Thursday, May 20, 2010

how old were you then.

This is a "sketch story" I wrote about childhood birthdays. Sketch stories are a stringing-together of memories on whatever subject, details scrawled as quickly as I can remember them. Although I do edit the stories later, I leave the caps out and the punctuation minimal--well, as minimal as I care to.



how old were you then.


tenth birthday? eleventh? let's think.
fourth grade, '79... tenth.
my only b-day party as a child.
bob h______, chris i_____, david k_____.
that was the hardcore group, my from-first-grade posse. crazier than hitler on a hot day.
then joe a_____. john k_____. possibly andy z____, jimmy g_____. others.
i really don't remember.
no chicks. you know how that is.

anxious preparation.
i imagine mom did most of the work, my sisters ka and jackie assisting.
or perhaps this was mainly their production.
downtime before the event spent watching, portentiously, "the horror of party beach," wor-tv channel nine, saturday ten am movie.
i was missing cartoons. late march, prolly reruns anyhow.

arrivals.
party quickly gets out of hand, my monstrous friends running amok.
i excused myself to the bathroom nearly in tears, like a little sissy lesley gore boy.
i couldn't believe what an appalling bunch of cretins my friends were.
i splashed water in my face, attempted to compose myself.

i went back downstairs to the living room party in time to learn that joe had thrown my sister's shoe onto the pool. i say onto because the pool was covered with a tarp for the non-pooling season. the tarp was raised in the middle, creating a moat of filthy water around the center bubble, the shoe lying in the leaves-and-larvae muck.
i just kinda went with it from there, until, i think, the police broke things up.

i remember only joe's gift, and even his card.
the gift was a game, not stop thief but something like that, and i enjoyed it for many years.
his card, a joke involving weevils and a pun on "lesser of two evils."
it was explained to me.

actually i also got a game called laser attack now that i think of it.
it wasn't shrink-wrapped and the rules were unamusingly complicated, so it was most likely a recycle.
i recall getting it from gabriel i_____, but don't remember inviting him to the party.
maybe i was afraid not to. he was terribly large and seemingly unstable, though this didn't stop me and tiny dave k. from pouring milk into his bookbag when gabe was the new kid.
i was caught---a teacher scolded, his family doesn't have a lot of money!---and had to give him my own bag as replacement.
his sour-stinking booksack lay folded in one of our kitchen cabinets for many years.

anyway, that party. there was one photo of the assembled. i haven't seen it in at least twenty years.

another party, bob h.'s.
if i was nine, he was ten, though his b-day was less than three months after mine.
the oldest guy in class, a dude by default.
well, he was also athletic and good-looking, that helped.
his mom threw a hell of a party, a madhouse, tons of kids running inside, outside, some early june lord-of-the-flies-looking shit going on.
choice goody bags, they even taught me the word 'loot' though i didn't let on as everyone else seemed to know it.
for a smart kid i was fairly stupid.

lots of games, participation voluntary, a nice change.
jellybeans in a jar, guess the number, get the prize at the core.
the jar had four sides.
i counted beans up, then across one side, multiplied those numbers and timesed that by four. accounted for depth.
after my winning method was revealed, some kids considered it cheating.
jealous little shits.

mrs. h. may have lost it at some point.
i recall an uncomfortable crying adult moment, relief that i wasn't directly involved.

miguel c____.
party at the ground round, mid-island mall, 8mm cartoons on the wall, peanut shells on the floor, disgruntled lunch customers on the periphery.
didn't really know miguel that well, even for such a small class.
this one time there was a series of afterschool wrestling matches to establish who was superior to whom among our st. pius gang.
miguel and i grappled the longest of anyone and were hence proclaimed equal, having wearily agreed to a tie.
an unspoken rivalry took root, only to die of neglect soon after.

another time, when the whole class tried that thing where you lean forward, put your forehead to the wall and then try to lift a chair, miguel and i were the only boys who could do it. boys aren't supposed to be able to do it. i think there was teasing over this, but hell, you're not supposed to be able to sneeze with your eyes open either and i could do that too. so what?

at his party i tied a peanut to a helium balloon's ribbon and sailed it off over the ground round patronage like a hot air balloon.
much joyous throwing of popcorn.
i gave miguel a shitload of baseball cards cuz i understood he collected them.
i also gave him socker boppers, big inflatable boxing gloves, despite his being somewhat too old for them.
i understood he fought with his brother a lot. i thought the socker boppers would help.

his mother had a thick accent and a serious face and thanked me profusely for my crummy gifts.
i suspected it was a kind of spanish sarcasm.
i really didn't care. it wasn't all that great of a party. there was a clown for crying out loud. he wouldn't have passed a telemundo audition, and this was the early eighties.

jeff g____ had a party.
don't remember a blessed thing about it.
he was my best friend, don't know if i was his.
there was a frisbee given.
did i give it to him? did we go outside to toss it? was it a gift from his condo neighbor there in "the villas," the notorious embellisher steve b_____?
really, don't press, i don't remember!

oh shit i do remember.
one gift i gave jeff was a t-shirt with an iron-on transfer on it, steve martin as the jerk.
he wore that shirt a lot, til he was big and it was small. so i guess he liked it.
man, the jerk shirt.

maria pa-pee-ya may have had parties.
i remember her b-day was august 3rd--i think i remember that--because it was the closest thing to an occasion in that holiday-bereft month.
wait wait, i do remember a party. very young, maybe even my first attended.
storming outside, a patio room dimly lit by colorful-but-faded plastic tiki lights.
donkey-pinning in the dining room, a spaceship favor or something, punch rolling off sofa upholstery covers, a squabbly fight which i carefully avoided, the kind verging on slapping and scratching but soon dissipating.

a post-cake, break-in-the-rain game outside.
low sky, long wet grass soaking socks and sneakers.
an empty, broken rabbit hutch leaning, the wood gone a forlorn gray.
mainly i remember running, giddy and breathless, rounding the side of her house from the backyard and catching a glimpse of my own house across the street.

i was surprised to see it, i had felt so far away.

3 Comments:

Blogger MO'SH said...

Really terrific recollections, exceptionally recorded. I nearly blew milk out my nose when I read the bit about "spanish sarcasm". And I wasn't even drinking milk.

Sun Jun 13, 07:41:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Maria MC CABE said...

Hey Paul, I second MO'Sh's comment, and loved hearing some of those names who I did recognize, especially Bobby H, whose last name I still remember because I think I wrote "Mrs. Maria H....." in several of my 1st grade notebooks. Whatever! Anyway, birthdays parties... what a great topic.... ah youth!

Fri Jul 09, 06:13:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Liz said...

John Cashman. Thank you for posting his TV reviews. I am his niece.

Mon Jun 20, 11:44:00 PM 2011  

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