April 2009

When I was a kid, if I ever got a cut on my foot or on my hand, my mom would make me soak it in hot, hot, HOT water with Epsom Salts for an hour a night for week. That shit would sting like the dickens! She never made me do this when I got cuts on my arms or legs…only when they were on my feet or hands. She would insist that if I didn’t do this, my “wound” would get a red ring around it. I was told that this red ring would become a red line that would follow a vein back to my heart and if I didn’t stop the progress of this red line…if that red line succeeded in making it all the way to my heart, my heart would EXPLODE!!! Man, I hated the Epsom Salts.

In a separate issue, I was warned about the possibility of getting rabies if I were to ever touch any kind of dead animal. And, if I got rabies, the ONLY way to cure it would to get 15 shots RIGHT IN THE BELLY BUTTON with a needle that was about the width of a pencil. That put the fear of God into me. I absolutely HATE any kind of contact with my belly button. Even watching those Pillsbury commercials, I would cringe when one of the commercial people poked the Doughboy in his belly. Just the thought of someone jabbing a spear into my belly button was enough to ensure I didn’t touch anything that was dead.

And I needed to be aware of my surroundings when I was playing, because if I were to ever step on a rusty nail or anything like that, not only would I get the Epsom Salt treatment…I could also get lockjaw and end up starving to death.

Along with these medical catastrophe warnings that were designed to modify my behavior through fear, there were always the things that “couldn’t be done.” Did your parents ever tell you that you couldn’t do something…for no other reason than it simply couldn’t be done? I’m not talking about things that had a consequence, such as “You can’t drink a gallon of Drano expect to live to tell about it.” That makes perfect sense. I’m talking more about things that are supposed to be “impossible.”

I know I didn’t explain that very well, so I’m just going to have to use an example. Let’s choose…oh, I don’t know…going to a wedding. I would want to wear gym shoes. My mom would say, “You can’t wear gym shoes to the wedding.”

“Why not?”

“You just can’t.”

Now, it’s important for you to realize that she was NOT telling me this in a “I’m-not-permitting-you” way. This had all the definite inflection and tone of a “It’s-a-matter-of-fact-and-I-can’t-believe-you-would-ever-think-such-a-thing-was-possible.” Kinda like “You can’t teleport to Rome……teleportation doesn’t exist.”

When I was younger (like 8 or 9), I just accepted it. “Oh, you can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding? Ok, then.”

It really confused me when, at the wedding, I saw plenty of people in jeans and gym shoes. They still looked nice, with a collard shirt and all, but they weren’t in dress shoes or slacks.

When I got older, I started asking her questions.

“You can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding.”

“What do you mean I can’t? What will happen?”

“You just can’t do it.” Again, it was with the tone of something like, “You can’t teleport.”

“Why not? Will my feet melt off my body? Is there some sort of force field keeping out those people who wear gym shoes? Why can’t I?”

“You just can’t.”

Eventually, I learned that this type of thing meant, “It’s just not right or socially acceptable. I don’t agree with it. Although people do it, I would prefer that you, my son, did not,” although I don’t understand why she never just came right out and said this.

I briefly doubted my epiphany on this matter once when, amid my mom’s declarations of “You can’t do that,” I went outside in winter without a coat. The look on her face seemed to say, “What…what is this magic that allows you to do this?” That really threw me for a loop for quite a while but, as I got older still, I figured out that look was her realizing that I was taking control of my own life and testing boundaries. When I remember that look today, I see it as her realization that she was not going to protect me forever and I would make mistakes in my life that she was going to be powerless to prevent.


I moved out of my parents’ house in 1992. My parents sold their house and moved to a new one in 1993. In April of 2008, the people living in my childhood home were the third owners of that house since my parents sold it. And they were putting it up for sale.

There was an Open House scheduled. Now, I had no real desire to walk through and look at the house, because it’s not mine anymore and there would be no point. After 17 years, many things would be different and it just wouldn’t be the house that I remember…so why do it? You can’t go home again.

But…..my mom wanted to go have a look so I said that I would go with her. The changes that were made were quite glaring. But that was to be expected. My mom, however, seemed distraught by the changes. It had hard wood floors instead of carpeting, our living room was now the dining room and vice versa, and the bathrooms and the kitchen had been TOTALLY redone. My mom was particularly concerned with the whole living room / dining room thing, and kept lamenting about it long after we left.

But I was surprised at some of the things that were exactly the same as I remember. For instance, the carpet on the stairs going from the 1st to 2nd floor was the same carpet (and time had certainly taken its toll), the wallpaper inside the closet of the room that was mine was the same, as was the glass covering of the light fixture in the upstairs bathroom.

But it’s what I saw in the basement that was really unexpected and surprising to me. Above the little storage area underneath the basement steps, hung on a hook, was my old, plastic, personalized light switch cover plate. It has a drawing of a boy on the left hand side, and above the little rectangle where the switch would be is my name. Of course, that was not where I had last seen the cover plate. When I moved out, it was still performing its duty for which it had been designed in my old bedroom. My mom said that they never took it off the wall when they moved out.

So to sum up…through 3 different owners and over the course of 15 years, that plastic wall switch cover plate of mine had remained in that house. I don’t know if it had been in different places in the house over the years, or if the people who bought it from my parents hung it there above the storage area. But it was just stunning to me that after all that time it was even still there and in a quite accessible place.

About a week later, I e-mailed the realtor who was selling the house. I told him who I was, why I had gone through the house, what I had found, and asked about the possibility of reclaiming that personalized, plastic light switch cover. The realtor e-mailed me back and told me that he had forwarded my e-mail to the owners of the house and he would let me know. Two weeks went by, and I didn’t hear anything.

So I took matters into my own hands and wrote a letter to the owners of the house. I didn’t know their names, so I addressed the envelope to Owners. I, again, explained who I was, why I had gone through the house, what I had found, and asked about the possibility of reclaiming that personalized, plastic light switch cover.

A week and a half later, I received a bubble-envelope in the mail. Inside it was the light switch cover. I immediately went to my bedroom, removed the current light switch cover plate and put my old one on. Unfortunately, it was warped and bowed and did not fit flush against the wall (except for where it was screwed in). For the past year, I’ve had it in my garage lying underneath a rather heavy landscaping stone in an attempt to flatten it out again. It hasn’t happened yet.

Way back in 1980, the movie The Empire Strikes Back was released. In this movie, Luke Skywalker, at the behest of the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi, travels to the planet Dagobah to learn the ways of The Force from the ancient Jedi, Yoda.

After my friends and I saw this movie, we constructed our own Jedi Training Regimen. First thing we did was spend our allowance money on some brooms. See, back then, all brooms had wooden handles. We sawed off the handles and they became our lightsabers. We would have sword fights with them and constantly had bruises all over our bodies from where we had been hit. But as time went on, we learned how each other fought and the bruises lessened (but still happened).

We would also have Deflection Training. This entailed one of us standing there with his lightsaber while the others (up to 5) stood 15-20 feet away and whizzed tennis balls at him. The object for the lone Jedi was to not get hit, either by dodging the balls or deflecting them with the lightsaber/broomstick. That person was “out” when he let himself get hit by 10 tennis balls.

I ended up being particularly good at this. Of all of us, I was the one who could consistently last the longest amount of time dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and deflecting. It’s weird to say, but I was so focused on where those balls were that they seemed to be moving in slow motion. I also began to recognize patterns of how people attacked. Bill would typically throw 2 low balls and then a high, John would alternate high low, etc. Because of all those things, I was able to make educated guesses as to where the balls were headed and whether or not I should deflect or avoid.

There were other trainings that we did, but they don’t have any impact on what the late Paul Harvey would call…“the rest of the story.”

A few years ago, I was heavily involved in the racquetball league at the YMCA. We were 15 matches into the 17-match “season” and I hadn’t won a single game. By the way, 1 match = 3 games. Yeah, I was losing a lot. They’d been pretty decisive losses, too, with scores like 15-2, 15-0, 15-4, blah blah blah. I just wasn’t able to “read” where the ball was going and whenever I COULD get to the ball, it was all I can do to just keep it in play…nevermind being able to control where I might want it to go. I kept a decent attitude about the whole thing, opting for the “At least I’m getting a lot of exercise” take on the whole issue. And it was true. I’d would be exhausted from running all over the place trying to get to the ball.

It just so happened that one weekend during this time, Cinemax aired (can you call it “aired” if it’s cable?) all six Star Wars movies back to back to back to back to back to back…for the ENTIRE weekend. It began at midnight Friday night/Saturday morning and ended Monday morning at 7:40am. Because my wife and daughters were on a Girl Scout campout that weekend, my son and I were able to watch all of the movies. Despite being a huge Star Wars geek, there was no way I was going to be able to watch all six straight through, so we watched Episodes 1, 2, and 3 on one day and Episodes 4, 5 and 6 the next day. The whole weekend we lived and breathed Star Wars…the movies, video games, legos, comic books….it was all Star Wars.

So, Monday night at racquetball, Star Wars was still fresh in my mind. As I stood there waiting for my opponent to serve, I decided to treat this as a Jedi training session…just to have fun a relive a little bit of my childhood.

Wow, what a difference!

I wasn’t out of position, I wasn’t rushing to get to the ball, I had more time to decide how and where I was going to hit the ball instead of smacking at it out of desperation and at the end I was less tired. I still lost all three games, but the scores were 15-12, 15-13, 15-13.

Since then, I’ve played many more games. As it goes with games, I’ve won some and I’ve lost some. But my losses have never been as epic as before.

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