The Beginning

The Beginning

This whole story begins, or at least the part where I come in, at the Palmer House in Chicago with great grandma trying one too many exotic drinks. I was made on the couch of the hotel room while my giggling parents tried to be quiet as to not wake grandma.

About 10 months later, I was born in a hospital in Berea, Ohio, a hospital that is no longer there, in fact its a retirement community now. I was born 10lbs 4 oz. I had spent nearly an extra month in there, hence the big size! I always tell everyone that the place was warm and cozy and free food flowed from a tube. Why would I ever want to leave? I have been told that I was an easy baby once I did come. Slept most of the time and often I had to be woke up to be fed!

My first memories are of trips we took to Arizona to see my mom’s parents. I remember riding the Amtrak train through Chicago, riding the Durango Silverton line and Mesa Verde. Later in life when I went back to those places, they felt so comforting and familiar. I also remember the heat and the smell of fresh air after smelling grandma’s cigarettes. Anytime I walk out of a smoke filled place or get out of a smoke tainted car it reminds me of being with them in Phoenix. I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes, but that transition smell brings good memories.

In writing this, I have come to realize that so many of the things that make me feel warm and comforted inside are things that remind of my childhood, especially smells. The smell of fresh Midwest air, the smell of the creek and freshly turned over fossils, the fresh smell of dad coming out of the cold air when he returned from work, the smell of and feel of sand, the electric smell of dad’s N-scale trains,

We used to go to the Cleveland Zoo and the thing that sticks in my mind all these years later is not the animals, but how high and big the Fulton Road Bridge in the middle was. I remember staring up in awe at it. I think that little things like trips to the zoo have a longer and far more substantial impact on the child than the parents. For them, its a great afternoon, but for the me, the memory has lasted a life time. I reminded them once of going to the zoo in blue and white van and seeing the huge bridge. It took a long time for them to figure out who’s van that could have been because they didn’t remember.

When I was four they made me go to day care, which I hated. It was always nap time when I wanted to play or play time when I wanted to nap. Who were these people that could tell me when to do every little thing through my whole day! In kindergarten, I got in trouble and eventually kicked out for not playing along. I didn’t want to share or do it their way! My second kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Sylvester was able to handle me better, but then I got sick. One school night, while dad was on the West coast for business, I begged mom to let me stay up late to watch Wonder-woman. About half way through the show I had a seizure. I would soon be in an oxygen tent with tubes running everywhere. I actually died twice in the hospital when my heart stopped beating. Later they had to tape my hands down, because I kept pulling the tubes out of my throat. It turns out that I had contracted encephalitis from a mosquito bite!

I was put on Phenobarbital and that made me a bad kid and a skinny kid for the only time in my life. With my kindergarten year being so fouled up, the counselor at the school decided to put me in remedial first grade, without telling my parents! When it came time for me to go to second grade my parents found out that I would have now have to go to regular first grade. Boy, were they pissed! It turns out that our neighbor, Mrs. Zorn, was on the school board and through her, the women who had secretly held me back was fired. The damage had already been done and I was doomed to always be a grade behind. That would have been fine if I had actually enjoyed school, but I hated it. I remember thinking in second grade as I watched the older students walking through the hall “I have 10 more years of this crap! Ahh!” I would analyze how long I had in months, days and years and I counted down as the years went by.

I remember in my second first grade having to write letters, like the letter ‘a’, over and over filling pages. I thought this was a stupid waste of time and when I was told to write a page of ‘a’s I simple made a huge ‘a’ the size of an entire line and therefore only had to make 5 ‘a’s. This of course was not what the teacher intended and I was in trouble as always.

In second grade my teacher Ms. Waingar, was the first teacher that understood how I worked. She would reward me for being good instead of punishing me for being bad. We used to get points all week and at the end of the week, we could buy a prize off of a shelf. The better the prize, like a Matchbox car, the more points we needed. I remember watching Jackie, and how good she was. I tried to act like her and figure out how she could be so good, because I wanted that Matchbox car! But, eventually that strive to act good couldn’t hold up against the mounting pressure to do something fun. At least with Ms. Waingar, I was actually trying to be good.

By time I was in second grade, I already had a strong interest in astronomy. When I was 6 my dad had showed me Orion in the sky above our house. I remember being able to see the 3 belt stars but not the rest. This sparked my interest, which has never waned. When our class got to the topic of astronomy, Ms. Waingar let me get up and teach it since I knew so much. That was a wonderful experience and made me feel that this calling was the right one for me.

Ms. Waingar transferred to the third grade with me and I couldn’t be happier to have her as a teacher again. By this time, I had a full crush on her and was disappointed when she got married and became Mrs. McCormick.

My teachers used to send home letters with me to my mom, most likely for something I had done, but I was unable to read them, because they were in that dastardly code called “cursive”. This encouraged me to learn cursive as fast as I could.

In fourth grade, I was assigned a new teacher who went back to the punishment method, which I didn’t take kindly too. I spent almost everyday in the hallway or in the principals office. I became well acquainted with the principal’s wooden paddle. I also developed a pencils and crayon collection “habit”. It became my mission to collect as many writing utensils off the floor as possible and was often caught crawling around picking them up. I would also set up my Trapper Keepers in a defensive wall with folders on top so I could have my own private desk.

I was actually failing fourth grade, except science, so it was lucky for me that we moved to New York State in the middle of the year and ‘somehow’ the records were lost. Leaving Ohio for that state of buildings and endless city, at least that’s what I thought it was going to be like, was the most traumatic experience of my life until then, in fact, not until I was 37 would I feel as much loss and pain. I missed my friends terribly. Jeanine and my best friend, Nick the most. Nick was 6 years younger than me, but it didn’t matter.

New York State

When we got to Verbank, New York, it wasn’t at all what I expected. Our house was in a new forested neighborhood and we were one of the first houses there. It was very quiet and very dark at night. One of the first things I did was to start looking for fossils. There were plenty of sedimentary rocks about, but none of them had fossils. I was disappointed, but it wasn’t long before I found new entertainment. About a half a mile behind our house was a small airport and there was an airplane graveyard. There was also a tree house near the end of the runway, where we could watch the planes take off. It was actually a tree stand for hunting, but we used it as our tree house. As for the plane graveyard, we started bringing buckets and tools to tear the planes apart. I wanted to see how everything worked and to take some cool parts home. Over the next year, the shelf in my room filled up with altimeters, airspeed indicators, attitude indicators, turn and vertical indicators and a course deviation indicator. Everything was going fine until one day, dad came out and found a wing in our sandbox. He said I couldn’t have a wing in the yard and he put it at the street for the garbage. I don’t know why we couldn’t have a wing in the yard? It was so cool! But, I think the airplane wing in the street was a red flag for our house, because a man came by and talked to my parents after that. He was apparently the owner of the airplane graveyard. After that, we weren’t allowed to go there anymore. I still have most of those instruments today. I keep them on my desk as fidget toys.

Another thing we used to do for fun was to go to all the construction sites with my wagon and pick up pop cans and bottles. In New York, every can was worth 5 cents and some of the bottles were worth 20. Once, we had a wagon full, we would go to the corner store, turn in our booty and buy candy. The most difficult choice was whether to get chocolate, which was surely the most delicious or to get something like Gobstobbers, while not as tasty, would last much much longer. Short period of ecstasy or a long period of mild savoring pleasure, this is a nagging question that I don’t think ever goes away. We would then take our new treats and head up to the walls of Cooper’s Monument, for whom our road, Cooper Dr. was named.

On the weekends, we would often go around to garage sales. We would even go to Connecticut to find them. I always enjoyed it as it was a chance to go out as a family and explore. Plus, there were always treasures to be found, like my Star Wars Death Star set and my AT-AT. The moms who were selling their kids toys practically gave them away at a few dollars. I always felt sad for the kids who had to sell their toys.

Sometimes we would head to New York City. On the way, we would pass through a town called Beacon. This place scared the crap out of my sister. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Vacation, where the Griswolds get lost in St. Louis. Not the kind of place you want to sit still in. When my sister was bad, we would threaten her with Beacon.

On Sunday’s, we would go into Millbrook, go to church and then onto a little bakery that was there. They would get brownies and I would get what was called a blondy. It had white chocolate and dark chocolate. Afterwords, I liked to go to the toy shops. One had a display with the best Matchbox cars and the other store had miniature tanks and half tracks. They were of superb quality and I bought them as I was able to save up money. I still have all of them today.

When we moved into our house you could see the remnants of an old stone wall. In fact, there were stone walls that ran everywhere. My mom made it her mission to rebuild the rock wall in our front yard and it became our punishment. If we did something bad, we had to go build the rock wall for so long or so many rocks. And the was no shortage of rocks. The whole yard was rocks, with few pieces of grass in between. Over the years, mom, and us, under duress, cleared the yard of rocks, expect one in the back yard. It looked like a small innocent rock when she started to dig it out, but after a few weeks and going a few feet down, this rock just got larger and larger. Turns out she was digging up Gibraltar!

We would often go on family walks and while I looked for fossils, mom was looking for the perfect rock for her wall. And she always found them. We always came back with full arms of rocks and in one case full pants. My sister got tired of carrying hers so she decided to put them down her pants, which promptly sagged to the ground. It was actually pretty hilarious.
One day, my father was working in the attic. I think he was doing some wiring for the garage, but in the process, he had to break through the insulation into a part of the attic we had never seen before. I was exploring around and found a little 6’x6′ room. It had a hole just big enough for me to squeeze through. I could see out into the front yard through a small vent on one wall, so it had good sight lines. Perfect for a hideout.

The house also had a balcony over looking the front door. This became our flight test area. Plastic army men with handkerchief chutes, paper airplanes, or anything else we needed to test its flight worthiness.

When we would listen to music, you would always have to be careful not to shake the house too much because it would make the record skip.

Why I hate going to the dentist.

After Halloween in 1984, I went to my friend Howie’s house. We played with Legos and Star Wars toys and then we decided to go out and shoot his pumpkin with the BB gun. We did that for a bit and then we grabbed the baseball bats to finish it off. And you thought we were going to shoot our eyes out, didn’t you!? Well, its almost as bad. We were whacking the pumpkin, throwing pieces into the air and hitting them. My piece landed in the street, so I went to get it and just then a car came, so I backed off the street. Howie didn’t see me come back and he threw a piece up in the air and took a swing. It went right through the pumpkin piece and into my face. I remember laying on the ground and then I was in a chair in his house with his parents looking at me in horror. Something felt weird. No teeth! Where were my front teeth?! All that was left were nerves hanging down. I’m just glad I was in shock, because it didn’t hurt so bad. My parents came to pick me up and were going to take me to a dentist, but it was Sunday and they were all closed. They called many offices and finally found one dentist who could come in and fix me. He drilled two holes into my mouth were my teeth used to be and screwed in two titanium rods. He then affixed a resin that hardened under UV light. Amazingly, these new teeth have lasted almost 30 years so far, with some maintenance done by my businesses partner, Brian, who was also a dentist. I always tell people the only part of me that would survive reentry would be those two rods. The worst thing about this whole experience was that the dentist had a good look at my teeth and said I needed braces. Now those were painful! I think I would rather have crooked teeth than go through that again! In any case, I think I like the fake teeth better. They won’t rot, they’re immune to sensitivity from hot and cold, although, I can feel them expand and contract, and they look good.

Mom always had terrible headaches and as she got older they got worse. The doctors thought it was because of her large overbite. They decided they needed to break her jaw and reset it to make the pains go away. After the surgery, mom’s face looked like a basketball and for the next 3 months, her mouth was wired shut. She had to eat everything through a straw. This meant that whatever we were having for dinner, she was having in a blender. The funny, but probably mean thing looking back on it now, was that anytime she told us to clean or do chores, we would act like we couldn’t understand her. She would yell “mummsmnmvm”, and us, while running away, “what? We can’t understand you…”.

After the 3 months, she finally got her mouth unwired. She was so excited that she was going to be able to eat again. Unfortunately, the muscles had atrophied and she wasn’t able to open her mouth even without the wires. So, everyday she had to put tongue depressors in her mouth and twist them. At first, it was just one, then two then three and so on, until after a month or more, she was finally able to open her mouth all the way and start eating again. It didn’t effect us a lot as kids, but now that I look back, I think how horrible that must have been.

School in New York

New York schools were terrible. I started out going to 4th grade at Millbrook Middle School, but there were many fights and the teachers did nothing about it. So I transferred to a private catholic school. The students and teachers were much nicer, but you had to pray in class and go to church, which I hated. The big problem was figuring out what I hated more. Getting beat up or putting up with the religious indoctrination. After a year there, I switched again to public school. In 5th grade, I had a class of about 30, but we were joined to another class of 30. At each end a teacher taught something different. I guess they figured if you got bored with what one teacher was saying, you could try to listen to the other teacher. We also had toilets at each end of the classroom, and for a time, my desk was right next one. On an average day, while the two teachers were rambling on about something, I threw a small piece of scrap paper into the toilet. I didn’t think anything of it, but one of the other students yelled to the teacher what I had done and the teacher came over and scolded me. She asked me “is this the kind of thing you do at home!?” I said, “of course” and this really made her mad. This started a letter writing campaign between my parents and the teacher about how, yes indeed, we do sometimes throw paper or small bits of trash in the toilet. This in turn lead to a discussion of how I must be retarded because I was too happy in class. The teacher even sent me for an IQ evaluation! When it came back genius, I was let back into class. Next, I wrote a science report on astronomy about local stars in the Milky Way including Cygnus X-1. The teachers gave me an ‘F’ for copying. They said, because they don’t understand it, I must have copied it from a book. Mom and dad went in and argued with them explaining that I had spent a week on this project and that I did not copy anything. They raised the grade to a C, but at this point, I think my parents had had enough and back to catholic school I went.

Winter Fun

One winter day, my sister and I were waiting at the end of the driveway for the school bus and we started to talk about a movie we had recently seen called ‘A Christmas Story’. She asked me if it was true that if you licked frozen metal, your tongue would stick. I said “yes, it is”. She said “no, it can’t be”. “yes, it is!”. “no its not! How do you know anyway!?” To this I finally said “if you don’t believe me lick that power box”, which she promptly did…and got stuck! She did this just as the school bus came around the corner and in a panic, not wanting to miss the bus, she just yanked her tongue off the box! She got on the bus with a bit of a strange look and then blood started to seep out of her mouth. The funny thing is the top of her tongue stayed stuck on that box for the rest of the time we lived there.

On the days where the snow became to deep for the school buses, we would go sled riding on the power line road behind our house. We liked to play sled crash up derby by having everyone start out at the top of the hill at the same time. The dirt road wasn’t wide enough for everyone, so we rammed into each other trying to make sure we weren’t the ones going into the pricker bushes. A few times I was the one who ended up smack in the middle of the all the prickers. After you ran over them, they tended to pop right back up. The real trick was how to get out, once you “rode” in.
I lost one of my best sleds doing this. It was made of orange plastic with steering handles, but on its last run, I got hit hard, lost control, flipped and the guy behind me ran over my sled, which exploded into a million little orange pieces.

We used to sled ride in Ohio as well. Sled riding was a dangerous, but fun pastime. Jeanine and I were sledding in the woods. We were the last hold outs as all the other kids had gone home. It was starting to get dark, so we decided to make just one more run. We had ridden down the trail so many times, that it started to become ice. At the end of the run, there was a hard right with an embankment. This last time, Jeanine made it, but I didn’t. I had so much speed I went straight, hit a stump and then a tree in mid air. I sat at the bottom of the tree after the impact in a bit of a daze. I felt a little dizzy and Jeanine looked at me with horror on her face and said “feel your head!”. I did and my hand came back covered in blood. Now I felt the pain! She ran to get help, but left me bleeding alone in the woods. I was freaked out, so I started to walk back. When I got to Jeanine’s house, I sat down in her garage and then the ambulance showed up. Dad was on the rescue squad at the time, so he heard the call along with the address and knew it was me! And that was another trip to the hospital.

Sometimes, we would head to see my mom’s cousin who ran the Malcom Gorden boarding school. It was across the river from West Point and you could hear the cadets marching and calling out orders. During the winter there, we decided to make a snow man. I started rolling a snow ball and it got bigger and bigger and I needed more and more people to help push it. Eventually, it became so large that we could no longer move it! So, that became the spot where the snowman would be. We rolled another one, but it became to large before we could get it close to the first one. The third try, we got the second ball next to the first, but there was no way to lift it onto the first. So, instead of a snowman, we had giant mega-balls of snow, which were pretty cool in themselves. I remember as we pushed these balls, you could hear the low creaking of the snow under the tremendous load. Like a huge old wooden door slowly being closed.

School Bus

Where to begin with the school bus? You will never see a more “wretched hive of scum and villany” as on a public school bus. I find it cute that some parents don’t let their kids watch certain TV shows because of violence or language. Have they ever been on a school bus?!

On a typical New York schoolbus ride, while a huge boom box blasted Domo Aritgato Mr. Roboto from the back, one of the bullies started picking on me. He was kicking my seat, saying nasty things and slapping the back of my head. Normally, I just whacked bullies over the head with my lunchbox, but that day was to be a little different. I forgot that during recess, I had collected fossils, and my book bag was full of them. So, when the whack came, it knocked him clean out of his seat! That was an instant trip to the principal’s office. I was expecting hell to rain down, but that’s not what happened. The bully stood there, bleeding from the forehead and all the principal said was “don’t do that again!” I was amazed. In Ohio, I got paddled for just doing simple things like disrupting class, but here, with outright violence, nothing.

North Carolina

In Sixth grade, we moved to North Carolina and I started middle school there. I had started to noticed increase aggression and general strangeness of the kids before I left New York, but it really started to get weird as the 6th grade progressed. Kids were spitting on each other, yanking other kids pants down, fighting, screaming and all sorts of crazy off the wall behavior. They seemed to lose all logical reasoning. Whatever was happening to them, including my sister, I seemed to be immune.

I was on my way to biology class one morning when a kid came up to me in the hallway and punched me in the eye. I don’t even know who he was, but we both got dragged off the principal’s office. In North Carolina, they have an automatic suspension policy for violence. I didn’t do anything expect hit his fist with my eye, but I got three days in school suspension. He did also, but that made me decide that next time, Im going to hit back. If I’m going to get suspended for doing nothing, I am sure as hell going to get in a few free lunch box whacks first. By the way, that’s how I had dented my favorite Battle Star Galactica lunch box.

My usual defense against these hormone crazed teenagers, was to just to make them laugh, so they forgot about beating me up, but that didn’t always work. In 8th grade, Hunter Spanks, a well known punk bully started to shove me and make fun of me while the rest of the class watched. Obviously, the teacher wasn’t there. What was stupid, was that Hunter was half my weight. Eventually, I grabbed him and threw him over some desks and in the process, one of his earings got ripped out. Again, I was in the principal’s office, but this time, I only got 1 day suspension and he got 3! So, I got a reduced sentence for fighting back? The best thing about that confrontation, is that all the way through high school, and even into college, people would ask me “are you the guy who beat up Hunter Spanks?!”. Because of that one event, I never had any real bully issues again! Plus, I actually became friends with him.

I always thought of school as being forced to put in an 8 hour work day, without getting paid and I wanted to change that. In the 7th grade I started writing stories and printing out pictures to sell in between classes. I would stand in hall and say “get your deal pack here, 5 stories and a cool dragon pictures for 50 cents!” Funny thing is, they actually sold! I had one story about saving the planet by giving aliens ice cream instead of eating humans, one about Africa and how I could fly a plane and not drive a stick, which actually became true later, and a few others. The picture was a two sheets long dragon printed on a black and white dot matrix. Cool stuff back then. My next money making scheme, and I don’t know how this started, was to simply chase money when kids threw it. They thought it was hillarious, but I was making bank! I was easily taking home $50 a month. Everyday at lunch, I would hang out in the court yard and the kids would come out and stand around the edges and just chuck nickles, dimes, quarters or whatever they had. I had a monopoly on this for about a month until some other not so dumb kids began catching on. Soon, there were 3 or 4 of us running for money. This made it a bigger show, so kids threw even more money! This racket when on for 3 or 4 months, until it got so big, that the principal took notice and stepped in. So, back I went to the principal office. He told me I had to stop, that it was bad for my self esteem or something. I told him that I really don’t mind. I don’t care what the other kids think, I am making good money and the kids are getting entertained. What’s wrong with that? But, apparently, it was an embarrasment for the school, so we were forced to stop.

In 8th grade, one of the students bet me that I wouldn’t come in in suit and tie with a briefcase. I took that bet! And when I did, I found that the teacher’s treated me differently, which was curious. After winning the bet, I kept wearing it and found that with a upstanding look, I could get away with far more and I got more privileges. If just dressing a certain way has a definite advantage over another, I was going to dress that way. I ended up carrying 1 and then 2 briefcases until college. In fact, in 11th grade, my teacher bet me in the other direction! He said that if I came in with a backpack and wore jeans, he would raise my grade to a B. I told my parents and we went shopping. I came in with not only a backpack, wearing the latest torn jeans of the day, a punk T-shirt, but I even had a skull and crossbones earring in one ear. I got my B.
I used to carry everything in those briefcases. Besides my books, I had a micro-cassette recorder, a pair of binoculars, a CB, a portable fan, a word-processor, a CD player, 2 calculators, a Pentax K-1000 with a 300mm zoom and a Silver Reed portable copier, just like the one they have in the movie Wall Street.

In 9th grade I took the hardest combined English/History class in the state. It was stimulating, but when I would write a paper, the teacher would say “good job” as she handed me a D. So, in 10th grade, I went back to regular English. Wow, what a difference. It was the opposite end of the spectrum and a complete waste of time. Our daily assignment would be stuff like ‘copy these 5 pages from the book and put commas in where they go’. OK, simple enough, I just got out my copier, copied the pages, put in the commas and I was done. The teacher looked at the work I had completed in under five minutes and said “you can’t do that”. I asked why not? Her response was that is was unfair to the other students as they didn’t have copiers. To this I replied “look at my shoes, $10 from K-mart, look at their $200 Nike’s. I only spent $100 on this copier, so anyone of them could have bought one too, but they chose expensive shoes.” At that, she gave up and accepted it. I can’t stand busy work!

The school bus ride in North Carolina was 2 hours in and 2 hours home and I used to do all my work on it. I had my portable word processor, so I would write my papers on the way to school. Unfortunately, printers were huge back then and they wouldn’t fit into either of my briefcases. That meant I always had to find a printer at school. As soon as I arrived at school, it was a frantic mad dash to find a room with a printer, unplug said printer from whatever it was hooked to, get the word-processor configured for it and try to print. The worst thing was the complete lack of standardization. What looked good, with good margins on one printer looked terrible on another.

My little word-processor was awesome. Unlike my PC XT at home, even if the batteries went dead, it still remembered what I had typed into it. I used to use DisplayWrite 4 before I had the little word-processor. It was a word processing program that came on 5 x 5.25″ floppy disks with a 6th to save you data. It had spell checking, but in order to check a word, you had to change disks and then change back. Also, you would be in the middle of some long paper, having to forgotten to save for a while or thinking you would just write a little more first before swapping disks to save. That’s when the blue screen of death would visit or there would be a 3 second power loss…just long enough to hose your data. The program theoretically had a paper recovery mode, but it never really worked. I spent many an hour rewriting a paper I had already written.

In high school, every absence had to have a paper trail. We had to have a note as to why were absent and it had to be turned into the attendance office upon entering the school after such an event. It was a pain in the ass for me and my parents, so they just told me to sign my own notes. I would write notes “Sean was ill yesterday” or some such nonsense, but I didn’t want to forge a signature, so I just made my signature unreadable. I signed my name faster and faster until it looked like a bunch of circles and loops. I was able to pass it off every time. Over the years, my signature has become even more streamlined and barely resembles my name, but I like it that way. You can’t tell whose signature it is unless I tell you its mine and I can prove its mine by signing it again. Its a good way to maintain privacy, but verifiability.

In 10th grade, I became friends with David Fontaine and Ray D’Antonio. David adopted my suit and briefcase motif and we would have “briefcase races” down the hall. With my two briefcases, one weighing in at 50 lbs and one at 27 lbs, I had a lot of momentum when I got going. We were racing once and a teacher walked out into the hallways without looking both ways first. I swerved to avoid her and slammed into David. We both lost control and I ended up on my ass with the briefcase momentum still pulling me down the hall. The teacher just stood there with her mouth open, while we picked ourselves up and moved on.

At lunch we would open up our briefcases and have a gadget-fest. We find ways to network our calculators or program them. We actually programmed an airplane bombing game onto the little screen of our HP.

One fine morning during physics, our usual teacher was absent, so we had a substitute. We were doing experiments with magnetic fields and they gave us a huge power supply to do it with. We instead decided to build and arc light from two pencils. So, we scraped the wood off both ends of two pencils and hooked an electrode to each one. As the other ends got close, they started to arc. It was bright as hell and lit up the whole class brighter than day, but the pencils burst into flames, so we pulled the plug.


We must have had the largest sandbox in all of Medina county and it was my absolute favorite place to play. Every year, dad would have a dump truck come and dump a whole truckload of sand. It was the sand you could build things out of, not the crap they try to sell you as play sand in the stores. After the dump truck left, kids would come from everywhere to play on the mega-pile. There were kids in the sandbox I had never even seen before. The mound would start out about 6 feet tall, but after digging tunnels and building with it all day, it somehow withered down to about two feet. I used to build cities and whole road networks, like a prehistoric Sim City, then there would be a war or an out of control car chase that was sure to destroy everything. Before we left for New York, I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave any toys in the sand box, so we began a methodical archeological dig of the sand box. I found cars and trucks buried from distant past in the corners. One was an army truck that dad had given me while I was in the oxygen tent when I was five. Sand actually preserved things pretty well when you consider how long they were buried.

Every morning we would walk to the end of our street and wait for the school bus. There were two walls at the entrance to our neighborhood. They were both about 6 feet tall. The one on the West side was hard to get up on. You had to have someone help lift you. But the East wall was broken and conveniently had bricks in stair formation. That is the wall we usually sat on while waiting. I never knew until much later that the reason that wall was broken was that my dad had hit it with the car years before.

As I have said, I didn’t care for school and one day, when I was about 7, I decided I wasn’t going. I got ready like normal and out the door I went, but instead of going to the bus stop, I just went around to the East side of the house, where there weren’t any windows and sat on the porch stairs. My plans was working perfectly, until Mrs. Kappa called my mom and asked why I was sitting on the side of the house. Neighbor busy bodies! I was busted and got grounded, which wasn’t so bad, except they made me go to school too! Double slam!

If I wasn’t in the sandbox, I was down in the woods looking for fossils or exploring. One day, me and my friend Joey, decided that we wanted to see what was to the North beyond the big hill and to see if we could make it all the way to school, which theoretically, was at the other end of the woods. We walked for hours, through prickers, and dense foliage until we finally found the school. That was cool! But it was going to start getting dark and we thought there was no way would could make it back through all those prickers before dark, so we chose the road instead. We walked 90% the way up Rt. 3 and almost made it to Bellus Rd when the police showed up. We ran for Mr. Vandershire’s property, but the we couldn’t get through the barbed wire fence in time. So, we got to ride in a police car home. I got grounded for 3 days for walking on the highway, but Joey got grounded for months and I never got to see him again.

Fun with Jeanine.

Jeanine and me were always getting into trouble. From stealing the Shraitle’s strawberries or going into there house to get candy or to getting caught showing our parts. We would spend summer days playing in the street with our big wheels or popping the bubbles in the tar between the cracks. Once, I got in trouble for leading all the girls down the street peeing on the cracks.

I was the only boy in the neighborhood until I was about 9. You would think that with me playing with all girls, we would have played with dolls or something, but instead, I got the girls to play with Matchbox cars, play in the sandbox, help me find fossils, play video games and other things that would be considered boy things to do.

When I was a little older, I was invited to slumber party. I used to go to them all the time and the truth is, I still miss them. It was during the summer, so this time, they had a big tent and one small tent. Jeanine, Tracy and me slept in the little tent, but all of us and their older sisters played strip poker in the big tent. That was fun! Later, my dad bought a pop up trailer camper and set it up in the yard. We used to hang out in there a lot. Playing board games, or other games, or as my sister says “remember when we used to play pimps and hoes!?” She would actually use this line at her best friend Chrissy’s wedding many years later when she had lost her prepared speech.

I often wonder how different I would be if I hadn’t grown up with all girls. I don’t think I would be as sensitive a person. I have always felt more comfortable around girls than boys. Now, I have had plenty of friends that were guys, but my best friends have almost always been girls. Seems to me that most guys don’t know how to express themselves or they tend to be competitive. Not everyone of course, just in general. I know a few guys, like my business partner Neil Heacock, who know who they are and are willing to open up. A lot of this is societal pressure or the pressure of having to impress the girls by appearing to be confident and aggressive. Although I understand woman more than most guys, I have never been very successful at dating. I think this is due to my understanding nature. I connect very quickly and go right into the “friend zone”. But also, instinctively younger women are attracted to aggressive men, of which I am not, except under very specific circumstances.