Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, September 30, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 59

Afterword, by Mr. John E. Stratford 

Most of what I’m going to tell you here I heard rather than experienced.  But I’ll share what I can.  When Mr. Leeder got back to the office, he initiated the lockdown protocols. Beneath the sharp, pulsing cries of the alarm I could hear classroom doors closing, locks turning.  In my own room, the kids moved quickly out of sight—we had practiced this many times.  They—we—had no real way of knowing if this was just another drill.  But my students reacted seriously.  They had seen Mr. Leeder in our room, watched him hurry away with something he’d taken from the top of my cabinet.  So they knew something wasn’t right.  I looked around the room.  They looked back at me, their eyes full of question and fear.  I pretended to be calm, unworried.  I was neither.
It wasn’t really very long—a half hour?—that the lockdown was lifted.  But the school sent the kids home for the rest of the day.  There was a long wait out in the cafeteria until the last bus arrived.  Some of the final comments from the kids in this book are things I heard out there, walking among them.  Can I describe for you the emotional scenes I saw outside?  Worried mothers and fathers hugging their children?  There’s something profoundly moving about parents and children running toward one another, arms open.  It’s sad, really, that it sometimes takes a close look into the fierce face of mortality to make us realize how much we need—and love—one another.
The authorities found out very quickly that the 9mm handgun—fully loaded—that Michael Jumper had seen on the top of my cabinet was registered to Brian Novell’s foster father.  Later, we learned how Brian had stolen it, carried it to school, hidden it.  We’re not sure precisely why.  Whom was he going to shoot?  Specific people?  Anyone?  And why?  As I write this, we have no answers to these questions.  I’m not sure there are any.
Brian, I heard, was not easy to subdue.  As soon as the lockdown warning came over the PA system, he sprinted out of class—presumably hoping to get out of the building.  But it was too late.  The police found him pretty easily—there aren’t a lot of good hiding places in a school.  He was down in the boys’ locker room, just sitting on one of the benches.  He looked calm.  Resigned.
But as soon as they approached him, he exploded.  It took several of the cops—big ones—to hold him down and cuff him.  He fought desperately.  The whole time he was screaming, but no one has been able to tell me what the words were—or if they even were words.  But once he realized he was cuffed and held, he went all … slack.  The emotion drained from him.  And he just stared off into the distance toward a future that was surely very unlike the one he had imagined.
Before he stopped talking at school—and he didn’t say all that much before he declared he would say no more—he claimed he hadn’t planned to use the gun in school.  But then added: “Not right away.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Long Drives and a Young Boy's Imagination, Part 3 (Final!?)

I've written a couple of posts about the sorts of long family drives my family took when I was a youngun--where we went, what we did, how we entertained ourselves in the car, whom we punched (siblings).  Our last long car trip, as I said, was in 1965.  I was about to begin my senior year at Hiram College; brother Dave was about to start his senior year at James A. Garfield HS in Garrettsville.  We had a good time, Dave and I--all the way out and back.  Playing catch at all the rest stops.  Making up stupid games.

Like this one.  We were (are?) big fans of The Three Stooges.  Curly made a sound when he was spazzing out, a sound that was something like "bee-beeb-bee-bee-beeb-bee-bee-beeb."  Anyway, for some reason, Dave and I started using the word beeb to apply to all sorts of things.  On rough concrete roads we would say "Beeb" every time the car hit a crack (must have driven my dad crazy, though I don't recall that he ever tried to stop us--probably thought it was better than fisticuffs in the back seat).

Speaking of which, we used "Beeb" as a verb, too, as in "I beebed him" (hit him).  And "That really beebs me off" (you can figure that one easily enough).  And (of a baseball player hitting a ball hard): "He really beebed that one!"  Other usages, as well--like "Look at that beeb on my car."

For some reason, in the back seat of that car, we started saying to the other: "You're the Bee-Beeber"--and the clever reply: "No, you're the Bee-Beeber!"  (Brothers are so inventive.)  Back and forth: Who's the Bee-Beeber?

I think now of my parents, two Ph.D.'s up there in the front seat, the fruits of their loins in the back seat (a high school and a college senior) snipping back and forth at each other, "No, you're the Bee-Beeber!"  They must have felt something very akin to despair ...  What had they done, bringing these boys into the world?

And then we started calling each other "Beeb," each insisting the other was the "real" Beeb.  When we arrived in Oregon, our uncle John was initially puzzled--and then, I think, delighted--when he noticed we were calling each other "Beeb."  We tried to explain.  He didn't care.  He just thought it was funny.  "Beeb, huh?" he chortled.  And Dave and I laughed--and still laugh at that one.

And the Beebing went on and on--and is still going on.  Today, we address packages to each other like this: "Daniel Beeb Dyer" and "Davis Beeb Dyer."  When one of us phones, "Beeb" is the fist word spoken--well, the second (before caller ID): "Hello?" "Beeb!"  Now--with caller ID--"Beeb" is the first word.

Ring tone. Caller ID.  Answer: "Beeb!"

 Email?  How do you think we address notes to each other?

When our son was born, I taught him that his uncle Dave was Uncle Beeb.  That annoyed Dave, who could not convince little Steve that I was the "real" Beeb.  Revenge came later: Dave had two kids whom I had to convince.  I'm not sure I have, and they're well into their twenties.  Compensation: Our son, now 41, still calls Dave "Beeb."  (And Joyce, who knows the language of Beeb--can read and understand it--does not, except in very playful circumstances, use it.)

So--anyway--Beeb was one of the lingering effects of that 1965 car trip.  We saw some historical stuff, too.

We began taking Steve on long car trips almost immediately after he was born in 1972--and he was a great traveler.  In the days before child seats and restraints, we simply made a playpen out of the back seat, and he entertained himself for hours on end back there.  (Lord knows--and so does Newton--what would have happened if I'd ever had to brake hard; I didn't.)

The summer after he finished first grade (1979), I drove alone with him from Lake Forest, IL, where we'd just spent a year, out to Cannon Beach, OR, where my parents were living.  (Joyce was working in IL and stayed.)  We had great fun.  We each kept a journal (written and cassette tape); we played catch at every rest area.  We saw the grand sights of the West that I'd loved since my own boyhood--the prairies of Nebraska, mountains of Wyoming, the Great Salt Lake, the Snake River Canyon, Mt. Hood, and on and on and on.  We would make numerous other long car trips--Steve and Joyce and I--and he always took along a pile of books--but a cassette tape-player, too (he loved the recording of The Hobbit).  No video games.  Not yet.  (And the arrival of those in our house is meat for another blog sandwich.)

But times have changed.  Cars now have video in the back seat.  Kids hold world-access via the smart phones in their hands.  I like to think "my" way is superior to all of that--but I don't know what I would have done if those things had been available when our son was a youngster.  Would we have let him watch movies in the back seat while we drove through the Rockies?  Text his friends on the Pacific Coast Highway?  Insert his ear-buds in the morning, remove them at night?

I like to think I wouldn't.  But who knows?  I've often wondered how much of a reader I would have been if there had been a gazillion TV channels (all those sports events!), the Internet, iPods, iPads, smart phones.  It's easy to condemn what kids today do with their time ... but what would we have done?

I do know that most of the day--on those long-ago car trips--my mind and my imagination were engaged in some fashion--even if only to come up with a new usage for beeb.  I was reading.  Or finding a fresh way to torment a sibling.  But I was also imagining scenarios as we cruised through that astonishing geography, and maybe all of that that had a good effect?  Made me a more imaginative person?  Or whatever?  I like to think so.  But, of course, that's what the Older Generation has always done--believe that the Old Ways were the Better Ways, and the New Ways are Destroying All.

Still--out on the freeways these days--when I pass a minivan and notice little kids in the back seat staring at glowing screens, I shudder.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


  [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee]  Show IPA
1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
2. good fortune; luck: the serendipity of getting the first job she applied for.

1754; Serendip + ity; Horace Walpole so named a faculty possessed by the heroes of a fairy tale calledThe Three Princes of Serendip

So ... the other day, realizing I was coming to the end of Spoon River Middle School, a book I've been serializing on this site since early in May, I was looking through some other material--and found the (unfinished) sequel to The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, vol. 1 of which I'd serialized here before Spoon River.  I'll be writing more about this decision in another post--but I wanted to share this: When I opened the notebook where the typescript has lain since 1999 (!), I found in the little sleeve inside the front cover an old 3.5 floppy disk.  I'd labeled it , as you can see, like this:
  • Niagara Falls
  • Mom's 80th b'day
Younger readers will not remember the 3.5 floppy disk (though "floppy" is kind of a misnomer: they were pretty rigid, the covers; "floppy" was a carryover from the previous, larger floppies: 5.25 in.--and there'd been even a larger one yet--an 8-incher.  (If you watch the old film War Games, 1983, with young Matthew Broderick, you can see the large disks in use.)  These disks did not hold much information--just 1.44MB.  If you had a very large file (a book, or a Quicken file), you often had to use more than one of these little guys to save everything.

Over the years I gradually replaced the 3.5s, going with the improvements in technology: ZIP drives, jump/flash drives (the first one I had was 256MB), external hard drives.  Now I have files stored in various clouds here and there--though I still use, for paranoia's sake, an external hard drive & some flash drives. When I travel, I take a 16G with me.

Well ... anyway ... Mom's 80th birthday was 9 September 1999.  So why was this disk in a notebook holding a (not finished) sequel to Victoria Frankenstein?  Well ... I knew I was going to have an important scene at Niagara Falls, and on my way to see my mom (who was living then with my dad in Pittsfield, Mass. in Melbourne Place, an assisted living facility--a place Dad needed but Mom didn't), I stopped at Niagara Falls, did some research and photography, took a ride on Maid of the Mist (something I'd always wanted to do), then drove on east in I-90 to Pittsfield.

Pack-rat that I am, I'd saved an external 3.5 drive (USB capable--I have an old ZIP drive, too), so I knew I could probably see the files on the disk.  But open them?

And indeed I could see them... though they had a .KQP file extension, and no program on my laptop would open them.  I hopped on the web, found a free program that would both open the files and convert them to .JPG format, downloaded it, opened it--saw the pictures for the first time since 1999.  And there--though the quality is not too good--was an image of my father in September 1999.  None of us knew I would never again take a picture of him.  He died on November 30, not quite three months after I took this photograph.

I took that picture at the Red Lion Inn in Lenox--or it could be the dining room at Melbourne Place--I can't tell (we ate both places).  Mom had recently been making Dad wear a bib (this one's rather large!) because he was so incapable in his later years of keeping his food on his fork until it was in his mouth (she was tired of the laundry)--but Dad was a good sport about it.  As he sits there, smiling, he is 86 years old.

And here's brother Richard with Mom on her 80th.

And a shot of the Falls from Maid of the Mist ...and as I look at it now, of course, I remember 1999, the year I both had a father and didn't, the year he sailed into the mist, turned, looked, and was gone.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 58

Claire Bell 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

            Will we ever laugh again?

Terry Crowe 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

We all need wings.

Victoria Byle 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

I was right to hate that kid.

Ally Lone 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

Would a friend have made a difference?

Billy Belfry 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

Crazy damn kid.

James B. Kuhl III 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

My father won’t put up with this.

Melanie Fly 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

Can death find you anywhere?

Chris Cross 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

Oh Jesus!

Mary Goodwin 

Overheard in hallway after lockdown lifted.

There’s more than one way to make a monster.

Billy Kidd 

Note in File.

Wild Bill and Wyatt Earp and them made cowboys check their guns—turn them in—before they rode into town.  It’s right there, in print, in all them books I read.

Jennifer Queen 

Note in File.

Would he have hurt me?
That’s not how I saw it, not in my dream, the one where we were royalty.  King.  Queen.  And Joe was there, too, helping us with our dreams.  Like what happens in some stories and movies and the Bible.
Dreams inside dreams … such things can go on forever, you know?

Joe Britecote 

Note in File.

I did dream that this would happen … really.  But I just did not believe it, you know?
Afterwards, I saw Jennifer in the library.  She came over to my table, leaned down, whispered, “You were in my dream.”
And then I said—before I even thought about it at all: “I’d rather be in your life.”
She stared at me.  I felt myself shrivel like a cold worm on a hot sidewalk.
Then she said, “But you are, Joe.  You are.”
She turned and went back to her friends and I know that I’ll be thinking about those six words—But you are, Joe.  You are.—for the rest of my whole entire life.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Long Drives and a Young Boy's Imagination, Part 2

As I wrote last time ... because many of my dad's relatives lived out in Oregon, we took several long car trips out there during my childhood--trips I loved.  And, as I also said the other day, I still love going on long car trips.

But what did we do, we three lads in the back seat (yes, the back seat: we rarely got to ride up front--just as Mom rarely drove; Dad did the vast majority of it--a generational thing: Joyce's dad also did all the driving on their family jaunts, even though her mom was a far better driver)?

Need I say that we had no Backseat Technology in those days?  No videos, no computer games (no computers!), no smart phones, no iPods, no iAnythings except iBored.  Occasionally, Dad would turn on the radio for the news or a score of a ballgame.  But that was it.  We had to generate all our own entertainment in the back seat.  And here are some of the things we did.
  • Stared out the window. This was actually entertaining for much of the way.  The prairies--the Rockies--the high desert--this was the geography I knew well--from our travels, from the many Westerns on TV in those days, from my imagination. For, you see, I saw myself out there--on a white horse--white hat (of course!)--two six-guns in gilded holsters--guarding the Dyers' journey into the West.  Looking out for the Bad Guys.
  • Talked with my brothers.  This was easier with Dave (four years younger) because I was immature. Very immature.  I had much more in common with Dave than with my older brother, Richard, who was three years ahead of me by the calendar, decades in other ways.  Dave and I would talk about Westerns, the Three Stooges, the Mickey Mouse Club.  Richard disdained all that.  He read fat novels written by people with unpronounceable names; he liked--no, loved--classical music and opera (what a weirdo); he thought popular culture was all crap.  Oh, and sports he had no use for, either.  He could run very fast--faster than either Dave or I could run--but he didn't care.  Track coaches wanted him.  Too bad.  He had a fat novel to read, a long opera to listen to.
  • Talked with our parents.  We did this quite a bit, actually.  They knew things.  And some of those thing I wanted to know.  Things about geography and history, especially.  And I always loved Dad's family stories.  Times he got in trouble with his brothers.  That kind of thing.  Mom's stories were a little more boring: She was the daughter of a preacher and sometimes looked at the males in the car as if they had arrived straight from Weird World.
  • Played board games.  Checkers could happen in the back seat, but you had to be careful.  Mom made up a staring-out-the-window game called "Cowpoker."  You counted the number of cows on your side of the car; first one to a hundred won.  We rarely got that far, though, because whoever was behind--way behind--would just quit competing.  Pretend it wasn't important.  Who cares about dumb Cowpoker!?  Only the winner cared.
  • Read books.  We always brought along piles of library books with us.  Richard was always reading in the car, back slightly turned away from us, as if to say, I'm reading.  I'm important.  Don't bother me.  I'll kill you if you do.  I invariably had biographies of Western heroes--or sports' stories--some of which I'd read repeatedly.  Schools had not yet invented the evil of Summer Reading, so there was never any of that to deal with.  So we read books that were fun.
  • Got violent.  Sometimes, you know, you just have to punch a brother.  It's in our DNA.  Can't be helped.  So here's a story to end today's segment ...
In 1959 we took our last family trip to Oregon--the last with all five of us packed into a 1956 Pontiac station
wagon (yellow--like the GoogleImage I found just now).  The next time we went--1965--Richard didn't go, and I didn't decide to go until the last minute (I was about to enter my senior year of college; a family trip didn't seem all that interesting).  But I went.  And am very glad I did.

Anyway, 1959.  We took the northern route--up through Michigan, hung a left on Route 2, all the way to Glacier National Park and down into Oregon.  Well, somewhere out there (was it going? or returning? can't remember), little brother Dave (he was 11) responded to the instructions of his DNA.  Richard had been reading the novel Warlock (no--it's not about a supernatural being--it's a novel by Oakley Hall, a novel, oddly, based on Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral--that story was already consuming me).  Why Richard was reading Warlock is beyond my imagination.  He didn't normally read Westerns--he read Dickens and Thackeray and those other unreadables.  (I just looked: It was published in 1958, nominated for a Pulitzer (a finalist, in fact)--that's why he was reading it.)  (Hall would later write a Billy the Kid novel--Apaches.  Billy: My hero.)

Anyway, he was reading Warlock.  Both Dave and I were preternaturally bored.  We'd traded insults, a few light blows, received some admonitions from the front seat.  We stopped.

Dave looked over at Richard--who'd just graduated from Hiram High School.  Lost in Warlock.  Turning pages in an annoying manner.  Sitting there in annoying manner.  Breathing in an annoying manner. Having an annoying face. Wearing annoying clothes.  Living in an annoying manner.  There was only one thing to do ...

Dave leaned over and delivered a vicious straight right hand to Richard's jaw.  No warning.  Pow!

Richard yelped, struck back. Dave yelped.   Dad barked from the front seat.  Richard!  You are about to be a college student.  Punching a fifth grader!

Richard warbled and burbled as he was wont to do.  Dad was firm.  Richard pouted, whispered a dark promise of revenge.  I looked at Dave with a new-found respect.  This boy rules!  (Not a saying in 1959.  Deal with it.)

And now we had a great family story that one of us retells just about every time we get together.

Just yesterday--in the grip of nostalgia--I sent Dave, via Amazon, a copy of Warlock.  It's probably time to read it--but probably not around Richard.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 57

Mercury Swift

Official Report

Michael Jumper was in the Office right after home room.  He said he needed to see the principal.  Right now.  Mrs. Keyz tried to stall him—told him to make an appointment—but Michael (I’d never seen him so … excited? upset?) just ignored her and walked right in Mr. Leeder’s office!
He closed the door behind him.  But still I could hear Mr. Leeder’s loud voice: “Michael, what are you—?”
But that’s as far as he got.  I heard Michael’s voice—but no words—and then it got very quiet.
Then Mr. Leeder came rushing out, Michael right behind him—and down the halls they ran.

Andee St. Cloud

Note in File

Well, Mr. Leeder and Michael, all out of breath, come breaking right into English class.  (I was glad I left my * in my locker.)  Then Mr. Leeder grabs a chair, takes it over by Mr. Stratford’s cabinet, steps up on the chair.  He sees something because I hear him say, “Oh, God!
But whatever it is, I can’t see it ’cause he turns his back and slips whatever it is into his coat pocket.
Then him and Michael go running off down the hall again.
And then, pretty soon, I see outside the window, I see police cars pulling up.  A mess of them.  No sirens, no lights—so … something not all that serious, I figure.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Long Drives & a Young Boy's Imagination: Part One

I love long trips in the car.  Always have ...

Flashback ...

Because my dad's family lived in Oregon/Washington (well, most of them--there were myriads of Dyers and Davises out in the West), and because we were pretty much impecunious throughout my boyhood (professors and public school teachers in Oklahoma--i.e., my parents--were most definitely not in the One Percent in the 1950s), there was no thought of flying anywhere for a visit.  (I would not take my first flight until the spring of 1967, when I was in my 23rd year--well, not counting a crazy hour in 1960 (or so) in a little private plane with a Hiram High School grad named Lee Dalton one day, a day when, aloft, I was so in terror that I very nearly did lose control of bodily functions.  Whenever I read about fear doing that to people, I know that it's true.  Thanks, Lee, wherever you are flying these days.)

Even driving was not an inexpensive way to go.  Even though gas was only about 25 cents a gallon (that's right), that was still a chunk of money in the days when a bus ride was a dime, a Coke and a candy bar a nickle each.  And motels.  One year we camped while going 'cross country: little brother Dave and I were excited, an excitement that quickly paled when we learned that we would sleep in the car while the others got the tent.  I can truthfully say that I once camped in the Painted Desert, though, to be honest, I should add that I slept in the back seat.

Dad always looked for motels in the $5/night range (that's right: five dollars for five people)--this in the days before motel chains.  When we pulled in to the motel, we would have to wait in the car while Dad found the manager and inspected the room; numerous times we drove away when the facilities didn't meet his standards.  His standard comment as we drove away: "That was a pretty sorry place."

On the road, we boys got $1/meal/day.  Breakfast: pancakes and OJ; lunch: hamburger, fries, Coke; dinner: hamburger, fries, Coke (I had a lot of imagination, didn't I?).  We always considered it a success, too, if we got Dad to stop in the afternoon at an A&W Root Beer (the boys' favorite) or a DQ (Mom's: more chocolate available).  When we saw one down the road, we would chant in unison: "A&W!  A&W!  A&W!"  Or--equally creative: "DAY Queen!  DAY Queen!  DAY Queen!"  (Don't ask.)  Dad would often sigh and stop--though we knew the sigh was thespian: He loved root beer and  would down his (large) often in a single surging gulp.  Then loudly smack his lips with satisfaction.  Mom did not approve and sat there, probably dreaming of chocolate down the road.

Remember, though: This was the days before most cars had air-conditioning.  (We had no car with it until 1965--when I was about to turn 21!)  Those summer afternoons driving across the Central Plains, across the deserts.  HOT!  Windows open, Satan's fiery breath blowing across our faces.  Those infernal afternoons probably had as much to do with my deciding I didn't want to go to Hell as Sunday School and church and Vacation Bible School combined.

NEXT TIME: What did we boys do all those hours in the car--besides punch one another?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 56

Craig Burns 

Official Report (Dictated)

I’m always here early.  My dad has to drop me off when he can, and early is when he can.  So I’m always here early, like I said.
So on Tuesday I was early, like usual, waiting in the Office.  You can barely see me, seated in my wheelchair, behind the counter.  If you don’t look, you won’t.  See me, that is.
That Brian kid didn’t look on Tuesday, early.  He rushed by, carrying something in a brown bag.
A few minutes later, he came back.  No bag.  Both hands free.
He never noticed me.  Going.  Coming back.  Never.  And I was glad.

Michael Jumper 

Official Report

I was jumping up, touching stuff, the highest stuff I could.  Like I always do.  In the English room—Mr. Stratford’s room—there’s this tall orange cabinet where he stores junk he uses in class.  On top, too, is some stuff.  I wanted to what all was up there—I’m always doing that, looking on top of things.  Most people aren’t curious enough to look—or can’t figure out how they can.  But I’m curious.  And I know how to look.  By jumping.  So I jumped on Tuesday, right before home room.  And that’s when I seen it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Summer 1990--A Soul-Trying Time

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls"--so wrote Thomas Paine in the dark days of the American Revolution (of which there were many).  If you live long enough, you'll stagger through your own soul-trying times, and as I was thinking about this the other day, I realized that our lives in the dark summer of 1990 would probably have brought a tear to the eye of Thomas Paine himself.

Let's set the stage.  Our son, Steve, had just graduated from high school that June and was readying to head off to college at Tufts University in the fall.  He is our only child.  We had been incredibly close to him throughout his life (he would turn 18 in July 1990)--both of us, in fact, had taught him in school: I had him in 8th grade (and directed him in seven play productions in middle school); Joyce taught him in both English II and AP English at Western Reserve Academy.  He'd had a placid adolescence (he still liked to hang out with us, go to movies with us--when he was in high school), and there was not at all any sense of relief in Joyce and me that he would be leaving home.  Something more akin to grief.

Also, Steve was working his first job that summer (schoolteachers, we'd always traveled in the summer, and we had always taken our son with us; he was a great traveler, even from newborn days, and we know he learned a tremendous amount in our car).  He was working the early-morning shift at the local McDonald's.

All of us--Steve included (perhaps, especially, Steve)--were grieving that summer for the loss of a dear friend, Bill Appling, the choral director at Western Reserve Academy, whom the school had summarily fired.  Steve adored Bill (as we did), and his dismissal had caused quite an uproar in the area.  Steve and his friends had protested all his senior year--wearing black armbands in his honor, arranging a student concert in the spring to celebrate him and his many achievements--refusing to let the school forget.  (Bill would go on to a distinguished career at Vassar College--and then with his own William Appling Singers.  His death a few years ago was another blow to all of us.)

But there was even darker news we had to deal with that summer.  Joyce's mother was manifesting very serious symptoms of the Alzheimer's that would eventually kill her.  Joyce's father, who'd retired from Firestone in Akron, earned a free pass to Heaven during those years.  He kept her at home, watched her 24/7, taught himself to cook and clean and do laundry and all the other household tasks his wife had done over the years.  He would not entertain the thought of placing her in any kind of institution.  One didn't do that.

But the care was wearing him out.  When he would doze off on the couch, out the door she would go, and the Akron Police would go find her, bring her to a home that she barely, if at all, recognized.  In the depths of her tangle she would say astonishingly unkind things to him (and to us)--things so far from the truth as to be barely visible but words that wounded nonetheless.

This struggle you can read about in Joyce's lovely memoir In a Tangled Wood: An Alzheimer's Journey (Link to book on Amazon.com).

And then Joyce's father learned he had lung cancer (probably from his work all those years in the rubber factory)--and it was racing through his system.  The doctor gave him only weeks to live.  And the doctor was right.  But this we did not learn until something seemingly more sanguine had happened.

That summer, I had been accepted into a five-week seminar for teachers on the Works of Jack London out at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., Jack London-land for sure--a seminar led by Prof. Earle Labor, the world's leaning authority on London and his work.  I'd been teaching The Call of the Wild for a few years and had become fascinated with London--his life, his writing--and this was a great chance for me--all thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities (a government program run by, you know, bureaucrats).  That summer would be the direct cause of my publication of annotated editions of The Call of the Wild--and of a YA biography of Jack London (1995, 1997).

Joyce had already done an NEH Seminar--on Appalachian Literature, down at Appalachian State University--and she was eagerly encouraging me to go.  The London course would consume most of July, some of August.

But as the time for my departure neared (I was going to drive), Joyce's father's illness became more apparent (though we did not yet know its severity).  I felt I should not leave home for a month.  But Joyce insisted.  She saw an opportunity for me--and she's always encouraged me.  So, tearfully, I loaded up the car and headed off onto the Ohio Turnpike toward San Francisco.  I made it to the first westbound exit before, overcome with guilt and sorrow, I left the Turnpike and drove home and unpacked the car.

Joyce was moved--and said little for a few hours.  Then ... she, again, insisted I go.  She could handle things.  She told me such opportunities don't arrive all the time.  And so on.  So, tearfully, I loaded up the car again, and off I went the next morning.

These were pre-cellphone days (at least for us), so I kept in touch via payphones and motel phones.  Joyce assured me she was doing fine.

The seminar was great.  I greatly admired Earle--made good friends with some of the dozen other teachers from around the country--was hiking in the mountains, reading London, working on my annotations.  One night, I drove with a few folks down to Oakland, where I saw the Tribe play (lose to) the A's in their huge stadium.  It was Joyce's birthday--July 20--and I could not get through to her.  Ringing.  No answers.

Finally, near the end of the game, I got her.  And she was in tears.  She'd learned that her dad's cancer would be fatal--and quickly.  I asked if she wanted me to come home.  No ... she and Steve could handle things.  Was she sure?  She was.  But I heard in her voice the tremble of uncertainty.

That weekend, Earle gave us an extra day off, so I drove 700 mi (each way) up to Seaside, Oregon, to see my parents, who had just built a more "elder-friendly" home there after selling their wonderful Cannon Beach place, the home they'd loved more than any other.  (Mom was about to turn 71; Dad was 77.)  It was great to see them--but when I called Joyce, she told me, weeping, that she needed me at home.  I left immediately, drove the 700 mi back to California.

I left virtually everything in Rohnert Park and took a flight home the next day.  Joyce's mom was now living with us--her dad was in the hospital--and those next few days were among the hardest of our lives.  Poor Mom--totally confused.  She didn't know where she was; she wasn't always sure who we were.  She did not know the difference between night and day.  She was a constant threat to bolt away.  After a few days, we were all exhausted.  We knew this couldn't continue.  So Joyce made some inquiries, and we placed her in Anna Maria over in Aurora--a splendid Alzheimer's unit--and there she stayed until all her money ran out--near the end of her life--and we had to move her to a Medicaid facility in West Akron, the place where she would die.  By the end--she didn't know any of us, didn't know what food was, had forgotten how to swallow.  Joyce would spoon ice cream against her lips, the last thing she would eat.  But soon that was an annoyance for her too, and she vanished.

Once things were mildly settled at home, I flew back to California, attended one more seminar class session, said farewell to my friends and Earle, packed and arranged the car to travel back aboard a truck (oh, the complications of that), then flew home once again to deal with the darkest of all news--the swift decline and death of Joyce's father.  He spent a few days at home (with 24-hour nursing help), but the nurse herself was soon overwhelmed with it all, so he returned to Akron City Hospital for the end.  Steve, who deeply loved his grandfather, rode that last ambulance ride with him.  It must have been surpassingly difficult for him.

It was over quickly, on August 13, and then--all those funeral and burial arrangements ...  And then Steve was off to Tufts on an evening flight in August, Joyce and I weeping all the way home from the Cleveland airport.  (He'd had a miserable McD's experience--but that's another story.)

And then Joyce--who, fortunately, was on sabbatical that year--began the sad task of cleaning out and selling her parents' home--the Firestone Park house where Joyce had lived since she was a little girl--while I readied to return to Harmon School for the 1990-1991 school year.

I mustn't forget: Helping us through much of this was Jerry Brodsky, our friend (also the Harmon School principal) and attorney, who made all the financial arrangements for Joyce's mom, who arranged for the auction and house sale.  We never had to worry about the details, not with Jerry looking out for us.

And--thankfully, finally--that horrible summer was over. Other bad times lay ahead--the death of Joyce's mother, my father's death, my mother's decline, illnesses ... but nothing to compete with those times that tried our souls to such a fierce extent that sad summer of 1990.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

School Bus Business

I am sitting in Hattie's Cafe, my customary morning spot.  It's sometime between 8-9 a.m.  From my seat I can see clearly the intersections of Rt. 91, Clinton St., and Aurora St.  The Hudson school buses turn here throughout the morning--taking kids to school, returning to the bus parking lot.

This morning, I look up and see Bus 29, pointed south on 91, waiting to turn left onto Aurora Street.  It's about half-full of kids who seem to be very early in elementary school--maybe even kindergarten.  (But my age-detection software is somewhat out of date, now that I'm retired.)

Some look straight ahead, some look wistfully my way (they'd rather be in Hattie's with a scone than going to school! so would I).

And I realize, watching them, that in my entire public school life, K-12, I never rode the bus.

In kindergarten and elementary school (Enid, OK, and Amarillo, TX) we lived close enough to school that I walked or rode my bike every day.  Lots of kids from the neighborhoods we lived in would swarm toward school (at the last possible moment), and I joined that swarm, a dilatory little fish (like most of the others), in that slow swim.

All elementary schools in Enid were neighborhood schools, so I don't know that there even were school buses we wee ones could ride.  Enid had one junior high on the west side (Emerson JHS), one on the east (Longfellow JHS)--and but a single high school--so buses did run to those sites.  But we had moved away by that time.

Did I say "a single high school"?  I didn't count Booker T. Washington HS in Enid--all-black: the schools were racially segregated throughout my boyhood.  (George Washington Carver was the elementary.)

As I was about to begin my seventh grade year, we moved to Hiram, Ohio, where my dad began teaching at Hiram College; my mom, at James A. Garfield HS in Garrettsville.  We lived right in town--I use the word town generously: Hiram was/is tiny--so from grades 7-12 I walked to school every day.  In my later high school years there were occasionally friends who would stop in their smoking cars (smoking in more ways than one) and drive me the half-mile or so to school.  Kids who lived out in Hiram Township rode the buses, though--as did the students who lived in nearby Streetsboro but who were attending Hiram High (complicated story for another day).

The first time I ever rode a school bus was in seventh grade.  I was playing on the basketball team, and I remember my first experience--an away game at nearby Nelson at their community hall (now a bakery--I will resist the urge to say that our team "cooked").  I was excited.  A school bus!

I got over it quickly.  It was bumpy.  Noisy.  Slow.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Still ... I felt a kind of thrill, being on a school bus.  Just like most everyone else ...

In high school, on the JV and then varsity basketball teams, I rode the bus all the time to games--became an Old Hand.  The cheerleaders sat up in the front seats (no back-seat hanky-panky on the bus!), and if you were dating a cheerleader, you got yourself seated right behind her, where you would mumble Sweet Nothings, maybe get a sweaty grip on a hand slid down around the seat.  Heaven!  Everyone knew when you broke up, though, because you would move far to the back, and some other Romeo would romp up to the front, plop down, mumble Sweet Nothings, and maybe get a sweaty grip on a hand slid down around the seat.

Oh, and if you lost the game (i.e., virtually always for the Hiram High Huskies in my day), then you slumped in your seat on the way home and grieved--and the cheerleader would try to ... cheer you ... and you learned early lessons, you foul adolescent male, you, about using sorrow for, uh, personal gain.

When my teaching career began in Aurora in the fall of 1966, I found myself on buses for field trips (oh, may the inventor of those have to ride Satan's School Bus for the rest of eternity!)  Actually, I enjoyed field trips (more fun than teaching indirect objects)--as did the kids, who saw them as furloughs from prison.  I learned early the stupid chaperon jokes.  Here's one: When the bus stopped at the train tracks (state law), I would say: "Train's been by."  Some innocent child would ask: "How do you know?"  Me: "Left its tracks."

I also rode commercial buses on long trips with the kids (e.g., to Washington, DC)--that's another post some day.

By the end of my career I had had it with chaperoning field trips and bouncy yellow buses.  And one of my very last experiences was a frightening one.  We had taken all the juniors at Western Reserve Academy down to the Cleveland Play House to see The Glass Menagerie, a play they'd all read for "Summer Reading."  Coming from a public school background, I was more--what?--hyper?--about arrangements than were my prep-school colleagues.  Anyway, I counted heads on my bus when we left school, saw the show, counted heads as we prepared to leave.  Missing two.  "They're on another bus," offered someone.  I checked.  Went over to the other bus.  Asked: "Anyone here switch buses?"  (Need I add the other chaperons had not counted heads?  Laid back.)


Tried again: "You're not in trouble.  I just need to know."


I went back inside the theater, looked around, checked the restrooms.  Nada.

Back outside, the other chaperons still weren't as concerned as I was.  Hey, it'll work out seemed to be the feeling.


Home we rode to Hudson--and all the while I was certain some kid was back at the Play House wondering where everyone went.

A long, long night at home.  Worrying.

No worries.

The kids had all checked in their dorms on return.  No one was missing.  They'd just been scared, those two switcheroos.  Did I want to know who the kids were?

No.  I didn't want to hate them for the rest of Time.

And now my school bus days are over.  I confess a bit of nostalgia when I see them  rolling for the first time in the late summer.  Happy kids in their new duds.  (Does duds date me?)

But it doesn't take long before the nostalgia wears off--or the happy bus faces, either.  Before long, I see the young ones staring longingly out the window at me in Hattie's, where I'm eating a scone, sipping coffee, feeling relief that I am not on that bus.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 55

Joe Britecote

Free Writing (scratched out—never finished?)

I dreamed that Jennifer was hurt.  I woke up in tears.  And needed no one else to tell me what it all meant.

Jennifer Queen

Free Writing

I should have known.  About Brian.  Me, of all people.  I should have known that looks can be the greatest lie.  A lie that everyone believes.  And wants to believe, very very much.

Emily Booker

Free Writing

I knew.  I knew about Brian.  I read him like a book.  And he was the kind whose first sentence tells you what the last will be.  But sometimes you read on anyway, balancing like a wirewalker between fear and hope.

Mercury Swift

Free Writing.

When they took him away, I was in the Office.  And when he looked back at me, I swear, his blue eyes were so beautiful, so horribly beautiful.  No one ever told me that Death could be so beautiful.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Killer A.P.P.

We Boomers are getting older now--yes, the Generation Forever Young is now looking Long in the Tooth.  Oh, yes, we still wear our blue jeans (we buy the "relaxed fit" now), we carry our smart phones (some of us--not I!--even attach Bluetooth devices to our ears), we keep up with slang and can drop into our conversations words like twerking and killer app.  And speaking of killer app, I have a new one to suggest, but bear with me a minute: A story precedes ...

Joyce and I talk a lot about parenthood (do any parents not do so?)--reviewing mistakes we made (all mine), successes, visions and revisions.  It's been an endless conversation since July 16, 1972, when our son arrived, mewling and puking and all that.

I noted in our conversation the other night that one of the things that make parenthood so hard--later--is that children move away (if not always on).  We humans have evolved to be ferociously devoted to our children (they are helpless for so long--longer than they think, by the way)--and at the same time, we have evolved to break away from our families, to go off and start our own.  So there is this endless tension in our adult lives: devotion to children, the certain knowledge that they will leave us, and (when we are adolescents) the passion to get away.

And then Joyce said that living longer makes it even more difficult, for children then must (should?) return to care in some ways for their aging parents.  America is getting ready now for the care of its Boomer generation.  Right here in Hudson a massive assisted living place is going up--and there are some Gray Housing Areas (little neighborhoods/developments designed for prudent Geezers and Geezeresses)--not to mention some skilled nursing facilities.  All so expensive ... and, ultimately, depressing.  What to do with all these Over-the-Hillers?

Novelists have written about this dilemma.  One of Anthony Trollope's final works was The Fixed Period (1882), a semi-comic novel about a group of settlers on a fictional island near Australia, settlers who decide that sixty-seven should be the limit of human life ("the fixed period").  At that age, you go to a facility, where, one day, the authorities dispatch you.  Everyone thinks it's a grand idea--until some of them begin reaching sixty-seven;  Then ... things get complicated.

Jack London's story "The Law of Life" (1901) is about a tribe of Northern Indians who leave their aged--once they can no longer keep up--out in the wilderness with a bit of food and a fond farewell.  The entire story (not a long one) is online--Link.  But you might enjoy the final part of it; the wolves have arrived:
Jack London

A cold muzzle thrust against his cheek, and at its touch his soul leaped back to the present. His hand shot into the fire and dragged out a burning faggot. Overcome for the nonce by his hereditary fear of man, the brute retreated, raising a prolonged call to his brothers; and greedily they answered, till a ring of crouching, jaw-slobbered gray was stretched round about. The old man listened to the drawing in of this circle. He waved his brand wildly, and sniffs turned to snarls; but the panting brutes refused to scatter. Now one wormed his chest forward, dragging his haunches after, now a second, now a third; but never a one drew back. Why should he cling to life? he asked, and dropped the blazing stick into the snow. It sizzled and went out. The circle grunted uneasily, but held its own. Again he saw the last stand of the old bull moose, and Koskoosh dropped his head wearily upon his knees. What did it matter after all? Was it not the law of life?

Pleasant images.

More recently, comic writer Christopher Buckley published Boomsday (2007), a novel about the political
difficulties of dispatching the Boomers.  (He's getting close himself: He was born in 1952.)

And who can forget the "Death Panel" hysteria during the early Obamacare debates?

But I have an even better idea--one that blends the best of Trollope and London and Buckley and Obamacare--one that will save money for everyone, that will solve the health-care crises of the aging population.  It's really a killer A.P.P.

You may be wondering about the periods and capital letters (why not just "killer app"?).  Hang on; you'll see.

Here's my idea.  We begin right now to breed a ferocious sort of creature (combining, say, some genetic material of a cheetah and a great white shark and, oh, an Arctic wolf?).  We breed the critters carefully so that they are attracted only to the meat of a person sixty-five years or older.  We will train them to kill as quickly and as painlessly as possible.  (If they even think about younger flesh, they will die immediately.)  We will call these creatures Aging Parental Predators (A.P.P.).

We'll also breed and train them so that little children adore them (and vice-versa).  We will give the critters fuzzy, cutsy qualities--like kittens and puppies--so that little kids will neither fear them nor blame them when they dine on Grandpa out in the yard.  In fact, the typical child response we're looking for when one does see such a meal-in-progress is a dewy-eyed, long-drawn Awwwwwwwwwwww--with the voice rising at the end.

Anyway, these Killer A.P.P.s will roam the neighborhoods of America, feasting on the Medicare generation.  Those of us above the line of 65 will have to be careful if we want to live longer.  We will have to be circumspect when we go outside.  (I just realized: We will have to create a winged breed, as well--one that can get down the narrowest chimney to dispatch those who stay/hide indoors.)

We aged will have to keep our weight down; we will have to keep fit.  The APPs (I'm dropping the periods--too much of a typing hassle) will attack without warning--well, without much warning.  Sneak attacks are so un-American (drones excepted).  So we will embed in the skin of each APP a tiny chip that, when the APP is actively hunting, will play the theme music from Jaws.  That way, I (and my ilk) will know when an APP is nearby and will have a chance to take some precautions to save our lives for another day.

It won't be for long, though, that the warning will do us much good.  We will have slowed sufficiently so that even when we hear John Williams' music we'll be too far away from our cars, our front doors, our APP Shelters (someone will make a fortune on these), and the APP will swoop in (the music soaring as it nears), and we will Feed the Beast, and no one will need to find us an assisted living unit or a new hip, and the investors in this Killer App will laugh all the way to the bank.

Until they're sixty-five ...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 54

Jim Baggs

Free Writing

I like to look at all the bags
They sell out at the mall,
Those packs for books and school supplies—
I like them, one and all.

My gym bag is the biggest one
That I could find for sale.
There’s lots of room for shoes and shorts—
Old lunches going stale.

My book bag is so crammed with junk
The zipper will not close.
And what’s in there?  A mystery
That only heaven knows.

When I was just a little kid
And went down to the park,
I’d ride the teeter-totter till
It started growing dark.

I had no one to ride with me
Down at the other end.
And so I tied my book bag there:
My silent canvas friend.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Thing about Biography ...

I've been reading biographies my entire literate life. From the first book I remember in our house--Anthology of Children's Literature (Riverside Press, 1948) my parents and grandparents read to me about the lives of George Washington, Eve Curie, Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln, and many others.

 Later, on my own (a reader now!), I read quite a few in the Bobbs-Merrill "Childhood of Famous Americans Series"--including George Washington Carver, Buffalo Bill, Daniel Boone, and my favorite--Jim Bowie: Boy with a Hunting Knife (1953) by Gertrude Hecker Winders, who wrote  a half-dozen or more titles in that series.  It featured prose like this:

Jim spun around.  His knife sang through the air.  There was a sudden thrashing movement, a queer rattling sound.  His knife had pinned the head of a rattlesnake to the ground! (156)  [Yes, I still own a copy.]

Later, I found out about Bowie, the slave-trader--a portion of his life not covered in Boy with a Hunting Knife.

A little older yet, I progressed to "The American Adventure Series" (Wheeler Publishing), especially their Westerns: Davy Crockett, Buffalo Bill, Daniel Boone, and my favorite--Wild Bill Hickok (1947) by A. M. Anderson.  Here's the death of Wild Bill, shot from behind in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in 1876:

Once he thought he heard footsteps behind him.  He was about to turn around.

At the very same instant Jack McCall shouted, "Take that!"  A pistol barked.

Wild Bill, shot in the back of his head, dropped forward on the table--dead.  He had been right all along.  He had been a marked man.  ... A terrible silence fell over the big room. (247)

I remember reading that over and over ... Wild Bill--my hero!--shot dead!!!

(I'd also loved the old Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok TV series, 1951-1958, with Guy Madison and Andy Devine as, respectively, Wild Bill and Jingles.)  Check out the exciting weekly opening, courtesy of YouTube: Opening

Jingles (L) and Wild Bill (R)

As I, uh, "matured," I still liked biographies--still liked ones about my Western heroes.  In high school I read an "adult" biography of Jim Bowie, The Iron Mistress by Paul I. Wellman (1951), a novel that featured graphic violence (he throws his knife once, splits the head of an escaping assailant), some hints of sex (yes!), and, of course, his death at the Alamo.  How 'bout these final words?

Yes, Bowie could still lift his pistols.  The recoils jolted his hands.  In the powder smoke a trail of stricken enemies extended from the door to his cot.  The last, the boldest of them, lay with the knife buried in his heart.

Bowie was dead even before the bayonets reached him.

Dead?  There are no dead ... (404--ellipses in original)

Lest you think even less of me than you already do, I also "read," for a book report, Martin Luther, by Harry Emerson Fosdick (1956), part of Landmark Books, YA titles offered by Random House.  My parents subscribed for me.  I confess two things: (1) I enjoyed--far more--Custer's Last Stand, by Quentin Reynolds, also in the series; (2) I didn't quite finish Martin Luther, but still reported on it as if I had.  Sue me.

College English departments in my day (1962-1966) were not big on biography.  Sure, the professors often told us relevant biographical details about the writers we were reading, but I don't think anyone ever assigned me a biography to read.  I did consult some, of course, when I was writing papers.  But that was about it.

Later, a teacher, I soon developed the habit of reading biographies about the writers I was teaching.  And it wasn't long before I was writing them, as well.  As of now, I've written biographies of Jack London, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary Shelley (all aimed at YA readers, all available on Amazon: Check my Author Page on Amazon).  Oh, and I didn't just read about them: I traveled to their homes, other significant sites in their lives, their graves.  The last twenty years of my career, Joyce and I drove all over the place looking at such places--taking pictures that I "shared" with (imposed on) my students.

In 1999 I began reviewing books for Kirkus Reviews and for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and I've done hundreds of biographies--of all sorts of people: writers, show-biz celebrities, athletes, historical figures, etc.  And I've never really lost my taste for the genre.

Until recently.  I just finished reading a massive new biography (coming out in a few months--I'll be reviewing it in the Plain Dealer) of Norman Mailer--more than 700 pp of text (with lots of notes and other information).  I loved reading Mailer when I was younger.  I started in the 1960s and never really stopped.  When Mailer died in 2007, I had not quite caught up with him.  His final two books--a novel (The Castle in the Forest, about Hitler) and a series of interviews about religion (On God)--I did purchase, but they've sat on one of my bedroom piles, gradually disappearing from view.

The other day I dug them out and set them aside to read before I review of the biography.  They made me sad, looking at them.  Mailer had been such a force throughout my young manhood; his books, challenging and educative and maddening and brilliant (often).  I hadn't read the final two earlier for a sort of childish reason: As long as the books were unread, I sort of thought, in a way, he was still alive.

And this is what bothers me about reading biographies now: the end.  Death--which has always seemed reserved for other people--now seems to have fixed his rheumy eyes on me, his sepulchral voice saying to me, "I see you; I have not forgotten you; I'll be dropping by one of these days."

Mailer lived into his 80s and declined markedly.  Near the end (before his final visit to the hospital) he could barely walk, had a hard time catching his breath, could not work--could not do any of the things he'd loved to do throughout his long, raucous, controversial, sometimes violent life.  He had shrunk to the size of a Norman Mailer doll--needed to be carried places.  I found these accounts horrifying in the biography because now, you see, they have a relevance--an immediacy--that they never had before.

Oh, yes, Death will be dropping by.  And it's the "dropping by" part that has begun to bother me--in the lives of those men and women whose biographies I read. And in my own mirror, my own imagination.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 53

Perm Addle

Free Writing

I don’t like what’s been happening to me this year.  And not happening.  And not happening fast enough.
Let’s start with my voice.  Just last year I was still getting picked in music class to sing solos at programs and assemblies.  Remember?  Then, over the summer, that voice was gone, practically overnight.  I noticed it at church.  One Sunday I was singing along just fine, usual soprano, people around me smiling, probably thinking That kid has a nice voice!
A week later?  I can’t sing any of the high notes.  The low ones sound raspy, and broken.  Summer cold?  Next week it’s worse.  No summer cold.  No more soprano voice.  No more smiling adults around me in church.  No more solos.
And then … my skin.  Stuff popping out.  Overnight in some cases.  My nose is clear when I go to bed, dotted with red and white and black when I look in the mirror the next morning.  Nice.
Lately, too, whenever I even think about a girl I like—or look at one—or smell their perfume—well, let’s just say I want to wait a bit before I stand up.  Thinking about liver and onions sometimes helps.  Or mushrooms.  (I hate both.)  But sometimes nothing helps.  Except a jacket I hold in front of me as I walk—quickly—down the hall.
Some of my short friends are tall friends now.  Some of them are very tall friends.  It was kind of funny, watching that happen so fast.  One day, it seemed, their pants fit.  The next day, you could see a foot of their socks between their shoes and the bottom of their pants.  I thought it was funny.  Until I noticed it wasn’t happening to me.  My pants from seventh grade were still fitting in the eighth.  I didn’t like that.  Especially since I want to be at least six feet tall, don’t ask me why.  I’m not sure.  It’s just what I want.
And in the shower—after gym class?—I’ve noticed that some guys (most guys?) are looking more like … well, like guys.  Hair, hair—everywhere.  Some of them, Mr. Stratford, are shaving after gym.  I don’t think they really need to—but they can.  And so they do.  Standing over there, hogging the sinks, wiping white cream all over their faces, scraping away as if they’ve been doing it all their lives.  While I and a few other smoothies—that’s the name for us now, smoothies, there are other words for us, too, but I’m not going to write them here just in case, you know, you decide to change your policy about how honest we can be, about how we can write about anything—stand there looking like little kids, like naked third graders who wandered into the wrong room.
Short version of what I want.  (1) To have a decent singing voice again. (2) To have a body that doesn’t go all … rebellious … when I’m around a girl I like.  (3) To grow to be six feet—or a little more (nothing too gianty).  (4) To grow hair where it ought to be growing—but not so much that I look like my uncle Darrell, who has so much curly hair all over him that if he fell over backwards he would bounce right back up.
Is that too much to ask?