The Senses Of Summer

As we polished off the last of the dogs, our buddy Greg came walking up the driveway. He could walk on the tips of his Red Ball Jet sneakers and balance his body like he was on stilts. It produced the oddest-looking walk, and for some reason, it always cracked me up. When he saw me notice him, he went right into “that walk,” and by the time he reached the table, I had tears in my eyes from laughing. Greg reached into his pocket, produced three dimes, and asked if we wanted to walk to Spafford’s corner store for a Vernor’s. I hollered in the window, Mom said OK, and as we ambled down the street, Scruffy tagged along. Patrick found an old stick and dragged it along the fences. Scruff stopped to relieve himself about every three feet, so he lagged behind. I sat outside the store with Scruff while Pat and Greg got our sodas. Mr. Griffin walked by. He owned the hardware store in town. “Hello, young Ronnie,” he said. “Your momma know you’re out so late?” It was around 7 p.m. “Yes, sir,” I said. “We’re heading right back home after we get our drinks.” Mr. Griffin said, “Well, see that you do–and tell your daddy his storm door is all fixed and ready for him to pick up.” I said I would as my buddies came out of the store and handed me that ice-cold Vernor’s. Man, nothing was as good as that first sip.

As darkness approached, we heard parents throughout the neighborhood hollering for their kids to come in and get their baths. Pat and Greg split off for their homes. I walked my bike up the driveway, the baseball card clothes-pinned to the spokes, tick, tick, ticking away, and parked it on the side of the garage. I dropped the empty pop bottle into the wooden case so that it could be returned with the others the following week. Scruff followed me into the house and went to his bowl where Mom had enhanced his dinner with some leftover gravy from last night’s meatloaf–he definitely appreciated that. My sisters had already been tubbed and scrubbed, and were on their bellies in front of the television. Dad sat at the dining room table with a screwdriver, trying to fix the minute-hand on the bedroom clock–he was late for work last week when it failed.

Talk Is Curious

I went upstairs and filled the tub with bubbles, and plopped down in the hot water. I worked up a lather of suds, and started writing words on my arm with my finger. A few of them were words I’d heard while I was in the poolroom with my dad the previous Saturday. I didn’t know what they meant, but I heard them consistently whenever I was there. Dad was a quiet man, so I didn’t get those phrases from him, but the guys he shot pool with, wow, they said that stuff in every sentence. Looking back, I recall how manhood was more a series of injections than it was daily medicine–there were more jolts than there were realizations.

I heard Mom lean in the door, and I quickly erased my arm. “‘Bout done,” she asked. “Pretty near,” I said, my mind still drifting to the smells, sounds and smoky sights of Skip’s Pool Room. Skip had given me one of those promotional plastic change-keepers that prevented loose change from rattling around in my pocket. The lettering in lines read, “Stop and see, Ziggy and Skip, Wine, pool, beer. Not fancy, just friendly.” I kept that item until I was in college some eight years later.

Skip had a great set of pinball machines, and I could play on a dollar for hours, while Dad shot snooker and nine-ball. A steady diet of pretzel rods and Dad’s Root Beer kept me happy all day. The owners seemed to welcome the sons of the regulars, and were collectively engaged in reminding us of what was important. “You do your chores for momma and keep good grades, Ronnie?” I’d nod, “Yes, sir, I do.” They’d smile at each other, “Well, good, good, that’s good to hear.” Most of them would finish the conversation by pressing a quarter into my hand. One fellow in particular, called “High Pockets,” wore his pants almost around his chest; he always gave me butterscotch discs, which I really liked. He smelled of tobacco and peppermint, and had an easy laugh and long, long legs. I recall seeing him walk down the street, and the stride of his gait was easily twice mine.

Humid Breezes

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