I could walk to the store. I could then go to that woods and take my time looking at the pictures, which is what I did.
If I were alone in the woods I would pull out a magazine and look at it. If not I would keep walking and come back later hoping I could be alone. While I was down in the hole I could fantasize as well. My Pirate Ladies didn’t come chasing me. My imaginary exhibitionist girlfriend showed up. I could pretend it was she in those pictures.
Then she began daring me. “Oh,” she would say in my head, “you see me. I dare you to show me yours”. I was much too jittery to completely undress anymore. I would drop my pants. “I want to see more,” she would say and I’d push my briefs down also. Sometimes I would just open my fly and expose myself.
But it didn’t go further than that. I still didn’t know how to masturbate.
I still disposed of the magazines before going home.
After the first couple times stealing got easier. I didn’t spend much time pacing or looking. I would walk in, see the coast looked clear and snatch my loot and walk out. It was easy as pie, but I had sat in the kitchen enough as a child while grandmother baked to know pies weren’t always that easy. Mr. Charles busted me when I grabbed one too many girlie pies.
I stuffed three magazines inside my shirt and turned around. Sam Charles was standing
behind the counter next to his cash register. “You, come here,” he said.
I walked over to the counter.
”What you got under your shirt?” he said.
I knew he knew. I pulled the magazines out and laid him on the counter.
He picked them up. He was staring right into my face. He banged the magazines against the palm of one hand. “I ever catch you stealin’ these things in here again,” he said loudly and gruffly, “I’m gonna stick ‘em up your ass.”
“Yes, sir,” I whispered.
He made a motion with his head that indicated I better get out of his store right then and there. I did.
I was scared again. I was sure Mr. Charles would call my home or he would tell my grandfather when he saw him about town. Maybe Mr. Charles would call the police. I was thinking about Camp Hill once more.  I went home and waited for something horrible to happen.
Nothing ever did. Nobody ever mentioned my stealing, not my parents or my grandparents, not a teacher or any of the kids I knew, friend or foe, and no police ever came. I stayed away from Sam Charles’ Newsstand the rest of the time I lived in Downingtown. Eventually I went back to that store occasionally and nothing was said. I wasn’t glared at or given any evil eye when I showed up to buy something. It was as if it never happened, except I never stole another thing in my life.

School ended on June 8. Miss Hurlock handed me my final Downingtown report card; promoted to Tenth Grade. What a great relief. I remained at my grandparent through the night.  I stopped by their homes to say goodbye to Ronald and Stuart. The next day my parents came. I loaded my few belongings sans any dirty magazines in the car. We all had Saturday dinner together and then it was time to go. Downingtown was past history. I was still 14 years old.


EXCERPT FROM “RESCUE” Written at age 14.

He squinted at the bright circle. It had dark spots, mountains on the moon. If they were looked at that way there was no face to be seen. The image was all in the mind. But the light of the moon was real and it fell into the open gorge onto the rocks jutting from the cliff sides. The pale light twisted the rock into shapes and it was very beautiful inside the canyon.
Art sighed. His right leg pained. He shifted weight to the other leg, which eased the hurt. In a short time his left leg began to pain more than he could bear. He inched down, pressing against the wall, and got to a seated position with his feet dangling over the edge. He swung his feet back and touched the hard wall beneath him. He could tell from this touch that it was very solid and he smiled briefly. This meant there was less danger of another cave-in.
He shut his eyes. The noisy scene crashed back in his mind; the sudden cracking, the tumbling rock bouncing against the peaked boulders below and the tearing of the path from the wall, chunk by chunk, coming in his direction, stopping just short of where he stood wide-eyed. Inches, a few last inches between his life and his death. He had watched it go, broken stones and pieces of gravel, falling into the crevice. Rocks flying into the river, forming rings and subtle splashes that were quickly washed smooth. Another few inches and it would have carried him with it. The thought was cold and he shivered.
The aches in his legs abated as he sat. For a while his legs were numb. After time passed they regained feeling and it felt strange having them dangle in space. Art squirmed harder against the wall. Having nothing to set his feet upon made him uncomfortable. How would he get back up without falling? The longer he pondered this, the more he had to get back on his feet to prove he still could. But the fear to try grew. He was gnawed by indecision. He placed his palms on the path along side his body. Perspiring, he straightened his arms and pressed down with his hands and pulled one leg up, placing the foot on the side of the ledge. He tried to push upward. Some of the gravel moved and a piece of the ridge broke beneath his heel. His foot slid off and he fell the two inches back onto the ledge.
“God, my God my God, I can’t get up.”

EXCERPT FROM “PURGATORY STORY”  (Written at age 14.)

“Oh God,” wailed Bill, “look.”
 Elk didn’t see anything except the stony shale of the wall.
“Look, Elk, we gotta get outta here fast.”
“More cave-ins?’
“I wouldn’t know about that, but look at my light. It’s dimming, burning out. We lose our light we’ll be in real trouble.”
Both boys ran down the narrow tunnels, always taking the left trail. At some spots the cavern narrowed to such a degree they had to crawl, inching on their stomachs, and at such times Bill feared the cave would dead-end and they would not be able to wiggle backward.
His light grew dimmer, until at length it barely shed any light at all.
“It’s going out,” he called back.
The light died and they scrambled forward into pitch darkness until Bill tumbled headlong down a decline in the ground. Elk followed and landed atop him. Both boys cried out, but were all right and able to stand. When they were on their feet, they cried out again but this time from happiness. Ahead was a round hole and through it they could see sunlight.
“An exit,” Elk yelled and pushed past Bill.
They ran toward the air. Elk was faster so was first to reach the opening. He ran into the sky and disappeared. A scream followed. Bill slowed and crept to the opening.

EXCERPT FROM “MOON WAS CLOUDY” (Written at age 15.)

Walking through the night air, he kept a hand in his right coat pocket. A fierce determination commanded his steps. He turned down the next block toward the center of Wilmilar. The courthouse clock was chiming eleven times on the west side of town.
His heart thumped in his chest echoing the striking clock. A small drop of perspiration rolled down his cheek. It paused at his chin as if confused where to go.
The clock struck and the drop splashed to the sidewalk.
Bossler lived alone, adrift from his parents, in a small alley apartment just off the main street. The apartment was a room over the grocery store where he worked after school. The town was dark. There were no houses in this area, only stores and a couple of gas stations, all of which were now closed.
Eric was sweating so freely his skin was slick. The evaporating moisture turned the sweat to a chill. All the while the clock struck its countdown. At a booth on the corner he made a phone call. His soft voice slid through the narrow wire and curled around the middle ear of Mike Bossler. Eric told him to be outside in ten minutes by the fruit stand. Bossler slammed the receiver down, walked out the door and down the steps to the street. “Why wait?” he muttered.
Bossler stood in front of the fruit stand to the right of steps leading down to the sub-ground shop. Walking around the corner a block away came Eric. He saw Bossler.
Amused, Bossler watched him come until Eric stopped just short of him. They stared at each other.
The end of chiming brought a dead silence. Eric leaped at Bossler, who stood ready for a charge. His arms encircled Eric’s waist, lifting the smaller boy off the ground with a bear hug.
“I’ll kill you!” Eric shouted.
Bossler snorted. Was this all the guy had, this weak oath? “Yeah, right, punk.” Bossler squeezed harder and laughed.
He didn’t notice Eric’s hand sunk deep in his right coat pocket. The hand came out and five inches of thin steel went into Bossler.
The arms went limp. Bossler dropped to the sidewalk. Eric’s watched his foe crawl on his stomach with the knife handle protruding as a long slash of blood trailed beneath him. Bossler crawled to the curb, where his head dropped over and his body quivered. Everything became still.
Eric was silent for a second, and then laughed a sick, high chuckle, which turned to moans and his moans became noiseless tears. He looked at the dead boy halfway in the street. Eric felt weak. He had an upset stomach. He reached back and leaned on the wooden rail along the steps to the basement shop. His legs shook. He let his weight fall against the wood for support.

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