Hallowed Halls and Activity Balls
I had successfully begun my fourth grade year by stealing all of the activity balls to our classroom . In our garage, I must have had ten, or more stashed away. I had no idea why I did it, I just did. Anyway, I ended up kicking them over the fence, and back into the school yard. I guess I was just crazy about those balls!
Kudos to any one of you out there who remembers that sacred event known as "Hot Dog Day." I'm not talking a mere cafeteria menu item. This was an event. It happened maybe two or three times a year. For a small sum of 75 cents, you received a wiener wrap, milk, and an orange sherbet-vanilla ice cream cup. Plus, school classes ended at noon and the rest of the day's activities were spent outdoors for recess.
I can remember spending the afternoons outside playing kickball with the entire school in attendance. Every grade level was out and involved in some sort of game or activity. I don't know what inspired those "hot dog days", but they were the best event ever.
I was still into the monster model craze, but more and more, I was drawing amazing battle scenes of blazing world war II action. Largely inspired by my favorite show "Combat!, I set out to replicate the glorious battle scenes of WWII as accurately as I could using a pencil and an untamed imagination. Usually they always looked the same, but it was a challenge day after day to create newer and more unique drawings.
I also tried incorporating planes, and tanks and other fascinating vehicles in my vivid scenes of war. Whenever my imagination became overly exhausted, I attempted to draw jungle scenes, and another of my all-time heroes, Tarzan.
My army drawings continued though, and I eventually got more and more detail into them. I added many more soldiers, and as soon as my paper was filled, I'd be off on another drawing. It seemed like army and monsters were all I was interested in at the time.
I loved the way the blades folded in and out on a pocket knife . Plus, there were several sizes of blades. There was for me an undeniable fascination with pocket knives that I never got over as a kid. I used to also collect fishing tackle. It was great. Percolators: It was cool watching the gurgling at the top. I always enjoyed the sound too. There was a comfortable feeling in our kitchen as people sat around the dining table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. The percolator was always going.
Love these old record players , even though the sound was terrible. But, back then, we didn't know about good sound, at least not in our house. I can't believe how many times I played The Kinks' 45 "You Really Got Me." Remember having to put a penny or a nickel on the arm to keep it from skipping?
I discovered this book "Bread and Jam for Frances" on our classroom shelf that rested along the heat vents. I was fascinated by how good the characters made lunch look. I must have read this book a hundred times. It is now a proud part of my collection today, along with the other "Frances" books. My second favorite was "Bartholomew and the Oobleck", a green and slimy joy day after day.
Daydreaming out the classroom window on rainy days was probably the reason my report cards weren't in my favor. It seemed like the darker the days, the longer they were. My attention span didn't seem suited for the colder months. Actually, I didn't fare any better during the sunnier months either. It didn't matter what year Columbus discovered America. What truly mattered was that it that very year of 1964, John, Paul, George, and Ringo discovered America. Columbus hadn't even made the Billboard top 100!
I was, however, keenly interested in Lewis and Clark. Perhaps it was because the TV program "Bucky Beaver" made their history so interesting. We used to watch Bucky in school. The teacher would wheel in the TV on a tall stand, plug it in, and away we'd go into PBS history.
Our fourth grade class was assigned to paint a giant mural depicting Lewis and Clark's arrival in Astoria. Astoria is in Oregon, and I'd been there before on our family jaunts to the ocean. I painted a large whale in the ocean with a clipper ship. Now, I don't remember this story, but according to my mom, the teacher called her and had her come in to the school. My teacher, Mrs. Cheer (pronounced "sheer"), was so impressed by my painting that she tried to convince my mom to enroll me into art school when I grew up. She told my mom that I should seriously consider a career as a commercial artist.
Our lives were about to change forever when the final confrontation between man and sport reached a devastating conclusion in...
This story takes place in early 1964. On an idyllic summer afternoon nobody had been braced for the terror about to be unleashed upon a quiet neighborhood. The day was ideal, complete with cloudless blue skies. Lawn mowers tore spit turf from their whirling blades, birds engaged in chirping competitions, and kids were out playing and laughing. It was the perfect day for an invasion.
No one had seen them flying overhead. No one knew that they had invaded our skies until the first one crashed onto the playing field at Barlow Elementary School. At this point, the police had yet been alerted. Agencies such as the Army/National Guard, The NSA, The CIA, and even The President of the United States were likewise kept in the dark. No one was called since the UFO's in question were of earthly origin. The evac and salvage operation commenced almost immediately, but the problem had escalated to an uncontrollable level at this point. The time had arrived to bring out the big guns: the neighborhood kids.
This is perhaps one of the strangest stories of my growing up, but, also one of the most delightful. A local entrepreneur opened up the first mini-fun center in our neighborhood. The Powell Park Driving Range, Go-Kart Track and Dairy Queen soon came to SE Powell neighborhood. The driving range's nets couldn't contain most of the balls. Therefore, the golf balls were launched into space by the powerful swings of anyone who had 75 cents for a "bucket of balls". They traveled upwards at light speed, flew over the nets with such ferocity, yet descended to the ground without just the slightest thud.
Hundreds of these white egg-like UFO's were found spotting the green pastures of backyards and on the yellowed grass of the Barlow School softball field. Naturally, these missing balls were of great concern for the owner of the driving range. He was losing hundreds of them a day. The only option: close down the range and build newer, taller nets, or hire local bounty hunters. The secondary option seemed to be the most economically efficient, and he did just that; he put a bounty on returned golf balls.
During the first week of operation, the man made the local kids an interesting offer: for every 3 golf balls that were returned, that person would receive a free Go-Kart ride. Needless to say, the Go-Karts were unlike anything we had ever seen before, and we were prepared to do just about anything for a ride. The Go-Karts became the local obsession; they were loud, fast, and steered around labyrinthine race tracks lined with tires.
The Go-Karts had a fifty-cent admission, far more than most of the kids on the block carried. Fifty cents bought two comic books, pop, and a dump truck load of penny candy. Fifty cents was half a monster model; a bag of army men; a movie admission, or several trips to McDonald's. To toss the whole five dimes on a two-minute Go-Kart ride was just plain reckless. Therefore, the new "deal" was by far the greatest thing that could ever happen in our little corner of the universe.
Soon the school grounds were filled with kids armed with baseball mitts. Like soldiers lying in wait for an enemy assault, we took our positions. The center of the ball field was the most ideal of all. I too took my place out in the field waiting for fly balls. I only caught a few, others caught many. Then something miraculous happened. A new discovery! Blame in on wind currents, aerodynamics, earth forces, or the luck of the Irish, but a fortune in golf balls landed in our backyard. They were everywhere, and nobody knew about them yet. I went out and scooped up perhaps a hundred balls and placed them in a box for safe keeping.
My sudden windfall then took a darker turn. It didn't take long for the golf balls to start hitting our house. My brother Pat was struck on the wrist by one while playing in the back yard. It was at that point that my mom took serious action. In order to avoid a lawsuit, the owner came to our house to strike a deal. Instead of 3 golf balls, it only took one to get the same deal everyone else got. Upping the ante a bit, he offered that each ball was also worth a nickel at the Dairy Queen.
Soon after that, newer, higher nets were being built. Naturally, a panic spread among the local kids; a valuable neighborhood resource was running out! The golf balls would eventually be gone. Greed and Golf Ball Fever set in. Kids were scaling our fence to get the balls in our yard. Our collie Bonnie usually scared them off, but other security measures became a necessity.
My brother Mike, who was in high school, had a good friend named Harold. Harold was tall; perhaps six feet or more, played football, and agreed to work security in our yard for some of the profits. The best part of all was that Harold was black, and hid in the shadows of our house. When kids scaled the fence at night, he rose up from the dark yelling at the top of his lungs "What are doing out here?!" It was hilariously comic to watch from a distance.
Until the great golf ball fever came to its sad demise, I was literally living in a Garden of Eden. I could buy soft ice cream cones at Dairy Queen using golf balls for money. We kept all of the balls we found in a large wooden box. When I asked if I could get an ice cream cone, my mom would reply: "go ahead and take one ball." Dairy Queen offered several sizes of cones at the time. Plus, you could choose from plain vanilla, or chocolate, cherry, or butterscotch dipped! The most incredible of all was the giant twenty-five cent cone. This thing was a monster! My mom would never let me get one of those.
I was practically drooling over the idea of a 25 cent chocolate dipped cone. So, one day on my way to DQ, I had my usual "one" golf ball for a nickel-size cone. Nearly hidden in the blackberry bushes halfway down the hill were two white objects! I then found a 10 cent pop bottle in the dirt which I cashed in at Food Fair. I finally got my 25 cent chocolate dipped cone at Dairy Queen. It proceeded to melt all over me halfway home due to the heat of the day.
And so it eventually ended that summer, the great epic that so forever changed our city. The invasion of man vs. commerce, of nets vs. go-karts, of earth vs. the golf balls was alas no more. Newer, higher nets were built that caught the high flying balls. All that remained was the scarred battlefield.
Food Fair was the local market just down the hill from our house. You could buy anything there. They even had their own outdoor vegetable and fruit area called Food Fair Produce. It was a great store. For a short while, I was literally living in a garden of Eden; I could buy soft ice cream cones at Dairy Queen using golf balls for money. We kept all of the balls we found in a large wooden box. When I asked if I could get an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen, my mom would reply: "go ahead and take 1 ball."