Some Early Time Off

I was going to wrap up my tale of The Night of December 9-10, 1970, when The Elephant came to visit For Real.  But I need to head back to the office and thence to the nearby cheap-eats store to renew my stocks of popping corn, a wholegrain vehicle to announce butter to the body soon will be forthcoming – with minimal Kosher salt just to add crunch, doncha know.

My earliest Sister-In-Law Jeanne, finally got me to spit into a stopperd-at-one-end tube to see if my claims that The Richards Clan found me under a misplaced Martian rock one early afternoon in August of 1970 and said they would take me home with them and feed and clothe and not beat me so very often if only I would ensure that their just-born youngest child everyone called Storm – but I know his real first name – and keep him alive.  Deal.  So now I find myself spitting into a cup instead of on a sidewalk like God intended.

So I confronted my sis-n-law: you just want to establish legitimacy.  I will ask also if my older brother Glenn continues to dry his spittum in the face of her pleas and so-ingrained thankyous.  The brute!  Fight on, McGlenn!  I will have your back – but you long ago learned I kick real hard when opportunity shows its broad behind.  I was the only one in our small burg he was allowed to fight.  At 12 he stood near 5’10” and stoned the scales past 180 (I say 190).  I was but 13 months younger and stood about 5-2 and “scared” the scales at maybe 115, give or take three hamburgers or tunafish salad sandwiches 120.  Simple: fall to the ground, post one hand with locked-arm and swing forth a sweep-kick to whichever one of his ankles he so foolishly brought forward in his rush to teach me a well-deserved lesson.  He’d tumble to the ground: and then the game was on!  He had a huge lurking chuckle-laugh and found delights in finding out what was inside machines of all kinds which curiosity he’d employ wiht screwdriver, wrench and tweezer.  He mostly put back the vacuum tube radio, the double-weight hung cukoo clock, innumerable bikes and beyond and even swapped out dad’s three-speed on the column Ford Custom 500 for a Hurst floor-mount spring-loaded shifter he rarely got to drive since I was the one with the afterschool job as a sports writer for the local newspaper and he stocked shelves at the local grocery store two blocks from home.

I always though Storm the special, privileged guy.  And I think Glenn mostly agreed.  Storm got the BB gun.  As a baby – premature and the third child of the then-newly frightening amalgam of RH+ poppa and RH- momma – not to mention mom’s operation(s) just to be able to bear babbies, so Glenn and I could not pound him into submission as was our common wont with other beings not named Mom or Dad.  He also was late to The Talkies – English, that is.  So we were tasked with interpreting his version of “I Want” for the humans who just stood about mouths open and gasping like landed fish.  But Glenn got the job delivering newspapers and I settled for mowing other peoples pastures – really: in those days no one had front yards and back lawns, it all looked like The King Ranch to me.  I got $2.50 sometimes $3.50 to mow their Section-Range-Townships of weeds, sandspurs, burrs and noisome and toothy dogs and it seemed each time I had to wait until the once-tall and thickly emplaced Bahia grass had grown back to Sequoia forest size.  Storm?  He got girls to give him bicycle rides on their handlebars and they – or Mom – would do his homework.

Me?  At least I did not have to attend Dad on his instructional outings with Glenn, who sometimes felt the bully’s foul breath of cigarette and beer and less-frequently whisky or his bulky forearm for the sin of not knowing sparkplugs were countersunk.  Dad kept that part of himself – the man whose own father chose a carbon monoxide sendoff rather than face financial ruin – mostly out of the house.  His boss ruled that roost firmly.  I could not fathom their attraction.  Or their arguments.  Or their quietness after sunset announced it was bathtime for the boys, serially as we aged. There is nothing like brotherhood coming from an early immersion in Dial-n-Water, though in Newfoundland I remember (and I do remember back to age 3 or sometimes a bit younger – once telling mom the N-S, E-W orientation of our trailer at Patuxent River just before Storm was born, or the fabric, weave {warp and woof?} and color of the small couch therein) bathing in a number 3 washtub  set beside a pot-bellied second-floor stove in Placentia, a small and once-historic town just outside of the big Naval Air Station at Argentia as U.S. Navy and contractworkers readied our dependents’ housing, rendering half a barracks – including basement – for each five-member family that used to house about half-a-hundred sailors or Marines.

But it took me only five or six decades to realize I was the special one.  Of the three I got away with more, was given more rope and learned quickly how to reweave said rope when my antics caused fraying.  The secret was not in pure life, but in not getting caught.  My brothers specialized in caught.  I did not.  Glenn was particularly easy to spot, lumbering about and so gleeful, too: unless I was nearby then the betting window would open and wagers emplaced as to how soon donny would meet brooke.

I got the car.  Dad drove an old pickup truck after he retired from the Navy and went to work – and school for welding and such – in Orlando.  Glenn rode to junior college with dad: I tooled from the newspaper office to school – my senior year – in Sanford and spent the afternoons reporting on junior high and high school junior varsity sports and in the summer I’d take my senior life saving patch to the Navy’s lake or officers’ pool and lifeguard there and of course take my girlfriend on fabulous dates and country drives.  Glenn – and later Storm – worked knuckles off to get a car each.  Storm was underage by a mile when he bought a 1940s Plymouth he could barely see between the dashboard and the top of the steering wheel – so he hired a 16-year-old to drive him about town where he’d arrange yardwork, lawnmowing, chores and handyman work for his pals and he took only 10 or 20 percent of the fee for his troubles.  He had no qualms: those guys were too shy to ask an adult anything, and Storm had been using interpreters for his communications with those aliens who owned us since forever.

Glenn grudged his way through youth.  He was a Boy Scout and an Explorer.  He did both even- and odd-numbered math problems – and both even- and odd-numbered pages – and built things for himself.  I was the only one who knew his IQ score – but mom didn’t tell me whether it was Stanford-Benet or Minnesota Multi-Phasic – and she never told me mine nor Storm’s. I typed Glenn’s junior year high school history extra-credit two-page reports, saving a carbon copy for myself to turn in the next year (but I didn’t do that by the time I took American History the next year: I got A’s on the tests and F’s for homework and got a graciously granted C average instead.

All three of us ended up playing Rugby after high school.  Storm at the University of Florida and Glenn and I at Orlando RFC. There are much worse ways to have brothers.  But few better.

One early-teen Summer afternoon I was underneath two other neighborhood boys – one next door and his Tennessee cousin down for a visit – having a fine old time whaling on each other (no biting!) with punches, arm-bars and kicking and elbows allowed.  Glenn sauntered past our grassy alley-way impromptu wrestling mat.  “Need any help?” he side-of-his-mouth asked.

I promptly threw off both Jimmy and his cousin Stevie and went after Glenn like a side-poked banshee!

Stevie asked his cousin: “Who’s that and why did J leave us to go fight that monster?”

“That’s his older brother Glenn.  They’d rather fight each other than anyone else. Weird, huh?”

Years later I learned the tales of The Three Richards brothers’ internecine sibling warfare kept us from many more encounters with sideshow bullies and suchlike.  Except for one encounter as a newly-minted seventh grader barely past 5’4″ and timidly threatening the scales at 125 pounds did I face off with a 19-year-old end-of-his-scholastic-life ninth grader who towered past the six-foot stratosphere and weighted, gosh, who knows, maybe a hundred at ninety pounds (he picked me up by the scruff and threw me out of the chair in a study hall right in front of the teacher who was monitoring all this in a stone-quiet classroom).  “That’s my seat,” said the bully.  I went for his neck in a classing Nike anti-missile launch and he swatted me down and this went on twice more until the giant’s fraternal twin brother entered the scene and called off his dog.  I stood panting, fearsweat dripping, defiant still and replied to his long-forgotten commentary with “I didn’t need you to stop me.  I was just wearing him down.”

The other brother and I became fast aquaints.  The taller would relieve well-heeled of their spare change – never lunch money, that would attract larger audience with the bullies who really ran the school, the principal with a holey canoe paddle and his softer-spoken vice principal who was reputed to magically conjure a two-by-four as he swung for the fences the bottoms of malcontents and scofflaws, who recalled me fondly thirty years later in a happenstance meeting at a high school basketball game. Teddy Barker would ask what I had done to befoul my relations with one of his tachers and ask if I had my usual library book with me and point to the outter environs of his domain and said: sit there until the next bell and tomorrow try to look well-beaten.  I would watch a parade of miscreants and they me as that doorway to hell revolved and the accompanying swatted sounds sought out scared and possibly scarred eardrums.  I gained something of a rep that way: the quiet kid who aced tests but declined homework hanging out with every greaser, hood and bully in town.

And for Glenn’s tutelage on how to handle big bullies – wear them our to get in your licks if you can not beat them outright – was key to my stubborn survival.  Besides I never had spare change.


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