There was a new teacher on faculty my sophomore year in high school.  Her name was Ms. Wasserbauer, and she was hired to be the German language teacher.  I’m not sure what happened to the old German language teacher.  Maybe he left or maybe the school needed a second teacher because of the amount of students enrolled in German class.  I don’t really know.  I didn’t take German.  But Ms. Wasserbauer also taught World History, and I was in that class.

At the start of the first class of the year with this woman, she introduced herself.  “Hallo und begrüßt meine Klasse. Mein Name ist Frau Wasserbauer, und ich bin aufgeregt, um Sie als meine Studenten zu haben.”

Everyone in the class just kind of looked at her in silence.  We all wore the same expression on our face.  You know the one:  that confused look with polite smile that says “OK, this is strange.  What the fuck is going on here?”

Ms. Wasserbauer spoke again.  ”Verstehen Sie mich nicht? Nicht?”

Another awkward silence permeated the room.

Then, badly acting as though she reached an epiphany, Ms. Wasserbauer said, “Oh my.  This isn’t my German class.  This is World History.  I apologize.  Let me start over.  Hello and welcome to my class.  My name is Frau Wasserbauer and I am excited to have you all as my students.  Before I learn your names, I’d like to tell you about mine.  I am of German descent and my name, Wasserbauer, means ‘water farmer.’  Even though this is not German class, I would like you all to address me as Frau Wasserbauer.”

It was painfully obvious, even to a 15 year old, what she was trying to do:  Start with a joke in order to warm up the audience.    The only thing was, this wasn’t particularly clever or natural.  And it fell very flat.

I don’t know what her experience as a teacher was, but she did not come across as a teacher who knew how to handle a class of 28.  It felt like she was a substitute teacher and her class was just something to do before going to the next, real class.  And it continued to have that kind of feel for the whole year. 

One fine day in World History class, she asked us to put our notebooks away and get our textbooks out because we were going to read and talk about Darwin and the theory of evolution.  As I put my textbook on my desk, I noticed my pen cap was in the groove at the top of the desk.  I grabbed it to put it on my pen which should have been in my bookbag, but I couldn’t find it.  I moved the books this way and that and I tried to feel around underneath them but no luck.  I became so engrossed in locating my pen that everything else became secondary.  I felt my pockets and looked around on the floor before returning to the bookbag on the floor.  I took the notebooks and books out one by one looking for the pen, and I was vaguely aware that the teacher was talking about the lesson but at that moment I was all about locating my pen.   I continued to dig around in my book bag, and checked the small zippered compartment on the side.  I looked all around my desk and felt my pockets again.


My attention was jolted back to the classroom and I slowly straightened up in my chair.  “Yes?”

“Perhaps *you* would like to explain the theory of evolution to the class?”

Now…I hardly did any extra-curricular activities during my 4 years of high school.  For me, it was enough to just be there for 6 hours each day.  School newspaper, debate team, band, student union, student council…I didn’t do any of it.  On several occasions, the gym teacher had suggested that I think about trying out for the track team or the baseball team but I never entertained the idea for even a minute.  The time that I had between dismissal and sleep was mine and I didn’t want to abandon it by continuing to be associated with school for several hours after classes.

However, I *was*in the drama club my sophomore year.  I got involved with that because my girlfriend was in it and, like all that are young and “in love”, I thought it would be fun to hang around with her as much as possible.  They play we did that fall, which a few of my Facebook Friends were also in, was “Inherit The Wind.”  If you’re not familiar with the play, it is a fictional account based on the Scopes Monkey Trial, which resulted in a teacher’s conviction for teaching evolution to a high school science class, which was against Tennessee state law.   I was cast in the role of “Howard”, one of the students who had been exposed to the lessons of “eviloution.”  At one point in the play, my character was put on the witness stand to testify as to what he was taught.

Without missing a beat, I confidently answered Ms. Wasserbauer with my lines from the play.  “Well, at first the earth was too hot for any life.  Then it cooled off a mite, and cells and things begun to live.  Cells are little bugs like, in the water.  After that, the little bugs got to be bigger bugs, and sprouted legs and crawled up on the land.  All this took a couple million years.  Maybe even longer.  Then came the fishes and the reptiles and the mammals.  Man’s a mammal.”

People laughed and Ms. Wasserbauer’s face became a shade of red that I’ve never seen in any box of Crayola crayons.  She screamed and stormed out of the room, slamming the door and breaking the transom window above it as she departed.

An unspoken directive seemed to permeate the classroom.  Surely someone some other member of the faculty was going to come to the room and it would be very bad if we were out of control and having “social hour” after what just happened.  So, when Sister Collette entered the room she found a room full of quiet students silently working on class assignments as if it were a study hall.

Sister Collette was an old woman. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all to one day hear, during morning announcements, the sad news that she passed away over the weekend†.  She was rail-thin and had a staccato pattern of speech, each word being clear and distinct.

She surveyed the room a moment before asking the class, “What.  Happened.  Here?”

I raised my hand an offered the explanation.  “She asked me to explain the Theory of Evolution to the class.  I did.  And then she ran out.”

Several of the other students in the class confirmed my explanation and Sister Collette said, “Treat.  The.  Remainder.  Of.  This.  Class.  As.  A.  Study.  Hall…..Work.  On.  Something.  Quietly.”

She sat at the desk to supervise us for the remainder of the period.  I don’t know if Ms. Wasserbauer resumed her teaching duties for the other scheduled classes that day, or if those classes became study halls.  But she did return the following day.  I was amazed that she never addressed the incident in any way, shape or form.  Not to the class.  Not to me.  She behaved as if it never happened.  This, I suppose, was the best way to handle it.

I never had her for a teacher again after sophomore year.  To be honest, I don’t even know if she returned the following year or not.  But I’ll never forget the water farmer.

†As of this writing, Sister Collette is still employed at the school and working in the Alumni Office.

For as long as I can remember, there has been a fireworks display every July 4 at Ault Park.  The park was about a mile away from my childhood home and we would walk up to it every year.  It was great, because we could leave the house about an hour before the big event and not have to worry about finding  a good spot to park or have to stake out an area on the field.   And, even better than that, we never had to worry about fighting the traffic after the event was over.

In 1980, when I was 10 years old, I was invited to go with a classmate, Barbara, and her family.  They lived further away and had planned on making a day of it.  We left their house at 3pm, drove up to the general area, and parked about a quarter of a mile away.  I remember walking, each of us carrying an aluminum folding lawn chair and her parents carrying the blue plastic cooler between them.

I don’t remember actually arriving at and staking out our position on the lawn in the mall of the park.  I *do* remember being kind of upset because we couldn’t get to the playground because that portion of the park was blocked off for firework setup.  Barbara and I had to make our own fun.

We walked around other areas of the park and explored a little bit of the woods.  But the coolest thing, by far, was climbing the big wall of rock.  Barbara was too afraid to climb it so she stayed up at the top of the wall at the end of the mall and looked down at me as I climbed up.  I must’ve climbed that wall 7 or 8 times that day.  Until I fell off.

I had reached the summit and reached over the top of the wall to help pull myself up.  I must have grabbed a patch of moss or something because my hand slipped and I fell backward.  I landed on my feet and crouched into a summersault to roll with the impact.  Unfortunately, I smacked my face into my knees and cut my left thigh on a piece of broken glass that littered the ground at the base of the wall.

So there I was with a nose bleed and a two-inch cut on my thigh with a small part of muscle protruding out of it.  Barbara and I walked back to our spot in the mall on the lawn and her dad took one look at it and said, “You’re going to need stitches.  Let’s go find the police.”  We left Barbara and her mom and went in search of civil servants, which did not take long at all.

Apparently, the cut on my left was bad enough for the police to offer us a ride to the hospital, as the surrounding streets were closed off and we would be unable to drive the car even if we went to it.  So, Barbara’s dad and I were loaded into the back of a police cruiser and we were taken to a hospital.  On the way there, the police called dispatch who in turn, called my parents and told them which hospital I was going to.

I don’t remember how long it took to get there or even arriving at the hospital.  My next clear memory is sitting on a table getting a local anesthetic injected into my leg for the stitching.  My dad arrived and he came back to the room and talked with Barbara’s dad while the doctor stitched up my leg.  After everything was taken care of, we gave Barbara’s dad a ride back to the park.  We got him as close as we could before letting him out to walk the rest of the way.  My dad and I stopped at United Dairy Farmers for a chocolate ice cream in a sugar cone before heading home.

I didn’t get to see the fireworks that night.  And, to be honest, I wasn’t upset by that.  I was more worried about Barbara’s dad getting back to his family in time so they could all see the fireworks together.  I felt absolutely terrible inside.  Thankfully, after they had gotten home from the fireworks, Barbara’s mom called to see how I was and I learned that her dad made it back just in time.

Every time I pass that wall in Ault Park, I’m rocketed back to the moment where I got up off the ground and look down to see a part of my thigh muscle sticking out of my leg.  And I remember, clear as day, the sickness I felt while worrying that Barbara’s dad wouldn’t make it back in time.

When I was a kid I worried (a lot) that someone would break in to our house at night and I would be kidnapped.  I have no idea why I felt this way.  This was in the late 70’s…before Adam Walsh and before “I Know My First Name Is Steven”…and I can’t recall anything that would have sparked this fear.  While most kids avoided nighttime monsters by hiding completely under their monster repellant covers, I was worried about burglars ransacking our house and thinking that I would be a better haul than my mom’s jewelry.  I would have two pillows under the covers on either side of me as some sort of camouflage effort to make it appear as though there wasn’t a little boy in the bed.

There was one person that I was particularly afraid of: a villain from a movie who had no remorse, no concept of mercy, and would take what he wanted by any means necessary.  General Zod.

I remember kneeling on floor of my bedroom, staring for hours at a picture of General Zod in my Superman II Movie Book, committing the image to memory in case I ever saw him on the street and thinking, “There’s nothing I can do to stop him.”   The fact that he was a movie character never broke though my fear.  Why General Zod, who was bent on destroying Superman and ruling the world, would even need me…for anything…is just ridiculous.  But it didn’t seem so ridiculous back then.

As much of an impact the movie Star Wars had on me, and as much as Darth Vader deservers to be #1 on TimesOnline 50 Best Movie Villains List, it was General Zod who haunted a portion of my childhood.

Here’s a little story that will explain just how familiar I am with alcoholic drinks.

A while ago, my wife and I were invited out for dinner and drinks at Newport on the Levee.

For those who don’t know, Newport on the Levy is an entertainment complex that played a HUGE part in turning Newport, KY from “Cincinnati’s asshole” to one of the happening places to be. Newport, KY has done what Cincinnati has failed to do time and time again: turn their downtown area into someplace people want to go.

Anyway, we had never been to Newport on the Levee and we don’t normally get to go out and do stuff with friends all that much because the kids are involved in scouts, soccer, scouts, baseball, ballet, and basketball.  But we found a Friday night where we weren’t busy, dropped the kids off for a sleepover at Grandma’s, and we went to this place at Newport on the Levee called Jefferson Hall.

We sat down and ordered out drinks.  I ordered a Coke, my wife ordered a water, and the couple that we were with ordered beers.  My wife’s water and our friends’ beers came in these big 32 ounce plastic cups, but mine arrived in a 6-ounce glass tumbler.  I thought, “Well that’s odd. Surely, beer is more expensive than Coke, so why are their cups so much larger than mine? What a thing to skimp on.” On top of that, my drink came with a little swizzle straw. I thought, “OK, small glass, small straw.” I sucked a mouthful of drink through it and instantly thought, “Ugh, their Coke syrup isn’t working, it’s just carbonated water.” Then I swallowed, and it all became clear. I pushed it to the center of the table and proclaimed, “That isn’t Coke.”

I called the waitress back and explained that I hadn’t gotten what I ordered.  She asked, “Didn’t you order a rum and Coke?”

“No, just a Coke.”  I seriously kicked around the idea of pretending I was a recovering alcoholic and everything was now ruined, but I didn’t think I could pull it off.  We got it all straightened out and she brought me just a Coke, but that god-awful taste would not leave my mouth.  Even through the popcorn shrimp, the bacon cheese fries, the onion rings, and the ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery…that taste just would not go away.

I was getting closer and closer to vomiting and I needed to go home.  We said our good-byes and my wife drove while I was concentrating on not yakking everywhere.  Once we arrived home, I raced to the bathroom, slapped a big dollop of AquaFresh on my toothbrush and brushed my teeth for like 20 minutes.

God, it was awful.

Did anyone ever give you a nickname that upset you?

When I was little, there was a kid who lived up the street from me. His name was Donald Barrett. Donald and his little brother, Nick, were good friends of mine. It’s weird, but I can’t recall much of anything that we did TOGETHER, except for football or wiffle-ball in the front yard. I spent time with Nick, pretending to be a DJ as we listened to rock n roll records, swimming at the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s pool in Oakley, or shooting pool in his basement. I spent time with Donald playing with Star Wars figures, playing on the same baseball team (go Tom-E-Hawks) or pretending we were the band and singing along with the albums The Monkees and More of the Monkees.

I can’t remember the circumstances that led up to it but, one day, Donald called me a “baby chocolate cake.” And I swear you could hear the scratching sound of a record needle as the entire world came to a sudden and abrupt halt. There was about 3 seconds of complete and utter silence. And then I started crying. Somehow, this was so much worse than “dork” or “idiot” or “dumb bell.” Me? A baby chocolate cake? Really? Oh no! No no no NO!!!!!!!!

I don’t remember Donald leaving, although I’m sure he hightailed it outta there. I don’t remember how long I cried, but it felt like hours. I do remember that I was inconsolable as I sat in my mom’s lap and cried into her shoulder. It took some time for me to be able to explain what had happened because I would completely fall apart before I could get the words “baby chocolate cake” out of my mouth.

“And then he…::sniff::…and the he called…::deep breath::…and then he called me a babbbbbbwwaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Eventually I calmed down. Eventually I told her what happened. And eventually I got over it because, after all, it was just an isolated incident. But that’s not how kids are. Despite how good friendships are, kids know how to push other kids’ buttons and they’ll do it with or without any reason.

Over time, Donald’s insult graduated into something more than a simple name-calling. It became a taunt, whose sole purpose was to get a rise out of me. The singsong lilt of “Kevin is a baby chocolate caaaake” never once failed to make me cry my eyes out.

In 1980, when I was 10 years old and in the fourth grade, the movie The Empire Strikes Back was released. I spilled the beans to Donald that (SPOILER ALERT!) Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. He hadn’t seen the movie yet and he was mad at me. And rightly so! After all, that revelation eventually landed on Premiere magazine’s list of the 25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History.

I don’t know if that what was caused it but, after that, Donald and I didn’t hang around much anymore. “Kevin is a baby chocolate caaaake” it seemed, had simply disappeared. A couple years later, Donald graduated from 6th grade and moved on to 7th at Walnut Hills Jr. /Sr. High School. I moved onto 6th grade and, upon graduation, went to St. Mary for Junior High.

After completing 8th grade at St. Mary, I attended Purcell-Marian High School. It was there, in my freshman year, that I first met Dave VanBenschoten. A fellow freshman, we became acquainted through a mutual friend that I knew from St. Mary. I initially found him to be a bit odd due to his intelligence, but a sense of humor and a shared appreciation for Star Trek helped us become friends.

During my sophomore year and by way of my girlfriend at the time, I met Paul Findsen. He was a junior and quite possibly the tallest person I’d ever met who was also within my peer group. Possessed with creativity that I’m still somewhat envious of to this day, Paul had a sense of humor unlike any I’d experienced before. And he looked like David Bowie.

Paul, Dave, and I spent many a day discussing a variety of topics ranging anywhere and everywhere from Monty Python to Japanese swordplay to Star Trek. One particular day during my junior year, we were at Paul’s house when Paul told us of a computer game that he was having some trouble with. He couldn’t get past a certain point in the text-based adventure game Star Trek: The Promethean Prophecy and suggested we work together to try to figure it out.

We gathered around the computer and took turns being the captain, meaning the one in control of the keyboard and actually entering any commands. Paul was first, since it was his game and he had to familiarize us with the game. He got to The Troublesome Point in which the Enterprise is being attacked by a Romulan vessel. No matter what we tried, the enemy got the best of us and the Enterprise was destroyed. Game over.

Dave was next. Again, everything was fine and dandy up until The Troublesome Point where, despite several more suggestions from Paul and me, the Romulan enemy was victorious (again).

Finally, it was my turn. We wasted no time in getting to the Troublesome Point. The three of us reviewed past actions taken and didn’t thoughtlessly react to the events on the screen. During the battle, Spock reports the presence of a “data image” moving in conjunction with the enemy vessel. Paul suggested we fire torpedoes at the mysterious image. I typed the command into the computer and Lo! And Behold…the Romulan enemy was destroyed. From our excitement, you would have thought we had just cured cancer.

About a month or so later, Dave and I were sitting next to each other at work passing funny notes and drawings back and forth. The movie Spaceballs had recently been released and had us in the mindset of creating parodies of Star Wars and Star Trek. I liked the Eagle 5 (Winnebago spacecraft) from Spaceballs and I asked Dave, who was artistically inclined, to draw a picture of my car, a Volkswagen Beetle, with Star Trek warp engines attached to it. He did and gave it the following caption: Commanded by B.C. Cakes, the USS Entropy boldly goes where no man has gone before.

I don’t ever remember telling Dave about “baby chocolate cake” but, clearly, I must have. At first I was all, “Dude! What the fuck, man? Baby Chocolate Cakes?” but he thought it was fun and that I should get over it.

“Why not? Make it something other than some sort of dirty label.”

So that’s what I did. Paul and Dave and I created an entire Star Trek parody universe, complete with 15 short stories, another 5 that are unfinished, several illustrations, and even a soundtrack, revolving around the crew of the USS Entropy under the command of B.C. Cakes.

The name has branched out into other areas as well. B.C. Cakes is my login name on certain website forums and blogs. It’s also my I.D. in the multiplayer online game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Twenty years ago, Dave was right in re-saddling me with that name. With the help of some good friends, I was able to take ownership of it and define it instead of it defining me. It’s funny how a name that once made me cry has become a name that I’m rather proud of.

Working in a call center environment, with such a diverse group of people, there are some pretty…let’s just say “interesting”…events that occur with the staff.

I have worked at such a company since the year 1986, and I’ve had a ring-side seat for many of these “interesting” events which some of my Facebook friends have also been present.

The following story happened a while ago, when I was a supervisor in the call center.  I’m not sure of the exact year, only that it was before 1999.  That’s the year my twins were born.  That’s the year I left the 2nd-Shift Call Center Supervisor position and moved on to the greener pastures of day shift office and administration.

It was a Saturday.  The shift was from 11am – 7pm, and there were 3 supervisors scheduled for the room of 100 agents.  At about 11:30, one of the agents who was sitting in Section A (seats 1-20) came up to me at the Supervisor desk and said, “Something stinks over in section A.”

“You wanna move to a different seat?”

“No.  I just wanted you to know.”  She turned and went back to her seat.  The Unknown Odor was then placed at the bottom of my priority list.  Apparently, it wasn’t bad enough that she wanted to move, so I just kind of let it go.

About 20 minutes later, the agent, accompanied by another agent, came up to me again.  “It still stinks over there.  She smells it, too.”

“Well, what do you think it might be?” I asked them.

“I dunno.  But it’s bad.”

I got up and went with them back to their seats.  I walked up and down the aisle of Section A, but I didn’t smell anything.

“I don’t smell anything,” I said.  Not that I really expected to.  I have a pretty bad sense of smell.  Food cooking on the grill, flowers, a spritz of perfume…can’t smell any of it.

“It ain’t smelling now,” the agent said.  “But it smelled bad, didn’t it?”  She looked at another agent, who nodded in confirmation.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said.  “There’s nothing here now.  Best I can do is move you to a different seat.”

My offer was declined again.

As the day went on, several more agents came up to me to complain about the smell.  Some of them accepted my offer and move to a different seat.  Others did not.  It seemed as though these agents were on a mission to find the source of the smell.

About halfway through the shift, the most vocal of the agents came up to me again.  “It is bad!  It is SO bad!  And I found out what it is!  That man is seat 7 done shit himself!  He shit himself, Kevin!  You can see it on his pants leg!  All up and down!”

This was so over the top, it couldn’t possibly be true.  This was an older gentleman, probably in his 50’s or so.  Certainly, there was no way this agent’s claim could be true.  To just sit there in it?  It was unbelievable to me.

So I did some recon.  I patrolled the aisle of Section A and had just a few moments of “personal time” with each agent.  I asked how their day was, said I was glad they came in to work, yada yada yada.  I kept looking over at this man, hoping for (or was it hoping against?) visual confirmation.  And yep!  There it was, smeared all up and down the right pant leg of his navy blue suit.

Well, I didn’t know what to do.  I’ve never had to have a conversation about this before.  What do I say?  How do I begin?  “Hey, how you doing today?  Glad you came in.  I see you shit yourself.”  See?  That just doesn’t work.

I called my boss.

“Uhh, hey Natalie.  It’s Kevin.  Oh, not too bad.  Hey, listen.  I’ve got a rather unusual situation here.  Seems the agent in seat 7 shit his pants.  Yep.  Shit.  His pants.  How should I handle this?”

It was decided that the other supervisor and I (the third supervisor had gone to lunch about a half hour before) would simply ask the man if he was feeling OK, mention his pants, and send him home free and clear of any kind of attendance violation.  So we pulled him off the phone and into an office.

I jumped right in.  “So, uhhh…we were wondering….are you feeling OK?”

He didn’t even have to think about it.  “Well, to tell you the truth, no I’m not.  You might have heard these little girls out here talking.  I had a little accident on the bus on the way here.”

In my head I thought, On the way here?  You crapped your pants on the way here????  That was like 4 hours ago!  What came out of my mouth was, “Tell you what.  Why don’t you just go ahead on home and take care of yourself.  We won’t even mark it down as a violation.”

He was very appreciative with how understanding we were.  My co-supervisor then went out to the call center to get his personal effects.  She brought them in to him and we had him leave through the office door instead of going back out through the call center.  After he left, we took the chair that he was sitting in and rolled it out the rear door.  Our nefarious plan was to retrieve the chair after the shift and put it somewhere in the marketing department.

After we sprayed Lysol in the general vicinity of seat 7, things calmed down and everything was back to normal.  About a half hour later, the 3rd supervisor came back from lunch.  The other supervisor and I are doing our work, tallying totals, checking project status and production rates.  After a little while, the supervisor who had been at lunch came up to the two of us and asked, “Umm…did something happen while I was out?”

We told him what had happened with the guy and how we handled and so forth.  And then, “Why?  What makes you ask?”

“Well,” he paused a beat before he continued, “cuz I was just in the bathroom and, on the floor behind the toilet, was underwear filled with dookie.”


“Yeah!  I walked in the bathroom and there was this terrible smell.  And stuffed behind the toilet, was dookie filled underwear.”

“You’re lying!”

“No, I’m dead serious.”

Great.  How was I going to handle THIS?

I guess he could see it in my eyes, because he popped right in and volunteered with, “Oh, I already took care of it.  I got a pair of those yellow cleaning gloves, stuffed the dookie drawers in a Subway bag, and threw it in the dumpster out back.  Why is there a chair out there?”

We explained that it was the chair the soiled agent was sitting in and told him of our plan to place it in the marketing department.

The rest of the day was incident free.  The shift ended, we did our end of day tallies and clean up and stuff, and I went out to get the chair off the back deck.

But the chair was gone.  Someone, at some point during the day, came along and had stolen it.

I wonder just how long they kept it before ditching it?

I was 11 years old when I learned that “authority” wasn’t synonymous with fair, or right, or reasonable.

During the first half of sixth-grade, at Hyde Park Elementary School back in 1981, I was one of a select group of students who were permitted to leave Mrs. Hewitt’s English/Spelling/Grammar class twice a week to work on a special project. Organized and supervised by a couple of moms, we students were going to make marionette puppets and have several performances of The Grimm Brothers fairy tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker.

Each of us was assigned a character which we would be responsible for putting together and creating the costume. I was chosen to be one of the elves. Since we were only meeting for about 45 minutes twice a week, the construction of the puppets wasn’t too terribly in-depth. Everyone used the same pattern for the marionettes. We cut the head, each arm, each leg, and the torso from two pieces of cream-colored cloth that we would then sew together.

I remember sitting at sewing machine for the first time, excited that I was going to get to use it. At home my mom had a Singer sewing machine that I was fascinated with. I would often go into the room where she had it set up and marvel at the machine that had the power to repair the shirts I had torn climbing over fences or to hem the hand-me-down pants I had that were too long. My mom made sure that the Singer was never threaded because she knew I liked to sit at the table, turn it on and step on the pedal to be able to hear the staccato sound of the needle quickly move up and down. But I was going to get to actually use this one.

One of the moms sat there with me and showed me how to control the speed. She then threaded the machine and had me watch her as she ran one of the arms through, leaving the top of the arm unstitched so that we could later stuff it with cotton. I sat down at the machine and, with her closely supervising, I sewed the other arm together. It wasn’t as good as hers. Sometimes my stitches were too far inside and I had gone completely off the cloth a couple of times down around the fingertips, but I got the job done. The legs went much more smoothly, as did the head. The torso was the easiest of all, as it was more or less a square.

We dropped ½ ounce fishing sinkers into each arm and leg to give the hands and feet some weight. Then we stuffed all the parts with cotton. In order to simulate the joints, we stitched across the arms/legs where the elbows/knees would be. And although there was no need for a movable wrist or ankle, we stitched there as well in order to keep the sinker in the hands and feet. By now, I was an “old pro” with the sewing machine and it was no problem whatsoever to stitch the legs, arms and head onto the torso. The end result was clearly a human figure, about a foot tall, that could very easily have been used as a voodoo doll had we been so inclined.

The faces of our marionettes were to be drawn on using colored pens. I have never been artistically inclined and, although I was going for something suitably “elfish,” I ended up with something along the lines of “angry Pacific Islander.” My costume design didn’t fare so well, either. While the other marionette characters had outfits made from a variety of fabrics and made use of different colors and had accessories like belts, suspenders and hats, I had cut the patterns for both my elf’s shirt and pants from a piece of brown corduroy. Once those articles of clothing were sewn and my marionette was dressed, I attempted to “elf it up” by trimming the hem of the shirt with pinking shears to give it that jagged, saw-toothed look, but the effect was lost since the shirt and pants were the same material. I was well aware that my marionette wasn’t as presentable as the others, and I was silently embarrassed about that. I was positive that I was going to be told that my marionette wasn’t good enough and that I couldn’t participate in the show. But no one said that. They knew I did my best. And while I knew I did my best, it was obvious that my best wasn’t as good as the others. I was happy that I would be hidden from the audience’s view as I manipulated my marionette’s actions from behind the stage.

Learning the control the marionette elf was a blast, and I picked up on it pretty quickly. Two control bars were used: My right hand held the bar with the strings attached to the head and each hand, while my left hand held the bar with strings attached to the feet. During our practices, I would spend a lot of time on making my elf walk. I focused on this because I didn’t want him to seem like he was floating or hopping his way across stage. His arms and hands were a different story, though. Those were controlled by the bar in my left hand. I didn’t have the dexterity to control either of his hands to make it look like he was hammering or tapping on something. The best I could do was to alternately raise and lower each arm, which made my elf look like he was slowly beating a phantom drum.

I’m unable to recall any of the actual performances of our little play; probably because we were behind the stage and didn’t get to feel a “connection” with the audience that a live actor might experience. However, I do recall our curtain calls after each of the performances. We had to line up in front of the stage with our marionettes and make them bow. Each time, I remember thinking, “Everyone’s going to know that it was me that had the crummy looking marionette,” and I hoped that my embarrassment wasn’t as evident as I felt it to be. But as before, no one said anything about it. No one pointed or snickered.

After our final performance, just before Christmas break, we were able to take our marionettes home. I didn’t really want third-rate elf, but I was proud of the doll I had made so the very first thing I did was cut off the strings and those brown clothes. I took the former-marionette up to my room and set it on the edge of the TV stand with his back leaning against the TV. Every now and again, when I was especially bored, I’d pull him off the TV stand and make him act out some scene from a movie or one concocted from my own imagination. Although he couldn’t stand on his own or hold a pose, his arms had a tremendous range of motion and I could move them in ways that my Star Wars or G.I. Joe action figures were incapable of duplicating. It was fun making him climb up my closet door like Spider-Man or perform the iconic finger-point-dance along with John Travolta when ABC aired Saturday Night Fever.

Eventually, things like that became boring and so I began making him do other, more daring things. He became an acrobat. I’d fling him upward, causing him to do cartwheels in the air. Each time I’d try to out-do the last. Three cartwheels? Let’s go for four. What about six? There were only so many I could make him do inside the house. I needed to take him outside to be able to do more, but it was winter and I didn’t want to ruin him by playing with him where he could get wet. Another change of careers was in order. He became a stuntman and I named him Colt Seavers, after Lee Majors’ character on the new TV Show, The Fall Guy.

The first stunt was a fall. I sat on the landing at the top of the stairs and pretended to be the director.

“All right, Colt. You’re just going to jump off the landing and we’ll see how things go, OK? Annnd…….ACTION!”

I gave Colt Seavers a little toss so that the first step he hit on the way down would be about the third from the top. There were plenty of takes for this particular stunt because he would never fall and tumble the same way twice. Sometimes, he hit the steps just right and would accelerate toward the bottom with reckless abandon until he came to a sudden stop on the tiled floor below. Other times he would hit the wall or banister on the way down which often slowed him enough that he came to rest draped over the edge of a step looking like every bone in his body was broken, his legs on the step above and face on the one below with his arms bent at awkward angles. Falling down stairs was all well and good, but there were other stunts that needed to be done as well.

I would precariously sit him on the top of the door to my room and shoot him with my dart gun. And not one of those “safe” dart guns like they have now, where the small dart is made of rubber and is propelled by air. Colt Seavers was regularly shot with a standard, plastic, spring-loaded dart gun pistol with the rubber suction cup removed from the dart. Sometimes my aim would be off and I’d hit his foot which made him fall forward. It wasn’t that spectacular, until I moved a folding chair in front of the door so he would hit it on his way down, which caused a sudden change the direction of his tumble. What I enjoyed the most though, was shooting the dart at the upper portion of his body. One moment he’d be sitting on the door, and the next moment all I saw was feet disappearing over the top. Colt Seavers was a great toy, made even greater by the fact that I had made him.

Spring arrived and I was finally able to take Colt Seavers outside. I no longer harbored any thoughts about acrobatics and how many cartwheels could be done. It was all about being a stuntman. I’d climb trees, drop him out of them and smile as I watched him Plinko his way down. He was put into the Wiffle-Ball Automatic Pitcher and catapulted across the yard. His hands and feet were duct-taped to the tetherball and he was sent into an ever declining, ever accelerating spiral until he was pinched between the ball and the pole.

Then, one day, I was in the front yard and I figured I’d see just how many air cartwheels I could make him do. I was so concerned about the power I would need to get him high in to the air and how I needed to flick my wrist in order to get the maximum number of cartwheels that I didn’t even think about where he was going to end up. I let him fly. Up, up, up he went, end over end. He reached the apex and started his descent, and I could tell what was going to happen. WHUMP, he landed on my porch roof. I stood there in my front yard and stared up at the roof. Colt Seavers’ hand was the only part of him that was visible.

This was a no-brainer. The window in my room looked directly out onto the porch roof. All I had to do was lift the screen, walk on out, pick him up and climb back in. It wouldn’t take but 10 seconds. I dashed into the house.

“Mom! My guy’s on the roof. I’m gonna go out and get him.”

I hadn’t made it two steps up the staircase before my mom said, “No, you most certainly are not!”

I stopped dead and grabbed the railing with both hands. “But MOM!”

“I said no!”

“But he’s just right there! I’ll be out and in—“

“Kevin, you are NOT to go out onto that roof and get him! Do you understand me?”

I flopped down onto the step and sat there with my head in my hands. Horrible visions started playing in my mind. Colt Seavers would get soaked if it rained. I recalled one time I dropped a paperback book into the plastic backyard pool and it just got soaked. When the book finally dried, after several days, it had almost tripled in thickness. It was still a book, of course, but it had been ruined. I was afraid the same thing would happen to Colt Seavers…that the cotton inside him would absorb the water and he’d bloat up and be ruined. I imagined that a bird would swoop down and take him away, or tear him apart to get the stuffing out and use it in the construction of some nest somewhere.

“Do you understand me?”

I sighed. “Yes, I understand.”

“Don’t go on the roof.”

“God, I get it, ok?” I stood and stomped up to my room.

I climbed onto my bed, kneeled at the window with my arms crossed on the window sill and set my chin on my arm. I looked at Colt Seavers, lying there on his back with his feet lower than his head on the roof incline and his left hand sticking over the edge. I wanted to get him. I NEEDED to get him, if for no other reason than to just put him away in his proper place on the TV stand. I never left my toys outside. Never.

Then it came to me. I didn’t HAVE to go onto the roof to get him. I could stay in my room and accomplish the same thing. I opened the closet door and my dad’s fishing pole off the shelf. I assembled the rod and opened the window. I stuck the pole on out there, but it was too short to reach Colt Seavers. I pulled the pole back a little bit, pressed the line release button on the reel, and cast out the line. I positioned the pole so that the fishing line draped across Colt Seavers and I reeled it in slowly. The hook caught on the lip of the roof, but all it took was a slight jiggle to free it. A few more clicks of the reel crank and the hook caught Colt Seavers’ hip. I pulled him safely inside.

Just as I removed the hook, my mom came into the room.

“I told you not to get that.” She snatched Colt Seavers from my hand.

“No, you said not to go OUT and get him. I stayed inside and used dad’s fishing pole.” I held it up for her to see.

“You knew what I meant and yet you disobeyed me anyway. Why?”

I was incredibly confused at this situation. I honestly felt that I had obeyed her, but was getting in trouble anyway. I fought back tears caused by the confusion and unfairness of it all, and my voice trembled when I spoke. “You said…you said…no to go OUT…and get him.” The tears started to fall. “And I DIDN’T!”

“I told you not to—“

“You said—“

“Don’t interrupt me! I told you not to get him and you did it anyway. You’re grounded.”

“But, Mom!” I was incredulous. “You SAID—“

“GROUNDED! And this,” she held up Colt Seavers, “is gone!” She left the room and shut the door.

I fell onto my bed and screamed into my pillow. I cried under the onslaught of emotions. I was confused, frustrated, angry, and helpless. I felt like I had been cheated or betrayed. If I had to guess, I’d say that I was there for about a half hour before I had calmed down enough to emerge from my room. I made my way downstairs to the dining room where my mom was at the table clipping coupons or something. I was dejected, and didn’t (couldn’t?) look at her when I asked, “How long am I grounded?”

Without even having to think about it, she replied with, “Two weeks.”

“OK,” I said. I didn’t ask what I was grounded from, because it was always the same thing: No TV. I went to the kitchen and got a chocolate Jell-O Pudding Pop from the freezer. When I went to throw the wrapper away, I saw it. Colt Seavers and been dismembered and put into the garbage can.

I freaked out. Plain and simple.

I dropped the Pudding Pop and screamed, “WHY?” Instantly, the world blurred as the tears came again. I ran from the kitchen, and repeated “Why why why why why” as I made my way back to my room. I could hear my mom following me.

“I told you not to get him. You didn’t follow the rules, so you lost your toy.”

“But I DID,” I said as I flopped onto my bed. “I DID follow the rules, you said not to go out and I didn’t go out! And you cut him up. You cut him up and I worked really hard to make him!”

“Well, maybe next time you’ll—“

“No! No no no no no.” I screamed. “Leave me alone! I can’t believe you cut him up!” I buried my face in my pillow and continued to cry. She left my room and I think I cried myself to sleep, even though it wasn’t anywhere close to bedtime.

I didn’t talk to my mom much for a couple of weeks afterward. No more than I had to, anyway. I thought about making another one, but I didn’t remember how to thread a needle in a sewing machine. And besides, I didn’t have the right materials. And there was no way I was going to ask my mom for any help with the project. So…no. I never made another one.

I guess I ultimately forgave my mom for doing what she did. At least, I think I did. There was no “hallmark moment” to signify any forgiveness on my part, no moment where I exhaled all my anger away. In the end, it just came down to the passage of time and how it heals all wounds.

I often think about the marionette, especially when I’m laying down rules for my kids. I try to be clear, but sometimes I haven’t been successful. I’ve said the words, “That’s not what I meant and you know it” to my kids. And it pained me to do so. But I’ve also said, “You’re right, I wasn’t clear enough and I can understand why you did what you did.” That’s been hard to do as well. But I don’t think admitting such mistakes make me weak. I think it ultimately shows them that I respect them and their views, and I think they’re more likely to show me the same in return. At least I hope so.

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