It must have been while I was in fifth grade. I don’t remember what age I was, or necessarily what school I was going to, but I remember the wood paneling on the walls of my bedroom. It was the cheap kind, bordering on formica, and a color grey reserved for tombstones and mortuary makeup kits. There were two windows that had the most stunning view in the entire house: A broken tree, perfect for climbing, despite being half dead, and beyond that, a factory with constant plumes of smoke billowing out the varying wards.
The factory itself was a marvel to any kid that age- whatever the hell age I was. Let’s say twelve. I think I went through puberty in that house, so twelve is as good as any (trust me, we come back to this). The road we lived on was the shipping lane for this factory, so there was the ever present fragrance of rubber and diesel exhaust. As if that didn’t stunt the development of my lungs, it was frequently interchangeable with whatever brand-of-the-week cigarettes my mother had purchased. We frequently visited the local reservation for cigarettes, crystal pepsi, and ninety-nine cent gasoline, so they had lovely off-brands like ‘Marlwaco’ and ‘Senate’. I played tuba as a kid, you know that? Tuba. With lungs that inhaled this daily. It didn’t occur to me why I stopped getting bronchitis after moving out until I was twenty.
I make no claims to the quality of my situational awareness (also important).
As I was saying, the factory was great. The gates were always open in the shipping yards, and when they weren’t, you could climb over the fence easily enough. My sister and I would spend hours climbing the palettes, playing king of the hill with the neighbor’s kids on these things, or building little forts – all after hours, of course. I would take my bike up through the roadways, along the algae covered ponds, and pothole filled roads, and race through the plant as I lived out great space adventures. I think I still believed I was the green Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger. Come to think of it now, have you ever actually stopped to think how racist that show was?- the yellow ranger was an Asian, the red ranger was Native American, the black ranger was black, valley-girl plasticine pink ranger. What the hell was Billy? I mean, I could think of a few things, all largely Semitic thanks to his Woody Allen bookishness.
|"The Predator" at Darien Lake|
This was as carefree as that era in my life got. I played tuba, read Jack London, and still had Gobots toys. Relevant here, is that schools still did awesome trips to recreational parks. Darien Lake had an amusement park of the same name, that in more recent years has been shut down, then reopened under the Six Flags banner. This was the flagship entertainment center for all to strive in Hammondsport, NY. I mean, sure, there’s plenty of natural wonders – fishing, the flume, waterfalls, the duck races (long enough story to skip for now), but this place- I mean, it had a roller coaster! When you’re twelve, and don’t have any video games, are a Power Rangers fan that reads – well, reads anything; I was twelve, after all, and should have been playing sports or something – and someone older than you says roller coasters are cool (alright, so it was the green ranger who said this), you want to know what one is like. To top this point: I had never been on one.
When the school fieldtrip to encounter such an endeavor occurred, I did find out. It was a monstrous beast all of wood, with a thin railing on either side. You were buckled in- no sissy lap bars here – and advised that raising your hands could cause them to be torn out at the elbows. They pulled the lever and I went high as I’d ever been. I recalled my fear of heights, and felt the blood run away from my brain as the cart crested the peak and began to fall, as all of my weight was held with a thin strip of nylon fibers.
And with thus, I nearly loosed my bowels upon the seating of my trousers.
|This the exact ride at Sylvan Beach|
I’d only had one gravity-defying experience prior, to which I will forever hold in the deepest recesses of my memories. Hell, it took that recollection of Darien’s creeky wooden coaster to pull it out. We were at another amusement park – Sylvan Beach, near Rome, NY – and they have this ride painted up like a starship. It goes in vertical circles, with a different cockpit styled piece on either end of a long shift, and it spins the pits as the rod rotates. This is a very basic concept. And I was eight.
They had to stop the ride three spins in so that I could get off. I was in hysterics for a day. And no- ice cream did not help.
Back to Darien. They had a water park I spent the remaining morning just ruining. I would go down a slide, and literally run to get back on. I did this for four damn hours. It was the literal bee’s knees. After lunch, I followed the teacher’s advice and didn’t go swimming – I went on the lazy river. See?- No swimming. While I was there, I met this girl. I was awe struck in a way I can’t define now. In part, because I don’t remember those early moments of puberty were someone just whispering a girl’s name gives you such an awkward erection that you have to cross your legs during fifth grade social studies like a little girl just to hide it. Or, because I was constantly suited up in women’s hand-me-down jeans, and was so damned embarrassed that I’d blocked that portion of my life by means of trepanning with a pickaxe. Or, maybe I just feel bad that I can’t remember her name.
We spent the next hour holding hands and talking as we went around and around that river. I was grateful for the cold water and conversation to get wrapped up in. That was the only day I didn’t care what kind of jeans I was wearing, because they were the old stiff kind that could hide a hard on. I swear, I spent years 12-15 trying to hide my junk, and the next several trying to show it off.
|165 feet tall makes everyone look like ants|
We went around the park. Talked about ponies and trapper keepers, and crap like that. I don’t know what we talked about- I only remember one other thing from that day: The ferris wheel. Tallest in New York, and we went on it. The romantic thing is to go on, ride it to the top, and kiss, right? So, at the top, I look down and say how I’m going to spit on all the people walking by. She finds this hilarious, and pops her head out so she can see. I work up all the nervous saliva in my body and launch- and I see nothing going down. In awe of this scientific mystery, I look over to my partner in crime, and see that my freshly farmed and hawked phlegm is on her face.
At least I can say we swapped some spit at the top of that ride. Well, I donated some. Forcibly.
We stayed in touch after. At the time she lived in the far off land of Oswego, NY- where I would later desire collegiate study. Less than six months later I received a letter that she and her mother were moving, and I would hear from them at their new address. I never did.
The moral here, is what do you do with your awkward moments? Your embarrassing little displays that rapidly become public knowledge? This was my first, and I remembering her laughing it off. I snapped my shirt off, wet it, and cleaned her face off. We laughed some more, as I made fat-kid faces with my chest to help her smile (I was a chubby kid; the height of puberty was the best gift from god- until my forehead learned of these devilish things known as ‘Dorrf Raems’.) Her laughing, though, defined my reaction to situations where people could, and would, mock me for the rest of my teenage life. The reason it was always short lived was because I, too, could laugh at it. I literally learned to laugh at life while spitting in a cute girl’s face. Which, with a name like Cletus being so intelligently portrayed in popular media, this was a good thing.