Friday, September 26, 2008

Josh + Ben

One summer when I was around twelve Mom told us she had placed an ad in the paper.

I’m going to babysit this summer. We could use the money, and then you all would have a new friend to play with.

I didn’t need any new kid to play with. Much less any kid whose parents would pay my mom to watch them. A kid who would come into our house and see that we didn’t have proper bedrooms or nice furniture or air conditioning.

She went on a few interviews. I don’t know how any panned out except the one that she told us about.

I’ve found a family
you already have a family
whose children I am going to watch.
What children? Multiple? You have multiple.
Their names are Josh and Ben.

The kids next door in the nice house were named Josh and Ben.

The Collins?

No. These kids are coming down to stay with their parents this summer. They are from Minnesota. Their mom works at the Mayo Clinic. It’s a really nice hospital.

I had never met anyone from Minnesota. At that point, I don’t think I’d met anyone from outside of Limestone County. I didn’t know much about hospitals and less about the Mayo Clinic but what I did know what that the people who worked at our hospital had glistening cars and that if our hospital was just a hospital and not a good hospital then I bet these kids wore Starter jackets and nice shoes and maybe even had jewelry. Now it was worse. We weren’t just having kids at our house. We were having exotics.

We drove out to the county to their parents place to pick them up a few weeks later. In our black Dodge van. It was the only new car my mom has ever had. We bought it years before, right after Taz was born. It smelled like carpet. I wanted to make it my bedroom. I could remove the middle bench seat and make it a living room. The seats were grey for three months. After hauling the four of us around for 6 years it didn’t smell like carpet any longer. It smelled like broken. I was embarrassed to be in this van. This van that had crushed chips and stained seats and a broken rearview mirror.

I expected we’d pull into a mansion. With a doorman. And we’ve meet the boys. And they would hand me their luggage or whatever it is that a kid would take to another kid’s pink sagging house for the day when he was not going as a friend but as a business venture. I bet they’d have brought their horse down. I was sure Minnesotans were cowboys.

We drove out to Seven Mile Post road. Turned left off the hiqhway right at the store that sold fireworks and gas and antiques. There were cotton fields on either side of the county road but a forest a mile ahead. Enter the forest. Turn right. Into a trailer park. Pulled up to their double wide.

Of that summer I remember a number of things.

Accents. Josh and Ben didn’t talk like they were from the South.

We hauled dirt. Our neighbors had put in a below ground pool. They had to put the dirt someplace. So mom had them put it in our back yard. And then decided to raise the natural level of our front yard. We spent two summers moving wheelbarrows full of dirt from our back yard to our front yard. Two barrels a piece each day. More if we got in trouble for acting up. The dirt was easiest to haul right after it rained. That summer was 95% dry. I’m sure having children who you are taking care of do manual labor is slightly illegal. Or at least frowned upon.

Scott. Their older brother lived here. He’d moved down with their dad during the divorce. He wore ripped music tshirts with no sleeves, 389 metal arm bracelets, tight pants, long unkempt dry hair, cold sores. He locked his door. We rarely talked.

A double wide. I’d never been in a trailer before. It was dark. Sad. Had linoleum floors. We watched A League of Their Own once.

Leeches. They were clearing the woods out for a large development. There was an enormous pile of trees at the end of their neighborhood. Fifty feet high. A mile long. On the days we’d go to their trailer we’d play on this pile for hours and hours. We’d build tunnels. We’d fall into holes and get cut and get hurt. They told me there were leeches in the pile. I didn’t know what that meant or if it mattered.

The next summer I left the state for the first time. I rode with their dad in his van from Alabama to Champaign, IL, to meet them halfway and pick them up. I thought we’d stop in fun places. I’d seen trips on television before. I wanted to go on one. I wanted to ride with the top down and stop at diners. We didn’t stop one time.

Joel had pre-made eight sandwiches and put them in the bread bag and brought some water and we droveand listened to NPR and looked out at the road and crossed state lines in silence.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stolen Shoes.

I had a pair Nike Air Raid shoes back in the early 90s. They were important to me. I think they were the first thing that I made an independent decision on and was given affirmation from my mother.

I think we were in a store. I really like those shoes.

So do I. I really do.

I bought them. I am sure my mom financed the greater part of them.

They were the first fancy shoes I'd ever gotten. We'd always go to Shoe Carnival and buy the 'buddy' shoes - the ones that looked like the latest style, but had non brand names like Hoops. I'd always coveted the shoes of the kids who had parents with money.

Once I went to who I thought was a friend's house. The kids there ended up ganging up on me and I got hit in a face with a thrown shoe. My nose started bleeding. It was the closest I'd ever been to a Nike before.

So I had this pair of Nikes. The side panels were green suede. There were straps that crossed in the front. Every day I wore them I wanted to wear a dress shirt and a tie. I wanted them to last forever. I wanted to shrink to a size where I could walk into them and live in them and then my house would be new and suede and name brand and not pink and sagging and embarrassing.

I would take them off for gym class. I would put on my Hoops. I didn't care to have the performance of performance shoes I wanted to have the look of the performance of the performance shoes. I wanted the suede to always stay pushed in the same direction. I didn't want the lines or the attention of unkempt leather.

I came back to the locker after class one day and my locker was unlocked. My shoes were gone. My house had been stolen. I couldn't think. I couldn't cry. I can buy three pairs of those shoes. I've got money. I lied. I told myself they come back. I walked into a bathroom stall and I cried. It's like I had been hit in the face with my own shoes.

Weeks later I saw a guy named Chris Tucker in gym class. He was one of the few people in my class who was less well off than me. He had my shoes on. I went and talked to Coach. After an hour of talk, we had resolve. He said they were found someplace else. I thought he'd stolen them. Wanting his own green suede house. I got my shoes back.

But they weren't the same. They had this smell. Something toxic. Like chemical adhesives. I don't know where it came from, but it wouldn't come out. I tried to wear them. But I couldn't. The smell reminded me that my shoes hadn't always been mine. I tried to wash them and dry them. The suede lost it's hand feel. Became dry, cracked. Less green.

I had to throw them away a week or so later. I was back into my Hoops. I felt bad. I'd taken something that made me feel like an equal with my peers from someone who was trying the same thing. Even if they had been stolen. Instead of one of us feeling middle class, those shoes ended up in a landfill.

With all the other fancy shoes and buddy shoes alike.