True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 7

By the time we got to the parlor everyone was snickering. I should have known why but I was preoccupied with introducing the Abernathy’s to Mary. I ushered them over to her and began the process but as soon as I got to Crystal’s name, Mary burst out laughing.

“You’re the one that has our Jack all flustered!” she managed to gasp as she caught Crystal’s hand and shook it warmly.

If looks could kill Mary would have been gone. I was half considering helping the process along by strangling her. My face was a bright crimson and now my entire family, the entire Jenkins family and about half the rest of the neighborhood was laughing at my total ineptitude. I couldn’t see Crystal’s face with Mary hogging her but no doubt any chance I had was ruined and I was well aware her father was right beside me. Well, at least he’d kill me before much longer – that was my only comfort.

One of my brothers slapped me on the back and Mr Abernathy began to laugh. Well, there went my one hope of getting out of this. My sister Donna came to my rescue, grabbing my arm and assuring me it was alright. I thought she’d lost her mind at first but gradually it dawned on me that they weren’t making fun of me but laughing with me. Crystal finally looked my way, her blue eyes twinkling. She smiled reassuringly. That made it finally okay.

I still don’t get what was so funny about the thing. Ever have one of those things where you just had to be there to get it? Well, that was what this was but I’d managed to miss it even though I was there.

I forced myself to chuckle, still having no idea why the heck this was so funny. But it put everyone else at ease so I did it for Momma’s sake and to get this over with. I was still pretty raw from the embarrassment.

Things began to settle down. I dunno, maybe the silliness was good for us. The mood changed from grim to what Momma calls ‘joyful sadness’. People were sharing stories about Mr J – the good ones. It was like we had all been holding our breath then suddenly we could breathe again and life continued.

An hour later, I excused myself and jogged to my own apartment. I had one thing I had to do before tonight while I was clear headed enough to do it. I wanted to see Mr J’s apartment again. I’d already cleared it with John. I grabbed my notebook and pen and went back into the hall.

A voice interrupted me as I locked my door, “Want some company?” Crystal asked.

I looked around, surprised to see her, “I, uh, I don’t mind, I don’t suppose.” I took a deep breath and tried again, “I mean it’s okay with me but I’m just going up to Mr. J’s apartment for a look.”

Crystal nodded and joined me. “I’ll come then.”

I sighed, “Must sound silly but I just need to see it again.”

She took my arm, “Not silly at all.” she assured me.

Once we reached the door, I let us in with Poppa’s passkey. The living room looked the same as it always had. I noticed that the door to the boy’s bedroom was open. John and his family had been staying in the apartment so that was no surprise. His wife Melissa was one of those people who can’t abide anything out of place so the apartment looked untouched.

Crystal just stayed beside me as I looked around. Nothing in this room seemed out of place. Don’t know why I thought it would be – a herd of detectives, crime scene analysts and family had been through here in the last four days so even if anything had been awry, it wouldn’t mean anything. But still, I needed to look.

I went into the kitchen and closed my eyes for a moment, remembering exactly what it had looked like that night. I opened them and noticed that the fruit bowl had been righted and the fruit discarded. Melissa, no doubt. I looked at the window sill and something caught my eye. Both times that night I’d swung my leg through the window without touching the sill yet there were scrapes on the sill. Tiny ones in the otherwise perfect paint job.

Crystal knelt beside the window sill, noticing the same thing, “Did you?”

I shook my head emphatically, “No, wasn’t me.”

She ran a finger over the marks. “They’re deeper than they look.”

I touched them and came to the same conclusion. “Yeah”

Touching them gave me an eerie feeling similar to the one I’d had when I saw that shadow. Not nearly so strong but definitely there.

I retraced my steps, even pretending to pick up Pepe again. I noticed the scuff mark from my shoes as I’d stumbled. A few feet in front of them was another mark. I knelt and looked closely.

The crime scene guys had scraped it, for a sample, I guess. They had taken the clothes I’d been wearing that night including my shoes so they’d have them to compare but this wasn’t going to match. I hadn’t dug in my heel as whoever or whatever killed Mr J had done.

Crystal was kneeling beside me. “Not the same – not yours?” she asked.

I shook my head, too intent on the mark to note how astute she was. “No, couldn’t be – I ran in, not out.”

She touched the mark and I swear she shivered a bit but said nothing.

We moved on into the bedroom. Melissa had straightened up after the mess the EMT’s had left. The room looked just like it had, except that Mr J wasn’t here. Crystal pointed to his chair, “That one, wasn’t it?”

Now I looked at her, “How did you?”

“The arm – the upholstery has been removed.”

She was right; the crime scene guys had cut a huge chunk of the pale blue upholstery material out of the armrest. I walked over, considering. “I don’t remember seeing any blood on it…”

“Was his arm on it?” Crystal asked.

I thought for a second then nodded, “Yeah, it was. Strange, it was just laying there like…” I knelt to look at the front of the armrest. The cloth had a definite nap and it was going in the wrong direction in three little areas like Mr J had dug his fingers in.

“He gripped it.” Crystal offered.

I nodded, “Yeah…” I got up and looked closely at the headrest. I distinctly remembered seeing blood on Mr. J’s collar but there was no sign on the headrest and the crime scene guys hadn’t cut it up. “Weird, they didn’t find…”

“Blood?” Crystal asked.

I nodded. “He had a little on his collar. Guess it was from earlier…”

“Did he normally shave at night?”

I shook my head, realizing she was right. That didn’t make sense. But if it happened during the murder, shouldn’t it be on the chair by his head instead of his arm?

Crystal touched the armrest and stared at the chair. Then she said what I was already thinking, “How do you kill someone and leave blood on his collar but not the headrest yet get it under his arm? Defensive wounds might explain the arm but not the collar.”

“Mr J was huge and strong as an ox but there was no sign of a fight and none of us heard anything. Mr Elmore downstairs can usually hear everything going on in this place but he said he never heard a thing.” I told her.

We went over the whole place and found nothing else. Of course, the cops had seen everything we had and they were better detectives than I’d ever be but I had still needed to see for myself. I wanted that thing caught and still had the creepiest feeling that it wasn’t a normal killer. Well, maybe I wasn’t a detective but I was about to learn.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 6

Poppa and Momma took the youngest in the car while I drove the older kids in a rented van. Our clan had outgrown any single car years ago which rarely mattered since we could get anywhere we needed on the bus or subway. But the funeral home was out in the suburbs and the cemetery even further away making driving a necessity.

Three of Mr J’s kids joined us in the van. Mary sat beside me in the front. It was awkward; neither of us could think of anything to say. I’ve known Mary most of my life but the whole trip it felt like a stranger sitting beside me.

I kept my mind on driving until we got there. Then I was busy with getting everyone inside and seated. Then with finding the bathroom and ushering my three youngest siblings there and back. Then with getting Momma some water. Heck, I even helped a young boy I’d never met get up to sign the guestbook – anything to not have to sit there and think.

Once the funeral got started, sitting there was all I could do. The more they talked about him, the more I missed the old man. Carla, his second oldest girl, got up and told a really funny story about a Halloween prank we kids tried to play on him one year and how he’d turned it around on us. I remembered it – he had us convinced that the building was haunted. I looked around at Poppa, remembering that he had helped Mr. J with that. Poppa was laughing at Carla’s impression of the ghost, but the tears running down his cheeks weren’t from laughter. I looked at the program, trying not to tear it into bits from the frustration.

Most of us stood up when the time came to tell how much he meant to us. I told how he helped me learn how to make a doghouse for shop class. Dumb story but it was the only one that came to mind – at least the only one I knew wouldn’t make me start crying while I told it.

The drive to the graveside was even quieter than the one to the funeral. The priest said a few words and we all filed by, dropping mums on the casket. They had been his wife’s favorites before she passed and he’d always had a pot or two in the window so mums meant more to the Jenkins’ than roses would have. It made sense, the only thing about his death that did.

Mary started crying on the way home and Carla and my sister Donna comforted her the best they could. We were two thirds of the way there when she finally got it under control. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame her a bit, but I wasn’t in great shape myself and wasn’t sure I could take much more. There wasn’t anything I could fix and nothing I could hit and I desperately needed to do one or the other.

We all fell silent. That was worse than the crying. Suddenly, I found myself talking, rambling really. Anything to break that awful silence.

"So, listen, Mary, I invited the new folks from across the street. They’re good people, I think your dad would have liked them. Mr and Mrs Abernathy and their daughter Crystal. She came by this morning. Momma fixed eggs and bacon. She had to leave when Tina stopped up the plumbing."

If I hadn’t been driving Donna would have elbowed my ribs but good. Even I was wondering what was wrong with me. Mary gaped at me, then leaned back and howled with laughter. The whole van soon joined in. I started snickering at myself, too.

Things were busy getting ready for guests once we got home. Mary couldn’t look at me without laughing. Momma gave her a worried look so I ended up explaining it to Momma. Then to Poppa because Momma was worried about me. Then to Tina who was incensed that I’d mentioned her name in conjunction with plumbing. I was in the process of chasing off my two youngest brothers who wanted me to explain it to them when the bell rang.

The Abernathy’s were at the door. I’d never before seen Crystal in a dress. Man, she was gorgeous. For the first time, I appreciated my Momma’s insistence on good manners – mine kicked in before I embarrassed myself more by gaping at her. Following them into the parlor, I wondered if anything had ever before been so beautiful as that girl in that summer dress.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 5

Crystal smiled wanly, "I have to get home anyway. I’ll see you later, okay?"

I nodded, "Yeah, I’d like that. Sorry it’s so crazy right now."

She laughed merrily, "Don’t be, I never had brothers and sisters so it’s been fun for me." She paused, "I’m sorry, that came out wrong…"

I shook my head, "Nah, it’s fine. I get it. Hey, why don’t you come by this afternoon? You can meet Mr. J’s family and the rest of the neighborhood. Bring your folks…"

"We didn’t even know him…" she protested.

I smiled for real, "Mr. J would have invited you himself if he could have. He was that kind of guy. He’d have liked it, I promise. You can ask Mary when she gets here."

"Mary?"

"His eldest daughter. She used to babysit most of us – me included."

"Jack! It’s getting on the floor!" Tina’s voice was tinged with panic. My youngest sister did not deal well with ‘messy’ in any form and an overflowing toilet was a nightmare to her.

Crystal pushed me toward the door, "Go save your sister. I’ll ask my parents…"

We said quick good byes as she headed for the front and I made for the bath.

I didn’t have time to think about anything for the next few hours. Having rescued my plunger adverse sister from a fate worse than death I was then called on to corral my father who was ‘fixing’ the car. He had legitimately checked on the near failing battery but had begun to try to take care of the starter while he was at it. Mike had managed to keep him out from under the car – Momma would have killed them both if Poppa had come in dirty – but couldn’t convince him to stop tinkering with everything.

"Poppa, Momma says come in and get ready." I told my father’s back which was all that was visible from under the hood.

"I just want to check the plug wires." He muttered.

"Poppa! Come on!" Mike cajoled.

Mike was too young yet to realize that whining didn’t work, at least not for this. I wordlessly shooed him away and carefully poked my own head under the hood, "Poppa?"

He stopped, looking away at the power steering fluid, "Yes, son?"

I put my hand on his back. He was trying to hide it but his voice was cracking from the strain. "It’s time, Poppa."

Poppa had never looked old to me before. He only had a touch of gray in his otherwise coal black hair. It only accented his jovial face; it never made him look old. But as he turned to me he seemed to age a thousand years. I knew then Poppa had lost the best friend he’d ever had. I also knew I would find whatever it was that killed Mr. J. I guess I’d always known, deep down, that I’d never be able to let it go. Now, I knew for sure.

I helped Poppa close up the hood and followed him into the house, despising that thing more than ever.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 4

The next few days were a blur. Mr. Jenkins daughter Carla flew in from Milwaukee. His son John came in from Delaware. His daughter Michelle drove in from Philly. His youngest daughter Elaine flew all the way from Washington state. I remember mostly because my brother Tim and I were in charge of picking people up from the airport. Michelle’s car broke down in Hoboken so Tim and I had gone and gotten her there, which is why I remember her. Mr. Jenkins had six kids total but Mary and James drove themselves so I don’t remember where they came from.

That’s about all I remember from those days anyway. Kevin locked himself in his room and only came out to eat. Marty normally stayed in the same room with Kevin but bunked at my place to give Kevin some time. Marty woke me up once. The last time I’d heard Marty cry he had been eight. I wonder now if I didn’t wake Marty a few times the same way.

The next thing I really remember was the morning of the funeral. I was late getting to breakfast  because neither Marty nor I could remember how to tie a Windsor and neither of us was willing to admit that to Momma right then. Marty finally figured it out and both of our ties were fairly straight when we walked into Momma’s kitchen. 

Our house is always a sea of people, all the more so at mealtimes. It’s normal for our eleven member family to be joined by whatever friends, special friends, occasional relatives and even tenants that happened by. It’s also not that easy to spot a new face in the waves of heads usually bobbing around the table.  Marty walked on in oblivious to our visitor but I spotted her instantly. 

I grinned as I grabbed a piece of toast and elbowed my way past my youngest brother Mike to sit next to the lovely redhead that had joined our clan. It came as a welcome relief and I felt normal for the first time in days. Normal, and flirty, despite the somber day. 

“So, come here often?” I asked as innocently as I could manage. 

Crystal started but recovered fast, “No, it’s my first time. Any recommendations?” 

“Try the toast, it’s good so far.” 

“I’ll do that.” She answered coyly. 

Chuckling, I loaded my plate. “So, what brings you here this morning?” 

Crystal became serious, “I met your sister…” 

“Tina!” my younger sister piped her name across the table. 

Crystal grinned apologetically, “Sorry Tina.” She told my sibling then continued her story,  ‘At the grocery store the other day and she told me about what happened.  I came by to say how sorry I am for your loss and your Mom asked me to stay for breakfast.” 

“Which you should eat.” Momma chimed in. My Momma weighs 98 pounds soaking wet. All of her boys could lift her by the time we each turned twelve and yet she is convinced that everyone else on the planet is in danger of starvation.  Crystal was a big girl, curvy in all the right places with enough left over to  fill in those places. She was in no danger of instant starvation but she dutifully put a few bites where they belonged to please Momma.  I grinned, liking her more than ever. 

Breakfast was rushed by our standards. An hour later Crystal was helping me and Marty put up the dishes. Momma had gotten down the good plates so Crystal and I were handing plates to Marty as he stood on the counter to reach the high shelf. Momma wouldn’t let her help with doing the dishes and Crystal’s Southern manners demanded that she do something, so passing plates to me for me to pass to Marty was it. The last plate went up and Marty hopped off the counter.  He promptly made himself scarce, God bless him. 

Crystal  grew quiet as she pulled out a small package from her bag, “Tina said Mr. Jenkins was like family so it seemed appropriate…” 

I openned the little gift, “Pink Pandas?” I said in surprise. 

Crystal seemed suddenly unsure of herself. “Did I get it wrong? I thought you mentioned liking them the other day…” 

I shook my head, “No, no, you got it right. But they haved insanely short runs. How’d you ever manage to find an album?” 

She smiled warmly, “Oh, Daddy is in distribution. He knows the guy distributes for them.  He found it for me. I hope you like it – I didn’t know if you already had that one or not.” 

It was my turn to be a bit embarrassed, “Honestly, I like them but I’ve never been able to get an album before. Thank you very much.” 

She shrugged and started to speak when Tina’s voice broke the moment, “Jack, the thing is stopped up and Poppa is working on the car…”

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 3

The mass of confusion that trying to call the cops set off in my large family was matched by the confusion I felt. I had no answers for my brothers demanding to know why I’d run up the fire escape to begin with or for my parents demanding to know how I knew Mr Jenkins was dead. While we waited for the police Poppa took his master key and went to see for himself. He came back down, shaking his head and trying not to look as shaken as he obviously was.

I just sat at the table numb to the world around me. I could only hear the chattering of my excited family. I couldn’t understand a word they said. Nothing made sense. How had I known? What was it about that shadow passing overhead that made me so sure something was wrong? And what on Earth had happened to that old man?

I finally heard Officer O’Malley’s voice calling to me. I looked up into those big, blue, Irish eyes and for a second it all seemed like a dream. But it was more of a long, drawn out nightmare. I found out later that the cops had already been upstairs and back down when O’Malley started talking to me. At the time I kept thinking it was weird that they hadn’t gone up yet. Travis, the rookie O’Malley was training, looked like he’d seen a ghost. Momma had to show him the bathroom.

Hearing the officer through my folk’s paper thin walls had an effect on me – a bad one. He came out and I ran in. As I was losing all of my supper I kept thinking, Why? Why would anyone hurt that old man? How could this have happened?

Three hours later, having answered every question both officers and two more detectives could put to me, I still had no answers to the ones that were eating my soul. Old Man Jenkins had lived in my parent’s building since before they’d bought it. He’d helped Poppa fix just about everything and acted as the super when my parents weren’t home. He was the closest thing to an uncle we’d ever had. He would play at being grumpy but every kid in the building knew it was an act. He was the guy you could go to when you couldn’t go to your parents. Big as an ox, he never hurt a soul – why would anyone ever hurt him?

Or was it an ‘anyone’? That shadow had leapt off the fire escape into midair and vanished. No human could do that. I hadn’t shared that with the cops – I’d had a hard enough time explaining why I’d run up the fire escape. They weren’t impressed with ‘I thought I saw something up there’ and truth was, neither was I. Technically true, but not really true – I had had that feeling again. Like I heard something even though I hadn’t. There was something sinister about that shadow – but it was something I could never put into words.

It was late when I crawled into my own bed in my apartment. Marty was on my couch because Momma was worried about me. I hadn’t argued since I was almost as worried as she was. What was wrong with me? Was I losing my mind? In the dark recesses of my brain, there was an idea that I didn’t want to consider. I felt sure that if I did, I’d know what that thing was. I was equally sure I’d go totally insane if I did. Exhaustion won and I was asleep before I could decide which was worse.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale, Part 2

Well, there was one thing I should go on and mention now. It happened when I was twelve. At the time, I didn’t think much about it but now I realize it was the first indication that I wasn’t going to have a normal life.

My kid brother Tim and I were playing ball in an empty lot with a bunch of our friends. The game was tied up and Tim was at bat. Micky Schwarz was pitching. Normally, Micky is okay but sometimes he just gets mean. That day he decided if he couldn’t strike Tim out he’d settle for walking him – evidently to the ER. Darn fool threw that ball for all he was worth straight at Tim’s head.

I was sitting on the ground facing away from the game, being more interested in Mary Kirkpatrick than my brother’s batting, when I heard something. It wasn’t rightly a sound and definitely wasn’t a voice but it was something I couldn’t ignore. I was on my feet and tackling my brother before I knew I was going to move. Next thing I knew the guys were pulling me off Micky. Somehow, I’d known Tim was in trouble and that Micky did it on purpose. But for the life of me, I didn’t know how I’d known.

I wondered about it occasionally over the years – it was pretty weird, after all. But I hadn’t had anything else happen like it until the night of my twenty-first birthday. The night my life changed forever.

It had been a nice, sunny day. Nice more because of the family moving in across the street than because of the sun. Specifically, the gorgeous red head with the lovely smile and the very lovely body to go with it. I’d just come out of our building when the truck pulled up. It was a good thing I’d taken the day off because otherwise it would have been hard to explain to my boss why I was more interested in helping unload that moving truck than coming in to work. Would have been worth it, though.

The red head’s name was Crystal Jean Abernathy previously of Tyler, Mississippi. She had a charming Southern drawl that would have annoyed me coming from anyone else. She also had an infectious laugh that would never annoy me even if she tried. Her folks had me to lunch to thank me for my help and her Dad had me to ‘help’ him with something in the back of their new brownstone until he was sure how honorable my intentions were. Mind you, I was raised better than have dishonorable intentions but after hearing that laugh, I couldn’t have treated Crystal badly even if I hadn’t known better.

I probably would have stayed ’til supper but Momma was expecting me home for my birthday so I finally managed to say good bye around three. My two youngest brothers were heckling me as soon as I walked in the door, not that I noticed. I barely noticed the double chocolate cake Momma had made for me. My mind was still across the street with Crystal.

It was late evening and I was sitting on the fire escape outside what had been my room which was now Tim’s room, Tim being the second oldest boy. Tim, Kevin and Marty were in the room and we were all taking turns playing Marty’s new guitar. It was a beat up old thing the pawn shop guy had given Marty a good deal on and Marty and Tim had fixed it up decently. It sounded surprisingly sweet, especially where I was on the fire escape. I took my turn, strumming some old country tune Poppa liked but couldn’t ever remember the name of, leaning back on the railing and looking up through the alley at the few visible stars. It was nice.

And then it wasn’t. Something dark passed over, coming out of Old Man Jenkins’ apartment and disappearing into the night. It was fast, too fast to be human yet I’d have sworn it looked like a man. I was moving before I knew what I was doing, dropping the guitar and bolting up the stair toward Mr Jenkins’ window.

The window was open and I stopped. It felt all wrong. I felt wrong – common sense said call and see if the old man was okay. But every fiber in my body screamed for me to chase that thing. Chase it where? I’m four flights up and going the way it did means a very nasty meeting with the alley pavement four stories down. Yet I had to force myself not to jump off the fire escape in the direction it had fled.

Tim called to me, three flights below. I glanced down to see my three brothers coming up after me. I remember thinking they were taking their time when it fact they were running up the stair as fast as they could, just a lot slower than I had.

I shook my head at him and turned to the window. “Mr. Jenkins?” I called. There was no reply.

I yelled back down to Tim “Was Mr. Jenkins home earlier?”

Tim nodded, “Yeah, he paid Poppa on his way up tonight. I carried his groceries…”

I turned back to the window, ignoring whatever else my brother was saying, “Mr J, I’m coming in!” I hollered as I climbed in his window.

It bothered me. He hated leaving that window open. Said the kids kept crawling in, which was probably true. Why would it be open?

Inside, I stumbled over something trying to get to the light switch. Pepe, his Schnauzer, whimpered and I reached down and picked him up. In the moonlit room, I couldn’t see the black pooch but I had no trouble grabbing him or finding the light switch.

The room was empty. A bowl of fruit on the table nearest the window was overturned. I liked that even less, knowing I’d stumbled on Pepe and not the table.

“Mr J! Answer me!” I bellowed. Pepe whined and struggled to get down. I dropped him and he beelined for the bedroom as fast as his toy legs would carry him. I followed.

I’d never seen anything like it before. Mr J was sitting on the chair in the corner of his bedroom. He had been a construction worker and was the ruddiest man I ever knew, but in the harsh light of the bare bulb he was ghostly white. I knew instantly he was dead. I also knew it wasn’t a natural death but I couldn’t say then how I knew.

I caught Pepe before he could climb into his dead master’s lap. Mr J looked anything but peaceful. The terror was still etched on his face. But what really caught my attention was the little trickle of dried blood on his collar.

Tim and Marty were calling my name, closer now. I took Pepe and ran back to the window I’d come in. Marty had just reached it and I waved him off.

“Don’t come in here!” I ordered.

“Why? What the…” Marty tried to ask.

“Just don’t. We gotta get back down and call the cops.”

Tim and Kevin reached the landing, both huffing from the fast climb. Kevin looked at me, understanding instinctively, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

I didn’t want to tell him. Kevin loved that old man more than any of us, but I couldn’t lie to him. “Yeah…”

The look on Kevin’s face would stay with me the rest of my life. Whatever that shadow thing was, I’d instinctively disliked it. Now I hated it.

“Come on, we gotta get down…” was all I could manage to say.

True Slayers: A Boy’s Tale

My name’s Jack. Momma wanted something German and Poppa wanted something Italian. They had such a big fight at the hospital that the nurse just wrote down ‘Jack’ and that was the end of it. That’s the story, anyway. Truth is probably that they just liked the name but my parents never could resist the urge to embellish anything they got their hands on. The stenciled front hall of their brownstone should be proof enough of that. They literally stenciled every inch of plaster and woodwork in the place. It looks like something a Dutch hippie on LSD might have created – so my parents love it.

They actually own the whole building. The story of how they became owners from superintendents is long, flowery and probably not true. In reality, my parents are the hardest workers you’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Momma still – she even moves in her sleep. Poppa isn’t happy unless he’s ‘fixing’ something. Fortunately, he’s good at it because he can’t seem to ever decide that anything is actually fixed.

It was a good place to grow up – as good a place as New York has, I suppose. I’m the oldest of nine. My parents might be hippies but they weren’t much into birth control. Somehow they came to the conclusion that big families were more natural so while their friends were having abortions to save the planet from overpopulation, they were having babies to make the world a better place.

Sometime when I was eleven the last of their hippie friends stopped coming around. Maybe because my parents refused to do drugs – not natural enough – or because they both worked two jobs – needed to keep busy – or because they steadfastly refused to quit having kids – whatever the reason, from then on my hippie parents had working class friends. It was the best time of my life. I was always the laid back kid but even I had limits. Never have understood why hippies refuse to bathe but they do and I haven’t missed having smelly overgrown kids lazing around while my parents worked.

My parents, despite being hippies, were always firmly committed to bathing. Gotta admit, Momma telling me to get in the tub so I didn’t end up smelling like Uncle Siggy was enough to get me in the bath every day since.

I guess from watching my parents, or because my allowance was never big enough, I learned how to work hard. I moved out when I was eighteen. I had a couple jobs and could afford one of my parent’s apartments. I still live in it. It’s convenient when the folks need me and nice to be out of the madhouse when I need to be alone.

You’re wondering what all this has to do with anything. Well, I figure you can’t really know someone without knowing where they come from. And since I can only tell this from my side, you may as well know a bit about me.

We lived on the East side. Not the nicest neighborhood but not the worst. I got into my share of trouble – what kid didn’t – and I spent too much time on the streets. Poppa caught me hustling when I was twelve and I thought he was gonna kill me. I learned the difference between honest work and dishonest work that day. Since I’m fond of my ability to sit down, I opted for honest labor.

Not that I didn’t find the hustlers and gangs appealing – every boy that age thinks crooks are cool. I was no different but unlike most of my friends, I had the kind of parents that don’t just let you do what you want. Fifteen years later, I have a place of my own, a good job, and am doing pretty well. Several of my friends are dead and a couple wish they were. I hated my parents for being such goody-goodies back then; now I thank God for them.

See, my hippie parents with their big half German, half Italian family and their weird work ethic and insistence that their kids do right even when it wasn’t very hippie-like, all that stuff made me me, you know? I grew up surrounded by a kind of grounded weirdness. I guess that’s why it wasn’t so hard to take it when the really weird stuff showed up.