Friday, September 7, 2012

My Apologies

Though I did manage to follow through on last year's Poem a Day blog, I seem to have gotten off course on this year's two short stories a month plan.

Hopefully, the simple little poem I have posted today will be at least a small consolation, assuming you feel in the least bit let down.

A new poem

Autumn’s Promise

The promise of Autumn’s
Gives rise to energies forgotten
While in the midst of Summer’s

Memories long dormant
Challenge and escape to the surface

Tears well at relived
Joys and tragedies

Let down calloused walls
Allow childlike soul to

Ken Goree

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dangerous Derrick Needs Cash

Chapter One
The World’s Coolest Bike

It was an August Sunday, the summer before third grade.  Just after getting home from church, Derrick and I were sitting on the hard, prickly, brown grass of my front yard.  Derrick reached in his front pocket and pulled out a crumpled ball of paper.  He uncrumpled it, sighed and stared at it for awhile.
“Man, Billy, I gotta get me one of these,” Derrick said as he held up an advertisement for a sporting goods store.
“Weird, you want pink jogging shorts?!”
“No, you dope, this,” Derrick said as he pointed to the bottom of the page.  There, in smudgy full-color, was a picture of a bicycle that was tricked out to look like a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“Wow, that is so cool.  I want one too!”  Then I read the print under the picture.  “But Derrick, it’s two-hundred and fifty dollars.  You don’t have that kind of cash.” 
“I don’t need that much.  Keep reading.  You can make your own bike look like that with a kit that only costs fifty bucks.” 
“That’s a lot better.  Do you have fifty bucks?” I asked.
“No.  I bet I could get it, though.” 

Chapter Two
The Need for Green

Derrick and I spent several painful minutes thinking of ways to come up with some cash.  We generally considered “thinking” as off limits during summer break, but this was an emergency.  Thinking didn’t seem like it was paying off, so we gave up and just tried wishing and hoping for a while.
After several minutes it turned out that wishing and hoping was going to be the ticket.  Help arrived, and it came in the form of Jim Pounder and his gang.  They weren’t trying to help, but something we heard them say was the answer to our prayers.
“Hey guys, let’s go down to the waterfall where that kid fell off the cliff and broke his back,” Jim said to his gang.  His gang grunted in agreement. “I heard he was down there looking for gold.”
Derrick and I could hear them from over on our side of the hedge that separated my yard from Jim Pounder’s.  I was happy that the bushes hid us from the big kids.  If they had seen us they probably would have practiced their favorite hobby: chasing and pounding me and Derrick.
“Did you hear that?” Derrick whispered to me, as a grin began to grow out toward his ears.
“Ya, I want to go see that waterfall,” I answered.  Derrick and I kept very still and quiet, because we didn’t want to miss anything important about the waterfall.  We were really disappointed later when we found out the guy with the broken back wasn’t there anymore.  The least they could have done was put up a bronze statue where he had fallen.  After all, that was history. 
The waterfall sounded cool enough on its own, but after listening to Jim Pounder and his gang talk, we found a totally perfect solution to our need for cash, too.

Chapter Three
A Possible Solution

“I heard what that kid was doing when he fell down by the falls.  Do you know what it was?”  Jim didn’t wait for his gang to answer, “I heard he found gold down there and had started his own secret mine.”
We didn’t need to hear anything else.  When the big kids headed for the falls, we followed them all the way.  We were very sneaky and careful so they wouldn’t know we were tailing them.  We didn’t want them to “shake us off their trail.” That’s what the bad guys always tried to do in the TV westerns when they were headed for a hide-out or a lost gold mine.
“Billy, we should have changed clothes when we got home from church,” Derrick said while we were hiding behind some bushes.
“You’re right.  My mom’s gonna get mad if I get them dirty.”
“Huh?  No, I mean it’s going to be hard to hide in these white Sunday school shirts.”
The big kids walked a long way out of the neighborhood.  I hadn’t thought you could get that far away from home without taking a car.  After miles of walking, the big kids turned off of the road onto a trail.  The trail went into some woods, but they weren’t our woods.  They were someone else’s woods.  I held back.
“Billy, what are you waiting for?”  Derrick asked.
“I haven’t been in these woods before.”
“Me neither.  Cool huh?” Derrick said as he plunged into the shadows.  We could hear the big kids ahead of us.  They made a lot of noise crashing through the bushes.
            We crept along through the woods behind them. The trail wound through a sea of green ferns under the dark canopy of tree branches.  Not far into the woods, the trail began to follow the twists and turns of a stream that had carved a trench into the forest floor. 
Derrick and I hopped down into the gully with the stream, so we could be stealthier trackers.  As we splashed noisily through the shallow water, clanked over piles of rock and grumbled at tripping over branches, we got closer to Jim and his gang.  From our hidden position, down in the stream bed, we could hear their conversation.  Then one voice raised above the others.
“Boy, I think I’m ready to head home.  If there were any little kids around they might want to follow so they wouldn’t lose their way.” 
“Yeah, I think I’m ready to head home too,” said another voice.  “You’re right, though.  A little kid wouldn’t want to forget how to get home.” 
I silently agreed with the second voice.  It was a good thing there weren’t any little kids around. 
“Yep,” the voice said again, “a little kid sure wouldn’t want to be out here come dark.”
COME DARK! The words screeched through my brain, like a metal rake on a chalkboard.  Derrick and I both stared at each other.  Neither one of us liked the thought of getting caught out come dark.
At the sound of the big kids trudging back through the forest toward the road, we began to scramble to the top of the gully where we had been hidden.  Just before we reached the top, the dirt crumbled and we tumbled back into the stream. 
“It’s a good thing we landed in the water,” Derrick pointed out, “It cleaned most of this red clay out of our white shirts.”
After climbing and tumbling back into the stream a few times, Derrick and I were able to make it to the top.  We turned in the direction the big kids had headed and started to follow.  We couldn’t see them, but luckily big kids are easy to track, mostly by sound and smell.

Chapter Four
A New Direction

Suddenly, Derrick froze.  “We haven’t seen the falls yet.”
“Yeah. That would be embarrassing.”
We turned and headed down the path in the opposite direction of home.  Somewhere ahead we knew that we would find water thundering down with rock crushing, and back breaking force onto the boulders below us.
It didn’t take us long to find the falls.  The trail ended at the edge of a cliff.  On our right, the stream that we had been following downhill gushed out of a V-shaped opening in the top of the cliff and crashed into a small pool, fifty feet below us. 
“Wow, that’s awesome,” Derrick said. 
“Ya, wow,” I said.
Next, we did what any boy would do.  We started throwing stuff.  For a long time, we picked up and threw rocks, sticks, and small plants over the edge.  After a while, the thrill of throwing stuff took a break.  Any boy, of any age, will tell you that that thrill never really goes away. 
“You know, Billy, I bet that spot over there by those rocks is where the kid fell,” Derrick said as he pointed.
“I bet you’re right.”

Chapter Five
The Ideas Just Keep Coming

“Wait a minute.  I got an idea.  We could make money being tour guides to show people where he fell.  Like those guys that give tours at the Grand Canyon,” Derrick said.  He was starting to bounce up and down the way he always does when he gets really excited. 
“That sounds like an awesome idea.  How about if we see if we can find the gold first, okay?”
“Okay, we’ll make more from the gold anyway.  Let’s go down in the canyon.  That’s probably where the gold is.”  Derrick wasn’t bouncing anymore, but he was still grinning excitedly.
Half way through our climb down, the dirt crumbled under us and we again tumbled down into the water.
“Hooo Boy, that was fun!  Let’s do it again!” Derrick yelled.  Then he jumped into the waterfall and let it splash down all over him.
“Derrick, wow, your shirt is really clean now!” I said after he stepped out from under the falls.
“That’s neat!  I wonder if it will get even cleaner?” Derrick said and stepped back under the water again.
“Oh man, your pocket tore off,” I said to Derrick when he stepped back out of the waterfall.
Derrick leaned over and picked up the square of fabric that was floating by his knee.  “But look how clean it is.  My mom is gonna be real impressed,” he whispered.
“Wait a minute!  We could make money washing people’s clothes down here.”
“I don’t know, Derrick,” I said slowly, “Maybe we should just keep looking for the gold.”
            “Okay,” Derrick said and then started looking around at the edge of the water. 
“Derrick, do you hear a dog barking?” I asked as I watched Derrick splashing in the shallows.
“Never mind that.  Come here quick,” Derrick said as he motioned me over to him.
“I’m sure I hear a dog.  It sounds like your dog Stinky.”
“So what?  I think I found the gold.”
“You what?  Where?” I said and splashed toward Derrick. 
“Right here.  Look.”  Derrick held out his left hand to show me two shining gold-colored pea-sized nuggets.  “I think there’s more.  Help me find it.”
While we were collecting the nuggets Derrick’s dog, Stinky, came barking and bouncing his way down toward us. 
“Stinky! Get out of the way,” Derrick said as he pushed his German lab-hound to the side.  Derrick’s appropriately named dog, Stinky, soon got tired of trying to see what we were doing and instead started wrestling with the waterfall. 
“Billy, I think we have enough to get those bikes.  Let’s go.”
“I bet you’re right,” I said as I patted my heavy bulging pockets.
“Come on, Stinky.  Let’s go,” Derrick called to his dog.  His pet rushed over to him and jumped his front paws on Derrick’s shoulders and tried to do what looked like a slow dance with Derrick.
“Stinky, knock it off,” Derrick said.  “Hey, Stinky,. . . you’re not stinky anymore!”
“No way,” I said.  I leaned over and took a careful sniff.  “Geez, Derrick.  You’re gonna have to get your dog a new name.”
“I guess so.”
With Derrick’s newly unstinky dog following us, we headed for home.

Chapter Six
That Won’t Work Either?

My dad is really smart.  Sometimes that doesn’t feel like a good thing.  When we walked up my driveway my dad was leaning under the hood of his car doing something to the engine.  We told him what we had been doing and showed him our treasure.
“Well, Bill,” my father said to me, “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but this isn’t really gold.”
“Are you sure, dad?” I whined.
“Aww, Mr. Billy’s dad, it’s gotta be.  We need the cash to buy some really cool bikes.”
“I wish I could tell you different, Derrick, but it is called iron pyrite.  Some people call it fool’s gold.  Don’t feel bad though, it even fools grown-ups sometimes.”
“I don’t feel bad ‘cause I got fooled.  I feel bad ‘cause I wanted that new bike.  Hey, you know what Billy, we could still be tour guides.”  Derrick looked questioningly up at my dad, as if he wanted some support.
“You know, you guys might want to talk to Billy’s mom about that,” my dad said and quickly turned back to work on the car.
“Hi, Billy’s mom,” Derrick said as we walked into my house. 
“Hi, Derrick.  Hi, Billy,” she said as she looked up from reading one of her doctor magazines.
We told my mom our plan to be tour guides.
“Boys, I know how interesting the story about the young man breaking his back is to a couple of eight-year-old boys, but I’m pretty sure you won’t get anyone to pay you to show them where it happened.  Besides, I was working in the emergency room the day that happened.  He didn’t actually break his back.  He cracked a rib, and he is all better now.”
“Oh,” we both said glumly.
“Well, we could still make money washing people’s clothes,” Derrick said.  The excitement was back in his voice.
My mom lifted her magazine back in front of her face.  From behind it we could hear her say, “Maybe you boys should go talk to Derrick’s mom about that one.”
“Hey, mom,” Derrick yelled out as he banged open his kitchen door.  “Mom, where are you?”
“Right here, Derrick,” his mom said tiredly from the kitchen table.
“Mom, we’re gonna make money washing clothes for people.  Then we are going to buy these really great bikes with all the money.  Can we wash clothes for you, first?  Look how white my shirt is.  I washed it myself.  Pretty good huh?”
“Derrick, where is your shirt pocket?” his mom asked.
“Right here,” Derrick said pulling the wadded piece of fabric from his pants pocket. “The waterfall tore it off, but look how white it is.”

Chapter Seven
The Golden Ticket

“Derrick, I am not going to pay you money to tear up clothes.”
“Aww, Mom.  But look how clean it is,” Derrick pleaded.
“I don’t care how…”
Just then Derrick’s dog banged through the kitchen door and jumped up on Derrick’s mom for a wrestling match.
“Derrick!” his mom yelled, “get your filthy dirty stinking dog off me.”  She stopped, sniffed the air, and stared at Derrick.  “Wait a minute.  Derrick, your dog isn’t dirty and stinky anymore.  What did you do?”
“He got cleaned off in the waterfall where we were gonna wash the clothes.”
“Well, that’s something I’ll pay for,” his mom said.  Then she walked to the counter and pulled four dollars out of her purse.  Then she handed two of them to each of us.
“Thanks!” we sang out.
“Billy, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Derrick said.
“Probably not, but how about if we try to make money washing dogs?”
Half an hour later, we had completed our first advertisement.  It was a hand painted sign that read:
“Dog washing $4.00. 
No extra charge for
Extra stinky dogs.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Please Help ...

I was really rushed on today's short story.  Anything that you notice, which I should correct, please point it out to me; preferably in a nice way.

Becoming a Man

           Just the other day my roommate, Persephone, said something to which I took a great deal of personal offense.  Typically, I don’t get upset by the things she says about me, as she is quite a kidder.  However, I think she must have experienced a great deal of trauma as a child, because her humor has an overly caustic quality about it, at times.  The reason this little joke of hers caught my ear is that I suddenly realized that I had heard her repeat this same "joke" on numerous occasions. 
There was the appearance of “the joke” at the mall the other day.  Persephone and I had taken her two kids to the mall to play in the Kid Zone.  I was innocently ordering an unruly child to walk the plank, on the big cushiony boat in the kids’ play area, when I heard it.
“I should have only brought two.  Three children are too many for me to handle,” Persephone was saying to a red-faced mom, who sat next to her on the couch area.
As I turned around to point out to Persephone that she had only brought two (she has a little problem with math), I caught her gesturing toward me with her thumb.  As she noticed me eyeing her, she quickly dropped her hand and smiled at me innocently.  I felt like gesturing with something other than my thumb and smiling innocently right back at her.
“Oops, did I lose count again, Ken.”  She said as the other woman barked out a laugh.  It was very unladylike.  It was at this point that I started to realize the problem might be with attitude more than arithmetic, and I decided I would pay a little more attention to Persephone’s comments from that point on.
In that one visit to the mall, the joke cropped up thirteen times.  For criminy’s sake woman, get some new material for your act.  Over the next week, I noticed that her joke had infiltrated every arena of my life.  At the gun range, even the range master seemed to have been infected.
“Hey, hey, Ken.  It’s nice to see you back, Young Fella’.  I guess you did all of your chores around the house, so you got your allowance this week, huh?”
 “Ya, ha, ha.  Give me some shells.” Like I do any chores. 
The infection seems to have spread to my workplace, as well.  Last Wednesday, when I returned to my classroom after recess, one of my students informed me that I had had a call from the office.
“Mr. Goree, the office called and said to pick up your brother and sister; Stephen and Carly from daycare.  What grades are your brother and sister in, anyway?”  I don’t have any young siblings, but I do have two children who answer to those names.
“Never mind.  I think it’s silent reading time?” I said.
After a week of this abuse, I suddenly realized (I’m that smart. I suddenly realize a lot of things) that I should do a bit if deep thinking and contemplation on the topic of my maturity.  Am I a boy, or am I a man?  I thought the answer was obvious, but apparently it isn’t for many of the people in my life.
Being a man of science, I decided to sort through the evidence.  As a beginning point I decided I needed a clear definition of “manhood” to go by.  I tried the online definition, and didn’t like the “humorous” definition of the noun.  I certainly am not something that gets caught in a zipper.
 Webster’s Dictionary was a little too easy, but it had the definition I was going to use: A fully-grown male.
“Ha!” I said pointing to the dictionary that I held toward Persephone.
“To the letter of the law, yes.  In spirit, I don’t think so.  When did you become a man anyway?”
“You don’t really want me to go into that, do you?”
“No really, when did you get to say, ‘Now, I’m a Man.’ When was the point where you really knew your childhood was gone and you were man?”
“Um, I’ll get back to you on that.”  That was tougher.  I didn’t think the dictionary was going to help me answer that.
I climbed into cyberspace and started to look for information on becoming a man.  I found out immediately that I needed to be careful of what I asked for on the internet or I would get a whole lot of information that I couldn’t use in this story.  After a few hours of university articles, encyclopedia articles, and opinion pages, I started to see a pattern forming.  Becoming a man seems to rest on “rites of passage.” 
I want to say now, for the record, my information is from the internet and has not been checked for factuality.  I, personally, am okay with that as I find that they (facts) often get in the way of a good story anyway.  In the research I performed, it was mentioned that usually a period of isolation, often accompanied by fasting, was the first step in the initiation into manhood.  Isolation!  You mean by myself, with nobody else around?  Hot diggity dog! I can do that.  Please let me do that for a while.  A long while.  And you will notice it said often accompanied by fasting; not always; often.  Some Native American tribes go through what is called a Vision Quest; part of which is this period of isolation and fasting.
Then there was the mention of a period of trial.  This consisted of either physical or mental hardship.  In several regions of the world a circumcision is done at the time of becoming a man.  Yowch!  It seems to me that this would be best done to a baby who won’t remember it, and who can’t punch you in the nose if you try.
In another area of the world, initiates into the ranks of men have horizontal cuts gashed across their foreheads.  These leave permanent scars, extend from ear to ear, and go as deep as the bone.  Of course, I do like to play the “My scar’s bigger than your scar” game, but I prefer to get my scars the old fashion way; accidentally through stupidity and negligence.
Then there is the modern version of the trial period.  That’s right, the armed forces boot camps.  In this setting, the recruit is physically and emotionally broken down.  He is then built up to be a man who can defend a nation.
Some regions of the world support the theory that a boy is not a man until he makes his first kill in a hunt.  This symbolizes his being one with the world, and his ability to provide for his family and community.  Until this test has been passed, he may not be permitted to marry.  This seems to me, a really good argument for why men shouldn’t hunt.
I believe that expeditions and adventures fit into this category.  Luckily, I just so happen to have had my share of adventures and expeditions (A&E).  I covered both A and E on a road trip to my cousin’s place in Colorado one summer.
            Then there is phase three of becoming a man; the taking on of adult responsibilities.  At the age of thirteen, a Jewish boy becomes a man and then becomes part of the religious community and prayer.  He is at that point accountable for his actions, and is made aware of his responsibilities.
Some of the times, stages, and situations that I have been through seemed like they were stepping stones toward manhood.  Each of these steps, now that I look back, wasn’t the passage.  There was my first successful hunt.  My first girlfriend, was another step.  Then there was my first job; the driver’s license; being able to vote; graduating from high school; being able to drink legally; graduating from college; getting married; and having kids.  I don’t think any of these moments was my passage.  There was no line I stepped over and, poof!  “Hey look Ken’s a man!”  It just didn’t happen that way.
            One of the articles that I read fascinated me, and I now realize that it explains me pretty well.  The article states that, often without a threshold event, or ceremony, men may carry their adolescence into adulthood.  This is reflected in their behaviors, which other people interpret as irresponsibility.  Here is the best part; this is called “extended-adolescence.”  Is that cool or what?
            I am going to keep this to myself though.  Otherwise, someone might try to give me a “threshold event,” and I would have to start acting responsibly.  I might even stop playing on the climbing toys at the mall. 
            I am glad to have found a reason to be able to blame my extended adolescence on my parents; they didn’t give me a party when I was thirteen.  Do you think 48 is really too late for a bar mitzvah? Skip the bris.  I am especially happy to know what causes the particular condition of “extended-adolescence,” because I want to make sure my son has these threshold events.  After all, when I get old and gray, (older and grayer), I’m going to need someone responsible around to take care of me; and get me to the mall to play on the big boat climbing toy.
            “Argh! Swab the deck ya land-lubber.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

Come Dark

     When I was a kid, a guy could wander.  A fresh summer morning, any day of the week, a fellow could open his door, walk outside, and just go.  As long as you were back “come dark.” The folks never worried.  Dad had a job five out of seven, but he wouldn’t have worried even if he had been unemployed like Timmy Sloman’s dad.  I think parents were made of tougher stuff in those days.  They had grit. 
     There had never been a “check-in” policy with our parents; just the generally understood, “Be home come dark.”  My friend Derrick and I had heard rumors of a kid on the next block whose parents had him check-in every hour.  We shuddered to think of the humiliation.  That kid was sure to never have friends.  Because of that knowledge, we stuck pretty close to the “home come dark policy.”  We knew that worried parents sometimes behaved irrationally, some to the point of instituting check-in policies.  That was a fate too horrible to chance.
     There weren’t any “bad people” back then; at least none that we knew of.  Oh sure, the teenagers use to chase us and pound on us a bit.  Once they even tied Derrick up and left him in the woods overnight.  Luckily his parents didn’t find out, because they thought he was staying the night at my house.  The big kids were just having fun though, and Derrick did sort of deserve it.  He and Willy Slick had snuck into Willy’s brother, Sylvester’s, bathroom and poured melted Vaseline into his shampoo.  I’d have been mad too if I was forever stuck with the nickname “Slick Slick.”  It was too bad Sylvester was one of the “big kids.”
It’s not like they were “bad people.”  The phase of the big kids terrorizing us didn’t last for long though.  About the same time they all started smoking out in the woods, they got nicer.  Well, maybe not nicer, but they stopped chasing and pounding on us.  They just seemed sleepier most of the time; hungrier too. 
      I overheard my parents saying once that those teenagers should stop smoking those funny cigarettes.  I was mighty worried that someone really might make them stop.  I was sure if that happened, the chasings and the poundings would begin again.  Derrick was of the same opinion.
     One August Sunday when we were eight, just after returning home from church, Derrick and I overheard the older kids talking about this awesome waterfall where some guy had fallen and broken his back.  We were really disappointed later when we found out the guy with the broken back wasn’t there anymore.  I guess we thought they’d just keep him there like the old cannon at Cannon Beach; a living statue.  The least they could have done was put up a bronze one.  After all, this was history.  It would have been a whole lot cooler than a rusty old cannon that they don’t even shoot off anymore.  What’s the fun in that?  The waterfall was cool though. 
     We followed the big kids all the way to the waterfall, being very sneaky and careful so they wouldn’t know we were there.  We didn’t want them to “shake us off their trail” like the bad guys always tried to do in the TV westerns when they were headed for a hide-out, or a lost gold mine.
     We crept along through the woods behind the big kids after they had turned off the road.  The trail wound through a sea of salal and ferns under the dark green canopy of conifer branches.  Not far into the woods, the trail began to mirror the twists and turns of a stream that had carved a trench into the forest floor. 
     Derrick and I hopped down into the stream bed, so as to be more stealthy trackers of our quarry.  As we splashed through the shallows, clanked over piles of rock and did the eight-year-old version of cursing, from tripping over branches, we approached our unwary foes.  From our hidden position near to the big kids, we could hear their quiet conversation, though it was a little too low to understand.  Then one voice raised above the others, “Boy, I think I’m ready to head home.  If there were any little kids around they might want to follow, so they wouldn’t lose their way home.”  I thought it was weird the way big kids couldn’t help being loud sometimes.
     “Yeah, I think I’m ready to head home too,” said another voice.  “You’re right though.  A little kid wouldn’t want to forget how to get home.” 
I silently agreed with the second talker.  It was a good thing there weren’t any little kids around; at least none I could see.
“Yep,” the second voice said again, “a little kid sure wouldn’t want to be out here come dark.”
     COME DARK! The words screetched through my brain like a metal leafrake on a chalkboard.  Derrick and I both stared wide eyed at each other.  Besides the obvious reasons for not being caught out COME DARK, reasons known by every adventurer that valued his soul and skin, there was the possibility that our parents might decide that they needed to institute a check-in during the day; maybe even two or three times.  We couldn’t risk it.
     At the sound of the big kids trudging back through the forest toward the road, we began to scramble to the top of the gully where we had been concealed.  Just short of the brink the sandy clay mixture that made up the wall crumbled and deposited us back in the stream.  Derrick pointed out that it was a good thing we had landed in the water because it had help wash some of the red clay out of our white Sunday school shirts, which we had still been wearing when we set out on the waterfall adventure. 
After several minutes of the same repeated failures, we finally made it to the trail.  We turned in the direction the big kids had headed and we started to follow.  We couldn’t see them, but luckily big kids are easy to track, by sound and smell if for no other reasons.
Suddenly, Derrick froze.  “We ain’t,” Derrick said and then flinched violently.  His mom was an English teacher and I often saw that reaction out of him following a grammatical faux pas.  “We haven’t seen the falls yet,“ he corrected.
     “Yeah. That would be embarrassing.”
     “Yeah.”  We both turned and headed down the path in the opposite direction of home.  Somewhere ahead we knew that we would find monstrous torrents of water thundering down with rock crushing, and back breaking force, to the boulders below.
It didn’t take us long to find the falls.  The trail ended abruptly at a cliff.  To the right of us, the stream that we had been following leapt out of V-shaped gouge in the top of the cliff.  From there, it fanned out slightly as it curved earthward, then accelerated downward until crashing into a small pool, fifty feet below us. 
     Next, we did what every boy between the ages of 5 and 80 would have done.  We started throwing stuff.  Everything that was not nailed down got thrown.  Happily, we were in the woods and nothing was nailed down.  Rocks, sticks, small plants and old beer cans sailed over the brink in a seemingly endless stream.
We watched, time after time as the debris we threw leapt out, (fanned out if composed of loose materials) and headed earthward, crashing to the bottom of the chasm.  After an indeterminable time, Derrick and I noticed that the stuff thrown mimicked the waterfall in the way it leapt, curved, accelerated and the crashed.  This was the beginning of our road to understanding physics.  At that tender age we were touched with insight into the way the universe worked.  Derrick said it best after using both hands to uproot a large fern and throw it into the chasm, using a modified hammer-throw style.
     “Cool.  Did you see that?”
     Later in life it turned out that our first physics lesson really took with Derrick.  He is now working with a highly respected engineering firm and has several clusters of letters after his name.  I, being the brighter of the two of us, have not yet decided what I want to be, if I ever grow up. 
     Eventually, the thrill of throwing stuff took a break.  Any boy, of any age, will tell you that it never really goes away.  During that break we decided that the real fun would be to go down in the canyon, which had been washed out by years and years of that stream racing downhill toward the sea.  Well not really the sea, but the lake. 
     It took Derrick and I surprisingly little time to get to the bottom of the ravine.  We would have been down sooner if it hadn’t taken several minutes to find a good overhang in the bank, on which to ride down.  When we reached the bottom and looked up we were very disappointed to see that there weren’t any other overhangs on which we could repeat our tumbling method of decent. 
We quickly got over our disappointment when we realized that we had landed in the pool of water, thereby rewashing our Sunday school shirts.   Even better, we found that standing under the cascading waters of the falls further cleaned the fabric.  Derrick was slightly dismayed when the force of the water tore the pocket from the front of his shirt, but recovered quickly when he realized how extraordinarily clean the pocket had become.  He was sure his mom would be impressed. 
     For quite a while, we splashed in the pool, threw red clay mud balls at each other (requiring further dunkings in the pool) and found what we were sure were flecks of gold mixed in with the mud.  This discovery of treasure finally headed us in the direction of home, because my dad had a gold pan, somewhere in our garage.  I knew how to use it because I had once seen how it was done on an episode of Alias, Smith and Jones.
     Surprisingly, our mothers were not impressed that we had washed our cloths. I just can’t figure out mothers.  I couldn’t then and I can’t today.  Derrick pulled out the shirt pocket remnant, which he had carefully folded and tucked away in his front pants pocket.  He just kept holding it up to his mom.  The look on his face said, “If you’ll just look closer, I’m sure you’ll see how marvelous this is.”  She never looked close enough to be amazed.
     The upside was that we were home “come dark,” and no mention was made of having check-ins. 
My first experience with actually being caught out “come dark” was when I was four.  My sister says it was because I was too gullible.  I know that it was because I was blessed with an incredible imagination.  I heard my dad once suggesting to my uncle that it might be something on the opposite end of the intellectual spectrum, whatever that meant. 
One afternoon my sister and her friend were eating some red licorice.  “Hey where did you get that,” I demanded sweetly.  I had been practicing demanding sweetly,” and thought I was getting pretty good at it.
“From the licorice tree,” my sister said with a smile.  I should have known something was up right then.  My sister never smiled.
“Where’s that?”
“Oh, I can’t tell you.  It’s a secret.”
“Please…please…please!!!”  It made me feel kind of soiled to say please to my sister; like I needed a bath. How often does a guy feel like that?  I figured saying please at this point was for a good cause though.
“Well, let me check with my colleague.” 
“Just a second,” she said, and then she leaned over and whispered something to her friend.  Then she turned back to me.  “We’ll take you to the tree, but you have to be blind folded.”
“No way!  Never”
“Then we won’t take you.”
“Oh, Okay!”
My sister ran into the house and emerged with a wad of cloth.  “Turn around.” she said.  Then she wrapped a strip of cloth over my eyes and around the back of my head where she tied it, with several clumps of my hair, into a knot.  
“Hey, what’s that?” I said about the sack that was then yanked down over my head.
“A pillow case.” My sister replied.  I could hear her dumb friend snickering off to my left. Not being satisfied with just a blindfold, my sister had put a pillow case over my head.  That really bugged me because it was her pillow case, which probably had cooties.  Also, I had been able to see pretty well around just blindfold by itself. 
“How much farther is it?” I asked
“We have to go quite a ways just to get to the turtle.”
“Turtle.  What turtle?  I thought we were going to a tree.”
“We have to have the turtle carry us over the lake.”
Lake.  What lake?  I want to go home.”  I said.
“Never mind.  When do we get to the turtle?”  We had to walk a long way to get to the lake. 
“Okay, we’re at the lake now.  Step right where I take you, because if your feet splash it will scare off the turtle and we won’t be able to get a ride.” 
“That turtle is a scaredy cat.”
“Shhh.  You’ll hurt his feelings.  Stop here.  Now keep moving your feet so the turtle knows we’re here.  If he can’t feel us walking, he won’t know we’re here and he’ll swim under water.  You don’t want to go under water with a pillow case over your head do you?”
“How fast do I move my feet?  Is this right?  Should I go faster?  Do you think this is too fast??????”  I was happy it was a short turtle ride.  It sure was a smooth ride and it’s back felt as sturdy as walking on solid ground.
After a quite a bit more walking, we finally arrived.  The girls took off my blind fold and I looked up.  I was really disappointed.  “That’s not a licorice tree.  It’s a cedar, just like the one in our back yard.”
“No really,” my sister said.  “Licorice trees are a kind of cedar tree.  I’ll prove it.  You wait here and we’ll climb up and throw some licorice down to you.” 
Soon, licorice started dropping down all around me.  “Here you go.  Here’s another.”  It was good too.  Apparently, licorice is warm when you pick it off a tree, almost as warm as if it had been in someone’s pocket for an hour of walking. 
“I’m coming up too,” I called.  There was a pause.
“No don’t bother.  That was the last piece.” 
I scrambled up anyway.  I was sure she was lying.  After getting up in the tree I could see she was right.  They had picked them all.
“When will it grow more?”
“Well, its magic.  After dark they grow again.  If you clean my room for me, I’ll bring you back tomorrow for more, but you’ll have to wear the blindfold again.”
Just as I was about to agree, I noticed a house through the trees, and a swing set, and bicycle.  And I knew whose bike that was.  It was Chris Jameson’s.  I realized that they had tricked me, that it had been a sham.
“Hey, I know where we are.  You liar.  That’s Chris’ house right there.”  That darn licorice tree was hardly more than a block from home.  That’s when I had realized that dumb turtle hadn’t even gone across the lake.  I yelled some stuff at my sister that the big kids in the neighborhood sometimes yelled at me.  I didn’t know what it meant, but my sister seemed to and it must have been bad.
She climbed down out of the tree with her friend, and then yelled for me to come down too. 
“No.  Now I know where we are and I’m going to stay up until this tree grows more licorice.  It’s already starting to get dark.  I’ll come home after that.”
“We made up the stuff about the licorice tree.  There isn’t going to be any more.” My sister called.
Well, since I had just caught her in one really big lie about a turtle, I wasn’t going to believe that story, and I told her so.  She yelled for a while, and finally gave up and stomped off.
Before long, I noticed that “come dark” had arrived, and I was caught out in it.  I kept waiting for the licorice, but it never arrived.  
Well into the night, my parents and my sister arrived.  Apparently, they had forced a confession out of her.  Later, I began to suspect that the confession had been concerning the whereabouts of a missing pillow case, and finding me had just been a byproduct of the pillowcase search. 
Luckily, my parents blamed the “getting caught out come dark incident,” on my sister and there were no talks about instituting a check-in policy for me. 
When I was nine I had my next, “caught out come dark incident.”  I blamed that one on the big kids. 
By that time, the big kids had already begun smoking their funny cigarettes and had decided they needed a more private place to smoke them.  Privacy to a kid is spelled f-o-r-t.  They decided, with surprising wisdom, not to build a tree fort that they could fall out of.  The alternative being an underground fort.
Derrick and I stumbled across the fort one day as we were exploring the woods.  It was a good thing we didn’t actually stumble into it though because it was deep; really deep. 
The first stage of the big kid’s fort, the hole, was the first thing we had ever seen the big kids do that we considered cool.  They had dug a square hole, with straight up and down sides.  It was as long and wide as my room at home and deeper than my room was tall.  It was awesome.
“Wow,” Derrick said turning to me “It’s furnished.”  He pointed back down to a couch that had been dropped into the pit, and pushed up against one flat sandy wall.
Next to the pit, there was a pile of lumber that the big kids had stolen from a construction site.  They were obviously going to put a roof on their fort.  They just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  There wasn’t a ladder, but after searching around we found some rope.  We tied one end to a tree, using a good sturdy knot Derrick had learned from his cousin, and we climbed in. 
There were some sticks on the floor of the pit which we used to carve our names and little shelves and tunnels in the sandy walls.  We were very surprised later to find out that the big kids didn’t consider these to be improvements.  After that attempt at interior design, the chasings and poundings resumed again for a while. 
Shortly after getting tired of improving the fort for the big kids, and then deciding we needed to make a fort like it for our own, we noticed that it was starting to get dark.  Shortly after that, we noticed that what we had thought was a good sturdy knot, wasn’t.  I had grabbed the rope with both hands and hopped my feet several feet up the dirt wall when I heard the sounds of “swish” and “kerpow,” just like Indian Jones’ whip would have made.  Then I noticed that the rope was no longer holding me up.  Derrick said the sound I made when I landed was really funny.  I don’t seem to remember that.  I just remember the sense of doom, and a bit of pain.
Wide-eyed, open-mouthed and unusually quite, Derrick and I gazed up at a darkening square of sky above us. Derrick flopped down on the, until now ignored, couch that the big kids had lowered down into their fort.  He unflopped even quicker when two rats ran out from underneath it.  I thought the rats were monumentally cool, until I realized that I was likely to be spending a long dark night with them. 
After several minutes of scurrying and squeaking, Derrick and I were able to calm ourselves down.  During that time the rats had thoughtfully disappeared back under the couch.  I didn’t have any faith that they would stay there once the darkness had completely arrived. 
Derrick and I spent the few remaining minutes of light digging and scraping holes in the walls that we hoped would serve as a ladder to climb out.  We soon realized that dirt that was really good for digging deep holes in, carving names in and scraping shelves into is not the kinds of soil that supports the weight of a nine year old boy.
Just as we were coming to the realization that we were about to be caught out “come dark,” we snatched up sticks to protect ourselves.  I didn’t say anything to Derrick, but I was pretty sure that sticks the size of pencils which had been perfect for carving names in hard sandy walls were probably not going to be perfect for protecting little boys from monsters.  I kept that little tidbit to myself.  I figured that when the creatures of the night attacked I’d yell, “Get em’ Derrick.”  While they were chewing him up, I would hopefully figure another way out.
Knowing it was going to be a long night we did what we could to increase the likelihood that we would be able to get some sleep.  We screamed for help and scrabbled frantically at the walls until we dropped, exhausted, to the ground. 
Through the night we could occasionally hear the scurrying, sniffing sounds of the rats.  That wasn’t so bad.  What really bothered us was the sound of the mummies, vampires, and werewolves that circled above us all night long.  We could hear them shuffling along, just out of view.  Occasionally, we would hear them sniff; testing the air for the scent of little boys to devour.  The only thing that kept those villains at bay was the sound of our war cries.  These war cries sounded remarkably like whimpering, sniveling and crying. 
The next morning we were found by the big kids.  After hauling us out of the pit, they proceeded to chase and pound us for a while.  We didn’t mind.  It was a small price to pay for our rescue.  We then ran home embraced our parents and begged them to institute a check-in policy.  Twice, maybe even three times, a day sounded pretty good.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Next Story

The next story on the blog, due Friday, is another humor piece.  This one was created from snippets of real life events, from my childhood.  Yes, my sister really did that too me.  I may embellish a detail or two; "improve" is what I like to call it.  I'm sure she doesn't remember it quite the same, but my version is "improved," and I was actually closer to 6-years-old during the true event.