The first story I ever wrote
A fifth grade assignment to compose a story based on a weekly picture posted on the bulletin board.
The Turtle
      We went on this vacation. It was my father’s idea to just get in the car and drive. We could only assume he wanted to relive some fantasy from his youth or something. It would be just me and my brother Joe. And his new wife. We didn’t like her at the time, so we talked Dad into letting Bale come along as a buffer. We were teenagers and had enough difficulty dealing with adults.
         So we got in the car and drove south. First stop New York City. We’d been there lots of times before but never as free teenagers. It was the first time we were allowed to roam free in Manhattan. I had forty dollars. Joe and Bale had twenty each. The first thing we did was buy an ounce of catnip from some street dealer. He had this elaborate system of transferring the stuff from inside his jacket to a bag in his pocket. Of course we tried it out first. He just sold us something different. The whole trip was pretty much downhill from there.
         By the end of the week we were all ready to kill each other. Somewhere in North Carolina on this nicely paved two-lane state highway we sweltered along towards nowhere. I saw it first. It started as a tiny bump in the road way up ahead. We got closer. It wasn’t a rock. Or a pothole.
         It was in fact a turtle. It took less than a minute to decide to turn around and save its precious little life.
         Dad pulled over on the shoulder about fifty feet from the turtle. Mr. Turtle was ever so slowly approaching the double yellow line at the highway’s center. Joe and Bale jumped out of the car and headed for him. I looked back. No one had been on the road for miles, but no sooner had they gotten to where the turtle was, a nice big eighteen wheeler came barreling around the bend.
       I watched as the two of them stood by the side of the road, waiting for the truck to pass and safely pick up Mr. Turtle. It was our mission to return him to the shelter of his natural habitat.
       “Oh gee, I hope that truck doesn’t run him over,” Marilyn sighed as we watched from a few yards away. Meanwhile, Joe and Bale stood by anxiously, their lifesaving mission on hold for a brief moment. I thought surely the truck driver would see the turtle and realize his plight, or at least notice the two young boys waiting to save him. In hindsight, he surely saw nothing but two young boys. The seconds crawled by. It seemed as though that truck would never cut through the oil slick mirage behind us and pass by. We were all three getting tired of rubbernecking.
        And yes, it happened. I’ll never forget the sight of Joe and Bale jumping two feet off the ground, arms flailing, hearing their cries through the car window. And the sight of that huge Firestone crushing the poor turtle like beetle under my shoe, all sorts of guts and innards oozing out the sides. After the truck passed, there was absolutely no trace of the turtle. Joe and Bale moped back slumpshouldered to the Volkswagen and we rode in silence for a while. The next day we headed back for home.
The Penny
      I began collecting coins as a young child, which I had always attributed to my deep appreciation of money and the finer material aspects of our precious capitalist society. Though surely being among the first generations to grow up on television didn’t hurt either. But it is fascinating that money, aside from being worth something, can be worth even more than its face value, and actually collected. Value, of course, being whatever someone is willing to pay, or refuse to pay. I learned much about this early in life.
         I must have been eight or nine years old. We still lived in Ohio, in Kettering, a suburb of Dayton where every other house in our neighborhood was exactly the same, and freshly manufactured. It seemed a shame to let a bunch of families move in and let their kids fingerprint and dirty up all these perfect little boxes with tiny new shrubberies. But, as kids, we felt it was our duty to test the durability of all within our wee worldly grasp. And having grown older and experienced children anew, I have developed a fear and respect for the torment that mothers of young children endure.
         It was in the throws of this torment one Saturday afternoon that my father volunteered, or maybe was appropriated, to relieve my mother of nanny duty and walk my brother and I down to the planetarium for a couple hours. Actually, it must have been some act of desperation on her part, because it was afternoon with not much star activity happening on this bright sunny day.
         I vividly remember the planetarium, though. They had this globe shaped projector that facsimilated little stars all over an arced ceiling in a circular little auditorium. The astronomy guy had a tiny arrow-shaped flashlight or something that he used to point to the celestial highlights above our heads. I looked forward to our occasional visits to this place, and especially my being blinded every time we left the darkness of the theatre.
         All these thoughts raced through my anticipating little mind as we shuffled along the sidewalk asking questions about the universe that dads have difficulty answering.
         Suddenly, my eyes were drawn to a shiny copper reflection ahead on the sidewalk. Yes! It was a penny (they could still buy something back then). I stooped and picked it up. “Look, Dad,” I heartily exclaimed, visions of bubble gum dancing in my head. “Hey, it’s good luck to find a penny,” he told me. Wow, this is great. Not only do I have a penny I can buy some gum, but I have good luck on top of that. I looked at this penny over and over. I memorized every detail. There was Abe Lincoln. What a guy! And his memorial on the back. This is great. I looked closer. It seemed different than the other pennies I had stashed back at home. Kind of out  of focus. I showed it to my dad for a second opinion. “Gee dear, it looks like this went through the stamper twice.” what a strange thing, we thought. Years later I would learn that this was none other than the prized 1955 Double-Die Penny, today worth over five-hundred dollars. Think of the gum that would buy.
         Now my brother Joe was watching this all along and desperately wanted to be included in this. He loved money even more than me. As we moved right along I held this wonderful metal thing pressed between my thumb and forefinger, gazing down at old Abe. I kept one eye on the penny and one on the sidewalk, but I should have been watching Joe, because in one swift move he lifted the treasure right out of my hand. With an evil grin he started to exclaim that it was all his now. “No!” I cried, and tried to pry it out of his grubby little paws. Tugging and bickering, I strained to force those fingers apart, one at a time until the copper coin dropped to the ground.
         We dove right down on the cement after the tinkling metal and rolled onto the grass. Just as I had it firmly in my grasp I felt a forceful yank on my collar. Dad would have none of this behavior. “If you kids are going to fight over it, we’ll just have to throw it away.”
         We watched in horror as Dad flung the penny into the air and our eyes followed until it became a spec and disappeared.
         Of course we didn’t find out about its value for years. By then no one believed there ever was any such coin on the street. “Oh no dear, I’m sure it was just an ordinary penny.”
The Home Run
    They always picked me last. No matter what game. If I was on your team, you were guaranteed to lose. Sometimes I wonder why I even bothered to play. It was always humiliating. Actually there were some advantages to having me as a player. In football, no one expected the quarterback to give me the ball–ever. So once in a while we’d fake out the other team. I think I might have even scored once or twice.
    Baseball was another story. Even though I preferred the game to all the others, I could never hit to save my life. The few times I did get a reasonably good hit I’d usually get thrown out, or I’d make it to first or second base only to have the last batter whiff. There were always two outs whenever I was up because I was invariably the last in rotation.
    Well, one summer afternoon, it was the same old story. Last inning, two outs, two men on base. We were behind by two and I was up. I could hear the other team smirking loud and clear. The outfield moved in close as my teammates moaned. It didn’t bother me. This was the story of my life as a boy. One more loss wouldn’t add up to much, when you’re 0 for 0 what’s another 0.
    The first pitch. Strike one. I think it was already in the catcher’s glove when I swung. The guys on my team looked like they just lost the world series and I hadn’t even choked yet. Another pitch...and its a ball. I can deal with that. I almost always got on base by way of balls.
    The next pitch was right in there. Strike two. In sandlot baseball there’s no umpire, so if you don’t swing its a ball. The other players urged me not to swing again. Just walk and the next batter will take care of everything. It sounded like a good plan to me. At least if I walked I wouldn’t be responsible for blowing the game. I could walk home with the guys instead of behind them.
    Another pitch...and its a ball. Ball two. Okay, two and two. Two more balls and I could be the winning run on first. This is too easy. I don’t deserve this, I’m the worst player in the neighborhood. But I’ll be a hero if I can just make it onto a base. Just don’t swing.
    The pitcher winds up. Its the pitch. And its right down the middle, right in there. “Aw, come on, what was wrong with that?” the other team hissed. They knew my strategy and hated me.
    Okay, this is it. The three-two pitch. Its do or die. I can hear Howard Cosell now, “the tension was so thick, you could squeeze pus out of it.” Alright, maybe that’s not the way he would have put it, but I was a bit nervous and could feel my sweaty palms fighting for a good grip on the bat.
    Here it comes. I could see that ball swirl around in the pitcher’s arm until it left his hand and flew right at me. He knew I wasn’t going to swing. I could see that ball headed right for the strike zone. It was as perfect a pitch as I would ever get.. I don’t know what ever possessed me, but it was such a cherry, sailing right there towards the spot. I started to swing. I could hear my teammates crying “No!” It was too late to turn back now. The bat swung around with all the force I could muster. The whole scene seemed to happen in instant replay slow motion.
    There was a loud crack. Contact. I couldn’t believe it. A line drive up the third base line. And there was nobody there. As I turned toward second base, I saw the left fielder pick up the ball and throw it to second. Could I make it? About my only advantage was I could run fast. I gave it a shot. The throw to second was too high, right over the baseman’s head and over towards first. I couldn’t look back. The first baseman hurled the ball back at second just as I got there, but overthrew into the outfield! “Come on around,” my teammates urged! “Holy shit!” was all I could think as I rounded third. I’m gonna go for it. It was all on errors, but it looked like I was going to get my first home run.
    “Slide! Slide!” they all shouted. I knew that left fielder must have the ball by now and its probably on its way towards the plate at this very second. I never slid into a base in my life. I didn’t even know how. This should be good. In that split second I rationalized that I couldn’t slide feet first because it would slow my momentum. Besides, these guys aren’t wearing spikes or anything, its just a bunch of kids in a lot. I dove head first at the plate. I couldn’t even look. When I did look through the settling dust I saw that the left fielder had again overthrown and the catcher was chasing the ball. I did it. I hit a home run. On errors, but a home run nevertheless. This was a big day for me. We won the game and I was a hero. I couldn’t wait to tell my family.
    After a few minutes of congratulating each other I hopped on my bike and peddled home. I tossed my bike down in the driveway and lunged for the front porch. I saw my mother standing in the doorway. Did she know already? Boy, this is great. I bounced up to greet her. She looked nervous. Before I could open my mouth and spring the good news, she looked down at me and said, “Dixie’s been run over by a car.”
          My dog was dead.
The Sign
Herb DeSimone was this guy that ran for attorney general back in the early seventies. I think he might have been an ex-car dealer or something. None of us ever even knew the guy personally. We never even met him. But we did know him in a bizarre spiritual sense one friday night around 1974.
    Joe and Bill had just driven back from Alaska.I remember hanging out at the beach tree at the end of the street one afternoon, when I saw them drive up in Joe’s maroon ’68 Impala ragtop. Actually, it was a rag everywhere–the trunk fell off somewhere in Arizona and they tied it back together with neckties that dragged behind and looked like those hanging things in a car wash. I barely recognized the car underneath the dust.
    A couple weeks later Joe and Bill and Bale and I were trying to amuse ourselves on that friday night I mentioned earlier. We told my mother we were going to Lums. We always told her that. Ocassionaly we did actually go, but not before wreaking havok across the state.
    We went to McGovern’s. The oldest men’s bar in the country. All these old black men hung out there and played checkers. Drafts were a quarter. It was a great old place and now I think its a new office condominium. We were underage and they would serve us without ID’s. We played pool and drank for a couple hours until we were bored with the scenery.
    Feeling more adventuresome, we drove two blocks south to Armando’s. It was just like it sounds. Mondos hung there. And heroin addicts and other slithering lowlifes. It was dark. We went to the back and played more pool and drank more beer. The bar closed. It was two o’clock and we were lit. The only thing left to do was get behind the wheel of a lethal automobile and drive around.
    We toured downtown for a while, but it was pretty dead. There must be some trouble the four of us could get into. Joe drove us around aimlessly until we found ourselves down at India Point in back of Standish-Johnson, the billboard company.
    There, right in front of us, was something we just had to have. In fact, we were going to steal it. It was a fifty foot high silhouette cutout of Herb DeSimone. The election was over and he was left here to rust until re-election. Did he even win the election? Who knew? All that mattered was that we were drunk and had to bring home this giant guy.
    Joe put the top down. It took all four of us to lift him. We dragged him across the car lengthwise. He had to weigh six hundred pounds with heavy steel framework on the back. We crawled in underneath him. The shocks in the Impala were fried already and the weight of Herb and the four of us made the rear end drag along the pavement. We started to laugh uncontrollably and drove off.
    It was the longest eight miles I have ever ridden. Joe couldn’t go over thirty-five without trashing his rear end. The rest of us held onto Herb with all our strength. He really wanted to slide right off. It was incredibly difficult to hold onto him and supress the hysterical laughter. Along Wampanoag Trail he began to actually drag on the road creating a trail of sparks that floated off into the darkness. I can’t believe we weren’t stopped by the police. They were usually everywhere. I could just see the police report in the next day’s paper. “Four men arraigned in the abduction of gargantuan Herb DeSimone.”
    Herb was becoming a burden. The wind kept trying to raise him up off the car. He really wanted to slide off the back. Eight miles is a long way to hold him down, even with four of us. My hands were ruddy with rust. Tears were running down my face from uncontrolled laughter.
    We got home. It took a two point turn to get in the driveway. What were we going to do with this colossal cutout? Picture four inebriated kids at four in the morning unloading a giant man off the top of a convertible. Why aren’t the neighbors waking up? All this clanging and scraping metal. And giggling. We leaned him against the fence on the side of the driveway. His feet barely sticking out into the road. We were hungry. We badly needed to urinate. Bill and Bale went home. Me and Joe went inside. We forgot all about our new friend until nine-thirty Saturday morning.
    I was dreaming about my mother. She was calling to me. No wait. She was screaming. Yelling up from the bottom of the stairs.
    “Johnny! Joey! Oh my Lord! What is it? Get it out! Get it out now! I want that thing out of here this instant! Get up now!”
    There was a wad of paper towels in my mouth. No, it was my tongue. It was swollen and dry and stuck to my cheeks. My eyes burned. I rolled over and pretended to be a heavy sleeper. We both pulled the covers up over our heads. We didn’t get up.
    I dreamed once again. This time I was a lumberjack, sawing my way through the forest. There were other lumberjacks around me. I paused to survey my handywork. My eyes opened. The sawing continued. It was coming from right outside the window. I leaned over and looked out. I had to wake Joe up for this.
    There in the back yard was Herb. My mother had recruited my three sisters and Missy’s boyfriend, Fran, to drag Mr. DeSimone out of sight from the neighbors. Fran was busy quartering him with a chain saw. We got dressed and ran downstairs just in time to see Fran drive off to the dump in his truck topped with diced Herb.
Nails On the Keyboard
This is a short but entertaining one. For the hour this took place Cath was a grade A genius. Unfortunately, in her life
this was not always the case. We were in the studio working on the first Kimo Sabe record. Cathren was about to do the piano break in the middle of I Owe You One. The mics were all set and Tom was fine-tuning the levels. We were ready to cut a take.
    After a couple of tries we got one we liked and had Cathren come back in for a playback. Tom had kept the monitor levels down since the piano was live in the next room and we didn’t want anything to bleed through. She asked if we could turn it up a bit. It sounded pretty good, but upon hearing it louder we heard this strange clicking noise. Tom sent the assistant into the other room to check the power supply for the mic. We turned the mic up real loud but no clicking noise could be heard.
    Then it dawned on Cathren. “Its my nails. My fingernails are tapping on the piano keys.” Tom, knowing how most women feel about their nails, suggested diplomatically that maybe she could hold her hands at a different angle to avoid this problem.
    “That would be too uncomfortable,” she declared, “I’ll just cut them. Do you have any fingernail clippers?” A thorough search of the control room and the studio turned up nothing. Joe, the assistant, looked down at her perfectly manicured and polished nails. “Are you sure you want to cut those off?”
    Cathren had been working for a month on this big greeting card project that was driving her crazy. The only way the illustrators could get any peace of mind was by taking breaks and doing their nails. More than once she confided in me how happy and restful it made her feel to have perfect nails. So smooth and shiny. Some nights she would come home and clean the old polish off and apply immaculate new coats, starting from scratch if the tiniest defect should occur. She even stopped playing the guitar so she could keep her wonderful nails.
    But the creative drive of an artist was too strong. Much to the horror of all three of us, she picked up a pair of wire cutters off the back shelf and proceeded to rip the nails off her fingers. All we could think about was every girl we’d ever known. Not one of them would ever make a fraction of this kind of sacrifice for anyone or anything. We could just see the faces of anguished secretaries, horrified rich housewives and yuppie businesswomen going gaga at the sight of this girl tearing at those perfect fingers, with wire cutters no less.
    We knew this was the ultimate sacrifice and when the red light went on, one pass was all it took for a perfect take.  
The Gun
    I remember New England winters being a lot more brutal when I was a kid. I don’t know if my resistance  has just been built up, or whether it’s the greenhouse effect. Who cares? That’s not even what this story is about , except that on this night in February it was fiercely cold and windy. The kind that freezes your nose hairs as soon as you walk outside. And you hear that styrofoam crunch when your shoe soles tread across the dry snow of the patio.
    Still, this is not catastrophic enough for young suburban rock and roll musicians to cancel a rehearsal. Not even a rehearsal 40 miles away in Carolina. Work must get done. I must be getting old, because today I would never drive 40 miles to pick up a band member and then drive 40 miles back to the rehearsal, practice for three hours and then drive the aforementioned band member back to Barrington, and then drive back home to Carolina. Joe and Dino must be crazy. In fact, we all lived for crazy. The wacky, zany brand of rock and roll that made The Typical Box the most feared, loathesome  band in southern New England.
    Now this particular night – a Monday, I believe– Joe’s excursion held a two-fold purpose that I would very soon find out. I picked up my’49 Broadcaster the moment I saw the headlights of his lime green pickup pull in the driveway and trotted out to meet him. Hey, there’s that styrofoam sound I was telling you about earlier. As I slid the guitar between us on the seat, we were already in reverse and into the street. The house disappeared behind the trees as I pulled in my foot and slammed the door.
     I think I could drive Wampanoag Trail blindfolded. The way Joe drives, sometimes I wish I was blind. We barrelled right along at about 70 right through the dreaded s-curve where Brian Bailey rolled his Corvette six times and Neil totaled four cars (all his own). There goes the Seekonk turnoff. Panic gave way to relief as the police car up at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery turned into a Parks and Natural Resources patrol car. Joe had an infallible sixth sense about cop cars up ahead. He could identify every make and model from half a mile away. I smiled down at the driver as we blew past, knowing he was powerless to issue traffic violations. In the brief second he looked back, I was sure from his expression that he could read my mind.
    Not one for subtlety, Joe cut across two lanes in front of him and took the Pawtucket Avenue turn-off. He looked over at me and said, “We need to get gas.”
    A couple of miles down the road we bounced into Wood’s Service Station and pulled up to the pumps. At the very second Joe jammed the column into neutral, my life accelerated to one of those adrenalin-rushed time-space continuum hallucinations (Kinda like when you’re waiting for the impact in a car crash). From every corner of my peripheral vision I could see the entire East Providence police force circling the pickup. And some smokies, too. Guns drawn. Clearly upset. I looked at Joe. He looked back at me. His mouth opened. He said,“I have ten pounds of marijuana in a St. Regis refuse sack in the back of the truck.” My jaw dropped all the way down to the rubbish laden floor. In the remaining 3/5 of a second I saw the Parks and Natural Resources car pull up, last on the scene. “I guess they can still use their radios,” I thought. Did they see the pot sticking out of the bag? Highly unlikely. It must have been a tip-off or a set-up. How did they know? My heart pumped so furiously it shook the seat. I could hear my guitar strings vibrating next to me. Joe’s face was long and ashen. We could hear each others stomachs knot. What would have been a most euphoric rehearsal now appears to be five to ten in the big house. The police closed in. Joe started to get out of the truck.
    “Get back in!” one of them shouted. The Parks and Natural Resources officer shuffled over as dozens of trigger happy cops stood waiting for the word go. What seemed to be the commandant approached the Natural Resources guy for some kind of direction. We watched them exchange words. He pointed right between us and said, “The Gun.”
    It was like all worldly burdens had been lifted. I thought for a moment the darkness of the sky opened up emitting all colors of light and angels sang from on high. We both exhaled slowly and then took a deep reassuring breath. In unison our shoulders loosened and sank comfortably. We slowly turned to stare at each other and forcibly held back the hysterical laughter that so wanted to burst forth. Joe always harvested  aspirations of true redneck genuineness. When he bought this particular pickup truck it had gun racks in the back window, so naturally he wanted a shotgun to hang on them. Somewhere in a yard sale he found the perfect specimen. This ancient corroded relic just fit the bill.
    “Oh, that,” he responded, “It doesn’t even work.”
    “Let me see it,” Mr. Policeman requested.
    Joe carefully removed the gun from the rack and placed it the officer's hands. It immediately fell into several pieces as he juggled to keep the hardware from falling to the ground. “What do you have this for?” he inquired quite sternly, and visibly disturbed that this wasn’t a real criminal.
    “It’s just for show,” Joe responded with mock sincerity.
    As the battery of blue-coated purveyors of justice huffed and puffed away, Mr. Policeman offered one last word
of advice.
    “Don't show it.”
The Machete
    Whenever people find out I play in a band, they invariably say,“You must have some pretty interesting stories about the rock and roll lifestyle, you know, like weird, bizarre things that happen on the road.” Well it just so happens that one or two unusual events took place. Here’s one.
    The Typical Box used to be the house band at Hope’s, when it first opened on Washington Street. We played there practically every friday night, for the door money. The band fit in just perfect with the Hope’s clientele–pimps, hookers, transvestites, drug addicts and weirdos from the dregs of society, along with artists and writers, and people from the Providence Journal who were friends of the new owners. We were psycho comedy rock, offensive and obtuse, and we dressed really strange.
    There was no stage. We just set up on the floor in front of the cooler. People had to pass through the band to go to the restrooms. While we performed inhaling the aroma of emptying bladders. Our dressing room was way in the back in a filthy storeroom that led to the parking lot out back, where we would park the bus and load in.
    Summer nights were unmercifully hot. We would always play real hard and after three sets all of us would look
like melted candles. We usually couldn’t wait to load the stuff and relax out back in the cool of the night with a couple
of beers.
    This was a regular August evening, about three o’clock in the morning actually, and we were all done. Complimentary cocktails consumed. Gear all packed. The six or seven of us just stood around next to the bus bullshitting about stupid conquests and exaggerated rock and roll tales. Somebody rolled a joint and it made its way around. Most of the beers were downed. We probably would have stood there till sunup.
    But we had some unexpected visitors. An old beat up ’69 Buick Electra pulled up in the alley right in back of us. We all turned around to check it out. No big deal, lots of cars cut through that alley. This one stopped, though, and a passenger got out. This guy was mean and scary looking. He was a big black guy about six foot, two hundred-fifty pounds in a dirty white t-shirt. He had frizzy hair, kinda looked like a huge Albert King on acid. We speculated what was transpiring as he went back and opened up the trunk.
    If we thought that guy was frightening, we had no comprehension of what was about to get out of the trunk. The hood flew up and underneath the little trunk light we watched a humanoid figure rise up. This person made Screamin’ Jay Hawkins look like the kind of boy a young white girl would be proud to take home to meet her parents. He had to be a close relative of the Devil. He was very evil. The fact that he shopped at the same clothing store as Chuck Berry couldn’t hide the reality that he was walking straight towards us and he was carrying a three foot machete that glistened in the moonlight. We could clearly see the whites of his bulging maniacal eyes from fifty feet away. He strode like a psycho zombie directly at us, the machete held upright in front of him.
    I immediately envisioned my right arm cleanly severed and lying on the pavement before me. Each of us was paralyzed. Time froze. It must have taken half an hour for him to take a dozen steps before he reached us. Every step gave us ample opportunity to picture more and more limbs scattered across the parking lot. It was like God had a big machete of his own and had just cut off the power line to our lives.
    Closer. And closer. Oh geez, this is certain death. By now I could smell his breath. Woof.
    And then the picture changed entirely. He walked right through us like we weren’t even there. And from this point on everything changed from slow motion to an old silent Keystone Cops movie. The zombie guy kept right on walking and around the corner he went, right in General Von Stuebens – a very, very seedy bar next door.
    The absolute second he disappeared, we scrambled in every direction, bumping into each other, making that
Three Stooges “woo, woo, woo!” sound and dove into the bus. I think the tread marks from the bus peeling out are still there today.  
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