The Ride

My father sold Oldsmobiles in 1965, and as a favor to those customers in our immediate community, he would take their car in for service and leave his own ride at home. On this particular day that ride was a 442 which was beautiful and strong. In a time when muscle cars were a reality, this one was a behemoth and when I saw that he left the keys on his dresser, I thought I should take it out for a spin. Never mind that I was only 16 and would not have my driver’s license for another year. I was somewhere between crazy and emotionally challenged, so I grabbed his keys and fired that beast up.

Drifting through our residential neighborhood I decided to pick up my friend David, who was the son of a dentist. I tell you that so you would know that it was a nice neighborhood and I had intelligent friends. Not all of their friends were particularly bright, and on this day David made a bad choice when he agreed to go for a ride with the likes of me. He seemed impressed that I was driving this car and perhaps the cool factor overtook his common sense. He had no idea what was in store for him as I continued to casually cruise our neighborhood, deciding to head back to his narrow street where many children played, and all was safe and well.

His street was very narrow with cars parked on each side. This created a very tight fit for two cars heading in opposite directions. As such, the speed limit was only 15mph. I wanted to do something crazy that day; needed to, because taking my father’s car apparently was not enough. Driving without a license came with little risk, so I decided to up the ante some.

As I turned onto David’s street I wanted to see what this bad ass car could really do. Putting my foot all the way to the floor I heard two distinct screams. The first was the engine opening up and firing all 8 cylinders in unison. The second scream was coming from David…..non stop…..panicked and freaked. I saw the speedometer read 95 mph when, *out of the corner of my eye, something tiny dashed into the street. I know this because I hit that small girl, who was chasing a soccer ball. As she flew into the air, already broken beyond repair, my windshield shattered and David stopped his screaming about the same time his head went right through my windshield. My father’s ruined car continued to travel down the street careening off parked cars until it came to rest with two broken boys inside, and a dead and blood soaked child 100 feet behind us. I was not dead, but already knew enough to wish I were.

I was awakened by angry voices and the sound of sirens. I ached terribly and had a broken skull and several broken ribs. I could not see as I was covered in my own blood, but that did not stop the pummeling I was taking from what turned out to be the murdered girl’s father. David was also in bad shape and in addition to having lost an eye; he lost a good deal of his functioning. Today they call it a traumatic brain injury. Back then they called it manslaughter and it was added to the list of things I was charged with. None of it mattered to me, as I could not crawl past what I had done to that little girl who turned out to be six years old and was named Amy. There was a great uproar to have me charged as an adult, even as I lay in a hospital bed for 3 months healing from my self inflicted wounds. The large scar on my forehead didn’t matter either, as I saw myself as the monster I had now become.

After much legal wrangling, I was charged as a Juvenile and agreed to all charges and was sent to the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, in the Bronx, until my 18th birthday. The horrors that occurred there are almost beyond description, but I was always aware that I was deserving of whatever evil that might come my way.

Who knows what I may have become, if I had not acted so stupidly that day. David’s parents successfully sued my father and ruined him financially. My father walked out of my life and I never saw him again. When Amy’s parents had their day in civil court there was nothing left for them to seize. I would have gladly given them anything they wanted, but I was lost to the world, and was so depressed that I had little to offer other than my sorrow and incarceration. And all they really wanted was their sweet child alive again.

There is no hate as deep as self hate, and my adult life has been marked by alcohol and drug abuse, broken relationships, lost jobs, constant relocation, and several suicide attempts. I take nine medications, and my best dreams always involve my own death. It is only in these dreams that I feel release and freedom. Once, not long ago, I had a dream about little Amy. In this dream she was telling a monster that she has forgiven him, but when I woke up I was trembling and knew that I was never going to forgive myself. One day I was an attractive and athletic 16 year old, and the next day I was forever broken, hideous, and alone.

* This story is true, up until the point where Amy ran into the street. No child was killed that day, and at the end of David’s dead end street I slammed on the brakes, and slid to a stop. He exited my car in a hurry and ran home. I casually drove back home and left the keys where I had found them on my father’s dresser. Life continued for me as it was, and it took many years before my impulsive and potentially deadly behavior of that day became clear to me. As part of my working life, I once taught employment modules in a prison for youth. They were there for a variety of stupid acts, including theft and vehicular homicide. I always saw part of me in their faces, and would look at them knowing that they were not as lucky as I was that day.

© 2013 Michael Fiveson

A Gift, of Sorts (sexual content)

In 1965 when I was 16 years old, I was living alone with my father who was very much a bachelor. He would have been 38 at that time and he was a car salesman who was successful in both his work and play. His male friends were kind of connected, if you know what I mean, and there were poker games where these goodfellas would play and drink and laugh quite a bit. In truth, they were a fun bunch, but there were always the dark secrets that came with these guys, and my father worked to stay on their good side. I’m not sure what his contribution was to this group but it probably had something to do with his work as a car salesman. He was more than a little interesting, my father, and his rough edges needed the kind of smoothing that would keep him away from the apartment for long periods at a time, and I was largely left to fend for myself. This was a lonely time in my life and I recall that I had made arrangements to visit my mother who was living in upstate New York. As the trip was approaching, my father told me to make sure I was home the following night as he had a “surprise” going away gift for me.

While I didn’t know for sure what was the surprise was going to be, I do recall thinking it was going to be most unusual, and my anticipation became quite intense as the day moved slowly into night. I was most excited when I heard the door open and my father coming up the stairs with someone else.

She was absolutely gorgeous, and her name was Ruth. Long blonde hair, 23 years old, and about 5 ft 4 inches. After a brief introduction, my father left the apartment and I was alone with Ruth. My heart was racing and my mind was numb when she started to kiss me. This kissing lasted for some time and she was very complimentary. Although I wasn’t a virgin (what can I say, call me lucky), I never imagined that I would be with a grown woman, and one this beautiful and sexy was beyond belief. After several minutes Ruth suggested that we move into my bedroom, and without any hesitation I stood to show her the way.

She undressed herself and then she undressed me. Her naked body was superb, and her breasts were perfect, arching slightly upward. I was so excited I could hardly breathe, and we were kissing when she climbed on top of me and guided my screaming penis inside of her. It lasted 6 seconds. Give or take 2 seconds. What, at 16 I should have known about restraint and timing? She was wonderful about it all and suggested that we wait a bit and try it again. I was kind of freaked at this point, having lost it so quickly and not really knowing what to do now. During the time that we spent in my bedroom, my father had returned and retreated to his bedroom, where he would wait for Ruth. She was very tender with me and very kind with her words. Right before she got dressed she kissed me for several minutes and told me she wanted to give me a piece of advice. “Always go down on a woman, you have fabulous lips”.

In the morning I peeked into my father’s room and saw them sleeping together. I wasn’t freaked out and wasn’t damaged. It was another era, a time when a misguided father might do something like that for his son. Today, of course, this would be considered way over the top. I never could arrange something like that for my son, and although he is a grown man now, when he was 16 he was, in my eyes, still a child.

My father didn’t know any better, and he just wanted to do something nice for his son. The gift was extended, accepted, consumed, and is forever a part of me.

Many years ago I was attending some State sponsored training for Social Case Workers, and I relayed this story during that training. It is fair to say that everyone was horrified that a father would do that to a boy of 16. I didn’t feel abused, but I also understood their outrage. My father was piece of work, and I still think about Ruth.

© 2013 Michael Fiveson

When I was King

When I was a teenager in New York, I was unremarkable and full of doubt. I suffered from low self esteem, struggled with my weight, and had a bad temper and jealous heart. Like many young people, I was having a difficult time finding my place in the universe. This angst was softened some by having a girlfriend I adored, and my complete joy in playing baseball.

One variation to the game of baseball was something called stickball. There were two ways to play stickball. One version consisted of playing in the street and involved hitting a bounced pitch with a broom handle. This was not an easy thing to do as the bouncing ball came quickly and often had a weird spin to it. How far you hit the ball determined if it was a single, double, etc, and many of these games involved running bases.  The ball was either a Pensy Pinkie, or a Spauldeen. Both were firm, pink hollow balls and could travel a great distance.

The other way stickball was played involved chalking a square box on the side of a school or building. This created the strike zone, and if a pitcher threw a strike, the ball would have chalk on it. This was my preferred way to play stickball as it allowed the pitcher to actually pitch, and was brilliant in its simplicity. The ball would hit the wall, and bounce right back to the pitcher. Again, the quality of hits was determined by distance and there was generally a fence which would determine a homerun. This form of the game also used a broom handle (or stickball bat you could buy) and could be played one on one, or with an outfielder. Here there was no running of bases and hits were determined purely by distance.

I took to the wall game very quickly and very hard. I played for years and became more than a little good. I could always play ball, and had a great stick, but those Pensy Pinkies were lethal weapons in my hand. I could throw from the side, throw overhand hard fast balls, and mixed speeds. I also had a curve that could make a hitter fall back sharply as the ball approached his head, and then would fall off a table and right into the plate. Kids would argue with me…”that couldn’t have been a strike”. And I’d show them the ball, covered with fresh yellow chalk. I froze batters, toyed with them, hardly ever walked anyone, and was dominate. As much fun as that was, hitting was even better.

Few kids could really pitch well. Most of them flat out sucked. I could hit from both sides of the plate, with equal ability, but from the right side I could do magic. A homerun was over the fence. That was a decent poke. Over the fence was a street, then someone’s yard, house, and backyard. I would load the bases batting left-handed and then switch to my power side. I would hit that ball as high as I did far. High into the sky and over the fence, street, and house. Many balls were never found and were no doubt on the next block. Then I would wait for the next fat pitch and hit bomb after bomb. I would also figure out the better pitchers and anticipate their next pitch. That would result in a rush of hits and runs, and at some point I would become tired from all the hitting and want to pitch again.

On that field, for those hours, I was really good at something. Sandy Koufax-like on the mound, I loved every moment, and found a transcendental place where I was something better than I could have ever imagined. It allowed me passage into an unknown world where I could pitch with almost magical powers, and assume control where it existed no where else.

Unfortunately I could not trade that skill in for something more useful. A gifted ball player, I had neither the confidence nor the motivation to play high school ball, and I largely stumbled through my teen years, finding respite in a simple game I loved and dominated, and the sweet promise of my girlfriend’s lips.

In my garage is a stickball bat I made 14 years ago, when, at the age of 50 I found some kids I could play with. The game is completely foreign in Colorado. I could just as soon find someone playing cricket (never have). I would play tomorrow, at age 64, and am willing to bet that I can still hit from both sides and could pitch with skill and confidence, albeit with less velocity.

To any and all older athletes out there, consider yourself challenged. Let’s get it on.

© 2013 Michael Fiveson

Jesus and the $20 Bill

I called him Jesus, because that was how it was spelled, but I am sure the correct way to say his name was hay-zus. I was only 8 years old, and didn’t know any better. He was Puerto Rican like many of the children in Brownsville, New York in 1957. The others were all black, except for my brother and me who I think were the only two white children in all of Brownsville. I guess that gave us some sort of status, or at least made us easy targets.

We lived on Bristol Street. Those who are old enough will remember the lyrics….”kids in Bristol are as sharp as a crystal, when they do the Bristol stomp”.

It was a wonderful neighborhood, if you thrived on murder and poverty, and the year we spent living there was torturous, fearful, and bizarre. My mother was married to a man named Al, and he liked to drink himself right out of a job, so we would move often and when it all bottomed out, there we were, in Brownsville. It was the same year the Brooklyn Dodgers announced they were moving to Los Angeles. Since they didn’t plan to take me with them, I was left to learn a bit about the streets, and I made one friend that I remember. Jesus was kind enough to never correct me while I called him by his anglicized name.

I believe Jesus was in my class, although I don’t know that for a fact. I only remember two kids in that class and got to know them in an intimate way. There was one black kid who was the class bully, and would pretty much push the rest of us around and get in our faces. One day I had had enough and we had a terrific fight which ended with me having that kid in a headlock while I punched her skull repeatedly. Yes, her. Her name was Shirley and after I gave her a small pounding she left me alone. But I was soon to discover that the life of the new champion brings with it certain pressures and expectations, and it wasn’t but a week later that a kid named Carlos found me outside of school and he I engaged in a very one sided boxing match. I didn’t know how to box. He did. After my pummeling I remember running home and looking at myself in the mirror. Like an overmatched prizefighter my entire face was swollen and there was more than one part of me oozing blood. Carlos, I realize now, did me a great favor, as I was, and remain, more a lover than a fighter, and it would have been hell to have to defend my lightweight title on a regular basis. Shortly thereafter my uncle, a former Golden Gloves boxer, taught me how to fight and the lessons that he and Carlos taught me have served to keep me safe for the rest of my fighting days.

Much of my spare time was spent making what we called zip guns. Jesus was part of this group and he showed me how to make my very own weapon. Zip guns today are crudely fashioned weapons that shoot real bullets. The kids I hung out with weren’t that sophisticated so our junior zip guns were more basic and made with rubber bands and wood. I don’t recall how they worked exactly but I do know they shot broken pieces of roofing shingle (readily abundant as the neighborhood was in a perpetual state of decay) and were very effective in ripping into flesh.

Another favorite activity was robbing parking meters. This was a very simple process as the lock boxes were all broken, and all one had to do was insert a popsicle stick into the slot where a dime would ordinarily be deposited and it would then push the last dime into the lock box which, since it was broken, could be opened by hand, thus allowing thieves, young and old, the occasional dime. This dime was enough for a soda, or two pickles pulled from a large pungent wooden pickle keg. It could buy a kid an ice cream on a hot day, and was enough for entry into the local movie theater that cost ten cents, but required you to bring your own soap box to sit on, as there were no seats. I remember feeling so guilty about my first heist that I ran home and buried that dime in the dirt in front of our apartment building. I suspect it is still there, waiting to be dug up. To be sure, you won’t find me returning to look for it.

When Jesus called me to say he took a $20 bill out of his mother’s purse I hurried to meet him at a subway stop where we boarded a train for a better shopping district. I don’t know for certain what a 1957 $20 bill would be worth today,  but it was a lot of money back then and Jesus was generous with his stolen loot and we ate a fine lunch and eventually found our way to a toy store where we took our time and shopped for the perfect toy. I ended up with a wooden ten inch model of a human that bent at the joints, and gave me more joy than you might imagine.

Jesus caught hell from his mother who I’m sure was a single parent working hard for every penny. I wish I could remember if I suffered any consequences for my eager partnership but I do not. Chances are I got away with it, and I suspect my mother never found out about my shopping trip and never even noticed my favorite toy.

We moved from that hell hole a year later and landed, briefly, in a much softer place. Life with mom ended in 1961 when she couldn’t care for us any longer and my brother and I  went to live with our father, and his wife. There I experienced athletics, girls, and a degree of comfort never felt before. Still, it is a fact that children are unable to understand how a parent can be toxic for them, and I missed my mother terribly. That feeling of loss became a permanent part of who I am, and I don’t have to reach far into my soul to feel it all over again.

Jesus, if you are alive and might by some great coincidence ever read this, I say to you thanks for a great adventure, and next time I’m buying.

© 2013 Michael Fiveson

Thank You Veterans

A belated but heartfelt THANK YOU to all of our brave veterans who left family and the comfort of home to serve our nation, sometimes at great peril.

My wife and I are both veterans and met in the Navy many, many years ago. Not only was I lucky enough to score my life long companion, she is also my best friend and lover. And I have a great sense of pride that comes from having served.

Thank you fellow veterans.

Butterfly Wings

When I was but 12 and new to a suburban neighborhood, I was thought largely a curiosity, being from the city. Girls liked the way I looked but I was far too insecure to have embraced it fully, and draw warmth and self esteem from it.  I remember and reflect on that time which seems so magically like a prior life. It was a sweet thing and there is one memory above all that plays like a short mystical film clip.

As afternoon light grew dim, there remained a soft golden glow when she appeared, dancing. She wore a light blue dress that had enough material to allow for what looked like wings. She then did a slow ballet of sorts. As she glided to music only she heard, I watched knowing she was dancing for me, and the moment became all at once ethereal, surreal, and frozen.

She moved back and forth with her arms extended like butterfly wings, fragile and graceful. I don’t remember all that I was thinking as I watched her move, but I do know I thought her insane. I think the moment was so strange I was able to place it permanently in memory, and as my life has unfolded that memory has remained precisely intact, and has become profoundly more meaningful.

I knew she lived around the block and for awhile I knew her name, but she was not someone I was attracted to and I really did think she was crazy. As I moved into my life she was quickly forgotten but every now and then I find myself coming back to that evening and allowing the clip to replay. Within it lives the mystery of youth, and a life just beginning.

Almost

My parents were both 17 when they married. They were not high school sweethearts and met randomly. By coincidence, they both had dropped out of school in the 9th grade, and were alike in many more ways. How long their marriage lasted is a point of some confusion for me, but it was no more than 6 years, and could well have been less. I have but 2 fleeting memories from that time and both are unpleasant. After they divorced my older brother and I continued to live with our mother and we moved frequently. Not many memories there either, but I do recall her ironing a sports patch on our shirts and asking me which team I favored. Living in New York in the early 50’s I could have been a Dodger, Giant, or a Yankee fan, and I chose a Yankee patch. I suppose my love of baseball started at that moment. I do know we continued to move frequently, and I also remember going to Yankee stadium a few times and it was overwhelming and joyous.

My mother became involved with a man named Al when I was in the second grade and we were living on Avenue C, close to Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn. He was a handsome man and soon enough they were married and I now had a step father who liked to drink. He wasn’t a mean drunk, more the disappearing kind.

Continuing a series of moves with my mother and now her alcoholic husband, we spent the next year living in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. This was the absolute bowels of New York in 1957, and as an eight year old I spent the year fighting for my life, stealing from broken parking meters, and learning all about the mean streets. Finally, although I do not remember the announcement, we were going to be moving to Long Island, as Al was sober enough to have landed a good job with an airline.

We moved into a nice home in Levittown, got a dog, and my love of baseball now included an opportunity to play on a real team. To prepare for this I would go play some ball with a friend named Skully who lived behind us and we would have full blown practice games where we would throw grounders, line drives, and pop ups in his yard. We also would announce each play and keep score. It was about as much fun as a 10 year old could have and I was developing skills that surprised and delighted me. We would also go to the neighborhood park and play pick up games where a bunch of kids would just spontaneously show up and play. There I discovered that I could hit even better than I could field, and soon I was going to have my first organized game on a little league team.

Life with mom included an unhealthy dose of low self esteem. I was overweight, a poor student, very shy, and had bad teeth and bad habits. But I was about to play ball and I remember so vividly the pride I felt when I first put on that little league uniform. It was a full uniform, much like professional athletes still wear today, and walking down the street in that jazzy looking outfit was one of the proudest days of my life. I walked with attitude, where none existed previously.  I couldn’t wait for the season to start.

Soon enough we were playing ball and my male coach actually was named Linda, which is as weird now as it was then. Whenever someone got a timely hit or made a good play they got a drink of some sort of homemade lime concoction. Not only was the drink fabulous, it was ice cold. Even though I was chubby and out of shape, I could hit a ball a country mile, and would do so frequently. I remember hitting one ball so far over everyone’s head that a normal kid could have run the bases twice, but I chugged hard and was somehow thrown out at the plate. I think it took me five minutes to round those bases before I was thrown out. Couch Linda was thrilled as there were guys on base who scored several minutes ahead of me and I was fed extra ice cold lime concoction. Oh man was that drink delicious. What a joy it was for my tender soul to discover something I was good at, and all I could think about was playing ball.

After a little more than a year in that nice house it all came crashing down. Al had lost his good job and we were going to be moving. Imagine that. I can’t tell you what my emotions were, because I do not remember them. I think that by that time I was so completely resigned to things ending, changing, and beginning again that I just sucked it up, crying only when nobody was looking.

We moved briefly to another house in Levittown but there was no money coming in and we ate a lot of rice mixed with hamburger and ketchup. There was a sad pall in that house. Nobody was happy and things felt tense and foreboding. I started the 6th grade in yet another school and by now was very withdrawn. I remember being in that class and never feeling comfortable, especially around girls. At a time when kids were just starting to connect with the opposite sex, all I wanted to do was hide. Right about the time I felt like I was going to completely disappear, we had some sort of family meeting and the bombshell was dropped…….my brother and I would soon be going to live with my father and his wife in their home, also on Long Island. Not only would this involve changing schools in mid year, but my whole life was about to change. You see, at just 11 years old, I loved my mother deeply, and had no concept of how deficient and toxic she was. The idea of going to live with my father and his mystery wife did not appeal to me, although he had stayed a steady part of our lives, picking us up on weekends and taking us to ball games and movies. I was not afraid of him; I was just completely overwhelmed by uncertainty and loss. It was a very deep loss, the kind that wrapped itself around every part of me and I could feel it from my head to my stomach but mostly in my heart, whatever was left of it. I was shattered and numb when I arrived at my father’s lovely home in a very nice neighborhood. He was a successful car salesman with the ability to be charming and conniving. He was also just 33 years old and had no parenting skills and a wife who did not want us in her home.

Initially Marcia made an effort to be kind, but the fact that I was overweight and really didn’t even know how to properly use a knife and fork soon became a bone of contention. In fact, everything was a bone of contention. I was punished for not cleaning my room correctly, I was punished for something I said, or didn’t say. I was always punished, and the next one was always in line. Usually these punishments were waiting for me after school and I began to have a very deep sense of dread that extended past my head and became physical. I would be walking home every day feeling genuine panic and nausea about what was waiting for me. My father just kind of went along with whatever Marcia said and I had nowhere to turn. Moreover, I was put on a very strict diet and while that might have been a good thing if administered with affection, in this case it was punitive and drastic. Essentially I was always hungry, anxious, and afraid.  One day when no one was home I went through Marcia’s dresser and found a box of chocolates. I almost ate the entire box and I caught bloody hell for that. While I was actually making some friends and liked the school I was in, I was not really allowed to play much, as I was always being grounded for this or that.

As the spring approached I found out that my 6th grade class had a baseball team and there would be tryouts. Now this of course was the most exciting news I could have heard, and by that time the forced diet had yielded some good results and I was quicker and taller and stronger than I was the last time I got to play ball. I still had my skill set and it is fair to say that the coach liked my game quite a bit and I was chosen to be the starting first baseman. Oh how I loved to play ball and now, at last, I was going to have another opportunity to be good at something. On the school team!

I was so happy that day after our last practice and our first game was going to be played in just a few days. All I could think about on the way home was how excited I was and that the coach was going to start me at first base. Life was not so bad after all. Then I opened the door and Marcia flew into a rage about me having practiced in my school pants, and how it was a terrible thing to do and she was going to take it up with my father. Later that evening I was informed of my punishment and was told that I could not play on that team. No recourse, no discussion, no chance of playing, ever. I had to quit and that would show me who the boss was and teach me a valuable lesson. I must have cried. There is no way I could not have pleaded forgiveness. But I don’t know that for a fact. I do not remember. I suppose I might have just looked at them both, tears running down my face, and said nothing.

Several days later I could see the team getting ready for their first game as I made my way to a home that didn’t feel anything like home. My mother and Al would come pick us up on weekends, just like my father used to. She would ask me if I had any money, and I would give her my allowance.

By the grace of the universe Marcia threw us all out two years later. She actually changed the locks on us, and my father found us an apartment in the same community so we could stay in the same school. He wasn’t around much and it was very lonely, but it was also without fear and was really the best deal I could have had at the time.

I played a lot of pick up baseball games throughout my teen years and I was an exceptional ball player, with an incredible stick. But I lacked the confidence to try out for my high school team and figured there was really no point. I was given no encouragement, and no parent would have been there to watch me play. Even though I continued to struggle emotionally, I loved those years in a beautiful community and always had lots of friends and became very good with girls. That community did become home. Still, the terror I felt walking to Marcia’s house every day is something I remember clearly, and that kind of emotional abuse may well be the worst thing you can do to a child. As part of that abuse, having to quit that team and feeling that loss so profoundly has remained with me all these years, and is palpable in the same way a broken heart might be.

© 2012 Michael Fiveson

Second Chances

Every day in every part of the world, there are things that happen that end happily, with great relief, or end with devastating sadness and overwhelming grief. A child chasing a ball, steps out from behind a parked car, and narrowly misses being hit by a bus when the driver, catching something out of the corner of his eye, manages to hit the brakes, just in time. A toddler left unattended for just a few moments opens the back door and falls into the family pool, drowning, while his parents, believing their son was sleeping in his room, are making love. Horrors in Iowa occur simultaneously with laughter in Mexico City. Chance does not favor race, and tragedy waits in the shadows for innocent victims. There is no possibility of understanding how this works, other than an acceptance of the randomness of the universe. To think that good deserving people are spared, is proven false every moment. Certainly we can lessen the risk of loss with safeguards and foresight, but even then darkness has a way of finding many of us, and wreaking havoc. Child molesters win the lottery, while good honest people are robbed at knife point.

Secluded and tucked away at the back end of the mountain Town of Grand Lake, Colorado, the Lemmon Lodge was the perfect place to spend our last day of summer vacation. We were on our way home from Yellowstone where we spent four nights camped in a conversion van. Cramped and without any amenities, the van was still quite comfortable and since we were still young, it was a great adventure for Judy and I, and our three year old son, Matthew.

We were lucky to find a cabin available at the lodge, as someone had just cancelled. Typically, they are booked well in advance, and with good reason. The Town of Grand Lake is an old and textured community that sits adjacent to the deepest lake in Colorado. At 265 feet deep, this large lake is a very rich blue, and astoundingly beautiful. The Lemmon Lodge sits along the lake’s edge and has a point which is where the inlet waters from Rocky Mountain National Park enter Grand Lake. At the right time of the year, this inlet makes for very good trout fishing and much to my delight; the fishing was said to be excellent when we checked in mid afternoon.

Matt was a happy child who was great fun to be around. Precocious and intelligent, he was the joy of our life, and every second spent with him was affirming and wonderful. Like most good parents, our world revolved around him. The cabin we rented was rustic and old, and it was a relief to have a real bed and our own bathroom. It was a perfect summer afternoon when we finished exploring and Judy said she was going to lay down and read while Matt and I fished. I remember how excited I was to rush to the inlet and I quickly set up my rod and told Matt to stay next to me and help me fish.

The fishing was fabulous. I have gone entire summers without catching a nice trout, but on that day, in that place, I was experiencing magic. Matt was excited as I pulled in my first fish, and he had a hand on reeling in the second large fish. Then, like a 3 year old, he quickly grew bored, and walked around; staying close to me so I could keep an eye on him. The problem was, I didn’t do a particularly good job and after a while I noticed that he was no longer within eye sight. Looking around it was clear that he was gone. My God, how long had it been since I actually looked up to make sure he was there. In the instant that I realized that he was missing, I went into a mind numbing panic.

Rushing to our cabin, and finding that he was not there, I drew Judy into her own panic and hysteria. “Matt, Matt, Matt”, I yelled, as I looked everywhere. Going from one end of the property to the other, no one remembered seeing my son and soon my panic turned to disbelief. This was like a very bad dream, except it was really happening and I could not awaken, and make it go away.

Not knowing where else to look, I forced myself to walk the short boat dock, looking in the water for my sweet son. At that point in time I think there was a reasonable chance that Matt was either dead and floating in the water somewhere, or he was abducted. Leaving the dock, I continued to call his name. Judy was at other parts of the property continuing her own frantic search. By now we were thirty minutes into looking for him and I suppose our next move would have been to alert the authorities, but then I saw my boy casually walking down a hill, not far from me.

I yelled to Judy that I found him and rushed to Matt who explained that some kid wanted to show him his cabin. I was shaking when I hugged him and explained to him why he can’t ever leave our side without telling us.

There is no doubt that I was completely at fault. I knew it right away, and it gnawed at my heart and soul every second I was looking for him. I don’t know why I was given a second chance that day. I have thanked God a million times, but I know too that other deserving parents have their hearts ripped out in similar circumstances. All that I could do is become a more diligent father, and I have fiercely protected Matt, our only child, at every turn.

I don’t know what my life would look like if chance and circumstance had punished me. I marvel at parents who live on after they have lost a child, although I am certain they are never the same. Considering that it was I who was totally responsible for Matt wandering off, I am reasonably certain I never would have forgiven myself, and it probably would have resulted in losing my wife, with whom I just celebrated our 41st anniversary. I think I would have lost myself too. Perhaps I would have joined the legion of broken souls who reside under bridges, drinking the pain away.

So I continue to give thanks, protective of my son, now an adult, while remaining on guard and hoping that I can continue to find favor in this lifetime.

Mister Softee

Thieves and socialists don’t make good businessmen. I learned this lesson, about myself, way back in 1966 at the tender age of seventeen.

My older brother was on his summer break from college, and it was my first summer in the last three that did not require me to attend summer school, so my father came up with the idea to put my brother and me in business. He believed that we could make money with a Mister Softee truck, selling ice cream to the hordes of children who would not be able to resist the obnoxious jingle, or the thought of sweet soft ice cream cooling them off, while running down their throats and faces.

The plan was simple enough. My dad would put up the necessary funds for us to rent the truck, and my brother and I would take turns driving our assigned route. We were taught how to mix the ice cream, run the register, nothing else, and off we went. Never mind that I had just received my driver’s license and that the truck was a beater with at least six inches of play in the steering wheel. Driving it was road roulette, and I don’t think I was legal to drive it at all.

As I weaved my way into the first neighborhood, I turned on the jingle from hell. Shrill and annoying, it was intended to make every dog in a five mile radius foam at the mouth. Children would then see the foam, think of ice cream, and hear the jingle. Most of them had money, and lines would form in anticipation of the gooey treat. I realized early on that I could not say no. There was one boy who looked to be about 6 who had large square freckles and curly hair. He never had enough money, but I couldn’t resist how cute he was so I would make him a cone or grab him something frozen. And it wasn’t just him. If a line formed I wanted everyone on that line to come away with something. I also liked to amuse myself by making contests. Who can tell me the Yankee score from last night? That kid got himself a free treat. How much is five times eight? Another cone. And while the cones were supposed to weigh so much, I didn’t give a shit and made them tall and proud. More than one set of eyes would get real big when I passed that monster through the window.

I became popular. Perhaps I was the softest Mister Softee of them all.  Maybe it was an early indication of a generous heart, and a socialist mind set. I looked forward to seeing the munchkin with too few nickels and square freckles. To celebrate those square freckles I gave him free round sprinkles. I also ate my fair share of ice cream, and every Friday I would end my shift by yanking a few handfuls of change, so I could play poker or take my girlfriend to a movie. I suspect my brother was as generous to himself. Maybe even more so.

Three weeks into this venture my father did the books and discovered that we had not made a dime. Or at least that is what he told us. Maybe the last handful of change was scooped by my father. I do know he informed us that the business was closed, not at all aware of the loss freckle boy would feel. I didn’t really care that it was done. I also did not realize at the time that I was still a boy, not much older than the kids I was selling to. As monotonous as it was, it was still better than summer school.

© 2013 Michael Fiveson

http://gothamist.com/2009/03/27/mister_softee_truck_jingle_driving.php

No Hesitation

There was a time when I did not believe in having weapons in my home. I did not fully understand the cruel nature of some human beings, their desperate lives motivated by evil and stupidity.

When my wife and I were in college and living in a rented home, I could not conceive of the need for self protection. It was not about gun safety, it was about karma, and the false belief that nothing bad would come my way. I had no knives, no guns, no swords, bombs, or hand grenades. All I did have is good intent, and that would be enough to shield us from pain and harm.

Had I known the truth about the degree of randomness in the universe, perhaps I would have been protected that night. When I first heard the front door being worked, I would have reached for my gun, and would have gained the advantage both by firepower and surprise. But there was no gun to be had, and as my sweet and pretty 25 year old wife continued to sleep, I was left only with myself, naked and scared.

It was well before I developed real sleep issues, and in those days all my parts worked, nothing ached, and I usually slept well. But that August night it was very hot and humid and since we were young and poor we had no air conditioning. This meant that while the front door was locked, the side door was left open, so the screen door could permit some sort of breeze. This door was locked, but only by a cheap and tiny hook latch. To get to this side door, this man walked up the driveway, and right past our bedroom curtains. Well, they were not real curtains, but only light sheets, crudely clipped to a curtain rod. This night was lit by a bright moon, and at 2:30 A.M, I sat up in bed and watched his silhouette move past our bedroom, only a few feet from that screen door.

My wife continued to sleep and I saw no reason to awaken her. In truth, I was just a few seconds from the potential for blood and catastrophe. Soon I could hear him jiggle the screen door. Then I heard him start to cut the screen, and I realized that it was about to be too late. He was going to be in my unprotected house, carrying a knife, with very bad intentions. Without any more thought I literally leaped into the kitchen and yelled “HEY!” What a sight I must have been, naked, with my heart pounding and my penis dangling, although I think he jumped away as I yelled, and the kitchen was dark. I could hear his boots echoing down the street as he ran away, and I saw long dark hair.

By this point Judy was awake and asking what was going on. Examining the screen door it was apparent that he had completed his vertical cut, and was just starting the horizontal cut that would allow his hand to unlock the door. I would estimate that he was 2-4 seconds from being in my home, when I yelled and scared him away.  Had I hesitated those 2-4 seconds, he would have found the two of us.

There is no possible scenario that comes out well if he had unlocked my door. Even if I would have been able to fight him some, I can only imagine how big that blade would have been. I do realize now that I acted somewhat heroically by jumping into that kitchen, but wonder what choice I really had.

The police arrived 45 minutes after I called them and shined their flashlights into some bushes. They took my information and told me to lock my doors. They did not suggest that I go buy a weapon, and in fact it took many years before I felt I could spend that much money on a gun.

I don’t know if I was a personal target that night or if it was a random creep looking for someone stupid enough not to lock their door. I know I survived and nothing was damaged, except some of my innocence and naivety. And maybe karma did play a role. I am, after all, alive to write this story. I was awake when I should have been asleep. I was alert enough to figure out what was happening, and my penis and I were enough to scare him away. Sounds like payback for something. That said, I sleep close to a loaded 38 caliber Smith and Wesson Detective’s Special, and the next creep that tries to break into my house will discover how special it is. No hesitation, again.