Hero

this is a true story. but even when i think about it, i find it hard to relay to others without feeling like they would never believe something like this happened. oh well…here it goes.

summers in las vegas were a monster, a physical thing. different than the humid heat of the south, the higher, drier temps of the southwest assaulted like a living entity. while those with the wherewithal had central A/C keeping their homes at near-arctic temperatures, we made do with something called an evaporative cooler.

lovingly called a “swamp cooler”, these devices are just a step above those window units you find in cheap, rent by the hour motels. designed to cool a small area for a short amount of time, there was no way that it could keep up in steady 112 degree heat day after day after day, despite our house being only slightly larger than said motel room. sometimes, mom would fill the bathtub with cool water and dunk me and my younger brother in it to prevent overheating and baking our developing minds.

many were the evening that, having run at full speed as long as it could stand, the cooler would give up with a last gasp and leave us stranded. so, the boys broke out the lawn chairs while mom would mix some lemonade. seeing as how all of the houses in the neighborhood had the same inadequete cooling mechanisms, we would sooned be joined in proxy as they broke out their own chairs and made themselves comfortable until the interior of the houses were cooler than the outside.

kids playing hide and seek, moms discussing recipes and dads debating the various merits of the newest lawnmower or sedan. all very 70’s and suburban, yes? as dusk grew long and night came for real, most would drift back to their own homes to see if the heat had subsided. my father still held court for our family, telling us a story about this or that from work when all of a sudden he stopped as he noticed a harried, disheveled man in his late 20’s running up the sidewalk at full pace, all the while shooting fearful glances over his shoulder.

the man slowed as he approached our lawn and then, seeing my father, ran up the grass to a point about 10 feet from him.

‘can I help you?’ my dad asked, subconsciously placing himself between the man and his family.

‘hey man, i need your help. these guys are chasing me, i’m not sure why. can i hide out for a minute?’ the man replied, out of breath and looking like a rabbit caught in headlights. i had never seen fear like that before or since out of a living breathing human.

my dad was about to reply when we noticed a car approaching from down the street. the man ducked behind a small red utility trailer my father used for hauling lumber or trash or whatever.
the car made its way to the end of the street, then, as if someone in the car noticed something unusual, it slowed. suddenly, the driver made a lazy uturn in the middle of the intersection and came back towards our house.

a little about my dad, at this point. when he was 17, his dad signed him up for the Navy. Evidently, my father felt school had run its course for him and his dad felt that if that was the case, the service held promise for a young man who didn’t want to finish school. this was is 1960, right before the heart of the Vietnam War. my father ended up spending 3+ years in the Navy, some of that in the Phillipines driving those boats that carry troops from a ship to the shore. my father took up boxing while in the Navy, and always carried with him a sense of indestructibility, confidence and strength…things needed to guide a bookish, sensitive 10 year old (me) through a tough world. he was tall, strong and would always stand up for what he believed.

the car slowed in front of our house. 3 doors open, and 3 scruffy dudes jumped out. at this point my dad had staked his claim to a point of the driveway situated between us and the intruders. the driver was in front of the other two as they slowly walked up to the liddle of the lawn, then stopped. one of the men had taken a knife from his pocket and unfolded it.

‘can we talk to that guy?’ the driver asked. he didn’t say any more than that, but the threat in the air was implied.

‘i think you guys had better get off of my property’ was all my dad said. he never took his eyes of the leader of their group, didn’t raise his voice, but stood firm like a sentinel. silence then filled the air for what seemed like an eternity.

suddenly, the driver shrugged his shoulders slightly, then said ‘the man wants us off his property’. he turned to leave, then glanced over at the man who had invaded our space that night, as if to say, we will get you. make no mistake.

the three loped back to the car, got it and sped away. dad turned back to us as if nothing had happened and smiled. the man whose person he had defended slid out from behind the trailer, muttered a quiet ‘thanks’, and took off in an opposite direction from the car. i watched him leave for a while, then watched the space he occupied for a time. for a 10 year old, this event was fodder for a thousand stories in his mind; why did they want to hurt him? did he steal from them? cheat at cards? owe them money or drugs? i still think about this from time to time…and wondered what happened to him.

at that point, despite my father already being a symbol of strength and unwavering support to me and my family, grew into a hero.

How to Fish for Dog

if you ask me about my dad, one of the first things that comes to mind is fishing. when you ask me about fishing, the first thing that comes to mind is Tawny.

A siberian husky mix, Tawny was named for her color, a beautiful blond-brown color, which obviously was a biproduct of the “mix” part of siberian husky mix. Energetic and loving, Tawny was the perfect dog for a young pair of male children. She could stand up to the rough-housing to which she was subjected, with not a growl nor whimper to let us know she would rather be somewhere else.

Now you think you know where this story is headed but you don’t. One summer day, my best friend Troy Shaw was over at the house. Troy lived down the street and when we weren’t at my house conjuring up trouble to get into, we were at his swimming in what of course was the best pool on the street. Looking back, his was the only pool on the street and so obviously the best.

My father had recently come back from a fishing trip with my brother; the detritus of which was still scattered through the house. Fishing poles, ice chests and tackle boxes waiting to be put into the shed before my mother had a nervous breakdown. It was into his green, beat-up tackle box that we found ourselves scavenging. Like any boys our age, we collected things, so it was with interest that we peered inside the box, hoping for something cool to take to school and show everyone…claiming ownership like a good son would do.

Now, I don’t know where they come up with names for fishing lures. I am sure that it is an honest job for some Mid-Western junior marketing associate, fresh from graduation and placed on the new Zebco or BassMaster account. The SuperLure 3000, the Amazing FireFly, or my personal favorite the Spinning WonderSpoon…all had names that conjured up images of a fisherman out on a boat with their new purchase, comfortable in the fact that fish would soon be leaping into his pail at the mere thought of having to tackle with one of these state-of-the-art lures. Hell, you wouldn’t even have to take it out of the package. Just show it to the goddamn fish and fear would carry them up, over and onto a dinner plate! YEEHAWWWWWW!

Well, in our hands, already soiled by Velveeta and salmon egg residue (which is a new dish at the Mansion, I hear), we held the largest, baddest ass lure we had ever seen. Surely, Dad picked this one up on his recent trip or we would have seen it before. That we could remember only once ever seeing Dad catch a fish big enough to approach, let alone swallow, this monster, now that doesn’t really matter does it, so there!

A thing of beauty that brought to mind images less of fishing in our little Lake Mead off to the southwest of us and more of ocean fishing…going after mackeral and barracuda, skipjack and tuna. Hell, maybe a shark. Hell, maybe a whale! As we handed it back and forth, pretending that it was underwater making seductive lure motions in an attempt to hook Orca, there was a flash of brown-white to my left, a jump and then a huge squeal of pain.

Tawny, wanting to be a part of things as always, had jumped up towards my hands, and had come down with one of the razor sharp treble hooks buried in the soft flap of her nose. Instantly, the tableau turned from one of innocent summer laziness to one of OH HOLY SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT…WHAT THE HELL..SHIT SHIT OH MAN…OH SHIT! The dog was spinning circles in an attempt to get the wasp-sting of pain away from her head, but it just made matters worse. What it the name of David Lee Roth were we going to do!??!?

Just then I hear the front door open, and see my father, tired from a long day of fighting dragons (well, it could have been that) come across the landing. His head was down but not for long as he looked at me and Troy, then Tawny, then me. He seemed confused at first by the events unfolding before him. There was his oldest son with his best friend with panicked faces and a dog who was yelping and spinning circles with a 1/2-foot long fishing lure protruding from her face. I guess walking in on Darth Vader riding a unicorn would have suprised him less. Not what he expected to say the least.

“Dad, Tawny jumped up and got hooked in the nose!”
“Okay”
“But Dad, She got hooked in the nose!!”
“Okay”

My dad calmly walked over and grabbed Tawny by the collar, rummaging into his tackle box with his free hand and coming up with a pair of needlenose pliers…one part of which had a cutting blades for wires, etc. With his left hand still on Tawny’s collar, he pressed down with his arm onto her back to force her down to the ground. Slipping the pliers up to her nose, he cut the barbed end off first, then dropping the pliers, he pulled the other end of the hook through her nose and out, letting her loose in the process. Tawny took off like a stuck pig, down the hall and to the safety and security afforded her underneath my bed. He watched her run, then turned slowly towardsw me.

“So…what happened?”

I proceeded to let out a 90-mph torrent of words, none of which were understandable due to tears and overall confusion still coursing through my body.

“Calm down, son. What happened?”

I gave him the Cliff Notes version in a hyperventilative fashion. He chuckled to himself..then fixed us with his eyes that held no more questions.

“I think we need to stay out of the tackle box for a while..don’t you?”

Troy and I could only nod our assent, wildly relieved to have had him walk through the door at that given moment. After a short pause, Troy mumbled something about being late for dinner and sped off out of the door. The incident was mentioned in comedic fashion by my father over our own supper, while I chose to remain silent…satisfied with being the butt of the story but exhilarated nonetheless.

Rocket’s Red Glare

money. when you are a kid, you don’t think of how necessary it is. you figure out soon enough though that money gets you the things you covet and the things you need. money…it doesn’t suck

my father worked for a trucking company and while we had the things we needed, there wasn’t much left for the the things they coveted and wanted us to experience. dreams of summer camp, maybe a music lesson here or there…things they never got to experience but wanted us to. money was tight and there was rumor of another teamster strike looming, which would mean weeks to months of abbreviated paychecks from the union. my father decided to act.

a buddy of his turned my father on to a third friend, who had the auspicious title of “firework man”. well, that’s what we called him once my brother and i found out what he did. the FM had, it seems, a warehouse full of illegal fireworks and sold them to friends and people who had the money and the discretion to not give up their source. the friend of my father’s, who understood that times were tight at the Lory household, spoke to his friend and asked if he could help us out. a plan was hatched.

this is when my father, Cub Scout Pack Leader, Knight of Columbus and leader of Navy men during Vietnam, also became a pusher.

In 1970’s Las Vegas, any type of fireworks that left the ground or exploded were illegal. Everything was banned beyond the “Fountain of Sparks”, string-activated “poppers”, sparklers or the stupid “black snakes”, a small obsidian pill that, when lit, emitted a noxious cloud of smoke while forming into a snake of ashes. wow. What my father knew, and what I know now, was that we humans hungered for something more…craved things that left the ground in a shower of sparks and fire only to burst into amazing technicolor patterns high above our heads. Things that exploded other things like tuna cans and ant hills. None of this namby-pamby shit for Ingraham Street, NO SIR!!!

But I digress.

One early Saturday morning, Dad, Mark and I pounced into the ’72 Chevy Blazer and made our way over to the FM’s house. From there, we followed him in his car over to the warehouse. My anticipation level reached that of Olympian proportions; I had heard my parents talking over the dinner table after we had retreated to our rooms for homework. I KNEW what what going on!

The FM opened the door to the warehouse and inside was the most amazing array of fireworks I had ever seen. Row upon row of bottle rockets, roman candles, M-80’s, bloom flowers; rockets as big around as my wrist; rockets with 3-foot long sticks; rockets that exploded, whistled and screamed. Not to mention the hundreds of 1000’s of firecrackers: Black Cat, China Star…they went on forever.

While Dad and the FM slid over to the side to discuss pricing and process, Mark and I proceeded down the open aisle, our eyes googling at the merchandise before us. While Dad was starting to make a list, we of course made mental lists of our own, vowing to never tell anyone what we had seen under direct orders from our father…but also vowing to break that vow the instant we got home.

Soon, terms were agreed upon and boxes began being loaded into the back of the Blazer. Dad and the FM shook hands once that task was finished and we departed. On the ride home we got the spiel once more about keeping our mouths closed and also to stay out of the boxes. Sure Dad….no problem.

My father, upon leaving the Navy, absconded with a green fatigue jacket, an Eagle tattoo and some green ammo boxes. Some of these kept their initial use as a storage for ammo for Dad’s guns; one even had a new life as a first-aid kit (which Mom, the nurse, dutifully kept full). After we arrived home, Dad began unpacking the boxes and started loading the firecrackers into the empty ammo boxes. The rockets he kept in the boxes they arrived in and hid them in their bedroom closet behind Mom’s housecoats and Dad’s work jeans.

Despite my father’s quest to keep as low a profile as possible, suddenly it seemed that everyone knew where to get fireworks for the upcoming July 4th celebration. At dinner, there would be a knock at the door, followed by a furtive glance into the dining room from the interloper while they waited for dad to come back to the living roon with the goods, and then a mumbled thanks as the transaction was completed. Many were the time that underage kids would come to the door and my father would simply shake his head and quietly say “No.” He did want to compound possible jail time by selling fireworks to minors nor be responsible for them if something happened.

Mark and I would take packages of firecrackers from time to time, using them as adolescent currency towards being popular with others my age. It worked, for a time, until that first week in July had passed, and we were merely the Lory family once more, with all pieces accounted for.

Skinny Dipping in Yosemite

On one of our family’s many road trips across the American Southwest, we found ourselves for a week or so in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is considered by some to be the paragon of the National Park system; originally established in California as a State Park, it was given back to the Federal government around the time of the formation of the NPS in 1916. Little did they know that 60+ years later, our family would go skinny-dipping in Yosemite.

My parents. Boomers who came of age in the 1960’s, they brought a little of the counter-culture into raising their kids. Ok. When I say counter-culture, I don’t mean fighting for the revolution. I mean, smoking pot when a friend of dad’s from the Vietnam days came over. Or, walking around the house completely naked, to the chagrin, but eventual acceptance of their children. That was about as hippie as they got.

So, on the road. We were tooling around the Park, when my Dad noticed a small waterfall off in the brush on the right side of the road. Many were the time Dad would notice a small animal, a roadside attraction, a whathaveyou and screech to a halt with a resounding “C’mon guys, lets check it out!” This we felt was no exception and were not in any hurry to see the 873th badger or other woodland creature of the trip. My father, of course, adamant about squeezing every cent out of his vacation dollar, instructed us to get out of the car.

A little background here. Our shelter on these trips was a 23-foot travel trailer that my Dad found through one of his work-buddies. After several years of camping in an old Army-green tent that smelled perpetually of wet canvas, the trailer was a nice change. The only downfall was having to, as the oldest son, assist my father in securing the trailer to his truck. Many were the days that he would be behind the wheel, cursing at the top of his lungs for having to pull forward YET AGAIN, then back up at the behest of my poor instructions. I was probably 2 for 20 that summer in lining up the trailer’s towbar with the ball on the back of his truck….good times.

Unfortunately, despite the many comforts afforded us with the travel trailer, we never could get the shower to work. Either that or Dad didn’t want to waste the water. So we found ourselves at times searching for the facilities at the Park which included, for a nominal fee, the opportunity to shower and clean up.

As we got out of the truck at Dad’s urging, he motioned for us all to meet him by the side of the road. There we noticed, about 10 feet from the road, a small waterfall that descended down into the brush and terminated into a tiny stream.

C’mon, lets see where it comes from, Dad said. A groan escaped from my brother and I as we had been deep into a game of name all the counties in Nevada, our home state. Hey, we didn’t have GameBoys back then! Dad took off into the brush, which scaled vertically up the side of the embankment. We all followed, Mom and her boys, and wondered what it was Dad was looking for. After 25 feet or so, we noticed another waterfall, this one much larger, that was feeding into a small, round pool, approximately 6-feet in diameter. The pool then fed into the smaller waterfall that we noticed from the road. Created by boulders that had fallen precisely into the right spot, the pool was about 3 feet deep and completely clear, visible all of the way to the bottom. Looking back down the hill, you could see the road, but was obscured by the tangle of trees and brush.

Very cool, I thought.
Awesome, said my brother.
That’s pretty, remarked Mom.

Let’s take a bath! exclaimed my father.

….what?

It’ll be great, he said. We can wash up here and not have to go all of the way back to the compound to take showers. Before we could speak, he descended back down the to the truck and retrieved towels and soap. Instructing my brother and I to disrobe, he then started to undress himself, as if to say, hey I’m doing this too, nothing to worry about!

What about people seeing us? Mom asked.
Oh, we’re fine, Cathy. No one can see us from way down there.

My sainted mother, still reluctant to believe that we wouldn’t get caught by passing Park Ranger or tourist, slowly started to peel off her clothes, looking doubtfully upon the entire scene. She then, in order to show her sons that their father, while crazy, was trying to have fun and therefore volunteered to be the first in the water. Mom stepped into the water with her leg, then yanked it out with a resounding JESUS CHRIST, DAVE LORY, THAT WATER IS FREEZING!! So much for being the role model for calm and cool for us kids…

Mom then tried again, getting more of her body into the water. She quickly grabbed the soap and began scrubbing furiously in order to be done and into a warm towel. Next was my brother, then me and finally Dad, who I felt should have gone first for concocting this crazy scheme. All the while, the rest of us not washing kept an eye on the road in hopes that we would not be spotted and spend the rest of our vacation explaining to the Park Rangers what EXACTLY we were doing up there.

As I stood there shivering in my towel, glancing furtively at the road below, I heard a car approaching and then slowing. All of a sudden a brown sedan pulls up next to our truck….oh shit.

One of the funny moments in a National Park is when you are driving down the road and all of a sudden see a tangle of cars that have pulled over to the side of the road. Someone, of course, saw something: a deer, an elk, naked people swimming, so of course everyone else has to see it too. The occupants of the brown sedan obviously felt that there was something to behold as we listened breathlessly for the sound of car doors opening, of voices questioning and of felonies witnessed. That we were probably too far up to be seen without their climbing up the hill was of little to no comfort in my 10-year old mind. My father slowly got out the pool and grabbed a towel..

All of a sudden the sedan started up again and sped off. We all breathed a sigh of relief, quickly dressed and made our way back down the hill. I look back at that moment as an “us-against-the-world” example, secure in the fact that we didn’t get caught, but shivering nonetheless from cold, fear and possible incarceration for skinny-dipping in Yosemite.

Brothel Days

There’s that funny part of the movie Night Shift where Michael Keaton is trying to explain to the working girls the etymology of the word “Prostitution”: “pros-, doesn’t really mean anything; -tit-tu-, which makes sense of course, because there are two; and -tion (pronouced ‘shun’) which is Latin for go away, or I don’t want any….doesn’t really belong in this word”. The scene is brilliant.

Of course, that movie was not released yet when Dad and I decided to go deer hunting in Northern Nevada. Being my first hunting trip with Dad, and the added bonus of having brother Mark stay at home with Mom, it was a chance for us to bond as father-son, share campfire stories, perhaps bag a deer or two, and visit a whorehouse.

Being raised in Vegas, I was, of course, familiar with what a working girl was. The misunderstood concept is that prostitution is legal in Vegas. It isn’t, and hasn’t been since 1951, when the state declared that there could not be a brothel within so many miles of a city who population was over 100,000. However, seeing as how there is a lot of open space between the three largest cities in Nevada: Vegas, Reno and Carson City, there was room for plenty of “cathouses” where an industrious young lady could ply her wares.

Being with my Dad on the trip was great. We had also brought along a friend of the family’s, Curtis Herrera, whose younger sister Beth was a classmate of mine for many years. The three of us had a lot of fun on that trip, and I was sorry to see it come to a close.

As we made our way southward towards home, we were on two-lane road that took us past tiny towns and more often, desert and scrubbrush. Eventually that road gave way to an interstate that would carry us back to Vegas, but we were still many hours from getting there. Ahead in the distance, in the slowly darkening sky, I saw a light from a huge neon sign. I wasn’t sure what it was, but know now that it was the famous Sherry’s ranch, one of Nevada’s most popular brothel’s at the time. As we got closer, I could make out the red-pink sign with a giant “S” smack dab in the middle. I had heard of Sherry’s in whispered tales from school-age friend’s older brothers, who had either visited the place or made sure to tell everyone the giant lie that they indeed HAD been there.

We approached the establishment, quickly coming up on our right side. About 200 feet from the dirt entrance that would take you into the charms of what was inside, my father turned his blinker on.

….what?

My father slowed the truck while at the same time Curtis blurted out “well, its about time”. The truck got down to 20 mph, then 10… I spun my head wildly back and forth, looking at my father for understanding and Curtis for the same. All of a sudden, my Dad burst out laughing with Curtis following right behind. He clicked off the blinker and sped up past the turnoff. As my heart pounded out of my chest, I looked to the right and took a last look at the neon sign, the central house with many a car, truck and 18-wheeler parked in front, and a row of trailers off to the West of all of these, where surely the girls and their “guests” must be spending their time.

I looked again at my Dad, who was still chuckling softly to himself. He looked at me, as if to say he was sorry for playing the joke, then burst out laughing again. This started all of us laughing out loud and I felt a part of the group of men.

David

p.s. read Brothel-The Mustang Ranch and its Women. Its a well-written history of prostitution in Nevada.

The Runaway

When I was 13 I ran away from home.

It started all very strangely. Earlier in the day I had gotten in trouble for taking some rare coins from my Dad’s collection and using them as currency towards multiple rounds of Asteroids at the local arcade. My father collected coins of all types, mostly American silver: Mercury dimes, Buffalo nickels, ancient quarters and the like. It was the quarters I was most interested in of course. I had been sneaking a few here and there for some time, and when it was discovered, I was given the spanking to end all spankings. As I sat crying in my room, I realized that I would make them pay, oh yes, I would make them pay for the insults given to my backside. I would run away from home.

After the punishment, my Dad went over to a neighbor’s house to help with a car repair issue. My Dad was and is very capable with things like and that and was always called upon to help neighborhood folks with mechanical problems. Mark was playing in the backyard and Mom was nowhere to be found. Grabbing my PeeChee folder from the side of my bed, I scrawled a hasty good bye to the world. I threw in the obligatory “you won’t find me, so don’t try” and “I know you don’t love me”. Of course they didn’t…why would they spank me over some quarters!

I grabbed the $1.75 I had stashed for future video fun and jammed it into the pocket of my shorts. Pulling on a tee shirt and sneakers, I furtively made my way down the hall, grabbing a roll of scotch tape out of the junk drawer. Tearing off a piece, I taped my getaway note to the front door and fast-walked down Ingraham street to where my future surely awaited. I cast thoughtful glances at the houses and landmarks that made up the street upon which I grew up, knowing that I would never see them again. Perhaps, after I had grown up in a world that understood me, I would come back to this place and to my parents, where they would clasp me in forgiving arms proclaiming to the heavens that they had been wrong all along, and that they were so happy to have me back. I would nod slightly, then leave again to let them ponder the child they had wronged.

$1.75. I guess my first thought was food for the trip. Although I knew that $1.75 wasn’t very much, I also knew that somehow good fortune would follow me. It had to. I was making my own life and following no one’s rules. Down Hickey Avenue, left on Webb to Lake Mead Boulevard.

At the intersection sat a 7-eleven store. Many were the summer days that we kids would ride our bikes here to get penny candy or sodas on our way to the junior high swimming pool. On Halloween, they would hand out free slurpees to kids in costume. The owner knew everyone and was always very kind. I made my way inside the store and went back to the cooler where they kept sandwiches. For 99 cents you could buy a turkey sandwich cut in half and stuffed into a triangular plastic pouch. I grabbed one, a bag of 25 cents Doritos and a 50 cent coke. I then realized, after my purchases, that I had 1 penny left over. Well, it didn’t matter. I had what I needed for now and the rest would take care of itself.

Down Lake Mead Boulevard I went. Why I chose this particular direction I don’t know. We had often ridden our bikes down this street on our way to Sunrise Mountain, the desert covered range not far behind our house. Or to friend’s houses. Or to 7-Eleven. I kept walking, munching on my sandwich. I wondered if my parents found the note yet. I feared that my Dad would come roaring up in his truck behind me, snatch me away from my sandwich, and take me to a place where all bad kids go. I didn’t really know what that place was, but I pictured myself later in life living a miserable existence, relegated to a life of crime, attending Vo-Tech, the Vocational school in the Valley that kids went to when they couldn’t handle real high school. In fact I was walking in that direction right now. Maybe it was fate.
But no…my dad didn’t show. Did I want him to? Did I want him to save me from myself? I don’t know. So I kept walking. Soon, I came upon the Bel-Air trailer park about 2 miles from our house. I was always fascinated yet horrified by trailer parks: did they not want a regular house? Could they not afford it? Did they go to Vo-Tech as kids and therefore not grow up with normal people? Are they eating 99 cent turkey sandwiches from 7-Eleven? Whenever we drove by with our parents, there always seemed to be stuff all over the yard; toys, water hoses, plastic wading pools. Why didn’t they put anything away? Not that our house was the model of neatness. Quite the opposite, in fact. But at least we didn’t live in a house on wheels. And didn’t tornados always target trailer parks? Not for me. Later in life (maybe a couple years later) I fell for a sweet girl from Butler, Pennsylvania named Alice Lunn. She was in 8th photography club with me and I thought she was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. Once, sh invited me over to her “house” and upon arriving on my bike, I realized that she lived in a trailer. I immediately made assumptions about her family and character, perhaps even about her sexual mores, if I even had thoughts like that at 13. Suffice it to say I didn’t like her after that, an attitude that thankfully did not last into adulthood or even much sooner.
I kept walking, past the barking, dusty dog chained to a wheel on the trailer, past the fake Astroturf “planted” in front of the trailers as a hopeful welcome, past the pink flamingos jammed into the dirt that covered everything.

Soon, my legs became tired. I sat on the sidewalk under a tree and sipped what was left of my warm Coke. Sandwich and chips long gone, I pondered what exactly I would do now? I watched the cars speed by, east and west, headed towards homes, work, friends, family.

Family.

Then I thought: what really had they done to me to deserve me running away? I knew what I had originally done in stealing the coins from my Dad was bad, so who was I to leave? The reality of the situation plus a sheer sadness over what I would be missing filled me, and I started to cry. I realized that in not seeing my Mom and Dad and Mark, I would be missing out on so much. So I started back.

Lake Mead Boulevard…left on Webb, right on Hickey Avenue. Then left onto the warm embrace of Ingraham Street. As I made my way home, I passed by Troy Shaw’s house. Troy was my best friend growing up and I heard his brother Scotty whisper “didn’t he run away?” “Quiet, Scotty” Troy replied protectively. My parents had obviously spread the word, but Troy had me innocent until proven guilty, as true friends do.

I approached my house. I crept up on the left side, ducked under the dining room window and through the gate. As I turned the corner and came into view on the patio door, I saw my mother on the phone with a wild, frantic look in her eyes. Suddenly, upon seeing me, as I slid the door open, I heard her say, “Wait..he’s home!”. She hung up the phone and ran to me in a smothering embrace. All I could hear her ask, as I fought back my tears is “why? why?” and I didn’t really have an answer. The crumpled getaway note was lying on the kitchen table. Looking over her shoulder I saw my father in the background with his arms crossed, looking grim and yet happy that I was home. I had shattered, for a few hours, the small yet important existence that he had tried to carve out for his family. Away from stepfathers and stepmothers on both of their sides of the family, away from bad influences, from drugs and predators, from bad grades and bad examples. This had shaken him, and I could tell that in body language and by his facial expression, which wore a concerned and devastated look. I left my mother’s impossible embrace and went over to him.

I’m sorry Dad

I know, Son. Just don’t ever do that again.

I won’t.

I knew that I could keep that promise, because he did not punish me in any way. No spankings, I wasn’t grounded…nothing. This confused me for a time. I had gotten spanked to the high holy for taking some coins. Wasn’t there some medieval torture that would be visited upon me for causing the family an insane amount of worry? After a while I realized that the disappointment my father felt in me and a way himself was enough…more than enough. That time truly was the end of spankings and transitioned into a time where his words and looks were more than enough.

I stayed in my room most of the day, then made my way out to the TV room, in an effort to guage whether I would be accepted into the good graces of all. My mother had fallen into an afternoon nap, driven to exhaustion as it were by the day’ events. My father and brother sat watching TV on the couch, and after sizing them up, I walked over and joined them. We sat there for a while, and then my father put his arm around me. I knew that I could never do anything so stupid ever again, because in the wild world of 7-Elevens, Vo-Tech kids and trailer parks, he was the one would save me from all…including myself.

A Helping Hand

“Wanted: a good home for a 10 year old boy. Good grades, a sunny if oftentimes inconsistent disposition, and a penchant for sleepwalking at all times of the night.”

This was the want ad I imagined my parents putting into the local weekly, having finally worn themselves ragged on dealing with my nightly sojourns down the hall, into the bathroom and finally the kitchen, all under the auspices of unconsciousness. It was under this same spell that I once walked a deer head down the hall.

A normal night, if you can consider one’s teenage years anything normal. School, friends and the burgeoning interest in girls made for long days and sometimes equally long nights. The clock radio next to my bed played the disco and rock tunes of the day, and competed for my attention with whatever sci-fi book I was reading at the time. Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury held a special interest for boys of my age, and I was no different. I fall asleep with “Kashmir” and “Night Fever” ringing in my ears.

At 12 years of age, I had already grown taller than my 5’3” mother, who used my height during the daylight hours to procure spices and jars of preserved fruits down from the upper reaches of the avocado green cupboards. It is this same petite woman who I semi-awoke to find wrestling me down the hall, shouting “wake up David…wake up!” as I clutched a massive stuffed 4-point trophy deer head in my arms, headed God knows where.

East of the Mississippi, antlered animals are counted by the full number of “points” or tips of antlers, whereas in the West, they count them by only one side. So, my deer had 4 large points on one side, with an equal number on the other. Easteners would call this one an 8-point…those points were exactly what my mother was trying to avoid as she attempted to steer me back to my room.

The year prior, when my father called from the hunting grounds to tell my mother in an excited, hurried voice about his trophy kill, my mother at that point resolved two things: first, that she would hang a sign on the front door to be seen upon his return that read “Welcome Home, Deer Killer”. She wasn’t a big fan if the hunt, but knew that my Dad would never kill something just for the fun of doing so. We would be eating on that deer for a few months, until venison became a four-letter word in our home.

The second, and more important proviso my Mother set down, was that no deer head would ever grace her bedroom, family room or any other place where visitors to our home would see it. My father had it in his head that he would be able to wake every day to his trophy, satisfied that he had cemented his place upon the ranks of men. After much heated discussion, it was decided that the stuffed head would go in my room. Although I didn’t have a vote in the matter, I was more than thrilled to have a symbol of my father’s masculinity in my room….some of which I hoped would rub off on me.

After a month or so, Dad and his two sons climbed into the truck to pick up the head from the taxidermists. We had already procured the rest of the animal, turned as it had been into steaks, ribs and jerky. But this was a more important event because it was a lasting symbol of the event…much more so than that gamey, heartburn-inducing venison we kids forced down 3 times a week. I even think she tried a form of Venison Helper, ground deer meat taking the place of hamburger in the Helper recipe. At that point I refused to eat anything with the word “Helper” in it again, deer meat or not. I recanted that vow later in life when my former spouse decided to make it for the kids (with the proper ground beef inside) and I “helped” myself to a bowl to see if I could eat it again. Three days and 20 pounds lighter, having shat out the lining of my stomach, I realized that I had either been poisoned (and given the state of our marriage at the time, I couldn’t rule that out…) or I was having a 20-year-later psychological response to a certain dish. Who knows?
As my mother tried her best to move me back in the direction of my room, back to the wall spike upon which the head rested, my father joined in the fray with his large frame and even larger hands, worn and calloused from years of hard work. They made small work of me, relieving me of my deer while mother, safe from an eye gouge or cheek pierce, got her son back to bed. I vaguely remember Dad sticking the head back on the wall and wondered in my narcosis just what all of the fuss was about.
The next morning, with bags under her eyes that no amount of coffee would erase, my mother asked if I remembered what happened.

What?

My father laughed as Mom recounted the previous night’s events and I sat there, red-faced with shame and embarrassment, wondering if I would ever live down a night of carrying mammals down the hall.