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My Grandpap Was A Genius
I was sitting here staring at my word processor while working on a Western when I remembered two old complaints about western tv shows and movies. One, no one had to reload. A guy could fire 50 shots and never reload. Two, no one had to unload. You’d see the inside of a cabin or ranch house and there wouldn’t be a bathroom. They’d show a long view of the place and you’d see a barn and, maybe, a bunk house but no bathroom. As a kid, I thought people in the old days didn’t have to go. I couldn’t picture them going off to the other side of the field and doing their business. I thought people didn’t start going until they started using flush toilets and did it so as not to waste the toilet. I didn’t, and still don’t, know why they would put a toilet in the same room as the bathtub; didn’t know, and still don’t know, why anyone would want the toilet inside the house instead of the back of the yard?
You go to the bathroom, do what you need to do, wipe and flush. Everyone in the house knows what you just did. When you open the door and come out, everyone wrinkles their noses. Going to the bathroom is a private thing and yet we set it up so that going to the bathroom ends in a public announcement. What genius came up with this idea? It certainly wasn’t my Grandpap.
As a kid, I was used to having a toilet. I was used to it after I was housebroken. We always had one. After returning from living overseas for two years, my parents went on the Family Tour. We started with my father’s family, the Hoity-Toity’s. They all had inside flush toilets. I don’t remember using one but I’m sure I did.Well, maybe not; they were a funny and particular crowd. Then it was time to do the second leg of the Tour- my mom’s family. That did me in. I’m sure. I had been there before but I either had forgotten or was still in diapers. I can’t think of any other reason for the eye-popping experience I had. Bear in mind, I was nine years old. After spending the afternoon playing with my not-too-well acquainted cousins , being chased by the junk man and his junk-yard dog, I went back over to my grandparent’s house.
Their house was only four rooms; they raised ten kids there, somehow. When you stood in the doorway, you could see into the parlor and kitchen and up the stairs. I had to go and went upstairs to find the bathroom. The stairs opened to a bedroom. I saw a door and figured it was the bathroom; it was a closet. I went through the room to the other bedroom and saw what had to the bathroom; it was also a closet. What’s this? The bathroom was in the living room or, shudders, the kitchen?
Down the stairs I went.It was getting painful. I peeked into the living room but no doors. That left the kitchen. Nope, no bathroom there! What is this? I needed to go. If I only needed to pee it would have been no problem; A guy can pee anywhere. What I needed was a toilet and couldn’t find one. No choice but to ask.
“Mommy, I have to go,” I said.
“Well, then go.” (Uh, oh, is she having one of her days?)
“But, mommy, I, ah-”
“I can’t go for you.” (Yes, she is)
“I can’t find it.”
“It’s out back.”
Wow! Grandpap is smart. He put the toilet out back instead of in the house. What a genius! I went out the backdoor, down the steps, across the board-covered well and over to the shed. The toilet had to be in there, away from where you lived. It really needed to be in there the way I was feeling. I didn’t have time to do a lot of looking around. Smart old man, my grandpap. I opened the door and the next thing I knew I was six-feet away, down on all fours, gagging and trying to hold myself.
I stood up and faced the biggest crisis of my life. I could go back into that evil-smelling shed, I could go in my pants or I could go in the yard. My pride forced me to try the shed again. I had been housebroken too long to go in my pants and I was too shy to go in the yard. OK, the shed it would be. I unbuttoned my pants, pulled the zipper down and, holding my pants up with my hands, I sucked as much air in as I could and dashed back into the shed. No toilet! All that was there was a box with a hole in it. What to do? I climbed onto the seat and cut loose. Unfortunately, I ran out of air first. Now I gagging, crapping and crying. I finished, grabbed some toilet paper and wiped, pulled my pants up and tried to run out.
I almost was yanked off my feet! My shirt was stuck in a crack in one of the boards! Oh, no! I’m doomed! Then, like a miracle, my shirt started to rip as I pulled harder and harder. I must have looked like a whirling dervish spinning out of that outhouse. I finally came to a stop and fell to the ground. I was alive! Praise the Lord, I was alive!
It was then I learned why all those old pictures showed people with pinched expressions on their faces. They were holding themselves until they had to go.
I have older siblings who refer to me, in my childhood, as a juvenile delinquent or ”bad” kid. I’ve even heard monster tossed around like so much caca dust. I like to think of my childhood as a series of unfortunate misadventures. What did I do wrong in this story?
Stephen King wrote a similar story because he’s one of us. Every kid in my generation has a story similar to this. King said that the friends we make at age twelve are the best friends we ever have. He left out the part about the worst friends we ever make are also at age twelve. Sometimes they’re the same thing. At the time I was living on an Army base. Interesting place to live but had a big drawback. I had no rights. The Military Police had to prove nothing. All they had to do was ban me from base and my parents had to either move off-base or send me to live someplace. I had a friend who was living with his sister. The army didn’t care if you lived at another base as long as it wasn’t the one that banned you. This made adventures even more adventurous. It didn’t really change anything though.
Ben was the biggest kid in our crowd. He wasn’t just a large fish in a small pond, he was a large fish in any pond. Even the high school kids were leery about him. Part of that was size and part was attitude. His attitude was to fight until you were a bleeding wreck. He had no sense of proportion at all. Mostly, people just didn’t do anything to piss him off. Some people, though, got him worked up by just being their own natural self.
Charlie B was one of them. Charlie B was the kind of guy you didn’t want as a friend but it was easier to keep an eye on him that way. He had no scruples and would steal anything you had. Everyone wanted to kick his ass but only the Puerto Rican kids did. They got away with it by saying, ”No comprendo”.
One of the things Ben and I liked to do was watch the train on Saturday afternoons. It was just something we liked. Charlie B found out about it and asked if he could come along. Ben said he could if he accepted the fact that he wouldn’t be coming back. Charlie B just laughed. I laughed too but not as heartily. I knew Ben too well; I knew Charlie B too well. It was as if Ben was dynamite and Charlie B was a match, a lit match. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go.
We went down through the woods behind our housing. The woods were one of the perimeters of the base. It was criss-crossed with tiny roads, paths and a creek. At many places along the way garbage had been dumped. Most of it was set on fire. The dumps were so burned out they acted as firebreaks so the Army didn’t bother with them too much. Some of them weren’t burning until we lit them up. We liked to help keep the woods clean.
The creek was just a tiny thing and not very deep unless you’re twelve years old and then it’s a river challenging you to cross. After the creek came the railroad line. Next to the line was pile of old ties. We’d sit there, leaning against them, waiting for the train. As I sat there a thought came to me. Just as the train started past us I said, ”You know, the train moves pretty slow though here. If we were to run along-side it I bet we could jump up and grab the ladder and go for a ride.”
Ben leaned forward and asked, “Is this something you’re thinking a doing or something you’re just thinking?” Ben worried about my ideas since he couldn’t not do something and be thought of as a sissy.
“Nah, I’m just thinking about it.” We both relaxed at that. We shouldn’t have. Charlie B suddenly got up and ran right at the train and jumped. He didn’t run along-side, he ran at it and leaped. The good part for him was he didn’t land in-between cars and end up as hamburger; the bad part was he didn’t grab the ladder either. He hit the middle of the train and bounced off. That stunned both Ben and me. No one is that stupid. Then we realized Charlie B wasn’t getting up; he wasn’t moving at all. Oh my, he’s dead! How are we going to explain this.
“How are we going to explain this?, Ben asked me.
“Explain it? We aren’t going to explain it. We’re going to get out of here and be quiet. You just know the MP’s will try to-”
Was that a moan? Was Charlie B alive? “That chump. I’m going to beat his dumb ass for this stunt”, Ben said. Of course, Charlie B already looked like his ass had been kicked but good.
Then Charlie B moaned again. We had to go take a look see. He was lying there, not moving and looking like a goldfish after it has jumped out of the bowl and landed under you bed and you not finding it for two weeks. He was all gray and mottled-looking. He was still moaning and then he sat up!
Me and Ben jumped back a couple of feet. We’d heard of this voodoo stuff from the movies and here we were seeing live and for real. We wanted to run but we also wanted to see what would happen next. What happened next was Charlie B vomiting all over himself. Then he laid back down. He looked bad and smelled worse. He smelled like that dead goldfish.
“Jeez, Ben, we gotta get him home. We can’t just leave him here”, I said.
“Why not?”, Ben said.
Yea, why not? Oh, yea, it wouldn’t be right to just leave him here. Plus, God only knows what he’d tell the MP’s. That was worth worrying about. That Charlie B was hurt wasn’t. If he could moan he’d be okay.
“Okay, we get him home but I’m not getting puke on me. I mean it, I get puke on me and he’s going to wish that train had killed him”, Ben said.
We got Charlie b to his feet and started half walking and half dragging him home. We were doing okay until we got to the creek. Part of the way across Charlie B lost his balance. This caused Ben to lose his balance and step into the creek. He was wet up to his ankles. This caused me to slip and go down on all fours. Now I’m soaked from the knees down. Charlie B sat down and he soaked from the waist down. No one is very happy now. Ben was yelling and cursing; I was yelling and cursing; Charlie B was grinning.
Ben and I grabbed him and rinsed the vomit off by swishing him around in the creek. It cleaned him pretty well. We managed to get him home where Ben left it up to me to tell his mom what happened. “You lie better than me”, Ben told me.
I told Charlie B’s mom the truth. I couldn’t think of any story to explain the way he looked. After listening to the story she said, ”Nonsense. No one would be that stupid. I bet it was the Puerto Rican boys again.”
Little Donnie got his first pair of glasses at age four. It changed his whole outlook on the world. Now he saw that he had only one right hand instead of three or four. His whole world became smaller and less blurry. It was to be a mixed blessing.
The other kids loved play tag in those ”this is fun despite being aggressive and destructive to the ego” days. The kids loved to tag Donnie and watch him being ”it”. He’d go to tag someone and tag air. The other kids wouldn’t even run. They knew, even at that age, the odds were four or five to one in their favor. It was a sucker bet.
None of this has much to do with this story except the vision part. Little Donnie also saw thirty bats swooping down from the ridge when it was just a couple. He’d run screaming into the house. His siblings would make fun of him.
As he grew older his vision corrected itself fairly well. He hated wearing glasses and the old eye patch over his one decent eye to help stregnthen his weaker eye. He felt blinded so he’d take it off as soon as he was out of sight. One day, his friend, Pukie, reminded him that he was afraid of bats.
“No, Pukie, I used to be. I’m not anymore. Except for the vampire bats. They worry me. They can sick you dry in a flash.”
“There’s no such thing as vampire bats, you twit.”
“Now, Pukie, that’s not true. You’ve seen all the Bela Legosi movies. There he stands in the dark, foggy courtyard staring up at the second story bedroom window. He’s a vampire; they like dark, foggy nights. There’s a beautiful virgin up there wearing a sheer nightie. He’s looking up and then starts looking around for a ladder.Then he smacks himself in the head. He can turn into a bat and fly up there. So, he does. Then he turns back into Bela. He’s a vampire. You trying to tell me that he’s not a vampire when he turns into a bat?”
“I’m not telling you anything except you’re a senseless twit.”