Thursday, August 05, 2004

A little man waving

In the fall of 1983, my family and I moved back to Wisconsin from New York. What began as moving our entire family halfway across the country to start anew, became a 3 month long vacation where you have to take every piece of crap that you own and pack and unpack it twice.
About a month before we moved back, I received a letter from my mother's boyfriend, Dennis, the man who eventually became my step-father. In the letter, he had made a drawing of the duplex that we were going to be living in when we got back to Deerfield, a small town just outside of Madison. Dennis has always had a gift for drawing and the picture of our new home, that he drew, was a wonderful image to behold. New York was not really a place for the Haag family and we all longed to come home, so when we saw that picture we knew it was where we belonged.

Dennis, who has always been one of the most creative and entertaining people that I have ever known, felt compelled to draw himself into the picture as well. He drew himself, to scale, on the sheet of yellow legal pad paper right next to the house. He stood there, waving at us.

When my mother first introduced us to Dennis a few years earlier, I had a pretty good idea that he was going to be around for a while. When I threw a fit after I lost a "family game" that we were playing that evening, and he didn't try to run out of the house, I felt like we had a chance for a new father, one that might stick around through good or bad times.

When I saw the little man waving at us on that piece of paper, I think I knew that I loved him like a father. It was just the sort of thing that you always wanted your dad to do, to let you know that he cared about you. The sort of thing that my actual father has never done. It set Dennis apart from the rest of the men I had met in the world, and made him special.

When we completed the long drive back from New York and got to our new home, Dennis was sitting in the sparsely decorated living room watching an episode of the Odd Couple on a 13" TV. We all gave him a hug, and then proceeded to run around the building trying to determine which of the rooms that we should claim as our own.

After a few days, the school year began and we set out to meet new people and make new friends for the 3rd time in the last calendar year.

School was going pretty well for me and before I knew it the teachers were paying special attention to me and began telling me that I was a smart child and that they should try to move me along, so that I wouldn't get bored with the curriculum.

Within the first month or so of the fourth grade, I ran away from school. I'm not sure what caused me to run, but if I had to venture a guess it was either that a child from the school decided to make fun of me or I had a confrontation with a teacher. Due to a combination of issues that had occured over the first seven years of my life I had, and continue to have, issues with authority figures, so I can easily picture a teacher telling me to do something and me telling him the fourth grade equivalent of "Go fuck yourself."

So, I ran. Only in the mind of a seven year old could you believe that you were like some fugitive on the run when you left school without permission, but that's exactly what I thought. I darted from tree to tree, making sure that I wasn't being seen by anyone, as if there were some tower guards with sniper rifles that were going to take me out for bailing on social studies.

Where was I going? I thought of far off destinations, like Milwaukee. I could be a man of the world or at the very least a man of southern Wisconsin, if only I wasn't seven and wearing Garanimals underpants.

I reached the lot for a funeral home that was a few blocks from the school and heard a car slowly approaching. I ran for the nearest shrub and ducked down just before a police car slowly drove by. I overheard the officer talking on the radio about looking for a child on the lamb (ok he said that he was out looking for "the kid that ran from school", but I knew that's what he meant.) I stayed behind the bush until I was sure that he was gone and then continued my trek towards home, which was more than a mile from the school.

I knew that going home wasn't going to be a smart thing, as my mother was more than likely there and if I did show up, I wouldn't be received very well. I got within a few blocks of home and realized that I should probably head back to school. Whatever had caused me to take off running had already vanished from my brain and I thought that whatever would happen at school, would probably be better than my mother's reaction to finding me on our doorstep.

I took a very circuitous route back to the school, to ensure that when I got back there wouldn't be a great deal of time left in the day so that the other students wouldn't have as much time that day to mock me for my behavior. I did what I thought to be the most logical thing when I made my way back into the school, I hid in the men's room. I sat in one of the stalls for at least 15 to 20 minutes, and realized that what I really wanted at that point was for someone to actually find me. All of the time I spent evading people and walking through back alleys and people's yards was just a tease. At that point, what I wanted was the attention for what I had done. It didn't matter if it was good or bad, I just needed someone to notice and care.

After sitting in the stall and not being noticed, I decided to hide behind the bathroom door. Sadly, it took another ten minutes before a teacher finally found me there and then led me to the principal's office.

I was only gone from school for a few hours, but in my young mind it felt like forever. I had done something that most of the other kids that age wouldn't dare do, when I was pushed, I pushed back. Not that anyone felt it, but I felt empowered by my decision. I had shown, to myself, that I had some backbone and wouldn't let someone push me around. Of course, they were probably telling me to do something that was completely reasonable and had no idea that I would react in the extreme that I did, but to me the reaction was all that mattered. I could control my own destiny and be my own person. I just needed to get some grown up underwear.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Guess where they landed

I don't know if it's specifically something about me or my generation in general, but I've always seemed to have a hard time dealing with the elderly. It's not that I feel entirely uncomfortable around senior citizens, I think it's the fact that I don't like the thought of me ever being in the position that they are; getting old.

My grandmother, on my mother's side, lived in a nice house in East Northport, New York. It's a small town out on Long Island, a few hours away from New York City. My grandfather, her husband passed away shortly after I was born. There is a picture of him holding me when I was just an infant, and as far as memories go of a person that I've never met, it's a pretty good one.

I only met Lillian 4 or 5 times before she passed away and there aren't really a great deal of good memories from my times being there, that I can recall. Since she lived so far away from us, it wasn't like we could just pack up the car for a weekend and go and visit Grandma. It was a painfully long drive that forced my mother, my two sisters, and myself to coop ourselves up in the family grocery-getter and trek halfway across the country. If your family was anything like mine, you'd know that if you put three children in a car together for more than 30 minutes, you're begging for trouble.

The first trip, that I can recall, that took us out to New York was when we moved there during the summer of 1983. For reasons that I've never bothered to ask my mother about, she had decided that she had had enough of Wisconsin and decided to try to move back to New York so that she could be around her family. Things were pretty tight for us financially speaking, as well as in a car sense (A Chevy Nova and 4 people doesn't make for a great cross country trip,) so we moved in with her mother.

Being eight years old, at the time, it was difficult to have to deal with the issues that have to go along with living with your grandmother. If I haven't said it before, my brain is a very bizarre storage device. The things that I remember usually have absolutely no bearing on how good or bad something was at that particular time.

Here's a case in point. What is the thing that I remember most about my Grandmother's house? Toilet paper, specifically the type that she had. I'm sure that seems like an odd thing to remember for most of you, but it will become very clear shortly.

Two other members of my mother's extended family lived in close proximity to my Grandma in East Northport. Aunt Honey and Aunt Tootsie. I'm not really sure these were their actual names, as these were the names that I was told to call them, so I just went with it. The two of them lived together in a house just down the road from my Grandmother, so it wasn't a long trip to go and visit the two of them while we were living there.

One day I went to their home and the three of us spent an afternoon outside picking from their blackberry bushes. As I recall there were quite a few bushes, and before too long I had an entire coffee can full of the sweet dark purple berries. For some reason that I will never fully understand, as it seems like only an eight year old could make a decision such as this one, I thought it would be a good idea to eat a handful of berries, then another, and another. Before too long, I had consumed an entire Hills Brothers coffee can of blackberries.

I don't know much about human physiology, but I do believe that that coffee can was larger than my actual stomach. Not that it much mattered how much of it would actually stay there.

Once I got back home that evening, I became acquainted with a certain member of the house. We became rather intimate friends rather quickly. My new, and ever so close friend, was the family toilet.

One thing that I didn't know when I was eight years old, was the fact that if you eat enough blackberries they take on a certain laxative quality. I'll save you the remaining details of that fateful day, but I will let you know how that day shaped my life. Once that day was complete, and my digestive tract had returned to it's normally scheduled programing, I vowed one thing to myself.

I would never ever purchase that pathetic, sorry, sandpaper-like, one square at a time, excuse for toilet paper that my grandmother had on the shelf. I don't think my ass has ever forgiven me for that day and who can blame it.