True Tales of Human Firsts

The first time I touched a kiwi, it exploded.

I encountered said kiwi when my mother and I were shopping for produce at the local grocery store one day. I was six years old or so, and I’d never seen a kiwi at home because my family is American. While Mom was looking at the produce that real Americans buy, like apples, peaches, watermelon, and victory, I saw a shallow crate by the kiwi pile that had only one kiwi left inside.

To my naive eyes, this kiwi was like any other: brown, fuzzy, and roundish. I’d never really felt a kiwi before, so I touched it ever so slightly, no more firmly than one might poke a sleeping cat. The kiwi burst open, unleashing its green innards across the bottom of the entire box, leaving only an empty, brownish husk in the corner. Amazingly enough, the kiwi carnage was completely confined to the box; even my hand was unscathed.

Although I was surprised by this turn of events, I felt in no way responsible for the incident, so I wandered back over to my mother and continued shopping.

But I’ve been a little nervous around kiwis ever since.

When I was about seven, I watched my brother drink his first beer. I was clearly too young to be drinking beer, but he was ten, so it was okay.

Of course, I can’t guarantee it was actually his first beer for two reasons:

1. I can’t remember whether he told me it was his first beer or not.
2. He was probably lying anyway.

If he’d had a beer before, he couldn’t tell me or he might have gotten himself (and presumably other kids) in trouble. If he hadn’t, he couldn’t tell me or he’d seem immature and inexperienced. I imagine he just kept his mouth shut on the matter.

This particular beer-drinking opportunity presented itself one evening when we had been left without a babysitter for a relatively short amount of time. A solitary can of beer had been sitting in the back of the fridge since our parents’ last dinner party. Of course, they hadn’t thrown a party in my entire life, so the beer was probably older than I was.

The beer was a typical, authentic American-style lager. I honestly can’t remember the brand name. It was next to a bag of rock-hard coconut flakes and some ancient peanut butter chips that we didn’t throw away until we replaced the fridge several years down the line.

I am fairly sure the beer-drinking was Mark’s idea. The two of us gathered around the beer can, on the side of the kitchen table nearest the trash can, possibly due to some prescience on our part. Intelligent children would have poured the ancient can of suspicious beer into another vessel, preferably a transparent one, to examine the beer before consumption. We did not. Perhaps we were trying to minimize the evidence, or perhaps we were just morons.

Mark took a large sip and immediately ran to the sink. I followed close behind, trying to determine the results of the tasting. He spit the entire mouthful of beer into the sink, then grabbed the can and dumped it in as well. I don’t remember exactly what the liquid looked like when it came out, but it was at least partially white. Hopefully, that was just foam.

He didn’t say much else, but we made sure to bury the empty beer can deep within the garbage to escape detection. Our parents arrived home shortly thereafter, making for quite a close call. Mark later claimed that the beer wasn’t that bad, presumably to save face.

Based on his drinking habits since, it seems he has come to enjoy beer even more. He also drank soap once.

I made my first prank call one evening when I was eight, during the only dinner party my parents hosted throughout my entire childhood. My brother and I were confined, quite appropriately, to the basement. After three hours of playing Nintendo, we needed a break, so Mark suggested we make some prank phone calls. I have no doubt the escapade was his idea.

We sneaked up to the kitchen and grabbed the phone book, then sat down by our archaic basement telephone. The plan was simple: First, we had to think of kids we knew from school who had distinctive surnames, then we would look up that name in the phone book. If there was only one entry for that name, we would call it and ask to speak to the kid. When the kid answered the phone, we would unleash our witticisms and promptly hang up.

Although I think we tried the plan with several different names, I only remember reaching one kid successfully. When his big, dumb voice answered the phone, I had to think quickly. I accused him of not taking a bath in 243 days, which was an insult I had plagiarized from one of the Wayside School books. It wasn’t exactly the harshest rebuke, and it may have even been true, so the victim was not properly annoyed. His response was a sluggish, slurred “Huh?” I tried to save things by giggling, but ultimately hung up, dissatisfied. At that point, I began to discover that I lacked the imagination necessary for prank calling.

The payoff for a successful prank call is all in your head. After you hang up, you have to chuckle heartily and say, “I bet they reacted angrily to the uproarious things we just said.” Your companion will then say, “Yes, they must surely be steamed at us, due to this astounding prank.” (You must have a companion; making prank calls alone is reserved for sociopaths and drunken ex-boyfriends.)

In reality, the victim’s reaction is usually just a confused shrug. Once I realized that, I lost the desire to make prank phone calls. Mark and I did make a few more futile efforts that night. At one point, we tried calling the same number multiple times, which is a risky maneuver, especially for rookies. Eventually, one of the parents threatened to call the police or something, and we were properly discouraged from further prank calling that night.

I have not prank called since, so my first night of prank calling was also my last. Don’t get me wrong, I could still come up with some creative prank calls if I tried, but I just don’t have enough imagination to enjoy them.

I didn’t learn the difference between my left and right until I was in sixth grade. I’m not sure how I remained ignorant that long, but even at the time, I remember being stunned that my education was so inadequate. I’m still relatively certain it had never come up in conversation until then, but I spent a lot of time alone and no one really liked talking to me.

I needed to learn my right and left, but I didn’t know where to look or who to ask. Eventually, through subtle questioning (or some other subversive method), I learned a critical, life-saving trick from a friend: The “L” Method. You see, the word “left” begins with the letter “L.” Whenever you need to determine which way is left, you hold your hands in front of you, palms outward. (If you try the method with your palms facing in, you will have a difficult, confusing experience.) The index and thumb finger of your left hand will form an “L” shape, thus signifying that it is your left hand. The hand which is not left is right, and thus, you have determined the difference.

After I learned the trick, I was able to identify the appropriate direction about 80% of the time. Eventually, I only used the trick when I needed absolute confirmation of my initial assessment. I haven’t had to use the trick in years, but I’m always prepared to employ it if the need arises.

True Tales of Human Childhood

Recently, I have been indulging in the many joys of maturity. I have been buying my own K’nex sets and eating Toaster Strudel, Snack Packs, and Drumsticks. I drink a Mello Yello every day. Purchasing and consuming these things at my age almost makes up for never getting them as a child. In particular, the boxes of Toaster Strudel help compensate for one of the most common Nickelodeon ads:

“Maria’s parents give her delicious, flaky, sweet Toaster Strudel for breakfast. Jimmy’s cheapass parents only buy him Pop-Tarts. They must not love him as much.”

At least, that’s how I remember it. On the other hand, they did let us watch Nickelodeon.

It might seem strange to people who know me, but as I kid, I hated soda. I would drink Sprite or 7-Up when I was sick (or better yet, cola syrup), and I occasionally had an A&W at my grandpa’s house. Later, I went from being a known soda-hater to listing “soda” as one of my favorite things when I was expected to write a list of my favorite things.

My history of soda has two major turning points. The first followed a routine trip to McDonald’s. When I was 11, my brother and his friend Tim came home from parts unknown with a greasy sack of McDonald’s and 2 extremely large drinks. They had not offered to bring my anything, but for charity’s sake, Tim offered me some of his soda. Despite my prejudice, I said yes. I must have been compelled by the coolness of an older dude and disappointment with their lack of consideration.

So I took a sip. I was amazed by a flavor I had never encountered before, and I incredulously asked, “What is that?” Tim thought I was just trying to clear up what kind of soda he had, so he simply said “Dr. Pepper.” I doubt he realized that I had never tasted it before. Either way, I was a soda drinker from that day forth. Within the next few months, I nearly tripled my body weight. My health has suffered immensely ever since.

The other event was a competition during a New Year’s Eve lock-in at the church. My friend Markos and I had to chug (slang for “quickly drink”) a 2-liter bottle of unlabeled soda together. We met the challenge head-on, and began drinking immediately. After about 20% of the bottle was gone, we finally tasted it. When you’re in the zone, flavor takes a back seat. However, I never forgave the youth pastor for choosing peach-flavored soda.

I’ll say this, though: we won. Also, I didn’t barf. I probably should have. To this day, I can’t eat peaches without nausea, because they are just too damned sweet. Soda, on the other hand, is just sweet enough.

In lieu of vacations, my parents would take us to my grandparents’ house in a tiny town near St. Louis. (My dad once said, “I loved going to Disney World as a kid, but it’s really not the same as an adult.” At the time, I was 19.)

We did get to enjoy doing “several” things in Elsberry. I got to swim in 3 different pools (only one was above ground), play Nintendo (and I do mean the Nintendo Entertainment System), watch TV (before Grandpa woke up), and play 2 games after dinner (yes, the same two). I always took a lot of books. Elsberry is also where I bought most of my Beanie Babies, but I’ve written about that before.

After my grandma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she lost a lot of mobility. She had to stop being constantly active and needed help getting around, which meant she couldn’t tend to her visitors. None of this stopped her from trying, however, and we were forbidden from getting up early because she would try to get up and help anyway. It didn’t always go well when she tried, but I’ve written about that before. My parents slept in until 8 or so, and I was forbidden from going downstairs until 7:30.

Like most 10-year-olds, I usually woke up around 6 in the morning. I had to get in my TV watching before grandpa got up and checked his stocks. (The stock market, that is. There were very few cattle allowed within city limits.) At my bedside, I had a vintage alarm clock with an actual radium dial. At least, the dark moles on my neck assume it was radium. The hour hand (that’s the smaller one) was about half an inch long, which meant it was roughly 3 feet from the numbers on the outside. My estimation skills were somewhat off at that age, so when I looked at the tiny hand and large numbers, I read 7:30. I went downstairs immediately, let out the dog, and fed her. Then I looked at the microwave. It had a digital clock, like the rest of civilization, and it read 6:30.

At this point, I was in trouble. My grandmother was asleep in a room about 20 feet away, and boy and dog were loose. The only option I could see was lying down on the ground and petting the dog so she wouldn’t move. I implemented the plan immediately, and the dog and I got bored quite quickly. Neither one of us could go back to sleep at this point, having just gotten up, and I was too worried to move. I’m not sure if I was more worried about waking Grandma or upsetting my parents, but they both seemed like bad ideas. After a long hour of waiting, I got up “officially” and started watching TV. The dog probably went back to sleep.

Grandmothers do a lot for their grandkids, but we make sacrifices, too. Once in a while.

Still More True Tales of Human Interest

I had a very difficult childhood. Our microwave didn’t have a turntable, so I often had to turn the food once, twice, or even three times during the cooking process. It’s fortunate that I didn’t get some kind of disease from improperly cooked fragments in those food products.

My parents rarely grounded me, however, because I would just read books in my room. It was not much of a punishment. Instead, my mother would frequently lock me outside. My brother and I had no choice but to explore the vacant wooded lot behind the house, often risking life and limb in the pursuit of enjoyment. The owner of the lot was a dick, and always chastised us for being there. Many years later, we threw a jug of spoiled milk into his lot out of spite. It is still there.

Once, we took the hose and made a large mud pit in the middle of the yard. The dog joined us for several minutes of unadulterated happiness. When my mother found us, she was not as happy. The dog had to be hosed off thoroughly, while Mark and I had to be cleaned indoors. I still respect our creativity in having a fun time, though.

We have a half-assed basketball half-court by the side of our house. It is essentially four slabs of concrete and a hoop. At this point, due to root growth and plate tectonics, the playing surface is no longer level. Back in the day, we played a few games of HORSE and such, but I mostly used it for dribbling. I would go out there with a fully-inflated basketball and dribble for hours. I never shot the ball (I would have missed), but I dribbled like a pro. At one point, I dribbled with a kickball. I could dribble just about anything.

As a gifted student, I had many struggles. I could kick the ass of math any day, but when it came to all that other crap, I was no good. We were expected to do a presentation each year of some “creative” project or another. I always stumbled through one, but never had any creative ideas on presenting them. Like most elementary school projects, parental assistance was key. my topics included rocks and crystals, the lungs, lions, and electric motors. The motor was actually quite cool, and fortunately it worked once at home and once during the creative project fair, but never again. It is still here.

The other annual gifted project was a book. We were expected to write, illustrate, and bind a 24-page book. It could be about anything we wanted, but we had to do all the work. The end product was a white bookish thing covered in some kind of hardcore plastic wrap. For me, it was less of a creative project and more of romp through my twisted childish psyche. Whenever I tried to assemble coherent thoughts into book form, I always failed incredibly.

In my first year, I was probably 5 or 6. I wrote an alphabet book of all the stuffed animals in my bedroom. It was adorable. I remember another gifted student reading it to me sweetly, but I also remember being teased about it. Either way, it’s probably the most earnest thing I’ve ever written, and the pictures are decent, too. Once I started reading more complicated books, I tried to assemble a narrative. The results are frankly embarrassing. One was a blatant (horrible!) take on a book series I liked. One other has slipped my memory (thank god). The final book was written in fifth grade, and I labored over it for quite a while. My innovative story idea was this: take two natural disasters and combine them. It couldn’t fail!

After thinking for ages about which two disasters to combine, I decided on a tornado and a volcano. Naturally, the book was entitled “Torcano”. In my head, it was spectacular. A horrifying wind tunnel pulling boiling lava out of the mountain and into the sky, where it would partially harden and land, crushing humans, vehicles, and abodes with abandon. The concept did not translate so well to the 24-page plastic-wrapped mini-book form. I wrote the text and illustrated it, which consisted mostly of two triangles (one reddish-brown volcano and one gray, swirly cyclone) in various positions. I bound it and everything.

On presentation day, we were supposed to read the book to our gifted peers. I was already embarrassed. After all, my previous works had been met with derision and accusations of childishness. When it was my turn, I read the book aloud. When I finished, I remember looking up to about ten bewildered faces and absolute silence. The stunned silence lasted for several seconds before things moved on. It’s fair to say that a worse work of fiction has never been produced. Of course, all of my books from elementary school are still here.

When I was about 13, my brother started dating a girl. I didn’t like her very much, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. In any case, I lacked the emotional maturity to express those concerns, so at a church function, that frustration expressed itself. I threw a green gummi bear at the couple from across the room, and hit the girl directly in the right eye. My aim was spectacular. Her contact lens was knocked back over her eyeball and she had to go to the bathroom to remove it. She patted me on the shoulder in forgiveness, which was good, because Mark was pissed.

The next day she saw an optometrist and had to have her eyes dilated. I apologized profusely throughout the whole process. Later on, her dad said, “it would be fine had it just been an inch off the mark.” Months later, after the inevitable break-up, I felt a bit vindicated about the gummi bear situation. That’s what she got for dating my brother.

(I felt that I should at least present at least one true tale of human interest about my asylum experiences.)

When I was first committed to the Lancaster County Crisis Center, it was a brand new experience. My urine was still purple from the medication I’d been given, and I was checked on every 10 minutes “just in case.” There was not much to do, either. They had a library of about 30 books and a different library of about 80 VHS tapes. The patients could choose any of the films on tape, which the attendants would then play on the sealed-up TV/VCR. I did read one book, but most of the time, I had to watch the movies.

Because most patients stayed about 3 days (I was there for 30), every retinue of new ones wanted to watch the same damned films. Of all 80 films, I probably saw about 12. The two I saw the most were Happy Gilmore and Meet the Parents. The process worked as follows: a new patient would come in and read the list of tapes and say, “Oh, Happy Gilmore. I haven’t seen that movie in forever.” All of the other patients (except me) would then say, “Wow, I remember that from high school. Let’s watch that.” The process would continue a few days later. I probably saw that film 8 times that month, if not 10.

The most interesting patient there was Jeff, the psychotic. Most of us were just everyday insane, but Josh was actually certifiable. He shook and twitched and couldn’t quite converse properly. We talked once or twice, but each time he would spin off on very interesting topics of his own. We were both long-term patients, so we knew each other a bit, but after a week, Josh made an escape attempt.

There was a short, narrow hallway that ended in a door to the staircase. It was hard to see from the main desk. The ceiling was composed of the typical crumbly, white, rectangular panels. He thought that there was a way out over the doorway, so he climbed up the sides of the hallway (I didn’t get to see this, but I’m sure it was acrobatic) and got above the ceiling panels and light. Naturally, the whole thing collapsed. Not only that, the wall over the door extended past the ceiling panels to the real ceiling. The escape attempt failed, and they didn’t clean up the light and ceiling fragments for days. Josh was subsequently sent elsewhere.

More True Tales of Human Interest

These stories are both true. Neither is interesting. Sorry.

In 7th and 8th grade, I took English classes with Mrs. Lott. She had a pretty no-nonsense approach to education, but for some reason, we still had a hands-on project. Although I don’t remember which year it was or what book it was supposed to apply to, I remember the project quite clearly. We were supposed to build a house of some kind with our choice of materials. We also got to choose partners. I chose Devin.

Together, we made the decision to build a house out of sugar cubes and vanilla frosting. I can still picture the open box of (name-brand!) sugar cubes. The project began as expected, with one line of sugar cubes. After opening the frosting, we realized that it does not spread easily. We scraped it across our first line and managed started moving up. After about 2 lines of sugar bricks, we encountered another problem: shrinkage. It seems that quantities of both frosting and sugar cubes had just disappeared.

Construction is difficult on such a small scale, and it becomes more difficult when your hands are moving at the speed of sound. Although we started with 2 boxes of sugar cubes and 2 tubs of frosting, we only finished about a wall and a half. At lunch, we had heart rates in the low thousands and no interest in eating. I have never been more hyper.

During my tenure as a Boy Scout, I went to summer camp twice. The first year, the troop went to Camp Geiger in St. Joseph, Missouri. It was an interesting experience for several reasons. First, the camp is huge and hilly. Second, our troop had to camp at the lowest point, essentially in a huge ditch. Third, I had to take Vitamin B1 supplements to keep off mosquitos. Fourth, I didn’t shower the whole time. I smelled like shit due to B1, sweat, and the general stink of teenage boy. My proudest accomplishment that week was finishing the Basketry merit badge. We still have the basket.

The next year, we went to Camp Naish in Kansas City, Kansas. I had a history with Naish; my Cub Scout troop had gone there twice for day camp. Both times it rained without ceasing. As an extremely mature Boy Scout, I decided to do what they called the “Mountain Man Rendezvous.” It was a 3-day excursion to the shittiest parts of the camp to do manly things. We were expected to create our own lean-tos and sleep in the elements. For some reason, it appealed to me, in part because of the Metalworking merit badge.

After about 20 minutes of trying to create a tent with 2 tarps, twigs, and a rope, I started crying like a little bitch. I didn’t want to be there and I missed my father. Although I had never been one of “those kids” at a sleepover (I remember who was, though. Pussy.), this rendezvous was beyond the bounds of my emotional maturity. I was taken back to camp where I did normal merit badges like the other scouts. I didn’t do the metalworking, which I later found out was an extremely easy merit badge, especially at summer camp.

I think I took some crappy nature merit badges and First Aid, where I got into trouble for lighting matches (I still blame another scout for that. Asshole.). I attempted to make a second basket, which failed miserably. I wrote a terrible poem. There was also a brief panic due to a leaking propane lantern. However, the biggest problem that week was, of course, the rain. It rained like no rain has ever rained in the entire reign of rain. Camp Naish was basically just mud with a smattering of watery pits. During the first night, they had to send out a truck to pick up the mountain men. Suckers.

True Tales of Human Interest

The following stories from my life are entirely true. Whether or not they are interesting is left to the reader.

I was going to run away with a girl once. It was elementary school, and we had decided after much discussion that we should run away. I believe we got together a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and headed into the wilderness. Unfortunately, before we could make it too far, her extremely attentive mother told us to come back. “There are snakes out there,” she said. We had no choice but to return and play Super Mario World. I’m not sure what we intended to do, but I’m fairly sure we didn’t accomplish it. We didn’t talk much afterwards, and though I saw her around from time to time, we never spoke again.

During my second-grade class, I had to leave the room every day to do math problems in the hallway with a first-grade student. I think it was supposed to better us, but I don’t remember enjoying it or learning anything. One day in November, we had a substitute teacher, and the class project for the afternoon was making turkeys out of coffee filters. Instead of doing that, I was expected to return to the hallway for math problems. I went out and started work, but quickly changed my mind and returned to make a turkey, abandoning the first grader in the hallway.

When my regular teacher returned, she found out what I had done and forced me to apologize during recess. It was extremely awkward, but I followed the instructions on our social skills poster (“How to Apologize”) and got through it. Being intelligent was one of my biggest problems at that age.

While I was in elementary school, I had several friends in my age group, but when I skipped 3rd grade, I had to leave them behind. Oddly enough, my first-grade math buddy skipped a grade too, but still ended up behind me with the rest. I had to make friends from scratch in my new grade, but still did stuff with the others outside of school. We would have sleepovers and all loved pokemon (first generation only, thank you very much).

In middle school, my friend Joseph, who was fond of bicycles and dirty jokes, would walk home with me. Actually, I would walk and he would ride his bike crookedly to stay at my pace. We talked about a lot of things, including PG-13 movies and video games of all kinds. I don’t remember being a very good friend. I remember being short-tempered and impatient, although I was still pretty funny at times. For all my scholastic skills, I still had no emotional maturity. I don’t know if I’ve improved since then or not.

One week, I suggested an impromptu sleepover at my house, but it was the night his family went on a bike ride together. As they were driving from the VA Cemetary to Dairy Queen, Joseph took the lead and was hit by a truck. He was taken to the nearby hospital and died there overnight. I didn’t find out until the next morning, when my family woke me and told me that either Joseph of his brother had been hit and killed. They weren’t quite sure which, but I sincerely hoped it was his brother. I went upstairs to get dressed, and my own brother met me in the hall. “I heard your friend Joseph died,” he said. “How did you know?” I said, and collapsed in his arms, crying.

I spent one year at East Middle School, the dilapidated former high school in Leavenworth. They were building a new middle school to be used the next year, and everyone was thrilled to be moving on. The building was in terrible shape; it had asbestos, broken ceilings and walls, and no air conditioning. I did take several classes there, including home economics, band, choir, and the class for gifted students. I learned to bake stuff, a bit about nutrients and sewing, to play the trombone, and how to build a roller coaster out of wire. I sang tenor then, and later on I even went to a statewide choir competition with 5 other students (“Thanks for the great sex…tet!” the instructor told us).

My biggest conflict was with the math teacher, who was always frustrated that I never showed my work. I was good at math, but I was supposed to be showing steps I didn’t know I had to do. The problem was all in my head. On one particularly chaotic day, everyone was just goofing off like true middle schoolers. For some reason, there was a pair of girl’s underwear on the floor, and I took them to the instructor and said “Mr. ___, you dropped your panties.” He sent me to the office.

I bragged about the experience to my peers, who were all quite impressed. The teacher is now an administator at the new middle school, and they are finally demolishing the old one. I also learned to be less of a bratty snot. Sort of.

Like most freshmen, I had a hard time adjusting to high school. I had taken 2 high school classes as an 8th grader (which is where I was on 9/11, in case you’re keeping track), but there is a big difference between being a part-time and full-time high schooler. One key change was lunch. Instead of going through a typical slop line, high school students could spend their lunch money on just about anything. We had vending machines, pizza, fries on Friday, bread and cheese (actually quite good and popular), snack cakes, fruit snacks, and the usual sandwiches and chips. Oh, and there was a slop line, too.

When I started as a freshmen I got 10 dollars a week for lunch. With my daily 2 dollars, I would eat (look away, Mom) a Milky Way candy bar, an Otis Spunkmeyer Chocolate Chocolate Chip muffin, and a can of Barq’s Red Cream Soda. Later on, I would get bread and cheese, and when I was a senior I usually got a turkey sandwich with chips and juice. It’s still hard for me to believe I dodged a diabetic coma that first year, though.

I also had to take freshman gym and health. At the very end of the year, thrilled to be finished with an idiotic health class, I wrote “Righteous!” on the cover of my health textbook without thinking. When I was due to turn it in, the coach was greatly annoyed to see my remark, and claimed that they wouldn’t be able to use that book again (which was bullshit). I lied blatantly to avoid paying for the book, claiming it was already there. The next year, that teacher went to another school. I have a feeling the textbook was used long after he left.

So there you go. A few mildly interesting stories from my scholastic career. Happy Labor Day.