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1. I was born near the tail end of 1961, in a typical hospital maternity room at the McCullough-Hyde Hospital in Oxford, Ohio. My parents were students attending Miami University there.

2. My mom came from a large Italian-American family in Cleveland, Ohio. Lots of noise, yelling and family drama. Jabbering in Italian going on all the time. “I'll fix your tubbakeen!”, etc.

3. My dad came from Irish and German stock, and grew up on farms in Minnesota and Oregon. He slept in the attic, often rising early and making the family fire at five o'clock each morning.

4. Years later, on a Cape Cod beach, I met two young women who said they hailed from Oxford. I told them where I was born, at which they chuckled in unison: “Hide 'Em & Kill 'Em Hospital!”

5. At the time of my birth, my dad was in the Navy. He served for some time on a destroyer, the U.S.S. Johnston, and also on a nuclear submarine as part of Admiral Rickover's Nuclear Navy.

6. Once, when I was about six months old, or maybe a few months older, my dad had returned from a long voyage at sea and was fairly upset that I didn't recognize him and shied away.

7. Dad had managed to become an electrician's mate third class, or something like that, by staying awake aboard ship every night and studying his electronics books while his bunkmate slept.

8. His Navy travels took him all over the globe. He had many mementos of his travels, such as foreign coins and figurines from many different countries throughout Europe and Asia.

9. One day, he told my brothers and I how at one point in his Navy career he'd boarded a Russian trawler suspected of running arms to the Greeks when they were fighting against the Turks.

10. Harvey Grass was the Intelligence Officer aboard my dad's ship (“A real screwball,” Dad said). He talked my dad into assisting him in investigating the Russian trawler. “We went in civilian clothes, and innocently told 'em I just wanted a chance to try out my Russian language skills."

11. The visit was uneventful; nothing important was noted. But after they left the Russian ship, Dad said, they noticed some men following them. Dad and Harvey jumped into a taxi, and noticed the same guys following them in a car. As the cars reached the dock, a few shots were fired.

12. Somehow or other, Dad and Harvey managed to extricate themselves from this dicey situation and hustle themselves up the gangplank to the safety of the ship.

13. My mom told us the story, confirmed by Dad, of how the stewards on the submarine back then were Black, and very polite; they'd knock on the officers' doors to wake them gingerly: “ [rap rap] c Mr. Burdick? Mr. Morency? Time to get up [rap rap] Your breakfast is ready.” Unless it was Narcissus, "Narciss" for short, booming: “Breakfuss! You got FIIIIIVE minutes!” (Narciss: escaped from some violent encounter, avoided brig only because captain liked him)

14. Then there was the story Dad told about some woman in Turkey, the wife of a colonel in the Turkish Army. Sometime before I was born, there was some secret rendezvous in an alley.

15. Suddenly, my father was confronted by two men in the alley. “They had their knives drawn,” said Dad; “apparently, the woman and her attendant had been followed.”

16. “The men were waving their knives around and making a big stink about defending the colonel's honor,” he continued. But somehow, Dad managed to slip away again unharmed.

17. The woman suggested to Dad that they meet somewhere in his next port of call, somewhere in Spain. When his ship was docked there, he said, he looked for the woman but never found her.

18. So at various times in my life I came to learn of various of my father's escapades, some of which had allegedly put his life and limbs at peril.

19. Later on, this knowledge of his tales of derring-do made it much easier to bear some of his chidings and sneerings for having gotten into some interesting scrapes of my own.

20. My two brothers were born, Ben and Sean, in New York and South Carolina. I was two years older than Ben, who in turn was two years older than Sean.

21. In Charleston, South Carolina, where Sean was born, I once watched in horror as Ben got chased through our back yard by a pack of wild dogs that were menacing the neighborhood. Mrs. Smalls, a black nanny, helped my mom sometimes. My mom liked her a lot. I think maybe her family was from Johnson's Island.

22. At age 4, in nursery school, we used to take afternoon naps on these little pieces of carpet. For some reason, I kept getting into scuffles w/ a black kid. I think his skin color must've scared me, or else I was just frustrated that the teacher couldn't explain to me why he looked different. I remember one student periodically yelling: “Mrs. [X]! Jonathan and [Y] are fighting again!”

23. In kindergarten, or maybe it was first grade, I threw up after kissing one of the Mungelardi girls (the non-fat one) who lived down the street from us on Vestry Street in Cincinnati.

24. At age 3, or thereabouts, my folks took me out to dinner with them one night. I amazed a few of the patrons when I pointed at a picture on the wall and exclaimed: “Picasso!” - I recognized it from a coffee table book about Art, which my parents had showed me at home.

25. Then there was the time I started tossing the family laundry out the back window when my mom was driving me back from the laundromat.

26. c and the time my mom was in the back yard getting the clothes from the clothes line, and the back door to our house was blown shut by the wind; the back door, it seemed, was locked.

27. My mom knocked loudly and asked me to open the door. But when I realized her predicament, I grew a big smile and started placing meat and cold cuts all over the living room furniture.

28. Later, in Norfolk, Virginia, neighbors were gathered one night around a big Autumn bonfire of leaves, in the curb. An older boy suddenly leaped through the fire, amidst murmered applause.

29. I also recall a day when I was over at my friend Victor's house, and we were riding down the stairs on a bare mattress, like a sled, until his mom caught us in the act and yelled at us to stop.

30. At some point, according to my mom, I once tried to introduce Victor to her and her friend Mrs. Morency, whose husband was also in the Navy. But Victor shied away like a bump on a log.

31. In 1966, we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and my Dad got out of the Navy just before the advent of Vietnam. He entered the University of Cincinnati as a doctoral student in Mathematics.

32. Years later, my brothers and I discovered a secret compartment in our dad's antique mahogany rolltop desk. There was an unlocked metal box inside containing miscellaneous papers, etc.

33. Among which was a telegram dating from 1966 or '67, from the Secretary of Defense or somesuch bigwig. It informed my mom that my dad would have to remain in the Navy.

34. But evidently he never had to go. Instead, somehow, he ended up as a graduate student in Math at UoC, where he worked on his doctoral dissertation and served as a teaching assistant.

35. Another one of the documents we discovered was a marriage license. It indicated, to our shock, that Dad had married to some other woman at some point in the fifties, before he met our mom.

36. After we'd gathered up our courage and confronted him about it, Dad breezily explained to us how he'd “won my first wife out in the backwoods of Kentucky, in a Kentucky coon hunt.”

37. Evidently he was on leave from his Navy ship, and he decided to visit the interior of the country in an old Ford Mercury or something. He got involved with some guys betting on coon hounds; the winner was the one whose dog “treed the raccoon” by making it shinny up the tree.

38. Dad was lucky that day, as he seemingly so often was. Toward the end of the hunt, he'd won a tidy little sum which had yet to be collected from the man who'd bet heavily against him.

39. When the talk soon rolled around to the matter of settling up, the man who owed my dad the money suggested that Dad come on up to the house for a drink, so they could settle the debt.

40. Kentucky Something was dribbled; I gathered the man and my dad had themselves a few. At some point, the man asked his daughter to come out and Dad ended up with the woman in lieu of part, or all, of the cash!

41. Dad and the woman had gotten married. There was the license, and a signature of a Justice of the Peace. But she couldn't stand him being away at sea; they divorced six months later.

42. In 1967, I started First Grade at St. Monica's which was a Catholic school just down the street. My dad didn't like Catholicism, but it was nearby. Sister Garrete ruled us all with an iron fist.

43. Sister Garrete did not allow any noise in the classroom. Once, she yelled at me from far across the room after I'd whispered to the friend next to me: “Kenny, do you have a gray crayon?”

44. If you ever did anything wrong in Sister Garrete's class, you either had to stand in the corner for awhile or else (if it was something more serious) you got hit with a big wooden paddle!

45. One day, one of the older boys in the neighborhood on Vestry Street talked me into trading my Don Drysdale baseball card for several baseball cards of his, which were all no-name players.

46. Wilhelm and Manfred, two German-American kids, lived down the street from us on Vestry. They were a few years older than me. Manfred wore an eye patch because he blew up the family basement doing some sort of experiement while playing with his chemistry set.

47. Our family and the Morencys, who also now lived in Cincinnati, once took a camping trip to Hueston Woods. Mr. Morency saved me from drowning in Hueston Lake after I swam too far.

48. My folks at this time had me carry a campaign sign at a rally for the Liberal Democratic candidate for president, Eugene McCarthy. I was seven years old. They still have a photo.

49. My folks were politically Liberal. I told my friend down the street, on Cornell Street, a fat kid named Carl Fox, that my dad called Nixon a crook. Carl said my dad was crazy. Pre-Watergate.

50. In '68 or '69, it must've been, my Dad sent in his Navy medals to President Johnson as a form of protesting Vietnam, as many vets did. This netted him a visit from the FBI to our house one day.

51. My dad said he invited the FBI guys in, sat them down, and proceeded to discuss his Navy service record with them. He said they were impressed, and just had to check if he was a nut.

52. My folks hosted lots of parties with graduate students and professors from the University of Cincinnati. Lots of drinking, etc. Mucho discussions were about the Vietnam War.

53. For second grade, I switched from St. Monica's to a public school, called Clifton Elementary, where the “New Building” housed grades K - 3 and the “Old Building” had grades 4 - 6.

54. My first teacher for second grade was Miss Perkins, a pert young blonde. I sat in the back of the class and often teased a Black boy named Fred.

55. I'd call him “Fred Flintstone!”, at times unceasingly, to which he'd continually respond: “Better shut up befo' I bus' yo' mouth.” - though he never did. Miss Perkins would glare, and we'd stop.

56. Once, Miss Perkins was interrupted by a knock on the door. A hallway discussion ensued, then she announced that Todd, a Black boy, had henceforth a new last name: “Ewing”.

57. Midway through second grade, due to something they called the “tracking” program, I was transferred from Miss Perkins’ class to Miss Meyers’ class where there was only one Black kid.

58. Miss Meyers was ancient. Being late returning a library book got me a lecture from her, and she wrote me a reminder note in ink, on the back of my hand. My dad yelled at her on Parents’ Night.

59. Once in second grade I got into a fistfight after school with Mike Hill, another boy in Miss Meyers’ class. We were both seven years old. He got a bloody nose and I got a fat lip, or vice-versa.

60. One time, on Parents’ Day, my folks were dismayed to see that my desk was very messy as compared with those of some of the other kids. Especially Christine, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, who sat in the front row and was the Teacher’s Pet.

61. I had trouble keeping everything organized inside my desk - all of the pencils, papers, crayons, paste, construction paper, scissors, and mimeographed sheets.

62. Third grade was old Mrs. Christianson’s class, almost all White kids again, only one Black kid. Many of them had already seemed to establish cliques and relationships from which I was excluded.

63. On the playground at recess, for example, I was taken aback that they wouldn’t let me into the daily kickball games. I and another “new kid” complained to Mrs. Christianson about it.

64. To my surprise, rather than ordering the other kids to let us play, Mrs. Christianson told the two of us that we had to go out there and “fight” for our right to play!

65. Eventually we got ourselves chosen on teams and into the kickball games. Gradually I came to understand that Mrs. Christianson had meant the word “fight” in a different sense than “fistfight”.

66. One afternoon, my mom drove me to Kroger’s which was one of the two main local grocery stores, the other being “I.G.A.”. Kroger's was almost right next door to Mr. Rich's Five-and-Dime store.

67. My mom told me to wait in the car, which was parked in the lot in back of the store, as she dashed inside to gather the makings for our dinner that night. I began to grow tired of waiting.

68. After several minutes I decided it was time to venture outside the car and through the parking lot to the store to regain my mom and see what was taking so long.

69. I noticed that over to my right, twenty yards away, was a kid whose name turned out to be Beavo Barnett. He was sitting atop an open Kroger’s dumpster at the back of the store and beckoning me.

70. Beavo seemed a year or two older than me, perhaps, and I was suddenly mesmerized by what appeared a commanding voice. He was trying to get me to jump inside the dumpster.

71. When I demurred, and kept walking toward the front door of Kroger’s, Beavo suddenly jumped down and ran right up to me. Without warning, he punched me square in the nose.

72. He laughed at me as I ran away in horror toward the store entrance. I was holding my bleeding nose, shocked, wondering why the hell he hit me and thankful I knew not to jump in the dumpster.

73. A lady at the checkout stand who was checking out my mom and her groceries noticed my plight and instantly produced a Kleenex for my nose. My mom comforted me as I blurted the tale.

74. The checkout lady explained that the local neighborhood had been experiencing trouble with “The Barnett Kids” who, it seemed, were from a poor and troubled family living just down the street.

75. It’s been something of a close call, really. Had I hopped in the dumpster as Beavo wanted, he probably would’ve closed the lid and trapped me while my mom panicked in searching around for me.

76. A short time later, Sue, one of the hippie chick daughters of our landlord whose family lived upstairs from us, confirmed the checkout lady’s story that Beavo was from a poor and troubled family.

77. A few years later, when I was in sixth grade at Clifton Elementary, I was stunned one day when I heard a group of Black boys in my class talking all about how they were going to fight The Barnett Kids with knives. “They wanna fight wit’ knives, we fight wit’ knives” one of them said nonchalantly.

78. For quite some time after the incident, I was afraid to return to downtown Clifton for fear of running into Beavo Barnett again or any of his uncouth brothers who’d I’d also seen in the streets.

79. My father took note of this change in my behavior. He questioned me about it, and when Mom chimed in her two cents’ worth he chided me about how “This kid’s got you buffaloed” and grew upset.

80. Dad then proceeded to tell me the story of how when he was seven or eight years old or so he had a paper route job, delivering newspapers, and one day his path was blocked by a group of kids.

81. “They surrounded me and said I was on their turf”, he exclaimed, thus introducing a new term into my vocabulary. “And Christ, they had sticks in their hands”, he fairly glowered at me.

82. He continued: “I looked at ‘em and said ‘You may beat the hell outa me, but by God I’m gonna get a coupla o’ ya.’ I walked right past them, and not one of ‘em so much as laid a hand on me.”

83. Sensing that I remained unconvinced, he proceeded to pull out another war story from his seemingly endless stock, this one happened during his freshman or sophomore year at college.

84. “There was this jerk who just didn’t like me, for some reason,” Dad told me. “He started spreading the word around campus that he was going to beat the hell out of me.”

85. “So finally I ran into him one day. I asked him point-blank, “What’s this I hear about you telling people you’re going to kick me ass? Well, the guy got this goofy grin on his face, and he didn’t deny it - he said: ‘Weeellll, that’s not exactly what I said - so WHAM! I hit him right in the nose!”

86. “Man, I’m telling you: The guy’s nose was flat. I broke his nose.” He smiled at me and gestured energetically in the air with his fist. “I guess you could say his nose was flat broke,” he chuckled.

87. I suppose I must’ve been about this age, or perhaps a year or two younger, when I picked up one of my dad’s lit cigarettes from an ashtray while he was out of the room. I put it into my mouth but blew outward, rather than inward, because it seemed that breathing in the smoke would be dangerous.

88. Once, at about this time, my dad caught me disobeying me mom one day regarding some trivial concern. But for some reason I’d been correct to do it my way, rather than how my mom wanted me to do it, in that particular case. My dad took me aside, and I feared I was in for some punishment.

89. Instead, he told me how he’d noticed that I had a tendency to “stick to my guns” and do things my own way, if I felt I was right. “That’s a real good trait, son,” he assured me. “Don’t ever lose that.”

90. At the age of eight or nine, I hopped into the family car which was unlocked and parked in front of our house. I threw the gearshift into “Neutral”, causing the car to roll forward into a neighbor’s car.

91. My dad questioned my brothers and I about the car incident, but somehow I successfully avoided detection on that one. Not so at other times, however; sometimes he gave us “the belt”.

92. But the worst thing, of course, was getting caught lying to one of our parents about something. Whatever it was we did, the punishment was worse whenever we’d been caught trying to lie about it.

93. One day, after I’d accused my mom of meting out inconsistent punishments among my brothers and I for something we’d done, my dad slapped me. “Who the hell ever said she has to be consistent?”, he glared at me. I think he was trying to warn me about pulling out “big words” to use in my defense.

94. Another time, after our dad had taken away our allowances for the week as a punishment for something, we huddled together and discussed the situation (“People who steal money are crooks") until finally Sean, the youngest, strode up to Dad and announced: “Dad, you’re a crook.” Our dad soon corrected us on that score by explaining that "punishment" wasn't a "crime".

95. Instead of slapping him or yelling at us, Dad took the occasion to give us a lecture on the subjects of Right and Wrong, and Justice and Punishment. And then he gave our allowances back.

96. As a first-grader, while climbing up a hill in a park with some friends, I got one of the cheeks on my face transformed into a giant scab by a tumbling rock knocked loose by a friend uphill from me.

97. In third or fourth grade, I was standing beneath a large tree in our front yard when Ben got his boomerang stuck in it. He tossed up a half-brick to dislodge it, missed, and the brick came down upon my forehard causing me to have to get eleven stitches in my head.

98. On one Cleveland trip to visit my mom’s relatives, we played baseball and I went sliding into third base in my grandma’s front yard, and into the gravelly street with my left knee forward.

99. Two of my uncles, Ralph and John, took me to the hospital and stood by grim-faced while the nurse patched me up. I was proud of my injury because Ralph and John said I was “tough”.

100. Then there was the time during my first-grade YMCA swimming lessons when I dove head first into the pool and and chipped the bottom of my right front tooth on the bottom of the pool.

101. At some point, in third grade, in Mrs. Christianson’s class, we were told that a group of men called “astronauts” had somehow managed to fly to the moon and walk around on it!.

102. Her description of the Apollo moon landing somehow made me feel that my own generation’s life experience was thereby rendered so unique, compared to that of previous generations of people, that “I should henceforth resolve to obey authority only provisionally” - as best as I recall the feeling.

103. One day, in third grade, I was eight years old and bored. So I decided to light a match to some dried-up old newspapers in one of the landlord’s two rickety old ramshackle garages next to our house.

104. After the flames had caught hold, I raced through several back yards, skirted past Dave Hartkemeier’s mom, and raced back up the opposite side of the street.

105. At the house directly across the street from our own, on the front porch, there was Dave and a kid named Alexander whose family had just moved to town from Germany. They were playing soldiers.

106. I sort of blended in nonchalantly with the two of them until suddenly, Dave saw smoke starting to come out of the garage across the street and blurted out: “Look! Fire!”

107. Looking across the street, we saw billows of gray and white smoke pouring out of the garage. Some of the billows were beginning to change into bright orange flames.

108. Then we watched as Sue’s latest hippie boyfriend ran out of the house and peered into the garage doors to investigate, then reeled back as he waved his hands back and forth to clear the smoke.

109. Neighbors poured out onto the sidewalks to gawk, a fire truck rolled up and deployed, and soon there was nothing left but some soaked and sinister ruins.

110. All of us boys were questioned. In a childish effort to cast suspicion away from myself, I volunteered that we’d seen Sue’s boyfriend rush over there.

111. “No, no, no, he was with us the whole time.” Sue was shaking her head and addressing the fire chief while she glared right at me with very accusing eyes.

112. In fourth grade, my new classroom was in “The Old Building” which was home to grades 4 through 6. The three main groups of students in The Old Building were, as I saw it: The Black Kids, The Deaf Kids, and Us White Kids.

113. It seemed like most all of the Black kids came from the bottom of the hill, near Vine Street, whereas most of the White kids lived higher up the hill. Clifton Elementary was halfway up, or halfway down, the hill, depending on one’s vantage point.

114. The Black Kids seemed so incredibly different from us White Kids -- the way they looked, dressed, talked, behaved, and some of their names were very different than ours.

115. The Deaf Kids were in a strange world of their own, some of them White, some of them Black, and with their sign-language method of communication they seemed almost frightening to me.

116. Mrs. Roberts, our fourth-grade teacher, often called us up to the blackboard to spell a vocabulary word, solve an arithmetic problem, or what have you.

117. One day, she told me to go to the blackboard again. Only this time, she did so while positioning herself squarely in the aisle between two rows of desks, thus blocking my path to the board.

118. I rose, smiled, and began walking toward the back of the room so I could move up another aisle unimpeded. She glared at me: "No -- this way," beckoning me to move up the aisle right past her.

119. I gulped, and moved toward her. Obviously, we'd brush up against one another! I agonized momentarily as to whether we'd be facing toward, or against, each other when we did so.

120. Just as I began to move past her, Mrs. Roberts suddenly turned away from me. I agonized now over whether I should be facing toward or away from her, knowing I'd be brushing against her.

121. I elected to face away. In brushing up against her, I moved past her up the aisle and fought off embarrassment as I gained the blackboard.

122. One day in fourth grade class it was Parents' Day, when everyone's folks were sitting in the back of the room, observing the class.

123. Mrs. Roberts, our teacher, was giving a lesson about grammar, and use of the apostrophe mark to denote contractions and possessive pronouns.

124. She mentioned the usage of "Its", "It's", and "Is is", and that, in order to avoid any confusion, there was some sort of exception regarding the general rule she'd just covered.

125. She asked: "Class, how many of you think the apostrophe mark should go with the pronoun?" Everyone raised their hand -- except for me.

126. Several of my friends in my immediate vicinity took note of my contrarian decision, but despite their raised brows I stuck to my guns and kept my hands down.

127. Mrs. Roberts then asked: "Now class, who thinks the apostrophe mark should go with the contraction?" I slowly raised my hand.

128. Time really seemed to slow down there for a second ... tock ... tock ... tock ... until finally Mrs. Roberts broke the silence by announcing: "Well, Jonathan's right."

129. Mrs. Roberts half-smiled around the room at everyone, and then stared at me. As if to say that maybe I'd won this particular round, but that there were plenty of other rounds which I would not.

130. My parents could barely contain their smiles. It was a somewhat trivial matter to have prevailed upon, certainly, but it was quite an adrenaline rush for me, coming as it had on Parents' Day.

131. One weekend, my brother Ben started something he called a "Civilization Club" underneath our big front porch. It was apparently based on some Saturday morning cartoon he saw about a caveman.

132. For the club, Ben used some gasoline to help start a "caveman's fire" -- and he promptly set his entire left [as I've drawn it; though it was his right foot, I believe, in reality] foot ablaze. Yeeow!

133. Sean and I watched in horror as Ben hopped on one leg down the path by the woodpile, past the outside faucet on the side of the house, and across the entire back yard to the goldfish pond.

134. Ben ducked his flaming foot to quench the flames -- and for the next few days he stayed home from school with a huge blister that covered the entire bottom of his foot.

135. Sometimes, in fourth grade, we'd have a substitute teacher. Whenever that happened, it seemed like some of the Black kids would get real unruly and run wild in the classroom.

136. They'd often take a small, shy Black boy named Alsie and force him to hide underneath the stacked-up desks in the back of the room, and make him keep silent during the roll call.

137. One of our regular substitute teachers was a large Black woman who was what you might call a Jesus Freak -- everything she said seemed to somehow revolve around the concept of Jesus.

138. No matter what the problem, she said, Jesus was the answer. "If you are ever straaaanded in the desert, with noooo food or water," she belted out, " ... the LORD -- SHALL -- PROVIDE!"

139. Mrs. Roberts, our teacher, would have us suggest some of the words for our weekly vocabulary quizzes, on condition that we could spell them. One time, I suggested the word "psychiatrist".

140. Asked to spell it, I began incorrectly: "C ... Y ... uh, ..." -- Ambrose started shaking his head -- but then I corrected myself: "No, wait! P - S - Y - ..." and I finished it off without a hitch.

141. Several students groaned after I'd spelled it correctly; one girl, named Caroline, fairly swooned -- "I can't spell psychiatrist" she whined. Mrs. Roberts told her I spelled it, so it was on the list.

142. Mrs. Roberts had us a visiting student teacher from Switzerland or Germany for awhile, a young Fraulein So-and-so, who came over from Europe to teach us a six-week course in German.

143. At the end of the course, I won first prize -- a big German Chocolate bar -- by getting the highest score on the final test. My score was 19 1/2 out of 20. She explained why I missed half a point.

144. One of the first things I recall taking notice of during my fifth grade year at Clifton Elementary in The Old Building was some Kilroy-type graffiti on the school wall: "Derek was here but now he gone."

145. A bit later, in sixth grade, I told our homeroom teacher Mrs. Carlson, when she questioned us about career choices, that I wanted to be a writer or a lawyer. She said being a writer was more noble.

146. Also in fifth grade, we had another visiting teacher, a widow named Mrs. Sandmel, who came in once a week to teach us about something she called "Creative Writing".

147. Mrs. Sandmel liked my poems. She told me I should try my hand at writing something she called a "play", which could be performed at the upcoming Parents - Teachers Association (PTA) Night.

148. Thusly encouraged, I set about writing a simple two-character dialogue on the subject of "Time" -- and then performed it on PTA Night with my friend and classmate, Paul.

149. The sheer number of bad puns in my play was astounding -- "What exactly is 'time' ?" "Sorry, can't tell you." "Why not?" "Not enough time.", etc. -- and the audience laughed heartily. I was a "writer".

150. I guess I had a crush on a girl in my fifth-grade class; her name was Jill. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, a face-full of freckles, and she died of some sort of a heart condition later that school year.

151. Her folks had taken her out of school at some point, but later in the year they brought her back to class for a visit. I was alarmed to see how pale, weak, and skinny she looked.

152. At about this time, I was becoming increasingly aware of how important this thing called "money" was, primarily from hearing my folks talk about it. Rent, bills, etc.

153. Soon I became known for my penchant for finding money -- on the sidewalks, in the family couches, underneath vending machines, and so forth.

154. One day, when my mom took us to the Cincinnati Zoo, I stuck my piece of chewing gum to the end of a long stick and fished some coins out of a large grate.

155. Also at this time, I hit upon a novel scheme to make money. I showed my brothers how to pound pennies flat with a hammer and then clip the edges to make them into "dimes" for vending machines.

156. Somehow, we realized that doing this was probably a "national crime" or something, and we wondered if we'd ever get discovered and punished for it.

157. Also at this time, I began playing Little League Baseball and basketball for a local Catholic Boys' organization in Cincinnati known as The Friars' Club.

158. Once, my brother Benjamin hit a hot grounder that took a funny hop and smashed me right in the nose. Poetic Justice for my periodic "big-brotherings" of him?

159. My sixth-grade year Friars Basketball Club team played in the City Finals against our cross-town rivals, Sweeney's Auto. They had a (White) kid named Miller playing for them who was phenomenal.

160. At our team's end-of-the-season Awards Banquet, I was introduced by our coach, Craig, as what he called "the sixth man on the team". Faint praise?

161. In his first year in the Old Building, his fourth grade year, Ben once saw a fight between two Black kids in the second floor hallway after they'd apparently accidentally bumped into each other.

162. A rapid-fire colloquy ensued between the two young gentlemen in question, and then they suddenly began to flail away at one another. "Yo' mammy!" "Yo' pappy!"

163. "Their arms were like windmills," Ben glowed, rotating his own arms like a swimmer and extremely fast. Adding: "It was incredible.

164. In sixth grade, a sudden rush of red-faced, excited kids from near one of the second-floor stairwells yielded a "[So-and-so girl] was 'with Fred'." comment from Pete.

165. I hadn't been with the group of kids watching in the stairwell, and felt I'd missed out on discovering what this "sucking" business was all about, though I was at an age where I could fairly imagine.

166. In fifth and sixth grades I had "sort-of" afterschool jobs, although not very good ones.I sold packages of garden seeds for awhile; not many. In sixth grade I sold fund-raising chocolate bars.

167. One day, three Black kids stopped me on the sidewalk and asked me if they could examine my chocolate bars. They said they might wanna buy some. Warily, but hoping for a sale, I let them.

168. They smiled at me a lot, and kept up a flurry of diversionary "patter". "Dag ... nice chocolate bars ... wish I could have me one of these ... Dag ... nice chocolate bars." etc.

169. I thought I'd monitored their behavior for any sleight-of-hand fairly well, but after they'd taken their leave of my presence I tallied up the contents of my box and discovered a few bars missing.

170. Throughout my days in The Old Building at Clifton Elementary, a continuous theme in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade was the playground game we played known as Kickball.

171. A few of the Black kids were the best kickers in the class, with one White boy -- Ricky Booker -- being about the third or fourth best, in my estimation. Ricky was a red-headed German American.

172. I myself was somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as kickball skills were concerned. My friend Ambrose, who was one of the class brainiacs, was probably the worst boy at kickball.

173. Once, in Mr. Bailey's third-floor upper-storey Gym Class, a Black kid named Greg started pushing me around a little one day, nothing serious, but he was starting to get rather annoying.

174. "Gosh, Greg, you're strong ... dag, you are really strong .." -- I tried to placate him with something of a "diversionary patter" along the lines of what had been used on me during The Chocolate Bar Heist.

175. But the tactic didn't work for me. "Naw, you ain't gettin' out of it like that" Greg smiled, seemingly half-wearily and half-menacingly. But in another moment or so he stopped the antics.

(to be cont.)