is about relationships between and among teenagers. This includes intimate
relationships between young males. If you don't approve or are offended, then
how come you're reading this? Go to some other Internet Site. (Of course some
people actually cultivate being offended; if that's the case, read right on). As
far as detailed descriptive sex acts, I think you may find some good ones in
other stories right here on Nifty, but as of now I do not envision a lot of
explicit detail in this one.
If, for some legal reason, you are not allowed to read this in your area of the world because of illogical laws, again I will not condone (publicly) anyone breaking the law, so either move or read sentence four. I definitely don't want the thought police after either of our prats.
Please, this story is sort of my property, so if you ever want to quote some of it (whatever for I wouldn't know), please e-mail me and also give proper attribution. As of now no one has permission to put this story on another Internet Site.
This story is almost entirely fictional, and autobiographical ONLY in the sense that many of the incidents in the story really happened, but in some cases to different people and under different circumstances. In other words I've simply adapted things that happened in my life to a fictional story. In fact, some aspects of both main characters are in part modeled from my own experiences. Some of my family members are also in this story, and perhaps (definitely) distorted a bit (a lot) at times and sometimes approaching caricature, but since I really don't expect them to sue, I'm taking the chance. All other characters are fictional, except as noted).
I welcome any feedback. Constructive criticism appreciated.
Again, I thank those who have sent e-mails. A couple pointed out that the name of the person who started the "King and His Court" was Eddie Feigner, and not Eddie Farner. I remembered it incorrectly. But I was like 6 or 7 at the time and claim failing memory. (Of course I should have looked it up). Also his "court" consisted of only 3 others, and he even pitched from 2nd base sometimes!
Chapter 29 -- Baseball, Critter, But Most of All a Promise
We were waiting for the trolley on Frankford Ave., on our way to Connie Mack Stadium. And talking about the Camporee and winning the scouting competition, and our building the fire, and going out to eat and then about Rocco hoping to make Eagle Scout by the end of the summer. It brought back to mind what I was thinking of that first night at the Camporee when we got in our sleeping bags. I was wondering what Rocco was thinking when he came right out and said that he wished I was his brother.
"I'm glad your not." I thought. "I still have some hope that you will become much more than just a brother. But I'm afraid to say that to you."
My thoughts were interrupted by Rocco wailing about beating his brother again. I did my best to try convincing him that this was not the way to do things.
Rocco rejoined: "You used to try to hate the whole world, and now you know the secret of how to be happy?"
"Well no. It's just that I've had enough experience hating that I know it just makes you feel worse."
"Well I don't actually HATE my brother or father. I just hate the way they act toward me."
I didn't know how to convince him. I wish I could say it better. It's just I was real familiar with the so-called "love the sinner, hate the sin" argument. I heard it some when I used to go to church. It never really works. Real people can't really separate the two. You always end up hating the "sinner" too. Besides, Christians should be in the loving business, not the hating business. I tried to explain this to Rocco. I finally said: "OK. Just answer this question. Let's say you work real hard and get a little lucky and make Eagle Scout before your brother. What do you think would happen?'
"Well I'd feel proud I beat my brother."
"But you spend half your energy just trying to beat your brother. Has it really changed how you, or your brother, or your father feels?
Rocco even took a moment to think. "Probably not."
"There. So don't you think you should expend your energy for other reasons?"
"You're almost convincing me. In fact I think in my brain I really believe you. But my feelings then get in the way."
"OK. Now I'm going to do something you may regret," and I sniggered as I added, "but I won't. I know you like me enough that if you promise to do something for me you will. I know this is rotten of me but I'll worry about guilt later."
Rocco looked at me and smiled. "You're starting to scare me." His smile belied his words.
"OK. Promise me that if this don't make your father or brother act different toward you, you will realize that nothing like this will work. And you'll start using your energy for some other reason."
Damn. I hope I haven't gone too far. Rocco was not replying. I wish I knew what he was thinking. Then I heard a barely whispered "OK." Then a few moments later Rocco smiled. "Yes, you ARE rotten."
I felt so good I reached over and hugged my White-boy. I think that took a lot for him to promise.
"Ouch! Watch your hooks!"
"You're just saying that. What are you really thinking?"
He didn't answer right away. He finally said in a low voice: "That I don't think I could have made that promise for anybody else."
We both smiled. Then we started talking about a lot of everyday stuff. Rocco eventually mentioned about tutoring for one of his teachers. "I will be getting out of school later the last couple weeks of school. Probably by about 50 or 60 minutes. I was asked by Mr. Cutter to help tutor some kids after school. Except for Fridays."
"OK. I think then we should then just meet at my house. Otherwise I'd have to wait over an hour."
"Yeah, makes sense. Any new articles for your paper?"
"Just the usual. One on the scholarship winners. One small one on the baseball team. We didn't make the playoffs."
"Our team did. We went 12-0 even. We have a pitcher that might even make the majors someday. Joe Bonikowski, or something like that. He throws in the 90s. He's thrown 8 shutouts this year, and two no hitters."
I mused. "Too bad he's Catholic. We could have used him at Lincoln. Damn. You going to be pitching next year with him?" I taunted. Rocco always wished he could play baseball better, but was simply so small.
"Funny. You'd have a better chance than me." Suddenly White-boy turned really white. This didn't need any ESP. I quickly replied: "That's OK. I know how you meant it. I don't mind." He looked a little relieved.
"I don't believe I said that. I'm sorry. Please forgive me."
"Look White-boy. You know me better than that; I'm not THAT sensitive about my hooks. Just don't worry." Actually I was thinking that if it was someone else that made the comment I would have been more upset.
"And besides, he's a Senior. There's a rumor that he`s even being scouted by the Washington Senators. And by the way, it was in the paper recently that they may be moving to Minnesota next year. Gees, it seems like all the teams are moving somewhere else."
The conversation eventually moved on to what we thought about the movie we went to last night. I thought it was pretty good, but Rocco had trouble with what he claimed were some inconsistencies. And he didn't like the general pessimism of the story.
I countered: "Look, it was a fiction written last century! The producers had to try to make up for the stuff Jules Verne obviously couldn't know. Gees, it was just a movie. Your too literal minded, and you can't suspend belief."
"It's not just that; it's just that the story just didn't follow realistically even given the premise. What would the odds be that two diverse minor remnants of the human race would just happen to settle in exactly the same place? And all the Morlock could find to eat were the Eloi? Or was it the other way round? It don't matter. It's still stupid. That's what's wrong with a lot of movies. The plots are so forced and they make the characters do and say things that real people in the same situation would never do."
We argued about this for a while but finally I gave in. "OK, I give." Well, maybe not entirely. I added defiantly: "But I still enjoyed the movie."
Rocco and I never did agree. The 66 trolley finally came, and we picked up our jackets and other things and got on the nearly empty car. Rocco had a bag containing sandwiches and a couple nickel pretzels. He also had an entire gallon thermos jug of lemonade. I had more modest fare -- a bag of donuts; I didn't want to be carrying a lot of things. I figured I'd get something to drink at the park. But I couldn't get too much. The prices they charge for food and drinks at the ball park would make it seem like the movie theaters were giving theirs away. At least that's what I'd been lead to believe. Rocco put his jug and food on the seat in front and then literally swung into the next seat by grabbing one of the poles and swiveling himself off the floor. No one needed to rev him up. It was catching and I even gave thought to trying it myself with my hooks. At the last moment I settled for just scrunching him against the window. We then had a scrunch war. I won. Rocco complained about unfair advantage. The driver complained about unruly teenagers. We got back to our conversation.
It was quite a long trip to the park. The trolley to the el, and then another long bus ride. About an hour and a half. We got to the park early and we finally decided on seats at the rail on the second tier right behind first base. We had a great view of the field. I looked all around.
I asked: "What a weird field. Why the big wooden wall in right field?"
"It's pretty short to right field so they make it harder to hit a home run."
"So just make the right field bigger."
"I think the people who have houses across the street might object."
I kept looking everywhere. The Phillies were still taking batting practice. It was so much better than just seeing the games on TV. I didn't know many of the players' names, but we got team rosters as we entered and Rocco was filling me in. He was glad that Art Mahaffey was pitching the first game. He said he'd been doing well. But they were playing the Dodgers who won the World Series last year. I started looking all around the field.
"How come the lights are already turned on? And where did that home run you say went?"
"I don't know about the lights. But see that tower of lights on the roof out there?" Rocco pointed to those way out at the far right end of the roof of what he called the outfield bleachers.
"Damn. I mean gee wiz, that's a mile."
"Don't ever use `gee wiz' again. And the numbers you see on the walls is the distance in feet. See, straight away center is 415 feet. It's rare a homer that's hit over that wall."
Well the first game was a pitching duel. The crowd was pretty quiet. The stands weren't even half filled. Not even a third filled. Last inning a guy named Pancho something hit a ball a mile but it curved foul. The game was scoreless going into the ninth inning. The Dodgers started the inning with a sharp grounder between second and third.
"By golly gee. That shortstop made an amazing play on that ball. I thought it was through for sure."
Rocco made a face. "That's Bobby Wine. Only hitting about 200, but he's about the best fielding shortstop there is. And don't EVER say `by golly gee' again." We both smiled.
The score was still 0 - 0 and the Phillies were up in the last of the ninth, with the pitcher up first.
"I bet they put in a pinch hitter for Mahaffey," Rocco commented.
But they didn't.
Rocco was annoyed. He complained: "I can't believe it. They need a run and I can hit better than Mahaffey."
"Hay White-boy. I bet you he gets a hit."
"You been in the sun too long. I'll win that bet."
Rocco was going crazy. Mahaffey swung at two straight fast balls and swished twice. And then I won my bet in a very spectacular way.
"Holy shit. Go! Go! Yeah!" Rocco was yelling and jumping up and down. He wasn`t the only one. The pitcher hit a homer into the left field seats and won his own game!
"OK White-boy. You have to fix me breakfast in bed tomorrow!"
Rocco smiled. Well, it was more like a pathetic frown, that he thought was mischievous grin. "OK, I'll be over at 6 AM!" And he laughed.
"Oh no you don't. Be over at 9AM unless I decide differently before then."
The second game wasn't quite a pitcher's duel. The Dodgers won 10-zip. Rocco complained all the way to the bus stop.
"Hay White-boy, stop already. The Phillies have been in last place forever. So get over it."
Oops. We had a whole bunch of eyes on us (or actually on me) instantly. Rocco started laughing. I knew he was weird, but what could he be smiling about. I thought I was about to be lynched.
He whispered. "That's probably not the wisest thing to say in front of a whole bunch of Phillies fans."
I whispered back. "My first thought was because I called you White-boy. I hope you're right."
About an hour later we just started on our third leg of the trip home. I couldn't believe it. Rocco had been squirming in his seat for the last half hour. Now he could hardly sit still. (Well, less still than usual). It's an hour and a half trip back and Rocco drink most of the entire jug of lemonade and didn't go to the rest room before we left the field.
"Brilliant, Einstein. We'll just have to get off the trolley so you can find a bathroom. And then get the next one." We were about two miles from our stop and Rocco was almost bent over double and ready to explode. I was laughing.
"It's not funny. I REALLY don't think I can make it. And I don't have enough money with me to get back on another trolley!"
I checked my purse but I didn't have enough either. I couldn't believe it. He really couldn't make it. We wound up getting off a good half mile early. He simply couldn't wait any longer. Rocco hurried to the edge of a vacant lot and went behind some bushes. I was laughing when he got back. "You looked so funny trying to hurry like that. You looked like a pregnant duck."
"You can stop laughing. You have to walk all the way home too."
"Eggs Benedict, that's what I want."
"You don't even know what Eggs Benedict is I bet."
"Your right, but it sounds good. Look it up."
It was almost 1 AM when we got back. Rocco came all the way to my house even though he'd have to backtrack. Even if my uncle were home, he probably be asleep and wouldn't like to be awakened just to help with my straps, so Rocco did it. I was really grateful. He could complain about the Phillies loss forever, but never made the slightest murmur coming sometimes both night and morning to help me. I really felt so good about that.
It was quite late. We decided on an hour later. Rocco said: "I'll see you after I get back from Mass tomorrow, probably about 10 AM. And if I can't find out about Eggs Benedict before tomorrow, how about French Toast? But I won't do it if your uncle is still home. We'll have to do it later if he is."
"That's great. See you tomorrow."
The next morning Rocco made great French Toast. I asked: "Where's my Eggs Benedict?"
"I looked it up in my Mom's Cook Book. It's pretty complicated. We didn't have all the ingredients. I might try it later though. There's a Hollandaise Sauce poured over a poached egg on ham and muffin. And the sauce takes quite a while to make with egg yolks and butter and lemon juice and everything. "
"Gees. I didn't know. It just sounded neat. I wonder if I'd even like it."
We had just a lazy day. Our conversations meandered all over the place but eventually it rambled over to the subject of sex. From there it was instantly tied into Rocco and his religion. He was soon trying to tell me something about how the Catholic religion was different from the other major Christian churches, but it sounded more like "Rules You Must Follow Or You Go To Hell." In spite of me not exactly being enthralled Rocco persisted: "Christ set up the Church with Peter as first Pope. . ."
I interrupted him before he could continue. "I know that's wrong right away. There were no popes until several hundred years later. He might have been the first leader of the Church, and the first Bishop of Rome, but that's it. In fact, about a thousand years ago the Church was split apart when there was a disagreement between the then Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Constantinople, about who should be the leader of the church. There were even times when there were two popes when some of the bishops couldn't agree on who should be pope. My Mama taught me that."
"I didn't know that. Why ever did your Mama teach you that? It's not exactly what most parents think every good boy needs to know?"
"Well she and a neighbor were having a running argument about which Church actually followed the true teachings of Christ. And Mama and I started reading about all this stuff in the encyclopedia. That piece just happened to stick. I could be wrong about the exact date, and I can't really remember the particulars. But I know there were no Popes until then."
"OK, but it's the Catholic Church that follows true Christianity. It's the leadership of our Church that keeps us on the right track so to speak. They. . ."
Again I had to interrupt. "How do you know? You mean to say the leaders of your church never made a mistake?"
"Well yeah. That's . . ."
"I think you're wrong again. And I think Martin Luther also disagreed. He's the one that many believed tried to correct a lot of things in the Church of that time. And even if Luther was wrong in some things, so were your Church leaders."
"But if we don't have a rigid leadership, how can anyone know what is right? How can we know how to correctly interpret the Bible? How can we know what's really right?"
"I can't answer a lot of that. And let's say you're right and the Catholic Church is the most . . . well lets say legitimate -- which I don`t really think is so -- you still can't say your Church was never wrong."
"But then how can we know if we're right?"
"I guess we can't be positive some times. We just read as much as possible. Try to get as much information as we can, maybe even ask God to help us make correct decisions. But it's ourselves that have to finally make a decision. Mama said that to blindly follow any leader isn't a true or mature faith."
Rocco just sat there for a while thinking. "I don't know. I'll have to think about this."
"Just think about some of the bad mistakes your Church leaders made in the past. Even Paul had to correct Peter. That's right in the Bible. (See Gal 2:11-14) How about excommunicating Galileo -- for saying the world revolved around the sun? Or saying slavery was OK? Or selling so-called indulgencies? Or sending armies on those Crusades? Or starting the Inquisition? Or making an agreement with Hitler? I can't think of anything else right now. But there's probably lots more."
Looking at Rocco you'd think he was a five year old who was just told that Santa Claus wasn't real.
"How come you know so much of this stuff? You're only 16."
"My Mama maybe didn't go to church much. But she made me spend some time every Sunday, talking about what's right or wrong. And I asked her many of these same questions. And often she couldn't even give me an answer. So she tried to find out."
"Gees, I never even heard of any parent ever doing that. And all I was interested in who was going to be the Eagles quarterback, or maybe what were the answers to my next geography test."
"Well, I think what started her doing that was when she found out my Dad was homosexual and also my Dad's Aunt, and she said it started her thinking about how people decide what's right and wrong."
"How come you keep shaking up my nice ordered universe? I bet if my Mom actually heard some of our conversations, she wouldn't let me see you any more. You're trying to teach me heresy."
"Well you keep claiming that you're the type that likes to research things before you make decisions. So when it comes to religion, maybe you shouldn't keep blindly following what you're told."
We lazed around the rest of the day, and talked about a lot of things, but mostly what we hoped to do this summer. We were both in high spirits and looking forward to it. Rocco told me about the vacation his family was planning. Rocco then mentioned for the twentieth time: "I really wish you could come, but that's impossible."
"That's OK. Someone has to stay here and take care of Critter. I can't wait to see the thing."
"Well I hope he's here soon. I just hope Mom won't have a conniption fit when she sees it."
"I still think you should warn her."
A few days later, when Rocco came over, he had a box with him. I instantly knew what it was and got almost as excited as he was.
"Quick, Uncle Mike's home so we have to be quiet."
We ran up to my room. He opened the box and a prehistoric creature looked at us and then zoomed out of the box. It was mostly greenish, more than a foot long, and had spines down the whole ridge of its back. It was amazing how it walked, like it was trying to tip-toe. It seemed to prance. And boy was it quick. We couldn't catch it. I could hardly stop laughing. Rocco cautioned me not to grab it by the tail. Then we got the harness. Well, we had Critter, and we had the little harness, but Critter made sure we wound NOT have Critter IN the harness.
"How if I get some apples? You said they like to eat fruit. Maybe we can coax it to come to us."
"Good idea. I hope."
It was. I snuck down to the kitchen, grabbed an apple and a knife. My uncle was half napping in front of the TV. I returned and we cut up the apple into small pieces. We tossed one toward Critter. It worked. He scarfed it right up. The next we put closer. After about only five minutes Critter was even in my lap and eating (grabbing) a piece of apple right out of my hand. I was thrilled.
Rocco was envious. "Obviously not a very discriminatory lizard. I'm definitely more handsome than you. Here Critter, this piece of apple taste better than Jade's."
It wouldn't budge. In fact after a few minutes it even seemed to go to sleep. Rocco got the harness. We picked up Critter and eventually got it on him. It looked so cute. Critter hardly seemed to care. He was pretty much awake now and suddenly jumped out of Rocco's hands and started up his shirt. I couldn't believe it but it found the piece of apple Rocco had put in his shirt pocket. Soon after he was resting on his shoulder and went to sleep.
I was wondering how Rocco's family reacted to seeing Critter. "By the way what did your Mom say?"
Chapter 30 -- More of Critter, and an Editorial or Two
Jade asked me how my Mom reacted to Critter when she first saw him. It was earlier that morning when I was called into the kitchen by my Mom. "Rocco, I need to ask you a question." I went into the kitchen. Mom was just inside the doorway and a box lay on the table. A box that had me suddenly excited, . . . and then worried. It was a large box with ventilation holes in it on the kitchen table.
"What's in the box. It's addressed to you. And I'm sure I heard something moving in there."
"Would you be upset if I sent away for a boa constrictor?"
"I'd be more than upset."
"Good, that's not what's in there."
"If you don't tell me right now what's in that box I'm going to bounce you."
One of my Mom's favorite threats, but only when she's more exasperated than angry. "Why don't I show you. I'm sure you'll think it's cute." I sure hoped so; I wasn`t quite as sure about this as I had led Jade to believe.
As I started opening the box I was happy to see that Mom was almost as interested as I was. I opened the box and was totally entranced by this little face peeking out at us. The iguana was all entwined in some kind of moss. With also some cotton webbing. It was with some difficulty that I was finally able to free the thing from all its packing. I think it was very happy to be free.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. What is that thing?"
"An iguana. It comes from Mexico. Isn't it cute?" I struggled to hold it as it wiggled and squirmed. "We're naming it Critter."
Mom, I was happy to see, was way more curious than peeved. "It sure is a weird critter at that."
"Ouch!" It bit me. Thank goodness it didn't hurt. It just startled me. Then I saw a whole line of tiny blood droplets where it actually punctured my skin. I could hardly believe it. I barely felt a thing. I quickly wiped my hand on my pants to hide the evidence.
"Are you OK."
"I was just startled. Could you get me a tiny piece of apple or some fruit?"
My mother was fascinated by the iguana. She cut up a piece of pear, and gave it to me. The lizard quieted down and gulped down the piece of pair.
"Well we won't have to worry about how to feed it, it seems. But I really wish you would have warned me."
"Jade I guess said that I should. But I didn't want to give you a chance to say no." And I tried to give her my "I'm-your-little-boy" type smile. Either it worked, or I didn't need it.
"How do you intend to convince your father that you can keep it? And for that matter, how are you going to keep it?"
"In the warm months, I was going to keep it in the yard. I'm going to put boards where needed so it can't get out. It likes trees and we have that big Cherry tree in the yard. And the books say to keep a shelter of rocks so it can get out of the hot sun during the heat of the day. I was going to use the slabs of slate we had left over from the walkway." Then I looked away, and thought: "And Dad won't even come to me to say anything about it." What I actually said was: "I'm sure Dad won't care."
It was more an accusation than anything else, but Mom pretended not to take it that way. Sometimes I think my Mom was more remarkable for actually NOT saying something.
"Well, please make sure it doesn't bother any of the neighbors."
"Mom, I was going to show Jade."
"You know to be home for dinner."
"Thanks Mom. Thanks for everything." I think she knew that I meant more than just keeping Critter. I made it to Jade's house in near record time I was so excited.
"I just have one question," Jade asked. I just finished telling Jade about the conversation I had at home.
"When your Mom bounces you exactly what happens?" We both laughed.
"Actually I've always wondered myself. She's threatened quite often, but never carried it out. Maybe you can ask her."
"And did she castigate you?"
"OK, something's really strange here. Where did you get that word?"
"More like tele-pathetic."
Jade snickered a bit but finally admitted. "All right, I saw it written on a page of notes you wrote up for me. In the margin." I made some kind of throat noise. He persisted: "Now how did your Mom react?"
"As I expected. Only slightly miffed, but more curious than anything else. And besides, as I mentioned before. She actually lets me get away with certain things."
"You keep saying that no one likes you. Here's another example disproving that. Your Mom likes you!"
This was quite a new thought for me. But I suddenly realized that there was some truth to the idea. "I think you might be right. I even indirectly accused Dad of not wanting to talk to me, and she didn't say a word about it."
"A nice Mom."
"Most the time. It just really hurts me when she and my Dad fight. And sometimes when she don't seem to understand me."
Jade seemed to get real quiet. I guess I made him think about his Mama. "Mama and I talked about everything. I'm really glad we could do that." Then Jade seemed to have a second thought. "Well, almost everything." But he never elaborated.
I started thinking about a number of things about my Mom. "You know, I will tell you a remarkable story about my Mom when I get a chance."
"You will NOT tell that story when you get a chance. You will tell it now. You know how I hate that."
"OK. This happened when I was about 11 years old. My Mom took me shopping downtown. We were in and out of all the major department stores. She occasionally goes shopping like this, mostly looking for sales, than anything specific. I can't remember now why Dolores wasn't with us because the three of us usually went together. And this is about the only time we ever ate out, which was also something Dolores and I always looked forward to. We always went to Horn and Hardarts -- a cafeteria type eating place. The food there. . ."
Jade interrupted: "Rocco, you're doing it again. Get back to the original question."
"OK, OK! So anyway, we were in this department store. I was just glancing around when I spied an simple little address book. I'm not exactly sure why, but I suddenly WANTED that little black book. I searched in my pocket for any money I might have with me and soon discovered that I didn't have enough. I had never stolen anything before. But I put the book into my pocket, and barely started back to my mother, when the loudest of all banshees yelled so that the entire store could certainly hear, and most importantly, my Mom, who was a couple isles away: 'I saw that! I saw that! I saw that young man! You stole that book!' The only reason I failed to craw into the small space under the counter was I that it was not quite small enough in which to adequately disappear."
"By this time I had the stolen book in my hand. Without saying a single word to me, my MOM took the book, handed it to the clerk, and asked the price. She paid it, and we left the store. She never once made reference to my impulsive theft. To me, for at least that moment, she was the perfect Mom."
"Wow," was all Jade said.
"To this day she has never uttered a single word to me about my criminal act. Nor has she even remotely indicated that she has even remembered it."
We had a whole lot of fun over the next few days with Critter. We even put a very light leash on it and took it for walks. It will never replace the family dog, but it sure got a lot of stares, one or two screams, and us not a few questions. And as an unrepentant attention seeker, just what I loved. Jade did too but won't admit it.
And finally, for the very first time, most of the people were so curious about Critter, they forgot to notice that Jade was black or had hooks. When I told Jade about this he seemed to think a bit and then just smiled. He never did say what he was thinking but I could probably guess.
I kept Critter in my room for the first few nights. Remarkably, Carl was so interested in the iguana that he welcomed it into our room without complaint, and acted almost like a real brother over that time. In fact Carl fed Critter in the yard, and even asked me if he could take it on the leash. I only hesitated a few seconds, before saying of course. It loved fruit, and it was already hard to coax it out of our Cherry tree. I wondered how much harder it would be once the tree started having cherries.
June 9, 1960
How in the world is anyone able to figure out what is right or wrong if we can't trust what we are taught by our Church? I think I got a lot to think about. I don't think that Jade understands just what he has done to my nice ordered universe. I think it's just had its second big bang. (Is that enough "thinks" in a single paragraph)?
And wow is Critter fantastic. Even Carl is fascinated by him. How come Carl can't be always as nice as he's been these past couple days?
Finally final exams came and of course I was anxious and even started studying. And Jade and I also worked on his last assignments. We had been playing with Critter and talking about him during break times. Critter was getting more used to people. And Jade started talking about all the different types of iguanas.
I asked him: "How come you know so much about iguanas all of a sudden?"
Then he showed me a rough draft of a paper he was writing on the creatures. It was very detailed. Of course I couldn't read all his private short hand. "It's my last paper for English. Just coincidentally, this one was to be a small research paper. There's even a small bibliography." So I learned even more about Critter and his cousins as I typed the final draft. Jade also had to explain just what a bibliography was.
Exams went well for both of us. I wound up with almost a 96 average, including a 99 in Algebra. I even got a 94 from the Glob in History. (I was not willing to admit to myself that it may have been a slight gift. Perhaps he needed to curve the grades a bit).
"And how did you do?" I asked Jade.
Jade handed me his report. They used just letter grades. Three As, and three Bs.
"That's fantastic. Congratulations."
"I really wish Mama were here to see it. This was for her." And Jade had tears in his eyes. We held each other for a bit.
"Did you show your uncle?"
"Don't be. You're the one I was anxious to show!"
"One more class day, and then we're free! We have to turn in all our books, and also the last edition of our school newspaper is handed out. I HAVE to show it to you. It's a surprise."
"I got to show you ours. I have an ever greater surprise for you!"
Late the next day I bought a large picture frame at the Merry Shoppe. I got it right before dinner, right after I left Jade's. I rushed home and put two cutout newspaper articles in it and put on the back. I was almost crying as I looked at it. I'm really not sure who was more surprised, Jade or myself. But this picture frame with the two newspaper clippings I will treasure forever.
I hurried down to dinner. As soon as we finished Grace, I handed my report card to my Father. He took it and looked.
"Good. That's what we expect of you."
I almost couldn't believe my ears. My mother smiled. That was the first almost nice thing my father had said to me in a couple years! I was almost happy. Well I was actually very happy. But I was almost happy with what my father said.
After dinner I showed Mom the picture frame with its clippings.
"And Jade wrote this one for his school paper!"
After reading it Mom said: "He seems to be a remarkable boy."
"I know!" And I thought about what happened yesterday on the last day of school.
I found Jade at my locker. There he was right in my school. I knew something was extraordinary; this was a first. He was very excited and apparently did not have the patience to wait outside. "I figured if you could come into my school, I could do the same. Besides, I couldn't wait to show you something."
"How did you know where my locker was?"
"Vee haf vays of findink out fings."
"Jade, please don't EVER try that accent again. Tiny Tim could do a better job. And why here?"
"As I said, I couldn't wait."
And then I started to notice the numerous stares. I think Jade could possibly be the very first black boy ever seen in this school. But neither of us really cared at that moment.
"Follow me," I said. I found a vacant room, and pushed Jade inside. "OK, what couldn't wait?"
He got even more excited if that was possible. "Now for the surprise."
"I have one for you also. Who's first?"
"Maybe we can do it at the same time."
"OK." I pulled out our school newspaper and opened it to editorials. I then noticed he had his school newspaper in his hands -- or rather his hooks -- also. "This is getting weird." I thought. Then: "I wrote this for you." And handed him the paper, pointing to the article.
"And I wrote this for you," Jade repeated what I said. I was amazed. Jade also pointed to an editorial he wrote.
As I read I cried. I couldn't help it. The article was entitled: "Confessions of a Bigot" and started: "When many people hear the words bigotry, or intolerance, or racial prejudice, they usually conjure up the specter of blacks being unfairly treated by whites. But this well trod road is in fact a two way thoroughfare. You see, I happen to be black. VERY black. And a year ago I was well started on this same road of ignorance, prejudice, and even hatred -- against whites. But then I met a remarkable white boy who almost insisted we be friends." I had to put the paper down and wipe my eyes before I could continue reading the rest of it. I looked at Jade and his eyes were also wet.
He spoke first: "Well White-boy you did surprise me."
"I think our surprises are surprisingly the same surprise." We both laughed.
My article was on a similar topic. I was appealing to all those people out there who thought they were not really prejudiced. But sometimes our prejudices were even hidden from ourselves.
When we both had finished we both started jabbering quite excitedly (and loudly). We both noticed suddenly that we were so intent on what we were saying, we were ignoring the other. We laughed and then hugged tightly.
Of course this was exactly how Father Brand found us, as he came to investigate all the noise. We were quite embarrassed, and I don't think either of us were very coherent as we tried to explain.
Father Brand looked at Jade and asked: "I don't believe I've seen you here before. Where do you go to school?"
"Lincoln. I came here to show Rocco an article I wrote for our school newspaper and I didn't have the patience to wait outside."
"No need to be concerned. No one will take you to task." Apparently Father Brand was speaking disciplinarian-ese.
Jade had held out the paper and pointed to the article. And surprisingly (at least to me) Father Brand started reading it. In a minute he came up for air.
"Remarkable. It is also on a topic somewhat similar to one written in our own school newspaper." He glanced toward me as he said this. "I would like to copy this."
"Actually I have several copies." And Jade pulled out another paper from his small back pack and handed it to Father Brand.
"Thank you. And you are welcome here any time."
On our way home Jade remarked: "And that's your school disciplinarian?"
"He's actually human. And you noticed, he couldn't have reacted any differently if I had hands."
"Well, he has also easily intimidated 210 pound football linemen."
We meandered companionably toward Jade's house.
I was thinking it a beautiful day. . . . And Jade a beautiful person.
June 15, 1960
God, thank you for this wonderful day. And if you had anything to do with it, thank you for my father saying something almost nice to me, and for my brother acting like a brother these last few days. And thank you for a Mom who loves me and even knows when NOT to say something. Amen.
And a whole Summer of freedom!
Chapter 31 -- Rocco Never Gave Mind to the Swim Part of Sink or Swim
It was several weeks since school finished. Tomorrow was the 4th of July, and the birthday of Rocco's little sister. We had two missions to accomplish today. The first to get his sister, Mariann, a birthday gift. The second, to see if we could accomplish the near impossible -- teach Rocco how to swim. We were on our way to the grocery store with this week's coins. No new pennies for us.
"OK Rocco, where to first?"
"To bring these coins to Formica's Store."
"One of these days I'm going to break you of that bad habit. You deliberately interpret my question literally and therefore deliberately fail to answer it. AFTER the coins, where to?"
He was totally unrepentant. "The Merry Shoppe to get Mariann a birthday gift. She'll be eight years old. You are in for quite a treat. The Merry Shoppe is a small store that is literally chokingly full of at least a 40 year accumulation of everything in the line of stationary and small but inexpensive gifts. Now start thinking about what an eight year old girl could want."
"I could tell you what an eight year old black girl might want. How about a jump rope?"
Rocco could not keep the obvious smirk from his face as he retorted: "Now who is obfuscating the problem at hand."
I, however, returned a sly smile: "When is a puddle a muddle?"
"When it's full of mud instead of water." I was so proud of both my pun, and my obvious proof of my understanding of the word obfuscate, that I started chuckling.
After an entire two seconds of thought (a little slow today), Rocco finally remarked: "That is definitely an insult to Webster. And yes I get it -- muddle -- a mud puddle. But could you now concentrate on the task at hand?"
I was glad no one could overhear us. "How about a simple game?"
"Good idea. Let's see what they have."
We ran across Frankford Avenue without going to the corner to cross. And went into one of the old stores in the middle of the block.
"Good morning Rocco, and who is your friend." We were greeted as soon as we walked in by a pleasant looking gray haired woman, probably in her sixties.
I whispered to Rocco: "They obviously either know the names of their regular customers, or you must have left your own type of lasting impression."
Rocco barely let me finish. "Mrs. Stone, this is my good friend, Jade."
"Why hello Jade." And she started to extend her hand and stopped mid-extension. And things got worse when she then started toward my other "hand."
I tried to lessen her obvious embarrassment, "Don't worry, it happens all the time."
Rocco unnecessarily piped in: "Don't worry. You didn't offend him." But then he reverted, and I couldn't stop him in time: "Come on Jade; how about lending a hand?"
Poor Mrs. Stone crumbled, not knowing what to think. I leaned toward Rocco and whispered. "You're terrible. I think you should apologize. I really do."
Rocco started to look guilty. He turned to Mrs. Stone: "I apologize, Mrs. Stone. Jade made me realize that that was unkind under the circumstances." And then added: "Sometimes I need Jade as my Jimminy Cricket."
Mrs. Stone quickly put on a friendly smile and asked: "Oh that's all right. What can I help you with today?"
Rocco answered: "Tomorrow is my younger sister's birthday. She's eight. We need a gift and were thinking maybe of a game."
"Well that's very thoughtful of you. We have a small selection that she might like right back here."
The small selection included Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, Parcheesi, The Game of Life, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Backgammon, Mr. Wiggly, Cootie, some combination games, etc. (I think you get the picture).
Rocco again answered: "Thank you. What do you think Jade?"
"I sort of like either Parcheesi, Sorry, or Chinese Checkers, or maybe Monopoly. What one doesn't she have?"
"Of those you mentioned, we already have Monopoly. I wonder if Chinese Checkers is a bit too old for her?"
"And all those marbles!"
We finally settled on Parcheesi. It was a dollar fifty. Quite a lot of money, I thought, for a simple board game. Rocco had it gift wrapped.
But as I looked around I became mesmerized. The accumulation was amazing. Many of the items you needed a ladder to reach. But it was the amazing combination of ball point and fountain pens, modern barrettes and old hat pins, modern caps and old fashioned tams, modern rubber erasers and old gum ones, and so on. And if something in the last fifty years had ever been written on, an example of it was in that store. I simply couldn't leave.
"I told you were in for a treat. Really something isn't it?"
I turned a full 180 looking: "Holy smoke, that's an old fashion ink well! And there's a green see-through visor."
Our 10 minute errand took 30 minutes. But I was unabashed. (I've been waiting for a chance to use that word on Rocco).
We left the store and had to wait on traffic to cross the very busy Frankford Ave.
Rocco said right after we crossed: "I lost one of my nine lives crossing here last September."
"I was crossing just after coming from that same store. I'd just gotten that book I use for my journal. I was thinking about you and not paying attention." And Rocco told me the rest of the story.
"Holy smoke, you mean I almost lost you the same day we met?" I didn't even want to think about that possibility.
I couldn't believe how apparantly unfazed Rocco seemed to be by the incident.
We got to Rocco's house, hid the game, and he got his bathing suit and a towel, and his bike. After returning for my things and bike, we set out for the series of reservoirs down by the water treatment plant.
"Wow, that water's cold." Rocco had barely stuck his hand into the water.
"It can't be that bad. Come on. And help me with these straps." I changed into my swim trunks and looked back at Rocco. He was just staring.
"Are you going to change?"
"OK." But for some reason he didn't look OK. Maybe he never changed in front of someone before. I just realized that I'd never seen him totally naked. But he's seen me a number of times. So I ignored him and went into the water. I had to admit myself, it was a bit cold. But I wasn't about to tell Rocco that.
A few minutes later I heard a blood-curdling scream. I turned to see Rocco, hurtling out of the water. "What happened?"
"I jumped in. It's too cold."
"You're already wet now. How badly do you want to learn how to swim?"
"OK." Very weak, but at least an OK. I finally coaxed him back in.
"First we'll show you how to float."
"Two things. One, who's with you? And two, I can't float."
"OK, I'll show you how to float."
"I just said I can't."
"And that's why I said I'd show you."
"No, you don't understand. I'm too skinny. I have no buoyancy. I, pure and simple, CAN NOT FLOAT. You will have to teach me how to swim WITHOUT the floating step. I've proven that to a number of instructors."
"EVERYBODY can float."
"OK, I'll prove it to you." Rocco then went out until the water was reaching his shoulders. "Watch carefully. First, a FULL lung full of air. I promise no cheating." And he really did draw in a full breath, and then picked up his legs with no fuss. And I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He gently floated -- TO THE BOTTOM! He stayed there for about a half-minute, apparently to really convince me. Then to further prove he had a full lung full of air, slowly let it out for the next ten seconds. I think I saw too much of that new weird show. I entered the Twilight Zone.
Rocco suddenly sprang up. "Convinced?"
"I wouldna' believed it, if I hadna' seen it."
Rocco laughed. "I should have bet you big! Do you think you can help?"
But after about a half hour, two scraped knees, one mine, one his, a bad case of rapidly lost patience, mine, and a million goose bumps later, we took a break. We got out and made good use of Rocco's towel. Finally I realized that we were too cold to continue. Neither of us seemed to be able to warm up enough in the chilly air to try again. As I took off my trunks, Rocco was staring again.
"You've seen me naked a number of times. What gives? Besides I'm the avowed homosexual. It should be me staring at you."
Rocco seemed embarrassed. "I just am amazed every time. You are so VERY black!"
"I can't help it. It's not my fault. It's genetic."
"`Fault?' There you go again. Do you really feel that the darker, the more inferior?"
"Maybe it's still a tiny bit subconscious."
"Actually I LIKE your exceptionally black skin. I think it an attractive feature."
"You know, I've gotten to know you pretty damn well in the last nine months. But you just surprised me. It never occurred to me you would like my appearance BECAUSE I'm so black."
"Well it's true. And not just your color, but I also think your features are attractive. And even when we first met I was wondering how it would feel to touch your hair."
I didn't know how to answer. I know it's stupid, but it didn't occur to me. "I guess that's nice to hear." And I had trouble believing him. And I also started wondering about this "attraction" stuff. And he says he is hoping that he will turn out NOT homosexual. Not to say I wouldn't welcome it.
We finished drying off and dressing. Rocco didn't seem to have any trouble looking at me, but he turned his back to me when he took off his trunks. What was going on?
We started the ride back. Rocco was strangely quiet. Finally I inquired: "OK, what are you brooding over."
"Nothing really different. But I keep saying to myself, when I go through puberty, etc. I've said it a hundred times."
"At least two-hundred." I thought. I said: "So what?"
"But every time I turn around I tend to get the opposite confirmation. I find you attractive. Physically attractive." So Rocco was ALSO wondering about this "attraction" stuff.
"White-boy, you should look at it this way. You are either homosexual or not. You can't change it. So why worry? Eventually you will know for certain. Again, so why worry?"
"It sounds so easy when you say it, but there's a lot more at stake for me. It's against my religion. And I've always wanted kids. And if true, how can I possibly tell my mother? And so far, I can see no resolution of any of these problems. So actually, for me, it's not simple."
I looked at Rocco, and could see some grief. I think he really knows but is holding out for absolute proof. Words couldn't help right now.
The next day Rocco was back to his normal (well abnormal) self. He appeared happy and was having fun. Earlier that day we had been at a small birthday party for his sister, Mariann. She liked the gift we got her, and was quite surprised when Rocco handed it to her.
"Here Mariann, here's one more. It's from Jade and me."
She was unmoving for a second, and then said thank-you and opened it. A simple game, but enjoyed by all ages. Later we even played a few games. I found myself wondering how I came to be so at ease in a room full of white people. And my White-boy. Well I'll take my own advice. Why worry.
Rocco and I met up after dinner and were just meandering around and found ourselves headed towards Holmesburg Park. It had warmed up considerably since the day before. We were looking forward to watching some fireworks tonight and maybe even setting off some of our own. On the way over, Rocco proved once again that he was weird. We were passing through a small undeveloped lot. It had some trees, a lot of weeds, (some poison ivy), and a lot of flowers, including Holly Hocks. Now it just so happened that these flowers were like prime hunting ground for these monster yellow and black bumblebees.
"I just got a great idea," he announced. And he had his I-am-about-to-do-something-stupid smile.
"Should I run now or stand at a safe distance?"
"Not remotely funny. My sister taught this to me."
Rocco grabbed several of the flowers and crushed them in his hands. I was now puzzled, but not for long. "This is really neat." He opened his hand, dropped the crushed blossoms, and extended he hand toward some of the remaining flowers. "Watch."
Within seconds a number of the large bees started buzzing around his hand, and with some even landing. At one time there were at least 4 bees sitting there at once. After several moments, he gradually withdrew his hand. Eventually all the bees found more colorful pastures.
"White-boy, that I don't believe."
"It actually feels the neatest when they are just buzzing right before landing. Maybe we can get some to land on your arm."
"No thank you." I was going to say more but couldn't think of what.
"I used to do that all the time when I came through here and had time."
"And your sister showed this to you?"
"Well sort of."
"How much sort of?"
"She just picked a whole bunch of flowers and some of the bees started following her hand. She screamed and dropped them, but it didn't matter. They still followed her hand. She ran."
"So your sister's really sane after all."
Rocco ignored the implication of my last reply. "And it looked too neat to pass up."
"You seemed a little scared as you brought your hand back."
"Well, not scared, just cautious. If you accidentally squeeze the wrong part of your hand while they're still there, you can get stung. It's happened once. I don't want twice." And he smiled broadly.
"White-boy, thanks for the demonstration, but you shall remain unchallenged."
We walked around and talked about this and that, but mostly our future summer plans.
"Oh, I almost forgot to mention. I got a letter from Nestor the other day. He's still as rich and as zany as ever. He kept talking about how his father is expecting him to start learning the operation of their ranch. Not once did he mention missing us."
"I was just wondering if you are getting over him?"
"There's nothing to get over." But the look Rocco gave me indicated something different.
We turned back to his house. I was looking forward to watching the fire works tonight. Rocco said that they could be seen from the top of his garage roof. Of course I was also a bit wondering. Rocco said he had something real "neat" planned.
It was pretty dark by the time I was headed home after quite a wild evening. It was still pretty warm and the lightning bugs were out in force. And I was thinking that I was sure glad we avoided getting arrested. The police were really looking out for kids setting off fireworks.
Later that night, just after turning on the window fan and getting into bed, I started thinking about a lot of things. Maybe the close call got me thinking about a lot of things going on in my life right then. I was glad my uncle had been in a pretty mellow mood this evening. He apparently had not been out drinking. We even had a conversation. And even one where he wasn't complaining about everything. It seems like we can go days without hardly saying anything to each other about anything important.
It was probably the first time since my Mama died that I could freely think of her without risking runaway emotions. My thoughts ran free. Mama I supposed was still a major influence in my life. What I learned from her keeps becoming more important. And her memory also provides a major motivation. Thank you Mama for giving we everything. And thank you God for Mama and Rocco. I guess I was getting pretty emotional after all.
As I was thinking about White-boy I smiled. We had a great summer ahead of us.
Chapter 32a -- Summer Camp
For the next several week, Jade and I just enjoyed our freedom. I never did make any major effort to bring everyone together as I had thought of doing. I think I was a little lazy just enjoying my summer. My energy went elsewhere. It was evident that people from both neighborhoods felt a lot more comfortable with each other, but they usually just fell back into familiar habits.
But some forays of a couple guys here and there did take place. At times Joey came with Jade and I. And Jimmy and Stan had no problem showing up at Jade's place. But surprisingly it was Teague and his friend Brim who were frequently in the alley behind my house taking on all comers. They've been here enough that our neighbors have even stopped giving us these staring looks. And Jimmy and Stan had finally met their match. The usual bantering and bragging occurred but things still stayed competitive and friendly. Jade and I often commented in the what could be considered remarkable change.
"Who could ever have imagined this possibility last summer?" I looked at Jade.
"Actually I think it was you." Not entirely true but I knew what he meant.
There was one occasion where a group of us from both neighborhoods even went swimming together at the ponds near the water treatment plant. The water thankfully was a bit warmer than earlier in the Summer. (The creek in Pennypack Park hadn't been used for swimming for a number of years -- too polluted). As frequently happens, it occurred almost by accident. Both groups met without plan at the park and arrived at the decision to go swimming independently. But it was an exceptionally hot day.
Jade and I had just gotten into the water. "I find it very interesting how once everyone got into the water, you would think we played together all the time," I mused out loud.
"Hay Rocco, stop thinking and let's just have fun."
And we did. Jade kept trying to teach me to swim. I'd take a couple strokes and find myself headed to the bottom. But I kept trying. And I couldn't believe that Jade could actually swim without hands.
"I can't go very well, but I can get through the water. And most importantly, I can stay on top."
But for some reason learning to swim didn't seem to have the urgency that it had a couple months ago. Maybe I was subconsciously following Jade's advice. Or maybe I was merely too busy having fun.
Trips to the woods, armed with new library books, also remained a main interest. We even talked about buying an inexpensive microscope to investigate the micro-universe. But the cheapest one we could find (that was any good) was 50 dollars, and we put the idea on hold.
One funny thing that happened, concerned Critter. He was easy to take care of. He had no difficulty eating. And if he didn't want to get caught, you were in for some exercise. But eventually food always worked. Then one afternoon we were going to take critter for a walk.
I first looked up into our Cherry tree. One of his favorite haunts, especially since the cherries started ripening. Not there. I put a piece of apple next to his rock pile. On hot afternoons, he sometimes stayed under his rock. "OK, Critter, you can come out."
Jade looked inside. "He's not here either."
We checked the tree again. No Critter. We looked all over the yard with no luck. We started to really worry. Rocco asked: "Now what?"
"Maybe someone else has him somewhere. You know Carl likes to have him around sometimes."
We went in the house. Carl was at the table reading a book, while eating a snack. "Hay Carl, happen to know where Critter is?"
"No. Need help looking for him?"
I looked at him to see if he had just grown a second head. But I'd take any help available. By this time every one in the neighborhood knew Critter and knew who owned him.
My Mom came into the house. She had been a few yards down talking to a neighbor. "Rocco, Mrs. Baxter asked me to send you down to her yard. Something about her tree."
Mrs. Baxter had a multiple fruit tree. With the help of grafting it produced two types of apples, plus pears, and plums.
Both Jade and I went to see Mrs. Baxter. When we got to her yard we saw her sitting in a fold up chair under her tree. "Oh Rocco, thanks for coming so quickly. You and your friend please come over here and look up there." She pointed.
We found Critter. He was in Mrs. Baxter's tree, helping himself to one of her pears.
Mrs. Baxter remarked: "He sure likes those pears! He has come by almost every afternoon for the past week. I was fascinated the first time I saw him here."
"I hope your not upset Mrs. Baxter. We didn't know he could get out of the yard."
"Well I've seen it walk straight up my garage wall. I just thought you should know he comes here sometimes in the afternoons."
"Thanks Mrs. Baxter." I was sure glad Mrs. Baxter wasn't angry.
Well the mystery of the missing iguana was solved. We eventually found that Critter had his own route that he traveled over every day. But he always came back by evening.
Jade laughed and asked: "I wonder who else is losing some of their fruit?"
It took most the next week to learn about Critter's entire route, but we were amazed that it rarely varied. Only when it rained.
The only immediate source of anxiety for me concerned summer camp. I suspected eventually I was going to have to approach my father and ask for him to sign me up. I brought up the subject once when Jade and I were alone at the far end of Pennypack Park. We were resting after a long bike ride.
"Jade, has your uncle signed you up yet?"
"Yes, and he even paid the fee without a single grumble. I suspected he thought it worth the money to be without me for a week."
I looked at Jade. He didn't seemed bothered at all. I guess he has just gotten used to his uncle. "You have all the equipment you need?" I was a bit concerned.
"Oh yeah, I just bought a few things like canteen, flashlight, insect repellant, and a pretty good used car."
I suddenly looked at him and he smiled.
"Just seeing if you were listening. How about you?"
"No. I mean, well, nothing's actually done yet."
"You mean you're still afraid to talk to your father."
"Oh we talk a lot. `Could I have the salt.' `Yes, I went to church.' `Yes, I brushed my teeth.' Yeah, we talk a lot." I smiled, even if it never actually reached my soul.
"OK. It looks like we need to implement project Summer Camp. Besides, when I mentioned I had everything I needed, it included boring your old sleeping bag and air mattress."
I threw my shoe at him, which I had in my hand trying to find what was digging into my heel. And so our conversation was momentarily interrupted with a wrestling match. I just barely held my own, until he got me into a hold. Then it was all over. Shucks, (not damn), I still haven't grown. Well maybe a half inch.
Out of breath, I finally asked: "OK, what's project Summer Camp?"
"I don't know yet; I'm still making it up. Let me think."
By now I was laying on the grass at right angles with my head on his chest. It was our common arrangement arrived at without ever discussing it. I almost started to doze.
"Holy shit!" I suddenly jumped up. We were surrounded by deer. Well, we WERE (past tense) surrounded. "I'm sorry, I reacted without thinking. Maybe they'll come back."
But they never did. Jade finally said: "OK, I got a plan. Maybe not the best, but I can't think of anything else. And I like its simplicity."
"Yeah, just go up to my father and ask at point black range." He was aware of the obvious sarcasm.
"No, ask your Mom instead."
I liked the idea. And so that's just what I did. My cowardice still intact. And she said: "Well, I think you need to ask your father." Grrr! So I finally did. The opportunity just happened. It was during dinner several days later.
"They'll be signing up people for summer camp at the meeting tonight." I had been in my own universe, and barely caught what Carl just said. I perked up.
"Don't worry I have the fee ready." That was my father. He didn't even look up.
I was literally shaking and looked at Mom for support. If she weren't there I couldn't have done it. "Are we (note that most important word) going to have that same camp as last year?" Actually I couldn't care less about the specific camp was located.
"Probably." Dad barely looked up.
Just that simple. Did I chance nailing it down? "How much are our fees this year?"
"They raised it to 25 dollars for the week."
Enough? I actually felt exhausted just after two short sentences. I retreated. I will just assume they Dad will be signing us both up tonight.
He did. That simple. Jade was there and we celebrated. We were going to camp together. The Scout Leaders always made tent assignments, but we couldn't imagine being separated.
I went up to Mr. Alexander. "Mr. Alexander?" Why can I approach him so much easier than my own father?
"What may we do for you?" Speaking management-ese was a habit. I briefly considered asking if there were two of him. But decided just to get to the point.
"Jade and I were wondering if we could tent together at camp?"
"Well I can't see why not. And since I'm doing the assignments this summer, consider it done. Jimmy was wondering if you'd want Jade with you. He said that you two have gotten pretty close over the past year. Jimmy said he and Earl would probably team up."
"Weird Earl?" It was out of my mouth too fast. One of these days I will really get into trouble.
Mr. Alexander, however, laughed. "Well they are really a lot into sports together. Even on the football team next year. And Earl's really a good kid."
I really didn't know Earl that well. He lived in a different world than I did.
"Thanks, Mr. Alexander." That came from over my shoulder. It was Jade behind me.
I turned and we both smiled at each other. There was an entire conversation in those smiles.
And except for still not learning how to swim, summer camp was fantastic. Jade and I were essentially inseparable. Except he stayed on the top of the water, and I sunk out of sight. My father had even, surprise of surprises, arranged special lessons for me. The first lesson was during one of our free times, and Jade came with me for moral support. I had gotten him rich the day before. We had been betting the other kids a couple days before. For once, the crazy idea came from Jade.
"OK, how much?" That was Jade. I turned around to see what he was doing. It was one of the kids from his neighborhood. His troop and ours decided to pair up for the week. That part went surprisingly well.
"A dollar!" He was brave. I found out that Jade was taking on bets that I could sink to the bottom of the pool with a flotation belt around my waist. I was astounded when I found out the betting had reached over 10 dollars! Holy Smoke to borrow a phrase.
"Jade, can I talk to you a moment? What the heck are you doing? A waist belt?! You're crazy!"
"No I'm not. I read in the manual that the displacement of the small one was about 100 cubic inches. That only a bit more than an average exhale of air. Just make sure you exhale first."
"So now you want me to drown to win you a bet! And you didn't even ask me first!. And I'm not too sure about how much is in a couple lungs of air. I think your calculations are way off."
Jade harrumphed (at least that's what it sounded like). "I knew I didn't have to ask." He ignored my objections.
And he was right.
"OK but when is this going to take place?"
"Tomorrow at morning swim. I hope to have it up to 15 dollars by then. Two whole weeks wages! We'll be rich."
Well, he WAS sharing. I just had to almost drown. I was really glad I wasn't afraid.
"Just one thing." He said.
Uh-oh. I knew that tone of voice. "If I drown, you get a bonus?" I asked sarcastically.
"You have to jump in, in the middle of the pool." The pool was huge. Shallow at both ends and deep in the middle. It was deep enough for the diving platforms -- fourteen feet.
"THAT'S FOURTEEN FEET!" I yelled. I turned a number of heads. Don't worry, I'll be there. And also a life guard. He's also a swimming instructor. I have a two dollar bet with him. He claimed EVERYBODY can float. I couldn't resist. He's the one that started talking about the flotation belt. He joked about you having to wear it. But suddenly I was inspired. I said that I'd have you wear the belt if he'd double his bet. And he did. He even smirked. I smiled."
I couldn't believe that Jade had literally bet my life.
"If I say the magic word, do I get 200 bucks." An allusion to a TV show.
"OK enigmatic-boy, explain."
"Groucho Marx, on his TV show, You Bet Your Life. They have this word picked out when the show starts and if a contestant says the word while they are on his quiz show, they get 200 bucks. And that's what your almost doing. Betting MY life!" But I couldn't help smiling. Then we grabbed each other and laughed.
"What are we going to do with all our winnings?" I was implicitly assuming that we'd win. "I just hope your calculation about the belt is correct."
They next day saw a huge crowd at the middle of the pool during our swim period. The betting had reached 24 bucks! Everyone was there including even my brother. (He bet against me). There were even both life guards plus another swim instructor. I couldn't believe all the hoopla.
One of the life guards came up to us: "I will get into the pool just in case. Here's the belt."
I put it on and tightened the straps. I had to double the belt up in the front since I was so thin. (OK, skinny). I only had a 24 inch waist.
"Damn, your thin." That was the other life guard. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude."
Jade replied: "That's OK. His being skinny is going to win us a lot of money." Jade was almost smirking. I tried to smile.
"Just get into the water holding unto the edge. Then I will hold on to you until you give me the word."
I was now starting to get really anxious. Not because of getting into the deep water, but just from the excitement. I tried to smile. Almost succeeded.
"OK." I got in and the big guard was holding me up. I couldn't believe how bad I was starting to shake. I kept breathing in and out fast to get a build up a reserve of oxygen, then said OK. He let go. I exhaled as much as I could, really forcing as much out as possible. I then relaxed.
I wasn't dropping like I usually did. I was thinking that the belt made me too buoyant. A few people started yelling, but by then I felt myself very gradually sinking. WE DID IT!
I let myself sink to the bottom. I looked at the bottom of the pool as I settled there. I smiled to myself as I sat there. In 14 feet of water. I looked up. I saw a lot of blurry images but I couldn't make out anything specific as the water rippled in the sun. I decided to stay there as long as possible. Finally I kicked off strongly and rocketed upward. I broke surface and frantically grabbed at the side of the pool. At the same time someone grabbed me around the waist holding me up.
"Hugghaaa" That's not too close, but I made a huge noise as I got my breath. I couldn't believe it. I did it!
Almost no one was saying a word. Finally someone exclaimed: "I can't believe it. I seen it, but I still don't believe it." It turned out to be the swim instructor.
"HAY WHITE-BOY, WE DID IT! WE DID IT!" Jade was jumping and down. He was waving his handless arms in the air.
At the time I didn't realize he said `White-boy.' And ironically it almost got him into trouble.
I was shaking a bit as I climbed out of the pool. By this time there was almost pandemonium. I had become a celebrity. I enjoyed the attention. Even after we got back to camp, my stunt was still the main topic. Finally Jade and I went to our tent to get his hooks back on. They seemed strange when he wore a short sleeved T-shirt. We had only a few minutes `till Chow Hall. We went by way of the Nature Lodge.
"I have a confession." He said.
And my ESP kicked in. "There was no manual. No 100 cubic inches!"
"Yeah, that was just the best estimation I could make."
"Jade, I don't care. It was GREAT! I was so exhilarated when I got out of the water."
We reached the Nature Lodge, and the instructor in charge was there.
We told him why we were so excited. "I've heard. I don't believe it either." Mike was a black guy originally from New York and he had a funny accent. He had me and Jade and several volunteers that came every morning and sometimes in the evening to help feed and water the animals, and clean their tanks or cages. There also was the turtle pit, with about a half dozen turtles including a medium sized snapper in the middle tub of water. We cleaned it out every day. That turtle was scary.
"Where's the wood turtle?" I couldn't find it. It was the first wood turtle I'd ever seen. The others were all the much more common box turtles.
Mike came up as we were struggling with buckets emptying the tub. "I had to let it go. I couldn't get it to eat and we had it here since almost the beginning of the season. I couldn't chance it any more."
"That's a shame. Now the kids coming later this summer won't get to see it."
"On the other side of that coin (one of Mike's favorite expression) maybe we will have something brought in that you don't get to see. It happens all the time." Mike was forever smiling.
"It was my favorite animal here." For some reason, reptiles, especially lizards, salamanders, and turtles engaged my interest.
We had to hurry to get to lunch. When we got there, there was a big commotion outside in the trees. Someone had found a large black racer. It was zooming around, trying to escape the billion boys that surrounded it. Suddenly there was a very loud yell.
"IT BIT ME!" And the kid started crying. He was a small boy but still kept hold of the large snake. The snake had its mouth around the side of the boy's hand but he wouldn't let go. Well to be accurate, the boy wouldn't let go of the snake, and the snake wouldn't let go of the boy. Finally Mike reached the kid and grabbed the snake. It must have been more than three feet long and pure black. The kid stopped crying and seemed to look at his hand like he was puzzled.
"How come it don't hurt?" He was eventually taken to the camp clinic. There was a doctor in the camp at all times. Most of the people going to the clinic were being treated for poison ivy. It was a major ground cover in large areas of the camp. There was a new oral medicine being given out.
"Well it looks like we have a new resident in the Nature Lodge." Jade was right behind me.
It was almost dinner time. We had been at the Nature Lodge longer than we had planned. "We better hurry," I said. And we ran into the building.
Then later that night, what Jade had exclaimed at the pool when we won would come to cause us the type of trouble that only really stupid, self righteous idiots could conjure up. The Scoutmaster came over to Jade and I and told us we had to go to the camp director's office right away.
"I hope we're not in trouble for that stunt we did this morning." I said to Jade. I was a bit worried.
"I can't see how. Some of the ones there and even some betting were Scout Leaders." Jade seemed more curious than worried. But my paranoia was hitting a high for the week.
"Well then what could it be?"
"Well, we'll only find out when we get there." And Jade even laughed.
An hour later I was so mad I was almost ready to quit the camp, quit scouts, and go home. How stupid can people get.
"You're crazy." I said, trying not to lose my temper. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Jade's the most unprejudiced person in this whole camp. If he were so prejudiced, how come I'm his best friend?" I said that in response to a question on of the Scout Leaders had just asked me. He implied that Jade had meant his remark as a racial slur.
Finally Mr. Mauk, our Scoutmaster, and Mr. Alexander, and even my father showed up. We were rescued.
There were a couple of other guys there also and they kept asking what was said, and then kept telling us they knew what was said and that Jade made a racial slur. I couldn't stop from laughing when they claimed that.
"That's stupid. No possible way. What racial slur did he make?"
"He yelled `white boy' angrily at someone."
"That's stupid. How can using the words `white boy' be a slur? If I called someone black boy, would that be a racial slur?"
"It would probably depends how you meant it."
"Exactly. In fact it was me he called white-boy. And I'm his best friend. It was definitely not a racial slur." I was getting really excited by then.
"Well that's why we are here to find out exactly what happened."
"How about asking everyone else that was there? I'm sure whoever claims what you are saying was really too far away to understand what was said."
"Well, whenever an accusation like this is made, we have to investigate."
"OK, the two life guards, and the swim instructor were there. Ask them. They will back me up."
"What do you mean?"
I explained what led up to what Jade said. "We just won a big bet. Both Jade, who is my best friend, and I, won the bet. He was so excited he said `Hay White-boy, we won. We won.'" That's exactly what he said. Ask anyone there. They'll all say the same thing. And he was not angry. He was excited. We had just won almost 25 bucks!"
"I don't understand. If it wasn't meant as a slur, why did he say `white boy.'"
I decided the truth was the best right now. "We have been best friends for almost a year. When we first met he used the words `white-boy' when we talked because he didn't know my name. Later I told him I liked the idea of him calling me that. So it's actually the special name he usually uses for me when we're alone. But I guess he was so excited, it slipped out even though we were with a bunch of other people."
"Are you trying to say it was meant as a term of endearment?"
I thought a couple seconds. "Yes." I think he believed me. And that was also when the troops arrived both figuratively and in person. But when we got back to camp, we had to explain all over again.
Later, Jade and I were laughing about the whole thing. Fortunately our selective memories edited out the small bad pieces, and we were very buoyant again. Besides, we were 24 dollars richer.
"Darn, how could they make so much fuss?" I said for the twenty-something time. He said why worry anymore. It didn't matter.
Jade started excitedly talking about our day, but I was then mulling over the guy's last question. And my answer.
Jade was laying down on his cot and realized I was quiet. That's not the usual me.
"White-boy? What's still the matter?"
"It was the last question."
"What last question? Tell me."
"The guy there, I think it was one of the camp directors, and under the circumstances he was actually pretty nice." I thought about my answer too. "His last question." I said again then stopped.
"Wake me when you're ready."
He was actually trying to hurry me.
"The question was: `Are you trying to say it was meant as a term of endearment?' And I said `yes'."
"Now I understand. Do you know what is meant by that?"
"I think so. Was my answer correct?"
Now it was Jade's turn to think. "Probably. White-boy, I think I'm really in love with you. But I think you already realize that."
I was both happy and worried at the same time. Jade was right. I suspected it for quite some time but would not let myself believe it. I didn`t want to either hurt him, or loose him as a friend. "Jade that makes me feel . . ." I didn`t finish. I wasn`t too sure how I felt except that I didn`t want to lose Jade. "You know I can't love you that way."
Jade seemed somehow relieved. I`m not sure why. He said: "I'll take you anyway I can."
About two hours later, Jade was deeply asleep. I, however, wasn't. I had been listening to Jade's light snoring for quite some time. And I was quite troubled. I had lied, well sort of, to my best friend. Well, I had no trouble lying to him other times, but never about anything important. And wrestling with my conscience, my religion, my friendship with Jade, and the truth. And I still wanted to be able to dream.
"JADE!" I roused him from a deep sleep. In a few seconds Jade realized this was serious. "Jade, I couldn't sleep."
"What's the matter?"
"I kept thinking about what we talked about. I mean about you saying you love me, and I . . . and I kept thinking about Critter."
"Critter! -- I knew you were weird, but I had hoped you thought more of me than you did our iguana." But then Jade realized that maybe this wasn't a let's-be-funny type moment.
"Not really, but I suddenly got scared and . . ." That's all I got out. I couldn't help it. My thoughts were so jumbled, I had trouble saying what I wanted to. I started crying. I was hoping I had conquered that, but I was so upset. "I'm sorry Jade, I feel like I hurt you last night."
"Look White-boy, I love you. What do you think that means? Sure, I would be ecstatic if you loved me the same way. But I have to be realistic. We ARE awful young. I'm not even certain how I feel about you. I mean I know I love you, but I'm also all . . . I mean, who knows what will happen. I'm just happy us being together. Holy smoke, we're just kids!"
I tried again. "That's not all. I really thought a lot after . . . I mean . . .well when I was thinking. What I am trying to say is that I feel I lied to you last night. THERE I said it! I had to get that out."
"I don't believe you! I mean you always make things too complicated. You say or do something, and THEN you start thinking, and THEN you start feeling guilty. You think too much."
"But I'm just trying to. . ."
"No, you're trying to be Jewish."
I couldn't help it. I started laughing. "What in the world is THAT supposed to mean?"
"Well I was watching this film we had in class. It was about other cultures. And they were showing how some of those fancy Jews made decisions. They had this extra religious book, and they took hundreds of years to make all these fine distinctions. It reminded me of you."
I laughed again. "I think that was the Talmud, and I'm not THAT bad."
"I never heard of it. But why don't Catholics have that?"
"Well, it's just a special Jewish book telling them how to make moral decisions. I don't know too much about all that but a lot of Jews don't actually use it. And Catholics have the Baltimore Catechism. Which lists all the billion sins you can commit."
"I'm sure glad I don't have to worry about either!"
Then we both suddenly got serious again. It got me thinking again about what I had been thinking. "The Church says no one can have sex until you get married or it's a mortal sin. And if you can't get married you can't have sex. And so, two guys can never have sex. Of course, it's a mortal sin anyway. Damn, it's NOT FAIR!" And I started crying. Jade jumped over and hugged me. It felt so different without his hooks. So much more . . . well, it felt better.
"You're weird, and your religion's weird. And my Mama said. . . "
I interrupted. "I HAVE TO SAY THIS! Jade, I love you, but not that way, I mean I hope not that way. Look, I don't want to be that way. But I started thinking last night, and to be honest I really think I am that way. But I keep hoping. And I keep getting scared when I think about you. Because it makes me think I AM that way. And then it's my religion that says I can't love you that way." It had taken me quite a lot of effort to admit what I just had, and not just to Jade, but to myself.
"White-boy, thank you. That must have been difficult. No matter what happens we at least have each other, and I'll let the future take care of exactly HOW we have each other."
That morning, when I awoke to the clanging bell, we were both in each other's arms. I looked up at Jade and we both smiled as we disentangled.
Chapter 32b -- Summer Camp (continued)
That morning, when I awoke to the clanging bell, we were both in each other's arms. I looked down at Rocco and we both smiled as we disentangled. I finally had gotten up the courage to tell my White-boy how I feel about him. I was going over in my mind what we talked about last night. And who knows? I was thinking maybe a homo boy is still allowed to dream.
And then I became aware of the sticky mess. I then remembered the dream. I smiled and thought: "Who says we haven't had sex yet?"
Rocco and I got up and I surreptitiously put on some clean underpants. We started talking about the hike we had planed for our free time later in the day. Looking for crayfish and salamanders and other possible squiggly things. And then I remembered something Rocco said last night. "Rocco, you never DID explain about why you were thinking of Critter."
Rocco looked at me with a big question mark in his expression. Then the light dawned. "Well, everything kept getting more and more complicated in my mind as I was thinking about our possible relationship, my religion, and right and wrong, and trying to figure out everything, I just couldn't seem able to resolve anything. And then I started thinking how everything in Critter's world was so simple."
I looked at Rocco and decided that this wasn't the best time to discuss my wet-dream. Why did he have to make everything so complicated? "Look, we have a whole summer ahead of us. Why not just let things take care of themselves? And besides, you said yourself, you haven't gone through puberty yet. Let's worry about you being homosexual when we're sure." As I said this I was wondering if I was being a bit selfish. For now I just wanted us to enjoy the summer ahead of us. "I just got a colossal idea. Let's just explore life. . . . for now!"
He said simply : "I guess so." And then he got his manic look. "And I got a whole lot of ideas!"
"Good." And I suddenly laughed. "Just don't get us arrested."
END OF PART ONE