Saturday, February 2, 2008


I have a lot of friends whose folks got divorced when they were very young. We seemed to have the same visitation experience with our dads. Mom thought dad was taking us to the zoo or a movie but we’d end up spending the afternoon at a bar. He’d buy us cokes and give us money for the jukebox. We played Aretha’s Respect over and over.

We’d run wild in the neighborhood until it was time to go. This arrangement worked well for us. There were other kids visiting their dads so we had a gang. My mom would’ve seen it as neglect but we had a blast.

The bar of choice was Laclede Town’s Coach and Four Pub. My dad knew all the baseball celebrities. I met Lou Brock and Bob Gibson among others at the bar. Lou Brock signed a photo for me but I don’t know what happened to it.

We slept on giant rectangles of foam in my dad’s apartment. He had a large collection of Playboy magazines which is where all boys in the 60s learned about adult female anatomy. Girls would have impossible standards to live up to because of this. My brother owns the collection now and it’s amazing how people’s perception of beauty evolves. My physical ideal is frozen in time. I can’t stand fake boobs.

He also used to keep a loaded 38 on his night stand.

When a Beatles album came out we’d take it straight to my dad’s apartment. We didn’t have a record player. As much as I love stereo and 3 dimensional sound, those mono mixes were much better. If you can find a mono recording of Sgt. Pepper check out Paul’s vocals on the reprise.

My dad gave us money for a carnival at St. Louis University. As soon as we entered the gates a gang of boys overwhelmed us. They pinned us down and took all of the money from our pockets. None of the adults around would lift a finger to help us. It was like something out of Suddenly Last Summer.

I was in fourth grade. We lived in an apartment on Shaw near the gardens. We rode our bikes everywhere. We’d ride down to Laclede Town to visit my dad. We even rode down to the riverfront. Once we found a large log floating in the water so we jumped on. It was crazy, this was the Mississippi! We rode to the Pevely Dairy where they gave us chocolate milk and the Switzer Licorice factory where they gave us candy.

Four or five of us rode up to a soda display at a gas station. We all stole a can and rode off. The attendant chased and almost caught us. It was exhilarating and terrifying. If you see a group of kids without an adult you can be sure they’re up to no good.

One day we left our bikes on the sidewalk in front of a Burger Chef. A gang of boys took off with them. Two rode as the rest ran along side. We had no problem catching up to them but once again their sheer numbers overwhelmed us. My father was furious that we left our bikes unattended.

Months later, one Saturday afternoon, my mother made us clean the basement. We were working our butts off when she came down and told us to come outside. There in the yard were two brand new Schwinn 3-speed bikes. These were much better than the old 1-speed’s we’d lost. We jumped on them and disappeared into the day.

Our apartment had a fireplace that was set up for gas. In those days if you didn’t pay the gas bill they’d turn it off. We suffered two winters without heat. My mother burned wood in the fireplace. With no ventilation it’s a miracle we didn’t die. We cracked the windows to let the smoke escape. Everything was covered in black soot. I don’t know why our electric was still on, but we spent one winter in bed together under an electric blanket.

As a result my brother and I spent a lot of time outside. We’d sled at Compton Hill Reservoir Park. I couldn’t figure out how kids from the local blind school were able to dodge all the obstacles. They had absolutely no fear of speed or trees.

Highway 44 was under construction and the site was our playground. Boys have an evil streak. We found a dead rat in an alley on the construction site. We stuck a smoke bomb in its butt and danced around it like pagans. When I later read Lord of the Flies I took it from personal experience that kids left to their own devices........

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