Won’t be long now!

I’m getting close! Oh, so close to releasing the book. After multiple last second corrections by my lovely and talented editor I have finished formatting the book, and uploaded it into the publishing software. The cover design is also complete, along with the back cover “blurb”, and author photo. (BTW-Anyone good at photoshop? Please email me)

The proof should be arriving in the next week. If everything looks good, it could be released as early as next weekend. To everyone who has prodded, cajoled and encouraged me to see this through to completion, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

Here is the cover… “Thomas Gahr” is my pen name. My real name of course is Mr. 20 Prospect.

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An ode to Lee Iacocca

There are certain sights in life that are recognized omens of good luck no matter what culture you live in. A penny on the ground, a red sunset, and the arrival of the first Robin come to mind. This morning I saw such a sign on my drive to work. Heading down 35W through downtown Minneapolis I came upon a sight that can only be a harbinger of good luck. I saw a creature more rare than the Eastern Mountain Lion, but nearly as awe inspiring. A light blue early 80’s Dodge Omni.

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Like the American Bison these cars once roamed the roads of North America in great herds before nearly succumbing to extinction. I don’t think I’ve seen one in the ten + years since Mrs. 20 Prospect’s grandpa passed away. Grandpa lived in the woods outside Spooner Wisconsin, and drove that car to the corner café and back well into his 90’s. Even back then it was a rare sight. One of the first attempts by Detroit to make a fuel efficient, lightweight compact car they weren’t exactly built to last. Put too much salt on your fries at the McDonald’s drive through and your car was in danger of rusting out before you finished your Big Mac.

It’s hard to imagine a more iconic auto from my teen years. Whenever I see one of those things I am transported back to the dark malaise of the late 70’s, and such cheery events as the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Three Mile Island, and Love Canal. Nothing said austerity like a Chrysler Compact car. I’m not certain but I believe Jimmy Carter actually drove one. While the 20Prospect clan never owned an Omni, we did pick up a used 1983 Plymouth Turismo in the late 80’s for Dad to drive to and from work. The Turismo was just a sportier looking version of the Omni, with a coupe body. Man I loved that car with it’s “sporty” rear window louver.

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As my friends and I entered our own years of college tuition induced austerity in the late 80’s, these cheaply built American compact cars became as much a part of college life as empty milk crates, rugby shirts, and Spud McKenzie posters. Everyone had one. Chris had his family’s old K-car which he somehow managed to keep running through the duration of his Doctorate program at the U of M.

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My roommate Scott had a white Pontiac “J” car.

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Even my lovely wife had an Oldsmobile Omega that may just have been the least reliable car ever built.

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only rivaled in futility by the Chevy Citation. A car that was aptly named after a traffic violation.

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Most of these tin cans were long since defunct by the turn of the millennium, and by then we had moved on to better built, and more reliable means of transportation. Like bicycles. But there’s a part of me that will always be nostalgic for these relics of my youth. I wonder why Gen X’ers haven’t begun restoring these things the way that Boomer’s rebuild their 57 Chevy’s? Perhaps we’re a less nostalgic bunch. More likely there just aren’t any left to restore. Or maybe we just took Lee up on his offer… “If you can find a better car. Buy it!”

No friends, putting nostalgia aside, there are several things that I think we can all admit are better today than they were then. Beer, cars, and sex. Not necessarily in that order, but still among the most holy trinity of pursuits.

Dead End

It says a lot about me that the local cemeteries are my favorite place in Batavia. As a kid I spent many summer days, alone, riding my bike over to the cemeteries, and the industrial ruins that sit like a wedge dividing our town into a North & South side. I don’t know why, but it has always drawn me to it. I’d walk the rows of headstones, and read the names and dates, and wonder about the history and the lives that went before. The three cemeteries on Harvester Avenue, are among the most sylvan, and shady spots in town, and I have always felt at peace there. Maudlin children, and Gothic kids everywhere can sympathize, but sometimes life was easier among the dead, than it was among the living.

This past Sunday, I drove over to the cemetery to pay a visit to Dad’s grave, and ended up wandering those shady lanes for an hour, alone, looking for something that I felt like I lost once. It was still there. The emptiness, the peace, the silence.

When I started this blog in 2009, I felt like I had so much to say, and so many stories to share. Now, in the summer of my 44th year, I find myself returning again, and again, to the same places, only to find that the words I have already written about them, sum them up so well I have little left to say.

So I’m saying goodbye. Again.

I’ll still be working to publish the book of historical fiction based upon the E.N. Rowell murder from 1883, and once that is complete, I will most likely move onto compiling the stories, fragments, and memories that I have written here, into some sort of cohesive whole that I also hope to publish. Thank you for all the time you’ve spent reading 20 Prospect, and stopping by the front porch to chat. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

So I leave these words like footprints, pressed into cement, and recorded for posterity. May they someday inspire another introverted child to pick up a pen, and go exploring.

Go Dogs Go!

I’m back in Minnesota again, after a wodnerful whirlwind of a trip to Western New York. There is no better time of year to visit than early June. The weather was perfect, and the lushness of WNY never fails to surprise me. Who knew there were so many shades fo green? Minnesota is far from being a desert, but there is just no comparison to the verdant shades of green that you see in Upstate New York in early summer.

Last Friday night the 20 Prospect clan descended upon Dwyer Stadium, home of the beloved Muckdogs, to watch them play the Jamestown Jammers. If there is a better way to spend a small town Friday night than watching baseball with 1,000 of your closest friends, then I have no idea what it might be. It doesn’t get anymore Norman Rockwell-esque than this…

alas, they lost. But they always lose when I see them play. It never seems to spoil the experience though.

20 Prospect Jr. nabbed a foul ball while we were going to the concession stand for some Stewart’s Rootbeer. I gotta say, the Rochester Red Wings, who are currently operating the club, are doing a great job with the place. RC Cola, ON TAP!!!!! Not a Coke or Pepsi in sight! It’s like they knew I was coming.

There were fireworks after the game, which were only enhanced by the sound of my niece’s 3 year old squaeling with delight at each explosion. It was so great to share the memories with another generation of the family, and to see that it is still just as wonderful as I remembered it being. May there always be baseball in the summertime on the corner of Denio and Bank Street. And may there always be a 20 Prospecter there to enjoy it.

Good fences make good neighbors.

My impending trip back to the Elysian fields of my idyllic childhood has made me nostalgic again. Not that it takes much to make me nostalgic. The mere sight of a pack of Juicy Fruit in the checkout line will usually suffice for a 15 minute reverie. As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, the neighbors could fill a few chapters in a book. (Hmm… there’s an idea…) Growing up on Prospect, my folks were always cordial with our neighbors. Something that is necessary when the homes are built 20 feet apart. Yet despite the occasional nod, and smile, they never socialized with them. Of course, the kids in the neighborhood all ran together in packs like feral dogs, as kids are wont to do, but the Mom’s and Dad’s and Little Old Ladies stayed up on their own porches and pretended not to notice each other as best they could.

So it struck me as strange when I met Mrs. 20 Prospect, and learned that her family actually invited their neighbors over to their house from time to time. Seriously. Of course, I was always a shy child, so it never really occurred to me that social interaction was something to be sought out. Particularly with your neighbors. That’s like holding hands during the Our Father at Mass. Something that surely would look good on the resume when you’re interviewed by St. Peter, but nothing you’d actually want to practice.

Perhaps part of our problem with befriending the neighbors had something to do with the transient nature of residents that lived in the house next door. When we first moved to Prospect Avenue, the houses on both sides were owned by little old ladies. They were relics from an earlier generation, a time of doilies and fringed lamp shade, and both of them had long since buried their husbands. Hopefully not in their basements, at least as far as we knew. The houses were tidy, and well kept, and both of these sweet old ladies must have cringed at the thought of a family full of white trash moving in next door. Still, if they did feel that way, they always managed to hide it which is what we in Minnesota call “being nice”.

However, by the time I was old enough to go to school, the little old lady to our left had sold her home and moved into the senior apartment high rise that had just opened on East Main. (I believe it has 8 stories, which qualifies as a “high rise” in Batavia). Like most single family homes that sold in the during the rust belt great depression of the 70’s and 80’s, the buyer was not a new family, but a local slumlord.

The first family to rent the place was a large family of slightly delinquent children. I don’t remember much about them, except that my Dad was convinced they were trying to burn down our barn. There was an old chicken coop in their back yard, which served as a great little clubhouse, but within a few months it mysteriously burned to the ground. They left shortly thereafter, leaving behind a significant amount of garbage in their wake.

The next family of renters was a professor from the local community college, and his 2nd wife, who moved in along with his 3 kids. The kids were right about my age, so I was thrilled at the possibility of having more kids to fill out the endless baseball and football games. However, like all new kids on the block, they were subjected to a hazing process by the ringleaders of the neighborhood gang. It did not help their cause that their folks were younger “hippie” types, and that the kids had long hair, and strange taste in clothes. Let’s just say that they never did assimilate into the clique. However, being a lonely little mop haired freak myself, I still befriended them. What they may have lacked in athletic ability, they made up for in weirdness. Even at that tender young age, I was drawn to the freaks and misfits.

We played many games of hide and seek, and kick the can, and other neighborhood classics; Spud, Red Rover, Freeze Tag, etc. in our yards. Their backyard had the unfortunate happenstance of being the lowest point on the street, so it was prone to turning into a pond during heavy rains. That is until the landlord stopped by a construction site up the street, where a crew was digging the foundation for the last house to ever be built on Prospect Avenue. He cut a deal with the crew, and they backed their dump truck into the yard, and filled it with dirt and rocks. We assumed at the time that he would pay someone to bring in some topsoil, and grade it out, but he never did get around to it. So the backyard of the house began to resemble the surface of the moon. It did fix the flooding problem though.

As I began to get closer to the hippie kids next door, and played games of Astronaut in their moonscape yard, I came to understand that their parents were a little… off. Their dad and step mom used to argue, and fight quite a bit, which usually ended with their dad taking off in the car, and a strange thumping sound coming from inside of the house. When I finally asked what the pounding noise was, they informed me it was their step mom pounding her head against the wall. I considered this for a few moments, and decided that while it wasn’t exactly normal behavior, it was still better than the Mom on the other side of 20 Prospect, who pounded her son’s head against the wall when she was upset. But that’s a story for another time…

Eventually, their step mom moved out, and not too long afterward, they did as well. The house sat empty for a few months as we watched the weeds in the backyard grow, and flower. Finally one day we saw a moving van pull up, and begin unloading. Multiculturalism had come to Prospect Avenue! I was never sure exactly how many kids lived in the house, but they ranged in age from the late 20’s, down to the boy my age. I got to know him, and he explained the reason his parents had accents was that they were from Puerto Rico. I had just assumed they were Sicilians. So I consulted my puzzle map of the United States to figure out where exactly Puerto Rico was located. Come to find out, it was not on the South Side of Batavia.

For the most part, this family kept to themselves. As I said, there were so many people coming and going from the place that I couldn’t keep track of who was who. They planted a garden out back, and began to mow the moonscape, so from Dad’s perspective, things were looking up. At least until the morning when we were awoken at 5 am by a rooster crowing. At first I thought I had dreamed it, but when it happened again the next day, Dad mentioned it at the dinner table. The chicken coop had been long gone by now, just its stone foundation was left out back, so we speculated about where exactly the crowing was coming from. Finally, I asked the boy next door, and he explained that his Dad was keeping them in the attic. Apparently, they were in training for the welterweight cockfighting championships of Genesee County. The aviary only lasted a few days before someone turned them in. Not too long after the roosters disappeared, the neighbors did too, leaving behind an impressive collection of cast off furniture in the garage, which by now had become home to a family of squirrels.

After that, the landlord decided to double his income earning potential by dividing the house into 2 apartments. So commenced a winter of banging noises from next door, this time presumably coming from a hammer, and not someone’s head. By Spring we had 2 new sets of neighbors. The couple downstairs was married, and in their 30’s. They didn’t have any kids, but they seemed like decent folks. They eventually became the closest things my parents had to friends on the street before they moved out. However, the upstairs apartment became a revolving door of renters. Mostly single men, or women. Finally, a girl rented the place, and seemed as if she was going to stick around. Months passed. Eventually, her boyfriend and his German Sheppard moved in with her. More months passed, and we only saw the dog leave the house once or twice. Eventually the downstairs neighbors began to complain of the smell. When the dog had a litter puppies, it stopped coming outside all together. Finally the landlord let himself into the place and discovered the entire upstairs covered with a layer of dog excrement. He offered the downstairs renters a few months free rent if they cleaned the place, and they surprisingly took him up on the offer. Perhaps they had seen his efforts at landscaping in the backyard, and figured it was better to do it themselves than wake up to a dump truck filling in the upstairs of the house.

More renters followed, and eventually the house went on the market. By that time cable TV had come to Prospect Avenue, and we were no longer reliant on the neighbors for nightly entertainment. A few years later I was moving out to go to college, and see the world. Mom and Dad stayed behind for another ten years before we ourselves became another of the long list of former residents of Prospect Avenue. As for the house next door, the people that bought the place in the 80’s, still own it today, and so I will politely refrain from telling their story. At least until they move.

You can’t go home again. No really, there’s a restraining order.

Another long day at 20 Prospect is coming to an end. All up and down the street people are sitting out on their porches, talking in subdued voices amidst the flicker of the citronella candles. The light from the streetlight is shining through the awning casting zebra stripes across the glider. Pull up a chair, and sit for a while.

Tomorrow we’re leaving for Batavia to celebrate Mom’s 75th birthday. The entirety of the 20 Prospect clan will be gathered together in one place for the first time in… ever. Seriously, since the kids came along we have never all been in the same place at the same time, due mostly to the selling off of the 20 Prospect homestead after Dad died, and the scattering of the siblings and grand kids to the 4 winds. This will prove to be quite an experience.

In one of those strange quirks of small town fate my Big Bruddah is now renting an apartment in the house directly across the street from 20 Prospect. Like so many of the great old houses in Batavia, it had become rundown and split up rental apartments back in the 60’s. It’s been fixed up since then, but remains apartments. Since Big Bruddah is the only one in town with a yard, the birthday party will be held in a tent out back. It will be a very strange emotional experience to be back on the street I grew up on with my entire family in attendance. Dear Batavia, please let me apologize in advance for the disturbance that we are sure to create. Also you might want to pick up some Labatt’s Blue from the store before my clan gets to town and drinks it dry.

So in honor of my return to the ancestral homestead, here’s an old story from the first days of my blog. It concerns the very house we will be partying at on Saturday. But this is not the story of the 20 Prospect clan, it is the story of the motorcycle man and the summer of 1974…

The motorcycle man lived in one of the apartments in the house across the street, a rundown old white house, yellowing around the soffits from years of neglect. It was divided up into 3 apartments, and owned by one of the town judges. He didn’t spend a dime on the place, and was pretty lax about who he rented to. The place was always the site of domestic disturbances, and in the days before cable TV came to town my Dad enjoyed many entertaining nights out on the front porch watching the comings and goings of its inhabitants. The cops paid regular visits to the place, and had the landlord not been a judge, the neighbors would have probably had more luck getting the city to force him to clean up the place.

That summer of 74′ the front apartment was occupied by the motorcycle man, and his squeeze. We never knew their names. They were notable only for the screaming fights that usually ended with motorcycle man climbing on his chopper, and spraying gravel as he tore off out of the driveway. To us 6 year old’s he was the subject of fascination; a long haired bearded chopper riding easy rider straight from a Hollywood B movie. Remember, this was back in the days before Harley riders were CPA’s, so anyone riding a motorcycle was assumed to be an outlaw. We used to run to the curb when we heard him coming down the street to watch him pass, and flash him the peace sign. Whenever he flashed it back at us we felt naughty and dangerous.

At night laying in bed, you could hear him coming home from a block away as he accelerated up the street. He’d turn into the gravel drive, and ride straight back into the barn behind the house, his red tail-light disappearing into the darkness within. The roar of that bike at 2 am drove my Father crazy. Until the night he crashed.

Dad loved to tell the story for years afterward. That summer night he was laying in bed as he heard the chopper coming home from the bar well past midnight. Motorcycle man must have had a few too many long necks that night, because coming down the hill and turning into the driveway he mis-judged his speed. Dad heard the sound of the brakes locking up, and gravel spraying as he slid into the dark recesses of the barn, followed by a loud bang. The next morning Dad savored his coffee on the front porch watching motorcycle man load the remains of his chopper into the back of a friends pickup truck.

Summer ended before the chopper ever made it back. Sometime during the winter, the chopper man moved out, and his squeeze stayed behind. Things got a little quieter around the neighborhood, at least until the Puerto Rican’s moved in next door and started raising fighting cocks in the attic. But that’s a story for another night. It’s time to blow out the citronella candle and go to bed. Peace.
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Walkers & Bussers

Every kid in Mrs. Schroeder’s 2nd Grade Class room was either a busser or a walker. My first two years at St. Joe’s I had ridden the bus home from school every day. But upon reaching 2nd grade, according to the calculus of the Batavia School District, I was now too old to warrant a government subsidized ride over the mile and a half to Prospect Avenue. As Mrs. Schroeder liked to remind us, 2nd grade was the “age of reason”, the age at which children like ourselves could make decisions for themselves, and suffer the consequences. It was the age at which we could choose sin, and as such it was the age at which we made our first penance, and our first communion. These were big responsibilities that were being laid upon our slight little shoulders, but we could do little to protest.

2nd grade was also my first year alone in St. Joe’s. My closest sibling, and constant tormentor, my Bratty Big Sister, had graduated from 8th grade the previous spring, and was now attending Notre Dame High School, with The Middle Child, and my Big Bruddah. This meant several things as I prepared for that first day of school. While Mom would drop me off in the morning on her way to work in the Industrial Center I would need to find my way home alone that afternoon. Granny was living with us by then, sleeping on a roll out bed in our front living room, and would be watching Days of our Lives and Another World waiting for me when I got home.

While Mrs. Schroeder may have been convinced that we were old enough to handle such challenges, I knew better. It was 1975, and I was a painfully shy, mop haired little freak of a kid that was still learning to tie his own shoes. Up until the end of 1st grade, Mom had humored me by buying dress shoes with buckles for me to wear to school. Granted, it was the mid 70’s, but I’m sure I still stood out like some little pilgrim hippy, as I walked the halls of St. Joe’s in my white shirt, blue Dickies, and blue clip on tie with SJS embroidered on the front, peering out from under the bangs I combed straight forward over my forehead in a futile attempt to hide from the world.

Mom had coached me on the specific route I was to take on my way home. I was to take a circuitous path, up Summit Avenue to North Street, then west, past Platten’s North Side Grocery, up the State Street hill to the Blind School, where North turned into Richmond Avenue. Then on through Centennial Park, past the Rowell Mansion, finally turning left down Prospect Avenue to our home tucked snugly at the bottom of two hills. By taking this route I would avoid the “rough” section of Washington Avenue, near State Street, where the great urban renewal was still in the process of tearing down old homes and replacing them with vast grassy tracks of land. It was a much longer walk this way, but she was convinced that a trip down Washington would result in either kidnapping, or a tragic death. I needed little convincing of the danger.

I was not the only kid in Mrs. Schroeder’s class that was making the change from busser to walker. My friend Jimmy was also being kicked out of Eden. He lived on Bank Street, across the field behind the Hospital, and his route home would also take him up Summit Street to the corner of North. Despite my fear, I was convinced if we stuck together we might at least make it to parking lot of Genesee Memorial Hospital before tragedy befell us.

When school ended the walkers would retrieve their coats and bags from the cubbies in the back of the classroom, and line up by the door for dismissal. The 2nd grade classroom was on the 2nd floor of the building, our first year upstairs with the big kids. When the bell rang we would process downstairs by grade in two orderly lines, across the parking lot, taking care to walk between the rock wal, and the double yellow lines that had been painted to separate us from the cars in the parking lot. Surly sixth graders with orange belts and gold sheriff badges signifying their authority, would see to it that we stayed in line and did not break ranks prematurely. When we reached the end of the chain link fence and the sidewalk on Summit we would be released to our freedom.

After two years of cowering under the seats in the school bus, hiding from public school heathens, and St. Anthony greasers, I discovered to my surprise that being a walker wasn’t so bad after all. That first breath of freedom on the sidewalk was always a joyous release. We would throw our book bags in the air, and hoot and scream, and begin running about like wild dogs. The walkers were usually divided between the kids like us whose parents worked, and those that had stay at home Mom’s that would come and pick them up. Some kids turned left into the parking lot to their Mother’s car, but Jimmy and I, and most of the others, turned right up Summit Avenue. Kids from Kindergarten to 8th grade would pair off into groups for their walk home. Lines would form to walk along the concrete retaining wall by the house on the corner. If the crossing guard lady that ruled the corner of Washington and Summit caught you walking on the wall, she was always quick to scold you. She had a little uniform that she wore, which gave her an air of authority normally reserved for Cops and Nuns.

The corner of Washington and Summit was the most dangerous part of our walk home. Not because of any traffic concerns, but because it was the point at which our paths would cross with the kids from the Junior High School on Ross Street. It was a well known fact that the kids attending the Batavia Junior High school were second only to the inmates of Attica State Prison in terms of cold bloodedness. Woe be unto any poor parochial school kid caught alone on that corner by a roving pack of juvenile delinquents from the Junior High. Rumor had it that one third grader had been found the year before swinging from a tree by his monogrammed SJS tie, his face the same color of blue as his uniform pants. Our school let out 15 minutes before the Junior High, so it was standard practice to walk double time to the corner, to cross Washington to the relative safety of Summit Ave. Like foxes being released before the hounds, fifteen minutes gave us a sporting chance of getting home alive.

Jimmy and I were not the only walkers in 2nd grade that turned up Summit Avenue. There were other kids from families that lived in the neighborhood’s off of Ross Street and had been walking since Kindergarten. One of these kids, our classmate Chris, had fallen into walking home on Summit with his sister, and the Welch girls. The Welch’s lived on Ross Street, and had 15 girls in their family, one for every grade in the Catholic School system. Notre Dame High School would experience a 15 year run of volleyball championships on the strength of the Welch gene pool. Despite their athletic prowess, in the eyes of Jimmy and I, a girl was a girl, and walking home from school with one was like putting on a dress and skipping rope. It only took a few days before Jimmy and I began walking behind Chris and the Welch girls, and singing in a high mocking tone “Christopher Robin likes to play with girls”. To his credit Chris followed the catechetical teachings of the Nun’s and Priest, and turned the other cheek. At least he did for a week or two until he’d had enough, and turned around and hit Jimmy upside the head with his book bag, knocking him down, and shutting us both up. From that point on, Chris came over to our side, and joined us in following the Welch girls home taunting and teasing them, and pelting them with snowballs when winter arrived. This continued for a few months until right before spring one of the Welch girls picked him up and planted him head first in a snow bank. From that point on, Pax Romana reigned the length of Summit Avenue.

One day in Spring, as it was time for us to line up to be released, Mrs. Schroeder called me up to her desk and asked me to stay behind after school. I had never before been held back for anything, and the look of shock registered on my face. I was struggling to learn cursive at the time, being a slightly dyslexic / ambidextrous kid, and I was having trouble completing my assignments on time. Mrs. Schroeder informed me that I had to return to my seat and finish the assignment that I had been unable to complete earlier that day. I was crushed and humiliated. Returning to my seat, I retrieved the giant blue pencil from inside my desk and began copying over the assignment one painful cursive letter at a time, as the walkers lined up to go home. They eyed me with the pity usually reserved for death row inmates. Soon, even the bussers had dispersed as their buses were announced one by one until finally, there was only me and Mrs. Schroeder left in the room. She sat at her desk correcting papers, while I toiled away with my pencil, nervously eying the clock, hot salty tears burning down my cheeks in streams. When 3:15 came and went, I couldn’t hold it any longer and began sobbing uncontrollably. Mrs. Schroeder approached and asked me why I was crying. In between sobs I gasped for air, and tried to explain that if I left for home now she would be condemning me to certain death at the hands of the Junior High heathens. I don’t think she could understand a word of it. Eventually my convulsions subsided, and she told me to pull myself together, and go home.

I left the school building shaking in terror. By the time I reached the corner of Washington and Summit, even the crossing lady was gone. Had they got to her too? My eyes darted around as I stood there frozen, waiting for the light to change. Looking across the street I could see a group of kids emerging from Quarterly’s corner store. Mr. Quarterly must have pulled his shotgun on them, and forced them out at gun point. I looked back up to the light, praying for it to change. When the electrical box on the telephone pole buzzed, and clicked, and the light changed from green to red, I sprinted across the street, and started running. Down the length of Summit I ran, looking back over my shoulder, expecting at any moment to be taken down with a shot from a snub nosed .38, or a stabbing pain from a switch blade. I was out of breath by the time I reached North Street, and collapsed with my back against a maple tree, panting for air. Looking back down the sidewalk, I couldn’t see a soul. I had gotten away. Turning quickly up North Street, I began running from tree trunk to tree trunk, like a soldier in a war movie. Within a half hour I had managed to reach Centennial Park. There was nothing between me and home now, but the vast empty expense of grass and maple trees. Maybe I would make it after all. Crossing Ellicott Avenue, by the haunted mansion, my heart leaped for joy. I was on the same block as home. Nothing could stop me now. I knew every back yard, and porch, and lilac bush between Ellicott and Prospect from my years of playing war, and hide ‘n seek, and kick the can with the neighborhood kids. I had survived. I ran the rest of the way, saying a quick Hail Mary to the Virgin Mother for to thank her for her protection. Coming in the back door at 20 Prospect I expected to find my Mother sobbing tears of joy for my arrival. But it was oddly, eerily quiet. Granny sat in the rocking chair in the living room, crocheting doilies, and watching her soaps, her tube of Oxygen trailing into the front room. The clock chimed 4 o’clock, and she asked what had taken me so long. Slumping onto the couch in total exhaustion, I shrugged and said “Nothing Granny. Just walked slow today I guess”.

How could I begin to tell her of my close call with death? Surely, if she knew the truth I would never be allowed to walk home from school again. Grown ups just didn’t understand. No, some things were best left unspoken.

Coming soon to an Internet near you

If it seems like it’s been a little quiet on the front porch lately, it’s because it has. I confess, I haven’t been putting as much effort into keeping up the place. As much as I enjoy coming here and sharing all my embarrassing personal stories with the internet, it can consume a lot of energy. Lately, I’ve made the decision to focus that energy on getting a couple of large projects done. One was related to my day job as oppressor of the proletariat, one involves writing. So it is with much excitement, and anxiety that I share the news that the first draft of my book of Victorian Smut is nearly complete. She stands at 230 pages, with a few more loose ends left to complete. Then it will be off to an editor, who will hopefully polish it to a bright shine and be ready for self publishing in the fall. After that, there will be no hiding behind pseudo-anonymity. If it stinks, my name will be printed on the cover in big letters for all the world to point and laugh. So be it.

In the mean time, I’ll be popping in and out around here to try to keep things fresh, even though it’s time for the annual summer readership decline, when people finally pull themselves away from their computers to enjoy the sunshine for a few brief months. I’ll also be working on a marketing plan, digging through the details of self publishing, and establishing a vanity press, and trying to make time to get out into the sunshine myself from time to time.

There she sits buddy, just a-gleeming in the sun…

Growing up I used to listen to Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown. Not out of love for Top 40 music, but out of boredom, and pure desire to be current. Each week Kasey would read a letter from a listener, who wrote in to make a long distance dedication. These were always heart wrenching letters, along the lines of…

Dear Kasey,

I’m writing to ask for a long distance dedication to my brother Earl. I haven’t seen him since we were both 8 years old. You see Kasey, we were Siamese twins, and it wasn’t until we were four that Mom was able to raise enough money to pay for the operation to have us separated. Little did we know that it would be both the best and worst moment in our lives. Mom loved us dearly, and wanted us to have a normal life like all the other children at the playground. She spent 4 years traveling, and working to raise enough money to give us that operation. If only we knew the problems it would cause in our family life. You see Kasey, my Mom took us to have that operation without my Dad’s permission. He was furious when he found out. Once Earl and I were no longer Siamese Twins, we were dropped from the traveling freak show. What followed was 4 long years of living in bus stations, scraping up gum from the floor and selling it on the street. Those were hard years Kasey, because people don’t like to buy used gum from homeless children on the street. Yes, it’s true. I am sorry to say that Mom & Dad split up. Mom kept me, and Dad took Earl. I am now 25 years old, and have a family of my own. I haven’t seen Earl or Dad since that fateful day. I want more than anything to find Earl, and bring him back into our lives. Ever since he left, I truly have been half a person. So Kasey, I would love if you could play my song and dedicate it to Earl wherever he is.

Sincerely,

Split in half in Oklahoma

Then, wiping tears from his eyes, Kasey would say… “Well Earl, wherever you are, this week’s long distance dedication goes out to you. Here’s Bruce Springsteen’s, Pink Cadillac”…

So consider this post my long distance dedication to my long lost Siamese Twin Earl. Without further ado, here’s another post about a car!

Not just any car. My first car. Well, if you discount the fact that my parents owned it and paid the insurance on it, listing me only as an occasional driver. (My Mother’s halo used to mysteriously disappear when it was time to pay the car insurance bills) This was no ordinary car. As I have mentioned before, it rivaled the U.S.S. Chester A. Nimitz in size and weight. There was so much steel in that baby that it had it’s own gravitational field.

Behold the 1972 Dodge Coronet!

The Tank

We lovingly referred to it as the Tank. Dad bought it off some guy who lived out on the Batavia-Byron Rd. The body was in terrific shape, and it ran great. With the exception of a faulty water pump that limited the car’s range to about 10 miles before it would overheat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I have a sneaky suspicion that this was the feature that sold Dad on the car. A 10 miles radius wasn’t far enough for me to get into any serious trouble.

Luckily, it was far enough that I could make it to just about every dead end dirt road party spot in Genesee County. So other than that devastatingly fateful night at “the Top of the World”, it worked fine for my purposes. It’s ocean liner like steering, and Saturn V rocket-like throttle response took a little getting used to, but I figured it out. You just had to hold your foot down to the floor, and shake the wheel back and forth from 10 to 2 o’clock to keep it out of the ditch.

Aside from freedom from having to borrow the family minivan the Tank came with a back seat the size of a Queen size bed. No sitting in the GCC parking lot on a winter night, steaming up the windows in a Ford Escort with a stick shift sticking in your backside. (Unless of course you were into that sort of thing). No Ma’am, a night out with me in the Tank promised luxurious accommodations.

I also like to think that this was the thing that sold Dad on the car. (Looks up to heaven, flashes a thumbs up sign) Thanks Dad!

Looking back on those nights out in the country with a sweet smelling girl, umm… “studying astronomy” through the back window, all I can do is smile. At least until a right hook from Mrs. 20 Prospect wipes that misty look off my face. (Her right hook really is her best punch). It seemed so dangerous to us at the time, but looking back I am amazed at how tender and innocent we were. (No really, I mean it) I am also amazed at how lucky we were every time I read a story about a car full of kids dying in a car wreck.

So, at the risk of being a hypocrite, I just want to say, kids if you are reading this, DON’T DO WHAT I DID!

Seriously, when you are old enough to drive I am selling the minivan and buying the smallest subcompact car I can find.

Better start taking yoga classes.

The St. Joe’s Lawn Fete

It’s the weekend of the annual St. Joe’s Lawn fete. I know, it’s not “St. Joe’s” anymore, but it will always be the St. Joe’s lawn fete. So enjoy my annual repost:

Morning dawned thick and steamy. Rolling over in bed, I could see the sunlight flickering through the blades of the fan in the window. Beside the fan was the statue of Mary, facing out at the world, placed there the night before as an act of faith that Our Lady would give us sunshine, and not the rain that Tom Jolls, our weatherman, was predicting. For this was the first weekend in June, the weekend of the St. Joe’s lawn fete.

The preparations had been underway since Tuesday. That was the day that the storage shed behind the school had been opened like a tomb, and the bones of the booths were carried out, and laid on the parking lot between school and church. In the evenings the Dad’s and Grandpa’s would gather to begin assembling them. Cables, and lights would be strung from one corner of the lot to the other. Looking out the windows of our classroom, the familiar outlines of the lawn fete would begin to take shape. But the real excitement didn’t hit until Wednesday night when the rides started showing up.

I looked forward to this weekend, more than any other all year long. Each year our family would run the games booths at the parish lawn fete, and we would spend the entire weekend at the carnival. I jumped from bed, and quickly got dressed in my shorts and tank top. It was already hot outside, and it was barely 9 am. Dad would be leaving to go set up the booths soon, and if I was lucky he would let me tag along. Then I could walk the midway, and size up the rides that had magically appeared overnight. No carnival in town ever had more rides than the St. Joe’s lawn fete.

The first one to arrive was always the Ferris Wheel. It usually appeared on Wednesday afternoon, because it took the carnies 2 full days to put that erector set together on the lawn right in front of the school. It sat right in front of the 6th grade classroom, and as the steel beams rose up into the view of the 2nd floor it was impossible not to stop class to watch the greasy, long haired carnies climb the wheel like monkey’s.

By Thursday they would start arriving in their trailers and motor homes. They would be parked out of the way in the grass along the side of the school. It was the 1970’s, and despite the social revolution of the 60’s, we were still small town kids that led relatively sheltered lives. So it was with great fascination that we watched the carnies. They seemed to arrive right out of a TV movie. Long haired guys, covered in grease and tatoo’s, with cigarette packs rolled up in their sleeves, and scrawny, leather voiced woman that seemed to belong to a mysterious gender of their own. We used to sneak up to their trucks before school in the morning and peak underneath the trailers to see them sleeping on the ground.

After a quick breakfast, I rode over to the church with Dad. We parked around the block by the library, since the church parking lots were now completely covered in booths, and rides. Walking into the school, it seemed like it had suddenly been transformed into a new and different place. This wasn’t the school where I sat behind my desk in white shirt, blue tie, and navy blue dickes as the nun’s droned on. This was a bee hive of excitement.

The kitchen was already in buzzing with old ladies, and Mom’s, cutting vegetables, and getting ready for the chicken dinner. The kindergarten room had been cleared, and was now the command center, and money counting room. This was the place where Dad checked in, and began collecting the games, and prizes. It took several trips back and forth between the booths, and the school, to get them set up. After the first trip, Dad left me in charge of “keeping an eye on things”, and I swelled with grownup responsibility.

Back in the school parking lot were the “Big Rides”, The Tempest, Scrambler, Ferris Wheel, and the awesomely terrifying Rockets. The red, green and white Rockets were always spoken off in a tone of fear, and awe. Only the biggest and the bravest of SJS students had ridden on them. They represented a sort of aboriginal right of passage between childhood and adolescence. Two back to back, rotating cars, mounted on opposite ends of a spinning column, that buzzed like a German V-1 rocket when they spun.

For as long as I live I will always remember the sound of that ride, buzzing louder and louder as it picked up speed, then slowing, and coming to a stop, before changing directions. The tension increasing as the teens inside screamed like they were being murdered. You never stood alongside the Rockets when they were running, lest you be sprayed by shoes, combs, brushes, pocket change, and half digested cotton candy and Italian sausages. I lived in mortal fear of that ride, and it would be 7th grade before I finally mustered up the courage to ride it.

Our games booths were at the opposite end of the midway, by the church. This was the area of the kiddie rides. They were always the last to arrive, and there would be much debate during the school week, about which rides would show up this year. The Merry Go Round, and the Umbrella Ride were always a given, but what else would they bring with them? Would it be inflatable bouncing “Moonwalk”, the small Ferris Wheel, the Octopus, or the Giant Slide. Walking out to our booths with Dad, I could size them up and see just who had guessed right.

Even though we had taken a family trip to Disney World when I was in the 2nd grade, I loved those rides more than anything that Disney could ever offer. I rode them every year I could until I was too big to ride them anymore.

By now the sun was baking the asphalt hotter than a pancake griddle, and it burned right through the soles of my Ked’s. I stood inside of the Hat Toss booth, as it was the one of our booths that had a canvas top to shade us from the sun. Year in, and year out we always ran the same 4 booths. The cane toss, the hat booth, the Fish Pond and the stuffed animal booth. I had been working with Mom in the Fish Pond for as long as I could remember. Helping a generation of Batavia kids hold onto the ancient metal poles with magnets attached, and guiding them into the round holes in the top of the orange box containing brightly colored plastic fish. When they pulled a fish out of the hole, I’d take it off the magnet, read the number on the bottom and fetch them a prize from the appropriate box. And oh what prizes they were! Little plastic cups mounted on a stick, with a string and ball attached, Plastic knives, rubber snakes, BB pinball games, and clear plastic magnifying glasses that were strong enough to light leaves (or ants) on fire if you held them still enough.

My older siblings and their friends were always conscripted to work the other games, and they would begin showing up around noon. As I got older, they’d let me help them out too. At the stuffed animal game, you’d pull tickets from a plastic jar, (10 cents a piece, or 3 for 25) and hope your number matched one of the winning numbers on the board. The cane toss took skill. You had to toss the plastic ring over the head of one of the canes on the game board 10 feet away. If you did you got your choice of a painted wooden dowel with a handle on the end, or one of the bamboo ones shaped like a candy cane. The hat booth was always Dad’s domain. To play you placed your money on one of the numbered squares on the counter, and Dad would spin the wheel. If your number came up, you got to pick from a wide array of plastic or styrofoam hats. There were Derbies, Straw Boaters, Top Hats, and even an English Bobby. If it didn’t my Big Bruddah would collect your $ by walking along the counter sweeping the coins into his apron. That was always my favorite part.

Every large family in the parish seemed to have a role in the Lawn Fete. You needed at least 4 kids to be able to staff a booth, but many families still had 6, 7, or even 8 kids to press into service. I was happy that the 20 Prospect clan drew the game booth. The hardest, sweatiest work at the lawn fete was always the food booths. The same families ran them year after year. The Dwyer’s always ran the French Fry booth, the Crimando’s ran the Waffle Booth, and I forget who ran the double sized booth where they cooked Hot Dogs, Hamburgs and Italian Sausage over a hot grill all day long in the sweltering heat.

For the grownups there was honest to God gambling going on in the rectory garage. The Pero’s always ran the craps table, while Mr. Welch worked the roulette wheel. In the days before Indian casinos, Church carnivals were the only place to gamble. Whether or not it was legal was a bit of a gray area, but no policeman would ever bust a priest for gambling, lest they end up in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.

It is a well documented fact that for the entire decade of the 1970’s the weather was the same on the 2nd weekend in June. Saturday dawned with African heat and humidity. By the time of the parade in late afternoon, ominous clouds would start gathering in the West. As soon as the Firemen’s bands turned off of Main Street onto Summit Ave. the clouds would open. Biblical rain would fall for 15 minutes, as some ran for the safety of their cars, or the shelter of the “I Got It” tent.

As the day wore on, Mom would give me money, and let me slip out of the booth to go play “I Got It”. I can still hear the melodious voice of Al Boxall, “All ready now, toss ball number one…” followed by the sound of bouncing pink rubber balls. There were no better prizes at the Lawn Fete than the “I Got It” game. The Boxall’s used to tour the country every summer, setting up the tent at every fair and lawn fete. They brought with them real merchandise. Iron’s, Blenders, Toasters, Basketballs, Dart Boards.

After the post parade crowds finally began to dwindle, Dad would take me down to watch the rats and play some pull tabs. The “Rat Guy” came every year, and as far as I know, he still does. His game consisted of a spinning wooden table with different colors painted on it. There were holes around the edges leading to little wooden drawers underneath the table. Around the counter of the booth were colored squares, painted to match the wheel, each square with its corresponding odds marked beneath it. He’d spin the table, and place one of his white rats in the center. The rat would then scurry to the side and go down one of the holes. Place a quarter on a square, and if he went down one of your matching holes he paid you the corresponding winnings.

As the evening shadows lengthened the lights of the rides came on. A kaleidoscope of Blue-Green-Pink-Yellow lights swirled by amidst the constant sound of voices, and laughter. In the distance the loud speaker called out “Get you’re tickets on the Cadillac!!!”. Lesser parishes raffled off Chevy’s or Buicks, but St. Joe’s did things in style. Nothing but the biggest, newest, shiniest Cadillac from Mancuso’s would do. The drawing was always held near midnight on Sunday night, the culmination of the weekend. But Saturday night was when things got crazy.

I guess that’s what happens when you bring a few firemen’s bands together, and set them loose in a beer tent. Being Catholic meant that no event was official unless drinking was involved. The beer tent was always up against the fence by the convent, surrounded by a double row of snow fence to keep folks from passing cups of beer out to the underage kids. Walking past that tent, I could hear the wild, bacchanalian sounds coming from inside and wondered about the secret lives that grownups led.

After dark I would ride the Ferris Wheel, look out over the expanse of the whole glittering lawn fete, and drink it all in. Looking down at the roof of our school, dotted with little pink “I Got It” balls thrown there by teenagers, it seemed so small and inconsequential. Out over the tree tops the heat lighting would flash in the darkness, and deep down in my heart I knew just how fleeting and mortal life truly was.

Forty eight hours of food, color, and sound would eventually come to an end with Dad carrying me into the house, and Mom putting on my P.J.’s and tucking me into bed. The day after the lawn fete was one of the saddest, grayest days of the year. We’d all walk bleary eyed through the grounds, making our way into school, through the wrappings of hot dogs, and pull tabs, and cigarette butts. The rides were gone, cleared out overnight while we were sleeping. Only the half dismantled Ferris Wheel remained. When we reached 7th and 8th grade we would be allowed a day to wear jeans, and t-shirts and spend Monday cleaning up the grounds. In my Forty Two years of living I don’t think I have ever encountered a more vile stench than the grayish, pasty, ooze that coated the parking lot where the floor of the beer tent had been.

There would only be one week of school left. Time enough for final exams, and cleaning out our desks before the long, blissful, empty expanse of summer. Another year passed, another grade higher, one step closer to the day when rides and candy apples would lose their shiny luster.