Archive for Adolescence

Quiet Ain’t Dishonest

Posted in Background with tags , , , , , , on November 18, 2014 by timtrue

police

Another post spurred on by my childhood friendships rekindled on Facebook; this one having to do with a certain corner.

The setting: I grew up in an unincorporated part of Ventura County, California, just outside the city limits of Camarillo.  It was unincorporated, but not undeveloped.  Fifty or so houses lined this three-quarter-mile street and its accompanying private drives, appearing on the county map like an artery with so many smaller veins, the private drives, shooting off in whatever direction, following contours predetermined by the terrain.  Hills and barrancas running every which way, not to mention avocado trees and chickens.

We all seemed to have avocado trees and chickens, though not really.  But the fences were barely kept up—no need to keep them tidy—so our chickens and our neighbors’ ran all over the neighborhood so that it seemed like everyone had a few or several.  (The neighbors weren’t running all over the neighborhood, mind you.  I’m talking only about the chickens: the some chickens that belonged to us and the other chickens that belonged to our neighbors.  Do you see how important apostrophes are?)

But the chicken coops were kept tidy!  For there were coyotes and the occasional bobcat—another story for another day!

Add to all this that along this street, Alosta Drive, were thirty or so kids within a three- or four-year age range.  Yeah, Asphodel for the grown-ups but Elysium for us!  We still refer to ourselves as the Alosta Mafia.

So, I lived near the top of the street.  Usually people would say “end of the street,” and so it was, for the street ended just a hundred yards or so above the property where I grew up.  But remember those hills and barrancas?  The street weaved its way up the side of a sizable hill, rising 400 or so feet in elevation along its three-quarter-mile length.  Getting the picture?

Now, if we kids were to take Big Wheels—which we did—frequently—or Red Flyer wagons, modified with go-cart wheels and raised axles to lower their centers of gravity—which we also did—frequently—if we were to take these engineless vehicles to the top/end of the street, it was a full quarter-mile down (a precariously steep) hill to the first leveling-off place.  And, yep, that first leveling-off place was at the corner we’ve all been reminiscing over on Facebook.

It was a ninety-degree left turn; and the leveling-off place coincided with the corner, meaning it was a steep descent from the top all the way up to the corner.  Crazy steep!  Like 200 of that 400 feet of elevation!  And to make matters worse, some telephone company engineer had once upon a time decided to plant a telephone pole right at the end of the curve.  Something like this:

Corner

By the way, I don’t know whose idea it was to plant the ice plant there once upon a time, but it was brilliant!

Back then it was no seat belts or helmets either!

Well, you can imagine the stories!  Flying down the hill as fast as (or faster than) a car, we’d lean into the corner and hope for the best.

“Do any of y’all remember that time Mike did a face plant?” one of my reminiscing friends asked.

“Yeah,” another answered, “I was there.  His face was a bloody and the skin around his lip peeled away.”

This was a fool’s hope, now that I look back; for in the event that the sand or gravel didn’t send you into a tailspin, there was a chance that a car just might be coming uphill as you were on your way down.

I vividly remember someone once exclaiming, “Dude, you almost got run over by your mom!”

In any event, most of the stories we remember today aren’t of us making it safely around the corner.  That happened more often than not, don’t get me wrong; but that’s apparently not the stuff of memories.  Rather, it’s the face plants we remember, the near collisions, the toppling headlong into and beyond the ice plant, and the stains the ice plant made in our clothes!

Good times!

But the memory I want to share of this corner is a little different.

By now we were a little older.  It was probably late in the spring of 1982, though I could be off by a year.  I remember school was almost out; it was one of those Friday or Saturday nights where some of the guys wanted to forget our studies for a while and just goof off.  So we rallied, five or six of us anyway, and met in Chris’s driveway for a game of ditch ‘em.

The object of ditch ‘em was simple.  It was dark; we’d see the glare from a car’s headlights approaching; and it was everyone for himself (or herself) into the bushes, gutters, trees, chicken coops, whatever, so long as the driver of the car didn’t see us.

Sounds kind of lame now, sure.  But we came up with it on a night when we had sneaked out of our respective houses; and so if we were to get caught it would get back to our parents and who knows what kind of trouble we’d be in!

But not tonight.  None of us had sneaked out.  We were just hanging out at Chris’s entirely under the auspices of our parents’ permission.

So ditch ‘em was in fact kind of lame.  Or boring at least.

“I’m bored,” my brother Andy complained.  “Why don’t we do something else?”

“Like a variation on a theme?” I asked, having recently begun working on Mozart’s Ah, Vous Dirai-je Maman.

“Huh?” everyone else asked.

So we started playing with the drivers’ minds.  Instead of running for cover, which held no risk and therefore seemed pointless, whenever the glare appeared one of us would stand on one side of the road and another on the other and we’d lift in tandem a pretend cable (or rope or whatever the driver wanted to imagine), or even string a real roll of toilet paper across the road at windshield height, to see if we could get the driver to slam on the brakes and stop the car.  Whenever we succeeded it was all laughter and high fives then drop the pretend rope or real roll of t. p. and run like mad for cover before the driver could get out of his (or her) car and wring our necks (unless it was your mom, who’d wring your neck later).

Anyway, in this way on this particular night we ended up at the corner.

Five or six cars into it I caught myself getting bored with this new game, this variation on a theme; which meant for me it was time to pull the M80 out of my pocket I’d been saving for just such an occasion.

“Hey Matt,” I whispered to the person closest to me—in proximity I mean, not in loyalty, “check this out.”

“Whoa!  What is it?”

I’d bought the thing on my last trip to Grandpa’s beach house in Baja, some miles south of Ensenada.  My family would go to Grandpa’s beach house a few times each year.  On a recent visit my brother and I had discovered how much fun fireworks could be and how easy it was to smuggle a few home to unincorporated Ventura County in our luggage.

I was always pretty good at math, and someone told me an M500 was a half a stick of dynamite.  They were also like ten bucks each.  The power alone frightened me; but so did the price.  But an easy calculation told me that an M80 was like a twelfth a stick of dynamite.  Technically, it was an M83.333…, but that’s too much of a mouthful, surely—or so was my theory.  Anyway, an M80 (or 83.333…) was a heck of a lot more powerful than a piddley firecracker or bottle rocket.  And they were only fifty cents each (“or eleven for five dollars, my American friend”)!  So I bought eleven and set five off later that day on the beach and traded four more to a guy for a live lobster.

I broke down and bought a few bottle rockets too, because they flew, which was cool.  But I left the firecracker purchases for my brother.

“Firecrackers are lame,” I said.

“But you can get a whole brick for five bucks,” he answered.  Which was true.

Anyway that left me with two M80s for the trip home, one of which was confiscated at the border because I flinched when the agent asked if I was bringing any fireworks home.  “You know these are illegal in California, son?” he’d asked.

So now I had my one, prized M80, tucked away in my pocket earlier that night for just such an occasion as this, here, bored with our variation on ditch ‘em at the corner.

Now, recovered from my boredom and quivering with excitement over my plan to scare the heebie-jeebies out of my friends, except for Matt who was in on my secret, when it was dark as dark and quiet as quiet, I stealthily lit the M80’s fuse and threw it out into the street, right in the middle of the corner.

And I waited, suppressing giggles as much as possible.

Matt giggled too.

“Shut up, doofus,” I said.

“You shut up!”

We both giggled again, louder this time.

“What?” Andy’s voice came from behind.

“Oh, nothing.”

The fuse was lit.  Only a matter of seconds now!

But the wick was barely smoldering.

Whahuh?  Had I waited too long, I wondered?  Had keeping the firework in my pocket somehow damaged the fuse?  Argh!

I continued to watch and wait, jabbing Matt in the side and pointing out my demise, the quivering and giggling having ceased now, Matt and I watching silently as the firework’s wick glowed more and more dimly, until at last we could see no glow at all.

A dud, I concluded.  My plan had failed.

“Ha,” Matt remarked, jabbing me now and pointing, “bummer for you.”  And he went off to join Andy and Chris and the others.

Then, just as I was about to walk out into the middle of the street and retrieve my prized yet failed twelfth a stick of dynamite in the hopes of some semblance of recompense, humbled, staring at the ground, shuffling my feet—I’d already stood and taken the first steps—the unthinkable happened.

No, I know what you’re thinking; but the M80 did not explode.  Not yet anyway.  Rather, the telltale glare of headlights showed in the distance.  And for some reason—maybe the others were bored by now with the pretend cable game too, or maybe we were out of toilet paper, I don’t know—Chris yelled, “Ditch ‘em,” and we all ran pell-mell in several different directions.

I headed to the uphill side of the road, still anxious to fetch my prized yet failed firework, but after the car was to have passed, wanting to keep an eye on things, hopped over a droopy fence, and sat poised.  And, then—it’s like slow motion as I replay it in my mind’s eye—just as the car we’d all just ditched reached the corner, I saw my twelfth-a-stick-of-dynamite-failed-yet-prized firework suddenly spring back to life.  That fuse wasn’t just a smoldering glow now either, but a full flame!

“Matt!” I shouted.

And—not even a shred of lie here!—not even an ounce of exaggeration!—I swear it on the Alosta Mafia’s highest levels of honor and valor!—just as the car was fully straddled—I mean, the firework was dead center under it!—

KABLAM!

And all at once a collective shout of fright erupted from the Mafia (and maybe from the driver too, I don’t know)!—except from me and Matt.

Then, crickets—except for the idle of the car’s motor and the muted sound of muffled music from inside.

The car had stopped!

And the driver got out.

And he systematically walked around the car.

And he kicked all four tires.

And he shrugged his shoulders and got in and drove off.

And that was that!

But once he was out of earshot—oh, what rapture!—I and all my friends laughed out loud until our bellies ached.

And we were still laughing a half hour later, in fact,

when the cop showed up.

“Hey,” he shouted, “anyone here named Matt?”

And he stepped out of his patrol car.

Five of us rolled out of our various respective hiding spots and walked subconsciously towards this new voice of fearsome, badge-wielding authority; a voice which then said something about someone who’d called the station complaining of some teenagers near that corner up on Alosta Drive throwing lighted objects, thought one might be named Matt.

“Nope,” Chris said, which was true enough, for Matt had gone home shortly after the explosion; thought his dad (a fireman) might start asking questions and wanted an alibi.  (“Nah, I was home by then, Dad.  Don’t you remember?”)

“Yeah,” I offered; and added without thinking, “he went home already.”

And again, crickets.

Then it began to roll over me, like when one of us would roll out of a wagon onto, over, and across the blessed, saving ice plant!  What had I just said?  What had I just done?  The gig was up now for sure!  And by the betrayed looks of my former friends, I’d have some answering to do later.

“Well,” the cop said, “I appreciate your honesty, um—what’s your name?”

“Tim.”

“Yes, Tim, I appreciate your honesty.  You do realize, son, that fireworks are illegal in California?”

I flinched.

“Yes, uh, sir,” I managed, finally.

The cop addressed my cronies.  “You dweebs go wait over there,” he pointed.  “I want to talk to Tim alone.”

“Yessir!” they said collectively and, I thought, all too willingly.  And, swoosh, they were out of earshot.  Or at least I hoped they were.

Just to be sure, though, I spoke quietly.  And I told the whole story.  Including that part about smuggling the illegal firework from Mexico.  Including that part about the tattered fuse.  Including that part about me thinking it was a dud.  Including that part when I shouted Matt’s name, which is probably where the person who called the station had heard it, I said.  And even including that part about the driver getting out, kicking his tires, shrugging his shoulders, and driving off.

“And,” I continued, “I know I shouldn’t have—  Wait.  Officer, sir, are you laughing?”

“Um, son,” he cleared his throat.  Then, some moments later, after he’d turned his face from me so I couldn’t tell whether he was smiling or scowling or what, he continued.  “Never mind.  I appreciate your honesty though, son.  Don’t ever lose that.  And you just tell Matt, next time you see him, that fireworks are illegal in California.  Got it?  That’s all.”

I stared up for a few seconds in disbelief.  That was all?  Really?  I was nonplussed.  “What do you mean?” I asked.  “Aren’t you gonna bust me?”

He leaned over and cupped his hand around his mouth and whispered—so there was no chance of them overhearing—“No, Tim, I ain’t gonna bust you.  Your friends will do enough of that, I’m sure.  But keep it quiet after I leave and they might keep it to a minimum.  After all, quiet ain’t dishonest.”

He then stood up straight, turned, walked to his car, called on his radio (loudly enough for anyone in earshot to hear, mind you)—“nothing to be concerned about, just some kids being stupid”—got in, sat down, turned off the flashing lights, turned the car around, and drove slowly away, out of Chris’s driveway, around that memorable corner, and out of sight.

Background: Wrestling with Faith

Posted in Background with tags , , , on July 5, 2013 by timtrue
Chilling with a Youth for Christ Bible study, 1986?  I'm second from right, back row.

Chilling with a Youth for Christ Bible study, 1986? I’m second from right, back row.

I wanted to believe the story.  I really did.  God had created humanity upright.  But humanity fell, demonstrated in the story of Adam and Eve.  Redemption could only come through the death of someone or something upright, meaning a Person without fallenness.  This Person could only be, therefore, the Son of the Most High God, Jesus Christ, for he had come down from heaven, was born of the virgin Mary, and became man, begotten not made; and only such an existence could be upright.  All that remained was for me to put my trust in him personally, to accept that he did this for me in order that God might see me as he sees Christ, sinless, upright, spotless and pure, and therefore become one of God’s own children.  Had I accepted this as truth when I asked Jesus to come into my heart at the Youth for Christ ski trip?  Had I trusted in Jesus as my personal Redeemer?

Questions surfaced.  The Gospel story was awesome.  Like I said already, I wanted to believe it.  But something inside me tugged.

When I was younger, maybe seven years old, my brother came into the room we shared and said, “Come with me.  I want to show you something.”

I was still groggy with sleep.  I heard Dad in the kitchen, preoccupied with his Saturday morning ritual of cooking pancakes: from the sound of the pan and mixing bowl clanking together he was just starting.  Breakfast would be ready in maybe half an hour.

“Where’s Mom?” I asked.

“Playing tennis.”

What was my brother up to, I wondered?

Some few minutes later he’d led me to a door in the ceiling of a hall closet, a door to the attic, a door I had only ever seen, never been through.  He’d already stationed a barstool inside the closet, which I then watched him climb up and from his perch propel himself onto a shelf from which–clever, I thought–he easily entered the overhead door.  I followed his lead.

A few moments later I found myself in our house’s attic, a new experience for me, with my leader and guide, a brother obviously experienced with this kind of thing, ready for some adventure into some world unknown.  What did Andy have up his sleeve?

That’s when I became suddenly aware of our surroundings.  All around, stacked two or three high in a dimly lit circle of red and green, wrapped presents quietly stared at us.  I looked at Andy uncertainly.  His grin was sinister.

Andy showed me only one gift that morning, an Atari video game console.  With a pocketknife he carefully cut through the piece of scotch tape holding the wrapping paper in place.  Somehow he managed deftly to pull the box out and open it and show me the contents inside then put it all back together, including securing the wrapping paper with a single small piece of scotch tape to cover and disguise the pocket-knife cut without leaving any other discernible marks, at least as far as I could make out.  By then it all was something of a blur: my eyes–unknown to Andy–were welling up with tears.

I said something dumb like “Cool!” and quickly descended our makeshift staircase and headed back to my bed to bury my face in my pillow in private where I’d have time before breakfast to recover and my shock and sadness might not be detected.  But Andy followed me.

“Don’t you want to see what else is up there?” he asked.  “Why’d you leave?”

“The label,” I sniffed.

“What about it?”

“It said, ‘Merry Christmas!  Love, Santa.'”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, Santa really isn’t real.”

“Of course he’s not real!”

Yeah.  Unreal.  The gig was finally up for me that sad morning.  I’d always believed the Santa Claus story till then.  I’d always trusted that my parents were telling me the truth, even when the occasional questions surfaced about time zones and flying reindeer and how an out-of-shape old man could accomplish so much in one short night.  But here, Andy’s sneaking demonstration of superior, older brother wisdom–this was too much!  This was evidence irrefutable.

So now, as a young man processing the Gospel story in earnest for the first time, memories of the Santa sham plagued my mind.  Some people were telling me that that Jesus was born of a virgin, that the Bible said so.  But what if it were just a story, a custom, like all parents everywhere telling their kids about Santa?  Yeah, there is the Bible, a book seemingly all about the Christ, fully man and fully God, incarnated in Jesus; but there are books and books about Santa, Saint Nicholas, and Kris Kringle too–not to mention songs and giftshop curios, just like with Jesus.

“That’s where you gotta have faith,” my Bible study leader answered.  Then I’m sure I heard him say quietly, “You ask a lot of questions.”  Whether he meant this to be heard or not I didn’t bother to ask.

Another photo from this time period.  I'm second from left.

Another photo from this time period. I’m second from left.

Well, I never did get a satisfactory answer to my Jesus-as-a-sophisticated-Santa-story question, but I began to see that the Bible contained a lot of practical wisdom, a lot of answers to other questions I was dealing with at the time.  I became especially enamored with the book of Proverbs.  I read maxims like (I’m going from memory here, and it’s been a while, so I make no claims to accuracy here): “As a door turns on its hinges so the lazy man turns on his bed”; “A man’s face falls into his bowl of stew yet he is too lazy to lift it”; and, “Consider the ant, you sluggard.”  Of course, these lazy-bones prohibitions resonated with a teenager who observed friends gathering unproductively and frequently just to “hang out.”  Redeeming the time, being punctual, giving one’s word and sticking to it–these were largely foreign concepts to the teenage crowd around me; and I soon observed that if I abided by these things grownups liked it.  And that meant getting the jobs I wanted and supporting the lifestyle I was living, meaning affording a car to get me to the beaches and mountains on my days off and having enough spending cash left over for a burrito and horchata.  Living simply nevertheless necessitated car ownership.

I learned also at this time to be flexible.  Another proverb says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD directs his steps.”  Paired with New Testament passages that say things like, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of the who love him,” I found it easier to face painful times–like when your older brother spoils your Christmas fantasies!

Too, I developed a whole network of new friends, good friends who like me were trying to live upstanding lives and interacted with the grownup world in ways I before had been intimidated by.  And I found myself enjoying this newfound interaction (see above about getting the job I wanted and living simply).

So I tried to ignore or set aside or suppress those questions about whether Christianity was one of the greatest shams in the history of the world.

This shot pretty much sums up everything.

This shot pretty much sums up everything.

At the same time, about to graduate from high school, I realized I had no plan for college.  But I had always assumed I’d go to college.  It was one of those non-negotiables in my mind, like church has been for my kids as they’ve grown up.  On Sundays we wake up and go to church.  No questions asked.  It’s always been so; and always will be.  At least that’s how they think of it.  Anyway, I had to develop a college plan, and quickly.

So I enrolled in a local community college, fall, 1986.  This allowed me to stay local, to continue working at the flower shop as a delivery boy (driving around the Thousand Oaks area in my 1970 Triumph TR6, looking oh so cool and collecting the occasional big tip), and to continue working as a volunteer with Ventura County Youth for Christ, where I was now leading a Bible study with kids from a rougher part of Oxnard.  Still, I had no idea what to declare as a major.

I like to backpack, I thought.  I also sympathize more with the tree huggers than the loggers, I told myself.  So why not study forestry?  Which is the first major I declared.  But calculus was a bear.  And the work I was doing, both for pay and volunteering, was far more enjoyable.  Was I even sure I wanted to go to college right now after all?  I could move to Mammoth for a couple years, decide what I want to study, then come back, yeah?

While these thoughts revolved in my mind, the first semester came and went.  And I failed calculus.

Second semester meant a break in math, but I continued my college education otherwise.  General education seemed a good idea, especially since now I was even less sure I wanted to major in forestry, so I took photography, music appreciation, chemistry, and physics, and continued to work at the flower shop and with the barrio kids in Oxnard.

And to distract my wanderlust for the time being, I, on a whim, applied to work at a camp in the Sierras for the summer.  A month later, despite my long hair, laidback attitude, and getting lost on the way to the interview at Azusa Pacific University, resulting in my arriving more than half an hour late, the camp director, on a whim himself I found out later, decided to hire me as a dishwasher.

Background: Adolescent Angst

Posted in Background with tags , , , , , , on June 30, 2013 by timtrue

ad ang 2

What this contrast really confronted me with, now as I look back on it all, is something normal for most adolescents.  I was growing up, establishing my own identity, developing my own convictions; or, to put it another way, breaking away from my family.  Recent events may have hastened the process some.  But it was inevitable.

So I entered that time of limbo in human development.  Childhood was over.  Visions of the New Era of Adulthood, that Promised Land of freedom and (like it or not) responsibility, tantalized.  Here in the meantime was purgation, a. k. a. high school.

For me, part of figuring out who I was as an individual person, independent of my family, meant distancing myself.  I didn’t need anyone else’s help, counsel, feedback, authority.  Lame, I know, but that’s where my teenage mind led.  Anything I could do on my own with my own identifying signature attached to it was of interest to me; and the bolder the signature the better.

So team sports were out, for instance.  Well, they were out except for AYSO soccer.  High school soccer wasn’t for me, since it was attached to that institution where I was sentenced to spend most of my limbo incarceration.  But the AYSO soccer league allowed a distraction I guess, time with friends who shared similar feelings about high school as a place of limbo and as a way to stay in shape, or to get in better shape for the approaching winter.  Yes, winter, because in southern California winter was no excuse for staying indoors, and, more importantly, it brought snow to the local mountains, which inevitably meant snow skiing.

Now this was a sport that resonated.  I could purchase my lift ticket and be gone, all day if I wanted, enjoying speed, cold wind in my face, more speed, adrenaline rushes, airtime, and a catalog of glory-laden and emboldened signature stories at the end of the day, sitting in a hot tub or in front of a fire.  Heck, I thought, this is so great I might just have to move to Mammoth Mountain after high graduation.  Who needs college?

I also grew to love motorcycling, hiking, and bicycling; and toyed with surfing, but it never really took, though it beat team sports any day of the week.

Homework was another area I put as much of my own signature on as I could.  Dad was a brilliant engineer, as has already been mentioned.  So I had this great resource at my disposal for any class math- or science-related.  But do you think I used this resource?  I should have, yeah; but fool that I was I did not, unless the gig was up, usually about report card time, choosing instead to take a C on an exam rather than the A I could have earned with a little tutorial help.  Well did Mark Twain say, “When I was fourteen I was surprised at how little my dad actually knew; when I was twenty-one I was amazed at how much he had learned in seven years.”  But I could say they were my grades.

My inherent creativity continued into adolescence.  It just started manifesting itself in ways that were more personal to me.  I wasn’t taking piano lessons anymore.  On my own, without a teacher, I was drawn both to Mozart and Chopin: Mozart appealed to the sanguine side of me; Chopin to the melancholy.  Sanguine and melancholy in the same personality?  A good case study for any psychologist!

A story comes to mind to illustrate this curious personality cocktail.  One Saturday afternoon during this limbo period of life I sat in a living room with my brother and a couple neighbor boys.  Halloween was approaching.  We all felt too old to put on costumes and trick-or-treat; but we all felt too young to stay home and open the door for little ones.  What to do?

My sanguine-melancholy self took charge.  “What if,” I suggested, “we all dressed up as thugs?  We can put on ski masks and grab baseball bats.  Then, let’s make a dummy and go down to the beginning of the street.”  (We lived in a rural setting and the beginning of the street, where it branched off from the more traveled East Loop, promised more traffic.)  “And whenever we see the glare of headlights nearing, we start beating the dummy until we’re sure we’re seen.  Then we run off in every direction and hide.”

They loved it.  And so I, a little brother and nearly the youngest of the group, found myself in uncharacteristic charge of a peer activity–which would bear my signature.

Trouble is, I discovered (as I have seen many times since) that no one really wanted to volunteer their time, talents, or stuff to the cause.  In this case it meant that I made the dummy, using a pair of blue jeans and a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of pantyhose I pilfered from my stepmom’s stash for the head; and stuffing it all with nearly every spare piece of clothing I had.  Shorts, socks, t-shirts, underwear–except for a few changes of clothes, everything went in.

So the night came: Halloween.  Dark set in.  The first trick-or-treaters appeared.  The time had come to execute our plan.  I grabbed my dummy, so lovingly put together, and my ski mask and baseball bat.  Outside my brother and three friends greeted me.  We giggled in anticipation.

Fifteen minutes later we were there, at the corner of East Loop and our street, with the anticipated glare of headlights drawing near.  We threw the dummy down in the middle of the street, straddling the double yellow, and started beating it.  I laughed so hard with each blow that my stomach hurt.  Then the headlights caught us full in the face.  And like a perfectly rehearsed play, we ran off in five different directions, into the avocado orchards and shrubbery of five different neighbors, leaving the dummy in the middle of the road.

That, by the way, was my mistake.  Not that it didn’t work!  Cars would screech to a halt, the driver would get out, poke and prod the dummy, then usually laugh or shake a head before getting back in the car and driving off.  Believe it or not, even a cop did this!  But long about the time our fun was winding down and we were talking about packing up and heading home, wouldn’t you know it, one last car came along.  We threw the dummy down and beat it until the headlights caught us then ran off, each to his own.  But this car’s driver, instead of giving the predictable head shake, kidnapped the dummy and drove off.

I never saw my clothes again.

And being so independent now, I never explained what happened to my parents.  Instead, until Christmas I lived with those three pairs of clothes (and surmise, though I can’t prove it, that thereby I started the grunge style).

I had relished the opportunity to be in charge, showing my sanguine colors to my impressed older brother and his and my friends.  But I moped around for two months–till Christmas when seemingly all my relatives gave me new clothes as gifts–languishing in a melancholy slump over my lost clothes.

So my adolescent angst was fairly typical.  But, on the other hand, I was asking questions none of my friends were.  So many of my friends would gaze at themselves overly long in the mirror, admiring their own growing muscles or gauging the emergence of facial hair, wondering how often to shave or how to catch a girl’s attention.  Or some of my jock friends would preoccupy their time with workouts and football strategies, contemplating and practicing ways to become that much better, faster, or more agile than the next guy.  But I wrestled with questions ontological, epistemological, and metaphysical.  What was the meaning of my existence?  How did I know whether I was awake or in a dream, whether the life I knew each day was actually the dream and my dreams were reality?  Was God real, and if so, how did an immanent God factor into my small world?

It was here, by the way, that the thought first occurred to me that I might be seeing the world too simply.  It was one way or the other to my adolescent mind, without much room for middle ground.  In my mind something was either right or wrong, good or bad, worthwhile or not.  Like snow skiing and high school.  Recognizing this tendency, then, I asked myself if I might perceive the good things I remembered from my childhood as better than they actually were.  I asked too whether the bad things might not be nearly as bad as I recalled.

The contrast I mentioned in my last post then, the one that confronted me abruptly?  Like Hermes, the messenger of the gods, it brought this most excellent question to me for the first time.

Anyway, my adolescent friends thought my questions were far out.  Too far out, in fact.  So I stopped asking them–out loud at least.